On Friday, the province reported that a man in his 50s had died in Nova Scotia from COVID-19. He lived in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone; he is the 89th Nova Scotian to die from the disease and the 23rd since April 1.
There were eight new cases announced Friday, 10 Saturday, and eight again on Sunday. Premier Iain Rankin and Chief Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang have scheduled a COVID briefing for 3pm tomorrow (Tuesday); I assume they will officially announce that Phase 2 of the reopening plan will start Wednesday. I’ll be live-tweeting it on my Twitter account.
I’ve noticed heightened anger and anxiety over the last month related to COVID, far more than the 14 months previous. I think people are just done with this thing; I know I am — I want an end to this hyper-vigilance, I want to travel, I want to be able to wander around and hop into places on a whim, I want to stop by a pub and bump into people and have interesting or at least entertaining unexpected conversations, I want to stop having COVID dreams. And I need a haircut.
The stress of going another few months with restrictions and worry is bringing people to the breaking point, I think. People are short tempered, are quick to jump on one another.
And, as Kevin Wilson notes, “There is a weird, ingrained sense among Canadians that somehow their province in particular has screwed up the vaccine rollout. It is immutable to data or reason.” When in reality, all the provinces are a day or two apart from each other, and given the supply, distribution is going reasonably well — good, even.
I recall that back in early 2020, it was my somewhat informed understanding that a vaccine would be about four years away, but if all the stars aligned perfectly and an enormous global commitment was made, that vaccine might arrive as early as 2022. In reality, of course, not one vaccine but multiple vaccines arrived in late 2020, and rollout continues apace in 2021. This is a wondrous achievement, and it’s worth considering just how much worse this pandemic could’ve been. But we’re tripping over ourselves stressing that a particular dose of vaccine should be administered a day or two earlier, or that one person is jumping the queue by getting vaccinated while someone else has to wait a couple of weeks.
I want to get back to arguing about roundabouts or whatever.
2. The Municipality of the District of Guysborough
This item is written by Joan Baxter.
This is what Tim Bousquet wrote recently about what is happening on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, the province’s “sacrifice zone”:
The machinery of government seems hellbent on logging the shit out the place, denuding the soil and poisoning the rivers and lakes through gold mining, and placing every cockamamie scheme imaginable — space port, LNG plant, mega shipping terminal, biomass energy, whatever — in this sacrificed sector of the province, as no one much who lives there objects and those who do object hold exactly zero political power, so screw ’em.
Bousquet was talking more about the provincial government in that piece, but an email from a regular Halifax Examiner reader this weekend prompted me to dig a little at the role some top officials in the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) are playing in turning that eastern county into a sacrifice zone, and makes me wonder if they aren’t in a category of cockamamie all their own.
Let’s start with that email from the Examiner reader, which drew our attention to the latest quarterly newsletter published by the Municipality of the District of Guysborough, which gave Pieridae Energy a page-and-a half to sing praises of itself and its proposal to build a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant at Goldboro on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore.
The Examiner reader, who asked to remain anonymous for personal reasons, wrote that the newsletter is distributed to every mailbox in the county, and that many local non-profits contribute, but “so does Pieridae [Energy] since MODG is heavily courting them. Some of us are not happy about this.”
He said that right now the Goldboro site is nothing more than “a giant ugly clearcut,” and, “It’s a huge assault on our CO2 targets and a threat to our future.”
He is far from alone in his concerns.
Opposition to the Goldboro project — and opposition to any government support for it — seem to be growing by the day.
As the Examiner reported here, the list of those opposing the project now includes grassroots Mi’kmaq women, as well as the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, and at least two Chiefs, all of whom are concerned about the dangers that the “man camp” that would be built at the site would pose for Indigenous Women and Girls.
German climate activists and Green Party parliamentarians also oppose the project that would involve the export of LNG to Germany, and are fighting possible financing from the German government, as the Examiner reported here.
