News

1. Social Policy Framework report comes to council

Tim has posted this “Will Work for Living Wage” image countless times, often while wondering what the heck ever happened to the staff report on social policy that council called for back in 2017.

Well, that report finally comes to council today.

On December 12, 2017, regional council passed the following resolution, moved by District 8 councillor Lindell Smith:

That Regional Council request a staff report and recommendations with respect to developing a Social policy lens through which to assess future initiatives by:

1. Assessing municipal responses and actions to support; health and livability initiatives, planning and land use policy/by-laws, recreation program delivery, operational services, and other HRM initiatives.
2. Explore options for enhanced service delivery, not limited to departmental expansion, dedicated resources, partnerships, etc.)
3. Research what other jurisdictions are doing regarding municipal social policies.

(The lack of parallelism here is killing me, but I’ll leave that aside.)

The “Background” section of the report notes:

Council has had an interest in exploring several social policy issues in recent years. One of these issues was a motion to provide options for incorporating social economic benefit, living wage and environmental impact into procurement policy and processes: the work toward developing a social policy approach will inform possible municipal programs and initiatives in the area of social policy, including procurement.

So, maybe outsourcing to drive down costs is not always a benefit.

The report looks at other Canadian cities that consider the social impacts of new initiatives — and what their priorities are — and it recognizes that, hey, many issues are connected.

Complex issues, such as poverty do not have a single, clear, or correct solution. If these were simple problems, then a single individual or organization could easily identify and implement a solution that would work.

The development of a social policy framework will take a systems approach, which recognizes that all social organizations and the individuals within them are connected and form a complex whole.

The staff report notes that the municipality has several programs designed to improve community well-being and make life easier for vulnerable people, including the street navigator program and the low income transit pass program. I am sure there will be many differences of opinion on what our social priorities should be and how to achieve them. And I can imagine that the crowd who think the city should just fill potholes will be against this “social engineering” stuff. I don’t know what will result from this process, but I’m glad we’re starting to have this conversation and hope it leads to broadening the way the city assesses projects.

(And yes, on insisting on a living wage for those providing services too.)

Council is also considering the board of police commissioners’ recommendation on who should be named the new police chief today.

2. Measles

I do not know why you would want to buy a plush measles cluster, but you can if you are so inclined.

Alex Cooke reports for CBC that Nova Scotia has the second-lowest rate of measles vaccination in Canada. (Nunavut has the lowest.)

Only about 72% of seven-year-olds in the province have been properly vaccinated against measles, according to figures from 2013. Measles is in the news because of a growing number of outbreaks across North America. Someone with the measles visited the Halifax Infirmary ER last week, potentially exposing people there to the disease.

The province launched a vaccination tracking system last year, and Cooke quotes Dr. Jessica Jackman on her hopes that it will help us understand why people don’t vaccinate, and improve vaccination numbers.

“So if it is due to misinformation, then how can we do a better job of communicating that information that measles-containing-vaccine is safe and effective?” said Jackman. “Or if it’s due to not having sufficient access, then how can we ensure that we have access improved?

“What it’s about is understanding that information about why people aren’t vaccinated and then altering strategies based on that.”

3. Pay the ferryman

I would not try taking this ferry across the Northwest Arm.

In the Chronicle Herald, Nicole Munro writes that David Backman is ready to launch his Northwest Arm ferry service. He’s just looking for a floating dock where he can land on the peninsula side.

He initially sought to use the public dock at the bottom of Oakland Road, directly across from the Dingle Park.

“We went to the city and applied to have a dock put in, but it’s been denied,” he said, citing budget issues. “So now we’re falling back to the boat launch at the bottom of Jubilee Road.”

The municipality is in the process of awarding the tender to a bidder for the new Jubilee dock, so there is no established timeline, said spokeswoman Brynn Langille in an email.

In the meantime, Backman is going to see if he can use the floating dock at the St. Mary’s Boat Club.

The ferry is a low-volume service — Backman’s boat is just over 20 feet long and can carry up to 10 people and four bikes.

4. Sharing economy, my arse

The attitude of some Airbnb hosts?

Remember the promise of Airbnb? You’ve got an extra room or floor, you can rent it out —  make a little cash on the side.

The reality, of course, is a lot different. A CBC report finds that many Airbnb host profiles are essentially catfishing operations. Your smiling host is just a front for, in some cases, a multi-million dollar rental company.

Zach Dubinsky and Valérie Ouellet write:

There’s “Mike,” who has more reviews than anyone — 7,955 as of Monday night — spread over 64 listings. That means “Mike” has hosted people at least 7,955 times, putting to the test his self-description as “an easy going person” who loves “to be with and around people.”

His photo isn’t real; an internet image-matching search shows it’s a stock picture that has been used dozens of times on unrelated sites all over the web. On older reviews for his properties, guests refer to him as “Hakim.”

It turns out that “Mike,” too, is a front for a Montreal company that operates listings commercially.

As the North End gentrifies, its Airbnb-ification continues apace too. Locally, CBC reports on trouble with Airbnb in the neighbourhood (where you can find accommodations ranging from under $50 to hundreds of dollars a night).

