News
Views
Government
On campus
Noticed
In the harbour
Footnotes


News

1. St. Patrick’s roof collapses

St. Patrick’s High School in happier days: F.W. Coolen and Sister Rose Catherine, principal and associate principal of the then-new St. Patrick’s High School, in 1954. Photo: http://halifaxhistory.ca
St. Patrick’s High School in happier days: F.W. Coolen and Sister Rose Catherine, principal and associate principal of the then-new St. Patrick’s High School, in 1954. Photo: http://halifaxhistory.ca

The roof on the former St. Patrick’s High School collapsed this morning, evidently from the weight of the snow. The building, which was vacant at the time of the collapse, has been scheduled for demolition.

Six HRSB schools are closed today due to excessive snow loads on their roofs.

2. CBC layoffs

CBC announced a series of cutbacks and layoffs yesterday. Nationally, 244 people will lose their jobs; that includes 11 people in Nova Scotia — 10 in Halifax and one in Sydney. An un-bylined local CBC reporter interviewed King’s Journalism School prof Stephen Kimber:

“It’s just one more cut in a whole series of cuts. We’ve gone from trying to do more with less, to trying to maintain with less, to making less look like approximating more. You can only do that for so long, and the core of what the CBC is trying to do becomes so badly undermined that it can’t be recovered,” he said.

He said the CBC board should be speaking out, but “the president serves at the pleasure of the prime minister, rather than at the pleasure of the board.”

“One of the things I see as an outsider that surprises, shocks and saddens me is that there’s nobody on the inside of the CBC, at the top ranks, speaking up for public broadcasting,” Kimber said. 

Kimber said the CBC is one of the most underfunded public broadcasters in the world. “Canadians value the CBC. This little-by-little cuts makes it harder for people to get on board and say this is wrong, we’ve got to stop it.”

He said the newsroom does a great job. “Think what it could be if the CBC was funded properly,” he said. 

I estimate that when I arrived in Halifax in 2004 there were about 300 working journalists in Halifax. Now there are fewer than 100.

3. Tax breaks for billionaires

CBC reporter Pam Berman dug through council documents and discovered that the city had made a previously undisclosed deal to cut the property taxes on the Irving Shipyard:

“It’s very complicated,” says Greg Keefe, the city’s chief financial officer. “So we just thought to try to avoid years of appeals and court cases we’d try to come to an agreement ahead of time.”

Keefe confirms the proposed deal is a long term one but won’t discuss any details.

As spelled out in the city document:

Berman looks at the assessment from last year, $39 million, and compares it to this year, $56 million, but there’s a bigger picture. Here’s the recent assessment history of the shipyard property, from the Property Valuations Service Corporation:

An increase of $580,000 in the tax bill would reflect the increase in value from 2013 to 2014 without any deal, so the deal must use some earlier date as a starting point for the agreement. The council report doesn’t given any further details; without knowing that starting date, it’s impossible to say how large the tax break is. It’s worth noting, however, that the entire increase in value is due to the shipyard expansion, which itself was funded by tax dollars.


Views

1.  “Ocean innovation centre”

The Dartmouth Coast Guard base, in 2008. Photo: hipspotting.com

Yesterday I reported that Waterfront Development is going to buy the former Dartmouth Coast Guard base and turn it into an “ocean innovation centre.” I then noted that:

There’s no word on what exactly an “ocean innovation centre” is, what that’s going to cost, or who’s going to pay for it.

This prompted a round of discussion on Facebook. John Wesley Chisholm posted that the announcement of an ocean innovation centre is:

Another triumph for form over substance, mistaking the symbol for the thing symbolized. If only they could name even two people who actually have the ideas, capitial and resources that need to be brought together in “synergy”… even one single example of what they are actually talking about here. My sense is, they got nothing and every person in Nova Scotia who actually has an innovative interesting creative notion about ocean science will have to succeed in spite of these folks. It’s just damn discouraging for everyone.

[…]

Tim Bousquet asks the simple question, what is this thing? I don’t think he’s being rude and negative. He’s just doing some basic inquiry. Beyond the jargony press release praise, what exactly is it? What is one specific wealth creating thing that could be done there? How exactly does it nurture anything? Where exactly is the demand for this coming from? 

Separately, Theresa Babb is also skeptical:

So here’s the thing — I have been asking the same question of provincial politicians all day and thus far have not received an answer. Dalhousie recently opened the Oceans Excellence Centre directly next to the National Research Council. Both facilities have incubator space (that is virtually empty at NRC), access to scientists and their toys (serious research toys like you would not believe), proof of concept studies for SMEs, the list goes on forever. And now the province is spending $6.5m to purchase (and god only knows HOW much to retrofit) this old building because they “HOPE” it might attract researchers. You know we also have the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, right?! THIS, my friends, is one shining of example of why Nova Scotia is now on life support. One more colossal mistake like this could see us on DNR status. This is not innovative.

I don’t know. Simply securing the Dartmouth waterfront site might be worth the $6.5 million purchase price, but, as I said to Babb, if we’re going to spend, what? $20 million, $30 million, $100 million on something, shouldn’t we know what the heck it is? This “ocean innovation centre” sounds like utter bullshit, an idea cooked up in some ministerial back office and foisted upon the public without any obvious discussion, consultation, plan, or even asking the question: Does this make sense?

Perhaps the best comment on the issue comes from Vive L’éveil:

If they want to invest in marine and biology institutions, the Life Sciences Centre at Dalhousie is leaking from every corner, reeks like mildew and mould, and is in need of some serious windows.

Maybe throw the future scientists a little bit of a bone!

Silly Vive, whatever the ocean innovation centre is, it’s not about students or young people, or for that matter about science or even the ocean. It’s about making rich people even richer. Undoubtedly, it’s going to be a vehicle for subsidies for connected people and their businesses.

2. Cranky letter of the day

To the Chronicle Herald:

Well, last week Stephen McNeil finally agreed to what the four health-care unions had proposed back in August 2014 with regard to merging health authorities.

So far this week, he had a meeting with Premier Brian Gallant of New Brunswick and gave concessions to a New Brunswick trucking firm. A bakery that has been in Halifax for 108 years is moving its operation to New Brunswick, and now the ferry from Digby to Saint John, N.B. will be operating on a reverse schedule, leaving Saint John in the morning and arriving in Saint John in the evening, so all these people can find accommodations in New Brunswick. This is really going to affect the tourist operators in Digby.

Now, as long as we have such a savvy negotiator as Premier McNeil at the helm, we should be out of business by the time his term is up.

George Le Frank, Malagash Point


Government

City

Audit and Finance Committee (10am, City Hall)—there’s no obvious big issue on the agenda.

Province

No public meetings.

Nova Scotia Business, Inc. is going to London this summer.


On campus

Dalhousie

The Most Suitable Worker (12:10pm, Room 104, Weldon Law Building)—Peter Twohig will talk about “The Most Suitable Worker: Regulating Nursing Assistants in Canada, 1945–1970.”

Metabolite-induced Covalent Modification! (1:30pm, Chemistry Room 226)—Lekha Sleno, from the University of Quebec at Montreal, will talk on “Monitoring Metabolite-induced Covalent Modification of Proteins by LC-MS/MS.”

Black Snouts (3:30pm, Room 1170, McCain Building)—Jeff Sahadeo, from Carleton University, will speak on “Black Snouts Go Home: Racism and Reaction in Late Soviet Leningrad and Moscow.”

Equality of opportunity (3:30pm, Mona Campbell 1108)—Francisco H.G. Ferreira, from the World Bank, will present on “Equality of opportunity: Theory and evidence (with V. Peragine).”

Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Honours Student Seminars (4pm, Theatre D, CRC Building)—just as it says.


Noticed

Yesterday, the White House posted a YouTube video of US President Barack Obama speaking with The Wire creator David Simon. It’s a wonderfully adult conversation about crime, imprisonment, and drug policy:

This is what drives so many people up the wall about Obama: he seems to get it, has all the rhetoric down, but then his administration makes policy that is 180 degrees apart from the talk. Obama’s Justice Department is “busting growers who operate in full compliance with state laws, vowing to seize the property of anyone who dares to even rent to legal pot dispensaries, and threatening to imprison state employees responsible for regulating medical marijuana,” reports Rolling Stone.

Nation reporter Mike Riggs put Obama’s war on pot in historic context in a 2013 article:

Obama’s drug policy was hailed as revolutionary by the press even as the Drug Enforcement Administration wreaked havoc on medical marijuana communities in California, Colorado and Montana during his first term. On September 25, 2012, in the midst of re-election season, the DEA tried to shut down more than seventy medical marijuana dispensaries in and around Los Angeles. According to LA Weekly’s reporting at the time, “Federal authorities sent warning letters—which tell operators to shut down—to 68 stores. Additionally, three shops were hit with asset-forfeiture lawsuits and another three were raided via search warrant.”

