The take on clean tech

IMG-20120908-00198

Assuming my personal pantheon of household gods – including the one that lords over my bank account – continues to gaze affectionately at my ramshackle abode in the west end of Moncton, I can imagine one day installing solar panels on my roof’s southern exposure.

I can even divine a day when a compact, ridiculously efficient wind turbine installed against my back fence feeds power to my smart-grid controller, which, in turn, tells my fridge when to run and my furnace when to start. Meanwhile, my spiffy, new Tesla Model S sits happily in my driveway fully charged until its next trip to the neighbourhood electrical boosting station.

Flights of fancy are the territories of the future. But, in important respects, the future might be just around the corner if certain federal and provincial officials in Atlantic Canada have anything to say.

The extent to which New Brunswick may expect to participate in what’s being billed far and near as the nation’s “clean technology revolution” depends entirely on public and private-sector willingness to get out in front of these developments. That this province – which needs all the innovative economic opportunities it can digest – should not hesitate is an obvious no-brainer.

Not long ago, while making a speech in Alberta, Navdeep Bains, the federal minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, announced more $206 million in funding for 36 clean technology projects across the country.

In a prepared statement, department officials stipulated that “Investing in innovation, supporting clean technology and encouraging sustainable practices will help create jobs, expand access to international markets and make Canadian companies more competitive in the global economy.

“The minister announced the investment in Sustainable Development Technology Canada,” which will, among things, provide “support for clean technology companies at a critical point in the innovation spectrum: it allows innovators to develop and demonstrate their technologies prior to entering the market. . .To stay competitive, Canada must lead the way in innovation and must embrace opportunities to create the clean jobs of the future. The Government of Canada will continue investing in innovative clean technology projects that grow local economies and promote environmental sustainability.”

Minister Bains, himself, stated, “Now is the time for Canadian companies to capture their share of the global market for clean technology. From waste management to biofuels to greener solutions for the oil and gas industry, these Canadian companies are leading the world in intelligent, environmentally responsible and economically sound solutions in a number of key economic sectors. . . Canadians understand that a healthy environment and a strong economy are not competing priorities.”

He’s right. Canadians do understand this – or, at least, they’re getting the picture. A study released last month by the group, Clean Energy Canada, found that spending on this sector in 2015 amounted to $10 billion. That was the second-best performance on record. Said the group’s executive director, Merran Smith, in the report: “We’re living in a new era of political resolve to tackle climate change. . .Spending on clean energy will likely grow again in the years ahead.”

Intriguingly, Clean Energy noted, spending on the sector in Atlantic Canada last year jumped by 58 per cent to just about $1.2 billion. Given the region’s relatively small population, that result compared favourably to Ontario’s $5.3-billion investment in renewable energy in 2015.

The trick, of course, for this region will be learning how to transform its traditional industries even as it embraces new, cutting-edge ones. It’s encouraging that this process seems to be underway.

My hunt for solar panels might not be so whimsical, after all.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Away in a manger

It’s a sign of the times, perhaps, that federal and Atlantic provincial leaders chose to meet in a barn the other day. After all, as any farmer will testify, barns are where the action is.

In fact, this particular barn was more of a renovated convention space located on federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay’s bucolic property in rural Prince Edward Island, but the significance of the location wasn’t lost on anyone observing the rare conclave of government officials. They had come, ostensibly, to get things done. And, by all accounts, they succeeded.

According to a news release, “The Government of Canada and the governments of the four Atlantic Provinces are working together to build a vibrant economic future for Atlantic Canada by focussing their efforts and resources to stimulate the region’s economy, support the middle class and address both long standing and emerging regional challenges.”

Specifically, the group – which included premiers Stephen McNeil, Brian Gallant, Wade MacLauchlan and Dwight Ball, and federal ministers MacAulay, John McCallum, Scott Brison, Dominic LeBlanc, Navdeep Bains, and Judy Foote – announced a new plan to “stimulate the region’s economy, support both innovative and resource-based industries, and increase job opportunities for Atlantic Canadians.”

High on the list was a commitment to boost immigration to the region. According to the post-meeting communiqué, “The first area of action focuses on skilled workforce and immigration with the introduction of a new three-year immigration pilot project aimed at addressing the unique labour market challenges in Atlantic Canada.

“When in place, the pilot project will help to better match the needs of local employers with the skill sets of immigrants while helping to improve the attraction and retention of newcomers in Atlantic Canada. Through this project the Government ‎will admit up to 2,000 immigrants and accompanying families in 2017, with rising numbers in the following years depending on performance. This is a substantial increase, amounting to almost half the current number of provincial nominees in Atlantic Canada. The federal and provincial governments will continue to undertake cooperative actions that will bring stable and long-term economic prosperity in Atlantic Canada and additional joint actions will be unveiled over the coming months.”

This is eminently good news, and for a variety of reasons.

For one thing, it demonstrates, for the first time in a very long time, that federal and provincial leaders are both able and willing to work together. Gone, one hopes, are the days of table-thumping and hand-wringing that were so unproductively numerous during the years of Conservative reign in Ottawa.

Secondly, and even more importantly, the decision to actively increase immigration to the region – a crucial bulwark of long-term prosperity for each of the Atlantic Provinces – is a clear indication that our elected officials not merely understand the key challenges facing the economy, but are actually equipped to do something about them.

Said Wade MacLauchlan, Premier of Prince Edward Island, in a statement: “To build on our successes and create sustained prosperity for Prince Edward Island, we must grow our workforce and continue to foster an environment of innovation and entrepreneurship. Working together with our Atlantic, federal and community partners, we will grow our population and create economic opportunities for the Atlantic Region.”

This might not sound like much. But consider the rising tide of acrimony, anger and outright hate welling in other parts of the world. The Atlantic region, and Canada as a whole, stands in sharp contrast to the vicious anti-immigrant rhetoric in the United States and Europe – a beacon of light, as it were, from a barn by the bay.

Tagged ,

The HST bogeyman

DSC_0153

Okay, I get it. Everyone hates taxes. But there are taxes and then there are taxes – a distinction that certain business groups and assorted advocates routinely refuse to make as they stir their various pots of public outrage.

Here’s the background, courtesy of Chris Morris, who works the Legislature Bureau of the Saint John Telegraph-Journal: “According to numbers obtained from the provincial government through a right to information request, the (Canadian Taxpayers Federation) said (last) Monday promised tax credits won’t cover the additional costs for average working families.”

She continued: “The harmonized sales tax in New Brunswick will increase by two percentage points on Friday, Canada Day, to 15 per cent from 13 per cent. Kevin Lacey, Atlantic director of the taxpayers federation, a not-for-profit citizens group that lobbies for low taxes, said figures obtained from the Finance Department show that of the 331,309 households in the province, 225,361 – or 68 per cent – will pay more tax even after HST credits are factored in.”

As for Mr. Lacey, here’s what he told Ms. Morris in an interview: “If you are an average, middle-class working family, you are still going to pay big dollars under this HST increase. That is on top of income tax increases brought in three years ago. New Brunswick is going in the wrong direction with regard to taxes. Taxpayers are shelling out more and more every year.”

I understand that Mr. Lacey has a job to do, and more power to him. But a couple of things occur.

Firstly, the income-tax hike in New Brunswick came after a sustained period of income-tax reductions. So, as economists like to quip, it’s a zero-sum game. That said, taxes on income must be the most inequitable way possible to separate a middle-class family from its money.

The poor pay little or no taxes on their earnings. The rich have, at their disposal, plethora schemes (legal and otherwise) to avoid levies on their fat hauls. It’s the poor slobs in the middle (meaning, most of us) who bear the brunt of satisfying the taxman.

Secondly, virtually every economist in the world agrees that taxes like the HST, which is a consumption claw-back, is vastly more efficient and fair than an income one, as long as the former is not regressive – that is, it doesn’t hit the poor disproportionately hard, as they tend to spend most of what they earn.

As Laval University economist Stephen Gordon wrote in the Globe and Mail a few years ago, “The basic idea comes down to the role of taxes in determining the rate of return on investment. Higher returns generate higher levels of investment and – as investment accumulates – higher levels of productive capacity. That increased capacity in turn generates higher levels of output, employment and wages.”

