1. Mass murders

Memorial in Portapique, NS, for the 22 victims of the April 2020 mass shooting.
Memorial in Portapique, NS, for the 22 victims of the April 2020 mass shooting. Photo: Joan Baxter Credit: Joan Baxter

This morning, we published another article related to the proceedings of the Mass Casualty Commission, headlined “Tech issues bedevilled the RCMP response to the mass murders of 2020.”

In this article:
• Did the killer listen in on the RCMP’s unencrypted radio calls?
• Emergency Response Team had no GPS capability
• Ron McGraw slept through hell
• Cst. Nick Dorrington and the killer’s speeding ticket
• Cst. Jeff Mahar’s version of what happened on Plains Road
• Connections to the Hell’s Angels?

The article is the result of a batch of new documents that were released by the commission over the weekend. I was reviewing the documents when news came of the Buffalo mass murder.

I’ve been checking myself and trying to find meaning in these events or, worse, trying to get into the heads of the perpetrators. There’s no gain from that.

I also don’t want to come to blanket conclusions; life is complicated, and ultimately unknowable.

In today’s article, I point to one suspected event in the murder spree — that the killer was listening in on unencrypted police radio communications and that helped him escape a police response on Highway 4 — as being “unlikely.” That’s my opinion, reached after a careful reading of radio and 911 transcripts, among other documents.

But the murder spree was a collection of lots of unlikely events, strung together one after the other in just the right sequence, a rosary from hell. So who knows? I don’t have any answers.

We should talk about guns, we should talk about red flags, we should talk about a lot of things, but in the end, it feels like the biggest problem is that for far too many people — whether it’s someone attacking their spouse or waging a war of conquest or invoking an ideology of hate or wanting a vainglorious legacy — murder has an existential meaning; taking lives gives one a position, an identity.

How did we get to this perverse place? Maybe we’ve always been like this, I dunno.

But I think it’s important to tell these stories, to document it, to lay out what mathematicians would call an undetermined storyboard — there are more unknowns than there are solutions. Where possible, and it’s not always possible, I try to tell the human stories behind the events; we’ve got to anchor the unthinkable tragedy in humanity.

And so I’m spending a lot of time on these articles, and that means taking time away from other stories, projects, and responsibilities. It feels like the right choice to make right now; I hope you find the articles useful.

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2. Taxi fees

A smiling man stands next to a taxi on a sunny day. The car is a silver sedan with a taxi roof light. It's parked along Young Street in the Hydrstone.
Dave Buffett, president of the Halifax Taxi Drivers Association, in 2020. — Photo: Suzanne Rent

“The first increase to taxi fares in a decade could help the city’s drivers stay on the road, according to the president of the Halifax Taxi Drivers Association,” reports Zane Woodford:

In a report coming to Halifax regional council on Tuesday, Andrea MacDonald, HRM’s acting director of buildings and compliance, wrote that the municipality hasn’t raised taxi fares since October 2012 and fares here are below average compared to other cities across Canada.

MacDonald is recommending a 16.1% average increase to cab fares, with most components of the fare, including the initial charge, the per-kilometre fee, and the hourly limousine and cruise ship passenger rates, going up.

Click here to read “Halifax council to consider hiking taxi fares for the first time in 10 years.”

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3. Continuing care and immigration

two women assist an elderly woman
Continuing Care Assistants Kamal Kaur, left, and Sherlyn Monteroso, right, help resident Hilary Wellard at Saint Vincent’s Nursing Home in Halifax. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia Credit: Communications Nova Scotia

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

Efforts to recruit 1,400 additional Continuing Care Assistants (CCAs) to provide care to frail elderly residents living in nursing homes got a boost last November when the Houston government hired six recruiters dedicated to helping employers find staff. 

So far, according to Mary Lee, the president and CEO of an employers group called Health Association of Nova Scotia, 85 conditional hiring offers have been made to internationally-trained CCAs.

“These candidates are primarily from India, Philippines, and Nigeria,” said Lee.  “In addition, we also have over 400 other international candidates currently in the screening process who are located all over the world. Start times vary depending on the candidate’s immigration readiness and federal/provincial processing timelines.”

It’s unclear when these people will be able to start work. A report published earlier this month states there are more than 2.1 million people waiting for applications to be processed by Immigration Canada. Minister Sean Fraser estimates it will be the end of this year before processing times return to pre-pandemic levels with the hiring of more people at Immigration Canada and a switch over to digital records.

That suggests long-term care and home care providers in Nova Scotia could be waiting months or even years before they are able to welcome these new hires in the pipeline, unless specific immigration programs (such as the Provincial Nominee Program and Express Entry) receive priority. 

Shannex, the largest provider of nursing home beds in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, has been recruiting CCAs through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot for the past few years, according to senior communications manager Katherine VanBuskirk.

“We currently have more than 100 internationally trained employees who are already in Canada scheduled to come to work in our Nova Scotia nursing homes over the months of May and June through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot,” VanBuskirk told the Examiner. “We have also made offers to approximately 50 individuals who are currently outside the country and they are at various stages of approvals with Immigration Canada. Since 2018, our immigration team has supported 187 people in achieving their permanent residency in Canada.”

VanBuskirk added that while the immigration process is complex and it will take time to get results, the provincial funding to hire international recruiters on behalf of home care and long-term employers is “an absolute necessity and a game-changer.”

“The addition of dedicated human resource expertise is vital for facilities across the province who are stretched beyond our ability to recruit and retain people on our own,” echoed Angela Berette, the executive-director of St. Vincent’s Guest Home in Halifax.

Domino effect

The need to recruit more people to provide care to elderly people cannot be overstated because of the domino effect that impacts the entire health system. 

Eight nursing homes in the province are currently not admitting new residents because they do not have enough staff — that’s down from 13 homes earlier this year, when COVID was decimating the workforce. Meanwhile, the number of elderly on the wait list for a long-term care placement has grown to 1,946 — 283 of those people are waiting in hospitals where non-emergency operations continue to be postponed because no beds are available for surgical patients who need an overnight stay.

The election promise made by the Houston government to increase to 4.1 hours the amount of daily care nursing home residents receive is also conditional on hiring more CCAs and more nurses. 

Arguably, the most significant change the Houston government has taken to attract more people to work in long-term care was to raise salaries for most CCAs by $9,000 a year. Since February, the hourly wage was boosted to $25 an hour, a 23% increase that will cost the government $65 million this year and make CCAs in Nova Scotia the best paid in the Atlantic region. 

The province is also paying the entire cost of tuition for anyone enrolling in one- to two-year training programs through the Nova Scotia Community College, where about 2,000 students a year could be eligible. Tuition costs will also be refunded for students who can earn money through a new work-and-learn program offered by a private college in Cape Breton.

“The new rate of pay for CCAs has been much appreciated and a well-deserved increase for our staff,” said Murray Stenton, communications manager for Northwood Inc. (Northwood did not respond to a request for comment about how many internationally-trained CCAs it has hired.)

“The CCA wage increase has made a noticeable difference in the short time since it was announced,” said VanBuskirk at Shannex. “We have seen more inquiries about CCA opportunities in general and an increased interest in new programs where existing or new employees can study to become a CCA while they work in other roles.”

The Health Association of Nova Scotia (HANS) is also responsible for administering a Training Fund and an Innovation Fund that was part of the government’s $1.7 million spend, which included the hiring of six designated CCA recruiters last November. Six months later, HANS reports 110 people have taken additional training paid for by the government to upgrade their skills or certification level to work in hom ecare and long-term care homes. Of the $360,000 allocated for the Training Fund, $276,000 has been spent. 

Employers have been slower to tap into the $360,000 Innovation Fund — only about one-third of that budget has been allocated. HANS says it has paid for temporary housing and travel costs for CCAs moving within or to Nova Scotia. It has also supported a new training program to assist with the “onboarding” of new hires as well as helping a nursing home in a rural area transition through the retirement of its one Licensed Practical Nurse while it recruited another.

No room at the inn

two women at a construction site
Seniors and Long-Term Care Minister Barbara Adams (left) and Northwood President and CEO Janet Simm view renovation progress at Northwood’s Bedford campus. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

All of the initiatives described above were recommended to the McNeil Government by the Expert Panel on Long-term Care in January 2019. 

One out of five Nova Scotians is now 65 years of age or older. During the 8.5 years the Liberals were in office, fewer than 200 new nursing home beds were added to the health-care system. Last week, the Houston government said it will borrow $1.8 billion to support renovations to 24 existing facilities around the province as well as the construction of 500 new rooms in the Halifax Regional Municipality. 

A list of those nursing homes and their locations is found here.

There are currently 8,070 long-term care beds around the province. The goal of the Houston government is to provide 2,800 more. It plans to spend $6 million to lease beds from Veterans Canada and another $6 million to upgrade residential care facilities that currently house adults with physical and intellectual disabilities. The Department of Community Services is tasked with finding small homes in the community for disabled adults who will be released from these larger institutions.

The Progressive Conservative plan will take years to complete. It follows years of neglect by previous governments, despite repeated warnings by demographers and others who saw this situation looming. 

The first of the 24 approved long-term care renovation projects won’t be ready until next year, 2023, with the other upgrades and new builds not expected to be ready to admit new residents for another two to three years. By then, hopefully more people will be encouraged and properly paid to staff them.

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4. Black Youth Development Mentorship Program

Black woman with long dark braids smiles for the camera on a sunny day
Jessica Quillan is the diversity coordinator with the provincial Department of Public Works. She is also a mentor for the Black Youth Deveopment Program (BYDMP) and the project’s lead organizer. Photo: Matthew Byard.

Matthew Byard reports on the Black Youth Development Mentorship Program, which aims to get more young Black Nova Scotians employed in the provincial government. Byard spoke with Alissa Provo, who is now working her second summer in the program.

“I wanted to be involved because it’s a great opportunity to get involved in government, learn some different skills that help me not only in the workplace, but outside of the workplace as well such as communication, and organization,” Provo said.

Jessica Quillan is Provo’s mentor. Quillan, who is also the project lead for BYDMP and the diversity coordinator for the Department of Public Works, said the program started in October 2020 when senior leaders at Public Works met with Black employees in the department in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The staff expressed some concerns about the lack of visible diversity in the department, and the lack of visible representation and how that impacted them while coming to work, and the work that they did,” Quillan said.

Click here to read the story. 

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5. The Bar Society’s governing council — ‘We’re supposed to be lawyers?’

Three people sit at a table
Photo from the webpage of the Nova Scotia Barrister’s Society

“It only feels like I’ve been writing about the turmoil inside the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society for forever,” writes Stephen Kimber.

Kimber looks at the latest in the ongoing saga at the Society: “It is possible, from what is said and what is left unsaid, to piece together at least some of the backstory of what is happening inside the bar society,” he writes.

This article is for subscribers only. You can subscribe here.

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6. Port Wallace Gamble

An advisory sign that warns about high levels of arsenic, in front of a body of water

We’ve taken Joan Baxter’s article, Port Wallace Gamble: the real estate boom meets Nova Scotia’s toxic mine legacy, out from behind the paywall. This article is part four of a series Baxter wrote about Clayton Developments’ proposed new and massive subdivision for Port Wallace in Dartmouth, and serious concerns about the mercury and arsenic contamination from historic mine tailings in the area.

This article revisits the proposed development, now that Nova Scotia’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing has designated Clayton Developments’ Port Wallace property one of nine “special planning areas” slated for fast-tracked development in Halifax Regional Municipality.

You can read Baxter’s other articles in her award-winning series herehere and here. 

Click here to read Baxter’s article.

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Board of Police Commissioners (Monday, 12:30pm, City Hall) — virtual meeting

North West Community Council (Monday, 6pm) — virtual meeting


Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 10am) — virtual meeting



No meetings


Health (Tuesday, 1pm, Province House) — Government Initiatives of Ambulance Availability and Offload Delays, and Department of Health and Wellness Response, with representatives from Dept. of Health and Wellness, and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 727

On campus


Ocean Frontier 2022 Conference (Monday, 4pm, Halifax Marriott Harbourfront Hotel) — until Thursday, May 19. More info here.


What happened to summer?

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Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. Just thought I would throw this out there about housing, not that newsworthy but sign of times. A woman I work with her Mother-in-law last year was checking for an apartment around Larry Uteck, last year before building was complete 1 bedroom with a den $1600 she checked a couple months ago same unit now $2200