There are also outspoken critics of the project across Canada — in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Alberta — who oppose any government funding for the project on this side of the ocean.
Added to that chorus of dissent is the recent letter from Ecojustice on behalf of eight leading environmental groups that says the project cannot proceed “lawfully” with its provincial environmental approval, and that a federal impact assessment is required.
You get the picture.
There is a lot of strident opposition to this project for many reasons, not least of which is that we are in a climate emergency and the use of natural gas, as the International Energy Agency recently pointed out, has to be radically curtailed starting already in 2025 if we are to have a hope in hell of keeping global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius. (The Examiner delved into that here.)
Apparently all this extremely worrisome news — about the urgency of ending fossil fuel use to tackle the climate crisis, the links between resource extraction and violence against Indigenous women that were detailed by the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, or the seriously flawed business case for any new fossil fuel infrastructure — has failed to reach the people in the Municipality of the District of Guysborough who decided on what to include in the 2021 summer issue of the MODG newsletter.
From the “desk” of MODG Warden Vernon Pitts comes some morale-boosting patter, and an entire paragraph in praise of big, controversial, and environmentally harmful industrial projects — the LNG plant, as well as the proposed Maritime Launch Services (MLS) spaceport at Canso, and of course, this being the “sacrifice zone” that the Eastern Shore seems slated to become, lots more gold-digging too (the metal kind, not the Pieridae kind that involves asking the federal government for nearly a billion dollars of financing for a project that private investors aren’t willing to put their money behind.)
Warden Pitts writes this about Pieridae:
Pieridae/Goldboro LNG is at a critical decision point for the development. Final project engineering and construction estimates have been finalized leading to a Final Investment Decision by the end of June. The MODG has worked closely with Pieridae to respond to project requirements and be prepared to move forward based on a positive investment decision.
As the concerned reader noted, the MODG newsletter also provides Pieridae with a chunk of its “Community News” section to spew Hallelujah-level praise of itself, and make many claims that have been disputed and refuted by critics, and none of which needs to be rehashed here.
Unlike the MODG newsletter, the Halifax Examiner doesn’t do free advertising for anyone, least of all private corporations asking for a lot of public dollars.
Nor, I might add, does the Municipality of Colchester newsletter that lands on my doorstep every month or so.
Is there something special about the way business is done by public servants in the MODG?
According to its current warden Vernon Pitts, it seems there is.
In 2016, CBC’s Pam Berman reported on the Guysborough municipality expense policy that made alcohol an acceptable expense, and she quoted Pitts:
“The [municipality of Guysborough] is not like other municipalities. We operate under a corporate business model,” he said.
That “corporate business model” involved some interesting expense accounts.
The next year, the province’s ombudsman slammed MODG top officials for their “indulgent” spending and “opportunistic” practices, after investigating how they managed expenses from April 2012 until March 2014.
As CBC’s Angela MacIvor and Susan Allen reported at the time, the ombudsman’s 2017 report singled out Lloyd Hines for using a corporate credit card for many personal expenses. Hines spent 25 years as an MODG councillor and then its warden, before being elected as a Liberal MLA in 2013, and becoming a cabinet minister. Hines is currently Minister of Transportation and Active Transit.
Although Hines paid back those expenses when he was still MODG warden, the ombudsman pointed out that he benefited from short-term loans from the municipality to cover his personal expenses, which included, according to CBC, “seven in-room movie purchases at various hotels, which added up to almost $150. He also made several charges for alcohol, airport lounge access and a return airfare ticket for his spouse.”
Hines wasn’t the only one fingered by the ombudsman report. MacIvor and Allen reported that there was:
… a pattern where municipal officials, including Hines, current Warden Vernon Pitts and CAO Barry Carroll, expensed meals — often well above per diem rates — with little or no supporting documentation to indicate the purpose of the meeting and guests present.
Examples include two receipts on the same day for Trulucks in Houston in May 2012 — $56.72 for “pre-dinner” and $595.10, which included $166.50 for alcohol charges. Guysborough officials make regular trips to Houston for oil and gas conferences.
