1. The province’s secrecy regime
When mining companies set up operations in Nova Scotia, there is a requirement that they pay surety bonds that will cover the costs of clean up of the mining site after mining is complete. So Joan Baxter had a simple question: How much money are the companies paying, and where is it kept?
That question is fundamental to understanding if the surety bonds are large enough to cover the future environmental clean up of mining sites. Baxter focused her efforts on Atlantic Gold, which is in the process of opening up a string of mines on the Eastern Shore: How much money is Atlantic Gold paying for future cleanup of its sites?
It’s a completely legitimate question from any citizen, but especially from a journalist as thorough as Baxter. She recounts her extensive email discussions with Department of Energy and Mines spokesperson JoAnn Alberstat:
As is my habit with all communications people who have the difficult job of dealing with the media on behalf of the provincial government, I always expressed my gratitude to her for her efforts, even though she was often unable to provide the information I requested. Our communication was consistently and mutually respectful and cordial. She always replied promptly to acknowledge my questions, and it was obvious she was doing her best, despite the growing culture of secrecy in the provincial government.
And, Baxter did the legwork of an author who regularly produces in-depth articles and books:
I had spent many weeks doing research, and my questions emerged from the research. For many months I have been studying DEM’s mineral rights map NovaRoc, mineral exploration reports on the NovaScan database, the province’s new mining legislation and regulations, and consulting scientific studies, reports, and experts on open pit mining and mine reclamation.
Baxter’s initial pitch to me, many months ago, was an article simply exploring whether the sureties were large enough to pay the costs of future cleanup. Instead, we ended up with an article about how provincial “communications” people won’t answer the damn question, and how Baxter has apparently been blacklisted from asking further questions.
I left this article in front of the paywall because it seems to reflect on the next item. But of course it costs real money to conduct the kind of research Baxter undertakes, and she should receive fair compensation for her time and expertise as well. So please consider subscribing.
I should say: Baxter’s experience is not unique. As I reported on January 8, I asked Department of Lands and Forestry communications person Bruce Nunn on December 17 to give me a simple breakdown on provincial payments made to Northern Pulp Mill through the years. Other communications people in other departments gave me that info related to their own departments lickety-split, in a matter of hours, but Nunn still hasn’t answered my question, now almost two months after I asked it. It seems the job of at least some communications people is to not communicate at all.
I’m in court covering the Jackson trial all day, so I can’t make it to the usual Thursday post-cabinet scrum today, but my plan is to as soon as possible start grilling cabinet ministers about their non-communicative communications people. There’s gotta be some accountability built into the system somewhere.
2. Public Unaccounts
“The legislature committee that grilled bureaucrats on the costly rebuild of the Bluenose II, dissected deals that brought public-private partnership schools to Nova Scotia, and examined a controversial immigration scheme is once again seeing its work curtailed,” reports Jean Laroche for the CBC:
Liberal MLA Gordon Wilson put forward a motion Wednesday to drastically cut meetings of the public accounts committee to once a month. The Liberals hold a majority on the all-party committee which, in recent years, has met 20 to 29 times annually.
Consider Laroche’s twitter thread on the issue:
— Jean Laroche (@larochecbc) February 6, 2019
This is the only time senior government officials within the civil service are compelled to answer Qs from elected officials. #nspoli
— Jean Laroche (@larochecbc) February 6, 2019
Like access to information, budget estimates and Question Period, the Public Accounts Committee can be annoying or embarrassing to those in power but it is fundamental to holding govts to account. #nspoli
— Jean Laroche (@larochecbc) February 6, 2019
That is why how many meetings it holds, what topics are brought before it – matters a great deal. I’ve been a witness to its influence for more than 20 years – which is why I have consistently covered its work and rarely missed a meeting. #nspoli
— Jean Laroche (@larochecbc) February 6, 2019
The cowardly Liberals are destroying an important legislative institution.
Maybe someone can answer me this: When was Public Accounts created? Hansard records go back to 1994, and Public Accounts existed then, seeming already a long-standing legislative committee. My guess is that the committee dates to at least the 1950s, but may be even older than that. Throughout that period, it’s been the legislative process that has held governments of all stripes to account.
