Tagged: Cecil Clarke

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.

ECBC: Gone like snow on the water

A lot of people who ought to know better have been whistling past the graveyard in response to the Harper government’s plan to scrap Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation and assign responsibility for federal development assistance to the remote and largely indifferent Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Make no mistake: this marks the end of a direct federal pipeline Cape Breton has enjoyed since the Donald Commission Report in the Pearson Administration. Anyone who claims it’s not grim news for the island is either naive or disingenuous.

Rob MooreACOA minister Rob Moore managed the spin with adroitness we have rarely seen from the Harper government. He swathed his devastating announcement in treacle. Everything will be “business as usual.” No office will close. No civil servant will lose her job, or see pay reduced, or lose seniority or benefits. It’s merely a cosmetic change, intended only to bring greater accountability and a more congenial administrative model to the operation. Federal money will continue to flow.

Bullfeathers.

This is the first step in the elimination of directed assistance to Cape Breton. Future federal budgets will have no line item for the island. Reducing or eliminating economic aid here will be child’s play. No future journalist, academic, or politician will enjoy the access to information or forensic skills needed to figure out how much of ACOA’s money is spent here versus the South Shore, the Miramichi, or the Northern Peninsula.

Without a separate line item for Cape Breton Island, the money will evaporate faster than shine on a hot August evening in N-Dub.

After the billions spent nursing Cape Breton’s moribund steel and coal industries, you may well think that’s a good thing. Fine. But any honest accounting of federal spending in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, and B.C. would show a fiscal playing field tipped sharply westward from the Maritimes.

The sad thing was to see the the parade of whipsawed Cape Bretoners who rushed to reassure the populace that all was well. The Mayors of CBRM and Port Hawkesbury, pundits from Cape Breton University, and a former head of ECBC may all have had plausible strategic reasons for not railing against the inevitable. But couldn’t they have held their tongues instead of lending Harper’s loathsome spin doctors a helping hand?

The iconic wheelchair rolls forward

accessibility icon copyThe Chronicle of Higher Education reports that New York City has become the first major municipality to adopt the new active symbol of accessibility, which Contrarian first wrote about in September, 2011.

The result of a collaboration between Sara Hendren, graduate student at the Harvard School of Design, and Brian Glenney, philosophy professor at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, the revised icon recasts the passive, static International Symbol of Accessibility (demeaningly known as the “handicapped sign”), investing it with vigor and a sense of motion. The Chronicle reports:

New York, in a move that could spark similar updates worldwide, has now agreed to use a Gordon-inspired logo that shows the stick figure with active arms, leaning forward, a participant rather than a dependent.

“It’s such a forward-moving thing,” said Victor Calise, commissioner of the New York mayor’s Office for People With Disabilities, who plans this summer to begin putting the new logo all over the nation’s largest city.

Memo to Mayors Cecil Clarke and Mike Savage:  Which of your cities will seize the honor of becoming the first Canadian municipality to adopt the active symbol for its wheelchair-using citizens?

From the Accessible Icon Project blog, a fuller explanation of how the revised icon reflects the reality of wheelchairs and the people who use them:

accessibility icon - annotated copy

1.  Head Position:  Head is forward to indicate the forward motion of the person through space. Here the person is the “driver” or decision maker about her mobility.

2.  Arm Angle:  Arm is pointing backward to suggest the dynamic mobility of a chair user, regardless of whether or not she uses her arms. Depicting the body in motion represents the symbolically active status of navigating the world.

3.  Wheel Cutouts:  By including white angled knockouts the symbol presents the wheel as being in motion. These knockouts also work for creating stencils used in spray paint application of the icon. Having just one version of the logo keeps things more consistent and allows viewers to more clearly understand intended message.

4.  Limb Rendition:  The human depiction in this icon is consistent with other body representations found in the ISO 7001 – DOT Pictograms. Using a different portrayal of the human body would clash with these established and widely used icons and could lead to confusion.

