Tagged: NDP of NS

Don Mills plumbs the causes of the probable NDP collapse

Assume for the moment that the Corporate Research Associates poll showing Stephen McNeil’s Liberals with a 30-point lead is accurate (which I assume it is), and assume McNeil holds that lead until Tuesday (which remains to be seen).

The next question is, how the heck did this happen?

The NDP made serious mistakes (see here and here) but they did not run a horrible government (see here and here). Not everyone will agree, but there is a reasonable case that Dexter deserves another term, something of a tradition in Nova Scotia, as many have pointed out.

Don-MillsThe curious thing is that one detects little passion in this election at all, certainly no mad fury to throw the bastards out. Election signs are few, and in my circle at least, hardly anyone is talking about the election. The public exudes little warmth for McNeil, and his slender platform is pockmarked by a handful of dreadful ideas.

Without the CRA poll, my main expectation would be a record low turnout. These are not the impressions one expects a week before an electoral tidal wave strikes.

CRA Chairman and CEO Don Mills thinks the NDP’s problems are rooted in the fact it took power just as the worst recession in 80 years settled in to stay.

“These have been the most difficult economic times in most people’s living memory here,” he told Contrarian in a telephone interview Tuesday.

CRA tracks the economic wellbeing of Nova Scotians every quarter, and in each of the last four years, 40 percent of its respondents reported no increase in pay. Inflation, meanwhile, has eaten away at the value of their pay checks. In effect, a large cohort of Nova Scotia’s middle class has seen a 10 percent drop in buying power during the four-plus years of the Dexter Government. This may be no fault of the NDP, but that’s of little consequence to fed-up voters.

“Virtually every household is worse off,” said Mills. “I think they would have very little patience with any government—and it doesn’t matter what government it is, by the way. I think this is why electricity rates are such a sore point.”

To that economic malaise, add the voters’ dashed hopes that the NDP would be different. Take a closer look at Mills’s poll. Dexter was elected in June 2009 with 45 percent of the vote. Within six weeks, his government’s popularity soared to 60 percent. Voters—even those who didn’t vote NDP—must have said to themselves, “Let’s give these new guys a chance. Maybe they really will turn out to be different.”

The new government did little in its first six months, and then the expense scandal hit, with Dexter smack in the middle of it. In retrospect, I believe this created a sense of disillusionment that voters have been nursing ever since.

Six things the NDP did right – part 2

Here is the final instalment of my four posts on the NDP government’s mistakes and successes. Mistakes here and here. Successes, part one, here, part two below. Between now and election day, I’ll post a selection of reader responses, more of which are always welcome.

4. Wilderness protection

protected-lands

Two hundred years from now, few Nova Scotians will know whether the provincial government balanced its books in 2013, or how much power rates increased between 2009 and 2013, or even who Darrell Dexter was. But they will know that a significant amount of Nova Scotia’s spectacular wilderness areas was permanently protected for the benefit of people and wildlife.

Building on a foundation laid by Mark Parent, environment minister in the Rodney MacDonald government, the NDP has taken Nova Scotia from a mediocre record of wilderness conservation to a position of national leadership.

The Protected Areas Plan for Nova Scotia, released in August, capped several rounds of public and stakeholder consultations to identify lands worthy of protection. It increased the total percentage of protected lands in the province from 9.4 percent (second lowest among Canadian provinces) to 13 percent now (second only to British Columbia, at 14 percent). The total will grow to about 14 percent as new sites are protected over the next few years. The newly protected lands include 700 kilometres of coastline and about 2600 lakes and watercourses.

The plan won praise from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Nova Scotia Nature Trust, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and the Ecology Action Centre, whose wilderness co-ordinator, Raymond Plourde, lauded the government for “hard work and steadfast support for conservation.”

Extending the percentage of protected areas to 14 percent of the province assumes the government to be sworn in next month will continue the plan. The Liberal Party platform [PDF] says the party “support(s) the protection of land,” but at least one Liberal candidate, Lloyd Hines, running in Guysborough, has called for a halt to further land protection.

The Mining Association of Nova Scotia accused the government of putting future economic growth at risk by permanently protecting land from economic use. It will lobby the incoming government to allow land swaps, so mining and quarrying companies can access the protected land.

5.  A five-year highway plan

For decades, Nova Scotia governments have tried to control budget deficits, some more successfully than others. Nova Scotia has another kind of deficit we rarely hear about: a highway infrastructure deficit. The province has about 23,000 km. of roads, and for years, we’ve been wearing them out faster than we fix them.

Paving and politics are deeply entwined, which means road construction and maintenance decisions haven’t always reflected objective criteria. The Dexter Government took several useful steps to arrest and begin reversing the decline of our highways:

  • It produced and published a five-year plan for highway and bridge maintenance and construction. The plan’s annual updates are readily available on the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal website. Four instalments have been produced so far. They are not perfect. They are vague about the timeframes for multi-year, 100-series highway expansion projects, but they represent a big improvement over plans drawn up on a napkin in the minister’s back pocket.
  • The province improved its criteria for maintaining paved roads. In the past, when paving decisions weren’t based on pure politics, they were prioritized on a worst-first basis. Roads in the worst condition got paved first. This sounds logical, but it ignores a key fact about highway engineering. At a certain point in their lifespan, paved roads begin to show signs of deterioration. If early steps are taken to repair the damage—by sealing cracks, applying a mixture of stone chips and asphalt, micro sealing with a thin layer of asphalt, or applying a single layer of asphalt—major reconstruction can be delayed for several years.
  • The Dexter Government took two bold steps to rectify the costly consequences of non-competitive bidding on major highway jobs. It purchased a paving plant and deployed it in rural counties where a lack of competitive bidding led to construction costs that were much higher than in neighbouring New Brunswick. The government established a provincial chip-seal crew for the same reason. Predictably, the paving cartel went ballistic and hired a PR outfit to plant horror stories with business-compliant reporters bemoaning delays and cost overruns in the civil service paving crews. But paving bids plummeted by amounts that dwarfed the provincial overruns.

[View Larger Map]

The interactive map above, cribbed from the department’s website, shows that highway projects are still over-concentrated in government ridings. To some extent, this is inevitable given the NDP sweep of rural ridings in 2009. But the steps outlined above represent a serious effort to address highway deterioration that a new government would be imprudent to abandon for short term political gain.

6.  The Maritime Link

The natural gas industry, the wind power industry, the province’s two opposition parties, and a bogus citizens’ group that is really a front for the gas industry have had a field day parlaying voter resentment over recent power rate increases into skepticism about the wisdom of developing the Maritime Link to receive electricity from Muskrat Falls in Labrador. The quality of their arguments has ranged from shallow and self-serving to intellectually dishonest.

hi-muskrat-falls-river-2012-8col

Simply put, the government that takes office next month would be nuts to pass up the chance to open a power corridor to Labrador, site of the largest untapped hydro resource on earth. [Disclosure: In 2011 and 2012, I carried out writing projects for Emera involving the Maritime Link.]

Historically, the big problem with Nova Scotia’s electrical system is a lack of diversity. When oil was cheap in the ’50s and ’60s, we over-committed to oil-fired power plants, only to see the price of oil increase almost tenfold in the 1970s. We repeated the mistake in the 1980s, replacing all those oil-fired plans with coal plants. This made sense at a time when coal was cheap, mining it created local jobs, and no one had heard of climate change. But the last big mine closed in 2000 2001, and since then we’ve sent hundreds of millions of dollars a year to coal brokers in faraway lands, with no local local economic benefit. Once again, we found ourselves at the mercy of  wild swings in the price of imported fossil fuels.

The obvious solution is to diversify our electricity supply, and increase our access to market priced electricity, so we will never again find ourselves shackled to world prices for fossil fuels. In short, the solution is a little coal, a little natural gas, a little wind, a little hydro, eventually a little tidal, and occasional purchases from the North American grid—something we can’t do today, because our slender electrical connection to New Brunswick is too frail to support significant imports.

