1. Randy Riley trial
This item is written by Tim Bousquet.
The Crown rested its case against Randy Riley yesterday. There are several witnesses I have yet to report on, but as I have been granted access to the evidence presented at trial (I’ll review it today), it makes more sense to wait until I see all that before I summarize the Crown’s case.
Today, defence council Trevor McGuigan will be asked if he wants to present evidence. He doesn’t have to, and Riley himself is under no obligation to testify. (It’s quite unusual for the accused to take the stand.)
I have no idea what, if any, evidence or witnesses McGuigan might call. If he doesn’t present any evidence or witnesses, the trial will move on to closing arguments and instructions to the jury, and that could take many days.
2. AG and report on ambulances
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
Nova Scotia’s auditor-general Kim Adair released her report this morning that examined whether the $147 million a year being paid for ground ambulance service is meeting the needs of Nova Scotians in a cost-effective manner. The answer is a resounding “no.”
Adair said the emergency health service the province contracts to Emergency Medical Care Inc (EMCI) is in a critical state. Here are the key findings from her report based on data gathered during 2022-23:
Ground ambulance service is in critical state primarily due to:
• Patient offload delays at hospitals
• Increase in 911 calls requiring an ambulance
• Paramedic staffing shortages
• Emergency department closures
• Without new government initiatives introduced in 2022-23 (new vehicles, transport operators), state of system would be worse
• Gains resulting from new 2022 transfer system outpaced by other pressures
• Department not holding Nova Scotia Health accountable for its role in offload delays
• Department not holding Emergency Medical Care Inc. accountable for poor ambulance response times
• Emergency Medical Care Inc. implementing working condition improvements; however, paramedics are operating in an unsustainable work environment.
• System is extremely complex with many interrelated parts.
We will have a more extensive report on the auditor-general’s observations and her recommendations later today. In the meantime, the report also notes that the number of calls requiring ambulances increased 17% over the past five years.
The report also notes that Emergency Medical Care Inc, which is owned by non-profit corporation Medavie, was unable to staff 23% of daily scheduled ambulances in 2022. And at the Halifax Infirmary, the largest acute care hospital in the region, the average wait time to off-load an ambulance was three hours.
The auditor-general said the estimated cost of paramedics spending one quarter of their working time waiting at emergency departments across the province was over $12 million. Sick time and overtime among paramedics cost the province another $11.8 million last year.
“Municipal staff are recommending an increase to contribution and spending limits, but councillors aren’t comfortable with the amount candidates and their spouses are allowed to donate to their own campaigns,” reports Zane Woodford.
In a report to council’s Executive Standing Committee’s Monday meeting, elections and special projects manager Liam MacSween recommended an inflation-based increase to campaign contribution limits.
Council adopted its campaign finance bylaw in 2018. The bylaw banned donations from companies and unions, and set limits on donations and spending. Since 2018, according to the Bank of Canada, inflation is 17.72%.
MacSween recommended increasing the maximum contribution for mayoral candidates from $2,500 to $3,000. The maximum donation to a campaign for council would increase from $1,000 to $1,200.
The most any one person can donate to all candidates would move up to $5,900 from $5,000. And the most a candidate can donate to their own campaign, combined with their spouse, would increase from $15,000 to $17,700.
Coun. Patty Cuttell argued that candidate’s without spouses should be allowed to have other family members contribute more than the limit.
“I think that allowing spouses’ contributions, but not recognizing other forms of family and family configurations actually creates, potentially, an impediment to those of us that are spouseless,” Cuttell said.
You could argue not permitting another family member to contribute to a “spouseless” candidate is another form of the singlehood penalty.
“Cheering, blowing whistles, and raising placards, a large crowd of health care administrative professionals and supporters gathered outside the Victoria General (VG) hospital site on Monday to demand better pay,” reports Yvette d’Entremont.
“We’re some of the lowest paid in health care along with housekeeping, dietary, all the things that a hospital can’t run without. But we’re being offered a pittance,” Judi Carman, a protesting health care administrative professional who works at the VG, said in an interview.
“Basically what it does is puts you up into a different tax bracket and you lose money. If you’re making $40,000 a year and they offer you 1%, do the math. That’s $400 amortized over 12 months. Then take taxes off of it. It’s a $10 raise. I’m worth more than that.”
