News

1. Houston wants more transparency from telecomms

Photo: Zana Latif/Unsplash

Did you lose cell service during Hurricane Fiona? Many Nova Scotians were unable to contact friends, family or emergency services. Lost coverage also meant people couldn’t receive emergency alerts.

Haley Ryan at the CBC reported Monday that telecomms wouldn’t share the number of customers who lost service, but it was definitely sizeable enough to be dangerous for anyone who needed urgent help. And as Tim Bousquet reported Monday, landlines weren’t working either.

This morning, the Premier Tim Houston’s office released a statement,calling on telecommunications companies to be more collaborative with the Emergency Management Office (NSEMO) and transparent with Nova Scotians, and for the federal government to hold them accountable to Atlantic Canadians impacted by hurricane Fiona.”

The premier wants the federal government to ensure telecom companies to provide more information about service failures. 

“Nova Scotians have questions about when their service will be restored, how widespread the outages are and what the companies plan to do to ensure this never happens again,” Houston said in the statement. “It is unacceptable that there are Nova Scotians who can’t call 911 or connect with loved ones during this difficult time. There is no question we need our telecommunications companies to step up and be more transparent.”

The statement says Bell, the company responsible for 911 infrastructure in Atlantic Canada, only sent a representative to the Provincial Coordination Centre after complaints to senior leadership at the company. “Eastlink, Rogers and Telus,” the statement says, “declined to attend the PCC in person during the initial response.”

When Rogers stopped delivering service over the summer, it was a nightmare situation for people across the country. But to lose service in an emergency like Fiona is something that, for obvious reasons, is far worse and cannot be repeated.

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2. 100,000 Nova Scotians still without power

A Nova Scotia Power truck parked on Woodlawn Road in Dartmouth after Fiona, on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. Photo: Zane Woodford

As the East Coast continues what will likely be a long recovery from Hurricane Fiona, Anam Khan at CBC reports this morning that 100,000 Nova Scotians are still without power.

Khan reports that 104,800 Nova Scotia Power customers are still waiting for the lights to come back on, down from 400,000 Saturday. Sydney has the highest number of people without electricity, 36,000, while 90% of Halifax has their power restored. Some Nova Scotians might not have power until Oct. 5, almost two weeks after a storm we knew was coming.

Schools are reopening though, with some exceptions:

  • All schools in the Halifax Regional Centre for Education are open except for the Atlantic View Elementary school where classes have been cancelled due to a power outage
  • Classes are cancelled on Wednesday for schools in the Chignecto-Central Regional Centre for Education and Strait Regional Centre for Education
  • Classes in the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Centre for Education are cancelled Wednesday and Thursday.

And five comfort centres are open in the province, providing food, water, and charging stations.

  • Moser River Community Hall  8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Beaver Bank Kinsac Community Centre 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Musquodoboit Valley Bicentennial Theatre10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Findlay Community Centre  9 a.m. to 9 p.m. 
  • Canada Games Centre 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The power failures may have also impacted COVID vaccine storage, according to a Tuesday release from the province. The vaccines need to be stored at a certain temperature, and power losses may have disrupted “the cold chain” in which they’re stored. So vaccinations might need to be rebooked. From the release:

“Public Health staff will need to confirm that vaccines have maintained the appropriate temperature at affected sites,” reads a statement from the province Tuesday. “It will take between five and seven business days for Public Health to assess the cold chain with pharmacies, doctors’ offices and other sites across the province.”

“A small number of appointments booked for this week will be cancelled while that work is done. Some Nova Scotians may receive a call from their local pharmacy or clinic, or they may get an email cancellation from CanImmunize.”

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3. Opinion: public health, education, and a lack of leadership

Premier Tim Houston (left) and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang at the COVID briefing, Nov. 17., 2021. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

Where I live in Wolfville, it’s been a tale of two classrooms this fall.

Back in August, Acadia, like most universities, decided to keep masks mandatory on their campuses, following the strong recommendation of the province’s Chief Medical Officer. Next door, at Wolfville School, they’re optional. Under the direction of the province, it’s the same case at all public schools this semester.

And so public schools, where the province has dictated COVID regulations, has a lighter approach this fall than the universities that were allowed to take their own precautions.

In an opinion piece published yesterday, contributing writer Janice Brown asks why the province is taking such a laissez-faire approach to COVID precautions in public schools right now.

Brown, a retired lawyer, senior policy analyst, and cabinet advisor with the provincial government — who’s also a member of the COVID action group, Protect our Province NS — wonders if the province isn’t jeopardizing the health of students, staff, and parents by undermining the public health recommendations of his own Chief Medical Officer.

“It may come as a shock to some students, teachers, and parents to learn that Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Strang, strongly recommended masks be worn in school whenever possible this fall. But he did.

I know he did because I watched his last press conference before schools reopened, and read the advice posted on Nova Scotia’s Public Health website.

Why is that? Why doesn’t everyone know what Strang and his colleagues have recommended?

To my mind, a big part of the problem is lack of good leadership on the part of Premier Tim Houston, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Becky Druhan, and other leaders in the education system itself.”

It’s not often that we hear Houston or Druhan talk about anything pandemic-related these days. For better or worse, most of the province has gone back to business as usual. But is that the best approach for schools right now? (Or the province, for that matter? But that’s a question for another day).

Read Brown’s argument that Houston’s government should be stepping up on health and safety in public schools and decide for yourself.

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4. Study: faster adaptation to climate change could (obviously) save Canada billions

Damage to trees and a backyard at a home in Dartmouth after Hurricane Fiona hit Nova Scotia on Saturday, September 24, 2022. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

In the aftermath of a storm that sent houses into the ocean, destroyed iconic landmarks, and led to numerous evacuations and even more power losses, the Canadian Climate Institute has released a new study that warns us of the cost we’ll continue to pay to recover from events like these in a rapidly warming world. That’s in this report Mia Rabson at the Canadian Press this morning:

Canadians will see lower incomes and a choice between higher taxes or fewer government services if there isn’t more effort to adapt to the changing climate, a new report from The Canadian Climate Institute warns.

But according to a report released Wednesday, if governments and the private sector buckle up and start investing in making Canada more resilient to the effects of extreme weather, the economic impact of climate change can be cut by 75 per cent.

Rabson writes that severe weather caused $2.1 billion in insured damages in 2021 — and insurance will be a growing problem as the climate changes, as Suzanne Rent pointed out in yesterday’s Morning File — and Canada should expect annual “disaster recovery bills” of $5 billion by 2025. That annual bill could rise to $17 billion by 2050, regardless of how well the world reduces its emissions.

“To prevent a loss in government services, including to health care or education,” Rabson summarizes, “income taxes would have to increase by 0.35 per cent in 2025, compared to now, and get one per cent higher by 2050.”

So, we’d have to slightly raise taxes and we won’t see the worst financial impacts for another few decades. Not a recipe for spurring people to action. But at least we’ve been told.

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Views

1. Go ahead: judge a book by its cover

Photo: unsplash/Andrew Valdiva

Don’t judge a book by its cover. It’s a saying as clichéd as it is ignored.

Ignoring the figurative message of the old aphorism, and all the depressing things it has to say about us as a species, I have a more prosaic question.

Is it OK to judge a book by its cover? I mean, an actual book.

The question’s been brewing on the back burners of my brain lately, though I didn’t realize it consciously until a trip to Bookmark on Spring Garden Sunday. Let me set it up.

My girlfriend and I have been reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina for a little over a month now. We like to keep a communal book on the go to read out loud, and it was a great help in August when she was working in Whitehorse for a few weeks. Though we only started it in August, we bought two copies back in spring. Searching second-hand shops, the first matching copies we could find were translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

The translation modern. The price was low. And most importantly, no magnifying glass was required to read the print.

