1. HTU renews request for provincial review
The Halifax Typographical Union, which represents striking Chronicle Herald newsroom employees, has renewed its request to the province for an Industrial Inquiry Commission review of the strike, which is now on its 13th month.
A union press release from yesterday:
It’s time for the provincial government to step in and do something about the 13-month strike by newsroom employees at the Chronicle Herald, says the union representing the 55 striking newsroom workers.
The Halifax Typographical Union has asked Labour Minister Kelly Regan to appoint an Industrial Inquiry Commission to penetrate the root causes of the prolonged dispute and help the newsroom reporters, editors, photographers and support staff get back to work, while maintaining the Herald as a profitable entity and returning it to the place of prominence that it had earned in the province over these many years.
“This strike has been going on far too long and it is not helping the Chronicle Herald, its brand and its once unbreakable bond with Nova Scotia readers,” said Ingrid Bulmer, HTU president. “And the strike is definitely not helping our members who for more than a year, have been unable to contribute adequately to the struggling economy of the province while keeping a well-established readership informed.”
The Halifax Typographical Union has offered the following concessions to the company:
● Substantially reduced severance for laid-off employees;
● Jurisdiction change to allow page production to be done outside the bargaining unit
● Wage cuts that equal about $100,000 in savings going forward
● With layoffs, payroll would be reduced by about $2.9 million
● Longer work week, reducing hourly wages further
● Freezing the existing defined benefit pension plan
● Lower salary for new hires
● Banked time capped and used within six months
● An eight-year deal
● Reduced mileage rate
The savings to the company in not paying newsroom staff salaries for the past 13 months tops $5 million. Still, the company demands more.
The union has filed and withdrawn an unfair labour practice complaint with the Nova Scotia Labour Board, withdrawn primarily because the company agreed to back away from year-long demands for jurisdictional changes to the union’s certification.
The company agreed to bargain in good faith but again, in the most recent round of talks, its demands again far outreached its needs in concessionary bargaining.
“We don’t have anything left to give,” Bulmer said.
The union had requested in September that an Industrial Inquiry Commission be appointed but that request was denied by the Labour Department.
Robert Devet interviewed Frank Campbell, VP of the union, who detailed further concessions the company demands from the union:
In addition to this, the Chronicle Herald is also demanding that staff who accept a severance package agree to non-competition and non-disparagement clauses.
Workers believe that this is too broad. Anybody doing journalism anywhere in the world would be considered a competitor under these terms and would have to surrender their severance, says Campbell.
As well, the Herald wants full ownership of localxpress.ca, the worker-run news outlet that has kept reporters engaged. We’ll shut it down, say the workers, but you can’t own the site.
The Herald’s insistence that an editor be disciplined and reassigned because of legal strike activity seems petty and vindictive. The union wants nothing of it.
The union is also resisting that web-editing positions be moved out of the union purview, and that sick leave be drastically reduced.
The company refuses to do layoffs by seniority, a key union demand. Instead it wants to handpick the 26 newsroom workers it intends to lay off.
2. Cultural Plan
One day after forcing a contract on teachers, Premier Stephen McNeil announced the “launch” of a “Culture Action Plan.”
“Our culture is what makes us unique,” McNeil [or, more likely, one of his highly paid PR people] said in a press release. “It is a competitive advantage we must celebrate, invest in, expand and export.”
When I see phrases like “competitive advantage,” “invest in,” and “export,” all my bullshit detectors get pegged at 10.
I sometimes fear that the framing of all human endeavour as competition and monetary transaction has been so accepted and so internalized by the entire society that very few people understand my objection to it.
Look, if by “culture” we mean the arts, broadly defined, including literature, music, dance, theatre, visual arts, and so forth, sign me up. These are good things! But they’re not good because they increase the GDP. They’re not good because they might attract tourists or fatten the bottom line on the export ledger. They’re not good because they make computer geeks working for financial institutions that serve tax cheats want to move to downtown Halifax and hang out in coffee shops.
No, the arts are intrinsically good. They are who we are, an expression of our humanity. The arts are an avenue — the very best avenue — for us to be self-reflective, to question our own identities, to touch up against questions of morality and existence that are bigger than any of us, to celebrate the unknowable, to wonder, for fuck’s sake. Turning that into a mere financial transaction is an obscenity.
And yet, here are the “action items” — you can’t be serious in the modern political world unless you have action items — outlined in the plan:
• Acknowledging and supporting Mi’kmaq interpretation and ownership of Mi’kmaw culture – enabling Mi’kmaq telling Mi’kmaw stories
• Creating a Culture Innovation Fund that recognizes and supports innovative cultural initiatives that address social priorities and opportunities
• Working with post-secondary institutions to enhance the entrepreneurial and export development skills of creative workers
• Working collaboratively with the community, government departments and agencies, and others, to continue to address racism and discrimination and acknowledge head-on that these remain problems
• Positioning the Nova Scotia Museum system to tell the province’s story while increasing relevance and attractiveness for visitors through strategic, targeted investments
• Creating a “Buy Nova Scotia Culture” marketing program, encouraging Nova Scotians and visitors alike to buy our cultural products and services, building on Taste of Nova Scotia and Select Nova Scotia models
In the context of the economic babble bolded above, the line items about Mi’kmaq culture and anti-discrimination efforts seem like sops designed to get broader buy-in.
Were I to hazard a guess about what’s going to come out of this “culture plan,” it’s going to be firstly, tax breaks for online gaming companies, and then building more bureaucracy to hire connected people.
I realize I separate with many of my friends in the arts community on this, but I don’t think we should be framing art as a tool for economic development, or celebrating its supposed economic impact, “spinoffs,” and the like. Those numbers are mostly bullshit to begin with, but once we accept that our goal is to merely get the highest dollar return for our “investment” in art, then we should put all the money into musicals at the Neptune and promoting the Tattoo.
That’s not to say there isn’t artistic value in musicals at the Neptune or the Tattoo — especially in terms of training for performers — but once we value all artistic works solely on the revenues they can bring, we’ve devalued the more challenging and (perhaps) more important artistic work.
That said, the province has long had reasonable artistic support programs for authors and musicians — those programs can be better funded, and the processes for making awards will always be politicized, but at least they exist. The trick is to de-politicize them as much as possible.
So what would a real Culture Plan look like? On my second cup of coffee, I’d throw out these suggestions:
• Fully fund art and music education at the K-12 level, such that each school (including primary schools) has both a full-time music and a full-time art instructor (currently, over-stretched and under-resourced instructors are bouncing around multiple schools);
• Direct universities to better fund arts programs, without regard for income generated through corporate sponsorships;
• Increase the number of tenured, full-time arts faculty;
• Create free or very low rent studio space for artists in the urban core;
• Provide performance space for musicians;
• and, an impossible dream, but stop putting a “economic development” filter on every goddamned thing. How we talk about things reverberates in the community; if we want people to value arts, they’ll need to see it as something more than a mere consumer good.
I’m sure readers have their own suggestions. Please feel free to add them in the comments section.
It’s not their only purpose, but one important role of the arts is to challenge the powers that be and the accepted script for running society. Right now, there is no bigger challenge for artists [for all of us, really, but also for artists] than confronting neoliberalism and all the unquestioned assumptions that come with it, starting with the idea that to be an artist — that is, to express oneself as a non-economic agent, as fully human and not a unidimensional cog in a financial machine — is a worthy pursuit in and of itself.
“Streets and sidewalks in Halifax are finally getting back to normal,” reports Zane Woodford for Metro:
Spokesperson Tiffany Chase said Wednesday that the municipality is starting to scale back snow clearing operations, which have been running 24/7 since last Sunday, though crews will still be out removing snow and widening downtown streets overnight.
The usual service standards for streets and sidewalks were thrown out the window after last week’s blizzard was deemed an “exceptional weather event,” but the municipality estimated last Wednesday that sidewalks on main roads and bus routes would be cleared in 10 to 12 days.
Chase said the sidewalks on main roads and bus routes were done by Tuesday, and all residential sidewalks in the municipality would be cleared by Thursday night. All 2,500 bus stops are clear as well.
My take is that the city has made vast improvements in its snow removal service from two years ago — and especially on the street plowing front.
But there’s still a very long way to go in terms of clearing sidewalks and bus stops. In order to properly do the job after a big snowfall, we’re going to have to do a couple of things: First, put sidewalks on the same priority as streets by writing quick snow removal times right into the service standards. Second, while removing the bulk of the snow may be done most efficiently with plows, getting the job done right — especially clearing snow at intersections and bus stops, where the street plows tend to redeposit snow — means hiring people with shovels to follow up on the sidewalk plows.
Both of these strategies will cost money. But there’s no sense in paying the money we pay now just to get shoddy service.
4. Brendan Maguire
“How do we explain Liberal MLA Brendan Maguire’s temper tantrum at the Nova Scotia Legislature?” asks Press Progress:
The backbencher in Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government got so fired up, you’d think it was his rights getting stripped away and not the other way around.
During a debate on education funding last week, Maguire seemed to get a little worked up by the presence of a group of school teachers watching proceedings from the legislature’s gallery above.
Pointing up at the teachers, Maguire yelled this at an opposition MLA:
“What a show, what a show. When I listen to the member for Pictou East speak, my favourite part is that he likes to scan the crowd to see who’s up there. I have two minutes, so you’re going to sit here and listen. We are sick and tired of people like you telling us that our community isn’t [inaudible] …”
Why would Maguire feel distressed by the presence of school teachers?
Bill 75, legislation that imposes a contract on Nova Scotia’s 9,300 public school teachers, passed third reading yesterday with every Liberal MLA voting in favour and all opposition MLAs opposed.
After Maquire calmed down, he issued a more diplomatic (if somewhat mealy mouthed) statement explaining his vote for Bill 75. But honestly, I’d have more respect for him if he simply said, “hey, my district got a new school from this government, of course I support it.”
5. Colin MacLean
Colin MacLean, president of the Waterfront Development Corporation, died Tuesday. He was 50 years old. Cause of death was not made public.
1. McNeil will now take aim at other public employee unions
“Bill 75 imposes a contract only on teachers,” writes Graham Steele:
The number of public-sector workers without a contract still numbers in the tens of thousands.
I anticipated Bill 75 would deal with all outstanding contracts, but it did not.
With an election on the horizon, there is no way the McNeil government will go through another politically painful episode like this one.
My best guess now is that Bill 148 — passed in December 2015 but so far unproclaimed — will soon be invoked against the remaining public-sector unions. That can be done with the stroke of a pen, though some pretext is needed first.
Bill 148 imposes tight constraints on all public-sector wage settlements.
2. Cranky letter of the day
I am writing about the campaign at Centre 200 in Sydney to increase attendance at hockey games. Free admission is being offered to children under a certain age.
The sound generated at the hockey games seems to have gotten louder each year and now it is at the point that the announcements and music are inaudible.
The Canadian standard for sound levels in the workplace is 75 decibels – and that is for a short time. The sound – rather noise – at hockey games has been measured as high as 107 decibels – and this is for most of the night. The only time when it is pleasurable is when the teams are actually playing hockey.
Recently, on CBC radio, an expert talked about loud sounds and the effect they have on the body. The speaker said you protect your eyes, your body and your breathing so why not your hearing? Hearing loss most of the time is gradual and you don’t notice until it’s too late. But when the damage is done, it usually can’t be fixed.
I feel that placing children and young adults in that situation just to get a larger attendance will harm them for the rest of their lives.
I was a season-ticket holder for years and enjoyed attending hockey games with my son. I complained many times about the absurd sound levels and I was told that: “If you don’t like it, you know what you can do.”
Well, I did.
There is an old rule in business that it is 10 times harder to get new customers than it is to keep an old one.
Gordon Poole, North Sydney
Police Commission (9am, Alderney Gate) — the commission is developing its own work plan.
Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (1pm, City Hall) — Postponed from last week’s snowstorm. Mayor Mike Savage wants the city to work with the United Way on an anti-poverty strategy.
Special Halifax Explosion 100th Anniversary Committee (4pm, NSCC – IT Campus) — the committee is doling out about a half million dollars in grant money.
Public Information Meeting – Case 20589 (7pm, Meagher’s Grant Community Hall) — Lorna Snair wants to subdivide her late mother Mary Sibley’s property into six lots with no or reduced street frontage in Meaghers Grant.
Public Information Meeting – Case 20401 (7pm, St. Peter’s Anglican Church Hall, 3 Dakin Drive, Halifax) — more rezoning in Bedford West.
No public meetings.
No public meetings for the rest of the week.
It’s reading week. Go read the Great American Novel.
In the harbour
7am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
11am: Thuringia, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Yantian, China
11am: MSC Cristiana, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
9pm: Thuringia, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
11:30pm: Viking Adventure, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
I guess I’m still catching up from the snow week and my absence… I have a bunch of stuff lined up to publish, and hopefully most of it will see the light of day today.
Also, anyone want to be on Examineradio? We need a guest today.
I can imagine what an engaged culture would look like in HRM. I haven’t time to spell it out here. When we were deciding to move back to Halifax after many years away, the biggest single reason not to come here was the cultural climate. Aging parents and interesting work won out. The cultural climate is much better than it once was.
New cultural plan
Excellent suggestions, Tim. Another might be to create an integrated multi-dimensional provincial history museum. We have our military museums and our smaller local museums celebrating the big houses of those who were rich enough to live in them. We have our maritime museums. But we don’t have a museum that links their stories to Nova Scotia’s peoples, political economy, community and land. We need a truthful story that includes the perspectives of those whose lands were taken, whose way of life was destroyed. We need a museum that tells who suffered, who paid, who moved us towards greater sustainability, equality, justice, and beauty, and who did not.
The plan is to “position” the Nova Scotia Museum system to tell the province’s story. But we have become detached from our story, constructing instead a story we thought would be of “increasing relevance and attractiveness for visitors”. “In the Province of History”, historians Ian McKay and Robin Bates explain how Nova Scotia has done this. We need a history museum that allows us to see through the obfuscation this has created so we can understand more clearly what we value and what we can become. Visitors too may find such a museum of interest. But it is we who are paying the taxes and it is our story that we want our history museum to tell.
“Invest in” Yes indeed. Governments don’t “spend” anymore, they “invest”. The language of business. Government for profit and the “rent seekers”. Taxpayers not citizens. Even the main stream media parrots the same lines.
“Our culture is what makes us unique,”… “It is a competitive advantage we must celebrate, invest in, expand and export.”
We used to have a wonderful cultural industry. For the cost of relatively little government support it generated much GDP, attracted tourists from out of the country, perhaps even helped sell real estate here.
After promising to continue support for it, McNeil and his cronies very nearly killed it with a combination of lies and mismanagement. Then he blamed the victims of this malfeasance for their industry’s problems. Many of them up and moved somewhere else where they were actually appreciated.
It was the NS Film Industry, now a shadow of what it was before McNeil’s “support”.
Re the Cultural Plan: well said, Tim, very well said. What you say about arts and music in schools is absolutely vital. On the university side, if only presidents, boards of governors and deans had eyes to see and ears to hear. And if only my erstwhile colleagues in the arts (and social studies) were not so damn shy about saying why we do it and what it’s for. Expressing our purpose in the term of neoliberal bullshit is already to have given up the game. I don’t actually think the public buys the bullshit. We (the public) can be trusted to respect and respond to honest and forthright justifications of artistic endeavour expressed in just the terms you use.
I remember when there was a full time art and music program in schools and saw it slip away by the time my children were in school. I did my best to promote it at home. It absolutely should be as important as math and English etc.
A government should not be run for profit but that’s exactly what we are living under now.
THE PRICE OF EVERYTHING AND THE VALUE OF NOTHING
Did Picasso paint “Guernica” to promote travel to Spain? Did Orwell write “1984” to boost interest in industrial investment in England? How about Maud Lewis, and Ernest Buckler and the Rankins and every other artist in Nova Scotia: did they all follow their art intending to improve our gross provincial product?
The wonderful thing about artists is that you cannot stop them. They will make their art regardless. It is their saving grace and ours. McNeil’s plan won’t change that. It will only waste more of our tax money. T’was ever thus.
Exactly! Thanks Skip.
Thank you for articulating far better than I ever could why the Culture Action Plan felt off when I reviewed it.
“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Banksy
“Art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it” Bertol Brecht
“You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.” George Bernard Shaw
“Any form of art is a form of power; it has impact, it can affect change – it can not only move us, it makes us move.” Ossie Davis
“An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.” Charles Bukowski
Cranky letter writer is not wrong…
I’m glad to see you value arts for themselves. As a writer who did win an award from the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, I support the programs that reward artists directly, with competition judged by artists. Programs in the schools would really help, and provide teaching careers for artists as well.
According to the Herald :
” Nova Scotia celebrates diversity in new cultural plan
Premier Stephen McNeil says the province’s first cultural plan will see newly-arrived Syrians celebrated just as much as African Nova Scotians…”
Yes to more arts in the schools.
Yesterday I went through the budgets of Nova Scotia school boards and discovered that HRSB has a very detailed budget and the other boards have so little information that any detailed analysis and comparison is impossible.