Category Archives: Politics

Bye, bye Gritty Beach

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

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

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Who says I’m not happy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is, after all, democracy in action.

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The less promised, the better

DSC_0033Holding politicians to account for their various pledges, promises and vows is a little like extracting fecal matter from a public swimming hole. It can be done, but not without extraordinary cost, bother and nasal congestion.

Nevertheless, the New Brunswick government has introduced new legislation that would penalize parties running for office when they don’t fully explain and account for their spending platforms. Ironically enough, in doing so, Premier Brian Gallant’s Grits have torn a page from their Progressive Conservative nemeses, which had proposed something quite like this bill when David Alward ran the roost in Fredericton in 2014.

At that time, Blaine Higgs, the current Tory leader in this province, had this to say when he was merely his government’s finance minister: “Elected representatives must be accountable for taxpayers’ dollars, not only when making commitments to voters, but also when making decisions at the cabinet table.”

Even then-NDP Leader Dominic Cardy agreed. He avowed that the PC bill was “a pretty good idea”. Specifically, he said, “I think there is a responsibility for parties that if we are going to be getting access to public money, as all the parties in New Brunswick have, including the government, that we have got to get out in front of the public and present platforms that have some connection to reality. And that has been a problem for all the parties in the past.”

Indeed, it has. But this proposed legislation by the Liberals – much like the one fronted by the Progressive Conservatives three years ago – is a waste of time, energy and ultimately money. After all, what, in this scenario, prevents a triumphant government from dismantling its commitments once it assumes office? What, exactly, assures honesty, transparency and accountability post-election facto?

Thinking about governing even a province as small as New Brunswick is a far different project than actually executing policy. Inevitably, incoming administrations inherit a storm of problems they couldn’t possibly have anticipated when they resided in the political wilderness. There, buried in the bureaucracy of office, are priorities, prejudices, jealousies, and fundamental structural problems in the public accounts.

In New Brunswick, that amounts to this: Health care is underfunded, poorly delivered and, so, broadly ineffective; social services, which still lay a heavy burden on municipalities, are perilously close to local collapse; education. . .well, ditto. Meanwhile, the province’s civil-service workforce (non-education, non-health related) is absurdly inflated, given the shrinking size of the general population and the anemic state of economic growth within the private sector.

Fiscally, our condition could be worse, but not much. With 750,000 individuals in this province, the unemployment rate hovers, at best, around nine per cent – about three per cent above the national average. Our annual deficit is about $260-million. Our long-term debt has now just skyrocketed through the concrete ceiling of $14 billion.

So, then, what does a piece of legislation requiring potential political leaders to account for their pledges actually do? Raise even more expectations within an already distrustful public arena? Pit one party against another for no apparent purpose except to feed red meat to the electorate?

Far more useful and efficacious is something that still remains unthinkable in this province, country and most of the democratic world: Good will, consideration, critical thinking, cooperation, collaboration, and multi-partisan negotiation.

If we really want change in this province, we might consider dismantling the ancient party system that has dominated politics since before Confederation.

If we want to hold politicians to account for their pledges, promises and vows, don’t clean the swimming hole.

Just drain it.

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Promises, promises and more promises

Ever notice how a sitting political leader’s most attractive pledges never actually kick in until well after he or she is out of office? Brian Gallant now promises to revamp the way votes are tallied in New Brunswick. But that won’t happen until well after the next provincial election. The same scenario works to mete out Justin Trudeau’s campaign vows to reform accountability in national politics. In other words: Nothing’s going to happen any time soon.

As always, it’s easy to make promises when it’s unlikely you’ll be around to pay the bill. Then, of course, fancy vacations paid for by fancy friends in fancy locations simply rise to social media’s archly inarticulate level of scrutiny. Those few who still operate as edited, responsible, mainstream journalists – the ones who want to dig – are simply dismissed.

We have entered a new era of deficit in New Brunswick, in this Atlantic region, in this country. And it’s not about money. It’s about faith in our public institutions and in those who we have trusted to uphold them.

People in the Atlantic region of this country have rarely been as politically engaged as they have over the past year. Old folks, youngsters, Francophones, First Nations’ members, environmentalists, veterans of wars, veterans of poverty and abuse. Yet, the extraordinarily large numbers of platitudes politicians now issue mute their reasonable voices.

We are drowning in pledges, platitudes, promises and campaign pabulum.

Like this, from federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau:

“As Canadians come together to celebrate Canada 150, we proudly reflect on the generations that came before us. Generations that built a country on the belief that with hope and hard work, they could deliver a better future for themselves, and for their kids and grandkids. That optimism – and that confidence – helped define us as a country. Sharing those beliefs with others made Canada a beacon of diversity, openness, and generosity around the world. Yet, over the last few decades, the middle class and those working hard to join it have fallen behind. Everyday folks who work hard to provide for their families are worried about the future.”

Still, almost every single social initiative – from providing promised funding for affordable housing to early childhood education and daycare – designed for provinces and municipalities will only ‘grandfather’ long after the next federal election, at which point a new kid might very well be in town (Ottawa, that is).

Then, there’s this from Mr. Gallant, courtesy of a report from the CBC earlier this month: “(He) is saying no to a speedy embrace of a new balloting system in New Brunswick elections. Scarcely an hour after an independent commission recommended the adoption of a preferential balloting system in time for the next election, (he) slammed on the brakes.”

But, hold on there, he struck the commission in the first place. What gives? The report from the public broadcaster illuminates: “He said he doesn’t think the voting system should change without voters having a say first.

‘To change the way people vote we think is a fundamental change,’ Gallant said. ‘So we would have to have a clear mandate. Any government would have to have a clear mandate to make that change. A mandate could be sought through a referendum. A mandate could be sought through a political party’s platform in an election.’”

How about the year 2020? Does this do it for you, New Brunswickers? One problem: That’s 24 months after the next scheduled provincial election, during which Mr. Gallant may win or become political toast.

How’s that for accountability?

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More pennies from heaven

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Federal budgets are primarily for journalists, pundits, lobbyists, think tankers, and other assorted members of the chattering class. I should know. I’ve been covering fiscal updates, in one form or another since my first ‘lock-up’ during the years Brian Mulroney occupied the democratic ‘throne’ of this country.

In those days, back in the 1980s, information from the ‘Centre’ was sparse, though the actual documents released were voluminous. Enlightenment was rare, though analysis (both for and against) was incessant. Alas, nothing has changed, lo these many decades later.

For New Brunswick, depending on who’s talking, the Trudeau government’s second (2017) budget, unveiled last week, is either the best thing on three wheels or an unmitigated car wreck.

“New Brunswick Finance Minister Cathy Rogers said Wednesday evening she had only had a chance to review highlights of the budget, but was ‘thrilled with what I see so far,’” the CBC reported. “‘I see that the federal government’s priorities line up very well with New Brunswick’s priorities,’ said Rogers. (She) cited federal investments in skills development, innovation, temporary foreign workers, and assistance to families for child care as some of the federal initiatives the Gallant government is also targeting.”

Beausejour MP Dominic LeBlanc, who is also the federal government’s minister of fisheries, went further in an interview with the Telegraph-Journal: “There is very significant money available in this budget for green infrastructure, climate change adaptation, and there’s money to help provinces and electrical utilities get off coal-fired electricity by 2030. So, New Brunswick’s push for clean energy and green technology will find in the budget a very willing partner.”

I think, though I’m not quite sure, the appropriate response is: balderdash! Oh yes, on second thought, that is the word: balderdash! The very notion that Ms. Rogers or Mr. LeBlanc had only light acquaintance with the contents of this underwhelming document before it was announced is absurd.

The federal government deserves plenty of plaudits for its plan to spend more money on early childhood education, adult skills development and, presciently enough, innovation. The budget speech says this about each of those investment areas: “The Innovation and Skills Plan is an ambitious effort to make Canada a world leading centre for innovation, to help create more good, well-paying jobs, and help strengthen and grow the middle class. . .Young Canadians will be the ones who drive the future growth of Canada’s economy – yet too many struggle to complete the education they need to succeed now, and in the future.

