Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Old Don Cameron

Donald Cameron became premier of Nova Scotia in 1991 the same way Iain Rankin is poised to become premier next Tuesday: by winning the leadership of his party (the Tories) after the elected premier (John Buchanan) stepped down. When Cameron did lead the party to the polls, in 1993, it was crushed by the Liberals under John Savage.

Donald Cameron

Donald Cameron

For a man who inherited the office and held it for only two years, though, Cameron certainly got a lot done — although you would never know it from this bio published by Dalhousie in 2019 when it named Cameron a distinguished alumnus of its Faculty of Agriculture (the Nova Scotia Agricultural College when Cameron attended). The anonymous author really sold him short, summing up his time as premier this way:

Among many of the changes he helped make, a highlight for Don included the first day he sat in the legislature as premier, his government introduced Human Rights legislation, which included equal rights for gays and lesbians, making NS one of the first places in North America to do so.

Even though this was a moment of pride for Don, he’s certainly not one to brag. He admits he is very humble…

There is none more humble than he who “admits” to being “very humble.”

…and always said he wanted the job, not the title.

Why is that admirable, exactly? Another way of putting it would be “I just wanted the power.”

And when asked about his career, his quick response is simple – he’s a farmer.

That’s right, just your average Nova Scotian farmer whose daily chores once included no-holds barred promotion of the Westray coal mine.

I get that it would have been a bummer to bring this up while declaring him a “distinguished alumnus” of your institution of higher learning, but limiting your discussion of his time as premier to a good thing he did on his first day is dishonest. Don’t worry though, I will correct this error with a little help from John DeMont, who covered Cameron’s appearance at the Westray Inquiry for Maclean’s:

It was vintage Donald Cameron. Last week, the former Conservative premier of Nova Scotia spoke of his integrity and strength of character before launching into a bout of finger-pointing. His onetime Liberal opposition, officials in his own government, Ottawa bureaucrats, even the dead miners themselves—he said these were the ones responsible for the disaster at the Westray coal mine in Plymouth, N.S., four years ago, which left 26 miners dead and helped drive his government into political oblivion. Rambling on before the inquiry, which he, as premier, had called into the disaster, he lashed out at the media and the inquiry itself for trying to link his ardent promotion of the project to the tragedy. Then, when the proceedings broke for lunch, Cameron, now Canada’s consul general in Boston, sprinted down a hallway, giddily taunting reporters with the words “what a bunch of fools,” as he climbed into a waiting car.

Yep, just your average, humble, farmer.

Who also privatized our power company, which is what I actually set out to write about this morning, because I’m one of those Nova Scotians — I’ve never done a proper census, but I believe us to be numerous — who can’t hear the name “Emera” without grumbling and shaking our fists in the general direction of Donald Cameron.



Louis R. Comeau bioAs noted above, Cameron had not been elected premier, so had not run on a platform of privatizing the provincially owned power corporation, and yet privatize it he did in 1992, faster than you could say “E-I-E-I-O.”

Writing for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in 2012, Christopher Majka said that Cameron never really provided a rationale for the “abrupt” decision to sell NSP:

The reasons for this action remain unclear (aside from Cameron’s neo-conservative belief in small government) since NSPC president Louis Comeau told a legislative committee that no cost-benefit analysis of privatization had been done, “It’s just something I believe in.”

In researching this item I ran across AJB Johnston’s review of a 2016 biography of Comeau, one “requested and commissioned” by Comeau himself. Johnston writes:

[I]n 1983…Comeau was named president and CEO of Nova Scotia Power. This was while NSP was still a government agency. Comeau would be a key architect of NSP’s transition to become a private company. That transformation was a huge accomplishment for Comeau, yet there were some at the time and since who have lamented turning a public utility into a private company. It would have been good if the author had added some of those contrary opinions in that part of the book.

I guess we’ll have to wait for the unauthorized biography of Louis Comeau for that reckoning.

Majka continues:

Despite nominal opposition on the part of both the Liberals and NDP, after only four days of debate in the legislature the deal was done. Sixty-five million shares were put on the market and despite some incentives for Nova Scotians, 75 per cent were purchased by out-of-province investors. The Conservative government decided to divest itself of all ownership and sold its equity for $192 million which it trumpeted as a capital gain and claimed would help balance the province’s books.

Richard Starr, in his 2011 book Power Failure, (which I haven’t read, but now intend to), explained how that $192 million sum was:

…really a $108 million loss since the combined equity of NSPC was in the vicinity of $300 million. Thus the initial transaction established an ongoing template: the public interest taken to the cleaners at the expense of private profit. And indeed, since then, NSPI has grown fat at the taxpayer’s expense, generating more than $2 billion in profits for its shareholders.

I’m fuming about all this again thanks to a recent news story about Emera — the name of NSP’s parent company — dangling before us the possibility of shutting down its coal-fired plants before 2040, the date mandated in an agreement between NS and Canada.

Emera Inc. CEO Scott Balfour

Emera Inc. CEO Scott Balfour in a photo he contributed to the Chronicle Herald. Not pictured: his $6.2M 2019 compensation package.

Here’s how the CBC reported the story:

…retiring Nova Scotia Power’s coal plants…will depend largely on the creation of an interconnected Atlantic Canadian electric grid, known as the Atlantic Loop.

Emera CEO Scott Balfour said the company is working with five Eastern provinces, other utilities and the federal government to create a regional grid that would provide access to more hydroelectricity.

That a company run by a board legally bound to look out for the financial interests of its investors first, with the best interests of the citizens of Nova Scotia running a distant second, gets to call the shots on our transition to green energy is infuriating. (Seriously, if I could harness this rage, I could heat my house.)

But that this Atlantic Loop thingy can apparently only be completed through the expenditure of public money might actually be a source of hope: what if the regional grid were to be publicly owned? We’re going to pay for it anyway — both through government contributions and through our power bills — so why not just join forces with other governments and crown corporations (Hydro Quebec, NB Power, Nalcor) and own it outright?

That 2012 article by Chris Majka advocated grid ownership — as in, expropriate the grid from NSP. Majka argued that while the Nova Scotia government would have no interest in NSP’s coal-fired generators:

The grid, on the other hand, is a fabulous asset. Whoever controls the grid controls who gets to connect to it and where power goes. Owning the grid would allow the Nova Scotia government to continue to establish competitive feed-in tariffs (FIT) that would foster the development of renewable sources of energy (wind, tidal, hydro, wave, solar, etc.), and to determine where such energy was utilized, in other words, not just for-profit sales to the highest bidder (i.e., to the United States) but so as to foster energy security in the province.

William Hubbard

William Hubbard from a composite photo of city politicians, c 1907 (courtesy Heritage Toronto).

That makes perfect sense to me — Emera’s shareholders got NSP at a bargain and have made plenty of coin in the ensuing 29 years. But I’m thinking (and I could be wrong, of course) that owning any new infrastructure built as a part of this Atlantic Loop could give the public control of the grid without the messiness of expropriation. (We really should have insisted on owning the Maritime Link, I’m now realizing, another piece of infrastructure we’re paying for).

I know this sounds like a fever dream, but that’s only because we’ve been told for 40 years that government can’t successfully operate a business and that the interests of shareholders must reign supreme. But Canadian governments have a long history of operating very successful businesses, as Linda McQuaig’s book, The Sport and Prey of Capitalists (which I’ve finished) shows.

The phrase “sport and prey of capitalists,” as a matter of fact, comes from James P. Whitney, the (Conservative) premier of Ontario in 1905, who was expressing his hope that the newly founded public utility, Ontario Hydro, would always remain in the hands of the people.

McQuaig devotes a chapter of the book to the story of Ontario Hydro, a story that includes the man who built Toronto’s Casa Loma — Sir Henry Pellatt, the villain of the piece, a financier who wanted to corner the market on hydro — and Toronto’s first Black alderman, William Hubbard, one of the leading proponents of public ownership.

The public ownership side won, and Ontario Hydro became the largest public electric utility in North America — and the model for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal electrification projects. Knowing its history makes its fate — privatization at the hands of Kathleen Wynn’s Liberal government — all the sadder.

But with the forces of privatization beginning to ebb and the threat posed by climate change making the transition to clean energy urgent, this might be a good time to suggest that ensuring a profit for Emera shareholders should not be a factor in this discussion.


Hot Goss

Disclaimer: I did not expect this item — a check-in with Sydney Call Centre owner Anthony Marlowe’s Twitter feed — to go full-on gossip column, but what can I say? The man moves in starry circles.

I was curious to see what Marlowe would be tweeting about these days, given his account used to be a 24/7 sub-Twitter for Donald Trump, and Trump has left the platform, but what I found was a whole drama that seems to involve the end of his 2015 marriage to Julia Dirks and a new romance with Andrea Catsimatidis — the chair of the Manhattan Republican Party and “billionaire grocery heiress” who was once married to Richard Nixon’s grandson. (You really can’t make this stuff up.)

Here’s Marlowe in February 2020 tweeting that he and Julia are hoping one of them might make it to the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina that August:

Anthony Marlowe was, in fact, chosen as one of six Iowa delegates to the RNC where, according to this October 2020 story, he met Catsimatidis, a delegate from New York.

By Valentine’s Day 2021:

Marlowe has, in fact, moved to Florida:

And he has purchased a $5.8 million, 8,712 square foot, mansion. (I thought the couple pictured with him were his roommates but they are actually the sellers, Humberto and Rebecca Ocariz):

Although he already had impressive digs:

His new relationship has taken him into the heart of Trump’s social circle — Catsimatidis was one of the select few people invited to a viewing party at the White House on election night and she and Marlowe spent New Year’s Eve 2020 at what has been described as a “mask-less super-spreader” event at Mar-a-Lago, although Donald and Melania sent their regrets:

Anthony Marlowe and Andrea Catsimatidis


That last post was on Marlowe’s Instagram feed, which is mostly taken up with photos of Trump and American flags but that also, jarringly, includes footage of Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking in the House of Commons thanking Marlowe for saving Cape Breton.

In other Marlowe news, he popped up in this January ABC News story about literal and figurative Iowa pork: the Republican governor of Iowa, Kim Reynolds, returned a $10,000 donation to Marlowe a day after her administration awarded his company a $2.3 million contact-tracing contract. (That’s the figurative pork — the real pork is that Reynolds received a $25,000 donation from the operator of a pork production company that “disproportionately benefited from an Iowa coronavirus program.”)

Marlowe also got a shout-out in this February 12 Associated Press story about Reynolds delaying another tender he was bidding on — one to operate a call center to help residents set up coronavirus vaccine appointments. The story notes that Marlowe’s company, MCI, had already been “recruiting vaccine hotline representatives in recent weeks for $13.50 per hour jobs to work in other states.” I wonder if Sydney Call Centre reps might yet end up setting up vaccine appointments for Iowans? Imagine the conversations that might ensue.

Also, need I point out the irony of a man who happily flouts COVID rules (that Mar-a-Lago party violated a county mask order) making money from efforts to control the pandemic?

Marlowe also appeared in this Washington Post story about Trump’s efforts to discover evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 election.

And finally, Marlowe donated $25,000 to the Cape Breton Regional Hospital Foundation in February, matching the $25,000 raised by his Sydney employees.

This is, of course, being played as a good-news story, but based on what Tera Camus has told us about labor practices at his call center, I figure Marlowe could make that $25,000 back in jig time in unpaid statutory holiday pay.

And that’s the Anthony Marlowe report.