Mary Campbell discusses the business case for the proposed Melford Terminal on the Strait of Canso. Campbell was contacted by Richie Mann, the former MLA who now runs “government relations” for Melford International Terminal Inc, and the two had an interesting discussion about the differences between the proposed Sydney terminal and the proposed Melford terminal.
The short of it is this:
Where the Port of Sydney is advocating a $1.5 billion transshipment hub that it predicts will handle 5.2 million TEUs (twenty-foot-equivalent units) annually, Melford’s proposition is to construct a pure rail terminal (PRT), like the one in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The project carries a more modest $350 million price tag and Mann says the completed terminal is expected to handle 1.5 million TEUs annually.
Even the more modest Melford terminal is a stretch, however. Campbell details the proposal, and concludes:
So the answer to “What is Melford doing right now?” is “Looking for a customer.”
Melford, like Sydney, makes much of its position as the first North American port of call for vessels traveling from Suez. It’s a claim to fame critics (I’m looking at you Tim Bousquet) find eye-crossing. As Mann himself admitted during our discussions, the cheapest way to move goods is almost always by water — so being the first port where cargo must be unloaded and placed on trains or trucks is clearly not necessarily an advantage.
Are east coast US ports so congested that unloading cargo in Melford and sending it by train to Chicago could actually be cheaper than unloading it and shipping it from New York or New Jersey? That’s the question. Luckily, it’s not a question for me (I send all my goods via Canada Post), it’s a question for the world’s shipping lines and I’m sure they’re crunching the numbers even as we speak.
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2. Willow Tree
Council yesterday punted on the Willow Tree proposal.
I was there for much of the debate, and the sense of the room was that most councillors wanted to approve more than the 20 storeys that staff recommended. I had another appointment and had to leave when council broke for lunch. After lunch, council came back and continued the discussion. I’ll let Zane Woodford take it from there:
Council voted 16-1 to defer a decision on APL Properties’ controversial proposal for the corner of Robie Street and Quinpool Road, pending a report from planning staff on getting some public benefit out of the developer in exchange for extra height.
The staff report is due Mar. 20, with options for affordable housing and other public benefits like increased sidewalk width, underground electrical wires and lower street walls.
The proposal went to a public hearing on Tuesday night at 20 storeys after council reversed an earlier decision to allow 29. APL said a 20-storey building wasn’t economically viable, given it has a functioning 10-storey office building there now.
Instead, it proposed 25 storeys and 10 units of affordable housing.
“Because this application came before Centre Plan, if we approve it at 20, we get nothing in return,” Coun. Shawn Cleary told reporters after the debate.
A couple of points. First, the “affordable housing” offer from APL is a joke. The offer is 10 units for a 15-year limit. Housing Nova Scotia hasn’t contracted for them, and doesn’t know what the proposal is about. The city can’t contract for public housing, so we’re left with this vague notion of a few below-market rental units for a few years. That’s nothing to base a development approval on.
Second, in my view, Shawn Cleary is conflicted and should remove himself from the debate. Cleary was the co-chair of former MLA Joachim Stroink’s 2013 campaign committee. (Cleary was elected to council in 2016, and so was not involved in Stroink’s failed reelection bid in 2017.) Stroink is now working as a spokesperson for APL, George Armoyan’s development company that is proposing the Willow Tree tower.
Sure, it’s a small town, and perhaps too much can be read into the convoluted personal and professional relationships that characterize the local managerial class. But Cleary seems too eager to promote the project, which isn’t in his district and is being promoted by his friend Stroink.
Anyway, from here, councillors are not allowed to discuss the project until March 20, which means they’re not going to respond to citizen comments or engage in further debate.
Basically, Armoyan won, and all that’s needed from here is the formality of a council vote.
Obviously, developer George Armoyan thinks he can rent out a 29-storey or 25-storey residential building (or, alternatively, but not likely, sell it as condos) at the Willow Tree. I guess we’ll see. King’s Wharf across the harbour seems to be moving slowly, but I don’t know if that’s a general indication of which way the residential market is going or not. Surely, at some point, the downtown building boom is going to exceed the demand.
And to my great surprise, Armoyan is bullish on downtown commercial space as well, going so far as to purchase the 35-year-old World Trade and Convention Centre building. The sale hasn’t been finalized, apparently because the city and Armoyan can’t agree on the separation of services between the WTCC and the Metro Centre — they were built as one complex and share power plants, hallways, security systems, and the like. Yesterday, Halifax council went into secret session to discuss this:
Shared Services and Facilities Agreement between HRM and Trade Centre Limited (to be assigned to Armco Capital Inc.) — World Trade and Convention Centre and Scotiabank Centre — Private and Confidential Report
In open session, council passed a motion to continue negotiations with Armoyan.
But what does Armoyan plan to do with the building? With the nearly empty Nova Centre now on the market, and the half-as-big Queen’s Marque under construction, there’s so much Class A office space available downtown that I’m told some landlords are giving it away in exchange for taxes and utilities. That filters down to the next level of the market, Class B office space. Firms that a few years ago were renting OK space in old buildings suddenly find they can spend a comparable amount on rent and move up to a prestige building — Grant Thornton, for example, moved from the 40-year-old Cogswell Tower to the Nova Centre. That kind of move will no doubt continue, which will leave a glut of Class B space.
The majority of the Class B space in downtown Halifax is rented for government offices. But there’s only so much demand even there, and some federal offices are moving out to the suburbs.
So what’s Armoyan doing buying a giant Class B office building? Apparently, he thinks he can capture some of that government office demand, as the WTCC has been short-listed for Social Services space. That’s maybe a floor or two. The obvious potential tenant is the city, whose Duke Tower lease is up in 2020, but the city hasn’t tendered for office space and likely won’t for another year.
No great point here, just noticing Armoyan’s confidence in what appears to me to be a lacklustre market.
4. Minimum wage
“About 15 people with a new organization called Rights At Work Nova Scotia held a noon rally on Wednesday outside the Tim Hortons on Spring Garden Road to push for a higher minimum wage and for unionization of fast-food workers,” reports Tom Ayers for the Chronicle Herald:
Rally organizer Judy Haiven, a retired industrial relations professor from Saint Mary’s University’s school of business, said the group also wanted to show support for workers at some Tim Hortons outlets in Ontario whose benefits are being cut in the wake of a provincial minimum wage increase there.
A living wage should be around $19 an hour, she said, but even at $15, people will have more money to spend and lower-income earners are the ones most likely to spend that extra money in the local economy.
Sylvain Charlebois, dean of management at Dalhousie University’s school of business, has argued that food services are not a good example because wages tend to make up a large part of their costs.
But Haiven said that’s not the point.
“The executives of the parent corporation are making $6 million a year,” she said.
“This is not a public service. This is a business to make money. All of these fast-food franchisees are in business to make money, and one of the costs of doing business is paying people a living wage, or a decent wage.”
5. Cobequid Pass tolls
“Nova Scotia is still considering whether to continue tolls for commercial trucks and non-residents using the Cobequid Pass — or removing tolls altogether — when the highway’s debt is paid off,” reports the Canadian Press:
The Liberal government has said it plans to remove the tolls for Nova Scotia motorists once the remaining $56 million is paid off on the bonds for the pass, a 45-kilometre stretch of highway that runs between Amherst and Truro.
But Transportation Department officials told the legislature’s public accounts committee that it’s not clear yet how that will be done once that debt is paid off in fiscal 2019-2020.
Among the considerations is whether to continue tolls for some users, or removing the tolls altogether.
Leaving tolls on for non-residents isn’t a great move for a province trying to encourage tourism. It comes off as mean-spirited and money hungry.
6. Aaron Beswick responds
Last Thursday, I noted that the Chronicle Herald had printed an advertorial from Northern Pulp Mill.
On Tuesday, under the headline “The Herald’s news reporting on Northern Pulp Mill looks like a packaged advertising deal,” I questioned two news articles written by reporters Aaron Beswick and Sam Macdonald, concluding that:
Who knows? Maybe the two reporters had no marching orders from management and each decided to write an uncritical article about mill operations. That happens. But it’s impossible to separate the mill’s purchase of sponsored content from the reporting. It sure looks like a package deal.
This is the problem with “sponsored content” and advertorial: Once you’ve decided to turn the news pages of your publication over to advertisers, even honest news coverage becomes suspect.
Yesterday, Beswick asked me to publish a response, and here it is, in full and unedited:
In this business you need a thick skin.
Being a rural reporter means you host discussions on the most contentious issues in a community and often receive slings and arrows from both sides.
You sit down in the homes of people who have suffered immeasurable tragedy and put their pain into print.
You show up alone at the homes of people accused of egregious crimes and give them the opportunity to defend themselves.
You stay awake at night wondering if you’re going to get sued by a company with resources immeasurably larger than your own.
And you do it armed with your integrity and a notebook (some now use a voice recorder).
Notebooks can be replaced but a journalist’s integrity — that they are a seeker of truth who won’t be bought off — is all he or she ultimately has.
On Tuesday Tim Bousquet questioned my integrity in the Halifax Examiner’s ‘Morning File’.
I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Bousquet as a journalist and the courage he showed in launching the Halifax Examiner. The publication is home to many excellent pieces of investigative reporting, both his own and commissioned, and contributes to the public discourse in this province.
So this response comes from a place of respect — journalist to journalist.
“I don’t know if it’s by design, authorship, or through editing, but Beswick’s article strikes me as PR Lite — it is basically a series of uncritical profiles of mill employees and how they do their jobs,” wrote Mr. Bousquet. “The article does include a bit of information about environmental complaints over the mill operation, but that information is not detailed and it appears very far down in the article.”
The Saturday and Monday editions of the Chronicle Herald and New Glasgow News ran a series of stories on Northern Pulp, its proposed effluent treatment plant and the fact we still don’t know whether it will be owned by the province or the mill.
In his ‘Morning File’ Mr. Bousquet took issue with the purchase of ‘advertorial’ content by Northern Pulp two days before this series ran. In it Northern Pulp stated why a closed loop system for its effluent was not a possibility for a bleached kraft pulp mill. Our business model requires advertising — Northern Pulp, like anyone else, is welcome to buy an advertisement.
Myself and my editors did not know before hand that this advertisement was purchased and to be honest, I didn’t know it existed until I read about it in the Halifax Examiner.
The editorial and advertising staffs of the Chronicle Herald do not communicate with each so one cannot influence the other.
“Who knows? Maybe the two reporters had no marching orders from management and each decided to write an uncritical article about mill operations,” wrote Bousquet. “That happens. But it’s impossible to separate the mill’s purchase of sponsored content from the reporting. It sure looks like a package deal.”
The insinuation is thus: that in response for buying an advertisement in the paper I and the journalists at the New Glasgow News softballed the mill on pollution.
The fact that Mr. Bousquet prevaricates with a ‘maybe’ does not ameliorate the statement — you say something or you don’t.
Though Mr. Bousquet claims to have “reached out to Beswick” for my response, I received no phone call, email, text or Facebook message from him.
I don’t know what “reaching out” means at the Halifax Examiner. However in my years as a reporter for and editor at newspapers in Newfoundland, the Northwest Territories and for the last decade the Chronicle Herald, I have never accused someone of being in violation of the ethics of their profession without making a genuine effort to contact them.
In that time as a print journalist I have also never been approached by management or advertising to do a puff piece in exchange for advertising dollars.
So now we go to Bousquet’s other accusation — that my piece in Saturday’s Chronicle Herald on a day in the life of the mill was ‘PR-Lite’.
Mr. Bousquet is probably not aware of how he or the rest of Halifax learned of the effluent leak at Northern Pulp that has precipitated Boat Harbour’s replacement.
At about 7:30 a.m. on June 10, 2014, I was enjoying a smoke and a coffee on the deck of an old trailer up a dirt road in Antigonish County with the beautiful woman who would become my wife when my phone rang.
