1. Yarmouth ferry
Back in November, the Portland Press Herald reported that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency was demanding upgrades to the Portland, Maine terminal used by Bay Ferries for the Yarmouth–Portland route. The cost of the upgrades was estimated at $7 million:
“We have been clear from Day 1 that we are not in a financial position to shoulder that expense,” [Portland Economic Development Director Greg] Mitchell said in an interview Tuesday. The ferry’s unproven track record and questions about continued financial backing for the service from the provincial government in Canada made Portland officials reluctant to make the investment customs officials demanded.
“This background of uncertain subsidies and operators doesn’t inspire confidence,” Mitchell said.
Besides the “unproven track record” of the ferry, there was simple math. In 2016 (the last full year I have figures for, but 2017 was roughly comparable), the city of Portland collected a total of just $108,359.50 in ferry passenger fees. In contrast, there was a much more reliable source of income — cruise ships:
An investment of that size may also be out-of-scale for the ferry, especially when compared with the economic gains of increasing cruise ship traffic to Portland. In the past four years, cruise ships have paid $5.63 million in passenger fees to the city, compared with $672,250 from the Nova Scotia ferry, city records show. Cruise ship passengers are not required to undergo the CBP screening in port.
That’s why the city of Portland “blacked out” ferry arrivals and departures for two or three days a week in the fall — in order to accommodate more cruise ship passengers, who could be processed at the ferry dock.
When the Customs agency made its demands, I made a prediction:
I’m guessing the McNeil government will pony up the “$6 million to $7 million” — let’s call it $10 million — for the Customs upgrades, because in for a penny, in for a pound, no? There is no ferry expenditure that is too high. If it comes to it, we’ll spend a billion dollars on that thing.
I hate to say I told you so… wait, who am I kidding? I love to tell you I told you so…
“Nova Scotians to pay Portland’s ‘Cat’ bill” screams a headline in yesterday’s Bangor Daily News:
PORTLAND, Maine — As much as $2 million appears to have been found to upgrade the city’s international ferry terminal, clearing a major obstacle to the 2018 return of the Portland-Nova Scotia ferry.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection initially said the terminal needs $7 million worth of work, but later agreed to operate there this year if between $1.5 million and $2 million worth of upgrades are made.
Note the “this year.” Undoubtedly, Customs will demand more upgrades next year, and the year after, until it gets everything it wants, which includes:
[In 2014,] the agency asked for improvements costing almost $4.7 million, including a $2 million inspection building, radiation scanning devices, a license-plate reader, closed-circuit television and new inspection booths. Portland officials estimate the federal requirements now would cost as much as $7 million.
Looks like the inspection building will be constructed this year, with the rest to follow in future years.
2. Windfall and debt
“The Nova Scotia government is going to spend more this March on an end-of-fiscal-year spending spree than it has for the last four years combined: Nearly $245 million,” reports Jean Laroche for the CBC:
Premier Stephen McNeil called it “a real privilege” for his government to find itself with “a substantial size of one-time revenue” to invest, the result of recalculated offshore royalty revenues dating back to 1999.
How does $245 million drop out of the sky and onto Province House?
“Finance Minister Karen Casey said the one-time funding for internet service comes from recalculated offshore royalty revenues won in an arbitration decision on pipeline transportation costs for shipping Sable natural gas,” reports Keith Doucette for the Canadian Press:
“This resulted in a recalculation of royalties from when the gas started flowing in 1999,” said Casey.
She said the revenue was estimated at $120 million in December, but the arbitration award could bring as much as $250 million.
Casey said another $90 million was made available from departmental restructuring costs — $75 million of which is related to non-wage costs.
Hmmm. I can’t this morning find anything online about this arbitration award, but I’m a bit rushed and working on just one cup of coffee. Regardless, good for Nova Scotia, I guess. But there is on the horizon a huge offshore expense; Andrew Younger comments:
One of the problems with this spending (and they may all be worthwhile projects) is NS is facing the requirement to help fund the decommissioning of the Exxon Mobil platform. This was part of the original agreement. We have less royalties than planned from this and the Encana project. We get an upward adjustment on offshore revenue so shouldn’t it be put aside to pay the costs NS has from those projects? Or if that is budgeted for sufficiently (I doubt it is having seen some of the numbers) maybe putting the money onto the debt to create fiscal capacity? Or maybe paying off some of the stuff we borrowed for in recent years.
On that last point…
Way back in 2005, the Hamm government received a gigantic payment for offshore royalties — $830 million. Those were the days, eh? We haven’t seen anything remotely close to that since, and never will again. Anyway, the PCs used that entire windfall to pay down what was then the province’s $12.4 billion debt. This made sense: the payment improved the province’s credit rating and lowered debt servicing costs.
But what about debt today?
The debt now sits at around $15 billion, but it would be silly to use the offshore windfall to pay down the debt. That’s because debt servicing costs are essentially zero in real dollars: since the 2008 financial collapse, interest rates have been cut so low — often, lower than expected inflation — that borrowing money is almost free. Paying down the debt would be akin to setting the money on fire.
It makes far more sense to spend that money on capital projects that will help grow the economy.
So how is the McNeil government spending the windfall?
About half of it, $120 million, is dedicated to improving high-speed internet to rural communities. This is a worthy and needed expense, and will do more to improve the rural economy than all the call centres and payroll rebates and convention centres and mill plans the government could possibly conjure up. If I had my way, all the money would go towards high-speed internet.
The spending includes $40 million to fund research and innovation projects including in the ocean and clean energy sectors.
The government also plans to spend more than $16 million on programs that assist those on low incomes in making their homes more energy efficient, and on other initiatives such as needle exchange programs and job coaching for people with autism spectrum disorder.
So a $40 million sap to industry — the “innovation” funding amounts to a kickback to the already filthy rich, plus a few crumbs to hangers on to make it feel like a “strategy.” But the rest of it isn’t crazy.
Still, all this makes me a little uneasy. It seems rushed, and I would’ve liked the public consulted and to have heard some broader discussion.
3. Doctor Bennett
A friend emailed me over the weekend, urging me to attend a talk by Paul Bennett, which was sponsored by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS). “Maybe I can send a reporter,” I replied. She shot back: “No, YOU should go.”
Sigh. My friend is super-smart, so I dutifully went to the talk yesterday morning at the Central Library. I hate 10am events because I have to rush, rush after getting Morning File published. I also hate being late, but there I was, walking in the door at 10:03, and there was AIMS prez Marco Navarro-Génie, already talking.
“Some people say AIMS shouldn’t have input into education policy,” said Navarro-Génie [this part is paraphrased because I hadn’t yet turned on my recorder]. Several people in the room held up their hands in support of that notion. “You’re childish,” said Navarro-Génie.
I’m a neophyte on the education policy beat, so I kept a more or less open mind about things. I gather that the distrust the teachers’ union has for AIMS runs deep, and has a long history. Navarro-Génie’s line was basically that anyone should be able to speak to anything — which is of course true. But there’s a difference between being allowed to speak, and being listened to. Why the hell should anyone care what AIMS has to say about education? Why do we give them a platform? Why am I writing about this now?
Well, I suppose because AIMS has the ear of policy makers and politicians in the government. John Risley is the chair of the board, and when Risley says “heel,” the government sends him to an “elite” conference in Boston, dumps $40 million into “innovation” projects he’s involved in, and otherwise rolls over and excitedly awaits for its tummy to be rubbed.
Navarro-Génie introduced Bennett, who proceeded to lecture with the aid of a PowerPoint presentation. His basic argument was that over time, the school boards got more and more distant from the school communities and lost their mission. There’s probably truth to that. But I wasn’t buying Bennett’s line that he was in it for the communities — we know all too well that historically, underfunded schools were underfunded because they were discriminated against. Bennett’s solution — giving more control to schools by empowering principals and creating “school governing councils” that include municipal officials and business representatives is a recipe for disaster, seems to me. Not just for straight-up corruption, but also for the wide reintroduction of discrimination into the system.
Still and all, what do I know? I patiently waited for the question and answer period.
The first question came from a woman in the front. I think she may have been a teacher, but I’m not sure. She began her question respectfully: “Mr. Bennett…” Bennett interrupted: “Doctor Bennett… it’s well earned.” The woman again, respectfully, acknowledged Bennett’s honourific and tried to rephrase her question, but Bennett kept interrupting, not allowing her to complete a single sentence.
And that’s how it went through the entire Q&A. Bennett interrupted, talked down to the questioners, challenged them on nonsense (“have you read my book?”) and otherwise turned what would’ve been a perhaps heated but civil exchange into a one-sided display of arrogance.
Again, I don’t know much about education policy, but I know one thing: Paul Bennett is a pompous ass.
“Nova Scotia has officially become the first province in Canada to ban elective cat declawing,” reports Marina von Stackelberg for the CBC:
The decision by the Nova Scotia Veterinary Medical Association was announced in December. There was a three-month grace period before it took effect today.
5. Coffeeshops and laptops
Is that really a story? I dunno. Business owners can position and market their establishments however they want.
Lion & Bright opened with a direct appeal to computer users, going so far as to put in computer and electrical connections to encourage people to work at a common table. I guess that was too successful, and people being people, customers stayed too long and didn’t buy anything much, and selling stuff is the ultimate goal of a business, so the owner reversed course.
I’m already bored.
For myself, I do a lot of work on my laptop in coffeeshops. But I’m aware of what the point of a business is, so I buy stuff. If I’m hanging around for a while, I buy more stuff. If I don’t have money to buy stuff, I go to the library, which has free wireless and electricity too, and which in this case is about a mere seven-minute walk away.
Another way to increase turnover is to not make a customer wait 15 minutes for a server to show up.
1. The Lobster Trap
Last week, Stephen Archibald wrote about his former house on Inglis Street, and mentioned that the adjoining mirror house had burned down.
He follows that up with a post about the reconstructed adjoining building, which is now the Resolutes Club:
After the demolition [of the burned-out house], a long, narrow, one story, concrete block building was constructed on the site [photo above]. Someone told me that it was built for a dry-cleaning business, but by the mid-60s it had morphed into a nightclub called the Flame. All I really know about the club is it had a flaming gas jet on the front. In 1967 the building inspectors were back and photographed the building that was now called the Inglis Lobster Trap Club, with what must be the brazier for the Flame still mounted on the roof. Sweet.
When we arrived in 1979 the building was home to the Newfoundland Club.
By the late 1980s, the Resolutes had taken it over — formed in 1901, the club was “previously located somewhere in the North End,” notes Archibald.
Why so many different bars in the space?
I don’t have an explanation for all the clubs that came and went next door to our house. The seaport was just a quick dash through the tunnel under the rail lines at the bottom of Inglis Street. (We called the tunnel “the Pee Place” because of the smell. If you made a quick dash you didn’t have to take a breath). Perhaps there was a hope that sailors would be customers for the clubs. The Lighthouse Tavern around the corner on Barrington had “exotic dancers” that perhaps provided greater appeal.
In any event, the Lobster Trap moved over to the Trade Mart building, cornered into the Cogswell interchange:
At that location, The Lobster Trap apparently had its own “exotic dancers”:
According to the Registry of Joint Stock Companies, The Fabulous Lobster Trap Cabaret had a change in directors in 1981, perhaps when it moved to the Trade Mart. When it was struck from the records in 1989, The Fabulous Lobster Trap Cabaret was operated by Donald Aaron, Maureen and William Bellefontaine, and Andrew Wolfson.
No public meetings.
Jazz Saxophone Recital (Friday, 11:45am, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — students of Chris Mitchell will perform.
Designing Metalloproteins for Precision Diagnostics and Medicine (Friday, 1:30pm, Room 226, Chemistry Building) — Jenny J. Yang from Georgia State University will speak.
Canada-EU Relations: Perspectives from Berlin, Brussels and Rome (Friday, 2:30pm, Room 1009, Kenneth C Rowe Building) — a panel comprising Stephane Dion, Ambassador to Germany and Special Envoy to the European Union and Europe; Daniel J. Costello, Ambassador to the European Union; and Alexandra Bugailiskis, Ambassador to the Italian Republic.
Skilled Recruits of Every Status: Artisans, Military Fortresses, and the Early-modern French Empire in the Caribbean (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building) — Arad Gigi will speak.
The Pythian Games (Friday, 5:30pm, Ondaatje Hall, Marion McCain Building) — students from the Dalhousie Classics Department will showcase their “talents in literary and artistic performance.”
In the harbour
6am: Titania, car carrier, moves from Pier 9 to Autoport
8am: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, moves from Pier 9 to Pier 36
8:15am: Algoma Dartmouth, oil tanker, moves from Pier 34 to Dockyard
10:30am: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Charlottetown
1pm: ZIM Rotterdam, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Kingston, Jamaica
4:30pm: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Pier 36 for Saint-Pierre
7pm: Malleco, container ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Colombo, Sri Lanka
8pm: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s
I’m editing all day. Leave me alone.