News

1. Street checks

The Street Checks report is being released this morning, just as I’m writing this.

2. Provincial budget

Photo: Halifax Examiner

The Liberals released the 2019/20 budget yesterday and immediately spun it with a deluge of press releases. See if you can catch the bullshit word:

If you guessed “invests” you win a pony! No wait, the pony is bullshit too.

Anyway, the government wanted the takeaway to be that health care funding is increasing. Why, they say it right there in yet another press release (which mentions the words “invest” and “investment” 11 times):

Budget investments to improve access to health care:

  • $10 million increase to further develop collaborative care teams
  • $2.9 million increase to open 15 residency spaces for specialty medical positions at Dalhousie University Medical School for a total of 65 seats
  • $1.1 million continued funding to open 10 family practice residency seats at Dalhousie University Medical School this year for a total of 46 seats
  • $2.2 million increase to improve access to hip and knee replacement surgeries
  • $1 million continued funding for 11 mental health and addictions staff to support an adolescent outreach program in 41 schools in western and northern Nova Scotia
  • $1 million increase to complete the province-wide SchoolsPlus expansion by September 2019

And the CBC happily obliged with a headline reading “Nova Scotia budget sees $200M boost in health-care spending.”

However, the Nova Scotia Health Care Coalition has a somewhat different read on it:

Despite the government touting health care a major budget priority, today’s Nova Scotia Budget offers no new funding for programs or frontline health care services.

The $191.6 million in “new funding” includes $156.9 million in previously announced money for the redevelopment of the Cape Breton Regional Hospital and the QEII Health Sciences Centre and over $8 million dollars in increased administrative costs at the Department of Health and Wellness, the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the IWK Hospital. After subtracting administrative increases and previously announced infrastructure funding there is just $26.5 million dollars remaining for frontline services. This is a cut in real dollars when inflation is factored in.

“Despite looking good on paper, this budget does nothing to provide immediate relief to communities and families who are struggling to get the health care they need,” said Chris Parsons, provincial coordinator of the Nova Scotia Health Coalition.

While new spending on health infrastructure is necessary, the redevelopment of the QEII using a wasteful Public Private Partnership model which has greatly inflated the price of the project. $151 million dollars has been committed to the design and advance legal work on the QEII redevelopment alone. Moreover, this money dedicated to renovations which will be completed over the next decade does nothing to address the crisis facing Nova Scotians in 2019.

In addition, the announcement of 120 “new” long-term care beds in Cape Breton does not factor in the loss of 57 beds at the soon to be shuttered New Waterford Consolidated Hospital and Northside General Hospital.

“We are in the midst of a crisis and this budget does nothing to address that. The government’s framing of this budget does not match the reality of how this money will be spent or the concerns of Nova Scotians,” Parsons added.

3. Spring and climate change

Alexander MacKay. Photo: Nova Scotia Archives

CBC reporter Shaina Luck takes a fascinating look at Alexander MacKay:

Alexander Howard MacKay was born in Pictou County in 1848, and graduated from Dalhousie University with honours in mathematics and physics. He spent time as the principal of Pictou Academy, then went on to become superintendent of education for Nova Scotia for 35 years.

MacKay used his position as superintendent to shape the curriculum for 1,400 public schools in the province. In 1896, he began a program where all students were told to watch for the “first appearances” of plants in spring as they walked to and from school.

The children also had to report things like animal migrations and thunderstorms. Classroom teachers were responsible for writing down what students reported and sending the data to MacKay at the end of each school year.

MacKay collected the data, summarized it and published the results in a Dalhousie scientific journal every year for 23 years.

Today, three mathematicians — Northern Kentucky University prof Andy Long and his students Madison Paoli and Laura Farro — are using MacKay’s data to look at climate change:

By pairing the MacKay data with other available information such as latitude, longitude, average monthly temperatures and sea ice off the coast of Newfoundland, Paoli and Farro were able to build a computer model that accurately predicted when the first flowers would appear for certain species.

The five species they studied were mayflowers, strawberries, apples, lilacs and blackberries. Those species are flowering between two and six days sooner than in MacKay’s time. 

