1. The Securities windfall
“A $77.1 million windfall helps balance the books in this year’s provincial budget,” reports Jennifer Henderson:
That’s the amount the federal government is paying Nova Scotia as incentive to disband the provincial Security Commission and join a national securities regulator. But that one-time payment comes at the cost of $15 million in revenue generated by the provincial commission annually, year after year. Because of the change, the province will be a net loser in just five years.
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2. Saint Margaret’s Bay development
Philip Moscovitch reports on a proposed development in Saint Margaret’s Bay which is a:
residential complex larger than any other in Saint Margaret’s Bay. It would see two apartment buildings — one with 46 units and a second with 48 — built on the site in Tantallon, along with 18 townhouses and some commercial space. The apartments would be rentals, while the townhouses — six buildings with three units each — would be condos.
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Earlier this month, after spending eight months consulting with more than 1,100 Haligonians and working with a diverse 20-member Poverty Solutions Advisory Committee, the United Way and HRM published a joint report/action plan entitled Building Poverty Solutions: A Community Report,” writes Stephen Kimber:
According to the report, 58,830 Haligonians currently live in poverty….
The irony, the report points out, is that most of those who live in poverty are actually employed, but 28 per cent of them earn under $15 an hour, well below a living wage. And their poverty — are you listening, Mr. Premier? — costs the province between $1.5 and $2.2-billion a year.
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4. Examineradio 154: the failed convention centre
Urban studies prof Heywood Sanders, an expert on convention centres, weighs in on ours. Sanders came to Halifax in November 2010 to warn city councillors against approving the deal for the convention centre:
In response to a question of clarification by Councillor Rankin, Dr. Sanders explained that if the base assumption of number of events and attendees (non resident) is not plausible then all revenue estimates are equally implausible. He noted that he would be fascinated to see a study that shows the performance of a Canadian Convention Centre that has demonstrated, over a decade, a steady four fold increase; however, from the data he has reviewed, he has seen only fluctuations. An accurate business case is important to consider when deciding on a Convention Centre or its expansion as a larger Convention Centre does not necessarily mean more economic benefit. In general, new or expanded centres have not yielded what the Consultants had estimated with some realizing only half, or less, activity than what was estimated.
Plus, we talk about the “not great news” data breach of the FOIPOP web portal.
5. The Battle for the Mill, and the Battle for subscriptions
You’ll note that I’ve linked to four Examiner posts above. Three of them are behind the paywall; that’s because each of these three pieces involved a lot of research and writing work, and writers Jennifer Henderson, Philip Moscovitch, and Stephen Kimber should be compensated for their work. The fourth is Examineradio, which so far I’ve kept as a free offering, even though that too involves considerable costs.
Producing the Examiner costs money. And the business model relies on subscriptions. Which is a gentle reminder to please subscribe.
The general agreement we have with the authors of larger investigative pieces is that the Examiner has exclusive rights to their work for a month, after which time they’re free to resell or repackage their information as they wish. Usually, that simply means that we take the piece out from behind the paywall.
And so, Joan Baxter’s piece, “Battle for the Mill,” is now available for anyone to read. As Baxter reported:
The plan to pipe effluent from the Northern Pulp Mill into the Northumberland Strait is dividing the community of Pictou, pitting neighbour against neighbour and fishermen against mill workers.
You don’t have to subscribe to read it, but more subscriptions will help pay for the next piece we’ve commissioned from Baxter. Click here to subscribe.
I’d like the opinions and insights of readers.
I’m not a tech guy. I can usually do the bare minimum sort of tech-related stuff needed to maintain this website and my other online presences, but for everything beyond that bare minimum, I hire people with the needed skills.
Which is to say: I know nothing about hacking or the security to prevent hacking. Beyond my pay grade and expertise.
But I was contacted Friday by a technologist whose judgment I have trusted in the past and who has worked in the industry. Let’s call this person Adam, which is not their real name. Adam told me that a provincial web page — specifically, the page with the URL https://nsbr-online-services.gov.ns.ca — had been hacked last year, on June 28, 2017. Here’s a screen shot of what the top page looked like after it was hacked:
Soon after, someone at either the province or at Unisys cleared the page. If you go there now, it looks like this:
But, said Adam, that page is merely the top page on an underlying pyramid of subdirectories and search pages. And, said Adam, the hack meant that those subpages were also vulnerable, and because the hacker had access to the entire directory, the hacker could have placed viruses and ads on, or changed the content of, every page in the directory.
One of those subpages, for example, is the search page for registered child care centres, with the URL https://nsbr-online-services.gov.ns.ca/DCSOnline/ECDS/loadSearchPage.action. Note that the first part of that URL matches the top page’s URL.
Is that true? Because I know nothing about hacking or the security to prevent hacking, I have no clue.
But when someone tells me that there’s a potential security issue with provincial web pages, I do the right thing: Friday, I immediately notified the province and told them what I had been told.
An hour or so later, I got a response from Brian Taylor, the spokesperson for Internal Services. He said:
Here is what I have from staff:
• During the defacement last year, the hacker had no ability to infect government systems with viruses, nor did they get access to any information in government databases. All the attacker could do was modify the web page.
• Since the web defacement, the website vulnerability have been fixed and the server was completely rebuilt. Additional server “hardening” was performed on the website (more security lockdown)
Good to know!
But, says non-tech savvy me, is that right? And, what’s “defacement”?
So, first I went to Wikipedia and learned a tiny bit of probably suspect stuff about defacement, and then I asked another technologist whose judgment I have trusted in the past and who has worked in the industry, someone who I’ll call Betty, again, not their real name.
Betty told me that:
If it was just a simple defacement, then what was done was sufficient.
The content is all served out of a database, so the rest of the site was likely just templates for formatting the data. Most infrastructure runs off virtual servers, so spawning a new web server, and restoring a pre-defacement version of the site would return the site to service within hours and completely remove the hacked site from service.
Defacements are embarrassing, and honestly shouldn’t happen, but I’m confident the site was remediated properly after the hack.
I don’t understand that either. But from what I gather, the provincial site is now OK, according to Betty.
Is it actually? I have no clue. But I’m guessing Betty is probably right, despite Adam’s claims. Still, you smart people out there in internet land: you tell me.
I also want to know more about this “defacement” thing. Should this have been a large enough red flag that people at the province and/or Unisys should have understood that there was a security issue that had to be addressed in a more substantial manner than simply fixing the one page that was attacked?
That is: even if Betty is right and the incident was of no major concern in itself, shouldn’t the June 28, 2017 website “defacement” have triggered a bigger review of security of sites managed by Unisys that ultimately would have identified the screw-up at the FOIPOP site, which went live in January 2017?
If not, OK, Bousquet doesn’t know crap about website security, and I’ll go pull some more convention centre data and leave the tech stuff aside.
But if so… er, shouldn’t that be like an issue?
You tell me.
7. StarMetro article misframes support for publicly financed stadium
“There is a clear appetite for spending municipal tax dollars to help fund a new outdoor stadium for Halifax,” reports Philip Croucher for StarMetro Halifax under the headline “Exclusive: Poll shows people in Halifax open to using municipal taxes to pay for CFL stadium.”
But that’s not at all what the poll finds. The headline and opening paragraph of the article are a dishonest framing of the actual poll results.
The words “clear” and “open to” are open to debate — if just two people in all of HRM said, “sure, we really want our taxes to go to a stadium,” and 399,998 were opposed to it, you could write that “people” have “a clear appetite” and are “open to” using tax dollars to pay for a stadium. That’d be technically true. But that would be misrepresenting the poll results.
The actual poll results are more muddled than the absurd example I just gave:
Between March 26 and April 2, 500 people in HRM were asked the following question: “To what extent, if at all, are you in favour of the Halifax Regional Municipality contributing taxpayers’ dollars, either directly or through tax breaks, to the building of a new outdoor stadium in the municipality.”
In total, 42 per cent of respondents said they were either “very favourable” or “favourable” to the idea. Forty-one per cent said they were either unfavourable or very unfavourable.
Another 15 per cent were neither favourable nor unfavourable, with another 2 per cent unsure.
The margin of error for the poll is buried at the end of the article: “plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.”
So our takeaway should be this: there’s no clear majority, but about the same percentage of people oppose using public money for a stadium as support it, and there’s a significant chunk of people who can’t say one way or the other.
Croucher’s next sentence, however, continues the misframing:
The most popular of the six possible answers was favourable, at 27 per cent.
Croucher knows better than this. He’s free to have whatever opinion he wants about using public money — can we ditch this right-wing “taxpayer money” language already? — to pay for a stadium, but if he wants to push the pro-stadium agenda, he should say so upfront instead of using a supposed objective news article to misframe poll results.
I see where this is going. There’s already a stadium proposal. It’s secret, but city councillors have been briefed on it. I haven’t seen it, but I can say with near-certainty that the stadium proposal is based on “the Lansdowne model” — the Ottawa development that includes a stadium for the CFL’s RedBlack team. We’re going to be told that a stadium is part of a larger neighbourhood development (Shannon Park) or redevelopment (somewhere on the peninsula, I’m guessing), and that the increased property tax revenue generated by the entire development will pay for the public expenditure on the stadium.
We’ve heard this before: the city’s costs for the new convention centre were going to be more than covered by the taxes generated by the larger Nova Centre project. The reality, of course, is something different entirely: the city is already taking a bath on the project, and the numbers are going to get a lot worse.
“But Lansdowne is different!” we’ll be told. “A huge success.”
Well, no, it isn’t. Lansdowne is already a financially mixed bag, under-peforming from the forecasts but primed, supposedly, for bigger profits in the years down the road — the bulk of which will go to the private partners in the project. Last year Ottawa city auditor Ken Hughes lambasted the city’s oversight of the project.
I spent more time than I should have this morning trying to find clear financial forecasts for the Lansdowne project in terms of expected Ottawa city revenues, versus the actual figures. I came up empty-handed. They may be out there somewhere, but the fact that they’re so hard to find is, I’m guessing, indication that things aren’t so rosy. I’ll make some calls during business hours and see what I come up with.
But again, even if Lansdowne “works” as it was planned and sold to citizens, which I doubt, and even if Halifax can duplicate that effort, which is beyond unlikely, this is not how property taxes are supposed to work. (As I understand it, there’s also rental income at Lansdowne, but the same principle applies.) You don’t get to carve off one particular part of the city and say that it will “pay for itself.” A city is an entire ecosystem: if tax revenues from one part are just shifted to another — from an office tower on Water Street in Halifax to the office tower at the Nova Centre, or from the retail district on Bank Street in Ottawa to the new retail district in Lansdowne — you haven’t gained financially. You’re just moving stuff around. And you’re incurring a greater cost with the start-up costs and loans, and the public works required by the project.
And that’s assuming the stadium project works. In all likelihood, it won’t, as large public projects almost always fail to live up to their sell. Take, for example…
8. Muskrat Falls
The St. John’s Telegram, part of the Saltwire Network that owns the Chronicle Herald, lays out new costs incurred by the Muskrat Falls hydro project:
Well, another penny just dropped on the troubled Muskrat Falls project — a recommendation from a committee tasked with deciding what needed to be done to limit risks of methylmercury contamination as a result of the project.
But the cost? About as many as 76,100,000,000 pennies.
The numbers are mind-boggling, even given the project’s already-massive cost overruns. The work recommended involves stripping soil and vegetation from about one-third of the reservoir area and capping bogs and wetlands.
Consultants SNC Lavalin peg the cost at $420-$761 million, not including contingency funds, contractor risk premiums and costs associated with project delays.
The details laid out in the piece show that even the $761 million figure is probably wishful thinking, and “delay means more interest payments and even higher future electrical rates.” That’s for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, not here in Nova Scotia, but the ballooning costs should be an object lesson for big project supporters everywhere.
Police Commission (Monday, 12:30pm, City Hall) — commissioners will get an update on the plan to replace the police station.
Advisory Committee for Accessibility in HRM (Monday, 4pm, City Hall) — here’s the agenda.
Cogswell District Engagement Booth (Tuesday, 12-2pm, 4-6pm, Alderney Ferry Terminal) — info here.
Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, City Hall) — here’s the agenda.
No public meetings today.
Legislature Sits (Tuesday, 1pm, Province House)
Thesis Defence, Process Engineering and Applied Science (Monday, 11am, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — PhD candidate Christopher Cloney will defend his thesis, “Burning Velocity and Lower Flammability Limits of Hybrid Mixtures Containing Combustible Dust and Flammable Gas.”
Board of Governors Meeting (Monday, 3pm, University Hall, Macdonald Building) — Due to recent flooding, the elevator in the Macdonald Building is not currently available. They’re going to hear about the Super Cluster___, among other matters.
Belong Forum: Buffy Sainte-Marie (Tuesday, 7pm, Rebecca Cohn Auditorium) — Buffy Sainte-Marie talks about diversity and inclusion and receives an honourary degree from Dalhousie. Free admission. Limited tickets available here.
Centre for Applied Complexity (Monday, 6pm, Atrium 340) — Dave Snowdon from the Cynefin Centre for Applied Complexity at Bangor University, Wales, will speak. RSVP: [email protected]
In the harbour
9am: Fundy Rose, ferry, shifts from one end of Pier 9 to the other end of Pier 9
3pm: YM Express, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
7pm: Hangzhou Bay Bridge, container ship, arrives at anchorage from Charleston, South Carolina