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.]

Unholy angels






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.

The Liberal mailing list flap

On CBC Radio last week, Contrarian’s old friend Ralph Surette said Nova Scotia Liberals had dumped their last nine leaders — every one since Gerald Regan — before they could fight a second election.

That’s not quite true. The Liberals have had only seven leaders since Regan, and two of those took the party through two elections. Still, the record is fratricidal:
Liberal Leaders 250

The operative question is whether the Liberals will repeat this pattern when they review leader Stephen McNeil’s leadership Friday. A covert campaign to unseat McNeil has featured an inept website and a mass mail-out using a purloined copy of the party’s email list.

Party president Derek Wells launched an investigation into this breach of  party security, a move some criticized as merely prolonging a bad-news story for leader McNeil. I’m not so sure. It’s never pleasant or easy for a leader to fend off this kind of clandestine back-biting.

If anyone looks bad, it’s  Deputy Leader Diana Whalen, who has never recovered from her bitterness at losing the 2007 leadership race to McNeil by 68 votes. Suspicion focused on Whalen when the source code for the unauthorized email turned up an address containing the letters, “dboudreau.”

Doug Boudreau, Whalen’s constituency assistant and the son of former Finance Minister and one-time leadership candidate Bernie Boudreau (who supported Whalen in the leadership campaign), offered an eyebrow-raising “no comment” when asked if he sent the email.

Confronted by reporters, Whalen fueled these suspicions by refusing to ask Boudreau whether he had done so, on grounds that she wouldn’t take part in “a witch hunt.” She didn’t say why asking an employee whether he made improper use of  party lists constitutes a “witch hunt.”

Whalen likewise refuses to say whether she supports McNeil’s leadership, invoking the specious “principle” that party “elites” should not tell the rank and file how to vote.

This is tawdry behaviour. If Whalen wants McNeil defeated, she should have to ovaries to say so, publicly and forthrightly. If she wants McNeil to win the next election, common political sense dictates closing ranks behind him in the leadership review. Campaigning secretly to defeat him while maintaining a dubious public posture of neutrality doesn’t speak well of her integrity or her truthfulness.

Undermining McNeil is nothing new for Whalen. Readers may recall when then-Justice Minister Cecil Clarke got into hot water for refusing to allow a vote on a private member’s bill by Walen that would have established a committee to combat domestic violence. Clarke was retaliating against Whalen’s vote in committee to kill a bill cracking down on copper thieves (a bill other members of her caucus supported).

Whalen claimed fences, er,  scrap metal dealers in her riding had not been given sufficient chance to review the bill. In fact, rampant theft of copper from live power lines posed a grave risk to public safety at the time, and Whalen had deliberately sabotaged a deal between the minority Tory government and the Liberal caucus to pass both bills. Given a chance undermine McNeil, the risk of potential electrocution didn’t factor in.

In the ensuing uproar, Clarke was accused of putting scrap metal ahead of battered women, a phony meme gullible (or lazy) press gallery reporters embraced with alacrity.

Barrow, MacFadden, and ‘Suitcase’ Simpson: the final chapter


That’s how the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia obtained the money it would be blocked from using by a government bill introduced in the legislature Tuesday. Liberal leader Stephen McNeil should think hard before crying victim.

Justice Minister Ross Landry, who introduced the bill, suggested the Liberals give the tainted funds to charity. A better idea would be to give it back to the provincial treasury, because that’s who they stole it from.

Stephen McNeil 2cfw-bw-sMcNeil may think voters’ memories are too short to remember the details, but a few of us old coots are still around to remind them.

The money in question came from two ‘trust’ accounts, the Hawco and Howmur Funds. They came to light in the 1983 influence-peddling trial of three Nova Scotia Liberal Party fundraisers, Sen. Augustus Irvine Barrow, Clarence MacFadden, and the colorfully named James G. “Suitcase” Simpson.

The three bagmen oversaw a Liberal Party toll-gating scheme from 1970 to 1978, while Gerald Regan was premier. As the Supreme Court of Canada (R. v. Barrow, [1987] 2 S.C.R. 694) described it:

In October of 1970, the liberal party defeated the then Government of Nova Scotia in a general election and formed the new government which held power until 1978. During the period from 1970 to 1978, the Committee collected contributions amounting in total to $3,836,468.13, of which $2,770,773.52 was deposited in one bank account and $1,065,694.61 in the other. A police investigation commenced in the autumn of 1978 resulted in the seizure of many documents from government departments and agencies and also from several wineries, distilleries and other corporations. The evidence revealed that the contributions made by liquor and wine companies dealing with the government were based on a fixed amount per case of products sold to the Government. Other companies doing business with the government paid a percentage of monies they received from government work which ranged from three to five per cent.

Simpson plead guilty and paid a $75,000 fine. MacFadden and Barrow were found guilty at trial; MacFadden paid a $25,000 fine, but Barrow, for whom conviction would have meant expulsion from the Senate, appealed and won a new trial on a technicality. He was acquitted at a second trial.

At the first trial, Hugh Rynard, president of Acres Consulting Services Ltd., testified:

One of my functions was to insure that we as a company did whatever was necessary to improve our ability both in obtaining work and in execution of our work. And I was told that it would be in order for me to seek an appointment with Mr. Barrow.

Rynard and Barrow met on March 7, 1973 so Rynard could pitch the bagman on the company’s expertise. According to Rynard’s undisputed testimony, Barrow:

told me during that conversation that we would be expected to pay from three percent to five percent of the fees generated from Provincial Government work to the  . . . into the coffers of the Liberal Party.

For years, the Liberal Party used interest off these secret funds to finance campaigns and, in at least one notorious example, to pay a secret salary to Liberal leader Vince MacLean.

The funds returned to the public spotlight in the early nineties, thanks to late George Hawkins, a courageous Liberal who spent years trying to convince fellow Party members to give up their ill-gotten gains, and apologize for taking them in the first place. “Since the beginning of the Regan administration,” Hawkins said, “the Liberal Party… has been living… from the proceeds of crime.”

Even before the Barrow-MacFadden trial, Hawkins knew the source of the money because, ironically, his father, a Liberal stalwart, had set up one of the funds. There is little doubt that Nova Scotia Conservatives carried out similar shakedowns during the Robert Stanfield and G.I. Smith administrations, but the party’s financial records were destroyed in a mysterious fire around the time the RCMP began making inquiries.

Thanks to pressure from Hawkins, the Liberal Party eventually agreed to audit the funds, and relinquish to the province any money that proved tainted. But as Kings College Journalism prof. Steven Kimber recounts, the party’s actions fell short of this promise:

After another year of obfuscating, the party released its so-called “audit,” which wasn’t. Instead, the auditors, “as specifically agreed,” only perused the actual trial transcript and identified $1,287,473.14 “proven or alleged to have been obtained” through kickbacks. “This procedure,” the auditors noted dryly, “does not constitute an audit.”

Liberal House Leader Manning MacDonald likes to pretend the funds were “cleansed many years ago” through this process, but this is malarkey. Most, if not all of the money that remains in the funds was stolen from the taxpayers of Nova Scotia.

Steven McNeil has a decision to make. Will he continue the long tradition of lying about the source of this money? Or will he support Bill 44, a measure that would finally put this sordid chapter of our history to rest?

Not quite fisticuffs as youth and veteran clash


A spirited CBC Radio forum for candidates in Cape Breton South last Thursday degenerated into a shouting match in the back parking lot of CBC  Sydney after the show.

Feisty Liberal veteran Manning MacDonald and earnest NDP up-and-comer Wayne MacKay nearly came to blows after MacDonald took umbrage at suggestions he was an absentee MP.

The debate itself, on CBC-Cape Breton’s Information Morning, featured a generational clash as MacDonald, 66, defended attacks from MacKay, 34, and Tory Stephen Tobin, 25, both teachers (sort of). Cathy Theriault of the Greens, a one-time Marijuana Party candidate, also took part. Continue reading Not quite fisticuffs as youth and veteran clash