News

1. Nova Scotia finally begins to get some hydro power from Muskrat Falls — but how much?

A map showing the various transmission components that connect Muskrat Falls to Nova Scotia. Graphic: Emera Credit: Emera

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

August 15 was the date hydroelectricity from Muskrat Falls was set to flow from Labrador to Nova Scotia. Announced during the middle of the Nova Scotia provincial election and on the eve of a federal election call, the date was included in an Acceleration Agreement signed between Nalcor Energy of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia Power Maritime Link (NSPML). The Acceleration Agreement will allow the flow of renewable hydro from Muskrat Falls in Labrador to Nova Scotia before the completion of the commissioning of the transmission portion called the Labrador Island Link of LIL.

It’s an open question as to how much hydro will arrive. The earliest target date for full commissioning/operation of the transmission system is November 27, with a provision for delays that could push that out until the end of this year.

This new Acceleration Agreement — signed after Ottawa gave the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador a $5 billion bailout to cover cost overruns at Muskrat Falls that would have seen power bills double for ratepayers there — means Nova Scotia can finally begin receiving renewable hydroelectricity from Labrador. And at the same fixed price it negotiated in 2013 that will remain the same throughout the 35 years of the long-term contract with Nalcor Energy.

This is undoubtedly a good thing; Nova Scotians have been waiting for more than three years for hydro that will help transition the province away from coal. Construction delays, shutdowns due to COVID concerns, and major glitches associated with the GE software system that controls the flow of electrons over the Labrador Island Link (LIL) power lines have postponed delivery to Nova Scotia Power.

The undersea Newfoundland-to-Nova Scotia cable NSPML built to bring the hydro from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia and the rest of the Maritimes was completed three years ago; once the juice starts flowing, the construction cost to build that Maritime Link cable will be included in power bills for Nova Scotians — beginning next year (2022).

NS Power has been counting on Muskrat Falls to replace 10% of what we consume from the grid. That 1.0 terawatt hours/year is called “the NS Block” in the contract signed in 2013. Receiving it will allow Nova Scotia to comply with legislation stating 40% of electricity must come from renewable sources by 2020, a deadline that was extended until 2022 because of delays in the Labrador project.

Emera spokesperson Dina Seely tells the Halifax Examiner that although Muskrat Falls power didn’t arrive on August 15, the utility did receive power from Muskrat Falls later last week. The company won’t talk about the quantity it received or answer questions about the quantity it expects to receive between now and the completion of the LIL. Depending on what happens over the next few months, the Acceleration Agreement will turn out to be a welcome bonus for Nova Scotia or yet another delay dressed up in sheep’s clothing.

“This (Acceleration) agreement between Nova Scotia Power Maritime Link and Nalcor secures for Nova Scotia Power customers the benefits of the NS Block now rather than on a future uncertain date when the Labrador Island Link is fully commissioned,” said Seely. “The agreement recognizes there can be periodic interruptions in energy flow over the next few months during Nalcor’s commissioning activities. This is a normal part of any commissioning process and any undelivered energy will be delivered at a later time by Nalcor.”

The shortfall can be made up anytime over the next 35 years.

“With the arrival of the NS Block, we are on track to generate approximately 60% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2022 and this will help us achieve our shared goal of 80% renewable by 2030,” said NS Power CEO Peter Gregg in a news release earlier this month.

NS Power had also negotiated the right of first refusal on an additional 10% of Muskrat Falls output for which the utility would pay much higher market prices. That additional 10% won’t be available before September 2022, when the first “contract year” will officially begin.

Meanwhile, Seely says there is no replacement power that will be substituted if hydro from Muskrat Falls is unavailable to Nova Scotia between now and September 2022. What we see is what we get, as comedian Flip Wilson used to say, no guarantees.

Because Emera is withholding information about quantity, consumers will not be able to gauge whether the hydro flowing from Labrador reaches the yearly target or if the agreement has been whipped out for purely political purposes.

A public hearing will be held December 6 to review and assign costs for the construction of the Maritime Link subsea cable. Perhaps the Utilities and Review Board will be able to ask questions (and more importantly obtain answers) that shine a light on how much energy is flowing over the submarine cable by that date.

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2. Nova Scotia election: The good, the bad, and the random

PC leader Tim Houston during the release of the party’s election platform. Photo: PC Party.

Stephen Kimber offers his opinionated (hey, that’s his job) recap of the Nova Scotia election results, including his dismay, not at having the PC party elected, but at another majority government:

For more than a decade, Nova Scotians have endured never-ending majority governments — first of the NDP variety and then the Liberal stripe — and the results have been educational if not encouraging.

That’s not to suggest those governments didn’t do some good things. Both did. But they also very quickly presumed — and assumed — the divine right of majority to not only do whatever they decided was in our (and their) best interest but also to be as unaccountable as possible, both to the voters who put them there and also to the usual between-elections legislative and political checks and balances on authoritarianism.

Because… well, they had the majority.

I enjoyed this notebook style column. Kimber looks at each of the leaders, at issues, at what the seat breakdown might have been like under a proportional system, and more. This bit seemed particularly astute to me:

I certainly wasn’t privy to what happened inside the campaign, but from the outside it appeared as if Rankin — February’s fresh face of a new generation who cared about the environment and systemic racism and other important issues — suddenly became more mouth puppet and deer in the headlights than man in charge.

Was Election Iain the real Rankin, or a reflection of those around him?

Can he recover from this debacle, start over, become his own person?

This story is for subscribers only. Subscribe here.

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3. Vaccine side effects

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

As of last Friday, Canada’s Public Health Agency (PHAC) reported more than 51 million COVID vaccinations have been administered (51,241,615) and “serious” adverse reactions reported by health care professionals, drug companies, and consumers remain exceedingly rare.

“Serious” adverse events are defined as those that cause hospitalization, injury, or death. The reported number of those events is 3,310 or .006% of all vaccinations, according to data provided to the Public Health Agency of Canada as of August 13.

PHAC has confirmed six deaths as a result of blood-clotting (Thrombosis thrombocytopenia syndrome) that took place after receiving a dose of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine. Another 34 deaths are still under investigation to see if they can be linked to a COVID vaccination.

Although the number of serious reactions remains very small — up from .005% in June when only 31 million doses had been given — the number of serious adverse events reported last week was higher than usual. Out of 255 new adverse event reports, 154 were deemed “serious.” That’s 60%. (The Public Health Agency of Canada does not break out the data by province, and Public Health in Nova Scotia has so far not provided information about the number of adverse reactions as requested by the Examiner).

That’s still a very small percentage of total vaccinations and probably not worth losing much sleep when you consider vaccinations protect exponentially more lives than they harm. Public Health Nova Scotia reported last Friday that 93% of all COVID cases (4,261 since March 15, 2021) were among unvaccinated people, 5.8% among partially vaccinated people, and 1.0% among people who had two doses of vaccine.

And 85% of the 27 deaths since March have been among unvaccinated people. Vaccinations work. But a small fraction can lead to serious side effects.

Heart-related side effects

One new piece of information in Friday’s report from Canada’s Public Health Agency is that the number of reported cases of heart inflammation among young men who have received the Moderna vaccine, or people under 40 who have received the Pfizer vaccine, are higher than expected. A total of 485 Canadian cases of inflammation of the heart muscle or heart lining have been reported for all age groups. (That compares with a total of 78 reported cases of blood-clotting). The report reads:

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and Health Canada are monitoring Canadian and international reports (World Health Organization, United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, European Medicines Agency, Israel) of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the lining around the heart) following vaccination with COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.

Data in Canada now indicate a higher number of cases in younger people (i.e. less than 40 years of age) than would normally be expected in the general population. Health Canada recently updated the product monographs for both Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to include information around these risks. Health Canada and PHAC continue to monitor the evolving information regarding the association between myocarditis/pericarditis and mRNA vaccines.

The PHAC has received 355 reports of people who have experienced Bell’s palsy after receiving a vaccination for COVID. There are 64 reports of people who have contracted Guillain-Barré syndrome after receiving a COVID vaccine. Out of 3,105,829 doses given to youth between age 12 and 17, there have been 219 serious reactions reported to the Public Health Agency.

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4. Construction starts on co-housing project

Architectural rendering of the Treehouse Village ecohousing project. Image: treehousevillage.ca

After years of planning, Nova Scotia’s first co-housing project — Treehouse Village in Bridgewater — has begun construction, Vernon Ramesar reports for CBC.

Residents will own their own homes, but they share amenities and common spaces. Ramesar writes:

A $12-million co-housing project in Nova Scotia that’s been a decade in the making is a step closer to completion following a groundbreaking ceremony on Saturday…

Treehouse Village is expected to be completed by fall 2022 and will include 30 private dwellings, a community centre and shared amenities on a 15-acre lot. It claims to be the first co-housing development in Atlantic Canada.

The project was conceived by Cate and Leon de Vreede a decade ago, when they realized there were no co-housing developments in Nova Scotia or the region.

