News

1. Woodford Report

A rendering of the winning design concept for the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, by KPMB Architects with Omar Gandhi Architect, Jordan Bennett Studio, Elder Lorraine Whitman, Public Work and Transsolar.

It’s Wednesday morning, which means Zane Woodford has all the news you need to know from Halifax regional council’s meetings Tuesday. Find the detailed report here. Here’s one of the highlights:

New art gallery

In 2020, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia asked Halifax to put $7 million toward the construction of the new gallery building planned for the waterfront. Councillors said they’d consider spending the money, but the request didn’t make it into last year’s budget.

Last month, the Examiner reported that municipal staff are now recommending the municipality contribute a smaller contribution of $3 million dollars to be paid out in five instalments of $600,000.

Coun. Shawn Cleary moved to increase HRM’s contribution back up to the original $7 million, asking staff to come back to the budget committee with a recommended payment schedule.

Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace felt the municipality was already helping out on housing, a provincial responsibility, and shouldn’t set a precedent for funding provincial projects here.

Despite Lovelace’s reservations, Cleary’s motion passed, but that doesn’t mean HRM will necessarily pay $7 million for the project. The $7 million in funding is now part of councillors’ budget adjustment list, which they will pick and choose from toward the end of the budget process this spring.

Woodford also reported on news about public consultation on the Halifax Common Master Plan and a proposed bike lane for Almon Street.

Click here to read the Woodford Report. 

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2. Halifax council votes to end polygraph testing in hiring process

A polygraph test. Photo: flickr/spiralstares

In 1987, Canada’s Supreme Court decided polygraph tests, a scientifically unbacked method of lie-detection, were inadmissible in a court of law. Even so, Halifax Regional Police still use them to screen prospective officers, civilian employees, and contractors working with police.

As Zane Woodford reports, on Tuesday, Halifax councillors voted to stop using polygraph tests on municipal employees.

The vote followed a staff report to council, recommending the municipality stop using the tests to screen job applicants. From that report, written by acting executive director of human resources Laura Nolan:

Current academic literature on the use of the polygraph consistently questions the validity of the polygraph as a tool in pre-employment screening. Many scholars and scientists discount the process entirely while others suggest strategies for increasing its efficacy as a supporting tool (as opposed to an excluding tool) in hiring.

The field of polygraphy still has strong proponents defending it as a both a science and an art form, but even within that field, there is the acknowledgement that polygraph practices, policies and processes must change if they are to be considered relevant in the current climate and be seen as a culturally and socially acceptable tool.

It’s helpful here, I think, to understand just what a polygraph does and where scientists feel they fall short. In brief, a polygraph test involves a person hooked up to sensors that measure their pulse, breathing, and sweat. There’s not a lot of debate about how well these tests take those physical measurements; the question is, how much can we learn from them.

Here’s an academic’s explanation from a 2018 Popular Science article:

[The] biometric results are accurate, says John Synnott, a lecturer in investigative and forensic psychology at the University of Huddersfield. But it’s the interpretation — the leap from the physical data to the psychological motive — that so often fails. “When people say the polygraph doesn’t work, I’d call [them] on that,” Synnott says. “The polygraph always works, because all the polygraph does is measure physiological output.” But, he says, it’s never “detected” a lie.

Essentially, you don’t have to be a sweaty, heart-racing mess to be lying. Nor do you have to be calm, cool, and collected to be telling the truth. A polygraph test can tell us how a person’s body is reacting while they speak, but it can’t definitively tell us if that person is lying.

Despite the vote, HRP won’t stop using polygraphs in the hiring process for another seven months. There’s no defined timeline for phasing out polygraphs in investigations. You can find out why by reading Woodford’s full article from Tuesday, right here.

For further reading on HRP’s relationship with polygraph testing — the department’s been using the tests since 1976 — check out this 2020 article from El Jones, who chaired the municipality’s Subcommittee to Define Defunding the Police. In it, Jones explores HRP’s use of the dubious tests and how it was impacting the police budget.

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3. Province announces 500 new long-term care beds coming to HRM nursing homes

Residents of Melville Lodge sit in a parking lot during a press conference in August 2020. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

Good news for the approximately 1,900 elderly Nova Scotians currently waiting for a nursing home bed.

Minister of Seniors and Long-term Care, Barbara Adams announced on Tuesday the province is looking for suppliers to build 500 new single rooms in nursing homes across HRM.

“With an aging population that is amongst the oldest in Canada, the need for this investment is even more urgent,” Adams said in a news release.

The 500 new beds will be in addition to 2,000 new rooms already announced “as a result of either upgrades or expansions underway at 27 nursing homes across the province,” writes Jennifer Henderson in her report from Tuesday.

Those renovations, she reports, were announced by the previous Liberal government; none of those rooms will be completed before 2023 at the earliest.

This week’s announcement is the first major announcement of new construction since the Progressive Conservatives took office in summer.

Read Henderson’s article for a better understanding of how this latest announcement will help the nearly 2,000 Nova Scotians — 330 of whom are stuck in hospitals — currently waiting for beds in nursing homes.

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4. Ralston MacDonnell

Ralston MacDonnel

This item is written by Tim Bousquet.

Back in July, I took a lot of glee in Ralston MacDonnell’s downfall:

I’ve been having great fun reading the recent court decision finding Halifax engineer and businessperson Ralston MacDonnell guilty of tax fraud. The charges were laid against MacDonnell personally, and his firms: MacDonnell Security Risk Management Limited, MacDonnell Group of Canada Limited, and 3182552 Nova Scotia Limited.

Forgive me for taking pleasure in someone’s downfall, but in these lockdown times, I take recreation where I can find it, and this is just one humdinger of a story.

… [But read the details at the link]

It’s all a bit much: cheating the taxman while “borrowing” tens of thousands of dollars from your employees and driving around in a BMW and flying to your Florida residence.

We all like seeing a conniving businessman get taken down… but wait! There’s more.

I was drawn to MacDonnell’s story because back in 2005, he was chair of the board at NSCAD (under his oversight, NSCAD became NSCAD University).

I have no strong opinion about whether the move to the Port was good or bad for NSCAD. I talk with people who have differing views, and I’ll leave that up for others to debate. But I do know that I was brand new to Nova Scotia at that time (I moved here in December 2004) and hadn’t yet wrapped my head around the politics of the place, but even then l vaguely understood that NSCAD’s move to the Port was unexpected, and seemed to involve some sort of turf water between Waterfront Development (a provincial agency) and the Port (a federal agency).

And consider this: after steering NSCAD to the Port, then-chair of the NSCAD board and future convicted tax fraudster Ralston MacDonnell’s firm, MacDonnell Security Risk Management Limited, was hired by the Port to oversee security at the Port.

Funny, that.

Yesterday, Judge Paul Scovil sentenced MacDonnell to seven concurrent three-year prison terms for fraud, alongside a one-year concurrent term for tax violations. Additionally, MacDonnell must pay $603,025.29 in fines.

“Here the moral blameworthiness of the accused is high,” wrote the judge. “Mr. MacDonnell’s priority during the time in question was to maintain his personal lifestyle at the expense of his obligations to the Crown as well as his business.”

But maybe someone should look into that NSCAD/port thing, eh?

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5. COVID update

Photo: Edward Jenner/Pexels

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston and chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang are holding a COVID-19 briefing at 3pm today (click here to if you want to watch that). I lead with that because I’m sure that’s what most of us will want to pay attention to on the pandemic-front today, though I do have numbers below and Tim Bousquet has his full COVID update from Tuesday here.

This week, restrictions in Nova Scotia were eased for “sports practices and arts and culture rehearsals.” And Prince Edward Island announced a three-step plan to transition that province into post-pandemic life. Pandemic fatigue has been surfacing heavily lately and I’m sure Strang and Houston will address this today. Current restrictions will expire on February 14 — no one wants to be socially distanced on Valentine’s Day — so it’s likely we’ll find out today if anything’s going to change next week.

Here are some key numbers from Tuesday:

Nova Scotia is reporting a total of 363 people in hospital who either now have COVID or once did have COVID, as follows:
• 91 admitted because of COVID symptoms, 14 of whom are in ICU. Those 91 range in age from 0 to 97 years old, and their average age is 65;
• 130 admitted to hospital for other reasons but who tested positive for COVID during the admissions screening or who were admitted for COVID but no longer require specialized care;
• 142 who contracted COVID in the hospital outbreaks

Click here to read the entire update. 

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Views

Choosing the news that makes the headlines

Just a quick observation today.

I was looking at the BBC’s website last night while checking out some of the international coverage of the ongoing protests in Ottawa.

I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole. I was just interested in what other countries were writing about that mess. For a quick look at international right-wing responses to the rally, read this New York Times piece from yesterday.

What struck me were the stories the BBC had chosen to headline.

Let’s take a look.

BBC homepage on evening of Feb. 8, 2022.

So, three stories on the rally in Ottawa, one on the tensions at the Russia-Ukraine border, one on the winter Olympics, one on texting etiquette, and one on Adele’s big wins at the Brit Awards. And finally, a piece on the Duchess of Cornwall’s first public appearance since Queen Elizabeth said something about her rank or status or something.

I love looking at what news sites — and, to a lesser extent, newspapers and broadcasts — choose to push to the top of their pages. 

It’s a fascination that began pretty recently, in 2018, when the CBC replaced the lead story on their national webpage — an article on a UN report saying nature was in worse shape than any other point in human history — with a breaking story that Princess Kate was pregnant.

So let’s do a quick breakdown of the BBC’s Tuesday page.

There were three articles on the rally in Ottawa. That one is a big deal for us in Canada. How much of a role did the media play in ramping it up to begin with? I don’t know, but it’s news now, that’s for sure. It’s amazing how much global attention this has drawn, though.

Especially when another story from yesterday concerned the potential start of World War III. It does say Putin has pledged “no new Ukraine escalation,” so I suppose the trucker rally was a more pressing story as of Tuesday night.

Sandwiched between those two volatile stories were a recap of the Olympics — fair enough, I suppose — and a feature piece on texting etiquette. It’d be easy to ridicule that texting piece being placed so high, but I think figuring out texting etiquette is as important to Western democracy as stories on Russian hostility and COVID protests spawned by misinformation, so I’ll give it a pass.

Then we have articles on Adele winning some meaningless awards (she’s a fantastic musician; not knocking her), and a senior citizen going out in public for the first time after another senior citizen made a comment about her rank and status.

Fascinating.

No matter what a news site chooses to lead with, there’s always a repercussion for the choice made. One issue gets blown out of proportion, another, more deserving, loses steam in the public consciousness. Important stories that could have a real impact on average citizens can get shoved aside in favour of the flashy and scandalous. Or, what seems like a serious issue — like the protest in Ottawa — gets three times as much play as a conflict that could be the bloodiest in Europe since the Second World War.

It’s always worth paying attention to. 

In case you were wondering, I put Woodford’s report on Halifax regional council up top since it was newest and covered a wide range of issues impactful to Haligonians. I put the COVID update near the bottom since it was mostly numbers today and pandemic reports are relentless.

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Noticed

Running on film ?

I caught Licorice Pizza at the cinema on Monday. It was a very entertaining — if not all-over-the-place — look at two young people maturing and falling in love in 1970’s Los Angeles. It was full of beautiful cinematography and hilarious one-off stories populated by scene-stealing cameos. It also involved some cringeworthy Asian accents and a love story between a 25-year-old woman and a 15-year-old boy, but I’ll leave those topics of discussion to the wolves of social media. (They 100% bear discussion though).

What I most noticed about the film was the amount of running in it. Characters run urgently through the San Fernando Valley as if people didn’t drive everywhere in that city 50 years ago like they do now.

I thought it was a stupid observation on my part, but apparently it’s been noticed by a lot of people. So much so that Tia Glista at The Guardian wrote a whole piece on it, and how women running in film is marking a shift in how we see femininity portrayed on screen. I thought that was a bit of a stretch, but it turned out to be an interesting read and I thought I’d share a bit of it here this morning.

Movies used to feel like the true medium of our age — since dethroned by TV (streamed) and social media. The little things in them are still worth paying attention to. They tell us a lot about where we are. Here’s an excerpt:

[I]n the past couple of months, a slew of new movies have made emphasised one kind of movement in particular, with scenes of women running. Since Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza was released, social media has been populated with gifs of its star Alana Haim running through Los Angeles – arms pumping, hair blowing, grinning widely (Haim has joked about becoming “so fit” on set). In the forthcoming Norwegian drama The Worst Person in the World, directed by Joachim Trier, the protagonist Julie (Renate Reinsve) runs down the middle of the street euphorically in a scene that is spotlighted by the film’s poster. Both Haim and Reinsve are relative newcomers to the big screen; the beauty of their performances lies in how unvarnished they feel, and running, specifically (unlike other kinds of movement, such as dance), adds to this uncalculated feeling – it’s more about letting go than looking good.


For the most part, however, women have finally begun to play a much more (literally) active role in film. The shift towards women who explode into movement suggests an important turning point in the culture of images that normalise, sanction, and direct ideas about gender, especially those that have so often limited the female body to the status of ornament. Women are now fronting superhero films such as Wonder Woman and Birds of Prey and even giving James Bond much needed back-up in No Time to Die. Watching women’s bodies in the throes of action, whether running, fighting, or flying, has a cathartic effect. However, this movement tends to be more spectacular – the product of a rigorously trained, aestheticised body – than realistic. To reduce this feeling of empowerment to moments of violence and combat, and in the context of films that otherwise say very little about gender or feminism more broadly, feels like a return to the problems raised by Dyer, in other words, to a reification of bodily power without acknowledgment of politics, or to a celebration of capacity carte blanche. If women now have more freedom to move on screen, what might they move towards?

Is this the case? Or is it reading too much into things? I’ve been persuaded it’s a conscious choice. The full article is really worth checking out.

In other movie news, Nova Scotian Ben Proudfoot received an Oscar nomination for the second year in a row. (He, along with art director Shane Vieau, is one of two Bluenosers nominated this year.) This year Proudfoot’s nominated for short subject documentary for The Queen of Basketball, a New York Times Op-Doc. Check it out here if you haven’t seen it yet.

I’ve now written about movies in three straight Morning Files. I’ll stop now.

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Government

City

Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am) — virtual meeting

Design Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm) — more info here

Province

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am) — video conference; Review of Crown Corporations, with representatives from the Departments of Economic Development, Public Works, and Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Primary Health Care Learning Series (Wednesday, 12pm) — online seminar consisting of two presentations: “Talking ‘bout my generation: Practice patterns among early-career family physicians and implications for primary care policy and workforce planning,” with Ruth Laverne; “The kids are alright: Influences on the intentions for obstetric practice among family physicians and residents in Canada,” with Emily Gard Marshall

Speak Truth to Power: Sounding the Alarm on Gender-Based Violence (Wednesday, 6pm) — online forum with Crystal John, Lisa Lachance, Mx Seán Nashak, Lyndsay Anderson, and Suzie Dunn

Thursday

Panel Discussion on Teaching while Black (2) (Thursday, 5:30pm) — the second of a two-part online panel discussion and interactive conversation with George Sefa Dei; Funke Oba; Gaynor Watson-Creed; Dominic Silvio and Festus Y. Moasun; moderated by Buster C. Ogbuagu, with CART Transcription

Books & Bees (Thursday, 7pm) — Zoom conversation with Francesca Ekwuyasi, author of Butter Honey Pig Bread, and author and beekeeper Cooper Lee Bombardier

Saint Mary’s

Climbing out of the silo: A systems approach to displacement (Wednesday, 2pm) — virtual event with David Scott FitzGerald from the University of California San Diego


In the harbour

Halifax
07:00: MSC Tianjin, container ship, moves from Bedford Basin anchorage to Fairview Cove
08:30: Algoma Integrity, bulker, arrives at Gold Bond from Portsmouth, New Hampshire
10:30: CMA CGM Hermes (154,995 tonnes), container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
15:00: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia
15:00: One Majesty, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
16:00: MSC Tianjin sails for sea
18:00: MSC Leigh, container ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Sines, Portugal
22:00: Gotland, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 for Bilboa, Spain
0:2:30 (Thursday): CMA CGM Hermes sails for New York

Cape Breton
08:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
09:00: Lilac Victoria, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
010:00: Nantucket, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Jubilee, Ghana
13:00: Algoma Victory, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Savannah, Georgia
03:20: Rt Hon Paul E Martin, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Wilmington, North Carolina


Footnotes

  • In honour of council’s vote, enjoy two of the best jokes in the entirety of the Simpsons (both polygraph related) here and here.
  • When I lived in the city, sometimes I’d feel claustrophobic in the cement and get homesick for the Valley’s open fields. When that happened, I’d bike up by the Lancer’s stable, close my eyes, smell the horse shit, and pretend I was home.
  • “Voted to defer a vote” are Woodford’s words. That’s the political process at its best.

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Ethan Lycan-Lang

Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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  1. Did the Police Chief take a lie detector test when he was hired? It would be interesting to know which positions require lie detector testing.

    I wonder if the reason there is a delay in getting rid of lie detector testing is a supply chain delay in obtaining thumb screws.