News

1. Evicted

Tents and emergency shelters are seen in August in the park at the corner of Dublin Street and Chebucto Road, which residents and activists there are now calling People’s Park. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“Following an abrupt end to hotel stays for unhoused residents, the group of volunteers supporting people living in a municipal park is calling on the municipality to publicly declare a moratorium on tent and shelter evictions from municipal parks,” reports Zane Woodford:

A month ago this weekend, Halifax Regional Police and city staff evicted people living in tents and emergency shelters from multiple parks and deployed riot gear and pepper spray on protesters outside the former Halifax Memorial Library.

In the weeks since, regional councillors and the mayor have gone from outright denying the facts on the ground to showing some remorse for what happened on Aug. 18 and voting to spend $500,000 on temporary fixes.

But this week, reality is up for debate once again after people who were staying at a Dartmouth hotel paid for by HRM found out at the last minute that they were getting displaced.

The municipality booked 10 rooms at the Comfort Inn in Dartmouth about two weeks ago, and whatever arrangement it had with the hotel came to an end on Wednesday.

Click here to read “Volunteers call for moratorium on Halifax tent, shelter evictions after residents lose hotel rooms.”

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2. Rents outside of Halifax

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality passed a motion Tuesday night calling for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to “assess the reliability” of the data it uses to determine housing costs in the municipality, reports Mary Campbell for the Cape Breton Spectator:

To understand the problems with CMHC’s data, I contacted CBU professor and housing advocate Dr. Catherine Leviten-Reid who sent me a copy of an article on the subject she’d co-written — with Bridget Horel of CBU, Rebecca Matthew of the University of Georgia and Fred Deveaux and Peggy Vassallo of the CB Community Housing Association — for the Journal of Rural and Community Development…

[T]he main point it makes is that CMHC’s annual rental market report, considered “the foremost data source” on rental housing in this country, doesn’t collect sufficient information about smaller geographic areas. It collects detailed information about census metropolitan areas (CMAs), which must have populations of 100,000, at least 50,000 of whom live in the core. In Nova Scotia, that means Halifax.

CMHC collects less detailed information about census agglomerations (CAs), which must have core populations of 10,000. In Nova Scotia, that means CBRM.

When I say CMHC collects “less detailed” information about smaller areas, I mean that for areas under 10,000 population, it doesn’t collect much rental market information at all — and what it collects, it collects irregularly.

As for areas like CBRM, “less detailed” means CMHC doesn’t collect information about what is called the secondary rental market, focusing instead on the primary market. The primary market is defined as “units in buildings in which there are at least three rentals, such as purpose-built apartments” while the secondary market is comprised of “rentals in buildings with fewer than three units.”

As a resident of Sydney’s North End, I know that much of the market rental stock around me falls within this secondary market — think duplexes, basement apartments, apartments in commercial buildings, single-detached houses — but you don’t have to rely on my anecdotal evidence, Levetin and her colleagues undertook their own “extensive, community-engaged” research six years ago (the paper explains their methods) and discovered that a full 43% of CBRM’s market rentals are “located within the secondary market.”

Of the secondary market rentals, the majority are duplexes or semi-detached dwellings (42.60%), followed by rented, single-detached homes (28.14%) and converted houses or buildings (15.23%).

So when CMHC is doing the math on vacancy rates or average rents in CBRM, it is leaving 43% of the market out of its calculations. When I spoke to Leviten-Reid on Tuesday, she said CMHC says there are 2,053 private rental apartments in CBRM. But Leviten-Reid said their research found 6,589 rental market units — and the most recent census data shows CBRM has 11,595 tenant households in non-farm, non-reserve, private dwellings, 25% of which were subsidized rentals, which means 8,696 non-subsidized or market rentals. She said there were some discrepancies between the three sets of data but the bottom line is:

What they understand is our rental housing universe here, even for primary rentals, seems to be off.

All of which explains how CMHC could report that in October 2020,  Sydney had a vacancy rate for 2-bedroom apartments of 8.4% (up from 5.8% a year previously) while, as Councilor MacMullin stated in her resolution, “staff, affordable housing providers, residents, researchers and housing advocates” tell a very different story.

Campbell has much more, so read the whole thing. But her conclusion is worth underscoring:

As for ensuring affordable housing is truly affordable, Ricardo Tranjan, a political economist with CCPA-Ontario, offered this suggestion way back in August:

To truly lower rents and make housing affordable for all, we ought to take profit out of the equation by investing in public and non-profit housing.

… If the CBRM aims to create truly affordable housing, it needs to take Tranjan’s advice to heart.

Click here to read “Housing By the Numbers.”

As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, and so this article is behind the Spectator’s paywall. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
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3. FIN International film festival

“Media outlets throughout the nation have now reported on Premier Tim Houston’s stupefying appointment of a septuagenarian white male as Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs and overseer of the province’s Diversity and Anti-Racism Initiatives,” writes Evelyn C. White:

Given the Tim-foolery coming out of Province House, let’s revisit the movie Apollo 13: “Houston, we have a problem.”

In stark contrast, the FIN International film festival will showcase several works by and about women, Indigenous, minority and LGBTQ+ folk in the province; cinema by emerging and seasoned filmmakers that give voice and visibility to marginalized groups (on the real).

Click here to read “FIN International film festival gives voice to marginalized groups.”

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4. Convention centre

The Nova Centre in Halifax in September. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“The convention centre’s COVID-19 deficit is getting deeper,” reports Zane Woodford:

In year-end financial statements released on Thursday, Events East, the Crown corporation that runs the Halifax Convention Centre, reported that it lost $11,295,905 in fiscal 2020-2021. That’s about $200,000 more than forecast in Events East’s 2020-2021 budget, released months late in November 2020.

The convention centre was running a deficit before COVID-19, about $5.5. million in 2019-2020, but it’s worsened since the pandemic stopped nearly all events.

Much of the extra loss now is due to much lower than forecast revenue. The convention centre was expected to bring in $750,000 last fiscal year, just a fraction of the $10.8 million it made in 2019-2020, but in fact it only made about $250,000. The lost revenue was only partially offset by lower costs.

The municipal and provincial governments split the convention centre deficit 50/50. HRM expected to pay $5,401,000. Now it’s paying $5,500,611. The provincial government’s share grew from $5,573,000 to $5,678,224 (the provincial government also funds capital purchases). That’s on top of the $5.38 million each level of government pays annually to the building space from Joe Ramia.

The convention centre has been used for COVID-19 testing and vaccination, but it’s unclear how much the province has been paying in rent for the use of the space. The Halifax Examiner has requested that information from the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

Halifax councillors floated the idea of using the convention centre to house people during the pandemic. Chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé told them it wasn’t going to happen.

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5. COVID

Photo: Martin Sanchez/Unsplash

The province announced 34 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, 27 of which reflect the outbreak in the Mennonite community around the Minas Basin.

That community is one of several Mennonite communities in the province. They’ve stopped coming to sell their produce at the various farmers markets around the province, which must be a big financial hit to them. Because they otherwise don’t much interact with the larger community, there’s little chance of that outbreaking spreading further, but Public Health does note that it expects more cases within the community.

Otherwise, Nova Scotia case counts are about what they were two weeks ago, and so while we should remain cautious, no one should be panicking.

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6. Free rent for pop-up testing, and lots of volunteers

Volunteers at one of the pop-up testing sites. Photo: Lisa Barrett

Because I always suspect the worst, I wondered if there might be a connection between the two previous items: Was Events East offsetting lost revenue by charging the province rent for the pop-up testing site at the convention centre? So I asked the province for details about rent paid for many of the pop-up testing sites, including the convention centre.

I’m happy to report that my instincts have failed me. Here’s an explanation about all things pop-up testing centres provided by Kristen Lipscombe, a spokesperson for the Department of Health & Wellness:

All rapid testing pop-up sites have been funded by the Department of Health and Wellness (DHW), except for one overflow site, which was opened up during the pandemic’s third wave surge and was run by Nova Scotia Health at Keshen Goodman Public Library. The nearby Canada Games Centre served as primary assessment entre (PAC) during that time.

There were no rental costs associated with any of the pop-up sites that have been used across the province because we have worked together with our partners to make use of spaces that have been available due to the pandemic. For example, DHW worked with Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) to use many of the city’s available spaces, including libraries, legions, and recreational facilities, while companies such as the Halifax Convention Centre and Cineplex Cinemas generously provided space for free.

These pop-up testing sites have been operated by a combination of both Praxes Medical Group and infectious disease expert Dr. Lisa Barrett’s outreach team. Dr. Barrett’s team has primarily supported the downtown Halifax core, while Praxes Medical Group has supported suburban HRM and rural areas of the province, although both have staffed some of the same locations at different times. Both groups hired a mix of staff members and volunteers to work these sites.

During the fourth wave, pop-up testing will continue to be available in communities where there is concerning epidemiology such as high case prevalence or confirmed community spread. Currently there are signs of community spread in the Halifax/Dartmouth area and so pop-ups in those communities remain open. This testing will be provided by a combination of providers including Dr. Barrett’s team, Praxes Medical Group, and Nova Scotia Health’s Public Health Mobile Unit. This testing will be available to all individuals in targeted communities; however, unvaccinated individuals with higher numbers of social contacts are particularly encouraged to seek testing.

