Tidal power in the Bay of Fundy: A dream without danger?

Engineers first tried to harness power from the tides of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia in 2009.

That excitement didn’t last long however; the turbine blades were destroyed by fierce tidal flows in 20 days.

The second attempt to tap some of the awesome potential energy produced by the natural tides was launched last November. After much controversy, Cape Sharp Tidal Ventures (CSTV), placed a 1,000-tonne, five-story tidal turbine on the seabed of their company’s berth in the Minas Passage.

When the turbine is turning at full capacity, it produces enough power for some 500 homes.

Though the demonstration project has produced “fossil fuel free” renewable energy as promised, the debate on potential environmental costs is far from over.

Scientist Trevor Avery questions the adequacy of an environmental effects monitoring program (EEMP) initiated in 2009 by the Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy (FORCE), the non-profit organization that plays host to the turbine demonstration projects.

The EEMP is continually adjusted, with current proposed monitoring plans projected until 2020. Each of several companies also has specific monitoring plans for their own individual project.

Monitoring plans “well short of mark”

“The environmental effects monitoring plans (EEMP) for fish and lobster fall well short of their intended mark,” Avery told National Observer. “There’s nothing in there that’s of value to show the long-term and cumulative effects on fish or lobster populations right now.”

The EEMP was established to measure the impact tidal, in-stream energy conversion devices could have on fish, seabirds, marine mammals, lobster, marine noise, ocean bed habitats and other variables.

Avery is an assistant professor of biology, mathematics and statistics at Acadia University who specializes in fish habitat and several at-risk species in the Bay of Fundy, including the striped bass, the little skate and winter skate.

Baseline data gaps questioned

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has critiqued FORCE’s EEMP, arguing that the baseline data is insufficient. That didn’t stop Nova Scotia Environment Minister Margaret Miller, however, from approving it along with a second turbine, yet to be deployed.

In April, a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge upheld the minister’s decision, rejecting a request from 175-member Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association to quash the go-ahead on grounds of gaps in baseline data about the ecosystem.

“The characterization of baseline data as being baseline, I think, is quite an extension of what it actually is,” Avery said. “What it is, is a series of preliminary studies that have given us insights into certain things that are happening.”

He cited a study used for baseline data which showed acoustically-tagged striped bass occupy the same part of the Minas Passage as the current turbine throughout winter as an example.

“What it doesn’t provide us with is the baseline of how many of them there are, when they’re actually there, why they’re there,” Avery said. “What is their behaviour when they’re there? Etcetera. So, the characterization of baseline data is a really a problematic thing in this whole argument.”

Matt Lumley, spokesman for FORCE, rebutted: “There is no such thing as obtaining a perfect baseline data, particularly from this site. This is due to the massive amounts of change that occurs on a regular and seasonal basis — not to mention the impacts of climate change.”

Does small scale preclude significant harm?

Melissa Oldreive, acting director of operations at FORCE, said in an interview that Fisheries and Oceans Canada has also said that because of the small demonstration scale of the project, “they don’t anticipate significant harm or risk associated with it.”

“But they did point us to several areas that could help increase the research effort and increase the data being collected and the opportunity for data collection around that turbine,” she added.

Cape Sharp Tidal Venture (CSTV) and other companies lease their berths from FORCE, a non-profit organization financed by developers, the federal and Nova Scotia governments, and Encana. CSTV, a partnership between Emera and OpenHydro/DCNS, is the first of five companies testing the potential for producing renewable energy from in-stream tidal turbines in the Bay of Fundy.

In May, CSTV attempted to retrieve the turbine temporarily from the water for upgrades.

Nova Scotia Power, along with OpenHydro, deployed North America’s first one-megawatt in-stream tidal turbine in the Minas Passage in November 2009, but it only lasted 20 days. Its turbines could not withstand Fundy’s powerful tidal flows.

FORCE’s purpose is to see whether in-stream tidal energy technology could be a part of Nova Scotia’s future. The province has a mandate to produce 40 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. FORCE provides space, equipment and infrastructure necessary for tidal power companies and developers, and monitors interactions and potential impacts of turbines with the marine environment in the Minas Passage.

“While we are exploring this renewable energy source, it’s all about responsible investigation of this: is tidal energy really and truly viable from a social, environmental, economic perspective in Nova Scotia,” Oldreive said. “That’s really why FORCE exists.”

Avery notes how monitoring the impact of turbine-generated power is different from supervising traditional energy production in the ocean.

“I think the standards need to be different. They need to be higher, and they need to be environmentally based if you have moving parts that are going to potentially hit things, or disturb the environment,” said Avery of turbine energy production compared to traditional production of oil and gas from ocean environments.

“This is not the same thing. This is very different. These are moving components with electrical interference and lots of sorts of activity in that area.”

