Category Archives: Energy

Subatomic ambitions


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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Is Energy East back on track?


It will take more than the appointment of a New Brunswicker as a “temporary” member of the National Energy Board to persuade the more skeptical constituents of the chattering classes in this province that the Energy East pipeline project has again found traction.

Don Ferguson is, by every account, a capable and experienced guy. He was a deputy minister of health in the government of Shawn Graham. At the moment is the “chief strategy officer” at a University of New Brunswick think tank. He also co-owns a consulting firm in Fredericton.

All of which, and the fact that he’s bilingual, eminently qualifies him for the job on the NEB, which is expected (in some distant, sunny corners of the pundit-o-sphere where optimism grows like daisies in July) to reignite the regulatory process for Energy East. To which I snort: Don’t hold your breath.

For many reasons, in this country pipelines have become lightening rods for controversy and public outrage. Part of this is the result of the sometimes breathtaking arrogance of the companies and corporate stakeholders that support the oil and gas industry. Part of it has to do with bucket loads of misinformation about the relative safety of these overland structures. And part of it points to the ardency of the anti-fossil fuel movement across North America.

Still, here’s what we know: No society will ever progress to a sustainably green economy without the essential, if paradoxical, contribution of refined petrochemicals; and there’s no safer way of transporting crude to downstream facilities than by piping it.

As for Energy East, we know a few other things, thanks to an admittedly outdated, yet still relevant, economic benefits report by Deloitte & Touche in 2013, which stipulated “$10.0B and $25.3B in additional GDP for the Canadian economy during the six-year development and construction phase and the 40-year operations phase, respectively (note: while 40 years was used as the time horizon for the purpose of this economic analysis, regular maintenance is expected to extend the life of the pipeline significantly beyond 40 years). This economic activity will occur within Ontario (37% of total), Alberta (22%), Quebec (18%), New Brunswick (8%), Saskatchewan (7%), and Manitoba (5%).”

It also predicted “2,341 additional annual direct full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs during the 2013-2015 development period (7,118 annual FTE jobs total for three years including direct, indirect and induced impacts) and 7,728 additional annual direct FTE jobs during the 2016-2018 construction period (23,498 annual FTE jobs total for three years including direct, indirect and induced impacts), or a total of 91,849 one-year FTE jobs over the entire period, primarily within the construction and engineering industries in Quebec (31%), Ontario (26%), Alberta (16%), New Brunswick (12%), Saskatchewan (6%), and Manitoba (4%).”

Meanwhile, the report estimated between “$3.0B and $7.2B in total additional tax revenue for federal, provincial and municipal governments during the six year development and construction and 40 year operations phases, respectively. Considering both phases, this revenue is primarily generated in Ontario (36%), Alberta (21%), Quebec (20%), Saskatchewan (8%), New Brunswick (7%) and Manitoba (6%).”

Finally, and most pertinently for this province, Energy East would provide a “supply of domestic crude oil sources for eastern refineries, which is expected to result in an annual feedstock cost savings of between $1.55 and $11.49 per barrel based on current refining configurations and the refinery location.”

Times change, of course, and so do commodity prices. But the argument for Energy East is still sound. One can only hope that the NEB’s new members – temporary or otherwise – will find it a compelling one.

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The take on clean tech


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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Towards a “carbon-lite” future?


As the government of New Brunswick’s Brian Gallant earnestly attempts to deliver the spirit, if not yet the reality, of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s climate-sensitive, clean-technology economy, the obvious question is: How will the former make nice with the latter without dismantling what remains of the provincial economy?

Certainly, the speculation mills now grind. According to a Brunswick News Inc. report earlier this week, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters is now questioning the motives of the provincial government concerning gas taxes. “I think a lot of people were wondering,” said the organization’s New Brunswick vice-president Joel Richardson.

“A gas tax wasn’t even part of the (provincial budget) conversation. . .I think it was off the table because the provincial government was in collusion with the federal government to wait until (the) Paris (climate) talks happened and Vancouver happened and then gas taxes are going up.”

All of which points to a public policy framework that is likely to become every bit as fraught with controversy as was the recent tussle over hydraulic fracturing. Then again, how could it be otherwise?

Transitioning traditional economies to a “carbon-lite” future is extraordinarily tricky business. On the other hand, it can be done. Consider, for example, Finland, which the CleanTech Finland website states, “tops the  that ranks the greenest countries in the world. Finland is followed by Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Slovenia.

“EPI ranks the performance of 180 countries on high-priority environmental issues in two areas: protection of human health and protection of ecosystems. The index is created by Yale and Columbia universities along with the World Economic Forum. EPI is constructed through the calculation and aggregation of nine categories that include more than 20 indicators: agriculture, air quality, biodiversity and habitat, climate and energy, fisheries, forests, health impacts, water and sanitation, and water resources.”

The 2016 report says that “Finland’s top ranking is mostly based on country’s societal commitment to achieve carbon-neutral society that does not exceed nature’s carrying capacity by 2050. The report indicates that Finland has actionable goals and measurable indicators of sustainable development. Finland performed well especially in the areas of health, water categories, air quality, and climate and energy. In the forests category, measuring tree cover loss, Finland has its lowest ranking.”

Finland’s experience suggests that only a concerted effort to coordinate and impose specific measures on the New Brunswick economy will effectively align the province with Ottawa’s climate-change targets and policies. Is one of these measures a gas tax or some other clutch of responses?

Mr. Richardson has a point when he notes that the best way to change people’s behaviour is offer them incentives for doing so.

Still, whatever approach eventually surfaces, a new type of logic must begin to take root here. If we can’t quit fossil fuels altogether, and we soon won’t be able to live with them as we do today we should stop thinking about them as commodities to burn and begin to appreciate them as strategic assets to employ in the effort to build a largely clean, broadly renewable future?

In other words, if we train ourselves to use them as inputs for new manufacturing technologies that more effectively capture and distribute in-situ wind, solar and tidal sources of energy, we might just start the long, arduous process of diversifying the economy.

Use them to power research into cleaner forms of short- and long-range transportation systems. Use them to, in effect, evolve away from them as anything but the necessary evils they are for advanced research and development and clean-technology commercialization.

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Juggling the balls of climate change



New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant’s determination to be on the right side of history may be one of the signature features of his term in office.

And, why not?

Political leaders far older than he struggle daily to balance the competing and often conflicting demands and expectations of the people they represent. It is only the hubris of youth that convinces such jugglers that they, above all others, can keep all the balls in the air and, so, astonish and mollify a disparate and peevish crowd of voters.

Sometimes, it works just fine.

Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy (elected at age 44) had his Camelot and moonshots, his Peace Corps.

Current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (elected at age 44) has his clean-technology agenda and climate-change avowals, which he hopes will bring this nation closer to its true identity as an advocate for green sensibilities the world over.

Again, why not?

The problem, of course, is reality. It pulls and pushes, warps and wrinkles even the noblest aspirations. In the public sphere, fear and alarm masquerade as legitimate, dissenting voices. Paid lobbyists practice their smooth alchemy; industry associations exert their influence; and poorly educated citizen groups caterwaul from the sidelines of relevance.

The result is almost always inevitable: The political juggler drops the balls; bold, youthful aspirations fall to the ground; and the status quo remains intact.

I can’t confirm that this is happening in New Brunswick, but I will say that we’re getting there.

Fresh off the plane from Vancouver, where he met with his provincial counterparts and the prime minister, Mr. Gallant now vows he will “consider” pricing carbon in the province. As the Saint John Telegraph-Journal reported recently, the premier is “now listing a hike in the gas tax among an ‘array’ of carbon-pricing mechanisms the province could choose in efforts to strengthen its role in a pan-Canadian climate change plan.”

