News

1. Natural gas

That Alton gas site. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

“The company that owns the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project has announced the project is dead. Decommissioning will begin on the two underground salt caverns drilled to store energy delivered by the Maritimes Northeast Pipeline,” reported Jennifer Henderson on Friday.

The company explained that:

The project has received mixed support, challenges and experienced delay. In addition, in 2018, AltaGas divested its interest in the local natural gas utility as the company repositioned its focus on two core areas of business, midstream and energy export opportunities off the West Coast of North America and natural gas utilities located in the U.S.

Environmentalists are celebrating the announcement as a win, and indeed it is. I’ll let others debate the merits and threats of the specific proposal to store gas in the underground caverns, but there’s no arguing that the cancellation of Alton comes within a broader context of a global reexamination of natural gas.

Not so many years ago, fossil fuel companies sold natural gas as a “transition fuel,” as the world stepped away from high-carbon coal and oil and moved towards renewables. The industry claimed lower-carbon natural gas would “bridge” the transition by helping to reduce emissions as renewable technology was developed.

I never bought that argument. For one, no one ever abandons a profitable well, whether it be oil or gas — once the thing is operating, it will continue to operate until it’s not financially lucrative. Expanding the catalog of fossil fuels to natural gas wells doesn’t miraculously close the tap on existing oil wells; it just means the world will collectively burn more fossil fuel, not less.

Second, the calculation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from natural gas has always been sketchy. On paper, sure, burning natural gas results in less GHG than does burning oil. But that calculation completely ignores the seepage at the wellheads and the GHG emitted through transmission of the gas. In total, there may be little difference between oil and gas in terms of climate change, and there are a bunch of other unresolved environmental issues related to fracking.

Third, renewable technology is proving itself much sooner than anyone thought just a few years ago. Solar power in particular is competitive pricewise in many jurisdictions, and many places are figuring out how to make offshore wind practical and cheap. There’s still work to do on the storage front, but there are old technologies that can be used as battery tech improves.

It’s for those reasons that many nations are re-thinking the use of natural gas. Germany has complex foreign policy issues to consider (especially with its reliance on Russian oil and gas), but even it has decided to move away from natural gas, hence its reluctance to pursue the Goldboro LNG scheme, leading to the collapse of that proposal.

The abandonment of the Alton proposal just three months after the collapse of Goldboro makes me wonder if the two were more tied together than we were led to believe. The publicly announced intent of Alton was to buy natural gas in the summer from US producers when the price was low, then store it in the caverns to be resold to Heritage Gas in the winter, when prices were high. But maybe the whole thing was underpinned with a deal with Pieridae Energy to store Goldboro-bound gas at Alton. I have no actual evidence for this, but it strikes me as plausible, as soon after Goldboro was aborted, the finances of Alton no longer make sense.

In any event, whether Goldboro and Alton were directly intertwined or not, they are related in the broader sense of a world reconsidering natural gas. And this is a very good thing.

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2. Kayla Borden

Kayla Borden. Photo: Matthew Byard

“The Halifax Regional Police are objecting to a subpoena for Chief Dan Kinsella and Inspector of Professional Standards Derrick Boyd to appear before the Nova Scotia Police Review Board,” reports Matthew Byard:

“Neither Insp. Boyd or Chief Kinsella responded to or were involved with the events of July 28, 2020,” said Andrew Gough, a lawyer for Halifax Regional Police.

On the night of July 28, 2020, Kayla Borden, a Black woman, said she was followed from Bedford to Burnside, pulled over, swarmed, and wrongfully arrested by half a dozen Halifax city police.

“I had my window rolled down, and he grabbed open my car door. He pulled me out of the car and told me “You’re under arrest.” They put me in handcuffs. I was asking, “For what?” He told me, “We will see in a minute,” Borden told El Jones following the incident.

After disputing one of the officer’s claims that she had been driving with her light off at one point, Borden said the police told her they were on a high-speed chase with a white man in a Toyota.

“I drive a Dodge Avenger. And, obviously, I am not a white man,” she told Jones.

“Sorry, have a good night,” she said she was told after having her licence, registration, and insurance information recorded while she remained surrounded by police, after having already been released without charges.

Byard, El Jones, and Zane Woodford have extensively covered this case, and we’ll stay on it

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3. Fishery violence

Moderate livelihood boats at Saulnierville wharf, St. Mary’s Bay. From YouTube

“When a commercial lobster fishery makes national headlines, it’s not about good catches,” reports Jennifer Henderson:

One year ago, confrontation and violence upended the normally business-like commercial lobster season in St. Mary’s Bay and Lobster Fishing Area 35 in southwest Nova Scotia. Tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishermen in the bay had erupted in several dangerous boat-ramming incidents. 

On October 13, 2020, a mob broke into a lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico where Mi’kmaw fishers were storing their catch. Three days later, the same pound was burned to the ground. One man was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries. 

Two people have been charged with arson. Twenty-five commercial, non-Indigenous fishermen have been charged with break-and-enter and/or mischief for the October 13 raid on the lobster pound. 

But a full year later, as the wheels of justice turn ever so slowly, none of those charged have entered a plea. 

Click here to read “It’s been a year since violence erupted in the lobster fishery, but the cases of dozens of people facing charges are in limbo and the status of the “moderate livelihood” fishery remains unresolved.”

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4. Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes

Caitlin Grady and Reanne Harvey, conservation coordinators for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Nova Scotia Chapter, along with Hunter Stevens, a CPAWS volunteer, paddle a canoe between Quarry and Susies lakes in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“A group of conservationists wants you to know there’s a back country canoeing and camping experience just minutes from downtown Halifax — and it could soon be a national park,” reports Zane Woodford:

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) Nova Scotia Chapter spent the week camping in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area, paddling canoes, sleeping under a full moon, and gathering and tweeting photos and video to raise awareness of the potential for a national park in the area.

“It’s only five kilometres from downtown Halifax, yet you can have a genuine wilderness experience here, something that you could experience in a national park,” Chris Miller, CPAWS Nova Scotia’s executive director, said in an interview at the campsite.

“It’s like our own Kejimkujik National Park, right inside the city boundaries.”

Joining Miller on the trip were his wife, two CPAWS conservation coordinators, and a revolving cast of characters including Miller’s father, former CPAWS employees and volunteers, a landscape photographer, and for a few hours on Thursday, the Halifax Examiner.

Click here to read “Camping out in Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes to show the potential of a national park.”

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5. Tim Houston

“Is our new premier the refreshing guy who can admit mistakes and change his mind?” asks Stephen Kimber. “Or just another yesterday’s politician looking out for number one?”

Click here to read “Tim Houston: flip-flopping into focus.”

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I’m increasingly thinking that Houston mostly views the world through an accountant’s lens.

So while Stephen McNeil was ideologically determined to eliminate deficits and take on public employee unions, Houston looks at the provincial budget and sees that the debt-to-GDP ratio isn’t terrible and is in fact improving, so taking on a few hundred million dollars in debt to address health care issues and calming down the rhetoric around the unions is a reasonable political stance. He’s right about that.

Houston is ideologically opposed to rent control — he’s said as much — and thinks we can build our way out of the current housing crisis. He’s wrong about that. But still, ever the accountant, he understands that even with rent control that limits rent increases to 2% annually, because real estate has increased in value by as much as 30% over the past two years, landlords are doing quite well. As much as landlords belly ache, Houston understands that continuing the rent cap for another year doesn’t place any real hardship on them.

For the time being, this accountant’s view of the world is serving us well, but it could easily become a problem of its own.

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6. COVID

For the second week in a row, Nova Scotia has seen a decline in weekly new COVID case numbers since the peak of the fourth wave, and vaccination numbers continue to increase — almost 800 people have already gotten third shots of vaccine.

I’m quite optimistic about COVID, at least in Nova Scotia, but we’ve seen this turn around before, so I’ll curb my enthusiasm.

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Views

1. Rust Never Sleeps

If I wanted to write a movie script about union issues in the film industry, I would write it as a Ronald Opus story.

The (fictional) death of Ronald Opus story is an impossibly complex set of motives and coincidences:

On March 23 the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus and concluded that he died from a gunshot wound of the head caused by a shotgun. Investigation to that point had revealed that the decedent had jumped from the top of a ten story building with the intent to commit suicide. (He left a note indicating his despondency.) As he passed the 9th floor on the way down, his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast through a window, killing him instantly. Neither the shooter nor the decedent was aware that a safety net had been erected at the 8th floor level to protect some window washers, and that the decedent would not have been able to complete his intent to commit suicide because of this.

Ordinarily, a person who starts into motion the events with a suicide intent ultimately commits suicide even though the mechanism might be not what he intended. That he was shot on the way to certain death nine stories below probably would not change his mode of death from suicide to homicide, but the fact that his suicide intent would not have been achieved under any circumstance caused the medical examiner to feel that he had homicide on his hands.

Further investigation led to the discovery that the room on the 9th floor from whence the shotgun blast emanated was occupied by an elderly man and his wife. He was threatening her with the shotgun because of an interspousal spat and became so upset that he could not hold the shotgun straight. Therefore, when he pulled the trigger, he completely missed his wife, and the pellets went through the window, striking the decedent.

When one intends to kill subject A, but kills subject B in the attempt, one is guilty of the murder of subject B. The old man was confronted with this conclusion, but both he and his wife were adamant in stating that neither knew that the shotgun was loaded. It was the longtime habit of the old man to threaten his wife with an unloaded shotgun. He had no intent to murder her; therefore, the killing of the decedent appeared then to be accident. That is, the gun had been accidentally loaded.

But further investigation turned up a witness that their son was seen loading the shotgun approximately six weeks prior to the fatal accident. That investigation showed that the mother (the old lady) had cut off her son’s financial support, and her son, knowing the propensity of his father to use the shotgun threateningly, loaded the gun with the expectation that the father would shoot his mother. The case now becomes one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus.

Further investigation revealed that the son became increasingly despondent over the failure of his attempt to get his mother murdered. This led him to jump off the ten story building on March 23, only to be killed by a shotgun blast through a 9th story window.

The medical examiner closed the case as a suicide.

It turns out that while the story is fiction, it was indeed told in 1987 by medical examiner Don Harper Mills to illustrate, er, something or another. But it was primed to take off when the internet was widely adopted 10 years later.

Anyway, back to my plot about unionized film workers. I would have an actor using a prop gun in a scene that accidentally kills a camera operator, as unbeknownst to the actor, the prop gun was loaded with a live round, which should never happen on a film set.

In my movie, I would do that movie-within-the-movie thing, as the movie being produced at the film set where the killing took place is a western that has a plot that revolves around an accidental shooting.

The actor who shot the camera operator is a famously brash man known for a past of alcohol-fuelled anger and, having found sobriety, a present of passionate left-wing politics.

Enter the grizzled police detective from the western town where the movie is being filmed. The detective has right-wing politics typical of the place.

The detective unravels a series of layered motivations.

The film is being produced by a hedge fund that has figured out how to use production tax incentives as vehicles to create tax breaks for wealthy investors, so the financial incentive isn’t to create art or even a profitably marketed film, but rather to simply cut costs at every opportunity, which leads to a callous disregard for safety.

The film set is embroiled in dark Noises Off...-like interpersonal conflict, with a director and staff at cross purposes battling over union demands.

In short, the filming of the western is itself a sort of Wild West of the modern film world, where new streaming services are a modern day gold rush with fortunes sought without regard to the law, common decency, or polite society.

With that background set, we’ll need some impossible plot lines for my film. I’m still working on this part, but there will have to be a love interest or love triangle; maybe in his alcoholic years, the famously brash actor had a fling with a set designer and a drunken breakup, but now the set designer is upset that the now-sober actor has what she thinks are designs on the camera operator.

But the union angle has to be central to the plot. Perhaps the unionized staff walks off set and someone — maybe the jilted set designer? — places a live round in the gun, knowing that the inexperienced scab replacement workers and the assistant director with a reputation for ignoring safety rules won’t check the gun as required, and therefore she knows that the famously brash actor will kill the camera operator.

No, no one would believe this plot. I’ll stick to writing about terrible diseases.

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Noticed

Tim Bousquet holds a hooked rug created by Laura Kenney. Photo: Zane Woodford

I work with greatest group of folks.

Iris the Amazing organized a surprise part for me on Saturday. I think they’ve been planning this thing for a while and it may have been originally scheduled for my birthday, but COVID kept delaying it, and there I was walking into a room with a bunch of people yelling “surprise!” (It was a bunch of people, but still lower than the allowed gathering limit — I counted — and Iris made sure everyone presented proof of vaccination.)

Just having a party was incredible, but the group additionally gave me the present of a Laura Kenney hooked rug borrowing from the Maude Lewis painting to make a COVID analogy. The rug will be hung on the wall of my home office.

I can’t tell you how much the Examiner crew means to me. It’s not just that they’re talented and insightful (although it’s that), or that they put up with their problematic boss (although it’s that as well), but it’s that they’re all decent and generous people. Friends.

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Government

City

Monday

Executive Standing Committee (Monday, 10am, City Hall) — also on YouTube

Tuesday

Budget Committee and Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 11am, City Hall and via YouTube) — Budget Committee agenda here; Regional Council agenda here

Province

Monday

Law Amendments (Monday, 5pm, Province House) — agenda here

Tuesday

Legislature sits (Tuesday, 1pm, Province House)


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

Rossetti-Watson Travel Scholarship Exhibition (Tuesday, 12pm, Exhibition Room, School of Architecture) — the findings of six Master of Architecture students who received a scholarship for thesis-related travel and research

Proof Assistants in Practice (Tuesday, 2:30pm, location not listed) — Zachary Murray will explain

History shows that formal foundations for mathematics are worth studying, but, out of sheer impracticality, one rarely hand writes a formal proof. Proof assistants offer at least a partial solution in automation, but there are still serious questions regarding their practicality, most notably the extent to which automation helps, their ease of use, and why we should trust a proof assistant. We will investigate such concerns practically by exploring the Agda proof assistant and discussing my work on a constructive analysis library in Agda.

For more info email this person.

King’s

Installation of Chancellor Debra Deane Little (Monday, 4pm) — livestreamed


In the harbour

I’ll update this soon.


Footnotes

Power went out in Dartmouth this morning. It’s back, but for some reason my internet isn’t.


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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. Goldboro LNG collapsed of its own weight- not because the German government or Uniper withdrew support… which they did not. Typical of Germany- they just declined to take an open stand.

    Not to mention that some version of Goldboro LNG is not dead yet. And Uniper is still talking to Pieridae about the possibility of a recast project. They have also started direct and continued communication with German environmentalists about the project. But that is because internationally every corporation has to demonstrate that they are doing such talking.

    Those discussions have their uses for us, but they re not in anyway an expression of backing away from fossil gas. I guess that’s the progress, such as it is: pushed to say one way or the other, companies like Uniper are willing to admit they remain fully committed to gas- and not just as a “transition”.

  2. The German government has not in any way moved away from natural gas.

    Though we do not know if there will be something different from the new government- so far it is leading the foot dragging in Europe on backing away from fossil gas

  3. The year of horror stories of rental increases that many of us predicted starting in February 2022 is pushed off until 2024. Will landlords time a rental increase to Jan 1, 2024 or will the rental increases trickle in over 2024 as people’s anniversaries come up?

    With present immigration rates, we need to roughly quintuple the rate we build at to maintain housing stock levels. To get out ahead, we need to look at more like a 7-fold increase in construction. The housing situation in Canada is disaster capitalism in action. There is no policy that can make a scarce and fairly inelastic-demand good cheap.

    1. I’m pretty sure rent increases are tied to anniversary dates, so I predict they will trickle in over 2024. I wonder though exactly how it will work given that we need advance notice of the increases. My anniversary date is April 1, so I should get my notice by December 1 of the year before to give me the full amount of notice I”m supposed to get (three months as per my lease, plus one month to decide). So, I will wait as patiently as possible for the month of November 2023 to learn what my rent will be on April 1, 2024. I fear the amount might be quite scary, but worrying about today isn’t going to change that, so I’m not going to worry about it until I get the actual increase letter. And maybe Premier Houston will extend the cap. It could happen, couldn’t it?

      1. I am not sure if the increases are tied to the anniversary, I just thought landlords were only allowed to raise rent once a year, with four months of notice. I don’t know that a landlord would break the rules by skipping the 2% increase in 2023 and waiting until September 1, 2023 to give notice of an increase for Jan 1 2024.

        I feel like a cap extension is more likely if the pain is concentrated, especially in January – a perfect time for the ghosts of Christmas past and future to visit Huston. I do agree with Huston that rent control is a band-aid solution and would like to see it gradually phased out in favor of supply side solutions – which is all the province can do because demand is controlled federally. I am very glad for you, however, that at least you have manageable increases in place for a couple years :).

        1. I concur that rent control is, in many ways, a band-aid solution to a huge problem. I really hope that all three levels of government can work together to increase the supply of housing to meet the needs of all. You made a good point in terms of the number of potential new residents to our province – they, too, will need places to live. If large numbers of people won’t be returning to all those large office buildings in our downtown areas, perhaps some of those can be converted into various-sized (and priced) units to meet some of the current demand in a shorter time frame than most new construction may take. For now, though, I am happy knowing that I can afford my current home for a while longer, as can many of my current friends and neighbors. I do, though, feel sorry for some of the newer tenants who are starting off with much higher rents as my landlord (who is basically a REIT, even if that isn’t part of their official name) jacks rents to exorbitant levels. I don’t care if it has a dishwasher and brushed steel appliances, a bachelor in north-end Dartmouth shouldn’t be renting at almost $1100/month!

          1. As I said previously I know two people who are looking for apartments right now who are negatively affected by this. It is also likely that some landlords will renovict tenants in response, calculating that the three months of rent they have to pay can be made up over the next two years (or more). With the rate of increases we have seen, that is totally plausible. We also have examples of places where long-term rent control has been implemented, and although a few tenants win out (and some of them even illegally sublet their units for market rate), it just doesn’t work. The only solution is addressing the supply-demand balance, which as I said would require five times the rate of housing completion we see now on the supply side just to tread water. I don’t even play a civil engineer on TV, but with the supply shortages, sky high building material costs and trades shortages, I just don’t see that happening.