News

1. Councillors consider property tax rebate for non-profits providing affordable housing

A conceptual rendering shows Adsum’s plans for Greenhead Road in Lakeside.

Zane Woodford reports on yesterday’s meeting of the Council Budget Committee, where one of the key issues discussed was increasing property tax relief for non-profits that provide affordable housing.

Staff recommended that council “increase non-profit tax rebate for affordable housing from 25% to 50% starting in fiscal 21/22.” Woodford writes:

“This would be an ongoing expense and we would have to build that into the budget each year going forward,” chief financial officer Jane Fraser told council on Wednesday.

In September, council voted in favour of staff-recommended amendments that make it easier for non-profits to maintain their tax relief. They’ll no longer have to complete a full application every year.

More certainty in the level of tax relief for housing non-profits would not only free up more money for them to provide more housing or squirrel away rainy day funds, but could also provide more confidence for potential lenders, including the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Considering the relatively small amount of tax revenue the municipality would be foregoing and our housing crisis, this one seems like it ought to be a no-brainer..

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2. One new case, two instances of a variant, plus a new vaccine trial

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Tim Bousquet reports on the latest COVID-19 numbers: one new case announced yesterday, nine active cases in the province, more than 20,000 vaccine doses administered.

Last night, Public Health announced there have been two more COVID cases that are of the variant strains:

Two additional cases of the UK variant of COVID-19 have been identified in Nova Scotia.  The cases were initially reported last month and their samples sent for variant testing at that time.

The National Microbiology Lab identified the two cases today, Feb. 10. Both were tested in January and reported in the Central Zone. They isolated and recovered. The initial investigation did not determine a source for the infections but it now has been reopened. The two cases and their close contacts will be reinterviewed.

“With this new information we are being cautious. We are asking the people connected to these cases to get retested and NSHA will reissue the potential exposure notice for the two cases,” said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health. “Our strategy of testing, identifying cases and moving quickly when needed is working to keep our active cases low.”

This brings the total number of cases in Nova Scotia involving the UK variant, to three. The lab also previously confirmed a case of the South African variant, tested in December.

And Canadian Press reporters Cassandra Szklarski and Michael Tutton note that Phase 1 clinical trials are starting in Halifax for a new vaccine candidate developed at the University of Saskatchewan. Unlike the currently approved mRNA vaccines, this one is what’s called a subunit vaccine. From the story:

Subunit vaccines contain purified viral proteins that are not infectious, and employ technology already used in vaccines for hepatitis, diphtheria and whooping cough.

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3. When a drop in cancer diagnoses is bad news

Dartmouth General Hospital, photo: Nova Scotia Health Authority

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Yvette d’Entremont has an interesting story on how the pandemic is affecting cancer diagnoses.

The people d’Entremont interviews point to two related phenomena: a drop in cancer diagnoses over the past year, and more patients presenting with late-stage cancer.

The two issues are related, as people either avoid hospitals for fear of infection, or don’t have access to screening programs that have slowed down because of the pandemic. This, in turn, leads to cancers not being diagnosed as early as they otherwise would be.

d’Entremont writes:

New diagnoses of bladder and ovarian cancers are down by more than 25%, while breast cancer diagnoses have dropped 19%. Diagnoses of prostate cancer dropped by 18%, lung cancer by 16%, and colorectal cancer by 12%.

“It’s not that there’s actually less cancers. We know that they’re out there, patients are just not presenting with symptoms,” [medical oncologist Stephanie] Snow said. “Cancer hasn’t gone away just because we have COVID.”…

During a recent discussion with her colleagues, she said they all noted while they “hardly ever see” Stage 3 lung cancer patients anymore, they’re seeing far more patients presenting with Stage 4 lung cancer.

“Generally Stage 4 lung cancer is not curable, and so we’re wondering if these were the Stage 3s that were out there kind of brewing at the beginning of the pandemic,” she said.

There is a lot more to the story, and I encourage you to read the whole thing.

Last year, I interviewed a doctor who works primarily in Indigenous communities in northern Ontario, and he said many patients hesitated to be taken to Thunder Bay for testing or treatment, for fear of contracting COVID-19 at the hospital. And while he completely understood that, he and his colleagues were more worried about the effects of delaying testing and treatment. I figure at this point, a hospital — particularly in Atlantic Canada — has got to be relatively safe.

d’Entremont quotes Snow on this issue:

Hospital settings, she stressed, have strict processes in place. She described them as a “very tightly run bubble” with extra screening, cleaning, and appropriate use of personal protective equipment to protect a population of patients considered at higher risk for serious complications should they contract the virus.

