Monthly Archives: September 2015

The seasons of our discontent

Permanent winter for a Moncton events centre?

Summer came in like a lamb, and, for all intents and purposes, it settled for a long slumber from which it has yet to fully awake.

On the first day of autumn, in Moncton, the sky was azure blue, a light southwest wind blew, and the temperature was Bermuda-warm.

In the weeks and months ahead, I will remember that day because, for sanity’s sake, I must.

How else does one survive the winter that is surely to come?

There are no descriptions sufficiently accurate to capture the utter absurdity of last year’s white and woolly season – in fact “white and woolly” doesn’t even scratch the surface.

During the days just before Christmas 2014, a record seven feet of flakes fell on Buffalo, New York. In comparison, we on Canada’s East Coast had gotten off Scot-free. In fact, on December 27, the mercury didn’t dip below 16C. We could have been forgiven for believing that the rest of the winter would be just as mild. Except for the fact that The Almighty was not in a forgiving mood.

When Old Man Winter finally descended sometime in mid-January, he arrived for the duration – kicking up his feet, daily belching snow and ice, until, under some of the coldest temperatures on record, he had deposited as much as 500 centimeters (16.4 feet) on my West-end neighbourhood of the Hub City, by early April. Even the old-timers where astonished.

At some point in late June, the last of the once-incredible snow dump, adjacent to the Shopper’s Drug Mart on Vaughan-Harvey Blvd., had finally melted to the ground, leaving only the standards and flags intrepid mountaineers had planted on its peak.

Then, mercifully, came summer – one of the finest and longest on record in this corner of the Canadian Steppe.

Also, rather rudely, came Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s election call on August 6, reminding us all that October 19 is just around the corner, vaulting us all into the shoulder season that prefaces the arrival of winter, once again.

There ought to be a law, in this country, that proscribes warm-weather political campaigns – one that prohibits stern-faced candidates from invoking the certainty that our cold, dark, worried hearts are as inevitable as a February Nor’easter.

Leave that to the shovel season, when those who want to vote for “one-of-the-above” or “none-of-the-above” must work to get out of their driveways and exercise their democratic rights, come rain, sleet, ice, and snow.

As it is, signs urging voters to nullify their ballots have been showing up all over Moncton’s downtown in recent days – the lazy, hazy consequence, perhaps, of a glorious summer, interrupted by the same, old politics of division, easy partisanship, and cynical vote pandering.

Try erecting those road-sign messages (any messages) in the middle of a blizzard; see how far you get.

Still, we persevere; looking for a main chance, searching for a man or woman who will speak the truth, for once, to power, tracking the Great Dear of democracy through the September of our expectations, the snows of the impossible winters of our frozen minds, the frigid springs of our disbelief, and, finally, the summer seasons of our discontent.

As for me, I will take the last of this beatific time of the year to reflect, under the blue sky and baking temperatures, on the fleeting nature of pure joy: When the lambs and lions of the political world might finally lie down together, and contemplate building this province, this region, this country together.

After all, then, and only then, will we fully awake.

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Starting up our start-up dreams

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When tech entrepreneurs hunt for locations in which to launch their enterprises, they typically follow a checklist. It goes a little like this:

Does a community offer a “business-friendly environment” (low cost, high technology infrastructure, state-of-the-art telecommunications networks, regulatory simplicity)?

Does it provide convenient, engaging and diverse educational, cultural and recreational opportunities (after all, these folks are motivated by the lure of the near-mythical “work-life” balance)?

Most of all, perhaps, does it labour hard to become a magnet for venture capital investors?

In most significant ways, Moncton scores high on the scale.

Business-friendly environment? Check.

Extra-curricular amenities? Check.

Private venture? Well. . .we’ll get back to you on that.

According to Shane Dingman, The Globe and Mail’s technology reporter, in a piece he wrote for that newspaper earlier this year, “The Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association’s annual funding report (shows) the total venture dollars invested declined in 2014 to around $1.9-billion on 379 deals, compared with 2013’s $2-billion on 452 deals. The average dollar amount per deal, however, rose from $4.4-million in 2013 to $5-million.

“That’s still a far cry from the more than $48-billion (U.S.) in venture capital that accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP estimates was invested in U.S. companies in 2014. But observers are confident that gap will shrink.

The Globe compiled 21 examples of the largest venture funding announcements in Canadian technology over the last 18 months.”

Among other things, he reports, “The list reveals a growing number of big-dollar deals among medium-sized startups – a change for a sector that has historically focused on mostly seed, or early-stage financing. Those 21 companies collected more than $784-million (the massive $100-million funding of Ottawa’s fast growing e-commerce provider Shopify in December, 2013, and the $60-million raised by Vancouver social media dashboard maker Hootsuite in September, 2013, make up a significant chunk of that total).”

Moncton, with all of its economic and social advantages, stands to gain, but only when its tech buzz truly catalyzes a critical mass of venture investors from across Canada and around the world.

Again, the advantages here are clear, according to the City’s tale of the tape: “In 2014, KMPG ranked Moncton as the lowest cost location for business in Canada; Moncton is known as the hub of the Maritimes with more than 1.3 million people living within a 2.5-hour drive; with a 9.7 per cent population growth between 2006 and 2011, Moncton is the fastest growing Canadian urban centre East of Saskatoon and the fifth-fastest growing CMA in Canada; Moncton (has) added more than 25,000 jobs to its workforce since 1990; home sales in 2011 reached the fourth-highest level in history – there were twice as many houses sold in 2011 than a decade ago; with an average price of $166,476 in 2013, Moncton remains one of the most affordable housing markets in Canada; total value of building permits issued in 2011 reached $184 million, the second highest level in history; retail sales reached $2.1 billion in 2011, 17 per cent higher than the Canadian Cities’ average.”

Now, if we could only make that message viral around the nation, the continent and the world. Certainly, we are trying. But, as Ben Champoux, CEO of 3+, the tri-city area’s economic development agency, might say: Try harder.

Silicon Valley was once an orange grove; today, it’s a corridor of multi-billion-dollar venture investments in technology start-ups that have, in the past 25 years, changed the world.

Not for nothing, this New Brunswick jurisdiction enjoys the highest per capita income on the East Coast.

Moncton, what are you waiting for?

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The crowns of our careers

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When I was 33, I was schlepping phone books, on temporary assignment in the back end of Halifax’s Fairview neighbourhood.

When Brian Gallant was 33, he was ending the first year of his inaugural term as premier of New Brunswick.

Who, I wonder, had the better deal?

In my case, all I had to do was forget the fact that the publisher of the magazine that had employed my wife and me as editors and production managers had gone bankrupt, concentrate on the then and now, and pick up enough loose change to fill the gas tank and deliver the yellow pages to gulags of apartment complexes.

In Mr. Gallant’s circumstances, all he had to do was reconcile a provincial budget that ran hundreds-of-millions of dollars into the red with the fulsome expectation of a jurisdiction, hosting 750,000 people, which would clamor, loudly, for its regular, reliable entitlements – including, perhaps, why it was no longer getting free phone books every April 1.

This is one of the reasons why, when I have been asked by various political parties over the years to run as a candidate on their tickets, I have politely, but firmly, stated: “I would rather be road kill on the Trans-Canada, stuck in the grill of a RAM ProMaster van, than live to answer questions from people like me, over and over again.”

This is, of course, why Brian Gallant is a better citizen of this province than I. So are David Alward, Shawn Graham, Bernard Lord, Camille Theriault, and even Frank McKenna, who doesn’t even live here anymore.

Each of them chose to run for, and succeed to, public office, knowing the costs to their personal lives and well being, knowing how fully ridiculed and hated they would become. Each of them, in their own ways, made peace with that inevitability.

This is not to say that those who aren’t inclined to throw their hats into the political ring should let those who are off the hook. This is, after all, our remnant of democracy.

So, to Mr. Gallant, on the anniversary of his first year as premier of New Brunswick, I say: Good start.

You’ve managed to get just about every constituency angry: Seniors, public servants, educators, health-care professionals, and ambulance drivers.

In fact, that’s what a first-term premier is supposed to do – level the playing field, shake out the winter carpets, prepare for political springtime. People don’t pay attention to the condition of their own lives until they are well peeved.

The corollary to this is, of course, to generate one, truly magnificent idea around which to rally a disaffected and disengaged public – not three, not two, just one good, durable notion that will catalyze a productive, prosperous society.

You might begin this way:

Talk more, in the next year, about giving back to New Brunswick not the trinkets and baubles the federal government sometimes allows, but the power and capital local communities require to collaborate and thrive together.

Build a true consensus across county and municipal lines for common social and economic needs in our hospitals, clinics and schools.

Ensure that every kid in this province learns to read, write and speak both English and French to an international standard. Deliberately remodel New Brunswick as a center of excellence in math, science and literature.

Finally, lay the foundation for civil discourse in this province; make facts rule the public conversation.

You, Mr. Gallant, are only 33. Your whole life is ahead of you. And, from my perspective, at age 55, you have the better deal.

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Moncton resurgo redux

When a community can afford to announce well in advance that it’s about to make a major jobs announcement, then something must be going splendidly well in the local economy.

So it was last week when news of BMM Testlabs’ employment initiative for the Moncton area somehow just slipped out. The official unveiling won’t occur until this Thursday at the Capitol Theatre. Still social media continues to buzz with anticipation.

Moncton Councillor Dawn Arnold officially made the initiative the worst kept secret in the city when she posted to Facebook last week, “There will be the largest job creation announcement that has ever been made in the Greater Moncton are. The event will be streamed ‘live’ to generate international media coverage and visibility, as this announcement will have very positive ripple effects around the world. Most of these new jobs are high-end positions that will be filled by people coming from outside the region.”

Her post garnered 31 mostly positive comments by last Friday, including this one: “Anything that brings high salaried people here will create more jobs in every other sector. Can’t wait to hear what it is.”

And this one: “High end jobs in Moncton means more spending here in the city, from clothing to gym memberships to restaurant customers, furniture to cars and houses and so on. Even if the ‘spenders’ are coming from away, it can generate spin-offs for the people who do live here.”

Naturally, some will complain about the “come-from-away” aspect of this development, but that would miss the point. Whatever jobs are created here will, de facto, employ local people – newcomers, for sure – but now local, all the same. The economic impact would be just as significant as if existing residents were landing the positions.

And, while I don’t want to spoil the surprise, my sources tell me the impact will be significant, indeed.

As Brunswick News reported last week, the Las Vegas-headquartered BMM – a private gaming certification lab – is making the third announcement of this type this week in as many years. “In August 2013, the company expanded from three to 27 employees in the province, then in February 2014 it announced it would create up to 173 full-time positions over four years at its office in Dieppe.”

Certainly, Ben Champoux, CEO of 3+, the economic development agency for the tri-city area, couldn’t be happier. “The last 25 years we’ve continued to brand greater Moncton as the hub of the Maritimes,” he told this newspaper. “The next 25 years we want to brand Greater Moncton the hub between North America and the European Union.”

These are bold words, indeed. But do they conjure a picture that is actually beyond the realm of possibility?

Consider how far this community has come over the decades – from down on its heels to the top of the municipal, economic food chain in New Brunswick. It is, and has been for a while, the fastest-growing urban area in the province. It has become a virtual centre of excellence for IT and software development. Its bilingual and highly skilled and educated workforce have been a certain draw for businesses from around the continent.

The reason is, quite frankly, that community and business leaders here understand what it takes to create the momentum to change the status quo from stagnation to growth.

To be sure, Metro Moncton is not the only city in the Maritimes that knows how to do this. But, it’s probably the only one that does this before breakfast, during lunch and after supper.

The results speak splendidly for themselves.

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Are the kids actually all right?

Whence the minions came to me, seeking my munificence as laird of Bruce manor, I said unto them: “Daughters, kneel close, for I shall not sayest unto thee again.”

And so they did.

“Uh, Dad,” one queried, “What do you want?”

The other one, loaded with homework, merely uttered, “I don’t have time for this. . .Can you write me a letter, or something?”

I bellowed, as befits the King of the Castle, Nay! “Now here’s the deal: I command you both to become print journalists. In this way, you will carry on a valiant tradition – now three generations in the making – of making no money, subjecting yourself to the whims of editorial style, and becoming a self-loathing supplicant of various chain-store media flavors. Oh, and by the way, you should go to college poste haste, rack up enormous debt to prepare yourself for the life of which I speak, and spend the rest of your productive careers looking for good gigs interviewing rappers and garden ladies on CBC. Sound like a plan?”

Oddly enough, my minions don’t remember any of this – most likely because none of this actually happened, except, perhaps in my own feverish brain on a night when I had hoped that I would be heard, considered and then, finally, dismissed as any kind of example.

Indeed, if you read a recent RBC report you discover that “parents underestimate the influence they have over their children’s education. . . While 28 per cent of students say they chose the program they’re in to please their parents, only 21 per cent of parents think they have this influence. What’s more, when it came to deciding whether or not to go to post-secondary school, 10 per cent of students made this decision to satisfy their parents, but half as many parents felt the same.”

I’m reasonably certain that when I decided to go to Dalhousie University and study geology, physics and math in the late 1970s, it was not to please my artistically inclined, journalistically bent parents who – upon hearing my freshman-year course selections – could barely contain their mirth. As it happened, within a year, I had joined them in the general, family giggle.

Yet, I do remember my father and mother encouraging me to follow my dream, whatever it was, in my young life.

I also remember telling my own kids to do the same. One is now an analyst in early childhood education. One is a practicing veterinarian.

Says Mandy Mail, director of Student Banking at RBC Royal Bank: “From choosing which school to attend to selecting a program, students are making decisions to please their parents. It’s important for parents to maintain an open line of communication to ensure students are being thoughtful with their approach and to help ease the stress and encourage a more optimistic outlook on their future.”

Well, Mandy, with all due respect, that just sounds like another speech from another throne situated on a podium to which both students and their parents come to worship, hoping to score the bucks necessary to fill the banking industry’s notion of mortgage-worthy success.

Here, young ones, have another interest-free credit card. Do your university courses dovetail with our actuarial tables predicting income success? If so, have another credit card. Have three.

Come minions; come to us. We’re not your mum or dad. Worship at the feet of the real King of the Castle, mammon.

Unlike your parents, who love you unconditionally and support just about any direction you choose, we’re simply waiting at the crossroads.

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New Brunswick’s surging orange crush

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For a while here, on the East Coast, it seemed that the federal Liberals could do no wrong. They had a majority approval rating of nearly 50 per cent in the run-up to the national election. They had a youthful, passionate and sometimes articulate leader in the body of Justin Trudeau.

But at some point between the time the writ dropped and the last summer barbecue ended, a funny thing happened on the way to the ballot box: Atlantic Canadians lost faith in the ability of a red tide to subsume the prevailing blue wave. Now, some are talking about an orange crush, Quebec-style.

This turn of events frankly amazes Don Mills of Halifax-based Corporate Research Associates, whose company conducted the latest survey of public opinion. “It’s all very close now within the margin of error for (the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP),” he told the Brunswick News organization last week. “New Brunswick is starting to look a lot like Canada. It’s going to make it a lot more competitive than, perhaps, it has been in the past.”

According to his most recent results, “Support for the federal New Democratic Party (NDP) has increased once again this quarter. . .Four in ten decided and leaning voters in Atlantic Canada support the Liberal Party of Canada (40 per cent, compared with 43 per cent of decided voters three months ago), while one-third prefer the NDP (33 per cent, compared with 29 per cent decided voters).

“Meanwhile, backing for the Conservative Party of Canada is consistent with last quarter (22 per cent, compared with 24 per cent of decided voters), while four per cent of decided and leaning Atlantic Canadians prefer the Green Party of Canada (unchanged). One-quarter (25 per cent, down from 41 per cent) of residents in the region are undecided, refuse to state a preference, or do not plan to vote.”

What’s more, Corporate Research’s results show that “Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper’s popularity currently stands at 17 per cent (compared with 19 per cent in May 2015). Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party is preferred by three in ten Atlantic Canadians (29 per, down from 36 per cent), while preference for Thomas Mulcair of the NDP increased to one-quarter (27 per cent, up from 22 per cent), and Elizabeth May of the Green Party is preferred by seven percent (up from 5 per cent).”

As for New Brunswick, specifically, the numbers shake out this way: Twenty-seven per cent of those surveyed are “completely dissatisfied” with the Harper government; another 30 per cent are “mostly dissatisfied”; only 31 per cent are either completely or mostly satisfied. That’s a ratio of nearly two to one against returning the incumbents to office.

As for leadership preferences, the results are even more compelling. On the question, “Which one of the following party leaders would you most prefer as Prime Minister of Canada?”, New Brunswickers answered thusly: Thomas Mulcair of the NDippers, 27 per cent; Mr. Trudeau of the Grits, 22 per cent; Mr. Harper of the Tories, 21 per cent.

Of course, there’s much turf yet to be covered in this horse race. Still, as Mr. Mills’ research indicates, “A majority of Atlantic Canadians continue to be dissatisfied with the current federal government. Two-thirds of residents (66 per cent, as compared to 63 per cent in May 2015) are dissatisfied in this regard”

All of which may not suggest an actual, Quebec-style orange crush for the NDP in New Brunswick next month.

But the chances of a blue day for the Conservative Party are certainly improving.

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Life’s certainty: debt and disappointment

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For more proof that the federal government lives in a black box, coated with bubble wrap and buried in the deepest antechamber of Parliament Hill, look no farther than the hosannas it raises over the Finance Department’s latest projection that the country has posted a razor-thin surplus of less than $2 billion.

Apparently, this announcement is designed to cheer a worried populace, convince the nation that the Harper plan for “careful economic stewardship” is working and that, thanks to cunning and perspicacious policy at the centre, the regions may expect bread, honey and wine in the years ahead, if only they would get with the political program.

How, one wonders, does this logic track in Alberta, where provincial finances have been decimated in recent months thanks to a federally supported campaign to link that province’s economic prospects to fossil fuel prices it does not, and never has, controlled? How, indeed, does that constitute “careful stewardship”?

How, furthermore, does the argument persuade the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba and Ontario that their astonishing fiscal woes can be ameliorated by the actions (or, more precisely, inactions) of a federal partner in Confederation that has been absent without leave for, lo, these many, nine years?

How, indeed, do we reconcile such claims with the very real possibility that New Brunswick will find itself unable to cap its impressive operating deficit (now in the hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars), let alone pay down its long term debt (now above $12 billion)?

If we lay these burdens at the feet of the federal government, we have good reason.

That so-called national “surplus” has been bought and paid for by the provinces and territories that have been forced to endure broad caps to public spending on traditional, nation-building priorities, including: health care, public education, university research and development, arts and culture, and workforce skills development and placement.

To be sure, this does not, and should not, let New Brunswickers off the hook for their own prettily arranged economic malaise.

Over the years, we have been more than willing to demand of our provincial governments everything we’ve always believed we had a right to expect: low taxes, high-quality public services, good jobs, seasonal employment combined with fully funded, no-questions-asked employment insurance.

Still, lurking beneath the surface has been a federal administration that has evinced very little interest in the conditions of the places where people actually live and work and raise families – and even less interest in building long-term economic capacity where it matters most.

In contrast, an enlightened national government would spend time getting to know the provinces with which it is obliged to partner. It would reach out to extend the enormous capital and human resources at its disposal to build a true and durable national consensus on social and economic priorities.

It would not shut down debate in Parliament, relegate important committee work to busy work, demean the democratic process by burying every important issue into an omnibus bill, and demonize every principled, conscientious objector of its priorities and plans as effective enemies of the state.

It would not refuse to extend humanitarian relief to those who are, heartbreakingly, unable, through no fault of their own, find succor and solace elsewhere in the world.

We, in Canada, do not live in a black box, coated with bubble wrap and buried under Parliament Hill.

We, in New Brunswick, and in every other province and territory of this once-noble country, live in the light with our hearts nobly bleeding, our hands generously outstretched.

So should our federal government.

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Becoming who we must be

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The general rap about New Brunswick is that it is a minor principality of Canada, possessing neither the breathtaking vistas of Cape Breton nor the urban sophistication of Halifax nor even the vital, village atmosphere of Newfoundland and Labrador.

As for comparisons with Prince Edward Island, “fuggedaboutit”, as the New Yorkers say. That province has received so much federal money since God created the East Coast, there’s just no point in competing with it for tourists or, as the case may be, aerospace money.

Still, there are a few things demonstrably good about the “picture province”.

We are, for example, good with potatoes. In the early 1950s, a couple of middle-class brothers from Florenceville invented a way to harvest, process, and sell frozen French fries. Within a couple of decades, Wallace and Harrison McCain had conquered the world for these tasty treats. Today, their descendants operate a $5-billion a year conglomerate, employing nearly 25,000 people on six continents. Not so bad for a boring stopover, a la New Brunswick, en route to somewhere more, we shall say, exotic.

We are also good at oil and gas refining, having mastered the craft through the diligent efforts of the Irving family in Saint John. In fact, that outfit in New Brunswick’s “Port City” is among the most sophisticated in the world. Recently, the company announced that it would, according to a CBC report, “spend $200-million and employ up to 3,000 workers over 60 days to upgrade existing processing units at the New Brunswick plant. The Saint John facility is Canada’s largest refinery.”

Beyond this, we’re preternaturally good at making technological infrastructure and producing entrepreneurial options to traditional resource industries. We are, and have been an early-stage incubator (mostly for Information Communications applications) for innovations that have been exported and implemented across North America and around the world.

Lamentably, what we have not always been good at is blowing up the silos that separate us from the rest of this country and, in fact, from ourselves – the ones that keep the rural north and the urban south apart; the ones that cultivate differences between the three, major urban centers of Fredericton, Saint John and Moncton; the ones that persist between First Nations and non-aboriginals; and (surprise, surprise) the ones between Anglophones and Francophones in the nation’s only, officially bilingual province.

Maybe the worst thing we do is to make a meal of systemic mistrust of our own political representatives and public institutions. Our inability to get together to solve our joint economic and social problems has been our biggest problem – the only intractable hurdle that has held us back for 100 years or more.

Still, New Brunswick has produced some of the smartest men and women in the global room. Many have actually understood their responsibilities to the their fellows; they have decided not to break the world they helped build.

One of them is Donald Savoie of the University of Moncton. Another is David Campbell, chief economist of New Brunswick.

Still others include: Louis Leger, Mario Theriault, Ben Champoux, Nancy Mathis, Aldea Landry, and Brian Murphy.

All have spent their productive lives pondering the productive question about this province, about their communities: How do we come together?

How do we blow up the silos that separate us and render us vulnerable to those who continue to retail the general rap about New Brunswick?

The questions are crucial. The answers are vital

Unless we know how to become, how will be ever know what we must be?

How do we become who we must be?

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Dancing in the light

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A word to the wise: A daily, six-kilometer fast walk and a nightly, 45-minute endurance routine on a floor mat does not prepare a 55-year-old body for a sudden dismount from a handstand – especially if said body lands on its tippy toes, like Baryshnikov on a really, really bad morning.

“CRUNCH!” was the sound heard round the living room of the Bruce family homestead in Port Shoreham, Nova Scotia, on Labour Day.

To be clear, this was not morning and I cannot confirm or deny the presence of certain liquid substances at the ready to lubricate the traditional, family dance party that, thanks to a wide variety of eclectic music on hand, tends to drown out the yipping and yapping of the ever-increasing population of coyotes in that dark, starry Guysborough county of the Maritimes.

What I can confirm is the solicitude of my wife, sister, brother-in-law, niece, nephew, and a close friend from England. We had been dancing for hours, affecting every style – from punk, to doo-wop, to head-banger, to ballroom, to the hokey-pokey – before I managed in one fell swoop (literally) to crack my foot.

“I think it looks dislocated,” my wife helpfully advised, having surveyed the 90-degree angle the big toe on my right foot had assumed.

“Maybe, you could pop it back in,” my nephew offered.

“I don’t think it’s broken,” my niece observed. “Can you move it?”

I looked at all of them as if they were terrorists intent on hobbling me forever. (After all, my dance moves put them all to shame. . .ahem).

“Look away,” I instructed. “I will handle this.”
And so I did. I grabbed the offending appendage and hauled it over to the neutral position. “CRUNCH!”, again, was the sound heard round the living room. And the dancing continued, as it most certainly should have (sans moi, bien sur).

In fact, there is no better way to appreciate the Maritime spirit than from a reclined position. The odd mood of contemplation that injury and humiliation engender is a priceless asset in the ancient effort to get back onto one’s feet.

Sitting there on the couch, watching them all dance like fools, I remembered why my wife and I and our grown children, with children of their own, fully appreciate this part of the world.

This is where the main chance hits the yellow brick road. This is where fantasy meets reality and you slide down the rabbit hole with both. This is when, the moment you think you’ve got everything nailed down in Bristol fashion, you break your foot.

It’s happened before in this region; it will happen again.

The trick is to ice that part of our Maritime souls, to exercise it, to nurture it, to believe in its recovery – in its sturdy capacity to surge ahead even, especially, when it’s injured.

In a nerdy sort of way, I recalled a passage from the 2014 Ivany Report in Nova Scotia: “While the continuing retreat of the federal government from a regional development role and fiscal weakness at the provincial level are serious constraints, the single most significant impediment to change and renewal is the lack of a shared vision and commitment to economic growth and renewal across our province.”

Yup, say it brother.

“How’s the foot?” my niece inquired. “Can you move it yet?”

I smiled and said, “Shall we dance?”

And so we did, in the light of a strong moon, a starry sky and the company of family. She pranced like a gazelle; I limped like a troll.

But, at least, we danced.

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Leveling the playing field

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Speaking truth to power doesn’t guarantee that the ears of the privileged among us will open. But they will almost always burn – and in a delightful reddish hue, no less.

Charles Murray’s job is, thank goodness, to afflict the comfortable. In fact, as New Brunswick’s Ombudsman, he gets paid to swing away at provincial Crown corporations like WorkSafeNB, which is precisely what he did last week in a closed-door meeting with a blue-chip panel of experts which is reviewing the legislation that covers the Worker’s Compensation Act.

Specifically, according to Mr. Murray’s official website, “The Ombudsman is an independent officer of the Legislative Assembly who investigates complaints from the public about New Brunswick government services. Ombudsman offices are present throughout the Canadian provinces and their services are free”.

Indeed, “The New Brunswick Ombudsma’s Office has one central mission: to ensure that all New Brunswick citizens are treated with administrative fairness by government and its agencies. The Office strives to guarantee that individuals are served in a consistent, fair and reasonable manner by provincial governmental organizations.”

As for WorkSafe, Mr. Murray is blunt. “In a rather fundamental way,” he said in his presentation, which is posted to his website, “it is our strong impression that WorkSafe’s present calibration, if I may use that word, is proving less equitable to injured workers than it should.”

He elaborates: “For the worker, the injury represents a deep, life-changing, and fundamental challenge to their ability to live the sort of life any of us would wish, both for them and their families. It touches them very deeply. The injury is a blow to financial and emotional security for them and their loved ones. It also may, at the very time of this challenge, diminish their mobility, their ability to perform their daily tasks and hence their available time. The injury itself, the medication needed to treat it, and the stress and trauma of the accident and the uncertain future may also compromise their mental health.”

On the other hand, the company that employs the injured worker “faces no such existential crisis. Its challenge in finding a replacement worker or in reallocating duties may be more accurately described in terms of degrees of inconvenience.”

How has equity and fairness drifted over the years? Mr. Murray invites his audience to “look at the imbalance another way. Any government agency which interacts regularly with powerful, articulate and monied interests in the private sector risks over time being persuaded to shift its perspective towards that interest.”

In fact, he warns, “If regular self-examination is not conducted, agencies may find themselves what is termed ‘captured.’ They become so used to seeing the world in a certain manner that they lose the ability to see the invisible ways in which they are favouring one side of the balance they are tasked with ensuring.”

Naturally, WorkSafe’s president, Gerard Adams, is buying none of what Mr. Murray is selling. In a statement, reported by the Telegraph-Journal, he expressed his surprise and disappointment with the Ombudsman’s statements.

Still, is it dramatically difficult to believe that institutional inertia does, over time, favour the status quo, which, in turn, favours the powerful and the privileged?

This is not necessarily a deliberate attempt by individuals to favour one party over another. In a sense, the problem would be easier to fix if it were engineered that way.

This is the way of the organizational world; the banality of evil is, sadly and all too often, bureaucracy.

That’s why guys like Charles Murray still have jobs afflicting the comfortable.

Thank goodness.

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