News

1. Affordable housing in New Glasgow

The Nova Scotia Co-operative Council is converting the Tara Inn in New Glasgow to affordable housing. — Photo: Google Streetview

A former inn in New Glasgow will be turned into 36 affordable housing units. On Tuesday, Zane Woodford spoke with Dianne Kelderman, president and CEO of Nova Scotia Co-operative Council, which announced on Monday that it bought the Tara Inn on East River Road in New Glasgow. Kelderman told Woodford the renovation is underway and they hope to have full occupancy by the end of June. Woodford writes:

Similar to the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia’s hotel conversion in Dartmouth, Kelderman said every room needs to be renovated to add a kitchen, and there are product delays and shortages abound.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Kelderman said.

The facility is being named Coady’s Place after Father Moses Coady. He’s credited as the founder of Nova Scotia’s co-operative sector and was part of the Antigonish Movement, a group of priests and academics out of St. Francis Xavier University.

“They were all about encouraging local people to come up with their own solutions, to be the masters of their own destiny, and he committed his whole life to helping move people out of poverty,” Kelderman said.

“We thought Coady’s Place just had a really nice connection back to to co-operative history. And I’m sure he’d be really pleased to see this happening.”

Click here to read Woodford’s story.

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2. Black News File

Matthew Byard has his Black News File, which is a roundup of stories from Black communities in the Maritimes in February.

In this edition, Byard looks back at his stories on Preston MLA Angela Simmonds running for the leadership of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party, a story on the legacy of Richard Preston, a tribute to Wanda Robson, and how a community group in Upper Hammonds Plains is transforming its historic fire hall into a youth centre.

Click here to ready Byard’s story.

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3. More people are using food banks

Stock at a food bank in Glace Bay. Photo: Contributed

As gas, food, and other costs of living go up, more people are going to food banks for help. Gareth Hampshire at CBC had this story on the growing number of families using food banks. Nick Jennery, executive director of Feed Nova Scotia, tells Hampshire, “There are a lot of people living very close to the line.” Hampshire writes:

Between August 2021 and January 2022, the number of new people approaching Jennery’s organization for assistance grew to 900 from 600. Feed Nova Scotia supplies a network of about 140 food banks and meal programs across the province.

The situation is similar at Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank where the number of people requesting food boxes is up by 22%.

Jennery told CBC the rising cost of fuel means a squeeze for them, too, as they fill the tanks of the trucks that deliver the food. At Parker Street, they’re looking for more volunteers because of increased demand. They also need more money to buy a new refrigerated truck.

I love the first comment on the story — a reader suggested people need better money management skills.

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4. Rent inflation

Matt Lundy at the Globe and Mail talked with tenants in cities across the Maritimes whose rents are going up and becoming increasingly unaffordable.

Lundy spoke with Mike Nantau who lives in a motel in Stratford, PEI. He was paying $710/month for the rent. That went up to $900/month, which was still affordable, thanks to a provincial benefit for low-income seniors. But Nantau, who is 67, needs a more accessible space with fewer stairs as his mobility decreases. Nantau told the Globe, “It used to be very easy to find a place to live here in Charlottetown,” he said. “Six or seven years ago, you could get an apartment for $800 that’s costing you $1,200 or $1,300 now.”

Rents are up everywhere and Lundy got some numbers. He writes:

In PEI, rent has soared 16.4 per cent over the past two years, as measured by Statistics Canada’s Consumer Price Index. Rents are up 8.4 per cent in New Brunswick and 6.2 per cent in Nova Scotia, compared with a 4-per-cent increase at a national level.

The surge is not only a burden to household finances, but also emboldens landlords to jack up rents further in a region that’s teeming with newcomers, but struggling to absorb them.

It’s also emblematic of an unfortunate dichotomy: Homeowners have seen their wealth explode over the pandemic, while tenant households are getting squeezed.

Lundy had more on the prices of homes and how that’s affecting the rental market:

In the Moncton area, the benchmark home price has jumped 37 per cent over the past year, while in PEI, it’s up 27 per cent. In the Halifax area, the average home price has risen 30 per cent over a year to about $560,000.

