News

1. COVID-19

It’s anyone’s guess as to whether the current outbreak of COVID-19 is growing, stabilized, or reducing. That’s because while daily new counts over the weekend came down a bit — 163 new cases were reported Saturday, 165 on Sunday, down from a record high of 227 reported Friday — the numbers are still entirely too high to provide any level of comfort, and moreover, the public has no idea just how far through the backlog of 200 positive cases Public Health contact tracers have worked through.

If the weekend’s 328 cases include all of the backlog of 200 and there are no new cases added to the backlog, then the province recorded “just” 128 new cases split between the two days — still alarmingly high compared to just two weeks ago. That’s the best case scenario. It could be much, much worse. It would be helpful if the daily press release announcing COVID numbers could also provide some clarification about the state of the backlog, so that we citizens can decide just how much we should be freaking out.

In any event, the newly released numbers do show that the disease is increasingly centered among the youngest Nova Scotians. Here are the daily case counts by age cohort since April 17:

And here are cases among each age cohort as a percentage of all daily cases announced each day:

Yesterday, cases among the 19-and-under age cohort for the first time exceeded cases among the next youngest cohort, 20-39-year-olds, and the youngest group accounted for 34.5% of all new cases, a record high for that group.

There was an awful lot of testing going on over the past week, so perhaps children are being tested at record levels, and an increased number of asymptomatic cases are being found among them. And older people are getting vaccinated, and that could be reducing (although not eliminating) new cases among them, so younger age cohorts are a greater percentage of the total.

But that all feels like explanatory justification to obfuscate the point: young people are getting COVID at record levels. They’ve gone from having zero new daily cases three weeks ago to having 50-70/day over the weekend.

What accounts for that increase?

Are children getting a lot of COVID because their parents are bringing it home to them? Could be, but we can’t say, because we’re not given enough information to know that — unlike in some provinces, Nova Scotia doesn’t tell us if new cases that are close contacts are household contacts or cases that were contracted out in the world.

Was COVID spread widely in schools? The province has stopped providing detailed information about school cases, like, for instance, if there have been multiple cases in individual schools, and if so, how many. Schools have been closed for two weeks, but maybe school-based cases are heavily represented in the the backlogged positive cases? Who knows? It’s a state secret.

Likewise for cases in day care centres. Parents have told us that day care operators have had a gag order placed on them. Is that true? Here’s what we reported Friday:

Health Minister Zach Churchill was asked to confirm information parents and early childhood educators provided to the Halifax Examiner. They say the operators of licensed child care centres are under a gag order not to share the number of cases that emerge at day cares. Churchill did not answer directly but explained that all information about COVID cases and day care closures must come from Public Health and only Public Health.

“It’s critical that information on COVID cases is coming from Public Health,” said Churchill. “They are the ones responsible for protecting people’s privacy and ensuring the appropriate people are made aware, if they are close contacts. They have to find that balance of achieving awareness and protecting people’s privacy and when the risk is deemed necessary, the public is informed. We trust them to oversee that process and I believe they have been doing a very good job.”

There’s that damn P word again: “privacy.” But no one wants the name and address of each kid who has COVID so we can go picket their houses and shame their parents. Rather, parents want to assess for themselves the risk of sending their children to day care, and the public wants to know if that data show that Public Health policies — like, keeping day cares open — are the best approach to containing this outbreak. A little information would help them reach that assessment.

And while Nova Scotia trots out the “privacy” excuse for not giving us that data, other provinces have no problem providing it. Take, for instance, Ontario, which lists on a public website each day care centre with COVID cases, and how many cases are among staff and how many are among children at each centre:

From https://www.ontario.ca/page/covid-19-cases-schools-and-child-care-centres

By keeping this same information secret in Nova Scotia, the government is acting as if it has something to hide, and so it’s only reasonable for citizens to suspect that its COVID containment policies are failing.

For myself, I don’t know what to think, beyond that this province’s penchant for secrecy isn’t serving anyone well.

In other COVID news, Irving Shipyard has reported four cases at its operation:

The current situation regarding COVID in the shipyard is quite dynamic and receiving the full-time attention of management and the union. Together, we are working closely with NSHA and carefully moving forward as we receive new information. At this point in time, we intend to continue operating the shipyard.

More details are here.

Premier Iain Rankin and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang have scheduled a COVID briefing for 3pm today. I’ll be live-blogging it via my Twitter account.

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2. Getting coffee while black

Halifax Regional Police Constables Steve Logan (left) and Pierre Paul Cadieux at a Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission board of inquiry hearing on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“What does a recent human rights case — and HRM’s lack of response to it — say about the state of race relations in Halifax in 2021?” asks Stephen Kimber, reviewing the case of Gyasi Symonds, who works at the Department of Community Services on Gottingen Street and jumped across the street to get some coffee at The Nook, only to become embroiled with a couple of race-profiling cops, Steve Logan and Pierre Paul Cadieux.

It wasn’t me who determined that the cops were race-profiling. It was lawyer Benjamin Perryman, who headed an independent investigation for the Human Rights Commission, who determined that:

I find that race was a factor in the police officers’ decision to target the Complainant for surveillance and investigation. This decision resulted in a summary offence ticket and constitutes adverse treatment.

So what happens now? Nothing at all happens to Logan or Cadieux, the city gets fined a measly $15,000, and nothing changes at the police department, except that its budget gets inflated by over a quarter of a million dollars.

I’ve said this before, but we can cut right through most of the impassioned arguments on both sides of the “defunding” versus “reforming” police debate by making it a simple matter of management accountability.

If the average corporate manager fucks up at their job and fails to meet performance standards, they find there’s a consequence — there’s a cut in their project budget. It tends to focus the mind, to get the project manager to figure out how to make the project work as it’s supposed to.

Likewise, if police can’t stop doing racist shit, there should be a financial cost for management to have to deal with. Let’s say every time a human rights investigator finds a cop did some racist shit, the overall police budget gets cut by a million dollars. That would tend to get management focused on getting their employees to stop doing racist shit.

But as is, cops do racist shit and the police budget goes up, not down. So why should cop management do anything at all to address the racist shit?

Anyway, click here to read “Getting coffee while black.”

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3. Bridge bikeway

A cyclist waits for the light to change on Wyse Road after coming off the Macdonald Bridge on Friday, May 7, 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“With a tender out this week, Halifax is moving ahead with new bike lanes for Wyse Road, part of the Macdonald Bridge bikeway improvement project planned since 2017,” reports Zane Woodford:

But some plans have changed for the work on the Dartmouth side of the harbour since the Integrated Mobility Plan laid out the city’s preferred bike network and council approved plans to spend millions improving connections on either side of the bridge.

Click here to read “Dartmouth bike lanes coming soon as part of Macdonald Bridge bikeway project.”

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4. Cyberbullying

“Reports from Nova Scotia teachers and parents about strangers crashing online classrooms using vulgar, racist, violent and threatening language has one Fall River parent urging parents to keep close tabs on their children’s online learning spaces,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) hasn’t heard directly from its members on the issue of intruders in online classrooms. But the union has heard from teachers struggling with disrespectful and disturbing behaviour from their own students in their online learning environments.

“We had an anonymous phone call from a vice principal…I’ll only say the school’s in metro out of respect for their privacy. Some of the treatment of staff that you’re describing is something that they were dealing with,” NSTU president Paul Wozney said in an interview.

“I don’t have any members contacting me about people external to the school system invading meetings, so until I have confirmed reports of that I’m not really in a position to comment on that too much.”

Wozney said while they’re unaware of any mass system security vulnerability that’s being exploited in their online classrooms, he’s encouraging NSTU members to contact the union if they are concerned about intruders or anything else making them feel unsafe. He said teachers’ right to a safe workplace applies whether they’re physically working in buildings or virtual spaces, and employers have a duty to create and support those safe spaces.

“We have lots of teachers who have their family locked down at home with them, they have their own kids, so it’s unnerving in a different way when teachers experience this kind of treatment online,” Wozney said.

“Not that you’re not vulnerable at school. But it’s not your home that’s being invaded, people aren’t seeing you in your personal space.”

Click here to read “Online learning raises concerns of cyberbullying.”

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5. The Greene Old Deal

Moya Greene and Annette Verschuren

“Has it struck anyone else that both Newfoundland & Labrador and Nova Scotia have reached out to rather similar women for economic guidance?” asks Mary Campbell of the Cape Breton Spectator:

As I write, Newfoundland and Labrador is digesting what the CBC calls a “no-holds-barred report” laying out “a five- to six-year plan to re-imagine” the province. It’s the work of the Premier’s Economic Recovery Team (PERT), a “volunteer” squad chaired by Dame Moya Greene.

Here in Nova Scotia, our new premier has established his own Economic Growth Council and among its members is NStor CEO Annette Verschuren. Verschuren, who, as a director of the Verschuren Centre and chair of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (a multi-billion dollar federal green tech fund), has Cape Breton’s tech startup up community pretty much in a stranglehold, also serves as chancellor of Cape Breton University. (Scott Brison, the investment banker and former MP who chairs the council, is chancellor at Dalhousie.)

I’m struck by the similarities between Verschuren and Greene — both are local girls who made good and who now, without stooping to anything so low as running for elected office, are playing outsized roles in the public lives of their respective provinces.

Both are being asked for advice by governments on their strength of their experience in privatizing government-owned companies — particularly true in Greene’s case — and their personal success in the private sector — particularly true in Verschuren’s case. Both, you can be sure, will emerge entirely unscathed from any havoc they may wreak with their advice.

Greene cut her privatization teeth right here in Canada, overseeing the sale of the Canadian National Railway under Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government (resulting in the incredible situation today in which one of the largest shareholders in that company is Melinda flipping Gates). Her most recent gig was chief executive of the United Kingdom’s Royal Mail. Brought in by David Cameron’s Conservative government in 2010 to oversee the privatization of the over 500-year-old service, Greene’s compensation package hovered around $2 million a year, although I probably shouldn’t be mentioning this — apparently she gets “deeply offended” when people suggest she was overpaid, when it’s obvious to anyone with eyes that she was underpaid. Fun fact: After a public uproar, she had to return a $460,000 relocation bonus.

Verschuren, according to her Wikipedia bio (which carries a warning: “A major contributor to this article appears to have a close connection with its subject”) is best known as president of Home Depot Canada and Home Depot Asia. She left government for the private sector early — after a stint as executive vice president of Canada Development Investment Corporation privatizing crown corporations. These days, her jam — when not running her own company — is overseeing the investment of government money into private sector companies.

I’ve been thinking about these Golden Girls lately because of the headlines generated by Greene’s plan. She’s called it “The Big Reset,” which means either she’s trolling us, has missed the whole QAnon “Great Reset” conspiracy theory (which claims a group of world leaders orchestrated the pandemic to take control of the global economy) or (most likely) is rendering homage to the World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset” plan to build back the economy post-COVID.

Predictably — because to a woman with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail — Greene’s plan involves deep spending cuts, public service “streamlining,” the abolition of Nalcor and the privatization of Newfoundland Hydro. As Unifor, responding to the Greene Old Deal put it:

“Greene’s Big Reset is a Big Failure, lacking imagination or a vision for the future that includes good jobs and strong public services,” said Unifor Regional Director Linda MacNeil. “A framework that starts with balancing the budget and ends with privatization is not a reset, it’s a step backwards.”

“The ‘old fashioned economics’ in this report are textbook austerity measures that have proven to fail time and time again,” said MacNeil. “Moya Greenemissed the opportunity to recommend bold action to create jobs, boost the economy and to build back better, instead opting to cut healthcare to the bone, hold a fire sale on government assets, attack pensions, and freeze worker’s wages.”

The strangest aspect of this situation is that the premiers of both provinces are a generation younger than Greene and Verschuren — Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin is 36, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey is 45 (or 46, weirdly his Wikipedia bio states he was “born 1975 or 1976”). You’d think they might be looking for new solutions to problems rather than retreading old ones and yet, here we are…

Click here to read “The Greene Old Deal.”

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, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
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6. Pedestrian dies

An RCMP release:

On Tuesday May 4 at approximately 4 p.m., police responded to a collision in a parking lot on Commercial St. in New Minas. Police and emergency responders attended the scene and found a 63-year-old New Minas woman had been struck by a car while in a crosswalk, sustaining life-threatening injuries. She was taken by LifeFlight to hospital in Halifax where she died yesterday. The 43-year-old driver of the car was uninjured.

The cause of the collision is still under investigation.

The RCMP reported the collision on Wednesday, and at that time said the driver was 62 years old.

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Government

City

Monday

North West Community Council (Monday, 7pm) — live on YouTube, with captioning on a text-only site.

Tuesday

Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm) — live on YouTube, with captioning on a text-only site.

Province

Monday

No public meetings.

Tuesday

Health (Tuesday, 1pm) — agenda setting, via video conference


On campus

No events.


In the harbour

Halifax
04:45: Atlantic Sun, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Liverpool, England
10:30: East Coast, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
11:00: MSC Annick, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Montreal
12:00: Pictor, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik, Iceland
15:00: One Motivator, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
15:30: NYK Nebula, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Antwerp
18:00: Pictor sails for Portland
19:00: HMCS Margaret Brooke, Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship, arrives at Irving Shipyard from sea trials

Cape Breton
08:30: MIA Desgagnes, oil tanker, sails from Government Wharf (Sydney) for sea


Footnotes

Once was a time when I’d peruse the internet looking for weird stuff, or talk with friends about oddities, or even just remember things from my past and write about them in Morning File. Now I pretty much do nothing but report on COVID, so these Morning Files are a bit dry.

