1. Lead in school water

A water fountain in a Halifax-area school in September 2020. It has been blocked off from use with plastic sheeting.
A water fountain in a Halifax-area school in September 2020. Credit: Contributed

Back in 2019, a group of investigative reporters, including Zane Woodford, revealed that most Nova Scotia schools had never had their water tested for lead — and for those that had, the results were “alarming.”

Lead is a potent neurotoxin that can harm children’s development.

That reporting led to widespread testing, which found more than 80% of schools had at least one tap with water that showed high levels of lead. You would think this would serve as a call to get the lead out of there once and for all. But, as Woodford reports in a new story, “Overall, the situation has improved, but the tests show about 77% of schools still have more than 5 μg/L of lead flowing from at least one tap.”

And some schools that know they have high lead levels don’t seem to be doing much about it, other than putting up a sign telling kids not to drink the water:

In a statement, Jenna MacQueen, a spokesperson for the provincial Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, said all schools have safe drinking water available.

“All pipes and taps in schools have been tested to ensure safe potable water,” MacQueen wrote in an email.

“When lead has been identified from pipes or taps, a remediation plan has been implemented, most often removing source.”

In fact, most often, in more than 90% of cases, the solution has been to put up a sign: “for handwashing only.” That has happened in at least one case in 74% of schools.

That’s the case for a tap labelled “A1012 Boys B – Washroom” at Northumberland Regional High School in Westville. That tap contained lead at 41,000 μg/L — 8,200 times the Health Canada guideline.

Likewise, a tap labelled “Girls Wash Room tap 1 by Room 104” at Spryfield Central Elementary contained 180 μg/L — 36 times the Health Canada guideline. “Hand washing only,” HRCE wrote in the “remediation” field.

This is not remediation; it’s a joke. In one case, a water fountain in the main lobby of a school has a “handwashing only” sign. Woodford also finds that many of the schools don’t even seem to be testing anymore.

Click or tap here to read “As testing drops off, Nova Scotia opts for signage to fix lead in schools’ water.”

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2. Staff report proposes removing ballfields to create tent encampment on the Halifax Common

The Halifax Common is shown in a satellite image, with the skating oval toward the bottom and six baseball diamonds above.
The crusher dust baseball diamonds are seen at the top of the Halifax Common. Credit: Google Maps

Zane Woodford also has a story on a staff report recommending that two crusher dust ballfields on the Halifax Common be removed to make space for a new encampment, as the number of unhoused people continues to grow dramatically:

Max Chauvin wrote in a report coming to council on Tuesday that the municipality needs to allow people to sleep in tents at up to 40 more parks over the next 18 months.

“Without dramatic policy changes from other all orders of government around creating and supporting deeply affordable housing options, the municipality must accept that hundreds of people sheltering outside will continue for several years to come and plan accordingly,” Chauvin wrote in the report.

Chauvin rightly notes that the housing crisis requires action from all levels of government, but that in the meantime the city needs to plan for large numbers of people living in tents —and that the current designated sites are insufficient.

Woodford writes:

Chauvin recommended HRM close two crusher dust baseball diamonds on the north side of the Halifax Common on Oct. 31.

“That space will be converted into a larger homeless encampment. This site is close to a year-round public bathroom, providing residents sheltering outside with toilet facilities, running water, and power. It is also close to needed services. The intention is to provide additional onsite support to residents in this long-term encampment with additional outreach staff and supplies,” Chauvin wrote.

“In upcoming seasons, staff will attempt to redistribute traditional bookings from these diamonds to other locations, but it is anticipated that not all demand will be able to be met.”

Click or tap here to read “City housing director recommends turning two Halifax Common ball diamonds into tent site.”

This is not the first time in recent years that there’s been a proposal to remove ballfields from the Common. In 2019, the city considered removing five of the eight diamonds to create leisure areas.

In a CBC story published at the time, Bob Carter, then president of Halifax Minor Baseball, said the organization would have to cut enrollment if it lost access to that many fields, and it would have a significant impact on both adult and children’s leagues.

On Monday, I spoke with Kevin Conrad, the current vice president of Halifax Minor Baseball, to hear his thoughts on the proposal. He said the organization does not use the two crusher dust fields Chauvin proposes closing, but that losing them would have a knock-on effect, since the women’s slo-pitch teams that play there would have to be relocated. They would likely move to the other diamonds on the Common, potentially displacing some of the kids’ games there.

Conrad said Halifax Minor Baseball’s enrollment is up to pre-COVID levels, and that the organization has had to cap the number of players registering at 700, since it doesn’t have enough access to fields for all the kids that want to play.

“We are at a max of 700 members, and we can’t grow anymore because there aren’t enough baseball diamonds. The city needs to add fields instead of taking them away,” he said. He said even if those facilities were “a bit on the outskirts of the city,” that would be an improvement.

Conrad noted that municipalities much smaller than Halifax have better baseball and softball infrastructure. He pointed to Summerside, Charlottetown, Truro, and Kentville as having “a bunch of nice fields.” Meanwhile in Halifax, “They’re dropping all these ice rinks all over the place.”

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3. Irving Shipyard: where is our money going?

A ship in the water.
One of the yet-to-be-built warships Credit: Conference Board of Canada

“Last month,” Jennifer Henderson reports, “the federal government announced it will give $463 million to Irving Shipbuilding Inc. (ISI) to prepare to build 15 warships known as Canadian Surface Combatants (CSCs) for the Navy.”

(In case you’re wondering, the Examiner has already settled my invoice for preparing to write today’s Morning File.)

Back to Henderson’s story, though. After reviewing the “mind-boggling” numbers involved in the construction of the ships, she focuses on that $463 million, asking a salient question: why is a company owned by one of the wealthiest families in the country getting this grant?

Henderson then details the grants and forgivable loans the company has absorbed to upgrade its facilities, so that it can make enormous amounts of money from building the ships. And she tries to find out if the company is double-dipping: getting money from both provincial and federal governments for the same work.

This being Canada though, land of government secrecy, we are not to be trusted with that kind of information. What are the upgrades? Where is our money going? As Henderson writes:

Clearly the company contends the Navy and the government are responsible for having changed the requirements for the size and type of ship it wants built since the CSC program was envisioned. No examples were provided by Irving for the specific modifications that need to be carried out to deliver all 15 warships by 2050…

So there will be dredging in the harbour and the Halifax shipyard will have a larger footprint there. If you have read this far, you are probably hoping for a few more details or a clearer explanation of the type of work to be undertaken. Given the large amount of public money being spent, it seems a reasonable expectation. Instead, there is only secrecy and bafflegab. 

Click or tap here to read “Is Irving Shipyard double-dipping from public funds for the construction of new warships?”

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4. Everything that’s wrong with road safety messaging, in one ad

Graphic ad from the city of Ottawa. The image shows a young person lying on the street in a pool of blood, with bloody wounds on their arm, leg and face. A car is stopped nearby. The text reads, "You jaywalked to save time. But you lost it. Forever. Cross only where it's safe."
One of the road safety ads pulled by the City of Ottawa.

There is a whole science of behaviour change, with a large body of data on what motivates people to change. I am pretty sure this now-retracted ad from the city of Ottawa was created by people not familiar with this work at all.

As far as I understand, telling people what not to do is not as effective as providing positive messages. Creating messages that are overly graphic just causes people to tune out. And then there’s the whole question of what led to this person lying dead in the street? Were they smitten by God for having the temerity to cross in a place that is inconvenient for cars? Or was there a driver involved who, you know, hit them? Also, how fast do you have to be going to kill someone outright by hitting them as they are crossing the street? I am guessing pretty fast. Probably exceeding the speed limit.

And then there’s the incoherent slogan. You lost time forever? What?

Oh, and that URL at the bottom of the page, for road safety info? I figured it would have some road safety tips, no matter how flawed, but nope! It’s just a summary of the city’s road safety action plan.

Ottawa city Coun. Tim Tierney, quoted at City News, demonstrates the kind of wrong-headed thinking behind this campaign:

As for the graphic nature of the ads, Councillor Tim Tierney said on Wake Up With Rob Snow said it might be what’s needed to get the message across.

“Are they graphic? Are they horrifying? Do they offend people? Yeah. But, if it saves one life, I think it’s probably something that we have to move towards.”

Tierney goes on to say being offensive is a small price to pay when lives are on the line.

“Either we call a spade a spade or we don’t. This is what the problem is. People have their phones glued to their faces and their walking mid-block and unfortunately getting killed.”

The thing is, the road safety implementation plan whose URL is in the ad says this:

Of 673 fatal and major injury collisions between 2017 and 2021, 67 per cent involved high-risk driving behaviours – aggressive, distracted, or impaired driving.

Putting down your phone is not going to solve that.

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5. Lee

I was not (until this morning) familiar with the website the Eyewall, but I like its clear, non-nonsense, practical approach to forecasting.

The site is run by two meteorologists, and you can read what they say about Hurricane Lee here.

This is their “one-sentence summary”:

Although Hurricane Lee is expected to weaken as it comes north, it will be expanding in size and capable of punching above its weight class as it brings impacts to eastern New England and/or Atlantic Canada this weekend.

In terms in terms of intensity, they write:

Lee should slowly weaken in the coming days to either a category 1 hurricane or strong tropical storm as it makes landfall wherever. However, because of Lee’s size and intensity and its transition from a tropical storm to more of an extratropical feature (think: very large nor’easter), it will act stronger than what it actually is. In other words, it’s important to recognize that a weakening storm is still a serious storm in this part of the world. And Lee checks the boxes for a potential serious hazard to folks in Canada and New England, even in a weakened state. Tropical Storm force winds extend out almost 200 miles from Lee’s center, so while the exact landfall point will matter for some aspects of Lee, the impacts will extend far from the center.

I like their advisory that it’s probably not a good idea to go swimming this weekend.

Shoutout to the CBC commenter who scoffed at the whole idea of a hurricane possibly hitting Atlantic Canada. One of my rare forays into reading the comments, to remind me not to do it again. (Examiner comments excepted.)

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1. Riding the wave: how people at stadiums are like particles

A baseball stadium, with a view from an outfield bleacher seat. The umpires are on the field, and there are clouds in the evening sky. The stands are about half full.
Rogers Centre, before a Blue Jays game in September 2023. Credit: Philip Moscovitch

On Saturday, I was at a Blue Jays game, when the wave started up across the stadium from us.

It began somewhere in left field, and moved counter-clockwise, picking up steam as it headed towards us, on the first base line. The stadium was packed — I think attendance was about 43,000 — and people in both upper and lower decks joined in. It was a beautiful day; sunny, with some cloud cover, and not too hot. The Jays were winning, and the atmosphere was fun and relaxed.

I used to be a young curmudgeon about things like the wave and other distractions at the ballpark. We are here to watch baseball, goddamn it! But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve softened my views. Not everyone wants to focus exclusively on the game for nine innings. If you want to go hang out near the DJ, or play pinball (yes, you can play pinball for free during Jays games), or shuffleboard, or whatever, more power to you. Enjoy whatever it is you enjoy.

The wave though? Still a bit dubious, but for no reason I could articulate in a coherent manner.

The previous evening, Friday, I was sitting above the Blue Jays bullpen, behind right field, when some fans nearby tried starting the wave (going clockwise). When it came to me, I did not stand up, but I almost imperceptibly twitched, like a batter who thinks about offering at a pitch and changes his mind. My son, sitting beside me, noticed. “You had to hold yourself back,” he said, “from doing the wave.” (He is not a waver.)

Saturday, though, I stood up, arms in the air, along with everyone else.

My friend Bobby, sitting (and also doing the wave) beside me, started wondering about the physics of the wave. Why does it sometimes succeed and other times not? How does it get started? What determines when it ends?

Bobby is also a writer, and we both thought surely somebody has studied this.

And, wouldn’t you know it, a couple of researchers have. Their names are Illes Farkas, Tamas Vicsek, and Dirk Helbing, and in 2002 they published a paper (summarized in Nature) on the physics of the wave.

They write:

The wave usually rolls in a clockwise direction and typically moves at a speed of about 12 metres (or 20 seats) per second and has a width of about 6–12 m (corresponding to an average width of 15 seats). It is generated by no more than a few dozen people standing up simultaneously, and subsequently expands through the entire crowd as it acquires a stable, near-linear shape.

An NPR piece from 2016 cites this research, and talks to Farkas about it:

Physicists, after all, know that particles obeying a few simple rules can create a seemingly complex phenomenon — ice melting, for example.

“And in a very similar way, surprisingly, humans do similar things,” says Farkas. “The reason why we got interested in stadium waves was that people, apparently, very often behave like particles.”

Farkas noted that the timing has to be right for a wave to catch on:

The key, he says, seems to be to strike when the mood of the crowd is just right. A critical moment in a close game is probably not a good time to try — and will likely draw ire from your neighboring sports fans.

“Waves actually happen quite often when there is nothing interesting happening,” Farkas says, “or when people are very enthusiastic” — like when the home team is clearly going to win.

This might explain the failed Friday night wave: It was a close, stressful game. Saturday afternoon, the mood was more relaxed. Pitcher Kevin Gausman was mowing down Royals, and while the outcome of the game was far from a foregone conclusion, it was not a nail-biter.

The wave ended abruptly, with an Alejandro Kirk foul ball that landed in the stands somewhere near where the wave had begun. I think there was a moment when we all wondered where the ball was going to land, and that broke the spell.

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2. Bye bye X (aka Twitter)

A hand holding a smart phone that has several icons for social media platforms on its screen.
Social media platforms. Credit: Pixabay/Pexels

I too, like Tim Bousquet and Yvette d’Entremont long before us, have given up on Twitter. Tim is still posting links to Examiner stories. I have deactivated my account altogether.

I had wound down my activities over there to pretty much nothing but posting links to my Examiner pieces. There were several possible last straws for me, but the final ones were a combination of the political and the personal.

The political: Saudi Arabia has sentenced a man to death for anonymous tweets posted from two accounts with fewer than 10 followers each. The tweets were critical of the regime. The Saudis own a chunk of Twitter. The service had to have been complicit in identifying the person behind the tweets. This is hardly the first time this sort of thing has happened. But, as I say, last straw.

The other one was personal. I had found I was starting to log in again a bit more often. It creeps up on you, and it’s bad. I logged in and watched a video shot by a guy in Toronto telling drivers to stop driving up his small residential one-way street the wrong way, in order to shave a few seconds off their travel time. One of the drivers kept driving his car into the guy’s shins, over and over again, then stopped, got out, walked to his trunk, and said to the guy filming the video that he was getting a weapon, and “I’m going to kill you.”

The driver did not kill the guy shooting the video, but I noticed how I felt watching this, and thought, do I need this in my life? I do not. Is it really helping me with my work at this point? It is not. Do I want to keep supporting this? I do not.

Sometimes it feels as though Twitter was a mass cultural delusion, and this piece captures that better than anything else I have read.

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Marketplace Jesus

A framed cliched image of Jesus in robes, with the words "Bless you. Jesus" written on it in marker.
Autographed by Jesus himself.

I tip my cap to the chaotic Halifax genius who has listed this image autographed by Jesus himself on Facebook marketplace. Currently marked down to $25,000 from $40,000.

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Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 1pm, City Hall and online) — agenda


Special Events Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am, City Hall) — agenda


Health (Tuesday, 1pm, One Government Place and online) — Implementation of Additional Mental Health and Addictions Supports; with representatives from the Office of Addictions and Mental Health, Nova Scotia Health, IWK Health, Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, and Canadian Mental Health Association – Nova Scotia Division

On campus



No events


How does the Environment Contribute to Health Inequities in Atlantic Canada?  (Wednesday, 12pm, online) — Kelvin Fong will talk; from the listing:

My presentation will provide an overview of environmental epidemiology research and then discuss future research opportunities with a focus on Atlantic Canada. I will talk about the current landscape of environmental exposure assessment, motivated by air pollution and green space research, and how they can be applied to population health cohorts and databases. I will also introduce projects to understand how environmental factors, including climate change, contribute to mental health and health disparities.

In the harbour

05:30: Don Pasquale, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Zeebrugge, Belgium
05:30: One Cygnus, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
06:30: Discovery, research vessel, arrives at BIO from sea
07:00: Norwegian Pearl, cruise ship with up to 2,873 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Sydney, on a seven-day cruise from Quebec City to Boston 
07:00: Roald Amundsen, cruise ship with up to 600 passengers, arrives at Pier 23 from Corner Brook, on a 90-day cruise from Vancouver to Buenos Aires
08:30: Celebrity Summit, cruise ship with up to 2,100 passengers, arrives at Pier 23 from Bar Harbor, on an 11-day roundtrip cruise out of Boston
10:30: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, sails from Pier 42 for Palm Beach, Florida
13:30: Acadian, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
14:00: John J. Carrick, barge and Leo A. McArthur, tug, sail from McAsphalt for sea
15:30: MSC Rachele, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Baltimore
15:30: Don Pasquale sails for sea
16:00: Celebrity Summit sails for Sydney
16:30: Norwegian Pearl sails for Portland
17:45: Roald Amundsen sails for Sable Island
19:00: GPO Grace, heavy lifter, sails from IEL for sea
20:00: Orion, crane ship, sails from IEL for sea

Cape Breton
09:30: Zuiderdam, cruise ship with up to 2,364 passengers, arrives at Sydney Marine Terminal from Halifax, on a seven-day cruise from Boston to Quebec City
17:00: Zuiderdam sails for Charlottetown


I don’t want to idealize transit in other cities, because it sure has its problems — hello, streetcars that never show up, or end their routes early — but while we are still trying to figure out how to sell ferry tickets at the ferry terminal, the TTC lets you just tap your credit or debit card when you get on a bus or streetcar, or enter the subway. I still find the best way to get around downtown Toronto when I’m visiting is by bike share though.

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

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  1. I rely on Jim Abraham’s weather reporting on Twitter, @YHZweatherguy. That’s all that keeps me on Twitter.