1. Northern Pulp is demanding “more than $100 million” from the province
Joan Baxter has the latest chapter in the Northern Pulp saga:
“Northern Pulp — a Paper Excellence company that belongs ultimately to the billionaire corporate empire of the Widjaja family of Indonesia — is giving the Nova Scotia government two months notice that it intends to start legal proceedings to get “more than $100 million” from the province, which it claims represents the losses it has incurred because of the closure of the pulp mill in Pictou County.
According to an October 19th press release from Paper Excellence, ‘Total losses related to the early closure of the Mill are estimated to exceed $450 million.’”
That same release states that Northern Pulp has “taken the necessary steps to preserve its legal rights related to the closure of the Mill close to 11-years prior to the end of the term of the Effluent Treatment Facility (ETF) lease.” That lease, signed back in 2002 by John Hamm’s Progressive Conservative government, extended the lease for Boat Harbour to be used for mill effluent until 2030. The mill officially closed in January of 2020. (At that time, Hamm quietly stepped back from his role as chair of the board of Northern Pulp — a position he took four years after his time as premier).
In the news release, the company states that its intention to sue the province is not only a “critical component of Northern Pulp’s plan to transform and re-start the Mill,” but that any compensation won from future legal proceedings, or a settlement, would “benefit Nova Scotians across the province…and provide an economically viable solution for implementing ecological forestry.” Essentially, the argument goes that if taxpayers give Northern Pulp millions of dollars, it will only stand to benefit taxpayers.
As usual, Baxter cuts through the bull to give us the full story. Check out the full article for a look at what’s happened with Northern Pulp so far, what money the province has already paid them over the years, and how the company plans to piss on our boots here and convince us it’s just raining.
2. COVID update
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The province held a COVID briefing Tuesday morning and the main takeaway is Nova Scotia is doing pretty well through this fourth wave of the pandemic.
We have a high vaccination rate — 77% of the whole population have both doses — and Dr. Strang says “the vast majority” of people and businesses are following the proof of vaccine mandate. (By the way, this Friday you can start using a QR code app that can be scanned to show your proof of vaccine).
But Dr. Strang and Premier Tim Houston continued to urge caution as new cases continue to appear, and community spread remains a factor among the unvaccinated. Let’s get to those new case numbers now, shall we?
The province reported 12 new cases yesterday — eight in the Central Zone and four in the Western Zone. There are now 187 known active cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia.
Three of yesterday’s newly announced cases are part of an outbreak at Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville. This is the second outbreak of COVID-19 to occur at a Nova Scotian hospital. In May, 31 people contracted the virus at the Halifax Infirmary, resulting in three deaths. The executive director of Nova Scotia Health Authority’s Western Zone told reporters yesterday that all affected patients have been isolated, while 50 inpatient staff and physicians have been tested and an outbreak management team has been set up in response. “The outbreak at Valley Regional Hospital is limited as it stands,” was her summary of the situation at yesterday’s briefing.
For more information on the outbreak, as well as all the usual news on testing, vaccinations, case demographics, and potential exposure advisories, head to Tim Bousquet’s full provincial COVID-19 update right here.
3. The Woodford Report: news from Halifax Regional Council this week
Zane Woodford’s back with his regular roundup of all the Halifax Regional Council news you need to know this week.
This one’s behind the paywall, so subscribe here to read the full report. Below are the highlights:
- First, do you like cement and multi-lane boulevards? Well, I hope you’re sitting down because Burnside could be getting bigger. Council awarded a contract for the expansion of the Dartmouth business park that will add 120 acres of industrial land to the area. Brycon Construction Limited got the $29 million dollar contract and work will start in three weeks, with completion of the project expected for the end of 2022.
- In other Dartmouth development news, Port Wallace could be getting some work done. (You might remember the Examiner reporting on the development proposal there last year in three parts, here, here, and here). Possible development of the area, which could lead to upwards of 9,000 people one day living there, has been on hold until the provincial government cleans up contamination from the former Montague Gold Mines nearby. Now a staff report to council yesterday has provided an update: “the tender could be going out to clean up Montague Mines in summer 2022, and the province has determined that the arsenic contamination around Barry’s Run presents a low risk even from prolonged exposure.” All this could be a step toward the eventual development of the area.
- Finally, Mayor Mike Savage brought a motion to council yesterday asking councillors to endorse his signing two climate commitments: Cities Race to Resilience and Cities Race to Zero. The motion, which passed unanimously, comes a month before Savage is scheduled to head to Scotland for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. Savage told council that Halifax is already in line with these commitments through HalifACT 2050.
4. Yesterday at Province House …
This item was written by Jennifer Henderson.
The Houston government announced yesterday it will provide $2.5 million in new funding to hire at least 13 nurse practitioners to care for residents in long-term care homes.
The nurse practitioners will work in more than one home alongside other health professionals. They will be able to provide some treatments for residents, as well as order tests and administer medication. Many nursing homes across the province have had trouble retaining an attending physician, who may visit only once a week.
“Older Nova Scotians deserve dignity and higher levels of care, and we can’t do that without a skilled workforce and facilities with the right staffing levels,” said Barbara Adams, minister of Seniors and Long-Term Care. “This is only the first step of the hiring we need to do to fix healthcare for seniors and provide more care for thousands of people.”
“This is fantastic news,” said Cheryl Smith, a nurse practitioner and one of three members of the Expert Panel on Long-term Care appointed by former Health minister Randy Delorey. “It’s another positive step forward to improving the quality of life for long-term care residents, as well as supporting the on-site care teams and health system.”
Adams, who is a physiotherapist by profession, said nurse practitioners hired to assist long-term care residents may also be able to see people living nearby who don’t have access to a family doctor. About 78,000 Nova Scotians are currently registered on the wait list for a family physician or nurse practitioner. Adams also expects the new hires to help relieve some of the pressure on emergency departments and reduce the need for ambulance transfers.
No RCMP review
In the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in modern Canadian history, previous Liberal Justice Minister Mark Furey told journalists a review of police services across Nova Scotia was underway. Another reason for undertaking such a review, he said, was the anticipated rise in cost to municipalities once the new RCMP union negotiated its first collective agreement.
That was then (the summer of 2020) and this is now (the fall of 2021), as Preston MLA Angela Simmonds discovered when she questioned the current Justice Minister during Question Period yesterday.
The bottom line, as Justice Minister Brad Johns (PC) told the Legislature, is that he has been unable to find any formal review of policing services across the province undertaken by former Justice Minister Furey, whose previous career spanned more than 20 years as an RCMP officer.
Furthermore, Johns, who is a former municipal councillor from Sackville, has no intention of undertaking such a review until after the Mass Casualty Commission delivers its report in November 2022.
Johns indicated some individual municipalities have requested the province review their policing costs and arrangements with the RCMP (for example, the Municipality of Colchester where the shootings began) but he did not provide any detail.
The entire exchange during Question Period was disturbing and raises cynicism about political accountability among both Liberals and PCs to a new level. Here’s the exchange between Liberal MLA Angela Simmonds and Justice Minister Brad Johns:
Not long ago, people took to the streets chanting ‘Black Lives Matter.’ In the face of persistent systemic racism that occurs in policing, municipalities have raised concerns about rising costs, equitable service delivery, and the lack of communication and transparency about operations. This previous government committed to launching a review of policing models. But the current Minister of Justice indicated there is no such review underway.
Without knowing what is working and not working, how can the government ensure they are providing the best services for Nova Scotians and will the Minister of Justice commit to a review of policing and service models in Nova Scotia?
As I have said publicly, while I can’t be held responsible for what the previous Minister said or didn’t say, when I have inquired of staff at the Department of Justice it’s been very clear there was not an official review of policing done. I’m not prepared at this time to look at doing that. We are currently waiting for results and allowing the Mass Casualty Commission to do that work independently. I do know there will be certain recommendations that will reflect on policing and once we have that report we will see where we need to go from there.
I would say that is probably a year out, so my question is how many reviews have been requested by individual municipalities and how many have been completed?
Since I have been the Minister, (eight weeks) there has not been one review request that has come to me from a municipality… however there are always internal, ongoing reviews looking at policing, that’s just day-to-day business.
Houston Sticking to July election date
“Whatever date we picked there would be opposition to it,” Houston told Global News yesterday. “We’ve finally got fixed election dates and Nova Scotians should be proud.”
5. Province to make announcement on housing this morning
Premier Tim Houston and Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister John Lohr have a news conference scheduled for 11am today. The newly elected legislature sat for the first time last week, and Houston’s PCs were light on plans for addressing the housing crisis, so this conference today is expected to shed a bit more light on what this government intends to do about housing in Nova Scotia.
On Monday, Halifax Regional Municipality published their own news release, stating its intent to work with the province on housing. The statement says the province has already “indicated its intention” to adopt recommendations from a recent report from the Affordable Housing Commission. The Examiner reported on those 17 recommendations here in May. We’ll likely see what the province has to say about that today.
Just what is affordable housing?
So the provincial government is set to make some announcements regarding its plans to address the housing crisis in Nova Scotia. Bit of a slow response for a ‘crisis,’ but so be it.
You can read a million suggestions on what should be done to increase housing stock and ensure there are affordable options for people with lower incomes.
Check out the recent recommendations laid out by the Affordable Housing Commission here. Or the May report from Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia. That second report says more than 30,000 permanent affordable housing units are needed in the province.
But just what does affordable housing mean? It gets talked about all the time. We need more of it, but how do we define it?
The Canadian Mental Health Association considers housing affordable if ALL of the costs involved in sheltering a household add up to no more than 30% of that household’s gross income. Seems reasonable. But seeing as everyone’s income and household is different, it also seems like it would be difficult to legislate, mandate, or even suggest rental prices that are “affordable.”
First off, say you’re a minimum wage earner and you work 48 hours a week for all 52 weeks of the year. Sounds like an awful year, but never mind that right now. At $12.95 an hour, your gross income at the end of the year is $32,323.20. That means affordable housing for you is a one-bedroom apartment at a cost of about $800 a month.
A recent article from Nicola Seguin at CBC covered a rally put on by members of ACORN. Sequin wrote:
The demonstration took place outside of BANC Group headquarters, a company that received a $115.5-million low-cost loan from federal Crown corporation Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation in June to build 76 “affordable units” in a 324-unit apartment complex it plans to build on Joseph Howe Drive.
The apartments are expected to cost between $1,455 and $1,844 a month depending on unit type, according to the federal Department of Families, Children and Social Development.
For an apartment costing $1,455 a month to be deemed affordable by the 30% rule, a household would need to be raking in 58,200. According to Stats Canada’s most recent numbers from 2015, Nova Scotia’s median average income was $60,764 at the time. So “affordable” housing at that price would comfortably house middle income Nova Scotians. Assuming that a few people in this province might make less than the median average income, we might need to reconsider whether $1,455 rent is low enough to be deemed affordable.
Closer to where I’m living, Woodman’s Grove, an apartment complex in Wolfville, received $8.2 million in federal money in 2018 to build affordable units that could house 48 families. Currently, the lowest rent at the complex is about $1,300 for a single bedroom unit.
They’re currently building a new set of units that will be based on the income of tenants, though the property manager couldn’t give me any specific numbers on how that sliding scale will work. And would renting units based on income incline landlords to rent only to the highest earning tenants who still qualify for affordable housing?
All this is to say, before we start working on building affordable housing, I’m curious as to whether we have a uniform idea of what “affordable” actually means. And whether the definition on paper matches the very real needs people in this province have right now.
Let’s see if the provincial government has anything to say on the subject today.
1. Growing Spring Garden
It’s now been a year since I moved out of my old apartment across from the Central Library on Queen Street. Every time I go back and visit the old neighbourhood, it seems something’s changed.
My first time going back, there were no parking metres, and new one-way lanes on the side streets off Spring Garden had messed with some of my shortcuts around the city. The next time I stopped by, the Mills Brothers building was a hole in the ground. A few months later I came back to find Spring Garden Road is now Spring Garden
Temporarily at least.
The municipality started digging up the street in June. Originally it was set to reopen next month, but that projection’s now been extended into December. So what will the road look like if it ever comes back?
The Examiner reported on the project in 2019 when it was still just a proposal. And again in April this year, when the project’s budget increased. But it’s been a while since then.
Luckily, this week PLANifax released a handy explainer video to fill you in or refresh your memory on all the changes you can look forward to (or complain about) when the road reopens later this year. It’s a good quick look that really helps you visualize what’s coming.
We’ll be getting narrower roads prioritizing buses and intentionally slowing traffic. We’ll also see wider sidewalks — something we got a temporary taste of in the first summer of the pandemic — as well as more trees, shrubs, and flowers. Essentially, the city is shrinking the road and growing the Spring Garden. There’ll be some other changes to the corridor between Queen and South Park Streets. The power lines will be buried for one. So bring on those hurricanes!
Spring Garden Road holds a special place in my heart. Despite the glacial pace of traffic, the pervasive panhandling on its soon-to-be-widened sidewalks, the constant condo construction surrounding it, and the clientele that floods in and out of the Oasis and the street’s McDonald’s franchise, I do like to walk around those blocks on a nice summer day. It’s where the new library has become one of the centres of the community. It’s where I worked for the first four months of the pandemic, looking down from the ninth floor of the Lord Nelson on people sitting outside the Public Gardens on the corner, or drinking in the Beer Garden across the street. I used to walk from shop to shop while my mom got her hair done on Dresden Row. I bought my first CD — Green Day’s American Idiot — at the old HMV there. Bookmark’s the store that got me through some of the more boring stretches of quarantine in my apartment. And Shoppers is where I’d run into everyone I knew in town. It’s not one of my favourite streets in town, but there are some good memories there.
I’ll still never willingly drive down it — I guess that’s part of the point of the new changes — but I’m excited to see it back up and running.
I’ll leave you with a comment from a reader on Erica Butler’s 2019 article on the then upcoming project. It’s one of my favourite opinions about Spring Garden Road traffic:
On why some people would want to drive the length of Spring Garden road given the typically glacial pace of traffic.
There is a cadre that likes to drive the street, and the slow pace is for them a feature. This allows their Harley’s modified pipes to be demonstrated repeatedly, their universally admired taste in music exhibited at enormous volume, the beauty of that waxed, lime green 2002 Echo with the two foot tall spoiler and supercharger throat shown to all, etc. The slower the progression down the street, and the larger the audience of pedestrians, the better for this. Also, apart from this cadre, there are people who just like to drive the street and remember when they were a part of it.
What are your thoughts on the coming changes? Is there a Haligonian without a hot take on changing streetscapes and traffic design?
2. It’s fall in Nova Scotia
I’ve taken a few drives down the old number one highway in the Annapolis Valley these past two weeks and I believe we are at the end of the prime leaf-viewing season. So get out there this weekend and take in the colours before the wind whips them away.
I’m no Stephen Archibald, but I did my best to capture a few autumn scenes from my drives last week.
Above is a tree almost completely turned, so you know it’s October. Standing above a stack of apple crates, so you know it’s the Valley.
Here it is from another angle.
Below is a picture of the Acadia University campus decked out in its school colours. In retrospect, this is likely the most dignified photo taken at Acadia this past homecoming weekend.
And finally, in honour of the aforementioned Stephen Archibald’s recent photo series on patchwork quilts, here’s my own contribution. Maybe the most famous patchwork quilt in the province:
But I’m no great photographer. Get out there and see the leaves for yourself before they’re all gone.
Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am) — livestreamed on YouTube
License Appeal Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm, City Hall) — details here
Design Review Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm) — livestreamed on YouTube
Public Information Meeting, Case 23224 (Wednesday, 6pm) — Application by Clayton Developments to redevelop the former Penhorn Mall property with a mixed use community containing a mix of low-rise, mid-rise, and high-rise residential buildings in addition to retail uses on the lands at 535-569 Portland Street, Dartmouth. To attend the virtual meeting, email this person. More details here.
Active Transportation Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm) — livestreamed on YouTube
Public Information Meeting, Case 23224 (Thursday, 6pm) — if required, details here
The Business Value of DevOps (Wednesday, 11am) — webinar with Roy Kaushik
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Wednesday, 12pm) — via Zoom, Brenda Gunn, Pamela Palmater, Brent Cotter, and Constance MacIntosh will address questions such as:
Why is UNDRIP relevant for reconciliation? What are the flashpoint issues and are they really game-stoppers? What does ‘Free, Prior and Informed Consent’ mean? What are the political costs of failing to implement UNDRIP? Why are some provinces standing back while others step forward? What do we know about best practices for successful implementation?
Targeted metabolic reprogramming to enhance the efficacy of oncolytic virus-based cancer immunotherapy (Wednesday, 4pm) — Barry Kennedy will talk; email here for the link
Women in Innovation & Entrepreneurship Fall Speaker Series # 2 (Thursday, 8am, Emera Idea Hub, room 1003) — with Alice B. Aiken, Rhiannon Davies, Gabrielle Masone, and Hayam Mahmnoud-Ahmed; more info here
Live Conversation with President Deep Saini (Thursday, 9:30am) — with alumni guests; info and link here
Writing Opera, Singing Blackness (Thursday, 12pm) — Live streamed talk with Naomi André from the University of Michigan. She will outline the complications around representations of Blackness in opera and explore how the opera stage has become a space for Black narratives and social justice.
Show Me the Numbers: Stats and Data Discovery Tools to Support your Research (Thursday, 5:30pm) — This online session will focus on key concepts and challenges in finding data and statistics for your research as well as several useful places and strategies to explore, particularly for survey data from Statistics Canada.
Mount Saint Vincent
MSVU Black and Indigenous Speaker Series: Dr. Pamela Palmater (Thursday, 12pm) — RSVP here to receive a link to this event.
Jungle Flower Workshop (Thursday, 6pm) — online space where people who have experienced abuse and sexual violence can share their stories
In the harbour
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
08:00: Ile D Aix, cable layer, arrives at Pier 9 from St. John’s
10:00: East Coast, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
12:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
08:00: NS Champion, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper
09:00: Pantelis, oil tanker, moves from anchorage to Point Tupper
18:00: Arctic Lift, barge, and Western Tugger, tug, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
- Speaking of Spring Garden, you might remember the familiar sounds of Stephen Gates, the people’s violinist, who would often play music on the street. Looking back through old videos of the road made me think of him. I used to see him sometimes while walking around the neighbourhood. Last May, Aly Thomson wrote an article for CBC saying he’d escaped homelessness and was now living with family in the Annapolis Valley. Maybe I’ll hear him around here some time. Anyway, I thought I’d share an old video from some fellow King’s alumni — The People’s Violinist. Narrow sidewalks and overhead power lines won’t be the only things missing from Spring Garden’s past when construction clears up…
- Is anyone else watching this National League series? It’s been something else. Three games in and already a classic.
- If any urban planners are looking for ways to slow traffic, look no further than the four way stop that welcomes you to Main Street Wolfville. That thing is the gold standard for creating gridlock.
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The standard definition of affordable housing is total housing cost is no more than 30% of income but as noted for practical housing program purposes more is needed. The best approach was recommended by Carolyn Whitzman in her presentation to the Affordable Housing Commission. Do a housing needs assessment then establish a range of rents that are affordable for different income levels AND household sizes based on the proportion of households of various sizes at those various income levels. This should lead to target #s of units with rents affordable at 80% of area median income; # of units with rents affordable at 60% of area median income; and # of units with rents affordable at 40% of area median income- at a minimum. Units affordable at median income alone aren’t going to solve the real problem. To argue they are is grossly misleading.
I lived with my parents until I married. I would arrive home on leave hoping someone was home and when my mother opened the door her first words would be ‘How long are you home for ?’. My ‘rent’ was the amount she asked for. My first leave ‘rent’ consisted of the amount of money required to buy a fridge for the breakfast room. My first leave lasted all of 18 days and then I was gone for almost 7 months. The fridge lasted almost 30 years.