Thursday, April 24, 2014

Paging Peter Kelly, former mayor of Halifax

Here's a piece I wrote for Halifax Magazine about the vanishing act of Halifax's former mayor, Peter Kelly. 

By Jon Tattrie

Citizen Peter Kelly walks into Izzy’s Bagel on the Bedford Highway with the practiced friendliness of a professional politician. He says hello to each patron and chats with the lady behind the counter while ordering green tea. When you spent 32 years in politics, it’s hard to shake the habit.

But Kelly’s trying. After ending his term as HRM mayor in 2012, he took a year-long vow of public silence. A man who was seemingly everywhere was suddenly nowhere.

But his silence has ended. And Citizen Kelly has a lot to say. In a wide-ranging interview with Halifax Magazine, he offered insights into what comes next and set the record straight on his time in office.

Kelly retired on an eight-election winning streak and has not lost a vote since 1983. Will he contest a spot in the provincial legislature or federal parliament?

“There is never a day that goes by that people don’t say you should get back into it,” he says. “If I feel that I can bring benefit, I may look at it, but right now that’s not high on the agenda.”

For now he’s settling into an elder statesmen role. He seems more relaxed, or at least a Peter Kelly version of relaxed. His eyes still have that dark intensity and he can still speak at length without answering your question.

He runs a low-profile consulting business guiding landowners through the development process, blending his insider’s knowledge of politics with his MBA. He goes to public meetings and helps his former constituents when they ask.

He’s dead against proposed changes to the Otter Lake landfill. The promises being reconsidered are promises he made. “I’m watching that one very closely. That was a sacred promise,” he says.

Kelly offers vague praise for Mike Savage, his successor, which is not surprising for a man who rarely used negative campaigning. He says the smaller council seems to be working well (noting he always supported a smaller council) and celebrates the plethora of development in the city, from Dartmouth Crossing to the convention centre. “Those cranes came from our councils,” he reminds us.

Insiders say he’s writing a tell-all memoire. He admits he’s been approached by a publisher. “Right now I feel I’m too young to do a book,” the 57-year-old says. “Life’s not complete.”

But it’s clear he’s thought a lot about how to balance it. Will it detail his personal struggles, or just be about work? He’s undecided.

As mayor, he put in 80-hour weeks and was often spotted picking up litter (including at least one bullet) in his spare time. When constituents called his home on weekends or evenings, he answered. Quiet evenings with family evaporated.

“It has taken its toll. I love to work and I put everything into it,” he admits.

His marriage collapsed and other relationships suffered. One of the main goals of the year’s sabbatical was to rebuild his private life. Instead of speeding through life at 200 miles an hour, he slowed to a pace that allows observation and adjustment.

Few people are as well-positioned to understand Kelly as Gloria McCluskey. Like him, she won her first political seat in 1985 (as a Dartmouth alderman), rose to become mayor (Dartmouth) and served with him on HRM council. She’s one of the hardest-working politicians in the province.

She describes a man who could never work hard enough. She would accost him: “Your Worship, take some time off.” But he didn’t. On long days, she took him food. “I was concerned he wasn’t eating,” she recalls. “He ran non-stop.”

McCluskey saw him participate in three Pride parades in a day, help light the Christmas tree and clean the tables after public events. “He was one of a kind and people really like him,” she says. “[But] he was overextending himself all the time.”

When told he’s slowed down from 200 miles an hour, she jokes, “He’s probably down to 100.”

McCluskey has a chilling reminder for those who throw themselves into work at the expense of their family. “Put your arm in a bucket of water. When you haul it out, you’ll see how much you’ll be missed,” she says. “People like you and you work hard for them, but you can be replaced and in a couple of years people will probably forget that you were there.”

But your family will notice that hole in the water.

Kelly admits he made the mayorship an all-encompassing job. “I’ve probably had more family time in the last year than the last five years. That gives you a better appreciation of the importance of family. Sometimes lessons are learned too late in life.”

That family life includes a new son. A couple of years ago he learned he had an adult son living out west. The man reached out to him and has travelled east, while Kelly has gone west. “He’s a great guy and he has a great family. It’s an evolving relationship,” Kelly says.

That, plus his other two children and three grandchildren, have kept him busy.

He’s enjoying the fruits of his labour. Asked about his proudest achievements, he starts with Remembrance Day. No, not the Occupy Nova Scotia eviction on Nov. 11, 2011. As a politician, he led the charge of veterans to keep the stores closed on Nov. 11.

He also marks his role in relocating the East Coast Forensic Hospital from Bedford to Burnside in 1999, opening Harbour Solutions in 2008 and delivering the landmark Africville apology in 2010.   

Kelly has regrets, too. He starts with the concert scandal that dogged his final years. He says he wished he had had a better grasp of how the deals worked (critics would say he knew exactly how the shady deals worked) and “more definition” of how such deals were supposed to happen.

And then there’s the Mary Thibeault estate. Kelly’s placid demeanor stirs and he cuts off the question. “Again, when you’re focused on the job, the personal things will often get under the table. Certainly the timeliness is one that I could have done better,” he says.

The Coast accused Kelly of improperly transferring money from Thibeault’s account to his. He sticks to the line he’s long toed: it’s a legal matter and he has never been accused of wrong-doing by the police or any other agency.

“The process is complete. The courts signed off on it and it is done with,” he says. “I’m sure if there was [wrong-doing], then it would not be complete. The issue is a matter of law.”

Speaking a few days before Halifax MLA Joachim Stroink exploded onto social media with an ill-chosen Christmas photo posing with “Black Pete,” a Dutch character portrayed on blackface, Kelly offered a prophetic warning to new politicians.

“It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for those who like their personal space. You become very public. Your actions are watched and your commentary is analyzed,” he says, “and that should be the way. Anything you say or do in the public forum … in which you serve, it is there for the public.”

It’s a price worth paying, Kelly argues. “I think anybody who has the desire to improve the quality of life and the collective community should strive to serve.”

He just hasn’t decided how his future service will unfold.



Peter Kelly lost his first two elections – bids for Bedford town council in 1981 and 1983. He won the seat in 1985, was re-elected, and then became Bedford mayor in 1991 and 1994. He was voted Bedford’s councillor in HRM in 1995 and won the mayor’s chair in 2000, 2004 and 2008.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Arlene Dickinson's journey from her father's den to the Dragons' Den

From the October 2013 edition of Business Voice magazine.

From her father’s den to the Dragons’ Den

By Jon Tattrie
Broke, divorced and excommunicated, Arlene Dickinson contemplated her future from the discomfort of her father’s couch. A judge had just taken away custody of her four children and told her if she wanted them back, she’d have to prove she could earn enough money to take care of them. She was 31, had a high school diploma and a string of entry level jobs.

“You can’t let this define you,” her father told her as she tried to imagine a path out of his house.

It wasn’t obvious that she was about to become one of the wealthiest, most powerful and influential business figures in Canada.

-        ---

Dickinson says in the early stages, entrepreneurs must have massive self-belief, mixed with a dose of self-doubt. “You can start to believe in yourself so much – and in what you’re doing so much – that you stop being able to hear what other people are telling you,” she says.

That can be a fatal mistake. It’s better to hear early marketplace mutterings about your product. Listen. Adjust.

Dickinson’s self-doubt drives her to examine every idea for weaknesses and improve them. But when it’s time to pitch, she’s all confidence.

“A lot of entrepreneurs are similar. We portray these extroverted, highly confident people, but that can sit atop a modest, introverted person,” she explains.

Dickinson made the most of her thin resume and a family connection to land a sales position on a Calgary television station in the late 1980s. She got her kids back. She found she had a talent for selling ads, but the station let her go.

Dickinson was one step closer to fortune and fame.

Some business sages argue success is best achieved when you find your passion and make it your business. Others say you should find your talent and make a business around that.

Dickinson sits between the two positions. Your passion may leave the market cold and your business will falter. But exploiting holes in the market might fail, too. “Passion is a really key indicator of whether you’re on the right track,” she says. “If you don’t love it, you might not have the drive you’re going to require to cross the finish line. You have to have a passion for what the opportunity is, otherwise you’re just building something to make money and you’re not really going to live a dream.”

Dickinson has seen thousands of business dreams. She says the successful ones start with the table stakes of a good idea. “There are very few new ideas,” she says. “It comes down to a strong idea, and the person’s ability to execute it.”

Dickinson’s ad-selling mentor had left the television station shortly before she was let go. He and a few colleagues started a marketing company called Venture Communications. He invited her to join them. She wouldn’t get a lot of money, but she would be a partner. She accepted. It was 1988. A decade later, she bought out the last remaining partner and took over the company. Her business success rocketed. Her net worth is estimated at $80 million.

Her life changed again in 2007 when she was invited to audition for Dragons’ Den, the CBC reality show which was then attracting 200,000 viewers per episode. She was skeptical. “Me, a fifty-something woman with wrinkles, on Dragons’ Den? No way. This isn’t British television after all,” she writes in her best-selling book, Persuasion.

She landed the job. Today, the show draws two million viewers and Dickinson has become an icon.

Dickinson says it’s odd to be treated like a normal person all your life, and then suddenly turn heads because you’re on TV. There’s a theory that people remain the age they were when they first became famous. Dickinson is delighted by the idea. Fortune and fame have changed her life and her worldview, but not her values.  “I’m really glad that it happened to me later in life, because it’s a heady thing.  It’s really easy to get caught up in the trappings that somehow you are special. I really am not,” she says.

Her celebrity status opens doors for her, but her work ethic, and ethical working, earn her a place inside the room. She doesn’t always succeed, but Dickinson is not put off by failure. Persuasion is full of horror stories of her turning up drenched and unshowered to pitch to a convention of hairdressers, or getting lost in an industrial park and arriving to a pitch late and disheveled. “Failure is part of the journey to success. If I meet an entrepreneur who has failed, I’m actually usually more interested in that person. The lessons they’ve learned in business are irreplaceable. These aren’t things you can learn at school – these are things you learn in the front line,” she explains.

But if a pitcher on the Dragons’ Den pins their failure on a rough market patch, a recession, or bad luck, her purse snaps shut. All of those factors may be true, but it’s an entrepreneur’s job to handle that. As the Buddha advised, drive all blame into one: yourself. Learn what went wrong and better position yourself to succeed next time.

It takes guts, because Canada has a problem with business failure. Consider the note of glee in reports that BlackBerry is falling on tough times. “BlackBerry has not failed. They’ve hit a market condition that needs to be addressed, but this is an incredibly successful company that has created an ecosystem in Waterloo and across the country that has thrown off billions of dollars in economic benefit to our country,” Dickinson says. “How silly are we to think that because they are looking at change, somehow that means they’ve failed?”

Dickinson was born in South Africa and immigrated to Canada as a child. She grew up in poverty, but saw opportunities all around her. She also knew she could and would fail. “My parents instilled in me this gratitude for the environment I was blessed to be now living in. As a result of that, I’ve always felt like nothing was going to get in my way. There were no human-rights issues that were going to get in my way; I never thought of the fact that I was a woman instead of a man,” she says.

But that good fortune can make Canadians soft and unable to appreciate the guts it takes to start a business. It can make us dismissive of someone who’s suffered a setback and has to start again.  “We’ve never really had to, as a culture, suffer. As a result we tend to think, how could you fail?”

