Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Peace and Peacekeeping

I am proud of Canada's role as a peacekeeping nation. Yes, we have soldiers who (regrettably) understand how to fight a war, but our major role post-WWII has seemed to be in maintaining and even trying to create peace.

Why is it that when you go to the Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces (DND/CF) website and click on the site map, you cannot find any mention of the word 'peace' and 'peacekeeping'?

I think this is something that needs correcting. DND/CF should have a Desk of Peace Studies or a Directorate of Peacekeeping.

Bad Branding

Sent this in the to Telegraph Journal today. I don't know what will become of it. UPDATE: It was published 4 Feb. - hats off to the TJ.

Kudos to the Telegraph Journal and the university professors for clearly highlighting the Graham government’s branding exercise (‘Perfecting the mantra’, Jan. 30).

As an economists, I teach students that we make trade-offs. Failing to clearly define the meanings of terms such as “self-sufficiency” permits the government to sidestep the trade-off issue by allowing the public to self-define the term.

The same issue is being repeated in the City of Saint John. By labeling the proposed oil refinery, Project Eider Rock, the public is given the impression that we will get economic prosperity and a new nesting ground for ducks. This is a brilliant corporate branding exercise as it suggests there is no trade-off.

In reality, we are being asked to accept another big stinky oil refinery in return for about 5,000 short-term jobs and approximately 1,000 permanent jobs. Ducks are not part of the equation. In fact, duck habitat may be destroyed if there’s a tanker accident in the Bay of Fundy.

Is “The Big Stink” a trade-off the public is willing to make in order to create employment? Are we willing to sacrifice environmental quality, or our public healthcare system, or higher residential electricity rates, or lower wages, or a trade corridor, or higher tuition rates, in order to become “self-sufficient?”

It isn’t my job to answer these questions. It is my job, however, to make sure people understand the trade-offs they are being asked to make.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

His Own Portrait Gallery

This from today's Ottawa Citizen ( Click on the link to see more pictures.

I don't think there's any more I can add.

Harper gallery leaves MPs speechless

Tucked in a cosy lobby of the House of Commons is an homage to the Tory leader, writes Tim Naumetz.

Tim Naumetz, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Citizens who really want a national portrait gallery in Ottawa can rest easy. The government already has one.

All you need to get in is a Commons security pass, a Conservative party membership and a keen desire to view exclusive pictures of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, exclusively.

Conservative MPs confirmed yesterday what Green party leader Elizabeth May and blogger Kady O'Malley reported on their cyberspace sites.

The public won't get to see Stephen Harper's portrait gallery in the House of Commons, and these photos won't be on display there anyway: Mr. Harper and Taiwan's representative, Morris Chang, in Vietnamese silk tunics at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in November 2006...

The public won't get to see Stephen Harper's portrait gallery in the House of Commons, and these photos won't be on display there anyway: Mr. Harper and Taiwan's representative, Morris Chang, in Vietnamese silk tunics at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in November 2006...

Photograph by : Jim Young, Reuters

Photographs of Mr. Harper in various poses, at various sites, are hung throughout the private and cosy government lobby of the House of Commons.

Ms. May and Ms. O'Malley were surprised and a bit speechless when they saw the exhibit recently as guest Commons Speakers during a youth Parliament.

"When you walk in the door, all you see are pictures of Stephen Harper," said Ms. May

"I'd say between every window, in every available space of the wall, at eye level, every available space has a photo of Stephen Harper."

"You've got photos of Stephen Harper, but not of previous prime ministers," she added. "Photos of Stephen Harper in different costumes, in different settings, dressed as a fireman, in Hudson Bay looking for polar bears, meeting the Dalai Lama, even the portrait of the Queen had to have Stephen Harper, but in a candid, behind her."

A press aide to Mr. Harper said he would get back with an explanation, but didn't.

The exposition might not be too surprising, though.

The prime minister's official Christmas card last December portrayed Mr. Harper looking out a living room window adorned with 24 photographs, small to large, of Mr. Harper in various poses.

When the party last year unveiled its election campaign war room, Mr. Harper stared out from campaign posters on every wall.

NDP MP Paul Dewar, who has never seen the interior of the Conservative lobby room, made a joke based on Mr. Harper's admitted preference for running a tight ship and keeping an eye on things. "If you're ever wondering who's in charge, just look at the wall," said Mr. Dewar.

Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger said the Liberal lobby has always displayed portraits of previous prime ministers, even cabinet ministers.

One Conservative said the Harper photos have been up for at least three months.

Another, Calgary MP Deepak Obhrai, was a bit reluctant after question period to talk about the exhibit, possibly because another Tory, Secretary of State Jason Kenney, happened to be walking by just at that moment.

"Well, this is the Harper government," said Mr. Obhrai.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Stoffer in NB for victims of Agent Orange

Once again, the Harper government has fallen short on one of its many promises to Canadians. Today NDP Member of Parliament and Veterans' Affairs critic Peter Stoffer was in Oromocto, along with representatives from the Canadian Agent Orange Association, to call out Harper's government on its failure to adequately compensate victims of the many toxic defoliants which were sprayed at CFB Gagetown.

It is interesting to note that the Minister of Veterans' Affairs, Greg Thompson, himself a New Brunswick MP, has made so little progress on this file given his comments in 2005 when he was in Opposition. Harper's inaction highlights the true agenda when it comes to the military - it's about war and the machines of war and not the people left behind after the fighting is over.

These victims, mostly former members of our armed forces and their families, deserve respect and dignity for their service and sacrifice to our country, yet Harper's government will not compensate them for the long term damages that they have suffered.

This is shameful! Thankfully an NDP MP takes up the torch when Harper and his government failed.

Save Money and the Environment

Whenever I go to Saint John, I have to take the ferry.

People, I know it is cold in the winter and hot in the summer but when waiting in line and while travelling on the ferry please turn off your car. I've heard it said that it is cheaper to turn off your car than to idle for one minute.

If you can't think of the environment, at least think of your wallet (with gas at a $1+ a litre the annual savings are substantial).

Please stop idling at the ferries.

(I hope to have an update on this project in the next little while).

Again Afghanistan

Today we hear of yet another Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan. Our thoughts are extended to both this soldier's at home family and military family, and to the many that grieve such a loss.

I have been told of a person in the area who at one point in his career found himself in Afghanistan teaching the freedom fighters from Afghanistan how to build IEDs in order to fight back the Russian army. Seems a little ironic. I hope to interview him one day soon.

Harper's hand-picked Afghanistan panel (led by the hawkish Manley who was the Liberal Deputy Prime Minister in Jean Chretien's government) has criticized the Canadian role in Afghanistan yet also called for an open-ended military committment to the effort.

It is the wrong war, led by people who, in my opinion, have a misguided sense of Canada. Indeed the men and women on the ground are doing their best to help a damaged and broken people, but our efforts are misplaced. While critics pan the idea of leaving Afghanistan, the real issue in my mind is should we have gone there in the first place? In my opinion, our motives for moving into Afghanistan were misguided (or largely guided by Bush and Cheney's policy - which is the same thing) so leaving is the responsible thing to do. Then we can refocus and ask some real questions. How should we deal with Afghanistan? Should we be expending our efforts in the Darfur region?

While Harper's government has generally done a poor job on the Afghanistan file (but a pretty good job at spinning the mission) there has been one small success. Today we find out that even Harper has to agree that Canadian-held Afghan detainees handed over to Afghani forces are subject to torture. Apparently a decision has finally been made to halt the transfer of Afghan detainees to local forces. This change in orders was made almost a month ago, but did not come to light until just recently as two human rights groups prepared to take Harper's government to court. I wonder how much money (some of it from taxpayers) was wasted on lawyers and filings when Harper could have made an announcement weeks ago?

Finally, I applaud the ethical stance of the many engineers who have quit their jobs because of the potential sale of MDA makers of the Canadarm (an uncle of mine worked on the original) to US-owned ATK. We are told that among the many military products ATK makes are cluster bombs, depleted uranium rounds, nuclear weapons, and land mines. I hope that Harper's government see's the light on this issue, but I worry that they may try to hide behind NAFTA or some other ruling to accomplish their ideological ends.

Now that I think of it, maybe we should start referring to Harper as "w" or "lil' dubya"!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Strike Back at Excess

I pass on this suggestion from a friend. It is a very small way to get back at corporations that sell us stuff we don't need. I have never had a problem with this technique, but please experiment carefully.

