VG fix starts at $714 million

Slide 16 CDHA w border smaller
Presentation for Treasury Board, April 22, 2009

Two days into the election, no one seems to want to talk about the all-in cost of bringing hospital services in Halifax up to contemporary standards. In fact, about a year ago, the premier said it would be “irresponsible” to speculate about that.

But at Turpin Labs Irresponsible R Us. So I say the cost starts at $714.1 million, as of 2009, and rises with inflation.

My source is a PowerPoint deck by the Capital District Health Authority intended for presentation to the Treasury Board on April 22, 2009 — the waning days of Rodney MacDonald’s Conservative government.

It’s fun to imagine what the reaction to that must have been. The Tories were going to call an election in two months and no sane Nova Scotia politician would go to the polls with a plan to spend that kind of money in Halifax, even if many of its specialized services are used by all Nova Scotians.

And yet the $714 million number is in the ballpark. By comparison, a new 172-bed hospital slated for completion in Grande Prairie in 2019 looks like it will come in around $740 million. (I don’t know why Albertans tell taxpayers the cost of their hospitals. They’re just wild and crazy, I guess.)

By contrast, my information comes from a document obtained through the province’s tedious and execrable freedom of information process. You can download the deck below. The red circle on Slide 16 is mine.

TL Treasury_Board_Master_Plan_Presentation_April_22_2009.

You may hear that the 2009 and subsequent proposals that each of the previous three governments have seen were too expensive because of “frills” such as single-patient rooms with large out-facing windows. But research shows these features accelerate healing so much that they pay for themselves in reduced patient-load.

The deck says the earliest feasible target for vacating the Centennial and Victoria wings at the VG site is 2015. Yep, that’s right. It could have been done by 2015.

When Darrell Dexter’s NDP took over in June of 2009, the CDHA asked for a meeting the same day. But the Dippers appear to have sought minded-boggling budget cuts that in the end rendered the project moot.

Next up, Stephen McNeil’s government in 2013. They wasted maybe two years amalgamating the province’s nine health authorities, accidentally neutering Halifax’s in the process.

Finally, in April 2016 they announced a “plan” that was mostly cherry-picked from previous proposals. Hell, the Terms of Reference weren’t prepared until a month after the announcement. You can download that below:

Terms of Reference QEII Steering Committee May 25 2016

For an irresponsible comparison, here’s a TOR template:

TOR template-download

Here are some excerpts from the 2009 proposal:

  • An aggressive “push down and out” of hospital services into robust, interdisciplinary and highly integrated community health services centres.
  • Less about architecture, more about interpersonal networks and relationships in a wide array of services – i.e. community health centres and family health teams 
  • Strategically located throughout our communities in locations that respond to community needs. 
  • A mental health master plan.    
  • And Phase 2 – 2018 to 2026:
    A menu of alternatives based on projected needs with flexibility to adapt to: 
  • changing priorities and funding opportunities 
  • Fitness, wellness & commercial building on VG campus 
  • Expansion of Cobequid Health Centre 
  • Freestanding, comprehensive suburban ambulatory centres 
  • Comprehensive community health centres on new sites 
  • Further expansion at HI, VG and DGH sites 

Will the next government follow through this time?

Here’s something George Moody, a health minister in the 1990s, said to the late, lamented Halifax Daily News around the turn of the century: “We’ll never get the health system working right until all the political parties agree on a plan that goes beyond a four-year mandate.”

So, my advice for voters is be cynical, be very cynical.

City Hall doesn’t get the memo

HOW WOULD YOU FEEL if Premier Stephen McNeil suddenly showed up in your backyard to announce the province is building a fountain there?

Pretty much the same as Halifax City Hall must have felt when McNeil materialized in Bayers Lake last week to announce the business park would be the location of a new “Community Outpatient Centre” .

Local politicians love to be included in “good news” announcements in their bailiwicks and provincial governments usually extend invitations to them for events like this. Moreover, often they’re quoted in the related news release and photographed at the event.

This is a common courtesy that greases the wheels of intergovernmental relations. Not this time, however.

stephen-mcneilThe city acknowledges they weren’t invited, but diplomatically declines to complain. The Premier’s Office, 24 hours after a query from me, declines to explain the omission — if that’s what it was. It’s also possible the premier just didn’t care about City Hall. Another possibility is the premier was in such a hurry to make the announcement before calling an election that his people overlooked protocol.

In any case, the absence of a Halifax representative is unacceptable. Bayers Lake, and the protected wilderness not far from the new Centre, are always hot topics at our Council. McNeil is out of bounds. He’s the premier of Nova Scotia, not the mayor of Halifax. This city belongs to Haligonians, not the province. But the premier seems to be operating by the rules of divine right.

If the Premier’s Office considers this a problem, by now they will have extended a private apology to Halifax and co-ordinated their talking points in the unlikely event this incident becomes news.

But there were more than politicians absent from the announcement.

Also missing were any signs of consultation or useful detail about the services the Centre will offer.

The news release offers merely a hint: “(The) potential services may include an initial visit with a specialist, post-surgery or post-treatment follow-up, blood collection and X-rays.”

Detail is important to Haligonians because if the services to be offered at the new “centre” are being moved from downtown rather than being replicated, then Haligonians will suffer, especially those who have to use the transit system, as sick people and medical staff often do. The whole concept of a downtown is that it centralizes key services, giving everybody more or less equal access. Downtowns are, typically, well-served by public transit, and allow medical people to interact more easily.

But the premier wants the new Centre to be easily accessible to ALL Nova Scotians, meaning rural Nova Scotians. To wit, the premier himself: “It came down to making sure that we were having access to [Highways] 103 and 102 … Not every service needs to be offered in downtown Halifax. We often hear Nova Scotians say traffic and parking are major concerns when travelling to the VG site of the QEII Health Sciences Centre.

“We now have the opportunity to deliver a variety of services that don’t require a trip to the hospital in a more effective and convenient way for patients and their families.” Except, of course, if you’re a Haligonian.

Here’s Paula Bond, vice president of Integrated Health Services, Nova Scotia Health Authority, in remarks undoubtedly prepared with the help of the premier’s army of flacks: “As part of our commitment to provide care closer to home, this site will be a more convenient location for Nova Scotians travelling for outpatient care, treatment and diagnosis.”

Sure. And while we’re at it, let’s move the Valley Regional Hospital’s ER to New Minas.

I’m beginning to think Stephen McNeil has a bit of a hate on for our city. Here he is in March of 2016: “Not every MRI is in Halifax. If you’re a citizen of Halifax and you can get an MRI faster in Yarmouth, you’re going to Yarmouth.”

Duly noted, Dear Leader. I hasten to obey. Your slightest command is my wish.

Haligonians already make arduous trips to places like Sydney and Kentville for orthopedic surgery they can’t get at home in a timely manner. My family has had to do this twice and I have “major concerns” with it, including the initial difficulty in finding the hospital. But then, I’m from Halifax so inconveniencing me is not a problem.

I’ll go further: is it possible the real reason for creating a single health authority was to move health services away from our downtown to areas that lack the population density to support them — without taxpayers noticing? Would the defunct Capital District Health Authority have supported the location of the new “centre”?

If McNeil can justify spending provincial tax money to support the lifestyle of rural Nova Scotians, that’s just fine. But I’m not willing to force our sick to take a bus ride of two hours-plus, with transfers, to get routine diagnoses.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I’d rather to pay to give rural Nova Scotians driving lessons.


Brothers in the battle to save fossil fuels

The relationship  between the presidents of the U.S and Russia may bring down Donald Trump’s administration.

Vladimir Putin has been caught spying on Trump’s political opponents, alerting the world to just how nefarious he can be.

Why are these two risking so much to cozy up to each other?

The answer may well be climate change. Russia and the U.S. rank respectively  number five and two in total carbon emissions. The economy of Putin’s Russia, a petro-state, could collapse if the word finally lost its taste for fossil fuels. Trump campaigned fiercely against climate change action, promising to return thousands of jobs to coal states, and he’s counting heavily on natural gas for so-called energy independence.

And, obviously, two powerful countries are better than one when you’re going against a worldwide scientific consensus. Below are three articles that make the case for this  unholy alliance:

The Chicago Tribune explains why fighting climate change is a political problem for Trump.

 Bloomberg News explains how much Russia stands to gain from climate change inaction.

And Inside Climate News, a Pulitzer Prize winner, explores Russian climate politics in detail.


Is Trump crazy like a fox?

Media and deep-thinkers have pronounced the failure to launch of  President Donald Trump’s health care bill as a massive defeat, but it may actually be a victory.

During the U.S. election campaign Trump made the surprising promise that he would bring health care to all Americans at a good price. This is anathema to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) and the GOP’s ultra right crowd.

So where do things stand today?

Well, Ryan and alt-right GOPs are wearing the failure, not Trump, because they stopped  “his” bill from getting to the floor. Even the Dems are free of blame because they never got a chance to vote against it, leaving  Trump’s enemies alone and wounded on the battlefield.

If the current system “explodes”, as Trump predicts, Republicans in the House will be blamed for failing to act.

But not Trump. He can still step to save the day with a bipartisan effort to fix it, just as he promised. If he succeeds, he’ll be the conquering hero that so many of his  supporters believe him to be.

I know, it’s a crazy idea, but Trump is all about crazy.


Drive electric in Nova Scotia …

and slash your carbon footprint

Happy motoring! Turpin Labs CEO Bill Turpin at wheel of our 2012 Nissan Leaf.

Nova Scotians have long assumed that driving an electric car here is the equivalent of running the vehicle on coal, because that’s what Nova Scotia Power uses t0 run its generators.

But NSPI’s much-improved fuel mix, combined with the high efficiency of electric motors, has changed the math. Halifax-centric Turpin Labs bought a 2012 Nissan Leaf and easily cut our road emissions by more than half and, incidentally, reduced fuel costs by more than 70%.

These are real-world results, based on an 18-month commissioning process that began when I spotted a used Leaf at a bargain price. The results are supported, in principle, by  real research done at Dal  five years ago.

Over 8,000 km, the Leaf generated 912 kg of CO2, via NSPI’s generators. Our previous car, a 2010 Toyota Matrix, would have generated 1,840 kg over the same distance. By the way, this 8,000 km cost $230 in electricity, taxes in. The Matrix would have burned through 800 litres of gasoline costing $834. Maintenance  of the Leaf is low because electric motors are relatively simple.

Oh, and if you own a family car, don’t even think of challenging me at a stop light. Leafs have heavy-duty torque, buddy, so you’ll find yourself eating my electrons.

On the other hand, this is a city car. I drive it around Halifax all day and plug it into the house at night a couple of times a week. If I have to drive, say, out to someone’s cottage, I rent a gas-burner. Fuel economy drops off in cold weather, as it does for gasoline cars, but that can present a range problem in winter. You have to plan a little more, which is a challenge because of a lack of charging stations.

But for city dwellers, it makes sense. If you have two cars, making one of them electric is  a no brainer.

All good, right? So, why isn’t NSPI flogging EVs and installing charging stations hither and thither? Why isn’t the NS government offering cash incentives to buy them like B.C., Ontario and Quebec, thus taking a big bite out our carbon emissions.

I asked the NS energy department:

—–Original Message—–
From: Bill Turpin []
Sent: Thursday, January 12, 2017 11:48 AM
To: MacInnis, Marla J <>
Subject: EV incentives

Hello Ms. MacInnis,
I notice that B.C., Ontario and Quebec offer valuable incentives for buying electric vehicles. I assume Nova Scotia has a policy on this. Would you mind briefly explaining it to me.
Thank you.
Bill Turpin

On Jan 12, 2017, at 1:15 PM, MacInnis, Marla J <> wrote:

Hi Bill,

Nova Scotia does not currently provide any incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles.



Hi Marla,

I apologize — I should have been clearer. I was hoping you might know why there are no incentives in Nova Scotia. By my calculation, EVs would have a significant impact on the province’s greenhouse gas emissions.



No reply. 

So there you have it.

Further reading:

Dr. Larry Hughes, Electric vehicles in Nova Scotia: An examination of availability, affordability, and acceptability issuesA report for Nova Scotia Power, 11 January 2016

Larry Hughes and Shan Sundaram, Do Electric Vehicles Make Carbon-Sense in Nova Scotia?, 2011








NSE to staff: Zip It!

Turpin Laboratories has learned employees of Nova Scotia Environment, led by the fiery minister Margaret Miller, have received a list of words they cannot use when dealing with their benighted public.wp

The Orwellian news was delivered orally, of course, to provide the leadership with that “plausible  deniability” so beloved by decaying governments.

The words and phrases consigned to the Memory Hole are:

  • Stewardship
  • Extended producer responsibility
  • Circular economy
  • Green economy

Even the word “economy” is apparently on probation.

I am not making this up.

Stewardship is the idea of having a responsibility to care for something, usually something that is not yours. The trustees of an estate are stewards. Lumber companies are stewards because they are entrusted with managing forests in a way that preserves or enhances their value for future generations. The opposite of stewardship might be squandering.

Extended Producer Responsibility already exists in Nova Scotia for electronic equipment. Customers pay a recycling fee at the point of purchase. This entitles them to drop off the product at a recycling centre, at no cost, when the it stops working. The product is then broken down into its constituent materials, most of which are used again. Even though there is no cost to business, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business in NS is opposed to extended producer responsibility. It’s true that many independent business people work hard, but that doesn’t exempt them from the things the rest of us have to do to protect the environment.

Circular economy is the simple goal of re-using or repurposing goods when they’ve reached the end of their useful lives instead if throwing them away. It’s something like “waste not, want not” on  a grand scale. There’s lots of info about it on the web, but a key idea is manufacturing with re-use in mind.

The Green Economy has been politicized somewhat, but it boils down to the idea of sustainability: leaving behind a planet capable of sustaining our descendants as well as it sustained us. It becomes political, in my mind at least, because there are so many people already not being sustained as well as “us.”

These terms are likely in disfavour because they aren’t testing well in focus groups and surveys, and there’s an election coming up in Nova Scotia. God help any person, word or thing that doesn’t test well in an election year. Take, for example, Nova Scotia Power in 2013.

Government’s attitude to the environment has regressed horribly. In 2007, the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act (EGSPA) recognized that a healthy economy and a healthy environment are linked and set clear goals for improvement.

The link was obvious: we need clean air and water to survive. But, for example, think how much more productive the Chinese might be if they weren’t choking on their crappy air or hunkering down during massive dust storms. You could even say the environment IS the economy.

Nova Scotia recognized that and, for a brief, glorious period, even had Environment and Economic Development departments working together regularly. Nova Scotians were the envy of other jurisdictions and admired for our vision. Then, not long after the 2009 election produced a new government, a policy person stuck her head in my office at NSE and said: “The word is out. Any mention of EGSPA in a proposal is the kiss of death.”

Such is stewardship in Nova Scotia. No wonder it doesn’t test well.



T-labs proves street-checks racist

Warning: contains fake news

A bold experiment by Turpin Laboratories has proven beyond a doubt that the Halifax police practice of “street-checking” is unconstitutional and racist.

The experiment, hailed as brilliant, introduced street-checking into a computer simulation of Nova Scotia’s capital, its people and police service.

Street-checking involves armed and uniformed cops stopping civilians at random to demand information about them such as their race and/or ethnicity and what they were doing before they were stopped.

Although this practice is unconstitutional and illegal on the face of it, the courts have left some wiggle room for vigilant police officers. An analysis by CBC showed that citizens perceived as “black” by police are three times as likely to be street-checked as those seen to be “white”.

Consequently, the chattering class is debating whether Halifax cops are being racist and unconstitutional.

To answer the question, the T-Labs experiment had computer-simulated cops street-check 1,000 simulated “white” people in the area of “the south end.” The computer simulation also included several subtle stereotypes about simulated “whites” in the city.

The results were stunning. The simulated south-enders burned up email and telephone connections to city hall.

“It’s crazy,” said simulated Anglo-Nova Scotian Graeme Graham. “Yes, Anglo-Nova Scotians commit crimes, but it’s clear we are being unfairly targetted. It’s way out of proportion to the percentage of whites in the city.”

Graham reacted angrily when it was noted that simulated white crime went up during the experiment: “Of course it rose, you bloody idiot. When you focus on one race exclusively, you’re bound to turn up proportionally more law-breakers. If you randomly questioned  Norwegian blue parrots, bird crime would appear to rise. Of course, then the police would create a parrot squad, which would detect yet more bird crime.”

Simulated constitutional lawyer Serena Tennis-Anyone said: “You can’t find a clearer  violation. People have a right to go about their business without arbitrary inference from the constabulary.”

And yet, simulated Haligonians “of colour”, who were excluded from the experiment, were not so sure. They engaged in an earnest, hand-wringing debate on the matter.

The debate ended quickly, however, when the  simulated-Halifax council held an emergency meeting and summarily declared the practice unconstitutional and racist. They ordered the police to stop it and destroy the street-check database. The simulated council process required three nanoseconds in real-time.

Turpin Labs CEO and noted author Bill Turpin said the simulation was run 256 times with the same result.

“The experiment was brilliant. Street-checking is racist and illegal,” said Turpin, a noted author. “Just out of curiosity, we also ran the simulation on Norwegian blue parrots. Many of them were already behind bars.”


Oh! The buffoonity!


It’s been suggested Turpin Laboratories over-reacted by using the word “buffoons” with respect to the Liberal government’s decision to override four recommendations by the civil service on where to build new schools.

But we’re right. Here’s why.

Many years ago we worked in the education department and accompanied members of cabinet to communities that were getting new schools (many of them P3) either to open the school or update the community on construction progress.

The state of some existing schools, especially outside Halifax, was appalling. There were 38 kids in our graduating class in, uh, the very late 1960s, and that was heaven compared to what we saw circa 2005 in Nova Scotia. In one case the classrooms, hallways, and washrooms all resembled sets from a low-budget dystopian movie. You’d learn more taking classes in the janitor’s room. (If it turns out we paid too much for P3 schools, it was worth it because they got built fast.)

How could this happen? Well, it wasn’t the fault of civil servants. Their recommendations on where and when to build were based on a host of measurable factors, and the intent was to put new schools where they would do the most good at the time and in the future (crazy, eh?) If schools were being left to rot, it was because the political leadership thought it had better ideas than education department bureaucrats.

I don’t know what those ideas were. I suspect they related to winning votes, or enriching “friends of the party” whose nearby land holdings would skyrocket once a new school was announced. So, if you were taking classes in a dump back then, or today, too bad. Your government has votes to gather and friends to please.

Wednesday’s news that Stephen McNeil’s government had ignored civil service recommendations for four schools is no different.

Politicians lack the time and expertise to make good decisions about schools. Why? Because the decisions are intricate and far-reaching. That’s why we have a civil service — it’s paid to HAVE the time and the expertise. If the politicians want to dick with whose fish plant gets a subsidy, fine. The damage they can do is limited. No so with schools.

McNeil’s crowd should know this by now, but they don’t. By now they should have put on their grown-up pants and started to govern.

But they haven’t.

That makes them buffoons.

Buffoons at work – for NS families

Old-style politics returns to schools

Education Minister Karen Casey

If you thought the bad old days of Nova Scotia politics were over, read on. The auditor  general has exposed political interference in school construction that will be a burden for a generation.

And then our political buffoons tried to bury the news in a release titled “Fall 2016 Report Released”, with the news hidden in paras 3 and 5 (see below). It is a release  destined to become a teaching tool in journalism classes.

Schools are a huge longterm investment. There are criteria for deciding where to put them. Politics is not one of them.

Clowns to the left, jokers to the right.


Fall 2016 Report Released
Auditor General
November 30, 2016 8:42 AM

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development does not have an established long-term capital planning process in place, Auditor General Michael Pickup said in his fall report released today, Nov. 30.  

"An overall casual approach to decision-making and the lack of defined processes from the department has led to inconsistent results," said
Mr. Pickup.

A new $21 million school has been approved for Eastern Passage despite no analysis supporting it. Evidence provided during the audit showed that
the department had concerns about the impact a new high school will have on existing schools in the area.  

"I am very disappointed that the department has indicated it will not review this decision which has such a negative impact on schools in the
surrounding areas," said Mr. Pickup.

Four schools were approved by Executive Council despite not making the grade based on committee assessments. All four projects were requested by school boards, but were ranked behind other unapproved projects at the bureaucratic committee level. While cabinet makes the final decision, Nova Scotians should expect that limited
resources are targeted to the areas of greatest need.

"The province has to make a number of decisions regarding P3 schools overthe next couple of years," said Mr. Pickup. "Decisions needed to start being made as of June 2016. The department had not managed the process wellat the time of our audit work, as analysis was not timely or sufficient."

Full release here:

Teacher talks update: “No! Eff YOU!”

Exclusive negotiations action photo

When government and a public sector union start talking, the first thing the public does is reach for their cynicism pills.

That’s we because know both sides of the dispute have long ago succumbed to the first law of human organizations: sooner or later, they come to exist only for themselves, not their original purpose.

So the first we thing hear from both sides is the opposite of that. We hear how dedicated they are to the welfare of whatever segment of society they purport to serve. The Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union talks about improving classroom conditions, not boosting dues or fending off other potential unions. The government talks about the same thing, not the need to be re-elected in less than a year.

Both must appear as strong champions of their clients.

So you get the news releases we saw yesterday. (Provided here and here, with helpful annotations.)

But, what if they believed their own rhetoric about serving the public good? Instead of “news” releases, they could issue joint accountability reports to the public. Turpin Labs, always helpful, has developed the first draft of a template designed to help them. Perhaps explaining themselves in writing will clarify their minds. Suggestions are welcome.


The government of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union regret to inform the public that their latest round of collective bargain talks has failed.

Both parties are disappointed and re-affirm their commitment to good-faith bargaining and the welfare of Nova Scotia. We acknowledge our shared responsibility to parents and students, and apologize for the delay.

To date, we have found common ground in the following areas: (list them here)

Agreement has been reached on these areas: (list them here)

We continue to disagree in these areas: (list them here)

Why we cannot find common ground in these areas. (Government explains why here.)

Why we cannot find common ground in these areas. (Union explains why here.) 

Signed (for government)

Signed (for NSTU)

Yeah, I know. But, really, I haven’t been smoking anything.