News

1. COVID update: Christmas break, X rings, and booster shots

Premier Tim Houston at the COVID briefing, Dec. 7, 2021. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

Never in doubt, Tim Bousquet has the latest provincial pandemic update.

On Tuesday, Premier Tim Houston and Chief Medical Officer of Health — do I need to tell you who this guy is at this point? — Dr. Robert Strang held a COVID briefing, and it seems Christmas will come early for school kids this year (or rather, end late).

Houston and Strang announced that Christmas break will be two days longer this season.

Why? Neither the premier or the doctor could say. All they told reporters was the decision was made independently by the Department of Education. A possible reason might have to do with a recent rise in COVID cases among children under 12; over half of recent cases, Strang acknowledged. Vaccinating children, he said, is the best way to lower numbers in that demographic.

Also announced at yesterday’s briefing: Dr. Strang said Nova Scotians should limit their travel plans through the holidays. He cautioned against travel to Ontario and Quebec especially, where case numbers are relatively high.

“He didn’t explain,” Bousquet writes in his full report, “how that advice squared with Houston’s recent trip to the United States, which has higher case numbers still.”

The new case numbers

There were 22 new cases of COVID-19 announced in Nova Scotia yesterday. That makes 147 known active cases in the province (11 in hospital; four of them in ICU). Most of the new cases were in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone (18), while the rest were in the Northern Zone (4).

Those numbers don’t reflect all the news from yesterday, though.

A “cluster” of an unknown number of cases was discovered at St. Francis Xavier University Monday night. Dr. Strang said he didn’t know the details yet, but those case numbers are expected to factor into the numbers the province reports today.

It’s ring ceremony time at St. FX right now, and the premier said the cluster was likely the result of unsanctioned social events. Strang said organizers who disobeyed Public Health protocols will be identified and fined.

Booster shots

Regarding booster shots — which are coming to Nova Scotians soon — Dr. Strang said the province will follow recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. Among them:

  • expand eligibility for a booster dose to include people who are 60 and older and then work backward in descending age groups
  • allow all frontline health care workers, including community providers like dentists and pharmacists, to schedule a booster dose regardless of the interval between their first two doses
  • increase the minimum interval between first and second doses from 28 days to eight weeks; any second-dose appointments currently scheduled on a 28-day interval will be honoured.

Although details on implementation aren’t quite out yet, Strang said people over the age of 50 will be able to schedule booster doses this month. Younger Nova Scotians will have to wait until the new year. Booster doses are administered at least 168 days after the primary series.

Get the full story from yesterday’s briefing here.

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2. The latest on Muskrat Falls: what are we paying for?

Jennifer Henderson is reporting that between August 15 and November 30, less than one-fifth of the renewable energy that was ordered from Muskrat Falls was delivered to Nova Scotia via subsea cable. And those deliveries from the hydroelectric facility in Labrador started almost four years later than the power company forecast back in 2013.

So there’s been a promise under-delivered. Should the province still have to start paying the full $1.7 billion cost to build the Maritime Link that connects us to Muskrat Falls?

A hearing before Nova Scotia’s Utility and Review Board (UARB) aims to find out. And Jennifer Henderson was there to cover it.

In her article this morning, she explores some of the questions raised from the hearing:

  • Will Nova Scotian power bills be going up because of these delays from Muskrat Falls?
  • Will delays continue? (likely, due to software hitches). When can we expect full operation of the link?
  • How will this under-delivered renewable energy be made up for? And will Nova Scotia Power still be able to meet its legislated standard of 40% of electricity from renewable sources by 2022? 
  • Should the hearing have gone ahead since the original deal established in 2013 was that ratepayers would begin paying for the cable once the entire amount of low-cost hydroelectricity was flowing?
  • “Why should ratepayers now pay for something they are not receiving and haven’t received over the course of the last few years?” as the vice-chairman of UARB asked at the hearing.

There are a lot of questions surrounding this never-ending attempt to connect Nova Scotia to the renewable energy source in Labrador. You can read all about them, and see what answers there currently are, in Henderson’s full report here.

There’s a lot of fascinating stuff to read about from the hearing. This comment stood out most for me: a consumer advocate at the hearing estimates that ratepayers have paid about $450 million toward the cost of the Maritime Link, but have only received $17.4 million in benefits. 

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3. Group wants premier to make Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs a full department

Premier Tim Houston and ANSDPAD Coalition director Vanessa Fells. ANSDPAD is part of the group, African Nova Scotian Black Family, which is asking for the creation of a full department of African Nova Scotian Affairs.

In September, following the most recent provincial election, the new Progressive Conservative government appointed Pat Dunn as Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs. As Matthew Byard wrote at the time, there was lots of reaction from Nova Scotia’s Black community.

Social media reactions in various Black/African Nova Scotian social media circles rapidly persisted throughout the night and into the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Reactions ranged from mostly anger, but also sadness, shock, and amusement. While some poked fun at Dunn’s appointment, others’ comments were quite serious in their disapproval of a white minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs.

In response, the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition (ANSDPAD), along with other organizations and individuals in the African Nova Scotian community, came together for a series of virtual meetings to organize around strategic responses to Dunn’s appointment.

Hundreds attended these online discussions, and some of the organizers later met with Tim Houston, ultimately leading to the appointment of Dwayne Provo, a Black Nova Scotian, as associate deputy minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs. Dunn remains minister.

Now, the African Nova Scotian Black Family — which includes the ANSDPAD — want the premier to make the office a full department outside of Communities, Culture, and Heritage, and appoint an African Nova Scotian to run it, therefore giving the department more decision-making power.

Matthew Byard writes about that — and what it could mean for African Nova Scotian Affairs — here.

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4.  Protestors say any cutting is too much at Annapolis County site

Protestors are currently camped out at a planned harvest site between McEwan and Eel Weir Lakes in Annapolis County. Photo: Leslie Amminson

Protestors have been camped out on a 24-hectare plot of Crown land in Annapolis County since Friday. They say too much of the surrounding land has been cut, and this small piece of land should be left alone as a wildlife corridor. And two Nova Scotian biologists, the MLA for the area, and a local man who hunts and fishes out of a cabin that sits on the edge of the site all agree.

But the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables sees it differently. The planned cut, which WestFor applied and received approval for, is supposed to leave 70% of trees standing. As such, the province says this cut should be held up as an example of the type of ecological forestry practice Nova Scotia’s supposed to be moving toward.

But protestors say they won’t move until the province repeals its approval for the planned cut. See why they’re compelled to camp out in December, and why the government won’t change tracks, in this morning’s article on this small piece of Annapolis County land, and the complications around it.

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5. Africville and the Halifax Explosion

Residents of Africville walking to Halifax after the explosion. Photo: Canada’s Military History/Twitter

It’s been 104 years since two ships collided in the narrows of Halifax Harbour, leading to a disaster that reshaped a city.

On Monday, the anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, two brothers met to reflect on what that day meant for the former community of Africville. When they were growing up in Africville, Eddie and Irvine Carvery were neighbours with survivors of the Explosion, and would hear their stories from that day about how the nearby explosion had rocked the community.

“I remember talking with Dr. Ruth Johnson,” Irvine Carvery told the Examiner Monday.  “She was a Brown from Africville — and she told me her mother told her that when that explosion happened, the people of Africville ran to the church. They thought Armageddon was here. They thought it was the end of the world. So they went to the church to prepare for it, only to find out it was a man-made explosion.”

Located on the northern tip of the peninsula, not too far from the site of the explosion, Africville was hit hard that day. Later research found the tidal wave that reached Africville as a result of the explosion was “a full three metres above the high water mark.”

The community responded by helping out with the relief effort — the brothers’ grandmother helped organize the city’s first food bank following the Explosion — but received only a portion of the aid other communities saw in the aftermath.

The brothers say it’s only been until very recently that there’s been any mention of how the residents of Africville were affected by the explosion and how they assisted with relief efforts. They’re hoping to mark the occasion more regularly to change that.

Matthew Byard went down to Africville with the brothers Monday to learn more about how that disaster affected the old community. As well as to hear stories of how its people rose to the occasion as Halifax tried to rebuild.

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6. Let it snow: public weather warnings issued for all NS

Photo: Environment Canada

The entire province is under snowfall warning today. According to Environment Canada, snow should start falling heavily later in the day, continuing overnight into Thursday.

From Environment Canada:

Snow will reach western Nova Scotia this afternoon, and spread to the rest of the province later this evening and into the overnight hours. A mixture of rain and snow will occur along the South Shore during the first few hours of the evening. Strong northeasterly winds will likely produce some blowing snow as temperatures fall during the night over portions of mainland Nova Scotia. Blowing snow may also occur Thursday afternoon in Cape Breton as winds shift to the northwest.

The highest accumulations will occur just inland of the Atlantic coast, where some areas of the South Shore and eastern Cape Breton Island are expected to approach 30 cm.

Hope you’ve got your winter tires on your car. Or a good book and some hot chocolate. Stay safe out there.

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Views

The wheels on the Maritime Bus keep goin’ round and round

A Maritime Bus coach drives by City Hall in downtown Halifax. Photo: Maritime Bus/Facebook

I was just moving back home from Alberta when Greyhound announced it was stopping bus services in western Canada. The prairies, for those who don’t know, are a bit spread out, so this was a devastating blow for lots of people in the region.

It can be easy to shrug off the loss of bus travel.

It’s romanticized in songs about Americana, but outside of that, not too many people have a soft spot for riding in a cramped coach for two or three hours. I used to travel by bus quite a bit in Alberta and I often got stuck next to passengers who were partway through a bottle of something, and weren’t waiting for their stop to keep sipping … or talking. 

And don’t get me started on what it’s like when someone’s used that small bathroom to the fullest.

But the bus there was invaluable. It was cheap and more reliable than hitching rides with friends. Especially when you were lugging a huge bag of cumbersome ski gear. I used to take it back and forth from Calgary all the time. (side note: Calgary’s Greyhound Station was one of the dingiest, most depressing terminals I’ve ever seen).

And lots of us living in the remote mountain towns would use the buses to ship and receive packages from the faraway urban centres.

As the New York Times reported, three years later when Greyhound shut down all Canadian operations:

In parts of the country where Greyhound operated, its service was usually the most affordable form of travel. And for many rural communities it was frequently the only alternative to owning a car or finding a ride in one.

I honestly would have found it a lot harder to get around in Alberta if I’d stayed when the bus left.

So, I was happy to read the recent coverage of Maritime Bus and its owner, Mike Cassidy, who told Chris Stoodley with City News that he’s trying to keep his commuter company going despite heavy financial losses during the pandemic.

Cassidy told Stoodley he started the company in 2012, when Acadian Lines stopped operations in the Maritimes. As Stoodley reports:

“[Acadian Lines’] closure was set to leave tons of residents and workers stranded.

‘I couldn’t believe it,’ Mike Cassidy tells CityNews Halifax. ‘Being a bus person, a Maritimer, I think I stood up in front of the media and I uttered, ‘I want to do the routes. I want to continue what Acadian Lines has had going since 1937, 1938 in the province.’”

We put together a team and we launched Maritime Bus Dec. 1, 2012, because I believe in public transportation, the parcels to move, I want the blood and medical supplies to move the way we’ve always had.”

Now, in its 10th year of operation, Cassidy said although he’s let go of hundreds of employees through the pandemic, he’s hoping to bounce back as travel reopens, with a little help from all three levels of government.

I don’t think the Maritime Bus system is perfect. I’ve taken it a few times; it’s a bit pricey, and its routes aren’t as frequent as I’d like if I wanted to get around on it regularly.

Now I’m not here to promote the company, but what else out there offers that service around here at a somewhat reasonable price?

Whatever the company, there’s something to having an inexpensive way to get around this province without owning a car. Nova Scotia may be smaller than most provinces, but there’s still a lot of distance between Yarmouth and Sydney. It might be worth some public investment in ensuring cheap, reliable bus travel — or train travel, which is the pipe dream — is available to Nova Scotians, and not just tourists.

Buses offer a way for Nova Scotians without a car to see more of their backyard. They allow people living in isolated, rural communities to stay connected to bigger communities.

Maritime Bus doesn’t offer these services in full. But a company like it, subsidized by the government, could open up the province and Maritimes to a lot of people.

Or we could just all buy cars, hitch a ride, or bike the rail trails to get around. 

Even if you’d never think about using a bus to travel, don’t knock its importance. The province is helping to pay to connect Nova Scotians with high-speed internet. Is it worth paying to connect Nova Scotians and Maritimers with inter-city transportation?

It might not affect all of us, but it’d be a shame to lose a service that offers that. Whoever it is that’s offering it.

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Noticed…

Public consultation on the province’s new Old-Growth Forest Policy ends today. If you’d like to have your say, but haven’t read it, it’s only 15 pages long, excluding the cover and table of contents.

Just thought I’d put that out there. Now, for something slightly related.

I’ve had to do a bit of research around forests and forestry in Nova Scotia these past couple weeks. Something I’ve noticed: the Harvest Plans Map Viewer — the online tool where the public can comment on proposed cuts and see those already approved — is really hard to use.

A screenshot of the Harvest Plans Map Viewer – currently the only official means the public has to comment on approved forest harvests.

Actually, Joan Baxter noticed this for the Examiner back in June. Writing about the map, which was created

In April 2016, the provincial government announced that it had launched a new interactive Harvest Plan Map Viewer (HPMV), which it claimed was “helping to improve public engagement on planned fibre harvests in Nova Scotia woodlands,” and providing “better access for Nova Scotians to view and comment on harvest plans for all Crown lands.”

That was the same year that the WestFor consortium of mills appeared on the scene, and was granted a lease to manage some of the prize Bowater woodlands in western Nova Scotia.

One user she spoke with in that story, Healthy Forest Coalition coordinator Mike Lancaster, complained about the incompleteness and confusing nature of the tool, saying there’s also a major problem with map accessibility and people’s ability to see and comment on the map if they don’t have reliable and fast internet service.

I’ve been finding that out myself recently. At times, it seems almost designed to be user-“unfriendly.”

Let me give you one example.

Say you want to see all the approved plans from the past five years. The default doesn’t show you these. You have to click on un-self-explanatory icons to show you that layer of plans on the map. Then, to see the map as a satellite image, you have to do a similarly roundabout process on the toolbar on the other side of the screen.

If you’ve made it this far, the map should look something like this:

Photo: Harvest Plans Viewer Map

The filled-in green portion of the screen represents Crown land.

Now say you want to see what the land actually looks like from the satellite view. You have to toggle a switch in the toolbar.

Photo: Harvest Plans Map Viewer

The default is opaque. Toggling to transparent — a bit on the nose, no? — you’ll be able to see what that Crown land, and the cutting that’s been done there, looks like.

Photo: Harvest Plans Map Viewer

And it’s as simple as that. Try it out for yourself, some time.

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Government

City

Appeals Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall) — no live broadcast

Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Commmittee (Wednesday, 1pm , City Hall) — agenda here

Design Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm — livestreamed

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

Province

No meetings


On campus

Dalhousie

PhD thesis defence: Interdisciplinary PhD program (Wednesday, 8:30am) — by Hussain Sinan

Dal Bookstore Yard Sale (Wednesday, 9:30am-4:30pm) — 2nd floor SUB, and at the Bookstore, Cox Institute, Truro Campus

PhD thesis defence: Department of Physics and Atmospheric Science (Wednesday, 10am) — by Spencer Farrell

Effects of 5′-Triphosphate Metabolites of Specific Antiviral Drugs on CTP Synthase Activity (Wednesday, 10am, Room C-264, CHEB Building) — Thomas Gillis will defend his M.Sc thesis

Deciphering the molecular landscape of Wilms tumors via a multi-omics playbook (Wednesday, 4pm) — Tobias K. Karakach will talk


In the harbour

Halifax
12:00: Qikiqtaaluk W, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Montreal
20:30: CMA CGM A. Lincoln, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York (that’s a turn-around of just over 24 hours for ultra-large ship)
Midnight: Federal Swift, bulker, arrives at anchorage from Santos, Brazil

Cape Breton
No arrivals or departures.


Footnotes

Top five songs (that aren’t Ramblin’ Man) that mention Greyhound buses:


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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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4 Comments

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  1. Maritime Bus is certainly better than no bus service, but it only covers a minute portion of this province. Have you tried going to Yarmouth by bus? Or even to Lunenburg or Mahone Bay just for a day long visit? The option of only going by a car that you own or hitching a ride in one you don’t is not a viable option for all of us. It is not possible to go to the Fundy side either. Nova Scotia over all is a dismal place for transit that does nor involve a driver’s license. Don’t get me started on the lack of train service – something Canada used to pride itself on.

  2. Hate to be picky, but Promised Land was originally written and recorded by Chuck Berry. And Norfolk is in it!
    – Tim’s sister Anne Bousquet