1. Provincial budget

A white man with a dark suit sits in front of Nova Scotia flags.
Finance Minister Allan MacMaster speaks with reporters as he releases the provincial budget on March 23, 2023. Credit: Jennifer Henderson

Yesterday, Jennifer Henderson and I went over to the province’s media room at 8:30am, and were “locked up” (metaphorically, not physically) for the next five hours as we pored over embargoed budget documents, trying to discern reason and sense out of them before we could publish an article about them when the budget was tabled across the street at the legislature just after 1pm.

And so, Jennifer would find tidbits and email me proposed text about them, we were both on the phone with communications people, and we cobbled together a summary of the budget:

The province is bringing in a $14.4 billion budget for next year, with a forecast deficit of $278.9 million. 

Total spending by all government departments is up by 11.5%. 

Reflecting the Houston government’s pledge to “fix health care,” budget documents are labeled “More Healthcare, Faster.” And indeed, the largest department budget is for Health and Wellness, $4.85 billion. That’s an increase of 13.8% compared to last year.

The budget document expands “health care” expenditures to include capital expenditures (for example, for the new Halifax Infirmary) and expenses under other department budgets (for example, increased spending for nursing training). That calculation brings a total “health care budget” of $6.5 billion, which the government says is a $1.2 billion increase from two years ago, the last Liberal government budget.

Click here to read our co-authored article, “Houston government tables $14.4 billion budget, heavy on health care spending, not much for poor people.”

I’m glad to have Jennifer along on these reporting jaunts. For one, she’s experienced in all things Province House, knows the players and comms people far better than I do, and has the backstories I’m not so familiar with.

But more important still, she plays ying to my yang: she is concentrated on the details, which is of course a reporter’s job, while I’m left wondering ‘what the hell is this about, and why should anyone care?,’ which may or may not be an editor’s job, but that’s my frame of mind of late.

So, I wanted to build some context, including a perhaps rambling bit about the provincial debt and debt-to-GDP ratios, and then a philosophical bit about inequality:

In terms of how the economy is reflected in people’s lives, a better indicator is the Gini coefficient, which measures inequality in a society.

That’s because it doesn’t matter if the economy is growing at a fast pace if all the increased wealth goes to a few already wealthy people and not at all to people who are struggling.

Simply put, the Gini coefficient works on a scale of 0 to 1. A perfectly equal society, where everyone has the same share of wealth, is measured as 0. A perfectly unequal society, where one person has all the wealth and everyone else has nothing at all, is measured as 1.

The Halifax Examiner has been asking that the Gini coefficient be included in budget documents and planning scenarios. That way we could see if government policies are benefiting the bulk of the population or just a select few. So far that suggestion has not been taken up by government.

We did learn today, however, that in 2020 the after-tax Gini coefficient in Nova Scotia was 0.281, which finance staff characterized as reasonably good. There’s no indication of how that figure might change because of the new budget.

That led me to what I think is the most important thing to consider when looking at a government budget: programs that address poverty, which was mostly written by Jennifer:

The budget does not increase monthly income assistance cheques to the absolute poorest citizens. And those payments are not indexed for inflation.

Income assistance payments were last increased by the former Liberal government. 

Asked why his government has not increased income assistance payments for two years, even in the face of increasing inflation, MacMaster replied that “we’re providing targeted assistance and we’ve provided [that] in many forms throughout the past year. And there are other forms of assistance in this budget that are targeted to help people who are most in need.” 

But why not simply increase the dollar amounts of income assistance cheques?

“The federal finance minister and the governor of the Bank of Canada targeted supports to those who are most in need or an effective way to help people at a time that we’re experiencing inflation,” said MacMaster. “We know certain people are affected by it more so than others, and we want to target to support those people.”

The budget also does not include any money to building new public housing, albeit there is $21.6 million allocated for 1,000 new rental supplements.

“That’s pretty technical stuff,” Jennifer said of my debt and Gini coefficient ramblings, “you should switch those two parts around.” She was right, of course, so I did.

I’m revealing a bit of the sausage-making process mostly because I want to acknowledge Jennifer’s huge contribution, but also because the reporting yesterday still nags at me, and I’m trying to understand why.

After MacMaster spoke with us, all we reporters ran over to Province House to get reactions from the other parties and such, but I was content to let Jennifer lead with that. I looked on for a bit, but then left for the library, where I digested the latest COVID numbers.

This morning, we published Jennifer’s reaction piece: “Opposition, advocates say budget misses the mark on poverty, housing crisis“:

Opposition leaders said this budget does not improve access to health care for thousands of Nova Scotians and does little to help people on fixed incomes struggling to cope with the rising cost of living. 

“This government’s budget does nothing to help attach Nova Scotians to a family doctor,” said Liberal leader Zach Churchill. “It does nothing to make life more affordable for Nova Scotians or to address the housing crisis. It also freezes income assistance at a time when everything is getting more expensive. This budget misses all marks, while growing our provincial debt at a pace not seen since the 1980s.” 

With revenue from corporate income tax at an all-time high ($700 million), as well as a $250 million increase in HST revenue from goods and services that have seen prices rise with inflation, NDP leader Claudia Chender called this budget “a missed opportunity.” 

“When we talk to front-line health care workers, they say many of the people who are coming to hospital are there because of challenges related to poverty and housing,” Chender said. “Those are the social determinants of health. That’s what this budget had an unprecedented opportunity to address, and it missed.”

Is it inappropriate to bring my own reaction into this story? Maybe, but so be it. This entire experience left me dispirited.

Here’s the thing: I’m all for vigorous principled debate in the public arena. That’s what politics is all about, and dog knows I put my own strident views out there for people to argue about. There’s nothing wrong with this, and a lot right with it.

As I assess the various players at Province House — and this is not to pick on any of them, as who cares about my assessment? — I find some of them not very bright, but most are pretty intelligent, and some are both very intelligent and principled. However, there’s not a lot of deeply thoughtful political debate happening. In fact, a lot of it is just dumb partisan politics, both on the side of the government and the opposition.

For example, the expressed understanding of inflation and debt is not at all nuanced or thoughtful; they’re just valueless vessels to either explain away a budget or criticize it, with no underlying meaning.

It feels ritualistic: government putting forward budgets that don’t reflect much more beyond wanting to get reelected, and opposition opposing but merely for the purpose of opposing. Even the very intelligent and principled seem to be subsumed by the game.

For me, going to Province House can sometimes feel like going to a church I wasn’t raised in: the prayers and the rituals and the songs are entirely consistent and have deep meaning for the faithful, but it’s all very foreign and doesn’t make much sense to the outsider. Why are we kneeling now? What’s that smokey thing all about?

Probably I’m just overly cynical, and a bit worn down. But I fear the dumb, dumb, dumb politics south of the border are bleeding north. And that makes me worry for the future.

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2. Halifax Water and cybersecurity

Halifax auditor general Evangeline Colman-Sadd speaks to reporters at Halifax City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Photo: Zane Woodford

“Halifax’s auditor general is putting pressure on the municipal water utility to fix significant potential leaks in its cybersecurity,” reports Zane Woodford:

Evangeline Colman-Sadd and audit manager Leanne Burnett presented their Halifax Water SCADA System Audit to council’s Audit and Finance Committee on Thursday.

SCADA stands for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. In the context of a water utility, it refers to the system used to monitor and control the water supply.

“There have been recent reports of attacks on water SCADA systems in other jurisdictions,” the auditors wrote in their report, “from both internal and external threats.”

This part is particularly interesting:

“We sent a sophisticated phishing email to 55 Halifax Water employees,” Burnett, the audit manager, told the committee.

“The IT group allowed our phishing email to pass through their security controls for the audit. The purpose of the email was not to test the security controls but to test staff awareness. So of the 55 employees who received the email, 45 employees submitted their credentials.”

That’s 82% who not only clicked the dodgy link, but actually submitted their information afterward. Another three employees (5%) clicked the link but didn’t provide their credentials.

I wonder how many people in general are capable of falling for phishing attempts. Perhaps most famously, the hack of the Democratic Party computers started with a phishing attack on John Podesta, but the list of corporate and organizational hacks that started with phishing emails is long. Still, the attacks continue successfully.

As a rule, you should never click on an emailed link that you aren’t completely certain is from a trusted source, and you shouldn’t put anything on a computer that you couldn’t defend publicly. But the attacks are getting very, very sophisticated, and a couple of times I’ve had to stop myself from falling for them, and I’m relatively conscious of these things.

