1. Transit passes
“The province and the city are cooperating on a plan that will put transit passes into the hands of 16,800 people with some of the lowest incomes in Halifax,” reports Examiner transportation columnist Erica Butler:
The potential deal includes everyone within range of a bus stop receiving income assistance, including those currently disqualified from the city’s Low Income Transit Pass program.
But there’s a potential downside. All indications are that the Department of Community Services is looking at this new transit pass system for income assistance recipients (for brevity’s sake let’s call it the I-Pass, after its cousins the U-Pass and the E-Pass) as a replacement for its current transportation allowance program. That means the roughly 5,900 people currently receiving a monthly transportation stipend of up to $78, which in many cases is used to cover basic needs other than transportation, will lose it.
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Speaking of transit…
After 20 months and 24 meetings @ATU508 reached an impasse with Hfxtransit. The union has filed for a conciliator this morning.
— Ken Wilson (@ATU508Pres) April 4, 2018
2. Sydney’s second cruise ship berth has… issues
It looks like the construction of they second cruise ship berth is turning into Sydney’s very own Washmill Underpass fiasco.
In the Cape Breton Spectator, Mary Campbell details the many delays in the berth planning, design, land purchase, and construction, noting that:
Construction on the second berth obviously did not begin by [the originally scheduled] October 2017 and the deadline for “substantial completion” of the main contract work is now 30 November 2019 (assuming a construction contract is awarded by 31 May 2018) — meaning the second berth, rather than being completed “as early as Celtic Colours 2018,” as CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke told the Cape Breton Post in January 2017, will now host its first cruise ship in the spring of 2020.
The real worry about the second berth, however, may not be the timeframe but the price tag, given that the CBRM is on the hook for any cost overruns.
Campbell shows how overly optimistic cost projections are coming back to haunt the project. I especially like this part:
As you will recall, the total cost of the second berth has been put at $20 million, to be shared equally between all three levels of government. That estimate raised red flags for CPCS, the consultant commissioned by ACOA and the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation to evaluate the project, which warned in its January 2017 report Due Diligence Assessment of Plans for Second Berth at the Sydney Marine Terminal:
As a general rule, public works projects tend to be over budget and there do not appear to be any provision for contingencies in the cost estimates for the second berth project. We feel that the risk of cost overruns on the second berth project are compounded by the fact that the cost estimates are largely based on preliminary (and now somewhat dated) engineering studies.
This reminded me of my own musings on Monday about how the costs of megaprojects almost always balloon. The second berth isn’t a megaproject — it’s just a run-of-the-mill middling order public works project (as was Washmill) — but I’m heartened to see that at least one government consultant understands the basic problem.
With Washmill, the planning, engineering, and land purchases were not significant cost problems, but all those issues are contributing to the cruise ship berth cost overruns. The real problem with Washmill was dealing with environmental issues at the site (specifically, with pyritic slate), and boy howdy, does the Sydney project have some potential environmental issues on site. Continues Campbell:
As you may recall, the cost estimates contained in CBCL’s Sydney Marine Terminal Proposed Secondary Dock: Conceptual Design and Cost Estimate report give “no consideration” to “potential site and/or sediment contamination issues that may require extensive treatment.”
Which makes this line from CPCS’s due diligence report on the subject of the Nickerson property all the more intriguing:
We further understand that this land is contaminated. It is unclear to what extent the cost of environmental remediation is included in the estimate (though CBRM and the Port of Sydney have both indicated that adequate provision for environmental remediation is included in the cost estimates for the project).
If you are dubious about those claims by the CBRM and Port of Sydney, you’re not alone — CPCS wasn’t buying them either, noting in the report’s executive summary:
[W]e are not satisfied that the potential environmental remediation costs have been appropriately accounted for in the estimated costs of the second berth project.
Of course, none of this matters. The berth that was sold as a $20 million project that was a reasonable expenditure balanced by expected returns can become a $40 million project or even a $100 million project, and it will still be celebrated as a success, failed due diligence and cost overruns be damned.
And there will necessarily be “benefit shortfalls” — the basis for economic impact is a bullshit per-passenger expenditure figure tossed around by the self-interested cruise industry, and not by independent analysis, but no one will admit it.
But you if own a restaurant a block or two from the project, you don’t care if the berth costs a billion dollars in public money because you’ll see three new customers every summer. And if you’re a politician or planner or booster of the project, you’ll never admit failure, as you can concoct a bunch of bogus numbers and rationalizations, and the whole thing will blow over soon in any event because the public has short memories and there aren’t enough reporters to stay on the story for the long term.
Which is why you should support Campbell’s work.
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3. DSME Trenton
Speaking of failed projects, Jean Laroche updates us on the state of the DSME plant in Trenton:
Since the Korean-owned facility filed for receivership in February 2016, the receiver Pricewaterhouse Coopers has spent about $4 million maintaining the facility. It still has about $370,000 in an account to pay to keep the lights on.
When the previous NDP government announced the partnership between the province and Daewoo, the promise was to eventually create 400 to 500 jobs.
Taxpayers invested $56 million for a 49 per cent stake, while the Korean company put in $10 million and retained control of the plant, which created wind turbines.
That partnership failed when the province called a $32-million loan in February 2016.
Before building wind turbines, the site was home to Greenbriar-owned TrentonWorks, which made railway cars. That enterprise failed in April 2007.
4. Nobody will investigate the Chrétien–McNeil meeting
“A retired union spokesman has been told Nova Scotia’s Lobbyists Registration Act doesn’t include ways to actually deal with complaints, after he filed one about a meeting last month between Premier Stephen McNeil and former prime minister Jean Chrétien,” reports Keith Doucette for the Canadian Press:
John McCracken filed the complaint saying he believes there was lobbying done by Chrétien, who is an adviser for the group that promotes the Port of Sydney.
Chrétien is not registered as a lobbyist in Nova Scotia, and McNeil has repeatedly denied that any lobbying took place during the hour-long meeting, held March 21 at Chretien’s request in the premier’s office.
“It’s kind of disheartening as a citizen,” said McCracken, who received a letter from the registrar responsible for the Act, Hayley Clarke, dated March 29.
In the letter Clarke said the Act “does not contain a complaint or investigation procedure.”
5. Minimum wage
Yesterday, I objected to Stephen McNeil’s reservations about increasing the minimum wage:
Although the NDP again introduced a bill that would require a three-year staged increase to get to a $15 minimum wage, the premier argued such a move can actually have a negative effect by seeing hours reduced for workers.
“There is ZERO evidence for that last claim,” I wrote. “None.”
Hey, but what do I know, right? Yet, an actual smart person with knowledge and credentials and a bunch of letters after her name agrees with me, reports Michael Gorman for the CBC:
A researcher at Dalhousie University takes issue with claims by Premier Stephen McNeil that a move to a $15 minimum wage would lead to job losses or reduced hours for workers.
“There is no credible evidence to support that claim,” said Karen Foster, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology and the Canada Research Chair in sustainable rural futures for Atlantic Canada.
“I think it’s got no basis in fact.”
Foster said there have been “hundreds of studies” that show when the minimum wage goes up, “doomsday predictions” do not come true. While some businesses might be challenged, most adapt and continue, she said.
“Overall, it’s a win situation for workers and for the economy at a macro level because people have more money to spend and they do spend it.”
6. Northern Pulp Mill
The province has released all the communications it has received since January 1, 2017 from citizens regarding the plan to pipe effluent from Northern Pulp Mill into the Northumberland Strait. The letters and emails show a deeply divided community.
“A review committee has dismissed all complaints against Judge Gregory Lenehan, saying that although his verdict acquitting a Halifax taxi driver of sexual assault was overturned there’s no evidence of ‘bias’ or judicial misconduct,” reports Haley Ryan for Metro:
Chair of the Judicial Council, Chief Justice Michael MacDonald, announced in a release Wednesday that the independent committee appointed last year has dismissed all complaints.
The 45-page decision says the council received 121 written complaints between March and May 2017, mostly focused on Lenehan’s comments and decision rendered on March 1, 2017 acquitting Bassam Al-Rawi of sexual assaulting a young woman in his cab.
“The number of citizens in Metro without doctors has passed the 23k mark, a notable but dubious achievement,” writes Bill Turpin:
The provincial total rose to 44,158 from 41,877, an increase of 2,281. That means Metro Halifax effectively took the whole hit and now accounts for 52% of the entire family doctor shortage in the province. No NSHA zone or Community Health Network even approaches that number. (For these purposes I’m defining Metro as Bedford/Sackville, Dartmouth/Southest, and the Peninsulas of Halifax and Chebucto.)
There is a belief in some quarters the cause of Halifax’s misery was a government decision to steer new doctors to toward the countryside and away from Halifax by making it impossible to work here. In other words, government may have gone beyond mere rural incentives to actually barring new doctors from the capital city.
If true, it would be an act of treachery.
Turpin doesn’t say who holds this “belief” or if it’s founded on any actual evidence, so I’d like to hear more about it.
Centre Plan – Discuss Package “A” (Thursday, 1pm and again at 6pm, Dartmouth North Community Centre) — Info here.
Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — agenda here.
Harbour East Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm, HEMDCC Meeting Room, Alderney Gate) — here’s the agenda.
No public meetings.
Legislature sits (1pm–midnight, Province House)
Number-Theoretic Methods in Quantum Computing (Thursday, 2:30pm, Room 319, Chase Building) — Peter Selinger will speak.
ESS Student Showcase (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Theatre, Marion McCain Building) — highlights from the Environment, Sustainability & Society program.
Spring Swings with Strings (Thursday, 7:30pm, Dunn Theatre, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — Regina Carter performs with the Fountain of Youth Jazz Orchestra. The orchestra consists of members of the Dalhousie Jazz Ensemble as well as string players from the Fountain School. Dal string alumni and members of the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra will also perform.
Reducing Environmental Impact by Using CO2-switchable Materials and Surfaces (Friday, 1:30pm, Room 226, Chemistry Building) — Philip Jessop from Queen’s University will speak.
Mount Saint Vincent
Ke’kutnuk, Wet-taqane’wasi, Wije’wm ksalsuti; Knowing, Identity, Passion (Friday, 12pm, Seton 430) — Nicholas Phillips, Director of Early Education in Millbrook First Nation, will speak.
In the harbour
6am: ZIM Qingdao, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Algeciras, Spain
6am: Catharina Schulte, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
7:15am: Selfoss, container ship, moves from anchorage to Pier 36
7:15: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 36 to Autoport
11am: Selfoss, container ship, sails from Pier 36 for sea
12:15pm: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, moves from anchorage to Pier 36
4:30pm: Catharina Schulte, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
8:30pm: ZIM Qingdao, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
I’m off doing reporting stuff today.