Who Owns Sydney’s Port?

The Cape Breton Post’s assessment of yesterday’s events (“Greenfield Gold”) doesn’t say much for its opinion of this community. CBRM council voted 17-0 to put in an offer on the Greenfield site. The Post believes this unanimous decision was the result of council’s impressionability, as if they were simply charmed by Rankin MacSween.

When in fact, as reported by CBC, councillors based their decision on the volume of phone calls and emails they received from constituents following Tuesday’s council meeting. Council’s decision was the direct result of a community acting together to achieve a common goal. This was neither a coup by council nor by MacSween; it was a win for the community, by the community.

And what exactly was it that the community won? Again, the Post misses the point. This was not the triumph of a container terminal over a coal field, or the triumph of councillors over a consortium. The decision to purchase the greenfield site shouldn’t be seen as an investment in whatever future development takes place there, container terminal or otherwise. Rather, it should be understood as a securing of this community’s right to determine its own future. It’s not about what gets built on the site; it’s about who decides. And ultimately about who benefits.

The Post would prefer we “let the chips fall where they may”, as if the rights of every Henry Melville Whitney should always and everywhere trump the long-term interests of a community. Indeed the editorial seemed quite concerned with the message yesterday’s decision sends to the private sector. But what message does this send to members of this community, who spoke out in favour of shared ownership of a vital community asset, and had their elected representatives listen? This was truly a triumph for democracy.

It’s too bad the Post editorial missed all this, with its simplistic reduction of a complex issue, and its shameful dismissal not only of this community’s leaders but of the multitude who supported them.

What we witnessed was a community realizing its power, and demanding its right, to determine its future. It was an act of courage. It came from a place of hope. And it displayed a profound commitment to each other and to this island. May this letter serve as a corrective: We noticed. And we celebrated.

#CBRM #thisisyourcommunity

The Cape Breton Post’s editorial cartoon by Sean Casey of Cape Breton Ink is brilliant because it lends itself to interpretation.

I hope that when people see this cartoon they see beyond the hipster facial hair, piercings, sneakers and slang and notice what the t-shirt says, because the character with the “creative alternatives” is not a composite of a couple of punk kids with too much idealism and too little common sense. It is a composite of all Cape Bretoners young and old who worry about the future, feel helpless at times, and are looking for a way to join in a collective, collaborative effort to rebuild (an effort that is underway).

The “creative alternatives” we refer to are not meant to supplant, but to supplement, an equalization fairness campaign: to consider other means of achieving prosperity in addition to equalization; and to consider other means of pursuing equalization fairness itself.

For me, the real meaning of this cartoon lies in the question it poses: namely, what happens next? Will we have a mayor who engages more of the community? Or will we have a mayor who continues to “cast himself as a lonely but heroic crusader“? In which case, the cartoon may not be portraying Mayor Morgan as using the lawsuit “sword” to fight off the beast of economic ruin, in fact he may not even be using it to fight the beast at all. He may be feeding it.


What’s this about? See here, here and here

Toward Collaborative Local Politics

Published in The Cape Breton Post comment section (print only) on Monday, March 5, 2012

CBRM Mayor John Morgan should seek input from the community on a more regular basis, and with a deeper commitment to giving that input its full due. He should help open the municipal government’s policy development and review processes to make them more participatory, transparent, and above all, inclusive. And he should re-imagine a social role for municipal government.

This was the message a small group of us delivered to Mayor Morgan last week. The meeting was a follow-up to Donnie Calabrese’s “Open Letter”, published first on Facebook and then in the Post. In it, Donnie challenged the Mayor to think outside the equalization box and look to the community for creative alternatives. But the real challenge now falls on us, to bring those creative alternatives forward and put them to the test. So while we’re expecting a lot from the Mayor and his office, we’re also expecting a lot of ourselves — that we will assume more responsibility for co-creating our communities and local economies.

In order for this new conversation to unfold, there must be an open channel of dialogue between the Mayor’s office and the various constituencies that feel they are not being listened to, let alone spoken to. Only then can we work together to achieve our common goal of creating a vibrant community that offers a viable choice to both newcomers and home-grown folks alike.

During the meeting (which included myself, Donnie, and Erika Shea), we acknowledged the cogency of Mayor Morgan’s argument with respect to equalization. But all parties were able to agree that, while equalization fairness is perhaps necessary, it is not sufficient. We therefore can’t afford to pursue it at the exclusion of immigration and diversity, arts and culture, student life and youth engagement, environmental sustainability, and the nurturing of a business climate more conducive to small- and medium-size enterprise.

Judging from some of the responses to Donnie’s letter, the Mayor is not the only one with a blind-spot when it comes to small and varied locally-based initiatives. Many still buy into the false choice between rescue from government and rescue from big industry. Curiously, this dual rescue package is seen as the only hope by both doom and gloom pessimists and “turned the corner” optimists alike. But both offer false hope.

