News

1. Dal parties, COVID, and Phase 5

In a previous life, I was a dumb ass kid doing dumb ass shit, trying to find my place in the world. After a few years of aimlessness, I decided to pull my life together and landed on the idea of moving to California, establishing residency and thereby getting free college tuition (Americans say they’re going to college even if it’s Yale or whatever, while Canuckians are religious about making the class distinction between college and “university”). So I saved up a thousand bucks, and hitchhiked across country to Los Angeles, seeing shit I never saw before and doing things I’d never done.

I landed a job as a manager of a bookstore in West Hollywood and worked for that year, then set upstate in a borrowed car to check out the various colleges — Santa Barbara, San Louis Obispo, San Francisco State, Berkeley, way up through the redwoods to Humboldt State, then up over the coast range to Chico, where the borrowed car up and died.

The car died at around 9 in the morning. I had it towed to a garage, and figured it’d take a couple of days to resolve, so I picked up a newspaper and found a room for rent for $25/week. I dropped my stuff off, and walked downtown; there was a Tower Books, and I went in and talked to the manager. He offered me a job. It was lunchtime, so I walked around the corner to a burrito place called Hey Juan’s, ordered a burrito and a pitcher of beer. “That’ll be $5,” said the young woman behind the counter. “Oh, I ordered beer, too,” I said. “Yep, that’s the total,” she replied. I sat down and halfway through through the burrito started talking with a couple at the next table over, Jack and Brandi. We kept talking, ordered more beer, and Jack and Brandi introduced me to Chico’s party scene. Around 4am I stumbled back to my new room. I stayed in Chico for the next 18 years.

Chico State at that time was, well, insane. It was mostly attended by C students from the East Bay, the children of cars salesmen and middle managers, who came to Chico because it was a) far enough away from home to be free of parental control but close enough to access parental money, b) “safe,” which is racist code for there not being a lot of black people, and c) party central. The truism about Chico State is that employers hire graduates because they have great social skills. (Note: maybe because I was never much involved in the mass party, I never attained those great social skills, and while a minority, there were plenty of dedicated students at Chico State as well.)

In any event, the party in Chico started on Thursday afternoon and ran through Sunday. I say “party,” singularly, because it was just one big party that extended from about Fourth Avenue north of campus about a mile south to Fifth Street south of campus. Mobs of thousands of people would wander around, hitting this keg or that, hooking up, being stupid, often rioting (on more than one occasion a police car was set afire, and once, a TV news van was torched), and generally making asses of themselves. It was no doubt part of some marketing scheme, but one year Playboy magazine named Chico State the “#1 party school in the country,” and that poured gasoline on an already raging bonfire.

So when I saw the photos and videos of the Dal party last weekend, I thought, “that’s like Wednesday afternoon in Chico.”

In Chico, the families living around campus were rightly indignant about the never-ending party. Their property was getting trashed, fences knocked down, people were defecating and puking in their yards, and families would often wake up to find students passed out on their property. Invariably and predictably, the partying involved sexual assault, alcohol poisoning, and death — every year or two, a student would die amidst the chaos.

Over time, the city and the university gained control of the situation. There’s certainly still partying going on in Chico, but it doesn’t have the feel of open warfare that dominated the scene in the 1990s. It’s almost restrained, even.

So: I get the south end neighbourhood being upset about the Dalhousie “homecoming” parties last weekend.

But let’s be clear, there are two different sets of issues here: 1) the effect of the partying on the neighbourhood, and 2) the COVID risk of the parties. Let’s not conflate the two: the effect on the neighbourhood would be there without COVID.

As for 1), that’s a years’ long discussion involving all sorts of things I don’t have time to get into here. Believe me, I’m not discounting the neighbours’ quite valid concerns.

I think, however, that some people are using 2) — the COVID concern — to address 1), and I just don’t see that the argument is very strong. Let’s unpack it a bit.

For certain, the parties violated the Public Health-prescribed gathering limit, which now allows up to 50 people to gather outdoors without masks or social distancing. Anyone at those parties could be charged for violating the public health order.

Photo: Twitter

But there’s mixed messaging from the province on this. As originally scheduled, Phase 5 of the reopening was to begin Sept. 15, and at that point there would be no gathering limits or masking requirements. Phase 5 was going to go into effect because the province has reached 75% of the population fully vaccinated — and that concentration of double-vaccination gave students the understanding that large gatherings were OK, as (as the sign says) Dalhousie student are very much vaccinated, certainly more than 75%.

Yes, Dr. Strang delayed the start of Phase 5 because of a large outbreak in the Halifax area, but he made pains to say the outbreak is among “unvaccinated” young people, which only further confuses the issue. Moreover, while Strang delayed Phase 5, he exempted a Halifax Wanderers game, so just as people were complaining about thousands of Dalhousie students partying, a few blocks away thousands of other people were watching a soccer game.

(Yes, the soccer game was allowed by Public Health, and the parties weren’t. And I understand that proof of vaccination was required to enter the stadium.)

To be honest, I’m confused by it all as well, and I follow this as closely as anyone.

Do high levels of vaccination bring benefits or not?

I’m particularly confused about how unvaccinated school children fit into the picture. Last week, I urged the province to make school-connected cases of COVID public, and yesterday, the province announced that it will do so starting today.

That’s a good start, but now I’ll press for one more set of data: hospitalizations by age. Dr. Strang has repeatedly said that children don’t suffer as much and are at less risk from the disease than are older people, so let’s see the data: are young people entering hospital? If so, that would belie Strang’s claims. If not, we can be a bit more assured that the province’s strategy is working.

There were 83 new cases of COVID over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and 31 were aged 19 or younger, with an additional 24 aged 20-39. I’m less worried about an explosion of new COVID cases related to the Dal parties (and the soccer game, for that matter) than I am about the school situation, especially for elementary schools.

The Department of Health has scheduled a technical briefing about Phase 5 reopening for reporters tomorrow, followed by a public COVID briefing with Dr. Strang, Premier Tim Houston and Health Minister Michelle Thompson.

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2. Meta Materials

“The Nova Scotia government says it made $104 million from its investment in Meta Materials Inc., a Dartmouth startup company that makes high-performance materials used in the defence and aerospace industries,” reports Paul Withers for the CBC:

The province’s venture capital Crown corporation Innovacorp was an early investor, putting $3 million into the nanotechnology company.

In July, Innovacorp sold its shares shortly after Meta Materials was listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange. The sale produced a 35-fold return on investment.

I saw this news and thought, “jeez, I should see what happened here,” but I’m old and tired and lazy and had to work on a new COVID graph and do laundry and… well, I never got around to looking into the Meta Materials thing. Thankfully, however, Mary Campbell at the Cape Breton Spectator did, and dutifully explains:

There’s no denying the victory, the entire VC fund, created in 2016, was just $25 million, but is this Innovacorp showing its investment acumen by betting on an up-and-coming startup — or is this Innovacorp profiting from a meme stock?

A meme stock, for those of you lucky enough not to know, is a stock that gets hyped by social media in general and investors on Reddit, a popular collection of online forums, in particular. (I hear your snickering at that school-marmish definition of your community, Redditers, and I accept it.)

Campbell gets into all the details, but I especially liked this part:

The CBC story about Innovacorp’s triumph says the provincial entity made its money when Meta Materials (which already traded on the Canadian Stock Exchange) listed on the Nasdaq, making it sound as though Meta Materials staged an initial public offering (IPO) and investors were so excited by this innovative Canadian tech startup, they drove its market capitalization past $1 billion, the definition of a “unicorn.”

This would be dodgy enough in itself, given “first-day” returns, as the proceeds of an IPO are known, can be highly exaggerated, but what actually happened was that Meta Materials went public by means of a reverse takeover (also known as a “backdoor listing”) an alternative to an initial public offering (IPO) in which, per Investopedia:

…a private company buys enough shares to control a publicly-traded company. The private company’s shareholder then exchanges its shares in the private company for shares in the public company. At this point, the private company has effectively become a publicly-traded company.

