1. Nonprofits set to hire staff for shelter at former Double Tree
“In a news release on Friday, the province announced it’s setting up a new clinic, the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada, in the former Double Tree Hotel on Wyse Road. The hotel is already being used as a shelter. The clinic will serve people who are unhoused who previously had to stay longer in hospitals because they didn’t have permanent housing,” Suzanne Rent reports:
[Adsum executive director Sheri] Lecker said she and other staff from Adsum and Welcome Housing spent a week in Toronto in late March learning about similar shelter-health care clinics in that city’s downtown.
Some of those clinic-shelters were set up early in the COVID pandemic, Lecker said, and served as a place where unhoused people could recover from COVID. She said over time those clinics evolved to continue to support the unhoused population in that city.
Lecker said Adsum and Welcome Housing are supporting about 80 clients who are now staying at the shelter. Lecker said there are 206 rooms in the hotel and the clinic will occupy one floor of the building. The shelter will be staffed 24-7.
I cannot see the name Double Tree without thinking of the late comedian Mitch Hedberg: “I can’t tell you what hotel I’m stayin’ in, but I can say that there are two trees involved.”
2. Municipalities call for basic income guarantee
Halifax mayor Mike Savage tells Gorman:
“I just believe that, as a society, we’ve spent decades if not centuries managing poverty instead of trying to get rid of poverty,” he said in a recent interview.
“And this, to me, is the way to do it.”
The warden of the Municipality of the County of Annapolis, Alex Morrison, agrees. Gorman writes:
“It’s in keeping with the Canadian approach to making sure that our citizens are treated well,” he said in an interview.
For Savage and Morrison, as well as representatives for the Town of Wolfville and Municipality of the County of Pictou, the decision to advocate for a basic income guarantee is also a reflection of the fact that they see increasing evidence of poverty in their respective communities and are limited in terms of their ability to respond by both finances and jurisdiction.
The most intriguing argument I’ve seen recently for a universal basic income, or basic income guarantee, is that AI has been trained on vast amounts of content essentially provided to it unwittingly and for free by individuals, and since it is going to generate astronomical profits for those who have developed these technologies, a basic income is the dividend individuals should get out of the bargain.
This seems like a fine time to segue to an article published by the Cape Breton Spectator last week, called “When Government Relies on Charity.“
Mary Campbell starts by noting the winners of the annual CBRM volunteer awards, and pays particular attention to one of them: the Sukhmani Sahib Society of Sydney, which won the Gary MacDonald Memorial Award:
The winners, I would argue, don’t actually qualify for this award as it was described by recreation program coordinator Joe Costello, who explained it went to a volunteer group in recognition of “an outstanding project that improves recreation and leisure opportunities locally or regionally.”…
The Sukhmani Sahib Society’s main “project” was an impromptu soup kitchen providing hot meals to people —10,000 people over 10 days, according to the citation — left without power by post-tropical storm Fiona. District 5 Councilor Eldon MacDonald, in presenting the award, noted entirely without irony that Premier Tim Houston was among the “honorable ministers and MLAs” who were “impressed” by the students’ volunteer work…
I am going to give the municipality the benefit of the doubt and assume it does not actually consider eating at a soup kitchen a “recreation and leisure” opportunity. I will venture a guess that it felt an urge to honor this group for its admirable post-Fiona work, found itself with very few options for doing so and so stretched the definition of “recreation and leisure” to accommodate the Sukhmani Sahib Society’s good works, which also include helping “international students by providing them with food, shelter and motivational support,” running a winter clothing donation camp for “people in need” and helping newcomers, especially international students, “verify housing listings to make sure they were not victims of scams.”
As with everyone who writes stories of this type (myself included) Campbell makes sure to point out she has no issue with the people doing the good works. It’s just that things like, you know, making sure the international students who are the backbone of your student body don’t get scammed while looking for apartments because there are inadequate housing options for them should be the responsibility of the university that is benefiting from their presence in multiple ways, including to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars each.
From here, Campbell takes us into a read that is well worth your time about the history of food banks in Canada (the first one opened in Edmonton in 1981, during a recession) and that as early as 1986, alarms were sounding about them becoming permanent fixtures.
She also gets into the corporatization of food banks, how they benefit large grocery chains, and why they are an inadequate solution to the poverty crisis (exacerbated by framing it as a problem of “hunger” rather than poverty). There is a lot in this piece, but I’ll leave you with this:
In a 2020 piece for The Conversation, [professor emeritus Graham] Riches [of the UBC School of Social Work] called on governments to eliminate food banks arguing that:
…research has long shown that feeding surplus food to those left behind in wealthy, food-secure Canada is ineffective, inequitable and an affront to human dignity.
To back his contention that food banks don’t actually work, Riches cites the work of [University of Toronto nutritional sciences professor Valerie] Tarasuk, who is also the principal investigator for PROOF, an interdisciplinary research team investigating effective policy approaches to reduce food insecurity in Canada. Tarasuk has crunched the numbers and found that even when food banks are operating at full capacity, they are serving only a fraction of Canada’s food insecure. As she told the Toronto Star in December 2020, at the height of COVID:
Even before the pandemic, when we look at the data, food charities would, at most, have seen one-sixth of the people who were struggling — and we have no evidence to suggest that the help people get from those (organizations) is sufficient to meet their needs.
Think about that: our “solution” to food insecurity fails to serve five out of every six people experiencing food insecurity.
These kinds of deep dives are one of the things I love about the Cape Breton Spectator. Like the Examiner, the Spectator is a reader-supported publication that relies on your subscriptions.
“An overnight fire at a nursing home in Tatamagouche, N.S., has staff scrambling to find alternative accommodations for residents,” CBC News reports. The institution is home to 47 residents. All will need temporary accommodations; for now, many are at the fire hall.
From the story:
“We found smoke but couldn’t find fire, and after a few minutes we discovered a room, a sprinkler had been activated and there’d been a fire in the room and sprinklers had put it out,” [Deputy fire chief Matt Forbes] said.
He said fire damage was contained to the room, but it appears there’s significant water damage to at least half the care home from the sprinklers.
5. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador fudging COVID death numbers
As Tim Bousquet regularly notes, the number of announced new COVID deaths in the weekly updates is rarely accurate. We later learn that, in fact, more people — sometimes quite a few more people — died of the disease than was originally reported for each period.
But by the time that news comes out, everyone has forgotten and moved on, and we can go oh, look, only three people die of COVID this week! Never mind that we’ll later find out it was actually 12. (I am making up these numbers; they are for the purpose of illustrating the point.)
Well, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador seems to have taken obfuscation in reporting a step farther.
CBC News has been keeping track of… COVID-19 information since the pandemic began in March 2020, and found the government has been downplaying the number of coronavirus deaths for months…
On Jan. 18, the dashboard announced two new deaths, but adding up the age and regional breakdowns revealed the number of total deaths had gone up by four. Two weeks later, the dashboard announced seven new deaths, but the total had gone up by eight.
After weeks of requests by clarification by CBC News, the Health Department explained there may be deaths within a two-week reporting period that aren’t determined to be due to COVID-19 until after the reporting deadline. Those deaths aren’t included under “New Deaths” in the next update but are included in the age and regional breakdowns.
A statement to CBC News from the Health Department last week states, “To obtain the total number of deaths that have occurred, one may compare the numbers from the previous version of the dashboard to the new version of the dashboard.”
But once the dashboard has been updated, no “previous version of the dashboard” exists anywhere online for comparison; each biweekly update erases the previous update.
This type of thing is a recurring problem at this stage of the pandemic. We are supposed to assess our own risk, but the data makes it hard to do so. It would seem that sharing accurate data about COVID deaths — even if that is not the best risk-assessment metric — is kind of basic. From MacEachern’s story:
Chris Kaposy, an associate professor of bioethics at Memorial University, said he’s willing to accept that Public Health didn’t intend to make it more difficult to determine how many people are dying from COVID-19, but said the government has an obligation to be transparent about pandemic data.
“At some point, if it’s recognized that there’s a discrepancy between the numbers being reported versus … the actual number of deaths in the province in a given reporting period,” he said, “and it’s pointed out to the government that this discrepancy is being noticed and the government doesn’t actually take steps to fix that lack of transparency, at some point you have to assume that this is being done deliberately.”
It would be easy to fix the problem, he said.
Chris Benjamin’s Chasing Paradise
The road memoir is a hard book to pull off. First off, you’re always going to be living in the shadow of On the Road, even though it was published more than 75 years ago. Then, there’s the challenge of finding the thread that pulls the elements of the trip and the people you met along the way together.
In his new book, Chasing Paradise (Pottersfield Press), Chris Benjamin manages to overcome these challenges, and produces a thoughtful memoir about the time he spent travelling across North America — mostly hitchhiking — as he tried to sort out a troubled relationship and attempted to avoid gainful employment for as long as possible, while thinking a lot about what ethical employment might look like.
Oh, and 9/11 happened right in the middle of this, just as he was about to leave from BC for California on a bus.
