News

1. Ferries! Electric buses! Halifax Transit goes bold with new plan

An example of a fast ferry in the report.  Photo: Eric Kilby

Zane Woodford reports on what he calls Halifax Transit’s “uncharacteristically bold” plan to transform the transit system over the next 10 years. The plan, which goes to regional council this week, proposes fast ferries, electric buses, and a bus rapid-transit system that would see more frequent buses, most of which would run in priority lanes.

Woodford writes:

The plan as a whole is about as good as transit is going to get in Halifax, [transit advocate Scott] Edgar said.

“I have been surprised at how good this plan is,” Edgar said. “I don’t want to say it’s a first for me, but it might be a first for me.”

Because the buses would be mostly out of conventional traffic, they’d be able to move far more quickly across the municipality.

“It’s going to be possible to get from … Spryfield, Kearney Lake, Lacewood, Burnside, Portland Street, downtown Halifax, downtown Dartmouth to any of those other places in less than 45 minutes,” Edgar said. “That has never been the case in any transit system that HRM has had or kind of the predecessor municipalities had.”

Five years ago, for a Halifax Magazine story, I interviewed Dalhousie planning professor Eric Rapaport about the harbour — and we talked ferries. Rapaport did have a few reservations about high-speed ferries. They can burn a lot of fuel, and if they get to capacity, you can’t just add another car like you would with light rail. But that point is moot, now that light rail is off the table for Halifax.

In our interview, Rapaport had this to say about the idea of running ferries from Bedford:

“I think there are some missed opportunities in Bedford. If you’re going to be infilling you might as well be designing for public transportation. You don’t have to maintain the water. It’s a free highway. You can see that during snowstorms and ice storms. The things that keep going are the ferries. When those [waterfront] developments are thought out, they really need to be thought of as transportation hubs.”

Back to Woodford, a commenter on his story says, “Zane Woodford is the reporter city hall and the citizens of HRM require and deserve,” and I’ve got to agree.

Read all of “Halifax Transit proposes electric buses in dedicated lanes, fast ferries with new Rapid Transit Strategy” here.

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2. What the RCMP don’t want you to know about the mass murder investigation

The Halifax Examiner has joined other media organizations in going to court for the release of documents related to the RCMP investigation of the April 18-19 murder spree that started in Portapique.

Yesterday, a judge ordered the release of a new set of documents, including warrants. The documents are heavily redacted, but do still offer some valuable information about the investigation — or at least, about what the RCMP don’t want us to know about the investigation.

Tim Bousquet spent a good part of the day going through the documents, and gets into their contents.

He also raises questions about some of the seemingly capricious redactions:

It’s frustrating to get a set of redacted documents, but the redactions give an indication of what the RCMP and Crown don’t want the public to know.

For instance, the investigation of the gunman’s (we’re calling him GW) property included the search for something — we don’t know what it is because it’s redacted — that appears to be in the same category as “Firearms, ammunition, explosives, chemicals.” Likewise, specific to his property on Portland Street in Dartmouth, the documents note that “There is also information that [redacted].” It’s speculation, but it’s difficult to think of anything in the category of firearms, etc, or any information related to the Dartmouth property must be kept secret, unless it somehow links back to police.

Throughout the documents, the amount, kinds, and calibre of ammunition is redacted, which is simply perplexing. Why can’t we know that? It feels like secrecy simply for secrecy’s sake.

The data sought from the computers in GW’s cars is completely redacted. Likewise, the data sought from laptops, cellphones, and GPS equipment. While redacting the names of innocent people or even of people who are considered suspects in the murders would be appropriate, the blanket redaction of this information suggests something else is at play. Who’s being protected, and why?

Read all of “Here’s what the RCMP doesn’t want you to know about the mass murder investigation” here.

3. Front line workers: cab drivers

Seyed Hashemi. Photo: Suzanne Rent.

Suzanne Rent continues her five-part series on front-line workers. Yesterday, it was nurses. Today, it’s cab drivers.

She focuses on David Buffett, and Seyed Hashemi. Both men say work is way down. Rent writes:

Seyed Hashemi, who drives a cab with Yellow Taxi, says of the 30 to 40 customers he has in a day, most of them talk about COVID-19. Some are scared about the virus, but he says some of those conversations include conspiracies about COVID-19 and what the passenger read on Facebook.

“You hear so much, you get to a point where you filter it,” Hashemi says. “I laugh about it. You don’t want to think about it too much.”

Hashemi has been driving a cab for five years now, first to pay his tuition at Dalhousie where he studied industrial engineering, and now full-time…

He’s noticed the hit in business, too, with bars and restaurants closed, but also there are fewer flights coming in and out of the airport, so that means fewer passengers for those trips, which are typically good fares. With the loss of those good-paying fares, tips are down, too. “Most people are lower income and don’t have a car,” Hashemi says. “People aren’t in a position to tip.”

I love these low-key profiles that give us a glimpse into the everyday routines of people going out there and doing their jobs, and I love the details of the story, like the toll constantly cleaning and disinfecting the cab has taken on Buffett’s hands.

Read all of “Frontline workers: cab drivers” here.

4. Kinsella outlines new plan for police budget cuts

Police Chief Dan Kinsella. Photo: Halifax Examiner

After the Board of Police Commissioners approved a $5.5 million cut to the police budget, council sent the proposal back and asked for a smaller cut of $4.5 million instead.

Now, police chief Dan Kinsella, who said the original proposal would not hurt public safety, has brought forward a plan to deal with the proposed new, smaller cut.

Zane Woodford writes:

Kinsella’s new options would leave fewer positions vacant over the next year.

“With the $4.5 million in reduction proposal, we’re still going to have 19 staffing vacancies. With the ($3.5 million) we’ll still have 12. So that’s better. That gives us more officers to deploy,” he said.

“The takeaway from this is it’s not business as usual and as a result of that we’re not going to be able to fill every position because with either scenario we’re still going to have some vacancies.”

Read all of “Halifax police chief lays out options for smaller budget cuts” here.

5. Halifax starts providing more space for proper distancing on streets

The city has purchased $65,000 worth of pylons, similar to these ones in Washington.

Cities around the world are opening up their streets to non-vehicular traffic, and Halifax is finally joining in.

Last month, council faced much derision over voting for a staff report that would come back in six months with recommendations on whether or not we could safely expand sidewalks and create temporary bike lanes.

Now, Zane Woodford reports:

Halifax has announced it’s widening sidewalks for social distancing on Spring Garden and Quinpool roads as part of the first phase of transportation changes due to COVID-19…

“This plan does a number of things for us,” [Mayor Mike] Savage said.

“First of all, it will help some of our main streets and the businesses on those main streets, particularly in the hospitality area, it will help them to maximize the revenue when they come back. Secondly, it will contribute to physical distancing and increase the capacity of some of these establishments, which I think is important. It’s also going to increase the vibrancy of the city.”

There are other changes too. Read all of “Halifax widening 900 metres of sidewalk on Spring Garden, Quinpool roads” here.

6. Karsten won’t run again

After four terms, councillor Bill Karsten is bowing out.

Zane Woodford writes:

First elected in 2004 to the former District 7 — Portland-East Woodlawn, Karsten won by 123 votes. He ran unopposed and was acclaimed to the same seat in 2008. In 2012, he ran in the new District 3, beating former colleague Jackie Barkhouse by 68 votes. He ran unopposed in 2016 and was acclaimed again.

Karsten is the second incumbent to announce he won’t run in this fall’s municipal election. Coun. Stephen Adams announced in October, 28 years after he was first elected, that he wouldn’t be seeking another term…

Karsten said some in his community knew he wasn’t re-offering and there are prospective candidates considering a run.

Read all of “Halifax regional councillor Bill Karsten announces he won’t run again” here.

7. Multiple forest fires still active

The Springfield fire. Photo posted on Facebook by Jess Lutz from the Ayelsford Volunteer Fire Dept.

Cassidy Chisholm reports for CBC on the forest fires now burning in the province:

The provincial Department of Lands and Forestry had crews and helicopters working alongside local fire departments Monday afternoon and evening to contain blazes in Havre Boucher in Antigonish County, the Springfield area of Kings County, the Argyle area of Yarmouth County and the Grand Mira South area in Cape Breton.

The fire in Havre Boucher, about 40 kilometres east of Antigonish, is considered out of control, according to Lands and Forestry.

Six volunteer fire departments, Lands and Forestry ground crews and two helicopters responded to the fire, which is now about 200 hectares in size.

Meanwhile, the Porters Lake fire is still burning too, though it’s much-reduced. I am sure we will learn more, but it would be interesting to know how many of these fires are in standing forest and how many in clearcuts.


Views

Who will think of the landlords?

Saltwire is running an opinion piece by Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia executive director Kevin Russell.

Russell says landlords are trying to be “responsible players in an economic crisis.”

However, “many rental property owners are feeling forgotten by the governments we support through taxes” and “even worse, some elected officials in Nova Scotia have decided to use our industry as a political punching bag.”

There is nothing like seeing people in privileged classes feeling put-upon by inconvenience and uncertainty.

Last week, CBC Winnipeg gave a platform to landlord Allen Stevens, who complained that he was not allowed to evict tenants who are not paying rent.

Stevens, who describes himself in his LinkedIn profile as a “real estate and stock market investor, property manager, money manager, financier, economist, historian, news junkie, traveller, truth seeker,” told reporter Caroline Barghout:

“I’m barely scraping by as it is. So to take a hit this large … I’m basically going into more debt just to, just to keep going,”

The “hit” is $4,000 in unpaid rent.

Stevens owns 25 properties. What kind of money manager and real estate investor can’t take a $4,000 hit? We had to replace the peat in our septic system last year. It cost about $8,000. I hope someone introduces Stevens to the concept of a line of credit, or having access to reasonable cash flow to run a business.

Meanwhile, in his op-ed, Russell laments that:

“The Nova Scotia government has completely shut down the residential tenancies system until late June. Neither the landlord nor the tenant has an avenue to ensure the rule of law is followed for issues outside of COVID-19.”

In other words, it’s such a shame we cannot evict you during a pandemic.


Noticed

Matthew Herder, director of Dalhousie University’s Health Law Institute.

Last year, I interviewed Matthew Herder for a story in Dal Magazine. Herder is director of Dalhousie’s Health Law Institute, and also teaches in the department of pharmacology.

When I interviewed Herder, he told me a story he said I couldn’t run yet, because it was in a forthcoming paper that had to get published first. The story was about how private-sector involvement screwed up the rollout of an Ebola vaccine.

I meant to get around to writing about this after the paper was published, but, as often happens, I never did. (There is still an index card that says “Ebola vaccine” in Sharpie on the bulletin board behind me as I write this.)

Writing for CBC, health reporter Kelly Crowe says:

Herder’s analysis suggests that Canada’s scientists did most of the technical development work — even generating hundreds of doses of manufactured vaccine — while the private sector allowed the discovery to languish.

The short version of the story is that a public Canadian lab developed the vaccine, but then cut a deal with a private company to commercialize it. The company basically sat on the vaccine, doing nothing, because there wasn’t a lot of demand, until the last Ebola outbreak hit. Then they sold it to Merck and made a pile of cash.

When I interviewed Herder, he did not mince words about the ridiculousness of the ideology that says it’s best to create partnerships with the private sector in order to get lifesaving treatments or vaccines to market. He said:

“For this kind of research, when we know there is not a big market incentive because it’s a disease that primarily affects the world’s poor, why are you doing these kinds of deals? The conventional logic is the public sector needs to partner with the private sector to develop a drug or vaccine because it’s very expensive, and the private sector has the know-how to do that later-stage development. As best we can tell, this is a case where the company did not do that follow-up work.

“They did not do the work but the Canadian government did not cancel the contract… All of the trials were paid for by the public sector. The public sector can do more than it gets credit for. Because the company had done nothing as far as we can tell… There was a three-year period… in which they did nothing.

“And the real amazing thing is through our access to information disclosure, we learned a lot about how much the public sector did.”

He added that this “case study calls into question the logic of doing these deals, especially where there is no market incentive.”

Herder was on CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition last weekend.

It’s a great interview, that offers a lot to think about, but one of Herder’s main messages, in the context of the current pandemic, is that we need to rethink the incentive system for developing vaccines:

Herder believes that the existing incentive model, which relies on intellectual property and patent rights to encourage researchers and companies to develop a drug or vaccine, is itself part of the problem.

“You need incentives in place to ensure that people are motivated to take up the challenge of developing something. But I would really caution that the incentives we’ve long relied upon by patents are part of what’s gotten us into this problem,” he said.

“Patent rights don’t correspond to public health needs. They correspond to things that you can get predictable returns in the marketplace for.”…

But Herder believes the COVID-19 vaccine research currently underway has relied on that same model of commercializing scientific discoveries.

“I think what you’re seeing is essentially a reproduction of the status quo. People are saying we have to work with these big multinationals. They’re the ones with the capacity,” he said. “And while it is true that we need lots of infrastructure, and producing a vaccine on this scale is going to require a massive amount of resources, going with the status quo is how we got into this situation in the first place.”

The latest episode of the Citations Needed podcast (not to be confused with the Citation Needed podcast) discusses the Ebola vaccine case too, in the context of the notion that free markets drive innovation. The episode asks:

How is it that the most important metrics of “innovation” are consumer goods available to some, rather than socialized, need-based programs available to all?…

On this episode, we delve into these questions, looking at how the United States — the world’s foremost champion of capitalism — packages propaganda about its alleged innovation; the reasons capitalism not only fails to drive innovation, but also actively destroys it.

It’s worth a listen, and afterwards you will never stop noticing how ubiquitous equating smartphones with innovation is.


Government

City

Tuesday

Special Budget Committee (Tuesday, 10am) — virtual meeting, agenda here.

Special Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 1pm) — virtual meeting, agenda here.

Wednesday

Special North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm) — teleconference, agenda here.

Province

Tuesday

Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am) — teleconference: Agencies, board and commission appointments


In the harbour

00:30: George Washington Bridge sails for New York
04:30: CMA CGM Pelleas, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Tanger Med, Morocco
08:30: AS Federica, container ship, sails from Pier 34 for sea
10:00: Maersk Mobiliser, supply ship, sails from Pier 9 for sea
19:00: CMA CGM Pelleas sails for sea


Footnotes

Looks like Zane Woodford wrote, uh, four stories yesterday. And here I was feeling good about getting one written. I don’t have a background as a daily reporter, and, honestly, I have no idea how they do it.

Anyway, my story, up later today, is on a topic that lent itself to an awful lot of punning at the virtual Examiner headquarters. I’ll just say I’m hoping it has a shot at a poo-litzer prize.

Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. Will Karsten take all the great umbrage with him or finally leave some for someone else?