News

1. Harrietsfield water

There’s a long and complicated history to a water contamination issue in Harrietsfield, which reporter Brett Brundale relays here. This is a good example of why the ownership of companies should be public record. I can’t think of any reason why someone should be able to operate a business that is regulated by the province and hide behind a numbered corporation.

2. Fisher wins Liberal nomination

Halifax councillor Darren Fisher has won the nomination to run as the Liberal candidate for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour in the next federal election. Fisher has distinguished himself at Halifax council by hardly talking at all. The only clear opinion I can remember him expressing over the past eight years was his support for a stadium, yawn. Outside of that, nothing. Fisher is the Truman Show without the deception, Ward Cleaver without Barbara Billingsly. I think that’s Fisher’s appeal. For some people, expressing nothing at all is better than saying something that somebody, anybody, might disagree with. I guess there’s a different view of politics that holds we’re all supposed to get along, and we do so by holding hands and saying nothing, lest someone objects. Regardless, if he wins the election and ends up at Parliament Hill, Fisher will be eaten alive.

3. SMU billboard

Saint Mary’s University’s recruiting department has placed a billboard on Welton Street, which is the road that leads from Sydney to Cape Breton University. The billboard reads: “The right future is worth the drive to Halifax.” Lots of Cape Bretoners find the sign insulting, but it’s just how the game is played, CBU prez David Wheeler told the Chronicle Herald.

4. Council

Halifax council sits tomorrow. I’ll have a council preview posted later today; check the homepage.


Views

1. Gordie Gosse

Parker Donham draws our attention to “Sydney-Whitney Pier MLA Gordie Gosse’s impromptu speech to the legislature imploring fellow lawmakers to listen to the health care workers protesting outside.” And here it is:

2. Where is Leo Glavine?

The health minister is MIA, says Stephen Kimber.

3. Woo-woo Express

Tim Merry has published his latest video, “Social Labs versus Scenario Planning.” He uses every conceivable buzz word to basically call “50 percent of Nova Scotians,” well, dumb. I first watched the video Sunday night and thought it was insulting, but re-watching it this morning I find myself simply laughing. A partial transcript:

The Social Lab is very specifically built to provide infrastructure for people who are trying to lead change or get change done. And so it’s a lot about here’s the infrastructure that connects, supports, accelerates, amplifies people who are leading change and allows you to then have a container within which you can develop data that allows you to articulate clearly what supports people actually getting change done and what are the big gaps that need to be filled. So that’s brilliant.

Who the hell talks like this?

4. This round of killing people is illegal

Peter McKenna, a political scientist at the University of Prince Edward Island, quite correctly points out that our latest round of killing-from-above violates international and domestic US and Canadian law. I get that dropping bombs on people feels good and we always justify cold-blooded murder on humanitarian terms, but we’ve usually at least tried to cover the indecency with the fig leaf of legality. Not this time. This should worry us not just because we should, ya know, follow the law, but also because it might give other countries ideas. McKenna:

More importantly, do we really want other countries (Russia and China) to invoke this same flimsy international legal justification for their future military interventions? Surely the last thing that the world needs is for states to believe that they can bomb other countries simply because they can. That would be a highly dangerous legal precedent itself to establish in global politics.


Government

City

Grants Committee (1pm, City Hall)—Bruce Fisher, councillor Darren Fisher’s cousin and the tax guru in the Finance Department, has authored a proposal to rationalize tax relief for non-profits. With amalgamation, HRM inherited different taxing regimes from its pre-amalgamation parts, and since then there has been no single approach to granting tax relief to non-profits after amalgamation. I’ve watched council grant such relief on-the-fly, repeatedly, giving partial reductions of property taxes to some non-profits, total reductions to others, depending on whatever crisis is facing whichever organization right at that very moment. It’s no surprise we’re left with a hodgepodge of reasoning and, more to the point, actual dollar amounts for tax reduction. So instituting some sort of coherent policy makes sense.

Problem is, rationalization is fraught with politics. Fisher was the rational mind behind the disastrous proposal for “tax reform” some years ago. Fisher’s proposal—sure, it was drawn together by a committee, but Fisher was the driving force—was as rational as they come, meaning it completely missed the humanity behind the numbers. In practical terms it meant that owners of high-end properties would see their taxes slashed, with the difference made up by owners of more modestly priced properties paying more in taxes. And this result was not just a matter of shifting taxes off the highly valued peninsula (which it did), but also shifting the tax burden within communities: owners of oceanside mansions in Purcells Cove would pay less in taxes, while owners of Spryfield starter homes would pay more; taxes on million dollar-plus McMansions in Kingswood would be slashed, while taxes on century-old homes assessed at less than $100,000 in the historic Black Loyalist community of Upper Hammonds Plains would double and in some cases triple; and so on. Fortunately, once that reality was understood, the “tax reform” proposal was ditched.

I don’t think Fisher is a bad guy, and he’s identified a real issue that may (or may not!) need addressing. A rational mind like Fisher’s looks at the situation—non-profit X gets a bit of relief, but non-profit Y gets lots more relief—and thinks, “this isn’t fair” and tries to rationalize it. Looking over Fisher’s PowerPoint presentation to the committee, I don’t think there’s any inherent unfairness in it, but there are a hundred or so human stories behind the proposal that don’t come across in the slides.

The short of Fisher’s proposal, if implemented, is this: total tax collection from non-profits will go down slightly, and most individual agencies will end paying less in taxes. But other non-profits will pay more in taxes, and some cases, a lot more. Particularly hard hit will be non-profits in the “Arts, culture & heritage” category, which will see their annual taxes on average go from $0 to $5,736. To Fisher’s credit, he proposes that the worst of the increases be phased in over nine years, but that’s still going to concern an awful lot of people.

It’s probably true that council’s on-the-fly approach to tax relief wasn’t the best way to deal with this. I’m thinking, however, that complete rationalization is equally flawed. What’s needed is some middle ground, with human intervention and judgment. And that means a political process.

Public information meeting (7pm, Sackville Heights Community Centre)—W.M. Fares Group is proposing a four-storey building with 51 apartments at the corner of Stokil Drive and Beaver Bank Road. Here’s a pretty picture of it, without the broken down cars and empty pizza boxes blowing around the parking lot:

Province

House sits (7pm, Province House)


On Campus

Dalhousie

Note: several readers have asked me to post events a day ahead of time so they’ll have time to plan to attend. We’ll see if I can stay ahead of this…

Today

“Coevolution of Texts and Technology” (today, 11:25am, Rowe Management Building 3089)—Cheryl Geisler from Simon Fraser University will talk on, well, the coevolution of texts and technology.

Thesis defence, Biology (today, 2pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building)—PhD candidate Sridhar Ravichandran will defend his thesis, “An Arabidopsis Purple Acid Phosphatase 5 (pap5) is Essential for Maintaining Basal Resistance Against Pseudomonas Syringae.” Yep, that.

Mental Health Awareness Week (today, 6pm, LeMarchant Place)—a panel discussion. I have no idea who will be on the panel or what they’ll be talking about. Probably something about mental health.

Tuesday

“Regeneration in the Central Nervous System: A retrospective” (Tuesday, 11:30am, Life Sciences Centre 332)—Albert Aguayo, an Honorary Degree Recipient from McGill University, will be lecturing.

Parking the Common: Documentation of Phylum Paveia (Tuesday, 5pm-7pm, Lobby monitors, Faculty of Architecture and Planning, 5410 Spring Garden Road)—This is the opening of a photography exhibit by Peggy Cameron and Kathleen Flanagan. For the irony impaired, “Phylum Paveia” means “parking lot,” and the exhibit will show “the creeping disappearance of the Halifax Common.” Say the artists:

Ecological examination reveals P.Paveia colonizes territory replacing endangered natives such as Lawnis tranquilis, Gardenia publica and Serenis communis.  Identified Paveias include Genera Bituminus (asphalt), Lapillius (gravel) and Cementus (cement) and species civitis (city), ecclesiais (church), hospitalis (hospital), imperium canadis (federal government), imperium nova scotis (provincial government), privatis (private), scholis (school), and universitis (university).  This study raises doubt about notions of improvement historically rooted in imperialist ideology that, unless mitigated, will result in further colonization.

The exhibit runs through the end of the month.

In Whose Backyard? Organizing Against Environmental Racism in Nova Scotia (Tuesday, 5:30pm, McInnis Room, Student Union Building)—”The event will bring together community leaders, community-based agencies, students, policymakers, academics and media to discuss and strategize against environmental racism in Nova Scotia.” More info here.


Noticed

I somehow had missed HALIfolks, a website produced by Jack Scrine and Katie Thomas and inspired by Humans of New York, a site collecting photos of ordinary people and short clips of conversations with them. It’d be very easy to get this horribly wrong—I would never attempt it—but I’m happy to report that Scrine and Thomas have hit the right note. Here’s their mini-profile of Willie, the north end denizen:

Photo: HALIfolks

“I’ve been here about 30 years; in prison most of my life. I’ve been out a long time though.”

Tell me something about life.

“Life? It’s great, if you can stay out of trouble.”

Have you been staying out of trouble lately?

“I’ve been trying to!”


In the harbour

The seas around Nova Scotia, 6:20am Monday. Map: marinetraffic.com

(click on vessel names for pictures and more information about the ships)

Arrivals

Arcadia, cruise ship, Bar Harbor to Pier 31
Norwegian Gem, cruise ship, New York to Pier 22
Legend of the Seas, cruise ship, Sydney to Pier 20
Atlantic Conveyor, con-ro, New York to Fairview Cove west

Departures

USCGC Spencer to sea
Norwegian Gem to Saint John
Legend of the Seas to St. John’s

Of Note

In our periodic look at cruise ships, we’ve discussed people overboard, unsanitary conditions, outbreaks of norovirus, child rape, adult rape, murder, human smuggling, child porn, and disappeared passengers. In that mix, the people who work on the ships have been overlooked.

The cruise ship industry pays its workers shit wages. Carnival Cruise Lines, which operates about half the cruise ships on the planet, hires its crews through Fleet Maritime Service International, a company based in Bermuda, which allows Carnival to avoid first world labour regulations and taxes. Maritime, in turn, hires people from countries like The Philippines and India, where it can find English speaking workers who will work for low wages. But the wages weren’t low enough, evidently, so in 2012 Carnival took drastic action. In May of that year in a post titled “Profits Over People: Carnival’s Exploitation of Crew Members is Standard Industry Practice,” lawyer Jim Walker wrote:

A dozen newspapers in the U.K. have reported on P&O Cruises’ decision to pay its crewmembers a basic salary of 75 pence an hour (around $1.20 an hour) which turns out to be approximately $400 a month. Cash tips are being phased out with automatic gratuities being added to the passengers’ bills. But rather than forwarding the passengers tips to the crew, the cruise line has threatened to withhold tips if the crewmember’s rating falls below 92 percent.

[…]

Some passengers reported that many of the crewmembers on a P&O cruise ship, mostly Indians, were at the point of tears upon hearing the news.

Two months later, reports the Guardian, crew members on the Arcadia (which is in Halifax today) held a protest:

With the Arcadia in port in Seattle, about 150 of the lowest paid decided to protest. Before that evening’s meal, the waiters gathered on the dockside.

The demonstration inconvenienced some passengers, who had to wait for their usual table at the Arcadia’s Meridian restaurant or dine earlier at the ship’s Belvedere food court. Fewer than usual made it to the cabaret that night. But as one passenger blogged, the overall atmosphere was good.

Before the 90 minutes were up, the good-humoured protest was over. The ship’s British captain, Kevin Oprey, had spoken to the Southampton head office to relay the restaurant staff’s concerns. The waiters then returned to work, labouring late into the night, and were assured there would be no recriminations or sanctions.

While most on board assumed the matter had been amicably laid to rest, a different decision was being taken in the head offices of P&O’s owner, Carnival. This protest could not, directors decided, be tolerated – no matter what assurances the captain had given the crew.

The crew completed their contracts – typically six to nine months at sea, at least 14 hours’ work a day, every day – and returned to their homes and families in India, expecting to get the call as usual to rejoin the ship.

