1. Premier vs teachers, round 27

Maybe Stephen McNeil can just teach the classes himself. Image from

Premier Stephen McNeil returned from his latest trip to Europe and China yesterday, and pretty much immediately started in on the teachers’ union — this time, accusing them of spreading misinformation about cuts.

A CP story in The Star Halifax says McNeil

criticized the union Thursday for alleging cuts to the so-called “options and opportunities program,” a co-op program which provides skills and courses to help students choose a career path and post-secondary education…

Paul Wozney, the president of the union, sent McNeil an open letter Thursday saying, “I appreciate that you may have been out of the country in recent weeks and may not be aware of the current situation.”

He said he is hearing directly from teachers and specialists about cuts to a variety of positions at individual schools across the province.

I find it alarming that we don’t seem to be able to get basic information on how money is being spent in schools, and whether or not positions are being cut. We’ve seen the same thing in Ontario recently, with teachers going on Twitter to discuss their layoff notices, while the government says there are no job losses.

Would we be in this situation if we still had school boards? I’m not saying boards would never cut funding or positions, but I’m assuming we would have more transparency in terms of seeing board budgets and figuring out what funds were being spent where. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

2. Mainland moose on the brink

How many moose in Moose River? (Probably not many.) Photo: Joan Baxter

I don’t see a story up on the CBC website yet, but Phlis McGregor had a report on Information Morning today about the catastrophic decline in the mainland moose population.

The province hired Thomas Millette, a geography professor from Mount Holyoke College in Massachussetts, to survey the mainland moose population. Millette is an expert in aerial surveys–using data from zig-zagging flights over specific areas to estimate the population of a species within that area. He surveyed parts of mainland Nova Scotia in 2017 and 2018.

McGregor says the results showed strikingly low population estimates: 7 moose in the Antigonish area, 12 in the area surveyed in Guysborough County, 5 on the Chebucto Peninsula. There were none in the Liscomb Game Sanctuary, and two regions considered “moose concentration areas” yielded a population estimate of only 17 animals.

We have lived on the edge of the Chebucto peninsula, with miles of woods (and some clearcuts) behind our property, for just over 20 years. My family has had one moose encounter in that time. My son was walking the dog one day, and heard her give an odd, low, short, bark. Her hackles were up, and she took a couple of steps backward. My son looked up to see what she was reacting to, and saw a moose, just standing by the edge of the woods.

3. Climate change is totally not a thing

The UARB has approved Nova Scotia Power’s request to spend an additional $7 million on equipment that has to be replaced earlier than foreseen, and $6.5 million to repair storm damage. (The spending will not lead to a rate increase.) Why the costs? Wouldn’t you know it, but we seem to be getting more powerful storms than we used to.

Reporting for CBC, Aly Thomson writes:

“We typically budget for an average level of storms, and in the last three years we’ve seen more and more storms, more than average, so when that builds up over a couple of years, that’s when we start to see the accelerated spending,” said Paul Casey, vice-president of transmission and distribution at Nova Scotia Power.

I love these quotes from the story:

“We’re not anticipating something that might not be there, and we’re also not underestimating,” [Casey] said.

“We’re looking at averages, but then having a mechanism with the regulator to back and explain why things were different.”

Anyway, keep being outraged by the carbon tax.

4. Legal aid hires social worker to work with Black clients

Re-balancing the scales?

Sherri Borden Colley reports for CBC on the hiring of Charnell Brooks:

Nova Scotia Legal Aid has hired a black Nova Scotian social worker who will exclusively work with black clients to provide them with better access to justice.

In this new role, East Preston’s Charnell Brooks will provide expertise to people involved in criminal, child protection and youth court matters, as well as advise legal aid staff.

“I know that there’s gaps and mistrust between … the justice system and the African-Nova Scotian community, so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to help bridge that gap and to offer support to the clients and also make the justice system more aware of the challenges that the African-Nova Scotian community faces,” said Brooks.

In addition to working with people in Halifax, Brooks will travel the province, promoting awareness of legal aid services.


1. Memorial Cup concerts: 19+ only

The Memorial Cup festivities start this weekend, with four teams vying for the title of best Junior squad in the country.

We’ve been told for months what a great celebration this will be, with 10 days of free, outdoor concerts on Argyle Street, starting today and running until the tournament ends on May 26.

The problem? Part of the street is fenced off, and the concerts are only for those 19+. Last night, quite a few people on Twitter seemed upset about this, including parents who said their kids had been looking forward to seeing the shows (particularly those by Ria Mae and Matt Mays).

Don’t worry, though, the festival has thought about how to make sure the kids have a good time too. In her rundown of Memorial Cup festivities, Meghan Groff of Halifax Today writes:

[Event Manager Tanya] Colburne says all performances will be free, however it is a 19+ event.

“If you want to watch with your family, that option does exist inside at the Kubota Fan Zone on screens,” she says. “And of course, you can take a peak [sic] out the windows on top of the street.”

You too can enjoy the concert by watching it on a screen, or looking out through a window! So stop complaining.

I think the Canada Winter Games did this right back in 2011. Sure, it was cold as hell, but it was also fun standing out in Grand Parade watching Hey Rosetta!, Joel Plaskett and other bands in a crowd full of people of all ages.

2. Getting support, giving support

Last night, I was at the monthly meeting of a support group my partner and I attend. We’ve been going for nearly four years now.

On the third Thursday of the month — month in, month out — we get together and share our stories. The first hour of the meeting is given over to a speaker, and then we have an hour-long open discussion while we drink tea, eat snacks, and listen to each other.

Until this experience, I would not have described myself as a support group person. I grew up with a contradiction-filled dad who leaned left, voted NDP, and led a student strike over increases in school fees when he was in high school, but also complained bitterly about any kind of taxes and was dismissive of collective efforts. I can still hear the derisive way he would say the word “committee” — like forming a committee was something people did instead of just taking action.  “They’re going to form a committee.

I grew up with this same kind of disdain. I just wanted to do stuff on my own. As an undergrad, I decided I should get involved in environmental causes and joined a group called the Rainforest Action Network. To my dismay (this shows you how much I knew about organizing and activism) they spent a lot of time holding meetings, strategizing, and building campaigns. I just wanted to, I don’t know, write snarky letters or stand outside McDonald’s, handing people pamphlets, and shaming them into realizing the role they were playing in deforestation by eating burgers.

Then, four years ago, my partner and I found ourselves in a situation we didn’t know how to handle, and we went to our first support group meeting. We’ve been going ever since.

It’s such a simple idea. You sit around and talk. Some people might offer advice, but advice isn’t really the point. There is just something powerful about being with people who have shared your experience — who get it — and who you can be honest with, without worrying about what your friends or family will think, and without their being judgmental. Some months I feel despairing and can really use a boost from the other members. Some months things are going fine, and I am happy to offer more support than I get. Sometimes, you notice the person who sits there quietly and says nothing, and you introduce yourself at the end of the meeting and have a quiet conversation. On a few occasions everyone seems to be doing great, and there is an almost giddy feeling in the room.

In addition to the group itself, I’ve come to appreciate the value of a good facilitator. Our group’s leader is excellent. She notices if someone is trying to speak but not finding the space to get in a contribution. She gently prevents anyone from dominating conversations. She invites input from everyone, without putting people on the spot.

For all its problems and democracy-destroying horrors, one of the benefits of Facebook is how it provides support. (Mind you, signing up for a group means you are outing yourself to Facebook, but who are we kidding — whatever it is you want support for, they probably know about it already.) Not everyone is able to get out to a meeting or wants to. Not everyone lives in a place with a population big enough to have a group for your particular need. Online support groups on Facebook (especially, I think, if they are closed), can be helpful in this case.

All this to say, if you need help and there is a support group available, show up. It can’t hurt. We can’t all handle things by ourselves.


The Nova Scotia Hospital in Dartmouth. Photo: rwkphotos / Flickr

As part of the research for a book I’m working on, I was reading up on the history of the Nova Scotia Hospital in Dartmouth. It’s a pretty interesting history.

Today, it may look like a massive and uninviting building, but it was originally part of a movement for more humane treatment of people with mental illness.

