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I certainly don’t check to see if any given person is a subscriber. That’s because I don’t want that knowledge to affect my relationships with people — people subscribe or not, for their own reasons, and I’m not going to change how I interact with them because of it.

So it’s always a little weird when someone says to me something along the lines of “oh, I keep meaning to subscribe.” Well, don’t tell me this! Just subscribe.

It really does make a huge difference in what the Examiner can and cannot cover.

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News

1. Children and vaccines

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

Vaccination for children should start very soon in Nova Scotia — appointments may possibly be open as soon as tomorrow, as Premier Tim Houston and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang have scheduled a COVID briefing for 11am Wednesday, presumably to discuss vaccinations for children.

“Since the federal government announced that it has approved vaccines for children aged 5-11, I’ve gotten comments along the lines of “kids don’t much get COVID, and when they do, it’s usually mild cases, so why should they risk be vaccinated?” I wrote yesterday:

Honestly, when I started getting these comments on Twitter, I thought they came from trolls and other bad actors trying to disrupt the Public Health response to the pandemic — there truly are such bad actors, and more of them than we often acknowledge  — and I’ve just ignored them for fear of amplifying their false rhetoric, which is their aim.. But the same comment is coming from people I have no reason to believe are bad actors, so I’ll address the concern.

My personal response to the issue has always been: Children should get vaccinated for the same reason I got vaccinated. I don’t personally much fear COVID; I’m healthy and chances are I’ll fend off the illness just fine. I didn’t get the vaccine to protect myself. I got vaccinated so I wouldn’t spread the virus to those who won’t do so well with the illness. And there’s a larger calculation: the more people who get vaccinated, the less the virus will be circulating, and we’ll all be less at risk.

Let’s face it: children generally may not be much at risk individually, but they can be little disease vectors bringing that nasty virus to grandma and the other more vulnerable people around them. Saying children shouldn’t get vaccinated because of some minuscule and close-to-nonexistent risk to them from the vaccine is essentially saying “screw grandma!”

Dr. Joanne Langley. Photo: Contributed

But I am no epidemiologist. So I asked Yvette d’Entremont to ask Dr. Joanne Langley the same question today. Langley is a professor of pediatrics and community health and epidemiology at Dalhousie University and is based at the IWK Health Centre. She’s also a researcher at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology, head of pediatric infectious diseases at the IWK, and serves as co-chairperson of the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force advising the federal government. Here’s their exchange:

d’Entremont: One thing that we’ve been hearing frequently, particularly since Friday’s announcement of Pfizer being approved for children ages 5 to 11 here in Canada, is that younger children don’t tend to get very sick, so it seems pointless and potentially reckless for us to be doing this. Some ask why we should vaccinate them if vaccination carries risks and these younger children likely won’t be severely impacted if they contract COVID-19. What do you say to people who have this concern or who raise this as a potential issue? Why is it important for young children, despite the fact that they don’t get sick in the same numbers to actually be vaccinated?

Langley: Even if a disease is less common for a certain age group, it can still be very serious and life threatening if you get it. So on a population wide basis, we may say that fewer children will have those serious outcomes. If you’re a child or a parent of a child or a family member of a child who gets those serious outcomes, they’re very important to you. And some of the serious outcomes we worry about are a certain number of children will get hospitalized. In the US about a third of children who are sick enough with COVID to be hospitalized require care in an intensive care unit.

There’s also really an unwritten story about long COVID, the symptoms lasting beyond three months in children. And that’s going to be a different story than adults because they would have those persistent symptoms at a time of growth and development of their brain, of their social skills, while they’re going to school. These are not effects we want to see in growing and developing children who are determining their path into adulthood. And for them to be sick for long periods of time or, heaven forbid that they have problems with their development because of COVID. We don’t know what long COVID will look like in children yet.

d’Entremont: By vaccinating that younger cohort, are you also cutting down on yet more people who have the ability to contract and pass COVID along?

Langley: Certainly there you can think about the benefits to the child and benefits to the community. And sometimes parents will think in the first instance about the benefits to their child, and I think it’s important to say there are benefits to the child. It will allow children to get back to their normal lives, and then there’s those community benefits that you just talked about. There is less chance of them spreading infection to other people and causing ongoing illness in the community.

d’Entremont: I noted to that the physician on CBC radio this morning also said that when you’re doing the whole cost-benefit analysis, the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to vaccination of younger children?

Langley: Yes, because the risk that you weigh vaccination against is the risk of getting COVID, and if you got COVID, the risk of all of the serious outcomes are much higher than if you get vaccinated.

It occurs to me that we’ve over-emphasized the “protect myself” aspect of vaccinations at the expense of the “shared responsibility” aspect, and partially as a result large numbers of people are down the rabbit hole of anti-vaxxism and COVID denialism.

I know there have been anti-vaccination movements in the past and yet we’ve conquered terrible diseases, so maybe simply being in the middle of a crisis in which anti-vaxxers are playing such a big role has warped my perspective, but it leaves me despondent.

I mean, we feed our kids all this terrible shit that comes in breakfast cereal boxes and soda cans, which is almost guaranteed to lead to health problems; we cart them around in cars everywhere at the expense of having them walk, which is healthier and safer; and yet we won’t give them a vaccine that could save millions of lives because there’s a zero point nothing percent chance they’ll have a negative reaction?

Photo: Ian Hutchinson

Anyway, because I knew she was interviewing Langley for another article, I asked d’Entremont to quiz Langley about the broader issue of vaccinations for children. The other article:

A clinical trial examining the safety and effectiveness of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in very young children has started recruiting participants between the ages of six months to five years in Halifax.

The Halifax-based Canadian Center for Vaccinology (CCfV) is participating in the international KidCOVE study, an international pediatric COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial looking at the Moderna vaccine’s safety in children six months to 11 years old.

Researchers in Halifax are currently looking for participants between the ages of six months old to five years old (“less than six years old”). They’ll be measuring children’s immune responses to the vaccine through blood samples that will be tested for antibodies to help determine how well the study vaccine is working.

Click here to read “Children ages six months to five years needed for Moderna COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial.”

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2. “Affordable” housing

Shelter Nova Scotia will get $84,000 for upgrades to its shelters, including Metro Turning Point. Photo: Shelter Nova Scotia/Facebook

“The Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing announced in a news release Monday that the province is putting $6.4 million toward the creation of about 200 new affordable rental units in Kentville, Lantz, Halifax, and Cole Harbour,” reports Ethan Lycan-Lang. “Some of that money will also go to five community housing groups, and five shelter upgrades in the province.”

Lycan-Lang gets into the “affordability” aspect of the announcement:

The release states that the units announced today will rent at least 20% below market value.

An early estimate of rental costs reflecting that value is included in the release. The estimate lists future affordable housing units in Halifax at $1,016 a month (single bedroom) and the future Kentville units at $1,200 a month (2 to 3 bedrooms). The Halifax units will be geared toward singles and couples, while Kentville units will be geared more toward families.

A recent report from the Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission defines affordable housing as “housing that is adequate (in good repair), suitable (large enough for its household occupants), and costs less than 30% of the household’s pretax income.”

By that (very common) definition, a $1,016/month single bedroom unit is affordable for a household with an annual gross income of $40,640. A $1,200 unit would be affordable for households taking in $48,000 before taxes.

Click here to read “Province to give $6.4 million to developers to build affordable housing.”

The Houston government’s housing strategy appears to consist of shovelling millions of dollars to big development companies like the Shaw Group.

The province’s press release is a piece of art. It celebrates “about 200 new affordable rental units” but the breakdown of particulars shows just 178 units. And no information is given as to how long the units must maintain the “affordable” status.

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From our subscribers

Joanne Bernard. Photo @JoanneLynnNS

Joanne Bernard

I began subscribing to the Examiner about a year ago. I was always a reader of what Tim and his staff were publishing because I knew it was accurate and fair. As someone who has been in public life, I may not have always agreed with the articles but I knew they were coming from a place of journalistic integrity. I need to know what I am reading is true and based on fact without bias. I get that from the Examiner.

Tim and his staff writers cover everything that is important to most of us. His coverage of the pandemic has been second to none and I rely on it to make decisions for myself and my family knowing his research and words are based on the here and now. I know his coverage is accurate, compassionate and relevant to what I need to know as a consumer of his product. I trust his work and those of his writers. The public interest stories from writers such as Suzanne and Phil capture a lot of topics I never knew I was interested in but found myself engaged and learning things that may or may not be useful to me.

