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?

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.

DSC_0183

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.

Tagged ,

Why I’ve gone dark

 

DSC_0001

Calling occupants of interplanetary craft: Leave a message; we’ll get back to you

I have no problem with the concept of ‘social media’. It sounds welcoming enough, even comforting. Let’s say you are a shut-in and no one comes to your door. You fire up the Internet, login to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other of myriad, electronically devised stand-ins for people, and commence to chat for hours. What could go wrong?

Just this: In most cases, no one trolling for information about you and yours gives a rat’s derrière about you and yours. More often, they simply want to blunt your attention to reality (the sky is either blue, or it’s snowing); or they want to steal your money, identity and, in the final analysis, soul.

Not long ago, I disconnected from every social media account I once had. That includes Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Let’s call it an experiment. But, so far, it’s working well. I’m calmer, more sanguine. I have more time to read for pleasure. I actually talk to real people – look them in their eyes and not into the vibrant screen of my smart phone. At the very least, I’m a better dinner guest.

Last year, The New York Times ran a piece entitled, “Is Social Media Disconnecting Us From the Big Picture?” In it, the writer observed: “Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that Donald Trump could be elected president, but I was. I live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan, two of the most liberal places in the country. But even online, I wasn’t seeing many signs of support for him. How did that blindness occur? Social media is my portal into the rest of the world ­– my periscope into the communities next to my community, into how the rest of the world thinks and feels. And it completely failed me.

The writer continues; ‘In hindsight, that failure makes sense. I’ve spent nearly 10 years coaching Facebook – and Instagram and Twitter – on what kinds of news and photos I don’t want to see, and they all behaved accordingly. Each time I liked an article, or clicked on a link, or hid another, the algorithms that curate my streams took notice and showed me only what they thought I wanted to see. That meant I didn’t realize that most of my family members, who live in rural Virginia, were voicing their support for Trump online, and I didn’t see any of the pro-Trump memes that were in heavy circulation before the election. I never saw a Trump hat or a sign or a shirt in my feeds, and the only Election Day selfies I saw were of people declaring their support for Hillary Clinton.”

Uh, oops.

Still, now that I am completely disconnected from social media, I find my mortal energy re-emerging. I comprehend that I have precious decades left to me on this coil: To see and play with my grandkids, to build gardens, to write books, to laugh with my wife in the cold, stark winters of our lives (and in the surprisingly warm summers of our fourth decade together). I find peace. I find joy.

Walk downtown on any boulevard you happen to choose. Look up on a warm spring day, watch the birds gathering in the stoops of derelict buildings, creating their nests. Cast your gaze to the horizon and remember what life was like before the incessant buzzing and constant bother of smart phones and iPads. Put it all down, if just for a moment. Let your mind wander to that best part of your life, your past, the history of you.

What could go wrong?

Tagged

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.

Tagged , , ,

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

Subatomic ambitions

DSC_0003

NB Power’s thoughtful CEO, Gaetan Thomas, is probably right to downplay the possibility of building a second nuclear power plant in New Brunswick. At the moment, such a massive project doesn’t make much economic sense.

As he told the Telegraph-Journal in an interview the other day, “I’ve had some discussions with the province. I know that our premier is favorable to the idea, but at this stage, there is no business case yet.”

Still, if the Gallant government wants to resuscitate the province’s ambitions to become a Canadian energy hub, other options are available and are becoming increasing practical and attractive.

Some months ago, Clean Energy Canada found that spending on the clean technology sector in amounted to $10 billion in 2015. That was the second-best performance on record. Said the group’s executive director, Merran Smith, in the report: “We’re living in a new era of political resolve to tackle climate change. . .Spending on clean energy will likely grow again in the years ahead.”

Intriguingly, Clean Energy noted, spending on the sector in Atlantic Canada last year jumped by 58 per cent to just about $1.2 billion. Given the region’s relatively small population, that result compared favourably to Ontario’s $5.3-billion investment in renewable energy in 2015.

Now, rip a page from a recent report by the International Renewable Energy Agency. It found that the sector “employed 7.7 million people, directly or indirectly, around the world in 2014 (excluding large hydropower). This is an 18 per cent increase from the number reported the previous year. In addition, IRENA conducted the first-ever global estimate of large hydropower employment, showing approximately 1.5 million direct jobs in the sector.”

Moreover, “The 10 countries with the largest renewable energy employment were China, Brazil, the United States, India, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, France, Bangladesh and Colombia. . .The solar PV industry is the largest renewable energy employer worldwide with 2.5 million jobs, followed by liquid biofuels with 1.8 million jobs, and wind power, which surpassed 1 million jobs for the first time. The employment increase extends across the renewable energy spectrum with solar, wind, biofuels, biomass, biogas and small hydropower all seeing increases in employment.”

What this should tell us is that there is a good life beyond fossil fuel without complicated benefits of nuclear energy. Of course, none of it will be easy. As the IRENA report notes, “In the coming years, renewable energy employment growth will depend on the return to a strong investment trajectory, as well as on continued technological development and cost reductions. Stable and predictable policies will be essential to support job creation. Finally, in a year when negotiators aim to carve out a global climate agreement, the broader policy framework for energy investments will also move to the forefront.”

Then there is the Donald Trump factor. He’s on record as a climate-change sceptic and his determination to speed up the clock on coal-fired power plants could present a competitive disadvantage to Canadian sources of renewable energy, especially in export markets. Sustainability costs money; and the return on investment is more often a long-term proposition for governments.

On the other hand, back in 2015, the CBC reported that NB Power would encourage small-scale green energy. At that time, Keith Cronkhite, NB Power’s vice-president of business development and generation said, “The beauty of community energy projects is that they would enter into a power purchase arrangement with NB Power. The revenues that we would pay toward those projects stays within New Brunswick and that’s an important part of any renewable program.”

Hope, it seems, does spring eternal.

Tagged , ,

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?

Tagged

More pennies from heaven

DSC_0180

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.

Tagged , , ,

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.

Tagged ,

Have island, will rusticate

DSC_0074

Born and raised to the age of eight in the largest, noisiest, sharpest-elbowed city in Canada, I gave no thought to the pastoral life of country folk I’d occasionally see on CBC television during the supper hour.

All that began to change in 1971 when my father managed to acquire a 10-acre piece of land that belonged to his family’s ancestral homestead in northeastern Guysborough County, Nova Scotia. It was a peninsula of forest framed on two sides by a pond and on the other by beach frontage. He called it ‘The Island’, possibly because owning an island seemed more impressive than owning a peninsula. I certainly thought so.

As a new cottage rose rapidly near the crest of the property, which offered spectacular views of Chedabucto Bay and still does, I began to imagine myself as some sort of Scottish laird. On summer vacations there, I would spend every day patrolling the borders, searching for poachers and other interlopers. I dreamt of one day building my own cabin in the woods.

None of this will be new to anyone who ever grew up on a patch of land near any sizeable body of water. But unless I’m very much mistaken, recent interest in owning islands is on the rise. The Telegraph-Journal has featured New Brunswick islands for sale not once, but twice in as many weeks. The latest, apparently, will only set you back a cool $3.7 million.

As the story reported, “Sandy Robertson stepped out of his vehicle onto a snow-covered clearing to show off a beloved trait of his private island. The absence of noise, just wind whistling through the trees, complements the serene, panoramic view of where the St. John and Kennebecasis rivers meet.”

Not long ago a website called Notable Life devoted an entire feature to island life, beginning its write up thusly: “Thinking about buying a condo? If you’re in Toronto, the average one of those will run you about $370,000, or in West Vancouver around $590,000. But maybe you’re considering a stand-alone, single-family home in Toronto for an average price of just over $1 million?

“Or perhaps you’d like to land somewhere between a savvy investor, a lover of nature and tranquility, and a Bond villain, and buy yourself your very own island. You’ll probably be shocked to know (we still can’t really believe it) that across Canada, there are currently more than thirty islands on sale for under $500,000. Now, some of them have not been developed, so they’ll require some additional investment to make them ‘liveable’, but when you consider. . . (the) country’s real-estate market. . .it’s pretty amazing to imagine that for such a small price-tag, you could have exclusive access to such considerable beauty.”

Consider, for example, Nova Scotia’s Big Tancook Island, which Notable Life described in 2015 as “An absolutely stunning property Island, these 11.6 acres boast 449 feet on the ocean. Sub-divisible, this parcel might become a roomy family compound, grounds for the only hotel or campground on the island, or a sailing destination just six miles from the world-famous Chester Yacht Club.” At that time, the asking price was about a hundred grand.

I have a theory about all of this. Whenever the world takes an especially bitter turn (Donald Trump, Brexit, the rise of populist political parties in Europe), those with enough coin in their pockets will cast their eyes both wearily and jealously to a place they need a boat to reach – there to rusticate happily like the country folk we secretly and always wanted to be.

Tagged ,
%d bloggers like this: