1. Atlantic provinces must repay “hundreds of millions” of dollars to Ottawa

Charlottetown Guardian reporter Teresa Wright drops a bombshell this morning:

Ottawa is asking all four Atlantic provinces to repay hundreds of millions of dollars in harmonized sales tax revenues the finance department says it overpaid to the region.

The Guardian has learned Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland were notified in December that a re-calculation of HST revenues by the federal government was done and that the Atlantic provinces have been overpaid in HST revenues.

Prince Edward Island was overpaid by $30 million over a period of years. In total, overpayments to the Atlantic provinces are in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The feds are now asking the four provinces to repay the money, which sources say will be redistributed to Ontario, the only other HST participating province.

How is it possible that “hundreds of millions of dollars” in tax receipts have been miscalculated? Wright continues:

Provincial sources say the feds “miscalculated” the HST formula, but the federal department says the province’s recalculation is “in accordance with the terms of its sales tax harmonization agreement.”

Provinces receive their share of HST revenue through a system that relies heavily on estimates.

“Because the shares are estimated and since data comes in over several years, the amount of revenue provided to a province for a particular year only becomes final after five-and-one-half years,” said Jack Aubry, media relations with Finance Canada.

“Within that period, as new data becomes available, the amounts provided to provinces are re-estimated. As a result of that process, a province may receive more revenue or may be required to repay revenue that it has already received.”

The provinces do have the option of repaying the amounts over three years, Aubry added. 

Wright doesn’t put a dollar figure on the amount Nova Scotia owes, but assuming that the miscalculation reflects population, based on PEI’s share of $30 million, Nova Scotia might have to pay back something like $200 million. To be clear: that’s a guess on my part. The actual amount Nova Scotia owes could be more or less.

But if the amount owed is on the order of $100 million or so, there goes any hope of a balanced budget for the McNeil government. Continues Wright:

The four Atlantic premiers have a meeting in Wolfville, N.S., on Friday to announce new initiatives under the Atlantic Growth Strategy, but they plan to hold a separate meeting to discuss how to deal with the HST overpayments.

2. Tantallon asphalt plant

Photo: Philip Moscovitch

“The sign outside the St. Margaret’s Centre in Upper Tantallon is not usually the place for political messages. Hockey tournament dates, basketball registration, sure,” reports Philip Moscovitch:

But for last night’s public consultation on a proposed asphalt plant in the area, the sign was taking sides: “Stop the Tantallon asphalt plant” it read.

Inside, more than 200 people turned up for the first of two open houses held by the city on a proposal by Scotian Materials to put a mobile asphalt plant on a property in Head of St. Margaret’s Bay. 

Moscovitch goes on to give a good overview of the issue, its history and what has residents so concerned.

This article is behind the Examiner’s paywall and so available only to paid subscribers. Click here to purchase a subscription.

3. Introducing: Court Watch

I’ve been trying to up the Examiner’s game, and that has me surveying the local media scene and seeing what holes we can best fill.

Unfortunately, with the collapse of the Chronicle Herald and the reduction in other newsroom staffs, we’re missing out on basic beat reporting, and no one much is systematically going through public documents to find stories.

For instance, I feel like local media aren’t even sufficiently covering the business scene, the bread-and-butter of the advertiser-driven press. That’s why I’ve started the “New Company & Society” listings. (I’ll publish another edition later today.) It’s one of those things that media used to cover regularly, and so here the Examiner is doing it. But it’s time-consuming; I hope to soon be able to bring on a (paid) intern to help the process along and follow up on some of the listings in more detail.

Likewise, there’s been a collapse in court reporting. We’ve basically got Blair Rhodes at the CBC and Steve Bruce at Local Xpress, both of whom are excellent reporters doing good work, but that’s it. (Other reporters drop in on the more sensational cases, but the courts aren’t their assigned beats.) Rhodes and Bruce are overtaxed and can’t do everything, so they concentrate on actual court proceedings. That leaves the more mundane day-to-day business of the courts mostly uncovered.

Last year, I attempted to fill this need myself, dropping by the courthouse on a regular basis to check the latest filings, but I soon found I didn’t have the time for it either. So I’ve asked law student Christina Macdonald to step in. Starting yesterday, Macdonald is writing a weekly “Court Watch” column, a quick overview of the decisions, filings, and docket items she finds most interesting. Click here to read “Court Watch.”

This article is behind the Examiner’s paywall and so available only to paid subscribers. Click here to purchase a subscription.

4. Schools and political spoils

Stephen McNeil is punishing north end Halifax residents for electing NDP candidate Lisa Roberts as their MLA.

“School board members in Halifax were ‘surprised’ to see the province will replace J.L. Ilsley High School, despite higher growth elsewhere and a review suggesting a new north end junior high,” reports Haley Ryan for Metro:

Dave Wright, chair of the Halifax Regional School Board (HRSB), said Wednesday he wasn’t expecting to see the province announce funds in the 2017-18 capital plan to replace the Spryfield school, since the HRSB had only asked for “additions and alterations” on their priority list.

“I would like to know what justification the minister used to change that to a new school construction. There must be something that I’m not aware of,” Wright said before a board meeting Wednesday.

This is the worst kind of political spoils. Like the results or not, the school board came up with its school replacement plan through a studied and transparent process that was informed by open public debate. The McNeil government then took the entire process behind closed doors and drew up a capital plan that punished north end Halifax for electing NDP candidate Lisa Roberts as their MLA, and rewarded Spryfield for electing Liberal Brendan Maguire as their MLA.

5. Mount Olivet Cemetery


A police release:

Halifax Regional Police is seeking the public’s assistance in relation to a property damage incident at the Mount Olivet Cemetery on Mumford Road in Halifax last weekend.

On January 21, police received a call in relation to a number of headstones having been knocked over and one damaged sometime overnight. Police are taking this very seriously in light of the disrespectful nature of the incident and given the cemetery’s historic significance to our community.

The Catholic cemetery opened in 1896 and is one of the burial sites for the victims of the Titanic and the Halifax Explosion.


1. Teachers

Premier Stephen McNeil. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Graham Steele surveys the tentative contract with teachers and notes:

Most of the working-condition issues are not new, but previous contract negotiations have tended to leave them unaddressed. Wage and benefit increases were a substitute.

Now we have a government that is going for the double: trying to squeeze wages and benefits, without making any costly concessions on working conditions. There are promises of investigations and studies, little more.

Maybe that’s why it’s this time that teachers are finally saying “Enough.”

They’ve voted no twice already — no to proposed deals, no to their government, and no to their union.

Based on the early reaction, there’s a real chance they’ll vote no for a third time on Feb. 8.

Like Steele, I think a “no” vote is likely and that the government will then impose a contract through legislation. Then, as Steele says:

The government would have to re-think its plans to call an election in 2017. It simply cannot go to the polls with 9,300 teachers — plus their families, friends and supporters — looking to express their anger in the voting booth.

Of course, the longer Premier Stephen McNeil puts off an election, the more his government will be responsible for paying back that $200 million in “miscalculated” tax revenues I discussed above, so there goes his balanced budget pledge as well.

Sucks to be Stephen McNeil right now.

2. Dal SUB

Stephen Archibald shows off some photos of the newly renovated Dalhousie Student Union Building, and then breaks out old photos of the place, from when it opened in 1968. I enjoy his description of the photo above:

The fireplace was the centrepiece of a large lounge known as the Green Room, because it had striking, green coloured carpet. In front of the fireplace was a sunken “conversation pit,” a step or two below the level of the rest of the room.

This very staged photo shows the conversation pit when it was brand new. The photo appears in 1969 Yearbook and the anonymous models actually include the yearbook editor and the president of the student council. These things don’t just happen.

3. Marcus goes ice fishing

Photo: Tim Krochak / Local Xpress

Chris Lambie takes his 12-year-old son, Marcus, ice fishing.

Marcus: Watch out! It’s a trap! RUN!!!!!

Next thing you know, you’ll be claiming to enjoy winter sports. You’ll be snowshoeing and ice skating and dogsled racing and pretending that minus 20 degrees is fun. You’ll talk about the crispness of the air, the invigorating breeze, the beauty and wonder of winter landscapes.


Quick: go to Cuba, or California, or Mexico or anywhere you don’t have to wear four layers of clothes just to take the garbage out to the curb. You’ll thank me for this, Marcus.It’s the best advice you will ever receive in your entire life.

4. Cranky Letter of the Day

To the Charlottetown Guardian:

Re: Water, Islanders most precious resource. Like most Islanders I had no idea that several plants on P.E.I. are bottling our precious ground water.

As our only source of fresh water on P.E.I. is from precipitation, rain and snow, it is incumbent upon our elected officials to halt this practice immediately.

No bottling of water, no trucking of water, no shipping of water and no exporting of water.

Vaughan Davies, Charlottettown



Community Design Advisory Committee (11:30am, City Hall) ­— committee members will discuss whether they can ruin the regional plan to the degree that they’ve ruined the waterfront.

Transportation Standing Committee (1pm, City Hall)— staff is recommending that the pilot Low-Income Transit Pass program be extended, with the important proviso that the “eligibility criteria [will] exclude the use of income from roommates.” A step forward.

Public Open House (6pm, St. Margaret’s Centre) ­— more about that asphalt plant.


No public meetings.

On campus


Civic Engagement (7pm, Ondaatje Auditorium, McCain Building)— Megan Leslie will speak on “Civic Engagement: Why Activism, Politics, and Community Matter More Than Ever.”

Saint Mary’s

Brain Networks (1pm, Library LI135)— Elissa Asp will talk about “Spatio-temporal Networks in Brains and Language Processing: Some Practical Implications and Theoretical Questions.”

In the harbour

The approach to Halifax Harbour, 6:30am Thursday. Coming into the harbour are (green boats) Oceanex Sanderling, followed by Mary (circle, not moving), OOCL Antwerp, and Zim Constanza. The three blue boats are tugs and offshore supply vessels servicing the Sable Island gas field. The next green boat is the car carrier Elektra, followed by the oil tanker (red boat) East. Coast. Map:

5am: OOCL Antwerp, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
6am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
7am: OOCL Antwerp, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
7am: ZIM Constanza, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Valencia, Spain
8am: Atlantic Kingfisher, tug/supply vessel, arrives at Pier 9 from Baie Comeau, Quebec
8am: East Coast, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Saint John
8am: Atlantic Pioneer, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 for Jorf Lasfar, Morroco
8am: Nanny, oil tanker, sails from Pier 9 for sea
9:30am: Elektra, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southhampton, England
Noon: Vega Omega, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 42 from San Juan, Puerto Rico
3:30pm: Mary, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Cagliari, Italy
4pm: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Berth TBD from New York
4:30pm: ZIM Constanza, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
9:30pm: Elektra, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
10pm: Western Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Somerset, England


We’ll be recording Examineradio this afternoon. Before that, I have to track down a rumour I heard last night; if true…. oh boy.

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

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  1. Re: New School Nobody Asked For

    The decision to build a new school which is not even on the priority list speaks clearly to illustrate the utter uselessness of school boards. Every four years we pretend to elect somebody, usually in alphabetical order to be part of a school board. Members of that board work hard to make decisions like what schools are needed and where, but are ignored by the province who decide where these schools go based solely on political reasons. Also during the recent teachers’ work to rule, the school boards were silent even though they are supposed to be the actual employers of teachers. particularly the HRM school board should resign en masse to make a point.

    1. Why do we need school boards?
      I used to know the #2 in the HRSB. I asked her one evening way school boards were needed , and at length she agreed they weren’t essential. Where I grew up the state of New South Wales administered thousands of schools from a large central office plus (I suppose) regional branches.

      You never see angry parents railing against the Department of Education when their little town’s much loved junior high school closes. They always go after the school board, who was handed a budget by The Department and told to make it work. I suppose there might be historical justifications for school boards in days where towns funded their own school and demanded a say in their kids’ education. Much water has flowed under the bridge since. The telephone and (in some rural areas) the internet has arrived. Are school boards an expense that a viciously austere government could do without?

      Perhaps the real reason we retain school boards is that they insulate The Government from the consequences of its own policies. School boards seem like an illusion of local democracy – a layer of hapless locals who cop the flack from tough decisions forced upon them from above, while government postures as disinterested bystanders. We apparently can’t afford to fix the classrooms, we can’t afford to pay teachers (already in the lower half to third of Canadian teachers), but we sure can afford to hang onto an unnecessary layer of administration between schools and government. Wonder why?

      The Electoral New Math
      “I would like to know what justification the minister used to change that to a new school construction. There must be something that I’m not aware of…”

      Premier McNeil is just being consistent. Last November [NS Auditor General] “…Michael Pickup said he could not find any explanation for why three new schools were approved in Liberal-held districts, including Bridgetown and Tatamagouche which are held by Premier Stephen McNeil and Casey, respectively. (

      I feel sure the elevation of low priority schools and the demotion on the construction priority list (compiled by non partisan public servants) must be a total coincidence and not simply vile old-time Nova Scotia Liberal politics. Surely the Liberals wouldn’t decide which schools were opened or closed for electoral advantage. Of course not.

      They wouldn’t do a thing like that would they?…

      1. The decisions of the current government in regards to Education are all political. Two new unneeded schools in both McNeils and Casey’s riding, a new school in Eastern Passage that’s not needed, and now they’ll replace another school while neglecting the real need in the North End. This is completely disgusting and yet I’m not surprised at all. A priority list of schools was compiled and yet they seem to just pick and choose based on their own interests.

        This is also the same government that is proposing a new contract to teachers with the promise of studying inclusion and needs in the classroom and from those studies decide where to put the money. Right… we all know no matter what the studies find they’ll decide how to spend the money in a way that benefits themselves.

    2. Maybe instead of eliminating school boards they could be allowed to be more more effective?

      In his report released last November, the Auditor General recommended that “The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development should establish and follow a consistent and clear process for evaluating capital project requests to support long-term capital planning. All new school and renovation projects should follow this process.” in part because “The Department does not have documented processes to guide capital planning and decision-making practices are ad hoc
      and unsupported.” (from

      Let us see evidence as to whether this decision was made at the Department using a consistent and clear process or in an ad hoc and unsupported one.

      1. What effect could they have apart from insulating government from the consequences of it’s own decisions?

        Why couldn’t the ancillary issues to education that they manage be done within The Department with outreach – say internet forums? You would still need expert managers, but we may be able to do with less of them and each school districts could be coordinated with better resource sharing etc.?

        1. Research says elected boards (that practice good governance) tend to lead to the best result for students in the end. And I don’t particularly like the alternatives to school boards. IMO one of the things School Boards do is act as a less partisan buffer to partisan politics. I don’t know that you would find more efficiency by trying to amalgamate everyone further either – HRSB is already a challenge to manage in many respects because of its size.

          1. Christy, with more than 2,200 State locations, around 750,000 students attend New South Wales public schools – including preschools, primary schools, central schools, high schools, colleges and specialist schools. This in a state with a population of 7.544 million in 2014. A quick search shows no sign they have introduced school boards since I left.

            As in NS, there are always ongoing complaints about curricula, individual teachers and so on. No school system is perfect – that is as true there as it is here. Still, I don’t recall people feeling even more aggrieved at somehow being denied the right to be involved in key decisions concerning their kids’ education. It’s big, but the system works.

            As for partisan influence, just look at recent headlines.

            School board construction priority recommendations or not, new schools are being moved up construction priority lists by the government to be built in the ridings of Minister of Education Casey and Premier McNeil, while the head of HRSB is mystified how The Department decided to replace JL Ilsley over another school in Dartmouth North. Coincidence?

            I noticed on the CBC news last night that HRSB is now being asked by the government for ‘non-prioritized’ lists for school construction and renovation. If nothing else, this might save future education embarrassments of the kind the government may have inflicted upon itself with this week’s JL Ilsley announcement.

            With respect Christy, education, hospitals, paving – virtually anything that can be used to buy votes is already a partisan issue for Nova Scotia governments. If they believe they can, political parties will usually put their own interests above those of others, including school districts and school boards. Riding high in the polls in an election year, the Liberals evidently believe they can get away with it.

            School boards are in reality little more than straw men with a patina of local democracy. They should all go IMHO.


      2. The NDP government decided to build the Eastern Passage school – a stupid decision but I don’t hear any NDP supporters pointing out that it is a waste of money. Let us not pretend that school board members don’t play politics. The new Prince Arthur school in Dartmouth is primarily a result of lobbying by parents of French Immersion students and the same applies to LeMarchant.
        John Martin Jr High in north end Dartmouth is 54 years old.
        We need a full and fair review of schools in Halifax and Dartmouth, a review which listens to all parents and is centred on the provision of the mandated programmes. A review which takes time to listen to the single parents who live in or near poverty and gives them more weight than the double income, middle class people who think early French Immersion is a great way to avoid the poor, the people of colour and the students with disabilities. In short we need to find a way to stop the blatant discrimination by parents who seek to ensure that their children do not see the reality of living in Halifax/Dartmouth.

        1. LeMarchant St Thomas was a 93 year old school in poor condition. Replacing that before a 54 year old school must be political?

          1. Cute way to ignore the main points of my post.
            I suggest you visit John Martin school and you may well find the school is not as well built as LeMarchant.
            There is a simple solution to the problem – close the boundaries and require students to attend the schools in the catchment area and provide only the mandated programme with a focus on improving the results of kids from lower incomes.
            Or you could just review the schools in the north end and find one that best serves the all children in the area; abolish early immersion and bring in late immersion.
            There are no peer reviewed studies that show early immersion is better than late immersion and Canadian Parents for French cannot provide any evidence to support early immersion.

        2. I have friends who live in the fast-growing Eastern Passage area. They are really tired of their kids forced to take long bus journeys very early in the morning to get them to Cole Harbor High.

          Years back, I believe the government built Auburn Road High in part as a solution to a race issue that made national headlines in the early 90s. I recall that arose from explosive relations between white kids bused from Eastern Passage and black kids from the Prestons. Becky Kent, the NDP former MLA for the area eventually won Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage largely because of her strong support over many years for a new high school there. It seems this has continued with the current MLA, Liberal Joyce Treen.

          Yes, this leaves Cole Harbor and Auburn with excess capacity. Maybe one might have to be re-purposed or closed, I don’t know. Was that stupid? Perhaps one can argue this was shortsighted planning, or maybe it simply wasn’t obvious how rapidly the Eastern Passage / Cow Bay area would become developed and home to so many young families when Auburn Road was built.

          Look, MLAs are supposed to represent their constituents. Above all the partisan BS they are forced to manage, that is supposed to be their core job.

          In this matter, Kent represented them as does Treen now. At first blush, I would call that representative rather than partisan politics. I would have thought that this was how the system was supposed to work.

          “We need a full and fair review of schools in Halifax and Dartmouth…”
          Agreed, but we have just seen how school board assessments got trampled by Liberal electoral imperatives. I can’t see any NS political party somehow conceding the right to build a school that might win a new seat or save the job of a cabinet minister at risk. It’s too valuable a tool in an election year. This stuff happens because we voters allow it.

          Ultimately you get the politics you deserve.

  2. I believe the blue vessels are working with the ‘Stena Icemax’ drillship which previously drilled in deepwater south of Halifax and is now about 25 miles east of Chebucto Head.

    Tim lives less than 1.5 miles from the Tufts Cove smokestacks. I estimate that at least 40,000 people live less than 1.5 miles from the smokestacks.
    There are 8 schools within 1.5 miles of the NSP smokestacks. Nobody lives within 1.5 miles of the proposed mobile asphalt plant near the 103 highway, and there are no schools within 1.5 miles.

  3. I’m always amazed at the percentage of the public who think bottling plants are burning up so much of their precious water resources, when if you look at the breakdown, farming takes up magnitudes more water, especially for inefficient things like cattle.

    1. I don’t have an informed opinion on what’s going on on PEI, but isn’t there a difference between farming, where runoff eventually lands back in the watershed, and bottled water, which removes the water entirely?

      I used to follow water issues in California, which were of an entirely different universe than we see here. I think probably the issues isn’t so much the water, but why shouldn’t the bottling companies pay more for the public resource?