1. Budget surplus and health care
Yesterday, the province released the accounting for the 2016/17 fiscal year, which ended March 31. The publication of the public accounts came with this media release:
The audited financial statements for the year ended March 31, 2017, show a surplus of 149.6 million, $22.2 million higher than the budgeted surplus of $127.4 million and an improvement of $162.8 million over the prior year’s deficit.
“The year-end surplus is the result of government working with Nova Scotians to create a more sustainable financial position,” said Karen Casey, Minister of Finance and Treasury Board. “Sticking to our plan has allowed us the ability to invest in our communities, our youth, health care and education systems, research and post-secondary sectors, and in provincial infrastructure — the priorities of Nova Scotians.”
So a $150 million surplus. I guess all that austerity stuff is working, eh? But not so fast. I’ll let Richard Starr take it from here:
When the Liberals unveiled the latest Public Accounts yesterday showing an apparent budget surplus of $150 million for 2016-7, the opposition parties went straight to health care. Why, they asked, is the government running a surplus while Nova Scotians are unable to get the health services they need? And as NDP leader Gary Burrill said in a news release, a good chunk of the surplus is thanks to under-spending by the Department of Health and Wellness.
As Burrill pointed out, despite the fact that many Nova Scotians can’t get a family doctor or timely access to specialists or surgical procedures, the department left $27.6 million on the table last year. That’s the shortfall between what the government thought the department needed to spend on health last fiscal year and what it actually spent.
And it’s not even the half of it. Over the last three years the department has underspent by a total of $87 million, according to General Revenue Fund numbers published in Public Accounts for 2014-5 through 2016-7. Worse, this does not come about through much increased efficiency or some sort of health care breakthrough. It’s mainly the result of delaying expenditures — apparently kicking needed spending from one fiscal year to the next.
Starr goes into great detail about the delays in health care expenditures over the last three years, then adds:
It is beyond the scope of this essay to assess the impact of this litany of delays, but it can’t be good. Between 2012-13 and 2016-17 the Liberals have limited health spending to a bit above the rate of inflation. Delaying projects, along with wage restraint, have been the key elements of this approach. Neither is sustainable, given an aging population,health care workers’ claim to fair compensation and the public’s right to a national standard of health services. However, no one should not get used to the idea that the recently unveiled surplus signals that good times are upon us and the choice now is between continuing surpluses or better health care.
The appearance of a surplus while health care needs go unmet will provide excellent talking points for the opposition in the months ahead, but the surplus is very shaky. The Public Accounts reveal that on the revenue side it is reliant on an unprecedented Prior Year’s Adjustment of $97.3 million in corporate taxation. On expenditures — aside from stiffing health care — the bottom line depends on a reduction of $134 million in “restructuring costs” — a perennial budget cushion. Without those two entries, a $150 million surplus becomes an $81 million deficit. Not the end of the world certainly, but at least a conversation changer.
2. Saint Ray Ivany’s Acadia University needed a $10.5 million bailout
The newly released public accounts also show that Acadia University received a $10.5-million “bailout,” reports Michael Gorman for the CBC:
Acadia University president Peter Ricketts said the school has been receiving the additional $3.5 million “for a number of years.” Ricketts took over as president after Ray Ivany retired from the role at the end of June.
On Thursday, the province confirmed that Acadia received the $3.5 million in emergency funding from 2012-13 to 2015-16.
The $7-million loan from the Strategic Opportunities Fund Incorporated, or SOFI, is from 2011 and was for operating expenses to help offset a decline in the school’s provincial operating grant.
Acadia is the only university to ever need a bailout on a SOFI loan and it was also the only university in 2016-17 to ask for additional operating funding, according to the department.
Tell me again why Ray Ivany is celebrated as the prophet of a thriving economy.
3. Jack Boys
Justice Anne Derrick is the judge in the case of a boy, called Y.M. in court documents, charged with the 2016 murder of J.C, who was shot dead in Dartmouth.
(There’s a publication ban in place, prohibiting me from identifying the accused or the other convicted young offender. I’m not sure if the ban extends to J.C.’s full name — I can’t understand why it would, as he’s dead, and a simple google search will reveal his actual name — but Derrick uses the initials, so through an abundance of caution, I will too.)
Yesterday, Derrick issued a decision in an evidentiary hearing; the gist of it is that another boy, called M.B., had already pleaded guilty to second degree murder in the case. M.B. had testified that he was involved in the planning of the shooting, and had acquired and used the gun that was used. But, M.B. said, the other boy, Y.M., was the actual shooter. The crown told Derrick that they wanted to put M.B. on the stand in Y.M.’s trial and ask him about Y.M.’s character. This is a very narrow and complicated issue I won’t go into here. Derrick turned down the request.
But the decision sheds light on a youth subculture.
M.B. was 16 when J.C. was killed. By that time, he already had 23 criminal convictions. “He identifies as a member of a ‘group’ — on cross-examination he rejected the term ‘gang’ — called the Jack Boys,” wrote Derrick.
Who are the Jack Boys? “We rob people,” M.B. said on the stand. At 16, M.B. was the youngest member of the Jack Boys, but had ready access to guns. The group would go around and hold people up.
On the night J. C. was shot, wrote Derrick:
M.B. and three other young men drove around in a stolen car, planned but failed to effectively execute various robberies, and smoked marijuana. M.B. says that he and his associates were joined by N.W. around 3 a.m. M.B. alleges that N.W. suggested killing someone in an apartment on Lakecrest Drive. M.B. testified that L.C. fired into the apartment N.W. identified with N.W. assisting him. M.B. says the shot was fired from a sawed-off 30-30 rifle which he brought along and which he says was later used by N.W. to kill J.C.
M.B. testified that N.W. took a disliking to J.C. and, after J.C. decided to leave the group to go home, began talking about wanting to kill him. M.B. says he facilitated the killing by driving N.W. to where J.C. was walking so that N.W. could shoot him, which, according to M.B., he did. M.B. testified in considerable detail about witnessing the shooting.
M.B. gave evidence about the sawed-off 30-30 rifle, identifying it in court and testifying that he had obtained it in a robbery about a month to a month and a half before the murder.
It was M.B.’s evidence that N.W. was in a murderous frame of mind on March 29. M.B. testified that N.W. identified the target for the Lakecrest Drive shooting. M.B. says that when L.C., who fired the shot into the Lakecrest Drive apartment, was later agitated about possibly having shot someone, N.W. told him to shut up and stop worrying.
M.B. testified that N.W. referred to the murder of J.C. on April 1 when he and M.B. were planning to rob someone of a gun at a meeting N.W. had arranged. M.B. says N.W. told him that now he had killed someone, M.B. should too — “I caught a body, you got to get one too.”
The gun-robbery was successful. According to M.B. it was facilitated with the sawed-off rifle. The shotgun he and N.W. got in the robbery was stashed under M.B.’s mattress. He stowed the rifle there too at N.W.’s request because there was a police presence in the neighbourhood.
Under the youth sentencing rules, M.B. will likely serve seven to 10 years in prison with no chance of parole for his involvement in the murder. Y.M. still faces charges. I don’t know if the other boys are charged with anything.
For a boy of 16 to get in such a life situation speaks to a failure of adult intervention many years before. But that just feels like a throw-away sentiment, a truism. I don’t really know what to do about any of this.
4. Macdonald Bridge bike flyover
Yesterday, Halifax council’s Transportation Committee received detailed plans for proposed cycling improvements to the Macdonald Bridge and its approaches.
The report notes that currently on average about 500 people cycle across the bridge every day. Removing the steep grade on the Halifax side will undoubtedly see that number multiply. The cost: somewhere between $5.8 and $7.4 million. Council budgeted $400,000 for the project this year, and $1 million “in principle” for next year; the bulk of the spending — $4.6 million — would come in 2019/20, with another million dollars the following year.
5. Privatizing ferry service
Peter Greathead works for Halifax Transit as a ferry captain. He posted the following on Facebook last night:
This weekend during the sailing ship festival, Murphy’s On The Water is planning to use Theodore Tugboat as a ferry to take passengers from the Alderney city dock [in Dartmouth] to Halifax and vice versa for $2 each.
This is a step towards the privatization of the ferry service. If they do this now, there is nothing to stop Murphy’s from buying the next ferry that comes up for sale and using it to undercut the Transit Ferry Service. Murphy’s pay their crews peanuts and they don’t have the experience or training that the ferry crews have. Transport Canada (who makes the Transit ferries jump through all manner of hoops and hurdles both safety and security) has given Murphy’s the go-ahead to run this service exempt of the rules that hinder Transit. They’ve said that since they are running right from a dock, not a secure facility, that the Marine Security regulations don’t apply to them.
I know many of you are not happy with only one ferry running during peak busy times, but please, don’t use the Theodore Tugboat for the sake of convenience. There will be two ferries running on Sunday from 10am to 7pm. Saturday will be the only day without two ferries on. I’m the only captain available and Transit rules preclude me from working on Saturday.
If you want to turn your fury at only one ferry on Saturday to a worthier cause, call 311 and ask why the ferries (which are taxpayer funded) are allowed to be chartered by a private company to ferry people from Halifax to Georges Island. There will be a ferry at Georges Island, idle all day.
This ‘ferry service’ from Murphy’s is a direct threat to my livelihood. Please boycott it.
6. $8.2 million UARB decision
Wednesday, the Utility and Review Board awarded businessperson Stephen Smith $8.2 million in an expropriation battle related to the widening of Highway 104. I haven’t been following the issue and don’t have time this morning to get up to speed on it. But you can read the very lengthy decision here. Ian Munroe, reporting for the CBC, gives a synopsis.
No public meetings.
Thesis Defence, Economics (Friday, 1pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Weiyang (Nancy) Kong will defend her thesis, “Three Essays on Economic Insecurity and Child Development.”
In the harbour
The Tall Ships Festival is this weekend, and the ships begin arriving today. Listed below are the sailing vessels that already have pilot assignments; click here for a list of all the ships and their locations.
Midnight: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for Liverpool, England
2am: Acadian, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for Saint John
10:30am: Alexander von Humboldt II, German sailing ship, arrives at Boardwalk north of Salter Gate from Quebec
11am: Malleco, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
2pm: Rona II, sailing ship, arrives at Salter Boardwalk from Quebec
2pm: Eagle, U.S. Coast Guard Academy sail ship, arrives at Pier 20
3pm: Oosterschelde, Dutch sailing ship, arrives at Purdy’s Wharf from Quebec
4pm: Spirit of Bermuda, Bermuda navy’s sailing ship, arrives from St. George’s, Bermuda
4:30pm: Atyla, sailing ship, arrives at Bishop’s Landing from Quebec
4:30pm: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Pier 36 for Saint-Pierre
5pm: Gulden Leeuw, sailing ship, arrives at Purdy’s Wharf from Quebec
5pm: Wylde Swan, Dutch sailing ship, arrives at Boardwalk, near the Emera building, from Quebec
7pm: Geromimo, American sailing ship, arrives at Bishop’s Landing from Quebec
8pm: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s
9pm: Malleco, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
I had something clever to say but I forgot what it was. You could put that on my tombstone, I suppose.