News

1. A loss for energy efficiency

Tufts Cove Generating Plant. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“EfficiencyOne has lost a battle with Nova Scotia Power to spend more of ratepayers’ money on energy conservation programs,” reports Jennifer Henderson:

Today was supposed to be the day E1 made its case before the Utility and Review Board seeking a budgetary increase from $105 million to $129 million to fund energy conservation programs — also known as Demand Side Management or DSM — for the next three years. E1’s submission to the UARB last February wanted NS Power to hand over 3% of its annual revenue to E1. It states:

The Preferred Plan requires NS Power to increase its investment in DSM funding from an average of 2.6 percent in the period of 2015-2018 to within 3 percent of its total annual revenue from ratepayers. This increase of less than one percentage point should not alone be used as justification for a rate increase.”

NS Power disagreed. It fought back and the result was an 11th hour compromise or settlement agreement reached between the two rival utilities late last week. The deal still has to be approved at an abbreviated hearing before the Utility and Review Board today.

Henderson walks us through what the agreement means, and reviews the rather lacklustre results of EfficiencyOne’s recent performance.

This is deep-dive reporting involving a close read of many hundreds of pages of documents.

Click here to read “EfficiencyOne loses battle with Nova Scotia Power for more spending on energy efficiency.”

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2. Kimber

Catherine Tully. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Writes Stephen Kimber:

Stephen McNeil promised us the most open and transparent government ever. He lied. Now as our information and privacy commissioner retires, the premier’s wannabe replacements will talk a good game. Should we believe them?

Click here to read “And promises to break…”

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3. El’s mother and Tessa Virtue

I happened upon El Jones and Desmond Cole Saturday while walking down Spring Garden Road. “I’m writing about my mom and Tessa Virtue,” said El, and I nodded along, pretending to know what Tessa Virtue is — something on Black Twitter, I thought, or maybe some linguistic thing English majors know about, like the Postmodern Fallacy, the Hendecasyllable Annoyance, the Tessa Virtue.

That night I received El’s copy, and it is the funniest thing she’s written for the Examiner:

Pop culture has also passed my mother by. She once referred to “Harry the Potter” at the dinner table, reducing my siblings and I to helpless laughter. I guarantee you if I called my mother right now and asked her who Celine Dion is, she would probably suck her teeth and tell me I devote too much time to nonsense.

Which is why, last summer, I was shocked to hear Mamma Mia by ABBA playing from the study upstairs. There is no way my mother is an ABBA fan, I thought. I went upstairs to investigate.

“Um, what are you up to?” I essayed. My mother turned to me, face alight with happiness. “Oh!” She exclaimed joyfully. “Somebody remixed Scott and Tessa’s free dance from the Olympics to this song! Isn’t it neat?”

My first response was, “How did you learn to use YouTube?”…

Naturally, then, I was shocked at my mother’s foray into the 21st Century. I was more shocked when, encouraged by my ongoing presence in the study, my mother proceeded to show me montage after montage of Scott and Tessa’s skating career. “Aren’t they cute?” she said, gleefully. “Look at this one, this is their short dance from when they were still juniors.”

In October, I called my mother to tell her about the Day of the Girl celebration at Mount Saint Vincent University. I wanted to tell her that I had performed a poem in front of the president of the university. I strategically tell my mother of these forays into respectability in the hopes that one day she will be happy that I became a poet rather than a medical doctor. “Oh yes,” she told me. “I knew it was the Day of the Girl.” I waited, expecting her to tell me there had been a story about it on CBC. Instead, she added, “Tessa Virtue tweeted about it this morning!”

Click here to read “My Mother and Tessa Virtue.”

It’s now official: El’s mom is more Canadian than am I.

Desmond Cole. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Oh, and Desmond Cole is in town for “Imagining Black Justice,” an event El is hosting this evening at the Mount:

Join Desmond Cole, Yusra Khogali, Carl James and OmiSoore Dryden for a conversational panel on Monday night, and a day of workshops on Tuesday.

What does justice look like? Join four of Canada’s leading Black thinkers and activists in a discussion about state violence, policing, incarceration, Black mental health, and Black feminism. At a time where street checks are being challenged by Black communities, in the wake of reports on policing and Black incarceration, and inspired by the Movement for Black Lives, we ask the question of what worlds are possible beyond prisons and policing.

On Tuesday, join Yusra and Desmond for workshops in the morning, and a community conversation in the afternoon.

The event is at 7pm, in McCain Rooms 105-106 at the Mount.

4. Yarmouth ferry

The Alakai. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Last Thursday I noted that something seemed to be amiss with the Alakai, the boat used for the Yarmouth ferry:

The Yarmouth ferry service is scheduled to begin its season on June 21. As of this [Thursday] morning, however, the boat, the Alakai, is still in Charleston, South Carolina.

It only takes about three days to sail from Charleston to Yarmouth, but I’d think it would take a couple weeks to load up all the tourist maps and recordings of diddly diddly music.

I’m sure they know what they’re doing.

On Friday, Bay Ferries announced a delay in the opening of the season:

Bay Ferries Limited announces a delay in the re-commencement of 2019 ferry service to and from Bar Harbor, Maine. Delays have arisen mainly due to the complexity of the construction and approvals process associated with the renovation of the Bar Harbor ferry terminal.

It is now anticipated that the earliest date on which any service could commence is in the mid-summer.

At this time, all reservations prior to July 7, 2019, will be cancelled and progress will be continually assessed going forward. The company will make direct contact with all customers concerning these reservations and will explain possible options, including travel on MV Fundy Rose between Saint John, New Brunswick, and Digby, Nova Scotia.

I’ll keep my eye on that boat. This morning, it’s still in Charleston.

5. The collapse of legacy newspapers

Yesterday, I gave a presentation at the Editors Canada conference, which was held this year in Halifax, at the Westin Hotel.

My session was titled “The New Reality: Online news.” Here’s my slideshow. Add in lots of oral explanations and elaborations.

My main argument is that the collapse of the newspaper industry was not primarily caused by the internet. That’s just the proximate cause. Rather, in the decades before the internet came to be used by most people, newspapers had been gutted and commoditized by the financiers who ran pretty much the entire economy into the ground after the deregulation of finance in the Reagan-Thatcher years.

I use as an analogy the collapse of the timber industry in northern California, in part because I was there when it happened and so saw it firsthand, and in part because it is well-documented. That’s a story of a family-run company, Pacific Lumber, which had long planning horizons — 100 years — and so made judicious decisions about how many and what type of trees it would fell every year. As a result, people working in the forest industry were paid well, and bragged that they and their families would have jobs “forever.” (On a side note, Pacific Lumber limited clearcuts to 70% of the trees in any given stand; Nova Scotia’s definition of clearcut allows for up to 98%).

But then junk bond king Charles Hurwitz came in and took control of Pacific Lumber, and by the financial logic of the day, all those trees just sitting there growing were “underutilized assets.” Their value wasn’t in providing jobs a century in the future, but in cutting them down now. And in just 21 years, the forests of Northern California and Oregon were decimated, and Pacific Lumber bankrupted. No more trees. No more jobs.

Much the same happened in the paper biz. A wave of corporate raiders like Rupert Murdoch, William Dean Singleton, and here in Canada, Paul Godfrey and Conrad Black, saw the old family-run newspapers not as valuable institutions in their own right, but as assets to be squeezed for maximum profit. News rooms, sales staffs, and printing operations were merged for “efficiency,” reporters were tasked with ever-increasing demands and provided fewer resources with which to meet them, and the notion of the “paper of record” was tossed out the window, as was generally any real connection with the community.

I recall that in the early 1990s, the daily newspaper in Chico, California (where I was living), the Enterprise-Record, part of Singleton’s MediaNews chain, was pulling in annual profits of over 20% — and yet management laid off reporters. This was typical in the industry.

