1. Health care workers

Bright blue Halifax Infirmary signage against a blue sky.
Halifax Infirmary in July, 2021. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont Credit: Yvette d'Entremont

Remember when, early in the pandemic, people would bang pots and pans and otherwise make a lot of noise at 7pm every day in order to show support for health care workers? It was truly a sign of community support for the people putting their very lives on the line to see us through the pandemic.

And while it was not nearly enough, that community support was matched with a bit of financial support, as the federal and provincial governments gave “pandemic premium” payments to at least some health care workers, in recognition of their sacrifices.

Now, almost two years into the pandemic, health care workers are facing the toughest challenge yet. But we don’t bang pots and pans anymore. Nor do we pay them more.

I reported yesterday:

At [Wednesday’s] COVID briefing, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang painted a bleak picture of a hospital system under considerable strain:

Strang: Hundreds of health care workers are not able to work in a system that was under immense pressure even before the Omicron wave. Nova Scotia Health has between five to seven hundred employees off work on any given day due to COVID. These shortages are happening across the entire health system, from long term care and home care to emergency health services.

With every wave of the virus, we’ve asked our health care providers to do more. They are tired, frustrated and more than a little bit anxious. Many were called back to work during the holidays. Most people are working on teams that are short staffed, and many are being redeployed to other areas of need that they may not have as much comfort in working in what they need to be there.

Nova Scotia Health has once again asked people to cancel their vacations, but it’s still not just enough to relieve the stress on the system. Patient volumes are at a high. Staff are seeing higher visits to emergency and experiencing delays in admitting patients. And outbreak cases among patients already admitted for non-COVID reasons have also gone up and managing these outbreaks requires more staff time and effort to prevent further spread.

The health care system impacts of this wave are requiring that entire system to take significant steps to alleviate pressure and create more capacity.

As we go to publish, Public Health has released the following statement:

There are currently approximately 600 staff and physicians off work due to COVID-19 infections, or the requirement to self-isolate due to close contact with a positive case.

At many hospitals, inpatient units are operating with reduced staffing levels and the demand for beds is exceeding the number of staffed beds available, with approximately 355 hospital beds in the province occupied by patients who are awaiting placement in a long term care facility or housing through the Department of Community Services.

This situation is having a significant impact on wait times, patient flow, and surgical care. Inpatient beds have been closed at many hospitals due to staff availability, while emergency departments have opened overflow beds to manage high volumes of admitted patients.

Approximately 120 scheduled surgeries and 30 endoscopy or gastroenterology procedures were postponed last week due to these challenges. Outpatient rehabilitation services were also temporarily reduced in Central Zone last week.

Additional surgeries have been cancelled this week and effective today (Jan. 12), the following additional service reductions have been introduced across the province to allow staff to be reassigned to help maintain inpatient, ICU, and emergency care:

• Surgical services have been further reduced, with only urgent and emergent surgeries, including time sensitive cancer surgeries, continuing at this time
• Ambulatory care clinics and procedures will focus on urgent needs only

Diagnostic imaging and laboratory services are continuing and will not be affected at this time.

Given those impacts on health care workers, and yesterday’s testimony to the legislature’s Health Committee, I asked Premier Tim Houston whether he will increase health workers’ pay; our exchange:

Bousquet: Premier, in 2020, when the pandemic started, that summer there was something called a pandemic premium for health care workers. They were paid an extra $2 an hour for up to four months work, and this was early days in the pandemic. There was a difficulty, especially around long term care workers, at that time, but arguably the pressures on health care workers right now are much greater than even then. Is there the ability or will you provide extra emergency funding for health care workers?

Houston: You’re absolutely right. The pressure on our health care workers and across the entire system is is as high or higher than it’s ever been. So you’re absolutely right on that point. These are types of discussions that we’re constantly having. The first instance is how do we how do we support people by, you know, moving people around, rejuggling things to make sure that they have the support they need to do their job effectively — and people that are in the hospital and people that are seeking out care in this province are getting incredible care from people who are under incredible pressure. But you raise a point on on the compensation aspect and these are discussions that will continue to happen and we’ll have those discussions internally, but we definitely want to support our health care workers as best as we possibly can.

I’m not sure what that answer means, but it wasn’t a “yes.”

2. Medical assistance in dying

A photo of a smiling woman in a gray sweater standing in front of a white striped building.
Jocelyn Downie

“Nova Scotians eligible for medical assistance in dying (MAID) will soon be able to choose to self-administer medication rather than relying on a clinician to do it for them,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

The option, often referred to as the oral protocol, will be made available in the province in “early 2022.”

This is great news for Dalhousie University professor Jocelyn Downie, who teaches in the faculties of law and medicine. She described the move as the next stage in the implementation of a legal framework for MAID in Canada.

“Ultimately it’s grounded in the twin values that should be behind our MAID decisions, which is respect for autonomy, so the capacity for self-determination, for charting the course of your own life and death, and then the alleviation of suffering,” Downie said in an interview.

“This is just another element in respecting autonomy. It’s providing another pathway for people to realize their goal of alleviating their suffering on their own terms…”

Click here to read “Nova Scotians eligible for medical assistance in dying will soon have option to self-administer.”

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3. Our Stories, Our Experiences

Black Lady with light coloured clothing smikes for the camera with books on a bookcase in the background.
Rajean Willis, the host of ‘Our Stories Our Experiences with Rajean Willis’. Photo: Matthew Byard.

Rajean Willis, who is full-time social worker with a private practice on the side, and a student in education at NSCC, said she’s always had ‘a passion’ for hosting television talk shows,” reports Matthew Byard:

Through the Association of Black Social Workers (ABSW), Willis has hosted shows on Eastlink TV that dealt with mental health, substance abuse, and problem gambling in the African Nova Scotian community. Her latest project looks to further expand on the Black experience, as well as overall wellness within the Black community.

“What I was trying to do [was] raise awareness [in terms of] empowering Black folks into recognizing that we have the ability to not just experience things that might be challenging, but to be able to strive through it all,” she said recently in an interview with The Examiner.

Our Stories Our Experiences with Rajean Willis is a four-part web series put on by TD Bank and the Halifax Public Libraries. Filmed at the Central Library through Atlantic Live Stream this past fall, the series was recently released on YouTube in conjunction with the upcoming African Heritage Month.

“I can’t say I have a favourite [episode],” she said. “All of them were really powerful, and, for me, therapeutic.”

A lineup of Black guests from the Maritimes joins her in each episode to engage in one-on-one interviews and panel discussions. Willis said the episodes are themed and appear in an order that is meant to flow, and build off one another.

Click here to read “New web series sheds light on the Black experience in Nova Scotia.”

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4. Mass Casualty Commission

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

A series of public hearings hosted by the Mass Casualty Commission looking into the mass murders of April 18/19, 2020 that were scheduled to begin next week have been pushed back a month, without explanation but probably due to the COVID situation. The hearings are “public sessions where Commission Counsel present evidence to the Commissioners and to the public.”

Right now is obviously not the best time to host public gatherings, but the continued delays from both the commission and the RCMP/crown in a parallel court challenge waged by media organizations (including the Halifax Examiner) to get court documents released is beyond frustrating. It’s almost as if the guardians of information are determined to keep the public in the dark.

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5. Scream 5

a mask of a screaming person

The lastest Tideline, with Tara Thorne is out:

In 1996 a movie dropped out of nowhere and revolutionized an exhausted genre — the slasher film — with a wit and self-awareness that’s become commonplace now, but at the time was fresh and surprising. That movie was Scream, and over the past 26 (!) years it’s spawned multiple sequels, a TV series, countless imitators, a marriage and divorce (Courteney Cox and David Arquette), and made a star out of a young Canadian called Neve Campbell. Musician Trevor Murphy and filmmaker Kevin Hartford are two Scream superfans and they join Tara on the eve of Scream 5’s release (January 14) to get into all of this and much, much more.

Click here to listen for free.

Speaking of Tara(s), last week there was much ado about a minor flareup when Tara Henley quit her contracting job at the CBC, citing the broadcaster’s “radical political agenda.” I remained silent about that because I don’t have to weigh in on every damn thing (but: come on); however, many people made the obvious point… for example, Andrew Neville: “Not a single person defending Tara Henley for *voluntarily* quitting her job said a word last summer when the CBC fired Tara Thorne for making a stupid joke.”

I hired Tara because the Examiner can be a place for talented journalists to park themselves when the world isn’t treating them well. We’ve done the same for striking Herald reporters, and we’ve hired fully half the reporting team (Zane Woodford and Yvette d’Entremont) that was laid off from the old Metro. I fear we’re going to be doing more of that soon.

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6. Shane Ross

a man at a construction site
Contractor Shane Ross, the owner of Standard Paving Ltd., is shown in a May 2020 photo. Photo: Instagram via the CBC

“Nova Scotia’s Labour Department has issued a stop-work order at a construction site in north-end Dartmouth after two men fell from scaffolding Monday,” reports Preston Mulligan for the CBC:

The men, both 49 years old, were taken to hospital. One of the men sustained life-threatening injuries in the fall.

The incident happened shortly after 4 p.m. local time on Clarence Street.

Last February, the Halifax Regional Municipality issued a construction permit for the Clarence Street address to Standard Paving Ltd., which is owned by Shane Ross.

There’s a predictably tragic trajectory for this story, and the CBC has been all over it. Last month, Richard Cuthbertson reported that:

Over the last five years, Ross has been charged with fraud, his companies have been fired from numerous construction jobs in Nova Scotia and Ontario, and he’s been embroiled in legal actions with more than 30 contractors, property owners, towns and a Halifax university.

He has flagrantly disobeyed judicial orders and was even sent to jail for contempt of court. This week, he appeared in court on forgery charges related to a Halifax Regional Municipality tender.

Yet astonishingly to many who have crossed paths with him, Ross has managed to keep operating during much of this period, hired by unsuspecting builders as he remained beneath the public radar.

CBC has tried to catalogue the saga through more than 20 interviews with those who have dealt with Ross and a review of more than 1,000 pages of court, municipal, banking and business registry records.

As the lawsuits over unpaid bills and contract defaults piled up, Ross has boasted of his expensive watch, huge restaurant bills and taken vacations to Las Vegas and Scotland. He lives in a lakeside home in Lake Echo, N.S., and owns an Aston Martin luxury sports car.

That’s good, important reporting by Cuthbertson. He must be incredibly frustrated right now, as here we are with a man clinging for his life; if only people had taken note of the reporting.

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7. Wood chips

On Tuesday, I noted that the ship Ebroborg was in Sheet Harbour, a port used primarily for the export of wood chips. The ship, I wrote, was likely traveling “to Europe under the dubious notion that woodchips and other biofuels are fuel for ‘green energy.’ The chips will replace fossil fuels that would have burned for heat, reducing some European country’s GHG emissions — on paper, anyway.”

Well, not quite. This morning I see that the ship is actually headed to Grundartangi, Iceland, an industrial area about 50 kilometres from Reykjavik. There is in Grundartangi a ferrosilicon plant operated by a company called Elkem Iceland, the local division of the global Elken Corporation, based in Norway.

Ferrosilicon is used in steel and cast iron production, and in varied other products like transformer cores.

As this 2009 dissertation examining the Grundartangi plant’s operation explains, ferrosilicon production requires the input of carbon, which can come from coal, coke, charcoal, or wood chips, but “wood chips are the only locally available product.”

The plant was built in the 1970s, and appears have indeed been using local wood waste as the source of wood chips — until recently. But Elkem is now in (supposed) “sustainability” mode, and so is increasing its use of biofuels, as it explains in this press release:

Elkem has a long-term goal to reduce CO2 emissions through increased use of biocarbon. As an important step in this effort, Elkem today announces NOK 140 million in investments in new infrastructure at its production site in Rana, Norway, enabling usage of wood chips as biocarbon…

Elkem aims to increase its share of emissions based on renewable biogenic sources to 40% by 2030. The company has already reached 20% of direct CO2 emissions based on renewable biogenic sources in Norway in 2020. The nature of the sources makes these emissions carbon neutral.

That last claim — that biofuels are carbon neutral — is outright denied by scientists who look at the entire carbon footprint of forests used for biofuels. Long story short: most of the carbon in a forest is not in the trees but in the soil, and by over-harvesting forests for wood chips and other products, the soil is so eroded that an enormous carbon sink is lost.

The press release continues:

“Elkem has reduced emissions from their plants in Norway significantly over the last decade, most of them with financial support from the NOx Fund, and with impressive results. The project at Elkem Rana, adds another milestone to their work to reduce their own emissions, to move Norway towards a zero emission society and to establish a low-emission baseline for their industry sector,” says Tommy Johnsen, general manager of the NOx Fund.

Elkem has a broad approach to environmentally friendly material and metal production, including through several biocarbon initiatives around the world.

In 2020, Elkem decided to invest in a new biocarbon pilot plant in Canada. Elkem is also involved in work to develop competitive and sustainable sources of biocarbon as well as longer-term R&D projects. In 2019, Elkem’s plant in Paraguay achieved 100% sustainable biocarbon in its production of ferrosilicon as a pioneer plant in Elkem and the metals industry.

In 2020, Elkem was awarded a Gold level rating by EcoVadis for the company’s sustainability performance and corporate social responsibility and an A-rating from CDP, ranking Elkem among the world’s leading companies on climate transparency and action.

The “biocarbon pilot plant” in Canada is in Quebec, and over half of the capital cost of the project was paid for by the federal and municipal (Saguenay) governments:

The pilot plant will source raw materials from local sawmills in Canada, including recycled bark, wood chips, sawdust and wood shaves. This will create new business opportunities within the circular economy and create new green jobs. More than 2 million Green tons (Gt) of potential raw material is already produced within 100 kilometres of the Chicoutimi area in Quebec.

While the press release speaks of “recycled bark, wood chips, sawdust and wood shaves,” the accompanying photo of plant operations shows, yep, logged trees:

This photo accompanies an Elken press release singing the praises of “carbon neutral” biofuels.

Well, if in fact the plant used “recycled bark, wood chips, sawdust and wood shaves,” then it would at least be on a green pathway, but it appears that Elkem is using wood chips from freshly cut trees in its plants, and is shipping that materially globally.

This is not green energy.

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1. Doing fun shit for charity

Way back in  2015, I rather rudely noted that:

Not a week goes by when some young person, usually a college student, sends me an email about his or her hiking/bicycling/pogo sticking/ whatever across Canada/ around Nova Scotia/ whatever “to raise money” for some charitable cause. It never makes sense to me. If they’ve got the time to pogo stick across Canada, why not just work some stupid minimum wage job and contribute all the proceeds to the cause — you’d make more money. The emphasis seems to be on the ego-gratification, and only secondly on the cause.

This was in response to my observation that Me to We was, well, a scam:

I’ve long been vaguely wary of the We Day festivities held at the $48 NSF Fee Centre every year, where busloads of schoolchildren are supposedly taught to stop being little shits and to start caring about the world. The city throws a bunch of money into this because Think of the kids!

The for-profit parent corporation that runs We Day is called Me to We, created by Craig and Marc Kielburger, who also have a nonprofit foundation.

Anyway, I’ve continued to warily watch these “charity” efforts, whether they’re corporate or individual.

In 2019, I noted that a guy named Mathew Fee Jr. was cluttering up the 102 in order to show people that even drug addicts can reform themselves and become a traffic menace instead:

I drove to Truro yesterday and came upon the van and bike rider on the 102, just past the Stewiacke exit. The truck was following the cyclist, who was going regular cycling speed, maybe 20 or 25 kilometres/hour. The truck was half on the shoulder and half in the right lane, but kind of shifted more into the lane as it crossed bridges and such. The cyclist was entirely in the lane.

This was quite dangerous. I was at the rear of a group of vehicles as the group crested a hill and came upon the truck/cyclist combo. The cars in the right lane had to swerve suddenly into the left lane, and all the drivers came frightening close to each other. I slowed way down to give everyone room, but feared getting rear-ended by some other vehicle coming over the hill behind me.

I don’t know if this is a restricted highway, but I’m guessing it is — Highway 2 runs parallel and is a better route for bikes. In any event, even if bikes are allowed on the 102, they should be on the shoulder and not creating this hazard. What is the John Volken Academy thinking? Such a sense of entitlement.

Terry Fox was inspiring but everything since has been, well, under-whelming. I mean, ride your bike across Canada if you want, but don’t claim some higher purpose for it, and don’t risk causing a multi-vehicle pileup on the 102.

Mountain climbers seem to be especially prone to justifying their trips with charitable overtones.

I can’t seem to find it this morning, but I once had an exchange with some mountain climbers who were going to Kenya to climb a mountain, and used as the excuse that they were going to teach the locals about climate change. I found this preposterous: the GHG footprint of flying to Kenya and climbing a mountain is enormous, especially compared to the relatively tiny per capita GHG footprints of everyday Kenyans.

(As with many imperialist project, Africa is the target for a lot of “charity” scams that do more harm than good: consider how “shoes for Africa” or “shirts for Africa” projects undermine the local cobbler and textile industries, leaving people financially worse off than they were before they were helped by charity.)

Recall last year, just as COVID restrictions were requiring us all to avoid travelling to our cottages, dentist Kevin Walsh travelled all the way to Mt. Everest amid a COVID outbreak on the mountain; Walsh climbed past a sea of dead bodies from previous expeditions and planted a flag of Nova Scotia on the summit, which earned him the praise of then-premier Iain Rankin. I commented:

I had a question. Specifically, this one:

Bousquet: I want to ask you about this fellow who climbed Mount Everest and your congratulation of him. This was international non-essential travel during a pandemic. And I’m wondering what kind of message that sends to the rest of Nova Scotians who are avoiding travel to see their grandmothers and such? And should we now just all assume that we can do international travel so long as we think it’s safe?

Strang: I don’t know any of the details about when he might have left the country. Probably preparing to go for Everest, you have to be there for quite a period of time. So I don’t know any of the details of when he might have left the country.

Translation: you people who aren’t rich dentists are just a bunch of suckers.

WATCH: Brian Jones and his daughter Forest have just returned to Fredericton after traveling to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, while raising $10,000 for students in Fredericton who experience food insecurity.

— Global Halifax (@globalhalifax) January 13, 2022

This morning, Global brings us the story of Frederictonian Brian Jones and his daughter Forrest, who went to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in order to raise “$10,000 for students in Fredericton who experience food insecurity.”

I was wondering how you raise money by climbing a mountain — do you wear advertising logos on your climbing clothes? get paid for installing a cell tower on the summit? But no, people are apparently giving donations via a website. This confuses me. First, wouldn’t it cost far more than $10,000 for two people to travel to and from Tanzania? And, are there really people who would contribute money for hungry kids but only if you climb a mountain and not if you don’t climb a mountain?  (Never mind that Canada is a rich country, and hungry kids shouldn’t have to rely on charity; that money could be better used for political action to end poverty.)

Hey, climb a mountain if you want! It’s probably fun. But I’m calling BS on doing it for charity.

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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


No meetings

On campus


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

06:00: MSC Lucy, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Sines, Portugal
08:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
10:45: Oceanex Avalon, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
15:00: Aurviken, oil tanker, sails from Pier 9 for sea
20:00: Horizon Thetis, oil tankers, sails from Imperial Oil for sea

Cape Breton

15:00: Rossi A. Desgagnes, chemical tanker, sails from Government Wharf (Sydney) for sea
22:00: Viktor Bakaev, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea


I’m going to drink beer for charity tonight.

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

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  1. Industrial Accident:
    Not too bad businesses & citizens take better notice.

    Justice system screwed. As horrible as third strike rule down south creates lifelong criminals, our system ignores repeat offences by not escalating.

    Judges are sooooo out of touch.

    That’s not even mentioning a lack of victim compensation!

  2. Very well done on the Charity expose. I haven’t really thought about, “the pitch piece” , for these raise money excursions but now at least it, I have some sense that people need to ask the difficult questions before throwing cash at them?

  3. I went to the top of Table Mountain because I believed that I would never be in Cape Town again. I never returned to Cape Town.

  4. Love the crusty take on charity fundraising. So, have you set up a page where we can donate towards your beer-drinking efforts. Being someone who hates beer, this seems to me like some very worthy suffering for a cause. Do we donate based on how much you drink? And who will this go to; I suggest the temperance society.

    1. As another person who isn’t a fan of beer, I would also donate to this cause. Until such time as I can, I’ll just have another shot of Kraken. 🙂

  5. TIM .. a great concept .. drink beer for charity
    kinda right up there with ‘ climb a mountain for charity ‘
    thanks for that article .. it might open a few eyes

  6. Charity an evil
    The arbiters of philanthropy and good-will organizations never prepare us for liberation or revolution; they never question their superior position of humility and selflessness or the rightness of their charity.

    Charity is the lesser evil, but it is still evil.
    •Walter Mosley

  7. Wood chips NOT a biofuel. WHEN will this stop? Not just NS, but southern Appalachia, ancient forests in Poland and Romania are also being decimated for chips. This plant in Iceland has been getting chips from NS at least since summer 2020 when I visited the Sheet Hbr port. They could use up coal for their carbon input — easily available from northern Europe, and fuel the plant’s actual process with the power from underground heat that is available in Iceland.