1. Lockout looms
“Canada’s largest independently owned daily newspaper, the Halifax Chronicle Herald, is bracing for a work stoppage in less than two weeks,” reports Michael MacDonald of the Canadian Press:
Management filed a notice Monday that gives the company the option to lock out its newsroom staff with 48 hours notice — a pre-emptive legal move that doesn’t necessarily mean a lockout will happen.
Two days have been set aside for last-ditch, conciliated talks next week, but a union spokesman said there’s only a slim chance of averting a legal lockout on Jan. 23 at 12:01 a.m.
Francis Campbell, vice-president with the Halifax Typographical Union, says 61 unionized workers in the newsroom will be in a legal position to strike that day, but none of them intends to walk off the job.
Instead, Campbell said the 140-year-old company has made it clear it is getting ready to lock out the employees to press its proposals to reduce wages, lengthen working hours, shrink future pension benefits and lay off up to 18 workers.
Meanwhile, Chronicle Herald reporters have initiated a one-day byline strike. A byline strike is when reporters refuse to allow their names to be placed on articles they’ve written for the paper. It’s a symbolic act of solidarity.
And union president Ingrid Bulmer told Media Co-op’s Miles Howe that the company has been recruiting students at the King’s Journalism Program to work as scab labourers when a lockout occurs:
Kelly Toughill, director of the King’s School of Journalism, tells the Halifax Media Co-op that she has not been made aware of the Chronicle Herald having contacted students, and would be “very surprise (sic) and irritated if they did that without contacting me or someone in the school.”
Toughill notes, however, that recent journalism graduates have contacted her seeking advice, after having been solicited by the Chronicle Herald to act as replacement labour should the Typographical Union be locked out. Toughill says it isn’t a career move she’d personally recommend.
Now that the province has increased the acreage of officially designated wilderness, people are beginning to fight over how much motorized access should be allowed.
The Navy wants to outsource its tug boats, reports the CBC’s Paul Withers:
Veteran harbour watcher Mac MacKay blogs about Canada’s tugboat industry. He sees fewer people working on fewer boats.
“I think that’s what is at the bottom of it. They want to save money and they want to cut down the costs of paying people,” he said.
The perfect world is one where no one is paid much to work.
Then we’ll all be rich.
1. The Gulag of New Brunswick
Former New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna says refugees fleeing the Syrian War should be welcomed to the land of freedom and opportunity by being forcibly relocated to the Maritimes and sent to work camps… well, not exactly, but kinda:
As far back as 2002, the immigration minister, Denis Coderre, floated the idea of a “social contract” whereby immigrants would be required to live in a community specified by the government for a period of at least three years, as part of the conditions for citizenship.
Allowing immigrants to convert a temporary visa into permanent status, once all conditions have been fulfilled, could pre-empt any legal arguments related to the mobility rights of individuals.
Critics will question why we should bring people to areas of high unemployment. But that is precisely where immigrants are needed. We need their entrepreneurship, their worldliness, their drive, their consumption and even their desperation. All of these attributes would be highly additive to the small communities across our region.
Welcome to Canada, comrade. Here’s your shovel.
To his credit, Justin Trudeau campaigned against the failed policies of austerity, and his election was widely understood to be a reflection of popular rejection of austerity (see here, here, here, here, here, and here, for example).
There is, however, a complete disconnect between the federal Liberal Party and its provincial counterparts in terms of austerity — while Trudeau wisely rejected the austerity policies that swept the western world’s governments after the financial collapse, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil has double-downed on the same discredited policies. McNeil is slashing social spending, increasing university tuition, attacking unions, and otherwise implementing the austerity policies that work for the benefit of the 1% and impoverish everyone else; Alan Greenspan, once described as “the biggest asshole in the universe,” would be proud.
So it was of interest that yesterday the Nova Scotia Young Liberals were enthusiastically retweeting the words of Bill Morneau, who was in Halifax to give a talk on budget issues:
Morneau, and by extension the Young Liberals, are right: Canadians did choose growth over austerity. It’s McNeil and the Nova Scotia provincial Liberal Party who have rejected growth.
At first blush I thought the Young Liberals were trolling us, then I thought, well, maybe they just completely lack any self-awareness, then I thought maybe they’re just a little dumb.
Whichever it is, the tweet illustrates the problem that Nova Scotia Liberals have — they are not only out of step with the federal Liberal Party, but they are also out of step with Canadians generally, and with each other.
Liberals, figure it out. You can’t both reject austerity and embrace it at the same time. Either Trudeau is right and McNeil is wrong, or vice-versa.
Right now some eager Young Liberal is writing a long-winded explanation about how the federal and provincial parties aren’t the same thing and how provincial economics are different from federal economics… that kid is wrong.
Jan Wong’s son got married. I’m sure he’s a nice guy and all, and good luck to the happy couple, but I’m not sure why I should care.
4. Cranky letter of the day
Executive members of the International Longshoremen’s Association say they are worried about the future of the port of Sydney and its development.
Whether this development is automated or semi-automated should not be of concern in these present economic times.
The creation of 400 or even 100 jobs not to mention the estimated two-year construction phase and the trades that will be required as well the possible restructuring of the railroad and other transport infrastructure to support this venture should be enough to satisfy anyone.
Instead of firing up the gloom-and-doom bandwagon before a shovel even goes in the ground local 1259 president Peter Gillis and associates should start supporting the mayor, council, Port Authority and local business leaders for their efforts thus far.
Cecil Currie, Beechmont
City council (1pm, City Hall) — all about fire. I’ll be live-blogging via the Examiner’s Twitter account, @hfxExaminer
Standing Committee on Economic Development (1pm, One Government Place) — M.J. MacDonald, Acting Deputy Minister of the Department of Business, will be questioned about rural internet service.
The Hunting Ground (6:30pm, Central Library) — a screening of the 2015 film, “an exposé of rape crimes on U.S. college campuses, their institutional cover-ups, and the devastating toll they take on students and their families.” Rotten Tomatoes gives the film four and a half stars out of five and notes that “The Hunting Ground isn’t director Kirby Dick’s strongest work as a filmmaker, but the movie’s powerful message more than trumps any technical weaknesses.”
On the other hand, Emily Yoffe of Slate says the film “blurs the truth.”
This date in history
At its January 12, 1967 meeting, Halifax council discussed two related issues: the decrease in port traffic and the increase in poor relief. The minutes of the meeting explain:
Question – Alderman Sullivan Re: Loss of Cargo Tonnage in Port of Halifax
Alderman Sullivan asked if the City has taken any action to question the local members of Parliament to determine the reason for the loss of cargo tonnage in Halifax this season. He said that he had received a telephone call from an executive member of the local Longshoremen‘s Association who had expressed deep concern about the drop in tonnage this year and felt that the City should stir up some interest in gaining more tonnage.
His Worship the Mayor stated that Council should ask the Port Commission, the members of which are dealing with port matters from day to day and are in frequent touch with ministers of the Crown and departmental officials in Ottawa as well as officials of shipping companies, to refer to City Council important matters of this nature so that Council could assist in developing better liaison with appropriate officials in Ottawa.
Question — Alderman Ivany Re: Expenditure — Welfare and Poor Relief
Alderman Ivany referred to the fact that the expenditure for Welfare and Poor Relief had just about doubled and he asked if a study had been made to ascertain why the expenditure was so high.
The City Manager replied that it was high at the present time, because of the very matter raised by Alderman Sullivan — the number of people not working because of decreased port activity and he said that Halifax was really suffering on account of this.
As Michael Tharamangalam and M. Golam Mortaza explained in a 2005 paper, the direct cause of the drop in shipping traffic was the introduction of icebreakers on the St. Lawrence seaway:
Halifax enjoys an advantage over Montreal in that it is ice-free year round. Historically, this made Halifax a high traffic port in the winter months. However, with the introduction of ice-breaking technology in 1966, the St. Lawrence River became passable in winter. Thus the Halifax advantage was reduced, as traversing frozen water is now less expensive than land transport.
The loss of port traffic in 1966 demonstrates a point I’ve been trying to make for years: given the opportunity, shippers will bypass as many ports as possible to get their vessels closest to the ultimate destination of the goods they are carrying. Halifax being the closest North American port to Europe is in most cases a disadvantage, not an advantage. Putting the goods on trains or trucks in Halifax and making the long land voyage to Montreal or Buffalo or Chicago is expensive; better to get the ship farther down the St. Lawrence or into the Great Lakes, if possible. The new icebreakers made that possible.
The port of Halifax did go on to recover much of the lost business, however. That’s because in the next few years containerization became standardized, and the largest container ships were too big for the St. Lawrence. They needed Halifax’s deep water port, and the port obliged with the construction of the gigantic container terminals we have now. But while port traffic rebounded, port employment did not — moving containers requires just a fraction of the workforce that was previously required to move bulk goods.
Port traffic declined once again when the collapse of the Soviet Union put an end to subsidized shipments of Canadian-grown grain to Cuba — Canadian wheat farmers and the port of Halifax had been the primary beneficiaries of the American embargo.
Halifax port traffic declined even further when billions of dollars were invested in American ports and associated transportation infrastructure. I grew up in Norfolk, Virginia. Shipping traffic had for centuries been dominated by naval vessels and then by colliers carrying coal — the old Norfolk & Western railroad connected the coal fields of West Virginia to the collier piers at Lambert’s Point on the port of Hampton Roads. But like Halifax, in the 1970s Hampton Roads built gigantic container terminals, and then built a huge highway to connect to them. In the 1980s, Norfolk & Western merged with Southern Railway to become Norfolk Southern, one of the largest railways on the continent; the new company has invested billions of dollars in upgrades, and now fast-moving double-decker trains can make it through mountain tunnels and under highway overpasses all the way to Chicago. (Canadian Pacific is trying to buy Norfolk Southern, for reasons I won’t go into here.) Last winter I was in Chicago and happened upon a Norfolk Southern intermodal terminal — where containers are shifted from trains to trucks — on the South Side. I watched for 20 minutes as dozens of trains pulled in and thousands of trucks drove away. And this operation goes on 24 hours a day. The same sort of upgrades have been made to the ports of New York and Charleston, South Carolina, along with the rail and highway links to the interior.
That is what Halifax is competing against, and I don’t see how it’s possible that Halifax — where trucks have to navigate narrow 18th-century surface streets in an urban centre to get to and from the terminal, and where the once-a-day train connection is an iffy two-day journey to anywhere populated along a tired and dilapidated rail line — can hold a candle to those US operations.
And the notion that Cape Breton can build and operate a successful deep-water container terminal is beyond delusional. Even the proposed Maher Melford Terminal can’t make a go of it — we just destroyed a community in pursuit of these delusional port dreams.
I’m not the only one who thinks so:
One maritime analyst is skeptical of the value the prospective new projects would bring. “Whether you can make a compelling value proposition for investing the hundreds of millions that would be required by either the Melford or the Sydney terminal is extremely debatable right now,” AlixPartners’ Vice President Henry Pringle said. “Sure, there can be benefit to put them (the cargo) on the rails to the hinterland in the Midwest, but it’s not really been explained how they are going to compete with the ports on the U.S. East Coast that are already gearing up for larger vessels because of the Panama Canal expansion.”
There is, however, a glimmer of something like hope: one delusion — the viability of new Nova Scotian ports — might be propped up by another delusion: that we can operate an entire global economy on speculative financing:
Nevertheless Pringle holds out some hope for financing. “There has probably never been a better time to finance projects like these because capital investment is cheap at the moment and investors are sitting on a lot of dry powder and have an appetite for port investments.”
Here’s the the California Nebula:
What’s California doing in space? Drifting through the Orion Arm of the spiral Milky Way Galaxy, this cosmic cloud by chance echoes the outline of California on the west coast of the United States. Our own Sun also lies within the Milky Way’s Orion Arm, only about 1,500 light-years from the California Nebula. Also known as NGC 1499, the classic emission nebula is around 100 light-years long. On the featured image, the most prominent glow of the California Nebula is the red light characteristic of hydrogen atoms recombining with long lostelectrons, stripped away (ionized) by energetic starlight. The star most likely providing the energetic starlight that ionizes much of the nebular gas is the bright, hot, bluish Xi Persei just to the right of the nebula. A regular target for astrophotographers, the California Nebula can be spotted with a wide-field telescope under a dark sky toward the constellation of Perseus, not far from the Pleiades.
In the harbour
CMA CGM Parsifal, container ship, arrived this morning at Pier 42 from Port Klang, Malaysia; sails to sea this afternoon
Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro cargo, arrived at Pier 41 this morning from St. John’s
Full day at council today.