The province yesterday issued a “Request for Supplier Qualification for Alternative Service Delivery for Nova Scotia Registry of Motor Vehicles, Land Registry and Registry of Joint Stock Companies” — that is, the first step in privatizing the registries at Service Nova Scotia.
A news release issued by Service Nova Scotia explains that the Request for Supplier Qualifications is “part of an ongoing process to explore the feasibility of alternative service delivery partnership opportunities for three registries.”
Which is utter bullshit. The “explore the feasibility of” language is just bureaucratic cover for a decision that was made years ago. The Nova Scotia Liberals are following other provincial governments’ lead in privatizing the registries.
Ontario’s Liberal government privatized its registries in 2012, and Manitoba’s NDP government privatized that province’s registries soon after. Both provinces entered into contracts with a firm called Teranet.
Teranet has been lobbying the McNeil government to privatize Nova Scotia’s registries, which evidently caused some perception problems, as Paul Withers reports:
Two Nova Scotia Liberal operatives — including Premier Stephen McNeil’s former campaign manager — have ended their lobbying efforts on behalf of an Ontario company pursuing the potential privatization of provincial business, land and motor vehicle registries.
Winning 2013 campaign manager Chris MacInnes and another Liberal, Jamie MacNeil of Group M5, terminated lobbying activities on behalf of Teranet Inc. on Sept. 22.
It comes just days after CBC News revealed MacInnes had lobbied on behalf of Toronto-based Teranet which has won exclusive long term contracts to operate provincial registries in Ontario and Manitoba.
I additionally noted that MacInnes is married to Kristan Hines, McNeil’s Director of Strategic Operations. After I linked to Hines’ Facebook page, which listed her relationship with MacInnes, the relationship status was removed from the page.
I’m told that Nova Scotia’s conflict of interest commissioner, Merlin Nunn, issued an opinion saying that the Premier’s campaign manager getting paid to lobby the Premier’s Director of Strategic Operations, who he’s also sleeping with, does not constitute a conflict of interest. Nunn’s opinions, however, are not public record, although the subjects of the opinions can make them public if they wish. McNeil should do so.
Merlin Nunn, incidentally, is the cousin of retired CBC news anchor Jim Nunn.
As Jean Laroche pointed out earlier this year:
It’s the commissioner’s job to deal with complaints when a member of the House violates either act. He can also provide advice to MLAs when they have questions related to possible conflicts. It’s impossible to know how many complaints he’s dealt with or even how many rulings he’s issued because the process in Nova Scotia is confidential from start to finish.
Those involved are free to share that information but there’s no obligation to do that. Nunn doesn’t respond to media inquiries and he doesn’t comment or elaborate on his rulings.
Is it as secretive in other provinces?
In New Brunswick, for example, conflict of interest investigation reports are filed with the speaker and those decisions are posted on a website.Those reports are detailed. They include a step-by-step description of the investigation and findings are well documented.
Most other provinces and territories do release some information about these kinds of inquiries. And in most cases that can only happen with the consent of one of the parties involved.
If there’s an obligation to report back to the Clerk of the House — in most cases that information is publicly available.
In Ottawa, the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner is just as free with information. There’s a web site. Federal reports are just a mouse-click away, the commissioner also files an annual report and the office also has a communications person to answer questions from the public or the media.
So we have no idea how many opinions Nunn has issued. Nunn is a retired Supreme Court Justice, and being the conflict of interest commissioner is a part time gig, for which he was paid $37,044.02 last year. It must be a great job, reviewing the inner workings of muckymuckdom, but never having to show your work or be accountable for it.
So far as I can determine, Nunn has never found that a conflict of interest exists. Yep, Nova Scotia is one exceptionally ethical province.
Anyway, the Request for Supplier Qualifications contains this:
Respondents may propose a fee increase model. However, in any ASD [Alternate Service Delivery] arrangement the Province would establish the parameters for fee increases or changes to balance the respondent’s reasonable needs against the financial impact on citizens of the Province.
Additional Economic Benefits
Respondents will be expected to demonstrate how they will improve the Province’s net cash flows through an ASD arrangement. Furthermore, they will be expected to demonstrate opportunities for sharing potential gains with the Province, resulting from increased revenue, cost reductions, productivity increases, and value-added services. Respondents will also be expected to define what they need from the Province to undertake and execute an ASD solution.
Fees and taxes currently collected by SNS for other governments including municipalities (e.g., Deed Transfer Tax, municipal fines) will be expected to be passed through at no markup.
In context, since Deed Transfer Taxes and municipal fees won’t be increased, it’s evident that the Liberals expect and even welcome an increase in fees for the public to access the registries. An increase in fees will “improve the Province’s net cash flows” and create “increased revenue” for the Province.
I’ve discussed this before, explaining that:
[E]ffectively, privatizing the Registry of Joint Stock Companies and putting it behind a paywall makes my job impossible. And not just mine, but every other reporter’s job in Nova Scotia. It’s an attack on journalism, and because it limits the information available to the public, privatization is an attack on the public’s right to know, and therefore on an informed citizenry. It’s an attack on democracy itself.
Yesterday, I had a Twitter exchange with Rachel Ward, a reporter who has done some work for me in the past. She’s since worked in Edmonton, but is moving back to Nova Scotia in a couple of weeks to work for CBC. Our short conversation:
You can count on it: when the Registry of Joint Stock Companies goes behind a paywall, the quality of journalism in Nova Scotia will decline noticeably.
I have to believe that that’s part of the incentive to privatize.
But it’s not just reporters who should be concerned about privatization of the registries. Already the Liberal government has closed rural land registry offices; slapping increased fees on the service will make the registries that much more inaccessible. And just wait for the cost of drivers licences to increase.
It’s part of the Liberals’ ongoing effort to nickel and dime the public to death. New toll roads, increased fees on ferries, campground fees, fees for government services, and on and on. It’s all a financial shell game. No matter how the service is managed, the public ends up paying for it anyway. We either pay up front, with taxes, or we pay while accessing the services, with user fees.
Going the user fee route, the Liberals can claim they’re not increasing taxes or increasing the debt. But that’s true only in a technical sense. In the real world, the world we all live in, getting nickelled and dimed at every turn — at the highway on ramp, at the property office, at the DMV, in the campground, on the ferry — is an actual tax. It’s taxing in the monetary sense, but even more taxing in the psychic sense: does every damn thing have to be a raid on our wallets?
Moreover, privatizing the services places a middleman in the equation, which necessarily increases costs in order to provide a tidy profit for the middleman, meaning we all pay additionally.
That there’s some lobbyist-operative-politician tryst going on in the Premier’s office makes it all that more disgusting.
2. Overnight sensation
Harbour View Apartments continues to have bedbugs. That place has been infested for as long as I’ve been in Halifax.
Timothy Gillespie collects a range of opinion about the tourism industry, most of it specific to the Yarmouth ferry, but the overall stats are interesting:
A 2011 consultant hired by a Yarmouth business group projected the service would carry 120,000 passengers in the first year. A different panel working for the provincial government in 2012 projected the service would carry 110,000 passengers. Instead, the Nova Star carried 59,000 in its first season. The numbers were expected to improve this year because the company had more time to market its service to bus tour companies, but the ferry is on pace to carry even fewer passengers than its inaugural season. Through August, the ferry had carried 37,800 passengers, a 6 percent decrease from the 40,347 it had carried through August last year. Those numbers are remarkably low compared with the huge numbers of people who rode ferries across the Gulf of Maine in the past. From 1970 through the end of the 2004 season, there was enough market demand to support two ferries that made daily crossings between Maine and Yarmouth – the Scotia Prince operating out of Portland and the high-speed Cat out of Bar Harbor. At the peak in 2002, the two ferry services had a combined ridership of roughly 330,000 people – five times the number that crossed in 2014.
But the numbers dropped rapidly. By 2009, volume on the one remaining ferry service, the Cat, which began splitting its Maine ports of call between Portland and Bar Harbor, had collapsed to just over 75,000. The operator, Bay Ferries, ended the service after the provincial government decided to end its subsidy, which by the last season swelled to $5.6 million.
But it wasn’t just the ferry that saw a decline. The entire province of Nova Scotia saw the number of American visitors plunge. Between 2004 and 2013, the number of people traveling from the United States to Nova Scotia declined from 301,000 to 160,000, a drop of 47 percent, according to statistics provided by Tourism Nova Scotia, a publicly funded corporation that promotes tourism.
Americans traveling to Nova Scotia by air fell from 114,000 in 2004 to 73,600 in 2013, a 35 percent drop.
Americans traveling to the province by road fell from 188,000 to 86,000, a 54 percent drop. “The decline in the numbers to begin with – ferry or no ferry – is of the most concern to the Nova Scotia tourism department,” said Michael Gardner, president of Gardner Pinfold Consulting, which conducted an analysis of potential ferry traffic for a Yarmouth business group in 2011. He said it should take four or five years for ferry service to build a market after a four-year gap in service. Still, the conditions this year are more favorable for the ferry, he said. The improved U.S. economy and the stronger U.S. dollar should be boosting the service, which historically has counted on Americans for 80 percent of its ticket sales.
The entire Nova Scotia tourism industry should be prospering under these conditions, he said. “The number of U.S. visitors to Nova Scotia should be higher. They are not,” he said. “There is something else going on in the travel market.”
The province has made Tourism Nova Scotia an independent crown corporation and appointed the golf dude to run it, with the mission to double tourism numbers by 2025. Time will tell whether that’s an achievable goal, but even if it is, it just brings tourist numbers back to where they were pre-financial collapse.
Gillespie gets into some of the reasons for the collapse in tourism, at the link.
2. Cranky letter of the day
I was reading letter submitted by a noted Pictorian, who showed his distaste for the current mayor of Pictou, His Worship Mr. Joe Hawes.
He has been the mayor in Pictou since 2004 so must be doing something right to keep the majority of residents happy.
A guy who calls himself “Joe Taxpayer” aka xxxxxxx seemed to think he has the privilege to call Mr. Hawes “Mr. Joe” and rant off a whole lot of grievances he feels he could do a better job of, or it seems that way.
I do agree there is a whole lot of room for improvement in the Town of Pictou but there are priorities. The order of these priorities is decided by the mayor and town council voted in by the people of Pictou. There is only so much money to go around and it must be incorporated in a prioritized list.
Granted there are those who believe the list should be juggled a bit to meet their priorities. However they are not in that position. Show a little respect.
Also, in the same edition were two letters from political candidates. Politics is a disgusting word and brings animosity among friends and to mean-mouth someone or something is just going to get the flies buzzing around the poop bucket. Individuals running for various parties should not be allowed to canvas readers to vote for them or their party under Letters to the Editor. They all have a chance to place their views in the papers and or canvass door to door to express why their party should be in power.
Alan Mackenzie, Pictou
Special Events Advisory Committee (9am, City Hall) — the committee will spend $65,000 on We Day. I don’t have time to get into it this morning, but I’m convinced We Day is just another neoliberal scam, a group of millionaires using public money to indoctrinate a generation of youngsters into the joys of the free market. Honestly, if I had a couple of weeks to spare, I’d do the proper investigation on this particular bit of ugliness. Kids: run! Parents: hide your kids!
Downtown Halifax Five Year Plan Review (6pm, Maritime Museum of the Atlantic) — more info here.
No public meetings.
Nova Scotia Business Inc. is going to Boston.
Profit Maximization (11:30am, MA310) — some unknown person or persons (unknown because while Dalhousie has an enormous communications department that can micromanage to infinity every press release on inappropriate Facebook pages, there seems to be no one at all reviewing the events posted on the website) will talk about this:
Lot sizing and scheduling are two important problems in the field of production planning. Despite the fact that these problems are dependent to one another, in most researches they are analyzed separately and hierarchically. Considering the interactions, the General Lot-sizing and Scheduling Problem considers these two issues as one problem. The basic assumption in most researches in the field of lot sizing and scheduling and specifically in GLSP models is that companies should respond to all predetermined demands. However in a business with the goal of maximizing benefits, fulfilling all demands may not be the best solution. In this research, Profit maximization General Lot-sizing and Scheduling Problem with demand choice flexibility is studied. In this problem, the amount of demand accepted in each period, lot sizing, and scheduling are problems which are considered simultaneously. Accepted demand is between the upper and lower bounds in each period. With regard to this ! assumption, the traditional objective function of the model, i.e., minimizing costs is changed to maximizing net profit.
To solve this problem, four mathematical models and different heuristic algorithms are proposed. The heuristic algorithms are based on the two superior mathematical models and classified into two categories, Rolling Horizon, and Fix and Relax. The performance of these algorithms are compared against each other and the exact method.
Cuba (Wednesday, 12:30pm, Lord Dalhousie Room, Henry Hicks Building) — Julia Sagebien, from the Socially Responsible Enterprise and Local Development project, will speak on “Postcards from the edge of the US embargo of Cuba.”
Lipid Signaling Screens (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Sir Charles Tupper Medical Building Link) — Vytas A. Bankaitis, from the Texas A&M University Health Science Centre, will speak on “Phosphatidylinositol Transfer Proteins and the Conversion of Membrane Surfaces to High Definition Lipid Signaling Screens.”
Changing climate, changing oceans (Wednesday, 5:30pm, University Hall, MacDonald Building) — “When examining the impact of climate change in marine research, some experts are particularly concerned about climate regulation, biodiversity, resource, and governance issues,” reads the event listing:
The upcoming United Nations Conference of Paris on Climate Change (COP21 / Paris 2015) at the end of this year provides Dalhousie University and the French Embassy the opportunity to bring together high-level experts in marine research from both sides of the Atlantic to discuss these issues and their future.
Panelists include Vianney Pichereau, Scientific Coordinator of LabexMer, France, Anna Metaxas, Theme Leader of Canadian Healthy Oceans Network and Professor of Oceanography at Dalhousie, Philippe Potin, Research Director and Team Manager, Roscoff Marine Station, France, Aldo Chircop, Acitng Associate Director of the Marine and Environmental Law Institute and Professor of Law at Dalhousie.
“World-class Paleo-Centre” (Wednesday, 6pm, Dalhousie University – ‘The Pub’ – 6259 Alumni Crescent) — This is a fundraiser for the Blue Beach Fossil Museum Society, which wants to build a “world-class Paleo-Centre” at Blue Beach, which is near Avonport, where the Avon River meets the Minas Basin. The Paleo Centre will be a depository for the fossils found nearby. More info here.
Reconciliation (6pm, McNally Auditorium) — Mohawk theorist and academic, Audra Simpson, will talk about and criticize the ways in which “reconciliation” has been conceived by Canadian governments and institutions.
In the harbour
ZIM Constanza, container ship, Valencia, Spain to Pier 42, then sails to sea
Dalian Express, Damietta, Egypt to Fairview Cove, then sails to sea
Nolhanava, ro-ro cago, Saint-Pierre to Pier 36
ZIM San Francisco, container ship, New York to Pier 41, then sails to sea
Sophie Oldendorff sails to sea
The cruise ship Pearl Mist is in port today. That’s a relatively small ship, with a capacity of just 210 passengers.
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 4pm.