1. Security deposits
“A woman now living in Hants County and looking for an apartment wants to warn anyone searching for housing about paying deposits requested by landlords,” reports Suzanne Rent:
Nicoline Wyszynski was searching for an apartment in August 2022 when she found a place she liked in Lantz. The new development called Melody Lane is owned by Abruzzi Properties but wasn’t ready to move into when Wyszynski first viewed it. Nino Fabrizi owns Abruzzi Properties according to the Nova Scotia Joint Stock Registry, and is based in Fall River.
Wyszynski said she and a woman named Sheri, who works with Abruzzi Properties, kept in touch via text.
Through a Google and Facebook search of the phone number on the texts, the Halifax Examiner learned the person is Sheri Ritchie.
Wyszynski paid a security deposit of $600 to Abruzzi Properties, although she never signed a lease for the apartment.
Joanne Hussey is a community legal worker with Dalhousie Legal Aid Service. Hussey said she hears often about people paying deposits, applications fees, or first and last months’ rent. But she said these kinds of fees are not permitted in Nova Scotia.
“Any money that you pay to a landlord that is not rent is deemed to be part of the damage deposit because that is the only thing landlords are allowed to collect,” Hussey said. “And that can’t be more than half of whatever the rent is per month.”
2. We’re done with COVID, but COVID isn’t done with us
Yesterday, Nova Scotia reported 20 new deaths from COVID recorded over the two-week reporting period, Dec. 20-Jan. 2.
Because the recording of COVID deaths lags, only one of the 20 deaths occurred during the reporting period; the other 19 predate it (i.e. occurred before Dec. 20). Recall that the reported death count before Christmas was relatively low, but reality has caught up with the recording.
In total, throughout the pandemic, 694 Nova Scotians have died from COVID, 582 of whom are considered Omicron deaths (since Dec. 8, 2021).
Additionally, during the two-week reporting period (Dec. 20-Jan. 2), 76 people were hospitalized with COVID.
Nova Scotia Health reported the COVID hospitalization status as of yesterday:
• in hospital for COVID: 34 (1 of whom is in the ICU)
• in hospital for something else but have COVID: 99
• in hospital who contracted COVID after admission to hospital: 113
Yesterday’s hospitalization figures do not include any (if any) children hospitalized at the IWK.
The age and vaccination status of the recent deaths won’t be released until Jan. 15. But in general, in Nova Scotia, 90%+ of the deceased have been 70 years old or older, and unvaccinated people are dying at about three times the rate of vaccinated people.
After yesterday’s cabinet meeting, premier Tim Houston spoke with reporters wearing a hockey shirt. He celebrated the World Junior Hockey Championships in Halifax and praised the organizers and the city generally for bringing large groups of people to town.
About 15 minutes later, Health Minister Michelle Thompson also spoke with reporters. I relayed my interpretation of her answers to reporters with this tweet:
Afterwards, the communications people called me to complain about the tweet, saying I took Thompson out of context. So I told them I would review the transcript (I recorded Thompson), and did. I maintain I got her essentially correct, but readers can make up their own minds; here’s the transcript:
Reporter #1: Minister, the uptake for the flu vaccine and COVID boosters remains pretty low, maximum of mid-20%. I’m just wondering, is that something that concerns you and is it something that your department is going to follow through with more promotion of the need for people to get their vaccines?
Thompson: We will continue to market, you know, and try and reach different age groups, different folks in different ways. Immunization is such an important part of prevention of not only illness but also severe disease. So it is really important we continue to work with folks around that and underscore the necessity of it. We do appreciate, not just in Nova Scotia but across the country, there is some vaccine fatigue and I know Public Health as experts, they have been vaccinating for, you know, many, many years. And they also see the trends at that population health level. So we’ll continue to work with them to support people in making sure that they have access and opportunity to have their questions answered and get the vaccines.
Reporter #2: Just to add to that, a new variant is circulating. What do Nova Scotians need to know?
Thompson: I think really watching the Public Health advisory, those things, those tools that we have that have kept us well, are still very important. So we want people number one, immunization is a cornerstone. We want people to get their immunization, whether that be their booster, their influenza vaccine, all of those things to make sure that they’re fully protected. We want to make sure people stay home if they’re sick. It’s so important that people adhere to that, that we we take time out, particularly when we feel that we’re infectious, particularly if you have a fever, productive cough, those types of things. We’re looking at the people around you and understanding their risk and staying away from — so small social environments, social distancing. All of those things, hand-washing, good cough etiquette, those things really make a difference. And we saw that. So as we move forward, those things are equally as important today as they were two years ago.
I understood Thompson to be saying a number of things to the public about COVID, each not directly contingent on the other:
• everyone should get immunized;
• if you “feel infectious” (whatever that means) or are sick, stay home;
• think about the risks to those around you, so keep to small social environments and social distancing;
• keep washing your hands, cough into your sleeve;
• the advice today is the same as the advice from two years ago
Two years ago feels like a century ago, but it was January 2021. A COVID outbreak centered in downtown Halifax restaurants and bars just before the 2020 Christmas holiday triggered a Public Health order that closed restaurants and bars to in-person dining, and thousands of people lined up outside the Halifax convention centre each day to get tested. It worked; on Jan. 4, 2021, restaurants and bars were allowed to reopen.
But in early January, COVID ripped through Churchill Academy in Dartmouth, and due to an alarming rise in cases in New Brunswick, the Atlantic Bubble collapsed, and on Jan. 8, Dr. Strang placed new isolation requirements on people travelling into Nova Scotia from New Brunswick.
On Jan. 22, 2021, Strang and then-premier Stephen McNeil announced an extension of COVID restrictions, which included a prohibition of spectators at sporting events and the closure of bars and restaurants at 10pm. Notably, there was a gathering limit of 10, “both in your home and in the community,” and churches were limited to 150 people at services.
That’s what was happening two years ago.
But, of course, Thompson didn’t really mean we should be doing what we were doing two years ago. She was just giving a mealy-mouthed, hand-waving, off-the-cuff response to a reporter asking a question.
That’s no surprise. There’s no consistent messaging on COVID, and hasn’t been for a long time. At least since Feb. 23, 2022, when Premier Tim Houston lifted all “broad restrictions” and issued a press release:
“The restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic are a balancing act between keeping people safe and preventing other harms, and we knew we wouldn’t need them forever,” said Premier Tim Houston. “Now, it’s time to stop pulling the big levers, like broad restrictions, and shift to personal actions and responsibility. We all know what to do to protect ourselves and one another, and it’s time to get back to the people and things we love.”
Even then, however, a gathering limit of “25 people from the same household or close social group indoors and 50 outdoors” remained in place, and businesses were limited to 755 capacity, so totally mixed messaging.
Gathering limits weren’t lifted entirely until March 21.
On April 6, 2022, Strang and Houston issued this video providing their advice for “living with COVID”:
“Wear a mask in large crowds and in indoor public spaces,” said Strang. “Keep your social circles small and consistent.”
COVID is much more widespread now than it was in April, and Strang has never changed that advice.
But if anyone at all was wearing a mask at the hockey tournament, they were an outlier, and packing thousands of people into the arena and downtown bars certainly isn’t keeping a small, consistent social circle.
Hey, I go to bars and restaurants. I still wear a mask on the bus and in grocery stores, but that’s about it. We’re all done with this shit, but it ain’t done with us: the virus is widespread (I contracted COVID myself, just before Christmas), and the death toll keeps marching on.
I agree that it’s unrealistic to keep gathering limits and such in place in perpetuity.
As I see it, COVID is just part of the shitification of everything. Now, fascists march in the streets and are elected to office. The planetary climate is collapsing. The rich prey upon working people with renewed vigour. And lot of people die from a disease that didn’t exist four years ago.
There’s no way to sugarcoat that last piece. And so Thompson gives a mealy-mouthed, hand-waving, off-the-cuff response to a reporter asking a question, because that’s what we’re all doing, from me going to bars, to the thousands going to hockey games unmasked, to premiers and prime ministers ignoring the death toll.
Still, while it’s unrealistic to expect the average person to continue with strict COVID protection measures, we should expect better from our health ministers and politicians. There’s a wide range of possibility between enforcing strict gathering limits and mask mandates and doing nothing at all.
For instance, those in government could be making a concerted effort to improve ventilation standards and building codes, and retrofit schools and other public buildings. Instead, we hear a lot of empty platitudes about the quality of indoor air, but teachers and others speak of antiquated and even non-existent ventilation systems.
In Thompson’s case, she could address the crisis of COVID contagion in hospitals — right now, there are 113 people who showed up at hospital for something else — a stroke or heart attack, whatever — and contracted COVID right there in the hospital, from a roommate or a health care worker.
There have been thousands of such transmissions. But Nova Scotia Health and the Department of Health can’t even answer the simple question I’ve posed: How many people who contracted COVID in hospital subsequently died from COVID? I’m told no one is collecting or tracking that data, which, of course, would be the first step to controlling such contagion.
So, I get that the average hockey fan no longer cares enough to take any concrete action, but is it OK that the health minister as well has just accepted this shitty thing?
3. Minimum wage
Yesterday, the Nova Scotia Minimum Wage Review Committee issued its recommendations, including:
- an increase of 90 cents an hour to $14.50 on April 1
- an increase of 50 cents an hour to $15 on October 1
- starting April 1, 2024, the minimum wage would be adjusted on April 1 of each year by the percentage change in the projected annual national consumer price index (CPI) for the previous calendar year, plus an additional one per cent.
The recommendation is not binding on government, and at yesterday’s post-cabinet meeting with reporters, Premier Tim Houston wouldn’t commit to following it. But as other Maritime provinces have committed to speeding up the path to a $15 minimum wage, it seems likely Nova Scotia will as well.
But fifteen dollars ain’t what it used to be.
A $15 minimum wage hasn’t been close to a living wage in a long, long time.
“October is still too far away for this to be fully implemented, and [minimum wage workers] must be compensated as soon as possible,” said Christine Saulnier, director of the Nova Scotia division of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, in a press release.
“As for the hourly rate, the living wage calculations show why the minimum should be higher than $15 already,” continued Saulnier. “The minimum should be adjusted for inflation plus 1% as is recommended, but the base is still too low. The lowest living wage in Nova Scotia is $20 in Cape Breton and it is thus important the Committee plan for a path forward that reaches that amount.”
4. Building ships is making us rich, rich, rich
“The cost of Canada’s new Arctic and Offshore Patrol ships has jumped by another $780 million over the last year, according to figures provided by the federal government,” reports David Pugliese for the Ottawa Citizen:
The government has signed a contract amendment with Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax for the construction of the vessels, also known as AOPS.
Last year the project cost for the six ships for the Royal Canadian Navy was listed at around $4.3 billion. That has now increased to $4.98 billion, according to the government.
In addition, the new figures show that the cost of two AOPS for the Canadian Coast Guard has increased from $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion.
National Defence and Public Services and Procurement Canada noted in a statement sent Wednesday to this newspaper that the extra money was needed to deal with reduced labour availability, higher costs as a result of COVID protocols such as screening and cleaning, and price increases on transportation and spare parts.
By traditional economic measurement, every increase in the cost of the ships will improve the economy in Nova Scotia.
See, after a natural disaster happens, say a hurricane or earthquake, the response pours money into the area affected, as insurance companies pay for repairs, governments dump in money, and people borrow money to fix damage. Sure, a bunch of people died, but whatever; the GDP goes up, so that’s all that matters.
Same thing when a government contract for, say, a hospital or warships goes over-budget. Yeah, sure, the government deficit goes up, but whatever; what matters is the construction companies and shipyards are getting paid more, and that’s good for the local economy.
This province celebrated the ship contract. Remember Ships Start Here? We were promised that the ship contract would bring prosperity forever, amen, and now that the contract is over budget, we’ll all get even richer!
Yah us! We’re already just rolling in that sweet, sweet ship money, and people all over town have cash to spare. And now we’re going to have still more ship money!
I’m going to buy a Lamborghini. Where are you going to spend your newfound ship fortune?
6. St Barbara eliminates 110 positions in Nova Scotia
With the planned shutdown of the Touquoy mine, St Barbara is eliminating 110 positions in Nova Scotia.
In a letter to Premier Tim Houston, the company says that 56 of the positions are already vacant, and it is “partnered with Nova Scotia Works to assist them in finding new placements within the province and making their next professional steps as seamless as possible” for the remaining 44 workers.
But the job losses come almost two years before St Barbara will stop processing stockpiles at Touquoy.
St Barbara and its subsidiaries have never paid a cent in corporate taxes to the province, but have taken hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold out of the ground in Moose River. And the bureaucratic costs of environmental regulation and oversight have been borne by the public.
As for environmental concerns, the company claims that “The mine has gainfully employed more than 300 Nova Scotians consistently during that time frame, and it has been done safely while respecting our shared environment.” Well, except that its subsidiary Atlantic Mining has pleaded guilty to violating environmental regulations at Touquoy, reported Jennifer Henderson:
Lawyer Robert Grant entered guilty pleas on behalf of Atlantic Mining to two sets of charges. The first charge under Section 68(2) of Nova Scotia’s Environment Act related to a series of a dozen releases of sediment into nearby brooks that exceeded what is allowed under regulations and the mine’s Industrial Approval.
Those violations occurred over an 18-month period between February 2018 and the end of June 2019 near the gold mine, and at a clay pit two kilometres away.
Grant also entered guilty pleas on behalf of Atlantic Mining for failing to comply with federal Metal and Diamond Mining Effluent regulations. Those rules require the company to take samples of effluent after “unauthorized releases” of sediment and “deleterious substances” into waterways to find out if the effluent is “acutely lethal” to fish. The company must immediately notify Environment and Climate Change Canada of any such releases.
Federal Crown prosecutor Marian Fortune-Stone recounted at least seven incidents over the period September 2018 to April 2020 where the company failed to do this.
“There was certainly reckless disregard for the federal regulations,” noted Fortune-Stone. She said the company knew the rules, had regular contact with an Environment Canada officer, and knew by June 2019 it was being investigated for failing to sample effluent from the runoff. Still, nearly a year later, on April 27 and 28, 2020, the company once again failed to notify the feds.
“Either the company did not have a system to ensure compliance or it was simply ineffective,” Fortune-Stone told the court.
In the harbour
05:00: ZIM Monaco, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
06:00: MSC Pilar, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Montreal
10:30: Aquasmeralda, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Antwerp, Belgium
13:00: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
16:30: ZIM Monaco sails for New York
16:30: MSC Pilar sails for sea
No arrivals or departures
It might be just more of my continued world weariness, but I’m attributing this profound exhaustion I’m experiencing to COVID. I’m mostly back to normal, but I find that a couple of times in the middle of the day, I simply collapse from fatigue. I’m fortunate in that the Examiner crew can carry on without me, and I’m in a position to do something about it — I just nap. But those naps are heavy, deep sleeps. Then I wake up and am back at it. Very strange.