News

1. Investment fraud

The Dufferin gold mine. Photo: Natural Resources Magazine

Two months after the Halifax Examiner learned that Aurelius does not have “active and valid” environmental or industrial approval for the gold mine site on Eastern Shore, the company continues to say its site is “one of only two permitted gold mines and mills in the province.”

Joan Baxter has been on the mining beat for the Examiner for three years, starting with her “Fool’s Gold” series in May 2018. It’s important reporting, and you won’t find the investigative depth on the subject in any other publication.

Baxter brought us the Aurelius story in March. It’s still astonishing to me that no regulator seems interested in the subject — from my read, the company is outright lying to potential investors, providing an entirely false narrative about it holding active permits for gold mining operations on the Eastern Shore. So this is an important update, just from a business reporting standpoint.

Beyond the look at one company, however, the breadth of Baxter’s reporting gets at the larger issue, which is that successive Nova Scotian governments have not only opened up the province to nearly unregulated gold mining, but have subsidized the effort besides, at great expense and without regard to the immediate health of citizens or the long-term fiscal and environmental health of the province.

It’s a truly astonishing and maddening story.

Click here to read “Aurelius Minerals is still making false claims to potential investors about its Nova Scotia gold mine.”

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2. Limits on protest

Sign-carrying anti-mask protestors chat with bystanders on Sunday. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

“How do you distinguish between anti-maskers intending to flout health restrictions in the name of their ‘freedom’ to infect themselves and others and organizers of a COVID-safe car rally intended to protest violence against Palestinians?” asks Stephen Kimber. “You don’t, say police. And they didn’t. But should they?”

Click here to read “What’s the ‘reasonable’ limit on protest in a public health emergency?”

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3. COVID-19

The daily new COVID case count and 7-day rolling average since March 28, the last day of zero new cases.

Five people in Nova Scotia died from COVID-19 over the weekend — a woman in her 60s and three men and one woman in their 70s, all of whom lived in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone (the Halifax area).

That grim news comes as the current outbreak is waning and vaccination is stepping up.

Yesterday was the first day with fewer than 50 new cases announced since April 23, when there were 44 new cases and we were all horrified. It looks like the restrictions are having their intended effect, and if the current trend line maintains, Nova Scotia will be back to single digit new cases in two or three weeks.

That’s a big “if,” however, and is dependent upon people maintaining adherence to the restricting.

Sunday night, the RCMP were called to a house party in Cole Harbour:

At 9:35 p.m. Sunday night, police attended a residence on the Bissett Rd. in Cole Harbour hearing loud music strobe lights and estimated to be approximately 30 people. Upon police attendance, all went silent and dark on the property and police were refused entry.

Police waited nearby the residence for persons to depart issuing nine tickets under the Health Protection Act each carrying a fine amount of $2,422.00 totalling $21,798 related to this event and more may follow as the investigation continues.

And while daily vaccination figures weren’t provided over the holiday weekend, the pace of vaccination is increasing as more-than-expected vaccine is being delivered to Nova Scotia — so much so that today officials overseeing the vaccination effort are holding a technical briefing with reporters, presumably to detail a stepped up schedule. That is to be followed by a public briefing with Premier Iain Rankin and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang, scheduled for 3pm. I’ll be following the briefing on my Twitter account.

I while I should’ve done this weeks ago, I’ve started an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) on COVID. This is still a stub of an article, and I’m sure I’ll be adding to it. I just added this:

Why don’t you track the testing positivity rate in Nova Scotia?

The change, almost day to day but certainly week to week, in who gets tested makes any positivity comparison over time meaningless.

A year ago, Nova was using PCR testing for only about 200 symptomatic people a day. There was no asymptomatic testing, and no antigen testing. But over that subsequent year, first close contacts and then travellers were added to the PCR testing. Eventually, the labs (to their great credit) got up to testing tens of thousands of people a day, the vast majority of whom were asymptomatic. Throw into that mix the pop-up testing organized by Dr. Lisa Barrett, which on a few days saw as many as 5,000 asymptomatic being given the antigen tests.

But in early May, the labs were overwhelmed and there was a backlog in testing; as a result, for a week or so the primary assessment centres stopped testing asymptomatic people completely. But those people could get tested at the pop-up sites, and if they tested positive there, they’d be sent for PCR testing.

Now the backlogged is clear, and the primary assessment centres are back to doing PCR tests for asymptomatic people, but many people are still regularly going to the pop-up sites for testing.

All of which is to say that over time, there’s been no standardized pool of people being given PCR tests. The people going for PCR testing has changed so dramatically that no comparison over time can draw a meaningful conclusion.

That’s not to say that positivity rates couldn’t be used for that purpose — I argued early on that the province should be doing randomized testing at worksites and schools, so that some idea of background covid rates could be reached. But that never happened.

I think “positivity rates” were used in the US as a sort of bullshit stat to justify reopenings (for example, of schools in New York City), but it never made a lot of sense to me. Still, because it was in the media a lot, people thought it must be really important. But as I see it, the positivity rate is a stat looking for a purpose. It’s not very important.

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4. Nova Scotia’s coastal heritage

The house from Indian Point Road, facing Prospect Bay Road. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

“John Charles walks along the road in Prospect Village, pointing out houses that crowd the right-of-way,” reports Philip Moscovitch:

“This one encroaches,” he says, pointing to a building whose corner nearly touches the road. Then he draws attention to a home on a tiny lot with a bump-out near the pavement. “This one also encroaches. I think maybe it’s the encroachment champion of the village.”

Back in the 19th century, the width of the public right-of-way down the Prospect Bay Road was 50 feet (15.2 metres). Now it’s 66, or 20.1 metres. The original road was “a cart track between the houses. I don’t think the road was even paved until the 1940s or 50s, and then the road was widened. The houses didn’t move. Nobody built new houses on the road right-of-way, but the road right-of-way just kept expanding,” Charles said in an interview.

One of those old houses encroaching on the road may soon be demolished. It stands empty at the entrance to the village, at an intersection leading to a popular trailhead. Charles doesn’t know the age of the building, but notes that the property dates back some 180 years, that many historic buildings in the community have been lost, and several more are currently unoccupied.

Charles, a former planner with the city (he retired in 2017), moved to Prospect Village in 1979. He sent the Halifax Examiner a report he prepared showing that a dozen houses between 1533 and the nearby Cove Road Park encroach on the right-of-way. “Many other homes on Prospect Bay Road in Prospect Village are partially located on the road ROW,” he writes. “This is typical of the layout of coastal villages throughout Nova Scotia.”

Click here to read “One more old house is about to be torn down in Prospect.”

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5. Death of a child

Friday afternoon, a car and a pickup truck collided at Portland Street and Spring Avenue in Dartmouth (Spring Avenue is opposite Portland Estates Blvd.). Yesterday, police announced that a five-year-old child in one of the vehicles has died.

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6. Concrete Capture

We’ve taken Part 2 and Part 3 of Linda Pannozzo’s Concrete Capture series out from behind the paywall.

Pannozzo takes a deep dive into the environmental issues involved in the Brookfield cement plant, exposing the potential conflict of interest of a scientist involved in the environment assessment of the plant. It’s important work, and worth your time.

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Noticed

For obvious reasons, I watch the media industry closely. Over the weekend, I caught up with this February Vanity Fair article by Joe Pompeo, “The Hedge Fund Vampire That Bleeds Newspapers Dry Now has the Chicago Tribune by the Throat,” and just last night it was reported that the deal was finalized: Alden Global Capital has bought Tribune publishing.

Pompeo gives us a picture of Alden president and founder Heath Freeman:

Among the various financial players that are now pulling levers in the newspaper space, Alden holds the distinction of being the most repugnant to the journalism community. “Heath Freeman is the cartoon villain basically,” said [industry analyst Ken] Doctor, “tying the reporters and their communities on the railroad tracks and pulling the switch.”

A reporter named Evan Brandt showed up at Freeman’s front door in an unsuccessful bid to interview him, which prompted Pompeo to interview Brandt:

Speaking to me from his home in Pottstown, where he’s worked at the Mercury for more than two decades, through two separate bankruptcies, Brandt walked me through the past several years since Alden entered the picture at the Philadelphia-area newspaper group that the Mercury is a part of. Cuts to the newsroom, advertising, and circulation departments of these papers seemed to come slowly at first. Staffers grew accustomed to receiving buyout offers twice a year, and there were usually always enough takers. But eventually there came a point where those who remained had gone through so many downsizings that they stopped asking, “What else can they cut?” Because the answer to that question was, as Brandt put it, “There’s no bottom.” At the Mercury, the newsroom once had about 30 journalists. Today, according to Brandt, there are seven: a “content manager” (new jargon for “editor in chief”), a website editor, three sports guys, a business editor, and Brandt, who covers, well, everything else. (If the police reporter who recently resigned is replaced, that would bring the headcount back up to eight.)

“The winnowing has happened over the years,” said Brandt, who also serves as shop steward of the local NewsGuild chapter. “There’s not one moment that you can point to and say, ‘That’s when things really went downhill.’ That’s what makes it so insidious.” There are, of course, any number of smaller indignities to consider: having to work out of your attic because the newspaper headquarters got shut down so the company could sell them; not being permitted to expense a hotel room in Harrisburg after the annual newspaper competition wraps up in the wee hours. I asked Brandt, who is 55 and makes $46,000 a year, what’s stopping him from taking the company up on one of those buyouts. (The packages vary, but last year the New York Post pegged one such offer as 16 weeks of base pay for employees over 50.) “There isn’t anywhere I could go that could pay me as much,” he said. “I put down roots in this town, my son was raised in this town. If I were going to leave here, or when I leave here, it won’t be to become a newspaper reporter somewhere else. I’m gonna work here until they shut it down.”

