“People in Nova Scotia are feeding more money into video lottery terminals, two years after the Liberal government abandoned a program meant to help keep gamblers from becoming addicted to VLTs,” reports Stephanie Skenderis for the CBC:
VLT revenue was up by $19.6 million in the last fiscal year — from $113 million in 2014-15 to $132.6 million in 2015-16 — according to financial statements released Thursday by the Nova Scotia Provincial Lotteries and Casino Corporation (NSPLCC).
2. Commuter rail
“On Thursday, the municipal transportation standing committee, which consists of six councillors, unanimously recommended that regional council authorize staff to begin negotiations with Via Rail [for a commuter rail service],” reports Remo Zaccagna for Local Xpress:
The idea of a commuter rail service in the municipality has gained steam this year with an expected influx of federal infrastructure money.
In March’s federal budget, the Liberals announced that Nova Scotia will receive $32 million out of $3.4 billion set aside over the next five years for public transit projects, a figure tied to the province’s share of national public transit ridership.
A report commissioned by Halifax council last year looked at a system starting at the Via Rail station downtown, going through the rail cut, up along the Bedford Basin, and on to the nether regions of HRM out by the airport. “The upfront capital costs ranged from $36 million to $62 million, and the annual net operating costs were $8 million,” reports Zaccagna.
For comparison’s sake, the existing annual operating budget for Halifax Transit is just over $114 million.
Council is proceeding intelligently on this — the costs of all transportation projects are being compared against each other, so (supposedly) we won’t reject a $60 million train service as too costly only to embrace a billion-dollar expansion of the BiHi.
It’s hard’s to say, however, whether the commuter rail plan being discussed makes sense. For one, the details are being kept secret from us. But beyond that, there are going to be all sorts of additional costs, especially for new bus routes connecting to the rail stations. (It would be a huge mistake to build giant parking garages next to them.)
Moreover, I’m worried that the train won’t go to where people actually travel. At best, on the peninsula we’ll get stops at the Halifax Shopping Centre, Saint Mary’s University, and the Via Rail Station. I suppose some people work at those places, but most people will need to travel on to Dalhousie, the hospitals, and the financial and government district downtown. Sure, it’s only a 15-minute walk, but for many people that last mile could be a deal-killer.
3. Sexual assault
“A big jump in the number of great white sharks seen off Massachusetts has given rise to a couple of compelling mysteries,” reports Alex Mason for the CBC:
[Greg Skomal, senior marine fisheries scientist for the Massachusetts state government] believes the population is rebounding after their numbers were diminished as a result of the expansion of commercial fisheries during the last century.
He believes the sharks are drawn to the Cape by grey seals that have proliferated on Nova Scotia’s Sable Island, and are now spreading out and establishing new colonies.
But the sharks aren’t visiting Sable Island. No one’s certain why they aren’t — maybe the hype over the ponies annoys them — but probably the water around Nova Scotia is still too cold for the sharks.
“Some of the oldest dinosaur bones in Canada were recently discovered along the Bay of Fundy and Nova Scotia researchers are heading back to the site at Wasson Bluff, Cumberland Co., to search for more,” reads a Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage press release:
Last month researchers from the Fundy Geological Museum in Parrsboro found four lizard-like reptile skulls with jaws and teeth intact, a theropod dinosaur skull bone and a tiny mammal-like reptile tooth.
Tim Fedak, director and curator of the museum, said the bones are 200 million years old and his team is heading back to Wasson Bluff July 28-31 for additional field work. The new specimens are on display at the museum.
“The new lizard-like reptile skulls and teeth found this year are very important for providing a window into an ancient earth that was recovering from a global mass extinction,” said Mr. Fedak. “It is exciting to think what else we may find as work continues this summer.”
Two special public tours of the research site will take place on Thursday, July 28, and Saturday, July 30. The tours, beginning at 1 p.m., leave from the museum, 162 Two Islands Rd., Parrsboro.
1. Low-income transit pass
Erica Butler reminds us that today is the (recently extended) deadline for applying for low-income transit passes.
Even though there’s a big need for the passes, few people are applying for them:
The big problem may be with the qualification criteria for the program.
At first glance, the criteria seem reasonable. Everyone with income under $33,000 a year can qualify. But it’s not so simple, or fair. Halifax is using household income as its measure, not individual income. And your household, according to the city, includes roommates.
Imagine you are working a full-time, minimum wage job at Dartmouth Crossing. That puts your gross income around $21,000, and you are in desperate need of a monthly bus pass. Trouble is, you share a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate whose part-time minimum wage job rakes in about $13,000 a year. Sorry, but neither you nor your roommate qualify as “low income”.
As if that’s not enough, your application for the program must include actual Canada Revenue Agency Notices of Assessment for every member of your household, which you bring in person to one of four HRM customer service centres in our sprawling municipality. If one of your roommates is disorganized enough not to have filed yet, or if they wisely don’t feel like sharing their personal information with you, you’re out of luck.
2. Gary Burrill
“Last week, Burrill announced he would be a candidate in Halifax Chebucto in the next provincial election,” writes Graham Steele:
Burrill will be up against incumbent Joachim Stroink for the Liberals. For the Progressive Conservatives, filmmaker and business owner John Wesley Chisholm has been nominated. Both are credible. Neither is a pushover.
If he loses there, he will have nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide.
His career as NDP leader will be over.
“At a time when government is crying poor, it is astonishing that our premier has found the funds to compensate the people in his inner circle so generously,” writes NSGEU president Jason MacLean:
We just learned that McNeil gave his former deputy minister, Catherine Blewett, a nine per cent raise just a few months before freezing salaries of other non-unionized employees and introducing legislation that would force a wage pattern of zero per cent increases for the same two-year period on all civil servants.
In case you’re wondering, Blewett’s nine per cent increase translated into a $17,000 pay bump.
And Blewett was not the only recipient of McNeil’s generosity. Marilla Stephenson was handed a $106,000 annual salary when the Executive Council Office created her brand-new position: managing director of corporate and external relations. And let’s not forget the $160,000 annual salary McNeil’s new principal secretary, Laurie Graham, receives, while her predecessor, Ryan Grant, made just $91,000 in the same role. (Don’t worry about Ryan, though, he’s now making $125,000 as McNeil’s deputy chief of staff, a position that hasn’t been filled since Rodney MacDonald created one in 2009.)
4. Sam Shepard
“From the late 1960s to 1984, the playwright and actor Sam Shepard lived in Nova Scotia, in a place called Hilltop Farm between Advocate Harbour and Parrsboro, near Cape Chignecto Park,” writes Ron Foley MacDonald:
It’s not a widely known fact. A few “connect-the-dots” references float around the internet; there’s a couple of pictures of Shepard with a rifle, hunting; there’s a thin thread of mentions by other writers. And some years ago in the musical biography book Girls Like Us, the author figured out that Shepard was the “Coyote” of Joni Mitchell’s 1976 song, pursuing her even though he was, in Mitchell’s words, “too far from the Bay of Fundy.”
MacDonald goes on to discuss Shepard’s fascination with the American West:
For Shepard, it’s the West as a kind of a dead end or cul-de-sac where European values and the American Experiment have finally run out of steam.
So if Sam Shepard is, in these two films anyway, the ultimate “Man of the West,” what exactly was he doing in the “East that the World Forgot” (i.e. Nova Scotia)?
As MacDonald sees it, the fact that Shepard and a handful of other famous artists lived around here says something profound, or at least interesting, about Nova Scotia. I disagree. Famous people live everywhere; the natural beauty of, say, the Bay of Fundy, might inspire artists or at least give them a respite from the Hollywood rat race, but their mere presence among us (or, rather, near us) doesn’t imbue the rest of us with some star-like quality, and doesn’t say anything at all about the specialness of our geography or time zone or what have you. We’ll have to create our own specialness, not absorb it through proximate osmosis.
Still, MacDonald’s post is an interesting read.
5. Cranky letter of the day
I have been contemplating the plans of the Archbishop to sell the lands adjacent to the St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica for high-rise development. The land in question, at the Spring Garden Road corner of Barrington Street, includes the old boys’ and girls’ school buildings which now house the Archdiocesan offices and several businesses, and the parking lot in back of the buildings. These properties have been part of the Catholic patrimony for over two centuries. One fears that this is the sale of the Halifax Catholic birthright for a mess of pottage. (For those unfamiliar with this Biblical allusion, it is an unwise surrender of that which is important for transitory gratification.) The Basilica is a National Heritage Site. Construction nearby will impinge on the view plane of the church and effect light entering the unique stained glass gothic windows on the northerly side, not to mention the Basilica will inevitably be damaged by any excavation work into the bedrock beside it. During construction one may well ask where parishioners will park, as no doubt the parking lot in use will be off limits. Surely this is one way to ensure a self-fulfilling prophecy—sell the church since worship is declining. Yes, the possibility of the latter happening would consolidate developers’ hold on a major downtown block of land.
There is a need for Sacred Balance, being mindful of spiritual heritage while building for the future. Who is to benefit from the redevelopment, since the land will pass out of Archdiocesan ownership? Will the liturgy during the week have to be carried on with tremors and noise fallout, and for how long? Have all canon law requirements been followed? That responsibility rests squarely upon the shoulders of the bishop. The final question, therefore, is whether the sale of the property—which has now been confirmed—is actually for the Good, or for less worthy purposes?
Allen B. Robertson, Halifax
I took this photo of an osprey nest on the shore of Lake Russell in Dartmouth yesterday.
Every now and then I saw a tiny head pop up above the rim of the nest; I think there were at least three baby osprey being tended to. That would explain why the mother got annoyed at me for taking pictures and started dive-bombing me until I moved on.
The structural integrity of bird nests, whether a giant one like this or the small nest I saw a pigeon make at the Bridge Terminal a few weeks ago, is impressive. Built with no tools beyond a beak and claws, nests withstand the wind and rain of the most powerful storms, and can last for years. Maybe I should buy this book.
No public meetings.
No campus events that we’re aware of.
In the harbour
Scheduled as of 7am:
6am: ZIM Luanda, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
4pm: Asian Moon, container ship, sails from Pier 31 for Rotterdam
4:30pm: ZIM Luanda, container ship, sails from Pier 42 to sea
6pm: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s
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