Category Archives: Idiocracy

A bridge too far?

0044_Bridge-WalkThese days, when I cross the water between Halifax and Dartmouth, I sometimes find myself denying the existence of bridges, especially during rush hour. This is despite the fact that I am evidently travelling on one and, from my perch in the passenger’s seat, I can see boats in the harbour and buildings on the near horizon – that is, if I care to look.

Naturally, I don’t care to look because my eyes are otherwise occupied by my smart phone, that tiny blinking box about the size of an old-timey dime-store novel from which the “real” news of the world, the “true” nature of reality, froths forth by the microsecond thanks to so-called social media.

“Apparently, some guy has proof that climate change is a hoax,” I mutter.

“Is that so?” my driving companion inquires absently.

“Yup,” I reply. “He also rejects claims that the Earth is spherical, that NASA ever sent men to the moon and that ancient Egyptians built the pyramids.”

“Okay,” my friend says, “I’ll bite. Who did build the pyramids?”
“Aliens. . .I suppose you’ll want to know why.”

“Do tell.”

“Interstellar travel lounges.”

Why not? Who are we to begrudge weary Alpha Centaurians en route to Betelgeuse for the biannual lotus festival taking a well-deserved load off their tired dogs in north-Saharan Africa? Not everyone flies first class, you know.

I kid, of course. But there is a point.

In a world where fantasies increasingly supplant facts and rank opinions replace measured judgements, how long before we imagine that the state of things as they actually exist is far less absorbing (and, therefore, less legitimate) than the mechanics of our own tortured hallucinations?

Worse, perhaps, for the health of our public institutions, economy and the democratic rule of law, how long before this type of infantilizing meme-merchandising infects the body politic at the most basic level and in everyday ways?

How long? How does right about now sound?

In a 2016 piece, “Why are people so incredibly gullible?”, David Robson, a feature writer for the web magazine BBC Future, wrote, “Cast your mind back to the attack of the flesh-eating banana. In January 2000, a series of chain emails began reporting that imported bananas were infecting people with ‘necrotizing fasciitis’ – a rare disease in which the skin erupts into livid purple boils before disintegrating and peeling away from muscle and bone.”

The scare was completely. . . well. . .bananas, but that didn’t stop scores of people from rejecting an official report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control debunking the bizarre story. Or, as Robson reported, “Within weeks, the CDC was hearing from so many distressed callers it had to set up a hotline. The facts became so distorted that people eventually started to quote the (Centers) as the source of the rumour.”

Still, you don’t have to be a flesh-eating banana to know how easily and far we are prone to slip. Here in the Canadian Maritimes, we regularly replenish our various silos of stupidity with the cloyingly sweet elixir of self-righteous certitude.

Somebody writing on the Internet declares that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas will kill us all – as will, indeed, fossil fuels in general. Somebody else, scribbling in the ethersphere, rejoins that environmentalists are nuts and that there’s nothing wrong with cracking slate to get at the good stuff to power our industrial lifestyle.

They’re both right and wrong – something they would know if they actually chose to talk to one another, rather than bury themselves in the popular “literature” of half-truths.

Fact: The science of climate change says we must reduce our consumption of petroleum products. Another fact: The science of engineering says we still need the junk to intelligently transition to a cleaner, more renewable future. The only question that should remains is: Can we walk and chew gum at the same time?

Fortunately, in many other ways many can and do here.

Consider the enormous amount of consultation, collaboration, tolerance and good will that was required to begin transforming the Petitcodiac River in Moncton, N.B., into a vibrant waterway that is quickly becoming the envy of nature lovers, commercial enterprises and local governments, alike.

While we’re at it, ask the question: Would Halifax’s state-of-the-art Central Library have stood a ghost of chance without the spirit of multi-sectoral cooperation – from community groups and educational institutions to businesses and municipal planning officials?

Think about the non-stop talking and sometimes-disputatious mediations that paved the way for Moncton’s freshly minted downtown event and cultural centre or the new marine sciences initiative on the Dartmouth waterfront.

These were not bridges too far to cross. And I can only assume that in the rooms where their construction began, all the smart phones were, for once, mercifully silent.

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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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A ‘Nickelback’ for your thoughts


As the season of charity and good humour rapidly encroaches, it aggrieves me to note that the Alberta-based rock band Nickelback is anything but amused.

