News

1. Covid-19

The Halifax airport is nearly deserted yesterday. Photo courtesy Kent Martin

This item is written by Tim Bousquet.

In response to the three presumptive positive tests for Covid-19 in Nova Scotia, Premier Stephen McNeil has ordered school and day care closures and is requiring that all people self-isolate after international travel. The new actions were announced at a press conference Sunday afternoon.

Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said that the Nova Scotia Health Authority had developed the ability to test for Covid-19 and he is “confident” the tests are reliable, but a separate test sample must be sent to Health Canada, so the local results are still considered “presumptive.”

The three positive results came from people who travelled independently outside the country. They are:

• a 61-year-old King’s County woman who returned from Australia on March 8
• a man in his 30s who had “travelled throughout Europe” and returned on March 10
• a man in his 50s who returned from a conference in California on March 13

The two men reside in the Halifax area.

The three called 811 on Thursday and Friday, and the test results came in Saturday, said Strang. He said the Health Authority has identified all the people the three have come in contact with, and have asked them all to self-isolate for 14 days.

Strang said the province can test about 200 people a day, but now that they’ve developed a local test, that number should rise. He didn’t yet know what the new capability would be.

McNeil said the province now has 240 ventilators, and has ordered 140 more.

New actions announced Sunday are:

• nursing homes are closed to visitors immediately;
• public schools will be closed for two weeks after March Break, and a decision about after that will be made later;
• child care centres must close this Tuesday, March 17 until April 3, but that may be extended;
• casinos were closed at midnight last night, and all VLTs must stop operating then as well;
• all people returning from international travel must self-isolate for 14 days, and health inspectors will be at the airport to screen returning passengers;
• restaurants and bars must keep customers six feet apart and limit customers to 150.

The March 15, 2020 press conference about Covid-19. Left to right: press secretary Tina Tibeau, Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Strang, Deputy Medical Officer Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed. Photo: Tim Bousquet

On that last point, I asked if the four officials should be sitting immediately next to each other on the podium. “Good point,” said Strang. They missed an important opportunity for messaging about social distancing.

At the press conference, communication workers handed out posters about how to self-isolate and how to care for people who are self-isolating.

During the press conference, the province’s 811 site crashed, but it was back up and running by the end of the press conference.


While the health concerns are of course immediate and paramount, we should also think about the medium- and long-term economic implications of the Covid crisis.

The EI supports announced last week are good, but should be expanded to a temporary universal basic income, at least until the crisis is over. We additionally need rent and mortgage controls now to protect workers and those on fixed incomes.

Bankruptcy is coming for a lot of people and a lot of businesses. Bankruptcy is an important part of our economic system; it means debt can be forgiven or restructured so as to not destroy a person, and it brings order to our society. Without it, I told someone this morning, we’d have utter chaos — gunfights in the streets.

It’s not bankruptcy that is the problem, it’s how to pick up the pieces afterwards.

Let’s think through what this Covid crisis will mean. In terms of businesses, for example, you have a restaurant that is obviously dependent on lots of customers coming in to eat, and now we have a crisis where people can’t do that. The company goes bankrupt, but the assets of the company are fine — the kitchen is still there, the tables, the chairs, etc.

In normal times, that would all be sold as an asset sale, but this crisis magnifies the problem by a gazillion, and it’s very possible that the ownership of everything will end up in the hands of the already extremely wealthy. It’s Disaster Capitalism on steroids.

We need to recognize that this is not just normal business failure, but something unique, and we have to plan for a major reset. The crisis will one day be over. I don’t know if that’s six weeks from now, six months from now, or 18 months from now, but while there will be enormous suffering throughout, better days will come. We’ll be able to shake hands again, go out to eat, touch our faces, touch each others’ faces… We should figure out how to arrange it so that at that point, people are returned whole again.

That means that that bankrupt restaurant company can be resurrected and the assets returned to it, with new operating capital supplied. Same with just normal people: simply give them money.

During and after the 2008/09 financial crisis, western governments had large stimulus programs, with deficit spending that all went to government expenses to hire businesses (and of course to bail out the banks), a top-down approach. We’re going to need something much larger, orders of magnitude larger, but a bottom-up approach, giving people cash directly, resurrecting small businesses when the time comes, like that.

We can’t let a health calamity be echoed by an economic calamity.

2. Cermaq’s PR fiasco, Part 2

Atlantic salmon looking out of net pen, Barnes Bay, British Columbia. Photo: Alexandra Morton.

Linda Pannozzo is back with Part 2 of her series Cermaq’s PR fiasco. The fiasco in question is the three open houses the company held about its proposal for massive fish farms in St. Margaret’s Bay and Mahone Bay. Pannozzo, who lives in Hubbards, where one of the meetings was held,  attended all three.

But this story is about much more than bad PR. it focuses particularly on concerns about illnesses that spread like wild in fish farms and may decimate already fragile wild Atlantic salmon stocks. Pannozzo includes an extensive interview with West Coast marine biologist and fish farm critic Alexandra Morton:

While it might be hard to believe, Morton was initially a supporter of the fish farms when they first moved into the area near her rural float house community in the Broughton Archipelago.

“I thought they were great. I heard they were going to keep our school open. But they lied to us and they just kept lying.”

This article is for subscribers. A lot of freelancers are going to be affected by everything shutting down. Supporting outlets that publish our work helps us too. Please click here to subscribe.

3. The legislature’s short spring session

Photo: Halifax Examiner

“In 1972, the legislature’s spring session last 54 sitting days,” writes Stephen Kimber. “In 2020, it lasted 13. It seems we have nothing to discuss.”

Kimber contrasts what the 1972 spring sitting was able to accomplish in those 54 days, with our current government’s rushed legislative agenda:

This government’s vision-less over-arching policy vision seemed to range from a) to minus-a). There was one bill to make it possible for the government itself to sue pharmaceutical manufacturers for the extra cost to the health system caused by their opioid peddling, and another philosophically contradictory and hypocritical bill to make it impossible for gambling addicts to sue the government because of the impact the government’s cash-cow VLTs had had on their lives and families.

Click here to read “Whatever happened to spring legislature sessions that lasted until spring?”

This article is for subscribers. Click here to subscribe.

Reading Kimber reminded me of Suzanne Rent’s piece last week about the challenges facing single mothers in politics. Keeping the legislature to so few days means very long hours, which is yet another challenge for anyone with children.

4. The elderly women who paved the way

Betty Peterson, then 93 years old. Photo: Tony Seed

El Jones’s latest is an essay: “The elderly women who paved the way.”

Jones starts off writing about activist elders:

The state has no interest in teaching us the history of our movements or in teaching us to organize against power; amnesia benefits the status quo. Erasing the work of older, radical women and teaching us that they have nothing new to contribute forces us in every generation to go over ground we have already sown.

Our elders are not disposable, nor are they redundant. It is the grassroots grandmothers, the frontlines, the church worker, the banner sewer, the coffee maker, the overlooked organizer, they are our greatest strength.

But then she pivots to the personal:

My piano teacher was another relationship of my mother’s that began as some kind of transaction and ended up in fast friendship. As a dedicated non-practicer of scales, I disliked piano lessons, and the only thing at the time I particularly liked about my teacher was that she made the thickest, fluffiest cake icing. I have never since tasted any icing like it, nor ever seen its texture. She also would french braid my hair into beautiful styles for gymnastics competitions, as my mother both insisted on waist length hair, yet did not know how to style it. The other thing I liked about her was, when exams approached, and I inevitably had to attend extra lessons to cram in all the studies and scales I hadn’t practiced, she would make me peanut butter and brown sugar sandwiches. Clearly, I am swayed by sweets.

Writing this now, I can see the obvious, that this woman baked cakes for me and fixed my hair and went out of her way beyond lessons, and yet, with the entitlement of childhood, I had little appreciation of her kindness or care.

The subject is very different, but the story reminds me a bit of Jones’ Atlantic Journalism Award-winning essay, “I don’t want to be a role model, I just want to be allowed to be human.”

