1. Judge orders province to reveal cost of Yarmouth ferry management fee
How much does the province pay each year for a company to manage a ferry that’s been docked for two (soon to be three) summers in a row? I don’t know, but we might soon find out.
As Jennifer Henderson reports, Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court has ruled that the province must publicly divulge the cost of the annual fee it pays Bay Ferries Limited (BFL) to manage the ferry service between Yarmouth and Maine. Under a 10-year agreement the province made with BFL in 2016, the company is guaranteed a “management fee” each year, whether the ferry runs or not. The management fee is included in the annual operating budget for the ferry service, but the amount isn’t broken down. The operating budget has fluctuated between $13 million and $24 million over the past five years.
BFL’s CEO said the public release of such information could damage the company’s ability to negotiate and compete for future contracts, but Justice Richard Coughlan found otherwise. Now, the province and BFL have 30 days to appeal the decision, or the cost of the management fee will be made public.
The court decision comes two years after Provincial Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston initiated the lawsuit. He did so in response to the McNeil government’s refusal to accept the Privacy Commissioner’s recommendation to make the management fee public. The PCs had made the original request for the fee to be revealed under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act four years ago. Houston said if his party were to come to power, he would work to give the Information and Privacy Commissioner the power to order the release of government information, rather than just requesting documents be made public.
The Examiner has asked for a response to the ruling from soon-to-be Premier Iain Rankin, but has received no word back as of the time of publication.
If you’d like to find out more about the court’s ruling, BFL’s argument for privacy, or the province’s potential next steps in the Yarmouth ferry saga, check out Henderson’s full piece.
2. What happens to a gas station development deferred?
Zane Woodford has an oddity from council this morning.
On Tuesday, councillors voted to defer the decision to approve development for a gas station in Hatchet Lake to a future meeting.
I suppose that doesn’t seem too odd. You might think it’s banal even, or that I’m just terrible at writing ledes. But stick around, there’s more.
The development in question, which would be built at 1656 Prospect Road, partway between Halifax and Peggy’s Cove, was already voted down in September — unanimously. Now, the decision has been reviewed, overturned and brought back to the councillors, who are being asked to vote again, this time to approve the development under legal obligation.
I’ll let Woodford explain:
The lot isn’t zoned for a service station, but under the municipal planning strategy for the area, the owner can apply for a development agreement to allow one. The planning strategy includes specific criteria the community council can use to make its decision, and in a staff report in September, municipal planner Maria Jacobs advised that it met those criteria and should be approved.
“The development includes architectural features to reinforce the character of the area, controlled site access and vehicular and pedestrian provisions to promote efficient on-site circulation, and landscaped buffering to provide wetland protection and a visual barrier,” Jacobs wrote, recommending in favour of the proposal.
In September, the community council voted unanimously against the proposal from Hatchet Lake Plaza Ltd., siding with nearby residents who voiced concerns during a public hearing about groundwater contamination, the proximity of the gas station to their homes, and a lack of buffer between the gas station, those homes, and wetlands.
The developer appealed that decision to the provincial Utility and Review Board (UARB). There was a hearing in December, and in a decision dated Jan. 29, attached to the staff report to the community council on Tuesday, the board sided with the developer.
The board agreed with arguments from lawyers for Hatchet Lake Plaza Ltd. that the community council needed a better reason to deny the development. It ordered the community council to approve the development agreement.
So, that’s what council was supposed to do on Tuesday: obligingly adhere to the UARB’s decision and approve the development.
But Coun. Shawn Cleary had reservations. In the meeting, he asked what legal obligations council had to rubber stamp this station. Lawyer Meg MacDougall explained that only chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé could decide to appeal the UARB decision to the courts. Coun. Cleary remained unsatisfied. He moved to “defer the decision until municipal staff outlined the community council’s legal options and why it had to vote on the matter.”
So, after unanimously voting against the development in September, the community council unanimously voted to put the meeting off until they could figure out if they absolutely had to approve it.
Will the next vote be the ticket? Are there enough pumps to sustain HRM commuters in the meantime? Is a gas station delayed a gas station denied? Do the councillors still have a say?
Keep checking the Examiner to find out.
The rest from community council Tuesday:
- Community council voted to move a development proposal for a heritage property on Tower Road ahead
- They also voted to schedule a public hearing for a development proposal in Spryfield
- And gave a first reading of amendments to clean up some typos in the city’s secondary suites bylaw
3. COVID-19 Update
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There were three new cases of COVID-19 announced in Nova Scotia yesterday. There are now 12 known active cases in the province, with one person hospitalized (that person is currently in ICU). Eight of those cases are in the Central Zone.
As of the end of day Monday, 23,140 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, 8,225 of which were second doses. As Tim Bousquet writes in his full update from yesterday, “about 1.5% of the population have received at least one dose of the vaccine.” Vaccinations began rolling out in the middle of December.
4. Fishery news: Potlotek First Nation sues province
“The Potlotek First Nation is launching a legal action against the Nova Scotia government over the right to sell seafood harvested through a moderate livelihood fishery,” writes Holly Conners, reporting for the CBC this morning:
The move comes after Sipekne’katik First Nation filed a similar suit earlier this month.
“Our right to a moderate livelihood was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada, yet Nova Scotia’s regulations prevent us from fully exercising our rights,” Potlotek Chief Wilbert Marshall said in a news release Tuesday.
In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada handed down its decision in the case of Mi’kmaw fisher Donald Marshall Jr., of Membertou First Nation. The landmark case affirmed the Mi’kmaw treaty right to hunt, fish and gather in pursuit of a moderate livelihood.
Potlotek launched its first self-regulated lobster fishery last October. It ran through to December.
The trouble came in selling the catch.
Under provincial regulations, it’s prohibited to buy fish caught without a commercial fishing licence issued by the federal Fisheries Department. It’s also prohibited to buy fish caught outside federal or provincial regulations relating to size, season and quota.
“The province sent letters to all the buyers telling them not to buy our product, any fish caught by our moderate livelihood fishermen,” said Wilbert Marshall.
Requests to work with the Nova Scotia government on the regulations have gone unanswered, according to the news release issued by the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs.
“I think what it comes down to is politics. The province is scared to make the call,” said Marshall.
Back in September, when Potlotek First Nation were meeting to consider forming their own, self-regulated fishery, Stephen Kimber wrote about the impacts of the federal government’s failure to clearly define what makes a “moderate living” for indigenous fishermen: “For 21 years, First Nations fishers have been in a kind of limbo waiting while Ottawa dithered over negotiations to clarify the court’s vagueness,” he wrote then. “[T]he Supreme Court of Canada had reaffirmed rights established in peace and freedom treaties with the British more than 200 years before. Those treaties had guaranteed them the right to fish and hunt and pursue what the court called, without explaining, a ‘moderate livelihood.'”
Now we have another court case to try to clarify what’s meant by that phrase. To check out that article and see how a vaguely defined “moderate living” has caused all sorts of headaches and frustration from 1999 to today, click here.
Tourism will take another heavy hit this year, but it’s not all bad
“It was another great year for the Halifax cruise industry due to the ongoing efforts of all involved – tour operators and providers, tourism agencies, restaurant staff and owners, shopkeepers and destination providers – to develop Nova Scotia as a premier tourism destination and provide visitors with an authentic experience that keeps them coming back for more.”
The attentive reader might guess that that quote isn’t a recent one. It’s an excerpt from the Port of Halifax’s Sustainability Report for 2018-2019, two years that saw over half a million cruise ship passengers visit our harbour and flood into our local shops and tourist traps.
Now, after a lost cruise ship season in 2020, the feds announced this month that we’ll lose the 2021 season too.
Between that news, tightened borders, continued pandemic restrictions and the loss of airlines in the region, the immediate future of tourism in Nova Scotia continues to look bleak. We can hope for the return of the Atlantic Bubble in the summer (though numbers in other provinces will need to improve for that to happen). And we can travel around our own province again for our vacations. The CBC reported yesterday on Tourism Nova Scotia’s new campaign to promote local tourism in the off-peak winter months as it prepares for another tough year.
So many businesses here rely on those tourism dollars and, while many survived 2020 — through government subsidies, creative business ideas, Atlantic Bubble visitors, and conscientious local shoppers — it’s going to be a tough slog to survive another tourism season (or lack thereof) in the pandemic.
