News

1. Power rate hearing

The Utility and Review Board’s rate-hike hearing begins this morning. Photo: Tim Bousquet

“A 19-day hearing begins today before the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) that will decide how much more Nova Scotians will pay on their power bills,” reports Jennifer Henderson:

Nova Scotia Power is requesting an average increase of 11.6% over three years that is being driven by higher costs for fossil fuel and less hydroelectricity from Muskrat Falls than the company anticipated. That project in Labrador still has not resolved technical issues with transmission that has made it impossible for Nova Scotia to buy additional amounts of market-priced renewable energy, in turn driving up costs to comply with environmental legislation. 

Click here to read “Nova Scotia Power rate-hike hearing begins today.”

I’m now at opening of the hearing this morning, as I wanted to get some photos and it’s been a few years since I’ve been in person at a UARB hearing.

UARB chair Stephen McGrath is wisely attending the hearing virtually as there is COVID in his household (McGrath says he has not yet tested positive himself.)

There are 45 other participants here in the room — a disputation of lawyers (the most common collective noun, “eloquence,” doesn’t really apply here, but “disputation” can be used as well), a blather of bureaucrats, an urgency of advocates, etc. — not one of whom is masked, which demonstrates great faith that they can avoid the virus over the course of eight hours a day for 19 days.

2. ‘Dysfunction at the management level’ of the Nova Scotia RCMP

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Brian Brennan

Brian Brennan testified virtually Friday before the Mass Casualty Commission (MCC). Brennan was the RCMP’s assistant commissioner, the commanding officer in Nova Scotia, until 2018, when he became the deputy commissioner (to Brenda Lucki) of the RCMP; on Brennan’s departure, the Nova Scotian position was filled by Lee Bergerman.

Brennan told the MCC that during his tenure in Nova Scotia, he had “extremely good relationships” with the municipal chiefs of police in this province. But after the mass murders of April, he came to learn that the inter-agency relations had fallen apart, even before the murders. There was this exchange between Brennan and Michael Scott, a lawyer with Patterson Law, which represents most of the families:

Scott: Is it your understanding that the source of those problems can be tied to either the commanding officer (Bergerman) or senior officers within H division since 2018?

Brennan: I would say that is part of the equation, yeah.

Scott: What’s the other part of the equation?

Brennan: It would have to do with things I have come to learn about since. Things like policing standards was an issue in terms of relationships. And what the provincial government could potentially bring in separated the objectives of the municipal chiefs and the RCMP. Some of it was obviously personalities within those relationships. And I believe that has led to a lack of trust between the senior leaders and senior managers trying to work together to achieve common goals for public safety and policing in Nova Scotia. So I think it’s the gradual build up of issues, concerns, personalities, etc. that just grew into something that ended up not being productive in terms of policing leadership in that province.

Halifax-district RCMP Chief Superintendent Janis Gray speaks at a meeting of the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners in July 2019. — Photo: Zane Woodford

In his notes from Aug 2021, Brennan recorded that Chief Superintendent Janis Gray, the commanding officer at the RCMP’s Halifax detachment, wanted “to move her entire team out of the HRP Police Headquarters building.” Brennan told the MCC he refused to allow that proposal to move forward, and told Gray and other RCMP brass in Nova Scotia that in the interest of public safety, they needed to learn how to get along with their municipal counterparts.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner (retired) Lee Bergerman testifies at the Mass Casualty Commission, August 22, 2022.

Brennan came to Nova Scotia in October 2020. Prior to his visit, he had a phone call with Assistant Commander Dennis Daley, and the two spoke of the poor relationship both between policing agencies and within the RCMP structure. He then received “unsolicited phone calls” from perhaps a dozen senior officers in Nova Scotia. The exchange between Brennan and Scott continued:

Scott: So you’re alerted that there are issues at each division through this call from Dennis Daley, which is followed by you receiving some unsolicited phone calls and then actually traveling to Nova Scotia in October 2020 to interview senior management and others to try to get a clear picture of what’s what’s going on.

Brennan: Yes, that encapsulates the sort of the chain of events, I guess.

Scott: And in that, for want of a better way of putting it, in the course of you investigating those issues, some of the things that you are learning or being relayed to you are these things that I’m referencing, relationships within being chiefs of police, justice, Indigenous chiefs.

Brennan: Yes. Those were the four themes that came out of my visit to Nova Scotia and meeting with the senior management team as individuals. Those were the four themes that were consistent through the majority of those conversations.

Scott: And what was also being communicated to you was the suggestion that there were some people felt there were two camps in each division. Either you’re with the commanding officer, Assistant Commissioner Bergerman, or you’re on the other team. And that that was impacting the functioning of the division?

Brennan: Absolutely, yes.

Scott: And you were also receiving criticisms that some of the senior management felt that the assistant commissioner or the commanding officer wasn’t showing up to the office frequently enough, wasn’t engaging and had no vision, wasn’t pushing anything forward.

Brennan: Yes. Those were some of the comments related. Yes.

Scott: Would it be fair to characterize that? I’m not going to ask you to speak to whether that’s true or not. But just in terms of the concerns that were being relayed to you, the picture that you were being provided with, was one of dysfunction at the management level within each division.

Brennan: Yes. And I would go as far to say on behalf of the management team, it was affecting the entire executive team of the of the division to function as a team and at what I would determine an acceptable level for a divisional command structure.

Scott: And am I correct that what you were being told that this was not something that had just arisen after April 19th, 2020, but actually had been to one degree or another issues that had predated the mass casualty?

Brennan: Based on the comments from the individuals. Yes.

Scott: And what, if any, action was taken by you to address those issues of dysfunction within the division?

Brennan: So after my meetings with the senior management people — I think it’s important that I be clear what I did. I went down there and offered to speak to people who wanted to speak to me. I didn’t schedule or make anybody come see me. It was voluntarily on their part, and I probably met with in excess of 50 individuals that wanted to come talk to me.

So after those interviews or those conversations took place, I did a little tour of the detachments because the fishery dispute was on. And I went out to Enfield. I met with Assistant Commissioner Bergerman and Chief Superintendent Leather to advise them of the comments that I heard, to advise them of those four themes, and to talk about that, that, you know, this division is split into two camps by the observations.

And I gave them clear direction that they needed to resolve these issues of these two camps. They needed to have a strategic go-forward, an engagement with how this senior team was going to work, because some individuals who were new to the division, post- the mass casualty, in the senior leadership roles would tell me, and I’m paraphrasing, would say, I know what my job is, but I don’t know how I fit in to the senior management team.

So there was no strategic outlook. People weren’t understanding ‘What else am I supposed to do?’

And the other thing that was obviously clear to me was that while the division had provincial policing mandates and direction, it didn’t have any priorities for the division itself on the go-forward. They were so consumed with a lot of other things that they weren’t focusing on how to make that division function in a time of COVID, post- the mass casualty, etc. and without a strategic priorities and plans, nobody would find their way. And they needed to have self-examination about that.

And these are senior, these are the two top senior leaders of the division I’m talking with. That’s their responsibility: to lead and try to resolve those, resolve those issues.

And so I gave them a diary date, for lack of a better term, to establish strategic divisional priorities that could be attainable. To bring this management team back to a function that was productive and efficient by sort of the next planning cycle in our world. So into the new calendar year, because this was October of 2020 and that was agreed to be done.

The other thing that I personally observed was senior managers in that division were exhausted. They were tired. And I had the belief that that was leading to some of this. So I directed that both Assistant Commissioner Bergerman and Chief Superintendent [to] be taking annual leave, sustained, not a day or two, but two or three weeks to demonstrate that it’s okay to go off. For them to refocus, recharge the batteries and to have the same expectation that their senior people would take leave.

So I’m giving them the opportunity. I’ve raised the concerns, giving them an opportunity to sort of correct what they should be doing and looking after their wellbeing and moving into a new phase of what that division needed to be.

In July 2021, Bergerman announced her retirement, effective October 2021.

Another important piece of information became public Friday: The infamous April 28, 2020 phone call involving RCMP brass in Ottawa and Nova Scotia was recorded.

You’ll recall that Brenda Lucki was angry with the Nova Scotians. The Ottawan participants understood that Lucki was angry over generally poor communications with the public, but the Nova Scotian participants understood that Lucki was angry specifically because they refused to release to the public the brands and calibre of the weapons used by the killer — which they regarded as political interference in a police investigation.

To clarify which camp was correct, it would be useful to hear the recording of the conversation.

Brennan said that Dan Brien, who is the Director of Media Relations at the RCMP’s national headquarters in Ottawa, recorded the tele-meeting “but apparently the recording no longer exists… because Mr. Brien has deleted it from whatever phone he was using.”

So there’s that.

