News

1. After the Gold Rush: the toxic legacy

Historic mining sites at Montague in Dartmouth have been closed to the public because of high arsenic in the tailings from more than 150 years ago. Photo: Joan Baxter

“If learning from past mistakes were a government tradition in Nova Scotia, the current government would not be exhibiting all the symptoms of gold fever,” writes Joan Baxter.” But it is, and it looks like a raging bout of the affliction.”

Baxter goes on review the toxic legacy of past gold rushes in Nova Scotia, and says there is little reason to believe that current mining practices will preclude a similar legacy for the current gold rush; she concludes:

One might think that the toxic and expensive legacy of earlier gold rushes would serve as a lesson to those that govern us, convince them to be sceptical of boom and bust extractive industries that bring little except a few short-lived jobs and leave the environmental mess behind for future generations to deal with.

One might think that the government would choose to tackle the historical problem left behind by earlier gold rushes before blindly pursuing yet another one, and adding to the problem.

One might think that, if learning from the past had ever been the Nova Scotia government way.

Click here to read “After the Gold Rush: Nova Scotia is ignoring the toxic legacy of past mining manias while rushing headlong into the next.”

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2. The convention centre property tax bill for this year alone is $3.6 million more than expected

The Grafton Street Glory Hole entrance to the convention centre. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Tomorrow, Halifax council’s Audit Committee is meeting to consider the reallocation of this past year’s $26.1 million budget surplus. The surplus mostly reflects some very large property sales, which in turn led to an unexpected windfall via the deed transfer tax.

Some of the transfers are not controversial — $700,000 is going towards the election reserve fund, and $238,200 is going to speed up the installation of side guards on trucks, for instance. A $2 million transfer to the Parkland Development Reserve is indicative of the Birch Cove Lakes-Blue Mountain purchase and the upcoming land purchase at the Dingle.

The bulk of the surplus — $17.6 million — is going into unnamed capital projects via the Capital Reserve Fund and the General Contingency Reserve. I worry this is the first drip of funding for a stadium project, but the word “stadium” does not appear in the staff report.

Along the way, the report makes a rather back-handed reference to the convention centre:

The Halifax Convention Centre Reserve, Q521, is used to fund payments related to the Halifax Convention Centre, including lease payments and the Municipality’s share of the operating expenses of Events East. The property taxes for the Halifax Convention Centre were greater than planned, and an unbudgeted withdrawal is required to fund the payment of the amounts owing to the Province. It is recommended that $3.6M be withdrawn from the reserve to cover this payment.

No further explanation is provided.

So here’s what’s happening: expected tax receipts from the Nova Centre are far lower than expected, while tax bills for the convention centre part of the complex are far higher than expected.

Meanwhile, the convention centre is nearly completely empty this summer. There is one — one! — event scheduled through the entire months of July and August, and that one event is organized by the Halifax Police Department, so it’s actually a cost to the city, not a source of revenue — the rental fee charged to the police department means shuffling money from one city budget line to another, losing half the transfer to the province along the way.

We’ll never get a true accounting of the convention centre, but reality is showing that the sales job for the thing was utter bullshit.

3. Alana Paon

Alana Paon

“Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston has kicked Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon out of the PC caucus,” report Michael Gorman and Jean Laroche for the CBC:

Houston made the announcement Monday citing “unfounded and mean-spirited comments” by Paon aimed at the Speaker’s office and members of the all-party House of Assembly Management Commission.

Paon has been embroiled in a spat over the parking lot at her constituency office in St. Peter’s, N.S. She had been ordered by the commission to have part of the gravel lot paved in order to comply with accessibility rules. 

On Friday, she suggested in an interview with CBC News she would fight the move and that she felt bullied and harassed. 

On Monday, Houston said her public comments to CBC News were the “last straw.”

“The comments … alluding to harassment from the committee members or people in the Speaker’s office being unreasonable, those are the ones that I took particular offence to,” said Houston during a brief conference call with reporters from his constituency of Pictou East.

I was surprised to find wide support for Paon on her Facebook page yesterday.

4. Vision Nothing Close to Zero

“Councillors are concerned that the municipality’s road-safety strategy won’t hit its goal after a disappointing progress report,” reports Zane Woodford for Star Halifax:

When Halifax regional council adopted the Strategic Road Safety Framework in July 2018 to reduce injuries and death from collisions by 20 per cent in five years, Graham Larkin, executive director of Vision Zero Canada, called it “fake Vision Zero.”

The plan follows the Vision Zero principle — an international road safety strategy to reduce injuries and death from traffic collisions to zero — although Halifax has only committed to move “towards zero.”

Almost a year into the plan, Halifax Councillor Waye Mason is worried the city won’t even hit the more manageable goal.

“I just don’t see how we’re going to get to 20 per cent in five years,” Mason said at last week’s meeting of the transportation standing committee. “We’re now at the end of our first year and we haven’t had a lot of concrete actions. We’re still in study mode.”

Examiner transportation columnist Erica Butler wrote about Vision Zero last year:

At this point I hope you are thinking, wait, what? Why are Halifax senior staff and council discussing what’s a reasonable number of people to get mown down on city streets?

By all appearances, the 20 per cent goal is just an arbitrary number, picked out of the sky, and the discussion around the committee table last week reinforced that impression. With the number starting at only 15 per cent, Councillor Shawn Cleary proposed upping it to 20 per cent, pointing out that the Swedes managed a 42 per cent reduction in fatalities in 10 years, so maybe we could do 20 per cent in five.

The problem with a goal like this is it runs squarely into a moral conundrum, ever so neatly laid out in this video by the folks at the Transport Accident Commission of the Australian state of Victoria, who interviewed people on the streets of Melbourne about road fatalities. The interviewers asked people for a reasonable goal to set for the number of fatalities in their state, and answers ranged from 50 to 150 deaths per year. The same people were then asked to set the fatality goal for their family. You can guess the result, or watch it for yourself here:

https://youtu.be/X-Y7K2aHqDA

Even considering the inherent problems of any numerical goal short of 100 per cent, that’s not actually my biggest concern about Halifax’s nearly-approved SRSP. Twenty per cent is just a short term goal, after all. And while it features too prominently in this plan, we probably shouldn’t get obsessed with what is essentially an arbitrary number based on some sense of achievability.

What deserves more scrutiny is the vision of the plan, and the basic principles behind what it promises to actual deliver on our streets.

The vision for Halifax’s SRSP is: “Moving Towards Zero Fatalities and Injuries for People Using Any Mode of Transportation.” It sounds appropriately aspirational, but what you need to notice is that the writers have specifically chosen “Towards Zero” instead of naming it “Vision Zero,” the Swedish safety program that revolutionized road safety in that country, and made the Swedes experts in safe street building.

This in itself is not a problem, a-rose-by-any-other-name and all that. But a reading of the plan reveals that HRM’s Towards Zero is not Vision Zero by another name, but rather a more cautious, less transformational approach altogether. It’s a vision where we can commit to moving towards zero deaths and injuries (eventually), and then agree to just do more of what we are currently doing. Even though the stated principle of the plan is “Do different, do more,” it’s clear that the thrust is simply, “do more.” (And even then, with no budget asks or estimates, even the “do more” is questionable.)

5. Newbridge Academy

The collapse of Newbridge Academy is of course bad news for students and parents. I am, however, curious about the educational model. Best I can understand it, the idea seems to be that the school would be an entry point into professional sports, or at least to a sports scholarship for university.

I think some sort of physical activity should be a part of young people’s lives, but the singular focus on “making it” in a sport, as opposed to simply participating and having fun, is corrupting sports generally and will, I fear, end up undermining broad participation in sport. If all that matters is to be a star, why play if you’re not going to be the next Sydney Crosby?

I fear we’ve taken the fun out of sport.


Government

City

Tuesday

Special City Council (Tuesday, 12:45pm, City Hall) — council is having a special summer meeting to finally approve the Centre Plan, which will be shelved and otherwise ignored by council at the very first opportunity.

Wednesday

Audit Committee and Audit & Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday , 10am, City Hall) — see #2 above.

Western Common Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 6:30pm, Art Room, Prospect Road Community Centre) — there are no action items on the agenda.

Province

Tuesday

Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place) —
Margo Riebe-Butt, the executive director of Nourish Nova Scotia, will talk about the School Breakfast Program.

Natural Resources and Economic Development (Tuesday, 1pm, One Government Place) — a bunch of people are going to make up bullshit about “Green Jobs and Economic Development.”

Wednesday

No public meetings for the rest of the week.


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

MSSU NS Bridge Event (Tuesday, 8:30am, Bluenose Ballroom, Hotel Halifax) — info and registration here.

Board of Governors Meeting (Tuesday, 3pm, University Hall, Macdonald Building) — here’s the agenda.

Wednesday

Urban Nature Walk (Wednesday, 12:15, Studley Campus) — Georgia Denbigh will lead a tour of garden plants of the Studley Campus and a visit to the Bill Freedman native plants collection. Meet outside the Henry Hicks Building. Register here.

From fungi to flies: Identifying a new therapy ​for Parkinson’s disease (Wednesday, 4pm, theatre B, Tupper Medical Building) — Katherine Strynatka will talk.


In the harbour

Tuesday
05:30: Delhi Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany

Wednesday
09:00: Adventure of the Seas, cruise ship with up to 4,058 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John on a six-day roundtrip cruise out of New York
18:00: Adventure of the Seas sails for New York


Footnotes

Headline writing is an art, and one that I have not mastered. Sometimes I try to make pop culture references in the headlines I write; I don’t know if that works or not, but I have fun with it.

Last night, I couldn’t come up with a catchy headline for Joan Baxter’s piece, so I set it aside and slept on it. Not much better this morning, so I simply googled “gold rush songs” and came up with Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush”; Baxter was writing about the toxic legacy of gold rushes past… so, badda bing, as the mobsters say.

I’ve heard the song probably a thousand times through the years, but never really listened until this morning. Lyrically, it’s fantastic. I think Mr. Young may have a future in the biz:

The Wiki entry on the album of the same name relates that:

Songs on the album were inspired by the Dean StockwellHerb Bermann screenplay for the unmade film After the Gold Rush. Young had read the screenplay and asked Stockwell if he could produce the soundtrack. Tracks that Young recalls as being written specifically for the film are “After the Gold Rush” and “Cripple Creek Ferry.” The script has since been lost, though has been described as “sort of an end-of-the-world movie.” Stockwell said of it, “I was gonna write a movie that was personal, a Jungian self-discovery of the gnosis… it involved the Kabala (sic), it involved a lot of arcane stuff.”

I have no idea what that last sentence means, but this is fun stuff.


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  1. Amazing to see the entire hotel side of the nova centre unfinished. With the sun shining you can really see how incomplete every single room is. Can we bring back tar and feathering for all involved?

  2. Some years ago the Atlantic published an article on weekends, including the observation that we take our sports too seriously. “I’m always charmed by old photographs of skiers which show groups of people in what appear to be street clothes, with uncomplicated pieces of bent wood strapped to sturdy walking boots. These men and women have a playful and unaffected air. Today every novice is caparisoned in skin-tight spandex, like an Olympic racer, and even cross-country skiing, a simple enough pastime, has been infected by a preoccupation with correct dress, authentic terminology, and up-to-date equipment. This reflects an attitude toward play which is different from what it was in the past. Most outdoor sports, once simply muddled through, are now undertaken with a high degree of seriousness.” https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1991/08/waiting-for-the-weekend/376343/

    1. Reminds me of growing up as a runner. I’d just wear whatever I had around, shorts and a T-shirt. The only thing that really mattered was a decent pair of shoes. Nowadays, I see runners with an entire getup; I chuckle a bit. I also don’t understand group running, but that’s another subject entirely, I guess; I ran to get away from people and lose myself in my own thoughts. The last thing I wanted was a bunch of people around me checking their heart rates and talking about calories burned…

      1. What I don’t understand are the special few individuals (who are universally decked out in expensive running gear) who choose to get their exercise on busy pedestrian thoroughfares like Barrington and Spring Garden. They are thankfully few and far between, but they have to be just about the second most annoying group of road users other than people with loud motorcycles.

      2. Back in the 70s, when the whole running thing really took flight, we used to call people who gathered in a circle at parties to boast “running bores.” A few years ago, a noted academic wasted almost 1/2 hour of my time yammering on about “spinning” until I yelled “Stop. Get a life!”

        1. I’m glad people can enjoy their various sports. [shrug] I just find it all amusing.

  3. Alana Paon’s office is barrier-free, technically. Her parking lot has compressed gravel, which is as good as pavement for wheel chair accessibility., says Speaker of the House, Kevin Murphy:

    ‘As far as a barrier-free path of travel goes, I personally am okay with this. I kind of put it in the category of being technical in nature. The solution that was provided, hard-packed Class A gravel, I’m okay with. As a matter of fact, this morning, I was dealing with HRM on access to a ballfield. They wanted to go crusher dust, and no, it’s Class A hard-packed gravel. That’s my understanding of the variance that is in place. It is technical in nature in my opinion.’..

    The committee ended up passing a motion asking Alana to look at getting the parking lot paved. Before passing such, the members asked if they were all agreed that this was not a deadline with consequences. They didn’t want Alana paying for rent out of pocket, they were not suggesting the entire parking lot had to be paved, they were just uncertain about that crushed gravel and perhaps she could have a concrete pad poured.

    i am with Alana on this, it very much looks like she is being bullied.

    .

  4. The professionalization and delocalization of sports is really sad. Despite all the celebration and marketing opportunities that come from the recent NBA win by the Raptors, what exactly do the Toronto Raptors have to do with Toronto? Most of them are not even from Canada, let alone Toronto! Of course, the destruction of authentic places and their transformation into brands – instead of a city that people live in, Toronto, like the other great cities of North America, is a product to be consumed. Because people like the product, Toronto’s marketing department can hire the best basketball mercenaries and therefore make people excited to consume more Toronto.