1. Mashing the reset button
In his column this week, Stephen Kimber asks whether Tim Houston needs to hit reset on some of the incoming government’s attempts to reform the status quo.
Kimber starts with a little history lesson on how we wound up with a slew of regional health authorities later consolidated into a single authority. Both devolution and consolidation were supposed to produce cost savings but neither actually did.
Beyond all the money that wasn’t saved, [former premier Stephen] McNeil’s new one-size-fits-all health authority also failed to deliver on its corollary promise of better health care. In 2017, a group of medical professionals issued “a scathing report” on its operations, “saying the organization isn’t agile enough to respond to local needs and is subject to political interference.”
The Cliff’s Notes version? One health authority didn’t work any better than four or nine. Perhaps the number of health authorities was never the real problem.
Houston isn’t planning to go back to multiple health authorities and, to his credit, has promised that his government’s actions are aimed at improving health care rather than saving money. But, in the wake of naming a white man as the minister responsible for African Nova Scotian Affairs and the Office of Equity and Anti-Racism Initiatives, he he has fired the NSHA board (which included a Black and an Indigenous member), as well as Dr. Késa Munroe-Anderson, the Black deputy minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs and the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage.
Kimber thinks that if Houston didn’t pause before these actions, reaction to them should at least give him pause:
“Nova Scotians made their decisions on who they wanted as their MLAs,” Houston declared. “I respect their decisions. But as premier, the final responsibility rests with me with the ministers that we put in place.” And the premier had a message for those in the Black community who would not have a seat at his cabinet table, “I don’t want [there] to be any confusion. My message to them: we respect you, we will listen to you, we will work with you, your voice will be heard.”
There is, unfortunately, already confusion. And consternation. And frustration. By getting rid of the diverse voices on his health board, by firing one of the government’s too few senior Black civil servants, by appointing a white man to head the one department whose primary focus is African Nova Scotian affairs — and all of that in his first week in office — Premier Houston is sending a very different message than the one he proclaimed.
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In addition to Kimber’s article, I also want to point to a couple of tweets from Dr. OmiSoore Dryden, the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at the Dalhousie University Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Medicine, and associate professor of community health and epidemiology. Dryden was a member of the NSHA board.
Writing on September 1, Tim Bousquet asked Houston about the appointment of the Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs and the dissolution of the health board, and Houston replied:
We had a very diverse slate of candidates, excellent, excellent community leaders. They didn’t happen to get elected this time… So I formed my cabinet from the caucus that Nova Scotia sent to me. Not that I sent — that Nova Scotians sent to the legislature. And I respect the wishes of Nova Scotians.
[This is] the very definition of systemic racism. EDI [equity, diversity, and inclusion] when left up to the masses, will always be voted down. This is why interventions need to be made. Let’s hope there will be interventions in the future. They are needed especially when engaged in EDI.
Believing that interventions cannot be made (should not be made) is how systemic barriers are (systemic racism is) reinforced. Leadership requires that steps be taken and interventions made.
2. CPC embraces candidate after he apologizes for and deletes racist Facebook posts
Steven Cotter, the Conservative Party of Canada candidate for Central Nova, has deleted a series of racist Facebook posts and apologized, Matthew Byard reports.
On Saturday, CTV reported about a number of past comments and posts by Cotter, including one where he responds with “a big yes” to a meme of Muslim women wearing burqas with the caption: “France and the Netherlands ban the burqa on security grounds. Repost if you think Canada should do the same!”
There is more, and it only gets worse after this one.
Clearly, the party has accepted Cotter’s apology and embraced him, as evidenced by the photo above. Having Peter MacKay, Nazanin Afshin-Jam, and their kids in a campaign pic is very much a show of support.
I want to point to a couple of things that stand out for me in relation to Cotter’s posts generally and Byard’s story particularly.
First, note that Byard manages to write this story without using the words “controversial” or “racially charged.” He does refer to controversy, but that’s in the context of an actual controversy: “Amidst controversy last week surrounding Dunn’s appointment, as well as the firings of two African Nova Scotian female civil servants…”
He doesn’t actually call the posts racist either (which I think he could, but he’s allowing the readers to draw their own conclusions).
