Category Archives: Government

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.

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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.

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Brunswick in the post-truth era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thinkiness? No, just think.

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Raging rhinos of New Brunswick

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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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Open season on public servants

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As you scroll through certain toxic sectors of the Internet, the narrative is both acidic and familiar. Watch for them, you are told. You will know them to see them: lazy, wasteful, incompetent and, most importantly, egregiously acquisitive.

They are, of course, civil servants, public-sector employees, blithely leaching the economy of its essence, its ineffable grace. As the argument goes, never have so many done so little for so much moola.

But, wait, what about a fellow like Michael Ott? He’s a federal government scientist currently on leave from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. According to news reports, his bosses have erroneously paid him something like $30,000. What does he do? Pocket the cash with a wink and a nudge? In fact, a CBC item reports, “Ott has been putting aside every penny the federal government is mistakenly paying him.” His reasoning: “I’m more worried about the fact that in six weeks, if I haven’t paid it back, it’s going to be mess on my tax return.”

In other words, Mr. Ott is chiefly interested in doing his job and the right thing at the same time, which is the default position of virtually every civil servant in this country, in this region of Canada, I have ever known. And I have known more than a few.

Still, public-sector employees are the easiest targets in society for governments seeking to shift the blame for their own shortcomings and cowardice. They use words like “efficiency” and ugly tropes like “right-sizing” to justify their measures to voters who have been led to believe, staggeringly, that cutting jobs in one sector will help generate new ones in another.

“The Gallant Liberals will forge ahead with planned cuts to the number of people working for the New Brunswick government, believing there is still work to be done to ‘right-size’ the public service,” a Brunswick News item reported last week. “That’s despite a report that has found recent efforts have been successful in slimming numbers below the national average, defying a regional trend of a ballooning public service, and saving the province roughly $100 million in the process. . .The current Liberal government has already announced a plan to cut roughly another 1,300 positions from the civil service over the next five years.”

Why? Because it’s easier to pander to the popular and politically productive myth of the overfed public employee than it is to grapple with the inconvenient truth of a private sector that is no longer producing the good, sustainable jobs it once did.

Is this what’s behind the Nova Scotia government’s bizarre treatment of its teachers of late? The CBC reports: “All public schools will be closed Monday (yesterday) as the Liberal government throws a wrench into teacher plans to take job action over recently failed contract negotiations. Education Minister Karen Casey has decided to close schools province-wide but teachers are still expected to report to work. The Liberal government says it intends to try to impose a contract on the union.”

Added Casey with what must be the most disingenuous rationale by an elected official in recent memory: “Job actions could put students in unsafe environment. That’s unacceptable.”

Rejoined the province’s teachers union president Liette Doucet: “I would characterize (the move as) a means to create some division with the public. . .to make it seem like teachers were not going to ensure student safety. We’ve made it pretty clear that our first priority was student safety.”

And so it goes in this winter of our discontent: open season on public servants.

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Trumped on trade

Following the first presidential debate between The Trumpster and The Hillanator, Saturday Night Live staged a bit in which the comic playing Mrs. Clinton suddenly broke down and wept tears of joy.”

“Tell me, what’s going on,” the fake moderator asked.

“Oh,” said fake Hillary as fake Donald paused briefly in his bloviating, blustering and cartoonish posturing, “I just wish we could have the election tonight, right after this debate Do you think that’s possible? Could we?”

Millions of Americans can be forgiven for seriously wanting to be rid of this goon show unfolding before them with nauseating relentlessness. But those who think Canadians, and New Brunswickers in particular, have no skin in the game south of the border (apart from the sort of awful fascination that sometimes overcomes one when passing a car wreck on the highway) should think again.

Until it became clear, only recently, that Mr. Trump was unlikely to recover from the serious case of foot-in-mouth disease he’s managed to contract, some odds makers had the man neck and neck with the former first lady. A few were even predicting a win for The Donald. Now, New Brunswickers, who actually understand something about how our economy works, are breathing easier.

Mr. Trump’s opinions about immigrants (he doesn’t like them), Muslims (he doesn’t trust them) and women (he likes them just fine as long as they submit to his masculine irresistibility) are well known. Less so are his views on international trade involving the United States.

On that, the Republican presidential candidate had this to say in a major speech in Detroit last August: “Trade has big benefits, and I am in favour of trade. But I want great trade deals for our country that create more jobs and higher wages for American workers. Isolation is not an option, only great and well-crafted trade deals are.”

Regarding NAFTA, Mr. Trump declared, “A total renegotiation is what I want. . .If we don’t get a better deal, we will walk away. . .Americanism, not globalism, will be our new credo.”

Give the man credit for his talking points, but dismantling NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and installing an even more American-friendly trade framework would be a disaster up here in the Great White North.

Since the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement launched in1989, the volume of import-export activity in good and services between the two countries more than tripled. According to Trade and Investment Canada’s web page, “Thanks to this agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement, the trading relationship between our two countries is so strong that we exchanged approximately $2.4 billion in goods and services every day in 2015. Canada is the U.S.’s largest customer, purchasing US$338 billion in goods and services in 2015. Canada buys more from the United States than does any other nation – including all 28 countries of the European Union. Canada and the United States are the world’s largest trading partners.”

Where does New Brunswick stand in that mix? In 2012, the United States was this province’s most significant export destination, with the value of inbound/outbound goods and services estimated at nearly 13 billion. The U.S. accounted for 86.3 per cent of the value of this province’s exports in that year, compared to 88 per cent in 2007.

Perhaps it is already occurring to certain Americans that what happens in their country’s political system has ramifying effects virtually everywhere else. A Trump win could ruin New Brunswick’s economy. That his chances grow increasingly unlikely is cause for shedding the odd tear of joy.

 

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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