1. ‘De-pressurizing the police’
“Regional councillors are looking at adding nearly $500,000 to the 2023-2024 budget for new employees working on the municipality’s public safety strategy,” reports Zane Woodford:
The strategy, originally adopted in 2017, is getting an update this year. It’s about upstream crime prevention, like connecting people to services and communities, as opposed to policing, the downstream.
Public safety advisor Amy Siciliano is expected to bring the updated second strategy to council in early March. But in the meantime, she’s looking to hire.
Over the next two years, Siciliano wants to add 15 positions. Federal funding will pay for four of those, but not the other 11. The new positions for 2023-2024 — a director, an admin support person, two program specialists, and a research policy specialist — cost $482,800.
“This ask is driven by the new public safety strategy, but also aligned with some of the recommendations, for example, coming out of the defunding the police report,” chief administrative officer Cathie O’Toole told council during its budget meeting on Friday.
“And I do believe that this expenditure is an investment that will help create capacity in some other business units, either human resource capacity, or eventually lead to operational expense savings for police and also probably for Parks and Recreation.”
These positions are part of the municipality’s aim of very slowly sort of defunding the police. Or, as Siciliano now prefers to call it, “de-pressurizing the police.”
I’ve been involved in too many pointless conversations about the phrase “defund the police.” But it’s inarguable that police budgets cannot continue to absorb an ever-greater part of the city budget and the GDP, every year forever. There have to be better ways to address whatever problems we’re throwing money at cops for.
We’ll see if this is a reasonable start to better conversations.
2. ER crisis
“I have no doubt that Tim Houston genuinely wants to ‘fix’ health care,” writes Stephen Kimber:
He ran a provincial election campaign fixated on that singular if inexact goal. He has staked his political future, even his ultimate place in Nova Scotia political history on the claim that he alone can make health care healthy again.
So why has everything continued to go wrong, and even gotten worse during his first year and a half as premier?
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3. Do we really need to outsource government responsibilities as corporate PR social media contests?
“With its bright blue front door and vibrant Acadian flag adorning the roof, La Vieille Maison in Meteghan is hard to miss,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:
Volunteers working to save it hope they don’t miss the chance to win a contest that would ensure its preservation.
La Vieille Maison (‘the old house,’ but some uses spell it ‘Vielle’) is one of 10 finalists in the National Trust for Canada’s ‘Next Great Save’ online competition, which offers $50,000 to the winner who garners the most online votes.
Considered the best-preserved example of a post-exile Acadian dwelling in Canada, La Vieille Maison dates to 1796.
Besides the Acadian angle, there’s also an interesting queer history connection to the house, writes d’Entremont:
In 1958, world-renowned Boston dancer and choreographer Adolphe Robicheau and his partner Arthur Vaillancourt turned it into a museum of early Acadian re-settlers.
In a blurb about the house on its website, the National Trust for Canada notes:
The museum was the passion project of Adolphe Robicheau (1906-1978), a Canadian-born, famed Boston-based ballet teacher and member of the LGBTQIA+ community. While his flamboyance could have gotten him shunned in many places, he spent his summers here producing plays and working on his museum, which he curated with partner Arthur Vaillancourt.
“They spent their summers in Clare. And it was Adolphe and Arthur. And everybody knew. It was the open secret in the village and nobody cared and they were accepted,” [Dan Robichaud, secretary of La Société Vieille Maison] said.
“Adolphe Robicheau is this kid from Meteghan. Early 1900s he moves to Boston. Becomes a famous ballet dancer. But he always kept ties with Nova Scotia…He bought that property, he bought the house, he created the museum. He even created the historic society that still exists today.”
Noting that Adolphe and Arthur’s story is part of the house’s history, Robichaud described it as the “biggest chapter in Acadian history that nobody’s heard of before: the story of these two flamboyant men.”
Robichaud notes that two important pieces of Acadian history are in danger — La Vieille Maison and Église Sainte-Marie in nearby Church Point.
Restoring the church would cost $11 million, in the ballpark of the annual provincial subsidy for the Yarmouth ferry, but you’ve got to wonder why exactly tourists will want to keep using the ferry if we let all the history of French Shore collapse. Still, maybe that’s too rich for the provincial government.
