Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Equalize this

Developments on the equalization front this week must be gratifying to the stalwart members of Nova Scotians for Equalization Fairness (NSEF), a CBRM-based advocacy group that has been meeting monthly to discuss the issue of municipal financing for 15 long years.

Against the backdrop of budget discussions, which are always excellent for highlighting just how bleak the CBRM’s financial situation is, NSEF has stepped up its agitating, revamping its website and holding a meeting at the Cedars Club this week that drew in a couple of hundred citizens — and a respectable contingent of CBRM councilors, including Deputy Mayor Eldon MacDonald, who used to belong to the group and who has been getting decidedly stroppy on the subject of equalization during recent council meetings.

I will refer you to my earlier treatise on equalization for details, but the bottom line is that the Nova Scotia government will receive about $1.8 billion in equalization payments from the federal government this year and divide just $32 million of that among its needy municipalities. The CBRM gets 50% of that total or about $16 million, but since we also have to pay the province about $16 million in mandatory contributions for education, corrections, the Property Valuation Services Corporation and public housing, what we actually get is bupkis.

(I don’t entirely understand, mind you, how we can go from last year’s budget, which funded what Mayor Cecil Clarke frequently trumpeted as our “biggest-ever construction season,” to this year’s, in which we’ve apparently earmarked enough funds to pave Ferry Street, but I’m not an accountant. Or a public works expert. Hell, as you will read further on, I can’t even build a decent chicken pen.)

There are a number of factors putting new wind in the sales of the good ship NSEF, including having a former member (Derek Mombourquette) as minister of municipal affairs and having the support of people like Halifax Deputy Mayor — and current vice president of the Nova Scotia Union of Municipalities (NSUM) — Waye Mason, who took to Twitter on Wednesday to proclaim the CBRM deserved a better deal:

Source: Twitter. 2018.03.07

(Okay, NSEF puts the amount owed the CBRM each year at $239 million rather than $14 million but this is a start.)

Tammy Martin

Tammy Martin

Also as of this week, NSEF has the support of the provincial New Democratic Party, whose leader, Gary Burrill, traveled to Cape Breton to hold a press conference with NDP MLA Tammy Martin (Cape Breton Centre) on Monday. The party introduced two equalization-related pieces of legislation in the House of Assembly on Tuesday. According to the CBC:

The first will require the province to commission a wide-ranging economic viability study for the CBRM, which was recommended by the steering committee of Provincial-Municipal Fiscal Review’s Fall 2014 report, but was never carried out.

“One very important thing in that study was the CBRM situation is particularly dramatic, and the present means of funding services for municipalities does not work there in a striking way,” said Burrill, “and this has got to be figured out.”

The NDP wants what it calls bridging money while that study is conducted.

A second bill would give CBRM annual stimulus funding of $50 million each year for three years.

“A new formula, a new system needs to be developed,” said Burrill in an interview with CBC Cape Breton’s Mainstreet, “but we need to make sure that the fiscal imbalance shortfall in the period between now and when this new system is developed, that it doesn’t leave the CBRM’s hands tied.”

CBRM District 11 Councilor Kendra Coombes, who was also at the press conference, admitted the legislation is unlikely to pass the Liberal-dominated House, but told the CBC:

“If it doesn’t do anything at the provincial level with regards to the other parties’ support, what it will do is get people talking,” she said, “and hopefully put pressure on the government to say, ‘We need help here.… We’re not receiving our fair payments in equalization, and we haven’t for a long time, and that needs to come to the forefront.”

After 15 years, that must be music to the NSEF’s ears.



I’ve been poking around the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development website, trying to learn more about standardized testing, and I’ve found myself in some dusty corners watching some rather obscure webinars. It’s like walking around the school after hours and finding there’s a class in session in the boiler room.

I stumbled across a video entitled Lessons Learned 2014-2015 Nova Scotia Assessment: Mathematics Grade 6 and, being me, I watched it, only to discover this example of a math problem found on the Grade 6 math assessment:

Maybe it’s my faulty cognition, but faced with this problem, I immediately want to know how big are the plywood squares? Are they all exactly the same size or are they all just “large?” Do the full sides of the squares have to touch or is it enough that they make partial contact? If I don’t know how big the plywood squares are, how am I to calculate how much fencing Melinda needs? And why does she need to know how much fencing is required “for each pen?” I thought you said she was building “a” pen? And where are the chickens right now? WHERE ARE THE CHICKENS?

If I interpret the instructions strictly as written, I could design a pen floor that looks like the one at right: it’s made of six “large” sheets of plywood (some larger than others) and at least part of each individual sheet is touching another sheet. But I could come up with so many possible permutations of this, I’d be sketching for weeks. And this is a timed test. Plus, my chickens would probably go mad.

If I apply “high order thinking skills” to the problem, I guess I could “generalize” that plywood sheets are usually uniform in size and that it probably makes sense to have full sides touching each other. But I could still come up with a lot of possible combinations for the floor shape. And while I could conceivably decide how big the sheets were myself and calculate the fencing accordingly, that requires me to basically make up the directions for a construction project, which seems like a very dangerous lesson to be teaching our children.

If I use “non-routine” problem solving, then presumably I could house the chickens in the dog-run at the Open Hearth Park and use the plywood to make “No Dogs Allowed” signs.

I ran this problem past a couple of math teachers of my acquaintance who also (gratifyingly) found it to be rather odd. But what’s really odd, as one pointed out to me, is that the people who create standardized tests seem obsessed with animal pens. Here are some sample problems from Pearson’s Math Makes Sense, Grades 4 and 5:

Source: Pearson Math Makes Sense (Grade 4)

Source: Pearson Math Makes Sense (Grade 4)

Source: Pearson Math Makes Sense (Grade 4)

Source: Pearson Math Makes Sense (Grade 4)

Source: Pearson Math Makes Sense (Grade 5)

Source: Pearson Math Makes Sense (Grade 5)


As my teacher/friend said: “All very culturally appropriate for our rural Nova Scotian students, although I’m not sure what the HRM kids make of it.”

My guess is that they would make like Calvin and Raji and opt for patios instead of pens. Plywood patios. There’s some non-routine problem solving for you.


Urbaniak on Bill 72

Did you read CBU political scientist Tom Urbaniak’s Wednesday column in the Post about the text of Bill 72, the Liberal government’s controversial education bill?

You totally should.

I’m not even going to say much about the piece other than to quote the opening lines:

Two words in Bill 72, the Education Reform Act, hint at the ideology behind this sweeping bill. Those words are “corporation sole.”

The implied ideology is one of top-down regimentation: A “unified” system should not leave much place for public deliberation, dissent or diverse approaches.

Urbaniak explains why this is a problem very effectively — he clearly needs no assistance in getting his message across from me, so I will simply recommend that you read it.


It’s a small world

The editor of the New York Times Travel section went to the third circle of hell on a four-day Disney Magic Bahamian cruise and lived to tell the tell.

By Didier Duforest (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Disney Magic (Photo by Didier Duforest, own work, GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons)

He and his wife and 5-and-1/2-year-old daughter (who gets a $60 pirate outfit, a $30 pirate hat and and a $200 princess makeover over the course of four days) sailed from Miami to Castaway Cay, Disney’s private Bahamian island. (Did you catch that? Disney not only owns the vessel it owns one of the ports of call.) 

As I live in a town that will serve as a Disney Magic port of call twice this September, I was curious to see how the editor enjoyed his shore visits. He went to Key West (by himself, his daughter preferring to remain in Disneyland) where he shivered, bought DayQuil and had “a mediocre Cuban lunch.”

In Nassau, the whole family went ashore, stayed within the few blocks of the docks, had a bad lunch, took a boat tour of the homes of the rich and famous and got “a free keychain.”

The one port of call he seemed truly enthusiastic about, in fact, was Castaway Cay, where he snorkeled and bought margaritas from one of the ship’s bartenders, who’d come ashore to sling drinks at a bar steps away from an “immaculate” beach.

A few facts about this trip really leapt out at me: first of all, crew members had their nationalities printed on their name tags and would introduce themselves by name and country of origin, a practice the Travel editor found “charming and touching” for reasons that completely elude me. Doesn’t a system that allows you to easily distinguish between Serbs and Thais and Peruvians and Scots sound like one Donald Trump would happily sign into law by executive order?

Second, the editor says the onboard Wifi offerings are “measly,” leaving him and his wife trying to decide “how much to spend” on them. I’m guessing this is true of most cruise ships and it explains a Charlotte Street phenomenon I noticed last cruise season: passengers, who have clearly not entered the shop to buy anything, standing outside Tim Hortons using the free Wifi.

And finally, I kept wondering how a grown man and seasoned traveler could deal with being on a Disney cruise — paying US$2,862.79 (CAN$3687.69) for a 268-square-foot state room with a shower he could barely stand up in.

But I think I found the answer: in addition to that, he paid an additional US$1,500 (CAN$1932.22) for “booze, onboard incidentals and activities.

I’m probably projecting, but I’m betting most of that $1,500 went on booze.



I found a bunch of documents, released thanks to a couple of access to information requests, related to the decision to sell cannabis in Nova Scotia Liquor Commission (NSLC) outlets.

More precisely: I found a bunch of big, redacted blocks of text that presumably would be of interest to citizens but which our government prefers not to share with us.

I did make one valuable discovery, though: I found out why my own proposal for selling recreational cannabis failed so miserably. My vision was nothing like that of the NSLC:

How could I have gotten it so wrong?

My proposal was to rent space in dark alleys across the province and construct small retail outlets — “pens,” if you will — consisting of plywood floors fenced in with appropriate quantities of wire mesh (exact amounts to be calculated by the Grade 6 class at Coxheath Elementary).

Staff members — all of whom were to be staunch teetotalers who only signed on because they thought they’d be selling actual pots — would apologize repeatedly for selling cannabis to the few customers who actually dared to come into the stores. Product would be stored in unmarked burlap sacks (quantity per bag also to be calculated by the Grade Sixes; no sense letting all that Level 3 Cognitive ability go to waste).

I really thought I was onto a winning formula, given that our government doesn’t actually seem all that keen on selling pot, but I think I took it all a little too far. To limit cannabis sales you don’t have to resort to back alley pot pens — you just have to limit the number of outlets you open.

Why didn’t I think of that?






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