Monthly Archives: September 2015

Trials by fire

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Rare is the politician who, recognizing the error of his or her ways, genuinely seeks to make amends.

That’s not to say that elected officials are loath to apologize for their statements or behavior. In fact, a tendency toward issuing unnecessary mea culpa passes in and out of political fashion with reliable frequency.

But an authentic reversal of policy in the wake of public criticism almost never happens unless an election looms. In New Brunswick, at least, another trip to the ballot box is years away.

And so it was, not long ago, that Premier Brian Gallant and Social Development Minister Cathy Rogers abandoned plans to dun relatively wealthy senior citizens in the province to help defray the cost of nursing home care for the rest.

“We will be cancelling the policy, pressing the reset button,” the premier said at a news conference in Moncton.

Added Ms. Rogers in a statement: “While the policy was designed to make care more affordable for the majority of seniors, it is clear that the announcement . . .caused a significant amount of concern for seniors. This was not our intention nor was it consistent with our priority of helping seniors and their families.”

In fact, methinks the not-quite-invisible hand of the minister had more than a little something to do with the premier’s change of heart. Indeed, his capitulation was not without a certain archness. “Taking this policy off the table,” he said, “does not mean our challenges go away.”

Still, Ms. Rogers’ background and sensibilities suggest she is more comfortable working with seniors to achieve at least some degree of consensus than dictating the terms of their surrender to economic realities in the province.

According to her official biography, she’s “a graduate of the University of New Brunswick with a masters and a Ph.D. in Sociology.” She served “14 years as professor at Crandall University and University of New Brunswick.”

What’s more, “With a policy focus on child and youth poverty, she understands the connections with health, education, crime, and the economy. (She) spent 18 years as a federal and provincial civil servant working in social development, industry, public safety, and economic development.

“She has been a lifetime advocate for prevention, support, and early intervention, and is concerned for the quality of life and well-being of vulnerable families. Honoured for her community service work by the YWCA Moncton in 2011 with a Woman of Distinction Award for Education, Training, and Development, she also received Stephen and Ella Steeves Excellence in Service Award from Crandall University in 2012.”

Given the complexion of her personal and professional achievements, inciting revolt among the province’s elderly – the fastest-growing demographic here ­– would not be an especially flattering footnote to her resume.

In truth, though, the whole idea of raising fees for some folks – a measly haul of maybe $1.6 million to government coffers – to help pay the costs of others, based on a largely arbitrary means test of personal wealth, was ludicrously provocative and unworkable from the get-go. Its only productive result has been to arm the opposition Tories with mud to sling, as Progressive Conservative leader amply demonstrated in his reaction to last week’s policy about-face: “The premier and the minister have bungled this from the start. They should have apologized to seniors for putting them through this for the past six months. Minister Rogers needs to take responsibility and resign.”

Of course, Minister Rogers needs to do no such thing. She will be far too busy continuing to make amends among the one voter block whose members still reliably line up on Election Day.

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Bridge over troubled waters

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Local activists spent decades twisting the right arms of federal politicians getting approval, five years ago, for a full-time, functioning fish passage through the causeway that connects the communities of Riverview and Moncton across the Petitcodiac River.

Now, it’s time to twist their left ones.

Provincial Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Roger Melanson may be a tad opportunistic (this being an election season, and all) when he asks national party leaders what, if anything, they intend to do about the second phase of the river’s planned restoration – a bridge that will replace a significant chunk of the existing fixed link – but he’s not wrong.

The permanent gate-opening has produced efficacious results that not even the most optimistic of riparian ecologists could have predicted back in 2010: The river is dramatically wider around The Bend; fish species have returned in droves; and the famed tidal bore has never been higher.

As a result, tourists have once again designated the banks of Atlantic Canada’s Big Muddy a choice destination on their calendar of things to do when hanging about southeastern New Brunswick in summertime.

Long-board surfers from California now routinely make the 6,000-kilometre trek, from their sun-bleached bivouacs, to “ride the tide” from the Petitcodiac’s mouth, near Fundy Bay, to the shores of Riverside Park (a 90-minute journey, by some accounts).

One of my sons-in-law – a marine biologist with a masters degree in environmental management, and as avid a surfer as God ever made – had never heard about the river’s “tidal bore, version 2.0” until he saw a lengthy clip on You Tube a couple of years ago.

“Alec,” he told me, “You know, I just have to do that.”

I have no doubt that he will.

All of which points to the obvious truth: When a community heeds, and invests in, the integrity of its natural splendors, the local economic impact can be as substantial as twinning a highway.

According to Parks Canada’s website, nationally protected areas make “a substantial economic contribution to (the country’s) economy. Through the spending of the organization and the visitors to Parks Canada’s National Parks, National Historic Sites and National Marine Conservation Areas, a significant and widespread economic impact is felt throughout the country.

“In 2008/09 Parks Canada’s organizational spending and visitor spending totalled $3.3 billion. Of this amount, visitor spending accounted for $2.7 billion and $587 million was spent by Parks Canada on three program areas. The overall national economic impacts derived from the spending attributed to Parks Canada on the Canadian economy are: Gross Domestic Product, $2,988 million; labour Income, $1,925 million; employment, 41,720 fulltime equivalents; tax revenue, $218 million.”

By my calculation, that’s a four-to-one return on public investment, which renders Parks Canada one of the most successful “businesses” in recent Canadian history.

Why, then, can’t the same logic be applied to the Petticodiac River – surely one of the most deserving heritage sites in this country that has not actually received designation?

It would begin with a bridge over the waterway where the causeway now stands. That edifice, with federal support, would further facilitate the natural flow of the river. Eventually, silt and mud would find their way to the coastal estuary and out into the sea.

Meanwhile, our duly protected riparian banks would become magnets for the environmentally sustainable development of public spaces – especially those that would support and augment a new downtown events centre complex.

In 20 years, or less, we might just well engineer a world-beating river restoration and find, to our astonishment, that we did something right.

Indeed, no arms needed to be twisted.

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Daycare is child’s play

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For Ted Melhuish, authenticity is tantamount to, well, the genuine plate of Caribbean cuisine he was evidently relishing at a restaurant in downtown Fredericton.

It was early April 2013, and the tempests of a hard Canadian winter had abated just long enough to allow the sun to shine and the mercury to rise above 25 degrees.

He smiled like a kid in a candy store as he stuffed a bit of Jamaican jerk into his mouth. “Oh yeah,” he says. “It’s good. . .It’s very good. . .very original.”

Dr. Edward Melhuish is all about originality, reality, genuineness and authenticity. In a way, one might say, these qualities of mind have been his stocks in trade for more than 30 years. As his University of London (U.K.) biography stipulates, he “is Professor of Human Development at Birkbeck, University of London, and Visiting Professorial Fellow at the Institute of Education, University of London.”

He is also an “internationally recognized expert in the study of child development and childcare (who) has extensive experience with longitudinal studies. He was a Principal Investigator of studies of day care and family life in the 1980s, which had considerable influence on sections of the 1989 Children Act (U.K). He has also conducted research on child development, parenting and childcare in several European countries, on behalf of the European Commission.”

What’s more, “For several years Professor Melhuish has been a Principal Investigator on the Effective Provision of Pre-school Education (EPPE) in England and Effective Provision in Northern Ireland (EPPNI), which are following 4,000 children.”

Finally, “Professor Melhuish has acted as a consultant for the design of children’s organizations (e.g. UNESCO), government departments and film, television and radio companies. In addition he has frequently contributed to the media on children’s issues, including newspaper, radio and television programmes.”

In this context – that of a visiting scholar, educated in all matters related to early childhood education (ECE) – it’s worth noting just how far apart academia and actual practice has become in this province. After all, how many Professor Melhuishes has New Brunswick produced over the past three decades?

Instead, we face a risible crisis in ECE produced by broad ignorance about its benefits, suspicion fanned by federal and provincial governments, which seem to think that wedge-issue politics trumps the welfare of our children, and a calculable lack of expertise in the field.

In fact, a recent investigation by reporters of this newspaper group has found evidence of downright despicable conditions in New Brunswick’s regulated daycare operations: “In one year of visiting (these facilities) inspectors found guns, mouse droppings, lighters left out within children’s reach, and fighting on the playground with no one around to intervene.”

Worse, the report stipulates, you, dear reader, will not “find any details about these problems on the government’s online daycare inspection registry. Until now, violations in publicly licensed daycares have been kept largely secret from the public.”

Whether this secrecy was generated by fiat or general bureaucratic neglect hardly matters.

Nothing in our society should concern us more than the early childhood education of our offspring. After all, our kids will someday rule the planet, and how they govern in the future depends entirely on how we help them think and work and play today.

We have it, within our power, to create builders or destroyers, peacemakers or warmongers, physicians or psychopaths.

It is, as Professor Melhuish says, entirely up to us.

Shall we order in educational take-out tonight?

Or shall we make a good meal from a delicious pairing of ingredients in our own authentic land?

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What’s wrong with this picture?

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As a resident of this fair province, New Brunswick, it’s a hopeless comfort to know that while the rest of Canada slips quietly into recession, I may expect to keep my head above water and even thrive during the two minutes it takes me to attach the absurdity filter to the worn and threadbare spectacles I use to read the morning headlines.

So it was the other day when I came across this marvelous series of proclamations from New Brunswick’s finance minister, dutifully reported in the pages of provincial newspapers:

“Nationally, we’re in a recession and Stats Canada has confirmed it,” Roger Melanson said some days ago. “So we will continue to monitor the situation on a quarterly basis. That’s why we have quarterly updates. It’s the tool we have in terms of making the information public so New Brunswickers are fully aware of the state of our economy.”

Yet, his finance department boldly predicts an annualized growth rate in the province of between 1.5 and 1.7 per cent next year. Why? Because the economic auguries say so? Because the entrails of road kill on the Trans-Canada are aligned just so? Because the tea leaves in the lunchtime cups left on the cafeteria tops at Freddy Beach suggest better times ahead?

How bluntly irrelevant Minister Melanson’s claim is – especially when you consider that most New Brunswickers are already fully aware of the state of their economy. Indeed, as the nation dips into recession, this province has never managed to crawl out of a long, agonizingly slow one.

The essential quandary is: Do we care?

Go back into history see the same ludicrous patterns repeating today: A province whose economy is bifurcated by rural and semi-urban sensibilities; an institutional sector that will protect its turf at the expense of the students, professionals, patients, and citizens it purports to represent; a political culture whose last, good idea for meaningful change died when the New Brunswick inventor of kerosene did.

The agony that Mr. Melanson does not address when he talks of scraps of GDP improvement in this province in this year is the long, slow dissolution of self-reliance, self-improvement, and enthusiasm in this province.

Where are the monumental projects of imagination?

Who will build the next generation of entrepreneurs willing and ready to break the molds crafted by their forbears?

What new cohort of young people, coupled to older folks, stands to step up in this province to usher a renaissance of economic, social and political principals and priorities?

These are the questions that political leadership in this province should pose. Instead, Mr. Melanson seems content to rely on the predictions of statisticians and economic actuaries to spin a wobbly tale of good news about New Brunswick’s prospects.

“It’s important to note,” he says, “that every province, including us, have adjusted their GDP projection based on growth. . .(With the exception of Prince Edward Island) we’ve all brought it down because of the national situation economically. But we still have to keep in mind that there are sectors of our economy in our province where we have seen positives.”

T’was ever thus, perhaps. But our present condition demands sterner stuff from our elected representatives, appointed bureaucrats and, in the end, us.

Our future cries out for it.

Canada’s national recession may be a lamentable circumstance; ours, in New Brunswick, is a state of mind.

We have, in this province, only two avenues: becoming or calcifying.

We either fossilize or shunt the ties that bind and live in hope.

Through my threadbare spectacles, I choose hope.

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Whose party is this?

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It should surprise exactly no one in New Brunswick that political parties do their level best to differentiate themselves from their opponents by any means necessary. After all, this province, New Brunswick, has been staging periodic vote-fests longer than almost any other jurisdiction in Canada.

Rarely, however, have the substantive policy differences among the three, leading federal camps – Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat – been as vanishingly small as they are today. And this presents New Brunswickers – owners of one of the nation’s least robust regional economies, and one of the most burdened by debt and deficit – with a special chore: Choosing who among these federal courtesans is most likely to doff his cap to the ancient regime of this country; the East Coast.

Shall we all just hold our breath?

New Brunswick’s social and economic challenges are both specific and articulated: High unemployment; low commercial productivity; high rates of illiteracy and innumeracy; low interest in anything remotely resembling renewable energy technology; high levels of disaffection with public institutions; low tolerance for civil-service cutbacks; high disdain for politicians, in general; low sympathy for elected representatives who purport to get things done by upending the status quo.

Under the circumstances, then, why would any party that seriously seeks power vary in form or substance from any other – except, of course, in what they tell the great unwashed at election time?

What they tell us now could fill a thimble for relevance and actual change.

Here come the Tories, barking at New Brunswickers that their jobs-ready, economic action plan has, over the past eight years, saved this province from perdition. Their implied motto is simply this: It could have been worse.

Here come the Grits, insisting that New Brunswickers will be much better off than they have been if only they will giddily throw themselves into the red tide that will surely swamp the Maritimes. Their message is: It can be better, though exactly how. . .well, we’ll get back to you on that.

Finally, comes the third rail (which, incidentally, looks an awful lot like the first and second), the NDippers. They want us to believe that New Brunswick and the rest of the Maritimes are overdue for a massive transformation. Let us, then, agree to abolish the Senate and see how well that works out for us.

Oddly enough, that was an essentially Conservative idea not so very long ago, and even a Liberal one for an Ottawa minute when Justin Trudeau kicked out every Grit senator from his sitting caucus, again, not so very long ago.

As for New Brunswick’s particular social and economic woes, no federal party has yet made a convincing case that this province’s hard and trenchant issues matter more to them than found money on a summertime beach along the Bay of Fundy (which, like substance in political rhetoric, is also rare these days).

What actually distinguishes each federal contender from the other is a media play; crafted and acted before cameras, packaged for YouTube, and meant to be taken with a large barrel of salt.

Jobs are good, so say we all. Unemployment is bad, so say we all. Innovation and productivity must be the urgent concern, so say we all.

Crime? Boo!

Victims? We feel their pain.

Health care? Of course, it’s necessary.

Literacy, numeracy, trust in public institutions? Yup, we have our work cut out for us on that, too.

Still, choose me. I wear the red sweater, or the blue one, or the orange one. The difference is immense.

Even if it’s all the same to you.

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In the garden of possibility

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With the sweet reflection of late middle age, I will mark the 20th anniversary of my first day of permanent residence in New Brunswick this coming October. This thought astonishes, as much as terrifies, me.

When did that happen? It seems only a week ago when my wife and I trundled down the highway from Halifax, with a trunk full of clothes and books, to set me up in a dingy hotel room on the banks of the Petitcodiac.

There I was with a drawer brimming of socks and underwear and 24 bottles of the cheapest beer our dwindling bank account could support. We were 35 years old and – having lost our first life thanks to a sectoral recession that effectively made economic nomads of every journalist I ever knew in this region – looking for a new, main chance.

Eventually, we found an apartment to lease, then a house to rent, then, finally, a home to own. And we’ve never been happier.

Here is where we finished raising our children; supporting their dreams and ambitions, cradling their professional aspirations, delighting in their marriages.

Here is where we also fell desperately in love with our four grandchildren.

To be clear, none of this was supposed to happen. We were doomed, we had thought, to an endless circuit of small-town opportunities, operating almost like grifters from the Dirty Thirties: Hey folks, roll up and check out the three-card Monte table that is the confidence game of our talents.

That wasn’t actually true, of course, but for years it felt that way. Would we ever land, ever know friends again? Would we ever root ourselves, finally?

One hard, March day in 2006, we surveyed the gravel driveway that was our backyard at that time. We peered at one another and wondered aloud: Does this wreckage have to look this way, be this way, spite us in its ugliness and uselessness?

Within 24 hours, we were out there with shovels and spades, digging deep into the ground, building beds for planting, making room for roses and weeping crab trees, ditch flowers and campanula, bleeding hearts and day lilies, witchy yarrow and supernatural dahlias.

It was, to be sure, one of the biggest leaps of faith we had taken together since our marriage at age 20: Can we make this impossible garden thrive?

When you look at your life over half-a-century, you don’t tend to imagine it as a script played out for other people’s edification or. But it is. It always will be. We are as responsible to one another as we are to the plants in our various gardens.

We either tend our kids and our parents with affection, or we face the certainty of their withering souls. We either tend our communities with love and faith, or we risk losing them to random acts of hopelessness, crime and dissolution.

Coming to Moncton taught me this in the reaches of a backyard garden where everything now blooms (with a little help from organic fertilizer).

As William Blake once wrote long ago, “To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower. Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour.”

In this province, at this time, we can either allow our flowers to prosper or we can abandon all hope to the terrifying proposition that aging necessarily equals retreat, that the status quo, with all its weeds, will inevitably choke the life from this fragile planting bed.

Or we can remake ourselves.

We can be young again.

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How to enter the “thought-market”

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The vaunted academy is, let’s face it, not what it used to be – if it ever was.

I still remember college barkers gathering at my high school’s gymnasium in mid-1970s Halifax, pushing their various institutions’ alleged merits like so many army recruiters.

“If you want to be all you can be, then Saint Mary’s is the place for you, son. We’ll set you up for a real career in commerce, or applied basket weaving – whichever you prefer.”

Not so fast boyo, enthused the clean-faced man from Dalhousie’s development department (read: public relations):

“Have we got a deal for you. Take a full course load in business administration and you can be out and making money within 26 months – earlier if you opt for the co-op placement program.”

Row after row of pot-bellied, middle-aged men wearing bad suits and worse ties – refugees, I always imagined, from the advertising departments of local radio stations – would make the same pitch: A university education is only as valuable as the degree to which it advances your chances for material comfort later in life.

Do you want a good house, a fine car, a reliable job with a fat pension? Go to college.

Do you desire a thick retirement package, a gold watch at the end of your socially useful professional career, a rewarding set of hobbies you can afford to pursue? Well, then, by all means, sign on the dotted line, fork over a few hundred bucks, and you’re on your way.

I always likened these salesmen for academe to boatmen on the River Styxx, reaping young minds and sending them into their own, private Hades long before their time on this mortal coil was up.

The names of the barkers have changed, along with the body shapes and sartorial styles, but the message, alas, has remained largely the same: Higher education in this country, region, province is an economic imperative; not an intellectual one, certainly not a spiritual one.

In fact, it could be all three if governments, public and private school boards, and university administrators would agree to convene regularly to remind themselves that their true purpose is toproduce citizens who think critically, empathically and imaginatively about the world they inhabit and will, someday, lead.

Making kids “job-ready” in a marketplace where jobs change daily is a chump’s game. Making them “thought-ready”, on the other hand, is simply wise public policy. The fearless, innovative, cheerful and indefatigable will always change society ­– mostly, history demonstrates, for the better.

That means we must begin to remove the crypto-vocational aspects from the university system and return to courses and programs that build the intellectual muscle this planet needs to solve its direst problems – problems that a classical education in math, science, history, literature, and language directly address.

According to the recruiters at my high school, before the Internet made wiseacres of us all, I was a true disappointment. I chose a university course of study that mixed physical sciences with social ones (geology, biology, politics, philosophy, classics). I labored at it for years, failing, succeeding, failing again, and succeeding again.

When I was finally done, finally “job-ready”, I found that I was utterly unequipped to make the big salary, buy the big car, and live in the big house.

I was, however, “thought-ready”.

And the rewards have arrived apace, without force, as they have for my own children who cherish, above all, the notion that the critical knowing of things is the road to wisdom, even as the world does not always recognize the importance of either.

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An ode to our aging trades

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I sit on my front porch in the old west end of Moncton as the eastern sun threatens to set, and watch while two men who must be ten years my senior – 65 years each, if a day – rebuild the front of my neighbor’s house.

They take their time, because doing things right, plying the skills they were taught when they were young, doesn’t mean just something: It means everything.

“Now, that’s a handsome job,” I say as I gambol up the street to inspect.
“Well, thank you,” the man in the orange t-shirt replies.

“No, I mean it,” I say. “That’s a truly magnificent job.”

The man in the blue shirt looks at me as if I’ve never seen a job site before. I explain that I once worked for a master carpenter in Toronto, a long time ago, and nothing he ever did could compare to the work these guys were executing for their relatives in this time, on this street.

Would he and his partner be interested in replacing my back deck, I wondered aloud?

“Oh no,” they chime almost in unison. “We’re retired.”

More’s the pity; for as time marches on for this province, for this region of Canada, retirement seems especially poisonous to the long-term economic future of the body politic.

I long ago abandoned any notion of “retirement”. The concept seemed to me, as a small businessman and owner-operator, not only impractical, but also irresponsible. After all, if I manage to retain all the skills my particular craft demand, shouldn’t I be obligated to continue for as long as my physical and mental health support?

According to David DeLong, an American speaker and labour-force consultant, “Many executives today worry that skill shortages threaten their organization’s ability to grow and innovate. A recent survey I designed for one manufacturing sector found that almost 60 per cent of managers responding thought skill shortages were already hurting their firm’s productivity and quality.

“But, despite a seriously aging population in the U.S. and the rest of the industrialized world, only four per cent of this same group saw the aging workforce as an immediate threat to performance. Most expect the effects of aging Boomers to come 3-5 years. About 20 per cent don’t see the aging workforce as a concern at all.”

And, really, why would they?

Those of us who have survived one, two, three, four and five horrible recessions know a thing or two about surviving the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth. In fact, in a weird and wonderful way, we relish these downturns.

We are young enough to recall what real fear feels like and old enough to remember how we overcame the daily terror.

Now, we “old folks” stand and deliver the lessons of experience – the tutorials necessary to bring a youthful, hopeful provincial government to heed the narrow truths behind its own broad rhetoric.

In truth, we will not prosper in the long range until will embrace the importance of small victories against the gathering darkness of global recession in the short range.

That means investing in the little enterprises whose owners – likely elderly folk who know a thing or two about surviving and thriving – are incapable of giving up, going dark and sending themselves into the retirement they say they crave.

“I’m really too old for this,” the man in the blue shirt says.

“Me too,” the man in the orange shirt says.

“So,” I say, “You’re done, then.”

The smiles arrive: “Oh no, we’ll be back. . .We will always be back.”

See how they run

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It’s early days yet, and anything can happen. Still, political junkies across Canada are noticing a trend within the electorate they haven’t witnessed in years, maybe even decades: Citizens actually intend to vote this time around at the ballot box.

That’s good news, if only because it suggests that those who are ultimately responsible for the condition of their democracy – John and Jane Q. Public – are taking their pickings (meager as they might be) seriously.

If we obsessive-compulsives are correct (and, dear reader, there’s no guarantee that we are – remember what actual pollsters had to say about recent provincial elections in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, in which they got their forecasts so wrong even American late-night comedy shows took a break from lampooning the absurdities of U.S. politics to highlight those of ours), then this could be the biggest election turnout since the early 1960s, when upwards of 80 per cent of eligible adults cast tickets.

As a matter of more than mere interest, the lowest voter turnout on record in this country was in 2008, in the depths of the Great Recession, when barely 59 per cent of the eligible population deigned to visit their polling stations. Oddly, though, those most committed to the democratic plebiscite at that time were those who ultimately had the least to gain: New Brunswickers, of whom a higher percentage than the national average showed up to vote.

As things track now, this province appears ready to repeat that performance a little more than a month from now, though the result would be anything but conclusive.

According to a CBC analysis, “It appears the federal horse race may have reverted to its three-headedness again, as two new polls suggest a narrowing of the gap separating the three parties. But one of the surveys provides some insight into what and who is capturing voters’ attentions, and what effect it might be having. The CBC Poll Tracker still has the NDP in the lead with 33.5 per cent support, followed by the Conservatives at 29.1 per cent and the Liberals at 27.3 per cent. The Greens are averaging 5.5 per cent support, while the Bloc Québécois stands at 15.3 per cent support in Quebec.”

Added the public broadcaster: “This is a bit of a reversion to where things stood before the publication of two polls that suggested strong numbers for the New Democrats. These surveys by Forum Research and the Angus Reid Institute, both out of the field a week ago, put the NDP at 40 and 37 per cent support, respectively, among eligible voters. It boosted the party in the average, but the four polls that have been published since have put the NDP between 31 and 34 per cent support. That is where the party was polling prior to the release of these two bullish surveys.”

However New Brunswick “votes” and whatever the national impact this may produce, the province can at least pat itself on the back for its determinedly engaged citizenry.

As Elections Canada points on its web site, “The issue of voter turnout is taking on greater importance in public discussion in Canada and elsewhere. Observers increasingly link declining participation in elections to some of the more fundamental problems of modern democracy.

Indeed, notes the organization, “If the social and political forces that are driving turnout down are of a longer-term nature, the problem of low voter participation could continue to plague the political system for years to come.”

That, at least, does not appear to be one of New Brunswick’s myriad problems. For once.

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Whither our energy future?

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When New England’s state governors and Atlantic Canada’s provincial premiers gather, as they are inclined to do every so often at a suitably picturesque venue along the northeastern seaboard of this continent – where they may gaze into each other’s eyes, which mirror their own – they most often talk of stronger trade ties, better cross-border relations and, of course, energy agreements, always energy agreements.

So it was earlier this month in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where the usual suspects assembled to conduct their usual business for their usual day. The evidence that these meetings produce anything truly tangible or productive is scant, but they do tend to generate good headlines.

Here, for instance, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant’s assertion that the province must push ahead on an export-oriented LNG terminal to handle all that natural gas in the ground he’s not pulling up around here (because, don’t you know, it could be perilous to his political health) ran above the fold in provincial newspapers.

What didn’t is a piece which postulates that New Brunswick is ideally suited to chart an entirely different course for its energy future and, possibly, for the entire northeast and rest of Canada.

So, then, here is that piece:

Almost nowhere in Canada does the wind blow more constantly and hard than it does along New Brunswick’s coasts. In fact, a wind map produced in 2007 by scientists at the University of Moncton definitively proved that steady breezes could support nearly all of this province’s in situ energy demands, and then some. Wind is, obviously, a zero greenhouse-gas-emission option. More than that, the research required to commercialize it would rejuvenate the high-tech manufacturing sector here, providing good-paying, year-round jobs to (at least) complement seasonal employment in traditional resources industries.

Similarly, almost nowhere in this country do the tides ebb and flow with greater power and regularity than they do in the Bay of Fundy. For decades, the western world has owned the ingenuity (if not always the technology or the will to develop it) to produce thousands of megawatts of clean, emissions-free power.

Scotland is, arguably the market leader. Last year, Edinburgh-based Atlantis Resources Limited announced that its “MeyGen, the world’s largest tidal stream development, has agreed terms for a funding package to finance the construction of the first phase of its ground-breaking 398MW tidal array project in the Pentland Firth, Scotland. When fully completed, the MeyGen project will have the potential to provide clean, sustainable, predictable power for 175,000 homes in Scotland, support more than 100 jobs, reduce carbon emissions, and deliver significant, long-term supply chain benefits for UK economy.”

Of course, if we don’t believe in Scotland, what shall we then say about Sweden? According to recent piece in The New Yorker by staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert, “In some parts of Europe, what has been called ‘conscious uncoupling’ (between gross domestic product and greenhouse gas emissions) is already well along. Sweden, one of the few countries that tax carbon, has reduced its emissions by about 23% in the past 25 years. During that same period, its economy has grown by more than 55 per cent.”

Oddly enough, the steam engine found its first industrial purchase in New Brunswick where in the early 18th Century it was modified to produce the timber that built the British navy.

Innovation was good enough for us then, when our political leaders didn’t simply gaze placidly into each other’s eyes; when they took a main chance and changed the world for the better at that time.

Now that we know better, will they change it again?

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