1. Mayoral candidates face off for the first time

(From left to right) Mayor Mike Savage, Max Taylor and Coun. Matt Whitman during Wednesday’s Mayoral Candidates Forum in Halifax.  Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

Halifax’s three mayoral candidates debated each other yesterday, at an event hosted by the Downtown Halifax Business Commission.

Zane Woodford attended, and reports on the candidates’ replies to questions from moderator Norma Lee MacLeod.

While Taylor reiterated his stance that he doesn’t care who you vote for as long as you vote, he did lay out a few priorities, Woodford writes, including climate change, transit and affordable housing.

Whitman and Savage disagreed on police funding, affordable housing, and requiring city contractors to pay employees a living wage. In the flogging-a-dead-horse department, the candidates also discussed the Cornwallis statue and CFL stadium.

Woodford writes:

Asked whether Halifax should ensure contractors pay their employees a living wage — $21.80 according to the latest calculation from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives — Savage said he supports Coun. Lindell Smith’s efforts to make that happen.

Whitman said it’s the worst thing Halifax could do during COVID-19 to “stifle” businesses.

“A place that does that is Cuba. They pay everyone the same amount. They all have a living wage and it doesn’t work. This is a free market here where you can get ahead and you can invest and you can build and you can succeed,” he said…

Taylor said everyone should be paid a living wage.

“Let’s break down that term. Living wage. You need this wage to survive. You need it to live,” he said.

On the police:

Asked about defunding the police, Taylor said it’s an “incredibly complicated issue,” but there needs to be more “mental health advocacy” in the police force and consultation with communities that are actually affected by policing.

“We need to talk to people from these communities and say, ‘How has this affected you?’” he said.

Whitman took a hard stance against defunding, but in favour of body cameras.

“No I don’t think we should defund the police. I think we should defend the police,” Whitman said.

“I think the police do a very difficult job and they’re in harm’s way full-time. And if you don’t stand behind the police, maybe you should stand in front of the police.”

Savage said people need to put themselves in Black people’s shoes, and said he supports Coun. Waye Mason’s motion to look at which services can be done by someone other than police officers.

“It’s not an easy solution, but we have to take it seriously,” he said.

Read the full story here.

As an aside, take a look at the photos in Woodford’s story. The perspective of the one above clearly shows the candidates at a considerable distance from each other, while the ones shot from the side make the podiums look much closer together. Keep that in mind next time you see photos shot from a distance that purport to be of people packed together.

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2. City auditor highlights issues with building inspection staffing, data accuracy, and timelines

Halifax auditor general Evangeline Colman-Sadd speaks to reporters at Halifax City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

Halifax auditor general Evangeline Colman-Sadd has released her latest report, and Zane Woodford has the highlights.

On the positive side, Colman-Sadd noted that the city has adopted nearly all of the recommendations from her 2018 report on procurement and development approvals.

This time, she looks at building permits and inspections.

Woodford writes:

“Overall, HRM effectively manages its building permit application and inspection processes; however, we could not determine if timelines to issue building permits were reasonable,” the report said.

“Inspections were completed as expected and confirmed compliance with building code. This helps ensure public safety.”

The trouble is, there are no timelines:

Colman-Sadd found the division has no service standards “to provide the public with expected turnaround times for processing most building permit applications and performing inspections.”

The auditor general’s office reviewed the processing time for the 60 applications, but without established service standards, it couldn’t determine whether they were reasonable.

“Fifty-eight of 60 applications reviewed were assigned to a building official for review within three business days of the division receiving the application. The remaining two files were assigned within five to nine business days,” the report said.

Woodford looks at the other issues in the report as well, including concerns about data quality, staff retiring or moving to other departments, and the need for mentoring.

This story is for subscribers only. Subscribe here.

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Streetview image of a two-story building with a camper van parked in front of it.
Tawaak Housin Association offices on Lady Hammond Drive. Photo: Google Street View

CBC reporter Shaina Luck has a long piece this morning on housing for Indigenous people living in cities that’s worth reading.

Luck focuses primarily on the non-profit Tawaak Housing Association, which was in the news earlier this year for the appalling state of some of its housing units.

But she also looks more broadly at the history of Tawaak and other similar organizations across the country, and how they got to this point.

Luck writes:

This is a story repeating across the country for many small urban Indigenous housing providers founded in the same era as Tawaak. It’s leading some advocates to say housing for Indigenous people in urban communities must be more fully addressed in the federal national housing strategy.

