Kimber's Nova Scotia (July 8, 2007)

Kimber’s Nova Scotia

July 8, 2007

By Stephen Kimber

Take that Steve-o… and Jim-bo too

No-longer Tory MP Bill Casey may not have made the guest list for Stephen Harper’s Halifax press conference on Thursday, but he was sitting pretty at the top of another political list., an Ottawa website that bills itself as “Canada’s political portal,” named the Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley MP “top performer” among federal MPs during the spring session of parliament.

“No single MP had a bigger impact in Ottawa this sitting,” the website said of Casey, who got booted out of the Conservative caucus last month for voting against the federal budget. “The mild-mannered former car dealer has long been considered one of the best constituent MPs on the Hill.”

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty — Casey’s nemesis and, ironically, his predecessor at the top of the top-performers’ list in the last survey — was named the second-worst performing MP this time.

Two other regional Tory MPs who supported Flaherty’s budget — Peter MacKay and Loyola Hearn — were fifth and sixth on the “worst list,” which, not surprisingly, was topped by gaffe-prone, out-of-his-depth and soon-to-be-shuffled-out-of-his-misery Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor.

Bill Casey for defence minister?

From the fine folks who brought you…

Halifax-based MacDonnell Group is the proud new owner of the 200-acre former Shelburne youth detention centre.

The announcement should — but almost certainly won’t — end months of local controversy over the project. From initial secrecy over who was behind the MacDonnell pitch — originally known only as “Proposal A”— the dispute among members of the municipal committee charged with selling the property quickly degenerated into infighting, allegations of favouritism and even resignations.

Proposal A is now officially Bowood — the name comes from the British estate of the first Earl of Shelburne, for whom the town is named — and MacDonnell’s plans include developing the facility as a security training centre with the possibility of adding seniors’ and student housing and commercial businesses as well as parkland also on the site.

Bowood’s owner, Ralston MacDonnell, says he’ll host an open house later this month to explain his plans to residents.

There will undoubtedly be questions. Many.

MacDonnell, it turns out, was also the president of the company that bought the infamous Digby wharf for $1 from privatizing-crazed Ottawa back in 1999. The feds then handed the company $3-million to manage the wharf, much of which, critics contend, ended up going to salaries and expenses for the wharf’s non-resident directors. That wharf is now in such a sorry state of disrepair local fishermen were forced to lash it together with chains during a storm this spring.

The controversy in Shelburne, in fact, is probably just beginning.

Greenfield has a better idea

Residents in Greenfield, Queen’s County, knew their more-than-60-year-old elementary school needed to be replaced. But they also knew all about how difficult it is to squeeze money for new school construction out of the stone of the education department these days — especially when the school in question would house fewer than three dozen pupils.

So they incorporated a non-profit society, fund-raised, enlisted the help of local businesses — one lumber company donated wood — hired an architect to design a facility and came up with “a compelling out-of-the-box proposal for a community-built school.”

Last week, the society signed a deal with the department of education, which has agreed to lease their soon-to-be-constructed two-classroom facility for $72,000 a year for the next 20 years.

Pat Jones, one of the founding directors of the society, says it will be able to save up to $300,000 of the $1.25 million it would have cost the province to build a new school by acting as its own general contractor.

West Highlands, take note…

The Chignecto-Central Regional School Board might want to call the folks in Greenfield now that Deputy Education Minister Dennis Cochrane has concluded it should abandon a scheduled $3-million renovation of its West Highlands elementary school.

Cochrane, who recently toured the school with board members and local MLA Ernie Fage, agreed with local officials the 95-year-old school, which is beset by mould and asbestos problems, isn’t worth fixing.

But that doesn’t automatically mean a new school. An education department spokesperson says it’s up to the board to suggest how to proceed now.

While a parents group has written Cochrane imploring him to fast-track a new school, the spokesperson suggested there are other options “such as grade re-configurations, additions and alterations to other existing schools.”

Hello, Greenfield…

A failure to communicate

The problem, says Environment Minister Mark Parent, is that Boularderie Island residents can “see the past and the damage but [they] don’t see the future yet.”

The problem, say local strip-mining protestors, is that Parent doesn’t see their present.

Parent, who was in Cape Breton touring the Point Aconi power generating station last week, turned down an invitation from members of Citizens Against Strip Mining to tour the nearby site of the former Prince mine with them.

Pioneer Coal of Antigonish is “remediating” the site under the supervision of Parent’s department, but protesters say the company has created “a huge hole it did not have permits to dig” in order to reach the coal seam.

“They destroyed a huge area of wetlands,” complained Donna Stubbert, one of the 30 protesters who waited in the sun for three hours to get Parent’s attention. “Nobody has a problem with the cleanup of the Prince mine site. The issue is the 85 hectares of pristine forests containing 47 acres of wetlands, the area beyond the Prince mine site that will be destroyed.”

Parent, who said he’d already met twice with the protest group and had toured the site previously, admitted past remediation efforts haven’t worked as well as expected, but insisted, “as minister, I have been very proactive on making them [companies] meet high environmental standards.”

That didn’t satisfy local resident Lawrence Bragg, who claimed the land will be useless once the company finishes stripping coal from it. “You can’t plant on it, drill a bore hole or put a basement or a house on loose soil,” he said.

Clearly, he sees a different future than the minister.

Stop and smell the… exhaust

Our environment minister gets around. Last week, Mark Parent also spent time in his King’s North riding where the questioning was gentler.

During a meeting with municipal councilors, Coun. Wayne Atwater asked the minister if he’d consider banning drive-through service at fast-food outlets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The answer was no but… “If the county would like to move forward, I’d be supportive,” Parent told councillors, who have been discussing creating their own no-idling zones.

Parent also told councillors studies show it’s faster to park your car, get out and go inside for your food.

But is the food any better?

‘No, you turn left at Scotland…’

Did you know that Britons’ spending on so-called second-home properties tripled from 2002 to more than $12 billion in 2005?

No? Me neither.

But you would probably have guessed, without even knowing, that “only a fraction of that money has found its way to Nova Scotia.”

A British company wants to change that. Second Home Nova Scotia, which launched its website — — last week, already boasts 217 “amazingly affordable… waterfront properties, luxury homes and rustic cottages [amid] unspoiled acres of forest, lakeshore, beautiful beaches, stunning seashore and mountains… only six hours’ flight from the United Kingdom.”

“For whatever reason, it seems that Nova Scotia has been completely overlooked” by British cottage buyers, explains company boss Terence Fane-Saunders. “The average person in the UK, if you talk to them about Nova Scotia, they don’t even know where it is. Some think it’s in Scotland.”

Most of the properties — which range in price from $35,000 to over $1 million — are on the province’s south shore where the company is “affiliated with” local realtor Tradewinds.

Perhaps not surprisingly, not everyone is amused. “If these properties are bought up by foreign interests, it’s only going to… result in higher taxes,” Baddeck Coun. Bruce Morrison told the Cape Breton Post. His community may have to review its non-resident ownership policies if property tax rate hikes continue to spiral upward. “I can ensure you that residents here who are moving into retirement village mode… didn’t envision skyrocketing taxes, that’s for sure.”

Fane-Saunders, for his part, maintains a stiff upper lip. He doesn’t want to get mired in local politics, but he insists the newcomers will be good for the province.

And, of course, they’ll be good for him too!

Come and get me

One of the joys of reading community newspapers is that they often include detailed reports of what constitutes local criminal activity.

Consider this recent excerpt from the RCMP blotter quoted in the Yarmouth Vanguard.

Among the 152 calls for service during the previous two weeks, police responded to this one from staff at the local correctional facility on June 15 at 8:42 p.m. “Outside their facility, an intoxicated male is banging on the door stating there is an outstanding warrant for his arrest and he’s waiting for an RCMP officer to pick him up.”

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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