Some of these businesses won’t see another year anyway. Local favourite Nova Scotia Crystal, for instance, had to close shop due in large part to lost tourist traffic (yet a cold, uncaring universe allowed the Harbour Hopper to survive.)
I’ve always been ambivalent toward tourism. Here in the Atlantic provinces we rely so heavily on it that we consider it a major industry. Any place that works to make tourism — or catering to the experience of people who don’t live in the place you’re doing business — a major part of its economy just seems backward to me. Just as fame should be the “perfume of heroic deeds,” not a pursuit in itself, I always thought of tourism as something that should be the byproduct of a place where people have built a unique, liveable culture.
I hate fighting through throngs of tourists on the waterfront, or tacky tourist traps around the harbour. I hate selfie sticks, and long lineups, and the whole idea of “buying” an experience.
I lived two winters in a place where tourism was the sole industry: Lake Louise, Alberta. There I saw some of the most awe-inspiring natural beauty this country has to offer. But I usually stayed away from the major tourist attractions. Not out of haughty disdain for the mainstream, but because I couldn’t enjoy a view when it was almost always obstructed by a stadium-size crowd. Places like Lake Louise itself, or Morraine Lake, or Johnston Canyon — once near-spiritual spots where Canadians could take refuge in nature and reconnect with the land — were often treated like trash cans for trail mix bags and water bottles, or backdrops for Instagram photos, with visitors thrashing through each other like a subdued mosh pit, vying for the perfect spot to take a selfie. By the time I left in 2018, conservationists were recommending Banff shut down the park to tourists for a stretch so the area could recover from man-made erosion, overcrowding, and an unnatural encroachment on wildlife.
Bashing tourism is pretty easy. When people talk about trips they’ve taken, they usually emphasize that they traveled “authentically.” They get defensive and assure you they didn’t just take some pre-arranged tour to the tacky spots everyone else goes to. Fran Liebowitz has made much of her career complaining about tourists ruining Manhattan, a theme she continued to roll with in her recent Netflix show. Way back in April, the New York Times published a piece in which their Paris bureau chief described a city that had returned from Disneyfication and tourist-pandering to once again become a real place where people can live well and enjoy their neighbourhoods for themselves. Parts of the city that had become boutique districts for tourists were now empty, cold and lifeless, while residential areas remained vibrant with balcony chatter and a little street life despite the pandemic.
On top of all that, our collective global reduction in flying really called into question the environmental ethics of leisure travel.
But I know it’s naive to say all tourism is bad. In spite of my premature-old-man grumpiness, I realize there is value in it. Aside from the economic boost — so many of our businesses really do rely on those peak season months — tourism, at its best, helps us connect with the world, share our culture and learn to be more accepting and tolerant of people and customs from all over.
So I hope the borders open safely and visitors arrive to see what our province has to offer. I’d like to see a few tourists supporting our local businesses again.
I guess what I’m saying is: for now, it looks like we’ll be tourist-free for another year. It’s out of our hands. So why not enjoy it? Take a jog on the waterfront without having to bob and weave through a nearly impassible mob. Take a trip to places in your own backyard you’ve never been to, or places like Peggy’s Cove that used to be so overplayed and full of people that you couldn’t enjoy the trip anymore. And do your best to shop local and support your neighbourhood businesses.
Just because our economy will ultimately need tourists to return as soon as possible, it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some of the perks of another season free of cruise ships and annoying crowds while we wait.
Deep (snow) in the Heart of Texas
You’d think I’d be used to staying indoors after nearly a year of pandemic living, but I felt pretty cooped up yesterday. I normally break things up with a jog partway through writing the Morning File — it’s my productive form of procrastination — but there was no way I was even stepping outside for a breath of fresh air in all that miserable freezing rain. Instead, I had to procrastinate the lazy way: scrolling aimlessly through the internet.
I found myself sifting through reports of the snow in Texas. It made me feel a little better about being stuck inside here. At least we’re prepared for this kind of thing. Texas, I imagine, is only slightly more equipped to deal with snow than the Greater Toronto Area, and it showed.
Buzzfeed put together a collection of photos from the snowstorm, including shots of cattle grazing in a white field, people pushing a mess of cars that have never seen snow tires through unplowed streets, and pedestrians using blankets in lieu of winter coats. Initially, I found it pretty amusing. It’s fun to see people experiencing snow as a novelty, whether their reaction is joy, bewilderment or newfound cold discomfort.
I started to look up old Texas weather charts to see how much of an outlier this snowfall is and instead landed on a recent Farmer’s Almanac writeup (not to be confused with the Old Farmer’s Almanac — who knew?) about places in the U.S. that have never seen snow. To my surprise, Hawaii and Death Valley aren’t on the list. Only Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the southernmost part of Florida have never seen recorded snowfall. Basically, if you’re American and (A) have no say in your presidential election, or (B) have, for some reason, a ridiculously disproportionate say in your presidential election, it’s likely you’ve never seen snow in your hometown.
My amusement and curiosity, though, soon turned to sympathy and concern as I read more reports. As of this morning, both the Guardian and New York Times have reported more than 20 dead across the southern and central states in snow-related accidents. Temperatures have reached 20 degrees below zero (celsius) and millions were without power or heat. I don’t care if you grew up in Waco or Iqaluit; those are some difficult conditions.
Texas isn’t the only state hit by this abnormal weather, but it’s especially sad to see a place with such an ingrained history of fossil fuel extraction face the direct consequences of our human impact on the climate. It doesn’t feel like poetic justice. It just feels heartbreaking.
The next time we get freezing rain here, I’ll sit comfortably in my pajamas and remember not to feel too sorry for being stuck inside for a day.
Budget Committee (Wednesday, ) — live webcast, with captioning on a text-only site
Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am) — live broadcast of audio and PowerPoint presentations
Board of Police Commissioners (Thursday, 12pm) — live webcast
No public meetings.
Separating Home and Work Support Group (Wednesday, 12pm) — MS Teams meeting
Primary Health Care Learning Series ‑ Presented by BRIC NS (Wednesday, 12:30pm) — two Zoom presentations: Matthew Grandy will present “Utilizing EMR Data for primary care research: Insights and challenges in making data accessible for research and QI at a practice level.” Virginia McIntyre and Karly Stefko will present “A promising intervention: the successful implementation of a 10-week exercise program for individuals with chronic pain.”
Open Dialogue Live: Health Tech (Wednesday, 6:30pm) — Travis McDonough from Kinduct Technologies will talk, joined by Brandon McDaniel from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Shamar Burrows from Dalhousie Tigers Basketball, and Tim Maloney.
Blockchain, Bitcoin & Cryptocurrency (Thursday, 11am) — Zoom webinar; from the listing:
In this live 30 minute, information-packed event featuring renowned blockchain and cryptocurrency expert instructor George Levy, you will have the opportunity to learn about the many opportunities currently available with blockchain technology, and why it is considered “essential critical infrastructure” during the COVID-19 Pandemic. You will also have the chance to learn valuable information about Bitcoin, Blockchain and how you can take part in the greatest technological transformation since the World Wide Web.
Don’t forget to write down your password.
Falling Through the Cracks: Long‑Term Care and COVID‑19 (Thursday, 1pm) — Facebook live stream event; panel includes Pauline Dakin, Janice Keefe, Kenneth Rockwood, and David Sabapathy.
COVID-19 has overwhelmed long-term care (LTC) facilities across the country, leaving Canadian’s shocked by the devastation. LTC facilities account for nearly 11% of COVID-19 cases in Canada and over 70% of total deaths. While the largest proportion of cases in Canada are among those 20-29, nearly 97% of deaths have been among Canadians over the age of 60.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed long-standing deficiencies and challenges in the delivery of long-term care in Canada. Many stakeholders are calling for national standards, but there are questions about the best approach. Should we amend the Canada Health Act to include LTC or develop new legislation? Long standing staffing challenges will also need to be addressed, such as equitable and permanent pay and benefits for care aides, mental health supports for all staff; and improved and required data collection. A coordinated approach between Federal and Provincial/Territorial Governments will be necessary.
No public events.
Live Poets! On Love (Thursday, 8pm) — virtual live readings from Ben Ladouceur, Scott Lemoine, and Bahar Orang, and an open mic featuring student work
In the harbour
If you have to drive today, keep it slow and stay safe, Halifax.