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.]


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.


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.


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.