On the other hand, he noted, income and corporate taxes reduce rates of return to the point where stuff doesn’t get done and people don’t get employed. Consumption taxes, meanwhile, levels out the playing field: You pay on what you buy. Again, though, they only work fairly if those who have little money to purchase anything qualify for timely rebates.

If the middle class does exist in New Brunswick (and the jury is still deliberating that point), Mr. Lacey and his ilk should advocate for rollbacks in taxes on income, not cuts to a regulated, humanely applied regime of consumption levies.

Even more useful might be pushing for a system that does not slip into regressive HST charges on the very people the Taxpayers Federation represents.

After all, some taxes are better than others.

Tagged ,

Yes we can

Garden15

As a callow politico early in his career, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper once lambasted the Maritimes as a place where brooding mopes go to thrive. In fact, his exact words were: “There is a dependence in the region that breeds a culture of defeatism.”

He figured that his rebuke of the birthplace of Confederation – where he, himself, could trace a family connection – would play well among members of his archly conservative western base of voters.

In the end, of course, he paid the political price for his remark. Atlantic Canadians never forgot or forgave the criticism, though it took them more than eight years to help the rest of Canada show the good fellow the door.

On the other hand, was he altogether wrong?

Reflecting on this, some years later, I wrote that we, in this corner of the country, are most animated when others are picking on us. On these occasions, we stir from our Equalization-induced torpor and proclaim with one voice, and regardless of our internecine rivalries, “You, sir, are a cad.”

I observed how we love to foam and fulminate. We write letters to newspapers, post angry ripostes online and grant our premiers the right to defend our honour on the nightly news, as if we were so many swooning debutantes. And when we’ve had our fill, we return to our chambers to do what we do surpassingly well: Wait for things to happen to us.

Of course, I noted, it would be nice if the federal government didn’t cut us off at the knees whenever we managed to achieve something productive for ourselves. The history of this country has been a litany of taking from those who “have” and giving to those who “have not”. So many westerners remain deaf to the irrefutable argument that this nation was built, in tangible and evident ways, on Maritime ingenuity and wealth.

Still, in the end, I concluded, we mustn’t continue to blame Fat City for the structural weaknesses of our regional economy. This is all on us. And it’s time we do something; something extraordinary.

Times change, and oftentimes for the better. Over the past few years, I have detected a gradual, yet palpable, shift in attitudes in many parts of the Maritimes, where an almost fierce sense of cheerfulness in the face of continuing economic adversity prevails. This isn’t quite reflected in the condition of our various governments’ finances.

But in many communities, optimism has replaced pessimism and the dreadful word, “defeatism”, is rarely, if ever, uttered. Conclaves of leaders from all walks of life routinely gather to forge their joint futures together. Moncton is famous for this – constantly reinventing itself to anticipate the challenges and opportunities it faces. Yet, Fredericton does it, too. So does Saint John. So does Halifax and Charlottetown.

Meanwhile, the entrepreneurial class has, to my mind, never been stronger, never more vibrant.

I think of Malley Industries, which, it says, “manufactures ambulances, wheelchair accessible vehicles, specialized commercial fleets and plastic products for a wide range of industrial clients.” I think of Innovatia, a knowledge development company, which, it says, “is connected by passion for developing strategic solutions, and commitment to collaboration and teamwork. It’s all with the intention of delivery best-in-class client service.”

To be sure, we, in this region, still face obstacles. And we’re still prickly when people call us names and assume the worst about us.

But the mood is changing. Though we sometimes cleave to that tired trope, “No we can’t”, these days, we’re more often inclined to agree: Yes, we can.

Tagged ,

The sleep-walking cure

Oh to be a bluenoser now that the three-minute-long spring becomes us

It is one of those nights that occasionally afflict a man over a certain age when Morpheus refuses to show his drowsy face. I cannot get to sleep. Nothing works. Not chamomile tea. Not hot lemon water. Not even my regular go-to sedative: a good, stiff belt of New Brunswick’s very own gin thuya.

I think I’ll go for a walk.

