Tag Archives: Alberta

What old Guysborough town teaches

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When the mid-summer sun shines sweetly on the roads of Guysborough town, and a breeze brings news of waves breaking on the far shore of Chedabucto Bay, you know it is high season – that time of the year, after the last black fly and before the first frost, when this village of 400 at the eastern tip of mainland Nova Scotia is at its best.

Up and down the main street – which may be only as long as quick breath on lover’s lane – evidence of revival is everywhere. Bunting flies at pretty cafes and shops festooned with homemade goods and specialty fare.

There, along the boulevard, the Rare Bird Pub & Eatery jostles the Skipping Stone Cafe and Store. Not far away, the Full Steam Coffee Co. shakes hands with the Harbour Belle Bakery. Elsewhere, the Osprey Shores Golf Resort caters to those of a clubbier mindset, and the DesBarres Manor Inn provides a year-round destination for romantic foodies of every inclination.

Here was where Prince Henry Sinclair was rumoured to make landfall in 1398. Here was where peripatetic Acadians settled between 1604 and 1659. Then, in the 18th Century, came the Scots and the Irish, fresh from the Napoleonic wars.

My original forebear, a fellow by the name of James, apparently sailed from Scotland with a land grant of 100 acres, given to him as a reward for his military service in Europe. Of course, in the late 1700’s, there were no roads to speak of, let alone physicians. So, when a tree fell on the poor sap’s head, he did what most transplanted Scots of good, sturdy character did at the time: He died.

Still, the family he sired and the community he helped build persisted which is, all things considered, a minor miracle.

One of the more urgent conversations in Atlantic Canada concerns the plight of its rural areas, most of which can boast notable provenances. Faced with aging and dwindling populations, inadequate access to educational opportunities, crumbling transportation and communications infrastructure, and winnowing industrial bases, many are on the brink of extinction.

In fact, more than once in both distant and recent memory, Guysborough, itself, has flirted with calamity.

Once, lumbering and shipbuilding dominated the local land and seascapes. Not anymore and for all the reasons familiar to coastal communities across the region (changing technology, a shrinking pool of skilled labour, shifting government policies and priorities).

Commercial fishing, a traditionally vital engine of employment, came to a screeching halt during the 1980s and ‘90s in the wake of the federally imposed cod moratorium. Since then, stabs at long-term economic development have enjoyed only mixed success, though don’t utter such a blasphemy anywhere in Guysborough County, lest you prepare yourself for a long debate.

Still, the deeper truth is, as prominent Maritime writer Harry Bruce (pater familias to me) once noted, “Wave after wave after wave of Maritimers have left their beloved homeland, rolling westward again and again to seek jobs up and down the Atlantic seaboard, in the American midwest and far west, in Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies, British Columbia, and the northern territories . . . Maritimers, more than other Canadians, have had to keep their eyes on the horizons, and Leaving Home has long outlasted the golden age of sail as part of their heritage.

Yet, now that Alberta has given up the ghost of its oil and gas promise, we may live long enough to witness a mass return of Maritimers to these shores.

Perhaps this is all that old Guysborough town teaches: faith.

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Follow the bouncing budgetary balls

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As the Government of Canada coordinates the release of its signature piece of election-year propaganda, the federal budget, provincial finance ministers are scrambling to contain the public relations disasters that are their own annual spending plans.

Rarely in the nation’s history have the fiscal conditions of the regional partners in Confederation contrasted so sharply with that of the national one – a circumstance that does little to inform Canadians about the true state of the union they occupy.

Yesterday, New Brunswick’s fine, young Liberal government brought down its first budget since assuming office last fall, becoming the latest in a string of provinces (Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta) to swallow its bitter medicine in one, quick gulp.

Oh to be in British Columbia in the springtime. That province is doing so well these days, it managed to double its forecast budget surplus of more than $400 million in fiscal 2014-15 to nearly a billion bucks ($879 million).

The same cannot be said for Alberta, which has just posted a deficit of $5 billion, despite having raised $1.5 billion in new taxes. According to a CBC report, “The reaction . . .is mixed: relieved that there was no increase in the corporate tax rate, and concern that Albertans will have less disposable income in a time when the economy is weak.”

In Quebec, the preoccupation is with runaway debt. That province’s 2015-16, $100-billion budget is freckled with nips and tucks in almost every department, but especially in the big-ticket portfolios of health care, education and social services. “We are making reforms, we are doing things differently,” the province’s Treasury Board chairman Martin Coiteux told the CBC. “It’s not that we are reducing services. We are looking at ways to live within a budget envelope which is relatively smaller than what we would like, but this is this the required step to rebuild our room to manoeuvre.”

  And, according to a report by The Canadian Press last month, “The Saskatchewan government has brought forward a budget that attempts to put the brakes on spending increases and peels back tax incentives for middle-class families, graduates and the potash industry. . .A global oil downturn is putting the squeeze on the province’s bottom line, but Finance Minister Ken Krawetz noted that there are no new personal income taxes or fee increases.”

Now, stroll down the banks of the Rideau Canal, Blackberry on full news-alert mode from the nation’s capital, and you’ll observe that the fiscal backstory appears altogether different. Canadians aren’t mired in debt. Nay, it’s quite the contrary. Our supremely responsible, circumspect and economically gifted federal government is preparing to bring down a (nearly) balanced budget with about $4.5 billion in goodies for individual voters.

Indeed, from places like New Brunswick, Alberta and Saskatchewan, where the stern warnings of penurious governments bear almost no resemblance to the rosy messaging wafting through Ottawa’s halls of privilege and power, following the bouncing ball from provincial script to federal talking point can give a guy whiplash.

Still, there’s some reason to think that many of the differences between national and provincial bean-counters are illusory. After all, only one pot of sovereign money is  spilled or filled in this country, as circumstances require. What one branch of government giveth, another taketh away just as keenly. The Bank of Montreal has already noted as much in a recent report. As BMO economist Robert Kavcic told the CBC “most of what Ottawa will be returning to one taxpayer’s pocket, the provinces will take out of the other.”

So much, then, for a vote-friendly federal budget.

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