June subscription drive
I was in Ottawa Friday for the Michener Awards. For my reporting on Glen Assoun’s wrongful conviction, the Halifax Examiner was one of five national finalists for the 2019 Michener Awards, but the annual ceremony was put off first because of the pandemic lockdowns and then because of the resignation of the governor general. So last week, there were four years’ worth of celebrating, first with a noon ceremony and reception at Rideau Hall, then at an evening gala dinner at the Ottawa Art Gallery.
It was lovely. Governor General Mary Simon was gracious, the food was fantastic, and I got to wander around the gardens and residence. The splendour of the place rubbed up against my beer and a burger at the tavern comfort zone, and I’m a bit of a fish out of water socially at such events, but I spoke with lots of fantastic journalists, which was invigorating — despite all the struggles in the industry, there are still people doing important and valuable work.
The Examiner crew are among them.
The Michener Awards celebrate the “big stories,” and so I sometimes have the tendency to overly focus on the next big story, by which I mean a sprawling investigative piece that takes months or years to report.
I have one of those potentially big stories now, which has been on my plate since 2019, when someone first approached me with a bit of information. Every so often, I pull another string on that story and it leads me down another path — I was at the library yesterday afternoon in an unsuccessful quest to nail down one particularly elusive factoid.
But as John Lennon said, life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans. Every time I turn my attention to the big project, some biblically terrible event comes forward — a plague, a mass murder, a conflagration — and the Examiner puts all effort into covering that instead.
On the plane back to Halifax, a woman asked me if I rely on news tips from readers to find stories. I do, I said, but there’s been a big change. Years ago, my team and I would have to nose around the bushes to hound out potential stories, but over the past four years, the world has broken and the news comes to us instead.
I wish it were otherwise. But this is what we do: we use the limited resources at hand to report on the stories that matter, and when time allows, root out bigger, more sprawling stories, like Suzanne Rent’s profiles of older women or Joan Baxter’s Deforestation, Inc series, to cite just two examples. I’m hoping for the time to fully develop my project this summer, but I’m half expecting the province to be swarmed by locusts. We’ll see.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that we need your support. It’s readers’ past financial support that has made this work possible at all, and it’s readers’ continuing support that will make it possible for us to keep doing this work.
If you value the Halifax Examiner and the work we do, please subscribe.
1. Support workers’ strike broken
“The union representing 1,800 school support workers has voted to accept a new contract deal, ending a strike by the workers that started on May 10,” reports Suzanne Rent:
The workers on strike included educational program assistants, African Nova Scotian student support workers, assistive technology support workers, child and youth care practitioners, early childhood educators, library support specialists, Mi’kmaw/Indigenous student support workers, and SchoolsPlus community outreach workers.
Details of the contract have not yet been released, however, Chris Melanson, President of CUPE Local 5047] told CBC the agreement doesn’t include an increase of wages, but it does include retroactive pay, better health and safety language, and bringing casual workers into the bargaining unit. He said the new contract expires on March 31, 2024.
The support workers were failed. They were failed by their union, which constructed a deal that most benefitted support workers in rural areas but didn’t reflect the reality of the out-of-control rental housing market here in the city. They were failed by a government that always can find millions of dollars for corporate subsidies but suddenly become cash-strapped when it comes to workers living in poverty. And they were failed by a community that doesn’t truly value inclusion in education or the people that make it possible.
The sad reality is that the support workers are too poor to stay on the picket line. The strike was broken. Congratulations, employer.
2. Colter Simmonds
“Colter Simmonds will run as the NDP candidate for the Preston riding in the upcoming byelection. The announcement was made at a community event Thursday night,” reports Matthew Byard:
Simmonds, who is a basketball coach and community youth advocate, ran for the NDP in the same riding in the 2021 provincial election.
The Dept. of Health released the monthly (May) Epidemiologic Summary for COVID last week.
In the previous monthly report, the death count for April was 12; in the new report, that figure has been revised to 15. Five other previously unreported deaths were also added to the new report — one from October 2022, two in January, and two in March.
The May report says just one person died from COVID in the month of May; that person was 70 years old or older. As with April’s death count, that figure will likely be revised upwards in future reports.
Hospitalizations from COVID have gone down slightly, from 90 in April to 77 in May, but there were just 70 in March.
Five people died on Nova Scotia highways Saturday.
