Opinions, musings, and ravings from the mind of John Percy

While the April 4th Nova Scotia budget is widely anticipated to be a balanced budget, there is more than just financial balance at stake. Balance must be reflected in the priorities the government sets that will enrich its citizens and ensure that fairness in all social, economic, and environmental aspects of living are maintained. I will admit it’s a tough game.

Budgets by their nature are short-term documents with a brutally finite shelf life. But budgets can also be a window into the future, a guide to how the 21st century will treat this province and its citizens. Continuing on in the patterns laid out in our past are no longer relevant in the ever changing economic and social climate of present day Nova Scotia. New patterns must emerge and be streamlined, malleable, and resilient, to swiftly and easily adapt to changing circumstances both at home and in the world. Old style partisan politics, by nature, tends to restrict its vision to election cycles and treat emerging issues with a well stocked supply of bandaids.

Greens play differently and as such, often suffer from a general misunderstanding of our objectives. We like to play the long game, and steer clear of grand but ephemeral promises that, like junk food, have mostly air in the packaging and always leave us wanting more.

We, as citizens, must educate ourselves about the distinction between what the province can do and those  things over which it has little or no control, and adjust our expectations accordingly.

So let’s look at a few of the things the government can and cannot do, and what we, as individual citizens can do.

1. The government cannot control, roll back, or freeze power rates. Canute could not hold back the tide and the government cannot freeze power rates. We don’t own NSP. It is a publicly traded multinational corporation beholden only to its shareholders. Honestly if it was within the power of government to do so, it would have happened by now. The UARB manages the rate of increase based on evidence provided by NSP that an increase is necessary, balanced by public input and their best interests.

(By the way, we don’t pay the highest power rates in Canada. PEI does. We are a close second but “We’re #2!” isn’t much of a sound bite or rallying cry.)

With the proper impetus and political will, the government can decentralize power generation allowing local utilities to feed in to the grid, separate power generation from distribution, and continue to allow NSP to handle the distribution end of things. This is not as easy as it sounds but it is doable.

What we can do as individuals is conserve. In Denmark, the residential power rate is our equivalent of .40 kw/hr or about three times what we currently pay. But in many households their monthly bill is lower than ours. They have learned to conserve. Every appliance and light not in use is turned off or unplugged. Requires no change to lifestyle.

2. Agriculture is getting short shrift here in Nova Scotia. The government should completely revamp agricultural policies with an eye to increasing local supply and encouraging mixed farming techniques. We can be very food self sufficient. We’re not. At all.

In Nova Scotia, we only have about three days’ worth of produce on grocery shelves should our supply train be interrupted. 95 % of our food is imported, and yet this is a province that could be quite self-sustaining in our food production.

This is a remarkably unstable way to live. Our supply lines are tenuous, as we discovered during the 2009 truckers’ strike. It also funnels money out of our local economy and contributes to climate change directly by shipping, and indirectly by fostering energy-intensive farming practices.

What we can do is begin eating locally as much as possible; we can have a direct impact on our climate footprint and the local economy, and we can begin to remove ourselves from the  oil economy. Requires no change to lifestyle.

3.  The government must find better ways to encourage immigration into Nova Scotia. This is a major topic that is never talked about in the Legislature or in the media. Nova Scotia has an aging population and last year we broke even in births and deaths, but lost 3,000 citizens to other provinces.

There is a provincial strategy for immigration but it needs a serious re-working if we are going to attract enough new immigrants. The government can strongly lobby the federal government to dramatically increase the quota of provincial nominees. We can also do a better job of selling the province in both the rest of Canada and overseas.

In order for this strategy to be successful however, there have to be jobs here that will attract quality immigration. We can’t all be shipbuilders. Governments should not be in the business of creating jobs, but they should be creating the proper atmosphere to attract new business and allow existing businesses to expand.

What we can all do is begin to realize how vitally important immigration is to our survival. It needs to be part of the conversation. Ten or twenty years from now is not when we should begin thinking about this. It needs to start now.

4.  We need to pay down our debt, currently sitting just above $13 billion and costing us $900 million per year to service. That’s $900 million dollars leaving our province every year instead of being pumped into our local economy. When the government says we don’t have the money to sustain certain programs, or there must be cuts to services, remember that $900 million dollars. That’s 11% of our economy.

There are two ways governments fund public services; taxation and borrowing. We are all acutely aware of taxation. It hits us directly in the pocket. It’s almost fun to partake in the collective grumble, and we put up with it as long as it provides a good level of service for the money.

(By the way -again- we don’t pay the highest taxes in the country; Quebec does. We’re hovering around number three but that’s an even worse sound bite.)

Borrowing is something that happens in the back rooms. We don’t see it, we know it goes on, and we have even come to accept it as part of the way governments conduct business. But what we never ask ourselves is, “How do we pay it back?” Answer: cut services or raise taxes.

Now I’ve never in my life witnessed an election that was won on the promise to raise taxes or slash services (also known as ‘tax relief’) so you will be hard pressed to find a politician who will openly discuss either strategem. The result is we borrow more and just carry on. This is unsustainable. Just ask anyone who has maxxed out their credit cards.

At the moment we are managing our debt fairly well, to give credit where credit is due, although that has less to do with being good managers of the treasury and more to do with interest rates being at an all time low. If rates go up even 1%, we are in serious trouble.

As an aside, nationally in 1997 we owed $562 billion or 64% of our GDP. By the time we voted out the Liberals, Paul Martin had reduced the debt to $457 billion or 28.5% of GDP. We apparently didn’t like that and voted in an economist who promised to be a better manager of the treasury. The current net debt is $608 billion or 35% of GDP. I’m sure it’s not his fault.

I’m fairly certain that a discussion about drastic cuts to services and programs is a non-starter so that leaves taxation. Aaaaaand…I’ve just lost half my audience.

There really are some wonderfully creative ways to approach taxation to lessen the impact but again I don’t see those discussions taking place.

So on April 4th, while I am sequestered in a windowless hotel ballroom with 300 other individuals and interest groups poring over the budget documents and assumptions, I will be looking for innovative and interesting 21st century approaches to energy, food, immigration and public debt.

While I hold out hope, I believe I will need a strong dose of luck. Lots of luck.

Oh, and coffee.

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A Mighty Electoral Wind

It’s gratifying to hear that there are a few others saying there will be no spring election here in Nova Scotia, and although I appear to be the only political leader saying such things when asked, no one gives much credence to my response. The television insult assault has begun, war chests have been flung open, nomination meetings are springing up like crocuses (croci?), MLAs are out in their ridings giving away our money, and editors are editorializing, as is their wont. CBC called and asked for a hi-res copy of our Green Party logo.

If there is an election it will be the first one in the history of democracy where a governing party willingly goes to the electorate knowing they will be defeated. Mr. Dexter has another year on his mandate and the smart money (mine, what little I have) says that he will do just that. This spring will see the first balanced budget in NS in years, and to prove that it isn’t just a fluke, Mr. Dexter will attempt to repeat the process next spring, thus convincing the electorate that indeed the NDP are better managers of the books than any other party, and all it took was a complete repudiation of the principles for which they have long stood steadfast.

History will quite possibly record the Dexter era as The Great Disappointment, and internally the party will remember it as The Great Defection, both for the exodus of party officials and long-time stalwart supporters, and, if not the abandonment, then at least the sidelining of their founding principles of social justice.

One could credibly argue that the dare I say conservative ‘steady as she goes’ course this government has charted was a braver choice for the NDP than the much anticipated hard to port that was projected. The NDP came to power when the province and the country were reeling from an economic influenza of epidemic proportions. In such circumstances options tend to be rather limited and getting the books in order was quite possibly the sustainable thing to do. It would have been preferable if they had campaigned on such a platform but, to be fair, had they chosen to do so they would have lost the election.

As I am fond of saying, perception is reality. Political parties and media organizations spend a lot of time and money influencing our perception of what is real. The NDP has, justly or not, long been perceived to be somewhat untrustworthy with the public purse in their pursuit of social justice and systemic change, and it is that perception that has held them from power for fifty years. One would think that an attempt to change that perception by sound fiscal management would be an effective course to follow but it appears to have backfired, raising the ire of long time supporters and fostering a deep sense of betrayal that will be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.

So it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Another day in politics. If the NDP have any inclinations toward a second term they will hang on for another year and hope that favourable economic winds are close upon us and new opportunities will validate the unpopular choices that have been made.

It is a sad commentary on how partisanship and “opposing because we are the opposition” have reduced political life to a messy stain on the floor that just won’t come out no matter what. I describe partisan politics as a 19th century construct applying 20th century solutions to 21st century issues, and I believe that many in the 18-35 demographic understand the truth in that statement and disengage. Voter apathy is at 40% nationally, 50% provincially in Nova Scotia and 73% municipally in Halifax. The 18-35 demographic is even more telling. Nationally 22% bothered to cast a ballot.  It must be true that a Canadian is someone who will cross the world to fight for democracy but won’t cross the street to vote. At this rate democracy will not survive much longer. Indeed, the democracy we think we have is very different from the democracy we actually have.

Most Nova Scotians, according to polls, agree that Stephen McNeil is the Premier-in-Waiting, but from a policy point of view there is nothing there that strikes the spark that will light a fire on the driest tinder. Nationally Justin Trudeau is doing his best to re-engage the youth demographic but I fear a great disappointment is a-comin’ when we eventually learn that his offerings are rooted in more of the same. The game is being played by long established rules and none of the major players want to change the rules that allow them access to power and keep other players marginalized.

Four years ago there were great expectations when Nova Scotians bought the shiny orange box and brought it home only to experience a collective let down upon opening it and discovering it was the same product contained in the blue box and red box. It’s a classic shell game. It doesn’t matter where the pea is, if we pick the wrong one, we lose. If we pick the right one, we still lose.

Einstein defined  insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Does this not describe how we choose our representatives? This time the –insert party preference here– will be different. There’s a New Improved sticker on the box.

Perhaps it’s time to think outside the box.

Politics is an essential part of our lives, from potholes to international binding trade agreements, and disengagement from political discourse is at our own peril. Our apathy allows the scoundrels and middle managers to take the helm and chart our course while we sit in our cabins and complain about the rough seas.

Are we not better than that?

The Storm Kit

There is a swirl of storm talk and advice on preparedness. Regardless of whether it turns out to be the squalling adventure as advertised or takes a last minute detour for less populated climes, East Coasters have a propensity for giddy anticipation of impending calamity that arouses my curiosity and pushes my deeply warped sense of humour to the forefront. Suppression is futile.

Most people I know have a storm kit within easy reach; it comes with the territory. We keep it stocked and close by…well…most of the time anyway. Power disruptions are expected and appropriate books are chosen to be read by lamplight. These are the times when you pat yourself on the back for not throwing out those old board games. It’s also a good time to sit back and have that really long conversation with those around you that the too busy times always relegate to the hinterlands.

An interesting alternative would be to try silence. Most of us are uncomfortable with silence, especially around others, even well known others. There are those who regard silence in the presence of others as rude, anti-social, embarrassing and extremely discomforting. Even when alone, some of us can’t abide silence and/or doing nothing. There must be some distraction, some other input that keeps our attention from turning inward and viewing our selves. As long as we are distracted we are disconnected.

Now I’m not a conspiracy theorist (cough, cough, hack…ahem…excuse me, sorry) but it often oozes through my mindstuff that social distraction is intentional. It is designed to keep us occupied and diverted from personal introspection that shoves that mirror right into our faces and says, “Look! Look you stupid bastard. Look what you’ve become. How does that make you feel? Who are you, anyway?”

Well that’s easy. We are what we consume. We are the job we do. We are this cultural Lego construction of social norms, patterns and codes that allows us to float through our days without hindrance or meaningful interaction with others. Desire has taken the wheel, Ego is in the navigator’s seat and directing the twists and turns in the rally to revelry and the finish line of hedonistic happiness.

Distraction disengages us. It blocks our view of the process of social and political manipulation, and keeps us primed for the next message of importance to emanate from the talking picture box. We see the manipulators, we can see the strings, and we even mock them and disdain their cartoonish efforts at control. And…then we stop. That’s as far as we go. We’re done. We don’t change the process, we just exchange the manipulators and say well done.

Well…no.

Refusing to be distracted is a form of dissent, a revolutionary act if you will. Manipulation can only be successful if we accept it. Acceptance is easy when there is no time, or “free” time is filled with distractions. Silence is simple, but it’s not easy.

Great storms and power outages are a perfect opportunity to practice silence, engage oneself in doing nothing and reconnecting with your self. This should be an essential part of every storm kit, and when the candle and lamps are lit, and the camp stove is hooked up and the tea has boiled, reach into the kit and pull out nothing.

And do it. Quietly. 😉

Electoral Reform Survey

In politics truth often takes a back seat to perception. Public perception becomes reality regardless of the truth of the situation. The current public perception of the antics of the three main parties is one of dishonesty, betrayal, and a lack of integrity. It’s time to move away from the entrenched political positions of privilege and entitlement and back to one of service to the people.

In Japan, the Prime Minister resigned because he could not fulfill a campaign promise. Here in Canada, we expect our elected representatives to say anything to get elected, and promises are ephemeral at best.

Economically Nova Scotia is ripe for renewal. While some have benefitted greatly from projects in the past, much of the benefit has not trickled down to Main St. We need to prime a new economic engine that is less dependent on grandiose projects that look shiny but deliver little, and more projects that reflect local initiatives, and take advantage of the area’s natural gifts.

Nova Scotia could be the pacesetter in home-grown renewable technology, instead of relying on foreign companies selling their technology to us for assembly. We are falling behind in the advancement of Green technology and risk being importers and consumers instead of innovators and distributors, which is where the real, lasting economic benefit is, not in the consumption of someone else’s product. And yet that is the direction in which we are being led, if we can call that leading.

Which brings me to leadership…

There is a serious lack of leadership in this province. The crew at the helm have taken over the boat, but don’t appear to be able to set a course, and we could easily run aground or adrift. As purveyors of the status quo, they do not welcome the future, but rather fear it. Steady as she goes doesn’t work well when the boat is headed for the rocks. We used to be pioneers, willing to sail to the horizon; now we crave our comforts and appear to be willing to settle for anything that will ensure calm waters.

But we can only drift in the horse latitudes for so long before we wither away. The only way to go is forward, into the future, and sometimes that means heading into the chop. It may not be comfortable all the time, but it will be exciting, and wonderful to get our hearts racing again.

I’d like to start today with a quote from one of my favourite humans, Carl Sagan. It saddens me that I never got to meet him personally but his body of work and his strength of character is a legacy that few will surpass. I tend to quote Carl a lot.

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back. So the old bamboozles tend to persist as new ones arise.

So I can safely say that it is never surprising that when I speak to Nova Scotia MLAs about creating a hemp processing industry here, the first thing out of their mouths is a pot joke. None of them were even aware that it has been legal to grow in Canada for 14 years. Oh Please. Can we move into the 21st century now?

As the world’s premier renewable resource, hemp has been the source of food and fibre for the past 10,000 years. Hemp fibre has been used to make clothing, ropes, and paper; the grain has been stewed, roasted, and milled for food; and the oil derived from the grain has been used for cosmetics, lighting, paints, varnishes, and medicinal preparations. The reason for this is that Hemp is a rapidly renewable resource that can be grown in different climates and soils. Hemp does not require pesticides or fertilizers to grow. It is one of the strongest natural fibers, naturally resistant to mold, mildew, salt water and UV light.

Like the marijuana plant, industrial hemp belongs to the species Cannabis sativa L. However, unlike marijuana, it only contains small quantities of the psychoactive drug delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Nevertheless, the cultivation of both marijuana and industrial hemp were banned in Canada in 1938, largely because the US did it.

Hemp fibre contains no measurable amounts of THC, and is renowned for its resistance to rotting and wear and tear, as well as for its high tensile properties that make it durable and strong. These qualities have been recognized through real life applications over thousands of years.

Since 1994, a small number of Canadian companies, as well as Canadian universities and provincial governments have researched industrial hemp production and processing. Due largely to their initiative, the 60-year ban was lifted and the commercial cultivation of hemp was authorized in Canada in 1998. The Industrial Hemp Regulations came into effect on March 12, 1998, and cover the cultivation, processing, transportation, sale, provision, import, and export of industrial hemp.

Since its legalization, hemp has sparked much interest among Canadian farmers. The Government of Canada recognized Canada’s re-emerging hemp industry with changes in legislation and regulations, and through market development funding. Today, hemp is enjoying a renaissance, with the global hemp market becoming a thriving, commercial success. More than 100 Canadian farmers are currently taking advantage of the vast market potential for hemp and are growing this crop in most provinces, primarily in central and western Canada.

The U.S.A. used Hemp fiber until 1937 when it became illegal to grow. Then during WW II farmers in Kentucky and other Mid-Western states were allowed to grow Hemp to help the war efforts. During the war Hemp was grown for clothing, rope, plane parts, and other textiles. Farmers were allowed to grow Hemp until the war ended.

Today manufacturers and retailers are bringing Hemp back to the market places because Hemp is such a versatile plant. With products from footwear, clothing, food, fuel, to building supplies.

Like flax, wheat, corn, canola, and other major cultivated species, hemp is a crop that can be grown for food and non-food purposes. Whole hemp seed is composed of approximately 45 percent oil, 35 percent protein and 10 percent carbohydrates and fibre. As a result of the numerous nutritional benefits, many new food products containing hemp seed and its oil are finding their way onto the Canadian market, including pasta, tortilla chips, salad dressings, snack products, and frozen desserts.

Recent scientific research indicates that essential fatty acids (EFAs) cannot be manufactured by the human body and deficiencies can cause undesirable chronic conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and eczema. Therefore, hemp seed and its by-products can be used to supplement diets poor in EFAs in order to maintain health. One by-product, hemp seed oil, contains 30% of its weight in EFA-rich oil, delivering an ideal combination of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids for long term use. Hemp seed oil may have potential health benefits for diabetes, cancer, lupus, asthma rheumatoid arthritis, depression and hypertension. Hemp is one of only two plants that contain both EFAs as well as gamma linolenic acid (GLA). GLA has been found to have many properties ranging from anti-inflammatory to anti-depression. It can lower cholesterol and help to correct dyslexia, dyspraxia, and hyperactivity (ADHD).

Approximately one-third of the population lacks the enzyme to metabolize GLA from omega 6 and must take GLA from an outside source to maintain good health, and hemp is an excellent way for them to do so.

Hemp oil has traditionally been used for industrial functions such as lamp oil, paint, and varnish, but today is finding major new markets in the cosmetic and functional food industries. One of the fastest growing sectors for hemp seed oil is the body care products market. The EFA content of hemp oil makes it an ideal topical ingredient in both leave-on and rinse-off body care products. The EFAs in lotions and creams help to soothe and restore skin, while their content in lip balms, conditioners, shampoos, soaps, and shaving products are emollient and provide a smooth after-feel. With cosmetics companies taking advantage of the moisture-retention qualities of hemp oils, the functionality and marketability of industrial hemp oil is expected to continue to increase steadily. Increased consumer awareness and product availability are also expected to help expand the markets.

Examples of hemp uses

Hemp Seed Product Uses

  • Confectionary
  • Beer
  • Flour
  • Feed
  • Did I mention Beer?
  • Dietary Fibre
  • Snacks
  • Non-dairy Milk and Cheese
  • Baking
  • Oh, and Beer.

Hemp Oil Product Uses

  • Cooking Oil
  • Salad Dressing
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Body Care Products
  • Fuel
  • Detergents
  • Spreads
  • Paint
  • Did I mention Fuel?

Hemp Fibre Product Uses

  • Fabric
  • Insulation
  • Carpeting
  • Paneling
  • Pulp and Paper
  • Recycling Additive
  • Automobile Parts
  • Animal Bedding and Mulch
  • Stronger & more flexible bio-degradable plastic

One hectare of hemp can yield an average of 800 kg of grain which in turn can be pressed into 200 litres of oil and 600 kg of meal. The same hectare will also produce an average of 6 tonnes of straw which can be transformed into approximately 1.5 tonnes of fibre.

Economics: (The Boring Stuff)

Experts indicate that production costs can be lowered by exploiting hemp as a dual-purpose crop, using both the grain and fibre from the same plant. Of the 27 varieties legally authorized for cultivation in Canada, some are best-suited for the production of fibre; others are outstanding in the production of grain, while certain varieties are ideal for a dual harvest of grain and fibre. Moreover, there is great interest in developing varieties with the lowest THC content possible.

Growers tend to be clustered in loose alliances and co-operatives, or are geographically close to processing facilities in order to keep transportation costs low. The first challenge for hemp growers is to find a buyer who can guarantee, through contract, the purchasing of their harvest.

Hemp processors investigate and promote viable applications of hemp products in order to create new markets domestically and abroad. The re-introduction of hemp as a legal crop and the development of markets is a slow process and the hemp sector will need to expand carefully to ensure that supply and demand are harmonized. As the hemp sector continues to grow and as new technologies are applied to production and processing, more commercial possibilities will become feasible.

Hemp’s agronomic and environment attributes are remarkable: it can be grown without fungicides, herbicides and pesticides, it absorbs carbon dioxide five times more efficiently than the same acreage of forest and it matures in three to four months, thus making it one of the most efficient carbon sequestration methods on the planet. We should be paying attention to that fact.

Hemp can be used to create building materials, textiles, clothing, inks, and paints and has potential use in other non-food products. These advantages are in tune with the environmental and health preferences of today’s North American public. The growing curiosity of consumers, the interest shown by farmers and processors, and Canada’s excellent growing conditions for industrial hemp allow optimistic views for its future.

Some Barriers:

Hand-cutting is a traditional method in low-wage countries but considered impractical for large-scale production. Mechanized harvesting can be done but it is very rough on machinery because hemp easily wraps itself around revolving parts. Development and testing of harvesting technology to Canadian conditions is still on-going with some prototypes only becoming recently available.

Processing technologies are generally regarded as antiquated and there is a need to adapt current technology from other fibre crops (such as flax) to commercial field production of hemp. Some industry experts opine economical processing infrastructure will be several years in the making. This is the greatest challenge we face as hemp activists in getting governments and industry onside. No processing facilities are available in the Maritimes.

There is limited certifiable, low-THC seed and fewer seed-bred cultivars are climatized for Canada. Seed multiplication may help curb this demand but varieties need to be developed for Canadian conditions. Many of the European cultivars are bred for fibre and not oilseed production. Environmental conditions necessary for seed production are said to be more favourable in areas outside of the Maritimes.

Present members of the Canadian Seed Growers Association are expected to pursue this market. They have the experience, know the regulations and procedures and have the cleaning equipment required. While several hemp growers and processors are positioning themselves for the pedigreed seed market, it can take decades to develop new varieties.

While a number of well attended Canadian hemp symposiums and published government research have broadened the information base for this new crop, much proprietary management and technological expertise is being developed. Indeed, a number of projects are cloaked under non-disclosure agreements between government and private industry. This will impede growth of the Maritime industry to some degree.

While partnering arrangements with other key Canadian players can assist in information transfer, the Maritimes needs to be at the forefront of research, development and testing if we are to successfully and economically penetrate the hemp market.

Maritime producers would be entering a market in which several major players have some lead. Whereas some of the key players have focused on particular markets that do not overlap, Maritime growers would be to some degree chasing the same markets in the region and will compete with larger players at the national level. Economics and market positioning will be vital to success.

Markets and Marketing

Many independent growers are still in the process of developing markets. This suggests primary processors will likely play a key role in developing markets and, at present, the market is not structured for large scale and long-term growth.

Contrary to many reports, hemp is currently a niche market. Increasing demand for hemp products over the last decade has not yet fueled an increase in world production of fibre and grain. Furthermore, there are limited markets for this year’s production, although some key players are said to have markets secured. Expanding the range of value-added industrial products available and fostering the necessary consumer demand will take time.

Careful product positioning and advertising for consumer awareness will be important to success in the higher-value oil and food markets. Growers must understand that while infrastructure investment tends to be less than that required for fibre markets, considerable working capital is needed to launch a new product into the health market.

There is much price uncertainty in thin markets where the volume of trading is low. The degree to which production can increase without affecting prices is not known. Growers and processors need to do their homework on the economics and market potential of hemp. As production comes on line, prices will fall unless growing demand for hemp products outstrips supply.

It is important to keep in mind that as subsidies in Europe are further reduced and phased out, the true economics of hemp will appear. If they are poor, world production may decline and this could act as a boon for Canadian producers.

The Good Stuff:

Well–made hemp garments are known to last for years. Hemp fabric is naturally resistant to UV light, mold and mildew, and if treated, to salt water (for centuries hemp was used for the sails and rigging on ocean–going ships). It also is a very breathable fabric and naturally comfortable.

Compared to cotton, which cannot be grown in Canada, hemp is stronger and requires less toxic chemicals and fresh water to grow and manufacture. In recent years, it has become a popular practice to blend hemp with other fabrics, notably with organic cotton, which adds a stretch to the strength of hemp as well a pleasant softness. Hemp has also been blended with linen with comfortable results.

As hemp seed oil is one of the world’s richest sources of polyunsaturated fats, including both of the essential fatty acids (Omega–3 and Omega–6) and GLA (gamma linolenic acid), it is an excellent natural emollient and moisturizer. Body care products containing hemp seed oil can reduce skin discomfort by soothing and restoring dry or damaged skin. They also increase the skin’s natural ability to retain moisture.

Advantages of using hemp for fibre in industry include: excellent physical properties in strength and modulus, cost effectiveness in composite and paper applications and increasing availability. A wide range of fibre formats and qualities are now possible. Hemp fibres can be fabricated to be lighter, stronger and cheaper than fibreglass.

The wood–like inner core fibre of the hemp plant can be used for animal bedding (animals don’t eat it and it is highly absorbent), garden mulch, and an assortment of building materials such as hempcrete.

Hemp’s use in industry is also attractive because it can be grown and manufactured in accordance with sustainable and ecological principles.

Since 2008 hemp cultivation in Canada has been increasing, except in Atlantic Canada. This is buoyed by a steady increase in the processing of hemp, and the development of many small businesses engaged in developing new products and marketing these products. In Alberta, work is well underway at Alberta Research Council (ARC) and Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development to evaluate hemp as a potential source of pulp and fiber. For example, a pilot decortication plant has been established through the Alberta Biomaterials Development Centre (ABDC) BioIndustrial Initiative. The pilot plant uses European equipment. It has the largest biomass processing pilot plant fractionalization capacity in North America.

Currently, there are many Canadian companies – including Hemp Oil Canada Inc., Hempola Valley Farms, Fresh Hemp Foods Ltd., Ruths Hemp Foods, Cool Hemp, and Natures Path, etc. working to develop and market hemp seed products. These companies are all involved in the hemp seed market and are producing a wide range of products. These products are snack foods, hemp meal and flour, edible oil, shampoo and conditioners, moisturizers, commercial oil paints, beer and aromatherapy and cosmetic products. Most of the companies are reporting good growth.

Another trend worth noting is that the hemp food industry has switched to certified organic production because of strong demand. A few industry experts estimate that approximately one-third of Canadian hemp seed production is certified organic.

On April 1, 2012 Hemp Oil Canada Inc. based in Manitoba announced that it is first in the world to gain international food safety accreditation for hemp food. This is good news for Hemp Oil Canada and the Canadian hemp industry as a whole because this may create more opportunities for food developers to market their hemp food products to international markets.

The increased attention industrial hemp receives from the environmental sector can be attributed to several factors, among which are environmental quality concerns within the forestry and agricultural sectors. The forestry issue centers on an enhanced awareness of the environmental impacts associated with the cultivation and harvesting of trees for pulp production.

These impacts can be attributed to the use of chemical herbicides and insecticides, the loss of wildlife habitat, and the potential for erosion on clear-cut sites. The use of herbicides in Nova Scotia is more intense than in any other region of Canada, and the increased rate of herbicide usage in the Atlantic region is believed to be a direct result of tree plantations.

In the agricultural sector, the development of intensive commercial practices has also had an effect on the environment. This form of agriculture has a great dependence on the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers in order to obtain high yields. The use of improper agricultural practices can also lead to increased soil erosion and the subsequent sedimentation of lakes and rivers.

The use of non-wood materials as a source of fibre is receiving increased attention, mainly in order to alleviate some of the pressures associated with forestry, and to make agriculture more sustainable.

Though hemp will not likely replace all the tree based pulp produced in the province, there is sufficient land in Nova Scotia for some degree of hemp production as a fibre source.  It is believed that one of the most beneficial sectors for industrial hemp in this province would be within the recycled paper industry, where hemp could add strength to recycled paper pulp.

Hemp can make most building materials, including caulking, cement, fiberboard, flooring, insulation, paneling, particleboard, plaster, plywood, stucco, mortar, and biodegradable plastic.

Hemp can also be formed into cement-/concrete-like walls. This material is called hempcrete. Hempcrete is a building material that is formed by combining air-lime based binders with the chopped core of the hemp plant stem. It can be poured into a form almost identical to pouring concrete, or spray applied. Hempcrete homes are lightweight, fire-, water-, earthquake-, and rodent-resistant, have excellent thermal mass and insulation characteristics that allows the homes to breath, which saves money on heating and cooling costs, has high sound insulation, and good flexibility.

This building technique also sequesters a lot of carbon, reversing the damaging effects of greenhouse gases, providing one the best value materials for low impact, sustainable and commercially viable construction.

European plants are making auto panels from hemp based composites that are biodegradable, half the weight of, more durable, and safer than fibreglass counterparts. Most car companies are using 100% hemp car interior panels in all new models. Henry Ford made a hemp based car in the 1940’s that was more dent-resistant than steel. A sledgehammer blow could not even break the windows of these cars, which were made from hemp.

Hempseed oil can be made into non-toxic paints, varnishes, lubricants, and sealants. The paints last longer than other counterparts, and the sealants are better absorbed by wood than other toxic counterparts.

Hemp farming requires no toxic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and little to no fertilizer if grown in a proper crop rotation. Hemp roots anchor and aerate soil, reduce erosion, soil loss, and runoff, and also pull metals, toxins, and radioactive material from the soil turning it into organic material. Hemp is the ultimate green crop. It produces food, fiber, pulp, and cellulose for thousands of industries without any toxic chemicals needed in any of the processing.

Hemp can be used to make paper more durable and more environmentally-friendly than paper made from wood. The switch to hemp-based paper could reduce deforestation considerably. Hemp paper doesn’t require toxic bleaching chemicals and lasts hundreds of years longer than paper made from trees. An acre of hemp will produce at least as much paper as an acre of trees, with far less adverse effects to the environment.

Hemp has a $500 billion estimated worldwide market, which, when tapped into by farmers would help reduce the corporate takeover of family farms. Hemp farming could create thousands of new jobs in the transportation, processing, and manufacturing facilities, and would generate millions of dollars for farmers and plant workers.

No plant on earth seems as anxious to please man as does hemp. No plant which even approaches it in versatility of usefulness can grow in as many latitudes and altitudes as hemp. Food, fuel, clothing, shelter, and jobs for as many people as want to specialize in any facet of production; there must be some reason hemp has been placed on Earth. We doubt that it was to provide cops, lawyers, judges, prison guards, and urine testing companies a reason for their existence.

I’d rather believe–and I think there is strong justification to believe–that it was placed on Earth to be the perfect food, soothing and versatile dietetic and industrial oil, strong fiber and cloth, and durable building product it is, all while being the most efficient farm crop at exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen in the atmosphere. The latter quality may become more important as the last of the rain forests are logged out and burnt off to provide a couple of years cropping before the already-poor soil is depleted entirely and left to erode into the Amazon River.

So right now we are caught in a Catch 22 situation. We used to have a few hemp farmers in Nova Scotia but they stopped because there were no processing facilities for their crop. Processing facilities will not be set up in Nova Scotia because there is no locally available source of raw product. Markets will not increase because there are not sufficient inventories of finished goods to sell and export. And China continues to rule the hemp world with a 73% market share, making it ever more difficult to penetrate.

I firmly believe that a thriving, vertically integrated hemp industry in Nova Scotia could have a profound effect on our economy, and move us away from the 19th and 20th century industrial dinosaurs that our successive governments continue to prop up because lost jobs equals lost votes. There are good industrial models out there that we can draw from. All it would take is a little political will coupled with a private sector industrial partner.

With all the hip talk of sustainable practices in all facets of society, why not choose an industry that has been sustaining human life on this planet for 10,000 years?

New Years Message

Over the course of the last year there are many of you with whom I have:

– seen eye to eye
– had a productive face to face
– shared a heart to heart
– and more than a few that I have gone toe to toe

Know that all of these encounters have been appreciated. If we have disagreed, I hope that it has been honestly approached and that we have both come away with new insights and discoveries about the human condition. Our differences and our similarities are equal parts of the shared human experience. Experience is knowledge. Everything else is just information.

I look forward to yet another year of us engaging our collective hearts and minds in the never-ending process of moving humanity forward, asserting the right of universal peaceful co-existence, and the understanding that we can disagree without being disagreeable.

In this coming year we will experience our share of sorrow and loss, joy and happiness, mundanity and extreme silliness (hopefully). How we handle all this will be the measuring mark of our humanity. I have to believe that we will all be the better for it.

So good luck in 2013. Start with your left foot and then move to the right foot. Repeat as necessary.

Remembrance Day 2012

What an interesting day I’ve had. A very moving service at the Sackville Cenotaph, just me and 1,000 or more of my friends and townspeople, and a pocket full of tissues. Talk of devotion and sacrifice, honour, and love of country. Tears of remembrance, and laughter for the future.

I stood shoulder to shoulder in the crowd with ancient warriors who once more found the strength to stand ramrod straight displaying gleaming medals and glistening eyes; eyes that can never forget they were a witness to unspeakable horrors that only foolish man can inflict upon his own kind.

And weaving in and out of the grey flannel and polished boots were small children, chasing and chattering, stepping on shoes and giggling and bumping like puppies at play. And it was perfect. It was just as it should be. A living reminder of both the purpose and product of sacrifice. There were no words of remonstrance or curtailing of their activities, just the smiles and nods of a collective understanding.

And we all were witness to the proof that life moves on through the generations, and those cultural experiences that we hold dear are passed down once more, and cherished through time.

Quickly home and off with the blue blazer and on with the blue jeans and downtown to a gathering of Occupy Nova Scotia at Victoria Park. A very different gathering but one that served a similar purpose; that of remembering.

And I am taken back to November 4th, 2011 at the Halifax Grand Parade, our City Hall Square, where the Occupy Nova Scotia tents were adding much needed colour and its occupants much needed new ideas and fresh thinking.

It was the Canadian Veterans National Day of Protest and I was one of the speakers. The Occupy NS people had been very accommodating and had made certain that there was room for our event and that we were not disturbed. Several of the ONS folks came over to offer their support and hung a large sign behind our podium with one word on it: RESPECT. A young ONS fellow spoke for several minutes and acknowledged the contribution and sacrifice of Canada’s veterans, thanked them quite sincerely, and stated that, were it not for our veterans, they would not be able to be standing there.

It was a wonderful, and many would think unlikely, connection of two groups, both driven by a selflessness of purpose, to right wrongs, to make a better place for all, and an end to injustice. A bond had been formed, mutual understanding had bridged a gap that some would have declared an impossibility. But in truth, it was easy. We were the same.

The Mayor and ONS had come to an arrangement for Remembrance Day ceremonies at Grand Parade on November 11th. ONS would temporarily move to nearby Victoria Park to allow the Remembrance ceremony to proceed undisturbed.

During the ceremony at Grand Parade, the Halifax police, acting on the Mayor’s orders, swooped down on the ONS encampment in Victoria Park, tore down the tents and arrested the participants.

On November 11th! During the ceremony! After the Mayor’s assurances that ONS would go back to Grand Parade. Hustled out of the public eye, dismantled and arrested.

In my 47 years of political activity, I have never seen a more blatant and disgusting breach of public trust by an elected official. I was ashamed. I still am.

In Victoria Park today, there was talk of the larger meaning of this day, and how veterans, and those who sacrificed all, were so important in allowing freedom of assembly, expression of ideas, and protest.

I doubt that the tents will return to Grand Parade. Like all movements of change, it will morph into what is needed now. What that is, I’m uncertain. But it is still there, still beating, still alive. And that’s a good thing.

Dissent is patriotic. Those with great love of their country and society are compelled to ensure that justice and compassion are meted out in equal measure to the greatest and the weakest among us. Forgetting that is tantamount to dishonouring those who, through sacrifice, allow us the freedom to cry for change and that no one is left behind.

So today, on November 11th 2012, I attended two ceremonies, both of remembrance. Both spoke of a better future, and a day when peace and justice will prevail.

Amen to that.

This is a NS Gov press release from the Agriculture Ministry. It is incredibly, mind-numbingly vague. And for good reason. Nothing has happened. Yesterday the government introduced, on First Reading, a small amendment to the Agriculture and Marketing Act.

The actual amendment is below the press release.

This is how they spun it:

Changes to Legislation Help Farmers

Agriculture
October 30, 2012 2:20 PM
Farmers will be able to better grow their businesses and create rural jobs with changes to agriculture legislation.Amendments to the Agriculture and Marketing Act will give the province clearer authority to respond to emerging issues and opportunities in the industry.

“Nova Scotia’s agriculture industry creates good jobs in rural communities, and contributes millions to the provincial economy,” said Agriculture Minister John MacDonell. “These changes in legislation will help us support a strong, sustainable agriculture industry now, and in the future.”

The act governs policies and programs for Nova Scotia’s agriculture industry and is laid out in specific sections addressing the industry’s needs. However, the legislation was not clear about the province’s authority to develop policies.

The amendments will define the province’s authority to develop programs such as encouraging Nova Scotians to buy local food.

“The province’s Select Nova Scotia campaign is making a real difference in the amount of local food that Nova Scotians seek out,” said Janice Ruddock, executive director of Taste Nova Scotia. “Continuing this work means continuing to support not only farmers, but also producers and restaurants that gain wide-spread attention for using quality local ingredients.”

-30-

What this means:

From the proposed amended legislation:Section 195 of Chapter 6 is repealed and the following Section substituted:

195 (1) The Minister may make regulations

(a) prescribing forms and providing for their use;

(b) prescribing fees for the purpose of this Act.

Wow!

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