News
Views
Government
On campus
Noticed
In the harbour
Footnotes


News

1. Yarmouth ferry

The total tax-funded subsidy for the Yarmouth ferry has risen to $28.5 million.

The new numbers were released Sunday after a colossal goof in government offices. Last week, the province released an audit of the $21 million the former NDP government had committed to the ferry. That money was intended to last seven years, but ferry operator Nova Star ran through it all in just one year. The audit, produced by accounting firm KPMG, looked at Nova Star’s total start-up and operating costs (including from private funds), and found that the money was mostly accounted for correctly—there was no paper work for $79,265 in expenses, but I guess that’s considered no big deal in the context of $21 million.

A word about audits. Most audits simply are looking to see if the accounting is correct. As we’ve seen with some of our local economic development agencies and with MLA expense accounts, sometimes an audit will discover outright theft, but that’s unusual. The majority of audits simply find that, “yep, they spent the money on what they said it was spent on.” The government then turns around and says something like, “see! the auditors said everything was good!” That’s pretty much what economic development minister Michel Samson was doing when he said in a news conference that he was “pleased” with the KPMG audit:

The whole goal was to have an independent firm look at the expenses that were incurred by Nova Star, look at the money that was spent by the province of Nova Scotia for the service and be able to tell Nova Scotians: ‘Was the money spent appropriately?’

See what Samson did there? He equated proper accounting with value for money. But they’re two different things. I can properly account for every hundred dollar bill I throw into the fireplace, but that’s hardly money “spent appropriately.”

Anyway, the province’s release of the KPMG audit was redacted, with exact expenses hidden from the public, because that’s the way government rolls in Nova Scotia. But, hilariously, the Bangor News reported that:

In releasing details of the audit, the province attempted to redact the exact line-item costs, but the PDF files it uploaded to its website contained text confirming the company spent $10.5 million in startup costs and $30.2 million on operating costs, with a breakdown of that spending.

You’d think the people who are hired to redact government documents—there must be an entire department of government devoted to it—would’ve learned from their first PDF screw-up, when Trade Centre Limited released supposedly redacted copies of the consultant reports used to justify the new convention centre. The Department of Redaction simply covered the super secret numbers with black colour and released the documents, but I found I could just copy the paragraphs and paste them in a text program and read the whole thing. (I can’t find the story on The Coast website this morning, but as I recall there was nothing particularly earth-shattering about the numbers, and TCL had redacted them just because.) Evidently, the Bangor News did the same copy-and-paste trick with the KPMG audit.

But because the province was overly secretive and didn’t simply tell the public where the public’s money is going, the Bangor News got some of the particulars wrong, which caused Samson to release the full, un-redacted audit on Sunday, and to fess up that another $7.5 million, over and above the first $21 million, has been dropped into the boat. Says a news release:

Since Sept. 30, government provided an additional $5 million to Nova Star in October. As negotiations continue for the 2015 plan and funding agreement, government has provided $2.5 million to Nova Star to cover costs, including berthing fees, fuel, staffing and moving the ship to South Carolina. This brings government’s total investment in the Yarmouth ferry to $28.5 million.

2. Dentistry student speaks

Ryan Millet, one of the members of the Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen Facebook group, has identified himself and given a long interview with the Chronicle Herald:

On Dec. 6, 2014, one of the “gentlemen” posted a poll asking which of two female classmates the men would prefer to “hate fuck.” Five or six men responded to the poll, Millet recalls. He was shocked.

“It was a targeted, hateful, sexualized, violent attack. That was what upset a lot of us.”

[…]

One of the women listed in the poll was in the room when many of the Facebook group’s members saw it. She observed their reaction and was curious about what was going on. When Millet showed her the post later that day, she was distraught, he says.

He allowed her to make a screenshot of the poll, and told her he wanted to leave the Facebook group. But she suggested he stay so that he could observe the men’s responses.

Millet says he later gave the female student his sign-in information so that she could download the entire history of the group.

No doubt men in the group are more and less culpable for the offensive material. Millet says because he was the source of the material and because he was truly offended by it, he should not be part of the restorative justice process. Maybe, but you could argue it the other way around, too: if his story is true, he clearly isn’t in the same category as whoever made the “hate fuck” post in the first place, and that’s why he should embrace the non-punative approach of restorative justice.

On the other hand, Millet’s lawyer, Bruce MacIntosh, has penned a separate op-ed for the Chronicle Herald, which criticizes the way Dalhousie has handled the situation from the start.

The Dalhousie Faculty Senate will discuss the Dentistry School matter today, but the meeting is not open to the public.

3. Loretta Saunders

Loretta Saunders

Victoria Henneberry and Blake Leggette, who are charged with the first-degree murder of Loretta Saunders, will appear in court today. This week is an evidentiary hearing in anticipation of an April trial.


Views

1. Wellington development

Stephen Kimber looks at Halifax council’s approval of the much-detested Wellington Street development and notes:

We know, without knowing details—specific disclosure not required—that close to half of all current councillors received one-third or more of their campaign donations from developers.

That’s not exactly right—there is more or less specific disclosure required, it’s just difficult to get at and comes too late for voters to make an informed decision. I started going through council disclosure forms again last week… and this whole issue needs a deeper explanation. More soon.

2. All about me

Philip Slayton wrote about me in the Investment Executive newsletter. Slayton has also written a book about Canadian mayors, which will be published this spring; he interviewed me for the chapter on former Halifax mayor Peter Kelly.

3. Cranky letter of the day

To the Cape Breton Post:

We are told unused space will decide school closures, but history suggests otherwise.

About a decade ago, it would seem Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board members from Tory and NDP provincial ridings formed their own little empire within the board, because not a single school has closed in any of those ridings since then.

They lobbied the province for Riverside Elementary School in Albert Bridge—in a Tory riding—but that school has never been filled. Why? Parents from surrounding communities didn’t want their schools to close, and that was the end of it. Now Riverside sits half-empty, at a cost of $578,124 per year.

Likewise, schools in New Waterford—in an NDP riding—have more than 2,400 unused spaces, but none have closed.

[…]

 It’s time for a review of its closure practices before it again lives down to its reputation. It’s also time to put an end to the blatant discrimination behind the political Passover annually granted to schools in Tory and NDP ridings.

Allister Moore, Glace Bay


Government

City

Public information session (Monday, 7pm, City Hall)—this is the rollout of the proposed eight-storey apartment building on Maynard Street. This is the building that city council fast-tracked last month, overriding a staff suggestion that a plan for the quickly developing area be developed before more buildings are constructed.

Province

No public meetings.


On campus

Dalhousie

Today

Texture (10:30am, Slonim Conference Room, Goldberg Computer Science Building)—Azza Abouzied, from Yale, will speak on “Texture: Synthesizing Data Extraction Scripts from User Examples.” The abstract to the talk is a joy to behold:

Information extraction approaches can be broadly classified into rule-based or machine learning approaches. Annotators or extractors built using techniques from such approaches typically target the far ends of the spectrum of data extraction tasks: Rule-based techniques focus on well-structured text such as directory listings, machine generated logs, web pages and build parsers that can extract with great accuracy most of the data. In contrast, machine learning techniques combined with natural language text analysis tools extract information from free-form text such as online product reviews, comments or posts to determine sentiment and discussion subjects, e.g. “what product”. In the middle of this spectrum are text collections of semi-structured text such as a collection of resumes, a collection of research papers, biographical dictionaries, historical military journals, historical narratives and so on. These collections have sufficient structure within and across ! documents that can be well expressed with rule-based extractors. However, enough discrepancies exist across the collection such that the process of manually building extractors is not cost-effective. NLP and machine learning approaches tend to miss most of the inherent structure entirely. Building on Gulwani et al.’s FlashExtract work on synthesizing extractors for well-structured documents, we build Texture, a system that extracts data from semi-structured collections.

Ethics and Architecture (Monday, 11:30am, Auditorium, Medjuck Architecture Building)—Letitia Meynell, from the Philosophy Department, will speak.

Martin Luther King’s Struggle (6pm, Room 303 Student Union Building)—El Jones will lead a panel discussion on Social Movements and Racial Equality.

Tuesday

Time Series Enrichment with Financial Indicators (Tuesday, 11:30am, Slonim Conference Room, Goldberg Computer Science building)—Computer scientist Erico N de Souza, from Ottawa University, will talk about an “unbalanced classification task,” whatever that is.

Plankton (Tuesday, 11:30am, Room 3655, LSC Oceanography Wing)—Tetjana Ross will present “A video-plankton and microstructure profiler for the exploration of in situ connections between zooplankton and turbulence.”

Gulf of Mexico (Tuesday, 11:30am, Room 3655, LSC Oceanography Wing—I’m not sure how both this event and the one above are in the same room at the same time, but that’s what they say)—Eda Chang, from the National Taiwan Normal University, will discuss the “Effect Of Wind And Loop Current Eddies In The Gulf Of Mexico.”

King’s College

Tuesday

Michael MacMillan

Michael MacMillan (Tuesday, 7pm, Alumni Hall)—MacMillan is co-author of  Tragedy in the Commons with Alison Loat. The pair conducted over 80 exit interviews with former members of Parliament. After he talks, MacMillian will join a panel discussion with three former Nova Scotian premiers: Russell MacLellan, John Hamm, and Darrell Dexter. I think this is Dexter’s first public appearance since leaving office.


Noticed

A reader points me to this fascinating collection of drawings from Sir Charles Bressey, who in 1937 planned to remake London, England to accommodate the automobile. The drawings were posted on the internet by author John Ptak, who commented:

…much of it looks like a absurdo-horror/sci-fi setting for a film by Terry Gilliam or Tim Burton.  I can hear the noise of this city, and it ain’t pretty:  a road through Hyde Park, floating pontoon car parks in the Thames, , elevated highways sitting on top of apartment buildings, removing Piccadilly “Circus”, removing the “park” part of Hyde Park, and so on.

This last is Trafalgar Square occupied by…a parking garage:

I love looking at these failed dystopias, whether it’s 1930s’ dreams of London, or our 1960s fantasies for Halifax’s Harbour Drive.


In the harbour

The seas around Nova Scotia, 7:30am Monday. Map: marinetraffic.com

Maersk Palermo, container ship, Montreal to Pier 41, then sails for Rotterdam
Atlantic Concert, ro-ro container, New York to Fairview Cove, then sails for Liverpool, England
Lowlands Boreas, bulker, Vila Do Conde, Portugal to anchor for bunkers


Footnotes

A gazillion emails behind. Please be patient.

Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. So, nova Scotia’s revenue is 8.6 billion. Thats $9300 per person

    That’s about 3100 peoples taxes directly to the ferry.

    Think of it this way. That’s all the provincial taxes paid in pictou, or port hawkesbury, or half of yarmouth handed to the ferry.

    1. Do we know how many passengers the Yarmouth ferry had? And how many of them were incoming tourists? (We don’t need to subsidize the outflow of buying power, eh.)

      I wonder how much it would have cost, per incoming passenger, to incentivize a regional airline to fly to Yarmouth. There is a fully operational airport there, but no more scheduled flights.

      I remember statistics showing that people who come without a motor vehicle of their own spend more money in the place they visit. So those air passengers may be more profitable to the local tourism biz, too.

  2. Thanks for the reference to Stephen Kimber’s article about HRM Council’s very narrow approval of that bad Wellington Street development despite overwhelming rejection of the project by over 1000 HRM residents, both Halifax peninsular councillors, unanimously by the citizen volunteers on the Planning Advisory Committee, and HRM Planning staff. I hope the Examiner will soon publish a comprehensive article about this bizarre decision by HRM Council. During the Council debate it was clear that several councillors were determined to vote for approval without any debate about or regard for the negative opinions and evidence presented by the public and staff. It was a shock to learn that Councillor McCluskey would vote for approval because the development would be a bad one and she wanted it foisted on Peninsular Halifax as some sort of compensation for an earlier bad development that had been approved for urban Dartmouth. If she had voted to reject it, the project would not have been approved. Councillors Adams and Hendsbee seemed very pleased to lead unquestioning approval of the developer’s plans in a classic example of “reverse NIMBY”. Councillor Hendsbee’s description of already densely populated Wellington Street as a “corporate street” displayed his ignorance of the law governing Condominiums and the many highly taxed private residences in them, about 100 on Wellington Street. Of course his incorrect description might have been intended just to mislead his colleagues. It is clear that perceptions of improper developers’ influence on Councillors will continue until there is timely disclosure of donations that fund municipal election campaigns. One might hope that Councillors would recuse themselves from voting on issues that would affect major financial sponsors of their election campaigns.

  3. I don’t know who organized the Michael MacMillan event to discuss “Tragedy in the Commons”, but I find it very curious that three former Nova Scotia premiers will participate in the panel discussion. Of the three, only Russell MacLellan served in Parliament. Why not invite other former MPs with personal experience of the House of Commons?

    More significantly, the book spends a good deal of time discussing the pernicious effects of greater control of Parliament and MPs by the Prime Minister and the PMO. Here’s what Michael Wilson, former Minister of Finance for Brian Mulroney, and Stephen Harper’s first Ambassador to the United States, has to say about the book in a review cited on amazon.ca:

    “This important book draws on the personal experiences of former Members of Parliament to illustrate the growing central control of party leadership—in all major parties—and how this has distorted the democratic process. Offering useful suggestions to address the resulting alienation of voters from the political process, Tragedy in the Commons is mandatory reading for all MPs and Canadians.”

    If MIchael Wilson, of all people, is concerned about the “growing central control of party leadership,” why on earth did the organizers invite three men who were party leaders and premiers here in Nova Scotia to discuss this book?