Some of those massive profit margins should have been invested in R&D for tech, and specifically for adopting the newsroom to the incredible possibilities of the internet, which smart people saw coming decades before it became an everyday reality for the average person. Instead, that massive profit was squandered on returns for distant shareholders. By the time the world wide web came along, the industry was caught flat-footed and unable to compete. Facebook might not now dominate community discussions and news (and by and by, advertising opportunities), had the newspapers anticipated and risen to the challenge. Instead, the news industry was so hollowed out it couldn’t rise to the challenge.

All is not lost, however. The value in local media isn’t in profit or returns on Wall Street. The value is in the reporting. And people will financially support actual reporting, I think. Ask someone to plop down $10 a month so William Dean Singleton can fuel his corporate jet, and they’ll likely pass. Ask the same person to pony up 10 bucks so the Cape Breton Spectator can look into travel expenses for municipal officials, and maybe you’ll get a more positive response.

6. Travel expenses for municipal officials

Speaking of looking into travel expenses for municipal officials, Mary Campbell writes:

Since the dawn of the age of Big Data — hell, since the dawn of the age of Excel spreadsheets — tracking and collating information has become much easier for us humans. Data entry is boring but not difficult, and once entered (whether into a database or a spreadsheet) that data is easily accessed. And shared.

Why, then, did it take CBRM employees 17 hours to pull together travel and expense information for five months for the mayor and two municipal employees? If you are refunding expenses, you are surely tracking expenses, and if you are tracking expenses, shouldn’t you be able to access the information easily?

Didn’t the CBRM launch a travel and expense database in October 2018? Didn’t the municipality’s technology director say in a report to council:

Recognizing that it was necessary to enhance our processing of expense claims and with the pending expense claim legislation, the CBRM began developing an online CBRM expense claims portal. The portal is a “one stop shop” for expense claim requests, approval, and reimbursement. It incorporates electronic approvals at each stage of the process for future reviews and auditing purposes. The information contained in the expense claims is published to a secure relational database and gives the CBRM ability to publish expense information easily, efficiently, and accurately.

So why did it take 17 hours (up by four hours and $120 from Municipal Clerk Deborah Campbell’s original estimate) to find the information I’d requested? And why should a citizen be required — as I am — to pay $510 to access this information?

Nova Scotia’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Catherine Tully is apparently in the process of creating new “guidance tools” for the fees organizations can charge for processing FOIPOP requests — she says in her latest annual report that they will be available on the OIPC website “later this year.” Let’s hope the guidance includes “Don’t charge so much for information that it becomes impossible for citizens to access it.”

Click here to read “FOIPOP blues.”

As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, and so this article is behind the Spectator’s paywall. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
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6. Call centres and ambulances

On May 16, some unknown (to me) media outlet filed a rather specific Freedom of Information request seeking “info on Ambulance calls between 1 Jan 2017 to 31 Jan 2019 at Sydney Call Centre in Sydney and Convergys Call Centre in Glace Bay.” I’m not aware of any news article related to the results of this request — if I missed it, I hope the reporter will alert me so I can link to it.

But the results show that in that 25-month period, ambulances were called to the Sydney call centre 64 times. Fifty of those calls were characterized as Code 1 emergencies, while the remaining 14 were Code 2 Urgent. There were 40 people transported by ambulance from the call centre, 37 of which were Code 1 emergencies. The nature of most of the medical problems were redacted, but the response shows that for the emergency calls 13 people had chest pains, eight people had difficulty breathing, and seven people fainted or otherwise fell unconscious.

For the Convergys Call Centre in Glace Bay over the same 25-month period, ambulances were dispatched 26 times, 24 of which were characterized as Code 1 emergency. Twenty-four people were transported from the call centre, 22 of whom were characterized as Code 1 emergency. Of those Code 1 emergency calls, the information released shows that seven people fainted or otherwise fell unconscious; the rest of the data is redacted.

Even given that these are workplaces with hundreds of employees, that seems like an awful lot of ambulance calls.

I can only speculate as to why the rate of ambulance calls is so high to call centres, but my guess would be some combination of a stressful job situation combined with higher health risks faced by people with lower incomes.

