1. Cabinet roundup: Masks, schools, borders, and the Yarmouth ferry
Jennifer Henderson participated by phone in yesterday’s post-cabinet meeting. (Eight “major” news organizations were allowed to take part in person; the Examiner was not included.)
In her roundup, Henderson says the province has still not set a date for opening to the rest of Canada.
McNeil says no date has yet been determined for when visitors from other provinces will be able to visit Nova Scotia without quarantining for two weeks. He also said “we can’t continue to lock ourselves down and we need to get the economy moving.” Business Minister Geoff MacLellan said “any way you slice it, this is a bad year for tourism.”
Interestingly, some tourism operators are opposed.
The business minister says while he believes lifting quarantine restrictions on visitors from outside Atlantic Canada would help tourism, some operators have expressed fears doing so might discourage local people from eating out or taking staycations.
Henderson gets into a lot more: masks, justice minister Mark Furey’s ass-covering, and school re-openings. And then there’s this:
A decision to cancel the Yarmouth-Bar Harbor ferry was announced June 26. This year’s budget contained $16.3 million to operate the service. The service is not operating. Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines has said costs will be lower than budgeted because there will not be fuel to buy or crew to pay. However, there are “fixed costs” associated with the ten-year contract including an undisclosed management fee paid to Bay Ferries. One month after the decision to cancel the season, Hines was still unable to estimate how much the province will save by not operating the ferry.
“We know there is going to be zero revenue so what we are concentrating on is cost-cutting measures that will not preclude us from operating the ferry once we get through this period,” said Hines. “We’re anxious to get back in business once we know what the future looks like.”
2. ““Moose, Bears, Eva Herman”: An interview with the Der Spiegel reporter who broke the Cape Breton Nazi, er, far-right German colony story
Joan Baxter — who, conveniently, speaks German — interviews Martin Doerry, the Der Spiegel writer who first wrote about far-right German ideologues buying land in Cape Breton and luring others of their ilk to the region.
While the subjects of Doerry’s article have said they consider it defamatory, Doerry tells Baxter they have yet to point to a single specific inaccuracy, and that he has the full backing of the legal team at Der Spiegel.
In the excerpt below, “HE” is the Halifax Examiner, and MD is Martin Doerry:
HE: What kind of reaction have you had in Germany to your article? And elsewhere?
MD: The German media have reported intensively about my story, especially the online media. I have also received more than 60 hate mails from the German followers of Popp and Herman. And, of course, many readers from abroad, most of them Germans living in Canada, wrote very friendly mails to me and said, “Thank you for your investigation!”…
Canadians should know that Herman and Popp are members of a community of very right-wing radicals, some of them Holocaust deniers.
HE: Yesterday (July 29) the Examiner published an article quoting German-Canadian informants, all of whom asked for total anonymity because they said the people involved are “dangerous” and “scary.” Can you comment on that?
MD: My informants said the same. They all are scared by these radicals.
It is an illuminating interview, and you can read the whole thing here.
This story is for subscribers only, and we sure would love it if you would subscribe.
Joan Baxter noted in her piece on Martin Doerry that Eckhardt “sends out emails that deny the holocaust.”
Meanwhile, Tom Ayers reports this morning for CBC on a German couple who bought land in Cape Breton and found it came with some rather unsavoury emails from their real estate agent, Frank Eckhardt. He writes:
Petra Krug said the man who sold her and her husband a property in Richmond County, N.S., also sent them emails with attachments that, among other things, honoured Germans from the Second World War and denied six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
Krug said she never asked for the material in the emails and didn’t want it…
Krug said the emails arrived sporadically over several years while they were still in Germany considering a land purchase in Cape Breton, sometimes on the anniversary of the bombing of Dresden or the anniversary of Germany’s surrender in 1945.
CBC News has seen some of the material sent by email to the Krugs. It includes a quote from someone saying the Holocaust “is the biggest lie in history.” Another email said Zyklon B gas, which was used to kill prisoners in Nazi concentration camps, was only ever used to clean clothes.
So many of these ultra-right ideologues also turn out to be scammers. The Krugs eventually pulled out of their deal with Eckhardt when they realized they were being ripped off.
3. Garden in jeopardy for the sake of a few stones and a culvert
The other day I noticed local garden writer Niki Jabbour tweeting in dismay about a meadow garden whose future she said was in jeopardy. I was curious, but had my hands full. I did wonder more about the story though.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, apparently Suzanne Rent was also intrigued and, unlike me, she actually followed up and got the full story.
And it’s a really interesting one.
Turns out two Kingswood residents (Kingswood being a sub-division in Hammonds Plains), Donna and Duff Evers, started the garden — after having mowed the space for the previous 20 years. The land is a right-of-way owned by the municipality, and the Evers worked with the city to have it recognized under the naturalized strategy initiative. A municipal sign in the garden reads:
We’re helping to support bees, butterflies, and birds that rely on naturalized landscapes for food and shelter.
All good so far. Rent picks up the story:
“Plants were dropped off in my driveway. I’d get up and there were bags and boxes of plants,” Evers says. “As wonderful as the Kingswood residents think it is, it’s been supported provincially. I owe a debt of labour, if that’s all I can do, and I’d like generosity extended on the issues. I’m grateful for HRM saying we could do it and the prep work they did, for sure.”…
Then the Evers started encountering issues. The Evers installed a rock wall along the edge of the garden to prevent erosion. The wall is actually just one line of flat rocks on the border of the garden and several feet from the road. Evers says when the plants get large enough, they’ll prevent erosion on their own.
But Evers says she learned the rock wall stands in opposition to some new draft guidelines governing boulevard gardens.
Halifax regional council voted in May to direct staff to amend the bylaw governing gardening in boulevards — defined as “the area between the curb and the sidewalk, typically planted with grass.” One of the new guidelines says, “No hardscaping, rocks, or stone mulch is permitted to be placed in the boulevard.”
Evers says the meadow garden doesn’t fit the definition.
“This is a meadow,” Evers says. “It’s not a boulevard. It’s draft legislation. And I don’t think it’s fair to have draft legislation cover an urban description in the suburbs. I tried and tried to get HRM officials and the people we were working with, and our councillor to look at what we’re doing, understand it, and see our reasoning, and make a compromise.”
There is also a culvert on the site that may need to be replaced by Halifax Water at some point, also causing damage.
Donna Ever sounds incredibly gracious through all this, and Niki Jabbour offers some thoughts on the importance of spaces like this.
4. NSGEU pulls out of Northwood review over secrecy concerns
The NSGEU is pulling out of the review of COVID-19 deaths at Northwood and is calling for a full public inquiry.
That’s because the most transparent government in the history of Nova Scotia (sarcasm emoji) has said any information provided to the review panel must remain secret, and that sharing it could lead to significant fines or imprisonment.
Jennifer Henderson reports on the story, citing a press release from the NSGEU — the union representing registered nurses at Northwood:
Last week, [NSGEU president Jason] MacLean was invited to speak with members of the review committee about our members’ experience working at Northwood during the first wave of COVID-19. Just hours before that meeting, the NSGEU received an email from a committee staff person stating that, “Any quality improvement information, is protected from disclosure under the Quality Improvement Information Protection Act.”
Let me repeat that last bit:
“Any quality improvement information, is protected from disclosure under the Quality Improvement Information Protection Act.”
MacLean says in the absence of a public inquiry, he is preparing to compile his remarks for the panel — along with an 800+ page FOIPOP document — which he plans to make public in the next week or so. MacLean claims this will provide context for the Province’s decisions leading up to the emergence and spread of COVID-19.
Premier Stephen McNeil has also said he would look at whether MacLean’s concerns are founded.
5. RCMP: We know why gunman had $475,000 cash, but we won’t tell you.
Zane Woodford gets into the RCMP response to allegations about GW, the man who killed 22 people over the weekend of April 18-19, in documents unsealed earlier this week.
The documents were released after a media coalition including the Halifax Examiner went to court over the right to see them.
The RCMP, Woodford writes, “are brushing off” the “explosive evidence” in the documents, including statements to police that GW had previously burned bodies to dispose of them and that he was trafficking drugs including oxy-contin and dilaudid.
In response, the RCMP have released a 1,600 word statement, saying at least one of the allegations is true: that GW had hidden compartments in his Dartmouth home for hiding firearms. But they say they can’t corroborate the others.
As for the money, here’s what Woodford writes:
The RCMP have an explanation for the large sum, claiming to have emails backing it up — but still aren’t explaining why he withdrew it that way.
“These email communications from the gunman to financial institutions and others detail his intent to liquidate personal assets and convert those into cash,” the statement says. “The purpose of those conversions and withdrawals was based on the gunman’s belief that his assets were safer in his possession as it related to the current pandemic. A significant amount of currency has been recovered from the gunman’s burned out property in Portapique, which supports the pre-April 18 withdrawal of funds previously disclosed. A forensic audit of the gunman’s accounts remains underway and no further details can be disclosed until this task has been completed.”
A good reporter can say a lot while writing very little, and that’s what Woodford does at the end of this piece:
In closing, the statement says “it is important to ensure that the families who lost loved ones as well as the survivors receive timely updates based on facts known by those directly involved in the investigation, not assumptions made by any other individual who does not have all of the information available to them.”
The last time the RCMP provided an update publicly was June.
I was appalled when I read the appeal to the families in that statement. I can’t imagine what they are going through, and it must just be infuriating to have governments and police paternalistically using them to justify secrecy.
6. We may be in an economic crisis, but let’s not forget the real enemy: the deficit
A Canadian Press story (here on the CTV website) indicates Stephen McNeil seems to be preparing workers for hard times ahead.
Nova Scotia’s premier says public-sector workers will have to dampen their wage expectations in the coming years as the province grapples with a projected $853-million deficit as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After five consecutive balanced budgets, Stephen McNeil says he hasn’t changed his view of deficits and work will begin immediately to tackle the new fiscal situation facing his government.
Really? I mean, really? Is this really the big priority we face at the moment? Reducing the deficit?
On July 19, writer and high school teacher Leo McKay Jr wrote an excellent and succinct Twitter thread about McNeil’s obsession with deficits.
McKay, the author of the novel Twenty-Six, about the Westray mine disaster, wrote:
The only thing NS Premier Stephen McNeil believes in, and he believes in it with zealous religiosity, is balancing the budget.
He achieved this prior to the pandemic, and among the results were one of the highest poverty rates in the country and the lowest average wages in the country. But the problems of and associated with poverty do not even register in a black ink obsessed worldview like McNeil’s…
But even those who extoll austerity as a necessary “corrective” to government excess or incompetence now recognize that in a pandemic, austerity is worse than useless. It’s the exact opposite of what we need…
Having balanced the budget prior to the current crisis, McNeil was like the proverbial dog that caught the car: What the hell was he to do now?
But in the sort of crisis we’re now in, his ideas and instincts are worse than useless. They threaten to damage this province even further.
Yesterday, the province released payroll employment statistics.
From the province’s daily stats release:
Nova Scotia had 349,444 payroll employees in May, a decrease of 4.1 per cent (-15,004) compared to April 2020, and down 17.3 per cent (-73,052) compared to last May. Nova Scotia’s payroll employment has been trending upwards since 2017, but declined sharply after February due to restrictions and closures resulting from COVID-19.
Interestingly, average weekly earnings were up.
But all this really means is that most of the job losses were in industries that don’t pay very well. Those still employed are in higher-earning jobs, so that skews the average higher.
7. Got a roommate? Great! But don’t forget to tell the government if you become lovers
At the Nova Scotia Advocate, Kendall Worth provides an update on Darlene and Daryl, “two friends who try to make ends meet while living on social assistance.”
If you are not familiar with Worth’s work, you should really read the Advocate stories tagged “Lives on Welfare” for their reporting on experiences and issues that don’t get enough attention.
Back to Darlene and Daryl though. Worth had previously written about how the two met outside the QEII emergency room, wound up going for coffee, and became friends.
After much searching, they have found a place and are going to move in together.
But when you are on social assistance, moving in with someone — as with almost every aspect of life — comes with a far greater level of intrusiveness than it does for the rest of the population.
Daryl was told that after they move in together he can continue to receive his standard for people with disabilities of $850 a month as long as each year at his annual review he shows up with a written statement saying: “Darlene and I are not boyfriend/girlfriend. We are living together as roommates for financial reasons only.”
They were told by the caseworker that if they do start a romantic relationship while they are living together then they will have to report that as an immediate change in their circumstance.
To end this story, I will say that despite whatever happens through Community Services, they are looking forward to living together. That Darlene will be leaving the house to go to work everyday Monday to Friday while they are together will help because Daryl will have space to do what he wants during the daytime. Daryl eventually wants to find a job of his own.
So things are looking up for them.
This is a good news story, as Worth indicates. It also matter-of-factly covers the reality that if you are on social assistance and your roommate becomes your lover, that’s going to have consequences to your financial situation, and you’ve got to let the government know. Nothing new here, but I wonder how much awareness there is in general about the level of surveillance and control people on social assistance have to put up with. (Answer: not much.)
8. Local minor baseball returns
Public health authorities have approved Baseball Nova Scotia’s return to play plan, over six weeks after having approved their training plan.
I wrote previously for the Examiner about the return to play plan:
But if this does go ahead, baseball will be very different this summer. At the lower levels, there will be no catchers (my partner joked that this shouldn’t make that much of a difference). No umpires behind the plate. Instead, they’ll stand at least 2 metres from the pitcher. I’ve called games from the mound, and you can do it, but it’s definitely not the same. No stealing bases. No plays at the plate. No spitting or chewing sunflower seeds. And if you’ve got a kid who is forgetful, they’re out of luck if they want to borrow someone else’s gear.
Some of this has changed. Catchers are going to be allowed after all, but they cannot share gear. Stealing is also going to be allowed, but after any tag play you are supposed to immediately vacate the area. No more fielders holding the glove on the runner as long as possible while looking at the umpire in a not-so-subtle-effort to convince him or her the tag was on before the runner hit the bag.
The original proposal had also called for frequent sanitization of the baseballs, but that measure is also gone — for safety reasons.
In the Chronicle Herald, Willy Palov talks to Baseball Nova Scotia executive director Brandon Guenette:
“The sanitation of the baseballs was something that was looked at around the world and the issue is you could potentially make them more dangerous, depending on how the baseballs are handled during sanitation,” Guenette said. “If you sanitized them, it could make them slippery or if you soaked them they’d be waterlogged and that would make them no good. So the precautions we’re using is teams are responsible for supplying the baseballs when they’re on defence. There should be no reason for teams to touch the other team’s baseballs, so at least then it will be reduced usage and it’ll only be among the group that you’re already practising with all the time anyway.
Because of restrictions on how many people are allowed to gather in one place, players can only have one family member in the stands. Honestly, that’s probably better for the kids.
Umpiring will also look different. Guenette again:
“What that translates into is we’re going to have umpires calling games from behind the pitcher and that will reduce the amount of contact between a catcher and an umpire. There is still restricted dugout use so there may only be a handful of people in there at one time. It will just be coaches and the immediate batters going up to the on deck circle or in the hole. Everyone else will still need to distance in an area beyond the dugout.”
Umpiring is likely to be an issue. Normally, umpire training programs take place in spring, but they were all cancelled this year. There is online testing for umpires before they can call games, but it seems that not a lot of them have signed on to return.
Skylar Blanchette, who assigns umpires for the Hammonds Plains Baseball Association told me she’s got only 12 registered umpires so far, and said, “I know most of the other HRM associations are in the same boat as me: short on umpires.”
That means teams will have to make do with one or even no ump, or cancel their games.
WE: It’s all about us
Tim Bousquet (“on holiday”) was on the Canadaland Short Cuts podcast with Jesse Brown yesterday, talking about WE, the Nova Scotia mass murder inquiry, and those German ideologues.
I was listening while out in the garden picking raspberries, and while Brown was picking apart the Kielburger brothers’ testimony to a parliamentary committee, Bousquet launched into a refreshing little rant. While so much of the discussion about WE has, rightly, focused on finances, ethics, and the organizations’ (that’s plural because there are many WE entities) links to the government, Bousquet wanted to raise concerns about the whole enterprise — even if there were no other concerns about it.
Here’s what he said:
Can we back up a little bit and talk about this whole international development charity aspect of this? There are places around the world that are not doing well and yet they are rich in natural resources. There are hard-working people there. They’re poor, but they’re poor not because some young person in Canada doesn’t care enough about them. They’re poor because of the legacy of colonialism, imperialism, neo-imperialism continuing, corporate exploitation, state intervention with the World Trade organization and banks, sometimes even armies.
And there are solutions to this.
We could forgive foreign debt. We can end or change these predatory international regimes. We can pay back all the loot we’ve stolen from them! We could teach young Canadians about that, that history, the ongoing exploitation. But instead we tell young people it’s all about them. It’s their inherent worthiness as good Canadians that’s going to save the world.
So forget about politics, forget economics, forget about restructuring the way the world works. You’re going to save the world by being a good person…. I think it’s the perfect neo-liberal structure to not change the world.
It has been hard until recently to say much that’s negative about WE to people caught up in the fervour of the group. I have a friend who told me WE Day was the highlight of the year for his elementary-school-age son, and that many of his kid’s friends felt the same way. This left my friend feeling uncomfortable, because he thought it had more to do with having a fun day in a party-like atmosphere and feeling good than it did about any kind of real change. Other friends have been really enthusiastic about their kids’ participation in WE voluntourism trips. Naturally enough, if you are involved in this stuff you feel good about yourself and you feel like you are helping to make change. At the very least, what’s the harm?
But Bousquet puts his finger on it here, I think. The harm is that it’s all about centering the experience of individual Canadians and making them feel good about helping instead of pursuing much more important structural change.
Last year, I spoke on a mental health panel at a national get-together for a youth mental health organization. I spent a bit of time looking into the organization before accepting the invite. I have not been to WE Day, but the room I was in had what I imagine was a WE Day-like atmosphere: lots of really enthusiastic young people, most wearing the same t-shirts. There were inspirational speakers, and uh, my panel, who focused more on issues than inspiring.
I did point out to the group that here we all were talking about the importance of mental health in a beautiful building in downtown Toronto, and yet we had all stepped around the homeless people outside in order to get to the door coming in.
Back to WE for a second, I have been quite dismayed by the beating Margaret Trudeau has taken over this. Have you noticed almost all the ire over Trudeau family members being paid by WE is reserved for Margaret, and not Alexander? Yes, she was paid a lot of money. Have you seen what top-tier speakers draw in? It’s a lot of money. And Margaret Trudeau — who, remember, spent much of her first go-round in the spotlight being misogynistically dragged by the media — actually does know what she is talking about when it comes to mental illness. She was in Truro two years ago speaking about mental health to the Nova Scotia Cooperative Council, which, I’m guessing, was a slightly less well-paying gig.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying all was fine with the WE contract, or that there is no problem with the government handing out a major contract to an organization which has previously paid substantial sums of money to the prime minister’s family.
Anyway, here are the raspberries I picked from the garden.
Stephen Archibald has a new post on his Noticed in Nova Scotia blog about concrete. Oh, but not just any concrete.
While taking your great aunt for a lobster supper in Halls Harbour, have you ever been surprised by a small herd of concrete, lawn deer, as you speed through Centreville, just north of Kentville?
Er, no? I’ve been to Halls Harbour several times (sans great aunt) and these have escaped me. I don’t have Archibald’s noticing skills.
This is an opening for Archibald to explore “the gold concrete house and delight filled yard” of “artist, communist, and concrete plant owner, Charles Macdonald and his wife Mable. Special people indeed.”
Archibald takes us on a tour of the house’s exterior and grounds, then drops this delightful cottage on us.
In the 1930s, Macdonald built a little colony of concrete cottages at Huntington Point, just along the Fundy shore from Halls Harbour. Their style is often described as whimsical (other descriptors could include eccentric, fanciful and fairy-tale). The society owns one of these cottages and there is a process that would allow you to stay in it (check their website).
The post also includes a few photos taken of the grounds in 1974 and ends with a mystery. Well worth a few minutes of your time.
In the harbour
There are probably some ships, but without Tim Bousquet here to send us the html, we can’t tell you which ones they are. Ships return next week when Bousquet is back from his holiday.
My family is taking advantage of the Atlantic Bubble and heading to PEI for a week of camping. See you when we’re back.
Also, remember that masks are mandatory in indoor public spaces as of today. Lay in a few so you don’t get caught without one. For now, the province is giving away free reusable cloth masks at libraries and provincial museums.
And re Tim’s comments in the WE section on what we are teaching young people, I have an honest question (that is not sarcasm or to provoke): do some of the young social justice warriors (SJW) fit in there too? For example, the young woman in the US who is not Latina who petitioned to get Trader Joe’s to remove the “Trader Jose’s” product labelling because she sees it as racist.
Reading the WE (more like ME) content, I thought of the “effective altruism” movement which is about putting your donation dollars where it will have the most impact (rather than making it all about you and your interests). For example, if you want to donate internationally, buying malaria-preventing mosquito nets for children in sub-Saharan Africa – the airfare cost for a “voluntourism” trip would buy a lot of nets at ~$5 each and actually save lives.
Calculations of 100% funding for pension plans is complete bullshit and everyone knows it. Listening to and accepting that bullshit adds to the lie that working people can’t have pensions. We can.
If you wonder why McNeil is worried about the deficit I suggest you read the latest annual report of the Nova Scotia Pension Plan ( employees of the town of Truro are also members). And take note that the members annual pension at age 65 includes CPP. The HRM pension plan is in better shape than the provincial plan
The Teachers pension plan is in a parlous and perilous position….’ The discount rate used for the TPP’s valuation as at December 31, 2019 was 5.70%, being a significant reduction from the 2018 discount rate of 6.05%. This reduction of the discount rate is not specific to the TPP. Rather, it is reflective of the TPP actuary’s forecast of a protracted lower interest rate environment and a prolonged slowdown of global economic activity. A lower discount rate means an increase in the actuarial calculation of pension obligations and makes it more costly to fund pension benefits. It is anticipated that most defined benefit plans in Canada will be booking declines in their discount rates this year. ”
And this “The Nova Scotia Teachers’ Pension Plan’s (Plan or TPP) funded ratio increased to 78.2 per cent from 75.3 per cent in 2018. A funded ratio of 100 per cent or more would mean that the Plan is
fully funded. ‘
The pandemic must have seemed an unexpected gift for McNeil and his neoliberal friends. Pour buckets of money into being a political hero in tackling the crisis and he has the perfect excuse to continue his 7 year long attack on public sector workers and their unions (and by extension, private sector workers). Make no mistake, this pandemic will not be paid for by the wealthy, by those who have their money in off-shore tax havens, or by those who benefit from wealth friendly, neoliberal tax policies. It will be paid for by working people, by poor people, by the marginalized, by the sick, and by the children – for generations to come if McNeil has his way.
Divide the population on the phony mask issue and other Covid isssues. Meanwhile WE and others loot the till. Already, one can see the breakdown of social cohesion encouraged by McNeil/Strang. Soon, non-maskers may be chased in the aisles of the Stuporstore and other places.
Strang apparently has never heard of depression, anxiety, stress, apprehension, fear or the concept of mental health. Just get on the podium and bang away creating panic and hysteria. The population must comply. Or to paraphrase, Shut the Blazes Up.
I cannot imagine anyone with children dealing with this. McNeil/Strang using tax dollars to create a world in which one must live and proceed in fear. The last thing I would ever do would be to send my child to a school under the control of these people.
So, the Halifax Examiner has been excluded from direct participation in cabinet scrums, but still feels the need to report them. Why, for example, would you bother to repeat Justice Minister Mark Furey’s self-serving suggestion that he always favoured a public inquiry into the RCMP’s handling of April’s mass shootings when just last week, he was defending a toothless, federal-provincial review. Here’s the relevant Furey quote from a news release he issued on July 23rd:
“The Government of Nova Scotia is committed to ensuring that…all Nova Scotians, get the answers they deserve. We have heard the calls for an independent and impartial review into why and how this happened, and for timely recommendations that will make our communities safer. This joint review will achieve these outcomes.”
At yesterday’s cabinet scrum, Furey was asked this softball question: “At any point did the Province of Nova Scotia tell the federal government we prefer an inquiry, we want an inquiry, that is our first option?” Furey’s answer? “Those were the original discussions I had with the federal minister.”
Does that ambiguous, and yes, self-serving response really justify your headline: “Justice minister now says a public inquiry was his first choice”?
Yes, it’s good PR for a politician whose 32-year career with the RCMP ended with his retirement as District Commander for Lunenburg County.
But the Examiner isn’t into PR — or is it?