November subscription drive

I started the Halifax Examiner in June 2014 with the expressed desire to do more long-form investigative journalism, and a few months into the new enterprise I came upon the court case of Glen Assoun.

Assoun, I learned, claimed he had been wrongly convicted for the murder of his former girlfriend, Brenda Way. Assoun, who had then already spent nearly 17 years in custody, was asking the Nova Scotia Supreme Court to give him bail as his appeal moved through the courts.

I attended the bail hearing, and heard Justice James Chipman tell Assoun that he was likely “factually innocent” of the murder, and so would be released from custody with a litany of conditions.

I had my long-form investigation.

I spent the next 13 months diving into the case files, interviewing witnesses and former cops, talking with lawyers. And in January 2016 started publishing a series of articles entitled “Dead Wrong.” Then came years and years of follow-up reporting. Assoun was finally fully exonerated in 2019, but in that exoneration hearing we learned that the RCMP had lied and destroyed evidence that should have freed Assoun a decade earlier, and so that led to yet more reporting. And that culminated in the podcast series Dead Wrong.

Other media outlets reported on some of the court hearings, but no one besides the Halifax Examiner could do the kind of in-depth long-form journalism the Assoun wrongful conviction story required. That’s not just because I took an interest in the case, but additionally because readers would fund the project — they were willing to pay monthly subscriptions for month after month, year after year, so that I could spend much of my time chasing down the Assoun story instead of focussing on the day-in-day-out chase-the-media-frenzy that most news media demand of their reporters.

The Glen Assoun story would have never been fully told had it not been for subscribers to the Halifax Examiner.

Last week, I provided a sneak preview of what I hope will be my next deep-dive investigative series, Original Sin. I say “hope” because this won’t happen automatically. My interest in the story alone doesn’t make it a reality. It will take a considerable amount of my time, which is now not only being spent on the day-in-day-out news stories but also running an operation that extends far beyond me.

And so like with the Assoun story, I’m asking readers to give me the time necessary to research and report the Original Sin story. And you give me that time by subscribing to the Halifax Examiner, which in turns pays the costs of not just my salary but the salaries of other reporters to keep the place humming along.

If you’re a fan of long-form investigative journalism, please subscribe to the Halifax Examiner.

Thanks!

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NEWS

1. Home sharing and Happipad

A modest white house strung with a few Christmas lights. It's a snowy day. In the foreground is a sign that says Jack Fergusson Ave, above a "No Exit" sign.
A home in Halifax, as seen in December 2021. Credit: Jan Walter Luigi/Unsplash

“David Wimberly is in the middle of fixing up the spare bedroom in his house — but the project’s been put on hold, because the person doing the renovations hasn’t been available to finish them,” reports Philip Moscovitch:

And, Wimberly said in an interview, his experience speaks to the trouble with focusing too much on trying to build our way out of the housing crisis. 

“There are just not enough construction people to go around to build the housing that is necessary for people that need housing right now,” he said. 

Wimberly, who has lived at the head of St. Margarets Bay since 1987, is co-founder of Transition Bay St. Margarets, a non-profit which “aims to create stronger, happier communities through actively building resilience at the community level.”

Click or tap here to read “Home sharing: Building community or ‘desperation solution’?”

Map of Halifax with a handful of tags showing prices (these are rents) ranging from $800 to $1,500.
Happipad’s Halifax offerings as of November 3, 2023 Credit: Happipad

Moscovitch goes on to detail the home-sharing effort of the St. Margarets Bay group, but I was additionally interested in his discussion of Happipad:

In August 2023, the Nova Scotia government announced a “partnership” with Happipad, a home-sharing service out of B.C. Under the terms of the partnership, the province agreed to give Happipad $1.3 million over two years. That money was, as Michael Gorman reported for CBC, to “go toward the cost of two employees based in Nova Scotia and to waiving fees renters would otherwise be charged for background checks and homeowners would be charged for processing transactions.”

The organization essentially facilitates transactions between renters and people with extra rooms by providing background checks, matching people according to perceived compatibility, and taking care of collecting rents. 

Gorman reported that Lohr called Happipad “sort of the 21st-century version of the sticky note on the Superstore or the grocery store wall.” 

A visit to the Happipad website shows very few properties available in and around Halifax (and none in St. Margarets Bay).

Some of these listings seem more like standard rental arrangements than the kind of home sharing Wimberly describes. A North End basement apartment for $1,500 a month. An owner renting out three rooms in a house in “Hammonds Plsins,” for $1,200 each. Confusingly, one of these rooms also appears on the map as being located near Lantz and Dutch Settlement.

Zoom out farther, and the pickings are even more sparse. Outside HRM, Happipad has one rental available in Lockeport, one in Port Williams, one in Windsor, and one in Cape Breton — an unfurnished room in Port Caledonia for $525 month (utilities included). And that’s it.

Happipad has been on my to-do list ever since the provincial grant was announced, but I haven’t been able to get around to fully reporting on it.

I did get so far as determining that there are no obvious conflict-of-interests between the Nova Scotia government and Happipad. Happipad isn’t owned by the premier’s brother-in-law or whatever. Rather, the group is a non-profit in B.C. founded by serious people trying to help address a serious housing shortage, first by assisting new immigrants in Vancouver. Fine.

But I find it too bothersome to deal with as an entry point into finding housing. I want to say, ‘Hey, is this Happipad thing an option? Maybe I can look at their website and see what’s available.’ But that’s where the hassle begins. I can’t just get a map of Halifax with available offerings — I first have to, well, I don’t know what I have to do. I can’t seem to navigate to a page that lets me just sign up.

I think I have to use the ‘chat’ function, which is an immediate turn-off for me. It’s probably some AI bullshit, right? Maybe it’s a person, but even then it’s gotta be a scam-ish data collector for getting all my personal info and bombarding me with ads for the next century and a half.

Exchanging texts with Moscovitch this morning, he sends me screenshots of things on the Happipad website that I don’t see on the Happipad homepage I get to on my laptop browser.

Clicking on ‘get started,” he gets this:

What Philip Moscovitch gets when he visits happipad.com and clicks on ‘Get Started’

When I click on ‘Get Started,” I get this:

What Tim Bousquet gets when he visits happipad.org and clicks on ‘Get Started’

Moscovitch now tells me he gets different things when he’s in private browsing and different things yet again on different browsers.

“I can’t find any consistent reason for what I’m seeing when,” he says. “At the very least you can say the system is opaque and confusing.”

Update: after we published we see that Moscovitch was navigating around Happipad.com while I was using Happipad.org. But why should they be different, and why is Moscovitch getting different versions of Happidpad.com depending on his browser and setting?

And I’ve already wasted 45 minutes this morning just trying to find a listings map on the Happipad website. Maybe I’m internet illiterate. Or maybe Happipad is so data-conscious that it’s gaming browsers and devices for various unknown reasons, and this really is some data-collecting thing that I don’t want to get involved with.

I think I’ll just go look for rooms for rent on Kijiji.

Sure, prescreening, background checks, yada yada. I might actually pay for that, or at least have the province pay for it. But I don’t want to go down that road until I can see if there’s anything I might potentially want to rent.

And judging from what Moscovitch is reporting, the prescreening doesn’t extend to pricing:

Asked about the $1,500 basement apartment in the North End, [Happipad employee Blayne] Robinson said that while Happipad can provide advice on rents, ultimately the choice is up to the landlord (or “host”). He said that if you tried to list a Honda Civic on Auto Trader for $30,000 the publication probably wouldn’t let you, but that Happipad has no such controls.

A reasonably cynical person, which is redundant in these everything-is-a-grift times, will understand that Happipad is working for landlords, not potential renters, and so we get unscrutinized offers like the $1500 basement apartment but you, potential renter, need three forms of ID, a credit check, a criminal background check, and a letter from your pastor declaring your godliness.

Under the guise of ‘rent out your extra bedroom!’ Happipad is protecting landlords from those dirty unscrupulous lowlife renters, a service that landlords once had to pay property management firms for (which was usually charged back to potential tenants), but now the province is paying for it. Protecting renters from overcharging landlords? Ha-ha, forget about it.

The St. Margarets Bay group appears to be taking a better approach to the home-sharing concept. For one, they’re focusing on actually sharing homes and not just getting the province to pay for credit checks of potential renters. For two, the people leading the group are longtime residents with deep connections to the community. I wish them well.

There are undoubtedly people who can benefit from home-sharing, and probably a bit more so in communities like St. Margarets Bay, which (no offence intended to anyone) has a lot of house-rich older people and house-poor younger people.

But this admittedly beneficial-to-some idea is a tiny niche solution, addressing a tear drop in an ocean of housing trouble.

We’ve seen bandied about the claim that there are 130,000 empty bedrooms in Nova Scotia, a figure that reader Linda Garber asked about. I responded:

I think they cross-reference building records (which include the # of bedrooms in a house) with census records (how many people live in a house). For sure, houses that were built for and sold to families with children are now owned by the childless or empty-nesters and so those bedrooms have been repurposed for other, er, purposes. That’s the case in my household, where a former bedroom functions as the headquarters of Halifax Examiner World Industries. As with so many things, the evolving society doesn’t match former expectations. I’m not about to rent out the headquarters of Halifax Examiner World Industries to a roomer, and so I’m a bad citizen in some eyes.

Society evolves, family forms evolve, and housing evolves.

Most of the homes in the old Victorian neighbourhoods on the peninsula, built for families with a gaggle of kids and even a servant or two, are now occupied by childless couples, or those with one kid. The servant lives in Sackville and commutes in once a week to clean the toilets and do laundry. So what were bedrooms for kids 150 years ago aren’t ’empty’ — they are offices, personal gyms, storerooms, and so forth.

There is a wasteful expansion of living space for those in upper income brackets that is bad for the environment generally, but the flip side is that, thanks to the miracles of the internet and birth control, I don’t have a bunch of rug rats underfoot and I can walk upstairs to my in-home office and write without having to drive clear across town to a rented office space just to get some peace and quiet already. That option wasn’t available to Joe Howe or William Dennis, who had to pay good money to get away from the little brats. So the ’empty’ bedrooms are a mixed bag.

It’s easy, tho, to simply blame the house-rich for the housing problem, instead of coming to the obvious solution: build some damn housing already. Housing for those at the low-end of the market who are most at need, paid for by taxes on those with better incomes.

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2. Kentville (alleged) shenanigans

Cars drive on a street in front of a historic red brick building with a clock tower. Another tall black iron clock stands in the middle of the intersection.
Town of Kentville. Credit: Town of Kentville/Facebook

“The former director of planning and development for Kentville is suing the town alleging wrongful dismissal that caused her ‘mental distress, humiliation, and embarrassment,'” reports Suzanne Rent:

Beverly Gentleman was employed as the director of planning and development for the town from June 20, 2005 to Oct. 14, 2022. 

Gentleman’s lawyer, Randall P.H. Balcome, filed a notice of action against the Town of Kentville on Oct. 12, 2023. 

According to that notice, Gentleman was told about her termination on Oct. 17, 2022, and that she was being let go for “just cause” as the result of her “involvement with complaints from Town staff regarding the activities and actions of certain Town council members and the behaviour of certain council members regarding Town staff.”

In the statement of claim, Gentleman alleges there was no just cause for her termination without notice, but that her firing was because of “ulterior and irrelevant causes and reasons clearly not amounting to ‘just cause.’”

Gentleman further alleges that the real reason for her termination, which wasn’t disclosed to her, was that her firing was an act of retaliation by Kentville Mayor Sandra Snow for Gentleman’s “assisting a former Town Chief Administrative Officer with the preparation of a complaint letter primarily concerning the behaviour of Snow with respect to Snow’s treatment of Town staff.”

Click or tap here to read “Former Kentville planning director suing town for wrongful dismissal, alleging mental distress, humiliation.”

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3. ‘Sheer legislative laziness’

The open wrought iron entrance gate to the courtyard of Province House in June 2021. On the stone wall is a bronze plaque reading 1726 Hollis St, and above that a copper plaque, completely green with patina, designating the building a provincial heritage property.
Province House in June 2021. Credit: Zane Woodford

“In opposition, the Houston PCs campaigned in 2021 on a promise to ‘protect 20 percent of the province’s land and water by 2030, a vow cemented in the [new PC government’s] Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act that passed in October 2021,'” writes Stephen Kimber:

Now? Not so much. Last month, in fact, the government said updating the legislation, which was created in the 1950s and hasn’t been amended since 1989, was not a priority.

When [CBC Morning Edition host Portia] Clark asked the Ecology Action Centre’s senior wilderness coordinator, Ray Plourde, why the government might be reluctant to act, he first suggested that the government might want to maintain the broad ministerial discretion in the current act “because they might want to use it themselves.” But he seemed to dismiss that idea based on what happened to those earlier attempts to end run the rules. “The government got the message loud and clear that the public will not stand for that.”

Why, then? 

“Sheer legislative laziness,” Plourde suggested. “I can’t think of any other reason the government wouldn’t do it… They just don’t want to.”

Sheer legislative laziness…

Think about that.

In truth, that seems to sum up how governments view the place — and the process — where government legislation is supposed to be introduced, debated, amended, and approved or not.

Click or tap here to read “The Houston PCs are governing by ‘sheer legislative laziness.'”

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4. Winter shelter in Dartmouth

A white church.
The former St. Paul’s Church on Windmill Road will be a winter shelter. Credit: Google Street View

On Friday, the province announced that it will be renting the former St. Paul’s Church on Windmill Road in Dartmouth for use as a winter shelter:

Starting with 50 beds for people of all genders – including youth aged 16 and older, if needed – the shelter can add more beds based on community need and extreme weather events and can accommodate people with pets. The shelter will operate nightly until spring, with the option to extend.

Upwards Mobility Kitchens East will provide an evening meal, and a continental breakfast will be available before the shelter closes each morning.

The Province is funding the building rental, operating costs and wraparound services. Staff and support services will be provided by 902 Man Up, including connecting clients to community-based services and programming. These services could include access to housing support, harm-reduction supports and help creating individualized plans for clients.

The HRM will be providing in-kind property maintenance support for the shelter site, including required inspections and any work required to bring the site to compliance. The municipality will also be providing regular garbage pickup and snow clearing.

The property is owned by Boston Developments, which is controlled by the Ghosn brothers — Boston, Mark, and Jeremy.

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5. Women and STEM

Several painted portraits hang on a gallery wall. All of the portraits are of women.
Portraits from Jan Napier’s Great Women Portrait Project. Credit: Leigh Beauchamp Day

“A painter and former journalist in Halifax is leading a project in which she’s painting the portraits of women who’ve made historic advancements in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM),” reports Suzanne Rent:

Jo Napier is the founder of the Great Women Portrait Project and made a presentation about the project to HRM’s Women’s Advisory Committee during its virtual meeting on Thursday night.

Napier, a a former journalist who worked with the Chronicle Herald, Globe and Mail, and Ottawa Citizen, said the inspiration for the project started when she was covering stories about people in tech and noticed a gender gap in the industry. She eventually wrote a book featuring women in tech called Technology With CurvesWomen Reshaping the Digital Landscape.

“As a dot.com reporter, I just noticed I was always interviewing these fascinating men, and that this landscape, digital landscape, was taking shape exponentially, and I thought, ‘where are the women shaping this?’” Napier said in an interview on Friday.

“They better be onboard because it’s going to be a whole other world, yet again, defined through a male lens.”

Click or tap here to read “Halifax painter chronicles stories of great Canadian women of STEM in portrait project.”

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Government

City

No meetings

Province

Today

Legislature sits (Monday, 4pm, Province House and online) — watch it here

Tomorrow

Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place and online) — agency, board, and commission appointments

Legislature sits (Tuesday , 1pm, Province House and online) — watch it here


On campus

Dalhousie

Guitar Noon Hour (Monday, 11:45am, Strug Concert Hall) — selections from students’ repertoire

Gender, Inequality and Intersectionality: The EU at a Crossroads (Monday, 1pm, Room 1016, Rowe Building) — Heather MacRae from York University will talk

Investigating the dual role of a marine antifreeze protein, winter flounder AFP6 (Monday, 2:30pm, Theatre A, Tupper Building and Room 102 DMNB, Saint John campus) — MSc candidate Lara Virgilio will talk

NSCAD

Today

Opening reception (Monday, 5:30pm, Anna Leonowens Gallery) — exhibitions by Emily Davidson, Meichan Yuan, Samantha Holyk, Becca Devenish

Tomorrow

Noon talk (Tuesday, 12pm, Anna Leonowens Gallery) — Meichan Yuan will discuss her work

Saint Mary’s

Book Launch (Monday, 6:30pm, Glitter Bean Café, 5896 Spring Garden Road) — Shira Lurie will discuss The American Liberty Pole: Popular Politics and the Struggle for Democracy in the Early Republic


In the harbour

Halifax

01:00: NYK Daedalus, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Fort Lauderdale
05:00: NYK Romulus, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint John
05:30: Siem Aristotle, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Davisville, Rhode Island
08:00: Zhen Hua 23, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Shanghai
08:30: GPO Grace, heavy lifter, moves from IEL to anchorage
08:30: GPO Sapphire, heavy lifter, moves from anchorage to IEL
09:30: Insignia, cruise ship with up to 800 passengers, arrives at Pier 23 from Sydney, on an 11-day cruise from Montreal to Boston
11:00: AlgoNova, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
11:15: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Philipsburg, St. Croix
15:00: NYK Romulus sails for Southampton, England
16:00: Eagle II, container ship, arrives at berth TBD from Moa, Cuba
17:00: GPO Sapphire sails for sea
17:00: Siem Aristotle, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
18:00: Atlantic Swordfish, barge, moves from IEL to Imperial Oil
18:30: Insignia sails for Saint John
19:00: Orion, crane ship, sails from IEL for sea

Cape Breton
07:00: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, arrives at Sydney anchorage from Halifax
11:30: Agri Ocean, bulker, arrives at Atlantic Bulk Terminal (Sydney) from Rotterdam
18:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from Coal Pier (Sydney) for sea


Footnotes

I’ve got nothing.

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Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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3 Comments

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  1. 100’s of people block off a large portion of downtown Halifax on a Saturday evening connected to a major world event and like all other local media Halifax Examiner doesn’t cover it? WT serious F.

    1. Hi David, at this point we’ve got 3 full-time reporters: Tim, Suzanne, and Yvette, with Province House covered by Jennifer Henderson. I don’t want to tell you how many hours a week they’ve each been working. That’s why we couldn’t be there Saturday.

  2. There are a lot of things that could be done. An obvious municipal one would be to make the property tax cap income-tested. In many cases people who own one bedroom condos are paying more in property taxes than people who own giant suburban homes because of the cap. Politicians sold us the cap as a way of protecting retirees whose home values have gone up dramatically, and fine, grandma shouldn’t have to pay an extra 300 a month in property taxes because her home doubled in value in four years, but those who can pay should.