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Stephen McNeil: Canada’s Most Underrated Premier?

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I’ve watched cynical people govern our province for decades.

Politicians who fixated on polls, by-elections and the “political angle” of decisions. Officials who cared more about personal re-election than dealing with the deep, systemic issues they promised to fix.

They governed for personal re-election. That was the goal.

Stephen McNeil is the first premier in my lifetime to make this province richer and more populous than when he took office.

He’s the first premier in my lifetime to deliver balanced budgets, allowing public money to go towards services, not creditors and big banks. Since he took office, our credit rating has been upgraded several times, freeing up millions of new dollars every year for vital services like healthcare and education.

For generations, young people fled this province. Thousands a year. They built the skyscrapers in Toronto and the oilfields in Alberta. 

Every Premier in living memory promised to fix youth out-migration. Every single one failed, with one exception. We didn’t just stop the out-migration. We are not a net-recipient of young people. That’s a HUGE deal. 

Every Premier in living memory also promised to grow immigration, both internationally and interprovincially. They had some success on this file, but young people remained our largest export. Under McNeil, immigration has grown to the highest level in Nova Scotia history. We’ve become a magnet for Canadians from other provinces. And no, they aren’t all “oil patch kids who came back after the bust”. Since 2015, Albertans have constituted about 25% of interprovincial migrants. That’s substantial, but far from the only driver.

If you want to actually fix healthcare, internal and international immigration is the best long-term solution. The sad truth is, there just aren’t enough taxpayers to meet demand. The only other substantive solution I can think of would be tying federal transfer payments to healthcare demand, which will probably never happen (but hopefully will). The “ideas” put forward by politicians like Tim Houston and Gary Burrill mostly deal with re-naming things and shuffling bureaucrats. I’ve yet to see a quality proposal that is both viable and substantive from either of them in the past 6 years.

It’s sad to see Tim Houston run a vapid campaign that targets voters on almost solely on healthcare without providing any actual solutions. Doug Ford did this with the breathless repeating of the “Hallway Healthcare” line. Did he actually fix anything once he got in? No, of course not. That’s not the point. The point is getting elected. The government is a complex, multibillion-dollar institution that employs tens of thousands of people. You can’t fix it with clever slogans or smart PR people.

I find Tim’s approach to be very cynical, but I’ll readily admit that It’s very smart politics. If I were his communications director, I’d double down on it. It’s much easier to run on “FIX HEALTHCARE NOW!” than “Let’s increase international exports, renegotiate vague and outdated contracts, reduce net debt to GDP and increase funding for the AIPP”.¬† It’s just a very obvious carbon copy of the politics we had prior to McNeil.

And yes, “A doctor for every Nova Scotians” was a horrible line and should have never been said. But saying a dumb thing 6 years ago doesn’t discount all the progress being made on healthcare. It’s not about vague “pledges” or sloganeering. It’s about investing in healthcare infrastructure and doctor recruitment. Those things take years. They aren’t sexy. But that’s just the sad truth. Healthcare isn’t an issue because of the NSHA or Randy Delorey. It has more to do with us being the third oldest jurisdiction in North America and one of the poorest provinces in Canada. 

“People lie, numbers don’t” is a good thing to remember when listening to politicians. It’s easy to come up with a slick marketing campaign. It’s hard to reverse trends that have sucked young people and wealth from this province for generations.

So yes, I am biased in this respect. I admire McNeil deeply. I don’t know where he gets the courage to be so bold. He never folds under pressure. If he had a “political capital” bank account, we’d been foreclosing on Province House. 

Courage is NOT about doing what’s popular. It’s about doing what’s right, especially when it hurts. But you can’t improve without sacrifice. That’s true in our personal lives. It’s also true for our province.

We don’t know how lucky we are.

– John Grant, Founder of Urban Halifax and Vice-Chair (Fr) of the Nova Scotia Young Liberals.

How the PPC Uses Twitter Bots & Algorithm‚Äč‚Äčs to Fake Popular Support

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Canadians following the federal election on Twitter have undoubtedly noticed the seemingly disproportionate online Support for Maxime Bernier’s “People’s Party”.

Most polls put the party between 1 and 3 percent, placing them in a distant sixth place. Support for the party has never risen about 3%, and their support has declined since the founding of the party in September of 2018.

If you had to judge popular support by checking Twitter, you may be mistaken into thinking the PPC was, in fact, on the cusp of forming a majority government. This is no coincidence. This is not the result of popular support, this is the result of systemic abuse of social media sites to give the illusion of popular support.

Unlike most social media sites, Twitter has a widely-used and abused API that allows accounts to generate content autonomously. One way of seeing this in action is the widely observed phenomenon of “copy tweets”. This happens when a script sends out a single Tweet to multiple accounts in order to abuse the trending system on Twitter, giving the topic buzz and generating engagement.

Here’s are some examples of the PPC’s use of copy tweets. The specific accounts shown below tweeted the exact same thing in both official languages several times.

The PPC also uses bot accounts and “lists” to rig the like system on Twitter. If you look at who retweets and likes party-related content, you will notice that over 90% of the engagement is coming from PPC accounts. You could find thousands of examples, but this tweet by Nova Scotia PPC candidate Michelle Lindsay was retweeted by 32 accounts. 27 of those accounts are almost entirely dedicated to retweeting party content. Many of those 27 accounts are likely to be bots based on their “Botometer” score.

Another tactic by PPC accounts is the use of Twitter polls. This is yet another way to fake popular support. Polls are created by PPC accounts and retweeted by PPC accounts. These polls are then cited by supporters to show that scientific polling is wrong and that polling is being “rigged” against the party.

Online polling is also used by the PPC to fake popular support for Bernier’s policies, including his policy to lower immigration rates to 100k per year, a move economists agree would cripple the economy.

The PPC’s online ecosystem is certainly partially driven by fanatical supporters who retweet and like every party related tweet that shows up on their feed, but much of the engagement is driven by bots and scrips.

Advanced Symbolics Inc, a company that uses AI and social media data to predict voting patterns puts the PPC in the range of 2% nationally. If the PPC’s online strategy was working, it would be reflected in the ASI data. It isn’t.

Ultimately, we will all have to wait and see what effect the PPC’s Twitter strategy has on actual voting. The only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.

Allowing Uber Will Make Halifax a Better City

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Uber is available in almost every other major Canadian city. By not allowing Uber, Halifax is showing itself to be a city that is stuck in the past.

Other Canadian cities have embraced the service. Some examples include:

  • Calgary
  • Edmonton
  • Toronto
  • Mississauga
  • Ottawa
  • London, Ont
  • Windsor, Ont
  • Regina
  • Saskatoon
  • Barrie
  • Kitchener-Waterloo
  • Montreal

The appeal of the service is not hard to understand. It is more affordable, quicker, simpler and more reliable than traditional taxis. That’s why it has taken so much of the market. Uber is an innovative, 21st century service that has revolutionized the taxi industry.

According to a poll (done by us) with over 1,000 respondents, the overwhelming majority of Haligonians support allowing the service here. Of course, polls like this aren’t scientific, but they are a solid first look into what the public thinks.

Uber will undoubtedly be an issue during the upcoming municipal election. I imagine councillors and candidates who oppose allowing the service will have a hard time at the doorstep. The war over allowing (or disallowing) Uber continues to rage on in the Twittersphere:

If Halifax wants to show itself to be a forward-thinking city that isn’t “stuck in the past”, allowing widely used ride-sharing services would be a good start.

Changing the Narrative‚Äč – Our Announcement‚Äč

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Urban Halifax was started as a challenge to the assumption that Halifax is a city on a path to nowhere.

Over the past few months, our positive message has resonated. In the month of June alone, our content reached a whopping 180,000, 90% of whom live in the Halifax area.

The launch of Urban Halifax’s groundbreaking new website will disrupt the media environment in Halifax. It will be an effective advocate for building a better city.

I am amazed at all of the talent who are interested in writing for us. Our site will have numerous contributors and feature editorials from familiar names.

UrbanHfx.com has been built on a solid foundation. From a technical aspect, it is built of steel. It has more than enough bandwidth and can handle incredible traffic.

The goal of this project is to help build a better Halifax. Halifax is turning a corner, but there is still work to do.

We envision a Halifax where kids don’t have to leave to make a living. We envision a modern, cosmopolitan city where artists thrive and small businesses prosper.

Join us in carrying this flag.

John Grant, Founder of Urban Halifax

Connect / john@urbanhfx.com

Exclusive: Lenore Zann Talks Politics in Wide-Ranging Interview

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Longtime NDP MLA Lenore Zann is quitting provincial politics to seek a federal seat in the riding of Cumberland-Colchester under the Liberal banner. Urban Halifax founder John Grant spoke with Lenore over the phone for a wide ranging interview that touched on politics, life and her new foray into the spotlight.

Q: What first led you into politics?

A: The thing that first got me involved happened during the financial crisis of 08′. I looked at the front page of the Globe and Mail and saw all the world leaders and noticed that with the exception of Angela Merkel, they were all men. I thought to myself, “it’s 2008, why are the decision makers still exclusively men”. I had thought that by that time things would have moved along and there would be more women at the table, but there were not. This stuck with me, and it pushed me to offer myself as a candidate.

Q: What is one interesting fact about you that not many people know?

A: That’s an Interesting question. One thing that not many people know is the fact that I am the voice of “Rogue” in the XMEN cartoon series, and I also voice “Starcatcher” on My Little Pony. Another character I played was Lorca on Dragon Tales. In total, I have played hundreds of characters on shows that kids from all around the world have grown up watching and loving.

Q: What led you seek the Liberal Nomination in Cumberland Colchester?

A: In the beginning, Bill Casey approached me on remembrance day last year during a wreath-laying ceremony. He asked me if I was thinking of running federally, and I explained to him that I was talking to the NDP about running on their ticket. He then asked me if I had considered running for the Liberals federally, to which I said: “no, I haven’t.” He then went on to say that I should think about it because it was going to be very hard to run for the NDP in Cumberland-Colchester. Bill explained to me that he was very worried about the prospect of a Conservative victory in the riding, and didn’t want Andrew Scheer to become Prime Minister, as sheer is very similar to Harper, who had kicked Casey out of caucus. After this chat, I went up to Ottawa around Christmas time and met with Prime Minister Trudeau. We had a lovely chat about issues that were important to me, such as mental health and addictions. Addictions are a very crucial issue to me, I’ve been sober for 23 years, but I suffered from alcoholism in the past, and know how hard it is to break the cycle of addiction. I personally know the struggles other people are going through with depression and anxiety, especially with young people but also with seniors. Another reason why I decided to run for the Liberals was looking at the polling information for the district and seeing that the Federal NDP is polling at around 3.8% in the riding. After speaking to my family and weighing the pros and cons, I decided to accept this challenge and run for the Liberals!

Q: What misconceptions do people have about you?

A: In the beginning, a lot of people thought that I was just a dumb actress who knew nothing about politics and was only in it for the glamour and theatrics. I believe that the last ten years I’ve spent at Province House have proved that to be a wrong assumption.

Q: What do you say to those who call you opportunistic?

A: When I first started hearing that, I noticed that it was coming mostly from very hardline NDP members, many of whom still worked for the party. I got the impression that much of this was part of a messaging strategy from the party offices, and not coming from my constituents. I was amazed at the amount of support I have received from my constituents and how enthusiastic they are for my new endeavour. Personally, I think that it’s kind of ridiculous to call someone who is running for a party that is struggling in the polls and may well lose Cumberland-Colchester “opportunistic”. The two main reasons I am doing this is to support Justin Trudeau and the Liberals and to ensure Andrew Scheer and his ilk never make it to the Prime Minister’s Office. Cumberland-Colchester has been a Conservative riding for 150 years, and I do not want those guys to take this seat back, and I am willing to put my job on the line to make sure this seat doesn’t flip, which would help to lift the Conservatives into majority government status.

Q: What attracted you to the federal Liberal Party?

A: As I said, I like Trudeau, and I love that he is a smart, civil, empathetic young man who makes me feel proud to be a Canadian. It takes more than four years to enact the kinds of changes that he wants, and he deserves another mandate to accomplish even more for Canada. Having been in a majority-NDP government for four years as a backbencher, I witnessed the struggle that progressive leaders face in terms of reversing the damage done by previous Conservative governments. I have also seen the challenge of dealing with lobbyists who seem to push the agenda and appear to have an outsized role in our politics.

Q: Given the recent Sackville-Cobequid results, Do you think Gary Burrill has been effective as the leader of the NSNDP?

A: A lot of people have asked me this question, and I have to say that it is up to the party. It’s not my business to judge Gary on his leadership, and I am not even a party member at this point. I resigned my NDP membership on June 9th, and it is up to the party to decide their future. One thing I will say is that I came in a close second to Gary during the NDP leadership convention, and had I won, I would have taken the party in a somewhat different direction. I imagine my style of leadership would have been fairly popular with Nova Scotians; however, hindsight is always 20/20. I wish Gary and the NDP caucus well, and I don’t wish ill on any of them. I am setting my sights squarely on Ottawa.

Q: Would the Provincial NDP benefit from a new leader?

A: I have little doubt that Gary will lead the provincial NDP into the next general election. The results of that election will determine whether or not Gary will stay on as leader, because at that point, a leadership review will be necessary.

Q: Trudeau just approved the Trans-mountain pipeline expansion. Do you approve of this decision?

A: I have never been in favour of increasing our reliance on pipelines and fossil fuels. I believe that we need to get off our addiction to fossil fuels as quickly as possible; however, I do understand that governing an entire country is very complex and requires compromise. It is very hard to balance these competing interests, and no matter what you do, people are going to be mad. Many Canadians don’t really understand that green energy and green jobs are the way to go and that we can make more money, have better jobs and more sustainable jobs if we don’t put all of our eggs into one basket. I also believe that we should introduce a “green new deal” for Canada.

Q: You are running for a Liberal nomination, so why are you sitting as an independent in the house and not a Nova Scotia Liberal?

A: Because the nomination meeting is in July, and the house will not be sitting until the fall, and possibly until after the election. I needed to do this ethically, and I felt it would not be possible to stay on as an NDP MLA while seeking a federal Liberal nomination. To me, that’s just not ethical.

Q: What are your plans if you don’t win the nomination?

A: If I don’t win the nomination, which is entirely possible, I will serve out my term in the legislature. Right now, I am thinking one step at a time. As an actor, I know that nothing is certain until it is, and I am putting everything into making sure I get this nomination. I learned this lesson at the age of 22.

Q: How did you keep an NDP seat in Truro for ten years?

A: If I could have the answer to that, I would bottle it and sell that to anyone who wants to run in any election. I’d probably become pretty rich. I don’t know exactly how I did it, but I do suspect people voted for me, and not the party. I think that I am an example of how many Canadians are voing for people, and not parties. Take Bill Casey as another example. He won as a Conservative for 22 years, and then as an independent, and then as a Liberal. During the last election, Bill Casey won every single poll in Cumberland-Colchester with the exception of one. People want representatives who they trust and who they can conncet with on a personal level. 

Q: What is your favourite colour?

A: Purple. Every single bedroom I ever had was purple. My first car was a little purple beetle bug. I had it for like 20 years, and took it all across Canada. To be specific, it was a 1974 Beetle bug, and I bought it in Bible Hill for $5,000. I drove it for like 20 years.

10 Reasons Why Halifax Needs Commuter Rail

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Commuter rail would offer many benefits to our city. Here are a few:

1. It would help reduce traffic.

The Windsor Street Exchange may no longer be a parking lot half of the time if we had commuter rail.

2. It would help the environment

Cars produce a ton of emissions. Commuter rail produces some emissions but would prevent millions of tons of CO2 from getting into the atmosphere.

3. It would reduce sprawl

Commuter Rail would make the downtown more accessible, and make car-reliant suburbs less appealing. Dense cities produce fewer emissions and are generally more close-knit and community oriented.

4. Jobs.

Building out a commuter rail system would create thousands of jobs. Operating the system would also require hundreds of people. This would provide opportunities for countless Haligonians.

5. Lowering the cost of living

Gas is costly. Public transit is almost always cheaper, and having a commuter rail system would encourage thousands of Haligonians to save money by commuting downtown without the need for their gas guzzlers.

6. Safety

Cars are hazardous. Talk to anyone who has ever been in an accident if you have any doubt about that. Commuter rail has the potential to save lives, as car accidents take the lives of hundreds of thousands of people every year.

7. “Cool factor.”

Commuter rail would be seriously cool. It would show us to be an ambitious, progressive city that is willing to take risks and invest in ourselves.

8. It would save you time

Being stuck in traffic is a huge time waster. Commuter Rail doesn’t have to deal with traffic. Instead, you can rest easy knowing that every 10-or-so minutes a new train will be waiting to rush you to your destination, regardless of how bad “rush hour” is.

9. Encourages a healthier lifestyle

Cars force people to sit. Commuter rail would allow people to get some exercise on the way to catching their train. Every step counts!

10. It will allow you to relax!

Instead of spending 30 minutes stressing out in traffic, commuter rail would make your commute much more relaxing. All you need to do is sit back, relax, and let the train take you where you need to be!

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