But, you guessed it: the protesting waiters were fired and blackballed from working on any Carnival ship in the future.


Footnotes

Like pilots, Halifax bus drivers will soon have simulators, so they can learn how to drive without crashing and killing their passengers.

Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. While I’m happy to see Fisher leaving municipal politics, I wish he had gone NDP so I wouldn’t feel bad if he lost. (I still won’t. Just don’t want any other getting the seat)

    I can’t think of one thing he’s ever done I agreed with, and the one municipal issue I had while living in his district got empty promises for two years. I ended up just moving.

    On the bright side, maybe he can build a stadium with federal money now!

  2. So 50% of Nova Scotians want change and 50% are wrong? So some from the first group need to build infrastructure to get the second group to conform to the thinking of the first?

    No wonder it is engineering terminology that is being used.

  3. Tim I’m wondering why you identify Brian Fisher as being Darren Fisher’s cousin? How is it relevant?

    1. Bruce Fisher. Two Fishers in the same post. It’s common journalistic practice in such circumstances to say if they’re related or not.

  4. Thanks for posting that moving speech by Gordie Gosse. It’s refreshing to hear someone defending unions.

    While I agree that MLAs should listen to the health workers, I’m glad that McNeil didn’t pretend to. It might have been a good PR move, but it’s clear he and his Liberal colleagues had no intention of allowing the workers to vote on which union would represent them.

    As a recent cancer patient, Gosse’s heartfelt tribute to the health workers who looked after him, rings true. It’s not going to happen, but the Liberals need to start thinking more broadly about health care instead of simply focussing on money. From a “population health” perspective, there’s ample evidence that rising costs are a symptom of deeper problems within the system.

  5. With regard to the social-labs thing. That is definitely bubble talk, and by bubble talk I mean people that talk about something together in their own bubble for so long that they repeat phrases verbatim. The http://social-labs.org/ link that is linked to is an org site curated and funded by a corporation.

    I’ve never heard of social labs before, but on first glance this reeks of a corporate agenda parceled with social empowerment. Some sort of abominated mutation of the one man social media guru.

    The 50% against vibe he’s feeling is probably a propensity and aversion Nova Scotians have for BS.

    1. I agree. The use of big words and many fancy words is an attempt to make the users seem smart, for the sake of smart. Meanwhile those of us who dislike such obvious horseshit may be blamed for continuing the “culture of defeat”.

      Confession: I started reading the Tao of Pooh and there is much to admire about the Pooh’s simpleminded (which is not synonymous with stupid) approach to life. Oh bother.

  6. Tim, I’ve been on the Grants Committee for two and a half years now, and I have to disagree with your take on our work towards making a coherent, rational non-profit tax relief program.

    As a committee, we recognized the need to make the system equitable and understandable for all the groups involved.

    We are very conscious that non-profits do a lot for our city with very little. As Councillor Hendsbee keeps reminding us, tax relief to non-profits is not lost revenue, but an opportunity cost!

    Stay tuned for what we come up with. There will be growing pains, as there always is with change, but I believe that this really is about fixing a needlessly complex program that is unfair to some into something that is transparent and workable.

    1. A not insignificant issue, I think, with the grants committee being, well, a committee is that the process is, however slightly, political and intimidating.

      I’ve not ever been involved in a group that owns real property (and thus, subject to property tax), but was with a Society that got a power bill. Getting the discounted (== residential rate) was as simple as a single email, possibly a fax, to an anonymous clerk at NSP. (I’m confident that the delta in revenue is so insignificant to them, and the risk of a URB hearing so painful, that they scrutinize things not at all beyond “is a registered society?”)

      I can’t imagine any of the idiots now involved in that group having the ability to send an email to NSP, let alone the ability, or drive to do go to a public hearing.

      HRM should have very simple and bureaucratically executed policies. Which could be as simple as:

      For all property tax relief, up to $10,000 annual:

      – Is a CRA Registered Charity? (100% discount)
      – Is a NS RoJS Non-Profit Co-Op? (50% discount)
      – Is a NS RoJS Society? (50% discount)