1. COVID-19 updates
“A woman in her 80s who had an underlying medical condition has died after contracting the COVID-19 virus. She was a resident of the HRM but not a resident of Northwood or any other long-term care home,” reports Jennifer Henderson:
The news came at today’s daily briefing by Dr. Robert Strang, the Province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, and Premier Stephen McNeil. Two new cases of COVID-19 were reported, at least one at Northwood, where there remain 15 active cases among staff and residents. The latest case involved a worker and Strang acknowledges Northwood is still in “outbreak” mode; 52 of the 59 COVID-related deaths in Nova Scotia were residents of Northwood.
Seven Nova Scotians with the virus are currently in hospital, three of those in ICU. Nine hundred and seventy-six people have now recovered; a total of 1,052 people tested positive. The lab did over 500 tests yesterday and the premier claims on a per capita basis, Nova Scotia is doing the second-highest number of tests among all provinces.
McNeil says he will tell Nova Scotians later this week when businesses ordered to shut down because of COVID-19 will be permitted to reopen. He said licensed daycares are “on track” to resume operations June 8. The premier hinted the opening date for all businesses will be “sometime in early June.” Meanwhile, he announced a new government website called “Preparing to Reopen Nova Scotia.” This “how to” website will contain information and guidelines to permit safe physical distancing for numerous types of businesses, including gyms, restaurants, barber shops, physio clinics, dental offices, and others.
Just before the briefing by McNeil and Strang, Henderson also attended (virtually) a Nova Scotia Health Authority announcement about the resumption of some procedures that had been cancelled to make way for an expected influx of COVID-19 patients:
Non-urgent, elective surgical procedures have resumed at hospitals across the province. As well, ultrasounds, X-rays, and MRI diagnostic tests reserved exclusively for the most urgent patients during the COVID-19 lockdown are now available again.
Outpatient clinics for chronic pain, orthopedic assessments, renal, and ECG are also re-opening, although the pace could be gradual. For more information on specific programs, check here.
Hospitals cancelled scheduled surgical procedures and diagnostic tests so they would have beds and staff available to deal with a projected wave of in-patients infected by the COVID-19 virus. As well, the NSHA re-deployed nearly 1,000 people to develop new mental health programs, assist nursing homes struggling with COVID-19 outbreaks, and to help Public Health with testing and contact tracing.
But over the past nine weeks, the highest number of COVID-19 inpatient cases at any one time was 13; the maximum number of COVID-19 patients in Intensive Care was five.
In related coronavirus news, Yvette d’Entremont spoke with Dal prof Simon Sherry about the mental health costs of the COVID restrictions:
[Sherry] believes Nova Scotia has been too narrowly focused on curbing cases of COVID-19 without serious acknowledgement of the many harms — and deaths — likely being caused by our prolonged isolation from work, school, families, and recreational activities.
“On top of our COVID-19 pandemic, there is a mental health pandemic occurring and we’re not recognizing that and not funding in proportion to the destruction that mental health problems are creating,” Sherry said in an interview Monday.
And Suzanne Rent continues her series profiling frontline workers, today with doctors:
One of the doctors you might see at the emergency department is Dr. Constance LeBlanc, who’s worked at the QEII emergency department for 31 years. COVID-19 might be new, but working in an emergency department means being ready for any emergency.
“You never know what you’re going to get when you go to work,” LeBlanc says. “Going to work in the emergency department is never boring. You have fun days, sad days, frustrating days, horrific days.”
2. City Hall: COVID cuts and COVID opportunity
“After enthusiastically approving plans for rapid transit and electric buses — described as transformative, exciting, and even sexy — Halifax councillors recognize their next hurdle is getting the money to meet their ambitious goals from a provincial government that’s been hesitant to pay for public transit,” reports Zane Woodford:
“I’ve always said that the key to getting more people on transit is to make it fast, frequent, reliable. In short, you’ve gotta make it sexier than taking your own car to work. This is sexy,” Deputy Mayor Lisa Blackburn said during Tuesday’s council meeting.