The health care administrative professionals protesting in Halifax were among those at 11 hospital sites throughout the province who joined Monday’s lunch-hour day of action protest pickets.
The 5,000 health care administrative professionals working in Nova Scotia’s hospitals and in community care settings have been without a contract for almost three years. Represented by the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU), CUPE, and UNIFOR, they rejected a tentative agreement reached with the province in April. Then in June, union members voted in favour of striking.
5. Cogswell project
“As the municipality gets on with the Cogswell redevelopment project, “ripping the Band-Aid off,” Halifax Transit users are going to face a six-minute delay for more than a year,” reports Zane Woodford.
But Donna Davis, project manager, told reporters on Monday there is a trade-off: a new transit terminal for Barrington Street will be done a year early, in 2024.
Davis gave media a tour of the site in downtown Halifax as the first phase of the project nears completion.
The contractor, Dexter Construction, has torn down part of the aging series of overpasses, built a temporary access road and multi-use path, and started landscaping an extension of Granville Street.
Next, workers will finish the roundabout at the base of Cornwallis Street, tear down the bridge connecting Cogswell Street to Barrington Street, move the mound of dirt leading Barrington up to that bridge, and begin grading to build the newly-aligned Barrington Street.
“It’s absolutely an enormous amount of material that has to be removed, that will bring these various lots down to grade, down to the grade of the new streets so that new structures can be built,” Davis said.
6. New building code
“Beginning Jan. 1, all new construction in Nova Scotia — both commercial and residential— must comply with a more energy-efficient building code. Buildings generate about 42% of the province’s greenhouse gas emissions, including their oil, gas, and electricity use. The new code would substantially reduce the carbon footprint of those buildings,” reports Jennifer Henderson.
Both environmentalists with the Ecology Action Centre (EAC) and the Construction Association of Nova Scotia (CANS), the group that represents most builders in the province, support the proposed building code changes. That would mean by 2028, all new construction would be 50% more energy efficient than today.
That said, the new building code presents some practical challenges in terms of both materials and labour supply that may make it difficult to meet the standard.
Henderson interviews Chris Benjamin, senior energy coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre (EAC), and Duncan Williams, CEO with the Construction Association of Nova Scotia (CANS) for their perspectives on the new building codes and meeting the standard.
Nova Scotians still have time to comment on the proposed building code. The deadline is Friday. Click here to comment.
7. Nova Scotia Power
“It was a disappointing weekend for some businesses on Nova Scotia’s south shore, with one owner describing a power outage and Nova Scotia Power’s communication as ‘absolutely outrageous,'” reports Callum Smith with Global.
The Chester Playhouse was set to host its first event — a sold-out James Mullinger comedy show at 7:30 p.m. Friday — since June of 2021 when fire ripped through the building, causing extensive damage.
But it wasn’t the return the Playhouse was hoping for.
We were just beginning our fall season with this show on Friday which did not quite go as normal as planned,” Andrew Chandler, the executive director, said on Monday. “But we’re going to get there one of these days.”
An emergency power outage was required that same day, according to Nova Scotia Power.
The outage was originally set for 1 p.m. Friday, as stated in a 12:06 p.m. social media post.
Chandler said they only learned of the news when the post was forwarded to them.
“We had no other indication that this was happening,” he said.
But, as Smith reports, the power was out from 5pm to midnight. Chris Lanteigne, director of customer care for Nova Scotia Power, told Global that crews had to fix a burned power pole, and he apologized several times for the outage and the poor communication.
Giving people food doesn’t solve food insecurity long term, but giving people money can
At the Annapolis Valley campus of NSCC, a group of students are working to help feed their classmates. As Celina Aalders with CBC reported on Monday, the students started a meal program back in June, and it will expand starting next month.
The group uses leftover items from the campus food bank, along with excess produce from local farmers — in partnership with Farm Cafe — as ingredients for the meals.
The program has been in its pilot stage since June and will start expanding in October. It’s run through the campus’ Enactus Canada chapter, which describes itself as “a network of leaders committed to using business as a catalyst for positive social and environmental impact.”
Brianna Barton wanted to get involved with the group because she has a personal connection to its mission.
“I actually grew up in a really food insecure home and that was a common theme throughout the town I grew up in,” said Barton, president of NSCC Annapolis’ Enactus chapter and an energy sustainability engineering technology student.
“There are definitely a lot of students struggling right now.”
There are definitely more than students struggling with food insecurity in Nova Scotia and across the country right now. In fact, food bank use is on the rise. In January this year, Clara Paseika at CBC from January wrote this story about a study from Second Harvest, a food charity, that found food bank use in Canada would go up by 60% in 2023.
“What we found was even shocking for us. It’s bad everywhere,” said Lori Nikkel, CEO of Second Harvest. Nikkel says it isn’t just the unemployed who are showing up at food banks to make ends meet. With food costs increasing due to inflation over the last few months, she says “a lot of people that are accessing food supports have jobs.”
According to Second Harvest’s figures, food banks and other food-related programs across Canada served 5,141,481 people per month last year. The organization expects that number to climb to 8,208,679 in 2023, a roughly 60 per cent increase. That’s compared to 2,196,238 per month before the pandemic.
Back in February, Jennifer Henderson visited the food bank at the North Dartmouth Outreach Resource Centre, which is seeing an increase in the number of clients needing food. Sam Schwartz, president of that food bank, told Henderson that in January their numbers were up 20% more than January of 2022. That was months ago now, so who knows what the situation is now, but it’s not getting better.
A few weeks ago, I read this post on a community Facebook group, and I’m seeing more posts like it:
Can anyone help out with some veggies, we have meat for meals but no veggies like potatoes, carrots or corn etc. With the cost of food, I need to buy either meat or veggies. Can’t afford both. Got a slow cooker off here the other day and would like to start making large meals and freezing for weeks with no extra money.”
In my neighbourhood, a small group of volunteers started two food pantries, which they and people in the community fill on a regular basis. Those food pantries empty out as quickly as they are filled.
First, let me say that all the folks who are working to help feed others are good people. They see a problem and they’re doing something to address it.
The first food bank in Canada opened in Edmonton in 1981. Now it seems food banks are big business with hundreds of them across Canada feeding people who don’t have enough to eat.
But the issue isn’t that there isn’t enough food; it’s that people simply don’t have enough money to buy what they need.
I guess working in a grocery store or as a health care administrative professional isn’t shiny or fancy enough to deserve a few extra bucks each month to get ahead or even just to get by.
Earlier this month, Sigal Samuel, a senior reporter with Vox, wrote this article about a recently published peer-reviewed study about a project between the University of British Columbia and a charity called Foundations for Social Change. In 2018, the university and the charity identified 50 people in Vancouver who had become homeless in the previous two years, and gave them each $7,500, telling them they could do whatever they wanted with the money.
So, what happened? Samuel writes:
Over the next year, the study followed up with the recipients periodically, asking how they were spending the money and what was happening in their lives. Because they were participating in a randomized controlled trial, their outcomes were compared to those of a control group: 65 homeless people who didn’t receive any cash. Both cash recipients and people in the control group got access to workshops and coaching focused on developing life skills and plans.
Separately, the research team conducted a survey, asking 1,100 people to predict how recipients of an unconditional $7,500 transfer would spend the cash. They predicted that recipients would spend 81 percent more on “temptation goods” like alcohol, drugs, or tobacco if they were homeless than if they were not.
The results proved that prediction wrong. The recipients of the cash transfers did not increase spending on drugs, tobacco, and alcohol, but did increase spending on food, clothes, and rent, according to self-reports. What’s more, they moved into stable housing faster and saved enough money to maintain financial security over the year of follow-up.
“Counter to really harmful stereotypes, we saw that people made wise financial choices,” Claire Williams, the CEO of Foundations for Social Change, told me.
Samuel also interviewed Gary Bloch, a Canadian doctor who prescribes money to low-income patients, who said he wasn’t surprised by the results:
“It should be fairly self-evident by now that providing cash to people who are very low-income will have a positive effect,” he added. “We have seen that in other work (conditional cash transfer programs in Latin America, guaranteed annual income studies in Manitoba), and I would expect a similar outcome here.”
So, how do we give people more money? Pay at least a living wage, raise social assistance rates, which in Nova Scotia have been the same for years. Advocate for a guaranteed basic income, an idea that many communities in Nova Scotia are getting behind now.
But yet, the food banks are getting bigger and busier. We’re seeing the same issue with the housing crisis. Instead of just building more affordable housing, we’re creating a new sector around homelessness. Supporting more shelters, leasing out hotels, hiring more housing support workers when it’s more affordable housing that is needed.
If you’re an employer who encourages your employees to bring in goods to donate to your local food bank, yet won’t pay those same employees a living wage, maybe you should ask yourself why.
And if you see an elected official smiling in a photo taken at a food bank, ask yourself why the person who can do something about food insecurity and give people money when they need it is only interested in photo ops at food banks instead. There’s a big difference between doing the job and keeping the job.
In 2019, I attended the Basic Income Conference at the Halifax Central Library (I wrote about that here). One of the speakers was Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard. She told us the story of how after her father was killed in a car accident, her mother, Marguerite, was left to raise 13 children and grandchildren on her own. Marguerite worked as a housekeeper at a hotel in Lower Sackville and travelled the long route from their home in East Preston to work each day. She earned just $25 a week.
But Marguerite’s case worker managed to get income assistance for her, too.
“I think my mother’s experience was an invisible, unspoken experience in basic income,” Bernard said. “We survived because her low income was supplemented. That’s a basic income.”
In January, Clara Pasieka at CBC also spoke with Elaine Power, a professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University, who researches food insecurity. Power said food insecurity is probably a bigger issue than we know because many people won’t go to food banks because of the stigma. Power told CBC we shouldn’t even need food banks in the first place.
“It’s infuriating to expect community-based charitable organizations and nonprofit organizations … to pick up the pieces of this,” she said.
“I would like to see some action that addresses the root problems and root causes of this, which is inadequate income.”
I’m with Power on this one.
I see some of the residents of Treehouse Village Ecohousing in Bridgewater have moved into their new home. CBC went to visit recently and spoke with resident Emma Savage and the village’s co-founder, Cate de Vreede.
Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 1pm, City Hall and online) — agenda
Natural Resources and Economic Development (Tuesday, 1pm, One Government Place and online) — Safeguarding the Future of Tidal Energy in Nova Scotia; with representatives from Sustainable Marine Energy, Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy, and Marine Renewables Canada
House of Assembly Management Commission (Wednesday, 12pm, One Government Place) — info here
I3V Seminar Series – Clinical Trials and Access to Medicines (Tuesday, 11:45am, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — Srivinas Murthy from the University of British Columbia will talk
Voice Noon Hour (Wednesday, 11:45am, Joseph Strug Concert Hall) — free performance by students of the Fountain School of Performing Arts
Noon Talk (Tuesday, 12pm, Anna Leonowens Gallery) — with Selina Wamsley
Noon Talk (Wednesday, 12pm, Anna Leonowens Gallery) — with NSCAD Photography Collective exhibitors
Artist Talk (Wednesday, 1pm, Anna Leonowens Gallery) — with Becca Saunders
On Africville & Hogan’s Alley (Wednesday, 6pm, Atrium 101) — screening of two films:
Secret Vancouver: A Return to Hogan’s Alley; with Modupe Bankole-Longe, Siobhan Barker, and Djaka Blais from Hogan’s Alley Society
Stolen from Africville; with Carm Robertson from Africville Museum
In the harbour
07:30: Norwegian Pearl, cruise ship with up to 2,873 passengers, arrives at Pier 20 from Sydney, on a seven0day cruise from Quebec City to Boston
09:30: Liberty of the Seas, cruise ship with up to 4,414 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Bar Harbor, on a nine-day roundtrip cruise out of New York
15:30: One Crane, container ship (144,285 tonnes), arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
16:30: Norwegian Pearl sails for Portland
20:00: Liberty of the Seas sails for Saint John
07:00: Serenade of the Seas, cruise ship with up to 2,580 passengers, arrives at Sydney Marine Terminal from Boston, on a seven-day roundtrip cruise out of Boston
09:30: Zuiderdam, cruise ship with up to 2,364 passengers, arrives at Liberty Pier (Sydney) from Halifax, on a seven-day cruise from Boston to Quebec City
13:00: BW Egret, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for sea
17:00: Zuiderdam sails for Charlottetown
17:30: Serenade of the Seas sails for Saint John
On Saturday, I drove to Cape Sable Island and spent some time at a beach called The Hawk. It was beautiful, and I even waded into the water a few times. Very refreshing!