1. A failed convention centre
“Ottawa’s convention centre won’t be able to make a $4-million payment on a loan it still owes for its construction, the centre’s bosses have told the provincial government,” reports David Reevely for the Ottawa Citizen:
The payment is due next September, after a five-year break from payments on what started as a $40-million loan but has grown to nearly $50 million.
By now, the Shaw Centre by the Rideau Canal was supposed to be turning a profit of $6 million a year on $26 million in revenues, according to the business case for the publicly funded reconstruction it undertook a decade ago. It’s not close.
The Ottawa Convention centre is owned by the province of Ontario, which is a different business model than Halifax’s new P3 convention centre, which is built and owned by private developer Joe Ramia (with at least a $161 million public subsidy), and then leased back to the provincial and city governments for around $6 million and change a year. There’s therefore no way (so far as I’m aware, but who knows?) that the Halifax Convention Centre could default on a loan.
So nothing to worry about, right?
Not so fast. The ownership structures of the two convention centres differ vastly, but the hype was exactly the same. Continues Reevely:
The convention centre is gorgeous, but it isn’t bringing in the cash, or the events.
[Ottawa Convention Centre CEO Nina] Kressler wrote in a blog post in June that the centre had 31 conventions in 2016 and was poised for 43 this year; by now, according to the projections, it was already supposed to have topped 51. By now, it was supposed to be cruising — conventions and events lined up, money rolling in and the debt a few years away from being wiped out.
In 2012, a year in which the convention centre made a $6,753 operating profit (that was supposed to be $5 million), it negotiated breathing room with the government: No loan payments for five years, while it revved its engines. The interest would keep racking up, added to the original debt, but the centre would be better able to pay it in a few years.
Now the debt is up over $49 million and that $4-million payment is on the horizon.
Again, the Halifax Convention Centre doesn’t directly face the debt issues plaguing the Ottawa Convention Centre, but like its Ottawa counterpart, the Halifax Convention Centre was sold on an ever-increasing number of events — especially the much ballyhooed “international” and super-large conventions. Reevely has previously shown that the Ottawa Convention tried to hide its failure to attract those conventions by redefining (i.e., lying about) the size categories for conventions.
Yes, I know, Halifax is different. We’re vastly more interesting than Ottawa. People like to come here to party, get drunk at the Lower Deck, and sing along with a Stan Rogers cover band about how Upper Canadian concrete and glass have destroyed Halifax. They want to see that beautiful harbour, if they can get around the pit of Queen’s Marque construction. They want to eat lobster and listen to didily didily music.
Maybe. But maybe not, eh? The trends aren’t looking so great.
In Ottawa’s case, says Reevely, there aren’t a whole lot of options:
This is a pretty bizarre situation. The idea behind the loan arrangement was to limit governments’ responsibility if they project missed expectations. But through the provincial government, we taxpayers own the thing anyway. We’re going to, what, put it into bankruptcy? Torch it for the insurance? Sell it for parts? What am I [to] bid for several hundred irregular triangular glass panels?
And once again: the Halifax Convention Centre doesn’t face this exact capital loan payback situation. But it is contractually obligated to pay that $6 million and change every year, for 25 years. And if the revenue isn’t there? Then the province and city split the shortfall, year after year after year after year.
2. Wrongful convictions: Ron Dalton and Glen Assoun
Ron Dalton went to prison for a crime that didn’t happen. In this week’s Examineradio podcast, Dalton shares his story and talks about his work with Innocence Canada. Plus, Terra and I discuss the latest in the IWK CEO spending scandal and the new panel set up to determine the fate of the Cornwallis status.
Last Tuesday was Wrongful Conviction Day, designated as such to raise awareness of the miscarriages of justice that occur at an alarming rate. I’d like to highlight one aspect of that problem: our failure to make things right for those who have been wrongfully convicted.
A convict who actually committed a crime and serves their time becomes part of a measured (if flawed) system of reintroduction into society: a halfway house where supervision and supports are given as the convict adjusts to freedom. But someone who was wrongfully convicted and is released on a court order is sometimes simply thrown out onto the streets — goodbye, don’t let the door hit you in the ass — with no support and few options. In other instances, the wrongfully convicted person continues to live in a legal limbo for years.
Take, for example, the case of Glen Assoun, who was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Brenda Way, and spent 16 years in prison before being released in November 2014. I was in the courtroom for the hearing for Assoun’s release. Everyone in the room — the judge, the defence lawyers, even the crown prosecution — acknowledged that Assoun had been wrongfully convicted, albeit they couched it in terms of a “probable miscarriage of justice.”
Those were the words of a federal Justice Department who reviewed Assoun’s case. The lawyer, Mark Green, was tasked with writing a one- or two-page report with a recommendation as to whether the Department should conduct a full review of Assoun’s conviction; instead, Green produced an 86-page report with 131 appendices. “I am of the view,” wrote Green to Assoun, “that on the basis of all this information, including the new and significant information that has been submitted with your application, there may be a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in your case.”
The hearing I attended was scheduled to last four days, but Green’s review of Assoun’s conviction contained evidence that was evidently so alarming that within minutes of convening the hearing, Justice James Chipman told Assoun that he wouldn’t spend another night behind bars; Chipman made sure that Asssoun would be released that very day.
“Taken together,” Chipman told the courtroom that day, “that evidence [in Green’s review] forms a core not just of reasonable doubt, which would be enough to act upon on behalf of Mr. Assoun, but of potential and I’ll say likely factual innocence.”
What is that evidence? We don’t know: Green’s review of the case is still secret. Why? I can only guess, but it appears to me that once it is released to the public, it will besmirch the reputation of the cops, prosecutors, and judge responsible for Assoun’s conviction. Basically, the justice system doesn’t want a black eye, so is holding onto Green’s report for as long as it can.
And what of Assoun?
He was released as part of an extraordinary process of court-ordered parole despite being ineligible for parole under the terms of his original sentencing. Assoun is only the sixth Canadian to be given such a parole. This was to give the Justice Department the time to fully review Assoun’s case and bring it to some resolution.
In the meanwhile, Assoun has been in a legal limbo for three years. He wears an ankle bracelet. He is living with his daughter in B.C., under a sort of house arrest — he can’t leave the premises in the evening or at night. He must report to the police on a regular basis. He must tell police the name of every woman he has contact with. He can’t stop by a bar to get a drink.
I haven’t spoken with Assoun since his release (his lawyers advise against it), but I see a man with no real options. He had psychological and emotional issues before going into prison, but received no help for them while incarcerated. He spent 16 years in prison maintaining his innocence and was ridiculed and attacked for it. The prime working years of his life, when he could have created a career for himself and become financially independent, were taken away from him. I can’t imagine he’s employable. He’s shown a remarkable steadfastness, but his ordeal isn’t over — he could, theoretically, be thrown back in jail to face a retrial. Even when the Justice Department and courts finally release him from their grasp, Assoun will receive no compensation.
How is this just?
We can and should do better by those who have been wrongfully convicted.
I’ll be discussing Assoun’s case as part of a panel discussion tonight at Dalhousie (click here for a larger version of the poster).
3. Give Moncton a Christmas tree already
“Within three hours of the devastating blast that destroyed much of Halifax the morning of Dec. 6, 1917, a train filled with doctors, nurses and medical supplies was already pulling out of the Moncton railway station and heading toward the disaster to help,” reports Vanessa Blanch for the CBC:
[Bridget Murphy, collections and research library co-ordinator at Resurgo Place,] said the records show the first train left Moncton at 12:05 p.m., the second train, filled with half of Moncton’s firefighters, left an hour later and a third train left around 4 p.m.
“This was mostly food cars,” Murphy said. “The Red Cross provided 118 hospital shirts, 42 suit pyjamas and six quilts.”
By the end of the day, a total of four trains had left the Moncton station filled with first responders, food and supplies.
James Upham, a heritage officer with Resurgo Place, said people hear a lot about how Boston helped to rebuild Halifax but not much about other cities. Help came from all over the Maritimes.
“We all pulled together in this entire region — way before folks got here from the States, we were already there.”
To this day, Halifax is entirely ungrateful to Moncton for the help that city gave this city after the Explosion. Forget about Christmas trees… we don’t even send Moncton a card.
Of course, nobody wants a bunch of Moncton tourists cluttering up the waterfront with their funny accents and uppity “our concerts are better than yours” attitude, so we continue to spend our entire Explosion gratefulness budget on Boston.
4. Tiny homes
Like its counterpart, the so-called minimalist movement, the “tiny home” movement is kind of insulting. You know who actually don’t have a lot of stuff and who live in tiny spaces? Poor people, that’s who. Poor people who don’t fetishize and market their lifestyles to make money on it.
Writes Stephen Kimber:
“I wasn’t around when slavery existed and I’m not responsible for it, so why should I have to pay reparations? The past is past, things are better now, so let’s just move on…” It’s a comforting argument, but it pre-supposes we, as whites, haven’t benefited from centuries of slavery and racism, or that our black fellow citizens aren’t still suffering its after-effects. It also assumes the economic, educational, judicial, and social scales are now in perfect colour-blind balance. Neither notion is correct.
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2. Product placement
Stephen Archibald walks around the peninsula and finds all sort of things that draw his visual attention, including:
Reading the large steel monolith in front of the North End Library was equally rewarding. The monument is covered with texts selected to capture some of the spirit of the neighbourhood. I was delighted to notice a recipe, with some product placement to unpack.
3. Cranky letter of the day
At the rate we haul seafood from the oceans, the day is coming when we’ll witness a repeat of the man-made codfish catastrophe. Mark my words: it’ll be in our lifetime.
Sandy Roberton, Bedford
Halifax & West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, City Hall) — Timber Lounge to get the axe… the council is being asked to approve a seven-storey, 68-unit apartment building at the northwest corner of Agricola and May Streets, which is now the site of Mel Boutilier’s thrift store and the Timber Lounge. The proposal includes a three-unit row house (can a single house be a row house?) facing Fern Lane. Interestingly, to me anyway, is that (as presented) the development will contain 41 one-bedroom units, 20 two-bedroom units, and seven three-bedroom units — most new developments on the peninsula don’t contain any three-bedroom units at all. One of the owners of the development company is Valerie Evans, a world-bank statistician and otherwise rich person who lives in Halifax.
The building is planned to be a “passive house,” which is a German-created standard for energy efficiency that has slow uptake in North America. In a public information meeting held last summer, some neighbours expressed concern about the size of the building, but it’s hard to get too worked up about it given the explosion of schlock in the area
Public Information Meeting – Case 21168 (Tuesday, 7pm, Cole Harbour Place) — David Campbell wants to build a car repair garage and a self-storage business on his property on Highway 7 in Westphal.
Regional Watersheds Advisory Board (Wednesday, 5pm, Alderney Public Library) — the board will discuss a proposal to create a water quality monitoring program for HRM.
Halifax Peninsula Planning Advisory Committee Public Meeting – Case 20577 (Wednesday, 7pm, Maritime Hall, Halifax Forum) — Abe Salloum, the owner of Tony’s Pizza and the now-defunct Tony’s Variety, wants to build an eight-storey apartment building at the southeast corner of Cunard and Robie Streets (where the variety store was), extending across the entire block to Compton Avenue. There aren’t yet any pretty pictures of the thing.
Legislature sits (Tuesday, 1pm, Province House)
Legislature sits (Wednesday, 1pm, Province House)
The Canadian Senate (Tuesday, 12pm, Room 1009, Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building) — a discussion focusing on “Independent or Partisan? The Future of the Canadian Senate.”
Higher Topological Complexity (Tuesday, 2:30pm, Room 319, Chase Building) — Marzieh Bayeh will speak. The abstract:
This is an introductory talk on higher topological complexity. Topological complexity of the configuration space of a mechanical system was introduced by M. Farber in 2003 to estimate the complexity of a motion planning algorithm. Generalizing this concept, higher topological complexity was introduced by Y. Rudyak in 2010. This invariant may be used to find the sequential motion planning algorithms.
Pediatric Burn Injury (Tuesday, 3pm, Research Services Boardroom, Goldbloom Pavillion, IWK Health Centre) — Erin Brown from the University of Queensland will speak on “Considering and Addressing Parental Influence Following Young Pediatric Burn Injury.”
Newfangled Tiny Imaging Devices (Wednesday, 8am, Weather Watch Room, 5th Fl. Dickson Building, VG) — Jeremy Brown from Dalhousie will talk about how he and his buds have made newfangled imaging doodads (not the technical term) and how they’ve monetized these newfangled things.
Design Science Research (Wednesday, 11:30am, MA310) — Sylvie Dore will speak.
Drug Delivery (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Sir Charles Tupper Medical Building) — Marya Ahmed from the University of Prince Edward Island will speak on “Synthetic Biomaterials as Drug Delivery Carriers.”
Halifax Explosion Commemoration Event (Wednesday, 6pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery) — opening of the Dal Art Gallery’s Halifax Explosion exhibit, with a panel discussion at 7pm composed of David Sutherland, Brian Lilley, Michelle Hebert Boyd, Ismael Aquino, Gloria Stephens, and Martha Radice.
The Rohingya and Myanmar (Tuesday, 4pm, L298, Loyola Private Dining Room) — a seminar on “The Rohingya Refugee Crisis and Myanmar: Causes, Concerns, and Solutions.”
“Time of Eve” and “The Vancouver Asahi” (6:30pm, in the theatre named for a bank in the building named for a grocery store) — two films in Japanese:
In the harbour
5:30am: Seaborne Quest, cruise ship with up to 540 passengers, arrives at Pier 23 from Charlottetown
5:30am: Viking Bravery, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
6:45am: Crown Princess, cruise ship with up to 3,674 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Sydney
6:45am: Viking Sky, cruise ship with up to 928 passengers, arrives at Pier 20 from Boston
Noon: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
2pm: Challenge Procyon, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
2:30pm: Seaborne Quest, cruise ship, sails from Pier 23 for Bar Harbor
3pm: YM Essence, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
3:30pm: Viking Bravery, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
4:30pm: Crown Princess, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Saint John
8pm: Viking Sky, cruise ship, sails from Pier 20 for Charlottetown
Midnight: YM Essence, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Bremerhaven, Germany
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