Category Archives: Business

HAL, are you out there?

To read press releases issued recently by federal and provincial government operatives, Atlantic Canada is poised to become the next North American hotbed of ‘artificial intelligence’. But does the reality live up to the billing?

The answer is as complex as a coding exercise. The phrases that come to mind are ‘maybe’, ‘not yet’ and, quite possibly, ‘no’. That’s a subtle ternary calculation that only human brains can, thus far, fathom (some more effectively than others, as evidenced by Donald Trump’s morning tweets on just about anything and everything).

Still, according to a recent piece in the Memorial University Gazette of St. John’s, NF/LA, Ottawa and that province’s investments will enable the institution “to undertake a three-year research initiative focused on. . .systems (which) teaches AI systems how to make decisions based on past experience and deep neural networks focused on learning about large data sets by creating AI based on the human brain.”

Added Dr. David Churchill, assistant professor in the department of computer science at Memorial: “Artificial intelligence at its core is about developing computer technologies that make intelligent decisions – to help us solve problems not only in academia, but in many industrial sectors as well. AI is predicted to become one of the largest economic sectors in the world, and I believe that establishing a state-of-the-art AI research lab at Memorial University will help promote innovation, motivate future students, and have long-term benefits for our province.”
That’s fair enough. I’m all for the type of innovation that will wean this region from the debilitating and downward spiral of our expectations. At the same time, though, the thoughfully sceptical among us must recognize that artificial intelligence is a denominator, not a numerator. And if you, dear reader, do not understand my point, then you have made mine.

The bottom number in a fraction (the denominator) will grow as AI technology receives increasingly more money). The top number (the numenator) must increase in tandem to extract maximum economic benefits from the largest number of people possible (experts who will apply their skills in this region to solve, in their own ways, innovation gaps, economic adversity and, ultimately, social dislocation).

Look at it this way: For every ten dollars invested in any form of AI innovation, you will need an equivalent number of professionals operating at top efficiency to produce one new job. In that event, what’s to stop the companies involved from moving to places where they might get 20 dollars of investment to produce two new jobs? Does this feel like a good deal?

Beyond economics, though, does AI acutally live up to its hype?

A wonderfully written piece, by Ian Bogost, in The Atlantic last March makes the following points:

“In science fiction, the promise or threat of artificial intelligence is tied to humans’ relationship to conscious machines. Whether it’s Terminators or Cylons or servants like the ‘Star Trek’ computer or the Star Wars droids, machines warrant the name AI when they become sentient – or at least self-aware enough to act with expertise, not to mention volition and surprise.

“What to make, then, of the explosion of supposed-AI in media, industry, and technology? Autonomous vehicles, for example. . .deploy a combination of sensors, data, and computation to perform the complex work of driving. But in most cases, the systems making claims to artificial intelligence aren’t sentient, self-aware, volitional, or even surprising. They’re just software.”

That’s right. And we are the wetware that created them. The question is only whether we remain the truly intelligent ones in our midst.

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The meaning of leadership

You can find them in all walks of life, in all fields of endeavour. They seem to walk taller, though not necessarily speak louder, than the rest of us. They rarely shout, but they always inspire through their deeds and words.

They are the leaders among us.

I was reminded of this while reading a short piece in the Telegraph-Journal about Scott McCain, owner of the Saint John Sea Dogs, who addressed his team before a recent play-off game in Windsor, Ontario.

According to team forward Bokondji Imama, “He told us that he was already proud of us and that we’ve had a hell of a season, so that kind of gave us back our confidence. He said that whatever happens, he’s always going to be proud of us and he’s always going to love us.”

Added team captain Spencer Smallman: “He came in and just wanted to reassure us that from a organization standpoint, he had full confidence in us. He definitely psyched the boys up. It means so much. He’s a powerful guy. He’s right at the top, and none of this would be possible without him. We’re very grateful for him, and to hear those words and see it in his eyes how confident he is us, I think the confidence spread through the room.”

I know Scott McCain personally, and he has always struck me as a natural leader. But are leaders born or made? As U.S. business consultant Erica Andersen wrote in Forbes Magazine a few years ago, “What I’ve learned by observing thousands of people in business over the past 30 years, though, is that – like most things – leadership capability falls along a bell curve.  Some people are, indeed, born leaders.These folks at the top of the leadership bell curve start out very good, and tend to get even better as they go along. Then there are the folks at the bottom of the curve: that bottom 10-15 per cent of people who, no matter how hard they try, simply aren’t ever going to be very good leaders. They just don’t have the innate wiring.

“Then there’s the big middle of the curve, where the vast majority of us live. And that’s where the real potential for ‘made’ leaders lies. It’s what most of my interviewers assume isn’t true – when, in fact, it is: Most folks who start out with a modicum of innate leadership capability can actually become very good, even great leaders.”

This must be indisputably good news for New Brunswick and the rest of the Atlantic Provinces. It’s doubtful there’s ever been a time in the recent past of this region when good leaders have been in heavier demand. And the possibility that most of us, given the chance and under the right circumstances, can become the heroes of our lives is, frankly, comforting.

So then, what shall our leadership qualities look like? Think about Donald Trump’s nest of psychological predilections and reverse them.

Good leaders are not narcissists. They are empathizers, because to motivate people, they must understand what makes others tick.

Good leaders are not bullies. They are negotiators, because to get anything done well, they must inspire, not threaten or cajole.

Then there’s the usual shopping list of characteristics business magazines and related websites are fond of trotting out: honesty, confidence, the ability to delegate chores, passion, a sense of innovation, integrity, authenticity, patience, open-mindedness, determination, decisiveness.

We can observe genuine leaders in all sectors of our society – government, education, health care, the arts, business.

Just take some time and look closely.

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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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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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Real action on climate change

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We can debate the merits of New Brunswick’s new climate action plan until we raise the amount of hot air in the atmosphere to dangerously toxic levels. But, in the end, we are forced – some of us kicking and screaming – to agree that as government proclamations go this is a pretty good one.

Sure, it lacks specificity on what to do with the coal-fired generating station at Belledune (apart from acknowledging a phase-out sometime between 2030 and 2040). And it makes no promises on precisely which form of carbon pricing scheme it intends to adopt (an outright tax or a cap-and-trade system).

But where it falls short in some areas, it compensates in others – a fact that has not escaped the attention of normally arch critics of the provincial Liberals. “The premier needed to go the first minister conference with a good pan in his pocket and he’s got it,” said David Coon, leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick, last week. “It’s a plan he can put on the table alongside the ones the premiers of Ontario, Quebec and Alberta have put together – it is in that league.”

Others, of curse, are not so sure. After all, no one in politics gets a free ride in the plaudits department. As Kevin Lacey, regional spokesperson of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation told the Telegraph-Journal, “No matter what mechanism they choose to price carbon, it will be borne by the average worker who will end up paying the costs. A carbon tax is another in along line of cash grabs by this government. First the HST hike and now this carbon tax will make it harder for working families already struggling to make ends meet.”

Still, the mantra of this government – and, now, every other across the land – is that greening the economy and economic development are not mutually exclusive concepts. As some costs and prices increase, new opportunities for business and job creation emerge. Says Premier Gallant in the statement that accompanied the plan last week: “This will help us combat climate change in a way that respects New Brunswick’s economy, challenges and opportunities.”

In fact, the document is refreshingly declarative on the subject of environmental relief and economic development. “The provincial government will design and implement a clean-technology acceleration strategy that: Builds on early-stage innovation research, development and demonstrations (RD&D); accelerates clean technology commercialization; fosters greater clean technology adoption; and enhances connections and collaboration between business market needs and research expertise to accelerate the development and use of clean, low-carbon technology solutions.”

It will also “Create the conditions for growth and job creation in the areas of clean technology, products and services related to climate change in all sectors such as housing, agriculture, forestry, manufacturing, energy efficiency, renewable energy, information technology and transportation.

It will “Support a culture of innovation to pursue economic opportunities presented by our changing climate such as tools and approaches to adaptation developed in New Brunswick that are marketable elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, it will “Work with the tourism and recreation sector to pursue new opportunities presented by our changing climate and to promote New Brunswick as a world class destination. . .(and) take advantage of the large financial opportunities that exist through reducing energy costs and the potential for reinvesting the savings into New Brunswick’s economy.”

Naturally, there will come a time when this government – should it persist into a second term – will be held to account for its promises of greener pastures and jobs. But for now, the plan to get us there appears both prudent and possible.

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It could be worse

At this time of year, in this region of the increasingly Great White North, we have a pernicious habit of wearing our worries on our sleeves.

Call it a somber reflection on the year that was or an anxious anticipation of the one that looms before us, but our moods rarely improve with the promise of winter’s darkening skies.

Our kids are still leaving for sunnier economic climes. Good, sustainable jobs continue to evade us. Our public debts and deficits persist in vexing us, though we haven’t the foggiest notion of how to settle them. Meanwhile, the pundits and prognosticators among us sally forth like so many members of a chorus in a Greek tragedy with whispers and whines of imminent doom.

But are our lives in the Atlantic Provinces really as awful as we imagine them to be? Think of those we’ve welcomed from other, sundered parts of the globe. Specifically, think of the Syrian newcomers who have, in recent months, found new reasons to hope along Canada’s East Coast.

Last year, a BuzzFeed News report, relying on data supplied by the United Nations and assorted research groups, concluded that in 2014, “as the war enters its fifth year. . .the most shocking finding is that life expectancy in Syria dropped from 76 years in 2010 to an estimated 56 years in 2014. . .Syria’s population has shrunk from 20.9 million to 17.6 million during that time as people have fled overseas or been killed, the report says. The country is now the world’s biggest source of refugees. Over half of Syria’s pre-war population have fled their homes during the conflict. . . The bulk of that group have remained displaced within Syria. Around 200,000 people have died in the conflict so far.”

A problem that’s far less dramatic than any of these, but nonetheless troubling, is the rise of anti-immigration sentiment everywhere, it seems, except Canada. According to a New York Tomes article late last month, “(Donald Trump’s) promise to deport (2-3 million) immigrants who have committed crimes suggested that he would dramatically step up removals of both people in the United States illegally and those with legal status. If carried out, the plan potentially would require raids by a vastly larger federal immigration force to hunt down these immigrants and send them out of the country.

Added Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York, for the Times: “If he wants to deport two to three million people, he’s got to rely on tactics that will divide communities and create fear throughout the country. He would have to conduct a sweep, or raids or tactics such as those, to reach the numbers he wants to reach. It would create a police state, in which they would have to be aggressively looking for people.”

Fear is the operative word these days. It is again becoming a media meme song. Still, here in Atlantic Canada, we may count our blessings – however minor we often perceive them to be – on our sleeves frayed with worry. Even the Conference Board of Canada says we’re doing pretty well, all things considered.

Says Marie-Christine Bernard, Associate Director, Provincial Forecast: “All three Maritime provincial economies are expected to perform better in the new year. This largely boils down to growth in the tourism, forestry, agriculture, and fishing sectors, as well as increasing exports to the U.S. and abroad boosted by a lower Canadian dollar.”

So, buck up my fellow New Brusnwickers. It could be worse. . .much worse.

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Time to plant a tree

IMG_1398For years, this trick-or-treat month was also known – at least, in policy circles – as the four-week period during which to celebrate the achievements of Atlantic Canada’s small businesses and entrepreneurs, an overture that always seemed to me to be one part patronizing and two parts disingenuous.

After all, as any entrepreneur will tell you, this sort of enterprise is a 24-7, year-round proposition. There are no (or few) paid vacations. Supper is, more often than not, consumed cold over a kitchen sink. And don’t even think about a cushy retirement. Who needs a special month to contemplate the textured meaning of the late Steve Jobs’ assessment of the vocation: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Easy for him to say. Still, there’s little doubt that entrepreneurship has played – and continues to play – a disproportionately important role in the regional economy, something the University of New Brunswick must understand to its institutional bones. It just received a large gift of money to support innovative enterprise across the province. Meanwhile, in Fredericton, a non-profit organization recently joined up with a clutch of other like-minded groups to, among other things, spread the gospel of small business.

A few years back, a federal government monograph attempted, mostly successfully, to explain the character and dimension of this dynamic sector on the East Coast. “As we go about our daily routines, small businesses, defined as those that employ fewer than 100 people, are all around us,” it winsomely declared. “We see them in malls, operating out of homes and along the main streets of every town. But of what importance are these small businesses to our lives in Atlantic Canada?”

Answering its own question, the document continued: “Of the approximately 88,000 businesses in Atlantic Canada, 95 per cent are considered small businesses. . . The average annual entry rate of new businesses in Atlantic Canada from 1990-2000 was 18.2 per cent. When one considers that the business entry rate for Canada averaged 14.5 per cent during this period, Atlantic Canada asserts itself as being a very entrepreneurial region. . . In 2000, the self-employed represented 13.4 per cent of total employment in the region or 137,300 people, an increase of almost 20,000 individuals compared to a decade earlier. Self-employment has increased almost 17 per cent, whereas overall employment has increased only 9 per cent.”

What’s more, “The 2001 Census indicates that more than half the self-employed have at least some form of post-secondary education, with 19 per cent possessing a bachelor’s degree or higher. Interestingly, the highest rates of self-employment growth are occurring for those that have a university degree. This trend towards better-educated entrepreneurs is even more pronounced among females, a promising circumstance in light of the growth among female entrepreneurs generally.”

Still, there’s a downside and it remains as stubbornly challenging today as it did 15 years ago. “As the knowledge-based economy continues to grow in importance, so does the need for ongoing training and development of managers and employees to remain competitive,” the government report observed.

All of which suggests the surest path to a more enlightened and entrepreneurial society. That’s the trick, of course. But the treat is clearly worth the effort.

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Cap and fade

It was never going to be a winsome decision, but the federal government’s determination to impose some form of carbon pricing on the provinces is proving to be the first great test of the proposition that when it comes to both the environment and economy, one can have one’s cake and eat it too.

As Nova Scotia’s, Newfoundland and Labrador’s and Saskatchewan’s environment ministers stormed out of a meeting convened last week to explain the Trudeau government’s determination to unilaterally impose a framework that would exact a $10-per-tonne price on carbon beginning in 2018 – a levy that would increase by $10 per tonne each year until hitting $50 per tonne in 2022 – New Brunswick’s man on the ground shrugged sanguinely and, in effect, declared, “Hey, no big deal”.

Repeating his government’s oft-sung melody on the subject, Environment Minister Serge Rousselle trilled, “Any price on carbon brought forward by our government will be revenue neutral. And we learned from the Trudeau government that all the money received from this province will be sent back.”

That money could, by some estimates, amount to as much as $800 million a year, depending on the mechanisms the Province uses to fulfill its climate-change obligations to Ottawa. But, says Premier Brian Gallant, not to worry. “If we in New Brunswick are to get any type of monies from a price on carbon, we would reinvest that money right away. It would very be investments that would spur economic growth and a green economy. . .We agree with a lot of what is happening with the Trudeau government. They have focused on growth and they’re focused on making sure our economy is sustainable and that we transition to a low-carbon economy, which we agree with as well.”

Still, the devil is in the details. The degree to which a carbon tax – or, alternatively, a cap and trade system – properly addresses the larger problem of greenhouse gas emissions depends entirely on the technological savvy of any given province. Put another way: Are we, in New Brunswick, ramped up to pour the money clawed back from polluting industries into cleaner ones? Or will taxpayers simply be left holding bag of good government intentions – again?

On paper and in theory, the World Bank says there’s plenty of evidence that carbon pricing works. “A price on carbon helps shift the burden for the damage back to those who are responsible for it, and who can reduce it,” it notes on one of its many web pages. “Instead of dictating who should reduce emissions where and how, a carbon price gives an economic signal and polluters decide for themselves. In this way, the overall environmental goal is achieved. The carbon price also stimulates clean technology and market innovation, fuelling new, low-carbon drivers of economic growth.”

Moreover, it observes, “Some 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states and provinces already use carbon pricing mechanisms, with more planning to implement them in the future. Together the carbon pricing schemes now in place cover about half their emissions, which translates to about 13 per cent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.”

What this observation fails to clarify, however, is that where carbon-pricing plans appear to achieve the desired results, they do so as a result of many years of coordinated implementation schemes engineered by both governmental and private-sector players. In New Brunswick and, indeed, the rest of Canada, we do not enjoy the luxury of time.

We may, one day, have our cake and eat it too. But, for now, the taste will be bittersweet.

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Oh, we lucky few

Certainly, we in New Brunswick face some tough problems, some hoary challenges. Even a casual review the public accounts will tell you that. So will the unemployment rate, systemic poverty in certain parts of the province and persistent illiteracy and innumeracy.

But, in our quieter moments, even the most disenfranchised or cynical among us must admit, all things considered, we have it pretty good. After all, consider the alternatives.

The other day, CNN reported: “Donald Trump – struggling to move past a week of one controversy after another – is making clear that he’s willing to go it alone in the final weeks of the campaign. As the Republican nominee tries to recover from one of his toughest stretches, few prominent GOP leaders – other than those who advise him or are on his payroll – seem willing to launch a full-throated rescue effort. So Trump sought to do the heavy lifting himself, delivering a feisty speech that attempted to reframe the campaign and extract him from the quagmire of the past week, which included a disappointing debate performance, a roiling controversy over whether he paid taxes, and ill-advised attacks on a Latina beauty queen – a feud he couldn’t seem to let go.”

Yet, the man is polling at 41 per cent public approval. His rival, Hillary Clinton, is barely squeaking ahead at 45 per cent exactly one month before the U.S. federal election. Oh, brother!

Still, our American cousins might take some solace from the fact that their institutions of justice, law and morality have not entirely crumbled. Can we say the same about Syria, from which refugees arrive in Canada every day? Can we say the same about Zimbabwe? Ask Mark McKinnon. He’ll give you an earful.

He and his wife owned a farm in that southeast African country until last month when government operatives summarily expropriated his land, animals and chattels. Forced to flee the land his family had worked for generations, he and his spouse, children an relatives are now ensconced in Canada.

“We had to get out,” he told The Zimbabwean the other day. “I was going to just send the family out and fight it myself but they’re following me and would have locked me up. . .I was in hiding. . . The Canadians have been amazing. I’ve never been here before but we’re going to build a new life until we can come home. We’re on one side of Canada staying with an aunt, and my parents are on the other side staying with my sister.”

According to the story, posted online, “Mark is one of the latest victims of Zimbabwe’s state of lawlessness. The well-ordered farm that his grandfather carved out of virgin bush when he arrived from Canada and bought the land in the late 1960s, is already descending into chaos. . . It was a familiar scenario. Government ‘lists’ the farm and issues an ‘offer letter’ to a few connected people. They simply chase the owner off – with the help of the police – under the guise of the ‘Land Reform’ programme. . .If the land falls within the peri-urban area around towns, they change the land usage status, subdivide and sell off hundreds of small plots to make themselves millions.”

We walk down the streets of Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John and never fear that bombs will fall on our heads. We stroll through the back-40s of our farms in rural New Brunswick and never worry about government thugs evicting us from our lawful livelihoods.

We have, in short, much to be thankful for – we lucky few

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The take on clean tech

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Assuming my personal pantheon of household gods – including the one that lords over my bank account – continues to gaze affectionately at my ramshackle abode in the west end of Moncton, I can imagine one day installing solar panels on my roof’s southern exposure.

I can even divine a day when a compact, ridiculously efficient wind turbine installed against my back fence feeds power to my smart-grid controller, which, in turn, tells my fridge when to run and my furnace when to start. Meanwhile, my spiffy, new Tesla Model S sits happily in my driveway fully charged until its next trip to the neighbourhood electrical boosting station.

Flights of fancy are the territories of the future. But, in important respects, the future might be just around the corner if certain federal and provincial officials in Atlantic Canada have anything to say.

The extent to which New Brunswick may expect to participate in what’s being billed far and near as the nation’s “clean technology revolution” depends entirely on public and private-sector willingness to get out in front of these developments. That this province – which needs all the innovative economic opportunities it can digest – should not hesitate is an obvious no-brainer.

Not long ago, while making a speech in Alberta, Navdeep Bains, the federal minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, announced more $206 million in funding for 36 clean technology projects across the country.

In a prepared statement, department officials stipulated that “Investing in innovation, supporting clean technology and encouraging sustainable practices will help create jobs, expand access to international markets and make Canadian companies more competitive in the global economy.

“The minister announced the investment in Sustainable Development Technology Canada,” which will, among things, provide “support for clean technology companies at a critical point in the innovation spectrum: it allows innovators to develop and demonstrate their technologies prior to entering the market. . .To stay competitive, Canada must lead the way in innovation and must embrace opportunities to create the clean jobs of the future. The Government of Canada will continue investing in innovative clean technology projects that grow local economies and promote environmental sustainability.”

Minister Bains, himself, stated, “Now is the time for Canadian companies to capture their share of the global market for clean technology. From waste management to biofuels to greener solutions for the oil and gas industry, these Canadian companies are leading the world in intelligent, environmentally responsible and economically sound solutions in a number of key economic sectors. . . Canadians understand that a healthy environment and a strong economy are not competing priorities.”

He’s right. Canadians do understand this – or, at least, they’re getting the picture. A study released last month by the group, Clean Energy Canada, found that spending on this sector in 2015 amounted to $10 billion. That was the second-best performance on record. Said the group’s executive director, Merran Smith, in the report: “We’re living in a new era of political resolve to tackle climate change. . .Spending on clean energy will likely grow again in the years ahead.”

Intriguingly, Clean Energy noted, spending on the sector in Atlantic Canada last year jumped by 58 per cent to just about $1.2 billion. Given the region’s relatively small population, that result compared favourably to Ontario’s $5.3-billion investment in renewable energy in 2015.

The trick, of course, for this region will be learning how to transform its traditional industries even as it embraces new, cutting-edge ones. It’s encouraging that this process seems to be underway.

My hunt for solar panels might not be so whimsical, after all.

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