November Subscription Drive

The following is written by Selena Ross. When she was working as a reporter for the Chronicle Herald, Ross was co-author of the award-winning article on the death of Rehteah Parsons. Since leaving the Herald, Ross has worked for the CBC and the Globe & Mail. She now lives in New York City.

When I first moved to Halifax from Montreal, I kept noticing cool, ahead-of-the-game things that Haligonians didn’t even seem to register. It can be hard to see up close what sets you apart.

That’s one of the biggest problems for the Halifax Examiner — people don’t always realize what makes it unique among local media, and even sometimes unique across the country.

For a tiny site, there’s a lot on that list. The mystery unraveling of the Dead Wrong stories is more in depth than what other Halifax media have been able to produce lately. Morning news roundups are not done elsewhere, as far as I know. In a country of podcast scarcity, Examineradio keeps churning out episodes tailored to Nova Scotians.

But one particular story singlehandedly justifies funding this site.

Did you know that among four similar countries, Canada ranked dead last in a study five years ago of freedom of information laws? Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK, all also parliamentary democracies, came ahead of us.

“Canada comes last as it has continually suffered from a combination of low use, low political support and a weak Information Commissioner since its inception,” the authors wrote.

It looked mostly at the federal system. But Nova Scotia’s freedom-of-information rules aren’t that great either, and with media squeezed and on strike, they are challenged less and less.

Linda Pannozzo
Linda Pannozzo

In September, Linda Pannozzo wrote about her seven-month effort to learn about the ages and types of trees in Nova Scotia’s forests. It’s a basic logging industry inventory that was routinely published for decades. Forestry is a core part of Nova Scotia’s economy, which is, of course, alarmingly grim. Huge swaths of old logging land recently changed into government hands. Linda was asking a great question: What’s it worth?

She couldn’t get the info. I urge you to look at her piece, a quick first-person read, to understand what happened.

But this isn’t just about battling with the authorities. When the government finally offered the data, it was in super-complex files that would take serious computer expertise to understand — the province told her to hire a consultant, in fact.

Linda wanted it in a simpler format. Read through to the comments to hear some interesting dissenting views on why she maybe should have just shut up and taken the raw data files.

Long story short, FOI debates should be getting much more complicated as technology gets more complicated — but it takes a ton of research by people on every side, a process almost like going to court. Every province, and Parliament Hill, would be lucky to have outlets like the Examiner willing to let reporters like Linda make their case.

Side benefit, maybe we’ll also find out whether lumber holds the key to Nova Scotia’s future.

Halifax, don’t take what you’ve got for granted: subscribe now.


News

1. Russell Walker prevails in recount

Russell Walker
Russell Walker

“After a judicial recount confirmed his Oct. 15 municipal election defeat to incumbent Russell Walker, Andrew Curran pledged to help his councillor anyway he can,” reports Yvette d’Entremont for Metro:

“It was a humbling and educational experience,” Curran told Metro News as he left Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Tuesday following the judge’s delivery of the official recount numbers.

Curran asked for the recount after coming second to Walker in District 10 by an original margin of 15 votes. When official numbers were posted Oct. 20, Walker moved ahead and the margin widened to 35.

After Tuesday’s judicial recount, the final tally was 2,026 votes for Walker and 1,992 for Curran (a difference of 34 votes).  

Great, another four years of Walker bemoaning stuff with his stock catchphrase: “Here we go again.” But it doesn’t really work when there are five new councillors who can’t “go again” at anything because they haven’t been around to go in the first place.

Walker needs a new catchphrase. “Fill your boots” is already taken by Steve Adams. “Sucking and blowing at the same time” was worn out by Sue Uteck and was never funny in the first place…. hmmm. We need a truly dynamic and innovative catchphrase for Walker, something like “Well, slime me boots” or “Like a mule tick on my ass you will.” I don’t know, just throwing those out there.

2. Richmond County and kickbacks

The Richmond County administration building.
The Richmond County administration building.

“Steve Sampson, the embattled former warden of Richmond County, has been fired from his job in the Liberal Party’s caucus office,” reports Jean Laroche for the CBC:

Sampson came under renewed scrutiny this week after it was revealed he outlined in an April 28, 2014, email how Richmond councillors could circumvent election rules and be reimbursed by the municipality for tickets to a Liberal Party fundraiser.

[…]

Energy Minister Michel Samson was the guest of honour at the controversial fundraiser where six Richmond councillors paid a combined $300 and were later reimbursed by their municipality. It’s his riding association that profited from having all 10 Richmond councillors attend the tribute dinner.

I haven’t really followed the story up to now, as it’s too far afield for me to know any of the players and it struck me as just a typical expenditure scandal until recently. Yesterday, however, Chris Parsons put the scandal in context through a series of tweets:

Correction, 11:30am: several readers, including Parker Donham in the comments, have pointed out that Parson got some of his facts wrong. The Examiner’s policy is one of transparency, so therefore we don’t remove incorrect information but rather keep the mistake but note that they are wrong. The incorrect information below is stricken through.

Okay here’s a breakdown of the latest scandal in Nova Scotian politics because I don’t think it’s getting nearly enough attention:

Over the last year the County of Richmond has been embroiled in some sort of spending scandal but the details were kept murky.

Richmond is in Cape Breton it’s about 10 thousand people, a series of small communities. Turn right after the causeway.

The provincial ombudsman released a report on Oct 2. The CAO had expensed $582 at a strip club in Texas, councilors bought alcohol…

.. to drink at meetings, expensive dinners, vacations for family etc. Embarrassing, inappropriate & not uncommon spending scandal stuff.

But the lead up was super weird: One councilor (man married to a woman) [the man is not married] had expensed a phone charge from a hotel to call a male prostitute

The county took Facebook to court to get identities of two anonymous online whistleblowers

Despite protests from some councilors the county ordered a forensic audit. Council received it a few days before municipal election.

Council received it in camera but refused to release it before election day. Many voters were obviously enraged.

Provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs (Liberal) refused to either strong arm its release or delay election until after its release.

Audit revealed that some of the old stuff (ie improper spending by CAO and councilors) was worse than expected but also dug up new dirt.

The big news is that councilors would buy tickets to Liberal Party fundraisers and then get reimbursed for them by the county.

In practice you had a municipality contributing to the political party in government. Which seems to be… uhhh… kind of a big deal.

You might say: “Sure but the Liberal Party might not have known about this, right?” Well here’s where things get super questionable:

The councilor who pushed to get court order against FB and who most vocally opposed release of forensic audit was Steve Sampson.

Steve Sampson wrote an email in 2014 to the rest of council proving that the knew they were circumventing the law to donate to Liberals:

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-7-42-51-am

Sampson resigned from council a few months later. He was then hired to be outreach worker with the provincial Liberal Caucus. [Sampson didn’t resign; he declined to reoffer, and his term with the Liberal caucus overlapped with his term as councillor.]

There are a couple of things wrong with the donation to the Liberals.

The first is that this is known as “bundling” — a company or organization gets all its employees to donate small amounts to a candidate or party, and then the company or organization reimburses the employees, thereby hiding the true source of the funds. It’s highly illegal, and anyone involved in raising money in politics is well aware that it’s illegal.

The second is that in this instance, the contributions were taxpayer money. It brings the illegality to an even higher order.

Richmond County has nothing on Trade Centre Limited
Richmond County has nothing on Trade Centre Limited

It reminds me, incidentally, of a similar government-funded kickback to a political party that Stephen Kimber revealed back in 2006, in a Coast article headlined “Paying for Power“:

But perhaps the most intriguing and under-reported political contribution in 2004 came from Trade Centre Ltd., the operators of the Halifax Metro Centre — where the Tory convention was booked — the World Trade and Convention Centre and assorted other convention and meeting venues. Its $6,691.12 donation was the second largest single donation the Tories received that year.

But isn’t Trade Centre Ltd. a crown corporation, you ask? 

It is. 

That means the government owns it, right?

Right again.

And appoints most of its board of directors?

You’re on a roll.

And aren’t most of the directors prominent Tories?

Uh huh.

So… what’s a publicly owned and operated enterprise like Trade Centre Ltd. doing contributing money to a political party, let alone being the second-biggest donor to the party whose government controls it?

I thought you’d never ask. Hardly anyone else has.

Kimber went on at some length to detail TCL’s contribution to the PCs, and the impropriety of it.

It’s interesting that in 2004 a $6,691.12 government-funded kickback to a political party was met with indifference, while in 2016 a mere $300 government-funded kickback to a political party is a scandal that goes on for weeks. Maybe that’s progress. Or maybe it speaks to the exulted position of Trade Centre Limited versus the rural and off-the-power-circuit Richmond County Council.

3. Clearcuts

1

As Linda Ponnozzo has reported, in 2010 the province committed to attaining a target of 50 per cent of all timber harvests on crown land, but then abandoned that target in this year. She and I compiled this tidy chart to explain how that happened:

1

Robert Devet points us to an exchange on the floor of the legislature yesterday:

During question period today Sterling Belliveau, NDP House leader, mentioned that through a Freedom of Information submission he has learned that in 2013, 64 per cent of harvests on crown land were clearcuts, while in 2014 the figure had increased to 71 per cent.

“Of course the honourable member will understand that there are individual variations on the road to success that occur on an annual basis and our objective remains unchanged,” said Hines, advising one and all to stay tuned.

Indeed, stay tuned: we’ll be publishing the next instalment in Pannozzo’s series on forest issues in a few days, probably on Friday.

4. Death Candy

Death candy!
Death candy!

There was a second death candy report yesterday. A police release:

Police are advising the public of a second chocolate bar tampering incident. 

At 9 a.m. on November 1, Halifax Regional Police received a suspicious circumstance call in the 100 block of Pinecrest Drive in Dartmouth. A 13-year-old girl was going through her Halloween candy when she found a razor blade inserted inside the wrapper of a chocolate bar. The girl had been trick-or-treating in the area of Albro Lake Road, Lancaster Drive and surrounding streets.

The Forensic Identification Section will conduct an investigation of the candy bar for any evidence and continue with the investigation. 

You know, if there were actually multiple people out there in our community trying to randomly kill children, you’d think there’d be something more than a simple police release and a vague reference to the forensic lab. Shouldn’t the SWAT team be storming apartments? Tomorrow’s trash day on Albro Lake Road — maybe we can have 400 police officers going through the bags to look for razor blade boxes. If nothing else, people should be stopped and frisked, eh?

Or maybe it’s all bullshit coming from lying kids:

An Ottawa girl planted sewing needles in her own Halloween chocolates, prompting a warning to parents in an east end neighbourhood to check all candy, police now say.

Police warned Tuesday morning that a child bit into a chocolate bar containing a needle — but was not injured — after trick-or-treating around Meadowbrook Road.

The child’s mother called 911 around 10:30 p.m. on Halloween to report the dangerous candy after finding needles in two more chocolate bars, police said.

Police officers confirmed there were needles in the chocolate Monday night, but after interviewing the girl and her mother on Tuesday, determined the complaint was unfounded. The girl, who is between the ages of 10 and 13, was issued a warning but won’t face charges, police said.

“There was no tampering with candy by a stranger,” police tweeted at 11:36 a.m. 

No charges? Sigh. This will continue until the lying kids are publicly punished, preferably in stocks in Parade Square.

1

Views

1. Bikeways

Photo: Paul Krueger, CC some rights reserved https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/
Photo: Paul Krueger, CC some rights reserved https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Erica Butler takes a look at Halifax’s moribund bikeways plan, and is especially impatient with the city bureaucracy.

Click here to read “Lengthy, limited local street bikeways policy coming soon to a city near you.”

This article is behind the Examiner’s paywall, and so available only to paid subscribers. Click here to purchase a subscription.

2. Cranky letter of the day

To the Charlottetown Guardian:

I read with interest a CBC article that proposes a law to ban distracted walking. I wholeheartedly support this law. As a matter of fact, while we are at it, let us look into legislation ensuring that we close our mouth while chewing as it disturbs the peace of those around us. 

Perhaps it is time for us, as a society that possibly thinks, to step back and see how far we have come from the moral and ethical norms that have defined humanity since inception. Common sense cannot be enforced with laws, neither can bad parenting improve because an MLA decides in its favour.  

Let us take the time to look at our lives and educate ourselves before our children so that we are not bringing laws into existence that might be used to declare human race as irrelevant! 

I would write more, but I hear a baby crying, and the stench of a used diaper is just about killing me (so maybe consideration should be given to a law to make sure people clean their baby’s bottom after answering the call of nature?)

Alas, there are no laws to tell me what to do. Oh well, back to work it is.

Fazal Malik, Charlottetown


Government

City

Public Information Meeting (7pm, Spatz Theatre, Citadel High School) — all things Young Avenue. This is rather important.

Province

Public Accounts (9am, Province House) — Janet Knox, prez of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, and Peter Vaughan, deputy minister of Health & Wellness, will be questioned about Long-Term Care funding.


On campus

Dalhousie

Henry V (8pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery) — a screening of Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film.

Saint Mary’s

Water (1pm, Library Room LI135) — John Young will talk about “A Thermal Stratification Trilogy: The Strange Properties of Water.”

Cities in Transition (4pm, Theatre B, Burke Building) — Padraig O’Malley, from University of Massachusetts, Boston, will speak on “Healing Divided Societies.” 


In the harbour

The sea around Halifax. Map: marinetraffic.com
The sea around Halifax. Map: marinetraffic.com

Wednesday
3:30am: Itea, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
6am: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
6am: ZIM Alabama, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
8am: Atlantic Cartier, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for Liverpool, England
10:30am: NYK Delphinus, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
11am: ZIM Barcelona, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
11:30am: Boheme, car carrier, moves from Autoport to Pier 31
3:30pm: ZIM Alabama, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
4pm: Boheme, car carrier, sails from Pier 31 for sea
5pm: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
11:30pm: Fantasia, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Beaumont, Texas
11:30pm: ZIM Barcelona, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Kingston, Jamaica


Footnotes

I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.

Please consider subscribing to the Examiner. Just $5 or $10 a month goes a long way. Or, consider making a one-time contribution via PayPal. Thanks much!

Tim Bousquet

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

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13 Comments

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  1. All of this fuss would have been avoided in the time before FOIPOP because municipal legislation,other than for Halifax and Dartmouth, had a section which read
    ” the books, records and accounts shall be open to inspection by any person “.
    The ‘good old days’ were certainly good for people wanting details of all spending by municipalities; so much for progress.

  2. There are several blatant errors of fact in Chris Parsons’ invidious string of texts.

    — The councillor who phoned a male escort agency while on a business trip is not and never has been married to anyone of either sex. (No related expenses were charged to the county.)

    — Steve Sampson did not resign from council. He declined to re-offer, after 25 years in public life.

    — Steve Sampson did not go to work for the Liberal Caucus following his “resignation from council.” He did not resign, and his position with the Liberal caucus office overlapped his term in office.

    — Parsons omits to mention that Sampson was the subject of a blackmail attempt by someone who demanded his resignation. He responded by courageously disclosing the male escort episode and refusing the resign. The provincial news media, so quick to outrage when anyone in public life charges a meal to the taxpayer, reacted with a shrug.

    There is much more. So much as to make Christ Parsons’ tweets gorssly misleading and defamatory.

    I respect the fact that Richmond County is too far from Halifax for you to follow the details of this complicated and confusing story, reporting about which has been shallow and incomplete. All the more reason you should show caution about a series of tweets of unknown veracity.

    I hope you will correct or delete this post as it unfairly impugns a reputation already under prolonged and vicious attack.

    For the record, Steve Sampson is a good friend who has served Richmond County well for decades.

    1. Hey Parker,

      Yup. I will own up to a number of errors in those tweets.

      That said:

      — The councillor who phoned a male escort agency while on a business trip is not and never has been married to anyone of either sex. (No related expenses were charged to the county.)
      ** I realized this minutes after tweeting it and replied to my own tweet clarifying that fact. It was a silly mistake on my part.

      — Steve Sampson did not resign from council. He declined to re-offer, after 25 years in public life.
      — Steve Sampson did not go to work for the Liberal Caucus following his “resignation from council.” He did not resign, and his position with the Liberal caucus office overlapped his term in office.
      ** I assumed that he had resigned because I wrongly assumed that neither he nor the caucus office would do something as inappropriate as have a municipal councillor simultaneously employed by the municipality as an elected official and by the Liberal Caucus office as an outreach officer. This clearly was an error on my part, though I am not at all convinced that I am the one who made a big error here.

      — Parsons omits to mention that Sampson was the subject of a blackmail attempt by someone who demanded his resignation. He responded by courageously disclosing the male escort episode and refusing the resign. The provincial news media, so quick to outrage when anyone in public life charges a meal to the taxpayer, reacted with a shrug.
      ** I specifically chose to omit the details about the Samson blackmail attempt (including mentioning which warden was blackmailed) because while I think that the fact that there was a blackmail attempt is worth mentioning I think that the public outing of Samson was gross and I didn’t want to continue it. I probably screwed up in how I phrased it, but I was trying to avoid contributing to what I took as a homophobic attack on Samson while still mentioning an event that struck me as an important part of the timeline.

      Parker, like you I am not a journalist. For a year you’ve consistently implied at actual professional journalists mis-reporting this story due to incompetence, headline-chasing or whatever. If you think there is some great factual errors in the reporting by LaRoche, etc. then you ought to explain them instead of just claiming that everyone other than you is a bumbling idiot.

      But I am curious: Given your friendship with Samson and your expertise on the Richmond situation can you please explain why on earth they thought it made sense for the County of Richmond to contribute money to the local Liberal candidate? What were they trying to accomplish and why did they think this is a appropriate?

      While we’re at it, given the details of Samson and the CAO’s spending are you still committed to your argument that the “reform councilors” did absolutely nothing wrong and that the forensic audit is nothing more than wasteful spending?

      (For what it’s worth I think that news outlets compiling tweets and publishing them is not a good development for journalism)

      1. My point was simply that everyone is getting worked up about $300 when they overlook far, far bigger improprieties elsewhere. It looks like rural bashing to me. (That doesn’t excuse the $300; just, it’s $300.)

      2. Thank you for responding, Chris. I will write a more comprehensive post for contrarian.ca about what I see as the gross media failure to provide context here.

        The factual errors that punctuate your string of tweets are serious enough, but they don’t really go to the core of my concern about your view, or my disapproval of reporting on Richmond Co. by Jean LaRochce, Brett Ruskin, Joan Weeks, and others. The post will address that larger issue.

        To answer your specific questions:

        Serving on county council is a part time job, paying anywhere from $2,400 to $24,000 a year according to a 2012 UNSM survey. Of course they get additional employment, or they are otherwise retired and on pension. Why shouldn’t that additional employment be with the Liberal caucus? Party caucuses are not some evil cabal; they are part of the democratic system.

        As to attending the Liberal dinner, council agreed, unanimously, including the defeated councillor who is feeding Baillie, that attending a dinner to honour McNeil and Samson was consistent with the county’s energetic and exceptionally fruitful lobbying of the two other levels of government for economic development and infrastructure assistance. In this they were spectacularly successful, bringing in $6.1 million in those areas—an enormous amount for a small county. They were the envy of the province. They also renegotiated an unfavourable tax arrangement with Anadarko that brings in $250,000 a year.

        The Warden installed after the anti-downsizing majority removed Steve as warden produced nothing remotely comparable in benefits for the county and its taxpayers. He spent his time inflaming public opinion about alleged expense abuses. Voters turfed him ignominiously by voters last month—he placed a poor third.

        More in a post later.

        1. I largely disagree with you on the issue of what is appropriate for municipal councillors and municipal expenditures, but I will wait until you get a chance to write your thoughts on it more clearly before I respond.

          1. (this wasn’t meant to suggest that your current thoughts aren’t clear. Just that I know you have more to say than what you wrote in the comments section and I don’t think its fair to engage with that when you have something more detailed planned anyway)

  3. So, Sterling Belliveau now has to make FOIPOP requests to get info from govt. Wonder if that causes him any pause if and when he muses that, as a government minister, he insisted on a FOIPOP request AND $3000 from citizens and fishermen in order to see the phony science he says he relied on then in his decision to allow Cooke Aquaculture to turn Shelburne Harbour and other pristine marine habitat into “dead zones”? Shoe and foot, eh?

    1. Comical indeed. Sterling was the NDP minister of environment that signed the industrial orders that enabled Northern Pulp to run at full production without environmental controls and poison the population of Pictou County. Amazing the change of heart that happens when you are the opposition.

  4. Not sure where Minas Basin fits on Linda’s list. They were a recycled paper facility. But she’s missing the key piece in the puzzle – Northern Pulp. That facility is the driving force in this province when you look at forest policy.

    Two items I’d like to see explored further – the sale of huge parcels of land to Wagner Forest Products by Neenah Paper when they were washing their hands of environmentally messy pulp operations. Wagner is an American company run by a former Scott Paper manager. IIRC, Neenah structured that sale in a way to pay no tax on the sale, the icing on the cake.

    I’d also like to know the nature of the relationship between Irving/PHP/NP in regards to forest resources. If they are sharing fibre, it’s a powerful monopoly.

  5. The Linda Pannozzo article referenced above is here: https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/biomass-freedom-of-information-and-the-silence-of-the-dnr-company-men-2/

    As someone who posted a comment that might be labelled a dissenting view, I disagree with the characterization of the comments as “shut up and taken the raw data files”. Wanting the information she wants is fine, and one reason I subscribe to the Examiner is because I want to support efforts to extract publicly-relevant information from places that try to hide or obscure it. My dissenting view is that you can continue to push for access to information without diminishing or mischaracterizing the value of raw data, especially since Linda clarified in the comments that the raw data doesn’t include the variables she was looking for. Just say that. Raw data is typically even harder to get out of government while being substantially more valuable as a publicly-funded asset, so I’m pretty sensitive to people declaring that data doesn’t increase transparency and visibility. It does. It’s not enough by itself, but it’s a part of transparency. It is necessary, but not sufficient.

    1. I agree that the Pannozzo articles are a great reason to subscribe, one of many that helped bring me from just an MFR (morning file reader) to a supporter.

      Mike makes a great point above — and one that I don’t think diminishes the difficulties of getting good information from government — about the value of raw data. And of course that’s not to suggest that the only thing that should be made available is raw data, but there is an accountability in getting the original source rather than someone’s attempt to massage it. Imagine the difference between being handed an economic impact report vs all the raw economic data relevant to a region.