Kimber’s Nova Scotia
By Stephen Kimber
June 3, 2007
Phoning it in
Poor Vince Hall. The Cape Breton regional councillor was feeling under the weather last week so he thoughtfully called the municipal clerk’s office from Halifax to say he wouldn’t be able to attend Tuesday night’s council meeting in Sydney and he just might… sniffle, sniffle, cough, cough… miss the next day’s budget session too.
Turns out Hall was a no-show not only for those meetings but also for another budget session on Thursday.
Miraculously, however, Hall was chipper enough to teach classes that same week at CompuCollege in Halifax.
Hall, who has a part-time teaching gig at the school, insists his excuse is legit. “I became ill and wasn’t able to travel,” he told the Cape Breton Post. “That’s the story. I am still not feeling well.”
If you think Hall’s excuse might not CompuTe, you’re not alone. Instead of meeting to discuss budgetary matters, his fellow councillors held an in-camera meeting back in Sydney to talk about Hall’s absence. In the end, however, they decided there’s nothing they can do to punish him; under the municipal act, a councillor can be removed only if he misses three consecutive council meetings.
When not claiming illness, Hall claims he did look over the budget documents in advance and decided it was all so ho hum his presence wasn’t needed.
The councillor is no stranger to controversy. Two months ago, he came under fire for billing the municipality more than $8,000 for two courses he took at Dalhousie. Two weeks after that, CBRM recreation manager Frank Bruleigh said Hall had threatened to cut his department’s budget unless the councillor received a few hundred dollars for a basketball team in his district.
Coincidentally, later this month, a Sydney area group called Voices of the Electorate is asking the Utility and Review Board to cut the size of the current 16-member council in half.
Spokesperson Everett Baker says Hall’s behaviour isn’t part of their argument, but he admits Hall is “certainly not helping [his] cause, that’s for sure.”
Was the fog salty
Speaking of excuses, Deputy Education Minister Dennis Cochrane canceled a meeting Monday with the Yarmouth school advisory council because… it was too foggy. Cochrane and three officials were scheduled to fly into Yarmouth to defend the department’s funding formula, but fog canceled their flight plans.
Council members, principals, teachers, parents and school board officials were hoping to get answers to questions about the way in which the province parcels out funds to local school boards. They point out that the Strait Regional School Board at the other end of the province, which only has 300 more students, gets $13 million more in annual funding than their board.
Now they have another question.
Why did the deputy minister choose to fly instead of making the three-hour drive to Yarmouth for the 3:30 p.m. meeting? When members of the board met with Cochrane and Education Minister Karen Casey recently, they point out, they drove to Halifax.
A spokesman for Cochrane responds that flying is “actually the cheaper way to go,” especially when you consider “lost productivity.” He adds Cochrane will have good answers to the funding questions too… when the fog lifts.
The meeting will be rescheduled.
What the people (don’t) want
Shelburne municipal councillors have spent the past few weeks getting an earful from angry residents… and finally getting the message loud and clear.
Hundreds turned out at four recent municipal budget meetings to tell their elected representatives they weren’t amused with two proposals that would have resulted in a 17 per cent tax hike.
The proposals, put together by staff and initially supported by Warden Paulette Scott, included buying the former local naval base — which is now officially known as Shelburne Park, but which the locals call the “money pit” — from the troubled South West Shore Development Authority, and spending another $600,000 to lease space for new municipal offices in the controversial former youth detention centre property.
On Monday night, to “scattered applause,” councillors voted down both proposals.
“It’s what the people want,” allowed Councillor Raymond Davis.
Even Warden Scott agreed, saying obliquely that the regional development authority will now ” do what it has to do and council will do what it has to do.”
But that’s not likely to be the end of it. ShelburneCountyToday, a web site, reports that some concerned citizens have asked the provincial ombudsman to investigate SWSDA for what they described as “significant deleterious financial and development effects on the taxpayers in the Municipality of Shelburne in particular and all of southwestern Nova Scotia in general.”
