News

1.  Forced mediation with Northern Pulp

The Northern Pulp mill before its closure. Photo: Dr. Gerry Farrell

Joan Baxter continues to follow the story of Northern Pulp and its parent company, Paper Excellence Canada, as they try to seek restitution for being forced to shut their Pictou County pulp mill.

To recap:

The mill did not provide a satisfactory plan to deal with effluent from its operations, in conformity with the requirements of the Boat Harbour Act. So, in 2019, then-premier Stephen McNeil told Northern Pulp it would need to file a full environmental assessment report. The mill went into hibernation, the company withdrew its application for a new treatment facility, and then, in June 2020, Northern Pulp and six other Paper Excellence companies sought creditor protection in the BC courts.

So, the mill did not conform to the rules and shut down as as result. Next step, after creditor protection? Suing the province, of course.

Baxter writes:

Late last year, Northern Pulp and nine other Paper Excellence companies, together with their owners Paper Excellence Canada and Hervey Investment B.V., with an address-of-convenience in Netherlands (the world’s 4th top tax haven), filed a statement of claim against the province for what they called “indemnified losses” caused by the 2020 closing of the pulp mill and loss of the use of Boat Harbour for its effluent, nine years before its contract ended in 2030.

They calculate those losses at $450 million, and that is the amount of the legal action they launched against the province.

In February 2022, Northern Pulp requested the court appoint a mediator — an action the lawyers for the Province of Nova Scotia, Robert Grant and Maurice Chiasson, opposed:

According to Grant and Chiasson, Northern Pulp was “seeking significant powers for the Court-appointed mediator that fall outside of what would otherwise be available, including the power of ‘dealing with any Court, regulatory body or other government ministry, department or agency.’”

Even this language is “inappropriate,” they wrote, as it would “permit the mediator to interpose himself into the EA [environmental assessment] Process for the Project [to transform the mill and develop a new effluent treatment system] in a manner “which would undermine the integrity of the regulator regime.”

Nonetheless, the court gave the go-ahead to Northern Pulp’s mediation request. Baxter again:

On April 1, in the British Columbia Supreme Court, Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick issued an order that forces Nova Scotia into a “mediation” process in the BC court, where Northern Pulp and six related companies have been enjoying creditor protection since June 2020.

The process will be handled by a “court appointed” monitor that Northern Pulp chose — retired Supreme Court of Canada judge Thomas Cromwell.

Read Baxter’s full piece, which includes loads more detail, plus background on the multi-billion-dollar corporate empire that runs Paper Excellence here.

The story is for subscribers. You want to read it, right? So go ahead, subscribe here. And if you are already a subscriber, thank you.

(Copy link for this item)

2. Black leaders meet to discuss coordinating efforts across the Maritimes

Tamara Steele, Director Black Cultural Society of PEI; David Woods, Artistic Director Black Artists Network of Nova Scotia; Thandi McCarthy and Gary Weekes, Board executives, New Brunswick Black Artists Alliance. Photo: Matthew Byard.

Matthew Byard was in PEI last week for a meeting of Black organizers and advocates from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI. The purpose of the meeting, Byard writes, was to “discuss ways of strengthening Black community connections throughout Maritimes.”

Tamara Steele, the executive director of the Black Cultural Society of PEI, said she thinks there are many possibilities for working together, Byard reports.

“I think the region has a lot of shared history when it comes to the Black communities and I think operating as separately as we do is disingenuous to that history.”

“I loved the idea of somehow making Emancipation Day a regional celebration. That idea and developing a regional theme for Black History Month, I think that would just really do wonders for uniting the region and having everyone come together on a similar plane,” she said.

“And I know the histories are individual enough on their own, but there is enough that’s shared there that I think through a united Black History Month theme or African Heritage Month theme, I think we can really do a better job of telling those stories, of each of our provinces, and widening the knowledge of that history of the region, within the region.”

Steele, who is originally from Nova Scotia, moved to Charlottetown in 1999 to go to UPEI, and stayed after graduating. She tells Byard the province has a growing and increasingly diverse Black population, but there is still a way to go:

She said many Black newcomers on the island face many unexpected barriers such as trying to gain employment, racism in housing, obtaining adequate health care, obtaining permanent residency, and haircare needs.

“I think the issue is that people arrive here for specific reasons – whether it’s for school or through a government program – and they’re trying to get into Canada for work … but then they get here and there’s really nothing for them,” Steel said,

“I mean, I’m not going to lie, I still go to Nova Scotia to get my hair done. My mom does it.”

(Copy link for this item)

3. Habitat for Humanity revises Spryfield project

Habitat for Humanity builds on Drysdale Road. — Photo: Google Streetview

In September 2018, the Halifax and West Community Council approved a development agreement for a Habitat for Humanity housing project off Drysdale Road, in Spryfield.

Now, that project finally seems set to get started, Zane Woodford reports.

Why the delay? In short, a covenant on the property that Habitat for Humanity thought could be resolved.

It wasn’t.

Now that Habitat for Humanity has gotten around the issue by revising its project, the province is ready to support it. Woodford writes:

The provincial government is contributing more than $200,000 to a Habitat for Humanity project in Spryfield that will provide 70 affordable homes in the coming years.

The Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing made the announcement in a news release on Monday.

Habitat for Humanity’s typical model provides an interest-free mortgage to a family who qualifies and provides 500 hours of volunteer time — sweat equity, as Habitat for Humanity calls it — in lieu of a down payment. The mortgage payments are then capped at 30% of the family’s income.

Note that this is actual affordable housing — none of this “percentage of market rate” BS.

(Copy link for this item)

4. Community pharmacists: some of the pandemic’s unsung heroes

The staff at Scotia Pharmacy, as seen in June 2019. Photo: Twitter.

You know those feel-good stories that are actually about systemic failure? The ones like, “GoFundMe raises funds to buy car for man who has to walk five hours to work.” Wow, people are so generous. But also, wow, it sucks that this person lives somewhere with terrible transit and earns so little he can’t afford transportation to work.

Anyway, Yvette d’Entremont’s latest is a bit like this. The feel-good part of the story is genuinely great: A study shows that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nova Scotia’s community pharmacists have stepped up and done a fabulous job providing primary care to patients.

The doesn’t-feel-so-great part: Generally, the work of pharmacists has been under-valued as part of the health-care system, and pharmacists are stepping in to provide care in some cases because of failures in other parts of the system.

d’Entremont  speaks with Dalhousie University College of Pharmacy professor Jennifer Isenor, the lead author on a new paper (awaiting peer review) on the role of community pharmacists in Nova Scotia during the pandemic. From d’Entremont’s story:

The study’s authors found the role played by Nova Scotia pharmacists in delivering primary care during the pandemic has highlighted an “urgent need” for funding, legislative, and structural changes that can help pharmacists better fill health care gaps.

This is especially true in rural areas where pre-existing challenges were exacerbated as a result of COVID-19.

“The [rural region], like we deal with a large shortage of family physicians … that’s always been challenging to try to get people the appropriate amount of care that they need,” one pharmacist from outside HRM told researchers.

“As pharmacists, we do as much as we can. But obviously there comes a point in time where they need to see a doctor.”

Isenor says while doing the research she kept having the words “unsung heroes” in her head while thinking about the work pharmacists have done during the pandemic.

A lot of that work is in closing gaps:

Unattached patients have reported seeking care in walk-in clinics and emergency departments for referrals and bloodwork, but often having referrals not made or lost, resulting in delayed or missed diagnoses,” the report states.

“Pharmacists can close this care gap and lessen the demand for care within overcrowded walk-in clinics and emergency departments, especially outside the provincial capital. Community pharmacists are under-utilized PHC (primary health care) providers that are accessible and distributed throughout the province.”

(Copy link for this item)

5. Retirement money for doctors, recruitment challenges in health care

On Monday, Jan. 10, 16 ambulances were lined up outside the Queen Elizabeth II hospital. Photo: Tim Bousquet

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

A new retirement fund for doctors should be announced by the end of this year, according to Health Minister Michelle Thompson.

Thompson spent Monday answering questions from Members of the Legislature about $5.7 billion of healthcare spending in the provincial budget for this fiscal year, 2022-2023.

When you include money spent on the Office of Healthcare Professionals Recruitment and the Office for Mental Health and Addictions, total spending on healthcare will rise 7.7% compared to 2021-2022.

Just over $1 billion has been allocated for physician services — the largest expenditure — and it’s probable some of the $35 million increase for 2022-2023 will be used to finance a retirement fund for doctors as yet another carrot to retain and recruit them (doctors aren’t technically employees of the province so they don’t have pensions).

A retirement fund for doctors was a PC election promise and on Monday, Thompson said active discussions are underway with Doctors Nova Scotia.

“We’ve been having conversations with the Department of Health for the past few weeks about the implementation of the Physician Recruitment Fund,” said Alanna Patterson, the director of Physician Compensation for Doctors NS on Budget Day.

“I’m comforted to know that it is a priority for government and plans are definitely moving forward.”

The job site Indeed.ca reports that in 2021, the “average” salary for a doctor living in Nova Scotia was $253,417. That lumps in lower-paid family doctors with higher-paid specialists.

The Houston government has also budgeted $3 million to provide a $25,000 bonus over 5 years for doctors willing to practice in rural communities. Questions around recruiting and staffing dominated the discussion around Health Department Estimates on Monday.

“We could use 1,000 nurses today,” Thompson said in response to a question about why there are 492 more vacancies across the healthcare system today than in September.

“There is a degree of burnout associated with COVID as well as a lot of internal movement. We have offered every nursing student in Nova Scotia a job for the next 5 years and we are adding 200 seats this year [at a cost of $2 million] to train more nurses.”

Chronic Emergency Department closures in many rural communities and the cancellation of most surgical procedures across the province again this week are the result of staffing shortages.

Thompson said the Office for Healthcare Recruitment is working closely with the federal government and the NS Immigration Office to establish a pathway to re-settle entire families from the Philippines to help fill vacancies. Recruiters are currently conducting interviews for potential staff in Singapore, Dubai, and London.

Opposition MLAs pressed the minister to make information public — to report regularly — on the status of recruitment efforts. Thompson promised that “a dashboard with high-level information to show in what direction numbers are trending” would be made available as soon as it is completed.

Dartmouth North MLA and NDP Health critic Susan Leblanc said her discussions with paramedics led her to believe “every paramedic now has an exit strategy.” With nearly 200 people off work as a result of injury or stress, Leblanc says those remaining are exhausted from 12-14 hour days and they are actively looking for other work.

In response, Thompson noted that the provincial budget contains a $12-million increase for the Emergency Health Services system. She acknowledged the problems and said the Health Department has an active committee working with the employer and representatives of the paramedics’ union. The government has recently bought power lifts and power stretchers to try to reduce workplace injuries. Compensation is in line with the other Atlantic provinces. The Minister said the paramedic training program — which COVID reduced from 100 to 50 students — will be back at full strength later this year.

The government has also purchased a number of patient transport vans. Last but certainly not least, from the point of view of the general public, this budget allocates $10.2 million so that ambulances will be free to respond to emergencies and aren’t held up for several hours waiting at Emergency Departments to deliver their patients. That’s a long-standing problem in desperate need of a solution if the province hopes to hold on to the paramedics who remain.

(Copy link for this item)


Views

1. People I’ll listen to wherever they want to take me

Screen print by Barry D. Bulsara. Photo: Barry D. Bulsara’s Etsy shop.

Last year, I listened to  a talk by Eric Nuzum on defining your podcast. Nuzum works in program development for Audible, and he says the difference between a good program and a great program is the ability to define what it is in 10 words. This applies, of course, not just to podcasts but pretty much all media. When I was a documentary film marketer, I can’t tell you how many times I heard variations on “this film is for everyone.” Well, sure, maybe? Probably not? I can’t get a decent budget out of my boss to market it to everyone.

Writing for podcast hosting service Buzzsprout’s blog, Nuzum says you need to “describe your idea in no more than ten words, and do so in a way that describes nothing else in the world. Literally nothing. ‘Me interviewing others about film’ won’t cut it. There are literally thousands of those, if not tens of thousands.”

I dutifully started writing out 10-word descriptions for the two podcasts I produce and one that colleagues and I were discussing, and then someone stepped to the mic and asked Nuzum this:

Audience member: I’d be curious to know how you explain or think about shows that are actually very successful but for which we might have trouble coming up with those 10 words… Like Reply All. It says it’s a show about the internet, but actually it’s not really anymore and yet it’s very successful. This American Life, what are the 10 words that describe This American Life? I can’t think of what they would be.

Nuzum: Ira [Glass, the host of This American Life] I think still starts off every show with we have a theme, we approach it with several different stories that line up with that theme.

Audience member: But if someone stood up and said that, wouldn’t you say, “I don’t know what your show’s about?” So I’m actually curious how you think about the fact that some of the most successful shows don’t have that thesis statement.

Nuzum: I will answer that question. And it is such an exception that I don’t want anyone in this room to think it’s worth repeating… [They] have such clear intellectual and editorial voices, that what the show really is, is the world through their eyes. Through their ears. It’s about them. And boy, that’s a high high high bar.

Lately, I’ve been trying to avoid my usual gloomy podcast fare: daily news, politics, critiques of power, state-of-the-world stuff. A lot of it is good and important, but it is also endlessly depressing. I open up my podcast app in the morning, look at them, then think no thanks.

But I was thinking about the question directed at Nuzum the other day while listening to two other podcasts that also resist characterization.

The first, which I think is familiar to many Examiner readers, is You’re Wrong About. As originally conceived, the show was co-hosted by Sarah Marshall and Michael Hobbes, and each episode examined something — well, something that we were probably wrong about. One of the recurring themes was women who had been treated badly in pop culture, particularly in the 1990s.

Hobbes left last year, and I thought it was going to be over for You’re Wrong About. It just wouldn’t be the same anymore. Well, I was right. It’s not the same. It’s better. This is no slight to Hobbes, who is very good at what he does. I just like what Marshall has done with the show. She invites us in to join her in following her lively, curious, nuanced, and empathetic mind wherever she wants to take us. It usually involves having been wrong about something, but not always. And it always focuses on the human aspect of whatever story Marshall and her guests are exploring.

Recent episodes have looked at Ronald Reagan and the creation of the persistent “welfare queen” stereotype; Catherine the Great; The Amityville Horror; and the appalling use of dubious science-y forensics to imprison innocent people for decades. I will listen to pretty much anything Marshall wants to talk about.

The most recent episode, co-hosted by Chelsey Weber-Smith, is a whirlwind tour through common misconceptions — from baby carrots not being actual, you know, baby carrots, to the origins of the quote “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”

It’s a quote I’m sure you’ve seen before, perhaps with the word “seldom” instead of “rarely.” Who said it? Was it Marilyn Monroe?

It was not. Perhaps Eleanor Roosevelt?

Wrong again.

Can you believe it? Misattributed quotes on the internet? What is the world coming to?

Amelia Earhart maybe? Margaret Mead? Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Princess Leia?

How about Pulitzer Prize-winning history professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich? I’m sure you had her on your guess list, right?

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Photo: Harvard University

The quote first appears (with “seldom” and not “rarely”) in a paper by Ulrich called Vertuous Women Found: New England Ministerial Literature, 1668-1735, published in 1976 in the journal American Quarterly.

In the 90s, a student saw the quote as an epigram in a book (with”rarely”), asked Ulrich for permission to use it on a t-shirt, and a tsunami of tote bags, posters, t-shirts and bumper stickers followed.

The other even more uncharacterizable podcast I’ve found myself turning to more lately is In Our Time, on BBC Sounds. (There are more than 900 episodes, so I could listen to nothing else for a couple of years, if I wanted.)

This is a podcast made by people who believe ideas matter, art matters, and history matters. It’s hosted by 82-year-old Melvyn Bragg, who sounds like the antithesis of what you’d expect a podcast host to sound like (and who co-wrote the screenplay for Jesus Christ Superstar; go figure).

Essentially, each episode is about whatever issue, idea, play, text, historical period, or whatever, Bragg wants to explore, usually with a group of academics. I always get a laugh at the end of an episode, when I hear the topic of the next one. This week, A Christmas Carol, next week, The Hittites. Recently, an episode on the Arthashastra — a 4th-century BC Sanskrit text on statecraft — was followed up by one on seismology.

Did I think I would be particularly interested in the Arthashastra? Not especially. Was I interested to learn about who made for good spies in the early days of the Mauryan Empire? Well, yes. (The answer: holy men, sex workers, street food vendors.)

Unlike Marshall, Bragg doesn’t bring much of his personality to this endeavour. Honestly, I feel like I’m not sure I want to know his opinions. He takes a back seat, guides the discussion, and lets the guests be the experts.

In a nice bit of crossover, Romeo and Juliet figures in both the latest You’re Wrong About and a recent In Our Time. (It turns out you are probably wrong about the balcony scene.)

(Copy link for this item)

2. Don’t ever talk to me about the Swedish model again

Illustration by Callum Moscovitch for the Halifax Examiner. All rights reserved.

Remember all the talk early in the pandemic about how maybe we should be following the Swedish model? Don’t try to contain COVID-19. It’s inevitable. Let people get it. They’ll develop herd immunity. The economy won’t suffer. We’ll get through it faster, and so on. This was — I think it is safe to say — a minority view in Nova Scotia, but not an uncommon one.

A new paper in the journal Nature offers a damning assessment of every aspect of the Swedish approach, and laments the politicization of science. The paper is called “Evaluation of science advice during the COVID-19 pandemic in Sweden.”

The paper includes horrific details, such as elderly patients not being given oxygen, even when it was available. (They were sedated with morphine instead.)

This is one of the more strongly worded conclusions I have read in an academic paper:

The Swedish response to this pandemic was unique and characterised by a morally, ethically, and scientifically questionable laissez-faire approach, a consequence of structural problems in the society. There was more emphasis on the protection of the “Swedish image” than on saving and protecting lives or on an evidence-based approach. A strategy was never discussed among all relevant parties, and never implemented nor communicated to the public. In addition, there was an unwillingness and incapacity to admit any failures at all governmental levels; or to take any responsibility for the clearly detrimental outcomes for Swedish society. There were even attempts to revise history by changing, or deleting official documents, communication, and websites, and gaslighting the public. The Swedish authorities involved were not self-critical and did not engage in any official and open dialogue and misled the public by withholding correct information and even spreading misleading information. A small group of so-called experts with a narrow disciplinary focus received a disproportionate and unquestioned amount of power in the discussion, nationally and internationally. There was no intellectual/scientific discussion between stakeholders (including independent experts from different disciplines), and the international advice of WHO, ECDC and the scientific community was ignored and/or discredited.

(Copy link for this item)


Noticed

Big Lahave Lake on Dec. 28. Photo: Facebook – Nor’Easter Natural Ice/Joel Hornborg

El Jones noticed a 2017 article in the Jamaican newspaper The Gleaner called “The day Halifax froze.”

The day in question was in March 1916. Speaking in Kingston, Jamaica, Ryerson University English professor Hyacinth Simpson recounted the story of the 1,045 Jamaican servicemen aboard the SS Verdala. The ship was sent to Halifax, and both the vessel and the men were woefully unprepared for conditions.

From the Gleaner:

“The men were not only sent into the middle of the notoriously harsh Canadian winter season without preparation; they were also transported on what military personnel described as ‘a ship not well suited to a voyage to a severe climate like the Canadian – or, indeed, for any long voyage with troops on board,’” [Simpson said.]

Verdala was unfit, as it was a cargo ship with open decks, and the only source of heat was a warming stove in the officers’ saloon that could only seat 14 men at a time.

It was not only the ship that was ill-equipped, the troops were not assigned any proper gear – armed with a pair of cotton socks each, a thin overcoat, and two pairs of boots, which were no match against the cold winds and the 14C temperature. The elements hit them like mortar shells on rapid fire.

“To make matters worse, a 1,000-foot length of the ship’s piping was exposed to the cold and so the drinking water was frozen solid,” Simpson said.

After four days, the ship was ordered to Bermuda, but by then many of them had suffered severe injury. A hundred were hospitalized in Halifax.

Over 600 men suffered acutely from the effects of frost bite, and 40 of them developed gangrene.

Dozens of the men had toes and legs amputated as a result. Simpson says the story offers “a window into the rich and multilayered story of Jamaicans and the First World War – a story, which historians and other researchers are still unravelling.”

(Copy link for this item)


Government

City

Tuesday

Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 10am, City Hall) — also online

Wednesday

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

Province

Tuesday

Legislature sits (Tuesday, 1pm, Province House)

Wednesday

Legislature sits (Wednesday, 1pm, Province House)


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

No events

Wednesday

CAPTURE – Dalhousie Voice Ensembles (Wednesday, 7:30pm, Dunn Theatre) — Fountain School of Performing Arts presents “ a program of mystical music featuring mythical creatures and riddles and much-loved opera scenes by marvelous Mozart.” Masks required; $15/$10; more info here

Mount Saint Vincent

A History of Food: Fast Food (in partnership with Halifax Public Libraries) (Tuesday, 6pm) — via Zoom; Jonathan Roberts will discuss how

As humans move faster and faster, their food moves with them. Join us to learn about the history of pick-ups, drive-ins, and drive-thrus.


In the harbour

Ships will be posted later.


Footnotes

Um, they have heavy metal knitting in Finland, partly inspired by Yngwie Malmsteen.

Also, don’t worry, I’m not writing Morning File every day now.


Subscribe to the Halifax Examiner

We have many other subscription options available, or drop us a donation. Thanks!

Philip Moscovitch

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

Join the Conversation

3 Comments

Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
Cancel reply
  1. If Habitat for Humanity has been given the $22 million, they would have created more than 6,000 “real” homes instead of the 373 slightly rent reduced token units Clayton will allow people to occupy for ten years.
    The 9 “special planning areas” for rapid development are a licence to print money to make a few very rich developers even more rich.

    1. You assume the materials would be donated and that hundreds of volunteers would build 6,000 homes.

  2. There’s something so bizarre about a poster about “making history” with a woman who does not, and has never existed.