1. Montreal Massacre

There’s another anniversary today that seems to be overlooked in Halifax: the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre.

Barbara Darby writes of learning of the massacre — her sister was then a student at the Université du Québec à Montréal— and of how it prompted her to identify as a feminist. She concludes:

So now, December 6, 2017. I’ve been struggling a bit with this year. It coincides with the memorials of the Halifax Explosion, which in my part of the world has been highly visible in the news and in the infrastructure expenditures. I’m a lawyer and I spend time in the Courthouse on Devonshire Avenue, and have noted over the years the pictures in the hallways of the destruction and survival, while waiting for a matter to be called, and a Justice to rule about money or children or parenting time or adoptions.

The Explosion was a terrible, tragic, political event of war and conquest and accident. None of the folks who died that day were guilty of anything beside being in the wrong place, at the wrong time. None of them got what they were bargaining for. But somehow, December 6 is always going to be about Montreal for me, because no one in Halifax on December 6, 1917 was targetted for who she was and who she could have been.

2. Bring out your dead

YouTube video

With time, even the worst tragedy is first horror and grief, but then becomes lived history, then a sort of affected solemnity, then a historical curiosity, then farce. Does anyone today have even the slightest emotional reaction to, say, the slaughter of Akkad at the hands of Cyrus the Great?

In terms of the Halifax Explosion, I think we’re somewhere between lived history and affected solemnity.

We’ll know this town has thoroughly processed the Explosion when someone can make a musical comedy out of it.

David Hendsbee makes a stab at it:

3. IMP

Halifax council approved the Integrated Mobility Plan yesterday. It was a lively discussion, but I don’t have anything to add beyond what Erica Butler wrote yesterday: it’s good the plan was passed, but it means nothing if council doesn’t actually implement it. We’ll watch.

4. Volta

Yesterday, Premier Stephen McNeil announced that his government is giving $2.25 million to Volta Labs over the next three years.

There’s a lot of babble tossed around in the announcement:

Innovation is key to our economic future,” said Premier McNeil. “This funding will give more entrepreneurs in Nova Scotia the support they need to start great companies. It will also help our vibrant startup community continue to grow. Ultimately, that means more jobs and opportunity for young Nova Scotians.”

Well, maybe! It would be great if that were true, and maybe to some degree it is. I want to know more…

Here are the “Key facts on Volta Labs” contained in the announcement:

— more than 50 early-stage companies have worked out of Volta Labs since 2013
— 70 per cent of Volta’s companies are still in business
— Volta companies currently employ more than 290 full-time staff
— most of Volta’s company founders are between age 26 and 40
— Volta companies have raised more than $50 million in equity funding
— two Volta alumni companies have exited
— several Volta companies have at least $1-million in annual recurring revenue
— Volta hosts more than 150 community events each year, including networking events, training sessions and meet-ups.

I was listening to an LSE podcast the other day, where the start-up guru Eric Ries, author of the international bestseller The Lean Startup, was interviewed. I found the talk informative and interesting. I was especially taken with his skepticism about start-up “incubators.”

Ries’s major point was that many of these incubators don’t have any way to measure success. He spoke of going to a Scandinavian start-up incubator, where the director told him they were a success because they were full of start-ups. Being full constituted success — it didn’t matter if the start-ups actually left the incubator. Imagine a human baby in an ICU unit who never leaves the incubator, and you begin to see the problem.

What the “key facts” in yesterday’s announcement tell us is that two out of “more than 50” Volta-incubated companies have “exited,” presumably to become stand-alone companies. Good on them! But is a four per cent success rate good? I don’t know. Can we measure the return on investment in terms of future tax revenue from those two companies? I don’t know that either.

Seventy per cent of the Volta businesses — so, 35 out of the 50, are still in business. That must mean they’re still in the incubator. Can they stay there forever, like the bubble boy in the movie? Or do we expect them to leave the incubator at some point? If so, when? What are the expectations? Is there a time horizon — become self-sufficient in three years or we pull the plug? Five years? Ten years? Or will those companies still be there, pointed at in another government press release three years from now, five years from now, ten years from now, as proof of Volta’s worthiness?

I expect a cascade of mail about this — in some quarters, it’s not allowed to even question, much less express skepticism about, the start-up world. But any endeavour using public money should be open to questioning.

As with the convention centre, or the Yarmouth ferry, or a Halifax stadium, I want some definitions around success and failure. Hard numbers. Maybe there are hard numbers. That’d be great. But in all the press releases and published reports on Volta, I’ve never seen hard numbers. I’ve never seen what constitutes success, and more important, what constitutes failure.

5. Those effin municipalities

“A proposed name change for the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities has some members questioning whether the new moniker sets the right tone,” reports Holly Conners for the CBC:

The UNSM — as the organization is also known — plans to change its name to the Federation of Nova Scotia Municipalities.

That has the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s concerned about how the new acronym — FNSM — will sound when spoken out loud, specifically when the first two letters are slurred together.

But why the name change in the first place? Explains Conners:

The name change was prompted by a request from member municipalities to rebrand, said UNSM president and Colchester County councillor Geoff Stewart.

“The name union was synonymous with labour movement and there was always calls to the office regarding that sort of mandate … people looking for consultation with labour,” he said.

A consultant was hired, and the proposed new name was presented to membership in November.

First of all, Geoff, you Colchester County hick, it’s “there were always calls…” You’re worried about people making fun of you? Maybe learn to speak like someone who’s read a book for once in his life already.

I don’t believe you, anyway — I don’t believe a single damn person picked up the phone and called some backwater hick politician to complain about the word “union.” And even if, say, an overworked Colchester County employee living in poverty because you won’t pay a wage reflective of a government in a civilized community that cares for the well being of all its citizens actually mistaking called the UNSM thinking that someone could stand up to your low-paying self, the correct response would have been to say, “I’m sorry, we represent the people oppressing you; you want to call CUPE. Have a nice day.”

And really? The old name sounded something like the name a labour union might use, and you so hate labour unions that you can’t even sound remotely like them? You actually hired a consultant to brilliantly change the name “union” to “federation”? Who was that — P. J. Kelly Consulting? Whoever it was, I bet the consultant was paid more than that poor worker who mistakenly called you.

You know there are all sorts of unions, right? The Union of Concerned Scientists. The International Astronomical Union. The Canadian Amateur Athletic Union. The Union of International Organizations. The Student Union. Credit Union Atlantic, once headed by known communist Jamie Baillie. Union College. The International Amateur Radio Union. Earlier this year, I went to my family reunion.

But oh boy, the municipalities can’t have “union” in their organization’s name because, I dunno, it might give their employees ideas.

Those effin municipalities.

6. A living wage for some


“Happy holidays to HRM councillors, who are taking home a 2.3 percent pay bump,” reports Jacob Boon for The Coast:

Under the new formula, the salary for an HRM councillor this year increased from $85,444 to $87,409.

Mayor Mike Savage will now make $180,083, while deputy mayor Waye Mason will take home $96,150

I will undoubtedly be asked to express outrage about council salaries when I appear on The Sheldon MacLeod Show (today at 2pm, News 95.7), and I’ll say what I’ll say every time councillors get a raise: I wouldn’t care at all what councillors were paid, if they would simply enact a living wage ordinance so that the people they nominally employ aren’t living in poverty.

7. Black in Halifax

Today in Metro’s Black in Halifax series:

Yvette d’Entremont profiles Dean Simmonds, a sergeant with Halifax Regional Police from North Preston.

Perry King profiles Quentrel Provo.

Yvette d’Entremont interviews Ronalda Tolliver about the shooting of her son.




North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm, Sackville Public Library) — mostly Bedford West zoning changes.


Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — the committee is being asked to rather vaguely work towards reducing plastic bags:


That the Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee recommend that Halifax Regional Council direct the CAO to ensure staff engages with appropriate Nova Scotia Environment staff and members of the Solid Waste-Resource Management Regional Chairs Committee (‘Regional Chairs’) to discuss options for a unified approach to reduce or eliminate the use of plastic shopping bags in all Nova Scotia municipalities, particularly in light of the changing plastic film commodity markets worldwide.

Investment Policy Advisory Committee (Thursday, 11:30pm, City Hall) — to make committee members feel like they’re knowledgeable and smart and clued in about the global economy (hint: no one on Earth is), staff gets them  to read various reports issued by people and companies that falsely claim to know what’s going on. This month, that includes a Scotiabank report on “BoC Adopts A More ‘Cautious’ Tone“:

As expected, the BoC left its policy rate unchanged at 1% and adopted a considerably more cautious tone in multiple respects that clearly communicate it is not in any rush to hike again while nevertheless retaining a hiking bias over the full forecast horizon.

Hey committee members: The Bank of Canada is just as clueless as you!

Also, they’re being asked to read an article by Canadian Press reporter Armina Ligaya headlined “RBC joins list of banks deemed ‘too big to fail’“:

The Royal Bank of Canada is the first Canadian lender to be added to the Financial Stability Board’s list of global systemically important banks, which are deemed too big to fail.

The FSB, which co-ordinates the work of national financial authorities and international standard-setting bodies, added RBC (TSX:RY) as it removed French bank Groupe BPCE, keeping the total number of institutions on the list at 30.

Which is all well and good (or frightening and indicative of impending doom, who knows?), but has absolutely nothing to do with how the city of Halifax invests its short-term funding reserves.

