News

1. How long will in-person schooling last?

Photo: MChe Lee/Unsplash

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Kids across the province went back to school in person yesterday. But for how long? Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) president Paul Wozney tells Yvette d’Entremont he is not optimistic.

“I wish I could be more optimistic and rosy. But being pragmatic, I just don’t see how what we’re doing can be sustained on any kind of long timetable.”

There is the staffing issue of course — if teachers get sick or have to isolate — as we have seen with health-care.

But Wozney says teachers are worried about the lack of contact tracing, the fear that they will bring COVID-19 home to their loved ones, and about restrictions on who they can tell if they turn out to be close contacts.

He said the fact schools won’t be notifying people when they’re a close contact of a positive case has left many teachers “sick to their stomachs.”

“If a parent calls them and says ‘Hey, my kid is COVID positive, you should self-isolate. Please pass that along to other people,’ they’re being told they’re not allowed to do that,” he said.

Wozney said teachers are reaching out to him concerned about the potential impact this back-to-school approach may have on the community’s most vulnerable. Some teachers have been told unless they test positive for COVID-19, they must show up for work, even if they’re symptomatic.

“Most people aren’t terrified that it’s going to ruin their life and their health as they know it, but there’s lots of people who are worried that they’re going to bring it home to auntie so-and-so or Uncle Bob who’s 90 and has Crohn’s and asthma,” Wozney said.

The story also gets into ways to make schools safer, how other unions are supporting the NSTU, and a crowdsourced effort at contact tracing. You should read the whole thing.

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2. Police board to hold hearings before approving next year’s budget

A stenciled “defund the police” seen painted on a Halifax sidewalk on April 13, 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

At yesterday’s meeting, the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners accepted the report it had commissioned on defunding the police and agreed to hold a virtual public meeting on the police budget, Zane Woodford reports.

Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella is seeking a 2.3% increase to the police budget, with the money going to hire more officers. Woodford writes:

After the board asked for more information at its meeting in December, Kinsella provided an often-flimsy rationale for each of the new positions.

For instance, Kinsella used a line graph without a labelled Y-axis, purportedly showing a dramatic increase in mental health and PTSD claims among officers, to justify the request for new personnel. For a civilian position to handle Freedom of Information requests, Kinsella cited an increase in FOI requests over the last two years and showed a misleading bar graph.

El Jones, who chaired the commission studying police defunding, presented the report and its 36 recommendations to the board:

“We have disinvested and defunded social services and then turned to the police to fill in the gaps, which is also not fair to the police, and not reasonable or rational or efficient, or the best way of doing things,” Jones said.

“So in order to shift away from policing, we also need to shift the way we resource other organizations and the way, more importantly, that we think about why we rely on police when we can rely on other strategies … defunding police is in many ways about reinvesting in fundamental and historically underfunded community resources.

Coun. Lisa Blackburn said she will bring a motion to the next meeting to strike a subcommittee that will examine the proposals and make recommendations.

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3. Four new COVID-19 deaths; 73 people hospitalized

Photo: Edward Jenner/Pexels

Tim Bousquet reports on the latest COVID-19 numbers. Four more Nova Scotians have died of the disease:

The deceased are:
• a man in his 40s who lived in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone
• a man is his 70s who lived in the Central Zone
• a man in his 80s who lived in the Eastern Zone
• a woman in her 90s who lived in the Central Zone

There are now now 73 people in hospital who were admitted because of COVID symptoms and are still in COVID units, 10 of whom are in ICU. Those 73 range in age from 0 (one is a child under 5) to 100 years old, and the average age is 67. The average hospital stay is six days.

Booster shot appointments are now open to all Nova Scotians who are 18 years of age or older, provided it’s been at least 168 days since their previous shot.

CBC has an interview this morning with musician Asif Illyas on his experience of being hospitalized with COVID-19 last year:

I think certain things that you worry about before something like this happens, they become insignificant. You know, when you’re in the entertainment industry, you’re always trying to get out there and exposure and thinking of projects to do and everything. There’s like a rat race feeling.

