1. Nova Scotia non-profits to distribute $11.5 million in COVID-19 relief funds
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Under the federal Safe Restart program, community groups and non-profits in Nova Scotia will deliver millions in relief to people struggling financially.
The $3.5 million is the biggest chunk being distributed. The Salvation Army will use the money to help Nova Scotians who can’t pay their heating or electric bills through a one-time credit of up to $400.
“We’re hearing from our clients that they’re struggling in a multitude of ways to meet the household requirements of paying the bills, and oftentimes some very difficult decisions that nobody should ever have to make are being made,” [Salvation Army spokesperson Jamie] Locke said.
“How do I cut back on the grocery spending so that we can continue to pay the light bill and cover the energy costs of our house? These are challenging days for many, particularly low income households. We see this contribution as being just one piece of being able to offer assistance.”
Locke said one of the benefits of the new fund is anyone who previously applied for assistance through the Salvation Army’s HEAT Fund can still apply for help via the new COVID relief fund.
Locke also recognizes that even though $400 may be helpful, it is far from sufficient:
The sad reality is we know that this particular program is not going to alleviate all the stress that people are experiencing,” he said.
“We wish that that’s something that we could do that would help remove that entire financial burden from people. We just hope that it signals to people who are struggling that there’s some hope, and that this is a small offering of assistance that we hope will be meaningful to people who are struggling.”
2. New VG unit opens
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
A 17-bed unit on the ninth floor of the Centennial building at the Victoria General site will open later this week after undergoing renovations, the Halifax Examiner has learned.
“9B” will be a temporary home for people who no longer require the acute care that a hospital provides but who have issues that require an alternate level of care (ALC) carried out by nurses and continuing care assistants.
“This initiative will support the overall and current challenges with hospital overcapacity,” said an email from Nova Scotia Health senior communications advisor Carla Adams, including helping to reduce overcrowding at the Emergency Department at the Halifax Infirmary.
Ten days ago, Anne MacPhee went public with how her husband had a heart attack and died waiting for an ambulance despite living only 10 minutes from a Halifax hospital. Health Minister Zach Churchill instructed Nova Scotia Health to find ways to improve patient flow so ambulances and paramedics will be freer to respond to real life emergencies.
“Overcrowding in the emergency department (ED) is a sign of a broader system issue,” Carla Adams told the Examiner. “Patients are waiting to be admitted to acute care beds, which are occupied by people who can’t be discharged due to lack of appropriate care arrangements such as long-term care or alternate care in the community.”
For example, there had once been a man living at the Victoria General Hospital for more than two years who had a security guard outside his room 24/7 because of violent outbursts. Addiction issues made him difficult to discharge long after his broken bone had healed, but he eventually found a placement in a group home outside the city.
Last Friday, wait times in Emergency reached a crisis point. Nova Scotia Health activated its Central Zone Emergency Operation Centre to take immediate actions to help with patient flow, including:
• Four inpatient beds opened in the Halifax Infirmary to accommodate additional patients
• Seven stretchers were added in the Halifax Infirmary’s Interventional Radiology Recovery area to accommodate additional patients
• Staffing was increased on the weekend to support patient discharges
Adams was unable to explain why it took several months for Nova Scotia Health to open 9B as an overflow unit in the Centennial building. The renovations and staffing appear to have been completed by early December. That’s when the first of 50 patients began moving out of hospitals in Halifax and Dartmouth into a Community Transition Unit. The Community Transition Unit occupies two floors of a hotel in Burnside where adaptations were made to house elderly people; it is managed and staffed by employees of Northwood Group.
“The pandemic has created pressures and challenges across the healthcare system,” said Vickie Sullivan, operations executive director, Central Zone, Nova Scotia Health in a December 3, 2020 news release introducing the Community Transition Unit. “When Nova Scotians who need nursing home care, home care, or other services to live on their own and are waiting in a hospital bed, this can have a ripple effect across the larger healthcare system.”
