News

1. COVID whiplash

Nova Scotians are anxious about Omicron, and more so than people elsewhere. For good reason.

Based on the entirely anecdotal and unscientific observations of my American and Nova Scotian friends, there are two distinct sets of reactions to the latest wave. Oh, people everywhere are exhausted and afraid, but Americans have been through the wringer so many times that it’s become old hat.

Nova Scotians, however, had an entirely different experience with the pre-Omicron pandemic, which led to an understanding and even expectation that with government direction and collective action COVID could be, if not beaten, at least constrained. And now all that’s been thrown out the window by Public Health. It’s no wonder there’s a collective whiplash.

Let’s review.

The whole world was freaked out in March 2020, and no one knew how the coronavirus would spread. Lockdowns were common everywhere, as were excessive controls.

That’s not hindsight on my part. At the time, I feared a dystopian near-future, with corpses in the street and the like, but even with that, I thought the prohibitions against going to parks or the beach were ridiculous. That’s not because I had any better understanding of COVID than anyone else, but rather because I thought if the virus could spread as easily as sitting on a park bench that someone had farted on 45 minutes before, then there was no avoiding this thing and we’d all be doomed. There’s some base level of human interaction that simply cannot be avoided, and if COVID was that contagious, then all of humanity would be dead by summer, so why even bother? May as well enjoy a stroll in the park before the Four Horsemen arrive.

But I fully supported the more sensible distancing requirements and gathering limits — lots of human interactions can be avoided! — and I was heartened to see my fellow Nova Scotians cooperate with Public Health measures. The pandemic wasn’t politicized here as it was in the US, and that largely explains our much better experience these last two years.

Nova Scotia became super proud of its adherence to Public Health restrictions, to the point that “Stay the Blazes Home” became a provincial anthem.

Silly? Yes. Excessive? Probably. But it worked. After the terrible loss of elders in the first wave (largely contained in Northwood), Nova Scotia effectively had no COVID, except for the odd self-isolating traveler bringing it in. There was a dark cloud of dread hanging over us, but the summer and fall of 2020 was more or less life as normal in Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia was the first province to require masking in public places, and there wasn’t any meaningful resistance to the requirement. Without any COVID in the community, masking was performative, but the virus could pop up at any unknowable time, and then the masking wouldn’t be performative at all. It’s not like we could say, ‘oh, there are suddenly thousands of people getting sick, so now we should start wearing masks.’ Besides, what’s wrong with performative? Wearing a mask was a public display of concern for each other, and that’s a good thing.

The quintessential Nova Scotia moment occurred in the second wave, which now seems laughably insignificant, but at the time was frightening. COVID had come to the province, and was loose in downtown Halifax’s bars and restaurants. And people rose to the occasion. Thousands of bar workers and patrons lined up to get tested. The bars asked to be shut down by Public Health, and the government followed the people’s lead. By late January, we were back to zero daily cases, COVID defeated.

The third wave in May 2021 was broader, hitting mostly the Halifax suburbs. We hit record hospitalizations. But with near-complete adherence to Public Health measures, that wave too was contained and then COVID was again completely eliminated, and we soon returned to zero daily cases.

The lesson throughout was clear: with tough Public Health restrictions and with people’s adherence to them, COVID could not just be decreased, but completely eliminated. By fall, we were going to bars and restaurants, having parties, and living large.

The fourth wave — Delta — was a tougher nut to crack, but we seemed to be getting a handle on it when Omicron popped up in early December. Our wide-open ways gave licence to the variant to spread like wildfire — if Omicron hadn’t come via the StFX ring ceremony, it would’ve come some other way.

We’re now being told, essentially, that there’s nothing much we can do about Omicron, that’s it’s going to spread through the province regardless. But our experience tells us otherwise. Maybe Omicron really can’t be contained, but does that mean we shouldn’t even try?

So yeah, we have whiplash.

We’re also told that Omicron is “mild,” but 11 people died last week, a weekly death count we hadn’t seen since Northwood.

And what of the immunocompromised and others most at risk? In the US, such people have been living in extreme fear throughout the pandemic, and so unfortunately, Omicron is more of the same. But here in Nova Scotia, they could reasonably feel that their government and fellow citizens were looking out for them. Now? Not so much.

We’ve been better than this.

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2. QuadrigaCX

Gerald Cotten and Jennifer Robertson on their wedding day.

“You know this story,” writes Stephen Kimber:

A seemingly healthy young Nova Scotia businessman named Gerald Cotten travels to India on his honeymoon — India! On his honeymoon? — after having only recently married a woman who’d had three — count ’em, three! — last names, and after having only signed his will days before, leaving everything — of course — to her.

He supposedly dies.

He supposedly has the only key to unlock the virtual vault containing hundreds of millions of dollars belonging to more than a hundred thousand customers of his bitcoin exchange business. He takes the key to his grave…

That must mean she — Jennifer Robertson, she of the three last names, the beneficiary of the will with the $100,000 set aside for the care and feeding of their two chihuahuas — is in on it.

Gerry must now be, as more than one journalist has speculated, sitting on a beach in some exotic, extradition-free backwater, sipping a mai tai (my bet would have been Long Island iced tea) and biding his time. The plan is that once the scandal subsides, his partner in crime — did I mention those three last names, the last-minute marriage, and the last-second will? — will join him and they will live happily ever after on their ill-gotten gains.

Not so fast, writes Kimber:

It turns out that Gerry Cotten — the man Jennifer Robertson fell in love with, and that thousands of people trusted with their life savings — was a pathological liar, a scam artist of the first order. He was, it seems, very good at what he was.

According to the only definitive account of what really happened at QuadrigaCX, an after-the-scandal report by the Ontario Securities Commission, Gerry “created and traded fake assets with clients of the platform under aliases. Cotten sustained trading losses of approximately $115 million and used Quadriga clients’ assets to cover those losses [and] sustained losses of approximately $28 million trading client assets on three external trading platforms.”

A classic Ponzi scheme, with a tasty side dish of gambling.

Gerry Cotten, it’s clear, was a very good liar.

So, why is Jennifer Robertson the only one to blame for believing him?

Click here to read “Who’s really to blame for the QuadrigaCX scandal?”

Friday morning, Jacobin published Sohale Andrus Mortazavi’s excellent explanatory article, “Cryptocurrency Is a Giant Ponzi Scheme.” I had always had a vague understanding that crypto was a scam, but Mortazavi spells out the particulars in an easily understandable and yet detailed way.

And Friday afternoon, Dan Olson posted a video, “Line Goes Up – The Problem With NFTs,” on Youtube. It’s a very long explainer — over two hours! — but it walks us through the financial collapse of 2008/09, through the creation of Bitcoin, and onto NFTs (non-fungible tokens).

As if on queue, on Friday Bitcoin lost 12% of its paper value, and has lost a trillion dollars in valuation since June.

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3. Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes

An old stone wall along Stillwater Run Brook in Timberlea, part of the property acquired by the Nova Scotia Nature Trust. Photo: Irwin Barrett

“The Nova Scotia Nature Trust is adding another green, mossy piece of the puzzle to Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes,” reports Zane Woodford:

Keith and Anne Fraser donated a property in Timberlea, bordered on two sides by the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area, to the Nature Trust to protect the area from development.

Here’s the location of the property, with Stillwater Stream running through the centre into Mill Pond, part of the Nine Mile River, at the bottom:

The land was logged years ago, Sutherland said, but has some 100-year-old trees and a mix of other forest, some of which is approaching the old growth stage. Keeping the land undeveloped will also contribute to the health of the water system in the area, Sutherland said, noting the Nine Mile River, on the southern end of the property, flows right out into the ocean.

From a recreation standpoint, Sutherland said there are trails through the land, and it’s a common portage route for people canoeing the river.

Click here to read “Nova Scotia Nature Trust adds protected property to Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes.”

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I found the tax implications for the Frasers quite interesting. With real estate prices going through the roof, there might be a silver lining of more people donating their properties for environmental protection.

