News

1. Northern pulp: an endless flow of largesse (and effluent)

Northern Pulp Mill during a shutdown in October 2019. Photo: Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter has the second in her two-part series Corporate Shell Game on Northern Pulp, the web of companies it belongs to, and what its filing for creditor protection in BC means for money owed to the people of Nova Scotia.

In this installment, Baxter looks closely at the affidavit filed in BC Supreme Court for creditor protection. She writes:

For those who assumed that the Northern Pulp saga was over when the Pictou County mill ceased producing pulp in January this year, the company’s case for creditor protection in the Supreme Court of British Columbia may put paid to that. 

In his 607-page affidavit to the BC court, Bruce Chapman, general manager of the petitioners for credit relief and “the general manager (Northern Pulp) of Paper Excellence Canada Holdings Corporation,” makes several statements that show that Northern Pulp and Paper Excellence Canada have no intention of letting the province of Nova Scotia off the hook for a series of agreements that past governments of all stripes have made in the mill owners’ favour. 

Chapman also makes it clear that the mill owners expected Premier Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government to alter the Boat Harbour Act to permit Northern Pulp to keep using the lagoon for effluent until it got approval for and had time to build a new treatment facility. 

Governments have been incredibly generous to the mill, and that generosity cuts across party lines. Baxter writes:

Just three months before Paper Excellence acquired the mill in 2011, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government gave the owners $28.1 million from its “green transformation” fund. Announcing the grant, then federal defence minister and MP for Central Nova Peter MacKay said that the federal funds would reduce the mill’s odour emissions by at least 70%.

And yet, in 2013, Northern Pulp’s own reports to the National Pollutant Release Inventory showed that emissions of fine particulate matter and total reduced sulphur had actually increased since 2012, and exceeded allowed levels, despite government directives to reduce those emissions.

In 2013, the provincial NDP government of Darrell Dexter offered Northern Pulp loans totalling $20.8 million, of which $2.5 million was forgivable with conditions. The government said the loans were to “support clean air” and “rural jobs.”

Yet the air pollution just got worse…

The only fine the province ever imposed for the mill’s failure to comply with environmental regulations came in 2017 — after it flunked its emission tests for the third consecutive year. The fine was for $697.50, just 50 cents more than a jaywalking fine in Halifax Regional Municipality.

And that’s only a tiny part of the story. Grants, loans, ongoing leases for cutting at incredibly generous terms — Northern Pulp’s owners have benefited handsomely. Baxter gets into that history and then looks at what happens now.

If you’ve read the Examiner for any length of time, you’ll know that Baxter is not only an incredibly tenacious reporter, she also does a great job of digging through mountains of information and laying it all out clearly.

Part 1 of the series is here.

This story is for subscribers only. Subscribe here.

2. Nursing home operators want action

Magnolia residential care home in Enfield. Photo: Facebook

Nursing home operators in the province are fed up with government inaction and are calling for changes in staffing and funding models, Jennifer Henderson reports:

Nursing home operators — including both private corporations such as Shannex and Gem and non-profit, community run homes — are finally speaking up publicly after years of participating in roundtable discussions, studies, and “initiatives” with the provincial government.

“We have been politely told by government that they accept our reports only to have them sit on somebody’s desk,” said Michele Lowe, the managing director for the NHNSA. “This is the first time we have come out publicly and we felt it was absolutely critical to do so. As we worked through COVID, heads down, we heard opinions from everyone — including care advocates and unions. Well, we’re the experts. We live and breathe it every day and that’s why this report came to life now.”

Henderson also looks at preparations for a second wave, and notes that we know nothing about the one active case of COVID-19 in the province:

Despite repeated, daily inquiries by the Halifax Examiner, we have been unable to obtain any additional information about how the person became infected (community spread? contact with a traveller? unknown?) as well as any information about the age or medical status of this person. This is unusual and worrisome.

While we now know that the novel coronavirus spreads quickly among people in close contact with each other, the thousands of long-term care deaths in Canada were not inevitable. Australia has had only a handful of deaths in long-term care, and building design, staffing levels and procedures all play a role.

3. Mason to call for report on alternative to policing

Halifax councillor Waye Mason after a council meeting on Feb. 11, 2020, in the pre-Zoom days. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

Waye Mason has clearly had a change of heart since his initial support for the Halifax Regional Police’s request for an armoured vehicle. Mason eventually voted against the purchase. Now, he wants council to consider alternatives to police for a whole range of activities, including traffic enforcement, insurance reporting, and mobile crisis response.

Zane Woodford has the story:

Coun. Waye Mason gave notice of motion at the end of Tuesday’s council meeting that he’ll make a motion at the next one, scheduled for Aug. 18, for a staff report “to outline a process and timeline for a broad review of policing and public safety, which shall examine the potential for shifting or creating programs for civilian delivery of non-core police functions.”

“This review shall include but not [be] limited to traffic enforcement, public safety, community standards, mental health, and municipal enforcement functions, and will include a plan for engaging with the public, stakeholders, subject matter experts and, subject to their agreement, participation of the Board of Police Commissioners.”

The motion comes just a few months after the tabling of a $200,000 review of policing that was kept secret, and amid international and local debates around defunding the police — the concept of reducing police budgets and reinvesting the money elsewhere — in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd.

Read all of “Halifax councillor seeking ‘broad review’ exploring ‘alternatives to policing’” here.

I only learned a few months ago (courtesy of the War on Cars podcast) about how traffic enforcement came to be a police responsibility, and how some police chiefs resisted it, thinking that it fell outside the scope of what their duties should be. That same episode, “The automotive police state,” looks at how, in the US, having police enforce traffic rules has led to an expansion of surveillance and erosion of rights.

If you want more on this, here is an excerpt from Policing the Open Road: How Cars Transformed American Freedom by Sarah A. Seo, published by Harvard University Press. The excerpt was published in Boston Review.

New regulatory and police practices soon developed to respond to cars’ mass adoption. Soon no one could drive without taking a test, applying for a license, registering the car, and buying insurance. And that was just the beginning. Once a person set out for a drive, speed limits, stoplights, checkpoints, and all the other requirements of the traffic code restricted how one could drive.

But towns and cities quickly ran into an enforcement problem: everybody violated traffic laws. Noncompliance was not a new phenomenon, but violations of the rules of the road presented a different quandary for two reasons. First, drivers included respectable people, and their numbers were growing every year. Second, traffic lawbreaking resulted in tremendous damage, injury, and death, and those numbers were increasing every day. It soon became clear that the public’s interest in street and highway safety required more policing.

This meant that everyone became subject to discretionary policing. The well-off were among the first to buy cars, as were farmers who needed cars for more practical reasons. Even if independent farmers may not have been as wealthy as the early auto enthusiasts, as a group, they enjoyed social standing in a country with a strong sense of agrarian virtue. Driving quickly became a middle-class, or what used to be called “business-class,” phenomenon by the mid-1920s, when car ownership passed a tipping point: 55.7 percent of families in the United States owned a car in 1926, and 18 percent of those had more than one. But even the rest of the population who did not drive and instead walked were policed, too, for the regulation of drivers on public streets also required the regulation of pedestrians on those same streets.

This completely transformed U.S. society.

4. Uncover: Dead Wrong, Episode 7

The latest installment in Tim Bousquet’s Uncover: Dead Wrong podcast on the wrongful conviction of Glen Assoun is now available. Episode 7 is called “No Malicious Intent.” You can find all the episodes here.

This time, Bousquet explores how evidence that could have exonerated Glen Assoun was seemingly deliberately destroyed. Even when Assoun was released on parole, prior to his conviction being vacated, he had horrendously onerous conditions and had to pay for his own ankle monitor — conditions that contributed to a mental health crisis. Bousquet calls the parole conditions an example of the cruelty of the Nova Scotia justice system, and it’s hard to disagree.

For some reason, the CBC website adds the most recent episode later than the podcast subscription services (eg Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts) so if you don’t see Episode 7 at the link above, check back later, or download/stream it via your podcasting app.

5. Canada: Please slow down so you stop killing right whales; Ship operators: Nah, we’re good

An injured North American Right Whale. Photo: Nick Hawkins/Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Yvette d’Entremont reports on calls for mandatory speed limits in the Cabot Strait in order to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.

There are only about 400 of the whales left in the world, and 21 of them have died in Canadian waters since 2017. At least 10 whales killed in the last three years have died from blunt force trauma after being struck by vessels. Two of 10 whales born this year have been struck and d’Entremont reports one was killed and the other presumed dead.

Canada brought in voluntary speed restrictions on ships in the Cabot Strait to protect the whales. But oceans advocacy group Oceana Canada says those restrictions are being ignored, and the federal government needs to do more.

d’Entremont writes:

Between April and June, 67% of ships (464 of 697) were ignoring the voluntary slow down put in place by Transport Canada earlier this year. The federal authority had requested that between April 28 to June 15, vessels longer than 13 metres reduce their speeds to 10-knots…

Using Global Fishing Watch data to track ship speeds in the strait during Transport Canada’s 49-day voluntary speed limit period, Oceana Canada found some vessels were actually traveling 20-knots or faster.

Read “Canada asked ships to slow down in order to save endangered right whales; most didn’t, and more whales are dying” here. This story is for subscribers only.

Five months ago, I went to a summit on innovative fishing gear, sponsored by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The summit was full of people working hard to come up with ways to minimize the impacts of fishing on right whales. There were exhibitors developing new types of lobster traps, designed to minimize entanglement. There were breakaway ropes, made to release and let whales swim off if they do get entangled. There were government officials offering grants for projects to get ghost gear out of the water.

And yet, one of the most effective things that we can do to protect the whales, apparently, is just slow the fuck down.

6. Council does the right thing on Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes

Looking down the length of Ash Lake on a beautiful late Spring day in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area in Halifax. — Contributed by Irwin Barrett

City staff recommended against contributing to a purchase of a crucial piece of land for the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes wilderness area. Fortunately, council yesterday rejected that recommendation. Unanimously.

The land in question is not strictly speaking part of the wilderness park, but it is a critical connector between sections of the park. The Nature Trust of Canada had already gotten the landowners to agree to donate part of the appraised value of the land, and was seeking $750,000 from the municipality to complete the deal.

Zane Woodford reports:

Coun. Richard Zurawski, who’s Timberlea-Beechville-Clayton Park district includes part of the wilderness area, call that an excuse, and urged his fellow councillors to reject the staff recommendation.

“I am worried that we are going to lose this opportunity because if we don’t take this money the Nature Trust has given to us, add to it the $750,000, the entire park infrastructure, the ability to have Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes park is in jeopardy,” Zurawski said Tuesday.

The report wouldn’t even have come to council in time if not for Mayor Mike Savage and Richard Zurawski asking staff to fast-track it.

The Nature Trust initially needed a commitment from Halifax by June 1. That deadline was extended to July 31.

“I’ll be very honest, I’m a little disappointed. This wouldn’t be on the agenda today if I hadn’t found out last week that there was a potential closing date of the end of July,” Savage said.

This story is for subscribers. Read the whole piece here.

7. More Woodford: Cornwallis recommendations and Willy Wonka tickets

The comically huge transit tickets planned in 2018.

I’m going to double up on a couple more Zane Woodford stories here. First, the Cornwallis task force’s recommendations finally came to council yesterday, and councillors voted to accept nearly all of them.

One of the key recommendations is that the statue never be returned to a position in which it serves to commemorate Cornwallis.

Woodford reports:

Aside from the recommendations, the report is a condensed yet comprehensive history of relations between the Mi’kmaq and the British, Cornwallis’ time in what would come to be known as Halifax, and the saga that led to the removal of the statue in January 2018 and the creation of the task force.

Cornwallis came to Nova Scotia as governor in 1749 to settle the area the Mi’kmaq called K’jipuktuk and issued a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps in response to a raid on a sawmill.

Fast forward to the 1920s, when the Canadian National Railway wanted to attract tourists to its new train station. The railway commissioned a statue in the park across the street, and in 1931, the statue was unveiled to great colonial fanfare.

And as the task force report notes, the statue isn’t even a likeness of Cornwallis.

“The statue itself bore no physical resemblance to Cornwallis, because the sculptor worked with a portrait that proved not to be of the right subject,” the report says.

He also quotes Councillor Lisa Blackburn’s response to those who wonder what about their British heritage? Poor dears. Here’s what she had to say about that, in what Woodford yesterday said must be the quote of the day:

To those folks, I would say, when you look at the provincial tartan and see the gold that represents … the Royal Charter and the red that represents the lion from the provincial crest, your British culture is being recognized.

Every day at noon when you hear that gun, your British culture is being recognized.

With every heritage building that you walk past that was designed by a Victorian architect, your British culture is being recognized.

Every time you hear fiddle music wafting out of the Lower Deck on a Saturday afternoon, your British culture is being recognized.

If you’ve enjoyed a stroll in the Public Gardens, your British culture is being recognized.

And every time you look up Duke Street and see Citadel Hill hovering on the horizon, your British culture is being recognized.

So don’t tell me that British history is not being recognized in this city. You are immersed in it with every breath you take. Thank you.

Woodford’s other piece from council (I don’t know how he does it) is on changes coming to ticketing at Halifax Transit.

Halifax Transit will move ahead with a new plan to let riders use their phones as tickets, moving in a cashless direction that made some councillors uncomfortable.

Regional council voted unanimously in favour of Halifax Transit’s new fare management strategy at its meeting on Tuesday, agreeing to start with a mobile ticketing application using “visual validation” — meaning you’d show the driver your phone like a transfer when boarding the bus.

Under the second phase of the new plan, Halifax Transit would install new fare boxes to automate ticket validation. Next, they’d introduce a reloadable smart card, and eventually make it possible to just tap a debit or credit card on the fare box when boarding the bus.

Anyone who has travelled to pretty much any other city will recognize these as innovations that have been in place for years and years and years in many places. Read the whole story here.


Views

Image from keiths.ca

The Maritime business publication Huddle has a story on changes that will benefit the largest brewing company in the world by classing their Halifax operation as a local beer producer.

Writer Trevor Nichols reports:

Kirk Cox is the executive director of the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia (CBANS). He says the new policy does little more than give Labatt Breweries a major tax cut at the expense of small, local brewers. Labatt operates the Oland Brewery and Alexander Keith’s Brewery in Nova Scotia.

“The only thing the policy does is it gives Labatt Breweries, which is an international company not based in Nova Scotia, a new, $750,000 taxable benefit. And that’s the only reason the policy was brought in. It had nothing to do with local producers,” he recently told Huddle.“The only thing the policy does is it gives Labatt Breweries, which is an international company not based in Nova Scotia, a new, $750,000 taxable benefit. And that’s the only reason the policy was brought in. It had nothing to do with local producers,” he recently told Huddle…

The NSLC charges a “tax” (which it calls a markup) on all beer produced in the province. Prior to the new policy, craft and nano breweries were charged a smaller markup to help them compete against bigger, more established players.

The NSLC’s new policy gives “commercial” breweries access to that same reduced markup on the first 15,000 hectolitres of beer it produces. For a commercial brewery that used to have to pay full markup on all its beer, that new classification can save it as much as $750,000.

It’s worth reading the whole piece to get the details. Labatt is owned by AB InBev, which makes tons and tons of beers around the world, including Budweiser and Oland (which is only made at the Halifax plant).

Needless to say the craft brewers are NOT happy, with one of them calling the change “sneaky.”

Emily Tipton of Boxing Rock, who is president of the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia, wrote a letter to NSLC quoted by Huddle. Nichols writes:

She points out the company has “prime NSLC space, lucrative national and international marketing campaigns in our market funded by international sales, a microbrew permit, ‘grandfathered’ off-site allowances, and many other resources locally owned craft breweries do not have.”

“Giving the world’s largest multinational beer producer the same benefits as a local craft producer is akin to calling McDonald’s a local restaurant,” she writes.

A couple of ears ago, when I was wrapping up research on my book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine, I interviewed Wade Keller from Oland, and the markup issue came up in our conversation (though it didn’t make it into the book). Keller told me:

In our case, our workers are unionized at the Keith’s Brewery, so the costs are higher. The solution is, and we’ve made no secret of it, that the markup is 40% on the first 15,000 and apply it to everybody big or small.

This is exactly the change the province has now brought in.


Noticed

The Berglind, in happier times before it sank off Glace Bay. Photo by Mac Mackay from shipspotting.com

CBC Archives ran a gem of a story yesterday, about a US supply ship headed to Iceland that sunk off Glace Bay in 1981.

After the container ship went down, fishing boats headed out to retrieve the containers, their captains hoping for instant riches.

CBC reporter Bob Allison joined a crowd of treasure seekers on the pier.

“It started out,” he said, “like the traditional mariner’s windfall on the high seas, where what floats is fair game for all.”

Art Legraw told Allison he had hope to find “treasure.” But the ship was full of mundane supplies headed to a US military base. Stuff like salami, peas, and lard.

What did Legraw get?

“A container full of Cheerios,” he laughed.

The good news, though, was that under maritime law, finders were allowed to keep “up to one-third of the value of their find,” Allison confirmed.

The bad news for Legraw was that “the container was worth more than the Cheerios.”

It seemed like a fitting metaphor for economic development schemes in Nova Scotia.


Government

City

Wednesday

Special Community Design Advisory Committee (11:30am, virtual meeting) — agenda here.

Special Heritage Advisory Committee (3pm, teleconference) — agenda here.

Thursday

No meetings.

Province

No meetings.


In the harbour

05:30: Boheme, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from sea
06:40: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
07:00: Skogafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
10:30: Algoma Victory, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for sea
11:00: Skogafoss sails for Portland
11:00: Maersk Mobiliser, offshore supply ship, sails from Irving Oil for sea
11:30: Boheme sails for sea


Footnotes

I am going to go sit outside for a bit before it gets too hot.

Note: The featured pic is a fake vintage ad, originally from British humour magazine Viz, now found all over the internet.

Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. Pretty impressive that Halifax Council snatched victory from the jaws of defeat as they aborted the staff plan to put that strategic piece of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove land undoubtedly into the hands of a developer. Now that this land has been saved, time to ask why HRM staff were so bent on sabotaging the deal. This is very suspicious.