1. Renewable power, real and fake
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
The Liberal government introduced amendments to the Electricity Act yesterday that will enable it to establish a new program to promote the use of more solar energy throughout the province.
In a briefing with reporters, Energy and Mines Minister Chuck Porter could offer few specifics about how the program would work. He said the mechanics would be worked out during consultations with potential solar power producers and consumers this year before being enshrined in regulations. Here’s how Porter described the initiative:
The Shared Solar program will reduce barriers to solar adoption for individuals, communities, and businesses…under this new program, municipalities, First Nations, co-ops, and not-for-profits can create community solar gardens which will help reduce energy poverty and provide direct benefit to communities.
Under the amendment to the legislation, the province retains the authority to run the program and order Nova Scotia Power to buy the solar energy. No price has been set and Porter seemed unclear on how that would happen, although tariffs are usually approved by the Utilities and Review Board.
Porter said the cost would not affect power rates for anyone except participants in the program.
The cost of large-scale solar arrays has come down in recent years, but Nova Scotia Power, in its 2020 long-term planning document (the Integrated Resource Plan), did not envision solar becoming a player in the province’s energy mix until about 2043.
In his speech to the legislature, Porter said the intent of the legislation is “to create new pathways to grow clean, renewable energy sources for communities.”
The amendments would pave the way for tenants to be able to purchase solar power through a subscription or shared ownership model, so residents would no longer need to own their own home to participate.
The changes also are designed to make solar energy a more attractive option for businesses that had previously been limited or capped at 100 kilowatts per hour. The new cap (which will be set after consultation) will allow companies or farms to scale up their solar installations.
The government’s news release quoted the mayor of the town of Antigonish. “Municipal participation in community solar is an excellent way for towns to generate new revenue and save money, at the least cost to ratepayers, as we transition to clean energy,” commented Laurie Boucher.
During the briefing, Porter was asked if he planned to introduce any other amendments to the Electricity Act during this session. The province’s consumer advocate and the agency that regulates electricity prices have both questioned the wisdom of an amendment last spring that forced Nova Scotia Power to buy more electricity generated from biomass at the Brooklyn facility owned by NS Power’s parent company, Emera. It’s more expensive to buy than other sources of energy as well as being questionable as a “green” fuel, depending on whether the trees were clearcut.
At the time, the government justified the decision saying delays at Muskrat Falls meant Brooklyn was needed to meet the province’s renewable energy targets, which were extended to 2022. But in a written decision last January, the Utilities and Review Board observed “it would be odd if NS Power is obliged to purchase dispatchable renewable electricity it does not need to meet Renewable Energy Standard requirements and pay $7 million, or perhaps an additional $10 million, for it and charge it to ratepayers.”
Asked about that “odd” situation and whether he plans to do anything to change it, Porter said he has no plans at this time to make any further change but he “respects” the UARB’s opinion and he expects more discussion on the matter will take place.
Later in the day, Patricia Jriege, a communications advisor with the Department of Energy, emailed the Examiner to say discussions involving changes to Renewable Energy Standards are underway and that any change would be made through regulation, not legislation.
2. CCA registry
This item is also written by Jennifer Henderson.
The government has introduced a bill to make it easier to plan for present and future staffing needs in nursing homes, the home care program, and hospitals. It doesn’t do anything for the people doing the work.
Continuing Care Assistants who graduate from a two-year program at Nova Scotia Community College — or who are internationally trained — provide the bulk of the personal care required by elderly and disabled persons. The Expert Panel on Long-term Care confirmed nursing homes find it challenging to recruit and retain enough CCAs to provide adequate care for residents.
The Expert Panel recommended the province make it mandatory for certified CCAs to register so the government has better information to help with workforce planning in the future. (Registration is currently voluntary; there will be no cost to CCAs who must now sign the new Registry.)
The province funds about 7,000 CCA positions. It pays the tuition cost for people who take the CCA course, many of whom are new immigrants. Numbers obtained from the Health Department estimate there were about 388 job openings for CCAs at nursing homes based on a survey taken last September. Most of these jobs were casual or part-time and the pay range is $18-20 an hour.
Health Minister Zach Churchill was asked whether the province would consider increasing how much these workers are paid in order to show the jobs are valued, another recommendation from the same 2018 Expert Panel on Long-term Care that the province has so far ignored. Churchill said the pay issue would be part of future negotiations between the unions representing the workers and the province.
3. The cost of poverty: $2 billion
“A new report looking at what poverty costs Atlantic Canada pegs the total annual cost at $4.6 billion, with Nova Scotia losing $2 billion to poverty per year,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:
The report found the total cost of poverty in the Atlantic region ranges from a high of $2 billion per year in Nova Scotia to a low of $273 million in Prince Edward Island. The cost of poverty is estimated at $959 million in Newfoundland and Labrador, and $1.4 billion in New Brunswick. The estimates weren’t standardized for population or the size of the economy or government.
The report’s authors state the costs represent a “significant loss” of economic growth, from 4.76% of GDP in Nova Scotia to 2.9% in Newfoundland and Labrador. In Prince Edward Island, it’s 4.10% of GDP, and 3.71% in New Brunswick.
4. City hiring spree
“Hoping to catch up with the city’s growth, Halifax councillors are considering adding two dozen staff as their budgeting process for the year ahead continues,” reports Zane Woodford:
Council’s budget committee met on Wednesday, hearing presentations from Planning and Development director Kelly Denty and chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé.
With the committee’s approval, Kelly’s department is getting a 24% budget increase for 2021-2022, planning to spend $16.7 million. That increase includes 13 new positions, including two planners to work on affordable housing initiatives, and six employees to implement the city’s climate change mitigation plan, HalifACT 2050.
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Two new cases of COVID-19 were announced in Nova Scotia yesterday (Wednesday, April 7).
Both cases are in Nova Scotia’s Health Central Zone — one is related to travel outside Atlantic Canada, and the other is a close contact of a previously reported case.
Both are people aged 40-59 — one is a woman, and the other is a man.
There are now 37 known active cases in the province. One person is in hospital with the disease, but not in ICU.
The active cases are distributed as follows:
• 10 in the Halifax Peninsula/Chebucto Community Health Network in the Central Zone
• 2 in the Dartmouth/Southeastern Community Health Network in the Central Zone
• 2 in the Bedford/Sackville Community Health Network in the Central Zone
• 2 in the Eastern Shore/Musquodoboit Community Health Network in the Central Zone
• 1 in the Colchester/East Hants Community Health Network in the Northern Zone
• 2 in the Cape Breton Community Health Network in the Eastern Zone
• 2 in the Inverness, Victoria, and Richmond Community Health Network in the Eastern Zone
• 5 in the Annapolis and Kings Community Health Network in the Western Zone
• 5 in the Lunenburg & Queens Community Health Network in the Western Zone
• 1 in the Yarmouth, Shelburne & Digby Community Health Network in the Western Zone
Five cases are not assigned to a Community Health Network, but they are in the Central Zone
Nova Scotia Health labs completed 1,989 tests Tuesday.
There are no pop-up testing sites currently scheduled. But you can get tested at the Nova Scotia Health labs by going here.
Tuesday, 6,730 doses of vaccine were administered. So far, a total of 123,166 doses of vaccine have been administered — 93,097 first doses and 30,069 second doses.
People who are 70 or over can book a vaccine appointment here. And people 55-64 can book appointments to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Here are the new daily cases and seven-day rolling average (today at 4.9) since the start of the second wave (Oct. 1):
And here is the active caseload for the second wave:
Here is the updated potential COVID exposure advisory map:
6. Glen Assoun
I’ve long been a fan of the podcast Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom.
Flom is a fascinating character in his own right — he’s a successful music industry exec who has committed himself to reform of the justice system in the US, becoming associated first with Families Against Mandatory Minimums and more recently with the Innocence Project.
Every week, the podcast churns out the horrible stories of justice gone awry, with ever-more-bizarre and revolting accounts of people being framed by police for crimes they did not commit. Most of the stories are about wrongful conviction cases in the US, but Flom does look at a handful of international cases — notably Amanda Knox (a repeat interviewee), but also cases in Britain and Kenya.
This week’s episode is about Glen Assoun. Flom interviews Assoun and his lawyers Sean MacDonald and Phil Campbell.
It’s good that Assoun’s story is getting a broader audience. I was especially pleased to hear Assoun speak for himself; he seems to be doing well.
7. Albert Barbusci goes nuclear
Mary Campbell, of the Cape Breton Spectator, reviews one of the oddest news stories over the past week:
Enquête, Radio-Canada’s investigative news show — think, Fifth Estate in French — on Friday dedicated part of its last episode of the season to a story involving a familiar face:
It seems “Montreal businessman” Albert Barbusci, in addition to working tirelessly to promote the Port of Sydney (and his Florida tree-climbing parks), has been scheming to store the world’s nuclear waste in Atlantic Canada. You can watch the full French program at the link above or read the English summary here.
Campbell has been following Barbusci for years, as he’s central to the supposed plan to develop a container terminal in Sydney.
I say “supposed plan” because the whole thing is premised on an absurdity (that Sydney is the North America port “closest to Europe” and therefore has some geographic appeal to shippers, when exactly the opposite is true — it is the North American port farthest from North American markets) and would require an impossible sequencing of events to become reality (not just finding shippers who would commit to using the facility, but turning the old Cape Breton & Central Nova Scotia Railway right-of-way into an actually functioning railroad instead of a series of broken down bridges held together with bailing wire and duct tape).
I often feel that many, maybe most, investment schemes are aimed not so much at an real end game, but are rather more about the sell — there might be some remote chance of, say, building a space port, but the money today is in setting up the company and paying the huckster’s salary, as he strings along the gullible with continued press releases and media interviews about how the project just has to clear one more regulatory or financing hurdle before it becomes a reality, and that will be when everyone else gets rich.
From Campbell’s reporting on the supposed plan to develop a container pier in Sydney, I get the same vibe. Barbusci is playing on the hopes and resentments of a hard-worn part of the province that deserves better than it has, and by dangling a dream of future riches (and more important: global recognition) before them, he can continue to squeeze out public money for his globe-trotting adventures. Hey, it’s better pay than running an online news site.
In any event, could there be a more perfect Spectator story? The Sydney port huckster is also involved in a secret plot with the former prime minister to ship nuclear waste to Canada (maybe through the port of Sydney???) to bury it in Labrador, because who cares about Labrador.
Campbell draws the parallels between the two plots, which basically boil down to what political scientist Denis Saint-Martin calls “silent politics” — when, as Campbell writes, “a group of lawyers and lobbyists and businesspeople, rather than going public with their plans, first take the time to get their ducks in order. (That’s my translation of the French expression ‘alignent leurs pions’). Saint-Martin says proponents will quietly find First Nations who support their plans, then get international groups to validate their project on the grounds of national or world interest.”
There’s much more detail, which you can read at the Spectator, but Campbell’s takeaway is worth noting here:
I think this will actually count as a “draw your own conclusion” article, although the way I see it, there are only two conclusions to be drawn.
Either you believe that Barbusci is an actual force in the world of business who almost succeeded in helping an American company bury Japanese nuclear waste in Labrador.
You believe Barbusci fancies himself a force in the world of business but, other than selling his advertising agency in the ’90s, has not accomplished much of note and this nuclear waste scheme would have gone the way of his plans for online Mah-jong and high-end Chinese memorial parks.
Either way, though, the value of the CBRM’s continued association with him seems debatable.
As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, and so this article is behind the Spectator’s paywall. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
A few days ago, a reader alerted me to this Halifax Today news article quoting Stephen Adams, executive director of the Urban Development Institute of Nova Scotia, about the housing situation generally in Halifax, and specifically about the federal government’s recent funding of $10.5 million for 52 affordable housing units in the Halifax area.
That money went to non-profits, but Adams said it should instead have gone to for-profit developers to build the units, and then the companies would turn them over to non-profits to operate.
Seems there’s not even one tiny bit of housing action the development industry doesn’t want a piece of.
Adams, you’ll recall, was a long-time city councillor representing Spryfield. As councillor, there was never a development proposal he didn’t like. I long chronicled his cozy relationship as councillor with the development industry.
For example, in 2014 I wrote about “an attempt by Adams to sneak in a last-minute change to the revision of the regional plan that would open up the Purcells Cove backlands to development. This land, mostly owned by Clayton Developments, is zoned as ‘urban reserve,’ meaning that it can not be developed until 2031, at the earliest. The change Adams tried to make would rezone the land as ‘rural commuter,’ and immediately allow it to be developed at low- to medium-density, in essence turning it all into sprawl.”
His attempts to open up the backlands to development were matched with unblinking support for every urban development across the municipality, merits be damned: no matter what the issue, if the development industry wanted it, Adams threw his vote behind it.
It came as a bit of a surprise to me when Adams announced that he wasn’t reoffering in the 2020 election. I mean, it was a cush job — Adams was literally calling it in from his Bedford home, showing up at virtual council meetings unprepared and hitting that “yea” button with abandon for any and all development proposals, and pulling down close to $90K for it. Why give that up?
Well, it turns out that he had potentially even more enriching work at hand.
Adams’ last official day as a councillor was November 12, 2020. The very next day, November 13, 2020, was the effective date that Adams and his firm — Stephen Adams Consulting Services Inc. — were listed on the provincial lobbyist registry. He declared that his lobbyist targets were the provincial departments of Economic Development, Service Nova Scotia, and Municipal Relations.
And here he is as the executive director of the Urban Development Institute of Nova Scotia, which describes itself this way:
The Urban Development Institute of Nova Scotia (UDINS) is affiliated with an impressive network of national organizations. Locally, UDI is comprised of a diverse, knowledgeable and highly respected membership team, in all aspects of the land development industry. Our members include, but are not limited to developers, builders, consultants, engineers, architects, government organizations, mortgage brokers, real estate agents, lawyers, and suppliers. UDI members and Board of Directors are well-respected leaders in their fields of expertise and provide unparalleled credibility.
UDI members are a multi-billion dollar Who’s Who of the big players in the local development industry: Armco Capital Inc., Atlantic Developments Inc., BANC Investments Ltd., Blue Basin Investments, Brunello Estates, Canada Lands Company, Clayton Developments Limited, Crombie REIT, Cresco, ENQORE Developments Ltd., Kiel Developments, Parkdale Developments Ltd., POLYCORP Group of Companies, Ramar Developments Ltd., Southwest Properties Ltd., Stevens Group of Companies, and WM Fares Group.
So Adams went immediately from doing developers’ bidding as a councillor to working for them directly. There’s not an eyelash of space between the two jobs: Adams went to bed one night a councillor, and woke up the next morning as a registered lobbyist.
I asked the Examiner’s municipal reporter Zane Woodford about Adams’ recent work at City Hall as a lobbyist, and Woodford responded:
Adams requested councillors hire six new staff in Planning and Development.
“Our planning staff have been working diligently and quite hard to process the many applications brought forward. Especially with the pandemic, I think they’re even more than ever. Given the number of applications, they outpace staffing levels.”
Adams argued council should hire more planners in order to speed up development applications, and make sure one planner can stick with an application from start to finish and get to a yes or no.
He also suggested dedicating staff to affordable housing projects, prioritizing those approvals and freeing up staff to handle market-rent applications.
“When the buildings are getting built more quickly and occupied, property taxes are collected sooner,” he said.
Adams told councillors he’s “just a phone call away.”
Some of Adams’ suggestions were included in the budget approved on Wednesday. The budget included two new planners just for affordable housing and council voted to consider adding three more new planners for general work.
Adams appeared on behalf of a developer in Spryfield at a Halifax and West Community Council meeting last week.
A few points.
First, as an aside, what the heck is the publicly owned crown corporation Canada Lands Company doing joining a business advocacy group formed to lobby governments? How much public money is going towards lobbying the very government that owns Canada Lands?
Second, while Adams and his firm are registered as provincial lobbyists, and while UDI is registered as a sponsoring organization in the federal lobbyist registry — UDI wants to gut federal wetland protection regulations — neither UDI nor Adams are registered as municipal lobbyists. That’s because there’s no such registry.
I’ve long argued that there needs to be a municipal lobbyist registry. Before I learned about Adams’ new job, the most egregious example of municipal lobbying that I was aware of was Jamie MacNeil, a consultant with the M5 lobbying firm who on the sly tried to convince city council to poison Dartmouth’s lakes on behalf of a company called Lake Management Services. It’s a tawdry and offensive tale, which you can read about here.
There are undoubtedly many more secret lobbying efforts to shape and sway municipal law-making to the benefit of the rich and powerful, and they’re doing it on the down-low, with the broader public having no knowledge of this clearly anti-democratic process.
Councillors should’ve established a municipal lobbyist registry back in 2015, when MacNeil’s shenanigans were revealed. Now, with Adams directly lobbying council, the need for a municipal lobbyist registry is inarguable.
Third, there clearly needs to be a “cooling off” period before city bureaucrats and city councillors can take up jobs doing business with City Hall or lobbying before council.
Budget Committee (Friday, 9:30am) — contingency date
Legislature sits (Thursday, 11am)
Legislature sits (Friday, 9am)
Is Criticizing Immigration Racist? (Friday, 2pm) — virtual debate with Liban Abokor from Youth LEAPS, Rohini Bannerjee from Saint Mary’s University, Carey Newman from the University of Victoria, and moderated by journalist and podcaster Hannah Sung.
Canada is one of the most multicultural countries globally, where more than one in five people is an immigrant. Immigrants have contributed to Canadian society in every way, from politics to the arts to science to industry. But in every generation, there has been a recurring wave of criticism of immigration in Canada. So, we ask this simple question: is criticizing immigration a debate around the efficacy of immigration policy, or is attacking immigration or criticizing specific immigrants masking a deeper problem that centres around race and ethnicity?
Mount Saint Vincent
Tactics for Staying Home in Uncertain Times (Thursday, 2pm) — an informal virtual chat with Liuba Gonzales de Armas, curator of the show at the MSVU Art Gallery, online until May 16. More info here.
In the harbour
05:00: MOL Maneuver, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
05:30: Bishu Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
07:00: Tannhauser, car carrier, arrives at Pier 31 from Southampton, England
11:45: Bishu Highway sails for sea
15:00: Acadian, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
16:00: Asterix, replenishment vessel, arrives at Dockyard from sea
16:00: Elka Bene, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
Lots of stuff in the works! I hope to have the first part of an investigative series published later today, and tomorrow we’re getting lawyered up for another investigative article. All this costs a lot of money. Please subscribe, or drop us a donation. Thanks!