In 1844, Halifax Mayor Hugh Bell donated his mayor’s salary of £300 a year, specifying that he wanted the money to go to funding a “Lunatic Asylum.” Bell had previously been on the board of the poor house, where many of the inmates were mentally ill. Around the province, Nova Scotians with mental illness were housed in jails. Bell wanted them to receive medical treatment instead of the “treatment” they were getting at the time. He described them as being “caged and chained and whipped into submission… as if the link which unites them to the human family were entirely dissolved.”

The hospital opened in 1857, in what was then the countryside, two miles from the city. It was called the Provincial Hospital for the Insane, before its name was changed in 1901 to the Nova Scotia Hospital (although it was locally referred to, I understand, as the Mount Hope Lunatic Asylum). For its time, it was a progressive place, taking the 19th-century “moral treatment” approach to psychiatry — a movement which saw mental illness as a result of social and environmental stresses. The solution? Therapy, positive social influence, and a bucolic setting.

The Science Museum, London, has a good thumbnail description of moral treatment on its website.

Moral treatment rejected orthodox medical treatments used in asylums of the time, which mostly involved blood-letting, purging and physical restraints such as chains and manacles. Tuke’s revolutionary idea was to make his asylum a strict, well-run household. Patients were expected to dine at the table, make polite conversation over tea, consider the consequences of their actions, and clean and garden. The asylum director established comprehensive rules and constant surveillance, enforced by simple rewards and punishments. Sanity was to be restored through self-discipline.

While it was definitely a step up from chains and manacles, the approach was also highly paternalistic, treating people with mental illness like children in a Victorian family.

But  compare this approach to the role of nature and the outdoors in treatment detailed in a recent Maisonneuve story by mental health nurse Julia Murphy. The piece, “Behind Closed Doors,” heartbreakingly describes people locked up in psychiatric units with no access to the outdoors.

“You hear patients say it all the time: ‘This is worse than jail,’” said a former colleague of mine, Kristy Colasante, who spent five years as a psychiatric nurse. The longer I worked in mental health and the more units I saw as a nursing instructor, the more uneasy I became about the way we confine patients indoors.

Last year, I worked my final shift in inpatient psychiatry. I remember glancing at the upper-right-hand corner of the electronic medical record belonging to one of my patients, where a little box showed length of admission. It was 1,117 days.

The only exposure this person has had to the world outside in more than three years, I thought, is through a window — advertisements flashing across screens in a square, shoppers scuttling about like insects on the street seventeen floors below.

For reference, the maximum sentence that can be served at provincial and territorial prisons across Canada is two years less a day. And even in an Ontario prison, as I was starting to learn, an inmate can expect to go outside for an hour a day.

It’s a really good story. I urge you to read the whole thing.


No public meetings.

On campus

Mount Saint Vincent


First You Dream: Celebrating 75 Years of the Nova Scotia Talent Trust (Saturday, 12pm, MSVU Art Gallery) — runs until July 28. Opening reception next Saturday, May 25, 2pm.

More info here.

In the harbour

05:00: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
05:30: Eurasian Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
06:00: ZIM Monaco, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
08:00: Grande New York, car carrier, sails from Pier 31 for sea
11:15: Lomur, cargo ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
11:30: Eurasian Highway sails for sea
13:00: Furgo Discovery, survey ship, arrives at Pier 9 from New Bedford, Connecticut
13:00: Fram, cruise ship, sails from Pier 24 for Baddeck
16:30: Lomur sails for Saint-Pierre
16:30: Atlantic Sky sails for New York
16:30: ZIM Monaco sails for New York
22:00: DL Rose, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Antwerp

04:30: CMA CGM Rhone, container ship, arrives at Pier 41/42 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
05:30: Morning Celine, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
06:15: Maersk Palermo, container ship, arrives at Pier 41/42 from Montreal
12:00: Morning Celine moves to Pier 31
20:30: Morning Celine sails for sea

No cruise ships Saturday or Sunday. On Monday, the Norwegian Dawn, with up to 2,808 passengers, arrives


Next week, I graduate from King’s with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. (I wrote about starting the program in what I think was my first Morning File, nearly two years ago.) The program is part of the journalism department, which means I will now be properly credentialed to deliver Halifax Examiner content to you.

Enjoy the long weekend. Morning File is back on Tuesday, with Suzanne Rent.

Philip Moscovitch is a freelance writer, audio producer, fiction writer, and editor of Write Magazine.

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  1. “The program is part of the journalism department, which means I will now be properly credentialed to deliver Halifax Examiner content to you.”

    Is that a reference to a recent claim (by an uncredentialled city councillor) that one is not a journalist if they have not gone to journalism school?

    Congratulations on the degree!

  2. Gertrude Bulmer Bishop, mother of revered Nova Scotia-reared (in part) poet Elizabeth Bishop was admitted to the Nova Scotia Hospital in 1916 and remained there until her death in 1934, at about age 54.
    Nova Scotia writer Sandra Barry is among the world’s foremost authorities on Elizabeth Bishop. It’s my understanding that Barry has done massive research on the hospital.

  3. No wonder moose are gone. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that no habitat means no species can live there. And the Liscomb game sanctuary? Call it what it really is: the Liscomb clear cut.

  4. Seems to me that one of the hallmarks of a well-run business is to anticipate risks and allocate monies to potentially deal with the reasonable outcomes of such risks. It is significant that in Emera’s CPD disclosure to investors in 2017, in response to questions on risks and opportunities associated with climate change, Emera wrote: “Company-wide risk management processes are implemented in all Emera affiliated companies. …Emera has an enterprise risk management process, monitored by the Board of Directors, to ensure a consistent and coherent approach. The Board oversees the implementation by management of appropriate systems to identify, report, and manage the principal risks of Emera’s business. Principal risks are those areas that most significantly impact profitability, quality of income, and cash flow. From a climate change perspective these include changes in environmental legislation and weather. “

  5. Thanks for the information on the Nova Scotia Hospital and thanks too for pointing to the plight of psychiatric inmates confined in buildings with no access to the outdoors which only adds to their suffering. I wonder though about the use of the term “mental illness.” I would say that in this case the word “illness” is inaccurate and demeaning.

    1. Hi Bruce. I think this is a very complicated question, and it is one I discuss at some length in the book. I know and have interviewed many people with psychiatric diagnoses. Some embrace mad to describe themselves. I interviewed one woman who doesn’t like mad, but identifies herself as crazy. There are people who see these things purely through a medical lens, as biological disorders, and others who take a much more expansive view, or who see things through an anti-psychiatry or neurodiversity lens. Obviously, their perspectives are going to affect the terms they use and prefer. I know people who call themselves psychosis survivors, or psychiatric survivors and yes, many people who say they have a mental illness. I know a retired psychiatric nurse who prefers the term “mental disorder.” Like I say, I think it’s complex, and many of the terms we have are dissatisfying in some way. It’s worth continuing to interrogate which ones we use and why.

  6. This is a particularly excellent Morning File. I was going to write a few comments, but instead I will simply congratulate you on graduating, Phil. I admire you for being able to take that program on in addition to all of the other things you do.

  7. In my experience, transparency and fairness weren’t hallmarks of the elected school boards.
    Source: experience as a parent of children at Maitland District School when the CCRSB decided it wanted that school and two others closed.

    1. Point taken. I was part of a group that fought the threatened closure of our local elementary for years, in what felt like an opaque and deliberately unfair process. My assumption here is that at least there would be meetings one could attend and board budgets we could see so the public would have a better idea of whether or not there are any cuts, and what they are. It seems absurd to not have this kind of basic information. (Though it may well be the boards would not have provided it either.)

      1. I don’t think there is a process to potentially close a school that would ever please everyone – it’s a complex issue. I do know that when I was on a school board we tried hard to make it a better process, with limited success.

        That said, I do think there was more public information available when the school boards were in place.. It will be interesting to see what happens when eventually the department of education has to consider closing a school or re-redistricting students for the first time in the post school board world. Given the opaqueness of the school capital process and the rather arbitrary moratorium the minister placed on school reviews almost two years ago, I am not expecting greater transparency.