But a $50,000 price tag for repairing La Vieille Maison? That’s a rounding error in the Tourism Nova Scotia budget, less than you would find in the couch cushions in the premier’s office.
Okay, now I get to my personal conflicted opinions about this story.
I’ve long been critical of the use of social media contests to fund projects. For one, it pits worthy projects against each other: ‘Vote for the incredible La Vieille Maison and not for that crappy lighthouse in Grand Manan!’
I suppose a contest can increase public interest in various historic preservation projects, and that’s a good thing — I wouldn’t know about La Vieille Maison (or for that matter, the lighthouse in Grand Manan) were it not for d’Entremont writing about the contest. So, point taken.
However, a contest allocates limited money to not necessarily the most important project, but rather to the project with the most supporters who are social media savvy. These may not be the same things.
We have government for reasons. One of those reasons is that civil servants are hired to vet and prioritize things like historic preservation projects. For these decisions, I much more trust people who are trained in historic preservation, have a degree in related fields, and have experience in overseeing restoration projects, than I do in someone who knows how to make and propagate an emoji on Twitter.
Still and all, assuming no one’s going to rummage through the premier’s couch cushions, you may as well go to the National Trust for Canada site and vote for the project of your choice, whether it be the old house, the lighthouse, or whatever.
Or not, I dunno.
Here’s what’s going on: a service that should be the purview of government — historic preservation — has been off-sourced to a cash-strapped charity, in this case, the National Trust for Canada. The Trust has just six employees earning more than $40,000 annually (and less than $80,000), which is pretty good for a charitable org of this sort. It’s a shoestring operation.
The Trust does get up to a couple of million dollars (usually less) annually from the federal government, but the bulk of that is restricted to programs that hire students to work at historical sites. So far as I can determine, no or at least very little public money goes toward the Trust’s restoration projects.
So the Trust has to rely on gimmicks like a social media contest to raise money. And that’s done through corporate PR — the $50,000 prize money is “generously provided by Ecclesiastical Insurance.” The company couldn’t buy this kind of advertising for $50,000.
I don’t know what it costs to administer the $50,000 corporate ‘gift,’ but I’m guessing it approaches $50,000, and that doesn’t include the free labour and time of the thousands of people who take part in the contests with the best of intentions.
And who is Ecclesiastical Insurance anyway? It’s a British company trading at about 136 pounds this morning, if that interests you. But would it surprise you to learn that it was associated with various Church of England sex abuse scandals? Or does that not matter? Like Bell firing a woman with grey hair, maybe we should overlook such matters because money for charity!
This is the world we live in: If we critique corporate propaganda, it means we’re against historic preservation. We could simply properly tax the companies and use the revenue to pay for this stuff outright, with none of the intervening charities and corporate PR, but that’s not an allowable conversation.
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
The Department of Health and Wellness has signed a five-year lease for a second, fixed-wing aircraft to transport patients from hospitals in Sydney and Yarmouth for tests/treatments at larger hospitals in Halifax.
The plane will be capable of transporting two patients per flight. The executive director for the province’s Emergency Health Services division estimates it will cost $4.5 million a year to operate.
Unlike patients transported by the Life Flight helicopter or the other fixed-wing aircraft, the second plane will not be used to move critically ill patients needing emergency care.
The role of the second plane is to do routine patient transfers in order to free up two ambulances and four paramedics on the ground. These crews would have been unavailable to respond to 911 calls for most of their shift because of the length of the drive to Halifax and back.
Health Minister Michelle Thompson has told reporters she is convinced adding another aircraft (for a total of three plus one backup helicopter) will improve ambulance response times on the ground.
But it’s hard to compare the benefit to the cost when the cost is still partially under wraps.
Last week, the Examiner submitted an email asking the health department for an estimate on how much it will cost to refit and equip the plane with the life-saving equipment required in case a patient’s condition deteriorates.
Although a lease is in place, apparently negotiations are continuing over certain aspects.
“Specific details for the aircraft, including necessary equipment and operational requirements are currently under negotiation,” responded Khalehla Perreault, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Wellness. “It is too early to provide cost estimates as all necessary details are yet to be finalized. When negotiations and the contract amendments are complete, more information will be available to share.”
Perreault said the government hopes to see the air transport service up and running “by late spring.”
Depending on how many trips a day the plane makes, the goal is to leave more ambulances and crews on the ground ready to respond to urgent situations instead of routine ones. By then hopefully the public will know more about the price tag.
The aircraft is being leased from Provincial Airlines. The ambulance service is operated by Emergency Medical Care, which is owned by Medavie, a non-profit health corporation.
5. Heat pumps and other energy savings
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
The phone has been ringing off the hook at Efficiency Nova Scotia since mid-December. That’s when the province announced free heat pumps will be available to low-income households that burn oil.
But will the independent, non-profit utility be able to handle and meet this surge in demand?
It’s hardly surprising so many people want to take advantage of the offer. Heating is often the biggest bill at this time of year, and more than 40% of households still rely on a fuel that has doubled in price over the past 18 months: furnace oil.
By installing a single, mini-split heat pump, Efficiency Nova Scotia’s website claims that most homeowners can save 15-25% a year on energy costs.
INCOME ELIGIBILITY CHART FOR FREE HEAT PUMP
Source: Efficiency Nova Scotia
Number of people living in your home
1 person — $27,250
2 to 4 people — $50,635
5 or more people — $72,113
Maximum annual household income: Line 236 from your Notice of Assessment.
(TIP: This is your Net Income, which is usually lower than your Total Income.)
Why wouldn’t Nova Scotians with low incomes be interested in getting in on the action?
The free heat pump program for such households is called HomeWarming.ca. If your budget is tight, it offers quite a package. It includes a free home energy audit, electrical panel upgrades, and oil tank disposal. It sounds almost too good to be true.
So, it’s important that it is true for applicants. But HomeWarming is working through some understandable growing pains.
“Since the announcement on December 13 of $140 million in provincial funding to provide low-income households with a free heat pump, Efficiency NS has received 10,000 inquiries over its toll-free phone line and completed 1,600 applications,” said Janet Tobin, the communications manager for Efficiency Nova Scotia.
A Digital Divide?
It’s worth noting that 600 of the HomeWarming applications (37.5%) were submitted on paper. This raises the possibility that many people who could be eligible are finding it challenging to apply online.
With hundreds of millions of dollars of government money available over five years, NDP Halifax Chebucto MLA Gary Burrill wants to make sure the free heat pumps get to those who most need them. He’s concerned the online process may pose a barrier to seniors and low-income families who don’t have access to the internet or who require assistance to document heating receipts and income tax returns.
Here’s part of what MLA Burrill asked during a meeting of the Legislative committee on Economic Development last week:
I’m wondering where Efficiency NS is with helping people navigate that application process? It’s not for everybody — applying online. I think about how following Hurricane Fiona in the constituency I serve, community and seniors’ organizations brought people together to help make online applications for financial assistance. Has Efficiency Nova Scotia given any thought to making those kind of partnerships with seniors or community groups?
Efficiency Nova Scotia CEO and president Stephen MacDonald acknowledged it was an excellent idea worth exploring and then replied:
Admittedly, we haven’t had discussions with seniors’ groups or community groups about helping individuals through the application process. But we are constantly trying to make improvements …we’ve added more staff on our end to be able to answer calls to help people through the application process. The toll free number is very prominent on the website (1-877-999-6035) and we encourage people to call.
We are definitely seeing increases in demand for these programs, as a result of increased provincial and federal funding as well as higher energy costs for consumers. I’m aware of businesses that have started up to help people navigate funding sources, of which Efficiency Nova Scotia is one.
Another off-oil program
Efficiency Nova Scotia is also fielding calls and email inquiries for a similar off-oil program geared to middle-income households. The Oil-to-Heat-Pump-Assistance program was expanded by the federal government on Nov. 21.
Eligible homeowners can receive up to $10,000 in rebates toward the purchase of a heat pump: half from Canada Greener Homes, and half from the province. For more information on this program, visitors to the Efficiency Nova Scotia website are encouraged to apply through the Home Energy Assessment portal.
“Efficiency Nova Scotia is a one-stop shop,” said communications manager Janet Tobin. “Regardless of where you live in the province or how you heat your home, we can help determine what is the right type of program and rebate that is the right fit for you.”
Provided you can be patient, that is. Tobin said within the next few weeks, the non-profit utility will introduce a “navigator tool” on the Efficiency Nova Scotia website. It will ask potential applicants a few basic questions about their household income, type of heating system, and annual consumption. Those answers will help direct the applicant to either the HomeWarming.ca portal for low-income households or the Home Heating Assessment gateway for everyone else looking for information about rebates or loans.
Tobin said staff answering the phone lines are supposed to return calls within two or three business days.
CEO MacDonald said he will monitor the uptake and wait times so improvements can be made to customer service. Right now, that appears to be a work-in-progress, but these programs do inspire hope for the future.
For either program (and for most of the 40+ energy conservation programs available to residents and businesses under the Efficiency Nova Scotia umbrella), step #1 is making an appointment to get someone to come and carry out an energy assessment on the home.
The objective of the audit is to find out where the building is losing energy and what type of action (insulation, new windows, heat pumps) will produce the greatest energy savings.
Across the province, the average wait time to get a home energy assessment (audit) is about four weeks, according to Tobin. That wait time may be shorter or longer depending on where in the province you live.
Once a contractor has completed the energy assessment, the homeowner has one year to get the recommended work finished. Efficiency Nova Scotia has a list of more than 300 approved companies employing 2,600 workers that supply a range of services from home energy assessments to installing insulation, new windows, heat pumps, and solar panels.
MacDonald told the Legislature’s Economic Development Committee last week contractors got a “heads up” to order more equipment in preparation for a busy next few years. And he said the non-profit energy conservation utility has added more staff in response to the recent “off oil” programs.
MacDonald said that over the past decade, energy efficiency programs have saved consumers $1.5 billion in energy costs (oil and electricity we didn’t require) as well as accounting for a 24% reduction in the province’s GHG emissions.
These recent federal and provincial funding programs could not only further reduce Nova Scotia’s carbon footprint, but if effectively delivered they could provide desperately needed relief to families struggling to pay the heating bill.
Board of Police Commissioners Special Meeting (Monday, 4:30pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate, and online) — agenda
Land Lease Community Project (Monday, 6:30pm, Westphal Rom, Cole Harbour Place) — snow date, Jan. 31, 6:30pm, Lake Echo Community Recreation Centre; more info here
Land Lease Community Project (Tuesday, 6:30pm, Lake Echo Community Recreation Centre) — if needed
Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place and online) — Skilled Labour Shortages and Impact on Critical Infrastructure in Nova Scotia; and Appointments to Agencies, Boards and Commissions; with representatives from the Department of Labour, Skills, and Immigration, the Department of Public Works, Nova Scotia Community College, and Apprenticeship Board
Tareq Hadhad (Tuesday, 3pm, in the theatre named after a bank, in the school of business named after a grocery company) — the founder and CEO of Peace by Chocolate will speak, followed by a Q&A and reception; info and registration here
Jon Tattrie in conversation with Tareq Hadhad (Tuesday, 7pm, Wilson Common Room) — author of Peace by Chocolate: The Hadhad Family’s Remarkable Journey from Syria to Canada, in conversation with the founder and CEO of Peace by Chocolate; more info here
In the harbour
05:00: Conti Annapurna, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia
06:15: Elektra, car carrier, arrives at Pier 9 from Bremerhaven, Germany
08:15: IT Integrity, supply vessel, arrives at Pier 9 from Argentia, Newfoundland
09:00: Stavanger Pioneer, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Antwerp, Belgium
11:30: Don Carlos, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
16:00: Polar Circle, tug/ice breaker, sails from anchorage for sea
18:30: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, sails from Pier 42 for Palm Beach, Florida
06:30: Shelia Ann, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Sydney
Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.