News

1. MLAs block colleague who just gave birth from attending emergency session virtually

Cape Breton Centre-Whitney Pier MLA Kendra Coombes with baby Isla. Photo: Contributed

The Houston government is holding an emergency session of the legislature to vote against a recommendation that MLAs get a 12% pay increase, which seems like a ridiculous piece of performative theatre. And Cape Breton Centre-Whitney Pier MLA Kendra Coombes won’t be there, because at least one of her colleagues voted against allowing her to attend virtually, because she just gave birth ⁠— which is maddening.

The legislative clerk, James Charlton, polled MLAs on whether they were okay with Coombes attending the session virtually. The voting is secret, and the result would have to be a unanimous “yes.”

But at least one MLA voted no, and so Coombes is out.

Jennifer Henderson writes:

“By not giving consent they are blocking me from doing my work in a way that would accommodate being a new parent,” said Coombes. “There is a feeling of having to ask my colleagues, the majority of whom are men, for this permission that leaves a bad taste. In a space that is still only one-third women, we have to do better to make sure people see themselves in the legislature.”

Henderson adds:

Charlton said polls are used rarely when it comes to government business — the last time was in the spring of 2021 when COVID concerns forced the political parties to take a similar vote outside the legislature to decide if they could go back in session using a hybrid model that allowed some MLAs to work from the legislative chamber and others to work from home using video conferencing.

So the technology isn’t the problem. Political partisanship and disrespect for women is.

Click here to read Henderson’s story, which includes a statement from Minister Kim Masland.

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2. Encouraging neighbours, friends, and family to speak up about domestic violence

A screenshot from one of the videos from the Neighbours, Friends, and Family public awareness campaign.

Suzanne Rent brings us a story about a new campaign from the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women, which, she writes, “aims to teach Nova Scotians about the ways in which they can help anyone who might be experiencing domestic violence.”

The campaign is based on a template created by the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western University in Ontario. Rent speaks with Barb MacQuarrie, the centre’s community director:

“Domestic violence is not a problem that can be solved by individuals. It requires the care, the support of family members, of community, of friends to be able to make changes.”

MacQuarrie said the campaign could help someone leave an abusive relationship or help a perpetrator understand that their behaviour is abusive and commit to change. She said with the Neighbours, Friends, and Family campaign, many people are starting to see that domestic violence is not just a problem for professionals to solve. 

“You don’t need to be a counsellor, a social worker, a police officer, a doctor, or a nurse to be able to help someone,” MacQuarrie said. “Just to be able to stand with our own eyes, and nothing more than our sense of empathy and caring for somebody, we can help. We may be the critical link for somebody to getting the help they most need to be able to change what’s happening in their life.” 

MacQuarrie said the most useful part of the campaign is that it can help break down the isolation someone who is experiencing domestic violence often faces and the isolation that surrounds someone who uses abusive behaviour. 

Click here to read the story. 

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3. Spryfield roller rink hopes to skate to success

Upshaw’s Roller Dome. Photo: Matthew Byard

Shane Upshaw and his girlfriend, Naomi Walker, were looking for something to do during one of the COVID-19 lockdowns.

I was tired of being in the house and she wanted to start roller skating again. I was like, ‘Well, I like roller skating but I’m not going on the sidewalks and I’m not going down the skatepark with all the little kids.’”

Upshaw said he went on YouTube and noticed other roller skating businesses operating in the US. That’s when he said he decided he’d open his own.

“And I just went with it,” he said.

Matthew Byard interviews Upshaw about his new business venture, Upshaw’s Roller Dome, in Spryfield. (He quit his job installing underground water sprinklers to open the place.)

The roller dome opened on July 1, and while Upshaw says business has been steady, he’s hoping it will really pick up after summer is over:

“I know winter’s going to pick up because you can’t roller skate anywhere in the winter because of the snow or it’s too cold,” he said. “It’s more of an evening thing, I think.”

Upshaw tells Byard that as a Black business owner he’s a little surprised at how few of his customers so far have been Black, but that “race never had nothing to do with if this was going to work for me or not. Everyone’s welcome.”

I haven’t been to Upshaw’s yet, but I’m looking forward to going — and hopefully not embarrassing myself too badly on the skates. Maybe Upshaw can get in a few pinball machines, too.

The 1979 Bally KISS pinball machine. An old-time roller rink staple. Photo: Pinside.

Click here to read Byard’s story.

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4. Millions of dollars to housing co-ops from feds, province

One of New Armdale Westside Housing Co-operative’s former properties at 629 and 631 Herring Cove Rd. Photo: Zane Woodford

In 2020, the New Armdale Westside Housing Co-operative sold off half its units to the private sector “for a song,” Zane Woodford writes; an announcement made yesterday “is meant to ensure that doesn’t happen again.”

Woodford reports on yesterday’s announcement that the federal and provincial governments are giving non-profit housing co-ops $13 million in forgivable loans.

“This will help preserve a total of 145 community housing units in communities in Dartmouth, Wolfville, Sydney, Lower Sackville, and Halifax,” Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister John Lohr said.

Part of the money is going to upgrading units as well.

Woodford, having reminded us of a co-op privatizing half its portfolio two years ago, goes on to quote Lohr, who seems to be unaware that this can even happen:

Lohr said the loans are forgivable over a 10-year period. That means if a co-op were to go private before the end of the term or sell, part of the loan would come due. After the 10 years, a co-op could theoretically sell.

“I’m not sure that that’s the goal of co-ops and I’m not sure that that actually happens,” Lohr said.

Click here to read Woodford’s story.

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5. Councillors mull letter on abortion access to feds

Photo: Gayatri Malhotra/Unsplash

Zane Woodford reports on a recommendation in favour of a letter on abortion access.

Pending approval from all of regional council, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage may write a letter to the federal health minister “opposing any bill or motion that is intended to restrict abortion or reduce access to abortions in Canada.”…

Vice chair Christine Qin Yang brought the motion to that committee following the “devastating decision” from the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade….

Coun. Lisa Blackburn, a member of both the Executive Standing Committee and the Women’s Advisory Committee, said on Monday the motion came from a discussion among the committee members in the days following the June 24 decision from the supreme court.

“Certainly a lot of women on the committee expressing fears of what that could mean and not only in the States but what it could mean for for us here in Canada as well going forward,” Blackburn said.

Woodford notes that Martha Paynter, a nurse who provides abortion care, has written about how the US and Canadian situations with respect to access to abortion are completely different, and that there is a danger in conflating the two.

Click here to read that story. 

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‘The gymnastics of my mind’: Living with serious mental illness

Philip Tétrault. Photo: National Film Board of Canada

It’s lunchtime, and I just got a cheap brie-and-baguette sandwich from my favourite takeout place near Concordia University’s Norris Building, in downtown Montreal. I plunk my backpack down on a bench, when a guy with a scraggly beard heads towards me. I don’t know if he is living on the street or not, but he looks like he could be. I pick up the backpack, and he tells me it’s OK, I don’t need to worry about him stealing my stuff. I tell him I wasn’t worried about that. I was just making room on the bench for him. He sits down.

It’s the late 1980s, and I’m an English student at Concordia. The guy starts chatting with me. I can’t remember if he tells me his name or not — I don’t think he does — but we wind up in conversation for a good half hour or so. He tells me about his writing (he has a notebook with him), about having been a student at McGill, about his time in psychiatric hospital, about his first experience with LSD, and about how he felt like he didn’t truly come back from it for a long time.

I can’t remember how that conversation ended, but I do remember being quite taken by the guy, and in particular, his insights into the way his mind worked.

I knew nothing about mental illness at the time. I didn’t think I knew anybody with mental illness (I would only discover later that my father had spent time in the same psychiatric hospital as the man on the bench.) Because of my ignorance, I didn’t expect that someone who had been through psychotic episodes would be able to so clearly discuss and describe them, and do it with a wry sense of humour, too. It was a memorable conversation.

Nearly 20 years later, I’m sitting in my home office here in Nova Scotia, watching a documentary called This Beggar’s Description. I’ve been hired to write marketing copy, mainly text for the back of the DVD. It’s a film by Pierre Tétrault, about his brother, Philip, a Montreal poet with schizophrenia. I’m overcome with a feeling of familiarity. About halfway through the film — perhaps when I hit the scene in which Phil is sitting on a park bench chatting with his friend Leonard Cohen, cracking jokes about about losing his toes to frostbite, and discussing poetry, Philip’s new book (also called This Beggar’s Description), and reminiscing about their  friendship and how they met — I recognize Phil as the guy from that downtown Montreal park bench.

The documentary is a moving and loving portrait of a sibling — a celebration of his life and work, and an unsentimental look at how living with largely untreated mental illness affected him. The library catalogue description of the film (which I may have written) says this:

Philip Tétrault, the brother of director Pierre Tétrault, has been locked up in jails and psych wards, kicked out of the house by desperate friends and family, spends long periods living on the streets of Montréal. Phil’s writing, which is central to his life, offers insights into street life, the beauty of nature and what he calls “the gymnastics of my mind”. This is the story of Phil and the far-reaching effects of schizophrenia.

Philip Tétrault. Photo: National Film Board of Canada

In 2004, Philip’s daughter, photographer Amanda Tetrault, published a book about her dad called Phil and Me. (I own a copy.) In the one brief essay in the book, she talks about the embarrassment she felt around her dad as a child and teen, when his schizophrenia was one of her “biggest secrets.” In Tetrault’s portraits, we see her dad writing, smiling playfully, picking through garbage in a park, joining the family for a summer gathering. The photographs are striking, and the portrait they collectively paint is complicated — as is her relationship with her dad.

The year the book came out, Tetrault wrote about Phil for the Guardian:

I can tell the beginnings of an episode with Phil. My mother and I can see it. He becomes nervous, looks around, says something that might not make total sense. So we’ll be like, ‘OK, what are you thinking? Are you hearing stuff?’ The same cycle over and over again. Wherever my mother went after he stopped living with us, he would come and he would stay for a while. And she would be happy, she liked him to come when he was well, but then he would get crazier, he’d come and ask for money, raving, you know? Mad. And she would have to kick him out. Always drama…

Others always see the worst in people who look like Phil. But things are not what they seem. They don’t know, say, that he has a daughter. So many times with Phil, I’ve experienced other people’s reactions to him. When we’ve been sitting in a cafe, and someone will come up to me and say, ‘Is he bothering you?’ or ‘Can we help you?’ It’s just horrible for him and me. He’s so embarrassed. I don’t know what to say, I’m like, ‘No, no, it’s fine.’ I don’t know what these people are thinking – I mean, we’re just sitting having a coffee together. It’s all about appearance, about what they assume. You know, there’s incredible discrimination towards people like him, people on the street. I’ve felt it, and I know his stories. The police treat him like shit. People treat him like shit and it makes me so angry.

Now that he’s in his fifties, the illness is not nearly as bad as it was when I was a teenager and growing up. It’s not the same peaks and lows, not the same drama. He’s taking his medication and you know he’s really smart; he’s really funny, and he’s really nice. Always has been. To this day he gives me money whenever he can. My grandmother always told me to take it.

Phil died in his sleep on July 14. I’ve thought a lot about him over the years. Much has changed in the last few decades when it comes to understanding and treating serious mental illness. Medications have improved and research and practice have shown that with proper care, psychotic disorders are highly treatable. You likely know someone who has one, even if you don’t know you do.

But when it comes to broad public understanding, I don’t think we’re much more educated than I was, sitting on that park bench all those years ago, surprised at how smart, funny, and insightful Philip was, because that didn’t fit my image of someone with mental illness. Despite all the “Let’s Talk” campaigns and their ilk, “psychotic” continues to be casually used as a synonym for violent, or twisted. You know, crazy. It’s a way of separating “us” from “them.” And it allows us to justify our failures when it comes to providing respectful support to vulnerable people.

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Government

City

Tuesday

No meetings

Wednesday

Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm) — virtual meeting

Province

Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place) — appointments to agencies, boards, and commissions

Legislature sits (Tuesday, 2pm, Province House)


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

PhD defence, Department of Community Health and Epidemiology (Tuesday, 9am) — Souvik Mitra will defend “Prophylactic Cyclo-Oxygenase Inhibitor Drugs for the Prevention of Morbidity and Mortality in Extremely Preterm Infants: A Clinical Practice Guideline Incorporating Family Values and Preferences”

Thesis defence, Physiology & Biophysics (Tuesday, 1pm, Room 3H1, Tupper Building and online) — Erica Seelemann will defend “Mechanisms of Sex Differences in Right (-Sided) Heart Failure: Role of Angiogenesis”

Past/Future: African Canadian History, Arts and Culture in STEM Education (Tuesday, 5:30pm, the IDEA Building) — until July 28, a three-day “symposium of action and possibilities that explores Black Canadian history, and further investigates how it can be integrated into STEM education.” More info here. $100/$50

Wednesday

Past/Future: African Canadian History, Arts and Culture in STEM Education (Wednesday, all day, Rowe Building) — second day of a three-day symposium; more info here. $100/$50


In the harbour

Halifax
06:00: AOPS3, Arctic Offshore Patrol boat, arrives at Irving Shipyard from sea
10:30: NYK Romulus, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for sea
12:30: Violet Ace, car carrier, sails from Auotport for sea
23:00: MSC Rossella, container ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Valencia, Spain
23:00: ZIM Yokohama, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea

Cape Breton
The yacht Archimedes is running around St. Peters the Bras d’Or Lake


Footnotes

You can find several roller rink playlists on Spotify.


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Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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8 Comments

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  1. A) Anonymous voting by elected (democratically!) MLAs?? ahhh, nope – please remember this dismissal of democracy in 2025.

    B) Thank you for sharing your encounter with Philip Tetrault; this is “the stuff” that can improve our understanding of mental illnesses and how we can respectfully respond.

  2. Was going to comment on the Kendra Coombs ‘decision’ by the ruling PC’s. Here’s one word to describe her exclusion from this summer session- ATROCIOUS.
    I choose , knowing that there will be a plethora of such comments, to focus on the terrific piece about Philip Tetrault. It was beautifully written and the 9 minute piece with he and Leonard Cohen having a chat on a park bench- each enjoying his drink of choice- was fantastic. I know there is little connection, but looking at Phil Tetrault and listening to him and Leonard sharing memories, I was reminded of what I read about poet and carpenter Milton Acorn in the book MILTON ACORN The People’s Poet , published by Fernwood Publishing. It struck me, in listening to Cohen reading a poem by Tetrault, that Acorn,Tetrault ,and Cohen would have also been one hell of a session to have been able to eaves-drop on.

      1. Philip. thanks for the link to the doc. Just finished watching in its entirety.Bookmarked and ready for a re-watch as desired. The documentary is superb! Maybe this quote of Milton has some resonance for you and co-journalists-
        {I think it fits}:
        ” When you take the last line and a tingle goes through you, you’re done.” This, Milton said of his poetry; it may not just be poetry well done that has such an effect.
        Much appreciated!

      2. One of my favourites from our “people’s poet”

        The Newfie Bullet*

        Is the Newfie Bullet a fundamental right?
        As sure as there were seas on Mars
        And will be again, if we wish it,
        It is.
        Anything the bourgeoisie tries to take from us
        Or succeeds; becomes a fundamental right.
        If it wasn’t one before
        It is now.

        •Milton Acorn

  3. No vote by MLAs should be anonymous. Whoever it is who voted against Ms. Coombes should be identified and called out for this blatant misogyny. There is no room in 2022 for this kind of attitude towards female elected officials. Never mind the fact that the whole reason for this special session is political grandstanding.

  4. The child is 2 weeks old and needs the full attention of the mother. When our first child was born the family doctor told her she should stay in bed for at least one week. I was many miles away and did not return home for several weeks.
    And the article today omits the update in the Woodford article which contains more information that significantly alters the facts.

    1. Perhaps you’re talking about the update to the Kendra Coombes article, which was written by Jennifer Henderson, and is available at the link.