On campus
In the harbour


1. Lies by omission

The McNeil government expended an additional $2.5 million on the Yarmouth ferry on December 23—the money covers berthing costs for the boat in Shelburne—but didn’t get around to telling the public about it until last Sunday, when the Bangor News un-redacted a provincially released audit of the ferry operations and published the complete financing picture. That three-week silence is troubling: Economic development minister Michel Samson “has been asked repeatedly in the last three weeks about additional funding for Nova Star Cruises and at no point did he indicate more money had been paid out,” points out Chronicle Herald reporter Michael Gorman.

The “got-you” politics of the day can be annoying. Nowadays, probably half the people in any “reporters’ scrum” with politicians at Province House aren’t reporters at all but political operatives—staffers from each party sent to record each and every utterance so they could possibly be used in future attack ads or whatever. This doesn’t serve democracy well generally, but in this case, it’s impossible to fault the NDP for posting a video on YouTube showing Samson in a scrum just last Thursday. He is asked, repeatedly, about government expenditures on the ferry, including a question about any berthing costs, and he doesn’t admit to money his government has already spent. Moreover, when asked specifically the total costs already spent, Samson says “$26 million.” The actual figure is $28.5 million. Here’s the video:

YouTube video

2. McCluskey oversaw Irishtown rule changes

Councillors Gloria McCluskey (left) and Darren Fisher (right). Photo: Halifax Examiner
Councillors Gloria McCluskey (left) and Darren Fisher (right). Photo: Halifax Examiner

When councillor Gloria McCluskey voted for the Wellington Street development last week, she said she was upset about a very tall and dense development on Irishtown Road in downtown Dartmouth. But here’s the thing: she voted FOR the planning changes that made the Irishtown development possible.

This article is behind the Examiner’s pay wall and so available only to paid subscribers. To purchase a subscription, click here.

I’ll publish another short Wellington-related article this morning and, if all goes well, a longer one tomorrow.

3. Paper mills and ferries

The Madison Paper Mill in Maine is laying off workers this month, and mill management is blaming “unfair and possibly illegal advantage provided to Port Hawkesbury Paper by Nova Scotia’s government”—specifically, $125 million in tax breaks given to the Port Hawkesbury mill, which competes directly with Madison. Maine Congressman Bruce Poliquin and Senators Susan Collins and Angus King have raised the issue with US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, and the US is considering raising the issue at the World Trade Organization.

There may be other, unexpected political fallout from the mill subsidies. As a commenter on the Bangor News story about the Yarmouth ferry put it:

Meanwhile, the Nova Scotia government has given a Port Hawkesbury pulp mill around $125 million in subsidies, causing layoffs at Madison Paper Industries mill in Madison, Maine. If Nova Scotia can drop $125 mil on one of its pulp mills, it shouldn’t have any problem flushing a few more million towards the Nova Star. Please, Gov Lepage—not a single penny from the taxpayers of Maine for this stinker!

Lepage had previously indicated that his government would contribute $5 million to the ferry project, but that money has not been forthcoming.

4. Publication ban

David Sparks has pleaded guilty to violating the publication ban in the Lyle Howe rape case. Sparks had named the victim on a Facebook page established in solidarity with Howe. Sparks will be sentenced in March. Howe has appealed his conviction.

5. Wild Kingdom

Photo: Laura Jean Grant / Cape Breton Post
Photo: Laura Jean Grant / Cape Breton Post

Hundreds of dead mackerel have been found in Bras d’Or Lake at Ben Eoin. “Last Monday morning, there were dead fish everywhere, on the shore and in the water,” resident Annette Coffin told the Cape Breton Post. “They were sort of under the ice—there was a light coating of ice, and there were tons of them on the beach, and when I came out and had a look they were everywhere.”

Coffin thinks the mass die-off might be related to an unusually warm November, which kept the fish from migrating back out to the ocean causing them to be trapped by the sudden appearance of winter ice with cold weather.


1. Sidewalks

Photo: Stephen Archibald
Photo: Stephen Archibald

“In the nineteenth century, the best sidewalks in Halifax were probably brick,” writes Stephen Archibald. “I was pleased to find, in about 1980, one last little section of old brick sidewalk on Water Street close to Sackville. It might have been 100 years old or more and was removed as the street was torn up for new underground services.” Archibald goes on to explore other sidewalks around town.

2. Pedestrian safety

“Education campaigns such as Heads Up Halifax mean well, but they miss the boat by not targeting bad driving, and ignoring the real problem: Our streets are not designed to be safe,” writes Erica Butler. “If we’re interested in re-educating to reduce the number of pedestrians getting hit, let’s focus on the most common cause of those collisions: Bad driving.”

