The tiny Nova Scotia towns with lots of politicians, but not many people

In Annapolis Royal, the historic Nova Scotia community that proudly calls itself a “tiny town,” there are just 98 residents for every elected official.

That’s fewer than the number of tenants in many downtown Halifax apartment buildings.

In Clark’s Harbour, a fishing community of 758 people on Cape Sable Island, off the province’s southern coast, it costs $114 per resident to pay the annual honorariums of the mayor and six councillors.

While the winds of amalgamation have swept through Nova Scotia several times over the last two decades, the province is still dotted with small towns and sparsely populated counties that remain stubbornly separate.

CBC News has tallied up the number of mayors, wardens and councillors, and the cost of governing 50 separate towns and municipalities — an analysis that found large disparities in how many constituents elected officials represent and how much they cost.

Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald said there’s no appetite in his town to amalgamate with the surrounding county, even though his residents pay higher taxes than those just across the Annapolis River, in Granville Ferry.

“There are those who are concerned that the character and control and preservation and protection of this tiny, perfect town might be lost if this town wasn’t in control of it,” he said, noting Annapolis Royal does partner with Annapolis County on things like water infrastructure.

Annapolis Royal

(Robert Short/CBC)

While municipalities themselves determine how many councillors there should be, every eight years they must also make their case before the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.

And the board isn’t shy about intervening. Two years ago, it ordered the Municipality of the County of Richmond to cut its council in half, from 10 to five members.

It is also soon set to rule on a two-year campaign by a citizens group in the Municipality of the District of Clare to shrink its council size from eight to five.

Gérard Thériault, who leads the Clare Civic Association, said he believes a smaller council would be more effective “because the more people at the table, the more arguing you’re going to have.”

A smaller council might also encourage more candidates to put their names forward, he said. Right now, the districts are so small that people are reluctant to run against an incumbent.

“They’re close to their people where they are and no one wants to run against them,” he said.

Councils for small populations

Twice since 2015, the UARB has ruled that Clare failed to properly consult residents on what they think council should look like. This time, they’ve been ordered to hire an independent consultant to survey residents.

Warden Ronnie LeBlanc isn’t convinced shrinking council will make it more effective.

“With an eight-person council, you need to convince five people for a vote — so you have to make a good argument,” said LeBlanc. “We are making big decisions that cost a lot of money.”

Gerard Theriault

Gerard Theriault leads the Clare Civic Association. (CBC)

In Clark’s Harbour, council recently voted 4-3 in favour of shrinking its size from six to four, plus the mayor, and an application has been made to the Utility and Review Board.

Coun. Trudy Quinlan was one of those who voted in favour of the cut. But the part-time waitress said a smaller council will mean more work for elected officials, who will have to sit on more boards and associations.

But there will only be so much change: amalgamating with the much larger Municipality of the District of Barrington is something Quinlan doubts will happen in her lifetime.

For one thing, Clark’s Harbour is “prosperous,” she said.

“We maintain our roads, maintain our garbage pickup, it’s neat, it’s clean, it’s a real nice place to grow up and live in.”

Most expensive NS councils per constituent

For Kings County Mayor Peter Muttart, the answer isn’t fewer councillors, but fewer councils.

“We are over-governed,” he said. “We still maintain the same governance structure as we had when we travelled on dirt roads by horse and buggy and it took three or four days to get to Halifax from the Annapolis Valley.”

Muttart said debate within the Kings County council has improved since the number of members went from 12 to 10. And he maintains constituents are still getting good representation.

Ultimately, he said he would like to see towns, villages and counties replaced by regional governments.

“We should be sharing the taxes and paying our representatives a decent wage so they can work full time for our benefit, instead of part time.”

‘He’s our hero’: Why St. Francis Xavier’s 465-year-old severed arm will be a draw for many Canadians

More than four centuries after his death, St. Francis Xavier is touring Canada, or, at least, the part of him most revered by Catholics — the right arm said to have baptized tens of thousands of converts.

“Some people are repelled by it. Some are attracted by it,” says Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa. “But if it helps you, it’s good.”

Seventy-five thousand Canadians are expected to view the relic, as it moves across the country this month beginning Wednesday in Quebec City with stops in 14 other cities, including Antigonish, N.S., home of St. Francis Xavier University.

Angèle Regnier will be with the forearm at every stop. Francis Xavier is the patron saint of Catholic Christian Outreach, an organization she co-founded to keep young Catholics engaged with their faith through their university years.

“We admire him. He’s our hero,” Regnier says. “It’s like having the Stanley Cup come to your tournament. He’s so cool, so identifiable.”

St. Francis forearm

Young Catholics in Ottawa hold commitment cards up to the relic of St. Francis Xavier. (CBC)

Arm gets own airline seat

The relic of St. Francis Xavier is treated, in some ways, like the Stanley Cup. It is carried around in a large padded duffel bag, escorted by an appointed guardian, D’Arcy Murphy. Organizers don’t trust the checked baggage experience, and it’s too large for the overhead bin, so the patron saint’s arm flies in its own economy class seat.

It’s believed the relic has only left its usual resting place at Rome’s Church of the Gesu on five other occasions, and this is the first visit to Canada.

Guardian of the relic D'Arcy Murphy

Guardian of the relic D’Arcy Murphy, left, is seen at the Catholic Christian Outreach’s Rise Up conference in Ottawa. (Pierre-Paul Couture/Radio-Canada)

Before leaving Italy, church officials placed a unique seal on the arm’s Plexiglas container, to ensure no one tries to switch out the contents. Organizers have also insured the relic against loss, damage or theft for an undisclosed amount.

Petula Fernandes

Petula Fernandes is of Goan descent who believes her ancestors were baptized by St. Francis Xavier. (CBC)

Church asked for a relic 

Francis Xavier died in 1552 not far from China, but the body reportedly did not decompose. At the time, it was considered evidence of his saintness and the revered right arm, which did all the baptizing, was severed at the request of the head of the Jesuit order and sent to Rome. Bishops refer to the arm as “uncorrupted.”

The rest of his body was transferred to Goa, India, where Francis Xavier carried out much of his work, converting more than 100,000 people, many of them Hindus. As with many religious figures, the historical record includes good work combined with challenges, including a multi-century Inquisition, sparked at the time of Francis Xavier, leading to an unknown number of executions.

During the Canadian tour, the arm will be displayed at the large Goan-Canadian community in Mississauga, where 12,000 visitors are expected to venerate, or honour, the relic.

Joseph San Jose

Joseph San Jose was among nearly 1,000 young Canadian Catholics privy to an early opportunity to venerate the arm during the Catholic conference in Ottawa on Saturday. (CBC)

“This is profound,” says Petula Fernandes, who was part of the first large group to see the arm in Ottawa.

She points out, it would be the same arm that “converted my ancestors to Christianity and if it wasn’t for his mission, I wouldn’t be here in Canada with my Christian values.”

‘Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’

Three-quarters of Catholics drift from the religion during the university years, and it’s hoped the arm will help guide them back.

Francis Xavier was said to be a playboy, intellectual and athlete, until he met Ignatius who urged him towards what became a life defined by faith. Organizers hope young Canadian Catholics today will find inspiration in the story.

A thousand of those young Catholics were among the first to get a sneak peek of the arm shortly after its arrival in Canada at the Catholic Christian Outreach’s Rise Up conference in Ottawa last weekend.

Many had emotional reactions, breaking into tears, hugging and praying as they sought guidance and, in some cases, healing from illness or disease.

“This is the first time I’ve heard of this ever happening,” says Joseph San Jose. “And I don’t know if it’ll ever happen again, so it’s kind of like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Dog-fighting with MiG fighters and how smartphones can be hazardous to a soldier’s health

The international endeavour to check Russian ambition in eastern Europe has a produced a trove of valuable lessons for the Canadian military, including insights that could be useful in the wider, increasingly uncertain, world.

Among those lessons: Canadian fighter pilots have a good idea what it would be like to face North Korean warplanes.

Soldiers have also learned how vulnerable their smartphones are to hacking and how they could even be used as a means to target them for artillery and other rocket fire.

Earlier this week, National Defence announced four CF-18s are headed home from a NATO mission in Romania.

Mock dogfights and aerial combat

The four-month air policing deployment, which formally concluded on Dec. 31, saw pilots conducting mock dogfights and aerial combat manoeuvres, including intercepts, against Russian-made MiG-21 jets.

There are only a handful of countries in the world, notably the regime of Kim Jong-un, that still fly the 1960s-vintage warplanes, which were a common sight during the Cold War for now-retired Canadian pilots.

Having the chance to measure the CF-18s and this generation of pilots against that particular aircraft, which is slowly being phased out of the Romanian air force, was significant, said the task force commander.

“We are getting very beneficial training at an important geopolitical time,” said Lt.-Col. Mark Hickey, in a recent interview with CBC News.

“Although the Romanians, a NATO ally, are flying the MiG-21, it is in fact a Russian-made aircraft. It is great to fly with the MiG-21 and see its capabilities and work on our tactics, techniques and procedures with the MiG-21 airborne. It’s been a great experience.”

Looking for a diplomatic solution

In Romania, they were flying and testing their skills “almost every single day” against not only the Romanians, but other NATO countries, Hickey said.

Maj.-Gen. William Seymour, the chief of staff for operations at the country’s overseas command, said flying against the MiG-21 was not the principal reason for undertaking the NATO mission and the air force has, in the past, had other opportunities for such training.

But, he said the new round helped contribute to building “stronger, more effective, fighter pilots.”

The focus of international energy over North Korea is being directed at a diplomatic resolution of the standoff with Pyongyang over its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.

But for military planners, being prepared should an open, prolonged conflict break out on the Korean peninsula — one that could involve a request for Canadian fighter support — is top of mind.


North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un speaks on New Year’s Day in Pyongyang. For military planners, being prepared should an open, prolonged conflict break out on the Korean peninsula is top of mind. (KCNA/Reuters)

Aside from having standard contingency plans on the shelf, officials at National Defence hope the upcoming foreign ministers conference on Korea will yield clear guidance for the military on what may and may not be expected should diplomacy fail.

The lessons learned in Romania are being added to the wider set of insights the Canadian military gained in 2017 conducting deterrence operations, said Seymour, the chief of staff for operations at the country’s overseas command.

Russia, China and North Korea maintain a sophisticated cyber warfare capability — one that would be used in the event of hostilities.

Canadian troops deployed as part of the NATO deterrence force in Latvia have learned, not only cyber techniques, but how information warfare and propaganda has been directed against them.

Reports of phone hacking

Published reports last fall said the roughly 4,000 alliance troops in the Baltic states have been the targets of Russian smartphone hacking — a charge Moscow has denied.  

Seymour was circumspect about how many hacking attempts the Canadians have seen, but suggested it was enough for them to learn from the experience.

“We’ve seen evidence that some of our Canadian troops have seen unusual things on their phones and we work to then understand the nature of those threats,” said Seymour, who wasn’t prepared to define specifically what sort of strange activity they had witnessed.

The commander of a NATO base in Poland, U.S. Army Lt.-Col. Christopher L’Heureux, was quoted as saying he faced someone trying to access his iPhone Apple account and a trace identified the source as Moscow.

“There is some weird stuff we’ve seen that we’ve taken back and studied and applied additional protective measures,” said Seymour.

Policing smartphone ban ‘impossible’

Lt.-Gen. Steve Bowes, Seymour’s boss, said no incidents have been serious enough to have been brought to his attention.

At one point, Bowes, who is in charge of the military domestic and overseas operations, says he considered banning smartphones on foreign deployments.

“When I was briefed, I looked at that,” he said in a recent interview with CBC News. “I thought about it. It was an option on the table.”

But then he decided it would set up a commanding officer in the field “for an impossible task” of policing such a ban. Instead, the focus was put on education and getting troops to report suspicious activity.

Another lesson of significance, according to Bowes, has been learned by troops training Ukrainian forces.

Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country have apparently used GPS locators on smartphones of the Ukrainians as a way of targeting the fire of their heavy artillery guns and drones.

“If it gives a signal and it’s linked, even just electronic emission; if they can pinpoint it to a spot on the ground, then they can put an artillery round on it, if it is within range,” said Bowes.   

Jane Philpott doesn’t see ‘eye to eye’ with Manitoba on First Nations child welfare reforms

Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott says she has concerns with Manitoba’s plans to reform its First Nations child welfare system.

Specifically, the minister told CBC she believes incentives to encourage non-Indigenous families to adopt First Nations children should be avoided so as not to replicate mistakes of the past.

Philpott, who described the state of the child welfare system in Canada as a “humanitarian crisis,” said the federal government is determined to work in concert with the provinces and Indigenous peoples to create a system that keeps more First Nations children in their communities.

Indigenous people make up 17 per cent of Manitoba’s population, but Indigenous children are overrepresentated in government care, accounting for almost 90 per cent of the 10,700 children in the province’s system.

The Progressive Conservative government in Manitoba is pushing ahead with reforms, with a special committee expected to present recommendations this spring.

As the system is currently structured, most child welfare agencies obtain part of their funding for each First Nations child they place in care, creating what some see as a financial incentive to take kids from their families. Manitoba has sought to dismantle such a system by granting block funding to agencies — entirely independent from the numbers held in care.

Promoting guardianship

But, the province is also introducing adoption supports, promising legislation that will include subsidies to promote the legal guardianship of foster children, something that has First Nations leaders worried.

“This is putting children at risk of being in non-Indigenous homes permanently,” Cora Morgan, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ family advocate, recently warned.

“When probably close to 90 per cent of our children are placed in non-Indigenous homes, and they’re not having access to culturally appropriate services or meaningful connections to culture and identity, then I have trouble with that.”

In an interview with CBC News, Philpott said she will raise similar concerns when she meets with her provincial counterparts in Ottawa later this month for an “emergency meeting” to discuss Indigenous child welfare across the country. 

“My understanding of the [Manitoba] system to date suggests there is need for reform. I’m not sure the ways of getting there are — that we necessarily see eye to eye on how to get there,” she said.

“Instead of paying a non-Indigenous family, is there not a way that the baby, infant or child could stay in the community surrounded by their language, culture and family in a kinship model or with a grandparent who is willing?”

Philpott said history dictates that removing First Nations children from their communities can have devastating consequences. And, with more Indigenous children currently in care than there was at the height of the residential school era, co-ordinated action is needed now more than ever to combat intergenerational trauma, she said.

“This is very disturbing because we know the same kind of effects of what happened to children who were removed from their families and put into residential schools, or scooped from their families in the 1960s.”

Scott Fielding, Manitoba Families Minister

Manitoba Families Minister Scott Fielding says there are some misconceptions about the province’s plans to provide financial supports for guardians. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

In a statement, Manitoba Families Minister Scott Fielding — who is tasked with overseeing the overhaul of the child welfare system — said there are “misconceptions surrounding the Manitoba government’s planned reforms.”

“Our first priority is to keep children with their families and in their home communities. If reunification with a parent is not possible due to safety or other reasons, the next hope is to place the child with a relative.

“Under the current system, foster parents receive subsidies, but those payments stop when someone assumes legal guardianship, including kin. Subsidies would create incentive for relatives to become permanent guardians, which would create the lifelong connections we know are crucial to create better outcomes for children,” Fielding said.

“I met with minister Philpott [late last month] and look forward to further discussion and clarification at our emergency meeting with our counterparts in January.”

‘Room for change’

Ottawa is eager to devolve the provision of child welfare services to Indigenous groups as part of a larger push to encourage self-governance. To that end, budget 2018 will include a boost in funds for that express purpose, Philpott said.

And, in December, at a special chiefs meeting, Philpott penned a memorandum of understanding with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs that will begin the process of developing a joint federal-Indigenous plan for welfare services with the goal of transitioning away from a provincially run system to First Nations control.

“I think there’s a lot of room for change there,” she said. “We’ve seen a tremendous interest from the Manitoba chiefs … to really claim their right to take care of their own children.”

Chief Kevin Hart, an Assembly of First Nations regional chief who hails from Manitoba, has long said the province should get out of the business of taking Indigenous kids.

“They’re apprehending our children because of poverty. We’re being set up for failure. We have to say enough is enough. Our children deserve to be at home,” he said in an interview with CBC News last year.

“They need to take a step back and we need to take that jurisdiction away. Because in Manitoba it’s a billion-dollar industry,” he said, referencing the amount of federal dollars that flow to the provincial system to care for First Nations children.

Philpott also raised concerns about the provincial government clawing back Canada child benefit cheques intended for First Nations families that end up in provincial coffers because those children are held as wards of the state.

“There are real challenges around whether the money actually gets to the care of the kids as it ought to … families have a right to that resource.”

New vaccine for ‘hideous’ shingles illness should be free for seniors, advocates argue

Advocates for Canadian seniors are calling on provincial governments to cover the cost of a new vaccine to protect against shingles, a brutally painful illness that can have debilitating consequences.

Shingrix was approved by Health Canada last year and its manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, says it should be available in local pharmacies that order it by mid-January.

An existing vaccine is available against shingles — Zostavax — but it’s not reported to be as effective in preventing it, especially among older people.

