(Highly) Selective Budget Highlights

As you know, I spent last week dealing with tech and admin issues and so didn’t cover CBRM’s budget deliberations. This turned out to have been a brilliant strategical move because, in a most unexpected plot twist, council suspended talks on its operating budget on Thursday in hopes the provincial government would swoop in and cover its shortfall.

I did, however, watch the April 4 budget session online (the afternoon part, anyway—the video for the morning session is mostly missing) and have some very Spectator-ish highlights to share with you.


Hurry hard

Back in November 2022, I was very surprised to discover that the CBRM had not only applied to host the 2024 World Women’s Curling Championships (WWCC), its bid had been accepted.

Curl Canada header with three rocks

I was told by the municipality that having made an unsuccessful bid for the 2023 Tim Hortons Brier (which I knew about, because it had been discussed in council) CBRM staff:

…proceeded with this bid for Women’s Worlds. It was a lower bid guarantee. So it was initiated within the parameters of the Municipality’s effort to secure a major sport event.

The minimum hosting fee for the WWCC is $400,000 cash and/or value in kind (VIK) although winning bids are generally higher. I looked into Prince George, BC’s winning bid for the 2022 WWCC and discovered it had totaled $799,000:

  • Prince George: $200,000 in-kind venues
  • BC Fairs Festivals & Events Recover Fund: $250,000
  • Additional Provincial Funding: $100,000
  • Federal Funding: $249,000
  • Total: $799,000

(In fact, it cost Prince George more because it had bid for the 2020 event which was canceled due to COVID. The municipality had approved a $300,000 municipal grant for the 2020 bid which it was “unable to recoup.”)

I couldn’t get a dollar figure on CBRM’s bid, but the 2023-24 budget gives us a glimpse:

Text from CBRM budget 2023-24


So, the CBRM kicked in $166,000.

What do you suppose the full figure is?



CBRM communications person Christina Lamey is “drowning” in work and unable to take time off because her job is of the 24/7, 365-day-a-year variety, or so we heard from Deputy CAO John MacKinnon during the April 4 budget discussions.

PR Public RelationsThat’s a terrible situation but I happen to have a solution that won’t cost the municipality a cent: stop channeling all your communications through a single comms person and allow CBRM staffers to speak to the media.

That’s the way communications used to be handled not so very long ago in this municipality—in most municipalities, hell, in most governments—back in the halcyon days before the communications industrial complex began stalking the earth, devouring all before it.

Reading news articles from the 1980s (which I did a lot of last fall) was very informative on this front: it is remarkable to modern eyes how regularly councilors, MPs, MLAs, premiers and staffers from all levels of government spoke to reporters.

This notion that every message must be crafted, every “narrative” massaged is a terrible one that only got a foothold in our community in 2012, when Mayor Cecil Clarke decided he needed a “political” spokesperson.

I like talking to CBRM staff—it’s always fun to speak to people about their areas of expertise, whether its wastewater or solid waste. That second story I linked to is particularly relevant to this discussion, because in it I received a one-line answer to a question from Lamey after which I had the opportunity to speak to Francis Campbell, the actual manager of solid waste, and was able to get (and to pass along) a much more detailed, interesting response.

Lamey may be lonely at the Civic Centre, but she and her fellow professional PR and communications people have us journalists completely outnumbered in this country and the situation is getting worse by the year:

Graph showing journalists vs PR professionals, Canada

Source: Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey


So, put your feet up, have a strubag and let the people who actually know what’s going on speak to the press.

And I have another idea too—trade in your social media feeds for a better-designed municipal website.

You’re welcome.


Down in the dumps

Remember that old joke—where does the Lone Ranger takes his garbage? To the dump, to the dump, to the dump, dump dump?—well apparently it applies to a surprisingly large number of CBRM residents who, rather than putting their garbage out for curbside collection each week, drive it to the municipal landfill on the Spar Road.

I gleaned this fascinating piece of information from Solid Waste Manager Francis Campbell, who told council during budget deliberations that they have about 700 to 800 transactions a week at the landfill, most of which are residents dropping off garbage that could have been put to the curb.

A photo of a building and a "waste management facility" sign.

Spar Road Landfill (Source: Google Maps 2019)

Council is considering introducing a tipping fee for all vehicles entering the landfill, which Campbell said most municipalities on the mainland have already done. Councilors like District 12’s Lorne Green worried the additional time it would take drivers to pay the fee would lead to traffic jams on the Spar Road, but Campbell was of the opinion (and I think he’s right) that the fee would have the effect of discouraging dump trips and encouraging curbside collection.

And while we’re on the subject of garbage, the budget deliberations included the usual threat to cut heavy garbage, this year in the name of cost-cutting and because the landfill is at capacity due to Hurricane Fiona debris and the collection can’t happen until late summer or fall—that is, at the height of cruise ship season.

Council decided to go ahead with “Cape Breton Christmas” on the understanding that those of us who live on streets most likely to be visited by tourists will have our detritus collected first.

I actually read at some point that visitors find our heavy garbage fascinating (although I can’t remember where I read that, so you really mustn’t quote me) and I would be willing to put money on the odd passenger having returned to the ship with something rescued from the landfill.

One man’s garbage, after all, is another man’s souvenir.