Category: That’s life

Blimps from the underside in North End Halifax

Cliff White copy

Last week, I featured Ask-a-Pilot Patrick Smith’s reminiscence of pubescent adventures sneaking into the cockpits of planes waiting at Boston’s Logan Airport. I mentioned my own tired and emotional encounter with a Goodyear Blimp and its generously tolerant night watchman.

“It was a little  different in Nova Scotia, at least where I grew up,” writes Cliff White:

Once in junior high, just as lunch break was ending, several blimps appeared. The bell rang, but some of us ignored it, just so we could watch this rare sight a bit longer. Amazingly for that time and that place, we weren’t strapped. But were all given detentions.

We were, of course, all lower class kids being taught to obey authority.

Fortunately, in Cliff’s case, the lesson never took.


Is whiteness the problem?


In response to Gus Reed’s droll dissection of management practices at the Waterfront Develop Corporation, an analysis that rested heavily on the WCL’s blue-blood sameness, Peter Kavanagh writes:

I loved the post and the strength of the critique, but I am confused about the whiteness claim. Without doubt, the corp is remarkably uniform, but it is the link between whiteness and ableism that escapes me.

Are you and Gus really trying to suggest that if they were less white this wouldn’t have happened? To me it is the lack of a disabled voice or perspective that is the key issue. Surely neither you nor Gus want to suggest that an indifference to disability is a white problem… or are you?

Contrarian riposte:

Great question. The problems with the WDCL are much, much broader than accessibility cluelessness. It has always been a law unto itself. In communications practice, it is aloof and unresponsive. In community engagement, it is developer friendly and citizen hostile. Its failure to include accessible washrooms required by the building code is simply one illustration of its refusal to abide by the building code in any way.

ccaTurns out the municipality, as a lower order of government, cannot enforce its will on a provincial (or for that matter, federal) entity. But most provincial and federal organizations simply pretend it can. So the airport authority, for example, which operates on federal land, could exempt itself from the building code, but instead it chooses to enforce the code 100%. All its own construction activities, and all contractors, are required to apply for municipal building permits, submit to municipal inspections, and abide by municipal building inspector orders.

The WDCL (and the federal Ports Corp) simply thumb their nose at the municipality. We know this led to the lack of an accessible washroom. How do we know it did not lead to floor joists that are too small to support the required loads?

So, no, whiteness does not have a straight-line connection to inaccessibility. But pervasive whiteness reflects a throwback to the stodgy, aloof, British, arrogant, establishment Old Halifax. The kind that erects statues to genocidal military heroes and evicts black folks from urban renewal sites in the backs of garbage trucks. As [name of wretched flak redacted] wrote me in response to the same post, it “says everything anyone needs to know about Halifax.”

Peter again:

All fair comments. I will simply note that Britain had no monopoly on being stodgy, aloof, or a law unto itself. The same might be said about the Aztecs, the Chinese, the Mongols, and a host of other peoples.

I think it is too easy to slap the label of whiteness as some defining characteristic of evil or wrong thinking. It is lazy, if you will, and tends to create the impression that whiteness is responsible for all evil in the world.

Final word to the man who owns this printing press:

Oh I completely agree. I hope I will have something to say when an important provincial Crown corporation is discovered to have a board of directors, management, and staff composed entirely of Mi’kmaq. It’s not the whiteness. It’s the sameness, in this case, a sameness that perfectly corresponds to the crowd that has always run the place.

[Peter Kavanagh is a retired CBC journalist and — what’s that phrase everyone’s using these days? — public intellectual. He spent much of his career in Nova Scotia, exposing the sins of stodgy, aloof, British, arrogant, Old Halifax establishment.]

The unbearable whiteness of the Waterfront Development Corp.


Gus Reed, the eagle-eyed wheelchair rights advocate, has trained his gaze on the Waterfront Development Corporation, and turned up facts so startling, he was moved to write commission chair Dale Godsoe. As usual, Gus is as entertaining as he is perspicacious.

Dear Ms. Godsoe,

I am Gus Reed, one of the people on a tear about the Stubborn Goat, your contractor, and the unequal protection afforded people with disabilities by the public health authorities. I realize there is confusion in government about jurisdiction and the building code, but that doesn’t excuse the haphazard approach or the jury-rigged result.

From your website, I learn your mission:

Well-designed cities or towns are attractive, safe, inclusive, and invigorating. They are places that attract people to live, create diversity, and spur entrepreneurial activity. They become magnets for growth in our population and our economy. Waterfront Development strives to create the optimal mix of private sector businesses, public infrastructure, and community partners to flourish.

WDCL BoardDoes Waterfront Development meet those lofty goals?

I learn by visual inspection (I take responsibility if I have guessed wrong) that the board of directors is eight people of white, western European descent (a majority women – good!). The management team of three is white, western European (2 women!). 13 staff members are white, Western European (4 women). A total of 24, 11 women. So where’s the native Nova Scotian, whose land it was first? The African Nova Scotian, whose family was evicted from the waterfront? The new Nova Scotians who are changing our city so dramatically? Someone from the large community of disabled Nova Scotians?

From your website and a field trip, I also learn that your office is in a second story walk up. Is it a surprise that no wheelchair users work for you? That no one on your staff has any notion about disabilities? I suspect that any wheelchair-using job applicant would easily win a Human Rights claim of discrimination. This is inexcusable in 2016. A corporation owned by taxpayers that discriminates against some of the people who pay the bills, including generous compensation? A wheelchair user can’t even visit? Outrageous.

WDCL ManagementOn the subject of tourism, I wonder if you have a useful grasp of your customer base. Well-heeled and aging tourists don’t expect porta-potties. Shipsful of norovirused visitors need to wash their hands, for their sakes and ours. Americans, on ADA-compliant* cruises set high standards. Finding a washroom should be effortless. The answer has to be “Over there, to the left of the bar” not “See that building across the way? Well, it’s around back. Let me get the key.” You’ve done a good job on some things, but a simple thing that turns complicated colors a whole experience.

To illustrate how it works, here’s a perfectly reasonable comment from TripAdvisor about Le Coq (not on the waterfront, but a useful lesson):

Wheelchair users, those with vision or hearing problems, indeed anyone with modest mobility issues, should avoid this restaurant. The restaurant is dark, and has different levels separated by short flights of stairs. The layout is very hard to negotiate. And the restrooms are down a set of stairs in the basement. In this day and age this is totally unacceptable.

Finally, I remind you that most of your $8 million revenue comes from taxpayers. Not some taxpayers; all taxpayers. Those of us who consider paying taxes a privilege want good value.

At the moment, we’re not getting it. You can do better.

Canadians with disabilities face discrimination, isolation, poverty and neglect. This won’t end until organizations like yours are held accountable. I’d like to learn how you intend to remedy this problem. If you would like to meet in person, I would be happy to do so.

Gus Reed

This illustrates the crucial value of diversity to an organization like the WDC. Many people were shocked that the commission would permit construction of a new business on its premises without an accessible washroom. But when you look at the white bread uniformity of the commission’s able-bodied board of directors, management, and staff, the shock fades. Had there been even one wheelchair user among them, this blunder would have been much less likely.

What else is the WDC missing because no Mi’kmaq or African Nova Scotian graces the commission’s personnel?

Note: The WDC has responded to Gus’s letter, and to Contrarian’s report on the failure to provide an accessible washroom at the Stubborn Goat Waterfront Gastropub. I’ll include those responses in a future post.

[Spoiler: There’s a temporary, unequal fix in the works at the gastropub, but no change in the WDC’s refusal to abide by the Nova Scotia Building Code, and no end to the Minister of Environment’s continuing discrimination against people with disabilities.]

* ADA = American’s with Disabilities Act


A hint of Orwell-creep in Justin’s young government


The Trudeau administration has purged the Prime Minister’s official website of news releases issued during Stephen Harper’s reign, and asked Google to ensure its search results no longer point to the deleted material. News stories about the issue have mostly concentrated on the requests to Google, but the purge itself is the real problem.

Liberal dismiss the controversy, insisting it was only a housekeeping effort to ensure search results produced up-to-date information. They’re right, insofar as the 51 requests to Google for search engine updates are concerned. But that leaves the question why historic content was purged in the first place.

The deleted material, or some of it, has been retained and moved to an archive section of the Library and Archives Canada website, though it’s not clear the material is fully accessible by the public yet. So you could say Trudeau’s people haven’t exactly burned the history books; they’ve just packed them in boxes and moved them to an attic where they’ll be harder to find.

scott-brison-justin-trudeauI would never uphold the Government of Nova Scotia as a paragon of openness and transparency. Its Freedom of Information system remains a shambles, despite promising work by Information Commissioner Catherine Tully to clear a backlog of several years.