But “racially charged” and “controversial” make me sick when I am reading stories about candidates who write or share hateful things.
Then there is Cotter’s apology itself, which actually fulfills many of the criteria of a good apology.
Byard quotes Cotter’s statement:
“In the past I have shared social media posts without thinking about how these posts might hurt or offend others.”
“I have deleted these posts and apologize unreservedly to those I have offended.”
The Sorry Watch website offers these guidelines for a good apology:
- Use the words “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” (“Regret” is not apology!)
- Say specifically what you’re sorry FOR.
- Show you understand why the thing you said or did was BAD.
- Be VEEERY CAAAREFUL if you want to provide explanation; don’t let it shade into excuse.
- Explain the actions you’re taking to insure this won’t happen again.
- Can you make reparations? Make reparations.
Cotter ticks the boxes for the first two. He doesn’t go with the awful “I’m sorry if you were offended” form of apology, and he wisely avoids providing an explanation.
On Facebook, he also acknowledges that the harm is not only that people may have been hurt or offended, but refers to the content of his posts:
I recognize that what I was posted was not simply hurtful — it was animated with Islamophobic and anti-immigrant tropes.
As for the last two items on the list, there is this in the Facebook post:
I promise that I will take time to engage in reflection and learning. Specifically, I will be reaching out this week to my local mosque to begin that process.
Over at the Nova Scotia Advocate, Robert Devet isn’t buying the apology:
That apology is revealing in itself. Writing hateful comments without recognizing that the targets are actual living and breathing individuals is a defining characteristic of this type of racism.
Now, all that said, I have to say it is demoralizing to see people who run for office show judgment terrible enough to share some of this bullshit. One of the memes Cotter shared decries the supposedly paltry pensions veterans receive, compared to the generous benefits given to newcomers “who have done nothing for our countries.”
I have seen countless iterations of this theme over the years (it goes back decades), and the numbers in it are so transparently false that it’s hard to believe (oh, is it, Philip?) that anyone with any kind of political ambitions would be foolish enough to share it.
A glimmer of hope: A Facebook friend recently shared a similar image. In the past, there would have been a lot of comments along the lines of damn right, so disgusting, what is our country coming to, etc. This time, most of the comments pointed out that the post was racist and that the numbers in it were completely spurious.
3. Back to school!
CBC News has a rundown on what has changed and what hasn’t for back-to-school this year. Kids are still wearing masks, but a lot of other restrictions have been lifted:
Gone are restrictions to music classes, band, sports and extracurricular activities. Students will have unfettered access to lockers and cubbies.
In-province field trips will resume, and out-of-province field trips will be allowed with approval from administrators. International field trips are still off the table.
There will be ongoing inspections and maintenance of school ventilation systems. Fans can help circulate fresh air, following protocols developed by experts from Public Health, the IWK Health Centre and the Department of Environment.
The bit about ventilation is interesting, considering many schools don’t actually have a ventilation system.
In the Chronicle Herald, John McPhee interviews Stacey Rudderham of the group Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education:
Rudderham and the NSTU also continue to be worried about the state of ventilation systems in schools. Lack of air movement has been associated with a higher risk of airborne COVID-19 particles.
“There’s still a blanket statement that (the Education Department) is going to continue assessing ventilation,” Rudderham said. “It’s misleading because so many schools don’t actually have a ventilation system; it’s just opening windows.”
The Writers in the Schools program in which I participate was all virtual last year, of course, and has moved to a mixed model this year. I was surprised at how well the virtual visits worked. The big difference was that I couldn’t walk around the room and give individual attention to kids while they were working on a writing exercise. I am definitely conflicted about going back into schools in person right now.
Best of luck to all the kids starting or going back, and here is to a smooth and uneventful year.
4. Signs are not enough
At CBC, Pam Berman has the story of north-end Halifax residents fed up with speeding through their neighbourhood.
A group called the North End Neighbourhood Action Group has put up lawn signs saying, “Please slow down! We [heart image] our kids!”
Kim Fry moved to the corner of Leeds and Robie Street in June with her five-year-old son, Nico. She said neighbours had a warning for her right away.
“You’ve really got to watch your child because this is the worst intersection in the city,” said Fry. “And very quickly we started noticing just how bad the traffic is.”
Councillor Shawn Cleary tells Berman that “probably” every residential street in the city needs traffic calming measures, which include speed humps and bump-outs designed to slow down traffic.
“Designed” is the key word here, because we know that it is one of the only ways to get drivers to slow down. The municipality does not have the power to reduce speed limits without permission from the province, and even lower speed limits are no panacea. And because of demand, it could take years before Leeds is even assessed, let alone any action taken. (Nobody ever drove over the speed limit in a residential area, right?)
Just down the road, on Robie Street between Stanley and Columbus, local Twitter user Raccoon at home (@Seebo429) has been chronicling crashes for two years now. The most recent was a fatal crash on June 23.
In July 2020, Suzanne Rent wrote about the “your speed” signs like the one pictured above and explained why they do actually work. But you can’t blanket the city with them, and if you did, they would surely lose their effectiveness anyway.
And those “We love our kids signs?” I would love to know if there is any evidence saying they are effective. I doubt they do anything more than “Baby on Board” stickers. I am on a deadline here, so I don’t have time to research this right now. A cursory look at Google Scholar did bring up a book called “Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture That’s Gone Stark Raving Mad” but somehow I suspect it will not contain the rigorous research I’m looking for.
1. Doing business in parks
Here’s a thing I’ve had fun doing this summer:
Describe “Dining on the Ocean Floor” at Burntcoat Head park in Hants East, then ask people what they think the cost is per couple. (I am easily entertained.)
If you want to play along, let me summarize and copy the text from the Tourism Nova Scotia website describing the meal and associated activities.
You start off with a guided walk led by a forager, on which you can “see, touch, and taste” the plants. Then you’ll have lunch, a guided tour of the intertidal zone, dinner, and a campfire.
Here is the menu:
- Lunch Course – Shore Boil: a bowl brimming with fresh, sustainable Nova Scotia seafood cooked in Tidal Bay wine.
- 1st Course – Celebration Plate: Selection of fine Nova Scotia cheeses, local charcuterie, pickles, and artisanal crackers.
- 2nd Course – High Tide, Low Tide: A beautiful cut of local, pasture-raised beef, butter-poached Nova Scotia lobster tail and succotash with organic vegetables
- 3rd Course – Sun and Moon Meet: Fresh local berries, lavender phyllo and Grand Marnier mascarpone cream.
- Craft beer and local wine pairings are served with each course. Organic, fair-trade tea and coffee are served at the campfire.
Are you ready to play? What would you pay for this? Price is per couple.
Any ideas yet?
When I’ve asked this question I’ve gotten answers generally ranging from $200 to $500.
The answer is $1,050, plus HST and a $100 tip, for a total of $1,307. (If you are going to include the tip in the price, why the heck would you make it less than 10%? You are already soaking the rich people paying for this! Pass on more money to the staff!)
One of the people who I asked to guess the cost of this “experience” responded with, “Fuck off! Fuck off! Fuck off!” after I revealed the cost.
Burntcoat Head is a municipal park, and I am pretty sure nobody owns the ocean floor.
This got me wondering about the rules that govern businesses operating in parks. I reached out to the Burntcoat Head people late last week, but have not yet heard back from them. (I will update you if I do.)
But I did get Troy Bond on the phone. Bond is parks program coordinator in the Parks and Outreach Division of whatever the department of natural resources/lands and forests/lands and forestry is called this week.
Bond oversees 16 businesses operating in the province’s 20 parks. And while he used the phrase “open for business” several times, what struck me most in speaking with him was how enthusiastic he is about the parks, and his recognition that businesses should be there to enhance visitor’s experiences and not detract from them. He said:
When we do get an idea, I will call the local office or district office, talk to them about it, and we’ll try to meet the vendor on site and then have a conversation about where they think they’re going to set up. We need to make sure that we also balance the needs of the rest of the public. We want to make sure that we’re not impeding on other people’s experience. We like to enhance the experience, but we also have to understand there are other people looking for other experiences. They could be birdwatchers, they could be walkers, they could be cyclists, they could be surfers. Visitors have different needs.
Vendors who set up in provincial parks generally either sell food or rent gear. The big draw is parks that have a lot of visitors and beaches. Dollar Lake, he said, is “a triple threat: a lifeguarded beach, a day use side, and a campground side.” (Bond is a former lifeguard himself.)
Bond said COVID has wreaked havoc on having vendors in parks because of all the uncertainty. Who wants to buy gear and hire staff for a short season that may or may not happen?
People who want to open up shop in a provincial park have to go through an application process outlining which forms of operations are and are not acceptable. The site offers guided tours and gear rentals as examples of the types of businesses that will be considered. The unacceptable category consists of the following:
- Motorized sport events or gear rentals (eg. seadoos, motorboats, etc)
- Recreation activities that are not nature-based (eg. car shows, arm wrestling)
- Any activity that alters the park landbase or infrastructure
- Archery or shooting activities are not permitted in provincial parks
Food vendors typically work on one-year contracts with an option to renew, Bond said, while those who rent gear have a three-year term, also with an option. The longer term is to compensate for the start-up costs involved in buying gear. Bond had hoped to expand the offerings, but COVID intervened, putting the brakes on that for now. He said:
Guided tours — cultural, historical significance, that’s important as well. We were talking with a First Nation before COVID hit. They were going to offer a guided tour, and we were really looking forward to that. We are willing to work with groups and are looking for them to sort of bring ideas in. Typically, when we put out the application, I like people to talk to me first, because I don’t want them spending five days on an application that’s not going to work. For example, if they want to drive ATVs through the park. That’s just not going to happen.
These businesses are not big money-makers for the parks. Bond said the fee is $250 per year for food concessions and $500 for all others. There is one high-end tour company operating in a provincial park, and that’s Nova Shores, which does tours out of Cape Chignecto: $490 for two days, and $690 for three days. That’s not something parks have the expertise to offer in-house, even if they wanted to. “We can’t offer that. You’ve got to know what you’re doing on those tides,” he said.
At one point in our conversation, as he described his favourite parks and campsites, and told me about having some of the best days of his life surfing or camping in the parks with his kids, I told Bond he sounded like the perfect person for his job. He said:
Well, I try, Phil! You know, we have a beautiful province. I was in Alberta for over for 11 years. I love our beaches. We’re so lucky for what we have… I’m really passionate about this. I love talking to the vendors. They have some great ideas. I just wish COVID didn’t come, like all of us, when we were really making some progress.
Bond was not familiar with the Burntcoat Head process, but added this in an email following our conversation:
If a business is crossing over Crown Land to conduct business or operating a business on Crown Land they must get permission from the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables. If they are operating a business along a coastline and are accessing it from private land they require permission to operate above the mean high water mark.
The process that Provincial Parks uses only approves applications for park property. For activities that involve Crown Land, the proponent would need to speak to the local district office for the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables.
What would happen if you decided to set up your own picnic on the ocean floor near the folks who paid over a thousand bucks to dine there? Or what if you decided you wanted to have your own campfire singalong a few metres away? I mean, it would take a lot of nerve to do that, but is there anything stopping you?
Clearly though, you can be very successful selling overpriced experiences to people with too much money. (Could this be the new Tourism Nova Scotia slogan?) All but one of the six dining on the ocean floor dates sold out. Tourism Nova Scotia plugs the experience with lots of gushing, and co-produced a video with Bon Appétit. It closes with New York restaurant owner Nialls Fallon saying:
Eating seafood on the ocean floor, seeing the tide come in and smelling the ocean air, the wind and just watching the sun go down, it doesn’t get any better.
2. Art, poetry, masks
Last January, I wrote about New York artist and art teacher Bill Liebeskind getting through the pandemic one drawing at a time. Every day, Liebeskind would do a drawing of someone in a mask.
Well, publishers Black Dog & One-Eyed Press are releasing a book called 2020. Edited and compiled by Judith Bauer, it features more than 250 of Liebeskind’s drawings, along with more than 100 poems by the likes of George Elliott Clarke, bill bissett, Ololade Akinlabi Ige, Suzanne Gauthier, and, uh, me.
Clarke has a new book of his own out, published August 24, called Where Beauty Survived: An Africadian Memoir. You can catch him in conversation with former Lieutenant Governor Mayann Francis in a virtual event tomorrow, hosted by Penguin Random House Canada.
The event is free, but you need to register here.
On our way back from PEI this summer, we stopped at the Masstown Market (as one does), and when we got back into the car my daughter, Phoebe, pulled out this bag of Robertson’s candy called cod bones.
I’m going to assume most Examiner readers are familiar with, or at least have heard of, chicken bones candy, whether made by Ganong (who started making them in 1885) or Robertson’s. Robertson’s is a longtime Truro-based company known mostly for their seasonal confections. Specifically, ribbon candy and their “Clear Toys” barley candy. But cod bones? What the hell?
As we hit the road and sucked on the cod bones, trying to place their flavour (it took a lot of tasting to do this), Phoebe sat in the back scrolling through the cryptic Robertson’s social media feeds. The most recent Robertson’s Candy tweet is from November 18, 2017. Most of the company’s tweets are links to Facebook posts, and when you click those links you get a message saying the content is unavailable.
There is an Instagram account, but no posts.
Mint? Was the flavour of the outer coating of the candies mint? Maybe, but no, that wasn’t quite right. And what it about the inside? The marrow, so to speak of the bones. I found it reminiscent of Merenda, Greece’s answer to Nutella. But that didn’t seem quite right either.
Finally, after much scrolling, she hit on this:
Aha! Now it made sense. Vanilla and something like Wow Butter (the nut-free peanut butter alternative) on the inside. Of course, the Facebook link in the tweet above leads only to a notice that the content is not available.
Trying to find out more about cod bones online is an exercise in frustration. You’ll find scientific papers, deer and cod bone dog treats, information on bones near a shipwreck, but not a whole lot about candy.
The tweet from which the image at the top of this segment comes from is about as good as it gets. Twitter user Graeme writes:
Hot Tip: try the controversial rival Maritime candy, Cod Bones. Usually only found in rural Nova Scotia, so yes, I’m bringing back bags for you to try.
“Graeme” by the way is Graeme Stewart-Robertson, a photographer from Saint John whose work seems very interesting.
I figured there must be some information on cod bones on the Robertson’s Candy website (nope) or their online store. About that:
I could call Robertson’s and find out more, but I have not because a) I kind of like the mystery of the thing, and b) I am writing this on Labour Day.
Have you had cod bones? Are they part of a cherished family tradition? Should we start a cod bones over chicken bones movement?
We still have about two thirds of our bag of cod bones from Masstown Market. The humidity has kind of fused them together into a big lump. I break one off and suck and chew on it once in awhile as I’m writing.
Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm) — on YouTube
Design Review Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm) — on YouTube
Spatial regulation of cell signaling and development in worm and fly model organisms (Wednesday, 4pm) — online seminar with Kimberley Gaulthier from the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto
Bring your own worms and flies.
In the harbour
08:50: AlgoNorth, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Montreal
09:30: FS Aquitaine, French Navy frigate, moves from Dockyard to Bedford Basin
10:30: USS Forrest Sherman, destroyer, moves from Dockyard to Bedford Basin
11:00: USS Thomas Hunder, destroyer, moves from Dockyard to Bedford Basin
11:30: Asterix, replenishment vessel, moves from Dockyard to Bedford Basin
12:00: Algoma Verity, bulker, arrives at Gold Bond from Tampa, Florida
14:30: FS Aquitaine sails for sea
16:00: USS Forrest Sherman sails for sea
18:00: Atlantic Condor, offshore supply ship, sails from IEL for sea
20:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
11:00: Niagara Spirit, barge, and Tim McKeil, tug, north to south through the causeway to Aulds Cove quarry from Montague, PEI
13:00: CAP Corpus Christi, sails from Point Tupper for sea
14:00: Runner, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Odudu Terminal, Nigeria
23:30: Algoma Integrity, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Baltimore
It’s that time of year. I wrote this Morning File while wearing my Examiner hoodie, and while listening to a Spotify playlist cryptically called Vince McMahon’s Wedding.