Category Archives: Government

HAL, are you out there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What New Brunswick needs now

As the sun swims down below the horizon faster as every day passes, the temptation is to believe that so do we all. Perhaps, that’s a natural, if not entirely reasonable, conclusion.

Time passes, the foundations of our youthful ambitions crack, we swell in the middle of our lives (and, by the way, in our midriffs), our tongues lash when our ears should listen.

In late August, New Yorker Editor David Remnick, ruminated on U.S. President Donald Trump’s absurd rise to power: He wrote:

“(The) ascent was hardly the first sign that Americans had not uniformly regarded Obama’s election as an inspiring chapter in the country’s fitful progress toward equality. Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, had branded him the ‘food-stamp President.’ In the right-wing and white-nationalist media, Obama was, variously, a socialist, a Muslim, the Antichrist, a ‘liberal fascist,’ who was assembling his own Hitler Youth. A high-speed train from Las Vegas to Anaheim that was part of the economic-stimulus package was a secret effort to connect the brothels of Nevada to the innocents at Disneyland. He was, by nature, suspect. ‘You just look at the body language, and there’s something going on,’ Trump said, last summer. In the meantime, beginning on the day of Obama’s first inaugural, the Secret Service fielded an unprecedented number of threats against the President’s person.

“And so, speeding toward yet another airport last November, Obama seemed like a weary man who harbored a burning seed of apprehension. ‘We’ve seen this coming,’ he said. ‘Donald Trump is not an outlier; he is a culmination, a logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party for the past ten, fifteen, twenty years. What surprised me was the degree to which those tactics and rhetoric completely jumped the rails.’”

Do we all become what we fear and loathe, regardless of our various demographic and geographic locations? Do we all sink below the horizons of our better, finer natures?

In this era of political insanity, what New Brunswick needs is clarity, policy innovation that actually leads to practicable solutions and, above all, sanity.

Specifically, it needs early childhood education that’s universal, accessible to all, and publically funded. It needs remedial literacy programs designed to reverse the pernicious trends, which threaten the foundation of education in this province, and the underpinnings of informed, democratic consent. It needs immigration settlement services that will truly integrate newcomers linguistically and culturally without compromising their personal and national stories of origin.

What we don’t need are more roads that lead to absurd amounts of public debt. What we don’t need are more state-of-the-art schools that run next to empty simply because the population base has dwindled or aged into extinction. What we don’t need is venality and absurdity masquerading as justifiable policy making in government.

The project is both simple and complicated (which human endeavour is anything but?). It starts with political transparency and accountability. It moves to social equity and ends with economic diversity. What are required are the voices, the ideas, and a fulsome degree of respect for one another.

Two years ago, the national, public broadcaster’s Julie Ireton reported, “Canada’s Public Policy Forum published a report authored by a group of business executives and former political leaders from across the country. Kevin Lynch, a former Clerk of the Privy Council and one of the report’s authors, agreed the public service must be allowed to provide analytic-based policy options.”

New Brunswick is a jewel of a province. Let us polish it before the sun also sets on us.

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Use it or lose it

How do I love thee, federal government? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my bank account can reach, when feeling out of sight for years on end. I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet infrastructure announcement, by sun and candlelight.

My apologies to the late Elizabeth Barrett Browning for butchering one of her finer sonnets, but expediency sometimes trumps good taste (Hey, see what I did there? The words “trump” and “good taste” floated in the same sentence?)

But I digress.

Whenever Ottawa grants money for big builds in Atlantic Canada (and elsewhere in this country), provinces and municipalities are expected to pick up the slack, regardless of their respective economic circumstances. That’s the reality of a three-tiered system of government. Is this fair? Is it even sensible? Does it matter? It’s simply a fact of living and working in what the United Nations terms as one of the top ten jurisdictions on Earth for that ineffable, yet desirable, designation: Best Place Ever!

Now, we learn that New Brunswick simply hasn’t spent enough money in the federal tax pouch. In fact, this province is $30 million shy of its target, and if we don’t use it pronto, we’ll lose it. Or so says a piece this week in the Telegraph-Journal:

“The Gallant government says there is ‘absolutely no risk’ that (the federal money) earmarked for New Brunswick will go unspent before a looming deadline. . .A recent report showing spending from Infrastructure Canada says the federal government has given provinces an territories an ultimatum: Identify projects or all the money left from a 2014 infrastructure program or watch it go elsewhere.”