5.  Leg Position:  The leg has been moved forward to allow for more space between it and the wheel which allows for better readability and cleaner application of icon as a stencil.

H/T:  The James MacGregor Stewart Society.

More information about the Accessibility Icon project on Facebook, on Twitter, on the project’s blog, and Sara Hendren’s Ablersite blog.

Turning a page – [Updated]

A couple of deft touches in Monday night’s swearing-in ceremony for CBRM’s new mayor and council hint at Cecil Clarke’s potential to be a transformative mayor for the island’s predominant municipality. [See update below.]

Clarke

The first is a small thing: the musicians Clarke has chosen for the event are (1) young and (2) non-Celtic. This marks a departure from the cliched tartanism that usually dominates such affairs. Check out headliner Kyle Mischiek’s rap-remix of “We are an Island” on YouTube and iTunes. The freshening up of a slightly dowdy Cape Breton chestnut will bring welcome symbolic value to the ceremony.

Mischiek

The second is a far more dramatic signal: Clarke’s choice of a clergyman to deliver the invocation prayer for the event is Fr. Paul Abbass, the once beleaguered, now vindicated executive director of Talbot House. With this vivid gesture of compassion and solidarity, the new mayor will lead the community in a public laying on of hands to mark Abbass’s restoration from the cruel purgatory inflicted on him by the Department of Community Services. As a friend said, on hearing of Clarke’s choice, “That’s leadership!”

It is, and it’s a quality in desperately short supply these last dozen years.

I pretend to no objectivity in these matters. I played a small peripheral role in Clarke’s election campaign. I had no use for his predecessor, who doubled down on a self-defeating culture of defiance coupled with dependency. I’ve made no secret of my repugnance at Community Service’s furtive campaign of vilification against Abbass.

Abbass

For future discussion: 12 years of crowd-pleasing attacks on “Halifax,” coupled with shameless demands for ever-bigger handouts from the same symbolic city, have widened the gulf between the island and the province. Both regions must shoulder some responsibility for allowing two solitudes to develop—political cultures who show little understanding of, and less curiosity about, each other’s positions, priorities, and interests.

One sign of this was official Halifax’s assumption that the Talbot House board consisted of incompetent rubes, when passing familiarity with Cape Breton would have alerted them to the solid record of achievement and stature among the recovery centre’s directors. Another was the inability of Cape Breton’s most important municipal leader to alert the the provincial government to the injustice unfolding at Community Services.

Clarke is an ambitious man whose sights are set higher than the Civic Centre on Sydney’s Esplanade. His new job offers a unique chance to make his mark. He has the leadership skills to inspire an ill-governed community, too long mired in real and imagined past grievances, to refocus on future possibilities. He has the governing and networking chops to pursue those possibilities with optimism, tempered by realism.

I’m betting he won’t squander this opportunity.

[Update] A few readers have taken the second-to-last paragraph above to mean that I am, as one put it, “in the know about Cecil’s future political ambitions – aka, his plan to run for federal office, if he has one.” Absolutely not. I do know, because I was present, that some campaign workers sought assurance before the start of the campaign that Clarke would serve out his full term as mayor. Clarke committed to that, and he repeated the commitment publicly many times during the campaign.

What no one dares say about Sydney’s harbor dredging project

In a call to CBC-Cape Breton last week, North Shore resident David Papazian spoke a widely held but rarely voiced opinion about the $38 million project to dredge Sydney Harbor in hopes that someone will build container terminal here:

The money could be much better spent fostering small business here in Cape Breton which is a much better engine of growth than these sort of mega-projects that require huge amounts of capital at the taxpayers’ expense, with a whole lot of expectations and dreams and hopes that — maybe not, but very likely — will become another chapter in the probably fairly long history of frustrated economic development here in Cape Breton.

Here’s the whole call:

[audio:http://contrarian.kempthead.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Papazian.mp3]

Papazian mixes up his geography a bit — the alternative terminal is at Melford, not Guysborough Town — but his broad strokes echo private assessments I’ve heard in Halifax and Ottawa: The Halifax terminals are loping along well below capacity, and the proposed Melford terminal is well ahead of Sydney’s in the planning pipeline.

