1. McNeil and workers

Stephen McNeil at July 9 briefing. (Communications Nova Scotia)

Writes Stephen Kimber:

Our premier prefers to attack those who dare to question him. Just ask the unarmed, unionized compliance officer recovering from an assault at our border, or the Crown attorneys reprimanded for trying to protect their collective rights.

Click here to read “Does Stephen McNeil believe in workers’ rights? Next question.”

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2. Hubbards

Children and caregivers from Through the Years Day Care in Hubbards navigate a dangerous stretch of roadway in the community. Photo: Facebook

“Hubbards residents concerned by the frequent “dangerously close calls” between pedestrians and vehicles are advocating for safer streets via a newly formed community group,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

“We’re talking about the community centre being around four kilometers with a couple loops here and there. You don’t actually have to leave the community to do anything,” [Melanie] McIvor said in an interview on Friday.

“On that main drag we have a post office, a library, the elementary school, the daycare, a doctor’s office, a dentist’s office, the pharmacy, the grocery store, the hardware store, three restaurants, one a coffee shop, and so much more.”

But she said accessing those businesses and services without a car can be downright dangerous.

Through the Years Daycare employee Stephanie Blois has been hit three times while walking that stretch of roadway with her children. She doesn’t have access to a car. She gets to her workplace each day walking along Highway 3 pushing her two children, ages 20 months and four years old, in a 36-inch wide double stroller.

Click here to read “Hubbards residents cite ‘dangerously close calls’ along Highway 3, call for safer streets.”

3. On Wounding

NourbeSe Philip

El Jones explores being wounded:

I think of these wounds in these times when so many of the institutions who have caused us harm over and over again, who have taken from us, who have left our lives in ruins and not looked back, release statements on how they value and stand with Black lives.

These statements are not soothing. They are in fact enraging. When we have gone to them for help, for sustenance, for dignity, we have been ignored and marginalized. These statements feel more unjust than the original sin, the worse so because we know the writing has nothing to do with us: we never mattered, and we are not even dust under their heels. They are not thinking of us in the writing, and there will be no reparation.

Our rage is the greater because of this, and it lives in us without recourse. In fact, we risk looking petty and churlish if we even bring it up.

Jones goes on to look at retribution as justice (only to reject it), and forgiveness:

And yet, I believe in the possibility of transformative justice, and healing, and forgiveness. How do I sit with the knowledge of the deepness, the endless wringing out, of wounding, and the equally strong belief that we can — and must — build communities of care, of radical compassion, beyond punishment?

Click here to read “On Wounding.”

4. A virtual disaster: The Halifax Convention Centre

The Grafton Street Glory Hole, with the convention centre and empty hotel above it. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Hal-Con announced Friday that this year’s event is cancelled:

We are so proud of the work that Nova Scotians have done to flatten the curve and help stop the spread of COVID-19. Like many of you, we feel hopeful about the next few months. But we know that hoping isn’t enough. We also have to help by keeping our attendees and our communities safe, and that means — after consultation with our venue — choosing not to bring thousands of people together in close contact this year.

The Halifax Convention Centre hasn’t yet taken Hal-Con off its event calendar.

This year is a complete bust for the convention centre, and will undoubtedly put we taxpayers further in the hole.

Back when it opened, Rogers plugged the Nova Centre with the above video celebrating the building’s “connectedness”; I get a kick out of Events East spokesperson Suzanne Fougere celebrating the “reliable wifi network… [Convention goers] need the ability to connect with not only the event they’re here to see, but also to their family and friends back home.”

Turns out, the wonder of the internet is allowing many conventions to meet virtually this year and skip the trip to Halifax.

Yes, yes: pandemic. No one could have predicted the pandemic.

But let’s think this through. Opponents of the convention centre said all along that as virtual meeting technology improved, large in-person gatherings were going to become a thing of the past.

Just to pick one random example out of many (and because I’m going to again try to entice her to write for the Examiner), here’s Laura Penny, in an op-ed she wrote for the Chronicle Herald, published on July 25, 2010:

Doubtless one of the consultants or flacks involved will rush to correct my rube math — subtraction is sooo old economy — and paint me as the enemy of progress. But what really depresses me about the convention centre is that this is what passes for progress in the HRM: a great glassy hope that may well turn out to be a costly white elephant.

Many experts argue that the convention market has been in steady decline since the late ’90s. Moreover, it is likely this decline will continue for technological reasons. As more and more digitally literate people move into management, pricey meatspace schmoozefests will be replaced by cheaper virtual meetings.

I was at dozens of city council meetings and other forums where the new convention centre was debated, where exactly this argument was put forward, time and again: conventions will go online, and there won’t be need for large conventions, especially in the face of the large carbon footprint of air travel.

But, and this is crucial, convention centre supporters assured us that the anti-convention centre group, the “naysayers,” were, well, idiots. The supporters were wise! They knew the industry, and in-person conventions were going to get bigger and bigger forever more, and there was no possibility — none at all — that the convention centre market was being overbuilt or that there would be a downturn in the convention market for the rest of the history of the universe.

They could see the future, they assured us. But now, those very same people are singing that no one could predict the future.

Heck, it wasn’t even just the anti-convention centre people who realized that conventions were going virtual. In 2016, Dawn Baldwin, the Director of Sales at the Halifax Convention Centre, used virtual meetings as a selling point for hosting conventions in Halifax. In a blog post titled “How To Meet Green,” Baldwin used the 2015 Canadian Medical Association Annual Meeting, which was held in Halifax, as a case study in how to have a “green convention.” Included in this was a bunch of stuff about locally grown food, but she even then understood the importance of virtual meetings:

Does your event encourage remote or virtual participation? Being together in person is always best, but you can limit carbon footprint by incorporating technology for members who can’t be there, like CMA is doing.

Turns out, the CMA was scheduled to have this year’s Annual Meeting again in Halifax as well, but is now having the meeting entirely online. As is the Canadian Employee Benefits Conference, and many others.

Yes, some of these conventions are only being “postponed.” And, there will be a place for trade shows, while meetups like Hal-Con can’t go online. But once they’ve gone through the process of organizing virtual meetings, and now that pretty much everyone is used to being in on Zoom meetings, how many large organizations are going to reduce the number of future in-person gatherings, or skip them altogether?

Sure, the allure of getting drunk with and having an illicit rendezvous with the vice-president of corporate branding from the Phoenix office will always be there, but given a tightened economy, more conscious corporate environmental responsibility policies, and the alternative of virtual meetings now always at hand, there’s no doubt that the future of the convention business is nowhere near as rosy as the oh-so-wise convention centre supporters assured us it would be.

In short: we’ve now got the costly white elephant Laura Penny warned us about a decade ago.

My guess is that the entire Nova Centre will go through some sort of creditor protection and ownership shakeup in the next few years, and Joe Ramia will come out the other side just fine. But there’s no getting out of the province’s and city’s 25-year financial commitment to the convention centre. It’s only a question of how deep that hole can go. I can assure you this: it will be staggering — more than the worse-case scenario even we naysayers envisioned circa 2010.

The responsible approach now would be to think about how to re-purpose the convention centre. We’re paying for the space anyway, so maybe it could be used for something more worthy than a vacant monument to wishful thinking.

But that’s not going to happen at all. Instead, we’ll paper over the loss, reformat budgets to obfuscate and explain away the gazillion dollar deficit, and celebrate the white elephant as a saviour. We’ll double down on the illusion that we’re getting rich from the thing, while getting all the poorer from it day after day, year after year, decade after decade.

5. The Hotel Barmecide

And what about the hotel at the convention centre? Sutton Place promised to open by April 1, but it still isn’t open. Which is excuse enough to repeat this bit from October 2019:

The Barmecideal Feast

My reference to Barmecide comes from The Story of the Barber’s Sixth Brother in Arabian Nights. It tells the tale of Schacabac, a beggar, who discovers the mansion of the Barmecides, “famed for their liberality and generosity.” The porters tell Schacabac to go in and beg of Barmecide himself, and Schacabac enters the stately building, finds an old man sitting on a sofa, and asks for food. The story continues:

“What, you are dying of hunger?” exclaimed the Barmecide. “Here, slave; bring water, that we may wash our hands before meat!” No slave appeared, but my brother remarked that the Barmecide did not fail to rub his hands as if the water had been poured over them.

Then he said to my brother, “Why don’t you wash your hands too?” and Schacabac, supposing that it was a joke on the part of the Barmecide (though he could see none himself), drew near, and imitated his motion.

When the Barmecide had done rubbing his hands, he raised his voice, and cried, “Set food before us at once, we are very hungry.” No food was brought, but the Barmecide pretended to help himself from a dish, and carry a morsel to his mouth, saying as he did so, “Eat, my friend, eat, I entreat. Help yourself as freely as if you were at home! For a starving man, you seem to have a very small appetite.”

“Excuse me, my lord,” replied Schacabac, imitating his gestures as before, “I really am not losing time, and I do full justice to the repast.”

“How do you like this bread?” asked the Barmecide. “I find it particularly good myself.”

“Oh, my lord,” answered my brother, who beheld neither meat nor bread, “never have I tasted anything so delicious.”

“Eat as much as you want,” said the Barmecide. “I bought the woman who makes it for five hundred pieces of gold, so that I might never be without it.”

After ordering a variety of dishes (which never came) to be placed on the table, and discussing the merits of each one, the Barmecide declared that having dined so well, they would now proceed to take their wine.

Having enjoyed the illusionary feast, Schacabac feigns to get drunk on the illusionary wine. And then:

At this the Barmecide, instead of being angry, began to laugh, and embraced him heartily. “I have long been seeking,” he exclaimed, “a man of your description, and henceforth my house shall be yours. You have had the good grace to fall in with my humour, and to pretend to eat and to drink when nothing was there. Now you shall be rewarded by a really good supper.”

Then he clapped his hands, and all the dishes were brought that they had tasted in imagination before and during the repast, slaves sang and played on various instruments. All the while Schacabac was treated by the Barmecide as a familiar friend, and dressed in a garment out of his own wardrobe.

The lesson here is that if we just play along with the illusion, we will eventually be rewarded with the reality.

Except, the tale then takes a dark turn:

Twenty years passed by, and my brother was still living with the Barmecide, looking after his house, and managing his affairs. At the end of that time his generous benefactor died without heirs, so all his possessions went to the prince. They even despoiled my brother of those that rightly belonged to him, and he, now as poor as he had ever been in his life, decided to cast in his lot with a caravan of pilgrims who were on their way to Mecca. Unluckily, the caravan was attacked and pillaged by the Bedouins, and the pilgrims were taken prisoners. My brother became the slave of a man who beat him daily, hoping to drive him to offer a ransom, although, as Schacabac pointed out, it was quite useless trouble, as his relations were as poor as himself. At length the Bedouin grew tired of tormenting, and sent him on a camel to the top of a high barren mountain, where he left him to take his chance. A passing caravan, on its way to Bagdad, told me where he was to be found, and I hurried to his rescue, and brought him in a deplorable condition back to the town.

It’s the history of Halifax in two acts.


Government

City

Monday

Special Halifax Peninsula Advisory Committee  (4:30pm, virtual meeting) — WSP Canada wants to build an eight-storey apartment building behind the Stairs House, which is a registered historic property on South Street.

Tuesday

No meetings.

Province

No meetings.


In the harbour

05:00: One Magnificence, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka

Bishu Highway. Photo: Halifax Examiner

05:30: Bishu Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
09:00: Boarbarge 37, semi-submersible barge, moves from Pier 9 to IEL
15:00: One Magnificence sails for New York
15:00: Budapest Bridge, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
16:00: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, sails from Pier 41 for Palm Beach, Florida
16:00: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
16:00: Augusta Luna, cargo ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Moa, Cuba
17:00: Bishu Highway sails for sea
22:30: Budapest Bridge sails for Rotterdam
22:30: Atlantic Star sails for New York


Footnotes

Hey, listen to our podcast.

Tim Bousquet

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

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13 Comments

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  1. One thing that could be done by the Convention Centre principals is to publicly apologise to all who fought valiantly to avoid this public train wreck in the first place.

    Begin by asking all those developers who paid for a full page C-H ad vilifying the Heritage Trust and its execs (pensioners in the main) who were made individually responsible in a ‘slap suit’ action by Ramia et al. which was only avoided by corporate liability insurance held by the Trust.

  2. It shouldn’t be too hard for the Province to re-jig its Provincial Interest Statement on the Nova Centre. Provincial Interest Statements give guidance to municipalities on important things like water quality, housing, protecting agricultural land and… apparently… white elephants.

  3. It occurs to me that for the duration of the COVID-19 slowdown in conventions and conferences, schools and universities will need large places for socially distanced classes. Places with chairs, tables, projectors, parking, on transit lines…

  4. the Sutton Place in Vancouver permanently laid off their sales staff, and a bunch of other folks.
    i doubt they are in a financial position to finish the Nova Center hotel, or the Sandman in Dartmouth.

  5. Escalating Commitment to a failing course of action is a basic human reaction that has been studied and taught in management schools for eons.

    We might take this moment to hold a public contest to invite creativity, suggestions, proposals, ideas for an alternate use of the convention centre. Once its narrowed down, we should hold a proper vote.

    We are all stuck paying for this. Its time we all had a say in what happens to it.

    We can’t change the past, but we can accept where we are and make the best of what we now have.

  6. By the middle of the decade, Starlink is likely to provide sort-of-affordable high speed satellite-based internet to everywhere between 60 deg north and south making remote work possible anywhere. The cult of Elon Musk is generally pretty dumb, but if he can get me high speed internet to the middle of nowhere, a pay cut and remote work – beam me up, rocket jesus.

  7. So here is a suggestion: Since Nova Scotia wants a new art gallery, why not take over the Nova Centre und use that instead? Way better than the moronic decision to dump $200 million into putting a brand new publicly paid for building in the worst possible place on the waterfront to watch it flooded repeatedly over the next 50 years.

    1. “The responsible approach now would be to think about how to re-purpose the convention centre. We’re paying for the space anyway, so maybe it could be used for something more worthy than a vacant monument to wishful thinking.” I totally agree, and second the suggestion to use it for an art gallery, an arts centre, or even convert some of it into co-housing.

    2. Yay, Dartmouth Oldie…I was literally thinking the same thought when reading the article about the empty Convention Centre and hotel. The original World Trade Centre was/is plenty big enough,