In the harbour
“People in Nova Scotia are feeding more money into video lottery terminals, two years after the Liberal government abandoned a program meant to help keep gamblers from becoming addicted to VLTs,” reports Stephanie Skenderis for the CBC:
VLT revenue was up by $19.6 million in the last fiscal year — from $113 million in 2014-15 to $132.6 million in 2015-16 — according to financial statements released Thursday by the Nova Scotia Provincial Lotteries and Casino Corporation (NSPLCC).
2. Commuter rail
“On Thursday, the municipal transportation standing committee, which consists of six councillors, unanimously recommended that regional council authorize staff to begin negotiations with Via Rail [for a commuter rail service],” reports Remo Zaccagna for Local Xpress:
The idea of a commuter rail service in the municipality has gained steam this year with an expected influx of federal infrastructure money.
In March’s federal budget, the Liberals announced that Nova Scotia will receive $32 million out of $3.4 billion set aside over the next five years for public transit projects, a figure tied to the province’s share of national public transit ridership.
A report commissioned by Halifax council last year looked at a system starting at the Via Rail station downtown, going through the rail cut, up along the Bedford Basin, and on to the nether regions of HRM out by the airport. “The upfront capital costs ranged from $36 million to $62 million, and the annual net operating costs were $8 million,” reports Zaccagna.
For comparison’s sake, the existing annual operating budget for Halifax Transit is just over $114 million.
Council is proceeding intelligently on this — the costs of all transportation projects are being compared against each other, so (supposedly) we won’t reject a $60 million train service as too costly only to embrace a billion-dollar expansion of the BiHi.
It’s hard’s to say, however, whether the commuter rail plan being discussed makes sense. For one, the details are being kept secret from us. But beyond that, there are going to be all sorts of additional costs, especially for new bus routes connecting to the rail stations. (It would be a huge mistake to build giant parking garages next to them.)
Moreover, I’m worried that the train won’t go to where people actually travel. At best, on the peninsula we’ll get stops at the Halifax Shopping Centre, Saint Mary’s University, and the Via Rail Station. I suppose some people work at those places, but most people will need to travel on to Dalhousie, the hospitals, and the financial and government district downtown. Sure, it’s only a 15-minute walk, but for many people that last mile could be a deal-killer.
3. Sexual assault
Another sexual assault by a cab driver has been reported to police. Yvette d’Entremont, writing for Metro, has much more.
“A big jump in the number of great white sharks seen off Massachusetts has given rise to a couple of compelling mysteries,” reports Alex Mason for the CBC:
[Greg Skomal, senior marine fisheries scientist for the Massachusetts state government] believes the population is rebounding after their numbers were diminished as a result of the expansion of commercial fisheries during the last century.
He believes the sharks are drawn to the Cape by grey seals that have proliferated on Nova Scotia’s Sable Island, and are now spreading out and establishing new colonies.
But the sharks aren’t visiting Sable Island. No one’s certain why they aren’t — maybe the hype over the ponies annoys them — but probably the water around Nova Scotia is still too cold for the sharks.
“Some of the oldest dinosaur bones in Canada were recently discovered along the Bay of Fundy and Nova Scotia researchers are heading back to the site at Wasson Bluff, Cumberland Co., to search for more,” reads a Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage press release:
Last month researchers from the Fundy Geological Museum in Parrsboro found four lizard-like reptile skulls with jaws and teeth intact, a theropod dinosaur skull bone and a tiny mammal-like reptile tooth.
Tim Fedak, director and curator of the museum, said the bones are 200 million years old and his team is heading back to Wasson Bluff July 28-31 for additional field work. The new specimens are on display at the museum.
“The new lizard-like reptile skulls and teeth found this year are very important for providing a window into an ancient earth that was recovering from a global mass extinction,” said Mr. Fedak. “It is exciting to think what else we may find as work continues this summer.”
Two special public tours of the research site will take place on Thursday, July 28, and Saturday, July 30. The tours, beginning at 1 p.m., leave from the museum, 162 Two Islands Rd., Parrsboro.
1. Low-income transit pass
Erica Butler reminds us that today is the (recently extended) deadline for applying for low-income transit passes.
Even though there’s a big need for the passes, few people are applying for them:
The big problem may be with the qualification criteria for the program.
