March break

Published on February 24, 2016
Seatrade Cruise Global
screen grab

“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.

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.