News

1. John Risley’s South African Adventure

Out from behind the paywall: Tim’s epic piece on how Nova Scotia billionaire John Risley wound up in bed with an arms dealer suing the South African government over an apartheid-era contract. The short version: After his racing career, Portuguese Formula 1 driver Jorge Pinhol became an arms dealer and facilitated a deal to sell helicopters to South Africa’s pariah apartheid government. After the ANC took power, the government refused to pay him his very sizable commission. In stepped Risley to help back the case, in exchange for a share of the profits.

But this short summary does not do the story justice. It’s an amazing investigation, involving tens of thousands of truckloads of documents sent to an incinerator, dozens of front companies, and the ins and outs of busting sanctions to do business with the South African government of the day.

The details of this saga aside, two things jump out to me as a writer. First, is that this story began with a slightly deranged-sounding email Tim received. We all get these, and I think most of us usually ignore them.

The second is that Tim actually got Risley to talk to him about all this. And Risley does not disappoint, delivering some masterful equivocation when it comes to describing the helicopters as search-and-rescue vehicles.

I pressed Risley on the point, pointing out that at the time, the apartheid government of South Africa was at war in Namibia and Angola, and so while the helicopters certainly were — and continue to be — used for domestic search and rescue purposes, they could serve a dual use in the wars as military vehicles.

“I think you’re absolutely right, Tim,” he replied. “At the time that the helicopters were ordered, South Africa was engaged in as you say wars or, you know, aggressive border skirmishes, whatever you want to call them… Now I don’t have any insight into the minds of Armscor, of the South African government at the time, and was it their view that we were going to order these search and rescue helicopters and once we get them then we’re gonna put machine guns on them? You know, that may well have been their agenda. I can’t know that.”

Set aside some time and read it yourself.

Click here to read John Risley’s South African Adventure.

2. Donkin infractions

Donkin coal mine site. photo: Morien Resources Inc.

For CBC, Tom Ayers looks at the four compliance orders and six warnings government inspectors have issued the Donkin coal mine in Cape Breton since it suffered a partial roof cave-in back in January.

According to the department, it has issued to Kameron Coal:

  • Orders:
  • Feb 12 – requirement to follow operator’s mobile equipment operating procedure.
  • Feb 12 – requirement to have protection for crossing under beltlines.
  • Feb 12 – requirement to properly position emergency stop along conveyor.
  • Mar 6 – requirement to have pullcord and guarding on conveyor system.

Warnings:

  • Jan 31 – must have proper functioning for ventilation control device.
  • Feb 12 – must have proper fire extinguisher on mobile equipment.
  • Feb 12 – must have adequate barrier around methane drainage pipeline system.
  • Mar 6 – must properly use ladders.
  • Mar 6 – must follow fuelling procedures
  • Mar 6 – must have proper placement of warning signage at a conveyor loading point

Nobody interviewed for the story seems too concerned about any of this, saying it’s a complex workplace, and some infractions — like improper use of ladders — are common at industrial sites. I don’t know enough about mining (OK, I know nothing about mining) so don’t know how serious a lack of proper ventilation control might be or the lack of a properly positioned emergency stop. But those things don’t sound good, do they? Especially given the history of mining disasters caused by things like poor ventilation.

And why are we mining coal anyway, as we face a disastrous climate crisis?

As British writer George Monbiot recently reiterated, in reference to the approval of a new coal mine in Cumbria, “If something is morally wrong, creating employment does not make it morally right.”

3. Gas prices and gas tax

CBC has two gas-related stories this morning. First, Susan Bradley reports that gas prices are likely to top $1.40 a litre this summer in Nova Scotia. I usually consider gas price stories a bit of a throwaway, but Bradley does a good job of explaining the factors that go into determining the price at the pump, and why that price is going up. Of course, this doesn’t prevent people in the comments from saying the same old things they say every time prices go up.

I wish it were true that higher gas prices meant people would drive less or use transit more, but the reality is that for many Nova Scotians they just mean paying more. At the same time, when I see SUVs idling for ages I can’t help but think gas prices are too low.

Still on the gas front, the federal government seems to have taken municipalities by surprise, announcing in yesterday’s budget that it would double the share of gas tax money going to municipalities.

Writing for CBC, Jean Laroche quotes Halifax mayor Mike Savage on the announcement. Savage says the municipality currently gets $25 million from the gas tax, so doubling that would mean $50 million. (I would imagine if the price of gas goes up, that amount would increase even more.)

I thought this was the most interesting part of the story:

He [Savage] is also happy the money will be flowing directly from Ottawa, rather than through the provincial government.

“It means we will be less dependent upon the provincial government to determine our priorities,” Savage said. “We will have the opportunity to say ourselves what we think the priorities are. After all, we get elected as well.”

The word “stadium” does not appear in the article.

4. Donair spice dispute

Which donair spice does it have?

I know Halifax loves a good donair story, but I don’t think the lawsuit over donair spice is it. Wyatt Gillis and Alex Cooke cover the suit for The Star Halifax. It involves former business partners Jeff Mahoney and Johnny Dibb, and a dispute over Dibb’s online donair-spice-sales operation.

But folks, the story is not about the donair spice. It’s just your run-of-the-mill trademark suit.

“I’m not an idiot, I can’t stop anybody from selling spice,” said Mahoney, explaining that it’s just the logo that’s trademarked, not the blend itself.

“Truth be told, unless I go get a forensic scientist to prove he’s selling the exact same thing, there’s nothing really I can do….

“It’s no different than taking a shoe and putting the Nike check on it. If a guy works at the Nike factory and figures out their process for making shoes and goes out and starts making his own shoes, there’s really nothing Nike can do,” he said.

“But when he slaps a Nike check on the side of it and tells people that it’s the same thing as the shoes they were selling before, that’s where the problem lies.”

5. Fenwick Tower

There was no obvious construction work being done on Fenwick Tower yesterday. Photo: Halifax Examiner

This item is written by Tim Bousquet.

A New Brunswick firm has placed a builder’s lien on Fenwick Tower.

In a statement of claim filed with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court Monday, Sancton Access Inc., a scaffolding company which also operates out of Dartmouth, says that Triumph Eastern Canada, Ltd, a Toronto-based siding contractor, has not paid Sancton $47,947.85 it is owed for services rendered at the Fenwick Tower redevelopment project.

As a result, Sancton has placed a building lien on the tower, which is owned by Anmet Holdings Limited, which in turn conducts business as Templeton Properties. The president of Anmet and Templeton is Andrew Metlege.

In addition to the builder’s lien, Sancton is asking for a court judgment.

The allegations in the statement of claim have not been tested in court.

The Fenwick Tower project is mired in delay. In 2010, Halifax council approved an ambitious plan for the rebuilding of the tower along with an additional eight-storey building, a nine-storey building, six townhouses, new commercial space, and a parking garage on the site. That plan was given final approval in 2011.

As approved, the project was to be phased, but that phasing was tweaked in 2013. In 2015, Templeton made significant changes to the project, which were again approved by city council.

Construction debris was falling from Fenwick Tower to the streets below during an October 2016 windstorm. Photo contributed to the Examiner by Paul Keeping

In a windstorm in October 2016, as recladding of the tower was in progress, construction debris fell from the heights of the tower; as a result, fire and emergency crews closed the streets and sidewalks around the tower because of the “risk to public safety.”

In November 2017, a fire broke out on the 26th floor of the tower, and over 200 residents were evacuated.

Since then, the project appears to me moving slowly, if at all. Yesterday, there was no obvious work being done on the exterior of the building, although construction debris littered the areas around the base of the tower.

6. Subscribe and save

Sometimes Tim gives you bonuses like T-shirts for subscribing. Now, the federal government is offering an incentive too. Yesterday’s budget included a temporary, non-refundable tax credit for digital news subscriptions. The credit will run from 2020 to 2024. You can claim up to $500 for digital subscriptions towards the credit.

Oh, you can subscribe here.


Views

1. Club Sandwiches

I enjoy Lindsay Nelson’s Eat This Town blog. She manages to celebrate simple foods (fish n’ chips, nachos, pizza) without falling into the whole reverse snobbery thing some self-styled low-brow gourmets embrace.

As she says, “I like to be attuned to what’s new and trendy, but I also wish to champion those old school classics we know, love, and take for granted. In general, I think authenticity trumps whimsy – but the best judge is always the test of time! More importantly, good food trumps all.”

Last week, Nelson published a post on the state of the club sandwich in Halifax.

She gets into the history of the sandwich, the essential components, and the weird variants (Eg salmon “club” with no bacon).

For years, my brother-in-law, Will Martin, has said his go-to test for a new place is to order the clubhouse. It plays a large role in determining whether he will go back. I asked him why, and he answered with more detail than I expected:

For me there is just something soothing about the balance of flavours. It’s a go-to indicator because it can say a lot about how much care a place puts into their food. Real roasted turkey or packaged meat? Well-cooked crispy bacon or half-burned, or worse, limp greasy strips? Real mayo or Miracle Whip? Fresh tomatoes or those mealy flavourless ones? Lettuce still with some crunch to it or wilted cast-offs?

Each choice tells you if this is the kind of place that puts time and attention into even simple food. Lots of places put on a big show, thinking they can con you with a big sandwich and a mountain of fries, but underneath it’s just the cheapest and quickest ingredients they can throw together.

Now I’m hungry.

2. Shawn Cleary is Shawn Clearying

Yesterday, Twitter user @CPJonGoSox replied to a tweet from the Sheldon MacLeod show about the piece of private land for sale inside Sir Sandford Fleming Park (aka Dingle Park).

Have the council looked into Right of Way with this land? Even if new buyers do come, the trails that have been used for years could still be used, within reason. (cleanliness etc) Why have taxpayers spend a ton?

Councillor Cleary decided to weigh in:

What an interesting idea. I don’t think our dozen real estate staff or 18 lawyers have thought about that. I will pass it along.

Remember when we thought it was great our elected officials were online so we could engage with them directly?


Noticed

OK, you may or may not love taxes. Regardless, you probably don’t like preparing a tax return.

Volunteer tax clinics are here to help.

These clinics are a great way for people who have relatively simple returns to file their taxes. Even if you don’t owe money, not filing has consequences. For instance, you can’t get the GST credit unless you file.

Who needs the GST credit most? People who are poor and marginalized.

For whom is filing a tax return often a barrier? People who are poor or marginalized.

The free tax clinics are a wonderful example of civic duty and responsibility in action. Many of the volunteers are bookkeepers or accountants themselves. Even those that aren’t tax professionals have the knowledge necessary to complete a basic return. And they won’t take a chunk of your refund like commercial tax preparers will.

Several years ago, I interviewed a retired accountant involved with the Brunswick Street Mission, who told me that  having someone come in and help people file returns can make a significant improvement in people’s lives.

You can search by location to find a free tax clinic near you here. I imagine the list will get longer as April 30 approaches. Many libraries offer clinics, so you can also contact them. Some are walk-in, others by appointment.


Government

City

Wednesday

No public meetings.

Thursday

Active Transportation Advisory Committee (Thursday, 6pm, City Hall) — no action items are on the agenda.

Province

No public meetings this week.


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Building Community While Empowering young Adults (Wednesday, 6pm, Room 307, Student Union Building) — from the listing:

The Black Student Advising Centre presents our annual Elimination of Racial Discrimination Day event. Come join our panelists as we discuss all we’ve accomplished and the strides we have to go in racial equality. The discussion will later focus on how we can empower each other to overcome these barriers and be able to move forward.

Speakers: Bria Symonds, Aisha Abawajy, Odeisa Stewart, Marcia McGregor and Adebayo Majekolagbe.

Thursday

The Stars have No Break (Thursday, 3:15pm, Room 120, Dunn Building) — the Halifax Planetarium’s March Break family show. $5, reservations required, minimum age 7 years. More info here.

Ojistoh Horn. Photo via facebook.

Indigenous Perspectives in Western Medicine (Thursday, 5pm, Theatre B, Tupper Medical Building) — talk by Ojistoh Horn and a panel discussion with Brent Young, Leah Carrier, Tiffany O’Donnell, Phillipa Pictou, and moderator Andrew Lynk. More info here.

Free tax clinic (Thursday, 5:30pm, room 5001, Rowe Management Building) — volunteers will assist those with a modest income and simple tax filing to file taxes on their own. Contact person here.

Culture and Power: Indigenous Environmental Governance of Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories (Thursday, 7pm, in the auditorium named after a bank, McCain Building) — Ken Kaine from the University of Alberta will speak. Info here.

French Language Guided Tour of The Memorialist (Thursday, 7pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery) — for a description of the event in French, see here.

King’s

Wednesday

Eurydice (Wednesday , 8pm, The Pit, Arts and Administration Building) — Jacob Hermant directs the King’s Theatrical Society. Tickets $5/10 here. Info on facebook here.

Thursday

Night FYP Lecture Series: Benjamin Panel (Thursday, 7:30pm, KTS Lecture Hall, New Academic Building) — featuring Daniel Brandes, Sarah Clift, and Laura Penny. Info here.

Eurydice (Thursday, 8pm, The Pit, Arts and Administration Building) — Jacob Hermant directs the King’s Theatrical Society. Tickets $5/10 here. Info on facebook here.


In the harbour

06:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 41 from Saint-Pierre
12:00: East Coast, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
16:00: NACC Quebec, cement carrier, sails from Pier 9 for sea


Footnotes

The new printer

After more than a decade of faithful service, I decided it was time to say goodbye to my HP LaserJet 1020 printer. This is one of those unfortunate situations in which the old printer could probably be fixed, but the cost of a new printer is so low as to make repair unreasonable.

Plus: Wireless printing!

Printers must have gotten easier to set up, right?

I start with the visual instructions. The first one is a drawing showing something I should not do, but I’m not sure what it is. Removing the toner cartridge maybe? OK. I wasn’t planning on removing it before printing anyway.

Then there are a couple more drawings that mystify me. I ask my 19-year-old for help. He finds them slightly less mystifying, and we manage to figure out what to do.

One of the mystifying drawings.

Time to set up the wireless printing!

The instructions tell me to press a button on the keypad to set this up. The button does not exist. I’ll worry about that later. Let me download the drivers and other software first. The instructions tell me the easiest way to do this is to visit 123hp.com/laserjet. Go ahead, click it.

That doesn’t work, but it’s OK. HP offers an alternate URL. You will be shocked to learn this one doesn’t work either.

I just go to the HP homepage, find the software package and download it from there.

Still not connected as I write. I might dig around to see if I have an ethernet cable somehwere so I can skip the whole wireless thing. And I guess I’ll try the wireless connection again. I’m sure I’ll figure it out… eventually.

How can this not be simpler after all these years?

I realize complaining about printers is low-hanging fruit. The equivalent of comedians going on about air travel, amirite? I guess I’m taken by surprise because I haven’t bought one in so long.

Smashing printers seems to be a popular activity in rage rooms across the continent, and I guess there is a good reason for it.


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Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. Shawn Cleary’s snotty response to a constituent’s suggestion is of a piece with communications I’ve received from him on civic matters.

    In this case, Cleary has acknowledged learning about the private property problem within Sir Sanford Flemming park a year ago. Apparently, he did nothing about it until the property went up for public sale last week.

    So instead of trying to work out a private sale to the city, we’re stuck competing against every millionaire developer who might take a fancy to this choice piece of real estate.

  2. Update: The URL is 123.hp.com/laserjet. I misread it despite wearing my glasses and looking at it several times. There goes part of my complaint down the toilet.

  3. HRM could spend a whole lot more money this year making life easier for those with diabilities. The money is a one time windfall. Replace more sidewalks and make them level, purchase more access-a bus vehicles. Install sidewalks. Purchase proper equipment for sidewalk snow removal. Plant more trees. Make more playgrounds for kids in lower income areas.