Short Snappers from the doggiest days of summer…

Tim Houston’s friends, Bay Ferries’ numbers, and the end of People’s Park is the beginning of…

a man gesturing in front of Nova Scotia flags
Premier Tim Houston Feb. 23, 2022. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

What friends are for…

Well, that went well.

On August 10, barely two weeks after announcing he had appointed two of his personally chosen, personal friends of many years to head up two new Crown corporations — at up to $18,000 a month for their part-time troubles — Premier Tim Houston reluctantly accepted the resignation of one of his buddies.

Tom Hickey, the CEO of Atlantic Road Construction and Paving Ltd., who had been tapped to head up something called Invest Nova Scotia, decided to step down almost before he stepped up.

As my colleague Zane Woodford noted at the time of his appointment:

One of the “personal friends” Premier Tim Houston appointed to look after consolidated Crown corporations is also the owner of a company associated with the application to infill Dartmouth Cove.

Invest Nova Scotia, reporting to Economic Development Minister Susan Corkum-Greek, is taking over the work of Nova Scotia Business Inc. (NSBI) and Innovacorp. It will hand out loans and try to recruit businesses to Nova Scotia.

Hickey was appointed to NSBI’s board in 2015, with a news release touting his business acumen and noting he’s originally from Glace Bay, “where he maintains the head office for Atlantic Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, which services Atlantic Canada.

“Mr. Hickey is also president and CEO of T. Hickey Enterprises, which has been operating since 2001. T. Hickey Enterprises has 13 operating companies under his management. He is also CEO of Atlantic Road Construction and Paving Ltd.”

Astute veteran legislature reporter Brian Flinn noted in that the many and various interconnections among the business and political elites in a province the size of Nova Scotia inevitably create, at the least, the perception of conflict:

Premier Tim Houston’s announcement … that he has disbanded five board-led Crown corporations ends the separation between politicians and gravy that was gradually institutionalized under previous governments.

…Any assistance or projects directed to government friends or constituencies will look like favouritism.

Former premier John Hamm understood that when he launched Nova Scotia Business Inc. in 2001. He decided to take the issue of political interference off the table by placing payroll rebates and other incentives under the direction of a private sector-led board…

… Subsequent NDP and Liberal governments incrementally dismantled the slush fund and improved transparency. Former premier Stephen McNeil said politicians shouldn’t pick winners and losers…

Houston bristled at a suggestion Tuesday that he is putting himself back in that position. He called it a “ridiculous question.”

But maybe it’s not such a ridiculous question.

Economic Development Minister Susan Corkum-Greek told CBC News Hickey’s decision was based on reevaluating his own business dealings and “a particular acquisition that he is finalizing right now… He ultimately realized that he did not have the time to give to the work that’s needed.”

Hickey’s abrupt resignation should give Tim Houston a second chance to make a better first impression.

Why not actually invite applicants for what the premier himself claims is a vitally important role instead of simply handpicking another friend?

Surely, there must be qualified candidates Tim Houston doesn’t count as his personal friends?

Yarmouth ferry

When today’s news is bad, talk about tomorrow… until tomorrow becomes yesterday and the news doesn’t get better.

Stand by.

Earlier this summer, Bay Ferries was forced/shamed by Tim Houston’s this-was-not-our-contract government into releasing monthly passenger numbers for the heavily subsidized Yarmouth-Bar Harbor summer ferry service.

In its latest release, Bay Ferries says… uh, it expects the numbers to get better.

For now, the numbers are the numbers. As of August 1, the ferry has carried 15,620 passengers and 6,462 vehicles. During July, it sold 8,070 tickets, bringing the total for the season so far to 28,538.

Meaning… Oh, dear.

Bay Ferries itself is now estimating it will finish the season, having carried between 37,000 and 44,000 passengers. That’s already 2,000 fewer than the total it estimated on July 5. And very close to the 35,551 passengers the ferry ferried in 2016, the year it replaced a ferry operated by Nova Star Cruises.

After three seasons of subsidized non-service — mostly COVID related but also one season-crushing mess of its own making — The CAT is back, and we are back to the beginning.

But never fear. There is always August, traditionally a stronger month than July. The company expects to carry up to 16,000 more passengers this month.

We shall see.

“The market continues to evolve,” Bay Ferries explained in a statement. “We continue to notice cautiousness in the market with the majority of our customers booking and travelling within a two- to three-week advance window.”

We already know, of course, that whatever the passenger numbers end up ending up, the company will still collect another $17 million from the province’s taxpayers when all is done and docked.

The only real question left to answer is just how much we will be subsidizing each passenger’s passage.

A former homeless encampment in a park is seen through a fence with a sign, "Park Closed for Maintenance." Behind the fence are other signs, "Dear City Council" and "People's Park."
Meagher Park fenced in on Friday morning. — Photo: Zane Woodford

People’s Park

So, now there’s a fence around People’s Park, and the people who were there are no longer there.

Who won? Who lost? What’s it all mean? Where’s it going? The answers seem to depend on who’s doing the speaking,

Halifax Regional Police praised themselves for the fact this eviction of the homeless from their temporary homes didn’t end in riot gear, pepper spray and violence — as did the previous one. “HRP officers took a patient, measured and supportive approach throughout as the process unfolded while acting in a supportive capacity,” declaring the early morning police statement announcing the closure of this unsanctioned shelter.

Halifax Peninsula North Coun. Lindell Smith simply declared himself pleased the potential face off had ended in “a peaceful and collaborative manner.”

But P.A.D.S. Community Advocacy Network, an advocacy group supporting the homeless said its members “are concerned some of the people who relocated from the park did so out of fear of police violence, given the police and contracted security surveillance activities in and around the park over the past several days. These intimidation tactics do not constitute a peaceful approach to closing down the park, nor are they part of the joint statement recommendations from service providers and advocacy groups released on August 5th.”

Zachary Gough, a spokesperson for Halifax Mutual Aid, another organization helping the park’s residents, blamed the city for escalating “a campaign of intimidation and threats of violence against those sheltering at the park” over the last several months, “which eventually resulted in every resident fleeing the site.”

Calista Hills, a volunteer who works with residents at Meagher Park, told Global News in a text message interview that some of the displaced residents have “moved to other green spaces or parks in the city, a couple have secured hotel stays and some aren’t sure where they will go.”

People’s Park may be gone, but the issues that created it are far from settled.


A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner

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