News

1. Phase 5 delayed

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Keep your shirt mask on, Nova Scotia.

At the last minute, the province has pushed back the final phase of its reopening plan, which was originally slated to start today and would have seen the lifting of nearly all pandemic-related public health restrictions, such as mask mandates and gathering limits. The province announced the new date for this Phase 5 is now Oct. 4.

That’s the same date Nova Scotia’s “proof of vaccination” policy comes into effect for attending all non-essential events (bars, gyms, etc.). Part of the decision to delay, Dr. Strang said at the briefing, was to ensure that the province had its “proof of vaccination” policy ready to implement. Among the things to consider: what businesses should be required to have a “proof of vaccine” policy, how to ensure the unvaccinated have access to essential services, what’s the process for people who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons, and so on.

Another factor in the decision to delay is a large COVID outbreak in the Northfield area and a lesser outbreak around Halifax.

The Department of Health has said “there is a large cluster of linked cases in a defined group in Nova Scotia Health’s Northern Zone. Most of the group is unvaccinated, so more cases are expected.” At yesterday’s COVID briefing, Strang wouldn’t name the community, but said they are cooperating with Public Health. Two members of the Mennonite community in Northfield spoke with the Examiner anonymously, confirming that many in that community have contracted COVID (though many have also recovered).

Health Minister Michelle Thompson and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Strang at the COVID briefing, September 14, 2021. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

As for the numbers from Tuesday, there are now 173 known active COVID cases in Nova Scotia after 66 new cases were announced yesterday (61 in the Northern Zone, five in the Central Zone). Four people are in hospital with the virus, but there are none in ICU. Of the new cases, 32 are people under the age of 19. According to Dr. Strang, none of those cases are school-related.

As of end of day Tuesday, 72.7% of Nova Scotia’s entire population has received two doses of the vaccine, meaning 14,300 people still need to be fully vaccinated in order to reach the 75% benchmark. Originally, the province planned to move ahead with Phase 5 of reopening once we hit this number, but Dr. Strang said yesterday that the vaccination numbers are not the reason for the delay. He’s confident that the province will reach the number soon, based on the appointments currently booked in the system.

Tim Bousquet has the full breakdown of the numbers and current case demographics in his COVID report from Tuesday. Bousquet also quotes Dr. Strang at length discussing the details of the upcoming “proof of vaccine” policy, and includes more info on vaccination numbers, testing locations, and potential exposure advisories.

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2. New revisions to HRM road design guidelines get first approval, despite questions from council

Drivers pass by a traffic-calming island on Colby Drive in Cole Harbour, N.S. in April 2020. Photo: Zane Woodford

What goes into designing a road? If you want slower streets that are more friendly to bikers and pedestrians, how wide should you design driving lanes? Where should you put crosswalks and speed bumps? And just what is a chicane and how is it supposed to make travel safer?

That’s what Halifax regional council was looking at yesterday, as Zane Woodford reports:

Agreeing they were better than the status quo, Halifax regional councillors voted in favour of a set of new road design guidelines despite some concerns about the specifics.

Municipal staff presented long-awaited revisions to the Municipal Design Guidelines, generally referred to as the Red Book, to council’s committee of the whole on Tuesday.

The guidelines govern the dimensions and geometry of new roads, sidewalks and other infrastructure in HRM, and this is the first time they’ve been updated since 2013. The revisions have been sorely needed.

Following the adoption of the pedestrian, bike and transit-focused Integrated Mobility Plan in 2017, council asked for the Red Book updates to start building roads in the municipality to match that philosophy. In the meantime, sprawl developers continued to build roads to the outdated standards in the existing rules.

To find out what questions council had, what staff reports they asked for, and to see just what changes could be coming to the Municipal Design Guidelines, check out Woodford’s full article here.

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3. Woodford Report: all the council news you need to know from Tuesday

Halifax City Hall in June 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

If you thought Zane Woodford was just going to report on one story from council yesterday, then you don’t know Zane Woodford.

Here’s what else Halifax regional council got up to on Tuesday.

First, let’s look at the Cogswell interchange — something we thankfully won’t have to look at much longer.

The Cogswell interchange is shown in a 2015 long-exposure photo. Photo: Zane Woodford
  • Council has voted to award Dexter Construction with the $95.7-million contract to demolish the downtown corridor and realign the street grid. Last week the Examiner reported that the project is now $27.4 million over budget due to “the influence of inflation and higher construction costs since the time of the original project estimate.” A recent staff report to council did not deem this cause for concern, and demolition is now tentatively scheduled for January.
  • There are new rules regarding booting, the previously unregulated practice of immobilizing vehicles on private lots. Council voted to approve modified rules for the practice, such as requirements for clear, visible signage in parking lots, with a phone number and the cost to have a boot removed.
  • Halifax’s city clerk said the municipality isn’t equipped to investigate breaches of the campaign finance bylaw or fine candidates found to be in contravention. He said they threatened a few late-filing candidates with police action, but they eventually got all the forms. At its last meeting, council received an information report that seemed to show a history of campaign compliance with the by-law. The picture of compliance seems dubious though.
  • Read more about the clerk’s response, the new rules regarding booting, and just what’s coming to the area the Cogswell interchange currently occupies by heading to Woodford’s full council report here.

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4. NS Firefighters School pleads guilty to charges related to training exercise death

The NS Firefighters School crest. Photo: fireschool.ca

This piece is written by Jennifer Henderson.

The Nova Scotia Firefighters School in Waverley has pleaded guilty to two charges related to the death of 28-year-old Skyler Blackie back in March 2019.

Blackie, a popular member of the Truro Fire department and organizer for several charity events, died after a fire extinguisher exploded during a training exercise. He was hospitalized with traumatic head injuries and died in hospital 11 days later.

An investigation by the Department of Labour — which will not be released publicly until the court case concludes sometime next year — led to two charges of negligence under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The Firefighters School is charged with one count of failing to ensure its employees were familiar with the hazard of using a fire extinguisher that had an expired inspection certificate. A second count accuses the school of failing to make sure their equipment was re-certified according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Skyler Blackie. Photo: Facebook

The Firefighters School is registered as a non-profit organization. It has a Board of Directors with representatives from each county as well as from the Fire Marshall’s Office. It has taken more than two years for the School to enter a guilty plea; charges were laid last November.

The next step is for Judge Brian Williston to determine an appropriate sentence or penalty. The lawyers are back in court next January (nearly three years since the firefighter’s death) to present their recommendations and to hear victim impact statements. Skylar Blackie’s mother, sister, and brother were present on the telephone during Tuesday’s brief court proceeding.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the maximum fine for an employer found responsible for a fatality on their watch is $500,000. Sentencing recommendations often include some type of community service.

In another case involving a workplace fatality, Supreme Court Justice John Bodurtha increased the fine from $27,250 to $67,500 that garage owner Elie Hoyeck must pay. Hoyeck had been cited for repeated safety violations before being charged with negligence involving the death of his mechanic, Peter Kempton. Hoyeck was also ordered to provide 100 hours of community service. Bodhurtha’s decision last May followed an appeal of the earlier sentence imposed by Judge Elizabeth Buckle.

“I find this is a demonstrably unfit sentence for an offender whose ‘reckless disregard or deliberate indifference to legislative safety measures’ resulted in the death of his employee,” Bodurtha wrote in his decision dated May 21.

The case involving the Firefighters’ School will be back in court January 24, 2022.

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Views

1. The reopening carrot

A mandatory mask pandemic sign in HRM in June, 2021. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

I can’t say I actually expected us to enter Phase 5 today. Between the slowing vaccination rates over the last month, and the surge of the Delta variant and the threat of the fourth wave around the country, I didn’t hold my breath when they announced the Sept. 15 reopening date.

We’ve been through so many restriction changes, I figured I’d just go with the flow and try not to needlessly add to my own pandemic fatigue with false hope.

Then this weekend I took a trip to Newfoundland, where the mask mandate has been gone since August. Most people still wore them, and I did too for the most part. But I can’t tell you what a relief — what a small, treasured joy — it was when I was out for dinner with friends, and I didn’t have to scramble to find a mask when I felt the need to use the bathroom. Those few saved seconds of stress were all the difference.

There were times during this pandemic, when I was walking around town, or out for drinks, and felt nature call, but couldn’t find my mask. At those times I found myself debating if it was more socially acceptable to run for a bathroom without a face covering, or to just wet my pants and keep my germs to myself. I’ve luckily never reached the point where I had to make that Sophie’s choice in real life, but the threat has weighed on the back of my mind for over a year now.

I admit, that little taste of freedom in St. John’s got me pretty excited for Phase 5. It really is the little things, isn’t it?

But if delaying until October means preventing a fourth lockdown, I’m willing to wait and scramble for my mask each time my incredibly weak bladder beckons.

We’ll get there. Until then, be safe and get vaccinated.

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2. Farm stands

A laminated message at a flower stand in the Gaspereau Valley. Cash thefts have recently threatened the honour system transactions of Annapolis Valley roadside stands. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

“Are we seeing the end of the small fruit and veggie stand?” asks longtime Valley reporter and current Wolfville town councillor Wendy Elliot in an opinion piece for yesterday’s Valley Journal Advertiser.

Apparently there’s a rural crime wave going on around the Gaspereau Valley. Thieves have been taking advantage of the honour system these stands run on, taking off with the cash boxes that farmers leave unmanned.

Elliot writes that the Anderson family farm on Gaspereau River Road now only operates their corn stand when staff are present. Another local farmer, Terry Corkum, has closed his stand entirely because of thefts.

There’s a small farm stand near a popular swimming spot where I get my eggs sometimes. They’ve just installed a lockbox for cash payments. That’s after teenager recently stole their last cash box, Elliot writes. How do they know it’s a teen? After someone stole over $200 worth of meat from their fridges last summer, the farm installed a security camera as a precaution.

How depressing is that? A security camera at a farm stand. The deaths of privacy and trust have officially reached the sticks.

A new locked cash box at Dabro Farms in Gaspereau where I often pick up my eggs. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

Some love the self-checkout at stores because they can scan their items and pay while avoiding 30 seconds of small talk. Others hate self-checkout because it’s just one more bit of dehumanizing technology to deal with in our day-to-day life. The farm stand is the perfect balance of both: the last safe shopping haven for the misanthropic technophobe, where the customer deals with neither man nor machine. There is only the direct line between the (deliciously fresh) produce and the customer.

I don’t know who these people are out there potentially ruining this perfect arrangement, but please stop.

Cashiers aren’t the only middlemen being cut out in the farm stand system. As Elliot points out, farmers use these stands to cut costs by selling some of their goods directly to consumers. It’s pretty shameful to see small business owners in my area taken advantage of for using an honour system to cut costs. But the money isn’t the only loss.

“The stands are not only a way for small farms to survive,” Elliot writes. “They are a part of the tourist mosaic that has made rural Nova Scotia a travel attraction.”

Although I hate the phrase “tourist mosaic,” it’s true. Roadside stands attract a number of Haligonians and out-of-province tourists each summer. City people like quaint things when they take a ride to the country, and buying corn from a barrel on the side of the road and paying for it by dropping a few coins in a jar is as quaint as it gets. If farmers can no longer afford to operate on the honour system, the Valley will lose a small part of the rural charm that draws people here. These stands are a sign of the small-town sense of community and neighbourly trust that I grew up with. I hate to see that all eroded by acts like these.

More importantly, if these stands can’t continue to run this way, us locals won’t have as easy a time getting the freshest produce from our own backyard while also supporting our community farmers directly.

Most importantly of course, these small crimes hurt the farmers who run these stands. These are small business owners, many of whom are running a farm that’s been in their family for generations, working seemingly non-stop to eke it out and provide food for the local community. To think they might not be able to trust that community anymore is a bit heartbreaking. Here’s Gaspereau farmer John Stewart, quoted in Elliot’s article:

“We are all familiar with city folks coming to pick strawberries, apples and do the back roads for fruit stands.”

He added: “Every week, many people at the stand say to me, ‘we love stopping by your stand and isn’t it wonderful you can do this with the honour system.’ They don’t know the cost of honour.’”

According to Stewart, most farm stands in Southern Ontario have done away with the honour system and added locks to their stands. Maybe we’re headed for the same. Or maybe this is just a little flare-up that’ll go away. I hope so. These are my neighbours after all. (Also, selfishly, I don’t want to have to wait for the Saturday market to get my eggs).

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Noticed

On Tuesday, fellow Morning Filer Suzanne Rent shared a 1960 tourist map of Nova Scotia from the provincial archives. The map was illustrated with landmarks, activities, and industries from different areas around the province — the lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove, mines in Inverness, etc.

Rent noted that the no-longer-existent race track, Sackville Downs, represented her hometown, and asked the following question: “What would a similar tourist map for 2021 look like? It would likely have more wineries and breweries, and I hope much more diversity.”

I thought I’d look at my neck of the woods today in relation to the 1960 map. Here in the Valley, there’d definitely be more wineries, I agree.

But the change would be minimal.

Here’s a close up of my part of King’s County on the 1960 map:

A closeup of eastern Kings County from a 1960 tourist map of Nova Scotia. Photo: NS Archives

And here’s that same area, in non-cartoon format, today:

Some things change pretty slowly in rural Nova Scotia. Although the statue and church had some work done over the past year and are only now back in their prime glory, scaffolding-free. In fact, the statue’s only recently been returned to its pedestal, which needed a fair bit of refurbishing done. They’re looking pretty good these days, if this picture’s any indication.

Perhaps the biggest change to the area is how desperately we need the Acadians back to rebuild the dykes that kept the highest tides in the world at bay and made the farmland here so fertile. The deportation of 1755 was incredibly cruel and inhumane. Turns out it was shortsighted, too.

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Government

City

Wednesday

Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am) — via YouTube

Halifax Regional Council (Wednesday, 1pm) — if required

Thursday

Youth Advisory Committee (Thursday, 5pm) — via YouTube

Province

No meetings this week


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

No events

Thursday

Sexualized Violence Informational Panel (Thursday, 1pm) — online panel discussion and Q&A


In the harbour

Halifax
05:00: Atlantic Sun, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
10:00: Island Champion, offshore supply ship, sails from anchorage for sea
13:00: Evros, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from IJmuiden, Netherlands
15:00: Horizon Arctic, offshore supply ship, sails from Dartmouth Cove for sea
15:30: Atlantic Sun sails for New York
16:30: MSC Rochelle, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for sea
17:00: John J. Carrick, barge, and Leo A. McArthur, tug, arrive at McAsphalt from Saint John

Cape Breton
13:00: Viktoria Viking, fish carrier, sails from CME (Sydney) for sea
15:00: Seavelvet, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
21:00: Rt Hon Paul E Martin, bulker, arrives at Canso anchorage from Baltimore


Footnotes

  • I know that the Wolfville Food Bank, which services Gaspereau and other surrounding areas, has an embarrassingly large clientele list for being located not only in the bread basket of the province, but in one of the most economically prosperous areas of the Annapolis Valley. (Full disclosure, I volunteer at that food bank occasionally). I can’t assume these farm stand thefts are just petty crimes being perpetrated by people trying to take advantage of the honour system. It might be though. Either way, I’d just like to point out that even here in farmland, far too many families experience food insecurity.
  • I’m not much of a photographer, but this one didn’t turn out half bad. For your further consideration…

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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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