A blue line starts low on the left and moves dramatically higher to the right.
Total respiratory deaths including COVID since 2013. Credit: Tim Bousquet, with data from Public Health

Yesterday, the province lifted the Health Protection Act as it relates to COVID.

At 10:05am I received an email about the change, and which said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang would hold a press conference about it — at 11:30am.

It almost seemed like the short notice was intentionally designed to limit press coverage, and indeed, only four reporters showed up in person, with a fifth on the phone line. I did the best I could with questioning, but with more preparation time, I could have been more, er, prepared. You can read my reporting here.

The very short of it is that the province is now treating COVID as just another respiratory disease. I used Public Health data to create the graph above showing respiratory deaths over the past decade, adding in the death toll from COVID. I reported:

“Are we now expecting that there will be five or six times as many respiratory deaths every year?” I asked Strang. 

“No,” replied Strang. “I think there’s a couple of things there. Pre-pandemic, I think we underappreciated the extent of how influenza and RSV contributed to death in people who were at the end of their lifespan anyway. Now we are testing everybody for COVID. Everybody goes into hospitals, they get tested. So, we’re recognizing COVID at a much greater rate as a contributor to people who are at the end of their life anyway.”

“And COVID may be a lot of the things that ultimately ends in their death. But we’ve never tested to the same extent of influenza and RSV. So you really can’t make the comparisons. The conclusion that we have to have is that all of these respiratory viruses can have a significant impact on the frail elderly. And we have to take appropriate steps while the rest of life generally goes on. But we have to take appropriate steps to help keep those those groups safer.”

I find that answer problematic, for a couple of reasons.

First, it seems to give life to the nonsense “dying from or dying with?” argument thrown out by COVID deniers.

Second, saying that people who die from COVID are “at the end of their lifespan anyway” is a bit callous, no?

But more importantly, Strang seems to be suggesting that influenza deaths have been undercounted by as much as 80%, and we’re only now realizing the extent of the under-counting. If that’s the case, has all the money we’ve been spending on the Respiratory Watch reports been a complete waste? What other diseases are we completely not understanding?

I didn’t include it in my article, but I asked Strang if “COVID is now just another another crappy way to die? And will it affect the overall death rates for elderly people?”

He didn’t directly answer the question. I usually clean up transcripts to make them more readable and to be fair to the speaker (no one speaks in a text-like fashion) but I think his unedited response underscores the hand-waving that’s happening with COVID:

I’m not going to use those terms, but what it means is that we now have a picture of respiratory viruses that COVID now will become one of those and all the things we put in place, outbreak measures, general measures or infection control measures in long-term care are, as it is in vaccines, which are specific to two viruses at this stage, cold and flu. All the other measures help prevent and minimize the transmission of any type of virus.

Sure, we all die from something, if not COVID then a heart attack or slipping on a banana peel or whatever. I just want to know if COVID is going to lower the average age of death.

(Send this item: right click and copy this link)

2. Make Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes a true wilderness park, not a degraded collection of leftover parcels cobbled together as a fake wilderness

A map shows area coloured green, yellow, red, and purple.
A map of land in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes area owned by the municipal and provincial governments and the Nova Scotia Nature Trust. Credit: HRM

“Parks Canada has put up $2.1 million as the three levels of government enter the planning stage for a national urban park at Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes,” reports Zane Woodford.

That’s very good news, and demonstrates that the federal government is committed to making the park a reality. However:

The planning process will focus only on the land already owned by the provincial and municipal governments and the Nature Trust. That’s 1,700 hectares of provincially-protected wilderness area, plus 130 hectares purchased by HRM in 2018 and 2019, and 230 hectares owned by the Nova Scotia Nature Trust.

The lands between the provincially-protected wilderness area and Highway 102 have been the big concern for HRM.

And then there’s the potential highway through the wilderness area. The provincial government owns land for Highway 113, which would connect Highway 103 to Highway 102. While it’s not planned to be built any time soon, the province is still holding onto the corridor.

At Tuesday’s announcement, provincial Environment Minister Timothy Halman didn’t rule out the highway, and said it could coexist with the national park.

If it doesn’t include the land west of Highway 102, then the park won’t have a meaningful wilderness canoeing experience, as pricey houses will loom over paddlers for half the six-lake canoe loop and one of the portages that make up the loop will travel right through a suburban neighbourhood.

The issues involved in the supposed development rights of that land are too complex to get into here, but it appears that the Annapolis Group is, in part, arguing that the land it owns should be priced higher because that land, once developed, will be adjacent to a national park. There’s a mind-boggling circularity to that logic.

Regardless, if the federal government wants a true wilderness park, then it must do whatever it takes to procure that land — either through expropriation or negotiated purchase.

And Highway 113? Come on. Park aside, the highway should never be built in the first place. The hundreds of millions of dollar price tag for a highway that shaves three or four minutes off the Highways 102-103 corridor can’t be justified on simple financial grounds. Moreover, if the province is truly committed to addressing climate change, it has to evolve past such 1970s-era highway planning.

But as for the park, dividing a “wilderness” park in half with a four-lane divided superhighway is ridiculous on its face.

We’re either going to have a true wilderness park a stone’s throw from the urban peninsula, or we’re going to have bits and pieces of wasteland left over from suburban developments and highway corridors cobbled together and called a “wilderness.”

Click here to read “Parks Canada spends $2.1 million on Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes park planning.”

(Send this item: right click and copy this link)

3. 567 EPA-supported students can’t attend school; Cohen is one of them

A young boy with curly hair and blue headphones perched over his ears sits on a brown leather couch looking out the window laughing. His dad and mom are on either side of him, also laughing.
Mick Scarff (left) and his wife Kerri share a lighthearted moment with son Cohen in their Halifax home. Credit: Yvette d'Entremont

Yvette d’Entremont speaks with Mark and Kerri Scarff about their son Cohen, who has autism and is one of 567 EPA-supported students who haven’t been able to attend school since the school support workers went on strike:

The couple said too few people are aware of the important role EPAs play in ensuring children like Cohen get the education to which they’re entitled. 

‘Getting him in the classroom shows that he can be with other people…And it’s not just social. It’s helping the other kids who don’t need an EPA understand that there are people like him out there and that they’re welcome everywhere and they should be welcome everywhere,” Mick said.

“The fact that he’s disappeared means that he’s out of sight, out of mind. It’s easy for a politician to say, ‘No, no, we care.’ But that’s just words and it’s the actions that matter.” 

They believe EPAs deserve better compensation and that their son deserves — and has a right — to be in school with his classmates. Both point to recent wage increases for early childhood educators (ECEs) and continuing care assistants (CCAs). They said those people deserved a pay hike, and so do EPAs.

Click here to read “‘He matters. They matter’: Parents say EPAs deserve raise, children have right to be in school.”

(Send this item: right click and copy this link)

4. NDP wants to end sales tax on prepared food

several cooked chickens sit on a grocery warming table
Cooked chicken on sale at Sobeys. Credit: Jennifer Henderson

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

“Nova Scotians are feeling the pain of higher grocery costs and families are hurting. The Houston government needs to do more to help Nova Scotians directly afford the basics,” said NDP Leader Claudia Chender during a news conference on Tuesday. 

“That’s why we’re calling on the Houston government to cut the tax on groceries to help Nova Scotians pay less for food. Right now in Nova Scotia, sales tax isn’t charged on food items classified as ‘basic groceries’ but many common grocery items are still taxed.” 

What are we talking about here? Essentially, raw or unprocessed foods like carrots, potatoes, and onions are not taxed. Food that has undergone some degree of alteration is taxed. 

There is no tax on a head of lettuce but there is tax on a bag of chopped mixed greens. There is no tax on a large tub of yogurt but there is tax on a single serving. There’s no tax to buy a whole chicken and cook it at home but tax is charged on a rotisserie chicken that has been cooked at the store. 

Christy-Lee Bojarski is the mother of two school-aged children who lives in Halifax. Over the past year, she estimates the grocery bill for her family of four has almost doubled. 

“How I shop has changed. Going to multiple stores, using apps to try to purchase food that’s near expiry, buying in bulk to get the most for the money we have,” Bojarski said. “Slowly, I felt our eating habits changing. We buy more processed food. We don’t go for the nutritious options as often because processed foods are cheaper. It’s starting to feel as if healthy eating is becoming a privilege.”

Bojarski works at the public library in Dartmouth where she interacts daily with people who are among the city’s most vulnerable.

“It can be expensive to be poor,” she said. “Many of the people that I know can’t afford to buy in bulk and it’s not fair that means they are getting taxed on top of the increased price of most groceries. I think it would help for all groceries to be untaxed, not just the basics. It might seem a small thing but right now people are counting every dollar and I believe any shift in cost would help when things are so completely out of control.”

What would dropping the provincial portion of the HST on pre-prepared food cost the Houston government?

“Unfortunately, the provincial sales tax portion is not tracked so we can’t cost it specifically,” replied Chender. “But we do know two things. One, the government had a $1.4 billion surplus this year in tax revenue. The other is that they are committed to fixing health care. Eating is health care. Increasingly, as you heard from Christy-Lee, people cannot afford to eat. So we think this is likely a fairly modest but excellent investment.”

In 2010, the NDP passed a law that removed the tax on diapers, children’s clothing, and menstrual products. 

Chender said the party plans to introduce legislation in the fall to eliminate the provincial portion of the 15% HST on all food items, although she would prefer to see the government act immediately. 

It’s not a radical idea. In B.C., food is not taxed. In Ontario, groceries items below are certain price point are not subject to tax. 

Prepared food and single servings sold in grocery stores have been taxed for 13 years, since Ottawa introduced the HST back in 2010. 

This “harmonized” sales tax gave Ottawa a fixed 5% and left provinces the flexibility to add a provincial sales tax. 

In Atlantic Canada and Quebec, provincial governments continue to take a bigger bite. The provincial sales tax portion of the HST charged on food is 10%. In Ontario and all western provinces — except Alberta where it is zero — the provincial sales tax portion fluctuates between 5-8%. Unsurprisingly, Atlantic Canadians pay the highest prices for food in the country. 

Twenty-two percent of Nova Scotians are already unable to afford to buy healthy food, according to a recent study by a group based at the University of Toronto that used Statistics Canada data.  

A white woman wearing a blue jacket with a flower print design stands in front of the Superstore
Christy-Lee Bojarski

Christy-Lee Bojarski believes dropping the 10% provincial portion of the HST charged on pre-prepared food sold at grocery stores and convenience stores would help the poor and people who live alone. 

Buying in bulk to lower your grocery bill isn’t an option if you don’t have a vehicle or you only have enough money in your product for a sandwich, not a loaf of bread. When the HST was first introduced on pre-prepared foods sold in grocery stores, it was sometimes referred to as a “convenience tax.”

In families where both parents are working full-time and making dinner each night is a rush and a challenge, Bojarski said lifting the 10% PST at the point-of-sale on a take-home lasagna or bag of stir-fry vegetables would be a significant relief.

“Because of our changing economy, we all have to work as many hours as possible,” said Bojarski. “So we don’t get home until 5:30 or 6:30pm. I can’t start a meal from scratch at that point so we do what is efficient, and as nutritious as possible. That often means paying for things that receive an additional tax, like a bagged salad or a barbecued chicken. It’s not fair and right now, people need all the help that they can get.”

(Send this item: right click and copy this link)

5. Maritime Bus to end Airport Express

Words on the back of a bus read "$22 your downtown connection to and from Halifax/Dartmouth and the Halifax airport."
Credit: Maritime Bus/ Facebook

Maritime Bus is ending its airport shuttle service that runs between the Halifax airport Halifax and Dartmouth hotels.

In a filing with the Utility and Review Board, Maritime Bus explains that ridership has plummeted. In 2019 the shuttle had 16,550 riders, but in 2022 it carried just 2,620 riders, at a loss of $44,454. Obviously, that reflects the decline in travel during the pandemic, but the company doesn’t expect the route to return to profitability.

The company notes that the shuttle primarily serviced tourists who have other options, including Metro Transit, cabs, and limos.

Maritime Bus will, however, continue to stop at the airport with its regular service, including with extra capacity during high-student travel times.

(Send this item: right click and copy this link)

A yellow box which links to a helpful information page. The text reads "Unable to read paywalled articles? If you're having problems signing in, click here for help."

A box with a link which reads "Sign up for our morning email. Get a direct link to the Morning File right in your inbox. Click here."




Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm, online) — agenda


Grants Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — agenda

Case 23472 – Public Drop in Session (Thursday, 10am, Halifax forum, Maritime Hall) — West End Mall future growth node


House of Assembly Management Commission (Wednesday, 12pm, One Government Place) — 2022-23 audit report; HAMC Regulation changes; Centralizing MLA IT hardware; CPI adjustment; 2022-2023 financials

On campus


Promoting Equity in Early Childhood: A Storytelling Series to Build Atlantic Connections (Wednesday, 10am, online) — open to anyone interested in equity in early childhood; info and registration here

In the harbour

12:00: Navig8 Success, oil tanker, moves from Imperial Oil to anchorage
19:00: STI Pimlico, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
22:00: Augusta Luna, cargo ship, sails from Pier 28 for Bilboa, Spain

Cape Breton
07:30: Zaandam, cruise ship with up to 1,718 passengers, arrives at Sydney Marine Terminal from Halifax, on a seven-day roundtrip cruise out of Boston
08:00: Tanja, bulker, arrives at Port Hawkesbury Paper from Portland
17:30: Zaandam sails for Bar Harbor


It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

A button which links to the Subscribe page
A button link which reads "Make a donation"

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

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
  1. It’s very concerning that SARS-CoV-2 is now to be considered just another respiratory disease. It is also a vascular disease. It can cause brain damage, heart damage, damage to other organs, chronic pain conditions, chronic and debilitating fatigue. We’ll all die of something, sure, but you’d think the people with the authority to establish ways to protect the population would at least care for the children, even if they’ve already written off the aged and the infirm.
    Moreover, claiming that the extraordinary rise in respiratory deaths since the pandemic began can be attributed to previously not noticing that people were dying of influenza is pretty disingenuous. People die of something – isn’t it standard to write the cause on the death certificate? – and it’s obvious when people die of a respiratory disease, whether it’s called flu or RSV or pneumonia or even a bad cold. So claiming undercounting of flu does not explain at all the incredible increase in total respiratory related deaths.