1. Dirty Dealing, part 2
Right now, as we publish, Frances Martin, the Deputy Minister of the Department of the Environment, is appearing before the legislature’s Public Accounts committee, where she is being asked about the Environmental Assessment for Northern Pulp Mill’s plan to discharge mill effluent into the Northumberland Strait.
The Northumberland Strait is a prime lobster ground.
In November, the Halifax Examiner published Part 1 of Linda Pannozzo’s “Dirty Dealing” series, which noted that:
Northern Pulp is planning to pipe the “treated” wastewater — upwards of 70 million litres per day, equivalent to 28 Olympic-size swimming pools — to an underwater site outside of Pictou Harbour, in the Northumberland Strait, a prime lobster fishing ground. With the province opting for a faster environmental review of the project, one that requires much less time or pubic consultation, many are wondering if it’s already a done deal and why other treatment options — ones that don’t use waterways as a dumping ground — aren’t also on the table.
In January, PEI Premier Wade MacLauchlan further raised the alarm about the proposed effluent plan’s effect on the fishery in a public letter to to Catherine McKenna, the federal minister of Environment and Climate Change, and to Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil:
I share the concerns of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island fishers that an outflow pipe placed into the Northumberland Strait could have unintended consequences for our commercial fishery and aquaculture industries.
The Northumberland Strait has one of the more sensitive areas within the Gulf of St Lawrence with unique tidal and water circulation patterns. The federal government has committed to increasing and enhancing protection for all marine species, habitat and sensitive ecosystems in the Gulf through the development of Marine Protected Area Networks.
An effluent pipe that would allow as much as 75,000 cubic metres of fresh warm water to be directed daily into the Northumberland Strait is not a project that our government will support as proposed.
I understand that a Level 1 environmental assessment will be conducted this summer. I ask that a more comprehensive assessment take place and that the impact on Island fisheries is taken into consideration as part of this work.
Yesterday, we published Part 2 of Pannozzo’s series, which dives further into the issue:
Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request reveal that concern about the possibility that Northern Pulp’s proposed effluent treatment facility could result in eutrophication, or the creation of a dead zone in the Northumberland Strait, was raised early on by a senior official with Nova Scotia’s Environmental Assessment (EA) Branch.
Emails between Northern Pulp’s consulting firm, KSH Solutions Inc., and Helen MacPhail, the province’s Environmental Assessment Supervisor, indicate that in April 2017, one day after KSH provided MacPhail with an information package on the project, she replied by asking whether the “potential for eutrophication” was “being considered”?
“Eutrophication is indeed part of our receiving water study work,” KSH replied. “Nitrogen and phosphorus concentration and diffusion are being modelled and are, in fact, the main variable in locating the point of discharge.”
The emails also reveal that KSH expressed early on — well before a quicker Class 1 environmental assessment designation was OKed — that since the project had a “fixed completion date,” any impact to the schedule, as a result of changes due to public consultations, was “of concern.” According to KSH, the new treatment facility had to be up and running by July of 2019 to allow for a “gradual exit from Boat Harbour.” Any snags in the process could make the legislated closure of Boat Harbour in early 2020, from Northern Pulp’s perspective, impossible.
In short, at least one provincial regulator had concerns about the effluent plan creating a “dead zone” in the Northumberland Strait and the decision to opt for a quicker Class 1 EA will mean that the subject is not given the attention it requires, which apparently, according to emails, would suit the consultants just fine since they don’t want to run into anything that would delay the implementation of the plan. (This paragraph was tweaked ever-so-slightly just after publication on Pannozzo’s advice.)
And, as Pannozzo explains, the claim that “nitrogen and phosphorus concentration and diffusion are being modelled [in the Environmental Assessment] and are, in fact, the main variable in locating the point of discharge,” is true. But as she gets into the weeds of how that modelling works in practice, Pannozzo finds that provincial regulators routinely adopt a different process — and really, a different scientific understanding — than do federal regulators, resulting in a less-vigorous protection of aquatic environments.
We’re talking about a billion-dollar lobster fishery.
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2. Teachers to vote on potential strike
Just after 5:30 yesterday evening, Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet issued the following statement:
Our education system is once again under attack from the McNeil government. Last week we held information sessions around the province to discuss what the Glaze report will mean for our students, our classrooms and our profession. It was clear NSTU members agree the situation is dire and that as teachers and administrators we need to stand up for public education.
We cannot sit on our hands and let Stephen McNeil do to our schools, what he did to our hospitals. We need to be prepared to fight for what is right and just.
As a result, the NSTU provincial executive approved a strike vote to be held on Tuesday, February 20. This will give the NSTU a mandate to implement a job action if the government is unprepared to back down from implementing the Glaze report.
The teachers are not in a legal strike position, so as I see it, they probably won’t actually refuse to go to work, but they have other options, including a work-to-rule action, as they did last year.
3. “Needlessly institutionalized” hearing continues
“The second day of a human rights inquiry about whether people with intellectual disabilities continue to be ‘needlessly institutionalized‘ in Nova Scotia heard from an expert public policy researcher on the topic,” reports Jennifer Henderson for the Examiner.
That expert was Michael Bach, who had been hired by the Dexter government after a scandal at the Braemore Home, where residents complained of physical abuse and overcrowding. Continues Henderson:
Bach’s task was to transform and improve the way services to persons with intellectual disabilities were delivered in this province. At the time, 1,100 people were on a waiting list for housing and other services that might allow them to live in smaller homes in the community instead of nursing homes or the Nova Scotia Hospital (where the three complainants to the Human Rights Commission spent decades of their lives.)
Despite that recommendation, the number of people on the wait list is now 1,500.
“One of the systemic barriers to people being able to live more independently,” Michael Bach told yesterday’s hearing, “is the per day funding approach that attaches the money to where people can live. The pattern of funding tilts toward institutions or beds instead of a person-centred approach. In 2013, there was no lack of housing stock but the supports individuals needed were attached to a particular type of housing, usually an adult residential facility. People couldn’t just take their support money and rent an apartment.”
As Bach notes, we’re now seeing that disability is not just a medical concern, but also a human rights issue.
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4. Divest Dal
Yesterday, the Dalhousie Board of Governors agreed to bring in a “external financial consultant” to see if the university’s investment funds can be divested of fossil fuel-intensive industries.
This is a partial reversal of an 2014 vote by the governors against divestment.
The student group Divest Dal is taking credit, as well they should. It’s a big day for student activism.
After yesterday’s vote, Divest Dal sent out a statement:
The student-led campaign Divest Dal has been calling on the university to divest its endowment fund from the top 200 fossil fuel companies since 2013. The Dalhousie BoG voted against divestment in 2014, but since then Divest Dal has worked with the Dalhousie Senate and an ad hoc Senate committee on divestment to move forward on divestment. Following a nine-day campout on the Dalhousie quad in November 2017 in protest of Dalhousie’s investments in fossil fuel companies, Divest Dal was able to address the BoG at the November 29th, 2017 meeting. At the same meeting, student Board representatives put forward a motion proposing the third-party fund search be voted on at the following meeting.
Alex Ayton, the Divest Dal member who addressed the BoG in November and student representative on the Senate ad hoc committee on divestment states: “This fund search is the crucial first step towards changing our investment strategy and aligning it with our institutional values. We know divestment is possible and we hope conducting this fund search will make it clear to the Board that divestment is possible at Dalhousie, too. Students have worked hard on this motion and we’re glad it was passed. We’ll continue to hold the Board accountable and continue to advocate for a commitment on divestment.”
Another Divest Dal member, Laura Cutmore, explains why the timing of this vote is important: “This is an exciting moment for the Canadian divestment movement. The first two Canadian universities committed to full fossil fuel divestment last year and today’s decision is an important step forward towards divestment at Dalhousie. At the recent Dal 200 launch, President Florizone mentioned that Dalhousie was modeled after the University of Edinburgh – a university that committed to full fossil fuel divestment just last week. On the 200th anniversary of the founding of our university, we have the opportunity to make history and show true leadership on the most important issue of our generation.”
5. Invisible investment
“The mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and candidate for the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leadership, Cecil Clarke, says the next major stage in the effort to create a container terminal at the port of Sydney will be the establishment of an international working group,” reports Nancy King for the Cape Breton Post:
In a recent interview, Clarke said that will take place in “the coming weeks and months.”
“A lot of planning, a lot of investment is happening behind the scenes,” Clarke said. “That really is a positive sign and really a culmination of all of the working efforts to date, and it really gets into the detail of what a terminal and associated development would mean.”
The people involved with the working group can’t be identified at this time, the mayor said, but he said those involved with the effort to market the port have made “great strides.”
Got that? “A lot of investment is happening behind the scenes.” Uh-huh. As I (and any semi-educated 14-year-old) understand it, “investment” means, ya know, “money.” Like, money laid down, money ponied up, money transferred over, money moved from Big Private Wallet A to Puny Municipal Budget Line B….
But if anyone has invested more than the price of a couple of drinks into the Sydney container terminal fantasy — I mean, from their own pocket, not some government fund — I’ll eat my hat.
And if there hasn’t been any actually private money invested into the project, what do we do with a provincial leadership candidate who is so cavalier with the facts?
Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am, City Hall) — here’s the agenda.
Regional Watersheds Advisory Board (Wednesday, 5pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — no action items on the agenda.
Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — here’s the agenda.
Active Transportation Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm, City Hall) — the committee is looking at the Common Master Plan.
Public Information Meeting – Case 20928 (Thursday, 7pm, Lindsay Children’s Room, Halifax Central Library) — RHAD Architects wants to build a three-storey, 12-unit apartment building at 5720-5722 Inglis Street, adjacent to a registered heritage property.
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — see #1 above.
Resources (Thursday, 10am, One Government Place) — the committee will talk to people in the seafood industry.
Tax and Public Opinion: Can We Do Better Tax Talk? (Wednesday, 10am, Room 1014, Rowe Management Building) — Graham Steele, Shirley Tillotson, and Kim Brooks will talk about Canada’s tax policy.
Guitar Recital (Wednesday, 11:45am, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — students of Scott Macmillan, Doug Reach, and Jeff Torbert will perform.
Big Data (Wednesday, 12pm, Research Services Conference Room, Goldbloom Pavilion, IWK Health Centre) — Stan Matwin will speak on “Big Data is the Big Deal: The What, Why, How, and How Not of Big Data.”
Thesis Defence, Psychology and Neuroscience (Wednesday, 2pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Meghan Schinkel will defend her thesis, “The Role of Siblings in Pediatric Pain.”
Hydrophobic Hydration (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Sir Charles Tupper Medical Building) — Gilbert Walker from the University of Toronto will speak.
Improving Campus Equity and Inclusion (Wednesday, 6pm, Room 303, Student Union Building) — the group discussion is for Self-Identified Racialized Students. RSVP here.
Thesis Defence, Computer Science (Thursday, 9:30am, Room 3107, The Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Armin Sajadi will defend his thesis, “Semantic Analysis using Wikipedia Graph Structure.”
“Love is in the Stars” by Tony Schellinck (Thursday, 11:25am, Planetarium, Dunn Building) — $5, minimum age 13, with parental guidance. Reserve space here.
Improving Campus Equity and Inclusion (Wednesday, 6pm, Council Chambers, Student Union Building) — info and reservations here.
Sand Wars (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Theatre, Marion McCain Building) — a screening of Denis Delestrac’s 2014 documentary.
Concerto Night (Thursday, 7:30pm, Sir James Dunn Theatre, Dal Arts Centre) — Peter Allen directs the Dalhousie Symphony Orchestra and Soloists. $15/$10
Artificial Intelligence: Successes and Challenges (Wednesday, 7pm, Alumni Hall, University of King’s College) — Stan Matwin, Canada Research Chair in Computer Science, Dalhousie University, will talk about the future of artificial intelligence, its hopes, and fears.
In the harbour
5:30am: Patriot, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
6am: ZIM Qingdao, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Algeciras, Spain
11am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 31 from St. John’s
5:30pm: ZIM Qingdao, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm. Sheldon’s off this week; the guest host is Andrew Pinsett, and my fellow panelist is Metro reporter Zane Woodford.