Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

The final episode (FINAL EPISODE) of Annette Verschuren’s Bet On Me podcast is called “Betting on Cape Breton Island with Annette Verschuren” and it features a conversation between Verschuren and what I will now forever think of as her “mini-mes” — a group of women, all of whom are part of her Cape Breton Voices group, all of whom seem to have read her freaking book.

They are Danielle Patterson and Danielle Johnston, co-owners of Anchored Ideas; Kelsea MacNeil, director of marketing, communications & stakeholder relations at Membertou and Kathleen Yurchesyn, then-CEO of the Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce. (If this conversation had to take place, why oh why couldn’t it have taken place after Yurchesyn became VP of Operations for Novaporte? I would listen to all 13 episodes of this podcast a second time if I could get an answer to the question: What does Kathleen Yurchesyn do all day?)

The podcast finds Verschuren and her disciples at her home on the Bras d’Or discussing all the things Verschuren likes to discuss — Cape Breton, entrepreneurship, Verschuren — and just as I was about to write it off as the snooziest of snooze fests, Verschuren asked Danielle Johnston about her career trajectory and Johnston explained that she had spent almost eight years at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital Foundation and that the foundation had given her “exposure”:

[W]e got to know about people who are in business or who have influence and learn about them and how they got to where they were, that kind of networking has kind of help me inch to…what I’m doing today. You know, before Danielle and I started Anchored, I made the decision non-profit wasn’t for me for life. I didn’t want my boss’s job so I had to get out. And I started kind of looking at what businesses are out there that maybe could be doing better, and I literally, like, knocked on Jimmy Kehoe’s door and I was like, “I think this company’s blowing it, like, fire this guy and hire me.” And he did!

This story — of how Johnston became general manager at Kehoe’s City Print + — elicits gales of laughter from the other women, one of whom says this happened after Johnston had read the chapter in Verschuren’s book about being “brazen.”

Johnston says she was actually inspired by two chapters from Bet On Me, the one about being brazen and the one about gaining “operational experience.” She asked herself, “What can I do better than anyone else?” and the answer was, “I thought I could put in hours and work really hard and make smart decisions.” (This has to make for uncomfortable listening for her City Print + co-workers.)

“Jimmy” has been “amazing,” and she’s had “wonderful mentorship.” (I’m so glad Kehoe finally got his chance to provide some mentorship, his time with Business Cape Breton’s “Entrepreneurial Portege/Protège/Protégé/Vanguard Program” was so cruelly short.)

Front row: Parker Rudderham, Chair BCB Second row (left-right): Cecil Saccary Vice-Chair BCB, Eileen Lannon Oldford, CEO BCB and Jim Kehoe Board Member BCB

Front row: Parker Rudderham, Chair BCB. Second row (left-right): Cecil Saccary Vice-Chair BCB, Eileen Lannon Oldford, CEO BCB and Jim Kehoe Board Member BCB

The podcast also included this rather cringe-worthy exchange between Verschuren and MacNeil:

Verschuren: You work with the Mi’kmaq, who is [sic] the most — I hate to brag, but Cape Breton probably has the most impressive First Nations peoples in the country. They really do.

MacNeil: Couldn’t agree more.

Verschuren: They’re spectacular, they really are.

Mostly, though, this “conversation” is about how business is going to save us, because, after agreeing a couple of episodes ago with Ben Cowan-Dewar that rural Cape Breton hadn’t changed in 50 years, Verschuren is back to singing our praises, we islanders are “amazing innovators” in “every walk of life.”

I am not immune to their enthusiasm, I must admit. I love to hear young people talking about staying and making a life here in Cape Breton. But replacing the belief that one large industrial employer will be our savior with the notion that lots of small businesses will strikes me as dubious — everyone can’t start a small business and too many small businesses survive by employing people part-time at low wages. (You can’t help but notice that the pandemic, in full swing as this podcast was recorded, is mentioned only as something serving to attract people to the island. I have to think this would be a very different conversation were any of the participants front-line retail or healthcare workers.)

And Verschuren, as she has been throughout this podcast series, is completely incoherent on the role of government.

On the one hand, she has that kneejerk neo-liberal contempt for it. She thinks we all used to depend on it “to solve all our problems.” She says with the steel plant and the coal mines under government ownership “no one could make a move and everyone was waiting for the government to decide for us.”

But on the other hand, she says people are no longer looking to government to solve all their problems because government, both federal and provincial, is doing so much to nurture business.

Are there two governments? A bad one that can’t be trusted to run a popsicle stand and a good one that gives money to the private sector? (The Verschuren Centre, which she lauds as a hive of entrepreneurial activity, survives entirely on public money. And NStor, her energy storage company, is no stranger to it either.)

Has it even occurred to Verschuren that one thing that has made a significant contribution to the local economy in the past decade is the arrival of Citizenship & Immigration, a federal government department that has given full-time, well-paid work to some and part-time, well-paid work to others?

I guess what I am trying to say is that this question of economic development is complex and Verschuren’s thinking is not and I hope these women read some other books.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to do a victory lap around my house and then cut the speaker cables to my computer so I never have to listen to such a pile of mahookey ever again.

 

Editor’s Note: This next item has been written by a new Spectator contributor, Don Clarke. One of the many Nova Scotians who lost their power this past weekend, Clarke had the presence of mind to report on the experience even as it was unfolding.

Power failure

When I started this piece, I was sitting in my car (it was freezing in the house) wondering, “How did this happen?”

I realize that bad weather exists — I have no idea about Bigfoot or Yeti, but the Abominable Ice Storm is real, I understand that well enough. It was 4:00 AM Sunday morning (late Saturday night for me) and I couldn’t sleep. I was too cold. I needed to run the car to charge my phone, more importantly, I needed heat.

In a so-called ‘First World,’ ‘civilized’ country this puzzles me; although, in reality, much of the rest of the world is outpacing us here in North America, not least in terms of energy. Many other countries are investing heavily in new technologies, ensuring ample competition and providing government support. And doing it well. (I was wishing I had solar power on Sunday morning.)

Ice on trees

Left: ice in Austin, Texas, February 2021 (Photo by Jno.skinner, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons). Right: Ice in Halifax, NS, February 2022 (Photo by Flora Campbell)

But what I just cannot comprehend is the lack of preparation. This is the part that leaves me thinking of another First World country, the United States. In particular, the State of Texas. Remember when they had that unbelievable ice storm? In Texas! In February 2021. Its effects were wide reaching and life altering: 70 people died. 

The problems Texas faced during its ice storm were in many ways unique to Texas. To understand that, one has to understand what Texas values most: independence. They have always thought themselves to be their own little country within the US and their power grid is no different — the state has its own, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), and it is not connected to the rest of the country.

The grid is an “energy-only” market, according to this article by Yanni Gu, which means that there is “no backup method in the economy to compensate for energy problem.”

Moreover, Texas deregulated electricity in the 1990s, so within the state, private companies compete to sell electricity at the lowest possible prices. The problem with this is that the goal of any business is profit, not people, and the power companies have little incentive to invest in maintenance (like winterizing facilities).

Here in Nova Scotia, the province’s vertically integrated electric power grid is solely controlled by Emera and while it is regulated by the province, it too is profit driven.

Based on the storm we all just suffered through, I would say we do need more regulation, more oversight and perhaps a renegotiation of Emera’s regulated return until Nova Scotia Power can meet its obligations to all the citizens of the province. 

 

Donald Clarke

 

A “military brat,” Don Clarke finally put down roots in Dominion, Cape Breton. A graduate of CBU (Communication) and NSCC (Business Administration), he has been active in the local theatrical community for years, having performed and directed at the Boardmore Playhouse and Two Hoots Productions. He has worked in film and television, directed a Canadian Short Film and published poetry in Caper’s Aweigh, Poetry.com and The Caper Times, where he also served as editor.