Monthly Archives: March 2017

More pennies from heaven

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Federal budgets are primarily for journalists, pundits, lobbyists, think tankers, and other assorted members of the chattering class. I should know. I’ve been covering fiscal updates, in one form or another since my first ‘lock-up’ during the years Brian Mulroney occupied the democratic ‘throne’ of this country.

In those days, back in the 1980s, information from the ‘Centre’ was sparse, though the actual documents released were voluminous. Enlightenment was rare, though analysis (both for and against) was incessant. Alas, nothing has changed, lo these many decades later.

For New Brunswick, depending on who’s talking, the Trudeau government’s second (2017) budget, unveiled last week, is either the best thing on three wheels or an unmitigated car wreck.

“New Brunswick Finance Minister Cathy Rogers said Wednesday evening she had only had a chance to review highlights of the budget, but was ‘thrilled with what I see so far,’” the CBC reported. “‘I see that the federal government’s priorities line up very well with New Brunswick’s priorities,’ said Rogers. (She) cited federal investments in skills development, innovation, temporary foreign workers, and assistance to families for child care as some of the federal initiatives the Gallant government is also targeting.”

Beausejour MP Dominic LeBlanc, who is also the federal government’s minister of fisheries, went further in an interview with the Telegraph-Journal: “There is very significant money available in this budget for green infrastructure, climate change adaptation, and there’s money to help provinces and electrical utilities get off coal-fired electricity by 2030. So, New Brunswick’s push for clean energy and green technology will find in the budget a very willing partner.”

I think, though I’m not quite sure, the appropriate response is: balderdash! Oh yes, on second thought, that is the word: balderdash! The very notion that Ms. Rogers or Mr. LeBlanc had only light acquaintance with the contents of this underwhelming document before it was announced is absurd.

The federal government deserves plenty of plaudits for its plan to spend more money on early childhood education, adult skills development and, presciently enough, innovation. The budget speech says this about each of those investment areas: “The Innovation and Skills Plan is an ambitious effort to make Canada a world leading centre for innovation, to help create more good, well-paying jobs, and help strengthen and grow the middle class. . .Young Canadians will be the ones who drive the future growth of Canada’s economy – yet too many struggle to complete the education they need to succeed now, and in the future.

Still, the problem, as always, devolves to the provincial response, which invariably involves matching funds for programs. To date, there is no way, anywhere in this country, to control or focus local spending on much-needed social initiatives without throwing entire communities into the spin-washer of deficit and debt. Grand gestures from Ottawa are fine, but they usually fail to account for the on-the-ground, shovel-unready costs of execution. Who ultimately pays? You know the answer. And so do I.

Ideally, a competent, grown-up federal budget would eschew the fine rhetoric of ‘building’ and ‘exploring’ and ‘expanding’ in favour of the harder truth much of the country now faces: We’re dead broke. That means targeting. No more yakking about ‘willing partners’ and “thrilled” to be seeing ya’. Decide, for once, whether an imperfect, but perfectly serviceable, highway needs to be reconstructed from scratch or an urgently required early childhood education program deserves to be redesigned from bottom to top.

Take a page from the past, journalists, pundits, lobbyists, think tankers, and other assorted members of the chattering class, including politicians, and grow up.

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Cardboard cutouts

IMG_1563If the elements of the human body are worth, conservatively and according to some estimates, about two thousand bucks, what are we to make of the latest order from Global Affairs Canada to remove life-sized cardboard cutouts of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at diplomatic missions in Trumpland?

After all, the placards only cost about $300 and change. That sounds like a good deal, given the treacherous state of public finances across what is becoming the last, truly expensive democracy in the world.

Says a Canadian Press report, published earlier this week: “It’s not clear if the missions ever had departmental permission to use the cardboard cut-outs. According to emails obtained by the Conservatives through the Access to Information Act, the Washington embassy’s interest in using a cardboard likeness was sparked by word that the Atlanta consulate had put one on display at a pre-Canada Day event last year. Asked if Ottawa had given permission, Louise Blais, the Atlanta consul general, advised the embassy that she did ask but ‘never got an answer. . .which I took as no objections. But as added cover, the U.S. embassy in Ottawa has one of the Obamas.’”

The piece continues: “Anna Gibbs, senior events production manager at the Washington embassy, was excited about the prospect of putting Trudeau’s image on display. ‘I think this will be a hoot and extremely popular and go well with our Snapchat filter,’ she wrote in an email. While some of her colleagues felt the magnified photo of Trudeau in a black suit, black shirt and silver tie ‘doesn’t seem very prime ministerial,’ Gibbs gushed: ‘Looks (oh so) fine to me!’”

Uh-huh. Listen people of New Brunswick, it seems we are missing an international opportunity here (big surprise). With no disrespect to the prime minister of this great nation, our very own, GQ-ready premier Brian Gallant is every bit as fetching. Why, exactly, does he not have a cardboard stand-in to call his own? I detect another example of Ottawa bias. Ladies, weigh in on this. As always, we need your vote.

If I were a provincial staffer with money to burn, I would go one step further. I would go deep, baby. Knowing that Mr. Gallant, as respectable and intelligent as he is, is not. . .well. . .an orator of Winston Churchill’s calibre, I would ensure that a ‘talk’ button is installed in every cut-out. Interested citizens of the United States could then press the designated switch and hear something like this (in the voice of Warren Beatty, naturally):

“Hi there. You may not know me to see me, but I am the premier of one of Canada’s smallest, least economically promising provinces of Canada – you know, that great, big country to the north of you. We like to call it, ‘Mexico with snow’. Ha, ha, ha. But seriously folks, we need your American can-do attitude. We need your drive, innovation and incredible ability to create opportunities. Most of all, of course, we need your money. I am Brian Gallant, and I endorse this plea for. . .well, you know. . .your money.”

Given the precarious state of the world these days, it’s possible that cardboard cutouts of our major political figures will become the gold standard of domestic and foreign policy. No more risky plane trips to far-flung nations. No more emotional gaffs by living human beings. No more unfortunate wardrobe decisions before the stern, unforgiving eyes of the world’s internet-juiced cameras.

After all, the elements of the human body are worth far more than the plastic we manufacture to represent them.

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Have island, will rusticate

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Born and raised to the age of eight in the largest, noisiest, sharpest-elbowed city in Canada, I gave no thought to the pastoral life of country folk I’d occasionally see on CBC television during the supper hour.

All that began to change in 1971 when my father managed to acquire a 10-acre piece of land that belonged to his family’s ancestral homestead in northeastern Guysborough County, Nova Scotia. It was a peninsula of forest framed on two sides by a pond and on the other by beach frontage. He called it ‘The Island’, possibly because owning an island seemed more impressive than owning a peninsula. I certainly thought so.

As a new cottage rose rapidly near the crest of the property, which offered spectacular views of Chedabucto Bay and still does, I began to imagine myself as some sort of Scottish laird. On summer vacations there, I would spend every day patrolling the borders, searching for poachers and other interlopers. I dreamt of one day building my own cabin in the woods.

None of this will be new to anyone who ever grew up on a patch of land near any sizeable body of water. But unless I’m very much mistaken, recent interest in owning islands is on the rise. The Telegraph-Journal has featured New Brunswick islands for sale not once, but twice in as many weeks. The latest, apparently, will only set you back a cool $3.7 million.

As the story reported, “Sandy Robertson stepped out of his vehicle onto a snow-covered clearing to show off a beloved trait of his private island. The absence of noise, just wind whistling through the trees, complements the serene, panoramic view of where the St. John and Kennebecasis rivers meet.”

Not long ago a website called Notable Life devoted an entire feature to island life, beginning its write up thusly: “Thinking about buying a condo? If you’re in Toronto, the average one of those will run you about $370,000, or in West Vancouver around $590,000. But maybe you’re considering a stand-alone, single-family home in Toronto for an average price of just over $1 million?

“Or perhaps you’d like to land somewhere between a savvy investor, a lover of nature and tranquility, and a Bond villain, and buy yourself your very own island. You’ll probably be shocked to know (we still can’t really believe it) that across Canada, there are currently more than thirty islands on sale for under $500,000. Now, some of them have not been developed, so they’ll require some additional investment to make them ‘liveable’, but when you consider. . . (the) country’s real-estate market. . .it’s pretty amazing to imagine that for such a small price-tag, you could have exclusive access to such considerable beauty.”

Consider, for example, Nova Scotia’s Big Tancook Island, which Notable Life described in 2015 as “An absolutely stunning property Island, these 11.6 acres boast 449 feet on the ocean. Sub-divisible, this parcel might become a roomy family compound, grounds for the only hotel or campground on the island, or a sailing destination just six miles from the world-famous Chester Yacht Club.” At that time, the asking price was about a hundred grand.

I have a theory about all of this. Whenever the world takes an especially bitter turn (Donald Trump, Brexit, the rise of populist political parties in Europe), those with enough coin in their pockets will cast their eyes both wearily and jealously to a place they need a boat to reach – there to rusticate happily like the country folk we secretly and always wanted to be.

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What’s a Canadian value?

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Given that more than two-thirds of residents of the Atlantic Provinces support screening potential immigrants for ‘Canadian values’, we’d do well to unpack that enormously loaded phrase in search of a little more meaning, a wee bit more specificity.

A Corporate Research Associates public opinion survey released last week found that 68 per cent of those asked generally or strongly support some sort of test of the degree to which newcomers are sufficiently. . .well. . .Canadian in their outlook. Said the Halifax-based firm’s chairman and CEO, Don Mills, in an interview with Global News: “It’s probably not surprising that we would ask this kind of question given what’s going on in the Western world. There’s a lot of concerns in western countries about values and protection of values.”

He hastened to add: “I don’t think that that means that Atlantic Canadians are in any way anti-immigrant. I don’t think that. It has nothing to do with that. I think it’s the protection of our core values that make us Canadian that people feel are important to make sure that we are attracting people that agree with those values.”

On the other hand, he acknowledged in a statement, “While the definition of Canadian values is yet to be determined, the need for such a definition is clearly evident by the majority of Atlantic Canadians who support screening potential immigrants for Canadian values before allowing them entry into the country.”

This is, of course, one of the problems with open-ended questions. What, exactly, is a Canadian value? The nation’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms provide some clues. Under the ‘Fundamental Freedoms’ section, “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

(d) freedom of association.”

Then there’s this assurance: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of the members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”

And this: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada. Every citizen of Canada and every person who has the status of a permanent resident of Canada has the right a) to move to and take up residence in any province; and b) to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province.”

And this, also: “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. (This) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

All of which sounds fair enough. But even if we can settle on a generally acceptable set of definitions, how do we ascertain the level of a potential immigrant’s commitment to Canadian values? In effect, what would the actual screening process entail?

This question seems to have stumped even federal Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch who first bandied the phrase about several months ago in her bid to appear patriotic and wholesome.

Perhaps the best we can do is follow our instincts and trust that our own grasp of Canadian values unveils the truth about others, but mostly about ourselves as a kind, tolerant, rational people.

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Ode to spring

FullSizeRenderSo, we can’t see it yet. We can’t see the fronds poking through the ‘permafrost’ of a Maritime winter. We can’t see the green, green grass of home hosting dandelions. We can’t see the long, bountiful season of warmth and conviviality stretching for weeks into the near future. No, not yet, but soon.

We can hear the mourning doves calling their mates at dawn. We can hear the long moan of the last train into Moncton, spilling their passengers into the early fog. We can hear the first, low rumbling of a new season. And, oddly, without warning, we are happy.

We can smell the good earth as it slowly rises above the snow – its determination beyond dispute. Here, it says, is where you plant; and here is where you don’t this time. Maybe, next time. We can smell the sounds of the city in the hour of the wolf, when every sane person has gone to bed – all, except for those who worship the noise of permanent silence at 4 o’clock in the morning.

Yes, and we are happy without twitter feeds and LinkedIn pokes and Facebook nonsense.

To start again, you start with spring. You start soon. You grab a coat, ring a scarf around your winter neck and head out. You don’t know where you are going. You are simply walking. You fill your chest with air. You pump your legs with bounty and promise. You begin to run – first slowly, then faster and faster as if the world you’ve left behind has no option but to watch you outpace it. It may even smile.

“Is the spring coming? What is it like? It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine.” Or so said Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of The Secret Garden.

“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so.” Or so said Mark Twain.

“I enjoy the spring more than the autumn now. One does, I think, as one gets older.” Or so said Virginia Woolf.

I think I agree with her, though I didn’t always. Fall was the time to put away things, the time to reflect in a comforting reverie of the past. Now, in the time of the world’s life, there’s nothing that nostalgia purchases but vain sentiment. Spring, though we can’t see it yet, promises fronds poking through the ‘permafrost’ of a Maritime winter. No, we can’t see the green, green grass of home hosting dandelions. We can’t see the long, bountiful season of warmth and conviviality stretching for weeks into the near future. Not yet, but soon.

We can imagine real sentiment in the springtime of our spirits if we keep moving down the streets on which we live, helping each other – regardless of religious or ethnic differences. If we keep holding out our hands to the newcomers among us, ensuring that they and their families are safe and secure. If we keep invoking the principles of our national Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “freedom of religion, of thought, of expression, of the press and of peaceful assembly; the right to participate in political activities and the right to a democratic government; the freedom to live within Canada, and to leave Canada; legal rights to life, liberty and security.”

If we can’t see it yet, we can still walk into the hard spring of this country.

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What’s your preference?

IMG_0261Welcome, dear patron, to the ‘à la carte’ of democracy. In the next New Brunswick election, you may face choices you never thought possible. Imagine the province as a giant Tapas bar.

You’re sitting with 5,000 of your closest friends and you order – oh, let’s say – The Grit candidate’s robust filet mignon off the menu. Your seat neighbor prefers a spicy dish of Tory Italian sausage. Meanwhile, her elbow associate is particularly fond of whoever has emerged to prepare the riding’s patented, NDP seafood chowder.

But let’s say the waiter insists you can’t order your favorite without also choosing your second and third preferences (just in case the kitchen runs out of everything all at once). So you say, ‘Well, I want the steak, but after that I’ll take the sausage and chowder, in that order.’

The waiter bows unctuously, says, ‘very good sir’, and disappears. After a few days, you and your tablemates (now famished), receive equal portions of filet mignon and a small, side order of wiener. As for the chowder? It’s in the bin. Preferential voting is not a perfect solution, but its supporters say it’s better than the status quo, and by supporters I mean the members of the independent commission convened last fall to consider alternatives to the current first-past-the-post system. According to their report, released last week:

“Under the Preferential Ballot, ballots are structured to allow voters to rank their candidates in order of preference. Allowing for preference ranking on the ballot enables voters to express themselves in respect of their first choice candidate and allows them to vote for their second choice (or a number of choices) in the event that the preferred candidate may not be elected. Preferential Ballots in essence give more choices to the voters but do not force them to make a multitude of choices. For those voters who strongly support only one candidate, they would not have to rank any candidate they do not want. Voters are free to back as many or as few candidates as they like, giving them a strategic advantage as voters do not need to choose between voting for the party they like and voting for the party they think can beat the candidate or party that has lost their confidence: they can do both. Affiliation and loyalty to a party would not be affected.”

The commission makes other recommendations that may also raise eyebrows in the province, including: “The voting age in New Brunswick be lowered to 16. New Brunswickers 16 and older who have completed high school be allowed to seek public office. The requirement of possessing a valid high school diploma would not apply to individuals 18 or older.”

Then there’s the little matter of money in politics. The report advises that “political contributions by individuals, corporations and trade unions be lowered from the current $6,000” and that “political contributions from corporations and trade unions be phased out following the 2018 provincial election.”

If the purpose of the exercise was to determine effective ways to increase interest in politics and public institutions in general, then the commission’s spadework across the province over the past few months was worth the effort. The question is whether there’s enough will to implement the recommended changes. The signs are not especially encouraging. Premier Brian Gallant won’t reform the electoral landscape without a referendum on the subject.

All of this gets the province back to the central problem. We know we want something new off the democratic menu. It’s just that we can’t quite seem to make up our minds.

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Reading, writing and relief

On the odd occasion I’ve had the dubious pleasure of speaking to a room full of people who, I am quite certain, would rather tuck into their rubber chicken than spend another moment listening to my reedy voice drone on about the major issues of the day, I’ve been known to resort to rank levity.

Literacy is one of my hobbyhorses, and the joke goes something like this: “People have asked me how I became such an avid reader,” to which I respond, “because there was only so much Gilligan’s Island a young boy could take.” Reactions vary, from polite laughter to uncomprehending stares. What’s Gilligan’s Island? You would know if, like me, you grew up in the late 1960s and had access to a black and white TV set with only two channels on the dial.

There’s a point buried in there somewhere. If you’re exposed to more books and magazines than cheap laughs on ‘the boob tube’, the chances are you’re going to learn to read. What’s more, you’re going to learn to love reading.

Sadly, in New Brunswick and, indeed, across Canada, that’s not always an option. In fact, no issue is more liable to elicit a chorus of unanimity from otherwise divergent political voices than building a literate workforce. Specifically, in this province’s case, upwards of 56 per cent of people can’t read well enough to function competently on a daily basis.

Last summer, the New Brunswick government took delivery of a report entitled, The Power of Literacy – Moving towards New Brunswick’s Comprehensive Literacy Strategy. Some of the recommendations included: “Increasing supports for speech/language development with a primary focus on children up to three years old; empowering families with practical support for stronger literacy skills with their child/youth at each grade; enhancing the capacity of community-based adult learning organizations; and establishing a community literacy champion within each library region to serve as the coordinator of literacy at the community level.”

Still, former provincial New Democrat Leader Dominic Cardy hit the nail on the head when, a couple of years ago, he noted, “If we create a universally accessible, affordable high-quality early childhood education system, linking existing private infrastructure in schools and centres with government-supported ones where necessary, that is going to unleash a huge amount of economic potential.”

The results of one recent study of 693 Ontario kids in Grade One indicated that those who had participated in two years of full-day kindergarten (FDK) in that province were much better equipped to thrive in school than those who had not.

The research, undertaken by Queen’s and McMaster universities concluded, “Overall, students in FDK are better prepared to enter Grade 1 and to be more successful in school. In every area, students improved their readiness for Grade 1 and accelerated their development. Comparisons of children with two years of FDK instruction and children with no FDK instruction showed that FDK reduced risks in social competence development from 10.5 per cent to 5.8 per cent; in language and cognitive development from 15.8 per cent to 4.3 per cent; (and) in communication skills and general knowledge development from 10.5 per cent to 5.8 per cent.”

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In recent years, the efficacious effects of early child education on literacy, numeracy and problem-solving has been rigorously studied all over the world. And the findings all lead to the same conclusion: It works.

Can New Brunswick afford a universal, integrated, accessible system of early childhood education in an age of massive, structural public deficits and debt? The real question is: Can it afford not to invest?

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Brave hearts of the coasts

I adore Newfoundlanders. All they ever do is complain. Sure, their collective debt approaches that of Greece’s in post-WWII Europe. Sure, their offshore fishery resembles a goldfish pond without the goldfish. And, sure, their country road system is only slightly better than Arkansas’s. Still, don’t they realize that their winter is the finest 10 months of their calendar year?

Now, a certain editorialist at the St. John’s Telegram waggishly posits the following: “I would like to offer some suggestions for the Newfoundland government to get us out of our awful financial predicament. First and foremost, sell Labrador to Quebec. They have always wanted Labrador, and already consider it theirs anyway. They even show no boundary between Labrador and Quebec on their maps, which are used in Quebec schools. Minimum price tag: $30 billion.”

Fine, but where does that leave New Brunswick in the grand scheme of territorial fire sales? How does this province secede from itself? Apparently, certain political leaders in California have a few ideas on this subject. In a deadly serious account, Ontario-based Tom McConnell writes in a recent post for iPolitics, “A lot of Californians are mad as hell. Some even say they’re not going to take it anymore. ‘It’ is the outcome of November’s presidential election. A network of Californians is organizing a secessionist movement; their goal is to take the state out of the United States altogether.

“Their movement is called #Calexit, as in #Brexit. Their inspiration is the growing gulf that separates them – politically, culturally, demographically – from the rest of the Union. Hillary Clinton outpolled Donald Trump by a two-to-one margin here. ‘Without California, Trump would have won the popular vote,’ tweeted conservative pundit and Trump critic David Frum [and to be clear, a natural-born Canadian]. The Golden State has a population of 39 million people ­– that’s more than any other state in the Union, more people than in all of Canada. Greater Los Angeles alone is home to close to 19 million people, a population greater than that of Ontario and Alberta combined.”

Mr. McConnell continues: “As Frum points out, those are numbers that come with economic clout – and Californians know it, too. The U.S. without California, Frum writes, would be world’s second-ranked technological power instead of the first. California boasts the world’s sixth largest economy – greater than the economies of France, Italy, South Korea or India. It’s also a global technological giant, home to the Silicon Valley and companies like Google, Apple, Cisco, Intel, Oracle and SpaceX.”

So, here’s a question Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia: How does the emerging nation of Calican sound? Think about it. Alaska sits like a joker’s hat at the top of Canada. No harm, no foul. Why not invite California into the national fold. They talk like us, they smoke weed like us, they embrace liberal causes like us. Their 39 million people would more than double our population. Hey, universal health care might even become a thing in the Great White (now slightly more diverse) North.

Selling Labrador to Quebec? Sure. But use the proceeds to incentivize the deal with California. Here’s 30 billion bucks, folks. Now bring us your lattes and film stars. Bring us your tariff-free Sonoma Valley wine. Bring us your electric cars. Bring us your herbalists and Hillary lovers. In return, we’ll send you our seal-flipper pie, our poutine and lobster, our herring, and, oh yes, our unemployed workers.

Does that sound like a good deal La-La Land? If it sounds especially outlandish, remember: So does Donald Trump.

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Death and taxes

DSC_0180It’s always heartening to see our tax dollars at work – even the ones we don’t owe. That’s why I don’t begrudge forking over a few more bucks to squeeze the odd mea culpa out of a hard-working civil servant in this province.

“With this matter of (property) assessments, Service New Brunswick has discovered 2,400 miscalculations, which it is now moving to correct,” that organization’s communications director Nichole Bowman informed the Telegraph-Journal earlier this week. “A new bill will be issued to all impacted property owners. (Those affected) will receive a letter flagging the problem by April 1 and an amended tax bill by June 1. They will have 30 days to request another review. Service New Brunswick apologizes to property owners for any inconvenience this has caused.”

What’s arguable, of course, is whether provincial assessors would have noticed the “miscalculations” in the normal execution of their public duties had a rising tide of public outrage and media coverage had not swept onto their doorsteps over the past couple of weeks.

“A CBC review of New Brunswick property tax records in six communities shows the provincial government billed 1,186 homeowners for property tax increases of more than 20 per cent this year, despite legislation that forbids increases above 10 per cent, plus the cost of new construction,” the public broadcaster reported yesterday. “It is more than 10 times the number of homeowners who got a tax increase that large last year.”

Consider poor Jamie Watling’s predicament. According to the CBC the Quispamsis man “saw his tax bill increase 32.9 per cent after the province raised his assessment $59,700. His renovation? Two $300 laundry room windows he installed himself on a Saturday last year. ‘I think our reaction was laughter,’ Watling said when he and his wife opened their tax bill. ‘We couldn’t believe it.’

By law, Watling’s tax bill can only increase $241 this year (10 per cent of last year’s bill) plus 1.28 per cent of the value of his two new windows.”

Still, before we mount our high horses, pitchforks in hand, it behoves us to remember this is not the first time residential property assessments in New Brunswick have been wonky, and it won’t be the last. The process nationwide, regardless of province, is anything but scientific. Just ask our fellow Canadians in Hog Town and La La Land.

Last year, the Toronto Star reported: “A blistering housing market has prompted a 30 per cent jump in residential property values over the last four years, according to the company that assesses real estate in the province.

City homeowners will receive assessment notices – their first since 2012 – from the Municipal Property Assessment Corp. (MPAC) beginning next week showing a 7.5 per cent annual increase in their property values.

“That’s above the 4.5 per cent provincial average, but lower than the double-digit increases in some 905-area communities such as Richmond Hill and Markham. The average assessed value for a single-family detached home in Toronto is $770,000, up about $200,000 on average from the last assessment in 2012. Toronto condo values increased on average to $363,000, about $35,000 higher than four years ago.”

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, according to the Globe and Mail two months ago, “Assessments for single-family detached houses jumped 30 per cent to 50 per cent in value from July 1, 2015, to July 1, 2016. For example, a typical detached home on a lot with a width of 33 feet (10 metres) on Vancouver’s west side soared 41 per cent in value.”

Oh well, what is it they say about death and taxes?

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Hello Major Tom

DSC_0074On some brilliant summer day, in the not-too-distant future, you might find me rusticating on the back deck of my ancestral home, which overlooks Chedabucto Bay on the far eastern shore of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia.

There, I will hoist a late-afternoon drink, cast my eyes toward the town of Canso and count down to what my wife and I will have dubbed ‘the greatest show on earth’. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. “Honey, be quick,” I will bark. “You’re going to miss it, again.”

My beloved will rush from the kitchen, a glass of wine in hand, and settle into a lawn chair – one of several we’ve dubbed ‘pods’. There, above the rolling hills of Tor Bay, about 100 kilometers due north, a rocket carrying orbital satellites – and even, perhaps, the odd, impossibly wealthy cosmic tourist – will rise into the firmament.

Welcome to the new space race, Nova Scotia-style. According to a CBC report last week, “Nova Scotia is familiar with launching ships, but never quite like this. The province could soon be the site of a $148-million rocket spaceport that will be used to launch commercial satellites into space as early as 2020. On Tuesday, Maritime Launch Services confirmed plans to build the facility near Canso and begin construction within one year.

“The Halifax-based company, which is a joint venture of three U.S.-based firms, hopes to launch eight rockets annually by 2022. The facility would launch rockets with 3,350-kg payloads on a due south trajectory at a cost of $60 million.

The site would include a launch pad and a processing building, as well as a control centre positioned about three kilometres away. The total cost to establish the spaceport, launch the first rocket and promote the facility will be $304 million, said John Isella, CEO of Maritime Launch Services.”

Naturally, this is not the first time stargazing capitalists have turned their attention to this part of Canada’s East Coast as the next home of the putative ‘great frontier’. Some years ago, NASA seriously considered northern Cape Breton as an ancillary location for one of its launch pads into the great wide open. Then again, in 2016, tens-of-thousands of well-heeled Americans seriously considered the Canadian Maritimes as their final hope for escape from the looming threat of the Donald Trump administration. So, if nothing else, there is some sort of synchronicity to all of this – if only for writers of science fiction and dystopian political novels.

Still, I digress. Should a spaceport find its way to the craggy, windswept shores of Stan Rogers’s country, I will do what any good Guysborough boy would: check my property and ascertain how, exactly, I can cash in.

Shall I turn my large, rural home into an Air B&B, catering exclusively to Swiss, German and Saudi techno-junkies? Shall I buy a fleet of limos with which to ‘uber’ my customers to their various look-off points?

Shall I transform my property – all 90 acres of it – into a version of Burning Man, where electronic music aficionados, unreconstructed hippies from bygone epochs and creatively mad artistes set fire to effigies of social inequity timed perfectly with the launch codes of distant rockets?

Or shall I sell the whole shebang to the highest bidder under the solid-fuel-burning arrows arching into the summer sky?

On some brilliant summer day, in the not-too-distant future, you might find me finishing my drink as I watch a spear of human ambition penetrate the clouds. My wife will have handed me the morning mail.

“What’s this?” I will query.

She will reply: “It’s the new property tax assessment”.

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