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1. The province paid above market for an old house in Prospect, and now it’s being demolished
Last May, I wrote about the Department of Public Works (then called Transportation and Active Transit) buying an old house at the entrance to Prospect Village. The house’s location put it close to the edge of the road, which was inconvenient for snowplow drivers.
At the time, I wrote about efforts to save the house from demolition. Those efforts were not successful, and Public Works now confirms the house will be demolished this week.
But how much of a hazard was it?
Yesterday, I reported in a a follow-up story that documents obtained through a freedom of information request show that a Public Works acquisition and disposal officer considered the house “more of a want than a need.” And it was only six weeks after the house’s purchase — for $11,000 above asking — that anyone seemed to consider the community’s reaction.
Prospect resident John Charles, a retired municipal planner who was hoping to save the house, said he was surprised to see prep work for the demolition beginning yesterday.
District 11 councillor Patty Cuttell was also not given any warning. She learned about the imminent demolition in an email from the Examiner asking her to comment. She said she was “surprised” the province seemed to be going ahead without any notice.
“I think it’s a terrible loss for Prospect Village and Halifax as a whole. Prospect Village is such a unique part of our city,” she said in an interview. “I think one of the things that most concerns me was the lack of consultation prior the purchase of this house. It was only really considered from the perspective of transportation — not from a heritage perspective or a cultural landscape perspective, or tourism, or community-building. The decision seems to have been purely made for the purpose of accommodating snowplows. And I don’t think that’s a good enough rationale for buying the house and demolishing it.”
The Examiner published this piece last night, but we updated it this morning, after receiving a statement from Public Works.
2. Housing and environmental issues at Law Amendments
Tim Bousquet and Jennifer Henderson covered yesterday’s Law Amendments committee. It was a 10-hour committee session.
On the environment front, the “recurring theme” from the 33 speakers, Henderson and Bousquet report, was this:
The Houston government’s proposed Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act is better than any environmental legislation that’s come before it, but it’s still not good enough…
Some particulars were repeated by several speakers: the greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals need to be strengthened, and interim goals should be set; offshore oil and gas exploration should be ended, and existing operations should be phased out; biomass should not be counted towards the province’s renewable energy targets; and open pen aquaculture should be explicitly banned.
Some of the concerns related to targets, others to policy. For instance, there is increasing evidence that replanting trees after clearcutting does not offset significant carbon emissions from soil. There were also concerns around vague language, for instance, on aquaculture:
Speakers also said the act has unclear goals for aquaculture, saying only that the province will “support low-impact sustainable aquaculture through a licensing process that weighs environmental considerations and includes provincial regulation for potential environmental impacts, animal welfare and fish health, without explicitly banning open net offshore fish farms.
The fear is that as British Columbia is banning those fish farms, companies will merely shift their operations to the Atlantic provinces unless there is also an explicit ban here.
On the housing front, you will be shocked to learn that landlords are not happy with the 2% cap on rent increases:
“Any cap on rent is a cap on what landlords can spend on buildings, on maintenance, on people,” said Kevin Russell, the executive-director of the Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia. “How do MLAs expect landlords to pay for the fuel to heat our buildings? Two percent is not sustainable.”
Russell warned legislators that unless the rate cap is increased, the bill will “knee-cap landlords” and tenants will find themselves without a place to live after their building is sold.
Municipal representatives from Halifax, including Mayor Mike Savage, also spoke to the committee, expressing their concerns about the province’s new process that could see it intervene directly in city planning, while acting in secret:
Another objection raised by Savage and others is that the province’s Executive Panel will meet in secret to consider future housing developments.
“In a democratic society people need to be heard, as well as housed,” said Savage. “Expediting planning approvals to short-circuit processes and public input may also not serve the purpose of increasing housing supply, as current labour and supply chain constraints contribute to getting projects underway,”
Dartmouth municipal councillor Sam Austin, a planner by profession, begged the province to reconsider the secrecy around the Executive Panel decisions. “Please don’t replace HRM’s public planning process with a private one.”
From our subscribers:
I like reading the Halifax Examiner for a few reasons. The Examiner’s context of the stories and how they are relevant to our lives as citizens of HRM and Nova Scotia. Who these stories are affecting and how. Vague statements like “good for the economy” spouted by government and other corporate interests, are drilled down into and questioned by the Examiner as to “good for whose economy?” as an example. This approach by the Examiner seems to follow each story. As readers, we end up getting at least the important questions asked. Questions that other news sources continuously ignore. The exposure of power and its effects — here in the capital and throughout the province — is something the Examiner leads the way with. I’m appreciative and grateful for this coverage.
“I don’t always agree with Tim, or with his perspective but the work he does is important”. I suspect I’m not the only Examiner supporter to express that sentiment.
The number of journalists has been decreasing at an alarming rate over the last decade; and those doing the quality, deep investigative work are vanishing even faster, and the death knell rings more loudly for those covering local news.
Couple this with the explosion of nefarious news sources and social media’s algorhythms and you have a perfect storm. We are fortunate to have the Examiner, and Tim. A thriving and healthy democracy requires a functional legal system and a functioning press. Not only does the Examiner execute the press role appropriately, it delivers a diversity of voices and perspectives that keep us all balanced while keeping us on our toes. Congratulations Tim, Iris, and team and thank you for digging into the root causes of the stories. I may not always agree with you, but I certainly do value the challenge you consistently and persistently deliver.
3. Another Nova Scotian has died of COVID-19
A man in his 70s has died from COVID-19. He is the 101st Nova Scotian to dies from the disease.
Additionally, the province has announced 59 new cases over the past three days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday).
By Nova Scotia Health zone, the new cases break down as:
• 44 Central
• 5 Eastern
• 6 Northern
• 4 Western
Today’s pop-up testing sites are at the Convention Centre (Noon- 7pm) and Alderney Gate (4-6 pm). And pick up a couple of self-test kits for future use while you’re there.
4. Barry Sheehy sees what he wants to see
Barry Sheehy did something in Monday’s Chronicle Herald that I would not have believed possible: he wrote an opinion piece (“Atlantic Canada missing the boat on U.S. port-expansion frenzy“) about congestion at US ports without mentioning COVID.
Sheehy — described as an author, historian businessman, veteran and part-time Gabarus resident who is “involved with” Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP) — looks south of the border and sees exactly the same thing he’s been seeing since he first brayed his way onto our editorial pages.
Here he is in the Chronicle Herald and Cape Breton Post on 29 October 2014 — almost seven years ago to the day:
“On the East Coast, billions are being spent in Savannah, Jacksonville, Norfolk and New York-New Jersey, all in anticipation of larger container ships.”
Here he was on Monday:
“American ports are spending extraordinary amounts of money expanding port infrastructure.
We are talking tens of billions of dollars. Just look at the ports of New York-New Jersey, Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, Miami and Houston. Each of these ports is investing $2 billion to $4 billion in new facilities, logistics centres, on-dock rail and harbour deepening.”
Campbell notes that Sheehy is “involved with” SHIP by being one of its founders.
In his op-ed, Sheehy notes that US ports are at capacity, there’s a shortage of trucks, and there are a bunch of other factors that all point to the need for an expanded Sydney container terminal. But he never mentions the pandemic.
“You literally cannot find an article about US port congestion that does not at least mention COVID, unless that article was written by Barry Sheehy,” Campbell says.
I’m not saying months of disruption will be easy (although it will give us time to wonder how much we really need that stuff we’ve ordered from China), I’m just questioning whether a crisis expected to end in 2022 is an argument for a port that is — brace yourself — set to begin operations in 2025.
As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, and so this article is behind the Spectator’s paywall. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
What an amazing coincidence! (Or is it?)
In mid-October, my partner and I were walking along de Maisonneuve street in downtown Montreal, when I saw Joel Martell, owner of the Oddfellows barbershop on Quinpool walking our way. I told him I hadn’t had a haircut since the last time he’d done my hair, he told me it still looked good, and then he said, “You’re the third people from Halifax I’ve seen here in two days. Must be the $90 Swoop flight.”
A couple of hours later, we were on our way to the Whisky Bar in Mile End, when I looked up to see an old acquaintance coming our way. He used to live in the neighbourhood, and still owns a house there, but he’s lived in Johannesburg for much of the last few decades. The last time I’d seen him was in June 1996, when I took over his job at the National Film Board.
John DeMont devotes a column to stories like this in yesterday’s Chronicle Herald.
His starting point is a chance meeting at Woozles, the children’s bookstore in downtown Halifax (it’s about to move to new digs in the west end). DeMont writes:
The other day I ran into an old co-worker, which should not be too surprising since I have toiled with and for others for a long time. The thing, however, was this: I had not seen him in at least 20 years, when we both worked for the same Toronto-based magazine.
What are the chances that we would meet in Halifax where he had recently relocated with his grew-up-in-St.-Margarets-Bay-wife — and that this reunion would take place inside Woozles, the kids book store, a couple of hours before it closed forever at its Birmingham Street location, a deadline which brought all three of us there while there was still time?…
A few years back I was visiting Toronto, lining up for my morning jolt and there, in front of me in the coffee line, was his wife, also a former colleague. During the same trip, in an eatery in Vancouver, I ran into someone who once wrote for this very paper and, in the hours that followed, a book publicist who for a time lived a couple of houses from where I have made my home for the past 30 years.
We all have stories like this, right? And we delight in them. If you are an Anglo Montrealer transplanted to Nova Scotia, as I am, I suspect you will have had the “what a coincidence” experience many times in talking to others like you. A couple of months ago, I interviewed St. Mary’s anthropology professor Alec Soucy. We were talking about cycling, and I said that it was different from his usual field of study, which is Vietnamese Buddhism. I told him I also had a background in religious studies, which led us to realize that we had been in the same master’s program at the same time, had likely been in a bunch of classes together, and also had the same supervisor.
But even though we love these stories and think of them as representing amazing coincidences, the frequency with which they occur should tip us off to the fact that they are actually not all that special.
Last summer, on the beach at PEI National Park (the site of many what-a-coincidence meetings over the years) friends and I were sharing some of these stories when my sister-in-law, Fiona Martin, looked up and said these things are not as surprising as they seem.
DeMont touches on this: “Perhaps, on the other hand, the world is smaller than we think so that the seemingly random intersections in our lives are inevitable.”
Fiona is a sociology professor at Dalhousie, so after reading DeMont’s column, I turned to her to ask about this phenomenon, and she introduced me to the concept of habitus. It’s a term that comes from the late French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.
In its page on Bourdieu, Routledge, the academic publisher, defines habitus in part like this:
Habitus also extends to our “taste” for cultural objects such as art, food, and clothing. In one of his major works, Distinction, Bourdieu links French citizens’ tastes in art to their social class positions, forcefully arguing that aesthetic sensibilities are shaped by the culturally ingrained habitus… The thing about the habitus, Bourdieu often noted, was that it was so ingrained that people often mistook the feel for the game as natural instead of culturally developed. This often leads to justifying social inequality, because it is (mistakenly) believed that some people are naturally disposed to the finer things in life while others are not.
I gave Fiona the example of being in New York and running into someone you know at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She said:
Running into someone from another city at the Met isn’t a huge coincidence, because the people we know tend to cluster. They share habitus… and our social networks tend to include mostly people who have the same habitus as us. So it’s not surprising you would run into someone at a concert or in a restaurant… An artist running into another artist at a gallery in a big city is not a coincidence.
I mentioned running into Joel, the barber, in Montreal and she said, “He would probably go to Μontreal for a lot of the same reasons you do. Good food, maυbe live music and art.” Plus, we were both travelling during one of the first times in the last two years when it felt safe to do so. So lots of people were travelling at that time. And then there are those cheap flights.
Fiona did her doctorate in Melbourne, and said, “I remember you’d have to play it cool in Australia if you ran into someone else from Canada because it happens enough times that it isn’t such a big deal. At first it is, but actually it happens quite often.”
In 2016, Joseph Mazur published a book called Fluke that explores these questions. He wrote a bit about the issue of coincidence in a piece for Slate that year.
He recounts this story:
At a bookstore reading one gentleman in the audience by the name of Ted told me this coincidence story: In 1989 Ted was traveling south from Philadelphia with a change of planes at Reagan National Airport near Washington. Boarding time for his second flight was already delayed 30 minutes. Then the airline announced that it would be delayed another hour because maintenance was waiting for a new flap motor to be delivered and installed at the gate. He turned to a man standing next to him, someone he had never met, and expressed his concern that the plane would take off without prior functional testing. Ted told this stranger that at his company, DuPont, functionally testing a repair with passengers on board would never happen.
“Oh, you work at DuPont?” said the stranger pointing to the nearby payphones. “I was just trying to reach a guy at DuPont who left me a voice message. I’m trying to return his call. I wonder if you know him?”
At that time DuPont had 140,000 employees, so Ted was quite doubtful, but he politely asked for the name. When the stranger answered with Ted’s own name, he was dazed and animatedly called out, “You are speaking to him!”
Seems wild, right? Mazur says hold on:
On the surface, the… story seems to hinge on Ted being 1 out of a pool of 140,000. No doubt extraordinary. However, the extraneously large number of DuPont employees unintentionally induces an inflated impression of the odds. As with other coincidences, the chances improve with the details. DuPont did business with ChemDesign, the company for which the stranger worked. Ted later told me that he traveled by air “on average a day or two, three out of four weeks a month.” That translates to spending roughly one whole day a month in an airport lounge. Yes, the chances improve with this information, but without speculatively guessing some numbers we cannot assign a realistic chance of Ted standing next to the stranger at the airport.
If you think of it that way, a journalist running into other journalist at a bookstore doesn’t seem that wild. (In his column, DeMont also shares some fun stories others told him about their experiences, including some folks from Herring Cove in Australia.)
Fiona says there are mechanisms for breaking out of your habitus, and one she particularly loves is shopping on Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace:
You can share a city with all sorts of people you will never come across other than through a Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace purchase… That’s one of the things I love about it. It takes me to parts of the city where I meet people I would not normally meet. It reminds me of how big and diverse the city actually is.
On Saturday afternoon, I saw a guy wearing a shirt with the same text and similar design to the one pictured above. “What the heck is a Nairn?” I wondered. I figured it was some kind of acronym, maybe like HVAC.
But after a bit of time online doing various Nairn-related searches (“Did you mean ‘nation’?”) I realized that it was simply a last name. Apologies to any Nairn readers out there. The Nairn’s Oatcakes should have tipped me off.
You’ve probably seen t-shirts like this, if not in person then at least advertised to you online. Bad, mismatched fonts, over the top phrasing, sometimes featuring frightening sentiments. There is an entertaining Instagram account called Facebook Shirts devoted to them.
Sometimes they’re called algorithmic shirts, because the text is based entirely on things you’ve told Facebook you like. “Never mess with a PHARMACIST who likes ADELE, was born in DECEMBER and lives in NOVA SCOTIA!” That kind of thing. Or…
Some of these shirts express a completely generic sentiment. Like this one:
Sure. All families, groups of friends, or whatever other unit with some social cohesion you can think of, has its own culture. In-jokes, shared history. Stuff that only they get.
But I am fascinated by the shirts that attribute specific qualities. They represent a perfect blend of individualism and complete conformity. By tying a set of qualities to a name, birth date, interest, or occupation, they seem to be making a statement. Nairns are highly unlikely to be wrong, for instance. Or, uh, don’t mess with September girls. Sometimes the lists of qualities are very specific. I won’t share the disturbing ones about how the shirt-wearers will behave if you mess with their daughters, or how they are prepared to put you in the ground if you flirt with their partners.
But let’s say you’re a Nairn boy. What does that mean?
But of course you can just plug in any old name you feel like.
Well, maybe not any old name. Try “Moscovitch” and the results are a little less impressive.
You can also have fun plugging in all kinds of occupations. So, if you want, you can walk around in a shirt that says, “Claims adjuster, because badass miracle worker is not an official job title.”
There is something about the over-the-top fierce pride of these shirts — the skulls, the appeals to uniqueness, the threats on some of them — combined with the mind-numbing design and the effect of seeing page after page after page of them, all with interchangeable names and occupations.
You might think I’m overthinking this, but I’m a freakin’ awesome writer born in September, so you wouldn’t get it. It’s a Moscovitch thing.
Special Events Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 9am, City Hall) — agenda here
Legislature sits (Tuesday, 1pm)
A new diagrammatic construction on fusion categories and applications (Tuesday, 2:30pm) — Colleen Delaney from Indiana University Bloomington will talk.
Redox Control of ER-Mitochondria Tethering and Ca2+Flux (Wednesday, 4pm) — Thomas Simmen from the University of Alberta will talk.
An evening with Francesca Ekwuyasi (Wednesday, 7pm) — online event with the author of Butter Honey Pig
Bread. Info and registration here.
Migration and Membership During Pandemic Times (Wednesday, 1pm) — Anna Triandafyllidou from Ryerson University will talk via Zoom.
In the harbour
07:30: Tropic Hope, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for West Palm Beach, Florida
08:00: Lagrafoss, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
09:30: CMA CGM Leo, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
16:30: ZIM Yokohama, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
05:00: Rt Hon Paul E Martin, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for Alder Point
10:30: Horizon Enabler, offshore supply ship, sails from Mulgrave for sea
12:00: Thunder Bay, bulker, sails from Coal Dock (Point Tupper) through the causeway for sea
22:30: Front Brage, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
23:30: NS Laguna, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from New York
One of the perks of being a former prime minister is getting a bulker named after you, I guess.
Didn’t have time to get into the cultural history of saliva this morning. Oh well.