News

1. Cruise ship “smoke and mirrors”

The cruise ship Crystal Serenity at Pier 22. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“Cruise tourism has grown rapidly in Maine over the past decade, with ship visits to Portland more than tripling,” reports Colin Woodard for the Portland Press-Herald:

Industry promoters and city officials have long touted the primary purported economic benefit: each passenger, on average, spending over $100 ashore every day they’re in port.

However, careful scrutiny of the study backing these claims — and the methods and assumptions it used — indicates passenger spending levels are probably less than half that, suggesting the city and other Maine ports are making decisions about whether and how much to invest in cruise ship terminals, piers and other infrastructure based on poor information.

“It’s the same smoke and mirrors,” says Ross Klein, a social scientist at Memorial University of Newfoundland whose surveys of cruise passengers visiting Maritime Canadian ports — often on cruises that also stop in Maine — suggests that spending is far lower than that region’s cruise promotion agency has suggested.

“Communities buy into the idea that any passenger spends $100 per port of call, and they see so many dollar signs there’s no room for reason and debate,” Klein said.

Mary Campbell, of the Cape Breton Spectator, spoke with Klein in 2016, but he’s not often quoted in mainstream media. That’s probably because there’s just not much return in criticizing an industry that has so many local supporters. Courting the cruise industry may make no sense at all on the macro level — expenditure of tax dollars for berths and so forth may even exceed tax income generated by cruise ship tourists’ spending, but there’s a large contingent of port managers, bus tour operators, trinket salespeople, and such that benefit immediately from the cruise industry and will speak up heartily in its defence.

Why should an advertiser-supporter media outfit risk losing out on some of that advertising by taking a hard look at the industry? While there are dozens of websites that promote and give positive profiles to the cruise industry (and make money by selling ads promoting the industry), so far as I know, there is not a single media outlet dedicated to an independent or critical look at the industry. Likewise, even in academia there is basically one person — Klein — doing critical work on the cruise industry. There’s also one American lawyer, Jim Walker, taking aim at the industry (although of course Walker is self-interested from the opposite direction, as he’s trying to drum up clients). For the most part, the cruise industry is praised by media as an unquestionable good, end of story.

But Colin Woodard is a praised author and Pulitzer Prize finalist who can, frankly, do whatever he wants, complaining local businesspeople be damned. Portland is lucky to have Woodard; I hope they treasure him. And today, Woodard critically examines the cruise industry and untangles the real economics at the local level in Portland. He continues:

Portland made the decision to build the $26 million Ocean Gateway passenger terminal in 2002 — which also has a berth for the Nova Scotia ferry — without commissioning a proper study to determine the economic impacts. In 2008, months after it opened, a team of University of Maine researchers led by tourism economist Todd Gabe conducted the first and only survey of cruise passenger spending in the city.

It’s that study, released in 2009, that claimed each passenger spent $109.68, a figure that decision-makers still rely on to calculate the economic benefit. But a combination of inaccurate assumptions and methodological shortcomings led the study to greatly overestimate both passenger spending and overall economic impact, said to have been $5.8 million to $8 million in 2008, when fewer than 40,000 passengers visited the city.

Once the data and assumptions are corrected, the actual figures for that year would have been $2.2 million to $2.6 million, about two-fifths the original estimate.

The Alakai. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Woodard goes on to analyze the city’s costs to operate the berths, and notes that the pursuit of the cruise industry is what is causing Bay Ferries to look for another terminus for its Yarmouth–Maine route:

But the growth in cruise ship traffic is also threatening to drive The Cat out of Portland, taking fee revenue and economic activity with it.

“There are a few days in the year where it is extremely difficult to have the ferry operating because of the size and passenger volume of cruise ship activities,” says Mark MacDonald, chairman and CEO of Bay Ferries Ltd., the Prince Edward Island company that operates The Cat, which has been considering relocating Maine operations to Bar Harbor ever since Portland unveiled a redevelopment proposal that shrinks the ferry’s loading area. “The city of Portland has a lot of demand on its prime waterfront space, so that has caused us to examine alternatives.”

If The Cat departs for good, the city will lose about $200,000 of Ocean Gateway’s revenues, according to city records, 25 seasonal terminal employees and 12 Maine resident members of the vessel’s crew, according to Bay Ferries. MacDonald says ferry passenger surveys indicate they spend 75,000 person-nights in Maine each year, a figure that would likely translate to hundreds of thousands of dollars in southern Maine hotel spending.

I wouldn’t rely on the figures MacDonald tosses around, but the point is that unquestioned pursuit of the cruise industry doesn’t by definition allow for any cost/benefit comparisons. It’s especially cut-and-dry in Portland — increase cruise ship activity at the expense of the ferry. But such calculations are always made, even if unstated. When we spend money on supporting the cruise industry — Klein rightly calls such spending “subsidies” — we are not spending that money on something else that may have better return.

2. Wellington highway deaths

The site of the fatal collision. Photo: Google Street View

Yesterday, I noted that the RCMP announced that a man had died in a two-vehicle collision in Wellington on Sunday. (The RCMP incorrectly said the man was 80 years old; he was actually 87 years old.) And yesterday afternoon the RCMP announced that another person, a 15-year-old girl, died in the same collision. The release gave more details:

June 11, 2018, Wellington, Nova Scotia … At 7:20 p.m. last [Sunday] evening, Halifax District RCMP responded to a motor vehicle collision on Hwy 2 at Abilene Ave. in Wellington. A 15-year-old female, who was an occupant in a 2004 Ford Focus, was transported by EHS Lifeflight to the IWK with serious injuries where she later passed away.

An 87-year-old man, who was the lone occupant in a 2005 Chevrolet Impala, died at the scene.

The second vehicle, a Ford Focus, was occupied by four youth. The driver, a 19-year-old male, was transported to the QEII by EHS LifeFlight with serious injuries. A 13-year-old female was transported to the IWK with non-life threatening injuries. A 19-year-old male was transported by EHS to the Dartmouth General Hospital with minor injuries.

In the wake of the collision, “RCMP in Nova Scotia are appealing to members of the public to be more careful in their use of social media around some stories,” reports Blair Rhodes for the CBC:

While police were still gathering evidence at the scene, the relatives of one of the deceased showed up. They’d read about the crash on social media.

“This is something we want people to stop and think about before they send that photo, before they share it on social media,” RCMP Cpl. Dal Hutchinson said.

“Stop and think how you would feel if your loved one, your family member, your friend was in one of those vehicles.”

Hutchinson said police don’t reach out to family members until they’re certain of the identities. He said that comes after they’ve finished interviewing witnesses at the scene.

But on this occasion, he said, the family got there first.

“The collision was horrific in nature and very disturbing to not only the first responders but people that lived in the area that rendered assistance to those involved,” he said.

3. “Grossly disproportionate”

Yesterday, the provincial court released a decision written by Judge Frank P. Hoskins. At issue was the sentencing of Andre Lyle Boudreau, an Eastern Passage man who had been convicted of growing cannabis.

Boudreau pleaded guilty to the charge, and the agreed statement of facts read:

On April 15, 2016, at 7 p.m., police executed a Controlled Drugs and Substances Act warrant and made entry into the accused, Andre Boudreau’s, residence located at 77 Howard Avenue, in Eastern Passage. Police located Mr. Boudreau inside the residence. The garage behind the residence had a tinfoil tray with 285.7 grams of marihuana. Inside the residence, police found a three-room marihuana grow operation. The rooms were in the basement and could be accessed via a hatch hidden in the floor of one of the main floor bedrooms. The police found the following while searching the grow operation:

a. Two rooms contained a total of 29 fully mature marihuana plants;
b. A third room contained 21 plants approximately one foot in length;
c. A tinfoil tray with 49.6 grams of marihuana;
d. A digital scale; and,
e. A grow chart.

The crown wanted to impose the mandatory minimum punishment of six months in jail, but Boudreau’s lawyer Don Murray (the heading on the ruling misidentifies Boudreau’s lawyer as someone else) argued that sentence was “grossly disproportionate,” a characterization the judge agreed with.

One aspect of this case was that Boudreau was not selling his cannabis, but rather growing it for himself and giving some away to his friends. Wrote Hoskins:

Based on the undisputed facts Mr. Boudreau made a conscious and deliberate choice to engage in the production of marihuana for a dual purpose: personal use and for purposes of trafficking. The trafficking involved is this case is the re-distribution of marihuana to friends. Although there is no suggestion in this case that Mr. Boudreau’s grow operation was a commercial operation, he was nonetheless in possession of the illicit substances for the purpose of providing it to others.

There is no commercial aspect to this case. He was operating a residential marihuana operation consisting of approximately 29 fully mature marihuana plants, and 21 plants approximately one foot in height. Mr. Boudreau was cultivating the marihuana for personal use and for the purpose of re-distributing it to friends. Thus, his level of moral blameworthiness is not as high as it would be for a trafficker producing and selling marihuana for profit and preying upon the vulnerabilities of others. Therefore, it should be stressed that it is a mitigating factor that Mr. Boudreau’s home grow operation did not involve any commercial features and that he was accommodating his friends; consensual users. Indeed, the Crown conceded that there was no indication of any paraphernalia that might suggest that his home grow operation was an active commercial operation. The Crown also accepted that he was re-distributing to his friends.

I have questions. The first is: How come my dope-growing friends aren’t giving away their product to their friends, ahem? The second is: How much police time, resources, and money went into busting this guy? The third is: Couldn’t the cops have made better use of that time, resources, and money by, I dunno, dressing up like a giant dog and scaring small children at crosswalks?

Those questions aside, Judge Hoskins went on to sensibly rule that:

I find that a mandatory six-month loss of liberty would be grossly disproportionate to the offence and its circumstances. Indeed, the challenged provision, s. 7(2)(b)(i) of the CDSA, would impose on Mr. Boudreau a sanction so excessive or grossly disproportionate that it would, in my view, outrage standards of decency to the point of being abhorrent or intolerable.

Yah, Judge Hoskins!

Standards of decency, indeed. He’s right: no sane person wants nonviolent cannabis growers locked up.

Hoskins instead sentenced Boudreau to a $3,000 fine and 12 months probation. I still think that’s excessive, but it’s clear that the judge wanted his ruling to stand on appeal.

We are about to legalize the consumption of cannabis, with the government getting its cut by selling cannabis, but there are people sitting in prison for… selling cannabis. Boudreau’s case is especially clear cut because he was just giving it away — what is he, some sort of communist? — but even so, our justice system needs to come to terms with the inherent contradiction of past convictions and the upcoming regime of legalization.

Everyone ever convicted for possession or sale of cannabis should have their sentences vacated.

4. Terrible journalism from the Chronicle Herald

Terrible “journalism” in the Chronicle Herald. And, Cindy! Do you see how your good name is being sullied by association?

Speaking of terrible journalism coming from the Chronicle Herald, which I do way below in the “government” section, check out the fluff piece written by James Risdon, the former Herald scab who writes anti-immigrant, anti-gay, and anti-trans screeds.

“Artificially-intelligent software is increasingly crunching consumers’ social media data — and getting health information from apps on their cell phones and Fitbit-like devices — to help companies price and sell life insurance,” writes Risdon… or rather, as Risdon simply rewrites a press package from the French tech consulting firm Capgemini.

Nowhere in Risdon’s “article” are the questions of privacy or worker rights raised, even if simply to dismiss them. Instead, we get flat-out nonsense like this:

“By applying data analytics on the real-time data received from wearables and other sensor devices, life insurance firms can generate more granular insights to design and customize products based on the risk exposure to each customer,” reads the Capgemini report.

That’s leading to things like cheaper, short-term life insurance targeted to tech-savvy Millennials.

“Your experience with life insurance will become more convenient and the products will become more personalized,” predicts Nate Root, vice president of data and analytics for the insurance industry at Capgemini.

I get that the Herald is trying to save money by hiring shit writers who simply rewrite press releases, but does it really have to label their product “business news”? Why the hell is this in the Herald in the first place? Is it an ad?

The Herald is terrible.


Government

City

Tuesday

Special Board of Police Work Plan Session (Tuesday, 9:30am, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — here’s the agenda.

Halifax & West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, City Hall) — a public hearing for Myles Baldwin, Shane Beehan, and Jillian Demmons’ proposal for a restaurant/pub they’re calling the “Narrows Public House” at 2720 Gottingen Street, which is a registered heritage property directly across the street from Stadacona and next door to Elizabeth Pacey’s house. Pacey, the widow of former Heritage Trust president Phil Pacey, is opposed to the pub, saying it will make her house unrentable, but the Heritage Advisory Committee is recommending approval.

Wednesday

Special Community Design Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 11:30am, City Hall) — the committee is still going on about the Centre Plan, as if it’s a serious policy initiative that will have real-world consequences. Funny shit!

Halifax to Quebec: Assimilate or Die!

FCM 2018 Conference Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 1pm, City Hall) — now that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention has come and gone, the committee is going to tell Quebec City, the host of the 2019 convention, how to place a Borg in the middle of its city.

Regional Watersheds Advisory Board (Wednesday, 5pm, HEMDCC Large Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — the committee is looking at flood risks in HRM and has identified the top 10 sites at risk, as follows:

Public Information Meeting (Wednesday, 7pm, Gordon R. Snow Community Centre, Fall River) — Perry Lake Developments wants a “site specific amendment to the River-Lakes Secondary Planning Strategy (SPS) under the Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS) for Planning Districts 14 and 17 (Shubenacadie Lakes)” to build  22 townhouses on an extension of Ingram Drive and two three-storey, 60-unit buildings at the end of an extension of Ingram Drive at something called “Opportunity Site C” in Fall River.

Hey… wait a minute… Shubenacadie Lakes is #2 on that flooding risk list above, innit?

Oddly, just as I began writing this segment last night, grad student Jeff Blair tweeted out this observation:

The problem with development like this is that while its technically the mid-rise density that Halifax is looking for, it’s literally on a dead end in the middle of nowhere. pic.twitter.com/vlBeEItjYV

— Jeff Blair (@jeffbblair) June 11, 2018

All this made me wonder who Perry Lake Developments is, and it turns out its president is Larry Gibson and its vice president is Patricia Gibson. Now, this has nothing to do with the proposed Fall River development, of which I know nothing, but the Gibsons were the subjects of a hilarious advertorial published in the Chronicle Herald.

The advertorial was written by someone called J.L. Hochman, whose bio page in the Herald is completely blank:

A full life.

I don’t think Hochman was technically a scab — I think he was hired to write in the Herald’s non-news products, like for advertorial and such, and so didn’t actually displace any real reporters. (Incidentally, another guy who actually did scab at the Herald keeps emailing me to ask for work. I mean, talk about clueless… Besides the lack-of-worker-solidarity thing, those scabs sure were dumb, eh?)

Fashionable!

But Hochman’s advertorial is oh wow. Best I can tell, it was written for Duggers Magazine, a publication the Herald produces for the Dugger’s* menswear store every few months. Hochman’s piece drones on for 400 non-copyedited words or so about the Gibsons’ (note to Hochman: note the proper use of the plural possessive) career in the flooring industry and then out of nowhere takes an unexpected turn:

While that customer service has stayed with the Gibsons for decades, another thing has been a constant in their lives — their clothing has come from the McNeil family.

Young and fashionable

Larry’s relationship with Dugger’s goes back to when he was 14. He would shop at the retail outlet which Dugger McNeil worked at (before Dugger’s was opened), and that began his interest in high-end fashion.

“I remember when I was a kid, mom would give me money, and I’d take off to Halifax Shopping Centre to go get a new pair of Levi’s Jeans,” said Larry. “There was lots of competition around — Eatons, Sears, etc. — but Dugger always took care of me and that continues to this day with his son. I’ve been a customer of that family for a long time . . . because I felt comfortable that I was getting something special.”

So if you want to buy a house in a long cul-de-sac in Fall River from a well-dressed flooring specialist, Larry Gibson is your man. Oh, and Hochman ends on this note:

A calling card of all Maritimers is an unparalleled humility that we carry, no matter how successful we become or where we start from. Whether it’s the Gibsons, who grew their business into an Atlantic Canada institution, yet are still as hands-on as the day they opened, or Ross McNeil, who still agonizes over helping you find that one item that truly brings out your character and spirit, remembering who you are and sticking to your values will almost assuredly lead to success.

“An unparalleled humility that we carry” sounds like that Trump quote —  “I think I am, actually humble. I think I’m much more humble than you would understand.”

Someone got paid to write this.

* There is no correct spelling of Dugger’s/Duggers. The company’s website uses “Duggers,” while the company is listed with the Registry of Joint Stock Companies as “Dugger’s Mens Wear Limited.” The Herald goes back and forth between “Duggers” and “Dugger’s,” so call it whatever you want, I guess. This reminds me of my former colleague Tara Thorne’s complaint about the now-defunct bar that spelled the name of the business three different ways on its menus and signage — Rogues Roost, Rogue’s Roost, Rogues’ Roost.

Province

Tuesday

House of Assembly Management Commission (Tuesday, 1:30pm, One Government Place) — the Commission “is responsible for the financial stewardship of all public money approved by the House of Assembly for the use and operation of the Assembly. It is also responsible for all financial and administrative policy affecting the Assembly and its members, offices and staff.”

Wednesday

No public meetings.


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

No public events.

Wednesday

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada information session (Wednesday, 10am, Room C150, Collaborative Health Education Building) — from the event listing:

Dalhousie will host representatives from NSERC, who will lead an information session that will highlight news and developments at NSERC, present an overview of the 2018 Discovery Grants competition results, provide future applicants with some useful tips, and provide an overview of NSERC’s suite of programs. It will also allow researchers to ask NSERC questions directly about their various programs. Presenters: NSERC – Philip Bale, Program Officer for the Physics Evaluation Group (1505) & Rawni Sharp, Team Leader, Environmental Sciences.

RSVP: Keerthi.Baruah@dal.ca

BRIC NS Student Seminar Series (Wednesday, 12pm, Room 311, Collaborative Health Education Building) — students who won the 2017 BRIC (Building Research for Integrated Primary Healthcare) student research award will talk about their work.

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Seminar (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — M.Sc. Candidate Pooja Srinivasan will speak on “Entropic effects on proline racemase catalysis”; and PhD candidate Purvi Trivedi will speak on “Nutritional regulation of Transcription Factor EB (TFEB) in the heart.”

CSV2018: The 2nd Symposium of the Canadian Society for Virology (Wednesday, 5pm, Tupper Medical Building) — exactly what it sounds like. If you wanna go, contact: craig.mccormick@dal.ca.


In the harbour

Midnight: Eidsvaag Sirius, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 25 from Frihetsholmen, Norway
5am: Grande New York, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Gioia Tauro, Italy
6am: AS Felicia, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Miami
7am: Hebridean Sky, cruise ship with up to 120 passengers, arrives at Pier 23 from Pictou
11:30am: Grande New York, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
4:30pm: AS Felicia, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for Kingston, Jamaica
6pm: Hebridean Sky, cruise ship, sails from Pier 23 for Reykjavik, Iceland
8pm: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Berth TBD from Saint-Pierre


Footnotes

I think I have to do something today, but I forget what it is.

Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. It isn’t just cruise ships, although for sure those are the monorails of our time without which no city can be a World Class City. Almost all consultant’s reports prepared for government are full of unsubstantiated numbers and data, logical fallacies, mysterious assertions, and flat out bullshit based on whatever conclusion the consultant thinks the government wants to push an agenda. The ones about economic benefits of ego projects like stadiums, sports teams, convention centres, etc etc are always so. You’d be better off believing a guy selling watches in an alley than anything in these reports.

    One was produced here about the local hockey team, which the nearly bankrupt municipality supports financially and through indirect means as well. The city is sending workers home, many streets are just a series of decades-old patches, and council is trying to tell the fire department not to respond to some fire calls – supposedly in order to save money. Yet the hockey team gets public financial and other support because the consultant’s report touted economic spinoffs to business. I said if the team brings so much economic benefit to these local businesses, why the hell don’t these business people get together and own and operate the team themselves?

      1. Your conversation, your comment, Tim Jaques: “ The ones about economic benefits of ego projects like stadiums, sports teams, convention centres, etc etc are always so.,” resonated with a passage in a 1999 novel I’m reading, “Dark Lady,” by Richard North Patterson.

        In it, an American town which is economically dying, three homicides are being investigated, two of them prominent male citizens. One, a squeaky-clean male, found dead of an overdose with a similarly dead prostitute, was project manager on a stadium being built, financially backed by the scion of town’s industrial founder, the stadium a subject of controversy within a mayoral race.

        The NY CEO of an excluded national contractor whose expertise is building sports stadiums agrees to give an off-the-record tutorial (“doesn’t want involvement in local politics”) to two investigating prosecutors, one of whom has financial accounting expertise. After detailed insider info on financing options and areas ripe for malfeasance, skimming and corruption, he makes a final, eloquent defense.

        I’ve almost no interest in sports, have never understood the rabid devotion it incites, but this passage has given me new psychological insight and offer it here for others it may interest:

        “Abruptly, Harshman stood again, hands jammed in his pockets. “If I sound cynical, I’m not. These ballparks become political, and it’s only the political arguments I question – whether the benefits to minorities are real, whether the revenues to a city equal the cash it spends, whether more people will spend their money in Steelton. Those are the selling points politicians make to voters and, in any given case, maybe they’re ephemeral or even bogus. But to me, they don’t address the real question.

        “Harshman gazed down at Stella. “This isn’t just about money, Ms. Marz. It’s about how you feel, how a city feels. What is it worth to Cleveland that its national image – its self-image – isn’t of an urban dump anymore but of a beautiful ballpark with a backdrop of new buildings? What is it worth that young people go downtown now? What would it be worth to you to see that happen in Steelton? And what will it be worth to your kids?

        “Life isn’t perfect. Probably the Taj Mahal was built on waste and corruption and money which could genuinely have helped the poor. But great cities subsidize art museums, and symphony halls, and all sorts of public monuments. And those don’t accomplish a fraction of the psychic good, or touch a fraction of the people, that the revival of the Steelton Blues will.””