Kimber's Nova Scotia (Sept. 23, 2007)

Kimber’s Nova Scotia

September 23, 2007

Do I hear $1.25?

The owner of the Seafreez fish plant in Canso is willing — even eager — to sell his local fish processing plant to the town for a dollar. But the town isn’t certain it can afford the price.

Barry Group, the Newfoundland-based company that’s run the plant for 17 years, says Seafreez is a victim of changing circumstance — the collapse of fish stocks in the 1990s followed by the Supreme Court’s 1999 Marshall decision that allocated more of the annual quota to native fishermen.

“The reality is that [the Seafreez plant is] a facility that was designed for an era that doesn’t exist now,” Bill Barry told the Guysborough Journal. “It was built for a 600–700-people operation with massive amounts of wet fish and other resources to go into the plant. The opportunity to get that in Atlantic Canada has all but disappeared over the last 15 years.” He says Seafreez’s quota, which used to top 136,000 metric tons of fish a year, is now down to just 3,000 pounds.

Barry, who has had well publicized tiffs with the town over unpaid property taxes, water bills and the fact he processes some of his quota at another company-owned plant in Pubnico, insists: “We’ve held on; we’ve held on. There’s nothing to hold onto anymore.”

But Canso Councillor Fin Armsworthy says the real problem is that Barry has “given up on the community… He had the resources and potential to keep work [at Seafreez], but he never did.”

Canso Mayor Ray White is more understanding — “I think [Barry’s] made efforts” — but he isn’t keen on the town owning the plant, even for a dollar. “As a council, I think our preference would be for the provincial or federal government to go to the private sector, seek expressions of interest and hopefully [attract] people with the expertise to develop such an industry.”

If, of course, there is a fishing industry left to develop.

Failure to communicate

It started out as a petition against spraying the herbicide Vision in their backyards, says Aylesford and Loon Lake Property Owners’ Association chair Andy Bryski, but now “it has noting to do with herbicide. It’s about the reaction by a minister of the Crown… We have an elected official who didn’t give us even a simple phone call.”

Bryski is miffed because Environment Minister — and King’s North MLA — Mark Parent didn’t even acknowledge, let alone respond to their 368-name petition demanding that the spraying be cancelled.

Instead, less than two weeks after they sent off their petition, crews showed up to do the deed.

Kings County Coun. Chris Parker, who says Parent’s lack of response was uncharacteristic — “That’s not like Mark; he’s normally great at that” — admits he too found it “frustrating.”

Parent, for his part, claims it was all a misunderstanding. He thought the petition had been addressed to municipal council and had simply been sent on to his department for comment — a process that normally takes a few weeks to work its way through officialdom. Parent told the Kentville Advertiser he felt “badly” about the miscommunication and is willing to meet with the residents.

Meanwhile, Bryski has written directly to Premier Rodney MacDonald, complaining about Parent’s lack of communication on the spray issue.

He hasn’t — wait for it — had a reply or acknowledgment to his letter from the premier’s office.

Are you listening, Rodney?

While the provincial government doesn’t seem to have a plan — we’re being charitable here — to solve Nova Scotia’s rural health care crisis, local communities are busily patching together often innovative coping schemes of their own.

Last month in Middleton, for example, a new collaborative practice — with two doctors, a nurse practitioner and a family practice nurse — opened its doors in a clinic beside Soldiers Memorial Hospital. The clinic is the result of a partnership involving the regional health authority, Soldiers, the hospital foundation (which bought the building), and the doctors and nurses who set it up.

The idea is to give patients one-stop access to a health care team. And it’s working. According to Dr. Jane Brooks, the clinic “has cut down waiting time for my patients from six weeks to three weeks.”

Dr. Eric Balser, the new clinic’s other physician, says “the ultimate goal is to encourage doctors to spread their time out better with the patients who need it. This is an important step that will lead to a better model for everyone.”

It may also help to attract new young doctors, Brooks adds, not only because they’re already trained in the collaborative model but also because joining an existing collaborative practice would be less intimidating than trying to set up on their own with no support system.

When thanks is not enough…

If the ferry service between Digby and Saint John ever stops running, southwestern Nova Scotia’s economy will take a direct hit of up to a $40 million a year.

That’s the key finding of a study sponsored by the Bay of Fundy Transportation Coalition, an ad hoc group made up of local governments and businesses. The coalition is trying to convince Ottawa the service must continue.

The future of the ferry has been in doubt ever since Bay Ferries announced last year that it planned to drop the service. Ottawa, along with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, quickly anted up $8 million to keep the ferry operating until January 2009 while federal officials figured out a long-term solution.

Digby Warden Jim Thurber says a federal working group that held public hearings in the area this summer seemed to listen to community concerns, but its members have offered no assurances it will recommend continued government support for the ferry.

Thurber says the coalition gave federal officials a copy of its new study, but the only response so far has been a simple thank-you. Which is better than no reply at all from a premier.

For the record

The issue of how, and whether, to protect our province’s agricultural land from being gobbled up for housing and other non-farm uses was the subject for debate during “Pave Paradise? Our Farmland Under Stress,” a panel discussion at the Kentville Fire Hall.

Some of what was said, as reported in the Kentville Advertiser:

Agriculture professor Ralph Martin told the audience that half of all Class 1 land — the best farmland — in Canada can be viewed from the CN tower in Toronto and has already been paved and skyscrapered. “When California runs dry, we had better be prepared to produce the food we’ll need.”

Apple farmer Bob Wright, who left Ontario 40 years ago to get away from development, said, “People just want to maximize returns and to hell with the future.”

Developer Cecil Lockhart made the point that there are now 1,350 serviced building lots within a 10-mile radius of Kentville — a 20-year supply. Still, people keep creating more lots because “it comes down to dollars and cents and there’s more money in development than farming.”

Earl Kidston, who is both a farmer and a developer said, “I’m so disappointed. We’re polarized.”

No kidding.

Thar she blows… but quietly

Schneider Power Inc. is the latest Ontario-based energy company hoping to catch a wind in
Nova Scotia — but it wants to do so without the controversy that has dogged other proposed wind farms in the province.

Schneider wants to develop a small-scale — fewer-than-five-turbine — wind power project on Goodwin’s Island, a kilometre offshore from Lower Woods Harbour. The company, which has owned the island since the 1990s wants to feed electricity from the turbines directly into the Nova Scotia Power grid.

President Thomas Schneider says the firm currently has two projects in operation and eight others in development in Canada, the U.S. and Germany.

Although the Goodwin’s Island project is still in the early planning stages — and there’ll be all the usual public meetings, feasibility and environmental assessments before it becomes reality — Schneider thinks his firm’s focus on a small scale project that will have little impact on the environment will help it win community support.

“We want to have a positive impact on the communities we work in,” he told the Shelburne Coast Guard.

What a concept!

Speaking of which…

Cumberland County Council said thank you very much last week when the Gulf Shore Preservation Society presented it with a 1,169-name petition opposing a proposed 20-27 turbine wind farm in their area. But council members balked at the idea of writing a letter of support for the group’s campaign.

“It’s not that council’s not empathetic to the residents of that area,” Warden Keith Hunter told the Amherst Daily News, “but we have a bylaw and the developers go by that bylaw and invest their money according to that bylaw. If we were to try to give any influence on the negative development of that project we could be liable for legal action.”

Translation: Don’t call us.

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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