Is Energy East back on track?

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It will take more than the appointment of a New Brunswicker as a “temporary” member of the National Energy Board to persuade the more skeptical constituents of the chattering classes in this province that the Energy East pipeline project has again found traction.

Don Ferguson is, by every account, a capable and experienced guy. He was a deputy minister of health in the government of Shawn Graham. At the moment is the “chief strategy officer” at a University of New Brunswick think tank. He also co-owns a consulting firm in Fredericton.

All of which, and the fact that he’s bilingual, eminently qualifies him for the job on the NEB, which is expected (in some distant, sunny corners of the pundit-o-sphere where optimism grows like daisies in July) to reignite the regulatory process for Energy East. To which I snort: Don’t hold your breath.

For many reasons, in this country pipelines have become lightening rods for controversy and public outrage. Part of this is the result of the sometimes breathtaking arrogance of the companies and corporate stakeholders that support the oil and gas industry. Part of it has to do with bucket loads of misinformation about the relative safety of these overland structures. And part of it points to the ardency of the anti-fossil fuel movement across North America.

Still, here’s what we know: No society will ever progress to a sustainably green economy without the essential, if paradoxical, contribution of refined petrochemicals; and there’s no safer way of transporting crude to downstream facilities than by piping it.

As for Energy East, we know a few other things, thanks to an admittedly outdated, yet still relevant, economic benefits report by Deloitte & Touche in 2013, which stipulated “$10.0B and $25.3B in additional GDP for the Canadian economy during the six-year development and construction phase and the 40-year operations phase, respectively (note: while 40 years was used as the time horizon for the purpose of this economic analysis, regular maintenance is expected to extend the life of the pipeline significantly beyond 40 years). This economic activity will occur within Ontario (37% of total), Alberta (22%), Quebec (18%), New Brunswick (8%), Saskatchewan (7%), and Manitoba (5%).”

It also predicted “2,341 additional annual direct full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs during the 2013-2015 development period (7,118 annual FTE jobs total for three years including direct, indirect and induced impacts) and 7,728 additional annual direct FTE jobs during the 2016-2018 construction period (23,498 annual FTE jobs total for three years including direct, indirect and induced impacts), or a total of 91,849 one-year FTE jobs over the entire period, primarily within the construction and engineering industries in Quebec (31%), Ontario (26%), Alberta (16%), New Brunswick (12%), Saskatchewan (6%), and Manitoba (4%).”

Meanwhile, the report estimated between “$3.0B and $7.2B in total additional tax revenue for federal, provincial and municipal governments during the six year development and construction and 40 year operations phases, respectively. Considering both phases, this revenue is primarily generated in Ontario (36%), Alberta (21%), Quebec (20%), Saskatchewan (8%), New Brunswick (7%) and Manitoba (6%).”

Finally, and most pertinently for this province, Energy East would provide a “supply of domestic crude oil sources for eastern refineries, which is expected to result in an annual feedstock cost savings of between $1.55 and $11.49 per barrel based on current refining configurations and the refinery location.”

Times change, of course, and so do commodity prices. But the argument for Energy East is still sound. One can only hope that the NEB’s new members – temporary or otherwise – will find it a compelling one.

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Real action on climate change

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We can debate the merits of New Brunswick’s new climate action plan until we raise the amount of hot air in the atmosphere to dangerously toxic levels. But, in the end, we are forced – some of us kicking and screaming – to agree that as government proclamations go this is a pretty good one.

Sure, it lacks specificity on what to do with the coal-fired generating station at Belledune (apart from acknowledging a phase-out sometime between 2030 and 2040). And it makes no promises on precisely which form of carbon pricing scheme it intends to adopt (an outright tax or a cap-and-trade system).

But where it falls short in some areas, it compensates in others – a fact that has not escaped the attention of normally arch critics of the provincial Liberals. “The premier needed to go the first minister conference with a good pan in his pocket and he’s got it,” said David Coon, leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick, last week. “It’s a plan he can put on the table alongside the ones the premiers of Ontario, Quebec and Alberta have put together – it is in that league.”