If a sustainable model for those small providers cannot be found, some worry the housing many Indigenous families rely on will be lost.

Tawaak was created in 1981, and owns more than 50 properties across Nova Scotia in Halifax, Dartmouth, Sydney, Bridgewater, Liverpool, Truro, and Antigonish. It is one of many non-profit and co-op Indigenous organizations created between the 1970s and early 1990s.

At that time, the federal government had responsibility for social housing and subsidized the creation of many “urban native housing” programs. 104 of those organizations are still in existence, overseeing 300 housing projects across Canada.

In the mid-1990s the responsibility for social housing was turned over to the provinces. For some, this reduced access to funding, says Margaret Pfoh, the CEO of the Aboriginal Housing Management Association of British Columbia (AHMA), an umbrella group of smaller housing providers.

A generation later, much of the housing stock is in poor shape.

Let me just point out that the person in charge of these large-scale transfers of responsibility to the provinces was then-finance minister Paul Martin, who current finance minister Chrystia Freeland says she has been consulting with on financial policy. He is also the same Paul Martin who, it was reported yesterday, is hosting a podcast for the Conference Board of Canada, looking at improving opportunities for Indigenous people through entrepreneurship.

From the CBC story:

“So what we really said was, ‘wait a minute, the youngest and the fastest growing segment of our population are Indigenous. And they also want to be in business. They also have shown a huge aptitude for entrepreneurship’”…

Martin said they hope to expand their offerings, and capitalize on young Indigenous people’s energy and entrepreneurial sprit [sic].

“The Indigenous people are the youngest and the fastest growing segment of our population,” he said. “They are going to form as these young people grow up, a major part of the growth in our workforce, everything from scientists and doctors to truck drivers.

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4. 2,000-fan limit at Mooseheads games

The seats won’t be quite this empty when the Mooseheads play at home this season. Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

Willy Palov has a story in the Chronicle Herald today on Mooseheads ticket sales.

In late August, the province announced four venues, including those where the province’s two QMJHL teams play, would have exemptions to the 250-person limit on gathering for events.

As Tim Bousquet wrote at the time:

Strang also announced a change in policy such that Mooseheads will now be able to play at the $48 NSF Fee Centre, before large groups of fans. That policy change was announced in a press release:

[G]overnment is working with four venues — Centre 200, Scotiabank Centre, Riverside International Speedway and Scotia Speedworld — on opportunities to host larger audiences than our current gathering limits allow. These four facilities will be able have a total audience that includes multiple groups: of 200 people for indoor events and of 250 people for outdoor events, but only if they meet strict criteria and have an approved, detailed plan. The plan must include how they intend to keep each group separate in its own ‘bubble’ at the venue.

Palov says the Mooseheads have decided to allow a maximum of 2,000 fans in the arena, and they’re giving first shot to season ticket holders. Team president Brian Urquhart says the team understands if fans want to sit out the season, and that “their seat will be waiting for them if they want to return next season.”

Palov writes:

“There’s no playbook for a situation like this and we understand this process isn’t ideal for everyone,” [Urquhart said]…

And the reality is it could be much worse. Teams in Quebec aren’t allowed to have fans in the rink at all because the virus isn’t as under control there like it is here in Atlantic Canada.

“They’re playing in front of no fans so we see ourselves as pretty lucky here,” Urquhart said. “Each of the teams in the Maritimes Division is dealing with different rules, depending on what their provincial governments and public health authorities have in place, so we feel very fortunate to be able to have the limited capacity for fans that we’re allowed to have.

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5. Why u hate mining?

A photo of a gold mine, taking by Joan Baxter. This is the Morila Gold Mine in Mali. Photo: Joan Baxter.

The Chronicle Herald’s Voice of the People (letters to the editor, in other words) has a letter this morning from one Ken Mallett of the Nova Scotia Prospectors Association. Mallett is not pleased with people critical of mining, including Examiner contributor Joan Baxter. These folks, he writes:

seem to make a living being critical of gold mining, but refuse to take a tour of the actual mine site, as it may open their eyes to reality.

First, is it kind of weird to write to one news outlet to complain about a contributor to a different one?

Second, Baxter has visited lots of mine sites! See photo above, for example.

Third, Baxter’s efforts to get any information directly from Atlantic Gold.

She says of Atlantic Gold communications manager Dustin O’Leary:

O’Leary and I are also old email pals. Basically, every time I write an article that refers to Atlantic Gold, I email him questions. And every time, he writes back with a standard response that Atlantic Gold has “elected not to participate in the series of articles you are writing.”

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6. COVID-19: five months later and still recovering

Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

At CTV, Natasha Pace talks to a man still recovering from the effects of COVID-19, five months after he contracted the disease.

Al Poirier and his wife Deborah both got sick after returning to Nova Scotia from a cruise. Al got hit harder, spending 101 days in the hospital, including seven weeks in a coma. He’s been back at home since July 14, and is still recovering, slowly.

Pace writes:

“I’m taking it slow. I’m not rushing it because I don’t have to. There hasn’t been a setback, so every day I’m improving,” [Al Poirier] says.

Al is no longer using a walker to get around and doesn’t need oxygen.

“I was scared to go out without the oxygen if we took trips out in the car even, but now, I’m here, I don’t need anything.”

Al says he is still working on his strength and endurance.

“I still have to get my strength back, my hand is weak,” he says. “I can’t quite run yet, but I walk on uneven ground all the time on my yard.”

Pace doesn’t use the term, but Poirier is what’s known as a long-hauler — a set of people who suffer lasting effects from COVID-19 for months after being critically ill.

But yeah, please demonstrate against masks, because this whole thing is a hoax.

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1. What does the mayor do?

Mayor Mike Savage. Photo: Halifax Examiner

TV producer John Wesley Chisholm has a new blog on local politics, which launched earlier this month. It is called The Outs and bills itself as “a series of articles about Halifax politics and political ideas from the widest view ahead of the upcoming Municipal elections.” I don’t know if Chisholm, who ran for the Progressive Conservatives in the last provincial election, is planning to bring in other writers, but so far all the posts are by him.

Two of the posts caught my attention. One is called “Hey, Who’s running This Town? (Part 2)” and the other “Who’s Running This F$%^$in’ Town Anyway?

In the first post, Chisholm makes the case that the role of mayor is largely ceremonial, and things like mayoralty platforms make no sense, because mayors don’t have any power to see them through. He writes:

In Halifax we have a CAO-Council form of government. It’s widely known as a “Weak Mayor” form of government and it has been the most widely used form of city government for over 50 years in North America. But since we get our ideas about government from movies, TV shows and comic books we read when we were kids we often misunderstand the Mayor’s role… and the media sure isn’t helping with the crazy articles. The mayor has no more power to effect change in any of these areas than you as an average citizen.

However, because of these massive misstatements of the role of mayor and our form of government the job has become more mischievous than any other in Nova Scotia.

It’s our own fault. In Weak Mayor governments the mayor is normally selected by council to conduct ceremonial duties or elected at large but has NO executive duties.

The mayor is of course highly incentivized to play up this misunderstanding. There’s a lot of money, power, and prestige at play. At his campaign launch the current mayor said things like “I will work with my council…”. It’s a line of talk that definitely gives the impression he is the boss.

I find the ranting about media and “crazy articles” tiresome, but whatever. Chisholm makes the point that under our weak mayor system, who we elect to council and the CAO have a far greater role in running the show. There are good reasons for a weak mayor system, namely that strong mayors in the past tended to be massively corrupt.

There are also good reasons for not having council meddle in some staff affairs. Do you really want your councillors to be directing the cops to enforce certain laws in certain neighbourhoods, for instance? Do you want your mayor to be meddling in the day-to-day affairs of staff people who, presumably, know what they are doing? (If you do, vote for the mayoralty candidate who has promised to “meddle in every department” in a now-deleted tweet.)

Chisholm, again:

My position is that we should not be having these distracting mayoral elections. We should save the money and effort and do it as Manager – Council governments work best. Anyone can be appointed Mayor, by the council or by other means, and ceremonially chair the meetings of council, ride the floats and cut the ribbons etc.

In his follow-up, Chisholm digs into numbers on voter engagement, arguing (correctly) that voting is one of only many ways to measure engagement with issues. Then he makes the case for town meetings as a central pillar of local democracy:

In some important ways the town meetings the most fundamental unit of democracy. A nursery for engagement. They are face-to-face democratic assemblies. They take place at the most local level: in New England the towns are mostly under 2500 people. It’s thought that an optimum community size is about 7-10,000.

The idea is that local government could help by encouraging rather than discouraging public meetings. Town halls, Council meetings, plebiscites, lecture days, debates all have the potential to fire up the democratic spirit. I think of it like TV. It would work if it was thought of as a show, which it surely is. Big characters, high stakes, unique access, and big payoffs to the stories.

Personally, I think Chisholm is being hyperbolic when it comes to the mayoralty. Even if the position does not carry much in the way of overt power, surely each of the candidates represents a difference in tone, and tone matters. So does the ability to get councillors on-side for your projects.

At the same time, he is right when he talks about mayoralty platforms. If Mike Savage is so keen on a living wage, where has he been in the years since Lindell Smith first brought his motion to council on the subject — a motion that has resulted in a pathetic, paltry shadow of an attempt to maybe, perhaps, somehow, consider social factors when awarding contracts.

There are huge, broad misunderstandings about the most fundamental aspects of our political systems at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels, and horse race coverage doesn’t help. (This is one of the reasons I am looking forward to Zane Woodford’s upcoming in-depth looks at the campaigns in each district.) In my one experience of canvassing with a federal candidate, I met people who wanted to talk to him about how upset they were that Halifax bus drivers get too many sick days, that Moncton had a stadium while we didn’t, and so on. One guy wanted to know if he’d be able to get money to fix his roof if the candidate were elected.

All this to say, I appreciate writing that tries to dig a bit deeper into who does what and why, whether I agree with all the points or not.

As originally published, this item incorrectly referred to John Wesley Chisholm’s last name as “Wesley Chisholm” instead of “Chisholm.” We apologize for the error.

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I see that Dartmouth sisters Lita and Tass Williams created yesterday’s Universal Crossword. (If this link doesn’t take you directly to their puzzle, click the little puzzle icon near the top right and select “Tree Farm from the list.)

I wrote about the Williams sister for the Examiner back in March, when they published their debut after nearly 50 years of solving puzzles. At the time, Lita Williams said to me:

[Crosswords have] become much fresher, even in the last five years. There’s much less crosswordese like “Elway” and “eta.” There’s a lot more natural language too like, “Don’t go there,” “I say so,” or “I agree with you.” You can play fast and loose with language, which is lovely. It makes for a much nicer puzzle to solve.

I love names, I like places, I like pop culture, music. I’m a big fan. I’d rather see that than “molecule” or a standard word. I like natural language and pop culture. I think they’re a great inclusion in puzzles.

I did yesterday’s Universal and it was a lot of fun, with a nice “aha” moment at the end, revealing the theme. I love the fact that these two sisters solved puzzles together for decades, decided to start making their own, and now are publishing regularly.

The Universal is an interesting crossword because for a long time it was absolutely terrible, with boring clues and — even worse — a plagiarism scandal. It’s become more interesting lately, but has not lost sight of the fact that it is largely enjoyed by casual puzzlers. So, for instance, the clues in this latest puzzle from the Williams sisters offer gentle nudges to help solvers figure out the theme — something you might not see in a venue aimed at the more hardcore challenge types. All this to say, if you are interested in crosswords, or have been away from them for awhile and want to ease back in, the Universal is a good place to start.

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Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — more info and agenda here.

Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — more info here; agenda here.


No meetings.

On campus



Michael Crummey in conversation with Sharon Bala (Thursday, 7pm) — with readings by the finalists of the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, Shandi Mitchell, Jaime Burnet, and Michael Crummey. Register for this Zoom webinar here.


Algorithmic Racism, Healthcare and The Law: ‘Race-Based’ Data Another Trojan Horse (Friday, 12:10pm) — Zoom webinar with Llana James from the University of Toronto. Zoom link here.

Saint Mary’s


2020 Annual General Meeting (Thursday, 5pm) — virtual meeting, info and registration here.

Marketing Through Adversity (Thursday, 11am) — webinar with Eleanor Beaton; register here.

In the harbour

06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
09:00: Elka Sirius, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
10:30: Manon, car carrier, arrives at Pier 31 from Bremerhaven, Germany
11:00: YM Upsurgence, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
11:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves to Autoport
15:00: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
16:00: Manon moves to Autoport


Last night on Twitter, Tim Bousquet teased some upcoming changes to the Examiner, including a plan to hire two more people and some exciting projects in the works. You can click above to read the whole thread, but one of the key bits is this:

Well, I’m going to hire these two people. This is a teaser, I know, but you’ll soon see a significant expansion at the Examiner. Details October 1.

This venture started out as a one-man operation. An experiment in whether people would support a local digital news source. Now, folks like me freelance regularly, there are people on staff, and we keep pumping out the stories. All this happens because of your subscriptions and donations. If you are not already a subscriber, please hit the link below to subscribe. Or, if you’d rather make a one-time donation, you can do that too.

Please subscribe, or drop us a donation. Thanks!

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

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  1. Interesting to see how often the matter of affordable housing comes up now that there is an HRM election. The Centre Plan will promote the demolition of thousands of buildings in HRM by increased height limits that incentivizes new-builds. The majority of these buildings are already multi-unit and affordable.

    As FHC pointed out in its Centre Plan submissions there is even a concentration of co-ops (including a small Tawaak/First Nations apartment building that are now under death sentence. Back yard suites are a sort of solution but only if there is good regulations and restrictions on rents.

    Moreover the up-zoning is all with no accounting for greenhouse gas emissions relating to loss of embodied energy in demolitions, energy related GHGs from materials, constructions or operation of the new unsustainable builds. Nor does it take into account what the negative effect of homogenization of the city is on culture, social, economic and environmental aspects. see:

    Most disappointing is there is absolutely no plan to replace the affordable units-HRM has given away hundreds of millions of dollars in heights through development agreements and the Centre Plan all without the creation of affordable housing. Councillor Cleary’s $1.8 million for the 25 storey Armco build (now a Shannex seniors’ complex) must be still sitting in an HRM account.

  2. Regarding item #6, okay, sure, some people do get very sick with COVID-19, but in the absence of statistics about how likely these outcomes are, especially for people under 60 what is the point?

  3. “Anyone can be appointed Mayor, by the council or by other means, and ceremonially chair the meetings of council, ride the floats and cut the ribbons etc.”

    A “mayor” appointed by Council is a Warden. Many municipalities in NS use the warden system. It has some positives – namely that you don’t lose good councillors to a failed mayoral run. However, it also has some pretty big drawbacks. One is that the Warden has a dual role as Councillor for their area and as the overall municipal representative; there’s certainly a risk of their district getting more attention. The biggest problem though, in my opinion, is that electing the Warden is one of the very first jobs a new council does and it ends up dividing them into opposing camps from the get-go. Those councillors that back the failed candidate(s) start their term on the wrong side of council chambers, to the detriment of their district and citizens.

    I also disagree with the premise that a Mayor is powerless. As you note, Phil, tone is huge in council chambers. Without traditional party politics, what happens in the chambers actually matters, and how meetings are run can have a very real effect on the outcome. There’s also the larger issue of tone in the outside world: how we present ourselves as a city. Plus the Mayor does make the deciding vote in ties, and that has come up a few times in recent HRM history.

  4. The mayorality debate was revealing. Obviously Mike Savage has the lead. Mr. Taylor was unexpectedly strong and credible. I hope he continues to be a public figure and would love to see him in office somewhere sometime .
    Matt Whitman needs to go away. Far, far away. He should never aspire to any form of public office ever.

  5. We need more stories/coverage like item #6. Too many people have no idea how bad it can be to catch this virus. if they did, there would be a lot less moaning about restrictions like isolating, distancing and mask-wearing.

    1. As one of those people who would be quite happy to never again don a mask (and who does moan when I have to wear one – for reasons detailed in a previous article on this site), I do know that Covid-19 can cause serious problems. When I go out, which I do almost every day, I maintain my physical distance, I wash my hands frequently, and I do don my mask when required. Should I wake up feeling unwell, I will stay home. I cannot promise that I will call 811 and request a test if I have more than one symptom because I am not willing to use all my phone minutes for a month re-dialing, but that might be a subject best left for a future article.

      Unfortunately, a number of people I’ve encountered seem to think mask wearing means physical distancing is longer required. Even when stores are close to empty, people do not respect physical distancing rules. When called on it, I either get told that since we are both masked there is no risk or that physical distancing is no longer required in Nova Scotia because we have no cases and we are all masked indoors. I don’t know what the answer is, but I will continue to do my best to do my part. Hopefully, others will also.

      1. edit: Unfortunately, a number of people I’ve encountered seem to think mask wearing means physical distancing is no longer required.

        (And I even proof read my message twice. Just shows why copy editors are *SO* important!)

        1. If you were going to be able to catch the mistake easily, chances are you wouldn’t have made it in the first place.