It’s November and that means it’s subscription drive time here at the Halifax Examiner. Your subscriptions are what support the Examiner and its writers. So, I’m writing today’s Morning File because of your support.
I started reading the Examiner in its early days when it was a one-man show with Tim writing Morning Files and just about everything else. I’ve been a subscriber for a while. I do remember thinking the Examiner was where the media was heading. I also remember thinking I’d love to write for the Examiner, too.
I kept reading as Tim added new writers, including Stephen Kimber, whose work I’ve read for years, and El Jones, who started filling in on Saturday Morning Files. I’ve been writing Morning Files for more than two years now.
What I enjoy about Morning File is the space Tim gives me to write just about anything. Of course, several times I’ve written about all those terrible jobs ads readers send me. But sometimes I write Morning Files on a subject from one observation I make, like that piece I wrote in the summer about why people ignore warning signs.
But there are other reasons I enjoy being part of the Examiner’s team. It’s the respect and collaboration that goes on behind the scenes. And I also get to learn from the other writers like Joan Baxter and Linda Pannozzo, who research and write these in-depth articles on subjects I’m still learning about.
I’ll tell you one thing about Tim, too: He really respects and appreciates us writers. One day in the spring, he called to walk me through a technical issue on the website, but before he did, he thanked me for all my hard work and said how he enjoyed reading the stories I dug up each week. This wasn’t the first thank you I got from Tim. He’s really created an environment of respect with this publication, even though we see each other in person very rarely, especially these days. That kind of environment makes our work better.
There’s another person behind the scenes that makes working for the Examiner even better. That’s Iris the Amazing, whose humour and hard work keep us on track every Morning File. Iris and I often talk outside of work and I consider her a friend. We joke how we’re both so hilarious Tim should give us a podcast.
So, thank you to all the subscribers for supporting the Examiner and supporting us. We appreciate it and you’re part of the team, too. If you don’t subscribe, you can sign up here.
1. It’s the Morning After the U.S. Election File
As I write this, the U.S. election is still too close to call, but this is how I’m feeling.
I’m going to watch Netflix and eat leftover Halloween treats all day. I’m sure others are having something a lot stronger. Maybe I’ll join you.
2. Supreme Court of Canada orders new trial for Randy Riley
El Jones reports on the Supreme Court of Canada’s unanimous decision to vacate the second degree murder conviction for Randy Riley and ordered a new trial. Riley was convicted back in March 2019 in the murder of Chad Smith. Jones writes:
The appeal focused on the warning given to the jury about the witnesses in the case. Known as a Vetrovec warning, it concerns the special considerations required when considering evidence from an “unsavoury” witness. Nathan Johnson, Riley’s co-accused who was convicted of first degree murder in the same case, offered evidence that exculpated Riley when Johnson confessed to killing Smith on his own.
The Supreme Court agreed with the argument put forward by Riley’s appeal lawyers Lee Seshagiri and Roger Burrill that the trial judge erred in applying the warning to Johnson. They argued:
Vetrovec cautions were never intended to prejudice the defence, and serve no purpose when applied to exculpatory evidence. The fact that a witness is called by the Crown, or is described as a “mixed witness”, does not change these fundamental principles. A Vetrovec caution should not have been given against the exculpatory witness in this case.
The case was previously appealed at the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal. They dismissed the appeal, but Justice Scanlan in the dissenting opinion argued he would have ordered a new trial. Because of this split decision, the case was able to be heard at the Supreme Court, which ultimately agreed with the dissenting judge.
Tim Bousquet covered Riley’s trial and conviction, but also reported on the lack of media coverage on the case, which he said was “a problem for news reporting, it’s a problem for an informed citizenry, and it’s a problem for justice.”
During his sentencing, Riley talked about his innocence, but also how his case was about race.
Not only that, I don’t believe that the verdict supports the evidence that was presented against me. It seems to me that — though I believe, and I think everyone in this court believes — that no one wanted this case to be about race, but inevitably, race is what it has become. And when things come about race, a lot of time they tend to be ignored. And the elephant in the room is race.
Riley will go back to provincial jail to wait for a new trial. And he could wait there for up to two years. Writes Jones:
He has already been incarcerated since he was arrested in 2013. Should Riley be found innocent at his retrial, he will have spent nearly a decade of his life — and almost his entire 20s — incarcerated. It is possible, of course, that the crown could refuse to proceed with a new trial and allow the vacated conviction to stand, or offer reduced charges. I am doubtful they would make this choice.
Bousquet shares more thoughts on the case on Twitter (click here to read that thread).
3. COVID-19 update: More cases and COVID fatigue
Mary Campbell at the Cape Breton Spectator watched yesterday’s COVID-19 briefing and has an update, but focuses on the two main messages.
First, there are now 16 active cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, but there doesn’t appear to be any community spread. Four of those cases are still being investigated, though.
Second, we’re all tired of dealing with this pandemic — it’s called COVID fatigue — but Dr. Robert Strang says Nova Scotians can’t “let down their guard.” Campbell writes:
Both Strang and McNeil said they understand the toll life under the restrictions is taking on Nova Scotians, but Strang noted that we can still play or watch sports, dine in restaurants or attend arts performances, even if such activities must be done in compliance with strict protocols.
Strang also said that we must “focus on the next two months,” because “what we do now will have a direct impact on the holiday season.” He said later his office is in talks with the Premier’s office over the approach the province will take to the holidays.
The briefing also covered schools gyms (they’re now open after school hours), masks (we have to wear them and wear them properly), border control (quarantine is tough), rapid tests (they’re not always accurate), Remembrance Day (no mass singing), and the recall of the house (Campbell includes a transcription of the entire exchange when CBC’s Jean Laroche asked Premier Stephen McNeil why he hasn’t recalled the house for the fall sitting).
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4. Dam project over budget, behind schedule, and we may pay for it
Paul Withers with CBC reports on the rebuild of the Tusket River hydro dam, which is now $14 million over budget and behind schedule.
The rebuild project was supposed to cost $18 million, but this week Nova Scotia Power told the Utility and Review Board (UARB) the project would now cost $32 million.
Construction is also on hold because of pending federal and provincial permits. Work will start again in July 2021. The project was supposed to be up and running by the end of 2019.
Withers writes about what went wrong with the project:
During construction, cracks were discovered in the bedrock below the dam that allowed water into the construction zone. Nova Scotia Power tried an underwater concrete pour and walled off an area in a bid to keep the construction area dry.
But water continued to migrate into the worksite, forcing the company to change plans and seek permission to draw down lake reservoirs behind the dam in order to continue construction.
At some point, the utility will present a final cost estimate to the utility and review board and seek what is known as an authority to overspend — bureaucratic speak for sticking ratepayers with the bill.
The amount will be spread out over time so rates will not be directly impacted.
Consumer advocate Bill Mahody told CBC News he’s not prepared to comment on the Tusket project until Nova Scotia Power applies for authority to overspend.
“The escalating costs of hydro refurbishments is a general concern,” Mahody said in an email.
Nova Scotia Power spokesperson Jacqueline Foster tells Withers they’ll let residents know about the schedule when a work plan for the project is done.
5. Concerns Lands and Forests failing to protect mainland moose population
Lindsay Lee, who’s described as an ordinary citizen who has become increasingly concerned by Nova Scotia’s mismanagement of public resources, writes in the Nova Scotia Advocate about the mainland moose population being on the brink of extinction because of “Lands and Forestry’s systemic failure to satisfy its legal obligations under the Endangered Species Act.” Lee writes:
Nova Scotia’s Endangered Species Act prohibits “destroying, disturbing or interfering with a specific dwelling place or area occupied, or habitually occupied, by one or more individuals or populations of the species.” And yet, Richard Amero came forward with concerns about commercial forestry on moose habitat. Amero provided photos of moose tracks and a moose and calf in the connective forest between the Tobeatic and Silver River Wilderness Areas. Lands and Forestry has since made the ludicrous statement that department staff “are aware of the presence of mainland moose in this area but the cutting sites were selected with the moose’s protection in mind.”
Roads built for forestry operations fragment mainland moose habitat and further endanger the moose by exposing them to poachers and to white-tailed deer, which can carry brain worm (moose sickness). Lands and Forestry’s own website confirms that mainland moose habitats “appear to be the most isolated areas with poor access.” Yet Lands and Forestry is disrupting our moose by allowing more logging roads in remote moose habitat.
Last year, Nova Scotians were so troubled by Lands and Forestry’s dereliction of duty under the Endangered Species Act that they took the department to court. This past May, Justice Brothers of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia found “a chronic and systemic failure” to implement action required under the Act.
Our mainland moose was one of the representative species in that court case. After being instructed to take positive action, why is the Department of Lands and Forestry seemingly contravening its own laws when it comes to habitat fragmentation and our mainland moose?
Yesterday, the Healthy Forest Coalition shared this press release demanding an end to clearcutting in Nova Scotia.
1. The housing crisis on the South Shore
I’ve been learning more about the housing crisis on the South Shore through my work on gender-based violence. Like in the city, there are many vulnerable people — including women trying to flee abusive relationships — experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness. There are a lot of organizations working on the issue, including the South Shore Action Housing Coalition and NOW Lunenburg County. The Be the Peace Institute is doing excellent research on gender-based violence. Last week, I was connected with Lisa Ryan, the rural housing development coordinator with the Lunenburg Queens Homelessness Prevention and Housing Support Program. (Yesterday, Taryn Grant at CBC reported on the new affordable housing hub being built in Bridgewater). Ryan and I chatted again on Monday so I could learn more about the particular issues in this region and I wanted to share the interview. This has been edited for length and clarity.
SR: Tell me about your work.
LR: I was hired here as a rural housing development coordinator. What that is, is to try to get a good understanding of what’s happening here on the South Shore. Who are the ones at risk, and who doesn’t have housing currently, and how are the programs within the community communicating and ensuring people aren’t slipping through the cracks? Where are the gaps? Who’s providing housing support services to those who will require more support than others with accessing housing?
Here in Nova Scotia I’ve only been in this role since May. In my previous role in Moncton, I was tasked as a community development coordinator and as a system planner. I was in that role for a little over a year. I’ve been in the non-profit, homelessness and housing roles for at least the past five years, in an Atlantic Canadian context.
SR: What are the issues you’re seeing now in Lunenburg County and Queens County?
I can talk about my work, but also my personal experience when we moved here. My partner was awarded a position in Bridgewater and we talked about what that was going to look like and we started to look at rentals as soon as we knew this was going to happen with us. In our situation, we couldn’t find anything that would allow us to have a child. We have a daughter. And it was very difficult to find any rental that stated we could have our child live with us. Our pet was fine.
SR: Did ads say specifically no kids?
LR: What most ads will say when they’re looking to avoid anyone applying if they have children, is “seniors or adult-only building, quiet, mature building, working professionals.” There were ads that said “appropriate for two working adults.” Even if you did apply and put in an application online, because of the market, the vacancy rate is so low landlords really don’t have to call you back. They don’t have to give you a reason why they aren’t renting to you.
So, for two working professionals heading to the South Shore, it was very difficult. It was two days before he had to move here and start work; we travelled down, we found a fantastic landlord who told us straight up when we looked at the building, she said, “I’m not trying to pressure you. If you don’t sign today, there are 20 other viewings booked and it will be gone.” We had to jump on the first thing we saw and it worked out in our favour because, like I said, we have a great landlord and a great property. But that’s not the case for many of the people we work with. What I’m seeing in the frontline work is landlords are able to discriminate based on family status, especially when it comes to income sources. A lot of applications will say they want to know where your income comes from.
There’ve been a few ads that have been highlighted out of Halifax that have to provide even your length of commute because all of those things are being taken into consideration for tenancy, which to me is a violation of privacy. No one needs to know what your commute is. Also, to be able to discriminate against someone based on their income, their relationship status, their sexual identity or whatever, that’s allowing the current situation of low vacancy rates and the desperation of people who are just trying to access housing. They need housing to keep their jobs, they need housing to address some of their basic core needs that will allow them to flourish. They’ll do anything to get into a house and unfortunately the current system right now is stacked against them. Housing access is very hard for anyone who is on a fixed income.
SR: What is the vacancy rate in the area right now?
LR: That’s really difficult to say but when we’re looking at what’s available right now, but it appears without looking at any concrete data, so what the housing agencies are saying is, it appears we’re below 1%.
SR: What about the people who can’t access housing? How do their situations compare to those in urban areas?
LR: There’s not much of a difference to be completely honest. As we’re building our data system — and we’ll get a more solid picture on demographics within the next year — from what we’re seeing, a lot of the people who can’t get housing are people on fixed incomes. We have a lot of seniors living in decrepit housing, very high-risk situations, with family members taking over their homes; the seniors are living in unsafe conditions, as well as seniors living in trailers, campers, whatever they can.
We also have families who are living in campers because they just can’t access housing. And I’m sure the domestic violence shelter here would speak to this much better than I can — many women and children are unable to leave very violent situations because they can’t access housing. That’s something we’re seeing right across the board.
It’s harder in a rural context because it’s not as visible. Sometimes people don’t even recognize the situation they are in is wrong because maybe it’s been a generational situation. We have housing insecurity and the whole access to internet issue, where a lot of households can’t afford to pay rural internet fees because they’re so costly, so they can’t even access information that may be able to let them know about resources or even that the situations they are in are unsafe.
It’s all these little things compiling to make the situation dire in rural communities. The funding that can come to rural communities — to develop housing, to develop strategic planning, all of those things — it never seems to make it to us in any amounts that are large enough to make a difference, because more often than not urban centres are prioritized because everything is more visible there. If we stopped the flow coming out of rural communities to urban centres, urban centres would have enough resources to deal with the numbers they have, and rural communities would be empowered to help their citizens stay where they want to stay.
It’s complex. I’m really hopeful over the next year as we embark on a coordinated access system that is truly community driven, as we try to work with what we have, we’ll be able to have some really good data, really good strategies on how to move forward and address these issues because like I said, the people that are experiencing homelessness, and the people who are close to experiencing homeless, that flow will continue and our resources will continue to struggle.
SR: Tell me more about coordinated access.
LR: Coordinated access is a system that came out of the 20,000 Homes Campaign, which is now Built for Zero Canada, and that is the federal government’s plan, coupled with the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, to end chronic homelessness in Canada. What that does is it takes data from the community and it allows us to understand the ebbs and flows of homelessness and housing insecurity. But it also allows us to be able to prioritize and triage individuals and to be able to understand who may not have community resources, and how to use what we have wisely.
That’s been done really incredibly well in Ontario, in Edmonton. Everybody always talks about Medicine Hat and how they ended homelessness there. They used coordinated access as a system to be able to integrate their frontline services, and have made such huge steps so that people who are housing insecure or experiencing homelessness within their community are usually only in a shelter or in a state of homelessness for seven days and then it’s resolved. It’s very quick. They were able to make some really cool housing development plans that specifically addressed what they were seeing and were able to use their resources well. We know it’s possible because it’s happening in other communities across Canada.
We also know the system can also fail because it’s failing in other communities across Canada. It really takes a whole community to be committed to staying in a relationship and then we work with the issues that come up and make strong strategic plans. We use that to assist the people who really need assisting. Out of that can come some cool housing development plans, but also empowerment to landlords and property management companies on how they can develop affordable housing and access funds and really help boost the local economy through their businesses. It also allows landlords and property management companies to be at the table and informing us of their past tenant issues so we can make plans to help people become better tenants. All of these things can happen, it’s just work. And a lot of us are working really hard. It’s going to take commitment. It impacts that crisis-driven work. Eventually, the crisis-driven work will transition into not happening every day because we’re five steps ahead of the crisis. That’s the hope.
SR: What’s the attitude on development in the area?
LR: I think people in communities are open to developing more housing. But there are a few issues. No one really knows who can develop other than private developers. And private developers are looking to, of course, make a profit. The non-profit sector that would develop housing to fit the needs they are seeing really aren’t equipped or staffed to do that because the funding is so much less here in rural communities. It’s really going to take a community strategy to create more developments.
I think with some of the issues happening — the climate issues, the environmental issues — that housing really needs to be re-envisioned and it needs to be able to fit the environmental footprint. We’re building more housing longevity when it comes to being energy efficient, environmentally sustainable, as well as universally accessible, so people can actually age into their units and they don’t have to leave when they have mobility issues. Those kinds of concepts need to be woven into any kind of housing strategy on the South Shore because we do have an aging population. And also those kinds of strategies will bring in youth who are really concerned and want to make an impact on their environment.
There’s potential. There’s a lot of dreaming happening right now, which is really good. There’s nothing beautiful about COVID, but one of the things it has shown us is that people want to live here. If they can live here and work here and put money back into our economies, then rural communities can start developing and growing and become sustainable.
SR: What does homelessness look like on the South Shore?
LR: Homelessness on the South Shore looks like it does in urban centres. The issue here is it’s very hidden. There are still people who are, as we term it, sleeping rough. There are people sleeping rough in tents, makeshift cabins, in the backyards of friends or families. They may be sleeping in homes with no heat or running water. They may be couch surfing with family or staying in shelters.
It looks the same and there are a lot of the same core issues on why people experience homelessness, but it’s just hard to see. And when you finally do see it, it’s hard to get resources in place to be able to help the person move forward. There’s a lot of work that has to be done to empower those communities to recognize homelessness and educate their citizens on how to address it and then coordinate the services.
We cover a large geographic area. We have a housing support program and it has one housing support worker, a coordinator, and we’re hoping to hire a couple more people, but that person is providing housing supports to all of Lunenburg and Queens counties. That’s not possible. With the number of people who are housing insecure and experiencing homelessness, it’s just not possible for that one person to do that work. That means funders, like the provincial government, the federal government, community funders, need to recognize in rural areas, when we’re looking at the agencies, they are covering a large land mass and they are not funded to adequately provide services to those large areas. Coupled with the other issues, including educational issues and access to internet, it’s all spilling over.
SR: So, where does the work on the crisis need to start?
LR: Honestly, in my experience work has to start with a commitment with the frontline agencies to stay in relationships with each other, and to determine that we’re going to work together. From there, we need to acknowledge what the issues are. While we’re all working in different specialities, we have all of these resources that are funded to do very specific things, yet all of what we’re seeing is interconnected, so we have to start acting like a web and start catching people and really planning together on how we address this. And that means bringing on partners like our municipal councillors, our government, our law officials, and making these conversations happen where we can at least identify the common problem and we can move toward a strategy. Gathering core data, making sure we’re respecting people’s privacy and confidentiality, but able to actually track what’s happening in our community so we know where we need to address things. What kind of housing do we need? Do we have more seniors than youth? Where are the gaps and how do we fix them while we’re looking at our long-term strategies? We have great collaboration here, but not a lot of data sharing.
SR: Do you have any final thoughts on the housing situation there and what readers need to know?
LR: I think when you come to places like the South Shore, it’s very easy to get distracted by the area. When I first came here, I couldn’t believe the beauty of everything. This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to. But then if you’re not careful you don’t see there is an incredible wealth gap here. When you become aware, you start seeing it. You see the houses that have tarps for their roofs and the people who are really trying to get by and they can’t. All of a sudden you recognize, when you start looking at the cost of housing, and what’s happening and who’s buying the buildings, and why rent is up to $1,800 a month with nothing included. And why units are being rented from October to May with nothing available in the summer. Why is this common here?
All of rural Nova Scotia is having this issue. It’s not just the South Shore. But because we’re not unified, because we’re all small pockets of people everywhere, we’re not heard like an urban centre is. That really discredits the crisis that’s happening here. The hardest thing I’ve heard is moms who have said “I grew up here, I want my kids to grow up here, I have a right to live here, and I can’t because I can’t find anything.” That, to me, is heartbreaking because they’re not able to stay where they love. That speaks to what happens when we allow housing to become a for-profit venture without ensuring that housing remains regulated, that there are penalties for ridiculous rent increases or evictions, for discriminatory practices. That we have these rules in place because housing is a human right. People deserve to have access to safe, adequate, affordable housing no matter where they are. That includes rural Nova Scotia.
I hope people can continue to dream and envision what they want their communities to look like, and within that vision I hope they continue to think of the citizens that live in the areas that may be on the margins or really at risk of losing everything they love.
Last night, Tim Bousquet shared this photo on Twitter.
It’s great MacKay got his flu shot, but please cover your nose with your mask!
I’m seeing this a lot more lately. What don’t people cover their noses with their masks? I’m always tempted to ask, but I never do — I prefer avoiding a confrontation in the grocery store.
I’m seeing more people wearing these clear masks, too, which don’t seem at all effective. Air droplets can escape around this thing! Yesterday, I saw two staff members at a farmers’ market wearing those. Friends tell me they’re seeing them being used more often by people who work in restaurants. Someone mentioned these would make communication easier, including for those who are hard of hearing. This is a very valid point. What are the best mask to wear for communication purposes?
All of these options seems to be going against Dr. Theresa Tam’s advice yesterday to wear non-medical masks with three layers. The newly updated guidelines, which are here, say this about the masks we should be wearing:
A mask or face covering can be homemade or purchased, and should:
- be made of at least 3 layers
- 2 layers should be tightly woven material fabric, such as cotton or linen
- the third (middle) layer should be a filter-type fabric, such as non-woven polypropylene fabric
- be large enough to completely and comfortably cover the nose, mouth and chin without gaping
- allow for easy breathing
- fit securely to the head with ties or ear loops
- be comfortable and not require frequent adjustments
- be changed as soon as possible if damp or dirty
- maintain its shape after washing and drying
Maybe all this experimenting with masks is part of COVID fatigue.
North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm) — virtual meeting; agenda here.
Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm) — virtual meeting; agenda here.
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Jeannine Lagassé from Health and Wellness; Paul LaFleche from Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal; John O’Connor from Nova Scotia Lands Healthcare Infrastructure Projects Division, and Paula Bond from Nova Scotia Health. More info here.
No public events today.
Reclaiming Power and Place ‑ Virtual Read (Thursday, 10:30am) — a group reading of Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (2019). More info here.
(geo)Politics (Thursday, 12pm) — a transdisciplinary lecture on climate, welfare and political economy, with Roberto Buizza from Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Italy, and Ana Maria Duran, Estudio AO, Ecuador. More info and link here.
Music for everyone, everywhere: Inviting chaos, heresy and chance into classical performance practice (Thursday, 12pm) — online presentation with Holly Mathieson, Music Director, Symphony NS, and Co-Artistic Director of Nevis Ensemble. More info and link here.
Global Health Post-2020 (Thursday, 6:30pm) — virtual panel discussion with Renzo Guinto, Harvard; Lisa Forman, University of Toronto; Yipeng Ge, University of Ottawa; Yap Boum, University of Yaoundé. More info and registration here.
No public events.
Take on Tech (Thursday, 12pm) — a one-hour virtual networkshop, that claims if you
Don’t have a tech background but want to create a startup? Great, you’ve come to the right place. There are countless amazing startups that are created by people just like you. And these days all startups have some technology element, so let’s take on tech! We invite you to participate in this hands-on introductory technology training to learn some foundational skills and concepts.
In the harbour
05:00: Atlantic Sun, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
05:30: Atlantic Kestrel, offshore supply ship, sails from Pier 9 for sea
15:00: One Marvel, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
15:30: Atlantic Sun sails for New York
17:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
On Monday, my computer refused to start. I spent so many hours on the phone with tech support, I’m pretty sure I’m in a relationship with the guy I was talking with. We’re chatting again today so I can reinstall Windows 10. I want to thank my daughter for letting me use her computer to do my work, including writing this Morning File.