1. Power rates go up
Yesterday, the Utility and Review Board (UARB) approved a total of 14.27% in power rate increases for Nova Scotia Power’s residential customers.
But that’s not all, reports Jennifer Henderson:
The increases of 6.9% this year followed by 6.9% next year might seem hard to swallow but it’s likely rates could be increased even more than that a year from now.
That’s because they rates don’t include hundreds of millions of dollars in projected fuel costs that could be incurred over the next two years, as well as $100 million in deferred fuel costs for 2022 which just ended.
Nova Scotia Power has forecast fuel costs in the range of $700 million for 2023 and for 2024. Rate hikes announced yesterday won’t cover nearly that amount, and some of the difference (nobody can predict how much) may have to be recovered through higher power rates next year and the year after.
The rate increases are the result of the system working as it was designed. Any dispassionate, informed observer can examine the UARB process and find that it is fault-free: The UARB operated according to the terms of its mandate and authority, and the board members, staff, and interveners are all people of goodwill who operated ethically. They examined the evidence before them, took seriously their obligations, and acted according to the governmental framework put in place to regulate the utility.
That’s exactly the problem.
Nova Scotia Power was privatized 31 years ago, and the terms of its regulated existence were established by the Nova Scotia Power Privatization Act of 1992. It’s been amended since, but the same basic relationship between ratepayers, government, and the corporation remains in place. That has not changed.
A whole hell of a lot of other things have changed over those 31 years, however. For one, we’ve gotten around to facing the reality that we need to act quickly to prevent the worst of climate change. That means everyone will suffer — well, everyone except Nova Scotia Power, whose guaranteed rate of profit is protected by the 31-year-old legislation.
Name one other business that can expect stable market conditions for 31 years. It’s impossible. Over those 31 years, entire industries, and the profits that came with them, have collapsed. The dot-com bubble expanded and burst, the real estate industry deflated in a global economic meltdown, banks folded, newspapers were gutted, and on and on. That’s the nature of capitalism: continual destruction and rebuilding, no stability, no guarantees. But somehow it’s entirely acceptable that a regulated utility is immune to the realities of the world.
These rate increases come as people are hit hard financially in other ways — rents are skyrocketing, grocery prices are soaring, student loans are grinding down people who can’t find jobs that pay enough to service the loans.
Business as usual just doesn’t cut it any more. We need meaningful interventionist structural change to the ways our society works.
A quick word about the UARB: I don’t expect it to be the vanguard of societal change — it’s just a bureaucracy. As I say, the people involved are basically good people. Still, I can’t help but note that the “consumer advocate,” Bill Mahody, is leaving that position and going to work directly for the UARB as a lawyer. Now, I’ve watched Mahody for many years, and he’s worked tirelessly and ethically in the consumer advocate position; I’ve never had reason to fault him. And I can’t think of anyone better equipped to deal with the Nova Scotia Power file than he, so the move has logic to it. But… what about optics? A cynic might think that his zealous advocacy for consumers may have been moderated somewhat in hopes of getting the new position. You could also look at it the other way around: Don’t we want someone who cut his teeth working on behalf of consumers to be in a regulatory position? It’s confusing, and I can’t decide what to make of it.
In any event, it’s the role of government to make the kind of meaningful interventionist structural changes that are now necessary. But the governments of the world, including Nova Scotia’s, seem unwilling to take more than performative action. And the other powers that be are silent.
This morning, the province announced that it “has accepted the recommendations from the Minimum Wage Review Committee, which include setting the minimum wage at $15 an hour on Oct. 1, six months sooner than scheduled.” That’s a 10.3% increase from the current $13.60, so a start, but by itself doesn’t even cover the rise in power rates, which will almost certainly be higher than the 14.27% approved yesterday.
(Parenthetically, I guarantee you that the merchant class will complain more about the 10.3% increase in the minimum wage than they will about the 16% increase in power rates the UARB has imposed on small businesses.)
It won’t solve everything, but one meaningful change the provincial government could implement would to end Nova Scotia Power’s guaranteed profit, which in practical terms means re-nationalizing it.