Others, of curse, are not so sure. After all, no one in politics gets a free ride in the plaudits department. As Kevin Lacey, regional spokesperson of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation told the Telegraph-Journal, “No matter what mechanism they choose to price carbon, it will be borne by the average worker who will end up paying the costs. A carbon tax is another in along line of cash grabs by this government. First the HST hike and now this carbon tax will make it harder for working families already struggling to make ends meet.”

Still, the mantra of this government – and, now, every other across the land – is that greening the economy and economic development are not mutually exclusive concepts. As some costs and prices increase, new opportunities for business and job creation emerge. Says Premier Gallant in the statement that accompanied the plan last week: “This will help us combat climate change in a way that respects New Brunswick’s economy, challenges and opportunities.”

In fact, the document is refreshingly declarative on the subject of environmental relief and economic development. “The provincial government will design and implement a clean-technology acceleration strategy that: Builds on early-stage innovation research, development and demonstrations (RD&D); accelerates clean technology commercialization; fosters greater clean technology adoption; and enhances connections and collaboration between business market needs and research expertise to accelerate the development and use of clean, low-carbon technology solutions.”

It will also “Create the conditions for growth and job creation in the areas of clean technology, products and services related to climate change in all sectors such as housing, agriculture, forestry, manufacturing, energy efficiency, renewable energy, information technology and transportation.

It will “Support a culture of innovation to pursue economic opportunities presented by our changing climate such as tools and approaches to adaptation developed in New Brunswick that are marketable elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, it will “Work with the tourism and recreation sector to pursue new opportunities presented by our changing climate and to promote New Brunswick as a world class destination. . .(and) take advantage of the large financial opportunities that exist through reducing energy costs and the potential for reinvesting the savings into New Brunswick’s economy.”

Naturally, there will come a time when this government – should it persist into a second term – will be held to account for its promises of greener pastures and jobs. But for now, the plan to get us there appears both prudent and possible.

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It could be worse

At this time of year, in this region of the increasingly Great White North, we have a pernicious habit of wearing our worries on our sleeves.

Call it a somber reflection on the year that was or an anxious anticipation of the one that looms before us, but our moods rarely improve with the promise of winter’s darkening skies.

Our kids are still leaving for sunnier economic climes. Good, sustainable jobs continue to evade us. Our public debts and deficits persist in vexing us, though we haven’t the foggiest notion of how to settle them. Meanwhile, the pundits and prognosticators among us sally forth like so many members of a chorus in a Greek tragedy with whispers and whines of imminent doom.

But are our lives in the Atlantic Provinces really as awful as we imagine them to be? Think of those we’ve welcomed from other, sundered parts of the globe. Specifically, think of the Syrian newcomers who have, in recent months, found new reasons to hope along Canada’s East Coast.

Last year, a BuzzFeed News report, relying on data supplied by the United Nations and assorted research groups, concluded that in 2014, “as the war enters its fifth year. . .the most shocking finding is that life expectancy in Syria dropped from 76 years in 2010 to an estimated 56 years in 2014. . .Syria’s population has shrunk from 20.9 million to 17.6 million during that time as people have fled overseas or been killed, the report says. The country is now the world’s biggest source of refugees. Over half of Syria’s pre-war population have fled their homes during the conflict. . . The bulk of that group have remained displaced within Syria. Around 200,000 people have died in the conflict so far.”

A problem that’s far less dramatic than any of these, but nonetheless troubling, is the rise of anti-immigration sentiment everywhere, it seems, except Canada. According to a New York Tomes article late last month, “(Donald Trump’s) promise to deport (2-3 million) immigrants who have committed crimes suggested that he would dramatically step up removals of both people in the United States illegally and those with legal status. If carried out, the plan potentially would require raids by a vastly larger federal immigration force to hunt down these immigrants and send them out of the country.

Added Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York, for the Times: “If he wants to deport two to three million people, he’s got to rely on tactics that will divide communities and create fear throughout the country. He would have to conduct a sweep, or raids or tactics such as those, to reach the numbers he wants to reach. It would create a police state, in which they would have to be aggressively looking for people.”

Fear is the operative word these days. It is again becoming a media meme song. Still, here in Atlantic Canada, we may count our blessings – however minor we often perceive them to be – on our sleeves frayed with worry. Even the Conference Board of Canada says we’re doing pretty well, all things considered.

Says Marie-Christine Bernard, Associate Director, Provincial Forecast: “All three Maritime provincial economies are expected to perform better in the new year. This largely boils down to growth in the tourism, forestry, agriculture, and fishing sectors, as well as increasing exports to the U.S. and abroad boosted by a lower Canadian dollar.”

So, buck up my fellow New Brusnwickers. It could be worse. . .much worse.

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Confederacy of conservatives

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Give them all an “E” for effort. Despite their varying commands of French, the 14 candidates in the Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership debate in Moncton last week performed. . .well. . .let’s just say they performed.

No rhetorical flourishes. No flashes of glittering insight. No big surprises. Still, neither were there major linguistic mistakes from the Anglophones in the cohort, struggling in French. Thank heaven, perhaps, for small mercies.

In fact, Moncton was an odd choice as a host city for the Tories’ finger-waving chinwag. Apart from its almost evenly bilingual population, you would think its determinedly entrepreneurial élan and increasingly multicultural demographic might make certain Conservative leadership hopefuls a tad uncomfortable.

Speaking of Alberta’s Kellie Leitch: She did not disappoint. On the subject of so-called Canadian values, we may recall, the center-right candidate had this to say in September: “Canadians can expect to hear more, not less, from me, on this topic in the coming months. Screening potential immigrants for anti-Canadian values that include intolerance towards other religions, cultures and sexual orientations, violent and/or misogynist behaviour and/or a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms is a policy proposal that I feel strongly about.”

That prompted this choice response from Ms. Leitch’s colleague and leadership rival Michael Chong: “(This) does not represent our Conservative Party or our Canada. The language and context that Kellie used has led key Conservatives, including prime minister Harper’s former director of policy (Rachel Curran), to criticize this move as the worst of dog-whistle politics.”

In Moncton, the two were at it again. “On one side, we have a candidate who suggests that immigrants are anti-Canadians and who proposed an exam,” Mr. Chong said. “They insist that it is not race-baiting or anti-immigrant, but just yesterday their campaign was endorsed by a white supremacist group called the Council of European Canadians.”

To which Ms. Leitch rejoined, “Every country in the world is having this discussion. And just because the media and other elites don’t want to have this discussion doesn’t mean we should be afraid of it. Many of my colleagues on this stage are intimidated by the media but I am going to continue to talk about this because this is common sense, this what Canadians want to talk about.”

Clearly, the issue of who is a “true” Canadian and who is not has become as much a local and provincial issue as a national one. After all, New Brunswick, which has opened its arms to Syrian refugees, is constantly looking for ways to accommodate more immigrants. But Ms. Leitch’s particular brand of populism appeared calculatingly similar to U.S. president-elect Donald Trump’s and not especially well-pitched to a Moncton crowd.

More successful, if not particularly illuminating, were the generally congenial observations about Atlantic Canada’s economic and demographic challenges, which are the low-hanging fruit of any debate on the region’s future. According to one CBC report, “While candidates mostly agreed on the need for encouraging immigration and finding new ways to create jobs to encourage young people to stay, (Mr.) Chong also advocated an enhanced working income tax benefit, which he said would provide more incentive for older Canadians to keep working.

“Lisa Raitt said it made sense when Stephen Harper’s previous Conservative government increased the retirement age to 67, although she knows it can be hard. She said it’s important for seniors to stay active and she’d encourage them to remain in the workplace.”

The way things are going, in either official language, do we have much choice?

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Confederacy of conservatives

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Give them all an “E” for effort. Despite their varying commands of French, the 14 candidates in the Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership debate in Moncton earlier this week performed. . .well. . .let’s just say they performed.

No rhetorical flourishes. No flashes of glittering insight. No big surprises. Still, neither were there major linguistic mistakes from the Anglophones in the cohort, struggling in French. Thank heaven, perhaps, for small mercies.

In fact, Moncton was an odd choice as a host city for the Tories’ finger-waving chinwag to begin with. Apart from its almost evenly bilingual population, you would think its determinedly entrepreneurial élan and increasingly multicultural demographic might make certain Conservative leadership hopefuls a tad uncomfortable.

Speaking of Alberta’s Kellie Leitch – she did not disappoint. On the subject of so-called Canadian values, we may recall, the center-right candidate had this to say in September: “Canadians can expect to hear more, not less, from me, on this topic in the coming months. Screening potential immigrants for anti-Canadian values that include intolerance towards other religions, cultures and sexual orientations, violent and/or misogynist behaviour and/or a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms is a policy proposal that I feel strongly about.”

