Let Me Say This About That

Having been publishing bi-weekly — or, as I like to think of it, working at half-speed — all summer, I’ve been building up a store of opinions on a variety of subjects. In fact, my “two-cents’ worth” on such disparate issues as Annette Verschuren’s induction into the Business & Philanthropy Hall of Fame and the local anti-vax movement is starting to add up to a serious chunk of change. So this week, as I return to my regular publishing schedule, I thought I’d begin by spending some of my accumulated capital.


Yes, yes, Annette

Having had the temerity to write unflatteringly about former president of Home Depot Canada Annette Verschuren not once but twice, I knew it was only a matter of time before someone stepped up to set the record straight — and right on cue, there was Cape Breton Post business reporter David Jala.

Annette Verschuren in Cape Breton PostJala (who once called Sydney port promoter Albert Barbusci a “powerbroker”) served up a glowing tribute to Verschuren on the occasion of her being inducted — AGAIN — into the Cape Breton Business & Philanthropy Hall of Fame, this time as a philanthropist (she became a “laureate” of the business side of the hall in 2013). In a press release announcing her latest induction (and that of local businessman Brian Shebib), the Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce had this to say about her philanthropic bona fides:

Annette has personally donated to many Cape Breton University initiatives including the Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business Studies, the Verschuren Centre for Sustainability for Energy and the Environment, as well as serving as the Chancellor of Cape Breton University.

Okay, let’s drop “serving as the chancellor” of CBU as a “philanthropic” endeavor — serving as university chancellor is something Atlantic Canadian businesspeople seem prepared to trample over each other to do, even the ones who didn’t go to college and are otherwise disparaging of people with “pretty” or “fancy” degrees. That’s a truth I discovered in reading business reporter Gordon Pitts’ great comic work, The Codfathers, which also taught me that Purdy Crawford — Verschuren’s “mentor” — managed to serve as both the “conscience” of Canadian business and a director on the Imperial Tobacco board simultaneously. As for Verschuren’s donation to the institute that bears her name, it amounted to $500,000 and has been dwarfed by the amount of money we, the public, have — and continue — to put into it, even as it has cut ties with CBU and become a standalone, not-for-profit with Verschuren on the board.

The Chamber citation continues:

In addition to Annette’s generosity to Cape Breton University, she also supports many causes in the community including, Cape Breton Voices, the Cape Breton Regional Hospital and the Highland Arts Theatre, to name a few.

I read that as, “We could name so many causes she’s supported but her induction into the Cape Breton Philanthropy Hall of Fame is neither the time nor the place for it.” But I’m a jerk.

I think a proper philanthropy hall of fame would weigh candidates according to the degree of actual sacrifice involved in their “generosity” minus the tax benefits and general approbation they enjoy as a result of it. I think people who have nothing to donate but their time should qualify. But I, of course, am purposely misunderstanding the point of “philanthropy” which is the price these “business titans” must pay for claiming an outsized share of the world’s resources (or, in the case of the infamous Sackler family, for getting America addicted to Oxycontin).

We have to laud people like Verschuren for supporting our hospital which, healthcare being a key government responsibility, shouldn’t be reliant on anybody’s “generosity” to survive. We have to thank them for supporting theaters because government is too busy funding tech incubators (like the Verschuren Centre) to support the arts.

But I will leave Verschuren alone for now (I really only pick on her because SOMEBODY has to) and let her enjoy her laurels — rest on them, even.


Both sides now

A reader contacted me this week to recommend I watch an episode of a Nova Scotian podcast featuring one Paul Westhaver, a medical engineer based in this province who spoke from his basement where he, apparently, spends most of his time. The video was an “excellent watch,” I was assured, that “runs an hour and a half.”

And in case that wasn’t enough to convince me to sacrifice 90 minutes of my life, they added:

Are you aware of any of the info from the other side of the scamdemic?

Puzzling as to how you could dismiss COVID-19 as a “scamdemic” while at the same time claiming to view both sides of it, I decided to take the plunge.

I lasted 25:01 minutes.

