Silver Donald Cameron

Posts Tagged ‘Nova Scotia’

Living to see the day…

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

JULY 5, 2009

“Mr. Premier,” I said.

I have not spoken two words with such relish since Marjorie and I said “I do” at our wedding. Darrell Dexter had been Nova Scotia’s 27th Premier for about an hour. In the cavernous Cunard Centre, I had lined up with dozens of others to congratulate him.

“Mr. Premier,” I said, “I just want to thank you for finally bringing this wonderful party to government.”

“Thank you very much,” said the grinning Premier. Then he said, as he tends to do at such moments, “but you know, I stand on the shoulders of all those people who went before me, and who put so much effort into making this possible.”

“Of course,” I said. “Nevertheless, you’re the person who finally carried the ball across the goal line.”

As the Premier said, the 2009 election was indeed the culmination of decades of effort by thousands of Nova Scotians, and many were in the hall. I had just met a retired coal miner from Glace Bay who remembered all the towering figures of Cape Breton politics J.B. MacLachlan, Clarie Gillis, Father Andy Hogan, Mickey MacDonald. He was 90 years old. “I never thought I’d live to see this day,” he said. That was the evening’s mantra.

I also saw Shirley Macnamara and Clair Rankin. Shirley ran several times for the NDP in Richmond County back in the 1970s, when I was president of the local NDP association and also a member of the party’s provincial council. I had recruited Clair to the NDP, and he had run three times in Richmond, including this time. We shook hands and hugged. We never thought we’d live to see this day.

Going into the election, I had not dared to hope for an NDP majority. I would have been delighted with a slender minority. I had lived through too many heart-breaking elections 1978, 1988, 1999 to have very high expectations. And that lack of expectation is a key to the character of the party.

Most New Democrats joined a party that they believed in, but that had no hope of forming a government. Those members often embraced ideas that were fringe concerns at the time, but contained the seeds of the future feminism, environmentalism, civil libertarianism, the eradication of racism and so on. The party was not a communion of saints indeed, it was often quite fractious but its members preferred a party obsessed by principles to parties obsessed by power. Its candidates ran, often repeatedly, without any expectation of winning, much less of forming a government. (They never thought they’d live to see the day.)

But as Marilla Stephenson noted in one of the most perceptive comments of the recent campaign when the NDP does capture a seat, it rarely surrenders it. Typically, the first victory is a squeaker, and then the vote totals just pile up. Look at Agriculture Minister John MacDonell, who won Hants East in 1998 by 798 votes, and retained it four times by steadily increasing margins. This year he won by 4542, capturing 65% of the vote.

The result of many such victories is a strong caucus. Premier Dexter could easily find another good Cabinet among the members he omitted members like Leonard Preyra, Michele Raymond, Howard Epstein, Pam Birdsall. Indeed, one of the Premier’s major challenges will be to make productive use of all the talent on his backbenches.

As with the seats, I suspect, so with the province. I have been a New Democrat for decades because I really think that the NDP’s vision and values closely match those of Nova Scotians. New Democrats deeply believe that society is as much about co-operation and mutual aid as it is about competition. So do Nova Scotians, who think it’s natural to respond to a house fire, an exotic illness or a breadwinner’s death by holding a benefit at the fire hall to raise money for the afflicted. The NDP commitment to medicare, pensions, unemployment insurance, various supports for families and communities what is that, if not a political expression of the tradition of mutual support that we see in communities all over the province?

The first NDP government in Atlantic Canada. At last. And truly, it’s just the beginning.

– 30 —

The Cheerful Little Restaurants

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

January 25, 2009

The sauerkraut was bright, crisp and tangy, and the sausages were robust and spicy – just what I wanted. The waiter was an attentive, good-humoured middle-aged man named Burt – the only male server for miles around, he said.

“How’s your haddock?” I asked. Marjorie has extensive knowledge of pan-fried haddock.

“Perfect,” said Marjorie.

“This place is a find,” I said. It was noon-hour, and the restaurant was packed.

We were in Bridgewater, at Waves Seafood and Grill – an undistinguished-looking store-front in a thoroughly ordinary strip mall. The décor was clean and simple, but far from fancy – booths, tables, vinyl floor with pools of meltwater.

But the patrons were voluble and happy, and no wonder. The service was first-rate, the food was excellent, and the menu bespoke the location. You could get any of the staple lunches of small-town restaurants – chops, liver, the always-safe clubhouse sandwich. But we were in Lunenburg County, you, so the menu also offered seafood, sauerkraut, sausage – food that reflected the taste that Lunenburgers brought from Germany 250 years ago.

“There are other restaurants like this around the province,” I said. “There’s a little place called Crofter’s in New Glasgow. It’s in a little strip mall on the Stellarton Road. Good solid food, historical photos on the walls, and an unobtrusive Scottish character, as befits New Glasgow. Great staff, great value.”

That’s not just my opinion. When I later went prowling online, I found Crofter’s described as “cozy, interesting and friendly.”

“I don’t know what we expected,” wrote one happy patron, “but this restaurant exceeded our expectations. Good fresh seafood, good steak, helpful hostess, attractive, pleasant and efficient waitress, good ambiance.”

“I remember Crofter’s,” Marjorie said. “The pan-fried haddock was really good. And what about the Fleur de Lis in Port Hawkesbury?”

Same story – a simple but welcoming little restaurant in a strip mall, with excellent food which reflects the proprietors’ Acadian origins. The last time I was there, a happy lunchtime crowd made it hard to get a seat. I had Acadian fish-cakes with homemade baked beans and thick slices of bread – delicious, hearty and affordable. Marjorie was equally pleased with her meal. In a wild spasm of experimentation, she chose the haddock burger.

And again, the online comments agree. “Oh, this is such a good little restaurant,” writes one patron of the Fleur-de-Lis. “Easy to miss because it’s tucked away in the shopping strip mall—near Sobey’s. But oh the food is good especially the apple or blueberry crisp. We always eat there when we are in Cape Breton which is at least twice a year. Don’t miss this place!!!”

And I was charmed by another Web endorsement from a much younger critic: “i love this restaurant since my mo owns it, (brenda chisholm) i am candice chisholm and I am 13 years old. I guarantee that you will have food at its best from this restaurant so if you go, please enjoy”

You bet, Candice.

These three restaurants are open all year, as is The Knot Pub in Lunenburg, acclaimed as one of Canada’s best pubs – and who am I to argue? Once again, The Knot knows where it is – in a German-rooted seaport – so the interior is all rope and blocks, navigation lamps, flags, casks and nameplates. The sauerkraut and seafood is excellent, and so is the house beer, a “Knots Ale” brewed by Propeller. (And, says Marjorie, so is the haddock.)

These cheerful little restaurants are all located in market towns – small communities, but large enough to sustain a year-round business. They’re in high-traffic locations with ample parking. They’re attuned to their markets, catering to local tastes and budgets. They compete very successfully with fast-food chain restaurants – and they’ve been around for a while.

I’m sure there are similar restaurants in comparable towns that I’m less familiar with – Amherst, Kentville, Yarmouth. (In fact I’d like to hear about such restaurants; if you have one to suggest, drop me a line at ). Unpretentious, reliable and welcoming, these little restaurants have all built loyal, local followings, and they lift the heart of a winter traveller who’s lucky enough to find one.

– 30 —

Greening a Government

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

“Here’s a statistic that shocked me,” says Environment Minister Mark Parent. “I was at a meeting in Brazil, and I learned that Brazil has about 4000 kilometers of coastline. Nova Scotia has about 10,000 kilometers – 12,000 if you include the Bras d’Or Lakes. We have three times as much coastline as Brazil.”

That startled me, too. I knew that our intricate filigree of a coastline was pretty extensive, but 12,000 km. is huge – three times the distance between the east and west coasts of Canada.

I wanted to talk with the Minister about protecting that gorgeous, complex coastline, which may be vulnerable precisely because there is so much of it. We don’t think to guard something so abundant, any more than we think about declaring spruce trees an endangered species.

But there is a danger, all the same. The Maritimes have almost the only remaining large stretches of wild coast in eastern North America, and development is steadily nibbling away at it.

Mark Parent is the minister responsible for protecting and extending Nova Scotia’s wilderness areas. The government has announced its intention to have 12% of the province’s land mass under protection by 2015. That objective is enshrined in the ambitious Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, known to its friends as “EGSPA.”

The government seems to be quite serious about this. Last summer, the province created the Blandford Nature Reserve in Lunenburg County, and also acquired 10,000 hectares of high-value forest land in southwest Nova Scotia from Bowater Mersey Paper. Last fall, it established the 1350-ha. Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area adjacent to the Bayers Lake Industrial Park in Halifax. That swath of land is three times the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park and more than 20 times as large as our own Point Pleasant Park. It contains 18 lakes, more than 50 wetlands, old-growth pine forests, mainland moose and 150 species of birds.

This is a stunning gift to the future – and the province recently nominated an area ten times larger for protection. The 14,000 ha. Ship Harbour Long Lake tract behind the Eastern Shore is one of the last large roadless areas on the Nova Scotia mainland, with river corridors, old-growth forests, plenty of wildlife and more than 50 lakes. Public consultations are going on now – to participate, visit – but the tract is expected to be protected by the autumn.

One problem with land conservation in Nova Scotia, the Minister notes, is that we have so little Crown land. Assembling land for protection thus requires much patient negotiation and accommodation with private landowners. About 70% of our land mass is privately owned. On the coast, that figure rises to 95%.

So what about shorelines? Seventy percent of Nova Scotia’s population lives along the shore, in 360 coastal communities, and 14% of the province’s jobs rely on coastal activity. Nobody in the province lives more than 65 km. from the sea. All Nova Scotians, essentially, are people of the coast.

Mark Parent agrees. Nova Scotia, he says, “is defined by its coastline.” But aside from snippets of shoreline within protected areas, he has no mandate to deal with shorelines. The government’s proposed coastal management plan is being developed under the leadership of the Department of Fisheries.

Say that again? Fisheries departments are generally focussed on enhancing the fishery, not on preserving the environment. Similarly, as I found when I was researching the Zenn car, the Department of Transportation assesses electric vehicles on the basis of highway safety. Nothing requires that they consider environmental benefits.

“I know,” nods the Minister. “I get a lot of stuff coming to me that belongs to other ministries like Transportation – bike paths, speed limits and so on. My department will participate in the coastal management plan, but what we really need is a culture shift so that all departments appreciate the environmental aspects of their activities.

“It’s actually a horizontal challenge in a vertical structure. Government departments stand beside each other like silos – but environmental issues are global, they don’t respect departmental boundaries or any other boundaries. The environment cuts across everything. You can’t care for the economy without caring for the environment.”

This is the “huge challenge and opportunity” that prompted the Premier to propose EGSPA and other innovations like the Green Deputies, a forum of deputy ministers who meet regularly to discuss environmental questions across departmental lines.

So the Department of Environment must not only manage its own programs, but also influence the entire agenda of the government — ?

The Minister smiles. He is actually two ministers in one – a minister of the Crown, and also a minister of the Baptist church..

“Yes,” he says. “Our role is to be the leaven that leaventh the lump.”

– 30 —

Silver Donald Cameron’s books, including The Living Beach, are available at