Kimber's Nova Scotia (Oct 21, 2007)

Kimber’s Nova Scotia

October 21, 2007

We knew it was bad, but…

A few weeks back, we told you just how awful this summer’s tourism season had been in Yarmouth: visitor numbers down by an incredible 33 per cent. One motel operator even confided to a reporter from the Yarmouth Vanguard that local businesses had lost $800,000 in July alone.

Those numbers took on a much more human dimension last week when Marianne Carrier, who’s operated the Voyageur Motel for 30 years, called in a wrecking crew to demolish a dozen of her motel’s 34 units. “There are no alternatives,” she says. “There’s no way you can afford to keep them up.”

Her decision follows three difficult years of declining bookings during which she’s already been forced her to shorten her season, hiring staff later and laying them off earlier.

Carrier blames her problems ¬— and those of the town — on a change in the ferry schedule between Yarmouth and Portland, ME. While the previous schedule — morning arrivals and evening departures — encouraged visitors to spend time and money in town, the current mid-day sailing schedule means most people zip into and out of town without leaving behind any cash.

Carrier, who says her customers are “very upset with the ferry service,” believes the government “should step in and say ‘Hold on here.’ This new schedule killed Yarmouth tourism.”

Strait secrets

Education Minister Karen Casey has sent a letter to the Strait Regional School Board making certain recommendations — er… amend that please, “directives” — and the board has agreed to take action on them.

But exactly what those recommendations/directives are, no one is saying. The letter was discussed last week during an in-camera session with board members, Deputy Education Minister Dennis Cochrane and other department officials in attendance. Since the substance of those in-camera discussion are secret, that night’s public board meeting proved awkward, to say the least.

Board member Henry Van Berkel introduced a motion to accept the minister’s unexplained recommendations. Brenda Gillis successfully proposed an amendment to call the recommendations directives. But when Mike Brown put forward another motion demanding “the Strait regional school board not bow to the pressure of the Minister of Education” the chair ruled it out of order. 
Which led yet another board member, Frank Machnik, to declare: “Now I completely understand what it was like to live under the former Soviet Union.” 


To add to the confusion, Nancy Watson, director of communications for the Department of Education, told the Cape Breton Post her department won’t release the contents of the letter until the board does. “Frankly,” she added, “I think we all expected that it would have made its way out at some point before now, but we can’t be the ones to provide that.”

Speaking of secrets…

A Mahone Bay man who opposes plans for a new housing development on former school lands in the town, has called on Mayor Joe Feeney “to do the honourable thing and resign.”

Keith MacDonald told a well-attended council meeting earlier this month that local officials have “a long-standing history of using in-camera sessions to discuss public business.”

Though MacDonald cited plenty of examples — from discussions about renovations at a local church to renaming the town’s fire department — his real concern seemed to relate to secret discussions between council and Bob Youden, the proposed housing project’s developer.

MacDonald pointed out that councillors had accepted Youden’s development proposal at an in-camera meeting in April, then reconvened to publicly rubber-stamp their secret decision. Following that meeting, the town’s CAO sent an email to the developer outlining what he called the “creative thinking” needed to respond to the developer’s request for tax abatement on the undeveloped land. “Municipalities’ hands are somewhat tied by legislation,” Jim Wentzell wrote, “but we will look at ways of achieving the same results.”

“The bottom line,” MacDonald told councilors, “is council should really be more open to the public in what it’s discussing and how it’s discussing it.”

As for Mayor Feeney, he told he’s convinced he’s done nothing wrong. But, “If I’m wrong, I’ll be glad to resign.”

Just when you thought it was safe to be sick

Now that Digby General Hospital’s ongoing emergency room closure crisis seems finally to be easing — a Prince Edward Island doctor has agreed to relocate to the town — we get news that the North Cumberland Memorial Hospital in Pugwash had to be shut down twice last week.

The issue, as per usual: “a shortage of available physicians.”

And so it goes. And goes…

The story that keeps on keeping on

Although it finally unloaded the site of the former Shelburne boys school to a Halifax developer this spring, the South West Shore Development Authority is reporting a loss for last year of more than $330,000 — 20 per cent more than it lost the year before. The authority’s “operating deficiency” now tops $1.3 million.

There are a number of reasons for SWSDA’s worsening financial crunch, including a 25 per cent reduction in federal and provincial grants to the authority.

And things are unlikely to get better anytime soon. The report says that the authority only received about 50 per cent of fair market value when it sold the boys’ school property, now known as Shelburne Place or, as the developer prefers, Bowood. And it’s still stuck with the former CFB Shelburne property now known as Shelburne Park.

White elephants by any other name…

‘It got pretty hairy’

Fisheries and Oceans officer Kevin Juteau modestly describes the night of August 10, 2005 as “quite a time on St. Mary’s Bay.”

Indeed it was.

He and seven other officers in two boats were doing a routine night patrol on the bay — using radar and a nightscope-equipped spotter to catch lobster poachers doing their thing — when they spied what looked like suspicious activity. They decided to close in on their prey with lights off, then flash their spotlights to surprise them.

The three men in the vessel may have been surprised by they weren’t subdued. They led the officers on a long and merry chase around the bay. When the officers finally did manage to pull alongside, the suspects first decided to play pretend — pretending to pull guns on the officers, pretending to pour gasoline on the decks and set the officers’ vessels ablaze — and then pepper-sprayed Juteau for real.

“It got quite violent,” Juteau understates, but adds that, in the end, the officers did finally get their men.

Late last month, one of the three, Derek William Neven, was fined $6,000 after he pleaded guilty to unauthorized lobster fishing, fishing lobsters during a closed time and obstructing fisheries officers in the line of duty.

Juteau says illegal fishing is “out of control” in the area. That summer, he says fisheries officers seized 11 boats, arrested 31 people, and laid over 131 charges.

How dangerous is it? It can, as Juteau finally conceded in an interview
with the Digby Courier get “pretty hairy” out there.

No kidding.

Smashing pumpkins

‘Tis the season for pumpkin vandals. On Oct. 9 at 11:46 p.m., Annapolis Valley RCMP officers responded to a report that two suspicious males had been seen near Carleton Corner pulverizing pumpkins by smashing them on the ground. According to a report in the Annapolis Valley Spectator, the officers “discovered ample evidence of pumpkin tampering [but] the culprits could not be located.”

The next day at 10:30 a.m., the Mounties got a call from a transport truck driver whose windshield has just been attacked by a flying pumpkin while he was driving through Bridgetown. Someone, it seemed, had decided to amuse themselves by tossing pumpkins at passing motorists.

And it’s still almost two weeks until Halloween.

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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