Still, at, you can find every news release issued by the provincial government since 1998, a period spanning the administrations of four premiers and three parties. At the Finance Department website, you can find every budget document issued since 1996, when John Savage was premier.

That’s because it’s the Government of Nova Scotia website, not the McNeil government website, a distinction lost on federal Treasury Board chair Scott Brison, who defended the Trudeau government’s docu-cleansing.

History did not begin on November 4, 2015, the day Trudeau took office, and neither did the Government of Canada or the website that bears its imprimatur.


How much has our world changed since 9/11?


In a recent episode of the Freakonomics Podcast, Patrick Smith, the airline pilot who hosts the Ask a Pilot website, told a wonderful story about his fascination with airplanes and flight as a Boston pre-teen:

One of the things my friends and I used to do during junior high school was we would take the subway out to Logan Airport in Boston—back in those days, of course, you could just walk through security without a ticket—and we would stake out the jet way when a flight came in.

And after all the passengers were off, we would walk down the jet way and approach one of the pilots or flight attendants and say, “Hey is it OK if we come in and look at the cockpit?”

And almost always the answer was, “Sure! Come on!” And we would go up to the cockpit and sit in the pilot’s chairs and pretend we were up in the air over the ocean somewhere. That was a pretty big thrill for a seventh grader, eighth grader.

I remember one time we spent an hour in the cockpit of a Northwest Airlines DC 10 at Logan Airport, and absolutely nobody knew we were there. Finally a mechanic came along.

“What the hell are you kids doing?”

“Oh, we just came on and wanted to take some pictures and look around.”

“All right, well, just don’t touch anything. Don’t mess with anything.”

And left us there! Imagine that today.

To anyone born after, say, 1990, this story must seem preposterous, since similar hijinks would be utterly unimaginable today. But to anyone my age, it’s completely plausible, because we grew up in an age when adventuresome curiosity was commonplace.

One summer vacation, a high school friend crossed the US hopping freights, returning to school in the fall with dreamy accounts of the hobo code.

Late one night in the 1960s, some teen friends and I snuck onto an airfield at Chatham, Massachusetts, for a close-up look at a Goodyear Blimp temporarily moored there. A security guard soon appeared, but instead of putting the run on us, he patiently answered our questions about its workings.

Thanks to the helium on board, he explained, the craft only weighed a few hundred pounds.

“Try lifting it,” he said.

One by one, we positioned ourselves under the blimp and, backs pressed against the passenger compartment, lifted the 192-foot aircraft a few inches into the air.

This probably comes off as a typical old man’s rant about the good old days. I don’t mean it that way. It’s just a stark illustration to the barriers we have erected—some sensible, others foolish—in the name of risk management.



Officials defend a Stubborn omission of accessible washrooms


The Stubborn Goat’s controversial new pub on the Halifax waterfront will operate on provincially owned land without an accessible washroom, in violation of the Nova Scotia Building Code and several other statutes.

And that’s just fine, said Waterfront Development Corporation (WDC) spokeswoman Kelly Rose in a terse, one-sentence email:

The accessible washroom is located next door at the Visitor Information Centre and meets the requirements for the seasonal Stubborn Goat location.

Tourism Nova Scotia’s Visitor Information Centre is not “next door.” It’s 225 feet away, across a boat slip and beyond the next wharf, along a boardwalk often jammed with people.

Pub Vic Pee Walk

In distance and inconvenience, asking customers in wheelchairs to use the Visitors Centre washroom is comparable to, say, the Economy Shoe Shop asking patrons to go out the front door, go to the end of the block on Argyle, turn onto Prince, wheel to the middle of the block, and use the washroom at the Press Gang.

The barrier-free design requirements of the Nova Scotia Building Code stipulate that, “toilet rooms for the public should… be conveniently located and accessible to patrons during all hours of operation.” It makes no exception for seasonal operations, and it doesn’t say you can send customers to another organization’s building somewhere on the next block.

The WDC requests for proposals from prospective pub operators, detailed results of which remain secret, did not include a requirement for barrier-free washrooms.

In a telephone interview, Stubborn Goat co-owner Geir Simensen vigorously defended the waterfront pub’s accessibility. He said bar staff will have a key to the Visitor Centre washroom so pub patrons can use it during hours when the centre is closed.

“It’s a government-run washroom facility with air conditioning, proper lighting, and a proper cleaning schedule,” he said. “We certainly don’t think it was a less than an acceptable effort.”

Simensen pointed out that the bar has added a ramp to make part of its serving area accessible, a building code requirement that went unmet when the Stillwell bar initiated the waterfront pub concept last year.

He said the Stubborn Goat’s owners asked if they could use “the same arrangements that were in place last year,” and the request was approved by “all the appropriate authorities.” However, Laura MacDonald, a co-owner of Stillwell, said in an email that the bar had three portable washrooms on site last year, one of which was accessible.

“We used the Visitors Centre washrooms as staff washrooms because staff are not allowed to use Port-a-Potties while on shift,” she said. “We never sent our customers there.”

MacDonald added, “I don’t believe that the waterfront location requires an accessible toilet because it’s on provincial land, and therefore not subject to municipal inspectors who would require them.”

Determining who, if anyone, is responsible for enforcing building code requirements on WDC land has proven an elusive quest. The provincial government normally delegates responsibility for building code enforcement to municipalities. However, an HRM spokesperson initially confirmed MacDonald’s view that the municipality lacks authority to issue building permits or inspect construction on property owned by provincial Crown corporations like WDC.

WDC has not replied to questions about who has authority to inspect buildings on its properties. However, after several inquiries, a spokesperson for Nova Scotia Environment and another for the Department of Municipal Affairs insisted Halifax does have regulatory responsibility and authority under the Building Code Act and the Building Access Act. A Halifax spokesperson said the municipality would review this response from the province.

factsheet-animal-handwashRestaurant washrooms are also covered by the Nova Scotia Food Safety Regulations, which require bars and restaurants to have public washroom facilities “available in a convenient location” and “constructed, equipped, and designed in accordance with the Nova Scotia Building Code.”

The Nova Scotia Environment spokesperson said in an email, “the Stubborn Goat is in compliance with provincial food safety regulations,” a statement that is preposterous on its face but accurately reflects the refusal of Environment Minister Margaret Miller and Chief Medical Officer of Health Robert Strang to enforce the law with respect to disabled persons. Their dereliction will be the subject of a subsequent post.

Access to restaurant washrooms is particularly critical for users of manual wheelchairs because their wheels come into contact with whatever may be lying on city streets and boardwalks, and this material is easily conveyed to their hands. The Department of Health and Strang have stressed the importance of hand hygiene in interviews, statements, and publications too numerous to list here.

The Nova Scotia Human Right Act prohibits discrimination in the provision of, or access to, services or facilities based on physical disability. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, guarantees every individual, “the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” WDC, Environment Nova Scotia, the Department of Municipal Affairs, and the operators of the Stubborn Goat all remain unmoved.

The common thread in the failure to provide an accessible washroom at the Stubborn Goat’s waterfront gastropub is the ingrained habit of officials at all levels to ignore the many laws requiring them to enforce accessibility, and to retreat when challenged into narrow technicalities—the logic of which they passive-aggressively refuse to spell out.


I will win because I’m a winner. I just won. I will continue to win.


Dave Pell, whose free daily email newsletter is the most entertaining news aggregator on the internet, has written a simple but wonderfully clear analysis of the media’s role in creating Donald Trump’s winning candidacy.

Political races and sports are covered in the exact same way in America. You get predictions about what a competitor needs to do to win, a brief spurt of action, postgame analysis, and a bunch of repetitive talkshows during which former players provide often obvious insights—which consumers continue to rehash around the social media watercooler.

nextdraftIt’s not just the media, it’s you, too, dear reader:

[Y]ou know it’s true because you’re partly responsible (partly in the nearly completely sense). Whenever the media tries to cover the issues at stake in an election, you turn them off. When they cover the game, you leave them on.

Horserace media + race-fan public = D. Trump:

So Donald Trump knows it’s not about the issues and sees a game he can win…. Most politicians don’t like to answer the strategy questions. Trump almost only answers those. He loves that topic. His campaign is not really about a wall or philosophy or an ideology. It’s about winning. I will win because I’m a winner. Because I just won, I will continue to win. You keep criticizing me and trying to get me to become more like the establishment, but last time I checked, I’m winning. So I give the advice. Check the scoreboard. Hit the bench. Grab some pine, Meat. And let me tell you this: Winning.