The Maritime Link serves this strategy in several ways:

  • It assures Nova Scotia a 35-year supply of clean, renewable energy sufficient to meet eight to 10 percent of our current electricity demand (and much more than that in the first five years, owing to a quirk in the arrangement with Nalcor, the Newfoundland energy utility).
  • Because Muskrat Falls is the small first step in a series of massive hydro developments planned in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Maritime Link will give us preferred access to that additional clean renewable energy when it comes on line.
  • When Newfoundland’s lamented contract with Quebec for power from the massive Churchill Falls generating station expires in 2041—not that far off in utility planning terms—the Maritime Link will also give us preferred access to that clean renewable energy.
  • Because Newfoundland has its eye on the massive electricity demand in New England and New York, construction of the Maritime Link will lead to construction of a robust transmission corridor between Cape Breton and Boston. This, too, can only increase our options for power purchases and sales at market prices.
  • At the moment, we have maxed out the capacity of our electricity grid to absorb intermittent power sources like wind. Hydro power makes an ideal backup for wind power because, unlike coal-fired plants, it can be ramped up quickly when wind turbines tapers off due to diminishing winds. The Maritime Link will enable further expansion of clean, renewable wind power in Nova Scotia.

These advantages are so solid and so varied as to make Nova Scotia’s embrace of the project the obvious choice. Against them, the project’s critics, all of whom have some vested interest in a competing fuel source or in defeating the current government, draw comparisons to the spot price of whatever fuel source is cheapest at the moment. They pretend we can base 35-year power planning decisions on the assumption that prices will stay that low for three decades.

This is rank nonsense. Every serious energy planner knows the only reliable thing about fossil fuel prices is that they are sure to gyrate wildly, while trending relentlessly upward. Last year, the prospect of tapping massive shale gas deposits made natural gas the darling of the day, but now gas prices have gone up again, and some energy experts contend the shale gas bubble is poised to burst.

By contrast, hydro projects look expensive at the start, but like the sweetest of bargains five or 10 years into their decades-long lifespans. The notoriously low price Hydro Quebec pays for power from Churchill Falls—currently one-quarter of a cent per kilowatt-hour—was actually above the market price when the contract was signed in late 1960s. All the costs of building a hydro development are payable up front, but because they use no fuel, hydro plants go on producing for decades at stable prices that look better with each passing year. Can any of the Maritime Link’s naysayers claim coal and gas prices will not increase over the next 35 years?

When analysts pick over the bones of the NDP’s almost certain defeat in next week’s election, they will focus on the issue of electricity rates. The NDP government has been honest about the short-term costs of converting Nova Scotia’s electricity system from its decades-old over-reliance on imported fossil fuels to a diverse mix of renewable sources, and it made the right decision committing to the Maritime Link. Opposition parties have pandered to public resentment over recent power rate increases, while offering magical promises to freeze rates and lower renewable targets (in the case of the Tories), or to abandon energy efficiency and adopt deregulation strategies that have proven disastrous in other jurisdictions (in the case of the Liberals).

That this contrast—honesty and sound decisions vs. pandering and magic solutions—will see the NDP driven from office is surely the most dispiriting aspect of recent public discourse in Nova Scotia.

Thoughts on election timing

Since 1970, four Nova Scotia governments have delayed elections into the fifth year of their mandates. Three of the four got clobbered.

  • In 1978, Gerald Regan’s Liberals went almost seven months into their fifth year, then dropped from 31 seats to 17.
  • In 1993, Donald Cameron’s Progressive Conservatives went almost eight months into their fifth year, and fell from 28 seats to 9.
  • Almost five years later, Russell MacLellan led the Liberals from a commanding 40 seats to a humiliating 19-seat tie with the New Democrats, allowing him to govern only briefly with the slenderest of minorities.
  • In 2003, John Hamm went just 10 days into his fifth year, and came up two seats short of a second majority.

