Category: Nova Scotia Politics

A rare—and welcome—case of real government communications

I have vented previously, here and here, about the quiet acquiescence of municipal and provincial leaders to the destruction of Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation. Why haven’t the Premier, the Minister of Economic Development, the Leader of the Opposition, and other provincial leaders spoken out against the elimination of an institution, enshrined in an Act of Parliament, whose dismantling will cost Cape Breton tens of millions of dollars a year for the foreseeable future? Cape Breton is still part of Nova Scotia, after all.

Marlene UsherMy purpose in this post is not to belabour the point, but to direct readers’ attention to a striking and courageous counterpoint to the unbecoming silence of  leaders who ought to have spoken out. It came from an unlikely source: the acting CEO of the soon-to-be-dissolved agency, Marlene Usher, in an interview with CBC Cape Breton’s able Information Morning host, Steve Sutherland, Friday.

You can find it here.

So much about this interview is remarkable: the tone of regret; the avoidance of forced cheeriness; the absence of scripted talking points; the unmistakable ring of candour. At one point, two or three questions in, you can almost hear Sutherland pull himself up short, as if to say, “My gosh, she’s actually going to answer these questions!”

Referring to Industry Minister Rob Moore’s false claim that all would be “business as usual” after he rolls ECBC into ACOA’s deathly grip, Sutherland said, “It kinda sounds like you don’t really think it’s business as usual.” Usher demurred, but went on to detail the kinds of offerings that ECBC could make as a locally based Crown corporation that will no longer be possible under ACOA’s aegis.

There was nothing insubordinate about Usher’s response, just plainspoken, truthful answers to probing questions—which is to say, a style of communication you almost never hear in today’s hyper-messaged nexus of media and politics. My immediate thought, given the Putinesque style of the Harper administration, was that the interview might put Usher’s employment at risk.

I don’t know Usher, but in conversations around Sydney in the days since the axe fell, I’ve been struck by the reservoir of affection for her and her staff.

“I get to work with some incredibly dedicated folks from ECBC on a regular basis,” wrote musician and music promoter Albert Lionais on Facebook. “They’re really set on helping to develop the cultural industries here and to help folks make a living at what they love and from here at home.”

Usher’s two predecessors, the mercurial Rick Beaton and the ethically controversial John Lynn, caused the corporation, and the island, no end of bad press. An unassuming professional, who does her job quietly in a way that earns the affection of those she is mandated to serve, gets no press at all. Give the interview a listen.

Earth to McNeil: Cut Cecil some slack

That was a peculiar performance by Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke Friday. At a hastily called, 3:30 p.m. news conference, the mayor denounced municipal affairs bureaucrats for piling $4-5 million in new charges onto the financially strapped municipality, while rejecting his reasoned pleas for help coping with CBRM’s fiscal mess.

Since his election in the fall of 2012, Clarke has quietly led CBRM officials and citizens through a deliberate process to identify efficiencies in the municipality’s far flung operations. They pared capital spending, and made what appeared to be an honest effort to come to provincial (and federal) negotiations with clean hands. Then, just as council was headed into budget discussions, the province downloaded $4-5 million in new costs for education, housing, corrections, lower payments-in-lieu by NS Power, and an actual reduction in equalization payments.

(Under the provincial equalization formula, CBRM qualifies for the entire equalization budget, but will receive less than half of it, because program’s budget has been frozen for more than a decade.)

cecil-clarke-220Clarke’s timing was impulsive. Friday afternoon is when governments make announcements they hope will slide by with little notice. His worship arrived home from a meeting with Municipal Relations officials in such high dudgeon, he refused to wait for a more effective time to communicate his outrage.

Clarke did his best to walk an improbable line between arrogant, uncaring bureaucrats on the one hand, and a kindly, well-meaning minister, who will surely do the right thing once he receives the correct information his staff has been withholding from him, on the other. It was a seasoned pol’s thinly plausible way to ream out the province, while leaving the politicians in charge room to compromise.

Clarke’s credibility was undercut by his failure, earlier in the week, to raise even a mild protest against the Harper Government’s elimination of a development agency dedicated to Cape Breton. ECBC and its predecessors have pumped tens of millions a year into Cape Breton’s economy for 46 years.

A former candidate for the Harper Conservatives (who has promised not to run in the next federal election), Clarke all but cheered the closure, thereby making the feds’ adroit communications strategy that much easier. No doubt he believed himself powerless to avert the closure, and chose to keep his warm relations with the federal Conservatives intact. But to date, Clarke’s attempts to parlay his relationship with PM Stephen Harper and NS Political Minister Peter MacKay into anything useful for CBRM have failed. All this might make it easy for Furey and Premier Stephen McNeil to dismiss Clarke’s angry news conference.

They would be imprudent to do so. For 12 years—12 lost years—CBRM suffered under a mayor whose policy program consisted of a fantasy container pier and continual, childish attacks on the province. He portrayed Cape Bretoners as helpless in the face of cruel and manifestly unfair treatment at the hands of our rich Halifax cousins. It was humiliating and counterproductive.

Clarke campaigned against that style of government, and he has done everything the province could ask to put CBRM back on a constructive path to responsible government.

Do McNeil and Furey really want to create another John Morgan? No doubt Clarke could play that role. In fact, he’d be good at it—far better than the pathological Morgan. That would be a destructive outcome for the municipality and the province.

It’s time for McNeil and Furey to come to the table and negotiate a serious, concerted, cooperative effort to resolve CBRM’s budgetary crisis.

Yet another assault on the sanctity of the voting booth

Progressive Conservatives are voting in Halifax at this hour on whether to review Jamie Baillie’s leadership. Some of the delegates have cameras.


Contrarian isn’t saying who. Pete Seeger taught us not to name names.

2014 Halifax version of the colored entrance

Colored Entrance

A childhood friend found this disturbing 1956 photograph by the late Life Magazine photographer Gordon Parks on the Facebook page of the African-American history group She reposted it on her own Facebook page, and I reposted to to mine, adding, “It’s worth remembering that this was less than 60 years ago.”

Epicurious Morsels

It didn’t take long for Gus Reed to post this photo of the posh Hydrostone restaurant Epicurious Morsels, adding:

60 years ago there was a separate entrance for African Americans at the Birmingham bus station. 60 seconds ago, this was the wheelchair entrance at a restaurant in Halifax. One of hundreds of retail establishments like this, by the way. Can you explain the difference?

It’s not the difference that should bother us, but the similarity. White southerners didn’t bat an eye at segregationist signs in the 1950s. Mobile Canadians don’t bat an eye at respectable establishments that exclude users of wheelchairs in the 20-teens.

Can I explain the difference? Yes. Canada lacks the public and political will to extend to people in wheel chairs the same civil rights we would be appalled to deny African Americans or Jews. After repeated protestations from Gus and others, HRM’s all-powerful building code enforcers have begun insisting new businesses include wheelchair accessibility, but heaven forfend a ramp should intrude on a square inch of the city’s notoriously wheelchair unfriendly sidewalks.

By the way, Epicurious Morsels and a lot of other Halifax establishments could solve this problem for less than $100 with a portable threshold ramp.

MLA Eyking, in office 64 days, takes 28-day vacay – updated

[See Update in second to last paragraph.]

Just 64 days after taking her seat in the Nova Scotia Legislature, newly elected Liberal MLA Pam Eyking left Canada for a 28-day family trip to Australia and Taiwan.

Eyking and her husband Mark, MP for Sydney-Victoria, left Canada on Boxing Day. Her office said she is expected back in Nova Scotia Thursday, the 23rd. Contrarian learned about the trip from a prominent Cape Breton Liberal who asked not to be identified, but said party members are annoyed at her taking a long foreign vacation so early in her term as MLA. Elected October 8, Eyking was sworn in as MLA October 22.

Longtime Liberal MLA Manning MacDonald resigned his seat last May after his decision to take a month-long Florida vacation while the house was sitting came under fire. The house has not been in session during Eyking’s absence.

Eykings and McNeilLaurel Munroe, communications advisor to Premier Stephen McNeil, said the Eykings spent two weeks in Australia visiting “their son, who lives there,” then continued on to Taiwan where Mark Eyking is on “a Parliamentary trip.” She said did not have details on any Parliamentary business he was conducting, but said such trips are common for MPs.

Asked if McNeil had approved Eyking’s trip in advance, Munroe said, “she made him aware of it before leaving, but MLAs don’t require approval unless house is in session.”

Munroe said the premier, “told her to make sure her constituency office is ready to handle any constituent inquiries that come up while she is away.”

A staff member in Mark Eyking’s Ottawa office who did not know the nature of the MP’s business in Taiwan offered to have a staff member who did return Contrarian’s call, but the other staffer did not call back.

Facebook pages of Eykings’ two sons list both men as Ottawa residents, but photos show one of them at an Australian surf camp in late October.

In an email to Contrarian, Pam Eyking said she was, “currently in Taiwan doing business trade for the riding and area. Over the next several days I have meetings lined up for CBU, Cape Breton fishers, and the Cape Breton tourist association.”

She did not respond to questions in a follow-up email seeking details about the meetings and comment on the propriety of leaving the country for an extended trip so soon after her election. She did offer to meet after she returns to Cape Breton.

Cape Breton University President David Wheeler did not respond to emails seeking details on any meetings Eyking is attending for the university in Taiwan. confirmed Monday that university officials “did speak to Ms. Eyking about making links for CBU in Taiwan before her departure.” The Cape Breton Tourist Association ceased to exist in 2007. The island’s tourism industry has been represented since 2003 by Destination Cape Breton.

[Disclosure: I have been friendly with the Eykings for many years, but I have also been vocal in criticizing Pam Eyking’s decision to run for the provincial legislature.]

The Jimmy Carter of former MLAs?

Keith_Bain_full_0 Jimmy CarterjpgContrarian’s friend and neighbour Valerie Patterson was in the North Sydney liquor commission Wednesday, picking up supplies for Darts Night at the Ross Ferry Volunteer Fire Department. She was surprised to find our recently defeated MLA, Keith Bain, a member of the United Church, staffing the Salvation Army kettle. Why? He had heard the Sally Ann was having trouble finding members to staff the kettles. So he volunteered.

Perhaps in “retirement,” Keith will do for MLAs what Jimmy Carter has done for former U.S. Presidents: find ever more imaginative outlets for his leadership and compassion.


Fart Day? Seriously? Fart Day?

Our curmudgeonly friend’s sardonic cousin writes:

What have you got against insightful and inspired young folks?

fartingA few days ago I heard a CBC interview with a Mom who was just so darn proud of her two-year-old son because he decided not to accept presents on his second birthday. Instead, he invited guests to bring a financial donation to some worthy cause. The young boy raised a few hundred dollars for the cause. I was so overwhelmed by this child’s selflessness, I forgot what the cause was.

Stop engaging in childism! Give kids a chance!

“Fart Day” has a nice ring to it. “Hey, what are ya doin’ on Fart Day?” “Are banks closed on Fart Day?”

Fart Day could definitely stick. Youngsters wishing to further the Fart Day cause can email the Minister of Labour at or tweet her at @KellyReganNS.

Emus down vs. Emu Downs


On Monday, Contrarian voiced skepticism about a Digby couple’s claim that wind turbines had decimated their their emu flock.

Andy MacCallum, vice president of developments for Natural Forces Technologies Inc., a company that helps develop small wind projects in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and British Columbia, responds:

I worked on a wind farm in Western Australia a few years ago called Emu Downs Wind Farm. An emu farmer was the major landowner for the project. The emus loved the turbines, and would gather at the turbine bases as they provided shelter from the wind.

This is, of course, merely an anecdote, just as the failure of the Ocean Breeze Emu Farm is merely an anecdote. By themselves, neither proves anything. But the Emu Downs story presents stronger evidence against the turbines-harm-emus hypothesis, than the Ocean Breeze story presents in its favor.

  • If turbines kill emus, then gathering around the Emu Downs turbines should have hurt the Aussie birds, but apparently it did not. The site remains a tourist attraction.
  • A thousand factors could have caused the Ocean Breeze emus’ failure to thrive. Owners Debi and David Van Tassell simply picked the explanation they preferred, with no supporting evidence.

Without considering possible alternatives, the CBC swallowed the Van Tassell’s sad story, whole. Not to be outdone, the Halifax Chronicle-Herald committed the same journalistic malpractice a day later.

The impulse to accept at face value any argument against any development, no matter how far fetched or specious, simply because those advancing it are deemed, “sincere,” is a recipe for basing decisions on ignorance, prejudice, and magical beliefs.

Where are the editors?

[Photo: Workers construct the base of a wind turbine going up at Hillside Boularderie, about 30 km from Contrarian’s Kempt Head base station. Courtesy of Natural Forces.]

Attention #NSPoli geeks: those tardy poll-by-poll results are finally in

Elections Nova Scotia quietly posted the poll-by-poll results of  the October 8 Nova Scotia election on its website last Thursday

6-PhuddPreliminary poll-by-poll results are normally released immediately after the vote, but this year, for the first time in living memory, elections bureaucrats decided to keep the detailed results to themselves for three weeks. The only explanation offered was that the Chronicle-Herald wasn’t interested in publishing them (as it had traditionally), so Chief Electoral Officer Richard P. Temporale decided no one else could have them either.

Aside from this inexcusable delay, the agency did a good job of presenting the tallies, making them available in both PDF format, with accompanying maps of the polling districts, and as a zip file* of 51 Excel spreadsheets, plus a riding-by-riding summary.

(In the past, Elections Nova Scotia has sometimes deliberately degraded the electronic files it makes public, so as to make them all but impossible for researchers to use. This retrograde practice has eased somewhat since Temporale ascended to the throne.)

I look forward to seeing what map geeks can do with these spreadsheets. Elections Nova Scotia publishes mapping shapefiles on its website for the 51 electoral districts, but alas, not for individual polling districts. It’s possible these might be available on request, but Contrarian may not be the best person to ask.

[*Note: I have not linked directly to the zip file, because I expect doing so would trigger spam filters to reject the daily emailed version  of Contrarian (see “Subscribe to Contrarian” at right). To download the zip file, click here, and then on the words, “Excel format” in the third bullet point.]

Another superport skeptic

Cliff White sides Bousquet:

I love the discussion about the superports. Tim Bousquet nailed it. You will remember that a lot of the hype about the Atlantica concept was based on the same false assumptions. During that debate one brilliant supporter suggested reducing transportation costs by hiring Mexicans at low wages to drive the trucks.

At the time I was working for The Council of Canadians. I was heavily involved in organizing against the initiative, until that is I realized it was a delusional pipe dream cooked up by AIMS and some elements of the business community.  At that point I stopped being concerned but had a very difficult time convincing colleagues and allies.

What is perhaps instructive to remember is how many business people, politicians, academics, NGOS, and others—both supporters and opponents—bought into the potential reality of the idea, and how reluctant they were to let go of it, despite its obvious flaws.

« Older Posts