News

1. You mean MLAs aren’t supposed to be corporate shills?

Pictou Centre PC MLA Pat Dunn constituency office window with “Friends of a New Northern Pulp” sign on Monday, March 21, 2022. Photo contributed.

Last week, it came to Joan Baxter’s attention that there was a Friends of New Northern Pulp sign up at MLA Pat Dunn’s constituency office. Dunn is the MLA for Pictou Centre and minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs.

Baxter wondered whether this was appropriate, and started asking questions. Now, she reports, Premier Tim Houston has ordered the sign to come down:

The Examiner contacted Dunn’s constituency office for a statement about the presence of the sign, to ask whether there was anything unusual about a government minister promoting a lobby group that is critical of the provincial government, and that seems intent on influencing an ongoing environmental assessment.

Catherine Klimek, Premier Tim Houston’s press secretary, replied to an inquiry from Baxter by email:

Klimek wrote, “Neither the Premier or government caucus feel it is appropriate to display materials of this nature in government or constituency offices.”

“We have followed up with the member to immediately remove the sign,” said Klimek. “We will also communicate this message to the entire caucus to let them know that this is inappropriate.”

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2. Can the Atlantic Loop be built before coal plants are supposed to shutter in 2030?

The Atlantic Loop. Graphic: Emera

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

Atlantic premiers met yesterday to discuss how they can cooperate on energy, health care, immigration, and other matters.

Present at their meeting was Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, the federal cabinet minister from New Brunswick who controls the purse strings for the Canada Infrastructure Bank and other financing tools that will be needed to greenlight the Atlantic Loop project.

New Brunswick and Nova Scotia premiers have asked the federal government for a $2 billion contribution towards upgrading existing power lines and building a new overhead transmission line to bring renewable hydroelectricity from Quebec to the Maritimes in order to reduce carbon emissions from fossil-fuel power plants. Legislation in Nova Scotia requires coal-fired plants that generate about 50% of electricity today to be mothballed by 2030, a decision which could cost ratepayers tens of millions of dollars because the cost to build those shuttered coal plants will still have to be paid off.

Although there has been plenty of discussion among the power companies, the provinces, and federal government over the past year, the Atlantic Loop remains an idea on a drawing board.

Yesterday, in a scrum with reporters following the meeting, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs noted that “realistically” there may not be enough time to build the infrastructure to achieve the goal of closing coal plants by 2030.

“It will be taking seven or eight years to get this up and functioning, and maybe longer,” said Higgs. “ We don’t want find ourselves at an endpoint wondering what’s next. So we build on what’s real all along the way. I think there is a way to get there but it may not be just as precise as hoped initially.”

Emera President Scott Balfour made a similar comment to investors during a conference call in February when he warned “the window” to make a decision on the Atlantic Loop was closing quickly if the Atlantic Loop is going to be a player in the transition from coal to green power. The project could see imported renewable energy replace a base load of 2,000 megawatts generated from coal, natural gas, and oil according to a federal-provincial study released this year.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston told reporters yesterday he is still confident the Atlantic Loop will get approved. “I do believe the federal government understands the importance of protecting ratepayers in balance with the greening of the grid,” he said. “The Loop discussions continue to move forward.”

Nova Scotia Power has been less than forthcoming about what Plan B might look like if the Atlantic Loop Project does not proceed. The utility is refurbishing hydro dams at Wreck Cove and Tusket Falls in Nova Scotia and it may be possible to purchase more hydro from Labrador (Muskrat Falls) over the Maritime Link once the bugs get worked out of the transmission system between Labrador and Newfoundland to permit the sale of supplemental energy by next year.

Another future benefit tied to building a new transmission route connecting Quebec with the Maritimes would be the ability to export excess renewable electricity generated here (from the wind or from tides eventually) to higher-priced markets in the United States. Federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser also was present at yesterday’s meeting..

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3. Before the Portapique murders: A long cycle of family violence

The Portapique sign on Highway 2 was adorned with a Nova Scotia tartan sash following the mass shooting that began there on April 18, 2020. Photo: Joan Baxter

I probably don’t need to tell you that the contents of this next item are extremely disturbing.

On April 18, when the RCMP checked their database for background on the Portapique murderer, they found only one entry — a complaint “that he had threatened his parents 10 years ago.”

But, Jennifer Henderson reports, there was a much more extensive background of violence and abuse:

What the senior RCMP officers in Bible Hill tasked with responding to the multiple fires and murders in Portapique didn’t know was the extent of the violence of which the perpetrator was capable, or that GW himself was a survivor of abuse.

The Halifax Examiner has studied the transcripts of lengthy interviews carried out with Lisa Banfield, GW’s common law partner for 19 years, and with Chris Wortman, GW’s youngest uncle who spent two summers babysitting his “strange” seven-year-old nephew.

Those interviews offer disturbing insights into the violent history of GW’s relations with his own family and partner.

Remember the resistance in some quarters to the notion that misogyny played a role in GW’s actions? Henderson’s story is replete with horrifying details of violence against women.

And then there’s this:

And Chris Wortman told his interviewer that he recognized certain personality traits in his nephew that should have been red flags. According to the transcript, Wortman said that GW:

“… was very controlling, like his father. Always telling Lisa when it’s time to leave. To the point where he would be recommending that Lisa should get liposuction on her thighs or get bigger boobs.”

Chris Wortman said he felt Gabriel was capable of violence, but he figured “if he ever snaps, the victim would be Lisa or his parents.” He said he never considered that bystanders and total strangers could become targets of a monstrous rage.

I’ll just let you sit with that last paragraph.

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4. New Horizons Baptist Church celebrates new funding for expansion and holds annual service for elimination of racial discrimination

New Horizons Baptists Church Pastor, Rhonda Britton. Photo: Matthew Byard.

Matthew Byard reports on the news of increased funding for the New Horizons Baptist Church renovations and its Richard Preston Centre of Excellence. The Centre, according to a press release, “will create additional spaces for tutoring and mentoring programs, youth programming, community services and gatherings, as well as other amenities.”

The church’s annual service marking the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was held in person this year, rather than online.

Byard writes:

Sunday was also New Horizons’ annual service for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. At several points during the service, Britton made a point to amend and expand on the theme by including the line “and racist policies.”

Uniformed members of the Halifax Regional Police usually attend this service each year as part of the choir, but officers didn’t attend this past Sunday. Britton explained in an interview that the decision goes back 2019…

Following those incidents — and as the March 2020 International Day for the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination approached — Britton said the New Horizons congregation didn’t want the police involved in the service.

Pastor Britton said she told Kinsella the officers were welcome to come to the service but that they would no longer be taking part in it.

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5. From zeroes to heroes … and back again

Masked and shielded coffee shop worker. Photo: Dapiki Moto/Unsplash

Minimum wage workers are losers beneath contempt. No, they are heroes on the front lines of the war against the virus! They’re lazy and don’t want to work. Oh, but also in addition to their regular jobs, they’re supposed to enforce a bunch of new rules while facing increasingly angry and sometimes violent customers.

Rob Csernyik knows all about minimum wage work. As he writes in a lengthy piece published in the Globe and Mail the other day:

I’ve served hundreds of thousands of customers over the years at low-earning jobs, since my first gig making pita sandwiches one summer in high school in Sydney, N.S. For that, I earned $6.10 an hour. I’ve made lattes, and sold papasan chairs, lighting fixtures and candy by the gram. I’ve worked as a cashier in a big box store and a local pharmacy chain. I’ve worked in multiple locations of two international chains, in several provinces, over multiple years. In short, in an industry with high worker turnover, I stayed around long enough to gain some deep insights into customer behaviour.

Sadly, one is how deep-rooted contempt for the minimum wage class of workers is. After writing a personal essay about working these jobs into my thirties, I decided, masochistically, to read the comment section. According to the vox populi, I was broken and lacked ambition – someone who made bad life choices or was “at the very least incapable of making strategic decisions about his life.” I was an “apathetic loser” – failed, dumb and unmotivated. I served as a reminder that minimum skill equals minimum wage. Being broke is a choice, didn’t I know? “This dude is an idiot,” one of the more imaginative commenters wrote. “Hopefully he’s living in a dumpster now.” (I’m not.)

Csernyik, who has contributed to the Examiner, The Coast, the Cape Breton Spectator, and many other publications, is writing a book about minimum wage work culture.

In his excellent Globe piece, he walks through how the perceptions of minimum wage workers have changed, who the people doing these jobs are, and how their lives have been immeasurably complicated by the pandemic.

It is well worth a read. I hope Tim Houston, who famously implied that minimum wage jobs are not “real jobs” makes time for it too. (Houston later apologized.)

A couple of years ago, Csernyik and I met up for coffee on the Halifax waterfront. One of the things we talked about was how unaffordable university has become for many, while, at the same time, universities do little to accommodate those who have to work service jobs in order to fund their education. It was clear, Csernyik said, that in some programs these workers were not even on the radar. I won’t share his examples, because he may be including them in his book, but they were truly appalling.

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6. Note to municipal employees: check before e-transferring half a million dollars

A quiet spot on the water in Bridgewater. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

At CBC, Richard Woodbury has a follow-up on the Bridgewater fraud story. As you may recall, the town e-transferred nearly half a million dollars to a man claiming to be an executive at Dexter construction. He was, in fact, an Uber driver in Brampton, Ontario.

Woodbury’s story outlines how the town went about getting reimbursed.

From the story:

The mayor replied that he expected there would be a way of getting the money back.

“I hope staff are OK and nobody is feeling like this is their fault,” he wrote. “It sucks but nobody did this intentionally and it’s only money. Nobody was hurt.”

The money had been transferred into a Scotiabank account, but Scotiabank was in no rush to give it back, even after the transactions had been identified as fraudulent. Will it happen again?

[Mayor David Mitchell] said the town has strengthened its controls to prevent this kind of fraud from ever happening again, but declined to provide specifics, likening it to giving away “the combination to the safe.”

Mitchell said that because governments post so much information and the email addresses of their employees publicly, it makes them a target for fraud.

“Fraud is being constantly attempted on municipalities and provincial and federal governments, daily,” he said. “And in this case, one slipped through. But we’ve learned from it, we’ve changed the processes and it’s not going to happen again.”

Honestly, my first reaction to “it’s just money” was WTF? But give me a boss like this over one who is yelling at employees for making mistakes and blaming individuals working in a bad system.

I don’t know what kinds of internal controls the town had before or has now, but stories like this both fascinate and amaze me. I mean, I spoke at the St. Margaret’s Bay Gardening Club last fall, and two people had to sign the cheque for $28.30 to buy a copy of my book, as well as the cheque for my speaking fee. But then you’ve got a situation where someone can e-transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars seemingly without approval.

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Views

Ghost train

Old tracks on the Highline in New York City. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

Last week I tore through all four parts of the Colorado Public Radio podcast series Ghost Train.

Hosted by CPR (as in Colorado Public Radio, not Canadian Pacific Railway) transportation reporter Nathaniel Minor, Ghost Train looks at how Denver — a city dominated by cars — decided to go all-in on light rail a couple of decades ago … and what happened next.

The ghost train of the title is a train that was supposed to be a part of this system, and that would run from Denver to Boulder. It’s still not running, and some people think it won’t run until 2050 — if ever.

Even if, like me, you know little about Denver or its transportation policies (OK, I knew nothing about them), the series is still worth your time. It encapsulates the challenges of transportation planning in the face of climate emergency, digs into all the different areas it touches on, and introduces us to some great characters.

I went into the series expecting it to be about how people are so attached to their cars that even building an amazing light rail system won’t get them to switch how they commute. What I got was so much more. And even though the specifics of Denver’s experience may not apply to Halifax, there is a lot here to think about as we contemplate how to revamp transit in the coming decades.

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Noticed

Exploiting pandemic measures for profit

Off-limits park bench in Westmount Park, Halifax. Photo: Kent Martin

In March 2020, none of us knew what we were dealing with. I came back from Florida, thought back to the buffet I had eaten at, and wondered if I was going to die. A couple of days before the state of emergency, one of my kids hugged an old friend in a crowded Costco, and I again wondered if we were doomed.

In an effort to contain this disease, we shut down parks and hiking trails, put up plexiglass barriers, turned off water fountains, and padlocked outhouses. Some of this made no sense at all. Remember the Common being off-limits except for the pathways across it? Some of it seemed like it made sense at the time. Plexiglass barriers will help prevent someone coughing on you. But too many, it turns out, are worse than none, since they can impede airflow in a room.

Now that the state of emergency has ended (even though the pandemic most definitely has not), I got curious about what services businesses stopped offering ostensibly because of COVID that they seem unlikely to bring back because not offering them is more profitable or more convenient.

I rarely turn to Twitter with broad questions for stories, but this time I did. One of my kids had complained to me about Value Village removing changerooms, ostensibly to keep people safer during the pandemic. Shutting down changerooms may have made some sense back in the “we have no idea what we are dealing with” days: people congregate around them going in and out, and we did not know how long the virus persisted on surfaces, or if surface contact was a vector of transmission. Libraries were leaving books in the bookdrop for 72 hours and then sanitizing them, so it made sense for stores to not want people trying on clothes.

In May 2020, I interviewed Alex and Kelly Pearson of the vintage shop Ametora Supply, then located in Lunenburg. There was no mask mandate yet, and they were struggling with figuring out how to safely keep their business open:

“It’s impossible,” Alex Pearson interjected. “And if someone tries on the nicest sweater we have in the store and they don’t like the way it looks, then we have to remove that from our inventory for 72 hours.”

“It’s a lot of tracking, a lot of steps,” Kelly Pearson said. “If you look at the number of different fabrics we have pieces of clothing made out of, it’s really difficult for us to say OK, this is safe now. We can demand that people wear masks, but we don’t know if they are going to wear the mask in the dressing room.”

Two years later? There is no way being in a changeroom at Value Village is going to be a greater threat than … well, than going to a crowded Value Village. Many of the people who responded to my query on Twitter were steamed about this, combined with the fact that the chain no longer offers refunds. So you can’t try on the clothes, and you can’t get your money back if they don’t fit.

@lynesworld commented:

The removal of change rooms at Value Village really annoys me. You buy on chance now & hope stuff fits. They are banking on the fact you can’t be bothered to return something that doesn’t fit. Then, if you do return, it’s immediate exchange only & not store credit. May stop going.

Several people commented on the removal of benches from malls. This goes beyond COVID hygiene theatre to actively making things worse. I am imagining that mall management love the idea of not having precariously housed or unhoused people sitting on benches and not (gasp!) shopping. That’s awful in and of itself. But who else uses benches? People who have a hard time standing or walking for too long. People with babies to nurse. People who may just need to rest their feet. You know the maxim that when you make things better for people with disabilities you make them better for everyone? This is the opposite of that.

A couple of people pointed to health insurance company Medavie Blue Cross shuttering their Quick Pay locations “due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Some locations are permanently closed, others have no date for re-opening, according to the company’s website. These were locations where people could turn up with their paperwork and get their claims processed immediately.

Geoff Martin, who lives in Sackville, NB, wrote:

You could talk to a real person and they would process your claim and issue you a cheque without delay. There was a human touch and if there were any problems they could be dealt with on the spot.

But if you can use the pandemic as an excuse to eliminate positions for people dealing directly with the public and save rent to boot, go for it, I guess.

Speaking of insurance, several people mentioned that their dentists no longer direct-bill insurance — leaving patients to pay out of pocket and then get reimbursed. Writer Sarah Sawler said:

At least a couple dentists started refusing direct billing to insurance companies, claiming it was “too many pieces of paper being touched” when really, it’s just a hassle they wanted to stop dealing with.

Sawler used to work in health and dental insurance, so they know this is bullshit. Sociologist Hannah Main shared a screenshot of an email from her dentist’s office saying they would no longer direct bill either. It says that businesses have had to “adapt and change” during the pandemic and “sadly, dentistry is no exception.” The office doesn’t offer any explanation of why the pandemic means direct billing is no longer possible.

A few people raised one I had not thought of: motel and hotel breakfasts. No more pancake machine!

And then, of course, there is the shuttering of public washrooms, which I wrote about for the Examiner back in May 2020.

In that story, I quoted Lezlie Lowe, author of the book No Place To Go:

“An outhouse is effectively a single user toilet, which is quite safe during COVID, because it’s a respiratory illness,” Lowe said. “What we need to think about is shared air, confined space and high-touch surfaces. So in terms of an outhouse: Single user, perfect. There’s no concern about shared air… High touch could be an issue, but any outhouse should have some kind of hand sanitizer. There’s got to be something for hand hygiene. And that covers you for COVID. In any bathroom, you can touch the high touch surfaces. You just shouldn’t touch the door on the way out after you wash your hands properly, and you shouldn’t touch your face. And that’s basic infection control, which we should be practicing all the time.”

If you shut bathrooms, you don’t have to clean them. Savings! And if you need to go, well, too bad.

Last year I took my car to a windshield place to get a chip repaired. I asked to use the bathroom. I was told it was closed because of COVID. I politely tried summarizing Lowe’s argument, but it did not get me anywhere.

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Government

City

Tuesday

Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 1pm, City Hall) — with video

Wednesday

Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am, City Hall) — agenda here

Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm) — virtual meeting

Regional Centre Community Council (Wednesday, 6pm, HEMDCC Boardroom, Alderney Gate) — agenda here

Province

Tuesday

Veterans Affairs (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place) — Legion Capital Assistance Program; with Natasha Jackson, Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage

Natural Resources and Economic Development (Tuesday, 1pm, One Government Place) — Renewable Energy: Progress Towards Targets; with representatives from the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, Clean Energy, and Clean Electricity

Wednesday

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — The Decision to Dismantle the Health Authority Board; with representatives from the Department of Health and Wellness, and NSHA


On campus

Dalhousie

Vision as Scientific Director of the Ocean Tracking Network (Tuesday, 10am, 5th Floor Lounge, Life Science Centre) — also online; with Candidate for Professor of Biology and Scientific Director of the OTN Neil Hammerschlag

Rapid photochemical 3D printing of highly tunable biodegradable poly(propylene fumarate) materials (Tuesday, 12:15pm, Room 1200, Dentistry Building) — research seminar by Alina Kirillova, a candidate for the Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Functional Polymeric Biomaterials in the Faculty of Dentistry. Bring your own biodegradable materials.

Poetry and non-fiction Author Reading (Tuesday, 7pm, Halifax Central Library) — with Cory Lavender and Suzanne Stewart; more info here


In the harbour

Halifax
08:00: Baie St.Paul, bulker, moves from Pier 26 to Gold Bond
08:00: Atlantis, research vessel, sails from BIO for sea
12:00: Vivienne Sheri D, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik, Iceland
19:00: Vivienne Sheri D sails for Portland
23:00: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John

Cape Breton
17:30: Eagle Halifax, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
18:30: Front Cosmos, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Greater Plutonio, Angola


Footnotes

I was curious about where Greater Plutonio is. Turns out it is an FPSO (floating production storage and offloading) facility 120 km offshore:

Greater Plutonio is BP’s largest subsea development with a planned first phase of 43 high rate subsea development wells of which 34 have been drilled. A relatively low level of classical field appraisal was performed because of high costs coupled with the fast project pace. Innovative subsurface management has therefore been required to reduce substantial uncertainty during the development phase.


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Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. Let’s be serious for a moment. The Atlantic Loop will not bring us all secure, inexpensive power. Look at the loop – it goes through the USA. We will be competing for that power against the high-bidders in the USA. We will get what’s left over even though we paid for the build. Emera will do all right though so I suppose that justifies it.

    The answer, it seems to me, is to not spend billions of $$ on the loop but to spend money creating local sources of power in communities (i.e. municipally owned or co-ops). Power that is generated locally, distributed locally, and controlled locally. A system that doesn’t lead to massive outages because some profit-taker decides to increase profits by cutting maintenance costs.

    Why do our governments (and, apparently, most of us) still believe in, and want to pour buckets load of cash into, mega-projects when there are local, less expensive, more reliable, ways of doing things?