News

1. COVID-19 update

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Tim Bousquet has all the latest on COVID-19 in the province, including details on new cases, variants, demographics, testing, vaccination, and potential exposure advisories.  

Seventy new cases of the virus were announced on Thursday. There are 548 active cases of the virus in Nova Scotia. Bousquet has the breakdown of where the cases are.  

Testing 

Pop-up testing (antigen testing) is for asymptomatic people over 16 who have not been to the potential COVID exposure sites (see map below); results usually within 20 minutes. Pop-up testing has been scheduled for the following sites: 

Friday
Centre 200, 481 George St, Sydney, 11am-7pm
Alderney Gate Public Library, noon-7pm
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm

Saturday
Cineplex Bridgewater, noon-7pm

Sunday
Cineplex Bridgewater, noon-6pm

Or you can get tested at one of the Public Health Mobile Units, which are available for drop-in and pre-booked appointments (symptomatic people and people who have been at the potential exposure sites must pre-book) for PCR tests for people of all ages (results within three days). Here’s the schedule:  

Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre (606 Reeves St.)
Friday, 10am-6:30pm.
Saturday, 10am-4pm 

Knights of Columbus (3236 Plummer Ave., New Waterford)
Monday, 10am-6pm
Tuesday, 10am-6pm
*Appointments for New Waterford will open for booking on Friday  

You can also book an appointment for a vaccination here. People who are 55 or over can book an appointment for any of the vaccines —  Pfizer, Moderna, or AstraZeneca; and people who are from 40-54 can also book an appointment for the AstraZeneca. 

In good news, Tim Bousquet got a COVID-19 test at a pop-up site on Tuesday and got his results yesterday. 

I was tested at one of the asymptomatic clinics on Monday at 5:10 p.m. and got my results yesterday: Negative!  

I’m 50, so I was looking forward to booking my appointment to get the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. I signed onto the site as I was writing this Morning File, but by the time I got in to book, all the appointments in HRM were taken. That’s amazing, though. Looks like my fellow Gen Xers are happily lining up for the shots.  

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2. Halifax’s transportation committee considers Herring Cove Road plan, restricting turns at intersections, taxi rules

A cyclist travels down Herring Cove Road in a July 2019 Google Streetview image.

Zane Woodford has a few reports in today’s Morning File. First, this one on the project for new bike lanes and and bus lanes on Herring Cove Road. As Woodford writes, that project got the nod from the Transportation Standing Committee on Thursday.

Woodford writes:

Transportation planning engineer Harrison McGrath presented the Herring Cove Road Functional Plan to the committee after it deferred a vote last month to give councillors and the public time to digest the 599-page report.

The process started in 2018 when the committee asked for a report on adding bus lanes and active transportation infrastructure to the road connecting Spryfield and the peninsula. Since then, the city went through a public consultation process and then hired a consultant to create a 30% design plan. Needing more detail for the complicated section between the Armdale Rotary and Glenora Avenue, the city then commissioned a 60% design for just that portion of the road.

The committee also gave the nod to a motion from Coun. Waye Mason who requested a staff report on protecting pedestrians by stopping vehicles from turning. Mason gave notice on that motion after a driver hit and killed Dr. David Gass while making a left-hand turn at the intersection of Kempt Road and Young Street.

Woodford reports:

The requested staff report, to be complete before the next budget, “outlines options for a program for establishing protected left-turn movements and protected right-turn movements at signal controlled intersections. The program should prioritize high traffic and pedestrian volume intersections and high conflict intersections.”

Click here to read Woodford’s article. 

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3. Environment minister Irving approves rerouting of Hwy. 316 for Goldboro LNG plant, but what about the increase in greenhouse gas emissions?

A schematic of the proposed Goldboro LNG plant, showing the re-routed highway in green. Graphic: Pieridae Energy

Jennifer Henderson reports on Nova Scotia Environment Minister Keith Irving issuing an approval, with conditions, to Pieridae Energy that gives the company permission to reroute Highway 316 as part of a proposed $13-billion Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility. Henderson reports:

Pieridae has been working for years on a proposal to pipe natural gas from Alberta to Goldboro, where it would be processed and shipped to a potential customer in Germany. Joan Baxter has reported extensively for the Halifax Examiner on some of the questions associated with the megaproject — including its impact on climate change.

