What Is a Small Stroke?

By Barry Rueger
Published: Next Avenue
January 26, 2024
1526 words
Read on-line.

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In mid-summer, my partner Susan was concerned. She was sure my behavior had changed in recent weeks and wanted me to get it looked into. I wasn’t convinced and consequently was shocked when our doctor told me that my MRI scan showed that I had suffered “a small stroke.”

When he said “stroke,” I imagined what I had seen on TV or heard from friends whose parents had suffered strokes: half-paralyzed faces, an inability to talk and perhaps the loss of the use of hands or legs. My doctor was upbeat, but I was stunned. And as I left his office, I had many questions.

Read the full article on-line at Next Avenue.

In Nova Scotia, drag racing is a family affair

By Barry Rueger
Photographs by Susan Evans
Published: Globe and Mail
November 17, 2023
1526 words
Downloadable PDF

24/11/2023, 18:22 In Nova Scotia, drag racing is a family affair - The Globe and Mailhttps://www.theglobeandmail.com/drive/mobility/article-drag-racing-in-nova-scotia-is-a-family-affair/#comments 1/8
In Nova Scotia, drag racing is a family affair
Driver Lorne Buchanan, centre, and his partner Brenda Rafuse, right, beside their methyl-hydrate burning
dragster, with writer Barry Rueger, left.
Driver Lorne Buchanan, centre, and his partner Brenda Rafuse, right, beside their methyl-hydrate burning dragster, with writer Barry Rueger, left.

In the 1970s, back home in Kelowna, B.C., I had fantasies of becoming a race car driver. My cherry red ‘69 Dodge Charger was too fast for my own good, and speeding tickets were a regular expense. I drove fast, and I loved cars that went fast.

On the Greenfield Dragway near Liverpool, N.S., I’ve rediscovered that love of fast cars, of roaring big V8 engines, and have found one of the last places where global warming and fuel economy just aren’t on the table for discussion. It’s not that people aren’t aware of these things, or don’t care, it’s just that when you’re driving a car at 320 kilometres an hour, they really don’t enter your mind.

I’ve also found one of the few remaining places where virtually everything on wheels has a North American nameplate. In an age when the car business is global, and when electric cars are becoming more and more common, drag racing is still the domain of big-block Chrysler and Chevrolet engines, with a smattering of Fords. Even the token Volkswagen Beetle and the two Honda Civics manage to squeeze in loud and powerful Detroit engines.

At the Greenfield Dragway, which leases the little-used South Shore Regional Airport runway for several weekends each year, Noel Peach is repacking the drag chute that slowed his car at the end of his first run.

Driver Noel Peach packs his parachute. A chute is required for any car that goes faster than 150 miles anhour. Drag racing still uses imperial measurements.
Driver Noel Peach packs his parachute. A chute is required for any car that goes faster than 150 miles an hour. Drag racing still uses imperial measurements.

It’s a tricky business, and one that benefits from a second set of hands. On this sunny October weekend, he was helped by his wife Lindsay.

Peach’s dad was a racer, too. After Noel and Lindsay met, it was natural that Lindsay became part of the race team – or more accurately, exactly one-half of the team.

Nova Scotia drag racing is still dominated – although not exclusively – by male drivers, but partners are integral members of most teams. Whether providing bookkeeping and planning skills, or hands-on maintenance and support, a lot of drivers rely heavily on their partners. (It’s a good thing Noel and Lindsay are a team in other ways, too: The couple’s home in Upper Tantallon, near Halifax, burned in the wildfires just a few months before, when they were here for another race.)

Drag racing still uses imperial measurements – a quarter-mile track is about 402 metres. Cars are measured in inches and feet, and an explanation on the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) website explains that a Top Fuel dragster “can burn up to 15 gallons of nitromethane fuel during a single run,” reaching more than 330 miles an hour. That’s more than 50 litres during a 3.7-second run at more than 530 km/h.

Peach drives a 1988 Trans Am, a car that hit 164 miles an hour on this day. He explains that even though drag racers are fierce rivals on the strip, they’re a strong community back in the pits. If you need a hand, or a part, someone will step up to sort you out.

Working together is what Peach and Lorne Buchanan of Bedford, N.S., did when it came time to upgrade their cars. Peach wanted to buy his current car from another racer, but didn’t want the engine that came with it. Buchanan’s dragster was fine but needed a new engine. Buchanan and Peach bought the white Trans Am together, and each took what they needed.

Today the two cars are parked side by side in the pits. Buchanan’s partner, Brenda Rafuse, guides the dragster into the pit, and helps him to pull off the hood covering the electronics. If you look for it, you’ll see Rafuse’s name is also painted on the side of the car.

Author Barry Rueger sitting in LorneBuchanan’s dragster.
Author Barry Rueger sitting in Lorne
Buchanan’s dragster.

If you only have cursory knowledge of drag racing – fat tires and loud engines – you may be overwhelmed by the many classes of cars and races. The NHRA points out that there are 10 classes that feature a straightforward, heads-up race between similarly classed cars.
Two cars line up beside each other at the “Christmas tree,” watching as a sequence of
three yellow lights flashes, one after the other. When the bottom light turns green, they both take off.

At the Greenfield Dragway, things get more complicated. Cars range from full-length dragsters, to various levels of pro and super-pro cars, to what seem to be factory stock sedans. Each is assigned a handicap based on the number of seconds the weight and configuration says it should run a quarter-mile. And each car can choose to run in more than one class.

In practical terms, you usually see two cars lined up side by side, with the slower one getting the green light first.

Greenfield is still a small-town race, and spectators aren’t kept in the grandstands. You can walk up and down the pits, talk to the drivers and their teams, and take the time to marvel at the cars and the obvious pride of the people who maintain these vehicles.

Beyond the (usually) shiny paint jobs and sponsor logos, serious cars need to meet a plethora of NHRA safety rules intended to protect the drivers, crew members and spectators. In all but the slowest cars, a roll cage is required, made to specific dimensions. Safety belts are replaced every two years, and helmets and neck collars are mandatory. Faster vehicles need to add a drive shaft loop and axle retention devices, and cars that can hit 150 miles an hour must have a parachute at the back of the car.

All of this costs a lot of money, and as Fred Thibeault from Middleton, N.S., describes it, it has been many years since the winnings at a Nova Scotia race paid enough to cover what it cost to build the car. At this point, everyone is doing it for the love of fast cars and the thrill of racing.

24/11/2023, 18:22 In Nova Scotia, drag racing is a family affair - The Globe and Mailhttps://www.theglobeandmail.com/drive/mobility/article-drag-racing-in-nova-scotia-is-a-family-affair/#comments 5/8
devices, and cars that can hit 150 miles an hour must have a parachute at the back of
the car.
All of this costs a lot of money, and as Fred Thibeault from Middleton, N.S., describes
it, it has been many years since the winnings at a Nova Scotia race paid enough to
cover what it cost to build the car. At this point, everyone is doing it for the love of
fast cars and the thrill of racing.
Fred Thibeault is a local legend, and is still racing into his 70s. His Chevrolet Camaro is a thing of beauty. The
car beside it is driven by his son.
Fred Thibeault is a local legend, and is still racing into his 70s. His Chevrolet Camaro is a thing of beauty. The car beside it is driven by his son.

Thibeault’s 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS is a shiny red thing of beauty. He has been racing this car for 34 years, and it’s obviously his pride and joy. The car is, in some ways, still stock – the same car that came off the dealer’s lot when it was purchased – but over the years it has been slowly upgraded in nearly every way allowed by the NHRA rules.

Under the hood, the car is cleaner than most kitchens. The stock 375-cubic-inch engine has been bored out, and has seen the pistons, rings and camshaft replaced or upgraded to boost performance. A dry-sump oil tank makes sure that everything stays lubricated under extreme conditions. And the transmission – well, the outside is stock Chevy, but what’s inside is another thing altogether.

Another of Thibeault’s cars is the 1989 Camaro parked right next door at the track. It’s driven this weekend by Thibeault’s son Scott. He has three sons who drive, and two are here on this cool October weekend.

The race track family goes beyond the children and spouses who are part of the teams. The 160 drivers and hundreds of family members and spectators all seem to know each other, and spend as much time socializing as they do prepping their cars for the next run.

Drag racing today is high-tech. The Christmas tree tower at the start and the photosensors at the finish line time each run and generate the printed slips that each driver picks up on the way back to the pits. Inside the cars, many of today’s dragsters rely on an electronic box to time each shift to perfection. All you need to do is steer the car for a few seconds – the computer will make sure that each shift happens at the perfect moment.

Not everyone wants such a high-tech racing experience. The head of the Greenfield Dragway Association is David Joudrey. He explains that when he’s racing his 1979 Chevrolet Nova, he’ll do so in the “non-box” class, racing against people who still shift their own gears instead of letting the “box” do it.

24/11/2023, 18:22 In Nova Scotia, drag racing is a family affair - The Globe and Mailhttps://www.theglobeandmail.com/drive/mobility/article-drag-racing-in-nova-scotia-is-a-family-affair/#comments 7/8
Racers 'burn out' before racing to warm and clean their tires.
Racers ‘burn out’ before racing to warm and clean their tires.

At the start line, some things haven’t changed. Once you’ve done your prerun “burn-out” to warm up your tires, and have positioned your car’s nose at the starting point, you’ll have both the brake and the throttle pushed in as the Christmas tree counts down. You want your engine revs to be as high as possible before you start moving. Your aim is to release the brake when the lights hit “1/3 yellow” – if you wait until the green light comes on, you’ve already lost.

After a day revelling in the smoke and sound of these cars, I’m sadly reminded that I hardly drive over the speed limit any longer, and that it’s been years since I even did my own oil change. My Mazda CX-5 SUV is a convenience now, not the passion that my Charger used to be.

Still, as David Joudrey reminds me, if I can borrow a helmet, and can pass the safety inspection, my Mazda and I can join them at the Greenfield Dragway next season and recapture those days of speed – though I doubt my insurance policy will allow it.

24/11/2023, 18:22 In Nova Scotia, drag racing is a family affair - The Globe and Mailhttps://www.theglobeandmail.com/drive/mobility/article-drag-racing-in-nova-scotia-is-a-family-affair/#comments 8/8
Two racers are neck and neck as they pass boards displaying their times.
Two racers are neck and neck as they pass boards displaying their times.






Falling For Fall

By Barry Rueger
Published: Globe and Mail
October 14, 2023
1308 words

Western Head LighthouseIn Nova Scotia, September marks the peak of the hurricane season. All of us who live here, right next to the Atlantic Ocean, learn quickly to watch the skies, observe the winds and prepare for the kind of weather that many Canadians will never have experienced. So far this year, Hurricane Franklin grazed us with heavy rain before heading for Bermuda. Hurricane Idalia laid waste to Florida, but missed us. Then Hurricane Lee headed our way – arriving as a still-ferocious “post-tropical storm“ – and all of Nova Scotia braced as it hit us directly.

I grew up in British Columbia. Everything I know about hurricanes I learned from TV. What I didn’t know is that they are incredibly slow to arrive, and incredibly hard to predict. Living on the edge of the Atlantic, you learn that the only thing you can do for an impending hurricane or post-tropical storm is to prepare, and then wait for as long as it takes. After you have gassed up the generator and packed the patio furniture into the garage, all you can do is sit at home, endlessly refreshing Facebook for an update.

I am a city boy: I’ve lived and worked my life indoors, while weather has always been something that happened outdoors. Seasons were defined by changes in wardrobe and themed parties, and nature was what I found at nearby Princess Park, or on a sunny hike on the mountain trails above North Vancouver. The natural world was something I appreciated from time to time, but it wasn’t part of my day-to-day life.

Now I find myself fascinated by the patterns and progressions of the world around me. Since moving to Western Head, on Nova Scotia’s east coast, at the end of 2022, we’ve had different periods when we were overrun by various life forms: first with ticks, then mice, then big ants, and then mosquitoes. We had one week of big fat moths, and then bees and wasps arrived for a short stretch, and some little black bugs that we never did identify before they disappeared, too. And finally this week, inexplicably, we had fruit flies congregating unseen inside of a newly opened wine bottle, before riding the wave, drunkenly, into our wine glasses.

We’ve seen big brown snowshoe hares dancing around the yard, then disappearing, and now returning with little babies. We’ve seen a myriad of birds arrive, then depart as they migrate north or south, and now we look out every morning to see who is perching on our bird feeders today. What we’re learning is that the creatures around us are almost always temporary visitors, so we enjoy them when they’re here, then welcome the new birds that arrive the following week. In more practical terms, we watch the skies each day to calculate whether it’s safe to hang laundry on the line. We know that we need to stay alert for the time each day when the wind changes direction, to prevent the almost-dry clothes from getting damp again. We understand that when you only live a couple of hundred metres from the Atlantic Ocean, the official weather reports are at best a suggestion, and that looking out the window gives a better picture of what weather is about to come your way.

For the first time in my life, I find myself waking at 6 a.m. or earlier for the singular pleasure of watching the sun rise over the sea, revelling in the clouds’ changes as they move across the sky, and gauging the size and ferocity of the waves below us. For the first time in my life, I stop before going downstairs to make coffee, peer out of our bedroom window, and say, “Oh my God, that is so beautiful.”

And at day’s end, I look out from the back of our house and marvel at the breathtaking red sunsets behind our ancient old barn. Living here, you can’t avoid being conscious of the moments when the day begins and ends.

We’re only now learning when and how to plant a garden, and which of our two- and four-legged visitors will invade the vegetables and steal them. As newcomers to Nova Scotia, we planted far too early, and with 101 things to contend with in our new home, managed just barely to find time to observe as the rain and wind turned our tidy vegetable patch into a tangle of colourful but inedible weeds.

Our failing attempts at building a garden are honestly very sad when compared with the established gardens encircling our house. The flowers, bushes and shrubs that we inherited when we bought our home are simply brilliant. Each week, some new flower blooms: some white, some orange, some red, and a myriad of bushes and hedges appear and flourish with little or no warning. Once again, every morning I peek out the windows and marvel at what surprises have appeared. And I thank the people who obviously spent so many hours, months and years building a Garden of Eden that we can now sit back and admire.

The sea, too, changes from week to week and month to month. The height and violence of the waves shift, of course, but the sea winds also constantly change from one direction or another, from cold and destructive to warm and pleasant. When you live this close to the Atlantic shore, you learn to love the hissing sibilance of the waves blowing in from whichever direction the winds choose, and the equally romantic lowing moan of the foghorn in the lighthouse at the end of our road. In our part of Nova Scotia, there is something that has connected us to the natural rhythms of the world around us. In all of this, I’m looking at the patterns, the shifts in weather, the things that appear and prosper and the things that die off until next year. None of these are things that I ever really noticed while living in Vancouver or Toronto.

And now, of course, we’re looking forward to the rest of autumn, and then our first full winter in Nova Scotia. We know it will be cold, wet and windy, but we also now know it will be beautiful, breathtaking and awe-inspiring. And we know that on occasion, the Atlantic weather can be frightening, and even dangerous. I’m looking forward to Christmas; I can already see the snow that will cover the ground and the trees, and can smell the turkey in the oven. I’m planning now to order the plow for our tractor, and where to safely store the outdoor furniture. I’m looking at the big tree that I can see out of my window, looking for all the world like the grandest live Christmas tree imaginable.

In the midst of everything else, and during the endless changes and cycles that are now such a part of my life, I find myself wondering whether we should put the coloured lights in the trees now, while the weather is good.

In all of this, I’ve learned to slow myself, to wait until the next cycle, or the next season, and to be patient. I’ve found the space to stop, to look around me, and to trust that the opportunity, or the delight, that has passed me by will surely return in due course. Just as the birds who visit our feeders accept the bounty of seeds without question, I am learning to embrace the good things I see all around me, and leave aside any fears or doubts for the future in this new place.

For the first time in my life I understand that, like the birds, bunnies and flowers, I am really just one tiny part of a great and all-encompassing world, and that my happiness depends entirely on my accepting my place in that larger universe.

Hacking the Airwaves

By Barry Rueger
Published: 2600 The Hacker Quarterly
October 12, 2023
750 words


My hacking spirit dates from long before I used computers. My first memory of it dates back to some time before 1980 – before the Internet, before personal computers, and surely before cel phones.

My group of close friends and hard-core partiers included the trio of Marty, Brad, and Frank. Frank and I had met at cooking school in Vancouver, and the rest – as they say – is history. We drank, we smoked, and we partied, including one year when I arrived at a Hallowe’en party dressed as Annette Funicello (as a Mousketeer).

The biggest memory for me though was running a proper pirate radio station.

At some point Marty had been owed money, and had accepted a small FM radio transmitter and antenna as payment. Since he also had a successful and longstanding DJ business it was a match made in heaven.

DJing in those days meant turntables, wooden cases full of vinyl records, big amplifiers, bigger speakers, and on occasion a home-built refrigerator sized dry-ice fog machine. Fill it up with water, stick in an immersion heater for a few hours, then dump in the dry ice. Fog!

Soon that do-it-yourself spirit extended itself to radio.

The DJ setup in his living room was quickly attached to the transmitter, and the antenna was stuck out an upstairs window. It didn’t take a lot of time to figure out where the “empty” space was on the local FM band, and with a little bit of tweaking we were broadcasting a music mix like nothing you heard on commercial radio or the CBC. While Marty filled the airwaves with New Wave and alternative music, the rest of us took turns driving around town just to see how far our signal went.

Marty worked on the assumption that the guys at Industry Canada who monitored such things didn’t work weekends or holidays, and he kept the radio station limited to those days. It was fun, and harmless, and cost nothing.

Still, it felt an awful lot like broadcasting into outer space, and after a while everyone started wishing they knew who was listening, and what they liked.

My friend Brad came to the rescue. He was employed by BC Telephone. In those pre-digital days every phone line was attached to a mechanical switch, and each of those switches was hard wired into the network. That was how you got your phone number. Brad was one of the guys that made those connections.

Brad figured out that there were always a few unused numbers and switches, so every Friday afternoon he would connect one of them to Marty’s home phone. Now, as well as his own phone calls, Marty could get calls from listeners. Each Friday he got a new “On-Air” phone number, and each Monday morning it would disappear when Brad arrived at work.

It was perfect. The radio station was success, there were more listeners than any of us imagined, and we could even take requests! And as far as we could tell, it was risk-free.

That was true until Marty moved into a south-facing tenth floor apartment, and attached the antenna to his balcony railing. Suddenly his radio signal went much further, and was much clearer.

He arrived home from work one day and found an Industry Canada vehicle covered with antennas sitting at his front door. Even though as far as we could tell that spot on the radio dial was vacant, it turned out that he had been interfering with a legitimate radio station 50 miles south of us in Washington state. The broadcaster in question called the American FCC, they contacted the Canadian Industry Canada, and Marty was visited by some very official folks who politely, but firmly, asked that he give them the transmitter. To his credit Marty’s reaction was to smile and say “What took you so long?”

Looking back at it, that experience probably changed my life by getting me involved in legal community radio, moving me far to the left, and by teaching me to generally distrust government.

The lesson learned is that if you can help someone to break the law just a little bit – like crossing the street when the pedestrian light is red – and if you can quietly point out to them that absolutely no-one was harmed, and no-one arrested, then you’ve started someone down the road to being anti-authoritarian.

If you plant that seed at just the right time you can change their life. Maybe they’ll even turn into a hacker!

Japanese fusion comes to Nova Scotia’s South Shore

By Barry Rueger
Published: Globe and Mail
June 1, 2024
962 words

Partners and co-owners of Main & Mersey Dining Room and Coffee Bar, Shani Beadle, left, and Andreas Arnmar, right, are photographed at their restaurant in Liverpool, Nova Scotia on December 30, 2023.Meagan Hancock/The Globe and Mail

Andreas Arnmar and Shani Beadle’s road to restaurant ownership was what you could call uphill, right from the concept stage.

Late last year the husband and wife opened the Dining Room at Main & Mersey, an Japanese-fusion restaurant, in Liverpool on Nova Scotia’s South Shore. With a population of 2,500, the town boasts culinary options that lean toward fish and chips and lobster rolls.

Believing locals would appreciate the dishes they were envisioning, such as Oyster Mushroom Tempura or Agedashi Tofu, was a real leap of faith, they say now. And that was just the first challenge.

The couple’s culinary journey started small: with coffee. After moving to Liverpool from the U.K. in 2017 (Beadle is from B.C., while Arnmar was born and raised in Sweden), they opened home-furnishings store Main & Mersey on the town’s Main Street. Beadle’s background in fabric design positioned her well for the endeavour.

While she ran the shop, Arnmar renovated their new home and raised their young daughter. Two years later, they launched a small coffee shop behind the store because, in the words of Arnmar, “there wasn’t any good coffee that we liked around this area.”

Main & Mersey’s menu offerings include, lobster kani salad, left, and salmon misozuke, right.Meagan Hancock/The Globe and Mail

The coffee bar did a lot better than they expected, and so did the bakery they added in 2022, serving up treats such as cinnamon buns, lemon-curd croissants and spinach and feta rolls. Soon, she adds, “I saw how many people we turned away asking for proper food, who didn’t just want fish and chips and chowder. There was a massive gap in the food spectrum, especially when the tourists are in town.”

To fill that gap, Beadle and Arnmar knew they wanted to do something new, namely to go higher end and introduce different flavours to the town’s dining scene. They secured a bigger location just a few feet away from the furniture shop in fall, 2022, and began construction on the space.

A brand-new restaurant kitchen, a welcoming bar and an accessible washroom are all complemented by wood-topped tables, tropical plants and cozy lighting. Much of the painting and tile work was done by Beadle, Arnmar and local volunteers. And they converted the upper floor of the building into apartments, with rent offsetting part of the cost of renovations.

The interior of Main & Mersey Dining Room and Coffee Bar.Meagan Hancock/The Globe and Mail

The couple decided to bring along their pastry chef from the bakery, Aimee Corbet, and hired winemaker and mixologist, Alexandra Beaulieu, as well as a Peruvian-Japanese chef. Their Japanese-fusion menu is integral to their vision, of course, but Arnmar stresses that they’re out to do more than just serve food on plates.

“You can get a great cocktail, you can try a really amazing bottle of wine that you may not have had before. You get food that you may not have tried before, good service‚ and you’re in a beautiful space. It’s just kind of ticking the boxes.”

But inevitably, there were delays. Their grand opening was punted forward two months owing to a shortage of tradespeople in the region and because of government paperwork. In the meantime, they were on the hook for mortgage payments, construction costs and staff salaries.

And then, when opening weekend finally arrived last August, their chef made a sudden departure.

Beadle and Arnmar were faced with a new and almost impossible challenge: How do you run a restaurant without a trained chef? Fortunately, he had already trained the rest of the kitchen to prepare his menu. And Beadle stepped up to take on a job she never expected to fill as a member of the kitchen staff, doing prep for the evening, creating new menu items and training her staff. Meanwhile, Arnmar is up front, welcoming customers and greeting regulars by name.

The restaurant’s grand opening was punted forward two months owing to a shortage of tradespeople in the region.Meagan Hancock/The Globe and Mail

Opening the restaurant stretched the couple’s financial resources to the limit. The first big lifeline came from the FarmWorks Investment Co-operative, a Nova Scotia for-profit co-op that lends funds to food businesses in the province. The funding comes on the condition that the restaurant will buy from provincial producers, and serve Nova Scotia fish, meat and produce.

Beadle is on board. “The idea is we use 50 per cent locally sourced ingredients. That can be wine, that could be produce, that can be meat, that can be mushrooms or whatever. It could be distilled liquor that’s made in the province. Obviously, it’s easier in the summer months than in the winter, but we’re also doing things like pickles and other preserved ingredients. ”

Main & Mersey crowdfunded for the final push before opening day. Beadle posted an appeal on their website and received 85 per cent of the $50,000 they were seeking. “You can’t pull out once you’ve taken people’s money. It’s really impressive, that people in our community will step up like that.”

One of those community members is local Laurie-Anne Brown, who grew up in Liverpool in the 1980s when “it was a thriving paper mill town” with a bustling Main Street full of shops and restaurants.

She hopes new establishments like the Dining Room at Main & Mersey will restore “a thriving Main Street that I once knew.”

Beadle notes that the restaurant had donors from as far away as London and Toronto, but they’re counting on locals, like Brown, and residents of the province from further afield, too. “Build it and hopefully they’ll come. People already get in their car and drive an hour and a bit for our pastries so if the food is good … that’s the plan.”


Bad news

By Barry Rueger
Published: THIS Magazine
January/February, 2024
640 words
Read PDF.

THIS Magazine Jan/Feb 2024

One writer’s desperate howl for a good old-fashioned newspaper


I can still remember the linotype machines and drum-shaped metal plates of text and pictures that were loaded into the giant presses to print the paper’s pages.

