1. Seven years

Seven years ago today, the Halifax Examiner was born, with this post, in which I wrote:

Much of the content on the site will be free for anyone to view. This will include an early morning post every weekday, one-off opinion pieces and links to other work. More substantial work that takes substantial effort on my part —investigative pieces, analysis, etc. — or that is produced by a freelancer will be behind a paywall.

The paywall is needed to keep this project viable. The Halifax Examiner has on-going costs for legal work and insurance, equipment, phone and internet, and expenses related to investigative work. As well, while I won’t get rich doing this, I need to make a living and pay freelancers.

I’ve kept the subscription rates affordable. Ten dollars a month is about two trips to the coffee shop. There’s also a student/low income rate of $5. The business rate is $20, and I’m hoping that a not-insignificant number of you will graciously support this project at the $25 monthly sustainer rate. The extremely supportive will consider a one-time gift of $500 as a “founder” of the site, to help me recover the savings I’ve expended on building the site and the business. All subscription prices include applicable sales taxes.

A note about the name “Halifax Examiner.” When I started my career, I lived in a town called Chico, California. Not really knowing what I was doing, I started my own weekly paper called the Chico Examiner. The name “Examiner” was intended to mean just that — I didn’t want to simply chronicle the news, or just report, herald, post, or observe; I was examining. The name drove content, made me delve deeply into issues, and learn how to develop investigative skills. I ran the Chico Examiner for five years before moving on to a more traditional career as a reporter for other publications. Now, two decades later, I’ve come full circle, starting my own news site, so I’m returning to the name Examiner. Hopefully, with luck, hard work, and your support I will fulfil the promise of the name.

Seven years later, I think the Examiner has stayed true to that mission, but is much larger than I had envisioned in 2014. The Examiner is now an entire team. We have a staff of five, and six regular freelancers, plus other occasional contributors — and each brings talent, perspective, and voice far beyond my reach alone. I can’t tell you how much I value them; I feel like I won a dozen lotteries. Truly, the most rewarding part of my job is simply speaking with my colleagues.

And it was that team that did the hard work through the pandemic, during and after the mass murders, and will continue to do so into the future with whatever new projects come our way. I’m excited about what we can do next.

But I’m most grateful for the thousands of people who have supported this enterprise through the years — with their money, yes, but also with their advice, encouragement, criticism, and by spreading word of the Examiner. It’s you who have made all this possible, and I thank you each.

We can continue to do this work, and grow some more still. If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing. Thanks again.

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2. Five more intended victims

A poster at the roadside memorial in Portapique commemorates the 22 people killed in the mass shooting that began there on April 18, 2020. Photo: Joan Baxter

“The man who killed 22 people across Nova Scotia on April 18 and 19, 2020 had intended to kill five more people,” I reported yesterday:

That claim is made in an affidavit signed by RCMP Superintendent Darren Campbell in response to a class action lawsuit filed by the families of the killer’s victims and survivors of the rampage.

After killing 13 people in Portapique, then nine more people in a path stretching from Wentworth through Debert and on to Shubenacadie, the killer was himself shot and killed by the RCMP at the Big Stop in Enfield at about 11:30am on Sunday, April 19. He appears to have been on his way towards the Dartmouth area, with the aim of killing more people.

“At the time the gunman was stopped, the RCMP were able to confirm nine people had been killed,” reads Campbell’s affidavit. “In total, he killed 22 people and one of the victim’s unborn child, and I believe he intended to kill at least five others.”

Click here to read “Mass murderer intended to kill five more people, says RCMP.”

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3. COVID

Daily new case counts and the 7-day rolling average since March 28, the last day of zero new cases.

There were 14 new cases of COVID-19 announced in Nova Scotia yesterday, all but one of them either a close contact or travel related.

Zane Woodford covered yesterday’s COVID briefing for the Examiner, and reports:

Much of Thursday’s briefing was dominated by questions about New Brunswick’s move to open up to travel from people outside of the province (with proof of vaccination) on Thursday morning, well before Nova Scotia’s plan to open to the other Atlantic Canadian provinces on June 24.

Premier Iain Rankin said the decision took him by surprise.

“I hope to have strong border control as they start to open up earlier than the rest of Atlantic Canada. It was my view that we could have had free travel throughout the Atlantic region, with no restrictions in place. And that was an agreement of three out of the four [Atlantic] provinces,” Rankin said.

“Unfortunately, I was surprised that their risk tolerance is different than that. So we’ll be prepared by June 23 when we open up. We’re discussing now what measures we’re going to need to have in place.”

Rankin said he was meeting with Atlantic premiers Thursday night and they’d be discussing vaccine passports.

Nova Scotia currently plans to open to the rest of Canada July 14.

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4. Cabinet and all things provincial

Photo: Halifax Examiner

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

Election Speculation

A flurry if not a blizzard of “good news” announcements from the Liberal government this past week has stoked speculation an election call may come as soon as the end of this month. 

Not only are vaccines flowing and the province preparing to welcome visitors from outside Atlantic Canada, this week the Rankin government announced an additional $18.2 million to help the struggling tourist industry, a feasibility study for a “green” commuter ferry from Bedford to Halifax, and relaxed immigration rules to increase the flow of construction workers to the province. A school announcement will be made in Mabou, ancestral home of the Rankin clan, in Cape Breton later today.

Limits on election spending do not apply until an election has been called, and keen observers may have noticed the governing party has begun paying for ads on social media platforms such as Instagram and buying front-page ads in the Chronicle Herald broadsheet with flattering photos of the red-headed premier taking credit for fighting climate change and the pandemic. Yesterday, during a brief scrum limited by the Premier’s Office to a mere 10 minutes after a cabinet meeting, Rankin was asked by reporter Brian Flinn if he is preparing to call an election this summer before the State of Emergency lifts in September.

“We just reached the fourth year in our mandate and I’m looking forward to going to the polls at some point in the future,” said Rankin. “I think it’s a positive thing that so many men and women are stepping up to run for a government that has handled the pandemic very well…we are doing well in areas of immigration and we are now starting to reopen the economy in our safe way but we are still very much in that re-opening phase and so as I said last time, my focus is on the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The Liberals now have candidates nominated in a majority of ridings, a detail that has not escaped the notice of NDP leader Gary Burrill. “Look, if the pace of the Liberal party’s nominations is any indication, an election is right around the corner,” said Burrill. 

As of this morning, the Liberals have nominated 45 candidates for the 55 provincial ridings. The PCs have nominated 40 people, and the NDP 33.

“As a party, we have to be ready,” said Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston. “There are no fixed election dates. Calling an election while under a state of emergency, before all Nova Scotians have had access to being fully vaccinated, isn’t a good look for a new premier. I hope Iain Rankin has enough common sense to wait until the province has moved through the reopening plan before calling an election.” 

Health matters 

Health Minister Zach Churchill. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

Health Minister Zach Churchill was asked what action is being taken after the family of a 19-year-old Acadia University student expressed grief and anger following their son’s sudden death from meningitis B earlier this month. 

The parents of Kai Matthews say strict adherence to Covid protocols led to lengthy delays in emergency treatment that may have cost their son his life. Paramedics called to the home could not take Kai to ER because he didn’t know the results of an earlier COVID test. At Emergency, where he was discharged twice, COVID restrictions meant his parents could not accompany him. Kai had had a vaccination for meningitis but not the particular “B” strain which is the common one that attacks teenagers.

Churchill expressed his condolences to the parents on the loss of their child and what he described as “every family’s worst nightmare.” That family rightfully wants answers, said Churchill, and this situation means Nova Scotia Health will conduct a “qualitative review” of the clinical decisions made during Kai’s treatment. 

Emergency Medical Care will also review why the family couldn’t access an ambulance. Churchill said Nova Scotia and every other province follows the recommendations issued by National Advisory Committee on Immunization and a separate vaccine for meningitis B is not currently covered unless a person is considered to be at high risk. 

The family of Kai Matthews hopes to raise public awareness about the danger of meningitis B and the need to vaccinate so others will not have to experience their grief.

On another topic, Churchill was also asked whether he thought a Cape Breton Emergency physician who expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of vaccines to protect people from COVID should continue to work in Nova Scotia. 

Dr. Chris Milburn has since been stripped of his position as head of Emergency Services for the Eastern Region after calling vaccines “experimental” on a radio show. Churchill refused to be drawn into the controversy and said that question should be addressed to the Nova Scotia College of Physicians and Surgeons, which licenses and regulates the profession. 

Housing

Rankin said the government continues to review 17 recommendations from the Affordable Housing Commission made public May 31. The Commission called on the province to spend $25 million within 100 days to urgently address the shortage of affordable housing. 

Housing Minister Geoff MacLellan made a presentation to cabinet yesterday.

“We need more time to scrutinize the numbers and ensure it fits within out fiscal plan,” said Rankin. The Examiner asked Rankin if he would commit to extending rent controls which are due to expire in September and which the Housing Commission recommended be dropped when the State of Emergency ends. Rankin said that recommendation is also “under review.”

NDP leader Gary Burrill fears the Liberals do not fully appreciate the human consequences of lifting the 2% rent cap before more affordable housing can be put in place. “There are thousands of households who in November were facing increases so steep they were going to have to move,” said Burrill. “They received the temporary rent control as an enormous reprieve and relief. The minute that rent control is lifted, the pressure of those $200-400 a month increases are going to be back on those same people and they are going to have to leave their homes with no other place to go.”

Government Secrecy/Freedom to Information

Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Keith Colwell claimed his department has already changed its process to be “more open and transparent” in providing information in response to requests from the public and journalists. More information is being posted to the website, which should cut down on the number of information requests, Colwell said, although he noted information with respect to the activities of private companies may still be exempted by the Freedom to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Colwell was questioned about a report by the Information and Privacy Commissioner this week calling out the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture for refusing to provide “missing” information it had previously promised to provide.

“The Commissioner finds that the Department failed in its duty to assist the applicant as the decision was delayed, incomplete, inaccurate and not open. The Commissioner recommends the records be provided to the applicant immediately.”

Fifteen months passed from the time the person requesting the promised but missing information actually received it. It was only resolved after the privacy commissioner stepped in and made the order. 

Fifteen months is nothing. When requests for information are routinely denied by government departments, reviews or appeals to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner now take two to three years because of the backlog of files and lack of staff. One of the commitments Rankin made during his run for the leadership was to make government more open and transparent, a quality in short supply during the latter part of the McNeil regime. 

Evidence that the Liberal government is prepared to move on this promise is thin. At the end of February, Justice Minister Randy Delorey received a mandate letter from Rankin requesting he review and overhaul the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Asked yesterday about the progress, Delorey told reporters the “terms of reference” for the committee that will undertake that job are still being discussed. What’s the hurry…

Meanwhile, it appears the FOIPOP legislation is even more useless if the government is deliberately leaving behind no paper or email trail that could allow for insight into how government decisions get made. 

Last week, the NDP sent out a release questioning why it was unable to access a single note or email between staff in the Premier’s Office and other government officials related to COVID’s impact on the budget process, or childcare for essential workers, or public health restrictions. “What is the government working on?” asked the N-Dippers with more than a hint of frustration and sarcasm.

Yesterday, the Examiner asked the Department of Education to provide the total number of COVID-positive cases connected to 11 schools since re-opening this June. All but one school is in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone. The Department refused to provide a number. However, Mombourquette was quick to tell reporters attendance at schools across the province has averaged “95%”. Which is great…kids need to be in school…but parents also want full disclosure when COVID strikes.

Last but not least, while Nova Scotians can now gather in consistent groups of 10 indoors and restaurants are open to in-person dining, interactions between journalists and elected representatives after cabinet sessions remain largely virtual events with politicians and journalists talking to one another over the phone. That irony has not escaped Rankin, who told reporters yesterday “we are getting close” to soon meeting in person. Likely on the campaign trail!

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5. Ferry

The three ferry routes proposed in the Rapid Transit Strategy.

