Tag Archives: economics

What New Brunswick needs now

As the sun swims down below the horizon faster as every day passes, the temptation is to believe that so do we all. Perhaps, that’s a natural, if not entirely reasonable, conclusion.

Time passes, the foundations of our youthful ambitions crack, we swell in the middle of our lives (and, by the way, in our midriffs), our tongues lash when our ears should listen.

In late August, New Yorker Editor David Remnick, ruminated on U.S. President Donald Trump’s absurd rise to power: He wrote:

“(The) ascent was hardly the first sign that Americans had not uniformly regarded Obama’s election as an inspiring chapter in the country’s fitful progress toward equality. Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, had branded him the ‘food-stamp President.’ In the right-wing and white-nationalist media, Obama was, variously, a socialist, a Muslim, the Antichrist, a ‘liberal fascist,’ who was assembling his own Hitler Youth. A high-speed train from Las Vegas to Anaheim that was part of the economic-stimulus package was a secret effort to connect the brothels of Nevada to the innocents at Disneyland. He was, by nature, suspect. ‘You just look at the body language, and there’s something going on,’ Trump said, last summer. In the meantime, beginning on the day of Obama’s first inaugural, the Secret Service fielded an unprecedented number of threats against the President’s person.

“And so, speeding toward yet another airport last November, Obama seemed like a weary man who harbored a burning seed of apprehension. ‘We’ve seen this coming,’ he said. ‘Donald Trump is not an outlier; he is a culmination, a logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party for the past ten, fifteen, twenty years. What surprised me was the degree to which those tactics and rhetoric completely jumped the rails.’”

Do we all become what we fear and loathe, regardless of our various demographic and geographic locations? Do we all sink below the horizons of our better, finer natures?

In this era of political insanity, what New Brunswick needs is clarity, policy innovation that actually leads to practicable solutions and, above all, sanity.

Specifically, it needs early childhood education that’s universal, accessible to all, and publically funded. It needs remedial literacy programs designed to reverse the pernicious trends, which threaten the foundation of education in this province, and the underpinnings of informed, democratic consent. It needs immigration settlement services that will truly integrate newcomers linguistically and culturally without compromising their personal and national stories of origin.

What we don’t need are more roads that lead to absurd amounts of public debt. What we don’t need are more state-of-the-art schools that run next to empty simply because the population base has dwindled or aged into extinction. What we don’t need is venality and absurdity masquerading as justifiable policy making in government.

The project is both simple and complicated (which human endeavour is anything but?). It starts with political transparency and accountability. It moves to social equity and ends with economic diversity. What are required are the voices, the ideas, and a fulsome degree of respect for one another.

Two years ago, the national, public broadcaster’s Julie Ireton reported, “Canada’s Public Policy Forum published a report authored by a group of business executives and former political leaders from across the country. Kevin Lynch, a former Clerk of the Privy Council and one of the report’s authors, agreed the public service must be allowed to provide analytic-based policy options.”

New Brunswick is a jewel of a province. Let us polish it before the sun also sets on us.

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Use it or lose it

How do I love thee, federal government? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my bank account can reach, when feeling out of sight for years on end. I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet infrastructure announcement, by sun and candlelight.

My apologies to the late Elizabeth Barrett Browning for butchering one of her finer sonnets, but expediency sometimes trumps good taste (Hey, see what I did there? The words “trump” and “good taste” floated in the same sentence?)

But I digress.

Whenever Ottawa grants money for big builds in Atlantic Canada (and elsewhere in this country), provinces and municipalities are expected to pick up the slack, regardless of their respective economic circumstances. That’s the reality of a three-tiered system of government. Is this fair? Is it even sensible? Does it matter? It’s simply a fact of living and working in what the United Nations terms as one of the top ten jurisdictions on Earth for that ineffable, yet desirable, designation: Best Place Ever!

Now, we learn that New Brunswick simply hasn’t spent enough money in the federal tax pouch. In fact, this province is $30 million shy of its target, and if we don’t use it pronto, we’ll lose it. Or so says a piece this week in the Telegraph-Journal:

“The Gallant government says there is ‘absolutely no risk’ that (the federal money) earmarked for New Brunswick will go unspent before a looming deadline. . .A recent report showing spending from Infrastructure Canada says the federal government has given provinces an territories an ultimatum: Identify projects or all the money left from a 2014 infrastructure program or watch it go elsewhere.”

How delicious and how exquisite this is. We all pay into the Canada Revenue Agency and assume that our contributions will not only compensate national MPs and their senatorial counterparts for their sometimes bullish and oftentimes somnambulant protestations, but also ourselves – in our publicly assented pension plans, in reasonable management of our funds, in sense and sensibility from our public servants.

Yet, there remains this from a Government of Canada website:

“The Gas Tax Fund provides municipalities with a permanent, predictable and indexed source of long-term funding, enabling construction and rehabilitation of core public infrastructure. It offers local communities the flexibility to make strategic investments across 18 different project categories, including roads and bridges, public transit, drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, and recreational facilities. The fund promotes investments in increased productivity and economic growth, a clean environment, and strong cities and communities. The Gas Tax Fund started in 2005-2006 and is ongoing.”

Then there’s this: The Municipal Asset Management Program (MAMP) delivered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) is a five year, $50 million program that will help Canadian municipalities make informed infrastructure investment decisions based on sound asset management practices. The MAMP was launched in February 2017 and is scheduled to end in 2021-2022.”

And this: “The Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program delivered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) is a five-year, $75 million program that provides funding, training and resources to help Canadian municipalities adapt to the impacts of climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The MCIP was launched in February 2017 and is scheduled to end in 2021-2022.”

Use or lose?

To butcher, again, the prose of the great poet Browning, I will quote: “With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.”

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We are all connected

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It should surprise exactly no one that not one Canadian municipality makes the World Economic Forum’s list of most successful cities – not Toronto, not Montreal, not Vancouver, and certainly not any of New Brunswick’s three major urban areas.

We are, after all, in this province mere cartographic postscripts comporting ourselves in much the same way we always have: with one toe tentatively dipped in the future and one foot firmly planted in the past. I sometimes think we like it that way. In fact, there’s nothing particularly wrong with it.

Armies of retirees, fresh from their career conquests in other more economically vigorous parts of the world, have chosen communities like Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John to settle into their sanguine senescence. Here, crime rates are low, house prices are stunningly reasonable, and the natural environment is, by every comparison, downright pristine.

But, ultimately, no region can survive its own sleepy traditions and predilections by insulating itself from the rest of the world. What is virtuous about a place can eventually become disadvantageous. Whether we like it or not, we are all connected on this planet.

Over the years, the urgent conversation among those here who recognize this simple fact of life in the 21st Century has concerned the character of progress. How far can we go without compromising that which makes this part of the world unique and efficacious? We’ve not settled on a definitive answer, but we have found some enlivening clues.

The World Economic Forum offers some insight. “Forces of globalization, urbanization and technological advancement are transforming the definition of a ‘successful’ city and reshaping the global urban hierarchy in the process,” it recently posted on its website. “Success can no longer be measured simply by considering a city’s size and historical attributes. Today it is more likely to revolve around innovation, ‘liveability’ and the ability to transform and adapt.”

On this score, it elaborates, “Many of the top 20 cities in the 2016 City Momentum Index – including London, San Francisco and Sydney – are home to vibrant mixed-used districts which create and amplify opportunities to conceive and commercialize new ideas. This reinforces the idea that city momentum involves much more than GDP growth. It also requires building an innovation-oriented economy through technology. It means creating cutting-edge new businesses. And it involves attracting talent and nurturing a diverse and inclusive workforce.”

Are we, in New Brunswick, doing enough of this? If the size of a place no longer matters as a determinant of economic and social health, where are the large and small innovations that really do make a difference? The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation insists they’re out there. “With over $70 million invested, plus $380 million more leveraged from other sources, NBIF has helped to create over 90 companies and fund 400 applied research projects since its inception in 2003, with a current portfolio of 42 companies,” its website declares. “All of NBIF’s investment returns go back into the Foundation to be re-invested in other new startup companies and research initiatives.”

Fair enough, but we need more of this. The fact that I can count the number of business incubators in this province that regularly garner mainstream media attention on one hand suggests that we haven’t truly leveraged the global innovation agenda to our full advantage.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, Silicon Valley was a craggy patch of earth on California’s west coast. Shall we, in New Brunswick continue to consign ourselves to a similar condition, or shall we make our success stories convincingly and finally resonate?

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Cap and fade

It was never going to be a winsome decision, but the federal government’s determination to impose some form of carbon pricing on the provinces is proving to be the first great test of the proposition that when it comes to both the environment and economy, one can have one’s cake and eat it too.

As Nova Scotia’s, Newfoundland and Labrador’s and Saskatchewan’s environment ministers stormed out of a meeting convened last week to explain the Trudeau government’s determination to unilaterally impose a framework that would exact a $10-per-tonne price on carbon beginning in 2018 – a levy that would increase by $10 per tonne each year until hitting $50 per tonne in 2022 – New Brunswick’s man on the ground shrugged sanguinely and, in effect, declared, “Hey, no big deal”.

Repeating his government’s oft-sung melody on the subject, Environment Minister Serge Rousselle trilled, “Any price on carbon brought forward by our government will be revenue neutral. And we learned from the Trudeau government that all the money received from this province will be sent back.”

That money could, by some estimates, amount to as much as $800 million a year, depending on the mechanisms the Province uses to fulfill its climate-change obligations to Ottawa. But, says Premier Brian Gallant, not to worry. “If we in New Brunswick are to get any type of monies from a price on carbon, we would reinvest that money right away. It would very be investments that would spur economic growth and a green economy. . .We agree with a lot of what is happening with the Trudeau government. They have focused on growth and they’re focused on making sure our economy is sustainable and that we transition to a low-carbon economy, which we agree with as well.”

