1. The Horne case

Dr Gabrielle Horne. Photo: CBC

Writes Stephen Kimber:

Neither Capital Health nor the Nova Scotia Health Authority has ever publicly apologized to [Gabrielle] Horne for years of bullying and harassment, while successive provincial governments chose to look the other way, giving carte blanche to the health authority to hire hugely expensive, by-the-hour outside lawyers to bully Horne for more than a decade.

Click here to read “The Horne case: mumble-mouthed nothings from mealy-mouthed nobodies.”

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2. Examineradio 148

Marieke Walsh. Photo: Halifax Examiner

This week, I spoke with Global News political reporter Marieke Walsh, who’s leaving Halifax for a new job with iPolitics in Toronto.

And we discuss federal money for local news, councillor complaints, and drinking on Argyle Street.

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3. Fire deaths

Carys Barnes

A horrific story, from an RCMP release issued Saturday:

March 3, 2018, Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia … At 2:34 a.m. this morning, Halifax District RCMP, Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency (HRFE), and EHS responded to a 911 call of a duplex on fire on Leaside Dr. in Lower Sackville.

RCMP can confirm there are two fatalities, a 58-year-old man and a 11-year-old girl*. An 18-year-old man was transported to the QEII Health Sciences Centre with life-threatening injuries. A 46-year-old woman suffered minor injuries after being rescued by RCMP officers from a second floor window.

RCMP and HRFE are in the preliminary stages of the investigation to determine the cause of the fire.

* the initial press releases incorrectly stated the girl was nine-years-old; that was soon corrected.

Via a GoFundMe page, the girl has been identified by Alexandra Barnes as her sister Carys Barnes.

CTV confirms that information, and further reports that the man who died in the fire is the brother of Wray Hart, the man who was killed by an allegedly drunk driver as he walked on Queen Street last month:

CTV News has learned that one of the victims of a fatal fire in Lower Sackville was the brother of Wray Hart, a well-known homeless man who was struck and killed by an alleged drunk driver last month.

Police say the fire started just after 2:30 a.m. on Saturday at a home on Leaside Drive. A young girl and a man died as a result.

Family and friends have confirmed to CTV News that the fire claimed the life of 58-year-old Marven Hart and his 11-year-old granddaughter Carys Barnes, who was visiting for a sleepover.

Hart’s wife, Pat, is being treated in hospital, along with their 18-year-old son, Trent, who is in serious condition.

4. Bill 72 and inclusion

Photo: Halifax Examiner

Bill 72, which does away with the school boards and makes other changes to the Education Act, will be the subject of an all-day hearing before the Law Amendments Committee at Province House today. At that hearing, Richard Starr will speak. Starr is the spouse of former NDP MP Wendy Lill, and they have a child with special needs.

Here’s a draft of Starr’s prepared comments before the committee:

I am here today to draw your attention to a serious omission from Bill 72 — and that is the absence of protection for the right of students with special needs to be educated with supports in their neighbourhood school. In fact, Bill 72 actually takes away the long standing right of those students and their parents to such education.

This is not the first time I’ve appeared before this committee. I came here more than 22 years ago — the last time there was a major overhaul of education law in this province. At that time, 1995, my son, who had a developmental delay, was 10 years old, and attended Hawthorne school in Dartmouth. I came to support my son and others like him. I came to speak in favor of an amendment to the bill then before the house. That amendment became section 64.2.d of the existing Education Act.

Here is what that section says under General Responsibilities and Powers of School Boards:

Section 64 (2) A school board shall, in accordance with this Act and the regulations, ..

(d) develop and implement educational programs for students with special needs within regular instructional settings with their peers in age, in accordance with the regulations and the Minister’s policies and guidelines;

With that section the John Savage government put into law what had for several years been the inclusion policy of the Department of Education, a policy that grew out of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I am not a lawyer but I understand that a number of legal experts have asked to appear before the committee to discuss this in greater detail.

I’m here because I was able to get on the presenters list. That’s a result of rising bright and early on Friday and reading through Bill 72 to see what is proposed to replace Section 64.2.d. I was shocked to find the answer — nothing, or at least nothing with the force of that section of the existing Act.

Instead of requiring school boards to teach students with special needs “within regular instructional settings with their peers in age,” section 97 (1) of Bill 72 simply says that the Minister “may make regulations establishing a provincial policy respecting special education programming and services.” The only requirement on the so-called regional centres (formerly school boards) is that they “promote excellence in education and the achievement of all students enrolled in its schools and programs.”

This is a serious setback for human rights. It is unacceptable to remove a legislated mandate to provide education to students with special needs and replace it with discretionary power to establish a provincial policy on special education programming and services. There may be some need for updating the language of 64.2.d but getting rid of the mandate is symptomatic of much that is in Bill 72. If something’s not working perfectly, wipe it out — which in this case means throwing out the human rights baby with the bath water of failures in the implementation of inclusion. To put it in the strongest terms, Bill 72 strips students with special needs of the right to choose to be educated in regular classrooms in the neighbourhood school with students their own age, supported by the necessary “special education programming and services.”

Over the years I’ve heard complaints that Section 64.2.d is too restrictive, that it forecloses other options. But there have been other options developed such as Learning Centres in many schools and the Tuition Support Program so I don’t really understand the criticism. We’ve seen over the last 20 years that there can be flexibility. More options may be needed but in providing those options, legislation must not take away the right of students and their families to choose their neighbourhood schools with appropriate supports.

One final note. There is close to unanimous agreement that the biggest obstacle to successful inclusion has been a lack of investment by government. That may have been understandable in the early days. In 1996, when the forward-looking policy was introduced, Nova Scotia was in a fiscal bind. Our debt to GDP ratio was 47% and there were over 150,000 students in the public school system. Yet the government of the day went ahead and did the right thing. Today, according to the latest budget, debt-to-GDP has dropped to under 36%. And there are fewer than 120,000 students in the system. We have the resources as a province to ensure that each and every one of them has the opportunity to access the full range of educational services in their community school. But to ensure that happens, the committee needs to recommend a change to Bill 72 to explicitly incorporate the intent of Section 64.2.d of the current law.

5. Smart cities, dumb approaches

The city this morning issued a request for Expressions of Interest (EOI) for a “Smart Cities Challenge” being promoted by the federal government. The EOI explains:

The Smart Cities Challenge is a pan-Canadian competition open to communities of all sizes, including municipalities, regional governments and Indigenous communities (First Nations, Métis and Inuit). The Challenge encourages communities to adopt a smart cities approach to improve the lives of their residents through innovation, data and connected technology.

Here’s the federal government’s webpage devoted to the Challenge.

Who could be against “innovation, data and connected technology”??????

And yet… what is it that the city is trying to achieve here? The EOI continues:

In January 2018, Halifax Regional Council directed staff to prepare a submission to the Smart Cities Challenge focused on poverty reduction in the municipality. HRM is engaging industry leaders to identify the art of the possible in leveraging cutting-edge approaches and solutions to reduce poverty, with a specific focus on the area of food insecurity.

The Halifax Regional Municipality will be hosting a 2-hour session on March 20 with interested companies to generate potential technology solutions to address poverty and issues of food security in the municipality. Discussion will be informed by the joint poverty solutions work between HRM and the United Way, as well as a few Smart Cities public engagement sessions HRM is hosting in the month of March. Ideas generated may be used to inform the technology plans for the Smart Cities application.

Let’s back up and consider the overall picture.

In HRM, there are of course issues of poverty and “food insecurity” — that means people can’t afford to buy even passably healthy food — that should concern any decent person living in the community.

But is technology the best way to address these problems? Undoubtedly, the proposed solutions will include apps and mobile grocery stores and maybe a bureaucracy to best match subsidized groceries to people in need…

Meanwhile, the city has more than 600 employees making over $100,000 a year. These are mostly city managers and cops hauling in overtime. Nothing against those 600 people, but at the same time, the very same city is contracting out needed services like janitorial work and snow removal; the entire point of contracting out those services is to get around public employee unions. That is, were the workers paid directly by the city, they’d start at something close to a living wage (around $20/hour), while the contractors can instead pay shit wages, usually at or close to the legal minimum wage (starting in April, $11/hour).

In other words, many of the people living in poverty are people doing necessary work for the same city that now proposes to find a technological solution to the food security issues for those poor people. Moreover, the “solution” will be managed by some of those City Hall employees making more than $100,000, who will farm out the gee-whiz innovative solutions!! to tech firms via big-dollar contracts.

There’s lots of big money to be made “addressing poverty.” The city managers will get get big money. The tech firms will get big money. The PR people pimping the caring city will get big money. The federal bureaucrats pushing their “Smart Cities Challenge” will get big money. Amarjeet Sohi, the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, will get his big salary and equally big kisses on the ass for being “innovative” and all tech-y.

The only people not in on the big money gravy chain to supposedly address poverty are the poor people themselves.

You want to address poverty? Here’s an idea: pay poor people more. Instead of farting around with apps and technology and too-clever-by-half “innovation,” the city could start by adopting living wage requirements for its own contractors. Instead of feeding the rhetorical bullshit around “innovation” that doesn’t change social relations or structural inequality one iota, the various governments could raise social assistance payments and get serious about creating a guaranteed or basic income.

We don’t solve poverty by making rich people richer.

6. Job fair

Bianca Mercer

“I’m a community education and outreach intern, and so was asked to go to the Success College job fair to speak with students,” writes Bianca Mercer:

As we set up our table, I was surprised to see a couple of correctional officers setting up their own table — I was surprised because I recognized them from when I was incarcerated at Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility.

Click here to read “Correctional Officer table at job fair sends the wrong message.”

7. Mehta

“Mark Mercer, president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, said in a letter Friday that [Acadia professor Rick] Mehta’s views may be unpopular but they do not constitute an attack on anyone,” reports Brett Bundale for the Canadian Press:

“I have read many of Dr. Mehta’s postings and it is difficult to see how anything in them could be construed as discriminatory or harassing,” he said in the letter to Acadia’s vice-president academic, Heather Hemming.

And yet, if the claims made in this Twitter thread are true, a good case can be made that Mehta’s actions do in fact “constitute an attack on” a student:

https://twitter.com/BillyArmagh/status/970383469728747521

Mehta’s political views are one thing. How he teaches and the respect he holds (or doesn’t) for students is another thing. If these allegations are credible, then the university has the obligation to investigate and determine if laws or campus policies were broken.


Government

City

Monday

Accessibility Framework Session (Monday, 2pm and 6pm, Halifax Central Library) — looking to hear from people about issues around accessibility.

Public Information Meeting (Monday, 7pm, Maritime Hall, Halifax Forum) — WSP Canada wants changes to an already approved development agreement for an eight-storey apartment at 5511 Bloomfield Street (corner of Gottingen Street) that would add more units and parking.

Tuesday

City Council (Tuesday, 1pm, City Hall) — a lot of transportation issues to be discussed, including the proposed Gottingen Street bus lane, the South Park Street bike lanes, and the potential for electric buses. Also, arena ice fees and the sale of the Bowles Arena.

Province

Monday

Law Amendments (Monday, 9am, Province House) — three bills that no one cares about, and one that will see testimony run much of the day:
Bill No. 52 – Motor Vehicle Act
Bill No. 66 – Volunteer Services Act
Bill No. 70 – Apprenticeship and Trades Qualification Act
Bill No. 72 – Education Reform (2018) Act

Legislature sits (Monday, 9pm–midnight, Province House)

Tuesday

No public meetings.


On campus

Dalhousie

Monday

Brass Recital (Monday, 11:45am, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — Students of Eric Mathis, David Parker, and Richard Simoneau will perform.

Winter Poster Session (Monday, 12pm, ground floor, Forrest Building) — the Centre for Transformative Nursing and Health Research will present posters illustrating “our four research pillars: Health Needs of People, Health Workforce and Health Systems Planning, Marginalized Populations and Health Equity and Knowledge Translation.”

Molecular Evolutionary Genetics and the Health of the Human Community: Leaving Racism Behind? (Monday, 1:30pm, Room 409, Centre for Clinical Research)  — Joel Adelson, Professor Emeritus at the University of California, will speak. His abstract:

