“Remember the Big Lift?” asks Examiner transportation columnist Erica Butler:
The astronomically expensive Macdonald bridge deck replacement caused a lot of inconvenience over roughly two years, but there was a silver lining. To help compensate for evening and weekend bridge closures, Halifax Transit increased ferry service during evenings and weekends, and people actually used it.
Weekday ridership went up by 39 per cent in 2016-17 as compared to 2014-15, pre-Big Lift. And on Sundays, the difference was even more dramatic, with an average annual 121 per cent increase between the same two periods. Some months, like February 2017, saw a five-fold increase in riders, while others, like July 2017, saw a more modest, yet still significant 54 per cent increase.
It’s those increases in ridership that Dartmouth councillor Sam Austin is hoping the city can hang on to. Realistically, Austin expects that with a fully functional Macdonald Bridge, some riders will revert back to buses or cars.
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“Premier Stephen McNeil on Tuesday dismissed questions about a recent controversial meeting with former prime minister Jean Chrétien as just ‘noise,'” reports Jean Laroche for the CBC:
The premier met with Chrétien last Wednesday, a day after the former prime minister had told reporters he’d be meeting with McNeil to discuss a proposal to bring a container terminal to Sydney harbour.
Last week, McNeil denied it was a lobbying effort, and said the two chatted about economic development, what it was like to come from a large family, and other shared stories.
On Friday, a union activist formally complained to the Registrar of Lobbyists, accusing Chrétien of having lobbied the premier without first registering as a lobbyist.
Interim PC leader Karla MacFarlane again raised the issue during Tuesday’s question period.
“There is not a reasonable-thinking person in this province who believes Mr. Chrétien came to do anything other than lobby this government for his clients,” MacFarlane said. “He even announced it himself the day before.
3. Janitors get fired for speaking; “free speech advocates” are silent
“Supporters of a group of black janitors who were fired from their cleaning jobs after they claimed they were victims of racial discrimination say they will continue to protest outside their former worksite in Halifax, reports the Canadian Press:
Members of a union supporting the cleaners say they plan to stage rallies at the historic Founders Square office building to draw attention to the issue.
Darius Mirshahi with the Service Employees International Union Local 2 says the gatherings are in support of janitorial cleaning workers who were told they would be laid off at the end of this week but were terminated last Friday after holding a rally and revealing plans to file an official complaint with the Human Rights Commission.
People were fired from their jobs for merely speaking, so no doubt the “free speech advocates” are outraged. Mark Mercer is at this very moment burning up his word processor writing a damning op-ed about how all speech should be protected; Jordan Peterson is filming a YouTube vid about the rights of employees to speak; and Rick Mehta is using the Founders Square incident to illustrate a psychology class lecture on something or another… right?
Well, no. None of that is happening. People got fired from their jobs for speaking, and the “free speech advocates” aren’t saying a word.
Evidently, speech is only worth protecting when it’s the speech of racists. The speech of the people who say they are the victims of racism isn’t worth protecting, I guess.
4. City Hall has a problem keeping women finance directors
This morning, the city issued a Request for Proposals for a head-hunting firm to find a new Finance Director. This confirms that former Finance Director Amanda Whitewood will not return to the position.
Whitewood left City Hall for a six-month position at the IWK after CAO Jacques Dubé sent her a “bizarre and lengthy text message…that included foul language and violent imagery about murdering someone who likes winter.” City council went into closed session to discuss Dubé’s actions, but declined to take any action against him.
I’ve been told Whitewood’s IWK position has recently been made permanent, but she is still listed as “the IWK’s Interim CFO” on its webpage.
Over at City Hall, Jerry Blackwood, the Manager of Revenue and the Municipal Treasurer, has been serving as Acting CFO in Whitewood’s absence. I have no idea if Blackwood wants or will seek the permanent position.
I like Blackwood. He strikes me as someone who is capable in a quiet, unassuming, and non-annoying way, and so far as I know he hasn’t been involved in any untoward behaviour. So nothing at all against Blackwood, but it’s worth noting that the Finance position hasn’t been kind to women.
Former Finance director Cathie O’Toole — who replaced another woman in the position, the long-serving Dale MacLennan — was the very definition of professionalism. Here’s how I described O’Toole in 2010, long before anyone much knew who she was:
...the budgeting pragmatism of Cathie O’Toole, the director of finance who came into office two years ago and has been bringing order to a slip-slod, out-of-control budgeting process ever since. With O’Toole at the helm, budgets have become understandable, a tough debt policy has been adopted (city debt continues to come down from the stratospheric heights of last decade) and sensible reserve funding policies for new capital projects have been established, meaning that in the future we won’t likely face the kind of crises management that has so often characterized city budgeting.
About a year after I wrote that, O’Toole demonstrated that she was an ethical civil servant, and rose to a challenge that shouldn’t have been presented to her in the first place.
Then-CAO Wayne Anstey, then-Trade Centre Limited President Scott Ferguson, and then-Mayor Peter Kelly concocted up a plan for, and approved on their own authority, a series of loans that violated city policy and were made through an obscure city bank account managed by TCL; the loans were made without O’Toole’s knowledge or consent. The loans were extended to concert promoter Harold MacKay to put on a series of shows on the Halifax Common, and were extended on the promise of being paid back with advanced ticket sales on the concerts, which for a number of reasons was itself highly unethical and put the city at extreme risk — at one point, the city was potentially liable for over $8 million (in an email I later obtained, Ferguson even stated outright that he knew the loans violated policy). Sure enough, the loan plan went belly-up and the city was left about a half-million dollars in the hole.
As I understand it, Anstey went to O’Toole and asked her to cover up the loan fiasco. She refused, and instead took the issue directly to the city’s auditor general and to council’s Audit Committee. This eventually exploded as the city’s concert scandal. Anstey retired, Ferguson got promoted, and Kelly aw-schucksed his way out of the controversy, although the scandal caused me to start poking around in Kelly’s finances to see what else might be amiss. (I found something.)
The three men responsible for the concert scandal fared far better than did O’Toole, the woman who blew the whistle and acted responsibly. Never seeking the limelight, O’Toole was suddenly thrust in the public eye. Worse, by outting her boss’s impropriety, her daily life in City Hall became a constant battle. I believe that Kelly’s defenders on council were also hounding O’Toole. The stress was over-bearing; eventually she left the job, taking a far less prominent position at Halifax Water. (From all appearances, she is now straightening up the financial side of the utility just as she did at the city.)
After O’Toole left, she was first briefly replaced by Bruce Fisher, who is the city manager for taxes, and then by Greg Keefe, a former provincial bureaucrat who came out of retirement for two years to take the city job. Keefe was affable and competent, but it seemed like Finance was on autopilot through the Keefe years; the point was simply to not rock the boat.
Whitewood brought a renewed energy into the position. She is engaging, the kind of person who exudes confidence and professionalism. “Ah, another capable woman as Finance director,” I thought when I first met her. And then that whole text message weirdness happened… and there Whitewood goes.
When two capable women have been chased out of the same position, we should think about the gender dynamic at City Hall. Sure, the details of their situations differ, but O’Toole and Whitewood dealt with the same context: they both left their jobs after their male bosses acted inappropriately. In both cases, it was the blameless woman who suffered, while the male boss suffered no real consequence.
5. Northern Pulp
This evening at 6:30 at the Central Library, Solidarity Halifax is hosting an event called “Capitalism, Colonialism, and Northern Pulp.” Speakers include Dennis McGee of the Northumberland Fishermen’s Association; Joan Baxter, author of The Mill and a Halifax Examiner contributor; and Jonathan Beadle and Tonya Francis of Pictou Landing First Nation.
Budget Committee – 18-19 Budget and Business Plan (Wednesday, 9:30am, City Hall) — council will talk about the PoPo budget.
Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm, City Hall) — the committee is taking up the proposed Schmidtville Heritage Conservation District.
Western Commons Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 6:30pm, Art Room, Prospect Road Community Centre) — mostly an orientation meeting for new members.
No public meetings Thursday or Friday.
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Frances Martin, the deputy minister at the Department of Environment, will be asked about the auditor general’s report from last November.
No public meetings Thursday or Friday.
Voice Recital (Wednesday, 11:45am, Sculpture Court, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — students of Marcia Swanston will perform.
New Classes of Transition Metal Catalyzed Bond Forming Reactions Powered by CO (Wednesday, 1:30pm, Room 226, Chemistry Building) — Bruce A. Arndtsen from McGill University will speak.
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Honours Presentations (Wednesday, 3pm, Theatre B, Tupper Medical Building) — honours students present their research.
Belong Forum (Wednesday, 7pm, Potter Auditorium, Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building) — MIT historian Craig Steven Wilder will speak about his book Ebony and Ivy, which is about the role of race and slavery in the development of several Ivy League universities in the United States. Register here.
Building Belonging: Racism in Institutions of Higher Education (Thursday, 11am, Room 302, Student Union Building) — Kevin Hewitt, Isaac Saney, and Barbara Hamilton-Hinch will “lead a knowledge and reflection circle as an opportunity to discuss racism as it pertains to teaching and learning.”
Improving Health Through Better Sleep (Thursday, 12pm, Room C523, Collaborative Health Education Building) — sleep therapist Kathy MacPherson will speak about the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep. Bring Your Own Pillow.
Einstein’s Ripples: Listening to the Violent Universe with Waves of Gravity (Thursday, 2:30pm, Room 319, Chase Building) — Sanjeev Seahra from the University of New Brunswick will speak about a bunch of astronomy stuff no one at the Examiner can understand.
Cuba 2018 and Beyond: New Challenges, Revolutionary Continuity (Thursday, 7pm, Room 1108, Marion McCain Building) — from the event listing:
Juan Carlos Rodriguez Diaz, elected member of Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power, professor of history, and historian of the City of Pinar del Rio, will talk about elections and democracy in Cuba, and the passing of the revolutionary torch from the historic generation that made the Cuban Revolution to the new generations born during and within the revolution.
Beyond Environmentalism: Why Saving the Planet Means Forgetting What You Assume to be True (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Theatre, Marion McCain Building) — Examiner contributor Linda Pannozzo will speak.
Unmaking People: The Politics of Negation from Frankenstein to Westworld (Thursday, 7pm, Alumni Hall) — Despina Kakoudaki from American University, Washington, DC, author of Anatomy of a Robot: Literature, Cinema, and the Cultural Work of Artificial People, will talk about “the idea and treatment of the artificial person in a human world.” Bring Your Own Robot.
In the harbour
5am: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
6am: ZIM Texas, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Algeciras, Spain
6am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
9am: Malleco, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
10am: Athabaskan, Canadian destroyer, sails from Dockyard for sea
3:30pm: Atlantic Star, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
4:30pm: ZIM Texas, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.