a woman standing at a podium
Long-term Care Minister Barbara Adams announces the government’s new spending plan last year. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

Starting September 1, seniors who live on less than $37,500 a year will be able to apply for a $750 non-taxable grant from the provincial government. Seniors and Long-term Care Minister Barbara Adams says between 60,000 and 70,000 Nova Scotians should be eligible for the grant.

Unlike the previous senior care grant introduced last spring, which was to be used mainly for home repairs and services such as snow shovelling, the new grant has been expanded to include home heating and health care services such as physiotherapy and medications.

Less than 50% of the $29 million budget was spent under the earlier version of the program and seniors who applied for the earlier grant can also apply for this one in the fall. The PC government described the announcement as another response to the affordability issues facing many Nova Scotians struggling due to record high inflation.

The premier’s ‘friends’

During Question Period, NDP leader Claudia Chender was critical of Premier Tim Houston’s decision to appoint two personal friends who will earn $18,000 a month each to head to new provincial crown corporations called Build Nova Scotia and Invest Nova Scotia. Chender noted both of the men were donors to the Progressive Conservative party prior to the last election; Wayne Crawley contributed $1,000 and Tom Hickey and his family members donated a total of $6,000.

Premier Houston defended his decision, noting both Crawley and Hickey are experienced business leaders who have “hit the ground running” and are already working to manage the transition from five crown corporations into two. Houston said the positions will be temporary until two new CEOs can be hired.

NS opposes a federal carbon tax

Students and their supporters, carrying a banner reading, “We are in a climate emergency” at the School Strike for Climate Change in Halifax on Sept. 24, 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

The province has until the end of this year to decide how it will comply with a federal directive to bring down GHG emissions faster to try and reduce the impacts of global warming and climate change. No decision has yet been made on whether the province will continue with its cap-and-trade policy, which allows companies that pollute to buy carbon credits from companies that have reduced their emissions and may sell their surplus. So far, the policy has shielded drivers in Nova Scotia from a projected increase of 10 cents per litre in the price of gasoline. The increase has been in the range of one cent to 1.5 cents.

Yesterday during Question Period, former Energy Minister, Liberal MLA Derek Mombourquette, asked Minister of Environment and Climate Change Tim Halman whether Nova Scotians would be paying a federal carbon tax in 2023.

“We wrote to Ottawa few weeks to say we don’t believe a federal carbon tax is appropriate,” Halman said. “There are many tools to reduce GHG emissions and a federal carbon tax is one but given the global inflation we are seeing, we don’t feel a federal carbon tax is appropriate.”

Halman said “affordability’ is a focus of the current government, which does not want consumers to see fuel prices increase at a time when inflation is high. But he stressed no final decision has been made on whether to modify the cap-and-trade program or try another approach to lower the province’s carbon emissions.

Under the current Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act, the province has until the end of 2022 to present a Climate Risk Assessment and a Climate Action Plan. During the spring session, Minister Halman said he “hoped” the Risk Assessment would be released by summer.

Yesterday Halman told the Examiner that document will be delayed until sometime in the fall. The work is complex and taking longer than expected, he said. No doubt. But the evidence all around us suggests climate change is another emergency that requires immediate action.

Update on mysterious departure of Dr. Orrell

Two weeks ago, it was reported that Dr. Kevin Orrell, the CEO responsible for the Office of Professional Healthcare Recruitment, had left that position. Orrell, an orthopedic surgeon for 33 years and former deputy Minister, had been in the new job just 10 months. Health Minister Michelle Thompson has continued to decline comment and so has Orrell.

Yesterday when questioned by journalists about Orrell’s departure, Premier Houston spoke of a “developing situation” and indicated that Orrell was still part of the four-person health leadership team he appointed last September. Maybe there has been a patching up of differences or negotiations continue.

Houston supports gold mining in Nova Scotia

Touquoy open pit gold mine. Photo: Simon Ryder-Burbidge

The Australian company that owns the working Touquoy gold mine at Moose River is asking the provincial government for a change to its operating permit so it may continue its open pit operations. It needs that permit soon because the company is running out of room to store the tailings from its current open-pit operation and will need a place to deposit waste from other proposed mines. (Joan Baxter has reported extensively on the company’s operations here in Nova Scotia. You can read her most recent story on Atlantic Gold here).

St Barbara, which owns Atlantic Gold, wants permission to expand the height of what’s called a tailings dam wall. Yesterday, the Ecology Action Centre (EAC) issued a news release expressing concerns about that request and how it will be handled by the Department of Environment.

“The request and its respective review process raises major concerns with regards to safety and lack of transparency,” says Karen McKendry, wilderness outreach coordinator with EAC. “Globally, there are many examples of tailings dams failing. These breaches lead to toxic mining waste spilling out across nearby areas, resulting in the obliteration and contamination of watercourses, groundwater and wildlife, while jeopardizing the health and safety of people.”

In British Columbia eight years ago, the Mount Polley mine tailings pond, which held copper and gold mining waste, breached and spilled an estimated 25 billion litres of mining waste into nearby watercourses. Clean-up efforts are still being completed. McKendry cautions against increasing the risk of a similar disaster in Nova Scotia.

“The tailings dam was not originally engineered to withstand the volume of mining waste now proposed, and the original 2008 environmental assessment for the mine did not evaluate or seek public input on these current plans,” said McKendry. “Nova Scotians need the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to do the right thing and protect Nova Scotians and our nature, and not bow to pressure tactics from the gold mining industry.”

Last May, St Barbara CEO Craig Jetson visited Nova Scotia to meet with Premier Houston and Environment Minister Tim Halman to discuss Atlantic Gold’s operations on the Eastern Shore. During a recent conference call with analysts, CEO Jetson praised Premier Houston as “supportive” and “very encouraging” with respect to the company’s plans for Touquoy and two other open-pit gold mines it wants to develop along the Eastern Shore at Beaver Dam and Fifteen Mile Stream. These are currently undergoing a federal environmental assessment while a third mine has been proposed for Cochrane Hill near the St. Mary’s River in Guysborough County.

The Examiner asked the premier if CEO Jetson’s description was accurate; does he feel comfortable supporting gold mining in Nova Scotia?

“I am a supporter of any company that can meet the standards of the province,” Houston said. “We have standards and for those who can meet them, I’m a supporter.”

Readers of the Examiner may recall Atlantic Gold was fined $250,000 earlier this year for failing to meet provincial and federal environmental regulations around the release of silty runoff from its Touquoy site.

St Barbara’s CEO also told those on the recent conference call he felt encouraged by “a more collaborative permitting process” that Nova Scotia has recently put in place. The Examiner asked Environment Minister Tim Halman to explain. Halman told us that while the process hasn’t changed it has been “streamlined” to allow a company to receive more than one permit at a time.

Halman says his department has also hired two people to fill two newly created positions called “business relations officers.” Halman says their purpose is to provide one consistent point of contact for companies seeking information about what they need to do to comply with environmental regulations. In some cases, Halman says they need to explain or educate companies who may be unfamiliar with the landscape here.

Halman noted he has twice in the past year requested more information from St Barbara and that in his job as the environmental regulator, he must remain “neutral” and not express any personal opinion or position on gold mining.

Monkeypox

Apparently, Nova Scotia briefly saw a couple of cases of monkeypox connected to visitors. Contact tracing was done and the infection was contained. Health Minister Michelle Thompson said there are presently no cases of monkeypox in the province and vaccine supply is limited.


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Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. People really do need to wake up to the threat posed by Atlantic Gold at its Touquoy site and proposed expansion in Nova Scotia. This multinational does not contributie much of anything to our economy (see extensive reporting by Joan Baxter) but is damaging our environment in a manner that may well be permanent. Gold has almost no practical use and there’s already plenty on hand. Environmental regulation in Nova Scotia has always been weak, and has always favoured industry, especially multinationals. Just no! We need to get a lot smarter and we need to start listening to people who fully understand environmental impacts.