News

1. Living Wage

Back in February, Halifax council directed city staff to prepare a report:

that addresses options for scoring of Local preference, social economic benefit, employee compensation/living wage, and environmental impact when evaluating proposals, and recommend any supporting amendments to the procurement policy as a result.

That report, written by Senior Procurement Consultant Erin MacDonald and signed off on by CAO Jacques Dubé, will be presented to council tomorrow.

The short of it is that MacDonald suggests council kick the can down the road a piece by:

direct[ing] staff to create a cross departmental working group to engage external stakeholders, conduct further investigation and recommend with respect to whether or not to adopt a policy framework for the consideration of social economic benefit, employee compensation/living wage and environmental impacts in the procurement process (excluding local preference) and report back to Council.

The “local preference” and environmental impact issues are separate from the living wage issue and worthy of discussion, but I’ll only address the living wage part of the motion here.

MacDonald does not say how long it will take the “working group” to develop the framework, but however long it is, it’s too long. Nearly every meeting, council approves the contracting out of municipal services, and many of those contracts are awarded to companies that pay poverty wages. Last month, for instance, a tender offer for a three-year contract for landscaping services at the Sackville Sports Stadium was won by Edmonds Landscape & Construction Services at a price of $27,300. The whole point of contracting out the service was to avoid paying city wages that start at around $20/hour for outdoor workers, and at $27,300 over three years, it’s unlikely Edmonds is paying its workers anything close to that.

What’s MacDonald’s problem with a living wage ordinance? She gets her info from… the right-wing Fraser Institute:

Where a Living Wage policy was applied, contractors may have been willing to absorb some costs because the costs are partially offset by savings from reduced turnover and higher productivity among workers whose wages rose because of the Living Wage requirements. However, according to the Fraser Institute, evidence in the United States has shown that Living Wage policies have actually led to fewer job opportunities for less-skilled workers and generally have not helped pull the poorest families out of poverty. There is also the potential for Living Wage policies to inflate municipal budgets through higher costs for public services which has impacted the efficiency levels of public governments.

Of course, Andrew Jackson of the left-wing Broadbent Institute, which was not consulted for MacDonald’s report, says just the opposite, and as Press Progress comments:

Jackson also notes that the “best economic evidence seems to show that modest minimum-wage increases have very limited macroeconomic impacts in terms of overall growth and employment. They can, however, have positive impacts for both workers and their employers in low-wage sectors of the economy.”

You can be sure the free-market Fraser Institute is against increasing the minimum wage. But then again, the conservative think tank also says a couple in British Columbia with two children ages 10 and 12 can live on $25,377 annually. 

Saying this figure was “rigorously estimated,” the Fraser Institute calls that a “basic needs level of income.”

I had a similarly themed argument with an American friend the other day about Uber, the “ride-sharing” app. Among many other issues with the app, I pointed out that it undercuts already low wages for taxi drivers. “But there are a lot of poor people who supplement their income with Uber,” replied my friend.

The logic, which echoes the Fraser Institute’s argument about living wage policies, is that if we lower wages enough, then poor people will be helped, not harmed, because everyone will be able to find work — maybe seven or eight part-time jobs to “help make ends meet.” Or, as I like to say, if only everyone were paid less, we’d all be rich.

Paying people decently and alleviating poverty are two separate but connected public policy goals. We’re a rich country; we can afford to do both. Especially as the richest of the rich are sitting on unprecedented hoards of cash and wealth, and as the system is gamed to give them even more wealth at the expense of the lowly worker.

Beyond all that, there’s the matter of simple human decency. We should pay people enough that a full day’s work is enough to adequately provide for oneself and one’s family — and especially so when councillors themselves are paid more than $82,000 annually and there are over 600 city employees, mostly managers and execs, getting paid more than $100,000 annually. We speak a lot about inequality in our society, and one of the best examples is in city government.

In her report, MacDonald gave council only one alternative to kicking the whole thing down the road: to order the working group to also consider the local preference option.

But councillors have another alternative, even if it’s not in the report: simply order staff to include a living wage component to all tender offers, and amend pay scales so that the city pays its own employees a living wage as well. (This last part was left out of the report, but there are still city workers, life guards, for example, who are making around $12/hour.)

2. Nadia Gonzales

Nadia Gonzales. Photo: GoFundMe

A police release from yesterday:

The suspicious death that occurred Friday evening in Dartmouth has been ruled a homicide and charges have been laid.

