1. Offshore “incident”
Shell Canada’s Stena IceMax rig has been drilling in Shelburne Basin for just five months, and it’s already had its first “incident,” reports the CBC:
A spokesperson for Shell Canada said operations at the Cheshire well have been suspended for the time being.
In an email to CBC News, Cameron Yost said workers on the Stena IceMAX — referred to by the company as the rig — had disconnected from the well in preparation for severe weather that was approaching.
One of the safety precautions included “isolating the well using the blowout preventer (BOP) system.”
“Shortly after the well had been secured and the rig moved away from the well location, high waves and heave caused the riser tensioner system to release, resulting in the riser and lower marine riser package — which connects the rig to the well during drilling — to fall to the seabed,” Yost wrote.
The riser is a flexible pipe that connects the surface ship to the sea floor. The water in that area is about 2,000 metres deep.
The riser is about the same length, and is now lying on the ocean floor.
2. Nova Centre
Yesterday, a student working on a paper about The Carlton and The Wooden Monkey being adversely affected by the construction of the Nova Centre asked for my thoughts on the issue. She had two questions. Here they are, with my responses:
Q. Do you feel council is doing enough to help these businesses?
Well, I think that’s kind of the wrong way of looking at it. I’m not sure what council can realistically do… I suppose better planning, better communication, and especially better coordination with the businesses in terms of when and for how long streets will be closed, etc, would be helpful. But beyond that, I don’t see how council could legally or ethically provide, for example, tax breaks or subsidies to the businesses. There are no doubt plenty of businesses across the municipality who could claim similar perceived damages due to various city actions — the re-routing of streets, the filling of potholes, installing traffic lights, what have you. In the end, we all have to pay our taxes, and government shouldn’t be deciding which businesses are worthy of tax breaks or subsidies, and which aren’t.
That said, I think there’s a larger issue at play here, and that’s the real estate bubble across Canada. I plan on spending a lot of time researching this in coming months, but it’s clear that there’s too much capital going into urban development across Canada. The reasons are varied — I’ve long suspected money laundering is a big part of it, and just this morning Bloomberg had an article detailing CMHC’s concerns on that issue.
There are other reasons for the bubble as well: foreign money (like the Chinese in Vancouver) being parked here to avoid troubled currencies at home, old fashioned investment groupthink, and the fact that the ultrarich have nowhere else to invest their money.
Where does Halifax council fit into this? Well, the primary component of city income is the property tax. So long as property tax receipts keep going up, city budgets can go up even as the tax rate stays flat (as it has the last four years), and councillors can portray themselves as responsible financial stewards while delivering ever more services to citizens. So it’s in council’s interest to feed the real estate bubble. That’s why there’s been near-universal approval of development projects over the last five years or so, even when (as on Wellington Street) the neighbourhoods don’t want the development.
There are a couple of additional groupthink delusions going on with the Nova Centre — the absurd notion that Halifax will become “the next Singapore,” i.e., a back office banking centre for Cayman Island hedge funds and tax avoidance schemes, and the idea that business people will come to conventions at the new convention centre, so fall in love with Halifax and Nova Scotia that they move their families and businesses here and employ people. (While there’s been some success in bribing Cayman Island banks with payroll rebates to open offices here, the notion is oversold, as demonstrated by Nova Centre developer Joe Ramia’s inability to attract even one out-of-town firm to his new building. The second idea — that rich people will move here and hire us — is ridiculous on its face, and there’s been no notable increase in announced conventions in any event.)
But even these additional groupthink delusions are of a piece with ever-increasing urban development, above and beyond the increase in population and the growth of the local economy. They’re natural outgrowths of the real estate bubble, justification after the fact.
I’m certain that the real estate bubble will one day end, and then we’ll be facing all sorts of troubles that will make the Wooden Monkey’s and Carleton’s current woes seem minuscule in comparison. That is probably a discussion for another day, but to bring it back to your question — do I think council is doing enough to help these businesses? — the answer is that council had done nearly everything possible to destroy these businesses. The proper role of city government is to keep the streets clean, fill the potholes, properly manage the police and fire departments, provide basic services like transit, recreation centres and ball fields, and then get out of the way and let businesses succeed or fail on their own merits. But in the case of the Nova Centre, council decided instead to subsidize one development (via the 25-year contract for the convention centre) in the delusion that doing so would bring more prosperity to Halifax. In the process, council is pulling the rugs out from two otherwise healthy businesses that never asked for a dime of government money.
