News

1. Atlantic Loop update

The Atlantic Loop. Graphic: Emera

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

What’s in a name?

The idea of a regional energy transmission project that would import renewable energy from Quebec to wean Nova Scotia off coal faster and further de-carbonize New Brunswick’s grid has been known as the “Atlantic Loop” for a couple of years.

On Wednesday, Emera CEO Scott Balfour referred to the project as part of the Eastern Clean Energy Initiative, a fancy pants title that suggests the federal government is indeed considering financing the construction of new overhead power lines and upgrading a line at the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border that’s been at capacity for a decade.

As reported November 3 in The Halifax Examiner, the door to the current ask for the Atlantic Loop was opened during the last federal election campaign when Justin Trudeau promised to provide Newfoundland and Labrador ratepayers with $5.2 billion to cushion the blow of cost overruns on the Muskrat Falls project. It’s not a coincidence that the initial ballpark estimate for the Atlantic Loop is $5 billion.

Emera is the parent company of NS Power. During a conference call Wednesday after the release of Emera’s Q3 results — holding steady at $175 million profit or 68 cents a share year over year — Balfour said he was “encouraged” by ongoing discussions with governments and utilities. He said Emera hopes to be able to provide “an update in early 2022.”

What pushback or resistance is there to the Loop proposal?, asked Maurice Choy, an analyst with RBC Financial Markets.

“We aren’t really seeing any resistance to this,” replied Balfour. “A lot of the effort is to do it in a way that doesn’t sacrifice affordability for customers… It’s about aligning provincial governments and utilities and looking for the federal government to ensure it’s affordable. It’s just really complicated and will take time to work through.”

If only that work had begun 10 years ago. That’s how far back some environmentalists in Nova Scotia — including small hydro developer Neal Livingston with the Margaree Environmental Association — were urging NS Power and the province to look at ways to import more renewable energy from Hydro Quebec.

Are there sufficient wind resources in Nova Scotia that could meet the newly legislated target of 80% electricity from renewable sources by 2030? If not, does Nova Scotia Power have a “Plan B” if the Atlantic Loop does not proceed? Scotiabank analyst Rob Hope asked those questions, noting landowners in Maine have recently succeeded in blocking the route for a proposed transmission line from Quebec south toward New York City.

“Yes, we do have Plan B, C, and so on,” said Balfour. “But we believe the Atlantic Loop is the right and best plan for Nova Scotia and for the whole region. One of those contingency plans could be we build more natural gas generation capacity in the province to backstop more wind but we prefer not to do that. Both because it has its own carbon-emitting profile but also because we know that access to natural gas in Atlantic Canada is constrained. The Maritime Link is a critical asset. But one more big extension cord, as I have been describing the Loop project, really makes the most sense to achieving getting off coal by 2030 and the 80% renewables target.”

Although the Maritime Link was completed three years ago and hydro from Muskrat Falls began flowing this fall, Nova Scotia will not get the 20% of the project’s output until sometime later in 2022. That’s the most recent guesstimate for when the transmission system between the dam in Muskrat Falls, Labrador will be fully commissioned to deliver reliable power to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Only 30% of electricity consumed in Nova Scotia currently comes from renewable sources.

How much will Emera or Nova Scotia Power pay towards the cost of the Atlantic Loop which would later be recovered from ratepayers?, asked Ben Pham, an investment analyst with BMO.

“It’s still too soon to look at those numbers,” replied Balfour. “We are hoping in early 2022, once we have more clarity on where all the parties stand, we will be able to provide more information. We are now in a place where government policy is mandating a faster pace to decarbonize and so to the extent there is government support for this in the form of tax credits or subsidy, that helps,” continued Balfour.

“Because one of the challenges is not the ability for utilities to execute and to fund the capital plans for decarbonizing, it’s doing it in a way that still keeps it affordable for ratepayers. The faster you do it, the more it costs…”

Unless a large contribution comes from Ottawa, the Atlantic Loop won’t get off the drawing board because it will be too expensive for ratepayers on whom utilities are permitted to pass on or download their costs. The provincial government would need to pass a law changing the regulatory structure if it wanted to make shareholders of NS Power and Emera assume a larger portion of the risk for greening the grid.

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2. As winter approaches, residents of People’s Park, volunteers, and neighbours wait for a better housing solution

A thank-you sign to neighbours from residents at People’s Park on Chebucto Road. Photo: Leslie Amminson

My fellow Morning Filer, Ethan Lycan-Lang, and Leslie Amminson spent some time at People’s Park this week talking with residents and volunteers who are anxious to see the city finally get proper housing for residents of the park.

Amminson and Lycan-Lang talked with John Griffin, who’s a resident at the park. They write:

On an average night, there are about 25 people sleeping in the encampment. Tents cover nearly every bit of grass. There’s a common area, where residents can come to sit and chat, with a makeshift living room and kitchen, where donations are stored.

Residents of the park rarely go hungry. Griffin chalks that up to the neighbourhood’s generosity.

“A good 99.9% of the neighborhood’s been genuine,” he said. “We had a lot of good people come and go. But they’ll never be forgotten.”

On Wednesday night. Coun. Lindell Smith and Erica Fleck, who is HRM’s housing and homelessness administrator, hosted a meeting for residents. Here’s what Amminson and Lycan-Lang wrote about that:

Nineteen people from the neighbourhood spoke, none of whom were living in the park. Some asked why the meeting was hosted on Zoom, when most park residents don’t have easy access to internet. Coun. Smith said there were concerns about keeping the meeting COVID safe, and the purpose Tuesday was to hear from neighbours of the park, not the residents themselves.

Participants were overwhelmingly supportive of their unhoused neighbours and critical of the municipality’s lack of action. Many had volunteered at the park, and described a friendly atmosphere where the community was working together in a time of crisis.

But some who could see and hear the park from their windows complained about noise, drug use, and litter. One said she was afraid to put out her garbage at night.

All who spoke agreed on three things: the city needs to better communicate with the neighbourhood, the park residents need better housing options, and the living situation in the park is unsustainable.

This is good work by Lycan-Lang and Amminson, who is a new writer with us. Click here to read the full story.

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From a subscriber: Charlie MacDonald

Charlie MacDonald and Peaches. Photo contributed

It is without hesitation that I recommend the Halifax Examiner as an excellent source of news and current affairs. My reasons: Awareness, Attitude, Accessibility, and Affordability.

Awareness: The Examiner covers stories that provide more context, background and the needed research to ensure we get the goods on what is happening at City Hall and Province House. Coverage of the pandemic, the housing crises, the justice system are covered in a more in-depth manner than the “mainstream” media and thus I am more aware of what is going on around me.

Attitude: I like when bullshit is named, topics dealt with irreverence when deserved, and when I am leery to go out into impending doom I am brought back to reality: “There will be weather again today”. Also they share my love of baseball on the radio and the importance of our relationship with all animals.

Accessibility: The site is very accessible to those of us who use screen readers. Pictures are tagged with alternate text so we get a description of the picture. So, for example if you relied on a screen reader and you highlighted my picture it would be appropriately described for you as “Charlie sitting on a couch with his (previous) guide dog Peaches.” Sorry Iris, it is the most recent picture I have.

Affordability: At 10 bucks per month it’s about the price of giving up one can of IPA per month. If I can do it you can too!


3.  Latest COVID update

Rapid Test Lineup-Changing Seasons. Illustration by Zak Markan — Instagram @zak.markan.art

There was no COVID update for Thursday, but Tim Bousquet had the update from Wednesday when the province announced 30 new cases. Here’s the breakdown of the new numbers:

By Nova Scotia Health zone, the new cases break down as:
• 16 Northern
• 12 Central
• 2 Western
• 0 Eastern

Also, three more cases have been identified at the East Cumberland Lodge nursing home in Pugwash. So, there’s now a total of 20 residents and two staff members at the home who have tested positive for the virus.

Here are the locations for pop-up testing for today and the weekend:

Today
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm

Saturday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Alderney Gate, 10am-2pm

Sunday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm

And you know what today is, right?

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4. Mink are getting the jab

Mink waiting for its vaccine. Where’s its Examiner T-shirt?

Camille Bains with The Associated Press reports that the province of Nova Scotia will pay for mink to get a COVID vaccine, but the government in BC says more research needs to be done to see if vaccinating mink against COVID before that province starts banning the unvaccinated animals. Bains reports:

Nova Scotia’s Agriculture Department said the vaccination program, to be launched soon at five farms until the end of December, is based on advice from veterinarian and medical experts as part of a trial offering 54,000 doses to mink farms in that province.

The province will split the cost with the federal government as part of previously announced funding for the agricultural sector, the department said in an emailed statement.

“The industry will provide in-kind work for administering the vaccine to the mink,” it said.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said it granted permission to import an experimental vaccine for mink from the United States following discussions with the Public Health Agency of Canada, the provinces and the industry.

“Vaccination began in August 2021 and is restricted for emergency use under licensed veterinarian supervision,” it said in a statement.

Why are mink getting vaccinated? Well, they are susceptible to respiratory infections and could spread them to other animals on mink farms. British Columbia’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said mink farms could be a reservoir for the virus.

There are about 70 mink farms across Canada and the pelts are exported to markets in China. BC is looking to wind down its industry. The province’s agriculture department has already said live mink would not be permitted on farms by April 2023, and the industry would be phased out about two years later.

Nova Scotia, meanwhile, is ramping up the sector and according to Bains’ report the province offered separate funding to 24 licensed producers starting last January.

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5.  The Tideline, Episode 53: Villages

Villages. Photo: Melanie Stone

Villages, the trad quartet, is playing The Marquee Saturday night, but before that show bandmembers (and cousins) Matt and Travis Ellis talked with Tara Thorne about their debut EP, Upon the Horizon, which they recorded and released in the midst of the pandemic.

Click here to listen for free.

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Carrying on Viola’s legacy

Samantha Dixon Slawter in front of the exhibit she created that celebrates and promotes the Black Beauty Culture in Nova Scotia and the life and work of Viola Desmond, one of her cohorts, and a few of her protégés. Photo: Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission

Yesterday, I met up with Samantha Dixon Slawter at her hair salon, Styles by SD, on Portland Street in Dartmouth. I wrote about Dixon Slawter’s work before; she’s spent the last 30 years working as a Black master hairstylist, but she’s also been working for that same amount of time to advocate for an apprenticeship program to teach others about Black hair care and teach the history of Black beauty culture in Nova Scotia and elsewhere. She’s really a force in the industry.

The work and mission of the BBCA

Dixon Slawter’s work continues this month with a new exhibit she created that’s now on display in a store window on Portland Street, just one block from her salon. Dixon Slawter is a wealth of knowledge on Black beauty culture. She first started writing about Black hair history back in the 1980s and her writing appeared in a newsletter published by the Black Cultural Centre. She also created the Black Beauty Culture Association (BBCA), to teach others about the topic.

In this exhibit, she put much of her research into three displays chronicling the history of Black beauty from pre-Slavery days to the distinct culture here in Nova Scotia. And what makes that culture distinct, Dixon Slawter says, is Viola Desmond. It is 75 years ago this week that Desmond was arrested for sitting in the all-white section of the Roseland Theater in New Glasgow on November 8, 1946.

Viola Desmond founded a beauty school

The exhibit is three displays: one covering the global history of Black beauty; another display for Nova Scotia’s Black beauty history, including Viola Desmond, her colleagues, and her proteges; and a third display that shows the future of the industry. Dixon Slawter researched all the details herself and the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission helped design the actual displays.

Dixon Slawter told me long ago she believes her work is a higher calling. “Providence,” she told me. Yesterday, she told me she wondered if the works she and others in the industry are doing is Viola’s prayer. She told me if she had a chance, she’d want to tell Desmond “thank you.”

400 years without a comb

“Who would have thought that Viola Desmond would have ended up on the $10 bill?” says Dixon Slawter, who was born in 1965, the year Desmond passed away. “Who would have thought I would have learned about her and become a beauty advocate myself? Who would have thought one of my ideals would be to start a beauty school and do the same things she was doing 75 years ago?”

Desmond and Dixon Slawter had similar career paths, in a way. From the start of her career, Dixon Slawter wanted to have her own full-service salon, but she also wanted to have a school and encourage her students to open up their own salons. Dixon Slawter is now working on an apprenticeship program. And one of Desmond’s students, Verna Skinner, taught Dixon Slawter how to use the marcel irons, which are part of the exhibit.

Old hair styling irons

“It must have been placed in my heart,” Dixon Slawter said of her work.

For Dixon Slawter, Desmond was a beauty advocate, but she also encouraged Black women to own their own businesses. Like Desmond did, Dixon Slawter travels the province teaching others about Black beauty and hair care. I went on a road trip with her and a mutual friend, Donalda MacIssac, who is also on the board of the Black Beauty Culture Association, at the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown. There, Dixon Slawter gave presentations on Black hair care and encouraged guests to share their Black hair stories. A couple of years ago, she was in Cape Breton teaching a session. It was there, she told me, she met with Desmond’s sister, Wanda Robson, who told Dixon Slawter that she was going to continue the work of Viola.

“When she started becoming a beauty culturist, people weren’t even thinking about Blackness being beautiful,” Dixon Slawter says. “She was really before her time.”

Dixon Slawter says she would like her work to benefit the community for generations, and she would like a Black Beauty Culture museum. Maybe this exhibit is a start — I don’t doubt she can do it.

I asked Dixon Slawter what she is most proud about in her work.

Still being here, still standing. This has been a rough, rough road. Fighting against racism, segregation … white supremacy. When you go to hairdressing school, that’s all you learn. You learn about Eurocentric beauty, pretty much. And that needs to change. The future of my work would be to infuse equity, equality, and inclusion into the industry.

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Noticed

What is the future of restaurants? Photo: Dan Gold

On Tuesday, Maritime Noon talked about the future of restaurants with its guest, Corey Mintz, a freelance food reporter, former cook and restaurant critic, who wrote a book, The Next Supper: The End of Restaurants as We Knew Them, and What Comes After (that portion of the show starts at about the 16:50 mark).

Much of what we’ve heard about the restaurant industry lately has been from restaurant owners talking about staff shortages, which in many cases they blamed on the lazy staff getting government handouts or a “culture shift,” again just blaming staff.

This interview with Mintz was a good discussion. He and host Bob Murphy talked about what restaurants which have had to make all sorts of changes in the last year or so — if they survived the last number of months — might look like in the future. For his part, Mintz said there were too many restaurants pre-pandemic; in the the US, he said there was one restaurant for every 500 people and the ones that did best over the pandemic so are those places that had quick service, take-out and delivery.

What caught my attention about this interview was the conversation about tipping and customer service.

Mintz, who was a cook himself, talked about the “bizarre paradox” in the industry in that the nicer the restaurant the worse the pay is for cooks. That’s because of tipping, which benefits front-of-house staff, who earn about double what kitchen staff earn.

Mintz said he isn’t a fan of the tipping system — although he tips in cash and said if you can afford a luxury like going out to eat, you can afford to tip — and said most people just accept the system as it is now.

“That’s not how you treat professionals. Doctor, lawyer, electrician, dentist; they tell you what the bills costs and you pay the bill. And if you don’t like it, you go to someone else… Because of that power (tipping) being put in the hands of the customer as opposed to the employer, that leads to all manner of abuses.”

Getting rid of tipping is problematic, though. A restaurant can stop tipping, but that will mean a rise in prices, which customers don’t like. But staff may not like no-tipping either. If one restaurant stops its tipping practice, front-of-house staff will simply go to a new job at a restaurant that allows tipping.

And then there was the chat about customer service. Mintz had this to say:

“The customer is always right” is a really poisonous philosophy that has engendered a lot of bad behaviour over the years. It’s just a bad attitude and it leaves us to expect people are there to do whatever they want rather than us consider what’s reasonable or what are the boundaries of someone’s job description.

Listeners got a chance to call in to talk about how they were changing their own habits regarding visiting restaurants.

The call-in portion of Maritime Noon is always a hoot. I have to give credit to Murphy and Mintz keeping callers on track on this show. One caller said he didn’t go to restaurants now because the proof of vaccine requirement infringed on his rights. Another caller talked about the poor service, which she says staff blamed on the pandemic because they couldn’t find more employees. Well, yes?

As I was listening to them, I felt very grateful to not work in restaurants or bars anymore.

The final caller, Hazel, was lovely and said she and her husband chose to support a small local cafe in her hometown of Shelburne, and they’ve had “positive” and “wonderful” experiences. Hazel said her daughter is a trained chef and through her she’s learned about what it’s like to work in a kitchen, so she said she’s sympathetic to the plight staff are facing now. Hazel sounded like a patient and compassionate customer! Be like Hazel.

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Government

No meetings


On campus

No events


In the harbour

Halifax
01:00: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
05:30: Traviata, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
06:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Halifax from Saint-Pierre
07:30: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 36 to Pier 41
07:30: Edison, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
11:30: BBC Europe, cargo ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Charleston, South Carolina
12:00: Selfoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Portland, Maine
15:00: Traviata sails for sea
16:00: MSC Angela, container ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Valencia, Spain
16:30: Nolhanava sails for Saint-Pierre
16:45: Selfoss sails for Reykjavik, Iceland

Cape Breton
10:00: NS Laguna, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from New York
13:00: Baie St.Paul, bulker, sails from Mulgrave for sea
15:00: Polar Prince, tender, arrives at Mulgrave from Lunenburg


Footnotes

My cat is constipated, so I am off to the vet shortly.


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Suzanne Rent

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

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  1. About the Atlantic Loop: It’s entirely possible I’m out of the loop on this but a $5 billion ballpark seems awfully high for getting power from Hydro Quebec to Nova Scotia through New Brunswick, presumably using existing corridor. Hydro Quebec’s now defunct Northern Pass project was to be about 300km, partially through wilderness, at a cost of less than $2 billion and media reports put the cost of the HQ’s latest effort through Maine at $1 billion. Just wondering.

  2. I spoke to a restaurant owner who told me one of the challenges with the vaccine passport mandate (which he said he supports) is that it upends a lot of the training staff have. They are trained for, “What can I do for you?” rather than “I’m refusing you entry.”