News

1. Muskrat Falls delays, power bills to rise

A Nalcor Energy schematic of the Muskrat Falls project.

Breaking news: hydroelectricity from Muskrat Falls for Nova Scotians is delayed.

I suppose that’s not breaking, now that I think of it. But as Jennifer Henderson reports, there’s some new information on just how much those delays could cost Nova Scotians.

In June, the province received less than half the amount of contracted energy — known as the Nova Scotia Block — because of frustrating problems with General Electric software, which controls the flow over a cable called the Labrador Island Link. So, instead of renewable hydro coming to the rescue and displacing its current mix of fuels, Nova Scotia Power had to buy and burn more coal, natural gas, and biomass at a time when prices for those commodities have all gone up. This also increased greenhouse gas emissions at a time we thought we’d be reducing them.

“In June, fuel costs were 100% over the budget, set in 2019,” said Nova Scotia Power spokesperson Mina Atia wrote in an emailed statement. This was, “primarily due to cap and trade costs; increased generation from coal, natural gas, and biomass; and increased world-wide fuel costs. For the first six months of 2022, NSP has spent 75% of its 2022 budget for fuel and imported power.”

For 2022, Nova Scotia Power estimates its fuel costs will be $174 million higher than it budgeted. And those costs will eventually have to be paid by ratepayers.

In her article, Henderson looks at how these delays will affect Nova Scotia’s environmental goals, and the costs that will come with replacing hydroelectricity with expensive carbon credits that do nothing to directly lower emissions in this province. It’ll all cost us a lot of money. Nova Scotia Power plans to recover costs from rising fuel prices and non-compliance with GHG goals from ratepayers, aka, Nova Scotians.

Read Henderson’s full article to see how it all breaks down, what’s being done to combat delays, and whether we’ll ever get enough hydroelectricity from Muskrat Falls to comply with environmental regulations and goals.

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2. End of People’s Park and the bigger picture

Tents and emergency shelters at People’s Park back in August 2021, shortly after unhoused people had set up camp there. Photo: Zane Woodford

Should Halifax police be involved in another round of tent evictions? Considering the shaken trust between homeless people and law enforcement, should the city take a civilian-led approach instead?

Do these questions miss the point?

The Examiner first covered the tent encampment at Halifax’s Meagher Park shortly after it formed in August of last year. “None of this is sustainable,” read the headline to Yvette d’Entremont’s first report on what residents came to call People’s Park.

Yet it sustained through the fall and it continued through the coldest months of the year and into spring, existing with the help of volunteers, donations, and the indefinite and precarious tolerance of the municipality and neighbours.

And then last month, the city finally said the park was to be cleared. New parkland around the metro area, far from schools and residential neighbourhoods, had been deemed permissible for tent shelters. Meagher Park wasn’t on the list.

Eviction notices were delivered, a deadline came and went, and councillors decided police would have to be brought in to enforce the move of the few remaining residents. Municipal staff wouldn’t lead the transition, as originally promised, despite fears of a repeat of last year’s violence.

Police have now been officially asked to move in and evict, meaning the park’s residents and shelters could soon be gone. As advocates ask local government to consider any option that doesn’t involve the police, Stephen Kimber asks if there’s a bigger picture that the debate over law enforcement is missing:

One thing we do know about whatever happens next at People’s Park. It will not solve the real problem.

To read what we might be missing here, head to Kimber’s article from Sunday.

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3. Donkin coal mine has been closed two years, but it’s still exceeding the province’s GHG cap

Donkin mine. Photo: Morien Resources

Although it’s been shut down since 2020, the Kameron Coal owned Donkin mine in Cape Breton is continuing to emit greenhouse gases. In fact, it’s been emitting far more than Nova Scotia’s GHG cap allows.

As Tom Ayers at CBC reports this morning, the continued venting of gas from the mine released about three times the 50,000 tonne cap in 2021, more than seven times the cap amount in 2020.

The Department of Environment says provincial regulations were amended in 2018 to exclude underground coal mining in the province’s cap-and-trade carbon pricing system, but the Sierra Club of Canada reports it has the minutes from a Donkin community liaison committee meeting in June that show the mine has exceeded the cap every year since that change.

“This change was made because the federal government did not require methane from ventilation and degasification systems in underground coal mining to be covered in cap-and-trade carbon pricing systems so the requirement for verification was removed,” an Environment Department spokesperson told CBC in an email.

Were the mine still required to report its GHG emissions, and if the cap-and-trade system still applied to it, Kameron Coal would also be required to make up for its excessive emitting through the purchase of carbon credits.

Instead, the mine has been allowed to exceed the cap without penalty or public reporting, and Kameron Coal is now planning to reopen the mine.

“When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, which are warming the globe as we all know, there is no case to be made for reopening the mine,” Tynette Deveaux, communications co-ordinator for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Atlantic campaign, told CBC.

“There’s absolutely no way to mitigate, in any significant way, the emissions that would come from mining this coal. The only way to mitigate these emissions is to close the mine.”

According to the Environment Department, the mining company recently submitted an update to its greenhouse gas management plan, which is currently under review.

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4. More Halifax Transit trips cancelled

A passenger boards a Halifax Transit bus in Dartmouth in June 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

Have you had a little more trouble commuting to work lately?

A shortage of transit drivers has now led to the cancellation of 75 bus trips affecting different routes from 5:45am to 6:39pm, reports Adam Inniss at CBC.

The Amalgamated Transit Union 508 represents transit workers in Halifax. Its president, Shane O’Leary, says management issues have put too heavy a load on drivers, and workers are burning out.

“With the shortage of staff, the overtime is just too much, the workload is just too much, and the employer is not stepping up,” he told CBC.

The union estimates 40 more drivers are needed to get things back on track, but the hours, overtime, and pay (at $21.60/hour, it’s almost $10 less than the national average) are making it hard to retain drivers.

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Views

Waiting to wed

Photo: Alvaro CvG/unsplash

The small talk I have with my next door neighbours has repeated itself nearly every Friday this summer.

Some comment about the heat, followed by a comment about the price of gas, then a question about our respective weekend plans. I’d tell them about something fantastically interesting I had lined up, and they’d tell me — I swear this happened almost every single week from May through July — they were going to a wedding, or a bachelor/bachelorette party, or a bridal shower.

The first few times, I thought it was an odd coincidence their friends had planned nuptials on consecutive weeks. Then I figured my 30-something neighbours were a couple of jet-setting socialites with endless invitations to destination, lakeside, country club, beachfront, backyard, vineyard, Vegas, and rustic weddings that they sifted through each weekend. Eventually I realized their friends had about three years’ worth of engagements and those ceremonies had been pushed back by COVID. And now the world had opened enough to make them happen, finally, all at once.

If 1967 was the summer of love, 2022 is the summer of the weddings, a good number of which are I hope are based on love. But whatever the reason — love, money, convenience — everyone’s getting hitched now that gathering limits are a thing of the past, at least for now.

And apparently that’s created yet another backlog.

Wedding planners are busier than ever, as are venue owners, florists, caterers, dress shops, DJs, photographers, bakers, and candlestick makers. Well, maybe not the last one, but you get the idea.

At the start of the 2022 wedding season, back in the spring, NPR reported this would be the busiest wedding season in 40 years, with 2.5 million couples expected to tie the knot. That’s a 15% bump from the norm, according to the Wedding Report.

Venues are becoming harder to secure, leading to a rise of weekday weddings and second, even third-choice, spots. Supply chain issues, NPR writes, are making it tougher to get ahold of everything from flowers to paper for invitations. All those services, like everything else, are a little more expensive now, too.

“Even after contracts [with planners] are signed, prices are subject to change ‘because we don’t know what chicken is going to cost in July,’” wedding planner Mandy Connor told NPR. “Inflation has made budgeting ‘a guessing game.’”

Guest lists have been shortened in some cases, and in others, guests have had to cancel, unable to afford multiple flights and gifts this year.

According to Bloomberg, “73% of invited guests polled in a recent Credit Karma survey said inflation is negatively affecting their ability to attend, forcing some to take on debt, use savings or skip the event completely.”

Consider the case of New Yorker Issy Berkey, who’s been invited to a whopping 10 weddings this year — eight of which would require travel out of state. The 27-year-old consultant decided to skip one because it was in Italy, and plane tickets were far outside her budget. According to the most recent consumer price index data, the average cost of airfare surged 33% in April from a year earlier and nearly 19% month-over-month.

One of my best friends is in a similar situation. He’ll be missing another best friend’s wedding in September because he’s already had to fly out of Toronto for his sister’s ceremony, and won’t have the money to make another on such a quick turnaround.

Others are just biting the bullet, starved for social interaction after two years of cancellations. From Bloomberg again:

One-third of respondents [to the Credit Karma survey] said that fear of missing out, or FOMO, is leading them to attend a wedding or related event, even though they can’t afford it. For Gen Z, that figure is 50% and for millennials, it’s 45%.

I’m only invited to two weddings this summer. I choose to believe it’s because I’m not unpopular, but that my friends are mostly too financially and emotionally unstable to make matrimonial commitments. I count myself lucky for it.

I attended the first one last weekend, and while I sat sweating through my all-black suit in the sun by the beach, watching my old neighbour marry her longtime boyfriend, I had an epiphany. This wedding backlog is a backlog I could actually solve.

There are two solutions. First, if you want to get married, just elope. Save your money, and your potential guests’ money, for gas and food. Take a few photos in front of city hall with your family, dressed to the nines, and post them on Instagram to prove you did it. Then rent out a school gym and have BYOB bash during the off season before sailing off into a lifetime of marital bliss.

Or second, don’t get married at all. Do what all us young folks are doing these days. Find someone who’s kind and able to live in a 500-square-foot box with you without garnering an inclination for murder, then live common-law to save rent.

After all, the fear of eviction is a tie that binds as tightly as love.

Either way, both spouses, their families, and their friends save some serious stress, time, and money, the wedding industry gets to catch up, and the couple gets to live together all the same.

There. I’ve solved a backlog.

As for backlogs in health care, housing, the movement of goods, and everything else, I’ll leave those to the brain trusts that backed those things up in the first place.

Cheers to all the happy couples out there.

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Noticed

Let’s look at another People’s Park.

Down in California, a ground zero for government and police response to homelessness, riot squads were sent in to protect private property in Berkeley last week.

The images are reminiscent of Halifax’s evictions last August and Toronto’s clearing of Trinity Bellwoods Park earlier that same summer.

It’s an odd case at first glance. The University of California (Berkeley) wants to use the land, which they’ve owned for over 50 years, to create student housing, along with a limited number of affordable units for the public. All told, the project, that’s now delayed until at least October, would house about 1,100 people. Housing isn’t the only issue here; protestors also want to hold onto a culturally significant park. But there is a concern that this new housing development, while much-needed, won’t be affordable to the people it’s replacing.

Philip Moscovitch mentioned Berkeley’s People’s Park in a recent Morning File, and what these tent communities offer people as cities offer up band-aid replacements:

In Berkeley, California, the Liberty City encampment was dismantled by police in 2016, and the residents of the town’s People’s Park are being removed so the University of California can build more student housing. (The university tried to pave the place for parking in 1979.)

A new paper looks at encampments as a form of intentional community:

Some of Berkeley’s unhoused residents have spoken positively about intentional communities they’ve built in the city; they want to live in intentional encampments.

These tent encampments are in themselves little communities based upon “mutual aid and voluntary cooperation,” as Michael Lee, activist and former Liberty City resident, said in an interview cited in Bacon’s work.

“Here, there’s more acceptance of this subculture of homeless people,” Andre Cameron, another former Liberty City resident, told Bacon. “I think it’s a tribute in some small cultural way to the community as a whole. I’ve never gotten that sense anywhere else.”

Meanwhile (stop me if this sounds familiar) a council member is declaring the clearing of people’s park a victory for the unhoused, because they are getting to live in a motel.

Norman Lewis is one of those people who’ve been moved into a motel. The former People’s Park resident told the San Francisco Chronicle why he’d have preferred to stay in the park:

For two years this park helped me during COVID. ‘Cause I had nowhere to go; I was homeless. I’m still homeless, but now I’m in a motel thanks to the university, I guess, but the motel is like a prison. You know, we can’t have no company…we have to check in where we go and when we come in and go out. And I’m a grown adult: 53-years-old.

As for the police question — was law enforcement the appropriate authority to handle the tenters and protestors? — San Francisco’s police chief has been asking that the city’s tear gas ban be rescinded so his forces can handle the situation safely. Whether that sounds reasonable, I’ll leave you to decide.

California has a population of about 39 million people. That’s only slightly larger than the population of Canada.

Forget about Los Angeles and San Francisco for a moment. You’ll find unhoused people seeking shelter in tents in Edmonton, Lethbridge, Winnipeg, Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Kitchener, Fredericton, and (of course) Halifax, to name a few. Some of those encampments have been removed by police in the past year, though homelessness hasn’t been removed from any of those aforementioned towns. You’d likely find tent encampments in Labrador and the territories if the climate allowed it.

The failure of both states to ensure access to housing for people of all economic backgrounds has led to homeless encampments in nearly all their urban centres. The need to relieve the short-term impacts on people living on the streets, and to combat the deeper causes that put them there, isn’t going anywhere soon.

Should cities take the California route (or Halifax route), using police to focus clearing the parks? Something that will likely need to become routine if it becomes the primary way we deal — or don’t deal — with homelessness.

Last year, Vivian Ho at The Guardian spoke with Paul Boden, the executive director of the not-for-profit Western Regional Advocacy Project, as part of an article asking whether police should be involved in issues involving unhoused people.

“Cops across the [United States] have homeless units,” he told her. “Why? Not to protect homeless people. You’re not trying to mitigate homelessness. You’re trying to mitigate the presence of homelessness.”

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Government

City

Monday

No meetings

Tuesday

Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 1pm, City Hall) — agenda

Province

No meetings this week


On campus

Dalhousie

Monday

PhD Defence, Computer Science (Monday, 8:30am, online) — Jeremy Porter will defend “Augmented and Exact Lagrangian Approaches to Continuous Constrained Optimization with Evolution Strategies”

Tuesday

Phd Defence, English (Tuesday, 9:30am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — Kala Hirtle will defend “Altered States of Consciousness: Gender, Nineteenth-Century Medical Discourse, and Gothic Literature”

PhD Defence, Mechanical Engineering (Tuesday, 10:30am, online) — Owen Hambleton Craig will defend “Material Characterization of Directed Energy Deposition of H13 Tool Steel and Functionally Graded H13-Copper”


In the harbour

Halifax
05:00: One Majesty, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia
06:30: Supreme Ace, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
06:30: Conti Contessa, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
08:30: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Saint Croix, Virgin, Islands
14:00: Atlantic Condor, offshore supply ship, sails from Dartmouth Cove for sea

15:30: Supreme Ace sails for sea
23:00: Tropic Lissette sails for Palm Beach, Florida
22:00: One Majesty sails for Dubai

Cape Breton
No arrivals or departures.


Footnotes

I felt the need to put on a long-sleeved shirt when I stepped outside this morning. God be praised.


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Ethan Lycan-Lang

Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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  1. Not to be a nag (I’ve mentioned this elsewhere) but is anyone keeping count of the housing sites in central Halifax that have been cleared of what was a perfectly habitable house and remain undeveloped? HRM gives the developers who have bought these properties a real incentive to destroy this housing: tear it down and you save a lot of property tax. That would not be such an issue if the developer were to proceed with plans for a new higher-density housing project. But that is not what happens when the developer has to worry about rising interest rates and a shortage of skilled labour. Better to wait to see what happens next. So at a time of serious housing shortage, the city extends a helping hand to . . . the people who make it worse.

    1. Demolition costs more than the property taxes. Our home insurance cost is a little less than the property taxes.

  2. “For 2022, Nova Scotia Power estimates its fuel costs will be $174 million higher than it budgeted. And those costs will eventually have to be paid by ratepayers.”

    Those costs don’t “have to be paid by the ratepayers” if we had a government that wasn’t a corporate shill. Most of those who invest in a corporation know there is a risk (or they used to). They make make money or they may lose money. Nova Scotia removed that risk from investors in NSPI so there is not even a capitalist incentive to properly serve the public or conduct and energy business. NSPI is, in fact, not an energy company; it’s a profit producing company. That’s it’s sole goal. It’s time to change that. If the government won’t nationalize the company it should at least legislate that NSPI investors carry the risks of making bad decisions. Those high costs should come out of the investors.

    1. Well said. 100% agree. There is no good reason that I can find for NSPI’s investors to be getting a guaranteed rate of return, especially one that is increasing as the performance of the corporation itself is decreasing.

  3. Loving the weddng back log solution! and we’re all coming over for a slice of iris’ bread!