News

1. The pandemic has revealed problems with how we provide long-term care, but it hasn’t revealed long-term solutions

Govind Rao, a researcher for CUPE’s Atlantic region.

As terrible as this pandemic has been, it’s at least made us rethink the way we do things, from the way we work to the way we regulate housing. One area that clearly needs work is the way we provide long-term care.

That’s obvious in this province, where 53 of Nova Scotia’s 65 total COVID deaths occurred at Halifax’s Northwood long-term care home. Those deaths at Northwood were made worse by a lack of private rooms and bathrooms that allowed the virus to spread easily through the building.

But it’s also a clear problem nationwide. Last June, the Canadian Institute of Health Information released figures that showed nearly one in five COVID-19 cases in Canada involved nursing home residents.

On Tuesday, the provincial legislature’s Health Committee discussed the need for changes in long-term care in Nova Scotia, but Jennifer Henderson reports that ideas for solutions are still few and vague.

Despite a paper that the Nursing Homes Association of Nova Scotia released last year that called for urgent action on the issue, aptly titled “Enough Talk,” yesterday’s meeting was mostly that — talk.

There were some ideas put forward in the meeting. The need for more beds is evident from the Northwood tragedy. The Canadian Union of Public Employees also suggested a three-point plan to improve care:

  1. Address chronic staff shortages for Continuing Care Assistants by increasing pay
  2. Increase staffing levels so that homes aren’t stretched thin, and residents receive an adequate amount of care
  3. Operate long-term care as part of the public health system, not as a privately-owned enterprise that makes money off some of our most vulnerable citizens

For Henderson’s full report on the urgency of the problems facing long-term care, and the lack of clear solutions, click here.

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2. COVID-19 update

Here are the quick hits:

Following an announcement of five new cases Monday, yesterday only one new case of COVID-19 was reported in the province. It’s in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone, the result of a close contact with a previously-reported case.

There are now 27 known active cases in N.S., but currently no hospitalizations.

As of Jan. 9, 3,831 doses of the vaccine have been administered, and 1,076 people have received their second dose.

For the full version of Tim Bousquet’s regular COVID-19 update, which includes potential exposure advisories for two Truro businesses, click here.

And stay safe out there.

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3. Mi’kmaw Friendship Centre’s rapid affordable housing project moves forward

The Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre’s building on College Street. Photo: Google Maps

Affordable housing is one of Halifax’s hottest topics, and certainly not in a good way. The Examiner has covered the topic quite a bit over the past year, from the drop in Halifax’s vacancy rate to a concerning 1%, to people who can’t find living arrangements sleeping on the streets, and a call for more action from HRM on what has become a crisis here.

Zane Woodford reports on one recent development that could slightly alleviate the problem of affordable housing in the city:

One of the three projects receiving federal affordable housing money through the municipality is a step closer to reality after Halifax regional council voted on Tuesday to send the project to a public hearing.

The Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre is set to receive $2,878,400 to redevelop its property at 5853 College St. to create a 30-bed shelter, 10-room shared housing and seven one- or two-bedroom units for urban Indigenous people.

The money comes from the major cities stream of the federal Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI). That program allocated about $8.7 million to Halifax to be spent on affordable housing projects that can be completed within a year. Council voted in November to spend the money on the Friendship Centre’s project along with one from Adsum Women and Children and one from the North End Community Health Centre. The Friendship Centre will also receive $832,000 in provincial funding through the municipality for its project.

The Friendship Centre already owned the property, but there was one hurdle to overcome for the project to be viable: it’s not zoned for a 17-unit residential development, even though it was recently used as an emergency shelter and before that, a federal halfway house.

In December, council voted to initiate the process to allow more residential density on the site, and on Tuesday it passed a motion to move the project further along.

The building designs show the project will be three stories tall with 8,500 square feet of floor area:

Plans for the second floor of the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre’s College Street project. Photo: Facebook

A report to council recommended that land-use bylaws be amended to allow for 17 affordable units to be built, utilizing the federal Rapid Housing Initiative funding. Council voted in favour of the recommendation to approve the first reading and the project will be sent to a public hearing.

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Views

(Anti-)social media fuelled the failed coup; what should we do about that?

Rioters in the Capitol. Photo: Twitter

“We tried to keep our goal pure: to connect people everywhere instantly to what was most meaningful to them. For this to happen, freedom of expression was essential. Some Tweets might facilitate positive change in a repressed country, some might make us laugh, some might make us think, some might downright anger a vast majority of users. We didn’t always agree with the things people people chose to tweet, but we kept information flowing irrespective of any view we might have about the content.

We believed that the open exchange of information would have a positive global impact.”

That’s a quote from the book Things a Little Bird Told Me, a sort of business memoir and guidebook written in 2014 by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. Seven years later, falsehoods, misleading info, and conspiracy theories spread on the social media platform helped stoke a riot that ultimately led the company to take down the account of the President of the United States.

“[I]n my aspirational vision of the future,” Stone continues. “People will use Twitter to topple despotic regimes, and when they do, they will spray-paint stencils of this bird on the crumbling walls of the tyranny.”

He failed to see that despots could also use Twitter to topple democratic societies. They don’t need to censor the platform to do it. They can use it to their advantage, obscuring the truth in a sea of fabrications, making sure reality is lost in the white noise of endless contradictions and baseless claims.

Stone’s idealism in 2014 is understandable. There was — and still is — the idea that the internet would lead to the democratization of information. That it’s a realm unhindered by regulation, censorship or exclusion. Now, that idealistic notion is fading.

Along with Twitter, Facebook has also suspended the American president from its platform, and Google and Apple have removed a less-regulated, conservative-leaning social media platform from their app stores.

These decisions — made by massive corporations, not elected officials — affect us all. Although they are private platforms, not governments bound by free speech laws, social media platforms are too large and important to the public sphere to be allowed to censor public figures, no matter how repulsive the words of those figures may be. Even before the pandemic, when we could still go outside and gather in large numbers, social media and other online forums have increasingly become the public squares we use to exchange ideas, opinions, and information. Even if the platforms are technically private, they’re still very public.

I’m concerned about how we regulate social media, because if it helped stoke so much division in a democratic society like the United States, who’s to say it couldn’t wear away at the social trust we have here in Canada? What would the 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty have looked like had Facebook been around then?

I think we’re doing pretty well up here and I don’t mean to sound alarmist, but there are divisions in Canada that could be deepened by unchecked online conspiracy theories or fake news stories: ideas of separatism in the West, the ever-present two solitudes, tensions between have and have-not provinces, between Indigenous and commercial fishermen, not to mention debates over public health and safety during the pandemic. I don’t believe we’re a country ready to implode, teetering on the precipice of violent rioting, and I don’t think the dissemination of false information or incendiary rhetoric online are the only dangers to democratic society; I’m just saying, if we must regulate a platform that is used so widely and freely, maybe the people using these platforms should have a say in how they’re allowed to be used.

Social media has become too integral to modern life for many of us. It’s not just cat photos and memes. It’s where many of us get our news, debate our politics, share our thoughts and organize the actions we take in the real world. To allow a few billionaires to regulate what’s allowed to be posted and what’s not, is to leave too much responsibility in the hands of a few people unaccountable to voters.

Still, I don’t have any easy answers for what to do. Every option seems to have its drawbacks. And there’s been a LOT of commentary on the merits of the actions Twitter and these other platforms have taken. No solution or criticism I’ve come across has been totally satisfactory.

Just this week, the National Post alone has published four op-eds on the subject, all of them contradicting each other to a degree.

John Robson argues that social media platforms now need to be viewed legally as publishers, not platforms. In other words, Twitter and Facebook should be as responsible as any news organization for the contents of their posts, meaning they could face penalties for libel or hate speech put up by users. That might clean up some hate speech and dangerous rhetoric, but it would also heavily diminish the freedom of what we can post.

