Category Archives: Society

Ignorance on the rise

Posters and flyers in Moncton recently depicted two women in politics as tethered to the whims of men. This is, of course, absurd in a putatively enlightened and generally progressive society.

Still, stupidity appears to be on the rise in this democracy of ours. What did the late, great Prime Minister of England, Winston Churchill once say, presciently? “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe,” he once reflected. “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Naturally, no one is perfect, least of all those who, last week, deposited handmade paper missives against New Brunswick Finance Minister Cathy Rogers and Liberal candidate for Moncton Northwest, Courtney Pringle-Carver. According to a report by Brunswick News Inc., “The message carried by hundreds of posters strewn about Moncton, insinuating two female provincial politicians are controlled by their male colleagues is insulting, says one of the victims of the caricature.”

To be clear, the report continues, the caricature displayed both women under the direct sway of the political boys of summer. All of which is broadly offensive and lamentably emblematic of an uptick in harsh and ill-informed speech. Is this the way we are suddenly leaning in this province?

Let us hope we are not. But, I fear, we might be turning that way. After all, we can’t seem to resist the western world’s latent lust for demagoguery, intolerance, outrage and sheer imbecility.

The evidence of a new enlightenment is sketchy.

Trumpism south of the border has galvanized, if not created, a seething disbelief in everything that is empirically provable. Consider these excerpts from a report a year ago by Canada’s public: “A study co-authored by University of Montreal researchers suggests that while 79 per cent of Canadians do not doubt the reality of climate change, 39 per cent don’t believe it is caused by human activity. . . Survey respondents seemed to be deeply divided on what is causing climate change. For example, only 33 per cent of people living in the Fort-McMurray – Cold-Lake riding in Alberta believe climate change is partly or mostly caused by humans. That compares to 78 per cent in the Quebec riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, where the rate is the highest.”

Meanwhile, another study conducted by the Ontario Science Centre over the summer concludes, and I quote, “Nearly half of Canadians believe science is a matter of opinion”. Specifically, “Canadians are hungry to learn about new science but their trust in science news has declined to alarming levels. . .While Canadians understand the basics and have a desire to deepen their knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes, their mistrust in the way science is covered in the news has serious implications for society.

“This breakdown in trust has serious consequences for Canada because our future health, prosperity and security all depend on making important, sometimes difficult, decisions based on scientific findings,” said Dr. Maurice Bitran, CEO and Chief Science Officer, Ontario Science Centre. “If we don’t trust the sources, or don’t understand the information we are receiving, we can’t make informed decisions. The findings of this 2017 survey demonstrate a vital role for authentic scientific voices in public education on critical issues that affect public policy and human health and wellbeing.”

Good luck with that. Stupidity and intolerance tends to stick like fly paper, even here, even now.

Tagged , ,

The meaning of leadership

You can find them in all walks of life, in all fields of endeavour. They seem to walk taller, though not necessarily speak louder, than the rest of us. They rarely shout, but they always inspire through their deeds and words.

They are the leaders among us.

I was reminded of this while reading a short piece in the Telegraph-Journal about Scott McCain, owner of the Saint John Sea Dogs, who addressed his team before a recent play-off game in Windsor, Ontario.

According to team forward Bokondji Imama, “He told us that he was already proud of us and that we’ve had a hell of a season, so that kind of gave us back our confidence. He said that whatever happens, he’s always going to be proud of us and he’s always going to love us.”

Added team captain Spencer Smallman: “He came in and just wanted to reassure us that from a organization standpoint, he had full confidence in us. He definitely psyched the boys up. It means so much. He’s a powerful guy. He’s right at the top, and none of this would be possible without him. We’re very grateful for him, and to hear those words and see it in his eyes how confident he is us, I think the confidence spread through the room.”

I know Scott McCain personally, and he has always struck me as a natural leader. But are leaders born or made? As U.S. business consultant Erica Andersen wrote in Forbes Magazine a few years ago, “What I’ve learned by observing thousands of people in business over the past 30 years, though, is that – like most things – leadership capability falls along a bell curve.  Some people are, indeed, born leaders.These folks at the top of the leadership bell curve start out very good, and tend to get even better as they go along. Then there are the folks at the bottom of the curve: that bottom 10-15 per cent of people who, no matter how hard they try, simply aren’t ever going to be very good leaders. They just don’t have the innate wiring.

