News

1. Media victory in Assoun case

Glen Assoun. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice James Chipman has indicated that he will grant a media request to gain access to sealed court documents in the Glen Assoun case,” Tim Bousquet wrote yesterday. Click here for all the details (Tim is updating the story this morning.)

Tim’s worked a tremendous number of hours on this story and will, no doubt, work many more. Like many of you, I’ve been following the story. Investigative journalism like this exposes injustices like those done to Glen Assoun, and endeavours to right wrongs. The work also costs money. As always, when you subscribe you’re supporting this work.

Click here to subscribe.

2. Worker hurt at Irving Shipyard

Irving Shipyard. Photo: Halifax Examiner

A man was injured while working at the Irving Shipyard and has life-threatening injuries, according to a report from CBC.

The 40-year-old was struck by a piece of metal while he was working on a contractor’s equipment.

The accident happened Tuesday at around 6:45.

3. NS Power wants to expand cyber security

The Nova Scotia Power headquarters building on Water Street.

Nova Scotia Power is spending $4.1 million to expand security to prevent cyberattacks, says a report from Paul Withers at CBC. And that means ratepayers will cover the costs on their power bills.

The utility filed the request with the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board yesterday. Nova Scotia Power will buy the hardware and the software for a security operations centre that will be operated by an outside vendor. The plans are not in response to any specific cyberattack, says Nova Scotia Power spokesperson David Rodenhiser.

What we want is to ensure that we continue to protect the electrical grid and our confidential business and customer information from cyberthreats.

The project was originally priced at $2,489,673 but bumped to $4,074,948; Nova Scotia Power talked with potential vendors and looked at the requirements of working the new system into their incident management system.

4. Sick note requirement waste of time, money, doctors say

Not the form letter.

A form letter that bills employers that require sick notes is getting a lot of use from doctors,  even though the form letter was created by Doctors Nova Scotia 12 years ago.

Anjuli Patil at CBC spoke with Gary Ernest, the president of Doctors Nova Scotia who says the form has been downloaded 900 times in the last year. Besides billing the employers for the time it took to write the sick note, the form also advises employers to change their policy on sick notes.

Ernest says doctors are getting frustrated because asking employees to get a sick note causes several problems, including taking away appointments from patients who need more urgent care.

It’s not necessarily easy to get in to see a family physician if you have a family physician. Their offices are busy and for someone calling on the same day, it’s not necessarily an easy thing to get fit in for a sick note.

And for people who can’t get in or don’t have family physicians, that means they’re trying to get sick notes in walk-in clinics from doctors they don’t know.

Ernest says there should be an “element of trust” in the workplace.

5. What does a tree in the Public Gardens have to say? Text it and find out

The duckpond at the Halifax Public Gardens. Photo: pfadfinder

This summer, if you’re wandering around the Public Gardens and feel like chatting, you can text one of the trees. Yvette d’Entremont at The Star Halifax reports on a new project called Text a Tree in which you get to do just that. The project was created by Julietta Sorensen Kass, a master’s student at Dalhousie, who wanted to help people use technology to connect with nature, in particular trees.

There’s this yearning for nature. We really wanted to get you up close, to step in front of a tree. When was the last time you examined the bark of a tree? When was the last time you stood under a tree and looked up?

Between July 7 and Aug. 31, certain trees in the garden will have a phone number on them. You can text that number and a volunteer “tree talker” will reply. Each tree has a personality, gender pronouns, and identifies as female, male, or non-binary. Another tree is taking text wishes only and won’t text back (I know people like this).

Woody was talking long before anyone could text him.

Sorensen Kass says she got the idea from a project in Melbourne, Australia in which residents were asked to report on the conditions of trees in that city. Besides reporting on damage to and the health of the trees, people sent messages of love, thanks, or friendship. She says she hopes the project will help us understand the importance of trees in the city as well as their huge role in climate change.

I don’t think you’re going to get the support that we need to tree our cities and improve biodiversity and all of these things if people don’t have a personal connection to urban forests. I see this as one tiny piece towards climate change.

Sorensen Kass was awarded the Sue Ellen Murray Educational Bursary to fund the project.


Views

Biology and career choices

In Friday’s Morning File, I published a piece about women in the workforce in Nova Scotia. That piece had a lot of data, but I didn’t include a lot of my own thoughts and some of the comments that followed got me thinking. A few commenters talked about the lack of male elementary school teachers. Shaun Bond said men and women choose different careers paths for different reasons, including biology.

First, men should absolutely be encouraged to be elementary school teachers. I don’t know if men are being discouraged from being elementary school teachers, but children benefit from the diversity of perspective and that means having men as teachers. Increasing the number of women in male-dominated sectors doesn’t mean we also can’t encourage men to work in female-dominated ones.

I agree that biology does help shape the career choices men and women make, but not in the same way Bond thinks it does. But let’s pretend biology does determine how we choose careers. Women are nurturers, we’re told, and we like to work with people, as Bond pointed out, so we end up working in service jobs or taking care of children or the elderly. That still doesn’t address other issues, especially wages. The wages in these fields are awful. Take, for instance, childcare. This is a female-dominated field that also pays terribly. Also, administrative assistants tend to be women. Again, the wages for these jobs are often below a living wage. Trades like welding and plumbing pay higher salaries and there are more male plumbers and welders. But the woman who takes care of your child is doing work that’s just as important and worthy of a good wage as the man who fixes your broken toilet. Women and their biology are not intentionally choosing low-paying careers.

This is a good piece from the New York Times a few years ago that mentions a comprehensive study from Paula England, a sociology professor at New York University, who looked at careers between 1950 and 2000. She found that as women took on more traditional male jobs, the pay went DOWN. As England says, “Once women start doing a job, it just doesn’t look like it’s as important to the bottom line or requires as much skill. Gender bias sneaks into those decisions.”

Macleans also published this piece last year about the gender pay gap and about choices we make in our careers. There are good anecdotes about midwives in Ontario and women who worked in rural delivery for Canada Post, but who made less than their urban counterparts, who were mostly men.

We simply don’t value the work of women like we do that of men. We may pay lip service to it, but we don’t pay even living wages at times. We value our children and yet undervalue the women who take care of them. We value those who nurture, but expect them to do it for almost nothing. So if biology is choosing our careers, what we’re saying is that nurturing and taking care of others doesn’t have a financial value. Is that what we really want to say?

And then there’s the motherhood penalty. Women pay a price for having children (again, another price to pay for being the nurturer). It’s not enough to give birth to the next generation of workers — we’re still paid less.

Men are still viewed as the primary breadwinners, so they’re the ones who need to make more money. What women make is often regarded as extra for a family. Maybe her paycheque will cover the cost of a family vacation or for a few renos on the house, so she doesn’t need to make much. There is an unconscious bias about women’s work and what they contribute to families and to the economy.

I agree that men probably negotiate for better salaries. But negotiating is a skill that can be taught, regardless of your gender and biology. I know, too, that women who ask for anything they want are considered too aggressive, not nice, or bitches. Girls are taught this — that we must be nice and not demanding. Who cares? Let’s be the bitches who make what we deserve and work where we want.

Women also probably avoid certain male-dominated fields because of the lack of women mentors or the risk of sexual harassment.

My biology is tired of the reasons for why we undervalue the work of women, financially and otherwise. I want to see equal opportunity, too. Maybe that means there won’t be a 50-50 split of men to women in every sector. But from a young age, women are often turned toward a path that doesn’t encourage them to explore certain opportunities. Biology is not doing that; society’s perception and expectation of our biology is. We can change that.


Noticed

One of the projects I work on every year is a boating guide I publish with a regional recreational boating industry association. Most of the copies of the guide are distributed to boat shows and boating events, but a portion go to the Visitor Information Centres (VICs) across Nova Scotia. Traditionally, I drop off several boxes of the guides to the Nova Scotia Tourism’s distribution centre on Acadia Street in Dartmouth. That’s where staff takes guides, brochures, and other materials tour operators drop off and delivers them to the 58 VICs (or whatever centres you want your materials in) free of charge.​

In April, I went online to get the paperwork to fill out in order to drop off some of the boating guides, and learned the distribution centre was closed down in January. According to Tourism Nova Scotia’s newsletter, the centre was closed to make way for the expansion of the Dartmouth General Hospital. The release also mentions the seasonal nature of the tourism industry and decline in print literature as factors in the decision. From now on, tour operators have to deliver their brochures and guides to each Visitor Information Centre across the province. I’ve already dropped off a number of boxes to select VICs.

Again, most of the guides I publish go to other trade shows and events, so this isn’t a huge deal. Still, the guides are free to whomever wants them and there will be costs for shipping them out (postage, gas, time). But I wondered how the closure of the distribution centre would affect other tour operators in the province, and eventually the VICs themselves.

The Port Hastings Visitor Information Centre. Photo: Suzanne Rent

Last week, I spoke with Kelli MacDonald, director of communications with the Tourism Nova Scotia. She says they were approached last year about the land on which the centre was located. Later in the year, the department started considering options for the loss of the distribution centre. Tourism Nova Scotia also used the distribution centre to distribute its annual Doers and Dreamers guide and provincial maps. MacDonald says the number of Doers and Dreamers guides going out between 2007 and 2018 decreased by 79 per cent. And only about 11 per cent of the 242 operators listed on www.novascotia.com used the centre to distribute their brochures and so on. ​The centre had been in operation for 20 years.

There was no consultation with tour operators on the decision to close the distribution centre, but operators were told about the decision and given details on how to deliver materials to each VIC. ​As for the Doers and Dreamers guide, the department put out an RFP and now has Regional Storage and Logistics in Bedford taking care of the distribution of those and the maps.

“We know it’s inconvenient and change is difficult, and things don’t stay the same. There is a need to evolve,” MacDonald says.

MacDonald also says the closure will also mean businesses can directly interact with the VICs in the communities where they want to promote their businesses. That could mean sending out less literature to fewer VICs overall.  But those businesses, she says, still can promote themselves through digital campaigns on www.novascotia.com or on video screens at the VICs, or through print ads in the Doers and Dreamers Guide.

Over the long weekend, I emailed about 20 random operators on the www.novascotia.com website. I heard back from three (it was a long weekend, after all). Steve Elder from Tidal Bore Rafting Resort got back to me within moments of me sending a message.​

Elder says they print about 5,000 brochures each season and 3,000 of those go to the VICs. But this year, he says they had to figure out a new plan, which includes having friends drop off brochures to VICs if they’re in those communities. He says he hasn’t figured out the costs of shipping, but added there may be fewer brochures in VICs overall because of the decision to close the distribution centre.

“If I was new to Nova Scotia and I walked into the VIC in Amherst and you looked at the [lack of] literature, that’s the first message I’m receiving.”

Elder says while they have a good social media presence, they still get a lot of business from those tourists picking up brochures at the VICs. He suspects the closure of the distribution centre will affect smaller operators whose advertising budgets are already stretched. ​

Elder pointed out that the decision probably won’t help the province’s efforts of reaching $4 billion in tourism revenue by 2024, a goal detailed in the Ivany Report. ​

“If you want to support the province, it’s nice for people to have a brochure.”

Another tour operator who asked not to be named said they have mixed feelings about the closure, saying while the department is supportive of their business, the closure also means some of their advertising material won’t get to those tourists who aren’t so internet savvy and rely on the visitor information centres and brochures.

He says while it’s the responsibility of businesses to promote themselves, operators appreciated the distribution service. This company may not deliver brochures to many VICs because of the cost of shipping.

Dave de Jongh at Seawind Landing Country Inns says the decision is similar to one the province made when it cut a reservation system it ran for years and urged operators to sign onto Bookings.com, even if they had their own online reservation system. De Jongh says the number of listings on bookings.com tripled in six months, making the province millions in each year in untaxed commissions. He says that was a pilot project and results were never made available to operators:

Sure it made them look good at budget time saving $200,000, but it ended up costing industry millions every year. Once again, they’re cutting costs, but simply downloading it to operators without consultation or even giving it a second thought.

Tourism Nova Scotia runs the six provincial VICs (downtown Halifax, Port Hastings, Yarmouth, the airport, Amherst and Peggy’s Cove). The other 50 are funded by the department, although each of those centres can decided how they look and operate. ​The first VIC in the province opened in Amherst in 1929.

The waterfront visitor information centre is one of six operated by the Tourism Nova Scotia. Photo: Suzanne Rent

So, how could VICs evolve? MacDonald says that’s already happening.  She told me VICs look different in each community. Chester has a pop-up VIC that goes to various attractions and events. The Yarmouth & Acadian Shores Tourism Association has a mobile summer cruiser that meets tourists where they are. Destination Cape Breton Association’s VIC is inside two old shipping containers on the Sydney waterfront.

Here are some stats on how many visitors stopped into the six provincial Visitor Information Centres. The numbers were down significantly in the downtown Halifax location last year because it wasn’t open year-round as it’s been in the past (MacDonald says that decision was only a pilot project; they haven’t determined the season for the downtown VIC this year). ​

VIC201620172018
Waterfront88,02785,73770,906
Airport76,38365,47973,984
Amherst65,61258,72655,619
Peggy’s Cove22,78123,87028,265
Port Hastings77,25182,70286,384
Yarmouth7,1887,7307,513

There was concern last year about the closure of these six VICs. As this CBC piece pointed out, the goal of Tourism Nova Scotia, which became a Crown corporation in 2015, is marketing and product development, not operations.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out and what the Visitor Information Centres will look like in the future and if they’ll even stay open.

Still, the centres offer a personal experience to visitors you can’t get in a digital experience. And visitors will still want details about accommodations, where to eat, what to check out, and the brochures gave them something to take with them. They can find that info online, but internet service can be sporadic around the province. Maybe part of the strategy should include upgrading that service, especially in rural communities.  ​

I should note: P.E.I. has a distribution centre that delivers, for no charge, tourism literature to its eight VICs. The distribution centre in New Brunswick will distribute information to their five provincial and 50 municipal Visitor Information Centres.​


Government

City

Wednesday

North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm, Sackville Heights Community Centre) — WSP Canada wants to amend the development agreement for its project at the corner of Southgate Drive and the Bedford Highway.

Thursday

Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — all about drive-thrus.

Province

No public meetings this week.


On campus

Dalhousie

Thursday

Thesis Defence, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Thursday, 9:30am, Room C264, Collaborative Health Education Building) — Tyler MacDonald will defend “Mechanistic Insight into the Prolactin-/Androgen-inducible Carbopeptidase-D and EDD E3 Ubiquitin Ligase Genes in Triple-negative Breast Cancer.”

The principal of microbial infallibility in the metagenomic era (Thursday, 10am, Room 3H1, Tupper Medical Building) — Maureen O’Malley from the University of Sydney will talk.

Thesis Defence, Medical Neuroscience (Thursday, 10:30am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Ellen Parker will defend “Pro-Inflammatory Transforming Growth Factor Beta Signalling as a Therapeutic Target for Repetitive Mild Traumatic Brain Injury.”


In the harbour

05:00: YM Enlightenment, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
05:30: Siem Cicero, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
06:00: Elka Hercules, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea

Acadian. Photo: Halifax Examiner Credit: Halifax Examiner

08:00: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
15:30: YM Enlightenment sails for Rotterdam
15:30: Siem Cicero sails for sea
22:00: Asian Moon, container ship, sails from Pier 31 for sea


Footnotes

Two whale-watching tours and I have just one photo of a whale tail.

A lot of people are writing and thinking about whales lately. Phil Moscovitch had a piece on right whales in Morning File yesterday. I was thinking about whales on the weekend, too.

I went whale watching for the first time 11 years ago. I took my daughter on a tour with a whale-watching operator in Brier Island, an almost four-hour drive from Halifax that includes two ferry trips, one at Tiverton and the second at Westport.

The trip into the Bay of Fundy on the Cape Island-style boat started out slowly and we saw no whales for the first three hours of the five-hour trip. And then the whales seemed to show up out of nowhere. We saw nine humpbacks, including two calves swimming alongside their mothers. They put on a show for us, diving and jumping out of the water and flapping the surface with their fins. They even came right up to the boat. One was about three feet from the boat, so close we could look into its eye. My daughter, who was five at the time, said he was watching us. I told her he was people watching while we were whale watching. Humpbacks, we found out, are curious and gentle creatures.

There were a few tourists on board who were crying at the sight of it all. Someone else on the boat said the humpbacks looked like giant dill pickles.

I took my daughter on the same tour in the summer of 2017. We saw fewer whales this time, but the day was still spectacular. Like that first trip, another humpback swam alongside the boat, but a bit further away than that whale from 2008. The tour guides told us about Ol’ Tom, an orca that has been visiting the Bay of Fundy every summer for several years, hanging out with a pod of dolphins. They don’t know why Tom is not with other orcas, but said they suspect his mother was killed, so Tom left his pod and found new companions. We didn’t see Tom that day. The guides are local naturalists or marine biologists. Some of the tour companies conduct research on the whales. Many of the guides give the whales names and identify them by their markings. Maybe it’s part of the job, but I could tell the guides get a kick out of seeing the whales as much as the passengers on board do.

There are a few tour operators who work out of Brier Island and they all respect the whales’ space. On the last tour we took, one guide told us all the companies have an agreement that when one boat finds whales, other tour boats are to stay at a distance and wait their turn.

Besides humpbacks and an orca, finbacks and right whales hang out in the Bay of Fundy. We didn’t see any right whales on either of our excursions. But I think of the humpbacks we saw any time I read the news of another right whale that’s been killed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Seeing whales up so close, in their own environment, and realizing they are as curious about us as we are about them gives you a perspective of our place, and more importantly, of their place. We’re stewards of their environment and we need to do a better job of protecting them.


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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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  1. For what it’s worth, there’s also data that suggests that when men enter traditional female professions that the pay-levels increase at a higher rate. It was the joining of elementary teacher unions with secondary teacher unions that resulted in the levelling of pay for elementary teachers with secondary (the former in many jurisdictions being historically lower when separate negotiating bodies).

    Arguably one solution for Early Childhood Educators would be to bring them into the NSTU. The top pay for an ECE in Nova Scotia is appallingly low….the highest ECE pay (for someone with 20 year’s experience) is $13k/yr **less** than the starting pay for a Primary teacher (who has little experience) even if the ECE has a college diploma and a university degree.

  2. I’ll point out that there are also whale-watching operations that are based on Long Island (the island before Brier Island) in both Tiverton and Freeport. The business in Freeport by Tim Crocker also operates a Cape-style boat, the Tiverton operator (operated by Tom Goodwin, a biologist and a friend of mine) operates a slightly more adventurous rigged-hulled Zodiac whale-watching trip.

    Despite the competitive nature of the business’ they have all signed onto non-harassment agreements and so limit the numbers of boats that are near the whales, the amount of time the boats spend in the whale area, and the manner in which the boats move (so that they minimally disturb the whales). These businesses have often relied on the Visitor Information Centers in NS (including those locally run in small towns) and I have watched with dismay the way in which they’ve been reduced in number the last decade or so.

  3. I suggest vessels be required to sail north of Anticosti and then south to Port aux Basques and then out to the Atlantic and the same route for inbound vessels. A minor nuisance for ships and may reduce whale strikes.

    1. That of course would work well, as would requiring use of line less crab and lobster gear. The problem is that profits (greed) always trumps conservation. Container ships and other commercial vessels operate on very slim profit/loss margins and would push back. The sad thing is that measures to protect whales are very clear but not politically acceptable.