News

1. Concrete capture, pt. 2

Lydia Sorflaten has been a resident of Shortts Lake for 19 years. Sorflaten says her family doesn’t drink the water from the lake but they do use it for bathing and some cooking. Photo: Linda Pannozzo

Writes Linda Pannozzo:

“If the wind is right, emissions from Lafarge’s main stack blow across this inlet and in the winter we’ll see the dust settling here on the ice and in between the reeds along the shoreline,” says Lydia Sorflaten, pointing to a small pond-like inlet on Shortts Lake, adjacent to the Lafarge cement plant in Brookfield. 

Sorflaten has lived on the lake for nearly 20 years and is part of Citizen’s Against the Burning of Tires (CABOT), a group that formed nearly 15 years ago when the government began to entertain Lafarge’s proposal to include scrap tires in its fuel mix, displacing some of the coal and petroleum coke — an arrangement that would also see the cement-giant receive a portion of the environmental-fee collected by Divert NS from Nova Scotians when they purchase new tires.

But as was laid out in Part 1 of this series, while the province originally decided that using tire-derived-fuel (TDF) wasn’t in the cards, at least not in the “foreseeable future,” it did an about-face in 2017 when then Environment Minister (now Premier) Iain Rankin approved Lafarge’s one-year pilot to burn roughly 350,000 tires in its kiln, despite concerns raised by government scientists in the internal review of the company’s EA registration document.

As part of the pilot project, tires were added to Lafarge’s fuel mix in August 2019 and the company, which was granted a 14-month extension on the pilot, is allowed to burn them until October 2021. As part of the conditions for approval, baseline testing (without tires) was conducted in July 2019 and emissions testing with tires was done in October 2019 and again in October 2020. According to Lafarge the results of all the testing will be made public this spring.

For Sorflaten, the Minister’s decision was a real blow. Not only did it demonstrate the lax oversight on the part of the government, but it dismissed the serious health and environmental concerns raised by CABOT about the potential impact of burning tires.

It also indicated how the government seemed more than willing to give Lafarge the benefit of the doubt, allowing the project to go ahead despite there being little evidence that the results would be “beneficial to benign” — as the company claimed.

But Rankin’s decision also ignored something else that Sorflaten wants people to know about: the pollution associated with cement-making predated the burning of scrap tires.  

This is Part 2 of Pannozzo’s deep dive into the Lafarge plant, and the environmental issues around it.

Click here to read “Concrete capture, Part 2: The murky world of air emissions testing and why monitoring pollution is not the same as mitigating it.”

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2. Desmond inquiry

Lionel Desmond (far right corner) was part of the 2nd battalion, of the Royal Canadian Regiment, based at CFB Gagetown. Photo: Trevor Bungay/Facebook

Writes Stephen Kimber:

Is the Veterans Affairs department’s internal review of its handling of the Lionel Desmond murder-suicide relevant to the current Nova Scotia inquiry? Yes. Are there lessons to be learned? Almost certainly. Time for Ottawa to stop playing jurisdictional games and make it public.

Click here to read “The Desmond inquiry is dancing on the head of a constitutional pin.”

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3. Police budget

Socially distant newly sworn-in councillors listen to a speech from Mayor Mike Savage in October 2020. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“In light of councillors’ votes this [i.e., last] week to add $230,800 to the Halifax Regional Police budget, we’re looking back at what they were saying on the campaign trail,” reported Zane Woodford Friday:

Since they were elected in October 2020, councillors have approved a base $88.6-million budget for police. The vote was unanimous, with only Coun. Lisa Blackburn absent. That’s a 2.7% increase over HRP’s 2020-2021 budget, which was cut down to $86.3 million due to COVID-19. The 2019-2020 HRP budget, for comparison, was $88.9 million.

Councillors also voted the same day for an increased Halifax-district RCMP budget of $29.4 million — 5.6% more than last year. That said, they don’t have much control over the RCMP budget, with the provincial government deciding how much HRM spends. And they voted down a request from Chief Superintendent Janis Gray for a new staff sergeant for the municipality at a cost of $75,890.

But this week, councillors added to the HRP budget again.