At 7:42 pm June 16, Halifax Regional Police, including the Patrol, K-9, Emergency Response and Quick Response Units, responded to the 0-100 block of Hastings Drive in Dartmouth‎ for an assault in progress.

Upon arrival, officers discovered an injured man outside a residential building. He was transported to the Dartmouth General Hospital by EHS with what appeared to be life-threatening injuries. Officers also located an unresponsive woman inside a building. EHS attended and pronounced the woman deceased. Police don’t believe this to be a random act.

Based on yesterday’s autopsy, the Medical Examiner has ruled the death a homicide and identified the victim as 35-year-old Nadia Gonzales of Dartmouth. Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this difficult time.

Through the course of the investigation, four men and a woman were taken into custody. On June 17 at approximately 9 p.m., the Major Crime Unit of the Integrated Criminal Investigation Division released three men from custody without charge. Charges have been laid against the other two individuals.

Twenty-three-year-old Calvin Maynard Sparks of Dartmouth has been charged with one count each of first degree murder, attempted murder, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose and breach of probation.

Nineteen-year-old Samanda Rose Ritch of Halifax has been charged with one count each of first degree murder, attempted murder, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose and breach of recognizance.

The investigation, led by the Homicide Unit of the Integrated Criminal Investigation Division and including Forensic Identification officers, is ongoing and we remain on scene. At this time, we anticipate being on scene throughout the day.

Sparks and Ritch are scheduled to appear in Dartmouth Provincial Court this morning.

A Go Fund Me page has been established to help care for Gonzales’s daughters.

This morning, police report an attempted murder in Mulgrave Park last night:

At 2321 hours Police responded to reported multiple gun shots in the area of Duffus St. and Jarvis Lane. Upon arrival Police spoke to the owner of the residence who reported that their home was shot into. Gun shots had entered the lower level bedroom of the home where two individuals were. The family dog also in the bedroom was injured by a bullet, a graze to the neck area.  The Suspect was seen running north from the area, vague description of a male dressed in black. K9 along with other Police units checked the areas but the Suspect was not located.  This incident will be investigated by Integrated General Investigated Section.

There is no suggestion that the recent murders of Chelsie Probert and Nadia Gonzales in Dartmouth and last night’s attempted murder are related.

3. Sandeson guilty

“Halifax medical student William Sandeson has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of 22-year-old Taylor Samson,” reports Aly Thomson for the Canadian Press:

In her closing arguments, Crown attorney Kim McOnie suggested Sandeson lured Samson to his apartment and shot him in the back of the head at his kitchen table during the drug deal as part of a scheme to alleviate his debt.

McOnie had argued Sandeson — who was slated to start medical school at Dalhousie within a week of his arrest — was motivated by money, noting he was in debt and that police only recovered roughly $7,200 cash.

[…]

Defence lawyer Eugene Tan said in his closing arguments that Sandeson is not a “criminal mastermind” and that the Crown twisted evidence in the case to fit its theory.

Tan had conceded there was a “violent incident” at the apartment that night, but said Sandeson maintains there was a third party at the apartment.

I only attended one day of the trial, so take this with a grain of salt, but when I read about the “not a ‘criminal mastermind’” line during the defence’s closing argument, my thought was that the defence was shooting for a lesser conviction, hoping the jury would convict Sandeson for second degree murder or manslaughter. If so, that strategy failed… oh, here’s the problem:

Defence lawyer Eugene Tan said Sandeson had asked his family not to be in the courtroom when the verdict came down.

Tan, who has described himself as Sandeson’s former coach and family friend, said he was disappointed by trial’s outcome both on a personal and professional level.

Regardless, given the mountain of evidence presented in the trial over nine weeks, it wasn’t unreasonable or unusual for the jury to take four days to reach a decision.

4. Still no charges against Nova Scotia Power for massive fish kill

Dead gaspereau along the side of the Gaspereau River. Photo: Darren Porter

“Three weeks after fishermen reported a massive fish kill of gaspereau along the Gaspereau River near Wolfville,” reports Jennifer Henderson, “the Department of Fisheries and Oceans still has little to say about either the estimated size of the kill or whether charges will be laid against Nova Scotia Power under the federal Fisheries Act.”

“Tens of thousands” of fish died along the river because the utility increased the flow through the White Rock hydro station for the Rubber Duck Race.

