SYDNEY, N.S. — Fiddler Ashley MacIsaac says he got a call from Premier Tim Houston to talk about a gesture that might make things right with Cape Breton.
The mea culpa, MacIsaac said for Houston, would be the “punishment of walking across the causeway with me.”
Initially it was a proposal to snowshoe the Canso Causeway but the snow has been cleared up, MacIsaac noted.
The premier’s office confirmed there was a call.
MacIsaac said his mother got a couple of calls as Houston attempted to track him down. The call finally reached him as he was traveling through Whycocomagh.
MacIsaac took that opportunity to give the premier the gears about poor cell service in some areas but said they had a good conversion.
The famed fiddler proposed the Meals on Wheels fundraiser Wednesday on social media.
Thursday, the premier learned of it from the Cape Breton Post during questioning in a cabinet media briefing.
“Big fan of Ashley. But I need some more details … Do we have to fiddle together? But a big, big fan and I just want to thank him for bringing some awareness to the situation,” Houston replied.
On Friday, MacIsaac shared via his social media a date to walk the causeway with Houston is set: Tuesday, Feb. 13. He said it would take place “in the early early part of the day.”
He said the event would be an opportunity to fundraise for local organization who have kept busy during the storm, such as Meals-on-Wheels and food banks.
A response from the premier’s office Friday afternoon didn’t confirm whether that date was set.
“I can confirm that the Premier has spoken with Ashley MacIsaac and they are discussing his proposal,” Houston’s press secretary Catherine Klimek told the Post.
MacIsaac thanked the SaltWire publication for egging the premier on in light of public upset at Houston for comments he made Monday in a live-streamed media briefing regarding the Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s local state of emergency, referring to it as a “PR issue.”
“This is a real PR stunt, let’s be frank,” said MacIsaac of the plan to walk the causeway with Houston.
MacIsaac said those who took Houston’s initial comments as a slight would in no way be wrong.
MacIsaac said wants to invite the mayors of CBRM and Port Hawkesbury along, adding that he thought CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall-Merrill’s declaration was no PR stunt.
Recognizing the seriousness of the historic weekend storm, which dumped 100-centimetres on hardest hit areas, MacIsaac was emphatic to all in Cape Breton and eastern Nova Scotia who were trapped in the snowstorm or had their properties buried and are still digging out.
He also praised the efforts of the “hard working men and women out on the plows” and anyone trying to help.
“I tell ya, I was in Windsor, Ont., five degrees and green grass when I saw the nature of the storm,” MacIsaac said.
He said the premier has had time to think about his choice words and the needs of the various ends of the province.
MacIsaac said his gesture is an attempt to put a human face on it and a little bit of fun when and if the meetup takes place.
“Everybody in Cape Breton wants to give everybody a second chance,” he said of the generally forgiving nature.
Premier Tim Houston says he’ll come to Cape Breton and face people.
That’s after days of widespread island fury at Houston, who on Monday — during a live-streamed storm briefing with media — made comments that came off as critical of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality for declaring a local state of emergency. He wondered if it was a “PR issue” and other stinging words.
“This is a serious storm. My frustration got the best of me and I feel incredibly sad about that because from this as premier, as a Nova Scotian, there’s never a time when I would not want to help somebody,” Houston said in response to questioning from the Cape Breton Post during a cabinet media availability Thursday from Halifax.
“…I have spoken to the (CBRM) mayor (Amanda McDougall-Merrill) and directly assured her that we’re doing everything we can as a province. We want to work together on this, and it’s my intention to get up there and certainly look people in the eye as soon as possible and it can be done.”
Tuesday, he issued an apology but that didn’t win over many still digging out from the weekend storm that dumped 100-150 cm on the hardest hit areas of CBRM.
Thursday, he apologized again.
“We want to do what we can and my comments were interpreted as such that we didn’t want to help. And that’s what caused a lot of anxiety for a lot of people who were in very tenuous situations. And for that, I am incredibly, incredibly sorry. But I in no way meant to minimize the real and scary challenges of the storm,” he said.
Houston again clarified that he meant to say the province would have helped with or without a state of emergency and that gear was being mobilized early in the storm.
“So I want all those people to know that some are still in very scary situations that, you know, there’s a major, major effort to get to you and make sure you’re safe. We’d also reached out to neighbouring provinces and the federal government early in the process as well. So all that was happening,” he continued in response to the Cape Breton Post’s question.
Snowshoeing with Ashley
On Wednesday, famed fiddler Ashley MacIsaac took to social media and invited Houston to snowshoe across the Canso Causeway with him. MacIsaac suggested the event could be a fundraiser with all money going to help seniors stuck in their homes.
“It was definitely an emergency for many, many people, so Premier Houston, if you are willing, I’m willing. We can do a great fundraiser,” MacIsaac said in the second of two videos from his Facebook page on the matter. On TikTok, he ended his post with a tune.
The Cape Breton Post asked Houston if he’d take up the offer Thursday. He said he wasn’t aware of the “generous offer” and it depends on what was being proposed.
“Big fan of Ashley. But I need some more details … do we have to fiddle together? But a big, big fan and I just want to thank him for bringing some awareness to the situation,” he said.
Call for financial assistance
The Opposition Liberals, meanwhile, called for financial aid for those in Cape Breton and eastern mainland impacted by the storm, including compensation for missed shifts and plow bills.
“The premier hasn’t taken this storm seriously and the result has left thousands of Nova Scotians without the support they need to get by,” Opposition Leader Zach Churchill said in a news release. “We’ve heard of seniors trapped in their homes and people unable to get cancer and dialysis treatment. The very least this government can do is to treat this storm with the same urgency they did Hurricane Fiona.”
Churchill told the Cape Breton Post that there needs to be consistency when it comes to funding in the wake of disasters in Nova Scotia.
Houston, again in response to a question from the Cape Breton Post Thursday, said the province will look to assess whether there can be funding.
“So we’ll look at what’s possible, the people who can’t get out and miss shifts and businesses and stuff … we’ll do an assessment of what might be possible,” he said.
Churchill, meanwhile, said he doesn’t buy the premier’s apology.
“It wasn’t a misuse of words. I think he meant it,” Churchill said, adding Houston needs to amend his behaviour instead of allowing petty disagreements — in this case CBRM mayor and council — to rule his reaction, especially in times of crisis.
The Liberals also said the provincial government waited too long to ask for federal help.
“Had this government acted sooner, resources could have travelled here ahead of the storm to assist with cleanup efforts,” said Sydney-Membertou MLA Derek Mombourquette in the release.
Houston had talked earlier in the briefing about how volatile storm predictions can be beforehand and that’s why it’s hard to pre-mobilize to the exact areas that wind up hardest hit.
“But some people say maybe (last) Thursday night, you might have known. So, but think about when you look at these radar pictures and there’s various models and what if the model is an inch off on a map?” he said.
As the cleanup effort continued Thursday, the CBRM pleaded with people to not park on the streets so that they can be widened for emergency vehicles as well as transit and garbage trucks when they resume (they were again cancelled for Friday).
— With files from Saltwire’s Atlantic Briefs Desk
– Barb Sweet is a multimedia journalist with the Cape Breton Post. Follow her on X (Twitter) @BarbSweetTweets.