It’s depressingly fascinating watching capitalism at work deconstructing an entire industry, but also a bit weird as the Examiner is growing to about the size that the Mercury has shrank to.

I don’t know what to make of all this, but it’s clear there’s no future for advertising-supported local news media. It takes subscribers. Er, please subscribe.

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Government

City

Tuesday

No meetings.

Wednesday

North West Planning Advisory Committee Public Information Meeting (Wednesday, 7pm) — Case 22267, Session #2, livestreamed on YouTube; proposal to develop a five-storey residential and commercial building on Wardour Street.

Province

Tuesday

Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am) — video conference: “Student Security: Alerts, Lockdowns and Other Protocols” with Karen Gatien, Ann Power, and Paul Landry; also agency, board, and commission appointments.

Natural Resources and Economic Development (Tuesday, 1pm) — video conference: “How Nova Scotia is Preparing for Climate Change”, with Jason Hollett, Kyla Milne, and Satya Ramen.


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

The role of selective autophagy in pancreatic cancer (Tuesday, 4pm) — Joseph D. Mancias from Harvard Medical School will talk.

Wednesday

Virtual Alumni Days (Wednesday, 8am) — livestreamed via Facebook, continues tomorrow

Everybody Hurts (Wednesday, 12pm) — Christine Chambers, Natalie Rosen, and Shanna Trenamen discuss our understanding of pain during various life stages, and what can be done about it

Safe Space for White Questions (Wednesday, 12:30) — a series of free, public, monthly drop-in sessions that are open to all but aimed at people who identify as white and are interested in working toward collective liberation. Come ask the questions about race, racism, social change, and social justice you always wonder about but feel nervous asking.

Unravelling the early evolution of eukaryotes through genomics and molecular phylogenetics (Wednesday, 4pm) — PhD candidate Taryn Jakub will speak. Bring your own eukaryote.

Saint Mary’s

Tuesday

No events

Wednesday

“All Things Asian” Trivia Contest (Wednesday, 12pm) — Michael (Xiaoou) Zhang will MC; win a $40 gift certificate for the Bookstore. Info and sign up here.


In the harbour

Halifax
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
08:30: Asterix, replenishment vessel, sails from Dockyard for sea
15:00: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
18:00: Algoma Verity, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
22:00: Augusta Unity, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 for Bilboa, Spain

Cape Breton
06:00: Viktoria Viking, fish carrier, sails from Osprey Wharf for TK


Footnotes

Busy day for me today.

Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. Like any stat, the positivity rate doesn’t say much on it’s own. Nor does any one day’s positivity rate tell us much. But combined with other info, it is a key stat. At the least, highlighting the positivity rate helps cut through the noise and show when numbers are changing because the volume of testing changed, or if the number of infections we are finding change. Weekends look artificially low since fewer tests are done – positivity rate would help give a clearer sense of this.

    Lots of jurisdictions have used a whack of COVID ‘data’ to justify poor decisions. That doesn’t mean the data are bad.

  2. That intersection at Spring and Portland is another nightmare. I’d be curious to know how many serious accidents have happened there over the years. Last time I checked (not recently), they had the lights set up so the East bound traffic light changes color differently than West bound. So when you are heading East and turning onto Spring you get a yellow light, meaning clear the intersection. Here’s the problem with that… West bound traffic still has a green.

  3. Regarding the case number (44), it is important to note that only ~4k tests were done that day which is about half the testing we’ve been seeing recently; usually in the 7500-8500 range.

    So 44 cases is based on roughly half the testing which means we may see a spike back to 70 or 80 cases when testing goes up to normal levels again.

    1. We may, but it’s unlikely. The symptomatic and the exposed are most likely to still be being tested as the testing numbers drop off, while the asymptomatic, unexposed are less likely to show up for a test on a long weekend.

  4. interesting to note that while police were busy enforcing Covid restrictions handing out fines and staking out house parties, there were traffic jams in and around the Armdale Yacht Club (and I assume all the other similar facilities around HRM). I guess getting the sailboat ready and in the water and cramming the Beamers and Audis into the parking lot is “essential” activity. Nothing at all like peace protesters doing the same thing just across the Arm. The rich still do exercise their privileges dont they.

  5. This weekend I noticed that there are quite a few more tents around the city. I feel like we’re on the verge of a Vancouver (or other World Class City) level homelessness crisis.

    Maybe someday we can be the San Francisco of the East.

    1. Last stat I saw said HRM has around 500 people who are homeless, with the number growing substantially from the previous count. I can’t imagine that trend changing unless something is done… which seems EXTREMELY unlikely given that all levels of government treat poor folks like they aren’t even human.