In the harbour
1. Nova Scotia’s film industry just won’t die
After a disastrous season last year, filmmakers have seen an uptick in productions this year. But will the work keep coming?
Jennifer Henderson surveys the local film scene and discovers that it’s a glass half-full/ half-empty scenario. Click here to read her article.
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I listened to two lectures yesterday.
The first was via one of the podcasts I listen to as I travel around, in this case a London School of Economics podcast. As I took the bus downtown to get my mail, and then walked up to Dalhousie, I was listening to Thomas Frank plug his new book, Listen, Liberal!.
I’ve been reading Frank for what seems like forever, but definitely at least since his 2004 bestseller, What’s the Matter With Kansas? was published. I also have repeatedly linked to his hilarious essay in The Baffler, “Dead End on Shakin’ Street,” in which Frank deconstructs the word “vibrant.”
In Listen, Liberal!, Frank discusses how the US Democratic party has abandoned its traditional support for the working class. Here’s the podcast description from LSE:
Financial inequality is one of the biggest political issues of our time: from the Wall Street bailouts to the rise of the One Percent, who between them control forty-percent of the US wealth. So where are the Democrats — the notional ‘party of the people’ in all of this? Author Thomas Frank will examine how the Left in America has abandoned its roots to pursue a new supporter — elite professionals — and how this unprecedented shift away from its working-class roots ultimately deepens the rift between the rich and poor in the US.
In the lecture, Frank describes how the Democrats have embraced supposed meritocracy and have abandoned solidarity. Never mind that the Ivy League grads who rise to the top of American liberal circles were born with silver spoons in their mouths or that this is essentially an upper class circle jerk, the mythos is that the technocrats and financiers are super smart and effective and deserve all the riches they amass. Ignore the smouldering wreck of the global financial system brought down by the very same people — “they’re innovative!” says Frank, mockingly.
I was walking to Dal to hear the second lecture: Peter Nicholson was talking to the Dalhousie Board of Governors about “The Importance of Research and Innovation to Nova Scotia’s Future.”
Nicholson, a Dalhousie grad, is the uber Liberal. He was a Liberal MLA back in the 1970s, and went on to become an advisor to Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin. Along the way, he’s served on various government boards, and of late has become an “innovation” guru. And now the provincial Liberal government has hired Nicholson to corral us all onto the innovation bandwagon; he was a co-author of the “We Choose Now” report, which Nicholson explained was too abstract for policy makers, and so he has now written a “New and Better Ways: A Field Guide for Nova Scotia’s Innovation Ecosystem.” This report, he said, is much more “granular.” Granular will be the next buzzword sweeping the province.
Nicholson is an engaging, likeable speaker. He had a series of PowerPoint slides detailing what he described as the economic and demographic challenges facing Nova Scotia, and what could be done about it (hint: it rhymes with tinnovation).
Early on in the lecture, Nicholson showed a slide with the basic definition of GDP, reducing it to per capita production times population. “This is just math,” he said, explaining that to increase GDP, you either had to increase production or increase population. Refreshingly, Nicholson admitted that despite a recent increase in immigration, Nova Scotia’s demographic trends are downward and that won’t change. That leaves the productivity side of the equation. And we can only increase that through innovation, which he broadly described as “new and better ways of doing valued things.”
Well, sure. It is just math. And that’s the problem. The GDP formulation is inarguable. But should an increased GDP necessarily be the one and only goal of policy makers? Should it be a goal at all? And throughout his presentation, which was entirely internally consistent, he never touched on issues of distribution of wealth and profit, or retention of capital, all of which, I would argue, are primary economic issues facing us — far more important than increasing GDP.
At one point, Nicholson showed that in terms of dollars invested per capita, Nova Scotia was the third-ranked province in the nation for Research and Development. But, the component of those dollars coming from private industry was the last in the country, while the component coming via university research was the highest. In Nova Scotia, innovation is government-directed.
As Nicholson was talking, I kept thinking back to Frank’s lecture. Nicholson was essentially arguing that meritocracy should be rewarded with government financial support. There is an obvious chicken/egg problem here: those who get the support will necessarily be more successful innovators than those who don’t, and that success will prove their merit. Workers? Meh.
I fear that the Nova Scotia Liberal Party is talking the same meritocracy game as the US Democratic Party, and it will inevitably lead to similarly disastrous results.
In any event, after he spoke the floor was opened to questions from the Board. To my dismay, not a single critical or skeptical voice was raised. Think about this: these are supposedly the brightest and most insightful minds in the province, picked to run our premier research university, and none of them could mouth a dissenting word about the innovation bandwagon.
This is no small matter. As Nicholson noted, over half the throne speech last week was devoted to “innovation” and matters he says are raised in his Field Guide. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being directed into the various innovation programs. Isn’t a critical voice necessary? Shouldn’t academics and opposition parties and other inquiring minds want to unpack this?
Last night, Nicholson kindly sent me a copy of the as-yet unpublished 150-page Field Guide, noting that he’s still discovering typos but it won’t materially change. I haven’t had time to read it, and I haven’t had time to do more reporting and research around this issue. I intend to, but I can’t do this alone, nor should I be the only person looking at this with skepticism.
Therefore, I’m posting the Field Guide for others to examine:
I’d appreciate any thoughts from readers.
3. E-gaming scandal
“Some P.E.I. government emails and records about the province’s [PEI’s] e-gaming scandal were deleted, but it appears no one will be reprimanded, partly because no actual penalties currently exist,” reports Teresa Wright for the Charlottetown Guardian:
[Finance Minister Allen] Roach says he was “as surprised as anybody” to learn government emails had been destroyed.
He said the law, as it is currently written, has no sanctions for those who break it.
That’s why sanctions will be added, he said.
“We have to look at the act because right now, that accountability is not in the act,” he said.
Government does have servers that back up emails and records, but Roach explained these servers are mainly designed to help in the case of a major disaster. As such, they only retain information for one year.
4. Pedestrian struck
From a police email to reporters at 7:30 last night:
Halifax Regional Police are on the scene of a pedestrian motor vehicle collision, at 60 Tacoma Dr in Dartmouth, the Sobeys parking lot. At 5:50 pm a woman was walking in the parking lot of Sobeys when she was struck by a car. She was transported by ambulance to the hospital with life threatening injuries. The driver and vehicle remained at the scene, waiting for emergency crews to attend. Halifax Regional Police Accident Investigation Unit has been called out and will be continuing the investigation at this time.
An update was sent to reporters at 4:45 this morning:
Update on the pedestrian motor vehicle collision from last night , the pedestrian a 52 year old woman, is still in the hospital her injuries are no longer life threatening. The driver of the vehicle was a 19 year old woman and the collision is still under investigation.
“Having taught for 18 years, I cannot recall any time in my career when educational reform has been less collaborative, meaningful or affirming of the work I do,” writes Paul Wozney, a teacher, for Local Xpress:
[Education Minister Karen] Casey is possessed by the conviction that she knows, better than thousands of teachers across the province who have begged for decades to be involved in leading from the bottom up, what’s right for our schools.
Her leadership over the education dossier can only be characterized as hostile, self-serving and tone-deaf. It should seem no small wonder to any Nova Scotian that over 9,000 public school teachers have stopped trying to reason with such an individual and resorted to a No vote so profound that it cries out for a solution to the problems that can no longer be ignored in our classrooms after decades of neglect.
2. Cranky letter of the day
To the Charlottetown Guardian:
I noticed the decorations outside of Sobeys at West Royalty and I thought … it can’t be … but … sure enough they have their Christmas decorations out and their Christmas baskets there to purchase.
Number 1 – Halloween hasn’t even come and gone;
Number 2 – Remembrance Day is still November 11th;
Number 2 – Who in their right mind is going to purchase greenery for the Christmas season mid-October … it’ll all be dead by December.
I am still shaking my head. Maybe Sobeys need to give their head a shake too. For the life of me, I do not get it. Why does retail do this?
Marie Gilchrist, Charlottetown
Halifax Explosion 100th Anniversary Advisory Committee (3pm, NS Community College, IT Campus) – the Explosion will be celebrated with a train wreck.
Centre Plan Launch (7pm, Spatz Theatre) — totally not like HRM By Design! Double Pinky Promise!
Public Accounts (9am, Province House) — Deputy Minister Tracey Taweel will be asked about the Creative Industries Fund. CBC article by noon.
Thesis defence, Chemistry (2:30pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Ramesh Shunmugasundaram will defend his thesis, “A Study of the Properties of Layered Lithium-Rich Transition Metal Oxide Positive Electrode Materials for Lithium-Ion Batteries.”
The Fire of Life (4pm, Theatre A, Sir Charles Tupper Medical Building) — Daniel Kane will speak on “Stoking the ‘Fire of Life’: Exercising Mitochondria for Health.”
Romeo and Juliet (8pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery) — Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 production, which some consider the definitive film version.
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
Information (6pm, Windsor Theatre) — Sarah Cook will speak about her book “Information.”
In the harbour
1am: Hollandia, general cargo, sails from Pier 31 for Rotterdam
4am: Agios Minas, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for sea
5:30am: Southern Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Liverpool, England
6am: ZIM Constanza, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Valencia, Spain
7:30am: Silver Whisper, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 20 from Sydney with up to 466 passengers
8:30am: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Saint John
9:15am: Grandeur of the Seas, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John with up to 2,446 passengers
10am: Patino, Spanish warship, arrives at NH3
3:30pm: ZIM Constanza, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
4pm: Southern Highway, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
4:15pm: Atlantic Conveyor, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
4:30pm: Silver Whisper, cruise ship, sails from Pier 20 for Saint John
6:30pm: Grandeur of the Seas, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Baltimore
6:45am: Rotterdam, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 31 from Sydney with up to 1,685 passengers
9:45am: Regal Princess, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John with up to 4,271 passengers
3:30pm: Rotterdam, cruise ship, sails from Pier 31 for Bar Harbor
7:30pm: Regal Princess, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for New York
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.
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I read a few pages of the Field Guide, section 1 and have the urge to innovate,. You can do it anywhere apparently with good results. I like that innovation is widely accepted as the thing to be doing now. Please don’t interrupt me while I am innovating though, that is just rude.
…GDP was not meant to be an anchor metric for targeting national economic performance or a measure of national well-being. For the latter, there are many alternative measures, including the Human Development Index (HDI), introduced by the United Nations in 1990, and the OECD’s Better Life Index…
There are a number of better metrics than GDP, above is just one example. Are we chasing the right carrot, or just the convenient one for snake oil salesmen?
Can I be the first to propose to the Halifax Explosion Committee that they declare it acceptable that future sports teams take the name “Halifax Explosion”?
It is not just PEI that gets away with deletion of e-mails. Outside of the box maybe, but other agencies get away with far more. Even our once world respected and trusted RCMP seem to be able to fall outside of the rules that as it seems in PEI, rules that they have in place. I personally dealt with RCMP databases and files that were not once, but twice deleted and purged from their systems. Going through the Privacy Commission of Canada, they were founded at fault in mishandling the files and records but guess what? No recourse or action taken against them. I lose the file and extremely valuable information and they lose nothing. Nothing to lose? Why ever follow the rules? Similar to Halifax Regional Police and evidence lockers and so on. These circumstances are just pushed aside by our society because it only really ever causes trouble to so few. The rest of us just don’t care because hopefully it will never be ‘me’ at the wrong end of the scale.
I’ve read Listen, Liberal: Whatever Happened to the Party of the People? and it is indeed a rewarding read. It’s worth the time spent getting into the weeds of his arguments. One of the pieties he unpacks is the widespread notion that if we just get everyone a post-secondary education they will pull themselves out of their humble circumstances. Thinking that free tuition for everybody will solve the wealth disparity problem is short sighted. Post-secondary institutions are bastions of privilege and meritocratic complacency.
A “Field Guide” sounds like something you would use, as would a birder, to identify rare specimens in the field. “Oh that’s a Silicon Valley Innovator! Here in Necum Teuch! A storm must have blown it in!”
I have a sense that these kinds of publications are like those formerly in print, and now online, explaining how to be one of the cool kids. Since innovation (dread word), like cool kids, tends to grow on its own, I’m not sure how useful these efforts will prove to be. This is especially so when government is involved because “innovation” and “government” are not two words I normally put together, whether the “innovation” refers to the profound changes that should be made in government/civil service, or the private sector innovation government thinks it can lead, or at least push. Call me cynical.
The last, maybe the only, true government innovator in the Maritimes was Louis J. Robichaud in New Brunswick in the mid-1960s. Entrenched interests caused such an uproar and fury that nobody has had the courage to make sweeping reforms since, no matter how badly needed. Since government can’t innovate itself, so I don’t know how it expects to lead or push innovation elsewhere.
A start for wider innovation would be for government to be truly transparent. By that I don’t just mean making documents available without a protected fight, which is exhausting and expensive even for a large media outlet, but also by making raw data freely available. In that i would include municipal data. Citizens, media, businesses would be able to take all the raw data and work with it on their own, everything from location of crimes to where and when water mains were replaced to where the snowplows were on a specific day, etc etc etc. This is already done in the United States, so I’m not sure I can even call this innovative. Smug Canadians like to think they are better governed than Americans, but when it comes to open government, we can’t hold a candle to them.
Right now, a lot of the data that would help innovative solutions either by government or private business isn’t even kept. As one example, nobody really knows what the true employment rate is for my small town. Statistics Canada keeps it as part of a much larger area, which includes some very poor rural areas and a few municipalities that have more employment opportunities. But nobody, not the federal government nor the province, can tell me what the data are for my specific town. The same is true for the crime statistics, which are misleading because of the methodology used. So how can they target social and other programs, when they don’t have data? If you want to innovate hyperlocally (dread word), these kind of granular (another dread word!) data matter.
Sorry for the screed. I have dealt with and reported on government too long to expect it to apply, lead, or push innovation. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Also love Thomas Frank.
The problem with meritocracies is eventually they become too proud of their own output and become obsessed with producing output they like without any regard for the nature of the output. The meritocracy regards its official orfices as the source of objective reality and becomes ever more fascinated with itself. Eventually the meritocracy disappears up its own asshole completely, and becomes a type of quasar, periodically emitting pulses of pure bullshit.
I think we have a new black holes origin theory. Any such singularity would surely vacuum up good ideas, break them down, and transform them into meaningless neo-liberal schlock.
I meant to write pulsar… oh well.
This may be nit-picking, but may I suggest that the next major edit to Nicholson’s “Field Guide” be its title? I suspect he’s chosen that name because “Road Map” has become cliché in those circles (LOL). A field guide is a book for aiding in the identification of things as they are–“oh look, it’s a crested flycatcher!” “That’s an unusually granular example of Urgonian limestone.”–and has nothing to do with strategies or change.
Love Thomas Frank.
As to the Field guide – the first thing in the publication is a glossary of acronyms and quotes from the “seminal analysis” of the Ivany Report?