1. Council approves debt increase to fund major improvements

Save up enough of these and you too can upgrade your transit system.

City finance staff have recommended in a report that the municipality take on more debt to pay for major projects. And council agrees.

Over the last couple of years, Halifax councillors have voted in favour of some pretty major projects: a climate change plan, bus rapid transit, and the integrated mobility plan among them.

At the same time, the city has been aggressively paying down debt, while its capital projects budget remains stagnant. Something’s got to give.

Zane Woodford covers the report and council’s reaction. He writes:

The plan is to set aside $10 million annually, starting in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, to be used for debt servicing costs on an extra $150 million in debt to pay for these projects.

Halifax is currently about $235.7 million in debt, and it’s been paying it down aggressively over the past several years. Maybe too aggressively, staff suggest…

“Think about this as a tax avoidance plan,” chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé replied.

“At the end of the day what this is all about is putting a plan in place so we can avoid tax rate increases on the general rate.”

In Nova Scotia, municipal governments are not allowed to run deficits. You can pay for projects by deferring maintenance, raising taxes, cutting services or borrowing money. And getting funding from other levels of government to help finance major projects, like the overhauled Windsor Street Exchange. A focus on never raising taxes or taking on debt is a recipe for disaster.

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2. COVID-19 update

The MV Leif Ericson ferry
The MV Leif Ericson on a calm day. Photo: Marine Atlantic.

The Halifax Examiner is providing all COVID-19 coverage for free. Please help us continue this coverage by subscribing.

Tim Bousquet’s daily COVID-19 update includes all the usual charts and an updated COVID-19 advisory map. He also breaks down the active cases by health zone. One of the new cases is someone who works on the Newfoundland ferry.

Almost all our new cases for the past several weeks are related to travel — with those infected properly isolating — or are close contacts of those with the illness. It’s heartening to know the system is working.

Also, note that the ferry in the image above belongs to Marine Atlantic, but it’s not the vessel on which the employee who tested positive was working. That was the Blue Puttees.

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3. New episode of the Tideline podcast, featuring Erin Costelo

Erin Costelo. Photo: Mat Dunlap

Episode #14 of The Tideline, with Tara Thorne is published.

Erin Costelo still has $7,000 in outstanding plane ticket money after her European tour was cancelled last March, but she’s moved on. She pops into the studio to talk co-writing in quarantine, producing young artists, how she’s been developing her skills, and Fiona Apple. Plus: A love letter to In the Dead of Winter.

This episode is available today only for premium subscribers; to become a premium subscriber, click here, and join the select group of arts and entertainment supporters for just $5/month. Everyone else will have to wait until tomorrow to listen to it.

Please subscribe to The Tideline.

I confess I have only seen Erin Costelo live once. She opened for Mavis Staples and was amazing.

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4. What do you know — you can’t just up and move to Canada

Map of Atlantic Canada
The promised land for Americans fleeing Trump?

Consider it the journalistic equivalent of the “How it started / How it’s going” meme.

At CBC this morning, Cassidy Chisholm looks at what happened with all those Americans who were purportedly interested in moving to Nova Scotia after Donald Trump took office.

Chisholm talks to Heather Vargas, who actually did move to Halifax in 2017, but moved back to Arkansas a year and a half later.

And she speaks with Rob Calabrese, the guy who was in the news for setting up a website encouraging Americans to move to Cape Breton, and was inundated with inquiries. But people tended to not follow up.

Chisholm writes:

David Nurse, an immigration lawyer with McInnes Cooper in Bridgewater, N.S., has witnessed this first-hand.

Nurse said he immediately started receiving calls from people who were interested in immigrating to Canada “largely or entirely because of Trump’s election” in 2016.

“What I saw in practice, though, was that not all of these individuals would have a pathway to Canada,” he said….

“They never obviously considered emigrating from the United States before and once they found out what was involved in terms of the effort, the cost and the time, many of them backed away.”

When I saw the headline on this story (“Americans fleeing Trump’s presidency faced Canada’s stiff immigration process”) I thought no shit. You don’t get to just decide to move here. It seems to be an attitude that takes a particular kind of arrogance.

Glad to see this follow-up to the stories from four years ago.

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5.  Doing the power company’s work

The Nova Scotia Power /Emera headquarters building on Water Street. Photo: SABS Magazine

There is a truly baffling story on the Saltwire Nova Scotia homepage. The headline reads: “Nova Scotia Power defends reliability of service in open letter to customers.”

I am one of the customers who got the open letter, so I actually clicked on the story with interest. I was hoping for an inside look at what had led the power company to write such a wrong-headed letter, or maybe an article about the claims it made and whether or not they hold up.

But… it just summarizes the letter and quotes from it, and has a couple of quotes from an interview — with Nova Scotia Power chief operating officer Mark Sidebottom, who signed the letter. And then offers a link to the Nova Scotia Power “reliability” web page, which includes the full letter.

The story is slugged as “premium content”. I don’t get it.

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6.  Lawrence Hill virtual residency at St. FX open to all

a black and white photo of author Lawrence Hill.
Lawrence Hill. Photo: Nigel Dickson / Wikimedia

Lawrence Hill — author of The Book of Negroes, among other works — is doing a stint as scholar-in-residence at St. FX next week, from January 25-29. As part of the residency, Hill will be giving a public talk each evening; the talks are open to the public over Zoom. They are free but you need to sign up. (The pdf I have for the event says all participants will receive a copy of The Book of Negroes, but I assume that only applies to St. FX folks.)

Here’s part of what the university says about Hill:

Hill is the son of American civil rights activists – an African- American father and white mother – who married in the South and moved the next day to Canada, where they spent the rest of their lives, raised a family, wrote books about Black history in Canada and continued their civil rights activism. Lawrence Hill’s grandfather and father were African-American soldiers in the US Army in World Wars I and II, respectively.

He is writing a new novel for adults about the African- American soldiers who helped build the Alaska Highway in northern BC and Yukon in 1942-43. Hill’s father, Daniel G. Hill, served as the first director and later was the Chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. He also served as Ombudsman of Ontario. With his wife Donna Hill, he founded the Ontario Black History Society, for which Lawrence Hill volunteered over the course of many years.

You may have also heard of his brother Dan.

The talks look pretty interesting. I’ve embedded the registration links into each day’s talk.

On Monday, Hill and frequent Examiner contributor El Jones are discussing “the perils and pleasures” of adapting The Book of Negroes for TV.

Tuesday is about researching and writing historical fiction.

Wednesday is a more personal talk on becoming a writer, while on Thursday the topic is “What prisoners have to teach us about story”, and draws on Hill’s experiences teaching and volunteering in federal prisons.

Friday is an extended Q&A with Hill. All talks run from 7 PM to 9 PM.

Hill spoke at my graduation from King’s in 2019, and he was very impressive. (Funny too.)

I would direct you to the university website for more information, but alas, unless things have changed by the time you read this, this is what you will find:

Picture of Lawrence Hill with "Read More" below the image.

Read more, you say? Sounds good. Let’s click and see what we get:

Picture of Lawrence Hill with the words "Lawrence Hill" in a box to the right.

OK, then.

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7. A legal system vs a justice system

Photo: Halifax Examiner

I am running out of time here, but I want to point to an important story by Chris Lambie from yesterday’s Chronicle Herald.

Lambie writes about the case of 50-year-old Craig Boutilier, who pleaded guilty to two counts of breaking and entering. Boutilier has a long-standing addiction to crack cocaine and an intellectual disability. He’s amassed 315 prior convictions over three decades, almost all for shoplifting or for breach of previous conditions.

Boutilier is clearly troubled, but his record doesn’t show him to be a danger to anyone. And, as Lambie reports, provincial court judge Amy Sakalauskas lays out the failings of the system to help people like Boutilier.

From Lambie’s story:

Mr. Boutilier challenges us to consider whether we are simply a legal system or truly a justice system. This situation challenges our system, and other community systems, to think about how we interact with Mr. Boutilier and others like him. [Sakalauskas writes in her judgment.]…

I have sentenced him in recent years. I have seen him come through cells seeking release, and I was the judge who bail denied him on these charges,” she said. “I would confidently say that nearly every judge in this courthouse has encountered Mr. Boutilier in their courtroom over the years, indeed over the decades.”…

The judge heard from the John Howard Society that Boutilier “can access supports through the Transition Support Program, to help him bridge the gap between jail and community. Notably, the Disability Support Program is in the community and provides important supports, but Mr. Boutilier is only eligible to begin the referral process if released back into the community. Of course, he will face quite a waitlist.”

Boutilier has never gone to trial and “has always pleaded guilty and accepted responsibility,” said the judge.

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Turning Spartan warrior bullshit on its head

Detail of bronze statue showing man in helmet and headdress, holding up shield.
Detail of the statue of Leonidas in contemporary Sparta. Photo: Andy Hay / Flickr

As someone who has family roots near Sparta, I’m always dismayed by the lionizing of Spartans among right-wing types who’ve seen the movie 300 and now think they are warriors. You know, the people who think they have inherited the traditions of classical Greece by owning guns and who believe masks are a sign of weakness.

Their rallying cry is Μολών Λαβέ, usually written in English as Molon Labe. It means “come and take them.”

I occasionally see the slogan hilariously misspelled, including on a flag for sale at the army surplus place on Agricola. It used the Greek letter sigma in place of the epsilon at the end of the second word.

Here is one misspelling:

Banner that says molop labe in Greek
The last letter of the first word is wrong. This reads as “Molop labe.”

“Molon Labe” has become such a common slogan among gun-owning maniacs firearms enthusiasts, that you can find images of the phrase alongside various weapons, with Punisher logos, etc. Sam Hoober, writing for the Alien Gear Holsters blog (he lists “concealed carry” as one of his “varied interests”) explains:

As far as the gun rights community, it [Molon Labe] began to pop up on websites and other media in the 1990s, and it’s gotten a certain amount of traction ever since. It appears in almost any media related to gun rights, the gun industry, concealed carry and so on – websites have it as a slogan, it’s on pictures and internet memes, and people have it inscribed on various accessories – holsters, gun finishes, and on various bits of ccw apparel, as it fits nicely on a shirt or a hat.

Essentially, the message is that people won’t give up their guns and/or possibly might resist any attempts to take them.

All this to say: I found refreshing this piece by American writer Steven Pressfield in the Greek-Australian paper Neos Kosmos arguing that the shield was the most important piece of ancient Spartan warrior gear because it protected others as well as the soldier who held it.

The piece has the clickbaity title “How the Spartans Would Fight COVID-19.”  Why the hypothetical? I wondered. Sparta has an outbreak right now. We don’t need to guess how they would fight it — they have a strict lockdown and a curfew.

But of course, as with most references to Spartans, the story is talking about ancient ones.

Pressfield is keen to take the piss out of people who see their own personal liberty as the most important thing in the world, while wrapping their views up in misunderstood Spartan ideology.

He writes:

We’ve seen protesters in the US [and Australia] demonstrating their resistance to such public health directives. They carry signs saying I WILL NOT COMPLY and DON’T TREAD ON ME. The demonstrators take offense at such communal safety measures, characterising them as “government overreach.” They declare that such mandates violate their personal freedom…

Would we accuse the ancient Spartans of “government overreach” if they mandated that each warrior, facing the enemy, hold his shield before him and not abandon it and run away?

Suppose one warrior did cast away his shield and flee, thus opening a breach in the phalanx’s front? Would the Spartans excuse him if he explained that he took such action as an exercise of his “personal freedom?”

I do find it weird how so many of these freedom-loving types Pressfield writes about are drawn to the history and imagery of Sparta — a tyrannical city-state that had no interest in democracy.

Sparta today? Nice little provincial town. Pleasant outdoor cafes along the main drag. Great bakery near the bus station.

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Radio will rot your brain

Toddler at a table with a tablet
Photo: Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

Early in the pandemic, I got a laugh out of a story from the British satirical website The Daily Mash. The piece, called “Middle-class parents suddenly very enthusiastic about screens“, ran on March 20.  It begins:

Martin and Francesca Bishop, who previously only allowed one hour of screen time per day on Saturdays and Sundays only, claim to have now realised screens can actually be hugely beneficial to child brain development.

Friend Eleanor Shaw said: “Ever since their first kid was born they’ve smugly carried on about how they won’t just stick them in front of the telly but instead take part in instructional activities like baking sourdough or learning Mandarin.

“However, after finding out their kids aren’t going to be in school for the next 23 weeks they’ve suddenly started referring to the iPad as an ‘electronic educator’.

We all seem to be spending more time on screens, and last week the New York Times weighed in with a scary sounding article about kids playing videogames.

We’ve seen moral panics about screen time and videogames before. Just as we’ve seen moral panics about earlier generations of video games, toy fads like Garbage Pail Kids, pinball machines, comics, television, crossword puzzles and yes, if you go back far enough, novels. (I first learned about concerns over the crossword craze by reading old Gasoline Alley comics.)

Black and white photo of a large man in a white suit pushing over a pinball machine
New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia destroying an early-generation pinball machine in 1938. Photo from the Kirby Museum website.

Now, the fact that we’ve had moral panics over these various forms of entertainment before doesn’t mean that there is no cause for concern. Writer Michael Hobbes, co-host of the You’re Wrong About podcast, spends a lot of time debunking various moral panics, and he has created a list of their elements. One of them is that the panic is rooted in some element of truth, but it gets blown completely out of proportion.

So, yes it may be a problem that so many kids are spending time in front of various screens right now, but that also may not be the catastrophe it’s made out to be.

So I was interested to read an interview with psychologist Rachel Kowert in Anne Helen Petersen’s Culture Study newsletter. Kowert is a gamer herself, and did her PhD on gaming and its impacts after she started seeing parents in her practice who were worried about the amount of time their kids were spending online playing games like World of Warcraft.

Kowert tells Petersen:

Especially now, during social distancing and COVID-19 lockdowns, as video games have become one of the last fun, social activities we can do together with our friends safely.

Play is important throughout the lifespan: many people assume that it’s only critical for child development, but it’s actually critical to your mental well-being throughout your life. Games are particularly effective tools for mood management, because good games (well-designed games) engage players in a way that meets basic psychological needs as humans: they give you a sense of autonomy (you are free to make your own choices), competence (that you can achieve things, be successful), and relatedness (connecting with your friends via online play)…

All three [of these forms of motivation] are hindered by COVID-19. We don’t have a sense of autonomy: we’re not free to go wherever we want to go, and we’re not free to do it without a mask (though, of course, wear your mask). Our sense of competence is reduced: we cannot control what is going on outside, we’re less efficient at our jobs or schooling. And social distancing, social bubbles, and all the other social challenges of COVID-19 have reduced our relatedness.

Should screens be the only thing your child engages with all day? Of course not. There are physical considerations to consider: disturbed sleep, being sedentary, the potential impact on vision. But should you be afraid that your children are playing more video games now than ever before? Absolutely not. Games and play are a great way to foster relationships, to reduce stress, help manage negative emotions — and to just have fun. When did fun no longer become an important outcome?

On Twitter, Kowert asked why we worry so much about escapism in video games, but not so much when people escape into good books?

A man and a woman playing on two different pinball machines.
Here I am rotting my brain with my cousin Dina. Photo: Sara Lamb

Every so often, I read through old newspapers in the Google newspaper archive, and I recently happened across several articles from the 1920s and 1930s about radio. They seemed awfully familiar: techno-utopianism followed by despair over the changes the new technology has brought.

The Berkeley Daily Gazette, for instance, (as in Berkely, California), had a regular feature called “Gazette Radio News.” The July 18, 1922 issue of the radio news includes a dispatch from London:

All conquering radio has got London with both hands.

Ever since the night of the Lewis-Carpenter fight, when the newspapers “broadcasted” the results of each round into the homes of countless amateur radio fans, the public has been held by the possibilities of this craze.

Newspapers are filled with radio news and doings.

There is also news on the latest advances, which would allow broadcasts over greater distances using short waves. A radio club in Manchester, the paper says, was setting up an aerial to receive broadcasts from the United States.

On January 14, 1924, the Berkeley Daily Gazette has a piece headed “Aerial Patriotism.” It starts off by saying “radio is king” and while the story is admiring of the possibilities of radio, you can see the early signs of the moral panic to come:

The radio craze has New York all tangled up in its own wiring. Men rush home from business at night and fuss with divers knobs and handles in a magnificent effort to get in touch with folks far away. The next-door neighbor has lost his attraction; people are making friends beyond “The Rockies.”

Overall, this is seen as a benefit though:

All America is listening in to all the rest of America, and being entertained, instructed, and delighted with what it hears. Cities a thousand miles apart are suddenly drawn close together by this aerial magic. People sundered by the width of a continent become neighbors.

Is not radio the greatest thing in America today? Is it not the greatest power for genuine national unity?

Article from the 1930s called Radio and Sociability

The story above is from The Lakeshore Press, December 9, 1938. The paper covered the West Island of Montreal (where I grew up). By now we have a lament for how radio has taken over people’s lives. In the fictional dialogue, Mr. and Mrs. X are trying to find a time to visit Mr. and Mrs. A. but the radio schedule interferes. (Note that one of the broadcasts that can’t be missed is the Lunenburg Choir.)

The dialogue ends with this exchange:

Mrs. X: “Well, if you want to miss Hollywood Hotel, Beverly Baxter and Scrub Oak Hollow, it’s all right with me, but I don’t think the A’s will thank you for butting in on Waltz Time, they are just crazy about that program.”

Mr. X: “That leaves Saturday, and no one wants anyone coming in on that night, I guess we pay back that call some time next summer.”

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Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm) — live audio broadcast with PowerPoint presentations.

Active Transportation Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm) — virtual meeting; live or dial-in broadcast not available.


No meetings.

On campus



Can I Get a Witness? (Thursday, 7pm) — benefit show and virtual book launch of Lissa Skitolsky’s Hip-Hop as Philosophical Text and Testimony: Can I Get a Witness?


a photograph of Lisa Binkley, wearing a dark sweater, with a window behind her, smiling at the viewer.
Lisa Binkley. Photo via

Reviewing a 1960s Mi’kmaq Ribbon Skirt: Reclamation, Resilience, Resistance (Friday, 12pm) — a Dalhousie Feminist Seminar Series online captioned event with Lisa Binkley, who is

Anishinaabeg-Algonquin and settler, and an Assistant Professor in the History Dept. Her work focuses on Indigenous and settler textiles as material culture, and repatriation. She has published on settler and Indigenous quilts, Haudenosaunee quilts and public exhibitions, Star blankets and critical Indigenous heritage. She is currently part of three SSHRC-funded projects that explore a disruption of the Western literary and art historical canons through Indigenous perspectives, Climate Grief, and the examination of textiles and architecture through augmented reality. She is working on two new projects. A research project that aims to decolonize and remap the fur trade route through an interrogation of handmade footwear. A partnership with the Mi’kmawey Debert Centre that aims to repatriate, digitize, and share community histories and knowledges.

Saint Mary’s


Mawio’mi (Thursday, 11am) — an online celebration of the Indigenous spirit, featuring Mi’kma’ki drumming, dance, storytelling, and song


IPBES & Biodiversity – Something new or more of the same? (Friday, 12pm) — a special webinar celebrating the 25th anniversary of Environmental Science at Saint Mary’s. Jake Rice will talk about the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), and its efforts to address declines in biodiversity.



Living in Reciprocity: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on Indigenous-Black Relations (Thursday, 7pm) — Zoom lecture and Q&A with Bonita Lawrence from York University


9th Annual Conference of the Early Modern (Friday, 6pm) — Zoom conference with keynote lecture by Karen Detlefsen from the University of Pennsylvania; starting Saturday at 11am, students will present papers covering topics from the 15th to 18th centuries, with a guest lecture by Lindsay Reid, National University of Ireland Galway. Details and registration here.

In the harbour

10:00: Atlantic Sun, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Baltimore
12:00: NS Stream, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
13:00: IT Intrepid, cable layer, sails from Pier 9 for sea
15:00: MSC Elena, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Tripoli, Libya
16:00: Taipei Trader, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from New York
22:30: Atlantic Sun sails for Liverpool, England


My co-host Jay and I have just published an entertaining new episode of our books podcast, Dog-eared and Cracked. This time out, we talk about the late anarchist anthropologist David Graeber’s sort-of-cult-classic Bullshit Jobs. I enjoy the book, and Jay not so much, but I think we wind up have an interesting discussion about it and the phenomenon of BS jobs and on-the-job busywork too. Give it a listen here or through your favourite podcast player.

I once had a job in a magazine store where the manager strictly forbade reading magazines. I mean, why else do you get a job in a magazine store? He would drop in at night to check in on us. Eventually, he got promoted and we got a new boss who didn’t care if we read or not, as long as we did our jobs properly. Yay, new boss.

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Philip Moscovitch is a freelance writer, audio producer, fiction writer, and editor of Write Magazine.

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