The ripple effect can include waits two and three times longer than the acceptable standard for ambulances to deliver patients to busy urban emergency rooms. Last week, Health Minister Zach Churchill acknowledged during Question Period there are currently 198 Nova Scotians occupying hospital beds who are waiting for placement in nursing homes.
“We are working in collaboration with partners outside the hospital system — such as government departments and community partners — on longer term solutions,” said spokesperson Carla Adams. For now, everyone is running flat out to find space where people with dementia, chronic health problems, and addictions issues can get the care they need and free up hospital beds for others.
3. Law Amendments roundup: Solar power and continuing care assistants
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
On Monday, Halifax developer and the executive director for the Canadian Renewable Energy Association (CREA) urged MLAs to proceed quickly with changes to the Electricity Act that will allow for the installation of larger arrays of solar panels and the production of more solar energy.
Nicholas Gall said CREA “strongly supports” proposed amendments that would provide Nova Scotia with the same legal framework that governs net-metering in Ontario, Alberta, and New Brunswick — leaving the rules up to the government instead of the power company.
The changes would allow Nova Scotia Power customers to generate up to 1000 kilowatts of solar energy, a 10-fold increase over the 100 kw capacity the McNeil government legislated in 2015. Gall described this gap as “highly constraining” and explained how raising the ceiling could generate a lot more activity for homebuilders and business.
“For example, a big box store or an Atlantic Superstore would have enough roof space for 10 times more solar PV (photovoltaic) than is currently allowed,” said Gall. “Lifting the 100 kw net-metering cap would enable many more farmers, manufacturers, large retail stores, and other important job creators to more effectively manage their energy costs and carbon emissions for years to come. This will create hundreds of good-paying jobs for solar installers across Nova Scotia.”
Sixty companies are currently registered with Efficiency Nova Scotia’s Solar Homes program. Peter Polley, the founder of Polycorp Properties, known for its Spice condos on Barrington Street and Ravenscraig subdivision in Williams Lake, said the proposed legislative change would enable him to build multi-unit residential housing that could be essentially “net-zero” today. Polley said on an annualized basis, a 400 kw solar array could generate the equivalent amount of renewable energy that the building would need to operate.
Gall also described what he called a “virtual” net-metering program that would allow a restaurant owner that doesn’t own the space or a tenant who rents their apartment to pay for electricity that could be generated from a solar array set up on a nearby roof or parking lot. This type of subscription program is active in some U.S. states, Gall said, and Nova Scotia could become the first Canadian province to allow it through these amendments.
In response to a question from PC King’s North John Lohr about the potential impact on Nova Scotia Power, Gall noted that as Nova Scotia Power moves forward with its plans to bring many more wind farms onto the grid, “there is a lot of potential for solar to be complementary.” Solar energy peaks during summer months when less power comes from the wind. Improvements in battery storage will be key. Emera Technologies is currently piloting a battery that can store enough solar energy to run homes in a Florida community. The technology is being developed by Novonix, a local company that grew out of research led by physicist Jeffrey Dahn at Dalhousie University.
A bill to establish a registry for continuing care assistants (CCAs) was damned with faint praise by union leaders during a meeting of the Legislature’s Law Amendments Committee yesterday.
“Of all the possible steps that could have been taken to address the growing need for continuing care assistants in Nova Scotia, Bill 92 is the smallest one, and it is woefully inadequate,” said Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union.
“There are major issues that need to be addressed to solve the issues around recruitment and retention, namely wages and working conditions. The registry proposed in Bill 92 does nothing to help employers or the CCAs on the front line with these issues. The solution is simple, although clearly unpalatable to this government: they need to offer better wages and benefits to attract and retain workers to this sector.”
Establishing a registry is one of 22 recommendations from the Expert Panel on long-term care to help the province plan for future staffing needs in its home care and long-term care services.
The province graduates about 600 CCAs a year from Nova Scotia Community Colleges; the tuition for the two-year program is covered by a bursary from the province. Yet private and non-profit nursing homes operators were advertising to fill 388 vacant positions (mostly part-time) according to a workplace survey last fall.
