News

1. Bad weather isn’t a good excuse for power outages

The Tufts Cove power plant in Dartmouth does not burn coal. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“The Utilities and Review Board has ordered Nova Scotia Power to refund customers $250,000 for failing to live up to performance standards around service and reliability last year,” reports Jennifer Henderson:

The fine is largely symbolic — the UARB has the authority to demand a penalty of up to $1,000,000 — but it has been levied to send a message to the power company it cannot use bad weather as an excuse not to serve people who depend on the monopoly for an essential service.

Click here to read “UARB to Nova Scotia Power: stop blaming the weather for poor service.”

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2. COVID

Premier Stephen McNeil and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang will be holding a briefing on COVID-19 at noon today, the first since Strang self-isolated after his trip to New Brunswick. The media release announcing the briefing says that they “will announce further reopening measures.”

I think they’ll be wearing masks.

3. Cancer research

Memorial University of Newfoundland researcher, psychology and oncology professor Sheila Garland. Photo: Contributed

“A Newfoundland-based researcher is creating her own Atlantic bubble by inviting Atlantic Canadians to be part of her groundbreaking study aimed at helping cancer survivors,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

For many cancer survivors, sleeping difficulties and problems with memory, attention, and concentration are long-term effects that linger long after cancer treatments are over. While the prevalence of insomnia in the general population is between 10% and 15%, for those diagnosed and treated for cancer it ranges between 30% and 50%.

“One of the things we know with it too is that when we improve sleep, we improve other things. We improve mood, we improve fatigue and quality of life, we can improve depression, we can improve pain,” [Memorial University of Newfoundland psychology and oncology professor Sheila Garland] explained.

Garland said cancer patients often express the frustration that “getting back to normal” is hampered by so-called chemo-brain, an inability to remember or think clearly.

“We feel like that might actually have something to do with sleep, which is one of the main research questions that we’re trying to answer here,” she said. “If we improve sleep in people who have recovered from cancer, can we actually improve their memory, concentration, and attention?”

Click here to read “Announcing a different kind of Atlantic bubble: cancer research.”

4. Santina Rao

Santina Rao. Photo: Helena Darling

Santina Rao writes about what led up to her fateful trip to WalMart, describes being violently arrested by police, and then reflects on the experience:

I have been berated my whole life, because of my ethnicity, and my size. People view me as a fat Black woman first and foremost, so since “she’s loud and uses her voice,” it’s ammunition for them to publicly humiliate me for voicing my opinions or feelings.

People have had expectations of me their whole lives, simply because of the way I look, and present myself to the world.

Yes, I am a fat Black woman. But, I am also compassionate, loving, giving, thoughtful, emotional, radiant, caring, intuitive, intelligent, and worthy.

I am worth RESPECT.

My skin colour does not give others the right to walk all over me, and treat me as though my life is second class.

My skin colour does not give others the right to intimidate me.

My skin colour does not give others the right to put me into the box of stereotypes that they created for me and my people.

I am more than just a fat black woman. But that’s how I am first viewed to this world.

So with that view people see me as, I will use my platform, and continue to do so to shed light on instances like this.

Click here to read “Santina Rao: “I am worth RESPECT.”

5. Backroad Deal

A stand within the community-proposed Ingram River Wilderness Area (IRWA). It contains a 400-year plus eastern hemlock. Photo courtesy Mike Lancaster

In the spring of 2019, workers felled a stand of old trees in a proposed wilderness areas, in order to build the 1.5-kilometre Ingram Access Road. The new road was ostensibly needed to move construction equipment around for the twinning of Highway 103, but when Linda Pannozzo started pulling on the story, she found there was much more at stake: a sweetheart deal for an asphalt company, increasing logging opportunities, and a provincial regulatory regime that is so captured by the forest industry that it obfuscates its own decision-making around what constitutes an old growth forest.

As Philip Moscovitch commented:

Pannozzo is relentless in ferreting out emails and documents and holding decision-makers to account. As someone who lives in the general vicinity of where this story is set, I’ve heard all kinds of stories. It’s fascinating to see Pannozzo lay it all out.

We published Pannozzo’s two-part series in May and earlier this month, but we’ve now taken it from behind the paywall for all to read.

Read “Part 1: The decision to build the Ingram Access Road”, which slashes through what conservationists say is an old growth forest, was made in part to reduce transportation costs for Scotian Materials, and in part to increase access to crown forests for logging companies,” here.

Read “Part 2: Nova Scotia’s policies to conserve the province’s endangered forests might be doing more harm than good,” here.

Before the coronavirus came around, I was thinking about extending the Examiner’s reporting on forest and resource issues into New Brunswick because that province has a unique political economy (ethay Irvingsay) and its own captured regulatory system. So I started asking around to see if there was anyone in New Brunswick who does the kind of deep-dive critical analysis and reporting that Linda Pannozzo and Joan Baxter do here in Nova Scotia. I came up empty-handed. Then I realized that it’s not just New Brunswick — Pannozzo and Baxter are rare gems to find anywhere, and yet we have them both right here, working with the Examiner. We’re profoundly fortunate.

(Albeit, I’m still looking for contributors from New Brunswick, so if you know of anyone, or if you are that person, drop me a line.)

Of course all this wonderful work requires considerable resources to produce, both time and money. After a while, usually a month, we take Ponnozzo’s and Baxter’s work out from the paywall in order to give them a broader audience, but your subscriptions are what make this work possible in the first place. Please subscribe to continue to fund that work.

While I’m on the subject of being profoundly fortunate, I’d like to give a shout-out to the rest of the Examiner team — Jennifer Henderson, Phil Moscovitch, Suzanne Rent, El Jones, Zane Woodford, Yvette d’Entremont, Stephen Kimber, the other less-frequent contributors, and of course Admin Person Extraordinaire Iris. I’ve been not so available the last few weeks as I’ve been tied up with my podcast project, and yet they continue to excel. There isn’t a day that goes by without someone contacting me to praise one or the other of the writers specifically; they each have such distinctive voices, and their own insights, and I don’t acknowledge them enough.

I’ll be honest: I’m beyond exhausted. I’ll be wrapping up the podcast in a few weeks, and then I hope to take a bit of time off, maybe a week, so I can come back to the Examiner full-strength. It’s fantastic that the Examiner has such a worthy crew to keep things going strong in my absence. And it’s fantastic that readers support this work with their subscriptions.

6. Elections

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Springtide, a non-profit that has been contracted by the province to help increase voter participation in the fall municipal elections, has walked away from that contract, citing concerns over the safety of the elections during the pandemic.

You can read Springtide’s Executive Director Mark Coffin’s letter to the province here, and read CBC reporter Tom Ayers’ interview with Coffin here. As I understand it, Coffin’s concern is that municipal elections are managed not by one provincial department but rather by the various municipal clerks, many of whom don’t have the staff, expertise, or financing to conduct COVID-safe elections.

Meanwhile, Municipal Affairs Minister Chuck Porter waves those concerns away by saying that the municipalities can provide online voting.

Coffin responds to that suggestion by echoing sentiments I’ve been expressing for over a decade:

There are serious election integrity issues with online voting that have yet to be adequately addressed in any voting context that I am familiar with.

The processes that have been developed over the course of decades to protect the integrity of an election using paper ballots are not easily transposed into an online system. Protecting the secrecy of the ballot, ensuring each vote is counted properly and transparently, and holding administrators accountable — all of that is virtually impossible to scrutinize or observe in an online election. It appears the majority of municipalities will outsource the trust once given to a circle of election workers and candidate’s scrutineers to a single corporation, and in some cases moving to an entirely online election.

There are three issues unique to Nova Scotia’s Fall elections that should concern us with online voting. First, the time available for municipalities who have never before held elections online to develop online is an unreasonable window for this kind of work to take place. I worry that smaller municipalities will feel backed into a corner, without the time to investigate their options or scrutinize the implementation of new systems.

Second, many rural and low-income Nova Scotians do not have home internet access and cannot access voting opportunities from home. Some of those voters are immunocompromised and remain fearful of visiting public places where they might be able to vote online.

Third, municipal elections happen during hurricane season. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts the 2020 hurricane season to be ‘unusually active.’ To vote online, a voter needs electricity and internet access, two utilities that reliably fail during strong hurricanes. Hurricane Dorian made getting online difficult in urban areas usually serviced by high-speed internet, and nearly impossible for those in rural areas who were without power and internet for as many as seven days.

I’m not sure the hurricane season season raises to the same level of concern as the others, but I’ll take Coffin’s point.

Still, if I can safely go get a tattoo — and under current public health policies, I can — then surely to dog we can have safe in-person polling stations. Again, Coffin:

A safe and fair election would require service standards that look more like a hospital than a grocery store: care must be taken to ensure all eligible voters are — one way or another — given the opportunity to vote. The Parliamentary elections held in South Korea on April 15th offer a useful model for ensuring all voters have voting opportunities. We’re nowhere near ready to administer an election with that level of care.

I don’t like that delaying the election is even a debatable solution to this problem. Can we imagine if Donald Trump announced that the November US election will be delayed due to COVID? There are still three months in which to make the fall elections safe.


Government

No meetings.


In the harbour

05:30: Siem Confucius, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
06:00: ZIM Qingdao, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from anchorage to Pier 41
06:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
12:00: Tortugas, car carrier, arrives at Pier 31 from Southampton, England
13:00: Atlantic Kestrel, offshore supply ship, moves from Pier 9 to Irving Oil
16:00: Siem Confucius sails for sea
18:30: Oceanex Sanderling sails for St. Pierre


Footnotes

What I should I ask the premier today?

Tim Bousquet

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

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18 Comments

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  1. I’ve scrutineered in provincial and federal elections and the process is expensive, slow ponderous but nobody leaves the polling station until every last ballot is accounted for. Then all the ballot boxes are sealed, taken off site and stored somewhere. There are checklists and procedures for everything.

    I’d love to see online voting and referenda, but I just don’t trust it. Too many ways for bad actors to intervene. Clumsy and costly though it is, the old paper ballot is still the most secure way to convey the will of the people and in the end, that is the single most important consideration.

  2. Online voting can be made safe. Using Block chain technology to guarantee transparency and to protect privacy is possible.

    The current governments at all levels hate the idea of online voting, because eventually it may serve to make their jobs largely obsolete. It will also allow the means to make politicians far more accountable if you incorporate recall mechanism in that online voting system.

    But would Nova Scotians embrace such power of choice? There in lies the big question.

  3. The problem I have always had with acclamation for incumbent elected people is that there is an automatic assumption that they are doing a good job and that nobody wants to run against them. This is of course not always the case. For some, especially at the municipal level where there is no party based structure to support the bid for a seat, the cost is daunting. For the office of Mayor for example, the expenses for mounting a campaign are substantial. Not a lot of individuals could afford that so I suspect a lot of worthy candidates take a pass. Even at the council seat level it is like buying a car every time you run a campaign.
    Perhaps there should still be a ballot question for those who are not facing an opponent in an election. Maybe something like “are you satisfied with your current representative?”. At least there would be a message sent.

  4. Another election issue I’d point out…..so far, we don’t have many candidates.

    Right now there are some districts with no declared candidates at all, some only have one, and currently only one mayoral candidate….He Who Shall Not Be Named.

    So how will this issue be addressed?

    1. It is expensive to run for office, and given that Mayor Savage has done a reasonably good job with no significant scandals, I guess nobody with the means to run is interested this time around. It would be fascinating to know the average tenure of a mayor in a town the size of Halifax. I expect Savage to be our mayor for a very long time, likely until he retires or there is a scandal (for instance, an expensive infrastructure project gone horribly wrong).

      HRM is very large and extremely diverse in terms of wants and needs, and the result is a boring, centrist city government that tries to please their constituencies as best they can in a piecemeal way. I think amalgamation was a mistake, or should have been limited in scope to services like transit, emergency response, schools etc.

    1. The problem with mail in ballots or electronic voting is the much higher plausibility of fraud compared to traditional in person paper voting, if secret ballots are to be maintained. For instance, any voting that can take place outside of a supervised polling location can be coerced. Our existing system works fine, and is difficult to interfere with in secret because so many people would need to be in on it in order to shift the recorded results substantially. It is much better than the American system, with sketchy Diebold machines and all.

      1. And what is the evidence for this increased fraud? Mail voting has been widely used in the US for some time (the current President, his press secretary, and his vice-president have all voted by mail recently) and the evidence is that there is little fraud (despite what the voting-by-mail president claims) and what there is is pretty much the same fraud one would get with in-person voting.

        1. In person voting requires several pieces of ID. The voting system in the USA is set by each state and is regarded as a mess and to be avoided at ball cost.

        2. I’m not aware of any country that uses mail voting as a primary means of voting. Just because a minority of people can vote by mail in existing systems doesn’t mean we should extend it to everyone.

          Mass voting-by-mail has literally never been tried, with the exception of Australia, where 8.5% of the population votes by mail. You need to sign and have a witness for your vote, as well as answer a security question, so, regardless of what is promised by the government your vote is not secret, and it would be possible for an abusive spouse, etc to coerce a vote. So that system is not great.

          Ensuring that votes take place in private is important enough – if they have to, make the polls a multi-day event held outdoors, with alternate dates for bad weather. We are lucky to have such a secure and simple system for voting in Canada and we shouldn’t throw it away over Coronavirus.

          1. Five USA states currently conduct all elections entirely by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah

    2. Is it too much to ask people to take a short break to exercise their democratic right ? Too many people are lazy. A mail in ballot is for those who will not be at home on the day/s one can vote.
      The right to vote was a hard won victory and people should take the time to cast a ballot.

  5. I don’t think standing in line and then voting is at all equivalent with getting a tattoo. There was already a standard of cleanliness required for tattoo places. Election staff have never been required to keep the Voting booths, let alone the ballots and pencils clean.

    1. To the best of my knowledge, paper is not a very viable medium for Covid-19 transmission, or so says the front page of The Chronicle Herald. As for pencils, a new one for each person sounds like a reasonable request to this voter.

      Given the challenges around online voting, I belief in-person voting MUST remain as one possible way to vote.

      Most polling stations have been located in public buildings which, hopefully, will be opening soon so cleaning protocols should already be established, or at least in progress. Couldn’t those same protocols then be followed by election staff?

  6. I hope Strang and MacNeil won’t be wearing masks while they are communicating important information to people, some of whom rely on speech reading (lipreading).

    1. I am curious – because it is broadcast, is there a captioning option to address this issue?

      1. Yes, the live-cast is captioned. And it’s archived on YouTube, captioned as well.