Tagged: David Ryan

Eastport Maine v. Cape Breton’s serendipitous superport

[See correction and clarification at end.] Two months ago, Atlantic journalists James and Deborah Fallows began traveling around the United States in a small plane, visiting relatively obscure cities in a quest to find out what makes some thrive while others struggle.

They spent much of last week in Eastport, Maine, hard up against the New Brunswick border. Jim’s initial blog posts bespeak a community well on the way to recovery, populated by leaders determined to go the distance. Since Eastport shares much in common with struggling Atlantic port communities, Maritimers might want to perk up their ears.

In a post last week, and again on the weekend, Jim focused on two factors residents believe will play a role in Eastport’s potential for economic prosperity: the depth of its harbour, and its proximity to Europe.

As you’ll hear, a group of ambitious people in the city are trying to use the port’s unique capacity — and its proximity to Europe, and its potential proximity to Asia as northwest passages through a warming Canadian arctic become more frequent (they are already happening) — as one foundation of its hoped-for economic revival.

and

As mentioned yesterday — and as cited non-stop by local port authorities — Eastport has the deepest natural harbor in the continental United States, at 60+ feet. Its siting, “remote” from the rest of America’s perspective, is also a potential strategic plus.

To buttress the point, he offered three maps, created by the nifty online Great Circle Mapper, showing how much closer to Europe Eastport is than Boston, New York, or Miami. And not just from Europe, but from the African ports of Casablanca and Dakar. Here’s the London map:

FallowsMap1

Compared to Boston, Eastport has the potential to save vessels more than 500 miles* in a round trip to London; 900 miles when compared to New York. All that means time, fuel, and money saved. Similar maps made the same point with the two African ports.

All this rang a bell with David Ryan, a Long Island, filmmaker, boat builder, and yachtsman, who happens to be a mutual friend of Jim’s and mine. In an email to both of us, he wrote:

I heard the same thing when we were in Port Hastings [on the Strait of Canso in Cape Breton Island], Nova Scotia, back around 2003. There was no reason a local should have been telling me in particular that they had 60 feet of water, were ice-free year round, and right on one of Canada’s main train arteries, yet I was; so I take it this is something that all Post Hastings boosters tell anyone and everyone who visits.

One curious feature of the superport formed by the eastern half of the Strait of Canso is that it was accidental. Construction of the 4,544 ft, rock-filled causeway connecting Cape Breton Island to the mainland in 1955 had the unanticipated result of creating an ice-free, deepwater harbour. This image from Google Earth shows how the causeway traps the seasonal ice flowing down from the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway, keeping the deep waterway east of the causeway free from ice. Voilà! A superport.

Canso Causeway Blocks Ice

For a time, the superport turned the nearby community of Port Hawkesbury into something of a boom town, albeit one that never quite lived up to its potential. An oil refinery, a gypsum plant, and a heavy water plant all eventually failed—the heavy water plant spectacularly so**—but the paper mill still operates at reduced capacity, as does a tank farm, a bulk coal facility, and a massive rock quarry. Together they make Port Hawkesbury Canada’s second largest port by tonnage, after Vancouver. A biomass electrical generating station officially opens in Port Hawkesbury this Wednesday, but hopes for a container terminal remain elusive (though not as elusive as Sydney’s parallel pipe dream).

Thinking about all this history led me back to the Great Circle Mapper, where I reconstructed Jim’s images of the Great Eastport Advantage — this time including Port Hawkesbury. As I expected, the Nova Scotia port has as much of an advantage over Eastport as Eastport has over Boston.

map1

Here is the map showing distances to Casablanca:

Map2

And here is Dakar.

Map3

The Canso Superport wins all three.

Whether this makes it any more likely than Eastport to foster lasting economic growth, and what other factors might affect the two communities’ prospects, is a much tougher question, and a topic for another day. We may get some hint, however, from an apocryphal Presbyterian prayer one hears quoted from time to time in Cape Breton:

And more especially do we thank Thee, O Lord, for the Gut of Canso, Thine own body of water, which separates us from the wickedness that lieth on the other side thereof.

* [Clarification] In response to a question from Robert G. McNeil, the units are nautical miles.

** [Correction] Thanks to Stanley Beaton for reminding me it wasn’t the heavy water plant at Port Hawkesbury that proved a disaster. It was AECL’s sister facility at Glace Bay.

 

A brazenly self-serving exercise of bureaucratic power

Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse will finally sit down with the Talbot House board of directors Tuesday, but only after her department’s shrewd mandarins have pre-empted any actual purpose the meeting might serve.

The Talbot board asked for the session months ago, seeking a peaceful resolution to her department’s reckless assaults on the half-century-old, community-built addiction recovery center. Peterson-Rafuse readily agreed to the meeting in principle, then bobbed, weaved, and stalled until her officials rendered it meaningless.

First she couldn’t meet because the legislature was sitting. Then she postponed again, just long enough for the department to announce the RFP* it hopes will kill any chance of Talbot House reopening.

DCS announced the RFP to replace the services Talbot provided on the very day its bureaucrats gave the legislature’s Community Services Committee a selective and distorted account of events leading to Talbot’s closure, an account that depicted department functionaries as blameless for and even shocked at the sordid sequence of events.

When George Savoury, Executive Director of Family and Community Supports, emerged from that hearing, a reporter asked whether DCS had any mea culpa to offer.

“No,” he replied.

Another reporter asked what lessons the department had learned from the Talbot imbroglio.

“We will be, as a result of this experience, doing more frequent reviews,” Savoury said.

It was a brazenly self-serving conclusion. The DCS review of Talbot House is hardly a template anyone would want to replicate.

  • It led to the closure of a valued community institution that had served some of Nova Scotia’s most tormented citizens.
  • It promoted false allegations of sexual impropriety against an innocent man, the organization’s executive director, Fr. Paul Abbass.
  • It based these allegations on vague hearsay from anonymous third parties—allegations for which police could find no basis in fact.

Even after an eight-week police review cleared Abbass, DCS saw fit to publish a report that repeated the sinister-sounding innuendo—still anonymous, and described in a manner so vague it would be impossible to refute, no matter how innocent the target.

Compounding the slander directed at Abbass, the DCS report contained additional inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and outright falsehoods. To cite but a few:

  • It said the recovery house had no budget, when in fact, a budget was attached to its annual application for funding.
  • It said the annual financial statements submitted by Talbot’s accounting firm were unsigned; in fact, they were signed.
  • It criticized aspects of Talbot’s financial management in a manner so uncomprehending as to betray broad ignorance of not-for-profit accounting practices
  • It complained that Talbot House had no formal orientation for new staff, when Talbot had not hired a new employee for six years.

Stripped of bias and errors, the report boiled down to a complaint that Talbot had been slow to implement personnel procedures such as job descriptions and performance reviews.

In short, DCS carried out a review and released a report that was slanderous, error-filled, and biased, yet the man in charge offered no apology, and proclaimed the only take-home to be that more frequent reviews are needed.

Meanwhile the minister responsible dithered and stonewalled long enough for her officials to render today’s meeting meaningless.

What a disgrace.

– – –

* An RFP is a request for proposals, the first step in a tendering process. DCS will request proposals to provide recovery center services in Cape Breton. The RFP will set forth the criteria the winning bidder must meet.  The department  will evaluate submissions and select a winner, who will then get government money to provide the very services Talbot House pioneered in Cape Breton on a volunteer basis 53 years ago. DCS has said Talbot House is free to compete for this tender, but I will be surprised if the criteria do not include features tacitly intended to exclude Talbot—such as a willingness to accept clients on Methadone, use of which is contrary to Talbot’s philosophy. If effect, the Talbot House Society is being forced to compete for the right to supply the service it pioneered.

Another Talbot House test for the NDP

On Tuesday, members of the Nova Scotia Legislature’s Community Services Committee will get a chance to question the bureaucrat who promoted what turned out to be false allegations of sexual misconduct against an innocent priest, and to ask her superiors why they still haven’t withdrawn a report containing slanderous innuendo against him.

The department’s actions led to the closure of Talbot House, which had for 53 years provided safe lodging, meaningful work, and successful treatment for some of Nova Scotia’s most troubled citizens.

Marika Lathem, Director of Family and Youth Services and the principal author of the error-filled report, will testify. The Talbot House Society Board said her review of the organization, “was fundamentally flawed in process and analysis, procedurally inadequate, lacked balance, and contributed to a report that contained numerous inaccuracies and misrepresentations that, by their nature, are prejudicial, biased and misrepresent the history, governance, and operation of Talbot House.”

George Savoury, Executive Director of Family and Community Supports, and Associate Deputy Minister David Ryan will also appear. As Lathem’s superiors, they either failed to vet her report prior to publication, or failed to notice its obvious errors, inconsistencies, and casual calumny.

Morton

Chairing the committee is Kings North MLA Jim Morton who, coincidentally, served as the Annapolis Valley District Health Authority’s Manager of Addiction Services before becoming an MLA. With that background, Morton will have first-hand experience with Fortress DCS.

Last week, another coincidence: DCS gave itself a 30-day extension to the statutory deadline for responding to four freedom-of-information requests about Talbot. This had the effect of guaranteeing the requested material will not be available for Tuesday’s hearing. The department said meeting the initial time limit for the large number of records requested could unreasonably interfere with its operations. In one of the requests at issue, the “large number of records requested” was one: a single, easily located document.

Last time a house committee got the opportunity to consider the Talbot House scandal, DCS Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse conducted a one-woman filibuster in response to the first question asked of her. She spoke for nearly an hour, running out the clock before opposition MLAs could get in a second question.

Legislature committee rules do not facilitate effective cross-examination of evasive or hostile witnesses. It will be interesting to see whether Morton allows prolix opening statements and time-wasting by  government members to frustrate meaningful exploration of the Talbot mess Tuesday.

For decades, concern about how DCS treated Nova Scotia’s down-and-out lay close to the heart of the New Democratic Party. Tuesday’s hearing will offer another measure of how much the long road to power has changed the party.