1. Living wage
Yesterday, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a study of living wage requirements in Halifax and Antigonish:
The 2016 living wage for Halifax is $19.17 and the living wage for Antigonish is $17.30. This is the wage rate required to pay the necessities for a family of four with two parents working full-time. Based on 35 hours of work per week and 52 weeks of employment each year, the annual income per parent is $34,889.40 in Halifax per person and $31,486 in Antigonish.
Halifax’s $19.17 figure is a drop from last year’s $20.10 living wage, because:
[A]lthough the cost of living continues to rise, the additional costs have been absorbed by the new Canada Child Benefit introduced by the federal government this year. The way the living wage is calculated, the amount of income the family needs from employment income is contingent on how much the family receives in income transfers, as well as how much is deducted from their income. The decrease in the living wage shows that good public policies that boost family incomes (e.g., the new child benefit) or lower family expenses (e.g., through affordable child care), reduce pressure on the wages families need to earn to meet their needs, thus reducing pressure on employers.
This is another reason (besides simple decency) that business owners should support progressive government programs that ease the burden on the working poor.
And yet on the city and provincial levels, governments have been adopting the exact opposite policies. City Hall continues to contract out services to companies that pay poverty wages, and councillors refuse to even ask staff to study adopting a living wage policy.
Provincial policies aren’t any better. At the bottom range of the income scale, social assistance hasn’t kept up with inflation for over a decade; people receiving assistance can’t rise above not just poverty, but dire poverty. And the McNeil government’s attempt to decrease pay for public employees at a higher part of the income range, if successful, will surely cascade down the wage scale and end up with more private sector employees working for poverty wages.
2. Police commission revolt
A couple of news stories came out of yesterday’s police commission meeting. The CBC covered Public Safety Officer Ted Upshaw’s discussion of what needs to happen in the wake of the recent spate of gun violence. And Metro reported that the police are now carrying medical kits to hopefully be able to respond to people who have overdosed on fentanyl. These are important stories.
But for me, the bigger story from yesterday was that the commission is basically in full revolt.
To back up, we don’t live in a police state. A police state is one in which the police are answerable to no one — the police themselves make the rules and are the ultimate state power.
Not having a police state means having democratic control of the police force. In theory, in Nova Scotia democratic control is exercised through the police commissions, which are established by the Police Act as the governing bodies of police forces. Civilians appointed by city council and the provincial government comprise the commissions. The function of the commission is, according to the Act:
(a) civilian governance on behalf of the council in relation to the enforcement of law, the maintenance of law and order and the prevention of crime in the municipality; and
(b) the administrative direction, organization and policy required to maintain an adequate, effective and efficient police department,
but the board shall not exercise jurisdiction relating to prescribe
(c) complaints, discipline or personnel conduct except in respect of the chief officer of the municipal police department;
(d) a specific prosecution or investigation; or
(e) the actual day-to-day direction of the police department.
But having a police chief with the power over day-to-day operations and a commission with power of administration leaves everything muddled. How can a police commission have any real power over policing if the chief can simply say, “this is what we need for operations”?
As I’ve long complained, in practice the police commission has mostly served as a giant rubber stamp for the chiefs’ budgets and a rah-rah squad of mutual congratulations. Typically, a meeting proceeds as follows: Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais gives a report about how many crimes have been committed, how many cops are out sick, and such, and then the RCMP commander follows. Perhaps the public safety officer gives a talk. And that’s about it. In all the years I’ve been attending them, I’ve seen no real governance take place at commission meetings.
That’s partly because many commissioners have been chuckleheaded sycophants like the recent clueless tag team of Steve Adams and Linda Mosher. But even when there are good, smart, and active commissioners — and there have been many — they have been hamstrung by a bureaucracy that very tightly reads the Police Act to rein in any truly independent civilian oversight.
All that changed last year, however, with the police evidence room scandal. The audit revealing problems in the evidence room was conducted in November 2015, but the commission wasn’t told about it until six months later — the day before The Coast made the issue public. The commission rightly felt blindsided, and they were left wondering why they were there in the first place, if not to be involved in responding to such organizational failure.
Commissioner Ed MacMaster was especially upset, and with the recent election Adams and Mosher were replaced by the more activist councillors Waye Mason and Steve Craig.
