News

1. Mehta

Stephen Kimber writes:

Last winter, Acadia University said it was investigating [Rick] Mehta “for the manner in which you are expressing views that you are alleged to be advancing or supporting and, in some instances, time that you are spending on these issues in the classroom.” We need to parse that sentence. It appears the university says it was investigating Mehta, both for his personal views (freedom of speech) and also for what he was saying in his classroom. Did that violate his academic freedom?

Click here to read “Rick Mehta: a firing offence or just offensive?”

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2. Responding to Furey

“On Thursday, 17 days into the protest at Burnside, Minister of Justice Mark Furey released an op-ed piece publicly addressing the issues raised by the prisoners for the first time,” writes El Jones:

Unfortunately, prisoners cannot access his comments, and there seem to be no plans to circulate his piece in the facility so they can read and respond to his arguments.

I read Minister Furey’s comments to a striking prisoner and asked him for his thoughts. Here are his responses.

Click here to read “A prisoner in the Burnside jail responds to Justice Minister Mark Furey.”

The Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“A national prisoners’ advocate is praising a 20-day peaceful protest by inmates at a Halifax jail as a rare and effective tactic that sets an example for similar efforts at the country’s provincial lockups,” reports Michael Tutton for the Canadian Press:

A group in the prison prepared and circulated their 10-point plan for basic improvements in health care, rehabilitation, exercise, visits, clothing, food, air quality and library access.

By the time the legislature resumed sitting on Thursday, the prisoners’ petitions had gained widespread media coverage and political responses as a group of advocates, lawyers and community leaders outside the facility circulated their requests.

Kassandra Churcher, national executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, says the inmates’ strategy has been noticed nationally as an innovative way for provincial inmates to gain public and political attention for their grievances.

“This is unusual. It’s good to see that sense of community, solidarity and focus being prisoner-led,” she said in a telephone interview.

Yesterday evening, that community solidarity expressed itself as a demonstration outside the jail to mark the end of the prisoners’ 20-day strike. One of the demonstrators posted this description of the event on social media:

About 30 supporters rallied outside of Burnside, in view of two of the ranges. They played music, held banners, and chanted in support of the prisoners and against the prison-industrial complex. At one point, chants of “You are not alone!” echoed off the walls of the ranges. Prisoners inside saw and heard the support, and made noise inside to join with the demonstration.

Later last night, police issued the following release:

At 8:00 pm Halifax Regional Police responded to the Central Nova Scotia Correction Facility for approximately 30 people that were protesting outside the facility. A report had been received that the protesters had been shooting fireworks at the facility and were attempting to climb the fence surrounding the property. When HRP members arrived the protesters were removed from the property at the  request of CNSCF Supervisors. A 28-year-old male was arrested during the incident and will face charges of causing a disturbance, property damage, obstructing a peace officer, assaulting a police officer and wearing a mask while committing an indictable offence. The male will appear in court on September 10th, 2018.

Shortly after leaving the CNSCF some of the protesters gathered at the Halifax Regional Police Headquarters to protest the arrest and detention of their fellow protester. They were peaceful at this location and disbursed on their own accord shortly after arriving.

On social media, another one of the protestors had a differing view of events:

We definitely were not asked to dispurse. The Halifax police were out of control tonight. They ran up onto the scene… I tried to introduce myself as the police liason and they pushed pass me and just tackled this guy to the ground and then arrested him. Then they charged him with ridiculously trumped up charges, none of which they can pin to him as he was just literally standing there holding a chainlink fence while waving to prisoners inside, who we were gathered to support. No warning… no ask to leave first. I was standing there trying to talk to them (as was my role) and they pepper sprayed me and threatened me with an attack dog. They came up and escalated a joyful protest where we were just chanting and trying to bring moral support to the prisoners inside.

3. Convention centre

The Grafton Street Glory Hole, with the convention centre and empty hotel above it. Photo: Halifax Examiner

We’re five months into the fiscal year, and Halifax councillors (and the rest of us) are finally being given the annual business plan for Events East, the re-branded and reorganized (“reorganized” with the exact same staff) Trade Centre Limited. Events East is the operator of the new convention centre.

Here’s what the business plan says: The convention centre’s budgeted operating loss for this fiscal (2018/19) year is $4,111,000. That’s money the provincial and city governments will give (half each) to Events East.

That’s over and above the $10.76 million annual lease payment the city and province also split 50-50, which goes to Argyle Developments. Those lease payments are the financing mechanism for construction costs (CBC reporter Michael Gorman explained the construction financing in this article). I’m not sure if the $10.76 million annual payment includes the monthly $82,188 ($986,256 annually) in operating costs that is also paid to Argyle, but what’s a million dollars a year between friends?

So figure ballpark $15 million a year going towards the convention centre for the first few years of its operation. To put things in perspective, about $400,000 was lost in the concert scandal; the Metro Transit fuel loss cost about $2 million, and the Washmill Underpass had a cost overrun of $8 million.

I say “the first few years” because there are so many unknowns moving forward.

Back when TCL was trying to justify a new convention centre, they hired a bunch of consultants to analyze potential markets and so forth. This was problematic from the get-go — the consultants are in the business of promoting convention centres, and so have a built-in bias. That aside, even those pro-convention centre consultant reports were skewed and misinterpreted to make a stronger case for the convention centre. I detailed this process here.

But for our purposes today, here’s what matters: One of the consultants, HLT, issued a report that explains (on pages 42 and 43):

The projections reflect a stabilized operating year. Other Canadian convention centres have experienced a “honeymoon” period after opening as pent up demand and anticipation of a new facility combine to create greater interest. Therefore for modelling purposes the stabilized year for convention activity should be viewed “Year 4,” with Years 1, 2 and 3 generating 85%, 115% and 110% of Year 4 activity.

Trade and consumer show event load projections for the stabilized year are applicable for Years 1 through 3.

The “honeymoon” period — an almost universal finding among North American convention centres — is the spike in convention-related market demand commensurate with the opening of a new or expanded facility. This spike typically results from pent-up demand for larger facilities as well as an enlarged market due to greater capacity.

I’m not sure about that last claim; it seems to be Field of Dreams-style supply side logic — if you build it, they will come.

That aside, as I wrote:

So, according to HLT, once the new convention centre is open, there will be an initial big burst of conventions which will settle down in the fourth year of business. Beyond that, HLT makes no comment — Year 4 is the “stabilized year,” and HLT makes no predictions of future increases in business beyond Year 4.

But then an interesting thing happened. Future consultant reports took the Year 4 projections as the starting point for further increases in convention business, year after year, all the way out for the 25-year future of the convention centre. This is wishful thinking, to put it mildly. And it’s on the future predicted revenues upon which the justification for the convention centre was built.

Besides that, for the city, there’s the additional cost of property tax receipts being far lower than outlined in all the justifications for building the convention centre and the Nova Centre. As I reported in April:

The city expected to have a $1.8 million deficit on its Halifax Convention Centre account this year, but that figure has nearly doubled — to $3.5 million. And a revised analysis of the account shows that what had been a projected $5.89 million surplus after 10 years is now a $17.78 million deficit. That’s a swing of $23.67 million. Worse still, even that forecast relies on rosy assumptions.

One of those rosy assumptions is that:

… the $17.78 million deficit in the convention centre fund forecast for Year 10 is itself dependent on the rosy assumption that “assessed values start to recover in Year 5 through 7,” meaning that both downtown commercial assessments increase and that the Nova Centre occupancy will eventually reach 85 per cent. There is no clear reason to think either is inevitable or even likely.

Moreover, developer Joe Ramia has appealed the $200,009,300 tax assessment of the Nova Centre for this year. The assessment tribunal board hasn’t yet issued a decision on that appeal (or if it has, it hasn’t been made public), so I can’t say how it’s going or what arguments Ramia is making. My guess is he’s hired Turner Drake, which has a track record of winning such appeals. Inevitably, the matter will be further appealed to the Utility and Review Board, and at that time, I’ll be able to get into the specifics.

But if Ramia is successful, it will mean his assessment will go down for this year, but also for at least the next couple of years as well, at least until he begins to get some tenants for his mostly empty buildings. (I still haven’t seen any work on that supposed hotel, nor job announcements on local employment sites.)

Still, even if Ramia only gets lowered assessments for a two- or three-year period, that’s going to be reflected in a further dramatic decrease in property tax revenue for the city. My guess is that it will be far worse than that, however.

In the end, the full cost of the convention centre (actual financial outlays plus lowered property tax receipts) for the city alone could be as much as $10 million annually (the province is in somewhat better position financially related to the convention centre, as its annual costs will be somewhat lower than the city’s, and its costs can be absorbed by its much larger operating budget). But the real costs are the opportunity costs — that’s money that could have gone to recreation programs, to fix potholes, build bike lanes, add buses, hire cops, etc.

4. Dartmouth dumbasses

“Swastikas, a pentagram, ‘KKK,’ a racist phrase and ‘hail Satan’ were scattered around the Sullivan’s Pond area in Dartmouth,” reports Ian Fairclough for the Chronicle Herald:

The graffiti was on a bus shelter, the grandstand floor, the Sullivan’s Pond sign, and a memorial bench. 

A swastika was also painted across the street on the door of Churchill Academy, a school for students with learning disabilities.

More, similar symbols were spray-painted on the back of Prince Andrew High School on Woodlawn Road.

A Dartmouth woman seems to be the first person to become aware of the graffiti and tagged councillor Sam Austin about it:

Guys, I’m going into mass.
Can someone call 311 to report swastikas and offensive racist language spray painted at Sullivans pond?

— Katy Jean (@katynotie) September 9, 2018

“After checking in with HRM crews, Austin said early Sunday afternoon that the graffiti had already been painted over and crews were quick to react because ‘obviously these things are a priority,’” reports Haley Ryan for StarMetro Halifax:

Austin said there’s always some cost when crews have to go out on a weekend to clean up something like this, but it will fall under the municipality’s budget for graffiti removal so the monetary cost isn’t likely that significant.

What is important is the act of quickly refuting such hateful messaging, Austin said.

“To me it’s just disgusting and abhorrent. It goes against the whole motto of downtown Dartmouth, which is ‘all together,’” Austin said.

There’s no ideological cohesion to the graffiti (the KKK at least gives lip service to a perverse version of Christianity, so the Satanic stuff contradicts it), and so these are stupid, dumbass kids. I mean even more stupid and dumbass than the Klan, which sets a pretty low bar to begin with.

That’s not to downplay this situation. We’re still managing to bring babies into the world and raise them into stupid, dumbass kids. We’ve got to do better.

5. But they got the hoodies with the stupid logo

The cruise ship Norwegian Dawn, scheduled to go to sunny and hot Bermuda, was diverted to Halifax because of Hurricane Florence. The passengers weren’t happy.

In the future, we’re going to have to give the tourists maps to the Clyde Street cannabis store to calm them down a bit.

6. It never dies

Mother Canada™

“The campaign to build the Never Forgotten National Memorial Monument in Green Cove, Cape Breton is still alive,” reports Norma Jean MacPhee for the CBC:

A sign was built this summer by supporters of the controversial project, which includes a 24-metre high Mother Canada[™] statue. 

The wooden sign sits on the lawn of a Never Forgotten Monument supporter in the middle of Ingonish.

6. How much for the little girl?

“A Halifax mother of four is calling out the provincial government for ‘isolating’ laws that prohibit parents with young children from being in certain restaurants after 9 p.m.,” reports Emma Davie for the CBC:

Heidi Rogers says the law confines mothers with new babies to their homes.

I don’t know… I think there’s a big space between “you can’t bring your baby to a place that serves booze after 9pm” and “you must stay home with your baby.” That space includes coffee shops, fast food restaurants, friends’ homes, movie theatres…

For myself, I go to great lengths to avoid drinking with children. They just can’t keep up.

Besides, there are obvious risks involved with bringing children around inebriated people:


Government

City

Monday

Grants Committee (Monday, 1pm, City Hall) — here’s the agenda.

North West Community Council (Monday, 7pm, St. Margaret’s Bay Centre, Upper Tantallon) — among other items, staff is recommending that the community council ask regional council to approve the bylaw changes necessarily for the Tantallon asphalt plant.

There’s a “Stop The Tantallon Asphalt Plant!” Facebook page.

Tuesday

City Council (Tuesday, 1pm, City Hall) — here’s the agenda.

Province

Monday

No public meetings.

Tuesday

Legislature sits (Tuesday, 1pm, Province House)


On campus

Dalhousie

Monday

Photo from “Ethnic Roots” installation by Rah-Eleh

“Oreo” and “Ethnic Roots” (Monday, 4:30pm, Room 3H01, Tupper Building) — a screening of two short films and a talk with the filmmaker, Rah-Eleh.

Tuesday

Echoes of 9/11 in the Trump Era: Did 9/11 Really “Change Everything”? (Tuesday, 12pm, Room 1011, Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building) —  Aisha Ahmad from the University of Toronto, Brian Bow from Dalhousie University, and Stéfanie von Hlatky from Queens University will speak. From the event listing:

“Did 9/11 really ‘change everything’? Before 2016, most of the debate about US defence and security policy focused on whether the Obama administration was effectively overturning the post-9/11 policies of the GW Bush administration (e.g., pulling out of Iraq, re-committing to multilateralism) or holding on to them (e.g., Guantanamo, drones). It sometimes seems like Trump has made all of this irrelevant, by overturning virtually all of the foundations of American foreign policy, and/or having no coherent priorities. What happened to the ‘post-9/11’ defence and security agenda? Are there continuities, or has it all gotten thoroughly Trumped?”

Info: facebook.com/dalmipp

Saint Mary’s

Monday

Betsy Fischer Martin. Photo: Twitter

The US Midterm Elections and the Influence of Mass Media (Monday, 8:30am, Atrium 101) — Betsy Fischer Martin will speak.

Tuesday

No public events.


In the harbour

5am: Horizon Star, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 9 from the offshore
5am: Budapest Bridge, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Genoa, Italy
5:30am: Elektra, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
6am: Bomar Rebecca, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands
7:30am: Rotterdam, cruise ship, with up to 1,685 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Bar Harbor
10am: YM Evolution, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
11:30am: Budapest Bridge, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
11:30am: Augusta Unity, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 for sea
4:30pm: Elektra, car carrier, moves from Autoport to Pier 27
4:30pm: Bomar Rebecca, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
5:45pm: Rotterdam, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Sydney
9pm: YM Evolution, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Rotterdam
9:30pm: Elektra, car carrier, sails from Pier 27 for sea


Footnotes

People are forever complaining about my headlines.

Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. Does nobody in the media care that the numbers they are reporting don’t add up… like at all.

    I know they seem like big numbers but it’s not that complicated.

    The CBC, in the article from March you linked, STILL continues the canard that it’s a $169 m project, even as in the same article they show it’s not. And even those numbers are wrong and left without even the simplest consideration.

    To start we just work back to the municipal provincial portion:

    Total number advertised $169,200,000
    Less
    Fed contribution paid $51,400,000
    Equals
    Mun/Prov. “contribution” $117,800,000

    But in the CBC article they say the annual payment will be $10.76 m x 25 years. This math is not that hard…

    That’s $269,000,000**

    ** SIDEBAR, The CBC reported the interest rate on the “$117,800,000 contribution was 4.1%. I’ve worked through every combination and permutation of mortgage calculation and you just CAN NOT get to a $10.76m annual payment from these numbers. If the deal is compounded semi-annually (which I believe is the law in Canada) and paid annually it still comes out to only about $191m principal and interest. That leaves more than $78m unexplained.

    Moreover, the 4.1% interest paid is silly. The government can get much better rates than that in the market. If they simply borrowed at 1.9%, and paid the lease out today they could save taxpayers a quick $42 million dollars. It doesn’t make sense that this was not considered. That’s pure profit for the developer and would be called corruption in almost any other place.

    AND… right after this info the CBC reports there will be a $82,188 monthly management fee for the life of the lease. $82,188 x 25 years x 12 months is:

    $24,656,400

    This is all on top of the $51.4 from the fed government

    So to keep a running total that’s : $345,056,400

    On the government management side the Events East annual loss is budgeted at over $4.1 million. And that’s in the ‘honeymoon’ period. Things are not likely to get better. At least this number makes sense. TCL, the old agency, lost about $4m per year every year at the old convention centre and this mess is now bigger.

    Estimate $5 x 25 year + $125m

    Plus there’s the recently announced loss of expected taxes which is currently running more than $23m less than expected over the life of the project. I’m going to posit that is still optimistic as the developer battles his tax bill and will likely win.

    Estimate $25m in forgone taxes

    Sub total so far…

    Over $495,000,000

    Here are some costs I believe will come up:

    1/ Additional Global Marketing to save the floundering project:

    Estimate $2m per year. Total $50m

    2/ Incentives to induce conventions to come to Halifax

    Estimate $4m per year. Total $100m

    3/ Infrastructure perks that will be sold as required to make the project work. This will be things like underground connector ways, rooftop developments, new air systems

    Estimate $25m

    4/ Final loss on abandoning the old convention centre and propping up another land speculator to take it off the books. This includes whatever “cultural hub” schemes are brewing.

    Estimate $10m

    This puts the running total at more than…

    $690,000,000 as the total public cost of the Convention Centre scheme.

    And if we know ONE THING from experience, it is that government stuff always takes longer and costs more than we imagine, even when we have a good imagination.
    I would not be shy, for discussion purposes, to round this out to $700m.

    Is that a big number?

    Not really.

    With about 500,000 tax payers in Nova Scotia that $700m over 25 years will cost each of us about a buck a week.

    We can afford to make mistakes like this all day long. Nova Scotia isn’t dying. It’s astonishingly wealthy by any measure.

    But there’s three points here.

    First, we’re in this position because the government knows we can make deals like this all day every day and survive.

    Second, this deal follows a pattern of behavior in Nova Scotia of government facilitating converting public wealth of all to private wealth of a few.

    Finally, the real cost of stuff like this is all the things we didn’t think about and didn’t do while we wasted our time money, and effort on these hair-brained schemes.

    See anything wrong with this math? Correct me. I’m no pro. I’m just punching a few numbers into the old excel after dinner. But consider this. Shouldn’t we be holding the government, and the media that reports these numbers, to a higher standard of accountability?

  2. Maybe when we’re done building warships in there, the enclosed assembly building can be used to hot box entire cruise ships.