The de Vreede’s figured in a radio documentary I made years ago, and I’ve been on a canoe trip with Leon, who works for the Town of Bridgewater as a sustainability planner, and I have immense respect for them both. They came up with this idea years ago and have stuck with it. It’s nice to see it finally happening.

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5. “Fighting poor people in a poor people’s graveyard”

Brenda Thompson’s A Wholesome Horror: Poor Houses in Nova Scotia.

Over at the Nova Scotia Advocate, Brenda Thompson writes:

This week the whole country saw how the City of Halifax treats its poorest citizens, the homeless. What is remarkable is that it happened on the grounds of an unmarked graveyard of poor house inmates. The crappy treatment of poor people on this piece of land is historic.

Thompson is a writer and publisher, and the author of A Wholesome Horror: Poor Houses in Nova Scotia, among other books. She discusses the history of the site, then writes:

Several times the council has been asked to acknowledge the poor house people buried there. Several times this request has been ignored. This week the City of Halifax added to the history of poor people on this land by violently removing homeless people and assaulting and arresting the people who were trying to help unhoused people keep a place to live in their tents and homes. Halifax mayor Savage the city councillors were all unrepentant about what they had done, again, to poor people on that particular piece of land.

Developers are salivating over that piece of land, the unmarked graveyard of poor people, wanting to build profit-generating condominiums for richer-than-the-rest-of-us-people.

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6. Community session in Cherrybrook

As part of its housing reporting series, Suzanne Rent and Matthew Byard will host a community session at the Black Cultural Centre in Cherrybrook on Thursday, August 26 from 6pm to 8pm. This session is open to anyone living in Cherrybrook, North Preston, East Preston, or surrounding areas to talk about housing issues in those communities. What we hear in these sessions will inform the reporting for our housing series.

There’s limited capacity because of COVID-19 protocols and you have to register here to sign up. But it’s free to attend.

Byard, who is our reporter covering the stories of Black communities in Nova Scotia, would like to hear other stories as well.

Again, to register, just click at this link to sign up. If you have any questions, you can email suzanne@halifaxexaminer.ca.

If you can’t attend the meeting, but still have a story or idea to share, just call or text our message line at 1-819-803-6215. You can also email housing@halifaxexaminer.ca.

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Views

1. Re-watching The Street: A Film with the Homeless

Danny Claven, in The Street, directed by Daniel Cross.

In 1990, Daniel Cross started filming a group of men who lived on the streets and hung out at the Guy-Concordia Metro station in downtown Montreal. If you went to Concordia during the late 80s or early 90s (as Cross and I both did), it was impossible to miss these guys. Cross — who has since gone on to become very successful in the documentary world through the company he co-owns, EyeSteelFilm — decided he wanted to know more about what life on the streets was really like.

He and cinematographer Richard Boyce filmed over six years, concentrating on three men. There’s Danny Claven, who has lived on the street since he was 12, after leaving an orphanage in which he was forced to sleep in a closet and repeatedly sexually assaulted; his older brother John, who at the start of the film has just been evicted after losing his job, and figures he’ll spend a couple of months living on the street or in a squat until he gets his life straightened out again; and Frank O’Malley (real name: Joe Ryan) who, at 54 calls himself “the king of the hobos” and sees himself as something of an elder statesman type. O’Malley spent 21 years in prison for killing a security guard. The men talk a lot about their addictions. Danny is using heroin at the start of the film, but the three mostly use alcohol.

Cross had previously made a short student film about one of the guys, Danny Claven. He started off with a romantic notion about homelessness he wanted to explore. As he tells John Claven while visiting him during a stint in jail: “I was attracted by the feeling of freedom. The romantic perspective of the homeless people.  You seemed to have less responsibility and seemed to be free. Over the three years now, I don’t know, this is about the fifth time I’ve visited one of the guys in jail.”

John Claven in The Street, directed by Daniel Cross.

“I’ll tell you what it is,” John says. “The majority of the guys that are on the street that are in jail is because it’s summertime and it’s good months, and that’s when all the tourists are around and the cops round them all up. No matter where they are, they find them, and they put them inside. You watch. Come winter, you’ll see every one of them outside… I’d rather have my own place and everything and still drink with the guys. As it ends up, when I drink with the guys, I never end up going out to look for work or anything. And that’s how I end up here. I end up getting drunk, I get mouthy with the cops.”

Cross’s feature documentary The Street: A Film with the Homeless, was released in 1996. I watched the film at the time, and it has always stuck with me. (I worked at the National Film Board in 1996, and the NFB had an interest in the film; I was the NFB marketing manager responsible for it.)

I thought about The Street last week, as the municipality sent in police and dismantled or destroyed tents and shelters in parks, in which people were living. One thing that is striking about so much of the reporting and commentary that followed the evictions was how little we heard the voices of those most affected — those whose property was taken away or destroyed. Those forced to move on, with few or no alternatives. (There were exceptions of course. Both Zane Woodford and Tim Bousquet did a great job foregrounding those voices, both in the Examiner and on their Twitter feeds.)

When Cross asks O’Malley why he lives on the streets, O’Malley says:

I don’t like the missions, eh. I don’t like to go in at a certain time. I don’t like to be preached to. I don’t like the fucking bugs. I’m very clean. I don’t like noise. I like privacy. I want a room. I’m safe. Don’t have to worry about being knifed. If I want to read a book, I read a book, if I want to drink a bottle of beer I drink a bottle of beer. If I want to drink a carton of milk I drink a carton of milk… It’s nobody’s fucking business. I’m 54 years old, I’m an old fucking man, eh, but I’m sharp.

John Claven is more ambivalent. He says he’d like to have his own place, but he has no money and can’t see how to get off the street. On the one hand, his brother and Frank are his family. He keeps going back to them. On the other hand, he says at one point that he is sick and tired of “drinking with these bums.”

Cross is no dispassionate observer. He has some notion about wanting to help, but also continually runs up against the question of how. To his credit, he leaves in sequences that don’t reflect all that well on him, like when Danny says he feels used, and Cross replies that “weakest people get used the most.”

“I ain’t weak though,” Danny fires back.

When John is feeling suicidal, Cross asks if he can help, and John says he doesn’t want his pity. When Danny reveals his childhood sexual assaults, Cross wants to know how to support him, and Danny tells him he could come around to see him a little more often. When Cross worries about Frank — who has diabetes, has been released from the hospital after having a leg amputated above the knee, and is now drinking again — Danny tells him, “Well why don’t you just fucking do something for him then? Get his papers for him, get him on welfare or something. Do it by yourself! If you don’t do something for him, he won’t do it for himself.”

At one point, Cross simply tells Frank, “You’re asking me to help you, and I don’t know how to help you.”

Frank O’Malley calling a bingo game during one of his hospital stays. Image from The Street, directed by Daniel Cross.

Cross clearly has the trust of the men he is filming from the start, and as we see in the film, he shares some of his footage as he’s in the process of making it. And while the relationship between Cross and the men in the film changes over time — as Cross goes from observer to become more involved with their lives — the focus remains primarily on O’Malley and the Clavens.

The Street was filmed in a different time and place. Finding housing has become so much harder in the intervening years. Opioids are never mentioned in the film. We’ve had even more decades of government austerity. But the film stands up. One thing that struck me watching it is how social services seem unattainable for the Clavens and O’Malley for much of the film. Sure you could look at it and think why don’t they just get help? (John Claven eventually gets ID and gets onto social assistance with the help of a volunteer from the grassroots non-profit Project Genesis.) But a better question is why services seem so difficult to attain that even trying is out of the question from those who need them most.

Since the Halifax evictions, I have watched in dismay as politicians and police lie about what happened. On Twitter, Coun. Pam Lovelace pointed approvingly to an August 21 CBC story on a Fredericton project that saw shelter workers write profiles of people staying in their facilities. “Project reveals human side of homeless people in Fredericton” reads the headline on the piece:

The Fredericton Homeless Shelters are trying something new this summer to let the public get to know the people who work and stay there.

All this month they’ve been posting profiles on their Facebook page of shelter staff and guests as part of a project called Humans of the Shelters.

“We wanted to put some nice stuff out there about who we really are,” said executive director Warren Maddox…

“Our residents aren’t all criminals and whatever. Obviously they have their challenges … but there’s good people who are our residents, and there’s absolutely amazing people that are working to try to help them get to a better place in their life.”…

Maddox said he hopes it helps the wider community become more comfortable around homeless people.

Where do you start with this? If you need to tell people’s individual stories to reveal to the broader public that people living in shelters have a “human side” something is deeply wrong. And telling stories so “the wider community” becomes “more comfortable around homeless people” is not a substitute for housing policy.

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Noticed

International students are a major revenue source for Cape Breton University. Image: cbu.ca

The new issue of The Walrus has a remarkable story by Nicholas Hune-Brown called “The Shadowy Business of International Education.”

International students have increasingly been a cash cow for Canadian universities. On its homepage, the Association of Atlantic Universities boasts:

In Nova Scotia, universities are the third largest export revenue sector behind tire manufacturing and seafood preparation & packaging ($886 million).

Is it weird to think of universities as producing export revenue through student fees? Yes it is. But here we are.

“The 2000s-era stereotype of the pampered young foreigner, usually from mainland China, who drives flashy sports cars and shops for Gucci bags between classes was always a caricature,” Hune-Brown writes, “but now it’s entirely divorced from reality.”

In 2019, he says, there were 642,000 international students in Canada, with over one-third of them from India. Many come from families who have literally mortgaged their future on the chance that acceptance to a Canadian post-secondary institution will lead to permanent residency, and, eventually, citizenship.

That’s because Canadian immigration policy now allows international graduates to stay in the country for up to three years, then apply for permanent residency. Hune-Brown writes:

International students are… the product of a system that has blurred the lines between immigration and education in an unofficial, ad hoc arrangement meant to appeal to potential immigrants while avoiding any responsibility for their settlement. It’s a system that is quietly transforming postsecondary institutions, which have grown dependent on fees from foreign students and therefore on the shadowy world of education agents who deliver them. And it’s a system built on attracting teenagers… from small villages across the world, taking their money, and bringing them to campuses from small-town Nova Scotia to suburban BC with lofty promises for the future but little regard for what actually happens to them once they arrive…

In recent years, there is some evidence that schools have started to recognize the gravity of the problem on campuses: some have rolled out peer support groups, others have brought in counselling in students’ first languages. But the fundamental way the system is set up ignores the reality of the pressures these students face. Community colleges and even large universities aren’t equipped to manage an immigration settlement program for teenagers. They’d rather think of themselves as institutions of higher learning, not convenient waystations for young people in search of better lives.

The story looks at educational agents who steer students to schools against their best interest, because those schools are paying their commissions. (Agencies like this one tout the fact that they will help students write their application essays to Canadian schools.) It looks at alarming suicide numbers among international students. And it follows one student, Kushandeep, from his home in rural Punjab, to his experience in Canada, which included being horribly exploited by his employer:

On January 3, he was loading a van with an enormous mirror when it broke in his hands. He felt the sharp edge flick across his wrist. Then he couldn’t feel his hand at all. When Kushandeep looked down, the cut was gruesome: a U-shaped gash that had sliced through the sinews, cutting right down to the bone. He says a coworker rushed over to see if he was okay and then immediately got on the phone — not to the paramedics but to their boss. He came back with instructions: Put him in a van and take him to emergency and say he got hurt at home.

Kushandeep staggered out of the shop, bleeding profusely, and passersby eventually called an ambulance. When he woke up, he was in the hospital. The doctors told him the cut had severed his nerves and tendons. His artery had also been damaged. There was a fifty-fifty chance he would never use his hand again.

That night, Kushandeep spoke to his boss. “He didn’t ask how I was,” Kushandeep remembers. The next day, he says, his boss explained that he didn’t have insurance and Kushandeep wasn’t covered. If Kushandeep told authorities he was hurt on the job, the man said, it would mean trouble for everyone.

When the worker’s compensation board called, Kushandeep told them the truth about what had happened. After that, things changed. Kushandeep says his employer refused to pay his hours on the job; when worker’s compensation interviewed the boss, he told them Kushandeep was a stranger who was trying to blackmail him. “He knew that I had no family here in Canada,” says Kushandeep. “Who would be guiding me? I had no resources.”

It is a well-researched, well-written story that raises many questions, and I encourage you to read it.

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Government

City

Monday

No meetings

Tuesday

Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm) — live streamed on Youtube, with captioning on a text-only site

Province

No meetings this week


On campus

No events


In the harbour

Halifax
07:30: Pictor, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik, Iceland
100:00: NYK Daedalus, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Antwerp, Belgium
11:00: X-press Irazu, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Setubal, Portugal
13:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
14:00: Pictor sails for Portland
21:30: NYK Daedalus sails for Port Everglades, Florida

Cape Breton
08:00: Margaretha, bulker, arrives at Port Hawkesbury Paper from Searsport, Maine
17:00: Phoenix Admiral, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
19:00: Nordic Vega, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Jubilee, Ghana


Footnotes

I’m all written out.


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Philip Moscovitch

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

Jennifer Henderson

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

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  1. Please note the power through the NDPML is from Churchill falls as muskrat has yet to produce any. And please remind us how much more we are paying for power between rates and payments on the link…thanks

    1. Jennifer Henderson responds: “Emera spokesperson Dina Seely emphatically stated NS did receive some electricity from Muskrat Falls last week. The company says the first test power from the project was received late in December of 2020. Approximately 83 MW from Muskrat Falls ( about 3.5 percent of what the Maritime Link underwater cable can transport) flowed to NS early in January. The unknown is how much we are expected to get between now and next Sept.”