News

1. COVID

Weekly COVID death count in Nova Scotia since Jan. 4. Note that because of a change in the reporting period, the week ending April 11 has only six days.

Twenty-four people died from COVID-19 in Nova Scotia last week (May 10-16) — that ties for the highest weekly death toll with the week ending April 25.

The 24 deaths by age cohort:
• Under 50: 0
• 50-69: 2
• 70+: 22

The weekly Epidemiologic Summary reads: “Of the 24 deaths reported this week, 91% were in people aged 70+ and 38% were in people who resided in long-term care facilities.” Just old people, so who cares?

Over the same reporting period, 59 people were hospitalized because of the disease. By age cohort, they are:
• under 18: 1
• 18-49: 3
• 50-69: 13
• 70+: 42

Nova Scotia Health provided the following status of hospitalizations as of yesterday:
Currently in hospital for COVID-19: 36 (6 of whom are in ICU)
Currently in hospital for something else but have COVID-19: 179
Currently in hospital who contracted COVID-19 after admission to hospital: 92

The above numbers do not include hospitalizations at the IWK.

The chart above shows the hospitalization and death rates by age group since December 8, 2021. Some hospitalizations are omitted because remarkably (to me, anyway) they don’t know how old the patients were.

On the good news side of the equation, there were 2,513 lab-confirmed (PCR tests) new cases over the week, down considerably from the week before (3,118). These figures do not include people who test positive only with the take-home rapid tests or who don’t test at all.

The decline in newly detected cases resulted in the lifting of the mask requirement in public schools, effective Tuesday.

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve worked closely with public health and taken steps to keep staff and students safe,” said Education Minister Becky Druhan in a press release. “We strongly encourage students and staff to continue to wear masks, and we will continue to support staff and students as well as continue to supply masks and hand sanitizer.”

But yesterday afternoon, Druhan was asked by reporters if she or anyone in the Education Department had consulted with the Pediatric Advisory Group based at the IWK Women and Children’s Hospital. The group has offered its expertise to Public Health at other times during the pandemic. Druhan said she didn’t know. 

Dr. Andrew Lynk chairs the Pediatric Advisory Group and is also the chair of Pediatric Medicine at Dalhousie University. In an email to the Examiner, Lynk said the group was not consulted by anyone from the Department of Education and he is concerned about the potential impact on the hospital where he works:

Our Pediatric Advisory Group was not asked to participate in this decision process.

Our strong recommendation is for students and staff to continue masking in schools given the high community transmission levels. Even if this only modestly slows down transmission rates, it will protect some vulnerable students & staff, and parents who are essential workers (like teachers, nurses, police).

Our IWK Emergency Department and inpatient wards are experiencing extremely high volumes, and we still have staffing challenges because of COVID. Our group is concerned about the resulting impact on our Pediatric health care system.

“The head of the union representing the province’s teachers says while members appear evenly split over the removal of mandatory masking in schools, there are concerns teachers will bear the brunt of family’s frustrations over the province’s decision,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

“You can strongly recommend (masking), but as soon as you remove the word mandatory, I think we’re in for some tough, tough days of argument with people that want to do one thing or the other,” Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) president Paul Wozney said in an interview Thursday afternoon.

“I don’t envy teachers that kind of conflict at this point. They’re just trying to get kids through to the end as well as can be done… They are exhausted, they are burnt out, they have long run on fumes, and they’re pushing the car to the finish line, they’re not even driving anymore.”

Illustration by Callum Moscovitch for the Halifax Examiner. All rights reserved.

And then there’s long COVID and other health impacts of the virus.

“About 8,000 blood test kits and surveys are being mailed to Nova Scotia households as part of a national study to assess the pandemic’s health impacts and potential long-term effects of the virus,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

“This will give us a better view overall of how Canadians have fared and what they’re bringing forward into the future and how best can you then anticipate what services and supports might be needed,” COVID-19 Immunity Task Force co-chairperson Dr. Catherine Hankins said in an interview.

