1. Reporting While White
“I have never claimed to write ‘objectively,’” writes El Jones:
That doesn’t mean I write things I believe to be untrue or that are factually wrong, but I am always openly writing from the standpoint of a Black woman.
White people, however, believe and are taught that their practices are in fact objective, and that they neutrally present two sides.
But in reality many of the ways of writing that are the accepted and normal way of reporting are rooted in inherently biased perspectives. Perspectives that assume that Black people speaking about racism are making wild claims that need to be very carefully validated. Perspectives that treat racism as abnormal and surprising, and not ingrained in institutions and social structures. Perspectives that assume that police and crowns and company owners are themselves objective and always tell the truth. Perspectives that see the white gaze and the white lens as “neutral” and “normal” and Black assessments as biased.
And this is why writers like myself, Desmond Cole, Vicky Mochama, or Malayna Williams, are constantly accused of bias when we write stories engaged in Black critiques, but the practices or people we are critiquing never face those same accusations (white journalists can be accused of plagiarism multiple times and still not be consistently questioned!).
Black representation in the media isn’t just about adding more Black faces; it’s also in being open to Black critiques of what is “normal” and “accepted.”
Two recent examples in local news coverage illustrate the point.
2. Peter Munk, megaprojects, and the new convention centre
“When Peter Munk died last week at the age of 90, the paeans of praise from the national media were so effusive as to seem over the top,” writes Stephen Kimber:
The Globe and Mail’s 3,300-word tribute appeared under the gushing headline: “The Extraordinary Life of a Business Legend, Philanthropist and National Champion.” In The Financial Post, he was remembered as an “entrepreneur with a Midas touch” and a “‘transformative leader’ who embodied Canadian values.” The CBC quoted its own retired business reporter Fred Langan, describing Munk as “a very open, likable person [who] was a charmer and that’s how he got ahead in life and that’s how most people will remember him.”
Most people, though not everyone. Certainly not here in Nova Scotia.
Kimber goes on to detail how Industrial Estates Ltd. — “the then-Nova Scotia government’s high stakes economic development gamble that our backwater province could be dragged kicking and screaming into the twentieth century simply by attracting high-flying multinational mega-venture to set up shop here” — courted and funded the Clairtone Sound Corporation:
IEL began by ponying up $7.95 million in mortgage financing just to seduce Clairtone to set up shop in Pictou, not coincidentally the home of IEL’s president, industrialist Frank Sobey, and trigger federal largesse.
And that’s how it began. Six years later when it all collapsed, the Nova Scotia government had already poured $25 million into Munk’s dream and down the province’s long-term debt drain.
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Kimber got his piece to me on Sunday. Two days before was Good Friday, my day off. I took a mental health day and mostly stayed in bed all day. To while away the time, I read What You Should Know About Megaprojects, and Why: An Overview, a 2014 paper written by economic geographer Bent Flyvbjerg and published in Project Management Journal. (I read a pre-publication draft of the paper, found here.)
Flyvbjerg pretty much defines the field of megaproject management, according to his Oxford University bio page:
Flyvbjerg is the most cited scholar in the world in megaproject management, and among the most cited in social science methodology. He is the author or editor of 10 books and more than 200 papers in professional journals and edited volumes. His publications have been translated into 20 languages.
Flyvbjerg serves as advisor and consultant to government and business, including the US and UK governments and several Fortune 500 companies. He is an external advisor to McKinsey and other consultancies. He has worked on some of the largest projects in the world, on all aspects from front-end planning, delivery, and rescue of failing projects.
Flyvbjerg’s paper begins by defining megaprojects:
Megaprojects are large-scale, complex ventures that typically cost a billion dollars or more, take many years to develop and build, involve multiple public and private stakeholders, are transformational, and impact millions of people.
If we strictly adhere to the “cost a billion dollars or more” part of the definition, only a handful of projects in Nova Scotia are relevant — the highway system as a whole (or even just the proposed widening of the BiHi), the development of the Halifax waterfront, and the Maritime Link component of the Muskrat Falls hydro project are the most obvious.
But if we’re a bit flexible with the “billion dollar” threshold — and arguably, given Nova Scotia’s diminutive economy and isolation from the global marketplace, we should be — the rest of the definition fits many somewhat smaller projects that have been embarked on provincially.
