In the harbour
1. Shell University
Last week, Stephen Thomas, who graduated from Dalhousie University’s Mechanical Engineering program in 2013, submitted an op-ed about a recent $600,000 agreement between oil company Shell Canada and Dalhousie for consideration to the Chronicle Herald.
Editors at the paper were so intrigued by the issues raised in the op-ed that instead of printing it, they sent a reporter to interview Thomas and write a news article about the Shell agreement. But then there was so much reaction to the article that the paper went ahead and published Thomas’ op-ed on Saturday.
In his op-ed, Thomas explicitly links the agreement to the the Dalhousie Board of Governors’ refusal to stop investing in companies whose primary products are fossil fuels:
Four months to the day after rejecting a call for fossil fuel divestment and closing further conversation on the topic, Dalhousie University announces a $600,000 ‘gift’ from Shell Canada.
On March 25, Dalhousie announced that Shell Canada would provide a $500,000 extension to the Shell Experiential Learning Fund for Engineering and Geoscience faculties.
The remaining $100,000 would be allocated for the creation of the Offshore Energy Fund, establishing corporate and university resources to support exploration for and extraction of oil and gas resources off the coast of Nova Scotia.
As explained by reporter Ben Cousins:
Thomas said he began to notice the Shell logo popping up all over the engineering campus and wondered why. He filed a freedom of information request to see some of the inner workings of the deal.
“Throughout my degree, I noticed the bang for its buck … that Shell had been getting and the influence it was wielding on my campus,” said Thomas.
Thomas kindly sent me the Dalhousie-Shell Canada Donor Agreement. The agreement includes a “recognition plan,” which, among others, includes these particulars:
Shell Spring Field Excursion:
— Opportunity for two Shell representatives to participate in each trip.
Field Trips / Field Schools:
— Opportunity for Shell representative to attend. Shell is responsible to pay the costs associated with the Shell employee’s participation.
Teaching Facility Improvement Fund:
— Shell’s name/logo displayed in the room
— The Shell logo will be displayed prominently on the hard hats.
• Gift and its impact on engineering students will be profiled in the Faculty of Engineering’s alumni magazine.
• The Shell SELF program will be featured on its own webpage within the Faculty of Engineering’s website, promoting the gift and the successes of the sponsored students.
Further, the agreement spells out that Earth Science department profs and administrators now work directly for and under the direction of Shell Canada:
A committee, the Earth Sciences Shell SELF Committee (ESSSC) to be formed within the Earth Sciences department to steer and allocate funds across the department. The committee will consist of the Department Chair (currently R. Jamieson), one of the Associate Chairs (currently J. Gosse or M. Gibling), one additional faculty member decided upon by the department (position would rotate yearly (Sept-Aug); initially G. Wach for continuity with present system), and department Administrator (A. Bannon). The committee will invite, receive, review, and rank proposals 3 times a year, solicited from across the entire department, including student societies. Recommendations for funding will be made in advance of the academic term for which the funds are requested. All projects recommended by the committee must be within the criteria identified above, and be sent to Shell’s Science CAP team members for approval.
Thomas puts the agreement in context:
For over two years, students, faculty and staff have been calling upon Dalhousie University to divest its holdings in the fossil fuel industry (some $25M). A central message of the fossil fuel divestment movement is the scientific consensus that we are now operating with the understanding of a global carbon budget. This budget, derived from the work of the UNFCCC, identifies that we already have over five times the amount of safe, burnable carbon in the reserves of the global coal, oil and gas sectors.
If there is any chance of staying below 2 degrees of warming in order to avoid the worst of catastrophic climate change, nearly 80% of the planet’s already-discovered fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground. Regional and national policy are beginning to reflect this reality by shifting to renewable energy sources. We also see this play out in commitments to reduce carbon emissions dramatically from developed nations and developing nations alike (which we see in the form of submissions of National Targets, coming ahead of the emissions treaties to be developed at COP 21 in Paris later this year).
The barriers to taking bold action toward a better future are not as nuanced as we think. Conflicts of interest like the one that exists between Dalhousie and Shell keep the University from acting in the best interest of its students and future generations, and leaves it beholden to the best interests of industry.
Our universities need to be harbourers of the innovations and solutions that are necessary for a just transition to a carbon-free energy system. Instead, Dalhousie has chosen to side with a few corporate interests that are intent on keeping Nova Scotia a relic of the past.
Corporate “branding” and everything it entails — the selling of naming rights to public facilities, the corporatization of charity, the relentless intrusion of advertising into the public realm, the prostitution of higher education, and on and on — has become so normalized that it’s unquestioned. But let’s not miss what’s going on here: Dalhousie University, R. Jamieson, J. Gosse, M. Gibling, G. Wach and A. Bannon are quite literally trading the future of the planet for a half million bucks and change.
2. Examineradio Episode #7
This week, the McNeil government released its 2015-16 budget which, among other things, slashed the Film Tax Credit system, lifted post-secondary tuition caps and completely eliminated the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism. Trailer Park Boys’ Sarah Dunsworth weighs in on the budget’s likely effect on the province’s film industry.
Also, former Halifax mayor Peter Kelly was spotted hawking fish & chips at a Dartmouth diner, and how millions of Nova Scotia tax dollars subsidized a company selling dubious homeopathic cream.
Listen to Episode #7 of Examineradio below, or subscribe to the Examineradio podcast via iTunes. Examineradio also broadcasts on CKDU, 88.1 FM, Fridays at 4:30–5pm.
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3. Senior housing
Catherine Leviten-Reid, a business prof at Cape Breton University, has conducted a two-year study of three senior residences on Cape Breton Island, and published her results in a paper titled “Building Affordable Rental Housing for Seniors: Policy Insights from Nova Scotia,” reports the Chronicle Herald:
[The study] reveals serious shortcomings in the buildings’ design, such as lack of wheelchair accessibility, grab bars, lower counter tops and lower bathroom tubs.
“The residents felt that their unit was not designed for seniors,” Leviten-Reid said. “In each development, there were only a small number of units that were designed using universal design — wheelchair accessibility, lower counter tops, lower outlets. The majority said their needs weren’t being met.”
Leviten-Reid says that the current subsidy for senior housing — $25,000 per unit — isn’t enough to get them built properly, but there seems to be a disconnect along the way: whether the subsidy is too low or not, how is it possible that substandard buildings are permitted?
4. Anti-youth and anti-student
Looking at the latest provincial budget, which will bring large increases to university tuition, Jonathan Williams, a student government rep, tells Examiner reporter Moira Donovan that:
The government has said we care more about being on the side of university presidents than we care about being on the side of students…this is an anti-youth, anti-student government; we’re bottom of the pile for their priorities.
This article is behind the Examiner’s paywall and so available only to paid subscribers. To purchase a subscription, click here.
5. Harbour rescue
CBC reporter Elizabeth Chiu notes that there are two versions of a harbour rescue story from late Friday night. In the first, as told by Ben Brammer, a manager at Gahan House, someone came into the restaurant from the boardwalk and said there was someone in the water:
When he went outside to look, Brammer says someone had already jumped into the water to save the man from drowning.
Brammer says one of his staff called 911.
He then joined a group of five people on the boardwalk who pulled on a rope attached to a life preserver and yanked the man out of the water.
“They placed the buoy around his waist and six of us pulled as hard as we could so, it was a little struggle, but by the end of it, we were certainly glad he was out of the water,” said Brammer.
He says it took the group about 15 minutes of pulling to lift him out of the water and up several metres onto the dock. He describes the man as about 250 pounds of “dead weight.”
Police told Chiu that “it’s believed alcohol was a factor.” Continues Chiu:
A Halifax Regional Police news release issued early Saturday differs somewhat. The release said that one of the officers who responded made a lasso out of some rope, while another jumped into the water to assist with the rescue effort.
As well, the release said a police officer jumped into the water. Brammer says the officer did not jump into the water, but stayed on a ladder to assist in the rescue.
The police press release is here.
6. Wild Kingdom
• The injured eagle that Andrew Johnson discovered at Starr’s Point last month has been rehabilitated and set free.
• “Even before most songbirds fill the air with their multifarious melodies and chirps, an altogether different group of critters signals the start of spring,” writes Alain Belliveau. “Every spring during the first few warm, damp nights in March or April — usually about 5 C or warmer, and coupled with precipitation — thousands of amphibians roam from forests to wetlands, sometimes in concentrated bunches or sometimes more scattered across several nights.”
• The Nova Scotia Museum is making an electronic version of the book Nova Scotia Plants available for free. You can read the Museums press release about the book here, or you can read the exact same press release, word-for-word but not described as a press release, on the Digby Courier website. As for the book itself, you can download it here.
1. Film tax credit, 1
“While cutting the [film] tax credit may magically make the books appear closer to balance, it will also casually dismantle the yellow brick road to prosperity the government claims it’s building,” writes Stephen Kimber.
2. Film tax credit, 2
Michael Gorman compares the Yarmouth ferry to the film tax credit, and makes this observation:
During the budget lockup on Thursday, Finance Department officials were woefully unprepared to answer what should have been obvious and anticipated questions from reporters, given the prominence the issue of the tax credit assumed in the weeks leading up to the budget.
It is troubling that department officials, and then the minister, acknowledged they have no idea what impact the change will have on the industry other than it will be disadvantageous.
This is a department that prepares analysis on just about everything before setting budgets and calculating for years to come. And while it doesn’t take an economist to know the change will have some kind of impact on the lives of real people, no one — not even the minister — seems to have seen fit to take a moment and at least try to analyze how that impact might look.
Human rights advocate Gus Reed sent me the following email yesterday:
Recently, I read with interest Moira Donovan’s Halifax Examiner article on the Dal Budget. Taxpayers fund Dalhousie to the tune of $183 million, then pay again in the form of tuition if they attend and pay again in foregone property tax. I guess we’re meant to think of the provincial grant as the basic cost of having a University. In any case, this is the common model for funding public higher education. A large portion of the subsidy comes from those who are unlikely to benefit, but they contribute willingly.
I was struck by this paragraph:
As a result of changing demographic trends, high school and university enrolments are down across Canada; several universities in the Maritimes have already experienced a drop in enrolment and have pursued international recruitment accordingly.
which implies that it’s a good and natural thing to use the tuition from international students as a source of cash. There is certainly cultural and educational benefit in having an international presence, but no matter how you do the arithmetic, every student gets the benefit of the $183 million subsidy, international students included. Although international students pay at twice the rate, they consume overhead just like everyone else. So these students, few of whom will ever stay in Halifax, benefit greatly from the generous Nova Scotia taxpayer.
There might be some excess capacity in the system, but that should be explicit. International recruitment shouldn’t be used to prop up poor teaching, mismanagement or misaligned priorities. In that sense, international recruitment can cloak problems that really should be dealt with pronto. And there are other sources for students that might actually serve the province.
The Budget Advisory Committee document is alarmingly self referential, with the Strategic Priorities attached as appendix H, but little discussion of how budget decisions affect the mission of the university. Tuition increases, for example, risk further attrition of students. Strategic Priority 1.1 is “Increase retention and degree completion.” Could we have a word on that? But the only goal seems to be a balanced ledger. What’s the plan to help a declining province (Priority 3.1)? Oh yeah, recruit in the Far East. I forgot. Educational success is assumed, if only the budget balances and professors get paid.
The most unsettling trend is the redistribution of funding based on enrollment (ERBA), where programs for international students get an additional $400,000 and undergraduate Arts & Social Science programs lose $501,000. My guess is that Arts is a popular choice, and it really isn’t in taxpayer interest to have their subsidy directed away from programs that serve them best. It might be good for faculty salaries, but who gets the educational benefit?
A local student who’s doing an undergraduate degree as the ticket to a good job needs general skills like reading, writing and math, but not necessarily specific skills that come through a commerce or science degree. Employers like an educated workforce, and they like to provide specific skills training. An Arts degree is no liability. ERBA may benefit salaries, but the educational benefit is doubtful.
Here’s a thought on how Dal might better serve the taxpayer. Last fall, Dalhousie submitted a brief to the Minister’s Advisory Panel on Accessibility. It includes this paragraph:
Our main concern in reviewing the Discussion Paper is that there is no information regarding how the province will support an initiative of this magnitude. More detail regarding funding to be allocated and confirmation that qualified staff will be hired to carry out the tremendous amount of work contemplated by the legislation are required in order for Dalhousie to assess the potential impact of this initiative. Without a clear commitment by the province to appropriately fund and staff this initiative, the project as a whole could be set up to fail. The unintended consequences of this would be significant for disabled persons.
An initiative? Since when is educating Nova Scotians an initiative? Maybe that explains why Schulich School of Law has only two students with visible disabilities — one partially sighted, one sometimes using a wheelchair. People with disabilities can’t get educated without an initiative.
Dr. Watters, Provost and Academic vice-President, who wrote the memo has herself said, speaking Rumsfeld-like about academic innovation, “[it] is an opportunity for us, as a community, to think broadly about credentials, programs and pedagogy in the context of known and, as yet, unknown disruptions, technological and societal.”
Here’s a disruption in full view. Instead of welcoming an opportunity to serve an often undervalued population, Dal focuses on the budgetary implications. Would Dal want a guarantee from the province before it bothered to teach Stephen Hawking some physics?
So here is an untapped and underserved group of locals, and all Dal can think about is recruiting internationally, taking resources from programs that might serve local students best. How do I know that? I’m guessing, but I can tell you for certain Dal doesn’t know, because they haven’t tried. Two law students!
This week we learn that Shell Oil is funding “experiential and extracurricular learning” in various faculties. This is disturbing for the potential challenge to academic freedom. Will the obligatory Shell judge at the Petroleum Engineering competition be able to give a fair evaluation of “Gauging the effect of seismic oil exploration on whale populations”?
That’s troubling enough, but the secrecy of the agreement is of concern. Why did Stephen Thomas have to file a freedom of information request to learn something fundamental about his department. Dal does have a conflict-of-interest policy:
To maintain public trust and confidence, Dalhousie University must act and be seen to act in accordance with its mission of serving community and society through education, research and professional service.
Through its budget, through its lack of initiative on accessibility and by subverting its own ethical standards, Dal seems in pursuit of the dollar rather than excellence.
4. Cranky letter of the day
I go hiking to waterfalls on Sundays to take pictures.
You can not see waterfalls in the winter. There are too many bugs in the spring and not much water in the summer. The best time is in the fall: no bugs, nice temperatures, changing leaves (even hackmatacks later in the season), and lots of water.
I once walked through a hunter’s kill zone. He was hiding up in a tree. He chastised me for disturbing his hunt; I didn’t know he was there.
I do not want to disturb people who are hunting, but I am going hiking on Sundays with an air horn blasting if necessary.
Leave Sunday for everybody else who wants to use the woods and trails (horse riders, dog walkers, hikers, photographers, mountain bikers, geocachers, four-wheeler enthusiasts, camp owners, etc.).
Too much hunting, along with bad winters and all the clearcutting, will leave you with very few deer to shoot.
Alan Perry, Amherst
Police Commission (12:30pm, City Hall)—the commission will discuss the “Reorganization [of the] Halifax Regional Police.” I have no idea what that means — A topsy turvy world where the street cops run the show? Linda Mosher will become the chief of police? Somebody will actually solve all those unsolved murder cases? —who knows? But I’ll be there to watch it unfold.
Legislature sits (4pm–10pm, Province House)
Thesis defence, Chemistry (Monday, 1:30pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building)—PhD candidate John Camadese will defend his thesis, “Core-Shell Materials as Positive Electrodes in Lithium-Ion Batteries.”
Senate (Monday, 4pm, University Hall, Macdonald Building)—here’s the agenda.
Rare-Earth Arsenides (Tuesday, 11am, Chemistry Room 226)—Arthur Mar, from the University of Alberta, will talk about “Homologous series in solid state chemistry: stacking slabs in rare-earth arsenides.” Yea, I don’t either.
Oceanography seminar (Tuesday, 11:30am, LSC, Psychology Wing, Room 5263)—Richard Karsten, from Acadia University, will talk about, I dunno, something about the oceans probably.
It is possible to sail in a straight line from Eastern Canada to Western Canada.
In the harbour
Sina, general cargo, Panama City to Pier 41, then sails to sea
Ruddy, bulk carrier, Quebec to Pier 28
Cenito, tanker, Quebec to anchorage
Harmony Leader sails to Newark, New Jersey
Acadian sails to sea
Nice to see the rivers of melt water running down the streets the last couple of days.
With regard to ACCESSIBLE HOUSING, let’s FIRST see SUFFICIENT Affordable Housing. THEN, let’s design and build apartments which can meet MOST needs of both the «able» and the «less-able».
Currently, we’re so mired in silly and mostly useless «codes» we end up with ridiculously expensive, un-liveable, unaffordable, and high-maintenance over-engineered SHACKS. It IS possible to build economical, low-maintenance, and therefore low-rent housing but so long as we let pie-in-the-sky architects, and «by-the-book» engineers foist their lobotomy-engendered nightmare «erections» on us, we’ll continue to have shortages of all kinds in terms of housing both «normal» and «accessible».
And, dear readers, that is before we even approach the destructive role played by piratical «developers» wringing the last penny out of every square inch of their politically-favoured private property while stomping all over the rights of the little guy.
It’s all a huge charade, and it will take some pretty big political cojones to confront the abuses and support the public good instead of kau-tau-ing to whoever they think will make the biggest campaign contributions when the next election rolls around.
Well there is one thing about the whole anti-youth bent of the latest NS budget. Youth have time on their side. When their turn comes (and it can’t come too soon for me) they will, hopefully, remember what has been going on in this time, and make sure things work better for THEIR young people.
RE: THE NANNY STATE REDUX
There is an interesting connection between the decision to eliminate the film tax credit and the Shell bribe to Dalhousie. Both are entangled in the same wistful precept that public funds spent to support and encourage private business is good for us all. This is an urban myth. Supported by nothing but anecdotal evidence and the gut feeling that it has to do some good. In fact, all academic studies show there is no hard economic evidence to support this idea. But, we like to believe what we like to believe.
However, it is easy to understand why filmmakers are so upset. So long as companies like Shell and Irving and Biomed and RBC and thousand upon thousands more wriggle and squirm to get on the government teat, why not filmmakers. What’s sauce for the goose….
The solution is to eliminate ALL government subsidy to ALL private business, starting from the top down. Until that happens Nova Scotia filmmakers have a just cause for complaint with the McNeil decision to cut their tax credit.
It used to be that it was a mark of shame to sell out. Now folks can’t sell out fast enough. Intersting world we’ve constructed for ourselves.
God help us if our politics every gets to that point. I suppose some would argue it already has.
So someone spent 2 years studying 3 housing developments that decided to cater to seniors. And came to the conclusion that they were not all barrier free units. That sounds like 45 minutes of phone calls to me.
In Halifax, those new apartment buildings being put up everywhere have to hae a certain percentage of barrier free units, even though they are not designated as such. The proble, is that they charge rent, as in market rate rent. And wouldn’t you just know it, but there are apparently not enough people in need of the barrier free aspects of these luxury apartments who can afford the $2500 and up rents.
So what happen? After a while, these units with wide doors, no thresholds, low dorr handles, different appliances (in some cases) and special fixtures in washrooms are quietly returned to “normal” apartments so they can be rented.
This sounds like something that is fixable – either have the special units subsidized, or forget about the wasteful work of creating them in the first place. If someone can show the need, maybe we should consider subsidizing their rent by up to what it would cost to house them in a government owned facility. Because you know that’s not going to be cheap. And it’s not like we won’t be needing more of these spaces with all the young people being driven out of the Province by bad decisions from old boy politicians.
The Dal/Shell agreement shows they’re spending double their “women in engineering” contribution on “hard hats”. Are they replacing their $6,666 worth of hard hats annually? Can they not be reused? $20,000 in branded helmets is far too generous a ‘gift’ to pass up.
With regard to the tax credit none of these number add up. It is the same magical it stimulates the economy that we hear around convention centers, concerts, sports stadiums, etc. Maybe the government needs to focus on community services, education, healthcare and infrastructure and let industries fund themselves. This is probably not practical with poor jurisdictions bidding against each other to pay corporations to do business with them but the whole corporate welfare system causes nothing but problems.
In a perfect world, there would be no subsidies to business. The unfortunate reality is that many businesses are highly mobile, and available tax breaks are one of the factors that affect where they set up (along with many other factors also under government control, like power costs, availability of educated employees, permit costs, operating regulations, and so on). The challenge for governments is to choose who to subsidize. Unlike convention centres or sports stadiums, the film industry does not require any costly infrastructure. Unlike the oil and gas industry, the film industry poses minimal environmental costs and risks. Unlike forestry, the film industry is highly sustainable – sets and locations can be reused repeatedly, and remain intact when the filming is complete. Unlike call centres and IT facilities, making film locally involves hiring many local suppliers, almost all small businesses, for goods and services. And unlike many subsidies, this one is publicly acknowledged and frequently promotes the province to potential tourists. In short, if one must support industry, there are a lot of benefits to supporting the film industry.
Well that’s an incredibly well-composed and convincing argument for subsidizing the film industry.
Dalhousie’s relationship with Shell is indeed uncomfortable. $100,000 spent on oil/gas exploration is $100,000 spent going to the wrong direction. However, I don’t think the professors mentioned should be painted with the same brush. I think some of these professors are appointed to be ‘Shell committee’ members based on their positions at Dal, not their willingness to ‘sell out the future’ or by the appointment of Shell based on the same willingness.
I think the origins of this deal are above the level of the professors mentioned. Something that should be investigated. Bravo to Stephen Thomas for beginning this process.
1) We’ve all had days like this – do not fret.
2) Love the circumnavigation gizmo – very cool.
I have to challenge this statement by Mr. Reed:
“A local student who’s doing an undergraduate degree as the ticket to a good job needs general skills like reading, writing and math, but not necessarily specific skills that come through a commerce or science degree. Employers like an educated workforce, and they like to provide specific skills training.”
In fact, I have heard regularly at public events and dialogues that our employers do not in fact like to provide specific skills training–that they tend to hire for a skill set rather than potential. The One Nova Scotia Report even mentioned this.
So if the universities are actual training grounds for the employers (as opposed to general education), then we should charge the employers.
When I went to NSCAD in the 90s, the design programme covered all the bases on how to think as a designer: visual problem solving, semiotics, rhetorical theory, design history and more were taught alongside hard skills such as typography, Photoshop, page layout, grids etc. Twenty years later, the program remains largely unchanged. With this as a base, every single person in my class found employment pretty much right away, if we wanted it. We knew how to think and problem solve and we had the foundation in technology that would allow us to grow into professional designers.
Today, NSCAD barely touches on the web as an overall percentage of the programme, resulting in graduates that quite simply have no idea about the modern agency/startup/communication industry environment. When I hire grads, I don’t want them to be fully trained as front end developers, but I at least want them to have a sense of the importance of the web as a medium for modern designers. Most aren’t really getting that the opportunities for print-only designers are few and far between, since the majority of their classes over four years still focus on print and logo design.
Is the school doing a disservice to design grads by not teaching them the things that will help them find employment? They certainly feel that way when I interview them. So, whose responsibility is it? To me, university is about learning how to learn. But we at least need to be teaching them about what they will need to know in the job market. Right now, many current universities are failing on that front.
I’m wondering about the tax implications of Shell’s “gift” to Dalhousie. Are they claiming this as a charitable donation? Since it is clearly not.
I checked with a friend another Maritime university, and they were quite shocked at the level of influence Dal was willing to sell to Shell.
Re Footnote: my rectangular backyard was completely buried up to the top of the fence when the snow was at its peak. I can probably calculate the volume of water both my yard and my neighbours’ yard have dumped into the sewers over the past week.