News

1. More fisheries mismanagement

Cod. Photo: Hans-Petter Fjeld/ Wiki

The environmental group Oceana Canada, which describes itself as “an independent charity established to restore Canadian oceans to be as rich, healthy, and abundant as they once were” is slamming the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for its management of fish stocks.

Aaron Beswick reports for The Chronicle Herald on the group’s audit of DFO’s fisheries research and management:

It found that 17 per cent of these fish stocks (primarily Atlantic groundfish species) are in the critical zone, 15.5 per cent are in the cautious zone, 29.4 per cent are considered healthy and federal managers don’t have enough scientific information to gauge the health of 38.1 per cent of stocks.

“This means fisheries are being managed with incomplete information for more than a third of Canada’s fish stocks,” reads the report.

“It is impossible to assess or verify the appropriateness of fishery management decisions in the absence of key data or reference points.”

Canada’s new Fisheries Act, which came into effect in June, mandates the federal regulator develop rebuilding plans for stocks in the critical zone – meaning that its population is so low that its reproductive ability is severely impaired.

Reading the story, I was shocked to learn that there is still no recovery plan in place for northern cod. I mean, really?

2. Ferry management fees case gets boost

Tim Houston’s name is a key part of a court case.

The Government of Nova Scotia has steadfastly refused to make public any details on the management fee it’s paying to the operators of the Yarmouth ferry. (Note that the fee continued to be paid this year, even though the ferry did not make a single crossing.)

In an effort to make the information public, the province’s Progressive Conservatives took the government to court. This after former privacy commissioner Catherine Tully urged the province to release the information.

Back in March, lawyers for Bay Ferries said the case should be thrown out because of a procedural error: the paperwork had to be filed in the name of an individual, and it was filed in the name of the Tory caucus instead.

Michael Gorman now reports for CBC that the Nova Scotia Court of Appeals has upheld a ruling that the party can use leader Tim Houston’s name on the suit:

With the procedural matter settled, the Tories, the provincial government and Bay Ferries will be back in court in March to argue about the actual release of the management fee.

The province has argued the fee is proprietary information the company needs to protect for competitive purposes, while also noting the total amount spent on the ferry each year is publicly disclosed.

Houston said his party supports the ferry service, but added that it’s also important to know if the province is getting the best deal possible and money is being spent wisely. Given that the ferry didn’t sail in 2019 as it works to shift its Maine port of call from Portland to Bar Harbor, Houston questioned the success of the deal signed by the government.

3. Gender parity on boards

How are we doing when it comes to women on public boards, here in the Bold City?

Haley Ryan has an investigation in The Star Halifax today on gender parity on public boards in Halifax.

Ryan looks at public and non-profit boards across a number of fields. She says the boards they surveyed had an average of 45.6% women — but averages can hide wide variations. Thirteen of the 18 members on the Neptune Theatre board are women, while the bottom end of the scale includes Volta, the Nova Scotia Nature Trust, and the Tattoo (which has 20% women on the board). Ryan writes:

Meredith Ralston, a Halifax women’s studies professor at Mount Saint Vincent University whose research includes gender representation in politics, said there are three main reasons gender parity is “so important.”

One is the basic fairness argument that says if women make up 50 per cent of the population then they should take up that same percentage on boards, Ralston said. Then there’s the issue of perspective. If a board is mostly made up of men, you’re not getting views from women or minority groups, she said.

Third, Ralston said is the issue of advocacy, since there are various areas of interest that women might have that differ from men.

The story is about more than numbers. It looks at how boards approach gender parity and what they look for in members, and how they reach out to under-represented communities.

Halifax is currently recruiting members for a whole lot of boards and committees.

4. Obama

President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

You may have heard that former US president Barack Obama was in town last night. Nine thousand people turned up to hear him talk about climate change, gun violence, and nice Canadians.

For The Chronicle Herald, Francis Campbell writes:

Making his first visit to Halifax and Atlantic Canada, Obama said he has never fretted about Canada-U.S. relations.

“I have to confess, and I speak for Michelle as well, we’re just suckers for Canadians,” the 44th president of the United States said to a round of applause.

“There is a spirit in Canada that is unique and I think worth feeling very good about. The people are still modelling the kind of civility and tolerance and thoughtfulness that is required for the maintenance of democracy and I hope that continues.”

I did not attend (I was giving a kombucha-making workshop down the street at the library), but a couple of things struck me about the pre-Obama coverage.

First, he was brought to Halifax by the Nova Scotia Co-Operative Council, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary. (Nova Scotia has a long and proud history of co-ops; it’s an area in which this province was once a real leader.) The council includes the province’s credit unions. But as someone (and I’m sorry I can’t remember who it is) noted on Twitter, the coverage and publicity constantly referred to the arena named for a bank at which Obama spoke.

The other thing was the over-the-top messaging about security. Of course security is going to be tighter for a visit by a former president than it is for a Mooseheads game. But some of the messaging seemed kind of ridiculous to me: Reminders that if you leave the venue you won’t be allowed to return (pretty standard stuff for any event), or the news report that led with people passing through metal detectors to get into the arena. I passed through metal detectors last time Slayer came to Halifax, but it wasn’t exactly newsworthy.

5. Drink your chicken bones

Chicken Bones. Photo: Ganong

Ganong Chicken Bones candies are a Maritime tradition and so, I guess is drinking. Now you’ll be able to enjoy both at the same time.

Huddle, out of New Brunswick (which, I confess, I had not heard of until today), says that craft distillery Moonshine Creek is making a limited-run Chicken Bones liqueur in time for Christmas.

President and Head Distiller Jeremiah Clark says they got the idea last year.

“Last winter, when we were doing make your own moonshine workshops, we were showing how to try to infuse spirits by using things that might be available around your house after the holidays,” he says.

“One of the things was chicken bones. There is a way we could turn them into a syrup, and blend them with spirits, to make a liqueur. It was such a success, participants told us that we should really try to make it.”

This stuff has got to be pretty damn sickly sweet: 700 kg of Chicken Bones to make 2,500 bottles of liqueur. You’ll have to drive to New Brunswick to get it.


Views

Secrecy is a feature, not a bug

Hearing about the latest in the PC party’s efforts to get the government to release the terms of the management contract with the operators of the Yarmouth ferry got me thinking about the ubiquity of secrecy. And that got me thinking about John Ralston Saul.

In his 1992 book Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, Ralston Saul writes extensively about  Western governments and secrecy, and questions just how much we really need to keep secret.

Although it’s been nearly 30 years since the book was released, this discussion remains particularly relevant.

Here’s how Ralston Saul opens his chapter “The art of the secret”:

Everything in the West is secret unless there is a conscious decision to the contrary. Our civilization, which never stops declaiming about the inviolability of free speech, operates as if it distrusts nothing more. The taste for the hidden has not played an accidental role in the distortion of practical democracy.

Ralston Saul dips into the history of secrecy, and discusses how controlling information, or having “control over an element of modern truth” is one of the key functions of people operating within administrative structures. Then comes what I think is the core of the chapter:

It is not that there are more secrets today. The nature of a secret has simply changed. In its purest form it was and still is information which, in the wrong hands, could damage the state. But very few bits of information can do that… More often than not, the problems of a state relate to the refusal of local elites to do their job — that is, to provide competent leadership and to protect the interests of the population as a whole. This includes improperly managing resources, failing to adjust to changes in technology or simply losing interest in leadership and management. Exploiting the pleasures of power without assuming the accompanying responsibilities is the most common means by which established elites inadvertently destroy their own nations. But none of this has to do with secrets.

Periodically, a secret can be useful. The place and time of a military attack, for example…

As for civil secrets, they aren’t really secrets at all. They have more to do with negotiating techniques than with security. Sir William Templeton demonstrated that the best deal is one that makes sense and looks good out in the open. Secrecy is only useful in selling a bad deal…

As I said, just as relevant now as when it was written.

I first read Voltaire’s Bastards in the mid-1990s, in part while I was hospitalized at Hôpital St-Luc in Montreal. I had the book on my gurney as I waited to be shuffled here and there for tests and whatnot. At one point, an orderly wheeling me somewhere saw the book and asked me about it, and we wound up having a great conversation about it as she rolled me through the hallways.


Noticed: Seniors, dementia and antipsychotics

David and Madonna Clothier. She is a resident at the Bay St. George Long Term Care Centre. Photo: Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement.

Yesterday, the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement announced  results of a program to reduce the use of antipsychotic medications for people with dementia.

The CFHI is promoting what it calls an Appropriate Use of Antipsychotics approach in long-term care homes. As part of that effort, they’ve been working with long-term care homes in New Brunswick, PEI, and Newfoundland and Labrador to reduce antipsychotic use. Hmm, which Atlantic Canadian province is missing from this list?

The announcement yesterday covered their work in NL and PEI, which involved all publicly-funded long-term care facilities in those provinces, along with a handful of private ones. The results:

  • In Newfoundland and Labrador, 52 percent of residents who were prescribed antipsychotic medication, but did not have a psychosis diagnosis, had their medication reduced or discontinued (30 percent discontinued, and 22 percent reduced dose)
  • In Prince Edward Island, 53 percent of residents who were prescribed antipsychotic medication but did not have a psychosis diagnosis had their medication reduced or discontinued (25 percent discontinued, and 28 percent reduced dose)
  • No change in physical or verbal aggressive behaviours among these residents.

Antipsychotics, especially the latest generation, can be wonderful, life-saving drugs. I know several people whose lives have benefited immensely from their use.