The publicly traded company in Meta Materials’ case was Torchlight Energy Resources, a Texas-based oil and gas concern that itself had gone public in 2010 by means of a reverse takeover of Nevada-based Pole Perfect Studios, a company incorporated in 2007, according to Bloomberg, “to offer fitness classes it said were ‘centered around a ‘fireman’s pole’ often found in gentleman’s clubs.’”

You really can’t make this stuff up.

Torchlight did not fare particularly well in the oil and gas industry and in September 2020, it announced plans to merge with Metamaterials and divest its oil and gas assets. As Molly Taft explained in Gizmodo:

…Torchlight announced it would merge with a company called Metamaterial Inc., which produces, according to its website, products including “the world’s highest-performance Indium-free transparent metal-mesh” and is developing “a non-invasive glucose monitor that will help you take control of your life.” (Why they’re choosing to merge with a shale gas producer is unclear.)

SPOILER ALERT: It never really becomes clear, although analyst Dana Blankenhorn at InvestorPlace thinks it was for “$160 million in new cash and a debt-free balance sheet.”

There’s more, but Campbell concludes:

But the value of those shares had nothing to do with the fundamentals of the company Innovacorp helped nurture, as many analysts have been at pains to point out in the wake of the reverse takeover.

From where I’m sitting, Innovacorp’s win looks like a fluke.

And I’d also note that there’s apparently no agreement as to what now happens to that $104 million — does it stay with Innovacorp or go to general revenues? As a commenter on the CBC story noted, you’d think they’d have nailed that down before now — I mean, having no rule makes it look like they didn’t expect to ride a meme-driven short squeeze for fun and profit.

For the record, $104 million would pay for 80 apartments at $1,000/month rent for 108 years (see item #4 below). The one stock sale could provide housing for every last person sleeping rough in the province.

Why are we in the investment business if it’s not going to result in some positive good?

Click here to read “Innovacorp’s ‘Unicorn.’”

As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, and so this article is behind the Spectator’s paywall. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
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3. Fire fatality

“One person is dead after a fire at a structure in a wooded area in Bayers Lake,” reports Zane Woodford:

Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency was called to 120 Susie Lake Cres. in Bayers Lake at about 11:30pm on Friday, Sept. 24.

Deputy Chief Roy Hollett said there was a “heavy fire” as the crew got to the scene. The firefighters extinguished the fire and found a body, so they notified the police.

Halifax Regional Police spokesperson Const. John MacLeod said the police responded at 11:55pm, “to a call of human remains found at the scene of a fire in a wooded area in the 100 block of Susie Lake Crescent in Halifax.”

MacLeod said in an email that the death isn’t considered suspicious, but the Medical Examiner’s Office hasn’t completed its investigation.

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4. Burnside sale will net city at least $2.25 million

Burnside Industrial Park

The Pro Real Estate Investment Trust (PROREIT) is buying a big chunk of the Burnside Industrial Park.

The seller isn’t named in PROREIT’s press release, but the sale is part of a $163.2 million deal that includes one property in Winnipeg and another in Moncton. The bulk of the purchase, however, are 14 properties in Burnside that are described as follows:

The 14 assets will increase the REIT’s presence in Burnside to 1.5 million square feet, providing meaningful operational and leasing synergies. The assets total 1,074,269 square feet of GLA, contain 135 tenants, feature clear heights of 12 to 24 feet, have efficient bay sizes, ample loading doors, and are comprised of warehouse, light industrial, and flex office spaces. Currently the properties are approximately 99% leased to a diverse mix of tenants with a weighted average lease term of 3.3 years. Many of the in-place leases benefit from the inclusion of contracted rent step escalations. Since the beginning of 2021 the cost to lease industrial space in Burnside has seen significant increases. Current industrial market rents in Halifax are $9.79 per square foot, largely above the portfolio’s weighted average in-place rent of $7.05 per square foot, presenting substantial future rental upside upon turnover.

Halifax’s highly sought-after Burnside Industrial Park is one of Canada’s strongest industrial hubs and is the largest industrial node east of Montréal and north of Boston, USA. Burnside currently benefits from strong underlying fundamentals surrounding its industrial markets with vacancy rates at all-time lows (2.6%) and consistent growth in net rental rates. The Atlantic Canadian economy, more specifically Nova Scotia, has significantly outperformed the rest of the country over the last few years, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, driven by investment and strong immigration tailwinds.

From the deed transfer tax alone, the city will bring in at least $2.25 million in new revenue from the purchase, which is enough to pay for 80 apartments at $1,000/month rent for 28 months, if anyone’s looking for a way to spend the dough. (There are reportedly 81 people sleeping rough on the peninsula, so two people may need to share an apartment.)

I realize the usual scolds will explain that the city legislatively can’t get into the housing business. But councillors could certainly make the arrangement in clear violation of the law and see if the province takes any action against them. Call the bluff.

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5. “It is almost the same pricing as Toronto”

A puff-piece about the local real estate industry came across my desk this morning, including the usual uncritical boosterism from the Halifax Partnership and the like, but I was struck by this part:

Francis Fares, president of Halifax-based developer Fares & Co. Development Inc., says while construction margins are good, labour shortages are a problem, not because of the pandemic but rather the brisk construction pace.

“We cannot get trades. They won’t even price your job. Everyone we talk to says it will be a year or 18 months,” says Fares, whose company has started excavation for a 27-storey residential apartment tower and is constructing several lowrise multi-family rental projects including in the downtown waterfront.

“We’re reaching out to New Brunswick to find trades, but it is booming there too.”

Foreseeing more delays in construction scheduling in the city, Fares attributes the rental construction boom largely to rising rental rates.

“It is almost the same pricing as Toronto.”

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Government

City

Tuesday

Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 1pm) — Reconvened at 6pm if required. On YouTube, live captioning on a text-only site.

Wednesday

Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am) —

Province

No meetings


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

A description of a reflective functor in the category of presheaves (Tuesday, 2:30pm, Room 319, Chase Building or online) — Frank Fu will talk via Zoom:

It is well-known that the subcategory of limit preserving functors in the category of presheaves is reflective. But what is the exact definition of the left adjoint? In this talk, we consider the subcategory of product preserving functors (a special case of limit preserving functors) and give a description of the left adjoint using some concepts from multi-sorted term algebra.

Wednesday

The Cost of Leadership and Moral Courage (Wednesday, 2:30pm) — session two of the Moral Courage: Dallaire Cleveringa Critical Conversation Series. Speakers include UN NATO Gender Advisor Deirdre Carbery and Professor Bert Koenders.

Saint Mary’s

Tuesday

Checkmate: How Social Distancing Has Changed The Social Media And The Business Support Game (Tuesday, 11:45am) — online webinar in advance of Omnichannel Retailing Event Oct. 1. More info here.

Wednesday

Global Mobility After the Pandemic (Wednesday, 9:30am) — This webinar aims to

work out the importance of migration and mobility for the creation of human welfare and development through the law of the division of work. It will review the experiences with the “Spanish Flu”, which early in the 20th century contributed to the end of the largely globalized world existing at the time before World War I. Will history repeat? It will then study the experiences we have so far with the mobility consequences of the pandemic and which innovations are under way dealing with it. The conclusions will speculate about the consequences for the future of migration.

Mount Saint Vincent

Tuesday

Business & Tourism Department (virtual) Fireside Chat (Tuesday, 6pm) — Zoom event with Deborah Rosati from Women Get on Board

King’s

Tuesday

Launch of German History special issue “Sexuality, Holocaust, Stigma” (Tuesday, 2pm) — via Zoom, with Jennifer Evans (Carleton University), Dorota Glowacka (University of King’s College), Anna Hájková (University of Warwick), and Nicholas Stargardt (University of Oxford)

Lawrence Hill in conversation with Evelyn C. White (Tuesday, 7:30pm) — In this Zoom keynote lecture of the 2021 AfterWords Literary Festival

Hill will talk about his book-length essay Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book, which arose out of a letter he received in 2011 from a man in the Netherlands who was reacting to Hill’s best-selling novel The Book of Negroes. Hill and White will discuss literary censorship and how Hill attempted to come to terms with the book burners’ motives and complaints. This fascinating conversation will include an audience Q&A.


In the harbour

Halifax
05:30: Morning Claire, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
06:00: MSC Leigh, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Montreal
06:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
10:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
14:30: Witte 3301 and Witte 3302, barges, with Zeus, tug, sail from Pier 9 for New York
15:30; Morning Claire sails for sea
16:30: MSC Leigh sails for sea
16:30: Selfoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik, Iceland
22:00: Selfoss sails for Portland

Cape Breton
17:00: Heroic, bulker, arrives at Canso anchorage from Baltimore
17:30: Rt Hon Paul E Martin, bulker, moves from Aulds Cove quarry to Canso anchorage alongside Heroic


Footnotes

Some years after that introduction at Hey Juan’s, I ended up dating Brandi myself for a while. She took me to the Greenville rodeo and got in a fistfight with a cowgirl.


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Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. I like to look at UK data because it seems less politicized than US or Canadian data.

    https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/articles/coronaviruscovid19latestinsights/hospitals

    The hospitalization rate of 5 to 14 year olds in the UK who tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week is 2 in 100,000, and nobody aged 5-14 in the UK died of covid last week. The numbers are only twice as “grim” for 15-24 year olds.

    Note that those 2 in 100,000 UK children were not necessarily hospitalized due to covid, just with covid.

  2. I know I would not be pleased to have partying neighbours and people peeing and whatnot in my yard. But, those universities have been there for decades and anyone moving into the area would be apprised of the fact that uni students party. Especially in the Fall. But having property near the universities is also good for their property value. Take some bad with the good.

  3. Something older folks (I’m included in this group btw) will have to get used to is that the younger generations are going to have totally different attitudes towards the pandemic than us. Older generations lived most of their lives without the threat of a wildly contagious and deadly virus and have had to adjust accordingly. Younger generations obviously had to adjust to it as well, but at this point the pandemic is just another part of normal life for them. They haven’t just adjusted to it, it is part of the background noise of life for them.

    Some of those partying students were only half way through high school when the pandemic started! It won’t be long before the pandemic has lasted as long as an entire high school career, essentially eons for a teenager. Their formative years were spent dealing with the pandemic, so the pandemic is not an abnormality for them like it is for us. It isn’t the New Normal for them, it’s just normal.

    The older generations, through years of “small government” cuts, neglect and unnecessary neoliberal austerity, let this pandemic thrive, and now the younger generations are living their lives as if it is just the way things are, because for them, it is.

  4. Hi Tim – thanks for this, and it’s helpful (and reassuring) to think that this might not be a super spreader event. As to the neighbours though, we’ve been battling this out for years, mostly on our own. All during the pandemic, we’ve seen student parties exceeding gathering limits – not just this last weekend. No masking of course, no social distancing, and this was all before vaccinations were happening very much. Lots of students stuck in Halifax over the holidays and summers as things at their homes were usually much worse and they either couldn’t get out, or didn’t want to or their parents urged them to stay here. The upswing on the partying began at the beginning of the pandemic – they just don’t seem to have a lot to do. We regularly see groups smoking weed on doorsteps at 10:00 a.m. On the other hand, we know a lot of music students, who are super busy day to night. And there are many respectful and quiet law-abiding students. But, the onus is on us, innocent homeowners, to police our neighbourhoods and call police, without us, noise complaints don’t happen. That’s not fair or right. Dal has finally taken a strong stand – but we’ve been calling on them for years and especially during the last 18 months to do something. And asking Waye Mason where is the landlord registration program that’s been discussed for years. No action. It’s time that we all can feel safe in our homes, homecoming or not. As massive communication plan is needed, and action EVERY year on this.