Here’s how the roadway project was described in Pieridae’s Environmental Assessment application:

 The purpose of the proposed undertaking is to permanently realign approximately 3.5 km of the existing Marine Drive (Highway 316) around the proposed Goldboro LNG Project site, located in the Goldboro Industrial Park, in Guysborough County. The realigned new Marine Drive will be a 6 km, two-lane public road. The realignment is proposed to increase public safety and provide Pieridae with unobstructed access to planned marine infrastructure.

But as Henderson writes, Environment Minister Irving received this reminder from the Climate Change unit in his own department:

The proposed LNG facility is expected to be a major source of greenhouse gas emissions in Nova Scotia. Part of the original Environmental Assessment approval of the Goldboro LNG facility included the condition to prepare and receive approval for a Greenhouse Gas Management Plan. That plan is still outstanding.

Henderson writes:

In other words, the company has yet to put in writing how it plans to deal with its plant alone increasing total provincial greenhouse gas emissions by 18% at a time when the province is trying to reduce emissions to slow the pace of climate change. Irving also received letters from citizens objecting to the entire Goldboro LNG project, including the road.

Henderson also looks at other concerns about the project, including those around wetlands, waters, and the public engagement plan.

Click here to read Henderson’s entire article.

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4. Mercury

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

Environmentally speaking, Nova Scotia is currently in an indefensible position. As we reported last week, mercury from Nova Scotia Power’s fossil-fuel-burning electricity stations is going into the air and mercury from obsolete light fixtures is ending up in our landfills.

Mercury is a toxic substance harmful to all living things. But 14 months ago, NSP cancelled a mercury recycling program it had been paying for. The program was established to divert hundreds of kilograms of mercury contained in fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) to a specialized recycling depot in Dartmouth. This, in turn, was designed to “offset” continuing airborne mercury emissions from NSP’s coal- and oil-fired stations.

Citizens and companies demolishing or retrofitting buildings that contain the mercury-bearing lights must now pick up the tab for recycling costs. With the end of the NSP-subsidized program, the Dartmouth recycling company, Dan-X, has seen its supply of tubes and bulbs containing mercury plummet by 85%. Since 2012, Dan-X owner Dave Hall has been pleading with provincial governments of all stripes to ban mercury from landfills and divert them to recycling. Meanwhile, the Halifax Regional Municipality — which issues demolition permitsdoes not require contractors to recycle mercury-containing lights. To cap it off, Ottawa is “studying” the situation. And Dan-X Recycling is preparing to close.

Nova Scotia’s Minister of Environment & Climate Change Keith Irving was appointed to the portfolio in February after its former head, Iain Rankin, was elected leader by Liberal delegates and projected into the premier’s chair. Irving admits, “the issue was not on my radar” until the story appeared in the Examiner. He has now promised to take a closer look at what can be done to stop mercury from fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) from being dumped in landfills. 

“My initial reaction is I would like us to be able to do something, considering mercury is a hazardous substance for the environment,” said Irving late last week. “I will get a full briefing from my staff on what our options are. It is in my mandate letter to look at “Extended Producer Responsibility” more closely, which could open up discussions with the municipalities. We might also work with municipalities to look at strengthening demolition permits, especially when it comes to waste from government buildings such as hospitals. I haven’t done a scan to see what other provinces do but I will look into it and see what options there might be.”

As the World Health Organization reminds us, “mercury may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes”, and poses, “a threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life.”

Considering there are currently no incentives in Nova Scotia to recycle those old “twisty” CFLs and fluorescent tubes, time is of the essence. Mercury, of course, was the Roman god of speed. Perhaps he can become the mascot for Irving’s Department as its employees look for a solution to removing the toxic element of the same name from our homes, institutions, land, air, and water.

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5.  ‘If the library is safe for transphobia, it’s not safe for trans people’

Halifax Central Library in 2018. — Photo: Zane Woodford

Phil Moscovitch talks to parents who are outraged about a book currently on the shelves at the Halifax Public Libraries.  

The book is Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by Abigail Shrier. Here’s the description of the book from the library’s website: 

Unsuspecting parents are awakening to find their daughters in thrall to hip trans YouTube stars and “gender-affirming” educators. 

Today whole groups of female friends in colleges, high schools, and even middle schools across the country are coming out as “transgender.” These are girls who had never experienced any discomfort in their biological sex until they heard a coming-out story from a speaker at a school assembly or discovered the internet community of trans “influencers.” 

Moscovitch talks with Alicia Frederick, the parent of a trans child, who says she’s “shocked and hurt” the library purchased the book.

It doesn’t make sense to me why they would put that on the shelves, considering how much support they try to give to the trans and LGBTQ community.

Nicole Nascimento, another mom of a trans child, wrote a letter to the library, including 200 signatures, asking that the library not include the book in its collection. She says the book has the “potential to do great harm.” Nascimento writes in the letter: 

We know that family and community support along with gender-affirming care significantly reduces the rates of depression and suicide among transgender youth, and books like Irreversible Damage help perpetuate stigma, violence and harassment towards trans youth.

As for the library, Moscovitch got this emailed statement from library communications officer Kasia Morrison:  

We have reached out to the petition creators and have invited a conversation about our decision to include [the book] in our collection,” but that the library would not make anyone available for an interview at this time.

Moscovitch includes a great explanation on how the library decides what books go into its collection. You really should read all of it, so just click here.

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6. AG report: Halifax Transit sees no end to its tech upgrades

Photo: Zane Woodford

Another report from Zane Woodford, this one on some of the findings of a report from municipal Auditor General Evangeline Colman-Sadd. She presented her office’s Transit Technology Project Management Audit during yesterday’s virtual meeting of council’s Audit and Finance Standing Committee on Thursday. As Woodford writes, that report found that Halifax Transit is now eight years into a five-year plan on technology upgrades with no end in site. Woodford reports:

Halifax Transit developed a Transit Technology Program in 2012, recommending 33 projects at a cost of up to $51.5 million to be completed between 2013-2014 and 2017-2018. The projects were broken down into nine categories, including automated vehicle location, fixed route planning, and fare management.

To date, two of the nine are complete (automated vehicle location and a driving simulator), four are ongoing, including the delayed fare management strategy, and three are on hold.

Colman-Sadd’s office launched an audit last year to consider whether the project has been effectively managed and whether the procurement processes have followed the rules and considered “value-for-money.” The auditors interviewed Halifax Transit management, reviewed its policies and procedures and examined documentation.

Overall, the audit found that “Halifax Transit is effectively managing the day-to-day completion of its Transit Technology projects but project budgeting needs significant improvement.”

So what’s the deal? As Woodford writes, Halifax Transit couldn’t provide auditors with documented support for the overall program budget or the annual changes.

Then there’s this:

And while the program followed HRM’s procurement rules, “management did not analyze the cost versus benefit of the decision to use external project management resources.”

Halifax contracted the process out to a consultant, Barrington Consulting, and council just extended that contract for $1.5 million.

Colman-Sadd said the municipality could have saved at least $1.6 million doing the work in house.

This article is for subscribers. Please click here to subscribe.

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7. Committee gives nod to over-budget streetscape project

A rendering of the Spring Garden Road streetscape project. — Photo: HRM

And another report from Woodford! I joked that I wanted to call today’s Morning File the Woodford File. 

This report is on Halifax regional council’s Audit and Finance Standing Committee decision to recommend an increase in the budget for the Spring Garden Road streetscape project, which has been in the works for about a decade. 

The project includes making the sidewalks wider, narrowing street lanes, creating better bus stops, and adding some trees. 

As Woodford reports, HRM went to tender for the project back in March and got three bids, all of which were over budget.  

The lowest bid, from Brycon Construction, was $11.7 million, taxes in — 23% higher than anticipated, according to a staff report to the committee on Thursday.

If regional council votes yes on the project, the project, which will be broken down into three phases, will start this summer.  

This article is for subscribers. To subscribe, just click here.  

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Views

1. Jobs aren’t low skilled; they’re low paid and undervalued

Photo: Anton Nazaretian/Unsplash

One of the most common comments I get when I write about living wages or share postings for jobs that pay terribly is that people should just “work harder” to make more money. Another comment I get is that these jobs are low-skill and that’s why they pay so terribly.  

So, I was keen on reading this piece, Low-Skill Workers Aren’t a Problem to Be Fixed by Annie Lowrey in The Atlantic. Lowrey outlines the problems with the term “low-skill:” 

The issue is in part semantic: The term low-skill as we use it is often derogatory, a socially sanctioned slur Davos types casually lob at millions of American workers, disproportionately Black and Latino, immigrant, and low-income workers. Describing American workers as low-skill also vaults over the discrimination that creates these “low-skill” jobs and pushes certain workers to them. And it positions American workers as being the problem, rather than American labor standards, racism and sexism, and social and educational infrastructure. It is a cancerous little phrase, low-skill. As the pandemic ends and the economy reopens, we need to leave it behind. 

And this: 

This description, like so many descriptions of “low-skill workers,” is abjectly offensive, both patronizing and demeaning. Imagine going up to a person who’s stocking shelves in a grocery store and telling him that he is low-skill and holding the economy back. Imagine seeing a group of nannies and blasting “Learn to code!” at them as life advice. The low-skill label flattens workers to a single attribute, ignoring the capacities they have and devaluing the work they do. It pathologizes them, portraying low-skill workers as a problem to be fixed, My Fair Lady–style. 

Lowrey writes that, “low-skill label is a social construct that at least in part reflects the structural racism and sexism endemic in our economy.” I should note, many of the “just work harder” comments I get are from white men. Lowrey writes:

The point is not that all jobs require the same skills or the same capacities. The point is not to dissuade workers from spending more time in school or training. The point is not that all jobs are equally difficult. The point is that we scarcely stop to recognize how our biases inform our understanding of what skilled work is and whose work matters. As the Harvard economist Claudia Goldin has demonstrated, women joining a given profession tends to “reduce the prestige” in that profession; she calls this the “pollution theory of discrimination.” Other research shows that pay starts dropping when women show up.

The “pollution theory of discrimination.” Now I have a name for it! I wrote about this just recently, how women are frequently told we make less money because we choose careers that pay less. That myth affects more than women. Lowrey continues: 

Similarly, Black workers being overrepresented in a given profession is associated with depressed wages. The same dynamics are surely at play in how we distinguish between low-skill, low-pay and high-skill, high-pay work. The terms are, in part, euphemistic, a proxy for social capital and compensation, a way of justifying 20-something McKinsey consultants making 10 times what veteran groundskeepers do. 

As Nova Scotia is in lockdown and many of us are working from home, myself included, it’s a lot of supposed “low-skill” workers such as grocery store clerks, cleaners, delivery drivers, and others, who are still out on the frontlines keeping things running. These workers make less, often minimum wage or just above, and often have no other protections like sick days. They often work part-time and have to work more than one job to pay the bills. We call them heroes, and maybe some companies give them a bit of a raise, but take it back once restrictions are lifted, even though the work itself never changed. And they’re working in places that are often listed as potential exposure sites for COVID-19. “Low-skill” workers are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

I talked about this here before, but I spent more than 20 years working in bars and restaurants, mostly as a bartender, but also as a server and assistant manager. This was physically and mentally demanding work that required a lot of skill. As a bartender, I knew the recipes for dozens of drinks and could make them very quickly. I had to keep the bar clean. I kept track of inventory. And, of course, I had to learn how to manage people when they were drinking — and maybe drinking too much.  

People often talk about how important excellent service is at restaurants and bars, yet they don’t think it requires a lot of skill to provide that excellent service. And food, and gathering together to enjoy that food, is such an important part of any culture, but we don’t pay the people who work to serve.  

I hope this pandemic has changed the way we think of work, who’s essential, why all workers deserve a living wage and other protections, and what we value. As Lowrey writes, “All jobs could be good jobs” and these workers deserve much more. 

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Noticed

Samantha Dixon Slawter, centre, with guests from a Black Beauty Culture Association event in Shelburne.

In a Morning File back in February 2020, I wrote about Samantha Dixon Slawter and the work she’s doing with The Black Beauty Culture Association in teaching about the history of Black hair care in Nova Scotia. Back then, I attended a session she hosted called The Black Hair-Story of Nova Scotia: What’s Your Hair Story?

I first heard about Dixon Slawter and her work from my good friend, Donalda MacIsaac, who is a longtime client at Dixon Slawter’s salon in downtown Dartmouth. MacIsaac is a member of the association, too. They often host sessions about the history of Black hair care where guests share their own hair stories.

Earlier this month, Dixon Slawter invited me to a session called Being Black and Beautiful in Nova Scotia: The Black Hair Story of Shelburne at the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown. So, I went with MacIsaac and another member, Martha Grant. 

Before the session, one of the staff at the centre gave us a tour, explaining the history of Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia. About 3,500 Black Loyalists came to Nova Scotia between 1776 and 1785. About 1,500 of those Black Loyalists arrived in Port Roseway, which is now known as Shelburne. Our guide talked about the racism the Black Loyalists faced in the community. Shelburne was also the site of the first race riot in North America.

This museum is very new, built in 2015. Someone burned down the former Black Loyalists Heritage Centre and Historical Site in 2006. That fire destroyed many of the society’s photographs, genealogies, and artifacts.

There were about a dozen guests at this session and all were from the Shelburne and nearby communities. Some travelled to the museum from Yarmouth. Like at her other sessions, Dixon Slawter starts off asking people to share their hair stories. These guests talked about the challenge of finding a stylist in rural Nova Scotia. Stylists in salons here aren’t trained to cut and style Black hair. They also talked about the other challenge of finding the right products for Black hair care, and how even local drugstores won’t keep these products in stock. 

When I interviewed Dixon Slawter last year, she told me that as a white woman I could go to any salon in Nova Scotia and someone would know how to do my hair. That line has stuck with me ever since. Not once have I had to think about finding a stylist who can cut and style my hair properly. This is my privilege. 

On May 19, Dixon Slawter is hosting a virtual session called Being Black and Beautiful in Nova Scotia with Halifax Public Libraries. This is a follow-up to the session I attended and wrote about: The Black Hair-Story of Nova Scotia. At the session on May 19, Dixon Slawter will be discussing the injustices, inequality, and inequity in the beauty industry in the province. Dixon Slawter has been working for decades to get changes to policy to allow apprentices to train to learn Black hair care. She’ll talk about this work, too. This is a two-night event and you have to register to attend. Click here to sign up

The work Dixon Slawter and her association is doing is about far more than hair and hair care and it’s extraordinary. I’m grateful for the chance to listen and learn.

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Government

No meetings


On campus

Saint Mary’s

Academic Well-being of Racialized Students (Friday, 1pm) — book launch and panel discussion with Ahrthyh Arumugam, Fallen Matthews, Diane Obed, and the book’s editor, Benita Bunjun, and poetry by Tammy Williams.


In the harbour

Halifax
06:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
16:00: ZIM Vancouver, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
16:30: Nolhanava sails for Saint-Pierre
16:30: MSC Angela, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York

Cape Breton
08:00: Tanja, bulker, arrives at Port Hawkesbury Paper from Portland
09:00: Maria Desgagnes, oil tanker, arrives at Government Wharf (Sydney) from Corner Brook, Newfoundland
18:00: SFL Trinity, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from New York


Footnotes

Iris the Amazing is usually my editor for Morning File, but she’s at a meeting, so Zane Woodford stepped in as Morning File editor today. Thank you, Zane!

This is a very packed Morning File. I work with an excellent team at the Examiner whose excellent work is supported by our generous subscribers. Please subscribe, or drop us a donation. Thanks!

Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent

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4 Comments

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  1. Great job Suzannne for being a dogged champion for all working people. Keep at it. Few do. It is a truth we all need to be reminded of over, and over and over. Thanks.

  2. Re. “skilled” and “unskilled” work,” nothing beats the wonderful words of Bertrand Russell, written in 1935:

    “Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid.

    “The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders, but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two organized bodies of men; this is called politics. The skill required for this kind of work is not knowledge of the subjects as to which advice is given, but knowledge of the art of persuasive speaking and writing, i.e. of advertising.”

  3. Thanks to HE for all the excellent COVID-19 coverage! I think along with today’s new high of 589 active known cases, the number of people in our hospitals reported yesterday – 14 – is also a new high. During the first wave, looks like 13 announced 04/26/20 was the high (and the max in ICU during first wave was 5 on multiple dates).

  4. The only way that workers have ever gotten a better deal in a market economy is by restricting the supply of labor. Canada has numerous programs designed to maximize the amount of labor available across a wide variety of education and training levels. Until that changes, the race to the bottom will continue. It’s not about value, it’s about market price. I value clean tap water a lot more than I value my car – but my clean tap water costs less. And yet – I can’t own and operate my car for the price of a water bill.