1. Council budget committee recommends 1.9% average property tax increase

Mayor Mike Savage. Photo: Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford reports on yesterday’s meeting of council’s budget committee. The short version is that the committee agrees with a staff report that would see commercial and residential property taxes rise by an average of 1.9% next year. Any change would have to be approved at a council meeting.

The longer version is…. well, it’s a bit more complicated, but Woodford lays it all out nicely and clearly for you. He also discusses possibilities for tax reform—a subject brought up by several of the councillors.

Woodford writes:

Municipal staff are now working on a new system, detailed at the link above. It would introduce more classifications — big box; high density; small, medium enterprise; industrial; and rural — and tiered rates based on property values.

[Chief Financial Officer Jane] Fraser said the final recommendation on that new system would be back to council this spring for possible implementation over the next few years, but repeatedly warned that messing around with the tax system would create winners and losers.

Also in the report to councillors on Wednesday was an estimate of the cost of requiring contractors to pay their employees a living wage. Council approved that requirement in September, with staff anticipating an annual cost of $8 million.

The cost now estimated for 2021-2022 is a tiny fraction of that number: $123,040. It’s expected to rise to $161,091 by 2024-2025.

Look at those living wage numbers, think about what a difference decent pay will make to the lives of those who get it, and what a minuscule amount that is in terms of the overall provincial budget.

There’s an interesting exchange in Woodford’s piece as well between District 13 councillor Pamela Lovelace and Mayor Mike Savage, in which Savage pats himself on the back for sound fiscal management compared to other cities, including Calgary, and Lovelace points out that Calgary offers all kinds of services that Halifax doesn’t.

Read the full story here.

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2. COVID-19: 8 new cases reported yesterday

The Halifax Examiner is providing all COVID-19 coverage for free. Please help us continue this coverage by subscribing.

Tim Bousquet’s daily COVID-19 roundup for yesterday includes news on eight new cases. All are either travel-related (several are students) or close contacts of people who have already tested positive.

This is good, right? Even though the number of cases is slightly higher than what we’ve been getting most days, the fact that people who have travelled into the province are properly isolating when their positive tests come back is encouraging.

CBC also reports that, because of a relatively high number of recent potential exposure sites in Truro, a mobile unit will be offering testing for asymptomatic people today at the NSCC Truro campus.

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3. Shoes in the walls of old houses

Pair of beat-up old boots
Photo: Oziel Gómez / Unsplash

Interesting story by Alex Cooke at CBC this morning, about a researcher looking into old shoes in the walls of people’s homes. Archeologist Laura de Boer’s project is actually about more than shoes. She wants to know about things hidden in the walls of old homes for superstitious reasons. But shoes are a common one.

Cooke writes:

Before the 20th century, people would sometimes conceal shoes in their walls, believing it could ward off the devil and bad spirits. It was especially common in England and New England.

De Boer said the shoes, most commonly children’s and women’s, would often be placed near the opening of a house, like a window or chimney.

“The thinking is that because a shoe is one of the few items of clothing that holds the shape of the body when it’s not being worn, it can kind of act as a substitute as a person, either to distract the devil or the bad influence coming to the house, or to act as a deterrence to kick the bad influence out,” she said.

The story includes quotes from Ina Amirault. During recent renovations on her 190-year-old family home, a contractor found a child’s shoe in a wall.

When we did some renovations on our place more than a decade ago, we found some newspapers from 1911 or 1912 in the walls. I do recall that one of them included an ad with the price for a gallon of whiskey.

Future archaeologists embarking on projects like de Boer’s are likely to find a bunch of Tim Horton’s cups filled with dried urine in the walls of multi-unit buildings, placed there by workers who don’t have adequate bathroom facilities while on the job.

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4. New episode of Tara Thorne’s Tideline podcast, featuring Brian Borcherdt

Brian Borcherdt. Photo: Anna Edwards-Borcherdt

Episode #13 of The Tideline, with Tara Thorne is published.

Brian Borcherdt came of age in Yarmouth in the 1990s. When he arrived in Halifax, the city’s famous music scene was already waning, and worse, the music he made was rejected by the cool kids anyway. After decades away from Nova Scotia, he and his young family have settled in the Annapolis Valley, where he’ll zoom in to chat with Tara about his band Holy Fuck’s endlessly-delayed tour, creating the Dependent Music collective, and the freedom and excitement of the improvised music he’s making now. Plus: Bringing events back in 2021.

This episode is available today only for premium subscribers; to become a premium subscriber, click here, and join the select group of arts and entertainment supporters for just $5/month. Everyone else will have to wait until tomorrow to listen to it.

Please subscribe to The Tideline.

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5. Social workers call for new approach to mental health and addictions services

Man in jacket and shirt, in a hallway smiling
Alec Stratford, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers. Photo: NSCSW

Alicia Draus at Global covers a new report from the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, calling for drastic changes to mental health and addictions services in the province.

Researchers for the report surveyed social workers and supervisors, as well as people who have used mental health and addictions services in Nova Scotia. They found that only 35% of social workers surveyed were satisfied with their jobs; 98% of respondents believe the province needs to change the way it provides mental health services, and 97% of those surveyed said community supports and resources for their clients are inadequate.

Draus writes:

“We also have to be clear that we need to have a relational approach — recognize people are part of families, part of communities and part of society,” said [Nova Scotia College of Social Workers executive director Alec] Stratford.

The issue is addressed in the report’s 29 recommendations.

One such recommendation is to provide a guaranteed income for Nova Scotians.

The report notes that poverty, particularly among marginalized communities, plays a role in mental health, and those in poverty are more at risk of depression.

The report’s “Consultation Findings” section is refreshingly clear and forceful:

The literature and consultation findings are overwhelmingly consistent. All service users, providers, and supervisors critiqued the current implementation of CAPA [Choice and Partnership Approach] as a service delivery model and the standardization of approaches through a strict bio-medical framework. Their critique included identification of the shortcomings of the bio-medical framework; the unacceptable wait times for seeing a counsellor; the prescriptive use of short-term modalities, which includes the limited number of sessions; inadequate time to develop therapeutic relationships; the devaluation of addiction-specific knowledge; increased paperwork; and management by non-social workers with little opportunity for clinical supervision. The current implementation of the CAPA service delivery model itself was seen to produce many barriers and inequities; a streamlining individualised one-size-fits-all approach not only disregards social determinants of health and the social context in which mental health and substance abuse struggles often emerge, but also responds poorly to the particular issues of diversity.

These findings were identified in both urban and rural settings but were even more pronounced in rural communities. The findings indicate that there is very little community-based work or commitment to providing culturally and socially appropriate services, for example to African Nova Scotians, Indigenous communities, and 2SLGBTQIA+communities.

While urgently needed, social advocacy and community work is not a part of the bio-medical mental health service delivery approach. The professional and ethical paradigm of social work is often in conflict with the dominant bio-medical model and this dissonance is reflected in this research.

Social workers noted the devaluation of social work alongside a sense that other professions don’t know about – or fail to recognize – the scope of social work practice. Overall, participants were clear that social work did not have a strong enough voice or opportunity for input in the provision and policy of service delivery.

Our current approach represents a complete failure of imagination: piecemeal services, ignoring root causes, applying an outdated and moralistic approach. It is far beyond time for change.

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Free food and the failure of neo-liberalism

 A measly connection of foodstuffs
One of the images of a free meal box, shared on Twitter by Jack Monroe.

On Tuesday morning, when I opened Twitter on my phone, my feed was filled with photos like the one above. Terrible-looking collections of foodstuffs. These, I would soon learn, were meal kits provided to students in low-income families through a program paid for by the UK’s government. The food in this photo is supposed to provide a child with a week’s worth of lunches.

Many of the photos were shared by Jack Monroe, who calls herself the bootstrap cook, and has a website specializing in meals you can make on a tight budget. The photos had been provided to her by parents, she said, and shared with permission (albeit anonymously).

About 1.3 million school-children in England, or 15% of the student population, received free school lunches in 2019-2020. (Late last year, some Conservative politicians caused a furor by arguing that these meals should be eliminated, and parents should just shop smarter.) With schools shut because of COVID-19, the government has provided schools with funding to deliver meals to students who need them at home.

This is where the neo-liberalism bit comes in — another failure of imagination. Because — God forbid! — we wouldn’t want the government to actually provide services and have to pay employees to deliver them, we contract things out. (Yes, I know my example here is from the UK, but go check out who runs your local school cafeteria.)

And because we can’t possibly trust people to make their own decisions when it comes to spending money on things like food, we’ll provide them with food instead. And who better to do that than contractors like Chartwells, (slogan on the company’s UK site: “A lifelong love of food”)? They make a profit, in this case, by getting a set amount per meal provided, and ensuring that the food costs them far less than that. In other words, the efficiency of the marketplace and neo-liberal ideology mean that you can get about 10 pounds worth of food delivered to a child who needs it by paying a company 30 pounds to do the job. Brilliant!

Here’s another of the meal kits:

A potato, some ham, a can of beans, and other meager rations.
Bon appétit! Photo shared by Jack Monroe on Twitter

Of this one, Monroe wrote:

And another one. Two slices of clingfilmed ham. Half a piece of fruit and a fifth of a can of beans a day?!!!!

Monroe then contrasted this with the Department of Education’s own legislation on standards for school lunches.

Today’s New York Times has a story on the whole affair which has shocked and outraged members of the government, who surely cannot believe this kind of thing goes on. (This is like the famous scene in Casablanca, in which Captain Renault is shocked, shocked, to find gambling going on at Rick’s, so he orders the house cleared as a croupier hands him his own winnings.)

Journalist Isabella Kwai writes:

“It’s really shocking that profiteering is happening in this crisis,” said Kath Dalmeny, chief executive of Sustain, a food and farming charity. She added that there was a lack of transparency around how big companies won contracts and that the government had not adequately recognized that low-income families would struggle to get food during the lockdown.

The free meals program was offered to students from households receiving government benefits, including those earning less than 7,400 pounds a year after tax.

But families earning above that threshold also struggle to put food on the table, said Ms. Dalmeny.

“There is a political deep prejudice among our government against giving people money — even in a pandemic,” she added. “Unfortunately it’s the kids who end up suffering.”

We may not have an analogous school food scandal here, but this outrage stems from the same type of thinking and lack of imagination that we see in our provincial and federal governments as well. “Partnerships” with corporations that wind up costing us more and giving us less, a desire to police the choices of poor people, and an ideological antipathy in many cases to offering relatively simple solutions in favour of more convoluted ones that involve companies in the name of… what exactly? Efficiency? Transparency? Lower costs? Perhaps in some cases these goals are realized. In others, we wind up with a whole lot of unnecessary misery.

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Black-and-white photo of three three-storey bulidings, with taller buildings in the background.
Brunswick Street near the Citadel, 1965/66. Photo: Stephen Archibald

Stephen Archibald is back, with the second in his “Old Album” series of blog posts. This one is called — wait for it — “Old Album, Number Two.”

Last week, Archibald said he has been organizing old photos chronologically. We are the beneficiaries of this effort. In his latest Noticed in Nova Scotia post, Archibald shares black-and-whites he took in 1965 and ’66. There are a few things I love about this. First, of course, are the photos themselves. You can see that Archibald already had a finely developed eye. Just check out the photo above, with the two guys standing in their doorways. Of this photo, Archibald writes:

The focus was on the two guys, lounging like cats, pretending not to notice one another, or perhaps shouting a remote conversation. This block was cleared around 1980 for the Metro Centre. I had hoped for more modern building. Be careful what you wish for.

Then there is Archibald’s steadfast resistance to nostalgia. He has referred a couple of times to how rundown and shabby much of downtown Halifax was in that era. “Incredibly rundown” is the term he uses in describing this photo, taken from below the Town Clock.

Photo of an extremely ramshackle couple of brick buildings below the Halifax Town Clock.
A corrective for those feeling a blanket nostalgia for old-time Halifax. Photo: Stephen Archibald

I took the photo below last weekend. I should hang onto it in case I get around to doing an Archibald-type album in a couple of decades.

Gravel parking lot, old brick wall and some kind of plastic sheeting marked "Resisto"
Corner of Granville and Blowers. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

I also love Archibald’s writing and self-deprecation. Old Album, Number Two includes a few photographs which he puts under the category, “Just because they’re old, doesn’t make them interesting.” The series includes this one, which Archibald calls “pointless.”

Black-and-white photo of old wooden bleachers and light snow.
Bleachers at Studley Field (now called Wickwire Field). Photo: Stephen Archibald

The Examiner regularly links to Archibald’s blog. I appreciate not only his eye, but also his commentary. He seems like one of those people who are interesting and have a lively mind, and I am always happy to go along with him, wherever he wants to take us.

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No meetings.

On campus



NSHA Newfangling Rounds: Mitacs: Supporting Collaborative Research (Thursday, 8:30am) — from the listing:

Mitacs is a national, independent, not-for-profit organization that fosters economic growth and innovation. This presentation will describe the research funding opportunities offered by Mitacs for post-secondary institutions and partner organizations.

Via Zoom.


a black and white photo of Fiona Kouyoumdjian
Fiona Kouyoumdjian. Photo via

The Health of People Who Experience Imprisonment in Canada (Friday, 12:10pm) — Fiona Kouyoumdjian from McMaster University will present this Health Law Institute Seminar via Zoom.

In the harbour

11:30: APL Sentosa, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
13:00: MSC Ornella, container ship, sails from Pier 27 for New York
14:00: Em Kea, container ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Montreal
16:00: Tampa Trader, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York

02:30: Tampa Trader sails for Kingston, Jamaica
02:30: APL Sentosa sails for New York


I caught the final inning of an Australian Baseball League before going to bed last night, and then watched the last inning of another game while writing today’s Morning File. The league is playing an extremely abbreviated season thanks to COVID-19, with two teams (Geelong Korea and the Auckland Tuatara sitting it out altogether.) As outbreaks come and go the schedule keeps changing. I’ve gotten so used to empty stadiums that it was a bit of  shock to see people in the stands in Adelaide. Mind you, they were very few people, and they were sitting in small groups quite far apart from each other. For those desperate for baseball, the games stream live on the ABL YouTube channel.  There’s one at 10 PM AST tonight, and another starts at 4:45 our time tomorrow morning, for the insomniacs or early risers.

YouTube video

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A smiling man with a dark short beard, dark framed glasses, wearing a green shirt

Philip Moscovitch

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

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  1. I commend the report by the Social Workers regarding gaps in the mental health system and solutions to close these gaps, and I would like to add some additional information.

    To begin, it has also long been known that one obstacle to accessing mental health is lack of health care coverage to access services. For example, psychologists have been advocating at the national level for inclusion in coverage.

    Second, Nova Scotia has had a plan in place to improve mental health services in the province. It is partially based on a tiered approach that has been found to be successful elsewhere. In brief, the plan matches the level of care with the level of the person’s need. In addition to making sense, it allows for better matching between the patient and the clinician. Here is the link to the document:

    Others have also proposed methods to improve access to mental health services. Todd Leader’s book, “It’s Not About Us” is an example.


    Pamela M. Yates, Ph.D., R.Psych

  2. How about tying in neoliberal BS with the city’s living wage attempt.

    There may be some more money for the people who do the work but rest assured there will be far more for the “job creators”.

  3. “Also in the report to councillors on Wednesday was an estimate of the cost of requiring contractors to pay their employees a living wage. Council approved that requirement in September, with staff anticipating an annual cost of $8 million.

    The cost now estimated for 2021-2022 is a tiny fraction of that number: $123,040. It’s expected to rise to $161,091 by 2024-2025.”

    As someone not overly familiar with municipal budgets: is this estimate as remarkable an error as it appears? Did staff really miscalculate the annual cost by over 60x? Am I misreading?

  4. I’m wondering if that’s the old Moirs Chocolates behind the buildings on Brunswick Street. I can still smell the cherry chocolates just thinking about it.(Walking in that area as a kid the smell was strong)

    1. Yes, those are some of the Moirs buildings. It was very special when the aroma of the chocolates mingled with the smell of the salt cod drying on the roof of the AM Smith fish plant on Lower Water St.

  5. Re The Old Albums: I remember visiting Halifax/Dartmouth in the fall of 1970 with a teen group. We stayed at a Dartmouth school gym, but four of us got permission to make an evening visit to my friend’s sister, studying nursing at the VG.
    We walked, after dark, to and fro, all through the “bad” parts of both cities. We got accosted only once, by a drunk sleeping on a bench in the old ferry terminal on the Halifax side as we took the last ferry back to Dartmouth. We had no fear at all. I am quite sure Mom would have been horrified – had she found out.