We spent millions of dollars on the Argyle Street reconstruction project and forgot to put in washrooms and water fountains

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1. Cabinet shuffle

Moving ore at the Touquoy gold mine on the Eastern Shore. Photo: Joan Baxter

This item is written by Joan Baxter.

Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is no more. Yesterday, Premier Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government renamed it the Department of Lands and Forestry (not, however, Lands and Forests, something lamented by the insightful Facebook page devoted to Nova Scotia’s “Woods and Water”).

Timberlea-Prospect MLA Iain Rankin, formerly Minister of Environment, is now minister of the new Lands and Forestry department. The MLA for Hants East, Margaret Miller, who had been heading DNR, is once again Minister of Environment, as she was in 2016-17.

The cabinet shuffle and departmental shape-shifting also sees DNR’s geoscience and mines branch, which of late has been acting more like a cheerleader for industry than a regulator, move to the Department of Energy (henceforth Energy and Mines), with Derek Mombourquette, MLA for Sydney-Whitney Pier, the new minister.

Yesterday’s government press release detailing the changes contains a statement from Premier Stephen McNeil in which he tries to reassure us that these changes will allow government departments to do what is just about impossible: “sustainably” develop [a cynic might read this as “allow — even encourage — more extractive industries to exploit and export the resources from”] our lands and forests, at the same time that the departments are providing good stewardship of our forests, soil, water, and climate for future generations.

“Combining geoscience and mining with energy makes sense. It’s about taking a more cohesive approach to economic development opportunities, on land and offshore,” said McNeil, or whoever wrote the press release. “These changes will also ensure the forestry industry has a more dedicated departmental focus, which will help achieve the necessary balance between sustainably developing our lands and forests and protecting the environment.”

And, we are told, bringing these two teams of experts on our underground or under-sea natural resources together in the Department of Energy and Mines will “enhance economic development opportunities in the province.”

Whatever that really means.

It could mean a lot of worrisome things, given successive governments’ records on the environmental file, and a provincial habit of failing to hold large, foreign-owned industries accountable for human or environmental disasters, for which Nova Scotians wind up paying the price.

The current government is busy trying to attract still more extractive industries to Nova Scotia [see the Fool’s Gold series in The Examiner / Cape Breton Spectator], so it could mean we will be going all-out to open still more gold mines. Five open-pit mines are already planned for the Eastern Shore, and the government is promoting gold exploration in the watershed in northern Nova Scotia that supplies Tatamagouche with its drinking water.

What is sure is that with government employees whose main interest is sub-surface resources now gathered under one roof and working to promote mining and petroleum exploration, Nova Scotians will need to pay close attention to power-brokers working on behalf of those industries.

There are still lots of lobbyists and other proponents of fracking waiting in the wings, and one of those, MLA John Lohr, is vying for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party.

Under its executive director, Sean Kirby, the Mining Association of Nova Scotia (MANS), with its who’s who list of industry backers, has been arguing for an end to the ban on uranium exploration and mining in Nova Scotia. Over the past year, Kirby, son of retired Liberal Senator Michael Kirby, has also been lobbying and campaigning hard to convince the province to allow for land swaps that would open up protected wilderness areas for mining and quarrying.

To its credit, so far the government has not given in to MANS on this.

So maybe there is room for optimism, especially if the cabinet and departmental changes are the first step towards ending the conflicts of interest that prevailed within the former DNR, which found itself trying to protect natural resources while promoting their exploitation.

Back in 2015, journalist Ralph Surette wrote in the Chronicle Herald that it was time to split up DNR and “put its agenda through the chipper.”

DNR, he wrote, was “not a department of government but of the pulp and lumber industry,” so it was hardly in a position to regulate the industry. According to Surette:

Before anything else can be dealt with, this department must be broken up, its wildlife pieces either farmed out to the Environment Department or split off in some other way. This was proposed by many through the long and ignored Natural Resources Review process.

Yesterday’s departmental shake-up hasn’t resolved that conflict of interest, and the Natural Resources Review of which Surette wrote is now history.

Instead, we now have the Independent Review of Forestry Practices led by William Lahey, president of the University of King’s College, a review that McNeil announced in August 2017. The Lahey review was originally due at the end of February 2018, but its release has been delayed while the report undergoes “further review by advisors in international law and forestry economics before it is finalized and submitted to Minister Miller and made available to the public.”

Because of yesterday’s musical chairs, when the Lahey report is finalized, it will be submitted not to Miller, but to Iain Rankin, now the minister of the new Department of Lands and Forestry. Whether Lahey will recommend more changes to the make-up of the department so it can better balance forest and wildlife conservation with forestry management and exploitation remains to be seen.

But since hope springs eternal in the dog days of summer, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it could be a good thing that the government geologists who are intent on promoting mining in the province — digging, drilling, and blasting away all that sustains us on the surface (soil, vegetation, forests) to get at natural resources underground — have been moved out of the department that should be dedicated to conservation of resources and wildlife.

What is needed now is for the departments of Environment and of Lands and Forestry to be given both the clout and resources to keep the newly strengthened and energized Department of Energy and Mines — and potentially harmful extractive industries — in check.

Don’t hold your breath.

2. Saltwire to close Newfoundland newspapers

Mark Lever. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Last night, Saltwire president Mark Lever sent the following memo to employees:

Dear colleagues –

I hope you’re all enjoying a great start to the summer months.

In today’s email I’m sharing with you news related to our product mix in Newfoundland.

On July 4, 2018, The Compass shifted from a paid-for subscription publication to a total market free publication which will be delivered to residents of the Conception Bay North area. This increases our reach in that area to 12,000 homes weekly.

In addition, as of August 1, 2018, The Pilot, The Advertiser, The Nor’wester and The Beacon (all located in central Newfoundland) will merge to become one new publication, The Central Voice. This new publication will represent the entire Central region and will shift from a group of paid-for subscription publications to a free weekly community newspaper which will be delivered to all residents of Central.

Thursday, July 26, 2018 will be the end date for all of the current publications. The new Central Voice will begin circulation on Wednesday, August 1, 2018.

Consolidating our four products in central Newfoundland enables us to stay true to our commitment to local content. This region has long-identified itself as sharing a common perspective and this move gives the Central region a common voice that is stronger and more united.

The new product gives us the opportunity to better-focus our efforts on creating more in-depth and extended coverage of the Central area, including stronger local coverage, editorial content and more space for community organizations to submit and share their good work. Our investment in local content will significantly improve the online product and by converting from subscription-based product to a free community newspaper, we will dramatically increase the reach to 32,000 households.

The offices for The Compass will close tomorrow, July 6, 2018. The Beacon, Pilot, Nor’wester and Advertiser offices will close on August 11, 2018. Operations for both The Compass and The Central Voice will be managed out of The Telegram building in St. John’s.

Finally, there are some changes to staffing that come as a result of these moves. I want to say a sincere thank you to all of the staff at these publications and wish those who will be moving on nothing but the best.

If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a member of the leadership team.

All the best,
Mark

3. No police investigation into allegations against Shambhala leader

Yesterday, I asked Halifax police spokesperson Carol McIsaac if the police were investigating allegations of sexual assault that have been made against Shambhala leader Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and she responded via email:

Based upon a query of our records management system, as well as an inquiry to our Sexual Assault Investigation Team, I can confirm that HRP has not received any complaints and we do not have any ongoing investigations involving Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, nor have any charges been laid.

4. Accessibility hearing

“A human rights hearing has begun in Halifax where several people with physical disabilities argued that the Nova Scotia government has discriminated against them by failing to enforce accessible washrooms in restaurants,” reports Taryn Grant for StarMetro Halifax:

They bolstered their complaint by saying that a public safety risk arises when these members of the public can’t easily wash their hands.

At a Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission Board of Inquiry hearing Thursday, the province’s lawyer Kevin Kindred argued that while increased accessibility was a “good” goal, this specific approach was “dramatic” and ill suited.

David Fraser, the lawyer representing the five complainants, countered that the Nova Scotia Health Protection Act currently leaves out people in wheelchairs, to the detriment of disabled individuals as well as the wider public.

“This question is squarely one related to food safety,” said Fraser, adding that washroom access is essential not only for the health of the individual, but also for protecting the wider population against contagious diseases through hand washing.

(Someone should instigate a @kevinkindred v @privacylawyer battle on Twitter.)

When I made note of the hearing Wednesday, I linked to a Human Rights Commission press release stating that the complaint alleges “discrimination on the part of the Department of Environment for not enforcing what they view is a law requiring restaurant owners to have accessible washroom facilities if they have an outdoor patio for the summer.” Parker Donham contacted me yesterday to say that the press release was incorrect, and that the complaint is broader than just restaurants with outdoor patios — that is, it covers all restaurants.

But on the Argyle Street patio issue, it occurs to me that the washroom issue could’ve been, if not completely addressed, at least mitigated had the multi-million street reconstruction project — you know, the one that supposedly turned the street into a pedestrian paradise at an estimated cost of $6.8 million — included public washrooms. It’s not a perfect solution to have restaurants sending people using wheelchairs half way down the block to find a washroom, but it’s better than the existing situation.

5. Water fountains

The city’s plan for the reconstruction of Argyle Street omitted water fountains and washrooms. Graphic: halifax.ca

Moreover, the summer heat is reminding me that not only didn’t we get washrooms on Argyle Street, we didn’t even get a simple water fountain. It doesn’t surprise me: the redesigned street is supposedly pedestrian-friendly, but truly it’s just friendly to those sorts of pedestrians who can afford to buy bottled water or patronize a restaurant or bar on the street.

How is it we’re building (supposedly) modern streets that serve pedestrians and we’re not getting facilities that serve basic human needs, like water fountains and washrooms?

Water fountains are easy, and don’t cost much money. Washrooms take up more space and so will entail more design consideration, and they are costlier, but they’re an essential component of a heavily trafficked public street. Both washrooms and water fountains should have been installed on Argyle Street.

That opportunity may have been lost on Argyle Street (Is it? Can they be added in after-the-fact?), but into the future, water fountains and washrooms should be installed wherever there’s major street reconstruction. And two such projects are in the works now: the Spring Garden Road and Quinpool Road “streetscaping” projects. I’ll be watching to see if planners incorporate water fountains and washrooms into the designs.

6. Sea mammals

Humpback whales. Photo: Kate Cummings/Blue Ocean Whale Watch

The federal government has issued a tender offer for a contractor to conduct a review of the ways in which aquaculture operators scare off sea mammals, and to come up with a “‘Recommendation List,’ based on criteria of effectiveness and humaneness.” Explains the tender:

Mitigating the impacts of aquaculture activities on marine mammals is a priority for federal and provincial governments, the aquaculture sector, environmental advocacy groups, and international stakeholders (such as the United States). Marine mammal deterrence methods may vary in effectiveness and humaneness depending on the environment in which they are employed, and also depending on the species targeted. For example, some deterrence methods may be effective in humanely preventing interactions with pinnipeds, but may cause unintended negative consequences for cetaceans. The contractor’s evaluation must address the complex interaction of deterrence methods in different ecosystems.

The project should cover deterrence practices for a diverse set of marine mammal species, including pinniped and cetacean species, while focusing on those that most commonly interact with marine aquaculture facilities in Canada (California sea lions, Harbour seals, Grey seals, Humpback whales, etc.).

Dependent on data availability, the project could cover additional aquatic species that commonly interact with aquaculture facilities, including sea turtles, sharks, or birds. This paper should include a comprehensive review of deterrence practices in Canadian provinces with marine aquaculture (British Columbia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island). In addition, management methods used in other leading aquaculture countries, such as Norway, Scotland, Chile, and the United States (U.S.), should be reviewed and evaluated for effectiveness and humaneness. Moreover, this project must address marine mammal interactions and deterrence methods with a variety of aquaculture gear. For example, finfish net-pen gear, long-line mussel gear, oyster trays, etc.

Once this data is compiled, the contractor must evaluate the effectiveness and the humaneness of deterrence methods. The contractor will develop a Recommendation List based on the outcome of the evaluation, which will serve to guide Canadian industry on effective and humane deterrence methods at marine aquaculture facilities. The List must be comprehensive and address regional differences in practice. This evaluation must also address deterrence method compliance with the United States’ Marine Mammal Protection Act Import Provisions (MMPA Import Provisions), and other market access considerations for key Canadian export destinations. The Recommendation List will address practices already in use, new practices/technologies under development, and areas where further research/development may be required.

The requested paper will incorporate the knowledge and experience of regional (federal or provincial/territorial) regulators and administrators, industry, as well as international examples, regarding the deterrence of marine mammals at aquaculture facilities.

The contract should examine non-lethal deterrent methods presently used in Canada, their effectiveness and humaneness, impact on other aquatic animals, best practises from aquaculture-producing countries, and gaps in research and development in regards to deterrence technologies.

Of course, one very effective way of mitigating the impacts of aquaculture activities on marine mammals would be to ban open ocean aquaculture completely; seems to me that a ban should be top of the Recommendation List.

That aside, that Canada is researching the issue at all speaks to the power of other nations’ laws and their effect on Canadian practices, specifically the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act Import Provisions. Honestly, I’m surprised Canada hasn’t filed a NAFTA challenge to it, but I’ll take it.

As the contract is to be awarded on August 1 and completed by November 1, I’m assuming that the researcher is already known and the tender is just a formality.


Government

No public meetings.


On campus

No public events.


In the harbour

Friday
5:30am: Atlantic Sun, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
5:30am: Morning Christina, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
7:30am: Polar Prince, research/survey vessel, moves from Pier 9 to Irving Oil
10am: YM Moderation, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
11am: Galai, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Lisbon, Portugal
3:30pm: Atlantic Sun, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Liverpool, England
4pm: Morning Christina, car carrier, moves from Autoport to Pier 31
6pm: Polar Prince, research/survey vessel, sails from Irving Oil for sea
7pm: Galai, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
8pm: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s
9:30pm: YM Moderation, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
10:30pm: Morning Christina, car carrier, sails from Pier 31 for sea

Saturday
4am: CMA CGM Pellas, container ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Colombo, Sri Lanka
5:30am: Patriot, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Rota, Spain
11am: Asian Moon, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for sea
4pm: Patriot, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea

No cruise ships this weekend.


Footnotes

It’s Friday in the summer. Not much going on.

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