1. Angela Simmonds resigns
After being elected, Simmonds was appointed as the Liberal critic for justice, seniors and long-term care, and African Nova Scotian Affairs.
She also serves as the first Deputy Speaker of African descent in the Nova Scotia legislature. She will also be stepping down from that role April 1.
Simmonds is also the first African Nova Scotian to run for the leadership of a major provincial political party. In July 2022, Simmonds was unsuccessful in her candidacy to lead the provincial Liberals against current Liberal leader, Zach Churchill.
A rising star in the party — first elected just two years ago, a former leadership candidate, and deputy speaker — resigning abruptly and without offering much of a reason is unusual, to say the least.
2. Province, city at odds over commercial tax plan
Last year, Halifax regional council passed a new tiered commercial tax system. It creates new commercial zones, with different tax rates. The big change is that businesses in “power centres” (what a ridiculous term) and industrial areas are taxed at a higher rate than businesses downtown, or in areas with business improvement districts.
Because some businesses in the industrial parks will see considerable increases to their commercial tax bills, the city also passed By-Law C-1200, which would allow property owners facing significant increases to average their taxes over three years.
The problem, Zane Woodford reports, is that the province is refusing to approve the by-law. Woodford writes:
“On January 11, 2023, the Municipality received notice from [Municipal Affairs and Housing] that the department will not approve the by-law for HRM’s implementation on April 1, 2023,” chief financial officer Jerry Blackwood wrote in a report to council’s Wednesday budget committee meeting.
“But subsequent to receiving that letter, we have been invited to have further discussions with them,” chief administrative officer Cathie O’Toole told councillors on Wednesday. “We will be meeting with the province on that and we will be providing an update once we have that meeting.”
Coun. Tim Outhit questioned why the municipality isn’t kicking up a fuss about it…
“What did we do to get the word out when that wasn’t approved? Did we put out any kind of a press release or did we put anything out saying, ‘Sorry, small business we were trying to help you with your increases but we weren’t allowed to do it?’” Outhit said.
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Yvette d’Entremont reports that Nova Scotia physiotherapists think they could play a role in helping patients at emergency rooms. She writes:
The president of the Nova Scotia Physiotherapy Association says physiotherapists could play a role in helping the province’s overwhelmed emergency departments but they’ve been overlooked.
“If our full, optimized scope of practice is used, we can unload a lot of the burden on the health care system. But we need to be used,” Monica MacDonald said in an interview.
“In the ER department specifically, we have the capacity to reduce patient wait times, length of stay, the intake of medication, and reduction of pain and disability. Outcomes and overall satisfaction are improved, and there’s less frequent follow up.”
Quebec has seen positive results with physiotherapists working in ERs. d’Entremont’s story reports some very interesting facts and figures to come out of the Quebec experience.
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A few weeks ago, I wrote about business owners complaining that removing on-street parking and putting in bike lanes was bad for business. I pointed to a couple of studies showing increased sales following the installation of bike lanes.
Today, more evidence, via an article in Wired called “The Battle Over Bike Lanes Needs a Mindset Shift.” I am only noticing as I write this that the piece is by Clive Thompson, who I’ve quoted in the Morning File before.
There are a few reasons why bike lanes might wind up providing more business traffic, and Thompson summarizes several of them in this paragraph:
The truth is that in fairly dense areas, bikes are more efficient at moving people around. You might lose one car driver’s business — but you gain shoppers who now can arrive more easily on bikes. “Cyclists and pedestrians are consumers too,” notes Susan Handy, a professor of environmental science and policy at UC Davis… Plus, streets redesigned for bikes and pedestrians tend to become more pleasant places to loiter, so “in a lot of cases, that’s created much nicer environments that are really good for those businesses.”
Here’s the thing I found fascinating. Even when presented with evidence that bike lanes were good for business, many business owners refused to believe it. Thompson points to a stretch of Skillman Avenue in Queens, where sales increased more at businesses along a new stretch of bike lane — 116 parking spots had been removed — than in other parts of the borough:
Cyclists loved the plan, but local business owners went ballistic. Taking out those parking spots, as they argued at protests and in letters to the city council, would devastate stores and restaurants along Skillman. “Parking here is already a nightmare,” one fumed at a protest rally…
Early this year, Jesse Coburn — an investigative writer with Streetsblog New York — wondered whether those predictions of economic collapse came true. So he asked the city’s Department of Finance to give him a few years’ worth of sales figures for that stretch of Skillman Ave. How had the businesses on that street fared?
Quite well, it turns out. In the year after the bike lanes arrived, businesses on Skillman saw sales rise by 12 percent, compared to 3 percent for Queens in general. What’s more, that section of road saw new businesses open, while Queens overall had a net loss.
The thing is, the actual merchants along Skillman? They didn’t believe it. When Coburn spoke to them and described what he’d found, only a few store owners admitted the lanes had helped. Many still insisted the lanes were killing their part of the city.
It’s worth reading the full piece for some insights on why this might be.
Selling sobriety: drinking, fun, and the culture of alcohol
Dry January is coming to a close. For those unfamiliar with the idea, well, it does not refer to a lack of rain. The idea is to not drink alcohol for the month, presumably to make up for any potential over-indulgence in December.
I did not participate in dry January, but then again, I’m not much of a drinker. We did enjoy some delicious non-alcoholic cocktails over the course of the month, but I also had a (very) few drinks, including a couple of glasses of the aptly named Writer’s Tears Irish whiskey.
I like alcohol, in very moderate amounts. I realized several years ago that I don’t really like drinking at social events. I’m happy to have a non-alcoholic beer (now that they have become so much better!), or some juice or a soft drink. I don’t move in circles where there is a lot of pressure to drink. Anecdotally, based purely on what people I know have told me, (please share your experience, if you like, in the comments) it seems to me that women, especially young women, face more pressure to drink in social situations.
Anything that makes us stop and re-assess our habits seems like a healthy thing to me. Maybe you try dry January and decide, you know what? I’m better off without alcohol. Maybe it was fine, but you’d rather continue to enjoy alcohol. In our consumer culture, though, anything that becomes a thing becomes a thing that allows people to sell you stuff.
I am OK with being sold some stuff for dry January. The non-alcoholic cocktail kits we got from Temperance Tonics were lovely. What I’m talking about is selling programs, lifestyles, trackers… stuff.
New York City-based writer Annie Tressler writes about this in a recent issue of P.E. Moskowitz’s excellent Mental Hellth newsletter. In a piece called “Instagram Alcoholism,” Tressler writes about her drinking over the course of the pandemic years, and how she became “flung into the online world of #sobriety, a place seemingly antithetical to my understanding of traditional “sobriety,” where anonymity remained paramount — where teetotaling and drinking less was often a lifestyle adjustment or another way to improve #mentalhealth and invest further into #wellness.”
Tressler says “The Algorithm” discovered she was interested in sobriety and started feeding her ads for apps and alcohol-free beverages. She writes:
I knew I needed to overhaul my relationship with drinking, but the barrage of social media messaging depressed me. What I needed most was community and connection, where I wasn’t being peddled the next best “get damp quick” method. And instead, I was getting Instagram Capitalism.
Big Sobriety, which looks a lot like the oft-nefarious “wellness industry” was touting itself as a valiant alternative to Big Alcohol and thus a solution to Big Alcoholism. Companies were tapping into our desire to curtail bad habits forged in isolation and uncertainty, and cashing in on the fact that the pandemic has spawned a veritable nation of lushes, one subscription at a time, and our government was failing (once again) to reign in a veritable “public health crisis.”
As with so much, we choose to individualize issues that require community — and we turn them into fixing ourselves through more crap we can buy.
Dr. Timothy Naimi, director of the University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research tells Tressler about “the oxymoronic ‘self-regulation’ of advertising companies who sell alcohol, creating a culture where drinking is touted as a sexy salve to our collective problems or a conduit of joy.” She adds:
Additionally, basic communication from the government on how alcohol is a known carcinogenic or the addition of labels on drinks could also benefit drinkers and aid in better choice making. “By the time people develop an alcohol use disorder, we’re a day late and a dollar short… so we shouldn’t pretend it’s surprising (we have a problem with alcohol),” he said.
There has been a lot in the news recently about the dangers of alcohol, and new proposed guidelines that say we should avoid consuming more than two drinks a week. I have found the messaging around this extremely reasonable and informative. Essentially, it says look, we’ve learned more than we used to know, too much alcohol is bad for you, this is how much we think is OK, take your own risk factors and comfort level into account and use the information to make your own decisions.
Inevitably, some have decided this is a war on fun, and going too far.
Humans and alcohol have a long history. Perhaps this is self-indulgent, but I will quote from my own book:
Beer is one of humanity’s oldest beverages. Patrick McGovern, aka “the beer archaeologist,” has devoted his career to studying and helping re-create ancient alcoholic beverages. He’s confirmed that pottery jars from China held a fermented drink made from rice, honey, and fruit about 9,000 years agoand discovered the oldest known barley beer, from the mountains of Iran. (It dates from 3,400 BC.)
Alcohol — and fermented foods and drinks generally — have been key to humanity’s development. But that doesn’t mean we can’t rethink our relationship to drinking. And it doesn’t mean we need to buy a whole bunch of stuff to do it.
Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On
I have experienced two noticeable earthquakes. When I say noticeable, I mean ones that make you feel, “Oh shit, I’m in an earthquake,” and not ones where you go, “Oh, the ground’s shaking a bit. Must be an earthquake. Cool!” I say noticeable instead of significant, because even though they briefly scared the bejesus out of me, they were not strong enough to cause any damage.
One of these earthquakes was on the Greek island of Zakynthos, where my partner and I were living at the time. Greece is in a very active earthquake zone, and it’s not uncommon to feel the ground, well, quake beneath your feet. In those days, the phone books in Greece had information on the first few pages about what to do during an earthquake.
I can’t remember the magnitude of the earthquake in Zakynthos, but it was strong enough that I could see waves rippling through the concrete walls in our second-storey apartment, and that we got the hell out of the building, just in case. The guy who ran the corner store down the block laughed when I came in and said something about the earthquake. Oh that, was his attitude. It scared you? Really? Why?
Oh, I don’t know, maybe because an earthquake destroyed almost every single building on the island in 1953?
Earthquakes and volcanoes are great reminders that we live on an active, living, dynamic planet. I recently started following the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC)’s Mastodon feed, which draws on seismological data to indicate whenever there has been an earthquake, anywhere in the world.
Here’s the thing I’ve learned about earthquakes: They happen all the time. Constantly. Chances are, as you are reading this, the ground is shaking somewhere.
Here is what the feed is showing as I write this:
- Indonesia, 4.3 (magnitude), 5 minutes ago
- Nepal, 3.9, 13 minutes ago
- California, 2.0, 15 minutes ago
- Greece, 3.2, 21 minutes ago
- Indonesia, 4.4, 32 minutes ago
- Greece, 3.5, 38 minutes ago
- Malta, 3.4, 43 minutes ago
- Greece, 2.5, 1 hour ago
- Papua New Guinea, 3.1, 1 hour ago
And so on.
The website Earthquake Track logs all earthquakes over magnitude 1.5, and offers a searchable database, including maps. When I tab over to it, I can see there have been 184 earthquakes over the last 24 hours, with the strongest being a 4.2 near Malibu Beach, a 6.4 near Campo Gallo, Argentina, and a 5.9 in the South Aegean. There were nearly 50,000 earthquakes recorded over the last year.
One of my fellow King’s MFA students a few years ago was Gregor Craigie, who hosts the CBC morning show in Victoria. Craigie thought about earthquakes a lot. In fact, he wrote a book about them called On Borrowed Time: North America’s Next Big Quake. You know the feeling when you’ve had some kind of epiphany — a revelation — and you can’t believe everyone else is just going about their daily lives and paying no attention to the thing you’ve noticed? That’s what Craigie was like with earthquakes.
Living on the West Coast, he talked about knowing the next big one is coming. Everyone knows it’s coming. And yet, people go about their daily lives (because what else are they going to do), but without thinking about earthquake prep. Even worse, cities are full of buildings that will perform poorly in an earthquake, yet he wasn’t seeing a whole lot of urgency to fix the problem.
Craigie was interviewed for the Victoria publication Capital Daily in late 2021. Here’s an excerpt from the story, by Megan Clark:
The Pacific coast is the most earthquake-prone part of Canada, and yet concern over this fact seems to occupy far less time in the collective consciousness than it should.
“The longer you live in a place and nothing happens, the more confident you feel,” Craigie says.
In face of the overwhelming requirements of preparation, he preaches moderation and small steps.
Quoting organizational psychologist Robert Gifford, he says, “You can’t stop the earthquake from happening, but you can stop it from killing you.” For this, Craigie tells me there are three things Victorians need to know, are capable of doing, and can start doing today.
- Get an earthquake emergency kit ready for your house.
- Pay attention to the buildings you spend the most time in.
- Talk to your neighbours.
As an Examiner reader, fortunately, you likely won’t need to have your residence inspected to make sure it is seismically sound.
While much of the world experiences earthquakes with some regularity, here in Nova Scotia we do not. (I guess we make up for it with hurricanes and post-tropical storms.) Here is the local earthquake data for the last year:
- 0 earthquakes in the past 24 hours
- 0 earthquakes in the past 7 days
- 0 earthquakes in the past 30 days
- 0 earthquakes in the past 365 days
Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall and online) — agenda
Budget Committee (Friday, 9:30am, City Hall and online) — agenda
From surface ozone pollution to ocean-air gas fluxes in Halifax, Nova Scotia (Thursday, 11:45am, Milligan Room, Life Sciences Centre) — Aldona Wiacek from Saint Mary’s University will talk
Panel Discussion and Conversations on Intentional Erasures (Thursday, 5:30pm, online) — with Isaac Saney, Michelle Sutherland-Allan, Yahya El-Lahib, Cynthia Conley, Nduka Otiono; moderated by Marion Brown; more info here
Dal Reads 2022/2023: The Skin We’re In (Thursday, 7pm, LeMarchant Place Atrium) — author Desmond Cole in conversation with El Jones; from the listing:
In this bracing, revelatory work of award-winning journalism, celebrated writer and activist Desmond Cole punctures the naive assumptions of Canadians who believe we live in a post-racial nation. Chronicling just one year in the struggle against racism in this country, The Skin We’re In reveals in stark detail the injustices faced by Black Canadians on a daily basis: the devastating effects of racist policing, the hopelessness produced by an education system that fails Black children, the heartbreak of those separated from their families by discriminatory immigration laws, and more. Cole draws on his own experiences as a Black man in Canada, and locates the deep cultural, historical, and political roots of each event. What emerges is a personal, painful, and comprehensive picture of entrenched, systemic inequality.
On Watery Ground: Photographing Everyday Life on a Sinking Island in Swastik Pal’s The Hungry Tide Project (Friday, 12pm, Room 3111, Mona Campbell Building) — Nandini Thiyagarajan from Acadia University will talk
Narrative of Nature and Culture: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building and online) — Julia Poertner from Dalhousie University will talk
Film Screening: Athlete A (Thursday, 3pm, SB 401) — with guest speaker Cheryl MacDonald
An Evening of Poetry with the SMU Reading Series (Thursday, 7pm, SMU Art Gallery) — featuring poets Nolan Natasha and Angela Bowden
Conference of the Early Modern (Friday, 6pm, KTS Lecture Hall) — continues Saturday; more info here
In the harbour
04:30: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
05:30: AlgoTitan, oil tanker, moves from Imperial Oil to Bedford Basin anchorage
05:30: MSC Rossella, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Gioia Tauro, Italy
11:00: Grande Torino, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Valencia, Spain
16:00: Atlantic Sea sails for New York
No arrivals or departures.
I was going to wait until the rain lets up to walk the dogs, but if I do that I’ll probably wind up waiting all day.