In the harbour
1. Mayor Mike Savage plays the media
The city’s communication person, Tiffany Chase, tells me that the city actually did receive the $20 million in the form of a wire transfer Thursday.
I own the mistake. What follows is simply incorrect.
My apologies to all: to Mike Savage, to the communications people, to media (Metro and Canadian Press, Aly Thomson and Haley Ryan), to readers.
It’s my policy to leave mistakes up, so that there’s a full record of the mistake, the correction, and my explanation.
I should have called Chase and others to track down this story, and that’s one of the problems with publishing a morning post before government offices open. I read Traves’ comments as saying the money had not yet been received, and he didn’t know when it would be received, but that’s obviously not what he meant. I’m not sure what he meant. I should have called him Friday, but was otherwise involved.
Again, my apologies.
On Friday, the city put out the following press release:
Friday, Sept. 16, 2016 (Halifax, NS) – The Halifax Regional Municipality is pleased to advise that it has resolved the long-standing disagreement with the federal government in connection with the payments in lieu of taxes for the taxation years 1997 to 2015, by the federal government paying the sum of $20 million to the municipality.
“On behalf of Regional Council, I’m delighted that we have addressed this outstanding issue,” said Halifax Mayor Mike Savage. “This is the culmination of a significant effort over the past few years with our counterparts at the federal government, and our municipal staff worked hard to achieve a positive resolution. The municipality will now have the opportunity to invest that money toward the betterment of our region as a whole.”
The $20 million payment reflects the successful conclusion to lengthy discussions held between senior officials from the municipality and Public Services and Procurement Canada.
Citadel Hill is a National Historic Site contained within a 48-acre parcel of federally-owned land in the heart of Halifax’s downtown business district. It is a former British Fortress (Fort George) and is currently under management of Parks Canada, operating as a park and museum. As the property is federally-owned it is exempt from real property taxation, but is subject to a payment-in-lieu of taxes (PILT) under the federal PILT Act.
Note to Media: There will be a media opportunity today, Friday, Sept. 16, at 11 a.m. for interviews with Mayor Mike Savage and John Traves, Director of Legal, Insurance & Risk Management. Location: Halifax Hall, City Hall, 1841 Argyle Street, Halifax.
Let’s be clear: there is no news here. Nothing. Nada. Zip.
And yet, local media sent reporters to the “media opportunity” to dutifully re-report the press release. Those reporters shouldn’t have been sent at all because there is no news here, but we can at least read through their lines to get to what’s going on.
First, from Aly Thomson reporting for the Canadian Press:
The municipality says Ottawa has agreed to pay a total of $24 million in back taxes for Citadel Hill for the years 1997 to 2015.
The resolution comes more than 20 years after the disagreement began and more than four years after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of Halifax.
He said the federal government has already paid the municipality roughly $4 million in back taxes over the years, and it will soon hand over another $20 million.
Traves said as for payments going forward, that has yet to be determined.
Wait a minute… the Supreme Court ruled four years ago that the federal government has to pay the city the money, and some of the money ($4 million) has been paid by the previous federal Conservative government, but we have no idea when the rest of it is coming — it certainly didn’t show up in an envelope Friday morning necessitating a press release. So, what was this press release about Friday?
Let’s go to Haley Ryan reporting for Metro:
“It’s not a matter, I don’t think, of winning or losing. It’s just a good day because we’ve come to a resolution on this long outstanding issue, and I think it’s to the benefit of the residents of HRM,” Mayor Mike Savage told reporters at City Hall on Friday.
The article, incidentally, is headlined as follows:
Halifax lands $20 million from federal government in Citadel Hill resolution
The long-standing argument over how much the feds owed Halifax in back-taxes has been resolved with the payment.
This is 100 per cent incorrect. The city did not “land” $20 million. There has been no new “payment” that resolved a damn thing. Again: Nothing happened on this “good day.”
So what the hell was Savage talking about?
Since Savage has been in office, he said he’s dealt with three or four federal ministers of Public Services and Procurement Canada that did not move on the issue.
He said when he met with the current Liberal minister, Judy Foote, they talked about finally reaching an agreement.
“There’s a mature political relationship here but the work was done by staff … making the case, and I think at the end of the day quite amicably,” Savage said.
Aha! See, it’s Savage’s political skills and the great talent he has in talking with his old Liberal Party buddies in Ottawa that will maybe one day — not today, and at no scheduled time in the future, but one day, we promise! — see the Liberals in Ottawa do as directed by the highest court in the land and follow up on the $4 million the Conservatives have already paid by sending the city the rest of the dough. So, four weeks out from an election, maybe we should issue a press release and celebrate Savage’s skills at being a politician who did… well, nothing. But still.
I can’t see this as anything but bald electioneering on Savage’s part. Honestly, the city’s Communications Department should have refused to issue the press release — after all, there is no news. Certainly the media shouldn’t have let Savage play them like this.
But sure enough, Savage got the intended effect. By Friday afternoon the #SpendHFXs20Million hashtag was trending on Twitter, the Twitterdom sucked into a meaningless political gesture.
Savage’s election campaign couldn’t buy that sort of advertising. Fortunately for him, the city’s Communication Department, complicit media, and an easily duped public gave it to him for free.
2. Irvings short-circuit the divestment movement at Dartmouth College
“New Brunswick businessman Arthur Irving is giving $80 million to an Ivy League university to help launch an energy institute that will bear his name,” reports the Canadian Press.
Oh, that nice Mr. Irving! Out of the generosity of his heart, he helps fund some college students.
The beginning of the modern oil industry, you see, is actually attributed to a Dartmouth College alum named George Bissell:
Bissell returned to Hanover in the fall of 1853 to visit his mother and stopped by Dartmouth. In the office of Dr. Dixi Crosby, head of the medical school, he saw a bottle of rock oil.
The oil was marketed as a patent medicine called ‘Seneca Oil,’ after the local Indians who had shared its healing properties with the white man. Many Americans believed the Indians had a deep knowledge of natural healing, and it was said to heal wounds and cure ailments like deafness, toothaches and rheumatism.
Bissell recognized oil could be marketed to lubricate the sophisticated machinery of the burgeoning Mechanical Age. Power looms in the textile industry and the steam printing presses needed better lubricants than lard.
Bissell also knew the rock oil was flammable, and suspected it could be used to replace expensive whale oil and coal oil or dangerous camphene as a lighting fluid for America’s growing population.
One thing led to another, and then Titusville, Pennsylvania experienced the world’s first oil rush, and Bissell became a very, very rich man.
I’ll save you the intervening history, but let’s jump to 2014, when a very active student group called Divest Dartmouth began pushing Dartmouth College to divest itself of all oil stock. Divest Dartmouth’s actions led to the publication of a college Senate report in May of this year, which called for complete divestment from fossil fuel companies (page 32):
In fact, in both best and worst case scenarios, Option D (complete divestment from fossil fuels and reinvestment in clean energy) leads to the greatest overall fulfillment of the considered objectives.
Evidently, college president Phil Hanlon spent the summer courting Irving, and on Friday the college issued a press release, its celebration of the oil industry astounding even for PR spin:
Dartmouth College is pleased to announce the creation of the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society, established to advance the understanding and knowledge of a resource that powers modern life and is directly related to society’s standard of living and success.
The institute will prepare future generations of energy leaders and advance humanity’s understanding of the field, driving change in the intelligent production, supply, and use of energy.
Gifts of $113 million have been committed to name the institute in honor of energy industry leader Arthur L. Irving. Dartmouth aims to raise a total of $160 million to fund the institute.
“Meeting the energy demands of the future is one of the most complex and urgent challenges facing humankind,” says Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon ’77. “We need to provide abundant affordable energy to allow for continued economic growth across the globe, particularly in developing nations, so that billions can be lifted out of poverty.”
“How we produce and provide access to sustainable forms of energy will shape life in the coming decades. Success defies easy or simplistic solutions. Instead, it requires a multi-dimensional approach that integrates science, technology, public policy, geopolitics, and business. In other words, it requires bringing the power and rigor of the liberal arts to bear on a complex problem,” President Hanlon says. [emphases added]
This is a direct slap at the divestment movement, and it is understood that way by Divest Dartmouth. “We are incensed at @dartmouth’s decision to build an @irvingoil institute,” the group tweeted Friday.
