News

1. Halifax Examiner marks two-year anniversary of COVID in Nova Scotia

Jenny, Riley, and Megan rocked their Halifax Examiner t-shirts at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic. Photos via Twitter.

Tuesday marked the two-year anniversary of COVID’s arrival in Nova Scotia. (Check out Yvette d’Entremont’s Pandemic Diary for a more detailed look at that innocent time).

What followed — the pandemic, the mass murders of April 18/19, the worsening housing and homelessness crises — have come to define much of the Examiner’s coverage of issues in Nova Scotia.

Now, Examiner founder Tim Bousquet is looking to the future with a message for the readers who continue to make this reporting possible. Here’s an excerpt:

We need that continued financial support more than ever. The Examiner staff has grown considerably these two years — we have six full-time employees, one part-timer, and a significant freelancer contribution. We’ve evolved from a seat-of-the-pants operation to an established company with payroll and HR policies, and that hires accountants and lawyers. Keeping that established company going now requires a dependable and consistent revenue stream from readers.

We’ve also expanded the range of topics we cover, and we want to do more. We want to use our proven reporting heft to tackle new and difficult topics, but that depends on growing reader support.

I won’t go on, except to say this: I think we’ve done well by you, the readers. And if you have relied on the Halifax Examiner, if you find our past work valuable and want to us do more, please value us in the way that helps the most right now: with your money.

You can subscribe here, or if you just want to drop us some extra cash, you can make a donation here.

Thank you.

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2. Brooklyn biomass plant down but not out

The Brooklyn biomass plant in December, 2021. Photo: Simon Ryder-Burbidge Credit: Simon Ryder-Burbidge

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

A mid-February wind storm toppled the stack and inflicted heavy damage to a warehouse at Brooklyn Energy, a 30 MW generating station fuelled by woody biomass located outside Liverpool/

Emera owns the facility. Company spokesperson Emma Cochrane says the damage is so extensive it will be late 2022 or early 2023 before the boiler is up and running again.

But groups opposed to clearcutting in the province say there is no longer a valid reason why Brooklyn should operate and it should remain closed, period.

“It is incredibly inefficient, it produces the most expensive type of electricity on the grid, and it is an outlet to burn our forests, which is kind of insane at this time of climate change and biodiversity crisis,” said Ray Plourde, senior wilderness coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre in a recent interview with the CBC.

Tory Rushton is Nova Scotia’s minister for Natural Resources & Renewables. Last week, the Halifax Examiner asked Rushton for his position on whether the plant should re-open. Here is our email exchange.

Halifax Examiner to Rushton:

The Brooklyn biomass power plant was re-started in May 2020 to back-fill for “renewable” energy that wasn’t being delivered from Muskrat Falls. But in February the stack at the plant was knocked over during a storm, and it will be many months before it can be repaired. But now that hydroelectricity is being delivered from Muskrat Falls, why should Brooklyn be restarted? Is this really just to provide a market for sawmills?

Rushton to Halifax Examiner:

We should continue to maximize our local sources of renewable energy as we wait for our full block of energy from Muskrat Falls. The residuals produced from sawmills are still a good, renewable source of energy to be part of Nova Scotia’s energy mix. Any decision to restart the Brooklyn facility is up to the owner of the facility, Emera.

With respect, there are a lot of problems with Rushton’s answer.

One, in January Nova Scotia received its full allocation of renewable hydroelectricity from Labrador as well as additional energy to start making up for under-deliveries in the fall.

Two, one glance at the December, 2021 photograph (above) of the enormous pile of wood (skinny trees and not “residuals” from sawmills such as bark, sawdust, and wood chips) stacked outside Brooklyn Energy confirms this facility consumes more than “residuals.”

Rushton’s statement that residuals from sawmills should be part of the province’s energy mix may be accurate. But he conveniently omits to mention biomass plants also require wood from trees to stay in business.

Three, Rushton passes the buck to Emera saying it is up to the publicly traded parent company of Nova Scotia Power to decide if the biomass plant goes back into operation. The plant at Brooklyn has half the capacity the boiler at Port Hawkesbury Paper does. It is more inefficient and more expensive than other sources of power. A 2018-19 audit carried out for the Utilities and Review Board told the regulator consumers are better off financially if Brooklyn does not run. The plant’s only customer is Nova Scotia Power.

In May 2020, Energy Minister Derek Mombourquette ordered Nova Scotia Power to “maximize” the use of biomass as he extended the deadline for meeting the province’s 40% renewable energy target until the end of this year. That’s when the Alternative Compliance agreement runs out with Nova Scotia Power — about the same time Emera predicts the plant will be ready to come back to life. So Rushton does appear to have some agency when it comes to deciding if and when this controversial facility should operate. Emera wouldn’t be preparing to re-open Brooklyn if it didn’t have a customer directed by the province to burn more biomass.

Until Mother Nature blew down the stack, Nova Scotia Power (and its customers) were paying Emera an extra $7-8 million a year for “wear and tear” on the aging Brooklyn equipment that once produced electricity for the mothballed Bowater-Mersey newsprint mill.

Almost certainly not coincidentally, Mombourquette’s decision to revive Brooklyn provided a steady market for sawmill operators and forestry contractors that had been lost in January 2020 with the closure of the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County.

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3. Zelenskyy urges Canadian Parliament to help; tells Europe Ukraine will never be part of NATO

A lamppost by the Wolfville post office. Similar ribbons are tied around the town in support of Ukraine. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Canada’s federal government yesterday.

Speaking to Parliament via video link, and receiving a standing ovation upon introduction, Zelenskyy said his country is asking for justice and support. He asked Canadians to imagine bombings in Toronto, Vancouver, and Edmonton, and urged the country to help Ukraine defend its air space.

“I would like you to understand and I would like you to feel this,” he said. “How many more cruise missiles have to fall on our cities until you make this [no-fly zone] happen?”

In introducing Zelenskyy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told him, “You’re defending the right of Ukrainians to choose their own future … Democracies around the world are lucky to have you as our champion.”

The BBC reports Canada announced new penalties on 15 of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s allies right before Zelenskyy spoke. These follow nearly 500 sanctions from the Canadian government targeting individuals and companies from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus since the invasion into Ukraine began on February 24. Canada has promised more than $145 million in humanitarian aid to the Ukraine this year.

Also, earlier in the day, Zelenskyy seemed to suggest Ukraine is no longer interested in joining NATO. From CNN:

In comments made during an address by video-link to leaders of the British-led Joint Expeditionary Force on Tuesday, Zelenskyy appeared to shift further away from what until recently had been seen as a key Ukrainian ambition.

“For years we have been hearing about how the door is supposedly open (to NATO membership) but now we hear that we cannot enter. And it is true, and it must be acknowledged,” he said.

“I am glad that our people are beginning to understand this and rely on themselves and on our partners who assist us,” he added.

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4. NS putting $5 million toward different mental health programs across province; focus on Indigenous services

Brian Comer, minister responsible for the Office of Addictions and Mental Health. Photo: NS Legislature

On Tuesday, the province announced it will be giving $2 million to Tajikeimik, a new health and wellness organization involving all 13 Mi’kmaw First Nations, to support the development of a Mi’kmaw mental health and addictions strategy.

Then, this morning, the government announced it will spend another $3 million to support mental health and addictions projects across the province through the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. A news release from the province said organizations will be able to apply for grants through the foundation; organizations serving “serve Indigenous communities, members of 2SLGBTIQ+ communities, African Nova Scotians, newcomers and people with disabilities” will be given precedence for funding.

“Supporting people and organizations to create and expand programs, services and initiatives that address the needs of people who are in crisis or living with mental illness or addiction is a priority of government,” Brian Comer, Minister responsible for the Office of Addictions and Mental Health, said in the press release.

The announcements come a week after Comer told media a new mental health day hospital will open at the QEII Health Sciences Centre sometime in April. That facility will cost $1.4 million and is intended for people experiencing “intense psychiatric symptoms” who don’t require 24-hour inpatient support.

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Views

Setting the suds aside on St. Patrick’s Day

Paddy’s Pub in Wolfville, decked out for St. Patrick’s Day. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

Is there a holiday you hate?

For me, it’s New Year’s.

Too many expectations. People expect the night to be big and the new year to be life-changing: fireworks, champagne, and a midnight kiss followed by a year of exercise and self-improvement. In my experience, New Year’s involves a hastily-assembled party or overpriced dinner, some strained reminiscing on the year that was, and a ridiculously long night that gives way to a day lost to a hangover and fatigue. When you do eventually wake up, rent’s due.

Overrated, I say.

Others say the same about St. Patrick’s Day.

It’s an obnoxious mess, another religious holiday commercialized. In this case, to sell stupid “Kiss me, I’m Irish” t-shirts and even stupider green beer.

I love it, though. I’m not Irish, but I like the informality of the day. I like the music and the looseness. I also like a good, cozy pub, which is an integral part of any celebration on March 17.

And distance has made my heart grow fonder. Last year, when a second St. Paddy’s Day in a row rolled around without much fanfare, I got nostalgic about it in Morning File:

I really miss going to a packed bar. I know the bars are open now, and have been off and on, in varying capacities over the past year, but I mean going to a bar without plexiglass, mask mandates, and limited, distanced seating. I miss the table mixing, pulling up chairs, meeting strangers, running into old friends, and swimming through a sea of people to cross the room.

That won’t be happening. Restrictions won’t lift in Nova Scotia until Monday — and who knows how long that’ll last? — so we’ll have to wait another year for a “normal” St. Patrick’s Day.

“It’s not going to be the sort of free-for-all it was, where people can mill around all over the place and just go where they want to go,” The Old Triangle owner Brian Doherty told Stephen Cooke at Saltwire this week. “You come in, you sit down, you have your meal and a few drinks, and the mingling aspect has been removed, compared to what it used to be.”

That’s a depressing picture: “The mingling aspect has been removed.” Just come in, sit down, and drink.

As I wrote in that same Morning File last year, simply imbibing isn’t what I miss about St. Paddy’s Day, or pubs in general:

It’s not the alcohol. The Examiner reported twice last year (here and here) on the dangers of increased drinking during the shutdown, and it’s not like bar restrictions have stopped people from buying booze. I’m not nostalgic for drinking on the town. It’s the meeting space I miss. The community, the spontaneity of the crowd, and the constant potential to meet someone new. That’s what’s been lost.

Those who hate the holiday, I think, hate it for one of three main reasons. One, they’re prejudiced against the Irish (hopefully the minority). Two, they’re pro-Irish and believe it’s cultural appropriation (which it is, when you think about it, even if it’s socially accepted). And three, the biggest reason of all: it’s not a holiday, it’s just an excuse to drink.

But on the East Coast, like a lot of places in the West, everything’s an excuse to drink. It’s something I always knew on some level, but really noticed recently.

After my birthday in January, I took a month off from drinking. It wasn’t an urgent decision. I just wanted to give my mind and body a little break. I knew I’d be around booze on the weekends. I attended a couple dance parties in that span, in which I had more energy to dance but also more inhibitions, and went out to the bars where I got a tiny bit of razzing for ordering club sodas. But the drinking outside Saturday night surprised me.

Whatever I was doing with friends — watching sports, playing music, curling, even book club — a beer or two were involved. I was surprised by how often, in the run of a week, I was turning down drinks. Even though I thought I was conscious of it, I’d become blind to how normalized it is.

Talking to the CBC about easing drinking restrictions on Argyle Street in 2018, Dr. Robert Strang told reporter Nina Corfu he was worried we were normalizing a “culture of overdrinking” in Nova Scotia. About 10 years before that, public drunkenness and liquor-fueled altercations led HRM to ban “dollar drink nights” by raising the price at which bars could sell booze.

I don’t know that much has changed since then other than more people drinking at home before the bar.

The drinking culture out here is largely something that’s just accepted. We don’t talk about it much, historically, anyway.

But I think social attitudes are changing (outside the universities, of course). Every year, I know more people who do “dry January” to recover from the holidays. And this February, the Canadian Cancer Society has tried to extend that into “dry February,” a fundraiser raising awareness about the cancer-risks that come with alcohol consumption — a carcinogen that ranks with tobacco and asbestos.

I didn’t get too many sideways glances when I ordered water at the bar. It wasn’t so long ago I found it impossible to take a night off from drinking without getting interrogated or mocked.

Here are some things I noticed from my month off booze:

  • I had more energy to stay on the dance floor at parties. I also had more inhibitions and a horrible clarity about my dancing abilities. It was Twilight Zone level irony.
  • I saved a lot of money. When you subtract drinks, taxis, post-bar pizza, and drunken bets from your expenses, you suddenly have more money for groceries and rent. Or even one of those creature comforts us Westerners are so fond of.
  • I slept better. In fact, everything in bed got better.
  • I got more done in the course of a day. I never realized how groggy I could be in the morning after a beer or two with dinner.
  • I actually enjoyed myself more at social events. If something was fun, I became more engaged and involved. If something was boring or unpleasant, I didn’t try to numb myself with alcohol; I just left. It’s a system I’ll be adopting heavily in the future. Saves a lot of time.
  • While I’d like to keep drinking less, complete sobriety is not for me. Reality’s a great place to live, but it can get tiring from time to time.

I think I will have a few obligatory Guinness tomorrow. It’s a special occasion after all. But I’m not too concerned if I miss out on the pub if I can’t have the full intermingling experience. What I’m really looking forward to is a friend’s birthday party Sunday, where I’ll take a break from beer and enjoy an afternoon of playing guitar and catching up with friends … and remembering the conversations.

When it comes to alcohol, Shakespeare had the right approach. In the same scene, you can ask why we put an enemy in our mouths to steal our brains, without forgetting that wine is a good familiar creature, if it be well used. I’ll exclaim no more against it.

Enjoy the festivities responsibly tomorrow.

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Noticed

Manifest…

Photo: Tierra Mallorca/Unsplash

Yesterday, when writing about a CBC video about manifesting homeownership, Philip Moscovitch had this to say:

[If the video had been posted] an Instagram reel, nobody would care. But surely whoever at CBC decided to run this did it knowing it was going to generate a lot of rage-clicks and shares, and it’s probably going to open up this young woman to a ton of abuse, which she doesn’t deserve. There’s a long history of young women getting hung out to dry online because of editorial decisions made by people who either should know better or don’t care because they’re going to get views.

Considering the attention the video received, and the gleeful hate aimed at Claire Fraser online yesterday — the young woman who “manifested” owning a home — I’d say Moscovitch was, sadly, right on the money with this one. It was incredibly tone deaf — Halifax’s homeless headcount is expected to rise even higher when a new Point in Time survey is conducted next month — but in a perfect world, criticism would’ve been focused on CBC’s editorial decision and the video, which reflects nothing of the experience the average young Canadian is having with housing, would have faded immediately into obscurity.

The video was part of a CBC series showcasing housing stories from young Canadians. In that same series, Gabrielle Drolet, whose work appeared frequently in The Coast this past year, wrote about her struggles to make a life for herself in a big city. And how it led her to attempt to save money and make a go at small town life, moving to Wolfville with her partner in 2020. Small town life, it turns out, wasn’t for her. Nor was it as affordable as she’d hoped:

We also tend to forget that the very real shift away from cities doesn’t solve the affordability crisis — it just moves it around, driving up the cost of living in suburbs and rural areas and making life more difficult for locals who’ve always been there. This shift, sometimes referred to as an urban exodus, has been expedited by the pandemic: more than 70,000 people left Toronto for smaller pastures between mid-2020 and mid-2021, and over 43,000 left Montreal. While those leaving cities get cheaper rent, it’s important to remember that the housing crisis extends itself beyond cities, impacting the same areas we view as “affordable” when we’ve never lived there.

While it’s easy to dream of life in a cute, affordable little town, I know it isn’t for me — and it shouldn’t have to be. We’ve idealized small-town life as a way of deflecting away from a housing crisis that is already more far-reaching than we tend to realize. It’s a complicated issue with complicated solutions, but they should involve government action rather than the displacement of individuals.

The cost of living comfortably in Toronto is too high to be sustainable for me. Though I could afford to live with multiple roommates, working from home full time means living alone is ideal for me. This has been especially true as the pandemic has continued on. As a disabled person, my fear of getting sick is high enough to make living with others a scary and uncomfortable prospect.

This is the more nuanced, reflective look at housing and youth we should expect.

Drolet, who said she’s more suited to city life, ultimately compromised on her Toronto dreams and moved to Montreal, where rent is more affordable.

Also, while we’re (sort of) on the subject of manifesting housing, Michael Gorman at the CBC reports that a conference centre in Annapolis County is offering its 183 rooms to Ukrainian refugees as Canada prepares to take them in. It’s a great story, but it poses the question: if we can make 183 rooms — more rooms than shelter beds in HRM right now — appear overnight, surely HRM can get 60-odd modular units ready before the end of winter, no?

The latest delay puts the completion date for the Halifax modular site, which will house, among others, those living at People’s Park, well into spring. It was originally intended to be ready for people to move in before Christmas.

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Government

City

Wednesday

No meetings

Thursday

Active Transportation Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm) — virtual meeting

Province

No meetings


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Confronting Historical Metadata Debt (Wednesday, 10am) — open virtual class with Itza A. Carbajal from the University of Washington, Seattle

Thursday

Estrogen signaling Downregulates SOX17 During the Development of Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (Thursday, 11am) — Ankit Desai from Indiana University will talk


In the harbour

Halifax
11:30: NYK Demeter, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for sea
13:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for Palm Beach, Florida
16:30: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
01:30 (Thursday) Atlantic Star sails for New York

Cape Breton
No arrivals or departures.


Footnotes

  • Baseball is back. I want so badly to stay mad at the owners and players for their money squabbles, but I’ll watch. There’s one of me born every minute, I suppose.
  • I rent a room in a two-bedroom house. The man who owns the house bought it in 2020 when he was 28. Like the woman in the CBC video, he runs his own videography business. Maybe the key to homeownership is just starting a media business before you turn 30.
  • The vitriol thrown at Fraser online yesterday really depressed me. Also, watching a video like that just encourages more of the same to be made. Just read Moscovitch’s writeup if you haven’t seen the video already.
  • Why is St. Paddy’s Day an example of cultural appropriation? People are encouraged to dress up like leprechauns and play into an ugly stereotype (alcoholism) about a country with a history of being colonized and oppressed. I don’t have a problem with the holiday myself — I’m also not Irish — but considering what a powder keg issue cultural appropriation is in 2022, I’m surprised the internet doesn’t explode every March 17. Some people get upset, obviously, but mostly people seem fine with it. Here’s culture writer Colin Fleming discussing the issue in the New York Daily News back in 2019. Fleming, an Irishman, isn’t too concerned.

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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. re Biomass etc. Look for an uptick in European demand for our “wood wastes” (which in NS include trees removed in clearcut and thinning that are not suitable as sawlogs) as the sanctions have apparently cut off supply of wood pellets from Russia.

  2. WRT biomass in Nova Scotia, seriously, is there any statement from or regarding the forest industy in Nova Scotia that isn’t concocted from “alternate facts?”

  3. WRT to this, Dalhousie students are once again planning a large, unsanctioned “party” on Jennings Street this weekend. Homeowners are again bracing for the worst from this obnoxious antisocial behaviour. I really hope there are lots of arrests. We’re all sick and tired of the intimidation, public urination, vandalism, noise and other unwanted impacts from these way too large gatherings. I pity them and hope the police are there in full force to break things up.