Kimber's Nova Scotia (Oct 14, 2007)

Kimber’s Nova Scotia

October 14, 2007

Get off of their Cloud 9

Peter and Anne Winkles thought they were making a simple business decision. The owners of Yarmouth’s Cloud Nine Shuttle — which operates a 364-day-a-year Halifax-Yarmouth shuttle service using three family-style, seven-passenger vans — decided they could save on monthly maintenance costs that run as high as $4,000 as well as increase their overall efficiency by replacing one of the aging vans with a newer, slightly larger, 10-passenger commercial-use van.

Explains Anne Winkles: “[The price of] gas we can’t control. We can’t control roads; we can’t control anything. One of the few things I thought we might be able to control was maintenance on the vehicle.”

In Nova Scotia, nothing is as simple as it seems — or as it should be.

Soon after they began kicking tires at the car lot, they got a call from the province’s big brother Utility and Review Board informing them that it would have to put a notice in the Royal Gazette notifying their competitors of their nefarious van-buying scheme and inviting objections.

Two companies — bus giants Acadian Bus Lines and Trius Tours — did object. That led to a URB hearing where high-priced corporate lawyers for the bus companies explained how adding three piddling extra seats on Cloud 9’s shuttle service could spell doom for their own operations in the area.

Incredibly, the board listened and then turned down — without explanation — Cloud Nine’s request.

“It’s extremely frustrating that my own government seems to be impeding my business efficiencies,” Anne Winkles told the Yarmouth Vanguard. “I think our government talks the talk about helping small businesses but, in my opinion… it looks like there is a lot of partiality for the big guys.”

No kidding.

Smoke signals

In December 2004, the Central Highlands Association for the Disabled asked New Glasgow town council to provide visual smoke alarms for fewer than a half dozen local hearing-impaired residents. The town said no. Providing the alarms, it said, was “not a municipal role or responsibility, nor an area that would be appropriate for [it] to pursue.”

Last week, 64-year-old Donald William Marshall, a hearing-impaired man, died in a fire at his residence.

“This is a tragedy that no one wants to see in any community,” Kim Dickson, the town’s marketing and communications director, told the New Glasgow News.” But Dickson was quick to add that council simply can’t say yes to every request it gets and that it did suggest the disabled group approach local businesses to donate the equipment.

“I don’t remember them suggesting we do that,” the association’s Ron Levy countered. He said he realized the town wasn’t under any legal obligation to provide the alarms but he said it was a “moral responsibility.”

Let’s call it YRM

More than 100 people jammed into the Municipality of Yarmouth council chambers last week for a public meeting, “filling every available inch, doorway and even the hall,” according to Yarmouth Vanguard reporter Michael Gorman. The turnout, he wrote, was “so overwhelming… some people turned around at the door when they realized there was no hope of fitting in the room.”

The issues that roused the residents to such a fever pitch?

Whether to build a new $4-million building to house municipal offices and, and perhaps not coincidentally, whether it makes more sense for Yarmouth — town and county — to follow the lead of Halifax, Cape Breton and Queen’s counties and amalgamate to form one larger and more efficient regional unit.

The main concern among those opposing the construction project was that a fancy new building — according to the official plans, the structure will come complete with terraces, an exercise room and a sophisticated geo-thermal heating system — would end up increasing taxes for county residents.

“It’s the dollars that we have to pay,” complained Roy Andrews. “My taxes have gone up 30 per cent in the last seven years.”

Despite assurances from municipal officials that building the building wouldn’t add to their tax burden, several speakers argued that councillors, instead of wasting money on new infrastructure, should be looking to reduce the size of government and their own budgets.

Which is to say, they should amalgamate with the town.

Perhaps predictably, Warden Bryan Smith wasn’t keen. “If Yarmouth County ever became a region,” he said, “we would be classed in with CBRM and HRM. You want to talk about being a small fish… We would really be small."

Countered resident Barrie MacGreeggor: “Queen’s County has been amalgamated for 11 years, effectively saving money and… ending the persistent unpleasant and unproductive debate of town versus on many issues…”

Uh, well, not really.

Perhaps he might want to reconsider his last remark considering some of the ongoing debates among Halifax Regional Municipality councillors over pet bylaws, snow removal and whether to call their fiefdom Halifax or HRM…

Hmmm… Yarmouth? Or YRM?

Selling Wellness for wellness

The good news — if you’re in need of medical care in Port Hawkesbury — is that the local waterfront development society is going ahead with a $75,000 renovation to a town-owned downtown office building to provide better facilities for a family doctor whose practice is growing.

The bad news — if you own commercial real estate in the town — is that tenants like the doctor who lease space from the society in buildings owned by the town don’t pay the same taxes as those in privately-owned commercial buildings.

“I’ve had a lot of phone calls from businesses in town that say, ‘How can [we] compete?’” Coun. Joe Janega told the Cape Breton Post.

But the deal with the doctor may inadvertently ease the concerns of those same businesses. Earlier this month, as part of the deal in which town council approved a loan to cover the costs of the renovations, the society agreed to pay back the money by selling off the Wellness Centre, another building it owns.

Which assumes, of course, they can find a private buyer for another office building in the town Stora forgot.

More good news, bad news…

The Nova Scotia government may — or may not — be relieved to learn that Digby finally has a new emergency room physician.

Dr. Ron Matsusaki, who had been working for the past four years at Western Hospital in Alberton, P.E.I., has agreed to accept less money to relocate to the Digby General where officials hope his presence will allow their often shuttered ER to return to regular service.

Why would the provincial government — which has been under fire for months over ongoing closures at rural emergency rooms — be wary about Matsusaki’s impending arrival?

Well, the doctor ‘s reputation precedes him. He’s known on Prince Edward Island as an outspoken critic of that province’s agricultural pesticide policies. He claims there’s a connection between use of the pesticides on local farms and what he says are higher-than-normal cancer rates in the area.

The doctor has said the pesticide issue had nothing to do with his decision to switch locations — he says vaguely there were changes he wanted made at Western that he couldn’t convince the powers-that-be to follow up
on — but it’s unlikely he’ll be any quieter in Nova Scotia than he was in P.E.I.

Be careful what you wish for, Rodney.


Better news

Speaking of Digby and the health care crises there — aren’t we always? — the community received even more good news this week.

Dr. Roy Harding is back. The longtime local family physician — who’d carried almost twice what’s considered a normal patient load before resigning his 2,500-patient practice at the end of June — is opening a new part-time walk-in clinic in the local hospital.

By focusing on the management and treatment of chronic illness — the clinic is intended for patients with routine health problems who don’t have their own family doctors — Harding’s clinic should help ease the burden on the hospital’s emergency room.


Green author alert

Green Party leader Elizabeth May’s quest to wrest Central Nova from the iron grasp of federal Tory cabinet minister Peter MacKay will get a publicity — and financial —goose this week when two of Canada’s literary icons stage a night of readings in the riding in support of her campaign.

The famous Margaret Atwood, who joined the Green Party last year and says “anything I can do to help Elizabeth May in her efforts to gain a seat and thus give the Green vote a voice in Parliament is a pleasure,” will be joined by the infamous Farley Mowat, who will be doing his first public reading in a number of years. Atwood’s husband, novelist Graeme Gibson, and Nova Scotia’s own multi-talented, multi-award-winning Linda Little will also take part in the event at Trinity United Church in New Glasgow on Wednesday evening.

Call 902-695-4000 for more information.

Stephen Kimber is the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College. His column also appears in Thursday’s Daily News.

SOURCES: CAPE BRETON POST, DIGBY COURIER, NEW GLASGOW NEWS, YARMOUTH VANGUARD.

Available May 13, 2008

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  1. Rural areas all need to be amalgamated into “municipalities.” That way, low tax rates can be increased for social development, and central planners for these areas can enact reforms without local political interference. The three maritime provinces should be amalgamated. PEI has less people than some neighborhoods in Toronto!

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