1. The Black Maritime experience
“Growing up in predominantly white Moncton, Hillary LeBlanc had a racial awakening of sorts when she moved to Toronto five years ago and started coming in regular contact with more Black people like herself,” reports Matthew Byard:
She’s since entered the world of journalism and media and said she’s made it her “mission to share the stories of Black Maritimers across the country.”
“What started with podcasting and telling my own story has opened so many doors and opportunities,” she said recently in an interview with the Halifax Examiner.
2. Crypto: Fraud all the way down
“More than 100 bitcoins previously held in inaccessible virtual wallets linked to defunct cryptocurrency exchange QuadrigaCX have been transferred four years after the death of the company’s founder led to its collapse,” reports Kim Cheung for the Associated Press:
It is not clear who moved the 104 bitcoins this month, worth approximately $2.4-million, nor how anyone could do so. Bankruptcy trustee Ernst & Young Inc. said in 2019 that it was not able to access the wallets, meaning the funds could not be recovered to help compensate users who lost money when the exchange went out of business.
The exchange’s collapse was touched off in December, 2018, when Gerald Cotten, founder and chief executive of Quadriga Fintech Solutions Corp., died due to complications from Crohn’s disease while on his honeymoon in India.
Quadriga was once the country’s largest cryptoexchange, and EY found that Mr. Cotten, who lived in Nova Scotia, was the only person with the passwords needed to access the digital wallets in which customer funds were kept. As a result, about 76,000 users were owed $215-million when he died.
The Ontario Securities Commission later concluded that Mr. Cotten, operating with zero oversight or internal controls, was running a Ponzi scheme. He opened fake Quadriga accounts under aliases, credited himself with cryptocurrency and proceeded to make trades. When his bets went the wrong way, Mr. Cotten used client funds to cover his trading losses, along with misappropriating money to fund his lifestyle.
Clearly, someone has the keys to at least some of the secret millions.
Stephen Kimber recently described the foolish people who put their money into crypto:
Starting with the stunning, stunned eagerness of so many otherwise sensible people to invest in a currency they not only couldn’t hold in their hands but a currency that was also — and this has always been one of its key selling points — beyond the control of governments or regulators to govern or regulate.
And then, their equally rabid eagerness to blame anyone but themselves when their life savings disappeared — as they so often did — into a black hole peopled by greedy incompetents, criminal gangs and nefarious scam artists.
The Ontario Securities Commission’s post-mortum of Quadriga details the scheme:
The bulk of the asset shortfall — approximately $115 million — arose from Cotten’s fraudulent trading on the Quadriga platform. Cotten opened Quadriga accounts under aliases and credited himself with fictitious currency and crypto asset balances which he traded with unsuspecting Quadriga clients. He sustained real losses when the price of crypto assets changed, thereby creating a shortfall in assets to satisfy client withdrawals. Cotten covered this shortfall with other clients’ deposits. In effect, this meant that Quadriga operated like a Ponzi scheme.
Cotten lost an additional $28 million while trading client assets on three external crypto asset trading platforms without authorization from, or disclosure to, clients. He also misappropriated millions in client assets to fund his lifestyle. In its final months, Quadriga had almost no assets left and was operating like a revolving door—new client deposits were immediately re-routed to fund other clients’ withdrawals.
What happened at Quadriga was an old-fashioned fraud wrapped in modern technology. There is nothing new about Ponzi schemes, unauthorized trading with client funds and misappropriation of assets. Crypto asset trading platforms, however, are novel and the regulatory framework for these platforms is evolving. Quadriga did not consider its business to involve securities trading and it did not register with any securities regulator. This lack of registration facilitated Cotten’s ability to commit a large-scale fraud without detection. So did the absence of internal oversight over Cotten. From 2016 onwards, Cotten was in sole control of a company that had hundreds of thousands of clients and transacted over a billion dollars of fiat currency-denominated assets and over five million crypto asset units. He ran the business as he saw fit, with no proper system of internal oversight or controls or proper books and records.
Sound familiar? Sam Bankman-Fried is now sitting in a Bahama jail cell, about to be extradited to the United States on fraud charges, although once there he’ll likely face a litany of other charges.
The crypto fraud perpetuated by Cotten and SBF is basically identical, except that Cotten didn’t think to wrap his crimes in political donations and a preposterous veneer of “effective altruism.”
My favourite crypto scammer, however, is Ruja Plamenova Ignatova, aka The CryptoQueen, who didn’t even bother with the crypto and went straight to the scam.
“Dr. Ruja,” as she styled herself, sold a supposedly revolutionary cryptocurrency she called OneCoin, which was to democratize finance for the masses. (This, oddly, is also the plot to the Netflix series Startup, which first aired just as Ruja was criming, and involved something called GenCoin.)
Ruja filled stadiums around the world, telling impoverished people everywhere they too could be rich, if only they gave her whatever meagre life savings they had.
Check out her schtick:
Then, Oct. 25, 2017, Ruja boarded a Ryanair flight from Sofia, Bulgaria to Athens, Greece, and disappeared. She hasn’t been seen since. And neither have hundreds of millions of Euros she controlled.
In 2019, Ruja was placed on the F.B.I.’s most wanted list.
A good distraction this holiday season is to listen to the BBC investigative podcast about Ruja, and about the search for Ruja.
In any event, there’s a through line going back from SBF to Gerald Cotten to Dr. Ruja. It’s fraud all the way down.
“A national team that includes researchers from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax is starting to publish its findings from a project researching barriers faced by migrant women experiencing gender-based violence,” reports Suzanne Rent:
Their work involved interviews with survivors, policymakers, and frontline workers. The group is also making recommendations for governments, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), and regional and international policy-making institutions.
Dr. Evangelia Tastsoglou, who’s been a professor at Saint Mary’s University since 1993, is the principal investigator of the project titled “Violence against Women Migrants and Refugees: Analysing Causes and Effective Policy Responses.”
In an interview with the Halifax Examiner, she said there are unique vulnerabilities that apply to migrant and refugee women as opposed to women in the general population who are survivors of gender-based violence.
“Those vulnerabilities have to do with structural policies,” Tastsoglou said. “That is, policies and legislative frameworks that, not intentionally, but in reality, make this population of women more vulnerable.”
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
A second bond-rating agency has downgraded Nova Scotia Power’s credit rating, which could impact the company’s future cost of borrowing.
On Tuesday, Dominion Bond Rating Service (DBRS) lowered the utility’s rating to BBB from A. Based on the performance of Nova Scotia Power’s parent company Emera Inc, the agency considers Nova Scotia Power “stable” and does not expect any more downgrades “unless there is additional political intervention in the rate-making process that results in even higher volatility and uncertainty.”
In a news release, DBRS says “the downgrades follow DBRS Morningstar’s review of the deterioration in the regulatory environment for NSPI and discussions with management as to the Company’s plan after the Province of Nova Scotia’s intervention during the ongoing General Rate Application process under the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (NSUARB), and greater uncertainty on NSPI’s plans and ability to meet renewable generation targets and to shut down its coal-fired generation plants.”
DBRS Morningstar states it believes “meeting the provincially mandated renewable generation targets will be challenging given the financial restraints on NSPI over the near term, as well as the heightened regulatory risk on the Company’s ability to receive rate increases to recover and earn a reasonable return on any new investments.”
The agency goes on to say that while it is “encouraged” by the negotiated settlement between the power company and intervenors which supports a 14% increase in power rates over the next two years, it expects NSPI’s “earnings and key credit metrics to be moderately weaker” in the short term. In other words, the company will be less profitable for shareholders.
The move Tuesday by DBRS follows a similar downgrade by Standard & Poor Global immediately following the Houston government’s passage of Bill 212 at the end of November, which imposed limits on power rates and profits by Nova Scotia Power.
A decision on power rates by the UARB is expected by the end of 2022.
5. Election spending
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
The final numbers showing how much each political party spent during the last provincial election held Aug. 17,2021 were released yesterday by the Chief Electoral Officer.
The PCs won a majority government under leader Tim Houston even though there were many closely fought races among 55 seats.
The spending by individual candidates is also available in the third volume released by the Chief Electoral Officer at www.electionsnovascotia.ca
Of the three major political parties, the New Democratic Party spent the most money during the last election campaign. The NDP reported expenses of $1,052,886. The party elected six MLAs.
The Progressive Conservatives spent slightly less. The PCs reported election expenses of $1,031,554 and elected 31 members.
The Liberals, which had been in office for eight years, declared election expenses of $557,906 and elected 17 MLAs.
Democracy ain’t cheap
Unsurprisingly, the cost of holding a provincial election in 55 ridings and paying workers — who were more difficult to attract during COVID — climbed dramatically.
Democracy doesn’t come cheap. The total tab for the previous provincial election held May 30, 2017 was $9,922,818. Four years later, the bill for the last election held Aug. 17, 2021 came in at $12,649,469.
Most of the 27.5% increase was attributable to higher Returning Office costs. These would include payments to workers, the printing of ballots, and the renting of space to hold the vote on election day.
Houston received most political donations
The final tally of election expenses released by the Chief Returning Officer also includes the amount each political candidate received in contributions from individuals. Pictou East MLA and future Premier Tim Houston topped that list reporting $53,285 in donations.
Former Liberal Transportation and Public Works minister Lloyd Hines received $41,095 in contributions, but was defeated by PC candidate and radio announcer Greg Morrow in the riding of Guysborough-Tracadie.
Cape Breton East Liberal candidate Heather Peters raised $39,410, but the riding was won by PC Brian Comer.
Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin was elected in Cumberland North as an Independent after being turfed from the PC party. Smith-McCrossin reported receiving $36,500 in political contributions.
In Antigonish, Michelle Thompson, a registered nurse and nursing home manager, who was a first-time political candidate, raised $32,495. Thompson defeated the incumbent Liberal MLA and former Health minister, Randy Delorey. Thompson was appointed health minister by Houston.
At the other end of the province, Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill reported $30,000 in political contributions and became the Liberal leader replacing Iain Rankin following the 2021 election.
The next provincial election will be held in 2025.
6. A mighty, mighty wind
A report filed by Nova Scotia Power with the Utility and Review Board details some of the winds accompanied by Hurricane Fiona in September.
The highest winds captured in the report were on Beaver Island on the Eastern Shore, which saw sustained winds of 126 km/hour and gusts up to 150 km/hour.
The next highest were at Caribou Point, which saw sustained winds of 102 km/hour and gusts up to 133 km/hour.
As well, the Sydney airport recorded sustained winds of 96 km/hour and gusts up to 141 km/hour, and Grand Étang saw sustained winds of 91 km/hour and gusts up to 139 km/hour.
In the harbour
05:30: Sunshine Ace, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 42 from St. John’s
09:00: Asterix, replenishment vessel, arrives at Dockyard from sea
09:30: Baie St.Paul, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
09:30: Thunder Bay, bulker, moves from anchorage to Gold Bond
11:45: Oceanex Sanderling moves to Pier 41
12:00: MSC Aniello, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Sines, Portugal
13:00: Madelyn Grace, oil tanker, sails from Pier 25 for sea
16:00: Sunshine Ace sails for sea
16:00: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
16:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Philipsburg, Saint Croix
16:45: Oceanex Sanderling moves to Autoport
09:00: Holiday Island, ferry, sails from Mulgrave to be scrapped, as it was destroyed by fire
10:00: Hanze Gdansk, bulker, picks up pilot en route to Sheet Harbour, arrives from Matane, Quebec
21:00: Algoma Vision, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
I no longer have much in the way of COVID symptoms, except I’m still taking three naps a day. I figure it’s the holiday season, so I may as well take it easy for a spell. Hence, short Morning Files.
I usually use the two weeks at the end of the year to actually relax and then slowly work on big projects that take a lot of time. That’s the plan these next two weeks.
First, however, a nap.