1. Nova Scotia’s looming oil-drilling disaster
Canadian regulators have failed to reduce the likelihood of a Deepwater Horizon-like blowout at BP’s deep-sea well on the Scotian Slope, and the company plans to respond to a blowout with an oil dispersant that could compound the catastrophe, reports Linda Pannozzo.
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After we publish a piece Pannozzo, I am without fail contacted by readers requesting that the article be taken from behind the paywall and made public, because “this is so important everyone should read it.”
I agree, everyone should subscribe so they can read Pannozzo’s article.
I’m not being flippant here. I watched as two upstart media operations — OpenFile and the Media Co-op — failed. Both operations were responsible for some good work. They hired good reporters. There was important journalism being done.
But neither OpenFile nor the Media Co-op had a workable business model. OpenFile’s business plan seemed to be “Wilf Dinnick will convince some bank to cough up millions of dollars with no expectation of profit ever.” Media Co-op relied on the good will of readers, which is great, but didn’t really provide an incentive for readers to actually pay money to support operations.
So before I’m a reporter, before I’m an editor, I’m a business owner. If I want the Halifax Examiner not to be just another flash-in-the-pan media outlet, in for a spell before burning out, and if I want to continue to hire excellent reporters and columnists to do worthy work, then this operation has to pay for itself. And that means we need to bring in subscription revenue.
Journalism costs real money. This month, the Examiner went to court to pry open the search warrant related to the FOIPOP security failure and hired Linda Pannozzo and Joan Baxter for their current investigations (Part 2 of Baxter’s “Fool’s Gold” series will run tomorrow). That’s besides the normal expenditures for Stephen Kimber, El Jones, Erica Butler, and other freelance reporters, not to mention my own costs. We can’t do this kind of work by giving it all away for free. TD Bank isn’t likely to give the Examiner a few million dollars out of the kindness of its heart. And, alas, unless there’s a premium like being able to read things behind a paywall, readers aren’t likely to buy subscriptions.
There’s no way around it. Please subscribe.
2. The Burnside jail
Last week, I wrote about how El Jones and I were part of the media tour of the Burnside jail. After the tour, writes Jones, “I spoke with people who are incarcerated or were formerly incarcerated at the facility for their response to what I learned on the tour.”
3. Indigenous studies at The Mount
Writes Stephen Kimber:
In the middle of last week’s MSVU discussion over who should teach a course on residential schools, a solemn-sounding group called the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship weighed in. It claims to promote “reasoned debate on issues of academic freedom and scholarship.” It does no such thing.
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4. Canso spaceport
There are two versions of the Canadian Press article by reporter Aly Thomson about the Canso Spaceport.
The first version of the article ran Monday morning on StarMetro Halifax. It read:
The start date for the construction of Canada’s only commercial spaceport has been pushed back indefinitely, a developer said following meetings at the proposed rocket launch site near a small fishing community on Nova Scotia’s eastern shore.
Stephen Matier, president and CEO of Maritime Launch Services Ltd., said his firm had hoped to break ground this month on the $200-million project that could eventually see as many as 12 satellites blast into orbit per year.
But Matier now says the launch site in Canso, N.S., likely won’t start being developed until later this year, although he was hesitant to impose any new timeline.
That first version was initially posted to the CBC website under the headline “Canso spaceport construction delayed indefinitely,” but some hours later it was replaced by a revised second version under the headline “Canso spaceport construction delayed until later this year“:
The start date for the construction of Canada’s only commercial spaceport has been pushed back.
Stephen Matier, president of Maritime Launch Services, had hoped to break ground this month on the $200-million project on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore.
But Matier now says the rocket launch site in Canso likely won’t start being developed until later this year — although he was hesitant to impose any new timeline.He said he had hoped the process would be moving faster, but his firm doesn’t plan on cutting corners.
Besides some moving around of sentences, the biggest difference between the first and second versions of the article is the removal of the word “indefinitely,” both in the headline and in the text of the article.
But Thomson had it right. If Matier couldn’t “impose any new timeline,” then in fact the construction date has been moved back “indefinitely.”
How and why the word “indefinitely” was removed from the CBC version of the article matters.
Let me explain.
I don’t at all think there was anything nefarious about the spaceport proposal. By all accounts, the people behind Maritime Launch Services (MLS) are reputable; they have experience with rocketry and have a workable business plan.
But what they don’t have is money. They need significant investment — at least $100 million — in order to bring the Canso spaceport to fruition.
The difficulty with reporting on MLS is that it is a privately owned company and so doesn’t have to make public financial reports to regulatory agencies. And the company makes broad pronouncements, but doesn’t back those pronouncements up with verifiable facts or figures.
Take, for example, this report in mid-April from the space industry newsletter SpaceQ:
Maritime Launch Services (MLS), the company looking to build a spaceport in Nova Scotia, has received a letter of intent from an undisclosed launch company to use the spaceport, the company announced in a newsletter update today.
In the newsletter the company said “MLS has a signed Letter of Intent from a client that intends to use our spaceport for the launch of their own rocket. This company sees the market potential our site offers to launch smaller payloads into low earth orbit. While their launch vehicle is still under development, their intention is to tap the services MLS provides to be able to launch their rocket beginning in 4 to 5 years.”
The company also stated that it “is also working closely with new satellite clients that plan to put their payloads aboard the Cyclone 4M with new Letters of Intent being signed.”
Well, OK, I guess, but “an undisclosed launch company” and “new [unnamed] satellite clients” doesn’t tell me a damn thing. Maybe there’s good reason to keep the names of the clients secret — although I can’t think of any such reason — but the report sounds to me like a company pumping itself to potential investors.
And that’s been my take all along. Since it first appeared in Nova Scotia, MLS has appeared to be on a PR campaign with the aim of attracting investment money. As such, it has over-hyped the project, and especially so to credulous media organizations. Just mention the word “spaceport” and many reporters will roll over and not ask skeptical questions.
Which brings me back to the two versions of Aly Thomson’s CP article. As I said, Thomson correctly identified the delay in construction in Canso as “indefinite.” There’s nothing wrong with her reporting.
So why two versions of the article? There are two possibilities. The first is that someone with MLS complained to the CBC and asked for a revision of Thomson’s article, so as to remove the word “indefinite.” The second is that the CBC internally decided to remove the the word all on its own. Either way, someone decided that the article should be changed so as to present a best face to potential investors — that the delay in construction of the spaceport is short-term and nothing to worry about; strike that “indefinite,” willya?
In the case of the first possibility — that MLS complained — the proper response for an editor receiving a complaint is to tell the company to piss off, not to roll over for it. As for the second possibility — that an editor changed the copy without encouragement from MLS — it suggests a level of self-censorship that should alarm us.
Simply put: news outlets shouldn’t be in the business of promoting companies to potential investors.
And anyway, just how viable is this spaceport project?
According to the federal lobbyist registry, on April 20, MLS hired Brett James, a principal at the lobbying firm Sussex Strategy, and Liam Daly, an associate at the firm, to lobby Ottawa.
According to James’ bio on the Sussex Strategy website:
Brett is responsible for the firm’s federal government relations practice, its strategic communications business and coordinates its provincial GR outside of Ontario. The federal GR team is known for its hard-working and results-oriented approach that has led to major legislative, policy and procurement success for both domestic and international clients. Brett’s strategic communications team delivers sophisticated, analysis-driven communications campaigns to move public opinion on issues, hands-on management of difficult media and public issues, and proven crisis communications expertise. Brett is well-known in business and media circles for his thoughtful guidance and positioning of complicated issues leading to better business, policy and political outcomes.
Daly’s bio on the Sussex Strategy website explains that:
His work primarily focuses on research, logistics, advocacy, and issues management as part of the Federal Government Relations team.
An experienced campaign operative and staffer, he previously worked for the Nova Scotia Liberal Caucus under Premier Stephen McNeil, specializing in research for the portfolios of Health, Justice and Transportation. Following that, he worked as a Legislative Assistant for Central Nova MP Sean Fraser on Parliament Hill.
Maritime Launch Service [sic] Ltd. is seeking to engage the Federal Government and build awareness around the commercialized space port it is building in Canso, NS. They are also attempting to ascertain what funding streams may be available to aid them in this development.
Got that? Just as MLS was pushing back construction at Canso “indefinitely,” and just as it was issuing press releases about phantom “satellite clients” lining up at the door, the company hired two lobbyists — one an expert on crisis management, the other a former Liberal functionary — to ask the federal government for public money.
It sure looks like MLS’s search for private investors isn’t going so well.
Since they began working for MLS, James and Daly have been busy.
On April 26, James and Daly met with Josh Bragg, the Special Assistant for Atlantic Regional Development | Office of the Minister, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. Bragg used to be an assistant for Halifax Mayor (and former Liberal MP) Mike Savage; he’s a nice guy, and he appears to be moving up the ranks of Liberal apparatchiks.
On the same day, James and Daly had a joint meeting with John Hearn, the “Parliamentary Secretary Assistant and Atlantic Desk | Office of the Minister of Small Business and Tourism, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada,” and Alaina Lockhart, the MP for Fundy Royal (a New Brunswick riding), who is also the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Small Business and Tourism.
The next day, April 27, Daly met with Jean-Frédéric Lafaille, the Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet for Special Projects at the Privy Council Office (PCO).
Last Wednesday, May 16, Daly met with Dartmouth MP Darren Fisher.
(According to the provincial lobbyist registry, there are no lobbyists representing MLS to the Nova Scotia government, but then again, actually registering with the lobbyist registry seems no longer to be a requirement in Nova Scotia.)
All this is just typical business dealing. A group of specialists forms a company with hopes of cashing in on their expertise — in this case, rocket launching. They embark on a PR campaign in hopes of attracting big private investors. Part of that campaign involves promising a nearly immediate start to the project — you gotta get in now, is the message to potential investors. But when the big private money doesn’t come in, the company hires a couple of connected lobbyists to chase after government money.
It’s all so typical that it wouldn’t be worth reporting on, except that it has real world consequences that hurt innocent people.
Excited by overly credulous media reports about Canso’s new spaceport, people in Canso began preparing for the imminent arrival of money and workers to their town. As I noted in October:
… even though MLS hasn’t achieved any regulatory approval and hasn’t opened its books to show it has the serious resources needed to make the launchpad a reality, a lot of people in Canso are getting worked up about the scheme, and are spending their hard-earned money in anticipation of supposed spinoffs. Reports Brett Ruskin for the CBC:
“Some people said they’re transforming a bedroom so that it’s got its own bathroom, and walling rooms off and setting it up as a bed and breakfast,” [MLS president Steve] Matier said.
Future landlords and innkeepers aren’t the only ones planning to reap revenue from rocket scientists.
“Our overall sales are rather flat,” said Ingrid Nickerson, the store manager of the Canso Co-op. “Hard to grow a business without more people coming in.”
She said an influx of workers or tourists could boost the store’s finances.
The Co-op recently expanded to stock lumber and building supplies — items newcomers might need if they’re building or moving into new homes, Nickerson said.
Well, I hope it all works out for the people of Canso. But it would be beyond cruel to get Cansonians tapping into their life savings only to have Maritime Launch Services abort the launch of its launchpad because the loonie gains two cents, or an Indonesian investor convinces company president Matier to build in Asia instead, or the whole thing is just an empty scheme.
This evening at 6pm, Halifax city council will have a public hearing to consider the fate of the Khyber building.
Council is being asked to sell the Khyber to the 1588 Barrington Building Preservation Society for $1, which obviously is a less-than-market-value sale which needs council approval. Additionally, council is being asked to grant the 1588 Barrington Building Preservation Society $250,000 to help with renovations to the building, and to forgive property taxes on it.
The Society is asking people to weigh in tonight:
Next Tuesday May 22 is your last chance (like actually this time) to have your say on the future of the #KhyberBuilding. Council’s public hearing on our plan to buy #1588Barrington will start at 6pm & speakers sign up at 5:30. #halifax #novascotia pic.twitter.com/K83lgLR2L3
— FriendsoftheKhyber (@khyber_friends) May 16, 2018
6. Dartmouth Fire
One person was killed Saturday morning at a fire at 81 Primrose Street in North Dartmouth.
The Primrose fire scene was about four blocks from another fire at the corner of Brule and Pinecrest Streets, at the old Pinecrest Video and Convenience Store:
The North Dartmouth fires haven’t yet been added to the fire department’s Fire Investigations Page, but while I was there I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between two south end Halifax fires that were just one block away from each other:
5481 Victoria Road, Halifax
March 5 2018
This fire involved a Mixed Use-Residential & Commercial Building. There were no injuries and no fatalities. The ignition source is unknown. Fire investigators have determined the area of origin as the outside of the building. The cause of this fire is classified as UNDETERMINED.
5460 Inglis Street, Halifax
May 08 2018
This fire involved a Multi Unit Residential Dwelling. There were no injuries and no fatalities. The ignition source is undetermined. Fire investigators have determined the area of origin as the building exterior. The cause of this fire is classified as INCENDIARY.
Special Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 12pm, City Hall) — Dexel Developments wants to build a 14-storey apartment building at the corner of Pepperell and Robie Streets, just to the south of the 14-storey Atlantica Hotel.
City Council (Tuesday, 1pm, City Hall) — besides the public hearing on the Khyber proposal mentioned above, council will be considering the proposal for transit passes for people on social assistance, have the first reading of bylaw changes that will allow George Armoyan to build his gigantic tower at Quinpool Road and Robie Street (“first reading” is the required predecessor for the final vote, which will presumably happen at the next council meeting), and consider the Schmidtville Heritage Conservation District Plan. Additionally, councillor Sam Austin wants to build a roundabout where Highway 118 dumps into Woodland Avenue and intersects with Lancaster Drive and Micmac Boulevard. I’ll show up for the Armoyan mess, and will live-blog via the Examiner’s Twitter account, @hfxExaminer.
Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm, City Hall) — the committee is being asked to consider the “Preservation of Remaining Street Car Poles on Spring Garden Road.” I had no idea there were still street car poles standing on Spring Garden Road, or anywhere else for that matter. The agenda item doesn’t say where they are; I’ll go hunting for them today.
Western Common Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 6:30pm, Art Room, Prospect Road Community Centre) — just an update on the construction of the Nichols Lake Trail. At issue is a proposal for a bridge crossing the stream near the waterfall.
No public meetings today or Wednesday.
No public events today.
Phosphatidylcholine (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — Jonghwa (Kyle) Lee, Ph.D. Candidate, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, will speak on “The role of phosphatidylcholine in lipid droplet biogenesis and lipoprotein secretion.”
Creating Ethical Space for Indigenous-led Biological Health Research (Wednesday, 6pm, Pier 21) — Amy Bombay from Dalhousie University and Nadine Caron from the University of British Columbia are speaking.
In the harbour
6am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
6am: Arsos, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Kingston, Jamaica
6:30am: Asuka II, cruise ship with up to 960 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Dublin, Ireland.
The Asuka II is the former Crystal Harmony.
The Harmony had a difficult history. On its maiden voyage in 1990, the ship caught fire in the Caribbean:
The fire knocked out the ship’s propulsion system and left it dead in the water for nearly 16 hours without air-conditioning. Power was available for lights and fans, and eventually the ship was able to make it under its own power to Cristobal, where 920 passengers disembarked and were flown back to the United States.
But the Harmony was perhaps known for a 2003 incident that resulted in a change in U.S. laws regulating ship sewage discharges:
Crystal Cruises will be forever known to environmentalists as the cruise line whose Crystal Harmony dumped around 35,000 gallons of grey water, sewage, and bilge water in a marine sanctuary in Monterey Bay.
The incident so enraged the city of Monterey that:
In response, the city earlier this month said it would refuse to provide services, such as use of its pier to unload tenders, to the ship involved, Crystal Harmony. On Tuesday, Carl Anderson, Monterey’s director of public facilities, plans to recommend that the City Council declare the ship’s operator, Los Angeles-based Crystal Cruises, “no longer welcome in Monterey Bay.”
That bit of ugliness behind it, in 2006, Crystal’s parent company, Nippon Yusen Kaisha, transferred the Harmony to its Yokohama-based NYK Cruises subsidiary and renamed it the Asuka II. It is now the largest cruise ship operating in Japan.
According to a surprisingly blunt press release, NYK Cruises “is resuming its 102-days ’round-the-world cruises from March 2018 after suspending the service in 2016 because of a series of global terrorist attacks and a variety of other factors. The sailings will depart from Yokohama and make visits in Europe, North America and Southeast Asia.”
So welcome our Japanese tourists today. Let’s hope they’re not beset by fire, sewage, or terrorists.
7am: Pearl Mist, cruise ship with up to 216 passengers, arrives at Pier 24 from Bar Harbor
3:15pm: Pearl Mist, cruise ship, sails from Pier 24 for sea
9:30pm: Asuka II, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for sea
9:30pm: Arsos, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Kingston, Jamaica
11pm: Asian Moon, container ship, sails from Pier 31 for sea