1. Roaches, ants, and overflowing dumpsters: Highfield Park residents band together to push for change
Sorry to start your morning off with photos of garbage. In the world of mainstream crosswords, one of the things editors think of when evaluating clues and answers is, “Does it pass the breakfast test?” In other words, is this going to disgust someone doing the morning crossword while eating breakfast?
So, this first piece may not pass the breakfast test, but you may have had your breakfast already. And, if not — well, it’s an important story.
Suzanne Rent takes us to Highfield Park, where residents have turned to Facebook to share their stories and find solidarity, through a private group called Hope for Highfield. It was started by resident Cindy Fowler, as a way to bring residents together to advocate for change.
From Rent’s story:
“I was happy here for about the first year and things started to malfunction and then there were pest problems,” Fowler says. “At first I thought I was on my own with this, but then I started talking with other members of the community and I realized I’m not alone. I decided I needed something that bring us all together somehow as a community and provide an opportunity to start a conversation. I figured the best way was to start Hope for Highfield.”
Fowler said she’s had infestations of fleas (she doesn’t own any pets) and roaches. When she complained about faulty smoke alarms frequently going off she said the landlord blamed her for taking showers and cooking. (It’s true that some of these alarms are ridiculously sensitive, but the answer is to buy a better alarm, not replace your shitty alarm with other, similar, shitty alarms; I don’t know if that’s what happened in this case but I sure would not be surprised.)
Other residents complain about ant infestations (so bad they keep all their food in Ziploc-style bags), rats, gaps in cupboards, and overflowing dumpsters.
The buildings where Fowler and Shaw live are two of 20 buildings under Highfield Park Apartments, which is owned by Toronto-based Westdale Properties. Westdale Construction Limited and Urbanfund Corp. Purchased the 20 buildings in Highfield for $113 million from Oxford Properties back in 2017…
“Our tenants, sometimes, have really good ideas, things we haven’t thought about,” [Westdale’s Mitchell] Cohen says. “Unless I am aware of this or the individual tenants come and we work with them, there’s nothing I can really say about dumpsters overflowing. We have regular dumpster pickup and at times they are crystal clear of debris. There are other times when tenants or the wind or whatever blows it around.”
Rent, of course, gets much more deeply into this story, which is why you should read the whole thing, and not just my summary here. I will leave you with these two paragraphs that struck me though, from Rent’s conversation with a woman named Beldam, who declined to give her last name:
“Tenants have been largely left to deal with these problems how they can,” Beldam says. “This is traditionally a low-income neighborhood, so it’s difficult for most people to have the money that goes into fixing these problems. As well, it’s just a lot of institutional neglect like with regards to garbage collection. There’s really not much tenants can do other than find another dumpster that’s open.”
“What we’re trying to do now is organize the community so we can demand a larger response to this and demand accountability from these landlords. When you’re focusing on individual cases there’s only so much you can do. When tenants get together and actually combine all of these issues so they can address them and make their voices heard, that’s really the best way to take action.”
A lease is a contract between a tenant and a landlord. Is there any other area in which we simply expect that one of the parties to a contract will routinely violate it with complete impunity, leaving the other, usually under-resourced party, little recourse? And we just accept that this is the way it goes?
2. Grief counsellors call for “a rounding error” worth of funding to support Canadians
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I’m really interested in this new story by Yvette d’Entremont. It’s about calls for increased funding to support grieving Canadians in this grief-filled time.
Grief is something our dominant culture tends to not handle well. You don’t just get over it, and the time we consider “normal” for grieving is woefully short. The two cultures I come from — Greek and Jewish — have highly ritualized ways of dealing with grief. You’re not just left dangling on your own.
In d’Entremont’s story, she looks at calls for the Canadian Grief Alliance for more funding to support grief services across the country:
Basically we’re saying that a whole year has passed, there hasn’t been action, and the amount that we’re talking about is $30 million dollars,” Paul Adams, co-founder and spokesperson for the Canadian Grief Alliance, said in an interview from Ottawa.
“When you put that in the context of the Air Canada bailout with a $5 billion dollar loan and half a billion in equity…it’s a rounding error on a rounding error in terms of the federal budget, but it would make a huge difference in people’s lives.”
Grief is not a mental illness, but, understandably, people will turn to mental health services for help. That help, d’Entremont writes, is not always appropriate though:
Adams said to make matters worse, the federal government’s mental health portal offers advice that, while suitable for those struggling with depression or anxiety, is considered detrimental to people dealing with grief.
“People with anxiety and depression and these other sorts of mental health issues (they’re often told what helps) is redirecting your thoughts through things like exercise and meaningful activity,” he explained.
“Grieving people do best when they are able to experience their feelings in a supportive context and work through them, and if you push away those feelings that actually is in the long term likely to be detrimental to your mental health.”
Read the whole story, which also includes an interview with local registered counselling therapist Tara Field of Good Grief Halifax.
3. Yesterday at Province House (Should we start calling this The Henderson Report?)
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
This week marks the anniversary of the first COVID death at the Northwood nursing home in Halifax.
Progressive Conservative and NDP leaders renewed their calls for a full public inquiry into what happened at Northwood, which resulted in 240 infections and the deaths of 53 residents. During Question Period yesterday, the leaders and members of both opposition parties hammered Premier Iain Rankin with questions about what went wrong and if the government failed Northwood.
Opposition leaders later told reporters they were looking for the government to take some measure of accountability for failing to reduce the number of shared rooms at Northwood after three times rejecting a proposed capital plan to create single rooms to improve infection prevention.
Other MLAs questioned Rankin about why the Department of Health did not have adequate supplies of masks and PPE on hand when cases began to appear in April, and why the department waited nearly a week before it sent reinforcements to replace nearly half the Northwood staff — 90 employees — who were no longer coming to work.
“This may be one of those times when saying we did the best we could, may not be enough,” said Barbara Adams, MLA for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage. “Will the premier admit not enough was done to plan for the adequate care of our vulnerable seniors in long-term care facilities?”
“I can understand the desire to place blame on specific people or institutions,” said Rankin. “But this government is making sure we have an appropriate response that looks at the recommendations. We have significant investments in this budget to address both staffing and capital. There is no question the infrastructure needs that investment and has been there for a long time and successive governments have not addressed it.”
Rankin did not say “yes” or “no” to any direct question posed by the MLAs. Instead, he responded to all questions about past events with commentary about what the government is doing to prevent a second and third wave of COVID from entering long-term care facilities. The Examiner asked Rankin to explain why he was skating around questions when what MLAs say in the legislature cannot be used in a court of law.
“Because I think the focus today is about learning from the challenges that we had,” replied Rankin. “I’m very thankful we are in an enviable position in Canada and we have kept the virus out of our facilities. We can go back and look at reports and see what we could have done better and that’s what we are doing and why have made investments in this budget. My priorities are around long-term care, mental health, and the environment.”
But Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston was quick to dispute Rankin’s “lessons learned” defence as a reason for ignoring pointed questions around accountability and described Rankin’s response to a request for a public inquiry as “cold-hearted.”
“The lessons have not been learned,” said Houston. “Look at the 237 new beds they are offering. The wait list today is 1500 people. He’s missing a zero on the number of beds. The lessons have not been learned and this isn’t going to go away. We need a full public inquiry.”
Rankin is not going to call a public inquiry. The government has been named as a respondent, along with Northwood Group, in a pending class action lawsuit brought by families of some of the COVID victims.
NDP leader Gary Burrill is also convinced the investments the Liberals are making to improve long-term care are too small — $27 million is in the budget to help hire more assistants for continuing care assistants (CCAs) and to pay doctors and nurse practitioners to take responsibility for the medical care of residents at homes struggling to meet minimal staffing standards in the Homes for Special Care Act.
Burrill said staffing shortages at Northwood might have been avoided if the McNeil government had not cut approximately $900,000 from its operating budget in 2015 and 2016.
The Halifax facility once housed and cared for 485 people but that occupancy has been reduced by 100.
Rankin told reporters he was “surprised” when Lands and Forestry Minister Chuck Porter told him Thursday morning he will not re-offer in the upcoming provincial election.
Rankin confirmed he had asked Porter — the MLA from West Hants who was first elected as a Progressive Conservative 15 years ago before switching to the Liberals — about his future intentions in February before rewarding him with a cabinet post. Rankin wasn’t offering many clues about what prompted Porter to retire but reporters wondered if pushback from the forest lobby as well as the environmental lobby on the Biodiversity Act may have been a factor.
Asked how he himself felt about the final, watered-down version of the Biodiversity Act, which no longer gives government authority to restrict activities on private land in order to protect endangered species of plants and animals, Rankin replied: “I’m happy where we landed.”
Porter will remain Minister of Lands & Forestry until the writ is dropped, which if the Grits’ polling numbers are any indication, is likely to come before the end of the school year.
Burrill mused about “rats leaving a sinking ship”, an allusion to the eight Liberal MLAs who are not re-offering. Burrill was asked if Porter’s decision would impact the implementation of the recommendations in the 2018 Lahey Report to establish a more ecological model of forestry.
“The poor old Lahey Report is getting pretty yellowed and crinkled,” said the NDP leader. And every bit of yellowing leads to further diminishment of public confidence that the government is serious about responding to the now decades-old deep public concern over clear-cutting.”
In an affidavit filed in British Columbia court where Northern Pulp continues to seek protection from creditors, Northern Pulp CEO Bruce Chapman says the company will file a project description by May 13 for a new effluent treatment plant to replace the one closed at Boat Harbour.
This would trigger another Environmental Assessment process; the mill failed to get the green light the first time around. The affidavit also says the company intends to begin negotiations with the provincial government over its financial liability for cancelling Northern Pulp’s lease to use the Boat Harbour treatment 10 years early.
Rankin said he has not had any discussions with Northern Pulp or Paper Excellence since becoming premier. He described the timelines in the court document as “questionable,” and indicated he did not think the threat of a lawsuit, if settlement around the liability can’t be reached by the end of June, was a productive way for Northern Pulp to proceed.
“No,” said Rankin in response to that question. “Other than they are showing they have some interest in continuing to operate, so we will see where that conversation goes. We are not entering into discussions on any settlement at this time, so, if litigation ends up happening, we will participate then.”
The court documents filed in B.C. show the company has hired an engineering firm to look at making changes to the pulping process that would reduce odour and air pollution after meeting with community representatives.
4. Three new Nova Scotia COVID-19 cases — none of which are actually in Nova Scotia
In his daily COVID-19 update, Tim Bousquet writes that three variant cases of COVID-19 have been found in Nova Scotians, but none of them are currently in the province.
Here are the upcoming pop-up testing sites:
Friday: St Andrew’s Community Centre (Bayers Rd./3380 Barnstead Ln.), 10am-5pm
Friday: Halifax Convention Centre, 3pm-9pm
Sunday: St Andrew’s Church (Coburg St.) 1pm-5:30pm
Monday: St Andrew’s Church (Coburg St.) 10am-5:30pm
But you can also get tested at the Nova Scotia Health labs by going here.
Yesterday saw over 13,000 doses of vaccine administered — a new daily record for the province.
5. Re-imagining the “Portland Street/Cole Harbour Road corridor”
The ever-busy Zane Woodford has a couple of stories for us this morning. We’ll start with consultations on nine kilometres of roadway in Dartmouth, “between the intersection of Alderney Drive, Prince Albert Road, and Portland Street and the intersection of Cole Harbour Road and Bissett Road, which it’s calling the Portland Street/Cole Harbour Road corridor.”
Woodford says bus lanes are a key to this project (although there are some challenges in how to implement them). There hadn’t been any consideration for cycling, but Woodford reports that’s something that drew a lot of attention in a virtual public meeting last week”
One thing that wasn’t initially contemplated as part of the functional planning process was cycling infrastructure. [Transportation planning engineer Harrison] McGrath noted that the corridor isn’t identified in the Integrated Mobility Plan as a cycling route, nor is it on the municipality’s active transportation priority plan.
But in a question and answer session after at a public meeting last week, McGrath said it was the dominant theme. About 160 people virtually attended the meeting, and the presentation portion is posted online. The question and answer period went on for more than an hour after the presentation and McGrath said the municipality will be posting all the questions and answers on the project page…
“We’ve heard that it is important to a lot of people so we’ll definitely be looking at a few options for cycling infrastructure, to see what’s possible,” he said. “So protected cycling lanes will be something that we look at. We may also look at multi-use paths.”
Interestingly, Halifax Cycling Coalition executive director Meghan Doucette argues against multi-use paths, because they are not pedestrian-friendly, and create a “lack of feeling of safety for the people walking.”
In an upcoming episode of Dog-eared and Cracked, the books podcast I co-host, we are discussing Sol Yurick’s novel The Warriors and the film adaptation of the same name. (Bear with me here; I am about to tie this in with transit). In the novel, a group of young gang members — they are between 13 and 16 — have to make their way home to Coney Island from the Bronx on the subway. One of the passages that struck me in the book was a description of gang member The Junior trying to read a subway map. It struck me because we take these stylized transit maps for granted, but I thought Yurick did a great job of describing someone encountering one for the first time and trying to decipher it:
The Junior was having trouble with the map. He had seen city maps before, but this wasn’t like any map he knew. It was abstract, as if the contours of the city had been worn smooth. No feature of the landscape was clear, and he was sure the relationships were wrong; it looked more like some wrong diagram, not like a map at all. Where was Coney Island?
6. Dangerous highway crossing in Sackville may get pedestrian bridge
Zane Woodford’s second story of the day is on options for pedestrians to safely cross a dangerous stretch of road in Sackville.
Over the last 10 years, two people crossing Exit 2 of Highway 101 in Sackville have been hit by drivers and killed. People have been crossing the road there for decades, gambling with their lives. Now, the municipality is considering safer options.
Residents of the Sackville Manor mobile home park cross the highway to get to the transit terminal and shops, because the alternative is a much longer route.
Woodford describes the route walkers now take:
The route pedestrians take is visible on Google Maps, with a well-worn gravel path. They come out of the mobile home park at Parklane Drive, which is blocked with a gate, only accessible to fire trucks. Pedestrians then walk along the narrow shoulder under the highway, then cross two lanes after the over pass, cross another lane coming down from the highway, and then walk up the hill to the transit terminal
A solution is complicated, in part because of jurisdictional issues, Woodford explains:
Because the mobile home park roadways are privately-owned, and the highway and off-ramps are provincially owned, Halifax needs to create its own infrastructure. Staff are proposing a multi-use pathway effectively extending the Walker Service Road between the highway and the mobile home park.
Under the third option, the pathway skips over the highway with a pedestrian bridge, meeting up with Walker Road on the other side of the 101. That’s the provincial government’s preferred option because the path never runs alongside their roads.
The other two options see the path carry on under the highway, requiring some kind of barrier between pedestrians and traffic, before splitting off into options for two different bridges.
One thing I appreciate in stories like this one is how they take a seemingly hyper-local issue — a spot where residents cross the highway — but touch on all kinds of other issues as well. Read the whole thing here.
At this point, let me note that none of the stories I have pointed to this morning are behind the paywall. Anybody can read them. Free! But it costs money to produce them. If you appreciate our work, please subscribe.
Playwright Hannah Moscovitch (we are not related) has a new play, and you can stream it until April 25.
It’s called Post-Democracy, and it’s an hour-long piece produced by Prairie Theatre Exchange. Moscovitch, who lives in Halifax, was originally commissioned to write the play in 2007. On Twitter she wrote, “Here’s the play I worked on in lock down! It’s called Post-Democracy! It’s about the 1%.” In another tweet she said, “It took me 12 years or so to finish this freaking play. Then the pandemic so it’s gone direct-to-video!”
Post-Democracy is about a family auto-industry firm about to close a deal to buy a company called Systemis that would allow them to own an in-house manufacturing operation in South America. CEO Bill (Arne Macpherson) and COO Lee, a man-bunned douchebro played brilliantly by Kristian Jordan, arrive in South America to seal the deal. Each man has an underage girl show up at their hotel room, saying she was sent by Systemis. Bill sends the girl in his room away. Lee does not. Meanwhile, back home, a scandal is breaking over a brand manager’s serial harassment of women. Bill’s daughter, CFO Justine (Stephanie Sy) flies in. She’s outraged that the harassment is going to get swept under the rug in the interests of the deal, is upset about toxic corporate culture — and then things are far worse than she realized, as corporate fixer Shannon (Alicia Johnston) reveals.
In her playwright’s note, Moscovitch says the play “is based on my real lived experiences of being around affluent high-level corporate executives. We talk about the 1% who hold and exert power in our culture but we rarely put them onstage. I hung around with the 1% for a while. I want to show them to you.”
There are no heroes in Post-Democracy. It’s a hard play to watch, but it’s also very much worth watching.
It’s filmed in a theatre, with no audience in the house, and with the actors each on their own sort of mini-stage, separate from each other. At first, this seemed very weird to me, and kind of sad (I miss live theatre!), but it also works. These people are alienated from everything — the world around them, the people they are ostensibly trying to help, each other, themselves — and keeping them distant reinforces that.
Since we can now watch theatrical performances from pretty much anywhere, I’ll also note that an Australian production of Moscovitch’s play Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes is being streamed starting today by Melbourne Theatre Company.
Since Mr. Bousquet indulges me by letting me “notice” my own podcast, and since the clock is ticking on publishing this Morning File and I am out of ideas, indulge me by allowing me to point to the first episode of our second season.
It is on Michael Turner’s brilliant book Hard Core Logo, and the brilliant film of the same name that it spawned. When the film came out and I saw it in theatres, I was younger than the guys in the band — who were supposed to be oldish (one is about turn 35) and are embarking on what turns out to be the final tour of their ill-fated punk band. I’m now considerably older than these characters, which means my perspective on them has changed, but my appreciation for the book and film have not.
Legislature sits (Friday, 9am)
Excited Electronic States with the Resonant Hartree‑Fock Approach (Friday, 1:30pm) — Lee M. Thompson from the University of Louisville will talk via Zoom.
In the harbour
Quiet day in the harbours.
No arrivals or departures.
In a midnight tweet, Premier Iain Rankin congratulates himself and his government on passing the biodiversity, act, which will do what we all hoped: make uh, “sustainable use of biodiversity” possible.