Monthly Archives: June 2015

Welcome to New Torytown


It is, perhaps, a measure of just how conservative Canadians have become over the past decade that Thomas Mulcair is still considered, in many quarters, a socialist threat to all that is worthy.

In fact, there’s almost nothing leftish or wobbly in this leader of the federal New Democrats; if anything, he represents an almost “Clintonian-Blairish” shift to the centre of the political spectrum. And it seems to be working out fine for him.

Writing in iPolitics earlier this month, EKOS Polling chairman and founder, Frank Graves, noted, “Just as it looked like we were setting into a three-way tie, the NDP appears to be opening up some daylight between itself and the Conservatives ­– who are still stuck at sub-30 – and the listless Liberals, still drifting downward in a significant erosion of their support. New Democrats should be jubilant. Liberals should be very concerned. But the worst news here may be for the Conservatives.”

\The pollster added: “NDP and Liberal fortunes are inextricably connected; they tap a shared pool of promiscuous progressive voters who are now looking more favourably at the NDP for a variety of reasons – the election result in Alberta, dissatisfaction with Justin Trudeau’s qualified support for C-51, and a rising sense that the New Democrats are a plausible option to dislodge the current government.”

What’s more, Graves observes, “We do know that those outside of the diminished Conservative base are increasingly receptive to some form of government arrangement between the progressive parties.”

That’s probably because Mr. Mulcair is sounding more and more conservatively avuncular,and less and less radically agitated, these days. Consider his comments at a recent gathering of the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto.

“As our country’s financial capital – hosting 40 per cent of corporate headquarters in Canada – Toronto’s business community has its finger on the pulse of the entire Canadian economy,” he began. And, looking at the performance of our economy over the past number of months, there is reason for concern.

“The first quarter in particular has some alarming news. Gross Domestic Product took the deepest plunge in nearly six years ­– down by 0.6 per cent. Business investment – down. Exports – for the second quarter in a row – down.

Household spending – the lowest growth in nearly three years.

“And BMO’s overall revised projection for 2015 sees the slowest growth for Canada’s economy, outside of recession, in the past thirty years. But as worrisome as these first quarter trends are, they don’t tell the whole story.

They don’t give us a sense of what’s happening to Canada’s middle class – the best measure of a well-functioning and diversified economy.”

Then came what has become the NDP’s rallying cry in recent weeks: “In 2015, middle class families are working harder, but falling further and further behind. Over the last 35 years, while our GDP has grown 147 per cent, income for the typical Canadian family has actually shrunk by 7 per cent.

And household debt is up – way up ­– hitting a record 163 per cent of disposable income. The Governor of the Bank of Canada, Stephen Poloz, calls that ‘a significant risk to Canada’s financial stability’.”

Suddenly, Mr. Mulcair is sounding like a kinder, gentler version of Stephen Harper. The former’s focus on the middle class may be apocryphal (after all, who really believes that socio-economic rhetoric ever produces durable results), but it is politically cunning. He is, in effect, eating the prime minister’s lunch; Mr. Harper’s emphasis on “hard-working families” seems almost clunky by comparison.

Mr. Mulcair may be Canada’s first federal Progressive Conservative in more than a decade.

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Oh privacy, rest in peace


The assaults on our personal space, our thoughts – both grand and small – have become, in recent years, the principle battleground of democratic debate.

Do we deserve our privacy, or shall we surrender it to the onslaught of media? Do we expect full accountability from our elected leaders, or shall we give them a free pass even as their spy agencies harvest every morsel of information about us for uses not yet articulated?

We have become a “live-in-public” polity. Anyone who doubts this might cogitate for a while on the way mainstream celebrities (and their Twitter monkeys) manage their various images through social media.

Consider, for example, the strange case of Ashton Kutcher – a Hollywood actor of some fame and fortune. He reached out to his fans a couple of months ago to beg their support for his mindful campaign against the paparazzi that plague him and his loved ones.

According to a Fox News report in May, “Ashton Kutcher has taken to social media to blast news outlets for publishing paparazzi photos of his 7-month-old daughter, Wyatt. The actor publicly slammed publications on Twitter after photos emerged of a casually dressed Kutcher carrying his baby girl in his arms, with a clear view of her smiling face. The paparazzi pics were taken while Kutcher and partner Mila Kunis were visiting the seaside town of Carpinteria, Calif., with Kunis’ parents.”

Tweeted Mr. Kutcher: “Why is it so hard for publications to respect that I would like the identity of my child kept private for safety reasons?”

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because you have 16 million followers and you can’t stop talking about yourself.

The actor’s dilemma mirrors our own. In a world where professional value becomes a commodity through personal revelation (even if the cry is for privacy) reason is antiquated. And what becomes antiquated becomes suspect. Suddenly, your business is mine, and mine is yours.

Naturally, you and I have never met, never shook hands, never looked each other in our bloodshot, media-savvy eyes. We’ve never actually conducted a private conversation about what really matters to either of us. We just tweet in series of 147 characters of callow, bland absurdities.

As we do, of course, the world is cloud-banking every stupid thing we say for only one reason: Our love of the confessional pyre, the altar of unsolicited solicitude, to which we happily supplicate ourselves, turns its cranks; and, in so doing, manufactures more ways to penetrate our secret spaces.

We claim our right to privacy in public even as we squander it, undermine it, and, finally, render it meaningless by opening our big, fat mouths about the utterly inconsequential just in time for the next crop of spin-doctors, operating on both private and state allowances, to turn our choice words against ourselves.

It happens all the time. Whole networks in the mainstream media are dedicated to unveiling the “larger” truth behind a pebble of personal information “leaked” to them, lest the pillars of democracy topple in the absence of some celebrity’s full disclosure about the style and shape of his underwear.

And, of course, just like Mr. Kutcher, we lap it up, even as we despise it.

In a Daily Mail Online piece from 2011, the actor “became the first Twitter user to reach one million followers. But, it seems, Ashton Kutcher has finally fallen out of love with Twitter. The 33-year-old actor handed over the control of his account to his management team.”

Really, who could have blamed him?

But, then, what’s stopping the rest of us?

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Who you gonna call?


It was only when I noticed the albino mushrooms growing from the black seam in the ceiling above the kitchen pantry that I began to momentarily panic.

I climbed the stepladder, butter knife in hand, determined to cut them down without becoming a hapless victim in some real-life iteration of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. They slipped into my trembling paw like dollops of rancid margarine, their spores coating my knuckles.

Two-year-old granddaughter Ruby, her gaze fixed firmly on the objects of my revulsion, promptly announced through the Popsicle planted in her mouth: “Poppy, yucky; fix it!”

I would if I could, dearest, but the Internet – try as it might – does not provide an instructional video for feckless scribblers on advanced plumbing. As for the leak in the bathroom almost directly over your head. . .well, let’s just move your chair to another location, preferably across the street.

Naturally, I elocuted all of this in my “inside voice”. Outwardly, I made a frantic round of calls to old contractors and tradesmen of my acquaintance who had, over the years and on more than one occasion, saved my sorry derriere in this “vintage” property I assumed more than a decade ago.

“Is Jim home? No? He’s gone to Alberta? You don’t say. Okay, thanks. . .No. . .No message.”

“So, Frank is retired? And he closed up shop? No forwarding address. . .Right, thanks very much anyway.”

“Waddya mean Ed disappeared without a trace? You think what, again? You think aliens abducted him, and they’re now using him to build party decks on Alpha Centauri?”

As it happens, I’m not alone in my all-but-vain search for quality trades. Where once, in New Brunswick, they were as plentiful as the rain in spring, they’re now like dust in the wind. And not just here.

Two years ago, Forbes Magazine writer Joshua Wright penned this: “For the last three years, according to ManpowerGroup the hardest segment of the workforce for employers to staff with skilled talent hasn’t been registered nurses or engineers or even web developers. It’s been the skilled trades – the welders, electricians, machinists, etc. that are so prevalent in manufacturing and construction.

“In 2012, 53 per cent of skilled-trade workers in the U.S. were 45 years and older, and 18.6 per cent were between the ages of 55 and 64. (We are using the Virginia Manufacturers Association’s definition of skilled trades, which encompasses 21 particular occupations.) Contrast those numbers with the overall labor force, where 44 per cent of workers were at least 45 years old, and 15.5 percent of jobs were held by the 55-to-64 demographic.”

Conditions for tradesmen and women in Canada aren’t much better. Three years ago, Rick Spence, writing for the Financial Post, observed: “Despite rising unemployment in 2009, a Statistics Canada study that year found 24 per cent of Canadian companies weren’t able to find ‘the right talent’ to fill the jobs available.”

Fortunately, my granddaughter and I are luckier than most. Through a reputable, locally owned building supply company we found a fellow by the name of Josh – a sturdy, durable man with a penetrating wit and exhaustive knowledge of the “right” and “wrong” ways to rebuild a bathroom and, one imagines, just about everything else.

He, in turn, employs a carpenter by the name of Adam – whom I would trust to erect a cathedral composed entirely of locally sourced hemlock – and a plumber by the name of Elliot – whose knowledge of metallurgy and water density is almost mystical.

I’m no longer panicking – at least, not at at the moment.

Facing the angry voter


At this rate, the Hollywood-handsome premier of New Brunswick will need a political facelift before he again addresses his increasingly grumpy public on camera.

Canada’s paparazzo of pollsters – which evidently doesn’t take summer holidays, even as the objects of its scrutiny gently wend their way through the barbecue circuit – reports that Brian Gallant now enjoys a mere 27 per cent approval rating, down from 40 per cent only three months ago.

According to a news release from the Angus Reid Institute, posted to its website, the once-telegenic politician “ends his first session in government bruised by the implementation of his campaign promises and blemished in the eyes of his electorate. An. . .analysis of quarterly online survey results from more than six thousand Canadian adults shows Gallant, first sworn in last October, has seen his approval rating from respondents in his province plummet 13 points in the last three months.”

Only Manitoba’s Greg Selinger is more politically odious among Canadian premiers: Twenty-three per cent of his fellow citizens in that province give him a qualified thumbs-up.

As for Mr. Gallant, Angus Reid vice-president Shachi Kurl seemed almost gob-smacked, telling the Saint John Telegraph-Journal, “At some point the honeymoon always ends, but this is a dramatic drop. To dive 13 points is not something we tend to see over one quarter.”

In fact, though, if you are a resident of New Brunswick you might understand the Liberal premier’s precipitous fall from grace over such a short period. As is typical in this province, the reasons have both everything and nothing to do with the man, himself.

Had former Progressive Conservative Premier David Alward survived the most recent election, the odds are strong that he would be facing a fate similar to Mr. Gallant’s. His polling numbers stuck in the cellar, his political life would be dominated by a series of excessively long and tedious defences of his decisions.

That’s because, for some time now, voters have been nursing sore grudges not so much against the men and women who occupy elected office, but with the standard operating procedures of the political process, itself, which they fundamentally believe has perverted and corrupted every good intention. In this circumstance, no public figure has managed to hold the popular imagination for long.

Neither does party affiliation seem to matter. The public shuffles them them like so many deck chairs on a sinking cruise ship – a habit which goes a long way towards explaining why the policy differences between (if not major announcements of) the Bernard Lord Tories and the Shawn Graham Grits were vanishingly small and why you need an expert on constitutional law to explain the few ways in which the major party leaders today significantly part company.

Beyond this, though, the public has come to expect, with some justification, that most, if not all, political promises are either banal or unrealistic, or both.

Year after year, we witness fiscal posturing from MLAs from the left, the right and the swollen middle. We are told we must get our “financial house in order”, lest the robber-barons of the Wall Street’s bond markets make off with our chickens and the pots that contain them. And, yet, what actually changes? Where is the descriptive vision of a future that never seems to come, as one day dawns pretty much as every other.

Indeed, Mr. Gallant may well need more than a political facelift when he returns from a summer of pressing the flesh.

Whatever that is, one thing’s guaranteed: It won’t be popular.

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A centre will build growth


Was it only just the other day when New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant appeared less than convinced by the multiplier effect in economic planning – specifically, by the wisdom in pouring public money into a new downtown events centre for Moncton?

My, what a difference a day makes – even though that day has taken three months to properly arrive. With his government now willing to invest $21 million in the form of a forgivable loan toward the estimated $107-million construction cost, Mr. Gallant is leaving himself precious little room for political wiggle, as the momentum for the project clearly swings forward.

In April, Mr. Gallant stated a commentary carried by this newspaper, “Much has been said about the Moncton Downtown Centre. . .To create jobs and have strong social programs we must invest our money strategically. . .This principle is an important one that requires us as a government to do our due diligence when making decisions. This includes the decision on whether or not to financially support the Moncton Downtown Centre. . .It isn’t responsible to rush into a $107-million project.”

Last week, his chief cabinet lieutenant Victor Boudreau was whistling a  somewhat different, and happier, ditty. “I am here to say the City of Moncton’s application has not only been reviewed, but approved. To date, discussions on this project have been a bit of a moving target. It is our hope our commitment to invest in this project will allow the City of Moncton to leverage funding from other partners.”

From the beginning (at least since 2010, when the City commissioned its first, full economic impact study), the issue was always whether or not a new multi-purpose event centre would become a catalyst for economic and commercial growth and diversification throughout the urban area and even beyond.

Two years ago, New Brunswick’s senior economist David Campbell – who was an independent economic development consultant at the time – told Moncton City Council that a new centre will annually “attract between 317,000 and 396,000 people. . .generating between $12 and $15 million in spending.” In the process, he declared, it will “support retail, food service, accommodation and other services in the downtown,” where it “should also support residential growth.”

In fact, the urban core “generates nearly 11.5 times as much property tax revenue, compared to the rest of Moncton, on a per hectare basis.”  

Still, not everyone was encouraged by last week’s funding announcement. Kevin Lacey of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation told this newspaper the province’s poor finances clearly argue against these sorts of discretionary infrastructure builds. “The government has hiked taxes, cut teachers and hospitals are in troubl., And the government is spending money on a hockey rink today?”

It’s a nice line, sure to generate buzz in all the right constituencies. But it’s not especially accurate.

There’s very little doubt in the calculating mind that a mix-use sports and entertainment facility (if it is large enough, designed well enough and comes deliberately equipped with cultural spaces) will, as Ben Champoux, CEO of Metro Moncton’s 3+ economic development agency, persuasively points out, take “the game” to a “much higher level. . .An announcement like this gives us the tools to turn around and (show) the can-do attitude that we have. . .As a result of this project, other projects going on in Greater Moncton that are tied to this one, there is more than a quarter of a billion dollars  right now in the pipeline of projects.”

Indeed, those are economic multipliers that any smart politician must be only too happy to endorse.

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Loose lips sink drips


Some (possibly, even, most) men, regardless of their evident educational and professional achievements, simply don’t know when to shut up. Fortunately, daily journalism’s silly season – which starts right about now and endures till Labour Day – is made for such fine, upstanding company.

Consider, for example, Sir Tim Hunt, the eminent British biochemist, Nobel Laureate and Fellow of the Royal Society, on the subject of women. According to published reports, he had this to say at a science journalism conference in Korea last week: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. . .You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them they cry.”

Naturally, having taken it on the chin in the Twitterverse for his “shockingly sexist” remarks, the good doctor quickly reversed himself – sort of. On BBC 4, he declared that he was “really sorry” for his commentary. “It was,” he admitted, “a very stupid thing to do in the presence of all those journalists.”

Still, he insisted, “It is terribly important that you can criticize people’s ideas without criticizing them. If they burst into tears it means that you tend to hold back from getting at the absolute truth. Science is about nothing except getting at the truth and anything that gets in the way of that diminishes the science.”

Especially, it seems, weepy, willowy females.

But if members of the “fairer sex” don’t belong in the lab, can they find a home in the military? Indubitably, says Canada’s top soldier, General Tom Lawson. If, that is, they can negotiate around all the drooling, male Neanderthals in their midst.

Speaking to the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge last week, the Chief of Defence Staff – who retires later this year – decried the presence of sexual harassment and assault in the ranks. It is, he said, a “terrible issue” that “disturbs the great majority of everyone in uniform.”

It is also, he added, more or less inevitable: “It would be a trite answer but it’s because we are biologically wired in a certain way and there will be those who believe it is a reasonable thing to press themselves and their desires on others.”

Once again, the social media was swift to react, forcing the general to effectively revise, if not altogether redact, his observations. In an apology, he called his words an “awkward characterization. . .My reference to biological attraction being a factor in sexual misconduct was by no means intended to excuse anyone from responsibility from their actions.”

What is it about a microphone, a camera, a captive audience, and an opportunity to mouth off that makes ordinarily smart people say dumb things? Of course, situational foot-in-mouth disease is not an affliction exclusive to men, but a disturbing prevalence of tripe in the popular culture attributable to boys seems to be about girls.

There are, of course, consequences – sometimes serious – for issuing such banalities. The new debate du jour is whether Professor Hunt deserved to be forced from his positions at the Royal Society and University College London.

Arguing in a letter to The Times, celebrity biologist Sir Richard Dawkins declared, “Along with many others, I didn’t like Sir Tim Hunt’s joke, but ‘disproportionate’ would be a huge underestimate of the baying witch-hunt that it unleashed among our academic thought police: nothing less than a feeding frenzy of mob-rule self-righteousness.”

One wonders whether the good doctor got it only half-right. Sometimes, the boys in the lab also cry.

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The great ‘Lib-Dem’ divide


Political polls, timely and alluring, always, somehow, manage to say it all even as they point so clearly to our splendid isolation.

Where once the young Justin Trudeau seemed destined to reconstitute his father’s party – shoving Thomas Mulcair into a neo-Liberal corner not even Jack Layton’s ghost would haunt, and relegating the reformer Stephen Harper to a chapter of history where John Diefenbaker takes tea with Ward Cleaver – the telegenic politico is suddenly falling flat on his lovely, red face.

Naturally, the sharks are now circling the inland waterways that surround Parliament Hill, smelling political chum at its very best.

According to an EKOS Politics public opinion survey, released not long ago, “For five of our last six polls, the NDP has improved its standing with Canadian voters and the party now stands at 33.6 per cent, a 16-point improvement over its modern low just four months ago.”

Indeed, “The NDP have nearly double the support that they did this time out from the 2011 election. Support for the Conservatives and the Liberals, meanwhile, continues to languish with the two parties standing at 27 points and 23 points, respectively.

This suggests that had the brass, responsible for the fortunes of Canada’s two opposition parties, managed to pull their noses out of their respective navels four years ago they might now be looking at a “Liberal-Democrat” hegemony come October.

As things stand, they can expect another Tory win right up the middle of the Main Street they have managed to pave and split on their own dime.

Of course, none of this prevents either Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Mulcair from pretending to disagree about issues on which they obviously concur. Perversely, electoral politics in this nation encourage it.

Still, both leaders want Canada to cradle a degree of social justice it hasn’t enjoyed in more than a decade. Both want a demonstrably democratic, proportional system of representation in Ottawa. Both want to see a Senate, corrupted by its own rules, either radically reformed or abolished. Both endorse a system of long-term, early childhood education, supported and subsidized by the federal state as a means to a proper end for mums, dads, teachers and, most importantly, kids.

As the Grit and NDP policy platforms are so evidently compliant with one another – in fact, nearly identical in every important way – does their fiction of friction make any sense at all?

If recent opinion polls show one thing, they show this: Canadians are not evenly split between the right and the left; they are confused and confounded by their traditional loyalties to political parties that no longer represent their values, interests, secular beliefs, and actual circumstances.

Can we be fiscal conservatives and still recognize the importance of public investment in municipal and community infrastructure?

Can we be social progressives and still acknowledge the need to live within our economic means?

How do we balance ourselves on this thin beam that traverses between the gravity of our reality and the flight of our fondest fantasies?

Inevitably, we meet ourselves in the middle – at work, at home, in politics, and in life. If we are true to ourselves, we demand the same of those whom we send into public office.

Messrs. Trudeau and Mulcair are clearly missing the point in this election cycle. Together, they own 57 per cent of the popular vote; alone they fail.

The polls say it all: We, all of us, are stronger, smarter and kinder standing together than when we perch at the periphery of our society in splendid isolation.

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A riddle wrapped in an enigma


If you wanted to rope well-intentioned men and women of a certain age and social standing into a club that professes no rules of conduct, apart from those it designates for itself, you might start with the Freemasons, the Rosicrucians, or the clown school just up the alley.

In a pinch, though, you can always check in on the Senate of Canada, where fully 25 per cent of its sitting and retried members have been (politely) asked to return money they allegedly spent illegitimately. A few have even been (again, politely) asked to chat with the RCMP over their various chits.

So, at least, entreats Auditor-General of Canada Michael Ferguson. (Who says a good, old New Brunswicker can’t ever get his revenge on the centre of the universe, what?)

The dear man concludes the following:

“We found a lack of independent oversight in the way Senators’ expenses are governed. As a group, Senators are responsible for governing themselves and how the Senate functions. They design their own rules, choose whether to enforce those rules, and determine what, if any, information will be publicly disclosed. The Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration (Internal Economy Committee) is responsible for ensuring that the Senate’s resources are managed appropriately and that its assets are protected. However, the Committee is made up of Senators who also claim expenses as individual Senators.”

What’s more, Ferguson points out, “Under the Parliament of Canada Act, the Internal Economy Committee has exclusive authority to act on, and has full discretion over, all of the Senate’s financial and administrative matters, including those of individual Senators, and its premises, services, and staff. The Committee, among other things, reviews and authorizes budgets of the Senate Administration and Senate committees, and sets policies and guidelines on items such as Senators’ travel and research expenditures.”

Still, with all due respect to Mr. Ferguson, isn’t this about the lowest-hanging fruit an A-G can swing a stick at in this absurdly rooked democracy of ours? The Senate plays in its own sandbox; alert the media.

How about the actual House of Commons? Now there’s a riddle, wrapped in an enigma, just begging for a few arch questions.

Why, for one thing, is so much parliamentary committee work so much window dressing? How, for another thing, do omnibus bills – covering everything from marijuana laws to oil sands subsidies – sail through without even an inkling of sober, second thought?

Oh, right, that’s the constitutional obligation of the Senate of Canada, many of whose members have been castigated (and, possibly, under indictment) for following rules of conduct they were explicitly told were legal and ethical.

As long as they are kept busy defending themselves against a system that seems almost Machiavellian in its facility for misdirection, there’s no need to worry about little things like fairness and justice for all.

Yet, the business of the Senate is the conscience of the nation. This is where rending issues of First Nations, violence against women, child poverty, environmental degradation, and climate change find their best, most attentive audiences.

Auditor-General Ferguson is perfectly right to recommend that the Upper Chamber submits itself to routine, external reviews; that it revises its codes of conduct both within and without its august body.

Still, if we want to unwrap an enigma with a real answer, we must stop regarding the Senate of Canada as if it were a secret society of well-intentioned men and women of a certain age and social standing who, quite literally, haven’t a clue about the perils of membership.

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Green around the gills


He bet the nation’s country farm on the Alberta oil sands. But, my, how Stephen Harper’s expectations have tarred and feathered the petro-industry’s chickens who have lately come home to roost.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) now says that Canada’s western crude production faces a decade-long slide into something just this side of irrelevance – a condition no one saw coming down the pipeline of public relations even a year ago, when fossil fuel prices in this country first began to sink below levels thought possible, let alone reasonable.

Still, CAPP is fairly sure of itself this time:

“The Canadian crude oil industry is facing risks on multiple fronts in a market transformed by increased global crude oil supplies resulting in lower oil prices. Lower oil prices have challenged project economics and reduced capital spending intentions. These constraints have dampened the outlook for future production growth. Against this changed backdrop, highlights of this year’s outlook are”, well. . .not good. The organization expects the following calumnies:

“Total oil production continues to grow but at a slower pace than previously anticipated; total Canadian production grows from 3.7 million b/d in 2014 up to 5.3 million b/d in 2030, which is 1.1 million b/d lower than last year’s forecast; market diversity and access is still required to the U.S. Gulf Coast, the U.S. Midwest and Eastern Canada in North America.”

Meanwhile, “the timely development of infrastructure to obtain market access is a continuing concern. The in-service dates for many of the pipeline projects have already been delayed and could be even further delayed due to extended regulatory processes.”

All of which makes an Energy East Pipeline from the west, through Ontario and Quebec and, finally, into Saint John, a sudden long shot. And yet, here on the East Coast we’re still talking about it as if it were a sure thing, a done deal, from Ottawa (which cares less than nothing for Maritime fortunes) and Alberta (whose new NDP government is far more interested in further curtailing greenhouse gas emissions from the inconvenient truth of its underperforming bitumen deposits than it is in extending inter-provincial trade).

Indeed, it seems clear that the Conservative Government of Canada must now craft, in record time, a reason, other than resource extraction, to tie the country together and behind it – just as another federal election looms on the horizon. This may explain Mr. Harper’s unexpected, rhetorical withdrawal at the recent G7 Summit in Germany last week.

As Matthew Fisher of The National Post reported, “Although his children will not likely be around to see it. . . (Prime Minister) Harper committed fossil-fuel rich Canada to ending all production and use of carbon-based energy by the end of the 21st century. This cautious softening of the prime minister’s usual staunch defence of Canada’s energy sector was matched by the other G7 leaders in the closing declaration they issued at the end of their two-day summit. . .(Mr.) Harper seemed to have caught a break on Monday when a discussion on climate change that would have put Canada on the hot seat was cut to half an hour so that leaders could devote more time to global security.”

Obviously, those particular chickens have not yet come home to roost; but while we wait, it might behove our prime minister to acknowledge, finally, that climate-change politics is not merely the source of his own nausea.

It is also for a civilization that’s growing sick of all the fine-feathered friends of the earth it must endure.

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Poor little rich boys


Your typical, overpaid CEO in Canada contemplating his options

Your typical, overpaid CEO in Canada contemplating his options

They are absurdly wealthy. They are getting even more absurdly wealthy. And, because too many of them are no good at what they do, we hate them for their free rides through life.

I speak, of course, of the lordly tenth of the one per cent: The beautiful people; the ones whose marriages, when they fall apart, don’t drive them into bankruptcy; the ones whose private islands remain virginal even as their returns on their investments in oil and gas ensure that organ-replacement technology keeps them alive and kicking much longer than Methuselah could have possibly imagined, (though, to be fair, he was a supplicant of an imperfect Almighty; had he worked for Donald Trump, he night well be alive today).

Still, kids, meet the new gods, coming as cardboard cut-outs to a mini-mart they probably own near you. Even their financial backers are beginning to despise the look of them.

According to a recent piece by Janet McFarland in the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business section, “In bygone years, it might have slid by with little protest. But not in Canada’s new say-on-pay era. Barrick Gold Corp. reported in March that it raised chairman John Thornton’s pay last year by 36 per cent to $12.6-million (U.S.) and exempted him from the defined performance targets it uses for other executives’ pay, all while Barrick lost $3 billion and saw its share price shed one-third of its value in 2014.

And the denouement, thanks to Ms. McFarland’s assiduous reporting, is thusly known: “It was an incendiary combination and shareholders responded with an overwhelming ‘no’ in the company’s say-on-pay vote on executive compensation, which garnered just 27-per-cent support at Barrick’s annual meeting in May.”

Ouch, John! Tell us, how does that make you feel? Can you get by on a mere $5 million a year for effectively running the company you oversee into the fine and splendid ground the diamonds on the soles of your shoes have ruined forever? Dear John, do tell.

Of course, the obscene disconnection between company performance and executive pay is not new. Back in 2010, following the Great Nervous Breakdown That Made Mere Peasants Shudder To Think About Retirement, Harvard Magazine’s Jay Lorsch and Rakesh Khurana had this to say on the subject:

“Concerns about the compensations of chief executive officers and other top executives of American public companies have reached fever pitch since the financial crisis and the economic meltdown of 2009. Some observers blame the recent recession in part on the flawed compensation arrangements for the top management of major financial institutions. For almost 20 years, a growing chorus of voices have been criticizing the way top managers are paid. The criticisms focus particularly on CEOs, not only because they are the highest paid, but also because their compensation sets the pattern for executives beneath them. Like previous criticisms, the current complaints focus on two issues: executives are paid too much, and current incentive-pay schemes are flawed because the connection between executive pay and company performance is mixed at best – and at worst has led to a series of dysfunctional behaviors.”

No kidding, Sherlocks. Still, please refrain from deploying phrases like “dysfunctional behaviours”. It hurts my eyes.

Beyond that, it’s wrong.

These boys who wrecked the world own all the toys. They simply got out of the sandbox when the getting was good. That’s not “dysfunctional”, per se; selfish, yes; evil, indisputably.

No, the new normal in this world of work and fair pay may be absurd, but it is completely explicable and lamentably predictable.

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