News

1. Fool’s Gold

Yesterday, the Halifax Examiner and Cape Breton Spectator published the first instalment of “Fool’s Gold: Nova Scotia’s Myopic Pursuit of Metals & Minerals,” a four-part series by author Joan Baxter on the province’s ill-conceived search for wealth through mining.

Part 1 of the series, “Welcome to the Gold Rush,” focuses on the changing approaches to gold mining. Writes Baxter:

There’s a 21st century gold rush starting in Nova Scotia, just as industrial gold mining is increasingly coming into disrepute around the world. It has been described as an “environmental disaster” which often leads to contamination of water sources on which life depends.

Baxter goes on to show how desperately poor countries are banning gold mining entirely, making the economic calculation that short-term profits from mining are dwarfed by mining’s long-term environmental costs to water supplies. Continues Baxter:

Here in Nova Scotia in Canada, in one of the wealthiest nations on earth (ranked tenth on the UN Human Development Index), no such worries seem to burden the government.

In fact, the regulatory regime for mining operations has been opened wide, environmental concerns be damned.

Click here to read “Fool’s Gold: Nova Scotia’s Myopic Pursuit of Metals & Minerals. Part 1: Welcome to the Gold Rush.”

This article is for subscribers. Click here to subscribe.

We’ll be publishing the next three instalments of the “Fool’s Gold” series on the next three Wednesdays.

This is the kind of deep investigative work we want to make the Examiner known for, and our partnership with the Cape Breton Spectator is what makes it possible. It works like this: people can subscribe to either publication for $10/month, but they can buy a joint subscription giving access to both publications for just $15/month. We then commit $5 of that joint monthly subscription to a joint investigative fund that pays for investigative work. That’s how we’re paying for the “Fool’s Gold” series, for example.

We have several other investigative projects at various stages of development, but we’ll need your subscriptions to see them to fruition.

Click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner and to support investigative journalism in Nova Scotia.
White space

2. Bar Harbor

Speaking of the Cape Breton Spectator, Mary Campbell followed along as the Bar Harbor, Maine, city council decided what to do with its abandoned international ferry terminal:

I was struck by the story, which I first read in the New York Times, because the approach Bar Harbor is taking to the project contrasts so sharply with our own plans to develop a second cruise ship berth in Sydney harbor.

Watching the Bar Harbor council meeting served to reinforce my earlier impression (expressed in that last article on the subject) that we got it all wrong when it came to weighing the pros and cons of the second berth in Sydney — chiefly because we didn’t weigh the pros and cons, allowing our hand to be forced by the cruise industry instead.

If a town of 5,200 can come up with 40-member citizens’ committee to consider a $3.5 million purchase, surely a municipality the size of the CBRM could have managed something similar to consider a $20 million investment? (Imagine, for example, if such a committee had been given access to the environmental assessment of the property which the CBRM has had to resort to expropriating for the project; how might that have affected its recommendations to council?)

Click here to read “Consultant’s Plan for Bar Harbor Terminal Includes Bay Ferries.”

As with the Examiner, the Spectator is subscriber-supported, and this article is for subscribers only. Click here to subscribe to the Spectator, or click on that fancy newspaper box photo above to get a joint Examiner/Spectator subscription.

3. Transit passes

Examiner transportation columnist Erica Butler has updated her piece on transit passes for those receiving income assistance:

No passes have yet been issued to income assistance recipients, though they are still expected for “late spring.” Some Examiner readers wrote in to express concerns over the fact that the passes, which will feature a photo identification, would violate people’s privacy by revealing their status as income assistance recipients. The E-Pass currently features personal information by listing the passholder’s employer. City spokesperson Nick Ritcey assures that the new income assistance passes will be indistinguishable from current photo ID passes issued by the city, such as the E-Pass. “It may be a redesign of both passes if necessary to ensure it’s not distinguishable,” says Ritcey. “A final design hasn’t been chosen yet.”

4. Security failure

The Liberals have again refused to allow the legislature’s Public Accounts Committee to question provincial employees about the security failure of the FOIPOP website, reports the CBC:

Liberal MLA Gordon Wilson said the government is not opposed to having Internal Services officials appear at committee, but believes it would be “pre-emptive” to do so until the auditor general and privacy commissioner finish their work.

“Simply put, there’s a lot of things going on in the background right now with them. I don’t know where the public accounts committee would bring more information further at this point.”

But New Democrat MLA Dave Wilson said the committee is exactly where the discussion should happen and there’s no reason to wait for reports to be complete. Auditor General Michael Pickup has not indicated any opposition to the topic being called before his work is complete.

The unbylined article goes on to make an important point:

Although government officials told reporters last month the situation was not a hack, court records indicate that’s exactly what civil servants had told Halifax Regional Police.

When it was live, the freedom-of-information website indicated available files were public and that private information was protected. Nothing that was downloaded had any kind of markings to indicate it should not be public.

The Halifax Examiner and Cape Breton Spectator went to court (thanks again to our joint subscribers) to unseal the search warrant that preceded the arrest of the teenager for the non-existent “hack.”

5. Instacart

I’ve been seeing a few “news articles” the last few days that have noncritically regurgitated an Instacart news release about the company’s new partnership with Loblaw in the Halifax area. Compare, for instance, this unbylined Chronicle Herald “article” with the Instacart press release; they’re essentially the same.

I don’t have a problem if publications reprint press releases — I do it myself — but they should say that they’re doing so, not pretend that it’s original content.

But besides the lazy non-reporting, the first thing that struck me about this “news” was, So what? Home grocery delivery has been around for as long as there have been grocery stores. Why, here’s Opie working as a grocery delivery boy in a 1965 episode of the Andy Griffith Show:

(Opie purposefully got himself fired so the other boy, Billy, could get the job instead.)

Henry Aldridge

A man named Henry Aldridge recalled his days working as a grocery store delivery boy in the Chattanooga Free Press:

Starting in 1956, I worked at the Vine Street Market for four summers as a delivery boy and gained a lot of personal experience in how these stores operated. Vine Street was owned by Russ Wheeler and Douglas Beville, who ran the meat market.

The store opened at 7:30 a.m. Russ Wheeler had already been to the farmer’s market and brought back watermelons, peaches and fresh produce in his green Ford station wagon. Our first job was to stack the watermelons on the sidewalk in front of the store and then bring out the three delivery bicycles for a day of hard riding.

Soon the telephones began to ring. The first calls were for small orders — milk, bread, a slice of watermelon or hamburger meat. Within an hour, I was on the bike making deliveries. This continued almost non-stop all day.

On Fridays and Saturdays, customers called in very large orders. Sometimes we got behind and as the orders piled up, we went as fast as we could to get them delivered. Occasionally, Mr. Wheeler took pity on us and used the station wagon to help us catch up. Our coverage area extended roughly from Georgia Avenue on the west to Central Avenue on the east, to McCallie Avenue on the south and to the Tennessee River on the north. Within this area, we served probably 200 customers.

Sometimes the orders were very heavy and had to be hauled up several flights of stairs in one of the many apartment buildings nearby. We were expected to put the groceries out on a kitchen table, take back empty pop bottles and perhaps change a light bulb or take out the garbage. Rarely did we get a tip. The work was hot and difficult. There were hills in every direction, and the temperatures by 10 a.m. were often in the 90s. Rain was a blessing because it cooled us off. We put a tarp over the groceries and just kept going.

So, yeah, grocery delivery; welcome to the mid-20th century.

My second thought when reading the regurgitated Instacart press release was, “I bet this is some gig economy bullshit.” And boy howdy:

Instacart, which was founded in 2013 and has raised over $674 million in venture capital, lets customers purchase groceries online (at a markup) so “shoppers” can purchase the items directly in-store and then deliver them. Like other so-called “gig economy” startups like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and more, Instacart relies heavily on part-time or contract labor.

The San Francisco startup has been sued multiple times in recent years over what some workers say are notably inadequate wages. Instacart has agreed to pay at least several million dollars to settle the lawsuits, which will result in a typical settlement payout of a few hundred dollars per worker. The attorneys who brought the lawsuits, by contrast, stand to make millions.

The company only has about 300 full-time employees (almost entirely based at corporate headquarters), but it has hundreds of thousands of part-time, in-store shoppers; independent contractor itinerant shoppers; and contractor delivery-only workers across 154 cities nationwide.

In a lengthy phone interview with Ars, [shopper Matthew] Telles explained that “full-service shoppers” like himself who do the on-the-ground labor of shopping, texting with customers while in-store, paying, loading, and delivering groceries to customers, make their take-home pay in a combination of three streams of income.

The first, and the most important, is the “commission” pay per delivery, which is algorithmically calculated. Commission varies not only by region, but also day to day and week to week. Recently reported commissions are as high as $14 (New York City) or as low as just $1 (Evansville, Indiana).

When there are more full-service shoppers and delivery contractors available, the pay amount per worker goes down, and when there is higher demand for shopping, workers are encouraged to stay on the clock. There are also various bonuses (“bumps” in company parlance) and other incentives.

On top of that, shoppers make a per-item fee (typically $0.40)—however, this is not per unit of that item.

Ars spoke with six Instacart shoppers who said that they have routinely been made to pick up several heavy items, such as cases of bottled water, soda, or ice. Those items, of course, not only have to be loaded into a shopping cart, and then into a car, but they must be also hand-carried to someone’s door—sometimes up flights of stairs. Shoppers are still paid a $0.40 per-item fee even if someone orders one, five, or 10 cases of bottled water.

Thanks to lawsuits, Instacart has changed some of the ways it compensates its contractors, and the relationship with Loblaw takes some of the steps out the process.

But the bottomline is still that unlike the Vine Street Market in 1956 Chattanooga, which hired its own delivery boys, Loblaw is skirting employment and minimum wage laws by bringing in Instacart.

And as with Uber, the Instacart business model depends on shifting costs to its contractors. The drivers pay for their own gas and maintenance. As contractors, there’s the issue of business insurance, or more to the point, the absence of business insurance, which may ultimately end up bankrupting many of them. As a “contractor” it doesn’t make financial sense to work for Instacart (or Uber, or…) except in the sense that you need money today, even if it means you’re essentially trading future costs for today’s income.

Sure, there’s a frightening large pool of desperately poor people out who will take any fake-job for even ultra-low wages, but surely we can do better than this. If Loblaw wants to offer delivery service, it should hire its own drivers and use its own fleet of vehicles.

And if supposed news media are going to actually report on Instacart, they should assign a reporter to look into the company’s history, Loblaw’s workaround of labour laws, and the broader issues of the gig economy. A re-written press release is not a news story.


Government

City

Thursday

Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — Gdynia, Poland has come a-calling! I wrote about this yesterday.

Active Transportation Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm, City Hall) — don’t ask me what this means (because I don’t know), but the committee will have a “discussion on existing policy for sacred land, such as ghost bikes.”

Port Wallace PPC Meeting (Thursday, 6:30pm, HEMDCC Large Meeting Room 1, Alderney Gate) — here’s the agenda.

Friday

No public meetings.

Province

No public meetings for the rest of the week.


On campus

Dalhousie

Thursday

Mark Tewksbury (Thursday, 1pm, Spatz Theatre, Citadel High School) — Mark Tewksbury, “one of the first openly gay Olympic champions” — he won the gold medal in the 100-metre backstroke at the 1992 Summer Olympics — is taking part in the “Belong Forums” this year. The Belong Forums are “a public lecture series in honour of Dalhousie’s 200th anniversary, featuring internationally respected thinkers, trailblazers and change-makers.” Free admission, but limited seating, so you have to register here.

Friday

CETA Implementation: The Next Steps (Friday, 8:30am, Room 1028, Rowe Management Building) — the CETA {Canadian-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) Implementation and Implications Project (CIIP) is led by Robert Finbow, who is running workshops about “public services and procurement, labour mobility and labour relations, investment, environment,  agriculture and geographic indicators, as well as intellectual property, science and regulatory cooperation.”

Building Belonging Gathering (Friday, 10am, Room 307, Student Union Building) — Lisa Goldberg and Tim Muloney will lead group discussions “to share our reflections on issues and inspirations from Mark Tewksbury’s Belong Forum. In small groups, we will collectively generate meaningful ways to practically apply what we’ve learned from Mark, to the Dal context and community.  Mark will join us for the second hour, where we might share our ideas with him and invite him into the conversation.” Register here.


In the harbour

0:30am: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Liverpool, England
5am: Victory 1, cruise ship with up to 216 passengers, arrives at Pier 24 from Portland, Maine
6am: Selfoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Manila
7am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 41 to Autoport
7am: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at HalTerm from Saint-Pierre
11:30am: Tugela, car carrier, moves from Pier 31 to Autoport
11:30am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Autoport back to Pier 41
11:30am: Selfoss, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
7:30pm: Victory 1, cruise ship, sails from Pier 24 for sea


Footnotes

I’m going back to bed.

Tim Bousquet

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

Join the Conversation

5 Comments

Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
Cancel reply
  1. I am very happy to be a joint subscriber to the Examiner and the spectator. The gold mining story is gold! I am excited about the model of journalism that you are attempting here, where people who want quality (and I am impressed by the quality of what you are all doing here) news and reporting, including, very importantly, investigative reporting like Baxter’s article, are asked to pay for this product. From Butler’s amazing work on transit and city development, to Panozzo’s enlightening reporting on environmental issues, to Bousquet and Campbell’s work on just about everything, and not forgetting the more occasional contributors who always write on topics that I find enlightening and interesting, this site is a must read for me every single day. And I want to make a special mention of El Jones, who was responsible, initially, for making me a subscriber, even though her work is never behind the pay wall. Her work is absolutely indispensable.
    Unfortunately, until capitalism is abolished, this seems to me the only way to ensure that journalism, that is not beholden to shareholders, government sensibilities and sensitivities, or advertisers, can actually happen. So thank you, at the very least, for just offering this option, and for the work all of you are doing to keep me informed and engaged in issues that truly do directly affect me.

  2. I thought the same thing when I got the same press release. What they are offering isn’t as good customer service as once existed in my own lifetime.

    In the 1960s, Mom used to call down and order groceries, and they were delivered in cardboard boxes and/or large paper bags by a grocery store employee in the grocery store’s delivery van. Sometimes she and Dad and I would go to the store and buy the groceries – Dad was particular about seeing the cuts of meat – and have the van deliver them. The groceries usually would be on the back step when we got home. If the van was leaving to make deliveries, this being a small town in the 1960s the van driver would give us a lift home as we didn’t have a car until 1968 or so. Many times I got a ride home in the back of the delivery van surrounded by groceries.

    The grocery store my parents went to, BTW, was a members-owned cooperative, and the workers were unionized.

    Other, smaller, stores in town would offer food and other goods on credit, a running tab kept behind the counter usually on sheets of scrap paper, for those who needed it between paycheques. My uncle had such a store in Cape Breton.

    Although the modern grocery stores offer a much better selection of goods (although far less local produce) I’m not sure the other changes since then have been entirely progressive.

  3. If you want a long-term view of the toxic legacy of gold mining, ask anyone with a well in Waverly and look at contamination in the Shubenacadie Canal.

  4. Thank you for posting the transit update, advocates will continue applying pressure to ensure all passes are indistinguishable from one another. DCS could have avoided this worry had they consulted with the very people reliant on them to survive. I have been told if organization is removed from the I-Pass and not the ePass, many will forgo it, which is a shame because this would have reduced social, health and employment barriers.

  5. The saga of the ‘Earl of Dalhousie was a nasty man ‘ report from Dr Afua Cooper has yet to see the light of day and there has been no news of when it will be made public. Perhaps she could recite a poem at the June 11 2018 meeting of Dalhousie Senate