1. Poor kids
On Tuesday, Statistics Canada released its most recent Canadian income survey, covering 2017. The agency uses two tools to calculate poverty, the Low Income Measure (“defines an individual as having low income if their adjusted after-tax income falls below 50% of the median adjusted after-tax income”) and the Market Basket Measure (“based on the cost of a specific basket of goods and services representing a modest, basic standard of living… These costs are compared to disposable income of families to determine whether or not they fall below the poverty line.”)
The good news: Statistics Canada says, “Fewer Canadians lived below Canada’s Official Poverty Line in 2017, as measured by the MBM” — with the rate dropping from 10.6% to 9.5% of the population.
When it comes to children, the agency says, “In 2017, 622,000 children under 18 years of age, or 9.0%, lived below the poverty line, down from 11.0% (755,000 children) in 2016. The child poverty rate, according to the MBM, has declined fairly steadily since reaching its most recent peak of 15.0% (1.0 million children) in 2012.”
Yes, it’s good that there are fewer children living in poverty. But we still have well over half a million Canadian kids who are poor, which is shameful.
What’s the situation in Nova Scotia?
University of Calgary economics professor Trevor Tombe used the Statscan data to create a graph widely shared on social media. It shows what Tombe calls “huge variation across Canada in child poverty rates.” Alberta has halved its child poverty rate over the last two years. Meanwhile, Nova Scotia is the only province in which the rate went up. We are well above 15% — worse than the peak Canadian rate six years ago.
This morning, several local media outlets have stories about Nova Scotia’s rising child poverty rate. You can read Andrea Gunn in the Chronicle Herald, Alex Cooke in The Star Halifax, and Michael Gorman at CBC.
Not surprisingly, Nova Scotia has the lowest median after-tax income for families and unattached individuals: $50,200. If you’ve got the lowest incomes, it stands to reason you will have the most poor kids.
A decade ago, I was involved in the launch of a documentary film called Four Feet Up, directed by Nance Ackerman and released by the NFB. It tells the story of Isaiah, a bright young kid growing up poor in the Annapolis Valley. Ackerman followed him and his family for two years.
From the NFB’s description of the film:
In this personal documentary, award-winning photographer and filmmaker Nance Ackerman invites us into the lives of a determined family for a profound experience of child poverty in one of the richest countries in the world. 20 years after the House of Commons promised to eliminate poverty among Canadian children, 8-year-old Isaiah is trying hard to grow up healthy, smart and well adjusted despite the odds stacked against him. Isaiah knows he’s been categorized as “less fortunate,” and his short life has seen more than his share of social workers, food banks and police interventions. His parents struggle to overcome a legacy of stereotypes, abuse and dysfunction. More than anything, they want Isaiah and his siblings to have access to opportunities they never had.
While working on the launch, I interviewed a sociologist about child poverty. He told me that child poverty was not really a useful category. Children are poor because the people raising them are poor. We tend to get moralistic about poverty, so I guess “child poverty” is a useful category in the sense that we see children as innocent and not responsible for their circumstances. If they are poor as adults we can blame them for their poor life choices, instead of looking at structural barriers they may have faced.
In the Herald, Gunn quotes Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard, formerly head of the Dalhousie School of Social Work, to similar effect.
“There’s no such thing as child poverty if children are living in poverty. It’s because parents are living in poverty,” she said.
“We should be looking at what’s happening in employment? … What’s the minimum wage and is it time for the minimum wage to be changed? Should we be looking at a guaranteed annual income?”
2. Poor endangered animals: Naturalists sue province for failing to protect endangered species
Jennifer Henderson reports that a group of naturalists are suing the province over its failure to fulfill its legal requirement to protect and preserve endangered plants and animals.
A judge will review the alleged failure of the Lands and Forestry Minister to take actions mandated under the Endangered Species Act for plants and animals identified as either endangered, threatened, or vulnerable.
Wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft, the Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalists, the Blomidon Society of Naturalists, and the Halifax Society of Naturalists have asked the Nova Scotia Supreme Court to review “omissions” under the Act and impose deadlines on the government to comply with its own legislation within six to 18 months following the court’s decision…
The naturalists’ claim states as of January 1, 2019, there are 34 listed endangered, threatened and vulnerable species for which the Minister is in arrears in respect of mandatory requirements under the Endangered Species Act.
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3. Poor rural libraries
Shaina Luck reports for CBC that the province is changing the funding formula for libraries. The new formula will see rural library systems (ie, all of them except Halifax) get more money — but municipalities will also be on the hook for a larger share of the cost. And the municipalities seem to have been taken by surprise.
Denise Corey, the chief librarian for Cumberland Public Libraries, said increased funding would be used for more community outreach, such as serving people who are homebound or don’t have transportation to come to the library.
“There are so many great things that we would like to do for our communities, for our citizens,” she said.
“Underserved communities, I would like to take some of this money and reach out to people like that and help them.”
Thanks to our shiny new library, and our generally well-funded system, those of us who live in Halifax may not realize the dire circumstances faced by libraries in other parts of the province (a subject the Nova Scotia Advocate has written about many times). Buildings are falling apart, collections are out of date, and staff are stretched thin and underpaid.
Luck says the province currently funds libraries “based on frozen per capita numbers,” which may require a bit of explanation.
Library funding has been based on population. But the drop in rural populations would have meant dropping those grants to levels at which the libraries could no longer function. So for years, the province has used older population figures to at least maintain some funding stability. But that system clearly needs to change.
I used to serve both on the board of the Halifax Public Library and on the executive of the Library Boards Association of Nova Scotia. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say the work that some of the rural librarians and their staff do is heroic. But you can see the cracks.
Look at the hours of the Port Hawkesbury branch of the Eastern Counties Regional Library system:
No weekend service, limited weekday hours, no evenings, and closed for a half hour every day at lunchtime — presumably because there are not enough staff to cover during lunch.
4. Taxpayers will probably pay for the failed tidal turbine
Aaron Beswick reports for the Chronicle Herald that “there may soon be no-one left other than the taxpayer to pay for the removal of a broken 1,300-tonne turbine from the floor of Minas Passage.”
The company that owns the turbine has gone bankrupt, A $30-million barge built to raise and lower the turbine has been seized and will likely be sold to help cover money owed to creditors.
Without the barge, there’s not necessarily any way to get to the turbine out of the water.
And that’s a problem to fishermen — who long campaigned against its installation, saying that it was a threat to fish stocks migrating through the narrow Minas Passage.
“I sat in on meetings with the then minister of environment, with DFO, the Department of Energy and all kinds of deputy ministers and asked them if they had a big enough security bond in case the company tried to leave this in the water,” said Darren Porter, a weir fisherman and president of the Fundy United fishermen’s federation.
“They all said, ‘Emera wouldn’t do that to us.’ Well, guess what, Emera dumped ya.”
5. Scotiabank is wonderful
Recently, Tim linked to Thomas Baekdal’s essay, Everyone Will Subscribe to Media in the Future. No, Really! In (very) brief, his argument is that “people are willing to pay and pick something… Focus on and measure how you are getting picked… Give people something worth choosing.”
I thought about this while looking at a story in this morning’s Chronicle Herald Business section. The unbylined story is called Scotiabank enhances jobs in Atlantic region. In the story’s seven paragraphs, it informs us that Scotiabank is committed “to advancing employment, expansion and charitable giving in the Atlantic region,” tells us how much space it’s added to its call centre, how many employees work there, how much money the bank donated in sponsorships, and so on.
The story includes one quote:
Halifax and the Atlantic region continue to be an important market for us. We’re committed to deepening our roots here,” said Susan Graham, director of Atlantic Contact Centre, in a company statement.
(Tell it to the people who have lost their banks and even ATMs in small towns across the region.)
There is nothing to indicate the story is sponsored content — aka advertising. Either it’s an ad and not identified as such (or if it is, the identification is so subtle I can’t see it) or it’s a story that might as well be an ad.
Reading it, I couldn’t help thinking about “give people something worth choosing.” Why would anyone choose this?