One of my favorite observations about putting one foot in front of the other comes from American comic, Steven Wright: “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have time.”

Which is another way of saying the first rule of ambulating is to avoid destinations. If you know where you’re going, you’re not walking; you’re beating a deadline.

U.S. President Barack Obama once said, “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress,” which might have been a rejoinder to 20th Century author C.S. Lewis’s point that “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”

Personally, I’m not all that interested in the progressive nature of my temperament. I’m going for a walk, and I’m going nowhere.

At 2 o’clock in the morning, my street is empty, and the air is as clear as my mind is cluttered. A mild breeze blows from the southwest, carrying on it the sweet scent of apple and cherry blossoms. I move down to the corner of Moncton’s Main West drag and Vaughan Harvey boulevard and head towards the new downtown event centre, rising lazily from the rubble.

I link my fingers through the fence and wonder what strange new structure will encompass the dinosaur bones of iron girders and cement foundation there. Will it be something the city’s citizens embrace, patronize, use? Or will it be another hockey arena? I begin to worry, so I move on. I am walking again.

I travel past the derelict storefronts just beyond the subway underpass, where restaurants and boutiques once delighted the urban core. Old signs about moving to new locations still festoon one window. I remember that time when, years ago, my wife and I entertained relatives at an early August lunch in that tiny, perfect district, and how we skipped home up Robinson Court, thinking about the little things that make life in a small city precious.

I trudge past the Capitol Theatre and stop, remembering my good friend, the late, great Marc Chouinard. As the General Manager there for many years, he was, in every important respect, “Mr. Downtown”.

I recall his acerbic wit and wisdom. Sometimes, he would turn to a patron of one of the city’s outdoor cafes and instruct: “Those pigeons up there aren’t going anywhere. I’m sure you don’t want poop in your soup. Tell the owner to clean up his act. We’ll all be happier for it.”

I laugh and head toward the river and remember the great effort to restore the mighty Petitcodiac to its former self – before the causeway of 1968. I conjure the image of California surfers riding the newly refreshed tidal bore 90 miles up from the estuary and into downtown Moncton.

As I walk home, I realize that I’ve been here longer than I’ve been anywhere – longer than the place of my birth and the place of my upbringing.

I crawl into bed, careful not to wake my wife, and as I drift into sleep, I realize that this nowhere is everywhere.

Tagged

Canada Day in Mariexit

IMG_0129

It is July 1, 2036, ten years after Maritime economic union prompted the full political amalgamation of Canada’s former east-coast provinces.

The regional nation still maintains what its political leaders insist is a strong and productive relationship with the Great White North, though tensions over energy agreements with the newly formed Republic of Newfoundland and Labrador occasionally flare.

Overall, however, the consensus in this sea-bound jurisdiction is that life is pretty good. Since the Mariexit from Confederation, the area has become a dynamic tourism destination for people who actually have money. It’s one of North America’s leading purveyors of geriatric care. Its manufacturing industries – dominated by artisanal outfits specializing in bespoke booze, recreational marijuana, all-weather outdoor clothing, and ceramics (lots and lots of ceramics) – generate almost enough tax dollars to pay off a fraction of the government’s debt every year.

Who cares that it hasn’t been able to afford its universities and colleges in years, or that its export trade in homegrown technology has all but ground to a halt, or that virtually no one under the age of 45 lives there anymore?

It cherishes its independence above all things.

Now, if it could only figure out where to locate its national capital region.

A good flight of fancy is always a useful way to address the question, “Where are they now?” In this case, whatever happened to Maritime Union?

Not too many years ago, a version of it cropped up on the convention floors of vision conferences. The assembled participants called it Atlantica, a crucial feature of which would be a cross-border partnership with New England. Writing recently in Progressmedia, Perry B. Newman, the president of an international business development and consulting firm based in Portland, Maine, reflected on those heady days.

“More than a decade has passed, and much has been done to advance the notion of a cross-border region whose economies are linked, and whose assets might take their place (in) the world” he wrote. “But it’s clear that more needs to be done, and it’s equally clear that we need our vision to evolve.”

He added: “Of course, it must be said that we’re not working (or thinking) in a vacuum. Even as we advocated for better connectivity and the reduction of barriers to trade and the movement of goods, during the intervening years the world turned upside down in ways that directly affected the vision and realization of a cross-border economic region.”

Indeed, it did. In fact, it’s still turning. Brexit is proof of that. And this raises an interesting paradox. At what point does successful economic integration among like-minded nations, states and provinces lead to their political separation from existing arrangements, such as, for the sake of argument, Canadian Confederation?

Most experts insist that this extrapolation is absurd. Still, most experts were fatally wrong about Britain’s decision to leave the European Union last week. Admittedly, that move was the reverse of migrating from economic tethers among countries to a single political entity incorporating all. (No United States of Europe is ever likely to emerge). But the principle is the same. When people are invited to think about their economic fortunes and conditions, they are prone to consider their political ones as well.

At its heart, though, the tenets of economic union in the Maritimes are sound – even if they only extend to a full examination of the often-pernicious effects of inter-provincial trade barriers.

We need not worry about a dystopian Mariexit as we forge ways to band together in our joint interest along the East Coast of Canada.

Tagged ,

Stupidity on the rise

DSC_0238

Do the humble and picturesque Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scoria and Newfoundland and Labrador finally have something bold to teach the world – like, how to get along?

It seems clear that a good portion of western society is entering something opposite to the Age of Aquarius. In a provocative piece for The Atlantic magazine this month, entitled “How American Politics Went Insane,” writer Jonathan Rauch observes, “(Donald) Trump. . .didn’t cause the chaos. The chaos caused Trump. What we are seeing is not a temporary spasm of chaos but a chaos syndrome.”

He continues: “Chaos syndrome is a chronic decline in the political system’s capacity for self-organization. It begins with the weakening of the institutions and brokers – political parties, career politicians, and congressional leaders and committees – that have historically held politicians accountable to one another and prevented everyone in the system from pursuing naked self-interest all the time. As these intermediaries’ influence fades, politicians, activists, and voters all become more individualistic and unaccountable. The system atomizes. Chaos becomes the new normal – both in campaigns and in the government itself.”

Then, of course, there’s the recent Brexit vote to leave the European Union. If nothing is done over the next two years (and, really, at this point what are the credible options?), Britain will go it alone in a continent that is becoming increasingly retrograde, isolationist and angry. Already, great swaths of so-called “leavers” are regretting their decision in last week’s general referendum.

Former editor of The Sun newspaper, Kelvin MacKenzie, was one of England’s most prominent voices urging the exit. Prior to the vote, he penned a column headlined “10 reasons why we must vote Brexit,” citing the near and happy certainty that Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne would, at last, retire.

Here’s what Mr. MacKenzie has to say for himself today: “When I put my cross against Leave, I felt a surge as if for the first time in my life my vote did count. I had power. Four days later I don’t feel quite the same. I have buyer’s remorse. A sense of be careful what you wish for. To be truthful I’m fearful of what lies ahead. Am I alone?”

To many of us in Atlantic Canada, these developments – firmly rooted in an almost hysterical fear of immigrants, ginned up by political demagogues –have been downright mystifying. After all, Great Britain – that mother of democracy – has been, for generations, a beacon of tolerance and good sense. With notable exceptions, so has the United States.

Lest we go down that same road, we, in this part of the world must be ever watchful of the inflammatory rhetoric that passes for informed opinion and reasonable commentary – the irresponsible and often hateful words that occasionally drip from the lips of the “I’m just saying” contingent. Fortunately, most of the time, we are.

We still recognize that immigration is one of the keys that unlock this region’s social and economic potential. We still understand that we are far stronger by working together than by freelancing our fortunes independently.

Mostly, though, we still respect and honour the shared and common public institutions that protect us from the heavy hands of the bloviating windbags who would, in their own, arched self-interest, raise alarms over trivialities or, in fact, nothing at all.

Does this make us better than everyone else, or just luckier? Who knows? But for now, as Canada Day approaches, it seems that we do finally have something bold to teach the world.