The object of its ire is a Prince Edward Island police constable who, in a moment of inspired tongue-in-cheekery, threatened any driver he caught under the influence with a force-fed loop of the group’s tunes from its third album. Leaving aside, for the moment, the conundrum of a musical act that manages to sell more albums than almost anyone else north of the 49th Parallel whilst maintaining its reputation as one of the most hated in the business, one wonders how Kensington-stationed cop thought he could get away with any stab at levity in this social-media-drenched world. It didn’t take long for the poor fellow to eat his words on Facebook.

“The other day I created a post in the hopes of bringing awareness to Drinking and Driving and in doing so I suggested that I would be playing Nickelback in the back of my cruiser for those that made the ill advised decision to Drink and Drive and had been apprehended for the same,” wrote R. Hartlen last week. “Well, as we have seen, our little post became an international story. And somewhere in the noise, the message of Don’t Drink and Drive was overshadowed by negativity towards the band I said I would play if you did. . . The message being heard was no longer Don’t Drink and Drive and in its wake was a group of guys and their families left wondering why they were the global butt of a joke that they had not deserved. And for that I am sorry.”

To be sure, drinking and driving is a serious issue – nowhere more so than in the Maritimes, where the per capita-rate of car ownership is higher than in any other part of the country. But, Nickelback. . .come on, dudes. Lighten up a little. You should know by now that the only bad publicity is no publicity at all. As for the latently contrite R. Hartlen, might I suggest a few alternatives in the dispensation of punishment or incentives to motorists?

According to NBC News a couple of years ago, “DDVIP – Designated Driver App, a new application from The California Office of Traffic Safety, gives discounts and exclusive offers to sober designated drivers across the state. Users can search through all participating bars and restaurants in California and filter them by location. The Greater San Diego area, for instance, has more than 35 restaurants and bars that are offering deals like a free non-alcoholic drink for sober drivers.”

Said one bar owner, Ray Corallino: “We offer them a free appetizer and a non alcoholic beverage of their choice if they are the designated driver. I think it’s a good idea because we have a lot of college kids that come down from the state area, USD, UCSD and they have to drive a long way home.”

Perhaps Prince Edward Island’s dedicated constabulary could follow suit with that province’s publicans. If that particular carrot fails to work, there are always several non-Nickelback sticks to deploy.

What about the mandatory consumption of slushies from a local filling station? Or ham and cheese sandwiches “made by hand” from a federal penitentiary? There’s also a four-hour binge-watch of The Gilmore Girls reboot on Netflix; any episode of The Vampire Diaries; and any album that features Madonna, The Spice Girls, Kanye West, or Beyonce. As for Justin Bieber? Well, enough said.

Be assured, driver. Sober is better.

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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.


Arrrrg word!


Is recession a natural phenomenon, attached to the human species the way the weather attaches to Earth, itself? Or, is it a conjurer’s trick of the imagination – a self-fulfilling prophecy – fated to repeat the more we utter its name?

Economic schools of thought are divided on the subject, though the literature and lore is abundant.

In a recent post to The Drum, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s online screed-fest, editorialist Greg Jerhico writes, “After such a long time without a recession, no treasurer would wish to be the one to preside over such an event. For (Australian Finance Minister) Joe Hockey, the path away from recession lies with his hope that the budget measures for small businesses will enliven investment in the non-mining sector. And given the current poor state of investment in that sector, his measures will need to work.”

Adds Mr. Jerhico: “Economists love to call recessions. The standard joke about economists and recessions is the one made by (the late American economist) Paul Samuelson that some economists have predicted nine out of the last five recessions. . .Australia has not had a recession since June 1991, which was the last time there were two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth in seasonally adjusted terms.

“Of course, such a definition is utterly stupid, and really should be thrown out as soon as possible. Any definition where an economy could shrink by 0.5 per cent in one quarter, rise by 0.1 per cent in the next, and then shrink by 0.6 per cent the quarter after and not be in a recession is complete lunacy.”

If this doesn’t sound familiar, it should. According to a Globe and Mail piece, headlined “Economy’s dip stokes recession fears”, last week, “The latest reading of Canada’s economic health suggests the economy’s oil-induced coma extended into the second quarter, renewing fears of a mild recession and casting doubt about the country’s capacity to recover from the severe oil price slump.

