Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Don Mills

I read Don Mills’ recent opinion piece in the Chronicle Herald because I thought Don Mills was a mixed-use neighborhood in Toronto and was intrigued by what it might have to say about well…anything.

My disappointment in discovering Don Mills was actually just a person was lessened when I realized he was a person in possession of the solution to the Maritimes’ chronic economic woes. He says we should “focus on becoming less dependent upon equalization.”


Shops in Don Mills, Ontario.

Shops in Don Mills, Ontario. (Photo by Jeff Hitchcock from Seattle, WA, USA, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Why didn’t I think of that? Perhaps because I am not a “recognized expert in data trends in Atlantic Canada” (nor a mixed-use Toronto neighborhood) like Don Mills.

Becoming less dependent on equalization, for Mills, means fracking shale gas and building pipelines, which makes me suspect that expertise in data trends doesn’t equal expertise in other trends — like the one away from fossil fuels that makes investing in them in 2020 the equivalent of buying a horse-and-buggy dealership in 1910.

And that’s not just me talking — that’s freaking Morgan Stanley:

From 2004 to 2014, renewable energy investments increased from $45 billion to over $270 billion. During this same period, renewable energy accounted for 48% of global new-generating capacity, increasing the global share of renewable energy for electricity to over 9% and creating opportunity for investors.

Not addressing a portfolio’s exposure to fossil-fuel-related assets can also pose risks. The Institute’s brief notes that environmental risk factors could strand fossil-fuel assets in a range of sectors, leaving investors exposed to unanticipated write-downs, devaluations or conversion to liabilities.

I’m pretending I actually expected Mills to have something of value to say because it amuses me to do so (and on Thursdays, I largely amuse myself) but he actually lost me early on, when he said this of — wait, I want you to guess which Canadian province he’s discussing:

[T]he province…failed to properly manage its own financial affairs over a long period of time and squandered the wealth generated by its oil and gas sector.

Alberta, right? Clearly, Alberta.

No, Mills is talking about Newfoundland and Labrador which was a “have” province for all of what? Ten minutes in the mid ’00s? He doesn’t say boo about Alberta’s incredible shrinking Heritage Fund. Which is why I just did.

In future, I think I’ll stick to reading opinion pieces by Parkdale.


Talking back

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

I was in Glace Bay on Thursday morning taping an interview with Dave Wilson for his morning show on The Coast 89.7 FM. (I believe it was to be broadcast today but it will also be available in podcast form if you’re interested.)

I had never met Wilson but am really glad I finally did because we had a great discussion. (And I learned a few things, like, CJCB’s Talkback — which Wilson hosted for 13 years — didn’t air in summer because the lines would be tied up by prank calls from vacationing school children. That is the kind of fact I love to know and which will now occupy pride of place in the corner of my brain that should be remembering the PIN for my Microsoft account.)

I asked Wilson if I could turn the tables and interview him for the Spectator and he agreed, so I’m going to make that happen in the New Year. His perspective is unique — he’s been a journalist and a politician, he even survived scandal as a politician and returned to broadcasting. He’s got thoughts on all of this, I can tell, and I look forward to hearing them.


The Wheels on the Bus

CBRM Transit bus (Photo by George Mortimer, CBC)

I did not take the Ashby bus but this is the best photo I could find — it’s by the CBC’s George Mortimer.

Did I mention I was in Glace Bay on Thursday?

I could have done the interview with Wilson by phone but I had already decided I needed to get out more — and after writing this week about CBU students who live off campus and rely on public transit to get to school, I decided it would be good for me to take the bus.

It went pretty smoothly, except that I almost missed the bus at Dorchester Street and I hadn’t read the CBRM news release about the new “transit hub” at CBU so didn’t know I had to get off the Glace Bay bus and board the Sydney bus on the return trip. (The driver had to make “move along’ motions with his arm to get me off.) I also took an earlier bus than I needed to because I got confused by the timetables (there are “Express” buses now that run from Sydney to CBU, and Glace Bay to CBU as well as the regular Sydney-Glace Bay bus) and so arrived in Glace Bay an hour before I needed to be there. It was fine, though, I worked happily at a Tim Hortons for an hour, except for an anxious moment when I heard someone say Bob Dylan was dead (“Overheard in a Glace Bay Tim Hortons”). This turned out not to be true.

I’d give myself 6 out of 10 for this morning’s performance but next time, I intend to nail it.


Low blows

It’s been funny watching Americans discover Loblaws this week, thanks to the revelation that Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg  consulted for the Canadian grocery chain during his days with McKinsey.

Many of the Americans I follow on Twitter immediately made the link to Bob Loblaw (pronounced “Blah-blah-blah”), the Bluth family attorney played by Scott Baio on Arrested Development. (This tells you all you need to know about the Americans I follow on Twitter.)

But the story itself isn’t really funny, first of all because Buttigieg, as Molly Redden explained for HuffPo:

…spent much of 2008 in a Toronto conference room at Loblaws analyzing its grocery prices — during a time the supermarket chain has admitted to methodically and illegally colluding to raise the price of bread.

The Buttigieg campaign said his consulting work was unrelated to what Redden terms the:

…massive, decade-plus scheme in which the supermarket and the country’s largest bakers illegally fixed the price of bread.

As Heidi Janes explained in a recent (and really good) article in The Independent, Loblaws is a subsidiary of George Weston Ltd, as are Choice Properties and Weston Foods, so Loblaws was involved in both the retail and the supply end of the bread scandal because one of the suppliers involved was Weston Bakeries.

Janes’ article about Loblaws is much more important — and disturbing — than any revelations about Buttigieg. She writes about workers at the company’s Dominion grocery stores in Newfoundland and Labrador who can’t afford to buy the food they’re selling because Loblaws is busy converting full-time positions to part-time:

Dominion employees are represented by Unifor, making them the only unionized food retailers in the province. But since their collective agreement with the company expired on October 28, 2019, Loblaw has refused to revisit an aggressive cut in full-time positions which paid a higher wage, provided access to benefits like paid sick days, and short- and long-term disability. Since a campaign began in June to reduce 20% of remaining full-time positions to part-time through buyouts and offers of early retirement to staff in 11 stores across the province, 83% of positions are now on part-time schedules that make it difficult to qualify for health benefits and which pay an average of just $12.75 an hour.

Of the 1,336 Dominion staff represented by Unifor Local 597, 43% make under $12.00 per hour. 32% of the entire staff make minimum wage—which is the second lowest in the country at $11.40 an hour.

Janes reports that the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has pegged a living wage in St. John’s at $18.85 and notes that the average wage paid Dominion’s full-time employees actually surpasses this, at $19.43 — but the average wage for all positions is $13.88. Hence the motivation to dispense with full-time positions.

Janes also notes that while the average Dominion worker is making $13.88 an hour:

Last year, Galen Weston Jr.’s salary for his positions as Weston’s Chairman and CEO, as well as the same positions for Loblaw, was $7,928,555 in aggregate from both companies according to Weston’s official proxy. Over half this salary came from Loblaw. In 2017, the year he took over at Weston from his father Galen Weston Sr., he was paid a total of $6,016,770. His 2015 salary, paid solely from Loblaw, was $8,485,197.

We’re often told that income inequality is more an American than a Canadian phenomenon but that’s some pretty stark homegrown inequality.

Janes looks at the poverty and food insecurity that go hand-in-hand with precarious, part-time work and explores possible solutions — particularly, a higher minimum wage. I really can’t recommend the piece enough, it’s a very informative read.


Acting Mayors

I know the Oscars aren’t until March and I don’t even think there is an Oscar for “Best Performance by an Atlantic Canadian Mayor in a 1-minute Christmas Video” but if there were, we’d have a couple of strong Nova Scotian contenders this year, let me tell you.

Don’t bother making popcorn, it will be over before you can eat more than five kernels, but enjoy: