Yvette d’Entremont came on board with the Examiner after Star Halifax collapsed (Zane Woodford was another Star refugee). Before that, she worked at the Daily News, the Herald, and the Yarmouth Vanguard.

All that experience translates into a professional reporter, in all senses of the word. She quietly and efficiently does her job, which at the Examiner includes a lot of deep dives into heath care issues (among other reporting). She’s bilingual. She helps out around here in lots of ways, stepping in to edit or guide other reporters when needed.

Yvette takes time off from the Examiner most years to teach a course or two over at the J-school, and both other instructors and her students tell me how wonderful of an instructor she is. I believe it. She has a way of explaining and encouraging without being dismissive, a skill she employs on me as well, and which I welcome.

From time to time, Yvette recommends new reporters to me, and all her recommendations have been spot on.

She probably doesn’t realize this, but I consider her one of the cornerstones of the Examiner’s foundation. She’s there, shouldering the weight of a structure that gets blasted this way and that by whatever reporting storm is passing, and then is there for the next reporting storm.

It’s thanks to subscribers that we can employ Yvette, and with continued and increased support from subscribers, we’ll be able to keep her on for as long as she wants to work here.

If you value reporting from Yvette and the rest of the crew, please subscribe to the Halifax Examiner. Thanks!


NEWS

1. Did SIRT rubber stamp a biased report on Onslow Fire Hall shooting?

Const. Terry Brown from video cam at Onslow Fire Hall. Note: video time stamp is 10 minutes fast. Credit: Mass Casualty Commission

“Last week’s seemingly out-of-sync release of an internal RCMP report into the shooting at the Onslow Firehall during April 2020’s mass shooting raises troubling questions,” writes Stephen Kimber:

On March 2, 2021, nearly a year after the shooting incident, Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT), which investigates incidents involving police, issued a report exonerating Brown and Melanson…

Included in the information “reviewed and considered in the preparation of this report,” SIRT noted, without comment, was a “Use of Force Expert Report.”

That 50-page report had been prepared by Joel Johnston, a former Vancouver police officer turned consultant, and it essentially accepted the officers’ version of events at face value.

The document released last week by the Mass Casualty Commission was a January 2021 internal RCMP report prepared by its Hazardous Occurrence Investigation Team (HOIT) in response —and opposition — to Johnston’s report. It had been forwarded to SIRT.

Its five-page review identified “inaccuracies and omissions within the [Johnston] report which the HOIT believe bear relevance on the investigation of this incident.”

The Mounties did provide the Mass Casualty Commission with an internal report that cast doubt on the official — SIRT — version of events and raised questions about their own colleagues’ behaviour.

But it doesn’t explain why SIRT so often sees the world through the myopic policing lens it does.

Click here to read “Internal RCMP report raises questions about officers’ actions — but about SIRT too.”

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2. Municipal taxes and the housing market

Apartment buildings in Halifax. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“Finance staff have recommended an increase of 8% to the average property tax bill for next year, and painted a bleak picture of Halifax’s finances,” reports Zane Woodford:

Budget and reserves manager Tyler Higgins and accounting and financial reporting director Dave Harley have tabled their budget direction for fiscal 2023-2024. The report to council’s budget committee “was designed as HRM faces significant economic headwinds.”

“Inflation has gripped the municipality and the municipality’s once strong financial position is showing signs of erosion,” Higgins and Harley wrote.

The report, coming to budget committee for debate next Friday, is the start of what councillors already heard will be a “tough” budget season.

Woodford gets into the details of the budget.

Click here to read “Halifax staff recommend ‘significant’ 8% increase to average property tax bill.”

Let’s drill down into this part:

For several years, in a hot housing market, councillors used increased deed transfer tax (DTT) revenues to avoid tax increases. But that tax, 1.5% levied on the purchase of any property, is now trending in the wrong direction.

The revenue increased from $42 million in 2017-2018 to $83 million in 2022-2023, the current fiscal year. The money helped create budget surpluses for HRM every year.

It won’t work in 2023-2024.

“The Bank of Canada has taken to interest rate increases to combat inflation. This has resulted in cooling the housing market and, thus, putting pressure onto DTT,” Higgins and Harley wrote.

“For the first time in five years, DTT is expected to decrease. The current projection for 2023/24 is an expected decline of $7 million or 8.4 percent below 2022/23.”

Just to put that in context, the municipality’s total policing budget is about $88 million, so if they’re looking for money, there’s the place to go.

Policing aside, can we talk about how raising interest rates is impacting the housing market?

The deed transfer tax isn’t a perfect indicator of new housing starts — a lot of the tax revenue comes from companies buying industrial and commercial properties, and even the residential transactions are to a large degree the purchase of existing apartment complexes like Highfield Park — but the deed transfer tax is a rough proxy; it gives us an idea of what kind of action is happening overall in real estate.

And because the only politically allowable approach to addressing inflation is to raise interest rates, the effect on wages be damned, it becomes much more expensive for people to buy houses, and it becomes more difficult for developers to line up financing for new construction.

That double whammy on the private housing industry far outstrips any supposed positive effects on the construction of new housing brought on by John Lohr firing up the bulldozers in Eisner’s Cove or fast-tracking the arsenic poisoning of Lake Charles.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the two levels of government are acting at cross purposes: that the Bank of Canada’s raising of interest rates depresses new residential construction just as the provincial government is trying to increase new residential construction by reducing alleged bureaucratic obstacles to construction. But that assumes that creating so much new housing that it becomes affordable is the goal.

If, however, the actual policy goal is to transfer wealth from working people to wealthier people, then the actions of the two levels of government are perfectly aligned: the Bank of Canada raises interest rates to depress wages, and the provincial government decreases regulatory costs on investors; total supply of housing is irrelevant so long as it is tight enough to keep prices high.

If either level of government truly had a goal of more affordable housing, it would simply build it.

Give up on the developer fluffing, and build some damn housing. Stop playing PR games with tiny non-profits that can’t build or manage anywhere near the number of existing affordable units that are torn down each year to make room for new high-end housing, and build some damn housing directly: social housing, co-op housing, off-market housing — massive housing construction paid for and managed by government itself, and either rented or sold to people without the huge profits demanded from private developers. Build some damn housing.

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3. Did the mass murderer deal drugs?

Portapique memorial community church hall in June 2020. Photo: Joan Baxter

“Was the man who murdered 22 people in April 2020 also a drug smuggler before he met Lisa Banfield?” writes Jennifer Henderson:

Questions about where the Dartmouth denturist obtained the money that allowed him to work only a few days a week and take several Caribbean vacations a year have surfaced again. This time with the release of new documents posted by the Mass Casualty Commission looking into the massacre that began in Portapique on April 18, 2020.

Click here to read “Was the mass murderer a drug smuggler?”

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4. Goldenville and Osprey

The area below the former stamp mill at the historical gold mine in Goldenville, NS, shows tailings left over from processing activities. Credit: Nova Scotia Lands

“The Nova Scotia government wants to acquire one of the province’s two most contaminated historical gold mines so it can clean it up,” reports Frances Willick for the CBC:

The Goldenville site, located near Sherbrooke on the Eastern Shore, was the most productive of Nova Scotia’s 64 historical gold mine districts. It was mined from 1862 to 1941 and included as many as 19 different open pit and underground mines.

Those operations left a legacy of arsenic and mercury contamination that persists to this day, both in the material and water at the site and downstream all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Through the provincial environmental cleanup agency, Nova Scotia Lands, the government has been developing plans to remediate Goldenville. It estimates cleaning up that site as well as the other most contaminated former mine, Montague Gold Mines, will cost at least $60 million

But the plans for Goldenville hit a snag a couple of years ago when staff realized the property that included the source of the contamination — the stamp mill that crushed ore before gold was extracted — was not Crown land. The province would need permission from the landowner to conduct its work.

That’s when things got even more complicated. Staff discovered that nobody knows who owns the property. 

These old abandoned mine sites should be cleaned up, but I doubt the province is looking to clean this site out of some new-found concern about the environment. Rather, it wants to reopen the site to new mining, and all the potential environmental damage that will come with it.

Tellingly, Willick’s article is illustrated with a photo of the mine site provided by Osprey Gold, one of the many companies looking to join the modern Nova Scotia gold rush.

Or was. On Sept. 14, 2020, all of Osprey’s shares were acquired by was bought by MegumaGold, and so Osprey is now a wholly owned subsidiary of MegumaGold.

In documents filed with the Canadian Security Administrators (CSA), Osprey noted that:

At August 31, 2020, the Company had not achieved profitable operations, had an accumulated deficit of $5,321,595 since inception and expects to incur further losses in the development of its business. These material uncertainties may cast significant doubt about the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern. Management has forecasted that the Company’s current working capital will not be sufficient to execute its planned expenditures for the coming year. These matters indicate the existence of material uncertainties that raise substantial doubt about the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern. These financial statements do not give effect to adjustments that would be necessary to the carrying values and classification of assets and liabilities should the Company be unable to continue as a going concern.

Osprey spent $1.25 million exploring the Goldenville site.

I don’t pretend to understand the murky world of mining finances, but I will note that while the company itself may “be unable to continue as a going concern,” the executives have done reasonably well. The documents filed with the CSA notes that:

Key management personnel are those persons that have the authority and responsibility for planning, directing and controlling the activities of the Company, directly or indirectly. Key management include executive and non-executive members of the Company’s Board of Directors, and corporate officers.

Included in consulting fees for the nine months ended August 31, 2020 and 2019 are:

  • $27,000 (2019 – $27,000) paid or accrued to Family Swing Holdings Inc., a company owned by Jeffrey Wilson, Chief Executive Officer;
  • $81,375 (2019 – $71,400) paid or accrued to Cooper Quinn, President;
  • $31,500 (2019 – $31,500) paid to a Red Fern Consulting Ltd., a company in which Samantha Shorter, former Chief Financial Officer, is a significant shareholder.

Included in exploration and evaluation costs for the nine months ended August 31, 2020 are $13,125 (2019 – $23,100) and $40,150 (2019 – $34,200) in geological consulting fees paid to Cooper Quinn, President, and Perry MacKinnon, former Vice President of Exploration, respectively. Mr. MacKinnon is also the Goldenville Optionor.

As I say, what do I know? But why on Earth is the province looking to pay for cleanup of the Goldenville site for a company that may not even survive?

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5. Sable Offshore operates… in California?

An oil rig in the now-abandoned Sable Offshore project. Credit: CNSOPB

Speaking of the world of murky financial dealings, I was surprised to learn that Sable Offshore is still in existence. Well, this story turned out to be not what I thought it was.

In one iteration, Sable Offshore Energy is the corporate consortium that was created in 1998 to exploit the natural gas fields around Sable Island. The company still exists, headquartered in Halifax, even though those gas fields have been abandoned.

But I was surprised to see a company called Sable Offshore pop up in a newly announced California deal.

As DealFlow’s SPAC News reports:

Flame Acquisition in a proxy filing offered additional detail on its proposed merger with Sable Offshore, a Nova Scotia-based natural gas exploration consortium. Announced earlier this month, the deal has an $883 million enterprise value.

If approved, the deal would put about $258 million on Sable’s balance sheet. The company intends to spend $331 million on start-up costs for newly acquired assets and lease operating expenses. These will stem from Sable’s agreement to acquire the Santa Ynez field in Federal waters off the California coast and associated onshore processing and pipeline assets from Exxon Mobil and Mobil Pacific Pipeline Company for $625 million.

Turns out, SPAC News has this wrong. The Sable Offshore involved in the Santa Ynez deal is not the Nova Scotia-based Sable Offshore Energy Inc., but rather is the Houston-based Sable Offshore Holdings LLC, a true SPAC, or “blank-check” company created by Texas oil industry exec James Flores.

A SPAC doesn’t have any operations — it doesn’t sell any products or services — but exists solely to acquire other companies; it’s a means for potential target companies to get investors (via the SPAC) without going through expensive and time-consuming regulatory requirements.

In this instance, Flores created Sable Offshore Holdings to attract investors to buy his other company, Flame Acquisition. And the newly cash-infused Flame is making the deal with Exxon.

I don’t know why Flores confusingly named his SPAC “Sable Offshore.” So far as I know, he’s never had any connection with Nova Scotia’s Sable Island operations, and I’ve never seen him stumbling out of the Toothy Moose. It might be just a dumb coincidence, but it’s an odd one. And I spent an hour chasing this down, so I’ll tell you what I learned in any case.

What is the Santa Ynez field?

ExxonMobil is selling its Santa Ynez Unit offshore oil platforms, onshore processing facility and former Plains-owned pipeline to a newly created company, and it’s unclear what the future holds for production,” reports By Giana Magnol for the Santa Barbara-based NoozHawk:

The Santa Ynez Unit includes platform Hondo, Harmony and Heritage, and the Las Flores Canyon processing facility on the Gaviota Coast.

Production stopped in 2015 when the crude-oil transportation pipeline ruptured and caused the Refugio oil spill.

Santa Barbara County rejected ExxonMobil’s proposal to restart platform production and temporarily truck the oil to refineries. Other oil platforms that relied on the ruptured pipeline are being decommissioned.

Sable and Flame Acquisition Corp., a Texas-based special purpose acquisition corporation, will merge in a $883 million deal to create Sable Offshore Corp., the new owner of the Santa Ynez Unit and transportation pipeline.

“Sable Offshore… will borrow 97% of the $643 million purchase price from Exxon under a five-year loan,” reports Reuters. “If Flores fails to restart production at the Santa Ynez field by the start of 2026, Exxon could take back the entire operation, Sable disclosed in a filing.”

So, as I understand it, here’s what’s going on: Exxon had an offshore oil operation near Santa Barbara, California, but because one of its pipes busted and spilled a gazillion barrels of oil onto beaches and the like, regulators shut the operation down, stranding a couple of billion dollars in assets. Exxon itself doesn’t want to risk reopening the project, and so Flores structured a deal, financed on one side by Exxon and on the other by a bunch of people with too much money and not enough sense.

If Flame fails, Exxon gets its $2 billion in stranded assets back to maybe try again, the investors leave with less money but no more sense, and Flores gets paid.

In the unlikely event that Flame succeeds, then Exxon rids itself of a nuisance, the investors consider themselves geniuses, and Flores gets paid.

People are having trouble buying groceries, but there’s still a lot of money sloshing around, looking to inflict further misery on the planet and its inhabitants.

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Government

City

Today

Design Review Committee Special Meeting (Monday, 4:30pm, online) — agenda

North West Community Council (Monday, 7pm, Bedford-Hammond Plains Community Centre) — agenda

Tomorrow

Budget Committee and Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 9:30am, City Hall and online) — Budget Committee agenda; Regional Council agenda

Province

Today

No meetings

Tomorrow

Natural Resources and Economic Development (Tuesday, 1pm, One Government Place) — Rural Economic Recovery After COVID-19; with representatives from the Department of Economic Development, Develop NS, and Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities


On campus

Dalhousie

Today

The iron-oxide-apatite problem, and the carbonate-sulfate solution (Monday, 11:30am, Milligan Room, Life Sciences Centre) — Matthew Steele-MacInnis from the University of Alberta will talk

Tomorrow

Rossetti-Watson Travel Scholarship Exhibition (Tuesday, 9am, Exhibition room, Medjuck Architecture Building) — presents travel studies by Emily Pyatt (Trondheim/Oslo, Norway), Julia Johnston (southern British Columbia), Peter Lombardi (Rotterdam, Netherlands), and Stefan Gagnier Ruckert (Barcelona, Spain). Opening presentations today at 5:30pm.


In the harbour

Halifax
05:00: NYK Remus, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Antwerp, Belgium
14:00: Atlantic Marlin, cargo barge, moves from Pier 9 to IEL
16:00: NYK Remus sails for Port Everglades, Florida
23:00: Torm Sublime, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Antwerp, Belgium

Cape Breton
12:30: Miaoulis 21, oil tanker, sails from EverWInd for sea
13:30: Catalan Sea, oil tanker, arrives at EverWind from Mongstad, Norway
16:00: Baie St.Paul, bulker, transits through the causeway, en route from Halifax to Montreal


Footnotes

I still haven’t adjusted to the time change.


Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. I love these two lines!

    “If either level of government truly had a goal of more affordable housing, it would simply build it.”
    “Give up on the developer fluffing, and build some damn housing.”

    Thank you, Tim, and other Examiner reporters for putting into print what I and others have been saying for a while now. Maybe those in positions of power will actually start listening.

    I love your subscription drive period. I get to learn more about the reporters that keep me coming back to this site day after day. Keep up all your good work. This reader really appreciates each and every one of you, even if she doesn’t always agree with (or understand) everything you write. I learn something new each time I read your articles, and bookmark those that I know I will want to come back to more than once.

    1. The last paragraph of that story should be printed on cards and sent to every elected official everywhere in the province. An adequate supply of housing in this province should not be based on every developer making huge profits as it is now. The $20 plus million given to Clayton Developments should have gone to Habitat for Humanity to build true affordable housing, not a few subsidized apartments for a few years with the developer still holding all the equity.

      1. I like that idea! I’d be willing to help address cards like that. Hell, I’d even be willing to deliver some in person to elected officials in my small part of the HRM.

  2. If HRM cuts the money spent on police officers I assume the province will cut the same amount from the almost $4 million they provide to HRM for circa 40 HRP and RCMP officers every year for more than the past 10 years. The result would be a saving of $0 for HRM and a saving of almost $4 million for the province which could then be used for the crises in healthcare and housing. And the free ride HRM has had since 2009 would come to an end.