And the current crop of cowardly Liberals are wiping it away, just like that.
This is no small matter.
3. Corporate welfare
Writing in the Cape Breton Spectator, Mary Campbell examines two Sydney area companies that have received considerable government subsidies.
The first is Canadian Maritime Engineering Limited (CME), a company whose workforce size (and seasonality) and future growth potential seems to morph depending on which subsidy program it is accessing. Comments Campbell:
So how to reconcile what [CME president Tom] Kennedy is telling the Post about his staff size with what the NSBI figures are telling us? I’d say it’s pretty clear those workers aren’t actually getting many hours — and many of them may not be CME employees at all but contractors. And how does this jibe with what residents of the CBRM were promised when Archibald’s Wharf was sold to CME?
In a word, it doesn’t.
But it does reinforce my conviction that the business incentives system in this province is, to use a technical economic term, whack.
Campbell then moves on to the second company, the Sydney Call Centre, which was recently “bought” by the American businessman Anthony Marlowe. I put “bought” in scare quotes because as Campbell notes, Marlowe is receiving about $2.5 million in payroll rebates for the call centre:
And look at the amount: $2.5 million — that’s $1.0 million more than he paid to buy the call center in the first place. Basically, we’re buying the call center for him and throwing in another $1 million out of sheer gratitude.
Who’s Anthony Marlowe? Campbell took a look at his Twitter account and found:
These days, the Iowa businessman (and Sydney’s own personal Jesus) users Twitter mostly to retweet stories about himself written by fawning Canadian journalists. But prior to Marlowe’s arrival in Sydney, the feed served primarily as a 24/7 Donald Trump amplification machine.
Campbell posts a handful of Marlowe’s tweets, and noted that “Occasionally, he has branched out and retweeted other Trumps — like Donald Jr, suggesting Bill and Hilary Clinton murder people:”
The point of this isn’t just to say Marlowe is a horrible person, although clearly he is. Rather, the point is to question how our “economic development” agencies dole out money and yet can’t seem to track where the money goes.
I’ll let you read the post, but I’m particularly interested in a little nugget Campbell found about Nova Scotia Business Inc. justifying its subsidy to Marlowe not just with the usual rationale that the subsidy is eclipsed by the workers’ future income tax payments, but also throws in the workers’ future “consumption taxes” — i.e. the sales taxes they will pay with their meagre call centre wages. This is absurd on so many levels I don’t know where to begin; probably it deserves more of Campbell’s and my time.
As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, and so this article is behind the Spectator’s paywall. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
4. Maybe hire communications people who can write?
Yesterday, after the Liberals announced they were putting the Public Accounts Committee on death watch, the Progressive Conservative caucus sent out a press release that quite rightly expressed outrage at the Liberals. Problem is, the press release is so riddled with grammatical and other errors that all it does is point to the incompetency of the PC caucus staff.
Here it is with the kind of editing comments I would send the writer were I in charge of communications:
My point isn’t to ridicule the PR person… wait, that is my point.
Hey, we all make mistakes. But come on: you’re a major political party, the official opposition, and you can’t adequately copyedit a press release to avoid multiple errors in just four short paragraphs? And you want us to put you in charge of a $10 billion budget?
5. Sewage Plant Estates
Reporting for StarMetro Halifax, Zane Woodford looks at the urban design firm Gehl’s review of the Cogswell plan:
One of Gehl’s main beefs is the plan’s use of roundabouts.
“The presence of two roundabouts indicate the efficient movement of vehicles is prioritized over people walking or biking,” the review said.
It recommends removing the more southern roundabout of the two, located closer to the current downtown core, replacing it with a conventional intersection, and making the northern one more bicycle-friendly.
I particularly like this part:
Much of the rest of the review focuses on those elements, ones that weren’t complete in the 60 per cent design, like the plan’s open spaces. Gehl felt they were undefined, meaning it’s unclear who is welcome or why they’d stick around.
For example, Gehl questioned the park next to the municipality’s sewage treatment plant.
“While Poplar Street Park is defined as a neighbourhood park, it’s unclear how the space will invite people in. Additionally this park’s adjacency to the water treatment facility creates a perception and an olfactory issue,” the review said.
“Olfactory issue”! That’s great. Maybe the PCs could hire the guy who wrote that.
6. Hockey brawl
” Two head coaches and 15 players have been suspended after an ugly university hockey brawl that has raised questions about the sport’s culture of trash talking — and attitudes toward sexual assault,” reports Keith Doucette for the Canadian Press:
Six Acadia players and nine from the X-Men were handed automatic suspensions of between two and five games, totalling 39 games. The suspensions also apply to the two head coaches and are effective immediately.
On Monday, St. F.X. issued a statement alleging the brawl was instigated by a derogatory comment related to a sexual assault survivor that was made to an X-Men player. A few hours later, Acadia issued its own statement, saying the information it had gathered was not consistent with allegations made by St. F.X.
On Wednesday, [AUS executive director Phil] Currie told reporters the alleged comment was directed at St. F.X. player Sam Studnicka, and was something to the effect of, “You’re a little (expletive) rapist.”
“In the comment, the word ‘rapist’ was used, so to a victim of sexual assault, obviously that has a tremendous amount of impact,” Currie told reporters.
Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — Lily Barraclough, who is the Youth Leader with iMatter Halifax, wants the committee to “discuss the environmental impacts of offshore drilling and the role that HRM can play in mitigating them.”
Budget Committee (Friday, 9:30am, City Hall) — a look at the fire department’s budget.
No public meetings Thursday or Friday.
Maternal Health Outcomes of Incarcerated Women (Thursday, 9am, Cineplex-OE Theatre, IWK) — Martha Paynter will speak.
Challenges of International Work (Thursday, 6pm, Room 1007, Kenneth Rowe Building) — info here.
AI, Automatization and Social Transformations (Thursday, 6:30pm, Room 127, Goldberg Computer Science Building) —Ross Boyd from the University of South Australia will speak.
Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainability Through Reconciliation (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Theatre, Marion McCain Building) — Eli Enns, from the Indigenous Circle of Experts and the University of Victoria, will speak.
Living with China in an era of great power rivalry: Canadian opinion (Friday, 12pm, Room 1009, Rowe Management Building) — Paul Evans from the University of British Columbia will speak.
Advance Requests for Medical Assistance in Dying ‑ Ethical and Legal Considerations (Friday, 12:10pm, Room 104, Weldon Law Building) — Jennifer Gibson from the Joint Centre of Bioethics, University of Toronto, will speak.
Nova Scotia and the Atlantic Grain Economy, 1749-1793 (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building) — Patrick Callaway from the University of Maine will speak.
All Else Being Equal: Hierarchical Structure in Electrochemical Materials (Friday, 1:30pm, Room 226, Chemistry Building) — Robert H. Coridan from the University of Arkansas will speak.
Black Research Symposium – Networking Night (Friday, 7pm, Room 1011, Rowe Management Building) — from the listing:
The Health Association of African Canadians – Student Organization, Atlantic Association of Black Aspiring Physicians, and Community of Black Nurses in collaboration with PLANS invites you to the first annual Black Research Symposium at Dalhousie University.
This two-day event is an opportunity for Black Scholars and persons doing research on Black issues to highlight and celebrate the research being conducted in the community from all disciplines.
The evening of Friday, February 8th consists of a networking style session with guest speaker Ivan Joseph – Vice Provost, Student Affairs.
Saturday, February 9th will be the Research Symposium that will include poster sessions, 3 Minute thesis presentations, and guest speakers.
Existence is Resistance: Carceral Capitalism in/and Palestine (Thursday, 5pm, Room 265 in the building named after a grocery store) — Jasbir K. Puar from Rutgers University will speak.
Don Juan Comes Back from the War (Thursday, 7pm, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — talk by Jure Gantar, followed by a performance in the Murray Studio. Tickets here.
In the harbour
11:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Autoport to anchorage
12:30: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for sea
16:00: Augusta Sun, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 for sea
16:30: Jennifer Schepers, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Kingston, Jamaica
Back to court today.
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