It’s my first subscription drive month here at the Halifax Examiner. Through the magic of double vaccinations and Iris, we were able to hold a staff party this year. But restrictions will prevent us from hosting a party for subscribers and writers alike, something I understand has become a tradition here at the Examiner; a tradition that usually consists of live music and dancing. While I’m disappointed I won’t be able to meet some of the Examiner’s faithful readers, I’m relieved you’ll be spared from seeing me try to dance. You’re not missing out on much, believe me.
However, if you’re not an Examiner subscriber, you are missing out on something. In my year writing Morning Files here, I’ve had the pleasure of being a small part of a publication that punches well above its weight, with reporters who consistently go deeper than the 24-hour news cycle to deliver comprehensive stories on the issues that matter in this province.
If you’re already a subscriber, thank you for supporting this coverage. If not, you can subscribe here to help fund the work we do at the Examiner. Work like covering the real environmental impacts of Northern Pulp, gold mining, deforestation, and fisheries in Nova Scotia, as well as stories from city hall, province house, the pandemic, and Portapique, the housing crisis, homelessness, and so much more.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s reporting worth supporting.
1. How much does it cost to live in this province anyway?
“Affordability” and “cost of living” are pretty big topics of discussion these days. As minimum wage remains low and housing/rental costs go up, it begs the question: what is a living wage in communities across Nova Scotia these days, and how much does it cost to live here?
This morning, Suzanne Rent brings us a possible answer in her coverage of a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA-NS) released this morning:
In the Halifax region, the new living wage is $22.05/hr. That’s up from $21.80/hr. Meanwhile across the province, living wages are $21.30 for the Annapolis valley, $18.45 in Cape Breton, $19.20 in the Northern region, and $21.03 in the Southern region.
The report notes that the three most costly items in all five of the regions are shelter, food, and child care, which when combined make up 60% of budgets in each region. The report noted, however, that shelter costs in Halifax do not reflect the rentals currently available on the market because the data for the report is from October 2020.
The introduction of the report notes that low wages in many sectors in Nova Scotia, including food service and accommodations, means, “workers are left living to work instead of working to live.”
Minimum wage in Nova Scotia, I’ll remind you, is currently $12.95/hour. Maybe you’ve been asking why so many people are being lazy, choosing to stay home, and collect government money while more and more low-wage jobs remain vacant. Why don’t they buck up and work? After reading Rent’s breakdown of the CCPA-NS report on living wages, you might ask this instead: why bother?
2. COVID update: 11 new cases
Tim Bousquet’s daily COVID report from Tuesday is just the way we like it: brief. No news does tend to be good news when it comes to the pandemic is all I’m saying. No knock against the boss’s coverage here.
Now that my ass is covered…
The province announced 11 new cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia yesterday:
- 5 in the Central Zone
- 4 in the Eastern Zone
- 2 in the Northern Zone
That brings the total known active caseload in the province to 161. Eight are hospitalized with the virus, but none are in intensive care.
There were a few new potential COVID exposure advisories issued last night. You can find them on Bousquet’s updated advisory map at the bottom of his full COVID report from Tuesday. The full report also has info on testing, vaccinations, and case demographics.
The Examiner is providing all COVID-related coverage free to the public for the duration of the pandemic. If you’d like to support this work, the best way to do so is by subscribing to the Examiner. Did I mention we’re in the middle of a subscription drive? Yes? OK, I’ll move on.
From our subscribers
Jonathan Torrens. Twitter @TorrensJonathan
The Halifax Examiner has become my first stop for news and analysis. What makes the quality of work that much more impressive is the ratio of team size to output. It’s world-class journalism.
I subscribe because I love the Morning File, the Black News File, and the newer Weekend File. Each and every morning I learn something I didn’t know before. I like how much in-depth information I can access by being a subscriber. As we continue to deal with COVID, I like Tim’s weekday reports — they have so much more information that the others I can access, so I turn to Tim first. I like the investigative pieces that have been presented; my current focus is Priced Out. I like being able to add my comments when I want and not be called nasty names just because I ask questions or present a different point of view. I love that The Halifax Examiner is one of the few remaining independent news sources in the world! Subscribe, if you can, so that this great news resource can continue all its great work.
3. Province House update
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
Premier Tim Houston says the province of Nova Scotia has made a formal request to the federal government for $2 million to build new power lines to carry renewable hydroelectricity from Quebec into New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
New Brunswick has requested $3 billion to cover construction costs in that province.
The so-called “Atlantic Loop” would move huge amounts of renewable energy between Hydro Quebec and the Maritimes, making it possible for Nova Scotia Power to close coal-fired generating stations by 2030, 10 years earlier than scheduled under an agreement signed between Ottawa and province of Nova Scotia.
Yesterday, the Halifax Examiner asked Houston for an update on this crucial regional transmission project that may offer the best chance for Nova Scotia to meet hard caps on carbon emissions set down in the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act introduced by the Progressive Conservatives.
“It’s a very active file on my desk, I can tell you that,” Houston said. “I have spoken to Quebec Premier Legault and I continue to speak with the federal government. It has the potential to be a very good project for Nova Scotians.”
Houston said the $5 billion financing request to Ottawa “is in context” of the $5.2 billion the Trudeau government committed to the government of Newfoundland and Labrador last July. That amount is to prevent power rates from doubling as a result of major delays and cost overruns on the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. Once fully online, imports from Muskrat Falls are supposed to increase the percentage of electricity generated by renewables in Nova Scotia to between 40% and 50%.
A year ago, auditors hired by the Utility and Review Board of Nova Scotia, urged the parent company of Nova Scotia Power (Emera) to immediately begin negotiations with Hydro Quebec to see if more renewable power could be imported to reduce dependence on coal and lower Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Currently, only 30% of electricity in this province is generated from renewable fuels such as water, wind, and solar.
“If we want to green the grid, there are investments required,” repeated Houston. “Nova Scotians have already invested something in the order of $5.5 billion in greening our grid. That’s how we got to the place we are now, through our power rates…Nova Scotians will continue to do more but we need the federal government to support us.”
Emera CEO Scott Balfour told investment analysts back in November 2020 the only way Nova Scotia Power could wean itself off coal by 2030 is if the federal government stepped up to finance new regional transmission capacity between Quebec and the Maritimes.
“Can we find a path that would allow us to retire those coal plants earlier and ideally by 2030, which would align with the federal government’s objectives around coal generation in the country broadly?” Balfour said in a conference call.
“If we can make this all come together, (it) would be leading to a very ambitious project that ideally would be in service in 2030 or thereabout.”
There has been both a federal and a Nova Scotia election since then. Hydro Quebec has signed a contract to deliver massive amounts of renewable energy to the state of New York. There was a mention of the Atlantic Loop in Ottawa’s Speech From the Throne last month but without financing, there is no project.
PCs dig in their heels
Environment and Climate Change Minister Tim Halman says he will not bow to requests and recommendations from dozens of environmental groups and the Opposition parties who want the legislation to include steeper carbon reduction targets and establish “milestones” for reductions every five or 10 years.
“We support the spirit of the law but we will be putting forward amendments,” said Liberal leader Iain Rankin. “The Lahey Report should be going forward faster than 2023 and the vast majority of their (GHG) targets go out well beyond the election cycle to 2030. So they could conceivably pass this bill and not really take any meaningful action within their mandate.”
The PCs are so far refusing to make amendments to their climate change legislation.
And they don’t plan to make adjustments to the rent cap legislation despite pleas from landlords who say capping rents for two years at 2% a year is so far below inflation it will force them to sell, further reducing the already inadequate supply of housing. Houston said while he is sympathetic to the plight of small business people who own properties, he is not prepared to make any changes at this time.
A bill introduced by the NDP to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by April next year will not be supported by the PC government. A similar bill was introduced in Ontario yesterday.
About 26,000 Nova Scotians go to food banks each month, according to the most recent statistics. Houston agreed that many Nova Scotians are “struggling” to live on minimum wage but he believes there is “significant risk that a $15 minimum wage could be the tipping point that puts companies out of business and more people out of work.” Houston said the government prefers to provide people on low incomes with adequate supports and training programs.
Houston was asked for his position on a British Columbia Supreme Court decision last week that essentially allows Northern Pulp to use money loaned by Nova Scotia taxpayers to fund its proposed lawsuit against the province.
“I don’t agree with this position,” replied Houston, acknowledging the mill is still a divisive issue in the Pictou County riding he represents. “But we have to respect the court’s ruling. It certainly isn’t the position I had and it was not what I expected.”
Houston said he is very concerned about a report from the Superintendent of Pensions that suggests the company appears to not be doing its due diligence when it comes to meeting those obligations to former employees.
Anti-Racism bill coming
The PC government has extended an invitation to members of other political parties to participate in an all-party committee to help draft an Anti-Racism bill the government is promising to introduce next spring. Both the Liberal and NDP caucuses have accepted the offer.
The decision led to the return to the legislature of Liberal MLA Ali Duale, an African-Nova Scotian representing Halifax Armdale. Duale had been boycotting proceedings until the Houston government committed to supporting an Anti-Racism bill introduced by his Liberal MLA colleague, Angela Simmonds. Duale agreed to return after receiving a letter written by Houston proposing a government bill with input from all three political parties.
Meanwhile, outside Province House, where MLAs where giving speeches and asking questions inside, a crowd of about 100 people gathered to protest. Many were carrying signs that said “NO VAX PASS” declaring their opposition to the government’s decision to require proof of double vaccination in order to be served in restaurants or admitted to concerts and sporting events.
The rally began several blocks away in the park in front of the Westin Hotel and was described as an “anti-vax pass” protest by some taking part. About 10 uniformed police kept an eye on the peaceful demonstration. One man wearing a red ball cap and holding a bullhorn looked strikingly reminiscent of a recent American president.
This session of the Nova Scotia legislature appears likely to end by Friday of this week, once the PC majority government passes the bills it has introduced. The House of Assembly hours have been extended to include 11-hour days since late last week and all this week.
4. Panel discussion: the legacy of slavery and working toward reparations
On Monday, in preparation for the 2023 Universities Studying Slavery Conference, which will be hosted by King’s College in Halifax, three members of the academics community met virtually for an online panel to discuss the legacy of slavery and the vision for reparations from a Nova Scotian and more broadly Canadian perspective.
I think the lasting legacy of slavery is something a lot of Nova Scotians, and Canadians in general, don’t think about much. At least those who aren’t of African descent. We live right above the United States and it’s easy to forget that Canada and the commonwealth played their own role in the slave trade for generations.
One of the panelists at the virtual event — hosted by Dalhousie, University of King’s College, and the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia — was Cikiah Thomas, the chairperson of the international working committee of the Global African Congress. He says it better than I do. From Matthew Byard’s report:
Thomas noted that Canada “was a major slaveholding country and contributed significantly to the rape of Africa and the degradation and dehumanization of Africans.” He said this is widely unknown both outside and within Canada itself.
“Since the 1600s Africans have lived in every region of the country,” he said. “Today, African Canadians reside mainly in Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and tend to favour the urban centre. In these centres, African Canadians are at the bottom of the economic and social ladder, irrespective of the length of time over which they have resided in various areas.”
You can learn more about how the legacy of slavery is still impacting African Nova Scotians today, and what reparations for that legacy could look like, by reading Byard’s full report on the panel here.
Views: strange times, indeed
These are strange times.
No doubt you’ve heard that ad nauseam since March of last year. But it’s not such a new idea, that we’re living in strange times. That concept didn’t come into being with COVID-19.
Take this speech from the Goldene Kamera Awards ceremony in Berlin in March of 2019:
We live in a strange world. Where all the united science tells us that we are about 11 years away from setting off an irreversible chain reaction way beyond human control that will probably be the end of our civilization as we know it…Where everyone can choose their own reality and buy their own truth. Where our survival is depending on a small, rapidly disappearing carbon budget. And hardly anyone even knows it exists.
If you haven’t guessed it by now, that’s Greta Thunberg, using a slight variation on the phrase that’s come to define the pandemic. Here, using it to describe both the global and individual reaction to the increasing threat of the climate crisis.
As long as I’ve been alive, the concept of global warming has been common knowledge. When I was younger, it was more of a topic for debate. Some called it a hoax, or a small threat — nothing to worry about. And most of those who sided with the science still considered it a distant problem, one with plenty of time to be solved. Until then, we could just keep living our lives.
As the years went on, it became more accepted as fact that we as humans were contributing directly to the warming of the planet, and that that warming was threatening the future of our existence. Eventually, a flip switched, and the majority of Western society accepted that we had to limit our carbon usage, and we had to do it much faster than we’d initially thought.
But still, for the most part, we’ve just continued living our lives as we always have. Facing an existential threat to human life, so many of us still disconnect our beliefs from our actions.
Here’s Thunberg’s speech continued:
We live in a strange world. Where we think we can buy or build our way out of a crisis that has been created by buying and building things. Where a football game or a film gala gets more media attention than the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced. Where celebrities, film and pop-stars who have stood up against all injustices will not stand up for our environment and for climate justice because that would inflict on their right to fly around the world visiting their favorite restaurants, beaches and yoga retreats.
There she criticizes the hypocrisy of the celebrities at the award show. This week, world leaders meeting in Glasgow for yet another climate talk were similarly criticized. Almost all of them flew to the event, and many took private jets. Air travel, of course, is a major contributor to GHG emissions.
This, at a conference intended to foster a way to minimize our emissions.
Our inability to square the way we have to live with the way we want to live has truly made for some strange times.
Times in which a senior citizen can get into a childish, vitriolic spat with a teenager on social media. Times when a large energy company can mock that same underage girl with a demeaning, sexually explicit drawing — also posted to their social media. The fate of the planet might be at stake, but high school never ends.
The severity of the changes we have to make, along with the amount of work and sacrifice that would go into actually making them, has led some to say we might as well make as much money off the old way of doing things while we’ve got the resources, then pick up the pieces after.
And the convenience that fossil fuels have brought to modern life led me to borrow a gas-fueled car to drive to Halifax this week just to see some friends. I’ve been looking at buying a car this month, and that one will almost certainly be gas-powered, too. Why even bother buying an expensive electric car in Nova Scotia right now anyway? A substantial portion of the charge will be powered by coal anyway.
This week I also ate beef out of a takeout box with wooden cutlery (that was almost surely wrapped in plastic before it got to me).
Last month I flew to Toronto to see my sister when we’ve been talking online through the whole pandemic. Most people I know have been talking recently about where they want to fly for vacation now that travel is reopening. I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t cut out flying altogether unless it’s absolutely necessary. Maybe flights for pleasure trips will be a thing of the past for me soon. They probably should be. But it’s hard to fathom, isn’t it? Strange.
I know our individual actions are supposed to be a drop in the bucket compared to the emissions put out by corporations, but still. Avoiding responsibility because others are doing the same isn’t getting us far.
In Glasgow this week world leaders promised to end deforestation by 2030. That’s nine years away. Here in Nova Scotia, we’ve had three years to implement the recommendations of the Lahey Report, but so far still no dice.
And the current provincial government is going ahead with its proposed Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act as is, despite a public hearing Monday in which 33 people signed up to speak, with the same theme repeated: the bill is better than any environmental legislation that’s come before it, but it’s still not good enough.
Here’s what Tim Bousquet and Jennifer Henderson highlighted in their report from Province House:
The greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals need to be strengthened, and interim goals should be set; offshore oil and gas exploration should be ended, and existing operations should be phased out; biomass should not be counted towards the province’s renewable energy targets.
In her most recent novel, published last month, the Irish writer Sally Rooney writes what I think a lot of younger people are feeling right now:
Aren’t we unfortunate babies to be born when the world ended?
I don’t want to feel this way. And I’m still hopeful — the alternative mindset is pretty, well, untenable to me. But it’s hard not to be disheartened sometimes. Another meeting. Another goal. Another target set. The average person being an environmentalist in their head — including me — but not necessarily in their heart or in their day-to-day life.
There’s been so much in the news about climate action this week, I just felt I needed to get these thoughts out to stay sane.
I’ll end as hopefully as I can. With the end of Thunberg’s speech:
We live in a strange world.
But it’s the world that my generation has been handed. It’s the only world we’ve got.
We are now standing at a crossroads in history.
We are failing but we have not yet failed.
We can still fix this.
It’s up to us.
I wish it were up to someone else, but here we are. Don’t forget to start living a little greener today. Or to write your MLA.
Tampered Halloween candy: the urban legend continues
This one was noticed by Philip Moscovitch, not me, but it’s too good not to share.
Every year around this time, you hear the same old worries and concerns about kids going out trick-or-treating and coming home with “tampered” Halloween candy. Razor blades in apples is probably the most famous. As far as I can tell, the urban legend was spread way back in the day by some marketing executive who wanted to encourage parents to buy pre-packaged candies from the store rather than making their own to hand out. But I have no way of backing that up.
Despite this mostly being an urban legend, stories of suspicious candy do emerge every year on November 1. This year we get one from Kentville, just two towns over from my home. Pretty unsettling stuff. But mostly amusing. Click here to read the Facebook post from the Kentville Police Service.
(I’ll include my little disclaimer here that actually tampering with children’s candy is obviously a deplorable and disturbing thing to do.)
But come on. Look at this post. There’s a lot to unpack in this Smarties box.
First, that kid covered some ground. Kentville’s a small town, but still. Eight streets — some of them running up hills — that’s a lot of walking for child-sized legs. Second, the RCMP is actually sending this to the lab. Hopefully, Health Canada doesn’t have anything else on its plate right now.
Then there’s the candy itself.
Why are they all brown? A lot of people in the comments think some kid just sucked on regular Smarties, then wrapped them in plastic, put them back, and taped the box to sneak some candy from their parents. Other commenters don’t think they’re Smarties at all; they look a little too big to fit in the box in the photo.
Actually, the comments in general are a great read. I don’t usually condone diving down rabbit holes, but these are worth a perusal. Although it’s still unclear whether this was actually harmful candy that was intentionally tampered with, a lot of Facebook users are calling for an end to trick-or-treating altogether. The best comment, as Suzanne Rent pointed out says, [Halloween] is “a pegan celebration anyway stop celebrating the devil.”
Once again, I don’t think child safety is a laughing matter, but I think parts of this RCMP post are pretty humorous.
Anyway, like I said, every Halloween fears over tampered candy come up again. And this post reminded me of a story my classmates worked on during my school days.
Back in my time at King’s College, we did a Halloween-themed King’s Signal Podcast for CKDU for November 1, which I hosted alongside my classmate Kate Woods. For some reason that I can no longer ascertain, nearly a quarter of the 34-minute show was dedicated to a segment debunking concerns over tampered candy. Cannabis edibles were about to be legalized in Nova Scotia and there was some new anxiety that people would be sneaking weed candy into kids’ bags. (It starts at 2:48 and ends at about the 11:05 mark if you’d like to listen). My classmates gathered tape from conversations with multiple unconcerned parents, an RCMP corporal who said edibles were barely on their radar that Halloween, and a folklore professor who spoke about the urban or “contemporary” myth surrounding tampered candy at Halloween.
The professor, Ian Brody at Cape Breton University, explained how these myths get started and why they’re almost always unfounded:
They speak to a concern or a fear that is immediate and imminent… For the most part they’re an effort at trying to communicate something disturbing or frightening or immediate from the teller to the listener.
So “stranger danger” in general is one of the overarching themes of contemporary legends. That people are crazy, that people are out to get you, that people are psychotic, that people are fundamentally amoral if not evil, and that one of the greatest potential victims are children… So Halloween legends naturally fit into this…because it’s a holiday or observance mostly focused around children. And it’s a strange time when we send our children out into the wild beyond and we get them to approach strangers and ask for candy from them, which is basically the exact opposite of what we do the other 364 days of the year.
As my colleagues who study these legends in greater detail always underline, the first thing to remember is no one gives drugs away for free… these are expensive commodities and no one is distributing them.
It was a simple enough story.
Then, just before we walked into the booth to do the show, the RCMP put out a news release saying edible cannabis candies had been found in a young trick-or-treater’s bag. We decided to stick to the script and tack on a mention of the news release at the very end of the bafflingly-long segment debunking the anxiety around drugs in children’s candy.
Our eight-minute argument scoffing at anxiety over edibles being given out to kids now had a major hole in it.
We decided to go ahead with the piece, adding this awkward last-minute addendum to the end of it:
“As it turns out, a trick-or-treater actually did receive cannabis edibles last night. A parent in Coldbrook, Nova Scotia called the RCMP to report they’d found a package of cannabis jujubes. The edibles were clearly labelled to show their THC content.”
First Coldbrook, now Kentville. Now only New Minas stands between my home in Wolfville and the tampered candy “crisis.” I might have to stop trick-or-treating if it gets any more dangerous.
In all seriousness, check your kids’ candy, but don’t take away the sweetest holiday known to childhood. Don’t let the tamperers win.
Special Events Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 9am, City Hall) — agenda here
Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall and livestreamed) — agenda here
Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm) — livestreamed
Point Pleasant Park Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm) — livestreamed
Harbour East-Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm, City Hall) — livestreamed
Redox Control of ER-Mitochondria Tethering and Ca2+Flux (Wednesday, 4pm) — Thomas Simmen from the University of Alberta will talk.
An evening with Francesca Ekwuyasi (Wednesday, 7pm) — online event with the author of Butter Honey Pig Bread. Info and registration here.
Mechano-sensors in the heart: interplay between mechanics and electrics (Thursday, 11am, Room 3H1, Tupper Building, and online) — Remi Peyronnet from the University of Freiburg will talk.
Transparency, Power and Influence in the Pharmaceutical Industry (Thursday, 12pm) — interdisciplinary panel discussion via Zoom:
Transparency in the realm of pharmaceuticals is a deeply contested policy issue. Doctors, patients, and their allies have fought for decades to make the evidence behind many prescription drugs publicly available.
While the level of transparency has improved significantly in recent years, a number of challenges remain. It’s not clear, for example, whether the evidence now on offer is actually being used to make better decisions about which drugs to prescribe. Worse, there are growing concerns that the added transparency is giving cover to parallel efforts to lower regulatory standards for drug approval.
Drawing upon years of research and advocacy to increase transparency in pharmaceutical research and regulation—including insights reflected in the panelists’ 2021 book, Transparency, Power and Influence in the Pharmaceutical Industry—this interdisciplinary panel discussion will interrogate the successes and failures of transparency, including in the context of COVID-19.
Migration and Membership During Pandemic Times (Wednesday, 1pm) — Anna Triandafyllidou from Ryerson University will talk via Zoom.
In the harbour
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 42 from St. John’s
11:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves to Pier 36
13:00: MSC Leigh, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Montreal
15:00: Lady Malou, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
15:30: CMA CGM Leo, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
16:00: X-press Irazu, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Mariel, Cuba
19:00: Horizon Enabler, offshore supply ship, arrives at Dartmouth Cove from Mulgrave
10:00: Algoma Victory, bulker, arrives at Coal Dock (Point Tupper) from Baltimore
14:00: Thunder Bay, bulker, sails from Coal Dock (Point Tupper) for sea
18:00: Kashima Maru, bulker, sails from Port Hawkesbury outer anchorage for sea
18:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from Port Hawkesbury outer anchorage for sea
20:00: Algoma Victory sails for sea
- Has anyone else been following Gabrielle Drolet’s Bachelorette recaps for the Coast these past couple weeks? (One of the contestants is from Halifax this year, hence the Coast coverage). If you hate trashy reality TV like I do, these recaps are the only way to consume the show. They’re gold. Much better than the show itself as far as I’m concerned. I have my own guilty pleasures — I’m still a human being — reality TV just isn’t one of them.
- Baseball’s done for another year. A team that cheated its way to the World Series a few years ago without receiving any major punishment has now been eliminated in six games. The universe can be just. Sometimes.