But oh, the re-opened Sydney Call Centre just got a $500,000 ACOA loan, reports

7. Lenore Zann

Lenore Zann

“Lenore Zann, an MLA who has served as a member of the Nova Scotia NDP for nearly 10 years, will run for a Liberal nomination in the federal district of Cumberland Colchester,” reports Alexander Quon for Global.

Twitter is, um, atwitter.


Government

City

Monday

Grants Committee (Monday, 1pm, City Hall) — another round of grants funding.

North West Community Council (Monday, 7pm, Grand Lake-Oakfield Community Hall) — not-major things on the agenda, although the immediate neighbours may disagree with that characterization.

Tuesday

Cornwallis Commemoration Task force – Public Engagement Session (Tuesday, 6pm, in the theatre named after a bank, Saint Mary’s University) — info here.

Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, City Hall) — here’s the agenda.

Province

No public meetings Monday or Tuesday.


On campus

Dalhousie

Monday

Thesis Defence, Civil and Resource Engineering (Monday, 9am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Ehsan Nasirikhaneghah will defend “Experimental and Numerical Study of In-Plane and Out-Of-Plane Behaviour of Masonry Infilled Rc Frames​.”

Senate Meeting (Monday, 3pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — here’s  the agenda.

Tuesday

Thesis Defence, Pharmacology (Tuesday, 9:30am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Qianni Hu will defend “Extracellular Mitochondria Released from Liver Ischemia Reperfusion Injury Act as Alarmins to Evoke Innate Immune System and Trigger Inflammation​.”

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for Precision Agriculture (Tuesday, 11:30am, in the auditorium named after a bank, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Jefferson Souza from the Federal University of Uberlandia, Brazil, and director of the Artificial Intelligence & Robotics – AiRLAB, will talk. His abstract:

The detection of pests in coffee crops is a highly relevant problem for Brazilian agriculture. This issue has been investigated for decades but still has great potential for scientific research. Coffee is a culture of great social and economic importance for Brazilian agribusiness. In Brazil, the state of Minas Gerais has the largest area of the Arabian species, corresponding to 67.7% of the occupied area. As a result, this culture presents fundamental highlight in the national and international scenario. Due to the influence that the coffee production has in these scenarios and the size occupied by their areas, as well as the opportunity of a significant increase in production, this research project proposes the development of the detection of pests in coffee crops for aircraft. It is intended to use aerial images obtained by UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to detect pests found in coffee. Supervised learning algorithms are used to correlate information obtained from sensors positioned on the UAV with its aerial images. Initially, the system has a learning step, where a pilot fly the UAV or the UAV flies autonomously and provide data (obtained by cameras) for the learning algorithms. After that, the system uses the acquired knowledge to detect pests in coffee crops.

But what about womanned drones?

Webinar: Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP) Canada’s Living Population Laboratory (Tuesday, 12pm) — from the listing:

This webinar will provide an overview of the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP) — Canada’s largest population study of more than 320,000 Canadians in six regional cohorts across the country — that allows researchers to explore how genetics, environment, lifestyle and behaviour interact and contribute to the development of cancer and other chronic diseases.

The CPTP is a population study that maintains harmonized and de-identified self-reported data, physical and biochemical measures, and includes genomic profiles from participants who have consented to linkage to provincial and national administrative health databases. This allows researchers to tackle challenging questions at a lower cost, in less time and with more certain conclusions.

Researchers are already integrating CPTP data into their own studies, generating valuable insights that may enable earlier detection, monitoring, and inform future interventions. Two case studies will explore how CPTP participant data is linked with cancer data to better understand disease risk, and another that linked participant and environment data to study gene-by-environment interactions.

Click here to register.

Mount Saint Vincent

Monday

Imagining Black Justice (Monday, June 10, 7pm, McCain Rooms 105-106) — El Jones, Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies, hosts four of Canada’s leading Black thinkers and activists in a discussion about state violence, policing, incarceration, Black mental health, and Black feminism.

At a time when street checks are being challenged by Black communities, in the wake of reports on policing and Black incarceration, and inspired by the Movement for Black Lives, we ask the question of what worlds are possible beyond prisons and policing.


In the harbour

05:00: YM Evolution, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
07:15: Norwegian Dawn, cruise ship, with up to 2,808 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from New York, on a seven-day round-trip cruise out of New York
07:45: Zaandam, cruise ship with up to 1,718 passengers, arrives at Pier 20 from Bar Harbor, on a seven-day cruise from Boston to Montreal
15:30: Tropic Hope, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Palm Beach, Florida
16:00: YM Evolution sails for Rotterdam
17:45: Zaandam sails for Sydney
17:45: Norwegian Dawn sails for Saint John

Where are the Canadian military ships?



Footnotes

I’m behind on editing and publishing articles. I’ve got three in the queue right now. Hope to get some out later today.


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Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. Newspapers are failing because fewer people are willing to pay for them, nothing to do with the ownership. We have a generation which is willing to pay more for a daily cup of coffee than pay for a daily newspaper.
    And you have many readers who are too cheap to subscribe.
    The Coast is a pale shadow of what it once was and is a criminal waste of paper.

    1. Most media runs at a loss. Quite a few of the major English-language media empires are owned by a handful of very rich people who can afford to run them at a loss.

      1. Name them and list the losses and list the cash flow. A business cannot survive a string of losses.
        In the developed world the fastest way to go from rich to poor is to buy a string of newspapers or bet big on street level retail.
        I don’t see the Unifor pension plan investing in media.

  2. Tim, your Pacific Lumber analogy is spot-on. Nice, concise explanation of the demise of the small-town newspaper.

    I’d love to see the reactions of the Chronicle Herald editors to your comment at that meeting… “not a good paper” – heh heh heh heh…..

  3. Yup, the bottom-line focus of newspaper consolidators (pioneered by Canadian Roy Thompson, whom you didn’t mention) severely degraded many newspapers, starting in the 1970s. But lots of family-owned newspapers had been shite for decades. The Herald was notoriously terrible.

    Your claim that the rise of internet advertising did not precipitate the current crisis is delusional. I can only imagine how a gathering of editors must have sniggered at this fantasy.

    To cite but one example. The NY Times, a great, family-owned newspaper, bought the Boston Globe, a pretty good, family owned newspaper, for $1.1 billion in 2005. Ten years later, the Times sold the Globe for $90,000, but retained so much of its debt, that the real sales price was actually a negative number. In effect, the Times paid Boston businessman John Henry to take the Globe off its hands.

    I have subscribed to the Examiner from the beginning, and I support your legal expenses fund. I admire your energy, and the serious investigative work you do. As someone who freelanced for a lifetime, I appreciate your fair treatment of freelancers. I endure, but detest, your frequent, cruel personal attacks on people you don’t know, and your habit of substituting ideological cant for facts when you haven’t done the research.

    A couple reality checks are in order:

    — Much of the Examiner’s content is openly cribbed from the daily newspapers you disparage.
    — There is no evidence that the HFX Examiner – CB Observer model will scale. What percentage of Nova Scotia’s population reads the Examiner? What percentage pays for the privilege?

    The loss of classified and display advertising has had a catastrophic impact on the newspaper industry. “Don’t blame the internet” is one of the silliest claims you have ever made, and that’s a high bar.

  4. I can’t help but feel like Tim Hortons is going to be victim of the same corporate raider philosophy. Profits are at an all time high due to aggressive cost-cutting, but let’s be honest: the product is crap. Any success they are currently having is just the halo effect from its long history as a Canadian cultural institution, and that goodwill is rapidly evaporating.

  5. When you wrote of Bay Ferries saying “I’m sure they know what they’re doing” you were spot on with them in regard to this specific matter (the delay of service). They are the only party in this whole train wreck of a deal that aren’t being negatively impacted by this disaster. Too bad other parties privy to this agreement appear to have no idea what they’re doing – as usual ………