June subscription drive
Today, I have once again written about the collapsing news industry, this time (in item #5 below) about SaltWire’s apparent coming demise. This gives me no pleasure; as I write below, there are lots of talented reporters working for SaltWire, and I fear both for their livelihoods and for the important journalism they produce in their communities.
In the past, one sliver of a silver lining in the depressing journalism news is that I have from time to time been in a position to temporarily hire reporters who were on strike or without work (Chris Lambie and Michael Gorman) or permanently hire reporters who recently lost their jobs (Zane Woodford and Yvette d’Entremont). I could help out some good reporters, and they made the Examiner stronger.
But I’m sorry to say, the Examiner is in no position to do that now. If SaltWire closed today, none of those talented reporters could get hired by the Halifax Examiner, simply because the Examiner can’t afford any more staff.
That could change, however, if we get more subscribers.
This situation reflects the industry overall: the big advertising-based legacy news operations are closing, and small subscriber-based outlets attempt to fill the news gap as best they can. How successful we are depends entirely on you, the reader.
If you value the news industry generally, and the Halifax Examiner particularly, please subscribe.
1. Man dies in hospital with no doctor
“The mayor of an Annapolis Valley town penned a letter to Premier Tim Houston after an inpatient at the local hospital died last week when there was no doctor at the hospital,” reports Suzanne Rent:
Sylvester Atkinson, the mayor of Middleton, wrote the letter on June 19, four days after the patient died. The letter is posted on the town’s Facebook page:
On Thursday, June 15, 2023 around 9:00pm the Middleton Fire Department and EHS were paged to a cardiac arrest. The address given was Soldier’s Memorial Emergency Department. Since the ER was closed at this time, our Fire Department assumed that someone arrived at the hospital with chest pain and Emergency Services were called. However, when the Fire Department arrived on scene, they were taken upstairs to the medical floor. The patient in cardiac arrest was an admitted patient at the hospital. Our Fire Department was informed that there was no doctor on site, nor was there one on call. However, a doctor was on the way from Kentville (30+ minutes away).
While waiting for the doctor to arrive, the Middleton Fire Department responders assisted EHS with chest compressions on the patient. They continued to provide life saving measures until the doctor arrived. Unfortunately, the patient did not survive, and the doctor called the time of death when they arrived on the scene.
In an interview with the Halifax Examiner on Tuesday, Atkinson said the premier has “reneged” on his election promise to fix the health care system.
“The whole condition of the hospital here with the emergency department closed, no one at the switchboard, you name it… and things really are not in the condition they should be,” Atkinson said. “They reneged on a promise that they were going to fix the health care system and so on. We’ve had people come in and talk, but nothing happens.”
2. How Halifax will grow
Leah Perrin, Halifax’s manager of regional planning, told councillors the new draft is a “repeal and replace” of the 2014 plan. She described it as a full rewrite intended to respond to a “rapidly changing community.”
The draft plan notes that projections indicate the municipality is on track to double its population to about one million people in the next 25 years.
According to the draft plan, if population growth continues at its five-year trend, so will the short-run pressure on HRM’s housing market.
“This analysis demonstrates that the Regional Plan and supporting Community Plans must ensure planning policy and regulations use a range of strategies to enable sufficient housing to support future population,” notes the draft plan.
Coun. Pam Lovelace raised a concern about there being only one road into and out of Indigo Shores, which now has 482 homes. Indigo Shores was evacuated during the Tantallon Fire, but thankfully wasn’t directly impacted by the flames.
Lovelace said the municipality had a cap on new building in Indigo Shores, but the province has overridden that cap, meaning that still more houses will be built in the neighbourhood. I don’t know why another road or two can’t be built as access points.
But it strikes me that both the provincial mandates and the municipality’s planning process are premised on the notion that the housing issue will be solved solely by private development. There’s zero evidence that will be the case.
3. Wildfire risks
“The municipal councillor representing the area impacted by recent wildfires in HRM has requested a staff report on mitigating wildfire risk,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:
During Tuesday evening’s regional council meeting, Coun. Pam Lovelace put forward a motion asking for a staff report “outlining and prioritizing budgeted and non-budgeted initiatives” to help mitigate and manage wildfire risk to communities.
