News

1. Windsor Exchange

Windsor Exchange traffic map on a Monday afternoon, circa 4:45pm.

Examiner transportation columnist Erica Butler takes a look at the promised upgrades to the Windsor Exchange:

Transport Canada’s press release makes no mention of transit or active transportation, but seems to keep the focus on moving vehicle traffic and freight: “This work includes realigning the Bedford Highway, upgrading Lady Hammond Road and installing new traffic signals to improve traffic flow. These upgrades will reduce traffic congestion, improve safety and increase the reliability and efficiency of freight movements.”

But since the city of Halifax will be heading up the design and construction of the project, it’s reasonable to expect that the principles of the unanimously approved Intergrated Mobility Plan will come to bear, and that this project will include improvements to both transit and active transportation infrastructure.

Click here to read “Redesigning the Windsor Exchange: if we get it right, it could be great.”

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2. Forest management

Westfor clearcut from 2018, inside the Tobeatic Wildlife Management Area. Photo: Linda Pannozzo

“Give Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin credit for trying,” reports Jennifer Henderson:

Last November, Rainkin accepted all 45 recommendations from Bill Lahey, a former deputy environment minister and university president hired to figure out how to make Nova Scotia forests healthier and more productive. Lahey’s recommendations were aimed at improving   biodiversity and reducing the amount of clearcutting on Crown lands. Depending on whether you subscribe to federal or provincial definitions of clearcuts, the percentage on the total of forested land ranges between 80 and 88 percent.

Lahey predicted a 10-15 percent drop in the wood supply if the government implemented the changes he recommended. He said it was “worth it” and suggested without a better focus on sustainability, the jobs associated with logging and pulp and paper would dwindle.

Yesterday, Rainkin called a meeting to update forestry companies, sawmill operators, woodlot owners, and environmental groups on the work underway to implement those recommendations and to seek their feedback.

Henderson attended the meeting and reports back. Click here to read “Iain Rankin promises big changes in forestry management, but the province is moving slowly.”

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3. Lead pipes

Yesterday, Halifax Water submitted its annual report on lead pipes to the Utility and Review Board.

The bad news is that pretty much every home on the peninsula or in Dartmouth inside the Circumferential Highway built before 1960 has lead pipes.

The good news is that because Halifax Water is replacing residential meters, its contractor, Neptune TG, will be inside each of the 83,000 homes to replace the meter and will be able to check for lead pipes at the same time. Moreover, Halifax Water is providing a 25% rebate (up to $2,500) to homeowners to replace the lead pipes on their property when the utility replaces the lead pipe out in the road.

I don’t know if it’s because Halifax Water isn’t moving very fast or if customers haven’t gotten excited about it, but uptake on the rebate program is slow. In the 2017/18 fiscal year, just 18 rebates were issued, with a mean rebate of $738. In the 2018/19 fiscal year, there were 105 rebates, with the mean cost of $974.

You can read the entire report here.

This video can help you determine if you have a lead pipe:

4. Workplace deaths

“Although descriptions of workplace fatalities are publicly available in many provinces, finding out even basic details is challenging in Nova Scotia,” reports Elizabeth McMillan for the CBC:

The Labour Department refuses to provide descriptions of incidents except through freedom-of-information requests.

Nova Scotia’s approach is in sharp contrast to some other provinces.

Alberta publishes some workplace investigation reports. British Columbia, Quebec and New Brunswick have searchable online databases that include a brief description of the circumstances that led to a worker being injured or killed, as well as the date, type of job they were doing and their industry.

Several other provinces list summaries of individual incidents in annual reports.

In recent years, the Labour Department has stopped issuing public releases about workplace fatalities after determining “there was really little value in doing that,” said Harold Carroll, the province’s executive director of occupational health and safety.

This is important work by the CBC. Go to the link to see what McMillan discovered about how people died on the job last year.

And, no Harold Carroll, there is indeed very much value in making this information public. I think that all deaths, not just workplace deaths, should be public record; that is, the death certificate should be public. I explained my view in 2016:

Why is it important that we know how people die? Because the powerful can and do try to hide deaths and the reason for deaths from us. This happens far more than is known. A couple of examples from my own work:

The first:

One summer day in the mid-1990s, there was an illegal Mexican immigrant working as part of a crew pruning an orchard in California. The man was lopping off tree branches while standing in a metal box of a cherry picker truck; one of the branches fell onto a high-voltage power line and the electricity arced from the power line, through the branch and onto the cherry picker. The man died instantly.

The orchard was owned by one of the largest and wealthiest landowners in the county. Through an exercise in “plausible deniability” the landowner was able to have lowly paid illegal migrants work his fields by using fly-by-night labour contractors who actually hired the illegals. That scheme also got around any need for safety training and equipment.

On the power line side of the story, the multi-billion-dollar utility that owned the line hired a multi-billion-dollar tree trimming service to clear its lines. The utility basically passed the liability onto the trimming company, but managers at the latter were rewarded for cutting costs, not trees — this particular high-voltage line was documented as “clear” even though no work had been done to it, the presumption being that the orchard workers would take care of it.

The dead fellow was completely powerless: The people he worked with were also illegals and spoke no English besides. His death was inconvenient for the most powerful entities in the state, and so it was quite literally ignored. No one in a position of authority dared question how he died, or why, or the circumstances around his death.

A few days later, I was combing through vital statistics in the county courthouse, as part of my regular duties as a reporter, and I came across the death certificate for the man who had died in the orchard. That tweaked my interest and, after some more research, I wrote an article detailing the full story.

That story in turn prompted a government investigation, a lawsuit and public outrage. It changed the way the power company clears its lines and, ideally, has made orchard owners more accountable for safety standards on their operations.

The second:

On July 10 Linda Nassie, who was 53 years old and by all accounts healthy and lively, went to see Dr. Daniel Thomas, a plastic surgeon who specializes in liposuction. Eleven days later she was dead.

Nassie’s death, and the subsequent refusal of the local medical community to criticize one of their own, underscores the hidden risks involved in liposuction and body modification. Moreover, it suggests that plastic surgery and liposuction are woefully under-regulated, and that what regulatory oversight that does exist does not have the power to adequately address problems in the profession. Ultimately, redress for improper behavior on the part of surgeons is left to family members and burdensome civil litigation that can take years.

In researching this story, the [Chico] Examiner attempted to talk to dozens of people. Not so surprisingly, Dr. Thomas did not return phone calls from the Examiner. But neither did Ron Stewart, the attorney retained by the Nassie family, and the family likewise declined to discuss the case. But even those who are not potential litigants did not want to discuss it; other doctors refused to talk, as did government officials familiar with Nassie’s death. Those who did speak did so on the condition of anonymity.

“There’s going to be problems from time to time,” explained one local physician, “and we can’t be criticizing each other from the outside.”

I should add that after I wrote the above article, Nassie’s husband stopped by my office and asked for additional copies. I gave him a bundle, probably 100 or so papers, and he distributed them to Nassie’s friends and workmates. He thanked me profusely for telling the story.

As I hope the above articles illustrate, it’s essential that the public know who died and how they died. The misuse of power (ranchers using untrained labour, prisons operating without adequate safety and health controls, airlines skimping on maintenance) and just the most pressing needs in our society (poor water supplies, badly designed highways, the health risks of dietary choices) are expressed most distinctly in outright death. We can’t know about the problems unless we know how people die, and we can’t tell human stories that may start to address the problems until we can put names and faces to the dead.

5. Rent

“Rising rents, high demand and low vacancy rates are making it more difficult for Haligonians to afford rental housing, and a new report suggests single people living on the peninsula are feeling the housing crunch more than others,” reports Zane Woodford for Star Metro:

With a median before-tax income of $2,449 a month, and bachelor apartments going for a median rent of $880 a month and one-bedrooms for $1,095 in the south end and downtown Halifax, one-person households would pay more than 30 per cent of their income on housing.

Housing is considered affordable if a renter spends 30 per cent or less of their before-tax income on housing.

“Even if you compare that median income to bachelor units and one-bedroom units across many different submarkets, it wasn’t necessarily meeting the mark to be considered affordable,” Katelyn MacLeod, Halifax-based senior analyst of economics at CMHC and the author of the report, said in an interview.

In seven of the municipality’s 10 submarkets, including the two that cover the peninsula, one-bedroom apartments aren’t affordable for one-person households.

There’s this repeated mantra that this is simply a supply and demand problem — build more housing, and the cost will come down. But we’ve been building more housing for a decade — if manna wasn’t falling from heaven, it was supposedly falling from all those construction cranes, which people kept promising were bringing prosperity for all forever, amen — and yet, housing prices are going up, not down.

I’m not discounting supply and demand entirely, but by far the more relevant factor in housing affordability is distribution of wealth. Inequality is skewing the wrong direction. Poor people are being mined in order to further enrich the already rich. Until we get at that, merely building more units is like adding more cells at the jail: it doesn’t increase freedom; it just gives more opportunity for jailers.

6. More whale deaths

Right whales. Photo: NOAA

“The Department of Fisheries and Oceans confirmed reports of two more dead North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Monday, bringing the total number of the endangered species found dead in Canadian waters in 2019 to four,” reports Alexander Quon for Global.


Government

City

Wednesday

Audit Committee and Audit & Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday , 10am, City Hall) — I wrote about this yesterday.

Western Common Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 6:30pm, Art Room, Prospect Road Community Centre) — there are no action items on the agenda.

Thursday

No public meetings for the rest of the week.

Province

No public meetings for the rest of the week.


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Urban Nature Walk (Wednesday, 12:15, Studley Campus) — Georgia Denbigh will lead a tour of garden plants of the Studley Campus and a visit to the Bill Freedman native plants collection. Meet outside the Henry Hicks Building. Register here.

From fungi to flies: Identifying a new therapy ​for Parkinson’s disease(Wednesday, 4pm, theatre B, Tupper Medical Building) — Katherine Strynatka will talk.


In the harbour

05:30: Delhi Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
07:45: Adventure of the Seas, cruise ship with up to 4,058 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John on a six-day roundtrip cruise out of New York
10:00: MSC Poh Lin, container ship, arrives at anchorage from Liverpool, England for inspection
13:30: MSC Poh Lin sails for sea
15:30: Delhi Highway, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
17:30: Adventure of the Seas sails for New York
19:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at anchorage from Saint-Pierre


Footnotes

I’m off for that Audit Committee meeting.

I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.


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13 Comments

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  1. Thanks for posting the pipe story and the video on how to check for lead. I’m in the clear — 100% copper!

  2. Since my house was built in the late eighteen hundreds I’m sure I’ve got lead pipes. But here’s the thing with all the accretions and calcium build up over the years I doubt the lead has much exposure to the water flowing through.

  3. I think when it comes to housing, the idea of “supply and demand” is too simplified. If you read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, he is more subtle in his discussion of demand. He differentiates between effectual demand (demand that can spur people to produce supply), and ineffectual demand. The latter he illustrates as follows:

    “A very poor man may be said in some sense to have a demand for a coach and six; he might like to have it; but his demand is not an effectual demand, as the commodity can never be brought to market in order to satisfy it.”

    And this is what’s missed in the whole “free market, build build build and we’ll have affordable housing” assertion. Truly affordable housing is not effectual demand; you cannot build housing to modern livability and safety standards cheap enough to actually create affordable housing. If it costs $200,000 in materials and labour to build a house, no amount of building will create houses that are available for $150,000. The market will not fill the need for $150,000 houses. A free market is no substitution for proper government programs that serve the demand that is not effectual (i.e. programs to subsidize the $200,000 house construction so that it’s available to people who need the $150,000 house).

    However, we do still need to “build build build”; not to serve the Affordable housing market, but to ensure the effectual demand is satisfied. If a house costs $200,000 to build, and there are 10 people who want and can afford one, but we only build one, they’re going to bid its price up.

    TL;DR: “Build build build” serves to keep the bottom of the market affordable, but doesn’t do anything to create housing below the market.

  4. For retirees like myself I have maybe five or six years left being able to own my own home. Any housing option after that will see me forced into financial difficulties. In spite of all the lip service, there is no affordable housing being developed nor is there a real plan to do so. All housing development now is driven by greed pure and simple. There are options for more reasonable housing outside of HRM, but as there are NO medical services, those many people like myself who could move away from an urban core cannot do so without sacrificing health care. Message to all: Don’t get old in Nova Scotia.

  5. RE LEAD PIPES: Back in 2013, I had a real estate blog and I wrote a long piece on lead water lines and the danger they posed. I included tips on how to identify them – just scratch the pipe coming into the house and if it reveals a silver and relatively soft pipe, you have lead. I also wrote about what other municipalities were doing to address the issue. London, Ontario, for example, was proactively checking homes and offering generous subsidies to replace the lines. Unfortunately, the post disappeared when I replaced my web site.

    I recall that, at the time, I forwarded a link to the only city councillor I thought would care about the issue. I don’t believe he even replied. I later sent the link to my own councillor and again received little or no response. Since then I have insisted that all my clients check for lead as part of their due diligence. As recently as last year, I have seen examples of professional home inspectors missing the presence of lead lines. At that time, if a home buyer contacted the provincial Department of Health with an inquiry they were told to just “run the water for 5 minutes in the morning”. In short, while I applaud Halifax Water for finally tackling this problem, it should have been dealt with some time ago and $ 2,500 dollars is a mere pittance in relation to the potential cost of digging up and replacing these lines.

    It is my understanding that Halifax Water has been attempting to get HRM to finance the replacement costs in the same way the Solar City program is financed, with incremental payments on the homeowners’ tax bills. There appears to be no interest from the city council. The councilor, I first contacted may want to enlighten me in that regard. This is a very serious issue, especially for folks with young children, (can we all say, Flint, Michigan) and is not getting the attention it desperately needs from our city administration.

    Finally, I would take issue with the headline. Most of my business is in the urban core and, as I stated earlier, I am very aware of the issue and check each property I encounter for lead water lines. I know it’s antidotal, but I would estimate that only about 10% of the properties I have inspected since 2013 have had lead lines.

  6. We are building more housing, but with a rental vacancy of 1.6%, we are not building enough housing to keep pace with population growth. My rent, in the same building, has gone up by 12% in five years – 5% in this year alone. I’m sure the Titanic had a few functioning bilge pumps on that unfortunate night, too.

    There is no point in discussing socialist policies like reducing taxes even further for low income people, raising the minimum wage, increasing welfare payments or implementing UBI without doing something about the myriad ways in which the rich can capture whatever income increases go to low income people.

  7. The map clearly shows the vast majority of pipes are copper; 1187 lead lines and 55,695 with copper.

    1. I had my meter changed out recently. I live next to one of those green dots, but the contractor said we have lead pipes.

    2. I was going to point out the same thing — you can even see the numbers:

      Lead: 1187
      Copper: 55695

      That’s about 2% lead pipes.

      I think 1 lead pipe is probably one too many, but the headline: “If you live on the Halifax peninsula or in Dartmouth inside the Circ, you’re probably drinking water out of lead pipes” seems pretty hyperbolic (dare I say “clickbait-y”).

        1. I think the map is listing private service lines. That’s what the title on it says.

          The report notes that AMI expects to find only 100 more lead service lines through the meter replacement program. It also says that the test is about 90% accurate, so it’s certainly possible you could have lead pipes but have a green dot on the map.

        2. We bought our home,built in 1917,in 1983 and we knew about lead pipes back then. The house did not have lead pipes. The cast iron water main on the street was installed in 1895 and replaced in 1995/6.