News

1. Candidates address mental health and substance abuse issues

From Monday’s candidates forum on mental health and substance use care.

On Monday, Yvette d’Entremont attended the Candidates Virtual Panel on Mental Health and Substance Use Care. The panel was hosted by the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers (NSCSS), the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Halifax-Dartmouth branch, and the Canadian Mental Health Association Nova Scotia Division.

The candidates at the event were Claudia Chender, representing the NDP in Dartmouth South, Zach Churchill, representing the Liberals in Yarmouth, and Brian Comer, representing the Progressive Conservatives in Cape Breton East.

As d’Entremont noted, the event wasn’t a debate, but the candidates had a chance to present their parties’ platforms and share ideas on how to create better access to mental health and substance use care.

d’Entremont breaks down her report on all the questions the candidates were asked and their responses. The questions included ones on how parties will approach issues around substance abuse in Nova Scotia; parties’ plans to address the social determinants of health; the government’s role in pharmacare; and how parties plan on supporting the particular mental health needs in Black and Indigenous communities.

Click here to read the complete article.

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2. COVID-19 update: 7 new cases

Photo: Quinten Braem/Unsplash

Tim Bousquet had the first COVID-19 update since Friday. Seven new cases were announced for the three-day period since then.

The new cases are spread out over a few of Nova Scotia Health’s zones: four are in the Central Zone and are all related to travel; two of the cases are in the Western Zone and also related to travel; and one new case is in the Northern Zone and is a close contact of a previously announced case.

There are 16 known active cases in the province. One person is in the hospital, in ICU.

Bousquet includes all the details on vaccination, demographics, testing, and potential exposure advisories, which are sadly increasing.

Click here for the full story.

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3. Housing reporting series

Tonight the Examiner is hosting a virtual community session where readers can join us to talk about ideas, issues, and angles that will inform the reporting on our housing series this fall. It’s free to attend and we have spaces still open. Simply click here to register. I will send you a link to the Zoom session sometime today.

We will have other sessions soon, including in-person sessions, but if you can’t make those you can always call or text our message line to share your stories and ideas. That number is 1-819-803-6215. You can also email us at housing@halifaxexaminer.ca.

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4. ScotiaPass

Liberal leader Iain Rankin casts his vote on Friday in Timberlea-Prospect. Photo: Liberal Party.

On Monday, Liberal leader Iain Rankin told reporters if his party was elected, they’d introduce a COVID-19 passport called ScotiaPass. Rankin told reporters that the passport wouldn’t be mandatory. In this report from Elizabeth McSheffrey at Global, Rankin said:

The ScotiaPass would allow people to attend events without fear, while not putting people’s health at risk from the Delta variant or other potential variants.

NDP leader Gary Burrill and Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston said they had questions about Rankin’s timing of the announcement on the ScotiaPass and they wouldn’t match the announcement without input from Public Health.

Gym owner Devin Sherrington told McSheffrey that while he’s not opposed to the ScotiaPass, he’s worried about enforcement.

What happens when there is an altercation where my staff or I have to say to somebody ‘no, you can’t come in.’ That person posts their version of it on social media and suddenly that hurts my business.

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5. Employers still complaining about the shortage of workers

Erin Pottie at CBC interviewed restaurant and pub owners in Cape Breton who say they can’t find any workers.

Pottie interviewed Danny Ellis, who owns four restaurants in Sydney; he said he can’t find enough staff and his current employees are working 60 to 70 hours a week.

If you’re warm-blooded and able, we’re willing to train you … we’re just looking for bodies. We’d like trained chefs and cooks, they don’t exist.

Ellis said that some seasonal operations are offering higher wages, so workers are going to those places. He told Pottie he may have to close one of his restaurants one day a week.

Pottie also spoke with Michele Stephens, whose family owns the Yellow Cello Café in Baddeck. Stephens said they’re also very short staffed:

We’re kind of walking the razor’s edge. If one person has an issue, they can’t come to work for whatever reason, it would put us in a pretty bad situation.

Ellis and Stephens want the government to step in. Stephens said:

There was a little bit more of that available last year for use in the form of wage subsidies and one-time loans.

I can’t recall how many of these stories I’ve read lately, but there have been a lot. And it looks like we’ll see more. CTV’s Suzette Belliveau asked this question on her Facebook page on Monday night.

The comments here are pretty much what I expected: a mix of people telling employers to pay more (Yes! Pay more!) and others saying no one wants to work because they’re getting CERB to stay home, so why would they work?

From Liz Ingram-Chambers who owns Le Bistro by Liz

And a response from Alicia Marie Crooks Risley, wife of Robert Risley of RCR Group:

I like this comment (also see Views below):

And this one:

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Views

Good customer service is about being a good customer, too

Hissy fits don’t help you get good customer service. Photo: Farzan Lelinwalla/ Unsplash

Social media is a place where people bitch about a lot of stuff. (I do this, too). But one of the most common complaints I see on my social media feeds are about customer service. Some people name and shame a store or restaurant they visited, where they said they didn’t get great customer service. In most cases, the complaints are about places where the workers are low-paid, like fast food joints and retail stores. And also in many of those cases the complaints are about issues that are no fault of those low-paid workers.

I know people have had horrible customer service — at stores, restaurants, wherever — and those places need to clean up their acts. But I recently tried to think of one situation in which I had bad customer service and I really couldn’t think of any.

A few weeks ago, I went to brunch at a place out of town that I visited many times before. It took about 20 minutes for our server to visit us at the table. It was another 25 minutes or more to get the food. But it was clear the place was understaffed; there were two servers for the entire place of about 15 tables. Our server, a woman in her 60s who walked with a limp, was gracious. When the food arrived at our table, it hot and delicious. Other customers also didn’t seem to mind. It was a Sunday. Maybe some people would think this is bad customer service, but I’d go back again.

If I have a frustrating shopping experience it’s usually at a hardware store or the like where I know nothing of the product. It’s tough for me to navigate these large stores, with tall shelves stacked with tools and bolts and all sorts of mysterious things. And it’s even tougher finding a staff person working the floor who can answer my questions. But that’s usually the fault of well-paid managers at out-of-province corporate head offices who ask local managers to slash costs. That means fewer workers on the floor. That I can’t find someone to ask a question is not the fault of these workers.

But I can recall many more examples of terrible customers in action. I’ve seen shoppers berating staff over returning an item, even though the store policy on returns is clear (the customer usually gets their money back). Just a few months ago, I saw a shopper at a grocery store demanding the store replace her reusable bags, even though the bags were branded with another store’s logo. (A supervisor gave her new bags). And one time, a customer in front of me asked if she could take some butter home to test it, and pay for it later if she decided she liked it. (The clerk said no). Customers can be a lot to handle.

I spent years working in bars and restaurants so I have considerable patience as a customer, and I understand shit happens behind the scenes. I’ve had my share of awful customers, who, when they have booze in them, aren’t any nicer. At the best of times they’re annoying; at the worst of times, they grab and harass you, or don’t tip (unless you count a glass of vomit left on the table — true story.)

Earlier this summer I wrote about seeing signs in stores that said verbal or any kind of abuse of staff wouldn’t be tolerated. I’m horrified this is an issue, but these signs are becoming more popular. (I recall last Christmas seeing signs at the post office and a bank asking customers to be kind. I guess customers aren’t so kind during the most wonderful time of the year).

All of these experiences taught me one thing over the years: Customer service is important, yes, but it’s also important to be a good customer. But we have a messed-up relationship with customer service: Employers regard customer service as an important and valued skill, yet customer service jobs are some of the worst-paid gigs out there, often paying no more than minimum wage. Many people don’t think of customer service jobs as “real jobs” but rather the first step on a ladder to something bigger. (To what? Who knows?) So many times I’ve talked to people who worked in hospitality, tourism, or retail who agreed if a one-year stint in a customer service gig were compulsory for everyone, we’d all be better customers and maybe even better people. Is that too hopeful?

Last week I read this article, “American shoppers are the worst” by Amanda Mull in The Atlantic. Mull’s story starts out with her own experiences on a recent flight, which turns out to be terrible, and she takes a look at customer service — not only during the pandemic — and posits that customers were always awful because the system was built that way. As Mull writes:

For generations, American shoppers have been trained to be nightmares. The pandemic has shown just how desperately the consumer class clings to the feeling of being served.

There’s lots of good stuff in here. Mull looks at how customer service as we know it was developed only 150 years ago, as mass production of goods had to find an efficient way to get those goods out to market. That led to the development of department stores. Americans were suspicious of these stores at first, as they were used to small general stores — you know, the mom-and-pop places. But the stores worked to demonstrate that they were a public good as well as a nice place to be. Stores had all sorts of luxury features and fun for the shoppers, like Turkish baths and parades. Mull writes:

With these goals in mind, Leach writes, customer service was born. For retailers’ tactics to be successful, consumers—or guests, as department stores of the era took to calling them—needed to feel appreciated and rewarded for their community-minded shopping sprees. So stores marshalled an army of workers: From 1870 to 1910, the number of service workers in the United States quintupled. It’s from this morass that “The customer is always right” emerged as the essential precept of American consumerism—service workers weren’t there just to ring up orders, as store clerks had done in the past. Instead, they were there to fuss and fawn, to bolster egos, to reassure wavering buyers, to make dreams come true. If a complaint arose, it was to be resolved quickly and with sincere apologies.

But as Mull writes, these stores also built something else: Class consciousness. They sold stuff the middle class needed to “imagine the better life they deserved and to spend aspirationally.” This part really stood out for me:

For Americans in a socially isolating culture, living under an all but broken political system, the consumer realm is the place where many people can most consistently feel as though they are asserting their agency. Most people in the United States don’t exactly have a plethora of opportunities to develop meaningful identities outside their economic station: Creative or athletic pursuits are generally cut off when people enter the workforce, fewer people attend religious services than in generations past, and loneliness and alienation are widespread. Americans work long hours, and many of those with disposable income earn it through what the anthropologist David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs”—the kind of empty spreadsheet-and-conference-call labor whose lack of real purpose and meaning, Graeber theorizes, is an ambient psychological stressor on the people performing it. What these jobs do provide, though, is income, the use of which can feel sort of like an identity.

This is not a feature of a healthy society. Even before the pandemic pushed things to further extremes, the primacy of consumer identity made customer-service interactions particularly conflagratory. Being corrected by a salesperson, forgotten by a bartender, or brushed off by a flight attendant isn’t just an annoyance—for many people, it is an existential threat to their self-understanding. “How many kinds of status do most of us actually have?” [Susan] Strasser, the historian, asked me. “The notion that at the restaurant, you’re better than the waiters, it becomes part of the restaurant experience,” and also part of how some patrons understand their place in the world. Compounding this sense of superiority is the fact that so many service workers are from historically marginalized groups—the workforce is disproportionately nonwhite and female.

From stories I hear (and based on my own experiences) I have always said customers like to punch down. When I hear someone complain they didn’t like the customer service, I can’t help but think this person wanted the clerk or server to suck up to them just a little bit more. And if customers are more miserable during the pandemic, my guess is people don’t have healthy coping skills to deal with restrictions and lockdowns, and punch down harder, with customer service staff taking most of the hits. If stores and restaurants can’t find workers now, I honestly can’t blame workers for looking elsewhere. These workers pay a big price for terrible customer behaviour. As Mull wrote in The Atlantic:

These workers are alienated from their own emotional well-being, which can have far-reaching psychological consequences—over the years, research has associated this kind of work with elevated levels of stress hormones, burnout, depression, and increased alcohol consumption.

These workers deserve better and being a better customer to them is a good start.

Two years ago I stopped into a restaurant called Snappers in Kennetcook after a visit to Burntcoat Head Park, one of my favourite places in the province. The restaurant and pub had only been open a couple of years; it’s named after Mama Snapper, a snapping turtle that used to lay its eggs close to the building. Our server was named Deb and she was lovely, attentive, down-to-earth, and clearly loved her job. She was also good at it.

The place was spotless and the food, while standard pub fare, was good and hot. We had a great chat about a lot of things. I haven’t been back but I’d definitely go again. When I think of good customer service, this is what I think about. Deb has probably served hundreds of customers since then and I bet they got the same kind of service. And while she wouldn’t remember me, I hope at least on that day she thought I was a good customer.

I like to think of this as the Golden Rule of customer service: Treat customer service staff how you’d like to be treated as a customer.

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Noticed

I don’t know why I thought of this, but yesterday I remembered back in the early 1990s there was an outbreak of meningitis in Nova Scotia and young people had to get vaccinated. A friend and I went to a junior high school in Lower Sackville to get our shots.

I contacted the Department of Health and Wellness to see if there were records of this outbreak, but I hadn’t heard back (the spokesperson who initially emailed said they weren’t sure if records went back that far). I put this memory out on Facebook and Twitter and a lot of people remembered.

It was most likely the summer of 1992. Several people recalled people who died; mostly young people, including toddlers. Other recalled waiting in long lines, sometimes for hours — at schools, firehalls, recreation centres, or churches — to get vaccinated. The vaccination, it seems, was available to anyone under the age of 30. People talked about their fear of the needles or the fear their young children would contract meningitis. Others talked about parents bribing them with ice cream before heading to the vaccine clinics.

Still others replied about similar outbreaks in New Brunswick, PEI, and Montreal.

The tweet led to conversations about other outbreaks, including the mumps in 2007.

None of these were global pandemics, of course, but it was interesting to note that a lot of people remembered getting vaccinated with no uproar over the vaccines. There was no social media in the early 90s. I probably heard about that outbreak on the evening news or on the radio.

It’s been discouraging to read about increases in cases in other provinces and in the US. It’s just weeks now since my kid and I have been fully vaccinated. Like others, we counted down the days to get our shots and counted down again until we hit that two-week period post vaccine. Now sometimes it feels like this will never be over.

It’s even more frustrating to read the misinformation still out there about the COVID-19 vaccines; there were even anonymous randos in my Twitter thread spreading their nonsense. Every day I see a fact check on my Twitter feed, or I have to send a fact check to someone on Facebook who’s shared misinformation. One former colleague told me she got tired of telling people on her own Facebook page that “life and business strategist” Tony Robbins isn’t an expert on COVID-19.

But what a lot of people expressed in that Twitter thread about that meningitis outbreak in 1991 was the gratitude that we had a vaccine to protect us from it. And now we’re here to remember.

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Government

City

Tuesday

No meetings.

Wednesday

Events Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 9am) — live streamed on YouTube

Design Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm) — live streamed on YouTube

Province

No meetings


On campus

No events


In the harbour

Halifax
05:00: Conti Annapurna, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Singapore
05:30: Oberon, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
10:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 36 from St. John’s
11:00: MSC Angela, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Sines, Portugal
12:30: Baie St.Paul, bulker, arrives at Pier 9 from Grande-Entrée (Magdalen Islands), Quebec
14:00: CMA CGM J. Adams, container ship, arrives at Pier TBD from Colombo, Sri Lanka
16:00: Oberon sails for sea
17:00: Onego Maas, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 27 from Świnoujście, Poland
21:30: MSC Angela sails for sea

Cape Breton
05:00: Phoenix Admiral, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for Bayway, New Jersey
06:00: Almi Navigator, oil tanker, moves from Port Hawkesbury anchorage (from Qua Iboe Terminal, Nigeria) to Point Tupper


Footnotes

Iris is back today! She needed the break, but I like when she’s working because we share jokes.


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Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent

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9 Comments

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  1. Suzanne, I’ve not heard of the 1990s outbreak of meningitis in NS. I’m guessing young people only had to get vaccinated in order to attend school. Re the spokesperson (Dept. Health) who initially emailed said they weren’t sure if records went back that far. I think it unlikely records don’t go back that far.

    You might be interested in the video “A History of Polio in Canada,” if you‘ve not watched it.

    https://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/a-history-of-polio-in-canada

    Also CBC April 2, 2020 article: In the 1950s, Canada faced a terrifying epidemic. Here’s how it was conquered. As the country battles COVID-19, some are looking back to another health crisis in living memory.

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/closures-equipment-shortages-and-insights-from-canada-s-polio-invasion-1.5517204

    Also video W5: Valuable lessons from Canada’s polio epidemic

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/closures-equipment-shortages-and-insights-from-canada-s-polio-invasion-1.5517204

  2. Definitely going to check out Burntcoat Head Park
    Thanks for the excellent customer service Suzanne 😉

  3. I definitely recall the outbreak, and I think you’re right about it being the summer and autumn of 1992. The buzz on campus was about having gotten the jab.

  4. What’s with Iain Rankin? How could a vaccine passport be effective if not mandatory? He needs couching on his public statements or people will think he is irrational.

  5. The Covid pandemic is far from over. We have had mandated vaccinations before and now should be no different. I have yet to find anyone who has a legitimate reason not to get vaccinated. A lot of made-up reasons based on false information (micro chips, magnetism and other whack-job conspiracy theories) but no actual reasons. Maybe there are some out there but I have not seen any actual examples. Social media misinformation is really killing people.

    1. Oldie,
      I think Vaccine hesitancy and bad customers as per Suzanne’s article are related. People who lack purpose and meaning in their lives exercising their personal agency in a world with too much loneliness and isolation.

    2. We’re on opposite sides this time. I do not support making these Covid shots mandatory at this point in time. My reasoning is that these shots are still too new to know everything about their impacts on both the disease and on the people being inoculated. We are learning more every day, yes; but we will not know longer-term effects until a longer term period has gone by. Currently these shots are approved for emergency use only. That is expected to change sometime in the next six to nine months, I believe. I’ve gotten my two jabs, but that was my choice. I think it should be each person’s choice.

      Rankin dropped a bombshell yesterday talking about a passport system. I don’t see what benefit such a system would provide when current evidence is showing that even those with both shots (and 14 or more days past the second shot) can still catch and transmit the virus (with comparable viral loads being detected),

      Just to be clear. I am not on social media – I have no Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, nor do I follow anyone on these sites. I’ve heard the conspiracy theories and agree they are garbage.
      I try to only share correct information. Any information I share comes form the only places I get my information. For the record, I get all my information on this virus from either the Halifax Examiner site and CBC news online, with the Examiner being (in my opinion) the more balanced site..

      1. I agree in principle with what you say, Vel. I also think it telling that when repeatedly asked at the news briefings about the possibility of a vaccine passport, Dr Strang always deferred that decision to the federal level.
        Under the present circumstances a vaccine passport system will not make me feel safer. Only continued public health measures will make me feel safe.
        I think it is a very bad move to try and make this an election issue. It politicizes something which until now has, to Nova Scotia’s credit, remained a health issue.

      2. A number of them are authorized for emergency use in the US. In Canada, they are Health Canada approved. We do not have a EUA system