Rees' Pieces

December 2009 - H1N1 & Education Problems

There have been times choosing a subject for this column has been a difficult task. This month has been one of them. Throughout the month, it appeared the preferred topic would be the H1N1 delivery fiasco.

After careful consideration, this month’s space will occupy two subjects, H1N1 and our education system.

H1N1 has occupied everyone’s mind; so much so, people are getting weary just hearing about it. The entire matter has taken on “the sky is falling” syndrome.

There are four groups of people for whom compassion should be noted.

First, families who have suffered loss of a loved one, or suffered several illness. Secondly, thousands who were forced to stand in line for hours to get punctured by a needle. Thirdly, employers facing loss or productivity from those who are ill or those standing in line so they don’t become ill.

Last, but not least, are the front line people who have been staffing the clinics and puncturing our arms and facing wrath of the public.

Give governments their credit. They are adept at creating a stampede.

They’ve put enough fear in us, that we stampeded into long lineups for 5-6 hours without assurance we would get vaccinated that day. Let’s hope, we never suffer a real emergency or massive disaster. The wheels of government failed and failed drastically to adequately get us vaccinated without a lot of hassle.

They tried to re-invent the wheel. To set up clinics, and have them staffed, why didn’t they call upon Elections Canada to use their infrastructure? Elections Canada has demonstrated it is capable of handling us when we stampede to the polls on one day.

The Elections Canada machinery could have been used to set up clinics at each of the poll locations, get qualified people from the local area to work the “front end”. Local residents could easily have been trained to handle the admissions, while medically qualified people could have punctured us.

The Elections Canada database could have been used to send us mailings specifying where the clinics were located in our area, and when we should appear. No privacy would have been breached, and the matter handled with much less fuss and confusion. And it probably would have been less expensive.

I decided not to use the entire space on H1N1 as I was starting to have cynical thoughts. It crossed mind that perhaps the total focus on H1N1 might have been an attempt to cause us not to think about the economy and the lack of political leadership which if functioning properly would see us all employed and well at the same time.

Now, onto more comments about our education system.

Last month’s column, which is not the first opinion piece questioning our education system, seems to be the leader of the pack in current discussions. Education and its outcomes for younger and older students is a subject debated for decades, but with little more of an outcome than lip service.

No sooner had last month’s column got into the public’s hands, and Stephen Lund, CEO, Nova Scotia Business Inc, opened the can of worms even wider during his address to Truro Chamber of Commerce members.

Lund told the Truro CoC attendees our education system is letting students down. Almost concurrently, Elizabeth Beale, President and CEO of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council concluded in her paper to the Economic Advisory Panel report to Nova Scotia Government the improving adult literacy will be “key stimulus to increasing productivity”.

Then, Roger Taylor in his November 12th column in the Chronicle Herald added more fuel to the fire, by adding his comments to the Lund and Beale revelations.

Beale’s comments about the need and only lip service being paid becomes reality in West Colchester with the problems being faced by the Colchester Adult Learning Association (CALA) in their attempt to deliver adult learning program in Great Village.

Program funding for the dozen or so adult students has been cut so drastically, formalized instruction has been cut in half; instructors are volunteering services or expenses, travel and childcare subsidy for students is slashed. To keep going, the program needs the $20,000.00 cut from the budget reinstated.

November 2009 - Are students challenged?

There are several things about our education system I find disturbing. Those concerns might play a significant role to the “root cause” why North America is dropping in Global rankings on the education stage.

A decline in rankings, regardless of the magnitude of the comparative analysis, should be a wake-up call for everyone, especially educators and those who pay the bills. When surveys about education are released “special interest” groups dispute the findings, or say it the model does not apply to our situation.

Perhaps first question I would raise would be: “Is our education system challenging the student? I anticipate the answer would be no way or not enough.

Second question, “Why do we not hear about more students repeating another year because they failed?” Is it because all students are bright, or does not failing students camouflage weaknesses in the educators and make the system look good?

Many professors complain students enter university/ college with less than required reading and math skills. Why?

President Obama is on record as wanting a students spending more time each day in the classroom, plus a longer school year. Sure such actions, regardless if in USA or rural Nova Scotia would cost more money. Spending more money might not be a bad thing, as long as the desired outcome is achieved.

North America will continue to lose jobs, and over time suffer a lower standard of living if we don’t start overhauling education systems. An improved education system will also bring improvements in the general health of our population. Education and health are intertwined and both benefit if managed and delivered properly.

