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Spring 2014 Catalogue - Now Available!

Tuesday 17th December 2013

Formac Lorimer Books Spring 2014 catalogue is now available. Download a PDF copy today.

Spring 2014 Catalogue

Are you a Bookmanager or Catalist user and prefer to see our new titles through those platforms? We have digital catalogues available on both systems.

Bookmanager users, click here.

Catalist users, click here.

20,000 books donated to grade 3 classrooms!

Thursday 12th December 2013

Formac Publishing donated 70 First Novels books to each school in Nova Scotia teaching grade 3. That's 280 sets now on classroom shelves!

Here’s some background information about the books and the donation:

These books were published right here in Nova Scotia. They’re written by some of Canada’s leading children’s writers, including Nova Scotia’s own Lesley Choyce and Budge Wilson. More than half of the books have been selected as Best Books/Our Choice by the prestigious Canadian Children’s Book Centre! Books in the series have won many other awards and prizes as well.

Formac - First Novels donationThere are multiple books in the series by the same author, featuring the same character. We commissioned two Nova Scotia educators to prepare a resource guide suggesting how teachers and librarians could use this series. A hard copy was included with your set, and you can download it for free any time by clicking here.

Why are we donating these books? We’ve sold lots of them, and we hope to sell more. Taxpayers in Nova Scotia support local publishers through ongoing government programs. We’re grateful to have that support and we wanted to give something back.

Formac - Karen CaseyYou can get details on every one of the books in the donation -- background on the author and specifics of prizes and awards the book has won -- at the series website.

The donation was marked at an event at Schubenacadie Elementary School on Dec 10 with Education Minister Karen Casey and Formac publisher James Lorimer. “Reading and literacy skills are key components to creating successful lifelong learners,” said Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Karen Casey. “I would like to thank Formac Publishing Company Limited for their generous donation and for their help in fostering another generation of passionate readers here in Nova Scotia.”

 

Book Review - Quebec’s dirty secrets unveiled

Monday 30th January 2012

Quebec’s dirty secrets unveiled
January 29, 2012 - 4:35am By PAUL W. BENNETT


Confronting the darker side of Quebec’s history has not been easy, particularly for that province’s small but influential elite, dominated by nationalistes. Every society has produced popular historical myths that leave some dirty laundry buried in the past. What is unique about Quebec is a certain ingrained and overly defensive siege mentality when it comes to facing up to the odd soiled linen in the closet of modern Quebec nationalism.

That Quebec reflex reaction must be fading because Jean-Francois Nadeau, arts editor of Montreal’s Le Devoir, has now produced a full-scale biography of Quebec’s infamous Fascist party leader Adrien Arcand with an alluring title, The Canadian Fuhrer (James Lorimer and Company, 360 pages, $35). Publication of the book in French in 2010 marked a watershed in Quebec nationalist thinking, speaking to the previous silences in Quebec history.

Two decades ago, a feisty Quebec scholar, Esther Delisle, had paid a heavy price for exposing the first cracks in the nationalist armour. In her PhD thesis she offended many by identifying Lionel Groulx, Quebec’s modern patron saint, as a purveyor of anti-Semitism and a nationalist who was remarkably tolerant of right-wing extremism. Her 1998 book Myths, Memories and Lies went public with a shocking account of how some members of Quebec’s elite, nationalist and federalist, supported Nazi collaborator Marshall Philippe Petain and his Vichy government in France during the Second World War and then helped bring war criminals to safety in Quebec after the war ended.

Delisle was strongly chastised for speaking out and when Montreal writer Mordecai Richler took her side, she became a bête noir. After the Quebec premier’s brother Gerard Bouchard attacked her research and rose to defend Groulx against the charges of anti-Semitism, she was essentially blacklisted in French Quebec.

Nadeau’s The Canadian Fuhrer returns to the touchy subject of the emergence and persistence of Adrien Arcand and his Quebec fascist party from August 1939 until the 1960s. It’s a very thorough, authoritative biography with a title that not only projects a strong, powerful image, but conveys the author’s willingness to call a spade a spade.

As a former academic historian, Nadeau brings an impressive array of insight and talent to the task of unravelling the life of Canada’s best known fascist leader. It shows the vital importance to Arcand’s political life of being fired from La Presse for union activities and the founding of his wickedly satirical newspaper Le Goglu in Montreal’s working-class east end. After flirting with Italian-brand fascism, Arcand and his close associate Ajutor Menard chose a different path "paved with Hitler-style swastikas instead of Roman symbols of fascism."

The rise of Arcand’s movement is explained as a radical political response to the hunger, unemployment and war anxieties of the 1930s. Radical ideas gained currency among Canadians along the whole range of extremes from Communism and socialism to the right-wing variants, the Social Credit movement on the Prairies and Maurice Duplessis’ Union Nationale in Quebec. Amid such turmoil, Adolf Hitler cast a spell and one that even fooled Canada’s wily prime minister Mackenzie King.

The most alarming part of Arcand’s story is how he managed, while spouting Nazism and anti-Semitism and operating on a shoestring, to become a significant political force in Quebec throughout the 1930s. His role on the fringes of the Jeune-Canada movement founded by Andre Laurendeau and Lionel Groulx makes for fascinating reading. All of the Jeune-Canada partisans are shown to have shared anti-Semitic attitudes, but Groulx, the rather effete young nationalist, remained uncomfortable with Arcand’s distinctly working-class brand of fascism.

As a Le Devoir journalist, Nadeau is at pains to show how leading Quebec nationalists like Groulx and Jeune-Canada sought to keep a safe distance from Arcand. "Anti-Semitism and xenophobia," he writes, were integral to their thought and program but, unlike Arcand, "blood and race" was not "the primary standard by which everything was judged."

Arcand and his far-right National Unity Party did draw their strength from what is described as "the spirit of the 1930s." Once Canada declared war on Germany and Italy in 1939, Arcand was interned for his political views. After the war, he remained a committed fascist and resumed his political activities, forging alliances with Duplessis and the UN in a futile attempt to stave off so-called "Reds" like Jean Lesage and the Liberals, promoting the Quiet Revolution.

Adrien Arcand, as Nadeau points out, remained a committed fascist. He not only continued to espouse anti-Semitism but denied the existence of the Holocaust. After flailing away for four decades in the world of radical politics, Arcand was left destitute and beset by poor heath before he passed away quietly on Aug. 1, 1967.

Nadeau’s The Canadian Fuhrer will go a long way toward extinguishing the trace of stench associated with the heirs of Lionel Groulx, Quebec’s modern-day nationalists. It will quickly be recognized as the standard work on a sordid aspect of Quebec’s 20th-century history. In one particular, perhaps picayune aspect, the book falls short. It’s curious to me why this otherwise fine book contains no direct reference whatsoever to Esther Delisle, the intrepid scholar who first blasted open the larger story. When that happens, all will be well with the world.

About the Author
Paul W. Bennett is founding director, Schoolhouse Consulting in Halifax, and lived in Montreal from 1997 until 2005.

Forgotten Heroes

Tuesday 6th December 2011

- by Lois Legge, Chronicle Herald, December 4, 2011

IT’S GOT SPIES and battles, paternity scandals and prison escapes. Even high seas adventures. Not the usual storylines for histories of the Acadian Expulsion.

But in her new book, Halifax author Dianne Marshall explores a less-reported chapter of this 18th century British campaign against Nova Scotia’s early French settlers.

Heroes of the Acadian Resistance: The Story of Joseph Beausoleil Broussard and Pierre II Surette 1702-1765 chronicles the struggles, strategies and significance of a small but persistent opposition movement battling a British empire.

"It came to my attention a long time ago when I was a teenager," says Marshall, whose maternal ancestors were Acadian. "We had a distant cousin who taught at Harvard and when he retired he decided to do some genealogical research and when he finished he sent us each a copy of what he had written and throughout it says little things like "participated in an ambush against the British" or "participated in a raid" and I thought, ‘I didn’t even know there was anything like that.’ "

Marshall’s ancestors were more "foot soldiers" than leaders. But these historical footnotes sparked her interest in the more-than-decade-long struggle — led by Broussard and Surette — who, while friends, often fought in separate areas of the region.

They and their foot soldiers hid in forests and rescued Acadian prisoners, launched surprise ambushes against the British and even became prisoners of war in the name of their cause. And their cause became much bigger after the British started expelling Acadians in 1755, ostensibly because they wouldn’t swear allegiance to the British king.

Their refusal isn’t surprising, says Marshall, since doing so would have meant battling their own blood.

"In the oath it said they had to take up arms on behalf of the King and they all had relatives living in French territories and they didn’t want to be taking up arms against their family," she says. "Many times they agreed to sign an oath provided that part was taken out."

But Broussard’s distrust of the British started even earlier.

His father Jean-Francois Broussard, a farmer near Port Royal, had been imprisoned after the British seized that French garrison in the early 1700s. Later released, he never forgot the squalid conditions of his underground dirt cell or other tactics of the so-called "invaders," instilling the fire of rebellion in his 10 children.

"His father, I think, was the inspiration," Marshall says. "He grew up with this drilled into him that he had to take his land back from the English and that seemed to have been his goal his entire life . . ."

"He was very young when his father died too, so this story of his father’s imprisonment was one of the things he remembered most about his dad."

Surette has a much different story. His father long held out for neutrality, eventually signing an oath when assured by one British governor he wouldn’t be required to take up arms. But the British government reneged, and as Marshall writes, that became the final straw for the younger Surette, tired of seeing his people exploited for cheap labour or unfairly imprisoned by the British.

Surette also has a far less scandalous history than his brother-in-arms, who took a few detours before becoming a respected leader, and in some quarters today, a revered hero of history.

As a young man and newly married, Broussard became embroiled in a paternity scandal, accused of fathering the baby girl of a teenager. He disputed the claim but was eventually ordered to pay nine pence per week to support the child until she turned eight. The incident tarnished his reputation for years.

"He was a bit of a rabble-rouser," Marshall says with a laugh. "He got himself into a bit of trouble but he seemed to mature," taking a break from battles in the early stages of his children’s lives. But he and Surette emerged as key resistance leaders after Gov. Charles Lawrence ordered the deportation of Acadians, as British soldiers burned their homes and drove them from their land, as they separated families, sometimes forever.

Some suffered or died in squalid refugee camps. Others were banished to places far from home. And hundreds of resistance fighters fought on, living in immense hardship and sometimes committing their own atrocities along the way — scalping innocent civilians, even children.

"Sometimes some of their assaults were extremely violent," says Marshall, also author of Georges Island: The Keep of Halifax Harbour. "They did scalp children but (by) the same token the British killed Acadian children as well. War is a nasty business no matter how you cut it."

Cooking for Couples

Monday 5th December 2011

Cooking for couples
By Greg Burliuk
Posted 3 days ago

Essentials

What: Fresh and Healthy Cooking For Two by Ellie Topp and Marilyn Booth is a collection of healthy recipes for couples and which often features simple four-dish meals. The recipes are meant to be cooked quickly.

Signing: Ellie Topp will be at the Kingston Seniors Centre, 56 Francis St., for a book sale and signing Monday, Dec. 5 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. One of the soups from the book will be served. It's also available for $24.95 at the Novel Idea and Indigo Books.

Cookbooks have a bias against couples. And don't get me started on singles. Check out just about any recipe and you'll see it's just about always meant to feed four or more people.

Just cut it in half you say? That's fine if you're talking about a cup of flour, but how do you bisect an egg, for example? There are cookbooks for two out there but not many. That is why Ellie Topp decided to rectify the situation. Together with dietician Marilyn Booth, she's written Fresh and Healthy Cooking For Two.

I first talked to Ellie several years ago when she wrote a cookbook about small batch preserving. The current one was inspired by her own empty nest situation.

"It's the way I cook now that my kids have left home," she says. "I used to spend half the afternoon in the kitchen doing something complicated but you're not as tempted to do that when there's only two of you."

There are a lot of advantages to this cookbook, other than its smaller amounts. First of all, it's designed for couples who don't have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen. The prep time for most of the dishes is under 30 minutes, so the cookbook is valuable not only for empty nesters, but also young couples just starting out who perhaps aren't that experienced in the kitchen.

Secondly, in the mains section, Ellie has designed a whole meal around a main, including a salad, vegetable and starch. So while your meat is cooking, you can whip up the salad and veg, and set the starch to going as well.

"They're everyday meals and if you're a single these recipes divide easily," she says.

The meals may be simple to make, but Ellie takes care to slip the unusual in there with ingredients like kale, rapini and kohlrabi, which don't show up on most of our plates with let's say regularity. "Things like kale, I can use in winter and they're wonderful in soups," she says.

Sometimes she'll take favourite recipes and tinker with them to get the calorie and salt count down. Such was the case with her version of gazpacho.

"That took a while to do, but I got it down quite a bit," she says, before adding a handy tip. "When you want a tomato flavour, tomato paste has almost zero calories and no salt whereas canned tomato sauce has a lot more of both calories and salt."

Ellie often has collaborators when she writes her books. "I like to work with a dietician," she says. "I've got my masters in food science, but I like to work with someone who's always up to date on dietary matters."

I made three complete meals with the cookbook and really enjoyed the fact that I could put out several dishes per meal in less time than I usually spend doing just one dish. I started out on Friday night with the most complicated one of the three and to our minds, the most successful.

The main was Indonesian-style chicken with savoury peanut sauce, and the sides were basmati rice with chutney, steamed green beans and kohlrabi and carrot salad with orange and cumin. Correction on that, I couldn't find kohlrabi at Loblaws, the store I figured was the best bet to have it. However, there was an informative booklet in the veggie section there where I discovered that some kind of cabbage would be a good substitute and provide the same kind of crunch. I bought some savoy cabbage, which is a milder form of this veggie.

I usually hate snapping green beans so I bought a package of pre-cut ones, which were simply steamed and then tossed with olive oil. The rice was made tastier by slipping in a couple of spoonfuls of mango chutney. The great brilliance of this meal was the way the chicken was cooked. I've seen this done before in restaurants, but had forgotten. You fry the chicken enough to get a crust and then finish it on high heat in the oven. The result is a spectacularly tender chicken, the only way we'll eat from now on when not stir-frying it.

The next night, we went vegetarian with three-cheese pasta bake with tomatoes and spinach, along with a mixed vegetable salad. I still had lots of the savoy left so I used that in the salad, whose dressing was made simply by mixing mayo and salsa and didn't turn out half bad. The pasta bake was very pretty to look at, and cheese lovers will be happy with it, but truth to tell, we felt it needed a little juicing up. My wife and daughter applied ketchup and I, a couple of shakes of hot sauce and all was well.

The last meal was another chicken one, baked chicken with a sesame crust, roasted potatoes and carrots provencale. There was also supposed to be a cabbage toss, but I still had some salad left over from the first night and served that. Not having any commercial bread crumbs, I made my own by tossing some light right bread into the food processor. I was pleased with the results as the chicken was once again baked, although it wasn't quite as tender because it was baked at a lower temperature. The big hit foGregr us was the carrots, which were tossed with garlic and black olives.

When our daughter leaves on her student exchange in February, I'm pretty sure we'll be coming back to this book a lot, although I'll probably add things to the recipes because in our house, we like things spicier and more garlicky.

Shake your salt habit with Formac's Hold that Hidden Salt!

Thursday 25th August 2011

Add flavour to all your summer favourites with homemade condiments, snacks

COMFORT FOOD by NADINE FOWNES
Wednesday August 3, 2011, Chronicle Herald

SUMMER IS THE SEASON of hotdogs and hamburgers, chicken and ribs, chips and dip. For that reason, summer can also be the high sodium season.

A lot of what we tend to eat this time of year at backyard barbecues and other gatherings with family and friends is loaded with hidden salt, says Maureen Tilley, a registered dietitian with Capital Health in Halifax.

"Top your typical grilled hamburger with ketchup, mustard, relish and mayo and you can be well over 400 milligrams of sodium," Tilley says.

Add a pickle and you’ve just had half of your sodium intake for the day in one burger. Go over the top with bacon and cheese and you’re up to 1,150 mg, just 350 mg shy of the 1,500 mg recommended daily sodium intake for adults, she says.

Tilley has made raising awareness about the health risks of eating too much salt a major focus of her practice. She has just published her second cookbook on the subject, Hold That Hidden Salt!: Recipes for Delicious Alternatives to Processed, Salt-Heavy Supermarket Favourites, (Formac, $24.95), a followup to her first book, Hold the Salt.

Tilley explains that salt causes the body to hang on to extra fluid in the blood vessels, raising blood pressure and putting strain on the heart and blood vessels.

"Because of that, the heart has to work a lot harder," so people who eat a high-sodium diet can be putting themselves at risk of high blood pressure that can lead to heart attack and stroke, she says.

People tend not to think about salt because they consider it to be such a small part of the meal, Tilley says. But processed foods are loaded with it and our busy lifestyle has led to more and more people choosing processed, ready-to-eat foods rather than cooking from scratch at home.

To drive home the point of how much salt manufacturers are adding to foods, nearly every page of Tilley’s book includes photos and nutrition charts of many items we all buy and eat regularly, including ketchup, packaged rice and pasta side-dishes, deli salads and so-called "healthier" baked potato chips.

Tilley hopes people will start watching their sodium intake the same way we now watch our sugar, fat and trans-fatty acids.

One in five people has high blood pressure "but it is so easy to lower your blood pressure just by cutting back on salt," she says.

In fact, Tilley says, one third of people with high blood pressure could get off their medication just by reducing the amount of salt they eat.

Doing so is not only good for your health, it’s good for the health-care system because treating conditions related to high blood pressure is costing taxpayers millions, she says.

Unfortunately, the food manufacturing industry is not making enough healthy changes fast enough, so it’s up to consumers to do it themselves. That means avoiding processed foods and getting into the habit of making things from scratch — including your seasonings, condiments and snacks.

"We’re all so used to the taste of salt, but you can retrain your tastebuds," Tilley says, suggesting that you as you cut back on salt, bump up the flavour with herbs, spices and roasted peppers.

Plunder & Pillage reviewed in Chronicle Herald

Tuesday 23rd August 2011

Atlantic Canada’s villians of the sea

By IAN FAIRCLOUGH
Sun, Aug 14 - 4:54 AM

THE Atlantic provinces have a long history of shipbuilding and fishing but their historic ties to the sea include a less than reputable industry: piracy.

For 250 years, starting in the early 1600s, the Atlantic region was struck by — and home to — a collection of pirates and privateers.

In Plunder & Pillage, a new collection of previously published work by the late Harold Horwood, readers are taken on a literary journey through the era of piracy on the high seas off our coast.

But it was not a time of romanticized pirate tales. While Horwood’s 15 stories included some tales of privateers and pirates who had mostly bloodless careers before ending up pardoned by their country, or another nation, and becoming part of its navy or merchant fleet, there was still plenty of blood shed and lives lost.

John Phillips had a successful but short-lived career as a pirate. He was immigrating to Newfoundland in 1720 when the ship he was on was captured by the pirate Anstis and he was forced into the crew as the ship’s carpenter. Horwood calls Anstis "one of the most blackhearted villains in the history of the sea" and "a sadistic cuthroat" who committed all the crimes normally associated with pirates.

"Anstis fought without quarter, tortured any prisoners who fell into his hands, then flung them to the sharks. Captured women were gang-raped and murdered," Horwood writes. "The Anstis gang seemed really to be at war with the human race."

But only a few months after Phillips was pressed into service, Anstis sought and received a pardon from Great Britain. Phillips finally made it to Newfoundland three years later, but couldn’t find work as a shipwright and ended up signing on as a poorly compensated crew on a fishing boat. He found some other disenchanted crew members and five of them stole a ship in August of 1723.

The five signed a set of pirate articles and, perhaps because of Phillip’s time with Anstis, they included one that stated that rape or molestation of women was to be punished by death.

Phillips and his ever-growing crew captured 33 ships in the following eight months. The last was a fishing ship that Phillips kept for himself while forcing the captain into service on his crew. But a mutiny led by the former captain and another man forced into service from a captured ship bought Phillips’ career — and life — to an bloody end. The first mate and chief gunner were attacked and thrown overboard, and Phillips was cracked in the head with a large hammer before his head was split with an axe. Ten other pirates were butchered and tossed overboard, while the others were locked up to be tried when the ship reached port.

The differences between pirates and privateers was slight: pirates were their own bosses, while privateers had the written authority of their government to capture enemy ships, either during wars or in parts of the world considered no-man’s land while nations were at peace.

One of these was Henry Mainwaring, who ended up in Newfoundland and stole from French and Portuguese vessels even though those countries were not at war with England.

Complaints to King James of England proved fruitless.

Horwood said Mainwaring wrote in a letter to the King that Newfoundland was "the best place in the world for outfitting pirate ships," as it had plenty of supplies, munitions and willing volunteers.

Christen Thomas, an editor at James Lorimer Company, of which Formac is an imprint, says Plunder and Pillage features the best of Horwood’s writing on pirates and privateers.

The stories were originally contained in the books Bandit and Privateers, and Pirates and Outlaws, written by Horwood, who passed away in 2006.

"We chose a selection that would cater more to a Maritime reader, as a lot of the content (of the two books) caters to western interests," Thomas said. "These stories essentially shape the brutal and bloodthirsty exploits of characters from the Canadian Atlantic, ranging from folk hero Peter Easton in Newfoundland to the wealthiest ship owner in British North America, Enos Collins."

She said the stories remain as thrilling and relevant today with piracy still making headlines off the coast of Somalia and thriving in popular culture.

With the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise, she said, there is a bit of romanticism about the life of pirates as well.

"There definitely is… there’s bit of this myth created that embellishes history even more."

She said there is always an interest in maritime history from people in the Atlantic Provinces.

"There’s a thirst for it. Being so close to the water makes people want to engage with the stories of its past."

Ian Fairclough is a staff reporter with The Chronicle Herald.

Location:  Halifax

Power Failure? Reviewed in Sunday Herald

Tuesday 19th July 2011

The Politics of Energy

Quest for coal, oil, gas and resulting jobs clouds judgment of politicians; author says focus should be on renewable energy sustainability by 2050
By PAUL BENNETT
Originally published in the Chronicle Herald Jul 17, 2011

THE ROLLER-COASTER history of energy politics in Nova Scotia has been a preoccupation for author Richard Starr over the past five years. Interviewed recently at a Dartmouth cafe, the 64-year-old veteran journalist and policy advisor was primed to talk about deep policy issues and the errors of past governments, but slightly uncomfortable being cast in the limelight.

Starr is a big thinker and one of the political activists who played a quietly influential role in the re-making of the Nova Scotia NDP. Over the past three decades, he’s worked as a journalist, a CBC Radio and TV producer, a communications specialist, a political staffer and now an independent policy wonk.

While serving as chief of staff to former NDP leader Robert Chisholm from 1996 to 1998, Starr earned a reputation for carrying weighty files and preparing thoughtful policy briefings. His wife Wendy Lill is a former MP, accomplished playwright, and creator of the CBC Radio series The Backbencher. Coming out of the shadows of the NDP backrooms is relatively new to Starr. With the release of Power Failure?, he has become the front-man, awakening Nova Scotians to the fallacy of pursuing an illusory "energy dream" and urging governments, including his own NDP friends in power, to focus not on short-term political gain but on achieving renewable energy sustainability by 2050.

Sharing a quiet coffee with Starr, one is struck immediately by his thoughtful, pragmatic, and sensible view of the world. If, as the author notes in his book, Nova Scotia is a "traditionally politically conservative province," then Starr is a living example of the moderate reformist thinking that brought the Nova Scotia NDP to power.

Why did Starr take on the perplexing energy issue? "Ever since coming home to the Maritimes in the mid-1980s," he said, "I’ve wanted to write non-fiction books about this province and region that have nothing to do with ghosts, rum-running or shipwrecks."

After toying with the challenge of tackling economic development, he settled on energy because it is a perennial issue that has bedeviled many past governments. He has also come forward to challenge Jim Meek and Eleanor Beaton’s 2010 book Offshore Dream for celebrating the Shell seismic team’s heroics in offshore energy development and perpetuating the myth that fossil fuels may yet be our economic salvation.>

Over the past 300 years, Starr contends that energy resources have been both a blessing and a curse, but more often a source of delusion. His new book shines much needed light on the energy politics quagmire and poses the uncomfortable question: "Will the next 10 years be any different?"

The peculiarly titled Power Failure? is actually a wide-ranging, soundly researched, stimulating history of the energy follies of past governments.

It begins by recounting the familiar saga of the rise and fall of Nova Scotia’s King Coal from 1720 until the late 1960s. Faith in the coal-based economy, Starr points out, persisted for far too long, even though the province’s reserves were limited and were being rapidly depleted.

Since Confederation, Starr demonstrates that the province’s premiers have shown varying degrees of attachment to the so-called "energy myth."

He depicts the 1956 election of Robert L. Stanfield’s Conservative government as a watershed because Stanfied expanded the reach of the Nova Scotia Power Commission, initiated the Cape Breton heavy water plants, promoted an oil refinery on the Strait of Canso, and resurrected a 50-year-old vision of generating electricity from the Bay of Fundy tides.

Former Liberal premier Gerald Regan is credited with completing the consolidation of the power grid and establishing a publicly owned utility, only to be sunk by runaway energy prices.

Riding the wave of high oil prices and federally funded offshore exploration, Conservative premier John Buchanan is criticized for his empty "boosterism," which contributed much to creating "an environment of energy-fuelled false optimism."

A Buchanan successor, Liberal John Savage, may have been in power when the Sable Offshore Energy Project (SOEP) rolled out in the mid-1990s, but Starr found him less "susceptible to energy illusions."

After flirting with national energy policy controls, premier John Hamm reversed himself by championing provincial Crown share energy rights and coming out in favour of "untrammeled gas exports to New England."

Starr’s book does tackle the biggest political issues in the energy and resource sector. As a journalist and political policy adviser, he is well versed on the death of Devco, the privatization of Nova Scotia Power, the Westray mine disaster, offshore natural gas exploration and rising public demands for green energy. In the book, he provides the much needed context often missed in the news media.

Starr is especially critical of Nova Scotia political leaders for making major energy decisions "behind closed doors" and "without public transparency."

While he treads carefully when analyzing Premier Darrell Dexter’s November 2010 deal between Emera and Nalcor to develop Lower Churchill power at Muskrat Falls, it too is described as "drenched in politics" and a familiar story of inflated expectations.

Unlike Meek and Beaton’s Offshore Dream, Starr offers more than the illusion of a future energy bonanza. The history of energy politics has taught him that Nova Scotia needs to begin taking charge of its energy future. Instead of pinning hopes on another Sable Island or Panuke, Starr advocates taking a coordinated approach in "moving away from dependence on fossil fuels."

His proposal for a Nova Scotia Energy Council, patterned after Howard Epstein’s 2001 private members’ bill, is worth serious consideration. Taking a 40-year time horizon and providing a vehicle for exploring alternative energy sources are both sound ideas. "If the Council provides a means for resolving conflicting interests and enhances public accountability, so much the better," he says.

Starr is characteristically modest when asked about his hopes for the book. He set out to write a kind of "public briefing note" providing readers with the background needed to make sense of the "energy circus."

With a healthy skepticism not uncommon among seasoned policy analysts, he’s content "to raise the questions and to help promote more informed policy decisions."

Starr’s Power Failure?, unlike past visions of energy salvation, delivers far more than it promises. It will stand as the standard history of Nova Scotia energy politics for years to come.

Paul W. Bennett is founding director of Schoolhouse Consulting in Halifax. He is the author of Vanishing Schools, Threatened Communities: The Contested Schoolhouse in Maritime Canada, 1850-2010.

Location:  Halifax, NS
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