1. Anti-drag rhetoric

A pride flag flies in front of a brick building.
Pride flag outside Province House, on May 17, 2023. Credit: Philip Moscovitch

Reports Phil Moscovitch:

“Boots on the ground warriors!”

“Drag events + children = FUCK NO!”

“We’re shutting this shit down!”

These are phrases taken from Facebook posts by people opposed to Drag Me to Dinner, a sold-out family-friendly drag event featuring performances, a sing-along and story time, to be held at the Kings Arms Pub in Kentville on June 3.

Meanwhile, the pub’s Google Reviews have in recent days become a venue for community members to thank the pub for its stand on inclusivity. There is a slew of new five-star reviews with comments such as, “It’s awesome to know I can have some great pub food in a bigot free zone surrounded by drag queens.”

But the kind of ramped-up rhetoric elicited by a drag show that until recently would have been completely unremarkable raises concerns about attacks on the rights of Nova Scotians. 

“We need to be standing stronger in community to be able to combat the slippage that I see, that we’re moving backwards in some ways,” Susan Litke said yesterday. Litke, past chair of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, was speaking at a press conference held by NDP MLA and 2SLGBTQ+ spokesperson Lisa Lachance, to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.

Click here to read “Pride groups call for solidarity in face of increased anti-drag rhetoric in ‘moving backwards’ Nova Scotia.”

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2. EPA Allana Loh is on strike; here’s why

A white woman with greying hair wears a yellow reflective vest and a pink scarf.
Allana Loh Credit: Tim Bousquet

Yesterday, I profiled Allana Loh, one of the striking school support workers. Loh has a compelling life story and is a dedicated and thoughtful Educational Program Assistant (EPA).

Click here to read “‘I just dedicate my life to kids’: Walking the picket line, Allana Loh speaks of her work as an EPA.”

I came away from interviewing Loh with a deep respect for her and the work she does, but also with anger at the low regard our society holds work in the caring professions.

“I have worked as an EPA for seven years. Last year I made $24,000 as an 80% EPA working 28 hours each week,” Loh told me:

I am often asked to work a full seven-hour day to cover staff shortages and when I do, I do not receive my regular hourly rate of $18.87, rather I get paid $16.00 an hour, which is the lowest wage paid to an EPA.

In her article linked to in the next item, Yvette d’Entremont includes the following chart showing that in November 2022 the median wage for an educational program assistant in Nova Scotia was $18.00 an hour, the lowest in the country. The recently paltry raise given to support workers does not change Nova Scotia’s positioning:

Credit: Government of Canada, Labour Market Information

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3. Anti-scab legislation

Four women hold pink signs that read "Fair deal now for school support."
School support workers picket outside Bicentennial School on May 10, 2023. Credit: Tim Bousquet

“As the second week of a school support workers strike comes to a close, the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour is calling on the province to pass anti-scab legislation,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

Last weekend, HRCE began advertising school support positions currently held by the striking workers. 

“This is an unacceptable practice, a choice by the government through the Minister and must be stopped. The Minister has control and can make the right choice,” [federation president Danny Cavanagh] wrote in his [open] letter. 

“The right to strike has been protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for a long time, and shame on the government for disrespecting that right. Essentially you agree with it if you’re not stopping it.”

Click here to read “Nova Scotia Federation of Labour calls on province to pass anti-scab legislation.”

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4. No cars near schools

A neon yellow sign shows two people walking. Underneath, a white sign says “MAXIMUM 30 km/h WHEN CHILDREN PRESENT.” Next to the signs, a red car drives by.
The speed limit sign on Norwood Street in Halifax on Thursday, May 18, 2023. Credit: Zane Woodford

“A Halifax councillor wants to try closing some streets to vehicles while students are dropped off and picked up,” reports Zane Woodford:

Coun. Waye Mason brought a motion for a staff report to council’s Transportation Standing Committee on Thursday.

Mason, chair of the committee, requested a report “regarding establishing criteria for a pilot project to close school zones to vehicle traffic during pick [up] and drop off where the road configuration would allow it.”

Suburban councillors weren’t easily convinced to support Mason’s motion.

Click here to read “Halifax councillor wants to try closing some streets to cars for school drop-off and pick-up.”

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A small virus with red dots on a blue screen
Photo: CDC/Unsplash

Nova Scotia yesterday recorded four more deaths from COVID. All four deaths occurred before the most recent May 9-15 reporting period; there were likely deaths in that period, but because the reporting of COVID deaths lag, they won’t show up until future reports.

In total, through the pandemic, 865 Nova Scotians have died from COVID.

Since July 1, 2022, 378 Nova Scotians have died from COVID. In contrast, over roughly the same period, 69 people have died from influenza.

Over the May 9-15 reporting period, 27 people were hospitalized because of COVID.

Nova Scotia Health reports the COVID hospitalization status as of yesterday:
• in hospital for COVID: 17 (fewer than five are in the ICU)
• in hospital for something else but have COVID: 46
• in hospital who contracted COVID after admission: 26

I’ve been criticized for continuing to report on COVID. Far more people die from, say, heart disease, the argument goes, and I don’t report on that week after week.

I guess we could assume that, like Nazis marching in the street and mass murders seemingly every day, COVID is just another shitty thing that is part of the background noise of our lives.

“What about Long COVID?” is the counter-argument. But that is roughly akin to all the heart diseases that don’t kill people but adversely affect lives.

I’m just not there yet on ignoring COVID. Unlike heart disease, there doesn’t seem to be a suite of programs and education initiatives to reduce COVID, or at least not enough to substantially reduce risks.

I still think a relatively simple and low-cost initiative to improve air quality in indoor public spaces, hospitals, and nursing homes would make a big difference in COVID.

[This is me throwing my hands up at it all.]

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Proposed buildings along a waterfront.
The SHIP.ED proposal for the Sydney Waterfront Credit: Cape Breton Spectator

“Say you’re a former advertising executive turned ‘port developer’ and February 2022 finds you in the seventh year of your exclusive contract to turn the Port of Sydney into a transshipment hub for ultra-large container vessels (ULCVs) with pretty much nothing to show for yourself,” writes Mary Campbell of the Cape Breton Spectator:

Initial deals with the Chinese have fallen through, financial arrangements with American infrastructure funds are no longer discussed and although you claim to have “shippers” ready and willing to call at your Sydney terminal, you apparently can’t convince a government or a private sector entity to restore the rail connection between your port and the rest of North America.

What to do?

Well, if you’re Albert Barbusci of Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP), you team up with EllisDon Inc to form a new entity called SHIP.ED and fire off a proposal to develop the Sydney waterfront between the cruise pavilion and the Holiday Inn.

How do I know this? Because I FOIPOPed the CBRM, asking to see the three proposals it received in response to its RFP for Sydney waterfront development…

The SHIP.ED proposal was not the winning bidder, but Campbell goes on to detail the long, sad history of Sydney waterfront development proposals that went nowhere, bringing the kind of historic memory to the issue that only a truly weathered observer can. When I say “weathered,” I don’t mean old; I mean rather that Campbell has endured too much of this kind of bullshit for too long. I say this as someone who has completely lost patience with any of it, and who stands in admiration for Campbell, who somehow soldiers on.

In any event, Campbell reports that the SHIP.ED proposal included “a convention center with a 20,000-square-foot cultural center on its roof and a two-level parking garage with 300-vehicle capacity in its basement…” and oh boy.

Then there’s this:

Between the two blocks of kiosks is the “Mi’kmaw Cultural Park and Amphiplaza” including a sweat lodge, a ceremonial fire and a wigwam light sculpture.  I guess these features have the approval of Membertou Corporate, but I am finding it hard to come to grips with the idea of a sweat lodge as a tourist attraction. According to the Mi’kmaw Culture website, sweat lodges are for “spiritual cleansing” and are best located in a private place “to ensure that there will be no interruptions or distractions.” Smack dab in the middle of a “mixed-use urban development” on the Sydney waterfront doesn’t seem like that place. (And wouldn’t it be like building a church or a temple or a mosque as a tourist attraction?)

Click here to read “When SHIP Met EllisDon.”

As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, and so this article is behind the Spectator’s paywall. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator.

Speaking of bullshit, I want to bring back my once occasional series of “Bullshitter of the Week.” I’ll announce this more formally at the start of June, but I have in mind a very specific kind of bullshit. I don’t mean some sleazebag trying to make a buck or advance up the career ladder by throwing colleagues under the bus, or other assorted bad behaviour. Rather, I mean people — usually business people, academics, politicians, or bureaucrats — who mouth nonsense with the complete self-knowledge (or what should be self-knowledge) that they are mouthing nonsense.

There’s so much of this that it’s hard to follow it all, so I’m going to enlist readers to make their own suggestions via a dedicated email address, of which I will vet and choose a winner. Exciting! Or sad. Or something.

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Excess mortality

Last week, Nova Scotia’s Finance and Treasury Board “daily stats” release republished information from Stats Canada about “excessive mortality” across Canada and specifically in Nova Scotia.

“Nova Scotia reported significant excess mortality above the upper bound of expected deaths throughout much of November, December and January, following intermittent weeks of adjusted deaths in excess of the upper bounds for expected mortality,” reads the release.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about “excess mortality” and “excess deaths,” and I don’t claim to be an expert on it either — that’s why this item is in “Views.”

I see two extremes in public assertions, however, both of which are completely wrong. On one end, the anti-vax crowd is crowing that excessive mortality rates around the globe are the result of COVID vaccinations. This is simply not the case.

On the other hand, there’s another group claiming that all excessive deaths are attributable to an under-counting of COVID deaths. This seems simple-minded to me. As the daily stats release notes:

Statistics Canada cautions that: “…even without a pandemic, there is always some year-to-year variation in the number of deaths in a given week. As such, the number of expected deaths should fall within a certain range of values. There is evidence of excess mortality when weekly deaths are consistently higher than the expected number, but especially when they exceed the range of what is expected over several consecutive weeks.”

Further, Statistics Canada notes that: “There are also several challenges that come with measuring excess mortality, most importantly properly estimating the number of expected deaths that would occur in a non-COVID-19 context as a basis for comparison with current death counts. Significant variations may be observed from year to year in the annual death counts, especially in the least-populated provinces and the territories. Moreover, yearly death counts may be affected by changes in the composition of the population, particularly regarding age and changes in mortality rates (e.g., reduced mortality). In the Canadian context, with an aging and growing population, the number of deaths has been increasing steadily in recent years, so a higher number of deaths in 2021 and 2022 would be expected, regardless of COVID-19.”

Assigning all excessive deaths to COVID suggests that there is a conspiracy at foot to downplay the seriousness of the disease. But I think the consistent excessive death counts might be caused by something even worse than a conspiracy — the whole world is falling apart.

Consider that when the Soviet Union collapsed, death rates soared:

In Russia, the death rate among men age 35 to 44 more than doubled between 1989 and 1994; for women in the same age group the death rate increased by 80 percent. Increased deaths were remarkably high across all working ages for both men and women… Less-educated men and women experienced substantially higher death rates than individuals with higher education. By cause, the largest increases in mortality in the early ‘crisis’ period comprised cardiovascular disease deaths (heart attacks, strokes and cerebrovascular diseases), and deaths due to external causes (accidents, injuries, homicides and suicides). The former Soviet Union experienced the highest suicide and homicide rates in the world in some age groups in the early years of transition. As shown in Appendix Figure 4, suicide deaths among men aged 50 to 54 reached 140 deaths per 100,000 population in 1994. To put this figure in context, the suicide rate among white, non-Hispanic men aged 45 to 54 in the United States was 39.2 per 100,000 in 2015, a time of notably rising “deaths of despair.” 

What caused that dramatic increase in deaths? No one can say for certain, but despair must underscore much of it. With the loss of political and even cultural certainty came less work opportunity, increased food prices, and so therefore more alcoholism (already very high in the Soviet Union) and people generally just not taking care of themselves.

Interestingly, the death rates fell again in the late 1990s as the Soviet Union’s successor states implemented successful anti-drinking and anti-smoking campaigns, and as some measure of economic security returned.

Is it a stretch to say that something similar (albeit on a lesser scale) is happening in western society today?

As I mentioned above, there are Nazis marching in the street and mass murders seemingly every day, but also political instability, rising food prices, higher rents, an opioid epidemic, worries about the climate disaster, and more.

The whole world is going to shit. It’s no surprise to me that more people are dying as a result.

But as in the former Soviet Union, this situation can be reversed if governments better address overall health issues and take action to reduce the costs of living. We don’t have to accept this state of affairs.

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No meetings

On campus

No events

In the harbour

05:00: MSC Santa Maria, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Sines, Portugal
06:00: One Stork, container ship (145,251 tonnes) sails from Pier 41 for Dubai
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from anchorage to Pier 41
07:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 42 from Saint-Pierre
09:00: AlgoNova, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Montreal
14:30: MSC Santa Maria sails for sea
18:00: Oceanex Sanderling sails for St. John’s

Cape Breton
08:00: Algoma Value, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for Tampa, Florida


Have a nice long weekend.

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

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  1. I’ve often wondered if the fentanyl crisis isn’t really about an effective and painless form of suicide for people that have given up.

  2. Wow. I wasn’t expecting your take on covid to be the accurate one. What a wonderful and terrible sign of where we’re at.

    You should watch the BBC journalist Adam Curtis’ documentary Hypernornalization in order to get a glimpse into the decline of a superpower. Strip out culture, look at behaviours, and you’ll see were doing the same things here now as folks did in the USSR while it collapsed around them.

    An actual global discussion about covid is probably the only way through this mess.

  3. Do you know if the excess mortality is adjusted for our population getting older? Even without COVID excess mortality would be expected to increase as the boomers get into their twilight years.

    While I don’t know why it is happening, the trend of elevated mortality in developed Western and Asian countries is disturbing especially because COVID pulled so many deaths forward in time and we should see the opposite.