Category Archives: Economy

Bye, bye Gritty Beach

Well now, isn’t this a fantastic story of democracy in action?

First, property owners in New Brunswick complain about inexplicable hikes to their land taxes. The public broadcaster (CBC) investigates and finds evidence of incoherent policies. The premier of this province finally announces a new regime to prevent social unrest over this issue in the future. And one of his ministers apologizes fulsomely for any inconvenience.

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Who says I’m not happy?

All of which to say is that New Brunswick’s Liberal government is now busy instructing its acolytes and hopefuls on the best, most precise way to lose the next provincial election.

What could possibly have inspired Service New Brunswick to issue unverified property tax assessments to more than 2,000 homeowners in the province? Or, as Robert Jones of the local branch of the public broadcaster reports, “An internal Service New Brunswick email obtained by CBC News shows senior provincial government assessment officials invented renovation amounts for 2,048 homeowners with large assessment increases this spring, allowing the province to evade a legal 10 per cent cap on the homes’ property tax bills.

“The email, written on Feb. 9 by SNB’s residential co-ordinator Matthew Johnson, to 11 mid-level and upper-level assessment officials, says because there was not enough time to have professional assessors find out what, if any, renovations the properties might have undergone before tax bills were issued March 1, it was decided to invent renovation amounts for each home.”

All of which inspired Premier Brian Gallant to lament (again, according to the CBC last week): “The elected officials of government were not aware of what had transpired. We were made aware yesterday.”

Naturally, that prompted Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs to fume: “Not being aware means nothing was happening to protect the citizens of the province. Not being aware is not an excuse. No one cared.”

No, he, she and they did not. And that’s enough to upend a formerly popular, youthful, energetic premier even before the next election campaign fully leaves the station.

To his credit, Mr. Gallant said this earlier this week: “There is clearly a problem and we are going to fix it”. He added that Appeal Court Justice Joseph T. Robertson will head a “review of all policies and procedures related to recent assessment processes.” He also vowed that government factotums will be out of the property assessment business for good. Specifically, he said, “There was clearly a failure of process and communication within Service New Brunswick, and that is why we will be having an independent review to ensure we learn exactly what happened and it can be corrected in the setup of the new independent assessment agency.”

As for Mr. Doherty, he avowed this: “All New Brunswickers need to have confidence in the quality, the accuracy and the transparency of the property tax assessment process.”

No kidding, Sherlock. Still, he continued: “I sincerely apologize to all New Brunswickers. This is a very, very serious matter and as government we will do everything we can to rectify the situation.”

Will heads roll? Not likely. Will government officials be held to account? You know the answer. Apparently, dear reader, we a have a problem here. Will anyone in the province’s public service or legislative and executive branches answer for it? If you believe in miracles, then I have a fantastic offer on the Brooklyn Bridge just waiting for your crowd-sourced bids.

Is this an object lesson of laziness and lassitude in politics as usual? The next election in this province might very well answer that question.

This is, after all, democracy in action.

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Subatomic ambitions

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NB Power’s thoughtful CEO, Gaetan Thomas, is probably right to downplay the possibility of building a second nuclear power plant in New Brunswick. At the moment, such a massive project doesn’t make much economic sense.

As he told the Telegraph-Journal in an interview the other day, “I’ve had some discussions with the province. I know that our premier is favorable to the idea, but at this stage, there is no business case yet.”

Still, if the Gallant government wants to resuscitate the province’s ambitions to become a Canadian energy hub, other options are available and are becoming increasing practical and attractive.

Some months ago, Clean Energy Canada found that spending on the clean technology sector in amounted to $10 billion in 2015. 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.

Now, rip a page from a recent report by the International Renewable Energy Agency. It found that the sector “employed 7.7 million people, directly or indirectly, around the world in 2014 (excluding large hydropower). This is an 18 per cent increase from the number reported the previous year. In addition, IRENA conducted the first-ever global estimate of large hydropower employment, showing approximately 1.5 million direct jobs in the sector.”

Moreover, “The 10 countries with the largest renewable energy employment were China, Brazil, the United States, India, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, France, Bangladesh and Colombia. . .The solar PV industry is the largest renewable energy employer worldwide with 2.5 million jobs, followed by liquid biofuels with 1.8 million jobs, and wind power, which surpassed 1 million jobs for the first time. The employment increase extends across the renewable energy spectrum with solar, wind, biofuels, biomass, biogas and small hydropower all seeing increases in employment.”

What this should tell us is that there is a good life beyond fossil fuel without complicated benefits of nuclear energy. Of course, none of it will be easy. As the IRENA report notes, “In the coming years, renewable energy employment growth will depend on the return to a strong investment trajectory, as well as on continued technological development and cost reductions. Stable and predictable policies will be essential to support job creation. Finally, in a year when negotiators aim to carve out a global climate agreement, the broader policy framework for energy investments will also move to the forefront.”