We need evidence-based analysis from our best and brightest, which our Mayor is. But it must be combined with innovative and practical solutions, which the equalization legal battle is not.

Instead we need our leaders to be inspired by a constructive alternative vision, like the kind Fr Jimmy Tompkins and Fr Moses Coady sought to establish during the Antigonish Movement. Leadership is tricky now just as it was then. What does it mean in a 21st-century hyperconnected world, and in a collaborative setting like the one alluded to above? And how can it help people in Cape Breton achieve Coady’s vision of becoming, as he titled his book, ‘Masters of Their Own Destiny’?

Whatever shape it takes, collaborative community-based leadership requires of us that we educate ourselves and organize ourselves. A well known example of the Antigonish Movement’s effort to educate and organize was the People’s School, established in 1921 at St Francis Xavier University. Its goals were, I believe, ones we can identify with today, almost a hundred years later:

  • to deal pragmatically and head-on with the challenges facing Cape Breton;
  • to liberate, and put to good use, the creative energies of the people; and
  • to inspire them to work together for their common good.

This is not an argument for pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. CBRM, like every municipality in Canada, has three levels of government, all of which must work together to achieve sustainable prosperity. But an engagement with government at the local level is perhaps the best way of ensuring that the community leads in determining its future.

So roll up your sleeves. There’s a new conversation to be had.

NextGen 2010: Designing Cape Breton

Reprinted in the Cape Breton Post, Saturday print edition for June 19; and whatsgoingon.ca

Cape Breton’s ‘next generation’ came together at a recent day-long conference organized by the Cape Breton Partnership to discuss ways to “attract and retain the younger generations to work, live, play and start families” in the region.

From listening to the panelists and discussing the issues with some of the attendees, it was easy to perceive a dynamic split between, on the one hand, those who believe Cape Breton needs to become more ‘international’ to compete in a globalized market; and, on the other, those whose vision for Cape Breton’s future involves promoting and developing its existing assets, particularly in culture (including agriculture). In short, go global vs. go local.

The ‘global’ case

A young professional who teaches business at Dalhousie reported that out of an entire cohort of 20 students, every last one planned to leave Halifax. In order to compete, then, Sydney (if not Cape Breton) must become more like the places for which kids are even leaving Halifax.

Recommendation: direct flights to London; dredge the harbour.

The ‘local’ case

Many in attendance agreed that – notwithstanding the hokeyness of the sentiment – Cape Breton’s greatest asset is its people, followed by the scenery in close second. The combination of people and place has produced a culture of love of family, community and nature; not to mention a distinct, even world-renowned artistic culture. Young people can certainly benefit from experiencing more of what the world has to offer before returning home to Cape Breton, which they will, pulled by these forces.

Recommendation: instill values in the very young; cross your fingers.

Splitting the Difference?

We can’t – nor should we – make it hard for youth to leave. Important experiences await them, ‘out there’. But we must make it easier for them (and others) to come back – with their degrees, their experiences, their expectations, and their entitlements.

The trick to attracting and ‘retracting’ (as opposed to retaining) young people can’t be to try to become like somewhere else. After all, if today’s radically mobile youth can live anywhere in the world, what would make them choose this anywhere over anywhere else?

Nor can the answer to that question be to take for granted that family and community ties will be enough to make youth stay put when their employment options often consist of an imaginary container port and some very real call centres. Not to mention this totally ignores the problem of how to attract the ‘come from aways’. Like it or not, with its rapidly dwindling and aging population, attraction will overtake retention as a priority for the region.

All of this means, yes, promoting Cape Breton’s unique assets – its people, scenery and culture. But it also means developing those assets: investing in the arts, transportation, and housing.

Cape Breton already is a place where artists and innovators, professionals and entrepreneurs, farmers and homesteaders can make a life and a living – surrounded by wonderful people, beautiful scenery, and fiddle music (kidding, sort of). With a little planning – equal parts vision and gusto – it could be world-class local.

Recommendation: Cape Breton doesn’t need to become like somewhere else; Cape Breton needs to become more like itself.

Global warming: One Hot Topic

Published in the Cape Breton Post and whatsgoinon.ca

We live in interesting times. There’s no denying it.

In light of the unprecedented scope and complexity of the problems the world faces, Thomas Homer-Dixon has said that ‘ecology’ – the study of natural systems – will be the dominant field of study in the 21st century. The term ‘system’ refers not only to the environment, but to things like economies and populations; and – most importantly – to the interconnectedness between and among systems, as in a town or city.

If, instead, we treat problems in isolation from one another, we may find that we are treating multiple and recurring symptoms while the cause persists.No other issue epitomizes this need for a holistic approach to problem-solving than climate change.

The build-up in the atmosphere of heat-trapping gasses like carbon dioxide and methane is causing global temperatures to rise. This in turn is destabilizing the earth’s climate systems as they adapt, trying to equilibrate. And while global warming is largely the result of the profligate burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) and unchecked economic growth in the industrialized West, the effects of climate change will be felt first and worst in the poorest communities in the Global South — effects ranging from poor air quality and rising sea levels to desertification and ocean acidification. In already stressed parts of the world, the more extreme of these effects may lead to resource wars, not just over oil but food and water.

Slowing, adapting to, and mitigating the worst effects of climate change at home and abroad will require seeing the complex interconnections between ecosystems, economies and human populations; between energy, development and social justice. In short, climate change is not only a scientific and technological issue, but a political, economic and moral one, too.

However, despite being perhaps the defining ecological crisis of our time, climate change only seems to surface in the mainstream media when yet another controversy breaks.

In November of 2009, just weeks prior to the international Climate Conference in Copenhagen, a large number of emails were hacked from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in England. The emails were between leading climate scientists involved with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), prompting the media to dub the theft ‘Climategate’.Many believe the emails reveal disturbing evidence of data manipulation and deletion, as well as a conspiracy to silence dissenting scientific opinion. Some have even gone so far as to suggest the entire case for global warming has been manufactured in order to transfer billions of dollars from rich to poor nations.

This Tuesday at 7pm at the Cape Breton Centre for Heritage & Science, Andrew Reynolds, a history and philosophy of science professor at Cape Breton University, will discuss these charges of scientific fraud by offering a comparison to several recent cases of real scientific misconduct; and will provide some historical background into the climate skeptic movement.

Geoff Lee-Dadswell, a physics professor at CBU, will investigate the consensus among the scientific community about global warming; address what scientists mean by “uncertainty”; and summarize the evidence for human-caused global warming with a look at some of the questions that remain unanswered.

In addition to the consensus and controversy surrounding the science and politics of climate change, the discussion will also include a look at some of the ways communities in Cape Breton and around the world are already responding to climate change.

Climate change is a multi-faceted, multiplying and ultimately messy problem. It won’t go away simply by ignoring it. If Homer-Dixon is right, what the world needs is an increase in communication, especially between disciplines, as well as practitioners willing and able to test the assumptions of one discipline against the findings of another. Meanwhile, engaged citizens must be ready to take those findings from the drawing board out into their communities. Perhaps never before has “think global, act local” been so relevant.

The way forward in Copenhagen: Rich countries must blaze a green path

This was read on-air on CBC's Maritime Noon and reprinted in the Cape Breton Post

The urgency to reach a deal on climate change seems lost on the Harper government. As world leaders gather in Copenhagen to negotiate a global carbon emissions reduction agreement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to delay and disrupt talks by demanding carbon reduction parity, arguing that unless all countries accept equal cuts we run the risk that some will gain economic advantage over others.

Harper’s position is not only callously self-interested, but short-sited and wrong-headed.

Short-sited in that an economic disadvantage already exists, but not the one Harper is concerned with.

Developing nations are not responsible for the build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which is to blame for global warming, nor have they reaped the economic benefits during the last two hundred years of the Industrial Revolution. Developing nations are, therefore, not in an economic position to adapt to climate change.

The result is that those who will be hit first and hardest, due to geography, are also those most vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme weather events due to lack of infrastructure.Harper’s position is also wrong-headed in that moving away from fossil fuels presents an economic opportunity.

Of the 44 countries committed to emissions reductions under Kyoto, only 4 are on track to meet their targets: Britain, Germany, Sweden and Denmark. (Canada’s emissions rose by 26 per cent between 1990 and 2007.) Yet far from experiencing economic contraction as a result of investing in a ‘green-collar economy,’ those countries are in fact outperforming other wealthy nations in terms of job and business creation.

Greater investment in a sustainable energy future will not only result in decreased emissions, it will bring down the cost of renewable energy technologies, thereby making it possible for all nations – including developing nations, and especially rapidly developing nations – to make the switch away from fossil fuels. It’s no wonder that the heaviest polluters are fighting such a move given that 55% of Canada’s emissions come from industry.

Harper has further warned that “without the wealth that comes from growth, the environmental threats, the developmental challenges and the peace and security issues facing the world will be exponentially more difficult to deal with.” This is surely true, and reinforces the urgency for rich countries to fulfil their commitments made under Kyoto for an adaptation fund to help developing nations cope with the effects of climate change.

But if the growth of which Harper speaks is fuelled by carbon, the challenges of climate catastrophe facing the world will be exponentially worsened.

To quote from the ‘Survival Pact’ by Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives:

“It is not carbon we want, but development. It is not coal we want, but electricity. It is not oil we want, but transport.”

In other words, growth without environmental destruction is possible. But only if we break the link between energy and carbon. In order for this to happen, we first must break the link between energy companies and government.

The damage caused by the profligate burning of fossil fuels over the last two centuries must now be answered by a green energy revolution – one from which every nation would benefit, both economically and environmentally. Only a global Green New Deal, combined with a global agreement rooted in social justice, can rectify the historical economic disadvantage experienced by developing nations while ensuring a sustainable energy future for all.

The way forward must be led by rich developed nations, including – especially – Canada.