1. Strike over
“Members of CUPE Locals 227 and 1431 voted to ratify the new collective agreement,” reports the CBC, ending the strike of unionized Halifax Water employees.
This has been a difficult story to report on because both sides, the employer and the union, have issued only vague press releases and have refused to give particulars about the dispute. We’ve been told that the strike was primarily about pensions, but no one would detail the numbers.
I understand why CUPE is so worried about clawbacks of pensions. This could have been the toe in the door for a much broader attack on the pensions of all HRM employees, and so the unions went to war over it. Fair enough, but I for one was lost, because I had no further information.
2. Snow plowing
Yesterday’s meeting of the Halifax council’s Audit and Finance committee was openly antagonistic, with councillors directly taking on CAO Richard Butts for trying to push through nearly $50 million in snow plowing contracts before council has had the opportunity to reassess performance standards for the companies. Reports the Chronicle Herald’s Brett Bundale:
“We’ve all wanted a committee of the whole on snow to talk about this,” Coun. Waye Mason (Halifax South Downtown) told the committee. “I don’t think the executive management of the city has been interested in hearing from us.”
Coun. Linda Mosher (Halifax West Armdale) said staff were asking council to “tie our hands with two- and four-year contracts” before having a chance to review the snow operations report.
The contracts would also push the city’s $21.1-million snow budget $6 million in the red — about 30 per cent over budget.
“Less than three months after we approve that budget, we get hit with this $6-million potential shortfall,” Coun. Steve Craig (Lower Sackville) said. “That’s just not good.”
Craig said he was especially frustrated because he had considered proposing a motion to increase the city’s snow budget but decided against it following assurances by the city’s chief administrative officer.
In the end, the committee referred the contracts to regional council, but only after committee of the whole has a chance to review and discuss the snow operations reports in August.
3. Mother Canada™
Parks Canada issued a rather cryptic press release yesterday:
Parks Canada has always been clear that the Never Forgotten National Memorial project must be privately funded and that the Government would not provide funding for the construction of the memorial.
There are many elements to be considered before any decision on approval can be made including compliance with the environmental assessment process, robust public consultations, the success of the Foundation’s private fundraising campaign, and adherence to the Canada National Parks Act and other applicable legislation.
Parks Canada has a proven track record in environmental impact assessment following an established process that guides all projects on federal lands administered by Parks Canada.
CEO, Parks Canada
Parks Canada did not respond to an Examiner inquiry about the release, but I can only assume it is responding to the news that the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation, the group behind the Mother Canada™ proposal, has applied for financing through the tax-payer funded Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program, which will pay for events related to the national sesquicentennial in 2017.
Also, a reader points me to this section of Stantec’s “Draft Detailed Impact Analysis: Never Forgotten National Memorial, Cape Breton Highlands National Park”:
That no details of this de-icing are provided is beyond worrisome. As the reader says, “Imagine airport style tank trucks de-icing Mother Canada after every freezing rain and all that de-icer flowing into the ocean.”
4. Pedestrian incidents
I don’t want to jinx it, but nobody in Halifax has been taken to hospital as a result of being struck by a car in a good long while.
5. New gerbils
The brand new ferry, the Christopher Stannix, is out of commission, says the city in a release:
Halifax Transit is advising passengers that the Woodside Ferry will continue operating on 30-minute service until further notice due to an ongoing mechanical assessment of one of its vessels, the Christopher Stannix.
Halifax Transit staff conducted an initial assessment of the issue earlier this week, and have determined that the vessel must be brought out of the water to conduct a complete evaluation. It’s anticipated that the vessel will be out of service for several weeks to accommodate this work.
In the interim, trips from the Woodside Ferry Terminal will depart on the :07 and :37, and trips from the Halifax Ferry Terminal will depart on the :22 and :52.
Maybe while the boat is out of the water they can rip those horrible seats out and put in some comfortable ones.
1. Annapolis Valley
Stephen Archibald spent a few days with friends to tour the Annapolis Valley, and came back with all sorts of photos, including the above, of the Charles MacDonald Concrete House Museum.
2. Innovate this
I was pressed for time yesterday and so ignored this National Post piece, but it was shared so much on social media yesterday, positively, that I feel I need to respond.
The article uncritically presents the case of Haukur Guðjónsson, an Icelander who moved himself and his company, Bungalo, to Halifax in 2013. Bungalo is a competitor to Airbnb; both companies connect owners of rental properties directly to potential renters. Here’s Guðjónsson’s complaint:
Provincially, though, Bungalo has a problem. The Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia, funded by its 1,200 members, has sounded the alarm over websites that match renters with accommodation, especially Bungalo’s much bigger competitor, Airbnb. The association now says it has teamed up with the provincial government to write new rules to rein in this direct trade in places to stay.
“We have regulations in this province that require a license for accommodations,” says Darlene Grant-Fiander, a spokeswoman for the tourism industry association. “Sites like Airbnb are a portal that has allowed a lot of unregulated product to get in front of customers. It has allowed the underground economy to really grow. You have an unlevel playing field. Licensed operators pay tax, and have requirements for fire safety and insurance, and submit a count of their guests. It is inequitable, unsafe, not fair.”
There is plenty of demand for a service like Bungalo in Canada, Guðjónsson says.
“Less than one per cent of cottages in Canada are visible and bookable online,” he says in an interview from Reykjavik. “A lot of international travellers are looking for something unique. When I came to Canada I found it very difficult to book.”
Bungalo is able to bring more tourists to rural Canada by renting them cottages that offer a far different experience than the hotels people normally book, Guðjónsson argues. “Instead of trying to ban things, try to make it work. I don’t think it’s possible to stop this kind of sharing economy.”
The Post frames the argument as one of “innovation” trying to break through a conservative business climate. The headline on the article is “Does Nova Scotia stifle innovation? Disruptors fear province doesn’t welcome new ideas,” and reporter Peter Kuitenbrouwer trots out Sam Hammond of the right-wing Atlantic Institute for Market Studies to make the ideological case for an unregulated market.
However, instead of balancing the AIMS ideologue with an ideologue from the left, Kuitenbrouwer quotes Darlene Grant-Fiander, a spokesperson for the tourism industry association, who defends the status quo, citing the unfair tax advantage held by private people renting their cottages through Bungalo, who generally don’t pay the taxes levied against registered hotels. This is true enough, but besides the point. I think the tax issues can settled easily enough, and it’s not unreasonable that the tourism industry wants to find a way for cottage owners to simply register the properties they advertise on Bungalo and Airbnb.
But we have regulations and registration of travellers’ accommodations for a reason, and that reason shouldn’t be primarily about tax revenue. Rather, it’s about discrimination. There is a long, long history on this, and it involves owners of hotels and holiday rentals refusing to rent rooms to black people, gay people, unmarried couples, etc.
Many decades ago it was agreed that fairness is a foundation of our society: any person should be able to make their way in the world without being discriminated against. It’s not enough to say, “well, you can eat at some other lunch counter, but not this one,” or, “maybe the cottage down the road will rent to gay people, but I won’t.” If you open a business to the public, then by law you cannot discriminate based on race, gender, marriage status, sexual orientation, or physical ability. And in order to make sure that rental properties are fully non-discriminatory and accessible to the degree spelled out by law, they must be registered so they can be regularly inspected and so potential customers have a regulator to bring complaints to.
This is my big worry about Uber as well. You think we have problems with cab drivers now, just wait to see what happens should Uber do so well as to put the regulated cab companies out of business… Uber drivers refusing to pick up some people simply for their ethnicity or their disabillities and avoiding entire neighbourhoods will be a common, every day occurrence. Count on it.
Beyond the looming issue of discrimination, whenever you see bullshit buzzwords like “innovation,” you should immediately think that someone is trying to pull something over on you.
There has been a near universal, unthinking acceptance that “innovation” is always a good thing, and anything that impedes innovation is bad. Even questioning the rhetoric around innovation and the political framing of innovation is verboten. It’s like kicking puppies. But here goes…
Of course there is a role for entrepreneurship — the Halifax Examiner is a start-up — but the benefits and rewards of entrepreneurship are hugely oversold. First of all, the vast majority of small businesses fail. That has always been the case, and always will be. To encourage people to start businesses without warning them of the very likely downsides — bankruptcy, ruined credit, emotional distress, poor health, and more — is irresponsible. But we so rarely hear about those downsides. Why?
And while some handful of start-ups may not fail, all but a very few lead to long hours and low pay both for the owners and the people they employ. Look at the list of successful start-ups that have gotten assistance from the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development (they don’t list their clients whose businesses have failed) — many of these no doubt provide meaningful work to decent people, but they are not something to hang the future of the provincial economy on. Sure, Kept, “an independently owned boutique,” or Patch Halifax, “a modern fabric shop and sewing workroom” are interesting enterprises, and best of luck, but they’re not going to affect the province’s export numbers one iota.
I see the celebration of “innovation” and the political coalescence around “start-up” culture as basically a neoliberal attack on unions and good paying jobs. The message is that if you are dissatisfied with your job, your station in life, your pay, it’s your own damn fault — don’t like it, go start a business. It’s part of the 30- or 40-year political reframing of work. Work is no longer a social relationship. We are not workers who have the common goal of a better standing of living that we can attain through solidarity and political organizing, but rather we are independent, atomized individuals, completely disconnected from our workplaces, our employers, and each other. We’re told to always be innovating and retraining ourselves, jumping from job to job, finding a piece of the ever-smaller pie wherever we can.
Don’t have enough money? Drive your personal car as an Uber cab at night, or rent out your living room to a stranger visiting from Albania. It’s the sharing economy! Meaning, every aspect of your life is commoditized, and you are nothing at all except a cog in the economic machine. This is not a full or free life.
Another thing about the celebration of entrepreneurship and the start-up culture is that is largely available only to those from a narrow demographic and with a particular set of social skills. Look at the people, say, profiled in Peter Moreira’s column; they are almost to a person lily white, and they all know how to network and throw around bullshit buzzwords like nobody’s business. Both qualities give them access to capital and government assistance. In fact, if you want help from CEED you’ve got to take classes to learn even more bullshit buzzwords.
But what about those who come from marginalized communities, limited educational backgrounds, etc? Or those who simply have an aversion to spewing bullshit buzzwords and “networking” with self-important people?
There is a better way to prosperity. It involves good-paying, union jobs that provide employment stability, a pension, and a private life that isn’t commodified.
3. Cranky letter of the day
Re: “Senate wants to bar ‘ideological radicals’” (July 9 story). Really? Can any senator tell us why we should possibly consider “certifying” Islamic imams while not certifying Roman Catholic priests after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and numerous convictions for child abuse? And then, of course, there are the senators themselves after the RCMP investigation.
Jane MacKay, Dartmouth
No public meetings.
In the harbour
The cruise ship Maasdam is in port today.
Only two more garbage days to safely dispose of electronics, batteries, and body parts without your neighbours knowing. Clear bags start August 1.