At first glance, the criteria seem reasonable. Everyone with income under $33,000 a year can qualify. But it’s not so simple, or fair. Halifax is using household income as its measure, not individual income. And your household, according to the city, includes roommates.
Imagine you are working a full-time, minimum wage job at Dartmouth Crossing. That puts your gross income around $21,000, and you are in desperate need of a monthly bus pass. Trouble is, you share a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate whose part-time minimum wage job rakes in about $13,000 a year. Sorry, but neither you nor your roommate qualify as “low income”.
As if that’s not enough, your application for the program must include actual Canada Revenue Agency Notices of Assessment for every member of your household, which you bring in person to one of four HRM customer service centres in our sprawling municipality. If one of your roommates is disorganized enough not to have filed yet, or if they wisely don’t feel like sharing their personal information with you, you’re out of luck.
2. Gary Burrill
“Last week, Burrill announced he would be a candidate in Halifax Chebucto in the next provincial election,” writes Graham Steele:
Burrill will be up against incumbent Joachim Stroink for the Liberals. For the Progressive Conservatives, filmmaker and business owner John Wesley Chisholm has been nominated. Both are credible. Neither is a pushover.
If he loses there, he will have nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide.
His career as NDP leader will be over.
“At a time when government is crying poor, it is astonishing that our premier has found the funds to compensate the people in his inner circle so generously,” writes NSGEU president Jason MacLean:
We just learned that McNeil gave his former deputy minister, Catherine Blewett, a nine per cent raise just a few months before freezing salaries of other non-unionized employees and introducing legislation that would force a wage pattern of zero per cent increases for the same two-year period on all civil servants.
In case you’re wondering, Blewett’s nine per cent increase translated into a $17,000 pay bump.
And Blewett was not the only recipient of McNeil’s generosity. Marilla Stephenson was handed a $106,000 annual salary when the Executive Council Office created her brand-new position: managing director of corporate and external relations. And let’s not forget the $160,000 annual salary McNeil’s new principal secretary, Laurie Graham, receives, while her predecessor, Ryan Grant, made just $91,000 in the same role. (Don’t worry about Ryan, though, he’s now making $125,000 as McNeil’s deputy chief of staff, a position that hasn’t been filled since Rodney MacDonald created one in 2009.)
4. Sam Shepard
“From the late 1960s to 1984, the playwright and actor Sam Shepard lived in Nova Scotia, in a place called Hilltop Farm between Advocate Harbour and Parrsboro, near Cape Chignecto Park,” writes Ron Foley MacDonald:
It’s not a widely known fact. A few “connect-the-dots” references float around the internet; there’s a couple of pictures of Shepard with a rifle, hunting; there’s a thin thread of mentions by other writers. And some years ago in the musical biography book Girls Like Us, the author figured out that Shepard was the “Coyote” of Joni Mitchell’s 1976 song, pursuing her even though he was, in Mitchell’s words, “too far from the Bay of Fundy.”
MacDonald goes on to discuss Shepard’s fascination with the American West:
For Shepard, it’s the West as a kind of a dead end or cul-de-sac where European values and the American Experiment have finally run out of steam.
So if Sam Shepard is, in these two films anyway, the ultimate “Man of the West,” what exactly was he doing in the “East that the World Forgot” (i.e. Nova Scotia)?
As MacDonald sees it, the fact that Shepard and a handful of other famous artists lived around here says something profound, or at least interesting, about Nova Scotia. I disagree. Famous people live everywhere; the natural beauty of, say, the Bay of Fundy, might inspire artists or at least give them a respite from the Hollywood rat race, but their mere presence among us (or, rather, near us) doesn’t imbue the rest of us with some star-like quality, and doesn’t say anything at all about the specialness of our geography or time zone or what have you. We’ll have to create our own specialness, not absorb it through proximate osmosis.
Still, MacDonald’s post is an interesting read.
5. Cranky letter of the day
I have been contemplating the plans of the Archbishop to sell the lands adjacent to the St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica for high-rise development. The land in question, at the Spring Garden Road corner of Barrington Street, includes the old boys’ and girls’ school buildings which now house the Archdiocesan offices and several businesses, and the parking lot in back of the buildings. These properties have been part of the Catholic patrimony for over two centuries. One fears that this is the sale of the Halifax Catholic birthright for a mess of pottage. (For those unfamiliar with this Biblical allusion, it is an unwise surrender of that which is important for transitory gratification.) The Basilica is a National Heritage Site. Construction nearby will impinge on the view plane of the church and effect light entering the unique stained glass gothic windows on the northerly side, not to mention the Basilica will inevitably be damaged by any excavation work into the bedrock beside it. During construction one may well ask where parishioners will park, as no doubt the parking lot in use will be off limits. Surely this is one way to ensure a self-fulfilling prophecy—sell the church since worship is declining. Yes, the possibility of the latter happening would consolidate developers’ hold on a major downtown block of land.
There is a need for Sacred Balance, being mindful of spiritual heritage while building for the future. Who is to benefit from the redevelopment, since the land will pass out of Archdiocesan ownership? Will the liturgy during the week have to be carried on with tremors and noise fallout, and for how long? Have all canon law requirements been followed? That responsibility rests squarely upon the shoulders of the bishop. The final question, therefore, is whether the sale of the property—which has now been confirmed—is actually for the Good, or for less worthy purposes?
Allen B. Robertson, Halifax
I took this photo of an osprey nest on the shore of Lake Russell in Dartmouth yesterday.
Every now and then I saw a tiny head pop up above the rim of the nest; I think there were at least three baby osprey being tended to. That would explain why the mother got annoyed at me for taking pictures and started dive-bombing me until I moved on.
The structural integrity of bird nests, whether a giant one like this or the small nest I saw a pigeon make at the Bridge Terminal a few weeks ago, is impressive. Built with no tools beyond a beak and claws, nests withstand the wind and rain of the most powerful storms, and can last for years. Maybe I should buy this book.
No public meetings.
No campus events that we’re aware of.
In the harbour
Scheduled as of 7am:
6am: ZIM Luanda, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
4pm: Asian Moon, container ship, sails from Pier 31 for Rotterdam
4:30pm: ZIM Luanda, container ship, sails from Pier 42 to sea
6pm: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s
6am: Atlantic Concert, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
6am: Em Kea, container ship, arrives at HalTerm from Montreal
11am: Cristobal Colon, Spanish warship, arrives at NB3 from Norfolk
6pm: Hampshire, superasshole Jim Ratcliffe’s superyacht, sails from Cunard Wall to wherever the superasshole wants to go
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I’ve been discussing the low-income transit pass issue with someone from work. She didn’t seem to think the $33,000 household threshold was crazy. She said you have to start somewhere. I get that you have to draw the line somewhere, but I couldn’t get through to her that it included roommates, which does seem rather odd.
Is there someone who could explain why they included roommates? I know you can specify on your income tax return if you’re filing as an individual, or married, or common-law, etc, but perhaps there’s no way to conveniently provide filing status when applying?
Any ideas as to what they could have or should have done with respect to income?
Sharing housing as a spouse or common-law partner and sharing as a roommate are two entirely different situations (in one, your finances may be integrated with that of the other person; in the other, it would be very rare). And of course people who are on the lower end of the income scale are more likely to have to have roommates for economic reasons, but these are among the very people this program is supposed to be helping. They should simply have chosen a threshold based on individual, rather than household income.
I thought about just using individual income, too. The only problem might be that someone could qualify who is working very little or not at all, but their partner makes $100,000 or more, so they technically don’t need the pass. I’m not sure how often we’d run into that, though.
Maybe they should base it on hourly income. Anyone making $12/hour or less qualifies. Oh, wait–that would be almost the entire working class in Halifax.
I wonder how many people currently qualify for a low-income pass (or other income assistance) who are actually working and contributing to the million-dollar profits of the companies they work for? Maybe those companies could start paying for their employees’ passes.
Re 2. Gary Burrill
Great to have Graham Steele and his writing back. These excerpts from his piece jumped out at me:
“It was never NDP territory…”
“…the more NDP-friendly Halifax Fairview…”
“…Annapolis, where the only question is whether his margin of victory will be crushing, crushinger or crushingest.”n
“…rock-solid Cumberland South.”
“Halifax Needham has just as much of an NDP history as Halifax Chebucto.”
Factually, these snippets of data and history are troubling to me, and possibly to the increasing number of voters disillusioned, disappointed and angry that voting seems to change little. Factually, they indicate baked-in voting bias [potentially altered or diluted by boundary changes] and are ones depended upon and exploited by campaigning pols. The concerning takeaway is why do they perpetually exist? Do they represent a generational, familial dynamic? Are those in referenced districts influenced by discrete factors somehow different from other ridings? If yes, what are they? If attitudes and specific political allegiances are collectively rigid, how much change can we genuinely expect from any given election? Are we just tinkering around the edges, engaging in a weighted exercise, trying to roll a huge boulder uphill?
C’mon, folks, please think for yourselves, review factual history, and make an informed voting decision. Your vote is secret, you owe no one an explanation, and remember the truism of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Regarding the basilica, well, you can destroy or crowd out old architecture to build condos or something, but you can’t reverse the process. For whatever reason, churches are second only to retail buildings in terms of how nice the old ones were and how horrifically ugly the new ones are. St. Mary’s is no Notre Dame, but it would be a shame to see it crowded out by high rise condos that will be shabby and dated in 20 years. Of course, we worship money these days, so we might as well just rename St. Mary’s the Scotiabank Centre for Prosperity Theology and be done with it.
The PBS program Nature had an interesting, three-part series on animal homes. An entire episode was related to nests.
The whole series is available here:
As someone who lives in Chebucto riding, I’m not looking at much to choose from. The NDP still hasn’t worn off its stench of incompetence from late election, which may take decades. John Wesley Chisholm’s single minded obsession with getting his money back from taxpayers isn’t doing much for me. But worse is his concept that he can be a member of the Conservative party, yet be unbound by the decisions and direction of its leader and policies. It’s ridiculous on the part of Chisholm and Baillie to put this forward as anything other than comedy. As low of an opinion as I have of the Liberals, these new candidates aren’t serious options for me.
Re the book Avian Architecture… Instead of buying it you could make a “request for purchase” to the library. Actually, I will.
The location of the downtown VIA station shouldn’t be a problem for commuter rail. All we have to do is run a bus on a ten-minute frequency out of the station, up Water Street and down Hollis Street, on a loop, during rush hours, to ferry people back and forth.
It’s no different from the way people use Union Station in Toronto, which is buried down by the city’s lakeshore, a similarly awkward distance from the office district. Some people walk the distance, others get on the subway for a sort stop or two.
Would there be any demand for a commuter train in from the near Valley? I think the tracks are still there at least as far as Kentville, but I may be wrong. I suppose HRM would have no interest in looking at that though…might encourage people to live outside their boundaries.
As someone who lives in the Valley and does lots of exploring via bicycle, I can tell you that the tracks go no further than Avonport now, if even that far–more likely Hantsport would be most accurate, from the gypsum trains that ran until only a few years back. All are heavily overgrown. There are scattered bits of rail track here and there beyond that, but no further than about Greenwich. The Blue Route bicycle trail follows or covers much of what’s left for tracks between Wolfville and Greenwich (a distance of only several km) the track was completely removed where it crossed the 358 that leads to Port Williams, and there is the millions that would be needed for a new rail bridge from Avonport to Grand-Pré over the tidal river leading into the Basin.
As for how many commute into HRM each day, I can’t offer any numbers, only observations. On those several days each month when I have to put in an appearance at our office in Bedford, I am untroubled by particular volumes of traffic going in. Coming back out, most of the commuter traffic is gone by about Mt. Uniacke.
I think commuter rail will go from asset to liability if it just becomes a way to encourage far-flung sprawl. Any commuter rail system shouldn’t extend beyond HRM, and probably shouldn’t even extend to the overly generous borders of HRM.
We have an opportunity to use transit infrastructure to influence the city’s shape, and if Halifax is to urbanize and become a more vital and interesting city (which I think is already happening) we need to intensify the existing built-up area in and around the city itself, rather than encourage people to live in entirely different towns and counties ad turn the city into a 9-5 destination. If people want to live in the Valley and work in downtown Halifax, that’s fine, but we shouldn’t be laying down incredibly expensive infrastucture to make it easier, IMO.