Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Bait and Switch?

How, exactly, did we go from discussing a new Central Library to discussing a sports facility attached to Centre 200?

I ask on behalf of the general CBRM public because obviously there are a few people who know exactly how this happened — they’ve been maneuvering to make it happen and they include Education (Education!) Minister Derek Mombourquette, MLA for Sydney-Whitney Pier, who told the CBC’s Wendy Bergfeldt yesterday that he’s been working on this Centre 200 expansion for “years.” (The interview hasn’t been posted to the Mainstreet web site yet, but I imagine it will be.)

McConnell Library, Sydney, NS

The Issue Paper on the sports facility, which went before council on Tuesday, said:

Since 2016, there have been several community sport groups advocating for the creation of a new or renovated municipal multi-use recreation facility for CBRM. In 2018 Council heard from delegations again highlight the ever-growing requirement. [sic]

Even by CBRM standards, that’s a pretty lame origin story. Unnamed “community sports groups” have been lobbying council for seven years?

It certainly doesn’t stack up against the saga of the new Central Library, which has been ongoing for over a decade. The first library “feasibility” report dates to 2012. In 2016, when these community sports groups were beginning to agitate for a court facility, council was reviewing a second “Sydney Public Library Feasibility Study.” In February 2021, council received the completed “Service, Programs and Operational Plan” for a proposed new library.

And yet, according to the CBC’s Tom Ayers:

Mayor Amanda McDougall said the library project is not dead, but the federal and provincial governments are not as interested in funding a library as they are a sports building.

“When you have folks come to the table and say, ‘OK, let’s move forward with it’ from the other levels of government, it’s much easier to proceed,” she said.

But will the public go along with this? The province gets to make a lot of decisions about the CBRM, but are people really going to accept that because the Education Minster apparently prefers basketball to books (and everything else a library represents) we’re going to shelve the library plan? And then what? Pretend the problems with the McConnell Library that first prompted talk of a replacement over 10 years ago have magically resolved themselves?

Does the public want a library more than it wants a sports facility? If it does, it’s going to have to ignore the golden rule of libraries and start making a lot of noise.


Connecting Dots

Thinking back, I realized that there have been clues along the way that something was being planned for Centre 200 — I just wasn’t Nancy Drew enough to recognize that they would eventually add up to an alternative project to the new library.

It started in December 2016 when, in a Post interview about the proposed new library, then Mayor Cecil Clarke suddenly tossed out the idea of putting it next to Centre 200:

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality has a new option for the new central library in downtown Sydney.

The municipality is looking at the option of building a new library, to replace the aging McConnell Library, near the Centre 200 facility…

“We are working through that as an option, our building officials are taking a look at that, as well as Centre 200’s staff,” Clarke said.

We have had other interest around development around the Centre 200 general site and that’s a positive move forward, so if we bring all these pieces together it could be a win-win and it keeps the potential brand new library in the downtown core.” said Clarke.

What came of this I have no idea, I don’t recall council being briefed on this possibility of situating the library next to Centre 200 (and the casino). Instead, in June 2018, council approved Harbour Royale Development Ltd’s plan to put the library on the waterfront as part of its waterfront development scheme.

The next time I can recall the notion of attaching something to Centre 200 being raised in public was during the regular monthly meeting of council in December 2020. As I reported at the time:

During this month’s meeting of the CBRM council,  49 minutes’ worth of discussion was devoted to a motion by District 6 Councilor Glenn Paruch that staff be directed to draft an Issue Paper on commissioning a study into the possibility of building a facility, somewhere in the CBRM, with two courts for sports such as basketball and volleyball as well as for unspecified “senior activities.”

By the time the motion had passed, by a vote of 11 to 1, it had been amended to state that the “preferred” location for said facility would be next to Centre 200, a site that has apparently been discussed as a potential site for such a facility for “years.”

Paruch admitted during the meeting that he’d been discussing the Centre 200 location with CAO Marie Walsh, so the initial wording — about building such a facility “somewhere” in CBRM — seems to have been rather disingenuous. (Paruch also claimed local basketball leagues had no access to school gyms which, even in the time of COVID, wasn’t strictly true.)

Then during a March 2021 “update” on the Central Library, Engineering & Public Works Manager Wayne MacDonald told council the federal government was readying a new infrastructure funding scheme, the Green and Inclusive Community Buildings Fund, and that the CBRM planned to submit three potential projects. I remember thinking it was odd that a Centre 200 expansion topped the list:

CBRM Projects

During budget discussions at the end of April, council approved a $700,000 budget for Centre 200 “Revitalization” that included $100,000 for a “Facility Expansion Concept Feasibility Study,” and during Tuesday’s monthly regional council meeting, CBRM Buildings Manager Bill Murphy asked council to approve CBRM funding of up to $30,000 for this, and council did.

Centre 200 revitalization CBRM 2021


During the March library update, MacDonald stated that the feds were in the very early stages of developing this Green and Inclusive Buildings stream of funding and simply wanted a sense of what type of projects municipalities would be interested in funding, but that was then — the stream is now open and has, as its objective:

“…improving the availability and condition of community buildings in Canadian communities experiencing higher needs and who are currently underserved.”

Applications for new-builds with eligible costs between $3 and $25 million are due by midnight on July 6. They will be evaluated in a “competitive” process (so this entire debate might be moot if none of the CBRM’s projects is selected) but projects “that begin sooner will be scored higher.”

District 5 Councilor Eldon MacDonald said, during the library update, that the province wanted more clarity on the library project — particularly in terms of its location — which is why he moved that council nail down the waterfront location (and seal HRDL’s involvement in the project) and agree to seek funding for a design and scope of work study. Council defeated the motion.

I have always had a problem with the public library being in the hands of a private developer and saw this as a positive step toward ending this pointless relationship (even if you don’t object to the library being part of a private development, you have to admit that HRDL has made no progress on the project in three years.)

But without a location or the information contained in a design and scope of work study, the library will presumably be viewed as less “shovel ready” for this upcoming round of federal project funding.

Although — and this is what I keep coming back to — none of this matters if the deciding factor is simply that the province would prefer to fund a sports facility.

So all my thinking has quite possibly been in vain. But it took me so long to work this through, I’m leaving it here.


Many hard feelings

Jerry Gillis

Jerry Gillis.

Jerry Gillis, the two-term board chair of the Port of Sydney Development Corporation whose appointment was not renewed this spring, is a very unhappy man and the Cape Breton Post allowed him to vent that unhappiness to an almost comical degree on Thursday.

He feels “betrayed” that the CBRM nominating committee declined to reappoint him and the vice-chair and thinks we should all be “outraged” by this:

To me, it’s indicative of the lack of experience, immaturity and working at the strategic level by the CBRM and council. I’ve never been so disappointed in a body. Do you know of any organization in Canada that’s working really well but would replace their chair and vice-chair at the same time?

But wait, there’s more:

We had in place a very high-performance team who subsequently gave their time and effort in advancing the goals of the Port and contributing to the economic development of Cape Breton. I don’t think (people) realize how much work is involved in keeping abreast of everything and dealing with shareholders and the CEO. I really enjoyed it because I wanted to give back to the community.

He makes it sound like they’re running the Port of Dubai or Algeciras or Rotterdam or literally any port that sees more business than seasonal cruise ships plus the odd lake boat, oil tanker and icebreaker.

And he seems completely blind to the possibility that other people might “enjoy” being on the port board and “giving back to the community” too. You feel the temptation to pat his head and say, “I KNOW you like being on the port board, but it’s someone else’s turn.”

And yes, it’s funny, but it’s distracting me from the only thing I care about in terms of the port board: that they be forced to meet in public.


Speaking of ports

It’s not Dubai or Algeciras or Rotterdam either, but on May 17, the Port of Halifax became the first port in Canada and on the East Coast of North America to welcome a 16,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent) container vessel, the Marco Polo.

Marco Polo, Halifax, May 2021

Source: Halifax Port Authority.

The vessel, operated by CMA CGM, is being added to the line’s Columbus JAX service traveling from South Asia to the Atlantic Seaboard. As it makes its way down the east coast, it is becoming the largest vessel to dock in various ports and it’s fun to read how its dimensions are described as it progresses. In Halifax, for example, it was “almost as long as three Canadian football fields” while at its next stop, the Port of New York and New Jersey, it was “longer than than the Empire State Building is tall, and stretche[d] over five north-south Manhattan blocks.” (The Marco Polo’s 25-member crew, some of whom had been aboard the vessel for six months, received “a round of one-shot Johnson & Johnson” COVID vaccines in New York.)

Its next calls will be the Port of Virginia (May 23), the Port of Savannah (May 26), and the Port of Charleston (May 28) and I don’t know enough about any of those cities to guess what the local equivalent to 1,300 feet might be.

Ed Aldridge, president of CMA CGM America and APL North America, told The Maritime Executive it was:

…important to mention that this milestone would not be possible without the efforts of our port partners on the East Coast. Their intelligent, timely infrastructure improvements to support larger ships make it possible for us to proactively respond to the needs of our customers.

Those infrastructure improvements included raising the Bayonne Bridge and deepening the navigational channel in New York Harbor and lengthening the container terminal pier in Halifax to handle post-Panamax vessels.

Marco Polo, Halifax, May 2021

Source: Halifax Port Authority.

It’s worth noting, I think, that when they first launched their Novaporte project, Albert Barbusci and Barry Sheehy, the CBRM’s port promoters, were talking about accommodating “the largest container ships in the world, (18,000 plus TEUs).” Today, seven vessels are tied for the “largest ship” title and, according to the New York Daily News, “all of them are about 50% larger than the Marco Polo. None can fit into New York and New Jersey’s seaports.” The larger vessels include CMA CGM’s 23,000-TEU vessels, powered by liquified natural gas.

And that’s all I have to say about the Marco Polo because container ships represent a lot that is wrong with the world today and I don’t want to come off simply as a cheerleader. Instead, I will direct you to an interesting take on the matter in the New York Times by economist and historian Marc Levinson, author of The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger. He’s writing about the Ever Given, the container ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal, which he sees as a metaphor for the problems with long-distance supply chains:

Meanwhile, the ultralarge container ships like Ever Given that have entered the world’s fleet over the past few years have made long value chains even more problematic. These vessels, some carrying as much cargo as 12,000 trucks, steam more slowly than their predecessors. The complexity of loading and unloading often puts them behind schedule, and the sheer number of boxes moved on and off a single ship tangles ports and delays deliveries.

So long-distance trade is slower and less reliable than it was two decades ago…

In globalization’s next stage, ships carrying metal boxes full of stuff will no longer be at the center of the story.