But dementia is not psychosis. So why are seniors given these drugs?

The short answer is: patient management. That’s why the last bullet point above is so important. Dementia patients can be unpredictable and sometimes act aggressively. They may be given antipsychotics to help control those behaviours. The problem? CFHI says:

However, there is a lack of evidence to support their effectiveness and a risk that they can cause significant side effects such as confusion, dizziness and stroke, or even death.

Inappropriate use of antipsychotics can cause real harm. From a 2017 Cape Breton Post story:

“Most of the time non-medication approaches can bring out a better result than medications can,” said [Mary] Schultz [of the Alzheimer Society of Canada].

Schultz said the ironic thing is people with dementia are on medication to try to help with some of the symptoms that causes things like forgetfulness and then are given antipsychotic medication that can actually cause confusion.

“In the case of dementia, they are well known to cause confusion — the last thing we need when someone has already lost some of their ability to think.”

Schultz said people who have someone — whether at home, in the hospital or a nursing home — on antipsychotic medications should be asking questions.

That piece was a follow-up to a story about the death of 92-year-old Ches Haines, who died on October 27, 2017. He had been prescribed antipsychotics after he escaped from his nursing home in Sydney by climbing out the window. Sharon Montgomery-Dupe writes:

Ches was in the mental health unit of the hospital for four days and was then transferred to the fourth floor, before moving to the palliative care unit where he spent his last week, until his death on Oct. 27, 2017, at 7:10 a.m.

Following his death, Linda said the family obtained their father’s medical records from the hospital, which show their father was given antipsychotic drugs despite their request not to. The Cape Breton Post has viewed these records.

“Whatever was given to him took away his functions and he never recovered,” said David.

Linda and David are Ches’s children. They later said the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness had opened an investigation into Ches’s death, but I don’t see any information on the results of that investigation.

My friend Jenn Thornhill Verma is a senior director at CHFI, and I first learned about the program to reduce use of antipsychotics in seniors with dementia by reading her tweets yesterday. Verma is also a talented writer and painter (!). She is launching her new book Cod Collapse at the Open Book cafe next Tuesday evening.


Government

City

Thursday

Design Review Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, City Hall) —

Tim Bousquet wrote this item.

Skye Halifax is back! You’ll recall that way back in 2007, United Gulf Developments gained approval for the so-called “Twisted Sisters” development on the former Tex-Park site between Granville and Hollis Streets, but never got around to building the thing. Then, in 2012, United Gulf was back with an audacious “Skye Halifax” proposal for the site, which consisted of two 48-storey towers. Pretty much everyone hated the idea, and Halifax council rejected it.

Now, United Gulf is back with a revised Skye Halifax proposal, this time wanting approval for a 21-storey building at the site. But like its predecessor, staff is recommending that the committee reject the proposal:

The Development Officer has reviewed this application and determined that the following elements do not conform to the Downtown Halifax LUB:

  • Minimum and maximum streetwall heights;
  • Minimum streetwall width;
  • Upper storey streetwall stepbacks;
  • Upper storey side yard stepback; and
  • Maximum tower width and separation distance.

I think this is a perverse game United Gulf is playing. It has significant as-a-right potential for the site, but isn’t pursuing that because, I’m guessing, the company just wants to be able to sell a development approval to someone else. So every few years it will crank out another unacceptable proposal, hoping the political winds have changed enough such the council will override staff and approve it.

Harbour East – Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm, HEMDCC Meeting space, Alderney Gate) — here’s the agenda.

Friday

No public meetings.

Province

No public meetings Thursday or Friday.


On campus

Dalhousie

Thursday

Newfangling Rounds (Thursday, 8:30am, Bethune Ballroom, VG Site) — Cameron Sehl from Symbi Medical will present “Guiding Patients Through Care: How a Digital Health Platform Supports Patients Between Visits to Improve Compliance and Drive Better Outcomes.” Register here.

Fostering Faculty Collaboration on Effective Practice with Technology and Teaching (Thursday, ) — a Cross-institutional Technology Enabled Learning Event. More info and registration here.

Thesis Defence, Oceanography (Thursday, 2pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Jing Tao will defend “Characterization of Estuarine Particle Dynamics using Optical Properties.”

Mini Medical School (Thursday, 7pm, Theatre B, Tupper Link) — Nancy Murphy will present “Drugs We are Seeing on the Street”, followed at 8:15 by Thomas Ransom with “Foods or Comestibles.”

Friday

Dalhousie Postdoctoral Society Research Day 2019 (Friday, 8:30am, Great Hall, Dalhousie University Club) — postdocs present their research in a 3-minute thesis talk and/or poster.

Thesis Defence, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Friday, 9:30am, Room C266, Collaborative Health Education Building) — Stefan A. Warkentin will defend “Aciniform Spider Silk Proteins: Investigating Solution State Assembly and the Potential of Nanoparticles as a Drug Delivery Vehicle.”

