1. Fuel leaks at Tufts Cove and Halifax Transit

A photo of oil booms along the shoreline near the Tufts Cove power plant
Photo: Halifax Examiner

“Pressed about the fact it took [Nova Scotia Power (NSP)] 12 days to talk about the almost 20,000 litres spilled on its property, [Environment Minister Margaret] Miller said she wasn’t overly concerned,” reports Jean Laroche for the CBC:

“It would have been better if they could have made their predictions of how much had been spilled more accurately but you know I’m glad that, first of all, things are being contained,” she said.

“My concern … is in the cleanup. I imagine in days afterwards the assessment of what’s going on, the questions will be asked about why those numbers didn’t come forward, but at this point my concern is about the cleanup.”

Sections 19 and 20 of the Petroleum Management Regulations spell out the reporting requirements when such tanks leak, and other sections of the Regulations more broadly dictate how tanks are to be inspected and what sort of inventory control measures should be in place.

Section 20 deals with aboveground tanks like the tank at Tufts Cove; it reads:

20 (1) Subject to subsection (3), a person responsible for an aboveground storage tank system that is not directly connected to a heating appliance shall ensure that the petroleum product level is measured, reconciled and recorded in accordance with subsections 19(2) and (3) at least weekly.

(2) A person responsible for an aboveground storage tank system shall immediately notify the Department in the manner prescribed in Section 69 of the Act and in the Emergency Spill Regulations* when a leak is indicated in any one of the following circumstances:

(a) an unexplained loss or gain of 1.0% or more of the inventory in any month; or

(b) inventory reconciliations showing 4 or more consecutive weeks of unexplained petroleum product losses or gains in excess of 1.0% of the inventory for each week.

(3) Inventory control measures described in subsections (1) and (2) are not required for an aboveground storage tank system where the storage tank system is located such that all exterior surfaces are visible for inspection and are inspected in accordance with the requirements of subsection 18(1) or as approved in writing by an Administrator and

(a) has secondary containment and leak monitoring devices that meet the requirements of the Standard; or

(b) is equipped with a continuous leak detection device, system or method providing an equivalent level of safety and approved in writing by an Administrator.

I put the emphasis on “immediately.” The footnote says that the Emergency Spill Regulations have been replaced by the Environmental Emergency Regulations.

Perhaps NSP did immediately notify the Department of Environment of the leak as soon as it was detected, and perhaps the company’s inventory control measures for the tank meet the letter of the Regulations. But it’s hard to believe that at an operation as large as Tufts Cove there isn’t a continuous leak detection system. I’ll call today and see if one is registered at Tufts Cove.

From everything NSP has said, however, it appears the company is basing its assessment about how much oil was spilled on estimates provided by the company doing the cleanup, MFR Oil Response. That is, the total amount of oil spilled is being estimated from looking at it on the water and on the ground and guessing, rather than by checking from inventory control measures.

I’m reminded of the oil spill at Halifax Transit. Afterwards, then-Auditor General Larry Munroe investigated the spill, and chronicled its discovery:

[In May 2014], media reported a diesel spill which was traced back to the HRM Burnside Transit Centre. The diesel spill was not reported by Halifax Transit but by a car dealership approximately a kilometer away. Halifax Regional Water Commission contacted HRM after fuel was traced to a ditch adjacent to Halifax Transit property. Halifax Transit at first did not believe the leaking fuel was originating from their facilities. After an extended period of time (some six weeks) they finally determined they were in fact the source of the leak.

How is it possible that an oil leak went undetected for six weeks? Munroe explained:

Some variances can be expected depending on the type of inventory. In the case of fuel, a resulting variance may be due to condensation in the tanks or expansion/contraction due to variances in temperature. However, the OAG is of the understanding there are industry processes and standards to assist with adjusting for the variances caused by, for example, temperature and it is widely accepted accurate inventories are quite possible and in fact take place.

Upon review of the types of analysis being completed by Halifax Transit, it appears the financial analysis/processes (not reconciliations) used by Halifax Transit were more likely designed as a usage tool rather than a tool which would ensure compliance with provincial regulations around fuel loss.