Still, the devil is in the details. The degree to which a carbon tax – or, alternatively, a cap and trade system – properly addresses the larger problem of greenhouse gas emissions depends entirely on the technological savvy of any given province. Put another way: Are we, in New Brunswick, ramped up to pour the money clawed back from polluting industries into cleaner ones? Or will taxpayers simply be left holding bag of good government intentions – again?

On paper and in theory, the World Bank says there’s plenty of evidence that carbon pricing works. “A price on carbon helps shift the burden for the damage back to those who are responsible for it, and who can reduce it,” it notes on one of its many web pages. “Instead of dictating who should reduce emissions where and how, a carbon price gives an economic signal and polluters decide for themselves. In this way, the overall environmental goal is achieved. The carbon price also stimulates clean technology and market innovation, fuelling new, low-carbon drivers of economic growth.”

Moreover, it observes, “Some 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states and provinces already use carbon pricing mechanisms, with more planning to implement them in the future. Together the carbon pricing schemes now in place cover about half their emissions, which translates to about 13 per cent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.”

What this observation fails to clarify, however, is that where carbon-pricing plans appear to achieve the desired results, they do so as a result of many years of coordinated implementation schemes engineered by both governmental and private-sector players. In New Brunswick and, indeed, the rest of Canada, we do not enjoy the luxury of time.

We may, one day, have our cake and eat it too. But, for now, the taste will be bittersweet.

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The mysteries of life on Earth abound

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Nietzsche was wrong. God is not dead. But he is. . .well, uninteresting.

Or that’s what the latest issue of The Atlantic reports in a wee item entitled, “We’ve figured Out the Universe – and It’s Boring.” The magazine’s Rebecca J. Rosen, a senior associate editor, quotes several scientists suffering from mild depression, a not-yet-diagnosed malady I’ll call “post-Higgs boson syndrome.”

Having borne witness, last year, to the discovery of the particle that was supposed to explain everything (and, in fact, does, just as predicted) British mathematician Stephen Wolfram complained, “At some level I’m actually a little disappointed.”

Why? The formidable Stephen Hawking, the Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge, put it this way: “The great advances in physics have come from experiments that gave results we didn’t expect.” Added Columbia University physicist Peter Woit, “I always felt the best possible thing. . .would be to not see the Higgs.”

All of which only proves what every nerd and geek knows in his or her ComiCon-drenched soul: Poets can’t hold a candle to scientists for unalloyed sentimentality.

But if the cosmos is entirely explicable, what are we to make of its constituents – specifically, this third rock from a yellow dwarf star in the suburbs of the average-sized galaxy we call The Milky Way? The mysteries that attend life of Earth show no sign of remission. If anything, they advance in perfect marching step.

Today, Egyptians rejoice at the removal, by their unelected military, of their duly elected president Mohammed Morsi. As the Globe and Mail’s Patrick Martin notes, “Historic Tahrir Square exploded in joy shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday when, for the second time in two years, Egypt’s military leaders announced they have forced the country’s president from office, relieving him of his command and replacing him with an executive of their choosing. . .It was an odd thing to celebrate. Just 29 months ago, many of these same people had occupied Tahrir Square and cheered the prospects of democracy finally coming to Egypt. This warm night in July, they were welcoming back a military-led transition in place of a democratically elected president.”

Today, U.S. President Obama (who doesn’t know what to think about the latest developments in Egypt) is hell-bent on completing his man hunt for Edward Snowdon, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked specifics about American and British surveillance programs that target, essentially, everyone.

According to the Guardian this week, “The plane carrying the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, from Russia has been rerouted to Austria, following suspicions that (Mr. Snowdon) was on board, leading to a major diplomatic incident. The Bolivian foreign minister, David Choquehuanca, said French and Portuguese authorities refused to allow the plane to fly through their airspace. He added that rumours Snowden was on board were unfounded. ‘We don’t know who invented this lie. We want to denounce to the international community this injustice with the plane of President Evo Morales,’ Choquehuanca told Associated Press.”

Today, a new study from the World Meteorological Organization finds that the ten-year span between 2001 and 2010 was the warmest decade in 160 years. Says the WMO news release: “The world experienced unprecedented high-impact climate extremes during the 2001-2010 decade, which was the warmest since the start of modern measurements in 1850 and continued an extended period of pronounced global warming. More national temperature records were reported broken than in any previous decade. . .Global-average concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose to 389 parts per million in 2010 (an increase of 39 per cent since the start of the industrial era in 1750), methane to 1808.0 parts per billion (15 per cent) and nitrous oxide to 323.2 parts per billion (20 per cent).”

Still, other research paints a somewhat different picture. In May, Scientific American reported: “The Earth is now warming faster than at any time in the last 11,000 years, but scientists do not understand clearly why the atmosphere has warmed less than they expected over the last decade or so – and more slowly than in the 1990s.”

God may be boring. We, on the other hand, continue to ignore His example.

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