NEWS

1. Living with a disability in an emergency

Workers tend to a tree leaning on wires on Oak Street in Halifax after Fiona, on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“Governments, communities, and individuals must do better when taking into account the experiences and needs of people with disabilities during emergencies,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

That was the messaging shared Tuesday during a panel discussion hosted by Dalhousie University’s MacEachen Institute for Public Policy and Governance.

Titled Come Hell or High Water: Improving Response for People with Disabilities, the online discussion focussed on the unique considerations of people with disabilities in the face of emergencies and evacuations. 

“There are many access and functional needs to consider, particularly relating to communication methods, transportation, sheltering, access to assistive devices, emergency social services, and transition back to the community,” stated a publicity notice for the event. “Post-disaster audits from disasters highlight the need to improve emergency services for persons with disabilities.”

With severe weather incidents on the rise and related emergency evacuations becoming more common, the panelists discussed what can and must be done to better support people with disabilities in emergency situations. 

Click here to read “Needs of people with disabilities must be considered in emergencies, advocates say.”

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2. Biomass

The Brooklyn biomass plant in December, 2021. Photo: Simon Ryder-Burbidge Credit: Simon Ryder-Burbidge

For several years, the Halifax Examiner has been reporting on the burning of biomass to generate electricity.

It used to be that biomass was seen as “green” — the carbon released by burning trees would be re-absorbed by newly growing trees, so the net carbon release would be zero, no concern in terms of climate change. But now the understanding of biomass is much more nuanced.

First, if we’re talking about the burning of whole trees, which can be anywhere from 30 years old to 100 years old or older, then it will take an equal amount of time for the carbon to be re-absorbed into newly growing tress — far past the short time horizon needed to bring atmospheric greenhouse gas levels down sufficiently to prevent the absolute worst of cataclysmic climate change.

And even that assumes that there will be enough forests growing to re-absorb the carbon. It’s by no means clear that the destruction of rain and boreal forests will suddenly stop, or that supposed tree planting campaigns will be managed such that 30 years from now the trees won’t be cut down for local needs or because climate change kills the local ecosystem. (In August, the New York Times’ Sunday Read took a hard, skeptical look at the “Trillion Trees” movement.)

Additionally, however, the carbon calculations around burning trees misses the most salient point: the forest as an ecosystem holds far more carbon than the sum of the carbon contained in the trees. The forest carbon sink includes a deep soil, that can be eroded away if the forest isn’t managed correctly — through, for example, clearcutting.

For all of these reasons, environmentalists have been criticizing the use of biomass for energy, especially when it used to generate electricity. There’s some wiggle room around the use of small burners used for space heating, when the fuel truly is sawmill waste and the like — the debate continues on that front. But in terms of giant electrical generation plants using whole trees as fuels (such as at Brooklyn and Port Hawkesbury) there’s really no debate: there’s nothing green about it.

And so I was interested when I saw that a recent Freedom of Information request asked for:

Any briefing notes, memos or correspondence at the director level and above regarding the classification of burning biomass for energy as renewable energy. (Date Range for Record Search: From 08/31/2021 To 02/23/2022)

Alas, the result was underwhelming: 336 pages worth a response, in which the word “electricity” does not appear, even once.

The province has studied small-scale biomass heating units to death, but evidently has not researched the green claims of biomass electrical generation at all.

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3. Net metering

The solar panels on the Ikea store in Dartmouth. Photo: NSCC

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

The provincial government has released new regulations to allow commercial operations such as farms, wineries, and aquaculture operations to proceed with solar installations. 

Many farms had already qualified for federal money to install solar but couldn’t follow through until the province did two things: increased the size of the solar arrays from 100 kw to 1000 kw, and cleared the way for commercial establishments to sell any excess power they generate to Nova Scotia Power (known as net-metering). 

Small businesses — such as restaurants and stores that typically use much less power — will be limited to 200 kw.

This action follows up on a change to the Electricity Act last April, when the Houston government moved to prevent Nova Scotia Power from charging a proposed system-access fee for homeowners that would have increased annual costs by hundreds of dollars.

“In the spring, our legislation cleared the way for homeowners to go green and lower their energy bills without any extra charges,” said Tory Rushton, Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables. “Now, regulations are in place to create a new commercial net-metering program that will help businesses pay less for power, support our green economy, and take us another step closer to achieving our climate change goals.” 

According to a government news release, the amended regulations for commercial establishments also:
• set specific duties and responsibilities for Nova Scotia Power to run the program
• allow Nova Scotia Power to count energy generated from net metering toward its renewable electricity standard target
• prevent Nova Scotia Power from imposing additional system access charges
• clarify the definition of an independent power producer so that Nova Scotia Power cannot have part ownership of any independent renewable energy projects.

“Solar Nova Scotia is pleased with these new net-metering regulations, which will accelerate adoption of solar energy in the province,” said Dave Brushett, chair of Solar Nova Scotia, who was quoted in the news release. “By enabling larger commercial solar installations, they will create jobs and contribute to the province’s emissions reduction goals.”

As an example of how stymied the solar industry has been from expanding into commercial territory — not to mention the lost contribution toward reducing carbon emissions — consider the flagship IKEA operation at Dartmouth Crossing. The roof’s roughly 2,500 solar panels can generate 850 kw, but it has been limited to 100 kw under the previous regulations. Even with that restriction, on a yearly basis the box store reportedly generates 23% of its own electricity. Now with net-metering, IKEA has the potential to generate and sell much more energy to the grid. 

Of course, it’s probably not that simple. Nova Scotia Power has to be capable of backing up those solar installations when the sun doesn’t shine and that entails juggling to keep the system operating in a steady fashion. The government’s news release says commercial installations should be sized to take into consideration their electrical capacity and how much power is required to run their own operation. IKEA may still be over the top for what these amendments envision. 

Solar energy accounts for only 1-2% of the total fuel mix in the province. But with the price of solar technology continuing to fall and regulatory changes that will finally permit much larger solar installations for businesses, the province is ready to embrace solar in a way that hasn’t been seen before. 

Is Nova Scotia Power ready? The Houston government has told the utility it has until the end of this month to get policies and procedures in place to show the government how it will work with solar installers to approve larger commercial installations.

“We are committed to doing what’s right for our customers and will continue to support those who want to install solar,” said Jacqueline Foster, senior communications advisor for Nova Scotia Power. “We are reviewing the new program announced today to better understand the details and what is required from Nova Scotia Power by November 30.

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4. Heat pumps

Photo by Emre Can Acer on Pexels.com

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

The weather is turning colder and with over 52% of homes in Nova Scotia still heating with oil, many people are worried. During Question Period in the legislature on Tuesday, the NDP’s Susan Leblanc read the following comment from a Dartmouth North voter:

The price of oil is insane. With winter coming, we need to double how much we paid to heat our home or pay $10,000 to change our furnace to go with a heat pump.

Leblanc, the MLA for Dartmouth North, noted the installation of heat pumps could save households thousands of dollars annually on their heating bills, as well as reduce GHG emissions, but the upfront cost poses a real barrier. Leblanc put this question to Natural Resources and Renewables minister Tory Rushton:

While the province provides some relief in the form of rebates, they are a far cry from what is offered in New Brunswick where households earning less than $70,000 a year can receive a free heat pump and installation. Will Nova Scotia follow New Brunswick’s lead and offer a similar program here?

“It’s part of how we are going to assist some low-income families,” replied Rushton. “We advocated hard with the federal government and they made a commitment to my colleague at Environment and Climate Change a few months ago… my department is right now in communication with the federal government and we are waiting for a response and we are looking at the program being installed ASAP and hopefully before the winter.”

Rushton’s reply appears to indicate this is something on the government’s radar that is dependent on receiving federal funding as a result of discussions last summer between the four Atlantic premiers and the federal Environment department. 

The office of the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, has released $120 million for the Atlantic region to help households deal with higher heating costs this winter. 

A report in the Chronicle Herald last week quoted an unnamed source in Guilbeault’s office who said Nova Scotia had yet to even submit a draft proposal for funding. Rushton told the legislature on Tuesday that is incorrect and the province has submitted a request for $60.5 million.

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5. HRM gives $1 million to organization that covered up sexual assault

The former Metro Centre/$48 NSF Fee Centre, seen here in June 2021, will host the Halifax portion of the 2023 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship. Credit: Zane Woodford

“Halifax regional council committed in April to spend $1 million on the World Junior Championship according to a report declassified this week,” reports Zane Woodford.

We discussed this on the Examiner’s Slack this morning, and Suzanne Rent observed that “People are living in tents, but yeah, let’s give a million to a hockey tournament.”

The typical response from officialdom on this is that the million dollars is amplified by the spending of money by fans staying in hotels and eating in restaurants and such, and all that extra spending results in increased tax revenues that can be used for useful things like helping people living in tents.

But here’s the thing: that extra tax revenue isn’t being used for such useful things, or at least not to a degree that makes any difference. For decades, we’ve been dumping millions and millions and millions of dollars into all manner of tourist-friendly events, and yet the number of people living in tents has gone up, not down.

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6. Fatality on the 104.

This is a terrible story.

A press release from the Serious Incident Response Team:

The province’s independent Serious Incident Response Team released its report today regarding its investigation into the circumstances surrounding a fatal collision in Antigonish County on the evening of April 27, 2022.

At approximately 10:35 p.m. on April 27, Antigonish County District RCMP responded to a report of a man who was walking on the 104 Highway, possibly into traffic. While conducting patrols of the area to search for the pedestrian, an RCMP officer struck the pedestrian with their police vehicle.

The SiRT investigation revealed that the pedestrian was deceased when the RCMP officer struck him. Investigators determined that just before the officer struck the pedestrian, the driver of an 18-wheel truck, who was heading westbound on Highway 104 had heard a bang and thought he had just struck a deer in the middle of the road. After this striking, the driver noted the vehicles behind him did not swerve to avoid anything on the road.

The next morning, after hearing about the fatality on the highway, the truck driver feared that what he thought was a deer may be the man. The driver reported the incident to the police. DNA collected from the grill of the truck confirmed it was the man.

The events that unfolded on the night of April 27, 2022 were indeed tragic and impacted many individuals. However, the investigation revealed that the two incidents were not related and therefore, there are no grounds for any charges against the RCMP officer. 

You can read SIRT’s report here.


VIEWS

The rise of American fascism

It’s very possible that even the pretence of American democracy will soon be ended.

The US Supreme Court is now considering Moore vs Harper, which is about the independent state legislature “theory” poised by extremists; at its most extreme, the takeaway could be that it doesn’t matter who a state’s voters elect as president, the state legislature could choose its own slate of electoral college electors to vote for somebody else. The Guardian has a more nuanced conversation about the case with law prof Vikram Amar, but even the less extreme possible outcomes involve all sorts of un-democratic intervention in elections.

And we know that Republican-controlled statehouses are already gerrymandering with abandon, restricting access to voting by minorities, and are poised to overturn legitimate mid-term election results next week by raising false claims of voter fraud and the like.

All this is gearing up for the 2024 presidential election, in which Donald Trump will almost certainly be the Republican candidate, but this time with a rigged voting procedure that guarantees his “win.” If Trump wins again, it’s unlikely there will be a legitimate election for decades to come, if ever.

Meanwhile, the extreme right has normalized violence, openly embraced antisemitism, vilified people of a variety of non-“Christian” identities, banned books, and generally rejected any notion of objective truth — they just make up any bullshit and run with it.

Shouldn’t we here in Canada be talking about this? I don’t mean just in the “isn’t this terrible?” sense, but also in the “what are we going to do about it?” sense.

Canadians are well poised to support our neighbours to the south who are resisting the authoritarian wave — people should be thinking creatively about how to build on good steps already taken to, for instance, help access to abortion services near the border.

But what happens if, say, there’s a combination of voter suppression through a combination of pre-election arrests, violence at the polls, and legislative chicanery, that leads to several states rejecting their voters’ intent and endorse a Trump-supporting slate of candidates, and then the Supreme Court upholds the fraud? Does Canada just roll over and accept the result, welcoming Trump as if nothing untoward happened?

I don’t have specific proposals. People smarter than me should be thinking about this very real nightmare scenario, but so far as I can see, no Canadian governments or think tanks or even regular people are having policy debates or even conducting basic disaster preparedness.


Noticed

Inside baseball

Some days it’s harder than others to write Morning File. In the best of circumstances, I start writing a few days ahead of time, hopefully providing some thoughtful insight or commentary, and then on the morning of publication add in a slew of newly published articles and such.

These are not the best of circumstances, heh. Oh, nothing’s wrong, just I’ve been spending a lot of time on a long-range project, and taking a bit of personal time as well. and then this morning, there wasn’t much new to write about. I have a couple of things I’m working on for future Morning Files, but none of those are ready yet. Sometimes, I scrape through a bunch of info — I look at UARB filings, public records requests, lobbyist registrations, a gazillion google news searches, and government reports on plane crashes and such — but today that scraping led to nothing worth writing about.

So I’m extremely grateful for Yvette d’Entremont’s and Zane Woodford’s articles and Jennifer Henderson’s input into today’s Morning File. They saved my ass.

Normally, November is the Examiner’s subscription drive. We’re obviously late for it. That’s because getting the new website up and running took more time and resources than expected, and I haven’t gotten around to creating an organizing theme. Oh well, we’ll delay it a week. Expect unending subscriber sales pitches, starting next Monday.

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Government

City

Today

Board of Police Commissioners (Wednesday, 12:30pm, online ) — agenda

District Boundary Resident Review Panel (Wednesday, 3:30pm, City Hall) — agenda

Tomorrow

Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — agenda

Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm, City Hall) — agenda

Province

Today

Legislature sits (Wednesday, 1pm)

Tomorrow

Legislature sits (Thursday, 1pm)


On campus

Dalhousie

Today

No events

Tomorrow

Applied Biomechanics for Innovation in Orthopaedics (Thursday, 12pm, online) — Janie Wilson will talk

Saint Mary’s

Learning and Healing Through Art and Communication (Wednesday, 2:30pm, McNally Main 215, SC 301) workshop:

In this workshop we connect with our experiences and begin to move into the third stage of the healing process: Expansion and Empowerment, evaluating our beliefs and exploring new perspectives and possibilities. We explore avenues for creating and communicating in safe, meaningful ways, connecting to our trust with ourselves.

Festivals: Day of the Dead, Mexico (Wednesday, 3pm, Library Classroom, Room LI135) — film screening

The US Midterms: An Atlantic Canadian Perspective (Wednesday, 4pm, online) click here to register)

Two Decades of Peace Education in N. Ireland: A Retrospective and Possibilities for the Future (Wednesday, 6pm, Loyola 179 or online) — Bridget E. Brownlow from Peaceful Schools International will talk


In the harbour

Halifax
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 36 from St. John’s
06:30: CMA CGM Mexico, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
06:30: Seaborne Quest, cruise ship with up to 540 passengers, arrives at Pier 23 from Port Alfred, Quebec, on a 28-day cruise from Montreal to Panama City
10:50: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia
11:45: Oceanex Sanderling moves to Pier 42
12:00: Rt Hon Paul E Martin, bulker, moves from anchorage to Gold Bond
18:00: Virginia Ann, offshore supply ship, sails from Pier 9 for sea
20:30: Seaborne Quest sails for Shelburne

Cape Breton
07:30: Atlantic, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for sea
08:00: CSL Tarantau, bulker, arrives at Pirate Harbour anchorage from Sydney
14:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
14:00: CSL Tarantau, bulker moves to Aulds Cove quarry


Footnotes

I expect the first Halloween candy-tampering story to come out today.


Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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6 Comments

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  1. Thx Tim, & others at Hfx Examiner for keeping current on the forest biomass in Nova Scotia. It was the uproar about forest biomass in 2016 that led to the Lahey Review… On that we are still waiting to see how it will finally unfold (by 2023 as promised by Tim H) and where biomass will fit it. Don’t expect any straight talk. Unfortunately the doublespeak on forest biomass extends to upper levels of government and industry in Canada and world-wide. Just view http://www.canadianbiomassmagazine.ca for the Canadian context for examples. The truth of the matter is given in your final statement “The province has studied small-scale biomass heating units to death, but evidently has not researched the green claims of biomass electrical generation at all.” Governments and Industry do not want to even acknowledge that there are legitimate biodiversity and climate related concerns about past, current and anticipated forest biomass activities, climate change be damned.

  2. Democracy is as democracy does
    You can’t save people from themselves. Ain’t it the truth. And the truth is that one: we still have plenty of ways to exercise our democratic rights and repel attacks on them; and two: we simply don’t care to. To wit: in the recent round of municipal elections in Ontario, most positions were uncontested. That is, people couldn’t be bothered to run, to actively take up the opportunity to practice democracy.

    As Mark Twain observed long ago: “It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either.”

    And yet, here we still are. We, the people. Here the Examiner still is. Fighting the good fight. Muddling through. Surviving. It is our métier after all. N’est-ce pas?

  3. Re money for Hockey:
    It is worth noting that Halifax still subsidizes the former Metro Centre in many ways. For instance the new jumbotron was paid for by Halifax taxpayers when it was certainly within the capabilities of the former Metro Centre to pay for it. The “trickle down” argument the City uses for subsidizing the hockey tournament can (and should) be used to support many other types of activities that are generally ignored, most of which are in the arts realm rather than sports.

    1. Rather than give the money to the former Metro Centre year after year, give to those who are homeless. All of it will get spent locally thus boosting the economy year round and returning a fair share to government in the form of taxes. The municipal government would then save money on policing and other things related to homelessness.

  4. I really don’t see that the province of NS NEEDS to study how bad large biomass is: it seems perfectly obvious, from fires and collapsing deforested hillsides in BC to ancient forests in Romania ravaged, to the slopes of Appalachia — everywhere that governments are letting companies like Drax (and the power plants in Port Hawkesbury and Brooklyn) cut down whole trees. Let’s just get OFF this crazy kick!

  5. I understand that they make residential solar power generation work in Yukon Territory, where it is quite dark for a good portion of the year – and cold. Maybe Nova Scotia can learn something,