Obtaining the desired outcome to education negotiations is nothing more than a power struggle, between professionals, who want a greater package, and government trying to keep a lid on spending. Seldom do the parents/ guardians get opportunity for their individual small voices to be heard. However, that must change.

When agreements are reached it signifies a negotiated settlement, not what is best for the population as a whole.

As a start Nova Scotia, preferably Canada, needs one set of exams to measure how well the education system is working. To those who oppose, please tell us why?

First step is universal curriculum. If laid out in the teachers manual, each educator would know exactly what to teach. Provincial exams should be held on the same day province-wide. The exam for all grades should be no more than one hour, covering the total curriculum.
The purpose is not to add pressure students, but for each school board, or individual school to have a measuring stick to access the quality of delivery. In guessing some of the results, I would bet my money schools in smaller areas would far outshine larger complexes.

Sure it would pit school against school, or board against board, but soon, parents and government would know the strengths and weaknesses. Within five years, we would see significant changes, including higher marks across the province because all of a sudden it was competitive environment.

A province wide exam is one litmus test which can be implemented for very little cost. Design of the exam is critical. Retired educators would be asked or “volunteered” to serve as markers. And yes, they can be volunteered, in the same way as we must show up for jury duty.
You might think these and other suggestions are harsh. Perhaps so, however, “tough love” is the best place to start. Not just on the students, but classroom educators, their bosses right up to senior staff and Minister of Education.

Parents must be become involved as well. They must get involved in their child’s education and demand a certain outcome.

Do we want to risk our children’s future by entering university with a grade six reading level or be under educated in math? What instrument do we have to measure the quality of education are children are receiving? To my knowledge there is no instrument to measure outcome. Hence no accountability.

Summary: Our students are not challenged, because they know they will go on to the next grade regardless of how much or how little work they do.

October 2009 - Living Beyond Our MeansRee's Pieces in pdf format...

I always try to be positive, and rarely do I get on my “high horse”, but recently several things have occurred, which causes me to conclude, we have our priorities in the wrong place.

If we are in our sixties, we need only to think back to the stories related to us by our parents about life during the dirty 30’s. If we are under 50, we need to reflect on the life of our grandparents during the World War I or life in the 20’s and then the destructive 30’s.

After accessing what they told us, we need to understand why they were so frugal, resourceful and in some cases hide money in the mattress. Yet even though family fortunes were lost in the “Great Depression”, they were able to rebound, amassing sizable family estates. Their hard work, dedication to family, and acquiring their own property accounted for the successes they were able to pass along to Siblings.

In the translations from generation to generation a significant amount has been lost. Primarily these losses would include: work ethic, dedication to saving, living within our means, and expectations of what is due to us.

The depression was particularly sorrowful because there was little in the way of “social safety nets”. Thank heavens, our socialization has introduced safety nets, but they have come at a human price.

The safety nets have taught us to strive for more, and not worry about the future, because if the economy or we falter, we will be saved. In fact we have come to expect the safety nets will maintain our lifestyle and we don’t need to make any sacrifices.

We’ve lost the desire or ability to fend for ourselves, and if “we can’t make it”, then government and society must “maintain us in the life to which we have become accustomed”.
As one wonders if we are living beyond our means, the time is appropriate to do some self analysis.

Even though the world has been involved in an economic meltdown for the past year, we are still clamouring to “get more” and fail to realize all these wants must be paid back, and often at a time we can ill afford.

The provincial budget introduced last Thursday proves the point.

Here we are, as families or a community, struggling each month to keep our head above water and we persist in “wanting more” and blaming our elected officials if we don’t get it.
It doesn’t make a bit of difference if we are talking about municipal, provincial or federal representatives.

Let me use this point to illustrate how we have faltered.

Since the turn of the decade, basically starting in 2003 until last year, Nova Scotia has been enjoying hundreds of millions of dollars annual as Royalty taxes from natural gas. Did we contact elected officials and ask them to “save for a rainy day”? No we wanted the money squandered on things we could have done without.

Some will disagree with me. However, if it had not been for natural gas, how would we have lived? What would we have done?

We can always blame government and the public service for a lot of things. However, we certainly can’t blame them for spending the money.

We’ve trained them that if they don’t give us what we want, we’ll vote them out of office at the first opportunity. So in order for them to keep their jobs, they must succumb to our wishes.

Nova Scotians must make radical changes in their “wish list” and now is the time to start. We have a majority government so it should be four years before we head back to the polls.
In the meantime, as voters, we need to deliver a message to all elected officials: We’ll vote you out of office if you don’t reduce government expenditures: Spend only on necessities; don’t give any wage increases to the public sector; ensure everyone lives within their means.
If the nearly one million of us adopt this attitude, within a decade, we would be one of the most prosperous provinces in Canada. We have the resources and we should not give them away.

September 2009 - New Activities Needed

For many years, I’ve tried to encourage volunteers in small communities to look beyond expending their efforts simply for maintenance of buildings or other short-term crisis.

The more I travelled, the more I began to realize I have been on the right page for many years. The coastal area encompassed by Advocate Harbour along the shore to Truro has so many undeveloped assets, that it is amazing. It is those assets that cause “tourists” to really enjoy the time spent in the area.

The problem with suggesting to volunteers and community groups is they are already overloaded and with dwindling numbers far too few are doing too much of the work. However if they are going to significantly improve the economy they must find a way to work on events which attract large crowds and can make money, and pay wages.

Two types of community events which seem to be a big hit are motorcycle rallies and music weekends. The more interesting ones I’ve seen are ones hosted by small rural communities.
Events of these types are important because they bring a lot of people to the area causing economic spin-offs for every type of business to benefit.

Let me give you a few samples.

At the end of June we attended the Shediac Flea Market, previously known as the Moncton Flea Market. Attendance was hampered by heavy rain showers on each of the four days, but the vendors were there, and ready to sell. Even though it rained, there were still about 15,000 people paying to enter the selling grounds. A successful private sector event operated by two married couples.

In mid-July it was a “Newfie” weekend at Stewiacke River Park. There must have been over 500 travel trailers, RV’s, and tents. People who have attended regularly indicated only about half of the normal crowd was there. The event is a family owned initiative.

At the end of July, we attended the first annual Cape Breton BikeFest in Sydney, which attracted approximately 3,000 motorcycles. While in Sydney, we learned about a new event “Rage in the Gage” the first annual motorcycle rally in Gagetown New Brunswick.

The following weekend we were off to Gagetown, as vendors for t-shirts the location was the Queens County Exhibition grounds with rough camping provided in an adjoining field. There were upwards of 1,000 motorcycles, lots of music and plenty of activities provided as the result of a volunteer community organization.

The community of Middle Musquodoboit, which has hosted the Halifax County Exhibition for 125 years attracted 7,500 people on Friday night for a truck pull.

This coming weekend, we are off to Digby to attend the 5th Annual Wharf Rat Rally, which in 2008 attracted 15,000 motorcycles. This year they anticipate 25,000 bikes and a total of 100,000 people over a five day period in a town of 2,000.

The outline of the various events we have attended this summer was not to boast about our travels, but to illustrate some of the events held in small communities very similar to the Cobequid Shore.

To grow tourism, improve the economy, and re-vitalize the Cobequid Shore area a series of similar events need to be organized. For instance Debert Industrial Park and adjacent lands would be an ideal location for a major flea market. Sussex, which I had not mentioned, recently attracted 900 vendors and in the vicinity of 60,000 people over three days. The crowds were down due to an Acadian Festival in Caraquet, which attracted 45,000.

Economy with the Recreation Centre would be an ideal location for a music festival weekend. Parrsboro with its municipal infrastructure could easily host a major event, which could draw up to 20,000 – 25,000 people over a three day weekend.

Just think of the economic spinoffs if several summer events could be organized along the shore. There’s at least 8 possible weekends in July and August.

If Gagetown can do it with rough camping, any community along the shore could easily replicate the efforts. To bring any or all these events to reality, just takes the initiatives of community volunteers.

Will anyone develop a vision to bring some new events to reality for 2010 or 2011?

August 2009 - Are Radiation Emissions Harmful?

I had another column for this month almost completed, when on Sunday evening, I accidentally ended up watching 16 x 9, a documentary on Global television. It immediately captured my attention because it was talking about radiation emissions, which are causing health problems.
The main focus was the small florescent energy efficient light bulbs, which look exactly like the ones promoted during the Christmas season by Nova Scotia Power a couple of years ago. Apparently the main problem is the mercury contained in the bulbs, emits ultra violet rays similar to those from the sun.

I missed the first 10 minutes of the program, but the remainder of the program was enough to motivate me to commit to remove any of the bulbs within the next week.
Several people who had unexplainable health issues were interviewed. Try as they did, the documentary team were unable to even get an interview with the Canadian Minister of Health, but after more than two weeks, were granted an interview. My analysis of the statement made by the government representative is they will conduct some tests and abide by the test results.
During the first few minutes of my viewing, I remembered we used to see signs in restaurants and cooking areas warning pregnant women and those with a pacemaker, a microwave was in use.

Back to the television documentary, one woman interviewed suffers from Lupus, and was further confronted with itching, red blotches, and hive-like welts. The program showed an expert testing one of the bulbs in her bedside table lamp. That particular bulb was emitting at the rate of 800+, when an acceptable level was in the range of 50.

The program further stated there is no legislation or guidelines in Canada on acceptable UV emission standards; however, there is enacted legislation in Britain. Not getting very far in getting answers to their questions form Canadian government authorities, the documentary team looked to Britain for answers.

One British expert explained that people who are super sensitive to light, even those who suffer from migraines, would be more likely to be affected than others who were more resistant. Health problems like Lupus, and other similar ailments, would make a person more susceptible to light, and the bulbs could further aggravate such sensitivities.

In another segment of the program, light bulbs in a horse barn were changed back to the indescant bulbs, when a horse or the horses and staff started suffering unexplained aliments. The camera showed one beautiful horse, and after the commercial, the owner was feeding the horse a handful of grain, and commenting about him/her feeling better.

All of this causes me to wonder, if some of the migraine-suffering students could be connected to lighting in the schools? Are staff, who work long hard hours in the classrooms also suffering the affects from radiation-emitting light fixtures?

With Thomas Edison incasdent light bulbs to be banned from use in 2012, are we going to have a better light bulb, or would our health be better off with a kerosene lamp, or for families to sit in the dark to achieve better health.

How much testing did Nova Scotia Power conduct on the new bulbs before they were promoting in a partnership with the provincial government. If they didn’t do any testing, did they ask for results of research into potential problems?

If results finally show, the new energy efficient bulbs are emitting UV radiation higher than permitted; will Nova Scotia Power be equally aggressive to assist us to change back?
All of this brings to mind a question to which I don’t have an answer. Does dirty electricity exist? Are there potentially harmful side affects from other appliances in hour homes, could the electrical wires coming into our homes be harmful? When I see a “so called” professional testing a regular electrical wall outlet and getting high readings, I have to wonder.

I’m going to try to get a copy of Global’s 16 x 9 Documentary, and then follow up with some professionals I know, as well as ask pertinent questions of professionals within the public service.

I’d be interested in receiving comments from readers, who saw the program, or are knowledgeable about the subject.

July 2009 - The power of Number 7

Wow, times are changing quickly and the pace will continue non-stop for a while.
That makes it difficult for us humans. The one thing we don’t like is change, but adjust we must. Last year has brought about more change than we have seen in the previous decade.
Many times change, although resisted, is good, but very little of what we have been experiencing is not good. In fact it is downright destructive.

A year ago, we were still riding high with over a dozen years of unprecedented growth. The warning signals were there, but we either failed to notice them, or ignored them completely, because we did not want to experience additional change.

If we think back 25-30 years, we experienced economic turmoil in the late 70’s with high interest rates; in the mid-80’s a rocky road appeared again; in the 90’s business economic turmoil was nipping at our heels again.

As we look back, it seems like the folklore tradition that everything happens in seven year cycles. If so, we need to mark our calendar, for when the next period of rapid change, good or bad, besets upon us.

In Canada a bit more than two years ago, Asset Backed Paper Bonds collapsed. Many financial institutions and large volume investors lost the buttons off their shirt, if not, the entire shirt.
Purdy Crawford, formerly of Sobeys fame, headed a government committee to solve the matter. Many institutional investors are still licking their wounds.

It’s now almost two years since other financial products were unable to complete their IPO’s (Initial public offerings). Not wanting to face the music, those failures were blamed on the quality of the products rather than trouble brewing below the surface. Banks started to tighten up lending practices about a year before, most of us realized what was happening.

South of the border the financial meltdown started about 15 months ago, with the sub-prime mortgages, but not many said anything. It’s my belief those who were in the know, or should have known, stayed quiet because of greed. Greed would permit them to strategize how they could reduce their exposure to turmoil.

Of course, greed was not limited to those professionals. It was rampant amongst us normal people. Homeowners were basking in the fact, their property was increasing in value, and they soon would be able to pull out their equity, selling at a high price, enabling them to buy a larger more extravagant property, with very little equity, and do it all over again.

Greed is all that it was. No one should expect to double their money on residential real estate within five years, if they paid fair market value in the beginning. Greed caused many to be blind-to-the-fact, and in come cases it bordered on stupidity.

I, turned 62 last week, and don’t profess to know much about economics, but I’ve been around long enough to know what goes up, eventually comes down, and what is down will eventually go up.

The number seven or its multiples always seems to play a part. If someone has the time to research Canadian life since 1939, look for things (anything, not just financial) happening in cycles of 7, 14 and 21.

For a practice run, make a note of important things in your life regardless of when they happened. Make sure you pick things that are positive and negative. Then see what numerical cycles evolve.

At the beginning I mentioned change and the pace of change. The fact we now have an NDP government is not surprising, when we look at history, and the # 7 principle. What happened recently and how much everyone wanted change is a natural progression.

Governed either by Conservatives or Liberals, many feel neither of them have really done much to effect massive changes in Nova Scotia. In fact, some people quietly blame them for the state we are in.

Demanding change and the economy to be corrected once and for all, people decided to vote for massive political change. I’m not saying Dexter’s NDP will get it correctly, but people voted for change, and now they have it. The proving ground is four years, plus.

June 2009 - Treading Carefully

Writing this month’s version of Rees’ Pieces is like treading water. When treading, you don’t go forward, neither do I wish to put my foot in my mouth, change feet, or do something which will offend people. As long as I can be fair and meaningful, I’ll be happy.

The fact that we have a provincial election on June 9th, makes this one of the harder opinion pieces, I have written for the Shoreline Journal and as equally as hard as many of similar columns, I have written over the years.

In the over 40 years, I have been involved with publications, throughout the Maritimes, I have always strived to ensure several topics were handled carefully. The diligence to ensure care was taken is not just from the editorial side, but also from the slant or perception of a particular slant taken in the stories from a variety of writers.

I started to cut my teeth in journalism and publishing, in the early 60’s, in my hometown of Woodstock, New Brunswick. It was a newer weekly, going up against a much older established paper, which was very political, and also very strong affiliations with the Baptist community.
Management decided if they were going to gain market share, they would have to stay politically neutral and not show religious favourites. How successful that worked impressed me right from the start. From a business perspective, it gave us a good warm feeling to not show favourites, and to be accepted by everyone.

Then as society moved along, around the world, especially in the United States, more attention was being paid to the colour of a person’s skin. A similar level of independence evolved, and in some cases, news was reported as news. Sure we did take some heat for bringing racial issues out into the public, but being fair to all, seemed to be the right thing to do.

Within the past 15-20 years the subject of sexual orientation rose to the surface and started to receive more balanced coverage, and a topic which was discussed at the coffee houses. Sexual orientation, in some ways was the most contentious, but I had matured enough to recognize fairness to all was the best policy.

As a result, when I launched my first publication in 1986, I vowed that these four topics would always be handled with the greatest of cautions. With small communities and a rural lifestyle which exist along the Cobequid Shore, there is nothing which would rile up the readers more than a paper taking a firm stand on any of these subjects.

In last fall’s federal and municipal election, I wrote each candidate and assured them everyone would be treated equally and fairly. I have done the same in this election and it makes me feel good to carry that message to the candidates, political parties, and readers alike.
As a result you will not find me or the Shoreline Journal favouring one party, or candidate over the other. Nor, would I use the privileges, I enjoy as publisher, to cast my personal opinions upon readers.

This issue is the largest issue of the Shoreline Journal in recent history, if not since its beginnings in 1994. While working on the tourism section, which has grown beyond expectations, I have spent a lot of time on the internet trying to find a comprehensive list of festivals and events along the shore for this summer.

I’ll admit I was very disappointed that a lot of church suppers, and events like the renowned Blueberry Festival activities along the shore could not be found. We’ve printed the listings we could find.

So I guess my message to community event organizers is to be sure to plan early and get the message out. If it is our intention to grow tourism along the shore and attract new visitors, we have to give them more reasons to come visit us than good roads, beautiful scenery, or friendly people. They want to attend local events, have us feed them, and to buy our crafts.

Central Nova Tourism has been encouraging people to send in list of events early, so they can be printed in tourism publications, listed on the website, and used to market our areas to a global community, who would like to come visit us.

So next year, let’s make sure we all plan events early. If you don’t know where to send them, send to me, and I will take it upon myself to make the contacts to have events listed free of charge. 

After all, it’s only fair to the large number of volunteers to see many new faces at the events.

May 2009 - It’s Embarrassing

When I was a youngster, Canadians and those who came here to visit wanted to see RCMP officers dressed in their red serge. Back in the 50’s and 60’s the image of an RCMP officer mounted on a sleek looking horse was an icon.

That was Canada. That is what visitors wanted; having their picture taken with an RCMP officer to many was a highlight of their visit to Canada. We felt proud that visitors held them in such high regard.

Oh my, how things have changed.

I’m not sure when it all started, perhaps in the “hippie” days of the 70’s. In that era, teachers still had a leather strap in their desk drawer and knew how to use it. Now we’d get thrown in jail for spanking our own “little monster”, who really needed some correction, and I don’t mean “time out”.

Things have gradually gotten worse, but within the past five years the rate of decline has been racing at break-neck speed. Often many of us complain the judicial system is too soft on criminals. More often than not, many people say law enforcement personnel are too highly paid for what we get in return. But it’s hard to complain about what they do or don’t do, because more often than not, they feel betrayed by the ease at which criminals either get off with a light sentence, or are set free.

RCMP and city police officials were always rated as being in good physical shape and could win any scrap which came their way. But not so in recent times, they seem to be hiding behind the infamous “Tazer”. Watching events evolve in British Columbia makes one wonder if the four constables are telling their own version of the truth, or if they are relating versions which might appear to be protecting a system, which is rotten to the core.

Without a doubt, the honour of being an RCMP constable is not what it once was. I’ve talked to a few of them, and they are down right embarrassed and would get out if they could find a profession which was somewhat equal in pay. Today’s public perception is taking its toll on municipal forces as well.

I don’t know about you, but the number of clerical errors, which have resulted in nearly a dozen criminals being set free is not the image which Nova Scotia should be creating. It didn’t make me feel proud, when the two most recent incidents were included in the national newscast on both CTV and CBC.

Then to have another newscast indicating the problem will be corrected by taping telephone calls, having a supervisor check all documents and adding another “tick-off” box to the already lengthy docket.

How stupid and bureaucratic can we be? Wouldn’t it be much simpler to implement a policy, that if a prisoner is transported to court he or she is to be brought back to the institution in which they have been confined? If they are to be released, let it happen there and they can take their meager belongings with them.

We treat our confined inmates well. They are not tortured. They are well fed, warmer than if they were living on their own, get good medical treatment, perhaps better than those of us who are paying the taxes to house them and to have them supervised with qualified people.
Enough is enough.

It’s time government officials elected or the public service became accountable doing things to protect us who are on the outside; do things in a way which are economical and make us proud of our judicial system.

Catch and Release is fine for the Department of Fisheries, not for criminals, who should be paying their debt to society by having their activities confined and away from us the law abiding public.

Operating a finely tuned, professional judicial system is what, we the public demand and deserve. We expect a government which has a true Minister of Justice. We don’t need a Minister of Catch and Release, in charge of a system, so attractive that Conrad Black is trying to get transferred here.

Stop embarrassing us.

April 2009 - Potholes still here; Recession forgotten

When the weather starts to get spring-like, as it has the past week or so, one starts to think about the three week period when the outdoors looks very drab and dirty, but quickly it changes. Birds start arriving, deer are roaming farther out into the fields, and almost overnight winter is gone.

When I was a toddler, one of the first signs of spring was impassable country roads, when vehicles sank to their axles. Up went a couple of potato barrels and a cedar fence rail, the blockade was in place until the farmer took it down.

We’re in that season now. Fewer birds arrive each year, roadbeds are not pools of mud, but the craters and potholes make the roads almost as impassable or more dangerous. In those days, a team of horses could pull you out or around the impassable areas, now it takes a wrecker and a few hundred repair dollars.

At this stage in our life, after destroying a tire, or bending another rim, on the way to or from work, we arrive at our destination in a depressed state, angry that our highways are in such deplorable condition.

However, residents of West Colchester who travel Highway # 2 are luckier than most. Thanks to the efforts of highway personnel and a lot of credit to Karen Casey, from the Glenholme corner to the bottom of the mountain near the county line, we have great highway.

In fact, Highway # 2 is in better overall condition than many sections of Hwy 104 between Cobequid Pass and Amherst. Hwy #102 Truro to Halifax has sections which are much more difficult to navigate than anything along West Colchester’s # 2.

Regardless of more or fewer potholes, Nova Scotians, or shall I say Atlantic Canadians, are much better off than other parts of this Great Country. Alberta is forecasting a deficit as the economy tumbles, with the price of a barrel of oil plummeting faster than our softwood industry.

Meanwhile Ontario, once the boastful generator of high paid manufacturing jobs, faces trauma similar to fishermen in Newfoundland when the cod disappeared. In the United States 50% of all personal bankruptcies are linked to healthcare costs. Canada is lucky, although wait times might be longer than we want; our families are not driven to financial despair.

For generations, when one sector of our economy failed, or took a nosedive, our heads bobbed above the surface somewhere else. We embraced High Tech; boutique manufacturing, whether it be aerospace or the offshore and tourism initiatives.

Even though we have never experienced the highs, we never got swallowed up in the real depths of a depression. Some say Atlantic Canadians are “bottom feeders”, because our economy has always hovered near the bottom. Our resourcefulness has always seen us through.
We do have two areas of our economy which are very troublesome.

Tourism will suffer the most in the short-term. Alberta’s downturn, Ontario’s abandonment of manufacturing, combined with USA’s sub-prime mortgage meltdown, which lead to a global crisis, simply means a lot of people will not be travelling this year.

We can come to the aid of our fellow operators, if we encourage family and friends to travel within Atlantic Canada.

Education is the one with the largest and longest lasting negative impact. Our demographics have changed. We do not have enough younger people coming into the education system; yet, government is bent on building more and bigger schools. Instead of spending hundreds of millions on new larger schools, why not renovate existing schools and, if necessary, transport some of the students from suburbs to rural high schools instead of students travelling the other way.

Regardless of what all the pundits say, all the money which this provincial government could spend will not rid us of pothole after pothole. I don’t see a time, when our highways will be in a state of repair of which all of us are proud.

Unfortunately, some of the same potholes will be there, long after this recession has become a faint memory and that is what will cause rural communities to crumble. Fix the roads and rural areas will regenerate.

February 2009 - Hope, belief, confidence.

Sure, there are many things wrong with our economy. It’s bad and going to get worse. From an internal perspective, not much of our current situation need to have happened, if during the past year, Canadians had been blessed with astute politicians and media focusing on something other than negativity and an un-needed election.

Granted, I am part of the media and no, I am not shooting myself in the foot. The mainstream media, whether it is print, radio, television or internet blogs spend their time focusing on negativity, whether it is transportation-related accidents, forest fires, earthquakes, sub-prime mortgages, or a meltdown of the stock market.

When is the last time the lead story in any of the media was something positive, a “good news” story about success somewhere on this great earth? Honestly, I can’t remember it ever happening.

Since Labour Day, we have been bombarded with: sub-prime mortgage fiasco in the USA; then $700+-billion bailing out banks and financial institutions. Next in line were the auto manufacturers looking for $34-billion.

No matter how strong our constitution, after a while simple folks like us will commence to lose confidence. We console our thoughts by saying all these high paid people can’t be wrong.
They are correct, I’m wrong; we are heading for a recession. I best sell all my stock and other assets put the money in the mattress, even though it’s half of what it was a year ago.
That is where negative media takes us. It destroys our confidence. We stop believing we will be able to survive to see the positive outcome. Once we stop believing, we are really on the slippery slope toward rock bottom. Then, we see everything negative and without hope. Our politicians have taken us to the point of “no hope”.

There have been numerous surveys about the level of, or lack of confidence in the economy and how it affected retail sales. In reality, in 2008, we spent more at the Festival of Shopping than we did last year. It was on the backs of beleaguered retailers trying to get rid of inventory with mid-winter end-of-season deep-discounting prior to Christmas.

There will be fewer retailers around for the summer and fall selections, and the selections will be limited to mass-produced imported items. Remaining will be fewer “big box” and “national chains”. In the process, we lose many locally owned independent retailers.

Federal or provincial governments can try all the stimulation they want, but this economy is not going to turn positive for a long while. MP’s and MLA’s will probably increase debt with uneconomical and ill-advised projects, which will not lead us to prosperity. The return to good times will occur when consumers say, “This is enough”.

The antics in Ottawa, prior to Christmas, demonstrated nothing but child games and a complete lack of leadership. Perhaps, it reached a point where something had to happen or question period in parliament would have more mudslinging than before.

In the meantime, the Canadian economy sinks to lower levels for an additional six weeks. There is no need for our economy to reach the depths of despair facing our friends south of the border.

Government could, but won’t fix the problem easily and quickly.

My recipe is come clean with the electorate. Tell them we are in for a rough time, but together we will succeed. Obama won his historic election because of “Yes We Can!”
His direct approach will soon show positive results. Most Americans are waiting for a new attitude to deliver Hope.

The Canadian road to success is restoring Hope, Belief and Confidence. With hope we will start to believe. Once we start to believe, we will venture toward restoring confidence. These three tools will determine how quickly the economy will recover.

Governments should reduce the amount of stimulation to large companies and focus on working with the electorate with a “Yes We Can” attitude and do it without a lot of “bailouts” or tax concessions. Three good places to start would massive public or social housing projects; transportation infrastructure and loan guarantees to ensure credit facilities exist for small business, as they are the creators of jobs anyway.

January 2009 - Rees’ Pieces

As I mentioned here last month, life might not be all that bad in West Colchester, but that does not mean we can throw caution to the wind. We need to hunker down, and do what we can to deal with a failing economy. It the “Yes We Can” attitude.

While we try to save anyway we can, the provincial government, and the idiots in Ottawa are talking about spending their way out of a recession. I’m not an economist, but recognize, operating expenditures must be cut to the bone. Governments must set the example. After revamping themselves to spend taxation dollars efficiently and effectively, they need to find ways to stimulate the economy.

Stimulation expenditures might well include broad-based infrastructure projects. Lord knows we need better highways, and improvements in other areas. With all the talk about what to do and how much to spend, not much media has been allocated to find ways to reduce sending mega-dollars to oil producing countries and building our economy from within.

Over the last 18 months a lot has been said about wind power and several projects requiring multi-millions of dollars have been announced. Collapse of global financial markets has put several projects in jeopardy or scheduling will be delayed for three to five years.
Our ability to increase green energy will be hampered and we will continue to spend hundreds of millions or billions on importing oil in all it formats. Not a positive outlook.

However, I have a suggestion, which could achieve all the above, plus provide an excellent opportunity for Nova Scotians to make sound financial investments.

Why not put the best and brightest brains to work to develop an investment opportunity to finance all the wind farms with Nova Scotia dollars?

Here’s the way I would do it.

Fifteen or so years ago, Frank MacKenna stated that each year over $600-million of new RRSP contributions from Atlantic Canadians left the area for investment elsewhere. Now is the time to find government backed investments so we can still do the RRSP bit, but ensure the money stays within the province.

Currently we have the Community Economic Development Fund (CEDIF), which the government guarantees a portion of the individual’s investment should it fail within four years. Other parts of the program include the taxpayer receiving a 30% tax credit up to $3,000.00. If the taxpayer lives outside of HRM, when all instruments of the program are fulfilled, only 20% of the original investment is at risk. Basically, that is the portion which the government guarantees should there be a financial failure of the business.

While the idiots in Ottawa are completing their sandbox games, Nova Scotians could be busy laying the groundwork for our financial future.

There is a way for a number of CEDIF’s to be developed individually, each owning a small share of a particular wind farm. Most of the wind farm projects got started with CEDIF’s but most sold out to better financed developers, of which many now can not find the millions of dollars to take the proposed wind farms to production.

Now is the time to bring these alternative energy projects back to where they belong. In the hands of Nova Scotians.

If we move quickly, we could be operational before the February 2009 RRSP deadline and all the wind farm projects announced in 2008, could be moving to implementation and be financed without any debt.

If the MacDonald government would identify projects, this investment template could be used to finance almost anything needed. It would stimulate the economy, so much so, we would grow the economy, while other provinces were dealing with a recession.

There is sufficient private investment capital available to repave every highway in Nova Scotia over the next decade; to build a few jails, develop much-needed communication systems for fire and ambulance services and have money left over.

It will be interesting to see if any of those who are elected or in the public service pick up on this enough to call me for some additional discussion. They can reach me at 902-647-2968.


Maurice Rees, Publisher
The Shoreline Journal
Box 41, Bass River, NS B0M 1B0
PH: 902-647-2968; Cell: 902-890-9850