Category Archives: Culture

Compelled by joy

FullSizeRenderWith the world the way it is, that simple and sweet feeling under the sun is elusive and almost unnameable. What is it? Walk down any street in Moncton as the season turns and it comes to you: a fleeting moment of actual joy.

Keep walking, and it grows in your breast. If only we could bottle it. Is the suggestion that this should be the organizing principle buttressing Moncton’s economic and social development too naive, too radical?

‘Joy’ is one of those funny words in the English language. Often, people assume it is a permanent state of being – something to which we must aspire. Some link it, exclusively, to a theistic condition of thought. Consider, for example, this excerpt from 20th-Century scholar C.S. Lewis’ autobiography Surprised by Joy: Top of Form

“You must picture me alone. . .night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

He continued: “I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words ‘compelle intrare,’ compel them to come in, have been so abused be wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”

Nicely said, though I lean towards secular rather than scriptural salves. When U.S. President Donald Trump floods the Twitterverse with his absurd, xenophobic epistles, I go for long, meandering strolls.

Moments of joy: Listening, on my IPhone, to the Bare Naked Ladies and The Persuasions jam with complete, hopeful abandon; listening to anything by The Strumbellas; listening to Neil Young trill ‘Old Man’ now that he his just that guy; listening to Leonard Cohen’s last album, because, yes, I want it darker; listening to K.D. Lang sing ‘Hallelujah’.

Moments of joy: Watching, again on my IPhone, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie eviscerate establishment predicaments.

“Hugh: Underneath the bellied skies, where dust and rain find space to fall, to fall and lie and change again, without a care or mind at all for art and life and things above; in that, there, look just there. No right, left, up, down, past, or future, we have but ourselves to fear.

“Stephen: Hugh, you chose that poem; for God’s sake why?

“Hugh: I chose it for a number of reasons.

“Stephen: I see, the most important one being?

“Hugh: because it was short.”

Time is, indeed, short. But, somehow, it gets deliciously longer when we begin to rebuild the world one community’s brick at a time. That simple and sweet feeling under the sun – as often fleeting as it might be – is ours to recognize and embrace.

Here, as I stroll, Moncton wants to rebuild its downtown even as it strives to welcome newcomers from strife-riddled parts of the world. Keep trying.

Joy is just around the corner.

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Surviving ‘The Big Smoke’

DSC_0153Toronto was, once upon a fanciful time, one of the least assuming major cities in the western world. Affordable, polite, even deferential, it stood there on the North American landscape with nothing to offer but its reputation for blurting to the world: “Sorry, eh?”

Times have changed. I now walk through the neighbourhoods of my youth and witness the full-scale transformation of tiny shacks, which may have cost hopeful, young couples all of $12,000 to buy in the early 1960s; today they’ll set you back about a million bucks.

How do I, a Toronto boy, reconcile my kid memories, growing up in the city’s once-gritty, amazingly fun Yorkville district with the recent news?

“The average selling price of all homes in the Greater Toronto Area skyrocketed last month, climbing 33.2 per cent from a year ago to $916,567,” blared the Toronto Star last week. “The latest data from the Toronto Real Estate Board comes as policy-makers mull potential measures to slow the rapid pace of price growth. Here are some of the factors believed to be playing a role in the upward trajectory of house prices in Canada’s largest city:

The arrival of newcomers to the city is a frequently cited reason for rising prices. Roughly 120,000 people immigrated from outside of Canada into Ontario from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016, according to Statistics Canada, with a sizable portion of them landing in the Toronto area. ‘(The city) is a magnet for both other Canadians and for people from other countries, and it’s the economic engine of the entire country,’ said Dianne Usher, senior vice-president at Johnston and Daniel, a division of Royal LePage.”

Then, there’s this from the same news source: “One of the culprits often fingered for soaring prices in the GTA is the lack of developable land. In 2005, the Ontario government introduced the Places to Grow Act, a piece of legislation aimed at protecting the Greenbelt and curbing urban sprawl. However, the legislation is often also blamed for escalating real estate prices, as some argue there isn’t enough land to build homes. Usher says the two land transfer taxes that Torontonians have to pay have also discouraged many from selling their homes, further exacerbating the supply problem. ‘It’s stopping people from moving up,’ says Usher. ‘They’re renovating and adding on instead of moving.’”

As we endure another round of ‘he-said-they-said’ nonsense in New Brunswick’s everlasting controversy broiling over property-tax assessments, we might remember that other municipalities in this grand nation of ours remain absurdly overpriced. That shouldn’t render us sanguine about our own circumstances, but nor should we jump to conclusions about the putative land of milk and honey that Toronto – ‘The Big Smoke’, ‘The Six’ – has always represented.

A place is only as accommodating as its citizens decide it must be. For my money – both figurative and literal coin – Moncton has been the most welcoming burg in my getting-younger life. It routinely opens its hearts and minds to newcomers. It may struggle with the condition of its downtown, its cultural cohesion, its frequently challenging school system and educational amenities, but it has never failed to improve, evolve and remain essentially liveable.

Sadly, I can no longer say that about the city where I was born, some 1,000 kilometres due west, up the track.

Shortly, my better half and I will board a plane to visit our daughter, son-in-law and their two beautiful kids in the gritty heart of TO.

You can bet that city won’t be blurting: “Sorry, eh?”

Moncton’s resurgo redux

 

If there’s anything supernatural about the much-ballyhooed ‘Moncton Miracle’, it’s that the city manages to thrive despite itself. That could be said about almost all successful municipalities, of course. But one look at this community’s downtown core, and you would not necessarily detect the urban energy and drive bubbling beneath the surface.

That, fortunately, may be changing. The city lifted the lid on its new plan at a public gathering at the Capitol Theatre last month, and the future of the downtown appears brighter than it has for years. As Mayor Dawn Arnold told the CBC, “We need to be intentional about that development,” she said. “We need to have a plan so that things work together. We need more people living in our downtown.”

Naturally, this is not the first time civic engineers and other assorted boosters have talked gamely about a downtown renaissance, within a broader economic development context. The city’s website currently carries this message attributed to Mayor Arnold:

“Earlier this year (2016), Moncton City Council participated in a strategic planning session to discuss priorities for the next four years. This session was key in helping Council to focus on our most significant issues, and shed light on what we must do to move Moncton forward. During our lively conversations, several key themes resonated loud and clear. We need to cut the red tape; we need to grow our economy; we need more economy. We must continue to leverage our existing investments and collaborate with our diverse private sector partners to make smart investments in the future. We are a community of dynamic entrepreneurs and skilled workers – we must take every opportunity to tap into the talent we have right here.”

Presumably, that means building and maintaining a vibrant downtown area. The fundamental problem, however, has had less to do with money and resources to get the job done than with a persistent, if not pervasive, ambivalence among some segments of city society. Even the late Reuben Cohen was a quiet sceptic. “I was born on top of a pool room in a cold-water flat on Main Street,” he told me a few years before his death, at 93, in 2014. “My father owned a grocery store next door to it. My mother would take me to Sunbeam bakery to buy cream puffs at five cents a pop. That was amazing. The big-wigs in the city would always head downtown to get their daily shaves at the barbershop. That was, I believe, 15 cents a pop.”

Still, he averred, “You can’t compare one time with another. You can’t compare an age when the only commercial games in town were, in fact, located downtown, with an age when cars and trucks take so many people so far away for their shopping and eating. That’s just the way things happen.”

Discussions about downtown cores always provoke existential debate. Should they cater primarily to pedestrians or drivers? How much and what type of parking should be available. Who constitutes the target market: businesses and office workers or cultural organizations and urban dwellers?

In fact, healthy, thriving downtowns typically accommodate all modes of life, work and transportation. That is the essential challenge of crafting a city’s personality beyond the big box stores, shopping plazas, strip malls and triple-lane expressways that make the outskirts of Fargo, North Dakota – visually, at any rate – no different than Halifax, or St. John’s or even Moncton.

As a fan of bustling urban cores, I’m heartened by this city’s latest attempt to reinvent its own for new generations of residents.

Why I’ve gone dark

 

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Calling occupants of interplanetary craft: Leave a message; we’ll get back to you

I have no problem with the concept of ‘social media’. It sounds welcoming enough, even comforting. Let’s say you are a shut-in and no one comes to your door. You fire up the Internet, login to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other of myriad, electronically devised stand-ins for people, and commence to chat for hours. What could go wrong?

Just this: In most cases, no one trolling for information about you and yours gives a rat’s derrière about you and yours. More often, they simply want to blunt your attention to reality (the sky is either blue, or it’s snowing); or they want to steal your money, identity and, in the final analysis, soul.

Not long ago, I disconnected from every social media account I once had. That includes Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Let’s call it an experiment. But, so far, it’s working well. I’m calmer, more sanguine. I have more time to read for pleasure. I actually talk to real people – look them in their eyes and not into the vibrant screen of my smart phone. At the very least, I’m a better dinner guest.

Last year, The New York Times ran a piece entitled, “Is Social Media Disconnecting Us From the Big Picture?” In it, the writer observed: “Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that Donald Trump could be elected president, but I was. I live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan, two of the most liberal places in the country. But even online, I wasn’t seeing many signs of support for him. How did that blindness occur? Social media is my portal into the rest of the world ­– my periscope into the communities next to my community, into how the rest of the world thinks and feels. And it completely failed me.

The writer continues; ‘In hindsight, that failure makes sense. I’ve spent nearly 10 years coaching Facebook – and Instagram and Twitter – on what kinds of news and photos I don’t want to see, and they all behaved accordingly. Each time I liked an article, or clicked on a link, or hid another, the algorithms that curate my streams took notice and showed me only what they thought I wanted to see. That meant I didn’t realize that most of my family members, who live in rural Virginia, were voicing their support for Trump online, and I didn’t see any of the pro-Trump memes that were in heavy circulation before the election. I never saw a Trump hat or a sign or a shirt in my feeds, and the only Election Day selfies I saw were of people declaring their support for Hillary Clinton.”

Uh, oops.

Still, now that I am completely disconnected from social media, I find my mortal energy re-emerging. I comprehend that I have precious decades left to me on this coil: To see and play with my grandkids, to build gardens, to write books, to laugh with my wife in the cold, stark winters of our lives (and in the surprisingly warm summers of our fourth decade together). I find peace. I find joy.

Walk downtown on any boulevard you happen to choose. Look up on a warm spring day, watch the birds gathering in the stoops of derelict buildings, creating their nests. Cast your gaze to the horizon and remember what life was like before the incessant buzzing and constant bother of smart phones and iPads. Put it all down, if just for a moment. Let your mind wander to that best part of your life, your past, the history of you.

What could go wrong?

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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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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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New Brunswick in the post-truth era

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In an age when opinions, belief and faith trump (pun, fully intended) facts, evidence and even reality, itself, it’s not surprising that the Oxford English Dictionary should induct “post-truth” as its duly designated word of the year.

Other frontrunners in 2016 were, in no particular order: “alt-right”, signifying an ideological predisposition towards right-wing nuttiness; “chatbot”, referring to a computer program with pretentions to humanlike interactions; and “Brexiteer”, indicating an individual who just can’t wait to rip up every trade agreement that tethers the United Kingdom to continental Europe.

Methinks, I discern a developing meme in all of this. As for post-truth, it’s an adjective the OED defines thusly: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

What’s next? “Thinkiness”, defined as the condition in which a person only appears to be weighing “objective facts” on his or her way to ultimately concluding that the world is flat, dinosaurs were God’s little joke 6,000 years ago, and Donald Trump will be an enlightened reformer from his perch in the penthouse of the mid-town Manhattan hotel that bears his name?

In fact, in New Brunswick, we can observe our own versions of post-truthiness rearing their angry, squalling heads.

There is, for example, the persistent supposition that governments (of both political stripes) don’t work, never did and never will. I call this the Kelly Leitch syndrome. You know her. She’s the presumptive candidate for the federal Conservative Party of Canada, who likes to sprinkle phrases like “average guys and gals on the street” into her regular discourses on the despicable “political and media elites”. Funny thing, that. Dr. Leitch earned a MD from the University of Toronto and an MBA from Dalhousie University. She was a fellow of clinical paediatric orthopaedics at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles in 2002. Today, she’s an orthopaedic paediatric surgeon at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. She’s also a member of parliament.

Can you spell E-L-I-T-E? Still, droves of New Brunswickers buy her brand of populism and believe, in their hearts, that, despite her academic pedigree and evidently comfortable affluence, she’s one of them. She “gets” them in the same way a billionaire real estate developer from New York “gets” the poor, benighted, unemployed factory worker in Flint, Michigan. All hail the rhetoric and campaign tactics of the practiced politicos among us. As for the facts. . .well, let us deliver a pox on all the houses where these reside.

What about refugees and immigrants in post-truth New Brunswick? Recent public opinion surveys suggest that this province’s long-standing willingness to accept and welcome newcomers into its mix is corroding. Only two years ago, Atlantic Canada led the rest of the country in tolerance and acceptance. According to a CBC report at that time, “In the Atlantic provinces, 86 per cent said they would be comfortable if someone of a different ethnic background married their best friend, while in the prairies that dropped to 71 per cent. In B.C., 72 per cent of respondents ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that they are proud of Canada’s cultural mosaic. In another illustration of regional variation, 86 per cent of respondents in the Maritimes said they would feel ‘comfortable’ or ‘very comfortable’ if ‘someone with a different ethnic background moved next door to me.’”

Now, in the post-Brexit, pre-Trump world, these numbers are deflating in this region, in this province, thanks almost entirely to fake news – engineered by the gut – published on social media.

Thinkiness? No, just think.

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Homegrown populism

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Those who believe that a Trump-style wave of populism could never gain a toehold in New Brunswick might want to conduct a little thought experiment. It’s easier than you imagine.

Take one dynamic, provocative, plain-spoken leader who wears his or her “devotion” to the common man or woman on his or her sleeve, add a mastery of social media gimmickry, sprinkle in coarse rhetoric about the evil of “elites”, lay on dark musings about the “enemies” within, and, hey presto, you’ve got yourself one, delicious cake you can both have and eat simultaneously.

That’s, of course, at the bleakest end of the spectrum. In fact, successful populists come in all shapes, sizes and shades, representing various threat levels to rational discourse.

When former Alberta premier Ralph Klein died in 2013, the Toronto Star ran an obituary that noted, in part, “Soon after his mayoral election in October 1980, when boom town Calgary was a magnet for unskilled labourers from across Canada, Klein gained less than favourable national attention by blaming eastern ‘creeps and bums’ for straining the city’s social and police services. He said the only solution was to ‘kick ass and get them out of town.’ It was this down-home, off-the-cuff style that fuelled his popularity both when he was mayor and premier.”

Roger Gibbins, then a senior fellow of the Canada West Foundation and a former department chief of political science at the University of Calgary, observed in the story, “It’s a difficult phrase to use in Alberta, but there was class politics at play even though class politics doesn’t play much of a role here. Klein was an authentic populist in the province. . .Klein was the real thing. Real working class.”

New Brunswick, we know, is not Alberta (though, from time to time, we have supplied that western province with a healthy proportion of its labour force). But we do possess many of the ingredients a savvy populist would need to settle in nicely. These are, in no particular order: An under-employed and anxious population; an economic divide between rural and urban areas; high rates of illiteracy and innumeracy; rising costs of just about everything; and an entrenched, if not yet dominant, sense that facts are handmaidens to opinions, no matter how outrageous our thoughts are at any given moment.

It’s no surprise that many of these conditions presaged the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom earlier this year. Writing for Forbes magazine’s online edition last July, geopolitics expert George Friedman observed, “There’s a growing distrust of multinational financial, trade, and defense organizations created after World War II. The EU, the IMF, and NATO are good examples of this.

Many who oppose the EU believe these institutions no longer serve a purpose. Not only that, these organizations take control away from individual nations. Mistrust and fear of losing control made Brexit a reasonable solution to them.”

The operative words there are “mistrust” and “fear” – music to many populists’ ears. Who do we tend to regard warily in this province? Politicians representing traditional parties? Government institutions? Corporate bigwigs? Banks? Entrenched wealth? Conversely, who do we like to embrace? Working stiffs? Small-time entrepreneurs? Boot-strapping innovators? Community volunteers? Remember the COR Party, about which New Brunswick political scientist Geoff Martin once wrote, “In electoral terms (it) was not a party of big business or the affluent. . . In its heyday (it) was dominated by middle-income and small-business people, professionals, and the self-employed.”

Suffice to say, back in the early 1990s, that was no mere thought experiment. Neither, we now know, is a Trump presidency.

Up, up and away

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Cautioning prudence to investors desperate to cash in on the next, big thing is not much different than spitting into the wind. For reasons that should seem obvious, you are bound to regret it.

As it happens, the Cassandras of the financial world are few and far between whenever the market smells red meat in the air. Are we now heading into this mortally treacherous territory thanks to the impending legalization of pot for recreational use in Canada?

Last week, Moncton’s OrganiGram, a medical marijuana producer, confirmed plans to build out its production capacity to 26,000 kilograms of the stuff (about 9,000 kg more than its current output) annually. Meanwhile, according to a report in this newspaper, the company has “made some new friends in high places. Trailer Park Boys, the hit Canadian comedy TV show, will be collaborating with the cannabis company on an exclusive strain of marijuana as soon as it becomes legalized.”

Said OrganiGram’s chief commercial officer, Ray Gracewood: “We need to be strategic about the opportunities that will be afforded to us with the advent of recreational use in Canada. Brands will play a key role within the cannabis market space, and we’re devoting the thought leadership and developing our strategy well in advance of these expected changes to ensure we’re prepared.”

Elsewhere, despite their mindful-sounding public statements, the industry’s “thought leaders” are licking their chops without actually knowing how the shape of their emerging business will solidify.

According to a piece in Cantech Letter, “Already setting new record highs for months, shares of Canadian marijuana stocks have reached lofty new territories after California voted to legalize marijuana. On Tuesday, (November 9) while many were mulling the shocking surge to the White House by Donald Trump, the state of California passed Proposition 64, which will allow residents 21 years and older to buy and possess up to one ounce of cannabis for recreational purposes and to grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use. The new measure will create an environment for state-licensed businesses to set up retail marijuana sales. With a proposed 15 per cent sales tax, the state is expected to take in an added $1 billion in tax revenue from legalization.”

Indeed, as the CTV reported last week, “Shares in Canopy Growth Corporation (based in Smith Falls, Ontario) saw its value hit $17.86, double its level from a week earlier, before falling again. The total value of the company’s stocks briefly hit $2 billion, twice what it was a few days before. Stock in Aurora Cannabis, based in Alberta, jumped to $3.95, up from around $2 a week earlier.

Mettrum Health Corp. also saw its trading stopped twice, while Supreme Pharmaceuticals Inc. and OrganiGram Holdings Inc. had their trading stopped once each.”

All of this feels vaguely familiar. Enthusiasm for the “new” and the “exciting” is a permanent feature of market capitalism. As with virtually everything within the realm of human volition, it produces both good and ill effects. On the one hand, ventures obtain access to badly needed capital for expansion and product innovation. On the other hand, too much hot blood can generate bubbles, which have a nasty habit of bursting when you least expect.

The age of legal “Mary-Jane” in New Brunswick is about to dawn. That’s great, as far as it goes. We could use the business boost in this province. But let’s not forget that all industries take time to mature. We want them to survive and thrive, despite the fickle headwinds that conspire to knock them down, cold and stoned.

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