I am alarmed.
Elon Musk has announced that posts on Twitter.com from news organizations will be stripped of the headlines and text in the “cards” on the site. This may seem a little inconsequential to the casual user, but it’s how news orgs like the Halifax Examiner get better visibility for their posts, and therefore readership and (hopefully) subscription revenue.
My alarm comes in two forms.
First is, of course, my concern for the future of the Halifax Examiner. We have talented reporters doing important work, and I fear foremost for their livelihoods and then for the information they provide to the public. When finances are tight, I lay awake through the night, figuring out how to rob Peter to pay Paul, devising new financing strategies, and fretting, fretting, fretting.
But as much as the Examiner crew is close to my heart, that’s not my biggest alarm. If it came to it, we could all probably find other jobs, albeit probably not in journalism.
Rather, my biggest concern is about democracy itself. Hear me out.
It’s clear that Musk’s aim with Twitter is to kill the kind of activism that led to the #metoo and #blacklivesmatter hashtags and associated social movements. He has re-installed white supremacists and fascist accounts, and has personally promoted their work, while removing the verified status of reporters like myself.
Obviously, Twitter is not the entire world. But these moves come in the context of a broader authoritarian attack on an open and diverse society. It reflects Steve Bannon’s “flood the zone” approach. As Sean Illing wrote in Vox:
We’re in an age of manufactured nihilism.
The issue for many people isn’t exactly a denial of truth as such. It’s more a growing weariness over the process of finding the truth at all. And that weariness leads more and more people to abandon the idea that the truth is knowable.
I call this “manufactured” because it’s the consequence of a deliberate strategy. It was distilled almost perfectly by Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News and chief strategist for Donald Trump. “The Democrats don’t matter,” Bannon reportedly said in 2018. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”
This idea isn’t new, but Bannon articulated it about as well as anyone can. The press ideally should sift fact from fiction and give the public the information it needs to make enlightened political choices. If you short-circuit that process by saturating the ecosystem with misinformation and overwhelm the media’s ability to mediate, then you can disrupt the democratic process.
What we’re facing is a new form of propaganda that wasn’t really possible until the digital age. And it works not by creating a consensus around any particular narrative but by muddying the waters so that consensus isn’t achievable.
This is what I was trying to address in my interview with Jeff Douglas. The authoritarian project includes doing away with any notion of shared truth, giving space to the triumph of will alone. I mean, what else is Donald Trump besides the assertion of his own willed truth, never mind the real world?
But back to the Examiner, it is becoming harder to find us because Facebook is blocking our posts in response to Bill C-18, and now Twitter is lowering our profile.
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1. Coun. Paul Russell says something stupid about homelessness
“Mayor Mike Savage wants council to consider giving money to the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, but one councillor doesn’t think that goal is attainable,” reports Zane Woodford:
Lower Sackville Coun. Paul Russell said he’d looked at the CAEH website, and he had concerns.
“Two of the big causes of homelessness are mental health and addictions. And I didn’t see in the conference site, how it would address those,” Russell said.
“And this conference, and many other strategies seem to assume that an individual does not want to be homeless. We know that a number of individuals do, and I’m wondering if the conference will have a path to recognize and work with those individuals who are okay with being homeless, who want to be homeless, as opposed to just saying here’s how to end homelessness.”
Russell doesn’t think that’s possible “because at the end of the day, ending homelessness is not going to happen.”
“We can do things to manage it. We can work with it, but it will not end,” Russell said.
Savage said he’s sure the conference will address mental health and addictions.
“But they also recognize what we’ve seen in Halifax, is we now have a lot of people who don’t have mental health and addiction issues who are homeless because they can’t afford a place to live,” Savage said.
Deputy Mayor Sam Austin took Russell to task for his comments.
“I think the idea that people want to be homeless is a very, very, very small number of people out there that are choosing, like that this is what they how they want to live their lives,” Austin said.
“The vast majority of people, and this comes from the lived experience piece that we’ve had, when they’re choosing to be outside — and right now it’s not a choice because there’s no space available anywhere — it’s because the options available are so terrible, that for their own autonomy, this is the better option, is to go live outside.”
Despite Russell’s stated concerns, Savage’s motion for a staff report passed unanimously.
Woodford also reports on water fees for non-profits and a proposed empty lot tax.
I suggest Russell go out and speak to some of the people living in tents on Grand Parade or over in Victoria Park.
Chronicle Herald reporter Andrew Rankin did exactly that:
River Wowkwis Pictou couldn’t do it anymore.
It was hard holding down two full-time jobs.
They liked the work: a sales gig and a job at Tim Hortons on Young Street in Halifax. River is two-spirit and uses the pronoun they.
Except River was homeless. They had only one option: crash on a friend’s couch in between shifts.
Weeks turned to months. Wowkwis Pictou looked but there was nothing affordable. More and more exhausted, they finally broke down.
Wowkwis Pictou stopped working last summer.
They now live in a tent at a homeless encampment in downtown Halifax. It’s at Victoria Park alongside the city’s Spring Garden Road shopping district. More than 30 tents are there now.
Wowkwis Pictou wants to be working again. But for now, it’s employment insurance, about $1,200 a month. That won’t get Wowkwis Pictou very far in a city where the average rent for a one-bedroom is $1,500.
There are many hundreds of these stories. People landing on the streets, then becoming preyed upon (Wowkwis Pictou was raped), and falling ever deeper into despair and hopelessness. And yes, some cycle into substance abuse. But to point at the despair, hopelessness, and substance abuse as the cause of their situation has it exactly backwards.
Rankin quotes Tom Urbaniak, a political science professor at Cape Breton University:
“We’re not treating homelessness as an emergency, and we should be,” says the professor.
“The emergency is getting worse. Population is growing fast, without a commensurate acceleration of decent shelters, public housing, a range of health supports to folks living on the margins, subsidized and affordable rentals conversions of large homes into multiple units, and co-ops and non-profits.”
I’ve spoken with dozens of people, all of them working full time, who have expressed the fear of having to find a new housing arrangement should they be renovicted or their rent increased when the controls are lifted. They’ve run the numbers, and their life situations simply can’t hold. Some talk of moving in with family. Some plan to move far out into the suburbs, where maybe they can find something approaching affordability and spend many hours a week commuting to their jobs. All are in a state of anxiety.
And these are smart people working good jobs. Throw in a life circumstance, an illness, a layoff, and yes, even a personal failing (those without can throw the first stone), and a not insignificant number of them will end up homeless.
The homeless situation is not about people who “want to be homeless.” It’s about a broken society that has decided to extract too much value out of people’s shelter.
2. Non-profits cannot solve the housing crisis
“Nearly five years since its original plan was approved, Habitat for Humanity has submitted an updated development proposal for Spryfield,” reports Zane Woodford:
Habitat has built a few homes on Drysdale Road in Spryfield, and in 2018, Halifax councillors approved a development agreement for 78 units on a property bounded by Drysdale Road, River Road, and the J.L. Ilsley High School property. Forty of those units were to be built in a four-storey condo building.
But an old covenant on the property barring the development of any building larger than a duplex derailed the charity’s plans.
The new plan, a request to amend the original development agreement, sees the total number of units cut from 78 to 52.
I’m somewhat ambivalent about Habitat for Humanity.
It spoke to some lack of diligence when the organization acquired the Drysdale property without understanding the deed restrictions on it.
And then, the organization angered me when it “partnered” with Steele Auto Group, with Habitat For Humanity receiving $20 for every person who test drove a “F150, Escape, Edge, and either a Focus or Fusion” at Steele Ford Lincoln on Windsor Street on Sept. 15, 2016. Well, up to $6,000 total. And it’s unclear to me if the money was coming from Steele or Ford Canada.
A “partnership” with the Steele Auto Group is ill-advised, to put it mildly.
Steele just bulldozed three city blocks of houses containing about 100 units of affordable housing. Steele’s actions were roundly condemned by environmentalists, housing activists, city councillors, and urban planners.
And $6,000? Please. Steele would have to spend far more than that to buy that kind of good will advertising.
Oh, I get it. Non-profits like Habitat For Humanity are reactive, dealing with the world in the terrible state it’s in, and look to get whatever scraps they can find, never mind the source.
In return for a minuscule donation, one of my favourite local non-profits recently gave PR to the mining industry. I’ve seen environmental organizations team up with Shell Oil. The game is played so often that it’s now reflexively part of the administrative state, such that when Dexter Construction improperly bulldozed a wetland it was let off the hook by giving $15,000 to Ducks Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited didn’t even know what the money was for.
So, Steele tore down 100 units of affordable housing, and eight years later Habitat for Humanity might build 52, for a net loss of 48.
Is that unfair? Maybe. But let’s set aside the motives and justifications of undoubtedly good people working hard to improve the housing situation as best they can given limited resources, and acknowledge the simple truth: Habitat For Humanity, and every other non-profit working to address the housing issue, is not up to the enormous task at hand.
It doesn’t matter how pure the souls of the people working in the non-profit sector. It doesn’t matter how far they make a few meagre dollars stretch. It doesn’t matter that they work 100 hours a week. It’s just a plain fact that the housing emergency cannot be addressed as a charitable project.
Rather, it takes large, sustained expenditure from government. Urbaniak, again:
Urbaniak says the housing crisis demands more urgency. It’s a monumental task that requires all levels of government to respond with major housing programs similar to the those adopted during the baby boom after the Second World War.
“The whole problem was front and centre for the entire machinery of government,” said Urbaniak. “There was a national push on a large scale. I am not seeing that yet.”
Canada has done this in the past. After World War II, there was an enormous public expenditure on housing for returning vets. In the 1960s and 1970s, a lack of affordable housing led to the building of projects like Mulgrave Park and Uniacke Square and the financing of cooperatives and other forms of housing.
Our provincial government annually doles out hundreds of millions of dollars for all manner of questionable private corporate endeavours that even in the rare possibility that they succeed will enrich only a very few. It’s time to refocus that public money towards housing for the many that can’t manage without it.
After I wrote the above, I received an email from Sheri Lecker, the executive director of Adsum for Women & Children. Lecker wrote a short piece, as follows:
Housing is The Answer
Like many Nova Scotians, we were dismayed when the government announced an investment of public dollars into another band-aid solution for the housing crisis that has overwhelmed this province. Each year, organizations like Adsum declare “it’s the worse it’s ever been” or “there have never been as many people sleeping rough” but with each passing year the crisis has deepened, the number of people experiencing visible and hidden homelessness grows.
For 19 months, Adsum has been co-managing the Shelter Diversion Supports Program with Welcome Housing. This program aims to provide a safe alternative to the emergency shelters when they are full while working with individuals and families to find permanent, affordable housing. Over time, we have seen those long-term solutions become exceedingly rare. Through Shelter Diversion Supports, Adsum alone is supporting 67 households in hotel rooms across HRM, 55 of them families, mostly led by single mothers. Among these households are 95 children. We had another 40 requests for support last month and were forced to stop taking new clients a month ago, on July 21.
It is disheartening to support people during this housing emergency knowing that there aren’t true solutions on the horizon. The answer to solving homelessness is to construct and maintain non-market, truly affordable housing. Hotel rooms are NOT housing. Spare bedrooms are NOT housing.
In less than a month, more than 50 children will be starting a new school year from a hotel room — some for the second or even third year in a row. Most of these hotel rooms don’t have kitchens or cooking facilities. Most are not close to children’s schools and school communities. This is in HRM alone. The stress these families endure is difficult to imagine.
Our governments — all levels — need to look beyond the sporadic band-aids they are offering and make immediate, long-term investments in Nova Scotians’ right to housing. The answer is right in front of us — housing is the answer. The band-aids aren’t cutting it.
“Halifax councillors want to look at new roads, development standards, and building codes to finally do something about the municipality’s well-known wildfire risks,” reports Zane Woodford:
Councillors Pam Lovelace and Waye Mason brought a sprawling motion to regional council’s meeting on Tuesday…
Lovelace and Mason noted in the reasoning for their motion that council’s Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee received a presentation 10 years ago from then-Dalhousie University student (now Natural Resources Canada scientist) Ellen Whitman.
Whitman, along with Dr. Eric Rapaport and Dr. Kate Sherren, recommended fuel management programs for public lands, education programs for homeowners, and limiting wildland urban interface development.
“That report stopped at Environment Committee, didn’t go anywhere else, wasn’t advanced forward to council. Nothing happened with it,” Lovelace said.
“Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team says a Halifax Regional Police officer was justified in killing a man in Dartmouth last year,” reports Zane Woodford:
As the Halifax Examiner reported almost a year ago, police shot and killed the man on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022, after responding to a call about a man “armed with a firearm.’”
While the SIRT report speaks for itself, we have yet another case where cops have killed someone and we don’t know who that person was — he remains unnamed in the report, and I can find no news article naming him.
Even if, as in this case, under the rules for use of force such a killing can be described as “necessary” (although we should interrogate that), is it acceptable that police can kill people and we never know who they killed?
In June, I wrote about the police killing of another man in Dartmouth, who likewise wasn’t named by SIRT:
It’s been more than three weeks, but neither police nor SIRT will identify the man killed by police. Jennifer Henderson tells me that she spoke with SIRT director Alonzo Wright last week and Wright told her that SIRT has a policy of not releasing the name of victims in such cases until the investigation is complete, and this particular investigation may not be complete until September — four months after the killing of the man.
This is outrageous. We can’t have the police going around killing people and then refusing to tell us who they killed. That’s not how an open society works. That’s how a police state works.
Look, the shooting may or may not have been justified — that’s up to SIRT to determine. But simply telling us who the man was will not jeopardize the investigation.
A man died at police hands. The public needs to know now who he was.
That man still has not been named. And if SIRT has a policy of not releasing the name of victims in such cases until the investigation is complete, it certainly isn’t following that policy in the case discussed above, in which the investigation is complete.
Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm, online) — agenda
Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — agenda
In the harbour
05:30: One Eagle, container ship (145,251 tonnes), arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
05:30: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from St. John’s
16:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves to Autoport
17:00: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia
00:30 (Thursday): Atlantic Sky sails for Liverpool, England
04:00 (Thursday): One Eagle sails for New York
00:30: H A Sklenar, bulker, arrives at Port Hawkesbury anchorage from Mobile, Alabama
01:00: Frontier Jacaranda, bulker, arrives at Port Hawkesbury anchorage next to H A Sklenar, from Norfolk, Virginia
02:00: Derrick #4, barge, with Sandra Mary, tug, sails from McNally Construction (Sydney) for sea
02:30: Rt Hon Paul E Martin, bulker, moves from Canso anchorage to Aulds Cove quarry
06:00: AlgoCanada, oil tanker, sails from Sydney Marine Terminal for Viana do Castelo, Portugal
08:30: Algoma Mariner, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
09:30: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, arrives at Government Wharf (Sydney) from Corner Brook
How ’bout that Zane Woodford, pumping out four news articles in 24 hours?