1. Waiting for the train

Grand Narrows Bridge, circa 1900. Photo: C. W. Vernon, Cape Breton at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century, Toronto: Nation Publishing, 1903

“Upgrading the Sydney to Truro rail line to the point where it can handle double-stacked containers won’t come cheap, according to a study just completed for the Port of Sydney Development Corporation, but the fix is needed if Sydney’s dreams of becoming a major container terminal are ever to be realized,” reports Rick Grant:

Port CEO Marlene Usher told the Halifax Examiner and Cape Breton Spectator that a recently completely $100,000 study estimates the cost of repairs and upgrades to the Genesee & Wyoming (G&W) operated Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia (CBNS) rail line will run about $101 million dollars. The study was authored by Hatch, the firm contracted by the Port in September 2017 to provide a “detailed analysis of the condition of the CBNS rail line.”

The $101,000,000 is for rail and bridge upgrades and repairs. That’s over and above the estimated $1.5 billion cost of the container terminal.

Click here to read “Waiting for the train.”

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“Waiting for the train” is the first project produced by the Halifax Examiner and Cape Breton Spectator’s Joint Investigative Fund. When readers buy joint subscriptions to the two publications — at a 25 per cent discount from buying the subscriptions separately — the money is placed in a dedicated fund, and Spectator publisher Mary Campbell and I decide together on which projects to spend it.

When we started the arrangement, we hoped to fund the research and pay for freelance writers working on investigative pieces that could reach anywhere in the province. And Rick Grant’s interest in the deteriorating condition of the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway seemed like a great place to start, and Grant came through in spades: besides detailing the substantial problems with the railroad, he also broke the news that the Hatch study puts the price tag for fixing the line at a whopping $101 million.

Campbell has written many articles detailing the flawed premises and self-serving bureaucrats behind the push to build a container terminal in Sydney (see below for more). Now, Grant’s reporting on the substantial cost to fix and upgrade the rail line puts the terminal proposal on even shakier ground.

After the Examiner and Spectator co-published Grant’s story yesterday, other media began frantically trying to re-report it. Good. Our goal is to produce groundbreaking reporting.

We have other potential projects for the Joint Investigative Fund in the works. Your subscriptions make this work possible.

2. China

Mary Campbell has been looking into details about Sydney Mayor Cecil Clarke’s trip to China, which was supposedly in service of making business connections related to the proposed container terminal, but:

Here’s the most damning line from the CBRM’s response to a FOIPOP request for information about a recent trip to China by Mayor Cecil Clarke and three CBRM staffers. Municipal Clerk Deborah Campbell Ryan told the applicant:

I have been advised that CBRM does not have any records relating to the details of meetings or schedule of events for the trip to China…

Think about that for a moment: the mayor, his executive assistant Mark Bettens, CAO Marie Walsh, and the municipality’s economic development manager John Phelan travel to China on public business, on the public dime and provide no public record of their activities while abroad.

The total cost of the trip to CBRM was $25,395.38. Campbell gets into what details of the trip were in the documents — flying business class, staying at a Five-Star Hotel, and the remarkable fact that the trip was cut short by a day because, in Walsh’s words, “everyone left earlier than anticipated as our business was done.” Muses Campbell: “Reading this it occurred to me, for the first time, that perhaps they actually did go to China with no itinerary: if you don’t know what you’re doing in Beijing, it’s hard to know how long it will take you to do it.”

It wouldn’t be a Campbell article without a Campbell twist, and so she concludes:

There’s nothing to be done about the money, it’s spent now, but it’s certainly not too late for a report on the CBRM delegation’s China activities.

Unless, of course, it is too late because the head of that delegation seems poised for an even longer trip:

Click here to read “Trip to China? What Trip to China?”

As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, and so this article is behind the Spectator’s paywall. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
White space

3. Cornwallis

Closer to home, the Cornwallis statue came down yesterday. There are lots of photos online showing the removal, but I think this one, from Andrew Vaughan of the Canadian Press, is my favourite:

Statue of Halifax founder Edward Cornwallis removed from park

— HuffPost Canada (@HuffPostCanada) February 1, 2018

4. Bassam Al-Rawi

“The woman at the centre of a case where a Halifax taxi driver’s acquittal of sexual assault has been overturned says she hopes other victims ‘feel vindicated’ at the decision and more feel comfortable coming forward,” reports Haley Ryan for Metro:

In a unanimous decision released Wednesday, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal said they were satisfied that Judge Gregory Lenehan erred in law when he found that there was no evidence of lack of consent when handing down a not-guilty verdict to Bassam Al-Rawi on March 1, 2017.

“For myself I really don’t care to testify again. I really wish to leave the whole thing behind and move on,” the complainant said in an interview Wednesday.

“But on the other hand, I think that it’s just so important for cases going forward, to set a precedent for anyone who experiences something in the future.”

5. Cannabis

“San Francisco will retroactively apply California’s marijuana-legalization laws to past criminal cases, District Attorney George Gascón said Wednesday — expunging or reducing misdemeanor and felony convictions going back decades,” reports Evan Sernoffsky for the San Francisco Chronicle:

The unprecedented move will affect thousands of people whose marijuana convictions brand them with criminal histories that can hurt chances of finding jobs and obtaining some government benefits.


Rather than leaving it up to individuals to petition the courts — which is time-consuming and can cost hundreds of dollars in attorney fees — Gascón said San Francisco prosecutors will review and wipe out convictions en masse.

Canada should do the same. With legalization around the corner, it’s time to acknowledge that the criminalization of cannabis was wrong-headed and that many, many people were convicted of violating laws that should have never been on the books in the first place.

We should do whatever is necessary to overturn those convictions.