Rapid tests will also continue to be used to support outbreak and cluster testing, in the workplace screening program, and in other targeted settings as recommended by public health. Public Health will continue to keep a close eye on epidemiology and testing trends and adapt if needed.

The main cost associated with pop-up testing sites has been staffing. In general, those run by Praxes have cost an average of about $2,100 daily, while those run by Dr. Barrett cost about $635 daily. The cost difference is due to Dr. Barrett’s recruitment from a large roster of volunteers to help at some of the more permanent locations. Praxes sites were more mobile in nature and haven’t had the same ability to leverage consistent volunteer support.

This is a good answer.

Pop-up testing has been a tremendous success for Nova Scotia, to which an enormous credit must be given especially to the many volunteers who have made the sites possible.

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7. Living Wage

Before and after. Photos: Stephen Archibald.

“Cyclesmith, a bicycle sales and repair shop on Agricola Street in Halifax, announced on Thursday afternoon it now has a living wage policy for its staff,” reports Suzanne Rent:

[Cyclesmith owner Andrew] Feenstra said he’ll adjust his staff’s wages based on new calculations to the living wage. Employees at Cyclesmith also have a co-pay health care plan, group RRSP, and annual sales bonuses.

Feenstra said the policy will cost the company a lot of money upfront, but said that is minimal to the costs of finding new staff and retraining them, He said his employees are the “lifeblood” of the business and that’s how they have to be treated.

“At some point when you’re an entrepreneur, you take risks,” he said. “This is a huge risk. This is a quarter-of-a-million-dollar risk that I’m taking. But it’s a very calculated risk and it has very varying results that can be completely attributed to [the living wage policy.] It’s the risk you take, but it will pay off in spades. You just have to do it. It’s the  right thing to do.”

I can’t imagine the hassle and expense of having to hire and retrain staff on a regular basis because wages are too low to keep employees. I always wish the best for my employees, and if that means having to move on because they’re pursuing better career opportunities, I completely understand. But I shouldn’t be pushing them out the door with insultingly low wages. Mutual respect goes a long way, I’ve found.


Views

1. Eastern Shore, part 3

Stephen Archibald continues his journey through the Eastern Shore, with the usual pretty pictures of buildings and landscapes and such, but I want to call attention to this part:

I always looked forward to driving over the Liscombe River Bridge. Water rushed over rocky rapids beside a green shore lined with rustic cabins, all easily glimpsed through attractive, metal, bridge railing. A view that felt picturesque and generous.

Liscombe River Bridge. Google Street View, July 2009

But no more. We were sad to encounter a new highway bridge with an opaque, high, concrete, balustrade that totally blocks the river view from our traditional sized car. Might as well be driving through a parking garage. To add insult to injury the Department of Transportation has clad the barrier with bizarre panels that imitate stone.

Liscombe River Bridge, 2021. Photo: Stephen Archibald

To show how little they care, the stone wall illustration is full of running joints (rocks lining up vertically). A real stone wall built like that could fall apart the first winter. They just-don’t give- a . . .

Archibald goes on to give some examples of attractive bridges, both old and new, and comments:

Nova Scotia spends hundreds of millions of dollars on roads. There is no reason they should not look the best that they possibly can.

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Government

No meetings


On campus

No events


In the harbour

Halifax
06:00: MSC Leigh, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Sines, Portugal
06:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Fairview Cove for Saint-Pierre
09:00: Evros, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
12:00: Vivienne Sheri D, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Portland
15:00: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia
17:30: MSC Leigh sails for New York
18:00: Nolhanava sails for Saint-Pierre
22:00: Vivienne Sheri D sails for Argentia, Newfoundland

Cape Breton
05:00: Rossi A. Desgagnes, chemical tanker, arrives at Government Dock (Sydney) from Quebec City
05:45: Algoma Victory, bulker, arrives at Coal Pier (Sydney) from Puerto Bolívar, Colombia


Footnotes

I have issues with my iPhone 6s. The storage maxxes out with annoying frequency, the podcast app drops two or three times a day, and the personal hotspot fails even more often.

Of course I’ve googled around, and have done all the recommended fixes. Photos are stored on the cloud, website data is deleted, I don’t have music or games on the phone, and I regularly wipe the entire device and restore it from a backup — that last usually works for about a day and a half before the storage maxxes out again.

I’m beginning the think there’s a trojan app or spyware on the phone, maybe a Pegasus thing, but I kinda doubt anyone cares enough about my phone usage to go to the trouble. Yeah, I listen to podcasts, use it as a hotspot, and coordinate happy hour plans with it, but that’s about it. I’m not having confidential conversations with sources on this phone, and I don’t use it to buy stuff.

Any other suggested solutions? Or should I finally break down and buy a 10 or whatever?


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Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. I’m not a fan at all of the newer concrete-walled bridges either, I’m glad that Stephen pointed it out. And that stone wall illustration is just tacky.

  2. Something does not pass the sniff test with the city and hotel evictions thing.

    We certainly trying our best to hide the beauty of Nova Scotia with ugly buidlings and such, so why not ugly bridges too.

    Way to go … bike shop!!

    iPhone 6s … outdated and your problems are only beginning. Sorry, but these things are designed to wear out and to have problems. I had to abandon my trusted BlackBerry priv (liked the security for a business phone) and went with the iPhone SE (2020). It’s a very good phone and is not anywhere as expensive as a 12, or soon 13. One of my clients is a Bell Mobility rep and he would take good care of you. Text me (902-456-9301) if you want his contact info.

  3. I had the use of an iPhone 6s briefly when my flip phone died – the first Applie product I had ever used. The phone had a few issues, not the same ones yours does, but a few issues all the same. I took my iPhone to a little shop know as U Break It I Fix It and the young man behind the counter took my phone, checked it out, and gave me a few tips and tricks to try – all at no cost. Not sure if the location closest to you could do the same; but if you like your phone otherwise it is an option. I went to the location in Dartmouth Crossing; unfortuantely, my memory banks seem to have deleted the young man’s name. 🙂

  4. I have long thought that the Highways Departments need to have the benefit of landscape architects. If they did we would not be subject I hope to the destruction of saplings and bushes in the medians of wide roadways. They would provide habitat for small wildlife as well as acting like snow fences accumulations in the winter. In a tourism dependent economy like NS we would all benefit from roadways and bridges which enhance the landscape rather than erecting bland characterless view-blocking structures.
    Iain T.

    1. I also think that simply being able to see wild rivers and streams will help people better appreciate the natural environment. From appreciation comes the desire to protect.

  5. Thanks for the Rocky and Joan documentary; the link to FIN; the story about under-reported, poorly understood rental housing in CBRM; the story about how pop up testing works; the story about HRM’s ongoing homeless issue.

    And for the story about bridges. This has been a sore point for me for decades. I first noticed it while driving across Canada, going through Northern Ontario – the views of rivers, one of the few views of interest in endless stretches of forest, were gradually being blocked by high concrete walls on newer bridges. Like Archibald, I’ve noticed it happening in NS for a long time as well. The new overpasses and bridges on Highway 103 are the same – enormous impenetrable concrete barricades. Overpasses don’t matter so much but on waterways they take away some of the most interesting views drivers see. They can’t be required for safety – there are many examples of metal barricades or post and metal barricades or concrete and metal barricades in areas of equal or greater danger – the sides of roads with very high drops that would destroy a car and its passengers; the 2 bridges over Halifax Harbour!, etc. Concrete doesn’t last longer than metal judging from what you see on aging concrete highway structures. My question to Stephen is this: have you asked the Dept of Highways for a formal explanation of why they build them this way? I’ve been meaning to for years but it never seems quite important enough to do compared to all the other issues that need advocacy. I’d love to see you challenge them on this and publish the answers. They need to know that many Nova Scotians don’t support these obstructions that don’t seem to have a supportable rationale.

  6. I’d like to think that NSO Group does better work than that, considering what they charge. Phones are complex and do weird stuff sometimes. Mine ate my entire data plan one night – was a hostile third party stealing all my incredibly boring photos or did my browser app just glitch out? Who knows. Unless your iPhone bug is a known issue that people complain about on the internet, it’s probably time for a new phone.

    Interesting news about Cyclesmith, I hope it works out for them. I was in there buying an inner tube the other day – they had very little inventory and most of what they had was in the $5000+ price range.

      1. I know you don’t actually think I spent $5K on an inner tube, but actually Cyclesmith was less than 2/3 the price on Amazon and it was an expensive brandname tube too.

    1. Best bike service in town: the local boys at LONG ALLEY BIKES, on Quinpool. Apart from repairs and service they specialize in selling good, refurbished bicycles. ” If it wasn’t too anthropomorphic we’d be calling ourselves a bicycle adoption agency. ” and as they cheekily add, “We build really sweet bikes… but we don’t discriminate. We’ll even fix your Supercycle.”