1. Right to “no” week
“Happy Right to Know Week!'” writes Stephen Kimber. “It starts today in case you hadn’t noticed. Why would you?”
Here in Stephen McNeil’s Nova Scotia — where it is always Their Right Not to Tell Us Day/Week/Month/Year/Mandate/Ever — we should mark the occasion by lowering the flag to half-mast and lighting a mourning candle in honour of the quaint notion citizens have some fundamental right to know what its government is doing.
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2. Convention centre
On Friday, the Liberals introduced Bill 51, the Halifax Convention Centre Act. The bill’s explanatory notes include:
Clause 3 removes a requirement for the Corporation to provide an annual report on the effectiveness and competitiveness of the operations of the Convention Centre.
Business Minister Geoff MacLellan told the CBC that such information would be included in “other reports”:
“Basically what that was, was almost a reporting of their operations vis-à-vis other jurisdictions,” he said. “Looking at other provinces, looking at other facilities of that size, which will all be included in both the annual report and the strategic plan, so it’s going to exist essentially twice anyway.”
But an analysis of convention centre competitiveness with other convention centres has never before been included in the convention centre annual reports or strategic plans, and Bill 51 doesn’t include a requirement that future annual reports or strategic plans include that analysis.
Besides, I wouldn’t trust Events East to compile its own analysis on this — of course they’d say that everything is going swimmingly. Events East writing that analysis, whether in a stand-alone report or as part of an annual report, is the very definition of self-interest.
If we were going to be honest about this, the province would hire an independent auditor to look at the convention centre’s competitiveness. Even then I’d be skeptical — too many of the consultants know who butters their toast, and write uncritical and mealy mouth reports — but it’d be a good start.
3. The Ben Eoin Shuffle
Mary Campbell, of the Cape Breton Spectator, has published an in-depth look at land and business purchases in Ben Eoin. She writes:
Four businessmen, a doctor and a physiotherapist walk into a bar…
Just kidding! Actually, they walk into a small community in Cape Breton and buy up a number of recreational properties that, together, have been on the receiving end of hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money.
Under the catchy name 3312636 Nova Scotia Limited, Mike Kenny, Troy Wilson, Rodney Colbourne, Steve MacDougall, Siva Thanamayooran and Glen Brann recently bought the land on which the Ben Eoin Yacht Club is situated for $150,000.
They have also purchased the Aerie Estates subdivision in Ben Eoin for $445,000 and The Birches at Ben Eoin Country Inn for $675,000
[T]he strangest thing of all, I think, is the mix of public and private investment and for-profit and non-profit entities involved. It’s a really tangled web, but worth trying to untangle, I think, so you’ll know when public money is going to fund a community-minded, non-profit organization and when it’s going to fund a private sector, for-profit business.
(Campbell illustrates her investigation using a nifty WordPress annotation tool I really must steal; you’ll soon see it used here.)
So, what is the point of all this?
Believe me, after my 500th visit to the Registry of Joint Stocks website, I was asking myself the same question. But I think the answer is that millions of dollars in public money have been spent in Ben Eoin on the promise of “tens of millions of dollars in new investment and hundreds of new jobs,” none of which has materialized.
Instead, the most likely scenario now seems to be that the millions spent in Ben Eoin may benefit six private investors who are buying up pieces of the “development” at fire sale prices.
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4. Advertorial watch
The Chronicle Herald’s advertorial reach extended last week to Vitality Medi Spa, which is plugging “bro tox” — botox injections for men.
As Renier van Aardt, a “cosmetic physician” at the spa, explained to freelancer Denise Surette:
We are seeing more and more [men] for cosmetic enhancement, for maintaining their youthful appearance. We see them come in when they start looking older, more haggard, more tired, more angry. It’s all about the emotion that the face emits.
He says that like it’s a bad thing, but I’ve been working on the presumption that looking older, more haggard, more tired, and more angry creates a sense of distinction, so no bro tox for me. (I did, however, comb my hair last week.)
Meanwhile, “Did you see that ridiculous Cape Breton Post feature on the island’s “most luxurious real estate listings?” asks Mary Campbell, to whom I’m out-sourcing much of today’s Morning File, apparently. “The online version doesn’t do it justice — you really have to see the freaking two-page, full-color spread in the print version. I searched in vain for the “sponsored content” caveat but it was nowhere to be found — this is actual editorial content.”
I don’t understand this practice of advertising-based media giving away advertising for free, but there it is again. Anyway, continues Campbell:
There is a silver lining to this glorified real estate listings page, which is that it sent me galloping to one of my favorite blogs — McMansion Hell — to help me understand what was wrong with these pictures.
By McMansions Hell standards, Cape Breton’s “most luxurious” properties are not particularly offensive, but I did note a few classic McMansion characteristics — oversized dormers, poor overall balance, weird rooflines and strange interior nooks and crannies. (And if you’re wondering if I get satisfaction in finding fault with houses I would never in three life times be able to afford, the answer is, “Yes, I do.”)
Of course, architectural beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so presumably these houses will find buyers. And when they do, I hope the Post gets its commission.
Click here to read “McMansion Hell.” This too is for Spectator subscribers; click on the link above to subscribe.
1. Doyle Block
“Now that Doyle Block on Spring Garden Road is nearing completion, we can finally do some real-world fact-checking on an earlier public dispute about its impact on the Halifax Central Library,” writes Steve Parcell.
First, here’s the background:
Morden Schmidt, of Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects in Copenhagen, was the lead designer of the Halifax Central Library. In 2014 he explained why its elevated axial view of Citadel Hill was so important in the design:
The historical axis between the Halifax Citadel and the Halifax Harbour, crossing right through the library site, is reflected in the orientation of the top floor of the building containing the Halifax Living Room, hereby providing not only a unique view but also an understanding of the city’s historical heritage.
The Library opened in 2014. In 2015, Westwood Developments submitted a development application for an apartment building on the Doyle Block across the street. Parcell complained that the proposed building would block the view of Citadel Hill from the top floor of the library, and created a before and after animation to illustrate his point:
In March 2016, the developer, Danny Chedrawe (Westwood Construction), disputed the accuracy of this perspective in a series of interviews at local radio stations and newspapers. Here are some of his comments:
I can tell you that rendering is inaccurate. We are not blocking the view of Citadel Hill … We’re respecting what the library has done for our community, not taking away from it. – The Coast
I can assure the public that after this building is built, there’s still going to be a tremendous view of Citadel Hill … I’m saving the view because I think it’s important.– CBC
A rendering was circulated a few months ago saying we’d be blocking a view from the library. The rendering was inaccurate and it wasn’t properly done … There are tremendous views of the Citadel and Halifax Harbour now, and I can say with confidence that tremendous view will remain after we build.– Chronicle-Herald
After returning from a business trip, I responded to these accusations in an open letter to the same radio stations and newspapers. I described how my perspective was constructed and reiterated that the Library’s view of Citadel Hill would be blocked by Doyle Block. Only one newspaper acknowledged my letter: the Halifax Examiner, which published it online.
All the powers-that-be, from the fangless Design Review Committee to the developer lapdog city council, ignored Parcell’s admonitions and approved the Doyle Block development.
Now, Parcell has gone back to the top floor of the library and photographed the actual, real-life view. He writes:
Two years later, Doyle Block (now called The Doyle) is nearing completion. It has the same height and massing, but different facades. Looking back, we can see that my perspective was accurate and that Mr. Chedrawe’s public statements were false. The Library’s elevated view of Citadel Hill lasted only three years.
John Leland pays homage to The Village Voice in this weekend’s New York Times:
When The Village Voice ceased online operations last month, a year after ending the print edition, it struck another blow to local reporting in New York — not just for the paper’s celebrated arts and lifestyle coverage, but for the laborious, gritty investigative reporting that was the paper’s other stock in trade.
The cultural coverage has largely seeped into other outlets. But the muckraking, for which no city official or agency was too obscure to be blasted into infamy, has become an endangered species.
“It means stories don’t play out the same way,” said Tom Robbins, who did two stints as an investigative reporter at The Voice, ending in 2011. “Someone would get a story, then the mayor would be asked about it at a press conference, then everyone would do a story. Now, even if somebody has a scoop, it’s like a tree falling in the forest, because there’s no one to follow up on it. We don’t have the troops.”
“It was like an education in the structure of local government,” said Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia Journalism School. “They weren’t just covering City Hall. Half the investigations were about zoning. And the offenses were so complex that not only did it require a journalist who was investigating for years, but it couldn’t be described briefly. It needed long narratives.”
An American friend and I discussed Leland’s piece yesterday. My friend has been even more pessimistic about the future of newspapers than have I — he expected most of them to be gone by now, while my prediction is that most will be gone by 2020.
The dailies, I think, will either be shuttered completely or morph into newspapers-by-name-only, becoming basically advertising fliers wrapped with government press releases.
Most alt weeklies are already gone, including the granddaddies of the genre, The Village Voice and its west coast counterpart, the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Those that remain are ever-slimmer in both page counts and staff, and sometimes I feel as if I’m watching a dear friend waste away from cancer. (This is by no means a criticism of The Coast, which is among the very healthiest of them all.)
But give Leland’s remembrance a read, if only to underscore the importance of hard-hitting journalism.
Halifax Peninsula Planning Advisory Committee (Monday, 6:30pm, City Hall) — the committee is considering Eddie Rouvalis’s proposal for a mega development of 26-storey and 20-storey towers at the northeast corner of Robie and College Streets, which includes moving around a couple of historic properties.
I’m surprised this hasn’t gotten more attention, as besides being huge by itself, the proposed development is adjacent to a Dexel Developments proposal of two more towers — one 28 storeys, the other 16 storeys — on Spring Garden Road between Robie Street and Carlton Street.
There are a bunch of other developments proposed for the Robie Street corridor, and the street is going to be a traffic and pedestrian mess for the next, oh, century:
Cogswell District Design Charrette Kick Off (Monday, 6pm, McInnes Room, Dalhousie Student Union Building) — “Charrette” is French for “don’t tell us to blow up the casino and parking garages.”
Cogswell District Design Charrette (Tuesday, 11am, Council Chambers, Dalhousie Student Union Building) — tell them to blow up the casino and parking garages.
Special Grants Committee (Tuesday, 12pm, City Hall) — $134K to various search and rescue orgs.
Town Hall – Accessibility Advisory Committee (L. MacSween) (Tuesday, 6:30pm, Dartmouth North Community Centre) — I have no idea what this is about as there’s no agenda posted.
No public meetings today.
Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place) — a per diem meeting.
Thesis Defence, Electrical and Computer Engineering (Monday, 11am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Tejinder Sandhu will defend his thesis, “Mismatch Insensitive Voltage to Time Conversion and Clock Distribution Topologies for Three Dimensional Integrated Circuits.”
“A Bag of Tools, a Shapeless Mass, and a Book of Rules”: Mobilizing Knowledge to Strengthen African Canadian Health and Wellbeing (Monday, 11am, Room 2L7, Tupper Link) — Winston Husbands will speak.
Pink Day (Tuesday, Dalhousie campuses) — I would say it’s surprisingly ironic that Pink Day has become its own exercise in bullying, but that was totally expected.
Sink Or Swim: Decisions in Emergency Management (Tuesday, 12pm, Room 1101, Rowe Building) — from the event listing:
Last year, hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria resulted in considerable damage to the countries in the Caribbean, and the south eastern United States. Hurricane Harvey caused considerable damage in the state of Texas and particularly the city of Houston. The total cost of damage from Hurricane Harvey was approximately $125 billion. Less than a month later, Hurricane Maria landed on the coast of Puerto Rico and recent reports have put the death toll at close to 3,000.
After a devastating hurricane season in 2017 and on the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Juan, the MacEachen Institute will bring together experts in emergency management, flood modelling and prediction, and evacuation traffic modelling, to discuss emergency preparedness for future coastal risks and evacuation scenarios.
The panel will address the steps needed to plan for these disasters, from determining which areas will be hit the hardest, to the logistics of evacuating the city.
1994 Called – It Wants its FOI Law Back: Things Nova Scotians Should Know About Their Right to Know (Tuesday, 12pm, Room 104, Weldon Law Building) — Janet Burt-Gerrans, Officer of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for Nova Scotia, will speak. From the event listing:
Almost 25 years have now passed since Nova Scotia’s access to information law was proclaimed. Our law is badly outdated and no longer up to the task. September 28 is Right to Know Day around the world. What better time to discuss the shortcomings of our law, recommendations for improvement and things citizens need to know to ensure that they continue to have a robust and meaningful right to access government information. Join the staff of the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for a lively discussion of big data, access martyrs, duty to document and other access problems and solutions.
Slut Or Nut: Diary of a Rape Trial (Tuesday, 6:30pm, in the theatre named after a bank, in the building named after a grocery store) — a screening of the documentary.
The Social Shift (Tuesday, 7pm, Burke Theatre B) — screening of the documentary. This one promises popcorn.
In the harbour
3:30m: YM Essence, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Rotterdam
6am: Asian Sun, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from San Juan, Puerto Rico
7am: Norwegian Gem, cruise ship, with up to 2,873 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Sydney, The Norwegian Gem is on a nine-day cruise from Quebec City to New York.
7am: Selfoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Portland
7:45am: Rotterdam, cruise ship, with up to 1,685 passengers, arrives at Pier 20 from Bar Harbor. The Rotterdam is on a seven-day cruise from Boston to Montreal.
8am: Hugh R. Sharp, research vessel, arrives at Pier 9 from the offshore
11am: Selfoss, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
4:30pm: Asian Sun, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for sea
5:45pm: Norwegian Gem, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Saint John
5:30am: Glovis Companion, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
8:15am: Anthem of the Seas, cruise ship with up to 4,180 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Portland. The Anthem of the Seas is on a nine-day cruise out of and returning to New York.
11am: Carmen, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
11am: Glovis Companion, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
1pm: Hugh R. Sharp, research vessel, sails from Pier 9 for sea
9:30pm: Anthem of the Seas, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Saint John
4pm: Carmen, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
I’m still getting hate mail from the Great White Shark lobby.
I don’t have a copyeditor this morning. Please be kind.