1. Solar fee
“Reaction to Nova Scotia Power’s request for a 10% rate hike over the next three years continues to gain steam,” reports Jennifer Henderson:
Some of the most vocal opposition is coming from people who have installed home solar systems to generate some of their own electricity or who are considering doing so. In addition to the proposed general rate increase, people who purchase a home with a solar array or who install solar panels after February 1, 2022 will be charged a new “system access charge” of $8 a month on every kilowatt of installed capacity.
“We’re urging the Utilities and Review Board to deny Nova Scotia Power’s request,” said Gurprasad Gurumurthy, energy coordinator for renewables and electricity with the Ecology Action Centre. “We’re in a climate emergency and this fee will dis-incentivize residents who want to set up solar energy at a time when we need to be transitioning to renewables as fast as we can.”
Brendan Haley provides a useful framing of the issue.
2. Climate change and the city budget
“Halifax councillors are aiming for lower taxes while considering taking on more debt after a budget committee meeting on Friday,” reports Zane Woodford:
The new proposal is to cut the tax rate, from 0.813% to 0.797%. While that could be presented as a tax cut, that’s not how HRM presents it. Rather, the municipality’s finance staff presented the change to council as an increase to the average residential tax bill of 4.6%, or $94…
Of the original 5.9% increase, 3% was billed as a dedicated climate action tax to pay for projects under HalifACT 2050, the city’s underfunded climate change action plan. The money would pay for electric buses and fleet vehicles, retrofitting municipal buildings and more. With the lower increase, staff are still planning to break out the 3%, even displaying it as a separate line on tax bills.
Chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé described the plan to list the climate action tax separately as “transparency.”
Coun. Trish Purdy, who is opposed to any increase to the average property tax bill, inadvertently illustrated why separating out the climate tax is problematic.
“I’m naive, this is new to me, so I’ve been trying to read about climate change and everything,” Purdy said. “From what I understand climate change is a global issue. Global. So, one little municipality is not really going to impact climate.”
It’s a nation-to-nation, to be hashed out on the global arena type of thing, like there are huge polluters and carbon emitters. Like that’s where it needs to be addressed, by my small little understanding. And our federal government already taxes all of Canadian citizens with the carbon tax, which is going to be raised to 11 cents per litre of gasoline on April 1, by the way, along with every other goods and services. Our residents need to live. Prices are going up which we’re all aware of. So isn’t it redundant to tax our residents a climate action tax when the federal government is already doing so? And what is the impact versus the cost and the burden to our residents?
Purdy’s comments contain some misleading statements: Nova Scotia doesn’t participate in the federal carbon tax program, as it opted for its own cap and trade system; the increase to 11 cents per litre referenced applies to provinces in that federal program and to British Columbia, which had its own carbon pricing before the federal government imposed it on some other provinces; and it’s worth noting there are federal and provincial tax credits in most jurisdictions that partially offset carbon pricing.
The budget hasn’t been approved yet; in most years, that happens in April, although COVID has disrupted that timeline.
But without more transitional housing, emergency beds won’t make a difference in a stagnant system, advocates say.
In a recent Instagram post, P.A.D.S. Community Network calculated the shortage: with the closure of the emergency shelter at the Gerald B. Gray Arena in Dartmouth — which accommodated 35 people — and the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre’s shelter space on North St. — which accommodated 40 — the city’s at a net loss of 13 emergency beds. That calculation takes into account the new Dartmouth modular units and the tiny shelters built on church grounds but doesn’t include the hotel rooms where some unhoused people are currently residing.
P.A.D.S. is a grassroots organization that sprung up after the city evicted homeless residents from public parks in August. The acronym stands for “permanent, accessible, dignified, safer” — the kind of housing the organization wants for everyone living in HRM.
But P.A.D.S. says until people are no longer sleeping outside, the fight for that kind of housing has been put on the back burner.
“[P.A.D.S.] has had to move towards advocating for just stopgap warming centres,” spokesperson Victoria Levack said in an interview.
“Harvest plans are on hold for a 24-hectare plot of forest in Annapolis County where protestors have been camped out since December,” reports Ethan Lycan-Lang:
On January 21, the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) placed a temporary halt on an approved cut near Beals Brook off Highway 10 after being alerted to the presence of three rare species of lichen on the site.
Protestors became aware of the species after a lichen enthusiast visited the camp earlier this month and reported his findings to the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre.
“It’s confirmation that this forest is an important ecological forest,” said Nina Newington, a protestor with the group that calls itself Forest Protectors, which has been camping out on the cut-block on a rotating basis since December 2.
“What it really tells us is there’s not very much monitoring going on before they go in and cut because if we weren’t camped here, this would already have been cut.”