4. The Icarus Report

Earlier this month, all runways and most taxiways at the Halifax airport were shut down for up to 11 minutes because a departing plane dropped a bunch of junk on them. Transport Canada describes the March 7 incident as follows:

At the Halifax/Stanfield Int’l, NS (CYHZ) aerodrome, all runways and Taxiways A, C, D, F, H, and J were closed due to debris created by a taxiing and departing Boeing 747-700. Runway 14/32 and Taxiway Hotel opened at 2340Z. Runway 23 and Taxiway Charlie opened at 0058Z. The departure of an Air Canada Airbus A319 (ACA677) from Halifax/Stanfield Int’l, NS (CYHZ) to Montreal/Trudeau Int’l, QC (CYUL) was delayed for 11 minutes and the departure of a Cargojet Airways Ltd. Boeing 757-200 (CJT619) from Halifax/Stanfield Int’l, NS (CYHZ) to Hamilton, ON (CYHM) was delayed for 9 minutes. Multiple arrivals were delayed.

How does this happen? Are there cargo jets literally disintegrating on takeoff? What kind of rinkydink transport company is flying Clampettmobiles around, duct-taped and bailing-wired up, dropping hubcaps and wing parts hither and yon? Isn’t this, like, a problem? Someone should maybe look into it.

At least, I hope it was a cargo jet and not a passenger jet dropping people all over the place. But we probably would’ve heard about it before now, if it were people.

5. John Keith

John A. Keith, Q.C., a Partner at Cox & Palmer in Halifax, is appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia,” according to a press release issued by the federal Justice Department.

I’ve been following a fascinating case that Keith was involved with. I’m happy to report he prevailed for his clients.

I tried to interview Keith about the case, but he’s one of those cagey lawyer types who eschews publicity, or at least he was in this instance. Oh man, this case… it involves a supposed Russian Israeli genius scientist, gullible investors, and a local con man. It’s one of those stories that requires more than passing reporting, and I hope to dive into it when I can find the time.

All of which is to say I’m sure Keith will make a fine judge. His attention to detail was evident.


Noticed

The Guardian reports that the Chesapeake Bay blue crab — Callinectes sapidus — is invading the waters of southern Spain:

[T]he blue crab was first sighted in the Ebro Delta on Spain’s Mediterranean coast in 2012, and since then the population has expanded exponentially, wiping out native species and forcing the fishing industry to adapt and find new markets.

The crab probably hitched a ride from the Chesapeake Bay to Spain as ships’ ballast — as there’s considerable traffic between the ports of Norfolk and Valencia.

I know those crabs well.

I grew up in Norfolk; the family home is on an estuary of the Chesapeake Bay called the Lafayette River, named in the 19th century after the Marquis de Lafayette, a French general who was instrumental in the Battle of Yorktown. The Lafayette is sort of a branch off the more industrialized Elizabeth River.

My mom loves crabs. And so we kids were always crabbing.

There are three basic ways to crab, and two of them involve chicken. The easiest is to simply load a crab pot, which is a two foot-square (or so) wire trap with openings crabs can enter but shaped such that they can’t leave. We’d place a few chicken necks in a wire compartment in the centre of the pot, tie a rope to it, and toss it off the pier. Then, pull it up once a day, open it up, turn it upside down and shake the crabs out. Through the summers, we’d usually have at least two pots going. Mom, who is now 90, still has a pot going.

But while functional, the crab pot doesn’t typically produce a big bounty of crabs. We’d get five or six a day per pot at the height of the season — enough for a good lunch for the fam — but most of the summer called for more active crabbing methods.

Usually, that meant line crabbing. We’d tie one end of a string to a chicken neck and the other end to a nail on the pier, tossing the neck into the water. We’d usually have three or four lines going at the same time, and just sit around and wait. From time to time a line would go taut, signalling that a crab was feasting. We’d slowly pull the line so as to not startle the creature, getting it within eyeshot and to a length that we could scoop up the crab with a net. As adults, this is fine entertainment; my brothers and sisters and I use “crabbing” as the excuse to sit in the sun and drink beer together.

When I was a kid I often used a third technique of crabbing that involved no chicken, but did require a boat and a net. I’d paddle the row boat along the bulkheads, searching for the crabs  feeding on the barnacles that collect between the high and low tide marks. I could see the crabs plainly enough, and simply trap them with the net. I’d have a bucket onboard, but often I’d catch so many crabs that the bucket would overflow; no matter, I just tossed them on the floor of the boat — they weren’t going anywhere, and so long as I was wearing shoes (not always a given) they couldn’t attack me.

When I returned home, I’d dump all the crabs on the grass in the backyard and use the spray gun on the hose to get all the salt and mud off them. They didn’t much care for this part of the operation, and would try to skedaddle this way and that, but they aren’t particularly fast on land, and I could pick them up by squeezing their back legs between my thumb and forefinger such that they couldn’t pinch me.