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Trevor Parsons

Nova Scotia has a proud history of quality journalism and the Halifax Examiner carries on this tradition with my gratitude. Having lived in Halifax/Dartmouth for all but 20 years of my time here on the planet, I have had the privilege of experiencing numerous fine journalistic enterprises – from the Dalhousie Gazette in the late 60s (edited by Examiner contributor, Stephen Kimber), to The 4th Estate (profiled by The Examiner in 2014), to The Coast (Tim Bousquet’s former employer) to mention a few.

So, that’s why I was an early subscriber, and why I continue to support The Halifax Examiner.

But, I want to take a minute to acknowledge owner/editor, Tim Bouquet’s generosity. He often comes across as a bit of a curmudgeon (and he is), but his vocal and practical support for striking Herald workers, his promotion of the Cape Breton Spectator, and his willingness to stretch the company budget — I have no inside info, just guessing at this — to bring on new writers like Zane Woodford, are just a few examples of that generosity. All of that is to say that Tim has created a Halifax Examiner that is a community of journalists and the readers who benefit from their important work, and in these crazy times, we need community.


3. Tim meets Justin

The Atlantic Loop. Graphic: Emera

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

Premier Tim Houston had his first meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today. While the Prime Minister made no specific financial commitments, Nova Scotia’s Premier says he believes “we are on the same page on a number of issues.”

Houston said “a big, big part” of whether the province will be able to shutter its coal-fired electricity plants by 2030 depends on Ottawa agreeing to contribute $5 billion towards the Atlantic Loop. That transmission project involves building new overhead power lines between Quebec and New Brunswick and upgrading another line at the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border to deliver renewable energy from Hydro Quebec into the Maritimes.

“I didn’t expect him to pull out his chequebook at our meeting,” Houston told journalists at a briefing afterward. “But I feel we are on the same page. There are things to be worked out but the prime minister’s team knows what needs to be done and at the highest level, there is agreement on what needs to be done.”

Houston said 55% of the cost of eliminating coal-fired emissions in Canada is tied to coal plants in Nova Scotia and the public here can’t shoulder the transition because it has already contributed billions of dollars to move to greener forms of energy over the past decade.

On the topic of health care, Houston said he made a specific ask of the federal government to provide $70 million over the next three years. That money would be used to stand up 16 clinics to assist people struggling with mental health issues and addictions. Houston said the pilot project would have a focus on youth.

Houston promised universal mental health care during the summer provincial election campaign. Since then, three of four health regions across the province have had to postpone or ration surgical procedures because they either don’t have the beds or the staff available. Cancer operations and emergency care are not affected but most other surgical procedures are being re-evaluated on a daily basis.

Houston said he was “encouraged” by his first meeting with Trudeau.

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4. Crane

The top portion of the tower of the crane on top of the Olympus Building in October 2019. — Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

“As roaring winds strip the last leaves and powerful gusts send garbage cans rolling, how will all those construction cranes on the Halifax skyline fare?” asks Jennifer Henderson:

Memories of a crane crashing into a downtown apartment during post-tropical storm Dorian are fresh in people’s minds. They’re nervous memories, considering there are approximately 26 tower cranes “blowin’ in the wind” at construction sites scattered across the Halifax Regional Municipality.

A check with the Nova Scotia Labour Department Monday reveals that no “code of practice” for inspecting welds on booms and masts has yet been implemented.

The report’s findings were reviewed with crane operators, according to Khalehla Perrault, spokesperson for the Department of Labour. Perreault said; “requirements for cleaning, inspecting, maintaining and repairing tower cranes were communicated”, and, “a third meeting is to take place before the end of the calendar year.”

Click here to read “The crane collapse: could it happen again?”

Thankfully, the current storm isn’t living up to the hype, but cranes have had incidents in Halifax with no wind at all. As I wrote in 2015:

A crane at a construction site at the corner of Almon and Isleville Streets dropped a load on power lines yesterday, taking out power to the Hydrostone and Agricola Street area for about five hours. No one was injured.

