1. COVID-19 Update: The vaccine is here; this is what we found out yesterday
The Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 arrived in Nova Scotia yesterday, and the first 350 vaccinations are set to begin today.
If you want all the details of Tuesday’s briefing on the vaccine’s arrival, you can find a full transcript of the briefing that Tim Bousquet posted here. He’s also posted an audio recording if you’d prefer to listen.
If you’re in a rush and want the synopsis, I’ve compiled the most important facts from that briefing below. The briefing was hosted by the following three, who answered questions from reporters:
- Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed: Nova Scotia’s deputy chief medical officer of health
- Dr. Shelly McNeil: chief, Division of Infectious Diseases, and senior medical director of COVID-19 Planning and Implementation for Nova Scotia Health Authority
- Gary O’Toole: senior director, Population and Public Health – Nova Scotia Health Authority
From here on in, I’ll refer to the three above as “Officials.” Now, some quick hits:
The province stated that it has received the 1,950 doses expected. Each person needs two doses to be immunized, but this first batch will be given out to 1,950 different people, with their second dose slated to arrive later in the month. Following these first two batches, all others being immunized will receive their first and second dose from the same batch.
The first doses will go to health care workers at the front lines of the COVID-19 response, then long term care facility residents and staff in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone. After that, the vaccine will go to persons over the age of 80, before it is administered to increasingly lower age groups in the senior population. The vaccine is not mandatory for anyone.
Officials said they do not have a clear schedule of when future vaccines will arrive in the province, but the goal remains to have vaccinations for the general public available by summer 2021. They still hope to have all who want the vaccine to be immunized by the fall. That target depends on how often the vaccine is delivered to the province, and in what quantities. A press release from the province Tuesday stated that deliveries are expected to be weekly.
Officials did say they can expect an additional 5,800 doses to arrive before year’s end; 50,000 doses are expected to have come in by the end of March.
The province has asked for patience as vaccine batches continue to be delivered into 2021, as the vaccination process is expected to evolve as new information on the vaccine and its supply become available.
Due to the precarious nature of storing and transporting the vaccine — it must be stored at minus 70 degrees celsius — the vaccine will be stored in an ultra-low freezer on Dalhousie University’s Halifax campus, where it was delivered. The first clinic where vaccinations will be held, will be set up at the same location.
As more vaccines come in, NSH hopes to have ultra-low freezers in each region of Nova Scotia so the vaccine can be stored at locations around the province.
Officials said they are hoping to eventually have at least 70% of the population vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.
Nova Scotians can expect mask and social distancing measures to remain in effect for the near future.
It is still unknown whether vaccinated persons can remain asymptomatic carriers of the virus. In other words, it’s still unknown whether vaccination prevents a person from being able to spread the disease.
It’s also unclear how long the vaccination will remain effective after a person receives their second dose. Officials did say trials showed that it is effective for at least two months.
To start, immunocompromised people will not be vaccinated, as clinical trials so far have not yet tested people from this demographic.
The province hopes to have the Moderna vaccine by the end of December or start of January, should Health Canada approve it. Unlike Pfizer’s vaccine, the Moderna vaccine needs to be stored at only minus 20 degrees celsius and is more easily transportable.
An update from Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang is slated for 3pm. today.
As for the COVID-19 numbers from yesterday, there were six new cases in the province.
- Central Zone: 3
- Northern Zone: 2
- Western Zone: 1
There are now 57 active cases province-wide. Here’s Tim’s updated map of possible COVID-19 exposures:
For the rest of Tim’s COVID-19 update click here.
2. Freedom’s just another word for “we’ll have it for you soon”
What task do you think would take longer? Constructing a 10-storey glass building on the waterfront from the ground up, or requesting a piece of paper?
In April 2017, while the Queen’s Marque was still a hole in the Halifax waterfront, the Examiner made a request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPOP) Act for a copy of the building’s Construction Management Agreement, in which development firm Armour Group was supposed to have outlined to the Halifax Regional Municipality how it would lessen the negative impacts of the site’s construction — dust, glass, noise, blocking pedestrians — on surrounding businesses like Murphy’s Restaurant and Stayner’s Wharf.
Three and a half years later, with the building nearing completion and businesses set to move in at the end of 2021, Jennifer Henderson reports she received word that a third party is blocking the agreement’s release. (The estimated timeline for that process is six months). This, despite a decision letter from a FOIPOP investigating officer saying it’s his opinion the Armour Group doesn’t have grounds to do so. Henderson writes:
The Armour Group had made the usual argument most businesses make when they don’t want to be publicly embarrassed by the disclosure of certain facts or certain actions. The company argued the information was, “commercially sensitive” and disclosing the contents of the Agreement could “harm” their business.
In the opinion of the FOIPOP investigating officer, this is not the case, saying the document’s public release three years after the fact would not bind the firm to any future conduct or negotiation.
At this point, the Examiner will not be pursuing this document through FOIPOP.
In her full article, Henderson writes of her frustration with this request, and how the FOIPOP process “favours companies and governments should THEY decide there is information they would prefer the public not see.” Here article is for subscribers; subscribe here.
If time is money, freedom of information is anything but free here.
3. Council votes down last minute request to help Dartmouth non-profit apply for federal funding to build affordable “tiny” homes
It’s no secret that affordable housing, or a lack thereof, has become a major issue in Halifax. With a ridiculously low vacancy rate and a growing homeless population during a pandemic, the issue of shelter, let alone affordable housing, or housing of any kind for that matter, is only becoming more serious.
Earlier in the month, Zane Woodford reported that Halifax councillors were considering using the Halifax Convention Centre as a shelter as one possible solution. Now, Woodford reports that some councillors tried one other approach for housing:
At council’s meeting Tuesday, the last of 2020, [Tony] Mancini brought forward an added motion hoping to have the municipality apply to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation for $4.4 million to support LakeCity Works’ proposal for 23 affordable tiny homes.
“I know this is not the normal procedure … but we are in a crisis and we need to address it and we need to be creative and I think it’s worth the risk,” Mancini told his colleagues. “And by us being the lead on it, it’s no guarantee, but it’s more likely that the LakeCity project would be accepted financially.”
LakeCity, a Dartmouth non-profit, had planned to build these tiny houses for those with mental health and addiction issues, but the organization does not own any of the land it would build on. Instead, it has informal agreements with several property owners. It also has little track record with mass construction of modular housing. Both these factors could hinder its applications for federal funding.
Coun. Mancini had hoped Halifax could apply directly for funding on LakeCity’s behalf to give the non-profit a better chance of receiving some of the $500 million of Rapid Housing Initiative funding being doled out to governments, non-profits, and Indigenous governments after the Dec. 31 application deadline.
Halifax would receive the funding directly and become the LakeCity project lead, passing the money on to the non-profit so it could build. However, in that case, the city would be responsible if the project went over budget, or LakeCity became noncompliant.
With no staff report prepared Tuesday so that council could consider the risks and benefits of taking a lead on the LakeCity project, the motion was voted down 14-3.
Woodford writes that Coun. David Hendsbee noted that other local organizations are also applying for funding and wondered why LakeCity should take precedence over them.
For the whole story from the Examiner’s municpal council specialist, here’s Zane Woodford’s full report.
4. Nova Scotian family makes cover of cookbook showcasing stories, recipes of refugees who’ve resettled in Canada
Wherever you come from and whatever you celebrate this time of year, there’s one thing we can all get behind: food.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Canada has released a new free cookbook today, and Nova Scotians might recognize Peace by Chocolate owner Tareq Hadhad and his family on the cover.
UNHCR isn’t normally in the cookbook business, but as Yvette d’Entremont writes, they’ve tread new water for a good cause:
‘Tastes from Home: Recipes from the Refugee Community’ is the first free cookbook ever offered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Canada. It was created to commemorate UNHCR’s 70th anniversary.
For every download of the free cookbook, an anonymous supporter is donating money to UNHCR to help end food insecurity for refugee communities around the world.
Hadhad, a former Syrian refugee and founder and owner of Peace by Chocolate in Antigonish, N.S., said his family thought carefully about their recipe contributions when asked to participate. They wanted to ensure it would represent them, their culture, and reflect what made their hearts “dance in happiness.”
“Food for us is all about culture, it’s all about meaning, it’s all about identity, so that was the reason why we were really excited (to participate),” Hadhad said in an interview Tuesday evening.
“UNHCR is a great organisation and they launched this as a way to share that refugee stories are the stories of Canada, are the stories of human beings fleeing war, fleeing persecution, coming to a peaceful land.”
It’s freezing cold today and I have a huge bag of spinach that is currently hovering between this world and the next, so I think I might try making a nice, warm Congolese spinach stew tonight! This book really came along at the right time for me.
For the rest of d’Entremont’s article, and a peek at some of the recipes and stories in this unique cookbook, click here.
5. Council considers lending Halifax-area cottage owners money for well, septic upgrades
Zane Woodford reports:
Should the municipality lend people money to upgrade the well or septic system at their cottage?
That’s the question Halifax regional council spent an hour debating on Tuesday.
Since 2018, as a response to a dry summer and empty wells, Halifax has had a financing program for homeowners who want to upgrade their wells but don’t have the money to pay up front and don’t have access to credit. Two people have used the program since then.
According to a report to council on Tuesday by Renée Towns, the city’s manager of revenue and treasurer, that’s because people who inquire about the program either want a grant, not a loan, or they can get better interest rates from their usual lender.
“The Municipality is not structured to provide financing services as efficiently as the private sector,” Towns wrote. “As a result, many customers who have inquired about HRM’s program have determined they can obtain financing at a competitive rate built into their mortgage payments from their financial institution.”
Towns’ report to council recommended in favour of extending the current program to “on-site sewage disposal systems” like septic systems and “other types of water systems” like cisterns. But Towns recommended the program should not be extended to secondary residences.
1. Carbon tax
My name is Greta Thunberg and I am inviting you to be a part of the solution.
As #ParisAgreement turns 5, our leaders present their ‘hopeful’ distant hypothetical targets, ‘net zero’ loopholes and empty promises.⁰⁰
But the real hope comes from the people.⁰
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) December 10, 2020
On Thursday December 10, two days before the five-year anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, Greta Thunberg posted a video calling for renewed awareness of the climate crisis. In the video, the 17-year-old Swedish activist asked the people of the world to pressure political leaders to honour the accord and work vigorously to make environmental sustainability the structural foundation of all 195 signatory countries.
In the last five years, she said, government leaders have only presented “distant hypothetical targets.”
The day after that video, Canada’s federal government unveiled more of these targets. But these aren’t so distant, and hopefully not so hypothetical.
In order to meet, if not exceed, Canada’s commitments to the Paris Agreement, the federal government laid out an ambitious new climate plan last week. The goal is to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by the start of the next decade, and to have a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.
If you think a new plan is meaningless, or that this one is too lofty or impractical, I don’t blame you. We as a country have never hit a climate target we’ve set for ourselves — this year included.
But I’m hopeful this isn’t just some “distant, hypothetical,” as Thunberg puts it. Instead, let’s hope it’s a genuine move toward a greener Canada.
The 79-page document lists numerous plans to make Canada’s economy greener and more sustainable over the next ten years and beyond, with $15 billion to invest toward climate action. Some of this would include investing in energy efficient retrofits on buildings, infrastructure for electric cars, and a transition toward clean, sustainable energy.
What strikes me most — and I don’t think I’m alone here — is the commitment to massively increasing carbon pricing by 2030. It’s a promise that has me hopeful this plan is a serious effort to begin truly weening our society off carbon-emitting, climate-harming practices.
Starting in 2023, the federal government would increase carbon pricing $15 per year, which would raise it from $50 per tonne of carbon pollution to $170 per tonne in 2030. In other words, companies will now have to pay the government to pollute the earth. In turn, consumers will have to pay more to gas their cars, heat their homes, travel by plane or do anything that emits carbon. The hoped effect is that companies and citizens alike will be incentivized to look for sustainable alternatives for living and doing business.
The government has promised all revenue from carbon pricing would be repaid to taxpayers directly through rebates, which the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer reports would negate individual taxpayer losses.
There’s been some backlash in the week since, of course. Although it’s heartening to see that all publications and posts I’ve come across at least acknowledge that some kind of urgent action is needed to hit climate targets. That really is progress.
Still, the Calgary Herald reported that Alberta’s environment minister called the increased carbon pricing a “constitutional cash grab.” The matter of whether the federal government can constitutionally impose a carbon tax on the provinces had been brought to the Supreme Court earlier in the year. The court has yet to make a decision, but if it were to rule in favour of the provinces, it would severely cripple this new federal plan’s ability to push companies away from fossil fuels.
The Alberta-based BOE Report, which describes itself as a site for oil and gas industry news, came out with an online editorial criticizing the plan, saying the carbon pricing model would raise the price of diesel “almost 40 cents a litre [by 2030] and we have to consider the immediate consequences to the economy.”
But that’s what this federal climate plan is considering: the immediate consequences to the economy. If there weren’t immediate consequences to the economy as a result of carbon pricing, most carbon-emitting companies would go on as they always have. That’s what the carbon pricing strategy is counting on.
Ultimately, money is the great motivator.
It’s what motivated so many companies to remain environmentally complacent and deny and obscure the truth of the climate crisis for decades. It stands to reason that only money, or the potential loss of it, can force companies to transition away from fossil fuels. Mammon got us into this fix; let mammon get us out.
It’s true that parts of this plan will be expensive. Raising the price of carbon —retrofitting our cities and homes, phasing out old energy industries and transitioning into new ones, all without leaving workers in that sector behind — these things will all surely be enormously expensive. And ultimately we will have to adjust to a new way of doing things.
But the cost of inaction is something else entirely. Already, the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices found that insured losses for weather-related disasters in Canada totalled over $18 billion in the past decade. That’s double the total of the previous three decades.
Whether you live in Alberta where wildfire seasons are increasing in intensity and duration, or in Nova Scotia where rising waters pose a real threat to longstanding homes and communities, the long-term costs must outweigh the short-term. You can argue the details of the plan, but we have to reach those targets somehow, and realistically there’s no easy, gradual fix at this point.
In reference to that other crisis, the pandemic, you’ve no doubt heard complaints that the cure shouldn’t be worse than the disease. Well, in the case of the climate crisis, the disease will always be worse, even if the cure might be hard to swallow.
It looks like our government might finally be starting to see it that way too. Though, for now, it’s just a plan.
I don’t know if it’s the new, incoming cold or the dark nights, but I really noticed hockey’s absence this week.
No Mooseheads, no NHL, no frozen ponds or lakes to skate on yet. (If you know of any, please let me know).
There are years I don’t really follow the sport, but it’s nice to know it’s there in the winter. There’s something about that combination of speed, grace and violence that really warms the blood.
Anyway, after watching some old Canada Cup games on YouTube to get my fix, I tried to keep the high going by scrolling through Twitter for hockey stories. Mostly it’s just free agent rumours and NHL season speculation right now, but there were a few fun things.
First, Wayne Gretzky memorabilia had a big week. One person paid way too much for it and two others paid too little.
Yesterday two people were arrested in relation to a robbery of some Gretzky paraphernalia:
Police say they have made two arrests after Wayne Gretzky memorabilia was stolen from the home of the hockey legend’s father.https://t.co/OZ3VTWFDOu
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 15, 2020
It’s pretty upsetting to hear someone broke into Walter Gretzky’s house during the holiday season to steal what, to him, I’m sure are family keepsakes, not memorabilia.
But that wasn’t the only Gretzky-related robbery this month. A few days earlier, I saw on NHL.com that someone paid $1.29 million for a piece of cardboard. Well, for Gretzky’s rookie card, to be exact. That’s more than the Great One earned from his rookie contract.
It led me to dig through my old cards to see what I could come up with. All I could find were my Joe Thornton and Theo Fleury rookie cards. They’re no Gretzky, but maybe I could rake in a measly $100 thousand for them? I’d be willing to cut a deal for Examiner subscribers.
Further down my twitter feed, and closer to home, Halifax Magazine recently retweeted an old article from Dorothy Grant on the origins of indoor skating and hockey in Halifax. It’s a quick read, but there are some pretty interesting factoids in there. I never knew a Halifax team played for the Stanley Cup, for instance. Or that people used to skate on the arm, and the first covered rink in “British North America” opened at the Public Gardens.
Halifax on ice: How our city was instrumental to the rise of hockey as Canada’s most popular sport. #HalifaxMagazine historical report by Dorothy Grant, originally published January 2015. https://t.co/s3qVmtwGMO
— Unravel Halifax (@UnravelHalifax) December 10, 2020
Judging from what Grant writes, skating in Halifax has lost a bit of its grandeur in the last century or so. Talking about a rink on Tower Road in the late 1800s, she writes:
…[U]pwards of 3,000 spectators [would] watch the hundreds of skaters attired in colourful costumes. Newspaper accounts describe masquerades, with clowns, sailors, pirates, cowboys and even a Red Riding Hood gliding past.
On second thought, that’s not so different from some of the things I’ve seen at the Oval — minus the crowd of 3,000.
Grant goes on to describe the origins of organized hockey in Halifax, which sounds like it got off to an exciting start:
By 1895, the city had dozens of teams but it wasn’t yet a large spectator sport. Over the next couple of winters, the sport would grow bigger. When the Halifax Wanderers beat a visiting Montreal team 4-3 in 1897, 1,200 fans cheered them on. The Halifax Crescents became the hometown heroes, though. In 1900, they became the first Atlantic Canadian team to compete for the Stanley Cup. Defending champions Montreal soundly beat them, but the Crescents still made history — they’re the only Halifax team to ever play for hockey’s biggest prize.
They couldn’t have been as good as that 2012-13 Mooseheads squad though.
Hopefully a little light reading gets you through until the lakes freeze or the World Juniors start. Or maybe you don’t care about hockey. In that case, thanks for indulging me here. It helped me a little, but I’m starting to get antsy again. I’m afraid I might cross check my roommate while sweeping the kitchen if I don’t get on some ice soon.
No meetings today or Thursday.
Human Resources (Thursday, 10am) — video conference to discuss recruiting continuing care assistants. With Kelliann Dean and Shelley Bent James from the Department of Health and Wellness; Kevin Orrell from the Office of Immigration; Vicki Elliott-Lopez, Continuing Care; and Cindy Cruikshank, Health Workforce Policies and Programs. Also: appointments to agencies, boards, and commissions.
Sounds of the Season (Wednesday, 11:30am) — a virtual YouTube event with performances from students of the Fountain School of Performing Arts, and greetings from the Dal community. The event will be available to view and share immediately afterwards, and the archived stream will be closed captioned.
Caregiving support and discussion group (Wednesday, 12pm) — led by Janice MacInnis. Info and registration here.
Virtual Round Table (Wednesday, 2pm) — Mitch Harrison leads this hour-long weekly advice session for entrepreneurs.
In the harbour
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
06:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Coe from Halifax to Saint-Pierre
13:30: MSC Poh Lin, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
21:00: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Liverpool, England
This Christmas, I’ve learned the true meaning of room temperature. My heating’s been on the fritz all month and today, it’s finally supposed to be fixed. At least the cold helped me stay awake to write this..