News

1. Mass Casualty Commission: letter to RCMP Commissioner critical of political pressure during investigation

Photo: Government of Canada

Jennifer Henderson has the latest story from the Mass Casualty Commission. Last week, Henderson and the Halifax Examiner broke a story that suggested the head of the national RCMP, at the behest of the federal Liberal Party, potentially compromised an active investigation into the April 18/19 mass murders for political purposes.

The story boils down to this: according to handwritten notes from Nova Scotia RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell released by the Mass Casualty Commission, a week after the shootings that killed 22 Nova Scotians, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki pressured Campbell to disclose details about the guns used by the killer in a media briefing. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair had allegedly asked Lucki to make that information public to help his party’s efforts to introduce gun control legislation. Campbell rejected the request, concerned it could jeopardize an ongoing cross-border investigation into how the gunman obtained three out of his four illegal guns from people in Maine, and was rebuked by Lucki after the briefing.

Both Blair and Lucki have denied the allegation, but a letter obtained by the Examiner — now available in full online — bolsters the claim.

The letter in question was penned by Nova Scotia strategic communications director Lia Scanlan, who, like Campbell, was also admonished for not releasing information about the guns. It was written to Lucki and discusses the meeting in which the commissioner met with Campbell and Scanlan.

It also discusses the disconnect between RCMP headquarters in Ottawa and H Division in Nova Scotia. From the letter:

Our friend and colleague was murdered, there were over twenty individual stories of unbelievable terror that will haunt us forever, and employees were falling apart physically and mentally. Our members were looking to their leaders for help and reassurance. Suffice it to say, what we were facing in Nova Scotia, day in and day out, likely looked and felt very different from the vantage point in Ottawa.

The letter backs up Campbell’s handwritten notes from the spring of 2020. It also means the Mass Casualty Commission — which was meant to investigate how this shooting happened, how it was dealt with, and how something similar could be prevented in the future — will now also have to ask questions about how politics and an RCMP Commissioner tried to influence police communication to the public.

Click here to read Henderson’s article on the revelations found in the newly discovered letter.

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2. Halifax City Hall: Centennial Pool, renaming Cornwallis Street, UBI, and more

Zane Woodford has all the latest from Tuesday’s Halifax regional council meeting. Here’s a breakdown of what was discussed.

First, councillors voted to start planning to replace Centennial Pool with a new 50-metre pool off the peninsula that meets Canada Games requirements. The Centennial is 55 years old, was leaking, and isn’t fit for swim competitions. It was closed two years for renovations, but recently reopened. Included in this motion is the prioritization of the replacement of the pool at Needham Community Centre, which was originally slated for 2023, but has been pushed back to at least 2026.

The Centennial Pool in Halifax. Google Streetview

Council also considered what to do about the potential sale of Centennial Pool. Right now, the facility’s parking lot is home to modular units that were created to alleviate HRM’s housing crisis.

Second, council voted to express its support for a universal basic income. To be funded by the feds, of course.

Also up for discussion, a new name for Cornwallis Street. Five new replacement options have been drawn from a list of 673 suggestions submitted during public consultation. They are:

  • African Baptist
  • Nora Bernard
  • Rocky Jones
  • Reconciliation
  • Dr. Alfred Waddell

Staff will now combine those five names with a previously approved list of street names to create a shortlist.

And lastly, council voted to add the United Memorial Church in Halifax’s North End to the municipal heritage registry.

Click here to read Woodford’s council roundup. 

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3. Group wants heritage protection for house where Nova Scotia’s first Black doctor treated those injured in Halifax Explosion

Left: Dr. Clement Ligoure. Right: The North Street house where he treated hundreds of patients injured in the Halifax Explosion.

A hundred years ago, Dr. Clement Ligoure ran a medical clinic out of a house that still stands on North Street in Halifax. Ligoure, a Trinidadian who came to Canada to study medicine and co-founded Canada’s first and only all-Black military regiment in the First World War, was the sole doctor working in the north end at the start of the 20th century. He was also the province’s first Black physician.

The clinic Ligoure ran on North Street became instrumental following the Halifax Explosion. Ligoure worked day and night, free of charge, to care for an overwhelming number of injured people in the weeks following the disaster.

Now, the house where he performed that public service could be in jeopardy.

Under Halifax’s Centre Plan, the area where the former clinic is located has been rezoned to allow for taller buildings. As Matthew Byard reports, one group fear old houses in the neighbourhood could be demolished to make way for taller developments. Byard writes:

The Friends of the Halifax Common have submitted an application to Halifax Regional Municipality to have what remains of that building on North Street designated a historic property. And they’ve hired a historian to research the site and make the case for preserving it.

Byard’s article goes into the impressive backstory of Nova Scotia’s first Black doctor, and why locals think his old home and practice deserves to be preserved.

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4. Housing crisis hitting South Shore hard; families sleeping in tents

Protesters at the police eviction of a homeless encampment at the former Memorial Library in Halifax, Aug. 18, 2021. Photo: Tim Bousquet / Halifax Examiner

There’s been a lot of talk about the changing face of homelessness in this province. While it shouldn’t matter what people you find sleeping on the streets — it’s a failure of our society for anyone to be without shelter — this is a prime example of that demographic shift.

Reporting for the CBC Tuesday, Nicola Seguin spoke with Jessica Smith, whose family of seven have been sheltering at a campground since they lost a short-term rental they’d moved to after their house burned down in September. From Seguin’s story:

“There’s been nothing available and if something is available, then it’s either way out of our price range or our family’s just too big,” Smith told CBC’s Mainstreet on Monday.

“We never thought that we would be in a situation that we would have to be homeless with our children,” Smith said, adding that she and her husband both work full-time jobs.

“We provide very well for our family but, just at the moment, we can’t provide a home for them.”

In Seguin’s article, Lisa Ryan, the executive director of the South Shore Open Doors Association, said multiple families are living in similar situations as rental and housing costs continue to rise, while the vacancy rate lowers, and shelters aren’t available to people in the rural communities along the South Shore. Ryan said an influx of new residents, an increase in vacation homes and short-term rentals, and skyrocketing inflation have also exacerbated the problem.

For better or worse, when people working full-time trying to support a family can’t find or afford shelter, you’ve got to believe more Nova Scotians will become conscientious and concerned about the growing homelessness crisis in this province.

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Views

Stuck on stick: clinging to the manual in an automatic world

Photo: The Blowup/Unsplash

Before a friend of mine went to Europe last month, she asked me if she could use my car to learn the art of the manual transmission. Apparently it’s far cheaper to rent a standard over there, so she and her boyfriend had booked one even though neither of them knew how to shift gears without the aid of a machine. The learning curve, they figured, would be well worth the savings.

I love frugality far more than I love my car, so I agreed to help.

A week later, on a quiet side street in my neighbourhood, her training began. It went as expected: multiple stalls, sputters, and peel outs accompanied by panic and hyperventilation. After an hour and a half, she was over it. Satisfied she could at least get the car moving, albeit with the grace of a wounded gazelle, she lost interest in taking another lesson. I’d done all I could.

Soon after my friend left for Europe ⁠— she reported zero car crashes, by the way ⁠— I took my girlfriend Leslie out for a few lessons. She said she was keen to learn, and I wanted a second chance at teaching. I also thought it’d be helpful if she could drive my car when I’d had too much to drink she needed it. More generally, I just figured it’s be a good skill to have.

Is it, though?

Manual cars, in North America especially, have been on their way out for some time now. Like thoughtful discussion and common decency in politics, they were uncommon when I first got my licence and have only become rarer to find.

Only 1% of cars produced for sale in the US have manual transmissions, according to the New York Times. And a 2016 report found only 18% of Americans know how to operate one. I can’t imagine it’s much different for Canada.

In Europe, they’re far more common (see my anecdote at the top of this piece) but it’s likely to change there too. Why?

Most new cars models are only sold as automatics. If you can believe it, Ferrari, Lambourghini, and Corvette no longer offer manual options. Not that that makes any difference to my life. But even affordable manufacturers like Volkswagen will soon stop making them.

Automatic transmissions have improved to the point where they’re comparable, if not superior, in terms of efficiency, safety, and performance. Couple that with the fact that they’re easier to drive, and the world has a decreasing customer demand for the stick. I didn’t mean for that to sound suggestive, but I won’t edit that sentence. (Editor’s note: I won’t either. – Suzanne)

The real death knell though, the reason I questioned whether it was even worth Leslie’s time to learn how to shift gears manually, comes from the electric car. If car manufacturers are truly moving toward a gas-free future, the manual transmission is guaranteed to become a relic. So is the automatic transmission. That’s because an electric motor, as opposed to a gas-powered engine, can deliver maximum torque at any speed. As such, electric cars don’t have transmissions or gearbox.

That’s a nice feature of electric vehicles. Fewer moving parts means less maintenance. If you’ve ever had trouble with your transmission, you’ll know it’s usually accompanied by a lightening of the wallet.

But I bemoan the inevitable loss of the stick shift.

That’s coming from someone who’s never had any interest in cars beyond their most pragmatic, transportive function.

I can’t locate the radiator, would much rather rely on CAA to change my tire, and will never be tempted to buy a sports car as part of my mid-life crisis. I’m just an OK driver. Not great, but not fear-inducing. A simple A-to-B man, you might say.

Yet, knowing how to drive stick gives the illusion that I know what I’m doing. It makes me appear cool and competent, even though almost anyone can quickly pick up this skillset. It’s like the adult version of learning to ride a bicycle.

More than the appearance it gives, it’s just a more engaging and enjoyable way to drive. The difference between driving manual and automatic is like the difference between cooking a full meal and reheating one. One requires timing, coordination, mental juggling, and multi-tasking; all your limbs are engaged and you’re concentration is high. The other requires you to push a button. You’ll eat either way, but cooking’s a lot more interesting.

For that reason, perhaps against popular opinion, I actually prefer driving stick in city traffic, especially in gridlock. It’s the only way I can tolerate it. When I have to focus on the clutch, stick, and traffic, I have no time to think about all the things I could be doing aside from crawling along a bumper-to-bumper thoroughfare. It becomes a game, though hills offer a challenge I don’t always enjoy. Looking at you, Prince Street. Driving isn’t my favourite activity — I’d rather be a passenger, usually — but driving automatic is soporific to the extreme.

There are other benefits. Less automation means less to maintain. You’re car is apparently less likely to get stolen in North America, because most thieves can’t drive it away. For the same reason, you always have a ready-made, guilt-free excuse not to lend your car to your reckless friends. Plus they’re often cheaper, since demand is so low. I saved a bit of money on mine because no one would buy a stick shift.

So I’m happy to teach Leslie, and not just because high-stress situations bring out the best in couples. But because she ought to learn how to drive a car, not just ride one. It’ll be a thing of the past soon, just like combustion engines. Ultimately, that’s a good thing, for the planet. Just a shame for drivers, even us non-car guys.

In an increasingly automated world, there’s something so satisfying about shifting gears yourself. I’ll miss it.

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Noticed

Nova Scotia and the Stanley Cup

Lord Stanley’s Cup. Photo: Josh Appel/Unsplash

Another year, another American champion of hockey.

For the 28th year in a row, a US team has won a trophy meant to go to “the champion hockey team in the Dominion” of Canada. Tomorrow morning the Stanley Cup will be paraded down the streets of Denver to celebrate the Colorado Avalanche’s championship season.

More than half the team is comprised of Canadians. That’s small consolation for hockey fans up here.

One player on that championship roster has a strong Halifax connection. Nathan MacKinnon was born and raised in HRM and once led the Mooseheads to a Memorial Cup.

But since that connection to the Stanley Cup is peripheral for us Bluenosers, I’d like to draw notice to three Nova Scotian teams that made a run for hockey’s ultimate prize. The only three teams from this province ever to play for it: the Halifax Crescents, Sydney Millionaires, and New Glasgow Cubs.

Forget about Toronto’s drought; it’s been more than a hundred years since teams from our province have had a crack at the Cup.

I’d heard before that a Halifax team had competed for it, but Sydney? And, more eyebrow-raising… New Glasgow??

I only learned about this when I stumbled on a book from Halifax Unravel editor Trevor J. Adams while sifting through the library this week. Long Shots: The Curious Story of the Four Maritime Teams that Played for the Stanley Cup tells the story of those three teams, plus the Moncton Victorias. It’s a light read, at 148 pages — records for Maritime hockey were sparse back then — making it perfect for a weekend getaway this summer. Especially for those who feel hockey withdrawal in July.

Nova Scotia’s only three Stanley Cup appearances all came up short. They came at a time when the Stanley Cup was challenged for. Top teams from around Canada would challenge the previous winner to a series, rather than meet at the end of a playoff. The Cup only started to be awarded in something resembling the present format in 1915. NHL teams became the sole competitors in 1927. 

It was a different time.

The Halifax Crescents, which played for the Cup in 1900, played under seven-man rules when newspaper reports referred to bodychecks as “tackles.” They were routed by the Montreal Shamrocks in a best of three, losing 10-2 and 11-0.

New Glasgow — I still can’t get over that — faced a similar drubbing in a best of three against the Montreal Wanderers, losing 10-3 and 7-2.

In 1913, so far the last time a Nova Scotian team has played for the Cup, the Sydney Millionaires had one last chance to at least salvage some dignity for this province’s hockey fans. They failed.

The Millionaires lost 14-3 in the first game, then a much more respectable 6-2 in the second. 

Here’s Adams recapping the dominant performance of Quebec star Joe Malone in that first embarrassing loss:

Phantom Joe Malone surely seemed like a spirit to the beleaguered Sydney players. Playing professional hockey since its earliest days, Cap had seen dazzling offensive stars before. But Malone was something new. McDonald would see him blazing down the ice and line him up for a thundering check, only to have the Phantom shift speed and direction at the last minute, sidestepping the hit and driving on the net.

Malone was everywhere on the ice, unless a Millionaire was trying to check or cover him – then he was nowhere to be found. He put on one of the most amazing displays of offence in Stanley Cup history, scoring 9 goals – a tremendous feat, even in those high-offence days. (But not a Stanley Cup record: Ottawa Silver Seven Frank McGee scored 14 goals, including 8 in a span of 8:20, in a single game when Dawson City challenged for the Cup in 1905. Even more remarkable, McGee had only one eye, having lost his left to a high stick in a game in 1900). The game summary, written by an unnamed official of dry wit, used the achievement to offer the Millionaires some faint praise: “Joe Malone seized the opportunity to make a try for Frank McGee’s record. However, the Sydney defence was a bit better than Dawson City and Phantom Joe settled for nine goals.”

The final score was Quebec 14, Sydney 3. By all accounts, it was three more goals than Sydney deserved.

Maybe it’s best that our province stays out of the Stanley Cup race. Even a hundred years ago we never stood a chance.

Still, could some other province step up soon, please?

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Government

City

Wednesday

District Boundary Resident Review Panel (Wednesday, 3:30pm, City Hall) — agenda

Thursday

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

Province

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — 2022 Report of the Auditor General – Oversight and Management of Government Owned Public Housing: Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing, with Paul LaFleche – Deputy Minister


On campus

Dalhousie

PhD Defence, Health and Human Performance (Wednesday, 11am) — Myles O’Brien will defend “The Impact of Cardiorespiratory Fitness on Peripheral Vascular Function in Older Adults”

Saint Mary’s

The Nature-Based Infrastructure Research Expo (Wednesday, 4pm, McNally Auditorium) — will showcase nature-based climate adaptation work being conducted regionally and nationally


In the harbour

Halifax
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
06:00: MSC Cancun, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Sines, Portugal
06:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
09:30: Nomadic Milde, cargo ship, arrives at anchorage from Vila Do Conde, Brazil
10:00: One Helsinki, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
13:00: Elektra, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
13:00: Trinitas, cargo ship, sails from Pier 27 for sea
16:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 41 to Autoport
16:30: MSC Cancun sails for New York
20:00: River Mas, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 9 from Qinhuangdao, China
21:00: Oceanex Sanderling moves back to Pier 41

Cape Breton
19:00: Donald M. James, bulker, moves from outer anchorage to Aulds Cove quarry
19:00: Rt Hon Paul E Martin, bulker, sails Aulds Cove quarry for sea


Footnotes

  • I originally wanted to write a Views on a more serious topic today. But after being inundated by the heaviest of heavy news stories this week, I thought I’d take a week off from gravity.
  • Yesterday, the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution became a bigger topic of discussion than the second.
  • In Jeffrey Epstein related news, Prince Andrew High School got a new name and Ghislaine Maxwell got a new place of residence.

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Ethan Lycan-Lang

Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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  1. As someone who grew up and learned to drive in Europe, and currently lives in Europe, as long as cars have the need for a transmission, the manual transmission isn’t going anywhere. If you take your driving test here in an automatic, you’re not allowed to drive a car with a manual transmission, as it should be, since mastering the clutch is the most challenging part of learning to drive (at least with any grace). As such, there’s really very little appetite here for automatic transmissions, and very few of them on the road (hence the extra expense of renting an automatic).

    On the occasions I’ve been afforded to opportunity to teach someone to drive with a manual transmission, the first thing I get them to do is get them to hold the car perfectly still facing up a steep hill without the use of the brakes. Once the driver has a feel for the clutch, the next lesson is changing gears (both up and down) without the use of the clutch by disengaging the gear, then matching the RPM of the engine to the speed of the transmission, at which point the car will slip effortlessly into gear without a clutch. I’ve been told that it’s a harsh and brutal way to teach people to use a manual transmission, but nobody has ever been able to argue with the results.

    My preference remains with a manual transmission, it makes me feel more connected to and in control of the machine, but as the author points out, with electric cars becoming more commonplace, this may well soon be a thing of the past.

    One thing that I will reiterate though, is that in order to drive a manual transmission, you should be able to pass your test with a manual transmission. Allowing someone to take their test in an automatic then hop straight into a manual is akin to handing out drivers licenses at the go-kart track.

  2. I love the control that a manual transmission gives you. I have not had an automatic and hope I never have to go there

  3. I learned to drive with a manual “three on the tree” transmission.
    Back then automatics were fairly common but expensive, inefficient, liable to expensive failures and generally either found in luxury cars or as an expensive option. Over time they have improved so most of these issues no longer matter so much and these days almost all our cars are automatic – a testament to our laziness and ongoing trade of independence for convenience, at a price.

    However I would be quite pleased if my next car were to be a manual.

    I still feel I have more control over the car by choosing when I change gears rather than some nifty algorithm. I learned to manage double-de-clutch changes for older, non synchromesh gearboxes, heel-toe hill starts and parallel parking in my teens. It was something all drivers all had to manage back then, so we just did. It wasn’t hard once you got the hang of it. You simply had to make the effort or you didn’t get your license.

    I also learned how to roll start a manual car with a flat battery. Try doing that with your 6 speed auto.

    Not including long highway driving, I find a manual forces you to be more attentive than an automatic. With the possible exception of changing the clutch (often prematurely worn by driver abuse) there is usually zero maintenance needed for a manual. They are almost indestructible and manual cars are much cheaper to buy. You usually don’t have to fear unseen transmission issues on a manual used car.

    I taught my youngest girl how to use a manual and some of her friends were quite shocked she could.

    I guess there may come a day where people will be amazed that you can parallel park without some kind of expensive assistance, or that you would dare to change lanes unaided. We are becoming more and more helpless and reliant on nifty gizmos to do routine things we should be able to do ourselves, all at a considerable cost of course: generally money that leaves our community for fat profits in countries where they were designed and low wages to others where they were assembled by cheap labor.

    Perhaps I will live to see a day where self driving cars are pushed on us by governments who will sanctimoniously mandate what speeds we drive and what routes we are allowed to take, backed up by self-serving insurance companies who will charge a substantial premium for those who would choose the folly of driving themselves.

    In a world where people have allowed themselves to be reduced to all being passengers, knowing how to drive you might make you a local celebrity of sorts.

    “What? You can drive? You mean actually operate a car yourself? Like, without an autopilot? Wow!”

  4. If I am not mistaken I think New Glasgow’s name is on the CUP. In early years winner and Challenger were both engraved on

  5. Sorry to be somewhat pedantic, but MacKinnon was not the captain of the Mooseheads during their Memorial Cup run, though he was an alternate.