And I realized after going through this … those things all sort of went away because I realized what’s important in life more. Not that I didn’t before … but just noticing things, just the simplest, simplest things, like staring at a tree.

That was a very profound summer for me, and when I came back into work, I just sort of started realizing how much this affects everybody … Now I see it as something that affects everyone in a different way; and I, for some reason, was chosen to go through that horrible journey. But it just seems to be so random … there’s that guilt that when you leave, you [think], why was I given the chance?

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4. Biomass giant kicked off green energy index

Fallen trees outside the Brooklyn Energy biomass plant. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

Last week, Bousquet wrote about how burning wood chips for biomass is not green energy:

[The claim] that biofuels are carbon neutral is outright denied by scientists who look at the entire carbon footprint of forests used for biofuels. Long story short: most of the carbon in a forest is not in the trees but in the soil, and by over-harvesting forests for wood chips and other products, the soil is so eroded that an enormous carbon sink is lost … This is not green energy.

Nova Scotia Power relies on biomass for “as much as 3%” of the province’s electricity supply. (I note that NSP refers to biomass as “renewable” rather than green, or environmentally friendly.)

Anyway, Corporate Knights magazine reports in some depth on the trouble with calling biomass green energy, and notes that tree-burning giant Drax Group (which owns plants in Canada) has been kicked off the S&P Global Clean Energy Index.

Writer Adria Vasil says treating biomass as green energy goes back to the Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997:

From the late 1990s, industry and governments have largely considered burning wood pellets in power stations to be renewable, zero-emitting energy, since planting new trees should, theoretically, absorb enough carbon dioxide to cancel out the emissions that come out of smokestacks as they burn.

Not so fast though:

[In October of last year] a study led by Princeton University, published in the journal Science, called out a “serious” error in the climate accounting rules widely applied to biomass energy since the Kyoto Protocol. “This accounting erroneously treats all bioenergy as carbon neutral regardless of the source of the biomass…. For example, the clearing of long-established forests to burn wood or to grow energy crops is counted as a 100% reduction in energy emissions despite causing large releases of carbon.

The carbon-neutral assumption might be true if you’re using perennial grasses or twigs, but scientists say that tree plantations don’t store as much carbon as natural forests, and regrowth takes time. It could take 40 to 100 years for planted trees to absorb the carbon debt released by biomass power plants (in boreal forests those estimates jump to 100 years).

So the energy is only carbon-neutral if you wait up to a century.

But it gets even worse:

Back in 2018, MIT scientist John Sterman concluded that “burning wood to produce energy can actually worsen climate change, at least through the year 2100 — even if wood displaces coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel.” In early 2021, the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council affirmed that using woody biomass for power “is not effective in mitigating climate change and may even increase the risk of dangerous climate change.”

The story goes on to call bullshit on Drax’s claims that the wood it sources is sustainable.

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5. Meta and the allegedly horrible no good very bad glasses

Last July, provincial venture capital fund Innovacorp cashed out its investment in Meta Materials, making $104 million on the sale. Looking into the sale, Mary Campbell of the Cape Breton Spectator wrote:

There’s no denying the victory, the entire VC fund, created in 2016, was just $25 million, but is this Innovacorp showing its investment acumen by betting on an up-and-coming startup — or is this Innovacorp profiting from a meme stock?

A meme stock, for those of you lucky enough not to know, is a stock that gets hyped by social media in general and investors on Reddit, a popular collection of online forums, in particular. (I hear your snickering at that school-marmish definition of your community, Redditers, and I accept it.)

Now, Campbell looks at what she calls a “scathing” report from a US investment firm, and a class-action lawsuit filed (but not yet certified) against Meta Materials.

Campbell says the Meta Materials story is hard to sort out:

This story is difficult to tell because everywhere you turn you find unreliable narrators — it’s either people with a vested interested in driving the company’s share price up or people with a vested interest in driving it down.

The US investment firm is Kerrisdale Capital, which says Meta’s business is “comprised of a whole lot of nothing: no real revenue, no promising technologies, undeveloped products, no track record of achievement.”

Campbell looks at what Kerrisdale has to say about Meta’s metaAIR laser glare protection (LGP) glasses, which are supposed to protect airline pilots from being momentarily blinded by lasers.

But first, she gives us some background:

The glasses began life as “thin films” that “would be applied to aircraft windows to protect against laser strikes that could affect pilot vision,” and were the brainchild of Lamda Guard, the company, founded by [George] Palikaras in 2011, that later became Metamaterials (now Meta Materials).

Lamda/Meta received $500,000 from ACOA in 2012 to develop its films and in 2014, it entered Airbus Corporate Innovation’s Start-Up 2 Partner program during which it says it “tested and tailored metaAIR for potential application on to its aircraft.”

In 2015, ACOA gave Meta a $3 million interest-free loan to “verify nanostructured laser filter technologies.”

Early in 2017, Entrevestor reported that Airbus and Meta were:

“…moving into commercial production of metaAIR, and plan[ned] to manufacture the laser-filtering screens in the Halifax area…”

Later that same year, Meta announced a memorandum of understanding with Satair, Airbus’ parts and equipment distribution subsidiary, which was to “lead to an exclusive multi-million dollar global distribution agreement to bring MTI’s laser protection product metaAIR to the civil aviation market.” The product, at this point, was still being described as a film that could be affixed to the inside of an aircraft cockpit.

In 2018, ACOA gave Meta an interest-free, $3 million loan to build a production facility.

Sounds great! How many of these glasses did they sell? Glad you asked. Campbell quotes Kerrisdale again:

The problem is that the glasses have been a complete commercial failure. While Satair paid Meta $1 million (C$1.3 million) in the 2018 agreement to become the exclusive distributor of the glasses through 2026, and even put in a C$2 million purchase order before that distribution agreement was even signed, Meta’s financial filings indicate that it has never been able to actually produce the glasses at even modest scale. A total of 50 units were sold to Satair in 2019, while another 2 were sold to an undisclosed national air force. We estimate that Meta also sold about 30 units through its website in the first quarter of this year (maybe it was the fact that they put the glasses on sale for $1000, a large price cut from the normal $1800 MSRP). That’s it.

Oh, and that production facility? Still not built.

I think we’ll be hearing more about Meta Materials.

As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, and so this article is behind the Spectator’s paywall. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
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Views

1. Harry Bruce on Alexa McDonough

Alexa McDonough at a campaign event for Jagmeet Singh in Halifax in 2019. Photo: Zane Woodford

Last summer, I was at a thrift shop in PEI and saw a pile of copies of Atlantic Insight on the magazine rack. Cover stories included Anne Murray, Matt Minglewood, Brian Mulroney, and Alexa McDonough. That’s kind of interesting, I thought, and tweeted a pic of the magazine covers.

Well, little did I know that copies of Atlantic Insight — a one-time formidable regional local interest magazine, were rare indeed. After that was pointed out to me on Twitter I went and bought the rest of the copies in the shop, then asked a relative on PEI if she could go back the next day and find out if the store had any more copies out back. (She did and they did, and so now I’m the proud owner of several issues of Atlantic Insight).

One of the copies that first caught my eye was the one from November 1982, and featured the above-mentioned Alexa cover story, written by Harry Bruce, who won an Atlantic Journalism Award for it.

The November 1982 issue of Atlantic Insight, with Alexa McDonough on the cover. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

Bruce starts off portraying McDonough in the legislature, “alone among 51 political enemies, all men.” He continues:

Their attitude ranged from bemused tolerance for “an intelligent gal” to the undisguised hatred of Paul MacEwan. He is the member from Cape Breton Nova. Her party had expelled him. She had approved his expulsion. Now he behaved in the legislature as though he believed his highest duty was to vilify her family till she wept in public. She didn’t. She laughed at him, and she attacked…

“It literally makes me sick to my stomach,” she says, “to talk about the member for Cape Breton Nova.”

A question that “always comes up,” Bruce says, is:

Alexa, how on earth do you run a political party and at the same time still do your duty to your husband [Peter McDonough] and two boys?

Wouldn’t it be great if this wasn’t a question that still came up — albeit phrased differently — to women in politics?

In answer to the question, Bruce writes:

He had his schedule. She had hers. They loved their boys. They hired a cleaning woman to come in once a week, and a girl student to live in a downstairs apartment and, when neither parent could get home, to fix food for the boys. Friends and relatives helped too. Peter and Alexa, both under pressure, could rely on what’s sometimes called “the extended family.” And, as Peter says, “The kids and I got to know a lot of fast-food outlets.” Alexa’s career forced him to change some of his habits but, “Boy, it’s been fascinating. Lots of times it’s been a pain in the arse, too, but there’s hardly been a dull moment.”

The NDP took 18% of the popular vote in the election that saw McDonough voted in. Bruce quotes Al Hollingsworth of the Daily News as saying he thought the party would form a government within eight years.

Bruce writes:

It is possible to believe that the cause of some of her misery in the legislature stemmed from a recognition among Grits and Tories that this unsettling woman — with her strong, even features and blue eyes that glitter with force and intelligence — was potentially dangerous. About such matters politicians are not stupid.

The entire issue has been lovingly archived online, so you can read the full story here.

The ongoing Atlantic Insight archiving project can be accessed here. If you happen to have a copy that’s not on the page, the archivist would love to hear from you at <bluesnooze at yandex dot com>. (Replace the “at” with “@” and “dot com” with “.com”)

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Noticed

The stretch between Shed 21 and the Annex Building on the Halifax waterfront. Photo: Steven Schwinghamer

Historian Steven Schwinghamer works at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 and rides his bike to work. (Disclosure: I do some freelance work for the museum.)

Last fall, he wrote an interesting piece for the Active History website on what his cycling commute tells him about the history of the areas he bikes through.

He writes:

My route includes Beechville, a historic African Nova Scotian community; the old rail and streetcar connections for the city (with their associated car-centric modern forgetting); and some of the water, salt and fresh, that has defined human relationships with Kjipuktuk, the Great Harbour, for time immemorial. As a public historian, I enjoy saying hello to the city’s landmarks current, lost, and debatable. I ride by the Public Gardens and the Commons, the Citadel, the prior site of the “Morris” house that didn’t quite belong to the right Morris, and Peace and Friendship Park where stood the statue that was supposed to be Cornwallis, but wasn’t. I often indulge in a detour to ride directly alongside the harbour, where vast container ships lumber along under the guns of Fort Charlotte. Fishing boats set out from Eastern Passage, not far from the graves of a pair of Nova Scotian seamen who succumbed to smallpox at the quarantine station on Lawlor’s Island in 1901.

Schwinghamer says when you ride through an area you are, of course, aware of topography. And the striking thing about riding through the Ocean Terminals area, where he works is that it is flat. “Absolutely nothing in Halifax is naturally flat,” he writes. So that gets him wondering what was there before:

Well, lots of things: Steele’s Pond and Greenbank, at least one brook, a lumber yard, homes, the historical garrison of the Royal Engineers, some of Joe Howe’s favourite stomping grounds in Point Pleasant Park, and more. Destroying these was and remains as much a part of the cost of the Ocean Terminals as the nineteen million dollars or so expended for construction. Riding a bike over the transition points from the natural slopes of the city to the filled terminal site indicates the substantial scales of change and loss, an aspect of the place that is not acknowledged much in the public memory of the city.

Schwinghamer gets into the history of the rail cut in the South End and the ire it provoked. And then he points us to Shed 21:

One of the last views I have on my commute to work is the awkward tail end of historic shed 21, hanging out between the renovated shed 20 and Pier 21 National Historic Site, the shed that was mostly rebuilt by NSCAD and the Canadian Museum of Immigration.  The stub of brick at the north end of shed 21 was the old immigration hospital, where the resident nurse had her apartment, and where immigrants and detained travelers waited out medical conditions that prevented further travel. The most common occupants were kids and expectant or just-delivered moms with new teacup humans, and it wasn’t unusual to have a bunch of little ones with chicken pox stuffed away in one of the rooms after they all licked each other on the ship over.