They gave us a still-hot copy of that day’s paper. I kept it for years, and for decades I‘ve subscribed to the local daily newspaper everywhere I’ve lived. For the past year, that’s been in Liverpool, on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. Since arriving, I’ve realized that we’re in a news desert; a place where Facebook is the beginning and end of local news. That situation grew even worse when the Liberal government enacted Bill C-18, the Online News Act.

Since August, two months after Bill C-18 received royal assent, Facebook has refused to allow users to post Canadian news stories. For Facebook’s owner, Meta, leaving entire towns and regions with no local news whatsoever is a better choice than agreeing to pay the news organizations whose work Facebook users have been reporting.

Liverpool is a place where daily newspapers really don’t exist. Outside of one store in Halifax we can’t buy a Globe and Mail out here, there are no local dailies, and the tiny weeklies are hard to find. Nova Scotia’s largest paper, the Halifax Chronicle Herald, recently stopped printing on  Mondays, and has cut back on its home delivery. Still, every now and then one of the big papers or the CBC would run a story about Liverpool, and someone would post a link to it on a local Facebook page. Now, even that isn’t possible, and in the meantime, the prolonged death of newspapers continues.

In September the Hamilton Spectator shut down its newsroom, and its owner Torstar is ceasing to print dozens of small local papers, moving them online instead. Similar shutdowns are happening in small-town British Columbia.  It seems Southern Ontario and parts of B.C. are about to become news deserts just like southern Nova Scotia. Yes, you can still subscribe to many publications online, but there is a tangible difference between holding a printed paper and reading news on a screen. The printed page establishes the trustworthiness of the news outlet. Having trained reporters and editors and a physical printing press requires an investment that almost always leads to serious journalism. The time and money spent on reporters and editors is one reason why the New York Times and the Globe and Mail are still considered reliable. These publications have a long history as trusted news sources, and still feel a duty to maintain those standards. One may not like their editorial slants, but few seriously question the quality of their reporting.

In Liverpool, on the other hand, we just suffered through nearly two months of a boil-water advisory, and unless you followed the Facebook page for Queens County you wouldn’t have known what was—or wasn’t—happening. Because there are no local reporters, there was also no one asking questions about why an entire town had no drinkable water.

Meta’s actions are not new. For decades, the handful of publishers who control almost all of our news outlets have dramatically reduced reporting staff while shrinking newspaper page counts, and at the same time have closed or merged dozens of small local papers that they’d acquired. What Nova Scotia’s South Shore is experiencing, and what southern Ontario and B.C. are about to experience, is the harsh reality of living in a place where media ceases to be the watchdog that holds governments and corporations accountable, and where there’s no trusted source for people to sort fact from fiction.

Sometime before 2000, 30 years after my field trip, I visited the Conrad Black-era Hamilton Spectator with a friend who worked there. My vivid memory is of hundreds of square meters of blue carpet – half of the giant newsroom – sitting empty of furniture.  Governments turned their heads while Black decimated newsrooms, just as they turn their heads today.


Restaurant workers demand tip protection

By Barry Rueger
Published: The Media Co-op
May 29, 2024
1205 words

Tens of thousands of servers in restaurants and cafés across Canada rely on tips to survive. Restaurant front-of-house staff are almost always paid minimum wage, and the extra 15 to 20 per cent can mean the difference between paying the rent or skimping on groceries.

In an age of debit and credit cards, tipping your server almost always means tapping your card on a Stripe or Interac terminal. It’s fast and easy, and you don’t have to do mental math to figure out the tip amount. One question remains, though: do you know if your cheerful server will actually see any of that money?

The Halifax Workers’ Action Centre has made tips a focus of their work, with questionnaires and outreach to try and determine how widespread the problem of tip theft might be. “Tip theft” refers to when an employer refuses to let servers keep their tip income, sometimes by insisting that it be split with kitchen and other staff, but even worse by simply taking all of that money for themselves.

Halifax WAC organizer Syd Blum describes the challenges faced by ordinary restaurant employees. “Workers have a very difficult time accessing justice because the cost of lawyers is prohibitive. Nova Scotia is one of the very few provinces in Canada that doesn’t classify tips as wages. So workers are really in that tricky middle ground where, at the federal level, tips are considered income, but provincially they’re not protected, like wages are.”

The WAC surveyed restaurant workers in Halifax, and of more than 250 responses, nearly three-quarters had experienced some form of tip theft. According to Blum, “whether they were currently having their tips stolen, had previously worked somewhere where tips were stolen, or knew someone who was experiencing tip theft — it was widespread. And we cast a wide net, we didn’t just seek out people with experience in tip theft.”

When diners left tips in cash this was less of an issue. Now that almost all tips go through the restaurant’s electronic payment systems, it’s often the case that servers can’t even be sure what their customers left for them as tips.

Halifax WAC warns servers that employers may not pass-on all tips from Point-Of-Sale (POS) machines, or that tip-pooling with kitchen and other staff might quietly include a cut for the bosses. Other employers deduct credit card fees from tips.

One former Nova Scotia restaurant worker, Pers Turner, recalls a major food service company that owned restaurants and did catering menus, but refused to pay catering employees tips, even though they were added to client bills at the end of the day.

“For their catering staff, they did take all of the tips, and their justification was that they paid their catering staff more,” Turner says. “The bills for catering had the customers paying a gratuity, but all of that money went to the company.”

Denying tip protection

In November of 2023, that dilemma led Nova Scotia NDP MLA Kendra Coombes to introduce Bill 366, the Tip and Gratuity Theft Prevention Act. Modelled after similar Acts in other provinces, it would have protected workers’ tips from greedy employers.

A year and a half later, Nova Scotia’s Conservative government has decided not to move ahead with tip protection. Their argument, common among those who dismiss tip protection, is that “in Nova Scotia, tips are not considered wages and the Labour Standards Code does not address tip protection.”

Currently, six Canadian provinces have legislation protecting workers’ tip income. The three prairie provinces, Nova Scotia and the three northern territories do not. Most employers are happy to pass on tips to the servers who earn them, but I spent several hours scouring provincial Reddit groups across Canada, and examples appeared everywhere. The amounts lost are often relatively small, and servers are generally making close to minimum wage.

Blum says because the costs of launching legal action against an employer are often unaffordable, these thefts are just accepted as part of the job.

“The Halifax WAC exists because the cost of hiring a lawyer is prohibitive to most people — especially those making service industry wages,” she says. “We get a lot of people who were turned away from employment lawyers’ offices because they’re told the value of their claim would be far outweighed by legal fees and it’s just not worth it.”

The Canadian Revenue Agency has taken tips much more seriously. For decades, they have been known to audit restaurants to tally servers’ tips and assess whether income taxes have been paid on them. Now the CRA website is explicit in how the employer needs to track tips: “If any of your tips and gratuities are controlled by your employer, your tip income amount should already be included on your T4 slip.”

Despite Nova Scotia’s claim that tips aren’t wages, the CRA says that “in Canada, the amount you earn in tips and gratuities is considered to be income, and you must report all of it on your tax return.”

In other words, Nova Scotia will expect your server to pay provincial income tax on tip income, even though the province refuses to protect that income from employer theft.

Manitoba, which had been under Progressive Conservative rule for seven and a half years, took things one step further. The Employment Standards: An Adult EAL Curriculum Resource, a program designed to introduce Employment Standards concepts to newcomers while developing English as a second language, teaches students that, “Legally … the server’s tips belong to the employer, so the employer can take money from the server’s tips.”

Despite the 2023 election of the NDP’s Wabanakwut “Wab” Kinew, that remains provincial policy. In an email statement to The Media Co-op, Robyn Dryden, a policy analyst in the Department of Labour and Immigration, says: “The Employment Standards Code defines ‘wages’ as ‘compensation for work performed that is paid to an employee by his or her employer…’ [as] tips are paid by the customer rather than the employer, and are considered to be similar to a bonus rather than a wage.”

Helping servers directly

If you eat in restaurants on the prairies, or in Nova Scotia, you may need to take steps to ensure that your server receives the tips that you leave. One option is to return to carrying cash for tips, and leaving — or handing to them discreetly — a $10 or $20 bill at the end of dinner.

Alternatively, you can ask your server: “If I leave a tip on the terminal, who gets that money? Is it you?”

Blum encourages talking “to workers about this, especially as customers.”

“It’s one thing if an organizer comes in and starts talking about tip theft, but it’s another thing if people who are in the shop every day buying coffee or eating breakfast are having those conversations. We really encourage that,” she says.

For tips to be protected province-wide — something workers have been calling for — Blum says all it takes is a little political will.

“What’s wild about tip theft in Nova Scotia is that we’re not asking the government to create some kind of new program. We’re talking about a line on a piece of paper. It’s an amendment to legislation, so it would cost the government nothing.”

I’m 68 and hired a personal trainer because I’ve always hated working out. For the first time ever, I feel great and am making progress.

By Barry Rueger
Published: Business Insider
May 10, 2024
554 words
Downloadable PDF

Barry ties his shoes on a bench at the gym.As a kid, I hated gym class and lived with my nose in a book. While my classmates were playing hockey or soccer, I was in the library on my way to becoming a writer.

Over the years, I occasionally visited the gym with my wife who loves working out, but I never really embraced fitness until recently.Exercise is important at any age, but this is especially true for older adults. After all, working out can prevent or delay age-related health issues. With this in mind, I decided to make a change.

Now, at 68, I’ve fallen in love with working out, thanks to my personal trainer. Here’s what starting my fitness journey later in life has been like.

Read the entire story at Business Insider.

How to save a bundle on rental car insurance and make sure you are covered

By Barry Rueger
Published: Globe and Mail
March 8, 2024
1065 words
Downloadable PDF

After landing at an airport, many of us will proceed to collect our luggage and head to the car rental counter. It is there that they will invariably offer to sell you insurance.

I’ve been in this same situation countless times, but after a recent trip to Vancouver where the price of the insurance offered was more than the price to rent the car, I decided to do some digging to find out the smartest options.

Every rental will include basic liability coverage. It’s required by provincial law. But some kind of additional insurance to pay for damage to the car is a good idea. The cost to repair even small dings or a cracked windshield can quickly run into the thousands of dollars.

Accepting the offer at the counter is usually a very expensive way to get that insurance.

We recently rented a car in Vancouver from Hertz. When we made the booking on Expedia, the site offered insurance for nearly half of the price that we were going to pay for the car rental. We declined Expedia’s offer and assumed we would do better at the Hertz counter.

We were wrong. For a two-week rental of a mid-sized car, Hertz was charging us $380.72. The “loss damage waiver” it offered, covering physical damage to the car, as well as theft or vandalism, but not injuries, would have cost an additional $489.86.

We declined.

What I have learned is to plan ahead.

There are choices out there, but the time to research them is well before you book the car, not at the rental desk.

Almost every insurance option requires that you already be a customer, whether it’s your own auto insurance company, the credit card you use, or the website that you use to make travel bookings.

In our case, it turned out that Expedia would have been a better option than Hertz. If we had purchased rental insurance through Expedia, we could have bought a “travel insurance policy” for the same two-week rental for $241.80 – that’s $16.12 a day, or slightly less than half of what Hertz wanted to charge us. Even more amazing: The Expedia package includes not just collision coverage, but trip cancellation coverage, and will pay some emergency medical expenses.

If you don’t use Expedia (or similar booking websites), those rates are similar to another option called RentalCover.com, a standalone rental car insurance site that will set up your insurance prior to picking up the car. Unlike some car rental insurance policies, RentalCover will insure all drivers listed on the rental agreement as well as fees for loss of use and towing, and they’ll cover trips of more than 30 days. They’ll also cover you if you’re renting a motorhome or recreational vehicle.

In this case, while still at the rental counter, we chose to call the insurer who provides our car insurance in Nova Scotia. Our agent added rental car coverage to our existing auto policy, and assured us that we were now fully covered for an annual fee of $32 a year. That quick call saved us hundreds of dollars.

The other insurance option that is often available is though your credit card. Most major credit cards offer some form of rental car insurance as part of their package of benefits. Call your card company or visit their website ahead of time to make sure your specific card package includes this coverage.

As you’re doing this research, be sure to ask some careful questions. For instance, if you decide to accept insurance coverage from the rental company, will you still be covered by an outside insurance policy? It’s generally an either/or proposition. And you should be clear that the auto rental company might require the cardholder to pay for damages with their credit card, with your card company reimbursing you after the claim is processed.

In other words, you might find your credit card maxed out.

Beyond that, rental insurance plans all have various rules. Most companies have age restrictions. Expedia, for instance, excludes drivers under 25 years of age, or over 70. Some insurance packages exclude camper vans and the like. All of them insist that you stay on paved roads and obey rules about drinking and driving.

Before booking your rental car, look carefully to make sure that your credit card insurance includes your entire planned trip – especially if you’re travelling to more than one country – and the specific vehicle type that you hope to drive.

And if there will be more than one driver, always ask if both you and your partner are covered. Some rental car insurance packages will charge double for a second driver.

If you damage your rental car, understand that using outside insurance may leave you faced with paying the entire cost of repairs before you can claim it from your own insurance company. Hertz, for instance, is specific that if you “choose to decline Hertz’s coverage, you will be responsible to Hertz for the full value of any damage due to loss of or damage to the Hertz vehicle. If loss does occur, you must then submit a claim for reimbursement to your credit card company.”

In recent years, we’ve had to negotiate claims with both car rental companies and the company that moved our household. We’ve learned that it’s worth taking the time to document anything that might come back to haunt you. Even though you’ll be anxious to get on the road, find a well-lit spot to stop, examine the car for existing damage and take photos. If you see any sort of dings, dents or scratches, call the rental office and tell them.

And if you bring the car back, and the rental agent suddenly demand hundreds or thousands of dollars to repair damage? Always be reasonable, but never feel a rental agent’s assessment is the final word.

People make mistakes, and they especially make mistakes when examining a dirty car in a dark, underground garage. Insist that they show you exactly what they think needs repair. If you don’t believe that you caused the damage, or that the damage merits a claim, say so.

I love rental cars and the chance to drive a new make and model of car every time that I travel. Now that I understand how to manage my insurance, I’m sure my next trip will be that much more relaxing.

Bell Canada owes Canadians

By Barry Rueger
Published: Canadian Journalist.ca
February 13, 2024
1160 words

Bell Canada is set to axe 4,800 jobs, sell dozens of radio stations, cut newsrooms across Canada, and destroy CTV’s star investigative program W5.

The announcement by BCE Inc. made big news-but the real damage was done decades ago.

Canadian news has long been an expanding wasteland.

What saddens me is that government could have prevented this–and still has the power to fix it.

Full column is available at https://canadianjournalist.ca/column-bell-canada-owes-canadians/

At Issue

By Barry Rueger
Published: CBC Gem
December 28, 2023

CBC’s political panel asked me to provide a year-end question.  Rosemary Martin hosts the discussion, and I ask why Justin Trudeau lacks the backbone to stand up to oil companies .  I appear at about 7:32.