News

1. Province reveals more details on rolling out vaccine over coming months

Source: Province of Nova Scotia

We have more information on how and when the province will distribute COVID-19 vaccines in the coming months.

You can read Tim Bousquet’s full report to get all the details, but here are the quick hits:

It will be a four-phase process, with the first phase already completed. 9,550 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were received in the initial phase. Among those targeted in this phase were front line health care workers, long-term care staff and some long-term care residents, all in the Central Zone.

Here’s how the other phases are planned to roll out:

Phase 1 – Limited supply, January-April

About 140,000 doses expected to be received.

Targeting:

  • Health-care workers — direct patient care
  • Long-term care residents and staff
  • Residential care residents and staff
  • Adults aged 75+

Phase 2 – Ramp up, begins May

  • 1 million doses hoped for
  • Targeting remaining health care workers and essential workers
  • “Essential workers” are currently being defined

Phase 3 – steady state

  • Large scale, continuous COVID-19 vaccination as part of broader immunization plan
  • No clear numbers of expected vaccine doses at this time

Health officials say they expect more vaccines to be approved by Health Canada, but these potential new vaccines have not been factored into the current plan as of yet.

Yesterday, the province announced three new cases of COVID-19, all in the Central Zone. There are 19 active cases in Nova Scotia, but none of the infected are currently hospitalized.

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2. N.S. social workers want Liberal leadership candidates to back creation of new child and youth advocate office

The Nova Scotia College of Social Workers has launched a campaign demanding the three candidates vying to be the next premier commit to creating a “desperately needed” child and youth advocate office. Photo: Michał Parzuchowski

“The organization representing the province’s social workers has launched a campaign demanding the candidates vying to be Nova Scotia’s next premier commit to creating a ‘desperately needed’ child and youth advocate office,” writes Yvette d’Entremont.

Since children and youth do not have a direct political voice, The Nova Scotia College of Social Workers (NSCSW) has long advocated for the creation of an advocate office that would speak on behalf of the issues concerning young people, such as poverty and abuse, advocating for policy that would protect the rights and safety of young people in Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia is one of only two provinces that doesn’t have a child and youth advocate office. The other is Ontario.

Last month, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia issued a report showing that 41,370 children in this province live in poverty.

With the Liberal leadership race in its final month, the NSCSW launched an online campaign Tuesday, asking Nova Scotians to contact the candidates and demand they commit to making a child and youth advocate office a priority.

The Halifax Examiner reached out to all three Liberal leadership candidates Tuesday afternoon to ask whether the issue of a child and youth advocate office was a concern for them. As of Wednesday morning, none of the candidates had responded.

In her full article, d’Entremont speaks with the executive director of the NSCSW to discuss the details of what the organization would like to see from a new child and youth advocate office.

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3. Billionaire appealing Halifax’s decision to stop him from connecting two waterfront mansions

5956 Emscote Dr., with 5964 visible to the right. — Photo: Zane Woodford

Last month, Stephen Kimber wrote about John Risley’s gripes with the provincial government, when the billionaire complained about highway construction that was interrupting his commutes between his South Shore and Halifax properties. This week, Zane Woodford reports on Risley’s gripes with municipal government.

Risley wants to attach two adjacent mansions he owns near Point Pleasant Park, but HRM planners won’t let him, so he’s decided to appeal the decision in a hearing later this month.

As Zane Woodford reports, if attached, the two properties overlooking the Northwest Arm from Emscote Drive would violate a land-use bylaw that requires buildings to be six feet from property lines.

Woodford gives the full history of Risley’s ownership and work on the two multi-million dollar properties in his full article here.

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4. Canadian Mental Health Association: Pandemic not just harming people physically

Photo: Halifax Examiner

Nearly half of Nova Scotians say their mental health has declined since the start of the pandemic, reports Jennifer Henderson. That’s about eight percentage points worse than the national average from a recent survey conducted by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and the University of British Columbia. These findings, among others, were presented by CMHA’s executive director Pamela Magee to the Legislative Committee on Community Services on Tuesday.

