1. Victoria General
Jennifer Henderson reports that planning for replacing the Victoria General is bogged down and “off to a slow and lethargic start.”
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Later this morning, we’ll publish Henderson’s follow-up piece, which looks at financing options — including public-private partnerships — to replace the VG Hospital.
“A senior official with the Canadian Forces says there’s been a slight delay in issuing a complex request to industry for an off-the-shelf design of the country’s next generation of warships,” reports Michael Tutton for the Canadian Press:
The original construction cost for 15 surface combatant vessels was pegged at $26 billion, but defence sources told The Canadian Press last year that figure is outdated and will go higher, possibly “north of $40 billion.”
[Pat Finn, the assistant deputy minister of materiel] said he couldn’t give an updated figure, and said it may only become precise as the first ships are being produced beginning in the 2020s.
That “Ships Start Here” thing looks sillier and sillier as time goes by.
3. Border crossing
“A young U.S. resident, driven by what he said was a desire to protect his Canadian girlfriend, used an air mattress to float across the St. Croix River in southeastern Maine and illegally enter New Brunswick late Wednesday, a Crown prosecutor says,” reports the Canadian Press:
Twenty-five-year-old John Bennett told police he had earlier tried to cross the border at Calais, Maine, but customs officers denied him entry because he was facing mischief charges in the U.S., lawyer Peter Thorn said Thursday.
Thorn said the provincial court in Saint John, N.B., was told Bennett purchased an air mattress at the local Walmart, inflated it and later used a wooden board to paddle across to an area near Ledge Road, southeast of St. Stephen, N.B.
“He was wet and carrying his boots … (and) walking towards the town,” said Thorn, a lawyer representing the federal Public Prosecution Service of Canada.
4. Pedestrian struck
At approximately 5:15 p.m., police responded to the intersection of Connaught Avenue and Chebucto Road in relation to a vehicle/pedestrian collision. A 40-year-old woman was reported to have been struck in a marked crosswalk by a car that was turning westbound on Chebucto Road. The woman was transported to the QEII hospital with what were believed to be non-life-threatening injuries.
The 41-year-old female driver was issued a ticket under the Motor Vehicle Act for failing to yield to pedestrian in a crosswalk.
5. Night sky
“For me, I’ve always relied on other people,” said Tim Doucette, owner of the Deep Sky Eye Observatory in Quinan.
“But now, other people are relying on me to help them view the night sky, so that’s kind of a great feeling, to show somebody something else that makes them excited.”
Doucette was born completely blind. He had surgery when he was a child to remove cataracts, and doctors also removed the lenses of his eyes, giving him about 10 per cent of average vision.
He has to wear sunglasses even on cloudy days because his pupils are permanently dilated.
But Doucette discovered his disability gave him an incredible ability — he can see objects in the night sky with remarkable clarity.
I grew up in muggy Virginia; the skies were more present than they are here in the perpetually fog-bound Maritimes, but nonetheless, I never really truly saw the night sky until I was in my 20s. I was hitchhiking across the country and landed at a crappy little KAO campground in Kingman, Arizona, along one of the last remaining stretches of the fabled Route 66. I paid my registration, found my patch of ground (not a lick of grass or a tree to be found in the desert), pitched the tent. But it was over 100 degrees so I figured I’d just sleep in the open air. I rolled out my sleeping bag, and exhausted from a week on the road, I laid back to sleep. Just then — I remember it like it was yesterday — Holy Shit! The stars! There’s no sky like a desert sky. I had never dreamed of such a sky, and I stayed awake for hours, mesmerized.
I moved on to California; the sky in the Sierra foothills isn’t quite as present as it is in the true desert, but it comes a close second. The thing I miss most about California isn’t the weather (well, the weather, sure), but rather the stars.
And sure, we can get out to Keji or wherever and see lots of stars, but it’s not like it is out west. And how often do we even get that chance? On the trip back from Ontario, I stayed at a campground in the middle of nowhere in Maine. Lying back on an uncomfortable rock, I examined the Milky Way above, and saw a shooting star. It’s probably been a decade since I’ve seen a shooting star. And my radio recently told me that 80 per cent of people in North America can’t even see the Milky Way.
For the most part, we’ve lost the stars. That fundamental experience, affecting the human psyche and culture for millennia, is gone. This can’t be good.
OK, I am now officially an old fart telling stories.
1. Teachers contract
The specifics of the proposed contract with teachers should be released, writes Graham Steele:
There are three big reasons why all of us need to know — before the ratification vote — what’s in the deal.
First of all, the deal will impact provincial finances over the next five years. If it’s ratified, it will set a pattern to roll out through the whole public sector. That’s your money, folks.
Secondly, the 2016-17 budget adopted by the Nova Scotia Legislature assumes a certain wage cost. If this deal is outside the framework, then the budget may be blown. That could be an election issue.
Third — and perhaps most importantly of all — the NSTU contract plays a decisive role in how our public schools are governed.
Reader Ben Sichel, a high school teacher who anticipated this post, writes to say why Steele is all wet:
C’mon Graham, this is just silly. There’s a reason both sides agree not to “bargain in the media” throughout the negotiations process: the PR war on both sides would never end, and not allow the negotiating teams to actually work through the complexities of a contract that affects 9,000 people. What if the tentative agreement in all its complexity were released to the public now? Then what? Do you imagine a process where people could look through it and write their opinion on it to their MLA? The Canadian Taxpayers Federation would have a field day organizing their “members” on a letter-writing campaign demanding the government pay teachers less. Would the government then have the option of retracting whatever its offer is? Is all this a fair and productive way to negotiate a contract with employees?
The bit about the Freeman report [referenced in Steel’s op-ed] (a lot of which is junk and/or spin, the parts that get play in the media anyway) is a red herring. If it’s in the contract, it needs to be negotiated, and treated the same way as other aspects of negotiations. This is stuff that does affect teachers’ working lives. If it’s that important to reforming the education system — if the Liberals think their Action Plan changes are so beneficial to kids and that greedy, intransigent teachers are the only thing standing in the way — then let them legislate the changes and deal with the legal battles and/or political fallout.
2. G4S and shit wages at the airport
The airport has awarded the contract for security services to G4S, displacing the commissionaires, who have held the contract for 56 years, reports Preston Mulligan for the CBC.
Robert Devet points out that G4S probably won the contract because it pays shit wages:
“They didn’t give us a formal debrief on why we weren’t the successful bidder but I assume it’s cost,” Bruce Belliveau, CEO of Commissionaires Nova Scotia told the CBC. “It could come down to the fact that we have a policy of trying to provide pay that’s appropriate for veterans. These are people who have served their country.”
Belliveau goes on to explain that the airport commissionaires, members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada Local 85100, earn a starting salary of $12 per hour, rather than minimum wage, and typically earn between $13 and $20 per hour.
It is assumed that G4S outbid Commissionaires Nova Scotia and its other competitors by paying its workers less money.
As Devet explains, G4S, which also recently won the parking enforcement contract from the city, has a horrid reputation:
The Intercept references G4S involvement in many unsavory operations worldwide, including Israeli prisons and “interrogation centers.” There is also a Wikipedia page devoted entirely to Controversies surrounding G4S.
The company most recently made the news when its homophobic employee Omar Mateen shot 49 people in the Orlando nightclub shooting. How Mateen had passed the company’s security checks after an FBI investigation raised doubts about his stability remains a bit of a mystery.
The Toronto Star reports that an inspection blitz by the Ontario Labour ministry in January 2016 found that G4S and other employers of precarious workers frequently violated the Employment Standards Act, including shoddy record keeping, excess hours of work, and failure to pay overtime.
Aside from the company’s reputation, the wage issue looms large. The airport is a long way from anywhere — the time and money costs of travel to and from the job means that employees will effectively make less than minimum wage. Even the new airport bus, a huge improvement in service, will add almost two hours and seven bucks to the daily commute; $11/hour for an eight-hour shift becomes an effective wage of $8.10/hour. More realistically, most workers will have to own a car and cover the cost of maintenance, gas, and insurance, and so their effective wage is even less.
The airport lives in its own legal niche — it’s a public service nonprofit, so supposedly is in the business of serving the public, but doesn’t have to abide by the Freedom of Information laws that government agencies are bound by.
Given its public service agenda, and given the distance employees must travel to get to work, the airport should adopt a living wage requirement for contractors.
3. Cranky letter of the day
Hardly a day goes by where something criminal hasn’t happened in Dartmouth. I just moved here, and literally had friends from my small town question me about firearm protection and such. At first I thought, “You fools, the city is not violent like that.” But the violence in Dartmouth and the surrounding communities is atrocious.
I do not live there. I will not pretend that I know what has to be done. The initial response is more police presence, but is it correct? Why not try investment? If the community is in need of assistance or infrastructure then should not our collective fund we ALL pay into—taxes—be used for this first? Every time I hear about a murder, accidental shooting or crime against someone for any reason at all, hateful or otherwise, I feel sorrow. Someone lost family. Someone lost life. Please, something must be done.
Someone buy Dave a map so he can figure out where he lives, eh?
No public meetings.
“50 Years of Human Rights in Nova Scotia: Reflecting on the Past and Moving Towards a More Socially Just Society” (9:30am, C170, Collaborative Health Education Building) — a one-day conference to mark the 50th anniversary of The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, hosted by the Dalhousie School of Social Work.
In the harbour
5am: NYK Romulus, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
7:15am: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 36 from Saint-Pierre
9am: USNS Robert E Peary, US naval ship, arrives at NB4-5 from Norfolk
4:30pm: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Pier 36 for Saint-Pierre
4:30pm: NYK Romulus, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for sea
8pm: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for Saint John
8am: Serenade of the Seas, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 31 from Akureyri, Iceland with up to 2,580 passengers
9am: Zuiderdam, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 20 from Bar Harbor with up to 2,364 passengers
10am: Norwegian Dawn, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 22 from Portland with up to 2,808 passengers
5pm: Serenade of the Seas, cruise ship, sails from Pier 31 for Boston
5pm: Zuiderdam, cruise ship, sails from Pier 20 for Boston
7pm: Norwegian Dawn, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Charlottetown
The huge news in shipping circles was last week’s collapse of Hajin Shipping Lines, the seventh largest shipping company in the world. The Korea-based company abruptly declared bankruptcy in a bid to keep its ships from being seized, but dozens of ships and $14 billion worth of cargo in over a half a million containers are stranded at sea and in Pacific ports. Despite the bankruptcy, the ship Hanjin Montevideo was arrested in Long Beach, California.
Hajin doesn’t use the Port of Halifax, but the bankruptcy sheds some light on the economics of shipping. I’ve learned that the cost of shipping a single container from China to the west coast of North America dropped as low as $600, and is now at about $900. I’m guessing the container itself costs more than that. With these super-slim margins, it’s no wonder that shipping companies are building ever-larger ships.
As I repeatedly point out, it makes no sense for companies shipping goods to land a container in Halifax only to put it on a truck to drive to Chicago or wherever. Adding in the cost of the truck driver’s salary and fuel, the low price of shipping a container across the ocean suddenly skyrockets. The goal is almost always to get the container closest to its final destination, to minimize trucking costs. Shippers aren’t looking for the North American port closest to Europe, but rather the closest port to the container’s final destination — and that isn’t Halifax. With some exceptions, for the Port of Halifax geography is a disadvantage, not an advantage.
Trying to get something written today, but catching up from vacation is a lot of work.
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