How to lie with graphs

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PC Leader Jamie Baillie’s election promise to hold power rates at current levels came in a position paper that included the following unsourced graph, purporting to show that something called “energy costs to rate payers,” measured in units it did not explain, have increased by 27 percent since 2009:


Wow, that certainly looks shocking!

Contrarian is no statistician, and my graphic skills are tenuous, but I read Darrell Huff‘s classic How to Lie with Statistics shortly after it came out in 1954, and Chapter 5, “The Gee Whiz Graph,” stuck with me. Of the persuasive power of graphs, Huff had this advice for readers deploying them to “win an argument, shock a reader, move him into action, sell him something:”

Chop off the bottom.

Baillie did exactly that with his “energy costs” graph. He chopped off the bottom 64% of the graph. If you start the y-axis at zero, and display the graph in the same horizontal format, it looks like this (with apologies to readers skilled in PhotoShop and Illustrator).


It’s still a significant increase, but not quite so scary or election-worthy as Baillie’s manipulated format. If anyone has the time to parse exactly what’s included in, and excluded from, “energy costs to rate payers,” I suspect we will find that Baillie has selected the fastest rising component of electricity bills to inflate his point.

Bear in mind, too, that the period covered by the graph roughly corresponds to a reduction in Nova Scotia Power’s use of dirty coal from 80 percent to just above 50 percent. That phenomenal drop is a good thing, rarely mentioned by the company’s critics.

Even so, it’s reasonable to ask whether there is some mechanism that could give Nova Scotia access to North American electricity markets and the pricing stability they could bring. Since the first electricity was produced in Nova Scotia early in the 20th Century, we have never had the ability to import or export significant amounts of power.

The reasonable answer is: The Maritime Link, whose principal side benefit, steadfastly ignored by critics, is the robust connection to the North American Grid it would create through Newfoundland, Labrador, and Quebec to the north, New Brunswick and New England to the west. Aside from a guaranteed 35-year supply of predictably priced power, that is the best argument for building The Maritime Link.

[Disclosure: From time to time, I have consulted for NS Power and Emera on issues related to power rates and the Maritime Link. Reasonable people can and do disagree about Nova Scotia energy issues, but they ought to avoid misleading graphics.]

The Quebec precedent for energy transmission extortion

Former you-name-it Norman Spector (@nspector4) points out a glaring omission in my partial list of pundits who inveighed against BC Premier Christy Clark’s demand for a share of profits from the Northern Gateway pipeline, while mostly ignoring Quebec’s brazen extortion of Newfoundland hydro exports.

Stephen Maher, late of the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, and now typing for the Postmedia chain, had a terrific column on the dispute last weekend, one that places the Quebec-Newfoundland precedent front-and-center. The nub:

History suggests… that Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ottawa and Enbridge would be wise to quietly work to give British Columbia what it wants, because while Ottawa theoretically could force the pipeline through, that is likely not practical.

The history Maher cites is fascinating. His whole piece is a rewarding read, a rare example of punditry in which a reader learns more than the writer’s opinion.


Nova Scotia from space — video edition

Earlier today, I posted a photograph of uncertain provenance showing Nova Scotia as seen from the International Space Station at night, and wondered out loud where it had come from.

The estimable Bethany Horne of Halifax Open File pointed us to this Reddit post, and thence to this collection of NASA astronaut videography, where we tracked down the amazing sequence from which our image — a screenshot, as it turns out — was clipped. Check out this gorgeous time-lapse video from the space station’s January 29 pass up the East Coast of North America, starting at the southern edge of the Gulf of Mexico and ending off the northeast coast of Newfoundland. For full effect, view it in full screen mode.

From NASA’s annotation:

These sequences of frames were taken at the rate of one frame per second, therefore the slower speed of the video more closely represents the true speed of the International Space Station than previous videos.

This video was taken by the crew of Expedition 30 on board the International Space Station. The sequence of shots was taken January 29, 2012 from 05:33:11 to 05:48:10 GMT, on a pass from just southwest of Mexico to the North Atlantic Ocean, northeast of Newfoundland.

This pass begins looking over Central America towards the Gulf of Mexico and the southeastern United States. As the ISS travels northeast over the gulf, some southeastern United States cities can be distinguished, like New Orleans, Mobile, Jacksonville, and Atlanta. Note the numerous bright spots of what are likely oil drilling platforms in the Gulf off the Mississippi Delta.

Continuing up the east coast, some northeastern states, like Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City stand out brightly along the coastline.

The Aurora Borealis shines in the background as the pass finishes near Newfoundland.

Video courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center. View more here.

Simpson scopes the Labrador war

Jeffrey Simpson has a sensible column on NB Power’s proposed sale to Quebec Hydro, which he correctly portrays as the latest battle in the decades-old war between Newfoundland and Quebec. That’s a war in which Nova Scotia is no innocent bystander.

Simpson, who spoke in Baddeck Friday, can’t disguise his contempt for Danny Williams, the uppity colonial, but he has the broad strokes of the conflict right. He notes Ottawa’s “desperate” reluctance to intervene on behalf of the weaker party, a bit of realpolitik that might cause one to wonder whether Canada really is a country after all.

Rhymes with ‘understand,’ Chuckie – feedback

Contrarian reader PC responds to our annoyance at our future king’s mispronunciation of the name of Canada’s 10th province:

CarolOff2-csI am more troubled by the many Canadians west of the Atlantic Provinces who use the same mispronunciation, including Carol Off on As It Happens just a few nights ago.  How can someone who works for the CBC, where every national program announcement finishes with “half an hour later in …,” not say the name correctly without hesitation?  For that matter, what excuse does anyone have for this mistake 60 years after Newfoundland joined Confederation?

(And, of course, the correct way to say a place name is the way the locals say it:  “The Commons” in Halifax,  “L’Ardoise” and “Port Mouton” elsewhere in NS, and “Etobicoke” in Ontario.)

Not sure which recent AIH episiode contains Off’s purported unpardonable, but in fairness, she pronounces our easternmost province more or less correctly in the closing credits of this recent show.

Contrarian’s personal favorite placename pronunciation remains, “Harve Boucher,” rhymes with tushy.

[UPDATE] Jeff from Halifax demurs:

I am with you on pronuncing local place names (e.g.: Trafalgar)  the way those who live there pronounce them — EXCEPT when the pronounciation is just a misreading of the correct name. It is the Halifax Common. Period. No “s” at the end. Different word. If we keep going with the chopping up of the Common, then maybe we will have a plural version, but right now, I believe the lands are still contiguous, albeit smaller than the original version.

That’s a pretty big “if,” Jeff. The prescriptivists would say local usage rules, no exceptions.

Rhymes with ‘understand,’ Chuckie – updated


As the final chord of “Paint it Black,” opening number in the Rolling Stones’ 2006 Halifax Commons concert, faded into the distance, Mick Jagger thanked the crowd for coming out despite foul weather.

“We hear there’s even a group that came all the way from Newfoundland,” he said. The remarkable thing is that Jagger, the consummate professional, took the trouble to pronounce the name of Canada’s 10th province correctly.

So after 60 years as heir to the throne, is it too much to ask the presumed future King of Canada to show the same care and respect?

[Update] Contrarian readers have leapt to His Royal Highness’s defense. First, CC:

Maybe he’s doing it in quiet protest against the constant mangling by Canadian tourists of such place names as Berkshire, Edinburgh and Leicester Square.

Sure he is. Next, John DeMings:

I doubt most Canadians pronounce Newfoundland properly, and I know schools must have given up trying to explain that Saint John isn’t St.John’s. Leave Chuckie alone. At least he went there.

Hydro Quebecwick unveiled

Diagram shows the shocking degree to which Nova Scotia is an energy island. This is a big obstacle to the development of local renewable energy supplies like wind and tidal, which are intermittent and therefore require robust interconnection with nearby power porducers and users. The Hydro Quebecwick deal means that any increase in our connectivity with thew rest of the world will be on the terms of the new monopoly owner of the grid, the Government of Quebec.
Inter-provincial power grid diagram shows the startling degree to which Nova Scotia is an energy island. This is a big obstacle to the development of local renewable energy supplies like wind and tidal, which are intermittent and therefore require robust interconnection with nearby power porducers and users. The Hydro Quebecwick deal means that any increase in our connectivity with the rest of the world will be at the mercy of the new monopoly owner of the grid, the Government of Quebec.

Premiers Shawn Graham (NB) and Jean Charest (QC) have unveiled the details of the Hydro Quebecwick deal. Quebec gets a monopoly on eastern Canadian access to US power customers; New Brunswick gets a mess of short term pottage and some debt relief, but gets to keep two white elephant dirty coal power plants. This may one day turn out to be as big a fleecing as the one Quebec gave Joey Smallwood 40 years ago.

It’s hard not to see this as a dark day for the rest of Atlantic Canada. Bye bye, Green Grid, a critical element in developing promising renewable but intermittent local Maritime energy sources like wind and tidal. Bye bye, fair access to US electricity markets, an equally critical element in developing those resources.

David Wheeler take note: This is very bad news for anyone anxious for action on climate change in Atlantic Canada. Considering he was blindsided, Premier Darrell Dexter’s response has been appropriately dignified, but make no mistake: this presents his administration with a huge challenge. Like Newfoundland, Nova Scotia’s influence on the national stage has reached such a low ebb that hardly anyone there will give it a thought.

See also:  News release. MOUMOU summary. (All are PDFs.)

Anita on Roger

anita_500-sc-sepiaOne of the gems Canada acquired when it joined Newfoundland in 1949 was the then-infant Anita Best of  Merasheen Island, Placentia Bay. Anita was barely a teenager when Joey Smallwood expunged her fishing community of residents in the great and tragic resettlement. She grew up to be the greatest collector and interpreter of Newfoundland music, storytelling, and folklore of our era—a national treasure in both nations.

Anita writes:

Just read the comment on Roger Howse’s Hendrix night at Bearly’s.  Thanks for posting it.  I miss Roger’s music a lot.

High praise indeed.