News

1. COVID update: New restrictions, limits on testing

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

Sorry to lead things off with pandemic news, but I think it’s merited.

At Tuesday’s COVID briefing, Premier Tim Houston and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Strang announced more restrictions. Tim Bousquet had the full update.

They come as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads through the province. For the holiday season, the new gathering limit will likely affect what plans still stand for Nova Scotians. Groups are now limited to 10 without masks and the province is asking Nova Scotians to keep these social circles consistent.

Also affecting the holiday season, rules for visitors and residents of long-term care facilities are tightening. And faith services are limited to 25% capacity with a cap of 50. Choirs and congregational singing won’t be permitted, so no need for hymnals this Christmas Eve. You can read the full list of new restrictions here.

Beyond public health restrictions, Dr. Strang also said Wednesday there will be limits on testing going forward.

Rapid tests will no longer be widely available to asymptomatic people. The libraries have already mostly run out of the rapid tests, and they will not be resupplied. Nor will the pop-up testing centres continue.

There will be new testing protocols effective December 27. PCR testing will only be available to people who have symptoms and are in any of the following categories:

  • are close contacts
  • are at an increased risk for severe disease
  • live in congregate living settings
  • are integral to the health care system

Rapid tests will continue to be given out to those who don’t meet the above criteria. But those who get a positive rapid test result will no longer be given a follow-up PCR test; instead it will be assumed they have COVID.

Strang said there’ve been recent reports of physical and verbal abuse at testing and distribution sites, with some people going so far as stealing take-home test kits. He addressed the reports yesterday, calling this behaviour “unacceptable.”

As for the numbers — if you’d like to take Philip Moscovitch’s advice from yesterday, and ignore the data for a while, skip ahead a little — the province continues on its current trend: 522 new COVID cases announced Tuesday. Here’s the breakdown by Nova Scotia Health zone:

  • 382 Central
  • 59 Eastern
  • 38 Northern
  • 43 Western

Ten people are in hospital, three whom are in intensive care. There are also reports of outbreaks in two hospitals — the Halifax Infirmary and St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish — though fewer than five patients have tested positive at both locations.

Public Health is backlogged in its data gathering, so the full active caseload for the province isn’t clear right now.

There was quite a bit of news on the COVID front in Nova Scotia yesterday. If you’d like to get the full picture, and see how the holidays might look this year, read Tim Bousquet’s full report from Tuesday.

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2. COVID news may have you red, but province is in the green

Province House in June 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

It wasn’t all bad news from the province Tuesday.

When the provincial budget came down nine months ago, Stephen McNeil’s government had forecast a deficit of nearly $600 million for March 2022. Now, about three months away from that date, Finance and Treasury Board officials say the province is now expecting a surplus of $108 million. I won’t make you do math in the morning: that’s a nearly $700 million swing.

So what accounts for this massive misestimation?

As Jennifer Henderson reports, there are a number of reasons. 

Though major employers in areas like tourism, recreation, and arts and culture continue to be hit hard by the pandemic, Nova Scotia’s economy is growing again. Nova Scotians continued to work and spend money at a rate that economists failed to predict. And increased population, increased wages, increases in personal and corporate income tax, as well as the HST that applied to record-setting sales of Nova Scotia real estate all led to the province collecting $1 billion more in revenue than was expected.

The reasons are a bit more nuanced than that, and Henderson gets into them in her full article, but the main takeaway is the province says it’s in much better financial shape than was predicted in spring.

So, what to do with all that extra cash?

More resources for long-term care facilities? Affordable housing projects? A guaranteed number of paid sick days for workers?

Henderson looks at what this surplus could mean for Nova Scotians, and how the current Omicron outbreak could put a hitch in this latest economic forecast in this morning’s article.

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3. Young boy dies in Dartmouth shooting

Halifax Regional Police are reporting the death of a young boy, who died in hospital after a shooting in Dartmouth Tuesday afternoon.

Police are on scene of a homicide in Dartmouth. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the young victim who has lost his life. pic.twitter.com/iOBdeSqCgk

— Halifax_Police (@HfxRegPolice) December 21, 2021

There are few details yet about the shooting. Police are asking anyone with information about the incident, or video of the surrounding area at the time, to come forward. The police can be reached at 902-490-5020. Anonymous tips can be relayed to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

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4. The Oval won’t be back in 2021

The Emera Oval from this morning’s web cam view.

The home of every winter first date in Halifax from December to spring won’t be reopening until the new year.

In light of new restrictions, Halifax Regional Municipality is delaying the opening of the Oval on the Halifax Common until at least January 12. The official opening had already been delayed from Monday and skaters would have been out today if not for Tuesday’s announcement.

The new restrictions seem to suggest only 50 skaters would be allowed on the ice at a time, were the facility to open now. Though I’m not 100% on that. I’m basing that off the restriction I find most applies to the Oval:

Gathering limits of 25 per cent of capacity to a maximum of 50 people indoors and outdoors apply to social gatherings, regular faith services, wedding ceremonies, funeral ceremonies and their associated visitation, movie theatres, meetings and training that are hosted by a recognized business or organization, including faith organization.

I’m not living in Halifax these days, but I have to say, this is still a bit of a punch to the gut. I know we’re missing out on a lot with these new restrictions, including visits with family and friends, but the loss of HRM’s crown jewel of easily-accessible winter sport is a bit depressing. When I lived in the city, the Oval got me through a lot of seasonal depression. And I didn’t even have a pandemic to deal with then.

Here’s hoping a little outdoor, well-ventilated activity will be returning to Halifax sooner rather than later in 2022.

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Views

The days are getting brighter

The light is coming back, slowly but surely. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

Yesterday was the darkest day of the year.

No, I’m not talking about the news, though we’ll get to that.

The sun rose after I did, put in an eight-and-a-half hour workday, then punched out before the cocktail hour.

In that small stretch of time, winter officially set in on the Northern Hemisphere, and by association, Nova Scotia. It settled in on People’s Park in Halifax where the tents that haven’t collapsed still shelter a number of people. The sun also settled in on several others sleeping rough throughout HRM. As the sun kept racing toward the darkest night of the year, we got one day closer to the long-awaited modular units expected to eventually — sometime in January, according to the latest update — house 62 people in need of shelter in Halifax and Dartmouth. And we also got one day closer to losing 40 beds at the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre emergency shelter, which closes on December 31.

Aside from People’s Park, winter officially made its way into another camp in the province. A few hundred kilometres away in Annapolis County, protestors entered the coldest months of the year camped out on Crown land approved for a WestFor harvest. They’ve been there over 20 days now, but WestFor has no plans to stop the cut. And the province remains unresponsive to calls to pause Crown land cutting until the recommendations in the Lahey Report are finally implemented. The province, in fact, remains unresponsive to calls that those recommendations be implemented before 2023, a full five years after the report’s publication.

In the middle of the afternoon, as the shortest day’s sun died in the west, we got word from Dr. Strang that the province was tightening up restrictions even further than it already had this month. Like last Christmas, we can now only gather in groups of 10, and holiday travel and socializing continues to be discouraged. On top of that, the end of this spike in Omicron cases is still unclear. We had another 500-plus cases announced and Public Health is so backlogged with data that we don’t even know the extent of the full COVID caseload in Nova Scotia right now.

It was a day very much deserving of its title as the Darkest Day of the Year.

But things are getting brighter now, right? Two minutes more daylight at the very least. That’s a guaranteed positive. And I’ll take those where I can get them right now.

There are other reasons for hope. It’s the season for it, after all. Hard working Nova Scotians continue to push for more shelters and housing for those sleeping rough; others continue to pressure the implementation of improved ecological forestry practices on Crown land. And, despite the rampant spread of Omicron, hospitalizations at least remain low for now.

Still, if you don’t feel like being optimistic, I understand. And that’s OK.

Just remember, at the very least, the days are a little brighter from here on out.

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Noticed

Jamie Lewis, the president of WestFor, has spoken. Where I failed, the CBC has succeeded.

A tree is marked as a boundary for the planned harvest site near Beals Brook in Annapolis County. Photo: Leslie Amminson

A week after my own scheduled phone interview with Jamie Lewis fell through — I’d declined WestFor’s request to send my list of questions ahead of time for review — CBC’s Information Morning got the man on the air.

The president of the consortium of mills that manage a large swath of publicly-owned land in southwest Nova Scotia spoke on the phone with Portia Clark Monday. They discussed recent calls from biologists and activists for a temporary halt to cutting on Crown land until the recommendations for ecological forestry practices in the Lahey Report are put in place. Unsurprisingly, WestFor rejects that demand.

Lewis told the CBC that WestFor is all for seeing Lahey’s recommendations implemented, but a moratorium on Crown cutting would lead to job losses. And besides, a lot is already being done by WestFor to be more ecologically sensitive in its harvests.

“In the majority of our cuts,” Lewis told Clark, “Fifty percent of the trees are still there.”

In the interview, Clark asked if these aren’t still clearcuts. The province’s definition of a clearcut is “a harvest, after which less than 60 per cent of the area is sufficiently occupied with trees taller than 1.3 metres.”

“Well, I’m not exactly sure,” said Lewis, “because it seems to be a bit of a moving target, you know; it’s hard to get it down.”

One could say the same for the implementation of Lahey.

What we’re seeing is that the more and more we try to implement these processes and these cuts, everything kind of gets lumped into clearcuts. So, to be honest with you, I’m confused about it at this point in time, but I know that what they’re depicting as a clearcut is old. And it’s not what we’re doing on the ground right now. We’re leaving way more forest and way more trees standing than ever before.

When Clark pushed back that many of WestFor’s cuts are still clearcuts by the province’s definition, Lewis responded:

A definition that we feel is a little bit skewed. In many jurisdictions what we’re doing now in the way of partial harvests and in the way of cutting would not be considered a clearcut. By their [Department of Natural Resources and Renewables] own definition, yeah, I’ll grant that’s the case. But many jurisdictions would come and see what we’re doing and say, ‘No, that’s beautiful ecological forestry; keep it up.’

To be clear, the groups calling for a moratorium on Crown land cutting are not asking that clearcutting be banned — though most would likely say this is a compromise. The Lahey report recommends that a certain area of Nova Scotia’s Crown forests be set aside for industry level cutting, which would include clearcuts.

Yesterday, a number of Nova Scotians called into Information Morning to respond to Jamie Lewis’s statements on Monday’s program. That segment isn’t available online, but most callers were not supportive of what Lewis had to say. Still, a fair point was made by Nina Newington, who called from a protest camp set up on Crown land approved for a WestFor harvest in Annapolis County. WestFor has provincial approval to cut a large amount of public land. It’s the province, really, that should be held responsible for increasing regulations.

I wrote a bit last week about WestFor’s response to the call for a pause on Crown land cutting, so I won’t rehash it all here. If you’d like to read more, head back to my Morning File from last week.

But I did want to mention one more thing I noticed from this interview. Or rather, from the comments section of the article that followed it.

In the CBC article, “WestFor rejects calls for moratorium on Crown land cutting in Nova Scotia,” published the evening after Lewis spoke with Clark, two readers commented that people were being paid to protest the industry.

While there is absolutely no evidence that any protestors are being paid — by whom? The endangered moose population? — to camp out on Crown land or pressure the province to act, 2021 did see an instance of paid forestry protesting. Since the year’s almost out and the time for reflection has arrived, I thought it’d be worth looking back. Here’s my retrospective of the year that was:

Most egregious example of manufactured protest in Nova Scotia in 2021: the forestry-lobby-led resistance to the Biodiversity Act. A recap:

When the latest form of the Biodiversity Act was tabled in March, the Examiner reported on the “all-out, no-holds-barred, province-wide — and very expensive — propaganda war against the Biodiversity Act that [was] waged by Forest Nova Scotia, the lobby group for some very large industrial forestry interests, and a so-called “coalition” of “concerned private landowners” to modify the bill.

To put it simply, the bill, in its original form, would have allowed the province to issue emergency orders, offences, and fines on private landowners to ensure responsible stewardship, conservation, sustainable use, and governance of biodiversity were maintained on private land. A group calling itself the “Concerned Private Landowner Coalition,” began taking out ads and posting opposition to the bill on social media.

“Bill 4 is a threat,” read one Facebook post. “It is not about biodiversity, it is about an assault on landowners and their rights.” 

The onslaught of opposition ads, and the often-erroneous claims made in them, riled up real private landowners, who pressured the government into limiting the scope of the Biodiversity Act to Crown land, thereby gutting a substantial portion of the Act’s power.

I say “real” private landowners, because the “Concerned Private Landowner Coalition,” who were behind the majority of the propaganda blitz, wasn’t as grassroots as it sounded. As Joan Baxter reported at the time:

The most visible promoter of the campaign is Forest Nova Scotia, “the voice of the forestry industry” in the province that reportedly has 600 members, although as recently as 2017, the membership was said to be just 300.

In a CBC Information Morning interview on March 17, Forest Nova Scotia executive director Jeff Bishop acknowledged that his group had paid for a March 13 ad in the Chronicle Herald that purported to be from an entity called “Concerned Private Landowner Coalition,” which didn’t even exist.

However the same week, the Coalition (that didn’t exist) did come up with a Facebook page, a Twitter handle (53 followers), the acronym CPLC, and a website, replete with “Facebook ready graphics” and sample letters to MLAs and MLA contacts.

The Coalition Facebook page claims: “We represent farmers, woodlot owners, housing and cottage developers and thousands of proud Nova Scotia landowners.”

Have protestors, activists, biologists, and other parties concerned about the sustainability of forestry practices in this province chosen to copy these tactics: to undermine the forestry industry through subterfuge and misdirection? All the evidence says no.

That’s not to say you can’t disagree with their stance. The merits of a moratorium on Crown land cutting can be debated. But accusations of disingenuousness from protestors are just distractions from the issue at hand.

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Government

No meetings


On campus

No events


In the harbour

Halifax
05:30: Felicity Ace, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
10:00: Maersk Patras, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Montreal
12:00: Felicity Ace sails for sea
13:30: SCF Angara, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
14:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
17:00: MSC Kim, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Montreal
17:30: Maersk Patras sails for Bremerhaven, Germany

Cape Breton
09:00: Lockwood 3000, barge, with Zeus, tug, sail north to south through the causeway en route from Quebec City to Hampton, Virginia
09:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from New York
14:00: Shelia Ann, bulker, sails from Point Tupper coal pier for sea
15:30: Marathon TS, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
16:30: SFL Trinity, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from New York
20:00: Warnowborg, cargo ship, sails south to north through the causeway en route from Tampa, Florida to Summerside


Footnotes

My sister’s copy of Gone with the Wind is an old, beaten-down paperback with a cover that makes it look like a Harlequin romance. She’s a big fan of the book, so I thought this Christmas it might be nice to get her a nice hardcover edition for her shelf. I’ve seen the movie on the big screen, but I’ve never read the book myself. So this week, to procrastinate, I started to read the copy I bought for my sister. (I’ve become engrossed in the story and decided to get my sis another gift, hence my freely mentioning the book here).

Early on, Scarlett is speaking with the Tarleton twins, and they mention the inevitability of civil war, to which Scarlett responds:

If you say ‘war’ just once more, I’ll go in the house and shut the door. I’ve never gotten so tired of any one word in my life as ‘war,’ unless it’s ‘secession’… There hasn’t been any fun at any party this spring because the boys can’t talk about anything else. I’m mighty glad Georgia waited till after Christmas before it seceded or it would have ruined the Christmas parties too.

I read that and realized, this pandemic has turned me into Scarlett O’Hara. And not even the tough, resourceful one from the end of the story, but the whiny brat from the beginning. Yikes.


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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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