News

1. Weather

There’s weather today. A lot of schools, businesses, and governments are closed. Everyone will complain about stuff.

2. Taxes

Photo: Halifax Examiner

“It’s early in the budget season, but Halifax regional councillors are hoping to keep next year’s tax increase well below inflation,” reports Zane Woodford:

Council’s budget committee met Tuesday to work toward creating the municipality’s billion-dollar 2020-2021 budget, and unanimously passed a motion to limit property tax increases for the year ahead to 1.5% on the average bill — equal to $30 for the average residential property tax bill.

Most of that increase is due to rising property values.

Click here to read “Halifax council aims for below-inflation tax increase.”

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3. Zane Woodford

Meet Zane Woodford:

I don’t know why he uses what appears to be a mugshot for his Twitter profile pic.

Zane was on the City Hall beat for Star Halifax until he was laid off last month, three days before Christmas. He does damn good work. His partner just had a baby. He’d like to stay in Halifax.

The Examiner would like to employ him.

Zane has a bit of severance pay from the Star, and so for now the Examiner has offered him some freelance work, continuing covering City Hall. I would like to provide more work for Zane, but quite frankly, I don’t know if the Examiner can afford it.

Yesterday, Phil Moscovitch pointed us to Advocate Media’s press release announcing the closure of two community papers, the Weekly Press and the Laker, serving East Hants and Fall River:

As the local business base has continued to shift to major national retailers and businesses, the desire for local targeted advertising has diminished… With thousands of avid, online readers, our shift from the area provides opportunity for others to consider new models for the efficient delivery of local news.

I’ve written about this repeatedly: advertising can no longer support local news coverage. Advertisers have so many other, and better, advertising options that it doesn’t make sense for them to buy ads in community papers or city papers like Star Halifax. The days of “free” local reporting are over.

I believe that the only thing that can save local journalism is a subscription-based model: people have to value the news, and value it specifically by paying for it.

The Examiner’s potential for hiring Zane is a test of the principle: Will enough people buy subscriptions to the Examiner that we can continue to pay Zane for his work?

I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. We’ll see.

If you support local journalism, and if you would like to see the Examiner continue to hire Zane, please subscribe.

4. Georgie Fagan

Georgie Fagan (right)

“I can’t remember exactly when I met Georgie Fagan, but for some time we organized together for prisoners,” writes El Jones:

Georgie had been in and out of prison for most of his life, and has years of experience in the prison system. At Prisoner Justice Day a few years ago, he spoke movingly about his time inside, and the struggles he was facing now he was out. He had no ride to the event, and no one to bring him. He had written about his experiences, but there was no one to read it. He spoke over and over again about his young daughter, his efforts to be a strong father to her, his determination to be a role model, and how hard it was to make a change and stick to it.

For most of Halifax, if they know Georgie, it is not the way I know him. Georgie became notorious in the Spring as the Vice President of the Northern Guard, a far right white nationalist group. After they were filmed “patrolling” Spring Garden Road, handing out pizzas, Georgie defended the group to the media. And then he disappeared from public view.

When the video of the Northern Guard circulated, it was upsetting to see Georgie wearing the jacket of a hate group. Muslim women friends spoke about their fear of going downtown. In our friend circles, we wondered how to protect ourselves if a group like that could walk around in the middle of the day, in the middle of Halifax.

I tried to reconcile this figure of fear with the man I had met. I figured I hadn’t really known him at all. I am never surprised that people can be racist or violent and not show that face to us, but still, it was shocking.

Then this New Year’s Eve, Georgie messaged me an apology. He wanted me to know that he had left the Guard some months ago, that he renounced their hate, and that he was sorry for the harm he had caused. He wanted to make amends to his community.

Click here to read “Georgie Fagan used to organize with white supremacists. Now he condemns them.”

5. Affordable housing

Affordable Housing discussed at Legislative Committee on Community Services. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

“Last August, the federal government signed a 10-year-deal with the province of Nova Scotia to cost-share a $400-million-dollar contribution towards affordable housing,” reports Jennifer Henderson:

The timing couldn’t be better for people trying to find a place to live in Metro Halifax. Not only is the population growing but the vacancy rate is at a historic low — 1.6%. Meanwhile, data from the province show rents went up 9% between 2015 and 2018 and the cost of electricity and food continue to rise.

“Affordable” housing as defined by Ottawa is a place to live which doesn’t chew up more than 30%* of household income. By that definition more than 30,000 households in Nova Scotia require “affordable” housing at a time when less than half can find it.

Click here to read “Not enough is being done on the affordable housing front, say advocates.”

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6. Hot idle

The aeration pond at Boat Harbour. Photo: Joan Baxter

Yesterday morning, Phil Moscovitch reported that Robin Wilber, who is the president of Elmsdale Lumber and was appointed to the province’s transition team for considering timber policy post-Northern Pulp, had put forward the notion that the plant could continue running on “hot idle” — running hot water through its boilers and continuing to discharge into Boat Harbour.

In response, Pictou Landing First Nation sent the following statement to the Examiner:

“As far as I am aware no notice to consult has been issued in respect of a request by Northern Pulp to the Province to allow it to discharge any amount of wastewater into Boat Harbour from the mill, even if it is wastewater used only in the power boiler or other non-pulping parts of the mill,” stated Chief Andrea Paul, of Pictou Landing First Nation.

Pictou Landing First Nation is responding to a recently released statement to the media (not from Northern Pulp) saying that discharging water from the mill’s power boilers during a “hot idle” while the pulping process has been stopped would not create pulp effluent and therefore would not contravene the Boat Harbour Act if it is released into Boat Harbour after January 31, 2002.

The statement goes on to say that Northern Pulp would need PLFN’s consent to discharge the wastewater even though it’s not effluent.

“Further clarification, I believe would need to come from the Province of Nova Scotia, who passed the legislation. Pictou Landing First Nation is not in a situation to approve or not approve anything,” stated Chief Andrea Paul.

PLFN considers that any water discharged by the pulp mill, even it is only from its power boiler, is effluent under the federal Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations and the Boat Harbour Act and any discharge of wastewater, even from an idling pulp mill, into Boat Harbour after January 31, 2020 would violate the Act.

Even if discharging the wastewater did not violate the Boat Harbour Act, Northern Pulp would need to apply to NS Environment for a new industrial approval to allow it to continue to operate the mill even if it intends on idling only. Its existing industrial approval expires on January 31, 2020. The decision on a new industrial approval would have to come from NS Environment.

Finally, if Northern Pulp had requested an industrial approval from NS Environment to allow it to idle, NS Environment would be under a constitutional duty to consult with PLFN when considering such a request. NS Environment has not initiated consultation under the consultation terms of reference (TOR). PLFN can only conclude that NS Environment is not considering such a request.

“If and when a consultation is initiated by NS Environment, PLFN would have to participate”, said Chief Paul. Consultations involve the exchange of technical information and in the past PLFN has hired independent consultants as advisors in order to fully understand the potential risks involved.

“One of the risks is the delay of the remediation of Boat Harbour, Chief Paul said. That project is currently in its own environmental approval phase. Relevant technical information would include the volume of water that Northern Pulp proposes to discharge from the idling mill, the concentration of contaminants in the water, the temperature of the wastewater and whether other means of disposing of the wastewater have been considered such as” holding the water in the mill’s current spill basins and removing it by truck.

“Unfortunately, Northern Pulp does not appear to have planned in advance for idling the mill,” said Chief Paul.

Later in the day yesterday, Wilber was removed from the forestry transition team, report Alexander Quon and Jesse Thomas for Global:

Robin Wilber, president of the Elmsdale Lumber Company, told Global News he received a call on Monday evening notifying him that he was being removed from the team.

Wilber’s removal comes after he told media organizations on Monday that management at Northern Pulp is considering putting the factory into a hot idle process, which would run hot water through the boiler system in order to keep the piping from freezing during the cold winter.

7. Flight 624

Air Canada Flight 624

Legal wrangling continues over the crash of Air Canada Flight 624 at Stanfield International during a blizzard on March 29, 2015. Twenty-six people were injured in the crash.

Wagner’s Law Firm filed a class action lawsuit over the crash, naming three clients — Kathleen Carroll-Byrne, Asher Hodara, and Georges Liboy — as representative of the class. Named as defendants are Air Canada, Airbus S.A.S. (the manufacturer of the plane), Nav Canada, Halifax International Airport Authority, the Attorney General of Canada, and “John Doe #1 and John Doe #2” — the pilot and copilot of the plane.

At issue now is the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) of the doomed flight. Airbus asked the court for an order that the CVR and a transcript of it be made part of the public court record, which seems an obvious public good regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit.

In response to Airbus’s motion, the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) and the Air Canada Pilots Association (the union representing pilots) were granted intervener status in the lawsuit. The pilots’ union argued the CVR should not be released at all, while the TSB said it should be allowed to make an in camera disclosure to the judge about the VCR, but that it should not be released to the other parties in the case or become part of the public record.

On December 18, Justice Patrick Duncan issued a ruling ordering that the CVR shall be distributed to every party in the case, but that each party must not disclose it to anyone else or otherwise make it publicly available. Anyone who is to be granted access to the CVR must be given the court order and agree not to disclose the CVR’s contents to anyone else.

On December 20, the TSB appealed Duncan’s ruling, asking the Appellant Court to return the issue to Duncan with the expectation that the TSB be allowed to give its in camera presentation and that the CVR would not otherwise be distributed.

Look, a plane fell out of the sky and 133 passengers (and five crew) were bounced around the airport this way and that in a frick’en blizzard, the wings falling off the machine, the passengers left in deep snow on the side of the runway for up to an hour. The public has a right to know what happened, and that means the public should be given the Cockpit Voice Recorder.

This wouldn’t be an issue at all in the United States. But in Canada there’s a default view that the public must be protected from, well, the truth.

The Examiner legal fund is tapped out, but this is exactly the sort of thing I would be challenging the court on if we had the money.

8. Smoking

The designated smoking area at the Bridge Terminal.

“It’s been a little over a year since Halifax banned all smoking and vaping almost simultaneously with the passage of a federal law legalizing marijuana (cannabis falls under the city’s bylaw),” reports  Lindsay Jones for MacLean’s:

At the time, the ban was touted as one of the toughest in the country—a prohibition on lighting up anywhere in the city except for 84 designated areas marked by nondescript, waist-high black posts with built-in portals for butts.

These seemingly randomly placed stations, marked with small green stickers, are not exactly visible at a glance: to find the nearest one, smokers are supposed to go online and use an interactive map.

Most don’t. And with virtually no enforcement, why would they?

When the smoking ban was announced, I thought it was ridiculous — sure, people should be cognizant of smoking near non-smokers, but this was an obvious overreach and moral panic in response to the legalization of cannabis.

This is entirely anecdotal, but while I haven’t noticed any increase in smoking around me, I have noticed that those smoking nowadays seem to be smoking mostly cannabis. I didn’t really realize this until over the weekend when I was in Florida and stopped by a bar; the fellow sitting a couple of stools down reeked of tobacco, which surprised me because in Halifax that fellow likely would’ve reeked of cannabis.

Hey, we legalized cannabis and the sky didn’t fall. Now let’s do the other drugs.


Views

1. Climate change

“At the risk of being repetitive, it’s hard not to address the dearth of discussion about climate change in the media’s reflections on the ten-year period that ended last week,” writes Richard Starr:

Even as drought stricken Australia burned amidst heat waves and fierce winds, the media presented a menu more concerned with reflections on populism, pop culture and political positioning than climate change. Then, forcing everyone to move on, Trump changed the channel with his reckless adventurism in Iraq.

One notable exception to the trend bemoaned above was a piece in the National Observer, part of a collaboration with HuffPost. It was replete with data showing growth over the decade of the climate crisis, including:

  • The years from 2014-2018 were the hottest ever recorded;
  • Four of the five largest wildfires in California history happened in the decade;
  • Six category 5 hurricanes – Dorian, Lorenzo, Michael, Irma, Maria and Matthew – hit the Atlantic region between 2016 and 2019;
  • Arctic sea ice cover dropped by over 13 per cent;
  • There was a doubling of “billion dollar” climate disasters in the US – more than 115 floods, droughts, storms and fires that led to losses exceeding $1 billion each. That’s nearly double the number recorded during the previous decade.

Starr goes on to present this table, marking the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration by decade:


Government

City

Wednesday

Today’s scheduled meetings have been postponed to future dates to be announced.

Thursday

Police Commission (Thursday, 1:30pm, City Hall) — a special meeting to consider the next police budget.

Harbour East – Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — whatever King’s Wharf wants, King’s Wharf gets.

Province

Wednesday

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — all about the QE2 rebuild.

Thursday

No public meetings.


On campus

Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s Universities are closed today due to the weather.

King’s

Thursday

Housing Hunt 101 – How to find your next home in Halifax (Thursday, 5:30pm, Wilson Common Room, New Academic Building) — for King’s students. From the listing:

Come out for a conversation that includes how to fill out tenant applications, leases, going to viewings, advocating for yourself with landlords, services available in the HRM, and how to build a great home with roommates. Bring your questions! There will be snacks! Hosted by NSPIRG, the Sexualized Violence Policy Student Liaison and the Sexualized Violence Prevention and Response Officer.

Event page here.


In the harbour

05:00: Atlantic Star, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
07:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at anchorage from Saint-Pierre
12:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
17:00: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John


Footnotes

Over the weekend, I went to Florida for a podcast interview. The interviews were gruelling, albeit productive. But after we finished I had a day in the sun before catching the flight back. Here’s me eating seafood at the Star Fish in Cortez:

Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. Begging the question of the legality of discharging what might be clean hot water , what kind of retarded stationary or professional engineer wouldn’t run down to the local Rona, get some garden hose, and hook the hot water output to the cold side of the water heater, cutting heating costs down dramatically?

  2. “Now let’s do the other drugs.” It would be great if Canada could follow Portugal’s very successful lead in the decriminalization of all drugs.