News

1. Daily update

I’ll be reporting on the daily updates from the province for the duration. Here was yesterday afternoon’s:

• There are two more positive COVID-19 cases in Nova Scotia, bringing the total to 14. Both of the new cases are travel-related. One of the 14 people has recently been hospitalized; “they are doing well,” said Dr. Robert Strang;

• The Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) has warned people about possible “low-risk” exposure at a basketball tournament held March 5-7 at the Halifax Grammar School gymnasium and the Homburg Athletic Centre gymnasium at Saint Mary’s University; those who had close contact with the infected person have been contacted, and if anyone else was infected, they should develop symptoms by this Saturday, March 21;

• Someone who is part of  “the Dalhousie community” has been diagnosed with COVID-19; no further details were provided, but Strang said those who have been in direct contact with that person either have been or will soon be contacted;

• The province is giving $1 million to Feed Nova Scotia in order to buy food and expand staff;

• The province is spending $2.2 million in emergency assistance to automatically give everyone on Income Assistance an extra $50; that money should start arriving in bank accounts tomorrow, and the figure could be increased;

• $230,000 in emergency funding is being spent on Community Links and Senior Safety programs;

• Premier Stephen McNeil: effective today, “no tenant in the province of Nova Scotia, whose income has been impacted as a result of COVID-19 can be evicted by their landlord” for the next three months;

• McNeil also said that students living in university dorms who are Nova Scotia residents should “go home”; “I also want to say to those who are left on campus: there’s absolutely no partying or large gatherings”;

• The Irving Shipyard has closed.

There are 800-900 people living in Adult Residential Centres, Regional Rehabilitation Centres, and Residential Care Facilities. These residents are people living with disabilities, and they typically live in dormitory-like settings, with shared washroom facilities. It’s unrealistic in those circumstances to practice safe distancing, and there are lots of care providers coming and going from the facilities.

Very many of these people — most of them — and their families have requested being placed in their communities through the Small Option Homes initiative. In fact, the province has adopted a framework for moving those people out of the institutions, but has missed its deadlines and the wait list is growing.

I asked Community Services Minister Kelly Regan if in the light of the current emergency, there were any plans to accelerate the moving of people out of institutions. Her response:

The Association that governs [the institutions] has a very robust plan for events such as this, and we can certainly make the head of that association available if you would like specific advice about what is happening there. What I can tell you is that in our most recent budget we had money to move 50 Nova Scotians into new placements this year, and that ramps up to 400 over the next few years, so there are plans underway to do that.

I’ll take that as “no.”

2. Reduced bus service

A Halifax transit bus at the Sackville Terminal, March 18, 2020. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

Late yesterday, Halifax Transit announced to its drivers a 30% reduction in service effective Monday, March 23. All of the reduction is for Monday-Friday service, while Saturday and Sunday service remains the same, at least for now.

Last night, I spoke with Ken Wilson, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 508. The union understands the needs for cuts and is supportive of them, but Wilson was upset about the implementation of the cuts — he told me that he had been working with management to produce a more reasoned approach, “but then with no warning they came in with their own plan.”

As Wilson explained it, the new reduced schedule hobbles together Saturday service with some add-ons, like keeping the express bus runnings. “No one’s working downtown, you don’t need express buses,” he said.

Wilson said the plan violates several terms of the drivers’ collective agreement, and will result in drivers on routes they are not familiar with. “They’re putting the public and drivers at risk,” he said.

As of this morning, the city hasn’t officially announced the cuts.

You can read Halifax Transit’s memo to drivers about the cuts here.

3. Michelin

Photo: Halifax Examiner

Several readers have told me that all three Michelin plants in Nova Scotia are operating.

Michelin employs about 3,600 people in Nova Scotia — which obviously is important income, but an outbreak of COVID-19 in any of the locations could result in widespread infection as employees at the end of their shifts return to far-flung communities throughout the province.

It’s hard to see how the manufacturing of tires is an essential service, especially since the province is urging social distancing over the next few weeks.

And it’s especially frustrating that Michelin is contravening the province’s exhortations to stop large gatherings when Michelin is the recipient of so much government largess — easily in the hundreds of millions of dollars through the years, as Stephen Kimber pointed out last year.

As of this writing, Michelin hasn’t returned a call for comment.

I’ll ask the premier about this at today’s briefing.

4. Charity and COVID-19

What precautions are you taking to protect your own employees? Do you offer paid sick leave for those needing to self-isolate? @Concentrix https://t.co/KsmURbmMHb

— Mary Campbell (@MaryPCampbell) March 16, 2020

Related to the above, Mary Campbell of the Cape Breton Spectator reviews the sick leave policies at the call centres in Cape Breton, and finds them lacking:

I’m picking on the call centers because they’ve been on the receiving end of so much government assistance over the years they make an easy target, but the fact is, many employers in Canada do not offer paid sick leave…

Then, Campbell addresses charity as a strategy for reducing poverty:

I’ve seen the first post promising a business will make a big donation to a charity to help people through this and my immediate thought was: enough with the charity.