Statistics Canada reported Tuesday that real gross domestic product (i.e. adjusted for inflation) shrank by 0.1 per cent in April from March. The economy was hit by a 3.4-per-cent drop in oil and gas extraction – the sharpest one-month drop in nearly four years, adding to declines in March.”

Australia is the southern hemisphere’s Canada; both are great, global lodestones of natural resources.

The Aussies have their extraordinary reserves of precious metals, rare-earth minerals, iron ore, coal; whereas, we Canucks can dine out on the fact that we are the largest exporter of unrefined petroleum products in the western world.

But a funny thing happened to both nations on their way to their respective commodity markets: The stalls were closed.

Now, Canadian and Australian pundits are concurrently convinced that recession is, again, a virtual certainty in both nations. Although they are separated by about 12,000 kilometres of ocean, they still share practically every doomsday instinct that is the common weal of two peoples forged by Anglo-Saxon principles of crime, punishment and – not for nothing – blowing the biggest of free lunches geology and history ever displayed before man.

Do we extract natural resources and denude the good earth solely for private pillage, or do we leverage our talent for plunder to obtain better, more efficacious, ends? What safe, reliable, environmentally benign technologies can we invent – from the wealth we extract from the ground – that will preserve and protect the biosphere on which billions of species depend, including our own?

This is the dialectic our times, of our condition. The answer is either our progression or our final recession into oblivion.

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A voice from the wilderness

Permanent winter for a Moncton events centre?

Permanent winter for a Moncton events centre?

Was it only a stitch in time, a hiccup in history, a diaphanous dream, or did Greater Moncton once actually believe that its downtown was worth preserving, protecting, even pampering?

Or were we always determined to be Fargo, North Dakota, where the ribbon developments and strip malls make Detroit look like heaven on Earth?

A couple of years ago, Moncton economic development consultant David Campbell (now chief economist of the Province of New Brunswick) and university economist Pierre-Marcel Desjardins put numbers to the proposition of rejuvenating Moncton’s urban core.

According to Mr. Campbell, in a report to City Council, a new centre would annually “attract between 317,000 and 396,000 people. . .generating between $12 and $15 million in spending.” In the process, it would “support retail, food service, accommodation and other services in the downtown,” where it “should also support residential growth.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Desjardins estimated that the construction phase, alone, would generate $340 million worth of “economic impacts” for New Brunswick and other parts of the country, as well as nearly $17 million in taxes for the provincial and federal governments.

But the crucial point, which Mr. Campbell argued rigorously and cogently, is that a new centre is not – as some have proposed – a luxury; it is quite nearly a necessity.

“Downtown – only 1.5 per cent of the city’s land area – generates nearly 10 per cent of the total assessed tax base and over 14.4 per cent of property tax revenues,” he noted in his report to City Council. In fact, the urban core “generates nearly 11.5 times as much property tax revenue, compared to the rest of Moncton, on a per hectare basis.”

Yet – though it plays host to 800 business, 3,000 bars, restaurants and cafes 18,000 workers, and anywhere from 1,200 to 5,700 residents (depending on how one fixes downtown “borders”) – the area is in a state of disrepair.

“The economic engine is showing signs of weakness,” Mr. Campbell lamented. “There is currently over 350,000 square feet of vacant office space in the downtown. Office space vacancies across Greater Moncton have risen from 6.6 per cent in 2011 to an estimated 13.5 per cent in 2013. Residential population in the core declined by 9.1 per cent between 2006 and 2011. Including the expanded downtown, the population dropped by 3.3 per cent. (This) compared to a robust 7.7 per cent rise across the city.”

A new centre that hosts a wide variety of events, with enough seats to compete for top shows, will incontestably revitalize the downtown area.

The real question is whether that’s still a priority here.

It’s a question that Adam Conter appears to ask daily. At a Moncton City Council meeting a couple of weeks ago, the former Haligonian – a transplanted real-estate professional – testified that such a centre is “good for the province. . .the conversation over the past couple of weeks has been that this centre seems to be the divining rod. . .We are going to run a $479-million deficit (in this province), of which (the centre costs the province) $24 million. (That) represents 0.5 per cent (of the budget). If we were to have a rounding error, we could build the centre for that money.”

Of course, he is entirely correct and in preaching to Moncton Council he is, against few notable exceptions, preaching to the choir.

But this thing of ours will only get done when we finally decide whether or not we want a downtown area to nurture our diverse cultures, our economic potential.

Otherwise, the ribbons and highway malls of Fargo beckon.

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As the fracking follies continue. . .


It’s always heartening to realize that those we elect to high, public office hold each other to the same standard of comportment as do the rest of us. After all, if we can’t count on the statesmen among us, we can surely depend on the ready, nearly endless, supply of clowns.

And so it was last week when New Brunswick’s Tory energy critic, Jake Stewart, had this to say in the House about the Liberal government’s decision to extend a partial, four-year payroll refund, reportedly worth $150,000, to internationally based Clean Harbors’ Saint John operation:

“I am sure that the minister of Energy and Mines and the premier are very excited to have this company, one of the leading suppliers of hydraulic fracturing waste treatment and disposal services in the Bakken, Marcellus, and Utica shale formations, established in New Brunswick. . .It is interesting to learn that this government is providing taxpayer-funded assistance for existing staff to a company that has such a high level of expertise in the treatment and disposal of hydraulic fracturing waste when the same government, just months ago, implemented policies that actually prohibit this industry in which Clean Harbors is a leading service provider.

To which Premier Brian Gallant gamely responded, “I understand his (Mr. Stewart’s) frustration. I understand why he is so confused. The members opposite are so fixated on fracking that they cannot fathom that we can create jobs, even though there is a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. The member cannot fathom. . .that a business like Clean Harbors can create jobs in the province, even though there is a moratorium.”

With which, in turn, Gary Kelly, vice-president of business sales for Clean Harbors, naturally agreed (of sorts). He told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal: “We felt that there was a need here. A few years ago one of the competitors closed up shop, so we felt there was an opportunity.”

Added Economic Development Minister Rick Doucet: “The company is tied in very well with the industrial sector in Saint John – with the pulp and paper industry and with the oil industry. . .Any company, especially a world-class operation such as this, located in 50 places around the world and with 13,000 people working for it, that stands and wants to open up shop in New Brunswick and wants to represent New Brunswick is a bonus for us.

“Clean Harbors has a very broad range of services that it offers in the sectors – the cleaning services and products, the recycling of oil into base, the blending of lubricating oils, the high-pressure and chemical cleaning, and the disposal of hazardous waste.”

In other words, for a polluting province, such as New Brunswick, Clean Harbor is an economic, jobs-generating boon. Its record is apparently sterling; its knowledge about these matters, exquisite.

So, then, the path seems clear: Ask this company what it would do to meet one or more of the provincial government’s requirements for lifting the ban on hydraulic fracturing. It couldn’t hurt, and it might even work to ease this absurd toothache that is the shale-gas debate.

It might, at least, serve to bring Conservative and Liberal interests in Fredericton closer together on what must surely be their joint interest, which is nothing more or less important than the economic and social integrity of the province both groups profess to love and cherish.

Or, perhaps, I am finally, fatally naïve, after all.

Maybe all we in the peanut gallery terminally expect of our so-called democracy are the clowns masquerading as statesmen.

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Runaway foot-in-mouth disease


And they all fall down, right on cue.

Nowadays, it seems, a hard-working, right-wing politician just can’t get his mojo on without, first, publicly blurting nonsense that offends a large number of Canadians and, second, immediately apologizing on social media.

I give you Exhibit A:

A couple of weeks ago, New Brunswick Tory MP, John Williamson told a friendly crowd in Ottawa, “(In) my part of the country, I deal with temporary foreign workers and the interaction with employment insurance, and it makes no sense from my point of view – I’m going to put this in terms of colour, but it’s not meant to be about race – it makes no sense to pay ‘whities‘ to stay at home while we bring in brown people to work in these jobs. . .When I have 10 to 12 per cent unemployment rates in my province, I’m not going to abide by a policy that encourages people to stay home and collect an EI cheque and bring people from overseas to fill these jobs.”

In less time than it takes to kick oneself in that part of the body one tends to use for sitting, Mr. Williamson was issuing mea culpas to anyone who would listen. “Today I used offensive and inappropriate language regarding the Temporary Foreign Workers Program,” he tweeted. “For this I apologize unreservedly.”

To Saint John Telegraph-Journal reporter Chris Morris, he went further. “I don’t think there is any explanation for the words I used, which is why I unreservedly apologized,” he said. “This is the worst mistake I’ve made as an elected member and also over my 20 years of writing and commenting on public policy. . .I am deeply disappointed in myself.”

I give you Exhibit B:

Last week, in light of a Federal Court judge’s decision to allow women to wear face-covering niqabs when they take their oath of Canadian citizenship, Ontario Tory MP Larry Miller told a radio talk-show host, “I don’t know what the heck our justice people. . .that isn’t right. Frankly, if you’re not willing to show your face in a ceremony that you’re joining the best country in the world, then frankly, if you don’t like that or don’t want to do that, stay the hell where you came from, and I think most Canadians feel the same.”

Faster than a speeding bullet slicing through the thin rhetoric of intolerance, Mr. Miller pivoted and was suddenly sorry. . .eh?    

According to a CBC item, posted online last week, “In a statement issued Tuesday morning, Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP Larry Miller said that he stands by his views that those who wish to be sworn in as citizens should uncover their face. ‘However, I apologize for and retract my comments that went beyond this,’ he said.”

The CBC report added, “According to a post on the Broadbent Institute-affiliated blog Press Progress, Miller – who was once described by National Post columnist John Ivison as ‘the voice in [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper’s ear” – made the comments during an open-line talk show on local radio station CFOS on Monday.”

Kevin Menard with Citizenship and Immigration apparently emailed the public broadcaster that “These comments do not reflect the position of the government.”

Perhaps not. But, something’s going on here, and it’s not entirely due to backbenchers flapping their gums and freelancing their views unbeknownst to the Prime Minister and his people.

This is, after all, an election year, and no party in this country understands its support structures and voter base better than the Tories, where the politically incorrect take on hot-button issues is not always the politically unwise course of action. 

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Whose democracy 
is it, anyway?


If those who doubted that the national police force is now working for the political office of the reigning government, let those fine, pristine sensibilities fade into the harsh reality of a hard, partisan winter.

The Harper government has retailed two – and only two – presiding ideological platforms over its well-worn terms in office.

The first is that it, and only it, is the peerless steward of economic growth in this country; the second is that it, and only it, is the last defence against the hordes of human demons and other assorted bad guys determined to upend our constitutional democracy.

The first conceit is patently false, as the national government hasn’t raised a well-appointed finger to encourage anything close to durable economic development in eight years.

In fact, it has gone out if its way to play favourites with the western oil patch at the expense of less flashy, though more sustainable industries.

The result has been predictable: an unemployment rate that, while down nationally to 6.6 per cent, remains as high as 20 per cent in rural areas and even urban enclaves not blessed with dirty bitumen. Now that global oil prices are on the run, it is only natural to expect Canada’s presumptive protectors of the public peace to tar everyone who doubts their sincerity with the same black brush they use to colour their annual balance sheets.

This rather obviously brings me to my second concern, which is: What, on earth, does the RCMP think it’s doing by shilling for the federal Conservatives on environmental stewardship?

Shawn McCarthy’s recent piece in the Globe and Mail aptly serves the point. “The RCMP has labelled the ‘anti-petroleum’ movement as a growing and violent threat to Canada’s security, raising fears among environmentalists that they face increased surveillance, and possibly worse, under the Harper government’s new terrorism legislation,” he writes.

“In highly charged language that reflects the government’s hostility toward environmental activists, an RCMP intelligence assessment warns that foreign-funded groups are bent on blocking oil sands expansion and pipeline construction, and that the extremists in the movement are willing to resort to violence.”

The report cites the 2013 cop-car burnings in Rexton, New Brunswick, as evidence of increasing radicalism everywhere without bothering to differentiate between the actions of a very few and the broad, peaceful concerns of the very many.

Reports McCarthy, quoting directly from the report: “‘There is a growing, highly organized and well-financed anti-Canada petroleum movement that consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists who are opposed to society’s reliance on fossil fuels,’ concludes the report which is stamped ‘protected/Canadian eyes only’ and is dated Jan. 24, 2014. The report was obtained by Greenpeace . . . If violent environmental extremists engage in unlawful activity, it jeopardizes the health and safety of its participants, the general public and the natural environment.’”

Fine; but how do you conflate peaceable, law-abiding citizens’ legitimate concerns with violent extremism without driving a nail through the democratic principles that lets you issue such verbal nonsense in the first place?

This “waiting-for-terrorists-to-strike-from-the-shadows” mentality has overtaken our public spaces, our private conversations, our personal expectations and perhaps even our conception of ourselves as members of an inclusive plurality.

Do we jump, do we fight, do we run away?

Surely, we don’t listen to anything but the blow horn from Parliament Hill anymore.

Neither, it seems, do the national cops, now more willing than ever to give their political masters the partisan wherewithal to scare enough voters into hating tree-huggers in the name of catching a few ill-minded radicals.

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My big picture on world views


In recent months, readers of this column have sometimes complained that my opinions about politics, the economy and life as we live it in this alternately blessed and benighted corner of the unpredictable planet are inconsistent, unreconcilable and, therefore, incoherent.

What, they have invariably demanded, is my world view?

I’d give them one, if I had one.

Frankly, the one unshakeable opinion to which I cleave is that world views, such as they are, are for dictators and salesmen.

One wants you to knuckle under; the other wants to rob you blind. In either case, you’re left with few choices, other than those your political or corporatist overlords prescribe.

Still, the complaints ring with such predictable complacency that they might as well be a popular gospel.

“Why do you hate the wonderful earth we cherish so much?” one scribe asked me in early August. “How can you support the shale gas industry in New Brunswick when, as an intelligent man, you must know how much harm it causes?”

Precisely three days later, another reader accused me of runaway tree-hugging: “It boggles my mind that you, as an intelligent man, slam the only industry that has any chance of rejuvenating the New Brunswick economy.”

Again, with the “intelligent man” stuff!

Yes, I have an IQ above room temperature, but I like to think that this fortunate happenstance engenders a predilection for at least a modicum of critical thinking.

For those of you out there who are similarly equipped, here’s a question: Is it not possible to walk and chew gum at the same time?

The shale gas industry in New Brunswick has operated without incident for more than 10 years. No spills, no poisoning of water tables, no soil decimation, no air pollution have ever been recorded, reported or, even, imagined.

These facts, alone, should prove that the industry, here, understands (at least, intuitively) its “social licence”. And if it doesn’t, provincial rules and regulations governing the locations of, and practices involved in, hydraulic fracturing (which are still on the books, despite the recent moratorium) evidently enjoins it to smarten up.

That said, other jurisdictions around the world have not demonstrated New Brunswick’s perspicacity on this socially volatile energy issue. North Dakota and parts of Appalachia have all but abandoned their side of the social-licence bargain, preferring, instead, to let the industry have its rapacious way with privately-held lots, paid for willingly with up-front buy-downs and long-term royalty agreements.

The result is exactly what New Brunswick opponents of shale-gas development fear: pollution, social dislocation and (let’s face it) death by fossil fuel.

But simply transplanting other provinces’ and states’ experiences and decisions here is a meaningless exercise in organized paranoia. It supplants the agency of our own minds with that of those who are determined to dictate or sell their own agendas, either quasi-corporatist or pseudo-environmentalist.

The middle of the road, negotiating the traffic to the left and right of us, is where we must live now if we have any hope of charting a sustainable, prosperous future.

Those who demand that the world’s petrol-economy can and must end today are either hypocritical or deranged.

At the same time, those who insist that fossil fuels still promise an eternity of risk-free, environmentally benign energy are either sadly delusional or deliberately prevaricating.

The bucket slung around the world’s neck is full of oil. Currently, there’s so much sloshing around in capital markets, literally no one knows how to prevent its pricing from decimating resource-producing economies (including Canada’s).

Still, let’s say that we – all of us in this province, at least – engage in a thought experiment. Let us suppose that oil and gas were not primary commodities, but rather seed capital for sustainable energy research, manufacturing and deployment.

Let us imagine that the engines and factories that burn fossil fuel are actually generating new ways to radically curtail its casual use.

Let us hope that the judicious, reasonable use of “black gold” produces a sea-change in attitudes about the way we treat the planet we share.

Finally, let us propose that partisan bickering about “world views” falls silently, gently, coherently to the good earth we vow to protect from (who else?) ourselves.

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