1. Accessible transportation
Examiner transportation columnist Erica Butler looks at two problems with accessible transportation — an ever-shrinking fleet of accessible taxis and an ever-increasing demand for Access-A-Bus — and sees a solution:
Gerry Post thinks there’s a way to fix both these problems with one move: start contracting accessible taxis to take on Access-A-Bus service.
Post is a Halifax disability rights advocate whose advocacy work at the provincial level recently landed him a position heading up Nova Scotia’s Accessibility Directorate, guiding implementation of the province’s new Accessibility Act. But on this issue, he speaks strictly as a citizen, and a transit user who happens to use a wheelchair.
Minimum service contracts for accessible taxi drivers would give them a bankable source of income, says Post, one that would help cover the cost of an accessible vehicle. Contracts could even be offered by zone, which could help mitigate drivers’ issues with being spread thin. By bulk-purchasing accessible taxi service, Halifax Transit could ensure a base demand for these taxis and help turn around the current supply problem.
And while helping fix the accessible taxi supply, the contracting out of Access-A-Bus service could also help improve that service. “It could double the number of trips with the same budget,” says Post, and provide more flexibility for riders.
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2. Stadium and economic impact projections
CBC reporter Richard Woodbury interviews University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe:
Professional sports teams often look for public money to help build stadiums and arenas, arguing the investment will pay for itself through economic spinoffs.
Trevor Tombe, an associate professor of economics at the University of Calgary, said the jobs argument doesn’t hold up. He said economic impact studies are flawed.
“It is far too simple a representation of the economy. It doesn’t account for the fact public dollars used to build an arena, for example, could have been used elsewhere and have to come from elsewhere,” he said.
As well, Tombe said the research on the economic impact of having sports teams in a city suggests they don’t have one.
“There doesn’t appear to be any strong evidence for sports teams moving in or out of a city having any meaningful impact on income, employment, jobs overall,” he said.
Rather, Tombe said, sports teams shift economic activity, so individuals may spend more of their money on buying tickets and dining at restaurants near the stadium, but this comes at the expense of other entertainment activities they usually undertake.
Anthony Leblance, a self-interested party who leans on governments to build his stadiums, disagrees, of course.
It appears that we’re going to have a big push for a publicly financed stadium in the coming year. Oh, they’ll disguise the public financing with a bunch of smoke and mirrors — here comes incremental tax revenues! — but the bottom line is that you, taxpayer, will pay for a stadium so Anthony LeBlanc can make money.
Why should that be? If the public is paying for a stadium, then the public should make the profits from it, no?
I mean, if we’re building stuff so private people can make money, I could use a new Halifax Examiner headquarters building. Please put that in next year’s city capital budget, thanks much.
But back to economic impacts. Woodbury notes that:
Once a site is settled on, he said an economic impact analysis would be carried out by the consulting and accounting firm Deloitte.
What follows is not a slam against Deloitte. But it’s important to understand what Deloitte does, and what it doesn’t do.
What Deloitte does: it takes inputs — assumptions about spending on or resulting from major projects, usually — given to it by companies and governments and uses standard economic forecasting tools as prescribed by Statistics Canada to calculate the resulting economic impact in terms of employment and new spending generated. This can be a somewhat technical analysis, but at its heart it’s simple math. I have no reason to challenge Deloitte’s professionalism or ability to conduct those analyses.
What Deloitte doesn’t do: Analyze, criticize, or pass judgment on the the inputs it is given, or contextualize its results. Let’s take that in two parts.
Yesterday, I linked to Mary Campbell’s excellent analysis of the prospects for Sydney becoming a major port city. (In short: it won’t.) At the end of her article, she quoted an InterVISTAS report that analyzed the potential economic impact of a new container terminal in Sydney — this is the same sort of analysis that Deloitte does, except InterVISTAS specializes in transportations issues.
The “input” in this case was a projection from the Port of Sydney that a container terminal would handle 5.2 million containers a year. As Campbell noted, that would make it one of the busiest container terminals on Earth, a very dubious projection, to put it mildly. She wrote:
Even InterVISTAS was a little uneasy with these figures, judging by the footnote they added:
Timeframe for full build-out of Novaporte was provided by the Port of Sydney Development Corporation. InterVISTAS Consulting was not asked to review or comment on the magnitude of the forecasted container volumes or their timing. This report merely documents the expected economic impacts should the forecast be achieved.
Read: Don’t look at us, we didn’t calculate these crazy-ass figures.
So, InterVISTAS or any other firm in the economic impact business can take any input and faithfully run the impact analysis, but if the initial input is crap — which, clearly, the Port of Sydney projections are — then the resulting economic impact figures are also crap.
When I read Campbell’s story, it brought to mind an article I wrote way back in 2010, which followed the various consultants’ reports analyzing what the economic impact of a new convention centre would be.
There was a lot wrong with those reports. For one thing, the consultants were making projections for a new 150,000 square foot convention centre, while the one we actually got is just 120,000 square feet.
But where things got really interesting is when Trade Centre Limited took the independent consultants’ projections for increased numbers of conventions and delegates at the new convention centre and handed those figures to Gardner Pinfold, another firm in the economic impact biz, to figure out what the economic impact of the new convention centre would be. I wrote:
The economic impact projections of the proposed convention centre boils down to this question: if this number of delegates came to Nova Scotia and each delegate spent this amount of money, what would be the impact on the provincial economy? It was not up to Gardner Pinfold to determine the number of delegates or the money spent per delegate — those figures came from the previous studies.
The first Gardner Pinfold analysis (as we’ll see, there is a second) pulls a lot of information straight out of the Deloitte report [Deloitte had synthesized earlier reports]…
Six months after Gardner Pinfold’s first economic impact analysis was submitted, Trade Centre Limited created its own report “Market Projections For A Proposed New Convention Centre,” completed in June 2010. This document forecast wildly increased delegate numbers — far larger than the numbers predicted in the consultant reports.
Having produced its greatly inflated numbers in June 2010, TCL gave them to Gardner Pinfold to run a second economic impact analysis, which was completed the next month, in July 2010.
Reading the second Gardner Pinfold report, you can almost hear the pain in the voice of the author as he or she dances around the elephant in the room — that they’ve been handed a bunch of inflated numbers that aren’t supported by any evidence: “This study extends the assessment of economic impacts attributable to WTCC II conducted in the previous study by including the economic impacts resulting from direct expenditures of updated delegate projections, event planners, consumer and tradeshows and smaller local events remaining in the local economy…The economic impact analysis in this report is based on the estimated number of events and subsequent direct expenditures attributable to delegates, planners, and O&M projected over the 10-year period, as reported in the Trade Centre Limited (TCL) report, Market Projections for a Proposed New Convention Centre: 10-Year Projections By Market Segment, 2010.”
Gardner Pinfold was in an unenviable position, having to rework numbers it had already compiled. The company never lies — so far as I can see, its calculations are reasonable, given the assumptions it had to work with. And never mind that those assumptions changed because of the new TCL delegate numbers — Gardner Pinfold never assesses whether the changed assumptions are warranted.
Let’s recap: We had four consulting firms doing an analysis on the need for and potential economic impact of a proposed convention centre, basing all their projections on a 150,000 square foot convention centre, as opposed to the 120,000 square foot convention centre that’s proposed. Along the way, the firms added in an arbitrary inflator that made the future delegate count much higher than was justified, and then that figure was used by Gardner Pinfold to forecast the economic impact of the convention centre. But Trade Centre Limited evidently wasn’t happy with even those inflated results, and so did their own in-house delegate projection that was more than double that projected by the consultants; those higher figures were then given back to Gardner Pinfold to run a second economic impact analysis that showed a supposed economic impact two-and-a-half times the first.
Again: use crap inputs and you’ll get crap outputs.
It almost appears that economic development forecasting firms are in the business of polishing bullshit.
That’s a little unfair, however. Their business is simply making calculations. They are a tool, and only a tool. Inputs in, outputs out.
Governments and project backers point at the outputs — the economic impact statements — which are produced by reputable firms, and say, “See! We’ll all get rich!” But those reputable firms (and certainly not the project backers) don’t question the initial inputs, so, as qualified and reputable as the firms are, take the economic impact reports with a grain of salt.
The other thing the firms don’t do is give context, or provide alternatives. What would happen if the money that was spent on a new convention centre was spent instead on, say, reducing university tuition? What would be the economic impact of that, and if you compare the two, which is the better investment? That’s not a question asked of the firms.
Likewise, the economic impact calculations don’t analyze values. We can argue about the initial assumptions and resulting projections, but there’s no doubt the new convention centre will have real economic impact… but for whom? Some people will benefit a lot, others not so much. Now let’s say we spent the same dollar amount on poverty reduction — increasing social assistance payouts and forgiving debts of the very poor. This too would have real economic impact, but (largely) benefiting a different group of people. Why is the first expenditure acceptable and the second not? The reports don’t get into such questions, which in the end aren’t so much economic as they are philosophical and political.
Back to the stadium. We’re being urged to spend a lot of public money on a structure that will give huge profits to Anthony LeBlanc, some profits to a handful of business people, a (very) few jobs, and not much else for the public generally.
Is this really the best use of public dollars?
Global News reporter Marieke Walsh is a relentless interviewer:
Atlantic Canada’s biggest children’s hospital was evasive, and unable to answer many questions in an interview pitched by the hospital to bring “clarity” on concerns raised by several families.
Global News asked: “If the family and the child feel that the only option is to be in hospital, is there an appropriate environment in the IWK for that?”
[Director of mental health and addictions at the IWK, Maureen] Brennan answered: “Every case is different, and it’s based on the assessment, but if you’re talking about gaps nationally across our country, yeah.”
Global News interjected: “I’m talking about here.”
Global News asked 15 different times whether there is an appropriate place for children with autism who are in a crisis at the IWK — the question was never answered.
4. Nursing home homicide
A police release from yesterday:
The death of a resident at a continuing care facility in Dartmouth last year has been ruled a homicide.
Police were called by the Medical Examiner’s Office on September 4, 2017 in relation to a death at Oakwood Terrace, a continuing care facility located at 10 Mount Hope Avenue. On September 3, an 86-year-old female resident passed away following complications sustained as a result of an injury during an altercation with a 77-year-old female resident on June 7. The Medical Examiner’s Office conducted an autopsy on September 5 and ruled the death a homicide.
Investigators in the Homicide Unit of the Integrated Criminal Investigation have completed their investigation and, in consultation with the Public Prosecution Service, have determined that charges won’t be laid in this matter based on the suspect not being criminally culpable due to her cognitive impairment. The file has been closed without charges.
5. No snow
“A senior climatologist with Environment Canada suspects many people in the Halifax area are eyeing their expensive new snowblowers with contempt,” reports Emma Smith for the CBC:
That’s because a year after one of the worst winters for snowfall on record, Halifax’s measly 18 centimetres so far this winter are breaking records in the other direction.
There hasn’t been this little snow in the same early winter period since Environment Canada started recording amounts near the airport in 1953. Compare that with 2016-17 — which had the second highest snowfall in the same period, with 159 centimetres — and David Phillips said we’ve got some “weather weirdness” on our hands.
Has there been 18 centimetres? I don’t recall that much; I think I’ve shovelled once this year, and that was more like sweeping than shovelling.
Still, if I remember correctly, there was little to no snow by mid-January in the winter from hell — 2015, when February saw repeated ice storms and March snows shut the city down for a week.
6. The Yelp and Trip Advisor marketing war
Yesterday, I took Metro and Global to task for uncritically rewriting a Trip Advisor press release about Halifax being on the list of “tourist destinations on the rise”:
This violates everything taught in journalism school. The companies producing the lists are self-interested, so at the very least the claims in the lists should be independently verified. Better yet, find a second, contrary opinion. Even better: don’t run the story in the first place. It’s a disservice to your readers and viewers. This is not journalism.
And news consumers should see these “stories” for what they are: advertising. There’s no point in getting excited about your city being named in a “top tourist designation” list because some other company is going to name the city down the road in their list. The goal isn’t to promote or reward or recognize your city; the goal is to get you to go to their website. It’s all just marketing, i.e., bullshit.
Soon after publishing, Dylan Ames tweeted:
@Tim_Bousquet My wife recently had her contract with Yelp end as they pulled out of Hfx’s market with their community building stuff… you know who Yelp’s main competitor is? Trip Adviser. You know who just released a list for every Haligonian to pat themselves on the back with?
— Dylan (@LDTG117) January 11, 2018
His spouse Jodi explained:
So it appears that Trip Advisor was trying to expand its share of the Halifax market after Yelp cut its presence here, and so it included Halifax on its “tourist destinations on the rise” list in hopes of drumming up local business.
That’s Trip Advisor’s business, of course. What it’s not, however, is journalism.
Budget Committee – 18-19 Budget and Business Plan (Friday, 9:30am, City Hall) — budget deliberations continue.
No public meetings.
Chronic Illness in Prison (Friday, 12:10pm, Room 104, Weldon Law Building) — Adelina Iftene will speak on “Addressing Chronic Illness in Prison: Law, Policy and Reality.”
Dreaming Revolution: Tricontinentalism, Anti-Imperialism and Third WorldRebellion (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building) — Isaac Saney will speak.
In the harbour
5:30am: Pagna, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Sagunto, Spain
7am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 36 to Pier 41
10:30am: Horizon Leader, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Bremerhaven, Germany
10:30am: Pagna, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
1pm: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 36 from Saint-Pierre
1:30pm: Hermitage Bridge, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
4pm: Horizon Leader, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
8pm: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s
The second report from the Restorative Inquiry Council related to the Home for Colored Children will be released today. I’ll attend the press briefing and will perhaps have a report afterwards.
The Examineradio podcast will also be published today.