Rupa Subramanya fears that by excluding a major elected official’s voice and suppressing another platform (Parler), big tech companies have shown they hold too much power in our democracies:

Those liberals who are applauding these moves should be reminded that the Big Tech firms function as an oligopoly, reaping huge profits and creating almost insurmountable barriers for new entrants. Short of creating a new internet, there is not much that excluded voices can do to join the public square of social media, which, regardless of its faults, is now a vital part of modern democracies.

That’s a fair assessment, but if these companies allow conspiracies and incendiary language to spread on these accounts, they risk inciting violence in the real world, like the storming of a state legislature based on a false notion of widespread voter fraud.

Rex Murphy — who knows a thing or two about polarizing comments — sees it all as an all-out attack on free speech, with big tech gaining a monopoly on public online expression:

Google, Facebook, Apple and Twitter — name a quartet of equal presence and power over communications anywhere in the world today. In this world, where to a degree not known in any other time in history, communication, the distribution of opinion and information is — outside of active armies — the greatest source of power that exists. And now all that power rests with a clutch of super-rich billionaires, with little restraint on how they exercise it.

They are plainly partisan. They ban in one direction only. Their influence is insidious in that it is so very difficult to quantify, but that it is great, no one denies. Whole political campaigns are built around internet and “social media” strategies. The entire protest movement these days gets its energy and even its tactical support from social media.

And finally, Matt Gurney agreed with Twitter for blocking the president’s account, saying that it would be too risky to allow him to keep his online megaphone while his followers were still riled up and ready for a call to arms. But he also feels the company has backed itself into a corner long-term:

In a perfect world, of course, any user that used the platform to foster violence would be removed. But given the cesspool that is social media, that’s probably not realistic. (More on that in a moment.) So limiting it to accounts that are likely to have broad reach would also be a judgment call.

Whatever standard the company sets for itself will be at least somewhat arbitrary, and it’s going to have to justify any decisions it makes against removing a user to that person’s most bitter enemies. This is a complete Kobayashi Maru, a no-win scenario — but it is the path the company chose for itself the moment it removed Trump. Every Republican who’s not removed after a controversial tweet will provoke outrage among Democrats, and vice versa. It’s going to be a permanent standoff between the geese and the ganders.

Gurney continues:

Twitter will either stick to its guns, and look like monsters when they declare something objectively awful as not quite awful enough, or find themselves committed to monitoring a barrage of content so enormous that effective supervision is simply not realistically manageable.

Some of the above is obviously speculative, but this part, at least, is simply objective fact: every call the company ever makes is now going to be judged against the Trump standard. “What, you kicked off a sitting president but you won’t kick off this guy harassing me?”

So, even if they made the right choice in the moment, these companies now hem themselves in based on this precedent. Damned if you do…

It’s hard to fully side with any of these views, and those are only four opinions from one publication. So what do we do?

Canada does have a digital charter that outlines ten principles meant to protect the security and privacy of Canadians online. The last three principles could help define how social media is regulated in Canada in the future, so as to protect against dangerous, unlawful speech:

8. Strong Democracy:

The Government of Canada will defend freedom of expression and protect against online threats and disinformation designed to undermine the integrity of elections and democratic institutions.

9. Freedom from Hate and Violent Extremism:

Canadians can expect that digital platforms will not foster or disseminate hate, violent extremism or criminal content.

10. Strong Enforcement and Real Accountability:
There will be clear, meaningful penalties for violations of the laws and regulations that support these principles.

They’re a helpful starting point, but they’re just a framework against which future legislation should be formed. What will this legislation look like? And how would we enforce it on companies based outside the country? Or ensure those who breach our policies are penalized?

I remember in middle school when parents were just worried kids were using these sites to waste time and post embarrassing pictures.

