Tag Archives: Canada

No summer recess for Moncton


The happiest communities in the Maritimes, it’s fair to say, are those that routinely make their own luck when misfortune grumbles like a storm cloud on the horizon.

Greater Moncton has always demonstrated a special proclivity for resilience, if not outright reinvention, in the face of uncertainty. This summer proves the rule again.

Economists are by no means unanimous in their opinions about the condition of the Canadian economy. Some state firmly that the nation is in a technical, if mild, recession. Others say, “pish-tosh, let’s stop scaring our fellow citizens, lest we talk ourselves into a real downturn.”

Into the sky-is-almost-falling camp parachutes Randall Bartlett, a senior economist at TD bank. “Looking further ahead, the yawning output gap in Canada due to the weak economic performance in 2015 has also pushed back our expectations for any future hiking cycle,” he observed in a note to investors last month.

Joining the hold-your-horses gang earlier this week was Steve Ambler, a professor at the University of Quebec at Montreal’s management school and the David Dodge chair in monetary policy at the C.D. Howe Institute, and Jeremy Kronick, a senior policy analyst at the Institute.

In a newspaper commentary, they wrote, “After a 4-per-cent fall in export volumes over the first five months of 2015, Canada’s sales to foreigners came roaring back, with a 4.8-per-cent increase in June alone. Imports also decreased in volume by 0.9 per cent from May to June.”

But even if the country manages to skirt the abyss without losing all traction, a general malaise descends upon the land practically everywhere.

Still, practically everywhere doesn’t actually mean here.

Early indications are that tourism in southeastern New Brunswick, especially Greater Moncton, is more robust this year than in any other in almost a decade. You can see the evidence in the diversity of license plates, voices and faces on the bustling, downtown streets.

Meanwhile, the tri-city area is enjoying (if that is best word) one of the busiest private and municipal construction seasons in many years. To get anywhere by car these days is a bit like playing a game of steeplechase.

Of course, one could argue that these happy developments have less to do with Greater Moncton’s special talent for driving its own civic agenda and more to do with circumstances beyond its control (the same principle behind recessions, but with more efficacious results).

After all, the surging tourism trade owes as much to the anaemic condition of the Canadian dollar, which makes local amenities immensely desirable to comparatively rich Americans, as it does to our friendly service with a smile.

And if the tri-city area is in the thick of a building fever, look no farther than the federal government ­– whose pre-election purse strings have become, not surprisingly, loose over the past few week – for a likely reason.

Still, neither of these arguments explains why the tourists keep coming back to this location or even, for that matter, why city works officials are perfectly happy clogging most major arteries at peak times of the day if it means squeezing every last dime for infrastructure before the pot finally runs dry.

It’s called initiative, and it comes in all shapes and sizes in Greater Moncton regardless – or, perhaps, because of – unearned adversity.

At this writing, Moncton City Council was deciding the fate of a new downtown event centre, a facility that would almost certainly inject new life and economic opportunity into the community.

Let us hope that city fathers and mothers are, once again, choosing to make their own luck.

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Canada gets gassier and gassier


It’s hard to decide wether Prime Minister Stephen Harper deserves applause for his candor or jeers for his revelation.

In either case, for the first time in 20 years, Canada, he says, will not match the United States in greenhouse gas reduction targets. “It’s unlikely our targets will be exactly the same as the United States, but they will be targets of similar levels of ambition to other major industrialized countries,” he declared publicly last week.

That, of course, worries environmentalists who note that several developed countries – the ones, presumably, the prime minister now wants to emulate – are relaxing their standards and setting lower goals in the wake of tough economic times.

“We believe three Rs should define Canada’s approach to climate protection: Respect, Responsibility and Restraint,” reads a recent note on the Climate Action Network Canada’s website. “Respect requires humility in accepting the scientific facts that tell us the atmosphere has a limit to the amount of carbon pollution it can take before shifting in ways that put people and the environment we rely on at risk. Responsibility requires accepting that we should care about the harm climate disruption will bring, especially to the most vulnerable at home and around the world, and to doing our fair share to stop it. Restraint requires that we accept that we must set ambitious, enforceable targets to manage carbon pollution at home and to invest around the world to help others reduce their carbon pollution and to adapt to climate change.”