When a house in north-end Halifax was sold and turned into an Airbnb by someone who doesn’t live at the property, Bill Stewart said he and his neighbours took on the unwelcome job of defacto managers.

“Essentially, it’s become an unmanaged hotel,” Stewart told CBC’s Information Morning. “We’ve had a number of situations where we’ve had to call the police. There’s been noise, parties, that kind of thing.

“The other thing for us is the sustainability of the neighbourhood. We’re losing a neighbour when we lose a house here, and we’re also losing a good piece of available housing for someone who wants to rent or purchase.”

I can see the appeal of Airbnb for both homeowners and renters, and yes, I have stayed at Airbnbs in the past. Near where I live, I’ve been told there are people who move out of their house for the summer and make enough to cover the mortgage for a year. Others own a few cottages and rent them out to tourists. But at the same time, we are facing a real lack of rental housing and it’s becoming increasingly clear that Airbnb is turning once lively neighbourhoods into areas filled with tourists — while taking on few of the responsibilities that come with owning hotel rooms, and making housing increasingly unaffordable.


Views

1. Some conversation

Not this conversation.

It’s tick season again, so when I saw the Chronicle Herald had a piece on an online tool to help you identify tick species, I clicked on it. The story, I noticed, came from something called “The Conversation” and was written by Jade Savage of Bishop’s University, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. It turns out Savage is a biology professor at the university.

What is “The Conversation” you may ask?

The Conversation Canada launched in June 2017. The Conversation is an independent source of news and views, from the academic and research community, delivered direct to the public.

Our team of professional editors work with experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.

So it’s public relations. But these are public relations people who think public relations can save journalism.

Access to independent, high-quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to allow for better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversations…

We have also become an indispensable media resource: providing free content, ideas and talent to follow up for press, web, radio or TV.

Providing free PR content helps journalism because it means you don’t have to pay journalists, I guess.


Noticed

Yesterday, I was at Leslie Thomas Junior High as part of the Writers in the Schools program. (More on the program in a minute.)

This was my second visit to the school. Last year, when I looked it up on Google Maps for directions, I remember noticing that Google had it listed as a budget hotel, not a school. (It’s since been corrected.)

Google Maps lists Leslie Thomas Jr High in Sackville as a budget hotel. pic.twitter.com/8zS22s3Gfv

— Philip Moscovitch (@PhilMoscovitch) May 29, 2018

Yesterday, I looked it up again when I wanted to check the distance, and I noticed the school had a whole lot of one-star reviews. What was up with that? The kids seemed pretty happy to me.

Well, students seem to have been reviewing their junior high as though it were a budget hotel. And the results are great.

Ava Boudreau writes: “honestly don’t recommend this hotel. the only good thing is that its free but everything else is horrible. i share my room with 20 other people. we have to change rooms every hour. after 2.50 they kick us out and don’t even let us in on the weekends!! never had a more disappointing experience. do not recommend at all!!”

Caleb MacDonald: “this was a great hotel, i stayed here for 3 years, it was free, but for some reason the staff at the hotel made us do work, so i dunno a bit confusing.”

Will MacLaggan: “this is a great place to go, free food but there is 16 random people… in MY HOTEL ROOM.”

This is great. Nice work kids.

I’ve been participating in Writers in the Schools (WITS)  run by the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia, for a long time — probably about 15 years. Every year, WFNS puts out a listing of WITS writers, and schools can browse our profiles and choose which writers they want. The program is funded by the provincial government, so schools only have to pay part of the cost.

I offer a variety of workshops, but most often I wind up talking to elementary and junior high kids about writing comics. There is something about comics that seems to really engage students, especially those who sometimes are hesitant readers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been speaking with some interested and interesting kid during or right after one of these sessions, only to have the teacher later tell me that he or she rarely participates in class like that.

The classes often have aspiring writers, but also kids who may have trouble writing and think they just can’t do it. I talk about the struggles all of us who write for a living sometimes go through, and that we also have trouble writing sometimes, go through multiple revisions, and so on. I also try to drive home the message that even though we may sit at our desks and bang out words alone much of the time, writing is still a very collaborative process.

My point is not that I’m doing anything particularly special or wonderful, but that I am grateful for this program. I think it’s good for writers and good for students. It’s always helpful to expose students to people from different walks of life and it’s also good for us as writers to get out there, share our knowledge, and also learn from the students.

My neighbour Tobias Beale is about to retire from teaching junior high, and he told me the kids keep you honest. If you are not genuine with them they will recognize it and they won’t let you get away with it. “Not that many people [have jobs where they] have to stand close to the fire every day and figure out whether they’re being truthful or not,” he said. That’s an experience those of us who are not teachers don’t often have, and it’s good to experience it once in a while.


Government

City

Tuesday

City Council (Tuesday, 1pm, City Hall) — here’s the agenda

Wednesday

Community Design Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 11am, City Hall) — agenda

North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm, Bedford and Sackville Heights Community Centre) — agenda

Public Information Meeting – Case 21916 (Wednesday, 7pm, Meeting Room, Centennial Arena, Halifax) — BANCInvestments  wants to build a 12-storey apartment building at 3514 Joseph Howe Drive.

National Youth Week and National Youth ARTS Week (until Tuesday, May 7, various locations) — info here.

Province

Tuesday

Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place) — discussion of the New Opportunities for Work Program (NOW). Tim wrote about this yesterday.

Wednesday

No public events.


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

Caregiver Support: Home Care in the Continuum of Care (Tuesday, 12pm, Room 1412, Henry Hicks Building) — Renee Field and Natalie Smith from Home Instead Senior Care will speak. Info here; register here.

Wednesday

Sara Harris and Teri Balser

Dalhousie Conference on University Teaching and Learning [DCUTL] 2019 (Wednesday, 8:30am, Rowe Management Building) — Keynote speakers include Sara Harris from the University of British Columbia and Teri Balser from Dalhousie. Registration and info here.

The Canadian Network for Observational Drug Effect Studies [CNODES]: Observations on Observational Research Implications for Education, Policy and Practice (Wednesday, 11am, Room 109, Burbidge Building) — Shawn Bugden from Memorial University of Newfoundland and the University of Manitoba will speak.

Genome research in non-model eukaryotes: Challenges and opportunities (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — Claudio Slamovits will speak.


In the harbour

01:00: CMA CGM Fidelio, container ship, sails for New York
05:00: YM Essence, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
10:30: Siem Cicero, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
17:30: YM Essence, container ship, sails for Rotterdam


Footnotes

I don’t play a lot of mobile games. Mostly Scrabble and Lexulous with friends, and the occasional other ad-based game, until I get too irritated.

If you want to attack your pants with a barbed wire-wrapped stick, these are for you.

A lot of the ads that run between turns of these games are both terrible and ridiculous. They advertise seemingly scammy products like “Tactical pants”, weird-looking staffs, and yo-yo type toys that “kids are going crazy” for. Some ads for absurd-looking games don’t even give you the name of the game, but just highlight a button urging you to install now. You’ll find cheesy music, bad graphics, and transparently dishonest claims.

After seeing enough of these ads, I realized they’re the contemporary equivalent of the ads you used to see in the backs of comics books.

I should have bought a Jeep for $50 when I had a chance.

X-ray specs anyone? I imagine we’ll be nostalgic for tactical pants ads sometime around 2035.


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Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. The Oakland Road ramp cannot be accessed because a wall was erected across the raod and because a very rich man had a mega mansion right next to the public space, until he sold his property for $7.2 million on July 16 2018. PVSC shows a road, probably out of date.
    The are similar roads blocked off in the south end where rich people live – Parkwood Place at Bloomingdale Terrace, bit of a nuisance when the place goes up in flames and trees and a fence block the fire trucks : https://www.viewpoint.ca/sidebarmap#!

  2. I don’t understand the knock on “The Conversation.” Why is it PR? What is wrong with what they are doing, other than that it is another in a series of challenges to journalists?

    1. There is nothing wrong with it on its own. Universities have long needed to do a better job of getting the word out about their research. I’ve probably written a couple of hundred stories highlighting the work of university researchers. But when I write those stories I’m being paid by the communications or advancement office. When you’re providing pieces like this to media outlets, it’s the equivalent of a press release. It’s good for the institution backing the research. I mean, I guess it’s better than just rewriting a press release in that it’s more transparent. And I suppose it’s good that the Conversation people have some standards. But positioning this as journalism and as helping journalism doesn’t sit well with me. That’s my take on it, anyway.

      1. I agree that whatever the Conversation is, it’s not journalism.

        At its best, it is informed experts writing about topical subjects, speaking directly to the world about their expertise. Sometimes researchers describe their own new results or a recent paper, which isn’t a bad thing. There may be some PR benefits that accrue to the individual or the university, in the same way that publishing academic papers or speaking at conferences does.

        I think calling it PR demeans it unreasonably, though. There’s no coherent message, content is written by the experts themselves not a PR person, and they are informed and explanatory articles, not laudatory. Every person writing for it does so at the expense of doing other things better recognized by academic incentive systems, likely to a greater degree than any PR benefit. I thus believe it is a sincere desire to communicate with the world, to break out of the campus. Or perhaps I just think too little of PR?

      2. Many scientific studies have been mangled by university PR departments (deliberately or otherwise – eg, https://www.vox.com/2016/1/16/10777050/university-of-maryland-chocolate-milk). The Conversation gives control over content back to academics, who then have to be directly responsible for this content. It’s a constructive attempt gently to push academics to communicate their work in language that is accessible to the broader public. Journalists are expert at the latter. It’s certainly a good thing for academics. I’m not sure why it would be detrimental to the field of traditional, good-quality journalism.

  3. The chickens are coming home to roost for our favourite disruptors. From Airbnb to Uber to Facebook it’s becoming increasingly clear that there are consequences beyond share price and individual greed. The “sharing economy” is the most disingenuous misnomer in recent memory.

    https://www.bbc.com/news/business-45083954