Tagged: Halifax

How phoney scandals poison democracy

Moments after Auditor General Jacques Lapointe’s decision confirming Richmond MLA Michel Samson’s eligibility for an outside member’s housing allowance, but denying his current claim on the slenderest technicality, NDP House Leader Frank Corbett rushed out a news release.

In it, he falsely stated that Lapointe had found “Samson lives in both Halifax and Arichat and as a result his residency cannot be the basis of providing a housing allowance to Samson.” [Contrarian’s emphasis]

There are many things not to like in Lapointe’s decision, among them, the time and ink he wasted dreaming up residency tests not found in any legislation governing MLAs’ allowances. Nevertheless, he eventually acknowledged that the only test with legal weight confirms Samson’s entitlement to the Outside Member’s Allowance.

It’s true that along the way to this self-evident conclusion, Lapointe mused that Samson “lives in both locations.” Yes, and so do the 29 other MLAs who claim an outside allowance—17 of them New Democrats. Their jobs require them to live in two places. Conflict Commissioner and retired Supreme Court Justice Merlin Nunn nailed this months ago when Samson referred the matter to him days after a scandal-aspiring CBC reporter floated the bogus issue.

It is very important to understand that we have had, and will have, members elected to our Legislature from rural areas. They are required to work in two areas, their constituency and Halifax, for Legislature and constituency matters. To do so they must leave their homes and area for both short and extended periods of lime. Recognizing this, the House Rules provide for certain reimbursements to offset the extra costs involved.

In the end, Lapointe denied Samson the bona fide expenses his job requires, not because of where he lives (or where his wife lives, in the sexist reasoning of the CBC and the NDP), but because his Halifax abode is a house not an “apartment,” the word used in the regulation. As everyone now acknowledges, the word “apartment” was chosen not out of any preference for dwelling type, but to ensure MLAs only claim reimbursement for rental spaces, not real estate in which they are building ownership.

Frank-Corbett-Maureen MacDonaldEven the hyper-partisan Corbett recognized this when he said the rule, “prevents an elected official from using their housing allowance to pay for mortgages for themselves or their associates.” Then, brazenly, he rejected any plan to clarify the wording, “so that taxpayers are not left paying the mortgage for MLAs or their friends and then have to watch as they profit from the resale of property.”

In an interview with Contrarian last May, Samson categorically denied he has any equity in the Halifax house he rents from a Richmond County associate, insisting the terms are a standard rental arrangement. If Corbett has evidence to the contrary, he hasn’t provided it. He refuses to clarify the rule in a way that would focus on the distinction that matters, between rentals and mortgage payments, while clinging to the meaningless distinction between an apartment and a house, because it conveniently gores a Liberal ox.

In one of her least distinguished moments in the public sphere, Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald, who knows better, parroted the same party line.

Lapointe, Corbett, and MacDonald ought to consider the damage they are doing to public confidence in the democratic process—Lapointe with his querulous nit-picking; Corbett and MacDonald with their poisonous partisanship. Commissioner Nunn recognized the danger straightaway:

To be perfectly clear, yes, these reimbursement claims must be honest and made only when warranted.

However it is vitally important that our elected members of our Legislature 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 oriented reporting. Our elected members give up a great deal to serve the people of this Province and should not be dishonoured to the public in any way without a sound basis of facts to support the matter or claim being made.

I am not using a “kill the messenger” approach but rather the approach that the “messenger bring the correct message.” Otherwise, over time, we will have fewer capable and desirable people offering to represent the public in a constituency to the detriment and loss of the whole Province.

Corbett’s release got one other crucial point wrong: after an election, he may not be the house leader who makes the final decision on any clarification of MLA expense rules. He may be sitting on an opposition bench, or even a park bench.

Move along, Nova Scotia, nothing to see here

Our friend the curmudgeon has been quiet for a while, but the spectre of Detroit’s decayed grandeur propelled him to the keyboard:

Move along, Nova Scotians. There’s nothing for you to see in the grotesque collapse of the city of Detroit. Keep your focus on rural development.

Don’t worry about Halifax. It’s wealthy beyond imagination. There’s nothing wrong with its downtown that arresting a few panhandlers won’t fix. Avoid tall buildings; spread out instead. Never mind that only seven of 16 HRM electoral districts are genuinely urban. You can count on the other nine councillors to keep the urban centre healthy and attractive to outsiders from around the world.

It’s far better to resist the global migration to cities, with their greater opportunity and environmental sustainability. Every effort should be made to help country folk maintain their invaluable lifestyles. God forbid their children should leave home to seek their fortunes, knowing they’ll be welcomed back only if they can be judged as failures.

For the genteel squire, let not the scourge of renewable energy destroy their sight-lines, and nay, let not the gypsum for their summer houses come from local mines. Let them fertilize their hobby fields of elephant garlic with wholesome raw animal feces. May they stand firm against the loathsome tide of treated excrement from city dwellers.

Oh, and beware come-from-aways trying to turn derelict buildings into businesses. They know nothing about local ways.


Address your comments to comment[at]contrarian.ca.


Real world vs. Facebook’s world vs. Google’s world — Updated

Black Island Kempt Head

Facebook continually pesters me to entrer the “city” where I live, but rejects Kempt Head, Ross Ferry, Boularderie, and Cape Breton all of which are more-or-less accurate. It will allow me to enter Halifax, Sydney, or Baddeck, none of which is accurate.

Contrast this with Google, which embraces locations with admirable granularity. Google effortlessly adopts islands, villages, hamlets—even micro-locations like Frankie’s Pond and Parker’s Beach—as long as it sees real people using them.

This may seem a small thing, but it strikes me as a profound difference in the cultures of the two organizations. One constantly cajoles you into ill-fitting pigeonholes. The other looks at what you and those around you are actually doing, and continually updates and adjusts to this new information.

(Photos: Above: Black Island (in Gaelic, Island Dhu), Kempt Head, in the real world. Below: Black Island, Kempt Head, on Google Maps.)

Black Island


Marla Cranston points out the Purcell’s Cove dies not exist in Facebook World.

If Calvert, NL, native Jenn Power were so inclined, she could list Ferryland as her home town, but this would be like asking her to accept Big 8 in place of Diet Coke. Far worse, actually.

Newly minted Margaree Centre resident Stephen Mills cannot list that village as his current residence, but Facebook World does allow “Margaree,” a community that, as Mills points out, does not actually exist.

There is no plain “Margaree” —— just the directional or topographic variations: North East Margaree, Margaree Valley, etc.

Interestingly, Mills contends that

[A]ll the Margarees were a bureucratic decision at some point. Names like Frizzelton and Fordview described the locations at one point.


Highway 103 between Halifax and Bridgewater is surely the dullest drive in Nova Scotia. For the last three or four years, motorists forced to traverse its dreary confines have enjoyed momentary comic relief near the Tantallon exit, in the form of a car-sized, more-or-less cubical rock outcropping, painted as a Rubik’s Cube.

Rubric one LR

“A jumbled Rubik’s Cube fixed in stone, really heavy stone,” said West Dublin resident Peter Barss, who waxed philoshical about its deeper artistic significance:

A monumental monument to confusion and frustration? A puzzle that never changes… and can never be solved? An implied order, an order that can never be realized? A metaphysical statement about some absolute truth about the universe?

This week, the nerdish joke got better when someone — Glooscap? Giant MacAskill?  — solved the cube.

Rubik's two

Contrarian does not condone the defacement of Nova Scota granite, but we are prepared to make an exception in this case.

And now, Halifax — updated and corrected

Having already photographed Kempt Head, Cmdr. Chris Hadfield turns his attention to less important parts of Nova Scotia:


Hadfield has now photographed both of Contrarian’s official residences. The universe is unfolding as it should.

[UPDATE] Oops! A Twitter user with a Suessian pseudonym points out that Hadfield passed over, and photographed, Halifax on January 2:


[Click these images for larger versions.]

Turning a page – [Updated]

A couple of deft touches in Monday night’s swearing-in ceremony for CBRM’s new mayor and council hint at Cecil Clarke’s potential to be a transformative mayor for the island’s predominant municipality. [See update below.]


The first is a small thing: the musicians Clarke has chosen for the event are (1) young and (2) non-Celtic. This marks a departure from the cliched tartanism that usually dominates such affairs. Check out headliner Kyle Mischiek’s rap-remix of “We are an Island” on YouTube and iTunes. The freshening up of a slightly dowdy Cape Breton chestnut will bring welcome symbolic value to the ceremony.


The second is a far more dramatic signal: Clarke’s choice of a clergyman to deliver the invocation prayer for the event is Fr. Paul Abbass, the once beleaguered, now vindicated executive director of Talbot House. With this vivid gesture of compassion and solidarity, the new mayor will lead the community in a public laying on of hands to mark Abbass’s restoration from the cruel purgatory inflicted on him by the Department of Community Services. As a friend said, on hearing of Clarke’s choice, “That’s leadership!”

It is, and it’s a quality in desperately short supply these last dozen years.

I pretend to no objectivity in these matters. I played a small peripheral role in Clarke’s election campaign. I had no use for his predecessor, who doubled down on a self-defeating culture of defiance coupled with dependency. I’ve made no secret of my repugnance at Community Service’s furtive campaign of vilification against Abbass.


For future discussion: 12 years of crowd-pleasing attacks on “Halifax,” coupled with shameless demands for ever-bigger handouts from the same symbolic city, have widened the gulf between the island and the province. Both regions must shoulder some responsibility for allowing two solitudes to develop—political cultures who show little understanding of, and less curiosity about, each other’s positions, priorities, and interests.

One sign of this was official Halifax’s assumption that the Talbot House board consisted of incompetent rubes, when passing familiarity with Cape Breton would have alerted them to the solid record of achievement and stature among the recovery centre’s directors. Another was the inability of Cape Breton’s most important municipal leader to alert the the provincial government to the injustice unfolding at Community Services.

Clarke is an ambitious man whose sights are set higher than the Civic Centre on Sydney’s Esplanade. His new job offers a unique chance to make his mark. He has the leadership skills to inspire an ill-governed community, too long mired in real and imagined past grievances, to refocus on future possibilities. He has the governing and networking chops to pursue those possibilities with optimism, tempered by realism.

I’m betting he won’t squander this opportunity.

[Update] A few readers have taken the second-to-last paragraph above to mean that I am, as one put it, “in the know about Cecil’s future political ambitions – aka, his plan to run for federal office, if he has one.” Absolutely not. I do know, because I was present, that some campaign workers sought assurance before the start of the campaign that Clarke would serve out his full term as mayor. Clarke committed to that, and he repeated the commitment publicly many times during the campaign.

Cities made of government glass shouldn’t cast stones

Like many Cape Bretoners, I cringe when fellow islanders, egged on by CBRM’s outgoing mayor, blame all our problems on Halifax. It’s unbecoming, it’s untrue, and it’s a lazy excuse for avoiding the hard work of re-imagining Cape Breton’s economy.

Just for the moment, however, I’m more annoyed by the volley of stones hurled these last 24 hours from the glass mansions of our capital city at the Dexter Government’s on-again, off-again, on-again rescue of the paper mill in Point Tupper, Richmond County.

There’s no question Dexter made a huge gamble on this bailout.* It’s natural for taxpayers to be nervous. No doubt Dexter himself harbours private doubts. How it all turns out only time will tell.

But the kneejerk assumption that any economic development spending outside HRM is by its nature a boondoggle, and the snide, supercillious tone of the spearchuckers—well, it’s beyond galling.

Forgive us for reminding you that Halifax swims in government cash. It is home to the head offices of every provincial department and most provincial agencies; to the Canadian military; to the regional headquarters of countless federal departments; to the province’s major hospitals; to a fistful of tax-supported universities. Government teats hang from every lamppost on the peninsula.

So why is it reckless and foolhardy to spend $125 million preserving the 1,600 jobs that depend on one of the most advanced paper machines in the world, but an act of statesmanlike foresight to spend $25 billion on warships for a country that hasn’t fought a naval battle in 67 years?

That’s $40 on Halifax ships for every one dollar to preserve a paper mill four counties depend on.

Last October, I didn’t hear a single resident of Antigonish, Guysborough, Richmond, or Inverness Counties complain about the use of their tax dollars to build those Halifax ships. Maybe the good burghers of HRM (where I reside part time) could have the grace to attenuate their pieholes for a brief interlude.

* Disclosure: I played a small, peripheral role in the paper mill saga, helping Richmond County communicate its position on municipal taxes over the last few weeks. The views expressed here are mine.

Meaningful WTCC consultation? Or PR frippery?

Spoken word artist and social advocate Ardath Whynacht won’t be taking part in the public consultations  MT&L and Myrgan Inc. are conducting to smooth the way for Joe Ramia’s controversy-plagued Nova Centre in downtown Halifax. Her post at the Halifax Media Co-op website didn’t mince words:

To engage a single demographic in an orchestrated PR stunt, letting them believe that Joe Ramia and his development cronies will actually entertain the idea of having an after-school drop in centre in their luxury hotel is a crime against democracy. It is a lie. Consultation without a commitment to listen to the citizens is a PR stunt. And I believe too many Haligonians are being fooled into thinking that this process is legitimate.

Our food bank is broke. Youth programs are cut. Addictions services are being shut down. So to be honest, for all the facilitators who are turning a pretty buck off this consultation, you can take your Nova Centre and shove it up your “it’s gonna happen anyway, so let’s make it beautiful” bourgeoisie ass.

I get the sentiment. The cute, hand-drawn consultation flow chart on the chain link fence surrounding the Argyle Street construction demolition site seems too slick by half. Nevertheless, the public has responded with surprisingly insightful if epigrammatic suggestions in the tiny cards the PR campaigners provided.

I can’t make up my mind about the Nova Centre. The city and the province need spaces capable of housing top-notch conferences and conventions, but with tens of millions in subsidies, government has put its thumb on the scale of office and hotel construction in the city for a generation to come. Future property developers will face a market in which Ramia has been given an artificial leg up, while they must play by the rules of supply and demand.

I don’t worry so much about the view from Citadel Hill as about what this massive building will do to one of the most successful commercial streets in Atlantic Canada. The wonderful collection of bars, bistros, and restaurants along Argyle St. will benefit from visitors, workers, and residents drawn to the street, but do they really need a 210-foot wall blocking the sun, the moon, and the sky? Will an unfriendly first storey replicate the calamitous Granville Street MetroPark that Kate Carmichael fought with her dying breath? Or the Nova Scotia Government’s more recent architectural vandalism in the form of the empty Barrington Street facade of the Johnston Building?

It would be nice to believe a genuine public consultation could head off such monstrosities. Time will tell.

H/T: SP.

Happy Canada Day

The much anticipated fireworks display over Halifax proved an austere celebration. They were fun while they lasted, about 12 minutes, and the cheerful, appreciative, harbourside crowd was a delight.

This cheerfulness, a certain joie de vivre, has a leavening effect on patriotism, an emotion that, left unchecked, can be unpleasant and dangerous.

In that spirit, I point out that, over the last 24 hours, we’ve had the Canadian Women’s Soccer Team don Tory blue jerseys for their pre-Canada Day bout with the Yanks, and the managing editor of the National Post tweeted his outrage that the Globe and Mail occasionally publishes op-ed pieces by moderate-left New Democrat organizer, pundit, and genocide expert, Gerry Caplan.

Leave the public stage for exclusive use by the cranky and aggrieved right wing, is apparently Jonathan Kay’s concept of journalistic virtue, one his journal implements with rigor.

Yet, somehow, the nation survives. Happy Canada, everyone, most especially Mr. Kay.

H/T: BC.  Photo: Sarah Kate Marsh (@sarahkatemarsh).

HRM Transit Commison, please note

The town of Torshavn, pop. 20,000, capital of the Faroes Islands, now features wifi aboard its city buses.


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