Ancestry tracing by molecular techniques (“23&Me,” “Ancestry.ca,” etc.) has become popular. Ads show people happily learning about their multi-ethnic or mixed-racial pasts and greeting newly found relatives. The contrast with recent history and extant situations is striking, where the revealing of one’s ancestry might cause invalidation of civil and properties rights, and create life-threatening insecurity. Ancestry, whether implied by phenotypical characteristics, geographic origin, or directly determined by molecular techniques, may serve to admit some to groups with social power and privilege, or may act to cause rejection or expulsion by others. Ancestry determination and genomic history are parallel expressions of patterns of human heredity and history. Some groups self-proclaim their heritable “superiority,” at times by directly referring to aspects of Darwinian “selection,” or “survival of the fittest.” Here, I question the attribution of “fitness “to ancestral group or population data, and point to a more general, neutral, and less triumphalist  view of overall human evolutionary genomics. As Homo sapiens, we are all very closely related: so-called ethnic and racial “differences” are of relatively minor import and are generally irrelevant with reference to capacities allowing biological “survival” or “fitness.” Some evolutionary biologists and their acolytes have interpreted human genetic data as proof of some groups having had to pass tight selective criteria, with unrealistic ideas concerning evolutionary “advances” in phenotype, parsimony of genome size, and selection within parts of the overall genome vs. selection of entire populations. An understanding of human evolutionary genomics deeply undercuts arguments favoring or privileging ethnic or racial groups. The evolution of the genome is increasingly understood to have come about from molecular accidents: mixing of genes among populations, invention of both new functional capabilities (ex: verbal communication) and heritable disease by mutation, gene duplication, and neutral evolution with random genetic drift, along with the overall genome maintaining fitness on a population basis. Population differences are geographic, cultural, historic, and social. Ancestral background is largely irrelevant at the biological level, and has often served as a social construct used inappropriately to justify inhumanity.

Harrington Polynomials (Monday, 2:30pm, Room 227, Chase Building) — Abdullah Al-Shaghay will speak. His abstract:

In a 2012 paper, J. Harrington investigated the factorization properties of polynomials of the form

f(x)=x^{n}+cx^{n-1}+cx^{n-2}+…+cx+c. In particular, it was asked:

  1. For what positive integers n and nonzero integers c is f(x) irreducible?
  2. If f(x) is reducible, then how does it factor?

We will discuss the results of Harrington’s paper and talk about the idea of considering “Harrington polynomials with a gap size of a” for positive integers a: g(x)=x^{n}+cx^{n-a}+cx^{n-a-1}+cx^{n-a-2}+…+cx+c.

Indian Music Workshops (Monday, 5pm, location TBD) — Shawn Mativetsky will lead several workshops this week. Info: Breanan.Foster@dal.ca

Tuesday

Spans as Cartesian Double Categories (Tuesday, 2:30pm, Room 319, Chase Building) — Evangelia Aleiferi will speak.

Daisies (Tuesday, 7pm, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — a screening of Věra Chytilová’s 1966 film.


In the harbour

8am: APL Phoenix, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
9am: Aniara, car carrier, moves from Pier 31 to Autoport
1pm: Toscana, car carrier, sails from Pier 9 for sea
1pm: YM Modesty, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
4:30pm: Pegasus Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Portbury, England
11pm: Pegasus Highway, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
Midnight: APL Phoenix, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for sea


Footnotes

I have a piece by El Jones, which I’ll publish this morning. Some people have asked why El isn’t writing every Saturday. The short of it is that she’s extremely busy and stretched thin. I’ve never rejected anything she’s written, and I publish her when she has the time to write.

Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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7 Comments

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  1. Richard Starr writes “In 1996, when the forward-looking policy was introduced, Nova Scotia was in a fiscal bind. Our debt to GDP ratio was 47% and there were over 150,000 students in the public school system. Yet the government of the day went ahead and did the right thing. Today, according to the latest budget, debt-to-GDP has dropped to under 36%….

    Stephen McNeil has built two Liberal governments on the bogus notion that if not for him Nova Scotia would immediately hit an economic wall like Greece. His answer was always to drastically cut first and ask questions later. That was how he wrecked our prosperous, growing film industry and drove most of it’s young talented people away to benefit film production out west. That there are enough citizens in NS who can be convinced of such nonsense to return him and his Liberals for a second term is testament to how easy it is to fool enough of the people all of the time to get re-elected with a bare majority.

    It’s hard to say whether this was a deliberate effort to deny inclusive education for special needs kids or if was due to the kind of recklessness the Liberals has shown in the past. Maybe it was just so rushed that this minor detail fell through the cracks-along with knows what others as well? Decent time allotted for a full public airing of Bill 72 instead of the government simply ramming it through the House would have caught this defect, but that is not the McNeil way – certainly not when he’s trying to bring public sector unions to their knees no matter what the consequences. That too is electorally profitable with many NS voters.

    So let’s not worry too much a few other people’s special needs kids – just think of all the money we’ll save.

  2. Your thoughts on the “Smart Cities Challenge” is worth the cost of my subscription alone. I totally agree that this “Challenge” is a load of crap. There is the same issue with the janitorial services at the Halifax Dockyard. At one time, the buildings were cleaned by federal government employees making a decent wage with benefits. A number of years ago the cleaning services were contracted out to various private cleaning contractors. The salaries are now minimum wage and the cleaning standards are abysmal.

    1. I try to never complain when someone making minimum wage does a crap job. When you pay someone minimum wage, what you’re telling them is “you’re worth the bare minimum to me, if I could get away with paying you less, I would”. If you send that message to someone, and still expect them to bring their A game, then you’re an ass.

  3. How does a City that can’t fix its website use technology to address much more substantial problems?

  4. I’m not terribly surprised to hear Mehta has done something irresponsible like sharing that video. It seems like the only people who are willing to say something that violates the popular beliefs of the academic-bureaucratic class are impulsive, aggressive people who are also likely to do other stupid stuff.

    I have a suspicion that there are many in the universities who do not agree with the prevailing orthodoxies of the academic-bureaucratic class, but are simply going along to get along, which leaves people like Mehta as the only ones challenging the orthodoxy. Predictably, these Rob Fords and Berlusconis and Trump types, are shouted down, censured, and the scholar-administrator class closes ranks ever more tightly, having discovered a new enemy. The slightest dissent is an assault on the whole framework of ideas which are constructed in places like universities and policy institutes and, increasingly, our government. Centrists are increasingly irrelevant in our rapidly-polarizing world – if the personal costs of centrist beliefs and speech are so high that only right-wing extremists will pay them (extremists will pay higher prices for their speech across the spectrum, but many of our institutions are extremely left-leaning) then only extremists will challenge the orthodoxy.

    It’s possible to say that “well, freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences” – but this is kind of disingenuous. Even though Canada has perhaps the least-restrictive speech laws of any Western country other than the USA, people in important positions have very tightly restricted speech, in practice. I think that this is dangerous because we’ve created an elite culture across the media-academic-government sphere which is not exposed to either the consequences of their policies and which is impregnable to, and actively hostile to in many cases, popular sentiment or facts which don’t fit in with the orthodoxy. This is a recipe for disaster. One reason why the Trumps and Berlusconis succeed in getting voters out is that there’s no real discussion possible with elite orthodoxy.

    One thing I know Mehta is ‘guilty’ of is questioning the methods by which the pay gap between women and men is calculated, which drastically affects the result. It’s possible to produce statistics demonstrating a wage gap,depending on how you define ‘wage gap’, ranging from around 70 cents on the dollar to around 97 cents on the dollar. There’s also very large generational differences at play which produce different wage gaps depending on age cohort.

    For instance, in the Engineers Nova Scotia salary survey, linked below, the average age of female engineers is decades lower than that of male engineers. Although female engineers make about as much money as males of the same graduating year, the average ‘wage gap’ is quite large because the older and higher-paid cohorts of engineers are more male. Other information is missing – how many male engineers take jobs in remote locations that pay more, compared to female engineers? How many female engineers stop working for a few years to take care of their kids?

    Engineers Nova Scotia salary survey: https://tinyurl.com/ybmth2sa

    In many environments, even discussion of the complexities of calculating a ‘gender wage gap’ – is a crime against the orthodoxy, and not permitted. With moderates shut out, one viable (and popular) response to the self-referential and obscurantist jargon of the media-scholar-bureaucrat class is ‘fuck you’.

    Nicholas Nassim Taleb writes: (https://tinyurl.com/y9cech8f)
    “Unless consequential decisions are taken by people who pay for the consequences, the world would vulnerable to total systemic collapse. And if you wonder why there is a current riot against a certain class of self-congratulatory “experts”, skin the game will provide a clear answer: the public has viscerally detected that some “educated” but cosmetic experts have no skin in the game and will never learn from their mistakes, whether individually or, more dangerously, collectively.”

  5. We have to run the city like a business. Better yet a startup.

    If the chief motto of tech firms is making the world a better place (see HBO’s hilarious satire Silicon Valley) then surely the government can take that vapid catchphrase as it’s own and do the same thing.

    Let’s forget about concentration of wealth, privacy concerns or degradation of public discourse. Those self same city managers can brand themselves innovators and guarantee their performances bonuses next year.