Premier Stephen McNeil presented the provincial budget yesterday. It is an austerity budget that makes radical changes, including:
The three percent annual cap on tuition increases is removed for this year to “allow universities to make one-time market adjustments to tuition, to charge similar amounts for similar programs.” Read that as “to charge whatever they want.” The cap returns next year, which surely means that universities will shoot for the highest increases they can muster this year.
Additionally, the cap is removed permanently for out-of-province students and graduate students.
Essentially, these changes continue the restructuring and corporatization of higher education. University is no longer intended as a vehicle for broad education but rather as a corporate training ground. Students who think otherwise will be loaded with so much debt that their only option will be to chase an ever decreasing number of high-paying jobs, further changing the social gestalt such that it becomes nearly impossible to present a principled challenge to the corporate order. The effect high tuition rates have on individual lives aside, this is the point of increasing tuition.
Film tax credit
I had thought that the commotion about the film tax credit was probably overblown and that the Liberals would come in with a small tweak to it. Assuming it was introduced gradually, such a course wouldn’t have been unreasonable — Nova Scotia’s current 50 percent subsidy for film industry salaries is the highest in the world, and trimming that back a bit would make sense.
Boy was I wrong.
The changes to the film tax credit announced yesterday are radical, steep, and sudden. The 50 percent figure remains, sort of, but just 25 percent of it remains a fully refundable credit, while the rest is converted to a credit against provincial taxes.
In real terms this means that the 50 percent subsidy for wages will be slashed to 12.5 percent. After that, there will be up to a 37.5 percent rebate against provincial taxes, which means mostly payroll taxes. On some surface level the change sounds technical, but it is huge, especially for international production companies filming in Nova Scotia. I don’t think the Liberals comprehend just how huge the change is. We’ll see how this plays out, but my guess is that even locally based production companies won’t be able to take advantage of most of the offered tax rebate. For international productions, the tax rebate is almost meaningless.
The Liberal disconnect on the film tax credit becomes clear via a Finance Department’s press release. The $24 million spent last year on the film tax credit is again budgeted this year, which seems almost delusional, in that we can expect far fewer productions to start up with the slashed offer. Then, in the 2016-15 budget year, the 25 percent cut — to $6 million — is budgeted, and all of that is placed in a new “Creative Economy Fund” effective April 1, 2016.
Moreover, that Creative Economy Fund will be managed by — and I’m not making this up — Nova Scotia Business Inc., the province’s economic development agency. None other than Laurel Broten, the “risk-taker, dreamer, doer, and builder” who suggested the austerity budget in the first place, is the president of NSBI, so will effectively call the shots on what productions the fund will support.
Someone should start a documentary about the powers of homeopathy.
An hour before the budget was released yesterday, 109 employees of the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism were called into a room, summarily fired, escorted to their desks to quickly grab personal items, and given a taxi chit to go home.
As of yesterday, ERDT no longer exists.
The “tourism” part of the department was cleaved off into a new crown corporation, with the absurd promise that doing so would double tourism revenues.
The “rural” part of ERDT seems to simply have fallen off the table. Relatedly, the Liberals have closed 13 Land Registry offices, all in rural areas.
In place of ERDT, the Liberals are creating a “Department of Business,” because putting “business” in the title of the department means “business,” I guess. It will have just 28 employees who “will help create one of the most competitive and business-friendly environments in Canada,” if you believe the press release, and how can you not believe press releases?
The press release is pretty vague about what the Department of Business will actually do, but it does drop the words “entrepreneurship” and “innovation” a couple of times, so expect a lot of bullshit.
One specific funding measures in the Department of Business portion of the budget is “$400,000 for Brilliant Labs in all eight school boards, to help teachers incorporate technology, creativity and entrepreneurship in the classroom.” I’ve always been a firm believer in public education, but were I now a parent, I’d rather my child be taught by wolves than attend a “Brilliant Lab.”
Perhaps the most incredible part of the budget announcement is the Health budget, which will see an increase of just 0.8 percent. As Graham Steele says today:
Pretending to freeze health spending is a conjuror’s trick. The cost is still there, just hidden. It can hide in longer waiting lists, cancelled appointments and surgeries, overflowing emergency rooms, unrepaired equipment and health professionals who leave or can’t be enticed to come.
War on unions
The government ended its budget announcement with a complaint about “the inflated wage pattern of the past several years,” clearing signalling that in the next round of contract negotiations they will go for a wage freeze.
“If only everyone were paid less, we’d all be rich” is no way to run an economy.
The airplane carcass has been removed from the runway at Stanfield International Airport and the runway has been reopened. But the antenna array that was destroyed by Flight 624 hasn’t been replaced, so they’ll be using semaphore or passenger pigeons or some such to land the planes.
Reconstruction of the North Park/ Cogswell/ Rainnie/ Trollope/Ahern intersection begins this weekend:
Starting at 7 a.m. on Sunday, April 12, the following streets will be closed to all vehicle traffic and parking until further notice:
- North Park Street between Cornwallis Street and Cogswell Street
- Cogswell Street between North Park Street and Bauer Street
The block of Cogswell Street between Bauer and Gottingen streets will also be closed to through traffic starting Sunday. Crews will accommodate local traffic on that block only.
This first phase of closures is expected to last until early June. The existing sidewalks on those two streets will also be removed for the same period; however, construction staff on site will accommodate access for pedestrians to homes in the area.
When it’s completed, here’s what the new roundabout will look like:
This intersection is the main route for pedestrians making their way between the north and south ends, skirting west of Citadel Hill. Currently, those pedestrians have to wait through two light cycles to cross — one at Cogswell Street, another at Rannie Street — so the roundabout will be a huge improvement. It’s also going to clarify the confusing mishmash of turning lanes for drivers.
No one at City Hall will come right out and say it, but the plan all along has been to train the populace into how to use roundabouts. The first roundabout next to the Common, the North Park/Cunard/Agricola intersection two blocks north, is a simple four-street intersection alignment that people seem to have adapted reasonably well to. The Cogswell, etc. intersection is much more complicated, but having mastered the Cunard roundabout, people will figure it out quickly, and come to see the sense in it. There’s no concrete plan as yet, but next on the city dream list is a new roundabout at the Willow Tree intersection.
1. Queen’s Wharf
Peter Ziobrowski gives a quick history of Queen’s Wharf, including lots of cool pictures.
2. Awful, clanging error
Graham Steele reviews the Liberal budget, finding it “overall the budget is a very creditable effort from Nova Scotia’s sophomore government,” but that it includes an “awful, clanging error with the film tax credit. This could be the Liberals’ own ferry debacle.”
I spent too much time this morning contemplating the various definitions of “creditable.”
3. Stephen McNeil’s Avro Arrow
Quoting Michael Donovan of DHX Media, Parker Donham says the changes to the film tax credit will destroy the film industry:
The government has killed the local industry. That may not have been their intention, but that’s what they have done. The NS government doesn’t understand the impact. Fundamentally, they have made the NS film tax credit un-bankable in Canada. You can bank a refundable tax credit but you cannot bank a non-refundable one. That’s the key to complicated international financing.
Donham goes on to lament the loss:
Many of the smartest, keenest, most creative young people in Nova Scotia — exemplars of the people we need to retain and attract if Nova Scotia is to succeed — will leave the province because of yesterday’s budget. They may not be packing yet, but they are gone.
[Premier Stephen] McNeil and [Finance minister Diana] Whalen kicked them out yesterday.
4. Cranky letter of the day
This is with reference to Bill Wescott’s column in the Feb. 23 edition of the Labradorian and other papers and Russell Wangersky’s column in the King’s County Advertiser and Register of Feb. 17 and 5, et. al.
Bill jumps on the “me-too” bandwagon, occupied by every scribe between here and Brownsville, Texas and flogs NBC News anchor Brian Williams for lying about his embedded helo ride during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Bill, you must have worked in a very sheltered journalistic environment if you hadn’t come across the phrase first spoken by US Senator Hiram W. Johnson in 1918, to wit: “The first casualty of war is the truth.”
Bill, who in Canada cares about what Brian Williams did or said in Iraq in 2003? You apparently want to stay relevant in 2015, so you should stick at least a toe in the hot bath of war and write about Canada and the Iraq war. Write about the $500 million plus, the F18 supersonic jets and the Special Forces we are sending halfway around the world to kill Iraqis and, in turn, be killed. Conventional warriors still trying to fight guerillas.
Oh, yeah, they are called “terrorists.” So were the Americans, by the British, in 1776. So were the Americans by the Canadians in 1812. They are simply filling the vacuum left by the American-sponsored abomination that became post-Saddam Iraq. If no one was sending military forces halfway around the world to fight them, they would be free to set up their religious state. So what, Catholics have a religious state, Jews have a religious state. The Middle East has had civilizations and religious states long before 1492 when North America was only an orgasmic glean in some British Royal’s eye. And we colonials are still being royally diddled by useless $800 million plus Brit castoff submarines that are destined to become expensive coffins for more than tax dollars.
Russell, where are the hard-hitting, controversial columns you spoke about in your first scribbles less than a year ago? On Feb. 17, you bitched about subsidized ferries for Canadians. Would you prefer endless subsidized Canadian wars in the Middle East? Why don’t you jump on the ‘termological inexactitudes’ and pap that the Harper government is deeding us about the war that has no Canadian boots on the ground in Iraq? The bodies are starting to come home again, boots off.
Russ, get off the Atlantic provinces virtual tour, the John Prine retrospective and the other puff pieces for John Keynes sake, forget about raising taxes. We are taxed to the hilt now. Afghanistan cost us $20 billion, which are tax dollars generated in Canada by you and me. The more taxes we give governments the more they waste. What have we got to show for that $20 billion – 160 graves and counting, broken bodies and minds and the peace-keeping maple leaf has morphed into a bullseye. Yes, I know, the Americans did not unduly slow the South-bound transports at the border, but $20 billion should be sufficient to show them we life to help out.
$500 million plus would go a long way towards a Fox-class icebreaker dedicated to ferries. Alternatively, give a million each to 500 communities struggling with their water and sewage systems. Don’t get me started on what $20 billion could do if spent in Canadian towns on infrastructure.
You could start by quoting whoever first said, “Those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.” The Russians tried to interfere in the Middle East and were sent home needed surgery to remove Kalashnikovs from you-know-where. And the Russians are lads who know a bit about war and invasions. I don’t believe they had Tim’s to retire to after a hard day at war.
C’mon, by’s, grow a set and write about something that might make your J-School profs proud!
William P. Ruban, Kentville
No public meetings
Legislature sits (9am, Province House)
No public events today.
In the harbour
Atlantic Conveyor, container ship, Norfolk to Fairview Cove East, then sails to sea.
Oceanex Sanderling, container ship, St. John’s to Pier 41, then sails back to St. John’s
NYK Daedalus, container ship, Rotterdam to Fairview Cove West
ZIM Virginia, container ship, New York to Pier 42, then sails to sea
Sina, general cargo, Mariel, Cuba to Pier 41
I’ll be on the Rick Howe Show, News 95.7, at 10:30am.