We’ve got bigger problems now, and it’s best we work to solve them together, or they will be solved for us by the select few who own the equipment. At its best, social media can still be a tool that helps humanity in the real world. As Biz Stone optimistically wrote at the end of his book seven years ago:

“People are basically good. We are connecting ourselves so that we can help each other. So we can collaborate. What better reason could there be?”

I can’t think of one, but helping each other is clearly not the only reason we connect online. That much has become clear in the time since that book came out.

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Noticed

As a Valley boy myself, I’m always happy to see one of our own get some province-wide attention, so I was especially pleased last week to see local musician Daniel MacFadyen — who’s actually from Ontario but has been adopted by Wolfville — profiled by reporter Paul Pickrem for the Chronicle Herald.

MacFadyen has become a mainstay of the music scene in the Valley since he first moved in to start his undergrad degree at Acadia. While taking classes, he performed at local venues with the defacto campus band, the New Digs, and has since moved on from the group and school to become a full-time musician.

With a voice as smooth as his beard is scruffy, and an easy, laidback charm that might convince you he really is a native East Coaster, he’s become one of the most popular acts in my part of the Valley. If you’ve been out for an evening at a Wolfville pub in the last five years, odds are you’ve seen this guy. He’s the tall, scruffy fella surrounded by a crowd of screaming Acadia students and townies.

Or you might know him from his popular single and music video “Goin’ Back to Wolfville,” which he released late in 2019, that’s become a bit of an anthem for the area.

He’s also got an EP under his belt and was set to tour it across Canada last year until, like so many other musicians, the pandemic forced him to cancel his performances through the summer. In his interview with Paul Pickrem, MacFadyen talks about how instead of sulking over his lost tour, he used the newfound time to his advantage, writing songs and working back in Ontario to save up some money, always with the plan to return to his adopted home:

When the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed those [touring] plans, McFadyen kept himself busy for several months working construction in Ontario to pay the bills. However, he was also busy writing songs for the upcoming release of his first full-length album called August, I’m Yours.

During a recent interview, McFadyen said the album’s name came from his desire to return to his Annapolis Valley home and rekindle his music career.

“I made a plan in June to work as hard as I could in construction, then head back to Nova Scotia in August. I looked forward to August all summer, and that’s why I am calling the new album August, I’m Yours,” he said.

McFadyen said the break in performing live caused by health restrictions was a turning point for him.

“I was supposed to tour, so I don’t know if I would have started this record, or even recorded, if it wasn’t for COVID, so that’s the silver lining for me,” he said. “I found a way to adapt so that when I can gig in the future, I will have songs, and hopefully, the record does well.”

During the break from live shows, McFadyen wrote, recorded, and posted a new song online every day for 11 days.

True to his word, he returned to Nova Scotia at the end of the summer, finishing out 2020 by playing regular shows to COVID-capacity crowds at the Anvil, Wolfville’s smaller, slightly cleaner version of the Dome.

This month, he moved to Halifax to try to make his way into the local scene. I’m sure that once bars begin to reopen more fully he’ll become a fixture of the venues here, just as he’s been in the Valley. His first show in town will be March 18 at the Carleton, where his intimate, folk-inspired brand of performing should be right at home.

MacFadyen himself describes his style as “modern folk.” And, although he’s a come from away, you can hear the mark the Maritimes has made in his music. It’s an influence that’s gone beyond his songwriting, he tells Pickrem:

“I am definitely inspired by a lot of local musicians and Canadian singer-songwriters like Joel Plaskett and Craig Cardiff. These people have shown me I can do this full time and make a go of it,” McFadyen said.

“I would say it is a mix of folk music and Maritime music. I always try to put a little bit of the East Coast and what I love about this province and the Maritimes into my music,” he said.

“I love the people and the sense of community. Even during the COVID times, people really come together in Nova Scotia and care about their community. I find that being from this place connects everybody in a special way. It’s something that wherever I go, I really miss.”

Here’s a link to one of the 11 songs he recorded during his break this summer. It’s like the Lumineers meet Lunenburg, but the result is a style all MacFadyen’s own.

After watching the “Goin’ Back to Wolfville” music video for the first time in a while, the closing shot of a packed Library Pub on a Saturday night really made me miss packed pubs in general.

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Government

City

Wednesday

Budget Committee (Wednesday, 10am) — virtual meeting. Live webcast and captioning available.

Design Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm) — virtual meeting. Live webcast not available.

Province

Wednesday

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am) — Mental Health Services – November 22, 2017 Report of the Auditor General, Chapter 2. With Kevin Orrell from Health and Wellness; Brendan Carr from Nova Scotia Health Authority; and Annette Elliott Rose and Maureen Brennan from IWK Health Centre. Info, CART services, and viewing links here.

On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

No public events.

Thursday

NSHA Newfangling Rounds: Mitacs: Supporting Collaborative Research (Thursday, 8:30am) — from the listing:

Mitacs is a national, independent, not-for-profit organization that fosters economic growth and innovation. This presentation will describe the research funding opportunities offered by Mitacs for post-secondary institutions and partner organizations.

Via Zoom.

King’s

Wednesday

Alumni Talk (Wednesday, 12pm) — Lindsay Cameron Wilson will discuss her new book FOOD + REFLECTION. Open to the first eight alumni who register, as well as two current students. Info and registration here.


In the harbour

06:00: MSC Ornella, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Liverpool, England
06:00: Skogafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Argentia, Newfoundland
06:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
11:45: Skogafoss sails for Portland
12:00: CSL Tarantau, bulker, arrives at Pier 9 from Sydney
16:30: MSC Ornella moves to Pier 36
19:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for sea


Footnotes

When I go out jogging around the neighbourhood, I always look for a reason to take a quick break from running. I saw this guy outside the neighbour’s and thought I’d stop to take a photo, and give my lungs a chance to catch up.

Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

I agree with his message for the most part, but the NHL starts up again tonight, so the world will be a little less downside-up tonight. Plus, Nor-Easter Natural Ice members are starting to report better ice conditions for potential skating around the province!

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Ethan Lycan-Lang

Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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  1. Re: “anti-social media and fuelling the coup”… I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how social media has been fuelling polarization in society, precisely at a time when we need collective action to deal with existential threats like climate change and ecosystem destruction. I posted the following on my Facebook page a few days ago and wanted to share it here as well.

    In his book Hate Inc., Matt Taibbi writes about how the media used to seek out the broadest possible audiences, until “behemoths” like Fox News turned the old business model on its head and “employed political slant as a commercial strategy… it was theatre, not news, and it was not designed to seize the whole audience…. Instead of targeting the broad mean, they were now narrowly hunting demographics.”

    Taibbi calls what happened the “siloing effect” where Fox cornered the market on conservative viewers and competitors like CNN and MSNBC were home to liberals. “Whereas once the task was to report out the facts as honestly as we could — within the ‘fairway’ of acceptable thought, of course — the new task was mostly about making sure your viewer came back the next day. We sold anger, and we did it mainly by feeding audiences what they wanted to hear.” Taibbi says that while the overwhelming majority of commercial news reporting is factual and while people should trust reporters, it’s the “context in which they’re operating that’s problematic.” He describes the context this way: “Most journalists work for giant nihilistic corporations whose editorial decisions are skewed by a toxic mix of political and financial considerations.”

    “The news, basically, is bait to lure you in to a pen where you can be sold sneakers or bath soaps or prostatitis cures or whatever else studies say people of your age, gender, race, class, and political bent tend to buy… people need to start understanding the news not as ‘the news’ but as just an individualized consumer experience — anger just for you.”

    How can we expect anything other than what’s happening in the US and elsewhere? The solution is not more censorship — which drives people to the dark places where they feel they might get some answers. Tech companies (FB, Google, Twitter) are neither elected or accountable and should not be gatekeepers of information or regulators of discourse.

  2. As i was reading the MacFadyen article, I kept waiting for the portion that would explain its inclusion in the Examiner. But there was none. It was just a regular artist profile complete with an EP plug and link to product. I have no problem with articles like that in the least. And certainly no problem with MacFadyen, who seems like a talented guy. It just doesn’t feel right in here.

    1. I don’t think so, Colin. There were people there with guns, body armour, flex ties, and they were looking for Pence. Seems like a coup attempt to me….albeit a poorly organized one with no real plan other than to “stop the steal”

      1. The 1983 bombers were more of a coup. Scroll down the link and you will see many links to a man alleged to be an instigator from Antifa. I think I will wait until a more intensive investigation brings forward all the facts.
        This link from twitter asks interesting questions : https://twitter.com/politicalwilli/status/1349083364729360384
        These days twitter is full of dodgy material from the left and the right.

        1. I can’t be bothered with the maelstrom of twitter.

          The 1983 incident was an attempt from what I’ve read, but I think jumping to the conclusion of an antifa instigator causing what happened in DC to be a bit far-fetched. What is more likely is what everyone saw simply because that’s the way it was heading based on the climate down there over the past 4 years. It was almost inevitable something like this was going to happen

  3. Use it or lose it

    We should not seek ways to restrict free speech. We should get better at it. We should learn to use it as much and as well, and with as fervently, as those we want to stop.

    Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
    Like a Colossus, and we petty men
    Walk under his huge legs and peep about
    To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
    Men at some time are masters of their fates:
    The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
    But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
    – Shakespeare

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.
    -W. B. Yeats

    1. Restriction of “free speech” has always occurred throughout history. I would argue some restrictions are necessary for the proper functioning of a society.

      For example: one could argue that your “free speech” is restricted if you went down to the floor of Parliament and started ranting about conspiracy theories; or stood up in a crowded movie theater and exclaimed that the theater was going to explode; or spoke at a rally and told the audience that they should “fight like hell” in overturning a legitimate election,,,

      The consequences to society in general determine how speech should be restricted. There is no such thing as “free speech”; there is just an agreed upon definition.

      1. Conspiracy theories are not a problem when there is a high level of trust in government and elite institutions. The American elite class has failed to maintain sufficient credibility and trust with a very large segment of Americans. The Biden/Harris administration is going to have a very hard time regaining any sort of confidence or trust with a significant minority of Americans.

  4. I study film censorship, particularly in Canada and the United States. Films have been censored or banned for over 120 years, because everyone involved – the majority of viewers, distributors, makers, and governments – agree some material should have a restricted audience, and some material should be prohibited completely. Every province and territory in Canada has the right to ban any film, for any reason. That right was confirmed by the Supreme Court after a Dartmouth journalist questioned Nova’s Scotia’s ban of ‘Last Tango in Paris.’

    There’s no doubt that Canada’s film censorship has been excessive at times, but, until recently, it has always been under the control of elected politicians. The process has been relatively transparent, the regulations and reports public, and some jurisdictions have actively sought public feedback. Anyone unhappy with the decisions could complain to their MLA or MPP.

    It’s different in the USA, where the industry controls film censorship. There’s no public accountability, larger companies get preferential treatment, and while the industry claims self-censorship allows creative freedom, films in the USA are more censored than films in Canada. There’s substantial evidence that government-run film censorship (in a democracy) is less restrictive, more fair, and more accountable than industry-run censorship. That 120 years of film censorship history should be a lesson for internet censorship.

    Unfortunately, decades of anti-government rhetoric and private industry praise has made it difficult to promote the notion that government should regulate the internet. Even with films, the government of Ontario has recently decided regulation should be up the film industry, not the government. But if the government does not regulate the internet, corporations will, and they answer to shareholders and investors, not the general public.