How delicious and how exquisite this is. We all pay into the Canada Revenue Agency and assume that our contributions will not only compensate national MPs and their senatorial counterparts for their sometimes bullish and oftentimes somnambulant protestations, but also ourselves – in our publicly assented pension plans, in reasonable management of our funds, in sense and sensibility from our public servants.

Yet, there remains this from a Government of Canada website:

“The Gas Tax Fund provides municipalities with a permanent, predictable and indexed source of long-term funding, enabling construction and rehabilitation of core public infrastructure. It offers local communities the flexibility to make strategic investments across 18 different project categories, including roads and bridges, public transit, drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, and recreational facilities. The fund promotes investments in increased productivity and economic growth, a clean environment, and strong cities and communities. The Gas Tax Fund started in 2005-2006 and is ongoing.”

Then there’s this: The Municipal Asset Management Program (MAMP) delivered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) is a five year, $50 million program that will help Canadian municipalities make informed infrastructure investment decisions based on sound asset management practices. The MAMP was launched in February 2017 and is scheduled to end in 2021-2022.”

And this: “The Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program delivered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) is a five-year, $75 million program that provides funding, training and resources to help Canadian municipalities adapt to the impacts of climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The MCIP was launched in February 2017 and is scheduled to end in 2021-2022.”

Use or lose?

To butcher, again, the prose of the great poet Browning, I will quote: “With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.”

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N.B.’s property tax vernacular

What the heck does the word “pictometry” mean? Apparently, it denotes one reason why New Brunswick’s property tax assessments this year were an utter fiasco. After all, when you find human eyes simply blind to good sense, transparency and accountability, look no further than the bafflegab of techno-speak, courtesy of our various levels of government.

To be clear, pictometry means this: “It is the name of a patented aerial image capture process that produces imagery showing the fronts and sides of buildings and locations on the ground. Images are captured by low-flying airplanes, depicting up to 12 oblique perspectives (shot from a 40 degree angle) as well asan orthogonal (overhead) view of every location flown. These perspectives can then be stitched together to create composite aerial maps that seamlessly span many miles of terrain. Because they are taken from an angle, the pixels associated with pictometry images are trapezoidal, rather than rectangular. This necessitates special software and algorithms to accurately determine objects’ size and position on the maps.”

That’s from Wikipedia. And what I have to say about this is “Oh grand”. Send in the drones. It’s not as if we suffer enough intrusion of our private lives. Can one of these low-flying planes hover and land, pick up my grandkids’ toys, rake my leaves, paint my house before the snow flies? Yes, yes, can it also hang around and shovel my driveway?

Strangely, pictometry spectacularly failed the Gallant government this year. Said a report by the public broadcaster last week: “An internal Service New Brunswick document obtained by CBC News shows senior civil servants who were asked to explain what went wrong with a new property assessment system this year put Premier Brian Gallant at the ‘genesis of a decision to fast track the project. The document, obtained by a right to information request, was drafted in early April for a Service New Brunswick board of directors meeting and was released to CBC News late last month.”

Oh yes, this report goes on as you might expect: “The paper, titled ‘Fast track project Genesis moments’ claims the decision to abandon a multi-year implementation plan for a new property assessment system in favour of quick deployment was initiated on the afternoon of May 6, 2016, the same day Gallant was shown the new technology, known as pictometry.

“The term, fast track, was born following a pictometry presentation to the Premier during the Open House at the new created Digital Lab,” reads the briefing paper prepared for the board. “In the afternoon, the CEO of the time requested to accelerate this initiative.”

Again, “Gallant has denied any role in pushing for the accelerated adoption of the troubled new assessment system and on Tuesday his office questioned the accuracy of the newly released document, saying the premier and Gordon Gilman, the CEO of Service New Brunswick at the time, had no discussions with each other at all that day.”

Here’s what pictomtery means to me: surveillance, stupidity and incoherence. It also means incredibly bad English, diversion and a young premier’s hope that his vision weighs more heavily on the current generation than it does on history. Pictometry? Here’s the scoop: Pictometry technology was created and is owned by Pictometry International Corporation, which licenses the technology to companies across the globe. It is protected under US law, including Patent Ser. No. 60,425,275, filed Nov. 8, 2002.

Good to know. That still doesn’t explain why human eyes were blind to their evident failings, to their own hubris, to their own faith in words that make no sense.


The ‘Big Smoke’ – Part II

IMAG0604We walk down to the municipal park, my grandkids and I, past the garbage bins and recycle containers and into the broad, well-tended expanse of splash pools and basketball courts. These recreational areas are everywhere in some parts of Toronto. In a city of this monumental size, the idea is to get the kits and pups out of their tiny, fractional backyards.

It’s a downtown development strategy no one talks about in the burg that Drake named. Here, in Moncton, maybe that’s a conversation we should have. In every other respect, though, we don’t know how lucky we have it.

Late last month, the CBC reported, “All three levels of government (will) meet Tuesday in Toronto to figure out ways to cool the red-hot real estate market in the region, where average home prices have shot up 33 per cent in a year.

Immediately after figures revealed the average home in the Greater Toronto Area cost $916,567 in March, Finance Minister Bill Morneau called for the meeting with his Ontario counterpart Charles Sousa, and Toronto Mayor John Tory.”

As Mr. Morneau fretted that he is “concerned that dramatic price increases will have long-term implications for housing affordability and housing market stability,” Mr. Sousa added that he was almost scornful of those with “deep pockets. . .crowding out families who are trying to put down roots.”

Indeed, as the Globe and Mail reported in February, “Bank of Montreal is not backing down from a call that residential real estate prices in the Toronto area are moving too fast: economists at the bank are comparing prices to a runaway train. BMO recently urged market watchers to drop the pretense and acknowledge that Toronto’s housing market is in a bubble.”

The piece continued: “Chief economist Douglas Porter explains he made the bold call to reinforce the message that the market has lost contact with economic fundamentals and has the potential to become dangerously overheated. ‘This is not a near-term call on the market,’ he stresses, “in fact, given the outlook for interest rates and an improving underlying economy, there’s nothing obvious to meaningfully slow the market at this point,’ Mr. Porter says in a note to clients.”

Of course, for big cities around the developed world, there’s nothing new in any of this. Vancouver has, for years, been hobbled by absurdly high house prices. Rental markets have also been squeezed to the point where some reasonably paid workers have been forced to bivouac – if only temporarily – in their cars and trucks.

Still, affordability is one social measure of income and labour market stability, and it speaks directly to the equitable distribution of wealth. According to a Statistics Canada report, based on 2011 data, for example, “the population of Moncton census metropolitan area (CMA) was 138,644, representing a percentage change of 9.7 per cent from 2006. This compares to the national growth of 5.9 per cent and to the average growth among all CMAs of 7.4 per cent. . . In total, there were 58,294 private dwellings occupied by usual residents in Moncton in 2011. The change in private dwellings occupied by usual residents from 2006 was 13 per cent. For Canada as a whole, the number of private dwellings occupied by usual residents increased 7.1 per cent.”

Moncton is not yet in any credible danger of travelling down Toronto’s path. But safe, affordable housing is an issue that’s becoming urgent in almost every urban area of Canada. Wise political moves and intelligent social policy should mitigate the effects of runaway market forces – if we have enough foresight.


Blowing in the wind

DSC_0007If, as New Brunswick’s ombud suspects, certain government officials have been oblivious to their own whistleblower law, the question remains: How surprising is that? After all, emperors always adore their nice, new clothes; they almost never appreciate learning that they aren’t wearing any.

According to a CBC report the other week, “Charles Murray says the five-year-old legislation is rarely used, but it’s taking on new importance in the property-assessment (issue), given that Premier Brian Gallant says he learned key details after they were leaked to the media. ‘I think it’s relevant every day in terms of all kinds of discussions,’ Murray said. ‘But it’s become specifically relevant in this case because the indication from the premier is that even top members of government were unaware of certain facts until someone had stepped forward.’”

In fact, the Public Interest Disclosure Act is straightforward, and its protections are clear. “The purpose of this Act is to facilitate the disclosure and investigation of significant and serious matters in or relating to the public service, that are potentially unlawful, dangerous to the public or injurious to the public interest, and to protect persons who make those disclosures.”

On that last point, the legislation specifically states, “No person shall take a reprisal against an employee or direct that one be taken against an employee because the employee has, in good faith, sought advice about making a disclosure from his or her supervisor, designated officer or chief executive, made a disclosure, or cooperated in an investigation under this Act.”

Regardless of who said what to whom – and who knew what and when they knew it – in the property-assessment fracas, governments have always maintained complicated postures regarding matters involving potentially embarrassing disclosures. Even a cursory examination of recent dealings with some of the province’s legislative watchdogs will tell you that.

Take the aforementioned Mr. Murray and his colleague, the province’s child and youth advocate Norman Bosse. Less that two years ago, the Telegraph-Journal carried their joint commentary, which amounted to a stern rebuke of the apparently common practice of staying any and all investigations into potential conflicts of interest by elected members of the Assembly who have, for whichever reasons, ceased to sit as functioning MLAs.

They noted: “When allegations of misconduct are made against our elected representatives, all New Brunswickers have an interest in the result. If an MLA has been unfairly accused, that Member deserves to be exonerated by a completed process, rather than have their reputation permanently marked by the accusation. Where the Member has erred, they deserve the censure appropriate to their misconduct and all Members can learn from the guidance the investigation provides.”

What’s more, they stated, “Requiring investigations to end when a Member resigns or is defeated gives an incentive for trivial complaints and encourages delay and non-co-operation on the part of the investigated – a problem Conflict of Interest Commissioners past and present have noted in their reports.”

All of which prompted Premier Gallant to respond thusly: “I’m not 100 per cent sure exactly why they (Messrs. Murray and Bosse) felt it was their place to make (a) comment. This is the conflict of interest commissioner’s role and we will certainly speak to him to see how we can improve the rules. . .I’m not sure how the child and youth advocate has a role to play when it comes to conflict of interest with politicians.”

Is it any wonder then that whistleblowing within the public service is, at the best of times, rare? That it should become commonplace would be the real surprise.


A new feeding frenzy

DSC_0028It can’t just be my fevered imagination, but are governments practically everywhere, for their own unique and inexplicable reasons, providing major media with the most succulent red meat they’ve served in years?

Carefully measured gruel of the thinnest possible variety was once the specialty of the day in the communications departments and press offices that tend to the elected class even as they cater to the Fourth Estate. Not anymore. Chow’s up boys and girls. Come and get it.

According to a study by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy issued late last year, coverage of Donald Trump during the election campaign that ultimately elevated him to President of the United States, “was negative from the start and never came close to entering positive territory. During his best weeks, the coverage ran 2-to-1 negative over positive. In his worst weeks, the ratio was more than 10-to-1. If there was a silver lining for Trump, it was that his two best weeks were the ones just preceding the November balloting.”

Not that any of this actually hurt the man in the final outcome. But, closer to home, what are we to make of the fortunes of certain members of New Brunswick’s government tied up in what should properly be an exquisitely boring subject: property tax assessments?

An exclusive penned for Brunswick News Inc. by Adam Huras last month reported that “a decision to fast-track the implementation of a new property assessment system was presented to the premier’s office as a move that could bring in $5.7 million in new revenue for government in 2017, according to documents obtained by the Telegraph-Journal.”

What’s more, “emails suggest that the premier’s office knew how lucrative this plan would be and agreed that it should move ahead. But an email from (the premier’s chief of staff) Jordan O’Brien to Service New Brunswick also anticipated public backlash, suggesting ‘that media be advised that people being assessed weren’t being gouged but had been getting a break in the past.’”

Apparently, that particular point failed to grab the attention of the general public as the story quickly shifted to the plight of many property owners whose annual taxes rose, in some cases, by 30, 40, even 60 per cent.

All of which prompted New Brunswick Union president Susie Proulx-Daigle to state, “Assessors had nothing to do with the development and deployment of the formula. The New Brunswick Union is deeply troubled by the statements made recently by premier Gallant in regards to the property tax situation. First and foremost, the blame for this problem does not sit with the assessors, it rests with the elected officials. They need to take responsibility for their actions in this matter.”

In fairness, the premier has indeed apologized to property owners in the province and appointed a retired judge to determine precisely how all of this happened in the first place.

Still, this is an unmitigated disaster for the spin rooms of the province. On the bright side, it fairly demonstrates the potency and social currency of a responsible press, confidence in which has been eroding in this country and others for some time. “No one needs to tell me about the importance of the free press in a democratic society or about the essential role a newspaper can play in its community.” The late Robert Kennedy said that. But the sentiment could fairly apply anywhere.

Of course, the question for government types to answer is: When did they start making the media’s jobs so easy? Ring that dinner bell. The troops are hungry.

Real action on climate change


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Brunswick in the post-truth era


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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Raging rhinos of New Brunswick


We, in this province, have grown accustomed to the deafening silence in the rest of the country that routinely follows those increasingly rare moments when we speak up about the shape and function of our shared democratic adventure.

Eyes in Ottawa roll languidly. Alberta just wants us to shut up. And British Columbia invariably asks, “Where’s New Brunswick again?” That’s likely to change if opinionated fellows like the nation’s auditor-general Michael Ferguson and award-winning policy expert and academic Donald Savoie have anything to say about matters pertaining to the Great White North.

Both are articulate, intelligent, accomplished gentlemen who have reached the apex of their respective crafts. Guess what? They are also fully bred New Brunswickers, accompanying others in a long line of folks from the picture-perfect province who, throughout history, have made a durable habit of happily upsetting apple carts in other parts of this 9,300-kilometer-wide country.

Consider First Nations leader and historian Joseph M. Augustine, Hollywood-based actor Donald Sutherland, poet Alden Nowlan. Consider world-champion boxer Yvon Durelle, singers and songwriters Edith Butler and Shirley Eikhard, and the globally successful food-industry entrepreneurs Wallace and Harrison McCain. Naturally, the list goes on.

But, lately, Messrs Ferguson and Savoie have emerged, in their own ways, as the preeminent emissaries sent from the Maritimes to the centre of the Canadian universe on missions of lecturing, hectoring and general gad-fly biting into the rind of the rhinoceros that is national politics.

Says a Postmedia report, published last week and titled “Mad-as-hell auditor general not taking it anymore”, Mr. Ferguson, “after five years of making no headway and having his words fall on fallow ground. . .had finally had enough. Tired of punching out reports and seeing them gather dust, tired of banging his head against bureaucracy walls, and tired of all the political dodging of his recommendations, Ferguson’s frustration came to a head with a riot-act lecture to government. Stop making the same mistakes over and over again, he all but yelled at the ruling Liberals. Start treating taxpayers with respect. Stop thinking of taxpayers last.”

The writer of this piece also observed: “Ferguson. . .reminded politicians, and the bureaucrats who serve them, that every dollar in their salary and the foundation of their pensions come from taxpayers who foot every bill, and that respect for them is rarely extended. So he challenged federal departments to start focusing on the needs of people, not their own internal processes. . .It was magnificent to watch, and to hear.”

Meanwhile, Moncton’s very own éminence grise on all things political, Donald Savoie, had this to say in his book, “What is government good at?”, published in 2015: “Though politicians from all political parties are talking about the importance of the middle class to social cohesion, it is not at all clear what they are proposing to do about it. The problem and solutions. . . are likely to be found beyond Canada’s borders. . .The work of Thomas Piketty and others suggests that growing income inequality is a global problem. . .As is the case with many economic challenges, dealing with. . .inequality is beyond the reach of Canadian politicians and political institutions, a reality that precious few Canadian politicians are prepared to explain. The goal is to win political power: making political promises and playing the blame game offers far greater potential than trying to explain why the middle class is shrinking.”

Oh, you raging rhinos of New Brunswick, tell it like it is until the ears of the country, deafened to our New Brunswick voices, finally open again.

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