In the harbour


1. Transit use down

There’s a lot of chart junk in Halifax Transit’s latest report, but here’s the relevant piece:

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 8.06.13 AM

As Metro’s Stephanie Taylor reports:

Revealed in the report was that compared to 2012-13 when ridership figures showed transit was used more than five million times, the past two years have seen that rate decrease by several thousand.

When questioned on the reason for the slip by Coun. Reg Rankin, Reage indicated a few possibilities.

The hike in transit fare over the past two years has accounted for an expected dip passengers, he said, but also that the service itself is still recovering from the labour dispute that occurred in 2011-12.

But mainly, Reage attributed the slide to the past two brutal winters, which saw many bus routes as well as stops become inaccessible.

Taylor can be forgiven for getting the numbers wrong — she was looking at the chart for the fourth quarter of the fiscal year (January through March), not the entire year as shown in the chart above. The Halifax Transit reports seem specifically designed to confuse; there are too many charts with too many meaningless elements and unexplained couplings.

I don’t buy the “bad winter” argument. If anything, I rode the bus more this past winter because, given the icy sidewalks, it was impossible to walk anywhere. Moreover, ridership has been consistently flat or declining though all parts of the year. Here’s a look at second quarter bus ridership from a report issued last year:

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 8.21.02 AM

The second quarter is July, August and September. Maybe ridership fell because it was too sunny.

2. Talks off

Negotiations between the Halifax Water Commission and its employee unions have broken off. “Heather Corkum, president of Local 1431 (inside workers), has said Halifax Water wants to cut pensions up to 30 per cent,” reports the CBC.

3. Gambling and context

Provincial gambling revenue, as outlined in the Lotteries and Casino Corporation's business plan.
Provincial gambling revenue, as outlined in the Lotteries and Casino Corporation’s business plan.

The business plan for the Nova Scotia Provincial Lotteries and Casino Corporation was recently released, and it shows an increase in expected revenues from VLT machines. Let’s look at how the CBC and the Chronicle Herald reported the story.

First, the CBC’s Jean LaRoche:

There’s no dispute over the fact that Nova Scotians are pumping more money into video lottery terminals since the governing Liberals got rid of a card control system called My-Play.

VLT revenue was up $8 million last year, and it’s expected to grow another $4 million this year.

OK, but is $8 million or $12 million a lot of money? Is that a doubling, or tripling, of VLT revenue, or what?

LaRoche doesn’t supply enough information to say. There’s no baseline from which to judge the size of the increase. Without providing that baseline, without giving context, LaRoche is simply engaging in sensationalism: There’s an increase in gambling revenue! Panic!

The Chronicle Herald’s Michael Gorman, however, provides the context:

[The business plan] shows a 2014-15 forecast for VLT revenue of $113.1 million, up from the budget estimate that year of $106.8 million. (Revenue in 2013-14 was $105.9 million.)

The estimate for 2015-16 predicts even more growth, at $117.5 million, and comes as the number of machines in the province cannot be increased. There are 2,111 VLT terminals in the province, down from 2,178 at the end of fiscal 2013-14.

That’s specific. A forecasted $7.2 million (not $8 million, as LaRoche reported) increase in revenues from 2013/14 to 2014/15 is a 6.8 per cent increase. The predicted increase of $4.4 million in revenues from 2014/15 to 2015/15 represents a further annual increase of 3.9 per cent, or a cumulative increase from 2013/14 of  11 per cent.

Is that worrisome? Maybe. But consider further context provided by Gorman: “10 years ago, [VLT] revenue was about $200 million.” So even with a predicted 11 per cent increase in revenues over two years, gambling revenue is down 40 per cent from where it was a decade ago.

Given that context, we can begin to have a conversation about the causes of the recent and relatively small increases in gambling revenue.

LaRoche goes on to catch Health Minister Leo Glavine inventing tales:

Today, Health Minister Leo Glavine offered another theory for the increase: tourists.


Asked how he knew tourists were behind the increases, the minister suggested the Lottery and Casino Corporation had studied the issue.

“That again was some of the information that I think you’ll find coming from the lottery and gaming,” he said.

In an email to CBC News, Stacy O’Rourke — a spokeswoman for the corporation in question — disputed that claim.

“NSPLCC is not aware of any study. We did not look at tourism as an impact for the increase in VLT revenue.”

It’s good to catch a government minister telling what appears to be a bald-faced lie, but still, without providing the overall context of the gambling issue, the gist of LaRoche’s article is sensationalism: Gambling revenues are up! The minister is lying about the cause of it!

And LaRoche explicitly connects the increased revenues to the end of the My-Play system and uncritically repeats opposition parties’ insistence that the increase comes from problem gamblers. That’s a legitimate theory and worth exploring, but while correlation is interesting, it doesn’t necessarily imply causation.

This is where Gorman gets it right, looking at several other possible factors that might explain the increase, including that the My Play didn’t really stop problem gamblers from gambling but served as a deterrent for occasional recreational gamblers.

I’m not an apologist for the VLT system. It’s problematic that government is in the gambling business, and because it is in the business, the government has a responsibility to address problem gambling head-on. But these conversations have to go beyond simple sensationalism; they require nuance and full context.

4. Weeds

It’s that time of year.

5. Yarmouth ferry

Wednesday marked the 45th anniversary of the first arrival of the Prince of Fundy ferry in Yarmouth, hailing from Portland, Maine, reported the Yarmouth Vanguard:

The ferry “was escorted up the harbour by a number of fishing vessels, pleasure craft and the CCGS Alert shooting water from its fire jets,” the Vanguard 9of 1970] reported. “A highlands piper clad in the Nova Scotia tartan piped the premier of Nova Scotia, G.I. Smith, and his party ashore.” The premier’s party included Yarmouth Mayor Fred Emin, city officials from Portland and representatives of Lion Ferry, which owned and operated the new vessel.

While local tourism industry people welcomed the launch of the Prince of Fundy, there was concern over what some felt was a lack of promotion of the Yarmouth area compared to other parts of the province. The matter had been discussed at a meeting of the Yarmouth County Tourist Association.

The boat was named by 14-year-0ld Bill Mahoney, who won a naming contest co-sponsored by the Chronicle Herald. The prize was, for some unexplained reason, a trip for two to West Germany, and Bill intended to take his uncle Jack Russell, a war veteran who wanted to see the places he had fought.


1. Draft Kelly

The “Draft Kelly” website hasn’t been active since classes ended at local universities, providing yet more evidence that the whole thing was a student’s art project.

2. Cranky letter of the day

To the Chronicle Herald:

The proposed Mother Canada statue is reaching out to her many sisters, the maternally-themed mega-statues of communist Europe.

The largest of these, roughly translated, include Mother of the Motherland, now in Ukraine (1981), Mother Armenia (1950), and Mother Albania (1971). The biggest sister, and the most poignant, is The Motherland Calls (1967), in Volgograd.

Critics may argue that the general idea is a little dated, and conservatives in particular may not like the association with falling regimes. But we should remember that the European sisters are memorials to the sacrifices made by communist soldiers and civilians in defeating the right-wing dictatorships of the Axis during the Second World War.

In this light, Mother Canada becomes a monument to the Victims of the right, a cosmopolitan counterpoint to the simpler-minded victims of communism memorial in Ottawa.

Emanuel Jannasch, Dalhousie School of Architecture

Mother Armenia
Mother Armenia
Mother Ukraine
Mother Ukraine
Mother Albania
Mother Albania
The Motherland Calls, Volgograd, Russia.
The Motherland Calls, Volgograd, Russia.
Mother Canada
Mother Canada


No public meetings.

In the harbour

The seas around Nova Scotia, 8:30am Friday. Map:
The seas around Nova Scotia, 8:30am Friday. Map:

Travestern, chemical tanker, Lewisporte, Newfoundland to anchor for bunkers, then to sea
Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro cargo, St. John’s to Pier 41

Nolhanava sails to sea

The cable-layer Reliance, which has been working on the Hibernia cable, will sail today. The Hibernia cable is being laid across the Atlantic in order to take a few microseconds off the trading time between the New York and London financial markets. Such a thing makes “sense” thanks to the kind of finance industry logic described below.

Sea Owl

The Sea Owl, which is that ridiculous yacht that’s been tied up at Salter Block for the last week, is sailing off today:

Superyacht Sea Owl is a 62 meter displacement yacht with a steel hull and an aluminum superstructure. The yacht was delivered in 2013 to her owner by Royal Van Lent. Both her exterior lines and her interior design is done by Andrew Winch Designs. Sea Owl features a jade mist green and oyster white colour scheme, the same color scheme as the owners’ previous superyacht. Besides the owners stateroom, the yacht has 3 guest cabins, two kid’s cabins and a nanny cabin. The luxury yacht has a crew of 18.

