Hi, I’m Chris Benjamin, today’s guest writer. I’m a journalist as well as a writer and editor of books — fiction and non-fiction — and the managing editor of Atlantic Books Today Magazine. Environment and social justice are my beats.


1. Oil spills, past and present

A photo of oil booms along the shoreline near the Tufts Cove power plant
Photo: Halifax Examiner

The Canadian Coast Guard is investigating what appears to be an oil slick near Bishop’s Landing, according to the CBC. Unfortunately the story is unattributed. Nova Scotia Power says it’s not related to the recent Tuft’s Cove oil leak. The story does not mention BP’s drilling mud spill in June.

Good thing we no longer dump shit in the harbour.

Jennifer Henderson adds:

The Canadian Coast Guard is investigating a patch of oil or “mystery sheen” that appeared yesterday offshore Bishop’s Landing. Maybe the oil came from a nearby cruise ship. Maybe it slipped the bonds of a containment boom near Tuft’s Cove on the Dartmouth side of Halifax Harbour. On August 2, Nova Scotia Power reported a leak of about 5,000 litres of Bunker “C “fuel oil from a pipe connected to its power generating station.

Then 10 days later, the power company informed the N.S. Department of Environment it was much larger than originally reported: that an additional 9,900 litres had leaked into a containment trench and another 9,400 litres entered the cooling water system of one of the utility’s generators.

“We monitor our site daily and we have not observed sheen outside of our containment booming,” replied Nova Scotia Power spokesperson Tiffany Chase in an email response reported by CBC News yesterday to a question about the origin of more oil showing up in Halifax Harbour.

All of which makes the question and answer session reporters had with Environment Minister Margaret Miller last Thursday after a meeting of Cabinet seem more troubling and unsatisfying. Are you being served? Here, for the record, is a transcription of part of that Q. & A. with the Environment Minister.

Reporter: In terms of the cleanup at Tuft’s Cove, have you been given any update or when the cleanup will be finished?

Minister Miller: I haven’t had any more updates since the last time we spoke. [Following previous cabinet meeting two weeks earlier.]

Reporter: Do you have any concerns about the way you found out about the extent of this spill?

Minister Miller: I’m sure the staff onsite had a little bit of knowledge but we were told as soon as it was confirmed what the amounts of the spill were and we were given the information and that’s the same time it was made public.

Reporter: And you are satisfied with that?

Minister Miller: I am.

Reporter: Do you know when the last time was that pipe would have been inspected?

Minister Miller: No, I can’t speak to that at all.

Reporter: Can you tell us the exact time when the spill was found and when it was stopped?

Minister Miller: I don’t remember the exact details now but we spoke of it earlier. We were informed as soon as the company was aware of it. Somebody from the Department of Environment was notified. The company had to hire a site professional and then they worked with the company to ensure the site was remediated as soon as possible.

[NOTE: Nova Scotia Power has estimated it will take until mid-September to clean up the spill and the site.]

Reporter: Was there any concern the spill was so much larger than initially reported?

Minister Miller: I don’t know how they measure. What process they do have. Certainly it is concerning that it was that much of a spill. I’m really happy that it was contained and that the minimal amount, although I don’t know how you can say 5,000 litres is minimal, that the company was able to make sure the spill didn’t spread any further.

Reporter: Will your Dept. review the state of that pipe and why it was allowed to deteriorate?

Minister Miller: I’m not sure. Our department makes sure the site is remediated so we aren’t going to be looking at the mechanics of the facility itself. But we will make sure the cleanup is done properly and the site comes back to its natural state.

2. The death rattles of the Big Lift

Crews are working on this thing at two, three or four in the morning. Photo: Mike Hall, via trekearth.com

Andrea Gunn reports for The Chronicle Herald that:

And nearly three years after construction began in October 2015, neighbours are wondering if there is an end in sight.

Shelley Thompson, a Halifax-based actor, writer and director, lives on Lyle Street in Dartmouth, very close to the Macdonald bridge, a commuter toll bridge that connects Halifax to Dartmouth.

Thompson told The Chronicle Herald she’s been frustrated with both the incessant noise and mess caused by the work and the lack of communication from Halifax Harbour Bridges, the provincial Crown corporation responsible for the Macdonald and A. Murray MacKay Bridge.

Halifax Harbour Bridges announced the end of weekend closures last fall and overnight closures in December, but resumed overnight closures four nights a week again in July. In February there was an announcement that the crews had replaced the last of 46 deck segments on the bridge, although the company acknowledged there was still other work to be completed, and the timeline on the Halifax Harbour Bridges website still lists spring 2018 as the completion date. Early news articles cited fall 2017 as the completion date.