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Tim Bousquet

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

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7 Comments

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  1. I feel your anger Skip, but the democracy (considered one of the world’s best) where we arrived from out mother’s bellies only deigns to offer us the narrowest of input, (mark one X) at the convenience of the PM once every 4 years or so but no longer than every five.

    The quaint idea that we are picking someone we know to be knowledgeable from our community and who could always be trusted to be ensure our community’s values, needs and priorities are always their top priority when our government does its business has long been a fiction. With precious few exceptions we are in fact choosing our local political party representative whose primary loyalty is always to the Leader and the Party and we get what’s left, if anything (other than the bill).

    Some of these people go to The House expecting that their proven of success and experience will allow them to make a difference and improve all our lives. (It always worked before). Instead they find themselves reduced by the Party to trained seals reciting canned talking points and voting as directed by the Leader. They can speak their mind in the caucus room but they will soon learn that nobody really cares what they think. Only what the Leader thinks really matters and repeated disagreement just makes MLAs a target with the Party. It’s called “disloyalty”. “No fat committee perks nor ministry for you!”.

    Members are mere franchisees of the party brand. The ones that get worn down either eventually find the “need to spend time with their families”, to “pursue other goals” etc. or they are quietly squeezed out (parties have invisible ways to ensure unwanted incumbents don’t survive nominations).

    Fortunately most of them are seduced by the Party and the Pension and become the Party Guy / Gal with great prospects assured for those who put the interest of their Party above their riding.

    So feel free to approach your MLA with your legitimate concerns about the endemic secrecy in NS government. You may well get brilliantly crafted answers to questions you never asked. That’s how democracy works – just watch them deflect on Power and Politics.

    Remember this during the next election campaign when once again they all assure us with straight faces that they stand for greater transparency and accountability. Of course they do.

    In my book this is caused by self serving political parties that have far too much power over our representatives and our political system.

    This happens because we allow it, but just you try to change it…

    But I’m sure you knew all that Skip.

  2. I think we need to remember how much more testing is being done during this third wave. Public Health and Dr Barrett have been pleading with people to get tested even if asymptomatic. An increase in testing automatically increases positive test results when a high percentage of infections are asymptomatic. The number of positive children/youth may not be much higher than it was during the first wave but may seem so as more people are getting tested and actually confirmed positive, versus status unknown during the first wave. I don’t feel that information is being withheld.

    Cindy Beaton
    Halifax

  3. I kept thinkin about the Hoyt Axton song Never Been to Spain as I read thru your COVID-19 items. The song has the chorus “what does it matter.”

    Not that your reporting doesn’t matter. Or the complete fuck up that is our governments response to the plague doesn’t matter. All of that matters a great deal. But, but, but…We the People do nothing about any of it, save submit. Or talk of another fucking public inquiry after the fucking fact!

    The only ones outraged and in the street are the no-nothing anti-maskers. We the People obey the powers that be, in the full knowledge that they are both venal and incompetent.There is no loud and persistent voice or voices that daily, hourly question the authority of those who continue to let us down.

    All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good people do nothing.

    Of course I know your reporting is offered in an effort to move all us good people to do something, to question authority in numbers and in the street. When that happy day comes is when it will really matter.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKP3S-r2ZVc

  4. NB is bad on the secrecy too, but they do say in what schools and daycares there have been associated cases. The schools themselves post the fact on their Facebook and web pages, usually before Public Health sends its daily update. They won’t give much in the way of details, but they do give at least the name of the school or daycare, and whether the school is still open or if the kids must use online learning. Some of the high schools in NB are on blended learning already, ie, a day in class, a day remote, but as far as I am aware all the elementary schools and the smaller high schools are full time in class.

  5. Should you keep asking that same question at the briefing Tim when you know you will continue to get the same answer?
    It is important to keep asking it because it shames them and makes them uncomfortable? I’m leaning toward the affirmative but have some reservations because I believe Dr. Strang is doing a fine job and the Privacy thing is all on the Premier.

  6. Much as I hate to say this, because as a rule I hate these things, but if ever there were a time to demand a large-scale public inquiry about the handling of this crisis, it would be post-pandemic. I don’t even know how it would be conducted, other than to keep all politicians and politician-adjacent individuals out of it.