Darrell Dexter’s is the fifth government since 1970 to linger into a fifth year. If my guess is right, and he schedules an election for October 1st or 8th, he’ll have been in power four years and four months.

dexter_4Dexter would not have held off so long but for a terrible string of polls starting in spring of 2012, when Stephen McNeil’s Liberals surged into a first-place tie. The latest Corporate Research Associates poll, in June, showed the Liberals with 45 percent of decided voters, to the NDP’s 26 percent, and the PCs’ 24 percent. The N-dips claim their own confidential polls are better, but they’d have to be much better to offer any encouragement at all.

Polls taken between elections may tell you which way the wind is blowing, but they don’t tell you how hard. That last CRA survey found 55 percent of respondents undecided about how they would vote. People just haven’t turned their minds to the question yet.

That’s why I don’t think Dexter will call an election before Labour Day. To win a second term, the NDP needs to win the campaign. A plurality of voters needs to decide that Dexter looks, sounds, and acts more like a premier than McNeil, whose crowd-pleasing but benighted policy proposals, especially on energy, may not hold up under election scrutiny.

For that to happen, voters need to be paying attention. They won’t do that in the sweet summer days of August.

Even then, it may be too late. There’s a lot of anger out there—some of it warranted, some of thoughtlessly peevish. If voters get a notion to throw the bums out, no election timing legerdemain will stop them.

How CUPE turned me against first contract legislation

I might have been in favor of the NDP Government’s first-contract legislation if I hadn’t seen what the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) did to a progressive non-profit organization in New Glasgow this fall.

Founded in 1968 by volunteers and family members, New Glasgow’s Summer Street Industries supplies a variety of vocational services to 150 intellectually handicapped men and women in New Glasgow. It enjoys a stellar reputation for caring and respectful treatment of the people it assists.

If the Dexter Government’s first contract legislation had been in force this year, those very qualities would have been sabotaged, perhaps fatally. The story is a depressing example of how far some unions can stray from the progressive social roots of their own movement.

No doubt Summer Street managers made some missteps in their handling of staff relations issues. Two years ago, this led CUPE to a successful certification drive. The negotiations that followed centered on two broad sets of issues: money and workplace rules. Talks dragged on for almost two years, so on the surface, it looked like a case that would have benefited from mandatory first-contract arbitration.

Summer Street was seriously outgunned in the negotiations. The non-profit organization’s managers had no experience with labour contracts. CUPE is Canada’s largest union with more than 600,000 members and a huge war chest. It assigned a veteran negotiator, a man who had concluded scores of collective agreements. He was very good at his job, and over the months, he gradually wore SSI down on monetary issues. One by one, the union achieved virtually all its money demands.

But the CUPE man knew nothing about people with disabilities, and he had no understanding of, or interest in, what being respectful of such people means in day to day practice. CUPE wanted to impose rigid union rules on SSI’s operations, basing hiring, promotion, and work assignments entirely on union seniority.

Many intellectually disabled adults in Nova Scotia have suffered abuse at some point in their lives. They may have been ridiculed, marginalized, ostracized, tormented by bullies, and in many cases, sexually abused.

The rigid rules CUPE demanded would have denied SSI the right to insist that a timid middle-aged woman with a history of sexual abuse be assigned to the care of a female employee with whom she had developed a rapport. Instead, a less tactful male employee could have insisted on the “right” to work with such a client—regardless of the client’s wishes.

SSI wanted a preamble stating that all contract provisions would be informed by an ethic of respect for clients. It wanted to continue its practice of including clients on all hiring boards. It wanted the unfettered right to assign staff according to the best interests of the clients.

The CUPE rep insisted no mention of clients had any place in the collective agreement.  As he put it, clients had  no more place in the contract than students would a teachers’s contract—a telling analogy, if ever there was one. The week before a strike deadline, the union ran an Orwellian advertising campaign portraying its efforts to deny disabled clients a voice in own their care as “issues of workplace democracy.”

Then, suddenly, just 24 hours before the strike deadline, the union abandoned its position on the non-monetary issues. SSI got most of the language it wanted around respect for clients. I suspect the union members at SSI—who, after all, are just as respectful of men and women with disabilities as their management counterparts—told the union they had no interest in forcing a strike in support of unhelpful union rules.

With the help of a very capable provincial mediator, union and management reached a tentative agreement at 4 a.m. on the morning of the strike deadline. This agreement broke down when the Department of Community Services refused to fund one last small monetary concession achieved by the union. The Dexter government reversed course a few hours later, and the strike was settled.

But what if CUPE had had the right to send those non-monetary issues to an arbitrator? There’s no question it would have done so, and that could have led to arbitrator—likely a lawyer, and possibly one with no more understanding of disability issues than CUPE—to issue a ruling that would have made SSI a very different place for the marginalized men and women who depend on it.

In 2009, CUPE appealed the Cape Breton Victoria District School Board’s dismissal of  Harold Douglas Delaney, a middle-aged janitor who was having sex with a 15-year-old student. Arbitrator Susan Ashley overturned Delaney’s dismissal on grounds the sex was consensual, the girl was above the legal age of consent, she was not a student at the school where the janitor worked, and the sex happened while the man was “off-duty.” Ashley did impose a three-month suspension because Delaney had handed out school pens and garbage bags without authorization.

Freebie pens worthy of punishment; sex with a student no problem. That’s what can happen when you force an arbitrator to decide matters of common sense and common decency according to the letter of the law.

The Dexter Government has presented no evidence that collective bargaining is not working in Nova Scotia. In fact, it works well, and the NDP should back away from this unwarranted gift to its union base.

[Disclosure: During the contract negotiations, I provided communications advice to Summer Street Industries on a pro bono basis.]

That NDP news conference – ctd.

Martin MacKinnon writes:

I am appalled by these NDP apologists — I do hope they’re getting paid — on the  $42,000* press release. Regardless if some of the $42K should not have been included, it did include funding for things like buses and “marketing consultants.” If this was a Rodney MacDonald Tory event, I am sure these people would have also pointed out that the $42K was overstated. These NDP’er’s are double hypocrites. One because they are governing like Tories (John Buchanan should be proud) and because they told their party members they would govern differently. Shame on them.

*The $42,000 is overstated, a concoction of the Chronicle-Herald that mixes $11,000 in announcement expenses with $31,000 in expenses related to producing an electricity plan, and pretends they are all news conference costs. The Herald repeats this misrepresentation for a third time in today’s edition, along with the false claim that Dan O’Connor twice denied posting a comment to the Herald’s website.

This double misrepresentation of the story, repeated three days running despite clear contrary evidence, is a blatant display of dishonesty. Apparently, the Herald prefers to misinform its readers and defame others rather than acknowledge its error.

And speaking of begrudgery – updated

In response to this, someone called Peter Watts or perhaps Paul Buher, writes from a cryptic email account:

You, sir, are a pig, and no different than Darrell Dexter.

You hide under the guise of a political blog during the day, only to be writing for the NDP at night. A $15,000 pay cheque isn’t too bad I suppose. Good for you.

I have news for you. Anything you write on that virulent blog from this day forward is tainted with the stink of NDP orange, corruption, and self-serving interest. As I said, you sir, are a pig.

I wonder how Mr. Whateverhisrealnameis would feel to learn that Rodney MacDonald’s Tories hired me to write that government’s energy strategy.

Andrew Terris chimes in:

15K for 26 pages of text with lots of white space?

SWEET!

On the other hand, an erstwhile Daily News colleague writes:

That was a breathtakingly shoddy piece in the Herald this morning. Seems like Dan et al have made up their minds about the Dexter government.

I’ll leave it to others to decide whether the Herald’s shoddiness was breathtaking in this case, but I do think Judy Myrden’s story falls into a category of invidious reporting sensible people can see through without knowing much about the topic. She calls it a $42,000 press conference, but cites only $11,000 in costs (including transportation, catering, audio-visual, and event-management) related to the event.

The other $31,000 was part of the process of producing the plan, an effort that included several government departments, and discussions with interested companies, organizations, and individuals. Myrden falsely conflated production costs with news conference costs to make the latter appear four times larger than they were.

The sad thing about this is that if Myrden, or any other Herald reporter, would bother to read the energy plan, they would find it choc-a-block full of issues vital to Nova Scotia’s future—questions that could use robust discussion, debate, criticism, and even, dare I say it, investigation. Alas, that would take time, effort, imagination, and intelligence. Unlike finger-wagging.

Perhaps all provincial announcements should take place in Halifax, the centre of the known universe. Perhaps government should aways communicate with one hand tied behind its back, issuing reports written in bureaucratese and printed in gray ink on newsprint, Enver Hoxha-style.

[Update:] Stan Jones writes:

Sorry, Parker, but when you are sucking $15,000 from the same tit as the MLAs I really don’t think your opinion is going to sway me.

Perhaps Mr. Jones, who bills himself as a consultant specializing in social, health and educational research, is too pure to take government money. I’m not. About a quarter of my consulting work is with government. I relish these assignments because they give me a chance to work on the most important and difficult public issues facing our society, and to interact with thoughtful, energetic, well-motivated people.

The cynical assumption at play here is that doing government work automatically makes one corrupt. If that’s true, then it stands to reason that the most important and difficult decisions of our time will be worked on only by corrupt people, while all the good people (like Jones, Terris, and Watt) stand on the sidelines. Enjoy your purity, folks. Some of us want to tackle these issues.

Less pure readers can check out the Energy Plan here. They tell me it’s a pretty good read.

Rodney’s chops

A stalwart Tory friend who fully expected Ian McNeil to beat Allan MacMaster in the Inverness byelection voiced surprise at MacMaster’s decision to go door-to-door with former Premier Rodney MacDonald, who held the seat before quitting last month:

I would have expected voters in Inverness to have an earful for Rodney after he quit so soon.

There was certainly some of that. MacMaster received 2,247 fewer votes than MacDonald had just four months earlier. But I suspect Rodney was still a plus for MacMaster at the doorstep—probably a crucial factor in his sliver of victory.

In the eyes of most Nova Scotia voters, Rodney never grew into the premiership; he lacked the royal jelly. But voters in Inverness see it differently. They believe their favorite son was done in by a bunch of toffee noses in Halifax, especially in the legislature press gallery, who made little effort to disguise their contempt for Rodney or their conviction that a rube from Inverness has no business running the province.

Party president Ian MacKeigan expressed this view with vehemence on election night in June.  Contrarian happens to know MacKeigan, a popular Whycocomagh pharmacist and an exceptionally fine gentleman. If he feels this way, you can take it to the credit union that many Invernessers do too.

The poll-by-poll results show that former CBC Cape-Breton radio host McNeil also suffered from being less well known in the southern end of the riding, which the CBC chooses to serve with Halifax programming.New Democrat Bert Lewis killed McNeil in the Port Hawkesbury area.

Poll-bypoll results in Antigonish show that the byelection there was tightly contested across the riding, although the final result was not as close

McNeil shows leadership

We can’t say whether Liberal leader Stephen McNeil read this particular Contrarian entry, but he did both the right thing and the smart thing in helping astonished New Democrats speed passage of political financing reform through the house in a single day.

It’s the smart thing, because McNeil couldn’t prevent passage of the new law, so why encourage days of debate focusing on past Liberal wrongdoing? It’s the right thing, because no party should enjoy a permanent finger on the political scale based on a 40-year-old shakedown racket. McNeil explained it this way:

It was my direction—and I take full responsibility—that this issue needs to be behind us. It needs to be behind the party, and [let’s] get on with doing the business of bringing our Liberal values, Liberal views, and engaging Nova Scotians about, not only how we hold the government accountable, but the things that matter to them and how we put together public policy.

McNeil is entitled to the benefit of the doubt. He wasn’t around 40 years ago. Now that the authority has passed into his hands, he can take credit for acting decisively and correctly: A mark of leadership.

Robo Ian or Principal Bert?

