News

1. Uber

The Uber app — Photo: Charles Deluvio/Unslpash

“The provincial government is making it easier to be a taxi or Uber driver, loosening the requirements to obtain the licence needed to be a driver for hire,” reports Zane Woodford:

The move comes less than 48 hours after Halifax regional council passed bylaw amendments to legalize and regulate ride-hailing. Those amendments left the licence question open, requiring drivers to have whatever the province requires.

Uber, which has two lobbyists registered with the provincial government, told councillors earlier in the process that the Class 4 licence was a deal-breaker. The company wanted its drivers to be able to use a regular Class 5 licence.

The provincial government didn’t go that far, but it is “Exempting drivers from the additional testing will also simplify the licensing process of upgrading from a Class 5 to Class 4 restricted.”

Click here to read “Nova Scotia makes it easier to be a taxi or ride-hailing driver in response to Uber lobbying.”

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2. Council candidate questionnaires

We continue with our district-by-district questions to council candidate, yesterday with District 4 (Cole Harbour–Westphal) and District 5 (Dartmouth Centre).

District 4

I’ll let the answers speak for themselves, but one candidate in District 4 is Jamie MacNeil.

Jamie MacNeil

Back in 2000-2002, MacNeil was a Special Assistant to Canadian Senator Jane Cordy. Cordy, from Sydney, was appointed to the Senate by Jean Chrétien.

A decade later, MacNeil was central to a non-scandal (because no one seems to care) related to his work with the Liberal Party-connected m5 consulting. As I wrote in 2015:

The city’s Environment and Sustainability committee yesterday rejected a proposal to use an herbicide to kill weeds in Dartmouth’s lakes, reports Chris Benjamin, but not before:

Councillor Lorelei Nicoll expressed dismay that the name of Jamie MacNeil — the m5 Public Affairs VP who recommended using herbicides — was made public in the staff briefing. MacNeil lives in Nicoll’s district. “It was very unfortunate to see the individual from District 4 identified in this briefing note,” she said. “When he asked to understand the process I did not say ‘are you OK with having your name made public?’ … I hope that never happens again.”

According to the briefing note, MacNeil had approached the council on behalf of an m5 client, Lake Management Services. Nicoll did not say why the public should not be fully aware of the involvement of either a herbicide company, its PR firm, or the PR firm’s VP. Regardless, the city’s Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Mike Labrecque, apologized for telling the public the truth.

In the brief stint between his last term as MP and his first term as mayor, Mike Savage worked for m5, which at the time I understood to be a kind of “Liberals taking care of their own” guaranteed income strategy.

Perhaps MacNeil is ashamed of his association with m5, as it’s not listed on his campaign website, albeit he does say that he is a “long time advisor to Premiers and senior government officials in Halifax and Ottawa.”

In 2016, MacNeil registered as a federal lobbyist for m5, on behalf of his tidal power company, Big Moon. Since then, Big Moon has received over $176,000 in federal grants, the largest of which was $110,000 last year “to develop, manufacture and test the Kinetic Keel Generation 3 prototype (previously referred to as the TurboKeel).”

Big Moon is a serious enterprise, and as Jennifer Henderson reported earlier this month, Big Moon paid the province a $4.5 million bond in order to retrieve the abandoned OpenHydro turbine on the bottom of the Minas Basin.

“If successful — and that’s a huge IF — the payoff for Big Moon is a 15-year contract with Nova Scotia Power to buy its tidal energy for $475/MWh,” reported Henderson. “That’s less than the $530/MWh other berth-holders had previously negotiated but still about six times higher than the average paid by Nova Scotia Power for other kinds of fuel.”

From 2013 to 2015, before he lobbied on behalf of his own tidal power company, MacNeil was a registered lobbyist for a company called EC Petroleum (now Petroleum Geochemistry Consulting), which “provide[s] problem solving solutions, using geochemistry of rocks and fluids and petroleum system analysis (PSA), in exploration, appraisal, development and production for both conventional and unconventional settings – onshore and offshore.”

Maybe MacNeil had a fall-off-the-horse moment on the way to Cole Harbour, reconsidered his work for the oil industry and chose instead to devote himself to environmentally pure pursuits. If so, I’d like to hear about it. Everyone loves a redemption story.

From 2011 to 2013, MacNeil worked as a lobbyist in the employ of Nova Scotia Power. Just three years later, he formed Big Moon, and began negotiating with a coalition that includes Nova Scotia Power, related to the Minas Basin site.

And in 2013 and 2014, MacNeil was lobbying on behalf of Open Ocean Systems, a New Brunswick-based aquaculture firm.

Oh, and MacNeil is now on the Board of Governors at Saint Mary’s University, because obviously he knows a lot about education. A university is exactly like a tidal company, or a fish farm, or advising the Senate.

None of this is illegal. In a lot of business circles, lobbying, government grants, and changing from one job to the next is just how things are done.

It’s hard for most people to understand that — most of us are at the mercy of whatever employer happens to hire us, and the only thing that keeps us employed is working our ass off, and even that is increasingly a sucker’s game. But for a lucky tranche of the moneyed sector, it’s all about smoozing, using connections, calling in old favours, and working the system.

Think what you will about MacNeil. Hell, vote for him if you want.

But at the very least can we use him as Example #1 for why we need a municipal lobbyist registry?

District 5

There are only two candidates in District 5 — incumbent Sam Austin and challenger Mitch McIntyre.

McIntyre is fighting an uphill battle, but it doesn’t help that he says things like this: “Not sure what you mean by living wage, equal pay for equal work. ”

Is it possible that someone, anyone at all, can live in HRM, follow city politics and not be aware of the living wage debate? Well, apparently it is.

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3. COVID Alert app

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

What is “Covid Alert”?

It is a free application for cellphones developed and endorsed by Public Health Canada that notifies you if you have spent 15 minutes near someone who tested positive for COVID-19. “COVID Alert helps us break the cycle of infection. The app can let people know of possible exposures before any symptoms appear. That way, we can take care of ourselves and protect our communities.” That’s the description from the federal public health agency. 

The app rolled out in Ontario in August and you can download it to your phone, here.

It takes less than one minute to load if you have an Android or iPhone purchased within the past six years. However, the app won’t work in Nova Scotia until our provincial Public Health agency is ready to activate it. It’s not. More on that subject in a moment.

Which Provinces Have It? New Brunswick (as of last week), Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Saskatchewan. Alberta has developed its own app to reduce the volume of contact tracing for public health employees but has indicated it plans to switch over to the federal one. Manitoba is also en route. British Columbia and Quebec initially said “No” based on privacy concerns which have since been addressed. In the Throne Speech Wednesday, Prime Minister Trudeau promoted the app as another tool to help prevent community spread of the virus. (It could have been particularly helpful during recent large gatherings such as barbeques, weddings, karoke,and funerals which led to outbreaks in other provinces.)

How Does It Work? The app uses Bluetooth to exchange random codes with nearby phones. Each day, it checks a list of random codes from people who tell the app they tested positive. If you’ve been within two metres or six feet of one of those codes in the past 14 days, you’ll get a notification.

Will my privacy be compromised by this app? The app does not use GPS or geo-locator technology. According to the federal Privacy Commissioner as well as IT security experts and several provincial privacy commissioners who have evaluated it, the COVID Alert app cannot reveal a person’s name or location. A person’s health records cannot be accessed by the app and remain secure. 

Why Nova Scotians Can’t Use the Covid Alert app

“The province and Public Health are working to implement the COVID-19 alert app. An announcement will be made in the coming weeks,” said Dan Harrison, a spokesperson with the Department of Health in an email yesterday. I got the very same answer when I posed the very same question two weeks ago. As usual, Nova Scotia won’t be an “early adopter” when it comes to embracing a new technology. 

My understanding of the system is that when someone has been told they have tested positive for the virus, that person receives a one-time code or key from Public Health to enter in their phone. As soon as that code is entered, an alert is automatically sent out to every person who has the app enabled on their phone and who has been in close proximity with the person who tested positive. 

With zero known community spread of the virus at this moment in Nova Scotia, I get why enabling the free app so people can use it may not be a priority for Public Health. Yet it is another proven defence against a virus that seems particularly well-suited to people under 40 who are never far from their phones and may be taking public transit to get to work or heading out after work for a social gathering. And we know as people start spending more time inside when the weather turns cold, the app could be a useful defence that would save public health officials lots of time trying to identify and find potentially dozens of contacts. 

Of course the app will only be successful if it is promoted in a way to convince a large number of people to download it. Everything about the app is voluntary and it will only be effective if enough people participate. Uptake in Canada has so far been slow: with 2.7 million downloads since August. Similar launches in countries such as Germany have engaged enough citizens to work well.

Limitations to COVID Alert Effectiveness

The app has received criticism for not being inclusive enough. People with smart phones older than six years may not be able to use Google or Apple to download the app. For iPhones, you need to be running iOS version 13.5.1 or later versions. For Android phones, you need to be running Android 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10.

And COVID Alert doesn’t work for people who can’t afford or don’t have data packages for their phone. So it won’t protect everybody and if you are poor or marginalized, the tool will likely be useless even though it is free of charge. Public Health Canada acknowledges these concerns and is working to address them.

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4. Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

The three competing designs for the waterfront art gallery were presented in a YouTube video last night:

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5. Privacy breach

“A CBC News Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPOP) request has revealed previously unreleased information about a major privacy breach where the personal information of more than 10,000 Nova Scotians was published online in error earlier this year,” reports Yvonne Colbert for the CBC:

The breach occurred in May when decisions rendered by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal (WCAT) were posted online with the names of the workers and employers included.

The decisions included very personal employee information about family members, sexual abuse, and mental health issues, including one man’s thoughts of killing his co-workers. The decisions were uploaded to a site called the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLii), used for legal research and where courts and quasi-judicial bodies routinely post decisions.

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6. Jury trials

Photo: Halifax Examiner

“The search continues for a venue in the Halifax area that can handle jury trials while adhering to public health measures,” reports Blair Rhodes for the CBC:

Usually, those trials are conducted at the Law Courts building in downtown Halifax — but there is nothing usual about court proceedings in the midst of a pandemic.

Associate Chief Justice Patrick Duncan has taken charge of figuring out how to get them going again.

Any venue they use would have to be large enough to allow for physical distancing, be secure for exhibits and witnesses and be available for at least two months, the length of time required for some complicated jury trials.

The solution is blindingly obvious:

The Grafton Street Glory Hole, with the convention centre above it. Photo: Halifax Examiner

There’s a need for a big building with lots of space for physical distancing, and the province is paying millions of dollars a year for the convention centre, a big empty building with lots of space for physical distancing. Bob’s your uncle.

Not so quick. Jennifer Henderson asked Jennifer Stairs, the communication person for the courts, if they were contemplating using the convention centre. Stairs responded:

The Judiciary has been consulted on the requirements from the Courts’ perspective but it is the Nova Scotia Department of Justice handling the search for a long-term venue to hold jury trials in the Halifax region. I have no further information at this time.

Sigh.

#DYK as part of our commitment to safety we have signage outside of our restrooms to help with physical distancing and to make delegates aware of occupancy limits. #EastCoastHosts pic.twitter.com/EaFEhOFr9I

— HfxConventionCentre (@hfxconventions) September 16, 2020

I have no further information either, but I’m guessing that the convention centre is too expensive. No, that makes no sense at all. The province owns half of the convention centre (the city owns the other half), so using it would be something like taking money out of your right pocket and putting it in your left pocket. Moreover, the province has to cover half the losses of the centre, which are about $6 million this year. Whatever the costs of paying rent to use it for the courts, that expense simply decreases the end-of-the-year bailout.

But government budgeters don’t work that way. There are categories, see. Processes. Budget line items that are more sacred than the overall financial picture.

Somewhere right now, there’s a bean counter over at Justice saying, “oh boy, we can’t afford that kind of rent,” and the conversation ends.

Oh, Events East is putting on, er, events again. I don’t why any organization would risk the reputational hit of being a COVID superspreader — I cancelled the Examiner subscriber party this year because could you imagine? But there are a handful of orgs doing just that, although they don’t show up on Events East’s calendar.

But even then, it’s the winter slow season, and whatever groups are kowtowing are doing so mostly on the weekends. Using the convention centre for courts mid-week is a no-brainer.

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Government

City

Women’s Advisory Committee (Friday, 2pm) — virtual meeting; agenda here.

Province

No meetings.


On campus

Dalhousie

No public events.

Saint Mary’s

Canadian Forensic Psychology Virtual Fall Conference (Friday, 12pm) — more info and registration here.

Fall 2020 Virtual Convocation (Friday, 3pm) — more info here.


In the harbour

03:15: Maersk Mobiliser, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 9 from the Sable Island field
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
06:00: YM Mandate, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
07:00: Maersk Mobiliser moves to Irving Oil
07:45: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for Liverpool, England
09:00: Elka Nikolas, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Antwerp
15:00: Budapest Bridge, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
16:00: YM Mandate sails for New York
22:00: Maersk Mobiliser sails for sea


Footnotes

I had a bunch more to write about but ran out of time. For such excellent service, you should give us money! Please subscribe, or drop us a donation. Thanks!

Tim Bousquet

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

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6 Comments

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  1. It is ridiculous that the Province of NS hasn’t enabled the Covid App. I got it when I was in Ontario last month. It’s effectiveness is dependent on wide-spread use. Why would the Province stand in the way of its success?

  2. I don’t understand why Nova Scotia hasn’t signed onto the COVID app yet. Surely when case numbers are low is the easiest time to add a step to the notification process. It is much easier to fine-tune the process with a few cases a week than 500/day. If Trudeau is saying we should all be using the app why isn’t he pressuring all provinces to get on board?

    I’m also not clear why this is left up to the provinces to figure out the step of delivering codes to confirmed cases. I assume the data is national (so that cross-border contacts can be identified), so shouldn’t the system be open to all provinces at once. All that should be needed is the ability for the health authority to get a validation code from the central database and give it to a confirmed case to enter into their phone. Only the team notifying people of cases would need access. We should be able to set that up in a few days.

  3. No Covid Alert app for this reader. The laptop I have doesn’t leave my home and my phone is a simple flip. Would love to gave a newer phone but the budget doesn’t quite cover it – and possible increasing food costs mean I’m unlikely to be buying a new one anytime soon. So I’ll just keep on as I have been.

  4. The COVID Alert app should still work without a data plan, as long as the device connects to WiFi periodically to download the latest list of confirmed codes, or to register the device’s own codes in case the user tests positive.

    A good graphical explanation of how it works is here: https://ncase.me/contact-tracing/

  5. COVID Alert doesn’t work without a data package? I understand it needs an Internet connection of some type, but shouldn’t Wi-Fi cover that?