NEWS

1. Halifax councillors question cost-saving deferrals for library, fire station projects

A brick building with a rusty metal sculpture outside is seen on a cloudy day.
The Halifax North Memorial Public Library Credit: Halifax Public Libraries

“Library renovations and a new fire station are being pushed to the back burner as Halifax struggles to balance the books,” reports Zane Woodford.

Halifax regional council’s budget committee met Wednesday to debate the 2023-2024 capital budget. Staff recommend funding $317.1 million worth of projects, vehicles, software, and more.

Last year, council planned for a higher number for 2023-2024, $344.3 million. But with rising inflation and a drop-off of property sales to pad the budget with deed transfer tax, finance staff cut or deferred $27.2 million in planned spending.

One project being pushed way out is a new fire station to serve West Bedford and Hammonds Plains.

The need for the station is well established, with a large population in the Larry Uteck Boulevard area and Hammonds Plains underserved by Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency. The municipality has already purchased land for the new station, the old Ben’s Bakery site off Hammonds Plains Road. And they’re planning to co-locate the new fire station with a new headquarters for HRFE.

As Woodford writes here, councillors had a lot of discussion around libraries, too. Coun. Trish Purdy said it’s “a little weird having fire and libraries at the same level of public safety,” while Deputy Mayor Sam Austin defended libraries, saying a library “is the safe place in the community, and I think we undervalue that at our peril.”

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2. Halifax taxi driver convicted of impaired driving wins appeal

A man wearing a plaid shirt and a black jacket speaks. Behind him there are blurry lights and a wooden door.
Alexander Sarukhanov speaks to the License Appeal Committee at its meeting at Halifax City Hall on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. Credit: Zane Woodford

“A Halifax taxi driver who was convicted of impaired driving will be back behind the wheel of a cab,” reports Zane Woodford.

Alexander Sarukhanov was convicted in 2021. After he got his provincial driver’s licence back, he applied to the municipality for a new taxi driver’s licence. The municipality said no, citing his conviction and his failure to notify licensing staff of his licence suspension. As the Halifax Examiner reported on Monday, Sarukhanov appealed that decision through his lawyer, Pavel Boubnov.

The municipality’s License Appeal Committee met Wednesday, and granted Sarukhanov’s appeal. The committee members — chair Mark Everett, Carine O’Brien, and Julien Matte — voted unanimously in favour of the appeal.

Boubnov told the committee his client wasn’t working at the time of what he called an “unfortunate incident” for which Sarukhanov is “deeply remorseful.” He said Sarukhanov left a party in 2020 and made the bad decision to drive. He put his vehicle in the ditch, the police charged him with impaired driving, and his driver’s licence was suspended for 90 days.

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3. Health care changes

A woman sits on a bench in front of the Halifax Infirmary's emergency department.
Halifax Infirmary emergency department in July, 2021. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

Jennifer Henderson has the details on the changes to emergency care announced on Wednesday by Karen Oldfield, Nova Scotia Health’s CEO, and Health Minister Michelle Thompson. You can read the whole story.

As Henderson reports, the changes come after two deaths at emergency departments in Nova Scotia: Allison Holthoff at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre in Amherst on Dec. 31, and Charlene Snow at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney on Dec. 30.

Here’s a list of the changes to emergency department care, some of which start this week:

  • Regional hospitals will get money to pay a designated doctor to supervise the triage of patients arriving by ambulance to reduce wait times. 
  • Starting this Saturday, every regional hospital will have a patient advocate to provide blankets, drinks, and comfort to patients in the waiting room. Additional care providers, as they can be recruited, will help with reassessing patients. 
  • Regional hospitals will hire physician assistants and nurse practitioners with the power to admit and discharge patients from emergency departments, reducing the pressure on doctors. 
  • Patients with fewer urgent needs will be offered a visit with an online emergency doctor. 1,300 patients at three hospitals have used virtual care while at emergency; two more hospitals will use this virtual system by March. 
  • A new app being used in Halifax that provides real-time data on where beds are and what tests are needed to get patients home faster will expand to other areas. 

Henderson has details on more of the changes, but she has response, too, from opposition parties about the plans for recruitment of health care workers.

Click here to read Henderson’s full story.

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4. What does real altruism look like?

Wooden Scrabble blocks that spell out, "do the good thing."
Credit: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

Over at Cape Breton Spectator, Rachel Haliburton has this column that caught my attention this morning. It’s all about effective altruism and one its notable proponents, Sam Bankman-Fried, head of the crypto trading platform FTX. Haliburton writes:

Effective altruism is, as the eponymous website puts it, “doing good better.” Effective altruists believe, among other things, that doing good is something that can be quantitatively measured (“some ways of doing good are over 100 times more effective than others”) and that “We can do a lot of good with our careers.” Interestingly enough, this does not mean that we should choose to be nurses or social workers or dentists or teachers, careers which have, as their very ethos, the goal of helping others; rather, it means that we should choose careers that make us rich, so that we will then have money which we can donate in “effective” ways.

I won’t give it all away, as you should read the entire column, but Haliburton argues that effective altruism “should be seen both as a cult and as a conjuring trick.”

Of course, while the rich may have their fans and their cults, there are other people who are doing real altruism that don’t get rich or even any credit. Haliburton writes:

So what does real altruism look like? I can’t help but take what British author Barbara Pym called “excellent women” as my model: excellent women (and men) are people who help their neighbors in quiet, practical and unspectacular ways, and who do not expect to be rewarded with either money or fame for doing so. They are personal support workers who clean up faeces and vomit while remaining kind to those they care for; they are church ladies who make sandwiches for the homeless; they are volunteers in palliative care homes who accompany those who are dying on their final journey. None of these activities will ever make headlines, and most of these people will never have the opportunity to speak with prime ministers and presidents, let alone influence taxation policy; but all of them make the world better for their neighbors, and for all of us who might someday need their care. And we can all emulate them, whether we have money or not.

I’d say many of us know these people. They quietly go about their lives, doing good things, and never asking credit for it. They don’t post about their altruism on social media for likes. And without them, our communities would be a mess.

I wrote about this back in December after I spoke with Kevin Little, a navigator with the Public Good Society of Dartmouth, about people wanting to do good deeds, but in a way that focuses on themselves. These people aren’t even rich, but there’s such a focus now on doing good deeds for social credit and “likes” on Facebook and Twitter.

Haliburton’s column is a good read. You can read it here.

Like the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is supported by subscribers. You can subscribe here.

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5. Nova Scotia-trained doctor leaves province for job in Boston

A photo of the sign for Dalhousie University. which features the Dalhousie logo, and the tagline "founded in 1818" on a white stone sign made to resemble a building with a dome.
A photo of the sign for Dalhousie University. Photo: contributed

Bruce Frisko at CTV Atlantic has this story about a doctor who trained at Dalhousie University and who wanted to stay in Nova Scotia to practice, but ended up moving to Boston instead. The issue? There was no residency here for her.

Born in India, Dr. Taha Khan finished her medical training at Dal in 2019.

Enrolled as part of an ongoing partnership between Dal and a university in Malaysia, she fell in love with the region and was anxious to stay when her studies finished. But a roadblock appeared when she realized there was no residency waiting for her.

“During my time at Dal, it sounds like there was a change in policy, perhaps. It’s unclear exactly what happened,” said Khan from her office in the Boston Medical Center.

“[It] essentially meant that visa-requiring medical graduates could no longer match to residencies in Canada, at any residency program at any university across Canada. It basically meant that we needed either permanent residency status or citizenship in order to match. Now that made it tricky because in order to get permanent resident status, you need to have a job offer, which, in our case is residency.”

“So, it was sort of a catch-22,” said Khan, adding Boston, Mass., is a great city, and hospital staff have been very welcoming.

CTV reached out to Nova Scotia’s Office of Healthcare Professionals Recruitment for comment. Here’s what they said:

Currently, the federal government requires international students training to become a doctor to have their permanent resident status to be matched with a residency opportunity in Nova Scotia. We know there is high demand for residency opportunities in this province, including Nova Scotian students studying at Dalhousie University.

The Province is reaching out to find out more about this situation.

Dalhousie, meanwhile says, that a partnership they’ve had with partnership with International Medical University in Malaysia since 1996 is now coming to an end soon. Here’s an email response from Dr. Darrell White, senior associate dean for the Faculty of Medicine:

When the IMU program was developed, the Canadian Residency Matching Service (CRMS), which is the national platform used for matching candidates to medical schools, had different residency/citizenship requirements than those that currently exist. While opportunities still exist for IMU students to remain in the region, their medical school seats are supernumerary positions that are funded by the students and do not have corresponding residency positions.

Developing residency training positions is a collaborative effort each year between the Department of Health and Wellness, Dalhousie Faculty of Medicine, and Nova Scotia Health. There are several elements that factor into residency seats, such as funding level, projected need in the province and physician training capacity.

CTV also spoke with Canada’s immigration minister, Sean Fraser, who said the feds are making changes to help newcomers get credentials to practice in their field.

We recently waived the requirement that a person not be self-employed when to come through certain economic streams for physicians,” Fraser said.

We’ve changed the rules under our federal economic streams to make it easier for the federal government to actually select newcomers by the sector that they work in, and we intend to use that this year to recruit more health-care workers.

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VIEWS

Stigma around renting: housing is a human right whether you rent or buy

A red and white sign that says house for rent stands on a mowed lawn with a pathway of square stones. In the background is a fenced in area.
There’s still stigma around renting and it does us no good in a housing crisis. Credit: Ivan Samkov/Pexels

Back in July 2020, I wrote this Morning File, “Stop shaming people for renting.”

I’m a renter and I have often received unsolicited advice about paying rent. I’ll just be minding my own business and living my life when someone will say, “you should buy a house.”

In that article, I argued that people preferred buying a home partly because owning a home was a symbol of middle class success:

It’s like marriage and parenthood. Consider how often women are shamed for being single and/or childless. Those comments come from the same place as the comments renters get about their choice to rent.

Why are houses/marriage/children the milestones of middle class success? Because other people can see them. You could have $1 million sewn into your mattress (I don’t), but if you rent the place where you live, you’re seen as less successful than the homeowner down the street.

I got thinking about this renting versus owning issue again now that we’re deep into a housing crisis. While the costs to buy a house certainly have kept many from buying a home, people who rent their housing find themselves worrying if they’ll have a place to live at all. Rents keep rising and in some cases entire buildings of tenants are renovicted all so landlords can put in a stainless steel fridge and new countertops, hike the rent, and call the apartments “luxury.”

And some people who pay rent are especially vulnerable in this housing crisis.

On Monday I spoke with Joanne Hussey, a community legal worker with Dalhousie Legal Aid, about this issue. Hussey represents the most vulnerable of renters in the city, those on low incomes.

“I think this is interesting since there are so many renter households in Nova Scotia,” she said. “It’s not uncommon to be a renter, and it’s not uncommon to be a renter at any point in your life. There’s not any single age group that dominates the rental market. That’s certainly part of the stigma. There’s this idea that it’s younger people or people who’ve made questionable choices about their finances.” 

Hussey said that the way we view renters, especially low-income renters, is the same way we view poverty: that it’s a personal moral failing.

“There’s this idea that people who are living in poverty somehow made choices that have put them there, as opposed to acknowledging it’s political choices that have put them there more often than not,” Hussey said. “There’s this sense that if you are in a rental unit and there are problems that is somehow your fault and you should have other options, which especially in the current situation, is not the case. “

“Frequently what is the case is the landlord is feeling pressure from their increasing costs to increase the rent, and in order to increase the rent under a 2% rent cap, they need to vacate the unit, and need to find somebody else to rent it to at a higher price. It really has very little, if anything, to do with who you are as an individual that you might be facing eviction.” 

I see this a lot, too, including in comments when people are evicted someone will inevitably mention, “Well, you should buy a house.” There are many valid reasons not to buy a home and choose to rent instead, yet the judgment falls on the tenants for being evicted or even renting in the first place.

It’s not unlike when I write about living wages and people who work in low-paying industries. Some people will tell me, “Well, they should just work harder and get a better job,” completely ignoring the fact that employers are failing to pay a living wage for what is essential work.

Credit: Unsplash

There are ways we can support people who choose to rent their homes. Hussey said Dalhousie Legal Aid has been part of the consultation process with the province around enforcement issues around tenancy and making sure landlords are following the proper processes. Hussey and I talked a bit about that when I wrote this story about a woman in Hants County working to get back an illegal security deposit she paid to a landlord.

She said her “constant refrain” is that whatever system is in place has to have enough flexibility to understand and appreciate that power imbalance that exists between landlords and tenants. 

“Landlords, by their nature, have the financial capacity to own multiple buildings,” Hussey said. “Generally speaking, they have an increased capacity to manage administrative processes or just to engage with government services. There really needs to be the sense that the loudest group may not always be the most truthful representation of what’s happening because there’s a huge group of people you’re never going to hear from.” 

Hussey stressed that whatever system is put in place, it shouldn’t become another system that criminalizes poverty.

“Particularly because it’s the government that sets income assistance rates, they know how much rent is, and they set income assistance rates far below what rent is, so we don’t need to have another government agency penalizing people who can’t pay their rent because the government says their rent is too low,” she said. “That’s not what we need right now.” 

Hussey said said there should be processes and spot checks to make sure landlords keep buildings in good shape and that they are healthy, accessible places to live. And processes can also make sure the leasing terms and rules around a rental are reasonable.

“Those things can make a big difference to make sure that tenants, particularly low-income tenants, have a higher quality of living in the places they’re able to afford and not putting the pressure on them to complain that something is not being fixed or something is not adequate,” Hussey said.  

Another issue is that while there are some groups that represent tenants, including when they find themselves facing renovictions, landlords are highly organized and have the staff to advocate on their behalf. There needs to be more groups for tenants.

“In Nova Scotia, we really, really do not have organized tenant groups,” Hussey said. “There are small neighbourhoods or buildings that are organized. ACORN obviously does a lot of work with tenants, but doesn’t represent a static group of tenants who are able to get access to decisionmakers in the same way. That really needs to be really understood.” 

But there’s more than can be done. Hussey said we need permanent rent control in the province that isn’t the 2% cap we have now.  

“The system we had in place in Nova Scotia in the 90s, before it was disbanded, it really is what we need to be looking to go back to. So, a system that has an appeal process so if landlords feel they made investments or that their costs have gone up so that they could exceed the increase,” she said. “So, that flexibility to take into account the way things change year to year. Having a rent cap that is based on something like CPI or like some measure that’s not within political control. Those are things that can give a lot more stability to renters and landlords. It gives everybody predictability.”

And the other issue is security of tenure that Hussey said landlords are avoiding by increasingly using fixed term leases.  

“Fixed term leases have a place,” Hussey said. “For some people, they’re very useful. In and of themselves, they’re not bad. The issue is when they’re used to remove the agency of the renter to decide whether or not they want to stay. In a fixed term lease, landlords get to decide if someone stays or not and don’t have to give a reason. That, again, is another really stark example of the power imbalance that exists.” 

Of course, I’m not against people buying houses. If people want to buy their homes there should be ways to support them, especially for young people buying their first homes. And there are policies that help owners, but there aren’t policies to support renters in their own financial goals. Generation Squeeze, a national research, education, and advocacy organization for Canadians in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, is doing work around this issue. I wrote about them in my last Morning File on the stigma around renting.

Generation Squeeze also has a campaign called We Rent. As the campaign mentions here, housing and tax policies favour homeowners with capital gains exemptions, RRSP tax breaks, and exclusionary zoning. The We Rent campaign’s big-picture goal is to create a welcoming community for renters, stabilize the existing market by protecting existing purpose-built rentals, understanding and regulating the secondary market, encouraging landlords to get certified, and ensuring strong tenant relocation policies.

Hussey suggested we should all really have to see why homeownership is the goal. 

“I think increasingly we’re seeing housing used as an investment vehicle rather than a home and I think those two things are linked,” she said. “If housing is an investment vehicle first and a home second, then yes, it has a link to this financial security piece. But if housing are homes, we just really need to make sure that everyone has one.” 

I fear we have a long way to go to reduce the stigma around renting. Earlier this week I was reading the comments on a community Facebook page in response to an apartment building being proposed for the area. The application for the building was denied for several reasons, including “compatibility with the community.” Does that mean the building wasn’t compatible with the community and the houses around it? Or does compatibility with the community mean the tenants who would rent the apartments wouldn’t be compatible with other residents? I’m not sure compatibility with community is a phrase that should be on the lips of anyone while we’re facing a housing crisis.

We have to deal with this stigma around renting. Housing is a right after all, whether you rent or buy. 

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Government

City

Today

Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — also online

Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Thursday, 1:30pm, City Hall) — also online

Active Transportation Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, online) — agenda

Youth Advisory Committee (Thursday, 5pm, Power House Youth Centre, Bell Road) — agenda

Tomorrow

Budget Committee Meeting (Friday, 9:30am, City Hall) — agenda

Province

Health (Thursday, 10am, One Government Place) — Funding for Public Health in Nova Scotia; with representatives from the Department of Health and Wellness, NSHA, and Dalhousie University


On campus

Dalhousie

Today

Active Learning Classroom Open House (Thursday, 12pm, Room 2017, Marion McCain Building) — more info here

Culturally Responsive Healthcare to Reduce Gender Based Violence (Thursday, 5:30pm, online) — discussion with Wanda Thomas Bernard, Abieyuwa Olowu, Nancy Ross, Dennis Adams, Sue Bookchin, Diving Gbeve Onyenike, and Steph Zubriski; with AI-generated captions

Tomorrow

Decarcerating Disability through the Courts: Deinstitutionalization and Prison Abolition (Friday, 12pm, online) — Liat Ben-Moshe from the University of Illinois at Chicago will talk

‘These small sumptomes of my obediense’: Negotiating Father-Son Conflict through Letter-Writing in Early Modern England (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building and online) — Adriana Benzaquén will talk


In the harbour

Halifax
07:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from anchorage to Autoport
08:00:  Ale, bulker, moves from Bedford Basin anchorage to Pier 9
08:00: Kamarina, tug, moves from Bedford Basin anchorage to Anchorage #10 
11:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves to Pier 41
14:00: MSC Tamara, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Sines, Portugal
15:30: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
16:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
21:00: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia

Cape Breton
8:00: AlgoNorth, oil tanker, arrives at Government Wharf (Sydney) from Halifax
15:00: CSL Kajika, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea


Footnotes

When I searched our media library for photos anything to do with “rent” or “renting,” every photo I’ve taken for the Examiner that includes my name in the credit shows up. Such is the life of having the last name Rent.

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Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent

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5 Comments

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  1. All levels of government could and should do a lot more for renters. Cities treat renters like second-class citizens, and typically charge property taxes (bundled into the rent) at a higher effective rate than homeowners pay, despite the very low costs of providing municipal services to apartment buildings. There are many programs to assist homeowners with their expenses, including property improvements, and to help older homeowners stay in their homes and preserve their wealth (for example, property tax deferral). There’s almost nothing for renters. Unfortunately, renters are less able to advocate for themselves, since they may be more transient than homeowners, have lower incomes, and less free time.

  2. I’ve owned (actually the bank owned, I just contributed to the mortgage) and I’ve rented. I much prefer renting. I do not have to save for repairs, do maintenance, shovel snow, or worry when the washing machine/fridge/stove etc stops working at the most inconvenient time. I love my apartment and hope to stay here for a very long time. For now, my rent is very reasonable and I hope it stays that way when the rent cap ends at the end of this year. I do not want the fancy dishwasher and brushed steel appliances they are putting in other units as people move out, nor do I want the much higher rents. My bachelor costs me $624 currently ($636 come April 1); the renovated one in the next building is listed online at $1,399. I actually have more cupboard space, something we all need no matter how many fancy appliances our landlord might include. Sure, it would be nice to have a second electrical outlet in my kitchen, but even that isn’t worth a greater than 100% increase in my rent.

  3. Dr Goes to Boston !! this seems like racism to me . I they wanted her here they could have made it happen . Can this just be stupidity ! it never seems to end .
    Somehow they can get a drunk taxi driver his license back !

  4. Well, we don’t need doctors today as much as we did on Monday because the ER fairy will provide blankets and coffee for the 8 hours we wait to see anyone. Just get comfy and shut up.

  5. I can’t see an explanation for the high condo prices we are seeing other than speculative behavior / fomo – for instance, an older 2bedroom condo sold in Clayton park for $320,000 with $440 fees – with 5% down, that’s 2200 a month. Meanwhile, you can rent a similar apartment for $1200.

    $1000 a month is not chump change, especially because you do not need to budget for interior repairs of your apartment. Perhaps some of the FOMO comes from the thought that while buying a condo might have much higher initial monthly costs, in a decade your rent will be the same as the mortgage+fees, while the mortgage cannot change except in response to interest rates.