Monthly Archives: March 2015

On the shale gas merry-go-round


The on-again, off-again shale gas industry in New Brunswick is less impressive for its estimated 70-trillion cubic feet of exploitable resource than for its verifiably inexhaustible supply of deja-vu moments.

Last week, Energy Minister Donald Arseneault introduced a new “panel” of experts – comprised of New Brunswick former chief justice Guy Richard, former University of New Brunswick President John McLaughlin and former chairwoman of New Brunswick Community College Cheryl Robertson – who will spend the next few months assembling the “true facts” about the practice of hydraulic fracturing, on which the Liberal government has slapped a moratorium.

Said Mr. Arsenault at news conference in Fredericton last Tuesday: “It’s an independent commission. . .They have carte blanche. I don’t want to prejudge how they are going to do their work. Justice Richard, as well as the two commissioners. . .will have the opportunity to consult who they feel can contribute to this process.”

All of which feels eerily familiar. A couple of years ago, the pro-shale gas Progressive Conservative government established the New Brunswick Energy Institute (NBEI) to, among other things, conduct research on shale gas development, including hydraulic fracturing, as an “independent” body of experts, beholden to nothing no one but their own findings and consciences.

Its mandate was, and is, “to commission and oversee scientific research in New Brunswick, peer review relevant research from other jurisdictions, and provide access to the information for New Brunswickers in an easily understood format so it can be considered in forming opinions about appropriate courses of action in the energy sector.”

Its mission statement elaborates on this role “to fund and foster research, which will assist with the understanding of, and decision making related to, energy issues and potential development in New Brunswick (including exploration, production, transportation, transmission and utilization.”

It’s also charged with examining “energy-related research and observations in other jurisdictions, to assess their value and relevance to the New Brunswick scene; to communicate the Institute’s findings in a clear, objective and comprehensive fashion to all New Brunswickers, including both the public and decision makers; and, to provide advice to the Government, either unsolicited, or upon request.”

Now that the Grits seemed determined to reinvent the wheel with its own panel of  commissioners, what tidings bode for the Institute? In a brief phone interview last week, David Besner, chair of its Scientific Advisory Council, told me that he is, in effect, waiting and seeing. As for Justice Richard, et. al., and whether or not they will play with the NBEI in the same sandbox, Mr. Besner said, “I haven’t been told anything. . .it’s just what I read (in the newspaper).”

Which, in fact, isn’t very much – though not for lack of sound reporting. Clarity just doesn’t seem to be any government’s forte when it comes to managing natural resources in this province.

When the Tories established the NBEI in 2013, they spent weeks attempting, mostly unsuccessfully, to explain just what the organization was supposed to accomplish. Now, the Grits find themselves with the same rhetorical problem.

To insist that the new panel has “carte blanche” says precisely nothing about its real purpose. Is it to objectively weigh the progress (or lack thereof) on the five conditions the provincial government requires industry to meet before lifting the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing? Or, is it to provide their political masters with a convenient, if respectable, third-party endorsement of its current policies regarding shale gas development?

As Mr. Arseneault says, “It’s a very heated topic. At the same time it’s a very important topic. . .Some people will never change their minds.”

Again, where have we heard that before?

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How we live now: By the numbers


According to Environics Analytics, my wife and I, both at the well-seasoned age of 54, are “striving startups”, by which the self-described “premier marketing services company” in Canada means that we belong to that cohort of citizens who are “younger, urban, lower-middle-income singles and families.”

Who knew?

I mean, I imagined I was getting my hipster groove on a couple of years ago, when I dropped a few pounds and started hanging around The Gap, snooping for 80-per-cent-off sales. But a full-on “striving startup”. I’m. . .well, flattered, I guess.

It’s a better demographic designation than this, perhaps: “The Cosmopolitan Elite” enjoy an average, annual household income of $469,882. They own their homes. Period. They all boast university educations. They are “white collar” (whatever that means these days). They are overwhelmingly, ethnically waspish. And their “sample social value” is “emotional control”.

As a white guy, born in Toronto, raised both there and in the “Little Toronto” proving grounds of southend Halifax, I should, by all rights, claim membership among “The Cosmopolitan Elite”. Instead, though, as a striver at the tail-end of the mid-point in  my productive career, I’m told I’m more like this cultural animal:

“Situated in once-thriving downtown districts, the duplexes and low-rise apartments of Striving Startups no longer anchor new and expanding neighbourhoods. Yet, these urban communities attract a mix of predominantly young singles and their families and single-parent families for their affordable rentals near in-town amenities.”

Do tell. “Despite modest incomes from jobs in sales and services, these households have active social lives, with high rates of going to bars, nightclubs and movies. Many like to exercise outside, running marathons and ice skating. Describing themselves as discriminating consumers, they follow the latest trends at auto, outdoors and health and living shows. And many have aspirations to improve their lot, with a disproportionate number going to career colleges, community colleges and management training courses.”

How a “disproportionate number” entering professional skills development courses becomes the X-Factor in broader, social engagement depends entirely on what you think should be a “proportionate number”. I any case, none of these metrics apply to me or my wife of coming-on 35 years together.

Here’s how we spend our time: Working, talking to our children, talking to our grandchildren, working, shoveling snow, woking, sneezing and coughing, talking to our children, talking to our grandchildren, walking, coughing, sneezing, shoveling snow, dozing, snoozing, sleeping, and, of course, shoveling snow.

So, then, what are we to make of Environics Analytics and its clever boys and girls who get paid for getting everything about Canada’s citizens so exquisitely, simplistically wrong?

Here’s what Joe Friesen of The Globe and Mail had to say last week about the firm’s proprietary propensity for pigeon-holing 37-million people for fun and profit:

“The labels may sound glib, but together they form a segmentation system that functions like a demographic decoder ring for Canadian neighbourhoods. [Environics]  takes each of the roughly 750,000 six-digit postal codes in Canada, assesses the households by age, ethnicity, education and net worth, and then assigns the postcode (usually just two blocks of one side of a city street) one of 68 demographic profiles. These 68 profiles form a snapshot of the way the Canadian population, in aggregate, sorts itself geographically.”

As proud members of demographic profile No. 52, my wife and I will be more than happy to wear that designation until we move to the country, where working postal codes in the last federal budget went extinct.

Much like, I expect, our good, aging, hipster selves did about four grandchildren ago.

Isn’t it good, Norwegian wood?


The sweepstakes that is the oil and gas sector is dominated by short-game players – those who build and boom and inevitably bust and break the bank to survive until the next cycle comes round to titillate the itinerate wildcatters of the corporate world.

In their wake, of course, people lose their jobs, houses, bank accounts, and any semblance of stability and security. If you don’t believe me, just look what $48-a-barrel oil is currently doing to Alberta’s economy. It’s now cheaper to leave the stuff in the ground; two years ago, such a proposition would have been heretical to the financial institutions that happily floated low-interest debt to exploration and drilling companies.

In this volatile segment of the natural resources sector, things change – and they change fast. Understanding precisely how this calculus works has never been a strong suit of any provincial or territorial government in Canada. The words “protecting the downside” has rarely issued from the mouths of energy-rich premiers (not, at least, since the days of former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed, who had the good sense to siphon billions of dollars from the petro-economy into a “heritage fund” in the mid 1970s to, again, protect against the inevitable downside associated with oil and gas development).

Of course, here in New Brunswick, which sits on a potential resource of 70-trillion-cubic feet of shale gas, we don’t endure this particular problem. Oh, lucky us! For, as we hem and haw over the proper “social licenses” that our long-term debt purchases in place of responsible tight-play development, our collective complacency about the future keeps us warm, cozy and competitively irrelevant on a planet that, oftentimes, prefers to face its challenges head on.

But should we ever choose to join that planet, we would do well to rip a page from Norway’s playbook on managing a vast oil and gas industry without falling prey to the temptations of short-game profiteering, gambling and other parlor tricks of chance.

A nice piece by Susan Ormiston, posted on the CBC news site last week, explains fulsomely how that Scandinavian country of five million souls got its energy portfolio right decades ago.

“Norway today sits on top of a $1-trillion pension fund established in 1990 to invest the returns of oil and gas,” she writes. “The capital has been invested in over 9,000 companies worldwide, including over 200 in Canada. It is now the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world. By contrast, Alberta’s Heritage Savings Fund, established in 1976 by premier Peter Lougheed, sits at only $17 billion and has been raided by governments and starved of contributions for years.

Quoting Rolf Wiborg, a former oil and gas engineer with the Norwegian government, Ms. Ormiston reports, “For the last 10 years, when nothing went into the Alberta fund, and we put a lot of money aside, the profit went out of Canada.”

The result: Every citizen of that cold, northern country is a technical millionaire. Meanwhile, every citizen of this cold, northern country. . .well, isn’t.

The secret, Wiborg says, is simply that Norway “doesn’t change” its “policies with the changes in the oil price – you can’t do that. Lougheed’s government in Alberta knew that. They made policies, then they left them behind.”

Meanwhile, the Government of Canada, which counts on a certain stipend from the oil and gas sector to balance the national accounts, not only changes its polices routinely; it changes the date of its budget based on the fluctuating price of this transparently hostage-taking commodity.

It is time, perhaps, for Canada to start playing the long-game with its natural resources.

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Tuning out our insular attitudes


In the time-honored practice of central Canadian commentary about what’s ruining the economically flaccid East Coast, only one thing’s more annoying to a Maritimer than a diatribe that manages to get it completely wrong.

And that’s one that manages to get it utterly right.

Globe and Mail writer-at-large John Ibbitson’s lengthy piece, entitled “The incredible shrinking region”, in that newspaper’s Focus section last Saturday, left me with the urge both to pat him on the back and punch him in the nose.

That, in an odd way, is his point.

“Disaster looms unless Maritimers work together to reverse the slide – and, in some respects, adjust their thinking,” Mr. Ibbitson writes.

Quoting University of Prince Edward Island political scientist Peter McKenna, he observes that “the Maritimes enjoy strong social cohesion. . .‘You don’t get that sharp polarization’ between left and right seen elsewhere in Canada. But there is also a downside: ‘a particular resistance to change.’”

University of Moncton economist Donald Savoie concurs and believes he knows what’s behind Atlantic Canadian intractability. “Our region, more than any other. . .remains rural,” he tells Mr. Ibbitson. “New ideas and thinking usually come from urban areas, which are home to universities, innovation and less social and religious pressure.” Crucially, though, Mr. Savoie says, “Our region also lacks the energy, entrepreneurial spirit and the desire for a fresh start that new Canadians bring.”

Ouch, indeed!

Is there a solution? Mr. Ibbitson and the men and women he interviewed for his story like to think so.

First, stop looking to Ottawa for bandaids. Governing politicos and their bureaucratic factotums there couldn’t care less about us.

Second, make sure that the Atlantic region’s private enterprisers are actually equipped to grow their various provincial economies.

Third, acknowledge that urban, not rural, centers are where the true action occurs. (A place like Greater Moncton, for example, already seeds southeastern New Brunswick’s villages and hamlets with far more economic capacity than they can, and do, account for on their own).

Fourth, create a single, inter-provincial trade zone in the Maritimes where modern – not archaic – principles of commerce encourage productive collaboration on government procurement, labour mobility and skills and professional accreditation.

Fifth, and finally, attract and retain immigrants. Lots of them.

As perspicacious as Mr. Ibbitson’s piece is, he is not the first (nor will he be the last) to imagine that these measures are long-term solutions to Maritime malaise.

The enduring problem in this part of Canada, however, has never been understanding the dimension of our collective economic difficulty, or even crafting handy steps to resolve it. The problem has been that we’ve never really wanted to confront any challenge that extends beyond our individual front doors or back fences.

The real conundrum here is not the fiscal morass that besets our governments or the associated demographic perils of low birth rates, aging producers and accelerating outmigration. The real peril is that though we know well what to do with ourselves, we simply choose to do precisely nothing.

In fairness to us, this is not a pathology exclusive to the Maritimes. “Head-in-the-sanditis” is now rampant in Toronto, Vancouver and Alberta, where home-buyers still leverage their futures against absurdly overpriced shacks on the wholly discredited notion that the status quo in human affairs is, somehow, an immutable law of nature.

It isn’t, and we on the East Coast should know this better than anyone in the country. More’s the pity, and the shame.

What is ruining the economically flaccid East Coast? It’s not central Canadian commentators. It’s not even Stephen Harper.

It’s just us. It has always been just us.

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Runaway foot-in-mouth disease


And they all fall down, right on cue.

Nowadays, it seems, a hard-working, right-wing politician just can’t get his mojo on without, first, publicly blurting nonsense that offends a large number of Canadians and, second, immediately apologizing on social media.

I give you Exhibit A:

A couple of weeks ago, New Brunswick Tory MP, John Williamson told a friendly crowd in Ottawa, “(In) my part of the country, I deal with temporary foreign workers and the interaction with employment insurance, and it makes no sense from my point of view – I’m going to put this in terms of colour, but it’s not meant to be about race – it makes no sense to pay ‘whities‘ to stay at home while we bring in brown people to work in these jobs. . .When I have 10 to 12 per cent unemployment rates in my province, I’m not going to abide by a policy that encourages people to stay home and collect an EI cheque and bring people from overseas to fill these jobs.”

In less time than it takes to kick oneself in that part of the body one tends to use for sitting, Mr. Williamson was issuing mea culpas to anyone who would listen. “Today I used offensive and inappropriate language regarding the Temporary Foreign Workers Program,” he tweeted. “For this I apologize unreservedly.”

To Saint John Telegraph-Journal reporter Chris Morris, he went further. “I don’t think there is any explanation for the words I used, which is why I unreservedly apologized,” he said. “This is the worst mistake I’ve made as an elected member and also over my 20 years of writing and commenting on public policy. . .I am deeply disappointed in myself.”

I give you Exhibit B:

Last week, in light of a Federal Court judge’s decision to allow women to wear face-covering niqabs when they take their oath of Canadian citizenship, Ontario Tory MP Larry Miller told a radio talk-show host, “I don’t know what the heck our justice people. . .that isn’t right. Frankly, if you’re not willing to show your face in a ceremony that you’re joining the best country in the world, then frankly, if you don’t like that or don’t want to do that, stay the hell where you came from, and I think most Canadians feel the same.”

Faster than a speeding bullet slicing through the thin rhetoric of intolerance, Mr. Miller pivoted and was suddenly sorry. . .eh?    

According to a CBC item, posted online last week, “In a statement issued Tuesday morning, Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP Larry Miller said that he stands by his views that those who wish to be sworn in as citizens should uncover their face. ‘However, I apologize for and retract my comments that went beyond this,’ he said.”

The CBC report added, “According to a post on the Broadbent Institute-affiliated blog Press Progress, Miller – who was once described by National Post columnist John Ivison as ‘the voice in [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper’s ear” – made the comments during an open-line talk show on local radio station CFOS on Monday.”

Kevin Menard with Citizenship and Immigration apparently emailed the public broadcaster that “These comments do not reflect the position of the government.”

Perhaps not. But, something’s going on here, and it’s not entirely due to backbenchers flapping their gums and freelancing their views unbeknownst to the Prime Minister and his people.

This is, after all, an election year, and no party in this country understands its support structures and voter base better than the Tories, where the politically incorrect take on hot-button issues is not always the politically unwise course of action. 

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A modest proposal for New Brunswick

We could sell the snow. There's plenty of that

We could sell the snow. There’s plenty of that

In the annals of economic perdition along Canada’s benighted East Coast, Cape Breton is often cited as the exemplar of Murphy’s Law, where everything that can go wrong always does.

An Alberta colleague of mine in the Toronto newsroom of the Globe and Mail in the mid-1980s once japed that about the only government-funded development scheme that region of Nova Scotia hadn’t tried was building a monorail around the picturesque Bras d’Or Lake for rich European, American and Asian tourists.

“Because,” he shouted giddily, pointing an index finger to the sky, “there’s an idea that might actually work.”

Canada is vast enough and diverse enough that its various laughing stocks are never in short supply (much, of course, to our national discredit).

So, it seems odd that outside of a few bureaucratic enclaves at Industry Canada, New Brunswick has yet to receive the brunt of scorn and ridicule its sister parts of the Maritimes – such as Cape Breton – have endured for generations.

After all, as the lovely butt of other people’s jokes, it’s a perfect candidate. Even our very own native son, Donald Savoie, isn’t above cracking wise every now and then. . .sort of.

The Moncton-based economic development authority and university professor was in fine form last week as he chatted with the Saint John Telegraph-Journal’s John Chilibeck. Referring to the ticking time bomb that is the province’s aging population, Mr. Savoie invoked several figures of speech, including “waiting to explode” and “bite us very hard”, either or both which could involve “slow, painful economic death spiral.”

Whichever case may, ultimately, transpire, the economist’s main message is clear: We’re in for a whole lot of fear and loathing unless we get off our collective derrieres and grab the bull by the horns and go for the brass ring in our effort to prove that, if nothing else, academics aren’t the only members of provincial society who can mix a wicked metaphor.

His larger point, though, is that “we’ve being saying ‘no’ to a lot of economic development over several years. We can’t (here comes the jokey part) turn all of New Brunswick into a national park.”

Of course, we can’t. Apart from any other consideration, national parks cost big bucks and – in case some of us haven’t been paying attention – we don’t have even little ones. Oh, we have the trees, alright, but not the variety on which money grows.

Perhaps, then, we should go with our strengths – or, rather, turn our weaknesses into competitive advantages the way we turn lemons into lemonade.

Take one-part aging population, add one-part pristine environment, shake, then pour. Hey presto: we’ve got ourselves an instant, province-wide retirement community. Forget about merely visiting the old folks’ home. New Brunswick is the old folks’ home

If we’re shrewd, we can sell this brand all over the world to, you guessed it, rich Europeans, Americans and Asians.

See what we did there? In one dramatic swoop, we’ve boosted badly needed immigration. And – thanks to the money pouring into provincial coffers from fat, international retirement trusts and savings plans to pay for new sanitoriums, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, and then some – we’ve solved the fiscal crisis.

But let’s not stop there. If we start building a few monorails to replace the roads nobody will soon be driving through the countryside nobody will soon be fracking we’ll manage to keep our productivity up until, of course, we all just drop dead from natural causes.

As my Alberta chum might say, “There’s an idea that might actually work.”

Indeed, what could go wrong?

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Charity, is thy name propaganda?


The abbreviated phrase, “pot-kettle-black”, suddenly comes to mind upon learning that a charity with affiliations to high-profile Conservatives is sending mixed messages to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) about its political proclivities.

In an intrepid piece of reporting this week, Globe and Mail reporter Bill Curry revealed that, “A review of Tribute to Liberty’s official filings with the CRA reveals a clear intention to engage in political activity. When asked if it planned to engage in political activities, it answered ‘Yes’ in its 2009 application for charitable status. It said this would involve contacting MPs and senators to gain their support for (a project to build an edifice commemorating so-called victims of communism).”

Meanwhile, Curry notes that “in the five years that followed, the charity answered ‘No’ each time it was asked by the CRA in annual reporting forms whether it conducted political activity.”

Why does any of this matter? If the report holds true, the misdemeanor has to do with forked tongues and the preservation of said organs in the halls of federal influence.

We shan’t forget that since 2012, Canadian charities – especially those that are decidedly cool to Tory social policies – have come under increasing scrutiny by the tax man for their various propensities to agitate for political change in this country.

As Curry points out, “the 2012 Conservative budget set aside $8-million for CRA audits to determine whether (charities) are following rules regarding political activity. The CRA has not published a list of the 60 charities it has identified for auditing. However, some of the groups that said they were audited were critical of government policy. The CRA has rejected suggestions the selection was politically motivated.”

Still, Tribute to Liberty reportedly maintains fairly compelling ties to certain high-ranking Tories. Not only that, the organization’s website boasts fulsome quotes from national leaders of every ideological stripe.

Here’s NDP honcho, Thomas Mulcair on the subject of freedom: “Dear Friends: I am pleased to extend support to Tribute to Liberty as you realize your vision for a permanent memorial in Ottawa recognizing the victims of communism. This monument will recognize those who were silenced by tyranny and pay tribute to the incredible strength and determination of those who fought for change.”

Here’s Justin Trudeau: “We, as Canadians, must never forget the pain and suffering entire generations endured under Communist rule, and it is important that we remember the lives of its untold victims.”

Here’s Elizabeth May of the Green Party: “We can be proud, as Canadians, that we opposed totalitarian communism and have provided a land of refuge for so many of those who fled its terrors.”

And, of course, here’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “Canada has long been a beacon of hope and freedom for those escaping tyranny and oppression.”

All of which raises the question: How is any of this not political?

In fact, this may be the only instance in recent history when all political parties in this country have agreed, and all various polemics have aligned as the universe intends.

In its own defence, Tribute to Liberty claims that it has deliberately avoided archly political activities since 2009. But when the raison d’etre of an entire organization is nothing but political, how many hairs must be split before the emperor wears no wig?

In fact, I’m all for Tribute to Liberty’s mission. Memorializing those who suffered under the yoke authoritarianism is a decidedly virtuous, Canadian thing to do.

But, should we not, then, raise the injunction against vocal agitation on all politically minded charities?

If only for democracy’s sake.


She’ll be comin’ around the mountain of snow


A change of the dominant topic of conversation within the warrens occupied by downtown Moncton office workers surely signals – if nothing else does – the imminent arrival of that long-rumoured, nearly mythological, lady called “Spring”.

Bragging rights around the water cooler no longer extend to the those who can demonstrate, via selfies, the sheer volume of snow they have, with their strained and sprained muscles, removed in any given 24-hour period.

Nope; the kings and queens of the annual March madness that is winter in Moncton are now those who can answer the question, affirmatively and with definition and confidence: “So, did drinks come with your all-inclusive package to Cuba this year?”

Pick your poison: Havana or the Dominican Republic’s Santo Domingo. Of course, some here still favour the old standards. The Mayan Riviera along Mexico’s west coast is still a sweet peach of a place. So is, for the well-traveled sophisticates among us, Valparaiso in Chile.

But wherever we choose to bake on a beach, we are sending a message to the universe: Enough, already! And, at about this time of the year, the universe always heeds our entreaties. Doesn’t it?

As I say “we”, I should clarify that I have never left my winter perch for sunny, southern locales in the thick of a Maritime winter. After all, someone should man the snow fort, shouldn’t one?

Besides, being snowbound in Moncton isn’t all bad.

It could be Charlottetown.

There, my wife and I had the exquisite pleasure (and timing) of caring for two of our grandchildren in mid-February whilst our daughter and her husband scuttled off to Costa Rica for 10 days.

“Sure, honey,” I said to Jess, as we negotiated the terms of our sojourn. “No problem at all. This is the age of mobile communications. I’ll just transfer all my files on a flash drive and work from your home office there.”

Then came the snow.

Buckets of white poured from the sky. I broke my son-in-law’s shovel just clearing off the back deck. I ventured out into the blizzard to buy the last two scoops the city proffered. I broke one (again), and the other won’t be seen until the next ice-age recedes to reveal a glacial lake where my daughter’s garden once flourished.

Did I get any work done – the sort that actually pays me to, you know, hang out with snow plow drivers in Prince Edward Island? Let’s just say I arrived home to Moncton fitter than I have been since I swam the Halifax Arm in February, on a dare, when I was 22. (By way, just try that feat this year; I’m told you can skate from Jubilee Point to Prospect Bay without breaking the ice once).

And so, in the winter of 2015, the totals mount. Saint John broke its accumulation record, so did Charlottetown. Moncton is almost there (12 centimeters to go). Halifax? Forget about it. That coastal city has wrapped itself in blankets and assumed the fetal position. Municipal representatives, arguing with the provincial government, are still hemming and hawing over the issue of snow tires on cars that regularly traverse 10 per cent inclines of ice in the urban core. (It’s good to know that at least one thing doesn’t change in the city of my adolescence: utter stupidity).

As for all you periodic “sun-wingers” from the Hub City, enjoy your bragging rights, and know that when you return home, lovely, dulcet “Spring” will be just around the corner, just behind the snow bank you weren’t here to shovel.

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As the fracking world turns stomachs


To emit or not to emit; that is the question – a reference, of course, not to the the vast amount of shale gas believed to be mercifully trapped in the ground of New Brunswick, but to the hot air issuing unmercifully and daily from Fredericton.

The deceptively simple ban on hydraulic fracturing in this province has become needlessly complicated ever since Brian Gallant sashayed into the premier’s office some months ago.

At the outset of the election campaign last spring, the matter seemed clear enough. Do five things, the surging Grits demanded of the shale gas industry:

Prove that you can make it safe; demonstrate that you won’t wreck roads and sewer systems; consult with First Nations communities before you break ground; ensure that everyone else in your exploration radii agrees with your plans; and adhere to tough, new regulations on your activities. Oh, and by the way, make darn sure that the taxpayers get a nice, juicy piece of the action.

Still, it’s never been clear that development companies want, or are even prepared, to rise to these standards – partly because many measures the provincial government imposes are hopelessly vague. How, for example, does the whole “social license” piece work in a jurisdiction that does not impose the same requirements on any other natural resource industry?

Meanwhile, the Province has just extended the exploration writs granted to SWN Resources Canada (potential fracker extraordinaire) even though that company’s ground-level executives have said – in letters to the Premiers Office and in public – that it would just as soon pull up its tent pegs and move on unless, of course, Premier “Gallanteer” reverses his position on banning the very means it proposes to make its bones in this neck of the woods.

As that’s not going to happen any time soon. Too much is at stake, politically, for a new government that promised to ride herd on industrial carpet-baggers and environmental poachers to recant its most successful election rhetoric.

No, as Energy Minister Donald Arsenault phrased it, quit revealingly, for the Telegraph-Journal earlier this week, “You don’t give an extension to a company who just wants to sit on a valuable piece of land. You still have to be committed to developing that piece of land – that’s usually how the (provincial) evaluation is made.”

On the other hand, he added, “Having said that, there are currently very extraordinary circumstances. . .It’s hard to show a program to develop the land when you’re not allowed to touch it with hydraulic fracturing. You have to be realistic. We know they (SWN) are committed, they would like to continue that work; however, they are not able to because of the conditions we set forth.”

So, then, why “give an extension to a company” who is forced to “sit on a valuable piece of land” only “because of the conditions we set forth?”

Ah, yes. . .so many soap operas in this province to peruse; so little quality downtime to watch.

Now, the official Tory Opposition weighs in with this absurd missive, issued this week: “The Liberal government’s ill-conceived policies have driven a $9-billion company out of New Brunswick, sending with them jobs for New Brunswickers at home and valuable investment dollars. This Liberal government refuses to accept responsibility for this disappointment, and have resorted to concealing the facts from the people of New Brunswick – but we deserve much better.”

We do, indeed.

We deserve clarity, coherence and political collaboration. We deserve solutions to common problems and humour instead of hubris.

To productively start, let’s first cap the gassy emissions from Freddy Beach.

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Nostalgic for snail mail


It’s official. The interminable election cycle that is the American political system is in full vainglorious upswing.

We know this to be true thanks to the chitter-chatter of various right-wing gadflies and loons in Congress who are now more concerned about the content of a certain, former secretary of state’s emails than their own failures to win the heart and minds of average voters.

Of course, it helps enormously with the auguring of political fortunes to know that the target of recent conservative-minded attacks is none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton.

According to The New York Times last week, the former First Lady and State Department honcho, “exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business. . .and may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record. Mrs. Clinton did not have a government email address during her four-year tenure at the State Department. Her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved on department servers at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act.”

What’s more, Clinton has admitted to deleting approximately 30,000 of the 60,000 emails she sent and received while she was secretary of state because, she says, they concerned private matters, such as her daughter’s wedding her mother’s funeral, “condolence notes to friends, as well as yoga routines, family vacations, the other things you typically fin in inboxes.”

Simply, she told a news conference, “I had no reason to save them. . .Everything that would be in any way connected to work is now in possession in the State Department,” adding “No one wants their personal emails made public and I think most people understand that.”

Still according to the Times’ story, “Her expansive use of the private account was alarming to current and former National Archives and Records Administration officials and government watchdogs, who called it a serious breach.”

Indeed, observed one Jason Baron, a lawyer and former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration, for the piece: “It is very difficult to conceive of a scenario short of nuclear winter – where an agency would be justified in allowing its cabinet-level head officer to solely use a private email communications channel for the conduct of government business.”

Let the piling on commence.

According to Reuters, South Carolina Republican Representative Trey Gowdy is demanding that the former secretary of state testify before Congress about her decision to use a personal server, rather than a government issued one, to conduct official business.

Meanwhile, the news agency wrote, “A spokesman for Speaker John Boehner did not rule out the House seeking to compel Clinton to hand over the server. House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, also a Republican, is prepared to subpoena Clinton to answer questions about her private email accounts, The Wall Street Journal reported.”

Oddly enough, the Atlantic’s online edition reported last week that Bill Clinton says he gave email – still, a rather young technology in the mid-1990s – a wide berth, preferring the more direct human touch (How’d that go for him?)

This is, of course, politics at its most puerile, mere months before Hillary is widely anticipated to officially launch her campaign for the presidency.

But, it is a good indication of entertainment value that this contest promises. Americans love to both sanctify and desecrate their political dynasties.

Who better to taunt and torture than the long-suffering wife of an impeached president – herself, seeking to insert her name into the history books?

You can’t write this stuff.

At least, you certainly shouldn’t email it.

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