This is Tim Bousquet. I’m still vacationing and on the road, so this is an abbreviated Morning File. I just felt the need to jump in and say hello….
1. Chronicle Herald
Stephen Kimber writes:
It was Day 2 back on the job after an incredibly long, deeply bitter and divisive strike, and many among the Halifax Chronicle Herald’s two dozen returning reporters and editors feared management wanted to provoke them by forcing them to work alongside ex-scab reporters and editors. Inside what unfolded that day…
Click here to read “The Herald strike ends; how long will the bitterness linger?”
This article is behind the Examiner’s paywall. Click here to subscribe.
2. Examineradio, episode #128
Guest host Maggie Rahr speaks with Diana Lewis about the growing interest in the Indigenous Studies minor program at Dalhousie University. Plus Maggie and Terra Tailleur talk about abortion doulas, David Hendsbee, Peter Kelly and the Oxford Theatre.
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(Subscribe via iTunes)
3. The folly of chasing Amazon
Last Thursday, Amazon announced that it is going to build a second headquarters somewhere in the eastern half of North America, a complement to its existing Seattle headquarters. The new warehouse headquarters, says Amazon, will employ “as many as” 50,000 with an average salary “exceeding” US$100,000 each.
The company issued a Request for Proposals calling for cities, states, and provinces to compete with each other for hosting the new headquarters, and on cue, Canadian mayors — including our own Mike Savage — chomped at the opportunity:
#AmazonHQ2, #Halifax is on it: port, rail, air, talent, ambition: https://t.co/n9UiPCJMPH
— Mayor Mike Savage (@MikeSavageHFX) September 7, 2017
A tweet, of course, isn’t policy. But if Savage is serious that Halifax is “on it,” he’s saying that the city and province will now embark on producing a Request for Proposal, an undertaking that will cost us at least $100,000, and if it’s more than half-hearted feint, much more. That’s money that could instead be used to fill potholes or extend rec services or pay firefighters. Savage may as well stand in Parade Square and light $100 bills on fire.
My guess is that Amazon prez Jeff Bezos already has an exact location in mind for the company’s headquarters and has only issued an RFP to get the city in question to offer further tax concessions in response to offers from other cities. Amazon has long been extremely capable at pitting governments against each other for its warehouse locations; last year, for instance, the city of Fresno, California agreed to rebate 90 per cent of all property tax bills and 100 per cent of the city’s portion of locally collected sales taxes paid by Amazon — for the next 30 years — in return for Amazon locating a warehouse in that city. The average salary for workers at the warehouse is just $26,000, which is low even by Fresno standards.
Do I really need to say why Halifax would never win a competition for a new Amazon HQ? To begin, for Amazon to site a headquarters outside of the U.S. would be to slap Donald Trump right upside his jibbering jowly head. For sure, it would be great political theatre, but Amazon wouldn’t risk the political fallout unless the returns were enormous, far more than Nova Scotia could conceivably produce.
Beyond that, the very notion that Halifax could actually win such a contest is, well, dumb. Oh, and here comes Roger Taylor.
I won’t waste my time rebutting nonsense or explaining the practical problems with Halifax hosting the company; if you’re in need of the obvious, you can read this thread by Mike Smit.
My main issue with Halifax bidding on the Amazon warehouse isn’t the practical absurdity of it — a Halifax RFP would go down in flames without any comment from me — but rather philosophical. The point of Savage’s tweet (and dog forbid, an actual RFP produced by NSBI or whoever) isn’t to actually win such a contest, but rather to position Halifax as a tech-savvy, business friendly, “vibrant” city. And this, folks, is a huge problem.
See, when our government focuses on chasing businesses and their promised employment, even when that chase isn’t serious, it’s showing all sorts of embedded values: Business is the source of everything good, so therefore must be subsidized with tax breaks and serviced. A big corporation from abroad is better than a local small business, so the local small business must pay the taxes that fund the subsidy to the big corporation — even if, as is the case with Amazon, the big corporation will undermine the actual business of the local small business.
More broadly, Savage is signalling that the type of people who would be employed at a corporate headquarters — wealthy people, people of the technical and management class — are more valuable than the rest of us. Their high salaries make them better citizens, even if they’re not actual citizens right now: future, unknown high-salaried people are better citizens because they have high salaries.
Here’s an idea: how ’bout we build a city for the people who live here? Instead of making a “vibrant” city for the techno elite and the so-called creative class who will supposedly be lured to Halifax with corporate tax breaks, maybe we could, I dunno, make the buses run on time so people in Highfield Park can reliably get to their jobs, or lower rec fees so our kids can be a little more active. If Mike Savage has $100 bills to burn in Parade Square, maybe he can spare a few to pay the janitors at the Sackville Sports Stadium a few pennies more than starvation wages.
Yes, I know: We’re going to get to the promised Nirvana of shared wealth by bringing in the riches from Amazon or Butterfield or convention goers or whatever, and then use that dough to pay for better services for citizens and better pay for city employees. Except that that time never comes. Our government has been dumping tax breaks and rebates on big corporations for decades, telling citizens that Nirvana will come just after the next big corporation sets up shop in Halifax. And yet, in reality we get more austerity, more budget cuts, lower pay, crappier services.
Once we make the value decision that high-salaried citizens are better than the rest of us, that decision is set in stone: they’ll always be better than the rest of us — the better services and shared wealth never come.
Halifax Peninsula Planning Advisory Committee (Monday, 4pm, City Hall) — here’s the agenda.
North West Community Council (Monday, 7pm, Bedford-Hammonds Plains Community Centre) — here’s the agenda.
Heritage Advisory Committee (Tuesday, 4pm, City Hall) — I’m just being lazy by posting these agendas without comment, but here’s another one.
Halifax & West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, City Hall) — and again.
No public meetings.
Senate (Monday, 3pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — the agenda.
Policy Matters: Is Nova Scotia Ready for the Atlantic Immigration Pilot? (Tuesday, 12pm, Rowe 1009) — A panel discussion examining demographic trends and opportunities around immigration in the region as key to growth.
Non-Locality, Contextuality, and Topology (Tuesday, 2:30pm, Room 319, Chase Building) — Kohei Kishida will present this, a joint work with Samson Abramsky, Rui Soares Barbosa, Ray Lal, and Shane Mansfield.
150 Years or More of Data Analysis in Canada (Tuesday, 7pm, Theatre B, Tupper Medical Building) — David Bellhouse of the University of Western Ontario will speak.
In the harbour
7:15am: Norwegian Gem, cruise ship, with up to 2,873 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from New York
7:30am: Rotterdam, cruise ship, with up to 1,685 passengers, arrives at Pier 20 from Bar Harbor
11am: Sarah Desgagnes, oil tanker, arrives at anchorage from Milne Inlet, Nunavut
5:30pm: Rotterdam, cruise ship, sails from Pier 20 for Sydney
5:45pm: Norwegian Gem, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Saint John
7pm: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Autoport from St. John’s
Back to vacation.
Jesus the snark is at an all time high, are you sure you are relaxing Tim?
I guess I’m one of those techo elite. No one I know thinks the techno elite are “better people” but they are generally better higher paying jobs which is why people want to attract them. We can’t compete for labour jobs anymore, if we could we’d be offering them tax breaks too… oh like we did to the shipyard.
I’m not in agreement with the kind of large tax breaks we hand out to big businesses, but come on, no local small business is going to generate thousands of jobs like an Amazon could.
I think the real question is what kind of economic growth do we really want? Small sustainable low level growth by supporting local infrastructure and local businesses or the boom and bust kind predicated on government subsidies?
Great take on the amazon story. People still seem to have trouble moving past personal, individual experience. What I mean: Yeah, amazon provides amazing convenience for customers to satisfy their every individual want at reduced prices. But also yeah, amazon wrecks small businesses, treats their employees little better than disposable objects, shirks its responsibilities to pay taxes and contribute in any meaningful way to the communities it exploits.
So yeah, neoliberalism, as embodied by CEOs like Jeff Bezos, with their genius for enriching themselves at everyone else’s expense, is awesome for individuals with money to spend on whatever amazon has that they want to buy, but the costs of that personal, all-important convenience, is left for all the rest of us to bear, until such time that the promised nirvana of corporatised everything arrives to make all of our lives finally worth living.
“The rest of us?” Who they? That’s arrogantly urban.
Most of the people I know in the small town where I live buy from Amazon because they don’t make much money. That’s mainly why they use it — not only is it more convenient, and offers more selection, it is cheaper. It wasn’t urban yuppies or economists that pointed me to Amazon and other online vendors — it was regular working stiffs and poor people who were trying to make their short supply of money go farther. If Amazon only made money from urban yuppies, it wouldn’t be as big as it is right now.
There is no virtue in supporting businesses that don’t value your business, even if they are local. Not to protest by taking your money elsewhere is to allow these businesses to continue with their bad customer service and insult you. They won’t change unless it is in their financial interest to do so. If they feel the pinch, then they need to find a way to appeal to the self-interest of customers the same way they did when Walmart first moved to town. (Possibly some of them could bring back home delivery again after 50 years absence, for a start.)
Is holding a subscription to your local newspaper part of your shop-local mentality? I work in the media, one of the industries most disrupted by online change. I don’t expect anyone to buy the product simply because it is local. The only way it can be sustainable in the long run is if they buy it because it is in their self-interest to do so. If they see it as hopelessly old-fashioned to read local news, then the problem is in the product, not the consumer.
Nor do I think there should be any subsidies to prop up the media (or to attract Amazon to town, for sure not a dime). I think the changes will shake things out well, with dinosaurs dying and new species coming up — witness this very Halifax Examiner which seems to keep growing because it is well done and meets a need.. As happened to the media industry, I think should happen to retail. Right now — and particularly in eastern Canada — the customer experience, is on the whole, terrible. Shopping at Sobey’s is like taking a time machine back to the 1980s.
I’m not overly concerned about this. Throughout history, the technology always wins in the end. Always has, always will. (Does someone still pump your gas and check your oil for you?) That said, there is always room for niche and unique businesses if they can appeal to enough people. I patronize them myself, and often go out of my way to do so because they offer what others don’t. These businesses are started every day. As I said, I buy my beer from local small breweries, because the beer is fresher and I can even be served faster than in a liquor store. Where I live, we even have a video rental store. So those people with the right small business plan will do fine.
It sounds like the equivalent to mail-order catalogs and travelling sales people that rural residents once relied upon. Interesting discussion.
Check out a Sears catalogue from the the 1920s. You could buy nearly anything, and it was better and cheaper than retail except in major cities
Just because you said “creative class” I wanted to note this piece about Richard Florida disavowing that whole thing:
Perhaps people should also think about what Amazon is doing. Why is Sears bankrupt with people and investors losing life savings?
We choose convenience over principle and that 2 day delivery is much certainly much easier than getting off your ass and going to the local hardware store.
Amazon usually wins this fight because the customer experience is better on the kind of products they sell.
Standing in long line-ups, or wandering around on your few hours off work to find something that it turns out the local store doesn’t sell anyway is not a good customer experience. If I don’t need it right then and there, then I can wait the few days it takes to arrive by mail.
And it is also usually much cheaper — the Otterbox case for my phone was $30 cheaper on Amazon, even with shipping, than in the local Walmart. (Walmart being, of course, one of those old-school small-town Mom-and-Pop retailers we’d all like to save and protect). Same with my hiking boots — I wanted metal loops, and every place local only sold plastic. So I got what I wanted on Amazon — also cheaper than the local offerings in spite of being better quality.
Most of our local stores (except for furniture stores) haven’t delivered to retail customers since the 1960s, and in spite of the Amazon threat, still refuse to up their game in customer satisfaction.
Not that I don’t buy local. I buy lots of locally made or grown products, like beer and vegetables. Almost all my clothes I buy not locally but at Guy’s Frenchy’s, because of the superior customer experience it provides.
On Amazon, could I have a drone deliver a fresh avocado every morning for my omelette? Because Sobey’s refuses to.
I’m confused. Not that I looked deeply into the RFP, but I thought the Amazon proposal was for an actual second HQ, white collar thing, not a warehouse for product. It was to be a real second HQ, ie, equal to the existing HQ, and not a branch office. I wasn’t aware there was a warehouse component to it — to me, the warehouses can be in a transportation hub in the middle of nowhere, because they are just moving product.
Not that I think Halifax or even Toronto is in the serious running – there are any number of practical reasons why it would be inconvenient to have an HQ (as opposed to a branch office) outside the US. Richard Florida thinks, for several reasons, it will be in Washington, DC. (He puts Toronto as a dark horse though, even Detroit.)
As for the warehouses, I had understood that Amazon is automating them, so whatever rate they pay the people running around will soon be moot. Robots will do the assembling of the products to ship, which to me makes sense, particularly from Amazon. I heard a podcast, I think Radiolab, where a lady who had worked in one of the warehouses described the work process, and it sounded very inefficient to me. Not just that they were using people, but the way in which the products were being assembled for shipping from the different storage areas didn’t make much sense to me. This is the kind of thing robots will do much better and cheaper in the end, so it will happen.
I’m confused why people think this is about a warehouse.
Oh! My mistake. Will fix.
Amazon cannot really be claiming that the warehouse will employ 50,000 people, can it? Which bus line will they commute on?
Not warehouse; headquarters. It’s existing Seattle HQ has that many employees.