Still, the problem, as always, devolves to the provincial response, which invariably involves matching funds for programs. To date, there is no way, anywhere in this country, to control or focus local spending on much-needed social initiatives without throwing entire communities into the spin-washer of deficit and debt. Grand gestures from Ottawa are fine, but they usually fail to account for the on-the-ground, shovel-unready costs of execution. Who ultimately pays? You know the answer. And so do I.

Ideally, a competent, grown-up federal budget would eschew the fine rhetoric of ‘building’ and ‘exploring’ and ‘expanding’ in favour of the harder truth much of the country now faces: We’re dead broke. That means targeting. No more yakking about ‘willing partners’ and “thrilled” to be seeing ya’. Decide, for once, whether an imperfect, but perfectly serviceable, highway needs to be reconstructed from scratch or an urgently required early childhood education program deserves to be redesigned from bottom to top.

Take a page from the past, journalists, pundits, lobbyists, think tankers, and other assorted members of the chattering class, including politicians, and grow up.

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Cardboard cutouts

IMG_1563If the elements of the human body are worth, conservatively and according to some estimates, about two thousand bucks, what are we to make of the latest order from Global Affairs Canada to remove life-sized cardboard cutouts of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at diplomatic missions in Trumpland?

After all, the placards only cost about $300 and change. That sounds like a good deal, given the treacherous state of public finances across what is becoming the last, truly expensive democracy in the world.

Says a Canadian Press report, published earlier this week: “It’s not clear if the missions ever had departmental permission to use the cardboard cut-outs. According to emails obtained by the Conservatives through the Access to Information Act, the Washington embassy’s interest in using a cardboard likeness was sparked by word that the Atlanta consulate had put one on display at a pre-Canada Day event last year. Asked if Ottawa had given permission, Louise Blais, the Atlanta consul general, advised the embassy that she did ask but ‘never got an answer. . .which I took as no objections. But as added cover, the U.S. embassy in Ottawa has one of the Obamas.’”

The piece continues: “Anna Gibbs, senior events production manager at the Washington embassy, was excited about the prospect of putting Trudeau’s image on display. ‘I think this will be a hoot and extremely popular and go well with our Snapchat filter,’ she wrote in an email. While some of her colleagues felt the magnified photo of Trudeau in a black suit, black shirt and silver tie ‘doesn’t seem very prime ministerial,’ Gibbs gushed: ‘Looks (oh so) fine to me!’”

Uh-huh. Listen people of New Brunswick, it seems we are missing an international opportunity here (big surprise). With no disrespect to the prime minister of this great nation, our very own, GQ-ready premier Brian Gallant is every bit as fetching. Why, exactly, does he not have a cardboard stand-in to call his own? I detect another example of Ottawa bias. Ladies, weigh in on this. As always, we need your vote.

If I were a provincial staffer with money to burn, I would go one step further. I would go deep, baby. Knowing that Mr. Gallant, as respectable and intelligent as he is, is not. . .well. . .an orator of Winston Churchill’s calibre, I would ensure that a ‘talk’ button is installed in every cut-out. Interested citizens of the United States could then press the designated switch and hear something like this (in the voice of Warren Beatty, naturally):

“Hi there. You may not know me to see me, but I am the premier of one of Canada’s smallest, least economically promising provinces of Canada – you know, that great, big country to the north of you. We like to call it, ‘Mexico with snow’. Ha, ha, ha. But seriously folks, we need your American can-do attitude. We need your drive, innovation and incredible ability to create opportunities. Most of all, of course, we need your money. I am Brian Gallant, and I endorse this plea for. . .well, you know. . .your money.”

Given the precarious state of the world these days, it’s possible that cardboard cutouts of our major political figures will become the gold standard of domestic and foreign policy. No more risky plane trips to far-flung nations. No more emotional gaffs by living human beings. No more unfortunate wardrobe decisions before the stern, unforgiving eyes of the world’s internet-juiced cameras.

After all, the elements of the human body are worth far more than the plastic we manufacture to represent them.

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What’s your preference?

IMG_0261Welcome, dear patron, to the ‘à la carte’ of democracy. In the next New Brunswick election, you may face choices you never thought possible. Imagine the province as a giant Tapas bar.

