1. Northern Pulp Mill wins temporary injunction

Northern Pulp Mill. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“A setback for the ‘No Pipe’ movement and a victory for the Pictou County pulp mill yesterday,” reports Jennifer Henderson. “Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge Denise Boudreau granted Northern Pulp a temporary injunction to prevent local fishermen from continuing with blockades she ruled interfered with a vessel hired by the mill to survey the bottom of Pictou Harbour and Northumberland Strait.”

Click here to read “Court grants injunction against fishermen blockading survey boats working for Northern Pulp Mill.”

2. Nova Scotia government’s default position: you can’t know what we’re spending your money on

A photo of the Alakai, the ship used for the Yarmouth ferry.
The Alakai. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“Nova Scotia’s transportation minister says transparency can be a difficult balance when it comes to the ‘eternal struggle that government has around the proprietary information’ of private businesses,” reports Michael Gorman for the CBC:

Lloyd Hines made the comments a day after Catherine Tully, the province’s privacy commissioner, released a report calling on his department to make public the management fee and potential bonuses paid to Bay Ferries for operating the CAT ferry service between Yarmouth, N.S., and Maine.

“We end up getting beat up over it all the time, but we do have to respect the fact that these are agreements that are made with people that we do business with and, in the world of business, information is very secretive,” said Hines, who noted the formula for Coca-Cola has never been revealed.

Any semi-literate teenager in a bong circle knows the difference between the Nova Scotia government and Coca-Cola: one of them is owned by the citizenry, and the other isn’t.

Even with that, because it is a publicly traded company, we know the salaries and benefits paid to Coca-Cola executives, and the performance bonuses they are paid — that is, roughly, the information the Nova Scotia government is keeping secret vis-à-vis its payments to Bay Ferries. For example, according to the company’s proxy statement, Coca-Cola president and CEO James Quincey was paid a base salary of $1.17 million in 2017 (he was promoted from CFO mid-year), and had stock awards of about $6 million. He was additionally paid a cash bonus of $2.36 million for meeting incentive targets. On top of all that, he used the company’s private jet to the tune of $107,000, and to grease his move from the UK accounting office to the Atlanta, Georgia corporate headquarters, he was paid $389,322 as an “international service program benefit” (“The purpose of the programs is to make sure that when the Company requests that an employee move outside his or her home country, economic considerations do not play a role,” explains the proxy. “This helps the Company quickly meet its business needs around the world and develop its employees.”) Remarkably, unlike his predecessor, Muhtar Kent, Quincey did not use a car and driver. (Kent used a car and driver valued at $150,000 while in Britain, apparently because he couldn’t drive on the left side of the road. Quincey made the reverse transition without the help of a driver; perhaps he walks to work.)

My point is, we know more about the bonuses paid by Coca-Cola than we know about the bonuses our own government pays.

This morning, reader Tom Servaes draws my attention to “Mythbusting Confidentiality in Public Contracting,” a report published by the Open Contracting Partnership, an international body sponsored initially by the The World Bank Group, so hardly a lefty operation.

Relevant to Nova Scotia’s contract with Bay Ferries is Myth #3: There is commercially sensitive information in contracting documents, so they can’t be disclosed.

Notes the report:

Contracting documents containing commercially sensitive information can be disclosed:

  • If information is legitimately sensitive, a clear case should be made as to how and why disclosure would cause harm; any redactions should be minimal
  • Most commercially sensitive information is not legitimately sensitive forever
  • Commercial information cannot be legitimately sensitive if it’s already known to competitors
  • In some jurisdictions, even commercially sensitive information may be disclosed based on a public interest test
  • The ‘commercially sensitive information’ argument is over-used. Some countries publish their contracts by default without apparent harm.

That last point should be underscored. If Nova Scotia simply made every government contract public, as is already the case in much of the rest of the world, absolutely nothing untoward would happen. Companies would  incorporate public knowledge of the contracts into their planning and operations, the public would be better informed, there’d be a check on corruption, and prices would come down.

So why don’t we make government contracts public by default? Because secrecy provides cover for politicians and bureaucrats making bad decisions.

3. Norman trial

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman. Photo: Canadian Navy

“A pre-trial hearing for a top Canadian Navy officer accused of leaking government secrets heard dramatic claims today about possible manipulation of the access-to-information system within the Department of National Defence,” reports Tom Parry for the CBC:

The legal team representing Vice-Admiral Mark Norman today called two surprise witnesses. The first, a military member whose name is protected by a publication ban — due to fears that the testimony could lead to reprisals in the workplace — told court about an alleged scheme within National Defence to avoid using Norman’s name in internal correspondence.

The witness told court about work on one specific request for documents related to Norman submitted to the department in 2017. When it turned up no records, the witness told court, a superior smiled and remarked, “Don’t worry, this isn’t our first rodeo. We made sure to never use his name.”

Norman’s lawyer, Marie Henein, suggested DND officials might have been trying to bury information about her client’s case. Justice Heather Perkins McVey appeared to sympathize, calling the testimony “very disturbing.”


1. Potemkinville

This pretty picture shows the Rouvalis family’s proposed development with parking meter- and telephone wire-free streets, a carless Robie Street, and, notably, the absence of the gigantic development right next door.

“A Potemkin Village is precisely what Halifax is in the process of creating in the block bounded by Spring Garden Road, Carlton Street, College Street and Robie Street,” writes Larry Haiven:

What is the “undesirable fact or condition” that is being hidden there? Believe it or not, what the developers and city officials are trying to “hide” in plain sight is a massive development, on a single city block, of four towers of 30, 26, 20 and 16 storeys.

The block is presently zoned for 35, 40 and 50 feet to protect its heritage character. To accommodate the towers, the two developers involved (Louie Lawen and the Rouvalis family) are proposing to demolish thirteen older buildings, including one of Halifax’s oldest small apartment buildings, the Edwardian-era Coburg. The height and massing of this project will well nigh extinguish a fine and beautiful historic neighbourhood, including the former home of Margaret Marshall Saunders, one of Canada’s top-selling authors ever.

The development will also help set the framing discourse for future despoilations of historic Halifax.

And what is the “impressive façade or show” that will hide this monstrosity? The developers are offering to do some renovations on several already-heritage-designated houses on Carlton Street, presumably to show civic-mindedness but really to make their bolder plans more palatable. Only to put the largest single massing of buildings in Halifax right into the backyard of these houses.

Of course, the Potemkin front could never hide the eyesore in the backyard. But City staff have been demanding — wait for it — that we actually pretend the towers will not exist.

At their December 12 meeting, members of the Heritage Advisory Committee were instructed to perform the mental gymnastics. Chief HRM Heritage Planner Aaron Murnaghan is reported by to have urged the committee members to consider only the Potemkin Village and ignore the four towers. According to this report, he actually said “Imagine nothing is happening next to the properties.”

A kid on a bicycle stops to watch as a flock of giant monster birds attack a 30-storey building proposed to be built on Spring Garden Road.

I’ve written about the proposed developments before (see “1,500 people will soon be crammed into one block on Robie Street”), and about planners’ and politicians’ refusal to see the two developments as one massive development:

Dexel Developments [is proposing] two towers — 30 and 16 storeys — at the corner of Spring Garden Road and Robie Street, stretching to Carlton Street.

As I pointed out last week, this comes just as the Rouvalis family is applying to build two more towers — one 26 storeys, the other 20 storeys —  on the back side of the same block, at the northeast corner of Robie and College Streets, stretching back to Carlton Street.

Besides all the other faults we’ve come to expect — perpetual sunny days, see-through people, the lack of brown people, the sudden disappearance of parking meters and traffic, etc. — the pretty pictures submitted by each applicant don’t include the existence of the other’s buildings.

The Dexel proposal includes the two towers on an eight-storey shared base. The ground floor is 21,000 square feet of retail, the next three floors are 60,000 square feet of office space, and everything above is 250 residential units. There’s an underground parking garage for 361 cars.

As with the Rouvalis proposal, the Dexel proposal includes registered heritage properties, in this case four houses on Carlton Street. Two of those houses are slated for “substantial alteration.”

Haiven’s right to bring up the issue of heritage buildings, but even without that consideration we have two development proposals that collectively are of unprecedented density and height for Halifax. They make the much-contested Willow Tree development look minuscule in comparison. Development of the Potemkinville (sure, let’s call it that) will be a construction and traffic nightmare for years on end — if you think this summer’s repaving job at Spring Garden Road and Robie Street was a mess, just wait. (And shouldn’t that repaving job have waited until after the whole area is torn up by the mega-highrise construction?)

It’s odd that no one much is talking about this.




CANCELLED Special Events Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 9am, City Hall) — hold your own polar bear dip.


Photo: U.S. Forest Service

Active Transportation Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm, City Hall) — the Halifax Regional Trails Association (HRTA) is making a presentation to the committee, and making its case against Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs), which seems to be what we used to call ATVs.

HRTA represents 23 different trail groups across the HRM. Nearly all of the groups are opposed to OHVs on the trails, says HRTA, noting that “[the] Shearwater Flyer [trail] is part of the Cole harbour Parks and Trails Association’s (CHPTA) trail system, and it is currently motorized. The board and membership of CHPTA have recently voted unanimously to apply to Lands and Forestry to remove the motorized use.” I believe the only other trail where OHVs are allowed is the BLT trail.

The problem, says HRTA, is that “Motorized drivers are not significantly impacted by NON motorized trail users ; therefore they are happy to promote shared use. The opposite is true for NON motorized users. The impact is significantly negative for them. It is not a win-win situation.” Moreover, claims HRTA, “past community consultation methods have led to false readings of community support, leading to communities having motorized use on their trails when the majority of the community surveyed didn’t really want it. Registered motorized users represent roughly 3 to 4% of the population. Most surveys indicate 70% want non motorized.”

“It’s time to make a solid declaration in support of human-powered trails based on facts and years of experience under the ‘shared use’ model,” concludes HRTA. “There are scientific articles/studies and other evidence that make it clear that shared use does not work in populated areas.”

Read HRTA’s entire statement here.



Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — more questioning on the October 2018 Report of the Auditor General.


No public meetings.

On campus



No public events.


Annual Dalhousie Carol Sing (Thursday, 12pm, Sculpture Court, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — President Richard Florizone and Jacqueline Warwick, the director of the School of Performing Arts, will lead “spirited renditions” of Christmas carols, Hanukkah songs and so forth.

In the harbour

06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
08:00: Kitikmeot W, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Montreal
11:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves from Pier 41 to Autoport
14:00: CMA CGM Fidelio, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
15:00: Alpine Marina, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
16:00: Oceanex Sanderling moves from Autoport to anchorage


I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.

I have to use Skype today. I’ve Skyped maybe four times over the past decade, and each time there’s a frantic relearning process as I chase down a long-forgotten user name and refamilarize myself with the process. I realize many people use Skype regularly and it’s no big deal for them, but for me it’s a gigantic hassle. (But worth having the conversation, in this case.)

Hey, look at what I got:

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  1. Tim, I’m very sorry that you “have to” Skype today. It’s far from the app it was, and could have been. Microsoft bought it in 2011, and its user interface and reliability has gone downhill since then, particularly in the past 1.5 years. My colleagues and I have had such a frustrating time with it, we’ve moved on to other services like BlueJeans (odd name, but decent functionality for groups and presentations), Apple’s FaceTime, and even WhatsApp’s video calling. For an immensely wealthy global technology company, Microsoft sure has an impressive track record of screwing up the user experience… Good luck!

    1. It really is amazing. It was so revolutionary when it first became big and now it is incredibly broken compared to the offerings of big and small tech companies

  2. Most of the trails and areas around the trails, which I used walk, have been completely destroyed by ATV’s.
    I’m at loss why ATV owners think they can do this. ATV’s should be kept on the owner’s private property,.

  3. I live in the shade of where this mega block will be. It’s discouraging but I honestly have zero hope the citizenry can have any impact on these decisions. Have they ever been able to? I’m going to put solar panels on my roof shortly maybe through solar city. They’ll then be in shade with this development and useless. The traffic for the 5 years of construction will be a nightmare. The wind tunnel will be worse. Those older buildings are what give Halifax it’s charm. I like the keep on Quinpool. Why can’t things be more along that height?

  4. Regarding trail use, I can see banning individuals who create problems but not law-abiding groups of citizens who contribute to the existence and maintenance of a valuable asset. I live near the St Margaret’s Bay trail and use it nearly every day to walk our dog. We pick up our doggy residues, so don’t believe we constitute a problem justifying our being banned. And if we didn’t pick up our doggy residues we believe it would be unfair to ban all who walk with their dogs there, because that would include those who pick up their doggy residues.
    The only real objection I have to recreational vehicles results from my accepting the reality of climate change. While burning some fossil fuel may be necessary to survive a Canadian winter, burning fossil fuels for one’s amusement is like Marie Antoinette admonishing the masses, “let them eat cake”.

  5. Re- Carlton Street -Tim is correct, the 16, 20, 26 and 30 storey towers proposed for the Halifax Common will have a far greater effect than just the impact on historic buildings. These “uber projects” are being examined in a micro fashion, check box by check box without consideration for the need, cumulative impact or economic, environmental, social and cultural impacts. Up to 6 towers are in the works, that will be added to the existing 7 towers in the area so 1500 is probably a low estimate for the number of new residents. (And who counts the people or businesses that are displaced?)

    The city is not respecting its commitments to either planning for the Halifax Common or existing planning regulations. And the only reason this area is even being considered for development under the Centre Plan is because of developers’ propensity to hold sway and say over HRM Mayor, Council and planners.

    People at the public meetings were overwhelmingly opposed to these developments but the city isn’t listening. FYI- here’s an interview I did with Rick Howe-

    1. We have a very limited supply! (like maybe 8 of them) My tentative plan is to sit at Charlies Friday at 5pm with them, and first come first serve. They cost us about $40, so we’re selling them for $50.

  6. Margaret Marshall Saunders, author of Beautiful Joe, the Autobiography of a Dog, the first book authored by a Canadian to sell over a million copies. She wrote 24 books. The House of Armour (1897) is said to provide the best description of the lives of those who lived in the inner city of Halifax in the late 19 century. The city of Halifax has failed to recognize this woman and the role she played to bring to light the lives of children in the city, living without appropriate play spaces. Her home at the corner of Carlton and Spring Garden Road had a aviary. After Christmas she would collect cast off Xmas trees and put them in her aviary to create a more natural setting for the birds.

  7. One way to ensure that there are no trail conflicts is to build trails that are singletrack only. These trails can be hiked, walked, snowshoed, skied, and in many cases mountain biked (the Bluff trail is the obvious exception here). The vast majority of HRTA member orgs, with the exception of the McIntosh Run Watershed Association build and maintain only multi-use trails that are basically wide and flat.

    MRWA, with the support of other trail groups, has secured land use agreements in the Spryfield area and has been building and maintaining incredible singletrack trails. These are built as mountain bike-specific in terms of quality of bridges, water management and flow, but also end up being excellent for running, dog walking and hiking.

    Halifax does not currently have any mandate to support recreational singletrack trails in the city limits, which is a huge oversight. While active transportation trails are exceptionally valuable to the quality of life of the city, it would be nice to see Halifax join other jurisdictions like Kentville, Saint John, and many other places around the world that create and maintain true backwoods recreational trails.

    I meet people at the McIntosh Run trails who have come here from Quebec, BC, Maine and Ontario who are amazed by the quality and unique landscape the granite trails provide. The mountain biking is next level.

    1. My only problem with public money being spent on mountain biking (serious mountain biking, not things like the rails to trails) is that it is very much a rich person’s hobby.

  8. Thanks for the clarification, but how can substantive alterations be reasonably considered without taking into account developments next door? Especially when the alterations are essentially part of the developments next door? If there were no development planned, the question of alterations would not be at the committee.

  9. I used to despise the ATVs/OHVs, partly based on personal experience of having people tear through the woods behind my house and sometimes through my yard and down my driveway. (The teenagers who used to do this have grown up though and it doesn’t happen anymore.)

    My experience here in St Margaret’s Bay is that most ATV drivers I encounter on the trails go slowly and slow down further when they approach people. The ATV enthusiasts also contribute to the trail infrastructure–rebuilding bridges, for instance. And ATV groups, I believe, raised a lot of money towards getting these trails built in the first place.

    I remember at one point interviewing a local environmentalist and the head of a local ATV users’ organization, and they both said that most people thought they would be diametrically opposed to each other but they actually agreed on about 95% of all issues. And one aspect of ATVs I had never considered is the role they play in helping people with reduced mobility still have some access to the woods. I wrote a story on a man in his late 80s who had spent much of his life in the back woods, and now has hip problems and uses a cane. He can go out with his kids on an ATV (the BLT trail runs right beside his house) and use it to get to spots where they can, for instance, go fishing.

    I guess at one time I would have been totally in favour of banning them from the trails, but I do see a few reasons to allow them to stay.

    1. The problem is that it takes only one irresponsible user to do the damage of 100 responsible users.

      But I am sympathetic for people with mobility issues who might use their ATVs to accompany able people or for people who use ATVs to travel the last kilometre or so to their cottage or campground.

      Here is a simple observation from years of mountain biking and hiking around HRM: If it is remote enough that enforcement is unlikely, and physically accessible to motorized vehicles, it’s going to get ruined by ATVs and dirt bikes.

      To some extent I think our trail policy should simply take advantage of our natural features and put human-powered trails in places where it is difficult or impossible to bring a motorized vehicle. For instance the Whopper trail in behind Bayers Lake has an obstacle right at its beginning: an almost vertical granite ledge about 3′ tall. No big deal to dismount and carry a mountain bike up – but try doing that with a motorcycle or ATV.

  10. Trail sharing can and does work when people respect each other and work cooperatively to keep each other safe. Trail riding with bikes, horses and OHV is a good and valuable use of our forest because it encourages people to experience and love the forest that covers most of the province. Much of our current forest problem and tragic misuse flows from the fact that most of us have no relationship with the forests of Nova Scotia.

    1. I’m ambivalent. (I thought these wars were over, honestly.) As you say, when people are respectful it all works out, but I can show you acre after acre of wildland in Nova Scotia that has been utterly destroyed by ATVs — trails that are unhikeable because of erosion (like much of the old stage road and connecting trails in the Five Bridges Wilderness), denuded landcapes (behind the dump), and garbage (whatever you call that trail going west from Hammonds Plains Road). Part of me wants to like the access ATVs bring, but the reality…

      1. One thing to add, also from a place of ambivalence: my understanding is that in many trail areas, ATV groups are part of emergency response plans on the trails as public assets are too distant. That could still be done by exception if they were otherwise banned from the trails, but it seems kinda mean.

    2. The problem with ATV users is that quite frankly the majority give the minority a bad name. In my experience most ATVs or as we call them now OHVs are ridden in a matter which is highly unrespectful of habitat and other users. Just look at all the diversions made by vehicles off the Shearwater Flyer trail destroying significant amounts of natural habitat. The abuse of nature by these motorized vehicles is widespread and commonplace. I do not believe that there is such a thing as responsible shared use when it comes to motorized vehicles. It is just not part of the ATV culture which is primarily based on pure yahooism.

  11. Just want to clarify the situation at the Heritage Advisory Committee regarding the large Spring Garden Road projects as some of the bureaucratic process seems to have been lost in translation. The Heritage Advisory Committee will be considering the proposals against two policies (1) Substantive Alterations to registered heritage hearings and (2) development adjacent to heritage properties. The first is what was before the Committee last week. The job was to assess whether the proposed alterations to the buildings on College Street were appropriate. That’s what generated Aaron Murnham’s quote about “Imagine nothing is happening next to the properties.” It’s not that what’s happening next door isn’t important, it just wasn’t the topic for the day. The question of whether those large towers are appropriate next to the registered streetscape on College will be at the Heritage Advisory Committee in the future. It’s not being ignored, it just wasn’t the day for that discussion. Murnham is a dedicated heritage planner and is being unfairly quoted here.