Category: That’s life

I lived in a yellow house

River Bennet photographer Leebly Brown made this moving short about his grandmother, Ellen Greta Brown, who died in January.


Short memories

Nun's Habits in Lisbon

A friend who is visiting Lisbon, writes:

[W]e came upon this rare site, which in itself speaks volumes. I couldn’t help remembering a time not so long ago when such a site would have been common.  And when I hear the outrage about Muslim head dress I marvel at the shortness of human memory.

Sister on the left doesn’t seem all that thrilled to have her picture taken.

Nurses, N-Dips, & humble pie — readers react

On Monday, I suggested that, having had their hats handed to them by voters in the last election, surviving New Democratic MLAs would do well to show a tad more humility than they evinced in the the dustup over essential services legislation. Many readers reacted.

An Ontario lawyer took issue with my describing the nurses’ one-day strike as “unnecessary.”

I’d say that the workers in question are the ones best able to determine whether or not a strike is necessary or not, no?

I could have phrased this better. The strike was unnecessary—and pointless—in the sense that legislation to force the nurses back to work was 24 hours away. A health care worker put it more forcefully.

The nastiest move in the nurses strike was actually the walkout on Thursday. The point of a legitimate strike is to compel the employer to negotiate and make concessions. Walking out on patients last Thursday was never going to have this effect. The legislation was going to pass and whatever tools the union would have after that would not be influenced by walking out Thursday. The ONLY effect that had was to make the lives of patients even more miserable. Thanks, Joan.

[T]here is a competition between Jessome and Hazelton over who is going to represent the nurses in the newly squished together Everywhere-but-Halifax Health Authority. Jessome – as she so often does – greatly overestimated the power of the hand she held and has pretty effectively ended her chances of collecting dues from the rural nurses. I am sure McNeil’s guys will see to it that the legislation creating the new district gives Hazelton successor rights. Rick Clarke and co can’t be too happy with the black eye Jessome and her lack of PR skills has given unions.

A retired medical professional doesn’t believe the NDP got quite as bad a drubbing as I indicated:

The NDP indeed went from 31 seats to 7, but their popular vote was 111,000 to the Liberal’s 190,000, about an 18% swing of those who voted. Basically 80,000 people switched their votes from NDP to Liberal; there was virtually no change in Conservative popular vote [except that it was more effectively concentrated in winnable ridings. - PD]; 275,000 of the electorate didn’t vote.

The Liberals were supported by 45% of the vote and won 60% of the seats; in the last election it was the NDP that did more or less that.

You make it sound like the NDP should have their tails between their legs, should sit in their corner and shut up on issues that matter to them, even though they won the support of 26.84% of the voters.

Why should 18% of the 60% who voted, 11.45% of the electorate, decide that someone has a majority in the Legislature, when 60% of the electorate couldn’t? How is that representative of the will of the people, and how does that generate anything but division and endless positioning, instead of proper governing?

The story here is not that the NDP lost massively, but that our electoral system massively fails to represent the will of the people in the Legislature. And it is all in an effort to create a false majority, when there is clearly no such thing as a majority opinion in the Province – probably never has been.

Haven’t we had enough senseless division as a result of parties seeking the brass ring of false majorities based on a 10% swing in the electorate, especially when 40% of the electorate doesn’t even vote?…. {W]e need to concentrate on proper representation before we are ever going to be able to address the problems we face.

We also need pundits to stop chewing on the one side of the story that supports the inflated egos of a sad group of people who claim to lead us, don’t fairly represent us, and can’t balance a budget.

The reason they can’t balance a budget or stimulate the economy is because they base their decisions on gaining the approval of 11% of the electorate, instead of seeking engagement of all of the electorate in achieving consensus and compromise through proper representation. 45% approval is not a 60% majority in any sane system of representation.