In her motion, titled ‘Prioritizing Community Safety in HRM,’ Lovelace wrote that community safety must be “strategically elevated and prioritized” in the budget. She said the municipality has been aware of “significant” egress and community evacuation needs for decades.
In addition, residents in communities with limited exits and no piped water for firefighting have identified concerns to HRM. She said some have also been working directly with HRM emergency management officials to develop neighbourhood evacuation plans and to advocate for more dry fire hydrants.
4. Vulnerable Persons Registry
“Residents at increased risk during extreme weather and crisis events in HRM will soon be able to add their names to a voluntary Vulnerable Persons Registry (VPR),” reports Yvette d’Entremont:
Developing such a registry for emergency management purposes was discussed and unanimously passed by Halifax regional council on Tuesday.
A vulnerable persons registry is intended to support those “who experience exponential increase in life safety risk due to extreme weather and other crisis events.” Such programs have been successfully implemented in a few other Canadian jurisdictions.
As reported here last fall, vulnerable people like those with physical or mental disabilities are at an increased risk of harm during emergency events.
5. The collapsing news biz: Transcon asks court for costs judgement in SaltWire case
Last week, Transcontinental Media filed a motion in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court asking the court to award it “security for costs” in its litigation with SaltWire. Before getting into what that means, let’s quickly review the history:
• In 2017, just as its newsroom was on strike, the Chronicle Herald announced the creation of a new company, SaltWire, which purchased all 27 of Transcontinental’s newspapers in Atlantic Canada. The sale price was $35.5 million, with $25.5 million paid up front and the remaining $10 million to be paid over three years, at an interest rate of 3% compounded annually; reportedly, the sale was financed with junk bonds.
By any measure, this was a surprising and bold move, as the newspaper industry was and is in a tailspin. The Herald and the newly created SaltWire are private companies, so I have no detailed knowledge of their financial situation, but my guess is that the purchase of the Transcon papers provided an economy of scale for the Herald’s sales department and a market for its under-utilized printing press.
• In April 2019, SaltWire sued Transcontinental, saying Transcontinental had misrepresented the value of the properties it sold to SaltWire. The suit struck me as a stunning admission of the “apparent lack of even basic due diligence on the part of SaltWire” during the 2017 purchase.
• In October 2019, Transcontinental countersued for $10 million, saying that it had properly valued the properties and that SaltWire had defaulted on the three annual payments.
• Then the litigation stalled, or at least there were no significant court filings, although I presume the companies were in private discussions. But then suddenly, after four years, last week Transcontinental asked the court for security of costs.
So what does that mean?
The Nova Scotia courts’ Rules for Civil Procedures outlines the process for security of costs in Rule 45, which you can read in full here. The short of it is that Transcontinental is claiming both that it is likely to be successful in fending off SaltWire’s lawsuit and that SaltWire has insufficient assets to pay Transcontinental’s defence costs.
In its court filing, Transcontinental says it will file with the court “a solicitor’s affidavit… concerning the status of litigation and the Plaintiff’s [SaltWire’s] financial capacity to satisfy a judgment for costs.”
This case has been drawn out seemingly forever, and even with the motion for security of costs, it won’t be settled soon — Transcontinental seeks an all-day hearing on its motion six months from now, on January 24, 2024.
Obviously, a judge still has to rule, but it doesn’t look good for SaltWire. So what happens if, as seems likely, Transcontinental is successful? I’m speculating, but my guess is that SaltWire will have to file with the bankruptcy court for creditor protection, and there will be another few months of legal wrangling before the company is dissolved and its assets sold off to pay the Transcontinental judgment, or at least a portion of it.
Some, maybe even all, of Saltwire’s papers still have nominal value, as do the printing presses and flyer distribution networks, and so some purchaser will step in — probably PostMedia.
PostMedia, owned primarily by an American hedge fund, recently bought Brunswick News from the Irvings (the deal was completed just last week). The acquisition of SaltWire’s assets would give PostMedia the opportunity for nationwide ad sales and to expand its package delivery business into the Maritimes.
