Jon Stone writes:
Thanks for sharing that wonderful video. It is inspiring to see what creative minds can do when faced with a challenge.
There have been some astonishinglynegativecomments posted on various web sites with respect to the recent generosity of the Fountain family in creating the endowment for Dalhousie’s performing arts program. The gist of much of the derogatory discussion was that there is no value in training people in performance skills.
Well, here is one excellent example of the value of performers to society. I won’t be surprised if this goes viral and breaks all records for fundraising for the Janeway.
[Update] Greg Lukeman points out a New Zealand children’s hospital fundraising video posted August 27, 2012, that may have provided inspiration for the creators of “Please Whatever Your Name Is” (posted May 15,. 2013).
Newfoundland has always had way better tourism ads than Nova Scotia (or pretty much anywhere else on the planet for that matter). Now it turns out they have way better children’s hospital ads, too. (Stay with this at least until the music starts, about five minutes in. Hilarious.)
[Video link]. H/T Calvert’s own Jenn Power.
Credits for the first music video ever produced in space include guitar and tenor vocals by Chris Hadfield (recorded on the International Space Station), plus terrestrial video production by Hadfield’s son Evan and TV producer Andrew Tidby, music production and mixing by music producer Joe Corcoran, with piano arrangements by Canadian singer-songwriter Emm Gryner. ”Space Oddity” was written by David Bowie and first performed by him in 1969, when Hadfield was 10 years old.
Who knows what this may inspire in the next generation of space enthusiasts.
This may be Astronaut Chris Hadfield’s last snapshot of Cape Breton Island from 370 km up, as he returns to Earth Monday evening via the steppes of Kazakhstan.
Hadfield’s tweeted comment: “The highlands of Cape Breton still wear the winter’s snow, sun highlighting the connecting waters.”
The May 5 image above is a rotated segment of a larger photograph you can download at its original resolution here. Previous snaps of Contrarian’s Primary Residences here and here. A world map with links to all Hadfield’s tweeted photos here.
What exactly happened between Percy Paris and Keith Colwell outside the MLAs’ washroom in Province House last Thursday night? Was it a “scuffle” (CBC, Global), an “alleged scuffle” (Metro, Globe and Mail), an “altercation” (Chronicle-Herald), an “incident” (CTV, Yarmouth Vanguard), a “bizarre incident” (CBC), a “fight” (Yahoo), a “kerfuffle” (also Yahoo), or even a “brawl” (SunNews).
“Brawl” seems way over the top, and to my ear, a term tinged with racism in this context. “Scuffle” and “altercation” seem about right.
“I guess there would be some physical contact,” said Inverness Conservative MLA Allan MacMaster, the one uninvolved eye-witness who has spoken about what took place. “I encouraged them to relax. I know things have been getting heated.”
Angry over criticism that his government was not doing enough to atone for past abuse at the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children, Paris apparently grabbed Colwell by the lapels and perhaps shoved him against a wall. Colwell admits he was unhurt, but said “I felt I was assaulted.” He also alleged Paris threatened him.
Colwell complained to the HRM Police, and the following day he told the House of Assembly, “I was assaulted and threatened by the minister of economic and rural development and tourism. This improper behaviour by the minister was quite clearly an execution of a threat and intimidation, an attempt to prevent me from performing my function as a legislator, elected representative for my constituents and member of this assembly.”
For his part, Paris told reporters he had briefly “lost his cool,” and the two men had “an animated exchange outside of the House.”
“I think most people that know me would say that Percy Paris is pretty cool most of the time,” he said “I regret that I lost my cool for a few seconds.”
Upon learning that Colwell called the police, Paris voluntarily went to the station and made a statement, after which he was charged with simple assault and uttering threats. By telephone from police headquarters, he resigned his cabinet posts.
We may learn a few more details once this gets to court, but it seems safe to reach a few conclusions:
- A minor but unbecoming altercation occurred between the two MLAs in which Paris got physical with Colwell for a few seconds. As assaults go, it was at the extreme low end of the spectrum.
- Colwell called the police and, the following day in the House, called the incident an act of “intimidation” and “an attempt to prevent me from performing my function as a legislator.” As reactions go, it was at the high end of the spectrum.
Others will disagree, but I would put Colwell’s behaviour somewhere between “overreaction” and “milking it.” In contrast, Paris manned up by, one, expressing regret for losing his cool, two, voluntarily giving police a statement that led them to lay minor charges against him; and three, resigning his cabinet posts.
Legislative debates should never get physical. But let’s keep this in perspective.
From the provincial (read: Halifax) media’s coverage of the latest trumped-up MLA expense scandal [detailed here], you almost get the impression reporters and editorialists think MLAs from far flung rural constituencies are a luxury Nova Scotia cannot afford.
Take the Chronicle-Herald’s overwrought assessment of the housing allotment for MLAs who live outside Halifax. The editorial ridicules the idea that any employer would provide “a $1,500 monthly housing allowance to lease a second residence near our workplace but only 40 kilometres from our home.”
I agree with Tory leader Jamie Baillie’s view that the 40-kilometre threshold dates from the “horse and buggy age,” and should be updated. But for all the Herald’s breast-beating, the problem seems to be hypothetical. The number of MLAs that close to Province House who claim the allowance is either zero, or close to zero. The CBC treated us to colourful clips from several nearby MLAs who have never claimed the allowance—Rev. Gary Burrill cited his need to “talk to my own dog every morning”—but I don’t recall hearing anyone who actually does maintain two abodes that close together. Who would want to?
So, yes, let’s concede that the threshold ought to be lengthened to, say, 80 kilometres. (I frequently drive 70 kilometres from Kempt Head to Sydney for work, and that feels like about the limit to me.) I doubt it will save much, but it’s a reasonable standard. Surely we don’t want MLAs regularly driving to Truro or Bridgewater after long days ending late at night, which is common for our legislators.
The Herald grudgingly concedes a need for “short-term housing for members who truly live too far away to commute,” as if this were a rare condition in a province that spans 750 kilometres from Bay St. Lawrence to Pubnico. Even then, says the outraged editorialist:
It should apply when the House is sitting and for a reasonable number of off-session days. MLAs don’t need Halifax housing year-round; indeed, those who are too rooted in the capital risk losing their allowance.
OK, let’s think this through. Over the last three full years, the legislature sat for an average of just over 68 days a year. Add anther 32 days (a figure I pulled out of thin air) for committee meetings, caucus sessions, legislative business, and various representations on behalf of constituents. It’s reasonable for a distant MLA to sleep 100 nights a year in Halifax. Will 100 nights in a hotel be cheaper than a $1500 apartment? Here, courtesy of Kayak.com, are the rack rates for the 15 hotels closest to Province House:
The average works out to $169 per night. Let’s assume the province could negotiate 15 percent off the rack rate, and the selected hotels could always provide the needed rooms. Add 7% GST (because the province would recoup its 8% portion of the HST), and the total comes to $15,364 for 100 nights, as opposed to a maximum of $18,000 for the rented apartment. By my count, with an 80-kilometre cutoff, about 27 MLAs would qualify for the rental subsidy. This would yield a total difference of $71,559 a year in a province that spends $9,500,000,000.
There’s lots of room to quibble with my figures. Maybe the province could negotiate a much bigger discount. Maybe there’s a Motel 6 in Enfield or Cole Harbour. But realistically, the difference between the two approaches is small, and I can see a lot of advantages in giving faraway MLAs a stable place to lay their heads in Halifax.
Is $70,000 a year really worth all this sanctimonious bloviating? No it’s not.
So what’s really happening here?
What’s happening is that citizens, reporters, and editorialists have fallen into the lazy belief that politicians are unscrupulous cheats, motivated solely by an inclination to rip off fellow citizens. That this false caricature has overtaken our concept of public service is a much bigger problem than whether Michel Samson spends 161 nights or 183 nights in Arichat.
There’s a lot less wrong with the rules governing housing allowances for MLAs from outside Halifax than reporters who rarely stray beyond the Armdale Rotary would have you believe. And there’s a lot less than saintly devotion to cost control in Speaker Gordie Gosse’s handling of the issue.
Richmond MLA Michel Samson’s living arrangements are full of the sort of ambiguities that professional couples face in the real world of life and work. He represents a constituency more than 300 kilometres from Halifax. To do his job properly requires him to spend significant amounts of time in both places. His wife, the lawyer Claudine Bardsley-Samson, works as manager of industrial relations for Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax. The couple have a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter who presumably needs to be settled in pre-school or day care.
