News

1. The biomass power shuffle

Emera’s Brooklyn Energy biomass generator new Liverpool. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson learns that not one sawmill in Nova Scotia has shut down since Northern Pulp closed in January. But large biomass boilers in the province are “running flat-out” to provide replacement markets for bark, woodchips, and sawmill waste.

Henderson went to Tuesday’s meeting of the legislature’s standing committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development. There, deputy minister Kelliann Dean said Nova Scotia Power’s biomass plant, which is on the site of the Port Hawkesbury paper mill, and the Brooklyn Energy biomass plant owned by Emera (NS Power’s parent company) are buying wood chips and satisfying the market. Dean added that sawmills are busy filling orders for home renovation and construction projects.

But as Henderson reports, there are still arguments around if burning biomass is actually “green” and can be considered renewable energy.

Click here to read Henderson’s complete article.

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2. Halifax council allows appeal, overturning committee’s decision to approve Cunard block development

A rendering of Southwest Properties’ proposal for the Cunard Block on Lower Water Street.  Zeidler Partnership Architects

On Tuesday, Halifax Regional Council decided against a proposal from Southwest Properties for a 16-story development on the Halifax waterfront, saying the proposal was too big for the site, which is currently a parking lot, and didn’t fit the rules.

As Zane Woodford reports, the city’s design review committee approved the plans in July (Woodford wrote about that here). In a staff report, planner Jennifer Chapman, advised against the project, but the committee voted in favour of it.

Then last month, the committee got about two dozen appeals of its decision. Most of those appellants are residents of a condo building next to the site for the proposed development.

As for the rules, Coun. Waye Mason argued the proposal is “beyond the scope of what a variance normally is.” Mason also argued the proposal didn’t include any retail space.

Six councillors, Bill Karsten, Steve Streatch, David Hendsbee, Stephen Adams, Matt Whitman, and Mayor Mike Savage disagreed with Mason. Karsten said the development could “be another jewel in the downtown of Halifax.”

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3. Questions to the candidates: Districts 10 and 11

Zane Woodford has the latest two rounds of responses from candidates. This time it’s candidates running in District 10 and District 11 (I live in District 10).

The candidates for District 10 (clockwise from top left): Andrew Curran, Mohammad Ehsan, Renee Field, Sherry Hassanali, Christopher Hurry, Debbie MacKinnon, Kathryn Morse, and Kyle Morton.

Russell Walker has been councillor in District 10 for 27 years. After stepping aside, eight candidates have stepped forward. The candidates are Andrew Curran, Mohammad Ehsan, Renee Field, Sherry Hassanali, Christopher Hurry, Debbie MacKinnon, Kathryn Morse, and Kyle Morton. All of these candidates sent in responses.

The candidates for District 11 (clockwise from top left): Stephen Chafe, Matthew Conrad, Bruce Cooke, Patty Cuttell, Bruce Holland, Kristen Hollery, Jim Hoskins, Ambroise Matwawana, Lisa Mullin, Hannah Munday, Dawn Edith Penney, and Pete Rose.

In District 11, there are 12 candidates running to replace Coun. Stephen Adams, who was first elected in 1991. Candidates are Stephen Chafe, Matthew Conrad, Bruce Cooke, Patty Cuttell, Bruce Holland, Kristen Hollery, Jim Hoskins, Ambroise Matwawana, Lisa Mullin, Hannah Munday, Dawn Edith Penney, and Pete Rose. Cook, Hollery, Matwawana; Penney did not respond.

I look forward to the candidates’ responses on whether the city should require contractors to pay their staff a living wage. At least a few candidates here looked up and included the definition of a living wage from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which recently updated the living wage calculation in Halifax to $21.80/hour. MacKinnon in District 10 lost me when she went on a tangent about the definition of contractors, though, saying contractors in the construction industry are often unionized and get paid more than a living wage.

Kyle Morton thinks we should talk about living wages after the pandemic is over and work to preserve jobs first.

In District 11, Stephen Chafe thinks a living wage policy is “simplistic” and the “wrong approach” and offers up his own solutions. Jim Hoskins says contractors are in private industry and the city should stay out of wage issues. Lisa Mullin says it’s not HRM Council’s job to butt into the HR practice of contractors. Pete Rose says the municipality should focus on building more affordable housing and legislation for rent control.

Click here to read all the responses from candidates in District 10. And click here to read responses from candidates in District 11.

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4. Candidate plagiarizes other candidate

District 7 — Halifax South Downtown candidate Craig Roy.

Zane Woodford reports on District 7 candidate Craig Roy’s plagiarized responses to a recent questionnaire for the Halifax Examiner.

Like every candidate running in the upcoming municipal election, Roy was sent five questions to answer. Turns out, Roy took some of his responses from the website of District 10 candidate Kyle Morton’s website to answer a question on affordable housing.

Woodford shares the two candidates’ responses, highlighting the similar passages. Woodford also reached out to Roy for comment, who later responded with this:

Many months ago when I decided to run for municipal council, my campaign had a volunteer web designer who indicated that they could help with a website. Our website was built and unbeknownst to me, there were some passages copied. Once I was made aware of same, I looked through the sites and revised same.  This volunteer is no longer with the campaign.

Click here to read Woodford’s entire article.

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5. Premier apologizes for racism in justice system

Premier Stephen McNeil. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia.

On Tuesday, Premier Stephen McNeil apologized for racism in Nova Scotia’s justice system. McNeil also announced that the province’s justice system would be restructured to eliminate racism and promote equality. In a statement, McNeil says:

Our system of justice has failed members of our Black and Indigenous communities. This system is supposed to keep all Nova Scotians safe, but because of the colour of your skin, many of you live in fear. Today, I say: enough. I see you, I hear you, I believe you and I am sorry. On behalf of my ministers, my caucus, our government, we are sorry racist institutions have failed you, your families and your ancestors. I can’t take away your pain or bring back the opportunities and lives lost. But I am showing up today to try to work with all of you to find a new approach to public safety.

McNeil says a design team was created that will look at the changes required to the system. The announcement included a list of those on the team, including co-facilitators Jacob MacIsaac and Jennifer Llewellyn, but also members of the Black and Indigenous communities. The list included Coun. Lindell Smith, who later shared on Twitter that he didn’t agree to having his name attached to the press release.

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6. McKenna donates $1 million to new school at Mt. A, but info on donation remains private

Frank McKenna

In New Brunswick, Bruce Wark with The New Wark Journal reports on an announcement from Mount Allison University about its new Frank McKenna School of Philosophy, Politics & Economics. The school is being funded by $5 million in private donations, including $1 million from Frank McKenna himself.

During the formal gathering to share the news of the school, someone asked McKenna why he’d donate to a new school and not spend it on wine and steaks. McKenna responded:

It’s so simple. I had the greatest gift you could ever have in life from New Brunswick, the gift of opportunity, and I vowed that I would spend the rest of my life trying to respect that gift and paying it forward.

Mt. A. President Jean-Paul Boudreau said, “McKenna students, as they will be known, will become university and provincial ambassadors.” Mount Allison Students Union President Jonathan Ferguson said the new school is “incredibly positive news!”

Wark interviews Jamie Brownlee, author of the 2015 book Academia Inc., How Corporatization is Transforming Canadian Universities, who says we should be concerned about these private donations to universities. Brownlee told Wark in exchange for their donations, donors might want more influence over teaching, hiring, and budgets. Says Brownlee:

Does this donor funding have strings attached and if so, what are they?

Brownlee says details of these donors’ agreements should be public. As Wark reports, McKenna previously supported higher tuition fees, legislation forcing striking profs back to work, and called universities “profit centres.” Wark emailed Mount Allison communications officer Laura Dillman who responded saying, “Gift agreements are considered private documents between the University and the donor(s) at Mount Allison.”

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1. Tales of toxic workplaces

Working in a toxic workplace can be more than a headache. Photo: Sebastian Herrmann/Unsplash

I don’t use LinkedIn — the online professional networking site — very often, but recently I checked in and a person I once worked with sent me a request to connect. This person was miserable to work with, so much so I left the job without another one lined up. I actually hadn’t thought of this person in quite some time, but seeing the name brought back some terrible memories.

Over the years, I have worked with some amazing people, who are respectful, collaborative, fun, competent, and effective, including current colleagues, like those at the Examiner. But like probably everyone who’s ever had a job, I’ve also worked with some awful people. While these experiences have been few, they have had profound consequences not only on my work, but my life, too. Some people call this “office politics.” Now, we call these situations “toxic workplaces.” Sometimes these stories make headlines, like the stories we’re hearing from Rideau Hall or those in Hollywood, notably on the Ellen Show. But many people have worked in one of these places and those stories never make the news.

I hear about a lot of toxic workplaces. People share their stories, usually when they send along job postings from employers who don’t pay a living wage. I don’t think low wages and toxic workplaces are necessarily connected; I just think when I ask people to send me postings, they like to fill me in on their other experiences. It can be eye-opening.

Based on my own experiences and what I hear from these other stories, toxic workplaces often have the same red flags; some workplaces have a bucket of them. The first red flag is that turnover is high. I always tell job seekers to avoid those companies who seem to frequently post jobs. There’s a reason it looks like there’s a revolving door, and it’s not often a good one. Turnover will often be attributed to something else, and the blame is often placed on the staff who leave. Those still there will say those who left weren’t cut out for the job. If that were true, it doesn’t say much for management’s ability to find people who they think are right for the job in the first place. Toxic workplaces will also have a lot of staff on stress leave.

Toxic workplaces are fueled by rumour mills, cliches, and favouritism. Staff will whisper in corridors and stairways. They’ll create their own little groups and exclude others. There are belitting comments, harassment, and maybe even threats.

Toxic managers pick favourites, and especially love those who kiss their asses. Those are often the staff who get the perks and promotions, even when they don’t deserve them.

A lot of this behaviour is fueled by insecurities, of both management and staff. Employees who are good at their jobs become targets for office bullies because they are seen as a threat to someone less secure in their own abilities. Insecure staff are often micromanagers, too, watching over and even criticizing every aspect of a co-worker’s performance, usually reminding them they could do it better. Remember — toxic workplaces are run by toxic people.

Toxic workplaces are caused by toxic people. Photo: Mikeal Seegan/Unsplash

Toxic workplaces are also reluctant to change their ways. You’ll hear phrases like, “this is the way we’ve always done it,” or “it is what it is” or “if you don’t like it you can leave.” Those workers who stand up to toxic behaviour and toxic colleagues often become targets, too.

I went to see a counsellor to talk about working in one of these places. After telling him about my experiences, he said I had to quit the job. That wasn’t financially possible at the time, so I went back for a few more sessions, looking for strategies on how to deal with what he called “emotional violence” in the workplace. He also suggested I read The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t by Robert I. Sutton, a professor of management science at the Stanford University School of Engineering, who wrote the book after he wrote an essay on the no asshole rule for Harvard Business Review. Sutton has two tests to be used for spotting if a person is acting like an asshole:

  • Test one: After talking to the alleged asshole, does the “target” feel oppressed, humilated, de-energized, or belittled by the person? In particular, does the target feel worse about him- or herself?
  • Test two: Does the alleged asshole aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful rather than at those who are more powerful?

Sutton also has a list of common everyday actions that asshole uses. He calls this list The Dirty Dozen, which includes:

  • Personal insults
  • Invading one’s “personal territory”
  • Uninvited physical contact
  • Threats and intimidation, both verbal and non-verbal
  • “Sarcastic jokes” and “teasing” used as insult delivery systems
  • Withering e-mail flames
  • Status slaps intended to humilate their victims
  • Public shaming or “status degradation” rituals
  • Rude interruptions
  • Two-faced attacks
  • Dirty looks
  • Treating people as if they are invisible

The effects of my toxic workplace were physical: I couldn’t sleep properly. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, usually between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., thinking about work, checking emails. I kept a bottle of antacids at my desk. I was often sick with a cold.

But there were mental effects, too: I lost all boundaries between work and home. I often took my workstress home with me. I talked about work all the time. I thought too much about how to fix things and make it better. In a toxic workplace, such thoughts are a waste of time.

I went to a doctor about this, too. Like the counsellor, she told me to quit, and I eventually did. When I went back to see her months later, feeling like myself for the first time in months, she said more people would be healthier if they quit their jobs. That can be easier said than done.

Toxic workplaces have a financial cost for the economy. Here are some stats from Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety:

  • Psychological health problems cost the Canadian economy ~$51 billion per year, $20 billion of which results from work-related causes.
  • 47% of working Canadians consider their work to be the most stressful part of daily life.
  • Psychological health problems affect mid-career workers the most, lowering the productivity of the Canadian workforce.
  • Only 23% of Canadian workers would feel comfortable talking to their employer about a psychological health issue.

In October 2019, the NDP introduced legislation that would add bullying and psychological harassment to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Nova Scotia is the only province that does not include psychological harassment under OH&S rules. The party renewed calls for the legislation in January 2020.

I don’t know what the exact fix is for toxic workplaces, but for many people the only solution is to leave. That counsellor was right — I thought I couldn’t afford to work on my own, but what I couldn’t afford was to keep working the way I was. I found more work than I needed after leaving. These days I don’t have antacids at my work-from-home desk and I sleep through the night.

I’m curious to know how toxic workplaces where employees are now working from home are functioning. Is work and life better for staff now that they aren’t in the office all the time? Or does the toxicity ooze through the Zoom meetings?

Toxic workplaces can’t sustain themselves forever. Productivity suffers and so does the bottom line. Toxic staff can’t even keep up the act. They’ll leave, too, when they’re not getting what they want from the place. Maybe some companies do get smart and actually improve the environment. There’s a reputational cost for those companies that don’t do anything. Companies should do better.

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Noticed

Jenna Lyn Albert is the poet laureate for Fredericton. Photo: City of Fredericton

Yesterday I was driving to the South Shore and heard Jenna Lyn Albert, the poet laureate of Fredericton on Maritime Noon. On Monday night, Albert shared a poem titled “Those Who Need to Hear This Won’t Listen” during the city’s council meeting and it seems not all the councillors were happy about it. Albert told Bob Murphy that while she often reads her own poems for these meetings, she also shares the work of other poets. On Monday, she read a poem by Ottawa-based writer Conyer Clayton. The poem was about Clayton’s experience getting an abortion (click here to read the poem). Albert dedicated the poem to Clinic 554, which is shutting down today, leaving Fredericton without abortion services and 3,000 patients without a family doctor.

Coun. Dan Keenan told CBC New Brunswick  he was “terribly concerned” about the politicizing of poems, adding, “I completely agree with freedom of speech and the right for people to say what they want to say but that was never the intention for this forum.”

Albert told Murphy the role of poet laureate would be “lackluster” without poetry that’s political. She said a lot of poetry is inherently political and said part of the job of a poet laureate is about speaking for the people, communities and their concerns. She says she bases her role as poet laureate on former Halifax poet laureates El Jones and Rebecca Thomas. Says Albert:

They really used their platforms to say things that mattered. They took issues that concerned their communities and they’re both exceptional women.

The city’s governance committee will now look into whether it should end the custom of having a poem read before council meetings. Albert’s term as poet laureate ends in December and she told Murphy she wants the meeting to clarify the role of poet laureate, but she’s also concerned that future poet laureates might feel censored.

If you’re only reading poems about the [St. John] river or aesthetically pleasing poems that don’t have any meat behind them, you’re really missing out on the opportunity to bring about important discussion.

Here’s my poem for Fredericton city council:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Hey Fredericton councillors!
Boo hoo to you

You can listen to Albert on Maritime Noon here.

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Government

City

Wednesday

If required — Halifax Regional Council (Wednesday, 10am) — virtual meeting, agenda and info here.

Thursday

No meetings.

Province

No meetings for the rest of the week.

On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Defining the structures of unstructured amyloid-beta peptide in solution (Wednesday, 4pm) — Simiao (Michelle) Lu will talk. Contact here for link.

Thursday

National Dialogues and Action for Inclusive Higher Education and Communities (Thursday, 12pm) — The first forum of this series will focus on anti-Black racism and Black inclusion in Canadian higher education. Continues Friday. More info and registration here.

First Wave: Atlantic Canada’s Chief Medical Officers Discuss Lessons From COVID19 (Thursday, 7pm) — a live stream panel discussion featuring the Chief Medical Officers of the Atlantic Bubble who will explore the responses to COVID-19 in the Maritimes and ask

How did the Atlantic provinces work together? What did we learn that we want to keep and what should we not continue? How did we work with our provincial, territorial and federal counterparts?

More info and links here.

Saint Mary’s

Wednesday

Navigating the New World of Nutrition During COVID-19 (Wednesday, 12pm) — webinar with Kelsey Hoskin. Info and registration here.

Back to the Classroom: 25 years of the SMU Women and Gender Studies Program (Wednesday, 1pm) —Tatjana Takševa and Michele Byers will ask “Who is the Women and Gender Studies Program for?” More info and webinar link here.

SMUEC Talks: Online Businesses (Wednesday, 6pm) — Anton Nestel and Adam Olsen, founders of Stocked, will share how they launched a virtual start-up during COVID-19. More info and registration here.

Thursday

Catherine McCall. Photo via CCGG.

ESG and the Role of Institutional Investors (Thursday, 11am) — Catherine McCall, Executive Director of the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance, will talk. Info and webinar registration here.

Uncover the Right Idea (Thursday, 1pm) — Florian Villaume will present the second event in the Virtual Networkshop Series. Info and registration here.

Searching Library Databases (Thursday, 4:30pm) — register for this webinar to learn how to successfully search over a hundred library databases.

Rachel Zellars. Photo: smu.ca

#BLM and Steps to Become Anti-Racist (Thursday, 1pm) — Rachel Zellars will will discuss the urgency of our current political moment and the work we should be doing if we stand, truly, in solidarity with Black lives. More info and webinar link here.

Delvina Bernard, Trayvone Clayton (Youtube), and André Anderson (Twitter)

SMU In Action: Black Lives Matter Nova Scotia (Thursday, 6pm) — a webinar to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement, with a special focus on community supports and activism taking place in Nova Scotia. Speakers include Trayvone Clayton, Andre Anderson, Delvina Bernard, and moderator Rachel Zellars (photo above.) More info and webinar link here.


In the harbour

06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
06:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
07:00: Selfoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik
11:30: Selfoss sails for Portland
15:30: MOL Maestro, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
16:00: Augusta Sun, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 for sea
17:00: Elka Angelique, oil tanker, arrives at anchorage from IJmuiden, Netherlands


Footnotes

When I was working on this Morning File and adding a link to another article I mistakenly wrote, “lick here to read the article.” That might actually encourage more people to actually read the articles. But we all know you do already!

Oh, and if you don’t subscribe already, please subscribe, or drop us a donation. Thanks!

Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent

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4 Comments

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  1. Thank you for highlighting toxic workplaces. Govt should set the standard yet in some cases the unionized workplace provides a safe haven for the bullies amongst their victims.

  2. Fredericton Councillor Dan Keenan says about council;

    “I completely agree with freedom of speech and the right for people to say what they want to say but that was never the intention for this forum.”

    Yep, he said that.
    Dan is like the Matt Whitman of Fredericton

  3. Re: Halifax council allows appeal

    I disagree with Karsten [who] said the development could “be another jewel in the downtown of Halifax.” Another massive building along the waterfront is not a jewel! It’s an eyesore! Stop taking away waterfront property to build more ugly buildings – there’s enough ugly buildings already on the waterfront (Queen’s Marque to name the one I find the ugliest). Leave something for those of us who want a view and a nice area to go for a walk rather than another tower of out-of-most-people’s-price-range apartments atop some boutiques and restaurants. Too many boutiques and restaurants are already gone – or about to be gone. Maybe direct development dollars towards buildings that already exist and could use some help.

    Now that my rant is over, thank you for articles on the councilors running in the upcoming election. I have been reading them all – not that I plan to leave my area – but just to get a sense of how they all answer. I think it would be really nice if after the results are in the Halifax Examiner could repost just the answers from those elected.

  4. Great piece on toxic workplaces, Suzanne. Thanks!

    Perhaps something that might make it easier for people to leave toxic workplaces might be, I don’t know, a guaranteed personal income!