That’s putting more strain on the rental market. Vacancy rates for purpose-built apartments in the Maritime provinces were under 2 per cent in October, or well below the national rate of 3.1 per cent, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said in a recent report.

Rents are rising quickly, too. According to CMHC, the average rent for an apartment in Charlottetown or Moncton ran about $1,000 a month – increases of 9.8 per cent and 10.6 per cent, respectively, in just the past year. Condominiums are far more expensive. In Halifax, the average condo rent was roughly $1,700 a month, up 10.9 per cent in a year.

So what are provinces doing about it? In PEI, Charlottetown Council introduced legislation on short-term rentals restricting their use to primary residences and banning apartments from those platforms. That legislation kicks in March 2023. Meanwhile, in New Brunswick, all tenants can dispute rent increases, not just those tenants who’ve lived in a unit for at least five consecutive years.

Lundy also spoke with Nichola Taylor of Fredericton. She and her family were renovicted and fortunately she found a place for $1,050/month. That’s an increase of $300 over what she previously paid. Taylor said she and her husband can afford the increase, but they’d rather spend the money elsewhere. Lundy writes:

“The way my husband sees it – and I agree with him – is if we’re going to pay this much money, it should be on our own mortgage rather than someone else’s,” she said.

Ms. Taylor is concerned with how others in her situation – minimum wage earners, single people, immigrants and seniors on fixed incomes – will manage the upheaval.

“It’s frightening, it’s really frightening,” she said. “Too many vulnerable people are at risk.”

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5. Doctor recruitment

Yesterday, Premier Tim Houston announced a new campaign to recruit more doctors to the province. And any doctor interesting in practicing in Nova Scotia might get a call from Houston himself.

According to a press release, any doctor who is interested in practicing here can go to the new Come Home to Nova Scotia website and they will get a call from a recruiter within 24 hours. Doctors who are qualified could get a conditional offer of employment within 10 business days.

“Having more doctors in more communities across this province is a priority for Nova Scotians – and for the government,” said Premier Tim Houston. “I’ve heard from doctors who moved away to train and many really want to come home. I want them to know that we are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to make healthcare better for patients, doctors and all healthcare professionals. I am happy to speak personally to doctors if that will help convince them to come home,” Houston said in the press release.

The Primary Care Physician Incentive Program is looking for doctors to set up practices outside Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone. “Doctors who qualify can earn up to $125,000 in incentives – $25,000 when they sign the agreement and $20,000 per year for the next five years. These payments will be made at the end of each year after key targets are met,” according to the release.

Houston shared this video on his Twitter account saying he might be the one calling any interested doctors back.

Having more doctors in more communities across Nova Scotia is a priority for you — and our government.

I’m picking up the phone to make sure every doctor who wants a job knows what Nova Scotia has to offer. pic.twitter.com/GL4tuj9aBi

— Tim Houston (@TimHoustonNS) March 7, 2022

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Views

1. Customers are bigger assholes than ever

Honestly, I’d be angry if I forgot to plug in my own phone, too. Photo: icons8 / Unsplash

On Friday I called Canada Revenue Agency’s line to ask a question about business taxes. I waited in the queue to talk to an agent, but while I was waiting, a recorded message played asking callers to be kind and that abusive language won’t be tolerated.

The message caught me a bit off guard. Certainly, there have been more of these “please be kind” messages around lately. I wrote about this in Morning File last June. 

But the messages are getting more assertive and straight out are telling people abuse won’t be tolerated. So, I asked on Twitter, “Are people getting worse?”

And it sounds like they are.

Several people chimed in on that thread to say they, too, have heard similar recorded messages on phone lines for delivery companies, a doctor’s office phone line, and on hospital phone lines. And there are still lots of “be kind” messages out there. At CAA, the message callers hear is “in a world where you can be anything, be kind.” I still see signs at banks, post offices, everywhere asking people to be nice to staff. I find this incredibly sad.

A few people said they noticed a significant increase in abusive behaviour by customers when Omicron hit the province:

Part of my job entails dealing with the public by email & phone and yes, it’s worse. I have been in that role for a year and I really noticed a hard turn into “you’re faceless, I’m going to vent ALL MY SPLEEN” when Omicron hit. I’ve even had people pause for breath mid-rant, say something like “and I know this isn’t your fault, but” and then go right back to name-calling and abuse. It’s a lot to carry.

1000% since November of last year the amount of people being abusive to me or coworkers has skyrocketed.

A few folks in my Twitter thread said that they even noticed that when they are polite, service staff are so appreciative they are brought to tears:

Anecdotally, I’ve noticed a much stronger response to my (simple, basic) kindnesses — things like saying please and thank you, or wishing someone a good day, get an effusively grateful response they really don’t deserve. I can only imagine the hate it takes to hit that point.

When someone is kind, or says thank you, I tear up because it’s just so nice to hear. Which just goes to show I think how fragile everyone is right now.

Last week, I read this article in Insider about Girl Guides in the US who are being harassed by customers about the cookies they’re selling. Customers are berating the Girl Guides for the increased prices of the cookies, the sugar content, and use of palm oil in the cookies, and even conspiracy theories about Girl Guides’ connection to Planned Parenthood. People, leave the Girl Guides alone. Buy the cookies or don’t and walk away.

Now, there are a few reasons for all of this behaviour of course. We’re all still in this pandemic, whether restrictions are being lifted or not. And people’s fuses are getting shorter and any healthy coping skills they had are likely gone. (A lot of people already didn’t have any healthy coping skills prior to the pandemic to deal with everyday emergencies. We should all work on that).

This one’s practicing “people skills”. Photo: somewhere on reddit.

People will say, “Oh well, people can’t take it anymore! You should cut them a break! Maybe they are having a bad day!” But this isn’t just a pandemic for customers; the people on the other end of the line or in the store are living through a pandemic, too. And while you may have had to deal with one frustrating customer service experience that day, they likely had to deal with many, many more irate and abusive customers over the course of hours.

And customer service may be getting worse, but that’s not the fault of the folks on the frontlines. For years, companies have been cutting staff, so there are fewer agents to answer calls (and more automated systems), fewer cashiers at the grocery stores so fewer check-out lines are open (and more self-serve lines are going in). And there are fewer staff out on the floor of those big-box stores, so it’s tougher to find someone to answer your question or help you find anything.

Companies know that customers will take out their frustration on the workers, and won’t write letters to head office demanding they add more staff to help with the backlogs of calls and lineups. And many of those callers certainly won’t demand that these companies pay these workers more money.

Social media doesn’t help. People say all sorts of things online, often under the cloak of anonymity. Now, they’re feeling tough and taking that behaviour offline, too.

But also: people like being assholes. A lot of people like punching down. We have a culture that says the loudest and whiniest of complainers will get what they want, even when they don’t deserve it. These people know if they make a big enough jerk of themselves, someone on the other end of the line will say, “Here you go. Have what you want.” This doesn’t apply just to customer service, of course. You see it in the workplace, in relationships, everywhere. The most obvious place we see it is in customer service. Someone in my Twitter thread said this:

The notion that “the customer is always right” has twisted itself into a belief that a customer can treat staff like garbage on the assumption their money buys them immunity from common courtesy.

Of course, it’s not that people were super-polite before the pandemic. On Thursday, when the Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) called a snow day, many parents started tweeting out insults on the HRCE Twitter account. This is nothing new. I said that suddenly it felt like the Before Times because people were just being pre-pandemic rude.

Now, I am not saying the decisions over snow days are always correct, but every time there’s a snow day, people head to Twitter to hurl insults at HRCE, and even at other parents. There’s no winning for the HRCE with this one. Regardless of the call, parents will lose it, and head to social media to say so.

Tweeting out insults is completely unnecessary. You’ve got to wonder what students think about it all if they’re scrolling through the feed, perhaps seeing their parents on there.

COVID restrictions are lifted in less than two weeks. Will people be nicer to service staff, on Twitter, and each other? No, they’ll just go back to being the same jerks they were in the Before Times.

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2. Drivers are bigger (and more dangerous) assholes than ever before

Traffic on Portland Street at the intersection with Woodlawn Road and Baker Drive on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

André Picard at the Globe and Mail had this article on the increase in traffic violence in the US. As Picard writes, people expected traffic collisions and pedestrian injuries and deaths would go down, as more people stayed home and bicycle sales soared, so people found safer ways to get around. But that’s not the case.

Here are some numbers. Picard writes:

The United States recorded 42,060 road deaths in 2020, up sharply from 39,107 in 2019, according to the U.S. National Safety Council.

The number of pedestrian deaths climbed to 6,721 in 2020, up from 6,412 in 2019, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. While that’s a modest increase, when you consider that the miles travelled were down sharply (by 13 per cent), that translates into a 21-per-cent increase based on vehicle miles travelled, a commonly used metric.

In addition, the GHSA only catalogues deaths on major roadways. A significant number of pedestrians are also killed in parking lots, driveways and such – about 1,500 annually.

Now, here are the numbers for Canada, which are down: fatalities were down 1% to 1,745; serious injuries down 12% to 7,868 and; personal injuries down 28% to 101,572. But as Picard reports, because Canadians travelled less than Americans during the pandemic, the numbers are actually up based on kilometres travelled.

So, what are the reasons? There are a few. Picard writes:

Three factors account for the majority of fatal motor vehicle crashes: speeding, impaired driving and a lack of seat belts. But underlying those human factors is the reality that cars (and trucks and SUVs) are designed to go fast and make cocooned drivers feel impervious to risks. Roads, too, are designed for speed, not safety.

During the pandemic, there has been less enforcement of traffic rules (not that there was much before) as police were urged to minimize unnecessary contact.

Who has not noticed a growing tendency of vehicles to blow through red lights and stop signs? Road racing seems to have become a popular pastime. Crossing streets has increasingly become a contact sport for pedestrians and cyclists.

During COVID-19, alcohol consumption skyrocketed, and so did impaired driving.

There is also a lot of pandemic anxiety and frustration, and in many instances we’ve seen that translate into COVID rage – not just on the roads, but in restaurants, on airplanes and during many other public interactions.

It’s all part of a larger problem of fraying social norms and an embrace of selfish individualism.

Like with the behaviour toward customer service staff, will people be nicer and safer when behind the wheel once the restrictions lift? Don’t count on it.

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Noticed

Last week I was driving over the MacKay Bridge and saw the clearance bars that were installed just before the Dartmouth-bound toll booths later in 2021. As I drove through, I wondered if the bars were working. As you may recall, the bars were installed after dozens of vehicles became stuck in the toll booths over the last few years. The stuck trucks became quite a phenomenon in the city, with commuters sharing photos on social media of the latest stuck truck, and likely its very embarrassed driver.

For months, people called the drivers who weren’t paying attention “dumb” and suggested the entire toll plaza be removed. Like many others, I was fascinated by why this was happening more often. So, last fall, I spoke with Steve Snider, CEO and general manager of Halifax Harbour Bridges, who said they were all just as baffled by it all. He told me that just the day before we spoke, the team was talking about new clearance bars that were going to be installed by the end of 2021.

Well, it turns out those clearance bars are working.

Yesterday, I called Steve Proctor, the communications manager with Halifax Harbour Bridges, who told me not a single vehicle has got stuck since the clearance bars were installed. There is no need to remove the entire plaza. As Proctor said, “sometimes the simplest solutions are the best solutions.”

I asked Proctor what the numbers were for the past few years. He told me 19 vehicles got stuck in 2021, four were stuck in 2020, and 12 were stuck in 2019. Now, three of those got stuck on the Macdonald Bridge — one vehicle in 2021 and two in 2019 — but the rest were stuck heading Dartmouth-bound on the MacKay.

Okay, two vehicles have hit the new clearance bars, but managed to stop before hitting the toll plaza itself.

So, there you go. A Halifax-specific phenomenon is no more. As Iris said, that calendar of stuck trucks could be a collector’s item.

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Government

City

Tuesday

Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm) — virtual meeting

Wednesday

Audit Committee and Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am) — virtual meeting;

Audit Committee agenda here; Audit and Finance Standing Committee agenda here

Special Events Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm) — virtual meeting

Board of Police Commissioners (Wednesday, 4pm) — virtual meeting

Public Information Meeting – Case 23923 (Wednesday, 6pm) — virtual meeting; development agreement for an apartment building at the intersection of Beaver Bank Road and Windgate Drive

Province

Tuesday

Health (Tuesday, 1pm, Province House) — Office of Health Care Professionals Recruitment, with Kevin Orrell and Suzanne Ley

Wednesday

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Economic Impact of Homelessness and Return on Investment of Housing Provision; with representatives from Departments of Community Services and Municipal Affairs and Housing, and Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

No events

Wednesday

Engineering Culture and how it relates to Defining Design Problems (Wednesday, 1pm) — Scott Flemming will talk

Saint Mary’s

Gender and Conflict: Towards Change and Resolution (Tuesday, 9am) — Zoom seminar with participants from several times zones, speaking on topics ranging from queer refugees in the city to the surveillance of women’s bodies in religious landscapes

Mount Saint Vincent

MSVU Business & Tourism fireside chat (Tuesday, 7pm) — Zoom chat with Premier Tim Houston


In the harbour

Halifax
05:00: NYK Deneb, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Antwerp, Belgium
08:00: ZIM Constanza, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
08:00: Vivienne Sheri D, container ship,sails from Pier 42 for Reykjavik, Iceland
12:00: a US warship arrives at Dockyard
13:00: CLI Pride, cargo ship, sails from Fairview Cove for sea
15:30: NYK Deneb sails for sea
15:30: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia
16:00: Acadian, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea

Cape Breton
09:00: Cherokee, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Jubilee, Ghana


Footnotes

Maybe the whole world needs a giant clearance bar to slow everyone down and stop them from being assholes.


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Suzanne Rent

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

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5 Comments

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  1. So, this happened yesterday. I called the customer service department of a big box store because their online order system was not working for me – error, error, error. I explained the issue to a woman for whom English was a second language – and she fixed it up lickety-split. I thanked her rather profusely because I was getting so frustrated before I reached her. When she answered with an accent I spoke slowly and spelled my name and address for her because I figured – rightly or wrongly – that she wouldn’t understand my anxious rapid fire chatter and I’d get increasingly frustrated having to explain over and over, and it wouldn’t end well. She thanked ME! And gave me a discount! Knock me over with a feather! Note to self: Being “nice” is more powerful than being “aggressive.” Someone tell Putin.

  2. I’ve really noticed the increase in aggressive driving during the pandemic, particularly around the city. With less traffic on the roads, some drivers seem to think everyone should be moving faster. The speed limit on the Macdonald Bridge is 50kmh, which in pre-pandemic rush-hour times was rarely achievable. Now, the speed limit appears to be only limited by the car in front of you: if there’s no car, there’s no limit. I’ve had drivers race up behind me, tailgate for a few seconds, then jump into the inside lane to overtake and shoot off until they get slowed down by the next vehicle. You’d think in quiet times people would be in less of a hurry, but apparently not.

  3. So glad I am not on twitter or FB or whatever else there is.
    CBC comment section is about all the interaction with assholes I can handle.

  4. Which one is not like the other ones ?

    IN THE HARBOUR:
    Halifax
    05:00: NYK Deneb, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Antwerp, Belgium
    08:00: ZIM Constanza, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
    08:00: Vivienne Sheri D, container ship,sails from Pier 42 for Reykjavik, Iceland
    *** 12:00: a US warship arrives at Dockyard ***
    13:00: CLI Pride, cargo ship, sails from Fairview Cove for sea
    15:30: NYK Deneb sails for sea
    15:30: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia
    16:00: Acadian, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea

    Ukraine on the brain… a reminder we are not an island lost in the mist of times, as more often appears the case.

  5. Years ago I worked at a computer repair/retailer shop and we had a regular customer who was ridiculously rude and condescending to everyone while demanding discounts on everything. To my surprise the manager would just give him the ludicrous discount that no other customer would ever get.

    The manager’s reasoning was that the amount of time spent arguing had a cost that was less than the discount, but to me it always just seemed like giving stuff to a jerk for free because he was a jerk. You’d think you’d want to give good customers a discount and bad customers the cold shoulder, but our world has some very perverse incentives that make the opposite happen.