News

1. Weather

There’s weather today.

2. Divest Dal

Today was a huge win for @DivestDal and a moment to show @DalPres what Dal students are all about. Dalhousie BOG committed to signing onto the UN’s Principles of Responsible Investing, which includes recognizing the risk that fossil fuels pose to our endowement fund. #DalDoBetter pic.twitter.com/0ioIo3vfBJ

— Dal Do Better (@daldobetter) February 12, 2019

Here’s what the UN says about the principles:

As institutional investors, we have a duty to act in the best long-term interests of our beneficiaries. In this fiduciary role, we believe that environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) issues can affect the performance of investment portfolios (to varying degrees across companies, sectors, regions, asset classes and through time).

We also recognise that applying these Principles may better align investors with broader objectives of society. Therefore, where consistent with our fiduciary responsibilities, we commit to the following:

  • Principle 1: We will incorporate ESG issues into investment analysis and decision-making processes.
  • Principle 2: We will be active owners and incorporate ESG issues into our ownership policies and practices.
  • Principle 3: We will seek appropriate disclosure on ESG issues by the entities in which we invest.
  • Principle 4: We will promote acceptance and implementation of the Principles within the investment industry.
  • Principle 5: We will work together to enhance our effectiveness in implementing the Principles.
  • Principle 6: We will each report on our activities and progress towards implementing the Principles.

The Principles for Responsible Investment were developed by an international group of institutional investors reflecting the increasing relevance of environmental, social and corporate governance issues to investment practices. The process was convened by the United Nations Secretary-General.

In signing the Principles, we as investors publicly commit to adopt and implement them, where consistent with our fiduciary responsibilities. We also commit to evaluate the effectiveness and improve the content of the Principles over time. We believe this will improve our ability to meet commitments to beneficiaries as well as better align our investment activities with the broader interests of society.

We encourage other investors to adopt the Principles.

I fear that “where consistent with our fiduciary responsibilities” leaves an enormous amount of wiggle room to avoid dealing directly with the fossil fuel industry, so Divest Dal will have to keep pushing.

Young people are our only hope. The people in charge of institutions like Dal (not singling Dal out here) do not give two shits about climate change or, as I’ve written before, the future of the planet*. They’ll burn the whole place down to get .2 per cent better return on the next quarterly investment report.

It takes young people taking radical action to get meaningful change. That’s why I’m so appreciative of groups like Divest Dal and Extinction Rebellion. They need all the support we can give them.

* Spare me your “the planet will be fine, it’s just humans who will be destroyed” foolishness.

3. Record checks

“On Wednesday [the meeting will be rescheduled due to today’s storm], the Budget Committee of Halifax Regional Council will consider whether to make background checks for students and volunteers free, as they are everywhere else across the province,” reports Jennifer Henderson:

In Halifax, approximately 11,700 volunteers a year pay $30 to police or an online provider to determine if the individual has any prior convictions or pardons for sex crimes. Employees pay $50 for the same service, with those applications hovering around 20,000 in each of the past two years.

The bottom line is eliminating the fee for volunteers/students would cost HRM approximately $300,000 a year, based on data from the last four years. That’s chump change compared to the size of the actual police budget. HRM’s proposed police budget now sits at $89,270,000, with most of that dedicated to paying police salaries and benefits. Dropping the fee for volunteers would mean a $240,000 annual cut to the police budget. HRM would see a drop of about $60,000 a year because the fees collected by the Halifax District RCMP go directly into General Revenue.

Click here to read “Update: HRM turns a $300,000 annual profit through police Background Checks for volunteers.”

4. Stephen McNeil and the Yarmouth ferry

The Alakai. Photo: Halifax Examiner

The McNeil government has refused to make public details of its payments to Bay Ferries for the Yarmouth ferry — total payments to Bay Ferries are included in Public Accounts documents, but the details of the payments are still secret. At issue is the “management fee” paid to Bay Ferries, as opposed to the operating subsidy for the boat itself.

In December, Information and Privacy Commissioner Catherine Tully issued her ruling that the detailed figures should be released:

Three separate applicants sought disclosure of a management fee paid by the Nova Scotia Government to Bay Ferries Limited for the operation of the ferry service between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine. In withholding the information, the Department argued that disclosure of the information would harm both the economic interests of the Department and the competitive position of Bay Ferries Limited. There is a justifiably high democratic expectation of transparency around the expenditure of public money. Expenditure of public funds goes to the heart of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act’s purposes and is an important reason behind the need for detailed and convincing evidence. The burden of proof rests with the public body. The Commissioner finds that the evidence offered falls well short of the legal standard. Instead, the evidence offered consisted of conclusionary statements of general assertions of risk. The Commissioner recommends full disclosure of the ferry service funding agreement.

When he was merely a wannabe premier, then-MLA Stephen McNeil promised to give Tully’s office order-making power:

If elected Premier, I will expand the powers and mandate of the Review Officer, particularly through granting her order-making power.

But now that he sits in the premier’s office, McNeil rejects any notion that he should abide by Tully’s findings. He has repeatedly rejected Tully’s requests that secret (and in one case clearly illegal) government information should be made public.

As to the ferry payments, McNeil holds firm: his government will not release the figures.

And so Monday, the Progressive Conservatives asked the court to force the government to release the figures.

The Liberals’ response:

Bay Ferries is not a “business partner.” It is a contractor.

Using the Liberals’ logic, all government contracts should be secret. The tendering process should be conducted in smokey back rooms, no reporters or onlookers allowed, with mobsters coming in carrying suitcases of bribes, and no public reporting of the contracts afterwards.

With McNeil at the helm, the Liberals are undermining the very notion of public accountability. But make no mistake: We citizens own the government. The payments to Bay Ferries (and anyone else) are our money. We have every right to know how much is spent and where.

Beyond that, can we get back to discussing the usefulness of the ferry?

As I’ve said repeatedly, the primary point of the ferry isn’t to carry passengers between Yarmouth and Maine, but rather to help the economy of the south shore. How’s that going?

Let’s look at the payments made to Bay Ferries, and how that translates into passenger numbers. (The chart below does not include a $74,496 payment made to Bay Ferries in 2015, before ferry service started.)

I haven’t seen anything beyond anecdotal evidence of what impact that subsidy has on the economy of the south shore, so if we’re using anecdotal evidence, let me give my own experience.

I’ve taken the ferry twice, once in 2017 from Yarmouth to Portland on the start of my annual summer journey to parts west, and once in 2018 from Portland to Yarmouth on the return leg of that journey.

In 2017, two of us drove down the French Shore, where we didn’t spend a penny, and then stayed in a motel in Yarmouth. That night, we went to a bar on the waterfront and had a few drinks, and in the morning we stopped by a coffee shop before lining up for the boat. All told, we spent about $200 in Yarmouth. For that, the province paid Bay Ferries $526.

In 2018, on the return trip, we got off the boat around 11pm (it was sailing late) and went to a lovely motel on the French Shore. The next morning we walked on the beach, and then drove back to Dartmouth. On that trip, we spent about $120 on the French Shore, for which the province paid Bay Ferries $556.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to just directly pay the motels something like $200, the bar $100, and the coffeeshop $50, without us actually having to go there?

I know I’m not the intended target for the ferry subsidy. The idea is that most passengers will be the valued American tourists, who probably have more money to spend than me, and might dally around more than a single evening or morning. Still, I have a hard time believing most of them will spend the 300 bucks per in the Yarmouth area, especially after you subtract the subsidy given to me to leave the south shore — they might spend two nights in the area, but most of them will mosey on up to Halifax and Cape Breton, over to PEI to see the red-haired girl, and so forth.

Also, granted: a handful of Yarmouth residents will get work on the boat itself, or servicing it. But I still don’t think the subsidy makes financial sense.

All I’m saying is let’s spend the same dollar amount towards helping the south shore economy, but let’s spend in more intelligent ways. We could subsidize young people’s university tuition, or give them a living allowance to attend trade school. We could give all of Yarmouth free high-speed internet. We could start a revolving loan fund so people without capital can start small businesses. We could… [insert your own idea here].

I think we could simply toss 20 dollar bills from a helicopter above downtown Yarmouth and get a better return than we’re getting from the ferry.

5. Taxis

Yesterday, Halifax council spent four hours debating proposed changes in the bylaws regulating taxis. In the end, councillors approved the staff recommendation, as follows:

1. Prepare amendments to By-law T-1000 and Administrative Order 39, as identified in Attachment A of the staff report dated January 25, 2019 and including amendments to the Code of Conduct and clarity around the role of the Appeals Standing Committee as per section 3.3 of the Hara Report and recommendation 3.7 Appeals of License Suspension and Revocations, for Council’s consideration;
2. Prepare a supplementary report relative to regulating Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) such as Uber or Lyft; and
3. Request the Mayor write a letter to the Province to request the required amendments to the HRM Charter to enable the Municipality to provide business grants for vehicle purchase or conversion and to provide a subsidy, per trip fee, to all accessible taxi license holders.

You can read the details here. I meant to get into this in more detail this morning, but find I’m running out of time, so read Pam Berman’s or Zane Woodford’s reporting.

One thing I wanted to comment on, however, was the discussion of medallion holders.

Councillor Steve Craig made the argument explicitly yesterday, but it echoes comments I’ve long heard from other councillors and from the public generally: it’s unfair that people can own medallions when they’re not actually driving a taxi.

What happens is this: a young driver will get on the waitlist for a medallion (a licence to own a cab). Eventually, he (so far, they’ve all been men) will get that medallion (the waitlist is now 13 years), and continue driving. But as he gets older, he increasingly rents his car out, and eventually he doesn’t drive at all for many years. In his very old age, he sells the now very-valuable medallion for many tens of thousands of dollars, maybe even more.

This strikes many people as unfair: shouldn’t someone with a medallion actually be driving a taxi? And why should medallion holders get lots of money from renting their cars to hard-working drivers who are doing the hard work for less money?

Medallion holders will respond that the medallion is their route to retirement security. They spent their lives as hacks, working for daily fares, paying no money into a registered pension account, so the value of the medallion is the only thing they can rely on.

I’m not now commenting on that debate. I understand both sides of the argument.

But what strikes me is what we’re talking about — what people get upset about — is rent-seeking on the part of the medallion holders. The medallion holders are part of what Marxists call the rentier class — people who make money not through their own labour, but simply by ownership of productive means; they make money off other people’s labour. Members of the rentier class include bankers, landlords, owners of streaming apps, and so forth. So get upset about taxi medallion holders if you want, but shouldn’t you be levelling even more anger at landlords and bankers?

Taxi medallion holders are considered pure evil, and their unfair profiteering is condemned on the floor of the council chamber as councillors change the bylaws to punish the medallion holders. But landlords are fêted and dined, and their business acumen is praised on the floor of the council chamber as councillors change the bylaws so landlords can make even more money through rent-seeking.

6. Norman trial

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman. Photo: Canadian Navy

“The director of Canada’s federal prosecution service insisted Tuesday that the independent agency’s case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman has not been directed by the department which supports the Prime Minister’s Office,” reports Murray Brewster for the CBC:

Kathleen Roussel issued the statement after bombshell allegations were made in court this week — and after the judge hearing the breach of trust case against the military’s former second-in-command publicly questioned the impartiality of the Crown.

The federal government is fighting defence requests for the release of un-redacted notes from meetings between officials at the Privy Council Office (PCO) and Crown lawyers.

The timing of this controversy is particularly awkward for the Trudeau government. This morning, former Justice minister Jody Wilson Raybould announced her resignation from cabinet following a Globe and Mail report claiming she was pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to help the Quebec-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution.

7. January’s “Vehicle/Pedestrian Collisions” report

The Halifax police department yesterday release its Vehicle/Pedestrian Collisions report for January. Funny how it’s not a “Driver/Pedestrian Collisions” report, eh? Pedestrians are real people struck by inanimate machines without agency. Even the name of the report disparages pedestrians.

The report evidently isn’t completely up to date, as it doesn’t include the January 30 incident at Victoria Road and Thistle Street, which saw the pedestrian hospitalized and the driver ticketed.

In any event, using the report’s language and limited data set, there were 19 vehicle/pedestrian collisions in January, resulting in 19 pedestrians who were struck. The police vaguely classified the injuries: three were “minor,” three were “moderate,” two were “major,” and the remaining 11 involved no injury.

As a result of those 19 collisions, four drivers were ticketed; no pedestrians were ticketed.

Of the 19 incidents, 11 (57 per cent) involved pedestrians in the crosswalk; six were hit by drivers turning right and five were hit by drivers turning left.


Government

City

Wednesday

CANCELLED DUE TO WEATHER Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am, City Hall) — back to the police budget.

Thursday

Appeals Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — on November 27, 2018, police arrested taxi driver Seyed Abolghasem Sadat Lavasani Bozor for sexual assault. Problem is, because the police blotter isn’t made public, no one was told about it until January 8, when police issued the following release:

Police have charged a taxi driver with sexual assault in relation to an incident that occurred last year in Halifax.

At approximately 4:25 a.m. on September 17, 2018 police responded to a report of a sexual assault that occurred shortly after 2 a.m. in Halifax. A taxi driver drove two female passengers to a residence in Halifax and sexually assaulted one of the passengers, a woman in her twenties, while she was in the vehicle.

To protect the identity of the victim, we are not releasing the address where the sexual assault occurred.

As a result of the investigation, investigators from the Sexual Assault Investigation Team arrested the taxi driver on November 27 at 1975 Gottingen Street in Halifax without incident at approximately 1 p.m.

Seventy-four-year-old Seyed Abolghasem Sadat Lavasani Bozor of Halifax was charged with sexual assault and was scheduled to appear in Halifax Provincial Court today.

Between November 27 and January 8, Lavasani continued driving taxi. Only when the taxi regulators at City Hall were notified of the arrest on January 8 did they suspend his taxi driver’s licence.

Now, however, Lavasani is appealing his suspension. He wrote a letter to Halifax council’s Appeals Committee:

Dear Madams/Sirs:

I am appealing this decision to suspend my taxi licence #R 250 due to no other alternative means of employment due to my age.

Your kind understanding and concern is highly appreciated.

Best regards,

Seyed Abolghasem Sadat Lavasani

Recall that after taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi (the driver in the “a drunk can consent” case) was arrested, his licence was suspended but the Appeals Committee un-suspended it until he went to trial.

Design Review Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, City Hall) — there are no action items on the agenda.

Province

Wednesday

CANCELLED DUE TO WEATHER Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Information & Privacy Commissioner Catherine Tully will be asked about the security failure of the FOIPOP website.

Thursday

No public meetings.


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

CANCELLED DUE TO WEATHER Our Legal Relationship with Animals (Wednesday, 7pm, Room 104, Weldon Law Building) —  Jodi Lazare will talk.

CANCELLED DUE TO WEATHER Trombone, She Wrote: Music by Canadian Women Composers (Wednesday, 7pm, the Music Room, 6181 Lady Hammond Road) — Trombonist Dale Sorensen, percussionist D’Arcy Gray, and pianist Lynn Johnson will perform works by F. Jane Naylor, Monica Pearce, Barbara Pentland, Elizabeth Raum, and Barbara York. Tickets here.

Thursday

Newfangling Rounds: Sleep Apnea Therapy (Thursday, 8:30am, Bethune Ballroom, VG Site) — Hamed Hanafi from NovaResp Technologies will explain how new technology being developed here in Halifax can help patients with sleep apnea.

Marta Cerruti. Photo: mcgill.ca

What do diabetes and malaria have in common? (Thursday, 11:45am, theatre D, Tupper Building) — Marta Cerruti from McGill University will speak.

Ocean Frontier Institute grand opening of new lab space (Thursday, 1:30pm, Steele Ocean Sciences Building) — come see the new “incubators, freezers, chemical storage, fume hoods, a glassware washer and sterilizer, and multiple benches and microscope rooms.”

Suzie Currie. Photo: acadiau.ca

Climate Warming and Aquatic Ecosystems (Thursday, 7pm, in the Auditorium named after a bank, Marion McCain Building) — Suzie Currie from Acadia University will speak.

Concerto Night (Thursday, 7:30pm, Dunn Theatre) — Leonardo Perez conducts the Fountain School’s “finest musicians” with the Dalhousie Symphony Orchestra. $15.

Saint Mary’s

Wednesday

CANCELLED DUE TO WEATHER Used books and board games sale (Wednesday, 9am, Loyola Colonnade) — and a $2 lotto board, all in support of the United Way. Continues Thursday.


In the harbour

11:00: AlgoNorth, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Quebec City
23:00: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England


Footnotes

I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm. Depending on sidewalk conditions, I may be phoning in from home.

Thanks for Suzanne Rent for writing yesterday’s Morning File. If we can afford it, you’ll see other writers for Morning File once or twice a week moving forward. I really enjoy the different voices, and I hope you do too. But besides that, it frees up a bit of my time. For example, yesterday I still woke up at the same time (6am) and jumped right to work, but instead of writing Morning File, I finished editing and setting up Andrew D. Wright’s piece on Quadriga (a process that began several days ago).

I started the Halifax Examiner for several reasons, some of them selfish, but one big reason was to give other writers and reporters work. I’m glad that’s working out, at least to some extent. More subscriptions will of course result in more opportunity for other writers.


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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. On Divest Dal . . .
    George Carlin ranted in his famous monologue about how “the planet will be around long after we’re gone”. He neglected to consider the narrow zone which is the only environment in the entire universe in which we have evolved to live and the fragility of which will likely be the reason for our imminent departure.

  2. Taxi permits, aka “medallions” have become like bitcoins in Halifax. I am told that they carry and exchange value of thousands which is obviously far and above their actual cost. They should only be in the hands of active owner-operators and once that driver no longer drives should go back to the city for rightful and fair redistribution. No one should be able to rent a permit.
    I have heard lots of scuttlebutt about how these things are brokered and used to make non-operators lots of money off the backs of their “renters”. It would be interesting to really see a good invesitgative report done by a journalist on this dark under belly of the taxi industry in HRM.

    1. I agree. You cannot sell a liquor licence and comparing a landlord with a taxi driver is silly. A taxi driver should save a part of her/his earnings for his retirement just like a licensed plumber or electrician.

      1. A more apt comparison may be commercial fishing licenses. Try telling an aging lobster boat captain he (and it’s likely always a he) can’t sell his license and must surrender it to DFO.

        1. I thought they *had* recently changed rules about not being able to just sit on license and have somebody else fish it. A friend of mine recently told me that’s why his (retired fisherman) father had to sell his license to him (my friend, the fisherman’s son), because of that change in the rules about lobster licenses.

        2. An aging lobster boat captain is about as poor as someone with a significant pension. He has been given a licence to make money in an industry where entry is restricted and earns enough to live comfortably when fishing and when in retirement. I never understood why fishermen did not enter the processing business as a co-op or as a private business owned by several fishermen, and thus keeping the profits within the community.
          Anyone can become a landlord and is in a business where there is always competition.
          A licence is issued and belongs to government and the licence should be surrendered to the issuer when the licensee can no longer use the licence. Or government should auction licences and then allow the buyer to sell at any time.

        3. Technically under current DFO legislation licences are not transferable and must be surrendered to the crown. However a fisherman can request that a replacement licence be issued to an eligible person . DFO generally complies with the request provided the person receiving the reissued replacement licence meets certain conditions ….i.e. is a registered fisherman etc.