1. Are restaurant washrooms finally going to become accessible?
In September 2018, the CBC’s Shaina Luck wrote about a human rights decision on restaurants and accessible washrooms:
A new decision by a human rights board of inquiry sends a clear message to the provincial government that wheelchair users deserve access to the same services as every other Nova Scotian, one of the complainants in the case said Friday.
The board chair found Nova Scotia discriminated against people who use wheelchairs by failing to enforce a regulation requiring restaurants to have accessible bathrooms.
The complainants had noted that not being able to wash their hands posed a personal and public health hazard. Luck explained:
Under Nova Scotia’s Health Protection Act, food establishments must have washrooms available for the public in a “convenient location,” unless exempted by an administrator.
But while the regulation requires restaurants to have their bathrooms conveniently located, one complainant said that sometimes they are inconvenient — even inaccessible — for people with disabilities.
Some establishments have their washrooms up or down a set of stairs in a building that doesn’t have an elevator, while others may have doors that are difficult to open or stalls that aren’t wide enough.
I have heard lots of complaints since then that nothing substantial had changed. Now, it seems improvements may finally be a little bit closer.
Today, Luck reports on a series of meetings designed to figure out how to make restaurant washrooms in the province accessible to all:
Late last year, a working group wrapped up a series of Justice Department meetings designed to gather input on the issue [of accessible washrooms], said Gordon Stewart, the executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia.
“There were wheelchair people, accessibility people, government people, the code people, building inspectors, fire inspectors. It was quite a range of people in there. And I don’t think many of us had ever gone through this process before,” Stewart said.
The story says the participants took a restorative justice approach. I know what restorative justice is, but I would have loved a bit more explanation about use of the term in this context. If it’s bringing together people on all sides of an issue, how does that differ substantively from other consultations? I’m curious.
Anyway, Paul Vienneau, one of the original complainants, was part of the process. Luck quotes him:
“This was not about shutting people down or putting people out of work, it was about the government following through on what they were told, which is make this right ” Vienneau said.
“And so luckily with the restorative justice, we got to work alongside the people, somebody from the fire marshal’s office, restaurant industry, heritage, all these people that were pretty freaked out about the fact we prevailed on this.”
The next step is to wait for the government’s response. Restaurant owners, of course, are worried about cost.
I remember seeing a great Twitter thread critiquing a supposedly accessible washroom. It was one of those cases where people using wheelchairs had clearly not been consulted in a redesign. For example, you could get a wheelchair through the door of the washroom, but there wasn’t enough room to turn it around.
A few years ago, I interviewed Vienneau for a Halifax Magazine story on the decline of full-serve gas stations. Two things he said really struck me.
The first made me feel kind of stupid, because it’s so obvious: that improvements made to benefit people with disabilities wind up benefiting the larger community too. The classic example he gave is the push-button on doors. Sure, the buttons may have first been installed with wheelchair users in mind, but think of how many other people use them: people pushing strollers, shoppers loaded down with bags, and so on.
The second was that having spaces that are accessible in theory is no good unless they are accessible in practice too. My Halifax Magazine story includes this:
Vienneau notes that some stations are accessible in theory, because they have curb-cuts for wheelchairs, but they “stack firewood and washer fluid on the sidewalk leading to the door,” making it impassable.
2. Salmon habitat, gold mining, and the St. Mary’s River
At a press conference yesterday, the Atlantic Salmon Federation released a video showing salmon spawning in McKeen Brook, which feeds into the St. Mary’s River. The location is close to a proposed gold mine.
A press release from the federation says:
“This was an extremely challenging assignment and it’s the first time to our knowledge that anyone has successfully filmed wild Atlantic salmon spawning in Nova Scotia,” said Tom Cheney, a freelance producer and wild salmon advocate. “[Photographer] Nick [Hawkins] and I hope these images, taken just a few hundred meters from a planned open pit gold mine, help people realize what’s at stake.”
The proposed mine, with its two-kilometre-long tailings pond kept in place by a 21-metre-high berm, would be located above McKeen Brook, which flows into St. Marys River less than a kilometre away…
The project description filed by Atlantic Gold in 2018 as part its federal environmental assessment states that it “may” require a ministerial exemption under section 35 of the Fisheries Act, which prohibits the “harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.”
Atlantic Gold is owned by Australian company St. Barbara Mining. Berwick notes that the St. Barbara’s Moose River mine is its most profitable, with the cost of producing an ounce of gold running at about half of what it does at mines in Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Meanwhile, Nova Scotia charges less than half the tax of the other jurisdictions where the company operates.
This province places a one per cent royalty on gold revenues while Australia charges 2.5 per cent of the company’s gold revenues plus a corporate royalty of 1.5 per cent. Papua New Guinea takes 2.25 per cent of gold revenues for the company’s Simberi mine.
3. Premier who cares a lot about deficits and spending boasts about cutting government revenue
Jeremy Keefe at Global reports on Premier Stephen McNeil boasting about cutting the corporate tax rate.
“We’ve seen tremendous growth in our economy and this is about how do we continue to keep the momentum of our economy going,” he explained.
“This is something the chamber’s requested for many years,” said [Halifax Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Patrick] Sullivan.
“There are investments that businesses make every year, there are investments they need to make every few years and they’re always looking for money,” Sullivan explained. “So I think this is a real opportunity for them to use some of their own money to invest in their businesses.”
I am not great with numbers, so maybe it’s me, but I didn’t understand this part of the story:
[McNeil said,] “We will be cutting the corporate tax by two per cent to take us to 14 per cent.”
The small business tax rate will be reduced from three per cent to two and a half, making them the lowest rates in Atlantic Canada.
Anyway, there is plenty of evidence that when you cut corporate taxes, greater investment etc does not ensue. See, for instance, the IMF report on the Trump tax breaks, which says greater investment comes not from tax cuts but (surprise!) from expectations of greater demand:
For example, if a business owner expects that she’ll continue to have strong sales in the next quarter, she is more likely to increase investment in her business and boost production.
According to our study—released in the lead up to our recent economic assessment of the United States—virtually all of the growth in business investment since 2017 can be explained by private sector expectations of the future demand for products.
Maybe things are just different in Nova Scotia. Also, maybe I should incorporate.
4. Shanna Desmond wanted a divorce, inquiry hears
I have avoided writing about the Desmond investigation. I know this is the wrong attitude for someone in my business to take, but it just feels too painful.
Yesterday evening, CTV ran with a CP story on the latest from the Desmond inquiry:
The same day Lionel Desmond told a psychotherapist that his wife had recently asked for a divorce, the former soldier fatally shot his spouse, their 10-year-old daughter and his mother before turning the gun on himself, a provincial fatality inquiry heard Wednesday.
The inquiry in Guysborough, N.S., which started last month, has heard the Afghanistan war veteran and his wife Shanna frequently argued after he was discharged from the military in 2015, but this was the first mention of a possible divorce.
“We’ve heard from a few witnesses that there were heated arguments, but always a reconciliation,” lawyer Adam Rodgers, who represents Desmond’s estate and his sister Cassandra, said in a telephone interview.
Yesterday, we also heard that the court heard Nicholas Butcher’s appeal in his conviction for killing his girlfriend, Kristin Johnston. It appeared that she was on the verge of breaking up with him.
There is far too much facile “why didn’t she just leave” commentary out there when it comes to women and relationships. Leaving can be dangerous, and women know it.
5. SALT launches today
SaltWire’s SALT weekly launches today. Given the “our readers are too stupid to read long articles” branding, I wasn’t expecting a detailed Zane Woodford planning piece. Woodford has three (as far as I can see) stories in this issue, all of which stand in contrast to what seems to me to be the trying-too-hard-to-be-down-with-the-youth tone of much of the rest of the weekly.
Also, someone tell the social media team to let us know what we can expect to find.
Climate change: a billionaire’s perspective
John Risley weighs in on climate change in the pages of Atlantic Business for the second issue in a row.
Back in December, Risley opined on the topic in a piece called “Climate confusion, Chapter 1.” He starts off by explaining how oil has led to unprecedented economic growth (no argument there) and says there is no doubt climate change is here.
This is attributable to the natural climate cycles of the planet as well as the increase in manmade emissions. Neither of the extreme arguments around this situation—either the blind denials that it’s happening or the passionate railings that mankind is the sole cause and contributor—have currency.
Uh, OK. The arguments that climate change is caused by human activity has no currency? Because Mr. Risley says so, I guess. Also: “mankind.”
Risley goes on to offer a few lazy observations that come down to the idea that it’s pointless for us to make changes to fight climate change as a country because we are not the biggest emitters and all countries have to work together. So, a carbon tax is OK as long as it’s global. Then this brilliant piece of sophistry:
I have every respect for the young Swede, Greta Thunberg, who has done so much to bring the climate threat to the forefront of public debate. But railing against global leaders at the United Nations, to the effect they should be ashamed of themselves was not helpful. She sailed to New York so as to avoid the use of hydrocarbons in getting there. Didn’t she understand that her boat and the sails upon which its mobility depended could not have been made without oil and its derivatives? Those who have been quick to condemn society’s dependence on hydrocarbons need to be more aware of just how and where they are used.
Yes John, I am sure she had absolutely no idea plastics come from hydrocarbons. Her entire point is now invalidated.
Anyway, that was December. Now on to “Climate change II (with zero apologies).”
First, the no apologies part:
Climate change, social inequality and outer space are the signature issues of our time and therefore subjects which deserve to be at the forefront of our thinking and public discourse.
Then, poor Alberta:
In their zeal to portray the Alberta oil sands as a shameful producer of emissions, climate activists label them negatively as ‘tar sands’. Further, those activists fail to attribute any credit or recognition to the huge investment and progress being made by Alberta companies in reducing their carbon footprint, particularly in comparison to the heavy crude coming out of Venezuela and Saudi.
So here is my point: Let’s park the emotion, try and get the facts straight and focus on the art of the possible.
John, I remember back when these sources of bitumen were regularly called “tar sands” or “tarsands.” You’re older than me, so you probably remember it too. Don’t believe me? Here’s a Charles Lynch column from the November 11, 1959 Ottawa Citizen:
Canada’s richest oil resource is the Athabaska tar sands, but there is no way to extract it. There is reason to believe that a controlled atomic explosion might do the trick.
Had climate change activists gotten to the Bowling Green, Kentucky Daily News back on May 2, 1982?
This part of the state has one of the country’s larger deposits of tarsands—a thick oil imbedded [sic] in sand and stone.
Maybe they were nefariously active back in 1948, when a United Press story datelined New York reported on a talk given by oil development expert E.V. Murphree to the American Chemical Society:
Murphree said that the “world also contains large deposits of natural gas, oil shale, and tar sands, which can be used to augment production of oil products.
(Murphree said the world’s oil reserves would last 264 years at the current rate of consumption, so, the UP reporter says, “atomic scientists can take their time designing that automobile which will run forever on a chunk of uranium.”)
Anyway, back to Mr. Risley’s thoughts on climate change. His big one in this column is that we convert coal-fired plants to natural gas:
The world has natural gas in abundance, it’s cheap and it’s significantly cleaner to burn than coal. Were we able to achieve this, the result would be a reduction in emissions greater than converting all the cars in the world to electric vehicles. Yup, that’s pretty significant. Such a policy would create winners and losers. The winners would be countries like Qatar, a huge producer of LNG; the losers would be those jurisdictions who had to import the gas. But an international agency could fund such conversions through taxes imposed on the transport of gas internationally (in such a way that the ‘winners’ help pay for this conversion).
The trouble? We’ve waited so long to take meaningful action that the idea of natural gas as a useful bridge technology to renewables is fading. David Roberts got into this at Vox last year:
You see, all those arguments for natural gas that seemed so compelling during the Obama years have fallen apart. It’s now clear that if the world is to meet the climate targets it promised in Paris, natural gas, like coal, must be deliberately and rapidly phased out. There’s no time for a bridge. And clean alternatives are ready.
Roberts summarizes five arguments against natural gas, including this one (think about the Guysborough LNG project while reading it):
When big, capital-intensive assets get built, they tend to stick around. There are more than 400 natural gas plants in the US that were built in or before 1970. (Even older than me!)
Utilities are currently incentivized to build precisely those big, capital-intensive assets. And once they are built, it doesn’t take much to keep them running. “Once capital has been sunk,” OCI writes, “operators can keep running a plant as long as it can sell power for more than the marginal cost of producing it — even if it incurs a loss on the invested capital.” That means even cheaper renewables won’t necessarily drive fossil fuel plants to retirement.
Yet dozens of new natural gas pipelines, power plants, and export terminals are in some stage of planning. The US is on a natural gas building binge.
Every bit of that gas infrastructure being built today must be retired before it is paid off, “stranded,” if the US is to have any hope of hitting its Paris targets. The more we build in coming years, the more we will have to abandon later. It probably won’t be big utility investors who get stuck with that bill.
On a somewhat related note, there is a depressingly familiar tone to a Montreal Gazette article I came across from March 19, 1980. The headline reads: “Don’t cancel oil sand plants, Alberta warns.”
The CP story says:
Ottawa would inflict serious economic losses on all Canada if it cancels development of two Alberta oil sands plants, Alberta Energy Minister Merv Leitch said yesterday… The rest of Canada will benefit significantly from supplying raw materials and support services for the proposed plants, he said.
At the time, Ottawa was thinking the discovery of offshore oil on the East Coast would eliminate the need for new oil sands plants. Alberta argued that wasn’t the case, and besides, there was an export market to be served.
Together through life
Last month, my partner suggested we watch the 7 Up films together with some friends living close by. The idea was that we’d watch one film each week. Then I learned that the Carbon Arc film series would be screening the latest (and possibly last) of the Up films, 63 Up, on February 14. So we accelerated our schedule and binge-watched our way through the lives of the film’s participants.
For those not familiar with the series, back in 1963 Granada TV made a program featuring children from around the UK: asking them about their lives, their hopes for the future, their friends, and so on. The resulting film, Seven Up!, was directed by the late Canadian filmmaker and writer Paul Almond. Michael Apted, who would later go on to make dozens of films, including Coal Miner’s Daughter, Incident at Oglala, Gorillas in the Mist, and the James Bond movie The World Is Not Enough, was one of the researchers, and he had a role in selecting the subjects for Seven Up!
The film was supposed to be a one-off. In a 2006 interview with the late Roger Ebert, Apted said Granada was a left-wing outfit who wanted to prove a point: that the British class system played an out-sized role in determining (and in many cases limiting) the future of children. Hard to argue that when you see seven-year-old public school boys reeling off the names of the prep schools and colleges they will attend, while a boy living in a home run by a charity asks, “What’s university?”
Seven years after the first film, someone at Granada wondered what had happened to the kids, now 14. Michael Apted and his team caught up with them and filmed them again, asking them many of the same questions. Then Apted did it again at 21 and just kept going after that. 28, 35, 42, 49, 56, and now 63.
He considers this his life’s work and sees the participants in the film as almost like family.
Watching all these films over the space of a couple of weeks really makes you feel a sense of intimacy with the subjects. We’ve watched Nick go from a rural Yorkshire childhood to studying physics at Oxford, to an academic career in America. We meet his girlfriend, Jackie, who he later marries, and then learn they had a child and divorced. We get to know his second wife, Chris, an American with a daughter and grandchild of her own. We follow Nick back to England to visit his aging parents.
None of this sounds particularly gripping or exceptional. But as a body of work, it’s stunning. Following these people through their lives allows us to reflect on our own, and to think about the sometimes capricious nature of life. Sure, the upper class boys who want to be lawyers mostly become lawyers, but even their lives have some twists. And both Apted and the participants in the films have talked about how the class society it set out to chronicle was already starting to crumble by the time Seven Up! was released.
Over time, Apted goes from being a voice-of-God interviewer to someone the subject’s clearly have an ongoing relationship with. “My goal is to be more famous for my research than for being in this film,” Nick says in his 40s. “But Michael, we both know that’s not going to happen.”
When Apted asks Jackie if she has a temper, she turns the tables and suggests he answer the question, because the two of them have gotten into some pretty intense arguments over the years. Some of the participants, particularly John and Peter, are quite open about using the project for their own ends. After sitting out 28 years of films, Peter, who we last saw as a young schoolteacher, returns at 56 with an aging rocker vibe, saying the only reason he’s agreed to be in the film is because he wants to promote his band, The Good Intentions.
Several of the participants talk about the effect being in the film has had on their lives. Some of these people, who would otherwise have had no connection with each other, have become friends. Several talk about being troubled by the false intimacy of the program (many call it that, “the program”) and how people who have watched their lives on screen think they know them. Neil, who was homeless for awhile and struggled with mental illness, is angered by people who write to him and tell him they know just how he feels.
Although Apted doesn’t want to get overtly political, you can’t avoid seeing the impact of politics on the subjects’ lives. (As soon as we watched the first film, I started thinking about which of the people portrayed were going to vote for Brexit.) People with disabilities get their benefits cut under austerity measures. A librarian loses her job, which included working closely with children with disabilities, to budget cuts. Teachers burn out. A lot of these effects are visible on the next generation. Where many of the Seven Up! kids go on to buy nice homes and lead relatively comfortable lives, they mostly have a sense of life being much harder for their children.
The Carbon Arc screening is at 7 PM on Friday, at the Museum of Natural History. I’ll be introducing the film and will stick around for a Q&A afterwards. (All right, it’s not the most romantic Valentine’s evening.) I believe the show is sold out, but Carbon Arc often has a waiting list and releases tickets if people don’t show up.
If you can’t make it to the show, the library has a DVD box set of all the films up to 56, and the films are on some of the streaming services. I know 56 is on OVID, and a friend streamed 28 (legally), but I’m not sure from where. If you are able to see them, they are well worth watching. I don’t recommend waiting seven years between each instalment.
Update: My friend Matthew McCarthy points out that all of the Up films other than the most recent one are streaming on Britbox. If you search the site for individual titles — or even the director’s name — it returns zero results. The trick is to search for “The Up series.” Fix your search, Britbox.
Appeals Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — agenda here.
Design Review Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, City Hall) — agenda here.
Regional Watershed Advisory Boards (Thursday, 5pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — agenda here.
Budget Committee – Contingency (Friday, 9:30am, City Hall) — agenda here.
No public meetings today or Friday.
Dalhousie Reading Circle (Thursday, 9:30am, Indigenous Student Centre Community Room, 1321 Edward Street) — weekly meeting for “Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.” More info here.
The Top 5 Population-Based Research Questions Facing Cancer (Thursday, 12:30pm, Theatre C, Tupper Link) — Winson Y. Cheung from the University of Calgary and Cancer Control Alberta will
delve into the important area of population-based research including the increasing role of using health outcomes studies and real-world evidence to inform treatment decision-making in the context of cancer care. While clinical trials remain the gold standard for the evaluation of efficacy of novel therapies and interventions, there is a need to assess their effectiveness in routine clinical care. This encompasses a spectrum of topics, such as adoption and dissemination of new treatments, survivorship and end-of-life care. There is also growing recognition that clinical trials only represent a fraction of the population that clinicians encounter; therefore, population-based research is increasing being used to measure patterns of care and outcomes in the marginalized subsets of our population that are frequently excluded from trials. This presentation will highlight recent examples of real-world evidence and the future direction of this important field of research.
More info here.
World’s Challenge Challenge Competition: Dalhousie Semi‑Finals (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Hall, Marion McCain Building) — from the listing:
Global issues such as poverty, food security, public health, inequality and environmental degradation are the product of global relations in which we as global citizens bear some responsibility. The World’s Challenge Challenge (WCC) — a global initiative of Western University — encourages young minds from different disciplines to come together to address a global issue, offering solutions to implement in partnership with communities. The WCC frames global issues through the lens of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
More info here.
Concerto Night (Thursday, 7:30pm, Dunn Theatre, Dal Arts Centre) — with Fountain School of Performing Arts students. $15/$10 at Dal Arts Centre Box Office or online.
Piano Recital (Friday, 11:45am, MacAloney Room, Dal Arts Centre) — more info here. Bring your own piano. Wait, no. Don’t.
Thermodynamic Stability of Carbon Allotropes: Repeating Lavoisier’s experiment, but with a happier ending (Friday, 1:30pm, Room 226, Chemistry Building) — Mary Anne White will talk.
Seven Letters: Lord Dalhousie and the Black Refugees of the War of 1812 (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building) — Afua Cooper will talk.
Bilingualism Impacts Eye Movement Reading Patterns from Early Childhood to Late Adulthood (Friday, 3:30pm, Room P5260, Life Sciences Centre) — Veronica Whitford from the University of New Brunswick will talk. Whitford’s profile page at UNB is here. Her research sounds really interesting:
My research focuses on the perceptual, oculomotor, linguistic, and neuro-cognitive processes that underlie reading development and performance across the lifespan, from early childhood to late adulthood. I examine these processes in a number of populations with different linguistic and cognitive profiles, including neurotypical monolinguals, bilinguals, and multilinguals; individuals with language and learning disorders, such as developmental dyslexia; and individuals with neurodegenerative disorders… I employ a multi-method approach that includes both behavioural measures, such as eye-tracking, and neural measures, such as electroencephalography (EEG).
Book Launch – The Skin We’re In (Thursday, 7pm, Alumni Hall, New Academic Building) — Desmond Cole in conversation with El Jones. From the listing:
Puncturing the bubble of Canadian smugness and naive assumptions of a post-racial nation, Cole chronicles just one year—2017—in the struggle against racism in this country. It was a year that saw calls for tighter borders when Black refugees braved frigid temperatures to cross into Manitoba from the States, Indigenous land and water protectors resisting the celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, police across the country rallying around an officer accused of murder, and more.
More info here.
In the harbour
06:00: RHL Agilitas, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
06:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Halifax to Saint-Pierre
12:00: Boarbarge 37, semi-submersible barge, moves from Pier 9 to Woodside Wharf
15:30: RHL Agilitas sails for Kingston, Jamaica
16:30: MOL Mission, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
Looking forward to all the “old man yells at clouds” stuff over school closures.