We’re in the middle of the Halifax Examiner’s annual subscription drive. Typically I use this space to extol some aspect of our operation that is worthy of your financial support.
But this morning, I’m pressed for time so will simply ask you to subscribe, and more lengthy extolling will resume next time.
Oh, Iris notes that some subscribers are able to log in, but can’t read the paywalled articles. I’ll spare you the technical details, but this is related to the migration to the new website. If you’re experiencing this problem, please email Iris using the Contact Us form, and she’ll sort it out for you.
1. Fiona relief
“About 140,255 Nova Scotians have signed up to receive a $100 cheque to help replace food that was spoiled after Hurricane Fiona left them without power for more than two days,” reports Jennifer Henderson:
Nearly 6,000 Nova Scotians have applied to receive $250 to help with the cost of tree removal. Another several hundred Nova Scotians who were forced to leave their homes because of damage from the storm in late September received $1,000 in provincial emergency funding delivered through the Canadian Red Cross.
Nova Scotians who receive income assistance automatically received an additional $150.
All provincial assistance programs, except one to help farmers with storm damage, are still taking applications. Early estimates from the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) put the value of losses in Nova Scotia resulting from the wide path of destruction in the range of $385 million.
“Why would Tim Halman — who is, it’s worth repeating one more time, Nova Scotia’s environment and climate change minister — lend his name and face to a fake-news fundraising letter?” writes Stephen Kimber:
That letter, sent to 5,000 Progressive Conservative party members and supporters even before Ottawa formally announced its carbon tax, begs recipients for a “new donation” to the party of up to $1,000 “or more” to “help us push back against the spin and propaganda coming from Ottawa (sic again).”
In the letter, Halman claimed that Nova Scotians will eventually pay $2-3,000 more a year because of the tax — without ever mentioning the rebates, which will offset the tax and also rise as the tax increases.
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Constables Scott Martin and Jason Meisner were the arresting officers on July 28, 2020, when Borden’s car was stopped at a Burnside intersection in the wee hours of the morning.
Borden’s grey Dodge Avenger was mistaken for a black Pontiac without a licence plate driven by a white man in a black baseball cap that Cst. Stewart McCulley had spotted earlier in Halifax….
Several officers pursued Borden from a distance before pulling her over, placing her in handcuffs and arresting her.
Borden was not read her rights and said when she asked why she was being arrested she was told, “We’ll see in a minute.”
Half a dozen police officers were on the scene when McCully pulled up, saw it was the wrong car and had a licence plate, unlike the one he described pursuing. He relayed the information to the dispatch, and drove off without speaking to Borden or the other officers.
The police took the handcuffs off Borden and told her she was no longer under arrest, but they continued to detain her while they recorded her licence and registration information into their database.
“Councillors are looking to cuts, hiring freezes, and dipping into savings to avoid a significant tax increase that municipal staff told them is all but inevitable,” reports Zane Woodford:
Halifax regional council’s budget committee met on Friday to set the preliminary tax increase for 2023-2024. It’s a moving target, and the first step in the months-long budget building process, expected to conclude in April.
Councillors voted to build the budget around a 4% increase to the average tax bill.
As the Halifax Examiner reported last week, municipal staff recommended an 8% increase to the average property tax bill. That amounts to $173 for the average residential bill and $3,955 for the average commercial bill.
5. NSCAD and the port
A new deal between NSCAD University and the Port of Halifax should be ringing alarm bells among the public and government.
Last week, the university announced that it had “signed a long-term agreement with the Halifax Port Authority (HPA) to create an accessible, unified campus that will be the cornerstone of the vibrant creative and social district at the Halifax Seaport.”
It makes sense to have a “unified” campus — currently, some students are burdened with shuttling between three different campuses for their classes, and having one home would likely deepen social, cultural, and learning connections that will lead to better education, and better art.
And while the rambling collection of interconnected buildings at the Granville Street campus had a charm to it circa 1970, it doesn’t work with today’s technologies and especially with the much-too-late provincial requirement that all public buildings be accessible by 2030.
Something has to be done. And a campus at the port might make sense, but the details of the new arrangement need to be fully transparent and fully accountable to the public.
And yet, from the university’s FAQ in the press release announcing the deal:
What is the overall cost of the lease?
The terms of the lease are not publicly disclosed.
This is a lease between one publicly funded institution, the university, and another publicly owned facility, the port, and yet the managers of both institutions are withholding the most vital aspect of the deal, the cost, from the public.
There’s a long history of bureaucratic chicanery connected to NSCAD’s real estate deals, and a previous NSCAD-Port deal smells of corruption. That 2005 deal was brokered by then-NSCAD Board of Director chair Ralston MacDonnell.
After the deal was announced, Terrance M. Brennan, then the chair of the Downtown Dartmouth Business Association, wrote an op-ed for the Chronicle Herald that was published on March 11, 2005. Wrote Brennan:
With cosy pictures and exuberant reporting of NSCAD and Halifax Port Authority representatives, both Halifax-based newspapers breeze over the fact that for a year and a half, NSCAD had been conducting public meetings and presentations touting Dartmouth as the first-choice location for their new campus.
Fast-forward to a joint NSCAD/Halifax Port Authority press release on March 4, and the public is now informed the port authority’s seawall redevelopment will be the new home of NSCAD’s expanded campus. This apparent flip-flop does not seem worthy of the attention of either paper.
So, what does NSCAD offer as to its reason for the about-face? When the subject of the Dartmouth marine slips is brought up, all NSCAD University president Paul Greenhalgh can muster is that there were issues and problems with the marine slips property that eventually drove NSCAD to the port authority site. As to why NSCAD chair Ralston MacDonnell and his board of directors went from considering Dartmouth marine slips as their first choice to the Waterfront Development Corp.’s adjacent property as the last choice, we can only wonder. To go from a position of owning property to renting is clearly a mystery, unless of course there was never an intention to go to Dartmouth in the first place.
Brennan seems to have suspected that there was a turf or bidding war between the Waterfront Development Corp. and the Port, and some behind-the-scenes deal-making was afoot. Maybe. If so, that would be the best case scenario.
What could be worse? Consider: after MacDonnell brokered the deal between NSCAD and the Port, MacDonnell’s firm, MacDonnell Security Risk Management Limited, was hired by the Port to oversee security at the Port.
Was that 2005 deal between NSCAD and the Port corrupt? Has anyone truly looked into it?
Here’s what we do know: in 2020, MacDonnell was convicted on multiple charges of tax fraud. The charges were laid against MacDonnell personally, and his firms: MacDonnell Security Risk Management Limited, MacDonnell Group of Canada Limited, and 3182552 Nova Scotia Limited. He was sentenced to three years in prison and he and his companies were ordered to pay over $600,000 in fines.
MacDonnell’s convictions were not related to the 2005 Port deal, but Judge Paul Scovil’s ruling details that MacDonnell’s documented fraud started just three years later, in 2008:
In the recession of 2008, Ralston MacDonnell’s businesses began to see significant reductions in revenue. While revenues decreased, Mr. MacDonnell continued to strip cash from the businesses to prop up his expenditures for personal uses, which included mortgages, car leases, life insurance and personal spending. At the same time there were occasions where payroll cheques bounced and virtually no payments were made on CRA, HST and Payroll Source Deduction accounts.
Throughout the period, the company’s arrears for HST and payroll source deductions continued to balloon. At the same time, there was a conscious and systematic draining of corporate funds to pay for personal mortgages on Mr. MacDonnell’s home and two other residences, vehicle lease, personal life insurance and other personal lifestyle expenditures. Together, these deprived CRA and Canadian taxpayers of funds due and owing.
As I commented after MacDonnell was convicted:
It’s all a bit much: cheating the taxman while “borrowing” tens of thousands of dollars from your employees and driving around in a BMW and flying to your Florida residence.
Are we to assume that Ralston MacDonell was an upstanding, ethical business person and NSCAD chair in 2005, but then sold his soul to the devil in 2008? Perhaps. More likely, seems to me, is that the flagrant flowering disregard for ethics and the law detailed by Judge Scovil took root much earlier in MacDonnell’s life.
The Port appears to be doing fine, financially. The university, not so much. The opening of the Port campus was a financial disaster for NSCAD, and as a result, the province provided “emergency funding” to the university of $10.2 million between 2009 and 2015.
Coincidentally, just two weeks after MacDonnell was convicted, on June 28, 2020, the NSCAD board fired then-university president Aoife Mac Namara. The next day, I wrote:
Mac Namara stepped right into the closed and opaque circle that constitutes Nova Scotia’s managerial and real estate network.
You’ll recall that NSCAD was nearly bankrupted a few years ago by an ill-conceived purchase of property at the port. Ever since, the Board of Governors has been especially focused on real estate — there was the potential to relocate the Granville campus to the waterfront in a joint project with the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, but for unknown (to me) reasons, that idea fell through, and now the AGNS is going solo with the waterfront project.
In the 1970s, the university moved from Coburg Road to downtown by purchasing the eastern half of the Granville Street portion of the Historic Properties developed by Ben McCrea, owner of the Armour Group. That sale included a provision that should the university ever sell the property, Armour Group would have first rights of refusal.
Fast forward to the present day. Ben McCrea died some years ago, and Armour is now controlled by his son, Scott McCrea. Saint Mary’s University awarded him an honorary degree last year. In addition to the Historic Properties, the Armour Group owns the Waterside, Founders Square, and the dog-awful Queen’s Marque project now blighting the waterfront.
And NSCAD’s Granville campus could join that real estate portfolio. McCrea has made some sort of offer to the university for the property. Does this make sense? Maybe. As the adjacent Cogswell redevelopment project is about to commence, now might be an opportune time to unload the property to a developer.
The problem, I’m told, is that as Mac Namara saw it, the potential sale of the Granville campus was tied up with conflicts of interest on the Board of Governors. In particular, vice chair Sean Kelly is a lawyer with Stewart McKelvey, where he represents the Armour Group.
I don’t know if selling the Granville Street campus to the Armour Group is still on the table, although it seems likely. But why is a secretive, backroom deal tainted by allegations of conflicts of interest necessary — can’t the campus simply be put on the open real estate market? Armour can bid on the campus just like anybody else.
Again, moving the Granville campus to the waterfront might have made sense. There’s never been a clear explanation why that proposal was aborted, but once again, a proposed deal between NSCAD and Waterfront Development (which evolved into Develop Nova Scotia and now Build Nova Scotia) has been superseded by a deal between the university and the Port.
Given the previous criminal-adjacent deal between the university and the port, and given the allegations of conflicts of interest in selling the Granville campus, the deal to create a unified campus at the Port needs to be squeaky clean and transparent.
The university and the port must make public all terms of the lease.
6. Crypto mania
Mary Campbell at the Cape Breton Spectator notes that the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan has lost $120 million by investing in the FTX currency exchange. Shouldn’t that be a problem?
Executive Standing Committee (Monday, 10am, City Hall and online) — agenda
Human Resources (Tuesday, 2pm, One Government Place) — Teacher Workloads and Impact on Student Achievement, and Teacher Recruitment and Retention; and Appointments to Agencies, Boards, and Commissions; with representatives from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Educators for Social Justice, and NSTU
Murmur (Monday, 7:30pm, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Brunswick Street) — a “multidisciplinary, thought-provoking duet of poetry and music” by the Dalhousie Chorus and Ora, Dalhousie’s SA (soprano and alto) choir; $15/$10, more info here
7 Stories (Tuesday, 7:30pm, Dunn Theatre) — a Fountain School of Performing Arts production, until Dec. 3; $15/$10, more info here
In the harbour
09:00: Skogafoss, container ship, moves from anchorage to Pier 36
11:30: X-Press Machu Picchu, container ship, moves from Bedford Basin anchorage to Pier 41
11:45: Vivienne Sheri D, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Portland
20:30: Lowland Serenity, bulker, arrives at Canso outer anchorage from Baltimore
Seriously, tho, please subscribe.