Last month, a different national report found that Canadian mental health in November had deteriorated to levels worse than April, when the pandemic was still in its infancy. Now, Henderson writes that COVID-19 is continuing to take a psychological toll:

[Magee] said Nova Scotia also leads the country in the rate of increase for substance abuse related to alcohol and cannabis but provided no statistics. (The CMHA study reported 17% of Canadians indicate they have increased their drug and alcohol use as a means of coping with COVID-19.)

Gaps in providing timely access to mental health services were there before the pandemic and have continued through out the pandemic, noted Magee.

Henderson goes on to quote Magee’s presentation to the committee:

“We are hearing from people unable to secure timely treatment. Many people who had the ability to access online supports [increased by the provincial government during this period] feel that the online support isn’t giving them the care they need,” said Magee. “We are hearing this as well from those who are contemplating suicide and have lost hope. They feel there isn’t a door they can walk through to receive timely and adequate care.”

Issues such as affordable housing and loss of income assistance due to CERB applications have contributed to deteriorating mental health, and even a rise in suicidal thoughts among Nova Scotians.

For the full story, click here.

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Views

How do we stop the spread of fake news?

Photo: Association for Psychological Science

So the provincial government’s laid out its plan for distributing COVID-19 vaccines in the coming months. If all goes to plan, vaccinations could lead to herd immunity in the province later in the year, stifling the virus’s spread and starting the highly anticipated Life After COVID-19.

That’s news worth being cautiously optimistic about, but last month political scientist Greg Weiner wrote an op-ed in the New York Times where he wondered if, along with the coronavirus, we couldn’t also develop herd immunity against another dangerous viral spread: fake news. Platforms that have allowed the dissemination of fake news have taken a lot of justifiable heat recently, as governments have tried to regulate the spread of damaging fabrications online, but Weiner argues that we as democratic citizens also have our own responsibility to develop a resistance to deliberately misleading information:

In a free society, the best response to viral misinformation is to fortify our immune systems against it, informationally speaking, by developing citizens who are motivated and able to distinguish truth from fiction. Perhaps more important, these citizens must be able to deal with the nuance in between.

He argues that once enough of us are able to detect fake news when we see it, we won’t have as many people sharing these stories, thereby stopping or at least slowing their spread, much like the spread of COVID-19 is hoped to be prevented once enough people have been vaccinated against it, making them unable to pass it on to others.

“The bigger project is not to prevent lies,” Weiner writes. “It is figuring out how to educate citizens so they are more resistant to them.”

Weiner believes we can build a citizenry more immune to fake news — and better able to debate what’s best for society — by using the building blocks of liberal education (education freely undertaken, not left-leaning academics). It’s a system of learning based on critical thinking, appealing to reason over emotion, humility in the face of the unknown, an openness to change one’s opinion in light of new facts, and constantly checking our biases when consuming news. By nurturing habits of critical thought, we start building patterns of behaviour for ourselves that will make it easier to spot false or deliberately misleading information in the long run.

Treating misinformation as much as a problem of demand as one of supply will not solve immediate crises. But it may be a more powerful means of addressing the underlying and long-term dynamic of a nation divided not just by ideology but also by perceptions of reality itself.

He’s talking about the United States there, and how baseless stories of widespread voter fraud have been allowed to circulate, convincing a large number of people that the recent presidential election was illegitimate. If you’ve followed the American news publications these past few days, you’ll know that claims of voter fraud haven’t gone anywhere, even as they’ve been debunked and shot down in court. Now the peaceful transition of power is under threat in that country, in large part because people willingly circulated false claims that aligned with their beliefs.

The societal dangers of fake news are tangible elsewhere.

Disagreements over the severity, nature or even the existence of COVID-19 have posed health risks during the pandemic, with some people flouting public safety guidelines because they believe a different set of “facts” than those presented by health experts. The climate crisis has been exacerbated over the years by misinformation tailored to make the environmental impact of fossil fuels seem smaller than it is; it’s led to a lack of meaningful environmental action over the decades, making the crisis far more dire now than it might have been had we accepted the facts decades ago.

It seems, thankfully, that we’ll soon have to decide what we want the post-pandemic world to look like. How we might reshape society to be more equitable, fair and just. How to deal with pressing issues of environmental sustainability, racial inequality, police reform, poverty, housing, and so on — even after we’ve put the pandemic behind us. But how can we debate these issues if we’re unsure of the facts? Or worse yet, if we feel free to pick and choose what we believe to be true?

That’s why I think Weiner’s piece is an important read right now. Even for Examiner subscribers, who I know from the comments sections are generally thoughtful, critical, and skeptical when it comes to consuming news. No matter how free we feel we are from the sway of misleading media, we should constantly check ourselves, whether we’re sharing something because it confirms what we believe to be true or it evokes an emotional response. It’s important to scrutinize the publications we get our news from — yes, even this one — and to search for stories and opinions outside our online echo chambers and personal group of friends. Before you share something because it makes you angry or it seems outrageous, compare it with other reports, check the background of the author and the organization that’s publishing the story. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir for a lot of readers here, but it’s a message worth reemphasizing.

We can have differing opinions on a myriad of issues, but it’s essential we derive those opinions from a shared reality. The more of us who continue to practice and sharpen our critical thinking, the more immune we will become as a society to the harmful effects of fake news:

Citizens formed in this tradition of education will still be exposed to and susceptible to disinformation. But they will have the capacity and, equally important, the motivation to confront it. Nor does it excuse media companies from responsibility for transmitting disinformation.

We need to match our focus on the supply of misinformation with a focus on the demand for it. A society of information consumers, content in their padded and custom-built realities, cannot be rescued merely by reforming social media. That is the equivalent of responding to a pandemic of viral disinformation by treating each infection only as it occurs. The goal should be herd immunity, achieved by educating citizens capable of — and interested in — careful thought.

Something to consider as we head into 2021.

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Noticed

The Oval on the Halifax Commons, early one morning in 2015. Photo: Oval webcam

A couple weeks ago I asked how Halifax might reimagine itself to encourage outdoor activity and community in the winter.

Mostly I wondered what Halifax could become in future winters, but there’s exciting outdoor news right now: the centrepiece of the city’s current winter infrastructure, the Oval, is back up and running. COVID-19 restrictions mean you have to book your skate ahead of time now, but at least the pandemic hasn’t cancelled it entirely. I’m surprised how elated I was to see skaters on the common yesterday. It just looked so beautifully normal.

If you want to book a time or check out the status, check out the Oval’s information page here.

If you’re looking to get on some natural ice, where no prior-scheduling is required, you’ll have to wait a little longer. Rivers and lakes still need a little more sustained cold to be shinny-ready.

You can stay updated on conditions online. HRM checks ice thickness for a few surrounding bodies of water, but another great resource is Nor-easter Natural Ice. It’s a local group that promotes natural ice skating in the winter, sells gear, and holds training sessions on ice safety. But their most valuable resource, in my opinion, is the online community of locals that post regular updates on their hometown ponds, rivers, and lakes.

Through their email list and Facebook page, they’ve helped me get out skating more than I had in previous years by posting ice updates around the province as conditions change. It can be a gamble driving to a lake in the middle of nowhere, hoping it’s in good condition for skating. It’s definitely deterred me from going out in the past. I’m more likely to try my luck if I’ve seen pictures of people on the ice that day — their posts make it so much easier to get out.

The updates are community-driven, so the actual safety and thickness of the ice is still something you should check yourself, but it’s a very helpful guide. It turned me on to Black River Lake in the Valley, where I’ve enjoyed some of the best outdoor skating of my life. Just kilometres of glass-smooth ice I never would’ve known about if I hadn’t seen local skaters post pictures of it online in real-time.

No one’s found any skateable ice in the province yet, unfortunately. And one of the more recent posts on the group’s Facebook page links to a study from the journal Geophysical Research Letters that found more lakes in the Northern hemisphere are expected to be ice-free through the winter as the climate warms. A Canadian winter without ice is an unsettling prospect. I hope this isn’t one of those winters.

I at least got out on my cross-country skis a few times this week. Enjoy this batch of snow while it lasts!

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Government

City

Wednesday

North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm) — virtual meeting

Thursday

Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm) — virtual meeting

Harbour East-Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm) — virtual meeting with a live webcast

Province

No meetings.

On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

No public events.

Thursday

Teaching The Marrow Thieves (Thursday, 2pm) — A Pedagogical Roundtable with Andrew Brown, Brian Gillis, Aiden Tait and Erin Wunker, moderated by Margaret Robinson. E-book, info and link here.


In the harbour

09:00: APL Southampton, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
15:00: Budapest Bridge, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Rotterdam
21:00: Augusta Luna, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 31 from Moa, Cuba


Footnotes

The World Junior Championship is over. I’m glad I didn’t force myself to stay up past midnight for the 3rd period. Better luck next year, Canada!

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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. The best way to get herd immunity from fake news is to stop disseminating and consuming it, as the New York Times – like all major corporate news organizations in the US – and its readers do on a daily basis. Among such purveyors of disinformation and establishment propaganda in the western world are corporate-funded neoliberal think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, whom the NYT op-ed writer cited by Ethan Lycan-Lang is employed by as a visiting scholar. Spokespeople for these institutions, and apparently Mr Lycan-Lang himself, seem to believe that “fake news” is a phenomenon of the Trump era, that humanity is uniquely endangered by it, and that a liberal education and liberal institutions (if not some enlightened Silicon Valley censorship) are the best antidotes. In fact, if one looks at the gravest threats to humanity such as global warming, environmental collapse, nuclear war, extreme inequality, the destruction of democracy, and the political/economic system that undergirds them all – i.e. neoliberal capitalism and American imperialism – they are all stoked by the same ideological institutions (mostly staffed by privileged beneficiaries of a good liberal education like Greg Weiner) that are at the heart of respectable liberal opinion. Those most vociferous in denouncing the “fake news” of the Trump era and who use it to justify state/corporate-imposed restrictions on freedom of speech on internet forums and social media – the last bastion of free speech in the neoliberal era – only exacerbate those threats and are far more dangerous to democracy and human survival than the pathological mendacity of a Donald Trump and his benighted followers.

  2. One thing I don’t see mentioned in the vaccine rollout is what is the hoped for uptake of these shots that will provide the hoped for herd immunity? On articles online, I have seen figures for other provinces ranging from 60% to 85%. Is there any data on what level is needed/best? Does Nova Scotia have a level it is hoping to reach? And if so, how does it compare with the levels in the other provinces? I remember reading that it won’t be mandatory, but what might not getting inoculated mean in terms of access to services, employment, etc?

    My turn won’t happen until we reach Phase 4, and I’ll admit right now I’m in no rush. I am not an anti-vaxxer (although I am a wanna-be anti-masker, who wears a mask when required), but I am a cautious person who has had negative reactions to shots in the past – and those were ones that had been around for years so there was lots and lots of information to review.

    The more information I can get before my turn comes around, the better the decision I will make.

    1. The term anti-vaxxer is essentially a slur used to conflate people who are skeptical of novel vaccines with people who believe in incredible conspiracy theories about computer chips in the vaccine etc. Surely there is some middle ground between “there is nothing to worry about and you are stupid and morally suspect for having worries” and “Bill Gates is going to inject computer chips into your body as part of a satanic world conspiracy”.

      A ‘vaccine passport’ needed for, well, anything is just a backdoor route to an internal passport system. Secondly, if the vaccine based restrictions only apply to things that low and middle-income people need, then it is an out for the rich on getting the novel vaccine.

      I see widespread, non-coerced acceptance of the various COVID-19 vaccines as a giant vote of confidence in our leadership, Sciencetm and the mainstream media.

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful comments on how to fight the spread of fake news including your link to Greg Weiner’s NYT op-ed piece.

    While the advent of social media has made fake news much more prevalent, it’s not a completely new problem, especially in societies where news and information are routinely financed by advertising. For example, automotive advertising is one of the largest sources of media revenue as anyone who watches CBC’s The National can readily see. Paradoxically, journalists at our public broadcaster report on climate change financed, in part, by ad revenues derived from fossil-fuel burning industries.

    Also, in a society in which household consumption accounts for more than 56% of Gross Domestic Product, it somehow seems OK to use advertising — needed to stimulate demand — to finance journalism. The trade-offs involved in media that generate revenues by selling eyeballs (and ears) to advertisers is something that mainstream journalists have had to accept as the standard way of doing business with success measured by ratings and clicks.

    I’d say combatting fake news requires more non-commercial media to serve as alternative sources using a broader range of news formats.