News

1. Acadians go to court

Photo: Yvette d’Entremont
Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

“The organization representing the province’s Acadians has filed a notice of motion with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court as part of their decades-long attempt to secure an electoral riding in the Chéticamp area of Cape Breton,” reports Yvette d’Entremont.

Click here to read “Acadians go to court in bid for a Chéticamp electoral riding.”

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2. Ralston MacDonnell, NSCAD, and the Port of Halifax

Ralston MacDonnell

I’ve been having great fun reading the recent court decision finding Halifax engineer and businessperson Ralston MacDonnell guilty of tax fraud. The charges were laid against MacDonnell personally, and his firms: MacDonnell Security Risk Management Limited, MacDonnell Group of Canada Limited, and 3182552 Nova Scotia Limited.

Forgive me for taking pleasure in someone’s downfall, but in these lockdown times, I take recreation where I can find it, and this is just one humdinger of a story. I’ll just randomly quote some of the bits written by Judge Paul Scovil:

Over the years, Mr. MacDonnell bought several personal properties which will become important in this matter, they included his family home on Park Street in Halifax, a separate residence in Chester Basin, Nova Scotia and in 2008 a condominium in the area of Tampa, Florida.

Mr. MacDonnell also became involved in an attempt to lure a professional hockey team to conduct their spring training in Halifax.

In the recession of 2008, Ralston MacDonnell’s businesses began to see significant reductions in revenue. While revenues decreased, Mr. MacDonnell continued to strip cash from the businesses to prop up his expenditures for personal uses, which included mortgages, car leases, life insurance and personal spending. At the same time there were occasions where payroll cheques bounced and virtually no payments were made on CRA, HST and Payroll Source Deduction accounts.

The above followed conversations that Mr. MacDonnell and Ms. Dobson [Resource Officer in the Complex Case Office for CRA] had on August 9, 2013 where Mr. MacDonnell offered personal guarantees which were unacceptable to CRA as he personally had nothing to back the guarantees. When Mr. MacDonnell asked what other action CRA might take, Dobson advised that ERTP’s and RTP’s (requirement to pay) were all ready to go. Shortly after that Ms. Dobson became aware that accounts at the Royal Bank had been closed. In fact, on August 8, she had been advised that bank accounts held by Mr. MacDonnell at the Bank of Nova Scotia were not attachable, as they had been closed.

It should be noted, in the month of August when it would have been clear that RTPs were being placed on accounts known to CRA, Mr. MacDonnell opened accounts at the Toronto Dominion Bank which CRA was not aware of.

Paula Walker was employed by the MacDonnell Group as an accountant from 2009 to 2011. In addition to a university background, she had obtained a partial certificate as a Certified General Accountant…

Ms. Walker indicated that there were regular meetings almost daily between her and Mr. MacDonnell as to where cash was to flow. She was clear that priority was on Mr. MacDonnell’s debts ahead of payroll and CRA payments. She noted he had three personal mortgages, credit cards, BMW car payments and spending money which claimed first-priority on company funds.

This led to Ms. Walker describing the business as engaging in the worst instances of NSF cheques she had ever seen. If there were insufficient funds to cover the entire payroll, Mr. MacDonnell would direct who would get paid on the payroll and if money would be diverted to his own account, leading to NSF paycheques.

At one point, Mr. MacDonnell had his home power cut off and had Ms. Walker pay the arrears from her own credit card to have his power turned back on.

She testified it was a practice that if bank accounts had liens on them the result would be the opening of a new account at another bank. This is corroborated throughout the evidence tendered by the Crown.

The final straw with Ms. Walker was December 24, 2010. Pay cheques for employees were to go out, were signed and had just enough money in the account to cover them. Shortly after the office closed, Mr. MacDonnell called Ms. Walker and directed her to forward a large sum to him in Florida. She did so but it caused payroll cheques to be NSF. She left several weeks later and was owed $22,000.00 for back pay and expenses she had covered on her personal credit cards. The amount had to be recovered through the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Board.

It was further shown in Exhibit 18, Tab 5 that when an RTP was placed on February 9, 2010 on RBC account, Mr. MacDonnell wrote a cheque for $10,995.00 to MacDonnell Group Consulting Ltd.’s CUA account, thereby evading the RTP. This left very little cash in the RBC account. On the 15th of February 2010, Mr. MacDonnell then wrote a cheque for $17,977.65 to the Receiver General which, of course, bounced. Likewise, the RBC account of MacDonnell Security Risk Management showed activity to defund the account in anticipation of the RTP. This involved e-transfers and cheques out of the account into the Credit Union Account which was unknown to CRA. Evidence disclosed a total of $823,931.29 went through this Credit Union Atlantic account up until its discovery by CRA in May 2010.

