1. Green Fund

Credit: Office of the Auditor General, Nova Scotia

This item is written by Tim Bousquet.

This morning, Nova Scotia Auditor General Kim Adair released a review of the Green Fund. 

The Green Fund was created in 2019 to disperse money collected through the province’s cap-and-trade program, created as an alternative to the federal carbon tax. The cap-and-trade program set capped greenhouse gas (GHG) limits on the province’s 23 largest emitters, with those exceeding the limits required to purchase credits. The money raised through the sale of credits was to be dispersed to various programs to fund climate change initiatives focusing on mitigation, adaptation, and research.

The Green Fund began funding programs in 2021, allocating $73.7 million to “partner” agencies — EfficiencyOne, Clean Foundation, the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, and various provincial programs. EfficiencyOne received the bulk of the funding — $46.7 million (63%). Clean Foundation got $5.5 million, or 7.5% of the funds.

Adair looked at the Green Fund allocations to EfficiencyOne and Clean Foundation. She found that as the two agencies spent the money, they did so according to contractual terms and to the purpose of the Green Fund — there’s no suggestion of waste or misappropriation of funds at either agency. 

The problem, however, is that while the money was transferred to the two agencies, most of it was not spent. Management of the Green Fund program said that’s because the money is funding multi-year programs, and the agencies need certainty to hire staff and plan over several years.

Adair rejected that explanation: “In our view, the objective of ensuring multi-year funding certainty for program partners can be more appropriately achieved through contractual terms and conditions, while continuing to hold the funds until needed.”

The point of holding the funds in provincial bank accounts, said Adair, was to give the province flexibility it allocating funds quickly, for example for new technologies. Moreover, by allocating the entire amounts to the agencies, the agencies received the bank interest in the unused funds, not the province.

That lost interest amounted to ‘just’ $151,000 over the two years, but still, that’s $151,000 that could have been allocated for other Green Fund purchases.

This is a breaking story. Adair has called a press conference for 11am, and we’ll have more after that.

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2. Stacey Gomez residential tenancies saga continues

A woman wearing a red shirt, an orange coat and a beaded necklace speaks to people holding microphones out of frame. Behind her are rows of low-rise apartments.
Stacey Gomez speaks to reporters near her apartment on Church Street in Halifax on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. Credit: Zane Woodford

“Stacey Gomez says her landlord is trying to limit media access to their ongoing residential tenancies case,” Zane Woodford reports.

Gomez, you may recall, fought back after landlord Marcus Ranjibar tried to evict her from a building he owns in the South End.

Last week, Ranjibar and Gomez had a pre-trial hearing on the notice to quit Gomez was served last year. But it wasn’t a regular hearing. Woodford writes:

At that hearing, residential tenancy officer (RTO) Jason Warham decided not to hold a traditional hearing with oral arguments, instead opting to have each side provide written submissions. And Ranjbar’s lawyer made a preliminary motion to bar either side from providing their submissions to the media.

“I think it’s important for Nova Scotians to know how these proceedings are taking place, because this is an important case for tenant rights in the province and it’s a matter of public interest,” Gomez said in an interview.

“It’s my case, it’s my lease, and I should be able to share information as I see fit around my case.”

Ranjibar told the Examiner he is not trying to limit media access.

Click here to read “Stacey Gomez says landlord is trying to limit media access to residential tenancies hearing.”

Look, Stacey Gomez is obviously a person who takes no crap, and has the patience, persistence and smarts to keep fighting what she clearly sees as an unfair situation. I look at this story, and at the months and months and months the process has dragged on, and can’t help but thinking about all the other tenants who simply move out or can’t be bothered. And who can blame them?

Last week, Kerry Campbell at CBC PEI had a story about tenants in Souris being served eviction notices because their new landlord — Tim Horton’s franchisee D.P. Murphy Inc., which recently bought the building — wants to house temporary foreign workers in the building instead.

While this is already awful, here’s the part of the story that jumped out at me:

The day after CBC News advised D.P. Murphy that it had received copies of the company’s submissions to [the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission], [D.P. Murphy’s lawyer Mark] Doucet said two of the tenants fighting their eviction notices, both seniors, had been warned by the commission they could face “fines or sanctions” for sharing records related to their hearing…

CBC News then asked IRAC what confidentiality requirements could be placed on an eviction hearing…

“Matters at the Director-level are private and confidential and between landlords and tenants. If the matter is appealed to the Commission, that is when it becomes public.”

Rosalind Waters, a volunteer with P.E.I. Fight for Affordable Housing, said that group has “attended numbers of hearings over the years… and never have tenants been told that they can’t talk to anyone about what went on in the hearing.”

You’re being evicted, you’re stressed out, and you’re facing people with much deeper pockets than you. And then you’re told you can’t even tell the media about your predicament. There are a lot of words that come to mind for this kind of behaviour, but I’ll leave you with the quote the CBC story ends on, from Cécile Sly, who is fighting the eviction notice:

This is a rental board hearing, not an issue of national security.

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3. Black workers rally again; say no changes at City Hall

A young Black woman stands outside on a snowy day dressed in a yellow puffy jacket, red toque with a Wonder Woman logo on it, and a grey hood over that.
Suzy Hansen, MLA for Halifax Needham, joined the rally on Friday.

Matthew Byard reports on a second rally held outside City Hall to protest alleged workplace racism:

Raymond Sheppard, who advocates on behalf of the workers’ group, met with members of HRM upper management before December’s rally to discuss the workers’ concerns.

Sheppard scheduled a second rally that took place Friday outside Halifax City Hall, where he was joined by a small group of some of the workers, their white co-workers, and their supporters.

“There is nothing substantial in any way, shape, or form that has happened since we were here last time that made a difference in the life of workers of African descent,” Sheppard told the Halifax Examiner in an interview on Friday.

Byard speaks to demonstrators, and to MLA Suzy Hansen, who joined them.

Click here to read “Black HRM workers rally again after no changes made from meetings with management.”

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4. Linda Felix and the cats of Halifax

A smiling white woman with short cropped hair, glasses, and wearing a burgundy, black, and white print top holds a tabby cat with white under its chin and on its paws. They are in a room with a window in the background, a off-white chair in the corner, and cat toys and a cat bed on the floor. A black shelving unit stores cat treats and brushes. On the wall is a painting of a tabby cat lying in a bed up against a fluffy white pillow and reading a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Linda Felix and Pluto at the Spay Day shelter in Bedford. Credit: Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent launches a new series of profiles today, with a portrait of Linda Felix, who started Spay Day HRM back in 2011:

“I had a constant stream of pregnant cats, sick cats, kittens in my yard. I was fairly new to Halifax at that time and when I would call the SPCA, Bide Awhile, everyone was full,” Felix said in an interview with the Examiner. “Their waiting lists were like 300 cats long and there was no place to get help.”…

So she did some fundraising and started a spay and neuter program with one cat, then another cat, and gradually the community welcomed the program and more cats were spayed or neutered.

“We’ve grown each year and now we’re at over 5,800 cats that we’ve spayed or neutered over 12 years,” Felix said. 

In its time, Felix and the volunteers at Spay Day managed to get the feral cat population under control in the city with a trap-neuter-release (TNR) program. Felix and volunteers would go to neighbourhoods across the city to trap cats, have them spayed or neutered, and release them again. Their contract with the city for that program ended in March 2022, and the SPCA will take it over as of April 1 this year.

Still, Felix said there’s a lot more to be done.

Spay Day doesn’t just spay and neuter cats. They also foster cats that may be challenging, and adopt them out after a rigorous vetting process. (Part of the deal is that the new owners have to keep them indoors.)

I really like this story. Rent gets into all kinds of issues, including how the housing crisis is leading to an increase in feral cats. But overall what comes through is Felix’s personality and passion.

This is the first in a series that in some ways is the anti “30 under 30.” Rent is writing profiles of women over 50 who, in their own often quiet ways, make significant contributions to ours society outside of the corporate world.

Click here to read “‘Everybody should have a cat:’ Linda Felix and Spay Day HRM rescue the felines of Halifax.”

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5. Charlottetown council hasn’t released forensic audit results

Two men sit at wooden desks in a formal room, with a window that has stained glass behind them.
Peter Kelly at a Charlottetown city council meeting. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Remember when former Halifax mayor Peter Kelly was Charlottetown CAO? Good times.

Let’s jump back to 2019, when Tim Bousquet wrote this about Kelly’s tenure:

Peter Kelly, the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of the city of Charlottetown, is accused of improperly, and possibly illegally, exceeding his authority with the awarding of contracts.

The allegations were made by councillor Bob Doiron at the monthly meeting of Charlottetown council Monday night.

Reached by phone at his home Tuesday evening, Doiron said that Kelly:

• awarded over $1 million in untendered paving work;
• approved cost overruns of $500,000 related to water and sewage work, without bringing that expenditure back to council; and
• approved a no-bid contract to a Halifax consulting company for studying parking issues in Charlottetown.

Kelly’s deputy, CPA Scott Messervey, went to Charlottetown council with a list of 18 concerns. Kelly fired Messervey. Last year, Kelly was himself fired and council commissioned a forensic audit.

That brings us to last week, when, Kerry Campbell reported for CBC PEI, questions were raised about why council is refusing to make the audit public. Campbell writes:

Councillors have spent hours in closed-door sessions discussing what to do with the forensic audit, starting even before the city had received the report…

Duff Conacher [fun fact: once my camp counsellor], a former law professor and co-founder of the group Democracy Watch, said P.E.I. should have legislation that would compel municipal councillors to release the report of any audit, similar to the way reports from the provincial auditor general are made public.

He said the city doesn’t have to worry about being sued for libel over the audit, because the report and any resulting conclusions would be protected as fair comment in any defamation suit “as long as the findings were based on solid evidence.”

Conacher said he feels there would be multiple layers of conflict of interest at play in allowing members of Charlottetown council to take part in decisions, behind closed doors, about what parts of the BDO audit to make public.

Charlottetown has hired Eleanor Mohammed as its new CAO. She formerly worked for the province, and takes over at the end of March.

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6. Fall On Your Knees and the decline of local arts reviewing

Two actors in character seated on a wooden trunk. They are a young white woman with long red hair, seated in the lap of an apparently Black character seen from behind, wearing a black jacket and fedora.
Samantha Hill and Amaka Umeh in Fall On Your Knees Credit: Dahlia Katz, from the Neptune Facebook page.

On Saturday night, we went to see Part 1 of the stage adaptation of Fall On Your Knees, currently playing at the Neptune Theatre. The play is in two parts, each about three hours long. The show is in its final week.

Fall On Your Knees is, of course, based on the book by Ann-Marie MacDonald, and largely set in Cape Breton. The show is a major production, the result of a collaboration among five different theatre companies. So I would have expected to find reviews of the shows in local media outlets. After all, the Toronto run was reviewed by not only the usual suspects — The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star — but also Variety.

Here? Not so much.

The Coast did run a proper review by Arts & Entertainment Morgan Mullin:

It turns out that [Hannah] Moscovitch’s vision of MacDonald’s work uses music as a conduit, leaping off from its key role in the story’s opening sequences (the first generation of Pipers meet while the future patriarch is tuning the piano in the soon-to-be matriarch’s childhood home) and allowing it to be the framework both through which the plot is propelled and the characters are defined.

It’s even true of the set, which has anchored strips of fabric backlit, mimicking the inside of an upright piano: Even as the story pivots between New York and Cape Breton, the Pipers are trapped in their own echo chamber, forever plonking the keys to each other’s hearts.

This is good criticism. It makes connections for us.

All I could find at CBC were stories about the play, and the process of adapting MacDonald’s book. No criticism of the show itself. As for SaltWire, the only piece I could find was the nonsensically titled “The epic story ‘Fall On Your Knees’ is equal parts moving and musical.” The story is not a review. It is “sponsored content.” The article is credited to DJ Daw, who is a listed as a freelancer. Daw’s LinkedIn lists them as an account manager at marketing agency M5.

If you look at the SaltWire homepage, “Arts” isn’t even listed as a category. Arts stories come under “Lifestyles.” Arts reporter Stephen Cooke has retired. Elissa Barnard retired from the Chronicle Herald in 2017, after 35 years as an arts and entertainment reporter. (She reviews Fall On Your Knees on her blog, NS Reviews, and does a proper job of it, too.)

Criticism can be tricky in small towns. The local media are often also sponsors. Everyone knows each other. I say something unflattering about your play, then I run into you at a party.

I got my start in journalism writing a book review column for the Montreal alt-weekly Hour (RIP). You want to talk insular? Anglo Montreal publishing is insular. After one of my reviews of a new book of poetry by a local author, his wife wrote to the paper to complain. (She did not identify herself as being married to him, but, as I say, it was an insular community, so I knew who she was and presumably so did many others.)

None of this means you shouldn’t run reviews. The theatre-goer who gives five stars somewhere is no substitute for a critic. You may not agree with the critic, but at least you should be able to engage with them and their views. Criticism, whether positive, negative, or mixed, brings new insights into performances. Over time, you can get to know a critic and their biases.

In 2020, Bill Bria wrote a piece for Vague Visages called “Why Criticism: A Guide to Making Up Your Own Mind.” It’s worth revisiting.

“Rather than being a service that provides objective, quantifiable rulings, criticism is instead an art all its own that provides a road map to the reader,” Bria writes, “giving them points of triangulation so that they arrive at making up their own mind.”

Bria goes into some of the problems of the critic as tastemaker era, when a few gatekeepers (like the New Yorker’s Pauline Kael) held a huge amount of power. But opening the floodgates hasn’t been great for criticism either.

Bria writes:

While critical thought about film became more diverse thanks to more and more writers being given space, there arose a plethora of opinions flooding every corner of message boards, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and the opinions that went viral started to make film criticism sound like an echo chamber. Obviously, this is an issue that continues to this day, the apotheosis of which is the website Rotten Tomatoes. That site, in theory, is a great one — bring together as many critics and their opinions as possible and have an algorithm boil down their reviews into a single statistic. Yet while the site may have intended that “Fresh” or “Rotten” percentage number to be the beginning of a conversation, most people treat it as the end of one. The film industry hasn’t helped at all in this case, since they quickly realized they could use a “Fresh” rating as a marketing tool, using it not as a consensus but as a seal of quality. Anecdotally, most people who visit Rotten Tomatoes to find out about a film tend to glance at the percentage rating and move on, rather than read any of the full-length reviews that make up the “Tomatometer.”

I would say the apotheosis of criticism comes in the form of deciding whether or not to read a book based purely on the GoodReads star rating. Why would I read a 4.2 when I could read a 4.7? (Jane Eyre, by the way, is a 4.14. Persuasion is a 4.15. A Game of Thrones is a 4.44.)

Let me conclude by going back to Bria. Here is how he ends his piece:

Today, there is a wealth of ways to engage with film criticism, in everything from thoughtful YouTube videos to Twitch streams to podcasts to books to social media to this very site you’re now reading. The goal of such engagement, like criticism itself, isn’t to reach a final verdict but to get as wide an understanding as possible of disparate viewpoints that allows a personal opinion to emerge naturally. A negative review shouldn’t be seen as describing a defective machine, but rather an explanation of why a film failed the writer, which in turn may speak to why it failed the reader, too. A positive review shouldn’t be blown smoke that could be used solely for marketing purposes, but instead an examination of why a film works for the writer (and, again, perhaps the reader, too). Most reviews, despite their star or letter rating, land somewhere between “Fresh” and “Rotten,” making their value exist in their discussion rather than their headline. With any film (good or bad), a look into their resonance, thematic ideas, place in history or a number of other topics can still be of value regardless of culture’s consensus ruling on it or even one’s own. Film criticism is so vital not because it’s a service, but because it’s a tool — a way for each person to arrive at the final word on each film they see from the critic that matters most: themselves.

I couldn’t agree more.

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7. ‘Can we please pull this tweet ASAP’

Lobster on a boat, with a lifesaving ring behind it.
Freshly caught lobster. Photo: Krista Fulton

As we were being pounded by post-tropical storm Fiona last fall, I was one of many, many people who were taken aback by a tweet from DFO. I believe I shared it with the following trenchant commentary: “???????”

The tweet was the second of a pair. The text in full read as follows:

As #HurricaneFiona approaches the East coast, we would like to remind everyone to please follow local emergency safety recommendations, avoid the coastline, and above all #StaySafe.

As well, if you find lobsters washed up on the shore after the storm, remember it is illegal to harvest them. Simply leave them there.

Mia Rabson of the Canadian Press looks at the scramble inside DFO to take back that tweet.

As is generally the case with government tweets, these had been planned well in advance, and gone through multiple layers of approvals. Rabson writes:

It had been discussed by more than a dozen people via email over a 24-hour period and officially approved by at least seven directors and managers in Atlantic Canada, according to documents released to The Canadian Press through access-to-information legislation.

Only one of them warned that the tweet might land badly, but ultimately he approved it.

“Should we consider the potential circumstances that may be present at the time,” he asked.

I mean, maybe? Maybe it would have been a good idea to consider potential circumstances? Yeah, probably it would have been.

Rabson again:

The focus on lobsters while people were losing their homes, livelihoods, and even their lives, was not well received.

The office of Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray demanded it be deleted. “Can we please pull this tweet ASAP,” emailed Erik Nosaluk, Murray’s communications coordinator.

In the story, Rabson notes that an earlier draft of the tweet used the hashtag #LeaveThemThere. I decided to search Twitter for that hashtag, and, well, would you look at the first result:

Screenshot of a tweet that shows a shoreline with moderate surf, and the words, "Lobsters washed-up on the shoreline? Leave them there!"

This 2021 tweet is the only fisheries-related one to use that hashtag. The others refer to letting go of toxic people in your life, not repatriating citizens who left to fight for ISIS, getting off Facebook, and various other non-fishery-related topics.

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8. What are you going to do with one therapy session?

Man in jacket and shirt, in a hallway smiling
Alec Stratford, chairperson, CCPA-NS. Photo: Nova Scotia College of Social Workers

The Nova Scotia College of Social Workers says the government’s plan to offer one free therapy session isn’t particularly helpful — and wonders why the contract was given to for-profit Telus Health.

In a Canadian Press story, Lyndsay Armstrong writes:

N Siritsky, a consultant with the college of social workers, said, “the majority of people who need free mental health care have complex needs that require more than one session.”

“A practitioner never knows if the presenting issue that’s drawing a person to call for help is the only issue or not,” [says] Siritsky…

“So there has to be some kind of assessment, and that usually takes at least one to three sessions.”

The story continues:

Judith Laposa, a psychologist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and professor at the University of Toronto, said a single-session therapy appointment is not likely to meet the needs of most people who would typically access counselling.

“A full course of treatment for an anxiety disorder is usually 12 sessions, and a full course typically for depression is 16 to 20 sessions,” Laposa said in an interview Monday.

“There may be some benefit to meeting with someone once, but would we expect it to have a comparable outcome to a full course of treatment? No.”

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Oil Beach: ports, petroleum, and the pandemic

Huge piles of shipping containers among large cranes.
The Port of Los Angeles Credit: Barrett Ward

You can’t really talk about ports without talking about petroleum, because the two are so intertwined. That’s one of the central themes of Christina Dunbar-Hester’s new book, Oil Beach: How toxic infrastructure threatens life in the ports of Los Angeles and beyond.

Dunbar-Hester, a professor of communications at the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, looks at the sister ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on San Pedro Bay through the lens of four different life-forms affected by them: birds, otters. whales, and bananas. Yes, bananas are different from the others on the list, but their popularity and their very particular shipping needs make them a fascinating case study in the history of shipping.

While Oil Beach comes in at just 250 pages or so, about a third of which is notes, Dunbar-Hester manages to pack in everything from oil drilling platforms disguised as palm-filled islands, to the ethics of cleaning oil-soaked birds with petroleum-derived products at oil-company funded facilities, to the effects of mechanization on banana shipping, and US Navy experiments on living on the seafloor — including having a dolphin deliver mail.

I caught up with Dunbar-Hester at Princeton, where she is currently at the Institute for Advanced Study, and spoke to her about Oil Beach, and about how what she had learned about the ports of Los Angeles might hold lessons for other port cities, like Halifax.

Close-up of a white woman with her hair in a bun. She is standing in the woods, in front of a wetland. She wears oversize round glasses, and earrings and is smiling slightly.
Christina Dunbar-Hester Credit: Contributed

(This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

Halifax Examiner: How did you come to write Oil Beach? Why this book now?

Christina Dunbar-Hester: I had moved to California in 2016, and something that happened for me when I got there is I was seeing the place kind of with the eyes of a stranger. I didn’t really have context for greater LA. And there were these massive heat waves and fires, and people would sort of brush them off and say, “Oh, we have fires. You know, it’s weird for you, but we have fires here.” But they were wrong in terms of the scale and the intensity. I moved to California seven years ago and I’ve been there for maybe three of the five biggest fires ever.

From outside, California has a reputation for environmentalism. And so, that having been the bill of goods that was sold to me as a non-Californian, and showing up and trying to square what I was seeing with my own eyes and smelling, and feeling a sore throat with… It’s just like, how do these things add up? There’s a lot in the post-1970 period about both pursuing the intensity of trade powered by diesel, and environmental regulation, all mish-mashing together. And I don’t think I had thought about [the connections between] the port area and the oil-drilling area.

I was also hungry for a new project, and one of the better things about being an academic is you get the opportunity to self-indulgently write about something that you’re curious and preoccupied about. And so many things sort of came together.

HE: What are some of the elements that ports bring together, and what makes them interesting to study?

CDH: The book is written as an attempt to at least draw attention to all these global systems that come together in this space, which include ecological patterns, but also petroleum, global shipping, and US empire. You know, they’re all drawn together in this site. My book is just a slim little folio that contributes in a rather idiosyncratic sort of way to taking all those things together.

There are some really big currents running through there, and I was trying to illuminate them with these smaller stories.

But really a question is how do you bring this place under control, so it’s less deadly. One question is really who’s in control here, which I think is a sort of deceptively simple question, or a hard question to answer. The question really is do local ordinances control this site? Or the state level? Do national ones? Is it flows of international capital? I mean, the answer is it’s all of them. I think it would be actually very hard to undo some of those choices.

We’re seeing people blockading and refusing infrastructure recently, and that’s where the book ends. A lesson for local communities, in port cities and not, is that we’re better served by having community control of and input into both so-called natural spaces and large infrastructures, including energy and shipping. The idea that the latter are controlled by a few, and out of sight or control for the rest of us has been made to seem like a natural, abiding, and immutable state of affairs. But the extinction and energy crises are products of global systems of capitalism and empire that have local faces; and everyone, everywhere doesn’t have to simply accept the status quo that is being delivered to us by these global systems, even as some interventions or solutions in California may look different than the ones elsewhere.

Cover of a book called Oil Beach. The cover has an illustration of oil rigs and water below a yellow sky.
The cover of Oil Beach. Credit: University of Chicago Press

HE: When I look at the website of the Port of Halifax, I see a lot of stuff about sustainability. You write in the book about programs to preserve habitats and help threatened species rebound — but in some cases the port itself is the main reason they are threatened in the first place. Are ports trying to be green, or are they greenwashing?

CDH: I think you’re hitting on something that’s really worthwhile to dwell on. I don’t believe necessarily that these officials are cynical or are lying through their teeth when they talk about sustainability in your port, or when ports talk about how they’re the green port. I don’t think that the individuals who tout it are touting it while being nefarious and cynical.

I think it’s partly that it’s just not possible. They’re talking about incommensurate goals, and at the end of the day growth and competing for goods movement is going to trump sustainability. Because how could it not? But I think there’s a sort of fantasy that they believe in, where they want to have both, and they believe both are possible.

I don’t know, I mean, it seems pretty clear that this is actually all resting on a bunch of violent and lethal systems of extracting natural resources — be it cellulose or cotton to make fast fashion that’s going into the landfill after two wearings or whatever — and it’s all predicated on cheap petro-energy, And so in that sense, it’s deeply unsustainable, even if there are efficiencies or economies of scale with the shipping and the transport.

HE: What’s the role of renewable energy in all this?

CDH: The ability to ship stuff around the world and have it be really affordable for consumers to buy — a lot of that is underwritten by cheap access to fossil fuel for shipping. If shipping were a country, it would be something like the fifth or sixth biggest emitter, because the fuel they burn, at least outside of the harbours, is even heavier and dirtier than diesel. And so, if you take that away, then you’ve either got less shipping or far more expensive shipping.

And also a lot of what is being shipped itself is fossil fuels. I got the statistics a few years ago, but roughly 30% of what’s going around is tankers full of crude oil. So the fantasy of just sort of flipping a switch and having a new energy source — again, I don’t exactly know where they’re going to land technically, but I do know that, as I have learned and detailed in the book, that long distance freight is just harder. Like, batteries work for short trips, where you’re charging nightly or something, but they don’t work for really long truck journeys, for instance.

And so then they’re looking to fuels that are more like gasoline, in that you can fuel up again quickly. And so you’re talking about hydrogen. Some hydrogen is produced through natural gas — so it’s still a fossil fuel, and it may actually be total smoke and mirrors with the emissions.

I would say I’m convinced that at some point there will be more renewable fuel sources, but it’s a) not coming that quickly, and b) not solving these sort of extractive and lethal problems.

HE: In the book, you discuss the Long Beach International Gateway Bridge, which is 50 feet taller than the one it replaces, so that more massive ships can pass under it. It cost $1.5 billion and is supposed to last a century. Here in Halifax, the port’s 50-year plan calls for more in-filling with pyritic slate — a process that’s already well underway. What do these decisions mean in terms of locking us into an unsustainable future?

CDH: One of the references to Halifax in the book is about Halifax celebrating one of these really big mega-ships coming. These big, big, big mega-ships are bringing in requirements of scale that are very questionable in a whole bunch of ways. If you wind up pursuing scale, you may be chasing the tail of a system you’re not in control of, and requires things from your land and your workforce, and then spits you out when it has no use for you anymore.

And, in fact, with the disruptions of the pandemic, the entire Atlantic coast, like Savannah and New York and maybe Halifax, too, are actually trying to eat LA’s lunch right now — to take advantage of the disruptions in southern California and route trade there, which they can do. It may not seem intuitive, but it’s not impossible to send ships to New York, even from Asia now that the Panama Canal has been widened.

One thing we saw during the earlier interruptions in the pandemic is that snarls in one part of the system will also show up somewhere else. It’s not seamless to integrate a logjam or something in one and one part and bring it to another. One of the things I think is an answer, is to bring together attention to not totally severing goods and commodities from their origin.

If there’s governance in Chile that makes Canadian mining companies pay the true price to export lithium or copper or something like that, that’s one answer. On the other hand, turning the whole system down a couple of notches through local and multi-lateral means is what we have to do. But, again, financing of the petroleum industry is also a very very good target, I think.

The last thing I’ll say is, and then I’ll let it go, is I don’t know if we’re going to see the end of oil in our lifetimes. But we have to start thinking about both ending it, but also remediating for life beyond it. Thinking ahead to responsibility for that harm, and paying to fix it, is something we can see the tide turn on in our lifetimes.

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Who owns shipping data — and why it matters

white water boat
What’s on board? Photo by Julius Silver on Credit: Photo by Julius Silver on

During my conversation with Christina Dunbar-Hester (see above), she mentioned an article on shipping data by UCLA information studies professor Miriam Posner. The piece, which appears in Logic (note: not the same as The Logic), is called “Ghost Ships: What happens when ships become data?

You can easily go online, or open an app and find pretty much any commercial ship in the world. Where is it now? Where is it going? Where did it come from? We do this every day here at the Halifax Examiner, in the section called “In the Harbour.” A crude-oil tanker leaves Tufts Cove. A container ship arrives at Pier 42. A car carrier heads from the Autoport to sea.

But finding out what’s on board those ships? That’s a lot more complicated, in part because shipping relies so heavily on paper bills of lading, Posner says. But that’s changing. And, she argues, it could have huge consequences.

Posner writes:

In the cloistered world of global shipping, a gold rush is taking shape, as companies vie to connect and commodify shipping data. Advanced real-time data about shipping promises to improve the speed and reliability of global logistics. But it could also have other, stranger implications. As ships edge toward automation, the prospect of rich shipping data makes it increasingly possible to imagine a future in which shipping is controlled by machines. And because shipping and banking are so deeply intertwined, better data could attune the movement of cargo near-seamlessly with the priorities of financial markets.

Headshot of a white woman with shoulder-length brown hair, standing in front of a stone wall. She wears a necklace with large red beads and shows a toothy smile.
UCLA information studies professor Miriam Posner. Credit: Amelia Burns/

Posner details some of the challenges of getting away from paper. They include the fact that shipping is an enormous global industry, a lack of standards, an unwillingness to share proprietary information, and, of course, the sheer complexity of the shipping world:

So the data exists, but the paper persists. The various stores of information are in separate, locked-down databases, kept apart by competing business interests, incompatible data models, and differing legal frameworks. To make things more complicated, when we talk about the “supply chain,” we’re not really talking about one industry; instead, we’re talking about a stunning variety of disparate players, all engaged in moving stuff: freight forwarders, charterers, drayage companies, container lines, truckers, terminal operators, and chassis providers, to name just a few. Each has its own data, but as often as not, information moves between operators on paper. “It is not uncommon for a shipping document package to contain fifty sheets of paper that must, in some cases, be exchanged between thirty different stakeholders,” reports the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA). In the absence of a unified mode of communication, paper patches over the gaps between systems…

So the issue is not that movement isn’t tracked and computerized; it’s that it is tracked too many different ways, in scores of different proprietary systems, most of them locked down. Individual carriers might have granular detail about their vessels’ condition and cargo, but in the absence of a network that stitches all of that information together, the big picture remains incomplete. 

Changing this would probably be great, right? And lead to all kinds of efficiencies? Well, maybe. But, Posner argues (and I found this completely fascinating), it also opens up a whole new area to our late capitalist friends financialization and securitization.

What happens when you can know exactly what’s being transported, where it is, and where it’s headed? Well, one of the things that can happen is you can create new financial instruments

Posner writes:

A container’s worth of grain, for example, might be paid for with a loan that is then sold as a security, or part of a security. As a ship carries the grain across the ocean, the loan could change hands multiple times as market conditions change. Grain prices drop and an optimistic investor steps in to purchase the loan, betting that prices will rise before the ship makes landfall. They do, and the lucky investor sells the loan on, pocketing the price difference…

In this way, grain becomes valuable not only for its existence as grain, but for its shadow life as part of a financial instrument. As the physical grain moves across the ocean, ownership of its debt could ping-pong around the globe…

Shipping holds the no-shit, honest truth of what the economy is doing,” angel investor Doug Doan told Institutional Investor in 2016. Traders with special insight into shipping data could identify mispricing in the stock market — perhaps GE’s stock is too high, given the flood of cheap washing machines headed our way. They could then exploit that information gap to pocket the difference in price. Currently, data analysts can make estimates about ocean freight based on vessel type and economic indicators, but these are just educated guesses. If a database was constantly updated as transactions took place, this real-time data would make it possible for those with access to place more aggressive, potentially more lucrative bets.

It’s a really interesting piece, and I urge you to read the whole thing. It gets into even more issues related to shipping and data, going back to the 16th century.

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Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, online) — agenda


Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am, City Hall and online) — agenda


Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place and online) — Support for Firefighters and Agency, Board and Commission Appointments; with representatives from Halifax Professional Firefighters Association – IAFF Local 268; Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration; and Fire Service Association of Nova Scotia

Natural Resources and Economic Development (Tuesday, 1pm, One Government Place and online) — Innovation Rebate Programs; with representatives from Department of Economic Development and Invest Nova Scotia

On campus



Siloed Knowledges: Mennonite Settlers vs the Farm Expert (Tuesday, 7pm, Potter Auditorium, Rowe Building) — Royden Loewen from the University of Winnipeg will talk


Arthritis: What Does it Mean? What Can I do? (Wednesday, 7pm, online) — Dalhousie Mini Medical School

Contested Knowledges: Canadian Agronomists and the Southern Peasant (Wednesday, 11am, Room 2116, McCain Building, and online) — Roy Loewen will talk


Nuclear Exposures: Photographic Archives of Canadian Uranium Mining (Tuesday, 7pm, KTS Lecture Hall, New Academic Building) — Aaron Wright will talk

In the harbour

13:00: Onego Bayou, cargo ship, moves from Pier 27 to anchorage
16:00: Puka, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 27 from Moa, Cuba
18:00: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, sails from Pier 42 for Palm Beach, Florida

Cape Breton
10:00: SFL Trinity, oil tanker, arrives at EverWind from New York


Spring training games!

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Philip Moscovitch is a freelance writer, audio producer, fiction writer, and editor of Write Magazine.

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  1. The ocean shipping industry is not a monolithic industry and really does not rely on paper based systems any more than any other transportation business. The type of shipping that most of us think of, container shipping, is highly digitized, with most bills of lading and other shipping information entered on the container line’s platform and transferred to the various governments (ports, customs and tax authorities through a single AIS platform. As a practical matter, none of these container ships could be safely loaded or operated without the support of sophisticated digital infrastructure. (Notpetya, a cyberattack, shut down one of Maersk’s operations ( as well as those of FedEx for 10 days. see The Untold Story of Notpetya, The Most Devastating Cyberattack In History” Andy Greenberg )
    In addition to container shipping, there are tankers which carry oil and other liquids or gases ( roll on, roll off(ro-ros) which carry cars, trucks, etc. and bulkers ( which carry ores and dry chemicals in bulk. Although these ships use computers and algorithms to ensure that their cargoes are properly loaded and off loaded at the correct port and have some of the same reporting requirements that exist for containers, the nature of the cargo may require additional “paperwork/digital filings” and the cargo may be financed differently.
    The International Maritime Organization would take exception to the notion that the shipping industry lacks standards and would point to the fact that IMO has adopted codes, conventions and guidelines touching upon safety of life at sea, life-saving appliance, safety of ships in polar waters, guidelines on fatigue, maritime autonomous surface ships and more.
    The information required and the form of documents used for ocean shipping is governed by the Facilitation Convention. Ports around the world are increasingly requiring that information about crews, cargos and routing be submitted prior to entry via Automated Identification systems (AIS) and through a single online government portal.

  2. I reviewed the Transit Services staff report tabled for discussion at tomorrow’s Budget Committee and was surprised that no reference to the potential challenges posed by changes to transit ridership experienced since the advent of COVID.

    Granted that much of the decline was temporary with government lockdowns but the lasting impacts of the “work from home” movement are difficult to quantify at this point but could potentially have a significant impact on how public transit services are best delivered.

    In a recent editorial to the Globe & Mail, Andy Byford, former head of Transport for London, New York City Transit and the Toronto Transit Commission concluded “I passionately believe that mass-transit systems – and the cities they serve – have a bright future. The siren voices of doom assert the end of mass transit, but calls for service to be slashed and investment to be halted must be resisted. Transit authorities must think radically and adapt to new realities in order to survive.

  3. You will have a very hard time finding any significant cargoes of grain in a container. Comparing container traffic in Los Angeles with Halifax is laughable – there are 11 container cranes in Halifax and over 80 in LA. Data on freight costs is readily available here : … a company that I have been familiar with for more than 60 years ( my uncle was employed as a gardener, gamekeeper for a member of the family and I had a brief career in one of the many subsidiaries). The Gibson organisation also had an oil refinery in Alberta…
    I regard the market reports as a simple to understand entry to observe what is happening in international trade and its probable impact on our daily life.
    If you want to count container cranes a quick visit to and the port of Singapore is an eye-opener – massive change since I was there in the sixties.