News

1. Lobster fisherman with disability fights DFO in court

Lobster traps near wharf in Lobster Fishing Area 33.  Photo: Linda Pannozzo

Dana Robinson of Parkers Cove has difficulty standing for extended periods of time. As you can imagine, that affects his ability to make a living fishing lobster. So, for the last several years, under a medical exemption, Robinson has been allowed to designate a substitute to operate his boat.

The trouble, Vernon Ramesar reports for CBC, is that the exemption is only valid for five years. When Robinson asked DFO for an extension, the deputy minister turned him down. So Robinson turned to the courts, arguing that the time-limited provision discriminated against him as a person with a disability.

Ramesar writes:

Robinson, 60, filed for a judicial review of the decision in Federal Court on the grounds that the decision was discriminatory and his charter rights were being violated.

In a Sept. 30 judgment, Justice Richard Southcott set aside the deputy minister’s decision and ordered the application be reconsidered to ensure Robinson’s charter rights are affected “as little as possible”.

Robinson’s lawyer, Richard Norman, welcomed the decision…

Norman said rather than celebrating the ability of fishermen with disabilities to overcome challenges, DFO is telling them to “get out of the industry” because they can’t physically be on the vessel.

I am generally a “don’t read the comments” kind of person, but the first comment on the CBC story is so great, because it is obviously from someone who did not read it, but is definitely not at all racist and cares deeply about conservation. It reads:

fish by the same rules as everyone else. The rules ar3 to protect stocks.

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2. Parents concerned about cuts to educational program assistants

Amy Spurway. Photo: Alex Pearson

Global reports that several educational program assistants (EPAs have seen their contracts terminated, even though the Halifax Regional Centre for Education says there have been no EPA layoffs or cuts.

Reporter Jesse Thomas speaks with Amy Spurway, who has twin daughters with autism in high school. He also quotes spokesperson Doug Hadley of the HRCE, who says staffing adjustments early in the school year are not uncommon.

Thomas writes:

“I would venture to say that every kid with a disability or that every kid with special needs right now has higher support needs in some way shape or form than they had last year,” said Spurway.

“We haven’t been asked what our needs are, we’re an afterthought.”

Global News is protecting the identity of an EPA who says she was awarded a full-time position just days before the school year began, only to find out a month later that she was being laid off but said she could go on the supply list if she wished.

“I was laid off, I lost my benefits, paying into my pension and all those things,” said the EPA. “This was the start of a good opportunity for myself and my two children and that was just taken away from me.”

If people I know who have kids who work with EPAs are representative, frequent changes can be frustrating at best, or damaging at worst. Understandably, kids get comfortable with their EPAs and attached to them. Switching them (or, even worse, cutting them) makes life just that much harder.

The full story is worth reading. You will have to put up with two auto-playing videos though. I never understand this. It’s like saying, Hey! Here’s a story we wrote, but instead of making it easy for you to read, we’ll keep these moving images going the whole time so you can’t concentrate on the text!

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3. End of the line for The Ocean?

Via Rail has made its suspension of its Ocean train, the route from Montreal to Halifax, indefinite, CBC News reports.

Service was stopped March 13 because of the pandemic and was scheduled to start up again on Nov. 1. Via Rail, however, has decided to postpone the resumption of service.

“Recent bulletins by authorities show that a second wave of the pandemic has begun in some regions of the country,” Via said in a statement on its website.

“The authorities indicate that this situation is worrisome as we are heading into autumn and winter, which are seasons presenting a high risk for respiratory diseases.”

That’s basically it in terms of information in this story. I hope there is some follow-up, because I would love to know more. Maritimers have long worried Via was looking for a reason to end the service, which had suffered considerable service reductions already. I considered taking The Ocean a few times for business trips, but the nature of the schedule would have meant spending a week on travel for a day or two of meetings. Not really feasible.

Is there a way to safely run rail service during a pandemic? Surely rail has not shut down throughout Europe. The Metro still runs in Montreal and so does the subway in Toronto. Are they vectors for transmission? Of course, wearing a mask on transit is not the same as taking an 18-hour train trip. And maybe there is no way to run The Ocean safely. It just seems that there are a lot of questions here, and I hope some reporters can get answers.

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4. Don’t worry about those rent increases. It’s just tenants upgrading

Halifax has the fastest-climbing rents in North America, with an average increase of 15.8% for a two-bedroom apartment over the last year.

