1. Province blames Joe Ramia for budget shortfall

$110.3 million has disappeared down the Grafton Street Glory Hole. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Yesterday, Finance Minister Randy Delorey issued the year-end fiscal update, noting that:

Relative to Budget 2016-17, the forecasted net position is projected to decline slightly. The Province of Nova Scotia is forecasting a surplus and net position of $12.1 million for 2016-17, a decrease of $5.0 million from the budgeted net position of $17.1 million.

The forecast reflects $17.5 million in unexpected costs necessary to respond to October storm damage in Cape Breton.

The surplus has declined by $115.3 million, with $110.3 million resulting from the delay in completion of the new Halifax Convention Centre, which will push the Contribution to Fiscal Capacity to the next fiscal year. The balance comes from other changes to the fiscal plan identified in this update.

Nova Scotia’s path to sustainable finances gives it some capacity to respond to unexpected costs, fluctuations and opportunities without falling into deficit.

Revenue is down overall by $72.9 million; however, a $110.3 [million] decrease in funding for the new convention centre is partially offset by gains in other areas. [emphasis added]


I’m not an accountant, but I can usually wrap my head around a budget. Not this time, tho. This made no sense to me.

See, for its share of the convention centre capital costs, the province is on the line for $56 million amortized over 25 years, and additionally for half the $2.9 million in annual operating expenses. That is a future expense, a liability.

So how does the delay in opening the convention centre — which also delays the expense — translate into a reduction in provincial revenue?

I had to ask around about that, but now I understand that the federal government’s share of the project — $51.4 million, deliverable when the project is complete — is considered a revenue. And because the convention centre opening has been pushed back a (second) year, that expected payment won’t come in this budget year.

Where the other $58.9 million ($110.3 minus $51.4 million) comes from, I don’t know. As I understand it, the city’s side of the arrangement matches the province’s commitments — it too has a $56 million capital obligation amortized over 25 years, and half the $2.9 million in operating costs. I’ve asked the Treasury Department for clarification.

Again, I’m no accountant, but I can’t see this as anything but a budgetary sleight of hand. Shouldn’t the convention centre be viewed as a single capital project, with revenues and expenditures considered as a whole? How does receiving a payment from the feds against a future obligation for the province translate into a revenue line item?

And what gets ignored here is the risk. If we’re going to be categorizing capital payments as operating revenues, then let’s consider the whole ball of wax: What happens if construction of the convention centre isn’t completed until 2020? What happens if it’s never completed? What happens if it is completed, but then is an utter failure financially and the government’s capital payments aren’t covered by an increase in revenue (those celebrated “economic spinoffs”)?

Anyway, I note that we’ve gone from celebrating Joe Ramia as the saviour of Nova Scotia to blaming him for budgetary shortfalls. We could make a game of this: from now on, everything that goes wrong is Joe Ramia’s fault.

2. Triangle leaves NS with fracking cleanup bill

Fracking waste pond at Kennetcook. Photo Halifax Media Co-op

“Ten years after Nova Scotia enticed Triangle Petroleum to experiment with hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in Kennetcook, Hants County, it’s the province that is cleaning up the mess it left behind,” reports Robert Devet:

In 2007 Energy Department Petroleum Division staff began carefully shepherding Triangle’s approval applications along  to make sure the company cleared the regulatory requirements of multiple departments. Ever since the department has taken a casual approach to whether Triangle met its regulatory commitments. 

This summer the oil company filed for bankruptcy in the US. Triangle Petroleum is still operating, but the government of Nova Scotia is left taking care of cleanup at the six well sites around Hants County. This includes finishing the extensive cleanup of two fracking waste holding ponds, a project now managed by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.

3. Richmond County job opportunity

“The financial director of scandal-plagued Richmond County has stepped back from filling in as the chief administrative officer, the county’s warden says,” reports Holly Conners for the CBC:

Jason Martell had been serving as interim CAO on top of his regular job since late October. The former CAO, Warren Olsen, resigned amid a forensic audit and an ombudsman’s report, which singled out and heavily criticized his travel and expense claims.

Martell announced Monday he wanted to concentrate fully on his finance duties.

Warden Brian Marchand said having Martell split his time between both positions may have contributed to the municipality not yet completing its annual year-end audit.

There’s a CAO position open? Let me play matchmaker…

4. Dalhousie bike lane

“A local cycling group said it’s shocked after an announcement Thursday that a protected bike lane on Dalhousie University campus would no longer be completely protected,” reports Zane Woodford for Metro:

In a “neighbourhood notice” from the university sent by email Thursday morning, the university announced it had removed the bollards – plastic posts that separate bicycle traffic from vehicular traffic – in front of the Dalhousie Arts Centre, the building that houses the Rebecca Cohn Theatre, “to alleviate traffic congestion associated with large frequent events.”

“It took a long time to get the bicycle lane in on University Avenue … and it is a pilot project so that leaves a little bit of room for tweaking it, but removing the barriers from the bicycle lane is not a tweak,” said Halifax Cycling Coaltion executive director Kelsey Lane. “In fact, that’s a huge change, and it completely changes the nature of the bicycle lane itself.”


1. View 902 Podcast

Paul Andrew Kimball, of the blog View 902, has a new podcast, cleverly named the View 902 Podcast. He describes his first episode:

I chat with my good friend Aaron John Gulyas. We cover an eclectic range of subjects, including  the strange life and times of Albert K. Bender and his role in creating the Men In Blackmythos (the subject of Aaron’s great presentation at the 2016 East Coast Paraconference in Liverpool, Nova Scotia back in early August), why people gravitate towards the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis as the go-to explanation for UFOs, Ornette Coleman as a metaphor for consciousness, and some 19th century American history, including a debate over who really won the War of 1812. We also field a couple of questions from a message forum on The Paracast radio show, and we conclude with a shocking revelation about President-elect Donald J. Trump. 

I only just learned of it this morning, so haven’t had time to listen. Assuming it’s available through the various podcast aggregators, I’ll give it a whirl today.

2. Adaptive reuse

Photo: Stephen Archibald

Stephen Archibald surveys how historic buildings have been re-purposed time and again in Halifax. Above is Archibald’s 1970s-era photo of the Henry House.


No public meetings.

On campus


Thesis Defence, Computer Science (9am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Ghada Amoudi will defend her thesis, “A Study of the Relationship Between the Geographic Locations of the User and Participation in Twitter During Different Types of News Events.”

New company & society filings

Twenty-five years ago, when I was a young reporter in California, one of my regular weekly chores was to park myself at the county clerk’s office for the day and go through the various registries — birth, death, and marriage licenses, and the fictitious name registries for new businesses. That basic research translated into dozens of news articles.

Here in Nova Scotia, the birth, death, and marriage registries are not public record — I think they should be, but that’s a story for another day. However, our equivalent of California’s fictitious name statements, the Registry of Joint Stock Companies, is public. But I’ve noticed that no one — no reporter, business or otherwise, and no one else, that I’m aware of — follows the registration of new businesses.

Which is too bad, because there are little nuggets of potential news stories all through the registry. I know, because I missed a big one a few months ago that I would’ve discovered had I been paying attention to the registry. And so…

There are too many new businesses and society for me to report them all — that might be a chore for an intern in the near future — but I think there’s value in at least looking at them, and reporting the more interesting ones back to readers. I’ll now make this a regular Friday feature.

This week’s new registrations of note:

Nursing History Nova Scotia Society 
President: Gloria Stephens
The organization has been operating informally since 2007 but appears only now to be establishing itself as a registered non-profit. There’s more here. It’s amazing how much thought went into their logo (above): “The Nursing History logo is symbolized by: Florence Nightingale Lamp with blue background for nursing; Waves, in green, under the motto for the Atlantic ocean; Colours of Nova Scotia — blue, yellow, white and green.”

Lily Pond Child Care
30 Barque Court
Middle Sackville
President: Melissa MacDonald

Halifax Neighborhood Welcome Society
5850 College Street
President; Kabilan Thanapaalasingham. Vice President: David Forner.
Thanapaalasingham and Forner are associated with the Dal Medical School. “The HNWS remains in its infancy at this time, with many details still to be worked out before the program may get up and running,” Forner responds to my question via email. “Please contact us again in the future, once things start to get rolling, and we would be pleased to share more information. We appreciate the interest in an initiative that we believe will be very helpful to patients and their families.”

King’s Aviation Society
President: Doug Kaizer (Kentville). Vice-president: Ronald Testroete (Port Williams)

Randy Flemming, working “in the subculture we all love, Cannabis.”

Exponential Genetics Inc.
21 Bayview Drive
Lower Truro
President: Ralph Flemming (Lower Truro); Vice-President: Randy Flemming (Amherst)
Nature of business: “To apply to Health Canada to become a legal producer under the ACMPR regulations.”
Randy Flemming goes by the Twitter handle @PotWhisperer; for the past year he has been an agent for American Cannabis, which has been working to supply Canadian growers hoping to tap into the new legal market for marijuana.

Aurea Turbines 
New Haven
President: Catherine Moreira
Catherine Moreira is apparently “Cat Adalay,” the daughter of Peter and Carol Moreira who was profiled in their “Entrevestor” column in November. (Her parents fully disclosed the family relationship in the profile.) According to her parents, Cat’s business “is dedicated to producing modular, low-maintenance wind turbines that can be integrated into buildings.”

“Wet Paint Horizontal Abstract Design”

Kaye Artistic Reflections & Designs
President: Janice Kaye
Kaye is big into colours, as in the above piece.

Gore-Jus Greenhouses
2909 Highway 202
East Gore
Nature of business: Production of vegetable and salad greens.
Registered Agent: Tina Morgan

The Inverness Pantry
15933 Central Avenue
Nature of business: convenience store
Registered by Cabot Links Enterprises

The 420 Friendly Company
104 – 299 Innovation Drive
Director: Greg Pitkanen
Pitkanen gets extra points for calling himself an “Inventrapreneur.” Pass the bong, dude.

Black Vision Media
Dublin Shore
Nature of business: Journalism and media services
President: Sabrina Lorenz
Weirdly, I can find nothing on either Black Vision or Sabrina Lorenz. You’d think someone in the journalism and media services biz would have more of a profile.

It hasn’t registered as a business in Nova Scotia, but a company calling itself Express Weed Canada says it offers “safe, discreet, legally-compliant medical Cannabis delivery, offering the finest strains of Indica and Sativa. We offer same day delivery In Vancouver and Express shipping to Halifax Nova Scotia.”

In the harbour

The seas around Nova Scotia, 9am Friday. Map:

6am: Oceanic Crimson, chemical tanker, arrives at Pier 9 from Saint John
8am: Silia T, oil tanker, arrives at Anchorage from Saint John for bunkers
9am: Reykjafoss, general cargo, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
11:30am: Reykjafoss, general cargo, sails from Pier 42 for New York
2pm: NYK Romulus, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
4:20pm: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Pier 36 for Saint-Pierre
6pm: Atlantic Project II, general cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Antwerp
6:30pm: Atlantic Project II, general cargo, sails from Fairview Cove for sea
11:30pm: NYK Romulus, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for sea


Cal at Strange Adventures (Prince & Water Streets, across from the Maritime Museum) tweets:

tshirts from the @HfxExaminer are here! $20 each and all funds goes to support the Halifax Examiner

— Strange Adventures (@strangeadventrz) December 15, 2016

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

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  1. It occurred to me, while contemplating the Glory Hole and braving the cold in solidarity with some smokers the other night outside of the Foggy Goggle, that a proper term for the new convention center is ‘asshole aquarium’. It’s a place where people are put on display inside a ‘modern and innovative’ office, where inside glass walls they perform the vital tasks of ‘innovating and modernizing’. The entire purpose is to put on a proper show in the hopes that the innovation and progress fairies will shower federal or not-too-many-strings-attached corporate money on the province (especially the bloodsucking parasites that feed on our various ‘innovation’ programs). This is a much more expensive version of what cargo cults do in the Pacific, and is far sillier, because unlike the cargo cults we should know better.

    Also, these guys:

  2. Agree absolutely. There was an opportunity for win-win that was ignored. When walking through Dal on a warmer day this week, I only saw two vehicles parked in the bike lane, one making a courier delivery and one dropping off a patron at the Cohn. Usually the bike lane is bikeless. I hope Dal considers moving the lane to the inside left, which should satisfy everyone.

  3. Curb side bicycle lanes are a problem anywhere people are frequently dropped off. However, the University’s comment that it’s only part of the lane, and only during peak times, illustrates a complete lack of understanding about how bicycle lanes work. A lane cannot be a little bit blocked – it’s either blocked or not – and while going around is possible, that’s hardest during those peak times, when many cars are pulling in and out.

    On University Avenue, the simple solution would have been to run the bicycle lane on the inside, along the boulevard.

    1. Shocking that some cyclists regard their desire to cycle safely is more important than safe access to a 1,000 seat arts centre for those with wheelchairs, walkers, canes.
      I see cyclists in Toronto believe the disabled and the less able should enter buildings through a back or side entrance; kinda reminds me of Viola Desmond.
      ” The coalition argues that instead of changing the bylaw, the city should focus on designing streets to ensure that all road users have their own safe, separated space. They suggested providing unloading and loading zones for people with accessibility issues on side streets or at the rear of buildings. ”

      1. Even though my injury was 25 years ago, I still consider myself a cyclist, and will hopefully be getting a high performance armbike this Spring so I can get back on a bike.

        I absolutely want cyclists to ride safely in the city.
        Removing parking for people where location/distance to the door is an issue isn’t the answer. If it’s a pilot project, I’m presuming that means nothing is written in stone. Any accessible parking spots or drop off spots should be re-integrated into the area. Possibly bike lanes moved to the left lane.
        I’m not a city planner or designer, but I drove for a very long time and will be buying a car again very soon. Given there is no way to guarantee an arrival in a city with only 30 accessible cabs(out of 1000+) and the bus has an unsafe tie down set up, I plan on using my car to do things I’ve been missing out on. That includes going to the Cohn for shows and hopefully being invited back to the Dal SUB for another ExaminerRadio interview at some point…? 🙂

        Great job Tim and Ryan. Thank you for covering the accessibility legislation subject.

  4. Thanks for the listing of new company registrations. You’re right that a lot of interesting nuggets are missed without someone keeping an eye out for them.

    With today’s list, I noticed that someone with the same name as the director of Lily Pads day care (which shut down unexpectedly last year (see )) is starting a new child care centre. I wouldn’t have known that without your reporting.

    (Full disclosure: our kids were at Lily Pads at the time, but I hold no ill will towards them. Melissa and Kirk were wonderful, so I hope the new centre will be a success.)

    1. That’s interesting. It’s the kind of thing business reporters should be following up on.

      Part of the problem is that joint stocks isn’t a reverse directory– you can’t search a person’s name and see what companies they’ve been associated with.

      1. Tim, you used to be able to search people’s names in the RJSC database, but the province’s new privacy commissioner put an end to that. It’s one of the many ways phoney concerns over privacy have been misapplied to prevent clarity and transparency in public affairs.

        1. Can you tell me more about that? When did this occur? So far as I remember (might have this wrong), it’s been this way since, oh, 2008?, when I first started checking it.

      2. Yep. Our daughter went to Lilypads too. The closing was an unfortunate shitstorm of bad luck but Melissa and Kirk have become good pals. The structural problems with the child care ‘industry’ are another modern horror story – we systematically undervalue this work to such an extent that operators can’t provide affordable care and keep the doors open at the same time.

        Anyway, Melissa is doing in home daycare now because it’s a much more manageable (and less financially risky) way of continuing to do what she loves., which is interacting with the kids.

  5. Please, Tim, don’t feed the narrative that there is “sleight of hand” in the province’s financial statements.

    The province’s financial statements are prepared in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) by professional accountants. The statements are also prepared on an accrual basis. The concepts can be fiercely complicated, and are sometimes counter-intuitive (hello pension accounting) but it does all make sense.

    Yes, there is professional judgment involved. There are deep, long, loud arguments among accountants about how that judgment should be exercised. Politicians ask tough questions and have strong opinions too, but they can’t order an accountant to put something in the statements that is contrary to accountants’ professional standards.

    It used to drive me crazy, when I was finance minister, to have people (looking at you, Stephen McNeil and Jamie Baillie) dismiss the financial results as “sleight of hand” because the results didn’t fit a political narrative they were building.

    It feeds the dangerous idea that nothing in politics is true, so you can say whatever you want. Please let’s not go there.

    1. Why can’t the province simply have two budgets, like the city does: a capital budget and an operating budget?

      1. I would say the main reason not is that it is far more complicated to separate Provincial and with the increased complexity, easier to hide things with two budgets. Transparency, maybe.

        I know they follow national guidelines explicitly to avoid any accusations such as these and to provide consistency when budgeting items over many years to allow for accurate forecasting.

        But what do I know. Graham is the former Finance Minister. I just work campaigns and read policies and studies for fun.

    2. Management prepare the accounts and auditors audit the accounts. Management can choose several ways to present the accounts and then they discuss the issues with the auditor and settle differences of opinion.
      Scary that a former finance minister appears to not understand how financial statements are mainly a matter of judgement as to when to recognise ‘costs’ and what assumptions to make.
      I was a member of the City of Dartmouth audit committee and an auditor would call me with his concerns regarding disagreements between he and senior staff.
      The best way to understand provincial accounts is to read rating agencies reports.

      Took a long time to for metro media to clue on to the details of the 2015-16 provincial accounts, where in Volume 1 here :

      it states on page 27 ; ” Effective April 1, 2015, the Province discontinued its retirement allowance plans for nonbargaining unit staff. As part of current contract negotiations, the Province has proposed the withdrawal of its retirement allowance plans for unionized staff effective April 1, 2015, and no new members will be admitted into the plans. These benefit changes were reflected in the current year by recognizing a loss on curtailment of $24.2 million and deferred losses of $73.1 million relating to these plans as part of Pension Valuation Adjustment. The Province expects the benefit changes for unionized staff to be ratified in the near future during ongoing contract negotiations. ”
      Jean Laroche reported the issue yesterday several months after the financial statements were released.

    3. CBC reported the convention centre budgetting a little differently: “The delay in the completion of the new convention centre in Halifax has reduced revenue by $110.3 million and reduced capital expenditure costs by $169.2 million.” The reduced expenditures are referred to on p.10 but I can’t find a reference to the $169.2 million figure.

      My reading, putting the pieces together, would be that the total cost was expected to be $169.2m covered as $51.4m from the feds and $58.9m each by the city and province. So the province is budgetting the loss of revenue from the city and feds, then the full cost as reduced expenditure.

      I agree with Graham that the numbers reported are accurate and I assume follow proper accounting rules, but I think the emphasis in the text part of the document is skewed to leave the impression that the delay is a revenue hit to the province, rather than an overall gain. I believe that is to fit the government’s desired narrative, and that is largely how it’s been reported. The numbers may be truthful but there’s still lots of opportunity for spin.

      1. Further to my point, there are 7 references to the convention centre in the text of the forecast document. Six of these address the reduction in revenue, and in four cases mention the $110.3 million. The seventh refers to a reduction in expenses without any dollar amount quoted.

  6. How do you clean up six well sites and the holding ponds? What is the procedure in each case and what is the estimated cost of each? What happened to the posting of a bond to cover the known and anticipated costs of such clean-ups? Similar questions for the pending closure of the Boat Harbour facility- excepting the point about posting a bond. After all, the province operates the facility in Boat Harbour I believe. Could similar questions also be asked about demolition and construction waste sites?

    What are the potential problems that would present themselves if the holding ponds were breached or if their capacity from rainfall and snowfall was exceeded?
    Great article, yet many unanswered questions.

  7. I believe that the accounting for the convention centre has been consistent, and that “revenue” keeps getting pushed down the road along with the completion date.

  8. Fracking water lol. That’s nothing. Somebody ask Labi Kousoulis what the province is going to pay for the effluent treatment facility at Northern Pulp. Or how about this one on the study for the facility, announced yesterday:

    “Northern Pulp has agreed to cost share the study with the province, but the cost of the study of was not released.”