I have never met Schwinghamer, but he seems like an interesting guy, and the full post is worth your time. It is part of a series by biking historians.

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Government

City

Tuesday

Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm) — virtual meeting

Wednesday

Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am) — virtual meeting

Province

Tuesday

Veterans Affairs (Tuesday, 1pm) —Women and Gender Diverse Veterans Issues, with Maya Eichler, via video conference

Special Committee to Review the Estimates of the Auditor General and the Chief Electoral Officer (Tuesday, 3:30pm) — video conference

House of Assembly Management Commission (Tuesday, 4pm) — video conference

Wednesday

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am) — location not listed; Operational and Department Oversight Failures at Island Employment and Government Oversight of Third-Party Use of Public Funds


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

No events

Wednesday

An African Nova Scotian Community Calling In (Wednesday, 6:30pm) — Online panel discussion brings together respected members of the African Nova Scotian community representing a variety of life experiences and knowledges. Together they will generate a conversation concerning systemic issues facing the community. Register here.

Mount Saint Vincent

Tuesday

No events

Black and Indigenous Speaker Series: The Healing Thereafter (Wednesday, 12pm) — Register now for Wednesday’s virtual panel discussion of intergenerational trauma and the soul wound resulting from residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.

Our emphasis is to unpack the causal arc that brings us to this current moment, the effects of intergenerational trauma on resultant contemporary conditions, and paths, programs, and policies of healing, resilience, and restoration. The focus of this presentation is healing of identity and a path forward through understanding the dynamics that perpetuate cycles of the soul wound.


In the harbour

Halifax
10:00: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
15:30: Boheme, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Zeebrugge, Belgium
23:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea

Cape Breton
01:30: Resilient Warrior, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
02:30: Aurviken, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Halifax


Footnotes

I wrote today’s Morning File while sitting under a blanket by the woodstove and listening to Cannonball Adderley.


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Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. Thanks for the tributes to Alexa. With reference to the cleaning woman, I recall a family friend, disgruntled by all accounts but particularly politically (she was a card carrying Liberal), complain that Alexa couldn’t be a socialist or social democrat because she had a housekeeper.

    I was a teenager at the time, but this argument somehow never held up – what exactly is the problem with hiring someone for labour if you’re paying them at least minimum wage but hopefully a living wage and not exploiting them? A lot of the criticism toward Ms. McDonough sprouted from this sort of bitterness that she stopped channeling her privilege into the already bottomless pools of relatively well-off folks working for and with one another in the two dominant parties.

  2. ““If a parent calls them and says ‘Hey, my kid is COVID positive, you should self-isolate. Please pass that along to other people,’ they’re being told they’re not allowed to do that,” he said.”
    Who’s telling them they can’t do that and why would they listen?

  3. I subscribed to Atlantic Insight for years – loved it. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep any copies. I don’t believe there is a comparable magazine in this province now. If there is, what is it?

  4. Good job on the police report. We’ll see how far it goes and how much alarmist pushback there will be from an increasingly sketchy chief and police union.

    $90 million!

    Imagine what programs the library or Rec department could provide with a fraction of that money.

    1. The $90,000,000 cost includes the cost of RCMP which is subsidised by the federal government – HRM does not pay the full cost of the RCMP.
      Like all other HRM employees the police have the 2nd most expensive pension plan in the public sector in Canada – Calgary police pension plan is more expensive. HRM is a violent place and has been for over 20 year but you won’t find Mayor Savage talking about the history of violence.
      Not much has changed since this report was presented to the BOPC in February 2012 : http://legacycontent.halifax.ca/boardscom/bpc/documents/120213bopc631.pdf