Homemade Microwave Popcorn

1 bag of bulk popcorn
1 paper sandwich bag
  1. Pour about 1 cm of popcorn kernels into the sandwich bag (so the bottom is just covered)
  2. Fold down the top 1cm of the bag (to close the top)
  3. Fold it down again
  4. Dog-ear the two corners of the bag (this keeps the bag closed but not tightly sealed)
  5. Place bag on its side in microwave and hit the Popcorn button (or pop as long as you would normally pop a regular bag of microwave popcorn)
Happy munching without weird noxious chemicals and without all the extra packaging.

Media release re: Refinery Proposal

Fundy Royal NDP Candidate Rob Moir renews call for full Federal assessment of proposed 2nd oil refinery project

23 JANUARY 2008

The Fundy Royal NDP has reiterated its call for a full Federal Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed 2nd oil refinery in Saint John. Prime Minister Harper's Minister of the Environment, John Baird, has refused to conduct the assessment - despite demands to do so from throughout the province. So far, Harper's decision has left the majority of the proposal under the complete discretion of Provincial environmental authorities. The federal government's ruling is currently the subject of a court case filed by Ecojustice (formerly the Sierra Legal Defence Fund).

This is irresponsible according to NDP Candidate and economist Rob Moir. "Premier Graham's Liberal Government has come out in support of the refinery project on several occasions. We cannot now expect this Liberal government to conduct an impartial review when it is so clearly behind the project as an integral part of its 'energy hub' concept," Moir explains. "A Federal assessment is required to provide oversight and objectivity to the process in order to alleviate some of these concerns."

Recent decisions by Graham's government have caused concern in the environmental community. "[NB Minister of Environment] Haché's weak response on the arsenic issue in Grand Lake, and the limited response of the Department of Environment to the recent improper transfer of pet coke incident in Saint John," cites Moir, "clearly indicate a weak environmental agenda."

The refinery will have significant environmental impacts on the Fundy Royal riding as well as the entire Atlantic region. "Fundy Royal residents are among the most affected by the residual pollution of the current refinery. They deserve to have a voice in any decision that is made," Moir says. "It is the Federal government's responsibility to ensure that all stakeholders are considered in such a review. In Fundy Royal and beyond, there are areas that will not see significant economic benefits from this new refinery - yet these residents are being forced to live with the environmental consequences."

"I've written to the Federal Government regarding the benzene, xylenes, methyl ethyl ketone, toluene, ethyl benzene, 2,2,4-trimethylpentane, hexane, cresols, MTBE, naphthalene, and phenol emissions that are continuously released into the air during the refining process," says Dr. Moir, "but have had little response. Many of these chemicals are listed as priority 'toxic' substances in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act of 1988," continues Moir. "I don't see how Environment Canada and the Federal Government can ignore their duties in this matter." Moir calls on our Federal elected members - specifically in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia - to stand up and represent the concerns of their constituents, rather than submit to the will of industry. "It is clearly in the best interest of all citizens that a full Federal Panel Review of all operations of any proposed refinery be conducted," concludes Moir. "It is the responsibility of our Members of Parliament to ensure the integrity of this process."

- #### -

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The BUSINESS of Government

I used to think that the primary reason for a government was to ensure that the welfare of its citizenry is provided for. Left or Right, dictator or democracy, the idea was that the government would somehow try to look out for the best interest of its citizenry.

Relectantly I have come to the opinion that many of our recent governments have adopted a role more akin to creative marketing. An agenda is developed and a marketing campaign is launched. This shift in government has tracked the development of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism. [Please do not be sidetracked by "liberalism" and "conservatism" which have roots in political science, not popular terminology.]

I've spoken on the radio a few times about this issue.

We are seeing this reality take place in New Brunswick. There's a fair amount of information and speculation that the marketing firm Hill and Knowlton may have been hired by interests in our province to market the energy hub concept. While I am sure that this company has a number of successes, a quick "Googling" of their name will show that some of these so-called "successes" have been in areas that people would call questionable.

Take a look at the "self-sufficiency" agenda. What does it mean? Has the government ever sat down, carefully defined the concept, and provided clear and measurable criteria by which we can judge success? Or, has the government used the term over-and-over, launching it into public usage so we can define the term for ourselves? Once we've defined the term as individuals, this government will enact policy in the name of self-sufficiency, and we'll blindly follow along.

Consider this hypothetical example: A company makes it known that studies show bouncy and shiny hair is associated with business and relationship success; bouncy hair makes your head lighter which allows it to be carried higher, thereby projecting a self-assured outlook on life. It has been shown that success will follow. The company then waits two months before announcing a new shampoo, Lustrous Life, that will give your hair that bounce and shine you need.

You see what I mean.

We need to be "self-sufficient" and to undergo "transformational change" because "the status quo is not an option." This is right out of marketing 101. Watch our governments and see how often they use these buzz phrases. I wanted to, and maybe still will, send these into CBC's SHIFT as jargon phrases I wish could be flushed down the toilet.

I was inspired to write this down because of what I read in a recent issue of Utne Reader. They note that Hill and Knowlton have been called upon to globally market the nuclear power industry (and who is on the line to refurbish a nuclear power plant and build possible one or two more?). Suddenly "studies show" that additional nuclear power is the only possible solution to climate change and global warming. Studies are great, but be careful when they have not been subjected to peer-review. (Frank Luntz and others tried to discredit the idea of climate change and global warming with "studies" showing it wasn't true, and newspapers kept citing the existence of such "studies", but within the peer-reviewed literature, the evidence for climate change was virtually unanimous - despite what Bush and Harper wanted to believe.) (Luntz has advised Harper's party.)

Well, this is more of a rant than an essay with a purpose. However, these thoughts have led me to make the following personal resolution:

It is no longer Project Eider Rock (which would be a nice place for ducks to nest), or the second oil refinery (which makes the project neutral), but rather "A Big Stinky Oil Refinery" which we can shorten to "The Big Stink."

NB Woodlot Management

I wrote this letter to the premier, not just because I am an interested citizen, but as a woodlot owner. While I stressed provincial issues, I think there is a very important federal role in the whole issue - we do not tax raw log exports. If Harper really wanted to help us, then rather than giving Canadians $1 billion after-the-fact ($30 million for NB), he'd work to limit raw log exports. That would stop a foreign-owned company from coming to Canada and cutting (Crown) wood here because its own government has put stringent and enforced harvesting practises at home. It would stop foreign-owned multinational companies from taking grants, loans, write-downs, and other government subsidies out of the hands of Canadians and then leaving (with the capital) when government sources of funds dry up. It would put New Brunswickers and Canadians back to work and contribute to a more reasonable woodlot management plan.

For those interested in the issue of forestry management and private woodlots, I'd recommend checking out the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners and The Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

28 Nov. 2007

Dear Premier Graham;

I am writing to you as a concerned private woodlot owner and as an economist. I am very worried about the management of our crown forests and the impact this is having upon private woodlot management and sustainability.

I find it deeply distressing, both as a private woodlot owner and as an economist, to see crown timber resources used to compete against private timber. Even more disturbing is the growing market power of timber buyers who are capitalizing on harvesting rights from crown land. The combination of a growing oligopsony in mills and competition from crown wood has severely hurt private woodlot owners.

Since early 2006 we saw mill closures resulting in the loss of 1.4 million m3 of milling capacity. In 2006-07, private woodlot harvest dropped to its lowest level in a decade – 1.3 million m3 – a drop of almost 524,000 m3 from last year. In the same period, Crown Land harvest increased to its highest level, 5.4 million m3 – an increase of about 882,000 m3. Thus, in a year where we saw mill capacity decrease by 1.4 million m3, we have witnessed a provincial net harvest increase of 358,000 m3, driven by increased Crown timber harvests. This is neither fair nor does it make economic sense. Indeed, when one recalls the lost mill capacity of this past year, one questions where all the extra harvest has even gone.

I feel it is important that your government, and all future governments, publicly recognize that all New Brunswickers, present and future, are co-owners of crown resources. As such, it is New Brunswickers that confer upon a government the right to manage these resources with public interest in mind. I remind you that since 1992, there has been a call upon the government to treat private wood as the primary source of wood fibre harvest with crown wood forming the residual supply. Moreover, the idea of equitable market access for private wood has been the policy of the Liberal Party of New Brunswick.