Carroll and Pitts are still with the MODG, and re-reading what the ombudsman had to say about them reminded me of how cozy the municipality’s top officials — particularly MODG economic development director Gordon MacDonald — have been with Steve Matier, president of Maritime Launch Services (MLS).
Those chummy relationships, and the incredible amount of time that MacDonald devoted to Matier and his project to launch Ukrainian rockets into space from the town of Canso, came to light in the 1,728 pages of documents released through a Freedom of Information (FOIPOP) request to the municipality in 2019.
As the Examiner reported, the MODG public servants seemed to have no qualms working on behalf of a private corporation:
Particularly enthusiastic and willing to please is MODG economic development director Gordon MacDonald, who acted like Matier’s de facto assistant and seemed happy to be at his beck and call, organizing countless meetings, handling logistics, providing information, introductions, and contacts.
Starting in October 2017, MacDonald regularly offered Matier space for MLS messages in the “glossy quarterly newsletter” that MODG produced and sent out, as he told Matier, “to each household” in the municipality.
It looks as if Pieridae is receiving the same favour now.
The FOIPOP also showed that MODG CAO Carroll took it upon himself to upbraid the CBC’s Frances Willick when he didn’t like the way she reported on Maritime Launch Services’ proposed spaceport. The reason Carroll didn’t like her reporting? Willick quoted someone critical of the project.
In 2017 – the same year the ombudsman report roundly repudiated the fast and loose way that top MODG officials used public funds — the municipality also put out a promotional video called “Open for Business” that showcased Guysborough County as “a great place to start and grow your business.”
Most of the five-minute film features over-the-top praise for proposed, but-as-yet-unrealized-mega-projects in MODG, which — like its newsletter — provides the people behind the projects with free advertising paid for by the kind citizens who pay the taxes that pay for such vanity projects (as of early this morning, in four years the video has been viewed only 1,026 times).
In order of appearance in the video, the first six people men who appear are:
- Paul Martin, “president Melford International Terminal proposed container handling facility” who praises the area as an ideal location for a project that was first proposed in 2005, resulted in the expropriation of private property owners who had been there for generations, and although clearcutting began on the property in 2018, still hasn’t materialized, as Tim Bousquet who has keeping tabs on the project, reports here.
- Steve Matier, president, Maritime Launch Services, who informs viewers that the proposed site in Canso for launching rockets into outer space is perfect, and “far away from everybody,” although in truth the Canso hospital is just 3.5 kilometres away and some homes are even closer than that as the Examiner reported here.
- Vernon Pitts, MODG warden, who informs viewers that Guysborough has a planning department, and an economic development office, and that, “They’re quite aggressive, we actually attend trade shows worldwide.”
- Mark Brown, project development, Goldboro LNG, who tells viewers that through the environmental approval process did an attitude survey in the county, and “it came back 96% in favour and 4% no response,” although as mentioned earlier, the project has many opponents on two continents and still doesn’t have the financing it needs.
- Gordon MacDonald, MODG economic development officer, who tells viewers he likes to “create a welcoming environment for investment.” He has certainly done that for MLS, collecting a salary paid by citizens while working hard to help Matier get his MLS spaceport project going and those rockets off the ground, neither of which can happen without a lot more financing that, to date, hasn’t been forthcoming.
- Paul MacLean, strategic & regulatory affairs advisor, Bear Head LNG, a project that was supposed to have begun in 2005, and that in 2020 was put up for sale, having failed to attract the financing it required.
The list of mega-projects on which MODG officials seem to be pegging the county’s future is so long it’s not easy to keep track of them all. Maybe that’s why the 2017 promotional video seems to have missed yet another huge project that the MODG council has fully supported since it was proposed in 2011. That’s the giant quarry that Alabama-based Vulcan Materials’ has planned for Black Point on Chedabucto Bay, on which the Examiner reported here.
If that quarry ever comes to pass, it will see the magnificent rock cliffs of Black Point that the late folk legend Stan Rogers immortalized in his song “Fogarty’s Cove” blasted to smithereens, and shipped to the southern US as aggregate for road construction.
As it did for the stalled Melford terminal project, the MODG council ignored local concerns and expropriated private land for Vulcan’s Black Point quarry. Eight years later, the project still hasn’t begun.
But pegging hopes on pie-in-the-sky projects and polluting industries that would destroy all that is beautiful and attractive in the county seems to be a thing in the MODG, at least among its top public officials who appear in the promotional video and seem to run the business show in the county.
The MODG website highlights the “400 kilometres of coastline, countless bays, inlets, beaches and safe harbours are perfect for exploration and recreation.” But then it turns around and produces a promotional “open for business” video that praises the “attractive location for industrial development,” which features absolutely stunning vistas of Guysborough County’s natural beauty, interspersed with MODG officials and CEOs describing how they intend to destroy it all with large industry.
On June 4, Tim Bousquet eloquently described how the blinkered and archaic mindset of officials and governments who promote these kinds of industrial projects is going to turn the Eastern Shore into the “Nova Scotian equivalent of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.” He put it this way, and there’s no better way of putting it:
I don’t think some secret cabal ever sat down in a smokey backroom and rubbed their hands together Mr. Burns-style over the prospect of turning the Eastern Shore into a sacrifice zone.
Rather, it was death by a thousand cuts. A bunch of decisions, some more momentous than others, made by a bunch of bureaucrats, some more conniving than others, overseen by a bunch of governments, some more clueless than others, has led us to this point such that the Eastern Shore may soon become the Nova Scotian equivalent of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a place visited only by disaster tourists and academic researchers with an interest in ecological apocalypse.
Writes Stephen Kimber:
The still-unfolding story behind last year’s firing of new NSCAD President Aoife Mac Namara fits all too neatly into the ongoing saga of business as usual in Nova Scotia. Pity.
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After we published Kimber’s commentary, I received an email from NSCAD communications with the university’s response to the Globe & Mail article (which Kimber had quoted from). Here it is in its entirety:
Re President of N.S. Art School Battled with Board Before She Was Fired (June 7):
The article fails to present an accurate account of the matters that transpired at NSCAD University regarding its former president.
We are aware of the strong desire by members of our community for more knowledge regarding the removal of the president. This would contravene our policies and legal obligations regarding confidential performance matters. Bonnie Patterson was not engaged to recruit a replacement for Dr. Mac Namara in the fall of 2019. Ms. Patterson was retained by the board as an executive coach. The Board believed Dr. Mac Namara would benefit from this support.
No conflict of interest ever existed between any board member and the university’s best interests. No real estate proposal was presented to the board for consideration during this time, including any unsolicited proposal from Armour Group. No agreements were made with any developers during this period, and no real estate proposals are being considered by the board. The development of NSCAD’s long-term infrastructure strategy is still ongoing.
The university has not “repeatedly blocked efforts” to provide more information under FOIPOP. NSCAD has been working to meet the request while exercising the due diligence required to review a large and complicated set of documents. FOIPOP requests of this scale are beyond the capacity of a small, public institution with limited experience in such matters. NSCAD has already provided some information, and is diligently working to complete its response.
Board members have a duty to ensure good governance, to uphold the mission and vision of the university, and to act in its best interests. We will continue to work passionately on behalf of the institution and all its constituents, with the hope that media coverage reflects facts, not just speculation.
Louise Anne Comeau
Chair, NSCAD Board of Governors
4. Chris Milburn writes
And after my short recitation of a few of Chris Milburn’s actions on Friday morning, I asked Dr. Strang about Milburn’s comments on CBC Information Morning on Friday. Here’s our exchange in its entirety:
Bousquet: There’s a Nova Scotia health employee, Chris Milburn, who’s head of E.R. in Sydney, who basically went on the radio yesterday and said that you’re power hungry and are misapplying your power. And the way I read it, he was discouraging people from getting vaccinated. I wonder if you have any response to that.
Strang: I think he’s had a strong response from the community in Cape Breton, and my only other thing would say he’s training as an emergency physician. I’m trained as a public health physician. I don’t try to practice emergency medicine. He shouldn’t try to practice public health medicine.
Afterwards, Milburn sent me this email:
Very disappointing to see you misrepresenting my views to Dr. Strang, and purposely stirring a controversy. I presume this is to up your “clicks” and “likes”.
If you actually want to understand my views, you could have reached out to me. I’m easy to find, and easy to talk to. I don’t appreciate you creating straw-man versions of my views that border on defamation. Unimpressive.
Do feel free to get in touch with me if you want to talk logically and rationally.
I stand by my characterization of Milburn’s comments on CBC. You can listen yourself and make up your own mind.
But besides that, Dude! You go on the radio, you get op-eds published across the province, you get paid a gazillion dollars; you’re inviting criticism. I understand your views by… listening to what you say on the radio, in a public forum, for all the world to hear. There shouldn’t be some secret code that I can only get in a private conversation with you, for me to decipher your real meaning, after you spout all this nonsense for the public to consume.
Siri, what is “thin-skinned”?
5. Bridge tolls
There is a hearing today (and if necessary, tomorrow) before the Utility and Review Board (UARB) about the Bridge Commission’s proposal to raise bridge tolls, as follows:
•$0.20 per crossing for passenger cars using MACPASS ($0.80 to $1.00)
• $0.25 per crossing for cash customers ($1.00 to $1.25)
• An increase of 25% per axle for commercial vehicles using cash or MACPASS
• No changes are proposed for buses
• An increase from $15 to $20 to manually or automatically replenish a MACPASS account. The $1.00 monthly administration fee is eliminated.
If approved, the increases will be effective Jan. 3, 2022.
Am I being charged $15 every time they ding me on the credit card? Gonna have to check that out.
You can watch the hearing here, if so inclined.
“I was excited to notice on Instagram that architect Omar Gandhi showed a progress shot of the public washrooms his firm has designed as part of the wonderful accessibility project at Peggy’s Cove,” writes Stephen Archibald, and I was immediately confused by the contrast between “accessibility” and the wheelchair-unfriendly steps leading to the structure, but I suppose this is one angle and the thing is still under construction, so I probably don’t have the whole picture.
Archibald continues with another photo of a new washroom at Kejimkujik National Park, and ponders:
What if Nova Scotia could gain a reputation as the land of well-designed (and exquisitely maintained) public washrooms! So much international press. Such a message about what we consider important. Comfort & joy!
North West Community Council (Monday, 6pm) — live on YouTube, with live captioning on a text-only site.
Veterans Affairs (Tuesday, 2pm) — “Veteran Physician Assistant’ Role in the Health Care System”, with Peter Thibeault, Erin Sephton, and DA (Gus) Grant. CART services available.
Senate Meeting (Monday, 3pm) — agenda here (pdf).
In the harbour
00:45: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at anchorage from Saint John
06:00: Selfoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik, Iceland
06:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from mPhilipsburg, Sint Maarten
10:30: Siem Commander, offshore supply ship, moves from Dartmouth Cove to Irving Oil
11:00: East Coast, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
11:00: Taipei Trader, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
11:45: Selfoss sails for Portland
15:00: Siem Commander moves back to Dartmouth Cove
15:00: Acadian moves to Irving Oil
16:00: Gotland, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 for Bilboa, Spain
18:00: Thorco Liva, cargo ship, sails from Pier 9 for sea
18:00: Onego Deusto, cargo ship, sails from Pier 27 for sea
21:30: Taipei Trader sails for Kingston, Jamaica
I didn’t eat enough fiddleheads this year.