In the harbour
As expected, Chronicle Herald newsroom employees went on strike at 12:01am Saturday.
Within hours, 18 union members, including union president Ingrid Bulmer, were given layoff notices, but those were quickly suspended because the notices apparently violated labour law. Explains the CBC:
The Chronicle Herald’s vice president of administration, Nancy Cook, confirmed the layoff suspensions.
“The result of a work stoppage, in this case a strike, suspends various aspects of the employment relationship, including the layoff notices,” Cook wrote in an email to CBC News.
Campbell said the company’s lawyer told the union layoff notices “will be suspended until such time our strike action has ended or we reach an agreement.”
I’m told that every employee was couriered a letter Saturday morning; some of the letters contained layoff notices, while others said the employee’s job would “not be affected” by the strike. The CBC reports that layoff notices were sent to four photographers, 12 editors, and two page technicians. No reporters received a layoff notice.
I suspect that the real point of the notices was to divide the union.
In the wee hours of the morning Saturday, just after the strike began, Chronicle Herald president Mark Lever took to Twitter with a series of bizarrely combative tweets, which have since been removed.
For the duration of the strike, I will not be linking to Chronicle Herald articles. I’ve also cancelled my subscription.
I’ll join the strikers on the picket line today.
2. DEAD WRONG, Part 1: The War of the Roses
Saturday, I published the first instalment of DEAD WRONG, an investigative series that looks at the probable wrongful conviction of Glen Assoun for the murder of his former girlfriend Brenda Way, and what that probable wrongful conviction says about police investigations into dozens of other murdered women in the Halifax area.
Part 1 of the series details the underside of Dartmouth, and the alcohol, drugs, and prostitution that dominate the desperate lives of that segment of society.
Here’s a teaser, the first three paragraphs of the story:
There is a spot on the Dartmouth waterfront with a spectacular view. It’s right where Shore Road, the road that runs along the harbour, passes under the Macdonald Bridge and makes a right turn, becoming Lyle Street, which runs uphill, inland.
At the turn, there’s a pull-out from the road, a space big enough for just a car or two, next to one of the concrete pillars for the bridge. From there, you can see across the harbour to downtown Halifax, the navy yard, and the shipyard. Giant container ships pass occasionally, on their way to and from the port terminal.
It was at that spot, on an early Sunday morning in 1996 — November 3, 2:23am, not long after the bars had closed — that a bridge commissionaire on his rounds found a car. On investigation, he found a man in the car. A dead man. A dead man with his pants around his knees.
This is longform journalism at the extreme — Part 1 alone runs 10,000 words. But I think it’s readable and interesting, and brings the story along to the point where we can discuss what went wrong in Assoun’s case. Part 2 will be published this coming Saturday, January 30.
DEAD WRONG is behind the Examiner’s paywall, and so available only to paid subscribers. Click here to purchase a subscription.
3. Examineradio, episode #45
This week, we speak with Kelly Toughill, Director of the School of Journalism at University of King’s College, about the future of print media in Nova Scotia and what the work stoppage at the Chronicle Herald will mean to young journalists trying to ply their trade.
Plus, Russell Gragg and I preview DEAD WRONG, discussed above. We’ll devote all of the next Examineradio to that project.
Also, rumours are swirling about a possible sale of the Chronicle Herald to the Irving-owned Brunswick News chain, and the union that represents Chronicle Herald newsroom workers says management has entered into a news-sharing agreement with the Irving-owned Brunswick News.
Also, hey, Dartmouth is getting some Scandanavian meatballs!
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(Subscribe via iTunes)
4. Mancini wins in Dartmouth
Tony Mancini won the District 6 byelection with 1,475 votes, or 45.1 per cent of the ballots cast. Voter turnout was just 20 per cent, which absolutely gives the lie to the notion that internet voting would result in increased voter participation.
1. Film tax credits
Stephen Kimber points us to an editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette headlined “Starring role: A bigger film tax credit would help Pennsylvania,” which comes in the midst of a budget crisis in that state.
Government budget “crises” are all to some extent manufactured, and in the past few decades they have almost all been created with the specific aim of cutting the size of government, or at least those parts of government that provide benefit to the poor and working classes. In the crisis moment, military and police budgets somehow evade the budgetary axe. And the one tactic that would actually solve budget shortfalls — raising taxes on corporations and the rich — is not allowed to be discussed; in fact, often the exact opposite tactic is employed, as corporations and the rich use the moment to get their taxes cut, not raised. In short, budget crises are a form of “disaster capitalism.”
That said, the current budgetary shortfalls in Nova Scotia pale in comparison to the extent and duration of the Pennsylvania crisis. And yet, says the Post Gazette:
The budget stalemate suspended the state’s film tax credit program, and Pittsburgh lost at least one big TV series production as a result while work in Philadelphia virtually faded to black.
Fortunately, Gov. Tom Wolf released funding for the tax credits last week, as part of approving a $23 billion partial budget to restore essential services. The Pittsburgh Film Office sprinted into action, reviving the projects that had been on ice while promising more “high profile” productions in the pipeline.
Now’s the time for the film office, and everyone who wants the region’s economy to prosper, to restate the case for expanding the tax credits — lifting the $60 million cap and making the program multiyear.
The math is simple. The credits are the deciding factor for an overwhelming number of productions to choose Pennsylvania over other locations. The crews spend loads of money locally, generating more income and tax revenue than the tax credits cost. More work builds a local industry of technicians. The multiplier effect fills hotel rooms and restaurants and fuels catering operations. The national buzz when, say, star Jake Gyllenhaal declares his adoration for Pittsburgh after filming here is gravy.
Let us compare.
Pennsylvania’s governor was concerned enough about his film industry to include funding for it in his emergency allocation.
Premier Stephen McNeil, on other hand, eliminated Nova Scotia’s film tax credit in last spring’s budget. Its replacement — the Nova Scotia Film and Television Incentive Fund — has been an abysmal failure. The industry reports 82 per cent fewer film jobs in the last quarter of last year compared to 2014. And it predicts even worse to come.
McNeil’s response? In December, he shrugged that the industry he decimated was in “a transition,” so “We’re moving on.”
2. Free negative advertising here
Since the announcement that IKEA will open a store in Dartmouth, the naysayers, negative people, and progress-haters I call my friends have been sharing a 2009 Globe & Mail op-ed piece which is an excerpt of Ellen Ruppel Shell’s book Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. Among Ruppel Shell’s observations:
Focused and deliberate, IKEA president and CEO Anders Dahlvig is a plain-spoken MBA with what appears to be a deep inner calm. Dahlvig began by explaining that IKEA is legally not Swedish at all, but a holding of Ingka Holding, a Dutch company which itself is owned by the tax-exempt Stichting Ingka Foundation. In 1982, founder Ingvar Kamprad donated all his shares to Stichting Ingka, thereby creating the world’s flushest charitable foundation. In 2007, Stichting Ingka Foundation had a net worth of at least $36-billion, devoted to “innovation in the field of architectural and interior design.”
Architectural and interior design is not the usual target for philanthropy, and Dutch foundations are subject to very little oversight or regulation, so it’s hard to know where all the money goes. One observer thought he knew, telling The Economist: “Clearly, the Kamprad family pays the same meticulous attention to tax avoidance as IKEA does to low prices in its stores.” That Kamprad is a tax refugee living in Switzerland gives some level of credence to this speculation.
IKEA is the third-largest consumer of wood in the world, just a step or two behind discounters Home Depot and Lowes, and just a step or two ahead of Wal-Mart. The timber used in the wood products sold by these chains comes mostly from Eastern Europe and the Russian Far East, where wages are low, large wooded regions remote and, according to the World Bank, half of all logging is illegal.
Many of us think of IKEA as the world’s largest furniture maker, but that’s wrong. It’s the world’s largest furniture retailer. IKEA’s vaunted “made in Sweden” quality is hammered out by tens of thousands of workers mostly in the employ of other companies – 1,300 vendors in 52 countries. China is the company’s largest supplier, but that’s just for now. If Chinese workers demand better wages, protections and benefits, as they have in the past, IKEA is likely to move on to India or Vietnam, where the company already has a strong foothold. Or it might expand in Africa, or even the United States, where to great fanfare it recently installed a factory in Danville, Va.
IKEA succeeds the way all discounters do: by passing much of its costs onto us. The chain has a policy of having relatively few stores — 270 spread across 35 countries and territories. Most are enormous — Atlanta’s IKEA is nearly 366,000 square feet, the area of about seven football fields.
Like discount outlet malls, IKEA stores are positioned well outside city centres, in areas where huge spaces can be had at relatively low cost and at reduced tax costs. This business model allows the company substantial economies of scale while at the same time compelling customers to drive very long distances — an average 50-mile round trip in the United States.
Asked for his assessment of company practices, Wig Zamore, an urban-development expert trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, put it this way: “IKEA is the least sustainable retailer on the planet.”
In the final analysis, IKEA offers predictable uniformity in the guise of novelty; design without craftsmanship, the customer bending to accommodate the commodity.
3. The Darkside
Via Hello Dartmouth, The Darkside Cafe in Dartmouth is battling the city:
Dear friends, neighbours and customers,
We will be going to court this week, as the city is charging us with violating the zoning bylaws in North Dartmouth. They are seeking to impose a fine of $100/day since our opening, which amounts to roughly $47,000 and growing.
Over the past year, ourselves and our landlord have worked to come to an agreement with the city that would allow us to keep operating in our current location. Despite the fact that we have come close to finalizing a development agreement, they are pursuing their court case against us.
We cannot understand why the city has chosen to go after a small business such as ours. In a province that is trying to grow its economy and reduce red tape, HRM continues to create bureaucracy and foster an anti-small business environment.
We came from outside Nova Scotia, brought our saving, our hopes and our dreams here and decided to invest ourselves in North Dartmouth. We bought a house, started our family and decided to open a small art gallery and café in a neighbourhood that is slowly improving.
We have hosted open mike nights for local musicians and story-telling evenings that celebrate the oral tradition and music of the east coast. Students from John Martin Jr High have exhibited their incredible drawings. Artists from all over Nova Scotia have sold their art to our customers. Not everyone buys a painting, but the art on the walls continues to provoke discussions among those who stop by.
Since the day we opened we have been harassed by the bureaucrats at the city. There has been no outside complaint made against us. We know this from the discovery documents that they provided us for our court case. This malicious prosecution has been driven by the staff of the city, whose salaries we all pay with our taxes and whose job it is supposed to be to improve the city we live in. One staff member even emailed that they should ‘throw the book’ at us. This is despite the fact that we have been told by the city that they believe that our presence in the neighbourhood is a good thing.
They have caused us untold stress and sleepless nights and now they threaten to shut us down by fining us what amounts to a half year of sales and would force us out of business.
The North Dartmouth community has been kind enough to embrace us. We have found a wonderful home in a diverse, vibrant neighbourhood and appreciate the love and support we have found from the residents. It would break our hearts to have to close.
We do not know what the outcome of this week’s court battle will be, so we ask you for your thoughts and prayers and thank you for your support over the past 15 months.
Oliver and Megan Mahon
Owners, The Darkside
That of course is one side of the issue, and the city may look at it differently.
Can bylaw enforcement be excessive? For sure. Is that the problem in this instance? Maybe, and I can understand the Mahons’ frustration even if it isn’t.
But I can’t understand opening a business without first checking out the local bylaws and planning rules. One should apply for a development agreement before opening a business, not after being charged with violating planning rules.
Most of these situations involve two immovable forces: on the one hand city bureaucrats who rightly don’t have latitude to decide to prosecute some bylaw infractions but not others, and on the other hand retailers who very often have an “I can do no wrong” attitude.
4. Covering rural issues
“This promises to be an eventful week in the history of Richmond County, NS, where the municipal government has been in turmoil ever since a palace coup ousted former Warden Steve Sampson in October 2014,” writes Parker Donham, who outlines the issues and promises to explain more about the story in future posts.
I can’t pretend to understand what’s going on there, and Donham, in his usual fashion, faults Nova Scotian journalists for missing the issue:
The ability of provincial news organizations to cover events more than an hour’s drive from Halifax or Sydney has all but disappeared over the last 20 years. Bureaus have closed. Travel budgets have evaporated. Rural issues are covered by phone, if at all.
That’s undoubtedly true. But I don’t know what to do about it. I’ve had a few rural issues tweak my interest since I’ve started the Examiner, but I find that they’re nearly impossible to give my full attention to.
For example, I’m quite interested in the Chinese firm Dongdu’s plans to, supposedly, build an actual city in the Municipality of St. Mary’s. The potential story brings together the film tax credit issue, Nova Scotia Business Inc subsidies to foreign companies while ignoring local firms, the bizarre Chinese practice of dumping trillions of dollars into city-building, and the resulting “ghost cities” that litter the Chinese countryside. Were that not enough, the municipality appears to be violating public records law, and there’s no full-time reporter anywhere near the place to call them out on it. The situation is a right hook to my nose for news.
But actually giving the issue the attention it needs means repeatedly driving the three hours one way to St. Mary’s, staying in a hotel (if they’re even open off-season), and otherwise busting my expense budget. In practical terms, St. Mary’s may as well be Outer Mongolia. So for now, it’s the most interesting story I can’t cover. I suppose back in the day the Chronicle Herald would pay a reporter to go up there for a month and do the story right, but… well, innovation or something.
5. Cranky letter of the day
Tax time is fast approaching again and low-income people who pay high medical expenses should realize how the tax system treats them most unfairly compared to the more financially well off.
The manipulation of the tax system to favour higher income earners couldn’t resist extending this tax manipulation to even health care expenditures in its Medical Expense Tax Credit.
For the 2015 tax year, all taxpayers using this tax credit with net incomes of $73,600 and below can only qualify for this credit after absorbing the threshold cost of a full three per cent of their net income.
The taxpayers with net incomes of $73,600 and below must first absorb/pay $2,208 out of pocket before any additional qualifying medical expenses can be used.
This intended tax manipulation becomes more obvious when one calculates for higher net income above the threshold of $73,600 only to see the percentage threshold costs continue to go down as net income rises.
When the upper threshold net income of $73,600 is doubled, for example, to $147,200 it means the upper $2,208 dollar maximum threshold cost represents only 1.5 per cent of that doubled net income. Doubling that net income again to $294,400 means the maximum dollar threshold cost ($2,208) is now less than one percent at 0.75 per cent.
Consequently, all net income taxpayers from $73,600 and lower are overtaxed at three per cent while higher income taxpayers qualify for a tax credit under a different and less costly criterion of the maximum dollar threshold cost limit of $2,208.
Lower net income taxpayers are then subsidizing higher net income taxpayers’ ability to qualify for a medical expense tax credit under a much less costly rule.
If the $200,000 net income taxpayer had to meet the same three per cent threshold cost as lower net income taxpayers, only medical expenses above $6,000 could be used for this tax credit. However, taxpayers with net incomes above $73,600 only have to use $2,208 as their threshold cost.
And when we compare two taxpayers with net incomes of $44,700 and $200,000 each with $4,000 of medical expenses calculating their tax savings at their tax rate, the result of this intended unfairness is the higher net income taxpayer actually pays less real dollars in medial cost.
And that effect happens even when calculated at the actual tax rate for both taxpayers of 15 per cent compared to 23.57 per cent. If one were to use the marginal tax rate of 29 per cent for the higher net income of $200,000, the unfairness would be even greater.
The percentage cost, too, to the lower net income taxpayer of $4,000 medical expenses is a huge 8.06 per cent of his/her net income compared to only 1.79 per cent for the $200,000 higher net income taxpayer.
The only recourse for taxpayers who are being subjected to this tax unfairness is to register their complaint with your political federal member of parliament.
The government already knows of this unprogressive and unfair tax policy – it designed it this way – and will do absolutely nothing unless enough people, particularly those adversely affected, contact them demanding this health care tax credit at least have the same rules for all taxpayers.
Charles W. Sampson Sydney Forks
Districts 7 & 8 Planning Advisory Committee (4pm, City Hall) — two very contentious issues are before the committee:
Dino Capital has an application for a 176-unit, 10-storey apartment building on Wellington Street. This is a reconfiguration of an earlier plan for two buildings on the site, one eight storeys and one 10 storeys, which together had 142 units.
Quinpool & Robie
Staff is looking to create some planning rules for the Quinpool/Robie area, where some gigantic buildings are proposed.
I’ll be at the meeting and will report back tomorrow.
Public information meeting (7pm, Wallace Lucas Community Centre) — RMP Development Consulting Limited has an application for a horse farm at 1481 Lucasville Road.
No public meetings.
Bridging the Gap: The Communication of Information in Complex, Multi-sectoral Networks (1pm, Rowe 3001) — Lee Wilson will speak:
Research has shown that the development of strong communication and information-sharing networks is essential to the success of natural resource developments, particularly those taking place in highly active, and often hotly contested, coastal areas. In the Bay of Fundy region, tidal power offers a source of clean, renewable energy, as well as a means to strengthen local economies. The implementation of tidal power affects many stakeholders, e.g., municipal, provincial, and federal government agencies; non-governmental organizations (NGOs); environmental groups; industry both domestic and foreign; universities; and community groups, including First Nations communities. This lecture will present the results of a mixed-methods case study that used Social Network Analysis (SNA) and semi-structured interviews to examine tidal power stakeholder communication networks operating in the Bay of Fundy region of Nova Scotia. Understanding how, and indeed if, stakeholder organizatio! ns are communicating yields insights into how communication channels may be improved, which can also be applied to similar contexts, e.g., the offshore wind and wave energy industries. Among the many findings emerging from this research, the importance of “bridger” organizations, particularly from the NGO sector, in facilitating the flow and use of information among diverse organizations is highlighted.
Painted Skin (7pm, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — “Chinese Studies Presents Painted Skin, a film by Gordon Chan, with an introductory lecture by Dr. Shannon Brownlee, instructor for CHIN 3050 Asian Cinema. All are welcome.”
IMBd explains that Painted Skin is “an action-thriller centered on a vampire-like woman who eats the skins and hearts of her lovers.” Ah yes, I know her.
The Alzheimer Enigma (7pm, Halifax Central Library) — Margaret Lock, from McGill University, will speak.
In the harbour
Macao Strait, container ship, Lisbon, Portugal to Pier 41; sails to sea just before noon
Goodwood, car carrier, Emden, Germany to Autoport
OOCL Kaohshiung, container ship, Norfolk to berth TBD
British Merlin, tanker, Whiffen Head, Newfoundland to anchorage
Maersk Cutter, offshore supply ship, St. John’s to anchorage
This week has me pulled in a thousand directions. My apologies for not responding immediately, or at all, to your emails.
Mancini seems like a nice, boring white guy. I’ll never be fully trusting of business people with vague job titles like “facilitator’. I’m not surprised voter turnout was so low, given the apparent blandness of candidates and the by-election being sandwiched between national and local elections.
Regarding the Dark Side cafe, it would be nice if they showed some evidence of “harrassment” by local officials. Fining businesses that fail to obey local laws is one of the things we pay them taxes to do. I fail to see why they should be turning a blind eye because the owners are nice people. If the business is being targeted unfairly, it shouldn’t be too hard to demonstrate this. If it is fair, albeit strict, suck it up and deal with the consequences. If the community is as on their side as they hope, try crowdfunding to help pay the fine.
Something interesting I’ve read is that it is not the nature of zoning laws which is problematic, but their complexity. The fact that the laws are complicated enough that a person like Tim can’t sit down and figure out whether the Darkside Cafe or the city is in the wrong in a couple hours is the real problem.
Can you imagine if traffic laws were as complex as zoning rules?
Well, I can figure out. This morning I was writing other stuff and government offices weren’t open. But if I were to open a retail operation, I would take whatever time was necessary, and double check with city staff, before proceeding.
Aren’t they as complex, though? If they are too complicated to figure out, there may be an argument that the city should better serve people in navigating the rules as they boldly entrepeneur. This doesn’t give people license to flout laws. What happens when Starbucks wants to build in a place the laws don’t allow?
There is nothing stopping a Tim Bousquet-type person in rural Nova Scotia from starting his own news-based website and investigating these issues.
I really appreciated your take on the issue regarding The Dark Side. Over the past two years I have learned more about zoning and the building code than any hat maker should ever have to know. What I have learned is that these laws do make sense. They have been well thought out and are there to serve the public. I cringed watching all the reactionary comments go down on FaceBook yesterday. Respect for zoning bylaws is what allows us to not live next door to glue factories and the building code is what ensures that people that work in factories don’t get trapped in fires. It all makes sense. That said, there have been many cases in rural NS where the zoning laws need to be re-examined to ensure they are relevant to our current economic reality. In Lunenburg, however, what you have is a case of a municipal government violating their own zoning laws. That is why I have had the unofficial support of officials in HRM who actually care about fair and knowledgeable application of rules. Which leads me to your comments about your inability to cover issues in rural NS. I totally get it, but it’s too bad for us because when it comes to issues that seriously need to be investigated we can really put you city folk to shame. I’ll just keep trying to get people to subscribe and maybe one day…..
Aren’t byelection turnouts usually lower than general election turnouts anyway? e.g. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/byelection-turnout-hits-all-time-low-in-alberta-1.2694392 Are you comparing apples and oranges? Maybe turnout would have been even lower without internet voting.
Byelections & Turnouts:
June 13, 1998 District 14 — 37%
March 13, 1999 District 17 — 26%
October 30, 1999 District 1 — 32%
October 30, 1999 District 3 — 28%
October 30, 1999 District 19 — 19.4%
December 11, 1999 District 14 — 14.1%
November 8, 2003 District 2 — 30.6%
November 8, 2003 District 3 — 20.7%
November 8, 2003 District 16 — 34.4%
August 19, 2006 District 21 — 43.9%
December 15, 2007 District 8 — 24.6%
May 3, 2008 District 21 — 56.8%
September 19, 2009 District 6 — 19.5%
So the recent District 6 byelection was the fourth worst voter turnout for a byelection in HRM history.
Was this really an online voting election though? I heard folks couldn’t vote online on the day of. That seems confusing. How many people went to vote online with their login and were refused, only to give up?
Bravo for DEAD WRONG, Part 1!