News

1. Fool’s Gold, Part 4

We’ve published the fourth and final instalment of Joan Baxter’s “Fool’s Gold” series.

Part 4 looks at how the mining lobby is working to undermine environmental protection in Nova Scotia. In particular, the Mining Association of Nova Scotia (MANS) wants to open up protected wilderness areas to mining. Writes Baxter:

MANS issued a series of press releases claiming that parts of the province were being “harmed” by protected areas that were costing jobs and money. [MANS executive director Sean Kirby] specifically targeted Cumberland and Colchester counties, the Eastern Shore, and Cape Breton.

In the press releases, Kirby called on the provincial government to “Strike a better balance between protecting land and protecting jobs.” 

What evidence did MANS executive director Sean Kirby have to claim repeatedly in op-eds, that the selected areas were not “ecologically unique” and that economic impacts had not been “sufficiently taken into account when the lands were chosen”?

I asked Kirby that question in an email. I have yet to receive a response.

So I decided to follow the money: who would benefit from opening up protected areas for mining and quarrying, and how much would they stand to make? This meant taking a closer look at MANS.

“Fool’s Gold” is a joint investigative project of the Halifax Examiner and Cape Breton Spectator. We pay for this work through the money readers pay for joint subscriptions.

Click here to read “Fool’s Gold, Part 4.”

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2. Victoria General report is still secret

“The McNeil government continues to keep the advice it receives on its biggest and most expensive decisions carefully out of public sight,” reports Jennifer Henderson:

Yesterday the Minister of Transportation, Infrastructure and Renewal (TIR) refused to release a preliminary cost estimate to replace the crumbling Victoria General (VG) Hospital the government has promised to demolish in 2022. That’s despite the fact the province received that information five and a half months ago, on December 29, 2017, from a management consultant.

Click here to read “McNeil government refuses to release VG replacement report.”

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3. Mine safety

Devco No. 26 Colliery, Glace Bay, 1977. Photo: Owen Fitzgerald via the Beaton Institute

Susan Dodd completes a four-part series in the Cape Breton Spectator, which dealt with Nova Scotia’s long history of mining disasters. This week’s instalment deals with the period from 1970 to the present.

Although Devco was a unionized crown corporation, the material and organizational causes of that disaster were remarkably similar to the causes of the disaster at Westray which took place more than a decade later, in a non-unionized privately-owned enterprise. As at Westray, the Devco disaster was sparked by a continuous miner at a coalface; that spark ignited accumulated gas and ambient coal dust. As at Westray, there was inadequate ventilation and a lack of overall mine planning. There was confusion in the chain of command, and a “lack” of safety culture overall.

In both, a central finding was that had the existing mining regulations been enforced the disaster might have been avoided. That is to say: the mine operators and the government inspectors knew how to make these workplaces reasonably safe but they failed to do so. This “finding” has been a mainstay of accident reports through the entire history that we’ve looked at these past weeks. This shows us that the fundamental cause of injury and death has never been a lack of knowhow — it has always been the absence of an effective counterbalance to the pursuit of profit.

A “safety culture” cannot be expected to emerge from unregulated business. The drive for profit is single-minded and destructive unless limited by an attentive public will expressed in regulation, criminal law and government investments in inspections and public prosecution. This is true of all of the ways that corporate profiting harms public goods: worker safety, environmental degredation, misuse of expense accounts, the general grifting that goes on around “job-creation” and economic kick-starts.

It’s been depressing reading Dodd’s series. I fear she’s a Cassandra, warning of impending doom, only to be ignored. So, let’s not ignore her.

Click here to read “A Short History of Blame: Regulation by Internal Responsibility.”

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4. Minimum wage

Young people living with their parents are no longer the majority of people working for minimum wage, and about two-thirds of older people with minimum wage jobs are working full-time.

Those are among the findings of a Stats Canada study published yesterday. “Recent changes in the composition of minimum wage workers,” by researchers René Morissette and Dominique Dionne-Simard, was undertaken in the wake of increases in the minimum wage in every province over the last two years.

The overview of the study reads:

This study uses the 2017 and 2018 Labour Force Survey to provide a recent profile of minimum wage workers. The paper focuses on three groups of minimum wage workers: students aged 15 to 24 and non-students the same age living with their parents (referred to below as minimum wage workers under 25); individuals aged 15 to 64 who are single, lone parents or spouses/partners in single-earner couples; and individuals aged 15 to 64 who are spouses/partners in dual-earner couples. The article documents the relative importance of these three groups as well as their weekly wages and work patterns.

  • As minimum wages increased in 2017 and early 2018, the composition of the population of minimum wage employees moved away from individuals under 25 years of age and towards older workers. The proportion of minimum wage workers under the age of 25 fell from 52% in the first quarter of 2017 to 43% in the first quarter of 2018. In contrast, the proportion of minimum wage workers aged 35 to 64 increased from 25% to 31%.
  • In the first quarter of 2018, about 80% of minimum wage workers belonged to one of the three following groups: employees aged less than 25 (43%); employees aged 15 to 64 who were single, lone parents or spouses/partners in single-earner couples (17%); and employees aged 15 to 64 who were spouses/partners in dual-earner couples (21%).
  • Less than one-fifth of minimum wage workers under 25 worked full time in early 2018. Among the other two groups of minimum wage employees aged 15 to 64, the majority—roughly two-thirds— worked full time.
  • Minimum wage workers under 25 worked more often in temporary jobs and in retail trade, food and accommodation services than their counterparts in the two other groups.
  • Minimum wage workers who are single, lone parents or spouses/partners in single-earner couples may face a different economic situation, compared with minimum wage workers who are spouses/partners in dual-earner couples. The former group lived in families whose total employment income was, after adjusting for family size, less than half of the latter.

There are limits to the study. It doesn’t tell us who is holding jobs that pay above minimum wages but below living wages, for example. At it doesn’t give us insight into people older than 25 who may be living with their parents.

And I’m not so sure the statistical profile of those under 25 can simply be discounted. A generation ago, no one much lived with their parents at 25. It was a reasonable expectation to graduate from university or college at age 22 or 23, and be well onto your career path by 25. Now, with the cost of tuition so high, many university students stay at home, and when they graduate there are no jobs in their field, so they’re stuck working in coffeeshops and restaurants for minimum wage. That’s not a situation to be ignored.

4. The end of the world is predicted

Scott Ferguson

It appears that some time ago I set up a Google News alert for Scott Ferguson. You’ll recall that Ferguson, then the president of Trade Centre Limited, caused Halifax’s concert scandal by ignoring an auditor’s admonition against using advance ticket sales revenues as a loan pool for event organizers and instead suggested exactly that scheme to then-mayor Peter Kelly and then-CAO Wayne Anstey, to disastrous result.

As we’ve come to expect, Ferguson failed upwards. He was hired on as the president of the World Trade Center Association (WTCA) in New York. He popped up on my Google alerts this morning because the WTCA has published a report about something or another — it really doesn’t matter what, because it’s almost entirely self-serving drivel.

However. The report did survey WTCA members around the world, and one stat jumped out at me:

According to the study, 71 percent of WTCA members polled believe that a significant disruption in trade and investment is likely to occur this year with investments being put on hold amid global economic uncertainty.

The report goes on to say the path to economic growth is to get more people flying through airports and get poor people connected to the internet and everyone should re-up their WTCA membership and … but can we back up here? Seventy-one per cent of people who are supposedly in the business of international trade think the whole global system is going to blow up this year? Isn’t that like, ya know, a thing?

Sure, the WTCA is just another “economic development” scam pulled on the taxpayers of its member cities, and I’ve always understood that the Scott Fergusons of the world don’t know shit about the economy.

But we can’t have it both ways. Either the Scott Fergusons of the world actually get paid for doing something useful and we should all be freaking out because they’re predicting that the international financial order is about to collapse, or the Scott Fergusons of the world don’t know shit about the economy and the taxpayers of the world’s cities should stop paying them.

6. Yarmouth ferry

A cloud of diesel exhaust follows the Alakai, the result of burning so much fuel. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“Nova Scotia is boosting this year’s subsidy for the privately run ferry linking Yarmouth and Portland, Maine,” reports the Canadian Press:

Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines says Bay Ferries Limited will get another $1.5 million, for a total of $10.9 million.

He blames projected fuel-cost hikes for the CAT high speed ferry, which consumes high volumes of fuel.

Another $4.3 million was spent prior to the current season for an engine overhaul.

Probably should have thought about how a fast boat uses more fuel, eh?

Meanwhile, “Bar Harbor residents have authorized the town to purchase a vacant ferry terminal that has been at the center of the debate over the future of cruise tourism in the Acadia region,” reports Colin Woodard for the Portland Press-Herald:

Tuesday’s overwhelming 1,380-213 vote gives the green light for the town to purchase the 4.5-acre property from the state Department of Transportation for $3.5 million, a move that prevents it from being offered on the open market and possibly being developed into a cruise ship pier.

Last month the town’s marine terminal consultants, Bemello Ajamil, delivered a business plan with three scenarios for the terminal property: one focused on a marina and boat ramp; the second adding cruise ship tendering; and a third adding a ferry terminal for The Cat, whose owners are considering moving their Nova Scotia service there from Portland. Their 20-year profit-and-loss estimates suggest the latter two would make money if the facility captured at least 34 percent to 40 percent of the current flow of cruise passengers.

This means the terminus of the Yarmouth ferry will likely be moved from Portland to Bar Harbor. That will presumably save on fuel, at least for the boat, but drivers of course will have to travel farther.

It’s worth noting that the citizens of Bar Harbor aren’t big fans of cruise ships.

7. Merlin Nunn

Merlin Nunn. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Conflict of Interest Commissioner Merlin Nunn announced his retirement yesterday, resulting in a chorus of ridicule for Nunn from seasoned reporters:

Merlin Nunn NS’s Conflict of Interest Commissioner of Nova Scotia has retired after almost 21 years in the job. Unknown whether retired judge ever ruled anyone was in conflict. Worked entirely in secret. #nspoli

— Jean Laroche (@larochecbc) June 13, 2018

5 years ago Nunn took reporters to task for asking questions of a cabinet minister. #nspoli https://t.co/0hSnq8F8BS

— Jean Laroche (@larochecbc) June 13, 2018

There was also this chestnut: https://t.co/opxNhMSszs #NSpoli https://t.co/N0ypjALSXY

— michael gorman (@MichaelTGorman) June 13, 2018

I ran into Nunn in 2014 at City Hall, after he spoke — in secret — to city councillors about conflicts of interest:

Nunn was pleasant when I met him exiting council chambers, but he wouldn’t give me any details of the discussion beyond “we were talking about conflicts of interest.” Why’d it take so long? I asked. “They had lots of questions.”

The exemption to open meeting laws for legal advice serves an important purpose. Council often is negotiating contracts or potential settlement offers, and if the details of the discussions with legal staff became public, it would put the city, and taxpayers, at a disadvantage. But while council was sort of, vaguely, getting legal advice, it wasn’t about anything that could adversely affect the city or taxpayer, so secrecy was uncalled for.

Anyway, had the conversation been in public, the rest of us would’ve learned a bunch of stuff too, and we’d be better citizens and watchdogs. As is, there’s no minutes for the discussion, no public record, so even if a councillor in the future utterly rejects Nunn’s advice, no one will be the wiser.

With Nunn out, maybe we can bring the office into the mid-20th century and hire a commissioner who publishes annual reports, makes their findings public, and otherwise justifies their existence to the citizens who pay them.

8. Stephen D’Arcy

“The former chief financial officer of the IWK Health Centre reimbursed the hospital for almost $17,000 in expenses just weeks before he stepped down from his job amidst an expense scandal that cost the hospital’s CEO her job as well,” reports Michael Gorman for the CBC:

D’Arcy’s first cheque to the hospital was written the day before former hospital CEO Tracy Kitch stepped down from her post. That move followed a CBC News report showing Kitch charged thousands of dollars in personal expenses to a corporate credit card. An internal report released a week later by the hospital pegged that total at $47,000.

D’Arcy took a paid leave from his duties at the IWK on Sept. 11. A week later, CBC News reported D’Arcy helped alter Kitch’s expense reports and removed items from freedom of information requests that should have been released.

The IWK’s board chair then turned the matter of Kitch’s expenses over to Halifax Regional Police.

Nova Scotia Auditor General Michael Pickup also announced his office would investigate the hospital’s books and practices. That investigation remains ongoing with a report due sometime in the fall.

Congrats to Gorman on this story; this is watchdog journalism par excellence.

9. Salad sucks

An RCMP release from this morning:

June 14, 2018, Oyster Pond, Nova Scotia … Halifax District RCMP is reminding parents to have a discussion with their children regarding the proper use of 911 after responding to two 911 calls from a 12-year-old.

Prior to 10 p.m. Tuesday evening, RCMP responded to a 911 call from a 12-year-old who stated their guardian made a salad that they did not like. Before police arrived, the child called 911 again to ask when the RCMP would be arriving and once again expressed their dislike of the salad.

When RCMP arrived it was an opportunity to speak to the child about their salad as well as when it is appropriate to call 911.


Government

City

Thursday

Port Wallace PPC Meeting (Thursday, 6:30pm, HEMDCC Large Meeting Room 1, Alderney Gate) — there’s still no agenda posted, so I dunno.

Friday

No public meetings.

Province

Thursday

Economic Development (Thursday, 10am, One Government Place) — the committee will hear from a gaggle of witnesses talking about “the role of early learning and child care in economic development.” I kinda went off on this yesterday.

Friday

No public meetings.


On campus

Dalhousie

Thursday

No events besides staring at Tim pretending to be working in the library.

Friday

Atlantic Radiotherapy Conference (Friday, 8:45am, Nova Centre) — Catherine de Metz, from Queens University, will speak. Contact: jennifer.lewandowski@dal.ca

Saint Mary’s

Thursday

International Conference in Intercultural Studies (Thursday, 8am, at the school of business named after a grocery store) — Daniel Hiebert from the University of British Columbia, Magali Bouchon from Doctors of the World, Michèle Vatz Laaroussi from the Université de Sherbrooke, Marie McAndrew from the Université de Montréal, and Evangelia Tastsoglou from Saint Mary’s University are speakers at the three-day conference on “Immigration, the Dynamics of Identity, and Policies for Managing Diversity.” RSVP to https://www.icstconference.com/ .

In-migration and Out-migration: Atlantic Canada at a Crossroads (Thursday, 1pm, in the theatre named after a bank) — Ather H. Akbari from Saint Mary’s University, James Ted McDonald from the University of New Brunswick, Tony Fang from Memorial University, and Howard Ramos from Dalhousie University will speak. RSVP: Ather.Akbari@smu.ca

Friday

International Conference in Intercultural Studies continues.


In the harbour

7am: Maasdam, cruise ship with up to 1,510 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Sydney
10:30am: Paxi, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
Noon: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 41 to Autoport
3:30pm: Maasdam, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Bar Harbor
5pm: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Autoport back to Pier 41
6pm: Indian Bulker, bulker, sails from Pier 28 for sea


Footnotes

That was the worst headline ever. Have some Tom Waits:

Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. I had no idea I could sink any further into depression over this province so hey, thanks for setting me straight on that one, Tim. I have the sad feeling we’ve not hit bottom yet either. Tom Waits…icing on the upside down cake.