NEWS

1. The spaceport propaganda machine is in overdrive

Five men, four in suits and ties (one of whom is Canada's Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra) and one wearing a blue Canadian astronaut uniform, pose together with three women for a photo in front of the white Canadarm emblazoned with the word Canada and flag.
Speakers at the Jan. 20, 2023 announcement on Canada’s commercial space launches. Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra in the blue jacket and tie, MP Marc Garneau to his right, and Brian Gallant on the far left.

“The hyperbole and hot air at last week’s announcement in front of the Canadarm at the Canadian Space Agency in Montreal were enough to launch more than one rocket into orbit,” reports Joan Baxter:

Present for the announcement on January 20 were Omar Alghabra, Canada’s Minister of Transport; Marc Garneau, Liberal MP and former astronaut; Brian Gallant, former New Brunswick premier turned CEO of the new industry group Space Canada; Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques; and a handful of aerospace industry representatives – including Steve Matier of Maritime Launch Services.

“Great things” will happen, they announced.

Canada is “entering a new era in space” and all of Canada will be watching as “we take our next steps towards the stars.”

Rocket launches will “bring whole communities together.”

The global commercial space industry could be worth $1 trillion yearly by 2040, and we should all be “very proud” that one company, Maritime Launch Services, plans to launch rockets from Atlantic Canada.  

One problem: Canada doesn’t yet have legislation or a regulatory framework for commercial rocket launches, and won’t for at least another three years.

No matter.

Alghabra said that the government will “enable” commercial space activities while it develops that new regulatory framework, and in the interim allow rocket launches “on a case-by-case” basis.

Baxter goes on to relate that Garneau said, in both official languages, that Canada is ideal for rocket launching facilities because this country is “basically empty.”

As well, a citizens’ group uncovered correspondence showing that Maritime Launch Services attempted to get the Municipality of the District of Guysborough to share the company’s legal costs related to a lease, a proposal a MODG lawyer rejected out of hand, saying “It would be conflict of course for me to act for your company.”

Click here to read “Canada doesn’t have regulations for launching rockets, but the government says it will ‘enable’ Canso spaceport anyway.”

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MLS has been issuing a flurry of press releases saying it has signed agreements of intent with various satellite companies, basically implying that MLS will launch those companies’ satellites. But as Baxter points out, MLS doesn’t yet have a rocket to use for launches.

The bigger problem, I think, is that the company probably doesn’t now have the money to operate a spaceport. I have no knowledge of MLS’s current financial situation, but it appears that, complicit with the government officials present at the announcement last week, the company is over-selling its regulatory approval for the launch site in hopes of attracting more financing. It’s telling that MLS seems to have been struggling to pay for its own routine legal costs.

We’ll see. Maybe MLS can pull it off.

But in no way will even a functioning rocket launch facility be a significant contributor to the provincial economy. The risks, however, are enormous.

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2. Property taxes

A view of the corner of Halifax City Hall, looking down Duke Street, in June 2021. The building is dwarfed by larger, more modern buildings.
Halifax City Hall in June 2021. Credit: Zane Woodford

“Halifax councillors’ goal of raising the average property tax bill by 4% would mean decreasing the municipality’s residential tax rate by 6%,” reports Zane Woodford:

The commercial tax rate would also fall under that scenario, by 4%.

Municipal staff recommended an 8% increase to the average property tax bill, and council voted to aim for 4% instead.

The municipality can bring in more revenue with lower tax rates because assessments have increased so much over the past couple of years, Woodford explains.

Click here to read “Halifax councillors’ 4% increase to average tax bill would mean 6% decrease to tax rate.”

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3. Cumberland Regional emergency department to re-open at former site

A white woman with brown hair and brown eyes.
Allison Holthoff Credit: Facebook

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

Three weeks after Allison Holthoff died in a makeshift emergency department at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre, Nova Scotia Health has announced the emergency department will re-open Feb. 14 at its former location within the hospital. 

A flood in May — nine months ago — forced the relocation of emergency services and personnel to a temporary area. Patients sitting in the waiting room were not visible to nurses working in another part of the temporary emergency department.

In a news release issued Friday afternoon, Nova Scotia Health said:

“The newly renovated emergency department includes repairs caused by water damage, as well as improvements to address critical space and safety concerns.” The upgrades include:

  • New registration and triage space with a dedicated waiting area for triage
  • New private observation room with space for three stretchers
  • Patient care space expanded
  • New furniture for the patient waiting room and staff work station, including colour-coded chairs for triage and waiting areas
  • An improved space to support patients needing mental health services
  • New water station for the waiting room
  • Bathrooms updated to be barrier-free

The release also said that work to complete these renovations was delayed by several months due to shortages of trades workers and materials. As examples, the release noted “items such as fire dampers, doors, door frames and ceiling panels had to be pulled from other redevelopment projects throughout the province or procured through national and international companies.”

Holthoff arrived at the emergency department on Dec. 31 suffering from severe abdominal pains that left her unable to sit or stand. At least two other people in the waiting area in addition to her husband tried to summon help from the nursing station as Holthoff’s condition deteriorated. 

It was almost seven hours before a doctor saw her, but by then it was too late. 

Nova Scotia Health will do a “quality review” to look into the circumstances surrounding her death. The committee will include one expert in emergency medicine who is not employed by Nova Scotia Health but who lives in this province. Premier Tim Houston said the family will receive “a full report” from the review. Most reviews are completed within three months but that timeline can be extended if requested.

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4. Five-O wins Taser case, loses bullets

A woman wearing a white shirt looks over her right shoulder a man with grey hair wearing a blue suit. They're in a beige room sitting in uncomfortable chairs.
Halifax Regional Police Const. Nicole Green speaks to her lawyer, Brian Bailey, at a Nova Scotia Police Review Board hearing in Dartmouth on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“A Halifax Regional Police officer did nothing wrong during a 2019 arrest in which she used a Taser on a Black man on Quinpool Road, according to the provincial police review board,” reports Zane Woodford:

Const. Nicole Green arrested Clinton Fraser for breach of the peace after an alleged collision in December 2019. Police and other drivers accused Fraser of hitting two vehicles, a Toyota Yaris and a construction truck. He denied hitting any vehicle. During a 40-minute interaction with officers, Fraser repeatedly got out of his truck to attempt to show officers there was no damage.

Green ticketed Fraser for an unsafe lane change. After Green handed him a ticket, he got out of his vehicle to further argue with the officers. Green claimed he was holding a pen and she thought he might assault officers. Three officers tackled Fraser to the ground, and then Green and a fourth officer used Tasers to subdue him.

In a decision dated Dec. 19, 2022 and published last week, the board sided with Green.

The all-white board addressed Fraser’s claims that he was treated differently because he’s Black.

“Mr. Fraser is a person of colour. His perception, at least in part, was and is, that his treatment was racially motivated. However, there is nothing in the evidence that shows any consideration of race by the officers involved,” the board wrote.

Click here to read “Board finds Halifax cop did nothing wrong during 2019 arrest.”

A container with a bullet at top.
A Halifax cop lost his firearm magazine. Credit: Halifax Regional Police Department

In other po-po news, “Halifax Regional Police are reporting a lost police-issued firearm magazine containing ammunition,” reads a police release to reporters issued yesterday:

The magazine was reported lost last night [i.e. Saturday night] after getting detached from an officer’s duty belt during the course of their duties.

HRP officers have been conducting a search for the missing magazine. Police remind members of the public that possession of police-issued equipment by the public is prohibited by law. Additionally, Nova Scotia’s Police Identity Management Act carries penalties for unlawful possession of police articles. 

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5. Biomass accounting

The Brooklyn Biomass plant belching smoke
Brooklyn biomass energy plant and wood yard – December 21, 2021. Photo:Simon Ryder-Burbidge

David Patriquin draws our attention to a recent paper published in the academic journal Forest Science, “Life-Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Forest Bioenergy Production at Combined Heat and Power Projects in Nova Scotia, Canada.”

The lead author of the paper is James W N Steenberg, of the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Renewables; coauthors are Jérôme Laganière with Natural Resources Canada, Nathan W Ayer with EarthShift Global, and Peter N Duinker of Dalhousie’ University’s School for Resource and Environmental Studies.

Frustratingly, the paper is not yet publicly available, but Patriquin has obtained a copy, and comments:

Steenbery et al.  have introduced what seems to be a new ploy in the obscurification of GHG balances: the “different market/supply-chain assumptions around additionality and product substitution”.

All additionality runs of the model for primary biomass (roundwood) have carbon parity times of 86 to 100 years. No surprise** 

But the corresponding “Product Substitution”. also referred to as BAU (Business as Usual) scenarios, are 4-9 years. Basically the latter means that “oh gosh we lost the Northern Pulp operation, and this is a substitution for that industry that would have been emitting GHGs anyway.” 

Wow. So if an industry goes down because of environmental concerns as this one did, re Boat Harbour, we still have the right to assume we can keep on polluting the same old way? (One could also ask… why didn’t Steenberg et al. also estimate the time to parity if that original industry reduced its GHG emissions in response to climate concerns etc… i.e., it’s a potential rabbit hole of counterfactual scenarios).

Likewise no surprise** on this: “Net GHG benefits were achieved in 10 years with the use of secondary biomass (mill residues) as the bioenergy feedstock, although they were delayed when at lower energy conversion efficiencies.”

So I do not see this paper as adding anything fundamentally new to our understanding of Forest Bioenergy in NS, but it does or could introduce a lot of confusion.

Read the first paragraph under Discussion, in particular the last sentence: “From an accounting perspective, it is also challenging to determine whether biomass harvests are additional or not in the context of evolving forest product markets and demand.”I am concerned that’s an  “it’s all too complicated to make any firm conclusions” message.

I am also concerned about “Natural disturbance is another source of uncertainty”, that this can be used to justify using blowdown as bioenergy feedstocks (as opposed to leaving it in place or turning it into other long-lasting products).

Finally, there is no consideration or even mention of the export of wood chips or pellets from NS for bioenergy use in Europe, a major area of controversy — and obscurification on the part of Canada at the federal level but one that is losing ground.

This discussion can get quite technical. You can read Patriquin’s take on it here.

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VIEWS

Why the Halifax Examiner doesn’t use the term ‘taxpayer money’

A graph with a blue line that is flat at left and rises sharply to the right.
The use of the term “taxpayer money” in books scanned by Google and published over the years 1800 to 2019. Credit: Google Books Ngraph Viewer

I’ve long been irked by the term “taxpayer money,” and so the Halifax Examiner’s Style Guide discourages the term, preferring “public money.”

The graph above shows the rate of appearance of “taxpayer money” for the years 1800-2019 in books scanned by Google. The graph shows that the term “taxpayer money” didn’t much exist at all before the imposition of income taxes, but didn’t really take off until the Reaganomics and Thatcherism of the 1980s.

I remember those years. Various right-wing and Libertarian pundits and op-ed writers were arguing for large cuts in taxes, using “taxpayer money” to frame and reduce the governmental process to a transactional relationship between those with money and those in government.

Of course we all pay taxes. Buy a quart of milk, you’re paying taxes. Stop by the liquor store, you’re paying taxes. Fill up the tank: taxes. But in the framing of the day, “taxpayers” were corporations and business people, the supposed “job creators” who it was falsely claimed were paying the bulk of the taxes.

The effort was largely successful. Thanks to changes in the tax code and defunding of tax regulatory agencies, corporations and the very rich have been able to avoid paying their fair share in taxes. As a result, the bulk of the tax burden has fallen upon the middle class, who truly are over-taxed — precisely because the ultrawealthy aren’t paying their fair share. And so those middle class taxpayers cry foul, which is then used by right-wing politicians to still further reduce taxes.

The baby long ago drowned in the bathwater, and we’re now at the looting stage of government, where all government services are understood to be potential profit centres for business.

But, bucking the prevailing ideology, I insist that public money is, well, public. It is not the solely the domain of billionaires, corporations, or businesspeople. We live in a democracy; the person who pays no taxes at all, or very little in taxes, has just as much of a say in how public money is spent as does the person who pays a lot in taxes (even though, as we’ve seen, through the use of tax lawyers, shell corporations, and tax sheltering jurisdictions, the very rich don’t pay much in taxes).

This gets to how we understand the role of government. From my perspective, government provides the infrastructure of civilization, which allows all of us to at least function, and some of us to get filthy rich. The latter benefit from civilization, and are not the source of it — and because they benefit to such a large personal degree, they should pay higher taxes.

In any event, think about the loaded phrase “taxpayer money” every time you see it. There is an ideology behind it.

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NOTICED

Tech won’t save us

In December, I plugged the podcast Tech Won’t Save Us, produced by St. John’s-based Paris Marx:

Marx is so refreshing, in that he approaches tech issues honestly, uninfluenced by the monied hype that directs much of the mainstream commentary on all things tech.

Remember when self-driving cars were always just two years away? That had nothing at all to do with the state of the technology or an honest assessment of R&D; it was just investment promo gone wild, and the press ate it up.

See also: the beneficial uses of blockchains and the ever-increasing value of crypto currency.

Marx isn’t anti-technology. Rather, in his interviews, he continually shows how in a capitalist society, tech isn’t used for the benefit of all of us generally, but rather primarily, and often solely, to enrich the already rich.

Marx, who is also the author of “Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation, was interviewed for the current edition of the WNYC Radio show “On The Media.” You can listen to the interview here.

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Government

City

Today

Executive Standing Committee (Monday, 10am, City Hall and online) — agenda

Board of Police Commissioners Special Meeting (Monday, 4:30pm, online) — agenda

Tomorrow

Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 10am, City Hall and online) — agenda

Province

Today

No meetings

Tomorrow

Natural Resources and Economic Development (Tuesday, 1pm, One Government Place) — The Success and Future of Nova Scotia’s Climate Change Fund; with representatives from the Department of Environment and Climate Change, EfficiencyOne, and Clean Foundation


On campus

Dalhousie

Today

Operationalizing integrated needs-based workforce planning at Nova Scotia Health in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (Monday, 12:30pm, online) — Adrian MacKenzie will talk

Tomorrow

Medicine in Africa: Afrophobia & Colonial Medicine Across Time & Space (Tuesday, 5pm, online) — OmiSoore Dryden joins Eli Manning in the second of a 3-part lecture series

How can we ensure governments keep their promises on climate and biodiversity? (Tuesday, 6pm, Room 105, Schulich School of Law) — Elizabeth May will talk, Q&A to follow

The Myth of the Lost Torah (Tuesday, 7pm, McInnes Room, Dal Student Union Building) — inaugural lecture by the Simon and Riva Spatz Chair in Jewish Studies, Eva Mroczek

King’s

Tomorrow

The Display of a Haudenosaunee Silk Patchwork Quilt at the Caughnawaga Grand Agricultural and Industrial Exhibition (Tuesday, 7pm, Alumni Hall, New Academic Building) — Lisa Binkley from Dalhousie University will talk


In the harbour

Halifax
10:00: Hyundai Faith, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia
13:00: Asterix, replenishment vessel, arrives at Dockyard from sea
16:45: Selfoss, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for Portland
18:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Palm Beach, Florida

Cape Breton
No arrivals or departures.


Footnotes

Slept a bunch yesterday. Gonna sleep a bunch more today.

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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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Jennifer Henderson

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

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4 Comments

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  1. I totally agree re: taxpayers money! It continues to baffle me that low and middle income people buy into the “lower taxes” mantra when virtually every bill to lower them benefits the wealthy more than anyone else. I also agree that public money is for building the infrastructure of civilization. I just wish more was spent on public transportation (trains, busses, ferries, bikes, etc.). Thanks for your stance.

  2. Garneau: Canada is “basically empty.” This 19th century colonial idea is why we are forever hewers of wood and drawers of water. Don’t worry, we don’t have the resources to properly renovate our hospitals, but we can juke the stats on greenhouse gases and set off massive explosions in order to projectile vomit a ton of junk into the sky. What could possibly go wrong?