1. McNeil stepping down

Premier Stephen McNeil speaks on Thursday. Credit: Zane Woodford

Stephen McNeil is stepping down as premier. Zane Woodford reports on the surprise announcement, which McNeil made Thursday during a post-cabinet news conference. Says McNeil:

Seventeen years is a long time, and it’s long enough.

Today I’m announcing I will be stepping down and leaving public office. I have informed the party to plan for a leadership campaign, which I expect will take months. I will stay on and continue to govern, and I will be here to work with public health to keep Nova Scotians safe until the next leader is chosen.

I love this job. I’ve enjoyed every day of it, and every day I’m inspired by the people of this province. But this is not a life-long career. I have always believed that governing is not about power. It is about purpose. And I want to thank Nova Scotians for giving me the opportunity to be your premier. I may not have always gotten it right, but here’s what I know for sure: we are better together and being kind matters.

McNeil said he planned on making the announcement after March Break, but then COVID-19 happened.

The premier talked about the sacrifices his family made, his accomplishments in government, including austerity and balanced budgets, but also the public inquiry into the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, his government’s organ donation changes, Boat Harbour, and the pre-primary program. He also says he has no regrets about battles with the province’s public sector unions, including those for teachers, nurses, and Crown prosecutors.

It goes against political wisdom to get into a fight with the teachers’ union going into a provincial election campaign, which we did the last time because we believed what we were doing was right. And my colleagues stood with us, going into the campaign and knocking on doors through the campaign, and the voters rewarded us and sent us back. They never cracked and I’m so proud of them for everything they’ve been doing.

McNeil says he won’t leave until the Liberal party chooses a new leader. As Woodford reports, an election has to take place by June 2022, but will likely happen sooner.

Click here to read Woodford’s full story on McNeil’s announcement.

Graham Steele shared a history lesson on Facebook about the transition to the next premier because the next Liberal leader will automatically become premier. Steele writes:

Nova Scotia does NOT have a history of easy transitions within the same party. The last time a long-term premier handed off to another long-term premier was 1896.

In the postwar period, there have been five “handoffs”. None has gone especially well.

In 1954, premier Angus L. Macdonald died in office. Harold Connolly took over on an interim basis, then lost the leadership convention to Henry Hicks. Hicks led the Liberals to defeat in 1956.

In 1967, premier Robert Stanfield ran for the federal Conservative leadership, and won. He handed the premiership to veteran MLA G.I. Smith, who led the party to defeat in 1970.

In 1990, premier John Buchanan resigned to take a Senate seat. Donald Cameron won the ensuing leadership contest. The Conservatives were crushed in the 1993 election.

In 1997, premier John Savage resigned after four tumultuous years. The leadership was won by Russell MacLellan, who won a minority government in 1998 but then was defeated in 1999.

In 2006, premier John Hamm resigned. The leadership was won by Rodney MacDonald, who won a minority government in 2006 but was defeated in 2009.

You can see that premiers of Nova Scotia who “inherit” the premiership from within their own party don’t do particularly well.

Will it be the same for the next premier? The last election was in 2017, so we can expect another election in 2021, or 2022 at the latest.

One last thought: I had really hoped, whenever Premier McNeil decided to resign, that he would hand off the interim premiership to Karen Casey so that Nova Scotia could finally have its first female premier. An opportunity missed, perhaps.

There are headlines everywhere about McNeil’s announcment, including this one from the Shelburne Coast Guard.

He’s leaving office with what? Regret? Hope for the future? A parting gift? A smile? Not based on this photo, anyway…

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2. Fighting for public access to Nova Scotia’s coastlines

Protest walk organizer Peter Barss taped these signs to each of the 12 “private property” signs located along the Hell Point trail. Photo: Linda Pannozzo

Linda Pannozzo has an excellent article on the reduced traditional public access to coastlines in Nova Scotia, in particular shoreline at Hell Point in Kingsburg on the South Shore, where Pannazzo recently went hiking and talked to residents who are fighting back. Pannozzo joined Peter Barss, a photographer and author who lives in West Dublin, who organized a protest against the no-trespassing signs that have appeared at several spots along Hell Point. For Barss, who’s been fighting this since the 1970s, the protest is about more than those no-trespassing signs.

Quite often people are only there for two or three weeks in the summer, buying land and putting up no trespassing signs, blocking off traditional hiking paths, even access to the water, and I think it’s criminal… One of the consequences of this privatization by the privileged is that it just generates antagonism and distrust.

As Pannozzo reports, so little of the province’s coastline is publicly owned and that figure is getting smaller.

According to the 2009 State of Nova Scotia’s Coast fact sheet on “Public Coastal Access,” (which is not available online) when you count the national, provincial, and municipal parks, as well as the national historic sites and the publicly owned wharves and ports, roughly only 13% of the province’s coastline is publicly owned. In the absence of any provincial laws guaranteeing access to the coast, it’s a figure that continues to get chipped away at, particularly as the federal government divests itself of many public resources such as lighthouses and wharves.

Some of the encounters with the owner of this private property are hostile. Pannozzo talks with Paddy Lounsbury who lives in Oakland, near Mahone Bay. She says she and her husband have been walking Hell Point for 11 years. She recalled an encounter with one property owner, who demanded they head back and grabbed for Lounsbury, telling her, ‘I hope you get bitten by a tick.”

Pannozzo spoke with Nancy Anningson, the Coastal Adaptation Senior Coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre, who says Hell Point is not unique and there have been court battles over public/private access to coastline, including a case in Hackett’s Cove, another one at Clarke Head Beach, there is the fiasco at Owl’s Head, and then the one at Silver Sands Beach.

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3. The borealization of Acadia

Dr. Tom Beckley Photo: Jeff Crawford/UNB
Dr. Tom Beckley Photo: Jeff Crawford/UNB

Joan Baxter’s article The Borealization of Acadia is now out from behind the paywall. Baxter looks at a study done by Joshua Noseworthy and University of New Brunswick professor Tom Beckley that researches the “borealization” of the forests of Maritimes, New England, and southeastern Quebec. Borealization is the “widespread replacement of temperate tree species by boreal species” driven by “logging and high-grading, natural reforestation of abandoned farmland, industrial clearcutting, anthropogenic fire, and boreal conifer plantations.”

That study got its start because of one phone call from an employee of JDI to the dean at UNB, after Beckley did an interview with CBC and used the term borealization. That caller wanted to know if Beckley had any proof about his borealization hypothesis.

Beckley and Noseworthy went on to study borealization and collected about 100 articles for review. As Baxter reports:

Noseworthy and Beckley concluded that based on these criteria, borealization has occurred over the past 400 years. They also observed that borealization is in “direct contrast to the predicted impacts of climate change,” that would favour more southerly temperate species over northern ones.

That is not all.

The authors also found that the short harvest rotations in the forests — 60 years or less — which came in with large-scale pulp and paper industries of the 1930s, the woodlands are now in a “perpetually young state” that they term “forest infantization.”

Whereas temperate forests are typically multi-aged and diverse in species composition, borealized forests have fewer tree species and the trees are more similar in age, leaving them more vulnerable to fire, pests and wind events. “Old forest is rare,” they wrote. And that is “widely recognized as a conservation concern.”

The authors also observe something they call “forest bifurcation,” which they define as “a transition in the landscape away from natural mixed wood communities toward pure hardwood or softwood.” Where there has been high-grading of softwoods such as White Pine, Red Spruce, and Eastern Hemlock, they conclude that this leads to pure stands of hardwoods. Where there has been silviculture designed to promote conifer growth — planting, thinning, and spraying with herbicides — this has led to pure softwood stands.

All of this has led, they conclude, to “more simplified forest structure and composition.”

Irving disgreed with the study and Baxter’s story includes comment from them, saying in an email, “forest composition in New Brunswick has not changed in recorded history and Dr. Beckley’s work offer [sic] no proof to the contrary.”

Click here to read Baxter’s full story.

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4. Killam still profits even with eviction moratorium

Killam’s not hurting during the pandemic. Photo: Suzanne Rent

Dalhousie Legal Aid shared this data taken from a profile on Killam Properties REIT that was featured in Thursday’s edition of All Nova Scotia, which the Examiner can’t access or subscribe to. As the post says there’s no public data, but this information gives us a look at the hits landlords may have taken during the pandemic. And it looks like Killam didn’t take one. Here’s a portion of the post:

What to make of this data? Rent that went unpaid by tenants during the eviction moratorium did not have a significant impact on Killam’s bottom line. Most tenants paid up and Kiliam kept making money. It seems likely that Killam would have kept increasing its profits even with a longer moratorium.

In fact, underlying demand for rental units is so great that Killam was able to grow its profit margins despite a self-imposed freeze on rent increases. This report raises questions about the landlord industry’s position that rent control in NS would impose undue hardship on landlords.

• Killam owns 16,500 apartments and 5,800 trailer park sites in Canada
• Killam earned $37.22 million in same-property net income in the second quarter of 2020, which marks a rise of 2.7%.
• Killam was estimating growth of 5% for the second quarter and accounts for lower than expected revenue growth in terms of its decision not to raise rents for most properties in 2020.
• Killam’s profit growth was driven by increasing the rents during turnover. Killam is charging new tenants an average of 5.9% more than old tenants when a new lease is signed.
• Killam said that it collected 99.9% of its rents from apartment tenants and 99.1% from its trailer parks.

That turnover rate seems low. I know at the last place I lived, the superintendent said the landlord was increasing the rent for the new tenant by 25%. I hear about increasing rents all the time. The Examiner has covered stories about tenants getting increases of 45%.

Friends tell me about looking for apartments where the rents are exponentially higher and it’s driving them out of the city. Even where I live in Fairview, rents are out of control. But these increases are really hurting the tenants who have far fewer choices.

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5. Georges Island opens to the public and the snakes are ready

Starting on Saturday, tourists can visit Georges Island. Snake petting off limits

Georges Island will open for public tours starting tomorrow. According to a story from the Canadian Press, the tours will happen every weekend for the next five weeks. The island has been a national historic site since 1965, although it’s been off-limits to tourists. A tour boat will leave Cable Wharf every 40 minutes with the last run leaving the island at 5:10 p.m.

Fort Charlotte is the military fortification on the island and there is an underground tunnel complex, too, but the island is also known for its population of snakes. What do they think of all this? I found this article from the Chronicle Herald from last year in which Eric Nielsen, who works with Parks Canada and takes care of the island, says the “snakes are ready.”

It’s relatively easy from a visitor control point of view to segregate where the snakes live from where the visitors will be. We feel we can do this without imposing on the quality of life for the snakes.

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1. Another Nova Scotia history lesson

Electric City outside of Weymouth was a settlement started by the Stehelin family of France in the 1890s. Photo: The Electric City Research Centre

Well, I’m not sure what to write after all of the news today, but I thought I’d give another history lesson (earlier this week I shared the story of Anna Swan, the Nova Scotia giantess).

In a few hours, I’m heading to Belliveaus Cove (Belliveau Cove? I’ve seen both), a village a short drive from Weymouth. Tonight, I’m going to Les Beaux Vendredis, a seafood supper hosted every Friday night each summer. Lobster dinner for $20! I went for the first time last summer and was glad the event wasn’t cancelled this year; it’s held outside and the tables are organized for appropriate social distancing.

Anyway, when I went last summer, I learned about Electric City, the settlement of New France just outside Weymouth started in the 1890s by Emile Stehelin and Marie Therese and their sons, who came to the province from Normandy, France.

The settlement was known for its sawmill that helped power the electricity through the settlement long before other communities had power. The settlement also had a train that ran on wooden rails that was used to ship the lumber produced at the settlement to market.

With the First World War the Stehelins’ sons had to return to France, and combined with declining lumber prices, that meant the end of Electric City.

Paul H. Stehelin wrote a book about the settlement in 1983. The Electric City Research Centre in Weymouth is run by Hal Theriault and Stacey Doucette, who collect artifacts about Electric City and share their research with the public. They’re open four days a week and you can stop by, but you can find them on Facebook here. Irving sold some of the land to the province in 2010. And in 2014, a descendent of one of the original settlers donated a plot of land to the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Some of the settlement’s stone foundations remain and apparently you can go for a hike in the area.

Sam Langford was an African Canadian boxing standout of the early part of the 20th century. (George Grantham Bain Collection / U.S. Library of Congress via Wikipedia)

Weymouth Falls was also home to Sam Langford, who ESPN called the “Greatest Fighter Nobody Knows.” Langford faced barriers and racism during his career, including being denied chances to fight at the World Championships. He was crowned heavyweight champion of England, Australia, Canada and Mexico. The Canadian Encyclopedia has a good biography on Langford and Halifax author Steven Laffoley wrote a book about Langford called Pulling No Punches. (Are there other books out there?)

I knew about Langford, but hadn’t heard about Electric City until I visited Weymouth. There are so many interesting stories when you get out and travel the province.

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The meadow garden in Kingswood was created by residents. Last week, we reported that the garden broke some municipal rules, but now the city says the garden can stay as is. Photo: Suzanne Rent

On Thursday, I learned the meadow garden in Kingswood subdivision in Hammonds Plains will get to stay as is. Last week, I reported on the project, one of three areas in the city set aside for a naturalized space, but was facing some issues around municipal rules over its stone hardscaping. Donna and Duff Evers mowed the area, which is next to their home, for more than 20 years, but decided they wanted to create a meadow garden to attract pollinators. The Evers followed all the rules from the city, so they thought. Then the couple was told they’d have to remove the stone hardscaping, which wasn’t permitted in a boulevard. An amendment in a bylaw defined a boulevard as “the area between the curb and the sidewalk, typically planted with grass” and according to a new guideline, hardscaping isn’t permitted in boulevards. Also, a ditch and culvert that runs behind the garden needs to be fixed. Those repairs could have destroyed the garden.

Yesterday, gardening expert and author Niki Jabbour, who first shared details of the challenges the Evers were facing with the garden, shared the news that the city was leaving the garden as is. The stone hardscaping can stay and the city will be careful to protect the garden when doing any maintenance work on that ditch.

The issues with this project never made sense to me from the time I first saw the garden last week. That stone hardscaping was just a line of rocks that the Evers, who are in their 70s, carried and set themselves by hand. They put those stones there to stop any erosion. It’s certainly not a stone wall that was obstructing anything.

There is one of those boulevards, as defined in the guidelines, in front of my place. It’s about two feet wide and there’s a tree in the centre, but it’s not appropriate for a naturalized space like this. To call the Kingswood meadow project a boulevard was a stretch. I’m glad to hear the project will be left as is. The Evers put so much work into the project with help from gardeners and greenhouses across the province. We should have more of these spaces around the city, and this one is a good template of how they could work.

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No meetings.

In the harbour

11:00: Tampa Trader, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Kingston, Jamaica
16:00: ZIM Constanza, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Valencia, Spain
16:00: Tower Bridge, LPG tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from IJmuiden, Netherlands
21:30: Tampa Trader sails for New York


So much for my Twitter break. But I’m logging off again and hitting the road soon for lobster.

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent and on Mastodon

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  1. Joan Baxter has done it again–uncovering the way corporations like JDI use our natural resources and let the pegople pay the costs. The destruction of our amazing Acadian forests will leave a devastated land for us to repair.
    Thank you Joan

  2. Covid-19 has done the province some favours, particularly for those who love our land and sea. In Mahone Bay, one of the most beautiful and renown anchorages was the harbour and sandbar of Refuse Island. Then, approximately 15 years ago, it was brought by some New Yorkers who instantly began a war with the locals who had respectfully enjoyed the charms of the bay and sandbar for years and years and years. The new owners placed signs all around the property warning people off, and even tried to prevent people from anchoring in the bay. In our case – we were rowing to the sand bar with my 80 year old mother in a rowboat {!} when the new owner swooped after us in his posh motorboat and began cursing us. But he’s dead now. And his wife is not a Canadian citizen. The island is once again available to its people – Nova Scotians !

  3. Anecdotally I’ve heard Killam didn’t raise rents for any leases that came up for renewal during the shutdown. I don’t know if this was one building or many. I thought that was a really decent thing to do. Unfortunately I understand they resumed this for leases month – part of this optimism that we’re somehow out of the woods?

    1. The REIT I rent from did a freeze, my lease renews on June 1, my rent until July 2020 will be fixed at my current rate plus $1.

  4. I moved out of a Killam owned property 2.5 years ago because the rent was high and wasn’t worth what we were getting out of it. We found an amazing spot in Clayton Park that was $200 cheaper per month, and 100 sq ft larger. That being said, it seems even out here rent prices have increased like crazy since we moved out here, we likely will not move until we’re ready to buy a home (lord knows how long that will be) because we have such an awesome deal. I am thankful our building is privately owned.

  5. Obviously the coward has left knowing that his long cherished goal of a balanced budget was always an illusion. Covid 19 took care of that.

    Big government is back so a small man leaves office.

  6. I am curious about why HE can’t subscribe to All Nova Scotia. Perhaps you’ve mentioned this in past posts.

      1. Thanks. Fair play for a private company, bizarre for a news outlet, though I’m not sure which of the two identities they value more.

  7. My landlord (Capreit) didn’t have any rent forgiveness or anything like during the pandemic, and they have a 65 percent operating margin (this is publicly available information). With margins like these, REITs like Killam and Capreit will continue taking over housing (Capreit also didn’t do anything except for emergency maintenance from March to July, so our building was overtaken with mice and cockroaches in the absence of pest control, but that’s a digression).
    We badly need rent control in this province. But will that happen? When I look at the number of landlords who are donors to the NS Liberal party, I lose hope that we will get rent control under a Liberal government.