News

1. Holly Bartlett

Holly Bartlett

Last night, I went to a special preview of the first episode of AMI TV’s six-part series on Holly Bartlett (I wrote about the series here). It’s as good as I expected. I like that we can see where Holly lived, and how the police theory of her death makes no sense at all.

The series begins on cable next Thursday, and then will be streamable online the next day. I’ll publish details of how to access it at that time.

Oh, there’s also an accompanying “What Happened to Holly Bartlett” podcast, which is available on the usual podcast places. A one-minute teaser is already available. I’m told the podcast has even more details than the TV series.

2. Things that were supposed to happen by spring

They made a pretty picture of a rocket in space, so everyone in Nova Scotia thought it must be real.

I had a couple of these lined up for yesterday, the first day of spring, but I’m still awaiting some comment from a government agency on one of them (taps fingers on desk), so I’ll just mention this other thing…

Last summer, Maritime Launch Services told us that construction on the Canso spaceport would begin “in the spring.” Reported Frances Willick for the CBC:

Nova Scotia’s environment minister says she can’t make a decision whether to approve a proposed rocket launch site near Canso, N.S., because the company behind the project has not provided sufficient information.

In a decision released late Thursday afternoon, Margaret Miller said Maritime Launch Services (MLS) must conduct more studies and prepare a more comprehensive report “to better understand the potential for adverse effects or significant environmental effects.”

Miller is requiring the company to submit a report on the potential impacts of the spaceport on water, soil, air, noise, flora, fauna, fish and fish habitat, protected areas and parks, dangerous goods management, waste management, human health and contingency planning.

The company will have one year to prepare the report once it receives specific instructions from the department. Maritime Launch Services must also submit baseline studies on wildlife, fish and fish habitat before the project begins.

Stephen Matier, the president and chief executive officer, said while the decision put a damper on the company’s plans to break ground later this year, it still plans on beginning construction in the spring.

Last week, SpaceQ reported that a decision on MLS’s environmental assessment “could be made public as early May 15th”:

The decision is important for the local community and Nova Scotia. A new project of this nature will bring much needed jobs that may revitalize an economically depressed area. If NSE approves the project, [MLS CEO Steve] Matier told SpaceQ a July ground-breaking ceremony will be scheduled.

Spring, summer, whatever. Besides, Matier only said “in the spring,” but didn’t say spring of which year. And on cue, this morning Aaron Beswick of the Chronicle Herald reports that:

If regulatory approvals are granted, Matier said he expects to be able to announce more in July to coincide with a ceremonial ground breaking.

Actual construction wouldn’t begin until next spring.

3. Population

“On January 1, 2019, Canada’s population reached 37,314,442, up 71,871 from October 1, 2018, according to preliminary population estimates,” notes Stats Canada:

As has been the case over the last several years, population growth continued to be driven by international migration. Gains from international migration were due to 71,131 new immigrants having arrived in Canada in the fourth quarter.

Rapid population growth is not typical for a fourth quarter. In fact, this is when population growth is generally slowest because of seasonal patterns associated with births and the arrival of immigrants and non-permanent residents.

Across the country, Alberta and Nunavut (+0.4%) saw their population grow the fastest in the fourth quarter, while in Newfoundland and Labrador, population fell (-0.2%).

With the addition of the fourth quarter data, population estimates for 2018 are now complete. Canada grew by 528,421 in 2018, of which 80.5% was due to international migration. This level of increase has not been seen since the 1950s.

The Nova Scotia figures are:

2018
1st quarter: 954,611
2nd quarter: 955,708
3rd quarter: 959,942
4th quarter: 964,693
2019
1st quarter: 965,382

I’m presuming that the 1st quarter figure is an estimate, as the quarter doesn’t end until next week. I think, or rather hope, that estimates are also used for the real-time population clock, as it has a rather Orwellian surveillance feel to it:

  • 6:40:25 AM EDT: 1 death, Ontario (population: 14,497,100)
  • 6:40:19 AM EDT: 1 non-permanent resident, Ontario (population: 14,497,101)
  • 6:40:09 AM EDT: 1 immigrant, Saskatchewan (population: 1,170,315)
  • 6:40:04 AM EDT: 1 birth, Quebec (population: 8,446,379)
  • 6:39:57 AM EDT: 1 interprovincial migrant, from Manitoba (population: 1,362,409) to Alberta (population: 4,360,603)

They can’t possible know the exact moment someone moving from Manitoba to Alberta crosses the provincial line, can they?

But according to the clock, at 7:52am today (Atlantic Time), Canada had a population of 37,408,242. Whoops, someone just died in Quebec, so now it’s 37,408,241.


Views

1. Government wharfs

“These days there is lots of talk about place: place making in communities, and the importance of places that reflect our values, or places that inform our narrative,” writes Stephen Archibald:

For Sheila and me, government wharves are such places and we seek them out on our rambles around Nova Scotia. In many coastal communities they are a safe place for visitors to stop and for an experience that combines elements of a town square with an industrial workplace.

Archibald goes on to show lots of photos of present-day wharfs, but I find his older photos especially interesting:

As always, read Archibald’s entire post, because there’s far more to it than the bits I’ve excerpted.


Noticed

Besides everything else I do, I am first of all a business owner. I started Halifax Examiner Inc. in 2014 with all my life savings, $10,000. By the time the first post went live, I had something like $2,000 in the company bank account.

Since then, I’ve operated the company very conservatively, and I think prudently. The Examiner has not borrowed any money, so there is no debt. All taxes are paid on time and in full. I’ve hired freelancers only when there was money in the bank to pay them, and then I’ve paid them immediately upon publication (none of this stringing freelancers along stuff that is typical for the industry). I didn’t hire my one employee (admin person extraordinaire Iris) until I had six months of her salary and benefits in the bank. We pay all bills promptly.

I’ve recognized from the start that none of this would be possible without subscribers, but additionally, my conservative business strategy has worked well. I’ve been able to live off the business, and I’ve been able to grow the business such that now there are regular contributors doing important work. It’s been my plan all along to move forward with the same strategy, and I can see this little enterprise continuing to grow purposefully and with care. Steady as she goes.

Well, until the 2019 federal budget came down. Now I’m left with some very tough choices.

At issue is the part of the budget the Trudeau government labels “Support for Canadian Journalism.” The specifics are found on page 373, here. My observations follow.

The budget announcement as it relates to journalism consists of three initiatives:

• allowing journalism organizations to register as qualified donees;
• a refundable labour tax credit for qualifying journalism organizations; and
• a non-refundable tax credit for subscriptions to Canadian digital news.

Sounds good for the Halifax Examiner, no? Well, no.

First, media organizations must qualify. “These measures are intended to provide support to Canadian journalism organizations producing original news,” reads the budget:

An independent panel will be established to recommend eligibility criteria for the purposes of these measures. Once the panel has made its recommendations, eligibility of organizations will be evaluated and a recognition process will be put in place.

The panel will rule on which media companies are a “Qualified Canadian Journalism Organization,” or QCJO.

I’ll wait to see the details, but this already scares me. Who’s going to be on this “independent panel”? Mark Lever? I’m sure he’d jump right on certifying the Halifax Examiner.

The devil will be in the details of the eligibility criteria, but it already seems designed as a big tax giveaway to legacy media.

A QCJO will be required to be organized as a corporation, partnership or trust.

As it’s a corporation, Halifax Examiner Inc. qualifies, but right off the bat, many startups organized as sole proprietorships or as co-ops won’t.

One provision seems specifically designed to accommodate PostMedia:

A QCJO that is a corporation will be required to meet the following additional requirements in order to qualify:

  • if it is a public corporation, it must be listed on a stock exchange in Canada and not be controlled by non-Canadian citizens; and
  • if it is a private corporation, it must be at least 75-per-cent owned by Canadian citizens or by public corporations described above.

PostMedia is owned primarily by an America hedge fund, but the weird criteria in this provision allows it to receive the tax subsidy because PostMedia is offered on the Toronto stock exchange and is “controlled” by Canadians — that is, its president and officers are Canadian, even if its budget and profit demands are ultimately dictated by the hedge fund.

Moreover, the budget goes to great lengths to exclude small operations:

…an organization will be required to meet the following conditions to be a QCJO:

it regularly employs two or more journalists in the production of its content who deal at arm’s length with the organization.

“Arms-length” means that the subsidized reporter does not control the corporation. So, Halifax Examiner Inc. can’t receive the subsidy to offset Tim Bousquet’s wages. As the Examiner is currently organized, we’d be ineligible for any of the tax credit, as we don’t pay two full-time reporters who aren’t named Tim Bousquet. Again, nearly every other startup media entrepreneur — Mary Campbell in Sydney, Joey Coleman in Hamilton, etc. — would be excluded. All the money goes to the big players.

And here are the details of that money:

Budget 2019 proposes to introduce a 25-per-cent refundable tax credit on salary or wages paid to eligible newsroom employees of qualifying QCJOs. This will be subject to a cap on labour costs of $55,000 per eligible newsroom employee per year, which will provide a maximum tax credit in respect of eligible labour costs per individual per year of $13,750.

Let’s apply this to Halifax media operations. I don’t know the exact size of each newsroom, so the following are my best guesses.

The Chronicle Herald, with a newsroom of ~30 people, will receive a $412,500 annual subsidy. The umbrella SaltWire network, which I’m guessing conservatively has 100 reporters, will receive a $1,375,000 annual subsidy.

allnovascotia.com, which has about 20 reporters and editors will receive an annual subsidy of $275,000*.

Torstar, which has three reporters in its StarMetro Halifax division, will receive an annual subsidy of $41,250 for those reporters. Of course, the much larger Torstar organization will receive tens of millions of dollars annually.

Halifax Examiner Inc. will receive $0.

Now, I recognize that the Examiner positions itself as an alternative to the other media, and we try to report on things that aren’t covered at all by other media and from an angle that is often ignored. Still, there’s no denying that the companies that will receive the tax subsidy are at least to some degree our competitors, and the subsidy will allow them to get onto our turf a bit.

In practice, I doubt Mark Lever and Sarah Dennis will use their subsidy to hire new reporters. Probably the money will just go to pay down the huge debt for that printing plant and maybe pay for a new coat of paint on their south end mansion. But the subsidy will put off the inevitable collapse of the Herald, which is the point where, all other things being equal, the Examiner and other startups begin to get much wider traction.

In terms of day-to-day news coverage, it’s Torstar and allnovascotia that will use the subsidy to out-compete the Examiner.

Which leads me to the hard choices I have to make. I can continue to carry on with the Examiner as I’ve always have, or I can go after the subsidy for the Examiner.

Following the “continue on” course of action means, necessarily, putting off expansion plans, as the market is suddenly an even less level playing field. I’ll wait for all the free market enthusiasts to rush to my defence.

So the other choice is to go after the subsidy for the Examiner. That would mean hiring two full-time reporters. There are several risk factors with that strategy.

First, what if I hire two reporters and then the “independent panel” says the Halifax Examiner is a piece of junk that doesn’t qualify? Do I disrupt two reporters’ lives by hiring them only to immediately lay them off?

Even if the Examiner does qualify, hiring two reporters gets into some iffy financial territory. My back-of-the-envelope calculation (I’ll further develop this) is that I could hire two reporters at $55,000 salary plus benefits, equipment, and costs, at a revenue cost of about 1,000 subscribers. I don’t want to curtail the existing freelance budget (or my own meagre dividend payments), so that means 1,000 new subscribers.

That’s not a crazy number. I think that’s attainable. But I can’t say how long it would take to get there.

So what this really means is that if I’m going to chase the subsidy for the Halifax Examiner, the company needs to go into debt, and significantly so, with the hope that the new reporters generate enough new subscriptions to pay for themselves by some point in the future. This goes against every guiding principle under which I’ve operated the company so far. Going into debt means placing the future of the Halifax Examiner at risk.

Hiring two full-time reporters also means changing my role, as I would become more of a managing editor and less of a reporter. I remind myself I started the Examiner in large part so I could do the kind of reporting I like to do.

I have no idea what I’m going to do. I’ll think on it for a good while and consult trusted advisors before making any decisions.

But this is the impossible situation the Trudeau government has put me in.

*this article has been edited to more accurately describe the operation of allnovascotia.com.


Government

City

Budget Committee (Friday, 9am, City Hall) — agenda.

Province

No public meetings.


On campus

Dalhousie

Crystal Engineering the Covalent Bond: Opportunities in Organic Synthesis and Materials Science (Friday, 1:30pm, Room 226, Chemistry Building) — Leonard R. MacGillivray from the University of Iowa will speak.

Thesis Defence, French (Friday, 2:30pm, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Anas Atakora will defend his thesis, “Penser Le Monde Contemporain: Image Et Fantastique Dans L’Oeuvre Romanesque De Kossi Efoui.”

The Stars have No Break (Friday, 3:15pm, Room 120, Dunn Building) — the Halifax Planetarium’s March Break family show. $5, reservations required, minimum age 7 years. More info here.

Uranium Mining in Denesuliné Territory, Northern Saskatchewan, 1948-1975: New documents(Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building) — Aaron Wright will speak.

Saint Mary’s

Friday

The Lucid Vigil: Destruction, Desire and the Politics of Critique (Friday, 1pm, Room 216, Atrium Building) — Stella Gaon will launch her book. Info here.

Saturday

This Is Me: World Down Syndrome Day Celebration (Saturday, 1:30pm, Student Union Building) — free entertainment, food, ballroom dancing, and fashion shows. Info here.

Akatsuki: The Drums of Japan (Saturday, 7:30pm, McNally Theatre) — SMU Taiko’s first-ever annual concert. Tickets $5 at the door. Info here and here.

Mount Saint Vincent

Between Flexibility and Normalization: German adolescents’ negotiations of gendered identities (Friday, 12pm, Seton 432) — Judith Conrads from Bochum University, Germany, will speak.

King’s

Eurydice (Friday and Saturday, 8pm, The Pit, Arts and Administration Building) — Jacob Hermant directs the King’s Theatrical Society. Tickets $5/10 here. Info on facebook here.


In the harbour

05:30: Goodwood, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
06:00: ZIM Monaco, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
16:30: ZIM Monaco sails for New York
16:30: Goodwood sails for sea
19:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from Sydney


Footnotes

Rain, looks like.


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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. Am I reading the budget correctly that subscriptions would be eligible for a 15% refund, and donations would be tax deductible? I’m currently willing to pay $100; in this hypothetical scenario, if at renewal time you asked me to pay $100+a $15 donation, I’d say yes. I’d come out better than even and you’d come out ahead. I don’t know how many subscribers have the luxury of saying yes to that, but I imagine the number is non-zero.

  2. A tax credit to someone for a subscription to a digital media outlet? Call me crazy but that sounds like an incentive to subscribe to the Examiner to me.

    Personally I believe in public broadcasting, paid for not by the government but by the people ie taxpayers.

    I believe that Canadians think an informed electorate is essential to our quality of life. I can’t imagine a world without the CBC or the BBC or PBS…….

  3. I don’t understand why they don’t just offer tax rebates for some part of salaries paid to journalists and for legitimate expenses incurred during the course of their work? Wouldn’t this make hiring journalists much less costly, so either more could be hired or the same staff maintained with new cash going to help keep the news organization afloat. I don’t see the point in directing this money to a news media business.

    Maybe I’m missing something very obvious here?

  4. The law of (probably) unintended consequences. Because government wonks live in ivory towers and don’t really see the picture from ground level. However, can you and the Cape Breton paper who already support each other by exchanging news and promoting subscribing to both, become more closely linked in such a way as to qualify both of you (now for gov and tax purposes only, not editorially, a single entity) for the subsidy?

    1. In a world of contract emloyees and short-term positions, does “regularly employ” necessarily mean full-time staff vs. FTE equivalent pay to several independent freelancers? I would question that with Gov’t or my local MP to make the case for established businesses like yours with proven record of using a number of freelancers to provide a variety of content. Presumably community newspapers and mags would be in a similar position.

  5. I believe the ownership requirements you suspected as being specifically targeted to PostMedia are more likely based on the definition of “Canadian Newspaper” that has been included in the Income Tax Act (section 19) for decades and is related to the ability for businesses to deduct advertising in non- Canadian Newspapers.

    As for the conundrum the Examiner finds itself in with regards to the Labour Tax Credit I’m sure you’ll get advice to take the tax benefit into account when considering your business decision but don’t make a business decision just to get a tax benefit.

    Finally, I think the fact that journalism organizations will be able to register as qualified donees and presumable issue donation receipts (and receive contributions from private foundations) shouldn’t be overlooked.

  6. The media subsidies are an awful idea – I’m pretty ambivalent about Trudeau’s performance, but this is just about the worst policy that has come out of that government.

    Besides, plenty of news outlets that don’t qualify will use “Not government sponsored” as a badge of authenticity, which will partially defeat the stated purpose of the subsidies.

  7. Surely we are not worried there will be some bias in a government designed “independent committee” to evaluate news organizations? SNC lavalin has exposed just how committed to back room politics our Trudeau Liberals can be despite their delusional claims of denial.

  8. The conundrum that the Halifax Examiner is in with regard to what I call the journalism tax credit is indeed that. Stay the course and out of debt, or incur debt to possibly qualify for a tax credit?
    Either way Tim I will continue to be a subscriber and I encourage my friends to subscribe.
    If it were my choice (I know it is not) the less debt the better.

    aj

  9. Managing Editor? Personally, I’m hard pressed to imagine a job LESS in SYNC with your ink-stained scribe sensibilities. That said, I support your decision.

  10. Re population stats: I think Q1 means the beginning of the the quarter – that is January 1. The population clock (which just added a non-permanent resident to PEI) shows NS population at 966,922, which would be an increase of about 1,500 over almost the first quarter of 2019, consistent with recent years.