1. Fish, climate change, debt, and future generations

A fish kill near Barton, in Clare. Photo: Eric Hewey.

What began as localized reports of dead herring has ballooned into gigantic fish kills along the coast of St. Mary’s Bay, south of Digby. Michael Gorman, reporting for the CBC, notes that the dead fish zone includes not just herring but “also dead starfish, lobsters, bar clams, scallops and crabs.” He goes on to interview retired veterinary pathologist Ted Leighton:

While he has no idea what caused the kill, Leighton said the fact it cut across so many different species likely rules out some kind of infectious disease, because they tend to have a narrow range.

“A particular virus, for example, might affect several different species of fish but it’s unlikely to affect people and it’s unlikely to affect clams.”

His first question is whether it has anything to do with the death of the herring. Leighton doesn’t know, but he also noted herring have been dying for more than a month but this is the first time anyone has reported anything like this.

“It would seem to be at least a new phenomenon, but since we don’t know why the herring are dying, we can hardly say with any surety that, ‘Well, these other things can’t be dying of that.’ So I think we have to be open-minded about this.”


“In a die-off of water-dwelling creatures like that … one of the first things you want to do is go out to where it is happening and measure everything you can about the water, because that’s what they live in.”

It’s also the only way to know if the environment is changing, he said.

It’s long struck me that for a province whose economy is so dependant upon seafood exports, we are remarkably sanguine about the state of the fisheries — the catch is always going up, and always will, despite recent memory of fishery collapses — and we seem completely unconcerned about the state of the environment that sustains the fisheries.

Last year, when the Portland Press Herald published investigative reporter Colin Woodard’s six-part series, Mayday: Gulf of Maine in Distress, about how climate change is affecting the Gulf of Maine, people took note — the series was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. But while environmental organizations up and down the coast raised the alarm of the potential devastating effects of climate change on Nova Scotian waters, Woodard’s work made nary a ripple in government circles; the Nova Scotia government has been particularly silent.

It’s perverse. When premier Stephen McNeil battles the public employee unions, he claims to worry about the cost of the contracts to future next generations (I can’t find the specific quote right now, but I remember he spoke of the impact of increased provincial debt on young people).

And yet, the same Stephen McNeil refused to accept a modest carbon tax that is designed to save the planet for future generations. His reasoning — Nova Scotia’s past reductions in greenhouse gas emissions should give us a pass. Never mind that Nova Scotia is still the fifth highest provincial GHG emitter in Canada.

To recap: we care about future generations when it involves a showdown with unions, but we don’t care about future generations when it involves climate change.

But the argument that we could either increase teachers’ pay to keep up with inflation or have a balanced budget has always been a false dilemma — we could, for example, raise taxes or cut other expenditures to pay for the modest increase in teachers’ pay — and debt isn’t some bogeyman waiting to devour us in any case. For one, our debt burden is manageable, and the servicing costs are at the lowest point in about two decades.

More than that, however, debt is a human construct. Sure, we organize our economy and our social relations around money and debt, but in the end, it’s all just an abstraction. We could do as the Bible suggests and have a debt jubilee, erasing all debt tomorrow, and life would go on (arguably, debt cancellation was the beginning of western civilization). In fact, we cancel debts all the time — we have bankruptcy courts whose sole purpose is to cancel debt in an orderly fashion — and the economy chugs along. Indeed, the economy couldn’t exist without a mechanism for cancelling debt. Donald Trump and Mark Lever wouldn’t be in the positions they are now were it not for debt cancellation.

But the natural world doesn’t work that way. We can’t just cancel climate change. The complex interactions of sunlight, the atmosphere, the oceans, albedo, carbon, and methane give not a whit about whether provincial carbon taxes are fair relative to each other or whether or not Nova Scotians pay 10 cents more on a litre of gas five years from now. Climate change has a real-world logic unto itself, and we either bow down to that logic or suffer the consequences.

Likewise, the fish in our provincial waters aren’t taking sides in the carbon tax debate — they’re just dying.

And we sit and watch them wash up on the shore, take photos, then go off to bitch about paying a dime more for gas.

2. Examineradio, episode #93

The concept of a Living Wage Ordinance has been picking up steam across North America, with more than 140 cities in the United States having adopted such a measure. Currently, New Westminister, BC, is the only Canadian city to have passed such legislation, but the movement is gaining support across the country.

Suzanne MacNeil

In Halifax, organizations like the Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council are leading the charge to have this adopted by city council.

Mark Cunningham

This week we speak with Mark Cunningham, President of CUPE Local 108, and Suzanne MacNeil of the Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council about the practicalities of passing such an ordinance. We also talk to Christine Saulnier of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The progressive think tank this week released a thorough report on living wage ordinances using Halifax and Antigonish as test markets.

Christine Saulnier

Finally, we look to the city of Lincoln, Nebraska — a city approximately the size of Halifax — which in 2004 implemented a living wage ordinance for all city employees and all employees of firms with municipal contracts. We speak with Terry Werner, the former city council person responsible for introducing the bill, about the fight to get it passed and the resounding success it’s had.

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1. Dan Dare and audio drama

The scifi character Dan Dare has returned, Ron Foley MacDonald tells us:

Dan Dare began as a comic book in 1950, and quickly morphed into a radio series that gets called back at least once a generation. Referred to as the “British Buck Rogers,” the fast-paced series relies on hard Sci-Fi settings (spaceships, antagonistic aliens) wedded to furious plotting in order to deliver maximum entertainment. He has become almost as much a touchstone of British Sci-Fi culture as Doctor Who, being referenced, for example, in songs by pop-rock icons Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Art of Noise and Elton John. A punk bank, the Mekons, took their name from the primary villain in the Dare mythos. 


As audio drama, it’s not Shakespeare, but then again, it’s not meant to be. The series is not afraid of entertaining its audience. Despite its decline in Canada (the CBC stopped producing audio drama in 2012, for example), the medium remains wildly popular in Britain and countless other territories around the globe. Indeed, audio drama is still a vital art form, one that pauses to re-invigorate itself every few years.

2. Cranky letter of the day

To the Inverness Oran:

There has been a lot of discussion lately about wood cutting practices and a lot of valuable information is provided in meetings and articles. Living on Mount Young we have seen our share of wood management and contractors — good and bad. However, what I want to share here is about another issue connected to pulp cutting. 

Readers might remember that we had a lot of rain during the last weeks of November. When a harvester was brought in recently, the truck hauling it promptly got stuck on the steep hill leading up to Mount Young. Returning from night shift on the morning of December 3rd I met a pulp truck. I asked the truck driver why they were hauling since it had rained for days and the road was very soft. I knew that the caretaker of the property had an agreement with Clifton Sangster from North Inverness Forest Management to wait until the road was frozen for trucking out lumber. Phone calls were made, including to Bobby McLeod, who covered for Clifton Sangster while he was on vacation.

The caretaker even had Bobby sign a paper wherein he agreed that the road was to be kept passable at all times for passenger vehicles. Yet hauling continued and on December 8th we had a difficult time making it up the hill even with our 4×4. That afternoon I talked to all the stakeholders including Bobby McLeod and Wayne Gillis, the contractor who did the cutting for North Inverness, stressing that they needed to wait with any further hauling otherwise we would have no road left. Wayne Gillis told me that there would be no further hauling until freeze up. Yet the next morning I met Bobby McLeod on our road telling me that a pulp truck was on its way up. 

 The reason for me sharing this is that I am frustrated by companies who have so little regard for public property that they are willing to destroy the only access to someone’s home. 

Last winter B.A. Fraser Lumber Ltd. conducted a harvesting operation on Mount Young. Even though we have no direct involvement with the property in question, David Fraser had the courtesy to talk to my husband and informed him of what his plan was and listened to our concerns. He agreed to make sure lumber would only be trucked out when the road was frozen and he kept his promise 100 per cent — there was no damage done. So we do know that it can be done differently. 


Elly Heim, Mount Young


No public meetings.

On campus

Everyone is away.

In the harbour

1am: Berlin Express, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
11:30am: Fritz Reuter, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Mariel, Cuba
Noon: Faust, car carrier, arrives at Pier 31 from Southhampton, England

6am: ZIM Tarragona, container ship, arrives at HalTerm from Valencia, Spain
4:30pm: Faust, car carrier, sails from Pier 31 for New York


I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. The concept that our debt is manageable relies on one study by a heavily biased source. Interest rates are going up, we have huge infrastructure debts on the horizon, and we don’t print our own currency. That we will do OK in the future relies on rainbows and unicorns.

    1. Robert, money is basically created out of thin air in Canada. The notion that something called a “Canadian Dollar” exists and is good for anything is entirely a matter of collective trust. When chartered banks loan money, they don’t actually have to have the money – so they can loan out X dollars and after collecting interest, they ask for X+N dollars back. The central bank itself can print money to make up the difference – the result is an inevitable growth in the number of dollars in circulation.

  2. Thanks Tim. No matter what the cause turns out to be, the point that we are myopic in our concerns for the future stand. Debt is measurable, so controlling the debt vitalizes our fantasy of controlling the future, and what is not controllable scares the crap out of us, so better to ignore it. The idea that we need to learn to engage, adapt, coax, nudge, and only in some cases where it is possible and appropriate, to vanquish and control, seems to be the mature view that we pretty desperately need.

  3. The problem with jumping to blame climate change for every ecological problem is that it gives polluters a convenient excuse for why fish or whatever are dying. This happens a lot in Australia with the Great Barrier Reef – coal terminal operators, tourist operations and animal feedlots are only too happy to point at climate change whenever the ecological footprint of their activities come up.

  4. RE: Fish, climate change…

    While I have no doubt that climate change has effected marine species negatively. Lobsters are leaving the coast of Maine in their northward migration as the water warms. And yes, lobster populations will dwindle off the coast of Nova Scotia as the oceans continue their warming trend. So eventually, the lobster industry in Nova Scotia will die, but (fingers crossed) we’ll have a balanced budget. Right.

    I’m not sure that climate change has anything to do with the current mass die-off of such a large variety of marine life. And, as stated in your article, diseases generally don’t cut across so many species, particularly since they don’t appear to be directly dependent upon each other – herring don’t eat starfish. One thing that can kill a large variety of species are toxins such as pesticides.

    Hopefully, Environment Canada is working at solving this mystery, separate and apart from DFO. I have concerns about DFO’s close relationship with the aquaculture industry, not to mention the Harper era reconfiguration of that department.

    So let me cut to the chase: In 2009 Cooke Aquaculture was charged with using the banned (in Canada) pesticide, cypermethrin. The use of this chemical to deal with Cooke’s perennial problem of sea lice resulted in the death of a large number of lobsters off Deer Island and Grand Manan Island. Now, since the epicenter of this die-off appears to be in St. Mary’s Bay and since Cooke Aquaculture has open pen salmon facilities in St. Mary’s Bay it’s not a stretch to think Cooke might have something to do with this problem.

    1. Re: fish and climate change

      This is an insightful comment Trevor, and coming from a scientist of your calibre should be something to which we all take heed. Conspicuously absent from all media reports is whether or not aquacultural operations in the area are being looked at.
      In my lay thinking, this die off has to have an anthropogenic cause somewhere and following Ockham’s Razor, all eyes should first be on aquaculture.

  5. I think it is too early to speculate on what caused the fish deaths.

    This kind of thing used to happen near where I grew up on the Baie des Chaleurs when I was a kid. Fish of all kinds, starfish, skates, lobsters, crab, etc etc. washed up in a stinking heap. In those days, it was chlorine leaks from the paper mill, or other chemical leaks from a local chemical plant that did them in. People shrugged and said we needed the jobs, although I think even back then there was some kind of nominal fine levied. I’m happy to say this doesn’t happen any more, but I also hope it isn’t a similar cause, pollution, which killed the sea life in Nova Scotia.

    If you Google, you see that this thing seems to be happening in other parts of the world. I don’t know enough about the subject to say if it is something natural and to be expected, or if it is something more sinister. The fact that it is so localized, but so widespread in the species affected, is what is so interesting.