1. Fool’s Gold, Part 2

The Halifax Examiner and Cape Breton Spectator have co-published the second instalment of Joan Baxter’s investigation into mining in Nova Scotia.

Click here to read Part 2 of “Fool’s Gold: Nova Scotia’s Myopic Pursuit of Metals & Minerals,” which looks at gold mining operations on the Eastern Shore.

This article is for subscribers. Click here to subscribe.

We have, however, made Part 1 of the series, which gives an overview of the province’s mining policies, available for everyone.

Click here to read “Fool’s Gold, Part 1: Welcome to the Gold Rush.”

But really, everyone should subscribe. We could do even more of this work if more people subscribed. Click here to subscribe.

2. Leibovitz

Annie Leibovitz’s Blues Brothers photo will supposedly one day be displayed at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

“The Nova Scotia government appears ready to shell out more than $2 million to photographer Annie Leibovitz if that’s what it takes for her to agree to show her work in the province,” reports Preston Mulligan for the CBC, who goes on to quote Communities, Culture and Heritage Minister Leo Glavine saying stupid things like:

“I think again there is great opportunity (and) immense potential, to have her works displayed here at the Art Gallery and that would not be out of the question if that became the bottom line to get Annie available, not just to Nova Scotians,” he said.

“We know there would be interest well beyond the borders of our province for her work.”

How do we know that, exactly? Is there a business case for such an expenditure? Because if there is, I haven’t heard about it. And if there is, Glavine should release it.

The bottom line is that from the start the Leibovitz collection has been an attempted tax scam. Reports Mulligan:

The Mintz family bought the Leibovitz prints in 2013 and donated them to the AGNS two days later.

Under the terms of the deal, the family paid Leibovitz $4.75 million for the prints. However, half of that money was contingent on the works receiving certification.

The valuation initially submitted to the cultural review board, however, was $20 million — more than four times higher than the purchase price.

Had that valuation been approved, it would have meant a tax credit for the Mintz family worth millions of dollars more than what they paid for the work.

Only the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board can provide the certification. The art gallery has applied four times and been denied each time, the most recent in July, 2017.  

As I reported last July, the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board (CCPERB) is skittish on these deals having been burned by a similar (but successful) tax scam involving two donations (in 1998 and 2006) “by investors” of supposed “Michelangelo sculptures” to the Museum of Vancouver.

With approval of the CCPERB, the CRA issued $31.4 million in tax receipts to the investors, but reported David Baines for the Vancouver Sun:

The identity of the investor-donors, and how much they paid for the sculptures, has never been revealed. Neither has the identity of the appraisers, or the appraisals themselves, so there is no way of knowing how the appraisers arrived at their valuations.

Alas, the “Michelangelo sculptures” turned out to be nothing of the sort — they were just throw-away work by some minor Dutch artist no one cares much about, and had a sale price at auction of just $500,000. Baines recapped the financial benefit to the unnamed investors:

Those [tax] receipts would have generated tax credits equal to the top marginal combined federal and provincial tax rate (currently 43.7 per cent). That means approximately $13 million flowed into the pockets of the investor-donors, courtesy of Canadian taxpayers.

Also, because the federal government certified the sculptures as Canadian cultural property, the investor-donors did not have to pay any capital gains on the difference between their purchase price and the donated value.

So understandably, the CCPERB now focuses a wary eye on donations to art galleries.

Less understandable is why the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia has hired Nancy Noble as CEO. Noble was previously the CEO of the Museum of Vancouver when that museum facilitated the “Michelangelo sculptures” tax scam. (To be clear, the Leibovitz donation was arranged by Noble’s predecessor at the AGNS, Ray Cronin.)

The Leibovitz donation doesn’t pass the sniff test, on any level. It was obviously a tax scam to begin with. And of all the museums in the world, why would the Mintz family choose the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia to donate the photos to? More to the point, why would the AGNS accept it? As I wrote last year:

I’ll leave it for others to judge the artistic merit of Leibovitz’s work, but when a gazillionaire Toronto family came knocking on an obscure (in the international sense) art gallery door in a remote and poor province offering to make a big donation in return for a tax receipt, alarm bells should have been ringing everywhere: Why weren’t big name galleries in the metropolis biting on that morsel?

And now, if I understand Glavine correctly, we taxpayers are going to pay Leibovitz because in for a penny, in for a pound, I suppose. Someone should lecture Glavine on the sunk cost fallacy, but besides that, if we’ve got $2.3 million laying around, is this really the best use of the money?

I think what’s going on here is the government is committed to housing the Leibovitz collection in a waterfront “Cultural Hub” and any unforeseen expense — like $2.3 million paid to Leibovitz or (just guessing, but look what is happening at Queen’s Marque) $10 million to clean up toxic contamination at the site — isn’t going to get in the way of it.

3. Sydney Harbour

“I was very interested to hear the ‘news’ on CBC on Tuesday that the deeper channel dredged in Sydney Harbour six years ago is not being used because the necessary navigational aids have never been put in place,” writes Mary Campbell in the Cape Breton Spectator:

The gist of the story is that there was not enough money for navigational aids left over when the dredge was completed. Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher explained how very disappointed the Port is that the Coast Guard, which is responsible for navigational aids, has failed in its duties in this respect.

But as someone who has been “bird-dogging” (Tim Bousquet’s word, but I find it accurate) this story since 2016, I was surprised that the lack of navigational aids had suddenly become news. And I was puzzled by Usher’s version of the story.

Campbell goes on to recount the long saga of how $2.5 million in “leftover” dredge money has been shuffled around and mostly spent on other, non-navigational aids stuff, including “visits by Chinese delegations, visits by Ports America reps, trips to Montreal, a keynote Port Days speaker, legal fees, etc.”

Click here to read “No Navigational Aids in Sydney Harbour? No Ship.”

As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, and so this article is behind the Spectator’s paywall. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
White space

4. The FOIPOP security failure

Through a Freedom of Information request, Global reporter Alexander Quon has obtained email exchanges between government employees and Unisys showing that the employees understood the security failure of the FOIPOP website was not a hack but a design problem:

Government officials, recognizing the seriousness of the issue, appear to have quickly jumped into action — scrambling throughout April 5 to try and find a solution.

At approximately 9:48 a.m., Stanton sent out another email, updating government officials about the issue and reporting that they’d sent one of their employees to work with Unisys on a solution.

“This is a very unexpected and shocking development. When the portal was being prepared for launch a year and a half ago, we were told that the only way a document can become public is if the Administrator actively selects the ‘public portal’ status field. All other documents in the system are supposed to be protected,” she wrote.

The unnamed Archives worker who discovered the problem understood immediately what was at issue:

“Rather than going to another redacted released document I ended up seeing an incoming FOIPOP request … It seems that rather than being inside the government system, which in itself is a bit of a shaky practice, the materials are out there seemingly unprotected on the web,” the employee said.

“Shaky practice,” indeed.

Even if the system worked as it was it was supposed to work — that is, even if private information was kept off the publicly accessible parts of the website, the design of the site and the handling of information still would have constituted a security failure, in that any provincial employee with access to the site would have had access to the private information.

The guy over at Archives could see that clearly in an instant, and yet the entire site was designed and built without that basic understanding of security.




Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — I wrote about the truck side guard issue yesterday.


No public meetings.



Resources (Thursday, 10am, One Government Place) — Marcus Zwicker, the general manager of WestFor Management Inc., and Jeff Bishop, the executive director of Forest Nova Scotia, will be asked about “the current state and future of the forestry industry in Nova Scotia.” This should be comedy gold.


No public meetings.

On campus



Planetarium show (Thursday, 7:15pm, Halifax Planetarium, Dunn Building) — “The Eye and the Sky,” $5, reductions for families, but leave kids under eight out in the car. Reservations:


Dalplex Opening (Friday, 10am, 6260 South Street) — there’s a big to-do with Florizone and such, but the actual fitness centre doesn’t open until noon.

Ingrid Waldron

Ingrid Waldron (Friday, 7pm, Mahone Bay Centre, 45 School Street, Mahone Bay) — Waldron launches her new book, There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous & Black Communities.

Saint Mary’s


Growing the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Halifax and Beyond (Thursday, 11:30am, Bluenose Ballroom, Delta Halifax) — SMU Prez Robert Summerby-Murray talks to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce about how we should all stop complaining about shit paying jobs and start our own businesses already. The event listing is a kind of buzzword palace:

Vibrant and thriving entrepreneurship is increasingly recognized as a key contributor to Nova Scotia’s future prosperity. What happens when we collectively make developing and supporting entrepreneurship a priority? And what does ‘thriving entrepreneurship’ look like in practice?

Join Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray, President and Vice-Chancellor of Saint Mary’s University, to hear his insight and to experience Halifax’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem first-hand. Learn how the region’s foremost business school and one of Canada’s pioneering entrepreneurship programs are leading and newfangling to rise to the challenge, and see how fostering entrepreneurial mindsets can address some of the province’s most pressing issues.

If for some reason you want to hear this bullshit, you gotta pay $50.

In the harbour

5am: Mol Paramount, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
6am: Skogafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
3:30pm: Elektra, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
11pm: Mol Paramount, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai


I’ve got early morning stuff to do. Talk among yourselves.

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

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  1. So nice to see the McNeil government supporting The Arts after tanking our film industry. There was interest well beyond the borders of our province for it once too. It attracted substantial budgets here – a net gain according to PwC. Great to see the cupboard is no longer bare and we can toss about the odd $2.3m to exhibit the Leibovitz collection.

    Maybe the Premier just prefers well regarded foreign artists to home grown ones? Anyhow, the important thing to remember is that he didn’t make a mistake. Like the HAL9000, no Stephen McNeil has never made a mistake.

    Yes, Tim also I’m suspicious this is somehow coupled to freeing up a major development opportunity currently blocked by an inconvenient AGNS on top of it.

  2. Nova Scotians should sing the Stan Rogers song “The Rawdon Hills” instead of “Barrett’s Privateers”. It’s a better song by far and is about the gold mining days.

  3. Hey Rube,
    Annie here – you’re lucky to live in such a progressive, world class city.

    Hope you enjoy my pics!

  4. Perhaps there is something in the water or the air in downtown Dartmouth because yesterday i went to a funeral for a young parent who died of cancer leaving behind a spouse and 2 kids. And ten years before that the father of the individual also died of cancer.
    I bought the Waldron book 3 weeks ago on Spring Garden Road. The small section referring to the 1990s
    proposal for a modern landfill near Porters Lake is completely inaccurate. The former incinerator near the black community in Crichton Park is not even mentioned.

    1. Mr. May:

      Maybe you were too busy to substantiate your assertion/accusation regarding Dr. Ingrid Waldron’s new book, “There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous & Black Communities.” You said: “The small section referring to the 1990s proposal for a modern landfill near Porters Lake is completely inaccurate.” As well as leaving out the basis for this blanket insult, you made no comment about any of the rest of the book which during your 3-week ownership of same you presumably had occasion to read.

      Your comments on other matters usually contain enough detail — often including useful inks to explanatory or supportive documentation — to give readers a chance to understand and weigh your arguments. Why you didn’t in this case begs many questions.

  5. Dear Tim – the Examiner does a great job of ‘covering the waterfront’ but I need to start reading it later in the day… otherwise my morning caffeine is sugared with a daily dose of well-informed depression.
    ( It’s not just the HE, the NYT’s, Globe, the Guardian, and Washington Post do the same thing…)