News

1. Election

Tomorrow is Election Day in Nova Scotia. I’ll leave it for others to do the prognosticating, but I do hope that we end up with a minority government of one form or another, if only so we don’t again have the outrageous abuse of power that led Stephen McNeil to refuse to convene the legislature for most of 2020.

The check on power is necessary, and minority governments are more responsive to the needs of the people generally instead of the narrow politicking interests of the party in power.

I could see several pathways to a minority government, but what do I know? Voters are a fickle, unpredictable lot, and I won’t presume to tell anyone how to vote.

Owls Head. Photo: CPAWS

Yesterday, Stephen Kimber looked at the recent judicial decision regarding the delisting of Owls Head as a provincial park:

Honourable Justice Christa Brothers may have been legally right to conclude the courts have no business mucking about in the Liberal government’s March 2019 decision to secretly remove Owls Head provincial park from a list of publicly designated provincial properties awaiting legal protection under the government’s own Parks and Protected Areas plan.

She may also be judicially correct when she determined the government was operating within its “lawful authority” when it decided in December 2019 to quietly peddle the properties’ 700 hectares of a “globally rare ecosystem” on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore to private developers — also without benefit of public consultation or accountability. Those developers, of course, had stealthily lobbied the government over “several years” to greenlight their scheme to transform that previously public space into a private “recreational and residential community, which is expected to include one to three world-class golf courses, clubhouse, single-family homes, and short-term accommodations, enhanced seasonal and recreational activities” and blah blah blah.

But even if the judge’s legal reasoning is impeccable — and I for one would like to hear an appeal court weigh in on that — I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the good justice is out to a long liquid lunch with her ballot box “recourse” mumbo jumbo.

Click here to read “Elections are no place to… Take 3.”

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2. COVID

On Friday, the province announced two new cases of COVID-19 — one in Nova Scotia Health’s Eastern Zone and one in the Northern Zone. New case numbers are not reported on the weekend, and for some unknown reason, vaccination data were not available Friday, which is unfortunate because I’ve been using Friday data to make the chart tracking weekly vaccination uptake.

(I don’t know how they compile the data, but I imagine that Stella in Statistics is getting right exhausted after all these months, and maybe she took a needed day off.)

Here’s that graph, with the most recent data point for last Thursday (so six days, rather than seven days, out):

Even though we don’t have Friday’s vaccination numbers, I think it’s fair to say that the pace of vaccination has decelerated, and we’re now in a period of diminishing returns. The drop-in vaccination clinics were shuttered as of yesterday; my understanding is that’s because so few people were using them.

However, there’s still plenty of vaccine in the province — enough to fully vaccinate everyone — and it’s being distributed through pharmacies in every region of the province; there are lots of open appointment times, which you can find here.

I don’t know if today’s vaccination data drop will be retroactive to Friday. Typically, new case numbers come out soon after noon, and I tweet them out when I get them.

While we got no new case data over the weekend, there were a number of potential COVID exposure advisories. I’ve collected them all on the map below; you can zoom in and click on the icons to get details about each site:

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3. Who’s a journalist?

Bruce Wark. Photo: Warktimes

“Sackville [New Brunswick] councillors debated a proposed addition to a town bylaw Tuesday night that defines the ‘press’ as ‘an individual reporting on behalf of an accredited media outlet including print, radio and television,’” reports Bruce Wark:

The definition says that those who write for “personal, non-commercial or enthusiast websites do not qualify as accredited media.”

Wark is a respected former CBC reporter who taught at the University of King’s College’s Journalism School. He was a contributing editor at The Coast, where I worked with him. He retired a few years ago and moved to Sackville, where he publishes a news site he calls Warktimes, which largely covers the Sackville council.

Wark continues:

CAO Jamie Burke responded that the “press” needs to be defined in the bylaw because reporters get to go first during council’s public question periods and the town clerk has now begun sending council documents to the media at 4 p.m. on the day of special council meetings.

That means that journalists will have the privilege of receiving the background documents before the public sees them.

Burke said the town has a good relationship with Warktimes as well as traditional media outlets, but staff felt it was important to define the press in case of future trouble.

“If we get somebody who thinks they are the press and they could have a belief system that is fundamentally different to our strategic plan and our community beliefs, we don’t want to be treating them the same as we’re treating the CBC or CHMA or the Times & Transcript.”

Later, during the public question period, Burke suggested the bylaw definition of “press” would give council more control.

“If there was an individual, maybe it’s a blogger who’s using racist, sexist and other commentary as part of the regular reporting, how do we have the ability to push back a little bit?” he asked.

“Or if somebody wasn’t showing professionalism or respect with the way our meetings are conducted or how they’re respecting individual staff members or members of council.”

Earlier in the meeting, Councillor Michael Tower said the definition of “press” excluded Warktimes which, he said, is now serving as the town’s online newspaper.

In the end, council agreed to consider the definition of “press” as well as other changes to the organization and procedures bylaw again in September.

Here is the proposed definition: “Press” means an individual reporting on behalf of an accredited media outlet including print, radio, and television medium. (Personal, non-commercial or enthusiast websites do not qualify as accredited media.)

I’m not sure what “accredited” means in that proposed definition, or who it is who is going to do the accrediting. The “non-commercial” aspect seems to disqualify even the CBC, so that’s confusing. Perhaps they’ll tie it to the federal government’s designation of Qualified Canadian journalism organization, which is a tax status given to, among others, the Halifax Examiner.

If he were interested, I could of course make Wark the Examiner’s Sackville bureau as part of our business plan to make millions of dollars in subscriptions from Mount A profs, but that misses the messiness of the council’s proposal, which is that it wants to decide who is a journalist and who isn’t.

And really, this is all about who gets to see council documents when? Come on, that’s just dumb. Through the miracle of a w, another w, and a third w connected through a series of tubes, the whole world — councillors, reporters, citizens, and dumb racist non-commercial bloggers included — has access to Halifax council agendas at the same time, and the sky doesn’t fall.

Sackville council should just let the proposal die, and get back to secretly budgeting for police.

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4. Maritime Link

Maritime Link. Map: NSP Maritime Link Inc.

NSP Maritime Link Inc. (NSPML, an Emera company) is declaring itself a budgetary success. In a Final Cost Estimate filed with the Utility and Review Board, the company summarizes that:

With the approval and continued oversight of the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) over a period of seven years, from 2011 through to the end of 2017, NSP Maritime Link Inc. (NSPML) planned, constructed, and energized the Link, placing it into service on January 15, 2018.

NSPML delivered the ML on time and within budget. When it approved the Link for construction, the UARB set a capital cost envelope of $1.58 billion and a budget for Allowance for Funds Used During Construction (AFUDC) of $230 million. NSPML has completed the Link at a total Project cost of $1.5712 billion and AFUDC of $208.8 million.

The Maritime Link is a set of components described as follows:

i. A 98 km AC transmission line reinforcement from Granite Canal to Bottom Brook in Newfoundland.

ii. A converter station for connection of Newfoundland’s existing transmission system at Bottom Brook and conversion of electricity from alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC).

iii. A 142 km DC transmission line from Bottom Brook to Cape Ray Newfoundland.

iv. A submarine transmission system of approximately 170 km from Cape Ray Newfoundland to Point Aconi in Nova Scotia, with land/marine and marine/land transition and connection facilities at each end.

v. A DC transmission line of approximately 46 km from Point Aconi to Woodbine Nova Scotia.

vi. A converter station at Woodbine Nova Scotia to convert DC electricity back to AC and for connection to Nova Scotia’s existing electricity transmission system.

vii. Grounding lines (totalling 40 km in length) from each of the converter stations to new grounding facilities at Indian Head NL and Big Lorraine NS.

“Independent mega-project subject matter experts have concluded that the success of the Project is in large part attributable to NSPML’s diligent and proactive management of this complex and challenging undertaking,” crows the company. A little self-congratulation is perhaps warranted  — megaprojects (defined as construction projects costing over a billion dollars) almost always come in over budget; as economic geographer Bent Flyvbjerg, the leading expert in the field, wrote:

Performance data for megaprojects speak their own language. Nine out of ten such projects have cost overruns. Overruns of up to 50 percent in real terms are common, over 50 percent not uncommon. … Overrun is a problem in private as well as public sector projects, and things are not improving; overruns have stayed high and constant for the 70-year period for which comparable data exist. Geography also does not seem to matter; all countries and continents for which data are available suffer from overrun. Similarly, benefit shortfalls of up to 50 percent are also common, and above 50 percent not uncommon, again with no signs of improvements over time and geography.

And NSPML is implicitly comparing itself to its sister project, Nalcor’s Muskrat Falls hydro project, which is ridiculously over budget — at least $4 billion so, at latest estimate, which is somewhat above the 50% cost overrun mark Flyvbjerg noted as common for megaprojects.

So good on NSPML. But when is the Maritime Link going to do what it was designed to do, which is deliver lots of hydro power to Nova Scotia?

Nova Scotia Power has a contractual guarantee of a percentage — the “NS Block” — of the power generated at Muskrat Falls, but that power hasn’t yet arrived in this province. At issue is the Labrador-Island Link (LIL), which brings Muskrat Falls power to the island of Newfoundland. NSPML explains:

NSPML and Nalcor have agreed that the NS Block will commence, prior to full commissioning of the LIL as otherwise contractually obligated, thus allowing NS Power and NS customers to benefit from the start of the NS Block as of August 15, 2021, rather than November 27, 2021, as currently forecast by Nalcor, or possibly later. The LIL is presently capable of delivering the NS Block (including Supplemental Energy and Market Priced Energy pursuant to the Nalcor agreements), however there remains important LIL commercial completion and final commissioning activities for which Nalcor is responsible. Through understanding of the outstanding commissioning work and negotiation with Nalcor, and recognizing the importance of successful LIL commissioning, NSPML has secured acceleration of delivery of the NS Block while LIL commissioning is nearing completion. In consideration of the benefits afforded by the delivery of the NS Block on an otherwise accelerated basis, NSPML and Nalcor have resolved a difference in positions regarding costs incurred post commissioning, relating to the trenching of the cables in 2019 (as described in Schedule 2). While providing necessary protection of the cables, the parties have agreed that the costs are excluded from the cost sharing mechanisms under the agreements between the parties.

Starting the NS Block August 15, 2021 is important for Nova Scotia customers since it accelerates the reduction in coal fired generation and associated costs and marks a significant step towards the province’s environmental and energy goals of 2030 and beyond.

August 15, 2021 was yesterday, but as of this morning, neither Nova Scotia Power nor Emera have issued press releases confirming the successful transmission of Muskrat Falls power.

You can read the entire Maritime Link document here.

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5. Ferries

The Alakai, docked at Yarmouth in 2019. Photo: Suzanne Rent

On  Friday, the federal government announced that it is renewing the Ferry Services Contribution Program for five years, to March 31, 2027:

This renewal means that there will be continued services between:

  • Saint John, New Brunswick and Digby, Nova Scotia, operated by Bay Ferries Ltd (BFL);
  • Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island and Caribou, Nova Scotia, operated by Northumberland Ferries Ltd (NFL);
  • Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec and Souris, Prince Edward Island, operated by CMTA.

Before the pandemic, the ferries were collectively subsidized for about $40 million annually. That didn’t include $1 million Nova Scotia and New Brunswick each contributed annually towards operation for the Saint John–Digby ferry.

An assessment of the program found that:

Vehicle and passenger traffic for the three ferries has been relatively stable since 2009. Safe and reliable ferry services were delivered, meeting the performance targets and to the satisfaction of users.

The ferry services continued to incur sizable operational deficits. Maintaining an aging fleet is the primary reason for the increase in the contribution funding. In recent years, strategic measures have been introduced to maintain the ferry assets. The outcomes of these measures were not yet available for this evaluation.

It’s impossible to avoid comparing the federal government’s subsidies for the three ferries with Nova Scotia’s subsidy for the Yarmouth ferry, which depending on how you count it is somewhere north of $10 million annually, so somewhat comparable in price. What isn’t comparable is results; as the federal assessment found:

The passenger traffic level across the three ferries reached 327,760 passengers (one-way ridership) in 2017-2018, up from 278,472 in 2009-2010. This indicates about a 2.1% increase per year over nine years. The traffic however grew at different pace on the three routes. Traffic on the Saint-John-Digby route grew at a pace of 3.3% annually, while traffic on the Wood Islands-Cariboo and Îles-de-la-Madeleine and Souris grew at 1.8% and 1.7% respectively. NFL continued to be the largest carrier, with its passenger traffic reaching approximately three times the passengers traffics of BFL or CTMA. On the whole, the three services had a relatively stable level of passenger-traffic load over the last nine years.

In contrast, passenger traffic level on the Yarmouth ferry has been zero, and traffic growth has been 0.0%.

It’s odd how the Yarmouth ferry hasn’t been an election issue.

And the boat is still in Charleston, South Carolina.

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Views

1. Vicky Levack

“Sunday in Victoria Park with Vicky will not be one of the cherished memories of Campaign 2021 for Iain Rankin and the Nova Scotia Liberals,” writes Richard Starr:

No matter how the election turns out, any campaign post-mortem will have to consider how last Sunday’s good news announcement on new hospitals and health centres got taken over by disability rights activists.

In case you missed the news reports and social media coverage, here are the basic details of a Liberal campaign event gone sideways.

Vicky Levack, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around, showed up for the campaign event at Victoria Park in downtown Halifax. She was accompanied by a group of supporters, including members of the Disability Rights Coalition.

The Liberals had put up a big map showing communities slated to benefit from a $4-billion health facilities spending spree. But the activists also had visual aids. Signs reading “No More Warehousing” addressed the lack of supported community living that has forced Vicky Levack, who is only 30, to live in a nursing home.

Rather than chucking the lemon of an event into the compost, Liberal strategists tried to turn it into lemonade and made matters worse. Rankin had a brief exchange at the park with Levack, which his campaign team later spun into a Tweet. It featured the Liberal leader speaking with Levack and the message: “Thank you to Vicky for raising the issue. We committed more funding in our most recent budget. We have to do better, and we will.”

That did not sit well with Levack, who felt exploited. She later told CBC Radio’s Information Morning that when she saw the tweet, she thought, “Oh, no … you don’t get to use me like that.” She also found Rankin’s assertion that he was proud of her for speaking out dismissive and infantilizing. “I am very often treated like a child in my life due to my disability. Don’t do that. That’s one of the worst things you can do. I am a grown woman.”

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Government

City

Monday

Executive Standing Committee (Monday, 10am) — live streamed on YouTube.

Advisory Committee on Accessibility in HRM (Monday, 4pm) — live streamed on YouTube.

Tuesday

Committee of the Whole and Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 10am) — both Committee of the Whole and Halifax Regional Council live streamed on YouTube, with captioning on a text-only site.

Province

No meetings.


On campus

No events today or Tuesday.


In the harbour

Halifax
06:30: Goodwood, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
06:30: Selfoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik, Iceland
11:45: Selfoss sails for Portland
13:15: Siem Pilot, offshore supply vessel, arrives at Berth TBD from St. John’s
14:00: Glovertown Spirit, barge, arrives at Cherubini Dock from sea
15:30: Goodwood sails for sea

Cape Breton
04:30: Gaia Desgagnes, oil tanker, arrives at Government Dock (Sydney) from sea
05:30: Thunder Bay, bulker, sails from PEV dock (Sydney) for sea
07:00: Navig8 Perseverance, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Mongstad, Norway
13:00: Algoma Mariner, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
16:00: Arctic Lift, barge, with Western Tugger, tug, move through the causeway to Aulds Cove quarry from Souris, PEI
17:00: Gaia Desgagnes sails for sea


Footnotes

I took most of the weekend off, sort of. I mean, if you don’t count when I was working, I took the weekend off.

That’s goal for the coming year: to get to the point where I regularly take weekends off.


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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. Little behind the times here – and I’m not a fan of trying to “accredit” the media, but federally, there’s a Journalist Source Protection Act, which provides a definition of journalist. If Sackville thinks it needs to go anywhere with this, maybe it should look at that definition:

    journalist means a person whose main occupation is to contribute directly, either regularly or occasionally, for consideration, to the collection, writing or production of information for dissemination by the media, or anyone who assists such a person. (journaliste)

  2. On the election outcome. I agree that a minority result critical for any real progress. I would make a strategic vote in the hopes of a minority outcome.

  3. To those who think that the Owls Head secret deal is a narrow issue, do a little more research and think again. A government capable of this kind of subterfuge should not be trusted on any matter.

  4. The Yarmouth – Maine ferry not being an election issue should not be surprising, in my humble opinion.

    All parties and all party leaders are in favour of the ferry service operating, so who would dare to say anything against it.

    At this point it’s a sunk cost, so we have to stay the course and actually hope that it starts to run at some point in the future.

  5. As to the Ferry not coming up, I think it’s going to be one of those things will be stuck with no matter whose in.

  6. On the Sackville Town Council and accrediting media story…. It’s not directly relevant to the issue but it should be noted that the Sackville Tribune, the long time weekly in that community, was a victim of COVID and Saltwire’s buying up of titles and printing businesses. I believe Saltwire’s publisher announced in the early spring of 2021 that the paper, which went dark at COVID’s arrival in 2020, would not be returning. While Erica Butler does a great job at local coverage through CHMA radio it doesn’t replace a print voice. Increasingly in non-Halifax and non-CBRM local councils operate without a whole lot of community oversight. A local council could do something silly like promote a container pier or a spaceport or a natural gas plant and no one would notice

  7. All agendas and reports of council and boards & committees should be available to the public on the day they are made available to members of council.
    Dartmouth council agendas and supporting reports were sent to councillors on the Friday afternoon before the Tuesday evening meeting.