Led by Statistics Canada, the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) and the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian COVID-19 Antibody and Health Survey will include details for filling out an online questionnaire and finger-prick dried blood spot (DBS) test kits.

Those blood spot tests will help researchers better understand how many Canadian adults 18 and older have infection-acquired or vaccine-induced antibodies (or both) to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

With files from Jennifer Henderson.

2. Big “temporary” changes at Touquoy mine

Touquoy open pit gold mine. (contributed)

This item is written by Joan Baxter.

It’s nearly a year since Atlantic Mining NS — which operates in Nova Scotia as Atlantic Gold — submitted its proposal to Nova Scotia Environment for modifications at its Touquoy open pit gold mine in Moose River in HRM, 63 kilometres northeast of Halifax and 29 kilometres south of Middle Musquodoboit. 

The proposed changes are substantial. 

Atlantic Gold wants to use the open pit at Touquoy for the toxic mine tailings that will come from three more gold mines it has proposed on the Eastern Shore. It also wants to expand the areas where waste rock is stored and clay is procured on the site, and reroute the road it uses to access the mill facility and administrative buildings.

Twice, that proposal has failed to pass muster with Nova Scotia Environment. 

The first time was in September 2021, when Nova Scotia Environment Minister Timothy Halman determined that the information Atlantic Gold provided was “insufficient to make a decision,” and that additional information was required on the proposed changes to the Touquoy mine site. 

Then last week, on May 12, Minister Halman again came to the same conclusion, noting that the company had failed to “provide previously requested information regarding in-pit mine tailings disposal, ground and surface water, fish and fish habitat, and historical mine tailings.”  

The information, Halman wrote, is required “to evaluate potential environmental effects that may be caused” by the changes. 

Halman informed Atlantic Gold that it has a year to provide the “previously requested information” to Nova Scotia Environment.

Since then the Halifax Examiner has received reports that Atlantic Gold — owned by Australia’s St Barbara Ltd — has been filling the giant pit at Touquoy with material, even in advance of receiving environmental approval for the modifications to the site and permission to dispose of mine tailings in the open pit, which is nearing the end of its productive life span. 

The Halifax Examiner contacted Nova Scotia Environment (NSE) to ask what material is going into the Touquoy mine pit. 

NSE spokesperson Tracy Barron replied that, “Atlantic Gold requested authorization in January 2022 to temporarily store up to 2.65 million tonnes of waste rock in the open pit at the Touquoy mine.”

Barron specified that the authorization is valid only until July 2022. 

Still photo taken from a video contributed to the Examiner showing a large truck depositing rock in the Touquoy mine open pit.

For perspective, that means Atlantic Gold is permitted to dump an amount of waste rock weighing 22 times more than Toronto’s CN Tower, the tallest freestanding building in the Western hemisphere, into the yawning pit where it has been extracting gold — more than $700 million worth of the metal — since late 2017.  

Oddly, though, that waste rock going into the pit will soon have to come out again. 

“The material must be removed when the authorization expires, unless an extension is requested,” Barron wrote in an email.

“The company is not authorized to store or dispose of any mine tailings in the open pit,” she noted.

The Examiner also contacted St Barbara / Atlantic Gold spokesperson Dustin O’Leary for an explanation of why the company needs to store waste rock in the open pit, what it plans to do with the waste rock when it has to be removed from the pit, and why it had not provided Nova Scotia Environment with the information that had been previously requested on the proposed mine modifications. 

So far, he has not replied. 

In February 2022, Atlantic Gold pled guilty to federal and provincial environmental charges and was sentenced to $250,000 in fines and penalties.

While Nova Scotia Environment awaits the information it requires from the company for its assessment of the proposed changes at the Moose River gold mine, Atlantic Gold continues to seek approval from the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada for three more open pit gold mines it proposes on the province’s Eastern Shore at Beaver Dam, Fifteen Mile Stream, and Cochrane Hill on the banks of the St. Mary’s River, near Sherbrooke. 