You’re sitting with 5,000 of your closest friends and you order – oh, let’s say – The Grit candidate’s robust filet mignon off the menu. Your seat neighbor prefers a spicy dish of Tory Italian sausage. Meanwhile, her elbow associate is particularly fond of whoever has emerged to prepare the riding’s patented, NDP seafood chowder.

But let’s say the waiter insists you can’t order your favorite without also choosing your second and third preferences (just in case the kitchen runs out of everything all at once). So you say, ‘Well, I want the steak, but after that I’ll take the sausage and chowder, in that order.’

The waiter bows unctuously, says, ‘very good sir’, and disappears. After a few days, you and your tablemates (now famished), receive equal portions of filet mignon and a small, side order of wiener. As for the chowder? It’s in the bin. Preferential voting is not a perfect solution, but its supporters say it’s better than the status quo, and by supporters I mean the members of the independent commission convened last fall to consider alternatives to the current first-past-the-post system. According to their report, released last week:

“Under the Preferential Ballot, ballots are structured to allow voters to rank their candidates in order of preference. Allowing for preference ranking on the ballot enables voters to express themselves in respect of their first choice candidate and allows them to vote for their second choice (or a number of choices) in the event that the preferred candidate may not be elected. Preferential Ballots in essence give more choices to the voters but do not force them to make a multitude of choices. For those voters who strongly support only one candidate, they would not have to rank any candidate they do not want. Voters are free to back as many or as few candidates as they like, giving them a strategic advantage as voters do not need to choose between voting for the party they like and voting for the party they think can beat the candidate or party that has lost their confidence: they can do both. Affiliation and loyalty to a party would not be affected.”

The commission makes other recommendations that may also raise eyebrows in the province, including: “The voting age in New Brunswick be lowered to 16. New Brunswickers 16 and older who have completed high school be allowed to seek public office. The requirement of possessing a valid high school diploma would not apply to individuals 18 or older.”

Then there’s the little matter of money in politics. The report advises that “political contributions by individuals, corporations and trade unions be lowered from the current $6,000” and that “political contributions from corporations and trade unions be phased out following the 2018 provincial election.”

If the purpose of the exercise was to determine effective ways to increase interest in politics and public institutions in general, then the commission’s spadework across the province over the past few months was worth the effort. The question is whether there’s enough will to implement the recommended changes. The signs are not especially encouraging. Premier Brian Gallant won’t reform the electoral landscape without a referendum on the subject.

All of this gets the province back to the central problem. We know we want something new off the democratic menu. It’s just that we can’t quite seem to make up our minds.

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Death and taxes

DSC_0180It’s always heartening to see our tax dollars at work – even the ones we don’t owe. That’s why I don’t begrudge forking over a few more bucks to squeeze the odd mea culpa out of a hard-working civil servant in this province.

“With this matter of (property) assessments, Service New Brunswick has discovered 2,400 miscalculations, which it is now moving to correct,” that organization’s communications director Nichole Bowman informed the Telegraph-Journal earlier this week. “A new bill will be issued to all impacted property owners. (Those affected) will receive a letter flagging the problem by April 1 and an amended tax bill by June 1. They will have 30 days to request another review. Service New Brunswick apologizes to property owners for any inconvenience this has caused.”

What’s arguable, of course, is whether provincial assessors would have noticed the “miscalculations” in the normal execution of their public duties had a rising tide of public outrage and media coverage had not swept onto their doorsteps over the past couple of weeks.

“A CBC review of New Brunswick property tax records in six communities shows the provincial government billed 1,186 homeowners for property tax increases of more than 20 per cent this year, despite legislation that forbids increases above 10 per cent, plus the cost of new construction,” the public broadcaster reported yesterday. “It is more than 10 times the number of homeowners who got a tax increase that large last year.”

Consider poor Jamie Watling’s predicament. According to the CBC the Quispamsis man “saw his tax bill increase 32.9 per cent after the province raised his assessment $59,700. His renovation? Two $300 laundry room windows he installed himself on a Saturday last year. ‘I think our reaction was laughter,’ Watling said when he and his wife opened their tax bill. ‘We couldn’t believe it.’

By law, Watling’s tax bill can only increase $241 this year (10 per cent of last year’s bill) plus 1.28 per cent of the value of his two new windows.”

Still, before we mount our high horses, pitchforks in hand, it behoves us to remember this is not the first time residential property assessments in New Brunswick have been wonky, and it won’t be the last. The process nationwide, regardless of province, is anything but scientific. Just ask our fellow Canadians in Hog Town and La La Land.

Last year, the Toronto Star reported: “A blistering housing market has prompted a 30 per cent jump in residential property values over the last four years, according to the company that assesses real estate in the province.

City homeowners will receive assessment notices – their first since 2012 – from the Municipal Property Assessment Corp. (MPAC) beginning next week showing a 7.5 per cent annual increase in their property values.

“That’s above the 4.5 per cent provincial average, but lower than the double-digit increases in some 905-area communities such as Richmond Hill and Markham. The average assessed value for a single-family detached home in Toronto is $770,000, up about $200,000 on average from the last assessment in 2012. Toronto condo values increased on average to $363,000, about $35,000 higher than four years ago.”

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, according to the Globe and Mail two months ago, “Assessments for single-family detached houses jumped 30 per cent to 50 per cent in value from July 1, 2015, to July 1, 2016. For example, a typical detached home on a lot with a width of 33 feet (10 metres) on Vancouver’s west side soared 41 per cent in value.”

Oh well, what is it they say about death and taxes?

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Is Energy East back on track?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It could be worse

At this time of year, in this region of the increasingly Great White North, we have a pernicious habit of wearing our worries on our sleeves.

Call it a somber reflection on the year that was or an anxious anticipation of the one that looms before us, but our moods rarely improve with the promise of winter’s darkening skies.

Our kids are still leaving for sunnier economic climes. Good, sustainable jobs continue to evade us. Our public debts and deficits persist in vexing us, though we haven’t the foggiest notion of how to settle them. Meanwhile, the pundits and prognosticators among us sally forth like so many members of a chorus in a Greek tragedy with whispers and whines of imminent doom.

But are our lives in the Atlantic Provinces really as awful as we imagine them to be? Think of those we’ve welcomed from other, sundered parts of the globe. Specifically, think of the Syrian newcomers who have, in recent months, found new reasons to hope along Canada’s East Coast.

Last year, a BuzzFeed News report, relying on data supplied by the United Nations and assorted research groups, concluded that in 2014, “as the war enters its fifth year. . .the most shocking finding is that life expectancy in Syria dropped from 76 years in 2010 to an estimated 56 years in 2014. . .Syria’s population has shrunk from 20.9 million to 17.6 million during that time as people have fled overseas or been killed, the report says. The country is now the world’s biggest source of refugees. Over half of Syria’s pre-war population have fled their homes during the conflict. . . The bulk of that group have remained displaced within Syria. Around 200,000 people have died in the conflict so far.”

A problem that’s far less dramatic than any of these, but nonetheless troubling, is the rise of anti-immigration sentiment everywhere, it seems, except Canada. According to a New York Tomes article late last month, “(Donald Trump’s) promise to deport (2-3 million) immigrants who have committed crimes suggested that he would dramatically step up removals of both people in the United States illegally and those with legal status. If carried out, the plan potentially would require raids by a vastly larger federal immigration force to hunt down these immigrants and send them out of the country.

Added Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York, for the Times: “If he wants to deport two to three million people, he’s got to rely on tactics that will divide communities and create fear throughout the country. He would have to conduct a sweep, or raids or tactics such as those, to reach the numbers he wants to reach. It would create a police state, in which they would have to be aggressively looking for people.”

Fear is the operative word these days. It is again becoming a media meme song. Still, here in Atlantic Canada, we may count our blessings – however minor we often perceive them to be – on our sleeves frayed with worry. Even the Conference Board of Canada says we’re doing pretty well, all things considered.

Says Marie-Christine Bernard, Associate Director, Provincial Forecast: “All three Maritime provincial economies are expected to perform better in the new year. This largely boils down to growth in the tourism, forestry, agriculture, and fishing sectors, as well as increasing exports to the U.S. and abroad boosted by a lower Canadian dollar.”

So, buck up my fellow New Brusnwickers. It could be worse. . .much worse.

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Confederacy of conservatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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