Well, sure, we could have a great discussion about proportional representation (a system I used to favor, although now I lean more toward run-off elections until one candidate secures 50 percent of the vote). But first-past-the-post is the system we’ve got, and those are the rules all three parties play by. A swing by 18 percent of voters from one party to another may not seem huge, but in the Canadian political context, it is an extreme outcome, one that ought to chasten the losers.

I don’t want NDP MLAs to sit in the corner and shut up, but they ought to consider the recent verdict of the electorate before using unusual, anti-democratic tactics to thwart the will of the majority.

A reader old enough to remember Harry and Parker fondly [thank you] peers into the internal dynamics of the third party:

[P]erhaps most of the defeated NDP MLAs were of Darrell Dexter’s more centrist bent, while the surviving MLAs are more members of the NDP’s left-wing, pro-union roots, who were, by and large, silent when Dexter was in charge. Viewed in this light, perhaps the NDP’s stance on the legislation isn’t so much a lack of being humble as a return to their roots.

As well, it’s always easier to criticize than be the one making the decisions. Perhaps a little less ego and a lot more working together might be in everyone’s best interests.

Ahem. On a similar theme, a Halifax journalist friend writes:

You neglected to mention that the Liberal party led by Stephen McNeil is also guilty of a flip-flop on the issue of health-care workers and their “right to strike.”

Although it is a tad dated, please read this op-ed submitted under the name of Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil when the Rodney MacDonald government was considering legislation similar to the kind just passed by McNeil’s Liberal government. (Link: )

Times change, opinions change, but one thing that never seems to change is the partisan noise that drowns out what we need in politics: a reasoned debate of the issues based on facts, not the colour of someone’s stripe. Good ideas and bad ideas have one thing in common: they can come from anywhere on the political spectrum.

I am no fan of outlandish union demands and hyperbole, nor do I condone intransigent governments or bureaucrats who keep their heads the sand, but I think that collective bargaining (when done in good faith) is the best way to protect the interest of patients. This legislation might force nurses to stay on the job, but it will not force the government to address the many problems that exist.

A former Conservative cabinet minister writes:

Apparently humility and reflection are not part of the NDP philosophy. A mind greater than mine once said if you don’t reflect on the past, you cannot have a future. I recommend that thought to any NDPers who reject the notion that reinvention is in order.

From another Ontario an Annapolis Valley reader:

[D]oes one have to be a follower? Humility often gets walked on , mistaken for weakness and fear, or interpreted as chameleon and opportunistic. Maybe it was respect for the old party line, not Frank personally. I am no fan of Frank. Darrell left a lot of good people outside the fold. Darn hard to get it right. Whatever ones does, like a Richler novel, the readers will tell you what it really means. Maybe someday we’ll mature sufficiently to see issues not personalities challenged. Essential services should have been described long ago and relieved them from the option to strike. Something needs to happen to shore up medical outcomes.

That’s it for now. And, no, I haven’t forgotten my promise to compile the comments of readers who think the [mostly imaginary] wind chill should lead every newscast from October to May.

They don’t call it the deeps for nothing

If the deep ocean pings reported by search vessels turn out to be coming from missing Malaysian airliner MH370, the wreckage is in very deep water indeed. How deep?  Check out this amazing graphic from the Washington Post. Be prepared to scroll down. And down. And down.

Here’s a preview from two-thirds of the way to the bottom:

cuviers beaked whale

A different take on Fort Mac

I learned this week that Mabou-reared cartoonist Kate Beaton, whose wonderful work we have featured before, has another very Cape Bretonish entry on her resume: she once worked at a mine site in Fort McMurray, Alberta. I learned this because Beaton has just produced a five-part graphic novella about her Tar Sands experience. Ducks centres on an incident in 2008 when 500 waterfowl touched down on a Syncrude tailing pond, killing all but five of them.

Greenpeace responded four months later by blocking, or attempting to block, a discharge pipe that flowed into the tailing pond. Syncrude was eventually later fined $3 million for the wildlife kill.

I’ve had hundreds of conversations about Fort Mac, but these pieces helped me to understand the place in a way I had not before. Beaton has a knack for recounting everyday occurrences that punch above their weight in their ability to convey complicated, nuanced truths. She writes:

It is a complicated place, it is not the same for all, and these are only my own experiences there…. Ducks is about a lot of things, and among these, it is about environmental destruction in an environment that includes humans.

Here’s a brief excerpt, but do yourself a favour and read all five in order.

Ducks 1 Ducks 2 Ducks 3 Ducks 4

Beaton describes these five stories as “a sketch… to test how I would tell these stories, and how I feel about sharing them.” She is considering “a larger work” on the subject, to which we can only say, duckspeed. You can follow Beaton’s work and musings on her Tumblr blog.

Rx for a defeated party: a dose of humility

On October 8, 2013, the New Democratic Party of Nova Scotia suffered a humiliating defeat. Barely one Nova Scotian in four voted NDP, marking the first time in 131 years that Nova Scotia voters failed to give a government a second term. Instead, they reduced the NDP from 31 seats to 7—and to within 4,000 votes of having no seats in the house at all. Premier Darrell Dexter lost his seat to an unknown. Deputy Premier Frank Corbett came within 158 votes of losing the seat that has, for the last half century, voted NDP more than any other riding.

It was an epic electoral disaster.

Frank-CorbettWhy am I rehashing this? Because it behoves a party that has suffered such profound rejection to show a touch of humility. To accept the verdict with a period of respectful quiet, as a chance to listen, to reflect, and to consider what role a party so rebuffed might carve out for itself in the future.

What a humiliated party should not do is use childish legislative tactics to force a strike in the province’s largest health district against the will of two parties that won 44 of the legislature’s 51 seats. What such a party should not do is line up behind the most strident labour leader in the province, in support of a strike over demands for staffing guarantees that do not exist in any other province.

Just nine months ago, Labour Minister Frank Corbett pushed through legislation to prevent a strike by paramedics, saying, “What I really have to think of here is the health and safety of Nova Scotians.”

The health and safety of Nova Scotians was far from his mind last week when, as third party house leader, Corbett blocked similar legislation long enough to enable a dangerous strike, then forced an unseemly, midnight-to-8 am sitting of the legislature to end the unnecessary strike after one day.

A salient feature of the last election was the nearly complete turnover of the NDP’s longtime Metro bastion to the Liberals. Thousands of provincial civil servants who had voted NDP for years switched to the Liberals after seeing how miserable the NDP was to work for once it finally gained power.

The party’s surviving MLAs, motley cast that they are, should play the hand they’ve been dealt, and not try to live out some class struggle fantasy from the early 20th Century. New Democrat MLAs should endure a period of living with tails between their legs, while they begin the decade- or decades-long task of rebuilding trust, and persuading Nova Scotians they still have something to offer.

Billy Joe’s foolish causeway fix

The Chronicle-Herald quotes Port Hawkesbury Mayor Billy Joe MacLean as saying tolls should be restored to the Canso Causeway, as part of an apparently forthcoming federal-provincial deal to improve maintenance on the 59-year-old structure.

This is a bad idea. Until they were abolished by Donald Cameron’s Progressive Conservative government in 1991, the Canso Causeway tolls ranked as one of the least efficient taxes in Nova Scotia history. I don’t recall the precise numbers, but the cost of operating toll booths around the clock swallowed up more than half the revenue they generated. It was a thinly disguised make-work project, and a poor one at that.

Contrarian has no problem with users paying for highways, but the way to achieve that is with motor fuel taxes, not with wasteful revenue schemes.

Robbing students to pay… other students… less money

A smart Nova Scotia native who turned down professional opportunities elsewhere to make her career here, and who recently returned to university to take an advanced scientific degree, writes:

Last Friday, the Liberal government announced they were eliminating interest on the provincial portion of student loans. Education Minister Kelly Regan said:

Kelly Regan

Paying Paul

We know that every dollar counts when graduates are beginning their careers, and we hope this provides some relief to young people as they build their lives in Nova Scotia.

Today, the other shoe dropped. In her 2014-2015 budget, Finance Minister Diana Whelan eliminated the Nova Scotia Graduate Retention Rebate, retroactive to January 1, 2014.

Implemented by the NDP in 2009, the program provided a $15,000 tax credit over six years for people who graduated with a degree and continued to work in the province for those six years. The tax credit was $7,500 for people who graduated with a diploma or certificate. The rebate attempted to compensate for lower wages and higher income tax in Nova Scotia, to make the province a more attractive place to work. 

Whelan Robbing Peter

Robbing Peter

There are various arguments for whether the program was good policy. It was expensive; the Chronicle Herald quoted an estimate of $49.5 million per year. The issue in Nova Scotia tends to be a shortage of jobs rather than a shortage of people willing to work here. But when you want to retain the best and the brightest, it’s less relevant that there are people in line willing to take the job if they don’t.

I benefitted from the rebate for the past five years. It factored into my decision to stay here on two occasions when considering job offers in another province.

I expect the Liberal government conducted a thorough evaluation of the benefits and costs of this program, rather than simply turfing a program that was a legacy of the NDP. But it was dishonest and un-transparent to make a display of handing students what amounts to hundreds of dollars over the lifetime of a loan (according to CBC) on Friday, knowing they would be taking away $7,500-$15,000 per student less than a week later.

Making the change retroactive to January 1 shows no consideration for the people who are affected by their decision. When I filled out tax forms with my employer for 2014, I requested that less tax be deducted, knowing I was eligible for a $2,500 rebate. Now I am retroactively ineligible for it—a quarter of the way through the tax year.

All in all, it seems an odd way to “provide some relief to young people as they build their lives in Nova Scotia.”

Weather notes from The Rock: “Mudder, I’m stuck!”

Jumpin’ Jesus, look what he got done!

[Video link]

H/T: Jenn Power

A toy box for Abe and Isaac

PlaneMy friend  and once-upon-a-time brother-in-law Peter Barss of West Dublin has a habit of getting swept away on wings of artistic invention. His projects often have humble beginnings that somehow spiral out of control.

Two years ago, Peter stumbled onto a homemade wooden airplane at Value Village—the sort of thing a boy’s grandfather might have made. He snapped it up for $2.75. Also at Value Village, he found a beat-up wooden chest:  $7.75.

He fixed them both up, then got the idea of filling the chest with retro, non-digital toys for his grandsons.

For more than a year, he visited thrift stores and antique shops.

Toys LR

As the collection grew, Peter thought, “Why not decorate the top of the chest with paintings of the toys inside?”


That idea quickly expanded to the front of the box…


Then to the sides…


Altogether, the project consumed a lot of paint and time. (I was not exaggerating when I said Peter has a tendency to get carried away.)

Woork Area LR

Somewhere along the way, a storyline began to develop—a story about two mice, Mabel and Edward, who live in a Paris Cheese shop where they develop a close friendship with the maitre d’fromage, a kindly man named Marcel.

Eventually, the story became a book—30 pages of text with 30 illustrations.

13 Mice  copy

The mice clean up bits of cheese after the shop closes; Marcel ensures that neighbourhood cats are kept outside, away from the mice.

When Marcel retires to the country to care for a cow, he sends the two mice on a trip around the world. During their travels, the mice fill an old cheese box that Marcel used for deliveries with treasures. On days when inclement weather prevents them from traveling, they decorate the box with pictures of their adventures.

41 Mice  copy

Mabel and Edward’s traveling adventure ends when they land in the Toronto backyard of grandsons Abe and Isaac, and decide to move in.

Home in TO

The mice give the painted chest and the treasures inside to Abe and Isaac, with the hope their gift will inspire the boys and their parent to dream up more stories.

Last week, Peter delivered the chest full of toys, and copies of the book, to the real Abe and Isaac.


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