I’m guessing that means they don’t think SWSDA is doing such a hot job.
Dr. Mohammad Alzrighe says he likes Shelburne, loves his job as a family physician there, thinks his fellow doctors, staff and administrators at Roseway hospital are just fine and has felt privileged to serve his 1,200 patients too. “It has nothing to do with the community or hospital for sure,” he insists, “We really love it here.”
The problem is that his wife needs to be in Halifax to continue her university studies, which means Alzrighe will be closing his practice in August.
That’s almost certain to create a huge hassle for residents of Shelburne county.
No doctors in the area are currently taking on new patients, so if one of Alzrighe’s patients needs even “routine medical care,” explains Barbara Johnson, Communications Director for South West Health, “the only option for them is the emergency department.”
But that will create yet another problem. Since Dr. Alzrighe took a regular turn in the emergency room rotation, “we will be one doctor short,” says Jodi Ybarra, site manager for Roseway Hospital. “There may be closures as a result. I can’t say for sure but it certainly opens us up to that possibility.”
The district will add an opening for a new GP to its current list of job vacancies, but Johnson isn’t holding her breath. Rural Nova Scotia, as the Shelburne Coast Guard understates, “has had an increasing issue in getting and retaining physicians to their communities.”
Shelburne certainly isn’t alone.
The Digby Courier says the provincial health department last week turned down its local health authority’s request for emergency funding to keep Digby General Hospital’s emergency department open around the clock.
Anyone needing emergency treatment on Fridays in June will either have to journey to Yarmouth, Middleton or Kentville, or the community health centre in Annapolis Royal — or wait a day to be sick.
The situation in Digby is only expected to get worse with the planned departure of Dr. Roy Harding, the hospital’s chief of staff and family doctor to 2,000 area residents.
Meanwhile, in New Glasgow, the News reported this week that two Pictou County Health Authority pediatricians, Dr. Krys Lubkiewicz and Dr. Julie Clowater, have tendered their resignations, as has general surgeon Dr. Alex Gillis. They will all be gone by the end of June. The region’s lone urologist also recently retired.
Clowater says she quit, partly for lifestyle reasons — “If your whole life become
s about your work you can’t function. There has to be some balance” — and partly because of what she calls “politics inside the hospital.” Until the authority finds someone to replace her, she says her patients will need to go to Antigonish or Truro to get care.
She’s encouraging her patients’ families “to raise their voices. Let them know your kids are important, and that they can’t let this happen again.”
While this real health care crisis deepens, our man Rodney fiddles with the largely non-issue of legislating away health care workers’ right to strike.
And so it goes.
Tip No. 1: Don’t feed the press
Family members of CFB Greenwood’s 14 Wing Mission Support Squadron will meet with base officials this Wednesday to learn exactly when their loved ones will be returning from overseas and discuss what the base newspaper calls “the reintegration phase of deployment.”
The 100-strong squadron — airfield engineers, transport and vehicle maintenance crew, supply technicians, cooks, clerks and other specialized technical occupations — has been providing logistical support for the Canadian mission in Afghanistan since December.
Margaret Reid, coordinator of deployment services, says families will be told of the “process involved at the Wing while we await the arrival of our
members’ flights” as well as hear “tips” from the base public affairs officer “on dealing with the media.”
Tag… Now you’re it
RCMP have arrested three young people between the ages of 15 and 17 in connection with that vandalism spree in Liverpool two weeks ago. They’re charged with “tagging” the back of the curling club and other local buildings with “child-like drawings and text in mostly red paint, demonstrating a hatred for the RCMP… praise for drugs and sexual descriptions.”
They will appear in court July 13.
Stephen Kimber is the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College. He will be writing a second weekly column in the Daily News beginning this Thursday.
SOURCES: THE AURORA, CAPE BRETON POST, DIGBY COURIER, LIVERPOOL ADVANCE, NEW GLASGOW NEWS, SHELBURNECOUNTYTODAY, SHELBURNE COAST GUARD.