Q. Do you think the businesses will survive to enjoy the promised economic-spinoffs from the completed Nova Centre?
I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to whether the businesses can survive. I know the owners of both businesses, and they are capable managers who will do everything in their power to keep their establishments going. But I have no knowledge of their rent, cash flow, or debts, so I don’t know if they can keep going until construction is finished.
I do know, however, that the “promised economic spinoffs” are horse shit. The economic projections were smoke and mirrors and worse — outright fraud. So even if the businesses survive, they won’t benefit from the Nova Centre, but rather from just having the detriment of construction removed and going about their businesses on their own terms.
I don’t know if those answers satisfied the student or not.
There are several other Nova Centre-related issues in play this week.
First is an aside in today’s Metro article by Zane Woodford about supposed minor changes to the design of the Nova Centre:
The convention centre portion of the Nova Centre is scheduled to open at the end of September, and the whole building is supposed to open next January, but Ramia said Monday those dates aren’t set in stone.
“I don’t know yet. We haven’t finalized those dates,” he said.
Recall that the opening of the convention centre has already been delayed a year, and Trade Centre Limited salespeople had to embarrassingly tell organizations that had booked conventions for 2016 that the deal was off and refund their deposit cheques. The reputational hit to the city was enormous. Are we about to have Round Two of That City Can’t Get It’s Shit Together? Time will tell.
And then there’s the existing World Trade and Convention Centre office tower, except we can’t call it that anymore because the old Trade Centre Limited has stopped paying its dues to the World Trade Centre Association and TCL would get slapped with a trademark infringement suit if it uses the words “Trade Centre” to refer to itself or to the office tower. So “Trade Centre Limited” is now “The Halifax Convention Centre”; no one’s given a new official name to the office tower, so let’s just call it That Crappy Old Office Tower on Argyle Street.
City council will today go in closed session to discuss this:
16.4.2 Memorandum of Agreement with the Province of Nova Scotia – Halifax Convention Center – Private and Confidential Report
1. Authorize the Mayor and Clerk to amend the existing Halifax Convention Centre (HCC) Memorandum of Agreement with the Province and Halifax Regional Municipality as outlined in the private and confidential staff report dated February 29, 2016;
2. Authorize staff to notify the Province before the deadline, as outlined in the private and confidential staff report dated February 29, 2016;
3. Direct staff to return to a subsequent meeting of Regional Council as outlined in the private and confidential staff report dated February 29, 2016; and
4. Not release the private and confidential staff report dated February 29, 2016 until the terms and conditions outlined in the report have been met.
I can’t know for sure which part of the Memorandum of Agreement with the province council is discussing, but I’d guess it’s the part about That Crappy Old Office Tower on Argyle Street.
As I wrote last April:
The WTCC tower is now owned by Trade Centre Limited, a crown corporation, and when TCL vacates the premises to move into the shiny new convention centre one block south, the province will take over ownership. The city does have the opportunity — in real estate terms, an “option” — to make an offer on the WTCC tower, but if it doesn’t, the province will put the building up for sale on the open market.
Nobody in their right mind would buy a 35-year-old office tower in a market with a 12 percent plus vacancy rate when something like 300,000 square feet of new office space (Nova Centre, TD Bank expansion, 22nd Commerce Square, etc.) are about to come on the market.
In the almost-certain event that no one else makes an offer on the WTCC tower, the city is contractually obligated (see 5(c)) to buy it at “book value.” A few years ago book value was said to be $12 million. Very likely, it will cost at least that much more to renovate the building, including making the convention centre space useful for something else.
The building contains 118,000 square feet of office space. Compare that to the city’s current use of office space, by square feet:
The lease at Duke Tower is up in 2021 … so the obvious solution will be to shift Duke Tower offices across the street to the WTCC tower, but that still leaves 53,000 square feet of empty space to fill. The Bayers Road offices are leased from Joe Ramia, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens there. Also, office space requirements everywhere, including at city offices, are plummeting as technology and plain old cost-cutting are reducing the size of administrative staffs.
The potentially unlimited liability of the Nova Centre contract aside, the requirement to purchase the existing office tower could turn out to be its own boondoggle. We’ll have something on the order of $25 million in new capital costs to deal with, a few million more in office location costs, and whatever it will cost to maintain a bunch of completely empty offices.
