News

1. SIRT: police committed no crime in shooting at Onslow Fire Hall

The Onlsow Belmont Fire Hall. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

The body that oversees police conduct made a ruling yesterday about an incident that occurred during the April shootings. Tim Bousquet has the report:

The two RCMP officers who shot up the Onslow Fire Hall on the Sunday morning of April 19, 2020 committed no crime, determined the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) in a ruling issue yesterday.

The shooting came in the midst of a substantial police response to the man in the midst of a 13-hour killing spree that left 22 people dead. The killing started Saturday night, April 18, in Portapique, where the killer, who the Halifax Examiner refers to as GW, murdered 13 people.

By early Sunday morning police knew that GW was driving a replica RCMP cruiser, was wearing an orange vest, and was heavily armed. The two RCMP officers who would later discharge their weapons at the fire hall were off-duty called into work at 3am. They are referred to in the SIRT report as Subject Officer One and Subject Officer Two (SO1 and SO2).

The officers drove together in an unmarked Nissan Altima police vehicle, SO2 driving, and went to a command post set up at the Great Village Fire Hall. The car had a mobile police radio, and SO2 had an additional portable radio with them.

Some of the facts listed in the report seem to conflict with first-hand accounts given by some who spoke with the Examiner, like how many shots were fired. There’s also no account of how many civilians were in the fire hall at the time, though Jennifer Henderson reported for the Examiner that five were present.

After firing the shots, the police officers left the scene without checking on the firefighters inside. SIRT doesn’t have the mandate to rule on police behaviour like this. They only ruled there was no criminal conduct.

On its Facebook page last night, the Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade voiced frustration and disappointment with a lack of accountability for police actions that “endangered lives, damaged property and caused mental health issues for many of the people involved.” The post also said the brigade would attempt to move on and continue working professionally and safely with all first responder partners.

You can read Bousquet’s full article here.

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2. COVID-19 Update: new details on vaccine rollout

Chart tracking daily new cases of COVID-19 during the second wave of the pandemic.

There’s a bit of news to get through in Tim Bousquet’s usual COVID-19 update from yesterday, but that’s no cause for concern. No doom and gloom today.

Following a weekend of new precautionary restrictions and provincial encouragement for the public to get tested, only one new case of COVID-19 was announced Tuesday. It’s in the Northern Zone and was from close contact with a known case. There are now 29 active cases in the provinces. Four people are hospitalized with the virus, with two in ICU.

So 21,000 people went in for tests from Friday to Tuesday, and only two new cases have been reported this week.

More pop-up testing has been scheduled for the following sites and times:

  • Thursday: Spryfield Lions Rink, 10am-4:30pm
  • Friday: Spryfield Lions Rink, noon-7pm

Also from yesterday, officials with the province’s vaccination program gave a technical briefing to reporters about the progress of the vaccination rollout. Here’s what Tim had to say:

“Today, officials with the province’s vaccination program gave a technical briefing to reporters about the progress of the vaccine rollout.

The chart above shows when people of various age brackets can expect to get vaccinated, with the caveat that the supply of vaccines comes in as expected.

However, it’s very likely that the schedule will speed up, for several reasons.

First, it is expected that new vaccines will be approved. More on that below.

Second, it’s also expected that later this week new guidelines will be issued that will lengthen the interval between the first and second doses of both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines. So far, Nova Scotia has been strictly sticking to the manufacturers’ recommended 21-28-day interval, but Strang said today that he expected that the new guidelines will extend the interval to be longer than the 40-day interval recently adopted by some provinces. The longer interval means that the blue lines on the graph above will stretch both farther to the left and to the right.

Third, as vaccine shipments become larger, more regular, and more predictable, the province will likely stop the practice of holding back the second dose of vaccine and instead use all the arriving doses right away. This means that more people will receive the first dose sooner.

The province is primarily administering vaccine based on age cohorts. Strang has repeatedly defended that strategy, pointing out that age is by far the highest risk factor for dying from the disease, even when underlying health issues are considered.”

The plan is multi-pronged and will have five delivery models, ranging from in-office vaccinations by doctors and pharmacists to mobile public health units that will be able to come and vaccinate people who have trouble traveling. For a full, detailed account of the planned vaccine delivery methods, check out the full article.

Tim also reports that the province’s online booking system, which crashed Monday, is back up and running.

As Bousquet reports, officials attributed the crash to two problems:

First, people seemed to be coming to the site even though they weren’t eligible to register — that is, people younger than 80 were coming just to check it out. The officials said there may have also been some bots or automated visits to the site, which Strang suggested today could reflect actors with “malicious intent.”

Second, just as registration opened, officials learned that the interval time between first and second doses might be extended, so they limited booking to just the first week. The fear was that if people booked past that, they would have to be rebooked for their second dose (as it would be postponed) and this might cause general confusion and upset people.

Premier Iain Rankin at the COVID-19 briefing, March 2, 2021. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

And last on the COVID front, Premier Rankin announced a property tax rebate for restaurants, gyms, hair salons and small businesses in the service sector. More details will come in the middle of the month, but about 3,300 businesses will be eligible to choose between a one-time “rebate of $1,000 or half of the commercial real property taxes paid for the final six months of the 2020-21 tax year.”  The service sector has been hit especially hard by the pandemic, so the break will hopefully bring some much-needed financial relief.

And that’s all on COVID-19 for this morning. Who says no news is good news?

The Halifax Examiner is providing all COVID-19 coverage for free. Please help us continue this coverage by subscribing.

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3. Public health has been underfunded in N.S. for decades, paper finds

The impact of COVID-19 has revealed and exacerbated the problems of underfunding public health in Nova Scotia.

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but according to the latest research, Nova Scotia doesn’t take that adage into account when it comes to funding public health.

Yvette d’Entremont reports:

“A paper published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health last week found that less than 1% of funding from Nova Scotia’s Department of Health and Wellness is budgeted for public health annually.

This is well below the 5 to 6% of health care funding recommended for public health.”

Public health, as the Public Health Agency of Canada defines it, is “a combination of programs, services and policies to keep people healthy and prevent injury, illness and premature death.” The recent paper finds that public health, as defined here, has been underfunded for decades in this province.

d’Entremont continues:

The report’s authors found the last time Nova Scotia’s public health budget met the recommended funding levels was in 1975.

“Everybody’s aware of public health being important because of COVID, and that is really important. But also important are all the other things that public health does that is not infectious disease,” Dalhousie University professor of health promotion and the paper’s co-author Sara Kirk said in an interview.

Those other things can be anything from exercise programs to vaccinations at schools. Really anything to keep our population healthy and prevent health problems from occurring, rather than spending money to treat maladies after the fact. An obvious example during the pandemic has been the province’s campaign to inform the public about the importance of masks and physical distancing in preventing the spread of coronavirus.

Provincial government health spending by category, 2015-2016 to 2019-2020. Data obtained from the N.S. Department of Finance and Treasury Board. Photo: Fare Well to Nova Scotia

Unfortunately, the paper says that Nova Scotia is continually in last place among the provinces when it comes to funding public health. Instead, far more money is put toward things like hospitals (38.8% of our health care budget) or physician services (18.8%). According to the authors of the paper, that’s a problem:

“Although funding for hospitals, pharmaceuticals and physicians are essential expenditures, the lack of financial resources allocated to public health weakens preventive care despite evidence that it is vital to preserving and protecting population health.”

The research findings state that a 10% increase in public health spending decreases mortality by 1.1% to 6.9%.

Read d’Entremont’s full article to see how COVID-19 has impacted public health services in Nova Scotia, and how researchers think increased and sustained investments in public health could become a positive part of the pandemic’s legacy.

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4. Some concerned new Atlantic Gold-St. Mary’s University partnership is just greenwashing

Linda Campbell at Montague mine tailings site. Photo: Joan Baxter

Does a 5-year, $1 million investment in environmental research from a company that’s paid $0 taxes provincially or federally in 2018 and 2019 show serious concern for the recovery of the environment surrounding their gold mines? Or is it just a show?

Joan Baxter reports on a new partnership between Saint Mary’s University and Atlantic Gold:

Saint Mary’s University professor Linda Campbell calls the announcement about a “five-year partnership” between the university and Atlantic Gold “big news.”

Not everyone is pleased, however. Some who have been in touch with the Halifax Examiner have called it “greenwashing,” “terribly disappointing,” and “corporate capture of our universities.” One uses words not suitable for use here. But we’ll get to that.

First, a look at the “partnership,” what it entails, and what the announcement made in a press release on March 2, 2021 does — and also doesn’t — tell us.

The press release comes from Saint Mary’s University (SMU) and Atlantic Gold, which was acquired by the Australian company St. Barbara in 2019 for $722 million. It states that the funding is for a project that Campbell leads “to use its proven expertise from previous studies of former mine sites to develop a low-cost remediation strategy.” The press release continues:

“This new strategy is designed to support the natural recovery of wetlands and shallow water environments impacted by 100-year-old contaminated tailings.”

In an email to the Examiner, Dr. Linda Campbell, who will be part of a team of three researchers on the project, says the work involved in the new partnership will be lab-based, testing whether different remediation approaches are feasible, rather than actually remedying damage done to surrounding wetlands.

Dr. Campbell has previously researched the harmful environmental effects of mining in this province. She’s also been a source for Baxter in previous mining stories, including this one from 2019 where she even accompanied Baxter to Montague Gold Mines in Dartmouth to look at the toxic legacy of gold rushes in Nova Scotia. She estimates the cost of work required for that site would cost about $500,000, but she has not been able to receive government funding.

Although she did receive $142,000 in 2018 from the provincial governments Mineral Resources Development Fund (MRDF) for research into Nova Scotia wetlands that were highly contaminated by historic mining sites, her 2019-2020 application for more funding was turned down. The Mining Association of Nova Scotia (MANS) that lobbies the government on behalf of the mining industry received $36,900 from the province’s MRDF in the same year.

To see more reactions from Nova Scotians, and to see how difficult it is for researchers like Dr. Campbell to get funding for environmental research on the impacts of gold mining in the province, as well as the details of the new SMU/Atlantic Gold partnership, check out Baxter’s full, comprehensive piece. Just like all her work, it’s a thorough look at the inner workings of the mining operations that are sometimes suspiciously obscured in this province.

And if you can, please subscribe to support more stellar work by Joan Baxter.

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Views

Electric vehicle rebate

An electric vehicle charges outside NS Power headquarters in Halifax. The new provincial rebate could make this a more common sight around Nova Scotia in the coming years. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

Last week, the new Rankin government announced that if you want to buy an electric car in Nova Scotia, the province is willing to help you out.

The news release from last Wednesday says the province is investing $9.5 million in a rebate program for Electric Vehicles (EVs), plug-in hybrid vehicles and electric bikes. Nova Scotians will be able to apply for rebates of $3,000 for new vehicles, $2,000 for used (and $500 for electric bikes). Along with the $5,000 federal rebate already offered for EV purchases, this means that, in some cases, we can now apply for up to $8,000 in rebates for a new EV. 

But how helpful will the rebate be in getting more EVs on the road?

Electric cars have been around for a while now, but they’re still a foreign concept here. Only 500 or so EVs are registered province-wide right now. Even for someone who really wants to trade in their Chevy Cruze for a Bolt, the technology can still feel like too much of an unknown. There are so many uncertainties around infrastructure, maintenance and the practicalities of owning an EV in NS, it can seem like a huge investment on a young, untested technology. And even with the new rebate, EVs still carry a steep price tag compared to gas and diesel cars. But I think this rebate could make EV ownership far more attainable to more Nova Scotians, and sooner than you might think.

And that’s a good thing. Even though they’ll be plugging into a power grid that’s still heavily reliant on fossil fuels, driving an EV still cuts emissions by about half and that will only improve as we (hopefully) approach a net zero grid in this province over the next two decades.

So how much more realistic is it to own an EV in this province now?

Let’s start with price. It’s the most obvious barrier and the barrier most obviously lowered by this new rebate. There’s no denying that electric cars are expensive. If you want to buy a new Tesla Model Y, it almost seems more reasonable to apply for a mortgage than a government rebate. But there are more reasonable options. You can buy a new Chevy Bolt (about 400km range, full charge) in Dartmouth for $37k (with federal and provincial rebates applied) compared to a Malibu of the same year at the same dealership for $23,000. So, yeah — still pretty expensive. But if you’re just looking for city driving, you can buy a lower end used EV with a 100km range for under $10,000. And as EV models become more prevalent, they’ll continue to become more affordable.

That’s just the upfront cost. Harder to calculate are the long-term savings of owning an EV. There’s no multi-gear transmission in these vehicles, meaning fewer moving parts and less wear and tear, so fewer service fees in the long run. Then there’s gas. Most EV owners I’ve spoken to in Nova Scotia charge their cars at home overnight, costing them a dollar or two to “fill up the tank.” And NS Power estimates yearly savings of $2,000 on fuel. That certainly adds up over time.

As for infrastructure, Nova Scotia is currently equipped with enough chargers to get all EV owners around the province easily. There is also enough charging infrastructure to get Canadians from one Coast to the other without hitting a gas station. In fact, around this time last year, two men made such a trip in just over three days, taking their Tesla on a non-stop trip from Vancouver to Point Pleasant Park all in an effort to show the long range capability of EVs, even in winter.

But more charging stations will be needed as more EVs hit the road. A 2019 staff report to HRM found that about 2,000 new charging stations will need to be installed in HRM by the end of the decade to meet increasing demand.

Nova Scotia Power predicts 25% of Nova Scotia’s vehicles will be electric by 2040, while the federal government has put forward the unbelievably quixotic target that 100% of vehicle sales be electric by that same year. Rebates, both provincial and federal, are only a small step toward that overly ambitious goal.

If the majority of Nova Scotians are to make the switch to electric in the coming decades, we’ll need to make overnight charging infrastructure in homes (by far the predominant charging method for EV owners) accessible to those who rent or live in multi-unit residential buildings. New building code regulations can help accomplish this by requiring new builds to include charging stations in their designs (though retrofits will be more difficult and expensive). A report commissioned by the Ecology Action Centre last year also recommended that provinces mandate that dealerships make a percentage of their fleets electric, increasing options for drivers (trucks, SUVs, hatchbacks) as well increasing the number of places owners can service these vehicles. Increased options will also help drive down prices.

For now, the provincial rebate should help a number of Nova Scotians make their next car purchase electric, but the price is still an inhibiting factor for many of us at the moment. More incentives, investments in infrastructure, and financial aid will all help push toward a cleaner future of transportation in this province. Imagine walking by the Willow Tree intersection at rush hour in 2040 and diesel bus fumes and idling engines are replaced by the sounds of kids playing and the scent of freshly cut grass from the Commons. (I know there are other awful smells and noises besides cars in this city, but you get the idea).

Anyway, the Rankin government’s come out with a good first step here for a province that’s so far lagged behind in ushering in the inevitable switch to electric cars. The timetable for that switch is up to us to determine and incentivize.

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Noticed

Connecting the city to Africville

Replica of the Seaview United Baptist Church that now serves as a museum to the historic community of Africville. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

This summer, with everything shut down, cycling around the peninsula became not only my main source of exercise, but also one of my favourite pastimes. I explored quite a few areas of town I’d long neglected, which included the Africville National Historic Site.

Before 2020, I’d probably visited the spot twice in my life, but by fall of last year I’d been nearly a dozen times. With its well-maintained rolling greens, picturesque view of the Bedford Basin and the quaint replica of the Seaview United Baptist Church that serves as a museum celebrating the history of the historic community, it was one of my favourite spots to visit to escape the noise and concrete surrounding my downtown apartment. It’s such a peaceful, scenic little spot.

One of the reasons it’s so peaceful is that, unlike the park that sits on the southern tip of Halifax, it’s rarely ever crowded. And one of the reasons I’d wager it’s rarely crowded is that it’s so difficult to get to. While I loved being there, cycling there was a headache. It involves crossing the Barrington Street highway, hopping a guardrail and walking a trodden-down path beside whizzing traffic until you reach the beat up marginal road that leads to the park.

Erica Butler, queen of the transportation beat, wrote about the unpleasant cycling experience for the Examiner in 2017 when she visited the site for her child’s school trip:

Barrington Street looking northward to Africville Road. On bike or foot, you will need to hop the guard rail to walk along a narrow path on the side of the road. Photo: Erica Butler

Thanks to the perseverance and tenacity of the former residents, we not only know the story of Africville, but we can walk part of the grounds of the demolished community at Africville Park, and learn about its history at a museum in a replica of the Seaview United Baptist Church, by all accounts the focal point of the community.

It’s a beautiful spot, telling an important chapter of Halifax history. Too bad it is so damn hard to get to.

Because it is so close, I decided to bike to my kid’s school picnic at Africville. Little did I know that to get there I would find myself on a 70 km/hr stretch of Barrington Street with no sidewalks, and then on Africville Road, which doubles as a throughway for large trucks coming from the Richmond Terminals, and is also devoid of sidewalks.

Even though it’s on the peninsula, located a hop and a skip from some of the city’s densest residential communities, you can’t really walk or bike to Africville Park, at least not safely or comfortably. Like many other neglected places around HRM, Africville Park and the Africville Museum are cut off from the city by decades of transportation planning that valued high-speed roads over pedestrian access to the point of destroying one for the sake of the other.

While the area is no longer neglected like it was when it was a living, breathing community (before racist city planning destroyed it to make way for a highway interchange under the MacKay Bridge) the legacy of marginalization lives on, as the park remains inaccessible for most of us who rely on active and public transportation to get around.

The park at Africville National Historic Site, with the MacKay Bridge in the background. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

After all those highway crossings this summer, I was happy to hear about the upcoming Africville Active Transportation Connections Project in a video released by PLANifax this week, in partnership with the Municipality.

In the video, Irvine Carvery, president of the Africville Genealogical Society who was born in the community, says he hopes the creation of new active transportation to and from the site will bring more people in to learn about its history:

“We want people to be able to come here and enjoy the natural beauty of the Africville site and so that future generations can learn the history of Africville… Now are different times. The people back then weren’t really hearing the concerns of the people of Africville, but we honestly feel that there are people who are listening today who understand the mistakes of the past cannot be the mistakes of now and in the future.”

Halifax is now looking for community input on how Haligonians would like to see Africville become better connected to the city at large, so we can more fully capitalize on this beautiful, historic space. If you have any ideas or just want to stay informed, check out the project’s site here. Virtual consultations will be coming up later in the year.

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Government

City

Wednesday

Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am) — live webcast with captioning on text-only site

North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm) — virtual meeting; no dial-in or live broadcast

Thursday

Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm) — live streamed meeting

Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm) — virtual meeting; dial-in or live broadcast not available

Point Pleasant Park Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm) — virtual meeting; dial-in or live broadcast not available

Harbour East-Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm) — live webcast, with captioning on text-only site

Province

No meetings.

On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Stressing the powerhouse: what Drosophila can teach us about metabolic (in)flexibility? (Wednesday, 4pm) — Nicholas Pichaud from Université de Moncton will talk via MS Teams.

Thursday

Stephanie Vander Wel. Photo: Douglas Levere

Gendering Humour: Country Music, Rebellion, and the Pistol Annies (Thursday, 12pm) — Stephanie Vander Wel from University at Buffalo (SUNY) will explain

Humor in country music has been integral to the genre’s musical and theatrical practices since the first barn dance programs broadcast slapstick routines in which country performers routinely wore the mask of the hillbilly buffoon, a performance archetype that has been largely gendered male. Despite this, country comediennes such as Lulu Belle on Chicago’s the National Barn Dance in the 1930s and later Minnie Pearl and June Carter on Nashville’s the Grand Ol’ Opry in the 1950s wielded a range of comedic devices steeped in grotesque mimicry that explicitly challenged and questioned patriarchal power structures and middle-class pretenses. This paper connects the theatrical and vernacular traditions of country music humor of the past to female performers in contemporary country music, specifically the Pistol Annies (Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley). Like many of their contemporaries, the Pistol Annies use humor as a performative means to forge connections with a predominantly female fan base in their attempts to counter the patriarchal practices of the country music industry.

Climate Adaptation in Nova Scotia: Overblown or Under Water? (Thursday, 1pm) — Zoom panel discussion  presented by the MacEachen Institute and the Marine Environmental Observation, Prediction and Response Network (MEOPAR). With Robin Cox from Royal Roads University, Patricia Manuel from Dalhousie, Rodrigo Menafra from MEOPAR, Steve Plante from Université du Québec à Rimouski​, and Scott Vaughan from the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

With over 13,000 km of coastline and more than 70% of the population living within 20 km of the coast, Nova Scotia’s population, infrastructure, cultural heritage, and economy are highly vulnerable to sea-level rise, flooding, hurricanes, and storm surges. This extreme weather is becoming more frequent and intense due to climate change.

How should the province adapt to this new reality and how should communities increase their resiliency to withstand these disasters? What are some ecological, financial, governance, and disaster resilience perspectives?​

Saint Mary’s

Wednesday

No public events.

Thursday

Doireann Ní Ghríofa. Photo: Al Higgins

D’Arcy McGee Lecture 2021: An evening with Doireann Ní Ghríofa (Thursday, 4:45pm) — The Irish poet and essayist’s most recent book is A Ghost in the Throat.

Don Domanski: A Celebration (Thursday, 8:30pm) — live zoom event with readings of his work


In the harbour

05:00 – Nave Equinox, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John

10:00 – YM Evolution, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York

14:00 – Algoma Integrity, bulker, sails from Gold Bond (National Gypsum) for sea

21:30 – YM Evolution sails for Rotterdam


Footnotes

Along with rebates for electric cars, the province announced a $500 rebate for electric bicycle purchases. To me, the electric bike seems like an ideal way to get around the peninsula. You can commute without worrying about parking or getting sweaty on the hills downtown or the gradual incline on the roads heading north. You can also bypass a lot of traffic cutting through parks or hopping off and becoming a pedestrian for a few busy blocks. (If this starts a motorist vs. cyclist thread in the comments section, I sincerely apologize).

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Ethan Lycan-Lang

Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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6 Comments

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  1. Continued congratulations to Tim on doing an exceptional job Covid reporting. I have seen the vaccination chart republished, shared, etc. Even my own daughters are sending to me!

    Thank you!

  2. Africville will not get a sidewalk until a bikeway/bike lane is installed. That is the way it is these days. Daycare kids in Preston have to share a sidewalk with cyclists.

  3. Parking is a worry for electric bikes. The least expensive ones are around $1500. I’ve lost two cheap bikes to theft, and had others vandalized, so more secure parking for electric bikes might encourage wider adoption.

  4. Chanced upon this Youtube lecture ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-kbzfWzvSI) by Tony Seba, talking about his analysis and predictions about the coming (next 5 years) technology disruptions in Electric Vehicles, Electricity generation & transmission, car & truck ownership… HIGHLY COMMEND THIS, I’ve watched its 58 minutes twice. The EV subsidies are a good token, but if Seba is even close to right they’ll be obsolete in five years, unneeded, and forgotten. Not sure he’s right, but if he is… watch out.

  5. The electric bike thing is great. On the other hand I think it is disappointing that expensive EVs like Teslas are subsidized in any way.