1. Subsidies for billionaires
Carolyn Ray of the CBC has authored what has got to be the most clueless and uncritical report of payroll rebates I’ve ever seen in local media:
Up to 110 new jobs may be coming to Oxford after a local company was cleared for up to $1.5 million in payroll rebates through Nova Scotia Business Inc.
Oxford Frozen Foods now has a five-year window to create the jobs in the community.
“We’re excited,” said Jordan Burkhardt, the director of human resources. “The company’s competing at the world stage here in Nova Scotia.”
The ceeb helpfully illustrated Ray’s story with a photo of a bowl of blueberries.
The next bit is especially rich:
The business development agency says it only approves rebates when the tax revenue generated is more than the amount spent on the rebate.
You know, I pay payroll taxes. Kim Stacey (see below) paid payroll taxes. The owner of the local tavern pays payroll taxes. And if we all got payroll rebates, we too would be generating tax revenue that is more than the amount spent on the rebate. Where’s my payroll rebate, dammit?
But of course if every employer got payroll rebates that would be… a tax cut. And we can’t have that (seriously, we can’t).
So instead the select few get a payroll rebate, and then a gigantic government bureaucracy has to justify them as wise “investments” or some such bullshit. In this case, Ray continues:
Burkhardt says the company plans on creating “a vast number of jobs,” from management right through all levels of the business.
NSBI says Oxford Frozen Foods would spend an additional $18.7 million in salaries through the program.
The jobs will focus in expanding the company’s value-added division and creating new products, but Burkhardt wouldn’t specify what those products are because they don’t want to tip off the competition.
Yeah, and if the government will give me $1.5 million in payroll rebates, I’ll spend eleventy million dollars on salaries for a special secret, er, pet project I’m working on. Can’t tell you what it is, because I don’t want Haligonia stealing the idea (oremay atcay ideosvay).
No doubt, NSBI will say the “value-added” exports justify the subsidies to Oxford Frozen Foods, but who are we kidding here? Commercial wild blueberries grow in the Maritimes and Maine, and that’s it. There is no real geographical competition, and Oxford tycoon John Bragg, owner of Oxford Frozen Foods, has cornered the market.
I guess you could argue that Bragg isn’t competing against other blueberry growers but rather people who grow strawberries and mangos and papayas and those things that look like bananas but are something else. But how’s that competing against non-blueberries going? Ray continues:
At the end of last year, Hillaton Foods, a division of the company, cut 100 jobs — or the equivalent of 53 full time positions — when it closed the Annapolis Valley possessing plant.
The facility near Canning processed carrots for the North American market.
The company said it had to make the move after Environment Canada ordered it to stop discharging waste water into a nearby waterway.
It’d be much easier to compete against foreign companies if we didn’t have those pesky environmental laws.
Ray doesn’t mention it, but it’s time to point to the elephant in the room: the billionaire John Bragg is one connected mofo.
Generally speaking, I don’t make a big deal out of the campaign contributions people make. A business owner should be able to be a member of the local riding political association and kick down a few dollars for favoured candidates without having that political involvement (which we should encourage) being held against the business owner.
But the Bragg family takes the political involvement to a whole ‘nother level, and the beneficiary of their largesse is the provincial Liberal Party. Let’s review:
Election contributions from Bragg family members to the Liberal Party
John Bragg — $1,346.80
Lee Bragg (John’s son, who runs Eastlink) — $1,354.88
Matthew Bragg (John’s son, head of logistics & sales at OFF) — $846.80
Judy Bragg (Matthew’s wife) — $846.80
Cathy Bragg-Gilmore (widow of Ross Bragg, John’s nephew) — $70
Other people named “Bragg” in Oxford area — $2,202.32
John Bragg — $1,000
Judy Bragg — $920.20
2013 (an election year)
John Bragg — $1,000
Amy Bragg (wife of Lee) — $5,000
Patricia Bragg — $5,000
Carla Bragg — $5,000
Judy Bragg — $5,000
Lee Bragg — $1,000
Matthew Bragg— $1,000
Cathy Bragg-Gilmore — $265
(I only put Cathy Bragg-Gimore on the list because she’s one of the owners of the new Halifax Hurricane basketball team, which for some reason I find hilarious.)
Well, that’s all I have time for this morning, but you get the point: The Braggs give a shitload of money to the Liberal Party. And now the Liberal government is giving a shitload of money to Oxford Frozen Foods.
Oh, and let’s not forget that John Bragg is Speaker of the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies, the right-wing (non)think-tank that supposedly promotes the free market. Well, the free market for me and you, but not for Oxford Frozen Foods.
I can’t find much of a qualitative difference between Nova Scotia and, say, Catherine the Great’s feudal kingdom.
2. Mother of all egos
The Friends of Green Cove sent out the following press release yesterday:
Friends of Green Cove has been in contact with LANDinc, a ‘Global Design Studio’ with offices in Halifax, Toronto and Abu Dhabi, hired by Toronto businessman Tony Trigiani in 2011 to assess and advance his plans for a ‘Never Forgotten’ war memorial. (The word ‘National’ was added to the title after federal government intervention in 2012.) In an email to FOGC spokesperson Sean Howard on January 28 (see text below), LANDinc Partner Patrick Morello declared: “We are not in support of the project at its proposed location with its current form and program. It has morphed into an uncontrollable and unsustainable facility. While we supported the concept and visioning stages for over a year in 2011/12, we tried to redirect the Client’s focus and allow certain aspects of the memorial to be launched as an international competition, especially as we began to see his [Mr. Trigiani’s] fixation on the statue that grew numerous times over the period of a few months (it was literally stretched from normal proportions to something that is hard to describe).”
Mr. Morello further revealed that “Green Cove was not the preferred site and was originally not on the list” of sites (Louisbourg, Keltic Lodge, Lakie’s Head) assessed by LANDinc in early 2011; Trigiani, however, “convinced Parks Canada to include it on the list. With Green Cove now on the list and in light of the numerous physical site constraints, the Client urged us to amend the criteria, giving weight to non-tangible yet intrinsic values of the site.” “Our involvement ended,” Mr. Morello recalled, “after we encouraged the Client to develop a business case that included an environmental assessment and public participation from the local community. The Client said we were focussing on non-essential/not-necessary work plans. We were hoping that through this process, he would recognize the sensitivities of the site and scale back the program, especially the statue.” Just earlier, the “fundraising consultant was not retained any further” after raising “concerns based on numerous interviews with public and private representatives.” A condensed version of LANDinc’s ignored recommendations can be viewed at http://www.landinc.ca/never-forgotten-cultural/.
In a May 2012 ‘Project Planning Memorandum’, LANDinc wrote: “The design of the Memorial has gone through several design and numerous rounds of tweaking since the initial conceptual sketches. These changes have led to new design elements as well as a considerable amount of time on the particularities of the Mother Canada Statue. While this work has allowed for the exploration of your grand vision for the Statue there will be, in the next phases, an increased risk to showing the statue as a resolved design element. Figure statues are often polarizing objects that can become lighting rods for public criticism, criticism that can gain steam and even sink a project. … To date in the Memorial project, there have been comments of caution on the explicitness and scale of the Statue. The risks of criticism are much less in the case of open sculpture competitions, which can give the project wide exposure and…buy-in for the ultimate statue.” In light of this analysis, LANDinc urged the Foundation to “consider” a “strategy to show the statue in less specific terms (e.g. use a simple outline, especially for wide/public release)” and recommended planning “a design competition for the Mother Canada statue.”
Other important documents, including email correspondence between the Foundation, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and Parks Canada, have been obtained by FOGC. We are currently analyzing the material and hope to release further pertinent information in the near future. On initial review, a number of emails stand out. On July 17, 2012, Patrick Morello emailed Tony Trigiani to warn of “a relevant gap in the feasibility of the project” (by that point envisaged for Green Cove) relating to aspects of “site investigations including: geotechnical/geomorphology, shoreline, environmental, operations and community input.” “We have no comfort level,” Morello adds, “in the publicity of the project designs with these unknowns.” By this stage, however, Trigiani seemed increasingly impatient with such concerns and evermore excited at the prospect of government support at the highest levels. On July 7, 2012, Trigiani wrote to the Prime Minister’s Assistant Salpie Stepanian: “I would like to express our deepest appreciation for the interest and personal attention now given by the Prime Minister to this matter.” The next day, Trigiani forwarded this message to Morello, noting the looming prospect of “a very unfortunate end to our business relationship”.
The following summer, a secret Memorandum-to-Cabinet would establish the Never Forgotten National Memorial project as a public-private partnership, with both Parks Canada and Canadian Heritage directed to support and facilitate the Foundation’s application. As early as autumn 2011, however, senior Parks Canada officials were, in effect, lobbying for Green Cove to be chosen. On September 2, 2011, Trigiani wrote to LANDinc, referring to the enthusiastic support of Hélène Robichaud, then Superintendent of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, who is “clearly…very much hoping that the Green Cove site will now fill ‘all’ of our needs as far as space, location,, synergy, vistas, etc., and then some! I now honestly and firmly believe that it is her personal wish that this monument will hopefully be built within her jurisdiction…”
FOGC spokesperson Sean Howard comments: “Taken together, Mr. Morello’s statement and the documents and information received by our group shed dramatic light on the project’s early phases, in which an initially modest proposal ballooned out of control. As Mr. Morello carefully explained to me, the ‘original thought’ was for an interpretative display (a ‘Memorial to Canadian Cemeteries of War’) establishing a five-stage narrative ‘Journey of Remembrance’: (i) Invocation, (ii) Path to War, (iii) Departure and Loss, (iv) Remembrance, (v) Gratitude and Reflection. At its terminus was to be a spot providing ‘a quiet space for reflection for 1-2 individuals,’ not initially a large statue with an extensive gathering area at its base. This was, Mr. Morello insists, a ‘very high-level concept’ to be explored ‘with the understanding that a detailed site analysis with community involvement was necessary before any design development could happen.’” Such restraint and probity is a far cry from the current, hyper-inflated design which, as LANDinc correctly foresaw, was greeted with general disdain and ridicule.” “Dismissing LANDinc’s reasoned and principled objections,” Howard adds, “Mr. Trigiani sought the warm embrace not only of the Prime Minister’s Office but Parks Canada officials whose job it should have been to protect and preserve the lands placed, on behalf of all Canadians, in their care.”
FOGC is sharing this new information with federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna as she proceeds with her review of the ‘Mother Canada’ file.
3. No cover charge
The New Brunswick government released its budget yesterday. The good news is that the budget includes no cover charge — Nova Scotians will be able to enter that province without paying highway tolls.
There’s still a two-drink minimum, however.
4. Emma’s is closed
Kim Stacey, owner of Emma’s Eatery, has closed the business.
I’ve driven to Eastern Passage once or twice a month just to eat at Emma’s, and I’ve enjoyed speaking with Stacey. But she clearly had had enough, and let loose on Facebook:
It is with a heavy heart that we inform you that Emma’s is now permanently closed.
To all of our customers who have so graciously loved and supported us we will always remember and be grateful for you. Your loyalty has not only made you also a friend but part of our Emma’s family. This was a very difficult decision and was very carefully deliberated but in summary the combination of insufficient traffic throughout the year, inadequate and suffocating bureaucracy at all levels of government financially and administratively, the systematic discrimination towards and exclusion of Eastern Passage by all levels of government and local “HRM”organizations. The exorbitant cost of serving “locally” sourced food with no incentives versus incentive driven purchases from unregulated corporate food suppliers sellimg processed ingrediants who drain our economy and stream the revenue out of our province and country whilst making you unknowingly sick and driving up our health care costs. Not to mention the frustrating new generation of work force who beleive they are entitled to be paid dearly to customize their own schedules and around their social activities and hobbies and cell phone use at the expense of the business….and shockingly many of whom….btw at ALL ages can’t work because they are too “stressed out” or cant handle constructive criticism so they quit instead of learning work ethic. Oh and then there’s the lack of protection for commercial tenants who are exploited by their landlords at lease renewal time. There is no commercial landlord-tenant act. And finally the rigid and elitest structure of our “financial institution” system that almost completely alienates small business from any potential to grow. WELL! lol That just about covers it. And yes I’m laughing out loud that I can now publicly expose all these thoughts without fear of backlash to Emma’s. Ahhhh that felt good.
Running any business is hard work (believe me, I know), but attempting to run a locally sourced diner competing against Sysco-supplied blandporiums in a market that still doesn’t much value quality over perceived cost savings was always going to be an uphill battle.
I fully appreciate Stacey’s frustrations, and while she has every right to lash out at, well, the world, I think given enough time she’ll recognize she’s being a bit unfair. Yes, there are innumerable constraints to running a successful business, but that’s the way the dice tumble. No one owes any of us business success. Then again, maybe Stacey should’ve applied for a payroll rebate.
For many years Stacey served decent food to happy customers, provided jobs to scores of people, and set a standard of quality that perhaps nudged a few expectations in the right direction. Those are good things, and she should be proud of them.
A while back Stacey and I discussed the possibility that she could write for me one day. I hope she considers it.
1. Forensic audit
Parker Donham continues his series on “the mess in Richmond County,” this time looking at what he calls “foolhardy” demands for a forensic audit.
2. Cranky letter of the day
It is so refreshing to hear the Stephen McNeil Liberal government talk about fairness with regards to the changes in the pharmcare program.
Perhaps this newfound fairness will extend to gas prices in Nova Scotia.
Where is the fairness when one area of the province (Halifax) pays less for gas than those of us who live in the rest of the province?
If it is good for the goose, it should be good for the gander.
Fraser Patterson, Ross Ferry
City council (9:30am, City Hall) — budget deliberations continue. Also, Tony Mancini will be sworn in as District 6 councillor at noon. I happened to run into Mancini yesterday as I was on my way to a secret interview related to DEAD WRONG and he was collecting yard signs. I don’t think he recognized me, and that’s probably a good thing. Hey Tony: ixnay the ocationlay.
Public Accounts (9am, Province House) — Catherine Blewett, clerk and secretary of the Executive Council, will be asked about ministerial travel expenses. Expect lots of questions about one Younger, A.
Sorry, I’ve got to be somewhere early this morning and don’t have time for this section today. It will return tomorrow.
In the harbour
see above, re: no time for this.
I’m sorry, DEAD WRONG and associated duties are taking all of my time.