It’s mind-boggling that a large fuel operation like Halifax Transit’s wasn’t constantly measuring fuel inventories and usage; had it been, it would’ve led to quick discovery not just of the leak, but a near-exact measurement of the size of the leak.

Is it possible that Nova Scotia Power likewise failed to constantly measure its fuel inventory? Honestly, I thought the utility would have it more together than Transit.

The alternative is that Nova Scotia Power did constantly monitor its fuel inventory, but failed to relay that information to the Department of Environment, which seems to be required by the regulations.

2. Yarmouth ferry

A cloud of diesel exhaust follows the Alakai, the result of burning so much money. Photo: Halifax Examiner

The City of Portland has released the latest passenger counts for the Yarmouth ferry — 13,315 people rode the ferry in July. The July 2018 count is 13 per cent higher than the July 2017 count.

For the season, which began in June, by the end of July, 20,016 people had taken the ferry. At the same point last year, 19,493 had taken it.

Here are the running monthly totals:

June: 3,616
July: 10,813
August: 13,909
September: 7,128
Total 2016: 35,466

June: 7,677 (+112% compared to June 2016)
July: 11,816 (+9% compared to July 2016)
August: 12,533 (-10% compared to August 2016)
September: 6,907 (- 3% compared to September 2017
Total 2017: 38,933 (+10% over 2016 total)

June: 6,701 (- 13% compared to June 2017)
July : 13,315 (+13% compared to July 2018)

While there’s a small increase in ridership, we’re still a long way from even the imagined case for the provincial subsidy for the ferry.

The $100 million subsidy to Bay Ferries — $10 million per year for 10 years — is dependent on an annual passenger count of 60,000. Here’s what Paul LaFleche, then the deputy minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, told the legislature’s Public Accounts Committee on March 30, 2016, after the deal with Bay Ferries was announced:

We’ve set what we believe are realistic targets for this ferry. We knew the subsidy would be double digit initially. We knew there would be some start-up costs, and we knew that the passenger counts had to be set realistically. So again, when I appeared last September — and I know only some of the media heard me and some of the other people in the audience — we said 60,000. We didn’t say 120,000. We didn’t say 150,000.

We had people who actually bid on other numbers even though we told them they had to bid on 60,000 – and of course those bids were disqualified. We went back to them before we disqualified them and insisted to them, can you bid on 60,000? They said, we don’t believe in 60,000, we have a big number. We weren’t interested in that. At this time, we would like to achieve 60,000 in the next couple of years. If we achieve a much larger number, that’s fabulous.

“We would like to achieve 60,000 in the next couple of years”… er, we’re working on Year 3 and with continued good weather the figure might reach 45,000. When do we acknowledge that 60,000 isn’t a “realistic target”?

Not that I think there’s anything particularly great about even 60,000.

3. Tidal turbine

A photo of the tidal turbine.
Photo: Cape Sharpe Tidal

“While almost three weeks have passed since the majority shareholder of a test turbine in the Minas Passage filed for liquidation, the fate of the machine spinning at the bottom of the Bay of Fundy is still murky,” reports Emma Davie for the CBC:

But the province’s energy minister insists there are no talks to raise the turbine.

Neither the energy minister nor representatives from the Fundy Ocean Research for Energy (FORCE) can say how long the turbine can sit on the sea floor unmonitored, but local fishermen want to see it removed as soon as possible.

The energy minister wouldn’t say how long the government is prepared to sit idle before demanding action.

Mombourquette said as part of the process for applying for a berth in the Bay of Fundy, the companies would have posted a security in case a retrieval was necessary.

How much money that is, he wouldn’t say, citing “corporate sensitive information.”

“Corporate sensitive information” because some other company might want to put a turbine in the Minas Basin and … have to pay the exact same amount, I guess.

This knee-jerk secrecy is ludicrous. We’re talking about the public interest here, and that always comes first, even in our overly restrictive freedom of information law. Moreover, in case the minister hasn’t noticed, OpenHydro is bankrupt, and so all its financial information will become public in any event.

4. Transit tickets

Yesterday, I reported that Halifax Transit had issued a tender offer for a firm to print transit tickets that will be readable by the new fare boxes, and I off-handedly remarked that “the new tickets will be larger than the tickets now being used — 2.75″ x 6”.” Mere minutes after I published that, the comments came.