“I think we know why CCAs aren’t staying in the work after graduation,” said Nan MacFadgen, the president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, NS division. “It’s back-breaking work; they are often mandated to work overtime. They are under-paid and they often can’t access vacation. Having said that, we need the information such a database could provide but this legislation — which still leaves a lot to be put in regulation — is not the path forward. There’s a lack of trust and this legislation is punitive. You can’t work if you don’t sign up; there is a $50 fine if you don’t sign up, so it’s concerning.”
4. Halifax: Screw the turtles, they’re not our responsibility
Halifax Councillors have approved a new development in Elmsdale, despite environmental concerns, Zane Woodford reports. Those concerns include the impact on groundwater and on threatened wood turtles.
The development is for 525 mobile homes on the Old Truro Road.
Woodford writes that Donna Hurlburt, the provincial manager of biodiversity and species at risk, wrote a letter to the municipality with concerns about turtle habitat:
Hurlburt told the municipality that the site is within the core habitat of the wood turtle, a “threatened” species according to the provincial and federal governments. A threatened species, by the provincial government’s definition, is “a species likely to become endangered if limiting factors are not reversed.”
Wood turtles have been observed in this area, and have been reproducing there.
“It is significant habitually used habitat that supports the persistence and recovery of the species in NS,” Hurlburt wrote…
“These observations indicate that no work should proceed without consideration of a NS Species at Risk permit. No permit is currently held, nor has a permit application been submitted with respect to this project,” Hurlburt wrote.
Municipal planner Shayne Vipond told councillors on Monday he’s spoken to provincial officials and come to the conclusion that it’s up to them to sort out the turtle issue with the developer.
“They have the legal responsibility for the wood turtles. The municipality does not,” Vipond said.
Speaking for the developer, Jennfer Tsang of Sunrose Consulting said if the city turned down the proposal, the developer would just appeal to the UARB and win there:
“It would be unfair to vote against this and thereby put yet another burden on the developer to appeal it after an already-agonizing nine-year process,” Tsang said.
I love the use of the word “agonizing” in contexts like this.
As always, there is much more depth to Woodford’s story than what I’ve summarized here, so please read the whole thing.
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5. Daily COVID-19 update
Nova Scotia recorded seven new cases of COVID-19 yesterday. Five of those were related to travel and the other two are close contacts of previous cases.
While our active case count keeps climbing (we are up to 46), and there are three people in hospital with COVID-19, we still don’t have anyone in the ICU with the disease.
There are no pop-up rapid testing sites currently scheduled, but you can always get tested (even if you are asymptomatic) by booking an appointment here.
For those on Twitter, someone has started an account called NS Vaccine, which tweets locations where bookings are currently available. The account just started up a couple of days ago and has a total of 18 followers. I am guessing that number will grow, perhaps exponentially.
I noticed an interesting post on the Acadiensis blog, on Sir John A. Macdonald and the role of historians in naming and re-considering names. The piece is by Andrew Nurse, director of the Centre for Canadian Studies at Mount Allison University.
One of the questions Nurse looks at in relation to Macdonald is the argument that he was a man of his time. We see this same argument all the time with Cornwallis too. Nurse writes:
I find the argument that concerns about Macdonald are simply a form of presentism that rips him from his context deeply disturbing. No one, this discourse runs, thought differently than Macdonald did and so to impose some sort of special penalty on him is not right. He could not know what we now know and so he cannot be judged by our standards. This issue gets complicated fast but there two matters that strike me as essential to address. The first is that this discourse is empirically inaccurate. There were a great number of people who thought differently than Macdonald, who suggested different modes of political organization, and who promoted a different set of relations between Indigenous peoples and Settler society. They just weren’t white. In effect, the defense of Macdonald erases First Nations and their resistance to colonialism from Canadian history as if it did not matter and as if they did not matter. I don’t believe this is intentional. I don’t think that those writing in support of Macdonald are seeking to erase Indigenous perspectives from history but the argument that they make about Macdonald’s context has that effect and I think, in this day and age, we need to ask: are we good with that? Is that the kind of history we seek to convey to our students? Would we encourage our students to discuss contexts in Canadian history as if First Peoples did not exist?
And he argues that removing that reconsidering Macdonald and the way he has been honoured is the opposite of erasing history:
My experience is that the more Canadians understand the scope of colonialism and the marginalization, repression, and mistreatment of First Peoples, the more they accept the idea that we need to break from that history and a narrative that lionizes its architects. In other words, the more Canadians know about history, the more they understand why the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was important, they more they feel that we need to reconsider how we teach history, the more they are willing to discuss what aspects of Canada’s past should be commemorated and how. To be sure, my students may leave my classes no longer thinking Macdonald is a hero, but they may not have really thought that when they came in the door. The interesting effect of this is that they tend to want to know more about the past; not less. And they are more generous to each other; not less.
What’s the Big Idea?
A somewhat unusual press release landed at Examiner headquarters yesterday (ie, was emailed to Tim Bousquet).
The release is from IGNITE, which somewhat tautologically describes itself as “a local innovation hub where ideas become reality. Entrepreneurs, small businesses, and large industries all benefit from the structure, mentorship, and opportunities provided by IGNITE.” (Why is “Entrepreneurs” capitalized but not “small businesses” or “large industries”?)
Anyway, the release touted a new project that will bring some tech people to Yarmouth, helping to meet the province’s needs for rural economic development and immigration.
From the release:
Rural areas are seeing a renaissance in the post-COVID era, and a new partnership in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia promises to be the catalyst for a project that will revitalize rural economies nationwide.
The federal government, through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), is investing $500,000 in IGNITE toward a digitization project in partnership with Global Villages.
“This is the first time in Canada that a rural community is piloting this kind of project,” says Yousuf Khatib, Co-Founder and CEO of Global Skills Hub and Advisor to Global Villages. “We’ll use the data that we get from this project to figure out how to scale this for other areas.”
The release goes on to say that five “strategically chosen” and “highly-skilled immigrants… will be moving to Yarmouth over the next few weeks to work with Global Villages from an office at IGNITE. The newcomers have extensive experience in STEM and with digital startups, which will be an asset to the Yarmouth area. They and their families are coming from Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, France, Dubai and Romania.”
(I intended to link to the release on the IGNITE website, but between the time I started writing this item and now it has been removed.)
I read the press release several times trying to figure out one simple thing: What was the project? As Tim Bousquet said on Twitter:
This may or may not be a good program (I have no opinion), but for the life of me, I can’t understand what it actually is doing. Digitizing… what?
My curiosity piqued, I called IGNITE CEO and co-founder Doug Jones.
He said the project is “kind of a combination of things”:
What we’re doing is bringing talent, immigrants from around the world to relocate to Yarmouth, and we’re doing an e-commerce rollout for the region, focusing on local shopping and local delivery. That’s the first phase of the project. But it’s really to introduce senior software engineering talent into a rural community and kind of see what happens because of that.
The project, he added, is for:
small-and medium-sized enterprises that don’t have e-commerce solutions. They’ll be able to get on this platform to sell their products and services without the need to program their own website or [deal with] any of the technology gaps that might exist. There are a lot of companies in the region that could benefit from e-commerce technology.
This may be laudable, but it doesn’t fit the usage of “digitization” that I’m familiar with.
I asked Jones why local businesses would need a dedicate locally-developed e-commerce platform. Why not just sign up with, say, Shopify?
There’s nothing that prevents people from going through Shopify, but we see very few companies adopting that. This is just another way to get their services and products digitized.
This is really meant to be a platform that includes local delivery service. It’s really on the shop local side of things. So if I was selling fish products, as an example, I could put them on this platform and sell to local consumers, and it has a delivery system that’s localized, so you’re not dealing with shipping by UPS for instance. It’s a local delivery service.
IGNITE is not unfamiliar with Yarmouth, since it is one of its two locations (the other being New Glasgow). So it’s not like they are a group of outsiders. Jones said the pandemic was one of the catalysts for the project:
There was a large majority of these companies that didn’t have a good digital presence and this was a way to maybe provide a solution in a rural place. It just came about because of COVID, and when we spoke to our friends at ACOA, they were really supportive of this initiative and the opportunities of getting our communities digitized and bringing in in a mix of talent.
After speaking with Jones, I contacted Karen Foster, a professor in the Dalhousie sociology and anthropology department, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Rural Futures in Atlantic Canada.
“I’m always a little bit excited when there’s an investment — an initiative — that looks like it will pay attention to rural Atlantic Canada,” she said.
But she also has concerns. She said:
There are lot of different factors that go into whether people move to a rural place, stay in it, succeed in it and attract more people. And just the fact of having five new people with a skillset move into a community doesn’t mean it will create an influx of new people…. It doesn’t even guarantee the initiative they are there to do will succeed and take hold.
She said a lot of the stereotypes around small towns and rural places — that they are “xenophobic, not welcoming, hard to break into” are not true. What’s more important is infrastructure: good schools, high-speed internet, health care. “I’ve heard anecdotally over the last five years about companies that have thought of moving to Atlantic Canada but have backed out because of the emergency room [closure] situation,” Foster said.
One thing that struck me as troubling and perhaps condescending in the IGNITE release was this line:
“When you attract tech talent to an area, you drive innovation. Tech people like to be around other tech people, so if you create a network, they’ll work together and create even more ideas, projects and companies.”
But Foster didn’t read that the same way I did. She said:
Networks matter. Professional and cultural networks matter in attracting people to a place…We make decisions on where to live and get ideas through our networks.
People in rural communities have learned to be dubious of the Big Idea that will save their economy, and as a result they hedge their bets. What she referred to as “occupational pluralism”:
You cobble together a couple of different jobs that allow you to live the way you want to live…
There is kind of a different ethic [in rural Atlantic Canada]. It’s not all growth and competition and these buzzwords we may associate with economics… There is a consciousness about how disruptive booms and busts can be and how different parts of economies need to fit together and be more complementary than competitive.
Nobody is arguing that moving five families to Yarmouth for an e-commerce project is going to save the local economy. To his credit, Jones and his group have a “let’s see what happens” approach. Mind you, it’s easier to have that approach with half a million dollars in public funding. But the province is clearly betting on Nova Scotia being a startup capital. It’s the Big Idea of the moment, just like call centres were the Big Idea of their day.
Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm) — live streamed, with captioning on a text-only site
Design Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm) — virtual meeting
Joint Halifax and West Community Council and North West Community Council (Wednesday, 6pm) — live streamed, with captioning on a text-only site
Health (Tuesday, 9am) — live broadcast:
Nova Scotia Health Authority — Joanne Stone, Geoff Piers, Colin Stevenson
Department of Health and Wellness — Kevin Orrell, Angela Purcell
IWK Health Centre —Steve Ashton, Matthew Campbell
Legislature sits (Tuesday, 12pm)
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am) — live broadcast:
Department of Transportation and Active Transit — Paul LaFleche
Department of Lands and Forestry — Paul LaFleche
Nova Scotia Lands Inc. — Stephen MacIsaac
Legislature sits (Wednesday, 12pm)
No public events
All About Diets (Wednesday, 12pm) — Nutritionist Chelsey Landry will provide info on popular fad diets and evidence-based nutrition facts. Email here for Teams invite.
No public events.
Counter Memory Activism Speaker Series (Wednesday, 7pm) — Zoom talk with Sylvia D. Hamilton, an award-winning filmmaker, educator, historian, artist, writer, journalist, public speaker, poet, and activist from Nova Scotia. In addition to teaching in the School of Journalism at the University of King’s College, Hamilton co-founded a program with the National Film Board to provide women of colour and Indigenous women with opportunities to make film. Her films focus on the struggles and accomplishments of African Canadians and include the Gemini Award-winning Speak It! From the Heart of Black Nova Scotia and Black Mother Black Daughter, the first film from the Atlantic National Film Board studio crewed entirely by women.
In the harbour
No arrivals or departures
Nothing witty to close with today.