In the harbour
Bruce Livesey has published another instalment in his National Observer series on the Irving family. Part 3, headlined “Playing hardball the J.D. Irving Way,” takes a look at how the Irving timber and paper operations have captured the New Brunswick government, to the point of getting independently minded bureaucrats like former Chief Medical Officer Eilish Cleary and politicians like former Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup removed from their jobs.
Livesey also zeroes in on something called the Large Industrial Renewable Energy Purchase Program (LIREPP):
NB Power says LIREPP is designed to buy renewable energy generated by its largest customers. Indeed, many of the wood mills in New Brunswick burn biomass and generate electricity for their own plants. They also buy power from the grid.
But after perusing the utility’s documents, [retired NB Power engineer Greg] Hickey came to the conclusion that the mills are not, in fact, selling any renewable energy to NB Power at all. “(No electricity) enters the system (from the mills),” he says. “It’s all horseshit. It’s all a big lie. It has nothing to do with renewable energy.”
Instead, Hickey says that the LIREPP program is a way for NB Power to offer power to the mills at a discounted rate.
Last summer, Hickey appeared at a hearing before the New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board in Fredericton after NB Power applied for a two per cent rate increase. There he grilled a panel of the utility’s executives. What alarmed Hickey was his belief that average ratepayers were subsidizing large forest companies, who were buying power from the utility at a lower cost because of LIREPP.
“Let me point out to you that NB Power produces nothing under this program,” Hickey testified. “NB Power receives nothing under this program. The complete transaction takes place within the mill switch yard. Nothing has changed from before the program was brought into existence on the first of January, 2012. It defers no generation on NB Power’s side. It’s strictly a subsidy. And if you look at the whole set up, you would even question whether they would have to be connected to the NB Power system to get the cheque… It appears that the mills don’t even have to be interconnected to receive the subsidy. And I find it rather ironic as a ratepayer that NB Power is appearing before this Board asking for a rate increase while they are cutting the cheque for the mills.”
None of the NB Power executives, nor two representatives from J.D. Irving present at the hearings, countered Hickey’s analysis.
In fact, Hickey has determined that in total, the discount in electricity offered to the forest companies since 2012 amounts to an estimated $138-million. Says he: “No matter how you look at it ratepayers are being taken to the cleaners.”
2. Side guards
Yesterday, Halifax council unanimously agreed to require all trucks owned by the city or companies contracting with the city to be equipped with side guards.
Just off the top of my head, I can think of three people locally (two bicyclists, one pedestrian) in the last few years who were killed when they were pulled under the wheels of a truck. None of those incidents involved city-owned trucks, but council should be congratulated, as it is helping to shift the discussion on side guards. Progressive trucking companies already install them, and with increased awareness, soon they will be required by the federal government.
They save lives.
3. Doubling down on transit
“If the provincial government backs us, Halifax stands to double its investment in transit infrastructure in the next two years,” reports Erica Butler. “The new Federal Transit Infrastructure Fund (FTIF) sets aside about $3.4 billion for the next two years to be spent on transit projects with 50 per cent municipal or provincial support.”
Butler goes on to detail how HRM wants to spend its $27.9 million of the pot.
This article is behind the Examiner’s paywall and so available only to paid subscribers. Click here to purchase a subscription.
4. Victor Chu
Chinese businessman Victor Chu was given an honourary degree this spring by the University of King’s College. “King’s of course awards degrees in the humanities & social sciences, science, and journalism and has no business school,” notes Chris Parsons, who goes on to reveal that Chu is named in the Panama Papers — not once, but five different times.
Moreover, Chu was the founder of a venture capital firm called Sinochem Investment. Parsons explains:
As I understand it, Sinochem Investment LTD (under a different name until 2003) was a partnership between First Eastern Capital and the state-owned Sinochem Group (known as China National Chemicals Import & Export Corp during the 1990s), a similarly named but separate business. I believe but can’t confirm that Sinochem Group was ultimately the owner of Sinochem Inverstment LTD. Sinochem Group is a vast conglomerate that owns several hundred subsidiaries and manufactures a ton of different things: its one of the largest oil companies in China, it produces fertilizer, latex gloves, all kinds of stuff. There are nine companies with the word Sinochem in their name in the Panama Papers database. Sinochem Investment LTD is not one of them.
The Sinochem connection is worth noting for a few reasons. First, like most Chinese state-owned companies in the last 30 years Sinochem has terrible track record on just about everything other than making money. In 2005 the company was implicated in an oil-for-food scandal in Iraq and a 2015 explosion in Tianjin at a warehouse owned by two Sinochem subsidiaries killed over 100 people after company officials found a corrupt safety inspector to okay their dangerously unsafe facilities. (There is no evidence and no one has ever suggested that Chu had any involvement at all in either of these incidents)
Second, part of the fallout of the Panama Papers was a deep crackdown on dissent and journalism in China as the Chinese elite try to head off any discontent caused by the revelation that well connected businessmen and Communist Party officials and their family members were using offshore banking to hide their obscene wealth from a citizenry which has largely seen their lives get worse from China’s rapid embrace of capitalism in recent decades. The Chinese government ordered newspapers and other media outlets to not talk about the leaks and even went so far as to block all online discussion of the Panama Papers. On a related note, King’s is very proud of its journalism school.
Soon after I started the Examiner, an academic friend suggested I look into honourary degrees awarded by local universities. The concerns expressed to me were varied, but included the one Parsons zeroes in on:
Universities increasingly use honorary doctorates to try to grease the fundraising wheels and get wealthy individuals, their companies and their friends to donate some money. Money the universities need because of a decades long decline in public funding caused by governments crying poor due to a lack of tax revenue. So our institutions of higher learning give honorary degrees to the world’s richest people to try to convince them to donate some money to survive a funding crisis which is caused by rich people actively working to avoid paying taxes. Sometimes they dodge these taxes through off-shore banking, sometimes they don’t have to because they can strong arm elected officials into setting marginal tax rates for the rich and large corporations at constantly decreasing levels.
Sometimes you even accidentally end up giving an honorary Doctorate of Civil Law to some random businessman with no substantive connection at all the College or its academic mission but at least five connections to a shadowy law firm implicated in a global banking scandal that brought down a president and caused a government to double down on squashing dissent. I guess these things happen.
5. Electric cars
“Residents and tourists strolling the Halifax boardwalk Tuesday afternoon were treated to a viewing of six electric cars among those hoping to travel the world in 80 days or fewer,” reports Yvette d’Entremont for Metro.
One of those electric cars was spotted by an Examiner reader this morning, parked in the handicap zone outside the Young Street Starbucks, no handicap placard visible:
6. Rock sculptures
“They have been Neil MacDonald’s labour of love for the last five years, but it looks like time is running out for the 62 stone statues the retiree built along the shoreline of the Bedford Basin,” reports Amy Smith for the CBC. “MacDonald said he was contacted by the Bedford Waterfront Development Corporation last week, saying they were concerned about liability if someone got hurt on the site, which is private property.”
How did I not know about the rock sculptures? They’re all over Facebook. Here’s Amanda Taylor from last October:
Took a nice walk along the Bedford Waterfront. To our surprise, we saw all these rock sculptures and met the man building them. His name is Neil MacDonald and he built each one on his own!
Taylor went on to take a bunch of photos:
I’m increasingly thinking about the ephemeral experience of things as having a special and defining value that can’t be captured or recorded. Sooner or later the tides roll in and destroy the sand castle, or the band gets tired and leaves the stage, or a lawsuit-fearing bureaucracy bulldozes the sculptures. So it goes.
7. Lassie, get help!
“An 18-month-old boy rescued from a well by firefighters Tuesday appears to be unharmed, RCMP say,” reports Ian Fairclough for Local Xpress. “Police and firefighters were called just after 3:30 p.m. to a home on Highway 2 in Economy, Colchester County, where the child had fallen through a rotten board that covered the dug well.”
I so wanted a dog in this story.
8. Salty fog
Or murder of crows, one:
A murder of crows likely caused a power outage in Halifax this morning, Nova Scotia Power says.
1. Long tables
Stephen Archibald went to the Stillwell Beer Garden on Spring Garden Road, where people sit at long tables and drink beer with strangers. “All this got me thinking about how enthusiastically the long table experience has been embraced in recent years,” he writes:
Until relatively recently the idea of sharing a table with strangers felt dodgy. Then early in the century we started seeing images of communal meals, in beautiful or unusual settings and began to yearn.
And of course he has a bunch of photos to illustrate the point.
2. Cranky letter of the day
At a Woodland Owners of Nova Scotia gathering held in Truro on May 14th the guest speaker from the Department of Natural Resources clearly laid out the department’s (or at least his) goal for the future of our forests. And folks, it isn’t pretty. Not only did he outline plans for an expanded use of biomass in the province, he sees greater exports of low quality wood by-products to go to foreign countries where they will spew carbon into the atmosphere instead of us doing it so much.
He also sees a role for large scale biorefining, the making of plastics, feed stocks, cellufuel, small biorefining, and a growing engineering wood sector. All of these economic benefits from decimating our present multicultured forests to be replaced with fast growing, low quality forests of poplar, alder, wispy, scraggly birch such as we see along so many of our highways where clearcutting has taken place. He also sees the need for more large harvesters and choppers. As if the present ones used do not inflict longlasting damage to the forest floors already!
An astounding sum of $1,000,000 from industry and the federal government commitments have been “leveraged” to support the activity of the innovative hub for 2015-2016.
The goal, it would seem, is to, as quickly as possible, turn our woodlands into farms which produce switch grass, willow, poplar – all which can be harvested in much shorter time periods than the traditional forests.
Where concern for endangered plant species, older trees (which are best at sequestering carbon from the air we breath than younger ones or grasses) enters the picture he didn’t say. Nor did there seem to be any concern for the wild life. Just go for the quickest and easiest dollar.
Most alarming of all, though, was his attitude toward those who have and demonstrate an honest concern for present and future woodlands in the province. He called them peacocks who puff their chests proudly to speak; and just like to hear themselves talk.
He indicated that these people are the minority who speak loudly.
He then indicated that those in the audience were the ones who really knew and that the “majority” of people feel harvesting is okay. He gave no indication upon what that statement was based. Personally, I am not against harvesting done prudently and wisely, so technically, I would be in that group. However, not on side with his way of harvesting.
Just for the record, within the group with which I am connected, there are scientists, doctorates, professors, researchers and many within the industry itself who have raised the alarm – even meeting with department officials. Their warnings have been totally ignored as evidenced by this speaker’s presentation and his voiced attitude and put down of people who have opposing views. This is a tactic often used by industry and government to discredit justifiably concerned citizens. Remember Harper’s labelling of them as “environmental anarchists”.
In his talk, he did not acknowledge that the soil’s nutrients are decimated by the exposure of the forest floor allowing them to be leached out, nor did he mention any of the world-wide studies that have shown that burning of biomass is a worse air polluter than coal.
Coming from a government department which should be working hand in hand with another vital department, that of environment, this speaker clearly has one thing in mind; squeezing out every last cent possible from the resources with no regard for the consequences to the environment, or the future growth of the wonderful forest with which nature has covered so much of our province.
So people, if you are concerned about the way our forests are being harvested (clear-cut) by the industry, get ready for a struggle.
Interestingly enough, at the same time as this meeting was being held, the Woodlot Owners of NS was meeting in New Ross. This group manages their woodlands through prudent practices that do as little damage to the forest and forest floor as possible. They do selective cutting as a way of life. This allows them to have financial benefits over the long term rather than a big income at once and then nothing for 40 years. They oppose the type of thing done by the industry that the guest was promoting. Yet they do not get the big bucks that we see going to the other group. Let’s give this group our support and encouragement.
It’s time for speaking up or losing the precious heritage passed down to us by our forefathers. There are online petitions as well as written ones being distributed around the province. We are concerned with keeping our forests healthy and prosperous for future generations.
Go to Change.org and search biomass.
Jim Harpell, Shortt’s Lake
The facilitator in the Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes issue was Justice Heather Robertson, whose job it was to help the city and the development companies that own land in the wilderness to arrive at some workable compromise around the value of the land so the city could acquire it for a wilderness park. Instead, Robertson sided entirely with the developers.
I haven’t seen Robertson in action in the courtroom. One lawyer who has tells me Robertson is fair and does a decent job.
But a reader sends me a Vancouver Sun article from 2005 that relates how retiring Chief Justice Constance Glube told parliament to “please take politics out of appointing judges,” and referenced, yep, the appointment of Robertson in 1998:
Without naming names, Glube alluded to a tempest in Nova Scotia legal circles in 1998 when former justice minister Anne McLellan appointed Liberal fundraiser and party organizer Heather Robertson to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.
The provincial judicial appointments advisory committee, which vets lawyers’ qualifications for the justice minister, had initially determined it was “unable to recommend” Robertson for the bench, but reversed itself when asked to reconsider.
The move sparked the resignation of the committee’s judicial member, along with a stiff letter of protest from the Canadian Bar Association admonishing McLellan that attempts “to manipulate the committee to achieve a desired political outcome must not be permitted.”
Glube called it a “very serious incident.”
Grants Committee (11am, City Hall) — under consideration is funding for the rural transportation companies MusGo Rider Cooperative, BayRides, and East Hants Community Rider.
Halifax Explosion 100th Anniversary Special Advisory Committee (3pm, Central Library) — again about that commemorative emblem.
Heritage Advisory Committee (3pm, City Hall) — the committee will be making awards under the Barrington Street Heritage Conservation District Financial Incentives Program.
No public meetings.
Biochemistry Seminar (4pm, Theatre A, Sir Charles Tupper Medical Building) — PhD candidate Iman Khan talks about “Molecular control of three-dimensional breast tumor growth.”
In the harbour
5:30am: Carnation Ace, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
6am: Seoul Express, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
6am: ZIM Monaco, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Valencia, Spain
6am: ZIM Piraeus, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
7am: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 41 from Saint-Pierre
8am: Fairlift, heavy load carrier, arrives at Pier 31 from Providence, Rhode Island
8am: Citrine, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for Corpus Christi
4pm: Seoul Express, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove to sea
4:30pm: Carnation Ace, car carrier, sails from Autoport for Balitmore
4:30pm: ZIM Monaco, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
6pm: Fairlift, heavy load carrier, sails from Pier 31 to sea
8:30pm: ZIM Piraeus, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Kingston, Jamaica
5:30am: Vega Rose, bulker, arrives at anchor for AGM inspection from Alumar, Brazil
6am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7 FM, today at 1pm. I think I’m on with Lezlie Lowe.
Please consider subscribing to the Examiner. Just $5 or $10 a month goes a long way. Or, consider making a one-time contribution via PayPal. Thanks much!
Here’s a link to that wood lot owners meeting on May 14
Any chance of adding a “like” button to the comments?
Chris’s point about universities turning to (corrupt) capitalists to replace state funding is generalized by Chomsky like this: “Privatization has other benefits. If working people depend on the stock market for their pensions, health care, and other means of survival, they have a stake in undermining their own interests: opposing wage increases, health and safety regulations, and other measures that might cut into profits that flow to the benefactors on whom they must rely, in a manner reminiscent of feudalism”(Hegemony or Survival, p. 120).
The story on Neil MacDonald’s charming rock sculptures reminded me of another rock-themed art project which a local artist friend pointed out to me only yesterday. I had hoped the website was a joke. Con “artists” seem to be found in every field: http://www.coolgardens.ca/COOL-DUNES
Tim, on honourary degrees, take a look at http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/panama-papers-victor-dahdaleh-york-university-honorary-degree-1.3644284
Yes. I talk about Dahdaleh and link to that exact CBC story in *literally* the very first paragraph of the post that Tim linked to and quoted from.
I’m curious as to why there’s a judge ruling on this Blue Mountain – Birch Cove situation, and why this ruling barely refers to the law at all. Certainly a judge would only be required to inform the municipality and developers of their respective legal rights. The decision that the municipality will make here has less to do with law, and more to do with our values and plans for the future. Certainly we (via our municipal government) already have the right to determine the future of that area. You get to own land, but you don’t get to determine the zoning for that land. That’s just the way it is. Am I wrong about that?
I am not sure from the context what role the judge was playing. If she was a facilitator, normally she would just try to help the parties find a solution and her role would be non-binding. Parties can take it or leave it. But I’m assuming if a judge was involved rather than private party like a senior lawyer hired as an impartial third party, then it must be pursuant to legislation which sets out her powers in the matter. If the third party were picked by the two parties who wanted to find a resolution, normally neither side would want someone who had ties to the opposite party. If she “sided with the developers”, she may well have looked at the legal issues involved and stated her opinion as to what would happen were it to go to court, which is what legally trained mediators usually do in trying to reach a settlement.
If the judge/facilitator did her homework, she would be aware of the fact that the courts have ruled that ownership of a piece of property does not bestow any legal right to expect that a given piece of property MUST be developed. The right to develop is granted by the government authority based upon a municipal planning strategy that is supposedly backed up by the support of the voting residents of a given municipality. The facilitator appears to have taken the side of the developers, in stark contrast to the very visible will of the public that have consistently disagreed with any commercial development of the proposed BMBC Regional Park area.
Cliff Boutilier at Frank does a good job of highlighting Robertson’s ties to the Liberal Party in The Feb 22 Edition. Connect some dots…
Read her report carefully. There is a clear explanation of her role and the process.
Annapolis hints at legal action.
HRM should buy the land, after a period of haggling.
The political allegiance of Robertson has no relevance to the issue.
If you believe there is no possibility of political allegiance in the process of how she was chosen as arbitrator, or in her decision, you are ignoring the sordid history of business, justice, and politics in Nova Scotia.
Having lived here for more than 4 decades I am well aware of our history.
If you disagree with her report I would be pleased to read your cogent analysis/rebuttal of the document.
You are championing the analysis of a person that was considered unanimously unfit for her current position by well respected peers. I don’t agree or disagree with her report. I wouldn’t even read it, because she is in such a conflict of interest by her debt to the Liberal party that she has no business being in the position she now holds. Your self proclaimed knowledge of our history isn’t worth much if you plan to ignore it.
SO much discouraging news I long for a shot of whiskey in my coffee.
It’s all about assumed privilege, something that seems rampant in the past several years. The Chinese businessmen assume they can rape the world for money. The University is such a privileged organ it can pick whomever it wants for honorary degrees, with no thought as to the message, even if it is completely contradictory to the purpose of the place.. And damn electric car drivers feel they can park in an “accessible” spot just because they are special.
Bleah. Lumber companies, Liberal Party, Judges. God. Where IS that whiskey?
I’m going to go and marvel at the ro-ro ship because they are beyond huge and make me forget the little things.
This August 12 it will have been 25 years since side guards could have saved me an unbelievable amount of pain, suffering, and trauma when I went under the trailer of a tractor trailer in Toronto. I was tumbled under the trailer like a brick in a dryer, snapping off my pelvis, breaking my legs, and tearing open some organs, leading to 2 years in hospital and 40 surgeries.
Sonetimes they get it right at City Hall, and this is one of those times. My thanks to the folks at the Cycling Coalition for their hard work.
That is absolutely terrifying to read. I hope you don’t still have pain all these years later.