3. Getting Dartmouth’s Canal Greenway all wrong

Says Sam Austin: "Image prepared by Ekistics and presented to Council by Canal Commission in 2011 showing an evolving concept that is still consistent with established vision. Water in the tailrace, multi-use trail and replica boat cradle. Rebuilt powerhouse in distance." Most of this pretty picture is complete fiction, and is not reflected in the plans the city is about to bring to reality.
Says Sam Austin: “Image prepared by Ekistics and presented to Council by Canal Commission in 2011 showing an evolving concept that is still consistent with established vision. Water in the tailrace, multi-use trail and replica boat cradle. Rebuilt powerhouse in distance.” Most of this pretty picture is complete fiction, and is not reflected in the plans the city is about to bring to reality.

Sam Austin this morning has a detailed piece spelling out how the city is about to embark on a massive screw-up in Dartmouth:

After 17 years of planning, construction of Dartmouth’s Canal Greenway is about to begin. Unfortunately, what’s now planned is a far less interesting space than originally envisioned. Conceptual plans for the Greenway were completed in 2002 and 2006 and, although they differed in a few details, both had a consistent vision composed of four main elements; (1) heritage interpretation, (2) a multi-use trail, (3) a daylighted Sawmill River and (4) a new playground. Details in the concept plans needed to be further refined, but this core vision was supposed to carry forward and guide the park’s development. That vision, however, is on the verge of being significantly watered down. In a recently released site plan, the daylighted waterway and playground have vanished and the trail has been relocated to the edge. Only the heritage elements remain. The decision to abandon the original vision has been made without any public discussion or explanation. This process lacks any kind of participatory involvement and is unlikely to produce a park Dartmouthians will love.


At the heart of the changes to the Canal Greenway vision is the question of how public space gets designed and built. The 2006 vision for the Greenway was supported by public consultation and was approved by community council. The conceptual plan was supposed to guide the park’s development, but its core elements are not reflected in the latest site plan. The result is a much less interesting space. These decisions are being made in private with no public discussion or explanation. This is not a good way to design and build public facilities. The people who are actually going to use a space should inform its design. If the vision for the Greenway is going to change, then the public should be consulted. It would be a mistake to implement the watered down vision of the Greenway without knowing whether the community supports the changes or not.

 MP Robert Chisholm, the Ecology Action Centre, and the Sackville Rivers Association are hosting a public information meeting tonight, 6:30pm at the Mic Mac Amateur Aquatic Club, to discuss daylighting Sawmill River



Halifax & West Community Council (Tuesday, 7pm, City Hall)—Simor Holdings is appealing a development officer’s rejection of a variance for 5235 Kent Street. The company wants to make an addition to the eight-unit apartment building, which would exceed the regulated 40 percent coverage limit for the lot.


No public meetings.

On this date in 1842, Charles Dickens visited the Nova Scotia legislature. Dickens was en route to points south, but his ship headed for a routine stop for provisions in Halifax. The fog was thick, the captain perhaps inebriated, and the charts misread, so the crew mistakenly tried to navigate up the eastern side of McNabs Island. At low tide, you can almost walk across the channel, so it’s no surprise the boat got grounded on a sandbar until the morning tide came in. Well, no loss, once floated, the merry passengers made their way to Halifax. Wrote Dickens:

Charles Dickens

I suppose this Halifax would have appeared an Elysium, though it had been a curiosity of ugly dullness. But I carried away with me a most pleasant impression of the town and its inhabitants, and have preserved it to this hour. Nor was it without regret that I came home, without having found an opportunity of returning thither, and once more shaking hands with the friends I made that day.

It happened to be the opening of the Legislative Council and General Assembly, at which ceremonial the forms observed on the commencement of a new Session of Parliament in England were so closely copied, and so gravely presented on a small scale, that it was like looking at Westminster through the wrong end of a telescope. The governor, as her Majesty’s representative, delivered what may be called the Speech from the Throne. He said what he had to say manfully and well. The military band outside the building struck up “God save the Queen” with great vigour before his Excellency had quite finished; the people shouted; the in’s rubbed their hands; the out’s shook their heads; the Government party said there never was such a good speech; the Opposition declared there never was such a bad one; the Speaker and members of the House of Assembly withdrew from the bar to say a great deal among themselves and do a little: and, in short, everything went on, and promised to go on, just as it does at home upon the like occasions.

The town is built on the side of a hill, the highest point being commanded by a strong fortress, not yet quite finished.  Several streets of good breadth and appearance extend from its summit to the water-side, and are intersected by cross streets running parallel with the river.  The houses are chiefly of wood. The market is abundantly supplied; and provisions are exceedingly cheap. The weather being unusually mild at that time for the season of the year, there was no sleighing: but there were plenty of those vehicles in yards and by-places, and some of them, from the gorgeous quality of their decorations, might have “gone on” without alteration as triumphal cars in a melodrama at Astley’s. The day was uncommonly fine; the air bracing and healthful; the whole aspect of the town cheerful, thriving, and industrious.

We lay there seven hours, to deliver and exchange the mails. At length, having collected all our bags and all our passengers (including two or three choice spirits, who, having indulged too freely in oysters and champagne, were found lying insensible on their backs in unfrequented streets), the engines were again put in motion, and we stood off for Boston.

Dickens, incidentally, is credited* with coining the word “boredom.” It first appeared in print in Bleak House, published in 1852. Academics say the word was created to express a new kind of ennui specific to living in an industrial society, but I like to think that Dickens’ subconscious had been wrestling with his memories of the Nova Scotia legislature for a decade, and it finally found fruition in the characters of Lady Dedlock and Sir Dedlock’s cousin, Volumnia.

Is it strange the that “boredom” needed to be invented to explain the state of mind of not one, but two characters? I think that just shows how convoluted and, well, boring Bleak House is, but here are the six uses of the word “boredom” in the book, because why not?:

Sooth to say, they cannot go away too fast, for even here my Lady Dedlock has been bored to death. Concert, assembly, opera, theatre, drive, nothing is new to my Lady under the worn-out heavens. Only last Sunday, when poor wretches were gay—within the walls playing with children among the clipped trees and the statues in the Palace Garden; walking, a score abreast, in the Elysian Fields, made more Elysian by performing dogs and wooden horses; between whiles filtering (a few) through the gloomy Cathedral of Our Lady to say a word or two at the base of a pillar within flare of a rusty little gridiron-full of gusty little tapers; without the walls encompassing Paris with dancing, love-making, wine-drinking, tobacco-smoking, tomb-visiting, billiard card and domino playing, quack-doctoring, and much murderous refuse, animate and inanimate—only last Sunday, my Lady, in the desolation of Boredom and the clutch of Giant Despair, almost hated her own maid for being in spirits.

My Lady [Dedlock], whose chronic malady of boredom has been sadly aggravated by Volumnia this evening, glances wearily towards the candlesticks and heaves a noiseless sigh.

The cousin [Volumnia], who has been casting sofa-pillows on his head, in a prostration of boredom yawns, “Vayli,” being the used-up for “very likely.”

The Dedlock town house changes not externally, and hours pass before its exalted dullness is disturbed within. But Volumnia the fair, being subject to the prevalent complaint of boredom and finding that disorder attacking her spirits with some virulence, ventures at length to repair to the library for change of scene.

The fair Volumnia, being one of those sprightly girls who cannot long continue silent without imminent peril of seizure by the dragon Boredom, soon indicates the approach of that monster with a series of undisguisable yawns.

However, Volumnia, in the course of her bird-like hopping about and pecking at papers, has alighted on a memorandum concerning herself in the event of “anything happening” to her kinsman, which is handsome compensation for an extensive course of reading and holds even the dragon Boredom at bay.

If we really want to stretch the Nova Scotia analogy, we could note that Dickens’ first bored character, Lady Dedlock, sees herself as refined and a woman of culture, but who must block out her own history, lest her true identity be revealed to the world. It’s been probably 35 years since I read Bleak House, so I don’t remember if Lady Dedlock’s reunification with her hidden past (her abandoned child Esther) goes well or not. I think there’s a BBC TV miniseries series that spells it all out. I wonder who plays Stephen McNeil.

* perhaps incorrectly, but there is a difference between the verb “bored” and the noun “boredom.”

On campus



Ethics in Architecture (Tuesday, 9am, Auditorium, Medjuck Architecture Building)—Joe Carter, from Towns Consultants in Beijing, will speak.

Time Series Enrichment with Financial Indicators (Tuesday, 11:30am, Slonim Conference Room, Goldberg Computer Science building)—Computer scientist Erico N de Souza, from Ottawa University, will talk about an “unbalanced classification task,” whatever that is.

Plankton (Tuesday, 11:30am, Room 3655, LSC Oceanography Wing)—Tetjana Ross will present “A video-plankton and microstructure profiler for the exploration of in situ connections between zooplankton and turbulence.”

Gulf of Mexico (Tuesday, 11:30am, Room 3655, LSC Oceanography Wing—I’m not sure how both this event and the one above are in the same room at the same time, but that’s what they say)—Eda Chang, from the National Taiwan Normal University, will discuss the “Effect Of Wind And Loop Current Eddies In The Gulf Of Mexico.”

Ethics in Architecture (Tuesday, 7:30pm, Auditorium, Medjuck Architecture Building)—Lawrence Friesen, from Gen Geometry Intelligent Buildings in London, England, will present.


Ethics in Architecture (Wednesday, 9am, Auditorium, Medjuck Architecture Building)—Deborah Gans, from Pratt Institute and Gans Studio in New York, will present.

Whose Crisis: Capital, State, and Labour Today (Wednesday, 12:30pm, Lord Dalhousie Room, Henry Hicks Building)—Leo Panitch is presenting. He “is Canada Research Chair for Comparative Political Economy and Distinguished Research Professor of Political Science at York University. He has been editor of The Socialist Register for 25 years and has written extensively on globalisation and theories of the capitalist state and imperialism. His most recent book, with Sam Gindin, ‘The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire’ (2012) is the product of more than a decade of research, and demonstrates the intimate relationship between modern global capitalism and the American state.”

Ocular Endocannabinoid System (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Sir Charles Tupper Medical Building)—Melanie Kelly will talk about “Pharmacological Actions and Therapeutic Potential for Drugs Targeting the Ocular Endocannabinoid System: A New Vision or Another Smokescreen.” I think that means eyes.

Ethics in Architecture (Wednesday, 6pm, Auditorium, Medjuck Architecture Building)—Paul Nakazawa, from Harvard, will present.

King’s College


Michael MacMillan

Michael MacMillan (Tuesday, 7pm, Alumni Hall)—MacMillan is co-author of  Tragedy in the Commons with Alison Loat. The pair conducted over 80 exit interviews with former members of Parliament. After he talks, MacMillian will join a panel discussion with three former Nova Scotian premiers: Russell MacLellan, John Hamm, and Darrell Dexter. I think this is Dexter’s first public appearance since leaving office.


The sudden collapse of oil prices is a bewilderment. Yes, there are underlying economic factors at work: increased output from Saudi Arabia, a slowdown in the economies of South Asia, perhaps some behind-the-scenes jockeying related to Caspian Sea oil production and the Ukranian turmoil, but none of those seem to explain the magnitude of the price collapse.

A fuller explanation might be that oil markets are being determined by that thing that has distorted much of the global economy: the financialization of everything. That is, the vampire squid Matt Taibbi wrote about wrapped its tentacles around oil markets, sucking them dry through the usual means of financing, derivatives, etc. And just as the US (and Irish, and Spanish, and…) housing markets collapsed after the over-extension of credit finally met the reality of people not paying back subprime loans, so too is the oil market collapsing as the over-extension of financing meets the reality of an increase in Saudi production, etc. The financing balloon couldn’t expand forever.

Wolf Ritcher has a detailed explanation that’s worth reading in full. See also Yves Smith’s summary of the issues involved.

In the harbour

The seas off Nova Scotia, 8:30am Tuesday. Map:
The seas off Nova Scotia, 8:30am Tuesday. Map:

Vera D, container ship, Lisbon, Portugal to HalTerm, then sails for Mariel
Atlantic Conveyor, con-ro, Liverpool, England to Fairview Cove, then sails for New York
Atlantic Concert sails for Liverpool, England


Two interesting events tonight—the King’s J-school talk and the MicMac event on Sawmill River. I’ll probably be at one of them.

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

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  1. That Cat subsidy was, what, $20M over 4 years? I might remember that wrong. And this current one has blown through $28.5M in a year?

  2. Clearly the McNeil government paid Nova Star $2.5 million, lied about it, and we would not know about it now if it hadn’t been for the poorly redacted pdf that was released. And it is likely that the spokesperson is lying as well about an intent to announce the funding in January.

    It is impossible to believe them now on any other answers to questions about spending. Pissing away their integrity is going to harm them much more than pissing away the $2.5 million.

  3. As one participant pointed out at a public meeting I facilitated, Ekistics develops beautiful, conceptual images that are used by proponents to help sell projects. They rarely relate to what actually gets built.

  4. Ironic that there are a couple of talks on ethics in architecture this week. Maybe a few city councillors might consider attending.