It’s time to admit we can’t end poverty or work precarity or income inequality with charity. I was actually planning to write this week about the local United Way’s spectacularly unsuccessful campaign to reduce child poverty on this island by 5% over five years. The five years are up and the poverty rate is higher — the United Way announced its grand crusade after a report put child poverty on the island at 33%; the most recent figures, announced this January by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), show that childhood poverty in Cape Breton has increased to 34.9%, the highest in the province.

And five years later, Lynne McCarron, director of the United Way Cape Breton is still saying that the problem is that the people with money on this island — the ones who can pay $225 for a ticket to or $2,200 for a table at the organization’s annual “gala” — still don’t realize there are people here living in poverty. Here she is in 2015 explaining this selective myopia to the Post:

“When you think of where these people are travelling in their circles, then they’re not seeing it (poverty),” says McCarron, executive director of United Way Cape Breton. “You’re not seeing it when you take your kids to the hockey rink – those kids aren’t playing hockey because it’s too expensive – you’re not seeing it at the golf course – so if it’s not brought to their attention, then it’s not recognized as being a problem. So recognizing it as being a problem is part of the solution to that problem.”

And here she is in 2020, after telling the Post she was not yet sure whether or not they’d met their 5% reduction in poverty goal because she was still “compiling statistics”:

“The circles you travel with you wouldn’t be aware,” McCarron said of the lack of awareness.

“It’s not in your face unless you go looking for it. Basically, (Cape Breton Regional Municipality) doesn’t have an obvious homeless issue. You wouldn’t see it on the streets as much, we have a lot of couch surfers.”

Let’s take her at her word, that the problem with this “charity” approach to ending poverty is that the wealthy just aren’t aware of the problem and then — let’s drop the charity approach.

The short term answer, obviously, is temporary government assistance.

But COVID-19 has laid bare flaws in our society so obvious, I’m guessing even the people “on the golf course” may be forced to notice them.

Click here to read “Missing Work?”

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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5. Farmers’ markets

Photo: Halifax Brewery Farmers’ Market Facebook page

“There are few silver linings to be found amidst the uncertainty created by the constantly evolving COVID-19 pandemic, but Justin Cantafio is excited about one small bright light,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

The executive director of the Farmers’ Markets of Nova Scotia Cooperative (FMNS) announced on Thursday the launch of an initiative that will see the establishment of online stores, centralized pick-up points, and door-to-door service of fresh local food. This will support local food producers and help Nova Scotians safely access locally produced farm food products.

Click here to read “Farmers Markets adjust to COVID-19 with online stores.”

6. Parking

The city has done away with parking fees:

Parking

•    Parking fees at meters have been waived and HotSpot fees will be set to zero until further notice.

•    Enforcement of hourly spaces and monthly permit parking is suspended until further notice. Residential permits will still be enforced. If your residential permit has recently expired, you will not receive a ticket. Please note: These steps are in an effort to support healthcare workers and residents seeking medical attention. Please be considerate of the duration of your parking.

•    In the event normal operations have not resumed by April, monthly parking permits already purchased will be rolled over to the following month.

•    Tickets issued on or before March 19 at noon are still valid and can be paid online, cheque by mail or in person when customer service operations resume.

•    Safety-related aspects of the Provincial Motor Vehicle Act will continue to be enforced (e.g. no parking in crosswalks, parking distance from fire hydrants, signage indicating no stopping, etc.)

7. How to brief, and how not to brief

Photo: Halifax Examiner

I hope the city can take a page out of the province’s briefing book. The premier and the officials he brings to the daily briefings get right to business without preamble, immediately providing factual updates about the spread of the disease and announcing policy changes. The air is somber, but the effect is reassuring: these officials get that this is a crisis, and there’s no time for political niceties; let’s get to business.

But judging by Wednesday’s municipal briefing, which I listened in to on News 95.7 while in my car on the way to the province’s briefing, the city’s briefing begins with the mayor and the CAO giving Trump-like self-gratulating back-slaps and isn’t that councillor doing a great job over at the Federation of Municipalities, and aren’t our managers good and handsome people?

Cut the bullshit. Maybe at some later point, after this emergency is over, you’ll be judged on how you handled it, but now is not the time for political spin and PR messaging. Just cut to the chase.

8. Court fines

A press release this morning from the courts:

To help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, effective immediately, Nova Scotians will have more time to pay their fines for summary offence convictions and no one will be automatically convicted for not dealing with their outstanding parking or driving offences.

Pamela Williams, Chief Judge of the Provincial and Family Courts, has directed all Staff Justices of the Peace to extend fine payment deadlines 90 days beyond the existing due dates.

Court officials have also been working with Service Nova Scotia and the Registry of Motor Vehicles to address default convictions for summary offence tickets and parking tickets. The Registry will suspend issuing certificates of default for a 60-day period, effective March 16, 2020. The situation will be re-evaluated at the end of the 60 days. Anyone with questions should contact the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

9. LighthouseNOW

“Local contributors and columnists were given notice earlier this week they would no longer receive work from South Shore newspaper LighthouseNOW,” reports Cody McEachern for CKBW radio:

In an email sent out to contributors on Tuesday, LighthouseNOW editor Charles Mandel said the paper was instructed to drop all freelancers and columnists effective immediately by their head office.

The e-mail did not specify a reason for the decision, nor did it specify if the move was permanent or temporary.

10. Examiner COVID-19 coverage

The Examiner is committed to providing as much COVID-19 coverage as resources allow, and then some. And we’re making all that coverage free for anyone to read.

Many readers have expressed confusion about the messaging concerning how they’re supposed to be acting right now, so later this morning, we’ll publish an explainer that I hope cuts through some of that confusion.

People have been contacting me with all sorts of questions and ideas, and I much appreciate it. I cannot respond to everyone, but I try to read every message. The input is influencing reporting.

We haven’t yet seen a drop in the total number of subscriptions, but as the economic impact of the pandemic deepens, I expect that will happen. There’s no room for belt-tightening at the Examiner, which is already operating on a shoestring budget, and there’s only so much capacity for debt. So, we’ll do what we can. If you are able, but only if you are able, this would be good time to subscribe.


Views

1. Potty talk

Photo: Stephen Archibald

“What a lot of talk about toilet tissue,” writes Stephen Archibald. “By now maybe you are in the mood for some photos of vintage toilet facilities, to go along with all that paper work.”

2. Acts of God

God.

“Hail, rainfall, drought: under the law, these are often known as ‘Acts of God,’” writes Halifax lawyer Barbara Darby:

I suppose not too surprising in a country that continues (wrongly, in my view: send your mail to barbara@darbylegal.ca) to endorse God as a supreme constitutional value:

Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law

Rule of law? Sign me up! But….

Interestingly, the supremacy of God was not part of the original constitutional document, but is in the 1982 amendment that brought us the Charter, guaranteeing freedom of conscience and religion.

The only references to “God” I could find from the Constitution of 1867 were to the electoral districts in Ontario’s Huron county, “Town of Goderich and the Townships of Goderich, Tuckersmith, Stanley, Hay, Usborne, and Stephen.”

In this time of a pandemic, I got to thinking about “Acts of God” and how we might be confronting a time when we need to amend our understanding of them.

This is part of what I hope will be a series of posts on the idea of “Acts of God.”

This week, Darby looks at several potato-related Canadian legal cases invoking “Acts of God,” which you can read on her post, but she additionally raises the important philosophical point:

My main question: as we gather more and more science about human-caused climate change, and contemplate how human actions are contributing to pandemics, fires, floods because we’ve so radically changed how we deal collectively with food security, environmental protection, and good sense, how long can we claim that what used to be known as an “Act of God,” is actually, on the basis of evidence, due to human action and not something over which we have no control?


Government

No public meetings.


On campus

All events are cancelled.


In the harbour


05:00: Brooklands, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Bremerhaven, Germany
07:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, moves from Bedford Basin anchorage to Fairview Cove
10:30: Rila, bulker, sails from Pier 28 for sea
15:30: ZIM Luanda, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
16:00: Brooklands sails for sea
16:00: Hansa Meersburg, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Kingston, Jamaica
16:30: Nolhanava sails for Saint-Pierre
19:00: Oceanex Sanderling sails for St. John’s


Footnotes

Call someone you love.

Tim Bousquet

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

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2 Comments

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  1. The HRM budget will need significant cuts for several years. The number of foreign students will decline and the rental market will loosen. Home sales will decline. George Armoyan sold his tower at the right time.
    I think Chrystia Freeland would make a very good PM.

  2. Re the reference to God in the preamble to the 1982 constitution. I recall when the Canadian political class was consumed with the constitution, nearly 40 yrs ago. I think, or suspect–but cannot clearly recall– that the reference to God was not in the original draft, but was added to mollify the Anglo premiers who had many objections to the constitution and the enshrined charter of rights. Not the least of these was the fact that Pierre Trudeau was its author.
    In the end, Pierre reluctantly acceded to the notwithstanding clause to get the reluctant support of the Anglo premiers.