1. Muskrat Falls
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
It’s Election Day. On Monday, August 9, the Liberal campaign issued the following news release. “Premier Iain Rankin, today, welcomed Emera’s announcement that the first electricity from Muskrat Falls will start to flow into Nova Scotia next week through the Maritime Link, providing stable, clean power for the province.”
“We are committed to delivering cleaner and reliable energy that is affordable to our customers and this is an important step in our transition away from coal,” says NS Power President & CEO, Peter Gregg, in the August 9 Emera news release. “With the arrival of the NS Block, we are on track to generate approximately 60% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2022 and this will help us achieve our shared goal of 80% renewable by 2030.”
The timing of this announcement both surprised and confused me. Last May I had learned from Karen O’Neill, the communications manager for Nalcor Energy, that three of the four generating units at Muskrat Falls as well as the transmission system known as the Labrador Island Link (LIL) which moves the hydroelectricity from Labrador to Newfoundland must be commissioned before Nova Scotia could receive a steady supply of power.
Documents filed in June to the regulator in Newfoundland projected the middle of November as the earliest probable date before the Labrador Island Link would be fully operational: “Based on the schedules presented above, the overall Muskrat Falls Project completion date is currently November 14, 2021, which as noted above could be impacted by the pending schedule update from GE.”
NS Power — through its parent company Emera — is a major customer for Muskrat Falls clean renewable hydroelectricity. Back in 2013 it signed a long-term deal to purchase the equivalent of 10% of the province’s energy needs for a set price. Emera also has the “first option” to purchase an additional 10% at market price, once Muskrat Falls is fully operational. My understanding was that power from Muskrat Falls wouldn’t actually be delivered to Nova Scotia until November, so I asked Emera to explain how the timeline got moved up in its news release.
“The release today announces that delivery of the Nova Scotia Block of clean energy from the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project is set to begin by August 15,” said Jennifer Parker, communications officer with Emera Inc. “First Muskrat Falls electricity was delivered through the Maritime Link last December as the transmission system was linked with the generating system in Newfoundland and Labrador. Today’s announcement pertains to the clean energy that will be delivered from the Muskrat Falls project to Nova Scotia for the next 35 years. We’ve been working toward fall delivery and we are pleased that the benefits will start flowing to customers immediately.”
I was still not convinced energy from Muskrat Falls would be flowing our way despite the “feel good” campaign announcement. On August 16 (one day after the delivery date announced by the Liberals) I contacted Jacqueline Foster, senior communications officer with NS Power, to ask if energy from Muskrat Falls had actually been delivered to Nova Scotia. Turns out the answer is “no.” The date of receiving hydro from Muskrat falls depends — as I had accurately reported earlier this year — on the progress of the commissioning process, particularly with the Labrador Island Link which has had issues with the GE software that controls the flow of electricity over the power lines.
“While energy did not flow,” said Foster, “the 35-year term for delivery of the NS Block of clean energy commenced on August 15 which means NS is now receiving the benefit of the NS Block. As per our agreement, when the NS Block is interrupted, Nalcor will replace the energy in coordination with NSPI. This type of interruption is not unexpected through this period, as is the case with any commissioning process.”
Readers attempting to parse what’s going on here should focus on the phrase “receiving the benefit.” It appears that even if we are not actually receiving electrons from Muskrat Falls, Nalcor is now on the hook for supplying replacement energy from somewhere, and at the agreed upon price negotiated almost 10 years ago. Presumably we are finally (after more than a three-year delay) getting low-cost, renewable energy as stipulated in the contract between Emera and Nalcor. It’s just not flowing from Muskrat Falls to Nova Scotia yet. And we are almost certainly not eligible to option the second slice of power at market rates until the LIL is fully operational.
The news releases from Emera and the Liberals on the same day raise as many questions as they answer. Especially now that we know delivery of the hydro didn’t happen as planned, but as Nova Scotia customers of the Newfoundland company, the fact the contract is now being honoured means we are benefiting some way, somehow. The Examiner will continue to press for a better explanation of how that works because as we went to press, it’s still unclear.
2. Kayla Borden’s lawyer: Police board ‘not willing to look at the big picture’
On Monday, Zane Woodford interviewed Devin Maxwell, Kayla Borden’s lawyer, about a decision released on Aug. 9 that ruled only two of the officers of the nine involved in Borden’s late-night arrest in Dartmouth in the summer of 2020 will face the board in a hearing. You’ll recall, as Woodford reported:
Borden was pulled over and arrested for no reason on July 28, 2020 in Dartmouth on her way home from a visit with her cousin in Bedford. El Jones first reported on the case for the Halifax Examiner later that day. Borden filed a complaint, and as the Examiner reported in October, the police didn’t make it easy.
Maxwell wanted all nine officers and the entire police force to be included in Borden’s complaint. But Katherine Salsman, a lawyer for Halifax Regional Police, said the police should decide if they should be investigating themselves for “structural, institutional or systemic issues.”
In his interview with Woodford, Maxwell mentions several other cases, including that of Maurice Carvery, a former HRP officer who was pulled over for having an expired plate and the case of Adam LeRue, a Black man who was arrested for being in a park after dark (the police board ruled one of the constables involved in that case breached the code of conduct, but that race wasn’t a factor).
Maxwell told Woodford “Black people are being arrested at a very high rate, and they’re not willing to look at the big picture.”
Click here to read Woodford’s complete story.
3. Black golf tournament returns to Truro
Matthew Byard reports on the return of the Apex Invitational Golf Tournament in Truro, which was cancelled in 2020 because of COVID-19.
As Byard reports, the event got its start in 1974 and was then organized by former Truro resident Darrell Maxwell. The event was originally called The Black Golf Tournament and had just under a dozen Black golfers.
Byard gets into the history of the event and how it all comes together each year. But as he learned, this is more than a golf tournament. Byard writes:
What started out as a friendly tournament among friends is now an annual homecoming for Truro’s Black community.
“It is about reconnecting with friends and family, but most importantly it is about community, our collective Black community that touches all parts of Nova Scotia and beyond,” said Wayne Talbot, Truro deputy mayor and Apex committee member.
The origin of Truro’s Black community dates back to the late 1700s when the Black Loyalists first started arriving in Atlantic Canada, following the American War of Independence.
The organizers also started a scholarship fund for Black students. Click here to read Byard’s full story.
4. Rankin on rent control
Tim Bousquet was at a campaign stop in Bedford where Liberal leader and premier Iain Rankin talked about rent control and housing in Nova Scotia. At that stop, Rankin said:
We have a booming population here and we need to address our housing stock. Since I’ve been premier we’ve invested, committed over $30 million already and will continue to ensure that we’re building more affordable units at the same time when we create the conditions to make sure no one is going to lack access. As I said in April, we will not lift our rent control until the housing supply is stable, and this could take a few years. We are also committed to compensating renters for up to six months who are forced to move because of a potential renovation.
Bousquet asked Rankin to clarify his stance on housing issues and the whole exchange is in the story, which you can read here.
5. COVID- 19 update: 9 new cases
Tim Bousquet has the first COVID-19 update since Friday. On Monday, nine new cases were announced in the province. That’s a three-day total (Friday to Sunday). Bousquet writes:
Five of the new cases are in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone — three are travel related, one is a close contact of a previously reported case, and one is under investigation.
Two of the new cases are in the Eastern Zone; both are travel related.
And the other two new cases are in the Northern Zone; both are travel related.
So, there are now 24 known active cases in Nova Scotia.
Here are the pop-up testing locations for the next few days:
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Centennial Arena, 3-8pm
Shubie Park, Locks Road (Public Health Mobile Unit), 11am-6:30pm
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Alderney Gate, 10am-2pm
Centennial Arena, 3-8pm
Chocolate Lake (Public Health Mobile Unit), 11am-6:30pm
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Alderney Gate, 10am-2pm
Dartmouth Summer Sunshine Series, 6-8pm
Centennial Arena, 3-8pm
Halifax Pride Festival, 5565 Sackville St, 3-8pm
Click here to read Bousquet’s complete update.
6. Council accepts campaign finance report that missed some details
Zane Woodford attended a virtual meeting of Council’s Executive Standing Committee on Monday where they accepted a report on compliance with the city’s campaign finance bylaw, which was adopted in October 2018.
But that report seemed to have missed some details, including corporate donations accepted by some candidates in the 2020 municipal election, and late filings of campaign statements by many other candidates. Woodford reports:
After the campaign contribution statements were made public in January 2020, the Halifax Examiner identified numerous contraventions of the bylaw.
David Hendsbee, longtime councillor for District 2 who was re-elected in October, received a corporate donation. After the Examiner asked about it, the municipality covered it up with white-out. Steve Streatch, former councillor for District 1, also received a corporate donation. Another candidate in Hendsbee’s district received cash and in-kind donations exceeding the limit under the bylaw. And multiple candidates hadn’t filed at all when the statements were posted.
The report to council on Monday, written by municipal clerk Iain MacLean and legislative assistant Krista Vining, mentions none of that, save for an underplayed acknowledgement that candidates were late filing.
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7. Housing in Nova Scotia
Last week, we hosted our first virtual community session where readers joined us to talk about the housing crisis in Nova Scotia. We heard a lot about issues that people would like us to cover in our housing reporting series.
We’re hosting another virtual session on Thursday from 6pm to 8pm. It’s free to register, of course, and you can sign up here. I’ll send you the link to the Zoom session sometime on Thursday before the event.
If you can’t attend, you can always call or text our message line at 1-819-803-6215. I’ll have a couple of in-person meetings next week, so stay tuned to learn more about them. If you’re interested in having a session in your community, drop me a line at email@example.com and we can chat.
We published our first story in this series last week. Zane Woodford looked at how landlords are skirting the law by making month-to-month leases more expensive.
Employers can’t find workers? Here’s what workers have to say
I’ve read a lot of stories lately in which employers complain they can’t find workers. Those employers often say workers are staying home and refusing to work because they’re getting the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), Employment Insurance (EI), or the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB). I find this odd because getting CERB, EI, or CRB is not like winning the jackpot on a Set for Life scratch ticket. For many, these programs are just covering the basics.
I rarely hear from the workers in these stories, so I decided to interview a few myself. Here are three stories:
At the beginning of 2020, William Young left a job he wasn’t happy with. He had some freelance writing gigs that dried up, and produces a podcast — which he considers a third job, but only makes him some “pocket change,” — so he was looking for a new full-time gig when COVID-19 hit that March. He started collecting CERB around April, which he says was a big help.
“It was a way for me to pay my bills, buy groceries, and get everything I needed. $2,000 for four weeks was what I could live on. I wasn’t putting a lot into savings, but I had enough to live on. I have a pretty modest lifestyle.”
From March to about September, he didn’t do a lot of job hunting because of the pandemic. Those months, he said, were tough ones. He says he couldn’t go to therapy, see friends, and so on. Plus, his wife has asthma and he didn’t want to get a job in customer service and potentially be exposed to COVID-19. He would only leave the house early in the morning to get groceries.
CERB turned into CRB and Young, who will be 31 in a couple of weeks, was soon back looking for full-time jobs in September. He found one in November, and he’s been there ever since. He says his new job allows him to work from home.
It was a positive move. I’m still doing writing and podcasting, too.
Young says those months on CERB gave him time to think about his next move.
It’s hard to overstate how helpful it was at the time. I really needed it not just to stay alive, but to reassess my own life, what I wanted. It led me indirectly to the job I have now.
As for those articles in which employers say no one wants to work, Young has this to say:
The process of looking for a job is really stressful. My heart goes out to the people who aren’t as lucky as me, who live paycheque to paycheque, as I am now. I am not in great financial status, but what I lose in that I gain in personal freedom. There are some people who don’t have that freedom. I know people who are struggling, and I don’t see either living on CRB or government benefits as a good thing. At the time when the quarantine happened, it allowed me to stay safe and consider my career options, but I never lost the sense that this was a finite thing and there was a clock ticking. The onus was on me to figure out what the next step was. The stress and that worry never left my mind. I can only imagine the people who don’t have the luxury of plotting their next move, and people who don’t have the opportunity and even the necessary skills to figure out what the next step is. At least the benefits from the government are a kind of safety net, but it’s one you know is not meant to last and there’s a unique kind of stress that comes with that. When you have a little room to breathe, you realize a lot of your immediate employment options are really quite terrible.
When I see articles about how employers can’t find employees, to me a lot of times that employer is not somewhere I’d want to work if I had a choice. I think there’s a lot of work to be done to address the ways in which employees are mistreated and undervalued and in some ways underpaid.
The state of things now aren’t particularly good, and I think a lot of people, myself included, had the opportunity to learn there is no job that’s worth all of the stress, or worth dying for or catching COVID for. I think a lot of people are realizing that. I think that’s the part that is being missed — or willfully ignored — by spreading the “no one wants to work” message.
Young says he’s very happy with his employment now.
This is the happiest I’ve been with my working situation probably my whole life.
Perry Falconer was working as a part-time grocery clerk in 2020 making minimum wage when he was offered a better job with better pay and benefits with the same company. The job also better matched his skills and and education (he has a degree in finance).
But after some changes in the company, he and other employees were laid off earlier this year. Falconer applied for EI and he’s looking for a new job. But he says most of the jobs he sees pay minimum wage. He says:
Employment Insurance right now, the minimum they pay you is the equivalent of $12.50/hr with no deductions other than taxes.
Still, he’s always looking and has had a number of interviews, but he hasn’t found anything yet. And there are still lots of minimum wage gigs. He says he can’t do minimum wage at a grocery store again because he injured himself at his last grocery store job. Other jobs in his field of insurance or banking are often part time.
It’s hard to find a quality job that pays a quality wage, a living wage.
Falconer knows EI runs out, of course. But he’s making the best of the time. He says he’d like to work with an employment counsellor to help him find a job that fits.
I am being picky this time because I can’t injure myself for a job if they’re only going to pay me $12 an hour. I don’t think people want to stay home but these employers are offering less than what people are making on employment insurance. Minimum wage is too low to work if you can get more on unemployment. I hate to support the argument, but it’s true.
[EI] bought me time to reinvestigate my priorities. If I want to take a course, maybe I can look into that, and do what I can to better myself for my field. It’s a godsend the programs are the way they are. I hadn’t been on EI for at least 10 years, but this time it lined up when I got laid off. It really is helping me do something better for myself.
Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt is starting a whole new career. When COVID hit, he lost his job as an executive chef (he worked in the hospitality industry for about 16 years). Jones-Vaillancourt, who’s married with a young daughter, says at first he tried to find something else in that field. He says:
“Because the cook trade is one of the unregulated trades in this province, there is no minimum wage other than what’s legislated by the province. And because it’s unregulated trade by the province, it drives down the wages for people who do have the trade and their papers. The food side of hospitality was so impacted by COVID, there were a lot of people looking for work. There were positions I did interview for, but either the working conditions or what they were willing to pay didn’t match what I was looking for. We have a toddler, and with my experience, I refused to be a line cook for $12 or $13 an hour.”
After looking at the pay and working conditions he thought maybe it wasn’t the right industry for him anymore. He had reached all his goals in his field, and says anything new would just be a lateral move. So, he applied for and was accepted into a two-year LPN program with l’Université Sainte-Anne’s Halifax campus.
From my perspective, switching to nursing is just a different way of taking care of someone. At the end of the day, food is about love and taking care of someone as well. Nursing is just a different application of that.
Jones-Vaillancourt did get CERB after his job stopped because of COVID. He says that downtime helped him think about his next steps, between taking care of his daughter and cleaning the house — which he says you can only do so many times.
It gave me that breather to reflect and reevaluate what I want my goals to be the rest of the working part of my life. Is staying where I am truly making the impact I want to make on the world?
And as for those employers who say they can’t find workers? Jones-Vaillancourt says this:
That’s bullshit. The reality is a lot of people, for whatever reason, moved on from that industry. Realistically wherever you are in that industry, food service and hospitality, in terms of how workers are treated, they get treated very poorly from employers, sometimes the patrons, and front-of-house staff are paid garbage and they have to rely on tips to make up the difference. And back of house, even with experience, sometimes most employers aren’t willing to pay a decent wage. Whether you’re front of house or back of house, physically and mentally it’s a very demanding job. This notion it’s because of CERB, it’s a red herring because they don’t collectively want to look at their practices and change and adapt.
I don’t buy the line from employers that people don’t want to work. There is more to these stories. The pandemic gave a lot of people a break and time to think about how they want to lives their lives, especially their working lives. For so long the attitude here in Nova Scotia has been we should just be grateful to have jobs at all. For years, during my own job searches I heard this, or “that’s good money for Nova Scotia” when I pointed out the low pay employers were offering. I was born and raised here and I can’t remember a time when this wasn’t the attitude. And employers do well exploiting this. Some do very well. We call them innovators and top CEOs and name stuff after them.
Of course, I’m missing stories here, including those from women. I’m sure there are other circumstances that come into play — such as childcare and caring for elderly parents — for why people aren’t returning to jobs, or are looking for jobs in new fields. And maybe people don’t want to work in public-facing jobs dealing with awful customers (who perhaps refuse to wear masks) and get paid next to nothing for it.
Workers have choices, and employers are shocked they’re not choosing what they have to offer. Employers will have to step up their game.
Evelyn C. White, Halifax Examiner contributor, freelance writer, and author of Alice Walker: A Life, was recently awarded the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project’s (NSRAP) Raymond Taavel Media Award, which recognizes an individual or organization for work in the traditional or social media education of the public on news or issues affecting Nova Scotia’s 2SLGBTQIA+ community. The award ceremony took place on August 14, from 4pm to 6pm at the Garrison grounds as a part of NSRAP’s 25+ Anniversary event.
As part of the award, White received a framed piece of artwork titled BLOOMING by Halifax artist Yang Guo (click here to see their work).
In her acceptance speech, White mentioned this article she wrote that made her especially proud. It’s the story of the work of largely unrecognized Petric J. Smith, a trans man whose uncle, Robert Chambliss, was prosecuted in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. Chambliss was only convicted for the crime in 1977 after Smith, who was born Elizabeth H. Cobbs, testified against Chambliss. Smith transitioned not long after that trial, and as White writes “named himself as co-author of Cobbs’s 1994 memoir, Long Time Coming: An Insider’s Story of the Birmingham Church Bombing that Rocked the World.”
Also in her speech, White applauded Tim Bousquet “for giving me 100% freedom to write whatever I want, whenever I want.” She ended her speech at the NSRAP event by playing Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance with Somebody on her trumpet kazoo.
Congratulations, Evelyn, from everyone at the Examiner!
Committee of the Whole and Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 10am) — both Committee of the Whole and Halifax Regional Council live streamed on YouTube, with captioning on a text-only site
Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am) — live streamed on YouTube
North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm) — live streamed on YouTube; Public Information Meeting – Case 21639: Middle Sackville Master Plan, Phase 1
A Conversation about LGBT Seniors’ Archives in the Atlantic Region (Wednesday, 1pm) — online event; Jacquie Gahagan, founder of the Nova Scotia LGBT Seniors Archive, and panelists from the Atlantic region will discuss the importance of preserving and sharing our histories.
Primary Health Care Learning Series (Wednesday, 12pm) — online seminar with two topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic:
“Primary Care Access, Attachment & Innovations in Nova Scotia Before & During the Pandemic”; Speakers: Emily Gard Marshall and Mackenzie Cook
“Helping Parents with Anxiety and Depression Symptoms During COVID-19: An iCBT Longitudinal Study”; Speaker: Teba Hamodat
In the harbour
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
10:00: Johanna C, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 28 from Wilmington, Deleware
12:00: Oceanex Sanderling moves to Pier 36
12:00: Ri Guan Feng, bulker, sails from anchorage for sea
18:00: Siem Dorado, offshore supply ship, moves from Pier 9 to Irving Oil
19:00: Acadian, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
10:30: CSL Tarantau, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Port Manatee, Florida
This election is the first in which my daughter can vote. All four candidates in our riding are women.
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If you do the math on working for 40 hours a week at, say, $14 an hour, vs. collecting EI at $12.50 an hour, here’s how it shakes out for a single worker with no dependents and no particular tax advantages:
Work: 24,025 a year after tax.
EI: 21,831 a year after tax.
Assuming that there are no expenses associated with working, that is $2194, or $1 extra an hour per hour of work allowing for a modest commute. But wait! Housing near most jobs is expensive or nonexistent. So you need a bus pass. That’s $990 a year. We’re down to 50 cents an hour of marginal income. Also, lets say the job requires some sort of special shoe, like non-slip for foodservice or steel toes for a warehouse or construction. Good ones will set you back $140 – we’re down to $850 a year for 40 hours a week + 1 hour unpaid lunch + 90 minute commute. That’s 2730 hours of your time that you aren’t going to get back for 750 bucks a year in marginal income.
Never mind that with that 2730 hours a year, you can fix that pair of jeans instead of throwing it out, or make bread yourself instead of buying it. Unless you spend that time in total idleness, a job at even $15 or $16 an hour is a terrible deal compared to EI.
Thanks for the coverage of and seeking clarification on Muskrat Falls, Jennifer.
Re Footnotes, thanks to Suzanne’s daughter for voting for the first time! : – )
Ditto from me.
I encourage everyone who hasn’t already voted to please go and do so today.