Kimber's Nova Scotia (July 1, 2007)

Kimber’s Nova Scotia

July 1, 2007

Emergency? What emergency?

If you live in Digby and have a medical emergency this summer, South West Health suggests you dial 9-1-1. What happens after that is anyone’s guess.

The doctor shortage is now so acute Digby General Hospital is closing its emergency department from Mondays to Fridays throughout July, and perhaps longer.

Patients needing emergency care are being directed to the Yarmouth, Annapolis or Kentville hospitals, but South West Health hinted that calling 9-1-1 first might speed up treatment since “emergency departments give priority to emergency cases.”

Despite the crisis, Health Minister Chris d’Entremont doesn’t appear overly concerned. He was supposed to attend a Digby meeting on the issue almost two months ago, but got delayed in Halifax and the meeting never happened. And he didn’t show up at a Digby rally Thursday, during which more than 1,000 people signed save-our-hospital postcards to send to Premier Rodney MacDonald.

Late last month, Dr. Roy Harding, the hospital’s deputy chief of staff —whose resignation became effective Thursday — wrote to the minister asking for a face-to-face meeting. He complained the minister’s absence at another meeting with his officials “has led at least in part to this unsatisfactory situation.”

The result: “I never got a reply.”

Their meeting has now finally been scheduled — for July 11, nearly two weeks after Harding’s last day on the job.

Show me the money, take 1

If Yarmouth’s Tri-County school board wants to get the same funding as other regional school boards, it should hire more expensive teachers, lose some students and, oh yes, shorten the distance between schools.

That may not have been the message Deputy Education Minister Dennis Cochrane wanted to deliver when he made his belated appearance before the board Monday. But that was the message skeptical principals, school advisory council reps, school board members and parents — who believe the province’s funding formula favours other school districts — took away from the two-hour session.

The education funding formula, Cochrane insisted, is equitable but can never be equal. Some boards appear to get more funding, he explained, because the average teacher salary in their district is higher, possibly because Yarmouth has hired younger, cheaper teachers to replace those retiring.

And then there’s declining enrollment. Cochrane said the province provides supplementary funding to school boards in places like Cape Breton that are losing dramatic numbers of students. Under that formula, the Strait regional board last year got $4.6 million while the Tri-County received just over $500,000. Do you really want to get extra money because you have fewer students, Cochrane wanted to know?

One school principal countered that she was told by a fellow principal from another district his school had received $160,000 for “extras… How is it possible that one board can have all of their schools get a surplus when our schools are struggling?”

Does the province understand that filling traveling student services and counseling positions on a population rather than a geographic basis penalizes board’s like the Tri-County board, which is trying to serve a vast rural area, others asked?

The meeting, it is fair to say, did not change many minds.

Show them the money, take 2

Tri-County schools aren’t the only ones looking for more money. The chair of the West Highlands Elementary School in Amherst has written Cochrane a letter, imploring the education department to “fast-track” a replacement for their 94-year-old school building, which contains mould and cancer-causing asbestos as well as suffering from structural problems.

The school is scheduled for multimillion dollar renovations “in the next few years,” but locals say they need a new school now.

“A patch-job approach will not adequately address the serious health and safety concerns presently existing at West Highlands,” advisory board chair Cindy Bourgeois wrote.

While Cochrane recently told local school board officials he agrees something needs to be done, he pointed out the province now has a “hold” on new school construction projects…

So let’s spend millions on useless renovations instead.

Support our decal makers

In economically booming Sydney, there are so few pressing issues to distract Cape Breton municipal politicians one councillor wants the region’s chief administrative officer to get staff pasting yellow “Support Our Troops” decals on all municipal vehicles.

“It’s about time we showed support,” says Coun. Jim MacLeod, who has a sign in front of his own home declaring his family prays for and supports Canadian troops.

Over 200 Cape Bretoners are currently serving in Afghanistan.

Here a pool, there a pool

Who closed the door first? And did they slam it shut? Those were the questions up for debate last week when Lunenburg Municipal Council discussed plans for a new multi-purpose facility featuring an aquatic centre, library, 500-seat performing arts centre and municipal building in Osprey Village off Exit 12 at Highway 103.

For some councillors, the plan — and suggestions the municipality partner with the local YMCA and library — brought back messy memories of a failed, two-year effort to develop a joint multi-purpose centre with Bridgewater’s town council. That deal fell through when Bridgewater insisted on a town location while the municipality wanted the Osprey Village site.

“We don’t have a good track record for working with anybody,” declared Coun. Donald Zwicker. “We had an opportunity. Somebody else didn’t close the door. We closed the door. We slammed it in their face, as a matter of fact.”

Countered Coun. Sandra Statton: “I take offence to having a broad brush put on this council as being negative. [Bridgewater] flatly refused to even consider Exit 12.”

Councillor John Veinot agreed there was disagreement. “We’re not a council that is functioning very well with one another,” he allowed.

As for its latest multi-purpose proposal, council voted 8-4 to go ahead with it.

Meanwhile, back in Bridgewater, Mayor Carroll Publicover wasn’t about to abandon the town’s multi-purpose plans, which also include a pool.

“In terms of re-creating a marriage between the two facilities,” the mayor told the Bridgewater Bulletin, “I don’t foresee that.”

Me neither.

And we’ll be here to bug you too, Billy Joe

Seventy-year-old Billy Joe MacLean wants to be mayor of Port Hawkesbury again. If, as expected, he’s re-elected next year to the job he’s held for the past 14, it will “make me the oldest living municipal provincial public servant, I think, in the history of the province.”

It will also make him the only “oldest living municipal provincial public servant” to have been unanimously expelled from the Nova Scotia legislature for expense account fraud.

Back in the bad old Buchanan days, Billy Joe was one of the government’s good-old-boy MLAs and cabinet ministers who got caught filing forged expense claims. After pleading guilty to the charges in 1986, Buchanan’s scandal-plagued government was forced — the premier shed a t
ear as the votes were cast — to introduce legislation prohibiting anyone indicted in a criminal case from sitting in the legislature, and tossing Billy Joe himself out on his ear.

The Supreme Court eventually declared the law — though not Billy Joe’s expulsion — unconstitutional. MacLean was even re-elected MLA before returning to his municipal political roots in 1993. Since then, he’s somehow managed to put the expense account scandal so far behind him the Cape Breton Post didn’t even think to mention it in its story about MacLean’s re-election plans.

Even a battle with prostate cancer has not slowed him down. “I am happy to report I got a zero count,” he told the Post after his latest follow-up tests last week, “so I am going to be around to bug the government for a while.”

Better than a VLT?

Early on Father’s day morning, customers began telephoning Betty Northup, the owner and operator of the popular Lakeside Variety in Vaughn, just to be sure. “We had people call in to hear if it was true,” she recalls.

It was. On June 17, agency-designated convenience stores around the province began selling booze on Sundays too. “It was very busy here all day,” Northup told the Hants Journal.

She says the province’s decision to let approved stores sell alcohol is a boon to hard-pressed convenience store operators, who’ve been doubly whacked in recent years — losing VLTs and facing competition from newly legalized Sunday retailing. “The small stores need something to help them stay alive; and this is it.”


Next Sunday, Northup’s government competitors, including the nearby Windsor Nova Scotia liquor commission outlet, will begin muscling in on her new Sunday turf.

It’s enough to drive a convenience store owner to drink. But at least it’ll be close at hand.

Happy Canada Day to us!

It’s the gift that keeps on giving. As part of its sixth annual Gifts to Canadians project, the Nature Conservancy of Canada last week announced it has acquired another 50-acre shoreline-and-wooded-uplands buffer site near the Port Joli Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

The sanctuary is an important migration and over-wintering area for nearly 40 per cent of Atlantic Canada’s 10,000 wintering geese as well as a habitat for a wide variety of birds, including warblers, songbirds and the endangered Piping Plovers.

Danielle Robertson, who has been working on the project for three years, is a member of the family that owned the land for over 200 years. “For us,” she says, “this is the best possible scenario for the future – preserved in time for everyone to enjoy.”

Happy Canada Day to you too.

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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