Kimber's Nova Scotia (Dec 30, 2007)

Kimber’s Nova Scotia

December 30, 2007

Winning the wharf war

More than eight years after Ottawa disastrously handed control of Digby’s vital fishermen’s wharf to outsiders and more than five years after frustrated locals first organized to buy it back, the wharf is finally in the hands of a community group.

In 1999, as part of its ill-conceived port divestiture program, the federal Liberals not only gave the wharf to an outside private company for a dollar but then handed it $3 million to maintain the structure. Instead, critics charge, the group used Ottawa’s money to pay salaries to its non-resident directors and foot the costs for unrelated ventures. To make matters worse, it turned out Ottawa couldn’t do anything about that because, as an arbitrator ruled last year, the contract it signed with the group “had the proverbial hole in it ‘big enough to drive a truck through.’”

Meanwhile, the wharf was — quite literally — falling apart. The situation became so bad this spring local fishermen had put chains around a section of the wharf just to hold all the pieces together.

The Digby Harbour Port Authority, the local group that’s been negotiating to buy back the wharf, had intended to officially announce yesterday that it had finally finalized a deal, but word began leaking out earlier in the week.

Fishermen using the wharf “noticed that the fellow checking boats [for the wharf’s former owners] wasn’t doing it anymore,” Authority spokesperson Reg Hazelton told the Digby Courier, adding that even he found it “hard to believe” the deal was finally done.

The Authority managed to leap a final hurdle — a clause in the infamous original contract that would have imposed a $500,000 penalty on the private group if it sold the wharf before 2009 — after Transport Canada agreed to waive the penalty clause.

The Authority will begin shoring up the crumbling structure immediately. An engineering report estimates the total cost of repairs at around $9 million.

Without being specific, Hazelton said the Authority has received promises — though nothing in writing — of financial assistance.

Let’s hope Ottawa’s negotiators do a better job this time.

Community dis-spirit

’Tis the season for giving… and giving… and giving. But Bowater Mersey’s unionized employees can be forgiven for wondering what, if anything, they’ll receive in return.

Last month, the 330 south shore workers voted overwhelmingly to take a pay cut to enable 49 of their fellow employees to retire early rather than be laid off. And, in February, their union executive will meet with other east coast union officials to discuss whether to open up their collective agreements to offer the company more concessions.

Despite that, AbitibiBowater, the parent company, won’t promise to keep its Nova Scotia operations open; in fact, it has already announced that more of its plants may close in 2008.

To add smack to punch, union president Courtney Wentzell says some in the local community are blaming the employees — particularly their “inflexible” work rules — for the problems at the plant.

While conceding there was a time when “you couldn’t screw in a light bulb without an electrician,” Wentzell says those days are long gone. The workers, he adds, didn’t agree to the pay cut just to help some of their members retire early. “We did it for the community to keep the mill here.

“We really hope the blame thing goes away,” he told the Queen’s County Advance. If local residents really want to lay blame, he added, they had “better start looking somewhere else.”

He says Premier Rodney MacDonald’s government should help the industry — perhaps by allowing Bowater to harvest crown land without charge, provided there are no layoffs, as has been done in Newfoundland and Quebec — but it’s up to the company too.

“We hope the community and the government and everybody else sees that the workers took a big hit and are willing to do their part,” Wentzell said.

Earth to Ernie

Should Cumberland North forgive Ernie? was the title of an editorial in the weekly Amherst Citizen published in the heart of disgraced cabinet minister, convicted MLA and turfed Tory Ernie Fage’s home constituency last week.

The paper didn’t pull any punches. “In less than two years, the veteran MLA has gone from being a respectable senior cabinet minister to becoming the laughing stock of his party,” it wrote, adding that his recent guilty plea to charges of leaving the scene of an accident came as “no surprise.”

Damning their veteran MLA with the faintest of praise, the paper allowed that “Ernie is a heck of a nice guy, and that popularity might get him re-elected. But does he deserve it? After all, if there is only one thing we can expect of our elected officials, it is that they demonstrate good judgment.”

Noting that Fage has said he intends to run as an independent candidate in the next provincial election, the editorial muses: “Why Fage would want to put himself through this is a question only he can answer, but whether or not his constituents want to potentially put themselves through another embarrassing situation is a question that will be answered come next election day…”


Experiencing history on the Internet

It was one of the most sport famous fishing trips ever undertaken in Nova Scotia — Albert Bigelow Paine’s two-week canoe adventure along the waters and through the woods of southwestern Nova Scotia at the beginning of the last century.

Now, to mark the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Tent Dwellers, Paine’s account of the journey, local organizers are planning a summer-long festival of adventure-related events, including a guide’s meet and competition, canoe-building and fly-tying exhibitons, an outdoor arts festival and even a re-enactment of the historic two-week canoe trip.

Although novices are not welcome on that journey — there will be a public paddle in June along a section of the Shelburne River that was part of the original route — the experienced paddlers who will follow the original route will post photos and videos to the Internet each day so the rest of us can enjoy the trip vicariously.

Now that’s my idea of outdoor adventure.

I don’t C U

This week’s where-not-to-get sick alerts come from Amherst and Tatamagouche.

The Cumberland Health Authority has announced it won’t reopen its largest hospital’s intensive care unit until New Year’s morning at 7 a.m.

The Amherst hospital’s ICU has been shuttered since Christmas Eve — the third time in a month it’s been closed — because the authority couldn’t find a qualified physician to fill in for the hospital’s three regular specialists. Patients needing intensive care are being shipped to Moncton or Halifax.

Meanwhile, in Tatamagouche, the Lillian Fraser Memorial Hospital’s emergency department will be closed on New Year’s Eve from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and then again on Jan. 4 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Be well.

Fishing the bottom harder…

Having lobsters for New Year’s? Enjoy. Because tomorrow… well, who knows?

Lobster catches are down in southwestern Nova Scotia this winter, partly because gale-force winds not only kept lobster boats in port d
uring the first week of the season. But only partly. Some in the industry are beginning to think there may be more to this season’s less.

“We say it’s the weather,” Denny Morrow, executive director of the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association, told the Yarmouth Vanguard, “but we know we’ve been fishing the bottom harder and harder every year.”

Though the industry has managed to supply its traditional Christmas and New Year’s markets, the next big concern is whether there will be enough inventory to last until spring. Eat up.

Oh, Christmas Tree

When the Greenwood Military Family Resource Centre called King’s County Christmas tree grower Steve Bezanson to ask if he’d be willing to donate 30 of his trees to give to families of Greenwood-based military personnel serving in Afghanistan, “I didn’t even hesitate,” he told the King’s County Register.

The national program, supported by the Canadian Council of Christmas Tree Growers, provided over 3,000 free Christmas trees this year to those with loved ones deployed to Afghanistan during the holiday season.

“Christmas can be tough when you have a family member deployed,” explained Margaret Reid, co-ordinator of deployment services for the resource centre, “and any act of kindness can ease that.”

Angie St. Nicolas, who was among the recipients of Bezanson’s trees, told the newspaper she and her two children, Emily and Owen, were planning to decorate their tree in time to welcome her husband, Shawn, home on a mid-deployment break the week before Christmas.

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.


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