A Huffington Post story notes that this means the next couple of years could be good for landlords in “some of the country’s long-struggling secondary cities” like ours.

Long-struggling = somewhat affordable rents, I guess.

Anyway, the Chronicle Herald’s Bill Spurr has the local scoop for us, interviewing the head of the Investment Property Owners Association of N.S., Kevin Russell. (To be fair, Spurr also interviews a tenant — a Nova Scotian living in Toronto in a $3,750/month apartment with a wrap-around balcony and a pool on the roof; pre-COVID, the rent was $4,400.)

Russell doesn’t think we should be alarmed by the steep increases in rent, because, he says, what’s happening is just that tenants want condo-like places, so they are upgrading and as a result, rents are climbing.

Spurr writes:

“Current renters living in older buildings are upgrading their housing,” Russell said via email. “As a result, the resulting vacancy caused by the lack of inward migration is being absorbed. With an estimated 4,200 units coming to market in the next 26-30 months, this trend is expected to continue.”

Russell predicts that as current renters vacate older buildings, more affordable rental units will come onto the market, addressing affordable housing issues.

“Current renters are demanding secure buildings with increased lifestyle amenities such as fitness centres and high-end finishes in their units, such as a granite countertop,” he said. “In short, renters want rental units to offer condominium-quality living.”

So, I guess, hermit-crab-like, once the tenants of the cheaper older buildings are done moving to the fancy buildings, everything will be OK.

Russell’s quotes remind me of a story I wrote several years ago for Halifax Magazine on the decline of full-serve gas stations. Canadian Fuels Association spokesperson Bill Simpkins told me full-serve stations were vanishing because of “consumer preference.”

It didn’t make it into the story, but one of the things Simpkins told me was:

One of the key things is that with people buying more expensive cars, they like to serve themselves. They don’t like to have their cars handled in any way… They like to fill their vehicles and get out very quickly… It’s consumer preference. It’s what consumers demand.

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Views

1. 30 years of ghost stories

The cover page for one of last year’s entries in the library’s ghost story contest. Photo: Halifax Public Libraries

Halifax Public Libraries and the Helen Creighton Folklore Society have been running a ghost story writing contest for kids and teens since 1990. And the library has every single entry tucked away in file boxes at the Alderney Landing branch.

Librarian Alison Creech calls herself the keeper of the story archive, because “I went through them all last year just to make sure they were well-organized.” Creech said the contest generally gets between 30 and 70 entries a year. Over three decades, that adds up. And when she went through the files, she found a few surprises.

I found stories from people who now work at the library. There’s one entry in there from a current librarian. She entered when she was about 13 and she’d forgotten all about it… I think one of the winners — his mom said she entered the contest when she was a kid. And of course, she had a vague idea of what year it was, and we found her story, and then we put her story and her kid’s story up on our web page together that year. So it’s become generational now, I guess.

Creech said that over the years, she’s seen certain trends come and go. Vampire stories were big during the Twilight years. Video games play a role too. There was a story set in the world of Fortnite last year. A few years before that, she remembers one set in Minecraft.

And, of course, there are the classic campfire-type stories, which Creech said are seeing a resurgence.

A lot of traditional ghost stories… We often see haunted libraries. Pretty much anything you can think of that’s supernatural has popped up in some of these ghost stories.

I asked Creech if there are any stories that have stood out in her mind over the years, and she mentioned a cute picture-book-style story of a ghost who lost his glasses, a classic-style story of an omen foreshadowing tragedy set on Citadel Hill, and one set on a farm:

It’s about a character who’s inherited a farm from a family member, and they go there and they hear the wind and then the wind starts speaking to them, and it turns out that it’s the spirits of the farm animals over the years. The wind is carrying the voices of farm animals who were mistreated, and it carries the protagonist away to become one with the spirits and also just a voice in the wind. And it was just a really original idea. I don’t know where this young lady got her idea, but it’s just a really genuinely creepy little story with an unexpected twist. You don’t expect the evil spirits to be cows.

Georgia Atkin is a 26-year-old writer and freelance editor who entered the contest three times, and is now one of its judges. The first story she entered, The Fiddler’s Inn, was written when she was 13, and is set in Orangedale in 1965. The train to Sydney has broken down, and the protagonist has to stay at a somewhat creepy local inn.

Excerpt from “The Fiddler’s Inn”, by Georgia Atkin

Ghost stories, Atkin says, are “a good way” for kids “to explore darker stories, darker ideas… I think it’s part of just letting that creativity out at full strength. Being able to explore things that you might not be able to otherwise. And maybe enjoying it a little bit, too.”

Atkin said these kinds of opportunities can be really formative for young writers. She always liked writing, but the contest was the first time she’d sent in a story to be ready by people she didn’t know.

Georgia Atkin. Photo: Contributed

She said it’s really important for young writers to “be able to make a connection with somebody with their writing — especially somebody a bit older, or who has more experience as a writer. I know that when I got my ghost story feedback from the judges back when I was 13… that was really important to me. I could share my writing with somebody and they gave me an honest and very helpful perspective on my work. And I think maybe that gave me a new perspective on my work as well.”

Most years, ghost story contest entrants are invited to an event at the library to celebrate them and their entries. Creech said the lights are turned down, someone tells a ghost story, and then each entrant is introduced and gets a certificate, whether they are one of that years’ winners or not.

“It’s my favourite event out of everything I’ve been involved with at the library,” Creech said. “So many of the kids will show up. They all bring their families… In theory, we have winners, but you wouldn’t know that every child wasn’t a winner, the way they react to having their story introduced to all these people.”

This year, of course, things will be different, with the event held virtually.

Atkin said that reading the stories as a judge has been interesting, “just to see the full scope of all the different stories.”

And even after having read 30 years worth of entries, Creech said,

It always really amazes me how original and creative and enthusiastic the kids are. You know, I think school sometimes is about improving and being corrected, to a certain extent, whereas this is really just about sharing your story.

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2. Uninformed pundit: bad!

is this the bad orange man? Image from buycostumes.com

I am struggling with how painfully stupid this piece by Bruce Evans is. It is running under “regional perspectives” on the Saltwire website. Evans is a former Nova Scotian who lives in Arizona, which I guess allows his perspective to count as regional? I don’t know. Is he a well-known ex-local and it just happens I’ve never heard of him?

Evans provides a subtle and nuanced argument that media coverage of Trump shows bias against him. Really? No. Of course not. His argument is that the media’s take on Trump is “Orange Man Bad,” and Evans then goes on to, I guess, attempt to skewer this perception.

We start with this proposition, presented as fact:

Agenda-ized media celebrities pushing their own views and, in the U.S., 95 per cent of those comport with the Democratic Party platform. Most Canadian news outlets seem to get their “feed” from those biased sources, replete with the cyclonic editorial spin.

Evans then goes on to show us that Trump is not racist, stupid, militaristic, or a liar. (Paging fact-checker Daniel Dale.)

The oft-cited Charlottesville quote is out of context. President Trump wasn’t complimenting white supremacists; he was stating that the two sets of peaceful demonstrators, both of whom were co-opted by uninvited extremist groups, had valid points and the right to express them.

Yes, this completely undercuts the “both sides” argument.

On lying:

Yes, he is given to stating that many of his administration’s victories are beyond anything ever seen before. Since when did hyperbole equal lying? He is perhaps the most transparent president in recent memory.

Evans goes on to say he feels sorry for the interns who have to fact-check Trump at the Washington Post and CNN, not because Trump lies so much, but because they are not really lies, only exaggerations. Interns? Tell it to the aforementioned Dale, CNN’s presidential fact-checker, who used to be Washington Bureau Chief for the Toronto Star.

If you’re trying to set the record straight, maybe get basic facts right yourself?

Meanwhile, Saltwire also has a Reuters story about a Trump supporter who is now quarantining after a photo op with the president. The 25-year-old member of the Dallas Young Republicans was shocked to learn Trump had been diagnosed with COVID-19, “because he has looked so healthy the night before.”

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Noticed

The poster of Mercury is in the same community garden as the Sun. Photo: Hubbards Solar System Project.

Kyle Carver wanted to get a clearer sense of the scale of the solar system, and reading about it in books just wasn’t cutting it for him.

So the 15-year-old, who lives near Queensland Beach and goes to Five Bridges Junior High, decided to build a scale model. But not one of those table-top ones. Carver and his father, Allan Carver, put together what they call the Hubbards Solar System Project.

“We were looking at a bunch of books that were about space, and we saw that there were a lot of pictures about the solar system. And we never got a full scale of how big it really is,” Kyle said. “For this project, we’ve got a scale model to show how big the solar system really is.”

The Carvers installed a 54″ sun on a building at the Aspotogan Heritage Trust in Hubbards, then installed posters in the community and beyond, showing where the planets and other objects in the solar system would land at scale. The inner planets are easily walkable. Beyond that, you’ll need a bike or a car. (Bike is ideal, Allan said.)

“We also included the Oort Cloud, which is the farthest element in our solar system,” Allan said. “And that has an inner wall and an outer wall. So if the sun is four and a half feet wide, you’ll have to go to Moncton to get to the inner shell. And where do you have to go to get to the outer shell?”

“Argentina,” Kyle said.

Kyle Carver by the Pluto poster at Seawall Beach. Photo: Allan Carver

Allan said he and Kyle are trying to get an embassy in Argentina to put up an Oort Cloud poster to complete the project.

Rob Thacker, who teaches in the Department of Astronomy and Physics at SMU, heard about the solar system project when the Carvers called in to the Rick Howe show a few weeks ago to tell him about it. I asked Thacker what he thought of hands-on DIY science projects like this.

He said,

It’s really difficult to help people fully appreciate the Universe around them. It’s so different from our day-to-day experience. But scale models like this take a distant and far-off thing and put it right in your everyday life — how can you not learn something from that?! It’s awesome!

I’m a big believer that if you want to reach people you have to make an effort to reach them in ways they appreciate. Innovative projects like this are a big part of doing that well!

Allan said he realizes most people aren’t likely to start at the Sun, but he figures they’ll see one of the posters up at local businesses or other spot (the restaurant that is the location for Mars has added a deep-fried Mars Bar to the menu). He hopes they will then get intrigued, and go find the rest of the posters. Kyle said it’s not just a way to be awed by the size of the solar system, but a way to explore the community too:

We mainly put them there to not only show people the solar system, but also so people go to those stores and they may be interested in what they find there.

I didn’t want to just put them up randomly around the community. I wanted you to have a destination.

He said:

People are all day-to-day and looking at the world around them. And it’s like, no, if you change your perspective and realize that you’ve got to go six kilometres if the sun’s four-and-a-half feet — if the sun is about as tall as the average teenager, you’ve got to go six kilometres to reach Pluto. Space is a lot bigger than you can even imagine.

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Government

City

Tuesday

No meetings.

Wednesday

North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm, boardroom, 4-pad arena, Bedford) — no agenda Friday, more info here.

Province

Tuesday

Community Services (Tuesday, 10am, Province House) — Adult Service Centres – Community-based Vocational Programs For Adults with Disabilities. Featuring Tracy Taweel, Community Services; Bob Bennett, Summer Street Adult Services Centre; Mike Townsend, DIRECTIONS Council for Vocational Services Society.

Committee page here.

Wednesday

No public meetings.

On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

Matter (Tuesday, 12pm) — architecture lecture with Joep Storms from TUDelft and Michaela Büsse, Basel. More info and Zoom link here.

Vulnerabilities exposed and the opportunity to respond: Reflections on public libraries in the time of COVID19 (Tuesday, 5:30pm) — with Åsa Kachan. More info and link here. From the listing:

When COVID-19 necessitated the sudden closure of public libraries in March, libraries were faced with an unprecedented challenge. After years of bringing growing numbers of people together within our spaces to learn, share, laugh and even dance, gathering had suddenly become dangerous. From her own experience, and with stories from across the county, Åsa Kachan will share the remarkable ways public libraries have responded to our communities’ urgent need for accurate information, entertainment, technology and connection in a time of COVID.​

Wednesday

Developing Acanthamoeba castellanii as an experimental model for studying eukaryote lateral gene transfer (Wednesday, 4pm) — online lecture with Morgan Colp. More info and link contact here.

Ingrid Waldron

Environmental Racism: There’s Something in the Water (Wednesday, 8pm) — Ingrid Waldron will share her work which led to an award-winning book and a documentary by Ellen page, now available on Netflix. Info and registration here.

Saint Mary’s

Tuesday

How to Spot Fake News (Tuesday, 11am) — webinar info here.

Wednesday

Social Entrepreneurship Workshop (Wednesday, 2pm) — In this “engaging and informative webinar” you’ll find out if you’re one of those who “recognizes a social problem and uses (newfangling) principles to organize, create, and manage an idea to make a change.” Info here.


In the harbour

No ships arriving or departing today. What’s up with that?


Footnotes

Nellie McKay’s song Identity Theft includes the line, “As far as I’m concerned, Pluto’s still a planet.”

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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. I’ve used The Ocean several times over the past few years as I have a family member now living in Ontario in a community which happens to be on the train line, but is not near any airport. There is so much which could be done to make this a viable service. First of all, reverse the Stephen Harper cutback of service (go back to six days a week from the three days). Subsidize the railway. It’s an environmentally friendly way to travel. I’ve met so many interesting people on the train. It’s an atttraction for tourists, who will return once covid is dealt with, as well as a key transportation link for Northern New Brunswick.
    Improving the rail bed itself so service can be faster would help. As the freight trains use the same line it would help that service as well, which we know is crucial to the viability of the Port of Halifax. And maybe more laybys so there’s less delay of the passenger train as it has to make way for a freight train.
    Apparently at the moment the railbed is the main thing stopping the ocean from flooding the land connection between Nova Scotia and the Rest of Canada.
    All levels of government shoudl pay attention to the condition of the rails and work hard to improve the valuable passenger service.

  2. For all the hot air about climate change, you would think the government would be interested in upgrading and maintaining our rail infrastructure. It takes about 1/10th of the energy to move goods by rail as it does by tractor trailer and trains do not require batteries to be electrified.

    The solar system project is really cool.

  3. Rather than being a slow, infrequent and expensive coast-to-coast rail service, VIA should provide the kind of transportation that is needed nation-wide between major centres. Halifax return Moncton twice daily makes sense, especially with stops in Bedford, Fall River, Enfield, Stewiacke, Truro, Springhill and Amherst. If commuters along that corridor could use it to get to work; if patients could use it to get to medical appointments in Moncton or Halifax; then it would make some kind of sense. Windsor – Toronto, Ottawa-Montreal, Montreal-Quebec all make sense. With that kind of focus, VIA could get those dedicated tracks built and not always be stuck waiting for 100-car freight manifests to pass.

    The Ocean is leaving Halifax three days a week at a weird hour, costing more and taking longer to reach Montreal than flying or driving. It appeals to a very small niche of nostalgists and masochists, and loses millions of dollars in the process. If it didn’t already exist, it would never be built. It is irrelevant.

      1. Yes please I say as well. Even a train down to the south shore – I noticed that is an old rail station in Yarmouth so it can’t be impossible. We need to tie us together in ways that do not require cars.

    1. Our transportation infrastructure is a massive collective-action failure. We could have an excellent train system that costs us all far less than private cars do, but because we need to keep taxes low to pay for private cars….

  4. Via actually announced that about The Ocean on Sept. 25, but none of the media took notice at the time it seems. Not sure if they emailed that out…If they did, nobody seems to have seen it. Only came up now because someone (ahem) followed up about what was going to happen on Nov. 1 and was told about it and apparently everyone else then noticed. Via Rail will not give out much information. Never does these days.

    With the Atlantic Bubble, I am not surprised the run is on hold, because most people from west of New Brunswick would be ineligible to get into the bubble without 14 days isolation, but they won’t say if they had considered shorter runs, say Campbellton to Moncton, Moncton to Halifax, or just Campbellton to Halifax.

    They did say earlier they had solved the problem of the Renaissance cars and their inability to run the train in both directions which was a problem given the loss of the turnaround loop at Halterm. They are going to use some other configuration, if it ever does re-open. But getting information out of Via these days is not easy, and it would probably be faster to file an ATIP. They had been considering shorter runs, announced it in fact, but that seems to be on the back burner. Not to mention the state of the CN-owned track in some place, particularly the Newcastle subdivision.

    The map above shows the line on the Gaspe, which hasn’t run VIA passenger cars in years due to the state of the track and bridges, and only runs freight for a short distance, I think to Nouvelle thereabouts. Quebec has a three year plan to rebuild that track so trains can go all the way to the town of Gaspe…I can’t remember if it is owned directly by the province, or by an NFP shortline, but the track will be repaired. I wish I could say the same for much of the subdivisions in eastern Canada which CN is ignoring.