News

1. Where’s the plan? Parents call on province to release back-to-school details

More than 100 parents from across the province have penned an open letter to the premier highlighting concerns about the way the province has handled the pandemic education response. Photo: Gautam Arora

A group of Nova Scotia parents have sent an open letter to Premier Stephen McNeil, calling on the province to make “children and their right to education” a priority in the province’s pandemic response plan, Yvette d’Entremont reports.

While the other Atlantic provinces have all released their back-to-school plans, Nova Scotia won’t release any information, and continues to reiterate that the plan will be available in late July.

The parents say that’s not ideal.

D’Entremont writes:

[Psychologist and parent Erica] Baker strongly believes the provincial government’s initiatives to help flatten the curve were necessary to safeguard our physical health. She said the province’s re-opening has gone well thus far because there were plans in place for employees, employers, clients, and customers who felt safe entering those workplaces.

“Now it’s time to turn our attention to schools. We need as much time as possible in order to look at those plans and really figure out what needs to be done,” she said, adding a regional lens needs to be a key aspect of any plan.

“If you had an outbreak in Halifax, that shouldn’t mean that Cape Breton has to shut down.”

Another concern outlined in the letter to the premier was the quality of the remote learning experience from March to June. Baker said it simply didn’t work, noting that even the most high achieving students struggled. She said this is due in part because the executive functions in the frontal lobe of the brain don’t fully develop until people are anywhere from 18 to 25.

“They are responsible for control of behaviour, so the executive functions are what’s needed in somebody in order to plan, to organize, to get started, to finish tasks, to follow through, to switch back and forth, to adapt to new changes, to regulate emotions,” Baker explained.

“That is why we rely so heavily on teachers, because the teachers play the role of executive functioning for our kids. The teachers are the people who help us to get started, who help us to organize and make sure that we’re getting the things done.”

Baker calls the online learning this spring “chaos” and has suggestions for how teachers can be better supported.

Read the whole story here.

Meanwhile, the Globe and Mail has a story on teachers’ concerns about the return to school. It opens with Nova Scotia math teacher Thérèse Forsythe on planning for the next school year:

But planning for the 2020-21 school year has proven challenging, as Nova Scotia’s Department of Education has yet to reveal its plans for school reopening in the fall.

“Teachers are planners. That’s what we do. We plan for all contingencies,” Ms. Forsythe says, “and we can’t [plan] with this because we don’t know. We need to plan and we can’t.”

The issue of going back to school seems to be one of the most divisive of the pandemic.

2.  Oh yay! Another P3? What could possibly go wrong?

An architectural rendering of the proposed VG replacement.

The provincial government is one step closer to using a P3 model for the Halifax hospital redevelopment plan.

Jennifer Henderson reports that provincial auditor general Michael Pickup has given the green light to a public-private partnership for the project. (AKA, we keep debt off the books now, but pay far more in the long run, probably.)

Henderson writes:

Unlike the public or journalists — which the government has refused to let examine “the business case” put forward by its consultant Deloitte in 2018 — Pickup has read the Deloitte report. He notes in his report “P3s can create value by government transferring risks related to the construction and long-term maintenance of infrastructure to the private sector.” And, on the other hand, “Government pays a premium to the private sector for taking on these risks.”

Pickup would not reveal “the business case” for P3. He has not seen the tender documents for the Bayers Lake Outpatient facility even though the province is preparing to award the job this August to begin construction. (This timeline has slipped by a few months.) Pickup said until all the bids come in for the many buildings that form part of the QE2 Regeneration Project, it’s impossible for him to estimate the size of the premium or “how much more” choosing a P3 model may cost taxpayers.

Henderson raises a lot more questions about the project, including concerns about the lack of information and fears about unionized job losses when it comes to maintenance and other tasks.

A 2014 paper by the Quebec think tank IRIS gets to the heart of the privatization issue on its first page:

In return for services provided by the private partner, the state agrees to pay a yearly “unitary payment,” which is a form of rent.

Consequently, some of the functions previously handled by the state (such as maintenance and management) are subcontracted to private partners for a specific period. When the contract expires the state becomes the owner of the infrastructure on an as-is basis, and the private partner exits the scene. In principle, over the duration of the partnership, the financial risks
associated with the infrastructure are transferred from the public partner to the private partner. In this type of arrangement, the rent payments made by the state are not accounted for in the public debt, contrary to an investment requiring up-front public capital.

Upon closer examination, P3s are a model to involve private partners in the delivery of public services that cannot be privatized for either political reasons (for example, people are generally opposed to the privatization of schools) or financial reasons (certain services — if considered fully — would not generate high enough returns for a for-profit partner). In this way, P3s are not a middle ground between public and private management; instead, they serve to drive the dynamics of privatization.

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3. A “feminist lens” essential to mass murder inquiry, petition says

Portapique Beach Road. Photo: Joan Baxter.

A petition calling for a “feminist lens” on the (eventual) inquiry into the April 18-19 mass murders has been signed by more than 7,500 people, Jennifer Henderson reports.

The petition was started by Eleanor Cowan, Linda MacDonald, and Jeanne Sarson. The latter two are the co-founders of the group Persons Against Non-State Torture.

The petition opens with:

The mass murders in Nova Scotia were not “senseless.”

They were predictable.

Henderson writes:

The feminist group believes GW’s controlling behaviour toward women and the failure of policing agencies to recognize and deal with “red flags” or complaints about his previous violence and stash of illegal guns signals a larger failure on the part of society to deal seriously with these issues.

Read the whole story here.

4. Man killed by police had pellet gun pointed at the ground, family says

Last week, police shot a man to death in Eastern Passage. 60-year-old Richard Kenneth Wheeler was killed by the RCMP outside his mother’s home, where he lived.

Richard Wheeler. Photo: Dartmouth Funeral Home.

Wheeler’s death has not brought the same level of outrage as other recent police killings, perhaps because of early reports (from police) that he threatened officers and pointed a gun at them.

But, Zane Woodford reports, Wheeler’s family says that’s not what happened.

Woodford quotes from a Facebook post by Wheeler’s children Katelyn and Kevin:

Dad was sitting outside on the steps with a pellet gun in his hand pointing it towards the ground, not the police. The police did not try to negotiate with him at all or use any other avenues to resolve the situation. They asked him to “drop the gun” then immediately shot him 4 times.

We have yet to receive a full police report as it is now a murder investigation. Our Dad was not trying to harm anyone and had no intentions of dying that horrific day.

I want to say something here about how every police killing is a sign of failure, about the remembrances of Wheeler on the Dartmouth Funeral Home website, about how quick we are to accept the police version of events despite ample evidence of police lying, about how even in the midst of uprisings against police brutality police can’t stop killing people, about what a joke the system of police investigating each other is. But it just all seems overwhelming.

Of course, those of us who were not there don’t know exactly what happened on the day police shot and killed Wheeler, but a neighbour of Wheeler’s hinted in an interview on Global that Wheeler had mental illness and questioned why so many armed officers responded immediately.

In a minute bit of progress, the Chronicle Herald referred to “a shooting involving police” instead of a police-involved shooting. But, you know, active verbs are a hell of a lot better. Police shot and killed him. That’s how they were involved.

5. More questions about NS mass killer and the RCMP

The killer’s replica police car. Photo: RCMP

Paul Palango returns to the Examiner, with a renewed call for a public inquiry into the April 18-19 mass murders, and the chilling story of Dany Kane, who killed 11 people while he was an RCMP informant.

Palango, the author of three books on the RCMP, has been covering the force for decades. He was the first to advance the hypothesis (published in the Examiner on May 21) that the perpetrator of the murders may have been an RCMP informant himself.

In this new piece, he describes the standoff between journalists and RCMP (with journalists at a severe disadvantage thanks to COVID-19), looks at some of the many, many inconsistencies in the RCMP version of events, and raises more questions about the possibility that GW, as the Examiner is referring to the killer, was informing for the force.

Palango writes:

Over the years the RCMP has relied upon disgruntled bikers to infiltrate their own gangs. The tactic has been used to the point of exhaustion and has become regular newspaper headline fodder. GW, a motorcycle enthusiast who owned 13 bikes, was a perfect operative.

He was a professional, supposedly unknown to the police, and the kind of person who could travel back and forth across the border with seeming impunity. He even had a helper, Peter Griffon, with bona fide crime ties to his dirty work, if it came to that. Griffon was the perfect cut out man.

And Griffon and his family knew a little bit about the work of confidential informants. According to a source close to the Griffon family, Griffon’s grandparents were close to Randy Mersereau, the late Hell’s Angel who informant Dany Kane had been contracted to kill.

While GW may have been supplying equipment and drugs to the gangs, the ultimate prop in the RCMP tool bag was the fake police car – number 28B11.

Palango packs a heck of a lot into this story, and I encourage you to read the whole thing.

The Examiner, along with other media outlets, is in the midst of lengthy and costly legal proceedings, petitioning for the release of documents related to search warrants in this case. Please subscribe and support our work.

6. Come back to school and don’t even think of suing us

Construction of new Mulroney Hall & Institute at St. FX. Photo: Joan Baxter

Brian Mulroney U St. FX has hit the news for its insistence that returning students sign a waiver indemnifying the university in the event that they get sick or die from COVID-19.

The waiver asks students to acknowledge that:

COVID-19 Risks at StFX and during StFX Activities are higher than in other locations or activities [love how university activities are “Activities” while other plain-old activities have to make do with a lower-case “a”] due to students travelling from many areas to StFX, the density of the student population living and interacting in close proximity and other factors, both known and unknown.

Yes, I recognize that risks are higher due to unknown factors. Makes perfect sense.

The waiver goes on (I feel like this should be part of a George Carlin routine):

I understand that I may be infected by COVID-19 as the result of negligence on the part of the Releasee or other persons, including other students or visitors. I UNDERSTAND THAT NEGLIGENCE INCLUDES FAILURE ON THE PART OF THE RELEASEE TO TAKE REASONABLE STEPS TO SAFEGUARD OR PROTECT ME FROM COVID-19 RISKS WHILE I AM AT STFX OR PARTICIPATING IN STFX ACTIVITIES.

Am I reading that correctly? Students recognize they may get infected because of the university’s negligence.

Students are then asked to assume all risks and recognize that they “agree TO WAIVE ANY AND ALL CLAIMS” against the university “DUE TO ANY CAUSE WHATSOEVER, INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE, BREACH OF CONTRACT, BREACH OF ANY STATUTORY OR OTHER DUTY OF CARE… [etc, etc, etc].

At Global, Jeremy Keefe reports on the waiver and reaction to it, with the university president Andy Hakin claiming:

that the waiver isn’t aimed at absolving the university of responsibility and that “the safety of our students, faculty and staff, as well as the wider community remains our top priority.”

I’m curious about what Hakin thinks the waiver is for then.

Just because a legal team insists on a waiver doesn’t mean you have to make your students/clients/others you have a relationship sign a horrendous document. In fact, an organization that refused an insurer’s request for such a waiver is part of a story I’m working on.

Back to St. FX, the CBC’s Brooklyn Currie and Haley Ryan report that the university is playing hardball, by requiring students to sign by August 1 or lose privileges:

But fourth-year psychology student Juliana Khoury said many students are feeling pressured since they must sign the waiver by Aug. 1 or have their student account suspended, and class registration also just began.

She said St. FX isn’t offering enough classes online for those who are not comfortable going back to campus, so the waiver is essentially forcing all students to sign it or take a gap year.

7. Nova Scotia police join in call for (some) drug decriminalization

A Kentville Police cruiser. Photo: Kentville Police Facebook page.

Kentville police chief Julia Cecchetto, who is head of the Nova Scotia Chiefs of Police Association, said the organization endorses last week’s call from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to decriminalize possession of small amounts of illegal drugs, Alex Cooke reports for CBC.

Cooke writes:

“It’s very progressive and it will be very helpful to our at-risk citizens within the province,” she said…

Decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of drugs would let police instead focus on finding drug traffickers, said Cecchetto.

“I think if you ask any police officer across this province or across this country, those are the people that we actually are interested in catching,” she said…

Cecchetto also said it could free up court time if the courts weren’t tied up with these “relatively minor offences.”


Views

“People can roll their eyes and say I’m a buzz kill. Literally.”

Ally Garber. Photo contributed.

Ally Garber took her last drink in September 2018. Garber, a communications consultant and mother of two who lives in Bedford, wrote about her experience with sobriety earlier this year. in a piece called “Losing alcohol… finding hope”:

I didn’t see I had a problem with alcohol. I wasn’t getting DUIs, I wasn’t forgetting to pick up my kids from school or missing work.

To be clear I wasn’t excelling at anything, but I was functioning.

Besides, my drink (drinks, let’s be real) of choice was wine. Wine is acceptable, especially if you’re a busy mom. That’s what all the “Mommy Needs Wine” memes tell us. This mommy wine culture allowed me to hide in plain sight. It allowed me to post multiple artsy pictures of my wine glass on Instagram with witty captions describing a harrowing and eventful bedtime routine for the kids.

Had a long day at work? Have wine! Kids aren’t listening to you? That’s why they make wine! It was not until I stepped away from drinking that I truly saw how inundated women, and especially mothers, are with these messages.

Garber told me yesterday that since she published that piece, spoke to CBC about the trouble with wine mom memes, and started an Instagram account where she talks sobriety, women wanting to get sober have tended to reach out to her. And over the past few weeks, she’s noticed an increase in the number of women contacting her for support.

Nova Scotians started drinking their way through the pandemic early on. CBC reported that alcohol sales at the NSLC were up 22 percent in March. That’s $6.35 million more being spent on alcohol than during March 2019.

Spend any amount of time on social media, and you’ll see people joking about drinking, how it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is anymore, time is meaningless, etc.

What the hell. Have a drink.

The Nova Scotia Wine Fairies promoted random acts of kindness by asking group members to send bags of treats and wine to others. Photo: Twitter

During times of crisis, it’s not surprising alcohol consumption would go up. Early in the pandemic many of us were feeling disoriented, scared, unsure about the future (I mean, many of us still feel this way, but perhaps slightly less so).

Speaking to me yesterday, Garber said:

I’ve read a few articles where they talked about that lack of the natural guidelines we all follow. So, you know, having more than one glass of wine is more acceptable on a weekend… But now the days are blurred. We’re all at home. We’re working from home. We’re parenting from home. There’s no distinct leaving the house to go out and face the public. And so those natural guidelines that we all adhere to kind of fell apart a little bit. And new routines were started where one glass of wine I think became two or three or four or five…  I mean, it’s a scary time. We have uncertainties about loved ones staying safe and well, uncertainty about our jobs and employment, uncertainty about school — that all adds pressure.

That pressure is felt most strongly by women, who are still bearing most of the responsibility for childcare.

Garber can relate. She remembers that feeling of just trying to get through the day and waiting until it was acceptable to drink:

I remember so much that cycle of just feeling so much stress and anxiety and trying to balance it all. And just waiting — counting the hours until it was an “acceptable time to drink”. And then I drank and I’d wake up the next morning feeling like crap, and then just start counting the hours again. But at no point did I ever think I could give this up. Because it seemed to me like it was the buoy keeping me afloat.

What may be happening now, Garber suspects, is that women who got into the habit of drinking early in the pandemic are starting to feel uncomfortable about their alcohol consumption as it becomes clear our lives will likely remain unsettled for a long time to come.

She said:

I think that at the beginning of the pandemic, increasing your alcohol consumption seemed really normal. Everybody was doing it. But now that we’re, three, four months in, and it’s now the new normal.. people are getting a little bit scared about that…

The fact is that there are serious health considerations and it’s fucking sad that, like, women are muting themselves and just having to struggle with so much additional stress and like anxiety and crap — like the lack of childcare and lack of supports for working parents. And they’re just self-medicating that way. And it needs to be talked about. We’re not living our best lives here, as much as you want to joke about it. And it’s a real problem and it’s because we’re making shitty policy decisions.

I asked Garber what her advice is to women who are starting to feel uncomfortable about their drinking and wanting to make a change, and I expected her to mention AA or provide some kind of list of resources.

But that’s not what she did. And it makes sense to me. Anyone can go online and find resources or look up where the nearest 12-step meeting is. Presumably that’s not the issue. You may want to stop drinking but not be ready to walk through the doors of a meeting.

Instead, Garber suggests telling a friend.

I think the best advice I could give, and it sounds so cliché, but it’s admitting to yourself that you might be struggling. Because putting it out there to a trusted friend holds you accountable. That was what worked for me. I finally got to the point that I was Googling “am I an alcoholic” or “signs of alcoholism.” I was taking those online surveys, but then I wasn’t holding myself accountable because I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to have to admit that I had a problem. It wasn’t until I made the decision to reach out to somebody I trusted, somebody who was in recovery, to say, “I think I have a problem and I think I need some help.” And for me, that kind of made me accountable to that person. Like, it was out there. And I couldn’t put it back into the bottle. Excuse the pun.


Noticed

CFIB loves government now

Jordi Morgan, VP, Atlantic Canada for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Photo: CFIB

In a CBC story on the challenges facing restaurants, Jean Laroche writes:

Jordi Morgan, Atlantic region vice-president for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, agreed more needs to be done to keep struggling businesses viable.

“This isn’t going to be a two-or-three-month thing,” he said. “This is going to last a considerable period of time and I don’t think that we’ve seen the worst of it.”…

“From the tourist sector, the hospitality, we’re going to be seeing some real devastation here and there is going to be a need to come up with some strategies that are going to be able to help these people in the long term,” said Morgan, who called this a “federal disaster.”

Go to the CFIB media release page, and it’s like entering some form of alternate reality.

Here’s the group that’s constantly railing against red tape and government handouts asking for… more and better support from the federal government.

You will be shocked to learn that the CFIB does not believe that workers need more support though. Let’s travel back in time to when Morgan called on small businesses to stop supporting the United Way, because it expressed support for paying workers a living wage.

Or to March 12 of this year (remember March 12? The day before everything officially fell apart?) when the CFIB boldly came out against paid sick days for employees. Alex Cooke of CBC wrote at the time:

Jordi Morgan, the Atlantic vice-president for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), believes the government shouldn’t get involved in legislating sick day policies.

“Forcing businesses into a one-size-fits-all model for paid sick days makes them less able to offer their employees that kind of flexibility when they need it,” he said.

Now let’s move to the president. Yesterday, CFIB president Dan Kelly tweeted one of those stories about those pesky workers not wanting to do crap work.

Kelly’s tweets:

A worrisome message in CFIB’s survey of small business owners on their staffing challenges. Some workers are delaying their return to work and telling their employers, “when else would I get the opportunity to take an entire summer off with pay”. This is not what CERB is for!

CFIB urges all federal parties to support the government’s proposed CERB change that would end benefits when an employer offers a worker their job back.

Imagine what a disaster the measure in the second paragraph here would be.

This June 10 CFIB media release is the best though.

On the one hand:

“CFIB was very pleased with the federal government’s decision to extend the wage subsidy for June, July and August in order to help businesses recover from the COVID-19 emergency. Most expect their costs to return much more quickly than their revenues,” Kelly said. “But it should be noted that we are already in the new June subsidy period and businesses do not know whether the rules have changed yet.”

But on the other:

While it’s too early to do away with CERB, it’s time to shift gears on the federal support programs to encourage people to rejoin the labour force,” said CFIB president Dan Kelly… 82 per cent of small firms believe CERB recipients should be required to be available and looking for work…

There’s really nothing new here, mind you. Decrying red tape and government interference when it comes to businesses, while undermining supports for workers is pretty basic corporate capitalism.


Government

City

Tuesday

No meetings.

Wednesday

Special North West planning Advisory Committee (7pm, virtual meeting) — agenda here.

Province

No meetings.


In the harbour

05:30: Budapest Bridge, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Rotterdam
06:30: Atlantic Kestrel, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 27 from the Sable Island field
06:30: YM Modesty, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
13:00: Atlantic Kestrel sails for sea
16:00: Augusta Luna, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 for sea


Footnotes

I’m sorry, but I think hodge podge is disgusting.

Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. Good for Ally Garber !! It takes courage just not to stop, but realize you have a problem and do somehting about it. It’s a whole other leap, to actually go public ! I grew up in an alcoholic household so I know what that’s like, when things get out of control !!

  2. ” In this type of arrangement, the rent payments made by the state are not accounted for in the public debt, contrary to an investment requiring up-front public capital.”
    Incorrect.
    The obligations do show up on the balance sheet and are explained in notes to the financial statements. They may not be classed as ‘debt’ but they are fully disclosed and people who analyse financial statements treat them as the equivalent of debt. HRM has an obligation to pay a long service award to employees and the amount of that obligation is disclosed on the balance sheet and explained in the footnotes. The same applies to lease and pension plan obligations. Decades ago public sector accounting standards did not require disclosure of such obligations, that changed after a few years when standards were changed and all obligations were disclosed and provinces were no longer able to hide any significant financial.
    How many journalists can read and understand an annual report from a business,town,city or province ?
    I can’t think of one in Nova Scotia.

  3. P3 is simply a way for governments to avoid accountability and a way for a private sector group to funnel revenue into their coffers at the public expense through a long term arrangement.