Monthly Archives: November 2014

Why Quebec must hold the line on childcare programs


When, in 1997, the Quebec government introduced publicly subsidized, universally accessible childcare for just $5 a day, regardless of the socio-economic conditions of its subscribers, a great hosannah arose from the province’s hoi polloi and advantaged, alike.

And for good reason.

One of the early thought-runners of this grand experiment was University of Montreal  psychology professor Camil Bouchard who concluded, in the early 1990s, that anything governments can do to produce an atmosphere in which children feel loved, wanted and cherished can only benefit society’s clear-eyed goals for longterm economic development.

To be sure, this was, by no means an original observation. After four decades, beginning in the 1950s, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Germany were only just beginning to see, in the 1990s, durable results from their respective early childhood education programs.

But, by 2008, nine years after it launched its provincial childcare agenda, Quebec had become the envy of, and the model for, the developed world.

“Based on earlier studies, we estimate that in 2008 universal access to low-fee childcare in Quebec induced nearly 70,000 more mothers to hold jobs than if no such program had existed – an increase of 3.8 per cent in women employment. By our calculation, Quebec’s domestic income was higher by about 1.7 per cent, or $5 billion, as a result.”

That came from Montreal economist Pierre Fortin, who was commissioned by provincial bureaucrats to dispassionately conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the Quebec program.

He continued: “We ran a simulation of the impact of the childcare program on government own-source revenues and family transfers and found that the tax-transfer return the federal and Quebec governments got from the program significantly exceeded its cost.”

Or, indeed, as Clement Gignac – a senior vice-president and the chief economist at Quebec-based Industrial Alliance Insurance and Financial Services stated in the Globe and Mail earlier this year, “It may seem counterintuitive to talk about a social program as a means of wealth creation. . .but it can also raise the standard of living.”

And how.

Consider the oft-repeated observations of T-D Bank’s chief economist Craig Alexander last fall: “Raising investment in early childhood education would bring long-term benefits. Most studies show that a one-dollar investment reaps a long-term reward return of 1.5-to-3 dollars. . .It is true that raising Canada to the average level of investment in other advanced economies would cost $3- to $4-billion, but that is evidence of the magnitude of underinvestment at the moment.”

All of which makes the Government of Quebec’s recent decision to cut back (or raise fees on) its demonstrably successful, universal childcare program downright bizarre. That province’s budgeting process is, unfortunately, falling prey to bureaucratic thinkers who perceive that all line items on an expenditure sheet can support equal measures of tolerance and  intolerance. For these factotums, a spread sheet is just a spread sheet.

The truth is, or should be, patently obvious: The social and economic advantages of a universally accessible system of early childhood education are far more compelling than the outright waste, patronage and bizarrely partisan schemes of most sitting governments.

Millions go to roads that are never built. Millions more go to favoured constituencies for special “ceremonial” events that produce nothing but short-term jobs and, when strategically juxtaposed with political ambitions, votes for favoured sons and daughters of a fundamentally skewed political system.

Billions of dollars are cavalierly dedicated to industries whose bottom lines, without public injections of capital, most developing countries would envy.

And all the while, provinces like Quebec poor-mouth their circumstances; they say with straight faces and crocodile tears that they can no longer afford the few social programs that they actually do right, ones which actually generate the human capital that is, in fact, necessary to lifting themselves from the doldrums they, and only they, have engineered.

As Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard rose solemnly in the National Assembly to express his deep disappointment in the state of his province’s finances this week, his staff was taking note of the vast sums the publicly owned hydro utility generates each and every day through exports to the northeastern seaboard of the United States.

Yes, indeed, in this country, we make sure to look after our money.

We’d be richer, in the long run, if we learned how to look after our kids.

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No higher duty


That we, as Canadians, have become vassals of our own stupidity is not nearly as shameful as the ritual sacrifices we make to maintain this status before the gods of politics who guarantee to keep it that way.

Now, we learn (not for the first time) that we are more than willing to sacrifice our children on the altar of standard public policy, for a few dollars here and there, rather than risk beginning the world again with national educational programs that would, in all likelihood, re-invent our communities, our economy – indeed, our entire society – for the better.

For the second time in as many weeks, the news about the condition of Canada’s kids is out, and it’s far from encouraging.

“Since the House of Commons adopted the unanimous resolution to seek to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000, child poverty rates have increased.”

This comes from the Human Development Council, based in Saint John. Its 2014 New Brunswick Child Poverty Report Card, released this week also observed: “In 1989, when the resolution was passed, 1,066,150 children (15.8 per cent) in Canada lived in poverty. In 2012, both the number and percentage of children living in poverty had increased to 1,340,530 (19.2 per cent).”

Meanwhile, as I wrote last week, 28 per cent of kids in this province are fat; 40 per cent get practically no daily exercise at all. Seven to 13 per cent of those in middle and high school smoke cigarettes either occasionally or regularly. Nearly five per cent admit to taking methamphetamines, at least once in their tender lives.

The injury and hospitalization rate for children in New Brunswick is almost twice the national average (41.4 cases per 10,000 inhabitants, compared with of 25.8 for the country as a whole). And, as if these facts weren’t bad enough, there are the morbid metrics about ritual abuse to consider.

As the Telegraph-Journal’s Chris Morris reported last Wednesday about the seventh, annual “State of the Child Report” from the province’s Child and Youth Advocate Norman Bosse, “Two in three girls in New Brunswick say they have been bullied. The rate of children and youth who are victims of family violence in New Brunswick is much higher than the national average (365 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to the national average of 267).”

Then, there’s this appalling finding: “The rate of New Brunswickers charged with sexual offences involving children is much higher than the national average (seven per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with 4.3 per 100,000 inhabitants for Canada as a whole).”

It’s a truly chilling comfort to know that these are not just New Brunswick or Canadian phenomena; they are endemic around the world. According to some estimates, more than 600 million children on this planet live in abject poverty, subject to all the predations that civilization proscribes (I’d bet the number is, in fact, much higher).

Still, as the income gap between the working poor and the occasionally industrious rich widens everywhere, so does our empathy for those whose circumstances we can barely recognize. We steadily become a society of them against us – our team opposed to the dreaded others.

Our communities become gated, our moats around our compounds grow, our appreciation of democracy and the communal importance of our public institutions withers, and those who manage to ford our fortifications to knock on our doors, looking for a charitable contribution or, more likely, gainful employment, risk a taser shot to the head, or worse.

There is something we can do about this, of course.

We can stop building walls around ourselves by refusing to buy what our mainstream political parties are selling in return for our votes.

We can start engaging in the political process at the provincial and national levels to secure not our narrow self-interests, but our common good.

And what, for the future of our economy, our society, our very souls, is more commonly good than the welfare of our children?

After all, they are us, and in their tearful, hungry, terrified eyes, we become them.

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Would fracking turn New Brunswick into North Dakota?


For those of the anti-shale gas, “I-told-you-so” bent, a New York Times piece from last Sunday’s edition about the utter mess – both figurative and literal – North Dakota’s oil and gas regulators are making of their state provides for some delectable reading.

Some of us will peruse the weighty tome (it runs close to 5,000 words) with mock horror and secret delight as we study a jurisdiction so fascinated by the economic promise new, horizontal drilling technologies represent that it has, with few exceptions, thrown environmental caution to the wind of commerce.

As the Times article makes plain, “Since 2006, when advances in hydraulic fracturing. . .began unlocking a trove of sweet crude oil in the Bakken shale formation, North Dakota has shed its identity as an agricultural state in decline to become an oil powerhouse second only to Texas.”

But, according to the newspaper’s independent investigation, using “previously undisclosed” sources of information, “as the boom really exploded, the number of reported spills, leaks, fires and blowouts has soared with an increase in spillage that outpaces the increase in oil production,” partly because (or so the implication goes), “forgiveness remains embedded in the (North Dakota) Industrial Commission’s approach to an industry that has given (the state) the fastest-growing economy and lowest jobless rate in the country.”

When the Times says “forgiveness”, it’s not exaggerating. Its research indicates that, since 2006, the Industrial Commission has collected a little over $1 million in penalties against oil and gas companies found culpable in environmental accidents. That compared with $33 million in Texas – no state of tree-huggers, it – during the same  eight-year period.

In other words, writes the Times, North Dakota is a “small state that believes in small government. . .It took on oversight of a multi-billion-dollar industry with a slender regulatory system built on neighborly trust, verbal warning and second chances.”

Meanwhile, “over all, more than 18.4 million gallons of oils and chemicals spilled, leaked or misted into the air, soil and waters of North Dakota from 2006 through early October 2014. The spill numbers derive from estimates, and sometimes serious underestimates, reported to the state by the industry.”

This is, of course, just the kind of thing opponents of shale gas development in New Brunswick fear: The ready collusion (or, at least, the appearance of one) between those who would rape the good earth for its booty of fossil fuels and those who are empowered by law to protect the environment from such ritual violations.

After all, they insist as they point to their smudged copies of last week’s Times, if it can happen in North Dakota, it can just as easily happen here.

In fact, they’re not entirely wrong.

The slope to ecological perdition is, indeed, slippery, made all the more so by the oil and gas industry’s unquenchable thirst for growth. When a province, like New Brunswick, or a state, like North Dakota, believes it has few options to forestall economic collapse, it will, more often than not, sell out to the highest bidder with the fanciest drilling technologies and most accessible checkbooks.

Still, when a province or state has more things going for it, economically speaking, than simply its natural resources, there’s little temptation to relax regulations and oversight to buffoonish parodies of themselves.

The question is whether New Brunswick is anything like North Dakota?

In fact, there may exist some disturbing similarities between us. Over the years, we’ve both suffered from stubborn levels of underemployment, a perennial skills drain, a creeping fiscal morass, declining public revenue, and outmigration.

But our differences make a far more compelling argument that New Brunswick is better equipped than its American doppelganger to stick to its regulatory guns.

We have a history of protest against shale gas, especially hydraulic fracturing; North Dakota does not. We have a tradition of strong, involved central government; North Dakota likes to have its libertarian pie and eat it, too.

What’s more, New Brunswick already has, in place, a reasonably strong set of regulatory injunctions, starting with a moratorium (or, rather, the threat of one) on tight oil and gas drilling until the current Liberal government is satisfied about its safety.

All of which, perhaps, affords us the moral authority to tsk and cluck at our friends south of the border. They blew it.

But their bad examples should not lead us to assume that we are doomed to set our own, should we ever get around to believing in ourselves again.

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Taking off the gloves four years later


Say what you will about Shawn Graham. But the man doesn’t back down from a fight, even when he’s almost certain to lose.

The former Liberal premier of New Brunswick was back in the news last week, and in a contemplative mood, sitting down for an interview with The Daily Gleaner’s Michael Staples.

Reflecting on the signature debacle of his one term in office – the failed bid to sell NB Power to Hydro-Quebec for a cool $4 billion in 2010 – he said: “That was one of my biggest regrets as premier that we weren’t able to get that deal done for the benefit of future generations.”

Does he still think it was the right thing to attempt, even though a goodly number of his fellow citizens did at one point want to roast him on a spit?

“We would not have tried as hard as we did and spent the political capital if we didn’t think it was the right direction for the province to move and the utility to move,” he said.

Does he blame the public for failing to appreciate the obvious benefits of such a move?

“You never want to to shock the public and, unfortunately, we didn’t have the benefit of time to educate the public on the significant challenges facing the utility,” he said. “People say it may have been the best possible deal but the communications was terrible. I recognized that, but there were challenges on how we could inform the public.”

In retrospect, though, I wonder if that’s strictly accurate.

Since Mr. Graham’s time away from public life, the province has welcomed into –and booted out of – office the Progressive Conservative government of David Alward, another one-term wonder.

The Tory regime was, for all appearances, dramatically different that its predecessor Grits in the way it handled the public.

Where the Graham government was perceived to be guarded, uncommunicative and even secretive, the Alward team was deliberately consultative, inclusive and even  chatty. And yet both suffered nearly identical fates at the hands of unmoved and unconvinced electorates.

Indeed, if we were to put Messrs. Alward and Graham in a room together, with no fear of being quoted before the great unwashed, and ask each of them to be completely honest, what are the chances that these two gentlemen might actually agree?

The single, biggest problem New Brunswick faces, they might say, is not the condition of its power company (which is actually pretty good these days).

It’s not the looming cost of rebuilding (or retiring) the Mactaquac dam.

It’s not public pensions overuns, illiteracy, innumeracy, childhood obesity, crime, mental illness,drug addiction, poverty, income inequality, or permanent, structural unemployment.

It’s not the $300-500-million annual deficit, nor is it the $12-billion long-term debt.

No, the biggest problem New Brunswick faces, the former premiers might concur in a moment of fearless candor, is that the province is rapidly becoming ungovernable.

Doing the unpopular thing (like attempting to sell the power company under cover of darkness) doesn’t seem to make any greater difference to the public’s generally low opinion of politicians and their games than doing the generally appealing thing (like refusing to raise the HST by a measly percentage point) – even though both moves, under the proper circumstances, could make eminent, good sense.

Frankly, far too many of us in this province find it impossible to conceive of a day when the economic engines and commercial levers freeze for good. It;s never happened before, We’ve always managed to pull through, demanding and pretty much getting everything we’ve asked our politicians to deliver.

And on those occasions when we don’t get what we want, we through the bums on the street, a move, if repeated often enough, tends to produce a political class schooled in the twin arts of supplication and pandering.

Neither, I hasten to add, are Messrs. Graham’s and Alward’s particular failures as politicians.

Still, it would useful to our long-term prospects if we could learn how to keep our leaders around long enough that they might do the right thing in the right way for change – even if the right thing isn’t immediately or especially popular.

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The perils of East Coast pipeline politics


On the energy front, perhaps we should not have been so quick to assume that Maritime economic priorities neatly dovetail with those of Ontario and Quebec. After all, when have they ever?

Indeed, if there was a time when political leaders in New Brunswick considered  TransCanada’s eastbound pipeline project a slam-dunk, that time is over, which leaves the province’s new Liberal premier Brian Gallant with yet another post-election migraine.

According to a Globe and Mail report last Friday, “Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel sent a letter to (TransCanada) chief executive officer Russ Girling laying down seven conditions (the company) must meet to win the province’s support for the (Energy East) project. With his letter, Mr. Heurtel established conditions similar to those adopted by British Columbia Premier Christy Clark for Enbridge Inc.’s controversial Northern Gateway pipeline that would deliver oil sands bitumen to Kitimat for export to Asia, though his tone was somewhat more agreeable than Ms. Clark’s has been”.

Specifically, “Mr. Heurtel’s conditions include the need for public acceptance of the project, for proper consultations with First Nations, and for clear economic and fiscal benefits for Quebec, as well as assurances to gas customers. Mr. Heurtel also cited a National Assembly resolution demanding the government assess the impacts of ‘upstream”’GHG emissions – those produced by extracting the oil – for the pipeline that would carry 1.1 million barrels a day of western crude to market. But he was vague on whether the government will assert the right to block the pipeline.”

Ontario, too, wants environmental assurances and pledges from TransCanada that its newfound interest in shipping western bitumen through its territory en route to Saint John’s refinery will not overwhelm priorities to make supplies natural gas available to central Canadian industry.

Meanwhile, Premier Gallant is scrambling to put the new developments in the best possible light. “I will meet with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard to talk about the fact that we are certainly behind the project,” he told reporters on Friday. “For us, what’s important is to assure when we can do it in the most safe and secure way possible. It’s one of the reasons why I read about the project at length two years ago. When we put the project into motion, I was already aware that we can do this in a secure way.”

Of course we can. But that’s not really the point. These days, pipelines are symbols of industrial rapacity and environmental carelessness. As such, they are marvelous for galvanizing public opinion against any expansion of the fossil fuel industry, as Maude Barlow, no shrinking violet on the subject, demonstrated last year.    

Regarding the Energy East proposal, the national chairperson for the Council of Canadians, told her interviewer from the North Bay Nugget,  “I want to let communities know not to be pressured to make a decision or risk not getting the benefits of the pipeline. I can tell you there are no benefits. There’s no argument for this pipeline. It’s an export pipeline and we don’t need it. . .We get the risk and (oil companies) get the reward,” adding “I would like to know what are the big jobs, because this pipeline is for export. It’s about greed. They’re playing with a potential environmental catastrophe that environmentalists have been warning about. . .It’s so much more dangerous (than any other oil) and it’s crossing watersheds and many waterways around the Great Lake Region that are already being threatened. We certainly don’t need to add to that threat.”

Naturally, TrabsCanada couldn’t let that go. It responded with its own statement:

“Quebec and New Brunswick currently import more than 700,000 barrels of oil every day – or 86 per cent of their refinery needs – from countries such as Algeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. At current oil prices, this is over $75 million drained out of the Canadian economy – every single day. Energy East proposes to connect Western Canada’s resources to Eastern Canada’s needs. Greater supplies of domestic crude would improve the financial viability of eastern Canadian refineries by giving them access to less-expensive, stable domestic supplies.”

Of course, for Mr. Gallant, it could be worse. He could start talking enthusiastically about shale gas.

Let the protests commence.

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Parent, pedagogue, pastor, politician: Our kids are not all right


The statistics on children’s welfare in New Brunswick are in and they are heartbreaking.

Twenty-eight per cent of kids in this province are fat; 40 per cent get practically no daily exercise at all. Seven to 13 per cent of those in middle and high school smoke cigarettes either occasionally or regularly. Nearly five per cent admit to taking methamphetamines, at least once in their tender lives.

Meanwhile, the injury and hospitalization rate for children in New Brunswick is almost twice the national average (41.4 cases per 10,000 inhabitants, compared with of 25.8 for the country as a whole).

And, as if these facts weren’t bad enough, there are the morbid metrics about ritual abuse to consider.

As the Telegraph-Journal’s Chris Morris reported on Wednesday about the seventh, annual “State of the Child Report” from the province’s Child and Youth Advocate Norman Bosse, “Two in three girls in New Brunswick say they have been bullied. The rate of children and youth who are victims of family violence in New Brunswick is much higher than the national average (365 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to the national average of 267).”

Then, there’s this appalling finding: “The rate of New Brunswickers charged with sexual offences involving children is much higher than the national average (seven per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with 4.3 per 100,000 inhabitants for Canada as a whole).”

What, in the name of God, are we doing?

That’s the question Janelle Vandergrift, a social policy activist, asks in her recent blog post for the Huffington Post Canada, to wit:

“Twenty-five years ago this month, our (Canadian) government unanimously made a promise to end child poverty by the year 2000. A promise that has been is broken – today the number of children living in poverty in Canada is the equivalent to the population of Calgary.

In a country as wealthy as ours, one million children currently experience poverty and all that comes with it including poorer health outcomes, educational disadvantage, poor nutrition, and exclusion.”

She continues: “Most would agree that child poverty is an appalling Canadian reality. In fact, eight out of ten Canadians believe the federal government has a role to play in ending child poverty. . .If we hope to make any progress on reducing poverty in Canada, a focus on kids is critical. Not only does Canada have human rights obligations specifically to children, but ending child poverty would have positive implications for the future of our society and the future of those children. Childhood is a particularly influential time: kids who grow up living in poverty are more likely to experience health problems throughout their lives, have lower incomes and be in trouble with the law. Ending child poverty will help to break the cycle of poverty.”

And, yet, what do we have?

A federal government that seems to think that the best way to raise a kid is to give his or her parents a paltry sum each month to cover the cost of whatever the “true experts on child-rearing” deem appropriate.

Provincial governments that are so woefully underfunded they can’t begin to wrap their bureaucratic minds around the notion of an integrated, universally accessible, evidence-based, publicly funded system of early childhood education.

Health-care providers who would relish the opportunity to agitate on behalf of children, but for the muzzles their various administrators, government factotums and political operatives fix to their mouths.

Sill, Mr. Bosse sings a muted tune of hope. “Twenty-five years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, New Brunswick can and must serve as a model of respect for child rights by giving children a voice, guaranteeing equal opportunities for all children, and providing them with a safe place where they can realize their potential,” he writes. “If we get better at having a coordinated effort around key areas, we will get better at doing the other things, as well.”

Nice words.

We adults always make nice words when the evidence of our collective failure, neglect and outright malice is too painful to face.

It’s time we stop breaking our hearts, and start building our communities all over again.

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New Brunswickers: It’s time to go big and stay home


Recent research out of the University of New Brunswick suggests that time never courses backward but only and inexorably moves forward until time, itself, has nowhere else to go in the deep, dark, mournful realm of all creation.

Sort of like the New Brunswick economy, if you think about it.

Still, as they say, misery loves company.

Now look who’s entering the cosmic pity party: the Province of Ontario with its $12.5-billion annual deficit and its $300-billion debt. (Not for nothing, on Tuesday morning just after sunrise, the mercury in Toronto barely cracked 18 below).

So, then, what else is there for us on our sea-bound coast to do but welcome our fellow travellers in penury, paucity and poor fiscal management from the centre of the formally gilded universe? Indeed, let us sympathize with, not rejoice over, their plight (which, on the East Coast, would be a feat of saintly sentimentality).

Once upon a time, Ontario was the undisputed king, among Canadian provinces, of economic opportunity. It was the place, Stompin’ Tom Conners insisted, where the “Maritimers are told. . .They always get a pot full, but they never get a pot of gold.”

When I was but a mere pup growing up in the Yorkville neighbourhood of central Toronto, newspaper editorialists routinely derided the “windbreaker-and-mutton-chop” crowd (that is to say, under-employed Maritime men) who hung out down the road a piece by the railway lands, at Front and Spadina, hoping to score a few bucks worth of day labour before the shelters closed for the night.

Now, they’re at it again, except this time, 40 years later, there are no more railway lands and the ones who beg for tuppence are not Maritimers; they’re true, blue Ontarians at the corner of Yonge and King who haven’t yet managed to pull together enough large change to book their flights to Alberta, the new centre of Canada’s economic universe, where money, don’t you just know, flows as freely as oil in the streets of Fort Mac.

According to David Parkinson, the Globe and Mail’s economic reporter, writing in the Tuesday edition of that venerable publication, “In Ontario, the key takeaway (from Finance Minister, Charles Sousa’s fiscal update on Monday) was that the province’s struggle to rein in its chronic budget deficits is getting harder. (Mr. Sousa) reported that revenue for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, ending March 31, now looks to be more than $500-million short of what the province had budgeted last spring. The tepid provincial economy is growing even more slowly than the government had hoped, and that is slowing tax revenue.”

In fact, Ontario, economically speaking, has been a shadow of its former self since the 2008 recession all but eviscerated its once unassailable manufacturing base. Once, this sector accounted for 28 per cent of the province’s GDP growth; today it’s responsible for a paltry 11 per cent of annualized 1.4 per cent expansion. And that’s not likely to change in the near, even long-term future.

All of which inspires many economists to wonder whether Ontario will ever fully recover its economic mojo. Already, it has become a “have-not” equalization province, claiming $3 billion a year in domestic aid from Ottawa.

Sound familiar?

Here, in beautiful New Brunswick, we endure rolling, yearly deficits of between $300- and $500-million on a structural debt of $12 billion. Demographically (Ontario’s population is 15 million; ours is 750,000 on a good day) that actually puts us deeper in the fiscal soup than our cousins in Upper Canada.

Where Ontario’s manufactures have taken near-mortal blows, New Brunswick’s resource industries have suffered the death of a thousand cuts. In both places, exports – the lifeblood of the national economy – have been moribund for years.

None of this is fatal, of course. Imagination, innovation and hard work can, and does, reverse pernicious outcomes in the lives of people, communities, provinces, and even nations.

But as long as we insist on being bystanders to our fate – as long as we elect governments that propagandize the virtues of abandoning our homes to become vassals of other, more economically robust jurisdictions – we are forever doomed.

In this, at any rate, time does not progress or regress.

It simply stands still.

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Canada’s climate chickens now come home to roost


For months, even years, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has insisted that he is as environmentally friendly as the next guy, and so is his government.

In fact, with the leader of Canada’s largest trading partner, he has played a high-stakes game of truth or dare. Just as soon as U.S. President Barack Obama announces a convincing program to dramatically reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions, he has said, so will he.

Now that the former has done just, to the surprise of the developed and developing world, alike, it remains to the latter to answer the only question that matters on an inexorably warming planet: Now what, Captain Canada?

Indeed, the policy change south of the border, announced last week, is not merely surprising; it’s stunning. The new U.S.-China joint agreement would see the Yanks cut GHG output 26 per cent from 2005 quantities by 2025. The previous commitment had been a reduction of 17 per cent by 2020, a target the Americans are, in any case, quite likely to hit.

The Chinese, meanwhile, have thrown themselves into a multi-billon-dollar build-out of renewable energy technologies and production facilities (including, it should be noted, nuclear) – an initiative that should help them fulfill their new pledge to cap the production of GHGs to levels comparable with the United States by 2030.

Why this accord, and why now?

As different as are their respective political conventions, economic institutions and societies, the U.S. and China still share one embarrassing habit in the arena of energy production: their relatively heavy use of coal, a fossil fuel that makes oil and particularly natural gas seem, by comparison, pristine.

According to the Centre for Energy and Climate Solutions, “In the United States, coal is the third-largest primary energy source, accounting for 18 per cent of all energy consumed in 2012 with the electric power sector accounting for 91 per cent of U.S. coal consumption.

“With the highest carbon content of all the fossil fuels, carbon dioxide emissions from coal combustion represented 24.5 per cent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. . .Globally, coal is one of the most widely distributed energy resources with recoverable reserves in nearly 70 countries. The U.S., China, and India are the top producers and consumers of coal. Worldwide, coal supplies 29.7 per cent of energy use and is responsible for 44 per cent of global CO2 emissions.”

Of course, given the most recent news from the front lines of the global-warming wars, some sort of U.S.-China compact on the issue was not entirely unexpected.

Earlier this month, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its fifth word on the subject in as many years. It makes for chilling reading.

Reported the Guardian: “The new overarching IPCC report builds on previous reports on the science, impacts and solutions for climate change. It concludes that global warming is ‘unequivocal’, that humanity’s role in causing it is ‘clear’ and that many effects will last for hundreds to thousands of years even if the planet’s rising temperature is halted.”

Added Bill McKibben, a climate crusader of the first and most popular order, in the piece: “For scientists, conservative by nature, to use ‘serious, pervasive, and irreversible’ to describe the effects of climate falls just short of announcing that climate change will produce a zombie apocalypse plus random beheadings plus Ebola. . .Thanks to the IPCC, no one will ever be able to say they weren’t warned.”

No, they won’t, Mr. Harper. So, again, what say you?

The federal government’s reduction target, even before the new agreement between its two biggest export markets, was doomed from the outset. Only the rosiest prognosticators suggested that a 17 per cent cut in GHGs from 2005 in this country had a hope in Hades of materializing by 2020. The reason is simple.

This government’s political and ideological capital is invested entirely in the success of the western tar sands. That’s where it wants derelict Canucks from the East and the Centre to work. That’s where it wants to find its tax revenues and corporate royalties.

It cares very little about anything else that might have been considered, at some point in the elegiac past, authentically Canadian.

The Tories’ current conundrum is that the world, through the U.S. and China, is beginning to turn a corner (late, perhaps) that might well leave their atavistic thinking behind, along with their government.

They just might be thinking about using the fuel in the ground to build the infrastructure necessary to, one day, abandon it forever, except as seed for renewable manufactures.

Then what, Captain Canada?

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An immigrant’s guide to the Great White North


Dear newcomer, from a warm part of the world, rest assured that Canada is a safe and happy place. Our national statistics agency reliably assures us that we boast among the lowest crime rates in the G20, the highest “happiness” index in the developed world, and the greatest per capita consumption of mindless TV shows and comfort food in the modern era.

Now, about our annual deep freeze.

No doubt you caught a piece the other day in this country’s self-anointed national organ of news and popular opinion. The headline, if I’m not mistaken, was: “Teaching Immigrants to endure – even embrace – Canadian winters.”

The front-page Globe and Mail article by Ingrid Peritz went a little something like this: “Pauline Perrotte stood before her class and asked her pupils, all newcomers to Canada, what kinds of rumours they’d heard about Canadian winters.”

It should be said, of course, the Ms. Perrotte is an expat from the south of France who alighted on these frigid shores barely a year ago to teach immigrants how to cope with the Great White North’s signature season. “People hear about blizzards and ice storms, and they start worrying about their families and children,” she declared. “We try to reassure them, tell them that winter is a magnificent season and that adjusting to it is part of their integration.”

None of which stopped a woman from Iran, in her class, from fretting: “You need to wear eye glasses, because your eyes can freeze.”

Another emoted: “It’s as cold as a refrigerator.”

No, objected a fellow pupil from Mauritius, “It’s colder.”

As a seventh-generation Canadian who knows all about the weather of this northern-most reach of the “New World”, I’ll take each of these concerns in reverse order.

Mr. Mauritius, Canadian winters are certainly not colder than a refrigerator. They are colder than the vacuum of space that surrounds the robotic probe somebody just landed on a comet orbiting the sun the other day. And, my friend, darker. . .much darker.

Ms. Perrotte, winter here is not “a magnificent season.”

Indeed, despite what you’ve heard (or been propagandized to instruct), eight or nine months of the year, in which frozen rain, snow, sleet, ice pellets, and drenching slop fall for hours, days and, sometimes, weeks on end, cannot reasonably compare with. . .well, Cuba.

I like Cuba. In February, Cuba is a friend of mine. I imagine I’ll go there one day when my neighbour’s snow blower doesn’t blow a pin, or my back doesn’t prevent me from boarding a plane that’ll get delayed or cancelled thanks to. . .you guessed it. . .the Canadian winter.

As for the woman from Iran who thought glasses would protect her eyeballs from freezing, think again dearie. Frozen pins and cones in the thick of the white is practically a brand statement at Quebec City’s winter carnival (spectacles, notwithstanding).

Having dispelled the rumours and myths about our finest season, here’s a little more advice, anecdotal though it may be, to warm the cockles of your hearts in this black-side-of-the-moon season.

Never throw away your Halloween pumpkins. Simply repurpose them as creepy heads to top your several dozen snowmen. When spring arrives, sometime in July, pop them off, peel them down and cut them up. The soup is terrific. Trust me.

Likewise, never look a crappy mountain bike in the tires. For budget-savvy Canadians, these puppies are godsends. You can pick them up, for a song, at any police auction, ride the bejeezus out of them all winter long, save yourself a fortune in gas, and when that first breath of spring comes wafting in, abandon them in a Walmart parking lot where snow ploughs are sure to bury them under a small mountain of grey slush and ice. In due course, they will emerge, like rusty daffodils, to find their way to yet another police auction.

Hey, babies. . .in Canada, we’re all about the recycling.

The bottom line, newcomers, is that there is a way to survive the Canadian winter.

Tough out the cold and the dark, knowing that the warmth and the light is just a calendar flick or two away.

After all, the summers are our best two months of the year, especially if you’re fond of mosquitos.


And now for something completely different: Good news from New Brunswick


A reader writes, and I paraphrase: “While I agree with you about New Brunswick’s economic troubles and fiscal morass, why don’t you write something inspirational that offers some solutions? Why do you have to be such a jerk?”

I get love notes along those lines from time to time. I’m used to them, like this one from a few years back: “You disgusting, pompous prig! I hate you, I hate you, I hate you.”

Which only serves notice that you should never forget your bartender’s birthday.

Still, I am not such an unreconstructed curmudgeon that I can’t recognize good news in this province when it becomes evident.

Consider, for example, a new report out of the Atkinson Centre, a research pod at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. It says that this fine province has managed to improve its grade for the environment and services it provides to early childhood educators by a factor of two since 2011.

Specifically, it says: “In New Brunswick, the mandate for early childhood services merged under a new Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in April 2011. A new action plan, Putting Children First, details initiatives through to 2015 and builds on Be Ready for Success: A 10 year Early Childhood Strategy for New Brunswick (2008).”

At that time, “commitments included strengthening the capacity of communities to support families and young children through the integration of early childhood and family support services. In partnership with the Margaret and Wallace McCain Foundation, the Government of New Brunswick piloted Early Childhood Development Centres to inform program practice and help guide policy-makers in the building of an inclusive and accessible, family-centred child care and education system.”

Then, earlier this year, “the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development released The Linguistic and Cultural Development Policy: A Societal Project for the French Education System. This report was the result of a broad consultation to support the Acadian and Francophone community in meeting the challenges of the linguistic minority context.”

Fundamentally, though, “considerable attention is paid to the early years (birth to age 8) when the foundations for language and learning are established. The plan commits to ensuring equal access to services in French, including a single entry point in both urban and rural areas; the creation of a single file for each child, whatever the number and type of services received; and enhanced linguistic support to the professionals working in the francophone community.”

Overall, the 2014 survey gives New Brunswick a score of 8, compared with 4.5 three years ago, for its performance on the early childhood education front. That puts this least fiscally promising province in Canada, if not at the head of pack, at least in the crowd of first finishers. Or, as Atkinson Centre spokesperson Emis Akbari told the Telegraph-Journal last week, “It is not just about how much money is invested. It is about governance, funding, access, the learning environment that kids are exposed to and accountability. New Brunswick has moved ahead in quite a few areas.”

And that’s just great. I’m seriously happy about this happenstance, so don’t get me wrong when I say: Now what?

It seems to almost everyone in this business that the provinces are doing all the heavy lifting – all the weight-training the federal government decided to reject in 2006.

How long, then, can “have-not” jurisdictions, such as New Brunswick, be expected to cover the cost of providing, in its own region, what should be a national, publicly subsidized, universally accessible system of early childhood education?

Instead, this country’s parents are, just now, promised enriched monthly child benefits without the infrastructure, care, expertise and consistency that such investments would otherwise lever in a more sensibly arranged society.

The longterm social and economic advantages of a structured, comprehensive system of early childhood education, integrated into every public school system in Canada are so patently obvious, the fact that we’re not rushing to introduce one is just one of many patent absurdities that lace our evidence-hating proclivities in this erstwhile great nation.

On the other hand, I don’t want to be a jerk about this.

After all, too many federal, public officials already evince this personality trait far better than I ever could.

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