1. Legacy media: CEO compensation and public subsidies
Yesterday, Postmedia released its Management Information Circular in preparation of January’s shareholder meeting; the circular shows that CEO Paul Godfrey was awarded a $1.2 million bonus on top of his $1.2 million dollar salary in 2018, and with stock options brought in over $5 million in 2018. The top five execs at Postmedia collectively received over $10 million in compensation:
Yes, this is the same Postmedia that closed six community newspapers in June and cut its payroll by 10 per cent in August through early retirements and layoffs. And this is the same Paul Godfrey who last year went to Ottawa, hat in hand, to ask for $350 million a year in public subsidies for the legacy news industry. And it’s the same Paul Godfrey who last week praised the Trudeau government for announcing tax breaks benefitting the legacy news industry to the tune of half a billion dollars annually: “I tip my hat to the prime minister and the finance minister,” said Godfrey after the announcement. “Everyone in journalism should be doing a victory lap around their building right now.”
Godrey’s $5 million compensation reflects the costs, including salary, of about 65 reporters.
But sure, let’s give Postmedia public money because the company is struggling.
Godfrey’s compensation alone should kill the subsidy program, but of course it won’t. Our society long ago gave up on the idea that there should be constraints on the pay for corporate execs, and their imperial lifestyles are taken as a given, no more questionable than a medieval peasant challenging the king’s riches. It’s just the way it is.
We only know about Godfrey’s compensation because it is a publicly traded company. But if we’re going to pony up public money for other legacy media — like, for instance, the Chronicle Herald — then shouldn’t those companies’ executive salaries also become public?
The media is rightly insistent on public disclosure of government employee salaries. Anyone can find the salary of any provincial employee on the Public Accounts website. And the province also requires public agencies to publish the salaries of all employees making over $100,000 annually. That requirement extends as well to large non-profit agencies receiving government funding. And charities’ tax returns are public record, published on the federal government’s website, where anyone can find at least the range of executives’ salaries.
(In California, there’s a requirement that all charities receiving property tax exemptions, including hospitals and churches, provide the salaries of everyone making over, airc, $60,000. It is hard to get to — I had to pry the schedules out of the county assessor’s office — but with effort, it’s available. We should do the same here.)
It’s absolutely right that this information is public. It’s our money, after all.
So why don’t the same disclosure requirements apply to private companies receiving public money? If a company is getting an ACOA grant, or NSBI tax rebates, it should tell the public that provides that money how much it is paying its executives. More: the public financing should be conditioned on such disclosure.
Likewise, if we’re going to be giving the legacy news media a half billion dollars, then I want to know how much Mark Lever is paying himself and the other Saltwire execs.
Don’t hold your breath awaiting that Herald editorial.
Whatever Lever is making, however, I can guarantee you that it’s more than the entire Halifax Examiner’s annual budget. That’s for one doofus exec wandering the hallways, getting in people’s way.
The Examiner doesn’t take any public money, so there’s no moral obligation to do so, but I’ve been thinking about publishing the Examiner’s financials. (Maybe I will, after next year’s tax filing…) Really, the only reason I haven’t is because I’m embarrassed about how little I’m compensated. Every time the subscription revenue increases, I use the money to hire more people. I guess I’m the anti-Paul Godfrey.
Anyway, all of this is a roundabout way of encouraging you to subscribe. We could use your money, and we promise to put it to good use. Click here to subscribe.
2. Criminal background checks
“How much is too much to pay for a background check to apply for a job or to volunteer for a non-profit group such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters or a school breakfast program?” asks Jennifer Henderson.
It’s a question worth asking in Halifax, where the fees to check if a person has past criminal convictions are $50 for job applicants and $30 for volunteers. Compare those fees with other municipalities which have their own police forces: in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, a job applicant’s background check costs $30, but is free for volunteers. In Truro, the fee is $25 for job applicants and zero for volunteers.
And in municipalities where the RCMP perform background checks (e.g. Wolfville, Windsor, Bible Hill), there is no fee for either job applicants or volunteers.
So by comparison, background checks conducted by police and RCMP in HRM appear to be — depending on your point of view — either a “profit centre” or a cash cow.
Using data from a city staff report and Henderson’s reporting, I compiled the following chart:
And that doesn’t include the RCMP’s Halifax detachment’s contribution to the profit centre, because staff didn’t provide the costs for that portion of record check revenue.
There’s lots of good info in Henderson’s article, including this bit for consumers: If you live in Halifax and need a criminal background check for work or volunteer opportunities, you’re better off going to the Commissionaires, who only charge $31 for employment checks (compared to the $50 the police charge) and $26 volunteer checks ($30 from the police). The only caveat is that the Commissionaires can’t provide the additional “vulnerable sector” checks that ares sometimes required for people working with children.
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3. Heads Up Halifax
“Last week, just in time for Crosswalk Safety Awareness Day, the city of Halifax revived it’s Heads Up Halifax campaign, but with a twist on past years,” writes Examiner transportation columnist Erica Butler.
This year, instead of paying someone to come up with more ads like this:
…the city announced it was going to ask citizens for their ideas on how to make crosswalks safer.
Previous campaigns had been criticized by many, including me, for their focus on “shared responsibility,” despite evidence showing that that vast majority of reported collisions in Halifax are actually preceded by driver errors, not pedestrian errors.
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4. City taxes
I was at yesterday’s council meeting when councillors discussed the upcoming tax rates, but frankly I was in a foul mood and decided to put myself to more constructive work elsewhere, so this morning I’m outsourcing the tax reporting to Zane Woodford at StarMetro Halifax:
Financial policy and planning manager Bruce Fisher had recommended staff be directed to prepare two budget scenarios: one with a 2.1 per cent tax increase for fiscal 2019-2020 and one with a 2.9 per cent increase.
Councillors voted in favour of an amendment from Councillor Waye Mason to add an option for a 1.9 per cent increase.
Fisher’s fiscal framework report argued that a 2.9 per cent increase was needed just to maintain current services, based on increased cost pressures from council-approved services, wages and fuel.
Mason floated some ideas for finding the extra money. He suggested council could vote to reduce the amount of money Halifax pays annually toward its debt, which is down to $235.7 million from almost $350 million in 1998.
He also suggested cutting up to $200,000 each from the police, fire, planning, human resources and finance departments and cutting $1 million from the road-paving budgets.
Suburban councillors like Lorelei Nicoll and Lisa Blackburn quickly spoke out against Mason’s anti-paving plan. He walked it back, opting instead to ask staff “to come back with cafeteria-menu-style options” that may include his ideas.
It will now be up to municipal staff to find the budget savings as the numbers are presented to council over the next few months.
For myself, I can’t get overly excited about the proposed tax increases. Council has been reasonably good on the financial restraint front for the past five or six years, and things cost money. Death and taxes, as Benny Franklin said.
If we were really concerned about taxes, we’d simply get rid of half the police department, but I don’t know that that idea would resonate.
So while I recognize that tax increases are simply part of life, and in the abstract not unreasonable in this instance, let’s remember that this tax discussion takes place in the context of one huge recent municipal failure, and a second in the making: the convention centre and stadium.
We’re taking a $25 million loss over the next few years from the convention centre, and that’s just the beginning of a financial hit of several hundred million dollars over the next couple of decades, and council is now seriously considering a property tax reshuffle in order to fund a stadium and related infrastructure that will surely cost at least $300 million.
Let’s not fool ourselves: large capital projects like the convention centre and stadium necessarily take tax dollars away from needed services like recreation, road paving, and police and fire.
We can’t have it both ways: We can’t have a stadium and low taxes. Even if you buy the logic of the smoke-and-mirrors, pea-under-the-cup shuffle that is tax increment financing for the stadium — and no way should you buy that logic, but even if you do — the stadium will take money away from other city services. You can either increase taxes further to keep those services at a reasonable level, or you can cut the services.
It’s just math.
Speaking of the convention centre, on Thursday, city council’s Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee is being asked to approve a $1 million contribution to the Link Performing Art Centre. The expenditure is explained in a staff report that is annoyingly not PDF-reader friendly, and I’m not going to waste my time retyping it; you’ll have to read it yourself (evidently, we’ve got $300 million to spend on a stadium, but not enough money to make staff reports readable by software for the visually challenged).
I wrote about the Link proposal back in March:
Culture! Who could be against culture, eh?
But let’s back and up and tell the story of how a connected developer is using the arts! to finance a big real estate deal.
This story starts with a crappy old office building on Argyle Street. This one:
That’s the old World Trade and Convention Centre, which housed the old convention centre in the basement and on the first floor.
George Armoyan ended up buying the building, which didn’t make much sense to me: in a crashing office space market, why would anyone want to buy a 40-year-old office tower? I continued:
But what about that convention centre space on the bottom of the WTCC building?
That’s where Councillor Smith’s motion to provide $1.02 million for the Link Performing Arts Centre comes in.
In a presentation to the committee made in December that was vague in operational specifics, Link pitched its capital plan:
Note that the plan hinges on $8.295 million in public financing, and, on the expenditure side, that there are “building leaseholds” of $7.5 million. The leasehold money will go to rehab and refurbish the old convention centre space, which will then be leased from Armoyan.
I have no reason to doubt that the people associated with The Link Performing Arts Society are sincere. They are filmmakers Marc Almon and Rob Power,
PRcommunications specialist Sarah Riley [Riley says there’s a difference between communications and PR; I honestly don’t understand her argument, but she can call herself whatever she wants], Music Nova Scotia Executive Director Scott Long, and Dance Nova Scotia Executive Director Cliff Le Jeune. No doubt they want a successful arts centre.
But note where the Society is registered:
That’s right: The Link Society is housed in George Armoyan’s Armco building.
It’s obvious that Armoyan wants the Link Centre to be successful as part of the overall financing plan for the Willow Tree development and WTCC redevelopment. Getting $8.925 million in public money — $1.05 million (or, in Smith’s motion, $1.02 million) of it from the city — to make the space rentable to Link, and then have Link rent it back from Armoyan makes the entire deal doable for Armoyan. Otherwise, it’s just wasted space.
Regardless, shouldn’t the $1 million price tag for the rehab of the Link space be included in the overall costs for the new convention centre?
Special Appeals Standing Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am, City Hall) — the committee is meeting solely to appoint one of its members to the Executive Standing Committee.
Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall) — see #2 above.
Community Design Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 11:30am, Alderney Gate) — read what the public thinks about the downtown Dartmouth plan, here.
Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm, City Hall) — committee member William Breckenridge wants “to create a master plan that would map out how to better identify, conserve and protect, HRM owned and private heritage sites.”
Special Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (Thursday, 11:30am, City Hall) — see #5 above.
Public Open House (Thursday, 12pm and 4pm, the People’s Arena, 259 Commodore Drive, Dartmouth) — proposed zoning changes for Burnside.
Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — staff is suggesting that the University Avenue bike lane “pilot project” be extended until the city agrees to make it permanent.
No public meetings for the rest of the week.
Thesis Defence, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Wednesday, 9:30am, room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — PhD candidate Sergio A. Muñoz-Gómez will defend his thesis, “The Anatomical and Phylogenetic Nature of the First Mitochondrial Ancestor.”
BRIC NS Student Seminar Series (Wednesday, 12pm, Room 313, Collaborative Health Education Building) — Noelle Ozog will talk about “Attitudes towards influenza vaccination during wait times in the emergency department,” followed by Ryley Urban with “Reallocation Model for Rural Nova Scotian Primary Care Clinics, and Impact on Access.”
Mitochondrial biogenesis in trypanosomatids: variations of a theme or fundamentally different?(Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — André Schneider from the University of Bern will speak.
Farewell Reception for President Florizone (Wednesday, 4pm, Emera ideaHUB, Emera IDEA Building, 5283 Morris Street) — don’t feel too bad, because like Tom Traves before him, Florizone will continue to collect his Dal salary even as he works another job with another salary at that Ontario gig.
Dante’s Purgatorio (Wednesday, 7:30pm, Dunn Theatre, Dal Arts Centre) — translated and adapted by Patrick Baliani, directed by Margot Dionne. Performances Wednesday–Saturday 7:30pm, Saturday 2pm. $15.
Thesis Defence, Electrical and Computer Engineering (Thursday, 10am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Zina Saheb will defend her thesis, “An Energy Efficient, High Speed Class-E Transmitter for Battery-Free Wireless Sensor Networks.”
Can data science be ethical? And why should I care? On DNA, Gamergate, taxi rides, and sea rescue operations (Thursday, 11:30am, in the auditorium named after a bank, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Bettina Berendt from the University of Leuven will speak. Her abstract:
Ethics is everywhere. We need to get our research plans approved by ethics boards, we now do ethical AI (based on ethics codes), the European Union makes data-science projects have an independent ethics advisor, and management now engages in ethical leadership.
Why is this, and what does ethics actually mean in the context of data science? In this talk, I will give a hands-on introduction to important schools of thought and questions from this fascinating subfield of philosophy. The “hands-on” means that we will, interactively, go through a number of real-life case studies from data science, study what values and rights are at stake and how they were and can be disregarded, respected, protected, and questioned.
In the second part of the talk, I will focus on a specific application of ethical questioning: the analysis of vehicle/human trajectory data, and a specific value: privacy. I will discuss two recent examples of the analysis of such data – the New York City taxi rides dataset, and the use of data from the maritime Automatic Information System (AIS) for mapping refugee movements on the Mediterranean Sea. The examples will illustrate a feature that engineers often find very difficult to deal with: the tension between allowing for different (and often mutually incompatible) ethical stances on the one hand, and requiring adherence to certain ethical norms that are considered non-negotiable on the other hand. But these examples will also illustrate why we should care, why it is intellectually stimulating to think about ethics, and why doing so requires us to also question ethics or “ethical” codes, boards and advisors, and certainly leaders.
Launch of Dalhousie Libraries’ First Open Textbook (Thursday, 3pm, Biology Lounge, fifth Floor, Life Sciences Centre) — which is Environmental Science: a Canadian Perspective by biologist Bill Freedman. RSVP: marlo.mackay @dal.ca
The Collapse of Middle Class Wealth in the U.S. … But Its Rise (?) in Canada (Thursday, 3:30pm, Great Hall, University Club) — Edward Wolff from New York University will speak.
ESS Student Showcase (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Auditorium, McCain Building) — ESS students will show off their “social action projects.”
In the harbour
11:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
11:30: Claes Maersk, container ship, sails from Pier 36 for sea
12:00: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
12:30: Atlantic Huron, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from Point Tupper
15:30: Atlantic Star sails for New York
16:00: Julius-S, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.