Tagged , , ,

Brexit’s dart to the heart

DSC_0133

Nothing unwittingly captures the folly of Britain’s decision, last week, to leave the European Union than do comments from the world’s reigning absurdist, the presumptive Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States Donald Trump,

Having only just arrived to reopen his golf course in Scotland, the billionaire heir to impossible wealth tweeted, “Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!”

In an off-the-cuff interview with reporters, he elaborated: “I think it’s a great thing that’s happened. It’s an amazing vote, very historic. People are angry all over the world. They’re angry over borders, they’re angry over people coming into the country and taking over and nobody even knows who they are. They’re angry about many, many things in the UK, the US and many other places. This will not be the last.”

The curious problem with these remarks is, of course, the fact that Scotland voted 62 per cent to remain within the European Union and is now seriously considering a new referendum to separate from Britain to do just that. So is Ireland.

So, then, who does The Donald actually think took which country back, as he says, with “no games?”

Was it Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who told the BBC last weekend that she intends to spearhead a renewed effort for her nation’s independence from Westminster?

Was it Gerry Adams of Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein, who has, in vigorous protest to the Brexit vote, floated the idea of unifying his country with Eire as a bulwark against an increasingly belligerent England?

As usual, Mr. Trump is doing his level (if unconsciously ludicrous) best to increase Canada’s immigration rates – specifically, to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, where the color of one’s skin still tends to be as white as driven snow. After all, his special brand of xenophobia and populist outrage plays beautifully in places like “Little England” and “Outer Atlantica”.

But before we lick our chops at the prospect of somehow amalgamating London’s progressive urbanites with Boston’s disaffected Democrats within our own porous borders, we’d better be clear about a few incontrovertible facts of life in the global, 21st Century world we inhabit.

The first is: People in democracies make terrible mistakes when they are inchoately angry. They lash out like drunken bums on bingers, only to awake at dawn to ask, “My God, what have I done?”

The second is: The planet fairly brims with enterprising, calculating opportunists who are more than happy to drive wedges between people of otherwise good and temperate nature. The sharks among us swim for this conflict, because by fomenting it, they profit from it.

The third is: No one is ever truly satisfied with the decisions they make or the leaders they choose. All anyone can ever hope for is the wisdom and freedom to forgive, change and reconcile. This is the prevailing power of reasonable governments in stable societies.

The Brexit vote will affect every economy in the world, either directly or indirectly, including Atlantic Canada’s.

Here, we do ourselves a favour by ensuring that our borders are as open as our doors, our business is open-handed, our attitude towards immigrants is openhearted, and our concept of democracy is open-minded.

If we manage that feat, then we will reject the purchase of our minds that the absurdists and calculating suitors to our basest instincts among us insist.

Then, perhaps, tomorrow, people will tell villains like Donald Trump, “You’re fired.”

Tagged , ,

Teach them young and well

IMG_0977

When former Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick Margaret McCain talks, people tend to listen. And why not?

She was not only the Queen’s representative in this fair province for several years, she is an internationally recognized expert in, and advocate for, early childhood education.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that whenever she swings through these parts, media outlets bend over backwards to lend her their ears.

According to a CBC report last week, Mrs. McCain says, “If the provincial government is serious about fixing its literacy problems it needs to make radical changes that could mean an expansion of public education. (She) said it’s time to adopt the Finnish model and expand public education to include four-year-olds and then three-year-olds. The Finnish model integrates early learning and care within the public system, which McCain said she feels is the best strategy. ‘If we want to reach all children, the public education system is a well-established system where there’s room for extending education downward,’ she said.”

In fact, she added, “You provide equal opportunity for all children. Public education is well-funded, well-structured, well-respected. It’s available, it’s affordable, it’s accessible and most of all there would be consistency of curriculum for all children. . .this is how you give every child an equal opportunity.”

Indeed, there’s little doubt now that around the world, the happiest results correlate with the earliest starts.

A recent Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report states that in Sweden “The system of pre-school education is outstanding: (a) in its fidelity to societal values and in its attendant commitment to and respect for children; (b) in its systemic approach while respecting programmatic integrity and diversity; and (c) in its respect for teachers, parents, and the public. In each of these categories, the word ‘respect’ appears. There was trust in children and in their abilities, trust in the adults who work with them, trust in decentralised governmental processes, and trust in the state’s commitment to respect the rights of children and to do right by them.”

In Finland, the OECD concludes, “The early childhood education workforce has several strengths, such as a high qualification level of staff with teaching responsibilities, advanced professional development opportunities and favourable working environments. Staff with teaching responsibilities are well educated and trained with high initial qualification requirements. Professional development is mandatory for all staff; and training costs are shared between individual staff members, the government and employers. Working conditions in terms of staff-child ratio are among the best of OECD countries.”

All of which confirms that early childhood education is not the expensive experiment that cynics decry. On the contrary, it is a plausible, workable application for meeting some of our hoariest, long-term social challenges.

The sooner our governments understand that this nation is not, as some political operatives like to assume, a blank canvas for partisan portraiture, the sooner we can get on with investing good money where it belongs: In the future of our kids, who will return dividends that our various adherents of the status quo can’t begin to imagine.

Naturally, as Mrs. McCain states, “There will be some resistance because everybody fears change. And there is a sector of the daycare sector — which is a for-profit. . . If there is an early childhood education sector that wants to remain private then in my vision we have to see them as we do our independent schools. They have to meet certain standards.”

Still, the future of this province’s economic fabric relies on literacy. That’s a project that must begin early in every child’s life.

Tagged , ,

Pension blue skies ahead?

DSC_0180

If the measure of a politician’s skill is how well she handles the hot potatoes of public policy, then Cathy Rogers must have acquired a good pair of oven mitts before she stepped into her new job as New Brunswick’s finance minister earlier this month.

Arguably, only a few issues are hotter in this country than pension reform. And she knows it, which is likely why she’s been at great pains to explain the reasoning behind her decision to endorse a scheme that increases premiums into the Canada Pension Plan.

The move, signed off by federal, provincial and territorial finance ministers last week, is already generating the predictable amount of sturm und drang within New Brunswick’s business community. “I’m not very happy about it,” Joel Richardson, vice-president of the New Brunswick branch of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, told the Telegraph-Journal last week, “and neither is anybody else in this province.”

He added: “No one has been consulted by either federal or provincial government. This is an absolute failure on behalf of this government and the federal government to work together with the business community to be able to develop and consult on a major, far-reaching policy that will have short and long-term economic impact on the province.”

Business’s basic beef with the CPP hike is that it boosts the payroll taxes that come off their bottom lines. That places undue pressure on their operating margins at a time, they argue, when the nation and few provinces can afford to hobble the private sector’s competitiveness.

Although, dig a little deeper, and it becomes clear that the criticism is not merely situational; few businesses like payroll taxes on principle, regardless of how well they and the broader economy happen to be performing. As Canadian Chamber of Commerce President Perrin Beatty effused last week, “We strongly support any program that will allow Canadians to save toward their retirement – as long as it is done on their own terms.” (That’s another way of saying, ‘get your hands out of my members’ pockets’).

Still, the hike, itself, is fairly minor, and, as Ms. Rogers pointed out in an interview with the T-J, it could have been much worse. “To be honest with you, when I first looked at the options on the table, I was very discouraged in the beginning,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘No, in New Brunswick, we’re not going to handle this.’ But we came a long way from some of the initial proposals. I wanted to make sure we could mitigate any negative impact on the economy, on business and on individuals.”

That suggests the New Brunswick’s new finance minister may have played a central role in delaying the CPP hike rollout till 2019 and its subsequent phase-in over seven years. What’s more, under the new framework, employer and employee contributions rise by one per cent. Said Ms. Rogers: “I never want to have this presented as an aggressive enhancement. It’s very modest.”

Modest or not, it won’t stop the complaints from pouring in. Neither will it address the fundamental, structural inequities in income and wealth distribution in Canada and much of the developed world. That statistics are as clear as they are compelling: The rich really are getting richer; the poor really are getting poorer. It’s doubtful that any enhancement to the CPP would effectively address that modern conundrum.

Still, on one of Ms. Rogers’ first times at bat since becoming this province’s finance minister, she’s proving that she can handle the fastballs and even the odd hot potato of public policy.

Tagged ,
%d bloggers like this: