Tag Archives: Government of New Brunswick

The take on clean tech


Assuming my personal pantheon of household gods – including the one that lords over my bank account – continues to gaze affectionately at my ramshackle abode in the west end of Moncton, I can imagine one day installing solar panels on my roof’s southern exposure.

I can even divine a day when a compact, ridiculously efficient wind turbine installed against my back fence feeds power to my smart-grid controller, which, in turn, tells my fridge when to run and my furnace when to start. Meanwhile, my spiffy, new Tesla Model S sits happily in my driveway fully charged until its next trip to the neighbourhood electrical boosting station.

Flights of fancy are the territories of the future. But, in important respects, the future might be just around the corner if certain federal and provincial officials in Atlantic Canada have anything to say.

The extent to which New Brunswick may expect to participate in what’s being billed far and near as the nation’s “clean technology revolution” depends entirely on public and private-sector willingness to get out in front of these developments. That this province – which needs all the innovative economic opportunities it can digest – should not hesitate is an obvious no-brainer.

Not long ago, while making a speech in Alberta, Navdeep Bains, the federal minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, announced more $206 million in funding for 36 clean technology projects across the country.

In a prepared statement, department officials stipulated that “Investing in innovation, supporting clean technology and encouraging sustainable practices will help create jobs, expand access to international markets and make Canadian companies more competitive in the global economy.

“The minister announced the investment in Sustainable Development Technology Canada,” which will, among things, provide “support for clean technology companies at a critical point in the innovation spectrum: it allows innovators to develop and demonstrate their technologies prior to entering the market. . .To stay competitive, Canada must lead the way in innovation and must embrace opportunities to create the clean jobs of the future. The Government of Canada will continue investing in innovative clean technology projects that grow local economies and promote environmental sustainability.”

Minister Bains, himself, stated, “Now is the time for Canadian companies to capture their share of the global market for clean technology. From waste management to biofuels to greener solutions for the oil and gas industry, these Canadian companies are leading the world in intelligent, environmentally responsible and economically sound solutions in a number of key economic sectors. . . Canadians understand that a healthy environment and a strong economy are not competing priorities.”

He’s right. Canadians do understand this – or, at least, they’re getting the picture. A study released last month by the group, Clean Energy Canada, found that spending on this sector in 2015 amounted to $10 billion. 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.

The trick, of course, for this region will be learning how to transform its traditional industries even as it embraces new, cutting-edge ones. It’s encouraging that this process seems to be underway.

My hunt for solar panels might not be so whimsical, after all.

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What’s wrong with this picture?


As a resident of this fair province, New Brunswick, it’s a hopeless comfort to know that while the rest of Canada slips quietly into recession, I may expect to keep my head above water and even thrive during the two minutes it takes me to attach the absurdity filter to the worn and threadbare spectacles I use to read the morning headlines.

So it was the other day when I came across this marvelous series of proclamations from New Brunswick’s finance minister, dutifully reported in the pages of provincial newspapers:

“Nationally, we’re in a recession and Stats Canada has confirmed it,” Roger Melanson said some days ago. “So we will continue to monitor the situation on a quarterly basis. That’s why we have quarterly updates. It’s the tool we have in terms of making the information public so New Brunswickers are fully aware of the state of our economy.”

Yet, his finance department boldly predicts an annualized growth rate in the province of between 1.5 and 1.7 per cent next year. Why? Because the economic auguries say so? Because the entrails of road kill on the Trans-Canada are aligned just so? Because the tea leaves in the lunchtime cups left on the cafeteria tops at Freddy Beach suggest better times ahead?

How bluntly irrelevant Minister Melanson’s claim is – especially when you consider that most New Brunswickers are already fully aware of the state of their economy. Indeed, as the nation dips into recession, this province has never managed to crawl out of a long, agonizingly slow one.

The essential quandary is: Do we care?

Go back into history see the same ludicrous patterns repeating today: A province whose economy is bifurcated by rural and semi-urban sensibilities; an institutional sector that will protect its turf at the expense of the students, professionals, patients, and citizens it purports to represent; a political culture whose last, good idea for meaningful change died when the New Brunswick inventor of kerosene did.

The agony that Mr. Melanson does not address when he talks of scraps of GDP improvement in this province in this year is the long, slow dissolution of self-reliance, self-improvement, and enthusiasm in this province.

Where are the monumental projects of imagination?

Who will build the next generation of entrepreneurs willing and ready to break the molds crafted by their forbears?

What new cohort of young people, coupled to older folks, stands to step up in this province to usher a renaissance of economic, social and political principals and priorities?

These are the questions that political leadership in this province should pose. Instead, Mr. Melanson seems content to rely on the predictions of statisticians and economic actuaries to spin a wobbly tale of good news about New Brunswick’s prospects.

“It’s important to note,” he says, “that every province, including us, have adjusted their GDP projection based on growth. . .(With the exception of Prince Edward Island) we’ve all brought it down because of the national situation economically. But we still have to keep in mind that there are sectors of our economy in our province where we have seen positives.”

T’was ever thus, perhaps. But our present condition demands sterner stuff from our elected representatives, appointed bureaucrats and, in the end, us.

Our future cries out for it.

Canada’s national recession may be a lamentable circumstance; ours, in New Brunswick, is a state of mind.

We have, in this province, only two avenues: becoming or calcifying.

We either fossilize or shunt the ties that bind and live in hope.

Through my threadbare spectacles, I choose hope.

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Are government workers servants or syphons of prosperity?


Do civil servants in Atlantic Canada earn too much money for what they do? Are too many of them routinely showing up at the public trough?

These are two, separate questions, and as provocative as they are, they tend to conflate in the hands of traditional, market-driven advocates who are convinced that small government – in the absence of no government, at all – represents the best of all possible worlds.

Almost no one, these days, talks about efficient government, a notion that once held a place of prominence in the thinking rooms and chat parlors of the early 1960s across North America – and, of course, never again.

But does efficient government mean fewer workers doing less work or a greater number of workers doing more important work?

The Halifax-based Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) is convinced that the regional economy will be improved by radically cutting its various civil services.

“In all four Atlantic provinces, the public sector workforce is significantly larger, relative to population, than the national average,” writes Ben Eisen, director of research, and Shaun Fantauzzo, policy analyst, at AIMS, in a recent commentrary.

“Furthermore, the gap in average compensation between public and private sector workers is larger in the region than in most other parts of the country. As governments across the region seek to identify strategies to control deficits and net debt, working gradually to reduce the public sector wage bill is one option that deserves careful attention.”

Additionally, they contend, “according to recent data from Statistics Canada, in 2013, the civilian public sector in Canada accounted for 18 per cent of all jobs nationally. By comparison, this figure is 23 per cent in Atlantic Canada, where all provinces exceed the national average on this metric. In Prince Edward Island, the figure is 23 per cent, in Nova Scotia it is 22 per cent and in New Brunswick it is 20 per cent. In Newfoundland and Labrador, 28 per cent of all jobs are found in the civilian public sector, the highest level in the country.”

To which an unaligned observer might wonder: So what?

Don’t these folks who work on the public dime also pay taxes, buy houses, enroll their kids in day-care programs, contribute to charities, underwrite the cost of their children’s university educations?

Are they not, in so many regards, just like the rest of us?

It’s not the salaries and benefits they earn, or even their numbers, that should concern us. It’s what they do with their time in the course of their daily duties. And that has everything to do with the frigid, disingenuous corporate culture they endure and to which they are too often inured.

Successive federal and Atlantic provincial governments have, in recent years, forced their bureaucracies to carry the water buckets of public opprobrium. After all, why not? Civil servants are easy targets, easily manipulated to do their political masters’ bidding on pain of various employment adjustment programs and other vile euphemisms for: “You’re fired and you have five minutes to clean out your desk.”

Now, we perceive in New Brunswick a wholly cynical move to buy public approval  by curtailing the legal bargaining powers of unions that represent civil servants.

Or, as the province’s duly appointed Czar of strategic review, Health Minister Victor Boudreau, told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal not long ago: “What happens in settling some of these wages is a bit of what they call a leap frog, where one province settles with a particular union. . .and then in the next province, their contract is up six months later, so they want to be two per cent higher than the province that just settled.”

Again, so what?

Should we not wheel this issue back to the central discussion where it belongs?

Which civil servants in Atlantic Canada earn too much money for what they do? Which ones arrive at the public trough with little or nothing to show for their slight effort to make an appearance?

The issue is not, ultimately, about big government versus small government.

It’s only about good government.

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