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4. Millbrook First Nation opposes Beaver Dam mine

The Killag River is just a stone’s throw from proposed Beaver Dam mine. Photo: Simon Ryder-Burbidge

“Millbrook First Nation Chief Bob Gloade knows that his band has no veto power over a new open pit gold mine planned for Beaver Dam, just a stone’s throw from a Millbrook satellite community in Halifax Regional Municipality, but he is hoping the project can be stopped through consultation,” reports Joan Baxter:

That way, he says, there will be no need to take the case to court, something the band wants to avoid.

“We’re not in support of this project existing,” Chief Gloade tells the Examiner in a Zoom interview. “The main reason is the direct impact it is going to have on the lives of our residents in that area, and on the lives of our residents who visit that area. It’s going to disrupt a traditional way of life.”

Chief Gloade says that for Millbrook band members, hunting and fishing around Beaver Dam is “who they are and their identity.”

It’s also their survival, he says. Without the wild game, they would not be able to feed their families.

Click here to read “Millbrook First Nation to Atlantic Gold and government regulators: ‘We oppose the Beaver Dam mine project.’”

Relatedly, check out Elisabeth’s Koster’s take on Nova Scotia mining.

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5. N’tday entionmay Ukraineway

A Ukrainian rocket factory. Photo: newsmir.info

Speaking of get-rich schemes, Maritime Launch Services (MLS) is meeting with Guysborough and Area Board of Trade tomorrow to extol all things spaceport. I’m told the meeting is closed to the public, so I can only imagine that the pitch will be something like “you all will get rich if you can convince the Department of Environment to approve this thing that might kill you (riches not guaranteed).”

And MLS has launched a new website full of, well, extolling. And while there are two mentions buried deep in the subpages, the word “Ukraine” is conspicuously absent from the front page of the site.

Seems relevant, no?

After all, the MLS spaceport proposal would not exist were it not for Ukraine. As Joan Baxter reported in 2019:

Another panelist at last week’s information session in Canso was native Maritimer Don Bowser, an anti-corruption specialist who has worked around the world, and who currently works in Ukraine where he continues to fight corruption and fraud…

Bowser traced the history of MLS, started in 2016 by American space industry professional John Isella, who was working for the Ukrainian government company Yuzhnoye, after the company’s efforts to build a spaceport in Brazil fell through.

At that point, Bowser said, Yuzhnoye, which does design and sales, and a second government-owned company, Yuzhmash, were desperately looking for another place to work, so they set up Maritime Launch Services, and partnered with an American government contractor, United Paradyne. (Isella was later replaced by Steve Matier as MLS CEO.)

According to Bowser, “MLS was directly created by Yushnoye. There is no degree of separation.”

The aim was to raise financing on private equity markets. But that, Bowser said, hasn’t happened.

The “history of Yuzhnoye / Yuzhmash is one of corruption, malfeasance, and deals made with rogue states [and] is well documented,” he told the audience in Canso.

That November, I noted a twopart article about the Ukrainian space industry written by Olena Holubeva, a reporter with 112 Ukraine:

Holubeva begins with a look at Ukraine’s “glorious cosmic past”…

The bulk of that launch activity entailed joint projects with Russia, and even since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014, that relationship continues, albeit not at previous levels of cooperation — Ukrainian rockets carry supplies to the International Space Station, for instance.

But, writes Holubeva, “the unique enterprises of Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash design offices are forced to look for sources of financing, orders for their products in other countries. It’s a paradox, but Ukraine still has advanced technologies in the space industry, while not having a single satellite in orbit. And if everything remains in the same position, the technologies will soon become obsolete. While space is being explored by private ‘monsters’ like SpaceX and Blue Origin, Ukrainian enterprises are stuck in the state captivity — no money and no particular prospects.”

A major setback to the Ukrainian space industry came on February 1, 2013, when a Ukrainian launch of an Cyclone 4American Intelsat-27 satellite failed and crashed into the ocean, at an insurance loss of $406 million.

After that, Yuzhmash put its hopes on the Cyclone 4 rocket. The first prospective customer was Brazil, which has had its own deadly history at the Alcantara launch site near the equator (in 2003, 21 people were killed when a Brazilian-made solid fuel rocket exploded on the launch pad). “The design documentation for the cosmodrome was developed by Yuzhnoye design office,” writes Holubeva. “The Cyclone-4 carrier rocket was also developed. As part of the project, the company was attracted under the terms of a public-private partnership — it was engaged in the construction of ground infrastructure, which then was partially built and now it is literally rusting.”

Basically, the Ukrainian space industry now needs foreign, non-Russian buyers in order to survive, but as Holubeva reports, this comes at a time when nations are increasingly relying on domestic companies for their space launches.

How desperate are the Ukrainians to keep their rocket factories working? Consider that Holubeva reports that the factories are still selling smaller, military grade Smerch rocket launchers to the Russians, which are then used by the Russians in the field during military operations in Ukraine.

Ukraine is right now in Putin’s crosshairs, and there’s a good chance Russia will invade Ukraine in the next couple of weeks. Like all wars, this would entail a terrible loss of life and would be geopolitical disaster. Who knows what it would mean for the Ukrainian rocket factory.

A “solemn ceremony.” Photo: Saudi Press Agency

On Friday, the Indian publication The Times Hub, which has the odd tagline of “a newspaper for those who read,” published an article by Natasha Kumar about Ukraine’s attempt to create its own spaceport. I can’t make heads or tails out of this article, except that I find it as a sort of weird boosterism. But then there’s this bit:

Last November, the State Space Agency reported that a solemn ceremony was held in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia to mark the joint construction of a space launch pad with Ukraine.

Solemn ceremony? Was there a giant orb like with Trump and Saudis? I somehow missed that.

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6. Recovery support centre

One of the clinical rooms at the Dartmouth Recovery Support Centre for people experiencing mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

“A recovery support centre for people struggling with substance use and gambling addictions is opening in Dartmouth on Tuesday,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

In a media release issued Friday, the province described the new service as “the first local hub for adults requiring less intensive withdrawal management support.”

The services offered at the centre, located at 45 Alderney Dr., will include in-person assessments, group programming, and recovery and harm reduction supports.

It will also link people to care based on their needs, including opioid-use disorder treatment, more intensive in-hospital withdrawal care, and community mental health and addictions programs. The province said it will also provide support for some patients discharged from in-hospital withdrawal care.

Click here to read “Recovery support centre for people struggling with substance use, gambling addictions to open next week.”

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Government

City

Monday

Executive Standing Committee (Monday, 10am) — virtual meeting

Tuesday

Committee of the Whole and Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 9am) — both virtual; Committee of the Whole agenda; Halifax Regional Council agenda

Province

Monday

No public meetings.

Tuesday

Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am) — video conference: Strategies to Attract and Retain People to Rural Areas, with representatives of the Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration, and the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency; Appointments to Agencies, Boards, and Commissions.

Natural Resources and Economic Developemt (Tuesday, 1pm) — video conference: Active Transportation, with representatives from the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, and the Department of Public Works.


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

Being a Great Coach Makes You a Better Leader (Tuesday, 12pm) — webinar with Ted Herbert

Saint Mary’s

Tuesday

Contingency Base Canada: War-Making Infrastructures and Military Grow-Ops (Tuesday, 4pm) — virtual panel discussion with Anthony Fenton, York University; Paniz Khosroshahy, University of Toronto; Sara Matthews, Wilfred Laurier University; and Tyler Shipley, Humber College

King’s

Tuesday

MFA in Creative Nonfiction Meet & Greet (Tuesday, 8pm) — online event


In the harbour

Halifax
08:00: Vivienne Sheri D, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Reykjavik, Iceland
09:30: MSC Valencia, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
12:00: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Hamburg, Germany
23:00: Rt Hon Paul E Martin, bulker, arrives at Gold Bond from Belledune, New Brunswick

Cape Breton
16:00: Algoma Victory, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
16:00: Shelia Ann, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Tampa, Florida


Footnotes

I’ve got nothing.


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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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