But, if Mr. Gallant was ever serious about ameliorating the effects of global warming in New Brunswick – and aligning himself to federal priorities on this issue – why was his campaign for office scrupulously devoid of such considerations? Why was his most recent provincial budget largely silent on these matters?

The province’s Climate Change Action Plan 2014-2020 offers little explanation.

“In New Brunswick, the impacts of climate change have already begun to appear,” it reminds us. “Temperatures are rising, high-intensity precipitation events are becoming more common, sea levels are rising and inland and coastal areas are experiencing greater rates of erosion and more frequent flooding. In other words, New Brunswick’s ‘normal’ weather is no longer what it used to be, and more change is anticipated in the future.”

As for “visions, principles and goals”, the report has this to say: “The actions put forward in New Brunswick’s Climate Change Action Plan 2014-2020 recognize that: Decisions must be based on reliable and accurate information; decisions must consider the implications of long-term climate predictions and their anticipated impacts on future generations; and that all New Brunswickers share the responsibility of responding to climate change and should therefore be informed and engaged.”

No kidding Sherlock. We know this. The only reason why this province has not embraced a truly effective policy to battle climate change has to do with competing interests that constantly agitate for keeping the province’s economy tethered to the past.

If Mr. Gallant and his crew are serious about transforming this small corner of the world, he and they will have to cross over the line into the right side of history, where no political jugglers need apply.

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Squaring the circle


Psychologists define cognitive dissonance as the ability to suspend disbelief in two or more fundamentally contradictory positions – sort of like a juggler who never drops the ball and, so, never faces the gravity of common sense.

I, for example, may be an ardent environmentalist even though I drive a gas-guzzler that gets lousy mileage because it’s easy on the old bank account. I happily park my tank and fill it too.

In the absence of any proof of sentience among this planet’s non-human residents, we naked apes are nature’s primo practitioners of cognitive dissonance – none better among us, perhaps, than politicians.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with provincial premiers to discuss the federal government’s plans to hasten the Canada’s transition to a low-carbon, clean-technology economy. Prior to the conference, regional leaders evinced broad consensus on the priorities: It looks good on paper; let’s see how we can make this work. In less time than it takes to change the oil in an SUV, however, the typical fault lines emerged.

Reported the CBC on the eve of the first ministers’ gabfest in Vancouver on Wednesday: “There are more than a few bruised thumbs and discordant notes already. Indigenous groups have complained the invitation list was not wide enough, while Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has levelled a series of broadsides at the federal Liberals’ promised carbon pricing.

“When asked about potential tensions Wednesday, Trudeau responded. . . ‘I expect that premiers and indeed all representatives are going to do the job they were elected to do, which is to stand up for their communities, stand up for their regions and ensure that we are working together in ways that grow the economy right across the country while protecting the environment. There is little substitute for sitting down and actually rolling up our sleeves and working together.’”

Yeah, how’s that working out for you?

Half way through the conference, the Prime Minister intimated, rather darkly for a putatively ‘sunny ways’ leader, that however the premiers decide, the feds will impose its own pricing structure on carbon.

Meanwhile, as if oblivious to the climate-change winds that are beginning to blow around the world, the New Brunswick government is agitating for its own offshore energy accord with Ottawa. In fact, according to one news report in Brunswick News, “Energy Minister Don Arseneault said during budget estimates for his department that about $300,000 is being dedicated this year to hire consultants and research the geological data required to lay the groundwork for securing an offshore accord.”

Here’s how the good fellow justified the decision in an interview with reporter Chris Morris: “Everyone around us has an accord. Quebec is on the verge of signing one. We have to watch that very closely, because we have to protect our territory as well. It doesn’t mean that tomorrow we would have offshore drilling and whatnot, but we want to protect our territory.”

And, you know, whatnot.

Still, I wonder whether such provincial lobbying (and the $300,000 price tag assigned to it) would not be more productively deployed by hitching New Brunswick’s economic fortunes to the federal government’s most recent, eminent cause, which has almost nothing to do with developing traditional oil and gas resources, and almost everything to do with making the most of what we already possess to create a clean-energy, clean-technology society on the East Coast.

As Ottawa moves to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint, provincial premiers nod compliantly even as their feet remain stuck in the muck of fossil fuels. Dissonance, it seems, remains cognitively, stubbornly us.

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To frack or not to frack


Finally, there hovers on the horizon of New Brunswick’s energy future voices of reason.

The most compelling statements contained in the final report of the province’s Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing – appointed by Premier Gallant nearly a year ago – are these:

“New Brunswick’s economy needs to transition to a new economic and environmental reality: New Brunswick needs to generate more wealth. To do this, the private sector must accelerate its transition to a value-added resources and knowledge-based economy.

“Value-added industries rely primarily on technology, productivity and skilled labour to create products and services, often from natural resources, that are sold at premium prices. Energy can play a key role in getting us there, but only if we change how we think about it.

“New Brunswickers need to regard energy investments as part of the larger advanced technology story rather than simply as a commodity as we have done in the past. This will stimulate greater investment in energy technologies, particularly those that can help us transition to a more affordable, cleaner energy future. . . To meet existing regional and national climate change goals New Brunswick residents, businesses and governments will need to change the way we produce and consume energy.

“The Commission heard from individuals, companies and governments that are either ready to begin this transition to a low carbon society or want to accelerate what is already underway. Determining the role of natural gas in New Brunswick’s current and future energy mix is an important part of this conversation.”

Exactly, and I couldn’t have stated the case better.

We have to stop thinking about fossil fuels as cheap, seemingly endless resources we burn in our cars, homes, businesses, and industries for heat and light. Rather, we must begin to deploy them as means to a clean-energy future – the feedstock that powers new manufacturing technologies and processes, which ensure that environmentally neutral alternatives actually gain footholds in the commercial and popular imagination of this country, this region, these hometowns.

In this sense, in this respect, the Commission’s report is a rare call to action for a government-appointed body. It infers from the consultations it has conducted that most people are ready for productive, progressive change; it implies that only political and bureaucratic laziness is stopping what clearly should be the most important technological transformation since the western world’s Industrial Revolution.

It’s not alone. Robert Arthur Stayton, a university and college teacher and solar-energy advocate based in California recently blogged, “Is it a contradiction to burn fossil fuels to build renewable energy? The transition to a solar-based economy will require expending a great deal of energy to build solar and wind energy systems. Because our current energy systems are largely based on fossil fuels, this effort will add significant new usage of fossil fuels, and thereby increase our carbon emissions. Opponents of solar use this fact to say that we should not pursue renewable energy because that makes the climate problem worse. They have it exactly backwards.”

Instead, he contends, “Non-renewable fossil fuels should be considered as our means of getting to a sustainable renewable energy system. The finite cache of fossil fuels is our one shot for getting to an energy system that is essentially infinite in time (if maintained). Every kilowatt-hour expended building solar and wind equipment will yield many kilowatt-hours of clean energy over time. We should consider that to be the highest use of fossil fuel. . because it moves us toward our goal of a sustainable and clean energy system.”

Finally, voices of reason may prevail.

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The palaver over pipelines


In fact, he does looks like the kind of fellow who could tell the nation’s provinces, leading mayors and other assorted high-profile camera moths to, in effect, knock it off – and even get away with it.

On his worst day, New Brunswick MP and Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc presents and comports himself like Hollywood’s latest incarnation of an emerging mafia Don – though, an uncharacteristically friendly version of the cinematic phenotype.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I quite like his latest declaration to the press about the most recent, and utterly mindless, fracas over pipelines in this increasingly God-forsaken land of ours.

In the aftermath of some 80 mayors from Quebec, and that province’s premier, declaring their opposition to the proposed Energy East pipeline traversing their respective territories en route to tidewater facilities in Saint John, Mr. LeBlanc had this to say to local newspaper reporters this week:

“We’re prepared to deal with the tough issues and recognize that the (federal) government has an important responsibility to help get natural resources to market. The whole country has benefitted from the Alberta resource economy, so I think it would be helpful that everybody lower the tone, allow the regulatory and review process to run its course and then the government will have to make a difficult decision.”

He’s not kidding.

Gosh, what shall we do with all that Alberta oil and gas? Truck it just so that poor roads and driver inattention may slam it into a government-built tourism kiosk somewhere outside of Thunder Bay? Rail it just so that poor tracks and conductor inattention conspire to blow up another small town in the middle of Great White North Country?

Or shall we finally recognize that as long as we need fossil fuels to power our domestic and export economies, the safest, cleanest delivery system is still the lowly pipeline – properly built, scrupulously regulated and strenuously monitored by officials of the Departments of Natural Resources and those of Environment Canada?

Still, even the logical choice is fraught with political peril. And Mr. LeBlanc knows this perhaps better than anyone outside the Prime Minister’s Office.

Any delay in the construction and activation of eastern and western pipelines automatically aggravates the Conservative west, whose political agents in Ottawa are prepared to make hay with their talking points about the hegemony of the Liberal east.

Conversely, anything other than rigorous, proof-providing research showing that pipelines are, indeed, the safest technologies currently available for transporting evidently toxic materials over long distances is sure to inflame the environmental lobby and their confederates at the municipal level of government.

Tough issues, indeed, with which the federal government seems determined to deal. Ultimately, Mr. LeBlanc says, it’s Ottawa’s choice to make. And that choice, he insists, “will be based on the information that comes from the robust independent review (underway). It won’t be based on someone’s news conference. I’ve always thought that the government decision should be based on evidence, on science, on environmental analysis, on expert opinion.”

Of course, I take one issue with this declaration: It already is.

According to a recent piece in the Financial Times, “Moving oil and gas by pipeline was 4.5 times safer than moving the same volume the same distance by rail in the decade ended in 2013 in Canada, according to a new study by the Fraser Institute public policy think-tank.”

By all means, Mr. LeBlanc, complete your analysis, ensure that it is correct and then let’s get this oil flowing in the safest, most economically expedient means possible.


Running on empty in New Brunswick


We become what we think we are.

If we believe that we are weak, uneducated and profligate, the chances that we will lie down, refuse to crack a book, and spend whatever money the state sends us to load up on Kraft Dinner and past Christmases’ chocolate treats rise precipitously.

If, on the other hand, we are convinced that we are strong, innovative and prudent, the odds of our crafting a real future for our neighbours and ourselves – one we build with reason, critical thinking, social deliberation, and daily service – improve significantly.

New Brunswick sits uncomfortably somewhere between those two poles of conscience.

On the one hand, in this province we are gorgeously engaged, generous and rational. On the other, we are thicker than a sack of hammers at the bottom of the Petitcodiac River.

We, for example, continue to muck and moil over the possibilities of a shale gas industry in this province even though we know that market forces, combined with our own government’s foot-dragging, have effectively shut the door on that avenue of commercial enterprise.

With the price of Texas crude spluttering just below $32 a barrel, the entire oil and gas industry in Canada is in suspended animation (if not actual free-fall). Now, there is almost no point in imagining a future in which we control the uses to which we put our indigenous fossil fuels (if we ever have).

Still, as Adam Huras of the Saint John Telegraph-Journal reported earlier this month, New Brunswick Energy Minister Donald Arseneault thinks “the 12-year lows facing natural gas prices could buy the province more time to get the industry right – that’s of course if the province decides to go in that direction.”

Says Mr. Arseneault: “In terms of lifting – or not – the moratorium (on shale gas development), even if there is down time, it gives people more time to get better educated with the issues. . .and it will give government more time to review the report submitted to us by no later than March 31.”

He refers, specifically, to the research his department has commissioned from a three-person panel on the environmental, social and economic efficacy of hydraulic fracturing in the province. The question now becomes: Is he kidding?

He’s right in one sense. What, exactly, is the rush? Given the industry’s pricing structures these days, we have all the time in the world to, effectively, decide not to decide, which is, after all, what this provincial government has desperately desired for this fractious issue since the beginning of its mandate.

Again, we become what we think we are. If we believe that we are, by nature, cautious and conservative, then we will rejoice in every opportunity that removes risk from the process of democratic decision-making.

Sure, let’s take this whole shale-gas thing and give it a good look-see. It’s not as if the issue matters much these days. The market has bottomed out; exploration companies are no longer testing, drilling or producing; and as for public debate, well, all is quiet on the eastern front of environmental protest.

Still, what if we applied that standard to every other challenge the province faces?

Should “wait-and-see” become the new motto we teach our children as we ask them to find their personal and professional bliss elsewhere in Canada or the world?

Should we “be” in this place or merely sleep in it?

Are we timorous or bold and forthcoming?

It’s a decision we choose for ourselves, and it always has been.

In the end, we become what we think we are.

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How goes the battle for truth?


In the language of triumphalism that always graces a newly elected leader’s   speech to an international audience, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared, last week, that “Canada is back”. On the subject of climate change, he insisted, there can be no “laggards”.

The lightly veiled insinuation, of course, was that this once great nation has been brought to its knees, over the past 10 years, by a cynical and zealous crop of intellectual poseurs masquerading as legislators, and, through them, by an especially virulent form of “sciencitis”.

This particular malady is not new. It periodically sweeps across various bodies politic, persuading anyone who will listen that evidence is simply a matter of opinion; that research is a poor substitute for good, old common sense; and that standing in the middle of the tracks as a locomotive bears down on you is a perfectly reasonable posture given that the engineer behind the stick will surely hit the brakes before he turns you into an unrecognizable smudge.

This was the former Conservative Government of Canada’s approach to “public outreach”. Under Stephen Harper, climate science was, at best, a theoretical construct that handy, populist rhetoric could deconstruct in an instant; Environment Canada was a nest of liberal bugs, better swatted than tolerated; and Statistics Canada was a den of uncooperative eggheads who needed to be curtailed, abused and, in the end, fired.

Still, on a trip to Europe in advance of the Paris climate change conference, Mr. Trudeau was unequivocal about the intent of his government: It will look nothing like that of his predecessor’s.

Specifically, he instructed, “Indigenous peoples have known for thousands of years how to care for our planet. . .The rest of us have a lot to learn. . .Canadians) want to know that what they’re doing fits into a bigger picture, because there is no point in bending over backwards if your neighbour or your government is not also doing its part to ensure that we all have the maximum impact together.”

He added: “Every single one of us can and should be much more conscious of the ways we can act to reduce our carbon footprint. . .By working together, we will deliver real benefits for our environment while also strengthening our economy, including the creation of more middle class jobs.”

The words are nice, even credible. And yet, the devil is in the details and the details remain demonic.

In New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador, federally funded science initiatives have been eliminated over the past decade with systematic efficiency.

Virtually nothing remains of Fisheries and Oceans, the National Research Council or the Department of Environment in this craggy corner of the Steppe. Where once this region’s scientists and researchers contributed to the national policy agenda, they now perform perfunctory duties teaching their fellow bureaucrats the difference between a green and a blue bag on garbage day. That is the truth of the battle among those who have decided to stick around.

Recent reports from university scholars of my acquaintance suggest that, over the past 15 years, no fewer than 10,000 top-flight thinkers on everything from fluid dynamics to environmental engineering in this region have fled to friendlier and more remunerative locales around the world. They aren’t coming back and their ilk won’t be replaced anytime soon.

So is, as Mr. Trudeau says, “Canada back” as he attempts to sign on to a new climate deal with the rest of world?

Let us attend to the laggards in our own public policy.

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