My fear, however, is not only will past convictions not be overturned, but legalization will lead to an increase in the number of people charged and convicted with trafficking and possession of cannabis, as the government tries to protect its monopoly.

6. Homesick

Former Halifax reporter Selena Ross has written “Homesick: Quebec Inuit between two worlds,” a three-part series for the National Observer that “focuses on Quebec’s Inuit and the challenges they face in the north as well as what happens when they arrive in Montreal.”

It’s a disturbing and yet fascinating read.

7. Minimum wage

“At a time when other provinces are closing in on a $15 minimum wage, a Halifax researcher says Nova Scotia’s 15-cent increase is a ‘slap in the face to workers,’” reports Haley Ryan for Metro:

On Wednesday, the province announced that on April 1 the minimum wage for experienced workers in the province will go up by 15 cents to $11 an hour.


“[It’s] pretty meaningless obviously,” Christine Saulnier, director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia said in an interview.


Saulnier said the small percentage jump based on this formula feels fine to those people whose starting point is already much higher than minimum wage.

“When you’re starting where our minimum wage workers are at, 15 cents is really a slap in the face for workers who work their butts off, often work multiple jobs,” Saulnier said.

Good on Ryan for not interviewing the usual subjects — the same three retailers and the CFIB complaining about increased labour costs.

Rent goes up, they just grit their teeth and pay it. Electricity goes up year after year and nary a peep, even though there’s actually a mechanism for testifying before the UARB about it. Food costs go up, what are you going to do? The guy who cleans the linen raises his rates, but he’s gotta make a living too. But holy cow, should minimum wage go up a few nickels, it’s all “Call the media!”

If you have to pay your workers poverty wages, maybe you should find a new line of work.




Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — the committee will discuss pollution control on Lake Banook.

FCM 2018 Conference Advisory Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — absolutely nothing on the agenda.

Harbour East Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — here’s the agenda.

Public Meeting – Transit Priority for Robie and Young Streets (Thursday, 6pm, Maritime Hall, Halifax Forum) — looking at putting a transit priority lane through the intersection.

Public Information Meeting – Case 21081 (Thursday, 7pm, St. Peter’s Anglican Hall, Halifax) — WSP Canada wants to build a four-storey, 40-unit apartment building at 59 Kearney Lake Road.


No public meetings.



No public meetings today or Friday.

On campus



GreyLit – the Missing Piece in Your Decision Making (Thursday, 9am, Cineplex OE Smith Theatre, IWK Children’s Building) — Cora Cole, CEO of GreyLit.Net, will present on the launch of her new platform for sharing research.

African Heritage Month (Thursday, 12:pm, LeMarchant Place Atrium) — a celebration followed by the raising of the Pan African/Marcus Garvey flag.

Ambient Air Pollution and Pregnancy (Thursday, 4pm, Room 319, Chase Building) — Montse Fuentes from Virginia Commonwealth University will speak on “Nonparametric Spatial-Temporal Modelling of the Association Between Ambient Air Pollution and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes.”

YouTube video

Water on the Table (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Theatre, Marion McCain Building) — a screening of Liz Marshall’s 2015 documentary.


No public events on campus on Friday.

In the harbour

Tomar. Photo: Halifax Examiner

11:30am: Tomar, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea


It was interesting last night that on CTV, the “Bell Let’s Talk” show was followed by “Criminal Minds.”

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Thank you, Haley Ryan, for giving space and words recognizing the anonymous taxi ride victim who didn’t back down when a Judge sided with her would-be rapist.

  2. The global map showing China to N. America shipping routes spectacular misses the short cut through the widened Panama Canal (in part financed by China!).

    New Panamax specs as of 2016, are 366m length and up to 49m beam, container cargos of 14,000 20 feet lengthTEU containers.

    How many ships bound for NS are larger than that – or could CB and Halifax accommodate that?

    1. none. Prince Rupert recently set the record for the largest container ship to call in Canada, and it was 14500TEU Largest to Vancouver was 13200TEU. we are just over 10000TEU

      1. Thanks Peter I thought not! So there is current little of no shipping passing through Panama which cannot be currently handled by existing facilities in Halifax.

  3. So I think the RCMP should be called to have. Look at that China trip. Doesn’t sound like it can be justified as a business trip. No accountability or paper trail sounds suspicious to me and I am sure to everyone else.

  4. I have difficulty believing there was no itinerary, even one scribbled on the back of an old press release or Walmart receipt. You don’t just show up in China without a plan or agenda, even a very basic and inadequate one. Also wouldn’t the meetings have been arranged in advance, and so would at least be recorded in someone’s calendar, digital or otherwise? I put everything in my Google Calendar.

    I guess it is possible that nobody took notes at the meetings, maybe the Chinese distrust that, I don’t know, but someone surely would have done up a memo or note afterward as an aide memoire. Lawyers do one after every telephone call. How else would you remember the details of what was said and who said it? And wouldn’t they be keeping a file on the matter, digitally if not in paper?

  5. The absolutely unbelievable ability of Cape Breton officials to not account for their China travel is unfathomable. This on the heels of Dave “I’m entitled to my entitlements” Dingwall’s appointment to a high university position. Good day to be an elite Cape Bretoner.

    I took advantage of the discount subscription. As a taxpayer in HRM and Nova Scotia it is incumbent on us to keep all officials accountable. The. Two publications do that.

    Wouldn’t have known about the China boondoggle without it. Speaking of, the Premier was (is?) there. Any follow up on that?

    1. Remember Gordo that Dave Dingwall was dragged into court over his entitlements, and the court agreed he was in fact entitled to them.

  6. a quick napkin calculation tells me that 113.9 miles of track, at a scrap value of $190/ton is worth about 8 million dollars.

    that the railway would rather take 8 million now then bet on the port business should tell you something.