No one is worried about securing funding for transit and green infrastructure like electric buses from Justin Trudeau’s federal government. But Stephen McNeil’s provincial government is a harder sell, having only recently started funding transit at all.
“I feel very confident that we can get that money,” said Coun. Waye Mason.
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Meanwhile, in a second article, Woodford reports that:
Halifax councillors are opting for smaller cuts to police and fire services, meaning fewer police positions will be left vacant and a fire station in Upper Sackville will remain open.
Council’s budget committee voted in favour of two motions from Coun. Tony Mancini at its meeting on Tuesday. The motions reduce cuts to Halifax Regional Police and Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency budgets to $3.5 million.
They’d started the recast COVID-19 budget process with cuts of $5.5 million and $5.4 million, respectively. Councillors approved a motion from Mancini last week to seek options for lesser cuts for both departments of $4.5 million and $3.5 million. On Tuesday, they went with $3.5 million.
It may seem odd that just as council is slashing budgets, it’s embarking on a truly transformative — and costly — reworking of the transit system, but the COVID crisis is shaking things up in previously unimaginable ways.
I was shocked to see Halifax Transit simply abandon its long held conservative, go slow approach, and suddenly, on a dime, produce a radical plan that exceeds transit advocates’ expectations. It went from “we can’t stop running eight buses at once on the same route and one or two electric buses are too expensive” to “here’s a rapid transit system, including fast ferries, and the entire bus fleet will be electric” in a blink of an eye. I don’t know how this came about, but there must be a behind-the-scenes story to be told.
This morning, councillor Waye Mason wrote a Twitter thread about the challenges facing city government. The short of it is that the province has to change the way it governs cities — first, by giving the city more financial independence, with for example the right to run deficits during the pandemic, and second, by releasing municipal transit funding long ago agreed to by both the federal and provincial governments. It’s unusual to see a councillor directly take on the provincial government like this:
Suddenly, anything is possible. We can pay grocery clerks and janitors more. We can adopt a basic income for most people. We can outlaw evictions (only theoretically, but still). City councillors can call out the premier in public. And we can build a very good transit system.
“Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin and Acting Manager of Forest Protection Jim Rudderham outlined the status of three active forest fires in the province and answered questions during a media briefing on Tuesday afternoon,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:
Rudderham told reporters the 148 hectare wildfire near Frankville in Antigonish County is classified as out of control and about 50% contained right now. A second fire on Alton Road near Springfield in Annapolis County is also causing concern. That fire is about 120 hectares in size and 40% contained.
The third fire, about 40 hectares burning in Argyle, Yarmouth County, is felt to be “pretty under control” due to fog and rainy conditions in that area. Rudderham said there were also two “spot fires” that flared up in Cumberland and Lunenburg counties, but they were taken care of quickly and extinguished.
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“Provincial parks and beaches may be open, but if you go, don’t expect to… go, if you know what I mean,” reports Philip Moscovitch:
Provincial spokesperson Lisa M. Jarrett said in an emailed statement that “provincial parks, beaches and trails are open for public use at their own discretion; however, visitor services will remain very limited while we enhance public health measures.”
There is no timeline yet on when washrooms may open. Jarrett said, “We are currently looking at how to safely open services and facilities to the public. Our plan will include steps to keep staff and visitors safe, including extra cleaning of common facilities.”
Halifax Examiner contributor Joan Baxter reports that last Thursday at Rainbow Haven she saw “a lot of people on the beach, and the people on the beach were making regular forays off the beach into the woods… We saw TP near the first parking lot, along the path towards the beach. Actually there was even some by the sign that amenities were closed. And where there is a boardwalk to the beach, there are nearby woods… Lots there too.”
“The company that publishes the Toronto Star has agreed to be sold to a company run by entrepreneurs Jordan Bitove and Paul Rivett in a deal worth roughly $52 million,” reports Josh Rubin, in the Star itself:
Torstar, a print and digital publishing company that runs newspapers and websites across the country, including the Toronto Star and thestar.com, announced the deal with NordStar Capital Tuesday evening.
“We believe in news. With this transaction we can ensure a future for world-class journalists and world-class journalism befitting the paper’s storied history,” said Bitove. “We are committed to investing in the news business, along with preserving the Atkinson Principles, as fairness and accuracy will continue to guide the papers’ prevailing value system.”
Er, no one buys a legacy newspaper in the midst of a global pandemic with the aim of “investing in the news business.” More likely, the company will be raided for its assets — anything that isn’t nailed down will be sold off, the community newspapers will be “consolidated,” lots of layoffs will be announced, and the Toronto Star itself will be transformed into an ad sheet, then dumped at the most opportune moment.
Am I overly cynical? Consider:
Navigator is the PR firm that famously represented Jian Ghomeshi during that mess. Explained Alan Jones at Vice:
At the head of Navigator is Jaime Watt, who came to prominence by leading Mike Harris and his “Common Sense Revolution” to election success in 1995 before resigning from the government over a past conviction for fraud. Unsurprisingly, Navigator Ltd.’s team includes a number of former Conservative (or PC) campaign managers and communications experts. Randy Dawson, one of the managing principals of the firm, helped lead Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservatives to victory in 2012, but the firm also helped cast a shadow on Redford’s troubled tenure when it was revealed that her government had granted two “sole-source” contracts to the firm, which was against government policy.
This bunch isn’t interested in producing quality journalism.
Torstar is facing the same crisis as the rest of the legacy news media — advertising revenues have dropped off the cliff, and aren’t returning. That said, Torstar has made one bad business decision after another, worsening its financial position.
In 2014, it sold off the only profitable wing of the business, Harlequin, for $455 million, with the hope that an infusion of cash could help the company reposition itself. But that repositioning consisted of a laughable strategy of moving to tablets, a three-year experiment that burned through $40 million.
In 2017, Torstar bought five of the old Metro commuter newspapers — in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, and Halifax — with the aim of creating a cross-country online presence attracting big national advertising dollars. It wasn’t a bad idea, and some of the reporting, especially here in Halifax, was outstanding. But the strategy was executed poorly. Even the branding was unclear, with the free papers called Metro, while the online version was called StarMetro. And potential digital subscribers were confused by the continued existence of the free dead tree papers — you have to make a clean break of these things to make them work. The project was abandoned completely last year, with 73 workers laid off, including five reporters in Halifax. (I’ve picked up two of those reporters, Zane Woodford and Yvette d’Entremont, for the Examiner.)
More than the coming loss of journalism jobs, the Torstar sale leaves a hole in the middle of the Canadian news scene. The Star has long been the soul of Canadian journalism, and that will be lost in due time.
Still and all, journalism cannot only survive, but prosper. As much as Torstar has been haemorrhaging money, last year the company managed to pay its top five executives a total of $4.7 million, which incidentally was 70% of the cash the company received through the federal government’s media bailout. That’s enough money to run the entire Halifax Examiner operation for the next 20 years. Or, seen another way, it’s enough to run 20 Halifax Examiners across the country for a year.
So yes, the collapse in advertising revenue has been a gigantic problem for legacy news outlets. But it’s only an insurmountable problem because those companies are foremost focused not on journalism, but on profits and on big salaries for executives. As the Examiner is proving, journalism can survive and even grow by focussing on the job and serving the community. People will subscribe for that. (Please subscribe.)
Special North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm) — teleconference, agenda here.
Special Heritage Advisory Committee (Thursday, 3pm) — virtual meeting, agenda here.
In the harbour
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
07:00: Selfoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik, Iceland
15:00: Selfoss sails for Portland
16:30: Maersk Mobiliser, supply ship, arrives at Pier 9 from the Sable Island field
23:00: Augusta Luna, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 31 from Moa, Cuba
Another sunny day.