1. All things Province House
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
Premier Tim Houston will not withdraw an appeal request to the Supreme Court of Canada despite an open letter signed this week by dozens of groups and individuals who support the Disability Rights Coalition.
The Coalition is an advocacy group for thousands of Nova Scotians with physical and intellectual disabilities who launched and won a human rights case on behalf of three people who lived for years at the Nova Scotia Hospital.
A decision by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal last October went further. The province’s top court said the government not only discriminated against Beth MacLean, Joey Delaney, and Sheila Livingston by denying them income assistance but that the government was also guilty of “systemic discrimination” against people with disabilities.
The Court ordered a subsequent Human Rights Commission proceeding to find a remedy. That process has been delayed until fall pending the Houston government’s challenge to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Yesterday, the Halifax Examiner received this response from the Minister of Community Services, Karla MacFarlane, to the open letter sent to the premier:
There has been no change with respect to the Province’s position on seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
I want to make clear that government is not looking to affect the awards made in favour of the individual complainants and is following through on the remedies awarded to Joey Delaney and to the estate of Beth MacLean.
However, the Court of Appeal decision essentially tells us that finding supportive housing for someone under the Disability Support Program should be the same as providing funding to someone entitled to Income Assistance. We do not believe that this comparison can be used as the measure for whether or not a program is discriminatory.
The way that the Court of Appeal defines systemic discrimination in this case could have major implications for how social programs are delivered beyond just the Disability Support Program. That is what we’re asking the Supreme Court of Canada to address.
The decision to appeal to the Supreme Court in no way diminishes our commitment to move people with disabilities to communities. We know that we have to reform the system, and we will continue to do that.
There are currently more than 1,000 people with disabilities on a wait list for services at home or outside institutions. The Department of Community Services has said it intends to close institutions but must first find appropriate placements for hundreds of people in care.
“Working conditions continue to deteriorate, paramedics are mentally and physically exhausted,” said Kevin MacMullin, a seasoned paramedic and the business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 727 representing 1165 paramedics across the province.
MacMullin was one of nearly a dozen witnesses who spoke at yesterday’s Public Accounts meeting examining Emergency Health Services as currently provided to the Department of Health by the company Emergency Medical Care.
“Today the system is nearing the point of failure,” said MacMullin. “We became paramedics to help Nova Scotians. When we see calls in the queue with no units available to respond or we are dispatched from Cape Breton to calls in Truro and Dartmouth, as was reported Dec 30, 2021, that takes a serious mental toll on our members and puts Nova Scotians at risk.”
“Emergency Health Services faces unprecedented challenges — both health system and human resources strains,” said Charbel Daniel, Executive Director, Provincial Operations, Emergency Medical Care Inc. “This has impacted our service delivery to the public and our employees”.
According to both the employer and the union, as many as one in five or up to 20% of paramedics have been absent for the past six months due to injuries on the job, long-term disability, or COVID exposures or illness. That’s made life tougher for the remaining paramedics who are short-staffed and forced to work overtime.
“We are getting sent all over the province now and we go from one call to the next call to the next,” paramedic Samantha Hamilton told the Committee. “There’s no time for meals, no time for bathroom breaks and it’s devastating to see all of my colleagues and what they are going through. The top priority needs to be retention.”
NDP Dartmouth North MLA Susan Leblanc read a transcript from a similar meeting of the Legislative Committee held in the same room three years ago. Leblanc and the NDP Caucus expressed frustration at the length of time it is taking to fix the problems.
“Emergency care really is the canary in the coal mine for what’s happening to health care in our province,” said Leblanc. “Wait times for emergency services are too long, and too many paramedics are dealing with burnout. There are solutions but the Houston government has been slow to act.”
Liberal MLA Brendan Maguire (Halifax Atlantic) asked if one solution to retaining more paramedics might involve a similar 23% pay raise the Houston government announced to stop the exodus of continuing care assistants from nursing homes and home care.
Local 727 business manager Kevin MacMullin said a pay increase “could go a long way” to retain frustrated paramedics. MacMullin added many continue to leave Nova Scotia for jobs in Ontario where wages are $10 higher. Or, they are migrating to fill hundreds of vacancies at Nova Scotia Health, where their hours are predictable and the work/home balance is better. MacMullin suggested EHS could use as many as 250 new recruits to ease current pressures.
