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News

1. Draconian cuts at SaltWire

This item is written by Tim Bousquet.

Yesterday, Mark Lever, president of SaltWire, announced that in response to the economic fallout from COVID-19, the company is making huge, draconian cuts:

Please know these decisions deeply impact our SaltWire family. This is not what we want to do, but it’s what we must do. Effective Wednesday, March 25, the following changes to SaltWire’s business operations will occur:

  • The production of all weekly publications (both free and paid-for) in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia will be suspended for the next 12 weeks.
  • SaltWire will continue to produce —  both in print and online —  four dailies, which will include The Chronicle Herald, the Cape Breton Post, The Guardian and The Telegram.  SaltWire will also continue to provide flyer distribution throughout this period.
  • On a temporary 12-week basis, The Guardian and The Journal Pioneer will be combined, with Journal Pioneer subscribers receiving The Guardian on a daily basis.
  • All NS subscribers to paid weeklies will be provided with the weekend edition of The Chronicle Herald.

As a result of the operational changes, we have no choice but to make the very difficult and painful decision to temporarily layoff nearly  40 per cent of our workforce.

The cuts are in place for three months.

This is terrible news, especially now. In the midst of this pandemic, we need as many working journalists as possible to keep the public informed and to factcheck the rumourmongering and bad information circulating.

“With many of our advertising customers temporarily stopping operations, nearly two-thirds of our revenue has disappeared overnight,” wrote Lever. “It is not an exaggeration to say if we continue with the same business model we have today there will not be a company to come back to once this crisis has passed.”

First The Coast, now SaltWire.

It’s important to note that the Advocate weeklies are sill operating. I’m told that last night the national news networks incorrectly reported that all Nova Scotian weeklies were shuttered.

The Examiner has stepped up its coverage during the coronavirus crisis. We’ve brought Yvette d’Entremont on for a four-week contract, which likely will be extended, and our usual crew of freelancers are increasing their output. I’m working essentially all the time. And we’ve made all COVID-19 coverage free for all.

The Examiner isn’t reliant on advertising revenue, so we haven’t seen the immediate revenue losses that The Coast and SaltWire have experienced. But our costs have gone up considerably because we are paying out more for writers. I expect a revenue hit to come along in week or so, as people start cutting back their expenses on things like online media subscriptions.

But this is what reporters do. We rise to the occasion when crisis hit, we inform, we keep at it. The Examiner will undoubtedly go deeply into debt covering this crisis, and we’ll hit whatever financial walls we hit, but we’ll keep going. It’s our job.

2. Judge rules for Sipekne’katik First Nation in Alton Gas case

That Alton gas site. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

The Sipekne’katik First Nation has won an important legal victory in its fight to prevent the development of the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project in Colchester County. An Alberta company wants to hollow out salt caverns to store natural gas underground before releasing the brine into the Shubenacadie River where the Sipekne’katik has traditional fishing rights.

Former Environment Minister Margaret Miller issued an Industrial Approval for the project in April 2019 after an earlier approval granted in 2016 was also appealed by the First Nation. Yesterday, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Frank Edwards released his decision which said that Miller made a “palpable error” by failing to adequately consult the Mi’kmaq over how the development intersects with the First Nation’s claims to aboriginal title in the Shubenacadie area. Those claims are “asserted” but not proven.

In his decision, Judge Edwards noted that while there had been “extensive consultations” regarding the project’s potential environmental impacts, “the core issue of Aboriginal title and treaty rights was never specifically engaged.” The judge ruled that what Miller’s decision said was not actually supported by what the minister did.

In her 2019 decision to approve the project, Miller stated “that the level of consultation was appropriate to the circumstances and to the aboriginal and treaty rights as asserted. I conclude that consultation on aboriginal and treaty rights was substantial and was conducted separately from public consultation.”

“The problem with the above is that the record discloses that the province never specifically engaged in a discussion of the asserted Aboriginal title claim or treaty rights during the consultation process,” said Judge Edwards in his written decision. “The consultation process related exclusively to assessing, investigating, and mitigating, the potential environmental impacts of the Project.”

Edwards pointed to a 2007 letter from Twila Gaudet of the Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office (KMKNO), the technical office for the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs, that flagged the issue of aboriginal land claims in the area where the brining operation was to take place next to the Shubenacadie River.

Judge Edwards said the aboriginal title issue never came up again until the period between 2014 and 2016 when the province delegated some aspects of consultation to Alton Gas, which was seeking approval to begin construction. The judge noted discussions over land title are not something that can be delegated by the government.

Edwards’ ruling effectively sets aside Miller’s decision to proceed with the project. The judge ordered the province to undertake 120 days of consultation with Sipekne’katik over the land claim but was unable to pinpoint a start date.

“That will have to wait for the declaration by the Province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health that the COVID 19 crisis is over. The parties are free to agree upon an alternative remote arrangement,” wrote Edwards.

The N.S. Supreme Court decision does not appear to have diminished the company’s resolve.

“Alton Natural Gas Storage remains committed to ongoing, open dialogue with the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia including Sipekne’katik about the Alton Project, including its environmental and safety safeguards, and the opportunities the Alton Project presents for Nova Scotians,” according to a written statement issued by the company last night.

The statement also says demand for the fuel is growing in Nova Scotia and underground storage caverns would provide a reliable supply for the established customers of distributor Heritage Gas. They include homeowners, businesses, hospitals, and universities. Alton Natural Gas Storage applied for its first permit almost 15 years ago. The company is owned by AltaGas headquartered in Alberta.

3. COVID-19 updates from city and province

First, the numbers:

  • Ten new cases in Nova Scotia were announced yesterday, bringing the known total cases up to 51 for the province
  • 2474 people have tested negative for COVID-19 so far in Nova Scotia. Two people have been hospitalized, with one still in hospital. One person is considered fully recovered from COVID-19.
  • Across Canada, the number of known cases rose to 2792.  There have been a total of 27 deaths in BC, Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta.
  • Across the world, of the total 424,114 known cases, there have been 18,931 deaths and 109,190 recoveries, leaving 295,993 known active cases of COVID-19.
Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr Robert Strang give the provincial COVID-19 update on March 24, 2020.

At the provincial daily update, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Strang announced that testing capacity has doubled to 400 tests per day, and that testing will now be expanded to include all contacts of any known cases, and that, “as the number of cases continues to rise, and we will get more cases, we can expect we will soon see community spread.”

As soon as we become aware of a case we are in contact with those individuals and work with them to identify who they may have been in close contact with. And all those close contacts are put under self isolation for 14 days… As a result of [lab capacity doubling], we’re now able to begin testing all the close contacts that public health is identifying. So every close contact of a case, we’re not just putting them in isolation and seeing if they get sick, we’re testing them right away. And we will be going back and doing that testing for close contacts back to our very first case. We’re also testing people in hospital where clinically appropriate, where we might consider Covid-19. We are testing all those individuals. So in those ways, we’re starting to look at how we might detect spread within our community. That testing is not necessarily based on a travel history.

Strang also made a plea for people to only call 911 in case of emergency, and to use the 811 online assessment tool first if they are concerned they may have COVID-19. He also pleaded for people to be truthful about their travel histories when calling 811 or 911, mentioning a case where someone lied.

It’s critically important that you’re at truthful about your travel history. The same goes for people going into hospital for any kind of care. Unfortunately, I have to say this, but it’s important that you are truthful from the very beginning about your travel history. People will receive the care they need no matter what their health issue is. But if we if you do not tell the truth about travel history, we cannot be alerted about the potential for Covid-19, and you’re quite frankly putting other people – especially our health care workers who are very vulnerable and working extremely hard – you’re putting them at risk. So please tell the truth about your travel history.

Premier McNeil outlined recent expansions to 811, with 53 additional nurse and tele-health associates, and another 40 in training. “We had 79 lines when we started,” says McNeil. “In the next 48 hours we’ll have 138 lines.”

McNeil said the cleaners have been redeployed from suspended clinics to “high risk areas, emergency rooms, ORs, or high traffic areas. They are disinfecting all spaces daily, including every surface. Our cleaners are an essential service in every sense of the word. And I want to thank them for taking on this very important and challenging work.”

McNeil also laid out the guidelines for what the province will consider an essential service, which will be exempt from the five-person gathering rule. The list, from the province’s press release, is as follows:

  • health
  • food, agri-food and fisheries
  • transportation, including trucking, rail and transit
  • construction and manufacturing
  • IT, telecommunications and critical infrastructure
  • public services, such as police, fire and ambulances
Mayor Mike Savage delivers the city’s COVID-19 update, March 24, 2020.

The municipality also gave an update yesterday, with Mayor Mike Savage, CAO Jacques Dubé, and Erica Fleck speaking and taking questions from reporters.  The Mayor said that under the provincial state of emergency, council now has the power to conduct a meeting remotely and are currently looking into the logistics of such a meeting. The provincial rules require that meetings are recorded and that minutes be released within 24 hours. Savage said, ” we are going to try to be as open and transparent as we can be,” but was unsure as yet whether a live stream of the meeting would be available.

Jacques Dubé clarified some rules around trails. Here’s the low down from the city’s release yesterday:

  • Residential pathways that connect streets can be used.
  • Multi-use paths along streets that replace sidewalks can be used.
  • Residents can use trails in their neighborhood only, provided that trail is not connected to or in a park.
  • Residents are not permitted to drive to trails outside of their neighbourhood.

Dubé also announced that all spring recreation programming is cancelled, and that a decision regarding summer programming has yet to be made. Registration for summer programming, scheduled to start on April 1, will be cancelled.

Mayor Savage answered a question from Zane Woodford about continued transit operations. Note, this is in advance of the premier announcing that transit will be considered an essential service.

Every single day we have a discussion about transit and what the options are for us, basing our decision on two things: number one, the health and safety of our operators, which is why we’ve taken the decisions we’ve taken… [rear door boarding, no fare collection, extra cleaning, separation from drivers.] That’s the number one issue, and the other issue that is really important is that we have a lot of people who need to get to work. Health care workers, people who work in nursing homes, seniors homes, people who work in grocery stores and other services. So every day we look at what the options are going to be on that.

We’re no different than any other city in Canada and around the world. I don’t think there’s any major cities in Canada that have shut down transit, but they have the same concerns that we do, which is the health of their operators.

If we shut down transit, we basically close access to many many citizens, and also to health care facilities and small businesses that are trying to continue. But that is a discussion we have every day.

4.  Transit union asks for steeper measures onboard buses

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

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) local 508 released a statement yesterday saying “the exemption of Halifax transit from the social gathering and distancing rules is creating an unsafe situation for the public and the drivers.”

The ATU is calling on the municipality to limit the number of people allowed on buses, limit bus travel to only essential workers, and put in a 24-hour pause in service, “while these issues are worked out.”

ATU president Kenny Wilson is quoted in the release, saying:

“It may take people more time to get where they need to go, but at least they will get there in as safe a way as possible. That is not happening now. If a health care worker or grocery store worker gets the virus on the bus, they could pass it on to hundreds or thousands of other people.”

The ATU releases points out that in 2012, “the Union was on strike for 6 weeks, during which time all riders, essential or otherwise, had to find other ways to work. The Union’s request for arbitration to end the strike on the basis they were essential to the economy and health of Nova Scotians was rejected by HRM City Council.”

5.  Nova Scotia Power won’t cut off your electricity, but we’re not seeing the big cuts in rates that Ontario is ordering

Tufts Cove Generating Plant. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Jennifer Henderson reports:

You know we are in the time of the Apocalypse when Nova Scotia Power is promising not to turn off the lights (or the heat) if you don’t pay your bill. Well, at least not for the next 90 days if you are a residential or small business customer.

Henderson looks at the details of the temporary freeze on possible disconnections, compares the move to what’s happening in Ontario, and talks to Brian Gifford of the Affordable Energy Coalition who will be looking into more possible avenues of relief.

NS Power made $138-million in profit for its shareholders last year. It can afford to relax the payment schedule. But while the company says it is ready to forgive, it’s definitely not prepared to forget what ratepayers will owe eventually.

“We also encourage those that can, to stay up to date with their payments,” reads the release. “Not only will this avoid building up a balance, but it will help us support those who are most in need of financial assistance.”

Read the full story here.

6. Virtual doctors’ visits are a go

Dr. Gary Ernest. Photo: Doctors Nova Scotia.

Yvette D’Entremont reports for the Examiner on an agreement between the province and Doctors Nova Scotia that will allow more patients to consult their doctors virtually, online. She writes:

In an email, provincial spokesperson Marla MacInnis said the province is improving access to health care during the pandemic by providing support for physicians, nurse practitioners, and others to offer these kinds of virtual appointments to patients.

“If your doctor’s office provides virtual care, you may be offered a telephone or video appointment when you call their office, depending on the type of care you need,” she said. “These virtual care services are supported through new and modified payment codes for physicians.”

MacInnis said the province is encouraging doctors to provide virtual care whenever possible to further support social distancing efforts while also “providing a safe, secure and appropriate care option as an alternative to traditional care.”

“This will minimize the need for patients to gather in physician offices when an in-person assessment is not required,” she added.

Read the full story here.

7. Clearing out the jails in advance of COVID-19

The Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility. Photo: Halifax Examiner

El Jones reports for the Halifax Examiner on an unprecedented move over the weekend, which saw courts responding to calls of advocates concerned for the welfare of prisoners during the spread of the new coronavirus:

Over the weekend, Chief Judge Pamela Williams met that call, in a scene that lawyers, community service providers and advocates have described as unprecedented.

Justice Williams kept one courtroom open over the weekend to process consent releases from all over the province. In a consent release, both the crown and defence agree to the release, and to the conditions of that release.

The lawyers appeared by phone, and people in the institutions appeared by video.

Courts do not normally hear matters from other jurisdictions, nor are the courts usually open on the weekend. Both measures allowed cases to be quickly processed to release people to the community and reduce the burden on the jails.

Attendees estimate around 20 people were able to be released.

Jones looks into how the “collective effort” happened, and what the challenges are now, as formerly incarcerated people are released, including access to housing, medication, and income.

Read the full story here. 

Jason LeBlanc

8. Everything you need to know about COVID-19 testing in Nova Scotia

Tim Bousquet gets Jason LeBlanc on the phone to talk COVID-19 testing in Nova Scotia.  Leblanc is the director of Virology, Immunology and Molecular Microbiology at the Nova Scotia Health Authority. Bousquet asks him about everything from why and how testing conditions are being determined, to what it feels like to have your throat swabbed.

“My apologies for the audio quality,” writes Bousquet. “I’m not trained in audio, and I’m learning as I go along with substandard equipment. But I think this interview is important all the same.”

Listen to the interview here.

9. Someone has called the cops in a misguided attempt to enforce self-isolation

Tim Bousquet looks into an instance where a neighbour has called the cops on someone they suspect of breaking COVID-19 public health orders. The police who responded to the call then told the person in question to remain indoors at all times under threat of a $1000 fine, despite the fact that they are not symptomatic, have not tested positive for COVID-19, and their travel predates all public health orders. And, Bousquet notes, Dr. Robert Strang has clearly stated that people in self isolation due to travel should be allowed to walk outside in their neighbourhoods. “So why are Halifax police getting every element of this wrong?” he asks.

“We will not be commenting specifically on an individual case,” responded Cst. John McLeod, who speaks for the Halifax Regional Police Department. “But what we can say is that with the enactment of the State of Emergency for Nova Scotia, we continue to work closely with the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness to obtain greater clarity on measures contained within the directives issued by the Chief Medical Officer. Additionally, in cases of defiance of self-isolation or quarantine, we will be working with public health on a case-by-case basis.

Read the full story here.

10. False information in the time of corona

These trying times of the novel coronavirus have made us susceptible to more than just social isolation and economic uncertainty: false stories and information are running rampant. When the truth sometimes seems unreal, it’s easy to believe a lie. In this piece, the Examiner takes a look at some of the rumours that have been circulating in social media feeds and messaging apps, in an effort to clear up, or at least explain the complications involved, in some of the stories.

Read the full story here.


Noticed

Needham Recreation Centre, Devonshire Street, Halifax. Image: Google Street View.

Adsum House, in cooperation with other organizations, has opened an emergency “pop up” shelter at the Needham Centre in Halifax’s north end. Here’s their announcement from the Adsum website, along with a call out for needed items that can be dropped off at the centre at any time.

We have been working closely over the recent days with each other, our municipal and provincial governments, the YMCA and Mobile Outreach’s Street Health to create safer spaces that will allow our homeless clients, many of whom are at high risk of serious illness, required social distancing. Over the weekend, we collectively opened the first pop-up shelter at Needham Centre in Halifax. As we continue to implement our pandemic plans to meet the state of emergency announced this morning, we will have many needs. For the moment, we are asking the public to help us with the following:

  • There is a need for the donation of NEW men’s underwear and socks – all sizes

  • We have an immediate and large need for towels, juice boxes, individually-wrapped cereal bars and snacks

  • We have a more modest need for blankets and pillows

These needs will change – and perhaps, grow – in the coming days but at this time, we’re asking anyone who is able to, to please drop off towels, juice boxes, individually-wrapped snacks and bedding to Needham Centre, 3372 Devonshire Avenue, Halifax. We remind you to please continue to practice social distancing, even when delivering donations.

Thank you to everyone for your playing your part in keeping our communities as safe and healthy as possible during this extraordinary time.

Note: Donations can be delivered to Needham Centre 24/7. Thank you!


Government

All public meetings have been cancelled.


On campus

All events have been cancelled.


In the harbour

07:00: Undine, car carrier, moves from Autoport to Pier 31
07:00: Ainazi, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
11:00: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
11:30: Undine sails for sea
15:00: Mol Paramount, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
16:00: Atlantic Sea sails for Liverpool, England


Footnotes

As a friend on social media recently noted: Raw hands, full hearts, can’t lose.

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  1. The Baddeck-based bi-weekly Victoria Standard ceased publication two weeks ago.

    The paper recently underwent a change of ownership. The new proprietors steered it in a slightly edgier direction, a change the burghers of Baddeck did not take kindly.

  2. Although it’s not mentioned specifically in the Saltwire announcement, the Tribune-Post in Sackville, N.B. is included in the 12-week shutdown, which could go on for much longer. This is significant because the weekly Tribune-Post is one of the few English-language papers here that are not owned by the Irvings. So the Trib was free to publish a story when Sackville Town Council voted symbolically in 2017 against the Energy East pipeline.

  3. People are confusing self-isolation with quarantine. Dr Strang and the media need to clarify the difference.