/Drink lead, kid

Drink lead, kid

November subscription drive

Stephen Kimber has been around the Examiner for so long, it’s easy to take his weekly columns for granted. Monday morning: Kimber’s got a new column.

I got to know Kimber while doing my MFA at King’s over the last couple of years. He was the cohort leader for my class and he taught a couple of my courses.

One of the things I appreciate about the Examiner is that Tim encourages writers to be themselves. When I first started writing Morning Files, I think part of me was trying to mimic Tim’s style, since that was the tone of the website. Tim was pretty clear though that he wanted those of us to contribute to sound like ourselves. That’s why he was hiring us to write for him.

Kimber’s never had this problem. He’s always been a distinctive voice — whether he’s putting the latest government malfeasance in context or calling out shameful behaviour on the part of public officials.

Take this week’s column, Whose Deaths Matter? The McNeil government has announced it will review all deaths resulting from domestic violence, along with the deaths of children who die in provincial care. This is good. But what about adults in provincial custody? The province seems less interested. Kimber writes:

The rationale is obvious. Like children in care, society has placed inmates in government-run, closed-to-public-scrutiny institutions where they are especially vulnerable, so the government has — or should have — a duty to make sure they are safe inside. If someone dies while in the care of the state, we need to know what happened and why, so we can — as with children in care — “turn tragedy into lessons learned and lives saved into the future.”…

Furey claims that, in the last 10 years, his department’s official body count shows 25 deaths in domestic homicides, 12 among children in care and “just” nine adults who died in custody.

Kimber then goes on to summarize the details behind some of those deaths, and as the thumbnail sketches pile up, it becomes increasingly hard to justify a position that there is nothing to be learned from these cases.

The guy is also funny, as any of his Yarmouth ferry pieces will show. From the most recent:

“There will not be any commercial crossings in 2019,” Mark MacDonald, the CEO of Bay Ferries, emailed a CBC reporter Friday in response to his question about whether the Yarmouth-Bar Harbor ferry would actually sail, even once this season, even just one way, or maybe just out past the mouth of Yarmouth harbour for a quick spin around.

The CBC had to ask MacDonald because Lloyd I-know-nothing-what-was-the-question-who-are-you Hines, our minister of transportation and obfuscation, wouldn’t or couldn’t answer…

But even Hines had to sort-of admit his ferry universe hadn’t unfolded exactly as planned, or… well, at all.

“We’re really disappointed on behalf of the operators that we haven’t been able to mount a season…”

On behalf of the operators?!

The operators are making out like bandits.

What about the rest of us?

Your subscription to the Halifax Examiner helps provide a forum for distinctive voices: writers breaking news, offering commentary, and providing much-needed context and background. Please consider subscribing.


News

1. Surprise! Property assessment cap helps wealthiest the most

Waye Mason wants me to pay more property tax, and that’s probably a good thing overall. Photo: Halifax Examiner

In The Chronicle Herald, Brett Bundale takes an in-depth look at the effects of capping property tax assessments.

Short version: the richer you are, the more you benefit.

The property tax cap was introduced in 2005, at a time when the media was full of stories about people with (usually coastal) homes they could no longer afford to live in, because of dramatic increases in property taxes.

This was a particular problem in areas like the one where I live, on St. Margaret’s Bay. Within a five-minute drive of my house there are people living in mobile homes, modest houses that were once cottages, enormous waterfront mansions, and fixed up hundred-year-old homes. People who had lived in the area their whole lives faced having to sell their homes, because local development was increasing their property values and they could no longer afford the taxes.

I can’t remember which tone-deaf minister at the time said this was a good thing, because their houses were worth more now, so they could sell them and move.

The solution? Cap property taxes to the rate of inflation, until the house is sold. The new owners then pay tax at a rate based on current market assessment.

Bundale’s story shows some of the distortions this system has created:

Multi-million-dollar properties in Chester on the South Shore, on the Mira River in Cape Breton, and in Halifax’s south end have received among the largest property tax breaks in the province.

The owner of a waterfront home on the Northwest Arm in Halifax, for example, is saving nearly $15,000 a year, while a mansion on Young Avenue is saving more than $13,000. A 9,000-square-foot home overlooking Chester Harbour is saving roughly $7,000 a year, while a 30-hectare Cape Breton estate is saving more than $5,000 in taxes with the cap…

Waye Mason, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, sums it up like this: If you’re saving a dollar on your taxes under the cap, it’s because somebody else in your community is paying a dollar more than their fair share.

Mason’s opposition is not new. He has gone on about this subject for years.

Bundale gets into quite a bit of detail on the effects of the cap and on municipal tax policy in general — and she keeps it all very readable. With a municipal election coming up, this is an essential read.

2. Nova Scotia isn’t burning

We didn’t see much of this in 2019. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

Still with the Chronicle Herald, Ian Fairclough reports that Nova Scotia had 143 wildfires this past summer — the lowest number since 1948. That may seem surprising, given how hot the summer was, but the key factors were a wet spring and humid weather.

The fires were also, for the most part small, with most of them burning a hectare or less.

But Lands and Forestry fire prevention officer Kara McCurdy says the fire stats do show one area of concern: people building campfires in the backwoods, especially during burn bans:

“We did see an increase in campfire-related fires. The interesting thing about (those) is that they’re happening in remote areas. That’s scary, because they’re harder to get at.”

Some of those fires this year included along lake edges, in wilderness areas and back country.

“It’s concerning that there are folks going out there having campfires and not properly putting them out,” McCurdy said. “We want to make sure people know that if they’re going to have a campfire, you have to make sure it is out by making it cold to the touch.”

Enjoy the wilderness. Be responsible.

3. Century-old land claim settlement proposed

Sambro Harbour Lighthouse. Lands in Sambro are involved in a proposed land claim settlement. Photo: Halifax Examiner.

Back in 1919, the federal government laid claim to three parcels of land that had been previously designated as reserves for “Halifax County Indians.”

Residents of those communities relocated to what are today the Millbrook First Nation and Sipekne’katik First Nation. Now, a century later, community members are being asked to vote on a land claim settlement that would see them compensated for the loss of the land — on condition that they renounce any future claim to it and indemnify the federal government for any future claims against it related to the properties.

Both CBC and Ku’ku’kwes News have stories about the proposed settlement, and a trip organize by Millbrook’s Jennifer Denny to tour one of the pieces of land involved in the claim.

At CBC, Nic Meloney writes:

The current proposed settlement includes a total payment of just over $49 million to the two First Nations with about $19.3 million for the 1,955 registered members of Millbrook and just under $28 million for the 2,755 Mi’kmaq of Sipekne’katik.

Each community is also entitled to share a percentage of 1265.35 acres (512 hectares) of other Crown land in the province, an allotment equivalent to the area of the Sambro, Ingram River and Ship Harbour reserves being surrendered. Each community will be able to apply for the land, on a per capita basis, through the federal government’s Additions to Reserve process.

Denny said she organized the bus trip so that community members would be able to make a more informed decision on the proposed settlement.

Maureen Googoo takes a detailed look at the issue at Ku’ku’kwes:

Denny said the $49-million in return for the absolute surrender of the three parcels of land in Halifax County is not enough.

“I’ve done the numbers prior to this trip and the first appraisal that I did through my research findings online, looking at the lots and the average price per lot and it came to a total of $120,000 per lot,” Denny said.

“So if you want to add that up and add up all these lots of land and then take into consideration the waterfront access, the proximity to a major tourist attraction, Crystal Crescent Beach, we’re majorly being robbed,” she added.

Denny wants to know why only gaming revenue was considered in calculating the loss of income for Sipekne’katik and Millbrook and not other revenue streams like fishing and tourism.

4. Mining company’s assessment flawed

The federal government has found Atlantic Gold’s environmental assessment for its proposed Fifteen Mile Stream gold mine lacking, reports Frances Willick for CBC.

Willick writes:

The IAAC [Impact Assessment Agency of Canada] identified dozens of areas in which Atlantic Mining NS Corp. needs to provide further information.

Those gaps include, but are not limited to:

  • How the company has engaged with Mi’kmaw people and incorporated feedback.

  • An assessment of the project’s human health impact on Mi’kmaw people.

  • Detailed plans on how Seloam Brook will be permanently diverted.

  • The effects of ongoing water withdrawal from Seloam Lake on fish and fish habitat.

  • How surface water will be collected and monitored.

  • How the project could affect the clearness, pH and temperature of nearby bodies of water.

The company’s assessment of the project’s impact on fish drew on a document from Newfoundland and Labrador published in 1980.


Noticed

Party time!

This week, we learned that there are a lot of buildings in Halifax whose water exceeds federal guidelines for lead.

In the Star Halifax, Zane Woodford and Robert Cribb write:

From 2012 to 2018, almost 3,000 lead tests were conducted in houses across the city — four one-litre samples taken one after the other followed by a “flushed” sample after the tap has been running for several minutes.

Those results show a repeated pattern of high exceedances of the national guideline of 5 parts per billion, ranging from 26 per cent from the first litre to more than 40 per cent in the third and fourth litres. Flushed samples show a steep decline, with an exceedance rate of less than 10 per cent.

half of Nova Scotians on wells are at risk of elevated lead levels in their drinking water.

And lead is a problem in Nova Scotia schools.

Lead has been a problem for a long, long time, and we still have to live with its legacy, even if we no longer use lead paint or put lead in gasoline.

Last April, the WNYC podcast The Stakes ran an episode on lead called The People vs. Dutch Boy Lead. The Stakes bills itself as “a show about what it takes to create change.”

The episode tells the infuriating stories of people living in unsafe apartments where their kids are ingesting lead paint and nobody seems to much care. It also outlines the lengths to which the lead industry went to downplay the problems with its products.

We have a tendency to look at problems like lead in the environment with a forgiving eye to the past: nobody knew any better when people were painting their houses with lead-based paint; now that we realize the dangers, we are stuck with these expensive and damaging legacies.

But it’s not that simple.

For one thing, dig deep enough (as the producers of The Stakes do) and you’ll often find stories of intentional deception, damage mitigation and dismissal. Here’s the typical story arc: It’s not dangerous, the science isn’t in, we’ve made improvements, it’s not affecting people we care about, the economic cost is too high, what can we do?

The Dutch Boy’s Lead Party, whose cover is pictured above, came out in 1923, followed a few years later by a colouring book in which paint company mascot The Dutch Boy defeats Old Man Gloom with his brightly coloured lead-filled paints.

In the book Brush With Death: A Social History of Lead Poisoning, social historian Christopher Warren writes that lead poisoning was first seen as a problem mostly affecting tradespeople, but by the 1950s, lead poisoning “would be as closely associated with children as with painters and lead workers.”

But which children?

Warren writes:

[In the US], lead poisoning has affected a disproportionate number of black children. But before the 1950s, race played a smaller part than economics… The public and professional perceptions of the day defined childhood lead poisoning as a disease of poverty, another troubling problem among the myriad others that blighted the nation’s growing population of urban poor. From the perspective of the public health community of the time, lead poisoning was a problem as intractable as poverty itself.

On their website, The Stakes reproduce part of a 1956 letter written by Manfred Bowditch from the Lead Industries Association to US President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Assistant Secretary of Mineral Resources — and who had previously headed the Lead Industries Association (plus ça change…).

Who was to blame for all this lead poisoning, according to Bowditch?

Childhood lead poisoning is essentially a problem of slum dwellings and relatively ignorant parents… Until we can find means to (a) get rid of our slums and, (b) educate the relatively ineducable parent [gee, who could he be talking about?] the problem will continue to plague us.

Eventually, research showed that middle-class white kids were also being affected by lead poisoning. Suddenly it was “think of the children!” time.

But, of course, we are still dealing with the effects of lead in our environment.

In a piece for the website Empty Wheel, Quinn Roberts applies the software engineering term “technical debt” to physical infrastructure:

What we’re dealing with is hundreds of years of something that software world calls technical debt. Technical debt is the shortcuts and trade-offs engineers use to get something done either cheaper or in less time, which inevitably creates the need to fix systems later, often at great cost or difficulty.

Some technical debt is understood up front, some comes from builders being ignorant of the system they are working in. Most of our planet’s infrastructure is mired in huge amounts of technical debt, most of which we didn’t know we were signing up for at the time, some of which we’re just incurring recklessly as we go along, unable to face the scale of the problem and pushing it off on the next generation.

Lead pipes are part of our technical debt, as are so many other infrastructure needs. Roberts, again:

Both modernizing existing infrastructure and building new sustainable infrastructure at once is slow and viciously expensive. Doing one after another is slower, a little cheaper, and more dangerous. These are the trade-offs that will characterize life in the 21st century on our lovely little water planet.


Government

City

Thursday

Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — a presentation about Sandy Lake.

Point Pleasant Park Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, City Hall) — nothing much on the agenda.

Friday

No public meetings.

Province

No public meetings Thursday or Friday.


On campus

Dalhousie

Thursday

Architecture Travel Exhibition (Thursday, 9am, Exhibition Room, Medjuck Architecture Building) — presenting the work of five Masters of Architecture students who were awarded travel scholarships.

Thesis Defence, Microbiology and Immunology (Thursday, 9:30am, Room 429/430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — PhD candidate Nandini Nagarajan Margam will defend “Synaptopodin-2, an Actin-binding Protein, is a Promyogenic Factor for Myoblast Fusion and Myofibrillogenesis in Mouse and Zebrafish.”

Reconciliation and Repatriation on Haida Gwaii: Reconsidering Museum Collections and Community Engagement (Thursday, 11:30am, Room P5260, Life Sciences Centre) — a talk with Sean Young, Collections Curator at the Haida Gwaii Museum in Skidegate, British Columbia. Reception to follow in the Fireside lounge, Marion McCain Building.

Hildegard of Bingen and Her Scribes (Thursday, 12pm, Room 406, Dal Arts Centre) — Margot Fassler from the University of Notre Dame and Yale University will talk.

Mini Medical School (Thursday, 7pm, Theatre B, Tupper Link) — “What’s New with Canada Food Guide” presented by Jacklynn Humphrey; and “Get on the Move” presented by Jennifer Manuel.

The Impact of Textiles on Climate Change (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Auditorium, Marion McCain Building) — Kelly Drennan from Fashion Takes Action will talk.

Friday

Laura Sgroi. Photo: laurasgroimusic.com

Composition Masterclass (Friday, 9:30am, Room 121, Dal Arts Centre) — with Laura Sgroi.

The Challenge Of Separating Sense From Nonsense (Friday, 1:30pm, Room 226, Chemistry Building) — Joseph A. Schwarcz from McGill University will talk.

Imperial Encounters in Sri Lanka: Pluriversal Sovereignty and the State (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building) — Ajay Parasram will talk.

Nutritional Advice Is There a Solution to The Confusion? (Friday, 5:30pm, in the auditorium named after a bank, Marion McCain Building) — Joseph A. Schwarcz’s second lecture.

Saint Mary’s

Thursday

No public events.

Friday

Responsible Investing: Finance for the Future? (Friday, 8am, Loyola 290) — more info and registration here.

Canadian Gateway Cities: Four Reflections on Transportation Infrastructure, Global Value Chains and Urban Governance (Friday, 1pm, Loyola 290) — panel discussion with Dorval Brunelle from UQAM; Jean Michel Montsion, York University; Peter Hall, Simon Fraser University; and Claudia De Fuentes, Saint Mary’s University. More info and registration here.

King’s

Thursday

Decoding the News: Truth and consequences in the 2019 federal election (Thursday, 7pm, Alumni Hall, New Academic Building) — Craig Silverman, inventor of “Fake News” (he hates this), will talk. More info here.

Renaissance Music: ‘Tuning’ the Soul (Thursday, 7:30pm, King’s Chapel) — Estelle Joubert will talk.


In the harbour

06:00: RHL Agilitas, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from New York
07:00: Ef Ava, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
08:00: East Coast, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
08:00: Ocean Force, ro-ro container ship, moves from anchorage to Pier 9
08:00: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
11:30: Grande New York, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Gioia Tauro, Italy
14:00: La Partenais, bulker, arrives at Pier 29 from Baie Comeau, Quebec
14:30: Ef Ava sails for Portland
16:30: Grande New York sails for sea
18:00: La Partenais, bulker, sails for sea
18:00: Atlantic Star sails for Liverpool, England
19:00: Anemos I, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Sept-Iles, Quebec
22:30: RHL Agilitas sails for Kingston, Jamaica


Footnotes

I forgot my wireless keyboard and mouse dongle at the library yesterday, so I’m writing this using my laptop keyboard and touchpad. My wrists aren’t thrilled with the layout.

I’ve used one of those split keyboards — the ones that are angled, so your hands can rest in a more natural position — for decades. They are kind of big and clunky, but if you have to do any amount of writing at a desk, they are worth it.

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