On campus
In the harbour


1. Health care labour deal

Yesterday, the province issued a press release announcing a deal with health care unions:

Government and the four unions involved in health care have reached an agreement today, March 13.

“Health-care unions have worked with us to reach this important agreement, and I thank them for their willingness to come to the table,” said Premier Stephen McNeil.

Four councils of unions will be established to bargain on behalf of each bargaining unit — nursing, health care, support and administrative professionals.

All unionized health-care workers will remain members of their existing unions, and pay dues to those unions as they do now. 
Each of the four unions will lead one bargaining process, as follows:
— Nursing (registered nurses and licensed practical nurses): Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union
— Health care: Nova Scotia Government and General Employees’ Union
— Support: Unifor
— Administrative professionals (formerly clerical): CUPE

This agreement will streamline the number of bargaining processes significantly, from 50 to four. Having one union leading negotiations for each of the four bargaining units ensures clarity for employers during the negotiation process. 

Each of the existing unions will continue to represent their members. This agreement means there will be no runoff votes.

“We’ve asked the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the IWK Health Centre to create meaningful change in the way we deliver health care in this province. This agreement will allow them to focus on that important goal,” said Health and Wellness Minister Leo Glavine.

Arbitrator James Dorsey’s previous decisions on the composition of the four bargaining units, seniority, and other underlying issues will stand. Existing collective bargaining agreements will remain in place until new ones are negotiated.

Because unions and government have reached an agreement on representation, Mr. Dorsey’s decisions on which union will represent health-care and support workers will not apply. 

Government will introduce legislation sometime in the spring sitting to formalize this agreement.

The take-away is that the NSGEU was not cut off at the knees, which was a primary goal for the government. The NSGEU,, which represents most nurses, will get to keep its members, and their dues, albeit negotiating contracts for nurses will fall to the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union.

I’m sure over the weekend the commentariat will pass judgment on the deal.

2. Poster


Last week, the Tri-County regional school board removed a poster that depicted a black slave in chains from the halls of Shelburne Regional High School, but yesterday the board decided to have the poster displayed instead “in the school’s African-Canadian studies classroom, where facilitation from a teacher could add to the discussion,” reports Frances Willick.

3. Andrew Younger

Andrew Younger
Andrew Younger

Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters this week that he has not met with Andrew Younger since Younger has taken leave from cabinet. “What is odd is that Nova Scotians don’t really know why Younger no longer sits at the cabinet table, and what needs to happen before he’ll be allowed to take his seat again,” notes Jean Laroche. I can tell you that with the lack of clear communication to the public, the rumour mill is in full gear. I’ve heard everything from health concerns to speculation about criminality — so far as I can tell, there’s no truth to any of that, but what do McNeil and Younger expect to happen in the void of information?

4. Ryan Millet

Ryan Millet, the 13th member of the misogynistic Facebook group, has returned to classes. Millet’s situation is complex. He says he was distraught by the content being posted on the group’s pages, and there’s no reason to disbelieve him. He made his login information available to a female classmate, a decision that ultimately led to a CBC story on the Facebook group and the subsequent scandal and PR disaster for Dalhousie. But “whistleblower” is too strong a description for Millet. The Oxford Dictionary of Journalism defines a whistleblower as a “source who makes public information about alleged wrongdoing, typically by or within the organization…” I’m not passing judgment of Millet’s actions one way or the other, but he clearly doesn’t rise to whistleblower status. Very few people take the concrete action of bringing knowledge of improper actions directly to the police, media, or public; usually, as in Millet’s case, if the information becomes public at all it’s because people loosely talk about it without taking that concrete action.


1. Vintage Easter


Stephen Archibald brings us his collection of vintage Easter cards, and boy is it ever strange.

2. Buses better than trains

The proposed rail system doesn't go to where most commuters want to go.
The proposed rail system doesn’t go to where most commuters want to go.

Bill Black reviews the proposal for commuter rail to Bedford, Sackville, and points beyond, concluding that a dedicated bus corridor would probably be a better option. I think he’s right, but people seem to fetishize trains over buses, regardless of cost.

As Black notes, the biggest problem with the proposed train is that it doesn’t go where people go. Commuters from Bedford to the peninsula are going to the universities, the hospitals, and downtown, but with the possible exception of a Saint Mary’s University station (which isn’t in the proposal), the train won’t go to any of those places, and commuters will have to transfer to a bus for a second leg of their journey.

By my way of thinking, it’d be better to use buses all the way. If we can get the cooperation of CN to use its tracks, surely we can the cooperation to build a busway alongside or atop the tracks, and then buses could jump off the CN corridor at Mumford and travel directly to the universities, hospitals and downtown.

3. Race to the bottom

Rachel Brighton has drunk the tax-cuts-for-corporations Kool-Aid.

The idea that giving corporations more payroll tax rebates or cutting taxes on all corporations will cause them to move Nova Scotia is a suckers’ game, a race to the bottom: each jurisdiction tries to “out compete” the others, and the offers become bigger and more absurd. Where does it end? Two California cities are now giving Amazon most of the money the company collects in sales taxes, taking a tax on consumers intended to fund government and turning into a private revenue stream for the company. A person who worked in local economic development circles once told me that corporations shouldn’t be charged taxes at all, because after all they employ people who pay taxes. But follow the logic: if the benefits are so big, why not just pay the corporations directly?  We could “rebate” all the taxes the employees pay, back to the corporation, and it’s a wash, right? But the corporations also conduct “charity,” so maybe we should pay them for that too, eh? Those employees also pay property taxes and sales taxes, so we could add that on top of the income tax rebate.

The corporate structure is a necessary part of our economy. The Halifax Examiner is incorporated, and that’s a good thing. But we shouldn’t privilege corporations, or any business for that matter. They are fictional instruments, tools that people use to act within society. Taxes on corporations are good and necessary, an important part of the overall tax regime that funds needed and wanted government services for people, including the people who own and work for the corporations. The race to the bottom to cut taxes on corporations ultimately fails people.

4. Cranky letter of the day

To the Chronicle Herald:

It would appear corporate Canada has placed no limits on its greed. In December 2014, the Royal Bank of Canada announced “record full-year earnings of $9 billion.”

Now they have the nerve to pick the pockets of hardworking Nova Scotia taxpayers for $22 million in payroll rebates in return for hiring 150 staff for a new digital cheque processing centre in Bedford.

Greed, what would we do without it?

Clarence and Cathy Guest


Matthew Crawford has written a soon-to-be-published book, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, and published an article in last week’s New York Times that is adapted from the book. Crawford hits upon what I’ve been trying to say far less eloquently for many years: advertising is a direct cost to the people exposed to it:

Matthew Crawford
Matthew Crawford

Attention is a resource; a person has only so much of it. And yet we’ve auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging. Lately, our self-appointed disrupters have opened up a new frontier of capitalism, complete with its own frontier ethic: to boldly dig up and monetize every bit of private head space by appropriating our collective attention. In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence — the condition of not being addressed. And just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.

What if we saw attention in the same way that we saw air or water, as a valuable resource that we hold in common? Perhaps, if we could envision an “attentional commons,” then we could figure out how to protect it.

Crawford goes on to list the many ads imposed on him as he walks through an airport: ads on the trays he puts his belongings on while going through security, ads on the handrails on the escalator, CNN (mostly a vehicle for advertising, not news) blaring everywhere.

The benefits of silence are off the books. They are not measured in the gross domestic product, yet the availability of silence surely contributes to creativity and innovation. They do not show up explicitly in social statistics such as level of educational achievement, yet one consumes a great deal of silence in the course of becoming educated.

If clean air and water were no longer the rule, the economic toll would be enormous. This is easy to grasp, and that is why we have regulations to protect these common resources. We recognize their importance and their fragility. We also recognize that absent robust regulations, air and water will be used by some in ways that make them unusable for others.


Silence is now offered as a luxury good. In the business-class lounge at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I heard only the occasional tinkling of a spoon against china. I saw no advertisements on the walls. This silence, more than any other feature, is what makes it feel genuinely luxurious. When you step inside and the automatic doors whoosh shut behind you, the difference is nearly tactile, like slipping out of haircloth into satin. Your brow unfurrows, your neck muscles relax; after 20 minutes you no longer feel exhausted.

Outside, in the peon section, is the usual airport cacophony. Because we have allowed our attention to be monetized, if you want yours back you’re going to have to pay for it.

As the attentional commons is appropriated, one solution, for those who have the means, is to leave it behind for private clubs like the business-class lounge. Considering that it is those in the business lounge who make the decisions that determine the character of the peon section, we may start to see these things in a political light.

To engage in inventive thinking during those idle hours spent at an airport requires silence. But other people’s minds, over in the peon section, can be treated as a resource — a standing reserve of purchasing power to be steered according to the innovative marketing schemes hatched by those enjoying silence in the business lounge. When some people treat the minds of others as a resource, this is not “creating wealth” — it is a transfer.

There are many causes for the increasing concentration of wealth in a shrinking elite, but let us throw one more into the mix: the ever more aggressive appropriations of the attentional commons that we have allowed to take place.

In the harbour

The seas around Nova Scotia, 9:30am Saturday. Map:
The seas around Nova Scotia, 9:30am Saturday. Map:

Maersk Palermo, container ship, Quebec to Pier 42, then sails to sea

ZIM Beijing, container ship, New York to Pier 41

Acadian sails to Charlottetown


Running a bit late today, sorry.

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

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  1. And I would add – it’s painfully obvious that there needs to be a decent commuter transit line between Bedford and the peninsula. The tracks are already there, all that’s needed is a train to run on them, and a few decent platforms with the usual services.

    Using the tracks for buses is a really pathetic solution, to be frank… !!

  2. Fetishize trains over buses, really?? Absurd.
    For one thing, buses get bogged down in vehicular traffic: trains do not.
    Trains can move more people much faster than buses, which is particularly important in an evacuation scenario.
    Compared to buses, trains are nearly impervious to weather conditions like rain, ice, and snow.
    Trains can accommodate bicycles.
    Trains can be electrified; I have yet to hear anybody suggest that the buses run on any sort of sustainable power.
    Changing from a train to a bus is perfectly fine to do for commuters, provided the service is adequate and the transfer station is properly designed. Commuters all over the world change from a train to a bus; there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. Even better is trains that allow you to take your bike along, because there’s nothing faster than the combination of a train and a bike!

  3. Re 2. Poster

    The insulting, arbitrary, imperious attitudes infecting all stages of the high school display defy reason and understanding. The following excerpt from the news update adds insult to injury:

    “Doucet said Friday that the board has decided to display the poster instead in the school’s African-Canadian studies classroom, where facilitation from a teacher could add to the discussion.”

    It so angered me that I’ve spent hours since, mulling whether I would/should comment. Calm words still fail.

    At this point my fervent wish is that the student-artist who created this poster, Ms. Hannah Cameron – moved by what she saw and learned – will reject and dismiss the unjustified controversy that’s surrounded it and go on to stand against similar censorship, similar rebuke, ever happening to someone else.

  4. With regard to pay roll kickbacks, it is a suckers game but I wonder if, sometimes the corporations are the suckers? It would be interesting to look at the actual numbers over a ten year period for the province. The government doesn’t give a payroll rebate unless targets are met.

    Now call centre’s (i.e. Convergys), which are inappropriately classified as part of the IT sector, never seem to have any trouble meeting these goals, however with more highly skilled jobs these quotas can be harder to meet.

    Disclosure I used to work for a company called Versata in naughties that was planning to shift from off shoring to near shoring. During the transition the company was bought by a gaggle of Texans (Trilogy) and the targets were never met because the company strategy switched to off shoring again. In that case I don’t believe the government paid anything out.

  5. “The train won’t go to any of those places, and commuters will have to transfer to a bus for a second leg of their journey.”

    I had this conversation with the Bedford councillor. I think he just wants a train set. Hopefully this study is valid enough for him.

    The Via Rail station is inconvenient unless you work at Via Rail or superstore on barrington. Everyone else has to transfer.

    Now, Buses on the Rail lines makes sense. Then the bus just drives off and keeps going on the other end. People transfer on the bedford end where there’s less congestion.

  6. I find it hard to fathom that McNeil is so hard working that he hasn’t bothered to pick up the phone to contact one of his senior caucus members to say, “hey, what’s up with you?”