1. Donner Prize

“Peter MacKinnon’s book, University Commons Divided: Exploring Debate and Dissent on Campus, has been shortlisted for the Donner Prize,” writes El Jones:

In an article I wrote for the Halifax Examiner about MacKinnon’s defense of blackface, I identified how MacKinnon’s arguments lack a scholarly basis. He frequently does not quote or misleadingly quotes opposing arguments, omits context, misrepresents events, lacks citation, and shows little to no evidence of research in scholarly fields. In that article, I contacted half a dozen leading scholars on blackface, including acknowledged expert in the field Eric Lott, author of the book Love and Theft. Every single scholar comprehensively debunked MacKinnon’s scholarship.

I was able to do this simple research for an article in the Halifax Examiner. I wonder why the University of Toronto Press, which is supposed to be the most prestigious academic press in Canada, did not have even these standards for work they publish.

A book that makes so little effort to even be factually correct, and has so little concern with bothering to understand the issues under contention, surely cannot be considered an “excellent” contribution to public policy writing.

It is less surprising that a book so soundly critiqued by Black scholars would be chosen for this award when we look at the jury.

Every single member of the jury is white.

Jones talks about much more than MacKinnon’s writing about blackface; it’s worth reading her entire essay to understand just how much MacKinnon’s book lacks basic fact-checking.

Click here to read “All-white Donner Prize jury shortlists book by white man defending blackface.”

The Donner Prize is awarded by the Donner Canadian Foundation, which was founded by William Henry Donner, an American industrialist who made his fortune in tin and steel.

In 1929, Donner’s son Joseph died of cancer, and the tragedy appears to have been a fall-off-the-horse moment for William Donner. “He sold the assets he had in the Donner Steel Company of Buffalo, New York, his final business undertaking, and set aside $2 million for charitable purposes, primarily for cancer research,” explains the McGill Library.

Donner moved to Montreal in the 1940s. The move was in part motivated by a desire to avoid U.S. income taxes, but Donner was also attracted by the world-leading medical research then going on in that city, and in 1950 he established the Donner Canadian Foundation.

Donner died in 1953, but the foundation continued to dole out money, mostly for medical research and mostly in uncontroversial ways, until 1993.

Then came a sea change. As Thomas Walkom wrote in 1997 for the Toronto Star:

The foundation is still controlled by Donner’s American heirs. With $134 million in assets and about $3.5 million to distribute annually, it is the third largest private charitable fund in the country.

For the first 43 years of its existence, the Donner foundation was a typical Canadian charitable fund, donating its money to the kinds of unconcontroversial mainstream projects that are generally, and often uncritically, deemed worthy — medical research, prison reform, studies on Canadian unity. Now it is known as paymaster to the right, a source of ready cash for the favourite causes of the new, market conservatism.

Walkhom went on to list the myriad right-wing causes the Donner Canadian Foundation funded — including the Fraser Institute, the Atlantic Institution for Market Studies (a $515,000 grant “to look at issues such as privatization of the fishery”), the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (a grant of $286,000 “to fight so-called political correctness at Canadian universities”), among others — then continued:

What spawned the shift, says former foundation president Robert Couchman, was the ascendancy of the more right-wing, West Coast branch of the conservative Donner family.

By 1993 they already controlled an explicitly right-of-centre sister fund, the U.S.-based William H. Donner Foundation. Then, with the West Coast Donners in command, the family decided its Canadian charity should follow a similar path and enlighten people in this country as to the virtues of market discipline.

Patrick Luciani, now acting executive director of the foundation, openly acknowledges the shift.

“We changed emphasis in 1993. It had been a classic Canadian foundation, quite liberal. But the Donner family saw the country going through a fiscal crisis and they wanted to fund projects that looked at more competition and less government.

“You don’t want to do the same projects over and over again. You want to make a difference.”

Recalcitrant board members were replaced with those more amenable to a muscular right-of-centre approach.  (The Donner board now includes former Canadian ambassador to Washington Allan Gotlieb and Saturday Night editor Ken Whyte).

Recipients of last year’s grants from the Donner Canadian Foundation are split between environmental organizations and more clearly identified right-wing political causes.

On the environmental side, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society received $93,425 for “Advancing Marine Protected Areas.” The Nature Conservancy received three grants for regional projects. The World Wildlife Fund received a $50,000 grant.

Then there are the grants going towards “Public Policy Research and Education.” Recipients include the Canadian Constitution Foundation ($30,000), which among other things has funded a court challenge to Alberta’s medicare system; Hillsdale College ($17,000) to fund the work of R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. — the editor of the right-wing American Spectator magazine; the Fraser Institute ($55,000); among others.

Hey, free country and all. The Donner family can fund whatever they want. But let’s not go a-gog over the Donner Prize, which is clearly part of a larger effort to reimagine Canada as a right-wing American Libertarian fantasy.

2. Clearcutting

Satellite image of Liscomb area, 2014.

Saturday, retired wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft made a presentation at the annual meeting of the Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters in Truro, and Jennifer Henderson attended:

Bancroft said “greed” is the only word to describe what is taking place today, and that clearcutting has gone on so long and so fast that if you compare the area of forest cover in Nova Scotia to a bank account, “we are down to our last month’s rent.”

Fewer trees means a loss of habitat for the fish, birds, and game these hunters and anglers say they want to conserve. “How do we get more people engaged in protecting the forests,” asked Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers & Hunters president Travis McLeod, “when most people only see the 20-metre strip of trees along the highway? They don’t walk in the woods the way we do and encounter large clearcut areas everywhere.”

“I know contractors,” Bancroft told his audience, “who have cut the same property twice in their lifetime. These trees are only 30 years of age.”

The naturalists say that clearcutting is being amped up before recommendations contained in the Lahey Report are implemented later this year.

Click here to read “‘We are down to our last month’s rent’: naturalists say clearcutting is accelerating.”

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3. Committees

Michael Wernick testifies at the House of Commons Justice Committee.

“Quick now, what does Judy Wilson-Raybould v Justin Trudeau, Gerald Butts, Michael Wernick et al have in common with Zach Churchill v Tim Houston, Ramona Jennex, Denise Peterson-Rafuse et al?” asks Stephen Kimber:

Well yes, of course, both feature all-powerful political bosses — Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of SNC-Lavalin infame and Liberal Premier Stephen McNeil of the Yarmouth ferry fandango respectively — who have made such a total balls-up of their political choices that events over which they could have had some control have morphed into scandals they cannot contain.

Yes, that.

What else?

Yes, that. And that too. And also that, of course.

But I’m thinking of something else, something perhaps a tad more wonkish…

Ah, now you have it… Committees! The JWR and ZC affairs offer incontrovertible evidence our committee systems — federal and provincial, standing and legislative — fail us abysmally when it comes to holding our governments to public account for their actions.

Click here to read “Wilson-Raybould, Churchill? Evidence our legislative committee systems don’t work.”

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4. PCs’ FOIPOP lawsuit advances

(Portland Press)

Progressive Conservative caucus: 1. Bay Ferries: 0.

In a court decision released Friday, Justice Peter Rosinski has rejected all of Bay Ferries’ arguments that a lawsuit filed by the Progressive Conservative ferry related to provincial financing of the Yarmouth ferry should be thrown out of court.

Click here to read “PC lawsuit seeking Yarmouth ferry financial numbers advances; judge rules against Bay Ferries’ attempt to get lawsuit thrown out on technicality.”

5. Tracy Kitch

Tracy Kitch. Photo: Career Women Interaction

Recently unsealed court documents obtained by the Halifax Examiner reveal new details about the expense scandal at the IWK. Friday, I summarized those details as follows:

• The IWK Board of Directors seemed complacent about problems with expense accounting until CBC reporter Michael Gorman published an investigative article detailing “the magnitude of the personal expenses.”

•  IWK CEO Tracy Kitch tried to blame her problematic expenses on poor recording-keeping by her executive assistants.

• IWK board member Karl Logan finally got the board to act on Kitch’s expenses

• Kitch produced a computer file she said was created (and lost) by an unnamed executive assistant and which would prove that her expenses were business-related, but when asked to provide that file to legal staff, she never did.

• Kitch made 13 trips to Toronto to meet with a former co-worker, now working as a communications consultant. The trips took place “around the weekends and long weekends” and travel was billed to the IWK, while the consultant billed the IWK for services exceeding her contracted amount.

Click here to read “How the Tracy Kitch expense scandal went down.”

6. Costas Halavrezos

Costas Halavrezos. Photo: Greg MacVicar/Backstory

Greg MacVicar interviews Costas Halavrezos for Backstory NS. It’s a fascinating, windy read through Halavrezos’s life and a career. I particularly enjoyed reading about Saint John in the 50s and 60s, when little Costas was working in his dad’s diner, Nick’s Coffee Counter.

And Halavrezos has some choice words for the CBC:

There was the guy who was head of the CBC at the time, this megalomaniac called Richard Stursberg. Really offensive person. You know, it was all about TV and ratings and he basically hounded the director of radio out of her job. Radio didn’t bring in ad revenue, so he considered it a liability. He was apparently very abusive towards her at meetings. She left and then he took over radio budgets.

So, they basically just siphoned the gas out of the tank of radio. And they put all their eggs in the basket of TV ratings. That’s when you started getting all the reality shows. And this was the period when this guy hired Jian Ghomeshi, who was a fellow megalomaniac, and going after the big American market. The morning show hooked up with PRI (Public Radio International) in the States and the content shifted. And it’s still that way. Tom Power (host of the CBC national morning show Q) is a good guy and a good interviewer, especially with musicians. But I don’t know whether I’m in Kansas or where the hell I am when I listen to that show, with all the concentration on pop culture.

The shift that occurred then, it was a real cultural shift within CBC. It was not a good one. It doesn’t follow the mandate. It’s not delivering to Canadians.

MacVicar puts a lot of work into Backstory NS, and it shows. He explains the publication as follows:

Backstory NS is a digital publication which presents the stories of notable Nova Scotians from all walks of life in their own words. Biweekly, on Saturday mornings, Backstory NS publishes a long-form, compelling story accompanied by eye-catching photographs. Each story is based on an old-fashioned visit with the storyteller, and the result is an interview that delves far beneath the surface — in search of the backstory — and is meant to be read and reread at one’s leisure. Backstory NS is not a tourist or promotional magazine. The stories are by turns gritty, funny, scary, sad, insightful and inspiring. They’re told with wit, humour and pathos. In this age of “branding,” “content creation” and “strategic communications,” these stories are refreshing. They’re the real deal. Subscribers, whether visiting for a satisfying read, research or education, will have access to all stories in their entirety via the Backstory NS archives. By setting the individual subscription rate at a modest $40 per year (taxes included), we hope the lion’s share of those with an interest in these stories will be able to access them via a subscription. We appreciate the support! Backstory NS is inspired in large part by Ron Caplan’s Cape Breton’s Magazine, which was published for more than 25 years between the 1970s and 1990s, and continues to be read and reread today — either via the dog-eared and treasured original copies or online at capebretonsmagazine.com. We are indebted to and support strong journalism across Nova Scotia.

Click here to subscribe to Backstory NS.

7. Sidewalks

Photo: Halifax Examiner

Environment Canada is forecasting a late season snow storm tonight —  of 15 centimetres in Halifax.

I checked. I couldn’t find the dates required of sidewalk clearing contractors for the current contracts, but I did find the dates of the predecessor contracts (the 33 contracts were consolidated and retendered as seven contracts in 2017). Those contracts required the firms to be ready to clear snow from November 1 to April 15.

So if all goes as designed, we should be OK tomorrow. Of course, as we know, things don’t always go as designed.

And, we’ve evidently broken the weather. We should all be running around with our hair on fire to do something about that, but I guess we love oil industry profits more than we love the future of humanity. Still, since freak weather is no longer freaky, and weird shit happens all the time now, what if it snows next week?

8. There she is again!

Joan Baxter sends the following photo of a rendering of the proposed landscape redesign at Province House. The rendering is attached to the fence around Province House:

There she is again!

The taxi-hailing woman has made it from Worcester, Massachusetts…

…to Shannon Park…

… and now to Province House.

Must be a hell of a taxi fare.

9. Designated smoking zones

Well, now that we have designated smoking zones with their own designated smoking receptacles, we need someone to go around and empty the receptacles, clean them, sweep up the mess, replace missing stickers, and so forth, and so this morning the city has issued a tender offer for such a contractor.

The tender lists 88 receptacle sites, and warns potential bidders that:

The HRM is very large and potential bidders should take this into consideration when quoting. For example, the following locations are outside the HRM Core Area: Lawrencetown, Lake Echo, Head Chezzetcook, Musquodoboit Harbour, Ostrea Lake, Oyster Pond, Meaghers Grant, Middle Musquodoboit, Goffs, Black Point, Shad Bay, Lewis Lake, Harrietsfield, and Sambro.

I’m still astonished that people have gone along with this.


Alan Lomax

From the 1930s through the 1990s, ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax travelled the world recording folk music and interviewing musicians and artists. Without him, much of the world’s musical and poetic history would have been lost.

Now, the the Association for Cultural Equity, which Lomax founded, has digitized the entire Lomax collection, and has made it available online for anyone to listen to:

The Sound Recordings catalog comprises over 17,400 digital audio files, beginning with Lomax’s first recordings onto (newly invented) tape in 1946 and tracing his career into the 1990s. In addition to a wide spectrum of musical performances from around the world, it includes stories, jokes, sermons, personal narratives, interviews conducted by Lomax and his associates, and unique ambient artifacts captured in transit from radio broadcasts, sometimes inadvertently, when Alan left the tape machine running. Not a single piece of recorded sound in Lomax’s audio archive has been omitted: meaning that microphone checks, partial performances, and false starts are also included.

I spent much of the weekend wandering through the catalog; yesterday, I was fixated on the Vera Hall recordings — not just her songs (“Mean Old Bedbug Blues,” “Trouble in Mind,” “John Saw the Number”…) but also the complex intonations of her Alabama conversational voice in interviews. It’s truly wonderful.

There’s much else: the songs of camel jockeys, prisoner songs, lullabies, you name it.




CANCELLED DUE TO WEATHER North West Community Council (Monday, 7pm, Bedford Hammonds Plains Community Centre) —  the council is considering changes for the rezoning of 45 acres at Sandy Lake Academy.


Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday , 6pm, City Hall) — a public hearing for a proposed three-storey apartment building on Inglis Street.



Law Amendments (Monday, 11am, Province House) — before the committee:

Bill No. 119 – Builders’ Lien Act (amended)
Bill No. 121 – Nursing Act
Bill No. 133 – Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act
Bill No. 135 – Nova Scotia Power Privatization Act (amended) and Nova Scotia Power Reorganization (1998) Act (amended)
Bill No. 136 – Financial Measures (2019) Act
Bill No. 139 – Income Tax Act (amended)

Legislature sits (Monday, 4pm, Province House)


Health (Tuesday, 9am, Province House) — about Cape Breton hospitals.

Law Amendments (Tuesday, 11:15am, Province House) — the committee will consider Bill No. 122 – An Act to incorporate the Pine Grove Cemetery Company, Lower Stewiacke, Colchester County (amended)

Legislature sits (Tuesday, 1pm, Province House)

On campus



Thesis Defence, Psychology and Neuroscience (Monday, 2pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Tamara Speth will defend “Impact of Cumulative Sleep Restriction on Sleep Physiology in Children With and Without Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).​”

Saint Mary’s


BIGsmall – Works from the permanent collection (to May 19th, Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery) — from the listing:

BIGsmall brings together pairs of works acquired over the past three decades, where one work is significantly larger than the other, to explore unintended connections on the basis of material, concept, subject, or formal qualities.

Mount Saint Vincent


Current Exhibitions (MSVU Art Gallery) — until May 5 – Skawennati: Teiakwanahstahsontéhrha’ | We Extend the Rafters; until May 19 – James R Shirley: Landscapes from the Soul. Info here.



Now That You Have the Foundation, What Do You Intend to Build [Intellectually]? (Monday, 9:30am, Alumni Hall) — George Elliott Clarke will deliver the Foundation Year Program Final Lecture.

In the harbour

The US destroyer Jason Dunham arrived in port yesterday.

06:00: Bomar Rebecca, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from San Juan, Puerto Rico
06:30: BBC California, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 9 from Kandla, India
07:30: Grande Baltimora, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Baltimore
08:30: Marina, cruise ship with up to 1,447 passengers, arrives at Pier 31 from Saint John. This is the first cruise ship arrival of the year; the Marina is on a 28-day cruise from New York to Barcelona. Bet the cruisers haven’t dressed for 15 centimetres of snow.
10:30: Lomur, cargo ship, sails from Pier 41 for sea
16:00: Grande Baltimora sails for sea
16:30: Bomar Rebecca sails for sea
18:30: Marina sails for St. John’s
19:00: Augusta Sun, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 31 from Moa, Cuba

Where are the Canadian military ships?


I’ve got nothing.

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  1. CBC is obsessed with what happens in Ottawa…..because Trudeau gave them a vast increase in money and the truth be told Ottawa is the centre of Canada and Ottawa politics is so much more important than telling Canadians what is happening in the daily lives of other Canadians and because CBC needs more talking heads and in house pollsters. If Scheer wins he should slash the politics budget at CBC and force them into spreading the word about all the good things Canadians are doing. And get rid of Suzuki, he is just a voice over on programme produced elsewhere in the world.

  2. I was glad to see Costas Halavrezos’s comments about the stupidity of CBC management. I’m still angry about what CBC managers did to Costas’s own show Maritime Noon which he hosted for 23 years. In 2008, CBC cut the show from two hours to one, cutting the jobs of four journalists who specialized in reporting on resources issues (fishing, forestry etc.) in the three Maritime provinces and funnelling the money instead into dumbed down TV supper hour shows.

    Every weekday Maritime Noon told stories from New Brunswick, PEI, Cape Breton and Mainland Nova Scotia in line with the requirement in the Broadcasting Act that CBC not only reflect Canada’s regions to the rest of the country, but that it also reflect the regions to regional audiences. And that’s not happening consistently anymore. Having moved to New Brunswick in late 2015, I can say there are many great stories here that CBC is not telling in Nova Scotia. Similarly, the disastrous Nova Scotia tidal story hasn’t been told here — at least not in any depth (if you’ll pardon the pun).

    Costas’s scathing remarks about how CBC gutted radio in its failed attempt to reap more advertising revenue from TV are spot on. While I’m at it, I should report the public broadcaster’s latest move to serve its advertisers. Even though each Canadian subsidizes the CBC on average to the tune of about $34 every year, CBC boffins have blocked web users who use ad blocking from its cbc.ca Internet site.

    1. Maritime Noon was definitely a stronger show when it had a dedicated reporter in each province. i was lucky enough to do some freelance work for the show when Costas was hosting. If you’re not going to have reporters, at least you can hire freelancers to tell some stories. But last I checked there was no freelance budget anymore (and I can’t remember the last time I heard a freelance piece.)