This item was written by Tim Bousquet.
Yesterday, Nova Scotia reported 10 new deaths from COVID recorded in the most recent reporting period, Feb. 14-20. All 10 deaths occurred before Feb. 14. There likely were deaths in the reporting period, but they won’t be reported until future reports.
So far, 778 people in Nova Scotia have died from COVID, 303 of whom have died since July 1, 2022.
Additionally, during the Feb. 14-20 reporting period, 33 people were hospitalized because of COVID.
Nova Scotia Health reported the COVID hospitalization status as of yesterday (these figures do not include the IWK):
• in hospital for COVID: (five of whom are in the ICU)
• in hospital for something else but have COVID: 92
• in hospital who contracted COVID after admission to hospital: 64
2. La Vieille Maison
“Delighted, overjoyed, and tired. That’s how volunteers working to save La Vieille Maison (‘the old house’) in Meteghan felt Thursday after learning they’d placed second and won $10,000 in a national heritage preservation contest,” reports Yvette d’Entremont.
“It’s a second place, but a strong second place, with numbers far beyond what anyone had imagined,” Dan Robichaud told the Examiner on Thursday night.
Robichaud is secretary of La Société Vieille Maison, the non-profit society dedicated to the house’s conservation and future operation.
Considered the best-preserved example of a post-exile Acadian dwelling in Canada, La Vieille Maison dates to 1796. It was one of 10 finalists in the National Trust for Canada’s ‘Next Great Save’ online competition. It was the only finalist from a francophone community and the only one from Nova Scotia.
Voting opened Jan. 20 and wrapped up Feb. 22.
The trust initially planned to offer one $50,000 grand prize to the finalist with the most online votes. But on Feb. 15, with seven voting days left, they announced two additional prizes would be awarded. A $10,000 prize was set aside for the second place winner and $5,000 for the competitor that placed third.
“Councillors are considering a grant of more than $250,000 to the Banook Canoe Club — against the advice of staff,” reports Zane Woodford.
Regional council’s Audit and Finance Committee voted in favour of the request from the Dartmouth institution on Thursday, recommending council approve the grant.
The canoe club requested the funding in June 2022 to support the renovation of its clubhouse and the surrounding grounds. It’s also asking HRM for a grant to offset its building permit fees. In total, the contribution would be $267,500.
Peta-Jane Temple is the team lead of grants and contributions at HRM. She recommended in a report to the committee that council direct Banook’s request to the usual grant process instead.
“While the historical significance of the Banook Canoe Club and its clubhouse is acknowledged, the timing of their request for funding … comes at a time when the Halifax Regional Municipality (‘HRM’) is facing exceptional financial pressures, due in part to economic factors beyond HRM’s control,” Temple wrote.
“Consequently, an ability to provide capital grants outside an established municipal grant program is compromised.”
Mayor Mike Savage and Deputy Mayor Sam Austin argued in support of the grant for the club.
“Nova Scotia’s health minister is calling a new $1 billion health care funding bilateral agreement with the federal government a ‘great first step,'” reports Yvette d’Entremont.
On Thursday, the federal government and government of Nova Scotia announced an agreement in principle that includes $1 billion over 10 years to focus on “shared health care priorities.”
In a media release, the Department of Health and Wellness said the funds will help increase access to primary and mental health care, support health care workers, and adopt cutting-edge technology “to offer better, faster care.”
“I think it’s a great first step. We’re going to look for other opportunities to partner with the federal government to move initiatives forward,” Health and Wellness Minister Michelle Thompson told reporters in a video conference call Thursday afternoon.
“But for now, we are grateful and we look forward to using these funds to move action for health and our priorities forward.”
Thompson said the funding “will help” accelerate some initiatives. While she couldn’t immediately pinpoint which ones the department can move on this fiscal year as a result of the new funds, she did outline several priorities. In addition to mental health and addictions, she mentioned seniors and long-term care. She also referred to surgical wait times as a “significant” priority.
5. Halifax Regional Police IT audit
“Halifax Regional Police have again provided incorrect information to the Board of Police Commissioners about IT security. But this time they didn’t mean to, according to the auditor general,” reports Zane Woodford.
Auditor general Evangeline Colman-Sadd’s office made 12 recommendations for the police to strengthen their information technology (IT) security systems in a scathing 2021 report. Colman-Sadd found the police had previously lied to the board about progress in implementing recommendations from a past external audit.
Colman-Sadd tabled a follow-up report at council’s Audit and Finance Committee on Thursday. The auditor general found that 11 of her 12 recommendations from 2021 were complete, 92%. Colman-Sadd called that implementation rate “excellent,” and said it “demonstrates a commitment to correcting known issues.”
But Colman-Sadd marked one recommendation incomplete: that HRP should “finalize and implement its draft information technology security policies. This should include detailed guidance on how the policies will be applied to Halifax Regional Police information technology operations.”
“The [policies] that we specifically talked about during the audit have been completed but there are still some others that need to be finalized,” Colman-Sadd told the committee.
But as Woodford reports, in an April 2022 report to the Board of Police Commissioners, the police said that recommendation was already finished.
6. Emera profits are up
“Emera’s 2022 adjusted profit was up a healthy 17.6% over 2021. That works out to $850 million or $3.20 per common share, compared with $723 million or $2.81 per common share in 2021,” reports Jennifer Henderson.
Emera is the parent company of Nova Scotia Power, which recently saw the regulator approve a 14% rate hike over two years for consumers here.
Nova Scotia Power continues to become a smaller portion of Emera’s business. The North American energy conglomerate has $40 billion in assets that include electrical utilities, pipelines, and natural gas distribution companies. Emera had revenues of $7.5 billion last year.
Year over year, Nova Scotia Power’s adjusted net income or profit dropped 31% from $67 million in 2021 to $46 million in 2022.
In the news release, Emera said, “lower profits at NSPI in 2022 were due to higher operating and maintenance costs for storm restoration, information technology, power generation, regulatory affairs and higher depreciation.”
The biggest cost was cleaning up after Hurricane Fiona, estimated to be in the ballpark of $100 million, a bill the company will eventually ask the UARB to send to consumers.
Henderson updated this story with comments from Emera CEO Scott Balfour about the Atlantic Loop and the supposed savings Nova Scotians are getting from the Maritime Link.
7. Halifax Black Film Festival
“The founder of the Halifax Black Film Festival says she’s “fired up” about this year’s festival, which opens this week at Cineplex Park Lane,” reports Matthew Byard.
“This is really what we’re all about, to help local filmmakers get a chance in this industry. And not only a chance to create films, but a chance to be showcased at the festival, a chance to meet other filmmakers from all over the world,” said Fabienne Colas, founder of the Fabienne Colas Foundation which organizes the film festival. “This is our first in-person festival since the pandemic, so we’re fired up.”
This is the festival’s seventh year. This year the even runs from Friday, Feb. 24 to Tuesday, Feb. 28.
Friday’s opening features a film by Frank Berry called Aisha starring Letitia Wright, who played Shuri in Black Panther and Wakanda Forever.
This year’s festival will present 70 films from 10 countries, both virtually and in person, at Cineplex Park Lane. In addition there will be special events at the Halifax Central Library.
8. Bitcoin on William Sandeson’s laptop
“A lawyer for Taylor Samson’s family is working to make sure a laptop potentially containing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Bitcoin doesn’t make it back into William Sandeson’s possession,” reports Zane Woodford.
As the Halifax Examiner reported in December, Linda Boutilier and Connor Samson are suing Sandeson for wrongful death.
Sandeson has not filed a defence in the case.
After the Examiner published that story, on Dec. 12, Justice D. Timothy Gabriel imposed a publication ban on the case pending the conclusion of Sandeson’s criminal trial.
The jury in that case convicted Sandeson of second-degree murder on Saturday. Sentencing is scheduled for April 20 and 21, according to CBC.
On Thursday in Amherst Supreme Court, Justice Jeffrey Hunt agreed that the interim publication ban is no longer in effect.
The case is back in court in May. Boutilier and Samson’s lawyer, James Goodwin, will argue for a freeze on the return of Sandeson’s laptop.
As Woodford writes, on that laptop is access to bitcoin Sandeson purchased in 2015. And the value of that bitcoin skyrocketed by 9,000% since Sandeson purchased the cryptocurrency almost eight years ago.
9. Numbers up at food banks
On Wednesday, Jennifer Henderson spent some time at the North Dartmouth Outreach Resource food bank, which is located in the basement of Stairs Memorial United Church. Henderson had a chance to speak with a few of the clients there that day to learn how high food prices are impacting them. She writes:
I chat with a man in his early 60s wearing a patch over one eye. He said he is a regular at this food bank operated by the North Dartmouth Outreach Resource Centre and staffed by volunteers from four local churches.
The man is on long-term disability assistance and his wife is unable to work because of a mental health issue. An employed adult son is part of the household and contributes some of his earnings, but it’s “still a struggle,” he said.
“Food prices in the stores are ridiculous,” he said. “I don’t buy many groceries in the stores. We’ve already given up on meat and chicken and cut the cable TV.”
Henderson also spoke with Sam Schwartz, president of the North Dartmouth Outreach Resource Centre, who said the number of clients they had in January this year was up about 20% compared to January 2022. Some of those new clients include newcomers from the Middle East, Africa, and Ukraine, as well as students.
Items such as cereal and soup are harder for food banks to get now. The same goes for flour, which food bank volunteers ration so everyone can get at least some. And loaves of bread are saved for larger families.
The back-to-the-office battle continues
I am still interested in hearing stories about bosses trying to get their staff back to the office. Phil Moscovitch knows this, so once in a while he sends me articles about the continuing struggles employers are having in coaxing staff who’ve been working remotely to head back to the office.
This week, Moscovitch sent me this article by Gleb Tsipursky at Fortune about how the return to the office is affecting productivity. Tsipursky writes:
The return to office looks like it’s going backward. After office occupancy rose to over 50.4% in late January, it dropped to 45.6% by early February before recovering slightly to 48.6%. That’s despite many business leaders trying to get their employees back to the office in an effort to prevent “quiet quitting.”
Quiet quitting, as you may recall from this Morning File I wrote about it in August, is a term applied to workers just doing only the work in their job descriptions, and no more. In other words, it’s not quitting at all. It’s just not buying into the hustle culture.
Tsipurksy writes that quiet quitting and remote work were to blame for the decrease in productivity. That was after numbers came out last August that showed productivity of workers was down in the first two quarters of 2022. Then another survey came out in September that said about half of American workers were quiet quitting — again, just doing what their jobs required (these are all US figures, but I suspect the trends are the same here). Business leaders were not happy. Tsipursky writes:
BlackRock CEO Larry Fink attributed the drop in productivity to remote work. He called for requiring employees to come to the office to address this problem.
Yet the claims of traditionalists don’t add up. If quiet quitting and the resultant drop in productivity stemmed from remote work, we should see a drop in productivity right from the start of the pandemic, when office workers switched to remote work. Then, when offices opened back up, especially after the Omicron wave at the end of 2021, we should see productivity going up as workers went back to the office from early 2022 onward.
In reality, we see the opposite trend. U.S. productivity jumped in the second quarter of 2020 as offices closed, and stayed at a heightened level through 2021. Then, when companies started mandating a return to the office in early 2022, productivity dropped sharply in Q1 and Q2 of that year. Productivity recovered slightly in Q3 and Q4 as the productivity loss associated with the return to office mandate was absorbed by companies–but it never got back to the period when remote-capable employees worked from home.
I find this struggle over remote work so fascinating. Workers are putting up a good fight to keep a system that’s working for them.
Tsipursky offers solutions to making the return to office much more pleasant for staff. Those solutions include flexible team-led approaches to deciding how and what work arrangements will look like, as well as offering incentives to go back to the office, such as paying for dry cleaning, costs for commuting, and staff lunches.
Then there was this bit about one of the reasons to go back to the office:
The office should be a place for socializing, collaboration, and in-depth training, especially for newer employees. To address socializing needs, it’s valuable to organize fun team-building exercises and social events as staff comes back to the office.
This is likely one reason people don’t want to go back to the office. Working remotely gives workers more time to socialize elsewhere, you know, with family and friends. They’re taking the time they’d spend on commuting and spending it on fun elsewhere.
Forcing people to socialize at work is not everyone’s cup of tea. I think of this worker at a consulting firm in Paris who was fired from his job last year for not being “fun” enough and refusing to take part in social activities where he said there was “promiscuity” and “excessive alcoholism.” An article by CBS says:
The terminated worker, a senior consultant identified as Mr. T, was fired in 2015 for what his employer, consulting firm Cubik Partners, called “professional incompetence” after he refused to participate in social activities with his colleagues.
The court ruled that the employee could not be terminated for his failure to be “fun” by participating in seminars and weekend excursions that often involved “excessive alcoholism,” bullying and promiscuity.
The Court of Cassation ruled that Mr. T was entitled to “freedom of expression” if that meant sitting on the sidelines while his colleagues socialized with one another. The man’s refusal to fraternize with his colleagues is a “fundamental freedom” under labor and human rights laws, according to the court.
The employee claimed colleagues engaged in “humiliating” and “intrusive” acts such as “mock sexual acts” and that he was once forced to share a bed with a colleague during a retreat.
Anyway, what I’ll say is workers have found a way to be productive, enjoy their jobs, while having some flexibility and freedom in the rest of their lives. For many, working from home, or at least a hybrid version of remote-office work, provides all of that. For a long time, working from an office was the status quo. I still think it’s middle managers, whose jobs have been just keeping an eye on staff in person, who are leading the charge for return to offices. But when the pandemic hit, workers learned it could work another way. Plus, they got some of their time back, not to mention remote work gets cars off the road.
And if workers are willing to quit if they’re forced back to the office, then bosses will have to come up with much better reasons and incentives for that return than paying for workers’ dry cleaning.
Could you warm up to cold water therapy?
The latest wellness trend that’s been making the rounds on my social media is cold water therapy. It’s pretty much exactly as it sounds; you get into some cold water and reap the supposed health benefits of freezing your butt off.
Now, cold water therapy is not new, but it’s certainly became more popular in the last few years. Social media has helped spread the word about the benefits of immersing yourself into an ice-cold lake, ocean, or tub of water in your backyard. And like everything else, people are taking and sharing glamourous photos of themselves in the cold water, smiles and all.
I’m a bit suspicious of all of this, especially since I am just cold all the time anyway and I don’t enjoy it. And like many other wellness trends, including detoxes, cleanses, cupping, and IV drip bars, I wondered if this was living up to the hype.
On Thursday, Maritime Noon had a show on cold water swimming with UK-based Dr. Mark Harper who wrote a book called Chill: The Cold Water Swim Cure. Harper, who’s been doing cold water swimming for about 20 years, says there are all sorts of benefits to cold water swimming, including reducing inflammation, high blood pressure, migraines, diabetes, and improving mental health.
If swimming in cold water sounds stressful, that’s because it is. And Harper says that stress is the “secret” to why it works.
Exposing yourself to a stress and not letting that stress overwhelm you, is what we’re seeing here.
By exposing yourself to the stress, your body kind of builds itself up to deal with stress and you get reduced levels of inflammation in the body. You need inflammation; it’s an important part of the healing process and protection against infection. What you don’t want is too much of it. I think the easy, modern Western lifestyle … life’s become too easy and these defenses don’t get a workout, basically.
Harper said after a few rounds of cold water swimming, for just a few moments each time, your body will get used to the stress and you will enjoy the experience.
The show had a couple of calls from folks who are cold water swimming fans. Two of the callers mentioned they have PTSD and cold water swimming helps. But Harper says there’s a difference between cold water swimming and just dunking yourself into a tub of cold water in your backyard.
The thing about outdoor swimming, which is slightly distinct, is that it’s a whole package of good things. These include community; you do it with other people. There’s room in the lake, in the sea, whatever, to do it with other people. In fact, that’s one of the important safety things you should do it with someone. And also, you’re out in nature. It’s blue therapy. It’s green therapy. It’s a little bit of exercise. These are the things, the whole package, is the reason why people keep coming back to it. Once they get into it, they get hooked.
Now, any activity where you get out into nature and hang out with friends or new people is beneficial. Last year, Yvette d’Entremont wrote about the national nature prescription program PaRx (Parks Prescriptions), which had officially launched in the Maritimes. That program allows health professionals to formally prescribe nature to their patients.
And staying in touch with friends and meeting new people reduces isolation and loneliness. All good stuff.
On Facebook, where I am seeing more people talk about their cold water experiences, Heather Dennis shared her thoughts on the practice this week:
I’ve been alive long enough to know that equilibrium is rarely found on the opposite end of balance.
We are inundated by images, testimonials and practices that encourage us to do more. That longer, harder or faster is the ultimate human directive.
Take for instance cold water bathing.
I know all about Wm Hoff. I understand there is supporting scientific evidence that shows cold immersion does good things for our immune system, not to mention our resilience.
But I’d like to pose a question. Why are we all so out of balance in the first place? Why do we need to do extreme things?
Do we need them to feel alive in a culture that feeds us a steady diet of distraction?
Are we so out of touch with our bodies that only a jolt of shock registers on our sensory dashboard?
Sure, there may be benefits to cold water swimming, but it’s the social media stuff that gets to me, the glamourous photos, as Dennis mentions, that promote cold water bathing without really explaining the dangers (Dennis’ post on Facebook had some good comments about this). It looks all nice, like the photo I have at the top of this piece, but is it really effective and safe for everyone?
Plus, as I’ve written before, lots of wellness trends tend to ignore larger issues that can affect our physical and mental health, you know, like a pandemic and a housing crisis, and put the blame on the person who is unwell.
Who knows how long this cold water trend will stick around. I am sure something new will come along soon. For now, I am going to take a nice hot shower.
Mount Saint Vincent
Registration deadline (Friday) — for tomorrow’s STEAM Day
1st Family STEAM Day (Saturday, 10am, 4th Floor, Seton Academic Centre) — exhibits, demos, games and more across Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics; more info here
In the harbour
01:00 EM KEA, container ship, departing Pier 41 for sea
01:30 AS EMMA, container ship, departing Pier 42 for Suez Canal
05:30 SUNSHINE ACE, vehicle carrier, arriving from Endem, Germany to Autoport
06:00 Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moving from anchorage #5 to Pier 41
12:00 Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moving from Pier 41 to Pier 42
16:00 SUNSHINE ACE, vehicle carrier, departing for sea
16:30 Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, departing Fairview Cove for Saint Pierre
18:30 Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, departing Pier 42 to sea