On Wednesday, they voted to add $85,000 to the budget for a one-year term employee to study body-worn cameras. The vote was 14-3, with councillors Waye Mason, Patty Cuttell, and Iona Stoddard voting no.

On Thursday, councillors added $60,000 for a training course (the vote was unanimous) and $85,800 for a court dispositions clerk. The vote was 11-6, with with Deputy Mayor Tim Outhit, and councillors Trish Purdy, Pam Lovelace, Paul Russell, Cathy Deagle-Gammon, and Cuttell voting no.

During the campaign, the Halifax Examiner asked every candidate for mayor and council a series of questions, including one about policing.

That question was:

Would you support a reduction of the Halifax Regional Police budget for fiscal 2021-2022? Why or why not?

Here are their answers.

Click here to read “What did Halifax councillors say about police budgets during the campaign?”

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4. COVID-19

Over 150 people were lined up for the noon opening of the pop-up testing site at Alderney Landing on Sunday, April 24, 2021. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Today’s case numbers have already been released: 66 new cases, with 58 cases in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone, five in the Eastern Zone, and one in the Northern Zone.

Daily new case numbers since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

The current outbreak of COVID-19 is resulting in record high daily new case numbers, as follows:

Wednesday: 25
Thursday: 38
Friday: 44
Saturday: 52
Sunday: 63
Monday: 66

The active caseload in Nova Scotia since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

We’ll very likely see continued high numbers for the rest of this week, at least, as the recent daily case figures are people who were infected before the restrictions were ramped up Friday. We won’t see the effects of the restrictions until into next week.

I’ve reorganized the Examiner’s daily COVID report with more information that is hopefully more readable and quickly useful. Readers have been immensely helpful in letting me know what sort of information they’re looking for, and that’s reflected in the reporting. I’ve categorized the report into topics:

Overview
Variants
Demographics
Testing
Vaccination
Schools
Potential exposure advisories

I’d also like to give a special shout-out to Iris the Amazing, our admin person, who is quietly and efficiently keeping the ship on course as I’m entirely diverted into the reporting.

We’ll keep covering the outbreak in detail, for the duration.

The situation is, obviously, alarming, and people are understandably scared and worried. I don’t want to discount any of that. I will say, however, that things aren’t as dire as they were this time last year. We’ve learned a lot about the virus and how it operates; there are very few deaths; we’re testing like nobody’s business; we’ve seen several outbreaks in Atlantic provinces controlled and have learned from those experiences; and perhaps most importantly, the vaccine rollout is continuing — a year ago, no one expected that we’d have vaccines by now.

We’ll have a (hopefully short) window of loss, worry, and deprivation. But we can do this. Get tested, get vaccinated when your time comes, adhere to the restrictions and then some, help people who need it. If all goes well, the restrictions will be loosened in three or four weeks, the vast majority of adults will have their first shot of vaccine in eight or nine weeks, and life will return to something like normal in the summer.

The “after sidewalk clearing” photo, from the city’s snow clearing guidelines page at halifax.ca

I don’t quite understand the umbrage at the restrictions, or the need for super-detailed definitions for what things like “stay in your community” mean. Random snowstorms regularly shut down the city for a week at a time, and we seem to be able to navigate those more or less successfully. Let’s all just pretend there’s a load of snow out there and getting around is a royal pain in the ass so it’s easier to just stay home, munch storm chips, and watch Netflix. (Sure, I get that people have specific needs that require travel, and no one is saying don’t do that.)

5. Beating the virus

Halifax-based epidemiologist Kevin Wilson. Photo: Twitter

“With COVID-19 case numbers climbing and Halifax and surrounding areas back in lockdown, reasons to feel optimistic might be in short supply,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

But a Halifax-based epidemiologist believes Nova Scotians have good reason to be hopeful.

“I think the biggest lesson from the last 14 or so months in Halifax — and the Atlantic region more generally — is that we really can actually defeat the virus pretty reliably,” Kevin Wilson said in an interview on Friday.

“There’s been no part of the entire region that has fallen to the virus and remained just doomed to live with it in the same way that the rest of the country has.”

“Realistically, we have done this twice before and we’ve done it in a timescale of weeks rather than months. Being very blunt, being realistic, we’re pretty good at this stuff. And it sucks that we have to do it, but we are able to do this.”

Click here to read “Epidemiologist: ‘there is a finish line and we are moving towards it.’”

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6. Schools

Dartmouth High. Photo: Halifax Examiner

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

The provincial government has not done enough to reduce the risk of infection for support staff working in schools, says CUPE in a news release last night. 

“With case numbers of COVID-19 escalating among school aged children and with many new variants in the province, the risk has clearly increased,” says Lisa deMolitor, chairperson of the Nova Scotia School Board Council of Unions, representing approximately 4,500 school support staff. 

“The closure of schools, or families of schools, is only contemplated after the virus is present in a school,” she writes, continuing:

That is not a precautionary measure, nor is it the only step that could be taken to keep our schools safe. There are actions that could be implemented province wide in the schools that are still open, to enhance safety such as:

• Further limiting and reducing the movement of students throughout the school

• Suspending activities such as gym and band, where masks are being removed

• Suspending sports practices and games, as students will not be wearing masks

and/or breathing heavily, producing more respiratory droplets

• Suspending use of school premises by community groups. Use of a school for anything other than learning encourages the movement of the virus and increases risk for school support staff who will encounter more people and who must clean up after them.

A spokesperson for the union says although community groups can no longer access gyms in HRM, the same is not true across the province, where there are concerns about potential community spread.

“We recognize there is no easy answer and additional precautionary measures will be a further burden on students, but we fear that if schools are to remain open in regions of the province where community spread is now occurring, more preventative measures need be taken, to reduce the risk for students and the staff (teaching and non-teaching) that support them,” says CUPE Nova Scotia President Nan McFadgen.

“While Nova Scotia Public Health makes many of the decisions that affect our schools, they are not the only body that can take steps to reduce risk,” adds deMolitor. “From an occupational health and safety standpoint, the Centres of Education also have a responsibility as employers and can choose to take additional measures to keep students and staff safe.”

The union says it does not know the breakdown for how many students, support staff, or teachers have tested positive in Nova Scotia schools. The Halifax Examiner continues to ask Public Health to provide that breakdown for the province as a whole, and not on a school-by-school basis so as not to reveal the identity of any person who may have tested positive. To date the Department of Health has not responded with any information. At least 21 schools now report at least one case and at least one child has been hospitalized. 

7. Skateboarders

Skateboarder Nate Oliver

“After a complaint sparked a discussion, skateboarders in Dartmouth may soon have a city-sanctioned place to learn to shred,” reports Zane Woodford:

Last week, skateboarders rolled up to the paved tennis court at the park on Pine Street to find a sign warning that the ramps and other features they’d added to the area were going to be removed by the municipality. They removed the ramps so they wouldn’t be destroyed, and contacted the councillor for the area, Sam Austin, to talk about a solution.

Austin said city staff got a complaint about the skateboarding there and because it’s technically a tennis court, they did what they were supposed to and put up the sign.

“It didn’t sit well with me because it’s kind of like, ‘Well yeah this is technically a tennis court, but this is really not how the community has been using it,’” Austin said in an interview. “Sometimes when you’ve got a space that’s underused, people will fill it with their own sort of stuff and I think we should be responsive to that because it reflects what the community actually needs.”

Austin said he’s heard from people in the neighbourhood, almost all of whom are in favour of the idea of a more permanent skate park there.

Click here to read “City looking at legitimizing downtown Dartmouth skateboarding spot.”

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8. Death

This item discusses death by suicide.

Somebody filed a Freedom of Information request looking for stats on various forms of death in Nova Scotia. Judging by the language of the request, I’m guessing it was made by some variety of COVID-denier or at least -questioner, as the person wanted only stats about death from influenza and various forms of suicide, and not about the far more prevalent routes to death, like heart disease and lung cancer.

There’s no breakdown by age, sex, or race in the stats, and we can’t learn much from them except that in all the categories, the number of deaths is trending downward.

My guess is that there are COVID-related deaths that can’t be directly attributed to the virus, but these involve things like unintentional death from alcohol abuse and increases in domestic violence, and that there will be other COVID-related deaths that will take a couple of years to play out, as lifestyle changes catch up with us.

But at least so far as these categories go, and at least for the moment, it’s good news that the number of deaths in these specific categories are decreasing.

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Noticed


Government

City

Monday

Executive Standing Committee (Monday, 10am) — livestreamed on Youtube.

Tuesday

Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm) — livestreamed on YouTube, with captioning on a text-only site.

Province

Monday

No public meetings.

Tuesday

Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am) — video conference: Department of Labour and Advanced Education, with Duff Montgomerie and Carol Lowthers.

Natural Resources and Economic Development (Tuesday, 1pm) — video conference: per diem meeting.


On campus

No public events.


In the harbour

Halifax
05:00: One Motivator, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
07:30: Thunder Bay, bulker, moves from Gold Bond to anchorage
15:00: Lagrafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik, Iceland
16:00: Thunder Bay sails for sea
23:45: Lagrafoss sails for Portland

Cape Breton
05;00: Navig8 Precision, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper anchorage from Teesport, England
14:00: Algoma Valour, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove Quarry for sea
15:00: Moscow Spirit, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
16:00: Sonangol Huila, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Prof. John Evans Atta Mills (an oil platform operating off Ghana)


Footnotes

I was at one of the potential COVID exposure sites announced last night — the Scotia Square food court on April 22. Ironically, I was already on the bus on my way to the COVID briefing when I got word it was postponed a couple of hours, so I went to the food court to grab a cup of coffee and a snack, and sat down with my computer to work for a couple of hours. I wasn’t anywhere near anyone else, and the distances seemed safe to me, but hey, I’m a good citizen; I booked my test for tomorrow morning and am self-isolating as required until I get my test result. I’m not sure I’ll notice any actual difference in my life, as I’d be doing nothing else but sitting home all day anyway.

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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. The fad of ‘defund the police’ is on the wane in the USA, especially within African-American communities and body cameras are popular on the evening news showing interactions between citizens and police officers.

    1. I hope it’s not a fad. Granted it’s terrible branding that means different things to different people, and gives the impression that people want to get rid of the police entirely. Yes some people do but I think a lot of people want more mental health/crisis intervention supports and not have police without a whole lot of training in these areas being the only responders to these cases.

      1. Mental health is provincial responsibility and I see no commitment by the province stepping forward to supply 24/7/365 crisis intervention. The province is more interested in funding niche activities dominated by white middle class public sector reliant employees.
        In the USA municipalities provide ambulances, social services, and housing but HRM cannot use our money to fund such services. It is a fad in Canada because a few people see what is happening in the USA and then propose we do the same.

  2. Tim – thank you for all the COVID-19 updates! Question re the Active Cases graph above. I want to see our high for Active cases – per the “Active Cases by Report Date” graph on the gov’t site dashboard, it looks like 361 on 04/18/20. But the numbers in the Active Cases graph above for last April look much higher. What’s the difference if this is not apples:apples? Thanks!

    1. In April 2020, they did not state the “active case” number in releases, so I calculated it myself. So, for April 18 (contained in the April 19, 2020) release, the release read:

      https://novascotia.ca/news/release/?id=20200419001

      “To date, Nova Scotia has 21,120 negative test results, 675 positive COVID-19 test results and nine deaths. Confirmed cases range in age from under 10 to over 90. Eleven individuals are currently in hospital, four of those in ICU. Two hundred individuals have now recovered and their cases of COVID-19 are considered resolved.

      675 positive cases – 200 resolved – 9 deaths = 466 active cases.

      I have no idea why the dashboard currently reads differently.

    1. Ah, I see why the COVID links don’t work: Tim copied them directly from the post, but they’re not really links, just underlined words. I’ll remove the underlines. The links work in the actual COVID update post.

    2. Yep. I removed the COVID links on this Morning File, but they work beautifully on the COVID update itself, which is a separate article. It’s a good feature.

        1. Haha, you’re way ahead of us, Bill! Tim’s still writing it, but look for it shortly. Meanwhile, I’ve put a link in the Morning File to yesterday’s update.

          1. Today’s details haven’t been released yet. I try to be super on top of it and get it out just minutes after I have the information, but I can’t publish stuff I don’t have.