In the harbour
1. Halifax needs a living wage ordinance
Last week, Halifax council wrestled with a contract for parking enforcement. The term for the former contractor, ISSA, had expired, but that company agreed to continue providing enforcement on a month-by-month basis until a new contract was awarded.
Four firms qualified under the terms of the tender offer: Indigo, ISSA, G4S, and Commissionaires Nova Scotia. Councillors expressed different preferences. Some, like Matt Whitman, said the contract should go to ISSA because that company had the experience. Others, like Gloria McCluskey, liked the Commissionaires because they provide a decent wage to retired vets. Still others, like Waye Mason, felt that by concentrating on cost alone, the contract would result in overly aggressive parking enforcement.
But the tender was issued with a preset scoring system, and the bidders were scored as follows:
Under the scoring system, G4S won the bid, and after a lengthy discussion in camera, council awarded the contract to G4S. (G4S has some horrendous history, some of it very recent, which I discussed here, but I’ll leave that aside for this discussion.)
Let’s examine that scoring. You’ll note that in terms of the technical and business proposals, the Commissionaires scored highest, with 60.67 points out of a total of 70 possible, followed by G4S’s 60.01 points. The Commissionaires also bested G4S on the “Fair Wage Considerations” score, 5 points (out of a total of 5) to 4.2.
But in the end, G4S won the contract because it offered a lower price — $840,048 for the first year of the contract versus $1,049,935 offered by the Commissionaires. (The table only lists first year costs because that directly impacts this year’s budget; all the offers also had inflators for future years.)
What it boils down to is that the Commissionaires lost the bidding war because they pay their employees too much. The city values lower cost five times as much as it values decent pay by its contractors. In real terms, this means that the G4S employees will be making minimum or near-minimum wage. The Commissionaires, which pay $15 to $20 an hour, lost out.
The parking enforcement contract illustrates the need for a living wage ordinance for Halifax.
Such an ordinance would require all city workers and all people employed by contractors working for the city to be paid at least a minimum living wage. Other cities have pegged that living wage at $15/hour, but I would go with $20.10/hour, the figure calculated by the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives and the United Way last year.
As is, city contractors regularly pay far less than a living wage, as does the city itself for many job classifications.
The living wage issue came into sharp focus last month when the city for the first time issued its “sunshine list” of employees getting paid over $100,000 annually — over 600 people are on the list. I don’t begrudge high salaries for municipal administrators, but for the city to then turn around and pay other workers less than a living wage is simply obscene. This is inequality illustrated.
As I’ve said many times before, we can afford what we want to afford. We have money for highly paid administrators. We have money for consultants. We have money for travel junkets. We have money for all sorts of excesses. But suddenly we don’t have money to pay more than starvation wages.
A living wage is a matter of human decency. I can’t understand how anyone could start and run a business with the intent of paying their workers poverty wages forever. Have they no pride? A living wage is a foundational tenet of the Halifax Examiner — when I started this enterprise I vowed to pay my employees and freelancers decently, and I’ve held to that pledge. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror in the morning if I hadn’t. My employees are paid $20 an hour, and freelancers more.
Other Canadian municipalities have passed or are studying living wage ordinances, but such an ordinance hasn’t even been on the table in Halifax. That’s why the Halifax Examiner is making a living wage ordinance an election issue: all candidates will be asked if as elected councillor they will introduce and support a living wage ordinance. I’ll publish their responses. And in coming days I’ll further discuss the benefits and necessity of a living wage ordinance.
2. Examineradio, episode #80
This week we speak to Edward Greenspon, current CEO of the Public Policy Forum and former Editor-In-Chief at the Globe & Mail, about the current state of journalism in Canada and what can be done to stop the hemorrhaging of jobs and revenue.
Also, Robin Tress of the Council of Canadians joins us to talk about developments at the Alton Gas site on the Shubenacadie River.
Plus, Citadel Hill isn’t worthless, wilderness lands have value if they have a corporate name attached, and you can now fax bomb threats in when you need to get out of that chemistry test, apparently.
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(Subscribe via iTunes)
3. Bomb threats
A police email to reporters Sunday morning:
Just after 2 am police responded to Dalhousie University for a bomb threat, an automated phone message was received by the police, from an anonymous person. While police were on the scene at Dalhousie University a second bomb threat was reported at St Marys University, they had received a threatening message from an anonymous person. Seven minutes later a third threat was reported to police, of a bomb threat at the Halifax Public Library, 5440 Spring Garden Rd. Nothing suspicious was found at any of these locations. Investigators with the General Investigation Section of the Integrated Criminal Investigation Division will be continuing the investigation into this matter.
Dal Security handled the threat appropriately, without evacuating the dorms:
Early this morning (just after 2 a.m.) Dalhousie received information from Halifax Regional Police about a non-specific bomb threat involving the university. Based on the information available regarding the threat, Dalhousie Security coordinated our response with Halifax Regional Police. Given the vague nature of the threat, and the lack of a specific, credible threat to the university, we determined the threat level to the university to be low.
>The safety and security of our students, staff and faculty is our highest priority. All buildings were closed at the time of the threat. Shortly thereafter, Dal Security staff conducted a sweep of all public access areas in Dal residences and a thorough search of all common areas and mechanical rooms. As well, we conducted security sweeps of all university buildings prior to their opening this morning.
We take all threats to the university seriously, and we work very closely with Halifax Regional Police to ensure all available resources are deployed.
Dalhousie Security Services
The RCMP were dealing with bomb threats at about the same time, reports the Canadian Press:
The RCMP say they received a call at about 1:30 a.m. from an anonymous male who claimed he was in the parking lot of a sports facility in Cole Harbour with bombs and a hunting rifle.
Shortly after 2 a.m., the RCMP office received an automated phone message from an anonymous person indicating there was a bomb at Halifax Stanfield International Airport.
4. Closing the barn door after the horse escaped and spilled 200,000 litres of fuel
“The Halifax Regional Municipality is seeking a professional engineering firm to perform a due diligence check of its fuel storage and dispensing system located at the transit bus depot, 200 Ilsley Avenue, Dartmouth, NS,” reads a tender offer issued by the city this morning:
The due diligence inspection must examine compliance to applicable regulations and codes within the province of Nova Scotia, and compare the operation with current best industry practices. Facility operations, equipment capabilities and current inventory reconciliation practices will be included in this review.
Readers will recall that in 2014 the Burnside transit garage was the source of an 200,000-litre oil spill that fouled a stream. As the Auditor General later commented:
Halifax Transit did not know about a fuel spill on their property for months. The spill was not detected by Halifax Transit personnel or systems, rather by a business which is located almost a kilometre away. In fact, Halifax Transit advised the OAG [Office of the Auditor General] their initial reaction was they did not believe they were the source of the problem because they had identified in-ground tanks pose a higher environmental risk and had contracted with professionals who had installed a new above-ground fuel system and removed the in-ground fuel tanks… The basic question is; how then did or could this issue go undetected? Using a simplistic approach, the answer appears obvious. HRM did not have processes in place to first identify all the risks and then assess the possible impact multiplier, further, Halifax Transit did not have proper processes in place to identify when physical inventory losses were in fact occurring.
Among other things, the auditor general recommended that Halifax Transit “identify more detailed control mechanisms (such as inventory reconciliations, fuel usage per route, fuel usage per bus and week-to-week and month-to- month comparisons) to be used in monitoring fuel usage,” and here we are with today’s tender offer.
So far as I know, no one was held accountable for the spill. Then-Transit manager Eddie Robar was later hired as manager of Edmonton’s bus system; that bigger city likely pays a bigger salary. Then-CAO Richard Butts got a big raise. I’ve heard of no demotions or reprimands in the middle management ranks at Transit. Oh well, bygones.
1. Decisions documented
“One of the modern challenges with access to information law is the inclination of some senior bureaucrats and politicians to avoid documenting decisions,” writes Information and Privacy Commissioner Catherine Tully in an op-ed published by Local Xpress:
Use of such technology as PIN-to-PIN or text messaging is sometimes evidence of this avoidance strategy. In 2014, the government reported that it found no responsive records in 21 per cent of cases. In the previous decade, the average for no responsive records was 15 per cent. An increase in no responsive records may also be evidence of a failure to document.
Accountable government means that civil servants and politicians regularly document their decisions. Modern access laws include a duty to document. This means a statutory requirement that politicians and bureaucrats must document deliberations, actions and decisions so that the information and rationale behind the decisions can be scrutinized by citizens. This is democracy in action, documented for citizens to see. Without a legislated duty to document, there is an increasing risk that important decisions are not being recorded and so responses to access requests will continue to be “no responsive records.” It is time to amend Nova Scotia’s FOIPOP to require a legislated duty to document.
2. Cranky letter of the day
To the Charlottetown Guardian:
We had a bad experience with our P.E.I. proud potatoes, which we purchased this week in Charlottetown. The first three bags we looked at had large potatoes with rot evident. When we got our purchase home we had to cut away rot and dispose of at least half the 10-pound bag. Not really the kind of a mess you would expect from new crop potatoes.
Red MacKenzie, Morell
Districts 7 & 8 Planning Advisory Committee (4:30pm, City Hall) — Studioworks wants to put a residential unit on top of one of those non-descript, boring buildings being built in the north end.
No public meetings.
Cybersecurity (11:30am, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Gunes Kayacik, a scientist at Qualcomm Research Silicon Valley, will speak on “Cybersecurity and Machine Learning: Frenemies?” The abstract:
Cybersecurity and machine learning fields have been uneasy allies for some time. While the machine learning papers appear in cybersecurity venues, the security community has been generally reluctant to adopt machine learning. Despite the reluctance, a few cybersecurity companies enjoyed relative success utilizing data driven defenses. In this talk, I will try to identify – probably not comprehensively – a few general cybersecurity problems where machine learning can prove elegant solutions. Avoiding the silver bullet-ism, I will talk about a few methods that yielded good (analytics) mileage in past projects, particularly focusing on detecting anomalies in streaming mobile device sensor data and identifying botnet and other interesting activity in DNS data.
Senate (3pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — it’s not on the agenda, but I’m told they’ll discuss the Dal-sponsored trip to MIT by our “elites.” I’ll be there.
Five Myths of Collaboration (7pm, Tupper Building, Theatre B) — Adam Kahane will speak.
In the harbour
7:30am: Norwegian Gem, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 22 from New York with up to 2,873 passengers
7:30am: Rotterdam, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 20 from Bar Harbor with up to 1,685 passengers
7:45am: Disney Magic, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 31 from Sydney with up to 2,456 passengers
10:30am: Porgy, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southhampton, England
11am: Ningbo Express, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Cagliari, Italy
4pm: Helga, general cargo, sails from Pier 27 for Rotterdam
4pm: Macao Strait, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
4:15pm: Disney Magic, cruise ship, sails from Pier 31 for New York
5:45pm: Norwegian Gem, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for New York
5:45pm: Rotterdam, cruise ship, sails from Pier 20 for Sydney
6am: Itea, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
1pm: Umlma, oil tanker, arrives at anchor from Saint John for bunkers
3pm: Itea, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
4pm: Porgy, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
I’ll be running around like crazy today. Wave.
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A living wage policy at City Hall would be good for services that must be contracted out, but why is parking enforcement contracted out? This is permanent year round steady work – just hire people. In addition to making these better jobs for the employees, if parking enforcement was done by the city it could be better integrated with special events and other city functions, like bylaw enforcement, resulting better service for residents. But I suspect the reason for contracting out was to save money by enabling the use of low paid employees – a living wage policy would probably make contracting out parking enforcement redundant or more expensive than simply hiring (not a bad thing).
It is a sad state of affairs when any level of government does not fully support and adhere to fair wages when considering contracts and other hiring initiatives. HRM can do better than always choosing the lowest cost for a given product or service. Lead by example is a concept often lost in the shuffle.
Re: 1. Living wage
Grateful you’re taking this on, Tim, and that you’ll be asking councillor and mayoral candidates their position. Cannot wait to hear their answers and how they’ll parse them.
The ugly unspoken element in the huge disparity between those on the “sunshine list” and those making poverty wages is human worth, and to our shame, it’s an abiding product of culture. It’s concealed by exclusively valuing work in a vacuum at minimum-wage level. Heard an American woman put it starkly yesterday, as she gave her opinion on presidential candidate policies. She said she didn’t agree with McDonald employees getting $15 an hour, adding, “They don’t deserve it.”
Ultimately it is we as citizens and voters to decide. Until now we have been repeatedly told that our taxes are too high. We seem to agree.
The obvious political reaction is to try to lower taxes for election purposes. That is how the race to the bottom gets legitimized.
It is up to all of us to realize and act on the fact that we can’t necessarily have well paying jobs, great public services AND low taxes.
Congrats to the Examiner for making this an issue. Holding elected and prospective elected officials to account on issues outside the orthodoxies are what makes an enlightened electorate and a progressive society.
Please sir, I want some more as Dickens so succinctly put it.
OK, the contract thing is another matter. Not sure of the power of municipalities in NS to refuse the lowest bid that otherwise met the contract specs for the work to be done.
On the broader level, why should this be a municipal power and not a provincial one? If Halifax can do this in this area of labour, then why not other areas? I’m not sure if the municipal level is the place to deal with it because there is more to it than just wages that are too low. There are pay equity and diversity/discrimination issues, union and non-union rights issues, etc. It seems to me that a much bigger kick for reform is needed. On the other hand, if Halifax did it, then it might be a nice beachhead from which to push to do it province-wide.
It may give smaller centres a competitive edge for location of businesses, if they declined to pass such a bylaw and businesses could then locate or relocate there. We already see this with property taxes, although I suppose that may depend on how close they have to be to their customers. Unlike Tim (the other Tim) I haven’t researched it so don’t know how it has worked elsewhere on a practical and a legal level.
Tim, I think you’re under the mistaken view that I’m saying the city can regulate all private companies out there, or that it can raise the minimum wage. That’s not what I’m advocating. I’m saying the city should itself pay a living wage to its employees, and should require that companies that contract for city work also pay living wages. Unfortunately, other private employees won’t be affected by the ordinance.
Re: the living wage proposal, I like how obvious you make it by putting into words what gets obscured in a table:
> The city values lower cost five times as much as it values decent pay by its contractors
And to put it in perspective, the difference in cost for the first year is approximately half a concert scandal.
Are you certain that Halifax has the legal power to pass a bylaw governing wages? I’d be surprised if it did, unless Nova Scotia is much more generous in what powers it grants municipalities compared to other provinces. Possibly it does, but I would be surprised if the province would have granted such a power to a municipality.
I don’t believe that should be a municipal power anyway — that should be kept to the provincial level.
Agreed about paying people shitty wages. It is also bad business planning — you get someone trained and then they leave and take their skills elsewhere, because the pay isn’t enough to live on.
Unless I’m totally misunderstanding, Tim is talking about a policy at city hall that contracts are only awarded to contractors who pay a living wage. That is well within their power.
Yes. And it appears to have been a very small consideration in the parking enforcement contract. It should be a requirement.
I spent some time researching this and came to inconclusive results. It appears other cities in Canada (in other provinces) have the power… but I figured I’d put it on the table, and if it turns out Halifax council doesn’t have the legislative power then at the very least, as it has with many other issues, council can ask the province to give it that power. Usually, the province agrees. So a commitment from council candidates would go a long way.
In my experience, if you have a weighted scorecard like that, you weight it for what you want; in this instance less cost. I find that most times when they are employed, it is under the guise of transparency but with the purpose of creating the “right” winners.
They can always include a wage clause into contract they offer out, that is totally within their control. They could, conversely, require wages to be considered at an appropriate weight-level. Here, fair wages were about 5% of the total consideration, whereas price was 25% of the total consideration. This would help give the wage considerations weight. Currently, if you wanted to win a contract it is way easier to charge dirty cheap and have bad employees than it is to have a stellar employees and a fair charge. “Fairness” is not weighted when it comes to salaries with the costs, which while conversely related, seem treated separately and at vastly different impact scales, 5 to 1. Might as well not even account for wages if they are going to be valued so little in the overall scheme of things.
Right on about the weighting system. IMO it’s just lip service to transparency. CCPA-NS who has done some good research on the Living Wage could tell you how many cities in Canada have policies on wages.
My other concern about the low wage contract is that like the previous contracted out parking metre company, they will be overly vigilant in monitoring and handing out tickets. I was at a show with my grandson on New Year’s Day at the Neptune Theatre and like a lot of people attending the show I parked on Market Street with paying the full 2 hour charge I had checked the length of show but it ran a few minutes over. I got back 3 minutes late and there was already parking tickets on every car on the street. The company or some over diligent parking metre attendant had been cued to pounce at just the right time–as soon as the show was over but before people could return to their cars. Same thing happened at York Rideout on Thanksgiving Day last year. 3 or 4 cars with tickets because they infringed a few feet on the bus lane (it talkes up half the parking space outside York Rideout which btw was closed due to Parks Canada cuts) even though there was plenty of room for the bus (#15) which only comes about twice a day on holidays anyway!!
Perhaps the bigger question is why is the City paying a million dollars and contracting out to a low wage contractor? Why can’t it employ it’s own parking metre staff?