The thing is owned by Robert Mercer, who is the CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund management company, which is as horrible as it sounds:

Renaissance Technologies LLC is a Long Island – New York based hedge fund sponsor, founded in 1982 by mathematician James H. Simons. The company employs about 275 people – mostly mathematicians, astronomers, physicists and computer scientists. It has offices in East Setauket – New York and in San Francisco and Berkeley – California. Between January 1993 and April 2005, RenTech’s flagship Medallion fund had only 17 losses out of 148 months. The yearly Sharpe Ratio has been recorded at 1.68 and the Medallion Fund had never a down year in its history. RenTech’s total assets under management stood at about $25.5 billion as of June 30, 2011.


Renaissance employs mathematical and statistical models for high frequency trading and tries to exploit market inefficiencies when large transactions take place. One of their trading algorithms tries to establish if large transactions have been executed and front runs it. This in turn pushes up transaction costs and related expenses. The hedge funds managed by RenTech charge 5% fixed fee and 44% performance fee – one of the highest in the hedge-fund investment world.


As a trader who’s always trying to predict price movements, RenTech tried to rediscover fundamental quant laws such as the Efficient Market Hypothesis. RenTech believes markets are difficult but not impossible to beat. “Efficient market theory is correct in that there are no gross inefficiencies. But we look at anomalies that may be small in size and brief in time. We make our forecast. Then, shortly thereafter, we reevaluate the situation and revise our forecast and our portfolio. We do this all day long. We’re always in and out and out and in. So we’re dependent on activity to make money,” [Renaissance founder James] Simons told a Greenwich Roundtable in 1999.

In other words, the company provides no socially useful products or services. It is a leach, sucking money from the financial system because its astronomers (!) have learned how to game the system. And the CEO has been gracing us with his presence. Begone! says I.

But there exists in the publishing world writers like Cecile Gauert, the devotee of money who is employed as an editor at Boat International, and who pens dreck like this:

Personal and enchanting, 62-metre custom Feadship Sea Owl is a portal to a different world, where children learn as they play and adults can enjoy family time, work or relax miles away from land. Aside from her one-of-a-kind fantasy inspired interior, the yacht has a sophisticated custom-designed security system to allow her occupants to venture far afield in safety.

Sea Owl’s lead designer, Andrew Winch, grew up near Kensington Gardens in London, where a bronze statue of Peter Pan has bewitched generations of children since it mysteriously appeared in 1912. Peter Pan is only one of several fairy tales and scholarly books that have inspired the décor, as the designers worked closely with family members to personalise each room and encourage the children to explore real and imaginary worlds.

On the bridge deck is a staff cabin decorated with frescos of fossilised seashells that a young Charles Darwin identified during his first trip on HMS Beagle. This will double as a classroom, allowing the children to learn about Darwin as the yacht explores the Galápagos Islands. On the lower deck is a delightful pirate-themed room; next to this is one of the daughters’ cabins with scenes from Alice in Wonderland. On the sun deck, a toothy shark grins on the walls of the freshwater spa pool. Three decks below, a book painted on the ceiling appears to be defying the laws of gravity to fly away from the library wall – it’s Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, naturally. While the décor is playful, it is never kitsch, reaching a level of artistry even grown-ups can appreciate.

Oh, the children! The yacht is for children! But don’t think about a kidnapping scheme:

The world just got its first view of the new 203-foot Sea Owl when Feadship moved the yacht from inside the shipyard to the light of day. The Dutch builder says the onboard security system is possibly the most elaborate ever built into a yacht, and that because the owners desire privacy, precious few details about Sea Owl are going to be released.


Sorry for the delay today. I wanted to go off even more on that yacht…

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

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  1. Jade Mist and Oyster White is what I’m going to call my Hall & Oates cover band.

    I think this cranky letter may have finally made me appreciate the Mother Canada statue!

  2. Attacking pension is one of the latest neo-liberal ploys disguised as defending the taxpayers’ interests.

    Senior bureaucrats, after having cut everthing else, see pensions as a goldmine in their illusory goal of fiduciary responsibility. It is in fact a fiscal sleight of hand that robs Peter (workers) pays Paul (themselves) and makes them look like responsible bean counters.

    Several senior bureaucrats are rewarded handsomely to screw over an already disheartened and disengaged civil service.

