1. Back to school

School buses are seen in the parking lot of an arena complex in Dartmouth on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

“The government of Nova Scotia has done an about-face on mask policy for school reopening on Sept. 8,” I reported Friday:

As originally announced on July 22, the plan required masks on school buses for all students, and in hallways for high school students, but masks were not required in classrooms.

But significant concern was expressed by parents and teachers. And, last week, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, updated public health guidelines such that all students over 10 years old should wear masks in classrooms, if they cannot physically distance the recommended two metres.

[Friday], Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill announced that this province’s plan was amended to match the federal public health guidelines: masks will be required of all students in Grades 4 through 12 in classrooms, except when they are sitting at their desks and those desks are two metres apart.

It’s unlikely there are many, if any, classrooms that can maintain two metre separation between students.

Click here to read “Masks now required in most classrooms.”

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2. Ventilation in schools

Rooftop HVAC unit with view of fresh air intake vent. Photo: Wikipedia

In the article linked to above, I quoted Churchill’s comments about ventilation in schools:

Churchill also announced that the province is assessing the ventilation systems in all schools and making sure that windows can be properly opened.

Churchill acknowledged that many older schools don’t have ventilation systems at all, and so the idea is that the school windows will stay open.

What about in winter? “Windows can remain open,” Churchill replied. “We have heating systems in all of our schools, and ventilation is important based on the recommendations we’re getting from Public Health. So, I mean, you know, the windows, you can open them up a little bit, you can open them up a lot, and I’m sure that level of opening will be adjusted depending on what’s coming into those windows depending on the weather outside. We just want to make sure those windows are working, because I believe that’s an important part of making sure our schools are breathing properly.”

Jennifer Henderson then explored the ventilation issue more thoroughly:

With school reopening in three weeks, it might appear to be late in the day to be gathering information to develop a plan to address deficiencies, but it’s a necessary first step toward improving air quality in schools. However, it didn’t go remotely as far as Ontario Education Minister’s announcement last week to spend $50 million specifically to upgrade school ventilation systems.

CBC News quotes Jeffrey Siegel, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto who researches and consults on healthy buildings, ventilation, and indoor air quality. He says now is a golden opportunity to update outdated systems. “I’m really worried about when we start heating our buildings in the fall,” Siegel said. “When we heat buildings, they get drier and droplets travel much further because they shrink.”

Public health guidelines are broad (“ensure ventilation systems operate properly”) and leave it up to Regional Education Centres to figure out how to comply. Do the settings on the school ventilation system need to be tweaked to permit more air exchanges per hour? And, should you upgrade the ventilation system with more expensive filters that meet the higher MERV-13 (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) standard to filter out viral particles, which are many orders of magnitude smaller than even mold spores or pollen?

The Halifax Examiner asked all eight Regional Education Centres what is being done indoors to improve ventilation in their schools. We received identical replies from three of eight school districts: the Halifax Region Education Centre, the Strait Region Education Centre and the Colchester-Chignecto Region Education Centre:

We are working to ensure all rooms have operable windows and we encourage the opening of windows to increase air flow. In order to ensure we provide the best functioning system, we manage the maintenance of our HVAC systems carefully and ensure routine maintenance like filter changes are performed as required. The RCE Operations staff is conducting a school-by-school assessment of the ventilation air handler systems.

Click here to read “Time for ventilation in schools to get a proper airing”

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3. Fight over Supplementary Education money

Halifax City Hall in August 2020. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

“The municipality is withholding $14.5 million in education funding in the wake of its COVID-19 budget crunch, arguing it shouldn’t have to pay for a service that wasn’t provided in the last few months of the 2019-2020 school year,” reports Zane Woodford:

The mandatory education funding totals $149.6 million this year. That payment, required under the provincial Education Act for all municipalities, is spent on everything from teachers’ salaries to buses for the Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE).

The supplementary education funding is “unique to HRM,” according to a staff report by chief financial officer Jane Fraser headed to Halifax regional council on Tuesday, and totals $14.5 million this year. That money ostensibly pays for fine arts programming for students in the municipality. “HRM views its relationship with HRCE in the provision of supplementary education as one of purchasing a service,” Fraser wrote in the report, but the city isn’t convinced that students received that programming since schools closed due to the pandemic:

With schools closed since mid-March HRM has asked HRCE to provide details as to how they provided fine arts programming to students during the months of April, May and June as well as how they intend to deliver the programming in the beginning of the school year. The purpose of the request was to determine if HRM students have been receiving the programming that HRM is purchasing. If they have not been receiving programming HRM is of the opinion that we should not have to pay for a service that has not been provided.

As of Aug. 6, Fraser wrote that the municipality had not received a response to those questions:

The CAO explained that HRM would not be paying any supplementary funding for fine arts programming until such time HRM received both the description of program delivery for the last quarter of the school year and the go forward plan. The Executive Director of Education committed to supply HRM with a letter in advance of this report going to Council. At the time of writing this report HRM has not received the letter and plan from HRCE.

Click here to read “Halifax withholding millions in education funding in fight with provincial government.”

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4. Tara Thorne

Writes Stephen Kimber:

How do we balance Tara Thorne’s history of supporting artists and culture in Halifax with what even one of her supporters described as ‘a hurtful and very bad joke tweet’? These days, it seems, we don’t.

Click here to read “Tara Thorne and the tweet that trumped 20 years of exemplary arts coverage.”

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A reader draws my attention to the above tweet from February, when former Fredericton police chief Leanne Fitch was literally embraced by Lee Bergeman, the commander of the RCMP in Nova Scotia, at an immigration ceremony.

Fitch has a solid reputation for her work on intimate partner violence issues and policing. For example, she was a coauthor of the 2016 report “National Framework for Collaborative Police Action on Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).”

Recently, Fitch was appointed first as a member of the non-inquiry panel into the April 18/19 mass murders, then when that panel was aborted and reformulated as an inquiry, as a member of the inquiry.

Fitch was appointed precisely because of her expertise on intimate partner violence and policing, but obviously the inquiry will have to look at many other policing issues that aren’t directly related to intimate partner violence.

I don’t post the tweet to impugn Fitch’s abilities, but merely to point out that the inquiry is fraught with potential conflicts of interest. A good cop, and a good inquiry panel member, won’t let those potential conflicts bias their investigation or their findings.

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6. Confusion about Public Health rules

What are the Public Health rules around the pandemic? It can be quite confusing.

Part of the problem is the rules have changed. In April, we were told to “stay the blazes home,” period, but by late summer that has morphed into something like: “go out and spend money and eat in restaurants and support local merchants so the economy doesn’t collapse, but follow all the suggested guidelines and be sure to wash your hands.”

Then there’s a lack of consistency. We’re limited to being in unmasked non-distanced groups of 10, but then we were told that school kids could be in unmasked classrooms which might number up to 30. No, that didn’t mean the rest of us could now gather in unmasked groups of 30, it was that schoolkids had some super power that limited infection. But then, nope, turns out kids are mere mortals like the rest of us, so back to masks for them. But still more than 10. But not more than 10 for the rest of us.

On top of that, there’s a lack of clarity. We can have unmasked non-distanced social gatherings up to 10, and we can have more than one such group, just not… um, too frequently, I guess. Dr. Strang used the example of a wedding party: you can sit at a table of up to 10, but you can’t get up and join another table of 10. But, it appears, you can go to a wedding party on Friday night and sit at a table of 10, and then go to a different wedding party on Saturday night and sit at a table of 10, with different people. If there’s a limit to how many different groups of 10 we can have, I haven’t heard about it.

I realize Strang has a difficult job, but sometimes I think he doesn’t know how people actually operate in the world.

Still, most of us do our best, I think, even with the confusion. And, I agree with Strang: we shouldn’t be shaming people for what we think are clear violations of public health rules, but instead gently educating each other.

With that in mind, I’m trying to control my impulse to think the worst of wealthy and connected people when they appear to be violating public health rules — that is, that they think they are better than us, and so special that they can flout the rules — and instead try to understand that they may be merely confused.

Take, for example, this photo op taken by the Chamber of Commerce, on the boardwalk:

Yes, that’s Halifax MP Andy Filmore on the extreme left and Halifax Mayor Mike Savage on the extreme right, in a non-distanced group of, let’s see one, two, three… 12. Twelve is of course greater than 10. Undoubtedly, the MP and mayor were just confused about the rules.

Oh wait, when I shared that photo on Twitter, the eagle-eyed Mikey B noted that it’s actually 13 non-distanced people; “one is hiding” he pointed out:

After I tried to gently educate the MP, the mayor, and the Chamber about the public health rules, Patrick Sullivan, the president of the Chamber, agreed the photo op was a mistake:

Consider it an exercise in group learning.

Well, if an MP, the mayor, and the Chamber of Commerce can get it wrong, so can regular everyday citizens, no?

Remember Dr. Strang’s advice about weddings? These people got it slightly wrong at a wedding held in Halifax Saturday night:

YouTube video

Obviously, these people didn’t understand that the public health rules don’t just prohibit moving from one table of 10 at a wedding to the next table of 10, but also prohibit getting up and dancing with dozens of people. It’s confusing, I know.

After the wedding party, some of the participants went over to the Nova Centre, and I’m happy to report they did not dance. Rather, like the Chamber of Commerce folks from a few days before, they had a photo op of 13 people. These 13 people:

Again, in the interests of gently educating, let me softly explain that the public health rules say if we can’t socially distance, we should be wearing masks, and in any event, the group should be limited to 10, unless you’re a school kid, then all bets are off. I know, it’s confusing.

I reiterate: we should not shame people for violating the clearly confusing messaging around public health orders. And, we definitely should not suggest that some people think they are above the rules.

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7. Digby Pines

Digby Pines

Last  year, the province began selling off its resorts, Digby Pines and Liscombe Lodge. Liscombe Lodge was sold last month.

The Digby Pines sale was announced last December:

New private owners are planning significant upgrades to the Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa to create a year-round tourism destination.

Besim Halef, Glenn Squires, both from Halifax and Bear River First Nation in Digby County have purchased the tourism landmark and will invest $6.9 million over five years in the property. Pacrim Hospitality Services Inc., based in Halifax, will manage the property on behalf of the partners.

Government sold the property to the partnership group for $1 million. During the sale’s due diligence phase, engineers discovered the main building needed substantial mechanical, electrical and structural upgrades. The province provided $1 million credit on closing to be used towards that work. The province will also be responsible for closing costs and brokerage fees of approximately $500,000.

In 2016, the province asked Develop Nova Scotia to find a buyer for two of its Signature Resorts – Digby Pines and Liscombe Lodge. The province has owned Digby Pines for about 30 years. [emphasis added]

If I understand the math correctly, the province “sold” Digby Pines for a net $0 and additionally paid the $500,000 closing costs.

But it looks like despite those great terms, the Halef-Squires partnership has soured. Digby Pines is now the subject of a lawsuit filed last week in the Supreme Court.

The plaintiff is BANC Properties, of which Besim Halef is president.

The defendants are a numbered company — 3331375, whose president is Glenn Squires — and Digby Pines Resort Limited Partnership (DPRLP), a company with no listed officers or directors. According to the Registry of Joint Stock Companies, DPRLP has a general partner — 3331375 — and three limited partners — 3331787, Kerry Payson, president; 3331153, Glenn Squires, president; and 3331372, Michael Sack, president.

The BANC claim reads:

The Plaintiff [BANC] states that it supplied materials, services and labour with respect to kitchen repair, including but not limited to the following work: modifying and changing the outside drainage system away from the building, new french drain and all downspouts from the roof and connecting to the wastewater drain, cutting the kitchen floor, removing all electrical wiring and rerouting away from the crawl space, removing all water lines, removing all plumbing lines, removing all wastewater lines, preparing  the basement below the kitchen for formwork, casting in place concrete and filling all the cavity and space with concrete, installing all junction boxes and valves, rerunning new electrical lines, water lines and wastewater lines, pouring new floor slab for the kitchen, removing and replacing the kitchen ceramic floor tiles with the new flooring on the Property… and such services [that] were rendered at the request of or on behalf of the Defendants.

BANC says it is owed $884,841 for the work, plus interest.

The claim hasn’t been tested in court.

So the same work that the province paid $1 million for was actually completed for $884,841, and alleges the lawsuit, that bill itself hasn’t been paid.

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Special Board of Police Commissioners (Monday, 12:30pm) — virtual meeting; agenda here.


Special Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 10am) — virtual meeting; agenda here.


No meetings.

In the harbour

05:30: Orion Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
07:00: USCGC Biscayne Bay, U.S. Coast Guard ice breaker, sails from Pier 9 for sea
10:00: East Coast, oil tanker, arrives at anchorage from Saint John
11:30: Orion Highway sails for sea
12:00: Kyoto Express, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
14:00: Budapest Bridge, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
15:30: Kyoto Express, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
22:00: MSC Rochelle, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York


If you happen to be podcast-averse, the series I created with Janice Evans and Nancy Hunter, Uncover: Dead Wrong, about the wrongful conviction of Glen Assoun (and oh so much more), begins airing on CBC’s The Current today, and will continue for the next seven broadcast days.

Helicopters were flying low over Dartmouth overnight. And cats were fighting. I don’t think the two were related, except that together they conspired to keep me awake.

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

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  1. I would like to know why when new cases of Covid 19 are reported, and they do not indicate that they are people who have travelled into Nova Scotia and self isolated, that they do not tell us how these people came to have the virus.

    Did they fail to properly self isolate? Are they essential workers of some kind, or is it somehow a case of community spread?

  2. “…we shouldn’t be shaming people for what we think are clear violations of public health rules….”

    Like Strang’s Mumblespeak, I have no idea what the above means. Where are these public rules clearly stated? What are the penalties for violating these rules? (I thought penalties were for Laws not rules.)

    As far as masking, Strang has put many people’s mental and physical health at risk. He says there are health exemptions but don’t go to your doctor for one, you will overload the system. So, a person is supposed to self-diagnose their condition and determine if they have a medical exemption or not. DIY Pandemic–Great idea!

    As far as the Fat Cats violating the RULES and also flying in and out of Halifax airport at will, it is a Two Tier Pandemic, just like the Two Tier Healthcare system. Just like Strang says, don’t overload the healthcare system, the Fat Cats need it!

  3. I think Andy Fillmore’s 4th from the right in that photo, actually.

    Also, agree with the commenter above re Dead Wrong. Incredible work.

    And, thanks for all the education reporting. I used to see this areas as one of the Examiner’s weaknesses (I understand of course an outlet this size can’t do everything) but you’ve really done a great job of late.

  4. I can’t say enough about the podcast Uncover: Dead Wrong. It’s fascinating, horrifying, and very much exposes incompetencies, and rot in the system designed to serve and protect. Thank you Tim and company for the great work.

    1. I am recommending this podcast to all my friends. So well done. Fascinating and disturbing at the same time.