3. Examineradio, episode #79
This week, alongside a number of international military warships and a crap-ton (sorry, crap-tonne) of cruise ships, the Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise docked in the Halifax harbour, fresh off a tour in Nunavut. Examineradio contributor Francella Fiallos took a tour of the boat and spoke with some of its crew members.
On Thursday, approximately 60 protesters gathered at Province House to demonstrate against natural gas caverns proposed to be built on the banks of the Shubenacadie River by Alton Gas.
Also, prospective councillors propose term limits for all city council, the Chronicle Herald shuts down the Cape Breton Star, and the Yarmouth Ferry is — unsurprisingly — expected to fall well short of its optimum numbers.
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(Subscribe via iTunes)
4. Mill Cove sewage plant
Halifax Water has issued a tender for a company to upgrade the UV system at the Mill Cove plant in Bedford:
The Ultraviolet (UV) Disinfection system currently installed at the MCWWTF utilizes outdated lamp and magnetic ballast technology, and is therefore very inefficient compared to newer technology. This system is also 20 years old and it is the only UV System of its kind still in operation in North America. Each fiscal year, operational costs are continually increasing in order to maintain the system due to multiple component failures, difficulty sourcing replacement parts and increased hours maintaining the equipment
Waste streams into the MCWWTF collection system have changed significantly since the time of the facility’s last upgrade in 1996. Septage is now discharged into the upper sections of the MCWWTF’s sewershed and leachate is directly discharged into the facility’s influent flow stream. These new inputs have affected the wastewater quality the UV system must treat. Additionally, in 2015, the Nova Scotia Department of Environment mandated more stringent effluent requirements. The MCWWTF’s environmental permit was changed from a fecal coliform disinfection discharge limit of 2,000 CFUs/100mL to a stricter 200 E-Coli/100mL limit. These new waste streams and the more stringent disinfection requirements have resulted in increased non-compliance incidents.
1. Meeting times
“After the municipal election on Oct. 15, new councillors will take their places around the table,” writes Anna Shoub in Local Xpress:
The first item on the agenda needs to be: “Who is not in this room and how are we going to get them here in four years’ time?”
If everyone sitting at the council table is a man, there is a problem. If everyone is over 50, there is a problem. If everyone is financially secure, there is a problem. If everyone was born and bred in town, there is a problem. If there is no racial diversity, there is a problem. If everyone is retired, there is a problem. In order to solve this problem, council is going to have to consult with the community.
Not offering for council often comes down to simple practicalities like meeting times. Rural councillors are not full-time positions and the stipends, while sometimes generous, are reflective of this fact. It is not enough money to give up a day job. A 5:15 p.m. or midday meeting time might work very well for a retired person, but it doesn’t work well for a person with a job, a business or a child. Move that meeting time to 6:15 p.m. and you have just made it easier for a working person or parent to come forward.
Shoub is writing about rural councils, but the same issue holds for Halifax council.
Police Commission (12:30pm, City Hall) — lots of stuff being discussed in camera.
Advisory Committee for Accessibility in HRM (4pm, City Hall) — here’s the agenda.
No public meetings
No events scheduled.
In the harbour
6:30am: Seaborne Quest, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 23 from Charlottetown with up to 540 passengers
7:30am: Norwegian Gem, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 22 from New York with up to 2,873 passengers
8am: Veendam, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 20 from Boston with up to 1,350 passengers
8am: Lady M I I, yacht, moves from Sackville Landing to Pier 9
1pm: Lady M I I, yacht, sails from Pier 9 for sea
1:30pm: Seaborne Quest, cruise ship, sails from Pier 23 for Bar Harbor
5:45pm: Norwegian Gem, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Saint john
5:45pm: Veendam, cruise ship, sails from Pier 20 for Sydney
5:30am: Tosca, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southhampton, England
There are lots of interesting things being discussed at tomorrow’s Halifax council meeting, so I’ll have a council preview out later today.
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Apology accepted, Tim Bousquet! Time to renew my subscription ????
Vincent Young here, just remarking that I took a tour of Citadel Hill back in 1996 or so. I thought it was a good idea, when the tour guide told us of the height limitations put on the Downtown buildings. I don’t think I will ever tour Citadel again, no reason. Hey we can put a 20 Million Glass dome over it so it matches the rest of down town. #citadelsnowglobe
Downtown looks of Crap right now, I would try to liven it up with some new fresh cat art, that may be too innovative or considered vandalism. I think you need a lot of money invested to call things Innovations. When I think innovation, I think grand acceptance for new inventions, not just silly buzz words.
This is just one more example of one of the main failings of our multi multi multi tiered democratic government. A significant amount of our tax dollars are burned up by all levels of “government” bickering and posturing over the chest thumping right to spend our tax dollars. Seldom does anyone ever stop and say.. “oh, wait, there is only one taxpaying public here.” It is always School Boards fighting with the Province and Municipal governments… Provincial/Municipal squabbles, and Federal/Provincial transfer payments and silliness like this latest thing around the Citadel. (I am hoping Parks Canada opens up concessions to be able to cover the costs of their taxes).
You will recall that HRM Council voted to substantially devalue Citadel Hill by ignoring a Parks Canada Archaeological/Historic Assessment report on the potential damage the new “south end rich peoples'” YMCA would do to this National Heritage Site (and top tourist attraction) if they were allowed to plonk million dollar condos on top of their new building, violating the previously sacrosanct protection that had been afforded the Citadel, and to which the neighbours had all been forced to conform to. Surely this will reduce future tax bills!
In the meantime, I’d like an accounting of how much is spent just arguing between different levels of government.
Re: meeting times and rural councils
The issue of “who is at the table” is far greater than jus convenient meeting times but also about general motivation.
HRM does have full-time councillors all with a work load to keep them busy in some instances 7 days a week.
The challenge for rural communities is who has the time to take on what often becomes a thankless task.
Perhaps there needs to be a wider discussion about how to restructure municipal governance into a more responsive model. Maybe fewer councils, and maybe fewer councils?
It seems like the supreme evil in the world is the elevation of money above anything but a means of exchange representing real goods and labor. I’m sure that Tolkien’s ring symbolized something close to that idea, and it’s occurred to me this morning that Siegfried giving the ring to Brunhilde was meant to remind the audience, who in Wagner’s time would have been the elites, that money is only a good idea if it’s in service to a higher principle.
Re: Receipt of $20 Million and Your Apology
My reaction, my comment above, were based on the circumstances, the political climate that surrounded and infused the announcement. Whether the money had been received or was now officially coming, did not factor in. I’d read the news elsewhere online. My comment stands, but good on you for making the clarification and apology, Tim.
I am with Donna. Good on you Tim, well played.
Re 1. Duped by Mayor Savage and $20 Million Windfall
Though I wasn’t aware of intricacies you’ve now revealed, I immediately attributed the “news” to Mayor Savage electioneering. In thinking about it and the immediate, subsequent hope raised that the sum could/might be set aside for acquisition of wilderness park land, my thoughts turned to the opposing candidate for mayor, Lil MacPherson. I’d recently visited her website and was impressed with her environmental concern and platform. The Mayor made a cheap, predatory political play, one I’m glad you’ve factually exposed. Good there’s a mayoralty challenge; going forward, specific substantive policy Q&As must come from both, and from independent sources. Why not host and moderate a debate yourself, Tim?
Pols in NB hold press conferences to announce things like money committed to fix sewers. Not a massive, citywide work of sanitary genius worthy of a Victorian engineer transforming seething London. Just a few sewer pipes replaced along some quiet backstreet. Often, they don’t even have the exact amount of money that is being spent. In other cases, the fact of the work and the amount of the money is detailed in the water and sewerage capital budget, and it has almost certainly been discussed at a council public works committee meeting long before.
In the old days, they had no press releases on such subjects, let alone a press conference. They just fixed the sewers. I mean, what do they expect? That’s why we pay water and sewerage utility rates, to keep the sewers operational. The only time I’d expect a press conference on routine sewer work is when they have decided not to fix the sewers, and they will explain why they have decided to allow them to fail and back up into people’s basements. Otherwise, just get on with it and fix the sewers. If you want your photo in the paper, call the folks in the ad department and get your credit card out.