1. Pre-election spending spree

Jennifer Henderson has updated her ongoing scorecard of pre-election spending by the McNeil government, and I created the following chart so you can follow along:

I’ll continually update the chart as more announcements are made.

2. Butterfield Bank, Stephen Lund, and… Sears?

On the above chart, you’ll note that on Tuesday Nova Scotia Business Inc. announced up to $1,674,237 in payroll rebates for Butterfield Bank, an “amendment” to a 2015 payroll rebate deal worth $840,000. But the 2015 deal was itself an add-on to previous payroll rebates for Butterfield totalling $9.1 million. As I wrote in 2015:

Nova Scotia Business Inc has announced more payroll rebates for Butterfield Bank:

The Bank of N.T. Butterfield & Son Limited (Butterfield Bank) of Bermuda, a provider of specialized international financial services, has the potential to create up to a maximum of 50 new jobs for its shared services centre in Nova Scotia. Based on the maximum growth forecast of the six-year payroll rebate agreement, NSBI estimates Butterfield Bank would spend $10.5 million in salaries.

The new employees would pay provincial, personal income taxes of about $1.144 million. As a result, Butterfield Bank would earn up to $840,000 through the payroll rebate, over six years.

“Specialized international financial services,” eh? In the drug trade, they call that “money laundering.” Oh, to be sure, Butterfield “maintains systems and training procedures designed to prevent money laundering.” It’s not the bank’s fault that the executive chairman of the bank allegedly has a long history of money laundering. Or that a US Army major who accepted bribes from Iraqi contractors hid the bribe money in Butterfield. Or that the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales has “disciplined John Robinson, the head of Butterfield Bank, for ‘failing to prevent the issuing of misleading accounts for the trust.’”

Honestly, I really do think the bank has taken steps to crack down on money laundering, in part in response to US regulators insisting on ever-more stringent rules.

But then there’s tax avoidance. Butterfield is #10 on the list of 50 offshore banks where American residents stash their cash in avoidance of US law.

The McNeil government is extending payroll rebates first offered by previous NDP government. Those payroll rebates were initiated by then-NSBI president Stephen Lund, who before coming to work for NSBI worked at, yep, Butterfield Bank. At the helm of NSBI, he oversaw the extension of $9.1 million in payroll rebates for Butterfield Bank to expand in Halifax, but somehow neglected to mention he once worked for the bank. Lund left NSBI in August 2013, heading back to his old stomping grounds and took charge of the Bermuda Business Development Agency. But he abruptly left that job in April 2014 for unspecified personal reasons, and headed back to Nova Scotia. Lund was then hired Vice President of the Halifax Shipyard, but has since been hired as CEO of Opportunities New Brunswick, that province’s counterpart to NSBI.

As for Butterfield, the bank is successful in part by keeping wages low. As the Tax Justice Network reports:

And now for an everyday story about the power of financial services in small islands.

Ernst and Young, KPMG, Maples FS and Butterfield Bank have applied for an injunction to prevent the Cayman Compass newspaper and a local blog from reporting the wages of foreign workers in the Cayman Islands.

The news organisations obtained anonymised data on the pay and job positions of foreign workers from work permit applications though a Freedom of Information request to the immigration department.

The issue is important in a jurisdiction where there are stark differences in wealth between low paid locals and the vast amounts paid to people, often from abroad, who work in the island’s tax haven industry.

In fact, recently it was estimated that if the Cayman Islands brought in a minimum wage it might affect one third of workers.

The finance sector companies who are bringing the challenge against the decision to release the data fear that it might lead to individuals becoming identified. This, they argue, is a breach of privacy.

Another example of how the powerful are increasingly using privacy laws to prevent public interest information coming to light. This is a worrying trend and a case to watch.

The payroll rebates to Butterfield are a piece of the whole: cut worker salaries, cut taxes on the rich, and cater to same.

We’ve got millions for banks servicing the ultra rich, but we don’t have the money so that civil servants’ salaries can keep pace with inflation.

Stephen Lund. Photo; Twitter

It’s interesting that Lund doesn’t list his Irving or Bermuda employment on his LinkedIn page. Maybe he’s ashamed of it?

