Kimber's Nova Scotia (July 29, 2007)

Kimber’s Nova Scotia

July 29, 2007

On your mark, get set, munch

The Hants Journal is reporting this week that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency lab failed to properly identify a sample collected near Halifax in 1990 as the dangerous-to-our-forest-industry brown longhorn spruce beetle. That gave the critter an eight-year head-start on its ongoing devastating munching march through our woodlands. The sample, in fact, remained in a sealed container in Ottawa for nearly a decade before it was finally hauled out again and compared to suspicious samples gathered around Point Pleasant Park in 1998. The comparison made it clear we’d been under foreign attack for many years.

”We were under the assumption that our trees were being killed by a native beetle,” explains Greg Cunningham, a forest pest management specialist at the agency in Fredericton.

With at least 13 infestation sites now confirmed in Nova Scotia, Cunningham says scientists are playing catch up to contain the pest. They’re considering all options — including introducing a genetically modified synthetic pheromone to “confuse the beetle during its sexually active state,” massive aerial spray programs and/or intensively logging likely target forests to at least make commercial use of trees before they become infested.

That last option has some, like Hants County woodlot owner Bernard Curry, suspecting “this is just another way for the American companies to keep on stripping everything in sight. What these people are doing to our forests shouldn’t be allowed,” he complains. “They’re taking everything.”

In fact, local residents say they’ve noticed more logging trucks hauling loads 24 hours a day over the past several weeks.

Concedes Cunningham: “It could be that some companies knew the quarantine area was going to expanded and had cut logs ahead of time.”


What me, worry?

Given his boss’s very public and messy spat with the premier of his province over the Atlantic Accord, the closure of one of his constituency’s most important employers and, oh yes, Green Party leader Elizabeth May’s persistent nipping at his electoral heels, it’s no surprise Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay has managed to carve a little time away from international globe-trotting to try to mend some political fences closer to home.

Last week, MacKay was in Pictou for a whirlwind cheque presentation — $20,000 to the Pictou Waterfront Development Committee to develop a five-year business plan because “strengthening the tourism industry in rural ports contributes significantly to the economy of communities like Pictou” — and an upbeat luncheon speech to the local Chamber of Commerce.

Pumping up the positive volume, MacKay predicted that, thanks to Ottawa’s new Atlantic Canada gateway strategy, Pictou County is poised to become the next Fort McMurray (if you consider that a positive development).

“I truly believe this is bigger than the offshore,” MacKay gushed, piling on the images. “We can be the through-ramp to the NAFTA highway if we do it right.”

What’s in that for Pictou County?

MacKay talked vaguely about all the money — the amount “to be determined in the very near future” and depending, perhaps, on who you vote for in the next election — Ottawa has set aside for the gateway project in its most recent federal budget…

Oh yes, that budget, the one that gutted the Atlantic Accord and triggered the collapse of federal Tory support in Nova Scotia. “I sometimes worry that we become a little too fixated on one subject,” MacKay mused. He preferred to stress his “very good working relationship” with Premier Rodney MacDonald, and — say it one more time — the cash that is coming to Nova Scotia as a result of the budget.

It isn’t, he acknowledged, an easy sell. “I don’t think we could have got more negativity had we completely cut off equalization.”

Please, Peter, don’t suggest that to Stephen Harper.


In advance of a planned visit to Lunenburg’s Fishermen’s Memorial Hospital last week, NDP MP Alexa McDonough’s office issued a press release expressing her concerns over the lack of progress in completing the Dr. Arthur H. Patterson Centre for Restorative Care there.

“I’m confident we’ll do what we always do,” the release quoted McDonough as saying. “Roll up our sleeves, band together and get this project off the ground ourselves.”

Oops… it turns out the locals are already beginning to roll down their sleeves. As the Bridgewater Bulletin helpfully pointed out, the centre, in fact, “is nearly completed and patients are expected to be admitted in early August.

To add embarrassment to misstep, the Bulletin’s online edition includes a video of McDonough — — trying to explain away the error. The clip ends with an unflattering freeze frame of the former NDP leader looking like she is ready to swear at someone back in her office.

And well she might.

Next exit to nowhere

Speaking of summer sightings of vote-seeking politicians — we just did — and highway signage — we will — this just in from new Liberal leader Stephen McNeil’s let-me-introduce myself tour of community newspaper editorial boards.

McNeil popped up at least two newspapers last week, including the Truro Daily News, where he was asked about his strategies for boosting tourism in the province.

Among other dreams — better marketing in Europe, more focus on getting other Canadians to visit us and, of course, paving highways (he says we need tourists to “remember the sights, instead of the road they have been driving on”) — McNeil claimed credit for the erection of a new highway marker.

“I was also very pleased to be part of the new sign on the 104 that directs people to the Annapolis Valley, rather than just, ‘last exit to Halifax.’” He told the newspaper.

Hmmm. “Next Exit to the Home of Stephen McNeil” doesn’t have quite the same ring as “Home of Sidney Crosby,” but I guess the Annapolis Valley will just have to make do.

Signs of the times

In Queen’s County, the latest summertime amusement for idle — or addled — minds seems to be stealing warning signs from local construction sites. About a dozen have disappeared in the past month, most from a water and sewer project construction site in Brooklyn.

Mayor John Leefe isn’t happy with the fact his municipality will have to shell out close to a thousand dollars to replace the pilfered signs but he says he’s more concerned the lack of signage could lead to an accident.

If it did, he says, the thief could be charged not just with theft but with criminal negligence.

In the meantime, he’d rather get the signs back. If anyone happens to have one of the scalped signs sitting around in their backyard, the mayor cordially invites them to drop it off at a construction site, in front of the municipal office or outside the public works department garage.

Not in my back bay…

When the Friends of Port Mouton Bay staged a community meeting recently to discuss a proposal for a second fish farm in their area, they knew it would be well attended. O
rganizers set out 385 chairs to accommodate the expected crowd but, by the time meeting began, it was already standing-room only.

Aqua Fish Farms, a New Brunswick-based company that operates a small salmon farm near Port Mouton, has applied to set up a second, much larger 70-acre farm on the western side of Port Mouton island, directly across from the community’s best beach.

Ron Loucks, a member of the Friends’ scientific committee, told those attending the session that the existing fish farm is already causing the growth of algae, which may be affecting wild fish stocks.

The bay is considered a prime molting area for lobster and a spawning ground for herring, as well as a rich source of other shellfish.

Loucks says records from local fishermen this spring show fewer lobsters in fishing grounds closest to the current farm.

“It’s a great concern,” he says. “The body of scientific information establishes that the proposed fish farm should be withdrawn for consideration.”

Ottawa and the province are both still considering the proposal, with no decision expected until the fall.

Counting crows, counting damage

Berwick’s crows have developed a rubber fetish, more particularly a thing for the rubbers on automobile windshield wipers, and most especially — and perhaps dangerously — a fixation on the ones to be found on cars in the local RCMP detachment parking lot.

“I just don’t think it’s funny,” Const. Colleen Fequet, who has already had to replace two sets of wiper blades on her own car, told a local reporter. In the past month alone, the crows have eaten through four sets of wiper rubbers on one Mountie car and two sets on each of the detachment’s other two patrol vehicles. Some local staff now refuse to park their cars in the lot; others, like Fequet, are using beach towels or lengths of PVC pipe over the wipers to discourage the vandals.

“It’s damage to property, mischief,” complains a still unamused Fequet, who adds that — unlike human miscreants — “we can’t control them. At first it was funny, but it’s frustrating and expensive.”

As for what’s caused this outbreak of deviant behaviour, Fred Mills, a 32-year veteran with the Department of Natural Resources, says he’s never heard of it before. “We’ve found lots of odd things in their nests over the years, but you generally think of crows and ravens going after shiny things.”

But Mills, who suggested the high-tech “shoo away method” may be the best if most time-consuming way to keep the creatures away, seemed more amused than alarmed by the curious crow attacks.

“It always amazes me the things we learn about wildlife,” he told the King’s County Register. “They’re truly sentient creatures — and we can’t explain or ask them whey they do what they do.”

Perhaps Mills can afford to be bemused because he lives in Bridgewater, and not Berwick.

Stephen Kimber is the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College. His column also appears in Thursday’s Daily News.


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