News

1. Weather

At 7:30am Sunday, some 80% of Nova Scotia Power customers were without power, but the Emera headquarters were fully lit. Photo submitted.

There was weather over the weekend.

So far as I know, no one in Nova Scotia was injured or killed due to the storm. Most people seemed to have taken the warnings seriously and simply hunkered down to wait it out. So: good news!

But there were extensive power outages. Something like 80% of Nova Scotia Power customers lost power. My power in Dartmouth went out at 2:20pm Saturday — well before the hurricane hit, amidst what struck me as relatively mild weather (there was more rain and more wind earlier that morning, seemed to me); power returned to my house at around 3:15pm Sunday. An inconvenience, but not the end of the world.

Of more concern was the very spotty cell service throughout. Nowadays, an increasing number of people, maybe most, have ditched their land lines, which were usually reliable during storms, and have moved to cell phones. My experience has been that cell service has continued through power outages, but by around 8pm Saturday, my phone was wavering between a half a bar and “no service.” Well into Sunday, there were long periods when I couldn’t get a connection at all, or I could just connect enough to send a text or a tweet, but not enough to get onto websites. Responding to a tweet, Telus (my carrier) told me that this problem related to the power outages.

I run a news site, so having internet connectivity is important. I spent a couple of hours running around Sunday looking for a good internet connection, but by the time I found one (thanks, Bearly’s!) the power back home came back on, so I had my own wifi again.

Far more important than my simple annoyance, however, is the worry that people won’t have a way to call 911 or other emergency services during a storm. It appears that the cell service providers did not have adequate battery backup or backup generators for their towers. I hope regulators are looking at this. It could be a life-and-death situation for someone facing a medical or other emergency.

Oh, schools and universities are closed today. Buses are running. Most provincial government offices are open, but check first.

2. Crane

Before the storm arrived, several people raised the alarm about unsecured construction equipment:

https://twitter.com/cultureofdefeat/status/1170310485310414849?s=20

They had good reason to be concerned. Recall that during a windstorm in October 2016, construction material was flying from the top of the 33-storey Fenwick Tower to the streets below:

Photo contributed to the Examiner by Paul Keeping

And as everyone now knows, during this weekend’s storm a construction crane collapsed at South Park Street near Spring Garden Road, one of the most populated and busiest pedestrian areas of the city:

The bad weather is causing major damage throughout #NS, including a crane collapse in Halifax. pic.twitter.com/YxpZ5mCfPa

— CBC Nova Scotia (@CBCNS) September 7, 2019

(Video by Kayla George).

We’ve got a problem.

3. Criticizing Israel

“We’ve already begun another wild modern election ride during which outrageous old social media posts have and will come back to haunt candidates and the political parties that nominate them,” writes Stephen Kimber. “But what happens when the outrage is misplaced and the goal seems to be to shut down legitimate differences of opinion?”

Click here to read “Politicians criticizing Israel: When 2019 becomes 1984 all over again.”

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4. City website host goes kaput

Back in 2014, the city awarded a $1.8 million contract to Vancouver-based FCV Technologies Ltd. “to implement, host, manage and support the new website solution” for the city’s site, halifax.ca. FCV, which is owned by Johann Starke, bought ISL Internet Solutions Ltd., a local firm founded by Malcolm Fraser and Naveed Ashfaq; the purchase was presumably made in order to facilitate the new contract with the city, and the new halifax.ca went live in 2017.

In 2016, the president of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce announced “the launch of something great” in anticipation of the city’s new website. Or something sucky, one or the other.

I’m told that FCV’s purchase of ISL didn’t go well, and that most of the ISL team quit soon after. Even Fraser, who was brought on as the managing director of FCV’s Halifax office, left.

The new city website built by FCV sucks. There’s no other word for it. The transition from old site to new site was poorly planned, and users lost bookmarked pages, so every news article that ever linked to a city webpage immediately became obsolete — that must be thousands of news articles, immediately made useless. A “legacy” site was created to host older material, but it is clunky and impossible to navigate. When the new site went live, there were hundreds of broken links, failed payment pages, and other problems. A lot of the redesign makes no sense whatsoever: what used to be a simple listing of public meetings now requires multiple click-throughs and some guessing as one tries to figure out the logic of the search, for example. To get to bus schedules you first must navigate through a confusing landing page, and even then schedules are an ureadable mess. And to this day, the site often fails to load on some browsers (Safari, in particular, but sometimes Firefox as well) and the search function is unusable.

Still, this year’s capital budget includes $2.8 million for further work on the website by FCV, including “development and implementation of a corporate Identity Management solution (Pilot project) that will enable customers accessing HRM services online to leverage a unique identifier which will allow them to more easily and conveniently access services they wish to consume. Other planned initiatives include multiple smaller projects that will leverage Halifax’s public website to provide improved self‐service capabilities for customers.”

Given the sucky website, I assumed the company was just as sucky. And today comes word that despite that $2.8 million plum, FCV is closing down shop, simply quitting operations. The FCV corporate website is dead. Either no attempt was made to sell the company or no one was interested because there’s nothing of value in it.

The collapse of FCV was perhaps foreshadowed in May by Business Vancouver, which noted that while nearly every other company in the Vancouver tech industry was booming, FCV was haemorrhaging employees, “a 45% decline in employees to 72 in 2019 from 131 in 2015.”

And this morning, the city has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a new vendor to take over hosting and support of halifax.ca. Amazingly, the RFP doesn’t mention that FCV is kaput, but rather uses such mealy mouthed walk-arounds as:

The 2017 transformation of the website had set the foundation for improving the online delivery of information and services to customers (business, citizens, students and visitors). The Municipality recognizes that to realistically achieve this goal, it needs to engage a strategic vendor.

And:

The successful proponent is expected to outline the effort required for a seamless transition from the current vendor. This includes knowledge transfer regarding all components and services which make up the Halifax.ca website in all environments.

Got that? There’s going to be a “seamless transition” of “knowledge” from a company that doesn’t appear to exist.

The RFP has a submission deadline of October 4, and then it will take some time to get to an actual award for a new company to step in. So expect all sorts of horrible things related to the site over the next few months.

Update: Robert Currie reminds me that in 2015 Nova Scotia Business Inc. announced $1.2 million in payroll rebates for FCV.

As I wrote then:

Payroll rebates are issued by Nova Scotia Business Inc. Earlier this year, the Liberal government appointed Laurel Broten as president of NSBI. Last year, Broten was hired to conduct a review of the province’s tax system. Before coming to Nova Scotia, Broten was a cabinet minister in the Ontario Liberal government. Broten is, in short, the consummate Liberal insider.

And FCV? In an article headlined “Liberal-donor ad agency wins lucrative contracts,” The Tyee’s Bob Mackin reported last year:

A Vancouver digital advertising agency has reaped the benefits of the BC Liberals’ 2013 election win. 

FCV Technologies was paid almost $2.5 million, primarily for website design, by three ministries between last summer and this spring, according to documents released via Freedom of Information. That compares with the $1.69 million for FCV reported in Public Accounts for the year-ended March 31, 2013. FCV wasn’t listed in the payments to suppliers for the 2012 fiscal year. 

Johann Starke

The biggest portion of recent payments, worth $2.084 million, was from the Jobs, Tourism and Skills Development Ministry for website and app design, maintenance and development. The ministry said $1.917 million was funded by the federal government for “disseminating labour market information.”

[…]

FCV donated $8,000 to the Liberals between 2009 and 2013, $2,000 of which came Feb. 28, 2011, two days after Clark won the party leadership. FCV’s CEO is Johann Starke, whose name matches that of a donor of $8,018.35 to the Liberals. Elections BC reported $6,000 of that was donated on Nov. 30, 2013. 

Starke was on the guest list for the June 7, 2013 cabinet-naming ceremony at Canada Place. He was also mentioned in an April 12, 2013 Vancouver Sun story referring to FCV as “engaged by the BC Liberal Party for digital and social media development.”

This smells.

Besides the stink of insider-y Liberal connections, there’s the matter of subsidizing out-of-province firms to come to Nova Scotia to compete with existing local companies. Here’s how Stephen McNeil, then the leader of the official opposition Liberals, put it on the floor of the legislature on November 7, 2012, referring to a payroll rebate deal for Projex, an Albertan engineering firm:

Stephen McNeil

These payroll rebates are good stopgaps, Mr. Speaker, but this government’s actions are taking this stopgap and turning it into a permanent, economic development tool. These payroll rebates, however, are being used to help an out-of-province company compete for, or poach, talent from Nova Scotia businesses. Businesses expect to have to compete with other companies for talent, but they shouldn’t have to compete with the government subsidized companies for talent. That’s an unfair advantage and that’s the government picking winners and losers. 

And now Premier McNeil’s government is offering a payroll rebate deal to FCV, which will compete for employees with local firms such as Kula Partners. (Disclosure: Kula is co-owned by Jeff White, who I paid to write a Morning File while I was on vacation.)

5. Horrible death

An RCMP release from Saturday:

September 7, 2019, Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia . . . At 2:37 a.m., members of Cole Harbour RCMP responded to a single vehicle collision on Cole Harbour Rd. A small blue car left the roadway and went down a 20-foot embankment. A witness tried to help the driver who was trapped inside, but the vehicle burst into flames. RCMP officers arrived and attempted to extinguish the fire but were also unable to help the driver. 

Fire and EHS arrived at the scene and after several attempts, the fire was extinguished. Emergency workers were unable to save the man, who died at the scene. An RCMP Collision Analyst was called to examine the scene for evidence. The road was closed in the area and is expected to re-open later this morning. RCMP are continuing to investigate the cause of the collision and are working with the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service to determine the identity of the deceased. 


Government

City

Monday

Investment Policy Advisory Committee (Monday, 12pm, City Hall) —  here’s the agenda.

Tuesday

No public meetings.

Province

Monday

No public meetings.