Incidentally, over in New Brunswick, Lund just facilitated a $3.5 million corporate subsidy so Sears can open a call centre in Edmundston, reports the CBC:

Companies don’t wake up in the morning — they’re in downtown New York — and say, ‘Hey, let’s go to New Brunswick,’” said Stephen Lund, CEO of Opportunities New Brunswick. “We call on them.”

Despite closures of Sears stores over the past few years, the call centre is set to open in Edmundston this spring, creating an estimated 180 jobs with it.

The provincial government is putting a total of $3.5 million into the Sears call centre, with most of that coming from Opportunities New Brunswick. 

The agency that helps businesses with their plans for growth in New Brunswick is providing $2.2 million through a combination of payroll rebates and loans. Another $458,000 is coming from the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour through the One Job Pledge program, and the Regional Development Corp. will provide $850,000.

Let’s see, $3.5 million divided by 180 jobs is… $19,444 per job.

3. “Conquered people”

“A review of a controversial Crown brief that implied the Mi’kmaq are a conquered people is now complete, but Nova Scotia’s justice minister refused Wednesday to divulge its contents,” reports the Canadian Press:

“I’ve seen the report and I’m not able to give any information about it,” Diana Whalen said after a cabinet meeting. “It’s got a lot of legal and personnel information in it.”


Whalen said the review does have some ideas that could change the way things are done in her department, but she wouldn’t elaborate.

However, she confirmed the report did not discuss the actions of any elected officials.

4. Tuition

As we cut taxes for international hedge funds, tuition rates continue to soar. Reports Ben Macintosh for Metro:

[Mount Saint Vincent student Nikki] Jamieson said the proposed tuition raise is six per cent — three per cent was authorized last year, on top of the three per cent annual raise.

The raise isn’t sustainable for students or the university, said Jamieson.

This increase is part of a proposed increase of 20 per cent over five years that the MSVU board voted for last year.

5. Pit pony

Photo: Cape Breton Miners’ Museum

I moved to Nova Scotia in 2004, so missed all the fun. From “From carboniferous capitalism to call centres: the case of Cape Breton,” a 2006 paper written by Ray Hudson, a geographer at Durham University:

[I]n recent years ACOA and ECBC have directed a considerable share of their funding for the promotion of economic development to tourism. Although there has been some development of tourism activities in Cape Breton, as in many other formerly industrial areas, there is a perceptible sense in which the turn to tourism represents something of a politics of despair in the absence of other alternatives. By 2005 it was estimated that, directly and indirectly, tourism provided some 5,700 jobs on Cape Breton and generated around $200 million a year in revenues (Connors, 2005).Tourism was one of the sectors identified as having future growth potential in Cape Breton and the Blueprint for Tourism (2003) projected a doubling of tourist revenues within five years, seeking to exploit the combination of Cape Breton’s cultural and industrial heritage and its natural environment. One element in this involved seeking to build upon the region’s economic and urban history and the experience of developing historic sites such as the fortress at Louisbourg National Historic Site as tourist attractions. For example, in 2001 a project was initiated by CBCEDA (but to be funded by Federal and Provincial Governments) to transform the downtown area of Glace Bay into a late 1920s coal mining town, seeking to capitalise upon its coal mining history. The intention was to recreate period facades on all downtown buildings, for there to be people in period costume and pit ponies on the streets (apparently motivated in part by the success of a local TV series, “The Pit Pony”) as Glace Bay was re-made as a themed town for tourists. The project is still on-going. 

I understand there’s an interesting “Pit Pony” display in the Miners Museum, and that production of the TV show brought a lot of excitement and work to Glace Bay, but whatever happened to the “period facades” and “period costumes”?

And… a “doubling of tourist revenues within five years”… hmmm. Where have I heard that before? (I can’t now find the “Blueprint for Tourism,” so can’t judge whether the goal was successful.)


1. Spring

Photo: Stephen Archibald

Stephen Archibald has Spring fever.

2. Dolls

Photo: Royal Ontario Museum

Heather Read, the Rebanks Postdoctoral Fellow in Canadian Decorative Arts with the Royal Ontario Museum, discusses a black doll in the ROM’s collection:

In the whole Canadian collection to date, there are only three dolls with dark skins: a rag doll from Nova Scotia, a Golliwog and an Alfred Bruckner “Topsy-Turvy” doll. Thinking about these three Black dolls is complicated. This first doll, whose image I have included [photo above], is an example of a plaything created for a child, showing care and artistry with simple materials: a folk doll… Like all folk culture, it is representative of its place of origin; Nova Scotia has had a substantial Black population for centuries, because it was a safe place for people fleeing slavery in the US and the Caribbean in the 17th and 18th centuries to start a new life. The ROM piece was likely made for a young Black child in Southern Nova Scotia. We don’t know much about it, other than that it eventually ended up in an antique store in the 1970s in Ontario, where it was purchased and brought to the museum. The cloth used for the body and the dress of the doll was likely scrap material from elsewhere in the makers’ life; folk dolls in all cultures are testaments to human creativity and reuse. Folk dolls such as this one are commonly made by mothers and grandmothers for children in their lives. They are often treasured objects, passed down through generations.  

The other two Black dolls are interesting, but they were likely made for White children in a mass-produced setting by White adults, which makes them far more difficult to talk about. In their imagery and their creation story, they reflect troubling racial biases that existed in North American society at the time the dolls were made. I have not included their images here, because they are racially charged. There is not enough space in a blog post to fully unpack their complex histories. I am working on researching them and highlighting them in other contexts, where there is more time and space to consider their difficult stories. 

Preserving and presenting histories of racial inequality is important, so I am glad that the difficult dolls exist at the ROM. We will be better equipped to deal with future injustices if we better understand those that we have inflicted on each other in the past.  And they are important examples of the way in which racial prejudice is passed on to the very young. That being said, I am perhaps a bit more grateful to have this lovely Nova Scotian doll at the ROM, because she provides a more celebratory entry point into discussing important histories of Black Canadians. She is a good example of cultural production, rather than a depiction of an often misunderstood ‘other.’ 

3. “Lie detector” tests

Mary Campbell reviews the junk science behind polygraph tests, then notes that the tests are still used by the HRM, “where wannabe police officers, fire fighters and municipal staff requiring security clearances are subject to polygraph exams. (It’s ‘voluntary’ but refusal to answer any or all of the questions may result in your ‘disqualification from the Recruitment Process.’):

First, such candidates must answer the questions in the Halifax Regional Police’s “pre-employment polygraph booklet.” Questions like:

  • Apart from valid medical reasons, how many days have you been absent from work without proper authorization over the past 12 months?
  •  How much money have you spent, wagered, lost or won in the last year as a result of gambling?
  • What does “intoxicated” mean to you?
  • How does your behaviour change after consuming alcohol?
  • Do you associate with anyone who uses illegal drugs or pharmaceutical drugs illegally?
  • Have you ever paid or asked anyone to set a fire for you?
  • Have you ever exposed yourself in public?

Judy Haiven, an associate professor with the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University, co-authored a 2012 report for the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives (CCPA) called, “Labour Standards Reform in Nova Scotia: Reversing the War Against Workers.”


In Nova Scotia, said Haiven, an employer could ask virtually anything as part of a polygraph test, gathering information about a potential (or existing) employee that was not any of that employer’s business. (See above questions.)

Moreover, while the Halifax Police say the collection, use and disclosure of any information you provide is governed by the Municipal Government Act (MGA), there is no mention made of how long such information is stored or what happens to it ultimately — does it become part of an employee’s file? What if the candidate is not successful?

Campbell’s article is behind the Cape Breton Spectator’s paywall. To subscribe, click here. (Subscribing is also how you’ll learn about the connection between Wonder Woman’s “lasso of truth” and the creation of the polygraph test.)



North West Community Council (Thursday, 7pm, Hammonds Plains Community Centre) — here’s the agenda.

Public Information Meeting (Thursday, 7pm, Dartmouth Sportsplex) — T A Scott Architecture and Design has an application in to build a 10-storey, 163-unit apartment building on Portland Street across from the old Neighbour’s Pub site. The proposed building (architect’s rendering above) is enormous, will overwhelm the street and neighbourhood, and doesn’t fit with the proposed design of the Portland Street corridor as laid out in the Centre Plan. Find everything you’d want to know about the proposal here. Disclosure: I have a relative who is involved with the neighbourhood group organized against this proposal.


Resources (Thursday, 9am, One Government Place) — Jeff Bishop, executive director of Forests Nova Scotia, and Robert Taylor, president of Taylor Lumber, will be questioned.



Nothing exciting.


Thesis Defence, Industrial Engineering (Friday, 9am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Amin Akbari will defend his thesis, “Multi-Criteria Approach to Maritime Search and Rescue Location Analysis.”

Thesis Defence, Biology (Friday, 1pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Joana Augusto will defend her thesis, “Social Structure of the Pilot Whales (Globicephala melas) off Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada.”

Transportation, Logistics, and the Environment (Friday, 2:30pm, MA 310) — Michel Gendreau of Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal will speak.

In the harbour

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

7:20am: Skogafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
8am: Norderney, cargo ship, sails from Pier 9 for sea
9am: Cosco Japan, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Port Klang, Malaysia
10am: OOCL Antwerp, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
11:30am: Skogafoss, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
4pm: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Autoport from from St. John’s
4pm: ZIM Ontario, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
7pm: CSL Tacoma, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from Norfolk


We’re recording Examineradio today.

Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. Thanks for the good reporting on Butterfield. NS’ subsidies for this particular company really smells bad for all the reasons you’ve outlined. They have a sordid history facilitating tax avoidance which undercuts public services. It’s shameful to use public money paid for by taxpayers to undermine fair taxation.

  2. Before every election, the party in power expends funds for new projects… so why the big flap? It happens before every election and it does not matter which party is in power. Does the public ultimately benefit from each one of these new projects is a better place to focus one’s attention…. would or should a given project be funded, whether or not an election is in the wind?

    1. People get murdered all the time. Car crashes. Forest fires. All depressingly regular. But no one questions why we continue to report on them.

      1. I am not questioning the reporting of the expenditures, per se, I am questioning whether these are projects that need to move forward or not. If they are clearly beneficial to the public, that is a good thing; if the project has no merit, then it should raise questions to be asked as to why taxpayer’s money appears to be being squandered. Are these projects “vote buying” purely because of timing… does it really matter? As I said, we see this occur before every election so my concern leans towards the whether a funded project should actually occur. Perhaps we should have more elections? Would this be a bad thing? Think of how many more “worthwhile” projects might be funded, eh? In the year before any potential election, should all funding of new initiatives be shelved… what would that do to the economy and the welfare of the public?

        1. The core issue here is that we have a government which has been preaching “the cupboard is bare” almost since day one such as when they cancelled in film tax credit using flawed logic. Now all of a sudden there is lots of money to go around. What is being reported on is not the funding or what is being funded, but the hypocrisy of a government which is so willing to insult the intelligence of every taxpayer in the province.

          1. Are their actions any different from previous parties in power? They all seem to have funds just before an election. This government is behaving no different than any previous government… they all say the cupboard is bare… and then an election rolls around. Seems pretty normal to me; if anything, I expect this to happen… if it did not occur, then that would in deed be news worthy. Sad observation perhaps; but true none the less.

  3. People are skeptical about a tourism-driven economy because it tends to be seasonal, and it doesn’t pay well. Folks here where I live have no objection to tourism per se for anyone who wants to make a dollar off it (and here it has 4-season potential because of all the damned snow we get) but they would rather see the local economy supported by industry and businesses that pay a living wage.

    I have never liked places that are mainly tourist, and I’m not alone on that for sure. I like being a tourist in a place where other interesting things are happening, done by the locals for the benefit of the locals. I’m not saying I like bad or churlish service, but most of these places tend to be places where they don’t care much one way or the other if tourists like me ever come to visit them.

    The downtown period dress-up thing is hilarious. I would have loved to hear some reaction from the Glace Bay folks I know on that one. In Cape Breton, most of the places I like are miles off tourist routes and in the less popular parts of the island. There is spectacular scenery and magnificent beaches both rocky and sandy in Cape Breton that few tourists ever see, because they stick to the defined routes.

  4. What gets me is that politicians have press conferences for almost any spending now. Here in NB they even have them for routine paving of roads, the most mundane regular infrastructure work.

    And they have announcements of “old” money that was already reported when it appeared in the capital budget or hidden away in the estimates. I mean, tell me something I don’t already know, if you expect me to show up.

  5. The most surprising thing about this Morning File is that Sears is still opening new call centers!
    From the news, it doesn’t sound like they have all that long to live