But support from CBRM Mayor John Morgan, CPC candidate Cecil Clarke, and various business and community development interests gave the project sacred cow status that no one wants to buck.

How to cast a strategic vote in Nova Scotia

I don’t usually repeat posts, but this election is important, so for any who missed it, here is Contrarian’s Guide to Strategic Voting in Nova Scotia.

In the latest Angus Reid poll, 49 percent of Liberal voters and 36 percent of NDP voters expressed a willingness to consider voting for a candidate other than their true preferences, in order to “avoid a specific outcome.”

If you are one of those Liberal, New Democratic, or erstwhile Progressive Conservative voters, and you want to avoid the specific outcome of a certain authoritarian demagogue getting unfettered control of the House of Commons, you may be wondering how to vote Monday. This guide is for you.

Contrarian’s Guide to Strategic Voting in Nova Scotia

With three-way races and a still dynamic vote swing underway, this is a hard election to predict. Seven of Nova Scotia’s 11 federal ridings appear to be in play — an unusually large number.

Two of these — Halifax West and Dartmouth—Cole Harbour — appear to be tight contests between Liberal incumbents* and NDP challengers. They will not affect the size or strength of the Harper caucus, so vote your personal preference in those races.

Five are tight contests where the Harper candidate could win, or could fall to a New Democrat or a Liberal.
Central Nova
Peter MacKay faces a tough challenge from high school physics teacher and former Pictou town councillor David Parker, brother of MLA Charlie Parker and a shrewd electoral tactician in his own right.

MacKay has committed many unprincipled acts in his political career, but the alacrity with which he took on the task of vilifying whistleblower Richard Colvin was surely a nadir. Colvin is a genuine Canadian hero, a civil servant who put aside his own career interests to expose Canada’s complicity in the torture of Afghan detainees. As a civil servant, he could only remain mute in the face of MacKay’s character assassination (although opposition members of the Commons did eventually call him back for a lone round of dignified rebuttal testimony). For this alone, seeing MacKay go down would be altogether sweet. Vote NDP.

South Shore—St. Margaret’s

This is a tight race between incumbent Harper guy Gerald Keddy and former New Democrat MP Gordon Earle, with another former MP, Liberal Derek Wells, well behind. Liberals and Greens should vote NDP.

Sydney—Victoria

For months, Cecil Clarke has mounted an energetic campaign against nice guy farmer MP Mark Eyking. The NDP usually run second in this riding, but Kathy MacLeod, their candidate this time, is weak. The orange tide may boost her vote, however, and it’s hard to say which potential winner she will hurt the most. This race is much tighter than national pundits realize. In particular, the strategic voting site Project Democracy has mistakenly declared it a safe Liberal seat. Vote Liberal.

West Nova

This riding constantly swings back and forth between the Liberals and the Conservatives. Incumbent Harper guy and former Buchanan cabinet minister Greg Kerr faces a stiff challenge from former Liberal MP Robert Thibault. Vote Liberal.

Kings—Hants

Steven Harper visited this riding Saturday to shore up support for defeated provincial cabinet minister David Morse, his candidate to replace Liberal Scott Brison, a floor crosser who fled the CPC. New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives (real conservatives) should Vote Liberal

Four ridings are not in play. Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, sadly, will stay in Harper’s camp. Cape Breton—Canso is safe for Liberal Rodger Cuzner, and both Sackville—Eastern Shore and Halifax are safe for NDP incumbents Peter Stoffer and Megan Leslie. The latter was thought to be in trouble early in the campaign, but the Liberal collapse ended that threat.

* A few parliamentary purists, including our old friend Ian McNeil, object to the term “incumbent” in Canadian elections, because once the writ is dropped, former office-holders are no longer MPs. It is (or for years, was) CBC style not to use the word. I regard this as silly unnecessarily fussy. Everyone understands the term to mean, “seat-holder at dissolution.”