Unless you believe Claudine should abandon her profession for a life of barefoot pregnancies in an Arichat kitchen, their situation requires some juggling. And the juggling the Samsons settled on was for Michel to spend more nights in Halifax than is typical for an MLA representing a faraway constituency. He retains his house in Arichat, but the family also rented a house in Halifax, with the MLAs’ housing allowance covering about half the rent.
When a CBC reporter, sensing a local version of the Mike Duffy scandal, put a series of aggressive questions to Samson about his living arrangements, the MLA asked the Legislature’s Conflict-of-Interest Commissioner and the House Speaker to review whether his housing expenses conformed to the rules.
The conflict commissioner, retired Supreme Court Justice Merlin Nunn, made short shrift of the reporter’s suspicions. In a letter you can find at the end of this post, he concluded there was nothing improper in Samson’s reimbursement for the Halifax dwelling. Nunn also directed a few pungent remarks at the CBC reporter who raised the issue:
[I]t is vitally important that our elected members are not open to public denouncement on the whim of a media member who, without first pursuing the necessary facts, raises a suspicion which is akin to serious issues in one or more other jurisdictions, knowing it will be scandal and embarrassment to the person involved.
We need the best members we can get and we must not put in their way a fear of baseless scandal and embarrassment brought on by immature and sensational reporting. Our elected members give up a great deal to serve the people of this province and should not be dishonoured to the public without a sound basis of facts to support the matter or claim being made.
Speaker Gosse somehow reached the opposite conclusion. He cut off Samson’s housing compensation. Gosse won’t explain the reasons, and we have only Samson’s report that Gosse counted (or miscounted) the number of nights the MLA slept in the Arichat home he owns and speculated about the living arrangements of the MLA’s wife and daughter, factors Justice Nunn correctly deemed irrelevant.
If this is true, Gosse was making things up as he went along, applying rules that do not exist and flagrantly sexist assumptions about the nature of marital-work tradeoffs.
Why might he do that?
Gosse is a New Democrat who faces a tough re-election fight after his Cape Breton Nova riding was lumped in with traditionally Liberal Cape Breton South. Samson faces a similar problem. His tiny protected Acadian riding of Richmond, which he won five times by margins ranging from 47 to 55 percent, disappeared in the recent redistricting. Richmond County is now combined with paper mill town of Port Hawkesbury, where the NDP has some strength (having spent hundreds of millions to revive the bankrupt mill). A prolonged controversy about whether Samson lives in the riding he represents could conceivably tip the scales.
Samson objected to Gosse’s ruling, purporting to find several errors in Gosse’s review of the facts. The speaker responded by referring the issue to Auditor General Jacques Lapointe.
Sounds fair, right? Until you discover that Gosse had already consulted Lapointe, giving him a perhaps skewed account of the facts, and obtaining his informal concurrence. In short, having found Samson guilty based on rules and tests that do not exist, Gosse had a choice of referring the matter to the Conflict Commissioner (who he knew agreed with Samson) or the AG (who had already publicly agreed with Gosse, and who revels in scolding elected officials for their moral failings, real and exaggerated). He chose Lapointe.
When the MLAs’ expense scandal broke a few months after the NDP took power, Premier Darrell Dexter’s petulant reaction demolished the NDP’s not-like-the-others image. Now, with the days running out on its first term, the NDP has begun pandering to public hostility toward politicians. They’ve made a big show of retroactively confiscating disgraced MLA Trevor Zinck’s pension—a matter that clearly ought to be decided in the courts. Now their caucus-attending speaker is retroactively applying rules that never existed to shame an opposition member who has nothing to be ashamed of. And the media scolds are delighted to pile on.
More to come. And after the jump, Nunn’s letter.
Here’s a nice touch: As part of the promotion for the Savoy Theatre’s forthcoming production of Les Misérables (May 24 to 29), the Cape Breton Post and Seaside Communications have put together a video describing the Savoy’s fascinating history and architecture:
The narrator, Steve “Beak” MacDonald, pretty much grew up with the Savoy. His parents, Scotchie and Mary Marsh MacDonald, were major supporters of the theatre when it hosted Rotary Club musicals in the 1960s and ’70s. Actors, musicians, and crew members associated with the productions were often billeted in the MacDonalds’ home on Sydney’s Wentworth Park.
Here’s an image of the theatre entrance from decades gone by:
Video production by Jason LeFrense and Brandon Ferguson of Seaside. (Disclosure: Seaside is a client and Beak is a friend.)