From Krista Spurr:

The fact the city is spending (annual incremental?) money on fare boxes to read barcoded paper tickets instead of making a longer-term investment in a modern electronic payment card system is very revealing and perpetually disappointing.

Halifax Transit fare collection is on par with Moncton, Saint John, and Fredericton, not Montreal, Toronto/Ottawa/Hamilton, and St. John’s.

Yes, St. John’s. The one in Newfoundland and Labrador. Where they have a payment card system where you can order the card and refill it online. And, for some reason, get Air Miles.

From Peter Ziobrowski:

2.75×6″ for a ticket? that’s huge.. that also won’t fit in my wallet.
why do they hate transit users – can’t they just go to a smart card already?

From Anhaga:

Surely that ticket size can’t be right? That’s kind of like the stupidly large tickets which are issued for public performances now, but those are one offs and sometimes keepsakes. If a readable barcode on a garment label can be on a tag the size of a current transit ticket there seems no logical reason whatsoever to make us carry around a sheaf of tickets the size of a cheque book. No one should be making decisions about public transit unless they have spent time at every season of the year using the system for their daily lives.

From Michael Colborne:

That size sounds crazy. Maybe next Metro Transit will be tendering for little briefcases for people to carry their bus tickets in.

From Zeedra:

I’m so sick of decisions being made around these tables by people who have no practical experience, in this case they are not transit users. What will it take for somebody at the table (but not just before lunch, for god’s sake) to say: “Like…Ah…so…let’s check with a few people who regularly use buses. Like, ah, hmm…how do you carry your tickets and, ah, basically, how many do you buy at one time?” I’m being kind by assuming they don’t have any bus riding experience.

And then it carried over to Twitter:

Literally every ticket is apparently now going to be 6 inches long by 2.75 wide. So that’s wider than the current monthly passes, and almost twice as long. For a single ride.

— Ashley Morton (@ashleyjmorton) August 15, 2018

Hi! The new fare boxes will validate/count both bills and tickets for operators, meaning they need to be the same size to be compatible with the fare boxes. Tickets will fold accordion style so they can fit in wallets with other bills. -RD

— Halifax Transit (@hfxtransit) August 15, 2018

There’s a lot more, and Taryn Grant went in depth about it in this article for StarMetro Halifax.

But I’m with Zeedra — any proposed change at Transit should be run by users first. I use a monthly pass, so didn’t think of the implications for people who use tickets, even though I buy tickets for visitors and a family member who doesn’t use the bus often enough to justify a pass. Now that I consider it, the new tickets are going to be a huge inconvenience for riders.


1. Summer

Stephen Archibald laments the approaching end of summer with a bunch of photos of summery things, and then drops the one above, noting:

When we stopped at the the Covenanter Church with our milkshakes there were folks preparing for a wedding ceremony. Reminded us of a wedding we attended there in the 1980s. We happen upon the waiting groomsmen in their black and white costumes closely observed by a herd of black and white cattle in a neighbouring field. An enduring favourite image.

2. Startup debt and mental health

Entrevestor, the Chronicle Herald column usually written by Peter Moreira, is a cheerleader for startup businesses. That’s because Moreira is also paid by provincial economic development agencies to promote the companies they fund — that is, the very companies Moreira writes about in the Herald column.

Beyond the obvious conflict of interest, however, I’ve long criticized Moreira and the push for a startup culture in general for many reasons, but also because rarely is attention placed on the downside. For example, as I wrote in 2015:

Of course there is a role for entrepreneurship — the Halifax Examiner is a startup — but the benefits and rewards of entrepreneurship are hugely oversold. First of all, the vast majority of small businesses fail. That has always been the case, and always will be. To encourage people to start businesses without warning them of the very likely downsides — bankruptcy, ruined credit, emotional distress, poor health, and more — is irresponsible. But we so rarely hear about those downsides. Why?

I’m happy to report, however, that today’s Entrevestor column, written by Jennifer Lee, at least addresses the problem:

Debt is a common burden shared by many startup founders, but it’s also a subject they rarely discuss. Startup pay is often sporadic and rarely secure, and credit is readily available. It’s not unusual for entrepreneurs to rack up problematic debt as they struggle to get their businesses off the ground. Given that about 90 per cent of startups fail in their first five years, debt and other factors combine to create mental health problems for startup entrepreneurs.

“The way we’re setting up businesses to grow is a breeding ground for mental health issues,” said Michael DeVenney, a chartered financial analyst and head of The Mindset Project, a comprehensive study of the mental health of Canadian entrepreneurs. “That whole idea of working 70 to 90 hours of work every week is ridiculous. It’s almost seen as a rite of passage and that’s not healthy.”

Two years ago, the Mindset Project surveyed over 500 entrepreneurs and interviewed almost 100 and found over 40 per cent felt their mental health had declined since they started their businesses.

Nobody knows how big the problem of founders’ debt is. But conversations with entrepreneurs and others indicate that it’s a major problem to those who launch startups.

It is irresponsible for governments to be encouraging people to start their own business, even going so far as to providing training and loan money, without first warning them of the huge potential (and likely) downsides, and secondly, without tracking those downsides. As I wrote last year:

There’s remarkably little concrete data on business success rates. Mostly, there are guesses. Something like half of new businesses collapse in Canada within three years. It might be out there somewhere, but I can’t easily find exact numbers for Nova Scotia.

But this shouldn’t be hard data to collect. We have business registry and tax information, and in this instance a specific number of new businesses using the Business Navigator service. It’s a disservice to those using the service to not tell them, upfront, what the failure rate is.

Same goes for all the other government-backed entrepreneurship-encouraging programs like CEED. If you’re not telling your clients, upfront and clearly, what the failure rate is for past clients, you’re kind of lying to them.

Besides that, there should be required reports from economic development agencies to the Department of Health about the mental health problems experienced by the agencies’ clients.


No public meetings.

On campus



Towards Universality in IOT Design: From Maker Activities to Mono-gramming  (Thursday, 11:30am, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Hiroyuki Ono from Kanazawa University will speak, followed by Nobuaki Tonaka, President and CEO of Universal Shell Programming Laboratory and Founder of Uncial, speaking on “Introduction of Unicage.”


No public events.

In the harbour

6am: Warnow Sun, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Antwerp
7:20am: Skogafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
11am: Skogafoss sails from Pier 42 for sea
11:30am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 41 to Autoport
2pm: Warnow Sun sails from Pier 42 for sea
4:30pm: Oceanex Sanderling moves from Autoport back to Pier 41
6pm: Oceanex Sanderling sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s


I’ve got nothing.

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

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    What is this whinging about the end of summer thing? It’s somehow so Canadian, the glass is always half empty, or we are somehow not worthy of more summer. We expect (need) life to be hard. We’re Canadians!

    Or, as Henry Thoreau once said about the human condition: “We are determined to be starved before we are hungry.”

  2. Thank you for not calling it “Tuft’s Cove.” It’s Tufts Cove, after a family named Tufts, not Tuft.

  3. Regarding the oil spill at Tuft’s Cove, it should be painfully obvious to anyone who can exercise a bit of critical thinking what has happened here (one, or more, or all of the following must be true):

    -For some undisclosed reason, an estimated 25000 litres of oil was spilled, a portion of which entered Halifax harbour.
    -NSPI (immediately) made public its estimate of how much oil entered Halifax harbour.
    -NSPI publicly withheld, as long as it could, its knowledge of the remaining spilled quantity.
    -NSPI has not fully complied with the word and/or spirit of the regulations by which it is supposedly bound.
    -The Minister of Environment either does not understand or has chosen not to appropriately enforce the aforementioned regulations.
    NSPI and/or the Minister of Environment are negligent and/or acting incompetently.

    Personally, I suspect all of the above are true.

  4. On the transit tickets–this is amazing in its lack of awareness of how people use transit since attention to small details is a great measure of the health of the system and its potential attractiveness to new users. They also seem clueless to what is available in other cities. In NYC, a metrocard costs $1, is accepted across all trains and buses, and is reloadable at a machine located in any subway station. In Halifax, you cannot even buy a ticket for the ferry from the attendant on site and need to look far and wide to find a place to buy tickets and passes.

    1. Halifax Transit seems unable to investigate best practices in other jurisdictions. There are hundreds of transit systems out there, probably many of which have found a good fare system which HRM could simply adapt and adopt. My biggest gripe is their website which still operates like it was 1999 posting schedules in static PDF pages. No real time at all in 2018 with all buses having GPS.
      Someone needs to inform HRM transit that the last century called and wants their web page back.

  5. HRM has a Cycling Advisory Committee full of cyclists and does nothing without running a proposal past the the members.
    Obviously we need a HRM Transit Advisory Committee with members drawn from people who don’t drive,walk or cycle to work,shop or attend medical appointments. Payment to members of $150 per meeting would be optional for those desiring compensation for their expertise.

  6. I carry the small tickets in my wallet….and ride the bus on a whim with them. I’m not going to carry huge tickets in my wallet. I can guarantee that large tickets like this will reduce my use of transit. But hey, since the new routing/routes basically eradicated any easy routes to where I usually go (my most frequent trip, to work, changed from a 12 minute trip to a 55 minute trip…that’s an extra hour and a half on the bus each day folks!) I guess the larger tickets are completely consistent with the fates wanting me to never take the transit system. Honestly, I think Halifax Transit is run by morons.

  7. There is a vigourous discussion going on in my Twitter mentions today about this, and Councillor Mason has clarified the fare box expenditure isn’t annual/incremental, but part of the larger, longer-term modernization plan started in 2013-14.

    However, Halifax Transit’s own comments, published elsewhere yesterday, suggest the timeline for an actual modern fare payment system that isn’t comically large tickets, monthly passes, or cash payments is, at best, TBD.

  8. What’s endlessly fascinating about the ferry service is that we have family that lives right in the Portland area, and year after year they check the ferry pricing when planning their trips up here to visit. They travel multiple times a year and can easily afford the fare. However they are shocked at the price every time and opt to instead drive through New Brunswick.

    My wife’s uncle just finished a trip up from Portland where he drove through New Brunswick all the way down to Yarmouth. When I mentioned that the ferry was an option he laughed.

    If people like my family, for whom the ferry could be a viable travel option, simply aren’t willing to pay the ridiculous fares and instead spend 10 hours in a car, it’s a pretty good indicator that the ferry makes no sense and maybe we could spend this slush fund for US businessmen on, oh I don’t know, some long term care beds, or preschools, or roads, or mental health services, or whatever. It really seems obvious.

    Nova Scotia seems totally willing to defend burning this money for 13,000 tourists a month but watching our own people beg for a doctor. It’s pitiful.

    1. I looked into it once. Was going to be upwards of $600 for two people and a car, ONE WAY, with the crappiest seats. That’s a lot of gas money. And it doesn’t really save you any time, it just means the time spent is not spent driving.

  9. I shake my head over Halifax Transit’s paper-based “upgrade” as I think back nearly 40 years to using a fare card on San Francisco’s BART system. Of course, when I moved from the west coast to HRM 20 years ago, I was told that it was 4 hours ahead and 20 years behind. We seem to be moving in reverse.

  10. Missed in the Fare box ticket thing, is that transit bought fare boxes that accept paper money. thats why the tickets need to be the same size as a bill. Given the smallest Canadian denomination is a 5$ bill, who’s going to be paying for transit with paper cash?

    also given the lack of places to actually buy tickets, moving straight to a card only system would actually be better, since I could presumably get the card at any current ticket seller, then never have to go back since it would be re-loadable online or from an app.

    1. The current boxes accept bills too (in the same feeder slot you put your ticket). And like you say, no one ever uses them because they don’t give change.

      I guess the advantage of this design is that it ensures the tickets go in in a uniform manner, so the bar codes can be guaranteed to be read, so Transit can easily collect better passenger data, which we’ve all been harping on them to do. But surely there are other solutions to ensure the tickets can be read that don’t require me to stuff ten bills into my wallet (I don’t care that they can accordion; it’s still the same amount of paper!)

      FWIW, I’d think a ticket that’s the same size as a credit card (e.g. the parking chits you get at the airport) would be ideal. I find the current size is too small and gets lost in my wallet / sometimes fall out. A credit card-sized ticket could be slipped into the card slots of my wallet.