None of which, it’s safe to say, the “federalistas” appear particularly interested in pursuing, despite their protestations to the contrary. “The Government of Canada is committed to addressing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while keeping the Canadian economy strong. We are achieving success from 2005 to 2012, Canadian GHG emissions have decreased by 5.1 per cent while the economy has grown by 10.6 per cent. The 2014 Canada’s Emissions Trends report estimates that, as a result of collective action to reduce GHGs since 2005, Canada’s 2020 GHG emissions are projected to be 130 megatonnes (Mt) lower than if no action was taken, an amount roughly equivalent to one year’s worth of GHG emissions from all of Canada’s road transportation.”

And yet, according to Carl Meyer, writing in Embassy News earlier this month, “A new National Inventory Report from Environment Canada released April 17 shows the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions in the previous report have spiked upward by megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in every comparable year now assessed.” 

In fact, “Canada’s GHG emissions, which contribute to climate change, stood at 726 megatonnes in 2013, up from 715 megatonnes in 2012. That increase is equivalent to the annual emissions from over two million extra cars on the road, according to a calculator provided by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.” 

Mr. Myers observes that, “in the prior report, the department reported the 2012 number was at 699 megatonnes. The result is that Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 18.43 per cent from 1990 to 2013. The previous report had an increase of 18.27 per cent from 1990 to 2012. Canada has redone its inventory submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change following revised reporting guidelines, the report says.”

In reality, the federal government now appears broadly enthusiastic about what it jauntily refers to as “adaptation”, which is the policy wonk’s version of “if you’re stuck with lemons, better make lemonade” (especially as the summers grow hotter). Apparently, this involves helping Canadians make “adjustments” in their “thinking” to “reduce harm” or even exploit “new opportunities” from global warming.

And why not? Such promise of new enterprise might actually argue for higher, not lower, emissions. Bravo (and boo), indeed.

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Chilly relations in a cold country

We could sell the snow. There's plenty of that

One of the Harper government’s fondest conceits is Canada’s sovereign claim over the Arctic – or, least, that portion of it perched just above our heads. Now, it seems, a goodly number of the prime minister’s fellow citizens aren’t quite so sure.

According to a  piece, reporting on the latest Ekos Research Associates opinion survey on the matter, “support among Canadians is collapsing for Ottawa’s long-standing but dubious claim that the Northwest Passage belongs to Canada.” In fact, “Less than half of Canadians – 45 per cent – still believe the Northwest Passage is ‘within Canadian waters,’ a dramatic drop from the 74 per cent who held that view only five years ago.”

I’d like to think that our latent lack of interest in this cold country has something to do with an abiding resentment of Old Man Winter over the past few, unreasonably rough seasons. But, as the Globe writer speculates, it may have more to do with the fact that the Canadian government truly stands alone in the international community when it insists it owns the Northwest Passage – a fact which might becoming a source of some embarrassment.

In any event, said Frank Graves, president of Ekos, in an interview with the Globe, “It doesn’t help the case that whatever the legal complexities, the vast array of [international] public opinion is offside.”

Public opinion notwithstanding, of course, it seems that nothing will cool the federal Tory enthusiasm for all things Arctic. Only two weeks ago, for example, the Department of Defence issued a news release entitled, “Harper Government re-affirms Canada’s Arctic sovereignty with Operation NUNALIVUT 2015.”

The presser went on to assert, “The Honourable Julian Fantino, Associate Minister of National Defence, today visited Operation NUNALIVUT 2015, one of the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) premier High Arctic military exercises, to highlight the Harper Government’s commitment to protecting Canada’s northern borders. Minister Fantino met with Canadian Armed Forces personnel, who demonstrate Canada’s readiness and ability to operate in the challenging Arctic environment to counter any threat to Canada’s Arctic Sovereignty.

“The large scale military exercise brings together Canadian Armed Forces members from the Third Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (3 PPCLI), the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), the Royal Canadian Air Force, and Canadian Rangers. During his trip, Minister Fantino will also visit the headquarters of the Joint Task Force (North), as well as the 1 Canadian Rangers Patrol Group, in addition to visiting the ice dive site of the HMS Erebus.”

As for Mr. Fantino, he appeared delighted to dish the chest-thumping propaganda with the best of them: “Seeing the remarkable men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces – including our Canadian Rangers – operate in Canada’s high Arctic has been an honour. Our Government has never been more committed to our CAF personnel and we will continue to support them as they protect our northern borders and assert our sovereignty in the region.”

I’ve never quite understood the ferocity of the Harper government’s claims on the Arctic. Clearly, global warming, which is affecting northern climes more dramatically than other places on Earth, is opening up the region for increased shipping and oil and gas exploration. But, this should be reason for caution and circumspection, not jingoistic belligerence.

Besides, if the greatest threat is posed by Russia, what are Canada’s tin-pot armed forces supposed to do against that nation’s nuclear powered submarines and ice breakers? “The Obama administration has been very clear that Arctic co-operation must continue,” Michael Byers, a professor of international affairs at the University of British Columbia, told the CBC last week.

Good luck with that.

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Isn’t it good, Norwegian wood?


The sweepstakes that is the oil and gas sector is dominated by short-game players – those who build and boom and inevitably bust and break the bank to survive until the next cycle comes round to titillate the itinerate wildcatters of the corporate world.

In their wake, of course, people lose their jobs, houses, bank accounts, and any semblance of stability and security. If you don’t believe me, just look what $48-a-barrel oil is currently doing to Alberta’s economy. It’s now cheaper to leave the stuff in the ground; two years ago, such a proposition would have been heretical to the financial institutions that happily floated low-interest debt to exploration and drilling companies.

In this volatile segment of the natural resources sector, things change – and they change fast. Understanding precisely how this calculus works has never been a strong suit of any provincial or territorial government in Canada. The words “protecting the downside” has rarely issued from the mouths of energy-rich premiers (not, at least, since the days of former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed, who had the good sense to siphon billions of dollars from the petro-economy into a “heritage fund” in the mid 1970s to, again, protect against the inevitable downside associated with oil and gas development).

Of course, here in New Brunswick, which sits on a potential resource of 70-trillion-cubic feet of shale gas, we don’t endure this particular problem. Oh, lucky us! For, as we hem and haw over the proper “social licenses” that our long-term debt purchases in place of responsible tight-play development, our collective complacency about the future keeps us warm, cozy and competitively irrelevant on a planet that, oftentimes, prefers to face its challenges head on.

But should we ever choose to join that planet, we would do well to rip a page from Norway’s playbook on managing a vast oil and gas industry without falling prey to the temptations of short-game profiteering, gambling and other parlor tricks of chance.

A nice piece by Susan Ormiston, posted on the CBC news site last week, explains fulsomely how that Scandinavian country of five million souls got its energy portfolio right decades ago.

“Norway today sits on top of a $1-trillion pension fund established in 1990 to invest the returns of oil and gas,” she writes. “The capital has been invested in over 9,000 companies worldwide, including over 200 in Canada. It is now the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world. By contrast, Alberta’s Heritage Savings Fund, established in 1976 by premier Peter Lougheed, sits at only $17 billion and has been raided by governments and starved of contributions for years.

Quoting Rolf Wiborg, a former oil and gas engineer with the Norwegian government, Ms. Ormiston reports, “For the last 10 years, when nothing went into the Alberta fund, and we put a lot of money aside, the profit went out of Canada.”

The result: Every citizen of that cold, northern country is a technical millionaire. Meanwhile, every citizen of this cold, northern country. . .well, isn’t.

The secret, Wiborg says, is simply that Norway “doesn’t change” its “policies with the changes in the oil price – you can’t do that. Lougheed’s government in Alberta knew that. They made policies, then they left them behind.”

Meanwhile, the Government of Canada, which counts on a certain stipend from the oil and gas sector to balance the national accounts, not only changes its polices routinely; it changes the date of its budget based on the fluctuating price of this transparently hostage-taking commodity.

It is time, perhaps, for Canada to start playing the long-game with its natural resources.

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The great elastic travelling band


They go out. They come back. They go out again. They come back again.

In fact, about the only Atlantic Canadian I know who hasn’t, at one time or another, been lured to the sweet, black oil pitches of northern Alberta is Yours Truly (and that’s only because I have absolutely no skills).

Still, in our bones, we who possess a familial connection to the East Coast of this great and wise country understand something about tides – about how they ebb and flow; about how they pull everything not fixed down with steel wire and granite boulders into their backwash; about how they cast it all up again above the high water mark, where it’s treacherously tough to make a living, at least for long.

Or, perhaps we need a new metaphor for this ancient phenomenon.

Call it the “Great Elastic Travelling Band”, in which Maritimers and their confreres in Newfoundland and Labrador are stretched to the limit of their finances, and patience, by the constant pull and snap of the national petro-economy that, in entirely unintuitive ways, wrecks homes, communities, relationships, futures.

Have you seen Fort Mac recently? It’s not a pretty sight – and not for its lack of municipal infrastructure. There and in Calgary and Edmonton, house prices have plummeted by 10, 20, 40 per cent since the beginning of the year. The “for sale” signs have been blooming as fast as oil prices have been bottoming.

Naturally, the market value of this commodity, essential to the elastic traveling band, has been nudging upwards in recent days – from $46 a barrel to $52 on February 5, before settling back to $50 by the close of trading.

But this is a pittance, bought and paid for by those who have left this coast behind. The band snaps back, as much as it can.

“In all likelihood, there will be less employment in Alberta, therefore less people moving out to Alberta, less migrant workers going back and forth,” the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council’s senior policy analyst Fred Bergman announced last week. “Within two years of the previous oil price dip in mid-2008, annual out-migration to Alberta from Atlantic Canada had decreased by about 6,000 persons.”

Now, given the volatile state of oil and gas development out west, the out-migration rate from this region to theirs could be a third of recent years. That’s nothing to say of those who will inevitably choose to flood ‘down home’, where the deficits are as high as a zoo animal’s eye.

All of which is marvelous; just about as much as it is dreadful.

After all, what shall we do with all these returning ex-pats?

New Brunswick has a structural unemployment rate of between 10 and 15 per cent – not because the province’s private sector can’t fill the jobs it produces, but because, in the absence of skilled workers, it’s no longer generating employment opportunities even incrementally, let alone en masse.

As a result, profitable companies here (if they want to remain profitable) retrench, reorganize, and reinvent. Life becomes smaller, less adventurous, more studiously attached to the thinning margins of the bottom line.

Meanwhile, as Atlantic provincial governments attempt to deal with the fiscal consequences of their regional, economic doldrums, their motivation to stimulate commercial opportunities become necessarily muted.

At some point, once the elastic is stretched too far, and for too long, it simply refuses to be pulled or snapped.

We’re not quite at that point, yet, here on the East Coast. But we are heading perilously close to that place of economic perdition where nothing we try, or endure, improves our long-term lot.

This is the first of many columns to come in which I will attempt to articulate a cogent vision of the alternative: a prosperous and socially equitable province; a fair and democratically responsive politic; a vibrant and sustainable economy.

Before, that is, we all go out, and never come back again.

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Canada’s contribution to climate change: More hot air


In the endlessly inelegant waltz Canada performs with the international community on the dance floor that is global warming, our federal government is again taking one baby-step forward and another giant leap backward.

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq travelled to the UN climate-change confab in New York over the weekend to deliver the following message to delegates already bemused by her masters’ bewildering stance on environmental stewardship: The oils sands of Alberta are, in effect, off the table, but Canada will introduce strict, new standards on the chemicals that air conditioners produce.

That’s rich, coming from a cold country; but richer, still, coming from this nation’s environment minister, who must surely know that emissions from such manufactured products produced in China – and exported for sale in the Great White North – account for less than one per cent of our annual GHG load.

It’s a bit like saying that a Ford 150 is better for Planet Earth because it fits more people than does a Toyota Prius. But that is, in fact, the essence of the argument about climate change emanating — has always emanated — from Ottawa since before Stephan Harper grabbed the reins of a gigantic, gas-guzzling sleigh ride to 1950s-style complacence.

As the rest of the developed world has been doing its level best to heed the warnings of climate research, Canada has all but ignored them. Officialdom, in this country, has taken its position on what it deems to be science fiction: Let the nerds worry about the future; for now, which is the here and now, the economy begins and ends with fossil fuel.

Or, as Minister Aglukkaq opined for the Globe and Mail just prior to her cotillion in New York, “What I can say is that it is too early or give a date and target timelines (regarding Canada’s previously stated commitments to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions). It is important to remember that Canada’s commitments are national which means that the provinces and the territories will have to play a role in that.”

Meanwhile, she added, “Our government will continue to work constructively with our international partners to establish a fair and effective international agreement that includes all major emitters, and we remain committed to that”

The problem with this line of argument is two-fold: first, it’s spun from threads of propaganda and, therefore, utterly specious; second, the world’s two largest emitters have already come to such an agreement without Canada’s involvement, let alone concurrence.

And yet, as the Globe reported prior to last weekend’s Aglukkag appearance, “The environment minister is expected to highlight Canada’s action on hydrofluorocarbons, which have been used by the cooling and heating industry since they were forced to phase out ozone-depleting chloroflurocarbons several years ago.”

As Dale Marshall, a spokesman of the group, Environmental Defence, declared for the hungry press, “I would say they (the feds) are showing up with another meaningless announcement. What they need to be regulating is the oil and gas sector, which is the fastest-growing source of emissions in the country.”

Still, the good fellow is only half-right. Certainly, the minister of the environment has delivered another absurd proclamation. That is her purview, after all. But the fact remains that the developed world is hopelessly addicted to fossil fuels, and the only way out of this downward spiral is to cleave to another, less deleterious, dependency.

No state, provincial or local government in North America – which enjoys the fruits of technological innovation as no other in the world does – has properly reckoned that the petrochemical industry is a means to, not the end of, civilization’s next great advance.

What stops an enlightened politician from stipulating the patently sensible? Cheap, accessible, abundantly available oil and gas must be deployed to build even cheaper, even more accessible, even more available sources of environmentally neutral energy.

If, as geophysicists claim, the world contains 500 years worth of exploitable oil and gas reserves, then let it fuel the brainpower required to produce 1,000 years worth of commercially viable clean-energy and clean-manufacturing technology.

And let us begin now, not later – before the waltz we dance with the fate of the Earth becomes the walk we take around the pyre we lit to burn it down.

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Cautionary tales from the oil rush


What goes up...well, you know

What goes up…well, you know

Forgotten somewhere behind the picket lines in rural New Brunswick, amid the gloomy certitudes about the oil and gas industry’s power to corrupt the environment, lies a more visceral byproduct of resource extraction: crimes not against nature, but humanity.

Canada’s violent offence rate is so low these days, few people associate lawlessness with mining and drilling operations anymore. History, of course, is replete with tales of banditry, thuggery and worse from the front lines and frontiers of assorted gold rushes and oil booms in North America.

There are, as Robert Service (the Arctic’s unofficial poet laureate) once wrote famously, “strange things done in the midnight sun, by the men who moil for gold.” Indeed, “the Arctic trails have their secret tales that would make your blood run cold.” Over the past year, however, such literary apocrypha has become reality in the border territories between western and Canada and the United States.

A New York Times piece, published on Sunday, describes recent disappearances and murders in the high plains of Montana and North Dakota. “Stories like these, once rare, have become as common as drilling rigs in rural towns at the heart of one of the nation’s richest oil booms,” the article reported. “Crime has soared as thousands of workers and rivers of cash have flowed into towns, straining police departments and shattering residents’ sense of safety.”

That observation echoed an earlier Times story in which “Christina Knapp and a friend were drinking shots at a bar in a nearby town several weeks ago when a table of about five men called them over and made an offer. They would pay the women $3,000 to strip naked and serve them beer at their house while they watched mixed martial arts fights on television. Ms. Knapp, 22, declined, but the men kept raising the offer, reaching $7,000. . .Prosecutors and the police note an increase in crimes against women, including domestic and sexual assaults.”

Regarding Canada, a piece in the Regina Leader-Post last April explained, “As the oil belt in southern Saskatchewan, North Dakota and Montana expands, police are grappling to deal with a resulting increase in crime. In our province, that means more traffic crime – specifically, more aggressive and impaired driving charges, as well as more fatal accidents. To address crime trends that have come about as a result of a population increase in the oilfield area, members of the Saskatchewan RCMP from the enforcement, intelligence and border security sections are in the midst of a two-day summit with their U.S. counterparts in Glasgow, Montana.”

Meanwhile, a story published on theatlanticcities.com last month observes that “in 2005, the Williston Police Department in Williston, North Dakota, received 3,796 calls for service. By 2009, the number of yearly calls had almost doubled, to 6,089. In 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, the Williston P.D. received 15,954 calls for service. . .The police department in nearby Watford City received 41 service calls in 2006. In 2011 they received 3,938. That’s life in an energy boomtown.”

Ask a dozen sociologists about the reasons for the phenomenon, and you’re likely to get a dozen different answers. But it seems clear that the word “boomtown” says it all: the uncontrolled explosion of opportunity generates unpredictable consequences – including roving bands of assorted misfits and bad guys – catching institutions, infrastructure and law enforcement off guard.

Here, in New Brunswick, of course, we don’t know much about any of this. The safety and serenity of our bucolic environs has as much to do with the fact that we export our criminals, as well as our law-abiding sons and daughters, out west.

But should the glint in Premier Alward’s eye – and that in those of at least 100 other political and business leaders in this province – ever manifest itself as a pipeline from Alberta into Saint John and/or a commercially viable, environmentally benign, shale gas industry proffering jobs and income, galore, we may want to remind ourselves about the social costs of overnight success.

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All our spies have come in from the cold

The light of democracy is dimming

The light of democracy is dimming

Former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden’s suggestion that this country’s espionage establishment colluded, perhaps illegally, with its U.S. counterpart to spy on allied nations – in peace time, away from the mayhem of battle, during the G20 summit in Toronto – is troubling.

But no more than what appears to be a growing consensus of reaction in Canada, as we trip over the shards of our democracy to pat ourselves on the back for our newfound swagger: good, old guts and glory to the rescue.

“If it wasn’t for our laws, and police forces and military employed to enforce those laws, the world as we know it would implode on itself,” a letter writer to a recent edition of The Globe and Mail observes. “To be able to monitor and catch the bad guys, we have to know what they’re doing and thinking. Of course we are going to spy. The bad guys are spying on us.”

Against which, this corner of the peanut gallery offers no argument. Only a complete naif would suggest otherwise. The distressing bit comes in the next sentence: “The media should be praising Canada for allowing the U.S. to spy. How else can we keep the world sane and without violence?”

Once upon a time in this country and in others, polite company considered spying on one’s friends to be. . .well, impolite, especially if such surveillance was also explicitly illegal. (The Government of Canada, it should be noted, denies any of this sort of wrongdoing). The whole cloak-and-dagger business, while a necessary evil, wasn’t something about which to crow like a cockerel in heat.

We were proud of our diplomats who helped write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We were proud of our prime ministers, such as Lester Pearson who was instrumental in creating United Nation Peacekeeping. We were proud of our scientists, engineers, teachers, and environmentalists; of our clergy, philosophers and writers. From time to time, we were even proud of our politicians – those who were able to muster the courage to shatter the status quo in the interests of a more civil society.

We certainly weren’t proud of the means by which our clandestine operatives obtained the ends of their shadowy missions either abroad or at home.

Times, however, have changed. They have become more discernibly black and white, as the once vast grey zone of dialogue, discourse, negotiation and conciliation in politics has vanished as utterly as has the middle class in society.

Today, we we are forced to choose between good and evil, rich and poor, criminals and victims, strength and weakness, resistance and compliance, national pride and wobbly thinking in the loathsome salons of the liberal elite.

Today, in this country, loose, unapproved talk about defending the environment from the depredations of a careless commercial sector – once a splendid exercise in participatory democracy – is tantamount to treason, punishable by several lashes of a government official’s tongue.

The oil must flow as surely as the pipelines must be built. As for the safety and security of the communities through which we send our dirty crude, leave that to the men in charge. They know best.

Today, from this country, international affairs gets bundled and exported to the world as a byproduct of something called “economic diplomacy”.

Gone is the emphasis on poverty reduction, human rights, child welfare and disease control. Welcome a new, golden age of liberalized trade for Canadian companies seeking to plant their corporate staffs in emerging markets, including those of China and India, Russia and Brazil.

Through these adventurous small and medium-sized businesses, Canada will achieve the greatness it so richly deserves and could never hope to acquire under any other sort of government than one that truly understands the prideful heart that beats strong and true in the breast of all “real” Canadians – those who, let’s just say, do not vote for Hollywood-handsome, marijuana-smoking mop-tops.

In this fresh impression of the cosmos, Canada’s spy agencies are not cabals of itinerant villains; they are chambers of patriots and heroes, as long as the information they obtain about our “friends” continues to elevates the nation’s interest.

And, apparently, by any means necessary.

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There’s still life in the old folks home


Leaves of grass for NB's labour market

The day passed like any other at this time of the year: under a darkening gloom that  heralds the inevitable arrival of the great, white death that is the Maritime winter.

If genies were real, and I employed one, I would move my birthday (yesterday), to a more cheerful month, such as May, which Milton observed lyrically “doth inspire mirth, and youth, and warm desire.”

There’s nothing especially youthful, mirthful or warm about November. And as the days get shorter, it so happens so do the years in this corner of the country.

A piece in the Telegraph-Journal yesterday suggests that New Brunswick is aging more rapidly than just about everywhere else in the nation. By Statistics Canada’s reckoning, 17.6 per cent of this province’s 750,000-strong population is age 65 or older. Nova Scotia’s populace is just fractionally more geriatric: 17.7 per cent of people there are upper sexagenarians.

Under the circumstances, If you came from Nova Scotia to live in New Brunswick (as I did) you now can’t help feeling as if you’ve merely switched rooms in the old folks home. “The four Atlantic provinces round out the top four spots in the country in terms of having the most seniors – all more than 17 per cent,” the T-J reports. “Alberta and the territories have the lowest percentages of seniors – all less than 12 per cent.”

Meanwhile, “New Brunswick also has the second highest median age in Canada at just under 44 years of age. Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest median age at just over 44 years.”

Such news, like the weather and the time of the year, naturally evokes situational unease, a sort of contact dermatitis of the soul. Indeed, it has become customary for political leaders from all parties to decry the demographic shift underway in New Brunswick and elsewhere in Atlantic Canada.

But fellows like Michael Haan, the Canada research chair in population and social policy at the University of New Brunswick, thinks we’re missing point. We should stop complaining – something we’ve been doing almost reflexively for years – and embrace our wizening profile. After all, what else do you do with lemons but make lemonade?

Actually, his argument is a little less flippant than that as he tells the T-J, “I think young, entrepreneurial people should see opportunity here. You have a large population of aging baby boomers who are wealthy and have time on their hands. . .These are interesting people who have lived full lives.”

Well, I know I have. In fact, despite Mr. Haan’s unfortunate use of the past tense, I still am living a full life. I belong to the largest cohort of the boom – those who turn 53 this year – and when I amble down history lane, I am frequently astonished by a half-century of change.

In 1960, the year I was born, for example, the Gross National Product of the United States was $503 billion. Today, it’s closer to $16 trillion. In that year, the median household income in America (not adjusted for inflation) was less than $6,000. Today, it’s more than $50,000.

Also in 1960, according to The People’s Chronology (published in 1979), “The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Companies (OPEC meets for the first time September 14 at Baghdad and  forces a retraction of the decrease in oil prices by Standard Oil of New Jersey. . .Some 2,000 electronic computers are delivered to U.S. business offices, universities, laboratories, and other buyers. . .The debate will rage as to whether computers wipe out jobs or create new ones. . .Aluminum cans for food and beverages are used for the first time commercially but 95 per cent of U.S. soft drinks and 50 per cent of beer is sold in returnable bottles that are used 40 to 50 times each.”

It’s easy to forget the “full lives” members of every generation lead. The passing of time, of youth, renders us sentimental codgers and coots in this dangerously sentimental month of the year.

Sure, we’re getting old. It happens to the best of us. But New Brunswick’s economy is not a nursery school with seats saved for precious toddlers.

There’s work to be done, and we’re not dead yet

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How to fight the good fight, especially when it’s wrong


Those picket-line-protesters who may worry that their shoe leather will wear out before the shale gas industry’s resolve does should cheer up after reviewing a World Trade Organization (WTO) decision this week – a decision some are calling a victory for the hard-scrabbling, morally superior little guy.

Of course, it is hardly that.

The WTO has simply upheld the European Union’s (EU) 2009 ban on imported seal products (meat, pelts, oil, etc.), which affects Canada most among the world’s pinniped-hunting nations (a small club that includes Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Namibia).

In its ruling, the organization allowed that while the prohibition probably violates at least the spirit of impartiality in global trade, it nonetheless “fulfills the objective of addressing EU public moral concerns on seal welfare to a certain extent.” What’s more, it added, “no alternative measure was demonstrated to make an equivalent or greater contribution to the fulfillment of the objective.”

In other words, consumers’ decidedly non-commercial interests can and do trump those, however legitimate, of producers, either small or large.

That’s good news to all the assorted rebels with various causes among us, though, naturally, none of this is sitting well with the federal government or Canadian sealers who are screaming about the dirty they’ve been done at the hands of a powerful, disingenuous protest lobby.

In a statement from Ed Fast, Minister for International Trade, Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment, and Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the trio declared, “On February 11, 2011, our government requested the establishment of a World Trade Organization dispute settlement panel to challenge the European Union’s unfair ban on seal products in order to stand up for Canadian sealers and to vigorously defend the interests of Canada’s Inuit and Indigenous communities.

“The WTO panel confirmed Canada’s long-standing position that the EU ban is discriminatory and treats Canadian seal products unfairly. However, the panel also took the view that such a ban can be justified due to some of the public’s concerns regarding seal harvesting. Canada remains steadfast in its position that the seal harvest is a humane, sustainable and well-regulated activity. Any views to the contrary are based on myths and misinformation, and the Panel’s findings should be of concern to all WTO members.”

The government, of course, promises it will press on with an appeal. But, realistically, this battle is over. The Harper government is not likely to threaten the stability of its freshly minted European trade agreement over an industry that generates few economic benefits for citizens who live south of the 60th parallel – i.e., most Canadians.

All of which provides several object lessons for less mature social agitations, the first of which is that the “facts” at one’s disposal need not actually be true.

The trick to winning hearts and minds in the seal debate was always steadfastly ensuring that the message of carnage and cruelty on the ice floes was front and centre and before the public. Even after the industry effectively cleaned up its act (to the degree that any mass predation can be absolved of moral ambiguity), the message never changed, a fact which truly bugged even some ardent environmental pioneers.

“We have to be logical,” Jacques Cousteau reportedly once said. “We have to aim our activity first to the endangered species. Those who are moved by the plight of the harp seal could also be moved by the plight of the pig – the way they are slaughtered is horrible.”

The second lesson is that celebrities can vastly enhance a movement’s credibility.

In 2006, Paul McCartney and his then-wife Heather Mills, took Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams – who was linked to the show via a scratchy phone connection – to task over the annual cull. They called him by his first name and beseeched him, several times, to stop the killing. They were wrong on every account, every statement of fact. But, it didn’t matter. Subsequent polling showed that, in the eyes of the average viewer, they’d won the debate.

Was this sensible? Was this reasonable?

Who cares?

All’s fair in love, war and on the picket lines.

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