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“A scaled down version” of the Eden Valley chicken plant where six employees tested positive for COVID-19 last week could re-open before the completion of the 14-day shutdown ordered by the province, according to Health Minister Leo Glavine. The Minister, whose Kings West riding includes Berwick where the chicken plant employs 450 people, made the comment following today’s meeting of cabinet. 

Glavine said only “a small number” of workers and managers would be permitted back in the plant to conduct a “kill and chill” operation on birds which would be stored in freezers. The limited re-opening is dependent on workers getting a second negative test for COVID-19, something that could be completed as early as this Saturday, depending on weather conditions.

It’s unclear how many people might be allowed back in the plant because Eden Valley has yet to return a request for more information on the size of the operation. Glavine punted the question to the company. 

The plant is co-owned by Maple Lodge Farms in Brampton Ontario and a group of valley poultry producers that raise chickens and turkeys. It’s been closed since December 9, when testing began for all 450 employees. On Sunday, Dec 13, Thom Oulton the president of Chicken Farmers of Nova Scotia, urged the province to reconsider its decision to keep the plant shuttered for two weeks during one of the busiest times of year. 

Testing for people with no symptoms has been available in Berwick, Middleton, and Wolfville this week. In response to a reporter’s question, Glavine explained why a limited re-opening is being contemplated before the 14 days ordered by Public Health last Friday, Dec 11.

“While the company had invested over $500,000 originally to run the plant safely through COVID, they have taken some very strong additional measures that will be there for the workers who go back to a small-scale operation and will continue once the plant is back in full operation,” said Glavine.

More ferry tales

Today’s cabinet meeting followed a budget update from Finance officials. Reporters asked how much had been allocated for the Yarmouth ferry and were told no change had been made to the $16.3 million put in the budget last March. 

The ferry did not operate last summer (nor the summer before) and Minister of Transportation Lloyd Hines told journalists in August the government was working with its contractor — Bay Ferries — to reduce expenses that are not part of fixed costs. Asked to explain why the budget for the Yarmouth ferry has not changed nine months into a fiscal year when no fuel was consumed, Hines had this answer:

“We are still working with the contractor to identify savings. We have a contractual obligation and fixed costs that need to be fulfilled and we’re sticking with the ferry because we feel it is an investment to secure a good strong future for our tourism operations in Nova Scotia.”

Hines, determined to brazen out reporters’ questions about the unlikelihood of a season next year while COVID rages south of the border, said he remains “hopeful and ready” The Cat will resume service next year. 

PC Leader Tim Houston says the 10-year contract with Bay Ferries has never been a good one for Nova Scotia and he would prefer to see the province spend its money supporting other tourism operators whose businesses may not survive the pandemic. 

Today, Business Minister Geoff MacLellan acknowledged a plan is needed to rebuild the tourism sector, which is projected to need two or more years to rebound. 

Politicizing public health measures?

Last but not least, a previously arranged plan that would have seen 10 members from each political party attend a largely symbolic ceremony tomorrow, Dec 18, to mark the end of this year’s legislative session will go ahead with only the premier, lieutenant-governor, and some staff members present. 

Premier Stephen McNeil said public health measures would have been flouted by a larger gathering and that the opposition leaders are to blame for rejecting his request made Tuesday evening to prorogue the legislature via a “virtual” online meeting.

“The opposition parties are choosing to politicize this issue,” said McNeil. “For 10 months I’ve been sitting with Dr. Strang encouraging Nova Scotians to follow the rules. I am going tomorrow to break Public Health protocols because they are forcing me to do it. Think about that!”

Gary Burrill said the NDP position has been if it is safe for teachers and nurses to go to work, it should be safe for elected politicians to do their job “inside a place the size of a hockey rink.” He called McNeil’s comments “manipulative.”

PC leader Tim Houston was struck by the irony of the premier proposing a virtual session for December 18 after the PCs have for months advocated the government use technology to allow for a resumption of political debate online during the pandemic.

“For the premier to say ‘let’s sit virtually now,’ he’s only doing that because it suits him,” said Houston. “The reality is it would have suited Nova Scotians for the legislature to have sat virtually during the fall so we could debate policies and present ideas. It’s an embarrassment to Nova Scotians our legislature hasn’t sat in 282 days..that rests squarely at the feet of the Liberals.”

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. Let’s not forget Nova Scotians were further RIPPED OFF by Liberal Party MLAs who, playing follow-the-leader without-a-shred-of-shame used their majority on all-but 1 legislature committee to sideline work for 6 months. Sleazy in the extreme.