It was a source at the mill — there was a leak, the mill was shutdown temporarily.
I hopped in my truck and headed for Pictou County. I found a commissionaire guarding a dirt road. When Pictou Landing First Nation chief Andrea Paul showed up at her office I was waiting for her.
She hadn’t been told and with me in tow made fairly short work of informing the Commissionaire that he had best get out of her way.
We found the former mill manager, someone from the Department of Environment and a ruptured pipe that had spewed about 47 million litres of untreated effluent.
“And who are you,” the mill manager asked.
“Chronicle Herald,” I responded and felt his hand go limp.
Shortly thereafter a press release went out from the mill saying there had been a ‘leak’. The pictures published online by The Chronicle Herald that day told a different story .
Only after the Pictou Landing First Nation began its blockade that afternoon did Halifax media show up.
I didn’t see anyone from the Halifax Examiner there.
Over the years that followed myself and fellow reporters Francis Campbell and Mike Gorman (now with CBC) at the Chronicle Herald led coverage on Northern Pulp, the indemnity agreement signed by the province on Boat Harbour and particulate emissions.
We’re proud of the work we have done and have never shied away from taking a critical approach.
Though the narrative of the careless polluting pulpmill owned by a subsidiary of a massive Indonesian Company is a tempting one, it’s not the whole story.
The bigger story is that rural Nova Scotia remains a resource based economy.
That means its people have a much more complex relationship with the natural world and are perpetually weighing the economic and social benefits of their economy against its environmental impact.
We also live with the consequences of our decisions in a way urbanites, primary consumers of our products, don’t.
This goes for everything — mining, fishing, forestry, industrial pollution.
So while both I and the reporters at the New Glasgow News have written about Northern Pulp’s deleterious effects on the natural world, we also cover hundreds of rural communities faced with losing schools and access to medical services as their populations decline.
The average wage at Northern Pulp is $74,000 a year.
With Bowater Mersey closed on the South Shore and only one paper machine running at Point Tupper, without Northern Pulp there would be essentially no market for the province’s sixteen saw mills to send their wood chips, bark waste and low quality logs.
Over a hundred tractor trailors a day carrying wood products from as far away as Miramichi travel into Northern Pulp’s wood yard.
In total 11,000 people work in this province’s forest industry.
That’s a lot of rural jobs that pay well enough to support a family.
There are so many perspectives in this discussion that it would be impossible to do one long story that claims to sum up the whole issue. So we are constantly publishing perspectives – like we did with author Joan Baxter when the mill recently lobbied a Coles bookstore to cancel a public signing of her book.
I have published interviews with many people who have very legitimate concerns with what comes out at Boat Harbour, but I had never given the man who has operated the facility for 27 years the opportunity to have his say.
On Saturday I gave him and his coworkers a voice.
On Monday, I took issue with the fact that two years before Boat Harbour’s replacement is slated to open, the province and mill haven’t even begun negotiations on who will own the new facility and how its cost will be split.
I don’t know whose perspective will come next.
What I do know is that I and the reporters at the New Glasgow News live here.
I spent the spring fishing lobster about 50 km as the crow flies from where the new treatment facility will disperse its effluent.
The insinuation that we would sell out our neighbours, friends, families and communities for an advertisement in our papers is ridiculous.
It is also below the good reputation that the Halifax Examiner has earned for itself.
If you’re looking to reach me in the future, my email address is right below my byline on every story I write.
I apologize for not putting more effort into contacting Beswick — in my world, Twitter DMs are the go-to for contact, but I was unaware that Beswick had discontinued using his account. That’s on me. I should have tried harder.
I also have the utmost respect for Beswick. All reporters who work for years or decades have a range of articles in terms of quality — we all write one-offs and throw-aways when under deadline pressure, and write more substantial articles when given the time and resources. Sometimes, hopefully, we do stellar work. Beswick is a hard-working reporter with an enormous output, and he stands with the best reporters both at the Herald and in the province generally.
I’ve worked as a reporter for a rural daily newspaper, and I know what pressures, internal and external, come to bear on a prying reporter in a small town where everyone knows everyone. This is no small deal. And Beswick passes the test — taken as a whole, his body of work stands out. He is rightly proud of his work.
That’s what left me disappointed with the most recent Northern Pulp articles. It’s no disrespect to all of Bewsick’s other very good work to say this week’s article was a softball lobbed at Northern Pulp. I stand by that.
I also stand by the greater point that advertorial muddies the water and calls into question the integrity of straight news reporting on the same pages. It’s simply a fact that many readers don’t know and can’t comprehend the difference between “sponsored content” and straight news reporting. As I’ve written, why else would the Chronicle Herald label it “sponsored content” instead of the more easily understood “advertising”?
The news industry is struggling. As managers testified in the Calvin Clarke case, the Chronicle Herald is bleeding advertisers at an alarming rate and is looking to broaden its sales products in order to stave off the loss. Advertorial is evidently part of the business realignment, and the Chronicle Herald is by no means alone with that strategy.
But while advertising is part of the product mix for most media, the primary product of the news media is not advertising but integrity — that is, we are independent voices and not someone’s marketing tool. It’s not Beswick’s fault that the Chronicle Herald has commingled advertorial and news reporting, but here we are.
I’m surprised that Beswick is surprised that people (I’m not the only one, by far) would question the Northern Pulp series coming right on the heels of an advertorial buy from Northern Pulp. I’m heartened to hear that there wasn’t an arrangement between the sales and editorial departments at the Herald. Undoubtedly, however, the questioning of what’s news and what’s advertising will continue so long as the Herald is placing advertorial in the news pages.
1. Spring Garden banks
Stephen Archibald walks around the Spring Garden Road area, then comments:
Here’s a collective project for 2018, let’s all write letters to downtown banks that have blank curbside windows (that would be all of them). They bestow dreariness on so many featureless blocks. The BMO at the corner of Spring Garden and Birmingham is an excellent candidate for some animation.
It was pointed out to me that “sidewalk closed ahead” was a particularly Halifax message but we can do better than that.
Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — see yesterday’s comments.
Public Information Meeting – Case 20160 (Thursday, 7pm, Harrietsfield Elementary School) — James, Leo, and Ann Hallal and Mike Faddou want to turn the old satellite station in Harrietsfield into a commercial building, and then develop the land around it as a residential neighbourhood.
Resources (Thursday, 10am, One Government Place) — Julie Towers, the deputy minister at the Department of Natural Resources, will be asked about the Canada Trail.
No public meetings.
Architecture Lecture (Thursday, 9am, Theatre 4, Park Lane Mall) — Sasa Radulovic explores the influence of contemporary identity and architectural culture on design.
Architecture Lecture (Thursday, 6pm, Room B225, B Building [Engineering], Sexton Campus — after-hours, enter via the link west of the Sexton Gymnasium) — Jeanette Hansen will investigate how buildings reflect and inform human behavior and the environment.
Gender Dynamics of Food Security (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Theatre, Marion McCain Building) — Somed Shahadu Bitamsimli, PhD candidate from the School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa, will speak.
Under the Sun: A Chilling Glimpse Into North Korea (Thursday, 7pm, Room 1020, Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building) — Vitaly Mansky’s documentary of life in Pyongyang.
Architecture Lecture (Friday, 9am, theatre 4, Park Lane) — Suzan Tillotson will talk about materials and ideas, attention to detail, and collective decision-making in a Women’s Business Enterprise lighting consultancy.
The Nova Scotia Repeal Election of 1867 – A Challenge to Social Order? (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building) — Mathias Rodorff from the University of Munich will speak.
In the harbour
5am: Skogafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
7am: CSL Tacoma, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from Sydney
11am: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives Fairview Cove from New York
11:30am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Autoport to Pier 42
11:45am: Skogafoss, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
1pm: Fourni, oil tanker, arrives at Tufts Cove from Freeport, Bahamas
2pm: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Quebec City
11pm: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for Liverpool, England
I’ll be publishing an article from Jennifer Henderson later this morning.