News

1. Uninsurable homeowners weigh post-Fiona options

Fiona ripped the shingles off the roof of Cliff and Daphne Seruntine’s roof. Photo contributed

Cliff and Daphne Seruntine have lived on Nova Scotia’s North Shore for 16 years. Their home was insured, until May 2021, when the company insuring them refused to renew coverage, and nobody else would take them on, generally because they had an older home heated with wood. (One company refused them saying their two goats and vegetable garden constituted a farm.)

Jennifer Henderson reports on the couple’s story, and how there are likely many other rural Nova Scotians in similar circumstances. She writes:

“We tried every other rural property insurer we could find listed for Nova Scotia,” said Seruntine. “There were not many offering insurance on older homes in rural settings anymore. They all flat-out refused us on the basis that we use wood heat. One insurance agent told us that with real estate prices skyrocketing, insurance companies were opting only to insure modern, high value homes meeting the latest standards. There would be no more grandfathering in older homes. From what we have been able to gather, this means many rural Nova Scotians, just like us, were suddenly left dangling with no insurance.”

Seruntine continued:

“I think that the Fiona disaster is going to lead to the public becoming more aware of this. I work as a psychotherapist, and I see people every single week suffering as much from the predatory practices of Canada’s insurance companies as I do from the events that led to their initial trauma. I hope to see Nova Scotia one day develop socialized insurance more similar to that available in British Columbia.”…

The dilemma is finding any company willing to insure a heritage home that heats with wood in a rural area. This is a big issue, according to Seruntine, and one that needs to be addressed by politicians and regulators alike.

The provincial Disaster Relief Assistance program, announced Monday, is designed to cover uninsurable losses, but, as Henderson points out, it’s hard to apply right away, when your power and internet are out, and you’re trying to prevent further water damage from rain coming into your home.

Click here to read the story.

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2. Elections Nova Scotia wants e-voting option for provincial elections

Elections Nova Scotia’s office in Dartmouth on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Photo: Zane Woodford

“Elections Nova Scotia (ENS) issued a request for proposals (RFP) on Tuesday seeking ‘a Nova Scotia Internet Voting Solution,’” Zane Woodford reports.

This isn’t the first time Elections Nova Scotia has moved to implement e-voting. In 2020, the Elections Act was amended to allow internet voting for some groups, but an RFP to develop an e-voting system was cancelled. Now, Elections Nova Scotia is reviving the idea ⁠— and wants to expand it to cover all voters.

Woodford writes:

Internet voting, or e-voting, has gained in popularity in municipal and other elections over the past decade or more, particularly in Nova Scotia and Ontario.

Provincial governments have been hesitant to adopt the technology, citing concerns around. But Prince Edward Island used it for a plebiscite and the Northwest Territories used it for remote areas during a general election.

Read the full story here. This story is for Examiner subscribers. Subscribe here.

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3. Woman sues Halifax transit and deceased driver over crash

A Halifax Transit driver waits at a light on Wyse Road in Dartmouth on Friday, May 7, 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford

Last year, Haille Gough was on a Halifax Transit bus in Eastern Passage, when it collided with a car driven by Sharon Harrett. Harrett later died of injuries sustained in the crash.

Now, Hough is suing Harrett’s estate, Halifax Transit, and transit operator Peter MacNeill, who was driving the bus at the time, Zane Woodford reports.

Woodford writes:

In a news release [the day after the crash] Halifax-district RCMP said the 65-year-old driver of the car in the collision “was transported to hospital by EHS where she succumbed to her injuries.”

“The bus driver and 10 passengers were uninjured,” the RCMP said.

But Gough is claiming “she has suffered loss and grievous bodily harm.”

“The Plaintiff sustained injuries, including, but not limited to, straining, tearing, and trauma to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in her neck, shoulders, back, and knees,” [Gough’s lawyer Jamie] MacGillivray wrote.

Again, this story is for subscribers. Subscribe here.

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4. People with low incomes struggle to restock food

Stock at the Dartmouth North Christian Food Bank. Photo: Contributed

Nicola Seguin at CBC speaks with Nova Scotians who lost food because of Fiona, and are now struggling to replace it.

Seguin speaks to people who had to throw out hundreds of dollars worth of food, and to staff at food banks, some of which are out of stock:

On Monday, Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank in Halifax announced around noon that they were out of food for the day and couldn’t accommodate any more walk-in clients.

Denise Daley, the organization’s executive director, said they served more than 130 people that day, including many new clients, and had to turn people away once the food was gone.

“The statistics have shown that natural disasters can have a long-term effect on food insecurity, especially for those who are already vulnerable to a regular day without a natural disaster, so the impact was even more significant,” Daley said… “We understand that pain of, ‘What happens to our food? Let’s hope the power comes back in a couple of hours or a day’, because losing that food in this inflation is costly,” Daley said. “So it’s like you use some money to purchase food that you need, then it’s lost. How do you recover that money? There is no means. So that anxiety definitely comes into play.”

People on income assistance should automatically receive a one-time compensation payment of $150 by Friday, but those not on assistance have to apply for disaster relief, and will have to wait longer.

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5. Tenant victory leads to better protections for renters

Screenshot of the Hampstead tenants’ rights page.

In 2019, I wrote about Sharon Hyman of Hampstead, a small residential suburban Montreal municipality. Hyman and her neighbours were fighting to stay in their reasonably priced apartments. The developer wanted to tear down the two three-storey buildings and replace them with a luxury 10-storey complex.

At the time, I wrote:

The location wasn’t zoned for 10 storeys, but the building’s owners were confident they’d get council approval to go ahead anyway. Mayor Bill Steinberg favoured the project, calling it a “win-win-win” (for whom?). When council voted the development down, the mayor vetoed the vote.

Hyman and her fellow residents got enough signatures to force a referendum on the new development, and the vote was held last Sunday. Voters turned down the development by a margin of 593-267. The local community paper, The Suburban, quoted Steinberg:

“The project is not going ahead, and what the developers will do next, I can’t tell you… Obviously, some of the benefits we would have had, like a zero percent tax increase, are not going to happen.”

In other words, the tenants are selfishly going to cause everyone else’s taxes to go up by fighting against a luxury complex they won’t be able to afford to live in, but that will bring in greater revenue to the town.

Hyman said she saw this fight as going beyond Hampstead, and hoped it would help tenants fight for their rights and know they can win. On Facebook, she wrote:

Our rents were kept low not because of benevolence on the part of the landlord. In part it is because we have rent control, yes… But what is missing from this discussion is how much tenants contribute to buildings. We are essentially paying off mortgages for others and allowing them to amass wealth… They kept saying, we’re not running a charity. Darn right! I personally put over two hundred thousand dollars into this building!

We have to stop seeing landlords as victims. They are running businesses, and lucrative ones if they know how to manage them properly. They should be thanking their tenants, not treating them like expendable commodities.

Steinberg was voted out in the last municipal election, and now Hampstead has passed improved protections for tenants against renovictions. (There’s a link right on the town’s homepage that says, “Your rights as a tenant.”

Under the new bylaw, landlords will not be issued building permits unless they can prove the apartment is already vacant, or that there is a written relocation agreement with the tenant. Evictions are not allowed at all for tenants (or their spouses) who are over 70, have been in the apartment for 10 years or more, or who would qualify for low-cost housing.

CBC reporter Sabrina Jonas speaks to mayor Jeremy Levi, who cites a case in which a landlord applied for a permit to renovate a closet, saying the apartment was vacant. Meanwhile, the landlord was pressuring the tenant to leave the still very much occupied apartment, saying he was planning to carry out major renovations.

A CTV story quotes a town councillor on the need for better tenant protections generally:

Long-time city councillor Jack Edery said it was the town’s duty to protect its citizens against unethical landlords.

“If a landlord wants to do renovations, he has to get a permit,” he said. “In order to get a permit, under the new law, they have to show that the unit is vacant, or, if it’s not vacant, they need to show us an agreement in writing between them and the tenant that the tenant has another place to live, or that arrangments have been made.”

The bylaw could be groundbreaking in Quebec because other cities are already looking at it to see if it could be used to improve tenants’ rights across the province.

“They’re from an era where there was a housing surplus,” said tenants’ rights lawyer Daniel Bitton. “When rents were low, it was easy to find another apartment.”

The system, of course, is not perfect. As Stacey Gomez’s case and many others have shown, landlords will find all kinds of ways to skirt or flout the law. But taking steps to end the scourge of renovictions is the right move.

Back in 2020, Shawn Cleary proposed a similar bylaw for Halifax. At the time, Zane Woodford wrote:

“What it is, in my mind, is an issue of lack of coordination between planning and development when it comes to issuances of demolition permits and residential tenancies at the provincial level to make sure everything is completed and you can demolish a building,” Cleary said.

He’s looking for a process where a developer would attach a letter from residential tenancies to its demolition permit application confirming evictions have been completed legally, the building is empty, and appeals are completed.

“That’s kind of what I’m looking for so that when these buildings are being demolished and new ones are going up that include more units and are better designed and are a better fit for our communities — we want those and we want them to go up — but in that transition, there has to be an appropriate process to make sure everyone has been treated fairly,” Cleary said.

In January of last year, Cleary moved the following at council:

That Halifax Regional Council request a staff report on a Bylaw for a Permit Process covering demolitions of buildings that include leased units to ensure demolition permits are not granted until such time as municipal staff are satisfied that the provincial Residential Tenancies eviction order process has reached its conclusion, including any appeals that are lawfully made by tenants.

A staff report came back in October of last year, saying that a new bylaw was not necessary, but that the municipality could:

Request any information they deem necessary to assess an application for a demolition permit. In any case where the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) suspects there may be an occupant in a building for which a demolition permit is being sought, they may request an affidavit from the applicant stating that the building has been vacated of all residential tenancies in compliance with the Nova Scotia Residential Tenancies Act… This requirement would not be necessary in all demolition permit applications; only in those cases where the AHJ determines it is necessary.

As far as I know, the issue has not come back to council since.

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Views

Heartwarming mutual aid is great, but it’s time for large-scale collective solutions

Photo: Dima Solomin/Unsplash

On Sunday, we cleaned up the downed tree limbs in the yard while listening to the chug-chug-chugging of generators in the community. The power hadn’t come on yet, and sound travels well over the water and up to the top of the hill where we live. Before the storm, we had filled several pop bottles with ice and froze them, then put the makeshift ice packs in the fridge to keep things cold. We also moved food more susceptible to spoilage out of our small fridge freezer and into the hulking, decades-old chest freezer in the basement.

By Sunday afternoon, the fridge ice packs had mostly melted. The meat and fish at the bottom of the chest freezer were still frozen rock hard, but some of the less vital stuff near the top of the fridge was starting to thaw. I texted a friend up the road to ask how he was doing. He said he’d just bought a $600 generator, and as soon as he’d set it up the power came back on. I asked if I could borrow it, then went looking around for a jerry can. Apparently I got rid of it when we replaced our gas mower with an electric one. That’s OK, my friend said. The generator had enough gas already to last a few hours. All I really needed to do was run the fridge and freezer on it for a bit to cool them down. Then I could turn it off and do it again later, as needed.

On my way up the road to pick up the generator, my partner called to say the power had come back on.

Local media have been full of stories about mutual aid and resilience. There’s the Glace Bay restaurant serving free meals cooked by staff working by flashlight; Nova Scotians helping each other out with everything from charging stations and hot showers, guys going out with chainsaws and doing free tree-cutting; and international students, mostly from India, making hot drinks and cooking up meals for the neighbours.

This is all as it should be. In times of crisis, we help each other out.

But the sound of all those generators also got me thinking about how we’ve individualized collective costs and solutions.

A CTV story notes that generators “are becoming an increasing necessity” in Atlantic Canada, but also calls them “a nuisance.” (That’s less because of noise than because of safety issues related to poor setup and carbon monoxide.) You could also buy a Tesla powerwall, or spend thousands of dollars on a Generac system to power your whole home.

We’ve resisted buying a generator. But can we hold out much longer? The power pole on our property is very old, and Nova Scotia Power told us over a year ago that they would replace it. My attempts at follow-up have met with being told they can’t provide any further information. When the systems we rely on collectively are under-resourced or neglected, it’s natural to look for our own solutions. But collectively, it doesn’t make any sense.

We see this writ large with climate change, of course. For decades we’ve been hearing about how dealing with the causes of climate change will cost too much, and yet here we are, downloading that cost onto individuals and communities: hardening shorelines, drilling deeper wells, buying generators.

I think about stories in the news now that have been in the news for as long as I’ve been reading news — and I started reading the paper when I was in elementary school: in addition to climate change, overuse of antibiotics and growing antibiotic resistance, the threat of novel viruses and pandemics, crumbling infrastructure, plastic pollution, and under-resourcing of the health care system (usually accompanied by arguments for privatization or user fees) all come to mind. (While writing this, I opened up a 1980 copy of the Montreal Gazette and found the headline, “How far is the world from Armageddon?”)

We’ve recently been through a decade of interest rates so low that borrowing money was essentially free, and instead of going on a tear to, I don’t know, massively beef up transit, create a less car-dependent world, develop more robust and clean energy systems, we got Liberal austerity governments concerned about the debt and preening when they underspent their own budgets. Well, we did twin highways.

Then, when disaster strikes, we get heartwarming stories of neighbours helping neighbours. Meanwhile, as Tim Bousquet pointed out Monday, little has changed in terms of planning for these storms — which will only get worse — over the last 19 years.

Similarly, Dalhousie public administration professor Kevin Quigley tells Sheldon MacLeod, that “we wind up responding to these things in a crisis context, which isn’t necessarily the most sensible way to reply to longstanding problems and challenges that we have with our infrastructure.” He says, “We are on a hurricane path; these things are going to keep happening,” and at the same time our risk profile is changing: “We have an aging population… we have more high-rises, an increasing dependence on technology, so we have to be sensitive to the ground as it’s changing beneath us.”

I noticed someone in the area already planning for the next storm, offering to set up a circuit of houses to which she could take her small generator during the next storm, running it just long enough at each place to keep food safely cold.

This is positive, helpful, and good. We should be creating mutual aid systems and neighbourhood solutions, and generally helping each other out. That’s better than each of us buying our own generator and running it for 10 hours a day. But it’s also not enough. We need large-scale collective solutions.

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Noticed

Try doing this at the office. (No, don’t.)Photo: Catherine Heath/Unsplash

Alison Green, who is best known for her “Ask a Manager” persona, has put together a piece for Slate on hilarious/pathetic ways employers are trying to get staff to come into the office.

Green quotes a number of emails she’s received on the topic of going into the office, and why employees are resisting it. Some of the incentives are extremely lame.

One person writes:

I have seen a lot of lures, and none of them are working. Free Coffee Day! Free Continental Breakfast Day! Free Pretzel Day! Then they upped their game to “Free Red Bull and come see some adoptable puppies!” They literally had puppies in the office.

Green says employers seem to be relying on incentives rather than just making it mandatory for staff to come in, because they fear that would just cause people to quit. Some of the incentives include a cornhole tournament (I’m going to have to look this one up) and booze. What’s lacking, a lot of the workers say, is actual, solid reasoning on why they should be in the office.

One writes:

My office is bringing everyone back for no reason and it is not working. We are ‘required’ to be in the office three days a week but no one is doing it except for a handful of people who like working in the office. Our boss keeps trying to bribe us with cookies and cold brew but … that’s not nearly enough incentive. And there seems to be no stick — no punishment for people who flout the rules and don’t come in, so why would they? It’s all very weird. I am currently job hunting for something fully remote.”

Another says:

My company actually did try pushing the issue, but honestly it just backfired. HR sent out angry emails about how we needed to be in the office, a few people went in, those people saw that the office was still empty so they stopped coming in, repeat a few times, and now we all know that blatantly ignoring the higher-ups won’t necessarily get us fired lol. They would’ve been better off just letting it go sooner.

Green says she’s also heard from people on what would actually incentivize people to return to the office: child care, masking to protect vulnerable workers, and more money. At the very least, people need a good reason:

To me, the biggest thing is being able to clearly explain why it’s necessary. Don’t give some vague explanation like ‘it’s time’ or ‘we think it’s better’ but have a specific reason why you think it’s better to convince your employees that it’s beneficial. And that reason needs to be one that will hold up once people get there. Nothing is going to kill people’s enthusiasm about return to the office quicker than showing up and realizing that it’s exactly the same as working from home—also known as ‘you made me commute 45 minutes for this? Why??

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Government

City

Halifax Regional Council (Thursday, 1:30pm, City Hall) — agenda

Province

Health (Thursday, 12pm, Province House) — Funding for Public Health in Nova Scotia, with representatives from the Department of Health and Wellness, Nova Scotia Health Authority, and Dalhousie University


On campus

Dalhousie

Eavesdropping on neuronal chemical chatter using fluorescent nanosensors (Thursday, 12pm, online) — a talk by Abraham Beyene, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Maryland

“A Good Musical Education”: Mahalia Jackson and the Legibility of Black Women’s Voices (Thursday, 12pm, Room 406, Dal Arts Centre) — a talk by Mark Burford, Reed College. From the listing:

Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson regularly cited blues diva Bessie Smith and concert contralto Marian Anderson as decisive influences. Hearing the voices of Smith and Anderson through the reception of Jackson invites us to consider how we imagine, assess, and racialize “trained” and “natural” voices, while raising questions about the ways Black women’s voices are heard and generate meaning.

Mark Burford is R. P. Wollenberg Professor of Music at Reed College. His teachings focus on twentieth-century African American music history and long-nineteenth-century European concert music. Publications include work on Sam Cooke, Johannes Brahms, Alvin Ailey, gospel, and opera. He is the editor of The Mahalia Jackson Reader and author of the award winning Mahalia Jackson and the Black Gospel Field. His current research project is a book on W. E. B. Du Bois and music.

Open Dialogue Live: Driving Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Thursday, 6:30pm, online) — an “insightful conversation” about how “Dalhousie’s emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship programming in recent years has dramatically accelerated its impact on the innovation ecosystem.”

King’s

Thursday

No events

Friday

Book Launch: We Were Not the Savages, 4th Edition (Friday, 2pm, KTS Room, New Academic Building, and online) — The launch will feature a talk from the author, Daniel Paul, as well as keynote speaker Pamela Palmater, and guest speaker and singer Cathy Martin. Masks are mandatory.

Alexa! Changing the Face of Canadian Politics (Friday, 7pm, KTS Lecture Hall) — a discussion with author (and Halifax Examiner contributor) Stephen Kimber. Tickets $20/10


In the harbour

Halifax
06:30: Nieuw Statendam, cruise ship with up to 3,214 passengers, arrives at Pier 20 from Saguenay, Quebec, on an eight day cruise from Quebec City to Boston
06:45: AS Felicia, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
06:45: Enchanted Princess, cruise ship with up to 4,402 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John, on a seven-day roundtrip cruise out of New York
06:45: MSC Veronique, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
07:00: Polar Prince, tender, arrives at Dartmouth Cove from Saint John
07:45: CSL Tacoma, bulker, arrives at Bedford Basin anchorage from Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania
11:30: Algoma Integrity, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
11:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
13:00: Nor’easter, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
15:00: NYK Demeter, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Antwerp, Belgium
15:00: NYK Delphinus, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Southampton, England
15:30: APL Sentosa, container ship (151,015 tonnes), arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
15:30: Humen Bridge, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for Dubai
15:30: Nieuw Statendam sails for Saint John
17:45: Enchanted Princess sails for New York
23:00: AS Felicia sails for Kingston, Jamaica

Cruise ships this weekend
Friday: Norwegian Breakaway (up to 4,819 passengers)
Saturday: Mein Schiff 1 (up to 2.894 passengers)
Sunday: Norwegian Pearl (up to 2,873 passengers) and Pearl Mist (up to 216 passengers)

Cape Breton
07:00: MM Newfoundland, barge, and Lois M, tug, arrive at Sydport from Cap-aux-Meules (Grindstone), Magdalen Islands
12:15: Front Seoul, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for sea
13:00: CSL Tarantau, bulker, moves from anchorage to Coal Pier (Sydney)
18:00: MM Newfoundland and Lois M sail for sea
22:00: Niagara Spirit, barge, and Tim McKeil, tug, arrive at Sydport from Port-Daniel–Gascons, Quebec

Cruise ships this weekend
Friday: Mein Schiff 1 (up to 2.894 passengers)
Saturday: Sky Princess (up to 4,610 passengers)


Footnotes

Tomorrow is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The Examiner will not be publishing.


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Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. Tell me again why we, the taxpayers, are reimbursing ourselves due to a perhaps unavoidable failure of Nova Scotia Power’s private infrastructure?

    Then said power company will come back and “request” a rate increase for their substandard infrastructure that said power company has done the bare minimum to maintain while providing overly generous pay packets to executives in order to maintain GUARANTEED profits for shareholders.

  2. We stopped in and saw Sharon for a quick visit this summer. It was great to finally meet her in person and see her lovely apartment. We also met one of her 90 year old neighbours and walked to to a great local bagel shop. You can’t beat these city neighbourhoods!

  3. Using the exact same rationale put forth by NSP to justify their 2% storm recovery levy, all those who needed a generator to get through this storm should seek a rebate from NSP for their costs of maintaining power during the storm.
    Also if the UARB should grant this usurious request for funding on the shoulders of ratepayers, it should go to a third party independent administrator for arms length management instead of preserving profits for NSP shareholders.