1. Save the poor universities
The Canadian Association of University Teachers (“the national voice of more than 72,000 academic and professional staff in 125 colleges and universities, colleges, and institutes across the country”) is encouraging Canadians to sign a petition. “Please sign our petition!” is the catchy slogan they have come up with for their Twitter campaign.
Well shit, teachers and students should be able to share content. Who could disagree with that? Where would classrooms be if professors couldn’t provide readings for students?
But wait, are teachers really being faced with a prohibition on sharing content? Well… no. They just don’t want their universities to have to pay for it.
Fair dealing is a provision in copyright law that allows people to use a reasonable, limited portion of a work without permission or compensation. If I’m writing a book and I want to quote a couple of lines from somewhere, I don’t have to ask for permission. (I do have to give credit though.) Back in 2012, Canadian copyright law was amended to include education in fair-dealing provisions. Universities interpreted this to mean they could copy significant portions of works, put them in reading course packs for students, and then sell them to the students without paying any compensation to the writers.
Let’s take a look at what their petition says:
Balanced copyright law is essential to the education community. This means fair compensation for authors, and ready access to materials for students and educators without prohibitive cost. Fair dealing, the limited right to share literary and artistic works, is a major part of this balance.
The federal government is currently reviewing the Copyright Act. Behind the scenes, big publishing companies are pushing to make copyright legislation more restrictive, taking away our fair dealing rights.
Balance in copyright law was a hard fought victory for the education community — and it is time to defend it. Sign the petition to show your support for fair dealing:
I support preserving balance in the Copyright Act by protecting the fair dealing rights of students and educators.
This petition hits all the wrong notes. First, big scary language: “Behind the scenes, big publishing companies are pushing to make copyright legislation more restrictive, taking away our fair dealing rights.” Well no, publishers (not just the big ones) have been very clear about the devastation caused by these fair dealing rights. There is nothing secret about their lobbying efforts to be paid for use of work they publish. There’s the usual talk of fairness and balance — which in this case, mean universities want to copy work by Canadian authors but not pay for it. This is like the Fox News definition of fair and balanced.
Not very surprisingly, this fair and balanced approach is one of the factors that has led to a dramatic drop in Canadian writers’ incomes.
(I never earned a ton of money from educational use of my work, but it was worth somewhere over $500 a year. I think last year I got something like 50 bucks. Maybe less.)
In 2017, York University lost a lawsuit over its overly generous interpretation of fair dealing. The university is appealing.
The CAUT petition is deeply weird in that people who teach in universities also write. You’d think maybe they’d think it’s a bad idea to help screw over non-academic writers. In fact, many of the responses to the CAUT tweet came from faculty members expressing variations on the theme that there is nothing fair about using the work of writers without paying them for it.
I called up John Degen, executive director of the Writers’ Union of Canada, to ask him about the petition. He said:
Well, I would call it ridiculous. This is an association that represents university teachers. That’s in their name. The Canadian Association of University Teachers. They represent faculty. Faculty are also writers, and basically what CAUT is saying is you’re making enough from your academic contract that you don’t have to make any money from your writing as well… I mean, that’s unconscionable, and the exact opposite of what an association representing faculty should be saying about the fair dealing issue in Canada. They should be demanding fair pay for their faculty. Instead they are demanding that their faculty give up extra money. You know there’s no logic to it for me. I just I don’t understand it.
One local professor pointed out to me that universities already pay an exorbitant amount for journals, including a copyright fee that covers use in class, and that the journals are profiteering.
It’s true that journals cost a fortune. But it also has nothing to do with the fair dealing issue — unless your argument is that universities spend so much on journals they should not pay for other content they use.
Back to John Degen:
This is what the education sector has said before Parliament as well: Look at all of this money that we spend on journals.
And we have to say, over and over again, we’re not talking about the journals. We’re talking about the books that you are taking entire chapters from and putting them into your course packs and selling them to your students. You don’t have the right to do that. And fair dealing doesn’t give you the right to do that. And just that use alone is costing the cultural sector over 30 million dollars per year. That is a killing loss for this sector…
Fair dealing is a provision within the Copyright Act that allows for limited copying without authorization or payment. The key word there is is limited and the limitations are not fully defined within the legislation itself… I mean, fair dealing itself is not a bad thing. You won’t find a writer who considers a genuinely respectful interpretation of fair dealing to be a bad thing because we do all use fair dealing for quotation and for criticism and for news reporting and all that kind of stuff. But it was never intended for giant industrial uses by an entire sector the way education is is interpreting it.
Share all the content you like. Just pay for it. There’s this persistent notion that everyone should get paid, but writers should give away their work for free.
2. A seaside cemetery
Stephen Archibald offers a lovely tribute to the cemetery across the street from his home:
The cemetery has served the communities of Fergusons Cove, Purcells Cove and surrounding area, probably since the early 1800s… The cemetery contains both Protestant and Catholic burials. This apparently reflects the changing composition of the community that started out Church of England and gradually became more Roman Catholic… In the years before there was much active maintenance of the cemetery, a couple of neighbours would take on projects that appealed to them. I did some pruning on an old apple tree and encouraged the surrounding patch of lily of the valley.
Archibald offers gorgeous panoramic photos, as well as close-ups of gravestones, the oldest dating back to the 1830s.
The Peggy’s Cove Road, where I live, is dotted with tiny cemeteries, including one unusual one that has graves on the sides of a steep hill. It’s beside an Anglican church. The Roman Catholic church next door to my home has been decommissioned, but the tiny churchyard remains. Elementary school teacher Paula Gallant, whose husband was convicted of her murder, is buried there. A little farther up the road there’s a graveyard dubbed the “Pioneer Cemetery” with graves dating back to the early 1800s. It’s all wooded now, and volunteers clear brush and keep it presentable.
I can understand why people choose cremation over burial, but there is a lot of history in these places.
Last night my partner and I went for dinner at the Nova Scotia Community College’s Akerley campus. More specifically, at their Fresh 21 restaurant. (In some places online they call it “Fresh Twenty-One,” and in others “Fresh 21.” Kind of like how the Westcliff(e) diner spells its name both with and without an “e” depending on where you look.)
Fresh 21 is a run by students in the NSCC hospitality program. They cook, serve, and host “under the guidance of our celebrated culinary faculty and hospitality professionals” the website says, and a student serves as manager for the evening. The restaurant serves dinner a couple of nights a week during the academic year, with each meal inspired by the work of a different celebrity chef.
A few months ago, while researching a chapter for my upcoming book on Nova Scotia fermented foods and drinks (I really need to come up with a title), NSCC’s Andrew Stevens showed me around the place. He pointed out the brand-new $25,000 specialized Italian meat-curing fridge, we tasted some kimchi made by students along with locally produced cheese, and I watched as baking students shaped bagels, piped sweetened ricotta into cannoli, and pulled freshly baked loaves of bread from the oven. The food looked and tasted amazing.
So last night Sara and I decided to go for dinner — and we really enjoyed it.
The food was great. Last night’s meal was a seven-course tasting menu with a different wine pairing for each course. Seared Arctic char was spectacular, and so were the gnocchi with mushrooms, pork belly with braised leeks, and scallop ceviche. All the dishes were beautifully presented.
There were about a dozen tables in the dining room. It seems like a fancy-ish restaurant, with a few obvious differences. A woman sat in a corner with a laptop, looking over the room and taking notes. Then there was the instructor who walked around, keeping an eye on things, showing students how to carry out tasks like closing out the bill, and offering reminders like, “Don’t forget to give them the chocolates with the bill. How many chocolates, do you remember?”
At one point the student manager chatted with us, then, after he walked away, we looked down at our dishes and realized we didn’t have any cutlery. “They need cutlery!” the instructor said. “You were just talking to them!” I said, “It’s OK, I didn’t even notice.”
“It’s not your job to notice,” said the instructor. “It’s his job.”
Our waiter seemed a bit nervous and hesitant — but for all I know, it was his first time doing this. I’d be nervous too. He did a fine job. At one point, one of the culinary students came to chat. He’s from Grenada and was responsible for two of the dishes on the menu (including the char, which I thought was the best of them). He told us he hadn’t been able to sleep Monday night as he went over the preparation and presentation of the dishes in his mind, ahead of dinner on Tuesday. It was fun to be able to chat with some of the people who prepared the dishes, to talk to the students who chose the wine pairings, and to just watch the evening unfold. (I also went to check out the $25,000 meat-curing machine, which offered detailed readouts on the temperature, humidity, and the pH of the two pork shoulders hanging in it, along with how many more hundreds of hours until they reached their optimal state.)
Dinner for both of us, including tax, was $110: $33 each for the food, plus $15 for wine. A steal. We’ve booked a spot to go again in April. If you want to try it out, book early. Space is limited and the dinners sell out fairly quickly.
Budget Committee (Thursday, 9:30am, City Hall) — council is getting near to finalizing the budget process.
No public meetings.
Legislature sits (Thursday, 1pm, Province House)
No public meetings.
John Bull and Sons: The Empire Marketing Board and the Creation of a British Imperial Food System (Thursday, 1:05pm, 25 Banting, Agricultural Campus, Truro) — based on James’ Murton’s chapter in Edible Histories, Cultural Politics: Towards a Canadian Food History. Refreshments served. More info: Deborah.Stiles@dal.ca .
Exploring Multivariate Data with Sparse Projection Pursuit Analysis (Thursday, 3:30pm, Room 319, Chase Building) — Peter Wentzell will talk about his joint work with Yannick MacMillan and Stephen Driscoll. Their abstract:
Exploratory data analysis methods have become an essential part of modern chemical research involving multivariate measurements. In some fields, techniques such as principal components analysis (PCA) and hierarchical cluster analysis (HCA) are applied in more than 50% of published research articles. The popularity of these methods can be attributed to the intuitive visualization of data and their increasing role as de facto methods to support hypotheses in experiments involving a limited number of samples. Projection pursuit analysis (PPA) is an interesting alternative to traditional exploratory tools because it is based on finding “interesting” projections of the data. Although it has been found to be extremely effective in cases where other methods fail, it has several drawbacks, including a requirement for a high sampleto-variable ratio (“skinny data”) and poor interpretability of the projection vectors. Sparse projection pursuit analysis (SPPA) is variant of PPA that addresses both of these issues, combining a kurtosis-based PPA algorithm with a genetic algorithm (GA) for variable selection. In this talk, the principles of PPA and its sparse implementation will be presented, with several examples from chemistry to illustrate its effectiveness for unsupervised clustering of data.
The Future of Food Sustainability: Agriculture Solutions to Feed Nine Billion and Beyond (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Auditorium, McCain Building) — Brandon Hebor, co-founder of Ripple Farms, will speak.
Fire Pon Rome: Rastafari and anti-Fascism (Thursday, 7pm, room 217, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Robbie Shilliam from Johns Hopkins University will speak.
Through the music of Bob Marley many people across the globe have become acquainted with the Rastafari lexicon. Most popular, perhaps, is the term “Babylon”, which in Rastafari pertains to an iniquitous “system” (criminal justice, capitalism etc.) under which humanity suffers and which must be replaced by making heaven (Zion) on earth. Fewer people might know that, in Rastafari, Babylon is synonymous with Rome. Why Rome? To address this question takes us on a journey through the inter-war period of the 20th century and the struggle against Italian fascism which pivoted around Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of sovereign Ethiopia. Commitment to the struggle spanned Caribbean and African colonies, North America and Europe, and included Black and white activists, community leaders, establishment figures and rebels. What bound them all together was an understanding that to be anti-fascist one had to – at the same time – be anti-colonial. Rastafari as a faith and movement was tempered in this crucible. As the iconic expression of anti-colonial anti-fascism, what might Rastafari say about our current predicament?
Eavesdropping: A Raven Meeting at the Graveyard to Discuss Indigenous Law (Thursday, 7pm, Room 105, Schulich School of Law) — Val Napoleon from the University of Victoria will suggest that:
eavesdropping is a particular form of legal research that will allow us to think about some of the pressing Indigenous legal issues that are emerging today, including gendered politics, power, internal oppressions, expectations, and transsystemic teaching.
Thesis Defence, Computer Science (Friday, 10am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Hossein Mohammadhassanzadeh will defend their thesis, “Plausible Reasoning over Knowledge Graphs: A Novel Approach for Semantics-Based Health Data Analytics.”
Mosquito Advocacy ‑ Implementing Evidence‑Informed Solutions in Change Resistant Environments (Friday, 12:10pm, Room 104, Weldon Law Building) — Cindy Blackstock, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and McGill University School of Social Work, will speak.
Alexander Workshop for Singers and Musicians (Friday, 3pm, Room 121, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — Malcolm Balk, author of The Art of Running, is back.
Slave, Servant, Freed Labour: The Imperial Grammar of Social Conservatism (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building) — Robbie Shilliam from Johns Hopkins University will talk.
iGEM and SURGE Hackathon (Friday, 5pm to Sunday 5pm) — from the listing:
Are you a Biologist? Ethicist? Computer Scientist? Anywhere in Between? Dalhousie iGEM is looking for a diverse range of undergraduate students to join our team and help us build on previous years of success at the international Giant Jamboree!
Join Dalhousie iGEM and SURGE at our “iGEM Hackathon” Weekend, where you (and some friends) can exercise your synthetic biology muscles, create a project of your very own, and pitch it to our panel of Judges. AWARDS for top three teams!
What is the iGEM competition?
iGEM is an international competition in the subject of synthetic biology. Held each fall in Boston, MA, over 6,000 university students from all over the world come together to pitch their project ideas and designs using synthetic biology to solve a real world issue. For more information about the iGEM program visit the following: http://igem.org
What is SURGE?
SURGE is an innovation sandbox funded by the Nova Scotia government, whose aim is to train science students to translate scientific discovery into economic growth and solutions to the world’s big problems. Learn more about SURGE at surgeinnovation.ca
Poster Presentations (Friday, 10am, Science 345 and 3rd floor hallway) — Biology honours students will display posters highlighting their research.
Researching Dr. Nichols: Biography, Psychiatry, Christianity and Transnationalism, 1913-1987 (Friday, 12pm, MN 219) — Jill Campbell-Miller will speak. Lunch provided.
Research EXPO (Friday, 1pm, Loyola Conference Hall) — from the listing:
Research EXPO is an exceptional event to showcase Saint Mary’s dynamic research across the faculties of Science, Business and Arts through a series of three minute pitch presentations, posters and display booths. This is an excellent opportunity for companies and organizations to learn about what research work is happening in their own backyard and what the research results mean to communities.
Mount Saint Vincent
Educational Mathematics: a paradigm shift (Friday, 12pm, Seton 432) — Genevieve Boulet explains:
Teaching mathematics in school continues to be ineffective because the focus is on having pupils accept mathematical results and apply procedures rather than on developing ways of thinking needed to create and to use those results and procedures. At the very heart of learning mathematics is the ability to think in certain ways and my research aims to uncover those ways of thinking.
Native Science and a Brief History of Colonialism on Turtle Island (Friday, 7:30pm, KTS Room at University of King’s College, 2nd Floor) — the keynote lecture of the Alternative Histories of Science conference. From the event listing:
Jonathan Ferrier will present a keynote lecture entitled “Native Science and Colonialism.” Dr. Ferrier is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Dalhousie University. His address will focus on native science, conservation, and the history of colonialism on Turtle Island. Discussions of these topics are rarely had and sorely needed — in science, as in all fields of study, we have a responsibility to challenge colonialism and question dominant ways of thinking.
The student-run Alternative Histories of Science conference (Saturday, 9:30-4:00pm, KTS Room) — Panels include “Cyborgs, Music and Feminism,” “Unheard Narratives,” “Re-imagining the Tree of Life,” “Science, Race and Gender,” and “As Above, so Below (The Ocean).” More info here.
In the harbour
I’m headed to Toronto for a few days. Tell me your favourite downtown diner for Sunday breakfast/brunch.
Also, Harlan Ellison wants you to pay the writer: “She said, ‘Well, everyone else is just doing it for nothing, you know.’ I said, ‘Everyone else may be an asshole, but I’m not. By what right would you call me and ask me to work for nothing. Do you get a paycheque?’”
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