Our only hang-up: the cover.

Knees or bum? Hate it either way. Photo: Amazon.ca

Maybe you don’t see anything all that bad about it. We hate it, though. My girlfriend oscillates between seeing a woman’s knees and a woman’s bum with flowers sticking out of it. I just see some trite airport novel about a woman in the throes of some trite affair, or worse, something akin to 50 Shades of Grey. More of a burlesque romance than a pillar of world literature.

Of course, even if you agree with our assessment, maybe you think it’s frivolous. What a silly concern held by two silly people, you’re thinking. Do they just want café-goers to see they’re reading something big and important? (No). Are they prioritizing a book cover above the contents of a classic? (No). Are they worried they’ll look like two adults reading young adult trash out in public? (Closer to the mark). Are they foolish and vain? (Probably).

Should we completely ignore the cover and just judge what’s inside? Just as we should in an ideal world? Or, just as in life, is that too high an ideal to truly be practiced?

While in Bookmark this weekend, we stumbled on a copy of the same translation with a cover we deemed more appropriate, or at least, less displeasing.

If not better, at least less embarrassing. Photo: Amazon.com

So, I shilled out 20 dollars for a book we already own two copies of. Just because it looked prettier.

Waste of money? If you think so, I don’t have a great defence.

I’m not all that vain about the books I own. I don’t ask much of the covers. Just that they don’t embarrass me in public. I once tore the cover off a copy of The Beautiful and the Damned I found left behind in a hotel laundry because it looked like a trashy, drugstore romance novel and I was embarrassed carrying it around. At least I didn’t lose money with that decision.

Just awful. Photo: Target.com

Considering the quality of the book, I guess it’s fair to say it shouldn’t be judged by its cover. So the axiom holds true. But while you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I think it is fair to judge a cover alone.

And while I think a book should be judged on the merit of its prose, that doesn’t mean the cover isn’t important.

Sure, e-books have made it so you can read Jordan Peterson or the aforementioned 50 Shades of Grey in public without embarrassing yourself, but for those of us who prefer to take a break from screens and hold a physical copy when we read, we still have to broadcast our choices to the world.

Assuming you’re enjoying what you’re reading, it obviously shouldn’t matter what’s on the cover, but it makes a difference.

Look at the story of Oscar Wilde’s arrest. He was charged for indecency in 1895, caught carrying around a book with a yellow cover, a colour associated with scandalous French novels of the time. As Michael John Goodman wrote in an article on book covers for the Conversation, the incident shows, “not only can we judge a book by its cover, but we can also judge a man by the cover of the book he is supposed to have been reading.”

I doubt I’ll get arrested for having an ugly copy of Anna Karenina, but why take the chance.

Thebookdesigner.com gives its own explanation as to why publishers and authors should put some stock into how they design their covers:

The cover of your book matters. It can lead to more sales (or fewer), it can allow you to price it higher by conveying a message of quality, and it can lend credibility to you as an expert on your topic. By investing in a great cover design, you’re alleviating yourself from many possible “buyer dilemmas,” examined below (Please note: these are possible dilemmas, and they’re just illustrations. I’m sure none of you would ever think this about a real book!):

  • “This book seems pretty low-budget. I’d like to spend my money on something that took more effort.
  • “This book seems unprofessional. I wonder if the author’s as ‘expert’ as he says he is.”
  • “This book doesn’t look like what I’d expect a [thriller|mystery|literary|etc.] book to look like.”

It’s likely you’ve made similar assessments while perusing the library or your local bookshop. I certainly have.

Putting aside books for a second, let’s consider the importance of covers from another angle. Let’s talk cigarettes. I’ve heard this argument from friends before over the repellent warnings that cover cigarette packs in Canada. It goes something along the lines of, why do they have to plaster these repulsive pictures over the pack? If I’m going to smoke, I’m going to smoke. No picture’s going to stop me. The least they could do is let me carry around something that doesn’t have an image of a smoker’s diseased mouth on it.

But that’s the point. It’s uncomfortable carrying something so repugnant around in public. It repels would-be smokers. Just like my ugly Karenina made me think twice about how I held the book in public. (I usually opted to subtly read with the cover pushed into my lap or a table).

Are you going to tell me that you’re as likely to pick up one of these packs…

A sample of the cigarette packs sold in Canada. Photo: reddit.com

As you are to buy one of these?

A filthy habit elegantly disguised. Photo: reddit.com

You might know that they’ll kill you the same way, but there’s no way you wouldn’t be more inclined to carry around those Camels than you would any pack sold in Canada. One makes smoking look refined. The others make it look like the destructive habit it is.

I have a male friend who bought a car a few years back that has pink rims. The car works fine and the rims don’t need to be replaced, so he just kept them. He is a real life masculine hero. If I’d bought that car, I would’ve taken the Karenina approach and spent the extra money to change them. If he’d had my copy of the book, he would’ve saved $20 and just kept reading it as is. I’m the foolish one, I know. But I care about stupid things.

Like book covers. And I refuse to feel guilty about it.

There are people who buy books to be seen as intellectuals in coffee shops. Or to adorn their house with decorations, Gatsby-style, that give off the impression they have a personality. Or to post well-lit, perfectly framed Instagram pics so the world can see how interesting they are. If I did any of those things, then I’d feel guilty.

I just want a book cover that doesn’t remind me how insecure I am about how I’m perceived in society. And I’ll pay good money for it.

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2. World News Day

It’s World News Day today, and David Walmsley, editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail, has an editorial out this morning on the significance of the day:

World News Day, involving more than 500 newsrooms, is a global initiative aimed at improving media literacy and audience engagement. The global day of awareness underpins all our work with the belief that access to information is a human right.

The piece covers a lot of ground, with Walmsley opining on the state of journalism and where he thinks it should go, but I just wanted to briefly focus on the statement at the end of that quote: “Access to information is a human right.”

That’s a statement that’s near and dear to the heart of the Examiner’s reporters, who try to get you the facts you need about what’s happening out of the public eye in this province so you can form your own, well-reasoned opinions about how you think business, government, and life in general should operate in Nova Scotia.

It’s not always easy to get those facts, though.

Our reporters have written about this repeatedly, especially as it concerns Nova Scotia’s freedom of information rules. To mark the arbitrary date that is World News Day, let me share a link to Joan Baxter’s two-part series on Nova Scotia’s FOIPOP Act last year.

Part one is here, and part two is found here.

From a 2019 FOIPOP to the Department of Energy and Mines

The FOIPOP Act often fails to live up to its namesake in this province. It can be slow, opaque, and sometimes far from free. As one expert told Baxter in the second part of that series, “We need an attitude change within the public sector, in which people would see themselves as servants of the people, working for the people, and being open and transparent with the people.”

That article was titled, “Worse than Russia: Access to information in Nova Scotia places 66th in world rankings.” Since it was published in September last year, Russia has banned a huge number of journalists from the country since its invasion of Ukraine, I can only assume we’re now doing better when it comes to Freedom of Information. Small victories.

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Noticed

The Valley is fit to print

Yesterday, the New York Times did some reporting from my neck of the woods. In an article from science writer Elizabeth Landau published Tuesday, the Times looks at research out of the Annapolis Valley that’s giving us more insight into ⁠— I’ll give you three guesses ⁠— you’re right, it’s apples. It’s obviously apples.

I guess this photo probably gave it away anyway. Photo: unsplash/Aaron Burden

Varieties of apples, to be more precise, and how scientists are working with their genetics to produce new types that could be “tastier, heartier, more disease-resistant and with longer shelf-life in the face of changing climates.”

Just like dog breeds and pot, human beings have a history of tinkering with apple genes ⁠— not to be confused with apple-bottom jeans ⁠— in pursuit of new and better varieties. Generations of crossbreeding and research have given us about 7,500 types of apples in the world today. God may have created the apple, but humanity came up with the Honeycrisp. Also, God created the apple for a cruel entrapment scheme; we simply refined it to make it taste like candy. Despite what sci-fi tells us, sometimes we’re actually better at playing God than God is.

Anyway, at the heart of this fruit-rewiring story is the Apple Biodiversity Collection, a “research orchard” in the Valley started by Sean Myles in 2011. You may know Myles better as the entrepreneur who started the Annapolis Cider Company, a Wolfville staple that, like the Old Orchard Inn, was recently snatched up by the big Blue Lobster claw of the Nova Scotia Spirit Company.

Myles, who is allergic to apples, previously worked in human genetics at Stanford University School of Medicine, but shifted to apple genes after moving to the Valley with his now-wife, Gina Haverstock (Haverstock co-owned the Cider Co. and is a winemaker at three vineyards here, making them the ultimate Valley power couple).

Back to the Apple Biodiversity Collection. Myles calls it the “United Nations of apples,” where you can see “the world’s genetic diversity all in one place.” And that diversity could help breed apples better suited to our changing planet.

Creating the Collection took six years, the Times reports. First, 4,000 little apple trees were planted. Then they were dug up after a year, preserved through the winter in moist sawdust, and replanted for the summer. Then they waited about five years for the trees to bear fruit. Apple trees take about five to seven years to produce apples, meaning new varieties produced at orchards like the Apple Biodiversity Collection can take upwards of 15, 20, even 25 years to test and refine before landing in grocery stores.

Essentially, the next Honeycrisp could be growing in a research orchard in the Valley right now, but you might not taste it for another two decades.

The article explores the different ways Myles and other researchers shape apple genetics in pursuit of better fruit ⁠— controlled hybridization, genetic modification through the introduction of new genetic material, slicing and editing existing genomes in apples through a method known as CRISPR ⁠— it’s actually pretty fascinating, if a little scientific.

Most interesting of all, though, is why a “research orchard” full of such a diverse range of apple types all in one place could be helpful for future production.

Sophie Watts is a Dalhousie University doctoral student who works with Myles’s team. She told Landau the importance of maintaining such a large collection of biodiversity isn’t that it allows scientists to create apples that taste like bananas, citrus fruits, or cotton candy ⁠— though they have done that ⁠— but that it lets scientists draw from a huge pool of apple genes to breed more “new varieties that are adapted to our changing world.”

A healthier, longer-lasting apple for a warmer, more globalized world. Ignoring the reasons we need an apple to suit a “changing world,” it’s reassuring to see the Valley is still at the forefront of the latest in cutting edge apple research and development.

It’s always neat to see local people and places covered in an international publication like the New York Times. You’ll probably remember Stephanie Nolen’s article on Nova Scotia’s pandemic experience back in 2020 or the inevitable look at our housing market this past spring, but how about this travel log from 1977.

It recaps a short trip Lois Lowry took through Nova Scotia 16 years before she wrote The Giver. She took a bus from Yarmouth to Halifax on the Lighthouse Trail, then took the Evangeline Trail through the Valley, back to Yarmouth, describing her meetings and experiences on the way. Most of them lean into the folksy-charm stereotypes of the East Coast, but it’s still good for a laugh if you have the time.

If you don’t, here are some highlight excerpts:

  • “In the Annapolis Valley…the landscape changes. The wind torn treeless peninsulas of the coast are replaced by deep green hills covered with apple trees. The Annapolis Valley has one of the largest apple crops in the world, and the farms that inhabit this region are prosperous and picturesque.” Pick any time in history, apples are the only thing worth writing about in the Valley.
  • “Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, which we toured the next day, is a refreshingly clean city, well laid out and small enough to walk through comfortably.” This really sounds like someone reaching for something nice to say and coming up with pretty much nothing. Was Halifax ever clean and well laid out? I don’t know. You could argue some of it is, I suppose. She was dead on that it’s small enough to walk through comfortably though. It’s a big part of the city’s appeal.

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Government

City

District Boundary Resident Review Panel  (Wednesday, 3:30pm, City Hall) — check here for agenda

Province

Wednesday

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — 2022 Report of the Auditor General – Healthy Eating in Schools, with representatives from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, and Nova Scotia Health


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Novel Catalysts & Materials through Geometric Thinking (Wednesday, 1:30pm, Room 226, Chemistry Building) — Saurabh Chitnis will talk

Thursday

Eavesdropping on neuronal chemical chatter using fluorescent nanosensors (Thursday, 12pm, online) — a talk by Abraham Beyene, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Maryland

“A Good Musical Education”: Mahalia Jackson and the Legibility of Black Women’s Voices (Thursday, 12pm, Room 406, Dal Arts Centre) — a talk by Mark Burford, Reed College. From the listing:

Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson regularly cited blues diva Bessie Smith and concert contralto Marian Anderson as decisive influences. Hearing the voices of Smith and Anderson through the reception of Jackson invites us to consider how we imagine, assess, and racialize “trained” and “natural” voices, while raising questions about the ways Black women’s voices are heard and generate meaning.

Mark Burford is R. P. Wollenberg Professor of Music at Reed College. His teachings focus on twentieth-century African American music history and long-nineteenth-century European concert music. Publications include work on Sam Cooke, Johannes Brahms, Alvin Ailey, gospel, and opera. He is the editor of The Mahalia Jackson Reader and author of the award winning Mahalia Jackson and the Black Gospel Field. His current research project is a book on W. E. B. Du Bois and music.

Open Dialogue Live: Driving Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Thursday, 6:30pm, online) — an “insightful conversation” about how “Dalhousie’s emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship programming in recent years has dramatically accelerated its impact on the innovation ecosystem.”


In the harbour

Halifax
07:00: Mein Schiff 1, cruise ship with up to 2.894 passengers, arrives at Pier 20 from Boston, on an 11-day roundtrip cruise out of New York
07:00: Norwegian Joy, cruise ship with up to 4,622 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Corner Brook, on a 10-day roundtrip cruise out of New York
08:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, moves from anchorage to Gold Bond
09:30: MSC Lucy, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for sea
10:00: MSC Veronique, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Montreal
10:00: NYK Meteor, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Southampton, England
10:30: East Coast, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
15:00: NYK Delphinus, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Cartagena, Colombia
15:00: East Coast sails for sea
15:30: Humen Bridge, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Norfolk, Virginia
17:45: Norwegian Joy sails for Saint John
19:45: Mein Schiff 1 sails for New York
21:30: MSC Veronique sails for sea

Sydney
07:00: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, sails from Government Wharf (Sydney) for sea
12:00: CSL Metis, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea


Footnotes

  • Jokes aside, I really do love that Halifax is small enough to walk through comfortably. And I think a lot of it is laid out nicely. On the peninsula at least.
  • Also, none of my elementary school classes ever read The Giver. Mrs. MacNeil at Port Williams Elementary read us Farley Mowatt’s Owls in the Family every year from grades 2 to 4, though. I know that one pretty well.
  • Saltwire reports that apple growers and vineyard operators in the Valley feel they dodged a bullet this year with Fiona.

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Ethan Lycan-Lang

Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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  1. So funny! I too will choose a book by its cover. If it’s a book that’s been made into a movie, I’ll always reject the cover with the movie poster version.

  2. Totally agree with your take on book covers as I have walked away from book offerings due to their appearance as steamy cheap novels. My choice, to save money, is to make a disposable brown paper cover like I had to in the dark ages of elementary school to protect our texts and readers.