That prompted this choice response from Ms. Leitch’s colleague and leadership rival Michael Chong: “(This) does not represent our Conservative Party or our Canada. The language and context that Kellie used has led key Conservatives, including prime minister Harper’s former director of policy (Rachel Curran), to criticize this move as the worst of dog-whistle politics.”

In Moncton, the two were at it again. “On one side, we have a candidate who suggests that immigrants are anti-Canadians and who proposed an exam,” Mr. Chong said. “They insist that it is not race-baiting or anti-immigrant, but just yesterday their campaign was endorsed by a white supremacist group called the Council of European Canadians.”

To which Ms. Leitch rejoined, “Every country in the world is having this discussion. And just because the media and other elites don’t want to have this discussion doesn’t mean we should be afraid of it. Many of my colleagues on this stage are intimidated by the media but I am going to continue to talk about this because this is common sense, this what Canadians want to talk about.”

Clearly, the issue of who is a “true” Canadian and who is not has become as much a local and provincial issue as a national one. After all, New Brunswick, which has opened its arms to Syrian refugees, is constantly looking for ways to accommodate more immigrants. But Ms. Leitch’s particular brand of populism appeared calculatingly similar to U.S. president-elect Donald Trump’s and not especially well pitched for a Moncton crowd.

More successful, if not particularly illuminating, were the generally congenial observations about Atlantic Canada’s economic and demographic challenges, which are the low-hanging fruit of any debate on the region’s future. According to one CBC report, “While candidates mostly agreed on the need for encouraging immigration and finding new ways to create jobs to encourage young people to stay, (Mr.) Chong also advocated an enhanced working income tax benefit, which he said would provide more incentive for older Canadians to keep working.

“Lisa Raitt said it made sense when Stephen Harper’s previous Conservative government increased the retirement age to 67, although she knows it can be hard. She said it’s important for seniors to stay active and she’d encourage them to remain in the workplace.”

The way things are going in either official language, do we have much choice?

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New Brunswick in the post-truth era

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In an age when opinions, belief and faith trump (pun, fully intended) facts, evidence and even reality, itself, it’s not surprising that the Oxford English Dictionary should induct “post-truth” as its duly designated word of the year.

Other frontrunners in 2016 were, in no particular order: “alt-right”, signifying an ideological predisposition towards right-wing nuttiness; “chatbot”, referring to a computer program with pretentions to humanlike interactions; and “Brexiteer”, indicating an individual who just can’t wait to rip up every trade agreement that tethers the United Kingdom to continental Europe.

Methinks, I discern a developing meme in all of this. As for post-truth, it’s an adjective the OED defines thusly: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

What’s next? “Thinkiness”, defined as the condition in which a person only appears to be weighing “objective facts” on his or her way to ultimately concluding that the world is flat, dinosaurs were God’s little joke 6,000 years ago, and Donald Trump will be an enlightened reformer from his perch in the penthouse of the mid-town Manhattan hotel that bears his name?

In fact, in New Brunswick, we can observe our own versions of post-truthiness rearing their angry, squalling heads.

There is, for example, the persistent supposition that governments (of both political stripes) don’t work, never did and never will. I call this the Kelly Leitch syndrome. You know her. She’s the presumptive candidate for the federal Conservative Party of Canada, who likes to sprinkle phrases like “average guys and gals on the street” into her regular discourses on the despicable “political and media elites”. Funny thing, that. Dr. Leitch earned a MD from the University of Toronto and an MBA from Dalhousie University. She was a fellow of clinical paediatric orthopaedics at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles in 2002. Today, she’s an orthopaedic paediatric surgeon at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. She’s also a member of parliament.

Can you spell E-L-I-T-E? Still, droves of New Brunswickers buy her brand of populism and believe, in their hearts, that, despite her academic pedigree and evidently comfortable affluence, she’s one of them. She “gets” them in the same way a billionaire real estate developer from New York “gets” the poor, benighted, unemployed factory worker in Flint, Michigan. All hail the rhetoric and campaign tactics of the practiced politicos among us. As for the facts. . .well, let us deliver a pox on all the houses where these reside.

What about refugees and immigrants in post-truth New Brunswick? Recent public opinion surveys suggest that this province’s long-standing willingness to accept and welcome newcomers into its mix is corroding. Only two years ago, Atlantic Canada led the rest of the country in tolerance and acceptance. According to a CBC report at that time, “In the Atlantic provinces, 86 per cent said they would be comfortable if someone of a different ethnic background married their best friend, while in the prairies that dropped to 71 per cent. In B.C., 72 per cent of respondents ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that they are proud of Canada’s cultural mosaic. In another illustration of regional variation, 86 per cent of respondents in the Maritimes said they would feel ‘comfortable’ or ‘very comfortable’ if ‘someone with a different ethnic background moved next door to me.’”

Now, in the post-Brexit, pre-Trump world, these numbers are deflating in this region, in this province, thanks almost entirely to fake news – engineered by the gut – published on social media.

Thinkiness? No, just think.

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Homegrown populism

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Those who believe that a Trump-style wave of populism could never gain a toehold in New Brunswick might want to conduct a little thought experiment. It’s easier than you imagine.

Take one dynamic, provocative, plain-spoken leader who wears his or her “devotion” to the common man or woman on his or her sleeve, add a mastery of social media gimmickry, sprinkle in coarse rhetoric about the evil of “elites”, lay on dark musings about the “enemies” within, and, hey presto, you’ve got yourself one, delicious cake you can both have and eat simultaneously.

That’s, of course, at the bleakest end of the spectrum. In fact, successful populists come in all shapes, sizes and shades, representing various threat levels to rational discourse.

When former Alberta premier Ralph Klein died in 2013, the Toronto Star ran an obituary that noted, in part, “Soon after his mayoral election in October 1980, when boom town Calgary was a magnet for unskilled labourers from across Canada, Klein gained less than favourable national attention by blaming eastern ‘creeps and bums’ for straining the city’s social and police services. He said the only solution was to ‘kick ass and get them out of town.’ It was this down-home, off-the-cuff style that fuelled his popularity both when he was mayor and premier.”

Roger Gibbins, then a senior fellow of the Canada West Foundation and a former department chief of political science at the University of Calgary, observed in the story, “It’s a difficult phrase to use in Alberta, but there was class politics at play even though class politics doesn’t play much of a role here. Klein was an authentic populist in the province. . .Klein was the real thing. Real working class.”

New Brunswick, we know, is not Alberta (though, from time to time, we have supplied that western province with a healthy proportion of its labour force). But we do possess many of the ingredients a savvy populist would need to settle in nicely. These are, in no particular order: An under-employed and anxious population; an economic divide between rural and urban areas; high rates of illiteracy and innumeracy; rising costs of just about everything; and an entrenched, if not yet dominant, sense that facts are handmaidens to opinions, no matter how outrageous our thoughts are at any given moment.

It’s no surprise that many of these conditions presaged the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom earlier this year. Writing for Forbes magazine’s online edition last July, geopolitics expert George Friedman observed, “There’s a growing distrust of multinational financial, trade, and defense organizations created after World War II. The EU, the IMF, and NATO are good examples of this.

Many who oppose the EU believe these institutions no longer serve a purpose. Not only that, these organizations take control away from individual nations. Mistrust and fear of losing control made Brexit a reasonable solution to them.”

The operative words there are “mistrust” and “fear” – music to many populists’ ears. Who do we tend to regard warily in this province? Politicians representing traditional parties? Government institutions? Corporate bigwigs? Banks? Entrenched wealth? Conversely, who do we like to embrace? Working stiffs? Small-time entrepreneurs? Boot-strapping innovators? Community volunteers? Remember the COR Party, about which New Brunswick political scientist Geoff Martin once wrote, “In electoral terms (it) was not a party of big business or the affluent. . . In its heyday (it) was dominated by middle-income and small-business people, professionals, and the self-employed.”

Suffice to say, back in the early 1990s, that was no mere thought experiment. Neither, we now know, is a Trump presidency.

Up, up and away

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Cautioning prudence to investors desperate to cash in on the next, big thing is not much different than spitting into the wind. For reasons that should seem obvious, you are bound to regret it.

As it happens, the Cassandras of the financial world are few and far between whenever the market smells red meat in the air. Are we now heading into this mortally treacherous territory thanks to the impending legalization of pot for recreational use in Canada?