The councillor on the committee is Russell Walker, about the very last person I would trust with my money, or even to hold my beer while I made my own investment decisions. Other members include the city’s Deputy Treasurer Renèe Towns, who got her degree at St. F.X; Kim Houston, an Investment Advisor at something called Industrial Alliance, and a grad of Acadia; Daniel Hudgin, who manages the pension fund at Emera (from my cursory look, it appears that the defined benefit fund at Emera is in good health, thanks to the reliable income stream of power rates); Scarlett Kelly, who teaches at the School of Public Administration at Dal; and Dorothy MacCurdy, who holds the title of “Concierge/VIP Sales and Marketing” at Air Canada — I think that means you talk to her as your plane is careening groundward from 50,000 feet to certain death, and maybe she’ll move you to Business Class.

I kid, sort of. I mean, yah! public service. It’s good there are people who put themselves forward to volunteer on these committees. But investment decisions are at best a spin at the roulette wheel, and let’s not pretend otherwise. The whole damn thing can come crashing down tomorrow for no explicable reason, and nobody will have predicted it or will be able to explain it afterward.

Um… Have you tried twenty-two tonight? I said, twenty-two.

Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — the committee is insisting that a protected bicycle lane be placed on Hollis Street.

Harbour East Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — here’s the agenda.

Public Information Meeting- Case 21094 (Thursday, 7pm, St. Peter’s Anglican Church Hall, 3 Dakin Drive, Halifax) — Clearwater Seafoods wants to build a parking garage on the Bedford Highway.



Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — the committee will be questioning someone (who isn’t yet announced) from the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture about seafood exports.


Resources (Thursday, 10am, One Government Place) — the committee will be discussing “Large Private Non-Industrial Landowner Group,” and who can that be, heh? Also, related, “Forest Management on Private Lands.”

On campus



Jennifer Love. Photo: UBC

Developing Catalytic Reactions One Step at a Time (Wednesday, 1:30pm, Room 226, Chemistry Building) — Jennifer Love, from the University of British Columbia, will speak.

Remembrance and Action on Gender-based Violence (Wednesday, 2pm, Room 310, B Building, Sexton Campus) — Dalhousie’s Women in Engineering Society (WiE) hosts a ceremony and candlelight vigil to commemorate the victims of 1989’s École Polytechnique Massacre and to encourage action that ends gender-based violence and supports women in male-dominated fields like engineering.


Holiday Dogs (Thursday, 11am, Dalhousie Student Union Building) — the event listing:

Put on your ugly sweater and come meet some adorable dogs. Bring your friends and take the cutest holiday card photo the world has ever seen! Afterwards, find your professional photos on the Facebook event page.

$2+ donations in support of Dalhousie Medical School’s annual Euphoria Variety Show (charity TBA).

Jean Gray. Photo:

The Promise and Perils of Contemporary Therapeutics (Thursday, 12pm, Room 109, College of Pharmacy) — Jean Gray will speak.

Saint Mary’s


Thesis Defence, Applied Science (1:30pm, Room 310, Science Building) — Masters student Joseph Zachary MacDougall will defend his thesis, “Investigations of Inoculation of Sugar Beet (Beta vulgaris L.) with Gluconacetobacter Diazotrophicus and Gluconacetobacter Azotocaptans.”

In the harbour

6am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
6am: ZIM Tarragona, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Algeciras, Spain
8am: Beothuk Spirit, oil tanker, sails from Pier 9 for sea
10am: YM Essence, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
4:30pm: George Washington Bridge, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
4:30pm: ZIM Tarragona, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
5pm: YM Essence, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Bremerhaven, Germany


Radio day. Rain day. They seem to come at the same time.

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

Join the Conversation


Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
  1. I think the term “exited” in the Volta numbers refers to being bought up by a bigger company. Tech startups are encouraged to have an “exit strategy”, i.e. “how do you and the equity investors cash in on the time and money invested in getting this business off the ground?” Usually this means a goal of getting bought up by Google, Facebook, or some other juggernaught.

    The bullet point says “two Volta ALUMNI companies […]” so I assume there are more alumni beyond just the two that have “exited”.

  2. Agreed completely on the need for measures of success, with the caveat that there aren’t hard numbers or objective measures for assessing all positive impacts of any organization.

    That said, some corrections. That’s not what “exit” means to a startup. It means an acquisition or an IPO, or some other mechanism of divesting (some or all) ownership from the founder(s). It’s a crap measure of success on its own, because it is entirely reasonable to start a business and run it for the rest of your life without major growth.

    A cursory review of the Volta website shows 15 companies are currently resident. ~35 have left, one way or another. The use of the word “alumni” suggests there is some type of progression & graduation.

    The stats suggest 20 of those that left are still operating in some fashion. That’s higher than I’d expect.

    And again, echoing the call for clearly defined success measures.

  3. I went to a hackathon at Volta a couple years ago, it was fun, and essentially free (except everyone’s taxes) to boot.

    It’s better than spending more money on the Sobeys, Braggs, Risleys or Irvings…