2. Rent cap
“The Progressive Conservative government isn’t ruling out some form of rent control past the planned December 2023 lifting of the current 2% cap on rents,” reports Zane Woodford:
Minister Colton LeBlanc is responsible for Service Nova Scotia, and by extension, the Residential Tenancies Act. In a post-cabinet scrum on Thursday, he was asked about landlords using fixed-term leases to skirt the rent cap.
LeBlanc said it’s “a bit frustrating” to hear that it’s still happening. He said the government is “aggressively looking at the the the need for a compliance enforcement division.” New regulations are coming Friday to protect tenants, LeBlanc said, but they won’t fix the fixed-term lease issue.
LeBlanc didn’t rule out a system tying increases to inflation.
“All options are on the table right now regarding that,” he said.
It’s forecast to be bitterly cold later tonight and into Sunday morning — colder than I’ve experienced in my 19 winters in Nova Scotia.
Meanwhile, with windchill temperatures in the -30s forecast for this weekend, Community Services Minster Karla MacFarlane guaranteed a bed for every unhoused person who wants one.
“We certainly have ramped up efforts knowing what Mother Nature is going to bring us in temperatures,” MacFarlane.
“We feel very prepared, and we certainly want to acknowledge, if there’s anyone at all that is finding themselves in a precarious situation, that there will be a bed for them, a safe place to stay.”
MacFarlane said shelters would open Friday and remain open until Sunday depending on temperatures. “We may have to extend them into next week as well.”
She said they’re getting the word out through politicians, service providers, navigators, libraries, and search and rescue services.
“If they want a bed, they will have a bed,” MacFarlane said.
CBC has published a list of shelters and warming centres that will be open over the weekend.
Yesterday, Nova Scotia reported eight new deaths from COVID, as recorded in the latest reporting period, Jan. 24-30. Five of those eight deaths occurred before Jan. 24.
In total, through the pandemic, 726 Nova Scotians have died from COVID, 614 of whom are considered Omicron deaths (since Dec. 8, 2021).
The age and vaccination status of the most recent deaths won’t be known until Feb. 15, but in general in Nova Scotia, 90%+ of the deceased have been 70 years old or older, and unvaccinated people are dying from the virus at about three times the rate of vaccinated people.
Also, in the Jan. 24-30 reporting period, 36 people were hospitalized because of COVID, down from 43 the previous week.
Nova Scotia Health reports the COVID hospitalization status as of yesterday (these figures do not include any children, if any, hospitalized in the IWK):
• in hospital for COVID: 32 (three of whom are in the ICU)
• in hospital for something else but have COVID: 100
• in hospital who contracted COVID after admission to hospital: 76
5. Shannon Park
“Councillors have approved a plan for 3,000 homes in Shannon Park, and 20% of those will be affordable, according to Canada Lands Company,” reports Zane Woodford:
As the Halifax Examiner reported last month, the development will create 23 new city blocks. Maximum building heights range from 23 metres to 90 metres, or about 28 storeys.
[WSP planner Anne] Winters didn’t offer a definition of affordable housing. It can vary from the old standard of 30% of a tenant’s income to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s 20% less than market value. HRM doesn’t have any requirements, preferring instead to require developers to pay into its affordable housing fund in lieu.
Speakers told councillors and Canada Lands they want to see truly affordable housing built on-site.
“I beg you to define affordable as being 30% of one’s income, so rent-geared-to-income or mortgage-geared-to-income or whatever that looks like,” area MLA Susan Leblanc said.
Canada Lands said yesterday it will start building roads and selling lots in 2024. Why it takes more than a year to start that process, I don’t know. Previously, Canada Lands has said actual build out of the development won’t be complete for another 10 years still — until 2034.
Canada Lands put forward its first development plan for the site in 2016, so we’re talking 18 years to get this one development complete. (Admittedly, there were delays because Amazon! and Stadium! were going to usurp housing and make us all rich forever, amen, but still.)
John Lohr is muddling around with the city bureaucracy in order to fast-track private developments, but the longest delays have been for developments on publicly owned land — Shannon Park, Bloomfield, St. Patrick’s–Alexander.
Bloomfield seems to be caught in a Groundhog’s Day-like time loop, awaking each new decade to a new development scheme that ends in failure nine years later, but unlike Bill Murray, no one gets any wiser with each repeating loop, and the school collapses further into ruin.
St. Pat’s-Alexander? Who the heck knows? But I’m guessing that hastily thrown together group of non-profits that wanted the school site could have built something by now, unlike JONO Developments, which has been sitting on the site since 2016, without even putting up a pretty sign promising housing and prosperity forever, amen. Maybe Lohr can use his superpowers to expropriate the site and sell it to someone who actually can build something.
‘You are not white men’
Evelyn C. White has returned to her old stomping grounds in California, only to truly for the first time consider the redwoods. As she researched them, she came upon the racist history of preservation efforts:
… I caught sight of a massive, reddish-brown trunk. I then looked up, up, up, and eventually cast my eyes upon a thick canopy of branches the top of which I could not discern. “Sweet Jesus,” I thought to myself. “This is amazing.”
Such was the thinking of Madison Grant, John Merriam, and Henry Osborn, co-founders of the California-based Save the Redwoods League who, in 1918, joined forces to stop the unrestricted toppling of the trees for timber.
Enchanted by my close encounter with a redwood, I assumed that Grant, Merriam, and Osborn had taken a stand against loggers because of their reverence for the magnificent trees. Instead, I was stunned to discover that racism had prompted the trio to become forest conservationists.
Indeed, the men were staunch proponents of eugenics, the rightly debunked nineteenth century theory that humanity could be perfected through the targeted elimination of individuals whose race, class, or other characteristics rendered them “inferior” and thus, unfit to live.
In his 1916 book, The Passing of the Great Race, Madison Grant lamented what he believed to be the looming “disappearance” of a group he lauded as the pinnacle of civilization. White people.
“There can be little doubt that Grant identified the redwood trees with the Nordic race,” noted Jonathan Spiro in Defending The Master Race (2008), his biography of the man who hailed from European gentry. “It was … the Nordics, who in their day had conquered most of the Old World … making their last stand against the invading hordes of immigrants. And so too the redwoods … make their last stand against the invading hordes of loggers and developers.”
As she does, White makes the connection between her own previous desire to be a prison warden, the redwoods, and the killers of Tyre Nichols. I’m always left awe-struck by White’s prose.
As with everything else in our culture, environmentalism has been and continues to be infected with racism, albeit nowadays usually not so baldly as with the eugenicists. For example, in some circles, “over-population” is a problem of brown people in southern latitudes having too many babies, and not a problem of the richest mostly white nations consuming beyond their proportionate share of the earth’s bounty.
I’m heartened to have seen that over recent decades environmentalists increasingly use the language of social justice, but there’s still a long way to go. As I say, that’s not a problem restricted to environmentalists.
I’ve been in the redwoods often, usually up on the north coast around Eureka but once I was hiking in the redwood forest in the Santa Monica mountains a week or so after a fire, and I could see firsthand how the giant trees fared quite well through the flames. Fire is part of the ecosystem, and it doesn’t overly worry me when I hear of big fires in the redwoods, although occasionally some really big trees are lost. The much bigger concern is climate change, which can irreparably destroy the entire forest.
During my hikes, I’d come across other hikers from time to time, almost all of whom looked a lot like me — white folk. There are complex reasons why not so many people of colour in North America are hikers and campers, but at least part of the cultural mix is they are not welcomed, and do not feel welcomed.
Budget Committee (Friday, 9:30am, City Hall and online) — agenda
The Cunning Little Vixen (Friday, 7:30pm, Dunn Theatre, Dal Arts Centre) — DalOpera production; until Feb. 5, $15/10, more info here
In the harbour
06:00: CMA CGM Montreal, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Montreal
08:30: East Coast, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
08:30: Acadian, oil tanker, moves from anchorage to Irving Oil
14:00: CMA CGM Montreal sails for sea
20:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s
07:15: SFL Trinity, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for sea
14:00: Algoma Vision, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Belledune, New Brunswick
16:00: CSL Metis, bulker, sails from Nova Scotia Power coal dock (Point Tupper) for sea
19:00: Harmonic, oil tanker, arrives at EverWind from Greater Plutonia offshore terminal, Angola