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October in Review

Nova Scotia is a great place to live, especially if you're rich, healthy and white

by Ken Clare

The Pictou mill has been dumping effluent waste into Boat Harbour for the past 45 years (Miles Howe photo).
The Pictou mill has been dumping effluent waste into Boat Harbour for the past 45 years (Miles Howe photo).

Feel their pain…

The four richest individuals and families in Nova Scotia all took a tumble on the Canadian Business magazine’s annual list of the 100 wealthiest Canadians.

The Sobey family grocery store kings fell from 20th to 25th place among Canada’s richest, with $2.26 billion.  Clearwater Seafoods supremo John Risley, at $910 million, dropped two slots to number 72, while cable TV and blueberry magnate John Bragg, with $780 million, slipped to 81st place.  The Joudrey family, whose frozen food and nursing home empire is valued at only $600 million, fell three rungs to number 100, becoming embarrassingly the very last name on the list.

Happier news just across the Fundy, where the family fortune of the third-place Irving boys has grown to  $7.8 billion worth of gas stations, shipyard and oil refinery, newspapers, and great swaths of Maritime woodlands. This generation of Irvings made their money the old fashioned way: they inherited it, then compounded their riches in a more modern fashion—governments redistributed your tax dollars to them. They’ve clung to every penny, moving house to Bermuda to avoid Canadian income, business, and inheritance taxes.

…or feel our pride
Neither these business empires, nor their business and political allies, nor their media absolvers, seem likely to impress the activists who established the successful Occupy Nova Scotia encampment at the Grand Parade in downtown Halifax.  In concert with a series of pro-democracy and anti-capitalist actions around the globe as diverse as the Arab spring, the massive ongoing demonstrations from Spain to Israel, UK Uncut, indeed what should be considered a worldwide movement, some 300 activists set up camp on October 15.  In the days afterward, Occupiers began their own a publication, developed educational programming, forged links with trade unions, briefly “occupied” the Halifax-Dartmouth ferry, took a lively Tour de Finance, and negotiated an agreement to share space for the traditional Remembrance Day service on land. Meanwhile, they maintained a positive, progressive outlook, democratic functioning, and personified the gathering struggle against inequality toward a more genuine political and economic democracy.

Does the Shipyard feel like the future?
The Irving Shipyard in Halifax was successful in its bid for the bulk of the Canadian Navy and Coast Guard’s new vessel construction over the next 30 years.  The $25 billion agreement to build approximately 20 warships—no formal contracts have been signed—is expected to have a significant economic impact on Halifax, and offer a generous boost to the Irving family fortune.  It will make the Canadian military an even more robust participant in buccaneering and adventures abroad.

Unseemly euphoria drowned out the cautionary voices, who argued that in an age of crumbling infrastructure and cutbacks in almost all government services, something smarter might have been found for billions of dollars.  Dalhousie economics professor Lars Osberg told the Chronicle Herald that while even an investment of this size “isn’t a game-changer,” this one contract will not erase our history as a ‘have-not’ province.

Or do we feel more like NewPage?
Twenty-one groups of potential buyers have submitted letters of intent to buy the NewPage paper mill in Port Hawkesbury.  Some bidders are interested in keeping the mill operating, while others intend to ‘liquidate the assets’.  The leading candidates for purchase will be identified by early November, according to the Supreme Court’s timetable, with the successful buyer notified by November 9.

The closing of NewPage was driven from the front pages by the fireworks celebrating the Shipyards contract, but it may portend a deeper, more long-lasting narrative—the hollowing-out of the economy of rural and small-town Nova Scotia.  There were plenty of cautionary indicators this month, including grim reports from the BMO which predicted sluggish economic growth for Nova Scotia over the next year: a 1.7 per cent increase for both 2011 and 2012, compared with Canadian rates of 2.2 per cent and 1.8 per cent, respectively; and Statistics Canada, which reported manufacturing sales fell by 5.6 per cent in Nova Scotia, while they rose by 1.2 per cent nationwide.  The manufacturing exports portion of the sales has fallen by 6.7 per cent in the last year, and that’s before the New Page closure.  The Community Foundation of Nova Scotia’s Vital Signs pulse-taking found a wider spread bleak picture: an aging population, a trend to higher unemployment and poor education results.

Just don’t get sick
The Department of Health has instructed District Health Authorities and the IWK, to find three per cent savings in their 2012-2013 budgets.  Budget trimmers should not compromise patient care, the Department says, instead cut costs in non-essential areas.

Just don’t grow old
The Paperworkers union and the court-appointed trustee for NewPage Nova Scotia are at loggerheads over the immediate control over the plant’s pension funds.  NewPage has a $75-million unfunded pension liability, and the pension funds for two of the four unions representing mill workers are 30 per cent underfunded.

Meanwhile, the fate of the Dalhousie Pension Plan, underfunded by some $270 million, is on the table for staff and faculty negotiations.  This may be one big ouchie for union members and, when resolved, could exert significant upward pressure on tuition fees.

Something called the Mercer Pension Health Index has revealed that in the third quarter of 2011, their “model pension funds” invested holdings fell to 60 per cent of long-term obligations from 71 per cent.

Bring on the fountain of youth.

Dumping on Pictou Landing, again (and again and again and again)
The HMC broke the story.  Over objections from a number of community members, leadership of the Pictou Landing First Nation is negotiating an agreement with the province to delay their lawsuit over the Northern Pulp pollution of Boat Harbour.  The two to three year delay, in exchange for a $3 million community development fund, is consistent with the history of Indigenous attempts to solve this foul and deadly effluent problem: always put off and always in favour of processes that ensure uninterrupted dumping.

Native Schools Truth and Reconciliation hearings
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission on native residential schools heard compelling testimony about racist education practices and brutal treatment of children during its Nova Scotia hearings at Indian Brook and in Halifax.  Several institutions, including the University of Manitoba, Dalhousie University, and the RCMP, also testified.  From them, heartfelt pleas for reconciliation, and a careful measure of the truth.


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1018 words


Ken Clare's October news highlights

Great summary and analysis --  well-written and clear. I hope this becomes a regular HMC feature.  


Great roundup of news.

Ken, you're "hired."

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