The book opens with Benjamin in business school because of “terrible advice from a guidance counsellor.” While doing his undergrad, he meets a man he calls Bear, who we will hear from later in the book. Bear gives Benjamin a copy of On the Road, and writes on the flap that “this is the life I want to live.” I liked this way of dealing with On the Road right away. Benjamin returns to the book throughout Chasing Paradise, but always with a critical eye. As he notes, things did not turn out so great for Jack Kerouac or Neal Cassady.
Spoiler alert: Bear will wind up working in finance in New York, and being enthusiastic about Americans killing Afghans post 9/11. Benjamin winds up going to grad school, and after he finishes finds himself “terrifyingly free.”
He sets off with his sort-of girlfriend Sadie, on what will be a last hurrah cross-country hitch-hiking trip.
After Sadie heads back to Toronto, Benjamin provides free labour to various hippie organic farm types as a WWOOFer (through the Willing Workers on Organic Farms program), keeps winding up in a Prince Rupert internet cafe where he reluctantly sends out resumes while listening to the repetitive sound effects of a a Guns n’ Roses pinball machine, and winds up recognizing the vast extent of his privilege while riding Greyhounds across the southern US, before winding up in the drunk tank in New Orleans.
We meet a lot of great characters in the book, from Cal, a “walking tall tale” to Seeley, a broke bass player with a hatchback who picks up Benjamin hitchhiking in California and goes on to spend days driving around with him. We also meet a lot of what Benjamin calls “the warm and generous — to his own kind at least — racist”:
[Big Al] was the first of many men who picked me up hitchhiking, saying they wanted conversation but who really wanted to share opinions that are unacceptable in mixed — I mean diverse — company. The kind of things racists say to other White people and see if they cause discomfort… Every time it felt immensely awkward, these White men, kind and generous to me in most other ways, feeling comfortable sharing their frustration and hatred for other, expecting commiseration. I never figured out the appropriate response, in part because I felt at their mercy. Selfishly, I didn’t want to get thrown from their vehicle. Sometimes I voiced the offense I felt. sometimes I tried in vain to convert them. Often I changed the subject.
Knowing that Benjamin was going to be travelling in the US in September 2001, I had expected the book to take a dark turn at that point. But the darkness is in evidence right from the start, as Benjamin meets scads of people in Western Canada who have no problem telling him how about their racial hatreds and conspiracy theories. We have nothing to be smug about.
The book is based on extensive journals Benjamin kept during his travels, and, unlike many books of the genre, the dialogue rings true. I’m glad Benjamin waited 20 years to write this book, because it benefits from the hindsight of an older man looking back on younger adventures with little nostalgia, capturing that in-between state when both everything and nothing seem possible.
Note: When he was editor of Atlantic Books Today, Benjamin would occasionally commission articles from me. The last one was in August 2022. Benjamin no longer works in that capacity, and (as far as I know) does not hire writers in his current job as energy co-ordinator for the Ecology Action Centre.
Air travel and air quality: lessons on masks, filtration, and ventilation
Last week, I flew to Montreal with my family, and I brought my trusty little CO2 monitor with me.
Over the course of the last year or two, I’ve seen people sharing images of their carbon dioxide readings from planes, and I was curious to see what my results would be.
Let me quickly recap the relevance of carbon dioxide monitoring, from a Morning File post I wrote in October 2022:
Because carbon dioxide levels are a helpful indicator of the risk of COVID-19 transmission, and I was curious about CO2 levels in the indoor spaces I visit...
The basic idea is this: We exhale carbon dioxide; when ventilation is poor, that carbon dioxide accumulates in indoor spaces. If anyone in that space is infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, higher CO2 levels would indicate a higher risk of transmission, as the limited ventilation means we’re all breathing in each other’s air more than we would be in a well-ventilated space…
University of Auckland aerosol chemist Dr. Joel Rindelaub said CO2 levels below 800 indicate a well-ventilated space, and over 2,000 is “a huge red flag.”
(If you go back and read that Morning File from October, please also scroll down to the comments at the bottom of the article, for a very well-informed and more detailed dive into what the numbers might mean for transmission.)
I have worn masks on trans-Atlantic flights, and I was somewhat horrified when mask mandates on planes were lifted. All those people! In a tiny space! But, it turned out, you can have a whole bunch of people together in a small space and it can be OK with proper ventilation.
I turned on the monitor as we were walking through the terminal at the Halifax airport. CO2 levels were excellent — around 400, which is essentially the same as being outdoors. I figured that would change at the gate, as we were packed into a smaller waiting area, but no. I presume the airport has decent ventilation, and I’m sure the high ceilings help, too.
As we went down the jetway — I confess I had to do a search for “airplane tunnel boarding name” to find this term — the CO2 level increased, but remained well below 1,000. I assume this is because of the breeze from an open door in the jetway.
We were flying Flair, on a Boeing 737 MAX 8 — I confess I am still nervous about getting into one of these — with a seating capacity of 189. As we waited on the tarmac, the CO2 level started to climb, and climb, and climb, topping out somewhere around 1,800. As soon as we were in the air, and for the duration of the flight, the levels dropped down to 400.
This process was reversed when we landed in Montreal. The levels began climbing almost immediately after we touched down.
We came home on Porter (thanks to Flair cancelling our flight) so I got to compare the Max 8 with the De Havilland Dash 8-400, which seats 78. Again, at the airport in Montreal CO2 readings were great, but they started to climb more, up to 900, as we waited in the jetway to board.
Our flight was slightly delayed, and as we waited on the tarmac and then taxied for takeoff, the CO2 level climbed, and climbed, and climbed, and climbed, all the way up to over 2,800, at which point I just put the monitor in the seat pocket and refused to look at it anymore. Soon after, we were in the air, and then the levels dropped back to 400 or so, and stayed there until we landed.
What do I take from all this? If you’re going to wear a mask while travelling, the most important time to do it is when you are getting on and off the plane, and during the time the aircraft is on the ground. (Based on my small sample size of two flights, if you do put on a mask you may well be the only person on the plane doing so.)
Writing in Slate last year, epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina (who I hope becomes more famous so we can see her name in crosswords) explains:
Filtration and ventilation are powerful layers of protection against SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses. Airplanes, in particular, have fantastic systems with an estimated 10-20 air changes per hour. (For context, a hospital has six air changes per hour.) A Department of Defense report found plane ventilation and filtration systems reduced the risk of airborne SARS-CoV-2 exposure by 99 percent. Because of this, transmission occurs less frequently than one might intuitively expect given lots of people in close quarters with shared air. A scientific group reviewed 18 peer-reviewed studies or public health reports of flights published between Jan. 24, 2020, and Sept. 21, 2020, and concluded that “transmission of SARS-CoV-2 can occur in aircrafts but is a relatively rare event.”
However, Jetelina notes there are a few caveats:
You need to get to the airplane, and many spaces, like crowded boarding areas, don’t have great ventilation. Also, filtrations systems are not turned on during the boarding process…
SARS-CoV-2 is spread through aerosols and droplets. Filtration is great for aerosols, which float and suspend in the air for hours. But the air actually has to get filtered first. You can inhale SARS-CoV-2 aerosols before they reach the filter. Also, filtration isn’t effective for larger droplets, which can travel up to 6 feet, but then fall to the ground due to gravity. Masks help with droplets.
Jetelina goes on to offer evidence from various modelling studies looking at transmission on planes. Understandably, longer flights seem to have a higher risk of transmission, in part because people are moving around more.
One final takeaway from all this: if you can pack people into close quarters for hours and turn that into a low-risk environment through ventilation and filtration, surely that should serve as a model for all public spaces, no?
Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm, online) — agenda
Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place) — Impact of Low Wages on Labour Shortages; Agency, Board and Commission Appointments; with representatives from the Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration; Minimum Wage Review Committee; and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business
Natural Resources and Economic Development (Tuesday, 1pm, One Government Place) — agenda-setting
Location, location, location: Subcellular protein partitioning modulates proteostasis and lifespan(Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — Louis Lapierre will talk
(Re) framing Gender: Representations of Women’s Bodies in Holocaust Photographs (Tuesday, 4pm, online) — Dorota Glowacka will speak from UCLA; RSVP for the Zoom link here
Joshua Whitehead in conversation with Arielle Twist (Wednesday, 7pm, Alumni Hall) — registration, ticket price, and more info here
In the harbour
06:45: Vivienne Sheri D, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik, Iceland
09:30: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
14:30: CSL Metis, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
15:00: Vivienne Sheri D sails for Portland
16:00: X-press Irazu, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for sea
17:30: Atlantic Star sails for New York
19:00: Mia Desgagnes, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
08:00: Zaandam, cruise ship with up to 1,718 passengers, arrives at Sydney Marine Terminal from Halifax, on an 11-day cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Montreal
14:00: Monte Urbasa, oil tanker, arrives at EverWind from Forcados Oil Terminal, Nigeria
17:00: Zaandam sails for Charlottetown
Glad to hear the peepers again.