5. Fogo Island Inn
Mary Campbell of the Cape Breton Spectator has an ongoing bit where she reviews a podcast by Annette Verschuren, who is the former president of Home Depot Canada and current, er, I dunno, mucky muck of some sort in Cape Breton. All of Campbell’s reviews are insightful (and hilarious), but I especially like this week’s review of Verschuren interviewing Zita Cobb, the money behind Fogo Island Inn.
In some circles, the Fogo Island Inn is spoken of reverently, in hushed tones and holding a hand over the heart, so criticizing it is akin to farting in a cathedral, which is to say, necessary. And Campbell provides:
Cobb, like Verschuren, has had a late-onset epiphany about the need to protect the environment and the danger posed by old ways of doing business, i.e. the ways in which both of them made their fortunes.
Cobb started out as a production accountant for Texaco and Shell in Calgary and what turned her off the job was not the fact that it was with an oil and gas company — “these are important jobs, we need oil and gas companies” — but that it was in Calgary, a place she couldn’t connect with. At least, I think that was the problem, what she actually said about the Calgary job was that she “couldn’t figure out how it related to place.”
There is a lot of palaver about Mother Earth and resources and “environmental logic” but at the heart of Cobb’s success lies an inconvenient truth: her “luxury” inn relies on the continued existence of a monied class who can afford to fly to Newfoundland and pay for a three-night (perhaps soon to become a four-night) minimum stay at rates that range from $2,575 per night to $5,075 per night to “price available upon request.” (The change from a three-night to a four-night minimum is being considered in the name of — wait for it — lowering guests’ carbon footprint.)
Actually, I need to quote that June 2021 interview again, because she elaborates further on the advisability of a three-night minimum:
The longer people stay, the better it is for them and the better it is for us because it’s just less churn, fewer transactions. Travel should not be about transactions. What we need is travel that is about relationships.
Exactly, travel should not be about three $5,000 transactions — it should be about one, $15,000 transaction. I think the Buddha said that.
The “resiliency” of her scheme was tested — and found wanting — by the pandemic. Her hospitality-based business (which attracts only 5% of its guests from Atlantic Canada) proved as vulnerable to the plague and as reliant on government assistance as any other. As she told Stackhouse:
Our work is about economic dignity, so for us to have to lay off people because we simply couldn’t open was the most gut-wrenching, heart-destroying thing. We live in Canada, so there were enough programs that people didn’t starve to death, but nobody wants to be thrown out of work for 15 months.
I find the speed with which she moves from employees living a life of “economic dignity” to employees “not starving to death” kind of breathtaking — and knowing she’s saying it from Ottawa where she’s riding out the pandemic with her good internet makes it all the more dazzling.
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While Dr. Strang insists the Omicron wave has peaked, I know more people today who have COVID than I knew who had it during the supposed peak. Anecdotal, for sure.
I am not an epidemiologist or a virologist, so what do I know? But I’m not as sanguine about the supposed “end of the pandemic” many are forecasting. We seem not much interested in containing the spread of the virus, the public appears to be losing patience with control measures, and billions of people around the globe have not received even one dose of vaccine. All of this is a recipe for continued evolution of the virus and an out-of-control pandemic.
I very much hope to be wrong about this.
We’ll see over the next couple of weeks if there’s an echo of new hospitalizations and deaths related to school reopening, as students have now had time to both bring the virus into the classrooms and contract it from each other before bringing it home to their more-at-risk relatives and housemates.
Also, based solely on the ratio of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, I expect there will be on average one new COVID death a day in Nova Scotia for the next couple of weeks. As deaths aren’t reported on the weekend, that may mean we’ll see a few deaths reported today.
I very much hope to be wrong about that, too.
7. Student nurses to the rescue
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
Beginning as soon as next week, up to 1,500 students and their instructors at Nursing Schools in Cape Breton, Antigonish, Yarmouth, and Halifax will be placed in long-term care homes and hospitals where staff shortages are most acute.
Students enrolled in the Licensed Practical Nurse and Continuing Care Assistant programs at Community Colleges and Universite Sainte-Anne will also leave school to go to work for a one-month period.
According to figures provided by the Department of Seniors and Long-term Care yesterday, staffing shortages mean 26 nursing homes are not accepting new residents .
Some 1,913 people are on the wait list for a nursing home bed, including 312 in hospitals. Omicron has also made working conditions more difficult in emergency departments and on hospital wards where there are an estimated 600 nurse vacancies and approximately 300 patients who have tested positive for the highly contagious variant.
“This is an urgent situation. Students and their instructors have the chance to be part of an historic solution that will help long-term care residents, workers, and their families,” said Barbara Adams, minister of Seniors and Long-Term Care. “I am personally grateful they are taking on this challenge. They represent what it truly means to be a compassionate Nova Scotian, and I hope they inspire other health care workers not currently in the workforce to follow in their footsteps and help us through this difficult time.”
According to the news release from the ministers of Advanced Education and Long-Term Care late yesterday, this mean most nursing and CCA students will find themselves getting their work or clinical experience sooner than expected. For others who have already completed their supervised work or co-op term, this placement in February will be considered a temporary job with pay. All students who accept a placement will receive an honourarium of $1,000. The news release says graduations for all students will remain on track.
Mary Lee is the CEO of a group called the Health Association of Nova Scotia that provides administrative and human resources support to nursing homes and Residential Care Facilities.
“The level of collaboration and partnership that is occurring to respond to the staffing shortages arising from the Omicron variant and ongoing vacancies is unbelievable,” Lee said. “The accelerated placement of students in long-term care facilities will help provide much-needed relief and support for the dedicated staff who have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic and ensure residents continue to receive the quality care and comfort they deserve.”
2. Convoy and “crazies”
“Freedom Convoy 2022 could have generated important discussion about how we balance risk and reward and individual freedom in the time of COVID,” writes Stephen Kimber. “Instead, it ceded the stage to a dark-star dog’s breakfast of extremists, conspiracy fertilizers, and crazies.”
I try, but I cannot stay atop of all concerns, and I admit to being ignorant about the offence some take to the word “crazies.”
I’m trying to work this through.
There are many disheartening parts to what is perhaps the collapse of civilization we are now going through. Climate change, pandemic, the rise of authoritarianism, and more. But by my reckoning, the very most disheartening aspect to our current woes is the rejection of a shared reality — without that, we can’t address any of the other problems.
It was journalist Ron Suskind who first drew my attention to the problem, back in 2004, with a quote subsequently attributed to Karl Rove (Rove says he didn’t say it, so it may have been someone else):
The aide said that guys like me [Suskind] were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
There is a direct line from that quote to Donald Trump, who gained power by chaotically upending any notion of a shared reality. This is the basis of the entire right-wing cultural sphere (I can’t call it a political sphere because there’s no consistent or even discernible belief system beyond tribalism).
As Hannah Arendt wrote: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Community, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction … and the distinction between true and false … no longer exists.”
And so we have all sorts of bizarre and impossible things that are both purported to be true and, importantly, are believed, by an astonishing number of people. There’s a child sex slave ring run by Democrats out the [non-existent] basement of a DC pizza parlour. Bill Gates is inserting microchips billions of people via vaccines. And: the Canadian Senate and the Governor General will sign a Memoranda of Understanding with [non] truckers to overthrow parliament and revoke vaccine mandates.
It’s not that all this stuff is bullshit. Everyone knows bullshit is bullshit. That’s what makes it bullshit — it exists in a world of shared truths. Rather, what’s happening is that a false reality is created in order to deny the existence of the real reality.
What are we to think of people who can live in this false reality, to the point of it being the motivating force of their actions?
None of this has anything to do with mental illness. Most people I know who have suffered some form of mental illness are quite aware of the “real” reality — if anything, they’re overly aware of it, to the point that their awareness distorts the kind of responses that help us make it through the day relatively successfully. So, I wouldn’t call mentally ill people “crazy,” both because it’s offensive and because it’s simply wrong.
But what do I call those who create a false reality, allow it to motivate them, and use it to undermine the real reality? If there’s a better word, I don’t know what it is.
Board of Police Commissioners (Monday, 4pm) — virtual meeting
Community Services (Tuesday, 10am) — video conference; Recreation Facilities: Impact and Recovery from COVID-19, with Jennie Greencorn, Recreation Facility Association of Nova Scotia
Library Engagement in a Pandemic & Post Pandemic World (Tuesday, 12pm) — virtual public lecture with Carla Hayden, 14th Librarian of Congress, and the first African American to lead the national library; registration required
Plumes of Power: An Evening with Senator Donald H. Oliver (Tuesday, 7pm) — Via Zoom; he will read from his recent book, A Matter of Equality, The Life’s Work of Senator Don Oliver. Register in advance.
In the harbour
09:00: Maj Richard Winters, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 31 from Saint John
11:30: MSC Sandra, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
12:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from St. Croix, Virgin Islands
13:00: Maersk Patras, container ship, arrives at Pier 31 from Montreal
17:30: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
19:00: Larvik, oil tanker, moves from outer harbour to Tufts Cove
22:00: MSC Tianjin, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Sines, Portugal
Cold, they say.