News

1. Biofuel

Last year, in her article “Life After Pulp,” Linda Pannozzo showed how as the old pulp industry is collapsing, the government is chasing two other forest dreams — biomass and biofuel. On the latter, she wrote:

In 2012, when the Dexter government announced the defunct paper mill would become a business hub and research centre, it also announced it would match the $500,000 private sector investment in CelluFuel, a company that claims it’s the first in the world to be able to turn forest biomass into diesel. CelluFuel’s president, Chris Hooper formerly held senior roles with forest industry giants JD Irving, NewPage Corp., and Stora Enso.

In 2013, the Dexter government doled out an additional $1.5 million loan through Innovacorp — a provincial agency that provides early stage venture capital — to help fund the demonstration-scale project. In 2014 CelluFuel, received another $500,000 from ACOAs “business development program,” and in 2016 another $2 million from the federal Sustainable Development Technology Canada fund.

But was biofuel even a viable sector for the province?

As Jennifer Henderson subsequently reported, CelluFuel, at least, was not viable: the company evaporated last summer.

Pannozzo continued:

Last year [2016] two companies were hired to the tune of $1.7 million to find out: BioApplied Innovation Pathways, a Nova Scotia-based company co-owned by Rod Badcock, who also held an operational role “specializing in forest management” with Bowater Mersey Paper Co., and Quebec-based FPInnovations, one of the world’s largest private, non-profit forest research centres that specializes in making money from “marginal forests.” 7 The lion’s share of the funding, $1 million, came from Emera, with $350,000 from Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government, $250,000 from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and $67,000 from Innovacorp.

Earlier this year, on the same day that BioApplied and FPInnovations released their findings, the DNR issued a news release in which it used the words “innovative” or “innovation” 20 times. It announced that a biofuel sector was indeed viable in the province:

[S]ufficient renewable fibre is generated in Nova Scotia to supply a commercial scale plant producing liquid biofuel. The fibre could come from byproducts produced by forestry operations, such as wood chips and tree bark, as well as from farm crops and municipal solid waste sources… The Innovation Hub, launched a year ago, is working to attract investors, identify markets, and help government develop supportive regulation.

“Help government develop supportive regulation” for what, exactly? For all the other things the companies said a viable biorefinery would need, that’s what.

Things the DNR didn’t bother to mention.

For there to be enough “feedstock” or fibre volume to support a commercial-scale biorefinery in the province, the biorefinery would definitely need the byproducts produced by the forest industry, as the DNR points out, but they’d also need feedstocks that were “forest-origin” — that is, wood coming right from the forest.

It would need “harvest residues” — the coarse woody debris that is legally required to be left in clearcuts, it would need sawmills to produce at full capacity, and it would also need the province to allow full-tree harvesting, whereby the entire tree including the stems and branches but excluding the stump and roots is removed.

While it remains unclear what the province’s position is here, it appears not to sanction it. In an email, DNR’s media relations advisor Bruce Nunn explained that unless otherwise agreed to by both parties in writing, it is currently prohibited on crown land to remove coarse or fine woody debris, tree tops, or stumps from harvest sites. 8

Is biofuel viable? Only if the government changes some of the (already lax) rules in the industry’s favour.

Which brings to the present.

This week, David Patriquin noticed a job listing for a Manager, Innovation & Business Development in the Lands and Forestry Department (a newly created department taking over forestry regulation from the Department of Natural Resources). Patriquin writes:

From “About Our Opportunity” (bolding is mine):

As the Manager of Innovation and Business Development, you will be part of the Economic Development and Trade Division team and will work directly with private sector businesses with a core focus on development of innovative technologies and processes within the natural resources industry.

The primary focus of your role will be to support the sustainable development of the province’s forest resources in order to develop and attract investment and trade, create high value jobs and grow the economy. You will achieve this by recommending changes to laws, regulations, policies and strategies to maintain the sustainability of our natural resources while facilitating economic development and reducing regulatory and administrative barriers to business. You will also assess/evaluate business plans, provide industry projections and conduct sector analysis.

You will also create and implement bio-economy action plans and programs to encourage innovative ways to increase the value of harvested forest products by creating higher-end processing and products which will improve economic, environmental, and social benefits for Nova Scotians.

You will work and liaise with three levels of Government on various projects and initiatives and will provide advice, recommendations and/or briefings to senior management and Government leaders. You will also influence the development, promotion and marketing of natural resource companies through liaison with CEOs and business development agencies on requests related to natural resources and the bio-economy.

Regrettably, the Independent Review [by prof Bill Lahey] did not deal with forest bioenergy issues, a major concern of Nova Scotians, in any depth (see Posts, Sep 7, and Sep 8, 2018). Clearly, L&F has taken that as a signal that it is OK to take their Biorefinery and related plans out of the cupboard.

As the Global Forest Coalition points out, biofuel is not the environmental saviour it is sold as:

An international coalition of more than 120 organisations from 40 countries today warns that the rapid global growth of the so-called bioeconomy poses a grave risk to the climate, nature, and human rights.

In recent years, governments from the UK to Brazil to South Korea have promoted burning forest biomass for energy as a substitute for fossil fuels. Yet a large and growing number of scientific studies show that, far from being the ‘green energy’ climate solution, burning biomass for energy emits no less carbon than burning coal, while also threatening biodiversity, and human rights.

2. Holy crap!

David Jefferson. Photo: Metropolitan Baptist Church, Newark, NJ

Last week, ServiCom closed its call centre in Sydney, laying off all 600 workers.

What is known about ServiCom? Not much, but thanks to Mary Campbell of the Cape Breton Spectator, we know a bit more. She writes:

The Reverend Dr. David Jefferson Sr., Esquire is the founder, chairman, chief executive officer and president of JNET Communications LLC, which he established in 2003 and which  “includes among its family of companies” Vitel Communications, ServiCom and ServiCom Canada — all of which are now listed as “debtors” in court documents related to the firm’s October 19 Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

According to Jefferson’s bio on Bloomberg (his bio on the JNET website having disappeared — along with the rest of the JNET website):

[Jefferson] has more than 30 years of experience in a wide range of operating and management roles at [AT]&T and Comcast. He served as an Executive Vice President, Business Services of AT&T Broadband. He served as Vice President, Consumer Operations of AT&T where he was responsible for managing customer care and directing installation services. He has been a Vice Chairman of SBLI USA Mutual Life Insurance Company Inc. since April 2010 and serves as its Director.

But there’s another side to Jefferson — he’s also Senior Pastor of of the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey where his wife, Linda Susan Mouton-Jefferson, is First Lady  and his son and three daughters (the First Family) also have roles. 

Campbell gets into Jefferson’s theological views, some of which are captured by this YouTube video of one of his recent sermons:

Campbell continues:

I can’t say this for sure, but I think it’s possible that the people in Pastor Jefferson’s congregation in Newark, New Jersey are entirely unaware of his Chapter 11 trials and tribulations which are playing out in a court in Connecticut. The ServiCom closures don’t seem to be getting much media coverage outside Sydney, N.S. and Rockford, Illinois, so it’s entirely possible Jefferson’s congregants are not distracted, as they listen to his sermons, by thoughts of his unemployed and unpaid workers.

Click here to read “Meet ServiCom’s Founder: Rev. Dr. David Jefferson Sr., Esq.”

Campbell also interviewed three people who were laid off from their ServiCom jobs in Illinois, and spoke with Jeff Sklarz, the Connecticut lawyer representing unsecured ServiCom creditors.

Normally, Campbell puts her articles behind the Spectator paywall for a week, but because this story is so important to the 600 people who have just lost their jobs, she’s made these stories available for all to read. Still, as with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, so if you’re able, please consider subscribing. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
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3. Tidal turbine

The abandoned tidal turbine. Photo: Cape Sharpe Tidal

“It will be at least March before a massive, damaged turbine resting on the floor of the Minas Passage can be removed from the water, but who will pay for its retrieval — and just how much it will cost — remains up in the air,” reports Emma Davie for the CBC:

Nova Scotia’s energy minister said Wednesday he was “well aware” the turbine can’t be removed during the winter.

However, Derek Mombourquette appeared less certain on who would cover the cost of hauling the five-storey turbine out of the Bay of Fundy, where it remains after Irish company OpenHydro filed for liquidation this past summer and Emera announced it was withdrawing from the project.

When asked whether he could reassure Nova Scotia taxpayers they wouldn’t be footing the bill, the minister said: “I’m not going to speculate at this point. This is a private sector matter, I’ve been saying that from the beginning.”

4. Link Performing Arts Centre

That Crappy Old Office Tower on Argyle Street. Photo: Halifax Examiner

I’ve written at length about the problematic Link Performing Arts Centre funding (see here), but reader Richard Starr put it more succinctly in the comments yesterday:

I come late to this story so stand to be corrected but this Link deal looks like a classic P3 boondoggle, only worse. Armoyan buys the building for $13.5 million, the public, through three levels of government spend at least $10 million for renos (initial estimates were $5-$7 mil). Then arts groups (many subsidized by government) rent space at below market rates (whatever those are) while Armoyan retains ownership of a prime piece of downtown real estate. What is to prevent him from flipping the property when the economic time is right, pocketing a nice profit and leaving tenants on the street? Or do we have to buy it back to prevent that? And if an Arts hub in an abandoned public building was desirable, why could it not have been developed by the public sector, especially given all of the public money now being poured into it? As noted, I stand to be corrected and/or enlightened on this.

5. Jane Fraser’s new job

Jane Fraser

A couple of weeks ago, StarMetro Halifax reporter Zane Woodford reported that Jane Fraser has been named the city’s new Chief Financial Officer:

Jane Fraser, currently the municipality’s director of corporate and customer service, is being promoted to chief financial officer, according to an email to municipal staff obtained by the Star.

The email, from chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé, thanks the selection committee that helped him consider “several excellent candidates” from inside and outside the municipality’s existing workforce.

“Upon reflection of the committee’s work, and with an eye to our significant and evolving opportunities and challenges, I decided to approach a member of our senior leadership to take on the role,” Dubé wrote in the email, sent Wednesday afternoon.

“I am very pleased to announce that Jane Fraser has accepted the position of Chief Financial Officer.”

But it’s a wee bit more complicated than that.

I’ve learned that Fraser herself was on the committee that vetted — and rejected — the “several excellent candidates” who had applied for the job. (I don’t know who any of the candidates were, or how many there were.)

City spokesperson Brendan Elliott confirms that the hiring committee was composed of Dubé, Fraser, city solicitor John Traves, Human Resources director Cathi Mullaly, and an unnamed representative from the Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette headhunting firm.

“The CAO invited Jane Fraser to participate as a member of the selection committee, given her breadth and depth of experience with financial management, infrastructure planning, project delivery and intergovernmental relations,” wrote Elliott in an email to the Examiner. “Jane did not apply for the position. After the selection committee completed its work, the CAO approached Jane to ask if she would be interested in taking on the role.”

Honestly, Fraser is probably the most qualified and experienced bureaucrat now at City Hall — she’s definitely more qualified and experienced than Dubé, her boss. I have no doubt that she’ll be professional and responsible in her new position (albeit, women CFOs haven’t had a great experience at City Hall).

But consider the perspective of one of the “excellent candidates” who was interviewed and rejected by a committee that included Fraser, only to later find that Fraser was hired to the position.

6. Free advertising

The news media are in free fall. Thanks to the internet and the explosion of advertising options for businesses, the old business model of advertising revenue supporting news content no longer works. Scads of news operations have been closed down, others consolidated, reporters laid off.

Sure, there are plenty of structural problems facing legacy media, but much of the crisis is of their own making. For example, why ever would CTV give free advertising to Dartmouth Crossing two weeks before Christmas?

That’s valuable news time real estate, just given away for free to the largest and wealthiest retail property owner in Atlantic Canada. It’s a stupid business move.

And reporter Paul Hollingsworth: seriously?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with reporting on Dartmouth Crossing. It is a big player in the retail and property development scene in HRM, and it is therefore a proper subject for the business press. But this isn’t reporting; rather, it’s a big, wet, sloppy kiss:

If you haven’t shopped at Dartmouth Crossing in a while, you may not quite recognize it next time you visit.

Nova Scotia’s biggest commercial development keeps getting bigger and bigger.

More retail businesses, more hotels and more shoppers and that growth doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

Dartmouth crossing looks like commercial prosperity as far as the eye can see with hundreds of cars, thousands of customers, movie theatres, restaurants, and 95 stores.

It’s a name-droppers [sic] paradise of big-name, big-box retailers.

I challenge anyone to distinguish the above from bought-and-paid-for advertising copy produced by an intern from a PR school. I’m not a fan of advertorial, but if CTV wrote the exact same words and slapped a “sponsored content” tag on them, I wouldn’t be writing this today.

Proper reporting on Dartmouth Crossing would include at least a perfunctory call to one of the downtown retail groups or an independent retailer to get the perspective of someone whose business is being decimated by Big Box Land. You might even talk to a tax expert about how Dartmouth Crossing’s inflated tax generation claims aren’t what they seem to be. And I don’t know, maybe something about how taxpayers paid for the Highway 118 interchange that made DC possible in the first place? Any context at all would be welcomed.

I mean, this is just embarrassing.


Government

City

Thursday

Police Commission (Thursday, 10:30am, City Hall) — this is a flat-out illegal closed session meeting called to hear an update on the street checks report. If we had any money left in the Examiner legal budget, we’d be siccing lawyers on the commission.

Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — among other items, the committee will be approving plans to rebuild the Mumford transit terminal.

Design Review Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, City Hall) — preparing for the year ahead, the committee is buying brand new rubber stamps.

Harbour East Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — nothing much on the agenda.

Public Information Meeting – Case 20983 (Thursday, 7pm, St. Peter’s Anglican Church, 3 Dakin Drive, Halifax) — Azmi Arnaout wants to build a 90-unit apartment building and 10 townhouses at the southeast corner of the intersection of Dunbrack Street and Wentworth Drive. That’s a rendering of the development proposal above.

Friday

No public meetings.

Province

No public meetings today or Friday.


On campus

Dalhousie

Thursday

The Minimal Superpermutation Problem​ (Thursday, 2:30pm, Room 319, Chase Building) — Nathaniel Johnston from Mount Allison University will speak.

Friday

The Development of a Biocatalytic Approach to Unnatural Nucleosides Therapeutics (Friday, 1:30pm, Room 226, Chemistry Building) — Gregory Hughes from Merck and Company will speak.


In the harbour

06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
06:00: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
07:00: Selfoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
10:30: Selfoss sails for sea
11:30: Don Carlos, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
11:45: Oceanex Sanderling moves to Autoport
15:00: Radcliffe R. Latimer, bulker, moves from Pier 25 to National Gypsum
15:30: Atlantic Sail sails for New York
16:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves back to Pier 41
18:00: Onego Trader, bulker, sails from Pier 27 for sea


Footnotes

I’m off to get kicked out of that illegal secret meeting of the Police Commission.


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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. Here it comes, folks! At the same time the McNeil government gives lip service to ‘ecological forestry’, it quietly paves the way for the industrial forestry complex to get into the ‘bioenergy’ racket (and it IS a racket!). This government has no moral compunction over using your tax dollars to exacerbate climate change. If y’all don’t speak up, you’re complicit in the act.

    1. I very much agree with you but I’m losing hope. The conservatives are obviously not a viable alternative with regards to environmental issues. The liberals federally talk the talk even if they don’t walk the walk. Provincially they couldn’t care less. The ndp never seem to be willing to make tough choices; carbon taxes and fossil fuel reduction (potentially ending a lot of blue collar jobs). The Green Party is the logical choice but a wasted vote in most tidings. I’ve begun hoping for an environmentally benevolent dictator that will make the tough choices without losing power in a subsequent election.

  2. I would be shocked if CTV did not get reimbursed in some manner for that egregious example of “journalism”.

  3. The golden rule is “he who has the gold makes the rules”, flipping that, it seems from this turbine and the
    MV Miner, the rule may be “he who paid to fix it for it is stuck with the bill”. At least, that seems to be the theory any layer of government proposes when passing the buck in actually solving the problems.

    Its obvious to me that in both cases they _eventually_ need to be cleaned up, but neither are they critical that it be done “today”. But sooner than the years it’ll take for lawyers to figure out who should pay.

    Why is there not a law that allows (if not obligates) stated government agencies to clean up such semi-abandoned property, without an admission of guilt, with costs+interest to be settled later by the lawyers.

    Like when the city goes out and cleans up property. They clean it up and bill you later. Sometimes the city gets stuck with the bill, but sometimes government would get stuck with cleanup bills anyway.

  4. And Mayor Savage remains mute on the issue of street checks. Mute on meeting in secret.
    Scott Wortley delivering the message in Toronto just days ago.

  5. “I’m not going to speculate at this point. This is a private sector matter, I’ve been saying that from the beginning.”

    Political non-answers like this usually mean the opposite of what they say. If it’s a private sector matter then the private sector will pay for it, there isn’t any need for for speculation. The only reason to say you won’t speculate while also concretely saying it is a private sector matter is because you don’t want to say the public will be paying for it. So, you just say everything you can that suggests the public won’t pay for it without outright lying, even though the public will definitely be paying for it.

    1. i think any reasonable interpretation of that statement, given a few months, will clearly show it is an absolute bald faced lie.

  6. Dartmouth Crossing generates a little over $13 million a year in property taxes. The interchange serves as another exit for existing developments in the taxpayer funded Burnside Industrial Park where many millions of taxpayer dollars from Dartmouth residents and Dartmouth businesses were used to sell serviced land at less than cost recovery prices. Dartmouth Crossing was previously owned by the Whebby family who operated a quarry and were consistently refused requests to rezone the land because Dartmouth staff and council feared competition from a private sector development. Spring Garden road is not the retail hub it once was and many family owned businesses have gone only to be replaced by fast food franchises. Much the same downtown Halifax. This Christmas sales season will probably be quite miserable as online sales eat the lunch of main street retail.

    1. It doesn’t feel the same, Christmas shopping without panhandlers every twenty feet and cigarette smoke wafting through the air. Who’d want to shop without the wind tunnel effect either?

    2. In addition to what Colin said, the City of Dartmouth expropriated land owned by the Whebby’s and created Shubie Park when the Whebby’s planned a housing development along the Canal. The city expropriated it for $1. It was appealed. On many grounds, price, and the fact it took the most valuable part of their land holding. Long story short, the end result was an award which included a requirement that the municipality build an interchange to access the lands on the Burnside side (to what is now Dartmouth Crossing) when the Whebby’s or a future landowner decided to develop the property (such land could otherwise have been accessed via what is now Shubie Park through an overpass. The resulting interchange was built as the deferred award, at the cost of HRM. The province put some money in to increase the size to meet the emergency exit requirements which had been determined in a study on issues in Burnside following an incident there. In the intervening time before the interchange, the now Dartmouth Crossing site had become a hugely contaminated site (many reasons too much to go into here). North American Developments (when they purchased the land) conducted a cleanup of the site (its the reason some of the site looks as it does), reconstructed the streams and spawning areas, and paid for the expansion of the Dartmouth North Trunk Sewer (they were supposed to be reimbursed for this but to my knowledge never were). Yes it’s big box, and you can certainly love or hate it, but the interchange wasn’t a gift. It was the payment that the UARB deemed was required as part of the compensation for the 1980s expropriation. It was just never triggered until the construction of Dartmouth Crossing, so if anything, the municipality saved money for years knowing it was a coming liability but not having to put out the money. Incidentally, it wasn’t the only such ruling around the same time. The interchange for Mount Hope was similarly in part due to a similar award guaranteeing an interchange.