From 2011, Mr. Tucker showed a large invoice to the Department of National Defence for $15,820.00. Of that amount, $1,820 was HST. Tab 10 of Exhibit 13 contains the invoice and the cheque issued by DND to pay the invoice. The back of the cheque shows the money being directly deposited into Ralston MacDonnell’s personal account at Scotia Bank, Scotia Square. This includes the $1,820.00 of HST. Tab 9 of Exhibit 18 shows the deposit of the cheque and a transfer out of Mr. MacDonnell’s account on February 10, 2011 to a Florida bank by wire transfer. Likewise, the same occurred for an invoice to Parks Canada dated January 28, 2011 for $20,700.00 of which $2,700.00 was HST. The cheque paying this was deposited in Ralston MacDonnell’s account at Scotia Square on March 24, 2011. $18,022.50 was then sent by wire transfer to Ralston MacDonnell in Florida.

…During the period from August to December 2011, significant sums were taken from the corporations and placed into Mr. MacDonnell’s personal account for personal use….

Mr. Tucker discussed Mr. MacDonnell opening a Bank of Nova Scotia account which was unknown to CRA. While this account was unknown to CRA, $842,516.46 was deposited to that Bank of Nova Scotia account. No voluntary payments to CRA were made through that account up to March 2013. From May 2011 to March 2013, the total deposits were $852,155.25 of which there were expenditures of $851,768.00. Of that, $422,000.00 went to Mr. MacDonnell’s personal account. $45,059.59 was transferred back to the business.

Ruled the judge:

Throughout the period, the company’s arrears for HST and payroll source deductions continued to balloon. At the same time, there was a conscious and systematic draining of corporate funds to pay for personal mortgages on Mr. MacDonnell’s home and two other residences, vehicle lease, personal life insurance and other personal lifestyle expenditures. Together, these deprived CRA and Canadian taxpayers of funds due and owing.

There is no other rational conclusion at the end of this evidence that the accused before me conducted fraud as charged.

In conclusion, I find all the accused before me guilty of all charges.

It’s all a bit much: cheating the taxman while “borrowing” tens of thousands of dollars from your employees and driving around in a BMW and flying to your Florida residence.

We all like seeing a conniving businessman get taken down… but wait! There’s more.

I was drawn to MacDonnell’s story because back in 2005, he was chair of the board at NSCAD (under his oversight, NSCAD became NSCAD University).

This morning, I was reading an op-ed by Terrance M. Brennan, then the chair of the Downtown Dartmouth Business Association, that appeared in the Herald on March 11, 2005. Wrote Brennan:

With cosy pictures and exuberant reporting of NSCAD and Halifax Port Authority representatives, both Halifax-based newspapers breeze over the fact that for a year and a half, NSCAD had been conducting public meetings and presentations touting Dartmouth as the first-choice location for their new campus.

Fast-forward to a joint NSCAD/Halifax Port Authority press release on March 4, and the public is now informed the port authority’s seawall redevelopment will be the new home of NSCAD’s expanded campus. This apparent flip-flop does not seem worthy of the attention of either paper.

So, what does NSCAD offer as to its reason for the about-face? When the subject of the Dartmouth marine slips is brought up, all NSCAD University president Paul Greenhalgh can muster is that there were issues and problems with the marine slips property that eventually drove NSCAD to the port authority site. As to why NSCAD chair Ralston MacDonnell and his board of directors went from considering Dartmouth marine slips as their first choice to the Waterfront Development Corp.’s adjacent property as the last choice, we can only wonder. To go from a position of owning property to renting is clearly a mystery, unless of course there was never an intention to go to Dartmouth in the first place.

I have no strong opinion about whether the move to the Port was good or bad for NSCAD. I talk with people who have differing views, and I’ll leave that up for others to debate. But I do know that I was brand new to Nova Scotia at that time (I moved here in December 2004) and hadn’t yet wrapped my head around the politics of the place, but even then l vaguely understood that NSCAD’s move to the Port was unexpected, and seemed to involve some sort of turf water between Waterfront Development (a provincial agency) and the Port (a federal agency).

And consider this: after steering NSCAD to the Port, then-chair of the NSCAD board and future convicted tax fraudster Ralston MacDonnell’s firm, MacDonnell Security Risk Management Limited, was hired by the Port to oversee security at the Port.