Today’s Antigonish by-election is a foregone conclusion. N-dip Moe Smith came within 275 votes of knocking off popular Tando MacIsaac in June’s general election. Tando having abandoned the seat so abruptly, and the NDP firmly ensconced in Province House, Smith will take the riding in a walk.Allan-MacMaster-c

Inverness is a different matter. The riding is festooned with election signs in roughly equal numbers. Although then-Premier Rodney MacDonald out-polled his nearest rival by 3,431  votes in June, would-be Tory successor Allan MacMaster is widely expected to place third today. The premier’s abandonment of the riding, like Tando’s of neighboring Antigonish, will hurt MacMaster, as will the traditional Liberal stronghold’s penchant for snuggling up to the government side of the House.

ianmcneil-cLiberal Ian McNeil, a former CBC Radio host (and—disclosure—a friend of Contrarian’s),  was widely regarded as the man to beat at the outset of the campaign. While hosting CBC-Cape Breton’s Information Morning program, McNeil endured a grueling three-hour daily commute to maintain his East Lake Ainslie home in the riding. A man with strong rural sensibilities, McNeil created the CBC’s Party Line feature, and he has hosted musical events and community forums in every fire hall and church basement in the county.

Bert_LewisCBC-Cape Breton’s signal does not reach the southern end of the constituency, however. So McNeil is not as well known in riding’s largest population center, the town of Port Hawkesbury, where NDP candidate Bert Lewis is recently retired as principal of the Nova Scotia Community College campus. You have to wonder whether the 11th-hour NSCC strike settlement, details of which are conveniently unavailable, will help Lewis.

A much weaker NDP candidate placed second in June, a first for the party, albeit with only 20.5 percent of the vote. But it’s a government-prone riding, and this time, voters know which party is in government.

If McNeil loses, I suspect it will be because of a misstep. More than the other two candidates, he has blanketed the riding with robo-calls, and these aren’t sitting well with voters I’ve heard from.

What the NDP’s tougher renewable energy targets mean

windmills-s2
In a post yesterday Monday, contrarian observed that a little noticed NDP campaign promise would advance Nova Scotia Power’s renewable energy targets by five years. Today Tuesday, the new government made that promise official government policy. NSP must generate one quarter of its energy from renewable sources (hydro, wind, tidal, wave, solar, biomass, biofuel, or landfill gas) by 2015.

It’s certainly a laudable step, but how big a step is it? The answer to that is incredibly complicated.

It’s complicated because various stages of the renewable energy requirements imposed on NSP define renewable energy three different ways:

  • as overall generation from renewable sources;
  • as generation from renewable sources built after 2001 in Nova Scotia by companies other than NSP;
  • as generation from renewable sources built after 2001 in Nova Scotia, whether by NSP or third parties.

It’s still more complicated because the amount of generation from each of these sources can be measured in two ways: in absolute terms, as so many gigawatt-hours (GWH) of electricity; or in relative terms, as a percentage of NSP’s overall generation.

Bear in mind that the second yardstick is a moving target. If NSP’s efforts to curb electricity use (known as demand side management, or DSM) succeed in reducing our overall power consumption, a fixed amount of gigawatt-hours would constitute a larger percentage of that smaller consumption. If consumption of electricity falls, NSP could conceivably move from 12 percent renewables to 13 percent renewables without actually adding any new renewable energy to the grid. If one of our large industrial power users were to shut down—the NewPage mill at Point Tupper, for example—the percentage of NSP’s energy from renewable sources would shoot upward, even without NSP producing any new renewable energy.

So let’s walk through the various targets NSP has to meet.

2010:

Under the Electricity Act, a set of regulations known as the Renewable Energy Standards (RES) requires NSP to purchase at least five percent of its 2010 energy supply from renewable sources owned by third parties and built after 2001.

Newspapers and broadcasters sometimes misreport this target as stating that five percent of NSP’s generation must come from renewable sources. A Canadian Press story carried by the Herald made that mistake today. NSP already produces 11 to 12 percent of its overall generation from renewable sources, mainly hydro. The RES standard calls for five percent of new renewables owned by third parties. That would bring NSP’s overall use of renewables to something over 16 percent.

NSP forecasts that it will sell 12,200 GWH of energy in 2010. Five percent of that figure is 610 GWH. So to meet the 2010 target, NSP must generate 610 GWH from new, third-party, renewable sources.

Of the renewable energy NSP already uses, approximately 180 GWH qualifies under the 2010 RES rules. That leaves a shortfall of 430 GWH. In 2007, NSP put out requests for proposals that led to contracts with independent producers for 711 GWH of wind power—more than enough to meet and exceed the 2010 targets.

Unfortunately, the worldwide financial meltdown that hit late last summer has stalled or killed several of those projects. Environmental approvals have also been slower than hoped for, especially in parts of the province with strong NIMBY proclivities. To compensate for the possible shortfall, NSP, NewPage Port Hawkesbury Corp., and Strait Bio-Gen Ltd. cobbled together a slapdash proposal for a biomass generation project using wood waste, and then sought unprecedented prior approval from the Utility and Review Board for the scheme. To no one’s surprise but NSP’s, the UARB didn’t bite, so the utility’s ability to meet the 2010 target remains in serious doubt.

NSP still has one escape hatch. If it fails to meet the 2010 target, if can still comply with the regulations if it meets the target in 2011, and produces an additional amount of new renewable energy in 2011 equal to twice the amount of its 2010 shortfall.

Does your head hurt yet?

2013:

Two different standards apply to NSP in 2013:

  • Under the province’s Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act (or EGSPA, pronounced, “Eggs-puh” by provincial bureaucrats), 18.5 percent of Nova Scotia’s electricity needs must come from renewable sources by 2013. (This extraordinary act was the crowning achievement of former Environment Minister Mark Parent, defeated in the June election, and retired Deputy Minister Bill Lahey, who together somehow steered it through the Tory cabinet and won unanimous legislative approval.)
  • Under the Renewable Energy Standards (RES) regulations of the Electricity Act, the 2010 requirement for five percent new renewables increases to 10 percent in 2013, but this time it doesn’t all have to come from third parties. NSP can produce its own renewable energy.

Depending on overall energy consumption, meeting the RES regulations would bring NSP’s overall renewable production to something like 21 percent, well above the 18.5 percent required by Eggs-pah. (I love talking like a bureaucrat.) So the tougher RES standard rules the day. And that brings us to…

2015:

Acting Energy Minister Frank “Nanky” Corbett announced today that NSP would be required to produce 25 percent of its overall energy needs from renewable sources by 2015, five years earlier than the Renewed Energy Strategy unveiled last winter would have required. [Disclosure: contrarian spent part of 2007 and much of 2008 under contract with the Department of Energy working on this strategy, mainly as a writer.]

On its face, this is a reasonable decision. It will keep the renewable portion of NSP’s generation increasing at about two percentage points per year, a pretty good clip. It’s much tougher than what the Tories had imposed.

It may also serve as cover for cutting NSP some slack on its probable failure to meet the 2010 standards. Asked about this today, an official of the provincial energy department said, “It’s going to be a challenge for Nova Scotia Power to meet the 2010 target. We’re looking at some different options for dealing with that, and this [relaxing the 2010 deadline] is one option we will present to government.”

“The point is that we need more renewables,” he added. “It doesn’t make sense to get too hung up on this particular target.”

David Wheeler, Dean of Management Studies at Dalhousie University, will carry out a public consultation on how best to reach the tougher targets Corbett announced today.  Meeting them won’t be easy, or cheap. It’s a pity the NDP won’t have the $28 million it promised to spend subsidizing dirty, coal-fired eletricity to help with this crucial environmental task.

[Note: This is a long post (my longest ever) about an important but mind-numbingly tedious set of regulations and calculations. It shouldn’t astonish anyone if I got some of the details wrong. If any of contrarian‘s friends in the Department of Energy, the Ecology Action Centre, Nova Scotia Power, the independent wind industry, the Department of Environment, the NDP, or the PC Party have corrections or amplifications to offer, please click the “email a comment” tab at the top of this post.]

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