1. George Tsimiklis is the worst landlord in town
Halifax landlord and developer George Tsimiklis preys on poor people. That’s his business model: renting out substandard housing to people on social assistance who have few options in life.
Yesterday, I detailed the dozens and dozens of times city inspectors have visited his properties and what they found.
It took many weeks to gather the information. I couldn’t have done it without the help of Brendan Elliott, a former reporter who now works in the city’s communication office. At my request, Elliott collected the various reports and presented them to me in a way that I could publish. I cannot thank him enough. It was a lot of work, for both of us.
That said, it shouldn’t have to be this way.
One of the foundations of capitalism is a fully informed market. The system doesn’t work unless buyers — of eggs or cars or stocks or apartments — have full knowledge of the product they’re buying, and that includes the regulatory history of the product. That’s why a car’s service history is a public record. That’s why restaurant inspection reports are online. That’s why a handful of us in Nova Scotia fought, and won, for house sale prices to be publicly available. And that’s why building and bylaw inspection reports should be readily available to the public — so that potential renters can judge for themselves the quality of the property and the history of the landlord and make an informed choice about renting.
When I was working in California, I investigated a landlord who also happened to be the county assessor. It was a simple matter of going to the county property office to find the man’s properties, and then walking across the street to City Hall and pulling each of the property files. Those files contained the full history of each property, including all building permits and inspections, fire reports, bylaw inspection and orders, and even police calls. It took 10 minutes to get the files, and an afternoon to read them. What I found was disturbing. You can read that report here, although I see the photos are lost to history.
I can’t do that kind of work here in Halifax. Or rather, I can only do it through the forbearance and kind assistance of a communications worker, and even then I won’t get a full account. (That’s not a criticism of Elliott; it just reflects the limitations placed on him.)
Activists are demanding landlord licensing for Halifax. I’m all for it, but even without a licensing system we can better serve renters by doing away with archaic and paternalistic restrictions on government records.
Free the property records!
2. Government secrecy
“Premier Stephen McNeil has swept aside a call to overhaul Nova Scotia’s access to information law, telling reporters he sometimes phones staff instead of sending emails, in order to keep information from the public,” reports Jean Laroche for the CBC:
This comes after the province’s information and privacy commissioner, Catherine Tully, said Tuesday the law needs to be updated and modernized.
The commissioner’s office released a new guideline this week, warning public officials against using private email accounts or sending texts on the job.
McNeil said, although he has a private email account, he never has used it for government business. Instead he phones staff to have confidential conversations.
“I pick up the phone and call,” the premier told reporters Thursday.
“I need to be able to communicate to my staff, and there are certain things I want to be able to tell them that I don’t believe should be out in the public domain.”
Of course, Nova Scotia’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act has plenty of protections in it to allow the premier and cabinet ministers to exchange information that won’t become public — too many protections, in my opinion. I’m forever getting reams of redacted documents with the notation that the information is being withheld under Sections 13 and 14 of the Act.
Freedom of information isn’t just for nosy reporters — it also serves a role in historic preservation. The “advice to ministers” exemptions expire after five or ten years (depending on circumstance), so that future historians, academics, and legislators can look back and understand why we are doing what we’re doing today. So for McNeil to state plainly that he works around the rules is outrageous.
There’s no other way to read McNeil’s comments: Stephen McNeil is against an open and accountable government.
Wednesday, I wrote about government officials who use private email accounts to skirt freedom of information laws. Yesterday, Graham Steele weighed in on the issue:
Let me assist: The use of private email within government is widespread and routine. It is not an accident. And it is done precisely to evade FOI.
Correction, 10am: below, I incorrectly referred to Sarah Outhit-Smith as a deputy minister; she is the Executive Assistant to Minister Regan.
I mentioned that I had evidence that both an MLA and a deputy minister were conducting public business via private email accounts.
The MLA is Bill Horne, and the deputy minister is Sarah Outhit-Smith. I asked each of them the following questions:
1. Do you use email@example.com (or firstname.lastname@example.org) account for all government business?
2. Why do you use the gmail (or hotmail) account and not your government-provided email account?
3. If you only use the gmail (or hotmail) account for some government business and not all government business, how do you decide which email account to use?
4. Is your use of the gmail (or hotmail) account intended to circumvent freedom of information rules and requests for information?
5. Will you take steps to preserve all emails used by the gmail (or hotmail) account to conduct government business by, for instance, transferring the emails to a government server?
If you have any other thoughts on this issue, I’d very much like to hear them.
I’ve received no response.
Incidentally, while deputy ministers and politicians use private email accounts to conduct public business, government employees are required to abide by strict email policies detailed in the Electronic Mail Policy:
As provided in the Government Records Act, e-mail messages are included in the definition of “records.” Therefore, under that act, e-mail messages, sent and received, are the property of government and are required under the act to be managed in accordance with the records management requirements of the act, including the Standards for Administrative and Operational Records (STAR/STOR). E-mail messages may also be subject to government records management policies, standards, and guidelines, which may be identified through Records Management.
The Government Records Committee, set up under the act, oversees the management of e-mail records in the same way that it oversees other record formats.
In addition, the management of e-mail records is subject to the requirements of this policy.
There is no “out” for personal email accounts. The use of private email accounts to conduct government business is a direct violation of the policy.
3. Fliss Cramman
“An ailing woman who is facing deportation to England has been freed from shackles that kept her restrained in her hospital bed following the intervention of two Nova Scotia cabinet ministers, one of whom said he was appalled by her treatment,” report Keith Doucette and Alison Auld for the Canadian Press:
Health Minister Leo Glavine said Thursday he thought restraining Fliss Cramman was “very inappropriate,” and had discussed the issue with provincial Justice Minister Diana Whalen.
4. Living wage
“City councilors in Vancouver have approved a ‘living wage’ of $20.64 per hour for all city staff,” reports CTV:
Under the new plan, all direct employees and subcontractors will be paid at or above the agreed upon living wage for Metro Vancouver.
It is estimated that the plan will cost the city an extra $560,000 annually, and close to $1-million if other employees such as police department, fire and rescue services and Vancouver Public Library staff are included.
If a city the size of Vancouver can pull this off for a mere million dollars, than Halifax can do the same for much less. Even a million dollars is immensely affordable — it’s one-sixteenth of the Washmill underpass, or two concert scandals. It’s basically a rounding error in the city’s billion dollar budget.
The article continues:
Parksville and Port Coquitlam have also recently passed living wage policies, joining New Westminster, Quesnel and the Huu-ay-aht First Nations.
Deanna Ogle, the campaign organizer for the Living Wage for Families group, says there is momentum building around the living wage movement in B.C.
“Implementing a living wage is a small cost for a big impact in the lives of low-wage workers and contractors who will breathe a little easier at the end of the month,” she said in a statement.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says working poverty is a “huge” problem in Metro Vancouver, and the region has the second highest working poverty rate among large Canadian cities, only slightly lower than Greater Toronto.
“Simply put, in our great city, tens of thousands of families who work for low wages do not have the time to enjoy Vancouver’s amenities,” said Seth Klein, the group’s B.C. director.
“Changing this reality requires a host of policy initiatives at all levels of government. But without question, having a major city government adopt a living wage policy is an important piece of the mix.”
I’ve seen curious responses to my campaign for a municipal living wage ordinance. Some say the city already pays a living wage. That simply isn’t true, but even if it were true, what harm would come from passing the ordinance? A living wage ordinance, however, is not primarily aimed at the city itself but rather at companies who contract with the city. That’s the companies who pave and plow the streets, provide parking enforcement, run the arenas, and so forth.
The big myth in Halifax city government is that over the past eight years or so, City Hall has been “fiscally responsible.” Councillors and city managers point at holding the line on tax increases and the paying down of debt as proof of their fiscal management skills. But the fact is that this has been done on the backs of the working poor — services are outsourced to private companies that pay crap wages, so the city can balance its books without a tax increase.
We don’t necessarily need a tax increase to make sure that workers are paid a living wage. As I’ve noted before, we can afford what we want to afford, and right now that means over 600 city workers make over $100,000 and no one bats an eye. We hire consultants on a whim. We pay for all sorts of things that no one ever questions, but suddenly when it comes to paying a person enough to live on, it’s a fiscal crisis.
Real fiscal responsibility is treating your workers decently. To balance budgets on the backs of the working poor isn’t fiscal responsibility, it’s exploitation.
I’m continually updating my collection of council candidate responses to my question about a living wage ordinance. I’m a bit behind — there are five or six in the queue this morning, but I’ll have them all published in an hour or so, and I’ll further update the page as others respond. Find them all here.
5. Trout Point Lodge
Speaking of restaurant inspection reports, as I was in #1 above, does anyone care that Trout Point Lodge has been operating a commercial kitchen without a permit?
6. Donald Trump: the Nova Scotia angle
“Long before making his run for president of the United States, Donald Trump established a corporate foothold in Nova Scotia,” reports Chris Lambie for Local Xpress:
Trump Education ULC was incorporated here in 2009, according to the province’s Registry of Joint Stock Companies. The outfit lists Donald Trump as its chairman and 40 Wall St. in New York City, otherwise known as the Trump Building, a 71-storey skyscraper, as his civic address.
Michael Sexton, who founded the now-defunct for-profit Trump University with Donald Trump in 2004, is named as president of the Nova Scotia company, which saw its status revoked for non-payment in 2011.
Lots of large U.S. outfits set up unlimited liability companies in Nova Scotia in the 1990s and 2000s to take advantage of tax loopholes that have since been closed, said Geoff Loomer, who teaches tax law at Dalhousie University’s Schulich law school in Halifax.
“It was kind of a hot thing for a while,” Loomer said.
1. Muskrat Falls
Nova Scotia stands to benefit from the Muskrat Falls project as well. A large portion of the energy generated at Muskrat Falls will be transported to our province via the Maritime Link
“We should know where that energy comes from when we turn on our lights,” says Brake. “Nova Scotians need to know that there is a significant environmental and human cost associated with the project. In a time when there have been such significant advances in wind and other renewables we don’t need to build this dam.”
“The silence is an indication and a manifestation of colonialism. It’s more convenient to look the other way, and forget about the negative impact on indigenous rights,” Brake says.
2. Cranky letter of the day
I read with interest the article “Reducing poverty or tax grab?” by Jordi Morgan. I am sure Mr. Morgan realizes that labour costs are part of running a business.
There is rent, material cost, taxes, snow clearing, labour, etc.
Why might I ask should the taxpayers of Canada subsidize the labour costs of any business? Business has become dependent on government handouts to inflate their books.
They have to negotiate all other costs but somehow they feel that labour costs are the responsibility of the taxpayer.
To run a successful business you must balance all costs. If you cannot do that then perhaps you shouldn’t be in business.
People who work must earn not a minimum wage but a living wage.
They are entitled to a wage that makes them independent members of society, a wage that gives them the privilege of paying taxes, supporting local businesses, sending their children to music or sports and taking a vacation perhaps to a Maritime vacation spot and purchasing local food.
All of this supports Maritime businesses.
The time has come for The Canadian Federation of Dependent Businesses to stop their whining and become truly independent – not dependent on corporate welfare payments. Oh, I mean government incentives.
By the way “Big Labour” which doesn’t exist in Canada, is really little people, who have realized that “Big Business” is concerned with “Big Profits” and not concerned with building a Canada where everyone has a livable income.
Jim Wicks, Charlottetown
No public meetings.
Sustainable Oceans Conference 2016 (8am to Saturday 5pm, Halifax Central Library) — a student-run conference led by the Master of Marine Management students. Everyone’s welcome.
Mass Blanket Exercise (11:30am, Studley Quad) — the event discription:
September 30th has been declared Orange Shirt Day annually, in recognition of the harm the residential school system did to children’s sense of self-esteem and wellbeing, and as an affirmation of our commitment to ensure that everyone around us matters.
Canadian Roots Exchange and Dalhousie Elders in Residence in collaboration with Human Rights, Equity and Harrassment Prevention (HREHP) Office invite you to a Mass Blanket Exercise on September 30, 2016 at 11:30 on the Dalhousie University Studley Quad.
The Blanket Exercise is a 1.5 – 2 hour experience that helps people understand how colonization of the land we now know as Canada has impacted the Indigenous peoples who lived here long before settlers arrived. Participants stand on blankets that represent the land and walk through pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance.
Big Data (12pm, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — “The Future of Big Data: More Than Just a Trend?”
Slavery (3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building) — Justin Roberts will speak on “The Development of Slavery in the British Americas.”
Gold (11:30am, Atrium 101) — Cathleen Crudden, from Queen’s University and The Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules in Nagoya, Japan, will speak on, “From Molecules to Materials: Asymmetric Catalysis and the Preparation of Carbon-based Monolayers on Gold.”
In the harbour
1am: NYK Romulus, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
7:15am: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 36 from Saint-Pierre
8am: Serenade of the Seas, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John with up to 2,580 passengers
8am: Azamara Quest, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 23 with up to 690 passengers
9am: Disney Magic, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 23 from New York with up to 2,456 passengers
9:30am: Celebrity Summit, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 20 from Sydney with up to 2,590 passengers
9am: Patino, Sapnish warship, arrives at NB 2/3
2pm: Energy Patriot, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
4:30pm: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Pier 36 for Saint-Pierre
4:45pm: Disney Magic, cruise ship, sails from Pier 23 for New York
6:30pm: Serenade of the Seas, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Boston
7pm: Celebrity Summit, cruise ship, sails from Pier 20 for New York
A bunch of stuff will get published today. Come back!
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