Once cleaned off, I’d bring the bucket of crabs into the kitchen, where mom had a boiling pot of water and spices going on the stove. She’d lift out a crab with tongs, but usually two or three or sometimes even five other crabs would hold on to the first, and so an entire string of crabs would be carried over and dropped into the boiling water. Mom would cover the pot, and for a few seconds I could hear them scratching at the lid of the crabs in their death throes. All carnivory is murder, I suppose, and if we’re going to partake in the pleasures, we may as well witness the act.

Once a summer (sometimes even more often), mom would have a giant crabfest. She’d get a keg of beer and spread newspaper over picnic and other tables placed around the backyard, and couple of dozen family and guests would have at it. You open a crab by first pulling up what I can only describe as the genitalia — a shell structure that is penis-shaped for the male crabs and more rounded for the females — then you pry that back to open up the crab. Next, you crack the crab in half with your hands, revealing the meat. You use nutcrackers and various knives and pointy things to get at the rest of it.

This results in a huge mess. No one eats crab elegantly. It requires lots of water and towels to clean hands and mouths; the picnic tables would be piled high with broken shells.

We still do this at our family reunions, where maybe a couple of bushels of crabs will be brought in.

For myself as an adult, it’s too much work for little return. I don’t dislike crab, but I don’t love it as much as my mom. Still, the ritual of it all brings great pleasure.

The Guardian article makes me consider how we interact with the natural world around us. Crabbing brought an awareness of the river and the cycles of the tides and seasons. About the time I left home, in the late 70s and early 80s, the river began to change. Wetlands were destroyed, construction sites caused siltation. The water went from a cheerful green colour to a muddy brown. When I was five or six I’d happily swim in the river; by the time I was 20 I feared dipping a toe in it. I remember reading a report saying that the Elizabeth River would never be pollution-free; it’d always be a toxic waste site.

But, I’m happy to report, citizens demanded better of their governments, and thanks to a host of citizen initiatives — the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Elizabeth River Project, among others — the rivers are once again clean. Just down from the family house an artificial reef has been constructed, the oysters cleansing the water of its pollutants. Wetlands have been restored. And creatures that had left the river are returning; there are a host of birds and every now and then you’ll catch site of an otter, or even a porpoise. Crabs are aplenty, and it’s safe to eat them.

But now blue crabs are mucking up the Mediterranean, displacing the native green crab. The Guardian tells us that the Spanish blue crabs are now an industry themselves, feeding a Chinese market.

That just seems wrong.


Government

City

Wednesday

Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall) — agenda 

Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm, City Hall) — there have been several tweaks to a proposed apartment building abutting St. Patrick’s Church on Brunswick Street. Most notably, the building has been scaled down from nine to eight storeys.

Public Information Meeting – Open House Case 22143 (Wednesday, 7pm, Multipurpose Room, Gordon R. Snow Community Centre, Fall River) — the Shaw Group wants to build 92 single unit houses and 84 townhouses on 134 acres in Windsor Junction.

Thursday

Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — as Erica Butler reported Monday, MusGo Rider is looking to start a fixed transit route from Porters Lake to Cole Harbour.

Public Information Meeting – Case 22113 (Thursday, 7pm, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 95, Bedford) —  application by Lin Si requesting to enter into a development agreement for lands at 103 Dartmouth Road, Bedford to allow for a two unit residential dwelling. Details here.

Province

Wednesday

Natural Resources and Economic Development (Wednesday, 9am, One Government Place) — Mark MacDonald of Bay Ferries is going to explain how the Yarmouth Ferries is the best thing ever.

Thursday

No public meetings.


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Vanier Institute of the Family Conference 2019: Families in Canada (Wednesday, 9am, Room 307, Student Union Building) — Dal is having a “satellite event” connected to the IRL conference in Ottawa. Info here.

Thesis Defence, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Wednesday, 1pm, Room C150, Collaborative Health Education Building) — Calem A. Kenward defends his thesis, “Characterization of Structural and Functional Properties of Class IB Hydrophobins.”

Thesis Defence, Chemistry (Wednesday, 1:45pm, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — PhD candidate Lituo Zheng defends his thesis, “Optimizing and Designing Positive Electrode Materials for Sodium Ion Batteries.”

Thesis Defence, Mathematics and Statistics (Wednesday, 2pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Benjamin Cameron defends his thesis, “On the Roots of Independence Polynomials.”

The SNC Lavalin Affair: Implications for Canadian Democracy (Wednesday, 5:30pm, Great Hall, University Club) — Darrell Dexter and Sara Seck discuss the implications of this scandal on the future of party politics, the rule of law, and on Government attempts at reconciliation. Free, with a cash bar. Register here.

Transparency, Accessibility, and Ethics in AI (Wednesday, 6:30pm, Room 127, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Larry Medsker from The George Washington University in Washington, DC, will speak. More info here.

An Evening of Molière One-acts (Wednesday, 7:30pm, Dunn Theatre) — translated by Justin Blum, directed by Gabrielle Houle. Evenings until Saturday, matinee Saturday at 2pm.

For centuries, the characters of the Italian commedia dell’arte explored the failings and the ideals of humanity in comic form. Molière’s witty one-act plays arrange those archetypes into configurations that lampoon the attitudes of his time. In these new English translations of The Precious Maidens Ridiculed (1659) and The Forced Marriage (1664), personal ambitions, societal ideals, wicked deception, and blissful ignorance are the lot of the humorous and touching characters. In this energetic production, you will share their hopes and desires which still have much in common with our own.

Tickets $10/ 15 at Dal Arts Centre Box office or here.

Thursday

Thesis Defence, Microbiology and Immunology (Thursday, 9:30am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Benjamin Johnson defends “Kaposi’s Sarcoma-Associated Herpesvirus Modulates the Unfolded Protein Response During Lytic Replication.”

2019 ENSL China Student Conference (Thursday, 9:30am, various locations, Mona Campbell Building) — Students will share their perspectives on the relationship of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations with economics. More info here.

Thesis Defence, Applied Science (Thursday, 1:30pm, MA 310, 5269 Morris Street) — Krystin Reid defends “Coordinated Network Management for Platelets in Canada.” The abstract:

The objective of this thesis is to determine whether a simple heuristic policy could be used to reduce the wastage of platelets in a Canadian blood distribution network. The heuristic policy we are investigating is a spoke and hub network in which near outdating units are shipped from spoke sites to a hub. Current regulatory requirements in Canada prevent managed site-to-site transfers. This study looks at the potential value of such a system in terms of wastage and total transportation costs. An optimal transport policy is also applied to the model and used to measure the effectiveness of the heuristic policy. A discrete event simulation of the distribution network is implemented in Microsoft Visual Studio.net and uses transaction level data from Canadian Blood Services to analyze results from a subsection of the blood distribution network in Southwestern Ontario.​

Thesis Defence, Earth Sciences (Thursday, 2:30pm, Room 8007, Life Sciences Centre) — Laura-Ann Broom defends “Postglacial Chronology and Geohazards of Pond Inlet and Eclipse Sound, Northeastern Baffin Island, Nunavut.”

The Collapse of Middle Class Wealth in the US… but its Rise (?) in Canada (Thursday, 4pm, Great Hall, University Club) — Edward Wolff from New York University will:

…address developments in household wealth in the US over the years from 1983 to 2016 and provide some comparisons to the Canadian experience. Particular attention will be placed on the period of the Great Recession and its aftermath in the US. During that time asset prices plunged in the US between 2007 and 2010 but then rebounded from 2010 to 2016, with median wealth plummetting by 44% over these years. Canada, in contrast, experienced much less volatility in asset prices over years 2007 to 2010 and as a result median wealth continued to rise and surpassed the US.

Global mapping of protein subcellular location illuminates the function and evolution of apicomplexan cells (Thursday, 4:30pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — Ross Waller from the University of Cambridge, UK,  will speak.

Better Than New: The Ecology Action Centre’s Award-winning Office Renovation (Thursday, 7pm, in the auditorium named after a bank, Marion McCain Building) — three former/current staff members of Halifax’s Ecology Action Centre and the consulting architect from Solterre Design will discuss the EAC’s 2017 award-winning office renovation.

Chant, Liturgy, and the “Isidorian Renaissance” (Thursday, 7pm, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — Rebecca Maloy from the University of Colorado, Boulder, will speak.

An Evening of Moliere One-acts (Thursday, 7:30pm)

Saint Mary’s

Thursday

Under the Halifax Public Gardens – The Archaeological Search for a Victorian Ice-Skating Rink (Thursday, 7pm, Burke Theatre A) — Jonathan Fowler will talk about what he and his archaeology students uncovered. More info here.


In the harbour

05:00: Nordpol, bulker, arrives at Pier 27 from Port Alfred, Quebec
10:00: Glorious Ace, car carrier, moves from Autoport to Pier 31
10:30: Glorious Leader, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
10:30: MOL Partner, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
11:00: Atlantic Star, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
13:30: AlgoNorth, oil tanker, moves from Imperial Oil to anchorage
15:00: Ridgebury John B, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from IJmuiden, Netherlands
16:00: Glorious Ace sails for sea
18:00: Nordpol sails for sea
21:30: MOL Partner, container ship, sails for Dubai


Footnotes

I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.

Morning File is on the skimpy side today. That’s because I’ve been immersed in a ton of reading (which will take all week)… I spent something like six hours yesterday reading, reading, reading. Hopefully it will result in something, but in the meantime it means I don’t have the time to do so much of the day-to-day work.

Also, I went to a funeral last night, and it leaves me a bit drained. There have been far too many funerals lately, but you know what they say: if you don’t go to your friends’ funerals, they won’t go to yours. More seriously, it’s good to celebrate someone’s life. We should probably get around to that before people die.


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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. “Oh man, this case… it involves a supposed Russian Israeli genius scientist, gullible investors, and a local con man.”

    Doesn’t happen to involve a cryptocurrency by any chance?

  2. I don’t know whether the changes in healthcare infrastructure in Cape Breton will improve the situation or not. I do know that re-structuring almost always leads to fewer front line workers that actually deliver the service. As for why Cape Breton might need 4 emergency rooms while Halifax might “get by” with 2 … maybe geography?

    1. Not geography. Take a look at the 3 hospitals close to each other. Glace Bay to New Waterford is less than 8 miles as the crow flies; Sydney Hospital is 12 miles from Glace Bay as the crow flies.

  3. The proposed restructuring of health services in Cape Breton has gotten a bum rap. Most Cape Bretoners I know regard the changes as a big improvement, combining sensible, long overdue closures with significant new or improved facilities. But you’d never know that from social media, or from news coverage, which exaggerates the alleged losses and dismisses the important improvements.

    To understand why restructuring was needed, ask yourself a simple question: If Metro Halifax, with 400,000 people, can get by with two general emergency rooms, why does Cape Breton, with less than 100,000, need four?

    The Nova Scotia Health Care Coalition points out that some of the money in the budget had been announced previously. Fair enough, but that doesn’t make it disappear. Yet it mysteriously disappears from the coalition’s analysis when it claims the budget leaves, “just $26.5 million dollars remaining for frontline services.”

    Ah, no. The new money in Cape Breton is all about front line services, which will be better aligned with needs and with optimizing facilities for caregivers and care receivers. The McNeil Government did a piss poor job of announcing these changes, perhaps because they didn’t want to face criticism for spending money on that frivolous pastime, communications. But the changes are good ones, and they promise to improve health care here.

    1. Halifax is getting by with two? Obviously Mr Donham has not been to an emergency room in Halifax recently….

  4. Isn’t the European green crab the one that has recently become a nuisance in the Maritimes? Unfortunately we are too far north for the Chesapeake blue crab to survive here.

  5. In the behaviour change circles I work in, the Chesapeake Bay program to reduce lawn fertilizer use is regarded as a leader. Titled “Save the Crabs – Then Eat ‘Em,” it highlighted protection of the crabs as a reason to reduce fertilizer use by shoreline and near-shore property owners. Clever advertising had tag lines such as “Save the crabcakes.”

    If you are interested, a description and evaluation of this brilliant program can be found at: https://www.thensmc.com/resources/showcase/save-the-crabs

    On the invasive species side of things, an area I also work in, the Guardian story highlights yet another disappointing example of how human behaviour contributes to the spread of invasive species worldwide. Nova Scotia is similarly and increasingly under threat of destructive pests as well.

    1. My dad talked about the time he landed in the wrong country. airc, he was supposed to fly from Florida to Guatemala and landed in Honduras, or vice-versa. He seemed to think everyone at the time thought it was funny.

    2. The pilot was following his written flight plan for a flight to Edinburgh and as the article explains he was following his instructions.
      Edinburgh is north of London. Duddeldorf is east of London. Passangers who expected to be flying to Dusseldorf could have looked out the window and noticed the plane was not flying to the east. They would have also noticed they were not flying over the North Sea. I am frequently amazed at people who have no sense of North,South, East and West.