I hope regulators are inspecting the plethora of construction cranes rising above the city.

The South Park Street crane collapse was the biggest tourist attraction of 2019; I’d walk by and see dozens of people lining up to take photos of it. I joked that I wanted to open the “Crane Café” in the new building, plastering it with photos of the fallen crane, but the developer has one-upped me, naming the entire building The Crane.

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5. Audit

Auditor General Kim Adair has released her review of Early COVID-19 Relief Programs for Individuals and Small Businesses, which examines the first wave (March to September 2020) of provincially funded COVID-19 emergency relief programs.

The audit was released at 9am, and so I don’t have time to go into it in detail, but the “key messages” are that:

  • Quick response was commendable, but Province spent $100 million before knowing the cost of relief
  • Millions in potentially unspent COVID-19 relief funds will not return to Province
  • Audited COVID-19 programs administered by Dalhousie University well managed
  • Numerous concerns with emergency childcare provider grants

Adair says the Dal programs were well managed; 6492 individual workers received $6.5 million through the Worker Emergency Bridge program. The problem is the agreement between the province and the University left a grey area about what was to happen with unused funds. Of note is a $35 million loan guarantee program for businesses:

During the course of our audit, $35 million of the $100 million was used to create the Tourism Sector Financing Assistance Program, a loan guarantee for large tourism operators. While this program was not part of our original audit plan, we felt it appropriate to consider the implications of the approach used.

It is notable that the full $35 million has been expensed and is sitting at Dalhousie University as security for these loans until the program ends in 2027, or one of the operators defaults. Had this program been run through a provincial department, a more traditional approach, the money would have remained with the Province and not expensed until needed in the event of a default.

This shows one impact of contracting Dalhousie University for the full $100 million up front. Doing so locked in the amount to be spent and may have led to the decision to run the loan guarantees through Dalhousie University. Had the money not been provided to Dalhousie University, then a loan guarantee program would likely have been run in a traditional manner through a provincial department.

Because not many businesses defaulted on the loans, most of the guarantees still belongs to the university. Together with other unspent funds, that constitutes a surplus “potentially more than half of the $100 million” that will not be returned to the province, but instead go to Research Nova Scotia.

Also, the contract with Dal had a “lack of definition around what should happen with any interest earned on the contribution”:

Although management from both the Province and Dalhousie University indicated that interest revenue would be spent on future relief programs or go to Research Nova Scotia if funds remain, the agreement with the Province does not address this issue. With just over five years until the contract terminates in 2027, this could result in a significant amount of interest accumulating. As of July 31, 2021 Dalhousie had recorded just over $500,000 in interest revenue on the Province’s contributions.

Still, Adair found that Dal’s administration of the program was “well run” and there were only minor mistakes made.

Update: Dalhousie objects to the notion that the university is keeping the surplus. The university sends this statement to the Examiner:

We are respectfully reaching out asking you to change the headline in your Halifax Examiner story today, as it suggests that Dalhousie University is keeping the funds that we had agreed to administer and distribute to COVID-19 programs, and that is not accurate.

Dalhousie was asked to support our province during one of the most challenging times in its history and we were pleased to be able to help with the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The university supported the administration and distribution of key funds as part of the province’s programs to help Nova Scotians and Nova Scotia businesses through the pandemic.

Dalhousie received no compensation for its services and made no profit – and only received minimal fees of less than $40,000 to cover student and faculty wages for administering the programs. We also note, the Auditor General’s report outlines, “the COVID-19 relief programs delivered by Dalhousie [were] well run.”

Programs are still in progress, and the agreement directs that any remaining funds once the programs are concluded, are to be issued  to Research Nova Scotia, including interest earned, for the purpose of public health research; however, Dalhousie will take the province’s guidance on the reallocation of all remaining funds.

Oversight of the contribution agreement was provided by the Deputy Ministers’ Advisory Secretariat, which included Nova Scotia’s deputy ministers of Business, Community Services, Finance & Treasury Board, and Labour & Advanced Education.

More problematic was the grant program for child care centres, which was run through the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Some $62 million was allocated to the department for the grants, and $30 million worth of grants were issued during the time period that was subject of the auditor’s review.

There were “no audits or verification of supporting information used for grant calculations,” wrote Adair:

Childcare centres were required to submit forms detailing their expenses; however, there was no evidence requested to support that the information submitted by the childcare centre was accurate. For example, invoices were not requested to support expenses, nor lease agreements to support rental rates. Information communicated to the centres indicated the Department may review supporting records at a later date.

Attestations stating the information was factually accurate were required to be signed by the childcare centres. During our testing we found 13 of 50 attestations were not signed by the childcare centre representative and we saw no evidence the Department took any steps to get them signed. Attestations are an acknowledgement that the information submitted is factually accurate, and while they do not prevent mistakes or fraudulent submissions, they are an important control.

There was no attestation included for the family home childcare providers and agencies. We found the Department had no direct contact with the family home childcare providers. Agencies received and disbursed the total $2 million in payments for all family home childcare providers as part of their normal responsibilities. The Department did not confirm the grant money was distributed according to the Department’s calculations. Although this is the Department’s regular approach, the reliance on agencies to disburse COVID-19 funding increases the risk and highlights the need for regular audits.

Management indicated that there was no verification of supporting documents at the time of the grant distribution due to the rapid deployment of grants, and no audits have occurred to date. Due to the errors found in our testing, along with the considerable amount of money disbursed, audits of the applications are now needed to ensure that amounts were accurately supported, and childcare providers received the amount to which they were entitled.

You can read the report here. Jennifer Henderson will have more later today.

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Government

City

Tuesday

Budget Committee and Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 10am, City Hall) — Budget Committee and Regional Council also livestreamed

Wednesday

Community Design Advisory Committee, Heritage Advisory Committee, Regional Centre Community Council cancelled; Western Common Advisory Committee rescheduled to January 26, 2022

Province

No meetings


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Embracing Diversity: The Change We Need (Wednesday, 8:30am) — online panel discussion with Kim Brooks, Alfred Burgesson and Mary Beth Doucette

Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Student Research Day (Wednesday, 10am, CHEB C-150 and online) — Poster session at CHEB, followed online by Soft Skills Building Session, Platform Presentations, and Keynote Speaker Xavier Banquy from Université de Montréal at 4pm with “Bioinspired hairy materials: from biolubrication to nanomedicine.”

Safe Space for White Questions (Wednesday, 2pm) — on YouTube

King’s

Tuesday

Waves of Change Training: Alcohol and Sex (Tuesday, 3pm, Seminar 7, Arts and Administration Building) — training module hosted by Jordan Roberts


In the harbour

Halifax
05:00: Qikiqtaaluk W, oil tanker, sails from anchorage for Sarnia, Ontario
07:30: Algoma Verity, bulker, arrives at Gold Bond from Cape Canaveral, Florida
08:15: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, moves from Pier 36 to Pier 42
11:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
11:30: Molly Schulte, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for sea
15:00: St. Sofia, bulker, arrives at Berth TBD from Trois-Rivières, Quebec
17:30: Tropic Lissette sails for Palm Beach, Florida

Cape Breton
03:00: Tanja, bulker, arrives at Government Wharf (Sydney) from Searsport, Maine
16:00: Rossi A. Desgagnes, chemical tanker, arrives at Government Wharf (Sydney) from Quebec City


Footnotes

I wanted to write about another celestial collision today, but find I have no time. I’ll write about it Friday.


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Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. More money for developers.

    Unfucking believable! Developers get millions of taxpayer dollars to make profits in perpetuity because they will promise to build “affordable” housing?

    What controls are there with this largesse? Will developers open their books? What is their profit margin using house money? How about a schedule for repaying this free money? What were the criteria for giving this money to these specific developers?

    How about developers getting this money with strict government oversight?

    Oh right, this is Nova Scotia. Greasing the wheels for friends and donors is not to be questioned or second guessed.

    We have an oligopoly to maintain after all. Monetizing poverty is just the next step.

    1. Schemes where public money is used to “help” lower income people buy services from the ultra rich are all too common – from Wal-Mart employees collecting welfare and spending it right back at the same Wal-Mart, to housing schemes like this. Building housing is not rocket science – all the government needs to do is expropriate land, pay people to build apartments and charge income geared rent to live in them.