Yesterday, the province announced it would not privatize the motor vehicles, joint stock companies and land registries:
“When we compared a private-sector led option to a government-led approach it was determined the financial benefits were marginal and too many uncertainties remained. This outcome does not serve the best interests of Nova Scotians,” said Mark Furey, Minister of Service Nova Scotia. “Nova Scotians have told us that Service Nova Scotia is doing a good job serving them, but we can do better.
Honestly, the rejection of outright privatization surprised me — I expected just the opposite.
But this government has engendered so much distrust that several readers pointed out that there is still an element of outsourcing in the announcement:
New IT systems are required to support the registries. The system supporting the Registry of Joint Stock Companies is 20 years old. The procurement process is expected to begin in the next eight to 12 weeks to replace it. A plan will also be developed to replace or update the IT systems supporting the land and motor vehicles registries.
The devil is in the details. Recall that the Liberals announced their proposed changes to Pharmacare in a misleading press release that obscured the radical nature of the changes and the effects on low-income seniors.
It may make complete sense to bring in a vendor to supply IT systems for government-run registries. Or, this could be a backdoor to privatization without calling it privatization.
Also, this exercise “studying” privatization cost us $825,000.
2. Tyler Richards and reporting on death
Sunday evening, police announced that a dead man was found in a house on Cook Avenue, and said the death was “suspicious.”
I’ve learned through the years that “suspicious deaths” are very often suicides, so I’m hesitant to immediately report on them. That’s not a hard and fast rule — I reported on Kristen Johnston’s “suspicious death” because two people had been arrested. I reported on Joseph Cameron’s death (the man found on a Dartmouth sidewalk) because even though his death was “suspicious,” neighbours had reported multiple gunshots, which struck me as unlikely in the case of a suicide. Both Johnston’s and Cameron’s deaths were subsequently called homicides by police.
In the Cook Avenue case, however, there was no further information available, so I held back. But I followed it closely.
By Monday morning, there was still no official cause of death — an autopsy was scheduled for Monday afternoon — and police did not release the identity of the dead man. But local media outlets did publicize his name — Tyler Richards, a north end native who went on to some success as a basketball player with Saint FX and the Rainmen; he was fired from the Rainmen for bad behaviour.
Through the day Monday, media reported that Richards had been shot in the head.
Late Monday afternoon, after the autopsy, police said the death was a homicide, but they still weren’t releasing his name, pending notification of next of kin. Police didn’t publicly identify Richards until 10:15pm. It’s likely that Richards’ family had already learned of his death through the media.
I think the public generally would prefer that media hold back from announcing a murder victim’s name until the family is notified, and I tend to agree.
But, and this is important, I do think the public has the absolute right to know the name of every dead person, and the cause of death, and police have been increasingly reluctant to provide that information, to the point that the RCMP refuses to provide the names of accident victims. I notice that even the HRPD is delaying publicizing names of murder victims for what seems like too long of a time.
Why is it important that we know how people die? Because the powerful can and do try to hide deaths and the reason for deaths from us. This happens far more than is known. A couple of examples from my own work:
One summer day in the mid-1990s, there was an illegal Mexican immigrant working as part of a crew pruning an orchard in California. The man was lopping off tree branches while standing in a metal box of a cherry picker truck; one of the branches fell onto a high-voltage power line and the electricity arced from the power line, through the branch and onto the cherry picker. The man died instantly.
The orchard was owned by one of the largest and wealthiest landowners in the county. Through an exercise in “plausible deniability” the landowner was able to have lowly paid illegal migrants work his fields by using fly-by-night labour contractors who actually hired the illegals. That scheme also got around any need for safety training and equipment.
On the power line side of the story, the multi-billion-dollar utility that owned the line hired a multi-billion-dollar tree trimming service to clear its lines. The utility basically passed the liability onto the trimming company, but managers at the latter were rewarded for cutting costs, not trees — this particular high-voltage line was documented as “clear” even though no work had been done to it, the presumption being that the orchard workers would take care of it.
The dead fellow was completely powerless: The people he worked with were also illegals and spoke no English besides. His death was inconvenient for the most powerful entities in the state, and so it was quite literally ignored. No one in a position of authority dared question how he died, or why, or the circumstances around his death.
A few days later, I was combing through vital statistics in the county courthouse, as part of my regular duties as a reporter, and I came across the death certificate for the man who had died in the orchard. That tweaked my interest and, after some more research, I wrote an article detailing the full story.
That story in turn prompted a government investigation, a lawsuit and public outrage. It changed the way the power company clears its lines and, ideally, has made orchard owners more accountable for safety standards on their operations.
On July 10 Linda Nassie, who was 53 years old and by all accounts healthy and lively, went to see Dr. Daniel Thomas, a plastic surgeon who specializes in liposuction. Eleven days later she was dead.
Nassie’s death, and the subsequent refusal of the local medical community to criticize one of their own, underscores the hidden risks involved in liposuction and body modification. Moreover, it suggests that plastic surgery and liposuction are woefully under-regulated, and that what regulatory oversight that does exist does not have the power to adequately address problems in the profession. Ultimately, redress for improper behavior on the part of surgeons is left to family members and burdensome civil litigation that can take years.
In researching this story, the [Chico] Examiner attempted to talk to dozens of people. Not so surprisingly, Dr. Thomas did not return phone calls from the Examiner. But neither did Ron Stewart, the attorney retained by the Nassie family, and the family likewise declined to discuss the case. But even those who are not potential litigants did not want to discuss it; other doctors refused to talk, as did government officials familiar with Nassie’s death. Those who did speak did so on the condition of anonymity.
“There’s going to be problems from time to time,” explained one local physician, “and we can’t be criticizing each other from the outside.”
I should add that after I wrote the above article, Nassie’s husband stopped by my office and asked for additional copies. I gave him a bundle, probably 100 or so papers, and he distributed them to Nassie’s friends and workmates. He thanked me profusely for telling the story.
As I hope the above articles illustrate, it’s essential that the public know who died and how they died. The misuse of power (ranchers using untrained labour, prisons operating without adequate safety and health controls, airlines skimping on maintenance) and just the most pressing needs in our society (poor water supplies, badly designed highways, the health risks of dietary choices) are expressed most distinctly in outright death. We can’t know about the problems unless we know how people die, and we can’t tell human stories that may start to address the problems until we can put names and faces to the dead.
All of which is to say, the privacy of families of the dead does not trump everything.
That privacy, however, should be a consideration in how and when the death is reported. Just because reporters have access to the names of those who have died does not necessarily mean they should be reporting those names immediately. As with all issues, we should strive to put the death in context, and be aware of what damage our reporting can do.
I wasn’t involved in reporting on Tyler Richards’ story. I don’t know what other factors were at play. Was it necessary to name Richards before police said they had notified next of kin? I honestly can’t say.
But alarm bells were going off like crazy in the Examiner media analysis bunker yesterday.
3. Gulf of Maine
“Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram Staff Writer Colin Woodard was honored as a Pulitzer Prize finalist Monday in the category of Explanatory Reporting,” announce the paper’s editors:
Woodard was recognized for his reporting on “Mayday: Gulf of Maine in Distress,” a six-part series examining the impact of climate change on the Gulf of Maine.
Woodard’s series, which was published Oct. 25-30, 2015, provided readers with a compelling account of dramatic ecological changes occurring in the warming ocean region between Nova Scotia and Cape Cod.
“I’ve reported about climate change effects on the oceans since the early 1990s, and have always considered it one of the most important and consequential stories out there, but it often felt like relatively few people wanted to hear about it,” Woodard said in a statement. “This makes it especially gratifying to have a series on this topic receive this kind of recognition.”
You can read “Mayday” here. People on this side of the Gulf would do well to study it.
“Syrian families learning English in Nova Scotia may face bigger challenges than previously expected, as some adults must learn to read and write for the first time,” reports Shaina Luck for the CBC:
All the newcomers were assessed against Canadian language benchmarks upon arrival. Last week, Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia received the results of those assessments, said Nabiha Atallah, the manager of communications and outreach.
“Sixty per cent of our new Syrian adults are pre-benchmark — they don’t have Level 1,” she said. “They would be starting from scratch.”
The assessment also found 30 per cent of the Syrian adults do not read or write in their first language of Arabic.
Luck goes on to describe what efforts are being made to meet the refugees’ educational needs, the challenges involved, and how educators and politicians are responding.
This is what proper reporting on refugees looks like.
1. That despicable Chronicle Herald story
“If [Chronicle Herald owner] Sarah Dennis truly wants to learn from what’s happened, she needs to pick up the phone, call the union and begin meaningful negotiations,” writes Stephen Kimber. “Otherwise, she won’t have a paper to apologize for much longer.”
“Nova Scotia’s Liberal cabinet ministers were ecstatic and doling out high-fives today, after making the decision not to privatize any of its registries,” writes satirist Matt Brand:
“Typically, this government doesn’t do any research. We prefer to forge ahead and make decisions based on our gut. But this time we did some reading. I can’t tell you how good this feels,” said [Service Nova Scotia Minster Mark] Furey.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil was also feeling elated today.
“We’re glad we made the right decision here, because once you make a decision on something like this, there is absolutely no way you can change your mind,” said the Premier.
McNeil says when the Liberals floated the idea of selling the registries last week, people voiced their concern. But there was never anything to be concerned about.
“We were never actually going to sell the registries. We discussed pretending to sell Cape Breton, but we thought this was more believable,” said McNeil.
Pssst, Matt, even satirists need fact checkers: the Liberals have been talking about privatizing the registries since 2014.
3. Narrow River
“[I]f Nova Scotians are to stand together in committing to a new, equal partnership with aboriginal people in Canada — one based on truth, dignity and mutual respect — the discussions need to open up outside Halifax,” writes Wendy Elliot for the King’s County News:
A shared journey of reconciliation might look at changing some of the names weighed down with negative history. In this county, that could be the Cornwallis River. There are definitely those who would prefer to say the Jijuktu’kwejk River (pronounced Gigi-wh`tuk) or Narrow River winds its way through Kings County.
The Government and On Campus sections are compiled by Kathleen Munro.
Halifax & West Community Council (6pm, Council Chamber, City Hall) — The agenda includes a motion requesting that council retain waterfront property on Highway #333 for scenic purposes rather than designating it a safe water access site to Prospect Bay.
The Site Plan:
Port Wallace Public Participation Committee Meeting (7pm, Marine Drive Community Council Room, 1st Floor) — A meeting to discuss preparations for another meeting. The subsequent meeting in May will address the progress of the Wallace Land Suitability Assessment study.
Legislature sits (1pm, Province House)
Board of Governors Meeting (3pm, University Hall, MacDonald Building, Dalhousie)
Decolonizing the Academy: Responding to the TRC Calls to Action (7pm, Room 1108, Mona Campbell Building) — Allan Downey will be presenting:
Downey’s research and teaching interests include Indigenous identity formation, Indigenous-non-Indigenous relations, decolonization, resurgence, Indigenous political history, sport history, Indigenous epistemologies and research methodologies, as well as community-engaged methods.
In the harbour
5am: Atlantic Star, container ship, Norfolk to Fairview Cove
6am: Atlantic Cartier, container ship, Liverpool, England to Fairview Cove
6:15am: Oceanex Connaigra, ro-ro cargo, St. John’s to Pier 41
11am: APL Oregon, container ship, Cagliari, Italy to Pier 42
11:30am, Macao Strait, container ship, sails from Pier to sea
4pm: Atlantic Cartier sails to sea
4:30pm: Atlantic Star sails to sea
5pm: Asian Moon, container ship, sails for Bilbao, Spain
11:30pm: APL Oregon sails to sea
I’ve changed the formatting of the On the harbour section. Does anyone care? Would you rather I go back to the old formatting, or do you prefer this?
Gonna try to get some real work done today.