Tuesday

Health (Tuesday, 10am, Province House) — all about doctor recruitment.


On campus

Dalhousie

Monday

CANCELLED DUE TO, er, something Elliptic Functions (Monday, 2:15pm, Chase Room 319) — Christophe Vignat will present his joint work with Tanay Wakhare and Lin Jiu “A Probabilistic Approach to Some Elliptic Functions.” The abstract:

Dan Romik recently published  some unexpected results about the Taylor coefficients of the Jacobi $\theta_3$ function. I will show how a probabilistic interpretation of Romik’s results allows to interpret and extend them to the case of the $\theta_3(q)$ function with arbitrary parameter $q$. I will also show how some elliptic functions such as Dedekind’ eta function appear naturally in some probabilistic contexts.

Bring your own theta_3$ function.

Tuesday

Street naming ceremony (Tuesday, 10:30am, Room 1004, IDEA Building) — for two new streets on the Dalhousie Sexton campus: Norma Eddy Lane and Da Costa Row.

Alex Boutilier

Democracy and manipulation (Tuesday, 12pm, Room 1020, Rowe Management Building) — a panel discussion titled “Election 2019: Democracy and Manipulation in the Internet Age,” featuring Tom Clark from Global Public Affairs; Alex Boutilier, Toronto Star; Elizabeth Dubois, University of Ottawa; Natasha Gauthier, Elections Canada; and Anatoliy Gruzd, Ryerson University. More info here.

SKIP Open House (Tuesday, 4pm, Room 521, Collaborative Health Education Building) — celebrating the new space for Solutions for Kids in Pain. More info here.

Authors reading (Tuesday, 7pm, Halifax Central Library) — poet Zachariah Wells and fiction writer Elliott Gish will read from recent work.


In the harbour

Monday
05:00: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
06:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
07:30: Atlantic Osprey, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 27 from the offshore
7:30: Caribbean Princess, cruise ship with up to 3,756 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John, on a 10-day cruise from New York to Quebec City
08:00: Veendam, cruise ship with up to 1,350 passengers, arrives at Pier 20 from Bar Harbor, on a seven-day cruise from Boston to Montreal
10:00: the scheduled parade of military ships out of the Bedford Basin has been cancelled, as most of the ships left before the storm
10:00: HMS Northumberland, British Navy frigate, sails from NC3 for sea
10:30: HNoMS Thor Heyerdahl, Norwegian Navy frigate, sails from NH3 for sea
12:30: HDMS Peter Willemoes, Denmark Navy frigate, sails from Dockyard for sea
15:00: YM Enlightenment, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
15:30: Atlantic Sea sails for New York
16:30: Tropic Hope sails for San Juan, Puerto Rico
17:45: Caribbean Princess sails for Sydney
17:45: Veendam sails for Sydney; hopefully all the passengers will be accounted for
21:30: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Charlottetown

Tuesday
04:00: CMA CGM Orfeo, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
05:00: George Washington Bridge, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
05:00: YM Enlightenment, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Rotterdam
05:30: Toledo, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
06:00: CLI Pride, cargo ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Rotterdam
08:00: AIDAluna, cruise ship with up to 2,500 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from St. John’s, on a 17-day cruise from Kiel, Germany to New York
10:00: Marco Polo, cruise ship with up to 850 passengers, arrives at Pier 23 from St. John’s, on a 30-day round trip “Canada in the Fall” cruise from London, England; those taxis must be paying off
15:30: Toledo moves to Pier 31
18:00: Marco Polo sails for Charlottetown
18:00: AIDAluna sails for Bar Harbor
20:30: Toledo sails for sea

Where are the Canadian military ships?



Footnotes

I’m not good at storm reporting. Would rather read a box full of documents I’ve received from a public records request. But the power was out. And now I have other stuff to do, so I’m giving the box to Jennifer Henderson.

Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. You have to remember Tim, you live in an area of Dartmouth that got its service back before almost anyone, aside from the few that didn’t lose power, an area also where there was little damage too. (and I suspect you live near the hospital line as well, the others that didn’t, although near, got their power back a day later than mid Sunday afternoon, just in time for all their food to go bye-bye) It was the same for us too, one of the reasons I’m glad we live were we do.

  2. On Sunday morning I my BellAliant fibreop landline was down; it had worked the night before. Bell told me that both fibreop and copper wired landlines were down. They said that 911 service on landlines was only intermittent! 911 service on their cell system was working.

    Some people do not have cell phones and others have retained their landlines because they worked during power outages. Intermittent 911 service doesn’t cut it.

  3. Given that web based tools are increasingly the default method of dealing with governments at all levels, it mystifies me why Halifax cannot seem to get it right. There are lots of proven technology platforms across north america which could be surveyed in detail for best practices. That in turn could be used to create a proper website to serve HRM. This is a core service, and I would suggest it should not be contracted out. The City has full-time communications advisors to manage messaging and engagement with citizens. So it should also be for web based services. Stop contracting out and hire in-house personnel to create and manage web services. This would improve the functionality of the service and provide better controls.