Four were killed in an incident in Lunenburg County. From an RCMP press release:
On June 17, at approximately 5 p.m., Lunenburg District RCMP, fire, and EHS responded to a report of a head-on collision on Hwy. 103 in Maitland.
Upon arrival at the scene, RCMP officers learned a west-bound Ford Escape crossed the centreline and collided with an east-bound Toyota Tacoma. Seconds later, a Honda Civic, also travelling east-bound, crashed into the Tacoma.
The driver of the Escape, a 71-year-old male from Bridgewater, and his two 66-year-old female passengers, passed away as a result of the collision. One passenger was from Bridgewater; the other passenger was from Hebbville.
The driver and sole occupant of the Tacoma, a 31-year-old male from Chester Basin, also succumbed to injuries.
The two occupants of the Civic were transported to hospital by EHS for minor injuries.
The fifth death involved a motorcyclist who died in Newport Station. Another RCMP release:
On June 17, at approximately 3:05 p.m., West Hants District RCMP, fire and EHS, responded to a report of a crash on Hwy. 1 in Newport Station.
RCMP officers learned that a motorcycle had been travelling on Hwy. 1 when it left the road.
The driver and sole rider, a 54-year-old Dartmouth man, passed away at the scene.
5. Police killed a man but won’t say who he was
On May 27, Halifax police killed a man in Dartmouth. As Zane Woodford reported:
Halifax Regional Police officers shot and killed a man in Dartmouth over the weekend, and there are few details available about the incident.
In a news release, the police said that at about 9am on Saturday, they “responded to a weapons incident involving a man with a weapon in the area of a sports field near Micmac Boulevard and Woodland Avenue.”
“While attempting to arrest the man, he confronted the officers with the weapon, and officers discharged service weapons. The man was taken to hospital where he was later pronounced deceased,” the police said.
The province’s Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) is investigating the incident, but director Alonzo Wright had little to say on Monday.
A man at the ball field who asked not to be named told the Halifax Examiner he witnessed the shooting.
The man lives nearby, and said he walks the perimeter of the ball field next to the parking lot daily. He was on his walk at about 9am on Saturday.
He said an officer pulled into the parking lot at the ball field and then back out and blocked the road. That officer pulled out a rifle. Another officer showed up right after.
“And he jumps out with his gun out,” the man said.
A third officer arrived from the other side of the field, and also drew a pistol.
The man kept walking onto the sidewalk on the other side of Micmac Boulevard, toward the soccer field.
He saw a man wearing a winter coat with the hood up. The man put his hands up, and then lowered them. He didn’t see a weapon.
The officers each fired a shot, three total, the man said, with the officer with the rifle shooting first.
It’s been more than three weeks, but neither police nor SIRT will identify the man killed by police. Jennifer Henderson tells me that she spoke with SIRT director Alonzo Wright last week and Wright told her that SIRT has a policy of not releasing the name of victims in such cases until the investigation is complete, and this particular investigation may not be complete until September — four months after the killing of the man.
This is outrageous. We can’t have the police going around killing people and then refusing to tell us who they killed. That’s not how an open society works. That’s how a police state works.
Look, the shooting may or may not have been justified — that’s up to SIRT to determine. But simply telling us who the man was will not jeopardize the investigation.
A man died at police hands. The public needs to know now who he was.
Billionaires redux: John Risley
Last week, I made what I thought was a non-controversial and obvious observation that:
The very existence of billionaires is a crime against humanity, as they personify an economic system based on extreme inequality…
But I got a bit of pushback on that on social media: I’m just jealous, we should celebrate success, innovation should be rewarded, blah, blah, blah.
Which brings me to an article Mary Campbell of the Cape Breton Spectator wrote a couple of days later:
I was unfamiliar, until very recently, with the work of Mahone Bay-based “journalist and author” Quentin Casey, who seems to specialize in a type of “journalism” (I call it “Capitalist Hagiography”) that gives me hives.
Casey writes fawning portraits of rich businessmen (they all seem to be men) under headlines like, “Meet the Canadian billionaire who made his fortune on poker and is now returning to his first passion” and “Meet the Canadian billionaire who made an early bet on Google and calls himself ‘cheap.’” (I’m not providing links because I don’t want to be seen to be encouraging this kind of thing.)
Casey strikes me as the spiritual heir to Gordon Pitts, the Globe and Mail reporter whose terrible book, The Codfathers, gave me such a lift during the dark, early days of the pandemic, although he’s not as funny.
Casey came to my attention by way of an extended excerpt in the National Post from Net Worth: John Risley, Clearwater, and the Building of a Billion-Dollar Empire,his “definitive biography” of the lobster king; a book I knew would one day be written and that I’ve anticipated with the kind excitement I usually reserve for the new Canadian Tire flyer.
I think Nimbus, the book’s publisher, is using “definitive” because it sounds nicer than “authorized,” but as Casey was blessed with “more than a dozen interviews” with the man himself as well as opportunities to speak with Risley’s “family, long-time friends, and key business partners,” I think “authorized” is the more accurate term.
Campbell critiques the excerpt, and you should read the whole thing — click here to read “Net Worth: John Risley’s Clams.”
As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, and so this article is behind the Spectator’s paywall. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator.
I was tempted to dive into the boxing aspect of this story, but I’ll save that for another day. For now, I want to focus on this part:
In Nova Scotia, John Risley is arguably a household name, synonymous with the seafood industry and his many conspicuous possessions. On both fronts, his reputation is well earned. In 1976, he and his brother-in-law Colin MacDonald started Clearwater, a dumpy retail lobster shop on the side of a suburban Halifax highway.
From that simple start, Risley fundamentally changed the Atlantic Canadian lobster industry — transforming it from a seasonal, afterthought business to a year-round, $3-billion sector where lobsters are shipped overnight by air to customers in Europe and Asia, a premise unheard of before Risley entered the industry. Along the way, Clearwater matured into a global seafood company.
The story of the simple lobster salesman becoming a billionaire is true, so far as it goes, but there’s so much more context that needs to be provided for us to have an honest understanding of Risley’s success.
Before the 1970s there wasn’t much of an international (beyond the U.S. and Canada) market for lobster. That’s because there wasn’t the technology to move fresh lobster great distances.
In his book The Sushi Economy, Sasha Issenberg detailed how that technology came to be. Credit the Japanese.
See, in the 1960s the Japanese economy was booming as electronics became the nation’s primary export. All manner of relatively lightweight radios, TVs, and other electronic goods were shipped to North America via Japan Air Lines’ planes, but those planes returned empty to Japan.
Enter Akira Okazaki.
Okazaki was a JAL employee tasked to find some other good from North America to ship back to Japan, filling those cargo holds.
My understanding of this is that as Japanese do, Okazaki took his family on vacation to Prince Edward Island for the whole Anne of Green Gables experience. I have no idea why the Japanese find Anne with an E so fascinating, and neither, apparently, did Okazaki, so he dropped his wife and daughter off at the museum and explored the island alone in his rental car.
He ended up at the wharf in North Lake, watching the cod fisherman come back with their catch, which included the bycatch of bluefin tuna. For the fishermen, the tuna were a nuisance — it had no value in local markets, and ruined the nets besides; the fishermen would take the obligatory photo of the giant fish, then simply bury them in the sand.
Okazaki saw opportunity. With the help of Canadian Wayne MacAlpine, Okazaki convinced the P.E.I. fishermen to participate in a tuna auction and talked his JAL bosses into outfitting a 747 with refrigeration equipment. And one day in 1972, a 325-kilogram tuna caught off P.E.I. was trucked to New York and then flown to Japan, where it was sold at a 300% markup in Tokyo.
The international sushi market was born.
In the following years, facilities at the Halifax airport were expanded to handle seafood shipments, and in 1976, when Risley stepped into the market, for the first time there was the possibility of shipping fresh lobster overseas — it couldn’t have been done 10 years before, so Risley’s genius was piggybacking on Okazaki’s innovation.
There’s more. In my cursory survey of Maritime billionaires, I’ve noticed that they share common traits, first among them the ability to corner markets and capture government regulatory agencies for their own benefit; their success is not that of the scrappy entrepreneur besting competitors in an open and fair market, but rather of rigging the system. Risley, in particular, excels at this. (I wonder if Quentin Casey’s “definitive” biography will include the fact that Risley is trying to profit from Apartheid. I doubt it.)
I once had it in my head to write a book about the Maritime billionaires and how their anti-competitive business practices can best flourish in the most impoverished provinces in Canada, but then I discovered that there’s literally negative money to be made from writing books, and besides, while that story should be told, it’s utterly dispiriting.
None of this is to disparage Risley’s skills, which are are real and at which he excels — he very much can exploit the opportunities others have opened up for him, and he is excellent at bending the regulatory state to his advantage.
I just don’t see why that should be more rewarded monetarily than, say, doing school support work, or birthing and raising a child to be an ethical and caring adult, or creating a work of art, or caring for the ill, or cleaning a public washroom, or… well, reporting critically on your local community.
Again, the problem with billionaires isn’t that they’re amoral, although they are, but rather that their very existence reflects an economic system based on extreme inequality. We collectively value some stuff, and not so much some other stuff, and we act like that reflects some fundamental law of the universe, when it’s not; it’s entirely a social construct.
And just as we’ve ordered the value system, tax rates, and financing structures such that the handful of John Risleys of the world can become obscenely wealthy, we could instead order them such that the people who care for our children aren’t living in abject poverty and the folks washing our seniors don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from.
It’s a choice.
Veterans Affairs (Tuesday, 2pm, One Government Place and online) — update on Seamless Canada Agreement; with representatives from the Department of Intergovernmental Affairs, Canadian Forces Moral and Welfare Services, and Strategic Canadian Armed Forces
Mind the Gap: Targeting Knowledge-to-Practice Gaps In Public Health Crisis Preparedness for Canadian Youth and Families (Monday, 11am, Theatre C, Tupper Building ) — Stephana Moss will talk; from the listing:
The presentation will shed light on diverse public knowledge, perceptions, needs, behaviours, and experiences in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and how this information has been utilized to inform the development of stakeholder-driven solutions targeted to enhancing pandemic recovery and public health crisis preparedness for youth and their families. Three critical areas requiring additional study to ensure vital gaps do not persist in our understanding and management of pandemic impacts for Canadian youth and their families will be covered: 1) rapidly evolving information and communication needs; 2) ongoing negative impacts of the pandemic on youth day-to-day life and wellbeing; and 3) advancing associated mitigating strategies and solutions related to youth wellbeing. The presentation will highlight key findings from the stakeholder-informed pandemic preparedness infrastructure that Dr. Moss is involved in and will provide a vision for future developments at Dalhousie to seamlessly examine these knowledge gaps, and in doing so, continue to build public trust and directly infuse public-driven experiences, priorities, and solutions directly into our recovery from COVID-19 and beyond.
Mount Saint Vincent
Exhibitions (Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 3pm, MSVU Art Gallery) — from the listings:
Portals: until September 1
This exhibition of new work by Kayza DeGraff-Ford showcases their recent digital experimentation in virtual reality programming. Part of an ongoing story within DeGraff-Ford’s practice, this immersive installation features a cosmic aqua-portal via the humble entry point of bathroom plumbing. Channelling the literary genre of Magical Realism and exploring African diasporic and trans experiences, Portals takes the viewer through a healing wormhole in time.
Everything We Have Done Is Weather Now: until August 19
Lisa Hirmer’s gorgeous photographs of weather data bridge the divide between everyday conversations about weather and the enormity of the climate crisis, thereby helping to open up possibilities for imagining different futures for our planet. The exhibition is organized and circulated by the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery and is part of The Weather Collection, a network of digital and in-person exhibitions, hands-on art making, research, and artist projects that use visual art to encourage creative perspectives on the environment and build new relationships with the future of the planet.
In the harbour
05:30: Don Pasquale, car carrier, arrives at Pier 9 from Southampton, England
06:00: One Crane, container ship (144,285 tonnes), sails from Pier 41 for New York
08:30: MSC Apollo, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Savannah, Georgia
09:00: Atlantic Condor, offshore supply ship, arrives at Dartmouth Cove from St. John’s
10:30: Siem Cicero, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
15:00: Atlantic Sun, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
15:30: One Blue Jay, container ship (145,251 tonnes), arrives at Pier 41 from Norfolk, Virginia
16:30: Siem Cicero sails for sea
17:00: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, sails from Pier 42 for Palm Beach, Florida
21:30: East Coast, oil tanker, arrives at anchorage from Charlottetown
16:00: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, arrives at Government Wharf (Sydney) from Halifax
With all the travel and hustle and bustle, I somehow missed that yesterday was the Halifax Examiner’s ninth birthday.