But, as I say, it would be an asset sale, not a sale of SaltWire as a corporation, so that means that with bankruptcy court approval, PostMedia (or some other purchaser) could pick and choose which papers and printing presses it wants to acquire and keep running. The Herald’s newsroom union will have no standing, and all SaltWire employees would lose their jobs, although at least some would likely be hired back by the purchaser, perhaps at lower pay rates.
None of this is good. Think what you will about Mark Lever’s business acumen and the decisions he’s made at the helm of SaltWire, but the fact is that even in the collapsing newspaper industry, plenty of talented reporters are still working for SaltWire, producing good and important journalism in their communities. The number of those reporters is about to decline significantly, while those remaining will be under-resourced and have ridiculous quotas, making their jobs impossible.
These are dark days for journalism everywhere, and particularly for SaltWire employees.
6. Risley sans apartheid
On Monday, I discussed Mary Campbell’s discussion of Net Worth, the “definitive” (read: “authorized”) biography of John Risley written by Quentin Casey. “I wonder if Quentin Casey’s ‘definitive’ biography will include the fact that Risley is trying to profit from Apartheid,” I wrote. “I doubt it.”
Well, yesterday, I received a review copy of the book from Nimbus. I just opened it this morning, so I haven’t had time to read it, but a quick scan of the table of contents finds no mention of apartheid or South Africa, which seems a significant oversight in a “definitive” biography, no?
Casey does quote me, however, but not in relation to Risley’s participation in the lawsuit against South Africa, but rather in relation to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. Writes Casey:
In 2015, the Halifax Examiner‘s Tim Bousquet—in arguing Risley was a hypocrite—listed ACOA’s various contributions to Ocean Nutrition. “This is how you become a billionaire in Nova Scotia: you get the taxpayer to finance you,” he wrote. “If the venture is successful, he pays back the money; if not, the taxpayer takes the loss… Rich man can get even richer, but he can’t possibly lose money.” Except for the $35 million Risley and MacDonald put into Ocean Nutrition. But that fact doesn’t support the narrative that Risley has gotten rich simply by gorging at the public trough, without putting his own skin in the game.
The ellipses in that quote do a lot of work. In the piece I listed ACOA’s conditionally and unconditionally “repayable contributions” as well as “non-repayable contributions” to Ocean Nutrition (and to Clearwater, which Casey ignores), then wrote this:
This is how you become a billionaire in Nova Scotia: you get the taxpayer to finance you. Those “non-repayable contributions” are straight-up gifts to Risley.
The “conditionally repayable contributions” are conditioned on Risley making money—if the venture is successful, he pays back the money; if not, the taxpayer takes the loss. It’s the perfect socialization of risk. Rich man can get even richer, but he can’t possibly lose money.
Even the “unconditionally repayable contributions” are a below-market interest rate loan that’s not available to you or me.
But wave your hand fiercely enough, and you can ignore the telling nuance.
Oh, Net Worth has a bibliography of 16 books. One of them is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall and online) — agenda
Indigenous Plant Medicine Walk & Talk (Wednesday, 12pm, Indigenous Student Centre) — Herbalist Michele Graveline leads a walk around Studley Campus, with conversation and tea at the Centre afterwards; registration and info here
Of Cattle and (Wo)men: Animal Domestication and Gender Disparities in Sub-Saharan Africa (Wednesday, 3:30pm, McCain Building and online) — Lucienne Talba will talk; more info here
In the harbour
11:30: Don Pasquale, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
16:00: CMA CGM Ivanhoe, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Norfolk, Virginia
17:30: Silver Shalis, yacht owned by billionaire Larry Silverstein, the developer of the World Trade Center in New York, arrives at Berth TBD from Portland
21:00: Atlantic Condor, offshore supply ship, sails from Dartmouth Cove for sea
03:00 (Thursday): CMA CGM Ivanhoe sails for Port Said, Egypt
The plane of the universe has tilted, and starting today, every day will have a little less sun, a little less warmth, a little less cheer.