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3. Budget surplus

Finance Minister Allan MacMaster on Friday, September 9, 2022. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

“Nova Scotia’s economy wasn’t as hard hit by the pandemic as economists predicted,” reports Jennifer Henderson:

Instead of a $585 million budgeted shortfall for the fiscal year 2021-2022, the province finished with a $351 million surplus. That’s a dizzying turnaround of $936 million — the largest change or variance from one budget to another in Nova Scotia history.

“Nova Scotia’s positive fiscal position at the end of 2021-22 reflects our province’s strong economic recovery coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Finance Minister Allan MacMaster. “That said, we know real challenges still exist, such as skilled labour shortages and unprecedented price increases that are driving up costs worldwide. We are addressing those challenges as we continue to make much-needed investments in priority areas such as health care and housing and provide supports to vulnerable Nova Scotians.”

MacMaster said the PCs did not know when they were preparing their first budget, introduced in March 2022, that the economy had rebounded so strongly during the previous year. He said he only learned about the $935 million “swing” a few weeks ago.

Click here to read “Nova Scotia posts record surplus of $351 million for last fiscal year.”

Is it credible that MacMaster only learned about the surplus a few weeks ago? I guess MacMaster doesn’t get up first thing every morning and, worried that the whole enterprise may crash beneath him or that a Russian hacker has taken all the funds available, frantically check all the bank accounts.

Really, that’s probably just me, but it’s hard to believe that the quarterly budget updates weren’t tracking the growing surplus as the year progressed. If they weren’t, that’s a problem.

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4. Yarmouth ferry

The Alakai, docked at Yarmouth in 2019. Photo: Suzanne Rent

“Once Premier Houston does get a glance at the sure-to-still-be-disappointing final passenger numbers for this year’s Yarmouth–Bar Harbor ferry service after the last crossing on October 10, what decisions might he actually make?” asks Stephen Kimber:

The answer is not yet clear to me, even after Public Works Minister Kim Masland’s reply to a reporter’s question that same day about whether cancelling the government’s contract with Bay Ferries could be an option. “That would be a possibility, yes, absolutely,” she replied.

Tim Houston, it is fair to say, is no fan of the Yarmouth ferry. He has no reason to be.

Click here to read “Tim Houston is ‘absolutely disappointed’ with the Yarmouth ferry.”

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5. The 4.24% dividend payment Oval

A skater at the Halifax skating oval in February 2020. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“The municipality wants to sell naming rights to the skating oval to Emera again, but it’s not telling the public how much Nova Scotia Power’s parent company will pay,” reports Zane Woodford:

Halifax regional council first voted in 2011 to sell the naming rights to Emera for $500,000 for five years, with an automatic five-year renewal on the same terms. That agreement expired at the end of 2021, but both parties agreed to extend to April 30, 2022.

In a staff report coming to council’s meeting on Tuesday, parks and recreation area manager Shawna Shirley wrote that there was “an option to renew the extension on a month-to-month basis beyond April 30, 2022, if required.” But Shirley didn’t indicate whether it was extended, or what Emera paid between January 1 and now.

HRM originally sold the naming rights to the “events plaza” at the oval to Molson Coors Canada for five years for $400,000, but the beer company didn’t renew after the first five years. Shirley recommended rolling both naming rights into the same contract this time.

“The Emera Oval is a known brand within the community. The agreement that has been in place for the past 10 years with Emera has been mutually beneficial and has resulted in positive brand recognition for the sponsor,” Shirley wrote.

Emera “expressed interest” in another contract, Shirley wrote, “and is in agreement with HRM’s key negotiation objectives.” Those “objectives” — and all the terms of the agreement including its length and the price — are in an in camera report.

There was no tender process to solicit bids for naming rights, but Shirley wrote that HRM “contracted an external consultant, Performance Sponsorship Group, to provide expertise in determining a value for the naming rights for the Oval and Events Plaza.”

Click here to read “Halifax staff recommend selling skating oval naming rights to Emera again, with terms and price secret.”

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6. Rockets sometimes start fires

A test of the Space X rocket caused a 68-acre fire in the Boca Chica wildlife refuge in Texas. Photo: NASA

“The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department is reporting that Thursday’s grass fire at the SpaceX Boca Chica launch site burned 68 acres of brush at a protected refuge,” reports Christian von Preysing for KRGV news in Rio Grande Valley, Texas:

The grass fire lasted about five hours as part of a static fire test of Starship 24.

Channel 5 News learned that six of starship’s 24 engines were lit up for the test.

George Dvorsky at Gizmodo has more:

With great power comes great responsibility, however, and SpaceX is not rising to the challenge; the company, as Teslarati points out, is clearly not taking the necessary precautions to prevent fires near the launch pad and is instead relying on an inadequate spray nozzle and high-temperature concrete:

Most likely, eight long seconds of blast-furnace conditions melted the top layer of surrounding concrete and shot a hailstorm of tiny superheated globules in almost every direction. Indeed, in almost every direction there was something readily able to burn, a fire started. In several locations to the south and west, brush caught fire and began to burn unusually aggressively, quickly growing into walls of flames that sped across the terrain. To the east, debris even made it into a SpaceX dumpster, the contents of which easily caught fire and burned for hours.

Eventually, around [10:00 p.m. EDT], firefighters were able to approach the safed launch pad and rocket, but the main fire had already spread south, out of reach. Instead, they started controlled burns near SpaceX’s roadblock, hoping to clear brush and prevent the fire (however unlikely) from proceeding towards SpaceX’s Starbase factory and Boca Chica Village homes and residents.

More serious precautionary measures, such as a water deluge system, would likely prevent this sort of thing from happening. Instead, the tremendous force, heat, and burn length is annihilating the concrete beneath the rocket, resulting in the spread of superheated debris.

The fire crews had no problem dousing the flames, but the fires did affect an environmentally sensitive area that’s home to threatened wildlife. In June, the Federal Aviation Administration completed its environmental assessment of SpaceX’s proposed site expansion at Boca Chica, saying the company can proceed with its plans, but that it must complete around 75 environmental mitigation actions.

Of these actions, SpaceX must implement wildfire prevention measures and also use spray water to suppress dust and air pollution. Given what happened yesterday, these evidently remain unchecked items on SpaceX’s to-do list. Not cool, Elon. Not cool.

Well that could never happen in Nova Scotia, right? I mean, our regulators are not captured by industry and Maritime Launch Services has a decades-long perfect safety record — an MLS rocket has never caused a fire.

Protected areas near Canso. Map: Nova Scotia government

The risk of fire is specifically addressed in the environmental documents MLS submitted to the province:

A launch vehicle failure on the launch pad represents the most substantial potential for impact and explosion, a scenario that would likely require local emergency and health services. Falling debris would be expected to land on or near the launch pad resulting in potential secondary ground-level explosions and localized fires.

Local resources in case of an emergency include a Volunteer Fire Department located at 1134 Union Street in Canso (1.4 kilometres to the north)…

While the fire and emergency services run times to the launch site in the case of an emergency have adequate response times given the distances, being a volunteer department may cause less than desirable turn out times (the time it takes for the department staff to gear up and leave). Also, with the addition of liquid oxygen and non-traditional fuels at the launch site, additional training and gear will be required. MLS envisions developing an agreement with the Municipality of the District of Guysborough to place a paid staff that is able to respond to any possible responses needed at the site as well as those in the community they currently support. Likewise, MLS will evaluate the emergency medical response services capabilities in place at the hospital against potential response scenarios and address any necessary additional training or skill levels increases.

MLS is telling investors that the first launch from the Canso space port will occur in the second quarter of 2023 — within nine months — but there is no evidence that the company has developed an agreement to place paid staff at the Canso fire department, or has begun to train that staff for responding to liquid oxygen and non-traditional fuel fires, and purchase the “gear” needed for that response. At least, such an agreement is not found in the minutes of the council of the Municipality of the District of Guysborough.

I hear rumours that the fire plan has shifted somewhat, and may now include building a facility on or near the launch pad site, possibly in collaboration with NSCC. But, it would seem to me, clearing the bureaucratic hurdles for such a plan would take much longer than nine months. So who knows?

Also, despite all the crowing press releases, there’s been no official ground-breaking for construction at the launch pad site — no photos of Premier Tim Houston and MDOG Warden Vernon Pitts grinning while holding the first shovelfuls of posterity, forever, amen.

A report by Denise Chow of NBC News may be a cautionary tale from south of the border:

ST. MARYS, Ga. — In 2015, officials in Camden County pitched a bold idea to their 54,000 residents: a commercial spaceport to be built along one of the most pristine stretches of the Georgia coast. It was to be the kind of project that would catapult the area’s quiet and unassuming towns into a projected trillion-dollar industry and a chance for this southeastern corner of the state to join a new kind of space race.

Seven years later, with nearly $12 million of taxpayer money swallowed up by the initiative — a gargantuan sum for a county that last year operated on a roughly $57 million annual budget ​​— Camden County finally has a license from the Federal Aviation Administration, but not a single part of the spaceport has been built.

Scenes like the one in Camden County are playing out in other corners of the country.

Commercial spaceports have been sold to various communities as an investment in the future, but even when they are built, they are often not the economic engines they were promised to be. The FAA has licensed 14 spaceports around the U.S., but more than half of them have yet to host a single licensed launch. And all too often, the incentives for building them can easily get twisted, leaving some to wonder about the true cost of America’s spaceports.

It’s easy to see the lure of a spaceport. Investment in space startups surged in recent years, and major U.S. banks have released projections for considerable growth matched by warnings about risk. Falling launch costs triggered by improved technologies have opened the door for many emerging private aerospace firms, and a new class of launch operators is vying to compete with companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin to put payloads into space.

But even as the commercial space industry has boomed in recent years, the business of spaceports has not.

Some sites such as the Colorado Air and Space Port near Denver and the Midland International Air & Space Port in West Texas are still waiting to host their first licensed launch. Other expensive and underused facilities such as New Mexico’s Spaceport America have some experts wondering if there’s a real need for so many launch sites. What has emerged is an environment where the ambitions of local officials, the motives of outside consultants and gaps in the government’s own regulations can fuel the type of gold rush typical of any burgeoning industry, said Greg Autry, an expert on space policy.

“This happens in any technology market — it’s inevitable,” Autry said. “It’s no different from the boom that you had with the internet in the ‘90s or the crypto investors a few years ago. You get a lot of people where this is not their domain and they make poor investment decisions.”

For what it’s worth, this Business Insider article lists what it says are the five most promising space launch start-ups on the planet: ABL Space Systems in El Segundo, California; Dawn Aerospace in New Zealand and Netherlands; Firefly Aerospace in Austin, Texas; Skyrora in Scotland; and SpinLaunch in Long Beach, California. Notably not on the list is MLS.

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Government

City

Monday

Grants Committee (Monday, 10am, online) — agenda

Investment Policy Advisory Committee (Monday, 1pm, online) — agenda

Tuesday

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

Province

No meetings this week.


On campus

Dalhousie

CH&E Seminar Series (Monday, 12:30pm, online) — Alexa Yakubovich will present “Adapting systems responses to violence against women during the COVID-19 pandemic: results from Toronto and next steps for Ontario and the Maritimes”

King’s

Tuesday

Alumni Association AGM (Tuesday, 4:30pm, online) — more info here


In the harbour

Halifax
06:00: MSC Angela, container ship, arrives at TK from Sines, Portugal
07:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, moves from anchorage to Gold Bond
07:45: Zaandam, cruise ship with up to 1,718 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Bar Harbor, on a seven-day cruise from Boston to Montreal
10:00: One Houston, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia
10:30: One Helsinki, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
15:00: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
16:00: Contship Leo, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
17:45: Zaandam sails for Sydney
00:30 (Tuesday): Atlantic Sail sails for Baltimore

Cape Breton
07:00: Norwegian Pearl, cruise ship with up to 2,873 passengers, arrives at Sydney Marine Terminal from Charlottetown, on a seven-day cruise from Quebec City to Boston
12:00: Lambert Spirit, barge, and Lois M, tug, arrive at Sydport from Cap-aux-Meules (Grindstone), Magdalen Islands
17:00: AlgoNova, oil tanker, arrives at Government Wharf (Sydney) from Quebec City
17:30: Norwegian Pearl sails for Halifax


Footnotes

Who thought it was a good idea to have a large fireworks display over Halifax Harbour (I’m told it was seen from Bedford to Cow Bay) on September 11?


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Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. Re: Footnotes: With all our unmet needs from safe housing to school food programs, it is unfathomable that there have been multiple firework displays funded by HRM?? As for the “housing and education are provincial mandates”… might I comment that the elected, municipal politicians and their well paid staff and consultants should be an important partner in contributing resources to ensure essential services and supportive environments for our residents?

    1. I don’t think last night’s fireworks were funded by HRM. Sometimes corporations fire them off for company celebrations, and it’s been suggested to me that last night’s may have been related to a funeral for the rapper who was murdered.

  2. I no longer have any confidence in the policing function of the RCMP in this province. HRM should terminate their arrangements with the Mounties and fill all policing requirements through Halifax Regional Police. There are too many issues exposed by the MCC and no sign whatsoever that any effective action is being taken to resolve these problems other then retrenchment.

  3. There appears to be an increasing quantity of dysfunction at the management level of an increasing quantity of organizations.