NOVA SCOTIA LETTER
NOVA SCOTIA ABIDES. The way we do. Despite everything.
Despite COVID-19, despite the bungled response to a mass murder in Portapique, despite a long-term care facility that became a killing zone, despite spending millions on a ferry to nowhere, despite a government suspended until further notice and a governing party that no one wants to lead. We abide.
The way things are, continue to be the way things always are here. A few grumble about it. Most take no notice. We abide.
We don’t need no stinkin democracy
Rumours that Liberal premier Stephen McNeil once applied for “L’etat c’est moi” vanity plates were only slightly exaggerated. He did shut down the legislature and the work of all committees. But, losing a functioning democracy seems to be a small price to pay to help us survive the covid scourge inside the “Atlantic Bubble.”
And, besides the man who would be king doesn’t want to be premier any more. And neither does any one else, so far.
Stephen McNeil led the Liberals to power in Nova Scotia in 2007 and again in 2013. He announced his intention to step down on August 6. There has been no stampede of candidates to replace him—and become premier. In fact the stampede has been all the other way.
As of September 27, 10 prominent Liberals have made it plain they will NOT declare for the Liberal leadership. And only five others have “expressed interest.” It seems the premiership has become more a poisoned chalice than a prize worth having.
A big reason for such reluctance has to be the challenges of the Covid-19 battle and the looming worry over what is yet to come—along with the financial constraints all that will impose on doing anything about anything on long-smoldering issues that encircle the province.
In Cape Breton it is the plans (fantasies) for a new deep water port in Sydney that the private promoters say—wait for it—hinge on an infusion of millions in public funds to rebuild an abandoned rail line. (Don’t ask.)
On the Eastern Shore above Halifax, the issue is popular resistance to a huge land grab to expand the open pit operations of a multi-national gold mining corporation and the consequent destruction of a protected wilderness area created and preserved through years of work by citizen activists, funded by the province.
In Yarmouth, at the southern tip of the province, the issue is the phantom ferry to Maine—a pet project of premier McNeil, who is from the area. This year marks the second season the ferry has never sailed—despite regular assurances from the province that it was about to set sail.
The people of Nova Scotia bear the entire cost of the whole ferry (non)-operation. The McNeil government refuses to say exactly how much that is. But, estimates run to $40 million—for a ferry service with no ferry and no port to go to in Maine.
The whole wasteful Alice Through the Looking Glass enterprise was peppered with absurdities, such as the USA extracting millions from us to pay for a ferry terminal in Bar Harbour, Maine that they would own, but could not construct in time for either the 2019 or 2020 season; the added expense of public funds going to house and feed the crew of the ferry in Yarmouth for an entire season, just in case the ferry should ever be able to sail.
Racism is here, there...
In Pictou, close by the Northumberland Strait, the issue is the fallout from the shut down of a polluting pulp mill. The irony here is that the government did the right thing in forcing the mill to close: it lived up to a law it had passed that required the mill to fix its polluting ways or close in January 2020. The mill failed to do that. The government closed the mill.
Concerns over environmental damage from the mill has smoldered for years. But it was persistent activism from the Mi’kmaq people living with the direct impact of the pollution that seemed to bring things to a head.
The Mi’kmaq claimed they were victims of “environmental racism”—namely, the practice of placing polluting health risks like town dumps or toxic waste ponds next to Black or Indigenous neighbourhoods.
Hollywood star, and Nova Scotian, Ellen Page made the documentary movie There’s Something in the Water in 2019 to support the need to recognize that reality in Nova Scotia and end it. Page also went on late night talk show television in the USA to talk about it. It all seemed to be too much for McNeil to ignore.
The economic devastation predicted for the region with the mill closing has not yet come to pass. However, the provincial government still faces the possibility of having to pay out hundreds of millions to the owners of the defunct mill, due to ruinous and ill-advised legal obligations agreed to by previous Conservative, Liberal and NDP governments.
And, just for good measure, racism has raised it’s ugly head in Saulnierville, a small lobster fishing village on the lower east side of the Bay of Fundy. Mi’kmaq lobster fishers set out 50 traps on September 17. Local non-Indigenous fishers moved to stop them. The white fishers claimed since the lobster fishing season was closed the Indigenous fishery was illegal. They cut Mi’kmaw lines and stole Mi’kmaw traps.
The Mi’kmaq claim they have every legal right to fish, regardless of the season, as provided by treaties going back to 1752 and backed up the 1999 Supreme Court rulings.
So, a political landscape full of landmines. But, not any likely to blowup in anyone’s face any time soon.
Broad scale and lasting public outrage and activism is not the Nova Scotian way. We simply abide. The tide comes in and the tide goes out.
We have seen it all before and survived it all before; and we will see it all and survive it all again.
Whether that is a flaw or a saving grace remains as uncertain as whether or not it’s a good time to be a Liberal party leader and provincial premier in Nova Scotia.
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