A spokesperson for Halifax Harbour Bridges told Gunn that everything should really, really, really be wrapped up by late September.

3. Opioid-Addiction Treatment

Wendy Martin reports for CBC that the Nova Scotia Health Authority is claiming significantly reduced wait times for opioid-addiction treatments, especially in the eastern part of the province:

A year ago, people in some parts of the province had to wait up to six months to get into a program.

Now, in the eastern zone, which includes Cape Breton and Antigonish, the wait is about a week. It’s even less in the Halifax area, where waiting times have been almost eliminated.

“We have seen a significant drop in terms of our waits for people living with an opioid use disorder in a very very short period of time,” said Samantha Hodder, the health authority’s senior director of mental health and addictions.

Martin spoke to a front-line worker in Sydney who confirmed the reduction but said some people still end up waiting several weeks for treatment.

4. Hot enough for ya?

This is a picture I once took of the Sahara Desert from an airplane. I don’t think I could live there.

Philip Croucher of StarMetro Halifax is one of several people gleefully reporting that it’s hot. Damn hot. And it’s going to stay that way from now on:

The high temperature for Tuesday is 26 C, and then a whopping 31 C on Wednesday, both with sun in the forecast.

When it comes to measurable rain over the past two months, Halifax had only seven days in July (compared with 10 in 2017) and six so far this month (compared with 10 for all of last August).

“It’s been a global heat wave from coast to coast and you haven’t been left out in the cold at all,” [Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips] said.

It boggles my mind that at this point in our nearly-over-now history we still have articles about record-breaking heat waves that don’t mention climate change once, where it doesn’t seem to occur to the reporter to query whether perhaps there is a downside to this lack of rainfall and scorching summer days.

5. Children’s book in English and Mi’kmaw

Kaitlyn Swan reports for the CBC on the release of a new children’s book in Mi’kmaw and English:

The story tries to demonstrate to children that they’re perfectly OK the way they are, and for whatever reason they’re ‘different,’ then they should accept that difference and be happy,” said Francis.

The Mi’kmaq translation of the book is called Nɨsqnanamuksit sqolj.

“I grew up with stories as a kid, those legends that are still bouncing around in my head,” he said.

“There was a coherence to them. I wanted to ensure that when this is read, it will have the same effect as the old stories had on me.”

My job requires me to pay close attention to the books published in this region, and I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of books being published in multiple languages, including Mi’kmaw.

A few years ago I wrote about several Robert Munsch story books being translated by Mi’kmaq Kina’matnewey, the organization that coordinates the Mi’kmaw education system in Nova Scotia. Earlier this year, the artist Alan Syliboy’s baby board book included Syliboy’s iconic animal images along with words in English and Mi’kmaw.

If Indigenous languages are to be fully revitalized as part of Canada’s reconciliation efforts, Indigenous-language resources for children will be an essential tool in that process.

6. Conservatives oxymoronically adopt radical policy positions

Writing for The Coast, Matt Stickland has a handy breakdown of the policies endorsed by the federal conservatives at their convention in Halifax over the weekend. What stands out is the adoption of several new (yet oh so old) radical social policies like ending birthright citizenship (because apparently there’s a rash of come-from-away people invading our borders to have their babies), protecting freedom of (far-right hate) speech, and moving our Israeli embassy to Jerusalem because it was so tremendous when Trump did it.

The Cons also talked seriously about reopening the abortion debate — a close vote killed the motion.

Folks, this self-protective anger, the lashing out, of the traditionally privileged is spreading.


1. Social Assistance benefits punitive, unfair and confusing

From the Employment Support and Income Policy Manual, pg 13

“It seems unpublished policies and regulations that say unintended things are part of how Community Services conducts its business,” writes Robert Devet in The Nova Scotia Advocate.

In November last year the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal decided that it’s unjust to deprive an entire family of social assistance benefits just because the so called “head” of that family did something wrong. After all, why would a spouse and children have to suffer for an infraction they didn’t commit?

That decision  was big. It forced the Department of Community Services to change the punitive and unfair practice, and to only withhold that portion of the benefits designated for the parent who is being punished. The department also was to review the decision’s impact on other regulations and policies.

10 months later the Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA) policy manual, the caseworkers’ bible, still does not reflect that decision.

The Department of Community Services tells Devet that it has changed its policy, but it hasn’t made the changes public. He wonders, why not make the changes public immediately?

The Department spokesperson told Devet that more changes are afoot, but all the secrecy just adds to the mud that recipients are somehow supposed to wade through. And see through.


Did I mention I’m a book guy? I’m currently reading Why Young Men? Rage, Race and the Crisis of Identity by Jamil Jivani. The book jacket doesn’t quite do justice to the range of topics Jivani covers, but he connects them with a very personal narrative about his own upbringing, a lack of male role models and how he turned to peers and hip-hop culture for guidance, seriously flirted with the idea of a life of crime, but ultimately relied on his intelligence to carve out a successful life.

Jivani looks closely at the way young men, especially those of colour and from immigrant communities, are raised by our collective village, and what can go right and wrong, with a particular eye for culture, religion, violence, and radicalization. [One thing I wish he’d examined more was the rise of neo-fascist ideas like those driving the Conservative Party’s new social policies, which as mentioned above in the news section, are brutally radical.]

This stuff fascinates me as a father of a boy going into Grade 5 who has yet to have a male homeroom teacher. Looking at him and his peers, who are mostly relatively well off, and mostly white, I see plenty of opportunity for things to go right or wrong. Some of them seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in the principal’s office despite seeming to me like well-rounded and even gentle boys, and I don’t have an easy answer as to why. The experience for racialized boys, as Jivani and others attest, is complicated and challenging in many other ways.

At a certain age though, we are all particularly susceptible to ideas and influences, and it behooves us to examine the lives of boys and young men — including our own at that age — and the sources of toxic masculinity. With the rise of #metoo and the recent Toronto van attack, which targeted and murdered mostly women, men in particular need to engage in Jivani’s style of self-examination in a broad social context.



No public meetings this week.



Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place) — seems the legislature is no longer posting public agendas… at least not for this meeting.

On campus



No public events.


Thesis Defence, Biology (Wednesday, 10am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) —PhD candidate Kristina Boerder will defend her ​​thesis, “​Tracking Global Fisheries from Space: Patterns, Problems, and Protected Areas.”

In the harbour

6pm: Algoma Strongfield, bulker, arrives at 21-AMD from Montreal

As you can see, I (Tim) am tracking ships from whatever port I happen to be driving by on my travels. The Port of Hamilton, which I’ll be driving over in about two hours, is nowhere near as busy as the Port of Halifax… mostly bulkers, it seems. But even the bulkers are interesting. In port today is the Tundra, which back in 2015 had a little mishap:

The 30,000 DWT MV Tundra ran aground at approximately 1 a.m. Sunday on the Saint Lawrence River near Summerstown, Ontario, just south of Lancaster.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada says it is deploying a team to investigate the grounding.

The incident comes after the cruise ship Saint Laurent hit a bumper in the Eisenhower Lock chamber, injuring 30 people and suspending navigation for 42 hours. Vessel traffic on the St. Lawrence Seaway resumed at 4 p.m. Saturday after the vessel was refloated and removed from the lock. The closure delayed 15 vessels, the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation reported.

The MV Tundra is owned by Montreal-based Canfornav, part of Canadian Forest Navigation.


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  1. 1) I’m with you on despising the “Oh wow it’s so hot!” reporting, plus lots of Nova Scotians are on wells, and no rain is not a good thing.

    2) For those interested in male violence, Daemon Fairless’s book Mad Blood Stirring: The Inner Lives of Violent Men is a good read, and what really makes it is Fairless’s examination of how quickly he would resort to violence to solve problems. (Chris, if you want to read it message me and I’ll give you my copy.)

  2. 15% of boys are diagnosed with ‘ADHD’. 2/3 of these boys are given drugs. At what point do we question the school system rather than the boys?

    The modern school system is a historical aberration and it is interesting to note that the traditional American style of education (yes, I am talking about one-room schoolhouses) produced graduates who were more literate and better educated at an incredibly low cost compared to the modern Prussian system.

    1. “At what point do we question the school system rather than the boys?”

      To me it’s not an either/or. As I stated, “self-examination in a broad social context.” Absolutely, our systems (as well as our cultural norms) should be considered more carefully, in my opinion.

      1. Sure – and it is a good question to ask why most media depictions of men (of course there are exceptions) tend towards the outside of the Homer Simpson – Hulk Hogan – Seth Rogen (in his stereotypical roles, not the person himself) triad. It is also worth asking why I had only three male teachers, out of perhaps 30, until grade 9, other than the gym teacher.

        Finland has one of the most successful school systems in the world, and they make the kids go outside and exercise. They get comparable results in international tests with countries like Korea without the very long hours that Korean students famously spend studying.

  3. Interestingly enough, the Bishop’s Landing slick isn’t the only spill reported in the harbour this week. Yesterday, the Coast Guard at BIO reported to Halifax MCTS, an oil slick stretching from the McKay Bridge to the Tuft’s Cove boom. But NSP says their boom is secure and not leaking, so I guess we have to believe them.
    The Bishop’s Landing slick hasn’t been reported over the VHF radio.