And megaprojects fail fantastically, writes Flyvbjerg:
Performance data for megaprojects speak their own language. Nine out of ten such projects have cost overruns. Overruns of up to 50 percent in real terms are common, over 50 percent not uncommon. … Overrun is a problem in private as well as public sector projects, and things are not improving; overruns have stayed high and constant for the 70-year period for which comparable data exist. Geography also does not seem to matter; all countries and continents for which data are available suffer from overrun. Similarly, benefit shortfalls of up to 50 percent are also common, and above 50 percent not uncommon, again with no signs of improvements over time and geography (Flyvbjerg et al., 2002, 2005).
When Flyvbjerg continued…
Hirschman calls such projects “privileged particles of the development process” and points out that often they are “trait making,” that is, they are designed to ambitiously change the structure of society, as opposed to smaller and more conventional projects that are “trait taking,” i.e., they fit into pre-existing structures and do not attempt to modify these. Megaprojects, therefore, are not just magnified versions of smaller projects. Megaprojects are a completely different breed of project in terms of their level of aspiration, lead times, complexity, and stakeholder involvement. Consequently, they are also a very different type of project to manage. A colleague likes to say that if managers of conventional projects need the equivalent of a driver’s license to do what they do then managers of megaprojects need a pilot’s jumbo jet license. And just like you would not want someone with only a driver’s license to fly a jumbo, you don’t want conventional project managers to manage megaprojects.
… I couldn’t help but think of the many $100 million+ (in current dollars) projects that have largely defined Nova Scotia’s economic development efforts. I once made a list of them that included the heavy water plant in Glace Bay, Clairtone, the Mercator One, and an aborted scheme to “build 10 nuclear reactors, Fukushima-style, on Stoddart Island in Shag Harbour, and then sell all the power to New York City via a deep sea cable.”
Somehow, I omitted the obvious: the Westray Mine (I’m sure there are others; please remind me). And since then we’ve had the hilarious ineptitude of the Commonwealth Games bid — talk about taxi drivers flying jumbo jets — and now the Halifax Convention Centre housed in the Nova Centre.
In fact, when Flyvbjerg wrote about a handful of large projects that had failed, he may as well have been writing about the Nova Centre:
Delays are a separate problem for megaprojects and delays cause both cost overruns and benefit shortfalls. For instance, preliminary results from a study undertaken at Oxford University, based on the largest database of its kind, suggest that delays on dams are 45 percent on average. Thus if a dam was planned to take 10 years to execute, from the decision to build until the dam became operational, then it actually took 14.5 years on average. Flyvbjerg et al. (2004) modeled the relationship between cost overrun and length of implementation phase based on a large data set for major construction projects. They found that on average a one-year delay or other extension of the implementation phase correlates with an increase in percentage cost overrun of 4.64 percent.
To illustrate, for a project the size of London’s 26 billion dollars Crossrail project, a one-year delay would cost 1.2 billion dollars extra, or 3.3 million dollars per day. The key lesson here is that in order to keep costs down, implementation phases should be kept short and delays small. This should not be seen as an excuse for fast-tracking projects, i.e., rushing them through decision making for early construction start. Front-end planning needs to be thorough before deciding whether to give the green light to a project or stopping it (Williams and Samset, 2010). But often the situation is the exact opposite. Front-end planning is scant, bad projects are not stopped, implementation phases and delays are long, costs soar, and benefits and revenue realization recedes into the future. For debt-financed projects this is a recipe for disaster, because project debt grows while there is no revenue stream to service interest payments, which are then added to the debt, etc. As a result, many projects end up in the so-called “debt trap” where a combination of escalating construction costs, delays, and increasing interest payments makes it impossible for income from a project to cover costs, rendering the project non-viable. That is what happened to the Channel tunnel and Sydney’s Lane Cove tunnel, among other projects.
Of course debt financing of the Nova Centre is developer Joe Ramia’s business. His books aren’t public, so who knows? But his ~$300 million debt to BMO is secured only by Nova Centre rents — that is, by rental income from a convention centre that has been delayed two years, from a hotel delayed for three years, and from an office building that is even now mostly vacant — so it wouldn’t surprise me if the bank eventually steps in and takes the project over from Ramia. I hope not! Good luck, Joe!
In terms of the public purse, the more frightening aspect of the front-end planning and delays of bad projects like the Nova Centre is the “benefit shortfall” that concerned Flyvbjerg. We’ll see that in spades, I’ll wager — in terms of ballooning Events East deficits and meagre tax receipts.
People can learn from their mistakes — Peter Munk explicitly stated that his Nova Scotia failure taught him how to be successful in business.
And Flyvbjerg sees modest signs of megaproject management improvement. But I’m not at all hopeful his optimism applies to Nova Scotia.
We’ll do this all over again in a couple of years, with some other wild-eye scheme.
3. Examineradio 152
When Indigenous people protesting the Muskrat Fall hydro project broke through the gate and occupied the site, reporter Justin Brake followed them in. His interviews and Facebook Live reports were picked up by national media and informed political debate over the hydro project. But Brake now faces civil and criminal charges for trespassing. We talk with Brake about the protests, his ordeal, and what it all means for the future of journalism in Canada.
Also, we discuss the janitors at Founders Square, complaints about regional councillors, backyard chickens, and an arts hub on the waterfront.
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4. Hateful graffiti on churches
A police release from yesterday afternoon:
At 10:00 a.m. 1 April, Halifax Regional Police received a report of a Property Damage (Graffiti) at Saint Agnes Church, 6903 Mumford Road Halifax. At 11:00 a.m., Halifax Regional Police received a second report of Property Damage (Graffiti) at Saint Benedict Church, 45 Radcliffe Drive Halifax. The two incidents are similar with offensive graffiti in red paint and occurred over night. Both investigations are ongoing and at this time appear to be related.
Both churches are Catholic. Earlier in the day, Father James Mallon of Saint Benedict tweeted:
Someone said to me this week that Christians were not persecuted in our country. This morning we woke up to this. pic.twitter.com/abt64oO0Ql
— Fr. James Mallon 🇺🇦 (@FJMallon) April 1, 2018
(I’m not about to get into debates about fine distinctions in the various definitions of “persecution,” whatever Mallon’s politics.)
I grew up Catholic, part of an active church community — Christ The King Church, attached to the parochial school I attended. I’m now atheist, but looking back, I think had such graffiti been scrawled on my church, it would have been devastating. It would have been a personal attack on me, my family, my friends, my community. It probably would have pushed me to more deeply identifying as Catholic.
So I’m tempted to say the obvious — this hatefulness is offensive and it should be condemned in the strongest terms — and leave it at that.
But we don’t know who scrawled the graffiti, or why. Maybe it was simply ignorant and stupid people. Or maybe it was someone who has been directly and deeply harmed by the Catholic Church. God knows there are plenty of the latter.
I’m not suggesting that scrawling hateful graffiti on churches is justifiable for any reason; yet it may be explainable. And just as when hateful acts are directed against mosques or synagogues or other places of worship, we should support the community attacked, try to understand the wrong-headed motives of the attacker, and begin the process of healing.
It’s been a good while, but that’s what I remember being told Christianity was all about.
5. Noon gun
Halifax lawyer Barbara Darby reviews legal cases involving the cannon fired at Citadel Hill each day.
The gun is supposed to go off at precisely noon, but in the early 1990s, the Park Service stupidly privatized the firing to an outfit called Battalion Services Inc, with predictably disastrous effect. Writes Darby:
The litigation arose when for a period of 3 days in May 1992, the gun was not fired precisely at noon. Entered into evidence was the schedule of intended ignition (noon each day) and actual ignition:
May 3, 1992, 11:52 a.m.
May 4, 1992, 12:05 p.m.
May 5, 1992, 12:14 p.m.
Parks Canada’s customer call centre was deluged with complaints, which were summarized by Peggy Wiggins, head of customer service for Parks Canada, who gave court testimony:
Q: And can you describe the nature of the calls you received?
A: There was range of complaints…I mean…they varied. Some people were like, you know, really polite and just seemed puzzled, or wanted to let us know our clocks were wrong, but others were really rude. I had to cut off a couple of callers due to profanity.
Q: And what in particular were peoples’ concerns?
A: Well, on the 5TH, a lawyer [name redacted, Plaintiff A] called me to complain that he missed an appearance in Chambers because he typically relied on the noon gun to tell him the time. Another lady missed taking her medication that she was accustomed to taking when the gun was fired.
Q: Was she harmed?
A. Fortunately not, she was able to take the medication within the prescribed 30 minutes, and she was really….can I say this? more peeved-off than actually hurt. Another guy complained that he had fed the parking meter, knowing he had to get back to his car before the noon gun. Because the gun was late, he got a $25 ticket.
Q: Anything else stand out in your mind from the callers?
A: [Plaintiff D] said that on May 3, he had a doctor’s appointment for 12:30 and he was waiting for the noon gun to alert him to get on the road to the doctor’s office.
Q: And how was the early firing a problem?
A: Well, he was, well, furious. He said that when he got to the doctor’s office for his appointment, he was still kept waiting for 40 minutes before he could get in, but because of the noon gun fiasco, there was an additional 10 minutes of wasted time that he would have avoided if the gun went off on schedule.
The Court’s decision here is crafted to balance the needs of justice, deterrence, and practicality. The Court found that on the two days that the gun was fired late, Battalion was liable for the inconvenience caused to Parks Canada, and ordered it to compensate for the additional staff called between for May 3 to 5. Plaintiff A submitted paperwork confirming that he was sanctioned by the Court for being late, and he was awarded $500 for pain, suffering and damage to his professional reputation. Plaintiff B’s case was dismissed on a de minimis basis, and Plaintiff C was reimbursed for the parking ticket, plus interest.
The Court’s decision is particularly adept. It takes judicial notice of that fact that there can be serious repercussions for people being late for appointments. However, it found there was no legal basis to award damages to someone who was early for an appointment. The Court refused Plaintiff D any compensation. His case made its way through the appellate courts, where he was denied leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1998.
Continue reading for the case of the cat who couldn’t tell time, and so the gun destroyed her sex life.
6. Restorative justice
“A series of restorative justice meetings between the father of a man who died in a holding cell and staff who oversaw the inmate’s last hours is being praised for bringing reforms and moments of healing,” reports Michael Tutton for the Canadian Press:
Last year, Ernie LeBlanc opted for the face-to-face encounters rather than pursuing civil action over errors made when Jason LeBlanc died of an opioid overdose at the Cape Breton Correctional Centre in the early hours of Jan. 31, 2016.
The 42-year-old was captured on video gasping for breath less than 14 hours after being admitted into the prison without proper searches being conducted or a standard medical form filled out that could have identified his addiction issues.
He was there for an alleged parole violation after being caught overnight in a snowstorm and missing a curfew at his halfway house.
“As far as civil compensation, I didn’t give a hell about the money. Money wasn’t going to answer my questions or … help me be told how things happened,” said Ernie LeBlanc, adding his wife Eileen agreed.
“I’m doing this so Jason didn’t die in vain.”
The restorative justice report contained 17 recommendations — six of them completed so far — for changes in the system.
7. Bad Sunday
“If you’d gone to the Atlantic Superstore on Easter Sunday, you’d have found the doors closed, but not for the reason you think,” writes Bill Turpin:
True, it’s a holy day for observant Christians but, unlike Good Friday, Nova Scotia law does not consider it a paid holiday. But the law DOES require big retail stores to close, which means their employees, who are not unionized, can’t work and therefore don’t get paid.
For them, it’s Bad Sunday.
Many retail employees are not even aware of this because they’re on shift work, so the bosses simply avoid scheduling anyone for Bad/Easter) Sunday. That means the loss of an outrageous number of paid shifts, a loss obscured by the scheduling process.
Retail folks not doing shift-work, however, are well aware they’re getting docked and they don’t like it.
I’m honestly not sure if Turpin has a point, is just a crank, or is simply scratching an anti-union itch.
No public meetings.
Public Information Meeting/Open House – Case 20226 (Tuesday, 5:30pm, Comfort Hotel, Bayer’s Lake) — Armco (remember them?) wants to amend its already-approved Beechville development.
Centre Plan – Discuss Package “A” (Tuesday, 6pm, Maritime Hall, Halifax Forum) — see here.
No public meetings.
Legislature sits (Tuesday, 10am, Province House)
Strings Recital (Monday, 11:45am, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — students of Mark Lee, Susan Sayle, and Shimon Walt perform.
Typed Calculi, Constructive Logics, and Categorical Models: The Intuitionistic Linear Logic Case (Tuesday, 2:30pm, Room 319, Chase Building) — Francisco Rios will speak. His abstract:
For decades, classical and intuitionistic logics have served extensively in the design of programming languages and analysis of programs and specifications. However, the recent advancements in quantum computing, in general, and the likely arrival of scalable programmable quantum devices in the near future, in particular, have motivated the research and development of quantum programming languages — for which classical and intuitionistic logics are not sufficient. For these languages to be useful, they must, among other things, be able to handle quantum information as a non-duplicable resource. Linear logic, being a resource-sensitive formal system, provides an appropriate framework for the study of such languages. In this talk, I will discuss the remarkable relationship among typed linear term calculi (the bases for functional quantum programming languages), constructive logics, and categorical models, with an emphasis on those corresponding to the intuitionistic fragment of linear logic.
In the harbour
5am: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
5:30am: Dalian Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
11am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
3pm: YM Enlightenment, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
3:30pm: Dalian Highway, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
3:30pm: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York