“Then there’s the big middle of the curve, where the vast majority of us live. And that’s where the real potential for ‘made’ leaders lies. It’s what most of my interviewers assume isn’t true – when, in fact, it is: Most folks who start out with a modicum of innate leadership capability can actually become very good, even great leaders.”

This must be indisputably good news for New Brunswick and the rest of the Atlantic Provinces. It’s doubtful there’s ever been a time in the recent past of this region when good leaders have been in heavier demand. And the possibility that most of us, given the chance and under the right circumstances, can become the heroes of our lives is, frankly, comforting.

So then, what shall our leadership qualities look like? Think about Donald Trump’s nest of psychological predilections and reverse them.

Good leaders are not narcissists. They are empathizers, because to motivate people, they must understand what makes others tick.

Good leaders are not bullies. They are negotiators, because to get anything done well, they must inspire, not threaten or cajole.

Then there’s the usual shopping list of characteristics business magazines and related websites are fond of trotting out: honesty, confidence, the ability to delegate chores, passion, a sense of innovation, integrity, authenticity, patience, open-mindedness, determination, decisiveness.

We can observe genuine leaders in all sectors of our society – government, education, health care, the arts, business.

Just take some time and look closely.

Tagged

Compelled by joy

FullSizeRenderWith the world the way it is, that simple and sweet feeling under the sun is elusive and almost unnameable. What is it? Walk down any street in Moncton as the season turns and it comes to you: a fleeting moment of actual joy.

Keep walking, and it grows in your breast. If only we could bottle it. Is the suggestion that this should be the organizing principle buttressing Moncton’s economic and social development too naive, too radical?

‘Joy’ is one of those funny words in the English language. Often, people assume it is a permanent state of being – something to which we must aspire. Some link it, exclusively, to a theistic condition of thought. Consider, for example, this excerpt from 20th-Century scholar C.S. Lewis’ autobiography Surprised by Joy: Top of Form

“You must picture me alone. . .night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

He continued: “I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words ‘compelle intrare,’ compel them to come in, have been so abused be wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”

Nicely said, though I lean towards secular rather than scriptural salves. When U.S. President Donald Trump floods the Twitterverse with his absurd, xenophobic epistles, I go for long, meandering strolls.

Moments of joy: Listening, on my IPhone, to the Bare Naked Ladies and The Persuasions jam with complete, hopeful abandon; listening to anything by The Strumbellas; listening to Neil Young trill ‘Old Man’ now that he his just that guy; listening to Leonard Cohen’s last album, because, yes, I want it darker; listening to K.D. Lang sing ‘Hallelujah’.

Moments of joy: Watching, again on my IPhone, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie eviscerate establishment predicaments.

“Hugh: Underneath the bellied skies, where dust and rain find space to fall, to fall and lie and change again, without a care or mind at all for art and life and things above; in that, there, look just there. No right, left, up, down, past, or future, we have but ourselves to fear.

“Stephen: Hugh, you chose that poem; for God’s sake why?

“Hugh: I chose it for a number of reasons.

“Stephen: I see, the most important one being?

“Hugh: because it was short.”

Time is, indeed, short. But, somehow, it gets deliciously longer when we begin to rebuild the world one community’s brick at a time. That simple and sweet feeling under the sun – as often fleeting as it might be – is ours to recognize and embrace.

Here, as I stroll, Moncton wants to rebuild its downtown even as it strives to welcome newcomers from strife-riddled parts of the world. Keep trying.

Joy is just around the corner.

Tagged ,

Vanity, all is vanity

Alec-2008

I’m thinking about getting a special plate for my absurdly small, 2012 Nissan Versa, because, you know, that’s how I roll: Like a cheapskate.

But what I lack in financial muscle, I more than compensate in my desperate desire to be noticed by complete strangers. As for the plate, I have a few ideas: ‘BGBRN’, ‘FAKNWS’, ‘TRMPHTR’, ‘MUDTWNIE’, and my current favourite, ‘CRFRSALE’.

Fortunately, I haven’t chosen from the list of officially banned varieties in the province of New Brunswick. According to reporter Michael Robinson of Brunswick News these include: ‘BACON’, ‘FORSALE’, ‘GUILTY’, ‘LUV BUG’, ‘OMG/OMG’, ‘RZNHELL’, ‘SAUCY’, ‘SPYDR’, ‘TEQUILA’, and ‘YWA’.

BACON? Really people? Even the vegetarians I know don’t consider bacon real meat. It’s more like a garnish on a fine Caesar salad. No?

Still, that’s nothing. Consider this report from the U.K.’s Daily Mail last December: “Some people express themselves through fashion, others their taste in music. And for a smaller cross-section of Americans, there are those that take great pride in their creative vanity license plates. In 2007, some 9.7 million cars in America had vanity license plates – with the largest percentage of these plates in Virginia, Illinois and Nevada. While many vanity license plates reference family names or inside jokes, there are others that are meant to appeal to every driver on the road. Jokesters who come up with these license plates use just a handful of characters to spark a ‘Ha’ or a full on bout of laughter from their fellow drivers on the road.”
Here, according to that report, are just some of the ‘vanities’ approved: A Nevada licence plate that reads ‘IH8PPL’; a Virginia one that urges you to “eat the kids first”; a Texas one that rather existentially declares that it is, in fact, affixed to a car; and an Alaska one that rudely suggests ‘UFARTD’.

In this vein, then, gentle reader, CTV news reported only two days ago: “Nova Scotia’s transportation minister is standing behind a decision to rescind Lorne Grabher’s namesake licence plate, even if the province is forced to defend their actions in court. The Nova Scotia Registrar of Motor Vehicles informed Grabher they would be revoking his custom ‘GRABHER’ plate. Grabher’s lawyer said he is planning legal action, citing freedom of expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, unless the Department of Transportation overturns the decision by Thursday.”

The news item further explained: “Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan confirmed it was a single complaint that triggered the review. He said the decision to revoke the plate reflects the best interest of Nova Scotians.

‘If court is the ultimate process, then we’ll let the court do their work,’ said MacLellan. ‘We certainly feel for the gentleman, and the family, but the reality is that there are a set of procedures and a decision making process.’”

I’ve always wondered why we, in Canada, have not adopted the rural English habit of leaving our licence plates entirely alone in favour of ‘naming’ our domiciles. There, across the pond, you will find pretty, little (and large) country houses called Mulberry Lodge, The Old Vicarage, Bag End, and Oakroyd. The postal service arrives promptly, and so does the milkman. No numbers need be recorded.

Here, in New Brunswick, where we are desperate to be noticed by people we don’t know, we could begin by attaching monikers to our over-taxed dwellings: ‘An idiot lives here in this crescent’, ‘I went to Las Vegas and all I got was this lousy, leaky bungalow’, ‘I came, I saw, I lost my nest egg’.

Now, that’s how real vanity rolls.

Tagged

Calling occupants of interplanetary craft

Atlantic Canadians are notorious for their sightings of unidentified flying objects in the night sky. For years, we’ve topped the list of the UFO Survey produced by the Winnipeg-based group, Ufology Research. And, frankly, what’s surprising about that?

Consider the terrestrial problems we encounter daily in New Brunswick, alone: A perennially high annual deficit that would choke a horse brimming with Trojan warriors; a long-term debt that nearly tops $14 billion; and a government that seems to think (until recently) that ignorance about the property-tax assessment process is an ethical virtue.

Now, consider the following from the CBC five years ago: “A Saint John man says he’s still shaken by the mysterious object he saw flying over the city and near the Irving Oil Ltd. refinery last week. (The man) says his heart was pounding as he and his girlfriend watched the bright object from his uptown apartment window on Oct. 20, at about 10:30 p.m.

“(He) said the bright object flew over the city and swooshed down on the east side. ‘It was terrifying. I was hiding behind the curtain,’ said (the man), who captured the unidentified flying object on video using his iPhone. ‘I almost felt like whatever it was knew I was watching with my camera,’ he said. ‘It was really a weird creepy feeling. But it circled around at that point and came all the way back and went across the street basically and watched us through the window.’ (The man) says it felt like an invasion of privacy.”

Now, there’s this from Ufology Research’s 2016 annual report: “Close encounter cases are in the minority, but high on the strangeness scale. Those included a man in Cornwall, P.E.I., who reported that a thin, six-foot-tall, long-fingered white alien in a black suit spoke to him in his bedroom before leaving by walking through a wall.”

Are you sure he wasn’t a debt collector, buddy?

If I may pontificate, for a moment: Television lore suggests that of all devotees in Canada to the late and sorely missed ‘X-Files’, the most loyal resided in this region of the country. That tracks nicely with other (ahem) research, which indicates that we, on the East Coast, are the last adults in the nation to disabuse our children about the existence of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. We are also the last to teach our kids how to read, balance a bank account, and figure out what to do with four dollars and change.

According to a CNBC post two years ago, “The tooth fairy left $255 million under pillows in 2014 and averaged $4.36 per lost tooth, up 25 percent from $3.50 in 2013, according to (a) Delta Dental survey. First-time tooth losers, however, received an average of $5.75.”

What’s more interesting, perhaps, is this observation from the same source: “In 11 out of the past 12 years, the trend in tooth fairy giving has been an accurate indicator of the S&P 500’s movement. Last year, double-digit gains were recorded by both the S&P 500 and the average tooth fairy gift, with 11.4 per cent and 24.6 per cent growth, respectively.”

Well, isn’t that just perfect? To be fair, there’s no word on the performance of Canada’s major stock exchanges against this wholly reliable metric.

What does seem clear, though, is that magical thinking, fantastical flights of fancy and utter delusion remains alive and well in Atlantic Canada, where ghost stories and tales of alien abduction still abound.

And, given the state of the world, what’s surprising about that?

Death and taxes

In the ‘hold-on-and-wait-your-turn’ category of official absurdity, the Canada Revenue Agency recently declared a New Brunswick man dead before serving his ‘estate’ with a bill totaling $500. The problem was (and is) Peter Harwerth of Campobello Island, 64 years young, is still alive and kicking. And, not for nothing, he doesn’t yet have a post-mortem dime to ding.

I know it’s tax time, people. I know the nation faces rolling deficits that would make even the most progressive NDPer weep. But, honestly, have we really come to this?

According to Simon Davis, writing for Vice.com last summer, “Each year, about 1,000 living people are erroneously added to the Death Master File, a database of every American who has died since 1936. A few weeks ago, Barbara Murphy was having dinner with her husband at a restaurant in Utah when her credit card was declined. Her husband paid the bill, and when they got home, Murphy’s granddaughter called the bank to see what was wrong. ‘Of course, it’s been declined,’ the bank’s representative told her. ‘She’s been dead for two years.’”

The piece continues: “When Murphy was listed as dead, her bank flagged the activity in her account as fraud. The bank has since unfrozen her account, but now Social Security is trying to recoup two years of payments – about $20,000 – that it claims shouldn’t have been paid out since she is listed as dead. She’s now contacted a lawyer and gone public, hoping to apply pressure for a quicker resolution. She (said) she’s been getting calls from all over the country from others in the same predicament.”

If you think errors in property assessments in New Brunswick are infuriating, walk a mile in Ms. Murphy’s and Mr. Harwerth’s imaginary funereal slippers. This just might be the ultimate example of identity theft, as in: You don’t exist and I have a piece of paper to prove it.

As Mr. Harwerth told the Telegraph-Journal’s Colin McPhail earlier this week, “We (my wife and I) were really amazed that this could happen. I’ve never received a letter assuming I was dead, so this was a real shocker.” Recounting his ‘posthumous’ conversation with a CRA agent, he added, “How can it be that I am a deceased person when I’m talking to you?”

Well, you’d be surprised. The degree to which some people in officialdom want others to get off the planet is simply breathtaking. Writes Vice.com’s Mr. Davis: “In a 2015 Senate hearing, Alabama resident Judy Rivers described the harrowing ordeal she faced after she was added to the DMF in 2008. Even though she had about $80,000 in her bank account, the bank froze the funds because the account was marked for fraud. Every time she needed to apply for something – a credit card, a job, an apartment – she was declined, since her ‘identity could not be confirmed,’ or her ‘social security number was inactive.’ Rivers ended up living in her car, and then later in a trailer, struggling to find employment beyond low-wage work, despite having a long and impressive résumé.”

On the other hand, knowing that you will be dinged one day by the tax man for the temerity of dying, take a note from this 2004 item in the U.K.’s Telegraph: “The widow of an expert on vintage shotguns had her husband’s ashes loaded into cartridges and used by friends for the last shoot of the season. Joanna Booth (asked) a cartridge company to mix the ashes of her husband James with traditional shot.”

That’s right. Go out with a bang, not a whimper.

Tagged

What’s a Canadian value?

DSC_0053

Given that more than two-thirds of residents of the Atlantic Provinces support screening potential immigrants for ‘Canadian values’, we’d do well to unpack that enormously loaded phrase in search of a little more meaning, a wee bit more specificity.

A Corporate Research Associates public opinion survey released last week found that 68 per cent of those asked generally or strongly support some sort of test of the degree to which newcomers are sufficiently. . .well. . .Canadian in their outlook. Said the Halifax-based firm’s chairman and CEO, Don Mills, in an interview with Global News: “It’s probably not surprising that we would ask this kind of question given what’s going on in the Western world. There’s a lot of concerns in western countries about values and protection of values.”

He hastened to add: “I don’t think that that means that Atlantic Canadians are in any way anti-immigrant. I don’t think that. It has nothing to do with that. I think it’s the protection of our core values that make us Canadian that people feel are important to make sure that we are attracting people that agree with those values.”

On the other hand, he acknowledged in a statement, “While the definition of Canadian values is yet to be determined, the need for such a definition is clearly evident by the majority of Atlantic Canadians who support screening potential immigrants for Canadian values before allowing them entry into the country.”

This is, of course, one of the problems with open-ended questions. What, exactly, is a Canadian value? The nation’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms provide some clues. Under the ‘Fundamental Freedoms’ section, “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

(d) freedom of association.”

Then there’s this assurance: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of the members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”

And this: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada. Every citizen of Canada and every person who has the status of a permanent resident of Canada has the right a) to move to and take up residence in any province; and b) to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province.”

And this, also: “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. (This) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

All of which sounds fair enough. But even if we can settle on a generally acceptable set of definitions, how do we ascertain the level of a potential immigrant’s commitment to Canadian values? In effect, what would the actual screening process entail?

This question seems to have stumped even federal Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch who first bandied the phrase about several months ago in her bid to appear patriotic and wholesome.

Perhaps the best we can do is follow our instincts and trust that our own grasp of Canadian values unveils the truth about others, but mostly about ourselves as a kind, tolerant, rational people.

Tagged ,

Reading, writing and relief

On the odd occasion I’ve had the dubious pleasure of speaking to a room full of people who, I am quite certain, would rather tuck into their rubber chicken than spend another moment listening to my reedy voice drone on about the major issues of the day, I’ve been known to resort to rank levity.

Literacy is one of my hobbyhorses, and the joke goes something like this: “People have asked me how I became such an avid reader,” to which I respond, “because there was only so much Gilligan’s Island a young boy could take.” Reactions vary, from polite laughter to uncomprehending stares. What’s Gilligan’s Island? You would know if, like me, you grew up in the late 1960s and had access to a black and white TV set with only two channels on the dial.

There’s a point buried in there somewhere. If you’re exposed to more books and magazines than cheap laughs on ‘the boob tube’, the chances are you’re going to learn to read. What’s more, you’re going to learn to love reading.

Sadly, in New Brunswick and, indeed, across Canada, that’s not always an option. In fact, no issue is more liable to elicit a chorus of unanimity from otherwise divergent political voices than building a literate workforce. Specifically, in this province’s case, upwards of 56 per cent of people can’t read well enough to function competently on a daily basis.

Last summer, the New Brunswick government took delivery of a report entitled, The Power of Literacy – Moving towards New Brunswick’s Comprehensive Literacy Strategy. Some of the recommendations included: “Increasing supports for speech/language development with a primary focus on children up to three years old; empowering families with practical support for stronger literacy skills with their child/youth at each grade; enhancing the capacity of community-based adult learning organizations; and establishing a community literacy champion within each library region to serve as the coordinator of literacy at the community level.”

Still, former provincial New Democrat Leader Dominic Cardy hit the nail on the head when, a couple of years ago, he noted, “If we create a universally accessible, affordable high-quality early childhood education system, linking existing private infrastructure in schools and centres with government-supported ones where necessary, that is going to unleash a huge amount of economic potential.”

The results of one recent study of 693 Ontario kids in Grade One indicated that those who had participated in two years of full-day kindergarten (FDK) in that province were much better equipped to thrive in school than those who had not.

The research, undertaken by Queen’s and McMaster universities concluded, “Overall, students in FDK are better prepared to enter Grade 1 and to be more successful in school. In every area, students improved their readiness for Grade 1 and accelerated their development. Comparisons of children with two years of FDK instruction and children with no FDK instruction showed that FDK reduced risks in social competence development from 10.5 per cent to 5.8 per cent; in language and cognitive development from 15.8 per cent to 4.3 per cent; (and) in communication skills and general knowledge development from 10.5 per cent to 5.8 per cent.”

cropped-img-20120922-000031.jpg

In recent years, the efficacious effects of early child education on literacy, numeracy and problem-solving has been rigorously studied all over the world. And the findings all lead to the same conclusion: It works.

Can New Brunswick afford a universal, integrated, accessible system of early childhood education in an age of massive, structural public deficits and debt? The real question is: Can it afford not to invest?

Tagged

New Brunswick in the post-truth era

DSC_0032

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.

Tagged , , ,

Up, up and away

IMG_1397

Cautioning prudence to investors desperate to cash in on the next, big thing is not much different than spitting into the wind. For reasons that should seem obvious, you are bound to regret it.

As it happens, the Cassandras of the financial world are few and far between whenever the market smells red meat in the air. Are we now heading into this mortally treacherous territory thanks to the impending legalization of pot for recreational use in Canada?

Last week, Moncton’s OrganiGram, a medical marijuana producer, confirmed plans to build out its production capacity to 26,000 kilograms of the stuff (about 9,000 kg more than its current output) annually. Meanwhile, according to a report in this newspaper, the company has “made some new friends in high places. Trailer Park Boys, the hit Canadian comedy TV show, will be collaborating with the cannabis company on an exclusive strain of marijuana as soon as it becomes legalized.”

Said OrganiGram’s chief commercial officer, Ray Gracewood: “We need to be strategic about the opportunities that will be afforded to us with the advent of recreational use in Canada. Brands will play a key role within the cannabis market space, and we’re devoting the thought leadership and developing our strategy well in advance of these expected changes to ensure we’re prepared.”

Elsewhere, despite their mindful-sounding public statements, the industry’s “thought leaders” are licking their chops without actually knowing how the shape of their emerging business will solidify.

According to a piece in Cantech Letter, “Already setting new record highs for months, shares of Canadian marijuana stocks have reached lofty new territories after California voted to legalize marijuana. On Tuesday, (November 9) while many were mulling the shocking surge to the White House by Donald Trump, the state of California passed Proposition 64, which will allow residents 21 years and older to buy and possess up to one ounce of cannabis for recreational purposes and to grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use. The new measure will create an environment for state-licensed businesses to set up retail marijuana sales. With a proposed 15 per cent sales tax, the state is expected to take in an added $1 billion in tax revenue from legalization.”

Indeed, as the CTV reported last week, “Shares in Canopy Growth Corporation (based in Smith Falls, Ontario) saw its value hit $17.86, double its level from a week earlier, before falling again. The total value of the company’s stocks briefly hit $2 billion, twice what it was a few days before. Stock in Aurora Cannabis, based in Alberta, jumped to $3.95, up from around $2 a week earlier.

Mettrum Health Corp. also saw its trading stopped twice, while Supreme Pharmaceuticals Inc. and OrganiGram Holdings Inc. had their trading stopped once each.”

All of this feels vaguely familiar. Enthusiasm for the “new” and the “exciting” is a permanent feature of market capitalism. As with virtually everything within the realm of human volition, it produces both good and ill effects. On the one hand, ventures obtain access to badly needed capital for expansion and product innovation. On the other hand, too much hot blood can generate bubbles, which have a nasty habit of bursting when you least expect.

The age of legal “Mary-Jane” in New Brunswick is about to dawn. That’s great, as far as it goes. We could use the business boost in this province. But let’s not forget that all industries take time to mature. We want them to survive and thrive, despite the fickle headwinds that conspire to knock them down, cold and stoned.

Tagged , ,
%d bloggers like this: