In the harbour
1. After NAFTA ruling, Bilcon demands $300 million
Bilcom, the New Jersey company whose plans to develop a quarry at White’s Point were thwarted by a joint federal/provincial review panel, has won a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) ruling against Canada. The company is demanding “no less than $300 million,” reports the CBC:
“Bilcon had been denied a fair opportunity to know the case it had to meet and to address it,” the [NAFTA] tribunal wrote in its decision.
The tribunal said the joint review panel did not properly assess the environmental effects of the proposed quarry and — wrongly — completely ignored mitigation measures.
“The rigorous and comprehensive evaluation was not in fact carried out…There was in fact a fundamental departure from the methodology required by Canadian and Nova Scotian law.”
It’s unclear if the $300 million figure will be upheld by the NAFTA tribunal, or how the fine will be split between the federal and provincial governments.
This incident exactly illustrates what critics of NAFTA said before it was adopted: It would take control of environmental protection away from local communities and place it in the hands of an unelected, unaccountable group of corporate-friendly adjudicators.
In a sane world, Canadian politicians would learn from the experience and reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which similarly will take decision-making authority away from local governments. Alas, we do not live on that sane planet.
2. Examineradio Episode #4
This week’s Examineradio podcast features interviews with both Graham Steele and Howard Epstein.
Both former NDP MLAs have authored new books on their experiences in the legislature. Steele’s What I Learned About Politics looks at the problems inherent in our win-at-any-costs system. Epstein’s Rise Again: Nova Scotia’s NDP on the Rocks takes a narrower focus, specifically examining the NDP’s rise to power and the loss of the party soul that led to its 2013 defeat.
Hear the podcast below, or subscribe to the Examineradio podcast on iTunes and get it downloaded directly to your device.
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To hear Bruce Wark’s full, unedited interview with Graham Steele, click here.
And here is my full, unedited interview with Howard Epstein:
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“If it turns out that the NDP really is not going to be a progressive vehicle in the future, then I think there is some chance a new party will be created to be that edgy third party that’s neceessary here.” – Howard Epstein, former NDP Halifax Chebucto MLA
To purchase Epstein’s book, click here.
3. Pedestrian struck
A police release from yesterday:
At 12:01 p.m., police responded to a vehicle/pedestrian collision at the intersection of Robie Street and Coburg Road. An 18-year-old woman was crossing Robie Street in a marked crosswalk when she was hit by a vehicle turning left from Coburg Road onto Robie Street. The pedestrian suffered non-life threatening injuries and was transported to hospital by EHS.
The 35-year-old female driver was issued a summary offence ticket under section 125(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. This ticket carries a fine of $693.95 and four points on a driver’s license upon conviction.
4. Go Time
We’ve been told for over a decade that real-time bus information will soon be available. Now, funded by last year’s fare increase, it looks like it finally is. The city has tendered for a “communications strategy” to inform the public about the upcoming changes, including:
Automated Vehicle Location (AVL) Technologies
In 2016, the way passengers plan their trips and interact with Halifax Transit will begin to change. The addition of Automated Vehicle Location (AVL) and its Traveler Information Tools will provide passengers with real-time information on the location of their bus at all times. The technology upgrades will include public interfaces, trip planners, real-time maps and updates, and an Interactive Voice Response (telephone) system. These public interfaces will be available through the Halifax.ca/transit website and smart phones.
Halifax Transit continues to strive to make its service more accessible and easier to navigate for all passengers. In order to further the goal of accessibility, each vehicle will be outfitted with an audio visual system which will integrate with Halifax Transit’s new AVL system described above, to automatically announce each upcoming stop.
Someone with time on their hands should write the history of Go Time and the failed attempts to bring something like the AVL system to Halifax. My understanding is that millions of dollars have been dumped into the project, with no meaningful return. But in 2012, council embarked on what’s called the Halifax* Transit Technology Program (HTTP) Roadmap, and:
The Halifax Transit Technology Program Office was established in February 2014, and in May the AVL+ project was kicked off with our selected solution vendor, Trapeze Software Group (Trapeze). The AVL+ project scope includes Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL), Public Interfaces / Traveler Information, Automated Vehicle Announcements, Automated Passenger Counters and Head Sign Integration for the Halifax Transit conventional fixed route fleet. Trapeze TransitMaster will be a foundational platform with which future HTTP technology solutions must integrate.
We’ll see, I guess.
* Last year, effective July 15, 2014, the old “Metro Transit” was rebranded as “Halifax Transit.” I’ve noticed that the city hired Winston Smith to go through all previous press releases, including those from years before the name change, and replace “Metro Transit” with “Halifax Transit.”
For just two random examples, here’s the revised 2012 announcement of the end of the transit strike:
(Tuesday, March 13, 2012) Halifax, NS—Halifax Regional Council today ratified the Tentative Agreement between Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 508 and Halifax Regional Municipality, effectively creating the parties’ new, five-year collective agreement and ending the Halifax Transit strike that began February 2, 2012.
And here’s a revised 1999 press release — 15 years before the name change — about a Remembrance Day pause in service:
For Immediate Release
November 8, 1999
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
Halifax Transit Recognizes Canada’s War Veterans
On November 11th at 11:00 am local time, HRM’s public transportation system, Halifax Transit, along with other transit systems across Canada will observe a 2-minute wave of silence in honour of our war veterans.
We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.
Moving forward, it makes sense for the city to want brand consistency across city announcements and in city documents. But going back and changing the historic record seems to — or should, anyway — violate ethical principles about communications.
Do I really have to explain this?
The archived press releases create a historic record. That record should be reliable and never-changing, so that citizens, historians, and reporters trying to understand the historic context of events have a dependable set of documents.
If it’s OK to go back and retroactively change the name of the transit service, what’s to prevent someone from going back and changing historic tax rates, or the dollar amounts paid contractors, or even election results?
All documents archived on the city website should be an immutable permanent record. Period.
I have a lot of good-natured (I hope) back and forth with PR people on Twitter, but here’s something (again, I hope) where we can get on the same page. PR professionals, can you weigh in on this?
5. Climate change is killing the oceans
The spectre of climate change presents a number of terrifying feedback loops. Perhaps the scariest of all is the destruction of the oceans.
This article is behind the Examiner pay wall and so available only to paid subscribers. To purchase a subscription, click here.
6. Trinity Western
“Nova Scotia’s law society is appealing a court ruling that stops it from denying accreditation to graduates from a Christian university due to the school’s policy of prohibiting sexual intimacy outside heterosexual marriage,” reports the CBC.
The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society had tried to deny recognizing lawyers who graduate from Trinity Western University, which bans homosexual dating. The Society’s press release is here.
1. Cranky letter of the day
Has anyone tried to drive through New Minas lately, without hitting a pothole? Some of these potholes are deep enough to tear the wheels off of your car. I realize that the winter season can play havoc with our highways, but this is ridiculous.
This section of highway should have been re-paved last summer, so we would not be faced with this dilemma. I would think that these road conditions must be having an effect on how well the business sector is doing or not. If I were a business owner in New Minas, I would be thinking twice about paying my property taxes. Once again, political blunders being made by incompetent, overpaid and under-worked village and municipal political figureheads, who just can’t get their decisions and priorities in order.
In the meantime, everyone in the local area has to resort to beating their vehicles to pieces, driving over these disgraceful roads. So just a reminder to all you great Village of New Minas decision makers, if my vehicle is damaged while driving through New Minas, you will be paying for my vehicle repairs. Have a great day.
Gordon Arnold, Kentville
City council (1pm, City Hall)—the big issue at council today is the Khyber Arts Centre. The Friends of the Khyber sent out this press release yesterday:
Several Halifax community and arts groups are concerned about two new staff reports that may set the stage for the sale of the “Khyber Building” at 1588 Barrington Street. Groups including Friends of the Khyber (FoK) and the Khyber Arts Society (KAS) want to see it restored as a community arts hub, but fear the reports to be discussed at this Tuesday’s meeting of Halifax Regional Council may jeopardize those plans. They are troubled that city staff did not reach out to the community.
“We’re surprised and disappointed that these reports are being brought forward with absolutely no public engagement,” said Emily Davidson, FoK representative. “Over the past six months FoK has worked diligently with KAS, Neptune Theatre and engineering and architectural experts to create a plan for a sustainable, multi-organizational cultural hub in the Khyber Building.” The working group advised the City of their progress in a letter sent by Amy Melmock, Neptune General Manager, on January 28.
“Neptune Theatre respects the autonomy of HRM staff in bringing forward information and recommendations with respect to the structural status of the Khyber Building. Notwithstanding this, the staff reports are noticeably absent of community consultation,” says Memlock. “We hope that the end result of this process will see the Khyber preserved as a viable arts facility and arts incubator. It is also our hope that the City will be a willing collaborator in these consultations. There is much to be gained working in harmony with the diverse stakeholders who have expressed support for the Khyber.”
In January of 2014 the City closed the Khyber Building citing safety concerns, forcing the anchor tenant KAS to relocate to temporary premises on Cornwallis Street. In July, city staff recommended the building be declared “surplus” and sold. This prompted strong protests from the arts, cultural and LGBTQ communities in Halifax and around the world. Friends of the Khyber generated a petition of over 2,300 signatures and staged a vigorous letter writing campaign asking council to reject the staff’s recommendation and instead renovate and maintain the building as a community and arts hub.
On September 9 2014 City Council voted to remove the Khyber Building from the list of surplus properties. Council requested two staff reports to explain how the estimated renovation costs had increased by $3 million and why city staff did not follow through on previous directives to maintain the Khyber Building as an arts incubator. Since that time, a consortium of groups has been building an alternate plan for the space.
These groups are frustrated that the new reports were drafted without consulting KAS or other community stakeholders. “Instead of supporting a multi-disciplinary arts hub, the city’s latest reports suggest that all is well with KAS at its temporary location, laying the ground to relinquish HRM from its commitment for our return to 1588 Barrington,” says Craig Leonard, Chair of the KAS Board of Directors. “Not only is this false, but it’s framed as the result of ‘operational’ funding from HRM, which is in fact money explicitly directed to KAS as compensation for temporary displacement to Cornwallis St.”
The groups plan to have representatives at Tuesday’s council meeting to request more time to draft their proposal and make clear that community consultation is essential as this issue moves forward.
I’ll have more on the Khyber situation later this morning.
Standing Committee on Resources (9am, Room 233A, Johnston Building)—Murray Coolican, the Deputy Minister at the Department of Energy, will be asked about “Geoscience Research for Offshore Growth.”
Just a heads-up that the legislature opens Thursday. It will be a strange day, with the traditional pomp muted by the real pain from the loss of Allan Rowe, and with the sideshow of everyone wondering if Andrew Younger will show.
Tuesday, March 24
Undergraduate science research (Tuesday, 9am–3pm, McInnis Room, Student Union Building)—first is a “faculty lecture off,” followed by a research poster presentation session, and then a 3-minute thesis competition. This is geek heaven. Wish I could go.
Google Maps navigation (Tuesday, 11:30am, Slonim Conference Room, Goldberg Computer Science Building)—Ryder Ziola, a graduate of Dal’s Computer Science program and an engineer who works on the Google Maps Android app, “will discuss some of the problems that keep him up at night: noisy sensors, big realtime data, and pesky user-experience constraints. He will cover some opportunities for future internships and employment with Google.”
Sediment (Tuesday, 11:30am, LSC, Oceanography Wing, Room 3655)—Greg Wilson will talk about “Sediment transport measurements using a new acoustic backscatter/Doppler system.”
Silencing the Academy: Academic Freedom and the Future of University Governance (Tuesday, 7:30pm, Rm 303 Student Union Building)—a “panel discussion on the role of faculty in university decision-making and its link to academic freedom. Panelists: Dr. James L. Turk, Dr. Letitia Meynell, Dr. Victor Catano. Moderated by Dr. Catrina Brown. Sponsored by the Dalhousie Faculty Association.”
International Perspectives on Science and Economics (Wednesday, 12:30pm, Mona Campbell Building, Rooms 1110, 1111, 3110 and 3207)—third year students in Dalhousie’s China Program in Economics and students from the Science without Borders initiative with Brazil will give their perspective on “policy matters, international trade, sustainable development, consumer behaviours and interesting topics on science and engineering.”
Honours Student Seminars, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre D, CRC Building)—no further information is given, but I guess it’s self-explanatory.
Pitfall (Wednesday, 8pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery)—André De Toth’s 1948 Film Noir: “Dick Powell plays a returning vet with an ideal family life, yet he risks it all for a woman who is also being pursued by a thuggish PD played by Noir’s favourite heavy, Canuck Raymond Burr.”
Climate Change Adaptation, Coastal Governance, and Community Resilience: Vignettes from a Global Review (Wednesday, 4pm, Loyola 271)—Ahmed Khan, a post-doc, will present.
Your feel-good story of the week, via CTV:
In the harbour
Atlantic Concert, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove West, then sails to sea
Canopus Leader, car carrier, Emden, Germany to Autoport
Tokyo Express, container ship, New York to Fairview Cove East, then sails to sea
Florida Highway, car carrier, Emden, Germany to Autoport
OOCL Kaohsiung, container ship, Port Said, Egypt to Fairview Cove West
The local commentariat is strangely silent today.
You assume the NAFTA decision on the aborted Digby Neck quarry expansion was wrong. I don’t have an opinion one way or another about the merits of the quarry project. But with a little checking, I think you will find that the Fournier panel behaved in a way that showed flagrant bias against Bilcon, the quarry proponent that filed the NAFTA complaint against Canada. From people I spoke with at the time, the bias was palpable to independent observers. In addition, the NAFTA judges found the panel based its decision in part on “factors outside Canada’s environmental laws” and failed to notify Bilcon it would be doing so. Unfortunately, the history of full panel reviews administered by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is replete with problems like this. Whatever system we have for resolving environmental disputes, it ought to be fair, and fairly administered.
The scale of the project was inappropriate to the setting. I can understand that by the letter of NAFTA the recent decision may be correct. The fundamental problem is that a project of such a scale likely never should have been considered or encouraged in that location. It was a proposal for short-term grabbing of a finite resource that would have literally altered the physical shape of the area, and figuratively altered the place as well. The project would have brought no gain to anyone or anything in Nova Scotia, and would have cost us so much. The fundamental flaws are in the trade agreement that makes the recent decision ‘correct’. Nova Scotia basalt bedrock to parking lots in New Jersey. We should be able to do do much better than that.
“In 2016, the way passengers plan their trips and interact with Halifax Transit will begin to change. ”
It changed over a year ago and the city blocked access.
Knowtime is a brilliant idea. I was thinking that the technology couldn’t be anymore complicated than a cellphone in every bus. Most drivers must have them… compensate them for the use of an app while they drive.
Thanks for your linked article too.
The Bilk Con, er Bilcon project was terrible for Nova Scotia, and now this decision is a terrible terrible precedent. A diligent highly experienced joint review panel understood the environmental and cultural problems with this massive proposal to remove a large part of Digby Neck so it could be turned into pavement in New Jersey. I am horrified by this ruling and what it will mean for possible future proposals. This news needs to be spread far and wide in our land, on the remote chance it may influence decisions about signing on to other ‘free trade’ agreements. Sigh, I know.
Wow, what a great issue today. You’ll be spared from my comments on most of the issues you write about today, since I do have to go back to work, but I can’t help mentioning the Kyber issue. This is just one example of woeful culture at City Hall, which mitigates against support for the arts, artists and our built heritage. City funding is woefully inadequate for the arts when you consider the importance of this sector to the identity of Halifax and quality of life our artists contribute to our city. Halifax politicians are always pleased to celebrate our vibrant arts scene while offering a pittance in support. Further, the Kyber problem is not unique in our municipality. I use the word “problem” intentionally because it is my impression that senior staff tend to look at city owned heritage properties as a problem that is best dealt with by allowing them to decay to the point where the only solution is a tear-down. The best example I can think of is the Andrew Cobb built and designed Greenvale School. The city left it unheated and with a leaky roof for years. It was just a stroke of luck that Dexel came along and saved the structure – all be it with the failing masonry exterior covered with stucco. Before Dexel came along and replied to an RFP, I mentioned the problem to a city staffer and referred to the situation as neglect. The staff member corrected me by calling it “willful neglect”. Simply put, Halifax Regional Council needs to draw a line in the sand when it comes to the Kyber, making it clear that the arts and what’s left of our built heritage is important and must be supported and not looked at as problems that can be solved by willful neglect.
The internet is great for making information available, but the ease with which false or stolen information can be posted, or information retroactively changed, are under-appreciated risks. There are similar problems with eBooks, and the use of cloud or subscription services to store and distribute music and movies means those can also be invisibly and retroactively censored. Sometimes it is an innocent lack of knowing the difference between a living document (like a site home page) and an archival record (like a press release), but the potential for abuse is scary. Don’t like a reference in Tintin? If the only copies are electronic, you can remove it, and no one will know it was ever there.
That’s why I hang on to all of my Tintin and Asterix books, despite their aged and worn conditions, so I can always rely on their content. Or I’m a pack rat. Sometimes I confuse the two.
I can’t help but wonder if historical records from the period we’re currently living in are the most vulnerable to permanent loss compared to older documents. Yes, paper documents can burn and I’m not saying we should carve everything in stone, but if gigabytes of information can be forever lost just because someone kept a magnet too close to a hard drive we’re taking quite a risk with what we’re holding on to for future historians.
There will also the loss of technology to actually read the old digital data.
We may end up losing a lot of of history.
One big solar flare could send us back to the Stone Age.
Re #4: I can understand changing a press release to correct an error and making a notification of such an error, much like newspapers do. But a stealth edit with no record made of the change is a pretty shady move, regardless of what’s being changed.
Yes, retroactively changing the name of a public entity to align with a current name change is unnecessary and confusing at best, and seems disingenuous. It led me to wonder if they had simply figured out a quick work-around script that crawled their website doing a “find and replace” and had just simply not factored in the archived press releases?
Did Bell go back and eradicate all mention of Maritime Telephone & Telegraph? I suspect not. Whether a M&A induced name change or simply a rebrand, one cannot change the past.
Even Old New York was once New Amsterdam…..
I was wondering the same thing as Charlene, re an automated script that picked up all the editable materials, not just the current web pages. It’s rather bizarre.
Old council reports are NOT changed. That might be because they’re mostly in unreadable PDF form, however.
I think this is a much bigger issue you’ve hit on Tim. It’s actually very easy to automate the process of saving copies of online files and it’s easy to determine if they’ve been changed since you last made a copy of them. But is this being done? Seems like a pretty basic requirement as our societal documentation moves online from the real world, and the establishment remain the only ones with the “keys” to public records. I think proper oversight in this situation is critical, and it really isn’t rocket science.
The first step in this case would be for the city to begin creating an md5 hash for each file added to the website. Then anyone accessing the document can confirm it has not been altered from it’s original state. This tactic is extremely common, costs virtually nothing, and is used all over the internet to allow downloaders to confirm the file they’ve downloaded is the same as the one that was originally uploaded. Unfortunately, this system doesn’t protect against file change or removal, nor does it protect against someone changing the file and the hash together. The necessary second step would be for independent 3rd parties to mirror websites, which is just making an exact replica of a website.
There is one established organization I’m aware of who have been documenting the web by making static copies of sites on a regular basis: http://archive.org/web/
They appear to have built a solid framework for this type of documentation, and my understanding is that they are willing to help others establish similar projects.
Thanks for this, Jake. I’ll read through it tonight, and think about how I can use it myself.