Towards integral planning of care pathways (Friday, 10am, MA 310) — Erwin W. Hans from the University of Twente, Netherlands, will talk.

In the past 15 years, much of the research within the Center of Healthcare Operations Improvement & Research (CHOIR) has revolved around optimizing patient flows in hospitals. In close collaboration with Dutch hospitals, this has led to a variety of planning and control concepts that mostly operate on the tactical level of control. 5 years ago, a spin-off company (Rhythm) was started to support bringing the research outcomes into the practice of Dutch hospitals. This presentation will present some of the tactical planning solutions and discuss how they were brought into practice.​

Johanna Blacquiere. Photo: uwo.ca

Proton and StructurallyResponsive Ligands for Catalysis (Friday, 1:30pm, Chemistry Room 226) — Johanna M. Blacquiere from Western University will talk.

Lissa Skitolsky. Photo: biopoliticalphilosophy.com

Holocaust Humor and our Sensibility of Anti-Black Violence (Friday, 3:30pm, in the auditorium named after a bank, Marion McCain Building) — a talk by Lissa Skitolsky, 2019‑20 Spatz Visiting Chair in Jewish Studies.

The specific form of “holocaust humor” addressed aims to expose the complicity of popular narratives about the Holocaust with white indifference to the pervasive ruthlessness of systemic violence against black communities.

Saint Mary’s

Thursday

No public events.

Friday

Becoming Nobody (Friday, 7pm, Theatre A, Burke Building) — screening of Ram Dass’ new documentary. $15, proceeds to this organization.


In the harbour

06:30: USS Indianapolis, US warship, sails from Dockyard for sea
11:00: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
11:30: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 41 to Autoport
16:00: Hansa Meersburg, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
16:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves back to Pier 41
17:00: Leopard Moon, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
18:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Bedford Basin anchorage from Saint-Pierre
20:00: Atlantic Sky sails for Liverpool, England
21:00: Algoma Verity, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for sea


Footnotes

I’m signing copies of my book at the Coles in Scotia Square today, from 12:30-2:00 PM. If you are a reader and would like to say hi in person, please drop by. I’d love to meet you and I won’t try to sell you a book.

Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. Thanks for the plug Tony, David Wachsmuth gave a terrific presentation to a packed audience and I hope you (and lots of other Examiner readers) were there.
    Sharon, for Neighbours Speak Up

  2. Neighbours Speak Up is hosting a report on short-term rentals in Halifax. This is a free public presentation by Professor David Wachsmuth, McGill University (Canada Research Chair in Urban Governance…)

    Thursday, November 14, 2019
    Lindsay Room, 2nd Floor, Halifax Central Library, Spring Garden Road
    Doors open at 6:00 pm with presentation at 6:30 pm, Q&A to follow

    More info here: https://www.neighboursspeakup.com/events

  3. Re seniors and antipsychotics, Jenn Verma points out to me that two Nova Scotia sites did participate in the original antipsychotic reduction program, back in 2014-2015. The sites were the Camp Hill Veterans’ Hospital and St. Vincent’s Nursing Home. The program was expanded province-wide in the rest of Atlantic Canada, but not here.

    1. Antipsychotics are dangerous, especially for those over 60, and medical literature suggests should only be used for patient control as a very last resort where the patient is a serious danger to himself or others and cannot be controlled by other means. Our society (led by our governments) values money over people – especially over old or vulnerable people. Thus, we under-staff care homes to save money; drugs are cheaper than staff so drugs are all they have left to maintain control. It’s shameful and disgusting, not that our government is capable of feeling shame. There are better models, some even in Canada, but our government has made a conscious decision to not use those models in favour of saving money.

  4. The overwhelming reason governments at all levels hide behind the privacy act and deem things to be kept from the public is to avoid embarrassment. Pure and simple. Very little of what really needs to be secret actually exists. Governments are paranoid about taking criticism for bad decisions and being held accountable in the cold light of facts. So the simple thing is to say everything is secret and in Nova Scotia, even when their own privacy review process says “no this isn’t secret” they dig their heels in and ignore the reviewer’s conclusion.

  5. ” One is the basic fairness argument that says if women make up 50 per cent of the population then they should take up that same percentage on boards, Ralston said. ”
    There are plenty of good arguments why more women should be on boards but this one is plain stupid.

    1. Dear Colin, my wish for you is that in your next lifetime you are born a poor and beautiful woman in an Arabic country… then you might be wishing that by international law, worldwide, women must hold 50% of seats on all governing bodies, and 50% of all seats on corporate and charitable boards. Locally, we have only to look at yesterday’s article about the stupid development of a sports arena in Dartmouth [ and there are many other examples ] to understand why it would be far better if WOMEN made up 50% of local governing bodies.