We are set to release Duffy: Stardom to Senate to Scandal

I know this site has been quiet, but it’s been for a reason: a flat-out effort to research, write and edit out my upcoming book: Duffy: Stardom to Senate to Scandal, being published in early March by Nimbus Publishing of Halifax. Now I can tell some of the story of how the book came about.
It started out as a column in The Chronicle Herald in May, 2013 about how I had known Duffy in simpler times and how he had fallen into the celebrity trap of believing his own bull(shit). It led him to pursue the Senate seat and eventually, to get in too deeply into politics for his own good.
The column got me thinking about Duffy and the perils of stardom. Thinking, apparently, is a big part of the whole book-writing caper.
I was part of a panel at the Editors Association of Canada and Patrick Murphy from Nimbus approached me. They had talked things over at Nimbus and wanted to sound me out on a book on Duffy. Would I tackle it? Being an extremely cool George Clooney type of person, I of course said politely that I would think it over. We agreed to go for a coffee.
By the next day, I had an outline of what the book would look like. Patrick and I met for coffee and talked it through. We agreed and scheduled a meeting to sign a contract. And by the way, that’s meaningful for me. I have been writing for money since I was 16 and I like to have something on paper.
Now all I had to do was to teach myself how to write a book. Big deal, right? Not exactly. I found it imposed a very different kind of work discipline from I was used to during 35 years of journalism. I was no longer working in a team environment within the familiar confines of a newsroom. This time, I was on my own.
But that was only part of the challenge. From the first days of web searches, phone calls and notes in early June, 2013, to the mad run to the deadline, new twists kept appearing and more information became public.
Over time, the links to the prime minister’s office became much more clear and the RCMP’s case against Duffy and the other senators came to light. Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself came into the critical spotlight. It also became obvious that Duffy and the others were being well and truly thrown under the bus by their former Conservative friends.
That’s why this is not just a story about misbehaving senators. The Duffy-Senate affair spilled across the weeks and months and into the central machinery of government. Nigel Wright’s involvement put the PMO at the centre of the scandal. Harper himself was reduced to talking points.
Even at that, I had to run flat out to keep up with the story, which was still evolving through the editing process in December with Patrick Murphy from Nimbus and editor Barry Norris. I found out that Christmas Day was a good quiet, day to work. Still, the book was coming together.
For me, what started out as a fairly straightforward biography of Mike Duffy, P.E.I.’s famously wayward celebrity-senator, turned into a story that was supercharging headlines right across Canada. I was running, and writing flat out, just to keep up.
Along the way, I worked one stretch of 110 days straight before I allowed myself a day off to go sailing and goof off. It was a lovely day. I travelled to P.E.I. in August, where I doorstepped Duffy at his lair in Cavendish. I flew to Ottawa in September, where many political and journalistic folks helped me with interviews, facts and perspective. I worked the phones and pounded away on the iMac.
To be sure, the work of other journalists on this story has been superb. I hope I reflect that in the book and I have tried to cite exact references to stories that appeared in the media on the Senate scandal. For me, starting late and working from Halifax were built-in disadvantages, but the excellent work by the Parliamentary Press Gallery and a lot of other fine journalists helped unlock the story.
The book is being launched here in Halifax on Thursday, March 13 at Armdale Yacht Club. There’s plenty of parking and the bar will be open. Come join me to get this book started. For details, go to visit the Nimbus site.
A second launch will take place on March 14 at the Charlottetown Curling Club, 6:30 p.m., and in Ottawa at the Parliament Pub on March 24. All are welcome.

Here’s a link to the Facebook site with details on readings, media and launches: Duffy: Stardom to Senate to Scandal

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The stump speech you would like to hear, finally

A lot of people thought my column in the Chronicle Herald today, A stump speech you will never hear was a bit too cynical. I don’t like cynicism, especially in myself, so I offer this. Here’s a speech we wish politicians would really give.

My fellow Nova Scotians. Thank you for taking the time to come out and hear a political speech, because I know you are doing it in the public spirit of wanting a better community for ourselves and our families.
I’m not here to provide quickie answers to all of our problems. That has been done in countless speeches going back to our earliest elections in the 1800s. I’m going to be straight with you.
We have problems in this province and my party doesn’t have all the solutions. In fact, no leader or party can tell the whole truth in an election campaign and expect people to support them. So too often, we have resorted to half-truths, vagueness and open-ended promises.
Let’s change that. From now on, our party is going to promise only what it can actually deliver. And we ask people to demand more from us.
While I’m at it, I should admit that the other parties in the election have also proposed worthwhile ideas. If elected, the best thing I can do is to take those good ideas and apply them to government. And give credit where it’s due, even if the credit goes to one of my opponents.
I promise you, Nova Scotians, that my party will take steps to run government sensibly and gradually reduce deficits until the budget is balanced. That means higher taxes in some cases and service reductions in others.
The only way that public spending can be reigned in is to take stern measures. This is a fact. You can’t have it any other way.
But maybe people don’t want to face either of those alternatives. If that’s the case, they should all be prepared to live with higher deficits, more debt and a big bill to be settled in the future. We will owe our province to the banks, hedge funds and foreign money people who own our debt.
Government can no longer be all things to all people. Help me and my party make wise decisions about what services are really necessary and what we can do without. Help us make fair decisions.
On power rates, we promise not to make silly promises that can’t be fulfilled. It’s absurd to promise that “breaking up the monopoly” at Nova Scotia Power will reduce rates on its own. Encourage competition, sure. But I’m not going to indulge in political posturing by setting myself up as the crusader who will save the little guy from the big corporation.
Also, I’m just not into promising rate freezes because they aren’t realistic. Electricity is expensive. It’s also vital. And we waste it. We have had decades of idiotic energy policy and we can only change it if we agree that it costs money to do things differently.
We need a long-term, not short-term policy on energy and it has to be in keeping with the need to protect the environment. Burning coal and natural gas don’t do that.
On this business of rates. People, it costs money to generate electricity and wire it to your house. Real money. You use it, you pay for it. No premier can promise to defy the established market for energy. Governments don’t have the power to create cheap power. There, I’ve said it and you can quote me.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t encourage smart policies that will gradually get us out of the energy hole we’re in. We must. The first step is a massive public education program to help everyone understand what the true costs are of keeping the lights on.
We won’t deregulate energy to the point it becomes a free-for-all. Nova Scotia Power dominates the market. But it’s still a market. Let’s not get in the way of competition but admit that policy, on its own, can’t create it.
On jobs and employment, I admit that my party has no better ideas than anyone else. We have to stop subsidizing private business, but we can’t do it alone. Governments around the world indulge in subsidies and we’re scared that we can’t compete.
So we subsidize, rescue and improvise employment support policies as we go. We’ll still do that under my government, at least let’s all recognize that’s what’s happening.
And by the way, governments don’t create jobs, except for civil servants. I promise to stop using the term “job creation” in any of my future speeches so as not to hold out false hopes.
Nova Scotians, we don’t encourage tourism by turning our province into a fairy land of silly myths. If we build a dynamic community that is alive with the arts, culture, music, architecture and outdoor activities, in a pristine environment, and if we just be ourselves, others will travel here to join us.
Nova Scotians, we don’t solve the health care problem by fiddling with bureaucracies. We have to face up to the fact that our population is aging and we need more of everything in the system. That’s going to cost a lot of money.
So why don’t we let private clinics do some of the work? If you really think breaking up monopolies makes for a better market, then break up the health care monopoly currently owned by the government and operated by disciplined cartels of doctors, unions, professional guilds and drug companies.
Do we care about the environment? Evidently not, because no party has made much of it. If people really cared, I mean really cared about the natural world around them, they would raise holy hell with governments.
It appears that they don’t, so that’s why politicians only give lip service to the environment.
In conclusion, fellow citizens, and I include both those work hard and those who are just coasting, I can’t promise to make very much better in your life. But now that you know that, the small talk is past.
Vote for me, because I don’t promise one damn thing.

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Internet snoops and the great Canadian migration

Hey all;
Two posts today via my mainstream media clients: a piece on Bill C-12 and government snooping in The Chronicle Herald and in the Charlottetown Guardian, observations on the current state of the cross-Canada economy, literally.
The Herald piece revisits a subject of which the federal Tories never seem to tire: their pushing of the government’s nose into every nook and cranny of our online lives. It’s almost obsessive, given how they got their clocks cleaned for their last Internet surveillance bill. It’s also one of those weird contradictions, this is the same party that finds it intrusive for census-takers to ask about the number of bathrooms in a home.
The Guardian piece arose from a trip out to Alberta and back. It’s not going to shock you to find confirmation of a big trend that goes back decades. But given that it’s actually gaining momentum, it appears to be here to stay or at least for the our lifetimes.

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Re: Champ, Part 2

I fixed up the rushed piece that I wrote in memory of Henry Champ for The Novascotian in today’s Sunday Herald. Here’s a link. There’s way more Henry in it, and way less about me. Proper thing.

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The Great Henry Champ, R.I.P. big guy

The Champster

I only knew Henry Champ from two parts of the world he had covered and I couldn’t claim to be a lifelong friend, not even a peer really. But that doesn’t lessen my sadness at hearing that the great man had died.
I worked with Henry when he came to CBC Newsworld in Halifax in the 1990s. His distinguished and colourful career with CTV and then NBC had become a bit more colourful than necessary and he had parted ways with NBC. He had lots of money so he didn’t need to work, but he was nowhere near retiring psychologically. He wanted to stay in the game. So he came to the CBC and to Halifax and quite literally, added jazz to our shows. And to our lives.
We Newsworlders already knew Henry from processing his reports from around the world for NBC. At the time, Newsworld had no resources at all and we were reduced to stripping “Amnets” feeds for our early morning newscasts. Henry was a staple and among the conoisseurs of network reporting in our newsroom, he was always a popular reporter.
Most of us already could do Henry impersonations and it happened that he called one day and I happened to pick up the phone. “Newsworld, Dan Leger,” says I. His gravelly rumble came down the line: “Ah, um, me old son. Is Sandy McKeen there? It’s Henry Champ.”
A bit awestruck at actually being one-on-one with the Champster, I muttered something about Sandy, our executive producer, being out of the office. I would find him, I volunteered.
“Not to worry, partner,” Henry said. “Just tell him I called.”
A few weeks later, he came to work with us and the awestruckness became a general sensation in the newsroom. But the best part was, not only was he Mr. Network — there at the fall of Saigon, one of the first journos to pick up the trail of Bill Clinton as a presidential candidate, among many accomplishments on and off the field — but he was a great guy. A great guy.
Henry had no time for the slackers and time-servers. He loved us workhorses, who would make 100 phone calls to get him a good interview. And then we’d love him even though the guest we chased to the ends of the earth wasn’t as funny or interesting or as just plain weird as Henry was “doing” the interview. Or that Henry would mispronounce the guest’s name or just go off on some crazy-assed tangent.
We didn’t care. Among many interests, Henry loved journalism, politics and pro football and was astonishingly knowledgeable about all those topics. I spent a liquid afternoon in a pub in Halifax with Henry and a great friend and running mate Steve Knifton. All three of us were NFL fans, Knifton, sadly, a Bills advocate.
That afternoon, Henry displayed a profound knowledge of football arcana, like second-string NFL quarterbacks, the guys who made good money for many years playing second fiddle to stars like Joe Montana or Bart Starr. It was uncanny. You could mention a great QB and he could name his backup man, usually with his NCAA alma mater thrown in. Better still, he had won the “guillotine game” bet that weekend with his pal in Manhattan and had $800 in his pocket to spend on his work buddies, and he did spend, copiously.
Henry was amazing to work with and while he drove you crazy with his funky approach to anchoring and his arcane speech, we loved him all the more for it. He could hardly ever remember anyone’s name, so he’d resort to “partner” or “my old son,” for the guys. Pretty soon, that’s all we called each other in the newsroom: “me old son, grab that phone,” or “son of mine, would you be so kind as to oblige your old dog to respond to that telephonic communication.”
He assigned nicknames to people in the newsroom, but not as many as we gave him. Hankenstein, the Hankster, Crazy Uncle Henry, Big Hanky, all terms of respect and affection.
He was a big man, with big hands, a TV-friendly big head and a big, big heart and I was privileged to see it up close, on his turf in D.C.
In 2000, I went to Washington to do some Super Tuesday shows as part of the CBC’s U.S. election coverage. By then, Henry was working in the Washington bureau again, contentedly living at home with his brilliant and evidently patient spouse, Karen De Young, and the kids. I called Henry to tell him I was coming down with Nancy Wilson to do the shows.
“My dear man, you will come early, you will stay at my home and we’ll go visit the monuments,” he commanded. What else could I say?
I arrived on a Friday afternoon and took a cab from the airport to Henry’s lovely home near downtown Washington. When I pulled up, Henry, a baseball fanatic and former semi-pro player, was out on the street, surrounded by kids, whacking balls off a pitching machine. He was merrily bouncing them off houses, laughing his head off as the kids scrambled around trying to field his hits.
What followed was a weekend of genteel hospitality and a non-stop, marathon discussion about history, politics, journalism and sports. Yes, we did visit the Washington Monument and The Lincoln Memorial and the  profound Vietnam wall. Together, we witnessed one of the most most solemn things I think I’ve ever seen: the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
We watched NCAA basketball into the wee hours and talked about journalism and politics. Sunday morning, I devoured coffee and newspapers with Karen, who is an author, an assistant managing editor at the Washington Post and a world-class journalist in her own right. The next day, she invited me to visit the Post and sit in on their front-page meeting. I saw the wall of Pulitzer Prize citations, a shrine. I still have the news budget from that day.
Henry arranged for me to visit the White House, early in the morning in time for the “gaggle” with the national security adviser and through a day in the bizarrely-cramped White House Press Room. He introduced me to the network heavies as “one of the top TV news producers in Canada,” which was a quite a stretch but very flattering. The journos seemed nice and treated me respectfully.
But I was there to work and with Henry’s great help and vast connections, we shot our shows and I went happily back to Halifax. I didn’t even mind when he pointed out to me, field producer on the shoot, that “the field producer is only along to carry the money and pay the cabs.” He had said it so many times that it was a running joke. It’s an indisputable truth, however, that if I didn’t carry the money, we’d have been broke.
But that generosity of time and skill and passion, that willingness to give to those he respected as fellow professionals, will always live with me.
Henry Champ was a great journalist, a great man and, I’m very proud to say, a friend. A unique figure is gone, a man who was different from the sober, clean-cut and ever-serious crop of present network reporters. TV journalism and the whole of our great craft are lessened by that.
Henry Champ knew his stuff. I’ll miss him.

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National Energy Strategy? Yeah, right

I wouldn’t say this in a column, because columnists aren’t supposed to say such things. But this isn’t a column, it’s a blog post, which is 100 per cent not the same.

I told you so.

Okay, maybe it was easy to predict that the Harper government wouldn’t buy in to the idea of a provincially-inspired national energy strategy. It was one of those situations  that sounded very nice, but had absolutely nowhere to go. And I told you it wouldn’t go anywhere.

You’ll recall that in July, most of the provincial premiers backed the idea of a “national energy strategy” to bring coherence to Canadian production and distribution, from petroleum to hydro power, coal, nuclear, wind and other renewables. While all of those sources are under provincial jurisdiction, proponents wanted the federal government to join in, putting everyone on the same song sheet.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford proposed the idea and since Alberta currently holds the Most Favoured Province rating with the Harper government, some people thought it would fly. Redford wanted the whole country to demonstrate support for the oil sands as part of the exercise.

It was obviously not going to happen, even though most premiers and certainly our prime minister support oil sands development. And it won’t happen. The federal government simply isn’t interested in elaborate deals with the provinces over anything.

Just ask Joe Oliver, federal minister of natural resources. Oliver, undoubtedly reflecting the views of province-averse Stephen Harper, says there’s no need for a national plan for energy.

Oliver maintains that Ottawa already has a national strategy on energy. It can be summarized pretty simply: markets dictate pricing and provinces control how energy is developed. The feds retain a role in regulation and cross-border matters like pipelines, but the Harper government won’t tinker in the energy space.

It won’t tinker, but it will cheerlead. The Tory government is the biggest, happiest, most positive fan in the world of Alberta’s “ethical oil,” so much so that environmental groups who think otherwise are demonized as foreign-financed troublemakers. On oil, Ottawa is not neutral. And Oliver won’t be getting on board with any gosh-darned national strategy.

He maintains there already is one, it’s just not called that. Nor is it, in any substantive way, the creation of the current government.

The Tory administration under Brian Mulroney brought about the last truly significant changes in federal energy policy. In 1985, the Tories started dismantling most of the worst parts of the Liberals’ chaotic National Energy Program, killed a slew of taxes and let the market decide pricing for both oil and natural gas.

Staying out of the oil patch’s face has been federal policy ever since, even under the otherwise-interfering Liberals. The current Harper government hasn’t done anything significant to modify it. Now, its sweating out a new oil challenge: foreign investment.

The proposed takeover of Nexen Inc. by a Chinese state oil company poses a real challenge to the Harper government: to come up with a clear and coherent policy on oil patch takeovers. The deal might never fly.

Oliver does see merit in the idea of building a pipeline to bring Alberta oil to the East Coast. He sees it as a job-boosting project that “also demonstrates to Canadians in Atlantic Canada and Quebec what the advantages are of having robust resources in Alberta.”

“If you want to put a bow on it and call it a Canadian Energy Strategy, go ahead,” Oliver said, in a classic moment of senior government condescension. “We’re not applying that labelling to it.”

It’s not just Oliver who sees little merit in devising national strategies for energy. The provinces themselves aren’t unanimous. As a pre-condition to even discussing it, B.C. Premier Christy Clark wants, in effect, a cut of the cash from Alberta’s oil revenue. Pigs will fly first.

As to Oliver’s claim that there’s an energy strategy already in place, what is it? There’s been barely a jot of change in Canadian energy policy in 25 years.

If there is a national enery strategy, it’s a combination of leftover Mulroney-era reforms and Harper’s miniskirt-and-pom poms approach to the western oil patch. Oh yeah, and calling ourselves an energy superpower. We’re Number 5! Go us!

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A new season, new commitments

Yes I have been a lazy sod for the past several months, it’s been too nice out to do otherwise.

But I do want to welcome new readers from The Charlottetown Guardian to the site. My column, The Maritimes, started there Sept. 9 and will run every Monday on the op-ed pages.

The column aims to look at regional and national affairs from the perspective of the Maritimes. So it’s partly politics, partly the economy and partly stuff that happens around us that bears some discussion and commentary.

I’m awaking from summer slumber, and this site will be more active in the days and weeks ahead too.

-Dan

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Yellow is the new colour of arrogance and intolerance

That a 17-year old with a religious-themed tee shirt can upset a school board and create a furor in the media shouldn’t surprise anyone. School boards are notoriously easy to rile and they seem to fall for every provocation. Their commitment to political correctness is legendary and that makes them perfect targets for activists of all stripes.

For the South Shore board to even discuss the idea of banning a tee-shirt shows how overwrought it can become at the least flutter of a yellow flag. After all, school boards across the province celebrate the pink-shirt statement against bullying, which has a strong subtext of support for gay rights. To be clear, the boards are right to support the Pink Shirt campaign and very, very wrong to try and limit the free speech of this William Swinimer kid and his yellow shirt.

But as we learn more about the case, it has become obvious that the South Shore board’s stomach upset is about more than shirts and more than messages. The events today suggest what is really going on. As school opened, Swinimer’s Bible-waving father arrived, a church pastor in tow, and removed the boy. He said he wouldn’t stand for so much as a discussion about the shirt, the impact and the reaction.

So now we know what this really is all about. It’s another sad and disgusting case of parents manipulating their kids to make political statements that otherwise would be lost in the tangled weeds of irrelevance. Swinimer senior, John, is a religious fanatic. And in the way of the fanatic, he brooks no questions, no inquiry, no challenge. That nobody outside his family and church cares what he says doesn’t matter to him because he’s got God on his side.

According to reporting from by Beverley Ware in The Chronicle Herald, John Swinimer refused to take questions from reporters as he angrily took the boy out of class. “I’m making statements,” he said. And boy, is that ever accurate.

He’s making a statement about how his values must supercede everyone else’s. He’s making a statement about defiance of community norms. He’s making statements about the superiority of his convictions and the debasement of the wider community’s. He’s making a crystal-clear statement that his brand of Christianity brooks no tolerance for different opinions or views. He demands the right to express his views, yet has no apparent demand for anyone else’s.

In short, he’s just like the bishops, witch doctors, mullahs, preachers and ayatollahs of priest-ridden states around the world. He has a God-given right to impose his views on everyone else and he’s determined to do it, even if that means manipulating a minor child. That’s what this is all about.

That said, it gives me a queasy feeling to think what the experts are telling the kids at school, who will now be subjected to instruction on tolerance and the correct way to respect the views of others. Like there is a right way to do that.

Ware’s story also reveals that there was more to the younger Swinimer’s behaviour than the yellow shirt emblazoned with the ludicrous phrase “Life without Jesus is Wasted.” He preaches and proselytizes, tells the other kids they’re going to hell unless they adopt his religious beliefs and in general disrupts school activities. It’s not hard to imagine dear old dad egging him on every step of the way.

William Swinimer should have the right to wear his silly shirt. If the other students don’t like it, they should just ignore the message of hate and intolerance implicit in its message. Or wear their own tee-shirt: how about: “I think therefore I’m an Atheist” and see how tolerant of free speech the Swinimer camp really is.

 


 

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The fracking freak-out to come

To frack or not to frack, that is the question the Nova Scotia government doesn’t have to think about for another two years. But it’s a question we should be asking ourselves, or a series of questions about energy and the economic future of this province.

It’s possible that Nova Scotia contains significant onshore reserves of natural gas trapped in the shales deep underground. These potential resources can only be exploited by the use of hydro-fracturing of the rock in which the gas is trapped. It might very well be possible to get the gas out of the ground and to market with little or no negative environmental fallout.

But before a rock is ever fractured, there’s already a nascent anti-fracking movement in Nova Scotia, one that cites every scary statistic about the practice and warns of yet another environmental holocaust to come. Its tone is little bit of oil sands scariness, with just a touch of anti-vaccine hysteria thrown in.

Clearly, it’s time to talk about fracking.

A 2004 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency into hydro-fracking of coalbed methane wells “concluded there was little to no risk of fracturing fluid contaminating underground sources of drinking water.” However, the agency said it would continue to monitor and study the practice to see if that opinion should change.

The U.S. EPA is now conducting studies specifically related to natural gas exploration and development. That study is due to produce its initial findings late this year and to be completed in 2014. Nova Scotia’s policy makers will have the benefit of that research as they decide whether to allow the practice here or not.

The EPA also investigated complaints from Pavillion, Wyoming, where locals said gas fracturing by Calgary-based Encana Inc. had polluted their drinking water. That investigation did find evidence of “compounds likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing.” But it doesn’t make a direct link between Encana’s wells and Pavillion’s polluted wells. It does note that Encana is paying for the locals’ drinking water.

Pavillion has become a symbol for the anti-fracking movement, which is taking root here in Nova Scotia. The EPA’s Pavillion study does appear to illustrate the dangers of hydro-fracturing where drinking water sources are close by. And there is some evidence that fracking has had a role in some tiny earthquakes recorded over the past few years in the U.S.

But these studies do not prove that fracking is inherently dangerous, that it will pollute drinking water or that it will set off earthquakes. So while we’re waiting for more definitive word, let’s try to establish some perspective on what this means to this province.

Right now, most of our electricity is generated from coal. There’s really no dispute about its dangers, with an increasing body of evidence emerging that coal is far worse for climate health than natural gas or any other energy source. Scientists around the world are working on ways to make coal burn cleaner, but it will never be truly clean as an energy source.

Natural gas is way cleaner, which is not to say there are no dangers from so-called “clean” natural gas. Gas is certainly cleaner than coal or oil, but it’s not clean.

And Nova Scotia has to face facts. Gas supplies from Sable Island are drying up and the new Panuke development won’t be large enough to replace them.

And right now, natural gas is dirt cheap. It has become so plentiful that supply is vastly outpacing demand, prices are at 10-year lows and predicted to stay low for some time to come. That makes it a no-brainer choice to investigate ways of replacing coal as a power source in Nova Scotia with natural gas.

But when you come right down to it, the real problem is our continued dependence on fossil fuels. So we need a mature debate about how to go forward. This is something all the major participants would need to join: governments, Nova Scotia Power, consumers, industry and the activist community.

Nova Scotia is a weird place. We allow clear-cutting and radical forest practices. We allow hoovering fish off the sea bottom. Hell, we celebrate that. We allow coal plants to foul the air. But we are not even allowed to look for uranium while exploring for other resources. Nuclear power is strictly taboo, no matter how high electricity prices go. And now fracking. Why are we so precious about some environmental choices and not others? I wish I knew.

A freakout over fracking is coming, and NS stands the chance to lose its opportunity to exploit a cheap, plentiful and local energy source just as Sable is drying up and coal loses its lustre. We should be talking about that.

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Mission Accomplished! Sort of.

We interrupt this program to bring you an information bulletin from the Department of National Defence. Here is the bulletin: a Canadian naval submarine has successfully fired a torpedo. That is all.

Well, actually more than one torpedo as the department’s news release suggested. But wait, you say. What’s the big deal? Submarines fire torpedoes. It’s kind of the whole point. And too true, for most submarines in most navies around the world, firing torpedoes is nothing too unusual. But for the Royal Canadian Navy, the successful test firings in Nanoose Bay, B.C. last week were a deal, a big deal, even if they were only firing unarmed fish.
That’s because our four-boat fleet of former Royal Navy subs has been more than a dozen years and billions of dollars in the making, with very few actual results. And the test-firings by HMCS Victoria, the only sub currently in service, represents the first-ever firings of the Canadian heavy torpedo of choice, the MK48, by any vessel in the fleet.
And the reason that’s doubly significant? The navy, when it bought the four boats from some fast-talking Brits for $750 million in 1998, wanted to use the torpedo that was in commission with the Canadian Forces. Problem was, the British boats used a different torpedo, the Spearfish. So all the boats have had to be modified to accommodate the preferred Canadian weapon, which of course is an American weapon.
Navy brass at the time also decided to Canadianize many other systems on the submarines, and that cost a lot of dough. Then there was the fire aboard HMCS Chicoutimi in 2004, the day after it was commissioned by our navy. The fire killed a gallant young officer and put Chicoutimi out of operation. It might not be ready to go to sea again until 2016, according to defense industry publications. So in the case of that boat, it was in service for a day and out of commission potentially for 12 years.
There have many others problems: an undersea grounding and fire safety concerns feature prominently and at times the navy was hard pressed to keep up the effort to get the subs operational while still committing the surface fleet to missions in the Mediterranean, the Arabian Sea, Haiti and other hotspots.
The navy isn’t keen to talk about how much this whole escapade has cost. With so much of the senior ranks’ credibility on the line over the sub program, the costs are an embarrassment. Independent and government sources generally agree that the total is approaching $3 billion. So just to keep things in perspective, for $3 billion, we’ve kept four boats in various states of repair, for about 14 years.

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