The Memorandum of Agreement with the province set out specific dates that things were supposed to happen. The city could’ve bought That Crappy Old Office Tower on Argyle Street at its market value as of December 31, 2012. But if the city wasn’t interested, then the province had 90 days to put the building on the open market. None of that happened, and the province still hasn’t put the building up for sale, three years after it was contractually obligated to — not that anyone would want to buy that piece of junk anyway.
In any event, if the province isn’t able to sell the building on the open market, then “HRM will purchase the Current WTCC effective on the date that the Facility is ready for occupancy by the Facility Operator, at its book value on that date.”
My guess is that the city and province are wrangling over the book value of the building, hence the closed session this afternoon. I’ve heard rumours that the city is trying to get the value down to something like a million and a half dollars, down from the $12 million book value back in 2010 or so.
Earlier in the day, council is approving the 2016/17 city budget. That budget includes $1.22 million (page s4) “towards marketing the new Halifax Convention Centre.” That’s over and above the $643,000 annual subsidy to the old-TCL/now-HCC organization that runs the thing.
How’s that marketing going?
Peggy Cameron sends me the following breakdown of the announced past and future convention business. She helpfully links to the sources of her figures; if there are any additional convention bookings that HCC hasn’t announced, I’m not aware of them:
Bookings of international, national association and national corporate events at the present World Trade and Convention Centre (WTCC):
31 events per year, 2.58 events per month [source]
2013/14 Booking Target: 28 events per year, 2.33 events per month [source]
2014/15 Booking Target: 29 events per year, 2.42 events per month [source]
2015/16 Booking Target: 32 events per year, 2.67 events per month [source]
To Jan. 23, 2014: 16 events in 10 months, 1.6 events per month, 38% slower than the WTCC. [All the 16 events were of a size that could be accommodated at the present WTCC.] [source]
To Nov. 28, 2014: 30 events in 20 months, 1.5 events per month, 42% slower than the WTCC. [17 of these events were for 2016 and were affected by the delay in construction announced the same day.] [source]
To April 1, 2015: 26 events in 24 months, 1.08 events per month, 58% slower than the WTCC. [Trade Centre Limited spent $980,160 in 2013/14 and $1,107,283 in 2014/154 seeking bookings, at a cost of $80,286 for each booking.] [source]
To May 4, 2015: 27 events in 25 months, 1.08 events per month, 58% slower than the WTCC. [source]
To June 25, 2015: 30 events in 27 months, 1.11 events per month, 57% slower than the WTCC. [source]
“The City and Province have been making large contributions to Trade Centre Limited to market the convention centre,” notes Cameron. “The efforts have been spectacularly unsuccessful at attracting conferences… The convention centre is failing at its primary purpose. Decision-makers need to recognize this. Spending an additional $1,220,000 on marketing would be throwing good money after bad.”
Of course, the promoters of this white elephant will not allow an honest assessment of the failure to be aired in public, and so expect lots more smoke and mirrors. The very first dodge will be to conflate local conventions and meetings — where local companies and organizations with primarily or entirely local attendees book convention space — with the national and international bookings, and local delegates will be counted in the economic impact reports. This is dishonest, a lie.
I’ve long half-joked that the convention centre is the Bousquet Full Employment Act. I wish the joke were funnier.
3. Kristan Hines
Premier Stephen McNeil has appointed his former director of strategic operations, Kristan Hines, as his chief of staff.
We last met Hines in September:
“Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil is defending his campaign manager’s right to lobby his government on behalf of an Ontario company interested in the potential outsourcing of three provincial government registries,” reports Paul Withers:
“Every Nova Scotian can register to represent anyone who wants to do business with the government that has taken place,” McNeil said Wednesday.
Chris MacInnes managed McNeil’s 2013 election victory.
For the past year, MacInnes and his firm Group M5 have lobbied the Liberal government on behalf of Teranet Inc., an Ontario outsourcing firm that has won multi-decade contracts to operate and collect fees from provincial land and property registries in Ontario and Manitoba.
I discussed MacInnes’ conflict of interest here. But what I didn’t know at the time is that MacInnes is married to Kristan Hines, who is the Director of Strategic Operations in the Premier’s office, and who is co-chair of the federal Liberal Party’s campaign in Nova Scotia.
I don’t know how anyone can look at this situation and say with a straight face there’s no conflict of interest. The lobbyist is literally sleeping with the director of strategic operations for the premier; the “director of strategic operations” will no doubt be influential in the decision to outsource Service Nova Scotia.
4. Wild Kingdom
Lunenburg resident Scott Tanner caught something weird in the deep water in the Grand Banks off Saint-Pierre.
“A FISH with wings, creepy green eyes and a nose like a wizard’s hat has been branded an alien after being caught by a shocked fisherman,” reports London’s Daily Star tabloid.
The CBC has a slightly more scientific explanation:
It wasn’t until Tanner got back home to Nova Scotia that he looked up what species the fish might be. He believes it is a longnose chimaera, a deepwater species rarely caught.
The California Academy of Sciences says chimaeras are a group of cartilaginous fish that branched off from sharks nearly 400 million years ago.
Chimaera is a Greek word used to describe a mythic monster. The longnose variety is found off Nova Scotia and in various other parts of the Atlantic Ocean. They feed on shrimp and crabs and are harmless to humans.
Dalhousie University biology Prof. Jeffrey Hutchings says the photos Tanner took do appear to show a longnose chimaera, also known as a knifenose chimaera.
He says they are quite uncommon as they are normally only found at a depth of more than several hundred metres.
1. Holding out for a transit hero
Erica Butler looks at the city’s quest for a new transit manager and asks, What qualities would an ideal candidate have?
This article is behind the Examiner’s paywall, and so available only to paid subscribers. Click here to purchase a subscription.
2. Cranky letter of the day
Walmart has come out with a new policy starting March 1. That policy is that they do not issue rainchecks anymore, which means they can put anything on sale for whatever but not have the merchandise or stock to meet the demand of the area. This is wrong.
I was in the store three or four times for bacon but it was out of stock and I could not get the raincheck. It was the same was for pop and I could not get a raincheck for it.
When I asked about it, I was told they are not offering rain checks as of March 1.
I want people to know that this is what’s happening. This is a dishonest way to get people into the stores for sales.
I encourage others to call and see if this decision can be changed. The number to call is 1 (800) 328-0402.
Elizabeth Russell, Trenton
City Council (10am, City Hall) — see above. I’ll be live-blogging the meeting via the Examiner’s Twitter account, @hfxExaminer.
No public meetings.
The Jian Ghomeshi Trial: 50 ways to discredit your complainant (4pm, LSC Rm 236) — “A Panel discussion on the Sexual Politics of Credibility. Featuring Dr. Diane Crocker (Sociology and Criminology, SMU) , Dr. Edna Keeble, (Political Science, SMU), Jackie Stevens (Executive Director of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre), and Melissa MacKay, (Associate Director, Student Life, Dal).”
Scholarly Communication (4:15pm, Rowe 3089) — Vincent Larivière, from the Université de Montréal, will speak on “On Transformations of Scholarly Communication in the Digital Era.” His abstract:
This year marks the 350th anniversary of the creation of the first scientific journal, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. At the beginning of the 19th century, journals became the fastest and most convenient way of disseminating new research results, outranking correspondence and monographs with which they had happily coexisted until then. They consolidated this position throughout the 20th Century, especially in the sciences. The advent of the digital era then challenged their traditional role and form. Indeed, digital technologies, which are easy to update, reuse, access, and transmit, have changed how researchers produce and disseminate knowledge, as well as how this knowledge is accessed, used, and cited. Drawing on historical and contemporary empirical data, this talk will address the past and current transformations of scholarly communication, with an emphasis on how these transformations have affected the speed at which knowle! dge is disseminated.
Wadja (7pm, Room 406 Dalhousie Art Centre ) — a screening of the 2012 film by director Haifaa Al-Mansour. Says IMDb:
An enterprising Saudi girl signs on for her school’s Koran recitation competition as a way to raise the remaining funds she needs in order to buy the green bicycle that has captured her interest.
In the harbour
Elektra, car carrier, Southhampton, England to Autoport
CMA CGM La Scala, container ship, Port Klang, Malaysia to Pier 42, then sails to sea
Seoul Express, container ship, Rotterdam to Fairview Cove
Valle Azzurra, oil tanker, Paldiski, Estonia to Imperial Oil
Afra Oak, oil tanker, Whiffen Head, Newfoundland to anchor for bunkers
Macao Strait sails to Muriel, Cuba
I hate 10am meetings.