4. NSHA head tells staff to stop stealing gear

Dartmouth General Hospital, photo: Nova Scotia Health Authority

The president and CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority has urged staff to stop stealing much-needed protective equipment. Brendan Carr spoke to NSHA staff through a video posted on Vimeo.

In the Chronicle Herald, Stuart Peddle writes:

“It’s been brought to my attention that we are losing stock of equipments at a rate that is not consistent with our current clinical practice,” he says in the video. “And what that means is that people are taking masks and other protective equipment out of the organization, presumably because they’re concerned or they feel that there may be some other need for those tools…

“Everybody needs to be aware of this,” he says in the video. “Everybody needs to hold themselves and each other accountable for this. But we need to make sure that we have the right equipment at the right time to protect our staff.”

5. Halifax libraries and rec centres closed

The Halifax Central Library. Image: Wikipedia

Halifax has decided to close all libraries for three weeks and rec centres indefinitely. In an unbylined story,  the Chronicle Herald says:

The library “has extended all loan periods for physical items (books, instruments, etc.) to six weeks, effective March 14. Any current loans of physical items have also been extended by three weeks.”

It also said it would be “generous” in waiving fines during that period. It also requested that people don’t return items through book dropoff boxes while the libraries are closed, “to help limit the number of people out and about in our community”

E-library services will still be available.

The library’s own information page details the distance services that continue to be available. You can borrow ebooks and audiobooks,  and use a whole lot of online resources,  including streaming TV and movies, and an extensive cloud cookbook collection, which could be particularly useful about now. The library also offers access to the Lynda.com collection of video tutorials. There are pages and pages of resources you can use by logging in with your library card, many of which I suspect most people have no idea exist or that they can use for free.

Of course, shutting down the libraries makes sense, but there are many people with insecure housing who use the libraries and I worry about where they will go.

6. Wait til May (or later) to drink your green beer

The Old Triangle

I’ve actually never been to a Nova Scotia bar on St. Patrick’s Day. Is green beer a thing here?

Over at Global, Graeme Benjamin says several bars and pubs have decided to postpone their St. Patrick’s celebrations until May.

In a joint statement Finbar’s Irish Pub, The Celtic Corner, Durty Nelly’s and The Old Triangle said they are postponing their traditional St. Patrick’s Day festivities to a tentative date of May 17. This also applies to the Old Triangle and Governors Pub in Sydney.

This is the right thing to do. I am horrified by the pictures I’ve seen from Chicago and elsewhere of people packed into bars. On my Instagram yesterday, I saw a photo from a crowded Black Label Society show, in Milwaukee, followed by a ton of comments from people glad that the show was going on, because all the fears are either BS or overblown. God.


Views

1. Garbage language

A pile of garbage collected from the shores of McNabs Island in the annual shoreline cleanup back in 2014.

On February 20, Vulture ran a great piece by Molly Young called Garbage Language: Why do corporations speak the way they do? It was published in print in New York Magazine on February 17.

I only got around to seeing it a few days ago, and since I haven’t seen a lot of talk about it online, thought I would share it here.

Young talks about the kinds of language you only encounter in corporate environments — how meaningless it is, and how quickly it changes (something she notices after taking some time away from the startup world to freelance). When she returns, everyone is using the term “parallel path”:

 I first heard it in this sentence: “We’re waiting on specs for the San Francisco installation. Can you parallel-path two versions?”

Translated, this means: “We’re waiting on specs for the San Francisco installation. Can you make two versions?” In other words, to “parallel-path” is to do two things at once. That’s all…

The expected response to the above question would be something like “Great, I’ll go ahead and parallel-path that and route it back to you.” An equally acceptable response would be “Yes” or a simple nod. But the point of these phrases is to fill space. No matter where I’ve worked, it has always been obvious that if everyone agreed to use language in the way that it is normally used, which is to communicate, the workday would be two hours shorter.

Just listing examples of this kind of stuff would be entertaining, if cringe-making. But Young is far more ambitious than that, talking about why this kind of language is perpetuated and how we get sucked into using it in corporate environments.

There are great anecdotes too, my favourite of which is this one, about a small packet Young sees on a co-worker’s desk:

The front of the plaid packet said UPTAPPED: ALL NATURAL ENERGY. The marketing copy said, “For too long athletic nutrition has been sweetened with cheap synthetic sugars. The simplicity of endurance sports deserves a simple ingredient — 100% pure, unadulterated, organic Vermont maple syrup, the all-natural, low glycemic-index sports fuel.”

It was a packet of maple syrup. Nothing more. Whenever I hear a word like operationalize or touchpoint, I think of that packet — of some anonymous individual, probably with a Stanford degree and a net worth many multiples of my own, funneling maple syrup into tubelets and calling it low-glycemic-index sports fuel.

Just last week, I shared this great piece of corporate-speak, and wondered what it meant:

MotionHall has developed software that helps people working in pharma, biotech, and life sciences venture capital find the right information about drug candidates to accelerate deals. It uses data analytics and artificial intelligence to help deal-makers find innovations that will help them bring new drugs to the market…. [The founders began working on] a solution that would help people working on new drugs find the scientific information they need for their work and helps facilitate mergers and acquisitions or licensing agreements.

This stuff is so prevalent we barely even notice it anymore. And this isn’t even a particularly noxious example.

Clear language matters, especially in times of crisis (yeah, sorry to get back to that).

2. Jesse Hirsh on what needs to change

Jesse Hirsh. Photo: National Speakers Bureau.

You may remember Jesse Hirsh from his regular technology column on CBC Radio.  A couple of years ago, CBC dropped him, apparently because of critical comments he made in an interview with Matt Galloway about the CBC’s relationship with Facebook.

Hirsh now has a newsletter (Who doesn’t? Well, me, I guess) and in his latest, released yesterday, one of the things he discusses is why fast and reliable Internet service should be free:

One of the key lessons we can learn at this early point in the crisis, is that pandemics demonstrate why Internet access should be free and unfiltered…

I’m presently part of almost half a dozen, relatively spontaneous, collaborative intelligence networks seeking to understand and effectively respond to this current pandemic. The smallest is comprised of my immediate family, and the largest is a network of strangers all committed to sober analysis of what’s happening as it is happening.

These are all Internet based communities that are attempting to leverage available tools and information in a collaborative learning environment. If we assume that an effective means of addressing this pandemic is via relative self-isolation and social distance via working from home, then we’re all going to be part of collaborative intelligence networks whether for personal or professional purposes.

This is why the Internet is more important than ever. This is also why the Internet should be free, delivered by fibre optics, and without restriction.

There’s a lot more to the newsletter, including a discussion of the dangerous assumption that most people read or get reliable news and are relatively informed.


Noticed

The impossibility of living on disability

As businesses shut down and workers get laid off, there is a lot of concern about income. This is something many people with disabilities live with constantly. The Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefits Plan program is supposed to help, but if you’re an artist, casual worker, someone who goes contract to contract, not only is the system hard to navigate, the benefits it may provide are appallingly meager.

In the current issue of Halifax Magazine, Andrea McGuire has an excellent story detailing the difficulties faced by contract workers who get sick, including her own partner, Sara Tilley.

McGuire writes:

In desperation, she applied to the Canadian Pension Plan disability benefits program this past year. “I didn’t have many options, I felt at that time, because I wasn’t able to do the on-stage work anymore due to my health conditions…,” she says.

Like many applicants, she was refused on her first try. Tilley learned the amount of compensation she would be eligible for, based on her prior earnings and contributions to the Canada Pension Plan… “They basically give you about $5,600 a year to live on, and then you’re allowed to make about that much additionally in earned revenue,” she says… “So i f you think about it, that’s less than $930 per month to cover absolutely everything you require, including housing, food, your heat and light, your phone, internet , and medications, which are a big part of my expenses.”

The problems with the system are many, and go beyond money. Being refused seems to be the norm, which is one of the reasons there are so many firms out there eager to help people apply in exchange for a cut of their benefits: Is it better to give up some of what you would get to someone applying for you, or to risk getting nothing because the system lacks transparency?