The same year, the Marijuana Policy Project reported that:

While significant portions of the [US federal] budget are dedicated to harm reduction and abuse prevention programs, many of the “drug war” methods that have proven ineffective over the last 40 years — particularly those used to enforce marijuana prohibition — will likely see funding increases this year. Domestic law enforcement is slated to receive $9.4 billion, a $61.4 million increase from last year. The Department of Defense Domestic Counterdrug support program will get nearly $150 million this year, a $124 million increase. Over $4.5 billion will be spent on federal incarceration of drug users and distributors. In addition, the Obama administration has requested the revival of the Youth Drug Prevention Media Program with a $20 million budget. Studies have shown that this program had the opposite of the intended effect on teens, and Congress allocated no money for the program last year.

But Obama’s favourite Wire character is Omar, so I guess we can overlook the thousands of people his administration has thrown in jail on non-violent drug charges.


In the harbour

The seas around Nova Scotia, 8am Friday. Map:marinetraffic.com

Selfoss, container ship, arrived this morning at Pier 42, will sail to sea
Fusion, ro-ro cargo, Saint-Pierre to Pier 36
NYK Diana, container ship,  New York to Fairview Cove West
Torm Rosetta, tanker, Paldiski, Estonia to Bedford Basin anchorage


Footnotes

It’s too early to say for sure, but Enviro Canada says we might get “significant snow” tomorrow.

Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. I know I’m being unrealistic, but I wish we had a federal law that made it illegal for any provinces, counties, or cities to give tax breaks to private companies. Period. Then we’d all be on the same footing, and cities and provinces would stop having to compete in this way. I’m sure they’d get around the law somehow, and I know there are major flaws in my logic–things I’ve failed to realize. But on the surface, it sounds like a good idea, anyway. It’ll also never happen. I suppose provinces would just change their labour laws to make some kind of deal. Is that why Nova Scotia has the abhorrent 48-hour work week? I’m sure THAT’s what’s bringing companies here, so therefore, we should never ever change it.

  2. Yesterday, while getting my teeth cleaned I was forced to watch daytime CBC TV, during which Jeff Semple was reporting from EUROPE on the plane crash there.

    How much money did they spend to send him there? Why was that story important to Canadians? They had a talking head on with airline experience hypothesizing about the whole thing (I bet he’s paid too) meanwhile the government is jamming bills through committee and the only insight Canadians get into the proposed legislation is political rhetoric parroted by reporters.

    Don’t get me wrong, Jeff does good work – they all do good work – but the management at CBC has some serious problems.

    I thought the reason for a public broadcaster was to cover stories and regions that wouldn’t get covered by private industry (because it’s just not profitable). But it seems the CBC’s management thinks they need to turn a profit so they spend more money chasing headlines than doing the kind of strong, daring investigative work that actually benefits the public.

    They need to refocus their ethos. Unfortunately that won’t happen and public opinion will continue turning against them. It’s sad and I wish the senior people in the bureaucracy (unions and management alike) would grow a pair, establish a vision that justifies the use of public money, and then aggressively/intelligently pursue it.

  3. RE: “Ocean Innovation Center”

    Seems like a residential development on this land would be a much better fit, after years of an institutionalized and industrialized waterfront in Dartmouth, the WDC unfortunately seems to support a continuance of that way of thinking.

    Perhaps before Kings Wharf the WDC should’ve bought the Irving shipbuilding property it now inhabits too, and set up a center for shipbuilding excellence… lol.

    1. I graduated from Dal Engineering. Once we were in class and several ceiling tiles caved in on top of us due to leaks. We also noticed a lot of asbestos while we were there. The campus was under construction from the time I entered until the time I left, but strangely we never saw anyone actually working on things. From what I hear nothing has changed.

  4. “Maybe throw the future scientists a little bit of a bone!”

    All you need to know about how Dal sees future scientists and engineers can be seen in the fact that TUNS (now Sexton Campus) hasn’t had any major upgrades/renovations since it was purchased in 1997 and students, in the past few years, have had to take classes in Park Lane Theatre and at various locations across downtown. Dal has increased enrollment at TUNS but hasn’t bothered to build any new space.

    The Dal administration did recently suggest building a new building on Sexton Campus – paid for by a $50+ levy from every student. Has any other university ever been so “bold” as to admit more students than it can reasonably serve, then try to charge them for the classroom space they need?