Tag Archives: First Nations

Whole ‘loto’ money

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Candour is one of Blaine Higgs’ more endearing qualities. As finance minister under the former Progressive Conservative government in New Brunswick, he was always good for a quote that would, as often as not, knock you back on your heels. “Did he just say that?”

So, it should come as no surprise that when asked to explain his department’s use of $14 million in payments for shared gaming revenues made in error to the province’s First Nations communities years ago, he had this to say to the Saint John Telegraph-Journal last month:

“It was there as a potential bargaining tool to say if we get satisfaction in other areas we’ll discuss (the more than $14 million in overpayments). But if we don’t we’ll go after the$14 million.”

Mr. Higgs further explained that his government was prepared to let the largess stand only if it could obtain undertakings to stamp out illegal video lottery terminals, alcohol and cigarette sales on First Nations. It also sought to renegotiate broader revenue-sharing agreements that, it believed, benefitted only a few of the 15 aboriginal communities in the province.

Arguably, none of this would have come to light had the T-J failed to embark on some truly enterprising reporting. But now that the cat’s out of the bag, should we be surprised by the revelation that at the root of politics-as-usual is, frequently, real politick as deal making?

It’s hard to fault Mr. Higgs and his finance department operatives for attempting to make the most of a useful mistake they, themselves, did not commit. (The blame for the overpayments lies squarely with the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, which, apparently, first made the accounting error back in 2003).

On the other hand, someone owes the province’s taxpayers – a point that New Brunswick Auditor-General Kim MacPherson is all too happy to emphasize. Recouping the funds from the recipients, she told the T-J last month, “would definitely have to happen over a period of time in consultation with the First Nations given it’s a very significant amount of money and recognizing it would definitely impact the First Nations. It happened over many years, so it stands to reason that it would take quite a period of time to negotiate repayment terms. But the thing is there was no authority to make those payments and that’s why we say it needs to be corrected.”

On the face of it, she’s right. But it seems broadly unfair to expect those who unwittingly benefited from a clerical error to shoulder the burden of redressing the mistake. That would be a little like demanding that a taxpayer return his refund years after the money had been spent.

The other logical option is to require Atlantic Lottery Corporation to dig into its own corporate pockets. Still, that, too, is fraught with difficulties. As the gaming company is actually owned by the governments of the four Atlantic provinces any repayment would amount to a zero-sum exercise in futility. Or, as our favorite quote-maker Mr. Higgs said last week, “It’s kind of like taking your wallet out and paying yourself. It may not be a net gain.”

All of which suggests that the former finance minister’s solution – to make the best of a bad deal – might not be such a weird idea, after all.

If the current government can figure out a way to cost out $14 million in savings to the province from a better bargain with First Nations, then the matter might be resolved without further strife and with one benefit that’s been sorely missing from this whole debacle: transparency

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How Neil Young gets it right (and wrong) on oil

Oil is everywhere and everything?

Oil is everywhere and everything?

Fossil fuels make hypocrites of every environmental activist in the world.

The bright ones know that as consumers in the unavoidable petro-economy, they are just as culpable as anyone for climate change; but they push their planet-saving agenda anyway. After all, why remain silent on strategies for using oil and gas to transition to a cleaner, more sustainable future?

The dimmer ones, who never seem to suffer from a loss of words, prattle on about “us versus them” in apparent ignorance of the enormously complex socio-economic web this and other nations have spun with the products of refined dinosaur bones. Forget transforming the world; let’s just shut it down.

Thanks to celebrity big mouths and the media’s even bigger appetite for controversy, the question of the moment is: Into which camp does Canada’s legendary folk-rocker Neil Young fit? Is he a shining light or a broken bulb? A not entirely unrelated question is: Does it matter?

The Prime Minister Office seems to think it does. Why, otherwise, would it have dispatched its spokesman Jason MacDonald to defend Alberta’s curiously vulnerable tar sands against Mr. Young’s vituperative attack on them last Sunday night during the launch of a countrywide tour. At that time, the Grammy Award winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer said, using his outside voice:

“To me, it’s a basic matter of integrity on the part of Canada. Canada is trading integrity for money. That’s what’s happening under the current leadership in Canada, which is a very poor imitation of the George Bush administration in the United States. It’s lagging behind on the world stage and it’s an embarrassment to Canadians.”

To which, Mr. MacDonald responded: “Canada’s natural resources sector is and has always been a fundamental part of our country’s economy. . .The resource sector creates economic opportunities, and employs tens of thousands of Canadians in high wage jobs, contributing to a standard of living that is envied around the world, and helping to fund the programs and services Canadians rely on. . .Even the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians every day.”

For Mr. Young, overall, so far so good. Whether or not you agree with his characterization of political leaders who are almost giddy at the prospect of selling their country – and First Nations communities in Alberta – down the river for a bag of bucks, you must, at least, acknowledge that he takes a principled stand.

More than this, perhaps, he is keenly aware of his stature, an effective weapon in the public relations battle to win friends and influence people (though methinks the man has already won enough hearts and minds for one life).

But, then, a funny thing happens on Mr. Young’s way to mainstream credibility regarding oil and gas. In his response to Mr. MacDonald’s jab about rock stars‘ reliance on natural resources, “Shaky” gets a little. . .well, shaky.

“Of course, rock stars don’t need oil. I drove my electric car from California to the tar sands and on to Washington DC without using any oil at all and I’m a rock star,” he says. “My car’s generator runs on biomass, one of several future fuels Canada should be developing for the Post Fossil Fuel Age. This age of renewable fuels could save our grandchildren from the ravages of Climate related disasters spawned by the Fossil Fuel Age; but we have to get started.”

He’s right. We do have to get started. But if, as he insists, rock stars don’t need oil, is he suggesting his life is a petroleum-free zone? For, if it is, that would be a neat trick, indeed.

According to one calculation from Ranken Energy Corp., “Americans consume petroleum products at a rate of three-and-a-half gallons of oil and more than 250 cubic feet of natural gas per day each.”

In fact, oil is in just about everything, from floor wax to bicycle tires to golf bags and purses. “Anything that’s not iron or steel or metal of some sort has some petrochemical component,” West Virginia University chemistry professor Dady Dadyburjor told The Associated Press not long ago.

This, one presumes, includes the chassis of Mr. Young’s electric car.

Of course rock stars need oil. We all do. And owning up to our collective addiction is the first step on the royal road to recovery from hypocrisy.

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Institute’s mandate in search of a reason

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The last thing New Brunswick needs is yet another reason to bloviate about the provincial government’s diabolical plans to shove shale gas down the throats of its citizens. But for a polity that seems bound and determined to leave most of our natural resources in the ground, we do seem extraordinarily skilled at mass-producing hot air.

In an interview with CBC Radio out of Saint John last Thursday, Fred Metallic – a member of Listuguj First Nations in Quebec and a PhD in environmental science – explained why he suddenly quit the scientific advisory council of the New Brunswick Energy Institute, whose purpose is, according to its website, “to examine the science surrounding energy possibilities in our province.”

Declared Mr. Metallic: “When I was approached by the Institute. . .we were going to take a citizen-based approach to the development of energy. As a First Nations researcher, I generally work with people and (so) this was compatible with the way I like to approach (things). . .We did discuss aboriginal issues. However, these issues were not a priority, unfortunately. The priorities were more around the technology around shale gas development.”

What’s more, Mr. Metallic lamented, “At this point, the institute is more concerned about the government’s plans to develop shale gas and other forms of energy. It is more concerned about industry and whether industry and science can work together to ensure that these resources are developed safely. As First Nations researcher, I didn’t see First Nations issues to be central and that was a concern for me.

In the end, he said, “I have more faith in people to want to move things forward than I do with government, sometimes.”

Of course, that’s it in a nutshell. Isn’t it? Here is the cri de coeur of the modern age. And you don’t have to be a member of a First Nation to utter it.

Having little faith in governments is simply de rigueur these days, and not just for cultural warriors and libertarian trendsetters. Everyone – liberals, conservatives, radicals, reactionaries, progressives, the one per cent and the remaining 99 per cent – wants to thump his chest with one hand and with the other grab the nearest elected official by the scruff of his scrawny neck and declare: “You, sir, are a cad!”

But before we get caught up in this, the standard plot line, and cut and paste it to this, the latest chapter in the shale gas melodrama, it behooves us to recognize what, exactly, the New Brunswick Energy Institute actually does – which is, quite frankly, a whole lot of nothing.

“We feel that the institute is a scientific body,” Energy and Mines Minister Craig Leonard told the CBC last week as he gamely defended his government’s decision create it on the advice of departed and forcibly humbled academic Louis LaPierre. “The place for discussing treaty rights with First Nations is within government, itself. We want to keep those two separate.”

This is, of course, utter nonsense. The technology that enables shale gas drilling and the fracked ground that treaties may (or may not) protect as a collective resource (including the water therein) comprise a single issue.

But, the point is, the provincial government doesn’t appear to be enjoying much success on either of the issue’s constituent parts: nurturing scientific inquiry or ameliorating people’s concerns

In the case of the former, the number of “ongoing” research projects at the Institute number in the single digits, as in, zero. Ditto for the number of “requests for proposals”.

According to a Telegraph-Journal report last week, “Energy institute executive director Annie Daigle attempted to clarify the body’s mandate on Thursday, stating that its direction had been ‘muddied’ of late.”

She added: “Things sort of came to a standstill for a month and a half to two months. We haven’t developed any research, we haven’t signed any contracts or anything like that, and we haven’t put out the request for proposals for that work.

It is being reviewed by the scientific advisory council. We had some setbacks over the last couple of months, so we are just trying to get back on track.”

All of which suggests that if the provincial government is trying to shove shale gas down the throats of New Brunswickers, it isn’t yet relying on the Energy Institute for practical support.

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