1. Stephen McNeil’s future head bump
“I have every intention to be seeking a third mandate,” Premier Stephen McNeil tells Keith Doucette, reporting for the Canadian Press:
Two months after the Liberals took office in 2013, they forecasted a $481-million deficit, largely after deciding to book $280 million in pension obligations. By last September’s budget, the government estimated a slim $1.3-million surplus, following a surplus of nearly $150 million for fiscal 2016-17.
The modest surplus was delivered to a large extent on the back of contract strife with public-sector unions, including teachers and health-care workers.
There have also been challenges to the health-care system, including persistent family doctor shortages, as the government moved to amalgamate the province’s nine health authorities into a single administrative unit.
McNeil and his Liberals won election largely by making some dubious promises about controlling the price of electricity. In office, he has made a fetish of controlling the deficit, an issue that the public badly understands, but McNeil came off looking like he was taking on the evil public employee unions, and in some circles that made him look strong and resolute.
His current popularity collapse hinges on the doctor shortage. McNeil and his absurdly large and overpaid PR team should have been able to manage the public image aspect to the doctor shortage, and even spin it to their advantage, but McNeil’s own hot head short-circuited that possibility.
There are four long years before another election will have to be called, and anything could happen. World events (another global financial collapse, Trump ditching NAFTA, a meteor strike…) that have no obvious Nova Scotia connection could overwhelm us. McNeil might tumble out of his bathtub, hit his head, and begin channeling Xenu. Justin Beiber might decide to move to Nova Scotia and run for the PC leadership (OK, I’ll predict that last one won’t happen)… Point is, I’d be foolish to try to predict the course of events leading up to the next election.
I will predict this, however: McNeil’s own hubris will determine his fate, and some sort of Shakespearean drama involving loyalty and his inner circle will play out.
2. Why are Right Whales Dying in the Gulf of St. Lawrence?
The recent spate of deaths of right whales, mainly in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, has been perplexing even to the scientists studying the whales, and the deaths are even harder to explain to the public at large.
But a group of high school students — Cape Breton Highlands Education Centre/Academy Grade 12 students Kiera Doyle, Alex Conrad, Becca Clark, Campbell Hart, and Sophie Blondin — have put together a remarkably understandable and accessible primer on the issue.
The students learned how to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software from their teacher, Bruce Miller, and then created a “story map” called Why are Right Whales Dying in the Gulf of St. Lawrence?
The students first map the whale deaths, as follows:
Then, they explain the migration habits of the whales, and make some suggestions for why the whales are appearing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence — climate change probably plays into it, but there are geologic similarities between the waters of southeast Nova Scotia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and:
Some scientists are proposing that the dispersal of the right whale population is not in fact moving north to the Gulf of St. Lawrence at all, and rather that more whales are being found in this area due to the increased searches and studies being conducted there.
The students then take their whale death map and overlay it with a map of shipping lanes:
In the image, green and red lines represent major shipping lanes through the water. Dark blue areas represent where different types of ships occasionally travel. Although the right whale deaths are not along the main lanes, the whales die along the areas where some ships still travel. These areas are also where many fishermen travel through and set their traps. Additionally, it is possible that the whales are hit in the shipping lanes and then drift with the currents. Of particular concern are two ferry routes that are very close to where the whales were discovered.
The students go on to analyze how fishing gear affects the whales, and conclude:
After analyzing the whale migration patterns, their diets, and the locations of the whale deaths, it was determined that the root cause of death in almost all cases was fishing and/or ship related. Climate change and changes to the ocean and environment are thought to be causing the migration of copepods to colder waters, which, in turn, leads to the migration of right whales to the GSL where most deaths are recorded. This climate change must also be limited as much as possible, but more immediately the tightening of fishing and shipping laws is necessary so the deaths can be reduced and possibly even avoided altogether. This will not be such an easy task, because it may disturb people’s livelihoods, such as fishermen; however, what is certain is that we need to make changes now, before this problem brings about the extinction of the entire right whales species.
Congratulations to the students.
3. ’tis the season
This is a slow news time. Back when I worked for other media companies, that meant I had to write “year in review” stories and then “the year ahead” stories. That always annoyed me, so now that I’m my own boss, I don’t do either. Better to relax and leave you readers to your own devices than to go through the motions.
I do have one story I’ve been working on for a few weeks, and between the eggnog-drinking and gift-wrapping and chestnut-roasting and sleigh-riding, I’ll try to finish that today.
Otherwise, we’re in semi-hibernation mode. I’ll have another short Morning File tomorrow, and El Jones may have a holiday story for Saturday, but then, unless something dramatic happens, we’re off until Wednesday.
No public meetings this week.
No public events.
In the harbour
5:30am: Floragracht, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 30 from Baltimore
6:30am: Atlantic Sun, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
11:30am: NYK Atlas, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
3:45pm: Bess, car carrier, arrives at Pier 27 from Southampton, England
5:30pm: Atlantic Sun, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
11pm: Alice Oldendorff, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from New York
Santa is creepy.