Then there is the Donald Trump factor. He’s on record as a climate-change sceptic and his determination to speed up the clock on coal-fired power plants could present a competitive disadvantage to Canadian sources of renewable energy, especially in export markets. Sustainability costs money; and the return on investment is more often a long-term proposition for governments.

On the other hand, back in 2015, the CBC reported that NB Power would encourage small-scale green energy. At that time, Keith Cronkhite, NB Power’s vice-president of business development and generation said, “The beauty of community energy projects is that they would enter into a power purchase arrangement with NB Power. The revenues that we would pay toward those projects stays within New Brunswick and that’s an important part of any renewable program.”

Hope, it seems, does spring eternal.

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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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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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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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Confederacy of conservatives

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Give them all an “E” for effort. Despite their varying commands of French, the 14 candidates in the Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership debate in Moncton last week performed. . .well. . .let’s just say they performed.

No rhetorical flourishes. No flashes of glittering insight. No big surprises. Still, neither were there major linguistic mistakes from the Anglophones in the cohort, struggling in French. Thank heaven, perhaps, for small mercies.

In fact, Moncton was an odd choice as a host city for the Tories’ finger-waving chinwag. Apart from its almost evenly bilingual population, you would think its determinedly entrepreneurial élan and increasingly multicultural demographic might make certain Conservative leadership hopefuls a tad uncomfortable.

Speaking of Alberta’s Kellie Leitch: She did not disappoint. On the subject of so-called Canadian values, we may recall, the center-right candidate had this to say in September: “Canadians can expect to hear more, not less, from me, on this topic in the coming months. Screening potential immigrants for anti-Canadian values that include intolerance towards other religions, cultures and sexual orientations, violent and/or misogynist behaviour and/or a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms is a policy proposal that I feel strongly about.”

That prompted this choice response from Ms. Leitch’s colleague and leadership rival Michael Chong: “(This) does not represent our Conservative Party or our Canada. The language and context that Kellie used has led key Conservatives, including prime minister Harper’s former director of policy (Rachel Curran), to criticize this move as the worst of dog-whistle politics.”

In Moncton, the two were at it again. “On one side, we have a candidate who suggests that immigrants are anti-Canadians and who proposed an exam,” Mr. Chong said. “They insist that it is not race-baiting or anti-immigrant, but just yesterday their campaign was endorsed by a white supremacist group called the Council of European Canadians.”

To which Ms. Leitch rejoined, “Every country in the world is having this discussion. And just because the media and other elites don’t want to have this discussion doesn’t mean we should be afraid of it. Many of my colleagues on this stage are intimidated by the media but I am going to continue to talk about this because this is common sense, this what Canadians want to talk about.”

Clearly, the issue of who is a “true” Canadian and who is not has become as much a local and provincial issue as a national one. After all, New Brunswick, which has opened its arms to Syrian refugees, is constantly looking for ways to accommodate more immigrants. But Ms. Leitch’s particular brand of populism appeared calculatingly similar to U.S. president-elect Donald Trump’s and not especially well-pitched to a Moncton crowd.

More successful, if not particularly illuminating, were the generally congenial observations about Atlantic Canada’s economic and demographic challenges, which are the low-hanging fruit of any debate on the region’s future. According to one CBC report, “While candidates mostly agreed on the need for encouraging immigration and finding new ways to create jobs to encourage young people to stay, (Mr.) Chong also advocated an enhanced working income tax benefit, which he said would provide more incentive for older Canadians to keep working.

“Lisa Raitt said it made sense when Stephen Harper’s previous Conservative government increased the retirement age to 67, although she knows it can be hard. She said it’s important for seniors to stay active and she’d encourage them to remain in the workplace.”

The way things are going, in either official language, do we have much choice?

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We are all connected

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It should surprise exactly no one that not one Canadian municipality makes the World Economic Forum’s list of most successful cities – not Toronto, not Montreal, not Vancouver, and certainly not any of New Brunswick’s three major urban areas.

We are, after all, in this province mere cartographic postscripts comporting ourselves in much the same way we always have: with one toe tentatively dipped in the future and one foot firmly planted in the past. I sometimes think we like it that way. In fact, there’s nothing particularly wrong with it.

Armies of retirees, fresh from their career conquests in other more economically vigorous parts of the world, have chosen communities like Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John to settle into their sanguine senescence. Here, crime rates are low, house prices are stunningly reasonable, and the natural environment is, by every comparison, downright pristine.

But, ultimately, no region can survive its own sleepy traditions and predilections by insulating itself from the rest of the world. What is virtuous about a place can eventually become disadvantageous. Whether we like it or not, we are all connected on this planet.

Over the years, the urgent conversation among those here who recognize this simple fact of life in the 21st Century has concerned the character of progress. How far can we go without compromising that which makes this part of the world unique and efficacious? We’ve not settled on a definitive answer, but we have found some enlivening clues.

The World Economic Forum offers some insight. “Forces of globalization, urbanization and technological advancement are transforming the definition of a ‘successful’ city and reshaping the global urban hierarchy in the process,” it recently posted on its website. “Success can no longer be measured simply by considering a city’s size and historical attributes. Today it is more likely to revolve around innovation, ‘liveability’ and the ability to transform and adapt.”

On this score, it elaborates, “Many of the top 20 cities in the 2016 City Momentum Index – including London, San Francisco and Sydney – are home to vibrant mixed-used districts which create and amplify opportunities to conceive and commercialize new ideas. This reinforces the idea that city momentum involves much more than GDP growth. It also requires building an innovation-oriented economy through technology. It means creating cutting-edge new businesses. And it involves attracting talent and nurturing a diverse and inclusive workforce.”

Are we, in New Brunswick, doing enough of this? If the size of a place no longer matters as a determinant of economic and social health, where are the large and small innovations that really do make a difference? The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation insists they’re out there. “With over $70 million invested, plus $380 million more leveraged from other sources, NBIF has helped to create over 90 companies and fund 400 applied research projects since its inception in 2003, with a current portfolio of 42 companies,” its website declares. “All of NBIF’s investment returns go back into the Foundation to be re-invested in other new startup companies and research initiatives.”

Fair enough, but we need more of this. The fact that I can count the number of business incubators in this province that regularly garner mainstream media attention on one hand suggests that we haven’t truly leveraged the global innovation agenda to our full advantage.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, Silicon Valley was a craggy patch of earth on California’s west coast. Shall we, in New Brunswick continue to consign ourselves to a similar condition, or shall we make our success stories convincingly and finally resonate?

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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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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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Away in a manger

It’s a sign of the times, perhaps, that federal and Atlantic provincial leaders chose to meet in a barn the other day. After all, as any farmer will testify, barns are where the action is.

In fact, this particular barn was more of a renovated convention space located on federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay’s bucolic property in rural Prince Edward Island, but the significance of the location wasn’t lost on anyone observing the rare conclave of government officials. They had come, ostensibly, to get things done. And, by all accounts, they succeeded.

According to a news release, “The Government of Canada and the governments of the four Atlantic Provinces are working together to build a vibrant economic future for Atlantic Canada by focussing their efforts and resources to stimulate the region’s economy, support the middle class and address both long standing and emerging regional challenges.”

Specifically, the group – which included premiers Stephen McNeil, Brian Gallant, Wade MacLauchlan and Dwight Ball, and federal ministers MacAulay, John McCallum, Scott Brison, Dominic LeBlanc, Navdeep Bains, and Judy Foote – announced a new plan to “stimulate the region’s economy, support both innovative and resource-based industries, and increase job opportunities for Atlantic Canadians.”

High on the list was a commitment to boost immigration to the region. According to the post-meeting communiqué, “The first area of action focuses on skilled workforce and immigration with the introduction of a new three-year immigration pilot project aimed at addressing the unique labour market challenges in Atlantic Canada.

“When in place, the pilot project will help to better match the needs of local employers with the skill sets of immigrants while helping to improve the attraction and retention of newcomers in Atlantic Canada. Through this project the Government ‎will admit up to 2,000 immigrants and accompanying families in 2017, with rising numbers in the following years depending on performance. This is a substantial increase, amounting to almost half the current number of provincial nominees in Atlantic Canada. The federal and provincial governments will continue to undertake cooperative actions that will bring stable and long-term economic prosperity in Atlantic Canada and additional joint actions will be unveiled over the coming months.”

This is eminently good news, and for a variety of reasons.

For one thing, it demonstrates, for the first time in a very long time, that federal and provincial leaders are both able and willing to work together. Gone, one hopes, are the days of table-thumping and hand-wringing that were so unproductively numerous during the years of Conservative reign in Ottawa.

Secondly, and even more importantly, the decision to actively increase immigration to the region – a crucial bulwark of long-term prosperity for each of the Atlantic Provinces – is a clear indication that our elected officials not merely understand the key challenges facing the economy, but are actually equipped to do something about them.

Said Wade MacLauchlan, Premier of Prince Edward Island, in a statement: “To build on our successes and create sustained prosperity for Prince Edward Island, we must grow our workforce and continue to foster an environment of innovation and entrepreneurship. Working together with our Atlantic, federal and community partners, we will grow our population and create economic opportunities for the Atlantic Region.”

This might not sound like much. But consider the rising tide of acrimony, anger and outright hate welling in other parts of the world. The Atlantic region, and Canada as a whole, stands in sharp contrast to the vicious anti-immigrant rhetoric in the United States and Europe – a beacon of light, as it were, from a barn by the bay.

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