“When we look at the impact on people’s lives, shingles can be so devastating,” said Wanda Morris, vice-president of advocacy at CARP, formerly known as the Canadian Association of Retired Persons. “This is something we really need government to look at.”

CARP advocated for the existing vaccine against shingles, Zostavax, to be covered, but so far Ontario is the only province that picks up the tab for it and only for those aged 65 to 70. Now the advocacy organization is pushing for Shingrix to be paid for by provincial health plans. It costs about $244, plus any pharmacy dispensing fees.

Morris said the cost is worth it, given the financial burden shingles can have on individuals, their families, and the health care system, in addition to the physical pain people suffer. Those who get shingles might miss work, and can have trouble carrying out daily functions and caring for their loved ones, including spouses or children. Doctor visits or hospitalization are a cost to the health system.

“There is a strong, solid business case, but you never want to see people in that much pain and we don’t want to put the strains on caregivers and businesses and others who will be impacted,” said Morris.

130,000 people get shingles annually

An estimated 130,000 Canadians get shingles every year and the older you are, the more likely you are to get it and to suffer severe health effects.

The new vaccine to help prevent it is being touted by doctors as a breakthrough in the battle to protect seniors from preventable illnesses.

“It is definitely the first vaccine that looks like it is very effective in older adults and that’s impressive,” Dr. Allison McGeer, a microbiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said.


Vaccination can help prevent shingles, which is caused by herpes zoster — the same virus that causes chickenpox. (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention)

Vaccines generally don’t work that well in older Canadians and that’s why the clinical trial results for Shingrix are so remarkable, said McGeer.

The trials showed efficacy against shingles above 90 per cent, regardless of the person’s age.

Shingles is a brutally painful infection that anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk of getting. It is caused by the same virus as chickenpox, which can lie dormant for years and then reactivate in the form of shingles.

The symptoms can include severe pain, itching, a rash and blisters and can last a few weeks, or even months. For some people, shingles develops into a more serious condition called post-herpetic neuralgia, with burning pain that can last years. Some people’s vision or other senses are affected.  

Gerontologist Sharon Livingstone was 70 when she got shingles four years ago.

“I had a terrible case,” said Livingstone, who resides in St. George, Ont. “I was very, very ill.”

She experienced extreme pain and blisters around her ears and neck. The blisters eventually cleared up, but even now Livingstone still feels pain.

Cost should be covered ‘for all seniors’

Livingstone wants provincial and territorial health plans to pay for Shingrix.

“I would really like to see them cover it for all seniors as soon as possible, everybody 60 plus should have it,” she said.

For some seniors, it can mean the difference between living independently and having to move into a long-term care facility because of its long-lasting effects, Livingstone said. Losing their independence is a huge issue for older people, she added.

‘Isn’t it in everybody’s best interest that we don’t have an aging population that is at risk for something so hideous that can have such long-acting issues for people?’
– Sharon Livingstone

She believes governments should treat vaccine coverage for seniors as a public health issue.

“I can afford to get the vaccine. Other people might have benefits or they will pay the money. What do you do if you are a senior using a food bank? You’re not going to be able to afford to get it unless the government is paying for it,” she said.

“Isn’t it in everybody’s best interest that we don’t have an aging population that is at risk for something so hideous that can have such long-acting issues for people?” Livingstone added.

A spokesperson for Ontario’s health ministry said in an email that any time new vaccines are introduced to the marketplace, the ministry reviews them in the context of its publicly funded immunization program. Cost and scientific evidence are among the factors considered. Recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization on preferred vaccines are also taken into account and NACI hasn’t yet weighed in on Shingrix.

An assessment of all of those factors has to be done before any changes are made to funding, the spokesperson said.

Dr. Mark Loeb, the director of the infectious diseases division at McMaster University, agrees with Livingstone that governments should fund Shingrix.

Given how effective the vaccine appears to be, even for people in their 70s and 80s, and given how many Canadians are at risk of getting shingles, there is a strong argument to be made for public funding for it, he said.

“From my point of view this is a hard one to say no to, I think,”  said Loeb.

Minimum wage hikes could cost 60,000 jobs — and maybe more, Bank of Canada report calculates

Minimum wage hikes across Canada this year could cost about 60,000 jobs, despite the benefits they would bring, the Bank of Canada says in a new report.

The central bank published a report over the winter break, attempting to calculate what sort of economic impact a series of minimum wage hikes set to come into force this year will have on Canada’s economy.

As of Jan. 1, Ontario’s minimum wage is now $14 an hour, up from $11.60. By the end of 2018, Alberta, Quebec and Prince Edward Island are also expected to hike their minimum wages.

Economists and business leaders have squabbled over the issue, with some of the former arguing higher wages boost the economy and help fight income inequality. Those on the other side, meanwhile, say the costs are too high and will come with a heavy toll on the job market.

Farmer Kevin Howe of Howe Family Farms in Aylmer, Ont., a small business that has been in operation for five generations, said he’s already reducing the amount of crops he plans to plant this year, and fears he won’t need as many workers because consumers won’t be willing to pay the higher prices he’ll have to charge to cover wage increases.

“Costs are always going up and we need to be able to pass these costs on to stay in business,” he told CBC News in an interview Tuesday.

Ontario farmer on wage hikes6:18

Some summers he hires up to 400 people to pick his strawberry crop, but this year there will be far fewer hours available as the farm has reduced its strawberry acreage by 30 per cent as a precaution. “It’s definitely going to impact the amount of work available,” he said. “It’s going to make for shorter days [and is] definitely not going to be good for the community.”

Rising wages are certainly direct costs for small business owners. But the impact on workers is just as direct. A minimum wage worker in Ontario just got a raise of $2.40 an hour compared to what they were making last week. That’s an extra $96 a week for full-time work, or almost $5,000 a year, before taxes and other deductions.

That’s real money in their pocket, but the job market isn’t the only thing set to be impacted by a higher minimum wage.

By the bank’s reckoning, the official inflation rate is expected to get a boost of about 0.1 percentage points because of the hikes this year alone. And growth in the overall economy is expected to be held back by about the same amount.

But on the jobs front, the impact could be greater.

Based on one of the models the bank uses, Canada’s economy could have roughly 60,000 fewer jobs by the end of the year than it would otherwise have seen. But other models the bank uses show a wider range of results, from as little as 30,000 to as many as 136,000 jobs lost.

No matter how the bank slices the numbers, however, the result is the same: hiking minimum wages will result in fewer jobs, at least in the short term.

“Although empirical evidence is mixed on the magnitude of minimum wage effects, most studies for Canada find that the reduction in employment is statistically significant, especially for younger workers,” the bank said in its report.

Paradoxically, while minimum wage workers stand to benefit in the form of higher salaries, they could potentially also be hurt as the job market in that sector may dry up, making it harder to get a job if they lose theirs.

There are certainly positives to be had, though. Hiking minimum wages makes a real impact on workers on that end of the spectrum — a group the central bank says is as large as eight per cent of the entire work force.

There are spillover effects for other people, too. Even workers making only slightly above minimum wage can expect to see their wages increase. Overall, the bank says almost one out of every six Canadian workers can expect to see their salary increase as a direct result of minimum wage hikes, whether they are making that much currently or not.

The impact is also likely to be different across the country, which is why Scotiabank’s deputy chief economist Brett House appreciated how the central bank put them all into one framework to weigh the pros and cons.

“It’s not a zero sum game where those jobs are gone and they’ll never be replaced,” he said in an interview.

Even if some jobs are lost, things that businesses do to become more productive in the face of higher costs tend to pay off for everyone over the long term, House said. Activities such as automation and other productivity enhancements “also kick off demand for other skills in the economy too,” he said.

The ongoing debate over minimum wages is so important because it speaks to issues of income inequality, House said.

Because over the past decade and a half, he said, any Canadians who own stocks or real estate have done very well, financially speaking. “The recovery has mainly benefited you,” he said. But that’s not true of a huge percentage of the population who depend on their pay cheques as a sole source of income. “If you rely on wages only, you haven’t had a real wage increase in any substantial way in 10 to 15 years.”

That’s why House is among those who thinks the positives of wage increases will outweigh the negatives.

“Raising wages is really essential to keeping everyone bought in to the economic model that is Canada,” he said.

Newfoundland and Labrador ends controversial book tax

Readers in Newfoundland and Labrador will no longer have to pay a 10 per cent tax on books.

The controversial tax was first introduced as part of the 2015 austerity budget, and actually wasn’t a direct tax but an end to a 10 per cent provincial government rebate on the harmonized sales tax. 

The book tax, the only one of its kind in Canada, wasn’t well received by the literary community, who argued it sent the wrong message regarding reading and literacy.

Starting Jan. 1, the provincial HST rebate has been reinstated, which means customers who buy books will now pay the same prices they did before the implementation of measures announced in the 2015 budget.

Finance Minister Tom Osborne announced last August that the book tax was being reviewed, and said the province would lose $2.6 million by removing it.

203 years ago, a Toronto lighthouse-keeper disappeared. Today, the mystery endures

Unexplained lights in the windows, strange bloodstains on the staircase, his shadowy form gliding across the sand in the moonlight — for those who believe it’s haunted, these are just some of the signs a ghost dwells in the walls of a lighthouse on Toronto Island.

It’s been 203 years since lighthouse keeper J.P. Radan Muller disappeared from his post at the Gibraltar lighthouse, but the whereabouts of his remains continue to be a mystery.

Legend has it that on a cold night in 1815, one day after New Year’s, German-born Radan Muller— who was said to have supplemented his income by brewing his own beer — was killed by some soldiers, thirsty for his suds.

As the story goes, there was a garrison of soldiers close to where the Hanlan’s Island Ferry Docks stand today, who are said to have been regular customers of Radan-Muller’s. The war of 1812 had just officially concluded and while the various agreements would have been signed in Europe, soldiers remained on the island. 

“They no doubt needed these rugged guys who would have been able to defend the harbour,” Richard Fiennes-Clinton, a guide with Muddy York Tours, explained on CBC Radio’s Here And Now Tuesday.

‘They did their best to cover the evidence’

“It was just after New Years, the harbour very well could have been frozen. It was very, very cold. There wouldn’t have been much else to do … Certainly drinking the night way seems like it might have been a possibility.”

It’s said that a group of soldiers were doing just that when Radan Muller cut them off.

“But they didn’t feel they were quite finished yet, and according to the main story, they chased him up to the top of the lighthouse and they had an altercation,” Fiennes-Clinton said.

The exact details are lost to history, but after that night, Radan Muller was never seen again — at least not in the flesh.

Nearly 16 metres high at the time, the area at the top of the lighthouse was very small.

DeeDee Dodds

DeeDee Dodds was the last keeper of the lighthouse. She was in charge for three years before it closed in 1958 (CBC)

“Apparently they struck him over the head and they ejected his body out of the lighthouse,” said Fiennes-Clinton. “And when they discovered that he died, they did their best to cover the evidence and dismembered him and tried to bury him and dispose of his body. And that’s really the crux of the story.”

The incident was recorded in an 1815 edition of the York Gazette newspaper and while a couple of soldiers were accused of the crime, no one ever did face justice. 

Body never recovered

For almost 82 years, the lighthouse was kept by a well-known Toronto Island family, the Durnans. 

In 1904, then-lighthouse-keeper George Durnan is said to have discovered human remains, believed to be those of Radan Muller, and reburied them. But if that happened, the grave’s whereabouts are unknown today. 

No DNA testing was ever done, according to Fiennes-Clinton.

In 1958, CBC News spoke to last of the Gibraltar lighthouse-keepers, DeeDee Dodds.

John Durnan

John Durnan spoke to CBC News in 1958 about the time his family found bones believed to have belonged to Radan Muller near the lighthouse. (CBC)

Incidentally, she told the CBC at the time, it got its name because John Graves Simcoe, the Governor of Upper Canada when it was built, believed Toronto Island could be fortified as strongly as the legendary Rock of Gibraltar. . 

Dodds said at the time she’d never met a ghost herself, but was liable to be spooked herself at least once. 

Legend persists

“When the moon is full, its reflected back from the top of the lighthouse. This spring, when I was riding by on my bike, I was startled to see a light when the navigation system was closed. It wasn’t for a few seconds that I realized the moon was full. It gave me a startle,” Dodds said.

“I’ve never met the ghost but I can understand how the legend persists. The cooing of the pigeons is very eerie on a dark night and the wind howling through the lighthouse gives you the shivers.”

In charge of the site for three years before it closed in 1958, Dodds wondered if the legend of Radan Muller’s ghost would persist after Gibraltar closed. 

“They’re going to build a new light. But I wonder with the new light, if the old legend will die,” she wondered aloud at the time.

Apparently not. Fiennes-Clinton has eager visitors still captivated by the mystery of the soldier who vanished that day in 1815.

“This is a story that’s been a part of the tapestry of mystery in Toronto for a long time,” he said.

“I like the fact that it’s a mystery.”

‘Best New Year’s Eve’: 2 Vernon boys rescued from gully after braving -18 C weather

Two Vernon brothers are home safe after spending several freezing hours stuck down a gully in the forest on New Year’s Eve.

The boys, aged five and seven, set out into the woods behind their house to find marshmallow-roasting sticks, according to search and rescue workers.

When the children spotted a deer in the woods, they tried to tail it and soon found themselves lost. They initially followed snowmobile tracks, but veered off course and found themselves in a gully 150 metres below the trail in waist-deep snow.

The boys’ parents called RCMP when they failed to return home, and Vernon Search and Rescue, ambulance and firefighters were deployed to the area.

“Most people when they’re lost, generally they go downhill. And quite often it gets them into trouble — things get steeper, the cold air goes downhill, and that’s what those two boys had done,” said Trevor Honigman, a ground search team leader with Vernon SAR.

‘We knew time was critical’

“It was dark out, it was –18 in that area; that certainly gave an increased sense of urgency for search teams and crews. We knew time was critical,” said Honigman.

The team found the boys using a technique called a “sound sweep.” Teams deployed to different parts of the forest, powered down their equipment, then blew their whistles and called the children’s names.

Then they heard the boys yelling for help. 


Members of Vernon SAR used snowmobiles to comb through the dark, snowy forest. (Vernon SAR)

“We could hear the boys calling out,” said Honigman.

“It was a great thing to be able to tell the family that we had found the kids and we were going to get them.”

The boys were treated for hypothermia, having spent several hours in boots full of snow. 

“These two children were absolute troopers, they were in great spirits, they were helping out as much as they could,” said Honigman.

“People were high-fiving, hugging each other, everybody was so excited. It was the best New Year’s Eve party you could possibly imagine.”

Cab driver suspended after teen says he was kicked out in freezing weather

An Alberta mother wants a taxi driver fired for allegedly abandoning her son on a rural road in extreme cold on New Year’s Eve, but the cabbie says the young man insisted on getting out.

Phil Strong, president of the Edmonton Taxi Group and Yellow Cab, said Tuesday that the driver has been suspended while the company looks into the two different versions of what happened.

It’s policy that drivers don’t drop off passengers when it’s unsafe — even if they don’t have money, Strong said.

“Secondly, there’s something yet to be discovered in this whole complaint,” he added. “There’s something that isn’t right yet. We’re trying our best to solve it.”

Carson Terpsma, 19, had been celebrating with friends in Edmonton. His mother said he called her shortly after 11 p.m. Sunday to ask for a ride home. Having run out of cash, he told her a cab driver had ordered him out on a back road on the way to Beaumont, a bedroom community south of the city.

Temperature was –37

The temperature was -37 C with the wind chill.

Wearing just a hat and a hoodie, pants and dress shoes, he walked for about 20 minutes before his mother picked him up. She said his fingers and ears were ice cold and his teeth were chattering as he curled up in a ball in her pickup truck.

“I want to know that this cab driver loses his licence. I want to know that there’s repercussions and, if there isn’t, then I’ll go to the RCMP,” said Marci Terpsma.

“That’s negligence. He could have died.”

Terpsma said her son had been drinking that night but was not drunk or belligerent. She described him as a humble, quiet young man who recently returned from travelling in Australia.

He was ringing in the new year with friends before they took a limo to The Ranch bar in south Edmonton, but they had to wait in line outside and he decided he’d rather go home.

Terpsma said her son gave his coat to his girlfriend so she could have another layer against the cold, and handed the taxi driver all the money he had — $40. Terpsma said the driver told her son it was enough to get him home to Beaumont.

‘Your $40 is up. Get out’

But when the meter hit $40, she said, the driver pulled over on a range road.

“He’s taking a shortcut home, stops in the middle of the road and says, ‘Your $40 is up. Get out.’ Carson being Carson is like, ‘Oh, OK.'”

Thinking another driver would stop and offer him a ride, the young man walked about one kilometre, Terpsma said. Five cars passed by before he pulled out his cellphone and called home.

“He said, ‘I didn’t want to bug you, Mom.’ “

Once Terpsma got him home, she cuddled with him to get his body temperature up, she said. She checked his fingers and ears but he didn’t have any frostbite.

More than anything, she said, her son is shy of the media attention he’s getting and embarrassed that he got out of the cab in the first place.

He knows now that he could have told the cabbie that he had a bank card he could use, or that his mother could pay him the rest of the fare at home.

“It never even crossed his mind.”

— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton