News
Views
Government
On campus
Noticed
In the harbour
Footnotes


News

1. Old men to stumble into Moncton

Moncton has out-world-classed Halifax by paying a secret amount of money to have AC/DC perform at Magnetic Hill this summer (“summer” means “September” in New Brunswick).

CBC TV in Fredericton wanted to talk to me about concerts and government secrecy yesterday, so I took the bus out to Mumford and sloshed around on the ice around the Halifax Shopping Centre until I eventually found my way into the new CBC studio (splashy!), where they interviewed me at length. I can’t find the clip on the intertubes, which is just as well because I had ridiculous hat hair, but they repackaged the whole thing for CBC radio’s Information Morning in Moncton this morning. That hasn’t been posted yet, but when it is, it’ll be here.

In short, I told the ceeb that if people want to pay for concerts, that’s their right, but they ought make sure the whole thing is done in public, with full transparency. Otherwise, secrecy will inevitably lead to cost overruns and corruption.

I base my views on Halifax’s and Summerside’s experiences with publicly financed concerts. I wrote an exhaustive review of the Halifax concert scandal here. (I think this is one of the most viewed articles I’ve ever written, as its google-friendly references to the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, The Black Eyed Peas, Rush, The Eagles, and so forth bring the page views.) The most relevant part for Moncton may be this:

On February 7, 2008, [Halifax city CAO Wayne] Anstey emailed Kelliann Dean, the provincial civil servant in the department of Tourism, with news that it “seems pretty certain” the Eagles will be going to Moncton instead of Halifax. But, continues Anstey, “CEG, on behalf of Power Promotions is now speaking to the agent for Paul McCartney…” Anstey wanted to know if the province would offer the same deal extended to the Eagles to McCartney.

“The hope is that if we are successful and are able to make an announcement before Moncton, it will kill the Eagles concert,” wrote Anstey.

The Eagles show in Moncton was produced by DKD, a Montreal firm.

On February 13, 2008, there is an email from Anstey to a person whose name is redacted. It reads: “[Events Halifax, an agency of TCL] are apparently saying that they and DKD had been in negotiations for 11 months to get the Eagles for Halifax. Councillor Andrew Younger says it was common knowledge on the street. Did you ever hear anything about DKD trying to get the Eagles before their recent efforts on behalf of Moncton? Did you have any inkling of this ‘common knowledge’? Have you been asked about their claim that you drove up the price?”

Although the name of the receiver of Anstey’s email is redacted, one could infer that it was Harold MacKay, and that Anstey was suggesting that Trade Centre Limited was working with DKD to try to get an Eagles show, while the city was working with MacKay’s PPE [Power Promotional Events] to get the very same Eagles show. If so, this has two implications.

First, it demonstrates that the city was still acting independently from Events Halifax, even though city council’s concert promotion strategy directly called for all promotional activities to take place through EH.

Second, the competition between DKD and PPE served to drive the cost of the show up, but neither side worried much about that because the assumption was that either the province or the city would underwrite the increased costs. Ultimately, the costs got too rich even for Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick was able to make a better offer. New Brunswick subsidies for concerts are not public record.

The music industry pros in LA had played the Maritimes for chumps. By getting Halifax to essentially bid against itself in a price war, the Eagles’ management company was able to use the inflated Halifax figures to get a still-higher price out of Moncton.

Whenever the Moncton concert scandal unfolds, and a scandal most definitely will unfold, it will take the city treasury years to come, well, Back in Black:

2. Absent

Chronicle Herald reporter Brett Bundale slogged through council and council committee minutes to tally attendance records for councillors. Her findings:

With the worst attendance, Coun. Brad Johns (Middle/Upper Sackville-Beaver Bank-Lucasville) missed 25 meetings last year, according to records obtained from the clerk’s office.

[…]

Meanwhile, also posting double-digit absences were councillors Linda Mosher (Halifax West Armdale), Reg Rankin (Timberlea-Beechville-Clayton Park West), Tim Outhit (Bedford-Wentworth), Bill Karsten (Dartmouth South-Eastern Passage) and Darren Fisher (Harbourview-Burnside-Dartmouth East).

However, Mosher and Rankin were granted leaves of absences for several weeks last year.

Councillor Tim Outhit argued that more council work should be done at the committee level, evidently because he misses so many committee meetings and wouldn’t have to actually do the work. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Johns’ excuse was that he’s got a lot going on on Tuesdays and “I have two kids and they’re sick a lot.” Outhit’s explanation for repeated absences at standing committees was as follows:

“Sometimes it’s a very light agenda, and most items get sent to regional council anyway. The real work happens at regional council and committee of the whole and I never missed a meeting.”

