March break

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“Cruise St. John’s and Cruise NL will be participating with senior executives with the major cruise lines at Seatrade Cruise Global during the week of March 13-19, 2016 in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. I would like to request Council Approval to attend.” — from a memo to council by St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe, dated Feb. 22, 2016.

For much of Canada, March 14th to 18th is March break, the busiest time at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, where, last year, staff braced for 116,000 travellers in a single day.

Seatrade Cruise Global

You can understand why people might want to get away. The Old Farmers’ Almanac long-range weather report says the month of March will be about 1.5 degrees warmer than usual in St. John’s, but that the period between the 13th and the 19th will be characterized by rain, moving into snow.

As a result of a vote Monday by St. John’s city council, Mayor O’Keefe will miss that bad weather. Because councillors on hand — excluding Coun. Art Puddister — voted in favour of  O’Keefe’s annual Florida cruise conference excursion, despite this year’s budgetary woes.

(Sure, the usual cost for O’Keefe is only about $6,000 or so, but here’s a thought: Collier’s Lane is a small, narrow street off Quidi Vidi Road with just six houses. This year, with new assessments and a new mill rate, homeowners on that street will pay a combined total of $11,458.20 in municipal taxes. So, half of the municipal taxes on that street is the amount required just to carry O’Keefe southwards.)

For those of us not attending Seatrade Cruise Global, here’s a thumbnail of the event: there are around 11,000 attendees and more than 800 exhibitors. It’s the exhibition’s first year in Fort Lauderdale, having been held in Miami for years.

So, why the move?

Here’s how the conference explains it: “From spas, golf and retail therapy to the Everglades, water taxis and a scene oozing with arts and culture, we couldn’t come up with a reason not to call Greater Fort Lauderdale home. Who doesn’t want to experience the place ‘where happy meets go-lucky?’”

Who indeed?

“Everyone is bound to find something they love about this place (if they haven’t already). What are some of our favorites you ask? OK, we’ll tell you! Of course, we have to start with a list of things to do for free in the area including beachfront promenades, Jazz brunch, snorkeling (no boat needed!) and the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District.”

And that’s just outside. Inside, there’s everything from the March 16th Culinary and Mixology Exploration (Seatrade’s code of conduct warns all attendees not to dress “provocatively” and asks attendees to “please drink responsibly”) to the March 15th lecture on “the specific methods that cyber criminals could use to target ships and their supporting networks.”

Cruise NL, Greenland and St-Pierre-Miquelon are apparently sharing a 10 foot by 20 foot booth cheek-by-jowl with the Port of Koper, Slovenia, and the Klaipeda State Seaport, “the main transport hub and the gate of Lithuania to the world.”

You can understand why Cruise NL and Cruise St. John’s might want to be there, with a target audience of thousands.

But other than the sun and surf and the chance to be “where happy meets go-lucky,” why exactly is O’Keefe going?

Oh wait — because he can.

Hello, taxpayers.

Organizations: Seatrade Cruise Global, Riverwalk Arts Entertainment District, Klaipeda State Seaport

Geographic location: Florida, Quidi Vidi Road, Fort Lauderdale Miami Everglades Port of Koper Slovenia Lithuania

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Recent comments

  • Don Butler
    February 25, 2016 - 08:07

    The gall.The stupidity of those who voted him in. Considering the cuts and tax increases -its the optics of those clowns decisions

  • MIKE
    February 24, 2016 - 21:16

    It would be short sighted not to send a representative from St. John's. It is important to maintain contacts and support the cruise industry. The people of St. John's need to be educated about attracting tourism.

  • Eric
    February 24, 2016 - 20:42

    Ask the businesses downtown and they will tell you cruise ships add nothing to their bottom lines.

  • AnotherDenis
    February 24, 2016 - 19:48

    Is this why the mayor walks and walks and walks? Burning off all those extra calories from sampling the eats and treats? We send enough Newfoundlanders south every year to adequately spread the word. The Convention will be like the municipalities meetings...just another free-for-all (pun)

  • Ron
    February 24, 2016 - 17:14

    What a useless use of taxpayer money. This is another example of why the phrase " we are entitled to our entitlements " is so apt when it concerns politians. They take every excuse they can to grab anything that they can from the taxpayers. Before the year is over I would guess that every single councillor and member of the senior staff will have at least one trip to the sunny south at the taxpayers expense unless of course they want to visit a relative or friend somewhere in western Canada. I assume that they have all searched the various web sites for conferences that they can use as an excuse to travel. The same thing applies to most of the councils in the larger towns such as Mt. Pearl , Corner Brook , CBC and Paradise etc. Leeches one and all.

  • Chebucto
    February 24, 2016 - 16:01


  • Suzie
    February 24, 2016 - 15:13

    Once again this is ridiculous and I think (I'm not sure how it happens) that the residents of St. John's should ask for O'Keefe's resignation. He has shown us time and time again that he is no longer capable of running this City. In times of restraints and passing the buck onto residents and business owners he has ok'd millions on retirement, provided a raise to metro bus and is now going on vacation on our dollar.

  • Riggs
    February 24, 2016 - 13:57

    Really? Thousands of tourists every year flock to downtown businesses every time a cruise ship docks. Don't be dumb.

    • Jayne
      February 24, 2016 - 19:02

      Any business person in the downtown would tell you cruise ship tourists spend VERY LITTLE money in the City.....but then who on Council cares what any local business person thinks. This is this time of restraint ALL unnecessary travel should be cancelled and this fits into that category.....haven't Councillors or the Mayor heard anything that taxpayers have said......are they not abiding by their rules of Cutting Costs?????? oh I forgot this is DOK's last hurrah....he won't be around for a next term.

    • Newsy
      February 24, 2016 - 19:40

      Not really the case at all. I worked in shops & restaurants for several years & these folks might buy a t-shirt but that's about it. They get fed all meals on the ship, & are usually picked off the pier by a your bus & taken on a day trip outside the City. Someone benefits alright, & that's the Port Authority. And THAT's why THEY should pay if they want Doc to attend cocktail parties in Orlando. What a farce indeed. Shame on Council for being so arrogant at a time when they have just collectively punched us all in the face with that disaster they call a budget.

    • And?
      February 25, 2016 - 06:49

      and maybe 50 business owners see some kind of minimal benefit. It's not about how many visitors it's about how to strike a fair balance in City costs. Based on how many ships are turned away due to weather I don't think this is critical revenue to anyone.

    • Chebucto
      February 25, 2016 - 09:26

      All because of O'Keefe's Florida trips?

    • jerome
      February 25, 2016 - 10:33

      Didn't you read a story from the "Travel Bug" about when the cruise ships are in town, mostly window shoppers, very little spending and also the shoplifters know all these people will be downtown so this is their time to steal. So the shop owners have to increase staff to combat the shoplifters but get very little sales to offset this cost. Some one should do an exit poll as they are going back on the ships to ask how much they spent while in port. I work down town and very seldom she the cruise ship people with shopping bags in hand, why eat in our restaurants when your meals are included on board the cruise ship. The economic impact of these cruise ships is minimal at best, not worth the cost to the city.

  • Newsy
    February 24, 2016 - 10:55

    Beyond galling. Doc will be known as the mayor who cruised while SJ burned. What a farce.

    • Chebucto
      February 25, 2016 - 09:26

      Couldn't have said it better myself...

  • Guy Incognito
    February 24, 2016 - 10:34

    I would like to see just how much these cruise ships bring in to our economy. Who actually benefits from these ships? This council is beyond useless. They are all probably afraid that Doc will throw a tantrum if they vote against his little trip.

  • Riggs
    February 24, 2016 - 10:25

    Of course the article fails to mention that Mayor O'Keefe is chair of Cruise St. John's and on the bord of Cruise NL.

    • Mainlander
      February 24, 2016 - 16:27

      So why are the taxpayers of St. John's paying for it? Don't these organizations have budgets for these things?

  • Bill
    February 24, 2016 - 09:58

    O'Keefe doesn't care who pays as long as he gets his trip to Florida on someone else's dime.

  • Bob Hallett
    February 24, 2016 - 08:51

    What's even worse about this is that city does;t even make any money from the cruise lines - the Port Authority are the ones who get paid the fees. Why didn't they pay for O'Keefe's holiday?

  • roy206
    February 24, 2016 - 08:44

    Another retired schoolteacher in politics, and city budget in shambles... But don't let that stop you from a freeby on top of the ????is it $175,000 per year..

  • Bill
    February 24, 2016 - 08:17

    Has the Mayor learned nothing in the past few weeks? His actions blatantly demonstrate his disdain for the taxpayers who have just been pummelled by large tax hikes.

  • Sparky
    February 24, 2016 - 07:26

    Mayor O'Keefe knows he will never be elected again so he will take advantage of any free trips until he is tossed out of City of St. John's. To think all of the Councillors voted for him to go except Mr. Puddister shows how little respect they have for taxpayers.

    • Doug
      February 24, 2016 - 12:38

      My sentiments exactly... he'll raid the public coffers at every opportunity knowing that he's sailing off into the sunset (no pun intended) and the voters won't be able to take him to task for it.

    • Sam
      February 24, 2016 - 13:36

      This to me is right up there with the $7 million dollar buy out for a few managers. O'Keefe is useless and now he's at a point where he's going to take whatever he can get away with before he quits. The salaries being paid to some of the managers, is way over that of comparable positions in this province. They make in excess of what the chief of police is paid, deputy ministers and in fact a few exceed the premier's salary. Now isn't that a joke. Art Puddister should also table the lucrative pension plan the staff enjoy. Wage roll backs and and salary freezes are whats needed to start dealing with the financial mess they have us in.