News

1. Finally: Temporary housing units in Dartmouth are ready

One of the modular units in Dartmouth. — Photo: halifax.ca

“Councillors patted themselves on the back Tuesday, celebrating a job half done and more than a month delayed,” writes Zane Woodford in his report on the long-awaited modular housing units that appear to finally be ready in Dartmouth.

It’s been a long time coming for these 24 modular housing units that will shelter people currently staying at Dartmouth’s Gray Arena.

HRM approved funding to purchase and install them back in September. Then, plans changed. The deal to buy a set of sub-standard units fell through in the fall. Halifax Regional council then approved an additional $3.2 million to fund the projects. There were originally supposed to be sites ready in Halifax and Dartmouth before the first snow in order to take in a number of people living in encampments throughout the metro area. Further delays came as the municipality searched for new units to purchase and sites for them to be constructed.

The new site will be operated by the province and Out of the Cold Association.

Woodford reported on Jan. 7 that the modular units for the Halifax site won’t be ready until mid-March now. Those units will house those living rough on the peninsula, including residents of People’s Park.

Speaking about the delays, Councillor Sam Austin said he was happy overall with the completion of the project:

“We did screw up on this project, but not in the way that people think,” Austin said. “Where we went wrong here is we oversold and then under delivered in terms of the time it was going to take and the cost.”

The Dartmouth Centre councillor said it was a project unlike any other HRM had taken on, and council approved it without the usual litany of staff reports required.

“We took on more risk here knowingly because we wanted to move as quickly as we could. And on that point, it’s kind of it’s been lost in all the shuffle, we’ve actually been very effective,” Austin said.

In a virtual meeting yesterday, Council unanimously passed a motion to approve a budget increase of $1.2 million for the project, on top of the original $3.2 million.

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2. COVID update: one dead, 58 hospitalized

Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

When, in light of the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, the province brought in new public health restrictions in December, they were originally set to expire today. No such luck — they’re now set to expire at the end of the month.

Here’s how things stand now, as reported by Tim Bousquet Tuesday:

A man in his 80s has died from COVID-19. He was living in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone and is the 116th Nova Scotian to die from the virus.

Also, 15 Nova Scotians were newly admitted to hospital because of the virus, while 16 who’d already been admitted for the same reason were discharged. There are now 58 COVID hospitalizations in the province (this number doesn’t include those who were admitted to hospital for other reasons but tested positive for COVID during the admissions screening, nor those who contracted COVID in the hospital outbreaks listed below).

There were 616 new cases announced yesterday and Public Health estimates there are 6,796 active cases in the province, though Bousquet writes the number is likely much higher.

At hospitals, five existing outbreaks have had new cases found, and there’s a new outbreak in a ward at Northside General Hospital in North Sydney. Fewer than five patients have tested positive there.

If you want to stay informed on all the latest details regarding testing, numbers, vaccinations, outbreaks, exposure sites, and restrictions, you can find it all in Tim Bousquet’s latest update here.

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3. Dartmouth development near wetlands

The developer’s site plan. — Map: HRM/Clayton Developments

In Zane Woodford’s second article from Tuesday evening, he looks at a development in Dartmouth that’s slowly moving ahead, and how it could impact wetlands in the area.

Halifax regional council voted on Tuesday to start a process to allow development on what the municipality calls the Southdale Future Growth Node. To people in the area, the site between Highway 111 and the Woodside Industrial Park is known as Eisner Cove Wetland.

The land was identified during the Centre Plan process as a potential area for new residential development, called a future growth node. In the fall, Clayton Developments and Zzap Consulting applied on behalf of the owner of most of the land, A.J. Legrow Holdings Limited, to develop a total of 700 homes on the site through a mix of detached homes, townhouses, and apartment buildings.

A biologist is worried about the potential effect the development could have on wetlands in the area. David Patriquin, a member of the Nova Scotia Wild Flora Society, wrote a blog post on Tuesday outlining his concerns. He believes a much larger buffer is needed between the development and the wetlands to ensure their health is maintained. These wetlands, he says, are important for sequestering carbon and maintaining biodiversity. He also considers the area a natural treasure that was “sold to developers without much thought.”

In Woodford’s full article, Patriquin sits down for an interview to tell why he thinks this development in its current form could do a lot of harm to the surrounding area.

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4. Omicron putting serious pressure on nursing homes

Photo: Nova Scotia Nurses Union

There aren’t many areas of life in Nova Scotia that haven’t been hit by the Omicron variant of COVID lately, but nursing homes are being hit especially hard.

This morning, Jennifer Henderson writes that 25 nursing homes across the province are not admitting new residents because they do not have enough staff to provide care. That number fluctuates daily but it’s roughly one in five homes at this time. 

Outbreaks, staff illnesses, waiting lists, and new visitor restrictions have all put a tremendous amount of pressure on these facilities that look after our elder population.

The Progressive Conservative government of Tim Houston has committed to hire 600 nurses and 1400 CCAs to improve staffing in long-term care homes. The big unknown is how long that will take. 

There is $2.7 million allocated to hire nurse practitioners. 

Read Henderson’s full article for an in-depth look at how this latest COVID variant has pushed nursing homes in this province to the brink, and what’s being done about it.

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5. Muskrat Falls

A map showing the various transmission components that connect Muskrat Falls to Nova Scotia. Graphic: Emera Credit: Emera

At the end of December, Jennifer Henderson reported that “delays in the receipt of hydroelectricity from Muskrat Falls in Labrador have cost Nova Scotian ratepayers more than $200 million over four years.” That information was made public by Nova Scotia Power on Friday, December 24, after the company was ordered to disclose the amount by the regulator, the Utility and Review Board.

Now, a few weeks later, the company that owns Nova Scotia Power says hydroelectricity is flowing into Nova Scotia from Newfoundland and Labrador at 70%-100% of the amounts contracted over the past month. As such, Emera is asking regulators to approve its application to recover $1.7 billion in final costs from Nova Scotia Power ratepayers for the Maritime Link, which connects the province to Muskrat Falls.

That’s what Paul Withers reported Tuesday for the CBC:
In December testimony, Nova Scotia Power executive David Landigran predicted deliveries were about to ramp up.

In its final submission, Emera said that has happened.

“In recent weeks, the full Nova Scotia Block has been delivered as scheduled subject only to limited planned interruptions in light of reduced staffing over the holiday days,” Emera said in a Jan. 7 filing.

Nova Scotia Power spokesperson Jacqueline Foster said Tuesday that flows are continuing at levels similar to that mentioned in the Jan. 7 filing.

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Photo: unsplash.com/Kelly Sikkema

1. The old-fashioned sick day

Ah, the sick day.

It used to be the day you stayed home in bed, shunned sunlight and social contact while watching trash TV and drinking tea. And even though it usually involved some stomach-churning, nose-clogging, mind-fogging illness — assuming you weren’t lying to get out of something — it could actually be kind of pleasant. So long as you weren’t dying of food poisoning or something similarly severe, it was a nice change of pace, a break from the commute and the regular office routine.

It’s not so special anymore though, is it?

I mean, the sick day has really changed.

First off, it’s encouraged. (I mean, the paid sick day isn’t exactly encouraged by everyone, but staying home instead of powering through is pretty much encouraged right now). When we get the sniffles, even if we feel fine, we’re more inclined to stay home and play it safe. Workplaces don’t want to risk shutting down or losing more employees to quarantines — or, more humanistically, don’t want to see their workers risk their lives to do their jobs. And, on top of that, we feel guilty about what we could spread if we go out. The risks are still very real. This virus took another Nova Scotian’s life just yesterday.

The first hints of an oncoming illness also bring a sort of dread. Aside from the fear of losing one’s health, there’s the logistics of it all. How long will I have to isolate? How will I get tested? How can I get food and supplies while I wait for results? What happens if they come back positive? The list goes on.

But let’s put COVID aside for now. What’s become of the sick day?

Masks, aside from helping prevent the spread of coronavirus, have cut down on the cold and flu season. Through almost two years of a worldwide pandemic, I’m glad to say I haven’t been sick once. I’ve taken some time off for a couple migraines but that’s it. Even then, being sick has only meant I wasn’t well enough to take a couple ZOOM calls. Everything else stays pretty well the same. I stay at home, do some work, isolate from everyone, and wait until I’m cleared to re-enter the world. Not much change of pace. Not everyone is able to work from home, though, so I recognize the decision on whether to stay home and pass up shifts is far more stressful for some.

I think I’d forgotten what it was to be sick at home. I’ve recently been reminded…sort of.

My girlfriend got sick over the weekend. For the sake of our relationship, and the enjoyment of your breakfast, I’ll spare you most of the details. The long and short of it is, she hasn’t been having a lot of fun these past few days.

An infection was causing her mouth a lot of pain and preventing her from eating. Over the weekend, it got to the point where she hadn’t eaten anything in over a day. So, after a number of negative COVID take-home-tests, I hopped in the car and scooted to the city to see what I could do to help.

Not much, it turned out. Upon my arrival I remembered that I am not, in fact, a doctor.

So I did what I could to take her mind off the pain and hunger.

It was kind of nice (though she might disagree with me).

We napped, watched a documentary, did the Globe holiday crossword. I read aloud to her, she kicked my ass at Scrabble. While I ate soup, she struggled to force down a bottle of Ensure. We were just two twenty-somethings living out the golden years in advance.

It wasn’t all snug and cozy though. There was a moment, when she was at her sickest, that I got a little scared. She hadn’t eaten anything in close to two days and the pain in her mouth was getting worse. We knew we had to get her to a doctor at that point. That’s when I started to get anxious.

News reports of backlogs flashed through my head, like this one from Jennifer Henderson last week:

The latest wave of COVID is putting pressure on every aspect of the health care system, including the postponement of surgeries due to lack of beds and longer than usual waits for patients arriving at overcrowded Emergency Departments. 

“There are people that may have been waiting for procedures or appointments that have been postponed and need to be re-scheduled,” said [vice-president of Medicine with Nova Scotia Health, Dr. Nicole] Boutilier. “There are long waits in emergency rooms because of the increase in the number of people coming in. It’s very stressful for patients who are sick, and stressful for staff who come to work and want to do the best job they can.”

Boutilier said hospitals are at “near capacity” today with ICUs and most hospital floors operating at approximately 97%. If the occupancy increases much more, she anticipates more operations and outpatient appointments will need to be cancelled in the next couple of weeks due to the shortage of beds. 

Would people be cramming walk-in clinics as a result? The first clinic we went to wasn’t even offering walk-ins anymore, though they didn’t say so online. I started to wonder if that would be the case everywhere. 

It wasn’t.

Thankfully, we got into the second clinic we visited to right away. She got some antibiotics and off we went. But then I wondered what would happen if they didn’t help, if she was to go into a third day without eating. How long would it take to get into the emergency room, where could we get her on an IV?

All those worries turned out to be hypotheticals. The antibiotics slowly worked their magic. The pain’s still there, but it’s subsiding. Yesterday she was eating soup with ease at lunch and stealing some of my noodles at supper.

In the pandemic, the sick day can be a non-event. Just another day at home with a little extra isolation. Or it can be nerve-wracking.

All in all, it was a pretty minor experience for us. But through it, my empathy grew for those who’ve gone through similar or, in many cases, worse situations through the pandemic: nursing home residents and hospital patients who’ve had to fight the virus and other illness in isolation, unable to see their families, those with chronic conditions who need outside help, even as we’re told to stay apart. And I gained a new appreciation for the tireless work those in health care have been doing while stretched thin for so long.

These are feelings I thought I had before, but they’re so much deeper now.

Ultimately, my one bout of sick days this pandemic (so far) wasn’t so bad. Things worked out and we were able to be together through it all. I know a lot of people have had to deal with illness in isolation — just look at Victoria Walton’s recent article in the Coast on “How to plan for self-isolation like a lone star” during this Omicron wave. We were lucky. (Obviously I’ve been far luckier than my girlfriend through all this too, though it hasn’t been easy at times).

The sick day ain’t what it used to be. I wish it was still all just naps and crosswords.

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2. Out in the freezing cold

Yesterday morning, as the sun was coming up, I thought I’d do the early January thing and follow through on my still-nascent-but-very-much-on-life-support resolutions: in this case, that meant falling out of bed and into my running shoes. It turned out to be a terrific workout. Nothing makes you push yourself to run as fast as you can like flurries and sub-zero temperatures.

Normally, for example, I’d have to hype myself into running up the Citadel. Yesterday though, there was no question I was zooming up that hill. For no other reason than self-preservation, I ran up that thing with an unwavering pace, hoping to God it’d warm me up and get me to the end of my run quicker. Thankfully, it did. But still, after half an hour, I burst into my girlfriend’s heated apartment with more relief and gratitude than Odysseus must’ve felt when he washed up on Ithaca.

All this is to say, it was bitter cold. (Step outside this morning — it’s about the same). Not everyone had an apartment to run back to though.

Like People’s Park, which I passed on my jog.

Meagher Park in Halifax Tuesday. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

The park has far fewer residents than it did at its peak just before winter, but there are still people sleeping out here in these temperatures. Dartmouth modular units won’t house anyone here. We’ll have to wait for the Centennial Arena units.

When I came back after my jog, two residents of the park were huddled over a fire, keeping warm.

Two men try to keep warm Tuesday at Meagher Park, or “People’s Park,” in Halifax. The man on the right identified himself only as Dave, while the man on the left did not wish to disclose his name. They both say they’ve been camping at the park for months. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

I don’t have much to say on this today. But with the latest update on HRM’s modular units, and the fog we can slip into during the holidays, I think it’s important to keep showing that people are still living like this in our community — and during the coldest days of the year.

There’s some solid reporting still being put out on this issue. Aside from Zane Woodford’s recent reports on the modular homes, you can also check out Victoria Walton’s recap of homelessness in HRM over the holidays in the Coast. Walton looks at People’s Park, the now-closed Friendship Centre shelter, the temporary term of Erica Fleck as HRM’s housing and homelessness administrator, and just how much progress has been made in the city to house those living rough. It’s a great read if you’re looking for a quick update on the general situation in Halifax.

A tent is set up across from the Superstore on Joe Howe Drive in Halifax. It’s one of two tents on this strip as of Tuesday. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

There are other camps that haven’t received much coverage. Take the Urban Greenway Park in the south end.

From the angle in the picture below, it almost looks like a regular, if not makeshift, campground. (There are two more tents in the woods behind these too).

Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

But look from a different perspective and you’ll find people are camped out right next to a university, surrounded by some of the most affluent homes on the peninsula.

Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

As late as the modular homes have come to Dartmouth, it’s a relief to see them in place. The Halifax site has a long way to go before it’ll be ready though.

The parking lot of the Centennial Pool, where modular homes are to be set up in Halifax. The homes are well behind schedule at this point. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

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Noticed

This one’s from the personal archives.

My parents just did a cull of some office space and found a collection of old papers, pictures, and documents I had lying around.

Most of what they handed over was school work from my Port Williams Elementary days. It was good for a laugh and a little reminiscing, but one piece of writing really stood out to me.

It’s one, singular sentence I wrote in my “homework book” when I was nine years old. I don’t know what the assignment was — there is no context. All I know is, if I write for another hundred years, I’ll never come up with a sentence that bears more scrutiny, analysis, and discussion than this one here. It is a masterpiece of syntax and mystery.

“A pioneer from a valley beneath a mountain in Canada made a promise when he was frightened, that he would understand that someone would tell him he was married and fill him with happiness.” Photo and writing: Ethan Lycan-Lang

When speaking about Ulysses, James Joyce once said, “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant.”

Have I done the same thing here with this elementary school assignment? I dare not be so bold as to make that judgement. All I know is, Mrs. MacNeil liked it.

Mrs. MacNeil’s critique.

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Government

City

Wednesday

No meetings

Thursday

Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm) — on YouTube

Design Review Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm) — on YouTube

Harbour East-Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm) — on YouTube

Province

No meetings


On campus

King’s

Wednesday

No events

Thursday

Waves of Change: Advanced Bystander Intervention Training (Thursday, 3pm) — free online workshop

designed by the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services Association in partnership with various Nova Scotian post-secondary institutions, in order to address sexualized violence on campus. Participants will learn various techniques to intervene either as bystanders or as a community in order to interrupt or stop sexual violence, support survivors, hold those who cause harm accountable for their actions, and transform the culture that allows violence to happen. This program draws on participants existing skills, knowledge, and creativity in order to facilitate broader strategies for social change.


In the harbour

Halifax
12:00: Siem Cicero, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
12:00: Aurviken, oil tanker, arrives at Pier 9 from Es Sider, Libya
15:00: NYK Meteor, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Antwerp
18:00: X-press Irazu, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea

Cape Breton
15:30: Viktor Bakaev, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from New York
20:00: Rossi A. Desgagnes, chemical tanker, arrives at Government Dock (Sydney) from Corner Brook


Footnotes

  • If you think you understand something in that sentence above, please feel free to use it as the opening line of your next novel. I would love to see the story that springs from it.
  • In case you were wondering, the book I was reading with my girlfriend is Don Quixote. We started reading it together in December, but I’ve been reading it in the background since early summer. (She joined just as I was reaching the novel’s second part). I’m beginning to think it’ll never end. I’m also beginning to think I don’t want it to. There’s some world class hijinx in that book.
  • I don’t use the bridges a whole lot — I don’t live in the city — so I’ve never considered getting a MACPASS, but after the comments on my Morning File last week, I’ve decided to spring for one.
  • There is now a person in Maryland with the head of a man and the heart of a pig. It’s a medical marvel. It could benefit humanity tremendously. It raises a myriad of fascinating philosophical and ethical questions. But all I could think of when I heard the news was this. I can’t be the only one.
  • Despite the name, the Halifax Examiner covers stories from all corners of the province, not just HRM, and features writers living outside the city. This is the first Morning File I’ve written from Halifax. Feels good to have one under the belt.

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Ethan Lycan-Lang

Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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  1. Hard to argue with the council that the modular housing is a good thing but I would take issue with this being done in a timely fashion.

    How many years has housing been in crisis in HRM? How many years was council planning for growth but doing nothing to mitigate its negative effects? How was this latest action a damage control and brand management exercise to counter that brutal demonstration of police aggression in August?

    Credit where due but some soul searching reflection might be better than back slapping self congratulation.

    1. When you consider that providing this kind of housing is totally outside of the mandate of the municipality, I think substantial credit is due for at least getting it done, albeit behind schedule. The provincial government has ignored this glaring need for far too long and now HRM is letting them off the hook. The least the Province could do is offer to cost share or provide some broader support. It is one thing to get people into the shelters, but it is another thing to ensure their welfare. Wanna make a bet that the Province ducks that one too?

      1. Well said. The unfortunate reality is that when people don’t have homes, they can become a municipal problem. I commend our municipality for at least doing something. The 24 people that will be under a roof in Dartmouth, though, are only a small percentage of the nearly 500 that are currently homeless in the province. The additional 38 that will eventually be housed in Halifax are another small percentage. What about the others? And what about those who could become people without homes in the coming months? I’ve said it many times before and will likely say it many more times – all levels of government need to work together to address this problem. It didn’t happen overnight and it won’t be solved overnight, but it is way past time to do something about it. Every single person who wants a roof over their heads should have one – it doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be safe and warm.

  2. A fascinating morning file, very enjoyable. I did giggle at your Ulysses-like paper from grade school. Very nice printing! Did she catch the two froms?