Last week, Moncton’s OrganiGram, a medical marijuana producer, confirmed plans to build out its production capacity to 26,000 kilograms of the stuff (about 9,000 kg more than its current output) annually. Meanwhile, according to a report in this newspaper, the company has “made some new friends in high places. Trailer Park Boys, the hit Canadian comedy TV show, will be collaborating with the cannabis company on an exclusive strain of marijuana as soon as it becomes legalized.”

Said OrganiGram’s chief commercial officer, Ray Gracewood: “We need to be strategic about the opportunities that will be afforded to us with the advent of recreational use in Canada. Brands will play a key role within the cannabis market space, and we’re devoting the thought leadership and developing our strategy well in advance of these expected changes to ensure we’re prepared.”

Elsewhere, despite their mindful-sounding public statements, the industry’s “thought leaders” are licking their chops without actually knowing how the shape of their emerging business will solidify.

According to a piece in Cantech Letter, “Already setting new record highs for months, shares of Canadian marijuana stocks have reached lofty new territories after California voted to legalize marijuana. On Tuesday, (November 9) while many were mulling the shocking surge to the White House by Donald Trump, the state of California passed Proposition 64, which will allow residents 21 years and older to buy and possess up to one ounce of cannabis for recreational purposes and to grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use. The new measure will create an environment for state-licensed businesses to set up retail marijuana sales. With a proposed 15 per cent sales tax, the state is expected to take in an added $1 billion in tax revenue from legalization.”

Indeed, as the CTV reported last week, “Shares in Canopy Growth Corporation (based in Smith Falls, Ontario) saw its value hit $17.86, double its level from a week earlier, before falling again. The total value of the company’s stocks briefly hit $2 billion, twice what it was a few days before. Stock in Aurora Cannabis, based in Alberta, jumped to $3.95, up from around $2 a week earlier.

Mettrum Health Corp. also saw its trading stopped twice, while Supreme Pharmaceuticals Inc. and OrganiGram Holdings Inc. had their trading stopped once each.”

All of this feels vaguely familiar. Enthusiasm for the “new” and the “exciting” is a permanent feature of market capitalism. As with virtually everything within the realm of human volition, it produces both good and ill effects. On the one hand, ventures obtain access to badly needed capital for expansion and product innovation. On the other hand, too much hot blood can generate bubbles, which have a nasty habit of bursting when you least expect.

The age of legal “Mary-Jane” in New Brunswick is about to dawn. That’s great, as far as it goes. We could use the business boost in this province. But let’s not forget that all industries take time to mature. We want them to survive and thrive, despite the fickle headwinds that conspire to knock them down, cold and stoned.

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Whither Mother Corp?

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Growing up in Halifax, I was a public radio nerd, and pretty much the only one I knew. I’d put myself to bed, listening to the honeyed voice of Allan McFee on CBC Radio’s “Eclectic Circus” just as the low, grumbling baritone of the harbour’s foghorns began to rise.

Other kids would tune into one of maybe three private stations, playing endless loops of Top 40 hits. Not me. Give me some academic yakking about the fall of the Roman Empire on “Ideas”, or a dollop of late-night jazz, and I was good to go, drifting sweetly off to la-la land.

When American radio icon Garrison Keillor announced earlier this year that he was formally retiring, after 42 years, from hosting National Public Radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” none other than U.S. President Barack Obama told the 73-year-old announcer, “One of the reasons I miss driving is that you kept me company. (The show) “made me feel better and more human.”

That’s a bit like how I feel whenever I tune into CBC Radio’s Moncton-based morning program, or the Maritime-wide afternoon call-in show, or the drive-time rolling-home broadcast out of Saint John.

So, I’m always momentarily alarmed when Mother Corp. – which gets the bulk of its money from taxpayers – enters one of its periodic phases of existential angst, as it has just recently. As a panel of Ottawa politicians examines the condition of the news industry in this country, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission has issued a statement that, in part, reads: “The emergence of new digital technologies has made access to news and analysis from around the world easier than ever and presents many new opportunities. Digital technologies are empowering individuals, allowing them to tell stories that are in the public interest and to share them instantly with millions of people.”

Still, the CRTC reported, “Many Canadians . . .emphasized that local programming, particularly local news, is of great importance to them and a primary source of news and information. In one survey, 81 per cent of Canadians indicated that local news is important to them.”

Within this mix enter the usual suspects of mostly Conservative critics. Tory leadership runner, Kelly Leitch, declared last week, “The CBC doesn’t need to be reformed, it needs to be dismantled. So long as the CBC continues to distort the market by consuming advertising revenues and having its operations underwritten by the taxpayer, the market is uncompetitive.”

Of course, the CBC’s own research tells a tale of relevance. (What would you expect?) A survey it conducted a couple of years ago reported “80 per cent of Anglophones and virtually all Francophones (98 per cent) who responded to the questionnaire feel that CBC/Radio-Canada is important. Seventy-three per cent of Anglophones and 91 per cent of Francophones who participated believe that public broadcasters will continue to be important in the future.”

At the same time, “42 per cent of Anglophone participants prefer that CBC/Radio-Canada provide the most appropriate regional services into 2020, whether they be online, radio, television, or a combination of all or some, while 38 per cent want continued regional services in all formats (TV, Radio, and Digital).

People like Ms. Leitch (indeed, there appear to be quite a few of them) are welcome to their opinions, but a public broadcaster plays an important role, especially in lightly populated areas such as the Atlantic Provinces. Through it, we know ourselves as members of a larger family of Canadians.

To snag the words of the outgoing U.S. president, it makes us feel better and more human.

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The fake, fake news

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In the fleeting moments you take to read this humble column, I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God. More’s the pity.

Atlantic Canada was once the country’s acknowledged center of all things satirical. No surprise there. Between the weather and waiting for the pogey cheque, I can think of two things worth spending any time doing in this benighted neck of the woods. Only one involves laughing your head off.

Time was when you couldn’t count the number of well-known and revered funny men and women in this region on both hands. Now, they’re a vanishing breed. As with most things in life, I blame Donald Trump. Who needs satire, when the genuine object of derision and ridicule provides his own material on an hourly basis?

Writes Nicky Woolf in a recent edition of The Guardian, “Barack Obama, facing the imminent handover to his bombastic successor (that would be Trump), has plenty to be concerned about this week. But he took the time to express his concern about the impact of fake news online when he spoke to reporters on Thursday. Obama, who was described in a detailed New Yorker interview as being ‘obsessed’ with the problem since the election, described the new ecosystem of news online in which ‘everything is true and nothing is true’.”

The outgoing U.S. president continued in a meeting with reporters last week: “In an age where there’s so much active misinformation, and it’s packaged very well, and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television, where some overzealousness on the part of a U.S. official is equated with constant and severe repression elsewhere, if everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect. If we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.”

He has a point. So addled are certain media mouths over the proliferance of fake news, they’re calling for an outright dressing-down of legitimately satirical websites. They, too, have a point. It’s just on the top of their heads.

Consider New Brunswick’s very own The Manatee. Its disclaimer now reads as follows: “All content (including, without limitation, likenesses, quotes, figures, facts, etc., collectively, ‘Content’) hosted on The Manatee websites and associated social media accounts (‘The Manatee Sources’) is fictitious and satirical and should not be taken seriously. The Manatee Sources and Content are provided as is. By accessing any of The Manatee Sources you acknowledge and agree that such access, any use of Content, and/or linking to other websites or accounts from The Manatee Sources are entirely at your own risk.”

Now consider one recent Manatee story headlined, “Country ranked ‘C’ in literacy goes out of its way to correct CBC on spelling of ‘grey jay’”. It reported, “A country with one of the lowest literacy rates of the developed world, Canada, is apparently filled with linguists when it comes to the names of animals. When the Royal Canadian Geographical Society chose the ‘grey jay,’ sometimes called the ‘whisky jack,’ as the national bird and CBC reported on it, letters and emails poured in with irritated Canadians correcting the national broadcasting corporation. ‘I don’t know nothing about literacy or whatchamacallit, but I know my birds and that there’s a G-R-A-Y Jay,’ proclaimed New Brunswick man Arnold Ferguson, pointing at one of the feathered friends perched near his birdfeeder.”

True or false? It’s a no brainer. I happen to know Arnold doesn’t own a birdfeeder.

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