1. Mass Casualty Commission report to be released today

the green roadsign to Portapique with a tartan sash tied around the post
The Portapique sign on Highway 2 was adorned with a Nova Scotia tartan sash following the mass shooting that began there on April 18, 2020. Credit: Joan Baxter

The Mass Casualty Commission’s final report on the murders of April 19-20, 2020, is being released today at noon. The Examiner team will have detailed coverage, with stories being published later today. You won’t want to miss them. Please check back.

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2. Average property tax bill set to rise 5.8%

Halifax City Hall — an old sandstone building with a clock tower — is seen on a sunny day.
Halifax City Hall in February 2023. Credit: Zane Woodford

“Councillors have finished building their 2023-2024 budget, with the average property tax bill set to rise 5.8%,” Zane Woodford reports:

Halifax regional council’s budget committee met on Wednesday to consider the budget adjustment list. That’s a list of changes to the budget the committee has voted to consider over the course of the budget process during the last three months.

Councillors voted to add a few more items to the list and remove a few others, and made their final changes of the budget process. That leaves just the official rubber stamping vote next month before the budget is finalized.

Assuming there are no last-minute changes, the municipal portion of the average residential tax bill will rise by about $125, or 5.8%. The residential tax rate will fall by about 4.8%. That’s because the average residential property assessment in HRM is up more than 10%, to $301,100, meaning a lower tax rate brings in more revenue.

I want to pause here and say I appreciate the way Woodford has framed these tax numbers. All too often, I see reporting that says council is increasing property taxes by, say, 5%, when that increase results from an increase in property values and not from council increasing the tax rate.

As someone pointed out years ago on Twitter (I remember who said it, but I think the account was locked, so I don’t want to share the name) we don’t say HST has gone up by 10% when prices have increased so that we are now paying 10% more in tax. Sure, we are paying more, but that’s not the same as an increase in the tax rate.

Now, you may argue that people don’t care why they are paying more. What matters is that they are paying more. I am not unsympathetic to that view, but I also think words matter. An increase in the tax rate is not the same as an increase in property values, even if both result in higher property taxes.

Woodford’s story also covers the rest of the goings-on at council, including the latest changes to when you’ll have to pay for parking downtown, and what you will have to pay for it.

Click here to read “Halifax councillors finish budget debates, planning for 5.8% hike to the average tax bill.”

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3. Province won’t move on school lunches without feds

A stock image demonstrating the foods included in each category of Canada's Food guide. Vegetables, grains and meat are seperate.
Photo: contributed

At CBC, Michael Gorman reports that the province won’t implement a universal school lunch program until the federal government finalizes details of its plan:

Gorman writes:

[Education minister] Becky Druhan was responding recently after calls from opposition party leaders to get on with it, even if Ottawa has not finalized the program promised by the federal Liberals in 2021.

In an interview, Druhan said she’s talked with Karina Gould, the minister of families, children and social development of Canada, about the program, but she doesn’t know when it will be ready.

Druhan said the plan would be to build on the province’s universal breakfast program, so the lunch program can get going quickly once a deal is in place with Ottawa. The plan is that a free meal would be available for all students who want one.

Gorman quotes Liberal leader Zach Churchill, who says, “The province can’t sit around and wait for the federal government to come through on this.” Churchill was previously minister of education, and presumably did sit around on this himself.

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4. Annapolis Royal faces steep bill to save itself from rising seas

A small crowd of people sit on outdoor steps, overlooking a body of water. A band performs in front of the crowd, while a couple dances.
Free music on a Friday in Annapolis Royal. Photo: Stephen Archibald

SaltWire reports that the Town of Annapolis Royal is going to need close to $10 million to protect itself from rising sea levels:

[The town] received a report this month that confirmed everything that has come from other studies over the past quarter-century: sea levels are rising and the town — along with its national historic sites and historic district — are at risk…

The preliminary plan is for a wall that would run from the causeway to Fort Anne, and would see the waterfront boardwalk raised and then sloping land lead from there to the wall. While nothing is finalized, the town has already started writing applications for funding for the project.

[Mayor Amery] Boyer said residents of the town know that the project will be expensive, but “doing nothing is not an option.”

Every time I read one of these stories I think about the people who say that doing anything to stop climate change is too expensive.

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5. Secret meetings at CBRM

A two-storey institutional brown building with two rows of windows. A plaza with flowers and three flagpoles is in the foreground.
CBRM City Hall, as seen in 2019. Credit: Google Street View

Earlier this week in Saltwire, CBU political science professor Tom Urbaniak took CBRM council to task for unnecessarily going in camera:

I am concerned about the CBRM council meeting of Feb. 27.

Council went into confidential session without notice to the public that a confidential session would be held. The confidential session was on a topic that is not deemed legitimately confidential by the MGA [Municipal Government Act]. It was about whether to censure and reprimand Mayor Amanda McDougall-Merrill based on information that was already in the public realm.

Substantive final decisions were taken in the private session. The public was not told if the decisions were unanimous or how councillors voted.

At the Cape Breton Spectator, Mary Campbell cites Urbaniak and points to a long history of CBRM council meeting secretly in circumstances that don’t seem to warrant it. Campbell goes back to 2014. The list of inappropriate in camera meetings includes this:

2016 to 2018: Council met in camera four times to discuss raising mayor and councilors’ pay to compensate for the federal government’s decision to abolish the one-third tax-free provision for municipal officials.

Council is not permitted to discuss its own remuneration in camera.

We have a problem with the culture of secrecy in Canada generally. I would like to say in Nova Scotia in particular, but I don’t know if that’s true. What I do know is that there is a tendency to default to secrecy, often for no good reason, and frequently using privacy as an excuse.

It can take courage to be the person in the room who stands up and says wait, does this actually need to be secret? But that person is important. I have served on boards with people who interrogate the need for secrecy every time it comes up, and I appreciate them. This is also an area in which local journalism is important in terms of keeping councils and other bodies accountable for their decisions to go in camera.

On that note, both the Halifax Examiner and the Cape Breton Spectator are reader-supported. Please subscribe.

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6. Deforestation Inc, Part 2

Pictou Landing First Nation Chief Andrea Paul in full regalia and headdress, in front of other Mi'kmaq chiefs in full regalia stands in front of a microphone and behind them all is a banner saying No Pulp Waste In Our Water at a 2018 "No Pipe" rally in Pictou. Photo courtesy Gerard J. Halfyard
Pictou Landing First Nation Chief Andrea Paul addresses many hundreds of fishermen and protesters at 2018 “No Pipe” rally in Pictou. Credit: Gerard James Halfyard

We have taken the second installment in the “Deforestation Inc” series out from behind the paywall, meaning it is available for everyone to read for free. In this story, part of a monumental international investigative effort, Joan Baxter looks at pulp giant Paper Excellence’s relationship with the Pictou Landing First Nation:

Pictou Landing First Nation had had to live for nearly half a century with the stench of the Boat Harbour treatment facility on their southern doorstep, while the treated effluent flowed into the Northumberland Strait on the beach flanking the north side of their community.

To make matters even worse, prevailing winds in the area often shrouded Pictou Landing in the suffocating stench of the pulp mill’s airborne pollution.

And now untreated effluent had spewed all over sacred burial lands on the edge of Pictou Harbour.

Chief Andrea Paul had just been to the site of the spill that June morning, and was heading back to the road where PLFN community members were forming their blockade, when her phone rang.

It was Pedro Chang, deputy CEO of Paper Excellence.

Chang hadn’t been in touch with Chief Paul for a long while at that point, but now he was calling her from British Columbia, where Paper Excellence was headquartered, to talk about the pipeline break.

“And of course he addresses me as ‘big sister’ as he always did, and talks to me about resolving this issue, and about being a good neighbour,” Paul tells the Halifax Examiner. “And I laughed and said, ‘Oh my God. Are you serious trying to tell me that Northern Pulp are good neighbours?’”

This is a long read that is definitely worth your time.

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Ballad of the Motherland: Nuance in a time of war

Sparse theatre stage showing a woman leaning against a concrete wall while sitting on a thin mat. A door with bars in the window is behind her.
Hannah Wayne-Phillips as Kate, in the Neptune Theatre production of Ballad of the Motherland, written by Annie Valentina. Credit: Stoo Metz/Neptune Theatre

Last Friday, we went to see Ballad of the Motherland, currently on the Neptune Theatre’s main stage.

After having sat through six hours (over two nights) of the overwrought production of Fall on Your Knees — an experience that left me simultaneously feeling bad for the hard-working cast and wanting to bang my head against the wall — I was really hoping for a powerful, genuine-feeling play. And Ballad of the Motherland delivered.

Written and directed by Annie Valentina, the story is inspired by the 2014 kidnapping of an American journalist, presumably Simon Ostrovsky, by pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region of Ukraine. (Neptune makes it clear the characters in the play are purely fictional.)

The play tells the story of Kate, a Canadian of Russian-Ukrainian heritage whose mother is a middle-school teacher in Yarmouth, who goes to Ukraine on an internship partly in hopes of reconnecting with her heritage. On a trip to the Donbas region, she is kidnapped by pro-Russian separatists. The play alternates between scenes of Kate and her teen captor, Volodya, and Kate sitting on a stool, speaking with a disembodied voice, years later, as she tries to make sense of her experience.

Black-and-white headshot of a white woman with a funky haircut -- shaved on one side, piled over onto the other -- looking intensely into the camera.
Annie Valentina Credit: Neptune Theatre

Playwright and director Annie Valentina started writing the play in 2014, but told me she put it aside, because it didn’t seem to be going anywhere:

I started writing it, and it was really just… I had no idea why I was telling the story… It felt important to share in some way, and this is how I know to share stories, But I didn’t really know where it was going, and so I just kind of put it aside. And then during the pandemic, I picked it back up because I had this inkling that maybe it wasn’t a story about abduction quite so literally. Maybe it was a story about cultural identity and all the different ways in which we search for some way of connecting with our our heritage.

There is a line in the play about how nobody wants nuance in a time of war. And yet nuance is what Valentina and the rest of the team have brought to Ballad of the Motherland. It would be easy to do this story in broad outlines: Kate is a captive, Volodya, is violent and despicable, and Kate is an innocent martyr. It would also be easy to go too far the other way, justifying war and rationalizing violence. But Valentina, who grew up in Bulgaria and was a child at the end of the Communist era, manages to avoid both these pitfalls. When I asked her about this, here’s what she said:

I was really worried that it would feel like I was trying to both-sides the issue of war, which I very much did not want to do.

It was important to me to to explore the humanity of people. I wanted to examine this guy, this character, I know so many, so many young men like him… There’s such a reckoning that still hasn’t really come to a lot of those post-Soviet cultures that has to do with toxic masculinity, and has to do with homophobia, and how all of these things are still very present today. So I really wanted to explore that, but I also wanted to explore radicalization and how you really don’t stand a chance when you grow up in that. It’s kind of the water you swim in, and especially the more kind of disenfranchised you are… those end up being the things that you clutch onto. And so I found it surprisingly easy to be faithful to that kind of personality type, just because I’ve seen it so many times.

I found it actually was more difficult to write [Kate] as someone who’s also a projection of myself, who grew up in the West and who was trying to reconcile her reality with what she’s experiencing from this young man…

And so it ended up that ultimately the play was about so many different kinds of captivity: Her captivity, but also his captivity of the ideology that he’s deeply mired in, and what we do to survive those things.

Valentina’s role at Neptune is artistic associate, which covers a lot of ground, including running mentorship programs and scouting new productions. (When I spoke to her earlier this week she was in Winnipeg to check out a couple of plays.)

When I asked her if she was surprised that Ballad of the Motherland was being staged on Neptune’s main stage, she laughed:

In the same space as Elf: The Musical? What do you mean? But yeah, I mean, it’s been great to see. Honestly, I think one of the things I was happiest about in seeing audience reactions to it, is that people laughed at the jokes. Because I really wasn’t sure if people were going to get the humour, it being such a dark piece and knowing what they’re used to seeing in Fountain Hall — these kind of over-the-top comedies or musicals or whatever.

And I was like, this is a very different kind of humour and I just don’t know if the audience will get it. And they have!

Sometimes people feel like they’re not allowed to laugh because of how serious the subject matter is. But every night, my feminist jokes land and my queer jokes land.

Ballad of the Motherland runs at Neptune until April 2.

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It’s not the pylon’s fault if you hit it

Two traffic cones at the side of the road and an upside-down "slow streets" sign
Is this a metaphor for the slow streets pilot project? Photo: Philip Moscovitch

There is a fantastic rant about drivers hitting inanimate objects in Jalopnik, of all places. I guess it should not surprise me that a publication about cars is not sympathetic to crappy drivers, but it did seem funny to read something that could have easily run in an anti-car magazine on the site.

