A gigantic protest was held outside Province House yesterday. When I was there at noon, about a thousand people were demonstrating against the cuts to the film tax credit. I’m told the crowd doubled by mid-afternoon.
Russell Gragg and I interviewed some of the protesters, and we’ll include those interviews on the weekly Examineradio podcast, which will be up Friday evening.
2. John Risley, billionaire hypocrite
We’re all supposed to bow down before big money, so when billionaire John Risley says jump, the CBC asks how high?
A high profile Nova Scotia businessman calls the existing film tax credit “nuts” and is coming to the defence of the Liberal government, which has been battered by criticism since it announced it was axing a large portion of the lucrative subsidy.
Seafood baron John Risley, president of Clearwater Fine Foods Inc., says he’s been watching the debate unfold “with dismay” as those opposed to the cut warned of “Armageddon” and a “tidal wave” of job losses.
“It is an absolute nonsense. The government cannot afford to be subsidizing any industry to this extent,” Risley said Wednesday.
Risley says the business community has urged the province to get its fiscal house in order. And he says there would be a “hue and cry, justifiably so” if another industry were to receive such high subsidies to set up shop here.
It’s possible to argue that the film tax credit is too high — I’ve said as much myself. But Risley is not one to argue against government subsidies: his fortune is built on them.
I started writing this section last night, but I find Parker Donham has framed the issue well this morning:
He made the statement six days after Ottawa gave the Nova Scotia Community College $1 million to help his company, Clearwater Seafoods, develop new mapping techniques that will better enable his scallop draggers to scour the ocean bottom for lucrative shellfish.
That’s how Risley made his $1.38 billion: By acquiring, from government, preferred access to massive public shellfish resources (along with sundry federal and provincial handouts). Clearwater is the largest holder of rights to fish Canadian scallops, lobster, clams, coldwater shrimp, and crab. The company owns exclusive rights to all offshore lobster fished on the Atlantic coast, and to all Arctic surf clams. These are public resources that you and I can’t fish. But Risley’s bottom-destroying draggers can.
In return, Clearwater provides dead-end, low-wage, seasonal employment in fish plants that have come to rely on special immigration exemptions, issued by government, to import temporary third world workers willing to carry out the bone-chilling, soul-deadening labour that make them profitable.
It’s not hard to further document Risley’s use of government assistance. Let’s look first at how much money the Atlantic Canadian Opportunities Agency has shovelled to Risley’s Ocean Nutrition Canada Limited:
$138,080—a “Unconditionally Repayable Contribution” to “establish a facility to produce micro encapsulated products.”
$144,375—a “Conditionally Repayable Contribution” to “develop new micro encapsulated technology”
$42,250—a “Non-Repayable Contribution” to “implement a one year marketing program.”
$82,500—a “Unconditionally Repayable Contribution” to “launch an agressive (sic) marketing campaign.”
$1,000,000—a “Unconditionally Repayable Contribution” to undertake marketing activities related to ‘Sea-lutions.'”
$1,000,000—a “Unconditionally Repayable Contribution” to “expand oil/glucosamine processing facility.”
$6,000,000—a “Conditionally Repayable Contribution” for “Microencapsulation of Omega 3 for Functional Foods.”
$425,380—a “Unconditionally Repayable Contribution” to “purchase equipment to increase production capacity.”
$500,000—a “Conditionally Repayable Contribution” for “Microbial production of High Value Omega-3 oil concentrates.”
$2,999,935—a “Conditionally Repayable Contribution” for “Microbial Production of High Value Omega-3 Oil Concentrates.”
$3,000,000—a “Conditionally Repayable Contribution” for “Commercialization of the Biofuel from Microalgae.”
This is how you become a billionaire in Nova Scotia: you get the taxpayer to finance you. Those “non-repayable contributions” are straight-up gifts to Risley.
The “conditionally repayable contributions” are conditioned on Risley making money—if the venture is successful, he pays back the money; if not, the taxpayer takes the loss. It’s the perfect socialization of risk. Rich man can get even richer, but he can’t possibly lose money.
Even the “unconditionally repayable contributions” are a below-market interest rate loan that’s not available to you or me.
Let’s move on to Risley’s Clearwater Seafoods Limited Partnership. Here is how much the province has paid the company over the past few years:
[no provincial payments]
[no provincial payments]
$6,987.50—Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture
$12,500.00—Department of Agriculture
$7,263.75—Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture
$231,689.00— Department of Environment
$11,838.92—Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture
$45,538.37—Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism
$217,765.29—Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism
$340,643.40—Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism
In short, under the PC government, Clearwater got no direct payments from the province. The NDP ramped up the payments but since the Liberals have come to power, there seems no constraint on the cash flows to Clearwater. Maybe Risley feels he has to diss the film tax credit to protect his own subsidies.
To further document the government largesse, here’s what ACOA has sent to Clearwater:
$275,000.00—a “Unconditionally Repayable Contribution” for “value added processing expansion.”
$99,360.00—a “Non-Repayable Contribution” to “hire a Science graduate to oversee R&D activities.”
$99,360.00—a “Non-Repayable Contribution” to “design, develop and implement a tenderization process.”
$250,000.00—a “Unconditionally Repayable Contribution” to “develop automated scallop shucking equipment.”
$18,750.00—a “Non-Repayable Contribution” to “hire consultant to identify improvements in processes at Lockeport location.”
Do I need to point out that lobster fishers are getting south of $4 a pound for their catch, while billionaire lobster middleman John Risley takes the time and effort to fill out the paperwork in order to nickel and dime the taxpayers for a measly 19 grand to hire a consultant?
At least the film people pay their workers and contractors decent wages.
After I initially published today’s Morning File, reader Greg Beaulieu pointed out that in the above list I had missed, gulp!, $42 million in government financing for Clearwater in 2009. Reports the Globe & Mail:
Clearwater Seafoods Income Fund is turning to two federal corporations and the Nova Scotia government for a crucial first phase in refinancing its debt, with the firm’s chief executive officer saying private Canadian banks simply aren’t willing to lend it money.
Of the $57-million being lent, $15-million will come from Clearwater’s home province through the Nova Scotia Industrial Expansion Fund, while two federal Crown corporations, the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Corp., will provide a total of $27-million.
And then there’s Risley’s boat, the Northern Star:
The boat is described like this:
Northern Star, the 246-ft. Espen Oeino-designed Lurssen megayacht launched for Canadian seafood magnate John Risley in 2009, has been listed for sale via Ocean Independence for $170 million. One of the top 75 largest yachts in the world, it was built to replace Risley’s previous vessel, a 207-ft. Lurssen also known as Northern Star and subsequently dubbed Polar Star. The six-deck yacht was designed as a luxury long-range ice class expedition-capable craft, with luxe accommodation for 12 guests in 6 staterooms. The interior is finished in the manner of a grand English country house with styling by Pauline Nunns.
The showpiece is a large owner’s suite designed for the “Northern Rockefeller” that features a library, private study, and a private veranda, which offers spectacular panoramic views. The yacht is staffed by 22 crew members and powered by twin Caterpillar 2,000kW diesel engines allowing a maximum speed of 17 knots and a cruising speed of 15 knots with an exceptionally long range of 8,500 nautical miles at cruising speed. She features a helipad for Risley’s Bell 427 helicopter; he also owns a Beechcraft Super King Air twin-turboprop airplane.
Chronicle Herald reporter Chris Lambie wrote about Risley’s attempt to avoid paying Canadian federal taxes on his yacht in 2011. The story is too complicated to convey here, but the gist of it is that through using a shell company, Risley was trying to avoid paying federal taxes on a $30 million line of credit for construction of the boat. I can’t find any resolution to the issue, but my guess is he prevailed.
I caught a bit of grief for pointing out that the Trailer Park Boys are millionaires. But as I explained Tuesday, they’re the wrong kind of rich. They can have their goofy movies and their expensive cars, just don’t think they can get their grubby hands on the levers of power, and how dare they ask for government handouts?
Risley is the right kind of rich. He has every right to tap the government spigot for investment and to grow the economy.
See how that works?
3. Petulant, self-entitled brats
Last week, Richard Moore, who runs the Lobster Pound and Moore restaurant in North Sydney, made the perfectly reasonable decision that his dining establishment “will no longer allow small screaming children. We are an adult themed restaurant that caters to those who enjoy food and are out to enjoy themselves.”
I can only guess what drove Moore to post the policy on the company Facebook page, but no doubt it involved one screaming tyke that ruined what should have been a relaxing, quiet dinner for a roomful of people.
Or, maybe it involved a specific example of horrible timing: I’m envisioning a nervous young lad, let’s call him Iain MacDonald. He’s a hardworking blue collar type who has attained a certain status in life and he can now realistically provide for a family. For months, Iain has skimped and saved; he’s squirrelled enough money away to buy a modest diamond ring. He asks his childhood sweetheart, a wholesome Cape Bretoner, let’s call her Siobhan MacNeil, to join him at the Lobster Pound for a meal. After the waiter brings the dessert, Iain stands, gets down on one knee, pulls out the ring and says, “Siobhan, will you spend the rest of your life with me?”
Siobhan is a sensible lass, so takes two seconds to survey her options. Iain is a good, hardworking man. He’s pretty enough. He’s good with his hands and could maintain a home. He’d make a good fath—
But just at that very moment a two-year old brat starts throwing a tantrum across the room. The kid screams, starts rolling around on the floor, screaming some more, immune to argument or persuasion.
Siobhan takes one second more. She envisions a house full of screaming children. She sees herself hiding out in the fields to find a moment’s silence. She thinks of dirty diapers, of unanswered emails from ungrateful kids. And then she remembers Bobby O’Neil, that sensitive boy from high school who went to the city to go to art school. When he visited last summer he had grown up. Bobby was handsome, and had an air of sophistication about him. He was cultured. And then she envisioned living in a north end Halifax loft, of getting a job at a gallery, of having friends who knew about theatre and music and could html like nobody’s business. They’d meet for drinks every night at a hipster bar, then go home and laugh about the hipsters. They’d make sweet, sweet love afterwards, never interrupted by a crying baby. She’d fall asleep in Bobby’s arms and sleep the sleep of a goddess, only to awake quietly, a gentle breeze coming through the window, Bobby making cappuccinos in the kitchen.
“Oh, Iain, I’m so flattered,” she says. “But no.”
Which is to say, by banning kids from his restaurant, Moore was only trying to encourage young families to stay on the island.
But after Moore posted his no-screaming-kids policy on Facebook, a bunch of petulant self-entitled brats took to social media to condemn him. He hated kids, they said. He hated families, they said. They’d boycott his restaurant, they said, once they find out where it is. They shamed him.
And so Moore has reversed his policy. He’s apologized. People can still bring their screaming kids to his restaurant, and break up all the potential new families before they begin.
And we wonder why Cape Breton is losing young people to the city.
Yesterday, the Canadian Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the town of Saguenay, Quebec cannot open its council meeting with a prayer. The city had been sued by resident Alain Simoneau, who objected to the prayer. The court concluded that:
None of the arguments advanced by the respondents can refute the inescapable conclusion that, in the instant case, the By‑law and the City’s practice with respect to the prayer are incompatible with the state’s duty of religious neutrality. The Tribunal’s findings of fact on the religious and discriminatory nature of the By‑law and of the practice were not unreasonable; quite the contrary. The prayer creates a distinction, exclusion and preference based on religion that has the effect of impairing Mr. Simoneau’s right to full and equal exercise of his freedom of conscience and religion.
It’s unclear how the decision will apply to the rest of Canada. Saguenay’s prayer was unapologetically Catholic, and the mayor of the town had adorned council chambers with Catholic iconography. The former city of Halifax opened its council meeting with the Lord’s Prayer. When the Halifax Regional Municipality was formed in 1996, one of the first orders of business concerned council procedures. Bedford councillor (and later mayor) Peter Kelly wanted to continue to use the Lord’s Prayer, but the full council decided on a watered down ” invocation” written by the multicultural association. The city is now reviewing the court’s decision.
I’ve been particularly outspoken on this issue. Prayers at government meetings insult my sense of democracy, and insult me personally. I’m an atheist, and object to the forced participatory nature of them.
When I started covering Halifax city council as a reporter, I either stayed outside the room for the prayer or quietly stood and kept my mouth shut during the prayer. But after I got my citizenship I felt I had standing to publicly object. When the prayer was read, I stayed sitting. I was silent, and didn’t interfere with the prayer, but I didn’t participate.
A couple of meetings into my new policy, I stayed seated as the prayer proceeded but another reporter banged me on the back of the head and motioned for me to stand up. “I’ll be goddamned if I’ll be forced to pray,” I blurted out, rather cleverly in retrospect. I think the incident underscores the “forced participation” nature of the prayer—there’s no actual rule requiring people in the gallery (or councillors) to stand and recite the prayer, but the social pressure is enormous. If any councillor actually refused to participate, they’d be, er, crucified.
Ever since, other reporters have also decided not to stand. I’ve never asked them why, but even if they’re deeply religious people, they shouldn’t. We reporters have the obligation to be outside proceedings and report on. We don’t applaud when the audience applauds, because we’re neutral. In the same way, we shouldn’t pray when everyone else prays.
More than that, we’re talking about how we conduct ourselves as a democracy. Even the watered-down prayer used at Halifax council is a prayer to a monotheistic god. There are lots of spiritual traditions that either have no god — Confucianism, for example — or have multiple gods — Hinduism, for example. As well, a growing number of people are publicly identifying as atheist. Especially as we’re trying to encourage immigration, we ought think of what kind of public policy message we are sending about inclusion in government.
I want to be clear that I have no problem with people of faith. We all make our way through this vale of tears as best we can, and we find solace and understanding where we can. Wherever you find value and purpose, meaning of life, a spiritual orientation, who am I to judge? I fully expect and acknowledge that many politicians are informed from a religious perspective, and they bring that perspective into everything they do in life, including into their roles as city councillors. That’s perfectly understandable, and even though I’m an atheist, I can say that perspective deserves respect.
What it doesn’t deserve is the right to impose it on everyone else. And that’s absolutely what a prayer at council does.
Besides which, the prayer doesn’t work. Here’s what’s uttered at every council meeting:
God, Our Creator
Bless us as we gather today for this meeting.
You know our most intimate thoughts; guide our minds and hearts so that we will work for the good of our community and help all of Your people.
Give us today the strengths and wisdom to carry out our duties in the most caring and respectful ways.
Teach us to be generous in our outlook, courageous in the face of difficulty, and wise in our decisions.
“Generous in our outlook, courageous in the face of difficulty, and wise in our decisions”? Has there ever been a better example of the utter futility of prayer? Our council often behaves exactly opposite from that entreaty. I’d go so far as to say how council conducts itself proves either that god isn’t listening or doesn’t exist in the first place.
Community Planning and Economic Development Committee (10am, City Hall)—the committee will wring its hands, then give the Halifax Partnership a bunch more money.
Active Transportation Advisory Committee (4pm, City Hall)—Bike Week is coming up.
Legislature sits (1pm–10pm, Province House)
3 Minute Thesis – Final Round (Thursday, 7pm, Room 1016, Rowe Building)
Planetarium show (Thursday, 7.15pm, Room 120, Dunn Building)—”The Equinoxes and Solstices.” Five bucks at the door, no screaming kids (see above).
In the harbour
Tokyo Express, container ship, arrived this morning to Fairview Cove, will sail to sea
Elka Angelique, oil tanker, Sabine Pass, Texas to Imperial Oil
Atlantic Companion, container ship, Norfolk to Fairview Cove
So much going on.