  3. Halifax Transit needs to hurry up already and implement the electronic fare system which has been promised for several years. Ottawa’s transit system, OC Transpo, encourages electronic forms of payment; these can be loaded in person at select retailers, online or via e-banking. OC Transpo also provides the ability to purchase full day-passes quickly and easily on-board any bus. E-passes are highly encouraged and can be used with both OC Transpo and its counterpart across the river (Société de transport de l’Outaouais). The rider chooses whether to load the pass with either a set amount or with a monthly pass. Those not using a monthly pass are automatically granted a two-hour transfer window when swiping their e-pass, eliminating the need for operators to issue and scrutinize transfers. (I’ve always believed drivers should not be put in the position of policing fares; it has the potential to place them in a dangerous position and causes route slow-downs when passengers argue the validity of their expired transfer).

    Tickets are an archaic form of payment, almost as bad as cash. While neither will be able to be eliminated completely – and I agree there need to be more ticket retailers! – Halifax Transit needs to implement more efficient forms of payment, which will benefit both riders and HT itself.

    1. The reason retailers don’t carry tickets is they get nothing out of it. There is no commission, and with more and more people paying by credit/debit, they get all the charges for the transactions. Smaller retailers no longer think it is enough of a draw and can’t afford it. Larger places see it as a way to get people in to the stores and can take the hit.

      1. Even the guy at the kiosk in the Bridge Terminal won’t accept credit cards for ticket or pass purchases.

        1. Well, are you really surprised?

          Try paying CASH when leaving your Water Sample for a Coliform Test! «Plastic ONLY, please!» «we want to protect our employees from the DANGERS [sic!!!] inherent in handling cash…»

          ««ABUSE the customer every way you can»» is the mantra of far too many «public services».

  4. Here’s my problem with the ongoing, neverending, story of the HWC strike…..we don’t know anything about their pensions. What proportion is paid by the employer? What proportion is paid by the worker? What is the financial “health” of the pension plan? What is the current pension of an employee (for instance, if you were a worker making $60k/yr what would one’s pension be?)? What 30% “decrease” is the employer looking for (is it in the proportion of what the employer pays into the pension fund? Is it the pay OUT to the employee?)? How long does an employee have to work for HWC to collect a pension? How is that pension calculated (is it, for instance, 80% of the average salary of the last 5 years? Or what?)?

    The reporting on this has been dire. The public is kinda “expected” to have an opinion on the strike but without knowing a damned thing about what the strike is about rather than in broad generalities. Isn’t the LAST contract detailing these things available? Why isn’t it? MY contract is available online and a university is supposedly just as arms-length as the HWC. If it IS available, why haven’t I seen these specifics discussed in the article. Tim is often critical of shoddy practice when someone is doing a story (e.g., misreporting etc) but I think criticism is also warranted when pieces without substance, without relevant information (such as the above) are written, such as the article linked to today. Journalists are often not doing their actual job of actually “reporting” these days…they should be held to account for that as well.

    1. Thank you! I have been saying the same, for the most part. I don’t blame just the journalists entirely. I remember during the Halifax Transit strike a few years ago asking to see what the offers and demands were from both sides. In typical Halifax style, I was told that was secret and not able to be released.

      I work in the public sector and when it comes time to table the offers and demands from both sides, they are posted on the Internet. When a deal is finally reached, the collective agreement is posted both on my employer’s’ and union’s website, respectively.

        1. How can a collective agreement not discuss the pensions? Isn’t the public “on the hook” for pension fund shortfalls?…I just bet we are. If we are, then they need to be public. As I said, the reporting on this has been dire.

          BTW, I wasn’t critiquing your work Tim. 🙂

    2. Here is a link to the current Halifax Water pension plan

      The answers to some of your questions are as follows:

      Employees contribute 9% of their gross pay to the plan (article 4.2), so a person making $60,000 would pay in $5.400 per year.

      Employees receive 2% per year worked as a pension (article 5.3), so if you work 10 years, you would receive 20% of your salary (average of best three years) as a pension. As a guess, most people probably work 25 to 30 years, so they would receive between 50% and 60% of their gross annual working salary as pension, meaning that person making $60k would receive between $30k and $36k as a pension. They would have contributed $135,000 to $162,000 to the plan (which would have given them a tidy sum if it had been invested in any sort of decent RRSP or other plan).

      I suspect that they are not talking about a 30% reduction in what employees or employers contribute to the plan (would not be allowed as pensions legally have to be funded at close to 100% in this province). If they are talking about a 30% decrease in benefits, that would take that $30 to $36k pension down to $21k to $25.2k. That’s a pretty significant drop, especially if you are close to retiring and have planned according to what you thought you were getting.

      1. CBC radio reported this morning that the employer wants to base the pension on the best 10 years’ salary, rather than 5. This would effectively lower the pension amount for most people.

      2. The COMPELLING REASON to REMOVE «pensions» from the scheming clutches of employers! We need a FLEXIBLE, NATIONAL, and UN-ASSAULTABLE pension plan for ALL workers in Canada. While the CPP (and the OAS, etc.) are a pretty decent «parachute» for those of us who, thru no fault of our own, have nothing more, what is really needed is a plan which allows «fattening up» according to our expected drawings when retires. Leaving this in the hands of Harvard Business School addicts guarantees that millions of workers will continue to see their«Retirement Savings» STOLEN by «bankrupt» employers; criminal «investment advisors», and other opportunistic sleazebags.

        ALSO, why is it that Canada has humongous «foreign debts» with egregious interest rates while it «invests» CPP contributions in «The Market» which has GUTTED those «investments».

        Why not «borrow» from the CPP and keep the interest at home and GAIN on both ends?????

  5. When the sponsors of ‘Mother Canada’ find out it is a monument to the victims of right-wingers, will their conservative egos be hurt enough to scrap the entire project?


      They’ll ram it down the throats of the literati just to prove that they can get away with EGREGIOUS BAD TASTE and total disdain for our living veterans while fattening the stock portfolios of their troughing friends.

      The entire idea, based SOLELY on sleazy «opportunity» is SICKENING!!!

  6. The 1 and the 7 should run every 10 minutes, all the time. Stops should be announced, and the go-time should actually reflect when the buses are going to arrive. If there’s a delay; detour; the stop has been moved temporarily, or is out of service for a parade or marathon or something; that information should be announced when you call go-time.

    Our bus system is so bare-bones. The onus for every aspect, outside of the physical bus, is on the rider. I grew up taking the bus around the HRM, and it’s still a mystery to me half the time. For people new to Halifax, I bet it’s overwhelming.

    1. Yes, indeed. I find the bus system here to be confusing in the extreme….one needs a smartphone and constant web access to figure out how to travel from point A to point B.

      1. And even that is really difficult! The text route descriptions on the Halifax Transit are nonsense if you aren’t extremely familiar with Halifax-geography and near-by cross-streets. The route maps load slowly, and are missing a lot of information. The best method seems to be looking up where you’re going; looking for nearby bus-stops on google maps; and then cross-referencing google maps with the route information on the transit website. Which is slow and ridiculous.

    2. Absolutely. I feel like I have a relatively good sense of the bus system and how routes intersect but rely on my smartphone to reassess transfers and routing as I’m en-route. Sticking to the paper schedules often results in a much longer than necessary transit time, as there’s often transfers which can be made more efficiently and quickly if you have a way to keep on top of it.

    3. Having experienced GOOD (and, BTW, often «capitalist») transit systems in numerous other cities, I have nothing but disdain for Halifax Transit.

      It’s an out-of-control bureaucracy ruled —not by the people who PAY for it thru TAXES on top of the ridiculous FARES — but by its sinecured, overpaid «executives. Executives, for example, who didn’t even notice MILLIONS of litres of fuel «disappearing» right under their noses, and who bought an entire fleet of oversized snow-phobic, running-empty, «articulated» (read: overcomplicated and easily-strandable) white elephant behemoths!

      The entire top echelon wouldn’t recognise GOOD policy or GOOD equipment if it s reamed in their faces or ran them over!

      DEMOTE the lot of them and get a PUBLIC BOARD to manage for the PUBLIC’s interest!

  7. I rode the bus more last winter too, mind you only on the free days. Halifax Transit needs to make tickets ubiquitous. They are near impossible to find – it is shocking that every convinced store in the city doesn’t sell them..

    1. And how about selling a ‘day pass’ to encourage visitors to use transit to go all over the city?

    2. I say get rid of the damned tickets and move to a modern format like reloadable cards so I can load a card up, stick it in my wallet and always have fair. If they did this I would likely take the bus home from work when it was raining, or I was lazy. But I don’t carry change, and rarely go to one of the big box pharmacies that sell tickets; I don’t bus, I walk.

      1. Not a bad idea! For the millions HT has spent on «new» [sic.!!!] fare systems you’d think they AT LEAST would have installed that convenient feature — even luddites like me knew it was in use all over the world YEARS before.

        BUT… the FINAL ANSWER is just:
        M-A-K-E I-T F-R-E-E ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

        Use a Gasoline Tax levy to make up for the «loss» which would be healthily attenuated anyway by getting rid of the need to POLICE, SELL, COLLECT, and PROCESS all those SILLY tickets!