The rant is by Collin Woodard, and was prompted by an amazing self-own by Vancouver radio personality Jill Bennett, who tweeted a photo of an SUV sitting atop a bright yellow barricade. She wrote:

Hey @CityofVancouver⁩ this is second incident I’ve seen caused by these useless ‘slow street’ barricades installed last month. They don’t slow down traffic; they cause crashes and traffic chaos.

Woodard writes:

This is far from a one-off situation where one idiot had a bad take. This attitude is incredibly common… When the city closest to where I currently live (spoiler: not every Jalopnik staffer lives in New York) added flexible posts with some reflector tape on them to (sort of) protect a bike lane in its downtown, they were almost immediately hit, and the complaints started to flood in from people who were upset they were ever installed in the first place…

I’m sorry to break it to anyone who has trouble keeping their car out of a bike lane (or off a concrete barrier), but it’s not the bike lane’s fault you’re a shitty driver. If you hit something stationary, that’s your fault. Pay attention to the fucking road while you’re driving. It’s not too much to ask when other people’s lives are literally at stake.

If you enjoy a good rant, give it a read. It gets even better at the end.

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Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall and online) — agenda


Budget Committee (Friday, 9:30am, City Hall and online) — contingency meeting



Legislature sits (Thursday, 1pm, Province House) 


Legislature sits (Friday, 9am, Province House) 

On campus



Targeting cardiac hERG channels to protect against LQTS-associated arrhythmogenicity (Thursday, 1pm, online) — Tom Claydon from Simon Fraser University will talk

International human rights and Canada’s role in a polarized world (Thursday, 7pm, 2nd Floor, Dal Student Union Building and online) — conversation with Bob Rae and Roméo Dallaire, moderated by Shelly Whitman; info and registration here

Peer Gynt (Thursday, 7:30pm, Dunn Theatre) — Dal Theatre production, until April 1; tickets $15/$10, more info here


Keep Me In, Coach: The Short- and Long-Term Effects of Targeted Academic Coaching (Friday, 2:30pm, online) — Serena Canaan from Simon Fraser University will talk

Parched (Friday, 6pm, Joseph Strug Concert Hall) — a Creative Music Ensemble production; from the listing:

Since the spring of 2022, Torin Buzek and Tim Crofts have been collaborating in building a series of new micro-tonal instruments inspired by those conceived and built by American composer, philosopher and inventor, Harry Partch. With support from the Traves Performance Excellence Fund, the two artists have collaborated in researching Partch’s methods and balancing them with the realities of our current place, time, and access to materials. Combining Crofts’ unique musicality and Buzek’s creative carpentry, the two have created a collection that ranges from direct Partch replicas to modifications of pre-existing instruments and found objects.

Free, masks required, more info here

Peer Gynt (Friday, 7:30pm, Dunn Theatre) — Dal Theatre production, until April 1; tickets $15/$10, more info here

In the harbour

06:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
7:05: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Corner Brook
11:30: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Autoport to Pier 41
18:00: IT Intrepid, cable layer, sails from Pier 9 for sea
21:00: MSC Bhavya, container ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Montreal
21:00: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia

Cape Breton
No arrivals or departures.


It’s opening day. (That’s baseball, for you non-sports followers.)

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Philip Moscovitch is a freelance writer, audio producer, fiction writer, and editor of Write Magazine.

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  1. There’s an additional complexity to the discussion of property taxes that is often overlooked (or at least not explained). The pool of properties being taxed this year is different from last year. This means there is a difference between “there was an X% increase in the average tax bill” and “the average property owner had their taxes increase by X%”. If a bunch more McMansions are built that increases the average tax bill without having any impact on the taxes of existing property owners. I’m not sure which the 5.8% refers to.

  2. RE: Cars hitting things
    I have been pleasantly surprised over the last few years that many of the car-focused publications have been quite in favour of a lot of the same reforms that anti-car urbanites promote in terms of bike lanes, no sprawl, public transit, etc. Maybe some of this is gatekeeping, a lot of gear heads actually want cars to be special and not purely utilitarian. And I suspect a lot of it is also just being annoyed with bad drivers, because driving is their profession after all.

  3. That truly was a fantastic rant. I was laughing out loud by the end. Loved it! Have it bookmarked for future times when laughter may, once again, be the best medicine. Thank you, Philip, for making my Thursday much better.