One week from today, we’ll enter December. That’s notable for two reasons.
First, the Examiner’s subscription drive will be over for another year. (It’s not yet though, so please subscribe if you haven’t already and help support the reporting here.)
Second, it was this time last year that I got a call from Yvette d’Entremont, my former instructor at University of King’s College, saying Tim Bousquet might want some help with the Morning File. I said I’d be happy to help and a few hours later I got an email from Tim, who called me Evan, saying I could do one in two weeks.
“You shouldn’t stress about this,” he wrote. “Doing Morning File should be fun.”
And it has been fun, although equally stressful. It can be hard trying to sum up stories detailing the closing of the Alton Gas project, the intricacies of the Avon River causeway controversy, the tangled web of legal action facing Atlantic Gold, or the difficult but necessary developments from the April 2020 shootings investigation.
The reporters at the Examiner put in hard work to bring us these stories. Asking tough questions, doing their homework, and combing through legalese, spin, and jargon, all in order to deliver thorough reports that show us what’s happening in this province, with the context to better understand them. Letting us in on things we wouldn’t have any idea about if it weren’t for a few persistent people who know where to dig. I feel a lot of pressure to do that work justice by relaying these stories as best I can in these Morning Files.
But I really do have fun writing these. I wouldn’t be here one year later if I didn’t. If I get stressed at times, it’s because I care. And I care because I believe in the work the people at the Examiner do in covering this province. I really enjoy the small spot I have on this team. If you’re a subscriber, I hope you enjoy your spot on it, too. Thanks for playing such a vital role.
1. N.S. Power increases use of biomass for generating electricity this year
The burning of biomass has sometimes been touted by the government as “renewable energy.” But it’s not. Not while clearcutting, which releases carbon from the ground, is the primary way we extract the low-grade pulpwood, bark, shavings, and wood chip waste from sawmills that are burned for electricity.
But Jennifer Henderson reports that Nova Scotia Power is burning 35% more wood biomass this year than last at the Port Hawkesbury paper plant. (This isn’t the first time in recent memory that biomass burning has increased in this province).
The increase in biomass burning might have something to do with the delays at Muskrat Falls, which is supposed to be a major source for renewable hydroelectricity in this province. As Henderson writes:
In May 2020, after it became obvious renewable hydroelectricity from Muskrat Falls was going to be delayed yet again, the McNeil government passed an Order-in-Council extending until December 2022 the deadline to generate 40% of electricity from renewable sources.
To help with the shortfall, Nova Scotia Power was told to “maximize” its use of biomass at both the facility it owns in Port Hawkesbury and another one in Brooklyn owned by its parent company, Emera.
Maximizing the use of biomass only “helps with the shortfall,” of course, if you consider biomass a “renewable” source of electricity.
The province has the power to reduce the amount of biomass Nova Scotia Power is burning, which would also indirectly reduce the rate of clearcutting in Nova Scotia. But so far the government has decided against taking action. The Examiner tried to contact Tory Rushton, the Minister of Natural Resources and Renewable Energy, to ask whether he intends to make any change to stop “maximizing” the use of biomass to produce electricity. So far, no response.
Click here to read Henderson’s full report on N.S. Power’s increase in biomass burning, and what that means for renewable energy and the forest in this province.
2. Part two of Joan Baxter’s three-part series on non-residents buying up land around Cape Breton
Baxter’s back with the second instalment in this bizarre series about German right-wing extremists buying up land in Cape Breton. (Read part one here). It’s part two of a three-part series, updating a story the Examiner first reported on in July 2020. Baxter’s preface:
A few months into the pandemic, the German magazine, Der Spiegel, broke the story that some right-wing conspiracy theorists were marketing Cape Breton to like-minded German-speaking Europeans, which added yet another dimension to long-standing questions about non-resident land ownership in Nova Scotia — a province with relatively little Crown land, and waterfronts being carved up into private properties that reduce public access to shorelines.
In this three-part series, the Halifax Examiner follows up on its 2020 coverage of this issue, and looks into some of the complex questions it raises, even as the province prepares to change the property tax rate for non-resident owners.
This second article looks at more of the real estate and land development companies or individuals marketing Cape Breton Island to German speakers, and at how the trend developed.
You’ll meet Rolf Bouman, owner of Canadian Pioneer Estates and Canec, who began buying and selling land (mostly in Cape Breton) in 1989. Since then, his companies have subdivided and sold 1,700 properties, mainly to German-speaking buyers. Signs for Canadian Pioneer Estates stand roadside in Cape Breton now, written in both English and German. And Bouman’s companies currently own more than 250 properties in Nova Scotia.
“Unfortunately,” Bouman told the Examiner, “I have heard from others in the German community who are worried that anyone with a connection to Germany is implicated in the views and opinions attributed to certain individuals.”
Individuals like Frank Eckhardt, owner of F.E. Properties, a company building an “off grid living” community in Richmond County, which seems to be aimed at survivalists afraid of unrest in Europe. (The Examiner previously reported on Eckhardt’s survivalist, prepper views here). There have been complaints that Eckhardt is overpricing land for German clients, and sending emails to clients with Nazi propaganda attached.
Now, you might not be surprised that people living near these properties might be concerned that people with far-right extremist views are buying neighbouring land. But politics aren’t the only issue here.
Immigration is supposed to be one way for the province to help build the local economy, and grow our communities, but many of these buyers are non-residents, looking only to invest in property where they can temporarily lay low or vacation from European unrest. It’s doubtful they’ll ever settle into these homes. And some of these inflated purchases could be making properties more expensive for people actually looking to make roots in these areas.
None of these German-speaking non-resident purchases are illegal and neither is the marketing or politics around them, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth scrutinizing. They could have a big impact here. See why in Baxter’s full article right here.
From our subscribers:
I have subscribed to the Halifax Examiner from day one. Not gonna lie. When I saw Tim’s first posts describing his idea of a (then) more or less one-person news organization, I did not think he had a hope in hell of succeeding. I was not aware of a single other similar project and just assumed there was no way for an organization that would have to begin at a scale so tiny as to be almost non-existent, to compete in a meaningful way against the (then) Chronicle-Herald and the CBC.
So I originally subscribed for two reasons: 1. I love hopelessly doomed ideas. 2. I was looking forward to cursing this entire province and all the people in it for failing to support such an obviously necessary service.
I am thrilled to have been proven so wrong, though slightly disappointed at not getting to curse all Nova Scotians.
The Halifax Examiner has become an essential, irreplaceable feature of the media landscape of this province, equaling and often out-performing organizations whose budgets dwarf the Examiner’s. I recently upped my monthly contribution, and am proud to have been here from day one.
Local journalism is beyond essential. It is fantastic to see it flourishing in the Halifax Examiner.
The Examiner fills a huge void for accountable, fact-based reporting from Province House to City Hall to an old growth forest in central Nova Scotia or a polluting gold mine on the Eastern Shore.
In the age of rampant and endless disinformation and corporate spin from the private sector and government, this accountable journalism is more essential than ever.
Halifax is very lucky to have this resource. If you can spend $15 a month to watch Cake Boss you can surely spend $10 to be a more informed citizen.
3. Auditor general states the obvious: the province shouldn’t have outside agencies run programs without knowing the full costs
I mean, I’m not a political expert, but it’s obvious the province should know where its money’s going before it goes there, right? But enough editorializing; let’s see some impartial reporting.
One, as reported earlier by Tim Bousquet, examined how the McNeil government contracted Dalhousie University to distribute $100 million in emergency financial assistance to people and businesses during the first wave of COVID in 2020.
The second report looks at $193 million the province put in a trust before handing it to Develop NS to deliver high-speed Internet to rural communities … Adair questions whether taxpayers received full value for money in both situations.
Here’s the part that stands out:
“It’s not so much putting the money in the hands of other agencies,” auditor Kim Adair explained to journalists during a briefing. “The common theme in both situations is that the money was set aside and put outside of government before the full costs were known. And any residual (unspent) monies will not come back to the province.”
The province committed money before it knew how much money it needed to commit, and therefore missed out on “redirect[ing] any potential savings if the funding earmarked for relief programs was not needed,” according to one report. As of late August, the provincial auditor found $24 million remains unallocated. There’s also $35 million set aside as loan guarantees for large tourism operators that won’t be spent unless they default on their loans.
Essentially the province’s decision to contract out the relief programs means it gave up control of almost $60 million on which it could have been earning interest. That amounted to $500,000 this summer and the term of the contract with Dalhousie runs until 2027, for which no reason has been given.
Adair did find that Dalhousie managed the distribution of emergency funds well. And, as Henderson writes:
Adair reports the province and Dalhousie amended the contract months after it was signed to donate the interest and any unspent portion of the $100 million to a non-profit agency called Research Nova Scotia. Tens of millions will be used for public health research.
Of course, that money could have gone anywhere had the province held on to it. Henderson notes that a potential surplus “might also have been re-directed toward building more affordable housing or other projects had the province administered the program rather than turning it over to a third party. Food for thought.”
Henderson’s full article also looks at the auditor general’s findings on how the province is using the $193 million in trust funds set aside specifically for the expansion of high speed internet in Nova Scotia.
4. CCPA-NS report: child poverty rate practically unchanged in the last 30 years
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia (CCPA-NS) has come out with its 2021 report card on child and family poverty in the province. And it’s not great.
As Yvette d’Entremont reports, “Nova Scotia has reduced its child poverty rate by just 0.1 of a percentage point in 30 years, making it the province with the worst child poverty reduction record in Canada.”
The report is based on the most recent data available, which is from 2019, before the pandemic. The report finds that 41,230 children in Nova Scotia, nearly one in four, are currently living in poverty.
Let me lay out a few more depressing figures from the report:
- In the census areas for Digby, Annapolis, and Cape Breton, the child poverty rates are 34.7$, 33.7%, and 33.5% respectively. Well above the provincial average.
- Nova Scotia has the highest child poverty rate in Atlantic Canada and the third highest in the country.
- Child poverty was supposed to be eradicated by 2000. That year, Nova Scotia’s child poverty rate was 27.8%; that’s 3.4 percentage points higher than it was when the mission to eradicate child poverty was first declared in 1989.
- The lowest rate of child poverty is Stillwater Lake in HRM. The highest is in the postal code of Micmac, which includes part of the Sipekne’katik First Nations.
- Among children living in lone parent families in the province, 51.7% live in poverty.
I don’t mean to be grim, but these numbers represent children living in our province right now. It’s important they’re shared.
The report also finds that the provincial government hasn’t done its part in reducing child poverty in Nova Scotia. Something d’Entremont goes into in detail in her full article.
5. El Jones to MP Andy Fillmore: “It is not the role of the Liberal Party to reach into other people’s communities and determine what leadership looks like”
El Jones, an Examiner contributor and the province’s only Black female political science professor, is concerned about a closed-door meeting on Black women in leadership held earlier this month. Matthew Byard reports:
Earlier this month there were several events held in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Viola Desmond’s arrest for sitting in the whites-only section of a New Glasgow movie theatre.
One event, a roundtable discussion hosted by Toronto Centre MP Marci Ien, with Black females in Halifax on the topic of leadership, is being criticized as taking place on a “closed, invite-only basis,” by the Nova Scotia’s only Black female political science professor.
Examiner contributor and MSVU professor, El Jones expressed concerns about the discussion in a letter to Halifax MP Andy Fillmore, the sole white man in attendance at the meeting.
“It is not the role of the Liberal Party to reach into other people’s communities and determine what leadership looks like,” Jones wrote in her letter.
Jones said she takes issue with the nature of private, invite-only meetings between government and the Black community, believing they can sow division within that community.
Read more of Jones’ letter, as well as what she and Andy Fillmore had to say when speaking with the Examiner, in Byard’s full piece here.
6. Elevating Black history, culture through exploring Nova Scotia
Two years ago, René Boudreau posted a photo on Instagram: a simple picture of a visitor leaning against a sign in Africville Park. It was the first of many.
“I just started posting pictures of Black people exploring the province. It would be pictures that I took, or pictures that I would ask people to send me, and I would just post them. From that I was able to form partnerships with different businesses and organizations.”
Now, that account, @ElevateAndExploreBlackNS, has grown into a successful travel business with tours that highlight Black Nova Scotian history and culture. The tours were first marketed toward Black tourists in Nova Scotia unable to travel outside the province during the pandemic.
“I thought that if more [Black] people could see themselves traveling around the province, then we would probably feel more comfortable to go to different paces or more inclined to want to visit,” says Boudreau.
But the company’s popularity has spread, and its target audience has broadened.
“The goal and the vision of Elevate and Explore,” she said, “is to encourage more Black travelers to visit the province, but also to inspire people from all backgrounds to explore the province as well.”
Partnerships with Tourism Nova Scotia and other companies, influencer money, and sold out bike and boat tours have ramped up business. And now, as Matthew Byard reports, Boudreau’s receiving a $10,000 grant to put toward Elevate and Explore Black Nova Scotia. She was one of a hundred business owners accepted into a mentorship program through American Express called Blueprint: Backing BIPOC Businesses. The program is geared towards business owners who are Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour.
Read the full story here to learn what Boudreau plans to do with the grant — a ski trip might be in the works — as well as more on what it’s been doing to promote Black history and culture in this province.
7. COVID update
Not much to report from yesterday, but the province should have more COVID news later this morning during the briefing at 11am.
As for Tuesday, the province announced 29 new cases of COVID-19.
By Nova Scotia Health zone, the new cases break down as:
• 21 Central
• 6 Northern
• 2 Western
• 0 Eastern
That brings the total known active caseload to 184 in Nova Scotia. There are 18 people hospitalized (six of those hospitalized are in ICU). Another staff member at the East Cumberland Lodge nursing home in Pugwash has tested positive. So far, a total of 32 residents and 11 staff members at the home have tested positive. Three of the infected residents have died.
No vaccination data was released yesterday. There will be more news on the COVID front later this morning. Premier Tim Houston and Dr. Robert Strang have a briefing scheduled for 11am. You can watch that here. There’s no word on what it’s about, but it likely has something to do with rolling out vaccinations for children under 12, who’ve been ineligible for the jab since the first doses started shipping into the province.
8. Owls Head update: developer drops plan to purchase park land for golf course, withdraws proposal
It’s not just sign or a bumper sticker anymore. It appears to be a reality.
The government sale of Owls Head Provincial Park is stopped, at least for now. Lighthouse Links, the company that planned to develop a golf course on the provincial park, is withdrawing the letter of offer it signed with the province in 2019. That’s according to Michael Gorman at the CBC, who broke the story Tuesday.
Following the decision, the company issued a statement to the CBC, writing: “We have concluded that we do not have the support of the government of Nova Scotia necessary to make this project a reality.”
In 2019, Gorman reported that Owls Head provincial park had been removed from the province’s pending protected status list, allowing Lighthouse Links to begin negotiating the sale of the land, located in Little Harbour on the Eastern Shore. Shortly after, Tim Bousquet reported that the Nova Scotia Department of Environment had deleted Owls Head Provincial Park from the main protected areas map on the government website. (It’s still deleted).
Following that news, the surrounding community, and many in the province, rallied to save the park from private sale.
In April 2021, Bob Bancroft and the Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association applied for a judicial review of “the Minister of Lands and Forestry’s decisions to de-list Owls Head Provincial Park from the Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan and to enter into an agreement to sell the land to a private company, Lighthouse Links, for development into a golf resort.” The Supreme Court ultimately dismissed the review, saying voters should decide the fate of Owls Head in August’s provincial election.
Three months after that court dismissal and the ensuing rally, and nearly two years after the park was delisted, the sale appears to be dead in the water.
The province could still conceivably find a new buyer for the park land. But for now, Owls Head Provincial Park, and its supporters, can rest easy.
1. $1,000 a month for rent? Who is affordable housing designed to help?
On Monday, the province announced via news release that it was putting more than $6 million dollars toward affordable housing.
So, 178 affordable units will be built over the next two years, distributed across Kentville, Lantz, and Halifax (and potentially Cole Harbour). Now, some of the money announced Monday is going to community groups and shelter upgrades, but most is going to the construction of these units.
But how affordable are they? The release says the units will be rented out at least 20% below market prices in the respective areas. It then lists two estimated rent costs, one for Halifax (1 bedroom), the other for the Kentville units (2-3 bedrooms). Neither is below $1,000.
We’re in a pretty tight fix here in Nova Scotia when it comes to housing. And immediate creation of housing stock is desperately needed, so I can understand spending so much money to create 178 units — assuming two people live in all hundred Kentville units, and three live in the remaining 78, that’s more than 400 people housed — a pretty small number, but better to make a small difference than none.
But a thousand dollars a month? Who is affordable housing designed to help?
As the Examiner reported Monday, the Halifax units would be affordable for households bringing in an annual gross income of $40,640. The Kentville units, $48,000. (Based on the definition that housing is affordable if all costs add up to no more than 30% of total income before taxes).
As I’m sure many people reading this are aware, these suggested unit prices still aren’t “affordable” to a large portion of the population.
It does say they’ll be rented out at least 20% below market value; let’s hope they decide to go further than that.
In September 2020, I rented a room off Robie Street for a month while I was scrambling to find something more permanent. It was attached to a kitchen I shared with five others and I had a private bathroom. My room was slightly bigger than my $110/month parking space. All told, my rent was $1,010. Apparently 20% below average market value for Halifax. I’d recently done some work with Global News, helping them with their election night prep and broadcast for the last New Brunswick election. I was really working for my landlord, though, not Global, as I sent pretty well the whole paycheque to them. I had $100 left over from that gig once I’d paid my rent. Unfortunately, my mom and sister have birthdays in September, so I didn’t have much leftover for myself from that job.
I had other work at the time, and I probably could have continued to pay that rent for a year, but my life would’ve consisted of working and sleeping, with a little eating mixed in there, hopefully.
Why do we base affordable housing off market values and not the incomes of those we’re trying to help? Which I always assumed were the people who needed the most financial help. It might be harder to measure. You might need to take a more case-by-case approach. But couldn’t we still use average incomes and just base it on the lower end of that scale? It couldn’t be less effective than basing it off market values. Isn’t the market out of whack to begin with? Isn’t that what we’re trying to deal with?
A few weeks ago I wrote a bit about “affordable” housing rents in another Morning File. The CBC had reported on a protest against a $115.5 million low-cost loan the federal Crown corporation Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC) gave to a company to build 76 affordable units, which were to be rented out for $1,455/month at the low end, and $1,844/month at the high end. Closer to me, a Wolfville complex with federal funding for affordable units wasn’t renting anything out — single bedroom included — below $1,000 a month.
With numbers like that, God help me if I ever need “affordable housing.” For my sake, I hope I’m still in the middle class at that point.
A tale of two gales
It’s Wednesday morning. How much of your prepared-for-72-hours supply stock do you have left?
I’ve got pretty well all of it still. I’ve got a full water cooler in my bathtub and I’ll have to have a séance and use up some of these candles. My storm chips — which became regular chips — are the only stock completely exhausted.
Not that I’m complaining. I was terrified a power outage would make my work day a lot more stressful yesterday. Thankfully, the Morning File gods smiled on me, as did nature and Emera Incorporated.
My experience with the “storm” was very similar to Paula Minnikin’s:
But it’s a big province, isn’t it?
While the Acadia students who live in my neighbourhood won’t have an excuse for missing class today, any non-boat-owning StFX students apparently will.
Further east, Cape Breton got it particularly bad. The Municipality of Victoria County announced over social media last night it was under a State of Emergency. And the CBC is reporting that the provincial emergency management office has told residents of that county, as well as Inverness County, should avoid using roads due to flooding in the areas.
I’m sorry I laughed at the weather reports yesterday. Looks like Canada’s getting sprayed hard on both coasts this week.
If you’re in one of the splash zones, and still have internet to read this, stay safe and stay dry.
Community Design Advisory Committee, Heritage Advisory Committee, Regional Centre Community Council cancelled; Western Common Advisory Committee rescheduled to January 26, 2022
Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — also livestreamed
Point Pleasant Park Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm) — livestreamed
Embracing Diversity: The Change We Need (Wednesday, 8:30am) — online panel discussion with Kim Brooks, Alfred Burgesson and Mary Beth Doucette
Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Student Research Day (Wednesday, 10am, CHEB C-150 and online) — Poster session at CHEB, followed online by Soft Skills Building Session, Platform Presentations, and Keynote Speaker Xavier Banquy from Université de Montréal at 4pm with “Bioinspired hairy materials: from biolubrication to nanomedicine.”
Safe Space for White Questions (Wednesday, 2pm) — on YouTube
Epigenetic landscape of pulmonary hypertension: Emerging therapeutic avenue (Thursday, 11:30am) — Soni Pullamsetti from Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany will talk
Building Black Canadian Studies: My Tenure as the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies (Thursday, 4pm) — Afua Cooper will chat with Isaac Saney online. Info and registration here.
2021 DMAA Medical Alumni Recognition Awards (Thursday, 4pm) — virtual awards ceremony
“Etuaptmumk” : Two-Eyed Seeing and Design (Thursday, 6pm) — a conversation between Albert Marshall and Richard Kroeker
about how the Two-eyed Seeing concept applies to design thinking and design education. This event will mark the launch of the Murdena and Albert Marshall Bursary for Mi’kmaq students at Dalhousie University in the professions that give shape to our communities: Architecture, Engineering, and Planning.
NOISE (Thursday, 7:30pm, St. Andrew’s United Church, Coburg Road, Halifax) — The Dalhousie Wind Ensemble, directed by Jacob Caines, in collaboration with the Dalhousie School of Architecture, featuring works by Ryan Dooley, Lisa Anne Marsh, and Montreal-Egyptian composer Symon Henry. Tickets $15/ $10
In the harbour
08:00: Qikiqtaaluk W, oil tanker, sails from anchorage for Sarnia, Ontario
07:00: Algoma Verity, bulker, arrives at Gold Bond from Cape Canaveral, Florida
08:00: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
12:00: MSC Meline, container ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Le Havre, France
13:00: Molly Schulte, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for sea
15:00: St. Sofia, bulker, arrives at Berth TBD from Trois-Rivières, Quebec
- The Globe is reporting that Nova Scotia is only 600 people away from hitting the one million mark! You call your cousin who moved away to Alberta and I’ll try to get my sister to move back from Toronto. I’m sure we can rustle up enough people to hit the milestone by the end of the week. The hard part is finding them some housing…
- From the Throne yesterday: “Yes, the decade got off to an incredibly rocky start.”
We’re not even two years in, but that’s the most comprehensive summary of the 2020s I’ve heard so far. Still time to stick the landing though, Canada.