Click here to read “DFO hasn’t decided whether to charge Nova Scotia Power for massive fish kill.”

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5. Examineradio, episode #116

Three years ago, then-Liberal Director of Communications Kyley Harris pleaded guilty to domestic assault and was dismissed from his role. Not for the assault itself, but for not mentioning the charges to his boss, Premier Stephen McNeil.

As the 2017 election approached, communiqués from the Liberal Party once again featured Harris’s name in his old role. People were surprised, but perhaps none more so than the woman he had abused, his former partner and Liberal staffer Michelle Coffin.

After three years of silence, Coffin has come forward to reclaim her story. In a remarkable article in The Coast, Coffin tells journalist Maggie Rahr how she received cold shoulders from members of her own party, and how the Liberals insisted that they consulted womens’ groups from across the province who agreed unanimously that Harris should be rehired.

We speak to Rahr about the story on this week’s episode.

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6. Legal weed and dishonest stats about impaired driving

People shouldn’t drive while impaired, period. We shouldn’t drive while drunk, stoned, exhausted, or emotionally distressed, because that’s a recipe for killing other people.

You’ll get no argument from me about that.

But today, a Halifax cop named Chad Morrison — he’s the Provincial Drug Recognition Evaluation (DRE) Coordinator — is making a presentation to the police commission about “the impact of the legalization of cannabis” on police services.

Morrison is basically asking for more money to train more cops in DRE and the associated Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. He argues that the evil legal weed is about to descend on us and people will be driving stoned all over the place, so we’ll need more cops to stop more drivers and drug test them.

There may be a need for more DRE-trained cops, but Morrison’s stats are dishonest. The graphic below, from a slide in his presentation, purports to document an increase in marijuana-intoxicated drivers since weed was legalized in the U.S. states of Washington and Colorado.

The problem with the slide is that it doesn’t define what “involved in” or “marijuana-related” mean. Someone with no knowledge of marijuana testing could look at the slide and think, “hey, the stats show that people get high on weed and then drive and cause fatal crashes.”

But the stats show no such thing. The slide doesn’t acknowledge the fact that evidence of pot use stays in the body for two weeks or more, so saying that a crash was “marijuana-related” is a stretch.

The driver could have last smoked pot two weeks ago, and then drank a bottle of whiskey an hour before driving and crashing. In such a scenario, Morrison would say that the crash was “marijuana-related.” That’s nonsense.

In a post headlined “Rocky Mountain Reefer Madness,” the fact-checking website Snopes investigated the claim that “marijuana legalization has led to an increase in crime and fatalities all over Colorado” and found it “unproven”:

On 18 October 2016, the Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana (CALM) political action committee published a letter from Denver District Attorney Mitchell Morrissey claiming that the drug has fueled a crime increase around Colorado.

[…]

Morrissey opens his argument by citing statistics taken from a September 2016 report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Traffic Area (HIDTA), part of a federal program coordinating anti-drug efforts among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

Morrissey’s letter stated that — according to the HIDTA report — after recreational marijuana use was legalized in Colorado in 2013, “traffic related marijuana deaths” went up by 48 percent while “marijuana related emergency room visits” increased by 49 percent.

But the report lists qualifiers that are not mentioned in the letter:

Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID): DUID could include alcohol in combination with drugs. This is an important measurement since the driver’s ability to operate a vehicle was sufficiently impaired that it brought his or her driving to the attention of law enforcement. Not only the erratic driving but the subsequent evidence that the subject was under the influence of marijuana helps confirm the causation factor.

Marijuana Related: Also called “marijuana mentions,” is any time marijuana shows up in the toxicology report. It could be marijuana only or marijuana with other drugs and/or alcohol.

Marijuana Only: When toxicology results show marijuana and no other drugs or alcohol.

It also states:

This report will cite datasets with terms such as “marijuana related” or “tested positive for marijuana.” That does not necessarily prove that marijuana was the cause of the incident.

The report goes on to say that 105 out of 871 state motorists involved in fatal crashes in 2015 tested positive for marijuana, accounting for 12 percent. Of those 105 drivers, 33 percent only had marijuana in their system. Another 30 percent tested positive for both alcohol and marijuana, though the study did not mention the proportion of that mixture. HIDTA did not identify motorists who only had alcohol in their systems at the time of their collisions.

My cursory look at the claimed stats for Washington State show the same types of problems.

As I understand it, DRE testing that’s in development, involving blood tests, may give a better but still imperfect indication of being impaired by marijuana because the THC level in the blood can be measured — it’s very roughly similar to a blood test for alcohol. In his presentation, Morrison says Bill C-46 will establish that two to five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood within two hours of driving would result in a summary conviction criminal offence” and that more than five ng or 2.5 ng combined with a .05 blood alcohol content would result in penalties that are similar to current impaired driving statutes.

But the value of so-called “per se” blood level limits on THC are highly contested, with pot advocates generally finding them problematic while prohibitionists and cops generally finding them alluring. People like hard numbers and percentages, but the hard numbers and percentages behind the logic of per se limits may not reflect what actually being “impaired” is for any one person.

I would be more sympathetic to Morrison’s argument for more DRE training if it wasn’t couched in dishonest figures about “marijuana-related” crashes and fatalities.


Views

1. Stephen McNeil’s victory

Stephen McNeil. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Stephen Kimber writes:

Nova Scotians, Stephen McNeil said, were “loud and clear they appreciated our handling of making sure we live within our means.” Reading the electoral tea leaves with all the self-serving wisdom of a Donald Trump tweet, McNeil added: “I believe the election was a referendum on that.” Oh dear…

Click here to read “Stephen McNeil’s 20 per cent electoral victory: it was a referendum on…?”

This article is behind the Examiner’s paywall and so available only to paid subscribers. Click here to purchase a subscription.


Government

City

Monday

Police Commission (12:30pm, City Hall) — see News item #5 above.

Accessibility Committee (4pm, City Hall) — no reports are attached to the agenda.

Tuesday

City Council (10am, City Hall) — besides the Living Wage issue (News #1, above), council will be discussing indoor ice services and a temporary stadium on the Wanderers Grounds.

Province

No public meetings.


On campus

Dalhousie

Monday

Ajahn Brahm caught a really big fish.

Ajahn Brahm (2pm, Potter Auditorium, Rowe Building) — Ajahn Brahm, who is a British / Australian Buddhist monk, is speaking on “The Noble Eight-Fold Path to a Happy Life.” Buddy Buddhist has a bunch of YouTube vids with titles like “Learn to be at peace with yourself,” “How not to have any stress,” and “How to resolve conflicts,” evidently with the aim of destroying Canada’s legal recreational cannabis industry before it even begins. For myself, considering the state of the planet, a little internal and external stress and conflict is not only understandable, but desired.

Tuesday

No public events


In the harbour

Atlantic Huron. Photo: Halifax Examiner

0:30am: Atlantic Huron, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from Sydney

Atlantic Conveyor. Photo: Halifax Examiner

6:15am: Atlantic Conveyor, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
6:30am: Argentia Desgagnes, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 9 from Tuzla, Portugal
7:15am: YM Essence, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Norfolk
7:45am: Maasdam, cruise ship with up to 1,510 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Bar Harbor
8:30: Navig8 Excelsior, oil tanker, arrives at anchorage for inspection from Sikka, India

East Coast. Photo: Halifax Examiner

9am: East Coast, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
9:30am: Wylde Swan, sailing ship, sails from Tall Ships Quay for sea
10:15am: HNLMS Zeeleeuw, Netherlands submarine, arrives at the Dockyard; it strikes me as odd that a nation whose entire history can be summarized as “Let’s get out from under the water!” would have a boat that purposefully goes under water
2pm: HNLMS Zeeleeuw, Netherlands submarine, sails back to sea
3:30pm: Viking Queen, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
4pm: Atlantic Conveyor, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Liverpool, England
5:45pm: Maasdam, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Sydney


Footnotes

I’m on my way back to Halifax, so again out of commission, at least until mid-afternoon.

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. So is the Fraser Institute also advocating for a $4.51 minimum wage, as According to the Fraser Institute minimum for a family of 4 of $25,377 -that’s what it would work out to when taking into accounting government money as well. Child benefit of $200 a month per child is $4800 a year. Gst rebates of $300 3 times a year X 2 adults is $1800 a year and then working full time 40 hours a week for 52 weeks X 2 adults rounds out to $4.51 an hour. So I guess people are doing pretty well here in NS – minimum wage is more than double that ha.

  2. 1. The Fraser institute is not a valid reference for any policy making.

    2. As NSPI opened their gates for that charity rubber ducky race, the solution is simple, charge the rubber duckies. I’ve heard they’re the one.

    3. This fearmongering on behalf of those who still believe in Reefer Madness puzzles me. Will legalization actually increase the use? More than now? How is that possible? Anyone who wants to use that naturally occurring drug can get it as easily as that other one made by yeast. Easier, actually as I understand it’s now easily available by mail order to your door. So are they saying that legalization will cause more people to drive when stoned than do now?

    So legal dope causes you to drive stoned but illegal dope doesn’t? Is that what they mean?

    I told you I was confused.

  3. This consultant and council relied on the Frasier Institute’s work!!!! When there’s a recent study examining over 7 decades of minimum wage data in the US showing that increases actually lead to job growth ESPECIALLY in sectors with large concentrations of low wage workers (retail, hospitality etc, see Sonn & Lathrop 2016, National Employment Law Project). In addition to dozens of other empirical studies showing living wage does not hurt economic growth or workers.

    I am blown away at the level of what is either incompetence or corruption, but probably both. Halifax does this at its own peril

  4. If HRM Council wished to ensure that contractors paid their workers a decent minimum wage, they could stipulate what the minimum wage was in every contract they put to tender. Just because it has never been done that way does not mean that it cannot be done. One either supports fair wage practices or one does not… to my way of thinking, all levels of government should support fair wage practices and this could easily be done through various legislative policies. There needs to be a clear delineation between full time employment and a part time transitional job… but all jobs should pay a decent minimum wage… part timers have to live also, eh?

  5. The Fraser Institute, that bastion of intellectualism and critical thinking that suggested that it only cost three thousand ($3,000) dollars to raise a child per year.

  6. “asking for more money to train more cops in DRE and the associated Standardized Field Sobriety Tests”

    FYI DRE is and has always been a medical abbreviation for Digital Rectal Examination. This should make things interesting…

  7. Public service ain’t what it used to be.

    There was a time when public servants had an investment in their work and their community. Citizens deserved good service and good services. Dedicated public servants provided them as a public trust and a proud career.

    The corporate, neo liberal model now pervades government bureaucracies everywhere. Now we have councillors as corporate board members and contractors who do work on a transactional basis with no moral connection to their responsibilities to the community they do work for.

    As Trump would say: Sad!

  8. Every few months I receive an email from senior HRM staff saying they intend to continue using outside contractors for x contract. The latest email I received was for a bunch of cleaning contracts for HRM buildings. HRM decided to continue to use outside contractors to clean these buildings because it is much cheaper to pay someone $10.85 an hour to clean our municipally owned buildings, like out fire stations are rec centres and our Ice rinks, then to use city workers who are paid a living wage with benefits. Things like vacation, because god forbid a workers have the ability to take their kid to a dance recital.

    At tomorrow’s council meeting, staff will also be voting on the first ever Consolidated mega snow and ice contract, which means one contractor for a whole geographic region that will remove snow from all streets, sidewalks, pathways, walkways, steps, bus stops, etc.. and low and behold they are awarding the contract to Dexters Construction. Lower paid workers who must work 110 hours in a 2 week period just to qualify for overtime while receiving inferior benefits and inadequate retirement savings.

    This is what happens when you only focus on the service provided and not the humans providing the service.

  9. Looks like the city staff found its report on living wages right off the internet without looking any further. The Fraser Institute, whose reports have shown to be without any research methodology, but just doing compilations of ideological bits and pieces, including snippets of TV documentaries? What about doing some real research on this important issue?

  10. Three unrelated comments on the coming plague of weed-related atrocities:

    Any time someone refers to something three different ways (marihuana, THC, marijuana) on the same slide, I assume copy-paste without citation. Can’t be arsed checking, just saying.

    I wonder if some of those increases are due to increased testing. The fact that X% of drivers tested positive in one year and Y% the next is only meaningful if you test the same number of drivers each year.

    Finally, the reason people tend to believe those stats is they make sense intuitively: increase access to a thing, people are more likely to make bad life decisions about that thing. So I don’t think anyone is saying there’s not a risk of an increase in intoxicated driving, but I feel like everyone I read on the subject is either exaggerating or downplaying that risk. Oh, facts. I miss you when you’re not around.

  11. The bulk of the cities $100,000 club members are police and fire overtime. In the case of fire, overtime is at straight rate. The remainder of the list are managers, however suggesting that the 600 people on the list are all managers is disingenuous.