Observing the Bavarian Purity Law in Cape Breton

I can’t resist posting this video, which brings together two of my favourite Cape Bretoners: videographer Jason LaFrense of Seaside Communications (where I often work), and hop-farmer-turned-craft-brewer Jeremy White of Big Bruce Brewery in Nyanza—in my untutored opinion, the best of Nova Scotia’s fabulous new boutique breweries.

The Big Spruce Brewery sits just off the TransCanada 105 on the Yankee Line Road, 15 km. south of Baddeck. If you visit in growing season, the organic hop farm, just up the hill from the brewery, is a wonder to behold.

The flagship brew is Kitchen Party Pale Ale, which conforms to the Bavarian Purity Law.  Proclaimed by Albert IV, Duke of Bavarian, in 1497, it allows only four ingredients: water, barley, hops, and yeast.

This is one of a series of Exploring Cape Breton videos LaFrense has produced for Seaside’s cable system in Glace Bay, New Waterford, Louisbourg, St. Peter’s, and Baddeck. The interviewer is Dana MacSween.

Time to admit the mistake

This is the speech Stephen McNeil should give at his earliest opportunity:

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak about the budget provisions affecting the Nova Scotia Film Tax Credit.

As both the One Nova Scotia Commission and the Broten Report have warned in the clearest of terms, Nova Scotia is on an unsustainable economic path. Our accumulated provincial debt and the relentless impact of demographics will render us incapable of providing the health, education, transportation, and human services our citizens expect and deserve unless we change course.

Premier Stephen McNeil answers questions at One Government Place.As we prepared the 2015-2016 budget, we were focused on this challenge. We were determined to make the tough decisions needed to get us back on a sustainable track. We were elected to make tough decisions, and we are not afraid of them.

It should surprise no one that the Film Tax Credit drew our attention. It is extremely generous—in our view, too generous.

We expected opposition. Every single expenditure in every Nova Scotia budget has a constituency that can be counted upon to fight for its continuation. There is no way to return Nova Scotia to a sustainable path without the courage to face and withstand criticism.

Nevertheless, we have been impressed by the passion so many young Nova Scotians feel for our creative industries, including film and digital media. We certainly share the belief that attracting and retaining creative young people is critical to the province’s future.

We have listened to the people affected by the proposed changes, and to their many supporters throughout the province.

We have listened to warnings from film industry executives about the disproportionate impact abrupt change could have on the complicated financial arrangements that enable filmmaking in Canada.

We have also listened to those who support the proposed changes and want us to stay the course.

We have listened, and we have heard.

I have personally come to the conclusion that the changes we proposed are too sudden and too severe.

In short, we made a mistake. And as governments should always be in such circumstances, we are prepared to make adjustments.

I still believe the credit is too generous. We need to find ways to support this vital industry that are not wildly out of sync with government support for other sectors. But we can do that more gradually.

At my direction, the government will introduce amendments to the budget that postpone changes to the film tax credit for one year. We will use that year to consult with industry, and find ways to scale back the cost of this program to taxpayers, without placing an untoward burden on the future of an industry whose importance we all agree on. This will still be a tough process. It will require best efforts—and sacrifices—on all sides.

Over the last week, thousands of Nova Scotians have raised their voices and asked us to reconsider a measure we thought appropriate. As befits this province’s wonderful creative community, they have done so in a spirited and colourful manner. I thank them for that.

We have listened, and we have responded. That is democracy at work.

Risley’s lament


John Risley, the 55th richest person in Canada with net assets of $1,388,872,703, thinks the part time gaffers, grips, extras, and assistant directors who labour in Nova Scotia’s film industry are getting too sweet a deal from the provincial government.

Billionaire Risley has been telling everyone who will listen that Premier Stephen McNeil, who campaigned on a promise to maintain the Nova Scotia Film Tax Credit until 2020, should break that promise, even though it will kill an industry that has attracted hundreds of creative young entrepreneurs to our province.

He made the statement six days after Ottawa gave the Nova Scotia Community College $1 million to help his company, Clearwater Seafoods, develop new mapping techniques that will better enable his scallop draggers to scour the ocean bottom for lucrative shellfish.

That’s how Risley made his $1.38 billion: By acquiring, from government, preferred access to massive public shellfish resources (along with sundry federal and provincial handouts). Clearwater is the largest holder of rights to fish Canadian scallops, lobster, clams, coldwater shrimp, and crab. The company owns exclusive rights to  all offshore lobster fished on the Atlantic coast, and to all Arctic surf clams. These are public resources that you and I can’t fish. But Risley’s bottom-destroying draggers can.

In return, Clearwater provides dead-end, low-wage, seasonal employment in fish plants that have come to rely on special immigration exemptions, issued by government, to import temporary third world workers willing to carry out the bone-chilling, soul-deadening labour that make them profitable.

Perhaps speaking from his $20 million Chester mansion, Risley urged McNeil to kill the province’s $130 million film industry, just as Saskatchewan did two years ago. Let the creative jobs go to Ontario, BC, and back to the USA. After all, he’s got fish plants begging for people to shell crab legs at $10.40 an hour.

On Tuesday, the CBC sat down with a group of accountants to get  an understanding of how film industry economics actually work, something Finance bureaucrats have been unable to explain.

Thank you for that, CBC. Now here’s another challenge for you: put some reporters to work compiling a comprehensive list of all the loans, grants, research funding, payroll rebates, and resource giveaways Risley and his companies received en route to making $1.38 billion.

Then let’s hear that lecture about rugged individualism one more time.



What kind of a province are we?

There’s a huge demonstration circling Province House this afternoon—the biggest* I’ve seen in 40 years of following politics here.

The McNeil Government, under pressure to reduce spending in the face of a big deficit, followed narrow-minded advice from Finance bureaucrats ideologically averse to targeted subsidies, and shockingly ignorant of digital industries.

The result—on display at Province House at this hour—is a cultural standoff between Old, Dying Nova Scotia and a youth-inspired creative industry that stands as one of the slender hopes for a future prosperity to be found here.

Some images from the standoff:

Crowd 1A

Guarding the Legislature from our children:


The face of government:


The corpse:

Chalk corpse

“My books are very few,” said Joseph Howe, “But then the world is before me – a library open to all – from which poverty of purse cannot exclude me – in which the meanest and most paltry volume is sure to furnish something to amuse, if not to instruct and improve.”

Joe Howe 1

My Nova Scotia includes filmmakers.

Front with camera

The government refused to accept a petition of 30,000 signatures gathered by film industry supporters, because they were collected electronically—which neatly symbolizes the whole standoff.

To the McNeils and the Whelans of the world, if it ain’t a steel plant or a pulp mill; if it doesn’t pollute tidal waters, devastate forests, or wipe out fish stocks, it ain’t a real industry. And if it ain’t on paper, it ain’t a real petition.

The demo runs until 7 p.m. tonight. Hike on down to Province House between now and then, and sign an old school paper petition that even the dinosaurs who run that place can comprehend.

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* Longtime labour activist Jim Guild points out that the 1994 union protest against public service cuts by the Savage Government drew significantly more people.

“I will not forget their party for this…”

Lots of reader reacted to Stephen McNeil’s decision to kill Nova Scotia’s $130 million film industry. An embittered film industry worker writes:

I may not be one of the smartest, keenest, most creative—or even a young person, but before yesterday I had an established role in Nova Scotia, a way of practicing my profession and making a living. Thanks to MacNeil and Whalen, my options are more limited. I can spend less time living in NS and try to chase down contract work in somewhere like BC, or I can apply for a local job at Walmart.

I don’t believe they understand how the film and TV industry—carefully cultivated over 20 years—actually worked. They have apparently thrown out one of Ivany’s babies with the bathwater. It’s back to to lumber, paper mills, mining and fisheries for Nova Scotia. Let’s not cultivate anything new.

I will not forget them or their party for this.

A longtime resident of Cape Breton writes:

My daughter was home from Halifax last week and was over the moon happy as she had just gotten the news that she got her dream job. It’s an arts administration job for a dance company, for a year at 20 hours a week. It’s in her field and she was very impressed with the staff and board members that hired her. She’s figured out she can live on the salary and is looking for a service job to top the salary up. She’s so excited and I’m very proud and happy for her.

What does this have to do with the tax credit? Well, she loves the artistic energy of Halifax. She believes in it and wants to be part of it, and part of the larger effect across our region. She sees the tax credit as part of a whole fabric that builds the creative economy. And she sees staying here as part of that.

I watched what happened in Saskatchewan when that province dropped it’s film credit. Many areas of the arts community suffered.

It’s ironic I left Saskatchewan 40 years ago because everyone my age was leaving unless they had a place on the family farm, or were interested in potash farming. And at the time no one saw this as a problem.

Now we want our youth to stay, we say we value creativity and innovation, but we don’t understand the value of the arts.

A retired journalist:

I am trying to figure this out.

Hundreds of industries that have come to Nova Scotia to create jobs tied to government largess, creating work that often devastates natural resources and the environment. Before long these companies are all saying, “Could I have some more, sir, please some more?” Then when there isn’t enough “more,” they are so gone, the only way you know they were here is because they left their trash behind.

It’s a third world economic development tactic that is responsible for a good share of our collective 15 billion dollar debt.

Then comes along a chance to build a local industry that exports creative intellectual property. It works . The exports don’t need trains, planes, or shipping facilities that are a high-cost regional disadvantage. Films ship cheap anywhere in the world.

So there is a tax-based subsidy that makes this industry possible. It is an industry that would also draw tourists to see where parts of films such as “The Book Of Negroes” are made .

Here is the part I am having trouble with: You reduce that tax benefit to the point that you drive this cultural, environmentally positive, feel-good, promotional, local, exporting industry into the margins, or out of business.

Then you say you need to have the money to support care for chronic disease. That is a medical service, which costs money. It is being compared to an industrial revenue generator with huge potential and social benefits.

One of those benefits that is close to my heart is that as a parent, and a citizen, you have something else to say to the youth other than, “Go west young man, there is nothing for you here.“

I have been west. It has a lot to offer to the young.

A longtime Nova Scotia resident writes:

This move by the Liberals is sadly a continuation of a long-term practice of Provincial Governments. They talk of economic development and chase after “The Big Hit’ that will fix everything, usually throwing vast amounts of money away in the process.

It should be more then apparent by now that an real and sustainable economic growth for Nova Scotia will have to be based mainly on local opportunities and strengths. Creative people and industries are one of our strengths. The current government has shot itself in the head this time—not just the foot. Unfortunately it’s a wound we will all suffer from.

We haven’t heard from our curmudgeonly friend in Halifax recently, but he weighs in somewhat enigmatically on the tax credit:

The missing info here is how the NS film tax credit stacks up against what other jurisdictions are offering. It seems everyone else does offer something. [PD:  It was one of the richest in Canada. That’s how it drew $130 million in business away from more obvious film locales like BC and Ontario.]

It may also be part of MacNeil’s philosophy of “creating winning conditions” for business, as opposed to handing out subsidies. It will be an interesting experiment, especially when Liberal friends start expressing their preference for cash over “winning conditions.”

An Alberta reader:

In Alberta, because we have such a varied landscape—from mountains to prairies to the desert hills of southern Alberta—we are also attracting people in the film industry. The government recognizes this.

In one of the few smart moves they made, they gave large tax credits to maintain the film industry here. Then they donated a large studio on the former grounds of a military base to create a sound studio. This industry maintains many local artists, both film actors and technical crew….

They just have no idea what they’ve done. The film industry is very competitive. If somewhere else offers us a better deal, that’s where they’ll move to. What a completely shortsighted move on the governments part.

Former Finance Minister Graham Steele calls this the McNeil Government’s Yarmouth Ferry.

That leaves the one calamitous mistake. The McNeil government is making big changes to the film industry tax credit. Maybe the tax credit needs to be reconsidered, but the government is attacking it in a way that may kill the industry.

That’s real people with real jobs. At the very least, we should have expected careful planning and consultation.

This is not over.

Stephen McNeil’s Avro Arrow

From 2003 to 2013, I ran the Cape Breton Island Film Series, showing top notch independent movies to eager audiences in Sydney. A felicitous side-benefit for me is that I got to know dozens of young people in Nova Scotia’s film industry.

mcneilOn the eve of the McNeil Government’s foolhardy decision to kill that industry, I tried to reassure one of them, a young woman whose work has been celebrated in Cannes and at TIFF.

“This is an old tactic,” I said as we sipped craft beer in a Sydney pub. “Diana Whalen is deliberately scaring you so that when they trim the credit back a bit, you’ll be thrilled they didn’t kill it altogether. The credit probably is a little too rich. But they won’t be stupid enough to kill it altogether.”

My friend was unconvinced. “Just about every interesting young person I know in Halifax is here because of the film industry,” she said. “Without it, they will leave.”

Well, I was wrong and my friend was right. Turns out Whalen and McNeil are stupid enough to kill the tax credit altogether. They may not yet understand they have killed it, and the industry that relies on it, but they have. Here’s Michael Donovan of DHX Media Inc., one of our homegrown movie and video production successes, explaining:

The government has killed the local industry. That may not have been their intention, but that’s what they have done. The NS government doesn’t understand the impact. Fundamentally, they have made the NS film tax credit un-bankable in Canada. You can bank a refundable tax credit but you cannot bank a non-refundable one. That’s the key to complicated international financing.

Let’s assume—I think it’s a safe assumption—that McNeil and Whelan are philistines who’ve never seen an indie film in their lives, and don’t personally give a fig for arts and culture. No problem. They have that in common with many fine people. But part of being a responsible politician is understanding segments of society you have no personal connection to or feeling for are nevertheless crucial to the province’s future.

This is what Murray McLaughlin understood when he thanked farmers for the meal with a song that was real.

Now If I come on by, when you’re out in the sun
Can I wave at you just like a friend
These days when everyone’s taking so much
There’s somebody giving back in

An economist could probably calculate how many hundreds of thousands of dollars “The Farm Song” has added to Canada’s economy. This much is certain: without counterintuitive tax and content policies intended to shore up songwriters, you and I would never have heard it.

whalenThe Ivany Commission understood that a thriving, local, cultural community is one of the few economic magnets we have for generating economic growth in our lonely corner of the world. Citing studies linking the arts, culture and creative sectors to “growth in employment, community development, and social inclusion and well-being,” the commission pointed out that the creative sector generated $871 million in 2009, up 66 percent from 2001.

These numbers reflect the dynamism and breadth of the sector, as well as the depth of the local creative industry supply chain. The creation of Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia in 2012 reflects the acknowledged and growing importance of creative industries to the province, and the need for a more strategic approach to grow the sector.

Many of the smartest, keenest, most creative young people in Nova Scotia—exemplars of the people we need to retain and attract if Nova Scotia is to succeed—will leave the province because of yesterday’s budget. They may not be packing yet, but they are gone.

McNeil and Whalen kicked them out yesterday.

The Harbinger hare

On the day before Easter, Contrarian reader Barry Morrison stepped out the back door of his house in Howie Centre, Cape Breton, to sip coffee and check the day. Here’s what he saw:


Nova Scotia readers will be relieved to see Lepus americanus struthopus—snowshoe hare—has begun its 10-week transition from winter morph (white) to summer morph (greyish brown)—all in pursuit of camouflage. In this respect, L. americanus is a damn site more reliable than the cursed groundhog.

Incidentally, both hare and Morrison are crepuscular.

Happy Easter, dear readers!

Fantasy streetball, Japanese style

Baseball season begins a week from today. This is just to get you in the mood.

It may not be completely obvious to speakers of English, even those who watch to the end, but this is a Toyota commercial.

H/T:  Bill Cohen, via Effectively Wild’s FB page, via Jrock Radio.

Why Quebec is not the answer to NS Power’s coal addiction


NS Power and NB Power have agreed to do something sensible. They will dispatch their thermal generating plants jointly, which means the two utilities will be able to use the cheapest available electricity sources in their combined fleets at any given time. They expect savings of $20 million annually.

This good news on the electricity front produced an email query from longtime energy gadfly Peggy Cameron to Tim Bousquet of the Halifax Examiner:

If NSP can collaborate on grid interconnection with NB Power why aren’t we buying electricity from HydroQuebec and shutting down coal-fired generating plants?

It’s a good question with a perfectly reasonable answer. The transmission line that connects Amherst NS and Moncton NB is very small. The west-to-east transmission line that brings electricity to Moncton and PEI is bigger, but full to capacity.

So the combination of limited capacity east of Moncton and congestion west of Moncton means there is no transmission capacity available to bring significant quantities of electricity from Quebec to NS. To buy power from Quebec, ratepayers in NS would have to pay for construction of a massive transmission line through two other provinces.

Once built, such a transmission line would make NS Power a captive customer of Hydro Quebec. As Joey Smallwood discovered at Churchill Falls, that is a dreadful position to find yourself in.

We tend to blame Quebec for this, but Ottawa is just as much the culprit. When Hydro Quebec exports power to the United States, US law requires that it must also agree to let other power producers transmit (or “wheel”) power through its territory to US customers.

Canadian law imposes no such requirement. Ottawa has never had the gumption to force Quebec, or any other province, to permit wheeling of electricity through its territory. We have free trade for electricity with New England, but not with Quebec.

That’s why buying Labrador power via the Maritime Link was a much better deal for NS Power customers, because the two parties negotiated firm longterm prices and amounts in advance. Even after the deal expires, we will be in a strong position to negotiate reasonable prices, because any power Nalcor sells will have to come through NS.

Thousands more megawatts of hydro power await development in Labrador. Future generations of Nova Scotians will thank their ancestors for having had the wisdom to open a route for that power to our province.

Emera and Nalcor plan to sell some Muskrat Falls Power to New England. This will flow, east to west, through that congested transmission line that serves Moncton. Ironically, if a transmission line is full of west-to-east traffic, and you introduce more electricity in the east-to-west direction, this frees up an equal amount of capacity in the previously congested east-to west direction.*

So the completion of the Maritime Link, and resulting electricity sales to New England, could actually create opportunities to buy Quebec power on the spot market when the price is advantageous.

All this is a illustrates the technical, logistical, marketing, and political complications that beset electrical utility policy. And as H. L. Mencken said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple—and wrong.”

– –

* This is also why the hilarious claim by Keith Cronkhite, NB Power VP of business development, that the energy swaps will exclude nuclear power from Point Lepreau, is pure, unmitigated bullshit.

The ethics of forced mental health treatment



On March 15, I criticized Dalhousie University for forcing whistleblower Ryan Millet, as a condition of graduating and on pain of financial ruin, to undergo treatment by a psychologist of Dalhousie’s choice, even though Millet suffers no psychological ailment or condition. Yesterday, a psychologist wrote that Millet was being treated not by a psychologist but by a social worker selected by Dal, adding:

I cannot imagine any professional, particularly a psychologist with their stringent ethical codes, cooperating with Dalhousie’s repugnant agenda with regard to this honourable young man who has the ardent support of many clear thinking people and the gratitude of many feminists.

This caused me to wonder aloud why social workers don’t have “ethical standards that would bar its practitioners from being co-opted to such an agenda.” More than one social worker responded, including this one:

I feel compelled as a social worker to respond to your statement that social workers are not applying their ethics in the same way as a psychologist would. I think there is so much assumption built into your statement that it is important to consider the following:

  • That this young man might benefit from some support during this difficult situation
  • That even though counselling can be ordered by a third party, it is defined by the two people in the room: Ryan and the social worker or therapist.
  • That the social worker or therapist would have their client’s interests at heart, not an agenda of educating or “re-training” him
  • That a feminist social worker or therapist would be especially mindful of the role of power in relationships and the ways in which Ryan has power and the ways in which he is experiencing powerlessness. 

Counselling is a beneficial practice that assists many people, even those who are ordered by third parties.  I don’t know how this counselling experience will be for Ryan but I trust that his defined goals of treatment will be defined by him.  Not by the social worker. Not by Dalhousie. Not by you.

I find social workers to be strong advocates for justice and very skilled at understanding the complexity and layers of injustice in situations like this one. Of course, Ryan will be the only one who can let us know how he found the counselling and if it was indeed helpful.  The issue of whether or not it should have been ordered needs to be dealt with separately from slamming a professional for their individual response in accepting a referral in this difficult situation.

I realize that courts sometimes order psychological assessments and even treatment, but context matters. Ryan Millet:

  • Did nothing remotely serious enough to warrant official sanction
  • Did much that was right
  • Was tried in secret, over his protests and at Dal’s insistence
  • Was forbidden to record or transcribe the secret proceedings against him
  • Was prosecuted, tried, convicted, and sentenced by faculty under a cloud, with a stake in demonstrating how tough they are on misogyny
  • Was punished more severely than the actual misogynists whose threatening behaviour caused the whole mess
  • Was coerced into a program of “remediation” that included mandatory sessions with a therapist not of his choosing.

I raised these points in an email exchange, and the social worker quoted above responded:

I really am responding to your thought that social work is not as ethical as it should be in taking on this situation. 

I can’t speak to the social worker involved, but I know that third party referrals happen with clients who do not want to be receiving counselling. This happens with social work and psychology.  There are many psychologists who do assessments regarding whether a client might have an addiction and testify in various courts about their findings. This situation is not a legal process and that certainly complicates things.

I guess I just think that I would rather have a forced meeting with a therapist who has a social justice background than one who doesn’t.  And that would mean someone who is able to understand how Ryan has been mistreated and maligned by this situation. That is someone I would prefer to speak to if I were forced to talk to a counselor.

No one likes the lack of choice. Certainly not the counsellor. Certainly not the client. But it doesn’t mean that something beneficial can’t come out of it.  It doesn’t mean the social worker is lacking in ethics.

It is also possible the social worker tasked to treat Millet did not know the multiple injustices and hypocrisies Dal committed against his involuntary client, since the Halifax media dropped the ball on this aspect of the story. I think an ethical counsellor who knew the context should have declined the assignment.

But the real question is how Dal can get away with this behaviour.

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