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1. Press-conference journalism

“I’ve never been a fan of press-conference journalism,” writes Stephen Kimber:

It may be a marginal improvement on canned-quotes press-release journalism when it comes to public accountability, but most press conferences I’ve attended are little more than carefully staged theatre pieces designed to control and direct the flow of information and emotion in ways favourable to the presenter.

At every press conference, there’s inevitably an opening, this-is-your-news-soundbite statement to the cameras followed by a faux question-and-answer session in which variations of the same pre-masticated talking-point answers get trotted out again and again, no matter the actual question asked.

The press conference puppet master ultimately determines who gets to ask questions and who doesn’t. And, thanks to the next-reporter, next-question structure of press conferences, there’s rarely an opportunity for organized follow-up to even the most significant issue.

To make matters worse, there is an opportunity cost whenever so many reporters sit captive in the same room for so long asking the same questions and getting the same non-answers. What real news do those puppet masters want reporters not to realize they are missing?

I couldn’t help thinking about all that last week as the latest Donald Trump press conference imbroglio played out on my TV screen.

Click here to read “The president versus the press. Or should that be the president thanks the press?”

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2. PACE off to slow start

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

This link contains the Minutes of the first meeting of the Provincial Advisory Council on Education (PACE), a group of volunteers appointed by the government after it abolished local school boards last spring. https://www.ednet.ns.ca/docs/paceminutesnov4-52018.pdf

The meeting was held two full months after school began and took place behind closed doors — unlike past meetings of local school boards, which were open to the public. The McNeil government posted a summary of the two-day meeting held November 4-5.

A read of the scanty minutes suggests much of the first meeting was spent discussing the terms of reference for the new advisory body, including a report from a transition team of 20 former school board members. That report has not been made public. The Education minister has promised to post that report FOLLOWING the next meeting, scheduled for Dec. 8-9.

The minutes indicate the province does not want advisory committee members to look into any operational matters involving education, but instead focus on “the big picture” and matters such as quality and inclusivity.

Here is an excerpt from the government-authorized minutes of the Nov. 4-5 meeting:

Beyond what is in legislation, general themes discussed included:

 • PACE is an advisory council, like other advisory councils to the Minister or government. It is not a decision-making body, nor is PACE intended to replace school boards.

 • Students should be at the centre of all discussions.

 • PACE will have opportunity to give advice to the Minister directly.

 • The focus is “big picture” issues, such as advice on policy and program development, not on operational issues within schools. If contacted by families with questions about their children, families should be encouraged to contact the child’s teacher or principal. If the issue remains unresolved at the school level, then families should contact their regional education centre, or for families with children in Conseil Scolaire Acadien provincial, contact the board office.

On Friday afternoon prior to the long Remembrance Day weekend, the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union issued a scathing statement suggesting the whole exercise — shielded from the prying eyes and ears of journalists and citizens — had been much ado about nothing.

“The minutes reflect that there was no planned or meaningful discussion regarding actual issues facing teachers, students and classrooms,” said NSTU president Paul Wozney. “They contain no mention of the implementation of the inclusive education report; no mention of what’s being done to recruit and retain more teachers to address the province wide substitute shortage; and no mention of the various impacts stemming from the rushed implementation of the pre-primary program. There is a brief mention of the busing crisis at the end of the document, which Minister Churchill had promised would be the “first order of business” for PACE. The group decided to defer any discussion on busing to a future meeting.”

“So what did the first meeting of PACE accomplish?” asks Wozney. “From what’s provided in the minutes, not much. If anything, it appears its members were told definitively by the deputy minister just how limited in scope their mandate and influence will be.”

The head of the NSTU was also critical that future meetings of the Council will not be open to parents, teachers, or citizens who might wish to listen or observe.

“Decisions involving public education are in the public interest and represent a considerable percentage of the provincial budget,” said Wozney. “Members of the public deserve the same or improved access to the process they once had under the governance of elected school boards, full stop.”

Wozney says that while he values the commitment the appointees are making to advise the government on education matters, he’s concerned the issues on which the government chooses to consult will be very limited.

3. Right whales

A right whale. Photo: DFO

“A new report says there are just 411 North Atlantic right whales left of the rapidly declining species, in what scientists are calling a ‘significant drop’ in the population,” reports Emma Davie for the CBC:

On Friday, the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium released its 2018 report card for the endangered whales, which lists fishing-gear entanglements and whale strikes as the leading cause of death for these animals.

“It’s not only sad but it’s kind of tragic — and heartbreaking,” Philip Hamilton, a research scientist at the New England Aquarium and co-author of the report, said Monday.

He said the drop from 451 to 411 in just a year is “a big drop for a small population.”

The report said that there were 71 breeding females in 2017, down from 105 in 2015.

4. Flight GG 4854

Flight GG 4854. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“Crews have begun tearing into the mangled Boeing 747 cargo jet that overshot a Halifax runway last week, as gawkers marvelled at the huge wreck — and how close the plane came to breaching the airport’s fence and overrunning a public road,” reports the Canadian Press:

Dozens of people watched late Sunday afternoon as a backhoe dug into the midsection of the fuselage, which buckled when the empty SkyLease Cargo plane overshot the runway at Halifax Stanfield International Airport on Wednesday.

5. Burnside Business Association fails at social media

#Bizarre #ToneDeaf pic.twitter.com/uZcRyCQtfx

— Kate Watson (@DartmouthKate) November 12, 2018

“A Halifax-area event intended to provide managers with information on the differences between harassment and managing their workforce was cancelled following a social media storm over the weekend,” reports Yvette d’Entremont for StarMetro Halifax:

In a now-deleted Facebook post made Friday morning, the Greater Burnside Business Association in Dartmouth, N.S. had advertised its Nov. 15 luncheon event as one “you won’t want to miss.” The words used to promote that event missed the mark and set social media abuzz.

[The above] Facebook post was shared on Twitter Sunday night by @DartmouthKate with the hashtags #Bizarre and #ToneDeaf. From “very bad choice of words” to “wow,” social media commenters were unimpressed.

“What? “hyper sensitive”? You mean men are hyper sensitive that they are going to be finally called out on their harassing, bullying, and disrespecting behaviour? I feel for them. #not,” replied @Samaira1969.

6. PoPo horse

Sarge (left), before he was put out to pasture.

A police release from Sunday:

Today, as HRP’s police horse Val and his rider were attending and assisting with the Point Pleasant Park Remembrance Day ceremony, the horse became separated from the officer, who was thrown to the ground. The horse continued on his own, and a member of the public who was in close proximity of the horse got caught in the horse’s gear. Both the member of the public and the officer received medical attention for non-life threatening injuries as a precautionary measure and are doing well. The horse was caught a short distance away. HRP is looking into the incident.

The Canadian Press reports that the horse is named Val. Last week, police announced the retirement of the horse Sarge and said that two new horses “will be visible on HRM streets as a police horse in training.” There’s no word if Val is one of the rookie horses, but that’d be a good guess, I think.


Noticed

I’ve been trying to see my mother more often, and the wedding of a niece provided the opportunity to fly down to Virginia over the long weekend. The family visit was fun, the wedding successful, mom happy. A personal sadness hung over the weekend, however, as I watched Paradise, California and environs burn.

I lived in the area for nearly two decades. I know those hills like the back of my hand, having biked and hiked through them, swam in the Feather River and Butte Creek, visited with friends throughout.

A regular bike ride was to take Honey Run Road out from Chico through Butte Creek Canyon, past the covered bridge and my friend Kelly’s house, then straight up the canyon wall, a gruelling mile-long nearly vertical trek along switchbacks to the Skyway in downtown Paradise. From there, I’d head the four miles across town via Pearson Road, down one gully, up to the next ridge line, down again, up again, pass the Town Hall and the elementary school, down once more, and up again to Pentz Road near the hospital. Then I’d head back to the valley floor and back home. Everything I just named has been destroyed.

It sounds silly to say, but one of the single happiest moments of my life — I guess you could call it a Zen moment — was in 1998. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was driving alone in my truck down Highway 70 and across the West Branch Bridge. It was probably 110 degrees, and I felt at one with the world, like I was designed to be exactly where and when I was, and I understood how those hills and those canyons worked. I had it figured out.

But now, none of this makes sense.

As of this morning, three of my friends (including Kelly) have lost their homes, but I’m sure that tally will increase. The death toll reached 42 as of last night but that number too, I fear, will soar.

I learned much about wildfires when I lived in the area. I’ve witnessed a lot of bad fires, a lot of destruction. I had seen horrors before. The Camp Fire, however, is unimaginable orders of magnitude more horrific.

Many factors must come together to create any catastrophe. For destructive wildfires, you first need a cause — the blade of a lawnmower striking a rock, a carelessly dropped cigarette, dry lightning, a hot tail pipe touching dry grass on the side of the road, arson, a tree branch touching a power line. But then all sorts of other elements come into play: the design of the urban-wildland interface, building codes and architectural styles, how well property owners clear their land, the management and preparedness of emergency services, wind conditions. All those factors, and more, came together in the perfect storm over the weekend. Change one or two things, and perhaps the disaster wouldn’t have been as cataclysmic.

But the obvious issue here is climate change. When I lived in California, the fire season ended when the rain came in early September. This year — every year, apparently — the rain doesn’t come at all, and wildfires are year-round phenomena.

Time and again, we’re seeing the wrath of an angry planet express itself in biblical levels of destruction: hurricanes, droughts, blizzards, fire.

I know that I’ll be lamenting more losses in coming years. We all will.

And yet, while we’re destroying the planet, no one much seems to care.


Government

City

Tuesday

City Council (Tuesday, 10am, Halifax Marriott Harbourfront Hotel) — there’s nothing much on the agenda. I’m travelling this morning, and won’t be back in Halifax in time for the meeting.

Wednesday

Special Events Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 9am, 3rd Floor Duke Room 2, Duke Tower) — presentations from Atlantic Film Festival, Blue Nose Marathon, Halifax Comedy Festival, Halifax Busker Festival, Halifax Jazz Festival, Halifax Pop Explosion, and SEDMHA.

Regional Watersheds Advisory Board (Wednesday, 5pm, HEMDCC Large Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — Shannon Miedema, the city’s manager of Energy & Environment, will talk about the “Benthic macroinvertebrate study in Lake Charles to assess potential impacts of sedimentation on lake health.”

Halifax & West Community Council (Wednesday, 6pm, City Hall) — StudioWorks International, which is architect Ron Smith’s firm, is applying to build a nine-storey, 51-unit apartment building behind the St. Patrick’s Rectory at 2267 Brunswick Street. From the staff report:

The proposed building addition will contrast with the historic building with its contemporary style. The building addition connects to the rear elevation of the Rectory by means of pedestrian bridge. This allows the Rectory to form the base and streetwall for the proposed building addition, but also creates a safe and convenient access to the building. This design approach also preserves the character and appearance of the conservation area by facilitating for development which leaves the character or appearance of existing buildings unaffected. Such contemporary architecture, using present day techniques and materials, fits into historic groups of buildings without affecting the structural and aesthetic qualities of the existing historic setting with appropriate use of mass, scale, rhythm and articulation. By avoiding imitation of the historical rectory or neighbouring groups of buildings, their authenticity is maintained. This approach does not affect neighbouring buildings aesthetic or historical value, and does not result in a parody of the original style. The proposed development agreement allows for use of contemporary materials on a building that does not contribute to the formal street edge and draws upon the local identity to provide scale, grain and legibility.

With that logic, you could approve anything at all on the site.

Province

Tuesday

Management Commission (Tuesday, 11am, One Government Place) — explained here.

Wednesday

No public meetings for the rest of the week.


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

No public events.

Wednesday

Thesis Defence, Computer Science (Wednesday, 10am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Elham Etemad will defend her ​​thesis, “Perceptual Shape Feature Based Image Coding for Visual Content Classification and Object Recognition.”

Stranger things: the green algal organelle genome edition (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — David Smith from Western University will speak.

The Social Implications Of Artificial Intelligence (Wednesday, 6:30pm, Halifax Central Library) — from the event listing:

A panel discussion exploring the potential social impacts of artificial intelligence and the role humanities and social sciences will play in identifying the legal, ethical and policy issues we should start considering today.

Gabriel Miller, Ian Kerr, Teresa Heffernan, Duncan MacIntosh, and Fuyuki Kurasawa comprise the panel. Info here.

Saint Mary’s

Wednesday

SMU Indigenous Blanket Exercise (Wednesday, 1pm, Loyola 290) — Register: raymond.sewell@smu.ca

King’s College

Wednesday

The Nature of Truth (Wednesday, 12pm, Alumni Hall) — This year’s Armbrae Dialogue has several events open to the public:

1:15pm Truth Pursued: The Journalist’s Mandate — a screening of Anatomy of A Killing, a documentary showing how a team of BBC investigative journalists uncovered the facts of the murders of Cameroonian civilians by members of the Cameroonian Armed Forces.

WARNING: disturbing images

1:30pm Aliaume Leroy — Skype interview and Q&A with a member of the BBC documentary team.

2:30pm Truth Contrived — King’s journalism prof Pauline Dakin will talk about her book, Run, Hide Repeat.

3:45pm Truth as Seen: The Eye Witness Account — a screening of the NFB film, The Purse.

 7pm Truth as Perception: Memory, Memoir and Heart Knowledge —  journalist and author Duncan McCue will talk about his memoir, The Shoe Boy: A Trapline Memoir, and about Anishinaabe teachings of debwewin (loosely translated as “truth,” literally translated as “sound of the heart”). Info here.


Footnotes

I’ll be back in Halifax this afternoon.

Tim Bousquet

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

Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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14 Comments

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  1. Thanks for the Camp Fire explanation. How difficult could it be for so-called journalists to include that bit into their reports?

  2. Re the Farce that is PACE: people get the toothless advisory committees they deserve. There was little resistance when the Liberals abolished elected, decision-making school boards so now we face the consequences of that.

  3. I have personally seen the HRP horses injure the officers riding them during protests over the years. One I recall was simply a black-block protester banging a metal pole against the ground freaked the horse our enough to rear and grate the officer against a wrought iron fence.

    They seem to be skiddish. I’m still amazed when I see them in use with large crowds. It will only be a matter of time before more people are hurt, and I question their usefulness when weighed against that reality.

  4. “The horse became separated from the officer.” God, I hate cop-speak. We all need more writing without bullshit.

  5. Hopefully California, as happens so often, will continue to be at the forefront of climate change mitigation. Good to see Trump blaming the state for poor forest management. What a psychopath!

    Now that Amazon has decided to local to NYC and Virginia I’m wondering if our learned city fathers will reveal how much they were willing to give away to the company for it to locate here. I’m sure HRM’s bid will be sealed for competitive reasons.

  6. Tim,
    Imagine I could look this up myself — But why is it called The Camp Fire? Was it started by a “camper?” I keep waiting, to no avail, for an explanation of the name in media reports.

    1. There’s a small stream called Camp Creek. My understanding is that the originated on Camp Creek Road, an unpaved road. The first fire captain on the scene named the fire.

        1. I’m so sorry for your personal losses Tim. I care deeply about climate change and everything that we are losing as a result. It’s mad frustration trying to get the people who could actually do something, to make the needed changes. Yet I remain hopeful.

  7. “The proposed building addition will contrast with the historic building with its contemporary style.”

    That’s putting it mildly. Why do these new buildings have to be so ugly?

  8. Climate change is real and accounts such as yours bring it home on a personal level. Technically we are not destroying the planet. We are destroying ourselves. The planet will be just fine once it has rid itself our self destructive influences.