Craig was yesterday named chair of the commission, and a telling moment came in one of the first agenda items, blandly titled “roles and responsibilities of the police service.” Mason made a motion directing staff to write a report, but the bureaucrats in the room — Blais, city solicitor Marty Ward, and CAO Jacques Dubé — tried to derail the motion by questioning whether the Act allowed it. Craig cut through the discussion, however, by saying (I’m paraphrasing, but not loosely) “This is how these things become a quagmire. Let’s just pass the motion, and if the Attorney General files suit against us, or the lawyers come back with an opinion saying we can’t do this, then we know where we stand and we can respond accordingly.” In short, Craig threw down the gauntlet: let’s have this fight.
Later in the meeting, MacMaster put forward a series of motions demanding that detailed budget information be given to the commission on a regular basis; that the commission be fully informed about all disciplinary actions taken against police and the department; that Craig, as chair, meet with the chief before commission meetings in order to vet agenda items; and that the commissioners attend training in police governance so they better understand their roles.
This is a revolt from the traditional old boy school of police (non) governance. That’s a very good thing.
There’s been a drift in police practices in recent decades — more heavily weaponized, more intrusive on privacy, more PR-oriented, etc. — that should worry us all. If we’re to reverse or even slow down these trends, it will take a strong, independent, and effective police commission.
3. Nova Centre North
“Four Cape Breton Regional Municipality councillors voted against extending an exclusive contract with a private firm that is looking to build a container terminal in Sydney Harbour, even though they say they faced intimidation to make the vote unanimous,” reports Tom Ayers for Local Xpress:
[C]ouncillors Earlene MacMullin, Ray Paruch, Amanda McDougall and Kendra Coombes — who had been seeking a delay in the contract extension — say they were pressed to abandon the delay and vote in favour of the contract.
“It was very difficult this morning being given all of this direction,” said McDougall. “I don’t feel like it was information, necessarily.”
Coombes agreed, saying the councillors felt they were treated condescendingly, and were also told they were acting shamefully.
“It was direction,” she said. “It was ‘You better do this.’ It seemed less like a briefing and more like we were being told.
“We were told if we did not do this right now, we were destroying Cape Breton.”
Paruch refused to call the morning session a technical briefing.
“The whole tactical meeting was nothing more than a lobbying effort,” he said.
Ah, the old “clap louder” tactic: if only everyone would enthusiastically and unquestioningly support our delusion, this place will be an economic boom town.
Where have I heard this before? Oh right, at the circle jerk for the Nova Centre, when Halifax’s elite gathered at the Neptune Theatre to fluff Joe Ramia and every politician who promised golden rewards via the miracle of conventioneers. I didn’t film the thing, but it wasn’t much far removed from this scene from Tony Robbins’ appearance at the Metro Centre a few years before:
What’s interesting in Cape Breton is that the councillors complaining about being intimidated aren’t even necessarily opposed to the port project — they just wanted more information and more time to consider their options. That is, they wanted to be thoughtful. This, of course, is unacceptable.
Rule number one in public policy is that when critical thinking is not allowed, there’s a scam in the works.
The Canadian Press gives an update on the animals that were stranded at Stanfield International for four days:
The animals — two chinchillas, two hamsters, and two geckos — finally made it [to Gander, Newfoundland & Labrador, where they’ll be sold as pets] Sunday morning. Most of about 40 fish, including goldfish, angel fish and guppies, weren’t so lucky.
“There’s probably only eight to 10 fish maybe that made it. The rest died,” [said pet store manager Terri-Ann Crisby].
1. The dangers of shopping and/or living in a bubble
“Most of us aren’t aware of just how unsanitary shopping carts often are,” writes Dorothy Grant:
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the grocery carts that we navigate around our favourite grocery stores might very well be hosting some rather nasty bacteria.
There is some recent research conducted by the University of Arizona on this very subject. I believe it’s something we all need to be made aware of.
Unhappily for us consumers, that research revealed that many of the shopping carts we use are contaminated, not only with innocuous substances such as jam from sticky fingers, but also with fecal matter. The research project involved taking swabs from 85 carts in four American states and running tests on them. The results turned out to be rather gross — 72 per cent of the swabs came back positive for fecal matter. (Half of them were also laced with E. coli.)
The bacteria were mostly found on the handles of the carts, which suggested that a lot of people could do a much better job of washing their hands after they use the bathroom. It is also suspected that diapered children sometimes soil the small seats in carts. (Diapers sometimes leak!)
Grant’s solution: anti-bacterial wipes, although she admits that “there isn’t much more a chain can do to encourage the use of these wipes, since many shoppers would probably be offended if every time they went grocery shopping, a store employee stopped them and politely asked them to please clean their hands with an antibacterial wipe.”
But wait a minute… I thought anti-backterial wipes and soaps were ultimately bad for us?
In September, the US Food and Drug Administration banned most over-the-counter consumer antiseptic wash products:
because manufacturers did not demonstrate that the ingredients are both safe for long-term daily use and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections
Washing with plain soap and running water remains one of the most important steps consumers can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs to others. If soap and water are not available and a consumer uses hand sanitizer instead, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that it be an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
The ban was put in place because anti-bacterial compounds ultimately lead to the bacteria evolving into superstrains of disease for which there are no counter-acting drugs.
The worry is that we’ll all end up living in a plastic germ-free bubble like John Travolta, until one day we simply can’t resist the lures of Glynnis O’Connor and her horse, and the next thing you know we’re off starring in the worst movie ever made or, a slightly less painful fate, embroiled in a humanity-destroying pandemic.
Grant doesn’t say one way or the other, but maybe the anti-bacterial wipes on the market in Canada are alcohol-based and so less of a worry. Still, we need a bit of grime and gunk and bacteria in our life to promote a healthy immune system.
I’m certain that’s why just the other day someone handed me a snotty, soggy diaper-clad baby — the pretence was I was supposed to gush and goo over the thing, but really the mother was just concerned that my immune system hadn’t been exposed to enough pathogens.
Grant’s a former nurse. She’s supposed to know that a filthy, germ-ridden world is good for us.
2. Cranky letter of the day
Today was the second day in six that I got caught behind a plow with shear up and huge amounts of salt flying back onto cars behind it.
On Dec. 8, I happened to get behind several cars that were behind a plow throwing salt on the highway … in the rain. Yes, in the rain. I was behind that blankety blank blank plow from the York Road to Main Street in Mount Stewart, only able to travel at 50-60 kilometers. This happened again tonight Dec. 13, when there was no need for salt on the bare-to-center bare highway. (An old Ray Simmons expression from back in the day).
Needless to say, there was a lot of road rage going on in my car. In fact, I even laid on the horn hoping drivers ahead and behind (about 30 behind me) would pick up the momentum and start blowing horns to get this driver of the out-of-control salt-throwing vehicle to pull over and let this long stream of cars get past. I honestly cannot imagine what the driver was thinking, throwing salt on a bare highway, and not once in less than a week, but twice.
I was so exasperated by the time I reached the Ultramar in Scotchfort, I pulled in and found some reason to go inside just to get a change of mind from my total frustration at this ignorant driver. If you should read this, next time use a little courtesy and pull over.
Kathy Birt, Mount Stewart
No public meetings.
Mary Anne White (3pm, the auditorium that’s named for a fucking bank that screwed poor people over even more in 2015 than it had before by raising its non-sufficient funds charge from a whopping $45 to an obscene $48 while the bank itself had record profits of $7.3 billion, a 28 per cent increase from the previous year, Marian McCain Arts and Social Sciences Building) — White, a Chemistry prof and Order of Canada recipient, will speak on “33.3 Years at Dalhousie: A Look Back and A Look Forward.”
In the harbour
4am: Gaschem Baltim, LPG tanker, arrives at Anchorage from Point Tupper
10am: MSC Cristiana, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Baltimore
3:30pm: MSC Cristiana, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
4pm: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for sea
5:30am: Theban, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southhampton, England
6am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
8:30am: Gaschem Baltim, LPG tanker, sails from Anchorage for sea
9:30pm: Theban, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
Cal at Strange Adventures (Prince & Water Streets, across from the Maritime Museum) tweets:
— Strange Adventures (@strangeadventrz) December 15, 2016