“The federal and provincial governments have confirmed they’ll help Halifax pay for the planning of one of the new ferry routes proposed in last year’s Rapid Transit Strategy,” reports Zane Woodford:

The Mill Cove ferry — one of three proposed in the Rapid Transit Strategy, HRM’s plan to create a grid of rapid bus and ferry routes — would take passengers from Bedford to downtown Halifax in 18 minutes.

On Thursday, the provincial and federal governments held a news conference to “announce” the ferry, which has been officially planned for more than a year, and to detail their funding commitments.

Click here to read “Federal, provincial governments pitch in to study electric fast ferry from Bedford.”

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6. Biomass

Fallen trees outside the Brooklyn Energy biomass plant. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

Raymond Plourde of the Ecology Action Centre has written a primer on Nova Scotia’s biomass industry.

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7. St. Mary’s River

I found the above video describing the work of the St. Mary’s River Association (SMRA) super cool and fascinating.

That SMRA has had such success is great news. But that all that good work could be simply tossed out in pursuit of short-term profit from a gold mine is disgusting. As Joan Baxter explained in 2019:

Since it was formed in 1979, SMRA volunteers have worked on countless projects to try to improve the health of the river and the local economy that revolves around it.  The aim, according to SMRA president Scott Beaver, is to restore the river and the salmon population to a state that will permit a catch-and-release fishing season in the river.

In 2017, 60,000 salmon fry and 21,000 sea trout fry were released into the St. Mary’s River, and SMRA also promoted recreational and tourismopportunities in and around the river.

In recent years, with financial support from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and other sponsors, SMRA has worked on $1 million worth of restoration on almost 20 kilometres of river habitat. It is the only river in Nova Scotia with a salmon recovery plan.

Past issues of SMRA’s annual newsletters offer a glimpse of the astounding amounts of unpaid time, energy, and enthusiasm that people in rural communities devote to trying to make their small parts of the world better and healthier places. The tone of the newsletter is always upbeat, the reports brimming with optimism and positivity.

The SMRA meeting held this week was not.

This time the subject was not the St. Mary’s River and how to improve it, but an open-pit gold mine and how to stop it.

The proposed mine is part of what Atlantic Gold calls the “Moose River Consolidated Project,” which you can read about here or here. Atlantic Mining NS (formerly D.D.V. Gold), a subsidiary of Atlantic Gold, has planned the mine for Cochrane Hill, very close to the river and about 13 km from Sherbrooke.

Kris Hunter, president of the Nova Scotia Salmon Association, agrees that those opposed to the mines have a very strong scientific case.

He notes the mine’s proximity to the St. Mary’s River, and particularly to McKeens Brook that is crucial to the salmon population, especially during hot dry periods when the fish need refuge in cooler pools of water. “If you look at any sort of water extraction, or any changes to hydrology, it can exacerbate all that,” Hunter says.

Scott Beaver tells me that the tailing facilities planned for the Cochrane Hill mine would drain into bodies of water that flow into some of the best spawning grounds for Atlantic salmon, the Glenelg Lake where salmon, wood turtles, and snapping turtles go during times of low water in the summer. And Archibald Lake, where the company wants to source water, Beaver says, is one of the most popular trout-fishing lakes in the entire area. He says the NOPE campaign is consuming enormous amounts of time which otherwise could be spent on projects to restore the river.

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Government

No meetings.


On campus

Saint Mary’s

International Co-operative Governance Symposium  (until Saturday) — an “interactive and participatory gathering of governance professionals, experts, and researchers from various countries,” which will “showcase and debate new and different governance frameworks that focus on the people-centred, democratic, and jointly-owned nature of co-operatives”


In the harbour

Halifax
11:00: Ilios, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
14:00: Mia Desgagnes, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
16:30: ZIM Yokohama, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
16:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Fairview Cove for Saint-Pierre
18:30: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s
21:30: Ilios sails for Kingston, Jamaica

Cape Breton 
13:00: NS Laguna, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from New York


Footnotes

I’ll have today’s COVID numbers out around noon or so.

Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. Congratulations on seven years of examining those with the power which otherwise wouldn’t receive such scrutiny. Thank you for providing this essential service!

    Openness and transparency in government is foundational. A rule-based approach will always be circumvented and obstructed by those that are driven by minimum compliance versus a good faith compliance. Political candidates and parties should unambiguously assert their commitment to the good faith approach. Citizens need to vote for those that committed to sincerely subscribing to the good faith approach. Only then can truly good governance emerge. .

    1. I had bracketed my final three sentences with a “wishful thinking” start and end tag. It was an attempt to acknowledge the optimistic/naïve nature of my words. This text was removed. Why and how was this done? Automatic stripping of certain characters (my text looked vaguely like HTML)? Manual removal?
      I am curious about the process. I doubt it would come up but any modification of a user’s post between clicking ‘POST COMMENT’ and it being published could significantly change the tenor or intended meaning of the post. I would hope that any post would either be published or rejected as-is. Thanks! 🙂

      1. Hi Rob,
        I approved that comment by simply clicking “approve”. I didn’t erase anything. There’s a reason I call it “Weirdpress.” We rarely reject comments, and if I have time I’ll sometimes correct a typo or a misplaced word, but erase whole lines of text? Never. Hope this helps.

  2. Happy Birthday Halifax Examiner. I’ve subscribed for some years now, even went to one of your November parties where I met some of your remarkable staff. Keep up the good work!

  3. Happy Birthday Halifax Examiner! I’ll be sure to enjoy some cake and ice cream in your honor later today. 🙂

  4. Happy Birthday Halifax Examiner! ????????
    Thank you for the thought provoking content, insights, etc. I’m listening to the podcast now on the Glen Assoun case – wow!! ????????????????

  5. Housing is a provincial responsibility, it is not an HRM responsibility. HRM has no legal authority to expend money on an employee to act as a co-ordinator for housing. If Mayor Savage and any councillor wants to get into social services they should enter provincial politics. I expect my provincial income tax and the HST and the taxes on vehicle fuels to be the source of revenues to fund provincial responsibilities.

    1. Yes, housing is primarily a provincial and federal responsibility; however, when people become people without homes, it then becomes a municipal problem. I contend that all levels of government need to work together to find solutions to the housing crisis before it becomes even worse, Spending time arguing about which pocket the money should come from is also costing everyone money. I would rather see my tax dollars – federal, provincial, and municipal – go towards solutions, rather than salaries as people argue about who should be doing what. That’s my two cents for now. Time to go enjoy some more of this gorgeous sunshine.

      1. The federal government could raise the GST from 5% to 7% and send the money to provinces for housing and healthcare. HRM will never solve a housing problem because people will move here from other parts of the province. If HRM wants a stadium or bike lanes or a new ferry or new electric buses they should find the money from its citizens and leave housing and healthcare for the senior levels of government.In 2012 the crime problem identified 4 areas of HRM as being in need of better housing, education,healthcare and employment opportunities and 9 years we have the same problems today and Mayor Savage and 3 Liberal MPs have offered no funding to address the issues. Their silence speaks volumes.

        1. Their silence speaks to me as total indifference to doing anything for those of us who are struggling to keep the roof over our heads.

          Yes, the federal government could raise the GST and send the money on to the provinces, but that wouldn’t help those of us struggling now. In fact, it could (likely would) make things worse as now our few dollars wouldn’t buy as much because GST is charged on so many things.

          If four areas were identified in 2012, how much worse do you think things might be now given that no one has done anything?!?!?!?! How can no one have done anything? Is it because those of us who live in precarious situations are often those who don’t vote? Are often those who may not get to meet and discuss the issues with those running for political office? Are often those too busy trying just to survive to engage in discussions such as you and I are having here on this forum?

          This particular voter doesn’t want a stadium or bike lanes or a new ferry or new electric buses – she wants to know that she will continue to have a roof over her head – a roof she can afford. And she isn’t alone in those wishes. An affordable place to call home is, I believe, a foundation for life that every citizen of this country should have the opportunity to enjoy.

  6. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Tim and team!!!! You’ve all done a fantastic job!

    The Examiner is one of my go-tos for news in NS and I think we’re all better for the hard work you’ve done. Please keep on being awesome!!