And when it comes to getting disability support through CPP for people with mental illness, the challenges are huge. I’ve talked to many, many people who have either helped their family members with mental illness apply for benefits, or who work for non-profits that assist with applications (including running workshops on how to apply). People in similar circumstances get contradictory information, and the rejection rate seems high. Many people just don’t bother to apply.

This is no way to run a system that is supposed to benefit vulnerable people with long-term health challenges.


Government

No public meetings this week.


On campus

All events are cancelled.


In the harbour

03:45: CMA CGM Aquila, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
05:00: George Washington Bridge, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
05:30: Green Bay, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
06:15: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
08:00: Julius-S, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Valencia, Spain
13:00: Tropic Lissette sails for sea
14:00: Rila, bulker, arrives at Pier 28 from Belledune, New Brunswick
14:00: Elka Glory, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
15:30: Green Bay moves to Pier 31
16:30: George Washington Bridge sails for Dubai
22:30: Green Bay sails for sea


Footnotes

Actor/writer Josh Thomas is touching his face.

It’s amazing how quickly the normal seems abnormal, and vice-versa. We’ve been watching the Australian series Please Like Me on Netflix (it’s really good) and in one episode there’s a party. People are hugging! Kissing each other! Sitting in the hot tub together! I was watching it and thinking, “What the hell are you doing?”

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. It will be interesting to see how the tenancy board deals with the number of eviction forms they are going to get in April.

  2. I note the well known and inaccurate use of the phrase ‘bail out the banks’. The truth is quite simple – the depositors were bailed out, as were the shareholders and the shareholders just happen to be every person in Canada. Don’t know how we would get by without banks/credit unions. Time someone wrote about the problems facing towns,villages,cities and universities.

    1. I think that is splitting hairs Colin. The banks did get bailed out. The CEOs and other top management got their bonuses and obscene salaries, the shareholders didn’t have to take the risks that are supposed to entitle them to the big returns, and while the depositors may have been prevented from losing their deposits, many of them lost their houses, their savings, and more. The bail out would have been better placed in the hands of citizens (including depositors) so they could pay their mortgages and other debts. Much of that money would have ended up in the hands of the banks anyway but people would have still owned their homes.

      Banks are not public institutions notwithstanding that many people own shares. There is only one goal for a bank – make more profit for the shareholders whatever the cost to society. There is only one goal for a bank CEO – make as much money for himself as possible so he can demand more when he gets bounced and has to go to another bank.

      We don’t have to get by without banks and credit unions. The credit unions were not bailed out. We could have publicly owned banks.

      Finally, I agree with you that municipalities are facing insurmountable problems that need to be addressed. Unfortunately the only solution current governments can think about is amalgamation. Amalgamation may be part of a solution but with nothing else it just compounds the problem.

      1. Ron, your union members rely on the dividends from banks to fund their very generous pensions, and their insurance policies. Every pension plan relies upon the banks. The credit unions rely on the banks and credit unions have been bailed out whenever they have been mismanaged or defrauded. The people who lost homes were predominantly affected by the 22% mortgages 40 years ago and by the recession. The banks are already indirectly publicly owned and subject to the policies of the federal government.
        Your thinking on this subject continues be stuck in the nineteen thirties and I doubt there is much public support for the notion that banks should be nationalised and run by politicians.
        The overly generous HRM pension plan was in deficit before the recent events. The Dalhousie pension plan is in worse shape than the HRM plan and the private sector is governed by stricter rules on the premise that universities and municipalities cannot go bankrupt because increased taxes can solve the problem and we all know the private sector cannot increase prices. No private sector business in Canada provides a pension plan equivalent to that available at HRM or Dalhousie, and SMU does not provide a plan equivalent to HRM or Dalhousie.

        1. Let’s not pretend that the banks represent the beloved free market. The free market works until it doesn’t (usually precipitated by the bullshit phrase “animal spirits”) and then it is up to taxpayers to bail our system out.

          The stock market is pure speculation and its a mugs game unless you’re a rich investor who can afford to ride out coronavirus speculation.