1. The Shaw Group Wilderness™
Yesterday, Halifax council voted to direct staff to continue negotiating a purchase of a part of the Purcells Cove Backlands from The Shaw Group. Gloria McCluskey was the only dissenting vote.
Shaw made an offer to the city, and the city will make a counter-offer, but all numbers are secret. Citizens will have no informed input on the sale before it is finalized.
When I examined the issue Monday (behind paywall), I thought “the purchase price is somewhat more than $3.6 million, and probably significantly more.” But as councillors discussed the issue, it appeared to me that Shaw wants at least $5 million for the property. Shaw also rather audaciously wants naming rights to the wilderness.
I’m all for protecting wilderness but as proposed, this is a rotten, rotten deal. Shaw is acting as if it is guaranteed a big profit on a speculative land purchase, and council appears to be playing along.
2. Parking enforcement by a mercenary army
Council also had a long and interesting debate around the award of a contract for parking enforcement. Several councillors raised issues of wage fairness and the reputation of the winning bidder, G4S.
The company was the subject of a scathing profile by reporter William Langewiesche, published in Vanity Fair, which detailed G4S’s problematic contracts for mercenary services. Since then, the company has been repeatedly in the news. Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub, was a G4S employee — “The company falsely listed the name of a psychologist it claimed had screened Mateen and thousands of other employees and then cleared them to carry guns,” reported the Daily Mail. G4S also sicced dogs on people protesting the Dakota Access pipeline.
After a lively hour-long discussion, council went into closed session to deal with the contract, eventually awarding it to G4S.
My guess is that the company won’t actually hire any new employees to cover the Halifax parking contract, but will instead simply re-hire the existing parking enforcement officers at lower wages.
3. Cogswell Interchange
Council also approved a $2.5 million contract with WSP to tear down the Cogswell Interchange. There’s still some planning to do, but it’s expected demolition will begin in October 2017.
4. Cape Breton in employment free-fall
Richard Starr points us to a Daily Statistics report from the province’s Finance department earlier this month that slipped under my radar (I get the reports emailed to me but I don’t always have time to read them). It shows that employment in Cape Breton is in free-fall:
The Cape Breton region reported a decrease in employment of 4,000 for the first eight months of 2016 over the first eight months of 2015. The labour force dropped by 4,300 for the same period. With employment decreasing at a faster pace than the labour force, the end result was a 0.8 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate to 16.0 per cent.
To put that in perspective, average monthly employment January-August 2015 was 51,200. Over that same period this year average monthly employment is 47,200. So between last year and this, nearly 8% of the jobs in Cape Breton have disappeared.
By comparison, using the same monthly average metric, Alberta was down 38,300 in the first eight months, but that accounted for only 1.7% of the jobs in that province. Making matters worse, the bulk of the job losses occurred during the first six months of the year, before the June 30 shutdown of the former Scotsburn dairy and the effect of widespread school closures on employment of teachers and education support workers. The only thing preventing a sky-high unemployment rate in Cape Breton (which might have attracted some media attention) is the fact that 4,300 people left the labour force over that same period.
Undoubtedly, some of the jobs decline is due to loss of work in the tar sands, but most of that hit came in late 2014 and in 2015, so it doesn’t fully explain the current collapse in Cape Breton.
Incidentally, the same report shows that Halifax has relatively good employment numbers:
For the first eight months of 2016 compared to the first eight months of 2015, Halifax (HRM) experienced an increase in employment (1,800) along with an increase of 1,600 in the labour supply. With labour market demands increasing at a slightly faster pace than labour supply, the net impact was 0.1 percentage point decrease in the unemployment rate to 6.4 per cent.
The report goes on to give a seasonally adjusted employment rate of just 5.6 per cent for Halifax in August, one of the lowest urban unemployment rates in the country. But the employment rate is a middling 64.4 per cent, so there appears to be a large contingent of people who have dropped out of the labour force.
Employment numbers are tricky because we have to weigh so-called “discouraged workers” — people who have simply given up on finding a job and so aren’t collecting EI and aren’t counted — against the unemployment rate. But long ago, before the financialization of everything and the contracting society arose, six per cent unemployment was considered full employment. It’s at around that point when employers begin to seriously compete with each other for workers, which means that wages go up. This is a very good thing but is decried by the mucky mucks who start demanding that governments intervene.
“The Town of Amherst doesn’t seem to be able to get its act together when it comes to dealing with a racist councillor currently running for mayor,” reports Robert Devet.
Devet explains that the town council says it doesn’t have the power to censure George Baker, the councillor who uttered a racial slur at a pizza shop. Baker also sits on the town’s police commission, and a censure motion was on yesterday’s commission agenda. But that meeting was cancelled due to lack of quorum.
6. Avon River Causeway
Paul Withers, reporting for the CBC, writes about a parliamentary petition to restore the Avon River:
Sponsored by NDP MP Fin Donnelly (Port Moody-Coquitlam, B.C.), Wood has petitioned the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to ensure the proper restoration of the fishway prior to any construction on Highway 101, the Nova Scotia highway that runs on top of the causeway at Windsor.
Wood argues the causeway and spreading siltation blocks passage of Atlantic salmon and American eel at the inner reaches of the Bay of Fundy.
The petition deadline is Wednesday. The federal government has 45 days to respond to the petition, which has garnered 720 signatures.
This brings us to a citizens’ group called Friends of the Avon River (FAR), which is trying to raise awareness of what it calls “one of Canada’s biggest man-made disasters”:
The concerns revolve around the infamous Avon River Causeway, where in 1968 an ill-advised ‘letter of approval’ was given for the construction of a barrage barrier across the mouth of the Avon River, home to the highest tides in the world. Within a few years, many alarming changes occurred, becoming an ecological embarrassment which changed forever the way projects like these would be approached. The most visible changes are the formation of the huge Windsor-Mudflats immediately below the causeway, the rapid decline of the endangered Atlantic Salmon and American Eel, as well as desecration of their ‘critical habitat’ on the lower and upper reaches of the river.
The causeway is where Highway 101 crosses the river. A similar causeway, also constructed in 1968, ran across the Petitcodiac River in New Brunswick on the Bay of Fundy, a close-to-perfect mirror image of the Avon River, and is now being removed at a cost of $70 million.
And now plans are moving forward to “twin” Highway 101 across the river. FAR sees this as an opportunity to put in a proper bridge, remove the causeway, and restore the Avon as a naturally flowing river.
1. How we travel
“The [city’s] regional plan sets modal share targets for Halifax, aiming to reduce the proportion of us commuting to work by car from 75 per cent down to 70 per cent in 2031,” writes Erica Butler. “The only problem is, we’re already moving in the wrong direction.”
Still, Butler is optimistic that the targets can be reached, thanks in part to a mind shift among bureaucrats and planners, and the desire among the public for better transit and more active transportation trails.
This article is behind the Examiner’s paywall and so available only to paid subscribers. Click here to purchase a subscription.
2. Cranky letter of the day
I thought I had gone to sleep in P.E.I. and woken up in New Brunswick Saturday morning when I opened The Guardian. Lovely full color insert all about farming – great! Something to promote Farm Day in P.E.I. I thought, then I saw it was produced by and all about New Brunswick. Where was P.E.I.’s insert? If P.E.I. didn’t have the funds or the foresight to produce one, why did The Guardian choose to insert another province’s instead? This left me shaking my head.
Lynn Carr, Charlottetown
Veterinarians have a very high rate of suicide, reports Sy Montgomery for the Boston Globe:
A 2014 [US] federal Centers for Disease Control online survey of 10,000 practicing veterinarians published last year found that more than one in six American veterinarians has considered suicide. Veterinarians suffer from feelings of hopelessness, depression, and other psychiatric disorders two to three times more often than the general population. Two studies published in the British Veterinarian Association’s journal, The Veterinary Record, found suicide rates are double or more those of dentists and doctors, and four to six times higher than the general population.
The reasons for the high rate of depression and suicide are varied:
“Most of our clients are awesome, and we love them. But all sorts of people have pets,” [vet Stephanie] Kube says. Some adopt or rescue pets who can’t take care of them. Some want healthy pets put down. Some pet owners have emotional disabilities. Some are too financially strapped to pay for veterinary care. “And some think vets will do everything for free, because we love animals,” Kube says. “And we do — but we can’t.” Many veterinarians, she mentioned, carry huge debt from vet school, which can cost as much or more than medical school. But most veterinarians will earn less than a third what doctors and dentists do, mainly because they charge less and don’t get reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance. (Pet insurance does exist, but few people have it.)
Yet veterinarians have to witness, and often assist, in the healer’s most wrenching moment, far more often than doctors. “Many of our patients die during our career,” my vet, Dr. Chuck DeVinne of Animal Care Clinic in Peterborough, N.H., told me — simply because companion animals’ lives are shorter than humans.
Vets encounter death frequently, along with some moral issues doctors never face. Consider the vet who needs to counsel an owner forced to choose between a costly operation for their pet or sending their kid to college — or worse, a vet who operates on a pet who despite good care still dies.
When these stresses combine with long working hours and on-call pressures, it’s easy to see how anyone could melt down. And because vets can offer gentle deaths to their patients with euthanasia, they may see death as a way out of pain. All of them have easy access to drugs that can kill.
Hug a vet.
Halifax Explosion 100th Anniversary Advisory Committee (3pm, NSCC IT Campus) — we’re about a year and so out from that anniversary, and the committee is doing nothing except reading mail.
Public Accounts (9am, Province House) — deputy minister Murray Coolica will be asked about rural internet access. This is the most important issue for rural Nova Scotia, in terms of simple fairness to citizens but also for economic development. I’m sure there are issues with tendering and such — I’d prefer the government provide the backbone of the system itself rather than outsource it — but providing internet is more important than twinning highways or funding ferries. It should be the first order of business.
The Messenger (7pm, Potter Auditorium, Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building) — a screening of the eco-documentary film followed by a 20-minute panel discussion with conservation scientists.
In the harbour
6am: ZIM Tarragona, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Valencia, Spain
8am: Metis Leader, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Bremerhaven, Germany
9:15am: Grandeur of the Seas, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John with up to 2,446 passengers
11am: ZIM Haifa, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
11:15am: Tosca, car carrier, sails from Pier 31 for sea
1:30pm: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
3:30pm: NYK Rigel, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Rotterdam
3:30pm: ZIM Tarragona, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
7pm: Grandeur of the Seas, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Baltimore
8:30pm: ZIM Haifa, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Kingston, Jamaica
5am: NYK Daedalus, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
6am: Atlantic Cartier, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
9:30am: Carnival Sunshine, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 22 with up to 3,000 passengers
11am: Metis Leader, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
7pm: Carnival Sunshine, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for New York
Yesterday, the cruise ship Crystal Serenity was in town. In 2014 I wrote:
It has been awarded an “F” grade by Friends of the Earth, which comments:
Crystal Cruises is a subsidiary of a Japanese shipping company founded in 1998 with its headquarters in California. Crystal operates two cruise ships worldwide — the Crystal Serenity and the Crystal Symphony — which are designed to carry between 1,500 and 1,700 passengers and crew. Crystal ships were banned from entering the Port of Monterey, California for 15 years after one of its former ships, the Crystal Harmony, discharged untreated graywater, treated sewage and oily bilge into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 2003. These discharges were made despite the company’s promise not to discharge any wastewater into the Bay.
Currently, neither of Crystal’s two cruise ships has installed an advanced sewage treatment system, resulting in a grade of F for the company’s 0 percent sewage treatment score. In determining the air pollution reduction grade for each cruise line, only ships that dock at a port that currently has shoreside power facilities (thereby avoiding burning dirty fuel in port) were considered. In total, none of Crystal’s ships that dock at a port with shoreside power are plug-in capable, giving the company an F in this category. While both Crystal ships traveled to Alaska from 2010 to 2012, it chose to discharge sewage from those ships outside of Alaskan waters, thereby avoiding Alaska’s strong water quality standards, giving it an ‘N/A’ for water quality compliance in Alaska.
And last month I noted:
Cruising the Northwest Passage
The cruise ship Crystal Serenity left Nome, Alaska yesterday, the first leg of an unprecedented cruise through the Northwest Passage. The ship left Seward, Alaska Tuesday, and stopped at Kodiak Island and Dutch Harbor before yesterday’s layover in Nome. After Nome, it has two stops on Victoria Island — Ulukhaktok in the Northwest Territories and Cambridge Bay in Nunavut — then on to Pond Inlet on Baffin Island. Having cleared the Passage, Serenity will visit three communities in Greenland — Ilulissat, Sisimiut, and Nuuk — the head south, bypassing Halifax for Bar Harbor, Boston, and Newport before finalizing the voyage in New York.
Passenger rates for the voyage started at $21,000, and went up as high as $121,000.
The cruise raises all sorts of environmental issues, which were highlighted when Crystal announced that it had secured the services of the British government’s research ship, RRS Ernest Shackleton, an icebreaker, to escort the Serenity through the Passage:
“There is a significant tension between the science and environmental mission of the Shackleton and its participation in an exercise in tourism that has an enormous per capita carbon footprint,” Prof Michael Byers from the University of British Columbia told BBC News.
Prof Byers, who holds a chair in global politics and international law, was invited on the trip to give a series of lectures to passengers. He refused, as he believes this summer’s trip will only encourage others.
“This voyage is a significant contribution, at least on a per capita basis, to climate change by people who are going to see an ecosystem before it is destroyed by climate change. I find that irony quite terrible,” he said.
Arctic cruises are nothing new — the Rotterdam, in port today, has just traversed the North Atlantic with stops in Qaqortoq and Nanortalik in southern Greenland — but the scale, cost, risk, and sheer outrageousness of the Serenity trip through the Northwest Passage should cause us to take note: the planet is changing in irreversible and cataclysmic ways, and the rich are playing.
Assuming it doesn’t hit an iceberg and sink, after the Arctic tour, the Serenity goes back to the mundane Eastern Canada milkrun, leaving the very next day, September 17, on an eight-day excursion to Quebec City. It stops in Halifax on September 21. Prices for that tour start at a comparatively affordable $2,910.
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.
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