Tidal energy could power economy

FORCE has spent $15 million so far of its approximately $40 million budget, exploring life below the surface. It has and is continuing to research lobster, marine mammals, fish, seabirds, oceanography, sedimentation, and electromagnetic fields at its site near Parrsboro.

These monitoring programs were designed through an extensive consultation with leading experts globally on the best methods to pursue, given the unique nature of the Bay. Nova Scotia says tidal energy production has the potential to contribute $1.7 billion to the province’s economy eventually.

But some scientists, and others familiar with the Bay — including fishermen who rely on this ecosystem for their livelihoods — disagree with the esteemed label given to the current monitoring program and baseline data collected so far. Fishermen attempted to stall the project by taking the province’s original permit approval to court.

Both Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the province provided specific direction to FORCE last June. The EEMP must fulfill reporting requirements in line with acts of both of these bodies and a revised monitoring plan with their considerations in mind was mandated for Jan. 1, 2017. A quarterly report released in April includes this information.

“It’s a really, really difficult road here that myself, and others, are trying to head down to say, ‘Look, you know, everything you’re doing is fine. It’s not perfect, but it’s not going to tell you what you want to know and what you keep telling everybody you’re going to do,’” said Avery.

Regardless, given the territory, technology must be built, tweaked or configured to try to work – and withstand – Fundy’s high flow environment throughout this adaptive, ongoing process.

Developing tech to take measurements in harsh water

David Barclay is assistant professor, Canada research chair, ocean technology systems, at the department of oceanography at Dalhousie University. He said a company with which he recently worked on turbine-related technology is “trying to do a reasonably good job of figuring out, ‘can we do a better job of monitoring then just meeting the basic requirements of the EEMP?”’

Barclay was an acoustic researcher for GeoSpectrum Technologies Inc. on a Black Rock Tidal Power project to develop a low-frequency, high-flow acoustic sensing ray for turbulent ocean conditions.

“It’s really about rising to the challenge of making a difficult measurement in a really harsh environment,” he said.

Black Rock Tidal Power leases another berth in the basin. It contracted the research to GeoSpectrum Technologies Inc., which shared funding with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

His work shows the challenges of working in this environment. Acoustic monitoring is useful because it’s hard to see in the Bay’s murky water.

“You can’t see very far in the Bay of Fundy water because it is very muddy and acoustics can ‘see’ much further,” said Barclay.

He suggests high frequency sonar should be able to detect tens to hundreds of metres out with low frequency, although he admits the exact length is unknown.

“It’s kind of like if you took a microphone and stuck it out in a gale wind to try and hear someone singing in the distance,” said Barclay of a situation where the traditional performance of sonar isn’t up to par with the high noise levels of the turbulent waters.

“When you have really high flow it’s more difficult for your system to be sensitive, but there’s ways to combine data from different sensors to increase that sensitivity even in the presence of high flow.”

His ray consists of an array of hydrophones, whereas current industry standards are singular.

Tech can be applied outside Bay of Fundy

Barclay confirms the ray does a better job than old equipment of listening for both the turbine and marine life. He was writing a report of this research to GeoSpectrum and as a paper for academic literature.

“It truly is not just an operational product, but it’s a bit of original research and you know it’s a bit of original technology that will help strengthen our ability to do this work in Nova Scotia and also around the world,” he said. “This idea of in-stream tidal, you can implement in places where there are tides that aren’t as big. Just as long as you have currents that are flowing you can stick a turbine in there and get energy.”

Sarah Dawson, a spokesperson at CSTV, said studies of tidal turbine-generated power in other parts of the world show absolutely no evidence of environmental harm “but we also have to prove that to Nova Scotians as well.”

Dawson said the company is monitoring interactions between fish and mammals and the turbine as well as the impact of operational sound. She said it is early days in exciting research that includes the constant improvement of monitoring technology.

In Barclay’s opinion, more validation, data collection or comprehensive monitoring, and funding to produce further research would improve the environmental monitoring of CSTV’s project.

Avery also offers advice: to use integrated population models as the basis for this project’s related environmental studies.

“The solution is, in my mind, you have to do consistent long term monitoring with an overarching plan,” he said, explaining that an ecosystem model could be created and all data collected could be plugged into it. It could also showcase helpful historical information about the area.

“The problem is that you have to keep sampling. You have to sample a lot, and over many years, using very similar techniques,” he said. He explains that you need to know what the effects other aspects of the environment, such as fishing, temperature variance, or food availability, may have on the areas being monitored, in order to then look at the effects of the turbines. This is the way to properly monitor fish species, he said.

Trends need measuring and watching

“You have to look at what’s happening with the trends in the system and that way you can tell whether you’re having some sort of an effect or not,” Avery added. “Nobody is responsible for the far field or the cumulative effects and this is where we’re going to see, over time, the changes in these populations ­– if in fact they are occurring.”

“Part of the monitoring is to understand if there is an impact, if it is significant or not,” said Oldreive, the acting director of operations at FORCE. “That’s a conversation that Nova Scotians will have to have. All activities humans do have impact.

“It’s about acceptability really. And then in terms of mitigation, that’s part of the monitoring problem: to understand that. The demonstration nature of the program is designed to limit impacts by being such small scale in the grand scheme.”

As originally published by National Observer.

Food Desert in Bloom

Food Insecurity Meets Self-Sufficiency

Mulgrave Park didn’t stand back and submit when its only local grocery store turned into an NSLC storefront a few years ago. It built garden beds and started growing fresh vegetables, and it hopes to also profit from the produce of a mobile market this spring.

“The most amazing thing is to see the young kids around here walking with a cucumber in their hand,” said Crystal John, the executive director of the Mulgrave Park Caring and Learning Centre, and a lifelong resident of the community. She has plans to expand the community garden and high hopes for the mobile market. “A snack is a cucumber, or a couple of beans out of the garden. That makes a difference nutritionally. That’s money their parents don’t spend on packaged snacks; it eliminates their having to spend money on vegetables that are sometimes the most expensive.”

This ever-resilient residential neighbourhood—also a public housing community of over 250 families, or about 700 people—is in the North End of Halifax, in what’s known as a food desert: an urban area where it is difficult to buy affordable and healthy fresh food.

“To get to the closest grocery store you’re climbing up a very steep hill with no direct bus route from a community where most people can’t really afford, or don’t really have, cars, and even if they do, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have money to do giant grocery trips all the time,” said Paige Farah, the executive director of Communities in Progress Association. She leads Progress in the Park, a community development initiative seeking to empower Mulgrave Park’s residents through entrepreneurial action inspiring inclusiveness and challenging stigma. “To walk a half hour to the nearest grocery store in a city just for fresh produce seems a little ridiculous.”

The largely marginalized community currently faces two options for those without their own set of wheels to find fresh produce on a year-round basis: to take one bus the length of the city to the Barrington Street Superstore, or to take two buses and walk to one of the franchise’s other locations found on the corner of Young and Windsor Streets. Typically, those who do the latter taxi home, spending precious dollars that could have stocked more cupboard shelves.

Food Deserts

“The food desert issue impacts people the most if they’re not able, either economically or physically, to actually get themselves to a place where food is provided,” said Erica Fraser, the community facilitator for the North End Community Circle, who cites correlations between people living in food deserts and having higher rates of diet related diseases, such as obesity or diabetes. However, the health impacts don’t stop here. “There are so many mental illnesses that are related to micronutrient deficiencies. It just so happens that we get a lot of these micronutrients from fresh vegetables,” she said.

Food security, defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, is something that exists when, “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Household food insecurity is an issue a growing number of Canadians face as the cost of food rises.

A report called “Household Food Insecurity in Canada, 2013,” states, “The majority of food insecure households (61.1%) were reliant on wages or salaries from employment.” Aimee Carson, the EAC’s senior community food coordinator, suggests precarious or low-wage employment is a factor contributing to this statistic.

The community has its own food bank, run voluntarily by its tenants’ association, that is open on Saturday mornings from 10:00 am until noon. “It is always full. We serve 20 to 30 people every week,” said John, who describes a long line up. To combat these food security issues, this North End community has taken a holistic approach. It has turned to capacity building and creating more sustainable methods of self-sufficiency. The geographic area now has close to 60 garden beds—13 of which belong to Mulgrave Park.

Farah, a former resident near the area, established these plots as an initiative of her association. She, along with volunteers, take on development tasks the neighbourhood’s organizations wanted— such as gardens, or a playground—but were unable to build because of their set mandates. Three of these garden beds are specifically for Farah’s programs. She offers food literacy and engagement opportunities, including community dinners or potlucks and cooking programs for youth that entail everything from harvesting the vegetables to eating the final product and eventually taking these recipes home. “It’s not just about putting food on people’s doorsteps and saying, ‘Here you go, you can eat now.’ It’s about creating a culture around the system of getting that food and using it,” she said.

Mobile Food Market

The area is also to be a host of the Halifax Mobile Market: a new pilot project where a public transit bus will travel to the particularly food insecure places of Fairview, North-End Halifax, East Preston, North Preston, and Spryfield. It will have previously purchased fresh produce to be sold at prices similar to those of discountedgrocery stores. The bus will visit each region on a bi-weekly basis, stopping at three locations each Saturday, over a period of 21 weeks. The project’s organizers include Partners for Care, Public Health, the Office of the Mayor, the EAC, Halifax Transit, and other local organizations and businesses, but it will rely on host teams within each community to support the roll out of the market.

“Any kind of project is going to be more successful if it comes from the community rather than being brought to the community from the outside. That’s something we’re really going to be working toward addressing with the mobile market,” said Fraser, who hopes to work with the local teams to ensure a welcoming and familiar environment is provided.

Farah is confident the mobile market will work, where other social enterprise food related businesses have failed, because of its flexible model. “By taking away the full pressure of maintaining a full business—having a continuous influx of customers coming and going and having to really brand yourself as a business constantly offering something,” she said. She is keen to build a relationship with the mobile market so excess garden produce may be sold through the market’s operations during the summer months.

It’s set to launch in early May. An evaluation will follow its duration, and the hope is some iteration of the market will be sustained over time. “When I was growing up here in this community, we had a fish man who came in with local fish, fresh vegetables, and fruits. He would come in and say ‘fresh fish, fresh mackerel,’ and people would just come and buy right off his truck,” said John, detailing some nostalgia of simpler times requiring fewer legal restrictions and the notion that this idea is not entirely novel.

“The more self-sufficient the communities are, the more they’ll realize, ‘Oh, I don’t have to use the resources out there that are increasingly increasing in price,’” said John, who hopes residents learn to turn tomatoes to sauce for winter and wishes to install a small green house somewhere to grow food year round. “I think that’s the key to helping people. I just don’t understand why we’ve changed so much, I mean, when I grew up, my grandparents grew everything—they hardly went to the grocery store.”

As originally published in Ecology&Action Spring 2016 

Ballroom dance beneficial for those with neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease

Rob McLaren swayed from side to side as several rows of people all switched their weight from one foot to the other, a simple activity to the unknowing eye.

For these individuals, this was a difficult task.

And though McLaren stands tall at 6 1/2 feet, he can no longer reach his full height without actively persuading his spine to stay straight.

He was attending the Power of Dance, a Parkinson Society Maritime Region education and awareness event in Dartmouth last spring. He was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease 2 1/2 years ago and has used movement to keep up his quality of life.

“For a while there, I couldn’t lift either arm above shoulder height,” said McLaren, whose original symptoms involved a slow deterioration of his usually active lifestyle, as he could no longer do daily tasks the same way.

“It wasn’t a matter of strength, more just immobility.”

His wife had been taking Pilates classes at Interlude Mind Body Fitness in Dartmouth, and he began taking private lessons with Kim Kraushar, one of the business’s owners and instructors, to help improve his range of mobility.

The classes worked, and Kraushar was inspired to extend this particular service.

“We’re offering a special program to people with movement disorder,” said Kraushar, who teaches conscious walking and helps patients improve at everyday things like getting in and out of chairs or bed with ease, control and confidence.

“It’s the people that walk through my door, for me they are my teachers. If they have different challenges, I’ll strategize with them and then I’ll research what it is that their needs are and develop the programs really organically.”

Another benefit from this physical activity is the association with others with a similar condition and the strength that comes from that bond. This was also the idea behind the conference.

“There’s over 6,600 people in the Maritime region that live with Parkinson’s, and at best there’s probably (400) to 500 people that are members of our organization so we’re trying to reach out to a broader audience of people,” said Bob Shaw, CEO of the society.

Eighteen experts, including researchers, physiotherapists, naturopaths, chiropractors and natural nutritionists came out to offer advice.

Though no cure for Parkinson’s has been found, several studies to improve patients’ quality of life are underway.

In the meantime, the option to increase movement and sociability is available through the physical therapy of tango.

Carole Hartzman and her husband, Carl, went round the room, balancing each other’s weight, each body guiding the other in a natural rhythm —forwards then back, turning round all the time. The music slowed to a patient pace as they endearingly shared a gaze, enjoying their embrace.

“I taught Spanish at the university level, and I love Spanish and I love Argentina, and Argentina has this wonderful tango and I used to go to clubs and see it but I never danced it; I never danced tango and never thought I would,” said Hartzman, who has had Parkinson’s for 12 years.

She joined Tea & Tango, a free dance program for ambulatory people with neurological conditions who meet, tango and have tea together, last year.

“I can be walking very slowly, I can be stumbling, there can be all kinds of problems rolling around, and as soon as that music is put on I can dance tango. It’s like you just move into it and everything else falls away. That other movement that you don’t want just goes away.”

Martina Sommer and her husband, Lorne Buick, started the program in 2013, after Sommer’s father phoned to share the news that the dance form that brought the couple together also offered therapeutic benefits to those with his illness.

“I felt all along there’s something to tango because of the embrace; it’s very gentle and it’s improvised and the music is very emotional and so it has all these different channels of reaching your brain and reaching your health; it’s very holistic,” said Sommer.

It’s thought that the influence of the music and dancing with a partner uses a different pathway in the brain, bypassing the damaged part.

“The main features or symptoms of Parkinson’s are either stopping in place or a tremor, so we found that both of those disappear when people are dancing,” said Buick.

At the moment, movement may just be the best medicine.

As originally published in The Chronicle Herald

Understanding Immigrant Women and Domestic Violence

Many immigrant women who are experiencing domestic violence require culturally sensitive support services. A new project on Canada’s east coast aims to ensure these types of services are made available.

The New Brunswick Multicultural Council (NBMC) received almost $230,000 in funding from Status of Women Canada to create projects to ensure local domestic and family violence service providers, as well as settlement service providers, are adequately equipped to support immigrant women experiencing violence at home.

“We don’t know that the rates are different amongst immigrant women, but what we do know is that even though it’s difficult for everybody to disclose and seek help, we want to make it as easy as possible when they do,” says Dr. Catherine Holtmann, director of the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research (MMFC), one of the project’s partners. “We’ll respond in ways that are appropriate and help them to stop the violence in their lives.”

Alex LeBlanc, managing director of the NBMC, says settlement service providers currently lack expertise in addressing intimate partner violence while domestic, intimate and family violence service providers lack capacity in terms of cross cultural contexts.

“It speaks to a lack of capacity on both sides of the fence. We want to figure out what the needs are and how to address them in a more coordinated way,” explains LeBlanc.

Barriers for immigrant women

Reflecting on her own background entering Canada as a refugee, Hyasinter Rugoro, one of the project’s research co-chairs, says there are many possible structural barriers that may impact an immigrant woman’s ability to access services.

“One woman may not be able to access [services] because of the linguistic barrier, another one may be frustrated for not being culturally understood when they are trying to access the services or it could be somebody not understanding that they exist,” Rugoro explains.

Rugoro, who will be volunteering her time along with fellow immigrant and co-chair Dr. Maria Costanza Torri over the three-year duration of the project, recalls being new to Canada and being directed to prenatal classes, along with other services, of which she had no prior knowledge.

“There could be someone or some people that could be left into loneliness and confinement, not knowing where to go or what to ask for.”

Helen Lanthier was a project co-coordinator of Be the Peace, a similar initiative in Nova Scotia.

Also funded by Status of Women Canada for three years, Be the Peace was a coordinated community response to violence against women and girls, including sexual assault in rural communities. Thanks to this project, Nova Scotia’s South Shore area now has sexual assault services.

Lanthier says having the focus on immigrant women presents unique challenges due to the damaging impacts of societal stereotypes.

“Stereotypes are destructive and discrimination can happen because of [them],” Lanthier states, pointing to the recent niqab debate during the federal election as an example of this.

Lanthier’s counterpart says there might be some similarities between their project’s considerations of rural women and the NBMC project’s focus on immigrant women.

“I think there’s a lot of overlap. Probably one of the biggest barriers is isolation,” says Sue Bookchin, co-coordinator for Be the Peace.

Bookchin speaks of rural isolation partially being present by lack of transportation, and social isolation by not being part of the dominant culture.

She says sensitivities, perceptual obstacles, fears and shame may hinder immigrant women from coming forward to access services and that attracting them to conversations might be more challenging.

Protecting confidentiality

The NBMC’s initiative is set up to pilot in four different communities in New Brunswick, both English and French, rural and urban: Saint John, Moncton, Bathurst and St. Stephen.

There will be various stages to the project including: assessing the community’s needs, exploring partnerships and collaborations, knowledge sharing and eventually an evaluation.

Like Bookchin, LeBlanc anticipates challenges in getting women to come out and share their experiences.

LeBlanc is concerned branding the project under the label of domestic violence might turn people away or make those who do come forward more vulnerable. But according to Holtmann, even though this project isn’t research, the needs assessments will abide by university ethical principals.

“We will ensure their confidentiality … the results of the needs assessment will not refer to any individual in any way that they could be identified.”

As well, because this project is about hearing what immigrant women, along with service providers, have to say, transportation, childcare and whatever else is necessary to make sure interested women can take part will be made available.

“We all come from different backgrounds and cultures and beliefs and my definition of domestic violence could be different from somebody else’s,” says Rugoro. “So we are really trying to understand the level of what the immigrant women know about domestic violence.”

As originally published by New Canadian Media

Nova Scotia Aims to Lead in Immigration

Immigration Minister Lena Diab gives a speech at the Halifax Central Library as part of an Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia event to launch the Making Nova Scotia Stronger booklet on Sept. 23. (Photo: Kelsey Power)

Immigration Minister Lena Diab gives a speech at the Halifax Central Library as part of an Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia event to launch the Making Nova Scotia Stronger booklet on Sept. 23. (Photo: Kelsey Power)

Nova Scotia now has the ability to fast track an additional 300 immigrants through new express entry streams.

The announcement made by Premier Stephen McNeil and Immigration Minister Lena Diab earlier this month came after the federal government gave into the province’s pressure.

It’s great news, we have worked extremely, extremely hard in this province and that’s recognition that the federal government and CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) has seen that,” Diab told New Canadian Media. “We want to be seen as the hardest working provincial jurisdiction in the country when it comes to immigration.”

Nova Scotia will now be allowed to nominate 1,350 immigrants under the provincial nominee program (PNP) this year, nearly double the 700 nominees the province was previously capped at.

Originally 350 spots had been reserved for the express entry streams, and they were already filled at the time of this increase.

It was also recently announced that Nova Scotia’s PNP will now include two new streams: the entrepreneur stream and the international graduate entrepreneur stream.

“It’s important to poke at the notion of how much things are increasing or decreasing,” says Howard Ramos, a political sociologist who is a professor at Dalhousie University. “We’re not talking about a huge increase here, 300 more spots under express entry is not a large number of people.”

Despite this, Ramos does view the announcement positively. 

“Anything that can improve or increase the number of immigrants to Nova Scotia is going to help the province,” he says. “I think that it will mean change, but change is a good thing.”

Express entry applicants bringing their families, buying property and engaging in other markets and services is a step towards solving Nova Scotia’s demographic and economic issues, explains Ramos, but it may not solve the province’s rural needs.

“I think the intent is to spread out migration to all the parts of the province, but if the jobs are actually in Halifax I’m not so confident there will be so much of a spread as people may hope for,” says Ramos.

According to Gerry Mills, director of operations for the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia(ISANS), approximately 25 per cent of people coming into Nova Scotia have said they were interested in settling outside the urban area of Halifax, but many eventually have to move to the city to find employment.

“I think there are communities across Nova Scotia who really see immigration as part of the solution to their demographic challenges,” says Mills. “The reality is that immigrants come from large urban centres. They’re risk takers and they want to move to urban centres.”

Nova Scotia’s pioneering streams

The national express entry system is an electronic system that was introduced in January to better manage how skilled workers apply to immigrate to Canada. It prioritizes people based on their ability to settle and take part in Canada’s economy, rather than the first come, first serve system.  

Its main improvement has been decreasing application processing times, although it also aims to fill labour shortages.

The three federal economic immigration programs it is tied to are: the federal skilled worker program, the federal skilled trades program and the Canadian experience class.

Nova Scotia was the first province to create its own associated streams. Under the PNP, these are Nova Scotia demand, created last January, and Nova Scotia experience, introduced in May.

Both streams, like the national express entry system itself, are aimed at highly skilled immigrants. Ideal candidates for Nova Scotia would be individuals already living there and contributing to the economy – like international graduates.

“When we launched the Nova Scotia experience express entry stream in May 2015, it was innovative, it was not anywhere else in Canada,” recalls Diab. “We received numerous calls from other provinces looking for advice on how we’re doing what we’re doing, which is actually wonderful.”

The program was launched specifically to help students working in Nova Scotia to become permanent residents, aiding both international graduates and their employers.  

“This is exclusively for Nova Scotia graduates who are working for Nova Scotia employers in jobs where these employers are saying these are the people that we need and want because they have the skill that we couldn’t find in other graduates,” says Diab. “It’s a win for everybody.”

Benefits of a provincial stream

When an express entry candidate is nominated through any PNP they are invited to apply for permanent residency.

These applicants must have the skills, education and work experience to contribute to the economy of the province or territory they are applying to and must want to live there. There is no requirement as to how long they must stay.

The difference between applying to the provincial express entry systems versus the national one is if the candidate is nominated by a PNP he or she gains a higher Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score. This is the tool used to evaluate an express entry individual’s profile credentials.

A PNP nomination, and associated job offer, garners 600 of a possible 1,200 points.

Without the direct nomination, hopefuls must apply to the Employment and Social Development Canada’s (ESDC) job bank in search of one. The idea is employers in provinces and territories would then search through this pool for candidates.

Nine months later, though, the job bank is still not operational.  

“In terms of actually getting in, it would always be faster to go through a provincial stream because you get those 600 points, which now automatically gets you in because the numbers are so low,” explains Mills. “It’s like a cream rises to the top situation: in January you had to have 700 and something points, last week it was 400.”

As originally published by New Canadian Media

FRINGE REVIEW: Actor ferocious in dark, enjoyable one-woman show Get Around Me

Gillian English is ferociously funny as a one-woman powerhouse bent on taking down the patriarchy in her solo show Get Around Me.

Sadly, her story is not abnormal, but the method of presentation certainly is: the Shakespearean-trained actress has bravely turned her own unfortunate experience of sexual assault into a stage performance.

It’s evident she’s sharing this story for comic, retributive and preventative purposes.

The emotionally and otherwise wearing incident, which was connected to her personal strength-inducing journey into athleticism via Australian Rules Football in her late 20s, has been turned into a battle cry against any injustice done towards her own sex.

Her anger-fuelled confidence and feminist nature is inspiring.

The show takes place in The Living Room on Agricola Street. The small venue, and its given name are apt for the performance: English presents herself simply as herself — a real person who, at that moment, happens to be “acting” on stage — like a standup comedian with a serious statement. Her accompanying personal photographic slideshow completes this picture.

The show, though dark, has an ample helping of this native Nova Scotian’s lightly seasoned casual style humour on the side.

While not a typical play by any means, given its highly personal and purposeful nature, it was informative, uncomfortable and enjoyable all at the same time.

Come hear her story; respect the bold move she’s made by making this show.

As originally published in The Chronicle Herald

FRINGE REVIEW: Yes People, No People makes middle ground enjoyable

Yes People, No People explores the middle ground of decision-making where some of us meander — the safe space between a passive or progressive choice.

This performance, suitably playing in The Waiting Room, is made up of a series of sketches in which Zach Faye and Julia Topple examine the inner and surface selves of their various characters, as well as the workings of society, along with appearance and perspective via a variety of theatrical styles. It’s a constant introspective analysis of our innermost thoughts and outward actions, in relation to some of the silly persistent practices of the present age.

They make a great team — supplying energy, enthusiasm and precision to this partially poetic piece, intermixed with appropriately themed music, metaphors and puns.

Mary Faye Coady, along with director Meghan Hubley, and the cast themselves, seem to have given great care into this collective artistic creation. This dramatic comedy has something to indulge the deep as well as those with a preference for potty humour.

A ranking of the show would reside in the same middle space it considers, because the subject matter and content don’t allow for a strong denouement, but this does not stop the performance from being immensely enjoyable.

It’s able to remind us of simplicity and clarity in this increasingly busy world. If you’re hearing the call of a little contemplation alongside some laughter see this show: Wednesday 10:05 p.m.; Thursday, 8 p.m.; Friday, 8:50 p.m. and Sunday, 5:50 p.m.

As originally published in The Chronicle Herald

FRINGE REVIEW: Music best part of Divine Inspiration

Divine Intervention provides ancient consideration for a way of solving many of the world’s present issues.

The musical opera created by Michael Emenau, Briane Nasimok, Kate Dowling and Mark Shekter is an acoustically interesting and fun view at this year’s fringe, but the story lacked a little in development and character strength.

The piece takes on the divergent perspectives of two of the most opinionated of Greek mythology’s gods: Apollo and Dionysus, in an attempt to use their varying traits to save Earth from the self-destructive hands of humans.

Using a judicial method of bringing forth witnesses and just examples to prove their cases, the two gods duke it out to defend their own way as the best to provide aid: through reasonable and rational consistent work, or irrational and inspired creative solutions. The audience, involved in the production, is to act as the ultimate judge.

Mary Shelly, Beethoven, and Mozart make short appearances, but the real merit of these and other accomplished intellectuals’ inclusion in the work is through Emenau’s beautiful arrangements. The most impressive part of the show is the music. Guitar, cajon, tambourine and piano continue playing throughout the performance, and the wonderful pitches of the cast members’ voices meet this sonic pleasure for these songs.

As originally published in The Chronicle Herald.

Local speech pathologist returns to Haiti

Karen MacKenzie-Stepner has worked with Haitians for the past 11 years

The speech pathologist, who lives in Chester and practices in Bridgewater, has been going to Haiti four to six times a year since 2004 to work with deaf people and train others to help them. She was to leave yesterday (May 12) on her latest volunteer mission.

“For me, it’s the smile on the kids faces when they realize that their mom and dad understand what they’re trying to say,” said Ms MacKenzie-Stepner, 57, when asked why she makes these trips.

Ms Mackenzie-Stepner will visit schools in Port-au-Prince, Tabarre and Jacmel over the next two-and-a-half weeks. “This will be the first time that I will see the kids in the classroom of the new school [in Jacmel] so I’m looking forward to that,” said MacKenzie Stepner, who taught in tents, temporary wooden structures or fields following the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010.

The team she works with and a group from Arkansas helped Gallaudet University create a community for deaf people and their immediate families following the disaster. “After the tent cities were built, the deaf women who were in the tent cities were being raped because they couldn’t hear people entering their tents. The [deaf] men were being attacked too, and they had no way of defending themselves.” The new community was walled, with local men acting as security guards.

Ms MacKenzie-Stepner originally started working with Team Canada Healing Hands, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the provision of rehabilitative education and care in areas of need, when she worked at the University of Toronto and the University of Western Ontario. A colleague had asked her to set up a speech pathology program in Port-au-Prince.

“I started to work in the school system helping them develop their curriculum so that the deaf students could get an education,” she said. Parents must pay to send their children to school in Haiti and because of this many deaf people are left uneducated. It’s typical for a deaf child in Haiti to go ignored, as no one knows how to communicate with them.

“The children who come in, they don’t know their names because no ones been able to tell them what their name is,” said Ms MacKenzie-Stepner, who is trying to change this. “Education opens up the world to them.” She now travels to Haiti every two or three months to keep up the momentum with her programs.

She has put together teams of three to five people to train teachers how to work with deaf students, and to develop lessons and curriculum. “Team Canada is Canada-wide. However, with the deaf teacher training I’ve had to go further abroad, because I have to have individuals who are fluent in sign language and can go down to Haiti for two and a half weeks at a time. It’s only select individuals who have that flexibility with their jobs that can do that,” she said. Currently, they come from Halifax, Toronto, Boston and Austin. “We go frequently and we go back to the same places, so we’re building capacity in the schools and with the teachers, and we’re sustaining what we’re doing. It’s not a one trip wonder.”

Ms MacKenzie-Stepner moved to Chester from Ontario three years ago with plans of retiring in the province of her birth. Far from retiring, she maintains a practice in Bridgewater and works as an adjunct professor at Dalhousie University in addition to her overseas volunteer work.

Originally from Cape Breton Island, she was raised to value communication and education. “It was one of those things that was very important in my family. I feel very strongly that everybody should try to get as much education as they can.” She hopes the students she teaches in Haiti will be able to write their national exam to gain their high school diplomas. Last year, three deaf students she has worked with for the past five years achieved this goal.

She covers almost all of her own costs for the trips. When she lived in Ontario, she fundraised all the time, but she’s still getting aquainted in her new home. At the moment, a few local individuals are helping her. A ladies’ group in Chandler’s Cove cuts out materials she needs, and another individual laminates them at no charge to her. This is necessary because of the humidity in Haiti. Others offer donated school supplies. She has to transport anything needed. This trip, she’s travelling with 300 pounds of program materials and manuals.

Aside from her work with Haiti, she has worked with the deaf in Belize and Peru with Team Canada. “The dream goal is that I would do the travelling and working at the deaf schools for 12 months a year as opposed to the odd month here and there,” said Ms Mackenzie-Stepner. She plans to go back to Peru in July and Haiti again in August and October. “I’d be volunteering the entire time, which is why retirement has been pushed off, because I have to build that nest egg in order to do that.”

As originally published in LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin

Marina’s docks to be put in May 11

Board chair gives update on town’s investment

The Bridgewater Marina’s docks will go in the water on May 11.

Larry Rosborough, the chair of the board of the Bridgewater Marina Association, presented an update to town council on plans for this summer and its investment in the facility on April 27.

“People are linking the marina to potentially moving to Bridgewater,” said Mr. Rosborough, who added he was asked a lot of questions about the availability of housing and what the area is like when he went to promote the marina at the Halifax International Boat Show in February. “I was teasing Mayor Walker after the event, saying maybe the town should buy the booth for the marina to go there and help promote the town, but it was very interesting hearing people talking about thinking about moving to Bridgewater because now we have another facility to offer.”

Floats have been in the water for three years, and they now have power, water and lighting. Wi-Fi will also be available this year. An office, two full washrooms with showers and laundry facilities are now on site. Fourteen slips were available last year, and this will increase to 32 slips this year, 30 of which will be available to the public. Thirteen boats were stored here last year, another service the facility offers. It also has the only marine pump on the LaHave River. “Anyone with a boat can come up to the marina, and for a small cost we can do the marine pump out for that, which is very nice for the health of the river itself,” he said. The closest similar pump is in Mahone Bay.

Thirty-five transient boats visited the marina last year for a total of 65 days.

“[We] had many visitors last year that come in with power boats that are over 40 feet in length. These are not small vehicles; these are not people coming in here looking for a cheap place to stay,” said Mr. Rosborough. ”When they get here they’re spending money in the town.”

“We’re still looking for ways of getting the word out there, and right now word-of-mouth is probably our biggest benefit,” said Mr. Rosborough. The marina has been featured in Atlantic Boating magazine this year, but the association doesn’t have enough money to do a lot of external advertising. At the moment, most visitors are coming from Halifax or Saint John.

As originally published in LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin