1. Halifax Water strike
Halifax Water and CUPE locals 227 and 1431 have reached a tentative agreement that would end the workers’ two-month strike. Union members will vote on the agreement today.
A release from the utility says “the agreement came after the employer developed a hybrid pension proposal containing elements of its most recent offer along with elements of the union’s options.”
“We will not release details publicly until we present them to our members,” CUPE local 227 President Dave Dort said in a release.
“In the three months since the Nova Scotia government tabled a budget that will be remembered mainly for cutbacks to the film industry, non-profit groups have started speaking out about lesser-known cuts they say are hurting the province’s most vulnerable people,” reports the Canadian Press’s Michael MacDonald:
Kathleen Flanagan, executive director of the Community Sector Council of Nova Scotia, says the cuts were made without any consultation.
More importantly, she says, they will be counterproductive in the long run because more vulnerable people will become a drain on the system when they can’t get the help they need.
“It’s so short-sighted to cut the groups that actually help build the economy and build the assets that we need,” says Flanagan, whose group speaks for the volunteer and non-profit sector.
Flanagan says even though the Liberal government has committed to improving the province’s sputtering economy by increasing immigration, its April budget reduced funding for the non-profit Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia.
“There’s no real economic argument to support what is being done here,” says Flanagan. “The motivation is simply that these are the places where we can cut … These are organizations that are not rich and powerful.”
It’s clear that across the country the provincial Liberal parties have all adopted an ideology of austerity. It strikes me as a coordinated effort.
Of course there is some theoretical upper limit to what government can afford, but the current cut-cut-cut mentality makes no sense at all. Worker productivity increases year after year, and yet the Liberals attack unions at every turn and insiders say a three-year freeze on wages for all government employees will soon be unrolled. Provincial GDP likewise continues to increase, and yet for some reason the ruling party tells us we’re poorer, not richer. And even if it were the case that we were entering a period of economic stagnation, the correct response would be to increase government spending, not cut it.
We can afford what we want to afford. There’s never a lack of money when it comes to handing out corporate subsidies or hiring a connected consultant to tell us how to give tax breaks to rich people or forming a commission to spout meaningless buzzwords and hold sloganeering circle jerks, but try to properly fund a mental health support group and suddenly the tax coffers are bare.
It’s hard not to see the present austerity era as one of Disaster Capitalism, what author Naomi Klein describes as “the shock doctrine” — the disruption of disasters, natural and human-made alike, is used as an excuse to rollback the societal gains made since the end of World War 2.
In this case, the disaster was the financial collapse of 2008 and 2009. That collapse was the inevitable consequence of the Financialization of Everything, and yet the response has been to double-down on failed pre-collapse policies — government budgets are being slashed, workers gains reversed, community groups de-funded, etc.
We’re becoming a meaner, miserly society. It feels like looting: the point isn’t to steward society’s resources to best provide for the future, but rather for a handful of connected and wealthy to take what they can right now, the future be damned.
3. Examineradio, Episode 18
This week, I have a roundtable discussion with three Ottawa-based journalists — former CBC-TV correspondent and current Ottawa Citizen reporter Kady O’Malley, Alex Boutilier of the Toronto Star and Buzzfeed Canada’s Politics Editor Paul McLeod — to discuss the state of Canadian news media.
The Nova Scotia government is considering an end to the last remnants of prohibition by removing “dry” areas, plebiscites and changing the rules around when restaurants can serve alcohol.
Even though the provincial prohibition on the sale of alcohol was lifted back in 1929, there are still 105 so-called dry areas where it’s illegal to operate a liquor store or drinking establishment without community approval through a plebiscite — or direct electorate vote.
The government is also considering changing the rules that prohibit serving alcohol to anyone who doesn’t order food, instead suggesting people be permitted two drinks without buying a meal.
Non-Nova Scotian readers should understand that the no-drinking-unless-eating rule applies to restaurants, not bars. But it’s only been a few years since Nova Scotia did away with a similar rule for bars on Good Friday. I remember I once went to one of my favourite taverns on a Good Friday, ordered a beer, and the bartender put a mouldy, half-eaten sandwich in front of me. “If the liquor inspector comes in, that’s your meal,” he said. A half-dozen similar mouldy, half-eaten sandwiches were in front of the other patrons sitting at the bar.
1. Harm reduction
“[T]here will continue to be festivals. And drugs. And people will die,” writes Stephen Kimber. “Unless we acknowledge reality, and decide saving lives is more important than pretending to wage war on drugs.”
2. Mother Canada™
Roderick Benns, who is an astrologer, memorizer of prime ministers’ names, author of a children’s book about John Diefenbaker, and oh so much more, tells us that “Mother Canada symbol also about embracing immigrants into the Canadian family“:
The memorial was never meant to be just a statue, [Toronto businessman Tony Trigianisays, the creator of the Mother Canada™ proposal] says, but a comprehensive educational experience and learning opportunity for all Canadians. After the statue is built, he envisions a “We See Thee Rise Observation Deck” in front of the statue. Behind it, he sees “The Commemorative Ring of True Patriot Love.” This feature will showcase a low wall of metal plaques that honour Canadian war dead, wherever they may lie. In the future, a “With Glowing Hearts National Sanctuary” will also be built, including an interpretive centre, souvenir shop and a snack bar. A ‘Recognition and Gratitude Pavilion’ will bring in the contributions Canadian women made during the wars, with symbolic nods to four areas of everyday life — home, school, farms, and factories.
Future stages call for an extensive series of naturalized pathways to be called the “Boardwalk of the North Atlantic,” which will be designed to allow visitors to walk safely along the Cabot Trail, something which isn’t readily available at this time, according to Trigiani. In addition to the boardwalk, he says there will be many places to sit and enjoy “expansive views of the sea” along the entire length of the future Never Forgotten National Memorial complex.
Trigiani, whose father arrived in the Toronto area from Italy in 1949, says he was just two years old when he and his mother followed in 1950. They settled in Mimico, a blue-collar, Anglo-Saxon neighbourhood in the Etobicoke area of the city.
“We have woven in a unique gesture of welcoming with her outstretched arms. Just like my father and my whole family was welcomed to Canada long ago, she is welcoming the ever-changing fabric that is now Canada,” he says.
Trigiani says the project has always been about doing something for the whole country.
“This is one of the very few times in this ethnically diverse and modern country where we can all participate in the building of a memorial of this nature, which has both national and international significance.”
Why do I keep thinking of Tony Soprano’s racehorse?
3. Mental health
Dorothy Grant relates her personal experiences with the Halifax Poor House (renamed the City Home in 1907), which was clearly a warehouse for the mentally ill. Grant went to the Home first as a child visiting a relative, and then as a nursing student:
Wearing our bright white uniforms and nursing caps, we must have created a striking paradox on the dingy wards we visited.
What we found at the City Home was absolutely horrifying. There were people kept in wire cages that did not seem to offer any kind of comfort. Some of these pathetic souls looked at us with hopelessness etched on their faces. In one corner of a ward, a man sitting naked on the floor exposed himself to us.
One woman was dressed in handmade clothing made entirely of underwear. She acted as if she were wearing her Sunday best.
Another resident told us, “everyone who walks through the door of this ward will receive thousands of dollars.”
How can I describe the emotions I felt that day? I cannot, because it was especially overwhelming for me to confront the devastating realization that both my grandfather and my uncle once endured this kind of tormented existence.
The building Grant visited in the 1940s and 1950s was Halifax’s third poorhouse. Built in 1886, it replaced this structure:
Explains the Nova Scotia Archives:
The concept of the Victorian workhouse – the Poors’ Asylum or Poor House, as it was called in Halifax – has passed entirely from our collective memory and is now conjured up chiefly by Charles Dickens’ vivid recreations of life behind the workhouse walls. In Halifax, 31 people died on the night of 6 November 1882, when the Poor House burnt to a shell; more lives were lost in that blaze than in any other fire in the city’s history. The fire, which started accidentally in the kitchen area of the building, was discovered about 11:30 p.m. It spread quickly through the ceiling to the walls and the elevator, and then from the elevator shaft to the rest of the massive fortress-like structure. Unfortunately the watchman, fireman and nurses were of little assistance, since they were all inmates who were paid a couple of dollars a month to perform their duties; but because they had been incarcerated mainly for drunkenness, they were scarcely reliable – least of all that evening. Many of the 343 inmates were hysterical when the city firemen arrived. When the main door was felled with a fireman’s ax, pandemonium erupted. A crowd of inmates streamed outdoors – mothers nursing infants, some fifty to sixty children, elderly women and feeble old men – some partially clothed, others wrapped in blankets and still others naked. Police, firemen, clergy, reporters and spectators rushed into the building to assist or to carry the blind, lame and crippled to safety. Suddenly the building erupted into a raging inferno, with forty or fifty patients still trapped in the infirmary on the fifth floor. The Citizen and Evening Chronicle for 7 November described the gruesome scene: “Far above the roar of flames and crack of bursting slates were heard the cries of the wretched patients in the hospital, who were roasting to death. Most of them…were helpless, [and] could not leave their beds….”
The NS Archives has a photo of the replacement building while it was under construction; this is the building Grant visited 60 years later:
With the caption:
A new Poor Asylum immediately replaced the burnt-out shell on the corner of South and Robie streets in 1886. True to the concept of the Victorian workhouse, the inmates were employed in revenue-generating activities which helped to offset operating expenses and brought (perhaps) some sense of contribution by those unfortunate enough to be incarcerated. The Poor House of 1886, somewhat altered in purpose but not in appearance, remained a prominent part of the Halifax landscape until its demolition in 1972.
As Grant notes:
Today, more than 50 years since that awful day at the City Home, I do take some comfort knowing that, although much still needs to be done to care for the poor, the sick, the mentally ill and the disabled, Nova Scotia has made dramatic progress in making sure we now treat people like human beings, not animals.
It’s undoubtedly true that we’ve made progress with the treatment of the mentally ill, but is it enough?
Tory and opposition leader Jamie Baillie is calling for an inquiry into the province’s mental health system. Trying to understand the issues involved, it’s easy to get drawn down the rabbit hole of party politics; this Chronicle Herald article, however, does a good job at exploring the issues, and a reader points me to Stephen McNeil grilling then-premier Darrell Dexter about mental health issues in 2013.
4. Transportation Authority
Sean Gillis renews the call for a Regional Transportation Authority.
No public meetings.
In the harbour
Toscana sails to sea
The cruise ship Veendam, with up to 1,350 passengers, is in port today.