Funny, that.

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3. Stephen McNeil has a new job

Premier Stephen McNeil at the Feb. 5 COVID briefing. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

The Halifax law firm Cox & Palmer has hired former premier Stephen McNeil as a “Strategic Business Advisor.”

“Stephen McNeil’s global contacts and his experience will be of great value to our teams at Cox & Palmer,” said Dan Ingersoll, Cox & Palmer’s Halifax Managing Partner, in a statement. “Our objective is always to better serve our clients. Stephen’s national and international insights and experiences will help our clients and our lawyers, recognize and participate in new opportunities.”

That sure sounds like a lobbying job to me.

Here’s what Nova Scotia’s Conflict of Interest Act says about former ministers lobbying the government:

(2) A former minister or ministerial assistant, for twelve months after ceasing to hold office, and a former member or public employee, for six months after ceasing to hold office or employment, shall not knowingly
(a) accept a contract or benefit that is awarded, approved or granted by a government decision-maker;
(b) make representations to a government decision-maker on his or her behalf or on behalf of another person with respect to a contract or benefit; or
(c) accept a contract or benefit from any person to make representations to a government decision-maker with respect to a contract or benefit that is or is to be awarded, approved or granted by a government decision-maker.

So as long as McNeil doesn’t personally knock on the Province House door for a year, he won’t be in violation of the act. But he obviously brings some value to Cox & Palmer and its clients.

I don’t begrudge McNeil finding work. We’re roughly the same age, and if he’s anything like me, he’s thinking that unless The Fates have other designs, he has something like 15 years of productive work life left before doddering into telling the same stories over and over again and laughing at his own stale jokes (I may be ahead of him on that front).

It’s just… well, advising a bunch of cutthroat businesspeople? Sounds boring. Maybe he’ll get to travel to China some more, so there’s that, I guess. But there’s a whole world of opportunity out there, Stephen! Being a marquee name to draw in donations for non-profits that actually help people. Being an ESL instructor for an immigration centre. Swinging hammers (or installing appliances) for Habitat for Humanity. Heck, even tending bar at the Bridgetown Legion might put one in a position to comfort a lost soul looking for meaning or just in need of a kind word.

One must think of one’s legacy.

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4. COVID

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Fifteen new cases of COVID-19 were announced in Nova Scotia yesterday. Hospitalizations dropped from 15, from 10 on Wednesday, and the number in ICU dropped from seven to six.

Unless there’s a huge surge in new cases, which seems unlikely, today the active caseload will decrease past the point of the highest caseload during the second wave (144 cases on Dec. 1); that feels like progress of a sort.

Vaccination numbers were back up yesterday, with over 16,000 doses administered, and if that pace maintains, 65% of all Nova Scotians will have received at least one dose of vaccine sometime today, which is the threshold for Phase 3 of the reopening, although because Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang says there should be two weeks between phases, Phase 3 likely won’t be implemented until later this month (on Wednesday, Premier Iain Rankin hinted that the two-week period between phases may be shortened).

CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall (left) and Dr. Lisa Barrett. Photo: Facebook

Last night, Rankin addressed the reopening schedule at a virtual meeting with Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Amanda McDougall, Dr. Lisa Barrett, and Luc Erjavec, the Atlantic vice-president with Restaurants Canada.

Reports Jennifer Henderson:

“The Atlantic Bubble is not out of the realm of possibility for June 30,” said Rankin in response to a question submitted to the live event. “I’m confident if we stay on this track — subject to a spike in case numbers — there is no reason why we shouldn’t open to the rest of Atlantic Canada by the end of June and to the rest of the country by mid-July”.

Reopening the border can’t come soon enough for restaurant owners barely hanging on after 15 months of uncertainty due to forced closures and social distancing restrictions that affect how much business they can do, according to Erjavec.

“Restaurants have been one of the hardest hit sectors and at last count, we are down over 12,000 jobs across the province,” Erjavec told McDougall. “The reality is without government support, most restaurants would be closed for good. Even with these supports, nearly 50% are losing money every day and 20% are just breaking even.”

By the end of next week, Erjavec expects Public Health will lift restrictions and allow indoor dining again. But Erjavec predicted that won’t be enough to revive sales. “What we need from government is help to build consumer confidence,“ he said. “After we’ve been told to ‘stay home’ for too long, please tell people it’s now safe and they should ‘go out’!” 

Erjavec praised Rankin’s decision to use social media to broadcast his visit to a couple of patios when restaurants with outdoor areas were permitted to serve customers. 

The third invited guest to the Facebook live event was infectious diseases specialist Dr. Lisa Barrett. Barrett has been the driving force between the rapid testing sites run by 2,500 volunteers. She was asked why people who are fully vaccinated and have no COVID symptoms are still being encouraged to get swabbed every week. No appointment is necessary for these rapid test sites for people who have no symptoms and their results are texted within the hour. 

“COVID is not done,” replied Barrett. “We are still mopping up around the edges of the third wave. When there are high numbers in the community, the goal of rapid testing is to find all the cases and bring those numbers down. The reason we do it right now is we want to make sure we are finding early cases after people have received one dose of vaccine. Two doses of vaccine are required to maintain control of this virus. And if you have no symptoms, get tested weekly, as often as you floss your teeth. Vaccinations and regular testing are what will keep Nova Scotia open.”

Barrett explained that while Ottawa has decided a vaccination rate of 75% is good enough to relax restrictions, Nova Scotia has taken a more cautious approach insisting 85% of eligible people be vaccinated (85% of eligible people — that is, those 12 years old and older — translates into 75% of the entire population, including those 11 years old and younger). Barrett said she supports the higher threshold because “the more noses that are unprotected will create a breeding ground for new variants.” The latest science shows vaccines are much less effective against the recent mutation called the Delta (first identified in India), which is one of the reasons why it spreads more easily.

Rankin was asked when residents of long-term care homes will be allowed to have more visitors and to leave the premises to make visits to the outside world.

July will be “a more normal month” for everyone, replied Rankin, after “a very difficult May” when hundreds of cases emerged within several days.

If more people make it a priority to get fully vaccinated in the next few weeks, Rankin said that could allow us to invite company and family to visit by next month.

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5. Chris Milburn

Parker Donham draws our attention to comments made by Dr. Chris Milburn on Cape Breton CBC’s Information yesterday. (You can listen to the clip here; Milburn’s comments are as awful as Donham relates.)

And yes, Milburn actually implied that rich parents love their children more than poor parents do. While decrying school closures, he said:

It’s harmful for the poorest kids. Rich kids have laptops at home and parents care about their education, and they’re going to be on top of that, and they’ve done just fine thank you very much. Whereas the poor kids, the kids who might be abused at home, they’ve been really, really suffering.

Milburn has an obvious hatred for those he deems beneath him, and he punches down.

Corey Rogers

Philip Moscovitch drew our attention to Milburn back in November 2019:

After the conviction of two special constables over the death in custody of Corey Rogers, Sydney ER doctor Chris Milburn wrote an opinion piece for the Chronicle Herald in which he said he “shuddered” at the decision.

The starry-eyed view of medicine is that we spend our time helping appreciative people who are polite and reasonable. In reality, on a very regular basis, we deal with “the criminal element.” … I have seen criminals spit at, assault and threaten officers and the officers’ families. I am constantly amazed by the grace, compassion, and patience shown to these patients, which often exceeds that from our physicians and hospital staff.

The story uses the words “criminal” and “criminals” more than a dozen times: “dangerous criminal behaviour,” “violent criminals,” “intoxicated criminals,” “these criminals” — you get the idea.

Milburn faced a lot of criticism for the piece, and he’s not happy about it. Today, he’s back with another op-ed defending himself.

I find it interesting and disturbing that people read things in my opinion piece that were not there. This is either from a lack of clarity on my part, or a very determined mindset to see what they want to see on their part. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. So let me do what I can in a short piece to clear things up as I can. Their minds are theirs to open — I can’t do that part.

What I hope people understand clearly about my interest in this case is that I am frightened that good people, with no criminal intent or malice, can be sent to jail for a mistake.

To be clear, the “good people” here are not the “criminal element” in the ER, but caregivers who Milburn fears could be jailed for mistakes on the job.

Somehow, I don’t think this is going to help Milburn’s case.

