News

1. Houston ditched by one of his friends

Left to right: Premier Tim Houston, Business Minister Suzanne Corkum-Greek, Public Works Minister Kim Masland, Service Nova Scotia Minister Colton LeBlanc. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

In late July, Premier Tim Houston announced that his government was abolishing five crown corporations and consolidating them into two. Above is Jennifer Henderson’s photo from the media conference announcing the news.

The two new entities, Invest Nova Scotia and Build Nova Scotia, were to be led by Tom Hickey and Wayne Crawley, respectively. Henderson wrote:

Houston told journalists he is “fans” of both entrepreneurs and considers them friends. 

Zane Woodford noted that Hickey owns a company associated with a plan to infill Dartmouth Cove:

“Mr. Hickey is also president and CEO of T. Hickey Enterprises, which has been operating since 2001. T. Hickey Enterprises has 13 operating companies under his management. He is also CEO of Atlantic Road Construction and Paving Ltd.”

The CFO of Atlantic Road Construction and Paving Ltd., Bruce Wood, is the owner of 4197847 Nova Scotia Ltd., the company applying to dump slate excavated from construction sites into the Halifax Harbour at Dartmouth Cove, as the Halifax Examiner reported in May.

Sometimes your friends bail on you though. In a statement released this morning, Houston says he has “reluctantly” accepted Hickey’s resignation:

Public service, in all of its forms, requires great sacrifice from those who take on the challenge, and I appreciate Mr. Hickey’s candour in assessing his capacity to make the sacrifices necessary to provide the level of attention that Invest Nova Scotia requires. I want to thank him for his long career of service to the province.

The Minister and Department of Economic Development will lead Invest Nova Scotia to ensure a smooth leadership succession during this time of transition.

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2. Newcomer Health Clinic gets budget boost

The Newcomer Health Clinic in the Mumford Professional Centre. Photo: Suzanne Rent

This item was written by Yvette d’Entremont.

The Newcomer Health Clinic in Halifax received some good news on Tuesday.

The province announced an additional $684,000 annually for the Mumford Road clinic, tripling its budget to more than $1 million. 

In a media release, the Department of Health and Wellness said the clinic provides health care to government-assisted refugees, privately-sponsored refugees, and refugee claimants. 

Refugees can get vaccinations, chronic disease management, and routine primary care at the clinic, which works to transition its patients to a family practice within two years.

Before Tuesday’s announcement, the clinic — which currently has 2,715 patients — operated on an annual budget of $340,000 to which the province provided $50,000. The remainder came from other partners. 

“Nova Scotia has become home to countless newcomers, and our province has proven itself to be a safe harbour for families who have faced such incredible adversity,” Dr. Tim Holland, medical lead of the Newcomer Health Clinic, said in the release.

“This investment puts the Newcomer Health Clinic on sustainable footing to be able to provide primary healthcare for newly arrived refugees to Nova Scotia for the foreseeable future.”

The province said the funding will be used for additional services and staff, including a social worker, a family practice nurse to support more patients, and a co-ordinator to help families navigate services through the IWK Health Centre. 

The clinic is a partnership between Nova Scotia Health, local physicians, the Immigrant Settlement Association of Nova Scotia, the Halifax Refugee Clinic, and the IWK.

“We have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of everyone in our province. This includes people who have fled their country in search of safety in Nova Scotia,” Health and Wellness Minister Michelle Thompson said in the release.

“Some of these patients have complex medical needs or are experiencing trauma. They may face language barriers or have not received proper medical care for years. We’re pleased to continue supporting the amazing work of this clinic.”

The funding comes from the 2022-23 budget. 

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3. “Shared housing” cleared for rural and suburban areas

The city has condemned this rooming house at 2179 Gottingen Street. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Zane Woodford reports on council’s decision to legalize shared housing across the municipality:

Rooming houses are more affordable than bachelor or one-bedroom apartments, but the municipality basically regulated them out of existence by requiring licensing and registration in the early 2000s. (This 2017 Planifax video sums it up well.)

The Centre Plan legalized shared housing in the urban areas of HRM, and the bylaw amendments before council on Tuesday made the change across the municipality.

It’s important to note shared housing doesn’t only mean rooming houses, but also certain forms of supportive housing.

One of the concerns that came up was parking:

There are no minimum parking requirements in the bylaw amendments. [Social policy planner Jillian] MacLellan said parking can be a barrier to the viability of shared housing, especially if one space were required for each bedroom, and it makes the development more expensive…

Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace was concerned about rural areas, where there is no access to transit and people rely on cars. She worried about cars lining the shoulders of Peggy’s Cove Road.

Last night, just as Woodford told me he was writing this story, I saw a tweet from New Yorker Will Thomas, discussing a community board meeting:

Listening to a Bronx CB11 hearing for Just Home, a 100% affordable project for the formerly incarcerated with complex medical needs—severe renal disease, stage 4 cancer, heart failure. CB member has already asked “Where will they park?”

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4. Open pit mine approved by despite concerns from Nova Scotia Environment staff

This contributed photo shows waste rock being trucked into and levelled at the bottom of the open pit of the Atlantic Gold’s Touquoy gold mine.

Joan Baxter digs into the story behind Environment and Climate Change minister Tim Halman’s August 2 approval of a new open pit gold mine on the Eastern Shore:

Signal Gold, which until recently was called Anaconda Mining (an anaconda is a giant snake that strangles its prey), plans to operate the double-pit gold mine at the southern tip of Gold Brook Lake and on either side of Gold Brook, and process 4,000 tonnes of ore per day, with mine closure to begin in 2036. One of the open pits will be 128 metres below sea level, about twice as deep as Fenwick Towers in Halifax is tall.

While Halman said he had considered any adverse environmental effects before approving the mine, Baxter points out that the mining company’s submission, filed in June, is nearly 6,000 pages long:

The public, the government scientists in Halman’s department, and experts in other provincial and federal government departments had just 30 days to read and comment on the door-stopper of a proposal.

This led several government scientists to admit in their comments that the short time frame in the Class I environmental assessment meant they were unable to study more than small parts of Signal Gold’s proposal.

A senior fisheries biologist from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) wrote that because of the “limited time period allocated to DFO for review and the extent of the material submitted, the Department could not conduct an extensive review of the entire submission package.”

Scientists in Halman’s own department raised red flags too, but to no avail.

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5. Arrested for trying to access care

The Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre. Photo: Nova Scotia Health

CBC reporter Josh Hoffman has a story on Emily Black, a 21-year-old autistic woman with mental illness who had to travel from Amherst to Moncton to access care.

Black has bipolar disorder, and was manic and suicidal when her father called 911 for help. The police took her to the local ER, where there was no psychiatrist on staff. Black says she was told she could stay overnight and see someone the next morning, but at 7 AM she was woken up and told to leave the hospital. That’s when her dad drove her to Moncton where, Black says, she was admitted to hospital right away.

Stories of people going to the ER and having to drive elsewhere to get the care they require are, unfortunately, not all that uncommon. But where mental health care differs is the involvement of police.

With Black experiencing mania, who does her dad call? 911. That’s who you’re supposed to call, because there usually aren’t other options. (Yes, mobile crisis exists, but access is limited, and they also come with police.) At worst, calling police when someone is in the midst of a mental health crisis can result in their death. But far more often, the person who needs help winds up arrested.

Black herself had previously been arrested for refusing to leave the ER.

From Hoffman’s story:

The head of Nova Scotia Legal Aid’s new Mental Health Legal Services office says it’s common for people who are suffering from a mental health illness and trying to access care to be arrested.

“I see it all the time. I see it every week,” Kelly Rowlett said in an interview. “If I had a nickel for every time somebody got arrested for attending a hospital or in a care facility, I’d be rich and that’s just sad.”

The bottom of the CBC story’s page lists resources, including the Canadian suicide prevention hotline. They don’t guarantee they won’t call the police either:

If you are calling about yourself and you need emergency help, the responder will make every effort to support you and help get you to a safe place. We will try other options for safety planning before contacting emergency services. We’re not able to promise we won’t call 911, but we will do our best to support you whatever happens.

If you’re thinking about reaching out to us but you’re unsure because you’re worried about emergency services being involved, please call or text us — we can talk it through with you.

We desperately need a mental health crisis response alternative.

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Views

Fired up about fire

Frontcountry camping at Keji. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

I spent last week camping in PEI with family. We are all long-time campers. In addition to the week in PEI, this summer my partner and I have also planned frontcountry camping trips to Fundy National Park and Antigonish County, as a well as a four-day back-country Keji canoe trip.

While I love camping, it also feels like a somewhat paradoxical activity. There is a sense of getting close to nature if you are at a campsite, but while you may be surrounded by trees, you are also in a carefully constructed environment. This point really gets driven home if you get the opportunity to see a campground under construction: lots of dirt being moved around, trees cut, ground flattened, pipes and electrical infrastructure being run to sites.

Then, of course, there is all the burning. There we all are on our campsites, cooking over fires fuelled by propane, butane, or wood. In the evening, we sit around smoldering fires, burning the overpriced green wood sold by the park.

One improvement: the chug-chug-chugging of generators seems to have largely disappeared, as people use solar panels to power the gear on their sites.

Backcountry campers may feel snobbish about car campers, but this is the equivalent of sniffing that you’re a traveller, not a tourist, as you visit all the same sites as the tourists, but while feeling superior. Even properly practiced, backcountry camping can cause considerable damage, as this piece from Outside magazine notes:

 In high-use areas, clusters of impromptu campsites can eventually merge into “megasites” that lead to erosion, ruining vegetation, and large swaths of bare soil that increase pollutants in waterways, trigger algae blooms, and affect trout reproduction.

It happens fast. A thriving meadow can transform into a compacted, exposed patch of dirt in as little as ten nights with a tent on top of it, [Jeff] Marion [of the U.S. Geological Survey] says, and once it’s been used regularly for a season or two, it can take years—sometimes decades—to fully recover. “Impact occurs very quickly,” Marion says, “but restoration is an incredibly slow process.”

A 2019 study from the University of Alberta by Clara-Jane Blye that compared attitudes of frontcountry and backcountry campers from Alberta and Ontario came to a surprising conclusion, according to a story published on the university’s website:

Blye’s team also compared the difference between frontcountry, defined as anything accessible by vehicle, and backcountry, which are recreation areas only accessible by hiking, paddling or skiing.

“Surprisingly, people who camp in the frontcountry hold attitudes more in line and more supportive of Leave No Trace, which is opposite to our hypothesis,” she said.

For example, Blye said when asked about urinating on vegetation rather than on rock or pine needles, backcountry visitors were more likely than their frontcountry counterparts to respond that it was appropriate. Similar gaps in responses existed when asked about the appropriateness of scenarios involving travelling on established trails and leaving what you find.

Blye speculated that because frontcountry campers are exposed to a lot more interaction with staff and signage, their attitudes better reflected the Leave No Trace principles.

Fire is central to the camping experience. Marshmallows, s’mores (I don’t like them, but apparently many consider them essential), sitting around staring into the flames and feeling elemental. That’s something that’s hard to give up — as is the idea of burning things generally. (Nova Scotians sure love a good burn pile.)

The always insightful Clive Thompson wonders if some of the resistance to renewables comes from the fact that they don’t require us to burn things. The insight comes from Thompson’s conversation with Barbara Freese, the author of Coal: A Human History:

If solar and wind truly become omnipresent, it would mean the end of humans burning things to create energy.

That’s a very, very long tradition. Humans first used fire as an energy source for cooking probably two million years ago. Then as agriculture took over “we had fire at the heart of our of our domestic life,” Freese noted. The same was true of the industrial revolution: With all those steam-powered factories, locomotives, and then cars and trucks and planes and electrical power-plants, fire was generally at the heart of it. Sure, we used nuclear and hydropower, but in the minority. Most of the time, when we moved big things around and generated electricity, we were using fire…

[A]s she talked, I realized that Americans still do have a lot of romance about combustion. Car-owners coo over the roar of a powerful engine; I find the thrum of a motorcyle kind of badass. Fire, burning, and combustion are tied up inextricably with many western ideas about power itself — and I mean “power” not in newtons and joules and kilowatt hours, but power as in “the agency to do things, and to go places”.

With renewables — solar and wind power, particularly— all that age-old romance of fire, millennia in the making, goes away.

“We are — when we’re thinking about dealing with the climate crisis — we’re talking about not burning stuff,” Freese noted. “Almost entirely. Almost entirely! To me that is a huge thing.”

Bill McKibben made a similar point in his recent New Yorker essay, “In a World on Fire, Stop Burning Things“:

We don’t know when or where humans started building fires; as with all things primordial there are disputes. But there is no question of the moment’s significance. Fire let us cook food, and cooked food delivers far more energy than raw; our brains grew even as our guts, with less processing work to do, shrank. Fire kept us warm, and human enterprise expanded to regions that were otherwise too cold. And, as we gathered around fires, we bonded in ways that set us on the path to forming societies. No wonder Darwin wrote that fire was “the greatest discovery ever made by man, excepting language.”

Darwin was writing in the years following the Industrial Revolution, as we learned how to turn coal into steam power, gas into light, and oil into locomotion, all by way of combustion. Our species depends on combustion; it made us human, and then it made us modern. But, having spent millennia learning to harness fire, and three centuries using it to fashion the world we know, we must spend the next years systematically eradicating it. Because, taken together, those blazes—the fires beneath the hoods of 1.4 billion vehicles and in the homes of billions more people, in giant power plants, and in the boilers of factories and the engines of airplanes ships—are more destructive than the most powerful volcanoes, dwarfing Krakatoa and Tambora…

In the place of those fires we keep lit day and night, it’s possible for us to rely on the fact that there is a fire in the sky—a great ball of burning gas about ninety-three million miles away, whose energy can be collected in photovoltaic panels, and which differentially heats the Earth, driving winds whose energy can now be harnessed with great efficiency by turbines. The electricity they produce can warm and cool our homes, cook our food, and power our cars and bikes and buses. The sun burns, so we don’t need to.

Tedious “new atheist” Sam Harris came up against the romance of fire a decade ago, and wrote about it in his piece “The Fireplace Delusion.” Harris makes an analogy between religious people not recognizing their beliefs are foolish (I did say he was tedious) and the attachment people feel for fire:

The case against burning wood is every bit as clear as the case against smoking cigarettes…

I have discovered that when I make this case, even to highly intelligent and health-conscious men and women, a psychological truth quickly becomes as visible as a pair of clenched fists: They do not want to believe any of it. Most people I meet want to live in a world in which wood smoke is harmless. Indeed, they seem committed to living in such a world, regardless of the facts. To try to convince them that burning wood is harmful—and has always been so—is somehow offensive. The ritual of burning wood is simply too comforting and too familiar to be reconsidered, its consolation so ancient and ubiquitous that it has to be benign.

I will leave you with a shot of a campfire we used to stay warm and cook while backcountry camping at Keji a few years ago.

Campfire at Kejimkujik National Park. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

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Noticed

Jill Fleming (@salamanderjill) and some poor auto-generated alt text.

You may have noticed that images in the Examiner come with alt text. Alt text is text describing a photo. For people who cannot see the image, the alt text provides a description for screen readers. That allows all readers to enjoy (or be infuriated by) the website, without providing a diminished experience for some.

Alt text is easy to add on any website or social media app. I’ve taken to adding it to photos I upload to Twitter. I will admit that at first this seemed tedious, but like anything else, once you decide to make it a practice you do it almost automatically. (I do still occasionally forget, which I feel bad about.)

As the image above attests, don’t rely on alt text auto-generated by, say, Google or PowerPoint, because the results are, well, not great. (Jill Fleming, pictured above, also shared a photo of a lint roller full of ticks, with auto-generated alt text saying it is a close-up of a banana.)

There are various guides to writing alt text out there, but I recently came across this one, and thought it provides some good do’s and don’ts.

One of the errors I have definitely committed is using “Photo of” in my alt text:

It’s already assumed that your alt text will be for a photo or image, and a screen reader will more than likely say “image of” before or after reading your alt text.

The Jill Fleming image comes from this post. If you have any other alt text tips, feel free to drop them in the comments.

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Government

City

Wednesday

Special Meeting – Regional Centre Community Council (Wednesday, 10am, online) — agenda

Design Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm, online) — agenda

Thursday

Appeals Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — agenda

Province

No meetings


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

PhD Defence, Interdisciplinary PhD Program (Wednesday, 9:30am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building and online) — Jenny Weitzman will defend “Holistic Carrying Capacity for Salmon Aquaculture: The Role of Social Values”

PhD Defence, Earth and Environmental Sciences (Wednesday, 1:30pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building and online) — Bryan Maciag will defend “Geochemistry of Arsenic in Magmatic Systems with Some Results for Antimony”

Thursday

ArchPlan and Bookstore Spring Garden Road pop-up (Thursday, 11am, Medjuck Building lawn, 5410 Spring Garden Road) — The Dalhousie Bookstore and student ambassadors from the Faculty of Architecture and Planning will be on site on the Sexton campus to talk with passersby about the activities and programs available in the Faculty. The Bookstore will have Dalhousie merchandise available, and books from Dalhousie Architectural Press. Note: this event will not proceed if the weather is inclement.


In the harbour

Halifax
05:15: CMA CGM J. Madison, container ship (140,872 tonnes), sails from Pier 41 for New York
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
07:30: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
10:00: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
10:30: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for Hamburg, Germany
16:00: Orange Spirit, reefer, arrives at anchorage from Dutch Harbor, Alaska via the Panama Canal
22:00: Orange Spirit sails for sea
22:30: Atlantic Sail sails for New York

Cape Breton
04:30: Rossi A. Desgagnes, chemical tanker, sails from Government Wharf (Sydney) for Corner Brook
06:00: Caribbean Princess, cruise ship with up to 3,756 passengers, arrives at Marine Terminal (Sydney) from Charlottetown, on a 10-day cruise from Quebec City to New York
13:30: MM Newfoundland, barge, and Lois M., tug, sails from Iona for sea
15:30: Caribbean Princess sails for Halifax
18:30: Front Crown, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
21:00: Cherokee, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from New York


Footnotes

Highly recommend writing while sitting on the deck with a gentle breeze blowing.


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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. I like how the word ‘tedious’ was used 3 times in today’s Morning File.

    I’m gonna keep my few times per year little campfires I think. Solar doesn’t take the damp off after 8 hours of hiking in the snow/rain/humidity. On a slightly related note, I have a device called a BioLite, it burns things in a chamber (fire!) and uses the heat to produce electricity that then runs a fan to make the fire burn hotter to make more electricity that is then made available through a USB port. It’s kind of ridiculous and too heavy and bulky to take into the backcountry so it’s been demoted to relic technology status until the next massive hurricane when I’m sure I’ll need to cook a sausage AND charge my phone. The little solar panel I replaced it with is smaller, lighter, more packable and more efficient.

    Anyway, the actual reason I logged in was to comment and provide a link to “Writing great alt text: Emotion matters”, written by Jake Archibald, a Developer Advocate for Google Chrome: https://jakearchibald.com/2021/great-alt-text/

    Also NASA has been doing a fantastic job with the alt text of their James Webb telescope images, the Washington Post has some background on that team: https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2022/07/20/nasa-images-accessible-text/

    I should also mention that when possible, hashtags on the Twitter machine should use camelcase, so like #HalifaxExaminerMorningFile instead of like #halifaxexaminermorningfile. Not only are they easier for sighted readers to parse but assistive technology like screen readers can also parse them correctly as separate words.

    1. Thanks for the tips, Chris! I’ve become obsessed with alt text, and am always looking for ways to improve it.

  2. At the risk of also being labeled tedious, what I find tedious is the reaction whenever anybody questions the unquestioned belief in a magic sky daddy. Go ahead. Call me one of those tedious atheists.

    1. I am an atheist. I was one long before Harris and the New Atheists. I agree with you about Harris being tedious, if you mean how he often expresses his ideas. I cannot agree with you if you find him tedious because of what his ideas are–unless you also find the Pope tedious when he bangs on about his beliefs, or the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Moderator of the United Church of Canada, or any other promoter of what we recognize as religions. I know I do.

  3. Perhaps Councillor Lovelace would be more concerned about tents lining Peggy’s Cove Road if shared housing (particularly if it’s affordable) is denied because of a lack of parking.

  4. It’s interesting to watch the parade of cars, trucks, RV’s etc every Friday head to the local campground. With around 350 sites and assuming 2 to 3 people per sites the population density inside the campground is more than almost anywhere else in this county. The annual electricity bill annually is tens of thousands of dollars. Indeed, in order to create the campground quite a bit of ‘nature’ had to be impacted to run all of the necessary infrastructure to support it and lots of the infrastructure was strategically hidden to maintain a bit of public façade.

    For those coming from the city it’s certainly much lower population density for the weekend and a bit of nature around, but for those living locally it’s like going into a large dense town full of people and far more people than we see on any given day in our town of a few hundred people.