Introducing the new Cecil Clarke – it’s Gerald Sampson!

Here’s a bit of inside baseball, of interest only to hard core Cape Breton political junkies and residents of Cape Breton North and Victoria – The Lakes.

sampson-150aWhen the federal election got underway last month, local tongues wagged and eyebrows fluttered at news that twice-defeated one-term Liberal MLA Gerald Sampson was campaigning for Harper Guy Cecil Clarke. Sampson has not exactly been a hot political property since he publicly condemned Victoria County voters as “liars” following his first defeat in 2006. Nevertheless, this was a prominent lifelong Liberal working for a CPC candidate.

clarke150Aye, but here’s the rub: Cecil’s campaign workers are abuzz with disquiet over informed speculation that Sampson will seek the Conservative nomination for the Cape Breton North provincial seat Cecil was required by law to vacate when he filed his candidacy for the federal election in Sydney-Victoria.

Sampson has a knack for winning nominations, matched only by his recent penchant for losing elections. Improbable as victory in the as yet unscheduled byelection might seem, three more years’ service in the legislature would qualify him for a key personal goal: the lucrative MLA’s pension. Somehow this worthy charitable cause has failed to inspire Sampson’s newfound bedfellows in the Conservative campaign.

North Sydney physiotherapist Eddy Orel will also contest the Tory nomination, and common sense dictates he’s the likelier and more sensible choice. But Sampson has surprised party insiders before.

Contrarian’s guide to strategic voting in NS

In the latest Angus Reid poll, 49 percent of Liberal voters and 36 percent of NDP voters expressed a willingness to consider voting for a candidate other than their true preferences, in order to “avoid a specific outcome.”

If you are one of those Liberal, New Democratic, or erstwhile Progressive Conservative voters who would like to avoid the specific outcome of a certain dangerous demagogue getting an unfettered majority in the House of Commons, you may be wondering how to vote Monday. This post is for you.

Contrarian’s Guide to Strategic Voting in Nova Scotia

With three-way races and a still dynamic vote swing underway, this is a hard election to predict. Seven of Nova Scotia’s 11 federal ridings appear to be in play — an unusually large number.

Two of these — Halifax West and Dartmouth—Cole Harbour — appear to be tight contests between Liberal incumbents* and NDP challengers. They will not affect the size or strength of the Harper caucus, so vote your personal preference in those races.

Five are tight contests where the Harper candidate could win, or could fall to a New Democrat or a Liberal.
Central Nova
Peter MacKay faces a tough challenge from high school physics teacher and former Pictou town councillor David Parker, brother of MLA Charlie Parker and a shrewd electoral tactician in his own right.

MacKay has committed many unprincipled acts in his political career, but the alacrity with which he took on the task of vilifying whistleblower Richard Colvin was surely a nadir. Colvin is a genuine Canadian hero, a civil servant who put aside his own career interests to expose Canada’s complicity in the torture of Afghan detainees. As a civil servant, he could only remain mute in the face of MacKay’s character assassination (although opposition members of the Commons did eventually call him back for a lone round of dignified rebuttal testimony). For this alone, seeing MacKay go down would be altogether sweet. Vote NDP.

South Shore—St. Margaret’s

This is a tight race between incumbent Harper guy Gerald Keddy** and former New Democrat MP Gordon Earle. Liberals and Greens should  vote NDP.

Sydney—Victoria

For months, Cecil Clarke has mounted an energetic campaign against nice guy farmer MP Mark Eyking. The NDP usually run second in this riding, but Kathy MacLeod, their candidate this time, is weak. The orange tide may boost her vote, however, and it’s hard to say which potential winner she will hurt the most. This race is much tighter than national pundits realize. In particular, the strategic voting site Project Democracy has mistakenly declared it a safe Liberal seat. Vote Liberal.

West Nova

This riding constantly swings back and forth between the Liberals and the Conservatives. Incumbent Harper guy and former Buchanan cabinet minister Greg Kerr faces a stiff challenge from former Liberal MP Robert Thibault. Vote Liberal.

Kings—Hants

Steven Harper visited this riding Saturday to shore up support for defeated provincial cabinet minister David Morse, his candidate to replace Liberal Scott Brison, a floor crosser who fled the CPC. New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives (real conservatives) should Vote Liberal

Four ridings are not in play. Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, sadly, will stay in Harper’s camp. Cape Breton—Canso is safe for Liberal Rodger Cuzner, and both Sackville—Eastern Shore and Halifax are safe for NDP incumbents Peter Stoffer and Megan Leslie. The latter was thought to be in trouble early in the campaign, but the Liberal collapse ended that threat.

* A few parliamentary purists, including the ineffable Elly Alboim, object to the term “incumbent” in Canadian elections, because once the writ is dropped, former office-holders are no longer MPs. It is (or for years, was) CBC style not to use the word. I regard this as silly. Everyone understands the term to mean, “seat-holder at dissolution.”

** An earlier iteration of this post misidentified the CPC candidate in SSSM as Derek Wells, who is in fact the Liberal candidate, a former president of the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia, and, like Conservative Keddy and NDip Earle, a former MP in this very riding. My apologies to both. With the Liberal collapse, Wells is an also-ran. Liberals who place a high value on preventing a Harper majority should vote for Earle.

Annals of fantasy

If you dredge it they will come.

Field of Dreams-500

Or not.

Unholy angels

MACDONALDM_S_Robb.jpgCecil_Clarke-150Marilyn-More-150

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That schools in the Cape Breton-Victoria School District will close is obvious. Enrolment here has dropped 22 percent over eight years, with no end to the decline in sight, while costs have risen 25 percent over the same period.

That Holy Angels High tops the list of candidates for closure is equally obvious. The geriatric Catholic order that owns the school wants to unload it, and has offered it to the board for $750,000. The board estimates it would need another $8 to $10 million in repairs, while newer schools nearby have lots of space.

The prospect of closure has provoked the usual outcry from students, grads, and parents, but the province faces a budgetary crisis brought on by previous governments, and made worse by its own senseless campaign promises. Reality requires deep cuts to P-12 school budgets, not new spending to keep decrepit surplus buildings in service.

That’s the factual background to last week’s visit by Holy Angels students to the legislature to protest against closure. Here is what the students encountered:

  • Manning MacDonald, a Liberal on the verge of retirement, who represents the school’s catchment area and seems bent on a scorched earth campaign to ensure his replacement will not be a New Democrat.
  • Cecil Clarke, a neighboring Conservative MLA openly embarked on a quixotic campaign for the federal seat that encompasses Holy Angels.
  • Marilyn More, the Education Minister, whose party knows MacDonald’s seat will be up for grabs in two years and harbors the illusion that a New Democrat might take it.

It was a recipe for pandering on a grand scale.

Holy Angels“Keep them there, buy the school, and let them continue with the excellent programs they’ve had there since 1885,” thundered MacDonald, who knows perfectly well this would be lunacy.

“The NDP’s abysmal failure to support excellent young women and the Sydney community [is just another example of] this failed NDP socialist experiment,” railed Clarke, trying out the Tea Party rhetoric that will be expected of him as a Harper flag-bearer. (Clarke did not explain how resisting political pressure for reckless spending constitutes socialism.)

Minister More spoke vaguely of innovative solutions, and hinted that the school might be kept together as an administrative unit sharing premises with another school.

When Nova Scotians complain about a lack of leadership, this is the sort of thing they mean. MacDonald, Clarke, More, and the other 49 MLAs all know keeping Holy Angels open would be foolhardy, but they perceive a short-term interest in pretending otherwise, so pretence is all they offered.

The students got a dishonest display of faux outrage before going home to a school the glad-hands of province house know will close, as well they know it should.

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