Ashleen Louise D’Orsay
Ashleen Louise D’Orsay

In January, the heartbreaking obituary of 26-year-old Ashleen Louise D’Orsay made oblique reference to Milburn’s editorials:

“Oh I am a cat, that likes to gallop about doing good,” this poem by Stevie Smith (1972) was one of Ashleen’s favourties. She would giggle and laugh with her sister, Mairi, as her father and Jaime would read to them from their favourite book of poems. Creative, quirky, and a lover of all things different and kind, Ashleen adored thinking about words, concepts and the universe from abstract, funky angles. Never concerned with fitting in, she always delighted in showing up as her authentic self instead. She loved noticing differences and commonalities and was kind to everyone, without exception. She was amazing at making a person feel truly special, just for being themselves. Ashleen always took the time and find a reason to compliment people, even ones she had just met.  She was selfless in that way, wanting everyone in the room to feel special, listened to, and included. She would send her friends songs that made her think of them and always did her best to speak positively about others. We could learn a lot from Ashleen about how to make others feel welcomed and loved. She would always say, “make good choices,” whenever she was saying goodbye to friends. Never would she leave our family home without saying, “I love you”. This was the Ashleen we all knew. Some parts of her were readily apparent, always there and available regardless of her illness. Other parts shone in glimmers, as she fought and struggled against the impacts and effects of her illnesses. In the end, she was often confused and in need of help. Help that was hard for her to access, as she often felt judged as “less than,” by overworked professionals attempting to function under the excessive strains and pressures of our healthcare system. As a result, it was difficult to get Ashleen to follow-through with emergency medical care. She would often phone crying and felt dismissed, something her family experienced as well. As a result, Ashleen wanted to get better to help add her voice to the call for change within our mental health and addiction services. Inspired by an opinion piece written by an ER doctor in the paper decrying those with addictions, Ashleen wanted to go to school to help develop a program to combat prejudice and unconscious bias held by those with privilege and in positions of power. In Gaelic, Ashleen’s name means “vision or dream.” Our dream for her now is to carry out this work in her name and welcome support in doing so.

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Government

No public meetings.


On campus

No public events.


In the harbour

Halifax
01:00: MSC Aniello, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Montreal
05:00: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
06:00: ZIM Luanda, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
14:00: Elka Bene, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
15:00: Hyundai Faith, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
16:30: ZIM Luanda sails for New York
16:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Fairview Cove for Saint-Pierre
16:30: Atlantic Sea sails for New York
18:30: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s
21:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, arrives at Gold Bond from Cape Canaveral, Florid
23:45: Hyundai Faith, container ship, sails for New York

Cape Breton
11:00: JMC-253, barge, with Sarah Dann, tug, through the Canso Causeway en route from Montreal to Kittery, Maine
20:30: NS Laguna, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
21:30: Front Clipper, oil tanker, moves from Port Hawkesbury anchorage to Point Tupper


Footnotes

There’s a COVID briefing scheduled for 1pm today.

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Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. By the end of next week, Erjavec expects Public Health will lift restrictions and allow indoor dining again. But Erjavec predicted that won’t be enough to revive sales. “What we need from government is help to build consumer confidence,“ he said. “After we’ve been told to ‘stay home’ for too long, please tell people it’s now safe and they should ‘go out’!”

    Never doubt that a business association representative will go for short term gain over long term pain. Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock promoted “Dine Out to Help Out” after the second wave in England – that worked out well for them!

  2. McNeil will be getting a pension of something like $126,000 (I read that in a CBC article about his new job). A pension! Apparently that is not enough.
    Stephen, you live in a beautiful part of the Valley; chill the heck out and enjoy retirement. Most people would kill to be able to retire at 56 with a pension like that!

      1. Probably. We’ll find him wandering into the NSLC or hardware store in Bridgetown berating people like he did his opponents or the press. Another 15 years he’ll be the grouchy old man in the park yelling at the pigeons …

    1. It is standard for law firms to hire ex political leaders as a marketing tool. Occasionally the person might actually be a lawyer but I doubt they ever really practice law.
      In any case, even with all the denials, he is and will be a lobbyist it is intelligence insulting to accept otherwise.

  3. From #4, Dr Barrett says “And if you have no symptoms, get tested weekly, as often as you floss your teeth.” Is she really saying that I should only floss once a week?!?!?!?!?!?! When I had a dentist, he told me I should floss after every meal. I think I’m doing well to floss once each day – it’s part of my morning routine. However, there is no way that testing is going to become part of my regular routine. Yes, I have been tested (rapid test clinics only) and will get tested if/when we have a fourth wave (I contend the so-called second wave here in NS was a mere ripple); but I won’t be getting tested weekly, or even monthly. I think testing without reason is a waste of resources. I have gotten my first shot and will get my second sometime late in August (perhaps earlier depending on what options are available if/when I get an invitation to reschedule). I want to get to Phase 5 of the NS reopening plan so that hopefully I can have a mask burning bonfire over the labor day weekend with all my friends and family. 🙂