The past year in the Strait area was a microcosm of these rapidly-changing times. This region was not immune to the challenges and advantages presented by this time in human history, in which change is occurring so quickly and tangibly, it can be witnessed in real-time.
One of the year’s top successes was the Special Olympics Canada 2018 Summer Games in Antigonish last summer, which saw 1,025 athletes from across the Canada descend on the region.
One of the biggest issues of the year was the Destination Reeves Street Project, which was so large in scope, the debate went well beyond town limits and lasted the full calendar year and beyond.
The year kicked off with a February town council meeting during which the Port Hawkesbury Volunteer Fire Department expressed concerns that the reduction to three-lanes would increase response times for emergency responders.
The year ended with a failed vote to bring the Reeves Street project to a community plebiscite, then the three-lane versus four-lane debate dominating the recent special election.
Some of the biggest news stories came from First Nations communities around the Strait area.
The Paqtnkek Interchange Project, with its proposal for businesses and services just off the twinned portion of Highway 104 has the potential to positively transform the community and grow the economy.
In We’koqma’q First Nation last winter, the federal and provincial governments committed more than half a million dollars for a trout farm operation which has the potential to create employment and attract investment.
Another debate, which garnered some opposition, but mostly support, was the motion by municipalities in Cape Breton to add the word “Unama’ki” to the “Welcome to Cape Breton” sign, not just out of inclusiveness, but historical and cultural accuracy.
On a somber note, the October death of Cassidy Bernard and lack of information from authorities was a sobering reminder that Canada still has far to go in protecting Indigenous women. However, the subsequent Red Dress Protest, the reward offered by We’koqma’q First Nation, and the huge demonstration at the Canso Causeway were inspirational and integral in keeping her story alive so that justice can be served.
The move by the provincial government to eliminate all English school boards in the province was not greeted warmly in this region. This meant the dissolution of the elected Strait regional school board, a decision which was opposed by board members and some parents, as well as the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.
Another story which continually dominated the headlines was the lack of phone and Internet services in many parts of the four counties. During a holiday storm last year, residents in Marble Mountain went without power and landline service. Department of transportation workers trapped on a flooded road in their truck in Loch Lomond had to use emergency radios because there is no cell service in the area. And the stories go on. While the provincial government deserves accolades for spending money on these issues in last year’s budget, it will take a lot of money and time to get this region up to par with others across the country.
Significant developments earmarked for the area made great strides forward in 2018. LNG projects in Point Tupper and Goldboro made great progress, as did a mining proposal for Goldboro, and this winter, site clearing will take place for the Melford Atlantic Gateway project.
Despite some hiccups, Nova Scotia Power did complete its much-needed project installing new power lines across the Strait of Canso.
Perhaps the biggest business story of the year was the $50 million capital investment in their Auld’s Cove operation announced by Martin Marietta.
With cannabis legalized across the country in October, let’s not forget the cannabis production facilities planned for Port Hawkesbury, Antigonish County and Richmond County, all of which promise to bring this region into Canada’s burgeoning cannabis industry.
These and existing employers, as well as the travelling public, will greatly benefit from the twinning of Highway 104 between New Glasgow and Antigonish, which received a vital and welcome federal funding commitment last July.
Things were interesting around municipal council tables again this year. After being accused of a lack of accountability earlier in the year, Guysborough was forced to raise tax rates due to budget constraints.
Along with fractious debates in Antigonish town, Port Hawkesbury and Richmond County, Inverness County had the most interesting year, as current Warden Betty Ann MacQuarrie survived two attempts to oust her from the position.
There was tragedy on the water in 2018, another reminder of the dangers presented by some of the industries that help drive the economy. In February, the body of the captain of a fishing boat which ran aground off Canso was recovered from his vessel.
Then in May, two men died after their lobster boat capsized in waters off Port Hood.
This was followed by the harrowing rescue last September of the crew of a fishing boat from We’koqma’q First Nation which went down off the coast of Cape Breton in roiling seas.
The state of health care in the province was another hot topic, if not the hottest topic of the year. Although some strides were made in physician recruitment, the province was heavily criticized for the overall lack of physicians and specialists, the unavailability of nursing home and hospital beds, emergency department closures, and the lack of palliative care services in the region.
These gaps were manifested in the form of regular emergency department closures at facilities around the region, as well as staff reductions at R.K. MacDonald Nursing Home in Antigonish.
On this very topic, stakeholders of Strait-Richmond Hospital are organizing fundraising to help pay for the millions of dollars in renovations for the Evanston facility, which was constructed in the early 1980s and does not meet the needs of today.
This issue, like most of those mentioned above, are sure to play-out over the course of the coming year. Check-out the January 9 edition for a look ahead to 2019.