Click here to read “AG finds weak cybersecurity at Halifax Water, putting water quality and supply systems at risk.”

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3. Debra Lucas and Iris Drummond

A black woman and a white woman smile for the camera.
Debra Lucas and Iris Drummond of the Lucasville Community Association on Monday, March 6, 2023. Credit: Zane Woodford

Suzanne Rent continues her series of profiles of women over 50 who, in their own often quiet ways, make significant contributions to our society outside of the corporate world. Today, she profiles Debra Lucas and Iris Drummond, stalwarts in the community of Lucasville:

Lucas, who will be 67 in April, has lived most of her life in Lucasville. She’s the descendant of the original Black settlers, including her great, great, great grandfather James Lucas, who arrived in Nova Scotia as refugees from the US after the War of 1812.

Drummond, meanwhile, has lived in Lucasville for 45 years. Originally from PEI, she moved to Lucasville when she married Ernest Drummond, whose Lucasville ancestors include Moses Oliver and James Lucas.

Together, Lucas and Drummond have been leading numerous volunteer efforts in Lucasville to support residents and get the historic community on the map.

And one of those first efforts did, in fact, start with maps.

For years, Drummond, Lucas, and other residents led the fight to redraw the boundaries and get back the land. Not everyone was pleased with the battle, though. 

“Some families in Waterstone didn’t want to be associated [with Lucasville] because they thought it would devalue their properties,” Lucas said.

Area councillors Lisa Blackburn and Steve Craig got messages written in tones they said “surprised” them.

“I saw such a depth of racism and a lot of things going on pertaining to racism,” Drummond said. “Even at some times I was at the end of it because I married a Black man.”

Finally, in December 2017, Lucasville got its boundaries back with a unanimous vote by Halifax regional council. Hundreds of addresses were changed from Hammonds Plains to Lucasville. 

And today, there are two signs in Lucasville, one at each end along the Lucasville Road. The signs have a tagline at the bottom that says, “A Black Heritage Community Est. 1827.”

Click here to read “Debra Lucas and Iris Drummond: leading the way in historic Black community of Lucasville.”

I really enjoy these profiles. If you know of older women who Rent should profile, drop her an email at suzanne “at” halifaxexaminer “dot” ca.

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Photo by Georg Eiermann on Unsplash

Nova Scotia is reporting 12 new deaths from COVID recorded in the most recent reporting period, March 14-20.

None of the deaths occurred in the reporting period — i.e., they all happened before March 14. That doesn’t mean there weren’t deaths in the reporting period — there probably were, but they won’t show up until future reports.

Through the entire pandemic, 819 Nova Scotians have died from COVID, 334 of whom have died since July 1, 2022 — recently, there has been about a Northwood level of death every month.

We don’t yet have the ages or vaccinated status of the most recent dozen COVID deaths, but in general 90%+ of the deceased have been people 70 years old and older, and completely unvaccinated people are dying at about twice the rate of fully vaccinated people.

Also in the March 14-20 reporting period, 20 people were hospitalized because of COVID.

Nova Scotia Health reports the current COVID hospitalization status as of yesterday (not including the IWK):
• in hospital for COVID: 11 (two of whom are in the ICU)
• in hospital for something else but have COVID: 69
• in hospital who contracted COVID after admission: 43

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5. Mental health in rural areas

A young woman with long medium brown hair wearing a black shirt and sage green button-up shirt over it stands against a neutral wall and smiles at the camera.
Acadia University fourth year student Robin Lauzon’s thesis Understanding Nova Scotia’s New Virtual Care Policies: Mental Health Policy and Rural Nova Scotians included interviews with 16 rural mental health care practitioners from across the province. Credit: Contributed

“Robin Lauzon was just 10 years old when she was hospitalized with an eating disorder,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

Shortly before Lauzon’s hospitalization for a deadly mental illness, her male family physician told her parents that her eating disorder was a common “phase” among young girls. 

Living in rural Nova Scotia, Lauzon, now 22, said it was challenging for her and her family to access services and care.

“The closest location that we could be sent to was Halifax, and it was difficult not only to get a diagnosis, but also to be admitted,” she said in an interview. “Then once I was admitted, my family had to travel back and forth from Halifax after I left the hospital.”

Even though 12 years have passed, that formative experience guides Lauzon’s current studies and her advocacy for better mental health care services for rural Nova Scotians. 

Now a fourth year politics student at Acadia University, she’s in recovery and doing well. Lauzon’s preparing for next month’s presentation of her honours thesis, titled Understanding Nova Scotia’s New Virtual Care Policies: Mental Health Policy and Rural Nova Scotians. She expressed gratitude to her supervisor, Dr. Rachel Brickner.

“Something that I’ve focused on specifically is the lack of rural services and the barriers that rural people face accessing mental health care,” she said. 

“Whether that be a lack of specialized services when we’re talking about virtual care, a lack of internet, financial issues, stigma within the community. Those are all contributors that create those rural disparities in health care.”

Click here to read “Acadia student advocating for improved access to mental health care for rural Nova Scotians.”

Lauzon’s has written an op-ed about these issues; you can read it here.

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6. 89-year-old driver charged for hitting pedestrian

“Halifax Regional Police have charged the driver in a vehicle pedestrian collision that occurred Tuesday afternoon in Halifax,” reads a police press release:

On March 21 at approximately 12:30 p.m., police responded to a vehicle pedestrian collision in the 2300 block of Gottingen Street. The driver of a vehicle was heading southbound on Gottingen Street and struck a pedestrian who was crossing in a marked crosswalk.  

The 29-year-old pedestrian was taken to the hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries. The driver of the vehicle, an 89-year-old man, was issued a summary offence ticket for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

Taking the car keys away from an elderly family member is difficult, as it can mean making their world less expansive. (I’ve been in this situation myself.) That’s yet another reason to invest in transit: so old people can get around without having to drive.

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7. Lobsters and climate change

A hand holding a lobster, which has a bunch of wires attached to it.
Heart monitors were used on the 240 lobsters tested in the study. Credit: Centre for Marine Applied Research

CBC reporter Paul Withers has one of the coolest jobs in journalism: he goes away for a while, researching, and pops in from time to time with some interesting bit related to the oceans.

Today he reports on climate change and lobsters:

New research from Atlantic Canada indicates lobster may be able to cope with warming ocean temperatures.

“In warming oceans, we’re going to see sea surface temperatures and sea bottom temperatures increase over time due to the effects of climate change,” [research scientist Ryan Horricks] said. “So to me, this was a really encouraging study and an encouraging result because we found that lobster can in fact acclimate or change their thermal maximum to these warmer temperatures.”

Lobsters acclimated to 5 C had a maximum tolerance for water at 25.7 C, while lobster in 15 C had a thermal maximum of 29.6 C.

Horricks is quick to say the results do not mean lobster will be immune to the effects of climate change. Among the potential impacts: physiological stress and disease because of higher temperatures, northward expansion of warm-water predators, and lobster migration away from warmer water.

Still, Horricks believes the rate of temperature increases in the ocean could be slow enough to give the crustaceans time to adjust.

Colour me skeptical, but I didn’t stick a bunch of wires into a lobster, so what do I know?

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8. Cabot’s fleet

Cabot Link’s application to the UARB to provide transportation for its guests lists 10 vehicles.

A series of filings at the Utility of Review Board raise some interest.

First, on March 3, Cabot Links at Inverness applied to the UARB to operate a fleet of 10 11-seat Mercedes Sprinters to transport guests to and from the Halifax, Port Hawkesbury, and Sydney airports to and from Cabot Links, but also “to local restaurants/local attractions.” Notably, the oldest of the vehicles was manufactured in 2012, and the rest date from the years since, with the newest, a 2023 model, about to be delivered.

Cabot was first licensed to operate its restaurant in 2011. If the company has had any approved application for transporting guests before this year, I can’t find it with a search of UARB records.

Then, on March 15, Robert Jurcina of Blackwood Tours emailed the UARB to object to Cabot’s application. “I think it’s a little over the edge to be looking to have so many vehicles licensed for one company. Maybe Cabot should allow other companies to have a piece of the pie. I would like to see them restricted to picking up at Port Hawkesbury and leave Sydney Airport to the ones that operate in the Cape Breton municipality,” wrote Jurcina.

Then Jurcina added:

They have been running tours in the gray area around Cape Breton over the years as well.

As I read that, Jurcina was implying that Cabot was operating “for years” tours around Cape Breton sites for visitors to Cabot without UARB approval. That seems like an allegation someone should’ve looked into.

But then, on March 23, Cabot lawyer Heather Crawford emailed Jurcina to tell him that Cabot was naming Blackwood the “preferred supplier” for transporting Cabot guests to and from the Sydney airport “as well as for scenic tours provided that Blackwood’s rates are market rates and vehicles are clean and appropriate for Cabot’s guests.”

“We appreciate all that you do in making Cape Breton a spectacular vacation destination for people around the world,” added Crawford.

All’s well that ends well, I suppose.

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No meetings

On campus


Access to Essential Medicines: More Than Just a Human Right (Friday, 12pm, Room 104, Weldon Law Building, and online) — Nav Persaud, from the University of Toronto, will talk

Voice Lecture (Friday, 1pm, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — Glen Nowell will talk; masks mandatory, more info here

Dreamers and Thieves Devised Theatre Masterclass (Friday, 1pm, Studio 2, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — with Alex McLean; masks mandatory, more info here

From noble dream to nightmare: public opinion and economics in the tragedy of Canada’s Prices and Incomes Commission, 1968-72 (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building and online) —Shirley Tillotson will talk

Research in Oral Health Student Presentations Showcase (Friday, 5pm, Dentistry Building) — Hear third-year dentistry and second-year dental students talk about their Research in Oral Health projects and view their posters and presentations, from literature reviews to original research.

In the harbour

08:00: MOL Experience, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Caucedo, Dominican Republic
10:00: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Quebec City
13:00: Bess, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
15:00: Baie St.Paul, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
15:30: Grande Torino, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Valencia, Spain
15:30: AS Felicia, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Kingston, Jamaica
17:00: MSC Manzanillo, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Montreal
18:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s

Cape Breton
22:30: Blue Moon, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for sea


Some spring, eh?

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

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  1. Re. Covid deaths. In 2021, according to the data from the government of Nova Scotia there were 10,153 deaths (or 191 Northwoods); of those, 2,461 (46 Northwoods) were due to cancer; 2,113 (39 Northwoods) were due to diseases of circulation; 1,803 (34 Northwoods) were due to unknown causes; 739 (13 Northwoods) were due to mental disorders; 643 (12 Northwoods) were due to external causes; 612 (11 Northwoods) were due to respiratory diseases; etc.

  2. Tim, I first spent time sitting in the Legislature in June of 2001. Your description of today’s Legislature fits the 2001 version perfectly well.

  3. Two things strike me as total bullshit about the provincial budget. First, a Gini of 0.281 where 0 is absolute equality can only have been calculated by a die-hard, neoliberal capitalist. More like 0.821 I would guess. We have about 1 in 4 children (and their families) living in poverty and most of those families have working adults in them. Second, in a $14B budget how can $700M in corporate taxes be anything but an indication of a failed, oppressive economy? The province gives out more than that in grants, loans, and tax breaks every year to the corporate sector which moves most of the profit out of the province. The Conservative focus on health care is a distraction. It won’t stop the deterioration and it won’t stop the privatization of health care, but it will serve for Conservatives to argue, “if you want us to give money to poor people (or education, or etc.) would you have us take it from health care?”. Bullshit – there is enough for all the essentials if the wealth and resources of our piece of the planet were distributed democratically and equitably.

  4. Yes. Our political system, similar to professional sports, like hockey, functions as a mere side show to distract us from reality. That is why climate change, poverty and war always have the upper hand. Proportional representation would improve political accountability and policy outcomes. But would it surprise you to know that the major Canadian, American and UK parties do not want PR because their parties would lose power in the process? It is not about democracy and accountability it’s a game where the players use their positions to secure a comfortable future for their friends and families. Politicians of all colors leave or retire only to join corporate boards, Canadian Banks, etc., so they can continue to screw us all over. On a more positive note, 2 million French citizens are on the streets today participating in direct democracy.

    1. Name one politician on the board of a Canadian bank. Very few politicians are invited to join the board of a TSE listed business.

        1. Morneau was not a politician when he was appointed to the board. His business experience is primarily in the field of pensions and funding of pensions, and he built Morneau Shepell into a latge consulting company. He has extensive business experience and serving in a Justin Trudeau government was not a good fit for his experience and education.