Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Rousing endorsement

I am amazed that, beyond the pages of SaltWire publications like the Cape Breton Post and the Halifax Chronicle Herald, a significant development in the Sydney container terminal project has failed to generate much buzz.

The Atlantic Chamber of Commerce — THE ATLANTIC CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, PEOPLE — has called upon the province to rehabilitate Cape Breton’s rail line in support of Novaporte. (It also thinks the province should cut its spending and didn’t provide any suggestions as to how government might reconcile these two opposing goals, but I’m sure it has a plan.)

This is BIG.

Chamber CEO Sheri Somerville, who penned the letter, is a “globally certified communications professional” and one of Atlantic Canada’s 25 Most Powerful Women in Business, according to Atlantic Business Magazine. And yes, the first three women on that list are the chief public health officers of PEI, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador which, last time I looked, were not businesses, but you’re just trying to distract me from the real issue here, which is that the ACC believes in Novaporte.

Sheri Somerville

Sheri Somerville

Moreover, Somerville has clearly done her homework on the project. Just look at what she wrote on March 2 to Nova Scotia Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines, Infrastructure Minister Geoff MacLellan and Premier Iain Rankin:

Revitalization of the rail line is the last significant piece of work that needs to be completed ahead of the proposed Novaporte development in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

The Novaporte project is a three-phase development that is capable of handling 3.2M containers, and with an additional 300 acres for processing vehicles and equipment, Novaporte will have substantial throughput capacity. Beyond the scale of its port facilities, Novaporte intends to further its economic reach with a 1,250-acre portside logistics park, making it the largest such logistics zone anywhere on the eastern seaboard. Both the port and park facilities will be directly connected by 33,000 feet of on-dock rail to North America via the Cape Breton-Nova Scotia Railway.

Upon completion, Novaporte intends to be the largest port and logistics hub on Canada’s east coast connected by rail to North America. Through its location in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Novaporte would be the first port of call for Ultra Large Container Vessels coming off the Great Circle Route from Asia, Africa, and Europe, connecting their cargos to Montreal, Newfoundland, the Arctic, and the East Coast US via direct transhipment routes, and Canada to the US Midwest by rail.

See? I am certain that if you cornered her at a Fraser Institute cocktail party and got her to stop talking about the deficit long enough, she could tell you what average annual container throughput has been at the Port of Halifax over the past five years (528,257 TEUS)  or what average annual container throughput has been at Port Saint John over the past five years (70,989 TEUS) or how a new port handling 3.2 million TEU — that is, 2.6 million TEU more than Halifax and Saint John combined — would affect their business. I’m sure she knows what size container vessels the Port of Halifax can now accommodate (14,414 TEU), which East Coast US ports are able to service ULCVs and how COVID has impacted the industry. I bet she could even tell you which shipping lines port promoter Albert Barbusci has lined up to call in Sydney.

Unless, of course, she just cut and pasted great chunks from a Novaporte press release into a Word file and signed her name to it.

And yes, obviously, she just cut and pasted great chunks from a Novaporte press release into a Word file and signed her name to it.

But to what purpose? Is anyone going to read that and think, “Great Scott, this Atlantic Chamber of Commerce endorsement of Novaporte is a game changer?”

Especially since the CEO of the Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce, Kathleen Yurchesyn, who is quoted in the SaltWire story about the letter, doesn’t actually reference Novaporte at all. Instead, she says:

The chamber believes that strategic public investment in significant infrastructure upgrades in Atlantic Canada will not only help to spur economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, but it will also help modernize our communities and protect our environment.

A revitalized rail service throughout our region will allow us to realize generational economic development opportunities for the Island which will directly contribute to job creation, population growth and an increased tax base, all three in [sic] which are critical to our future growth and prosperity.

It’s possible the reporter simply cut out the parts where Yurchesyn discussed Novaporte, but that would be a very strange thing to do, given it’s the focus of the ACC letter. Mind you, he makes up for Yurchesyn’s reticence (if that’s what it is) by quoting some of Barbusci’s wonderful figures about first-phase construction jobs (12,000!) and first-phase operating jobs (2,647) and wages ($137 million) and taxes ($61 million in taxes) and how does Barbusci get people to carry his water for him like this?

Yurchesyn seems to be separating the Novaporte plan from the potential benefits of a rehabilitated rail line and I’m probably kidding myself, but that looks like an improvement to me.


Clearly wrong


For some reason, that Kids in the Hall song is in my head and I want to caption this: “These are the trees I know I know, these are the trees I know.”

I was one of those lucky kids who got to spend a great deal of time in the forest — mornings in the woods, afternoons on the beach was our grueling summer schedule.

I was thinking about the woods I know while reading wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft’s excellent primer on clearcutting in the Halifax Examiner. The original settlers on our property had clearcut a great swath of forest for home-building, sheep grazing and potato-growing purposes, but the trees have reclaimed much of that land during my lifetime. Reading Bancroft’s piece, I realized that I’ve watched the phenomenon he describes, namely that:

Clearcuts encourage short-lived and “open ground” suited seedlings of species like poplar, wire birch, fir, and white spruce to take over. Sure, something grows back — but not the same forest. Nature attempts to heal with grow-fast, die-fast species.

Compare that to the forests that existed before forestry “became a force” in eastern Canada (meaning, before the 1700s):

Classified as “Acadian,” most naturally-growing forests of Atlantic Canada contain a broad mix of trees with leaves (hardwoods) and with needles (softwoods). Each tree species has preferences regarding soil, moisture, and available light. Young sugar maple, yellow birch, hemlock, red spruce, and others can grow on the forest floor in the moisture and shade found under taller trees. Eventually an old tree falls, and a young tree takes a growth spurt in its place. Trees that grow in forest shade may live as long as 450 years and eventually become the dominant species.

Much of the forest I am familiar with has been harvested at one point or another over the years and I haven’t done a proper inventory (although I now want to attempt one) but I am pretty sure there are no 450-year-old trees to be found.

This loss, of course, is not just aesthetic. Yes, the woods are “lovely, dark and deep” but they also offer shade, store carbon, provide food and shelter for all manner of  plants and animals, prevent erosion and help control flooding, as Bancroft explains in his article which you really must read.

His point, which he makes convincingly, is that forestry planning “needs to become more in tune with nature’s ways, instead of overpowering it.” I’ve bookmarked the article because I know I’ll be referring to it frequently.



Proving ground

I’m just going to come right out and admit it: I like baking shows. You’ll note I call them “baking shows” rather than “baking competitions,” even though the ones I watch — The Great British Bake Off and The Great Canadian Bake Off — are, in fact, competitions.

Henry’s Three-tier Raspberry, Thyme & Roasted Rhubarb Cake

Henry’s Three-tier Raspberry, Thyme & Roasted Rhubarb Cake (GBBO)

That’s because I enjoy the baking aspect more than I do the competition aspect. I’m actually developing a theory (it’s in the “proving” drawer as we speak) that the many competition shows on television are actually intended to reinforce the basic tenets of capitalism: to convince us it’s better to compete with each other than to cooperate. Although that said, the baking shows — particularly, I find, the British version — do feature the odd instance of contestants helping each other.

I like the British version better than the Canadian version because the hosts (or “presenters”) are funnier (one of them is Noel Fielding from The Mighty Boosh and the other is Matt Lucas from Little Britain, and both are not just funny, they’re funny in a weird way.). The Canadian edition is hosted, this season, by two people I have never heard of who are big on Toronto’s Second City Comedy scene and may be funny but are hobbled by scripted “jokes” that sound like they’ve lost something in translation from the original French.

I also find the British contestants are allowed to be regular people while the Canadians seem to have to be over-achievers. Compare this British baker’s bio:

When he’s not baking, Dave can be found pursuing his other passions: cars, DIY and taking his dog and cat for walks.

To this Canadian contestant’s:

When she’s not studying or baking, Anjali rounds out her time playing the cello and volunteering as a doula.

Or this Canadian contestant’s:

Outside of baking, she is skilled in flute, guitar, classical Indian dancing and henna artistry.

I think it’s a colonial thing — we feel the need to try harder. We’re not allowed to use our spare time to walk our cats, we must master musical instruments and help deliver babies.

I watch these baking shows because I find there’s something cathartic about caring deeply, for the time it takes a contestant to construct a gravity-defying edible “showstopper,” about baked goods — hoping for the best as a judge literally stick a fork in it and pronounces it a failure or a success — and then just getting over it. Moving on. I feel there may be life lessons here.

I also like watching people successfully make caramel, whip egg whites and mold chocolate, all things that, were I to try them myself, would undoubtedly result in disasters of the head-stuck-to-kitchen-counter variety.

And that’s basically all I have to say about baking shows and why I watch them.