There are signs the Houston government is listening and acting to improve working conditions. Earlier this week, it announced $3.5 million to purchase 78 power stretchers and 68 power loaders for ambulances that should reduce some of the workplace injuries. The PC government has also purchased additional vehicles that are being used to transport patients between hospitals and/or long-term care homes to free up paramedics so they can answer emergency calls.
Both the union and a senior manager with Nova Scotia Health agree that “improving patient flow” is key to making it possible for paramedics to attend urgent calls for help.
At the moment ambulances are used as a kind of taxi service to move discharged patients out of hospitals. There has been no centralized dispatch and calls to EHS are answered on a “first come, first serve” basis.
That’s finally about to change with the establishment of a new Nova Health Command Centre at the QE 2 Health Sciences Centre that will triage requests from hospitals and nursing homes in the Central zone. The pilot project will eventually scale up across the province and was recommended by consultants (the Fitch report) received by the McNeil government three years ago. The goal is to improve patient flow out of the hospital so beds are freed up and patients backed up and waiting in the emergency department may be more quickly admitted .
Another promising initiative aimed at reducing the length of time paramedics wait to offload patients at the Halifax Infirmary Emergency Department went off the rails late in December and throughout January when Omicron cases surged across Nova Scotia. The target offload time for ambulances is 30 minutes for 90% of patients. Starting last September, the Infirmary teamed up one registered nurse and one paramedic to care for ambulanced patients waiting to be seen by an emergency doctor.
“A preliminary analysis showed this was having an impact, reported Vicky Sullivan, Interim Vice-President, for Central Zone Operations at NS Health. “While offload times continue to exceed the target, from September through December, data showed a 17% reduction in offload times compared to our previous two years.”
Unfortunately, that improvement was short-lived. Resignations and staff shortages in the emergency department followed hard on the heels of COVID’s third wave. “We couldn’t staff the shifts and we have had to re-deploy staff to keep vital services operational,” Sullivan informed the committee.
The paramedic-nurse transition team had to be stood down. Paramedics and patients were again stacked up and wait times climbed to several hours through January. “Staff numbers are starting to come back now,” Sullivan told the committee and the paramedic-nurse team is being re-activated.
“We continue to work with our partners on immediate solutions,” said Charbel Daniel, executive-director of the company (EMC) that employs the paramedics. “These challenges are not unique to Nova Scotia or Canada. We are however optimistic about the steps government t has taken to improve communication, collaboration, and accountability in the system.”
2. COVID update
Three more Nova Scotians have died from COVID-19. Tim Bousquet had the Wednesday COVID update here. The Nova Scotians who died are:
• a woman in her 50s who lived in the Eastern Zone
• a woman in her 60s who lived in the Western Zone
• a man in his 70s who lived in the Eastern Zone
As for new case numbers, the province announced 223 new cases on Wednesday. Here’s the breakdown by Nova Scotia Health Zone:
• 62 Central
• 70 Eastern
• 36 Northern
• 55 Western
Here’s the testing information for today and tomorrow:
Halifax Central Library, noon-7pm
Hants Shore Community Health Centre, 11am-3pm
New Waterford Frech Club, 11am-3pm
Halifax Central Library, 11am-6pm
Musquodoboit Harbour & District Lions Club, 11am-3pm
Pictou Legion, 11am-3pm
Glace Bay Legion, 11am-3pm
3. Changes to Halifax Transit routes
Zane Woodford has this story on changes to Halifax Transit routes, particularly two of its flagship routes. The changes are the last changes of the HRM’s five-year-old service plan.
The routes being changed are routes 1, 10A/B/C, 50, 51A/B, 56, 72, 192, and 196.
Councillors also approved the 2022-2023 operating budget presented by Dave Reage, Halifax Transit’s executive director. And as Woodford reported, councillors also agreed to consider spending another $100,000 to $750,000 on removing fares one day a week this summer. Woodford writes:
Coun. Tony Mancini put the motion on the floor.
“Maybe we’ll move people from Dartmouth to Halifax, Halifax into downtown Dartmouth, free of charge and hopefully we’ll see events taking place again and buskers, and lots of activity. I really think this will be worthwhile,” Mancini said.
Coun. Sam Austin said it may be a better idea to provide free fares during the lunch hour and afternoon.
“I’m not so sure that we want to be doing all-day promotion on a Friday because I mean, to me, the goal isn’t to subsidize someone’s commute to the office, it’s to try and spark that those recreation trips,” he said.
4. The Tideline, Episode 67: Alex MacAskill and Midnight Oil Print and Design House
Alex MacAskill, once known as Fishbone Prints and now known as the man behind Midnight Oil Print and Design House, joins Tara Thorne on this week’s episode of The Tideline:
MacAskill stops by the show to talk about how he ended up in the poster game early in life, his stint in Nashville at the historic Hatch Show Print, how many beer cans he’s designed for 2 Crows, how he feels looking at posters on Halifax lampposts, and how his love for cats and birds turned into art. Plus the lead single from a brand-new band, We Should’ve Been Plumbers.
Gareth Hampshire at CBC has this story on potholes in the city. And if you’re a driver, you probably noticed there are more of them this season. Hampshire has the numbers on how many more. He reports:
More than 200 new potholes have been added to the Halifax Regional Municipality’s repair list since the ice storm earlier this month.
Drivers have been filing daily complaints about potholes on the roads following the storm, which involved a prolonged period of freezing rain starting on Feb. 4 and continuing into the weekend.
The list increased by 246 since that date, with a running total of 630 reported Wednesday.
Hampshire interviewed Zeth Brooks, the owner operator of Apex Tire Services in Dartmouth who said he works on at least one vehicle a day because of damage done by potholes. Brooks told CBC:
We’re seeing a lot of flat tires, bent rims, damaged tires. It can also damage the front end of the vehicle, you can blow a shock just as easy as you can blow a tire.
Apparently, the city works to repair the worst of the potholes within seven business days. That can be tricky, Hamphire reported, because some of those potholes are covered with snow, so crews move into snow removal mode. Hampshire learned the city does have a service truck and crew who work around the clock to fix potholes that are deeper than eight centimetres.
The public can call 311 to report a pothole and the details will be added to the list.
Keep wearing your mask if you want to because it’s no one’s business
On the weekend, I wondered why all the fuss over wearing masks. It’s such a simple and kind thing to do, right? Like, it’s the easiest of the public health measures.
And when we all don’t need to wear masks anymore — and that day will come — if someone still wants to wear one why is that anyone else’s business? Wear your mask if you want to wear your mask! In some cases, it just makes sense, like during flu season or during a hospital stay or visit.
Mask wearing may be new to all of us, but wearing a mask during a pandemic is not a new public health measure. The Conversation had this article on the history of mask wearing from the 17th century to the current COVID-19 pandemic. At least we don’t have to wear masks like the ones doctors in the 17th century wore during plagues. Like this one:
And mask wearing is not even new to many countries.
But opposition around wearing masks has been around a long time, too. That article in The Conversation looked at some of the reluctance to mask wearing during the 1918-1919 pandemic:
In her study of the 1918 flu in Canada, historian Janice Dickin McGinnis argued that masks were “widely unpopular” and that even in places with mandatory masking orders in place, people often failed to wear them or just pulled them on when police appeared.
Public health officers were dubious about the value of masks. In Alberta, for example, the flu first appeared at the beginning of October 1918. By the end of the month, the province ordered everyone to wear a mask outside of their homes, to be removed only in the case of eating. In just four weeks, the order was rescinded.
The Medical Officer of Health for Edmonton reported that practically no one wore a mask thereafter, except in hospitals. In his view, the rapid spread of the disease after the mask order was put into effect made the order an object of “ridicule.”
In Japan, by contrast, the public embraced mask-wearing during the Spanish flu. According to sociologist Mitsutoshi Horii, mask-wearing symbolized “modernity.” In the post-war era, Japanese people continued to wear masks to prevent the flu, only stopping in the 1970s when flu vaccines became widely available. In the 1980s and 1990s, mask-wearing increased to prevent allergies, as allergy to cedar pollen became a growing problem. In the late 1980s, the effectiveness of flu vaccinations declined and wearing a mask to avoid influenza resumed.
On Wednesday, I spoke Dr. Dayna Lee-Baggley, a registered clinical psychologist in Halifax. At her clinic, she works with clients on health-related issues, but also on COVID-related anxiety and burnout. I asked her about mask wearing.
Baggley said the issue around masks is that they’ve become a symbol for something else rather than a public health tool on their own. Yes, masks are an easy public health measure, but they’re also the most visual of public health measures. Masks are a constant reminder of what our world is right now — and we’re all pretty done with it.
At this point in the pandemic, we’re all pretty worn out by the pandemic and we don’t have a lot of self-control left. So, people are on the verge of tears all the time, or on the verge of losing it all the time because there is this ongoing threat we can’t control that keeps resurfacing. For lots of people, the protests and occupations increase that perception of threat. It’s a very automatic, unconscious process you don’t have a lot of control over.
People on both sides of the mask issue — and I think more people are at least okay with wearing masks — are trying to convince the people on the other side of the mask issue.
We have this belief we can control other people, when really we can influence other people. Our minds sometimes play tricks on us, so we think if we just say the right thing or say it at the right time that you can make someone else do what you want them to do. That’s not really how humans work.
Baggley said there is a way to measure readiness for change, and that applies to COVID measures, too. She uses a system of lights: green light, yellow light, and red light. Green light means you’re likely vaccinated, and taking the precautions like wearing a mask. Yellow light means you’re ambivalent and on the fence about public health measures, so changing the consequences of public health measures may help change your mind about using them or not. And finally, red light means you’re not ready for change, so you’re likely anti-vaxx and anti-mask. About those red-light people, she said
There’s really not a lot of debate that will change their position. Further debate may just make them more entrenched because they spend a lot of effort justifying their choices.
People still have a choice. They just don’t like the consequences of their choice, and that’s understandable. But it’s inaccurate to say it’s usurping their freedoms because they still have a choice. We all make agreements about following societal rules to be part of a society. Sometimes we like them and sometimes we don’t.
I asked her for advice for people who want to continue wearing masks, even after mask mandates are gone. Baggley said it’s important to make it clear to yourself what’s important to you about wearing a mask.
Whether that is for health and safety reasons, for other people, for yourself; you could also be wearing the mask to keep the economy open or to keep schools open. Clarify with yourself first what matters to you about that, so you’re really clear why you’re doing it. Focus on your own behaviour. You don’t need to get into a debate about it with other people who disagree with you. You can thank them for your opinion and go along on your way. It’s probably not worth engaging in a debate with someone about it. You have control over your own behaviour, so focus on that and it will make you feel a lot less helpless, more empowered, and make that choice deliberate and intentional of why that matters to you.
So, wear your mask and own it.
As for those people who still can’t pull up their masks over their noses? Baggley has thoughts on that, too. She said that first of all, masks can be annoying. Let’s all agree on that. But she said says so are many healthy habits (let me put this breakfast cookie down right now). So healthy habits, like pulling your mask over your nose, are tougher to stick with.
It’s understandable people dislike it and even though we know very clearly it’s a healthy behaviour for ourselves and for other people, so I think it’s just that it’s an annoying thing you have to do, so that’s why you have to clarify why that matters to you. So, we can make sense of doing something that’s annoying. The healthier options tend to be more uncomfortable in the short run.
Pull up that mask! It’s annoying, but temporary and healthy.
And the anti-mask people are in the minority. That can give us a false perception of how prevalent it is. Think about what you read on social media and then think of how people are behaving when you go out to the grocery store or somewhere else. I’d say most people are wearing their masks. And Baggley, who was born out west, says she thinks the culture in Nova Scotia is to support each other, to do things that are family-minded and community-minded.
I can’t find it now, but I read a tweet days ago that said some people don’t like masks because they are a reminder COVID is still with us. So, if the masks go, they can forget COVID exists.
That’s a bad strategy. Baggley adds,
If somehow forgetting about COVID meant it going away, then I would support that. Pretending it’s not there doesn’t mean it won’t exist, and that it won’t harm you or others or the health-care system. It’s a constantly reminder of the threat we don’t have a lot of control over.
This has been an enormous amount of stress on everyone and I think we often underestimate the stress it’s put all of us under. I’d say if this was World War 3 then we’d abandon all kinds of expectations and focus on the war effort. But what we’ve done in the pandemic is add the stress of the pandemic onto the stress of everyday life. And life was pretty stressful before the pandemic. It’s understandable people are pretty overwhelmed and burned out and tired. Who wouldn’t want to move on?
Baggley said one of the key factors in all of this is compassion: compassion for ourselves and others.
There are no frontal lobes anywhere, anymore, and that’s the location of our self-control. We are all so worn out, and we need compassion for ourselves and other people. This is exceptionally hard to live through, this kind of ongoing, lengthy crisis. You don’t beat fear with fear. You don’t beat anger with anger. Compassion is the thing we all need more of.
On Tuesday night, I had a dream I was lost inside a massive army-navy surplus store in Burnside. I was looking for a particular blue shirt, but couldn’t find it in the maze of rooms, floors, and hallways throughout the old, rundown building. One of those rooms was a cafeteria that had those booths with the red seats, much like Zellers did in its cafeteria years ago. I saw a lot of store workers as I was hunting for that shirt. I never found that shirt, but I wondered if those workers made a living wage (I’d do this in my waking life, too).
And Colleen Jones from CBC was there, too, reporting on a story.
Dreams are typically weird, but our dreams during the last two years of the pandemic seem to be even weirder. I’m sure this wasn’t even the weirdest dream I’ve had in the past several months; it’s just the one I remembered while writing this Morning File. What do these dreams all mean?
And then yesterday, Nora Young, host of CBC’s Spark, had as her guest Daniele Quercia, computer scientist and urban informatics researcher who recently co-authored a study, Epidemic Dreams: dreaming about health during the COVID-19 pandemic. This dream talk was good timing on my part.
Quercia and his colleagues created an algorithm that searched for mentions of medical conditions in texts of thousands of dream reports and almost 60 million tweets. As CBC reported, the premise of the study is that what we dream about is just an extension of our lives when we’re awake. That’s called continuity hypothesis. So, how does that play out for wacky pandemic dreams?
From the CBC:
Unsurprisingly, in many cases, dreams simply expressed a literal continuation of waking COVID concerns. People talked about ‘coughs’ in tweets, for instance, and dreamed about coughs. But what Quercia found interesting was where dreams took a more psychological, metaphorical turn.
“People were dreaming about really weird stuff, for example, teeth falling out, or bodies crumbling into sand,” Quercia told Spark host, Nora Young.
As they dug into the data more, they were able to understand the relationship between these strange dreams and people’s emotional experience of the pandemic. “Now, all of a sudden, we could actually see that balding and teeth falling out were associated with words that very much were related to anxiety, so that was a way of expressing anxiety,” Quercia said.
“People, when they verbalize their experiences during the pandemic, they try to rationalize things. They go through a logical process of sense-making. Whereas when they dream, they go through a more emotional process,” he said.
AND these dreams actually have a function beyond being entertaining. Quercia told Young at CBC:
One of the consequences of the continuity hypothesis is that many psychologists would then say, well, if the continuity hypothesis holds, then dreams work as a ‘night therapist’…you relive the experiences you have during your waking life and you make sense of them.
I asked the People of Twitter if they were also having weird pandemic dreams and several replied saying they were. And many of those dreams are related to the pandemic, too:
There were dreams about long lost friends:
I’ve noticed friends who’ve passed on (or have been out of my life for a long time) have been showing up more frequently. — Stephen C.
Having tested positive Monday after feeling poor on Saturday I’ve had dreams with people from my past. People I hadn’t thought about in years. — David
Last night I dreamt an old school chum was telling me I let myself go and I needed to start taking selfies so I would want to look better. I woke myself up angry from that one. — Lisa P.
Some people dreamed about getting lost or being disorganized:
I dreamt I couldn’t find my classroom; when I did, it was empty so I had to go look for my students. I found a group in the cafeteria, some standing & some sitting, so that their heads were arranged in a two-row grid. “Oh, you must be my class — you look just like on zoom.”— Julia W.
Usually involve an unfinished trip and trying frantically to make arrangements. — Carol D
I keep having weird, apocalyptic type dreams where my family and I live in a cabin in woods, on a island, or on a deserted coast (recurring theme), and the rest of the world is “out there” somewhere else. — Ronda H
I had a dream that I was sick and in the hospital and someone brought me a very large, potted, rose bush and I didn’t know what to do with it. Then I felt super guilty for not looking happy enough.— Brittany W
And lots of dreams about masks, too.
Dreams of fleeing down narrow roads, with a drop leading to the ocean, sort of like the Cabot Trail or being in a community meeting and everyone is bare faced, and I try desperately to get out. — Catherine A
I keep dreaming I’m back in university and I realize I’m not wearing a mask and that no one else is either. I keep trying to get everyone to go outside in the fresh air but I can’t find the exit. Over and over same theme. — DMac
Every TV show I watch, if they enter a building, I panic a second wondering where their mask is. — Sarah C
Only weird one I had was being in a mall and no one had on masks and I’m frantically trying to find a mask in all the stores. — G
Ricky G didn’t want to get into details about his dreams:
My dreams are too bizarre to tell anyone other than my wife. I wish I could record them bc I believe there’s a movie in some of them.
All of these dreams are anxiety-related. We’re all living and dreaming anxiety right now.
Last night, I was talking with Milena Khazanavicius, who I wrote about in a series of stories published this week. I mentioned I was writing about dreams and told her about the one I had on Tuesday night. She did a bit of an analysis for me and said that search for the shirt in the army-navy store represented my continuous hunt for stories — and my anxiety about finding them. And Colleen Jones was getting to those stories first! (Jones is great, by the way. I like her reporting).
I thought that was a pretty good analysis. Is the pandemic causing me to dream about writing anxiety? Who knows. Maybe Colleen Jones does.
Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am) — virtual meeting
Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm) — virtual meeting
Active Transportation Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm) — virtual meeting
Budget Committee (Friday, 9:30am) — virtual meeting
Home is where the binding partners are? Synaptic targeting of a metabotropic glutamate receptor (Thursday, 11am) — seminar via Teams with Melina Agosto
Fitting African Centred Perspectives into Social Work Practice (2) (Thursday, 5:30pm) — Teams webinar with Vivian Dixon, Afolake Awoyiga, Mario Rolle, Dave Este, Robert Seymour Wright, and Terrence Lewis
Communicating climate change and environmental journalism (Thursday, 7pm) — a conversation with Carol Linnett, Co-Founder of The Narwhal
The last year emphasized just how vulnerable Canadian communities are to deadly heatwaves, wildfires, landslides and floods — in the midst of surviving through dangerous climate change-induced catastrophes, 2021 also brought mass civil unrest, the construction of blockades against natural resource extraction and the arrests of Indigenous land defenders and journalists by the RCMP. It’s a lot. The team of environmental journalists at The Narwhal know how easy it can be to simply tune the bad news out, but also how powerful, meaningful and even beautiful storytelling can be key to social transformation, to democratic action and to challenging power. This session will explore The Narwhal’s unique vision for environmental journalism in Canada, one that seeks to bring publics back into a meaningful engagement with news and in-depth reporting. Using the best tools of the trade, the sharpest insights of the industry and their readership relationship, The Narwhal rehumanizes stories about our natural world and draws readers back into some of the most urgent issues and conversations of our time.
Planetary Health Speaker Series (Friday, 12pm) — online conversation with Samantha Green, University of Toronto
Pauli Murray and Bayard Rustin’s Queer Nonviolence (Friday, 3:30pm) — online talk by Simon Fisher from the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Black Representation in Health: Why seeing YOU matters (Thursday, 12pm) — online discussion with Rohini Bannerjee, Kelly Carrington, and Akila Whiley
In the harbour
No arrivals or departures.
- I always wear lipstick under my mask.
- Besides being our office manager, Iris the Amazing is also our in-house graphic designer. She created today’s feature photo and all sorts of images for us. Truly amazeballs.