“It’s not dangerous to come see us,” Snow said. “If for some reason you had a routine follow-up, or a screen cancelled initially during COVID, please be in touch with us again now and we will get that re-booked.”

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4. Homecare overhaul on the way

Province House. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

Jennifer Henderson reports that the province is promising to overhaul the homecare system, giving clients more leeway to choose their providers.

She writes:

The auditor-general was concerned the province had not set clear performance standards or accountability procedures for some 20 agencies contracted by the province to deliver personal care, housekeeping, and meal support to people living at home. Today Deputy Health Minister Dr. Kevin Orrell acknowledged work is underway to follow through on that recommendation but it still has not been completed…

More than 17,000 Nova Scotians rely on homecare supports that are delivered by 20 agencies contracted by the Nova Scotia Health Authority. The province spends about $260 million a year and the wait list for service is growing as the population gets older and nursing home space is at a premium.

Asked about that wait list and wait times, Deputy Health Minister Dr. Kevin Orrell* said he wouldn’t share that information.

Henderson writes about increased budgets, how the pandemic has affected the delivery of homecare services–lots of interesting stuff. And she writes about the key change to the system the government is considering:

But the sea-change the government is considering is giving people receiving homecare services a set amount of money to spend as they choose, whether it is for nursing care, showers, foot care, meals, or housekeeping help.

“We are looking at redesign of homecare and HANS (Health Association of Nova Scotia) has been given money to come up with a plan,” said [Deputy Health Minister Dr. Kevin] Orrell. “The ability to reduce wait times will be similar to what we have initiated during COVID to try and keep people at home. We want to create a system that is more flexible than it is now, it would be client-centred. Funding would be direct and allow people to seek some of the services themselves, so this would open up homecare to competition and increase the number of providers.”

[Senior executive director of Continuing Care for the Department of Health Vicki] Lopez-Elliott noted clients could be given a pre-approved list of suppliers to choose from and agencies which provide homecare services are already permitted to sub-contract. Exciting as this sounds, neither Elliott-Lopez nor Orrell were able to provide any estimated time-line for when a new-and-improved homecare system might be ready. Hopefully it will happen faster than changes to long-term care which have been discussed for more than 10 years. By 2030, one quarter of the people in Nova Scotia will be age 65 and over.

I love that classic little bit of trademark understated Henderson snark.

* as originally published, we mis-identified Orrell.

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5. Andre Fenton

Andre Fenton. Photo: Jack Scrine

Episode #17 of The Tideline, with Tara Thorne is published.

Author, poet, and filmmaker Andre Fenton drops by the show to talk inspiring youth, his writing process — outlines! nighttime! — and his various works including Annaka, a magic realist African Nova Scotian drama set in Yarmouth. Plus: HEIST tunes in some fantastical Frequencies, and a love song from Braden Lam.

This episode is available today only for premium subscribers; to become a premium subscriber, click here, and join the select group of arts and entertainment supporters for just $5/month. Everyone else will have to wait until tomorrow to listen to it.

Please subscribe to The Tideline.

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6.  Venture capital as a tool for gender equality

Over at CBC, Michael Gorman writes about Sandpiper Ventures, the woman-run venture capital fund Premier Stephen McNeil announced last week would be getting $5 million in provincial funding.

This past Monday, Tim Bousquet wrote  a piece called “The problem with giving public money to Sandpiper Ventures”, in which he pointed out that providing venture capital to a group of well-off and highly connected women to fund projects that may have little or no benefit to Nova Scotians may not be the best approach to supporting women, many of whom are reaching a breaking point.

Bousquet wrote:

I have the same general questions about the angel investor racket: their goal is financial success. There’s no particular goal of hiring a lot of people, or paying them well. It’s just financial return to the company and the angel investment org. I guess some of the new wealth is supposed to trickle down upon we mere proles, but I’ve been hearing that line for 40 years, and we proles keep getting poorer and poorer.

And don’t get me started on how the Risleys and other venture capitalists preach the merits of bootstraps and the free market while taking government money at every opportunity.

What really ticked me off, however, was how McNeil couched the $5 million gift of public money to the non-profit but privately held Sandpiper as support for women. There’s something just so smarmy about that, it rankles.

In his CBC piece, Gorman doesn’t get into editorializing (that’s not his job), instead doing a straight-up interview with Rhiannon Davies, one of Sandpiper’s founders. Gorman starts off by quoting McNeil on the effects the pandemic has had on women in Nova Scotia:

“They not only lost their jobs, but they had a very hard time getting back into the workforce, let alone finding a well-paying job,” he said.

Then, he talks to Davies:

“The need is really in women-led companies because there are a lot of inherent biases related to this sort of old boys network that’s associated with venture capital at the moment,” she said in an interview.

“So we’re trying to look at it from a diversity perspective, an intersectional diversity perspective and investing in companies that have a woman in a leadership position. And it can’t be a token leadership position; she needs to also have equitable ownership in the company.”

The story also notes that the companies the fund invests in do not have to be in Nova Scotia.

On Twitter, Fairview Clayton Park NDP candidate Joanne Hussey was not impressed. She wrote:

Ok @MichaelTGorman, I know you’re smarter than this. It is entirely disingenuous to make any connection between this $5 million to a venture capital firm & the impact #COVID19 has had on women in Nova Scotia.

Women who lost their jobs were mostly in sectors with low pay. To say gov is addressing that through a venture capital fund is to put all your money on thoroughly debunked trickle-down economics…

Venture capital is a foreign language when what you need is higher wages, paid sick days & affordable #childcare

I’d argue that Gorman is not making that connection, the premier is. But it did surprise me to not see any other voices in the story.

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Views

1. A case study in what not to do for Black History Month

Durham Region Black History Month Challenge, week 1.

Yesterday, I noticed Dr. OmiSoore Dryden shared a Desmond Cole tweet featuring the above graphic. Cole wrote, in part: “this what we’re doing in 2021?”

The image is from the Region of Durham, east of Toronto. Where to even begin, when it comes to all the things wrong with this? Dancing to a reggae song? Learning basic African geography? Cooking a meal?

But surely the worst of these is “Have a conversation with a Black employee.” Can you imagine being a Black employee approached all day long by your white colleagues so they can talk to you in order to fill out their scavenger hunt card?

A CTV story quotes Celina Caesar-Chavannes, the former Liberal MP for the region:

“I think it’s very unfortunate that the region of Durham not only decided to trivialize Blackness through this game or scavenger hunt, but didn’t even have the decency to apologize to Black communities for what they’ve done,” she said.

“This is the problem when you do not have representatives from communities within your region, within your staff component, and you put something out that is so offensive, so juvenile, so insulting to the Black community. It does nothing to advance anti-Black racism, because you have no concept of what anti-Black racism is.”

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Noticed

Look at the map before you complain to the wrong person about snow-clearing.

Since we are likely to have at least one more significant snowfall before winter is over, I thought I’d share this map showing who is responsible for clearing which street and roads, and which roads fall into Priority 1 and Priority 2 category for the municipality.

I understand the map isn’t new, but I only heard about it recently, when it was posted to a local Facebook group. (Residents had snow-clearing questions and the local MLA and councillor  patiently answered a lot of them, and then finally someone shared this map.

I’d only ever thought of municipal and provincial responsibilities in terms of snow clearing, but the federal government is responsible for some spots (the roads on Citadel Hill), others fall to DND, and then there are the routes that fall to the Bridge Commission and Halifax International Airport Authority.

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Government

City

Thursday

Appeals Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am) — virtual meeting; no dial-in or live broadcast

Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm) — live broadcast of audio and Power Point presentations

Regional Watersheds Advisory Board (Thursday, 5pm) — virtual meeting; no dial-in or live broadcast

Friday

Budget Committee (Friday, 9:30am) — contingency date; time subject to change, location to be determined

Province

No public meetings.


On campus

Dalhousie

Thursday

Endomembrane pH Dysregulation and Neurodevelopmental Disorders(Thursday, 12pm) — John Orlowski from McGill University will talk via MS Teams.

Global Health Journal Club (Thursday, 12pm) — Megan Aston will facilitate this virtual event, titled “Challenges and Opportunities from COVID-19 for Global Sustainable Development.”

Learning, learning, learning: the three stages of my career (todate) as a neuroscientist (Thursday, 1pm) — Sarah Kraeutner from the University of British Columbia will talk.

Panel Discussion on Fitting African Centred Perspectives into Social Work Practice (Thursday, 5:30pm) — via Collaborate Webinars, with Charnell Brooks, Zelda Hippolyte, David Archer, Nwanneka Ejiofor, and Barbara Roberts; moderated by Robert Seymour Wright.

N’in D’La Owey Innklan: Mi’kmaq Sojourns in England (Thursday, 7pm) — virtual launch of Bonita Lawrence’s novel, with guests Marie Battiste, Hannah Beaulieu, Sean Hillier, and Cathy Martin.

Friday

Between the Garrison and the Plantation: Medicine on the Move, 1763-1815 (Friday, 3:30) — Claire Gherini from Fordham University will present this Stokes Seminar via MS Teams. Email for invitation link and paper

I was curious about this description, so I looked up Gherini’s faculty page at Fordham, and her work sounds super-interesting. It looks like she gave a version of this talk, or similar talk, in November called “Slavery’s Medicine: Making Medical Knowledge from the Garrison to the Plantation in the British Caribbean, 1763-1807” at a UCLA history of science colloquium.  She’s written a fair bit about the history of smallpox inoculation, and I have to say I am intrigued by papers with titles like, “Old Sharper’s Cure: Thomas Thistlewood, Venereal Disease and the Social Relations of Healing in Eighteenth-Century Plantation Jamaica.”

Saint Mary’s

Thursday

International Day of Women and Girls in Science (Thursday, 2pm) — a Zoom session with Jessica Campbell, Defence Scientist with Defence Research and Development Canada.

Friday

Mapping the Census (Friday, 10am) — Zoom session on how use data mapping tools to look for spatial patterns in your census data

Tammy Williams. Photo: LinkedIn

Decolonizing Education with Indigenous Traditional Knowledge (Friday, 12pm) — online event with Tammy Williams, Adult Learning Program coordinator at the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre

Another really interesting-sounding event. How great that we can attend these things online? Natasha Pace at Global wrote about Williams back in 2017.

Angela Davis. Photo: handout

We Are Still Here. Remembering. Reaffirming. Resilience (Friday, 7pm) — keynote address and moderated discussion with Angela Davis to commemorate African Heritage Month at Saint Mary’s; Zoom registration here

I would say this falls into the “do not miss” category.


In the harbour

10:00: MOL Mission, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
10:30: Dalian Express, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
11:30: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 41 to Autoport
14:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
16:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves back to Pier 41


Footnotes

I’ve noticed that the sun is shining through my office window and right into my eyes in the morning. That hasn’t happened in several months, and it is a pleasant sign of longer and warmer days ahead.

Also, the Australian Baseball League playoffs run til Sunday (games on YouTube) and Perth opened things up with a bang, winning their game yesterday 26-6.

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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. You might want to correct this sentence in the home care overhaul story (Section 4 above):

    “Asked about that wait list and wait times, MLA Susan Leblanc said she wouldn’t share that information.”

    In fact, it was Ms. Leblanc who was asking about wait times and deputy health minister Dr. Kevin Orrell who declined to share the information, as Jennifer Henderson reported.

  2. The venture capital fund is the last fuck you from Stephen MacNeli’s contemptible neoliberalism ineptly disguised as feminist emancipation from the old boys network.

    Rich, well connected women need taxpayer money for their investment schemes? Please.

    1. It would do more for women if that money were just given to low income men who live with women (for example). It is so tiresome to see everything fit onto the procrustean bed of “oppressor class vs. oppressed class” over and over.

    2. I love how the partner in the CBC article sees a bunch of white, wealthy, well-connected women as a challenge to the “old boys network.” They are probably spouses or relatives of that very same network. The old women’s network is no less harmful to women who really need financial and other support, spouting lean in wisdom about hard work and sacrifice while having all the resources to outsource childcare and housework. I am sure their first investments will be in startups that are already eligible for easy capital from banks, institutions and individuals.

  3. Thank you for sharing the map for snow clearing. Funny thing, though, is that there are portions of the Priority 1 roads that I walked along before reading today’s morning file that are still not cleared to what I would consider to be an acceptable minimum standard.

    Perhaps the councilors for the areas (I live in District 6, but the places I went are in District 5) would like to go with me as I go from Leaman Drive to Farrell Hall (via Albro), back to Wyse (area by Sobey’s is especially bad) so I can catch the sales at No Frills (for a neighbor who can’t currently get out) and then back to mine, mainly along Victoria Road. I challenge whichever one is responsible for the beg button at the corner of Albro & Wyse (the side with the even numbers) to scramble up and down the snowbank to reach it (I didn’t – I jaywalked). Are you up for that Sam & Tony?

    The standards need to change if this is what Priority 1 sidewalks should look like 72 hours after the end of a storm.