News

1. School reopening

School buses are seen in the parking lot of a hockey arena in Dartmouth on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“The president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union says an email message sent to all staff who work for the Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education (CCRCE) is an attempt to muzzle concerns raised by teachers and other staff about safely returning to school,” reports Jennifer Henderson:

The Chignecto Central area covers 67 schools from Elmsdale north to Truro and west to Amherst. The memo sent by Jessi Taggart, the director of Human Resources Services, acknowledges administrators don’t yet have all the answers but encourages staff to use a newly created internal email account to voice questions or concerns about the Back to School plan. Speaking directly with a supervisor or union representative is also recommended. 

What is not “appropriate” — according to the paragraphs below contained in the August 20 email — is for teachers, custodians, bus drivers, educational assistants, and other staff to take their issues to their elected representatives. 

Staff members should not be contacting the Minister of Education, the Premier of Nova Scotia and other government officials with their concerns as staff members. This is not an appropriate way to voice concerns about returning to work,” stated the email signed by Jessi Taggart, director of Human Resources Services for CCRCE.

In addition, we ask that you please be mindful of your communications outside of work and consider how comments made by employees can be perceived by others. In our collective efforts to effectively support our communities and serve the needs of students, we share a responsibility to allay fears and instill public confidence. Staff are encouraged to ask questions, but should avoid situations where they could be in conflict of interest with their employer, such as during public meetings and when posting or sharing social media posts.

Click here to read “As school reopening plans proceed, the Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education attempts to muzzle teachers.”

Premier Stephen McNeil and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang will be giving a briefing on COVID-19 today, at 3pm. You can watch it here. I’ll be attending via phone.

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2. Vaccinations

Dr. Noni MacDonald says we must have solid plans to catch up on routine immunizations before a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available. Photo: Dalhousie University

“Routine immunizations are among the many things disrupted by the pandemic, and Dr. Noni MacDonald says we must have solid plans to catch up before a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

The pediatrician and well-known vaccine expert teaches at Dalhousie University and co-authored a paper published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health earlier this month. Titled ‘COVID-19 and missed routine immunizations: designing for effective catch-up in Canada,’ the article examines the need to do this “quickly and effectively.”

The authors note that the pandemic has disrupted routine immunization programs worldwide. They say no one is safe from vaccine-preventable diseases “until we are all safe,” adding that if routine vaccine and catch-up programs are done well during the pandemic, it will strengthen the country’s “immunization foundation” for a future COVID-19 vaccine roll out.

“Not getting kids immunized has long term downstream problems in that you end up with kids scattered across the country who will not be immunized, and then when measles comes in it’ll just pick them off,” MacDonald said in an interview.

“That causes us a lot of distress in terms of the amount of money it costs to shut down an outbreak when it happens. And it can kill kids. It’s not trivial to not be immunized.”

Click here to read “Time to catch up on all our vaccines: Doctor.”

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3. Corporate Shell Game

We’ve taken Joan Baxter’s two-part series, “Corporate Shell Game,” out from behind the paywall.

Photo: Joan Baxter

Part 1 is “Northern Pulp seeks protection from creditors in a BC court — and its largest creditor is its owner, Paper Excellence.”

“Northern Pulp — the mill in Pictou County — has gone into hibernation. And Northern Pulp — the company — is ‘insolvent,’” reported Baxter:

It is one of seven related companies petitioning for creditor protection in the British Columbia Supreme Court, while it seeks “a plan of compromise or arrangement.”

The petitioners seeking relief from debt payments, described in court documents as “persons,” are:

1057863 B.C. Ltd., Northern Resources Nova Scotia Corporation, Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation, Northern Timber Nova Scotia Corporation, 3253527 Nova Scotia Limited, 3243722 Nova Scotia Limited, and Northern Pulp NS GP ULC.

Two more affiliates, Northern Pulp Nova Scotia LP and Northern Timber Nova Scotia LP are not petitioners, but are “the main operating entities of the petitioners” and are “indirect subsidiaries of 1057863 B.C. Ltd and Northern Resources Nova Scotia Corporation.”

The total debt from which the petitioners are seeking relief — the “financial difficulty” in which they find themselves — is about $311 million.

Of this, Northern Pulp & Co. owes $4.4 million to 245 creditors, mostly small companies, contractors, and individuals here in Nova Scotia.

Employee-related liabilities — pensions and severance payments — amount to $7.1 million.

The petitioners owe the province of Nova Scotia nearly $86 million.

But the bulk of Northern Pulp’s debt — $213.3 million — is owed to one of the petitioners’ owners, Paper Excellence Canada Holdings Corporation.

So what, exactly, is Paper Excellence Canada Holdings Corporation? And who, exactly, owns it?

Baxter goes on to disentangle the corporate ownerships of all these companies.

Click here to read “Corporate shell game: Northern Pulp seeks protection from creditors in a BC court — and its largest creditor is its owner, Paper Excellence.”

Northern Pulp Mill during a shutdown in October 2019. Photo: Joan Baxter

Part 2 is “Northern Pulp-affiliated companies say that without major concessions, they won’t be able to pay back nearly $86 million they owe to the province of Nova Scotia. So far, however, the government has not caved, and is not agreeing to new financing.”

As Phil Moscovitch described it:

Baxter looks closely at the affidavit filed in BC Supreme Court for creditor protection. She writes:

For those who assumed that the Northern Pulp saga was over when the Pictou County mill ceased producing pulp in January this year, the company’s case for creditor protection in the Supreme Court of British Columbia may put paid to that. 

In his 607-page affidavit to the BC court, Bruce Chapman, general manager of the petitioners for credit relief and “the general manager (Northern Pulp) of Paper Excellence Canada Holdings Corporation,” makes several statements that show that Northern Pulp and Paper Excellence Canada have no intention of letting the province of Nova Scotia off the hook for a series of agreements that past governments of all stripes have made in the mill owners’ favour. 

Chapman also makes it clear that the mill owners expected Premier Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government to alter the Boat Harbour Act to permit Northern Pulp to keep using the lagoon for effluent until it got approval for and had time to build a new treatment facility. 

Governments have been incredibly generous to the mill, and that generosity cuts across party lines. Baxter writes:

Just three months before Paper Excellence acquired the mill in 2011, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government gave the owners $28.1 million from its “green transformation” fund. Announcing the grant, then federal defence minister and MP for Central Nova Peter MacKay said that the federal funds would reduce the mill’s odour emissions by at least 70%.

And yet, in 2013, Northern Pulp’s own reports to the National Pollutant Release Inventory showed that emissions of fine particulate matter and total reduced sulphur had actually increased since 2012, and exceeded allowed levels, despite government directives to reduce those emissions.

In 2013, the provincial NDP government of Darrell Dexter offered Northern Pulp loans totalling $20.8 million, of which $2.5 million was forgivable with conditions. The government said the loans were to “support clean air” and “rural jobs.”

Yet the air pollution just got worse…

The only fine the province ever imposed for the mill’s failure to comply with environmental regulations came in 2017 — after it flunked its emission tests for the third consecutive year. The fine was for $697.50, just 50 cents more than a jaywalking fine in Halifax Regional Municipality.

And that’s only a tiny part of the story. Grants, loans, ongoing leases for cutting at incredibly generous terms — Northern Pulp’s owners have benefited handsomely. Baxter gets into that history and then looks at what happens now.

If you’ve read the Examiner for any length of time, you’ll know that Baxter is not only an incredibly tenacious reporter, she also does a great job of digging through mountains of information and laying it all out clearly.

Click here to read Part 2.

While these articles are now free for the world to read, it costs us plenty to produce them. If you support this kind of deep-dive journalism, please consider subscribing.

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4. Waterfront art gallery

The waterfront site of the future Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“Nova Scotians will get a chance next month to view three conceptual designs for a new Art Gallery and Public Space along the Halifax waterfront,” reports Jennifer Henderson:

During September, the designs for the $130 million project will be available for viewing in person as part of an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia on Hollis Street, as well as on digital media.

Sarah Levy-MacLeod, a communications officer for the Department of Communities, Culture, and Heritage, says the province will collect feedback from the public which will be shared with the successful team.

Three teams of architects and project engineers have been short-listed from an international design competition that attracted 46 submissions from around the world. The prize is a $10.2 million fixed-fee contract to design and engineer a building that will become the centrepiece for a new waterfront Arts District. It must incorporate elements of Mi’kmaq culture.

Click here to read “Public to be asked to comment on three design proposals for waterfront art gallery.”

Will this be the project that completes the waterfront destruction hat trick?

Let’s hope the winning design doesn’t include glory holes, and leaves the boardwalk with some afternoon sun.

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Views

1. Iron in Liverpool

Photo: Stephen Archibald

“On the way back from Summerville Beach we stopped in Liverpool for a quick look at the cast iron fences that surround plots in the Old Burial Ground,” writes Stephen Archibald:

The last time I visited these little, iron delights was over 40 years ago so my memories were, let’s say, sketchy.

My first surprise was to realize that this is a great collection of decorative iron fences, probably the best group that survives in the province. So well worth a visit if you want an authentic glimpse at the decorative sensibilities of Victorian Nova Scotians.

I was thrilled to see this collection because it gives a sense of how common iron fencing once was and how fragile its survival might be. An ambitious lawn mowing contractor could clear all these away in a morning.

This is a fun post, and worth reading in its entirety. Stick around for the postscript.

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2. Judy Haiven

Judy Haiven is indefatigable in her retirement. I get exhausted just reading her extensive blog posts. Have a look.

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Noticed

One of my favourite podcasts is Spacepod, produced by Carrie Nugent, a planetary scientist and professor at Olin College. Each episode, Nugent interviews another scientist about something or another in the cosmos. It’s both light-hearted and informative.

In the most recent episode, Nugent interviewed Dr. Abby Fraeman, a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) who is on the team that operates the NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars.

Fraeman explained that the JPL anticipated the shutdowns caused by the pandemic, so created and instituted a work from home plan, such that the rover team could connect into JPL’s system from their home computers and send the rover this way and that on the Red Planet. Talk about working remotely.

Anyway, one thing JPL had to consider was people working from home and stepping away from their computer, or leaving it on while asleep. What would happen if the family cat started walking around the keyboard, as cats are wont to do? Could a tabby in suburban Pasadena send Curiosity plunging off a Martian cliff?

A cat, potentially destroying a space mission.

I’m not sure if the scientists were joking about the rover-killing cat or not, but Fraeman assured us that after considering the possibility, enough controls were built into the system to prevent it.

You gotta plan for everything.

It’s worth a listen.

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Government

City

Wednesday

Special Community Design Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 11:30am) — virtual meeting; agenda here.

Special Heritage Advisory Committee — (Wednesday, 3pm) — virtual meeting; agenda here.

Special Halifax and West Community Council (Wednesday, 6pm) — virtual meeting; agenda here.

Thursday

No meetings.

Province

No meetings.


In the harbour

04:30: MSC Brianna, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
11:00: Ef Ava, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Argentia, Newfoundland
11:30: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 41 to Autoport
11:30: Siem Confucius, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
15:00: Dalian Express, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
19:00: Ef Ava sails for Portland


Footnotes

Episode 8, the final episode, of the Uncover: Dead Wrong podcast series airs on The Current today. You can also download the podcast anytime, here.

I’ve been writing Dead Wrong Extras — articles that explore angles in the Glen Assoun wrongful conviction story that couldn’t be worked into the podcast. The plan was to have a third Dead Wrong Extra out today, but frankly I was so tired yesterday I thought a better use of my time would be to nap away most of the afternoon and try to reenergize to better focus on writing today. We’ll see. I have at least three more Extras in mind, and I’ll get to them. Read the first one, on the Halifax police and serial killer Michael McGray, here. And read the second one, on witness Corey Tuma’s ever-changing account of the night of the murder, here.

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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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    1. My comment goes unanswered… what does the Halifax Examiner know about the CIA remote viewing experiments?

  1. Baxter’s reporting is amazing, but we’ve known for some time that the Northern Pulp rabbit hole is not going anywhere positive.

  2. None of the planning for the new art gallery means squat. It is absolutely the wrong spot to invest countless of millions of public money in an area at highest risk from climate change related sea level rise and storm surge. A huge percentage of the design and construction cost will be diverted in a futile attempt to combat nature. That money should be spent on the base building in another location out of harm’s way.

    1. Agreed. Sea level rise is inexorable and inevitable.

      And storm surge? Check out Hurricane Laura, approaching the Gulf shore as I type this. Halifax Harbour is not immune to such events in future.