Yesterday, five new cases of COVID-19 were announced in Nova Scotia, all in the Halifax area.
Later in the day, a case connected to St. Joseph’s-Alexander McKay Elementary in Halifax was identified, and then two additional cases connected to Joseph Howe Elementary in Halifax were announced; this follows a previous case at that school announced Wednesday. That means there will be at least three new cases announced today.
I think we’re all kind of stunned about what happened at the border on Wednesday and Thursday, as a handful of anti-vaxxers managed to blockade the one highway coming into Nova Scotia for over 24 hours. There’s nothing much more I have to say about that beyond what I said Wednesday, but I’ll note that yesterday morning, the PCs booted MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin from their caucus.
Smith-McCrossin had threatened the blockade in the first place, and while she tried to walk back her support for it, she never objected to any of the anti-vaxxing messaging that came from the protestors. There’s legitimate concern about the details of the border restrictions and (especially) how and when they were announced, but Smith-McCrossin managed to make it blow up in her face, costing both the PCs and herself politically.
Still, the messaging about how long the restrictions will be in place at the New Brunswick border continues to be muddled. As I see it, there’s an inconsistency that hasn’t been resolved.
The enhanced restrictions are to be in place until June 30, which is two weeks after the June 16 reopening of New Brunswick to the rest of Canada. That two-week period gives Nova Scotia enough time to see how New Brunswick’s decision plays out in that province in terms of increased cases — that’s because it’s generally accepted that it takes two weeks for the disease to be transmitted and show up in positive test results for those newly infected. OK. But it’s not the case that the people from Alberta and Ontario going to New Brunswick all showed up on June 16; they’ve been coming ever since, too. So it just seems reasonable to me that if there’s some increased infection among New Brunswickers as a result of opening up to the rest of Canada, it may not present itself for three or four weeks.
Besides that, the relaxing of Nova Scotia’s restrictions on June 30 was hinted at on June 22, and then committed to by Premier Iain Rankin yesterday, six days before the end of the supposed two-week “see what happens in New Brunswick” period.
Here’s the exchange at yesterday’s COVID briefing between reporter Natasha Pace and Rankin:
Pace: Premier, I just wanted to go back to the restrictions being used for New Brunswick travellers. What exactly was that decision made to remove restrictions for travelers coming from New Brunswick on June 30th? I think at the last update, it was still being looked at. I’m just wondering exactly what changed to lead to the decision today.
Rankin: Yeah, that was always the plan to aim for June 30th. That was the two week period that we were asking for. So ever since that briefing, I was saying at every interview that I’ve had, let’s give public health that one week. So we were looking at if we could remove all isolation requirements by June 30th, New Brunswick would enter into this so-called bubble. But it’s not really a full bubble anymore. So I just like to say it’s isolation being removed. And so we’re pleased to be able to bring this forward for full certainty that on June 30th, for sure, there are no restrictions. We talked about potentially having some documentation on at the border, but we’re comfortable with where we are now. But we all we all have to look at what’s happening at different levels in each province so we could modify that again. If there’s a surge in cases in New Brunswick or another province, we have to give that flexibility to our teams. [emphasis added]
So there’s “full certainty” that the New Brunswick border restrictions will be lifted on June 30, unless they aren’t, in which case there’s less certainty. Got that?
In much better news, vaccinations are going well, with nearly 20,000 doses administered each of the last two days. Most of those have been second doses, and there’s been a slowdown in the number of people getting their first dose. I asked Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang about that yesterday, and here’s how he responded:
The last 20 to 25 percent are always going to be the hardest… We still have work to do. We can’t be satisfied just because we’re getting close to or when we get to the 75 percent, that still means 25 percent of people, many of whom can get vaccinated, are still unimmunized. We have a lot more work to do. It’ll take more effort or more time to get that last piece. What are some of the things you’re putting in place? The walk in clinic starting next Tuesday at the convention centre, that is for people for first dose. So we’re really encouraged. We’re hearing already signs that we’re talking with the universities that many of the foreign students we have here who are part of our demographic, that they are looking for an opportunity to get immunized. And so they feel that this walk-in clinic is going to help them. We are working with some of our large employers like Michelin to have immunization clinics in the workplace because the group that we’re most concerned about is the male 16- to 30-year-olds. So let’s bring the vaccine to them in those workplaces and hopefully they’ll get vaccinated and then their friends or their coworkers will also be encouraged by that. So, yes, we have more work to do. It’s very natural that this last 20, 25 percent when we hit it, that slows down. But that’s why we’re going to keep pushing out. We can’t be satisfied with 75 percent. At the same time, we’re rolling out many, many opportunities for people to get their second dose as well. So we still have work to do Nova Scotia and [people] still need to show up and get vaccinated, whether it’s their first dose or second dose.
There’s no briefing today. I’ll tweet out the daily case number and the vaccination data when they come out around noon.
2. Corey Rogers hearing
Zane Woodford continues to cover the Police Review Board hearing related to the death of Corey Rogers in police custody. Woodford reports:
The Halifax police officer who put the spit hood over Corey Rogers head said she was unaware they could be dangerous for prisoners.
Const. Donna Lee Paris is one of three officers facing a Police Review Board hearing in Dartmouth this week and next. Along with constables Justin Murphy and Ryan Morris, Paris carried Rogers into cells at Halifax Regional Police headquarters before he vomited into a spit hood and died.
Paris testified on Thursday after the board heard from Murphy and a few other HRP officers earlier in the week. Her story was essentially the same as Murphy’s: the three officers arrested Rogers outside the IWK, where the police had been called because he was drunk. They loaded him into Morris’ cruiser and Murphy and Paris got in their cruiser and drove to headquarters.
Once there, Paris testified she saw Rogers banging his head against the Plexiglas partition in Morris’ cruiser, and she could see mucus and tears on his face and on the inside of the vehicle.
“We’re gonna need a spit hood,” Paris testifies she said at the time.
She didn’t consider placing a spit hood on a prisoner’s head to be a use of force, even though the police policy for the cells required booking officers to document their use as a use of force.
“It’s just a tool that we use in order to control someone who’s spitting or that sort of thing but it’s not a use of force,” Paris said.
Asked whether she’d ever read the instructions printed on the packaging of the hoods, Paris said she had not. And she’d never been aware that they could be dangerous for prisoners, she said.
“I was not made aware of any indication that it would end in this tragedy,” Paris testified.
3. Blue Mountain
“The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear a developer’s appeal of a ruling from Nova Scotia’s highest court that found no merit in its claims that Halifax was effectively expropriating its land,” reports Zane Woodford:
As the Halifax Examiner reported in January, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ruled in a written decision that Halifax Regional Municipality did not effectively expropriate the Annapolis Group’s land when council voted in 2016 to deny development rights and instead move ahead with a long-promised park.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court announced it would hear the case. It gave no reasoning and set no date for a hearing.
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4. Booting bylaw
“New rules regulating the vehicle booting industry, introducing a cap on fees and a time limit on removal, are headed to regional council,” reports Zane Woodford, who was something of a reporting machine yesterday:
A new bylaw, the Vehicle Immobilization By-law, came to a virtual meeting of council’s Transportation Standing Committee on Thursday. Parking manager Victoria Horne outlined the new rules for councillors, explaining that they’re the result of a February 2020 motion from the committee asking for a staff report on a new bylaw.
Horne said the bylaw would require clear, visible signage in parking lots, including a phone number and the cost to have a boot removed. Employees removing the boots would have to wear a uniform, drive a vehicle displaying the company name, and carry identification. The employees would also have to become special constables, meaning they’d be subject to background checks.
After a driver finds a boot on their vehicle and calls to get it removed, a company would have 30 minutes to get to the parking lot. Once there, they would have to offer multiple payment options, including debit and credit, and provide a receipt, even for cash transactions. And the total fee for removing the boot could not be more than $60.
5. Bridging Finance
“Membertou Chief Terry Paul, whose band borrowed $6.8 million from Toronto-based private lender Bridging Finance Inc to finance an investment in a proposed Sydney container terminal, says he is not concerned about the arrangement despite Bridging having been placed in receivership on April 30 amid allegations of fraud and misappropriation of funds by its founders and executives,” reports Mary Campbell for the Cape Breton Spectator:
Membertou and Bridging Inc were announced as partners in Albert Barbusci’s Novaporte “consortium” in January 2020. Barbusci (as my regular readers must surely know) heads Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP), which just this month had its exclusive contract to market the Port of Sydney as the site for a container terminal for ultra-large vessels extended by three years.
Bridging is in trouble for a number of reasons, the first being a series of “questionable loans” made between January 2017 and April 2020. But investors are also unhappy about an injection of cash the firm received in September 2020 from a group of investors led by R.C. Morris & Co. As the Globe and Mail reported, Bridging “initially kept investors in the dark” about the “participation note,” which put R.C. Morris first in line for payment should Bridging encounter financial difficulties. (David Sharpe told OSC investigators the injection was needed because COVID had resulted in a flurry of redemptions the company was unable to honor.)
As Campbell notes, it’s too early to say what’s going to happen with regards to the Sydney container terminal financing [aside: !].
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6. Big ships
Speaking of “ultra-large vessels,” the CMA CGM Brazil is scheduled to arrive in port tomorrow morning at 4am. This is a really big ship — it can carry just over 15,000 containers; in comparison, most of the container ships that call in Halifax can carry 4-5,000 containers. When the CMA CGM Brazil first visited Halifax and the US east coast ports of New York, Norfolk, and Savannah last September, it was the largest ship to ever call at those ports.
Last month, however, its sister ship, the CMA CGM Marco Polo, eclipsed the “biggest ship” record at all those east coast ports (including Halifax). The Marco Polo can carry just over 16,000 containers.
But I wonder what the future of these giant ships is. Most of the container ships that call in Halifax have a turnaround of between six and 12 hours from the time they arrive until the time they leave; when the Marco Polo was here, the turnaround time was just over 24 hours. I don’t think that was because it was unloading or loading any more containers than other ships do in Halifax — the bulk of the goods on all the ships travel on to US ports — but rather because it’s logistically complicated to move the containers around on the supersized ships. I’ll be watching to see how long the Brazil is in port.
The Marco Polo was berthed at the Pier 41/42 jetty next to Point Pleasant Park. Usually, that pier can handle two or even three ships, but when the Marco Polo was here, it consumed the entire pier, such that no other ships could be processed there.
Halifax doesn’t have any special advantage to the US ports in terms of these super ships. When I was a kid living in Norfolk, Virginia, they first built the “International Terminals” just south of the navy base, and even built a new four-lane road to connect the terminals to a spur of the interstate highway for trucks. Soon after, the old Norfolk & Western railroad, which at that time primarily connected the coal fields of Appalachia to Lambert’s Point in Norfolk, was bought up by Southern Railroad to become Norfolk Southern, and the new company began retooling its lines across the midwest to accommodate double decker trains (with each car capable of carrying two containers atop each other), and it wasn’t unusual to see trains that were two or even three miles long leaving the port.
In the 1990s, that new four-lane road to the port was replaced with a dedicated highway for trucks only.
More recently, the navy’s old Craney Island fuel depot, which is across the harbour in Suffolk, was bought up by the Virginia Port Authority and developed as a gigantic new port, with new highways and new rail lines, cutting about an hour off the transport time to all points west. In total, the port’s investments must be on the order of hundreds of billions of dollars.
I went to Chicago a few years ago and happened upon a Norfolk Southern intermodal facility on the south side. I watched for about an hour as maybe six double decker trains arrived and their containers were transferred to hundreds of trucks. This is a 24-hour-a-day operation and is just one of four such intermodal facilities in the Chicago area.
New York and Savannah are making similar giant investments in ports, harbor dredging, highways, and rail. In comparison, Halifax isn’t even a speck on the radar, although of course the Port of Halifax can operate successfully on its own terms by providing a niche market.
I remember once reading about a bit of pricey machinery built in Europe that was offloaded to a truck in Halifax to go to somewhere in the US south, because the truck would be faster than leaving the machinery on the ship for the journey south — the journey hit some sweet spot in terms of cost and time, costing less than putting the machinery on an airplane for entire trip, but just fast enough to justify the extra expense of a dedicated truck and driver. (Remember: the land part of the voyage is vastly more expensive than the sea part, so generally speaking, Halifax being “closer to Europe” is a disadvantage, not an advantage.)
And Sydney? Membertou has $6.8 million in questionable, high-interest financing to put towards the port project. But getting a port actually built, and then building a true rail line to connect it with the rest of the continent, as well as all the ancillary infrastructure that comes with a port, would cost several billion dollars, all while ports like New York and Norfolk spend tens of billions of dollars almost on the fly to upgrade their facilities. I mean, if the private gazillionaires who own Melford can’t seem to get the financing to turn a shovelful of dirt, it’s beyond laughable to think a Sydney project can move forward.
There are no doubt other such good reasons for shipping through Halifax, but in terms of making a meaningful dent in the US shipping market, it ain’t gonna happen. And I can’t see how it makes much sense for the new giant ships to call here, slowing down their voyage to the big ports in the US, while proving to be a logistical challenge for the port here.
All of which is to say, economies of scale work, until they don’t. Big isn’t always better.
No public meetings.
No public events.
In the harbour
06:00: ZIM Vancouver, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
15:00: One Magnificence, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
16:00: Pictor, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Portland
20:00: Hong Sheng, bulker, arrives at anchorage from Dublin, Ireland
04:00: CMA CGM Brazil, container ship, arrives at Pier 41/42 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
I’m getting my second dose today. It’s nothing exotic like driving to Truro; I’m just going to Lawton’s.