News

1. Council report: less frequent recyclables and organics pickup, disappointing targets on pedestrian safety

If you live in rural or suburban HRM and are dumping this into the compost, you may need to wait longer to have it picked up. Photo illustration: Yvette d’Entremont

Council’s budget committee met yesterday, to discuss the Transportation and Public Works operating budget. Zane Woodford reports on the items the committee considered, including a reduction to blue bag and green bin pickup, and an increase in service standards for clearing snow from bus stops. (The current standard is 48 hours.)

Woodford also writes at length about two presentations on road safety that kicked off the meeting, and councillors’ questions to Transportation and Public Works director Brad Anguish on the subject.

Here’s Woodford on the rather underwhelming standards the municipality has set to reduce pedestrian injuries and deaths:

Halifax regional council adopted a Strategic Road Safety Framework in 2018. Transportation and Public Works staff originally dubbed the document a “plan,” but it was so flimsy that the Transportation Standing Committee renamed it a “framework.”

The framework is a bastardization of the Vision Zero movement, which sets a goal of reducing transportation fatalities and injuries to zero. Instead, the municipality set a goal of reducing injuries and fatalities by 20% in five years, and even that goal was tougher than the 15% staff originally proposed. They referred to it as “towards zero.”

Thanks to a reduction in traffic due to the pandemic, the municipality has now hit that goal.

During Wednesday’s presentation, Anguish told councillors that staff set the baseline for that reduction at 800 fatal and injury collisions based on 2018 and 2019 numbers. The municipality has now hit its goal with a 23.6% reduction down to 611 fatal and injury collisions — five of which were fatal.

So did councillors set a new, tougher goal? No.

On Twitter yesterday, a local person I won’t name because they have a locked account (meaning only those who follow them can see their posts) noted that a 20% reduction from a baseline of 800 collisions leading to injury or death means council has determined 640 injuries or deaths is “the right amount.”

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2. Province House round-up

Photo: Halifax Examiner

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

The two most interesting exchanges at yesterday’s Question Period were about suicides and housing:

QUESTION: John Lohr, PC, King’s West

Can the minister provide information around the number of suicides and attempted suicides since the beginning of the COVID-19?

ANSWER: Health Minister Zach Churchill

While we did see increased distress in our population and increased pressure on our mental health system, and we did see a 30% increase in calls to our crisis line and we re-deployed resources to respond to that, we did not see an increase in suicide related to COVID-19. The data did not indicate that.

QUESTION: Gary Burrill, NDP Leader

Erin Masters who lives in Dartmouth was going through the frustration of trying to find a place to live. She tweeted “Getting a rental in HRM is like playing Jumanji — and the video is a stampede of rhinoceros. A place I just applied for had 150 applications and people offered rent above asking, which was $1200. THEY RAISED THE RENT TO HELP THE SELECTION PROCESS (all caps). What is happening here? When does this end?” Erin’s question deserves an answer. What is the government doing to end this?

ANSWER: Premier Iain Rankin

I appreciate the question on an important topic. We are making the largest investment in our province’s history. Over the next nine years, we will be spending over half a billion dollars for housing stock to contribute to supply. The main issue is supply. Our population growth has surpassed expectations. When we formed government, the population was 940,000 and it is now close to 980,000 and approaching 1,000,000.

That’s a positive thing but we need to make sure to have supply that is market-based and to incentivize other types. Municipalities have a role to play and non-profits have a role. We have appointed a Housing Commission and are eagerly awaiting their recommendations.

In his followup question, NDP Leader Gary Burrill noted Alice Housing and other organizations across the province that provide shelter and help to victims of family violence have repeatedly expressed concerns that they are unable to find affordable housing for victims of violence when they are ready to leave the transition home. Burrill noted no money was allocated in the Capital Budget released Tuesday to build more affordable housing.

QUESTION: Lisa Roberts, NDP, Halifax-Needham MLA

In January, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives published a study showing how provinces had, or had not, used federal money to respond to economic impacts of COVID-19. This study revealed that this government left $12 million under the Rapid Housing Initiative on the table. These funds could have allowed for the purchase of housing stock or converted motels that were used as supportive housing during the lockdown. Given that we are in a housing crisis, how can the premier justify passing up $12-million of desperately needed housing investment?

ANSWER: Premier Iain Rankin

I’m aware of some of the investment the federal government has put out going into some important initiatives with Adsum House and the Mi’kmaq Friendship Centre. We are going to continue to do our best. We have a $500 million investment going out over the next nine years and we have rent supplements and we are going to work together with everyone involved.

Roberts followed up noting that since the Liberals came to office, the province has built only 200 affordable housing units in seven years.

Philip here: Today is provincial budget day, so check back later for news and analysis on the budget.

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3. Five new cases of COVID-19 announced

Reader Laura Kenney created a Maud Lewis-inspired hooked rug with a COVID theme.

Not a lot of news on the COVID-19 front in Nova Scotia yesterday. Five new cases, three of which are close contacts of previous cases and two related to travel.

Tim Bousquet has all your graphs, maps, and numbers, including vaccination info here.

Pop-up rapid testing is available tomorrow and Saturday at Cole Harbour Place, at the following times.

Friday: Cole Harbour Place, noon-7pm
Saturday: Cole Harbour Place, 11am-6pm

If you’ve never been tested and you are able to go to a rapid testing site, please consider doing it. These tests allow us to get a better picture of how and where the virus may be circulating in the community. Sure, it’s not the most pleasant experience in the world, but it’s really not that bad either. And hey, you’re helping us all out.

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4. Families face racist abuse at housing co-op

Not exactly rolling out the welcome mat. Photo: Andrew Neel / unsplash

At Global, Karla Renic tells the stories of two families and their experiences with racism at the Albro Court Housing Co-op in Dartmouth.

Deidra Williams tells Renic that there were a few red flags when she moved in with her husband, Sinclair Paynter, and their children. But she attributed those to individual behaviour, not systemic issues. Paynter and Sinclair moved to Halifax from Bermuda.

Renic writes:

Once the family finally moved in, Williams said it didn’t take long for her to realize they were being treated differently than their white neighbours.

“Certain members of the board were constantly coming to the door reminding us of rules … as if we didn’t understand things,” she said.

“Even at one point in time, we were told that I need to learn how to manage my own money.”

Williams works in finance and is employed by the Government of Canada.

She also speaks with another family, who live near Williams and Paynter:

Amanda [Porro] and her husband Yasmani Porro Rojas claim they are being given extra work around the co-op, and are overall being treated differently than the white families that live there.

Porro Rojas, who is Black and Cuban, said he’s made fun of for his accent and any time he speaks out about anything, he is labelled as threatening.

“Everything that we say or do, we are ‘a violent person,’ the people here are supposed to be ‘scared of us,’” he said.

When she reached out to the co-op for comment, Renic got only a perfunctory statement emailed to her.

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5. Forestry minister apparently stiffs anti-clearcutting hunger striker

Twenty-five year-old activist Jacob Fillmore (left) is more than 2 weeks into a hunger strike in front Province House calling for a moratorium on clearcutting. In this photo he is holding a sign that says, “moose are starving, so am I.” Photo is from Fillmore’s FB page

At CBC, Michael Gorman reports that Jacob Fillmore, who has been on a hunger strike to protest clearcutting, was stiffed by  Lands and Forestry minister Chuck Porter.

Gorman writes:

“I was lied to,” Fillmore said in an interview. “I was told that [Porter] would meet me outside the legislature. I was standing outside the legislature. He knew I was here, he could have found me if he wanted to. He didn’t.”

Porter told reporters Wednesday that he never agreed to meet with Fillmore or anyone else in an official capacity. The minister said he agreed to stop by, if possible, adding there was no firm time or place set for the visit.

Gorman, however, points to a video in which Porter’s deputy minister, Paul Lafleche, can be heard telling Fillmore that Porter would come see him outside the legislature yesterday morning.

Two days ago, Joan Baxter, writing for the Examiner, walked us through the bullshit astroturfing campaign led by the “Concerned Private Landowner Coalition,” which — surprise! — turns out to not be an actual coalition at all.  It was started by Forest Nova Scotia.

Baxter writes:

While Forest NS doesn’t provide a list of members on its website, it does provide a list of “forestry industrial sites.” Among them:

  • Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Ltd. – Pictou
  • Port Hawkesbury Paper – Port Hawkesbury
  • Louisiana Pacific Corp. – Chester
  • J.D. Irving Ltd. – Truro
  • Ledwidge Lumber – Enfield
  • Elmsdale Lumber Co. – Elmsdale
  • Harry Freeman and Son – Greenfield
  • Scotsburn Lumber – Scotsburn
  • Taylor Lumber – Middle Musquodoboit
  • Brooklyn Power – Brooklyn

The “coalition’s” Facebook page is quite something. It includes this gem:

Original poster: Deranged conspiracy theory (Who do these people think is paying protesters? Wait, maybe don’t answer that.)

Response: “Good observation.”

Really?

All of this is so transparent — and the playbook is so old — that you would think it would be laughable by now, and yet it still works. Nearly 20 years ago, I read the book Toxic Sludge Is Good for You, about this kind of media manipulation and astroturfing (ie, the creation of fake grassroots groups). It wasn’t new then, but the techniques were tried and true, and they work: create exaggerated fears, personalize and other your opponents (“Halifax activists” in the CPLC campaign), get politicians to back off. A catchy campaign name helps too. See, for instance the “Wise Use” movement in the US — a coalition of extractive industries working to undermine protections on public lands, wrapped in rhetoric about freedom and balance.

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Views

1. Bullshitter of the week: Mount A president Jean-Paul Boudreau

Mount Allison University president and vice-chancellor Jean-Paul Boudreau.

“Now is the time to rethink undergraduate education in the liberal arts” reads the headline to a story in University Affairs from two days ago.

The story, written by Mount A president Jean-Paul Boudreau is further evidence that it’s time to rethink the fetishization of business and startup culture by universities.

It is also a master class in bullshit.

For bullshit connoisseurs, we get off to a promising start:

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is this: prepare all you want, but you can’t control uncertainty or wrangle the unknown.

Nor will looking at tomorrow through today’s lens lend any clarity to a future shaped by artificial intelligence, distracted by never-ending flows of content, and increasingly divided into echo chambers of belief.

Translation: We don’t know what the future will bring, plus a bunch of clichés.

We can’t prepare for the future, but wait, maybe we can?

Instead, I believe the 21st century belongs to the thinkers: the agile, inquisitive, empathetic, and counterintuitive collaborators who embrace a diversity of knowledge. These are tomorrow’s changemakers and entrepreneurs, who both ask, “What if?” and answer, “Here’s how.”

Boudreau then moves on to declining enrollments in the humanities, and places the blame for this on departments’ unwillingness to change.

Yet many post-secondary liberal arts institutions across Canada are struggling to attract students, the cost of not always having kept pace with our rapidly changing world, of remaining too sequestered in silos of specialties, and of not embracing innovation and new technology as quickly or as deeply as the wider world.

Surely the problem could not be universities consistently devaluing the liberal arts, or chasing after corporate money for programs considered more prestigious. No, the problem is “silos of specialties” — something I’m sure is not an issue at all in the hard sciences.

Also, imagine being a liberal arts prof who has just spent the last year adapting to teaching online during a pandemic and being told you are not embracing technology or innovation.

Boudreau, of course, has solutions. Here are a couple of them:

Embracing idea-testing and boundary-pushing — Knowing which questions to ask, and how, is probably the most important skill we can impart to our students. An innovation-driven culture embraces exploration as its purpose, empowering students and faculty alike with the resources and institutional support to question, take risks, fail, and try again — without penalty. In the process, we build and deliver what today’s world needs: resilient, fearless, original thinkers.

Um, isn’t this basically what people in the liberal arts do now? Or are they not asking the right questions because they need to be part of a more “innovation-driven culture”?

Creating the spaces to nurture the innovation mindset — The relevance — indeed the very future — of liberal arts hinges on our transitioning ideas into solutions that build better communities, stronger societies, and more equitable economies. Having spaces in which to encourage this transition is key: think multi-media development labs; spaces to engage with virtual and augmented reality; and incubators for student-led cross-disciplinary start-ups, such as social enterprises and micro-businesses. These have not traditionally been spaces and attributes common to small, rural, liberal universities. This must change. Having the right spaces matters. Embracing technology matters.

I saw Boudreau’s piece after Dal and King’s English prof Rohan Maitzen started pulling it apart on Twitter.

Maitzen decried Boudreau’s utilitarian view of the liberal arts (which, let’s face it, is hardly innovative thinking) and added:

Also, I hate the implicit assertion that folks in the liberal arts haven’t been and aren’t right now constantly innovating. How many inter / multi-disciplinary programs do we have already? (Hint: lots.) Who actually works in a “silo”? (Hint: pretty much nobody.)

And one more thing, my pet peeve about this kind of vacuous pronouncement. Sometimes methods last because they are valuable. Innovation is *not* a good in itself. And nobody knows what ideas will end up having big consequences so curiosity-driven research is essential.

Still annoyed. “Innovation” doesn’t have to be equated with “micro-businesses” and start-ups. Thinking differently about the world we live in = innovative. Working with students to find new ideas and insights = transformative.

Later she wrote:

Now trying to imagine what kind of “micro-business” someone might start up after studying Middlemarch. The novel would at least prepare them for its likely failure!

Maitzen told me the whole piece “is not just dismissive of the existing expertise and activities of people working in the liberal arts but perpetuates a really unfortunate vision of the liberal arts as servants to other goals.”

There is one comment on the story, from someone at Quest, a private university. It reads, in part:

Governments ought to invest, yes, but we also have to convince private enterprises that the liberal arts are keys to their successes as well. That, it turns out, is much easier said than done.

Yeah, that’s the key. Convince business to invest in the liberal arts.

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Noticed

Nova Scotia: home of the influencer aesthetic.

Rather belatedly, I got around to looking at the workfromnovascotia.com website. In February, Laurel Broten, CEO of Nova Scotia Business Inc. told CBC the site was developed “along with our sister Crown corporations” to encourage people to work remotely from Nova Scotia.

In the story, Cassidy Chisholm writes: “Broten said the campaign has already generated 262,000 clicks, more than 500,000 page views and more than 110,000 users have explored the website since mid-January.”

Recall that the website set up to encourage Americans to move to Cape Breton had, according to its creator, Rob Calabrese, more than 2 million visits. But earlier this year, he told Chisholm:

“So I found that people would rarely make that move even if they were able.”

And those who were able were very few. One early story points to someone who “moved” here but had no legal path to immigration and left when her visa expired.

So, grain of salt on the website hits.

What about the site itself? It looks…. well, it looks a lot like a tourism website. There’s not a whole lot of working going on in the featured images. But, to be fair, there’s nothing all that exciting about shots of people at their desks. The idea that we regularly take our breaks in vineyards seems amusing though.

Image from workfromnovascotia.com

Other images feature coastal views and, uh, the convention centre. Because that’s where I want to go work when I definitely live here and am not visiting.

The cut-off “no entry” signs are a nice part of the composition in this one. (I’ve cropped the image from the sides, but not the top or bottom). Photo: workfromnovascotia.com

The website definitely has the feeling of something made by a bunch of partners. When you click on the “discover unique coastal experiences” button, you get taken to the Tourism Nova Scotia website, where you are greeted with an image of people horseback riding at low tide in the Bay of Fundy. Sorry — by the “cliffs of Fundy Geopark.”

The “things to do” button also takes you to the tourism website.

I assume Develop Nova Scotia is one of the Work from Home Nova Scotia partners, because there is a writeup about how great our Internet connectivity is:

Work from where you want to live. All you need is a reliable, high speed Internet connection. Nova Scotia was one of the first provinces in Canada to roll out an extensive fibre-to-the home network. Today, more than 80% of the province has access to broadband and new connections are coming online every day, with a full 99% build targeted for completion in 2023. Plus, as the landing spot for a New York-London transatlantic fibre optic cable, Nova Scotia Internet users enjoy ultra-low latency rates. This means your new home or home away from home in Nova Scotia is accessible and connected to who you need, when you need it to be.

You can click a button to find out “current & future connectivity” for a specific address. That takes you to a link where you fill out a form, and then wait to hear back from Develop Nova Scotia — the organization responsible for bringing high-speed Internet to rural areas. Helpfully, they note:

We haven’t forgotten about the people and places that remain underserved, and we continue to work to reach as many of them as we possibly can.

The online campaign’s Instagram seems like kind of a sad orphan project. The screenshot at the top of this piece includes every single one of the pics posted by the campaign. Just nine. And they were all posted the same day, March 9.

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Government

City

Thursday

Audit and Finance Standing Committee and Audit Committee (Thursday, 10am) — live webcast of the Audit and Finance Standing Committee; live webcast of the Audit Committee

Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm) — live broadcast of audio and all PowerPoint presentations

Active Transportation Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm) — virtual meeting; dial-in or live broadcast not available

Youth Advisory Committee (Thursday, 5pm) — virtual meeting; dial-in or live broadcast not available

Harbour East Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm) — more info here

Friday

Budget Committee (Friday, 9:30am) — contingency date

Province

No public meetings.


On campus

Dalhousie

Thursday

Scorpionflies, Bed bugs, and Ducks: Exploring Polygamy and Sexual Violence in Canadian Legal Policy (Thursday, 12pm) — Zoom lecture by Tasia Alexopoulos

I appreciate someone who can come up with a catchy lecture title.

Irving Glovin Lecture: “Africana Jewish Studies” (Thursday, 7pm) — with Lewis R. Gordon from the University of Connecticut

Friday

Sustaining Slavery: Food Provisioning, Power, and Protest in the British Caribbean, c. 1791-1802 (Friday, 3:30pm) — Nick Crawford from Washington University will talk. Email here for the link.

Saint Mary’s

Thursday

The Future Conditional (Thursday, 12pm) — In this online talk, Eric Henry will discuss his new book and his research on how English is spoken, taught, studied and perceived in China.

Friday

Times Past, Times to Come: 100 years of language rights in Ireland. Where to now? (Friday, 12pm) — Zoom session with Rónán Ó Domhnaill, An Coimisinéir Teanga [the Irish-language Ombudsman], and ICUF D’Arcy McGee Beacon Fellow.

Halifax Public Library

Tonight!

Anne & Aretha: Kindred Spirits (Thursday, 7pm) — Zoom event; from the listing:

In 2014, the famously private singer Aretha Franklin (1942-2018) declared her admiration for Anne of Green Gables and expressed her desire to visit the province that inspired the novel.

Halifax writer (and Examiner contributor) Evelyn C. White will explore the unlikely bond between the Queen of Soul and the red-haired protagonist of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s signature work.


In the harbour

06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
12:00: Oceanex Sanderling moves to Autoport
17:30: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John

Must be a slow day because nobody  can get through the Suez Canal.


Footnotes

I’ve noted before how many “smart” devices are not smart at all, but one I get to shake my head at every day is my Bluetooth speaker. You can turn it on using an app, or you can just press the button on top of the speaker. If you press the button though, the speaker will tell you (in your choice of English, French, German, or Spanish) that if you want to use this function, “make sure the app is running and you have access to the Internet.” The “function” is turning on the speaker. You clearly don’t need to have the app running or Internet access to turn it on. In fact, the speaker will sometimes stop playing whatever I’m listening to in order to tell me that if I want to listen, I need to run the app. Which clearly I do not need to do. Very smart. Great design.

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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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  1. The value of art and all of the “liberal arts”

    “…it seems always impossible to prove that it [art] is going to be valuable, and yet it is always quite clear that the art of the past has been of value to humanity.”

    George Oppen

  2. “we need to make sure to have supply that is market-based”.

    Guess what asshole, the market isn’t working for a good portion of the population who you supposedly serve. Of course no one expects a Liberal or Conservative government to fight for anyone but the well financed and well connected.

    PUBLIC HOUSING NOW FOR EVERYONE WHO NEEDS IT. Not in 9 years, NOW!

  3. Is the government not aware of that our Crown corporations are engaged in a “work from Nova Scotia” campaign? Or, why are they surprised (item 2) that the province’s population has grown by about 4% in 4 years?

  4. Good for you, Phil, (and Prof. Maitzen) for calling bullshit on Mount Allison President Boudreau.

  5. A month ago, Dr. Jean-Paul proudly announced the re-naming of the Mount Allison School of Fine Arts. It’s now the Pierre Lassonde School of Fine Arts after the billionaire gold magnate donated $5 million to the university. The School is housed in the Purdy Crawford Centre for the Arts named after the one-time head honcho at Imperial Tobacco. The Lassonde naming created a bit of ripple here in Sackville: https://warktimes.com/2021/03/07/critics-question-mining-magnates-5-million-gift-to-mt-a-fine-arts/

  6. That photo of what appears to be perfectly fine food being tossed into the compost is unfortunate. Waste reduction is a higher priority than recycling/composting.

    1. I note that the compost bucket in the photo is sparklingly clean, so I’m guessing most of the food came right back out after the photo was taken.

  7. Vision zero is childish rhetoric. Of course zero traffic accidents would be nice, but the only plausible way of achieving zero is to eliminate all vehicles large enough to cause a fatal accident – which means nothing bigger or faster than a shopping cart. Even then, people would still die at a measurable rate from falling over on ice and hitting their head, etc.

    If we are going to have motor vehicles they are going to kill people – the same is true of bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, rickshaws, etc.