I didn’t even get into the meat of Westhaver’s arguments (which seemed to be of the anti-everything variety) because he lost me when he began describing his approach to “researching” Nova Scotia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Neither he nor the “truth warriors” who host the podcast seem to have been familiar with the province’s access-to-information system prior to the pandemic and although they’ve now discovered it (and I can understand their excitement, when it works, FOIPOP is a wonderful thing) they don’t know its first rule: before you FOIPOP, try asking for the information. Even better, try looking for it online.

Westhaver wanted to know who was signing (and renewing) the declaration of the provincial state of emergency. He apparently had no idea who would have the authority to do such a thing and seemed to imply it was being done by…honestly, I don’t know who he thought it was being done by or why Nova Scotians would put up with whatever weird-ass scenario he was picturing.

It’s actually a very easy question to find the answer to online:

As the minister responsible for emergency management in the province, the Minister of Municipal Affairs has the power to declare a provincial state of emergency. When the state of emergency was first declared — on 22 March 2020 — the Minister of Municipal Affairs was Chuck Porter, so Chuck Porter’s signature is on the declaration, which is also available online. None of the gentlemen on the podcast seemed to know who Porter was and Westhaver made a point of saying he had no idea who Porter’s successor, Brendan Maguire, was either. So he FOIPOPed the province to ask who was signing the state of emergency declarations (or as he would have it, who was “putting us in “prison” instead of letting us live free in our basements).

This, dear reader, is where I tuned out, because if you are going to set yourself up as a thoughtful critic of the province’s COVID response, you need to understand that response, which Westhaver clearly doesn’t. He doesn’t even get that the rules he’s talking about — the ones he feels constitute putting us in “prison” — were issued by the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, under the Health Protection Act. Strang, issued his first such an order on 13 March 2020 and it has been modified several times since. You can find these online too. You can find discussions of their legal and privacy implications. You really don’t have to FOIPOP any of this stuff.

The podcast’s hosts, though, were blown away by Westhaver’s “incredible findings and exclusive information,” not realizing that any information released to Westhaver was posted 14 days later on the public portal for anyone to view. (His name has been redacted from any packages related to his queries, but I just had a look at the available files and I think I spotted a few of his submissions.)

The weirdest part about this, for me, is that I sympathize with some of the sentiments expressed by the podcasters on their web page:

Do you feel that over time the mainstream media has lost the art of investigative reporting, and that they tow the line of government and big business all in the name of profit?

Hell yeah! Questioning the mainstream narrative is my happy place. And I’d even cop to “giving an alternative perspective” on current issues. When it comes to COVID, for example, I have a lot of time for “alternative” views to mainstream media takes like “Big Pharma has worked miracles during this pandemic” (on the backs of publicly funded research aided by billions in additional public spending) and “Bill Gates is a philanthropic god” (whose insistence on the primacy of intellectual property rights has impeded access to the vaccine for many countries.)

But not just any old “alternatives.” A perspective isn’t valuable simply because it bucks the “mainstream narrative.” Were that true, I could save a lot of time reading and talking to people and just pull things out of my…hat. “You say COVID-19 is caused by a virus, eh? Well I say it’s caused by too much damn screen time!”

To be of any value, the alternative perspective has to be thoughtful, based in fact and should probably come from someone with the necessary qualifications to understand whereof they speak. And while Westhaver believes his status as a medical engineer and inventor of medical devices (who abandoned his masters studies to work for a defense contractor) qualifies him to critique everything from Nova Scotia’s emergency orders to the efficacy of the COVID vaccine to the threat posed by COVID to children, I’m not so sure.

No, correction, I am sure: he is not qualified and I regret giving him 25:01 minutes of my life.


Brier info

Speaking about just asking for information, I asked the CBRM — via its communications person, Christina Lamey — for the details of its bid for the 2023 Tim Horton’s Brier.

As of press time, she had not responded to my email(s).

Council approved the bid during its regular August meeting and while discussions were held in camera, we were promised details would be made public once the bidding closed — an event that was to have taken place on August 30.

C’mon CBRM, don’t make me FOIPOP you. We’re both tired of that.