Well, yea, sure, but Outhit was one of the most vociferous councillors calling for a reduction of the number of council meetings, arguing that much of the work done by the full council could instead be done at the committee level.

Councillors with the best attendance records were Russell Walker and Mayor Mike Savage, and Brundale points out that most councillors do pretty well, attendance-wise.

Bundale gives a detailed attendance breakdown at the link.

3. Snow cleanup

The argument goes something like this:

People opposed to the city being responsible for snow cleanup: The sidewalks are crap. It never used to be like this. We should reverse course and make homeowners responsible for cleanup.

People in favour of the city being responsible for snow cleanup: I don’t have time to do this, my neighbour is too old/infirm, and this is something the city should be taking care of.

There’s merit in both points of view. But it’s simply a fact that the sidewalks aren’t cleaned the way they should be, bus stops are a perpetual problem (I watched the other day as a city-contracted worker dutifully cleared out a bus stop, pushing all the snow to the street in front of the bus stop, so that passengers have to climb over a mound of snow to get onto the bus), and covered fire hydrants are a tremendous worry. And, no, this is not simply because this winter and last — the winters since the city took over responsibility for clearing peninsular sidewalks — have been particularly bad; the same complaints have long been lodged, even in mild winters, in Dartmouth, where the city has had the responsibility for decades.

The situation calls for a serious review, so it’s good that the city auditor general is considering turning his office’s attention to the matter. The issue isn’t the spending of money, per se, but rather of value for money: what’s the sense of spending millions of dollars and getting crap service for it?

If we’re going to have the city responsible for the clearing, then we’ve got to make sure the job is done right. It’s true the bobcats running around are clearing the bulk of the snow out of the way, reducing the people-hours of shovelling tremendously, but it’s also true that the cats pack down the snow into ice and for whatever reason can’t seem to get bus stops, fire hydrants, and intersections right. If this is a service we value, then we should take the additional step of hiring people in each neighbourhood to get out with actual shovels and ice picks and manually clear the bus stops, intersections, hydrants, and other bad spots on the sidewalk. Sure, it’ll cost more money, but if it takes care of the worst of the problems, why not?

By the way, neither here nor there, but where are all the teenagers that used to roam the streets and bang on doors looking to make a few dollars clearing sidewalks and driveways? Also, get off my snow-covered lawn.

4. Trickled upon

The best way to help the Nova Scotia economy is to fire a bunch of people, says billionaire John Bragg. Bragg argues that by firing a bunch of civil servants, we could reduce the provincial debt by $300 to $500 million. Of course, then a bunch of people would face real economic hardship, so maybe there’s another way. Hmmm. Hey! Maybe we could institute a $100 million wealth tax on the province’s billionaires. We’d raise the same amount of money, but it wouldn’t cause anyone any real hardship.

Just a thought.


Views

1. Inaccessible

Penny Kitchen, who uses a wheelchair, relates her frustrations with using the Access-a-Bus service.

2. Cranky letter of the day

To the Cape Breton Post:

…The former St. Alphonsus Church needs to be saved, but not as a Catholic church. Fred Milley and the St. Alphonsus Preservation Society should just throw in the towel and let the Stone Church Restoration Society, which has public support, move forward with its plans to purchase the “stone church” from the Diocese of Antigonish and turn it into a wedding chapel, concert venue and tourist attraction.

Converting the former church into a wedding chapel would be a blessing. As it is now, married couples are going there just to have their photos taken outside the church. Imagine what it would be like to actually get married inside the church and maybe have some of those who were married there renew their vows there.

Jean Mazalin, Victoria Mines


Government

City

Appeals Committee (10am, City Hall)—the Appeals Committee typically deals with people too busy or without the means to get the garbage off their property, or to strip the flaking paint off their house, or what have you. Usually, receiving a bylaw infraction citation is enough to get people to remedy the situation and that’s the end of it, but a few people appeal to the committee, asking for more time or to get a break. Today, however, there’s an entirely different issue: Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority properties that are in violation of bylaws. Because Metro Housing is a provincial agency, the city has no authority to enforce the bylaws, says city solicitor John Traves. Traves doesn’t say, perhaps because he doesn’t know this, but many of the Metro Housing properties—for example, the entire “pubs” neighbourhood off Bayers Road—is technically on city property, so if the city really wanted to play hardball, it could evict Metro Housing. But I doubt that’d ever happen.

Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (1:30pm, City Hall)—the committee is going to give $50,000 to Engage Nova Scotia to host something called the “Economy, Attitude and Wellbeing” conference. Bold. I can’t imagine why people don’t have good attitudes; I mean, we keep giving lots of money to people who keep telling us that our problem is our attitude. Why isn’t it working?

In the meanwhile, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

Design Review Committee (6pm, City Hall)—the new members of the committee will be introduced, and a meeting schedule adopted.

Province

Veterans Affairs (9am, Room 233A, Johnston Building)—the committee will talk with Barbara Corbett, the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Halifax and Region Military Family Resource Centre.


On campus

Dalhousie

Today

Mining meets visualization (Thursday, 11:30am, Slonim Conference Room, Goldberg Computer Science Building)—Rosane Minghim is a visiting prof at Dal, hailing from the University of São Paulo. The abstract of her talk:

Coming from the viewpoint of visualization research, a few techniques will be mentioned (such as dimension reduction, multidimensional projections, tree-based visualizations), and we will present some of our previous work on developing and employing these techniques to generate visualizations and to support mining tasks. We hope to finish the seminar with a discussion on ways that visualization can move forward as a supporting tool for data mining of increasingly complex, and on ways to continue research on integration between these two fields.

The Cork Group (Thursday, noon, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre)—Jerry White will talk on “Choral Music, Filmmaking, Poetry, and the Irish Language: Getting to know ‘The Cork Group’.”

Bad wine in a sturdy bottle (Thursday, 12:30pm, University Hall, Macdonald Building)—Globe & Mail columnist Doug Saunders will talk about Europe:

Doug Saunders

This is a terrible moment for Europe: a currency crisis created rising inequality and a “lost generation,” ethnic and religious conflict is at record levels, including in the political system; national conflicts are shattering established countries; and something resembling the Cold War has taken shape on the continent’s eastern flank. A region fraught with crisis has managed to avoid turning any crisis into an existential one in large part because its much-derided institutions have worked. Doug Saunders, who has reported extensively from all 28 EU member countries and most of their periphery states, describes a continent where dizzying destabilization is combined with an eerie sense of stability — and what lessons can be taken from this dilemma.

Elliptical Instability of the Moore-Sa man Model for a Trailing Wingtip Vortex (Thursday, 2:30pm, Chase Building, Room 319)—mathematician Jan Feys from McGill University will talk about:

The first half of the talk consists of a short introduction to vortex dynamics. Then, the elliptical instability exhibited by two counter-rotating trailing vortices is considered.

This type of vortex instability can be viewed as a resonance between two normal modes of a vortex and an external strain field. Recently, numerical investigations have extended earlier results in the absence of axial flow to include models with a simple axial jet such as the similarity solution found by Batchelor (1964).

In the second half of this talk, we present growth rates of elliptical instability for a family of velocity profi les found by Moore & Sa man (1973). These profi les have a parameter that depends on the wing loading, and are therefore better suited to model the jet-like and wake-like axial flow present in a trailing vortex at short and intermediate distances behind the wingtip. A direct numerical simulation is performed using an efficient spectral method in cylindrical coordinates developed by Matsushima & Marcus (1997).

Cuban medicine (Thursday, 6pm, Room 2198, McCain Building)—John Kirk, from the Department of Spanish & Latin American Studies, will talk on “The world’s best-kept secret: understanding Cuban medical internationalism.” Says the abstract:

In late 2014, the first country to respond to the U.N. call for medical support in the face of the Ebola outbreak was Cuba, and 15,000 medical personnel volunteered to go to West Africa. This is the latest example of a policy of medical cooperation that dates back to 1960. At present, some 55,000 Cuban medical personnel are working in over 60 countries of the developing world, and 20% of Cuba’s doctors are working overseas. To put this in context, Cuba (pop. 11.2 million) has more medical staff working abroad than the World Health Organization and the G-7 countries together. This presentation, based upon research in Cuba and Central America for nearly a decade, examines two central questions: a) what are the Cuban medical personnel doing?; and b) what is the reasoning behind this long-term policy?

Planetarium show (Thursday, 7:15, Room. 120, Dunn Building)—Tony Schellinck will present “Love is in the stars”:

The first soap opera was not aired on radio or TV, but was displayed in the night sky.
The Greeks and Romans created a drama of the gods, the main characters are visible each clear night and the show has had a run of over two thousand years! Come to the planetarium to catch up on the love life and shenanigans of the gods, while learning about the night sky. It will make your nights under the stars far more entertaining.  Rated PG13.

Five bucks at the door, leave the screaming kids at home.

Friday

Nanostructures (Friday, 1:30pm, Chemistry Room 226)—Dongling Ma, from INRS University in Quebec, will talk about “Nanostructures: Rational design for energy-related applications.”

Early Modern England (Friday, 3:30pm, Marion McCain Building, Room 1170)—Tim Stretton, from Saint Mary’s, will talk on “Contract and Conjugality in Early Modern England.”

Saint Mary’s

Today

Brewed in Japan (Thursday, 7pm, Atrium 101)—Jeffrey Alexander, from the University of Wisconsin, will talk about “What happens when a country (Japan) goes from beerless to beer-loving in a single century?”


Noticed

Mark Bittman, the food journalist and columnist for the New York Times, has recently found his voice as an advocate for progressive values. As someone said to me yesterday, Bittman is the new Krugman. Take, for example, his wonderful column in yesterday’s Times, headlined “What is the Purpose of Society?” The money quote:

Mark Bittman

Shouldn’t adequate shelter, clothing, food and health care be universal? Isn’t everyone owed a society that works toward guaranteeing the well-being of its citizens? Shouldn’t we prioritize avoiding self-destruction?

Plenty of Democrats, even those who think of themselves as progressive, would not answer yes to those questions. Some would answer, “Don’t be naïve, that’s impossible,” and others would say, “All we need to provide is equal opportunity for all and let the market sort it out.” (To which I’d reply, “Talk about naïve!”) I’m fine with disagreement, but I’m not fine with standard public questions like “How do we create a better climate for business so it can provide more jobs?” Consider what this implies about the purpose of people, to say nothing about the meaning of life. The business of America should not be business, but well-being.

The political battle over coming decades will be to reclaim the public sphere, to reject the atomization of the citizenry, and to reestablish that the role of government is to promote the collective good and not to line private pockets. Bittman’s voice is welcome.


In the harbour

The seas around Nova Scotia, 6am Thursday. Map: marinetraffic.com

Acadia, oil tanker, to anchor for bunkers
CSL Tacoma, bulker, to National Gypsum
Atlantic Cartier, con-ro, Norfolk to Fairview Cove
APL Pearl, container ship, Cagliari to Fairview Cove

Zim Shanghai to Kingston, Jamaica
Acadia to sea


Footnotes

I think I’ll be at the Doug Saunders talk today.

Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. Sheldon Macleod did a cringeworthy interview with whoever is responsible for Access-a-bus Tuesday, and took all the “everyone’s happy with the service” quotes at face value.

  2. Reposting myself on sidewalks:

    The problem is not that it is “low bidder”, it is apparently that the contract is “don’t actually bother doing anything”.

    The contract should specific a specific standard, and some minimum qualifications, e.g. to own or have on permanent lease sufficient and appropriate equipment to do a given zone. If the contractors demonstrate in their bid they have the gear, it doesn’t matter what their price is. And whatever their bid price is, if they don’t actually get down to bare concrete in 24 (or even 36!) hours, they don’t get paid.

    Liability for failure (in addition to damages caused by work) can then be passed on to the contractors.

    Consider the historical change in how, say, paving contracts were issued. “Method spec” is like “take a 5 tonne double wheel roller and compact the pavement 17 times”. If the contractor did that, and the road fell apart because it needed to be compacted 19 times, well, thats the PEngs fault, he said 17, and the contractor did 17. Guy with a whitehat and a clipboard ticked off 17, cut a cheque.

    “End result spec” is like “Do what ever you want, get the roadway compacted to 100% of the maximum possible compaction as determined by ASTM test methods XXX”.

    I don’t care if contractors use bobcats, oversize ride-on lawnmowers, the NYPD meter-maid-mobiles-with-plows that HRM has, spoons, or flame throwers. I do care that they get to bare concrete. Make the contracts for that, and pay for that.

  3. It’s almost laughable that business owners crying for cuts to the public service on one hand also want cuts to corporate taxes and have never been shy about taking public money in the form of forgivable loans. L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace or should it be Bold!

    1. Adam Smith: “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.”

  4. RE: HRM Council Attendance; I have served on many Boards most of which had NO remuneration of any kind. On some we even paid our own transportation and meals!

    The «job» of Councillor is trumpeted as Full Time when electioneering and when remuneration is being UPPED, but there’s NO «Full Time Job» in my experience where the incumbent can simply not bother to show up, over, and over, and over,and over,and over,and over,and over….. and still gobble up remuneration which, with its numerous unaccountable «perks» amounts to over $100,000 per!

    Since HRM Council is basically a Board, I respectfully suggest that they be PAID as a Board…. that is to receive a cheque (including legitimate travel and meals expenses) at the conclusion of each meeting ACTUALLY ATTENDED.

    Guaranteed there’d be FULL attendance and NO silly excuses. BTW: to the «Mr.MOM» with sickly children: GET A BABY SITTER — on your egregiously rich SECOND(!!!) salary you can bloody well afford it.

    This kind of grubbing, cavalier attitude is the reason HRM is in such dire straits. How did we ever vote in these cretins?

  5. If Darren Fisher can’t handle showing up to work for his paid job while campaigning to become a federal MP perhaps he should give up one of these two pursuits.