1. $100 million refund for Exxon Mobile
A Nova Scotia government royalty refund owed to Exxon Mobil and its partners in the Sable Offshore Energy Project jumped by nearly $100 million late last year when the oil company unexpectedly increased the estimated cost of abandoning the project, the province’s energy minister says.
The estimate was booked as an expense in 2015-16 and was a major hit on the province’s bottom line, contributing to the increased deficit forecast by the McNeil government.
The province will not release the total royalty refund obligation to the Sable operators, claiming it and the abandonment estimates are commercially privileged information restricted by confidentiality provisions in its 1997 royalty agreement with the operators.
2. Boatless ferry
Bay Ferries has still not acquired a boat for the Yarmouth–Portland ferry run, and that’s beginning to turn into its own disaster, reports Michael Gorman:
The uncertainty about what ferry will operate between Yarmouth and Portland has chased away one tour bus company that planned to use the service this summer and at least one more is having doubts.
Natalie Flint of Friendship Tours in Bloomfield, Conn., confirmed Wednesday that the company has cancelled rooms it had booked at a hotel in Yarmouth and won’t be making the trip to Nova Scotia this summer. The company reserved rooms for two nights in each of June, July and September.
3. More Bragging
I was in such a rush yesterday I overlooked the billionaire Bragg family’s most direct connection to the provincial Liberal Party; a reader reminds me:
Two younger Braggs (Courtney & Peter) work for the Liberal Party. Peter is Executive Assistant to Leo Glavine and Courtney works in the Liberal caucus office.
One last, last thought on Seniors’ Pharmacare.
Late last March, Nova Scotia’s film community got only about a week’s notice that changes were afoot with the film tax credit. Finance minister Diana Whalen hinted at it in her pre-budget speech to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce. Even then, film reps weren’t sure what was coming. Did they really hear what they thought they heard? Hadn’t the premier promised to extend the credit? It was only on budget day that they realized that the worst had happened. At that point, it became 100 times harder to get the government to change its mind. It’s a credit to the tenacity of the film industry that they got the government to walk the FTC back as far as they did, even though it wasn’t very far.
Today, seniors who are concerned about changes to the Seniors’ Pharmacare program have two full months’ notice. The changes come into effect on April 1, 2016. The way the pharmacare system’s set up, any changes to premium and co-pay don’t need to go to the legislature, or even to the Cabinet. They just need to be approved by the minister (see the Seniors’ Pharmacare regulations under the Fair Drug Pricing Act). The same would go for any postponement or scrapping of the changes. It’s all in the minister’s discretion.
Now I’m not inside the Liberal caucus, but I’m guessing that many of their MLAs are fairly close to apoplexy. None of them wants seniors calling them with complaints about pharmacare. That’s not the kind of “making a difference” that caused them to run for office. I’ll bet that the Liberal MLAs weren’t consulted about the changes. They read about it at the same time as everybody else. In fact, they probably got fed the same spin that everybody else did. It was only later that they realized, with dismay, that things were not quite as they seemed.
Let’s face it: the Liberal MLAs, especially in metro Halifax, took a smacking about the film tax credit. They’ve gamely defended it, even though they know in their hearts it was a mistake. Here’s the thing: they’re not going to go through that again. No way. Not with angry seniors. The MLAs are annoyed that they weren’t consulted again, and this time they won’t put up with it.
MLAs need help to do their jobs. It’s not easy standing up to the premier, who basically controls everything that’s important to them in their work as an MLA. MLAs need a push. They respond to constituency-level contact, from people they know and have to face in their community.
So if someone were to ask me how to put the brakes on the Seniors’ Pharmacare changes, I’d say: Go see your MLA. Write. Call. Visit. Then do it again. Write. Call. Visit. Let them know that they’re your elected representative, and this is not what you want. Write. Call. Visit. Persistence is the most powerful force in politics. You have two months. Go.
Just a thought.
Steele has done an excellent job detailing just how badly the Liberals have mangled the Pharmacare file: it’s bad policy, it was implemented poorly, and it’s bad PR. And Steele’s right: the broad public may not care about the Film Tax Credit, but start mucking around with the price of retirees’ drugs and holy shit people will pay attention.
I’m amused, however, that Steele’s solution to this is for people to politely call their MLA, and maybe write a sternly worded letter. Whatever you do, though, don’t take to the streets!
Screw that. What we need right now is 10,000 old folks descending upon Province House and shaking their canes at and spraying spittle on every passing legislator until the politicians rue the day they dared fuck with Grandma.
Three years from now, I think, people will look back at Stephen McNeil’s grab at pensioners’ pocketbooks as the turning point that led to the Liberals’ electoral defeat in 2018.
But let’s seize the moment. While the public’s attention is focused on Pharmacare funding, let’s begin a discussion about publicly funded drug coverage for everyone.
The McNeil government is trying to frame the changes it’s making to Pharmacare as a way to better means test the program. But as I’ve explained before, means testing is a neoliberal strategy to do away with the social support for government programs so that they can ultimately be destroyed or privatized.
And while Pharmacare itself might be based on some degree of means testing for old people enrolled in the program, for everyone else, the better your job, the less you pay for drugs.
We’re a two-tiered society. People who work for government or are of the managerial and professional classes mostly have decent drug plans such that the price of medicine isn’t a huge concern. But for working stiffs with no drug coverage, not so much.
Instead of using the Pharmacare program as a means for increasing government revenue, we should be doing the exact opposite: we should broaden the program so everyone is covered, regardless of age or income.
And here’s how we pay for universal drug coverage: we tax people. And here’s how we means test universal drug coverage: we tax rich people and rich corporations more, and we tax poor people less.
2. Stephen McNeil’s Twitter police
“Last Thursday, the bureaucrat in charge of the McNeil government’s communications agency warned the province’s civil servants to be circumspect on social media,” notes Parker Donham.
“’Some types of personal use [of social media],’ wrote Tracey Taweel, ‘can result in discipline, up to and including dismissal, if they are damaging to the Government’s reputation.’”
As Donham notes, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made welcome pronouncements telling civil servants that “they were free to communicate with the media and the public — thus putting paid to the previous government’s muzzling.”
Meanwhile, however, the provincial Liberal party has set lose a team of PR goons to troll government employees’ Twitter accounts and round up those who question Dear Leader.
3. Striking journalists
Scott Gillard draws our attention to journalists’ pay:
Real journalism triumphs over opinion, talking heads, and spin. There’s not a person among us who can cut through all the garbage that is thrown at us each day. That’s why we have journalists. They cut through the crap and provide some balance. They ask tough questions when we can’t. They see the spin and present the alternatives we may not otherwise know about. There’s no doubt that having people whose job it is to inform us is more important now than ever.
How then, with such an important job, is the top of the scale salary at the Herald only $80,000? That’s about $13,000 less than top-of-scale for Nova Scotia’s teachers. In 2012, Nova Scotia doctor’s made, on average, $258,000 (doctors’ remuneration is structured differently; they pay costs associated with their practice from their income). The base salary for registered nurses ranges between $60,000 and $85,000. An MLA makes no less than $89,000, and most of those folks take a pay cut to do that job. But the people who keep us informed about what those MLAs are up to? Max $80,000 and I hear only two of them are actually paid top-of-scale at the Herald.
4. Cranky letter of the day
Dear Steve MacDonald,
After reading your letter in last week’s Coast, I hope you haven’t spent all your money on groceries, because you’ll need some cash for a good pair of glasses (“Buy two, get bent,” Reply All, January 28). I hate to spring this on you, but it’s Sobeys that’s your culprit, not Atlantic Superstore. For years now Sobeys has been advertising buy one, get one free.
I know you’re now in shock, Steve, so I’ll repeat. Sobeys of Atlantic Canada is the grocery chain that offers buy one get one free. Superstore offers Dollar Days—tons of items for $1. That’s right, Steve, $1. And you don’t have to buy two.
Perhaps you just have an axe to grind with Superstore. Maybe they kicked you out of the 10 items or less lane when you tried to put through that $12,000 worth of groceries. I personally think you should try Dollar Days at least once, because you are spending way too much on groceries.
Ken Weston, Calgary
Environment & Sustainability Standing Committee (1pm, City Hall) — organics processing is the topic of the day.
No public meetings.
Thesis defence, Biology (10:30am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Garima Kulshreshtha will defend her thesis, “The use of Selected red Macroalgae (Sea Weeds) for the Reduction of Salmonella Enteritidis in Poultry.”
Data mining (11:30am, Slonim Conference Room, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Ricardo J. G. B. Campello, from the University of Sao Paulo and a visiting prof at the University of Alberta, will speak on “the evaluation of unsupervised outlier detection“:
The evaluation of unsupervised outlier detection algorithms is a challenge in data mining research. Little is known regarding the strengths and weaknesses of different detection models, and the impact of different choices for their parameters. The scarcity of appropriate benchmark datasets with ground truth annotation is a significant impediment to the evaluation of outlier methods. Even when labeled datasets are available, their suitability for the outlier detection task is typically unknown. Furthermore, the biases of commonly-used evaluation measures are not fully understood. It is thus difficult to ascertain the extent to which newly-proposed techniques improve over established ones. In this talk we elaborate on some these issues, aiming to shed some light on the problem of benchmarking of unsupervised outlier detection methods.
The ‘environment’ of environmental sciences in Canada (3:30pm, 5th Floor Biology Lounge, Life Science Centre) — Ian Stewart, from King’s College, will speak on “The ‘environment’ of environmental sciences in Canada: reflections on recent socio-political developments, and why scientists should care.”
Racism is killing us softly (6pm, Room 303 Dalhousie Student Union Building) — from the event listing:
In commemoration of the African Heritage month, the Black Student Advising Centre in collaboration with the School of Social Work, Association of Black Social Workers and the JRJ chair of the Black Canadian Studies present an evening of story telling by Black Young Men. These young men will share their stories of struggles, challenges, success and future aspirations.
Foucault, Post-Politics, and Counter-Security: Art and the Aleatory (7pm, Alumni Hall, New Academic Building, University of King’s College) — Ronjon Paul Datta, from the University of Windsor, will speak. The abstract of his talk:
This paper develops Foucault’s work on government, security, and art to critically analyse “post-politics.” Contemporary social and political thinkers (e.g., Slavoj Zizek, Wendy Brown, Ernesto Laclau, and Erik Swyngedou) characterize post-politics as the reduction of politics to the ways and means of expert social administation, involving the acceptace of liberal, representative parliamentary democracy and capitalism as the “only game in town.” This conception of post-politics however, misses the contingent formation of post-politics, it’s distinctive teleology of “development,” its dependence on apparatuses of security, and its unintended consequences, populist resistance to “experts” in particular. On each of those counts, Foucault’s analytics of power are instructive. Yet, while Foucault gives us the tools for understanding the emergence and effects of “postpolitics,” his own conception of power relations and transformative practices are inadequate to theorizing the conditions of its transformation. By way of contrast, Foucault’s considerations of aleatory practices in the arts (e.g., Raymond Roussell, Georges Bataille, and Pierre Boulez), open the door for considering alternatives to postpolitics, elaborated here as “counter-security,” as the collective art of differently problematizing futures.
COP21 (7pm, Ondaatje Auditorium, McCain Building) — from the event listing:
Panelists Anders Hayden (Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Dalhousie), Meinhard Doelle (Director, Marine & Environmental Law Institute, Dalhousie) and Katie Perfitt, (Organizer, Canadian Youth Delegation to COP21 and Divest Dal) provide political, legal, and activist perspectives on the outcomes of COP21 and its implications for climate politics.
Planetarium show (7:15pm, Room 120, Dunn Building) — “Bright Stars on Cold Winter Nights in a Warm Planetarium!” Five bucks at the door. Leave kids under eight years old out in the car. Wait! The show is fully booked. But you can RSVP for the next show here.
In the harbour
Dinkeldiep, ro-ro cargo, Saint-Pierre to HalTerm
Elektra, car carrier, Southhampton, England to Autoport
Atlantic Cartier, container ship, Liverpool, England to Fairview Cove
MSC Cristiana, car carrier, Sagunto, Spain to Autoport
BW Cougar, oil tanker, Houston to Imperial Oil
We’re recording not one, but two podcasts today. In the first, I’m being interviewed by Jesse Brown of CANADALAND about the DEAD WRONG series; that interview will be published on February 15. In the second podcast, I’ll be interviewing people about Geezergate for Examineradio; that podcast will be published tomorrow.