If your government is really interested in an agenda of self-sufficiency and sustainability, I strongly urge you to create a wood fibre market that has equitable access for both private and Crown Land wood fibre. I look forward to your government’s earliest response.


Dr. Rob Moir, Professor of Economics
NDP Candidate, Fundy Royal

CC: Jeannot Volpé (Leader of the Official Opposition), Roger Duguay (Leader of the New Brunswick NDP), Hon. Donald Arsenault (Minister of Natural Resources), Keith Ashfield (Natural Resource Critic), Hon. Roland Haché (Minister of the Environment), Wayne Steeves (Albert), Hon. Eugene McGinley (Grand Lake-Gagetown), Bev Harrison (Hampton-Kings), Bruce Northrup (Kings East), Hon. Wally Stiles (Petitcodiac), Hon. Mary Schryer (Quispamsis), Bruce Fitch (Riverview), Hon. Roly MacIntyre (Saint John East), Hon. Stuart Jamieson (Saint John Fundy), New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners, SNB Wood Co-op Ltd.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Tragedy in Bathurst

To the many affected by the recent tragic highway deaths in Bathurst, we grieve with you and for you. We hope through the pain that the celebration of life finds a way to continue as that is the best way we can honour those who have passed away.

Our deepest condolences.

Another Take on the Bailout

This is an Archived Post. Click here to visit the most recent content

I saw versions of Mr. Steeves letter regarding Harper's billion dollar bailout (enticement) in both the
Telegraph Journal (Jan. 16) and the Times & Transcript (Jan. 17). I asked for his permission to post it on the blog and he sent me the original version which appears below with links.

To the editor:

Given the way Stephen Harper's billion dollar 'bail-out' for the forestry industry plays, I think I would prefer Gilles Duceppe as Prime Minister of Canada. At least, with Duceppe, everyone would know that he represents his own province's interests first. And Canada's second.

And I'm almost as angry with Shawn Graham and a variety of opposition federal Members of Parliament who are now pondering over whether to accept a bad deal (with a few bucks upfront) or to face really tough times (without the few bucks).

The Harper billion should be rejected. For a variety of reasons. Most of all, because it's as bad a deal for Canada and New Brunswick as anything that Brian Mulroney and Karlheinz Scheiber may (or may not) have dreamed up.

Unless I misunderstand the concept, the billion is supposed to alleviate the social and economic problems faced by 'one-industry' towns (especially forestry towns) faced with mill and plant closures. As such, I would think that resource communities in forestry-dependent provinces such as New Brunswick, Quebec, northern Ontario and British Columbia would be targeted for special attention. Instead, the deal rates the provinces on a 'by population basis. The Harper billion will be divided among the provinces by a 'per capita' formula.

Which means, among other things, that Alberta will get about three times as much money as New Brunswick. And almost as much as British Columbia.

Asked about this, Harper correctly pointed out that Alberta does have a forestry industry that is hurting. He failed to point out that Alberta's forestry centres such as Grande Prairie are not 'one-industry' burgs: they also have thriving economies reliant on both agriculture and oil and gas.

The Prime Minister also accurately noted that Alberta deserves money because it is becoming the front-line in the battle to stop the very real threat of the mountain lodgepine beetle. He failed to also note that, when (and if) Ottawa decides to kick in money for the battle
against the beetle, few Canadians would object if that money is spent where it belongs. In Alberta!

Which brings me to my main point. If this billion is supposed to help Canadians in need, it should be directed at the people who need it. The people of Dalhousie and Miramichi. Or Dryden and Fort Frances, Ontario. Or LaTuque, Quebec, and Port Alberni, British Columbia.

In other words, this federal money should be targeted at a specific problem It should not be handed over, with basically no strings attached, to provincial governments that 'can' (I am not saying will) spend it any bloody way they want.

Of course, my concerns are based on the premise that Harper is trying to help people in need. If that's his plan, it won't work.

If, in fact, his program is designed to encourage regional rivalries in a fractious nation while at the same time weakening federalism, I think he's bang-on.

I have my own theories. I've read his Montreal speech (
and his Alberta ''firewall' letter ( ).

As I said, I think I would prefer Gilles Duceppe as Prime Minister. I wouldn't agree with him. But I don't think he would pretend that he had suddenly stopped being a separatist.

John Steeves

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Our "Mission"

This is an Archived Post. Click here to visit the most recent content

There's a whole lot I feel called to blog about these days, so expect a number of entries.

To date, 77 Canadian soldiers and one Canadian diplomat have sacrificed their lives for, what I believe to be, a misguided mission in Afghanistan. Countless more have been injured both physically and psychologically. While I blame two successive governments and a number of senior military staff for the wrongheadedness of our approach, I think our men and women on the ground our doing the best that they can given what they have been told to do. I'll happily chat over my reasoning if people are interested, but I want to comment on recent actions more close to home.

On 16 Jan. 2008, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying "I'm worried we're deploying [military advisors] that are not properly trained and I'm worried we have some military forces that don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations. ... Most of the European forces, NATO forces, are not trained in counterinsurgency; they were trained for the Fulda Gap [a region in Germany]."

77 people lost in a combat role in a war with tactics (mis)guided by the Bush administration against a force that is constantly recharged and refueled by Bush's unilateral and illegal war in Iraq, and Gates has the audacity to claim that our NATO troops, and consequently Canadian soldiers, aren't trained and aren't ready.

Can anyone be ready for the help of an "ally" who creates more of the "enemy"?

Worse yet, our own Defence Minister Peter MacKay has worked hard to excuse Gates' comments in the Canadian Press (Times & Transcript, 17 Jan. 2008, C1) arguing that Canada was not singled out as one of the NATO participants in Afghanistan. Given Prime Minister Harper's careful control of his Ministers' comments to the media, one can only link this comment back to Mr. Harper himself.

Why is Canada's foreign policy so dictated by the Bush regime, when it is a regime that is thankfully about to be turfed?

Mr. Bush and Mr. Harper, I am still a Canadian and proud to be one!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Media perceptions...

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Last night's episode of Politics with Don Newman on CBC Newsworld highlighted an all-too common issue related to the media coverage of the NDP in this country.

Jack Layton appeared as a guest on the show and had to answer to Newman's claim that there was a "rift" within the party regarding the "Harper Billion Dollar Offer" to the provinces. The Federal party's position is clear: This hand out is insignificant compared to the damage that Harper's corporate tax cuts and softwood lumber deal have had on our economy as a whole. The billion dollar bail-out only reinforces the NDP's belief that they have mismanaged the economy during their term, and they cannot be trusted to continue with this fiscal policy in the next budget, despite this $1 billion 'goodwill gesture'.

Unfortunately, this supposed "rift" arises because Manitoba Premier Gary Doer supports the handout. What the CBC (and other media outlets) are missing is that Gary Doer, as Premier of Manitoba is answering to those that elected him, the citizens of Manitoba. While there are certainly provincial arguments supporting and opposing his position, his decision is made from a completely different perspective than that of the Federal party. The National wing of the party looks at the net benefits received by all Canadians, not just an individual province.

This is common sense to the media, it seems, when the other two parties are involved. The recent "cozying up" of Shawn Graham and Harper goes unnoticed, or is even praised as "smart politicking". You do not see the media perpetuating a false agenda and highlighting a "rift" between the provincial and federal wings of the Liberal party. There is no criticism or questioning of Stephane Dion's leadership when a Liberal Premier supports a Harper initiative. For the most part, Provincial and Federal governments are viewed as largely separate entities, with only slight ties to their counterparts in other jurisdictions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Newfoundland and Labrador, where Conservative premier Danny Williams is supporting the "ABC" (Anybody but Conservative) ticket in the upcoming Federal election.

This current issue regarding Doer and Layton's stances does not reflect any wedge in NDP unity, or a loosening of party solidarity, like the so-called "liberal" media would like to try and suggest. It is simply a case of "what is good for one is not in the best interests of all". It happens all the time, at all levels of government and in every party. The news media knows this, and has a duty to treat the NDP as it would the other parties, instead of manufacturing controversy and holding us to a different standard.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Harper's Mini-Marshall Plan

This is an Archived Post. Click here to visit the most recent content

Happy New (Democratic) Year everybody! I trust that the holidays went well from you.

WARNING - Beware of eager Prime Minister's bearing gifts!

Yesterday, in a prelude to today's First Ministers' supper, Mr. Harper came to New Brunswick to announce a $1 billion package to help communities adjust to recent job losses. It makes sense to have the announcement in New Brunswick - Shawn Graham is busy trying to appease Harper in order to gain future favours, Graham is the chair of the First Ministers' group, and New Brunswick has been hit hard with significant losses in the forestry industry. Why Harper chose to make the announcement at a busy mill near Fredericton in Minister Greg Thompson's (CPC) riding when he could have gone to an impacted area in another part of the province, I don't know. I guess he had his reasons.

A billion dollars is a lot of money, but I have issues.

First, one would (and indeed, should) expect that our Prime Minister was well aware of the problem before it reached this level. With trusted advisors and his much-touted Economics degree behind him, couldn't he have seen the problem developing: what with the poorly handled softwood lumber deal, the monumental financial failure of US subprime mortgages, crisis in the asset-backed commercial paper throughout North America, a failure of US foreign policy, rising US government debt due to poor foreign and domestic policy, to mention a few? The rise in the Canadian dollar speaks not so much to the strength of the Canadian economy, but to economic decline in the US. Indeed, now key economists in the US are talking of recession. Given the importance of our exports to the US market and our government's almost-worship of all things American, the combination of a high dollar and a US recession will most certainly hurt our manufacturing and resource-export industries. In fact, we are now seeing an overall loss in jobs in both Canada and in New Brunswick (CBC Report). Why then, did Harper wait this long to formulate this "plan"?

Second, if this is really an issue about the Canadian economy, if Harper is really standing up for the regular people in Canada (recall the Tim Horton's versus Starbucks commentary), then he must realize that this is an economic issue and that the economy lasts longer than any one political party. Why then did he tie this adjustment spending to Opposition support of his spring budget? Why did he choose to wait to make this announcement the day before his supper with the First Ministers? I don't think it is reasonable to play politics with people's livelihoods!

Third, we should know that this is $1 billion for the whole economy including a fixed transfer of $10 million to each province and an additional transfer based on population - and this is spread over 3 years. New Brunswick may get $30 million over 3 years. I've read that the salary loss at the AbitibiBowater mill alone is $24 million annually. The salary losses in the auto industry in Ontario alone are probably more than $1 billion annually. More peculiar perhaps, is that booming Alberta will likely get more money than New Brunswick. (Then again, Mr. Harper is from Alberta, he has a lot of friends in the oil industry in Alberta, and he did sign the "Alberta First" letter in 2001 - which makes him Canada's first separatist Prime Minister by the way!)

I'm also concerned on a different level. New Brunswick has seen this sort of aimless bailout before. The temporary success has normally come from a significant transfer of resources to a large forestry company who set-up shop for as long as it can arrange for government help. It sounds a lot like McKenna's call-centre job creation strategy.

I had a discussion with a news producer today, and we both asked the same question, "If this money is for "retraining," then what exactly are we retraining people for?" Indeed, what is Harper's concept of the new-and-better Canadian economy, and more germane to us, what is Graham's idea? Saying we'll be "self-sufficient" and that we'll see strong growth in the north does not mean it will magically happen.

We need direction. Should we look at retraining and relocation as a method of dealing with the projected labour shortage in southern NB? If we really want to develop the north, why don't we consider sending some of the natural gas from Sussex northwards? Should the north look into tourism and eco-tourism? Can we use some of this funding to invest in literacy programs that saw funding cuts because of Harper's earlier decisions? Can the Natural Resource Minister sit down with the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners and workers from the forestry industry to see what plans might develop? Can we use this funding to provide tax breaks for individuals willing to invest in new community-based business initiatives?

We don't know, and Graham doesn't seem to want to tell us. Instead, we are told that some of the money Harper will give us (if only the Opposition supports him) may even be used to improve broadband internet access. Great news, except that at $40/month for service, it likely wouldn't be high on my list of necessary services if I had no job!

We want leaders, but we are infested with politicians. AHHHHHHH!

Other news:

Keep the members of STU Faculty and CUPE workers at NBCC in your thoughts as they walk the picket lines.

On an issue we raised a while ago, it seems that there will be a probe into the unfortunate death of Ashley Smith, a Moncton native whose death is linked to her time in an Ontario prison (CBC Report). We have to realize that prison is not necessarily the appropriate method of caring for people who suffer from mental illness.