Dickinson mentions Clearwater and Sobeys as examples of Atlantic Canadian companies that have created entire ecosystems that employ thousands of people. “It far exceeds what they did when they created their business on its own,” she says. “As Canadians we need to embrace and elevate the Mike Lazarisises of the world, the Jim Balsillies, the John Risleys, the Sobeys, the McCains, the Shaws.”

Unlike some of her fellow dragons, she doesn’t believe success is measured solely by wealth. In Persuasion, she writes that building your core ethics and beliefs is a more satisfying measure of self-worth than how much money you have, or how high you climb the corporate ladder. It’s also the most stable source of energy to drive you forward. Dickinson, as any fan of Dragons’ Den or her new show The Big Decision will know, believes capitalism can have a heart. “Simply because you’re a capitalist doesn’t mean you’re selfish or that you have no regard for the well-being of those around you.”

We should encourage kids to think about how to use their talents to develop something bigger than them, she urges. Instead of preparing your child to land a great job as a doctor or lawyer, why not support them in their dream to create their own job, and many more?

Dickinson points to Jessie Jollymore, a dietician in Halifax’s North End Community Health Centre. Jollymore saw a need to improve the food locals ate. She also saw a vacant lot. Together, they were bursting with opportunity. She rallied neighbourhood kids to start urban farming in 2007. The kids grew the food and brought it home to cook delicious family meals. “There’s an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child, but sometimes, the children raise the village,” Jollymore says.

The kids, aged eight to 15, created a salad dressing. It sold 2,200 bottles last year. The kids attended a week of business school this summer, courtesy of the Black Business Initiative, to learn how to develop the business. They aim to sell 6,000 bottles this year

Today, Hope Blooms has grown to 50 kids and 27 family plots that collectively harvest 2,000 pounds of produce a year. Seven of the kids, plus Jollymore, pitched their business to the Dragons’ Den earlier in the spring.

“She epitomizes capitalism with a heart. She’s encouraging youth to think differently,” Dickinson says.

Dickinson, who came out of poverty herself, says at-risk youth can be great entrepreneurs. “It is already risky and bad. You know where you are. When somebody says you can take yourself out of this, you suddenly start to see yourself for what you are, which is an instrument of your own success or failure. It helps them think about business and being in charge of their own destiny. And that’s what entrepreneurs do well.”

The Hope Blooms episode won’t air until October, so Jollymore can’t say if they landed any investors. But she can say that dragon Jim Treliving, owner of the Boston Pizza chain, recently flew in to take the kids to lunch. He told them he’s going to try to get their salad included in his restaurants.

It’s the kind of dream that drives Dickinson. What scares her most these days is not failure. “It’s running out of time. There are so many wonderful things we can do to make a difference not just for ourselves, but for those around us.”

Business Champion
Arlene Dickinson is returning to Halifax as Scotiabank’s Business Champion this fall. “It’s rare in life that you have the chance to apply all of the lessons you’ve learned over the course of your career and put them to work in a way that’s genuinely meaningful and helpful to others,” she says. “My personal experience and lessons learned will complement Scotiabank’s strength in the delivery of advice and products, a powerful combination ultimately benefitting Canadian entrepreneurs.”

Dickinson will be the guest speaker at the Halifax Chamber of Commerce’s annual Fall Dinner Nov. 7. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Courting controversy: Edward Cornwallis and the founding of Halifax (via Atlantic Books Today)

By Jon Tattrie
The first time I wrote about Edward Cornwallis, it was for a front-page article in the Chronicle Herald. A Halifax hairdresser had accidentally run an ad for “real human hair extensions” featuring models posed on the Cornwallis statue. Given the city founder’s notorious role in ordering the scalping bounty against Mi’kmaq people, it led to a hot debate about history, racism and colonialism.

People emailed me, called me at home and wrote letters to the editor. The conversation went national when Cornwallis Junior High was ordered to drop the English aristocrat’s name; it was renamed Halifax Central Junior High.

I wanted know more about him. To my amazement, I found not a single book had been written about him – in fact he barely earned a few chapters. If I wanted to read Cornwallis’s biography, I’d have to write it. 

I spent two years digging through the archives and history books. My search led me to experts in Canada, Gibraltar, Scotland and England. I even found Cornwallis’s cryptkeeper in Bury St. Edmond, England.

The result, Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax (Pottersfield Press), came out in May. Normally, you have to beg for media coverage of books. But Cornwallis was a force of nature: on launch day, I did print, TV and radio interviews from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The launch at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic was standing-room only, with more than 130 people. I fielded increasingly hostile questions. Was I defending a genocidal butcher? Was I trying to rewrite history in the name of political correctness? The moderator had to cut people off as emotions threatened to boil over.

A week later I spoke to Dalhousie’s University Club. At the end of my talk, a prominent historian accused me of fudging the research to bend the book to pre-held opinions.

A week later, someone sprayed graffiti on the statue and I was back for another full media blitz.

 “Stepping onto the contemporary battlefield, surrounded on all sides by belligerents with bayonets fixed, the author produces a peace offering,” wrote the Herald’s book reviewer.

That’s exactly what it felt like. I asked myself: why am I doing this? I have a lovely wife and baby son at home. I’m a full-time writer, but books make up a tiny proportion of my income. I’m not in it for the money. I love writing books, but don’t enjoy facing large, hostile audiences. So why?

I wrote Cornwallis not in spite of the controversy, but because of it. It was like that scene in Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers where Roberta Anderson stumbles on a little metal object poking out of the ground. She scrapes away the dirt and eventually excavates an ancient alien spaceship.

The “real human hair extensions” was the pokey metal; this book is the spaceship.
With the truth about Cornwallis now exhumed, I hope we can have a thoughtful post-mortem discussion about history and contemporary identity. Now that we know how Halifax began, we can better map out where we want our city to go.

Nova Scotia has given me a lot. This book is my way of giving a little bit back.

Jon Tattrie is an award-winning author and journalist. Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax is his third book, after The Hermit of Africville and Black Snow: A novel of the Halifax Explosion.

Monday, August 26, 2013

This blog is sleeping

This blog is sleeping.

Find out what I'm up to today on Twitter @jontattrie, or online at


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Cornwallis talk at the Canadian International Council

I'll be speaking at the Canadian International Council about Cornwallis on Wednesday, May 29, 2013. Tickets $10, runs noon to 1:30pm. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

life and death and cornwallis

the week around march 14 overflowed with life, death and cornwallis. 

for cornwallis, i completed the last proof and sent it off to the printers. it should be back in a few weeks, ahead of the may 21 launch. there was much satisfaction in sending the last email confirmation - after 18 months, it's finished. i can move onto the next big writing project. 

as i was writing the bio, i also dug into my own family history. i knew the first tattrie arrived in nova scotia around the same time as cornwallis, but not much more. i researched jean-george tattrie to illustrate the ordinary people who settled here. much of that research was assisted by my aunt marge, keeper of the family lore. 

on march 14, my son xavier was born - adding the ninth generation of tattries to my lineage. the next day my aunt, who was more like a grandmother, died. i didn't get to see her a last time as i was in the hospital with my wife and son, but thanks to the wonders of facebook, she did get to see a photo of xavier hours before she died. it gave her the last smile of her life and she mused on one generation starting even as the other departs. 

the current edition of Halifax Magazine runs an essay i wrote about my search for my roots - and how it went back to europe, but beyond, all the way back to adam. a dna map follows. 

It's Only Us

By Jon Tattrie
When I sat down to write a biography of the controversial life of Edward Cornwallis, I wore my neutral journalist’s hat. My research into Halifax’s infamous founder seemed unconnected to my own life, but I soon found my story was fundamentally tied to his – and to yours. 

Family lore had it that the first Tattrie arrived in Halifax not long after the founding in 1749. I looked into it for a side story illustrating the lot of the ordinary settlers. What I found was surprising. Jean George Tattrie did indeed arrive as part of the Foreign Protestants Cornwallis invited to the fledgling city to replace the distrusted Acadians and despised Mi’kmaq.

261 years ago, Tattrie hoped on a boat, sailed to Nova Scotia, and displaced Mi’kmaq people in the area the British now called Halifax. He moved twice, dislocating Mi’kmaq and Acadian people from the area of Lunenburg (where his name is on a monument) and again in Tatamagouche, today one of the few places in the world where the name is common.

So is it a simple story of European aggression and colonial theft?

Maybe not. I dug into Tattrie’s past and I found out why he was willing to sail into the unknown. His home village of Chagey in France was a land ruined by religious war, corrupt government, routine famine and grinding poverty. It was a miserable life for peasant farmer. The situation became intolerable in the late 1740s when his Lutheran minister died and the Catholic government sent a Catholic priest to replace him, backed by soldiers.

Tattrie and others blocked the church. The soldiers opened fire. 21 of the 50 protesters were shot, three fatally. Tattrie took a bullet to the leg – a bullet that now lies buried with him in the old cemetery in Tatamagouche.

Is that the end of the story? European refugee flees persecution, only to become the persecutor?

Maybe not.

I dug deeper. The written record for Tattries – or D’Attreys as they were likely known - runs cold in the 1600s. So do most European family names, as that’s when the convention became widespread.

I swabbed my cheek and had a lab study my DNA. It came back 100 per cent European. My haplogroup – my direct blood line – was traced to the Vikings. A distant Tattrie likely moved from Scandinavia to the British Isles 1,000 years ago after a Viking raid. A few hundred years later, a medieval Tattrie crossed the English Channel and settled in France.

But the blood line stretches further back.  

12,000 years ago, Europe was covered in deep ice. My ancestors – and the ancestors of most Europeans – clung to the southern edge of the continent in the wilderness of what are now Spain, Italy and Greece.

25,000 years ago, my people lived in the Middle East, following herds along what was then the open savannah of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

45,000 years ago, my ancestors slowly pursued prey from Sudan/Ethiopia into the Middle East. They were part of the second migration out of Africa.

60,000 years ago, the ancient Tattries lived among a small group of people poised on the edge of extinction in the land now called Kenya. The migration map marks this period with an all-capital name: ADAM. 

This is not the biblical man, but the scientific shorthand for a single man who lived in Kenya 60,000 years ago. He was not the only man alive, but of all his friends, family and foes, only his lineage survived. Every other branch withered and died. (“Eve”, our common mother, goes back about 120,000 years.)

This is where you come into it. My proto-grandfather – and Cornwallis’s proto-grandfather, and every Mi’kmaq person’s proto-grandfather, and your proto-grandfather, no matter where you come from – was the same man.

His children populated Africa. Another family branch headed along the coast of India and Asia to discover Australia 40,000 years ago. 10,000 years ago, cousins crossed the Berengia land bridge between Russia and Alaska, traversed a continent as the Ice Age melted, and settled in Nova Scotia.

When Jean George Tattrie crossed the Atlantic 10,000 years later, he was meeting his ancient kin in the Mi’kmaq. But no one knew that. Instead of celebrating the rediscovered blood relatives, blood was shed.

Cornwallis, and Tattrie, would have been astonished to learn of all our family trees have the same roots. 

They had no knowledge of deep human history. But today we know better.

I started to write the biography of Edward Cornwallis to better understand the ongoing war of Us vs Them. Should we celebrate “Our” British heroes at the expense of “Their” Mi’kmaq warriors? But I learned I was not studying the war of Us vs Them.

It’s only Us.
Jon Tattrie is the author of Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Darrell Dexter on NS's energy future

i recently had the chance for an in-depth interview with NS Premier Darrell Dexter to discuss the province's energy future for Earth Resources magazine. You can read the article here, and below.


Perspectives: Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter

In each issue, Earth Resources interviews a leader in Atlantic Canada’s energy industry. In this issue, we’re talking with Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter. He discusses the big energy stories of the year and what the future holds.

By Jon Tattrie

Premier Darrell Dexter’s NDP government has overseen major changes to Nova Scotia’s energy sector and has ambitious plans to bring about long-lasting transformations. Shell’s renewed interest in offshore oil, the drive toward renewable energy, Lower Churchill, the Daewoo investment and the Community Feed-in Tariff (COMFIT) program are all key factors in what the energy picture will look like in the decades to come.

Earth Resources spoke to the premier for an in-depth interview on the transitions and turmoil the sector has seen under his watch to ask if things are going according to his plan—and where that plan will take us.

Shell’s offshore bid

Nova Scotia’s offshore oil and gas industry has been sleeping since the last spike in the 1990s. When the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB) issued a call for bids on offshore lots in 2009, it received no bids. But the call for bids in January 2012 attracted Atlantic Canada’s biggest ever, as Shell Canada agreed to spend $970 million exploring offshore Nova Scotia for oil over the next six years. Dexter described the industry as poised to join the Lower Churchill hydro-electricity project and the Irving Shipbuilding contract as “game-changers” for the Nova Scotia economy.

Dexter says two things jump-started the sector and helped the province begin to catch up to the booming field in Newfoundland. The first was the Play Fairway Analysis, a $15-million atlas of the offshore that did the preliminary work to see where oil and gas might be.

“It gave a great deal of insight into the geology of the offshore,” he says. “We found a great deal of interest. People started to look at our offshore in a whole new way.”

That resulted in the bidding process won by Shell. “It’s a significant investment in exploration and they’re going to follow that with seismic next year. We assume that will lead to the identification of where they’re going to drill,” he says.

Dexter says that giant bid from a super-major caught the attention of the other global players. “This is an experienced company which didn’t get to their position by not knowing what they’re doing,” he says. “If they’re interested, then there must be a reason for that. I think a lot of further buzz and interest was generated following that round of bids.”

Another 11 parcels were put up for bids in 2012. The winners of eight of those were announced in November: Shell took four and BP the other four. Dexter notes that six of the parcels were selected by the industry. “Usually they only nominate them if they’re interested,” he says.

If it attracts more bids—and especially if Shell finds oil in its exploration—the sector could once again become a major contributor to the economy. Dexter estimates 30 to 40 per cent of offshore exploration money is spent onshore. “That then rolls through the economy and creates jobs and economic growth. It spins off other economic initiatives,” he says.

Renewable energy

Nova Scotia is built on coal, and for much of the last couple of centuries it has run on coal. Nova Scotia Power figures show that in 2011, 57 per cent of the utility’s electricity mix was coal and petroleum coke. Natural gas accounted for 20 per cent and imported oil and other foreign energy accounted for six per cent. Renewable sources like hydro and tidal made up 10 per cent and wind seven per cent.

Dexter wants that to change. His government made it law that by 2020, 40 per cent of the province’s energy will come from renewable sources.

“We moved the 40 per cent from being a target to being the law. We did that because we wanted to make sure we reached it, and we will—pretty comfortably, I think,” he says. The Lower Churchill project will play a role. The $6.2 billion hydroelectric works will bring energy from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia, providing about 10 per cent of Nova Scotia’s energy for three and a half decades. Emera, Nova Scota Power’s parent company, will build the undersea Maritime Link between the provinces for an estimated $1.2 billion.

Dexter says despite the price tag, it will lower costs over time because Nova Scotia will have a frozen price for energy for 35 years. “You just imagine yourself if you could buy electricity today at 1995 rates,” he says.

He says fears that Emera will just sell the energy to New England are misplaced. “Here’s a really interesting piece. You can imagine energy passing through Nova Scotia going to New England. We would be able to buy off of that line at the New England price, minus the transmission cost,” he says. “And if they transmit, they pay a wheeling rate to Nova Scotia Power across the transmission lines that then has to be taken into account as income for the purposes of calculating the rate of return for Nova Scotia Power. Either way, rate payers benefit.”

Tidal energy from the Minas Basin will be another factor in reaching the 2020 goal. “It won’t be a commercial amount [of energy], but we know at some point in time … we’re going to be able to mine that resource,” Dexter says.

Taping into the 100-billion tons of water that comes in and out of the basin daily will require the creation of new technology to let the province mine the resource. The premier envisions that the technology and knowledge could itself become a part of the economy as Nova Scotia exports the expertise around the world.

Wind is another player. Nova Scotia invested millions in Daewoo Trenton to turn a disused railcar factory into the producer of wind turbine towers and blades. The province owns 49 per cent of the company and took some flack when it laid off workers in January.

Dexter blames global financing problems and says Daewoo has been training and diversifying, and will ramp up in the next few months. “I think you’re going to see a very successful business at Daewoo,” he says. He still sees a great opportunity, and still has confidence it will be a long-term success and will help Nova Scotia meet its 2020 target.

But coal will remain a prince, if not king. “Any good portfolio has a good blend of fuels—natural gas, coal, biomass, wind, hydroelectric, tidal,” Dexter says.

He says the bottom line of the NDP policy is that while it may be costly now to make the switch, it will pay off in the long run. Rates have repeatedly jumped in recent years as the cost of coal rises, but the premier says the 2020 shift will create stability. “You don’t want to have things in your portfolio that can dramatically affect the price curve for electricity, and that’s what we have now.”

Plus, it’s better for the environment.


The province’s Community Feed-in Tariff program is offered to communities and small businesses looking to create renewable energy projects. Critics argue it’s too small to make a real contribution. Dexter says they’re missing the point.
It is a small part of the overall shift, but it fills two big needs, he says. It cracks open the door to small players so they can gain experience. “For example, the aboriginal communities have a way to get into the energy business and they will gain expertise,” he says. The second role is that just as you want a diverse energy portfolio, Dexter says, the province wants a diverse portfolio of energy providers. The COMFIT program lets the little guys do that, he says, even if only a little bit. “You don’t want to have a sector that’s completely dominated by big players and I think that’s important for a whole lot of reasons,” he says.

The program is under review, but Dexter says that’s not a sign it’s failing. “When we announced the renewable electricity plan, we made it perfectly clear from that point on that this was a point of departure and that economic and industry conditions would change over time, and as we gained experience with the program we would look to see how it can be made better,” he says.

Hydraulic Fracturing

The process of extracting natural gas from underground via hydraulic fracturing, often called fracking, has sparked protests across North America. Opponents accuse fracking of poisoning drinking water and making it flammable, while proponents say it’s a safe way to tap into the resource.

While fracking is conducted in the face of intense protests in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia has paused the industry until at least spring 2014. That’s a further delay on a decision promised by spring 2012. Liberal MLA Andrew Younger said the moratorium was a political decision to kick it past the next election.

Dexter says it’s just sensible. And don’t call it a moratorium. “We want to make sure that this is a review, not a moratorium. It is designed to give us space and time to look at all of the information to ensure that we have the most up-to-date studies and research and reviews,” he says. “I never use the word moratorium.” Dexter says a number of major studies will be published before the review is finished. That will bring less heat, and more light, to the situation, he says.

“One of the things about hydrofracking is that there is a broad range of opinions. Some are scientifically founded, and some are not, and sometimes trying to parse the two is not as easy as one would think,” he says.

As for whether the delay will kill the industry before it can begin, Dexter doubts it. He says it will allow a calm, safe decision to be made, and if the decision is yes, business will come. “I think industry goes where opportunity is. The opportunity here is going to compete with opportunities anywhere in the world,” he says. “The complaints people have often go away if they can see the opportunity for profit.”