The whole piece is worth a read, if only to find out why Pell believes it’s not too late to turn things around. And if you’re not already subscribed to his NextDraft newsletter, it’s probably the last thing I would give up on the internet (with the possible exception of James Fallows).


In court today

Sydney lawyer TJ McKeough will be in court Monday, pursuing a Charter challenge on behalf of one of the 27 men charged in last summer’s controversial prostitution sting.

I’ll be in court as well, hoping to live-tweet the hearing.

Last August and September, female police officers posing as sex workers lured the men, ranging in age from 26 to 81, into conversations that police allege warranted solicitation charges. McKeough argues the alleged crimes would not have occurred but for the actions of police.

Trials for the accused me became something of a moot point after CBRM Police Chief Peter McIsaac took it upon himself to release their names, and the Cape Breton Post published them. McIsaac underscored this act of public shaming for the men and their families with a series of comments about the evils of prostitution.

Lawyer McKeough will ask to have the charges against his client thrown out on grounds of abuse of process.

Many Sydney residents found the police behaviour repugnant, but entrapment is narrowly defined in Canada, so it should make for an interesting hearing.

Look for me on Twitter (@kempthead) around 9:30 am.

Kids are safer outdoors


Participaction ReportIn response to Friday’s post lamenting the overregulation of childhood play, Monika Dutt, Medical Officer of Health for Cape Breton, Antigonish, and Guysborough, points to a Participaction report, The Biggest Risk is Keeping Children Indoors, and highlights three main points:

  • The odds of total stranger abduction are about 1 in 14 million based on RCMP reports. Being with friends outdoors may further reduce this number.
  • Broken bones and head injuries unfortunately do happen, but major trauma is uncommon. Most injuries associated with outdoor play are minor.
  • Canadian children are eight times more likely to die as a passenger in a motor vehicle than from being hit by a vehicle when outside on foot or on a bike.

Advocates of overprotective parenting, like advocates of constant school closures for trivial weather events, often try to shut down debate by saying, “If only one child is saved from an injury…” This logic works if you only consider one side of the ledger, the bad things that can happen when children are allowed to play unsupervised.  The Participation report points out the other side to the ledger, the potential negative health and safety consequences from swaddling children in cotton batten.

A few other nuggets:

  • Hyper-parenting limits physical activity and can harm mental health.
  • When children are closely supervised outside, they are less active.
  • Children are more curious about, and interested in, natural spaces than pre-fabricated play structures.
  • Children who engage in active outdoor play in natural environments demonstrate resilience, self-regulation and develop skills for dealing with stress later in life.
  • Outdoor play that occurs in minimally structured, free and accessible environments facilitates socialization with peers, the community and the environment, reduces feelings of isolation, builds inter-personal skills and facilitates healthy development.

Each of these assertions is footnoted in the original report.

Parks Canada video makes the case for a moose cull


Parks Canada released a video yesterday explaining how the extreme overpopulation of moose in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park threatens the area’s boreal forest—a region of spruce, fir, tamarack, and yellow birch that covers much of northern Canada, but only a shrinking portion of the Cape Breton highlands in Nova Scotia.

[video link]

One of many explainers on the Parks and Natural Resources Canada websites (see also here, here, and here) describes how the situation got out of hand:

[I]n the 1970s, spruce budworm consumed large areas of mature boreal forest in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, removing 90% of the forest cover in some areas. This, in turn, created a flush of new growth of young trees and shrubs—perfect food for moose.

With lots of food and few predators, the moose population in northern Cape Breton grew rapidly. Since that time the state of the boreal forest has declined. Large areas that were once forest are unable to regenerate as moose have browsed any seedlings that grew over 30 cm high. These over-browsed and stunted trees have started to die and have now been replaced by a thick and persistent mat of grass and ferns.

Already, Moose have converted 11 percent of the highlands from boreal forest to grasslands. Loss of forest cover threatens such federal species at risk as the Bicknell’s thrush, and provincial species at risk such as American marten and Canada lynx.

There are now four times as many moose in the highlands as a healthy, balanced forest can sustain. Parks staff are experimenting with several approaches to the problem, including exclosures (areas that are fenced to keep moose out), controlled fires, and a controversial cull of moose in the North Mountain area, begun by Mi’kmaq hunters last fall, then postponed after a confrontation by non-native protesters (who alternately oppose, and demand a piece of, the cull), then finally completed in December.



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