Saudi Arabia spat leaves maple syrup producer in 'sticky situation'

After more than a year of meeting with government officials, designing new packaging, translating it to Arabic and getting countless approvals, Anna Hutchinson was days away from sending her first shipment of Canadian maple syrup to Saudi Arabia.

Then the phone rang.

“We got a call from our purchaser in Saudi Arabia, saying that we needed to put the product on hold until they could resolve some disputes,” Hutchinson said.

One week later, thanks to Ottawa’s ongoing diplomatic spat with the Saudi government, roughly 900 litres of maple syrup are still sitting on two pallets on a farm in Lake Paul, N.S.

Riyadh has — along with expelling diplomats and pulling its students from Canadian schools — has stopped importing Canadian wheat, barley and, now, maple syrup.

“I’m very stuck,” Hutchinson said. “We’re stuck in what we call a sticky situation. So basically it’s on hold until we know more and it’s not a situation we really want to be in. We’re a small business. We don’t have a lot of room here.”

The Saudi-bound syrup can’t be sold elsewhere.

Hutchinson says she would sell her maple syrup locally, but the label doesn’t meet Canadian guidelines, mainly because it isn’t in English. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

It can’t be sold in Canada because it doesn’t meet food guidelines. For example, the nutritional information is in Arabic.

“I can’t even sell it to any other customers in any other countries because the label is specially designed for the Saudi Arabia market,” Hutchinson said.

Her company also exports to Dubai, but its government has different labelling requirements. 

She could send the syrup to Saudi Arabia as planned, but it might end up in limbo overseas. 

“We don’t want it to sit in a container for an undisclosed amount of time,” she said.

“Down there the temperatures are very hot. We don’t know how the product would survive if it sat in a container for months at a time.”

‘We can’t compete’

This is the second major trade problem Hutchinson has encountered this year.

The tariff war between Canada and the U.S. made her product 10 per cent more expensive than comparable American products sold south of the border.

“We can’t compete,” she said.

“They [the federal government] want us to get out there. Go global. Go sell your product,” Hutchinson said.

“But we don’t want this to keep happening to us.”

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia 

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CRA phone scammer confesses to tenacious N.S. woman

Jessie Berthiaume had had enough.

After numerous phone calls from scam artists claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency, the Antigonish, N.S., woman decided to turn the tables.

“I was really angry at the fact that these people are probably calling elderly or newcomers who have no idea what’s going on,” she said. 

“I thought, let me just play with this guy and take up some of his time and maybe he’ll have less time to call the next caller.”

Berthiaume tried to get the man to confess.

“Look man, let’s be honest, you’re not a Canada Revenue Agent, let’s just get that straight,” she said over the phone.

“OK,” the scammer replied.

“So you’re pulling scams on people?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said.

When she asked him why he didn’t get a real job, he replied it was his real job.

She reported the call to the RCMP, but a day later the scammer’s phone number was disconnected.

Berthiaume encourages others to stall the scammers, keeping them on the line and away from potential victims.

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia

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Message-in-a-bottle project rediscovered after half century

A half-century-old project led by the Canadian navy’s civilian research branch has been rediscovered after being forgotten for decades.

In the 1950s, the Naval Research Establishment — now called the Defence Research and Development Canada’s Atlantic Research Centre — tossed 1,000 glass bottles into the ocean.

Inside each bottle was a questionnaire about where each bottle was found and a promise to send 50 cents if the card was mailed back to Halifax.

The goal was to study ocean currents. Depending on the location and date they were found, researchers could estimate the direction and strength of mid-ocean currents.

More than 140 cards were returned, but they sat in a small cardboard box for nearly five decades.

“We recently moved into a new building and when we were packing up to move out, we found this box of cards in our library,” said Cristina Tollefsen, a DRDC researcher.

The cards spent years in this faded yellow box. (Brett Ruskin / CBC News)

She sorted the cards by region, including Canadian provinces. They also came from Norway, Portugal, Morocco, England and the Azores.

Some of the cards even offer a snapshot of history. For example, bottles reached the Azores shortly after a major volcanic eruption in 1957.

“We have several cards from the Azores, and one of them asks us to send clothing and stuff instead of 50 cents because his family had lost everything in the volcanic eruption.”

Tollefsen said there are now more accurate ways to determine ocean currents using satellites.

Each card included pre-paid return postage. That meant the person who discovered the bottle simply had to open it, complete the card and place the paper in a mailbox. (Brett Ruskin / CBC News)

But she said the handwritten notes make the decades-old process more personal.

“It was just harder to do,” she said. 

“People didn’t have smartphones. They couldn’t just tweet that they had found a bottle.”

She said only a fraction of the bottles were returned and most of the others likely broke or sank.

But there’s a chance that more bottles could still be out there, floating in the ocean or resting on the shore, waiting to be discovered.

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Blue carbon is the billion-dollar resource you've never heard of

The Bay of Fundy may soon be known for more than its powerful tides.

Instead, the plants and mud in the coastal ecosystem have the potential to hold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of carbon-offset credits.

Environment and Climate Change Canada is studying how much “blue carbon” is stored along the Bay of Fundy coastline. It has hired a team to measure the bay’s potential for carbon sequestration.

“Blue carbon” is a term coined by scientists to describe carbon dioxide stored in coastal plants and soil.

On land, forests capture carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Coastal ecosystems do the same — but they’re much better at it. 

Anything trees can do, ‘blue’ can do better

“Coastal ecosystems can hold three to five times more carbon than the equivalent area of forest,” said a federal government document published online in February.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have been linked to global warming and climate change.

The marsh near Dipper Harbour, N.B., is an example of a blue carbon sink. It’s an area where carbon dioxide has been sequestered for more than 3,000 years, with more captured every day. (Brett Ruskin/CBC News)

Forests release their carbon every few hundred years, due to fire, tree mortality or human harvesting. By comparison, coastal marshes maintain their carbon for thousands of years.

“It just stays there and gets buried,” said Gail Chmura, one of North America’s foremost experts in blue carbon research. She is an associate professor in the geography department at McGill University.

Gail Chmura is one of North America’s leading blue carbon researchers. (Brett Ruskin/CBC News)

She’s studying a marsh in Dipper Harbour, N.B., that has been soaking up and locking in carbon dioxide for 3,000 years. Many others are even older than that.

Making green off blue carbon

The financial value of blue carbon comes from its potential for carbon emission credits.

The Canadian government is gradually introducing a carbon levy. Various industries will have to pay a fee based on their carbon emissions.

That fee will increase annually until 2022, when it will be $50 per emitted tonne of carbon dioxide.

On the other hand, if a company removes carbon from the atmosphere, it could generate revenue by selling offset credits. 

According to government documents, “carbon stored in tidal salt marshes in the Bay of Fundy could have an estimated value of $202 million.” That would equal $1 billion in 2022.

Tourists walk the ocean floor at the Hopewell Rocks on the Bay of Fundy, N.B. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

It’s not clear how blue carbon will fit into the national carbon emissions strategy. It could be used as an offset to meet international targets.

Coastal communities could also be allowed to protect or rehabilitate wetlands to generate carbon credits.

“So, for example, you take a flight and you feel guilty, you can buy those offset credits,” said Chmura. “You could offset your flight. But no one has yet taken advantage of that to restore a salt marsh in Canada.”

Officials with Environment and Climate Change Canada declined an interview request until the work to calculate the Bay of Fundy’s blue carbon potential is complete. That is expected to be later this year.

Blue carbon recipe: just add water

An experiment that began in 2010 has proven how easy it is to generate blue carbon.

Two sections of drained farmland in Aulac, N.B., were allowed to flood. The sections totalled approximately the size of three CFL-sized football fields.

Scientists, including Chmura, monitored the site to see if vegetation would grow and carbon-rich mud would accumulate.

Cells A and B were once used as dry farmland, protected by dykes. Once holes were cut in the dykes, scientists monitored the plants and soil to see if they would automatically start collecting carbon from the atmosphere. (Wollenberg JT, Ollerhead J, Chmura GL (2018) Plos One)

“Within six years, up to a metre of mud accumulated in that area that was opened up,” Chmura said. “That’s an astounding amount of mud and that mud is very carbon rich.”

These are the two flooded cells at the Aulac, N.B., marsh that were part of the experiment. (Brett Ruskin/CBC News)

The newly created marshland captured 2,493 tonnes of carbon, according to a scientific report published in the online journal Plos One. That carbon sequestration could be valued at up to $124,650 under Canada’s new carbon levy regime.

This type of land is also available for a bargain. The study estimated the marsh would have cost approximately $25,700 to purchase.

While regulations aren’t in place for communities to make money on blue carbon projects like these, the Aulac experiment shows the potential for this type of work.

“You can make money off it, you get all the ecosystem services, you get the habitat that salt marshes have been cherished for, and you get the carbon storage out of the atmosphere,” said Chmura.

“I call it a win-win-win.”

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Canso residents prepare for economic liftoff from proposed spaceport

Local residents and businesses already have plans to capitalize on the aeronautical opportunity, according to officials with Maritime Launch Services (MLS) — a company striving to build a rocket spaceport near the tiny fishing community of Canso, N.S.

“We heard a lot today,” said Steve Matier, president of MLS, following a recent open house meeting with local residents. 

One problem highlighted at the meeting was accommodations. 

The community has one motel, which is not nearly enough to handle either the dozens of workers that could be hired or the countless tourists a rocket launch could attract.

“Some people said they’re transforming a bedroom so that it’s got its own bathroom, and walling rooms off and setting it up as a bed and breakfast,” Matier said. 

You’ve heard of Airbnb, this is Aerospacebnb.

‘Hard to grow a business without people coming in’

Future landlords and innkeepers aren’t the only ones planning to reap revenue from rocket scientists.

“Our overall sales are rather flat,” said Ingrid Nickerson, the store manager of the Canso Co-op. “Hard to grow a business without more people coming in.”

Ingrid Nickerson

Ingrid Nickerson, the store manager of the Canso Co-op, says an influx of workers and tourists could boost her business. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

She said an influx of workers or tourists could boost the store’s finances.

The Co-op recently expanded to stock lumber and building supplies — items newcomers might need if they’re building or moving into new homes, Nickerson said.

More jobs

Canso resident Philip MacKenzie said these new workers and visitors offer the chance to expand the list of jobs available to locals. 

“Those people that are building those rockets, they are high-tech people,” MacKenzie said.

Philip MacKenzie

Canso resident Philip MacKenzie hopes the project will bring more jobs to the community. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

“They are not going to sleep in a camper. They’re gonna have people cooking for them, housecleaning for them. That’s gonna provide more jobs here.”

Regulatory hurdles

While there are detailed plans and timelines in place, nothing about the MLS proposal is fully confirmed.

Company officials will submit an environmental assessment to the provincial government in early 2018. It is being prepared by Strum Consulting, a Nova Scotia business.

If it’s approved, MLS could begin construction as early as spring 2018.

Map: MLS rocket launch site

Map based on the proposal submitted to the Nova Scotia government by Maritime Launch Services Ltd. The company has applied to lease provincial land to develop a commercial spaceport. (Brett Ruskin / CBC)

There are also ongoing federal regulations that will track each step of the process throughout the spaceport’s construction and up to the first launch. 

Nickerson added one more benefit.

“My daughter is at St. Francis Xavier University’s science program,” she said. “So she’s really keen on this. You know, maybe she could work there.”

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