As the Examiner reported here, the ore from all three of these would be transported by truck, including on public roads, to the Touquoy site for gold extraction, and tailings would be deposited in the exhausted open pit at Touquoy — providing Nova Scotia Environment approves the proposed modifications at Touquoy that would allow this to happen. 

Atlantic Gold / Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia has yet to file the mandatory annual report on payments it made in 2021 to governments in Canada, under the Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act (ESTMA). 

The company’s ESTMA reports from 2017 to 2020 show it paid no federal or provincial taxes in those years, despite production at the Touquoy mine of gold worth many hundreds of millions of dollars. 

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3. Cabinet briefs: gas prices and solar energy

Province House in June 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

At a post-cabinet meeting scrum with reporters yesterday, Finance Minister Allan MacMaster said he knows many Nova Scotians are feeling the pain of paying higher food and transportation prices. Inflation, exacerbated by the invasion of Russia into the Ukraine, is not going away he told reporters.

“This is driven by the price of oil and we cannot shield everyone from it,” said MacMaster. “However we are looking at providing more targeted relief to those who are most in need.”

MacMaster said people currently receiving income assistance would be among those eligible for some kind of help soon. He noted the Houston government had spent $13.2 million less than two months ago on a program that delivered $150 cheques to help with home heating costs and one-time payments of $150 to people receiving income assistance. Food banks got $1 million and the MacMaster said he “left the door open to do more if needed.” It’s unclear at this point how the new assistance MacMaster is considering would be targeted or when it might be delivered.

MacMaster said he is “not at this time” prepared to give up the percentage of provincial tax or HST that flows to the provincial government when consumers pay for gasoline at the pumps. When the price of gasoline and diesel rises — it is now well over $2 a litre in Nova Scotia —governments receive more revenue. Provincial governments in British Columbia, Quebec, and Alberta have all reduced the percentage they take in order to save consumers a few cents a litre.

MacMaster said Nova Scotia needs those tax revenues to pay for roads and for to-be-announced assistance programs that will help the people most hurt by rising food prices and inflation. He noted Alberta can afford to give up the tax on gas because of the flow of royalties to the province from oil and gas producers. MacMaster said it is oil and gas companies that are currently making “windfall profits” and not the Nova Scotia government. 

No one disputes that oil companies are making windfall profits at this time. Nothing appears to be on the horizon to stop them. Arguably, with gasoline in Nova Scotia priced at $2.08 a litre, revenues are also increasing to the province but exactly how much so won’t be revealed until the next quarterly budget update.

MacMaster agreed Nova Scotia consumers pay “tax on tax” when we buy gasoline at the pumps. Almost one-third of what we pay goes to federal and provincial governments. MacMaster  said he has asked for a review of that formula to better understand what, if anything, might be done to provide some relief, and the Finance Department provided this breakdown of the cost of one litre of gasoline priced at $2.00/litre:

 Wholesale Price of gas before tax: $1.4841
 Federal Excise Tax per litre: .1000 
 NS Motive Fuel Tax per litre: .1550
 HST (15%) per litre: .2609
 Total: $2.0000

Solar energy

Renewable Energy Minister Tory Rushton arranged a meeting yesterday between Solar Nova Scotia (a non-profit group representing solar installation companies) and Nova Scotia Power Inc. 

That’s about as much as Rushton can do until regulations are put in place to back up changes to the Electricity Act the government introduced and passed this spring. The changes prevented Nova Scotia Power from levying a new charge or fee on businesses or residents who choose to use solar panels to generate some of their own renewable electricity and cut down on the amount they pay to Nova Scotia Power.

Prior to the amendment, a survey of solar companies last November found most were waiting up to three months for Nova Scotia Power to approve the installation plan. The company also inspects the job after the install. 

Now, with solar systems falling in price and gaining in popularity, Solar Nova Scotia turned to Twitter earlier this week to complain the entire industry is “at a near standstill” because Nova Scotia Power has not provided approvals for hundreds of jobs submitted since January. Until and unless Nova Scotia Power reviews the plan, installers say they cannot order the solar panels nor tell customers when the work will take place.

“I do expect Nova Scotia Power has to work within the guidelines,” said Rushton. “We need the solar initiative to take place; it’s going to be a piece of the puzzle to reach our 80% renewables by 2030. So I expect this flow to be taken care of in a timely manner so the solar installations can take place during this construction season.”

Neither Nova Scotia Power nor Solar Nova Scotia has so far responded to the Examiner’s requests for more information about the situation. In an Examiner story last November, a spokesperson with the Canadian Renewable Energy Association noted some provinces do not require both a pre- and post-inspection. Many provinces have reduced the length of the approval process by allowing solar installation companies to send digital photographs of the job site to the provincial electrical utility. This could reduce the need for Nova Scotia Power to pre-inspect every solar installation. For obvious safety reasons, the installation will still require an inspection by the power company at the end of the job before being connected to the grid. 

A suite of bills introduced by the NDP last session would have tied profit levels at Nova Scotia Power to meeting performance standards that could include measures such as reliable service and compliance with environmental targets. The government voted down those bills. It’s instead promising to appoint an advisory group to recommend additional performance standards to the Utility and Review Board. 

In the meantime, buried amid the Nova Scotia Power filing that requests a general rate increase of 10% on monthly power bills is a slew of proposed fee increases for all types of electrical inspections on homes and businesses. Maybe it’s time for Nova Scotia Power to hire more inspectors and send that bill to the shareholders rather than the ratepayers.

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4. Everwind

The Nustar tank farm in Point Tupper has been sold to Everwind Fuels. Satellite photo from Google

Last week, I discussed the US$60 million purchase of the Point Tupper tank farm by a company called Everwind, which sells itself as a green energy producer. “Colour me skeptical,” I wrote.

I noted that the company is led by venture capitalist Trent Vichie and:

“Development funding for the Point Tupper facility has been secured along with federal support for the first phase of the project,” says Everwind’s website, but the size of that government funding has not yet been disclosed.

Wednesday, Mary Campbell of the Cape Breton Spectator followed up with more information:

If you’re wondering why Australian-born, New York-based Vichie is suddenly interested in turning Nova Scotia into a regional green hydrogen hub, the answer can be found under the “climate” section of Canada’s 2022 federal budget:

Budget 2022 announces that the Department of Finance Canada will engage with experts to establish an investment tax credit of up to 30 per cent, focused on net-zero technologies, battery storage solutions, and clean hydrogen [emphasis mine]. The design details of the investment tax credit will be provided in the 2022 fall economic and fiscal update.

Infrastructure is a particular PE “strategy,” one that, according to Crystal Capital Markets, “targets assets that provide essential utilities or services” and that “generate a return through the public need of said asset.” The list of such assets includes everything from water distribution companies to airports to hospitals to schools to roads to renewable assets like wind/solar farms.

In other words, the strategy is to insert yourself between people and something vital to them (think Mad Max in The Road Warrior, “You want to get out of here, you talk to me”) and extract a steady stream of income while also charging your investors a 2% management fee and taking 20% of any profits (which you will call “carried interest” and pay capital gains tax on instead of personal income tax, thus paying less tax than your secretary).

And of course, it involves inserting yourself into a space that used to be the responsibility of governments, who would borrow money to build infrastructure. (So boring, nobody got rich.)

Campbell also examines the “green hydrogen” technology and, like me, is skeptical.

As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, and so both these articles are behind the Spectator’s paywall. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
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5. Death of young people

This item discusses death by suicide.

Somebody recently filed a freedom of information request seeking causes of death for people 19 and younger in Nova Scotia from 2014 through 2021. I don’t know why the person filed the request or what they were looking for; I’m guessing it has something with some supposed COVID conspiracy, but there are no recorded COVID deaths among children for the reporting period (albeit many of the 2021 deaths are still under investigation).

There are, however, some takeaways from the results.

First, lots of infants (relative to older ages) die from a variety of deformities and diseases, but after age 1, kids are pretty safe. There are very few deaths in the 2-12 age range, and those are usually either medical issues acquired at birth or terrible events like car crashes and house fires.

In fact, motor vehicles are a leading cause of death of young people after infancy. Through the reporting period, 30 people 19 or younger died in car crashes, five died on motorcycles, and five died on ATVs. Seven pedestrians were struck and killed, and another two on bicycles.

But the leading cause of death of young people after infancy was intentional self-harm, with 50 people dying from various methods over the reporting period. The youngest person to die from intentional self-harm was 9, but all the others were teenagers. Here’s the annual count:

2014 — 8 [Ages: 15, 16 (3), 17, 19 (3)]
2015 — 9 [Ages: 13, 15, 16, 17 (2), 18, 19 (3)]
2016 — 6 [Ages: 16 (2), 17 (4)]
2017 — 7 [Ages: 13 (2), 15 (2), 16, 19 (2)]
2018 — 4 [Ages: 17 (2), 18 (2)]
2019 — 6 [Ages: 14, 17 (2), 19 (3)]
2020 — 7 [Ages: 9, 18 (3), 19 (3)]
2021 — 3 [Ages: 14, 16, 19]

It’s somewhat heartening to see there hasn’t been a big increase of death of young people by suicide through the pandemic, but without doubt, this is far too many children and young adults dying from mental anguish.

If you are in distress or considering suicide, there are places to turn for support. Nova Scotia’s Mental Health Mobile Crisis Team can be reached at (902) 429-8167 or Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention also has information about where to find help.

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Government

No meetings


On campus

No events


In the harbour

Halifax
06:00: NYK Deneb, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Caucedo, Dominican Republic
06:00: Contship Leo, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from New York
07:45: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for Liverpool, England
15:45: Algosea, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Montreal
20:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails Fairview Cove for Saint-Pierre

Cape Breton
12:30: Arctic Lift, barge, with Western Tugger, tug, travel through the causeway north to south, to Mulgrave from Cap-aux-Meules, Magdalen Islands
18:00: Paul A. Desgagnes, oil tanker, arrives at Government Wharf (Sydney) from Quebec City


Footnotes

I cannot express how grateful I am for the rest of the Examiner team, who have been stepping up wonderfully as I divert most all of my attention to the Mass Casualty Commission.


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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. RE Touquoy open pit gold mine.

    This is completely unacceptable and a serious failure in provincial regulatory policy. Nova Scotia’s geology is characterized by a large number of sub-surface rock fissures that in most areas allow for RAPID TRANSIT of toxic plumes in ground water over long distances. These of course can originate from mine tailings and many other sources. The distances that arsenic from gold mining sites and other heavy metals can be carried underground in this way are both considerable and additive over time. This situation poses a major threat to ground water quality throughout Nova Scotia as well as to the thousands of drinking water wells in HRM that families depend on. The province doesn’t even know where all the drinking water wells ARE in this province. Wellhead protection buffer zones – even if we had them – are then meaningless because a) we don’t know where all the wells are, and b) because of the lack of a responsible, up to date, inventory of GPS location data for all the wells in this province.

  2. Tim,, seems you might delve into the ” true Reasons behind ” the N S govts rush to get rid of ‘ masks mandates ‘ ? what are there afraid of ? or what are they hiding ? they get rid of mandates BUT strong encourage folks to wear masks … “the Melody/song & the words” do NOT go together
    thanks

  3. Last week we were having a meal with friends. One of them is a former CFL player — a guy has four degrees, including a PhD, and has all kinds of ideas and projects on the go. Interesting guy, with a good life. And I had this awful thought that if he were to die of COVID, people would think oh well, he was 88, as if that somehow made it ok. He has a full and rich life and it should not matter less than anyone else’s.

    1. So true. For many of us, the most productive years for building on everything we’ve learned and contributing to society are the 60’s to 80’s. The very years ageism and ableism render us invisible.

  4. Gold mining in deep open pit mines: let’s just say NO. Enough is enough. Simply too destructive. No income to Nova Scotia or Nova Scotians. There is surplus of gold in the world already. Just say NO.