Rees' Pieces

 

Rees' Pieces - Archives 2010        Archives - 2009       

 


December 2011 - Changing the Curve

Last month in this space I suggested municipal leaders for rural and primarily non-urban areas from around the province should pressure Halifax and Ottawa to ensure the same level of funding as has been going to much larger Halifax Regional Municipality. If HRM has 40% of the population, the remainder of the province should had funding and special consideration at the rate of one and one half times that given to Halifax for convention centre, other projects and now possibly a stadium.

The plight of rural areas has been a long time coming. The lure of job opportunities combined with larger paychecks, bright lights, better services, greater vibrancy and more people their own age has been attractive to future leaders. How can we blame them? We send them off to university, giving them four or five years to set down their own roots.

Rural areas have been the last to receive almost everything – services, improved highways, technology advancement, yet are the first to feel the downside of centralization. Elimination of smaller schools, replaced by a fleet of larger busses hauling children for upwards of an hour each way to “factory-type” schools has probably been the most symbolic example leading to rural devastation. The attraction for young families to stay on or close to the family farm evaporated once local smaller schools closed.

Reducing the critical mass of rural areas has led to lessening of job opportunities and an increase in seasonal employment. With seasonal work comes an increase in reliance on Employment Insurance to provide basic family necessities. Some economists are saying relying on EI has stymied economic growth.

Some recent economic studies indicate that in Atlantic Canada approximately 17% of households in non-rural areas reported EI claims. However in rural areas, the occurrence was slightly over 28%. The problems facing rural areas are much deeper than closing rural schools and rising seasonal employment.

Its’ a whole mindset which has existed for generations. We need to realize bigger is not always better.

In fact it’s going to take the input and understanding of every sector of society to put vibrancy back into rural Nova Scotia.

I’m not so sure just because we de-focused trades training and insisted all our youth needed to go to university was a smart move. I feel that once we eliminated trade schools, including nursing schools, we started downward on a slippery slope.

Now we are facing a shortage of tradespeople, particularly younger ones who will still be working in 10-15 years.

Here’s where I think we should start: Recognize not every child is university material, or wants to go to university. Some students are at risk of quitting school, but ways must be found to ensure they finish high school.

Even though they might want to be a mechanic, or woodsman, or a waitress, they need to further their education beyond high school. Rural businesses, who have not had much advantage, should be given the opportunity to start “at risk” students in a trade them giving them 10 hours a week of on-the-job experience, with a wage subsidy.

The criteria being stay in school and keep good grades. Students must put a large percentage of their earnings into a fund to pay for training after high school.

The apprenticeship program must be re-introduced. More emphasis must be placed on easier access for new entrants to a particular trade and probably done under a co-op type program, where they spend three months in classroom, then three months on the job until training is completed.

Rural businesses should be encouraged to implement a “new employee” program. Training and upgrading programs should exist for all those who are seasonally employed for a substantial amount of the time of the duration of EI benefits.

Many of these programs could be conducted in the vacant classrooms in area schools. Transportation to the courses could be via the fleet of school buses already on the roads morning and afternoon. I know the foregoing is not the final answer. We need to think outside the box, strive to better ourselves and do all of the above without incurring major cost increases. Eliminate duplication, reduce management costs of departments and boards, redirect current assets and funding to new training programs. Make it easier for business to operate.


November 2011 - Will we benefit?

Nova Scotia is abuzz with news Halifax Shipyards won the $25-Billion shipbuilding contract. According to main stream media many in Halifax are planning a rosy future. It seems some have already started spending the money they hope to make even though steel won’t be cut until 2013.

I’m not trying to be negative, but to look at it with a more pragmatic view. Most of the benefits being touted so far are housing, automobile, and restaurant sales. That is fine for Halifax’s urban core, which now accounts for over 40% of the provinces population.

What will it mean for rural Nova Scotia and towns, which are more than an hour’s drive from Metro? Will experienced trades people leave Amherst, Yarmouth, New Glasgow and other areas on the lure of big money and constant work in the city?

Even before the announcement, negative forces were already at work in Truro. Two prominent icons have closed or will be closing their doors. Cavanagh’s for many years was a source of strength for local farmers and produce growers, because they focused on buying local long before it started to be in vogue.

Margolians Ltd, the lure to shop downtown Truro is closing at the end of the year. Their closure is tatamount to the disappearance of the Eaton’s Catalogue decades ago. Inglis Place will never be the same. For the sake of the other merchants it is hoped budding entrepreneurs and those past the budding stage will band together to revamp the Margolian property to have a strong, and if possible stronger retail lure.

Margolian’s have carried many famous brand names. Some of those brands have increased market share via “factory outlets”. Levi for one, has a factory outlet just outside Charlottetown. Conway, NH, in the centre of no-where has become famous for its proliferation of factory outlets.

Could Downtown Truro benefit from a redevelopment of the Margolian property with a series of factory outlets at street level and a combination of offices or condos on the upper floors? There is other retail space currently vacant on Prince Street and in the Esplanade.

Downtown merchants have about 6 to 9 months to do their brainstorming, work together and see properties redeveloped. No disrespect to the other fine merchants in the downtown core, but as a friend said to me about all there is left is MacQuarrie’s and the Banks.

It’s these problems which are devastating small town and rural Nova Scotia. Yarmouth has been facing similar devastation since the Yarmouth-Bar Harbour and Portland ferry service was curtailed when Dexter government axed the ferry subsidy.

However, rail service to Cape Breton has been stabilized with a new annual subsidy agreement. I have an interest in politics, you bet I do, but even without that, it’s not hard to see political efforts at work where there is population density and a strong labour movement.

The resurrection of New Page’s mill in Point Tupper will require another large financial commitment by taxpayers for the new owners. If not immediately, rest assured taxpayer money will be flowing like a swollen stream in a spring flood within five years to keep the doors open.

Cape Breton Regional Municipality is claiming by provincial regulations or guidelines, it has been under funded by over $15-million and they want the money now, or they will go to court to get it.

I don’t anticipate there is much money left for the Dexter government to pay serious attention to the ailments of rural and small town Nova Scotia. With its great appetite for government dollars, Halifax has swallowed up nearly $50-million each from Province House and Ottawa for the new convention centre.

Halifax has committed $20-million to a new stadium and is leaning on Ottawa and Dexter’s NDP to lever another $20-million each.

With 40+% of the population in HRM, I wonder if it’s time for other members of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities (UMNS) either within their association or collectively as a rebel group to hold Province House’s feet to the fire, asking for proportionate treatment for special projects to be spread around the province on a pro-rata basis. This would be for additional projects over and above highways, schools, and infrastructure.

Do the municipal politicians have the intestinal fortitude to mount such an offence? No bets, but time will tell. What do you think?


 

October 2011

In the Maritimes late summer is normally the season when hurricanes cause the most turbulence. Hurricane Juan lambasted us in early September a few years ago, and Irene did some major damage but she was not as wide spread as Juan. So far we have been rather lucky, but we could still get hit by a big one, but as each day goes by, the chances are reduced.

However, we should keep our guards up, as weather patterns have been changing. Late spring and early summer seemingly are not as nice as I remember as a child, or even 10 years ago, but our summer weather or Indian Summer as we used to call the fine days in late September and early October are becoming more prevalent. Summer weather seems to be stretching farther into late October.

In the second quarter of 2011, starting just about the time we went to the polls to elect a majority Conservative Government, we started to experience turbulence of a different sort. The weather type lasts only a few hours, and then it’s a matter of dealing with the damage, and cleanup which varies according to where we were positioned relative to the eye of the storm. This summer’s turmoil is of the economic variety, which is like a large blanket affecting all of us.

The Maritime economy seemed to be rolling along, with companies returning to a higher level of profitability, but lagging in job creation. The higher level of the Canadian $$$ compared to the American Greenback was causing problems for exporters, tourism operators were reporting less USA traffic as the Americans don’t like having to pay an exchange rate. Then, more Canadians were making more frequent trips stateside for shopping or recreation. The fragile economy of border towns was made even worse as more of the disposable income was spent stateside.

Next we started hearing about the crisis in Europe with possible default in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal, to name just a few. Being a fair distance from us, rural country folk and most of Nova Scotia’s residents would barely notice any immediate changes, except in the trickledown effect of dwindling confidence of our larger economic stimulators.

But the tide changed 180 degrees in late August; with news of troubles at the two New Page paper machines in Point Tupper. Like a major hurricane or tornado, the New Page saga got worse and worse every day.

Just as the second paper machine drew to an idle, the plant went into Creditor Protection in Canada, and the entire corporation went into Chapter 11 stateside. The 1,000 direct jobs equates to almost 7,000 lost jobs after all the numbers are crunched. Contractors, who had been promised payment within a week, are now owed millions, and may not see all their money.

The Dexter government and municipal leaders are running fast to find a new buyer for the mill, with the hopes of have new owners in place by the end of November. The mill’s closure in addition to the loss of jobs is going to be an expensive problem as Nova Scotia Power will likely increase rates to offset $100-million in lost revenue.

I’m not an economist, or a number cruncher, but I believe in “home grown”. For over 30 years, we have flirted with or danced to the tune of foreign owners of the mill. If there is a chance the mill can be successful and profitable, I suspect Nova Scotians, working within the plant, would make it happen.

Is it not sensible to believe, Nova Scotians should be the owners. Rather than again offer one of most modern and technology advanced paper machines in the world to foreigners at “fire sale prices”, would it not be more prudent for the feds, province, unions and Nova Scotia’s wealthiest business people take a run at it. What would be wrong with having names like Sobey, Jourdrey, Shannon, Chisholm, Risley, MacDonald and others each taking a piece of the action. After all, with a strong economy it’s those people, with major business holdings, who stand the most to gain.

Conversely, if it fails, then we all go down together avoiding the feeling a foreign company has just pillaged us again.


September 2011

Sometimes I wonder how sincere and dedicated elected representatives and public officials are when they announce various programs. Announcements generate fanfare. I wonder if such actions are reality or window dressing to appease a certain group of people.

Top of mind is the “Buy Local” and “healthy diet and lifestyle” initiatives to improve the economy, reduce healthcare costs and contribute to less pollution and lack of infrastructure and monetary support for community groups.

This summer as I have travelled to and participated in many community events, festivals and exhibitions I have noticed a major void in furthering the causes of each of the initiatives.

In several exhibitions, I have noticed booths occupied by various government departments and organizations closely aligned with or funded by government. The exhibits are nice, but they are entirely opposite to those from the private sector. How beneficial they are to furtherance of the organizations goals or to the general public?

Private sector and fund raising volunteer group exhibits are a beehive of activity. Business is trying to increase sales and community groups are trying to raise money to continue their initiatives. However, it’s questionable the value public service entries are, other than providing funding from booth rental to the hosting organization.

Here’s my qualms, many are not staffed, and if they are staffed, employees are packing up by 4:00 pm for the end of their work-day.

As we all know, unless it is parade day or 4-H day, the majority of attendance to the numerous exhibitions and festivals is in the evening. That is when staffing should be provided and benefits realized.

A problem exists in that when exhibits are static or have limited staffing, there is a danger the public will view this as another way money is wasted. Nova Scotia’s exhibitions are a reflection of rural life, showcasing agriculture keeping the economy moving as it fills the food basket.

To make these exhibits more functional and actually benefit the general public, let’s explore a few areas to eliminate any problems.

Buy Local: This initiative was announced to cause consumers to think about buying products made locally, with meats and vegetables being at the forefront. Goal: Change buying habits and support local producers.

Healthier Lifestyles: With obesity becoming a major problem, we are facing a crisis in healthcare delivery; it’s cost and the impact obesity will have upon the quality of life. Goal: Encourage people to exercise and eat healthier foods.

Supporting Community Groups: In all areas, particularly rural Nova Scotia, community groups become important to preserve history, heritage and form a “nerve-centre” for rural living. Success is because of the timeless commitment of volunteers. As burdens become heavy, volunteer “burn-out” sets in. Many groups are diminished, or are a shadow of their former self, because government has failed to show appreciation and provide infrastructure to permit them to be more successful.

Hundreds of thousands of people attend exhibitions wanting to be entertained, learn and receive additional value for the monies spent on admission. This year and in many years passed, we have missed an excellent opportunity with a captive audience. (If you don’t believe me, just watch the crowds who gather to watch a salesperson show how a certain object chops, slices or, grates a certain vegetable.)

As part of a solution, the exhibits mentioned earlier, would be more functional, interesting and educational if government would work with exhibition organizers to make space available (at a cost) for community groups.

Community groups could receive funding to implement programs for local products, and encouragement of a healthier lifestyle. This is harvest season. Community groups could provide exciting interactive presentations showing different foods: how to grow, prepare, cook preserve, or dry for consumption when out of season. Food sampling and classes would be the thrust.

This change in delivery causes everyone to win. Exhibitions retain booth rental income, displays are interactive, interesting and informative. Community groups are happy because they receive much needed funds for service delivery. The public is informed, entertained, participates in food sampling and doesn’t see as much waste. Farmers and health officials are closer to achieving their goals. Government wins because they are seen as pro-active, not wasteful and doing something to help everyone across the spectrum.


August 2011

One has to wonder what the world is coming too, when there is just a tragic loss of life of over 90 deaths in a mass killing in peaceful Norway, when most of the urban police patrol the streets unarmed. It is sad unexplainable things like that, which changes a country or society forever.

Here in Canada, we also see so many seemingly senseless crimes. Are the causes deep rooted in society itself in lack of confidence, education and poverty?

At the Shoreline Journal we are focused on doing what we can to encourage stopping of dumping garbage anywhere and creating illegal dumps. We find it hard to imagine why motorists will toss coffee cups, beer bottles, soft drink bottles or cans, fast food containers / wrappers, and even facial tissue out the window as they are driving along.

It makes me wonder if these same people will do the same in their own yard, or what debris they drop on the middle of their kitchen or living room floor.

We have arranged monthly prizes and if we can get a substantial number of entries, we’ve got plans for even more activities and educational sessions in the fall.

If you have photos or know of illegal dump sites, or areas where there is a significant amount of unsightly debris, let us know about it. If you prefer not to have your name published, we can work something out. Regardless of how much effort it takes, we want to embark on a program, doing our part, to ensure West Colchester is the cleanest area in Nova Scotia.

Now I want to switch to something positive which happened to me in Moncton a couple of weeks ago. As a bit of backgrounder, I have participated in probably hundreds of trade shows and events, where there were numerous exhibitors.

As an exhibitor your greatest nightmare can include worry wondering if all the required services will be available easily. In recent years, my major concern is ensuring there is an adequate supply of electricity or connections for our booth.

Being a Nova Scotian, I hate to admit it but services to trade show vendors is much more professional in Moncton than anyplace else. We’ve been to several trade shows in Halifax, mostly indoor, and on numerous occasions its not a happy situation.

The Cape Breton BikeFest, an outdoor event, is okay, but really lacks the infrastructure and size of distribution panels to bring it to the top of the list. Moncton’s Coliseum and 4-Plex are right up there in customer satisfaction, but not quite as near the top as Moncton’s outdoor events.

Moncton seems to have invested extensively in infrastructure, including services to vendors for outdoor events. And it’s not only the services available, but the attitude with which they are delivered.
Recently, I was in Moncton for the Atlantic Nationals, antique car show, in Centennial Park. The events attracted slightly over 2,000 antique vehicles and thousands of participants and viewers. When the vendors started setting up in the park’s paved parking lot, along came the electrical crew with their mobile warehouse (cube van).

Out came the large cables, probably 4 inches in diameter, for connection to multiple distribution panels scattered throughout the site. These cables were connected to an even larger permanent distribution panel – 600 amp – 3 phase, easily connected to the main power lines.

But that wasn’t all, each vendor was asked what power they needed and smaller cables appeared almost instantly. When the show was over on Sunday evening, the same crew were back collecting all their gear.

Maybe this example is one reason why Moncton is beating the pants of Halifax when bidding for large events.

I mention this because of Truro’s new civic centre, now under construction. My words of advice are before the walls are closed in and you’re thinking about readying for an opening, step back and make sure you have the infrastructure in place to make readying for trade show events a pleasurable exercise.

For the town and municipality an infrastructure investment similar to what I seen in Moncton is worth it. That is not limited to electrical supply, but also infrastructure for audio and video inside the facility as well as for outdoor events regardless of where an event is held.

 


 

July 2011

What a month. Like none before is my first guess.

Normally, June is a happy month. Farmers are finishing planting, starting to put up hay and silage, school graduations, lots of weddings of those who will provide leaders of business and government in the next 30 years, and the start of the real tourist season.

Bad weather, tourism operators complaining, farmers in a panic about their crops, no sun, lots of wind and rain, blueberry producers worried about the success of this year’s crop as the bees could or would not fly to do their pollinating jobs, yet everything is growing.

Garden centres are reporting a disastrous season, as no one had the enthusiasm to get into the vegetable or flower gardens. Retailers are crying foul, as summer merchandise is still hanging on the racks, as summer fashions were the farthest thing from many minds.

All in all, it was a spring of turmoil and dismal outlook. So were the months of May and June 2011.
More than likely when the weather changes it will come in blistering hot and dry extending into August and early September. Problems will exist.

For instance, strawberries will ripen in a couple of days, the market will be flooded, and prices will drop. Add to that the possibility the crop will ripen so fast, there will not be enough pickers and a lot of produce will be left to rot on the vine. Field crops of summer vegetables will suffer from extreme heat maturing too much too fast.

In addition to our woes of spring, no sooner was the federal election over and we were faced with the thoughts of strikes by nurses, pharmacists changing how they would charge for prescriptions, closure of several prominent industries across the province, an Air Canada strike and then the dreadful threat of a postal strike.

Nurses, Air Canada and pharmacists situations got settled, but Canada Post continued to face disruption with rotating strikes and then a “lock out”.

As if not bad enough with a dismal spring, for the most part the rural economy quickly ground to a halt. No incoming money, no easy way to send out invoices, customers facing threat of not getting their cheques had everyone worrying. Small business the lifeline of the provincial economy was especially hit hard.
Even the Shoreline was affected, but not as much as others. We were lucky; the June issue was published and delivered just hours before the rotating strikes began. Making it through the month, we certainly noticed the drop in cash flow, writers were not able to submit articles, as per normal and advertisers were reluctant to commit, because no end was in sight.

Where I did notice the affect of the strike, we did not receive one entry for the photo contest to curb illegal dumping. The contest (see June issue) is still on, so send in your entries and we will award prized in the August issue.

But just as deadlines approached, Harper’s Conservatives introduced legislation to end the strike. However, the interests of labour was carried forward by the NDP who staged a 58+ hour filibuster, causing MP’s to stay in Ottawa and work in shifts to keep parliament moving forward. Late Saturday night, June 25th legislation was passed.

Around 8 pm on Sunday night word was received the Senate had approved the bill and it was immediately given Royal Assent. Following media reports, it is believed Canada Post would be operational on Tuesday, June 28th. Government cheques will be delivered, the economy will resume and the Shoreline Journal can deliver the July issue to the post office and get delivery without missing a beat.

Now there are two things, which strike me as ironic. No NDP opposition to legislation forcing an Air Canada settlement. Was that because MP’s wanted to be able to fly home, and still collect points for another flight? Was the NDP feeling the heat of business owners and stopped their filibuster because of the potential wrath of the general public, because of the fear cheques would not be delivered before month’s end?


June 2011

I’d like to devote a couple of paragraphs to say how pleased I am everyone had an enjoyable time at our 90 & 90+ birthday party on May 7th. I wish to personally thank Peter Heckbert for his hard work in contacting the seniors, conducting the interviews and arranging the biography sketches printed at the back of this issue. Many others made significant contributions, but Peter was the man behind the scenes who really made it successful.

Earlier in the month, I was going to write about how Canadians are like a flock of sheep – easily led, once one starts all follow. The example was the thousands of voters in Quebec who decided to vote NDP – voting for a candidate they had not met, who did no political advertising, did not have a campaign team or office, and in one case the winning MP had never even been in the riding.

Then I thought about tackling the Dexter government for their backtracking on the Memorandum of Understanding with the Union of Municipalities. For over a decade all levels of government have been downloading to the next in line. There is only one taxpayer, and when it comes election time, Dexter’s NDP will claim fame for cutting the deficit, balancing the budget, or some other topic they can use as a plank in their re-election platform.

I wonder if the taxpayer and municipal politicians will remember all these changes were done on the backs of the municipalities, who had to source the monies from us lowly taxpayers.

Another topic which crossed my mind was to express comment about the new hospital. It’s nice to have a modern hospital, but I’m sure after year or so, many taxpayers, who become patients or are family members of patients are going to say, it’s nice, but the nearly $200-million expenditure did not cure the problems we were facing in the old facility.

If the hospital had been the focus of this column, I would have expressed my displeasure the health board is going to spend upwards of $1-million to demolish the current hospital. If the structure is sound enough to provide medical services, I sure with some retro-fit and a new mission in life, there’s 20-30 years left in the bricks and mortar.

The health authority could easily save local taxpayers at least half or three quarters of a million dollars. Mayors Mills and Taylor need to step up to the plate, bring their councils with them, and councilors can motivate constituents.

The municipal units should pull together all community based organizations – homeless housing, public housing, women’s shelters, the needy who can’t afford adequate accommodations, and the private sector to find a new use for the building.

Together these groups could force the health authority to sell the property for $1.00, and then provide $500,000 to $750,000.00 to assist with the retro-fit. In the end the new hospital costs less, and an additional service is jointly provided for the area.

But more recently another topic had come to the forefront.

With Colchester’s municipal council passing the “clear garbage” bag policy, either some people have decided to get an early start on disposing of their garbage in the woods, or else the opposition from some taxpayers, who claimed the clear bag policy would lead to illegal dumping has put the matter at the leading conversation of the coffee club circuit. It was a tough decision for councilors, but when they learned other municipalities who operate the clear bag policy had shown a 30% improvement in diversions from the landfill, their decision was made.

Now local citizens have stepped up to the plate, either because they fear illegal dumping will increase, or just awareness of the topic has caused them to take action to report existing dumps.

Illegal dumping areas have been found in Bass River, Lornevale Road, Great Village and on East Mountain Road. For an example see two stories on the topic on Page 1 – the illegal site in Great Village and the Shoreline announcing a Photo Contest for residents to send in pictures of other sites.

Investigations are underway; councillors are adamant the full force of the law will be used. Illegal dump sites are ILLEGAL. It’s up to residents to report any they know about.
Everyone needs to work hard to Keep Colchester Clean.


May 2011 - It’s time to decide

This column will be difficult to write because of the sadness from the loss of our good friend Tom MacLean. It’s not that he had input into this column, but his contributions to life in general made it easier to achieve many goals.

The difficulty is an emotional one because such a good friend has passed.

Canada is in a predicament that a democracy of our stature should not be facing. Unfortunately, we are such a meek and mild society we often fail to stand up and be counted for what we believe in where it affects us the most, ourselves.

If countries are required to rise to the challenge to solve a global problem, or to extend a willing hand of help and assistance, Canada is at the front of the line, as a caring society. However, on an inward basis we seem to crumble when it comes to fighting for what is best for Canada.

In Egypt, Libya and many other countries, citizens are willing to lay down their life to achieve democracy and have the right to cast a meaningful vote. However, Canadians are so passive they don’t even take the interest to take an hour to go to the polls to cast a vote. SHAME ON US.

Except for a few mutterings from some of the churches, Canadians have even rolled their eyes that advance polls were open on Good Friday, the holiest day of the year. If all the MP’s we sent to Ottawa in 2008 would have cared, an election date would have been set to avoid such an instance. I’m not getting up on a religious soapbox, but using the matter to make a point.

Sure people have grumbled about an Easter weekend full of election crap, but was there an outcry worth listening to? NO. The same thing holds true about the multi-million dollar downloading announced recently by the Dexter government onto the municipalities. If you wish to learn what will happen to your municipal tax bill, I suggest you read Tom Taggart’s column on page 5. In any other country, but Canada, there would have been an instant uprising.

The same situation will apply to last week’s announcement, Nova Scotia Power is expected to apply in July for a 9% rate increase to come into effect next year. Most of us will huff and puff about the matter, but rarely will we see a sustained effort to develop any opposition.

We get more irritated and take more action, if there is an illegal body check in a hockey game. We complain about immigrant workers taking our jobs, yet we don’t have enough doctors, engineers, construction and transportation workers.

In the two great wars, Canadians were a the head of the line, when it came to using our back bone, and preserving democracy, yet we tolerate excessive spending, fraudulent and criminal activities by politicians or civil servants.

Some may say May 2nd is time for Canadians to decide who runs the country for the next while by voting in the election. While that statement is true nearly 40% of Canadians did not vote in the 2008 federal election. There are fears voter apathy may increase and we will be approaching a 50-50 split.

The antics of many politicians has caused apathy. However in reality, we can not blame the politicians. While it may be true only a few have directly caused the problem, all elected MP’s are to blame because they have failed to “rein in” their colleagues. The blame rests solely at our own feet. We have failed to demand accountability and transparency. Although it’s the federal election which is bringing forward the debate, all levels of government are failing us, and we do nothing.

I wonder how long it will take before we find the gumption to forcefully stand up for what should be ours – efficiency, transparency, and accountability causing effective changes be made?

I vote every election. Hence I have a right to complain. If you don’t vote next week, you have very little right to complain.

If you wish to be another bump on the log, stay home on May 2nd. However, if you believe in Canada, get out and vote.

It’s time we took the initiative to vote, then demand action.


April 2011 - It’s embarrassing & our fault

We are into a federal election. When it’s over, I suspect voter turn-out will again be lower than in the last election. Is it any wonder?

One bad apple spoils the barrel. Birds of a feather flock together. A leopard can’t change its spots.  All are family sayings handed down for generations. We’ve heard them enough we believe them.

Voters do not hide their disappointment in elected representatives. That’s the reason many of them don’t vote. There are “bad apples” in all the parties, which include charges of contempt, RCMP investigations and much more in Ottawa; provincially it’s the ongoing MLA expense scandal, charges being laid against previous and current MLA’s; and now the concert scandal in Halifax and Summerside.   How much more?

From top to bottom things amiss, every level of government is suffering from “me-itis”. Many seem to have forgotten how they got elected and to whom they owe allegiance. I am not suggesting it’s all elected officials. Far from it.

However, birds of a feather comes to mind, because politicians have not taken an aggressive stand to demand the full extent of the law be applied to the guilty. All are somewhat guilty through association, because they have not openly advocated what the voter is saying -. CLEAN UP THE MESS.

At all levels, the next election issue should be constant questioning, almost bombardment, from the voters asking all candidates, what will they do to remove the sand boxes, where elected officials fling personal insults and take the voter for granted?

If you have been watching television, it’s obvious citizens of the mid-eastern countries are demanding change and are putting their lives at risk for betterment of the citizens. We don’t need to take to the streets, but we do need to show we care and have a back bone.

If as voters, we don’t ask the hard questions and demand some quick clean-up action, we deserve what we get. If we say or do nothing and stay home on voting day, the embarrassment will continue and we have only ourselves to blame.

Enough about the federal election.

Let’s look at the province’s finances. We are in for a rough budget. It seems removing the marrow from the bone may be the Dexter government’s approach to solving financial woes. We need to tighten our belts. We cannot ask for more, or suggest cuts should apply to everyone else. We all have to take “some” lumps.

Balancing the budget and reducing the deficit can be pro-active and simultaneously develop the economy. There’s a world-wide shortage of food.

Food prices have risen about 8% in recent months; fuel costs are rising; Canadians are not eating properly. “Buy Local” initiatives are gaining momentum, yet Nova Scotia has thousands of acres of idle agriculture land. The rural economy would improve if idle land was made productive.

A recent study concluded, for every dollar spent on local products, approximately 42 cents goes into the economy, whereas buying “non-local” contributes only about 14 cents of every dollar. If we focused on buying from local producers and outlets, each of us could help contribute to the economy. Shift 10% of food purchases to local and we contribute $19-million more to the local economy.

Reducing education costs: I’ve wondered why local trades people are not utilized for minor repairs at a school. Instead, staff have to call the central office for a maintenance person. Why are local people, perhaps, students not encouraged to apply for contracts to mow and trim the grounds. Each school has a budget. Staff could award and administer the contracts.
Have we lost all focus on keeping the local economy moving? If it can be done more economically, why not BUY LOCAL?

As voters and taxpayers, we must stop complaining - demand action to grow the local economy and put control back to the local community, letting residents supplement family income. Let them feel proud they are contributing to the betterment of their area? It’s not mega-bucks, but it starts the process.
Here’s a suggestion, contact your school board representative, elected representative and government office demanding changes. Then, and only then voice your opinion, write a letter to the editor stating what you have done.

Stand up and be counted, our veterans did. Or, do we not have a back bone?


March 2011 - Pressure on Judicial System

Sometimes there are so many topics it is hard to pick the one most appropriate for this column. This month I have chosen the continued unrest and impatience of citizens and hope to be able to intertwine “unrest” into an understandable rambling.

The spectre of uprisings rocking Egypt and other undemocratic Mideast countries have been spurred in part by high unemployment, rising prices and the failure of those governments to provide economic opportunities and hope for their people. The rapid pace of events in Egypt were, in part, spurred on by the availability of the social media – facebook, twitter, internet, which the government was unable to curtail.

The amazing and most thankful thing was the peacefulness observed by citizens, the army and those in power. Yes, there was imprisonment, some bloodshed, looting and rowdiness, but it was mild in comparison to what it could have been.

Now that they have succeeded in toppling the government, it is questionable if citizens will be patient enough to let plans be made to implement democracy. Also in question is will those in power be willing to let go?

Egypt is just the beginning. We are in for similar uprisings in other undemocratic countries, although not many of them will be as peaceful. Unrest has even spread to Wisconsin, where thousands are demonstrating about wage freezes, cuts to benefits and elimination of government funded programs.

In Washington congress seems headed for a deadlock and threatening to shutdown government on March 4th, when approved funding expires. Here in Canada, the electorate is upset at a variety of events: Bev Otta being faced with possible sanctioning in Parliament over how she explained to a parliamentary committee inserting “not” into a funding document.

Nova Scotia taxpayers are biting at the bit with 52 charges, mostly fraud related activities, being laid against three past and one current MLA. Premier Dexter, who was previously named in the expense scandal, but not charged, is adamant the government will attempt to seek monetary restitution if any of the four are found guilty.

We’ve lived with the revelations of MLA expense for a year, and spent six months wondering if the RCMP would find enough evidence to lay charges. Now is the beginning of the next phase, the pressure point has now switched to the judicial system.

Many citizens, although hoping otherwise, were fearful things would have been swept under the carpet and the RCMP would come forward with nothing. Now they are taking the same cynical approach to the judiciary wondering if they will be side with those who appointed them or if they will implement the full force of the law and hand out sentences which will meet taxpayer’s expectations.

Taxpayer unrest has trickled down to the municipal level. Even the most minor situation becomes irritating and mountains are built out of molehills.

Locally, consideration of acquiring a “Chain of Office” for the Municipality of the County of Colchester has become the latest over-coffee conversation. Sure $5,000 is $5,000, but it’s not as far flung as $47-million Halifax and the province have each committed and are pressuring Ottawa to participate to build a new convention centre.

The question is should municipalities have a “Chain of Office”? To the west, the Municipality of East Hants, which is about half the size of Colchester, has had one for as many years as I have been a resident there – now 16 years.

In Colchester’s case, it’s not Mayor Bob Taylor wanting one. The matter, as far as I can determine, evolved from councilors.

Globally, unrest is in its infancy and will continue for many years. Federally and provincially, it will continue until elected representatives have the fortitude to make tough decisions to actually right governing and economic mistakes of the past.

Those in public sector should not be rewarded with pensions and healthcare benefits which are significantly better than those in the private sector. A committed team involving government, business, public sector, and private citizens must be in charge of making decisions which deliver long term benefits to all of Nova Scotia.

It’s not a matter of reducing costs, but rather implementing systems to deliver results.


February 2011 - Where’s Our Oprah?

The education system in Nova Scotia is in turmoil, with some school boards, particularly Chignecto-Central Regional School Board (CCRSB), being accused of Fear Mongering. This is the result of the province’s eight school boards being called to Halifax and instructed to conduct an exercise outlining required cuts to reduce expenditures, over three years, by $197-Million, which equates to a 22% cut.

CCRSB released its findings to the public, and then turmoil started. I feel bad for the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board (CCRSB) members. They are caught in a “no win” situation with credibility at stake and not much influence to solve the funding problem faced by the education system, since 85% of budget expenses are mandated by the Department.

Premier Dexter, education officials, leaders of NSTU, NSGEU and CUPE were silent until release of the report. It didn’t take long for them to get in front of the cameras, making public pronouncements accusing the board of “Fear Mongering” and saying cuts of that magnitude were not expected.

Let’s also consider. We might not as bad off as previously suggested. In 2010-2011, Dexter’s government is spending $350-Million more than any other government. They also spent mega-millions topping up the pension plan for teachers.

In midst of this turmoil, the only thing all parties agree upon is enrollment is dropping and costs are rising. If the number of teachers should equate to the number of students, let’s go back 30 years, presuming we were somewhat correct at that time.

In 1980: 186,000 students – 11,000 teachers a ratio of 17:1. At the same ratio, today’s 130,000 students would equate to 7,700 teachers. Projecting ahead to 2014, the anticipated student population of 119,000 students would see teacher numbers drop to 7,050.

I’m not suggesting this is correct and is a platform to overhaul education, but it does illustrate how things have changed.

In today’s world, we are not getting the required outcome. Nova Scotia students rank far below those of other jurisdictions. Hence, no one is happy regardless of the cost. Reducing costs will not solve anything, except assist reach a balanced budget.

It’s very important, but having a balanced budget is not the greatest priority. A quality education system is. A quality health care system is equally important. However, they must, above everything else, produce the required outcomes.

As Karen Casey said, while speaking from the floor, at the public meeting in Onslow on January 18th, there are savings to be found in every department. Her analogy also included: Identify the required Outcome; work line by line to identify the programs and services to produce that outcome. Left on the table will be things not contributing to the outcome.

Here’s my take on the situation. There is no sympathy for teachers; public service pension plans gets little sympathy from the public; the 22% exercise was designed to divide and conquer leaving the school boards “high and dry”.

Optics is everything and right now they are bad. Dexter appointed two new cabinet ministers at a time, when requesting restraint; Recently, ATV reported during the last decade the number of educators earning in excess of $100,000.00 increased from 16 to 160; on January 18th ATV announced the Dept of Education has a budget of $6.5-Million for staff professional development, which includes several travelling to Florida in May.

It will be difficult, if not impossible, to get needs, costs and outcomes adjusted to where they should be from within the education system. That’s because every employee of school boards, including the superintendent, is a member of one of the three unions – NSTU, NSGEU or CUPE.
Imagine laying off someone, when they are member of the same union as you and would be the ones called forward to speak on your behalf should you have received your “pink slip”.
Would it be easier to design a new system rather than remodel an existing one? What would happen if parents and residents decided it would switch to private schools? Would the Department of Education transfer a base amount for each student to a new system?
Education and all departments need a major overhaul to deliver the required outcomes.
Who will champion the cause? Where is our Oprah?

 


January 2011 - Climate change?

Before I get into the this month’s topic of “What is happening to our weather?” I need to make few comments about last month’s column about “Anti-incumbent electorate”.

The reaction was interesting. All those who mentioned it agreed totally with me, that the electorate is angry. A few suggested that the lingering and extremely slow recovery of the economy will continue to play an important role in what happens in the voting booths.

With the recent increase given to Nova Scotia Power, the electorate is even more upset, so much so, they are hiding their anger and are expected to release their frustrations at the ballot boxes. One of the major problems the public has is they don’t feel the various levels of government are being “totally forthright in their actions and the way they deliver messages, good or bad.

There’s a growing level of concern that “hidden agendas” dominate every political decision. I don’t want to keep harping about how the disregard for politicians continues to grow. However, I will say it will take several years before everyone is simmered down.

Now onto our weather. Last month everyone was talking about the unusually high volumes of rain we have been getting, and how the weather patterns seem to have changed. Last winter was a snowless one, and this year, we seem to be heading to a shorter one again. Who would believe that in the second week of December we would have temperatures in the high teens?

The summer was warm and for the most part without a lot of rain. Fall was beautiful and seems to have gotten extended by a few weeks. Not that I mind warmer temperatures in November and December, but these temperatures really seem to upset nature’s balance. With the tropical like temperatures, we also get what happens in the tropics………. Rain, wind and more rain and wind. While Atlantic Canadians are smiling all the way to the bank for not having to turn on the furnace, London Ontario area gets 144cm of snow in less than 72 hours. Just think of the problems of getting a winter’s total snowfall in less than 3 days.

On the week before Christmas, England and many European countries are closing airports due to massive snowfall. On December 19th, Heathrow airport was not accepting any arrivals and was permitting only 6 departures.

Back to Nova Scotia, we get massive winds that wrecked havoc with falling trees on power lines and many homes suffering roof damage. What was different was that most of the wind came from an entirely different direction. We occasionally get high winds from the Southwest but not so vicious for such a long time.

The damage was so widespread that by the weekend of December 18th, it was almost impossible to buy roofing tar or Wet Patch in the town of Truro. Insurance adjusters, contractors and building supply outlets have been going full tilt.

Right now we are thinking about the physical damage, but if the weather patterns are definitely changing and out season are out of sync with what we normally expect, we have to wonder what else is going to happen.

Those to deal with land erosion are particularly concerned about what will happen over the next decade. Not only are we going to see a lot more erosion, but we are particularly vulnerable to massive flooding. The dykes are in bad repair, but with rising water levels, they are not high enough. It’s suggested most dyked areas will have to be raised four to five feet over the next 20 years.

The concern is so great winter rocking in vulnerable areas is ongoing. It has to be done in the winter, when the frost is in the ground.

Getting temperatures consistently in the 17-18 range at this time of year, is easy on our heating costs, but there are many other areas, whereby we will pay. Heavy rains, higher winds, and if it all comes when the tides are at their highest, we could be in for devastation like we have never seen before. Look at all the flooding in New Brunswick, Cape Breton and Newfoundland.

Repairing the infrastructure will create employment, but it will also hit us hard in our pocketbooks. Higher taxes, when the government goes to pay for the repairs and higher insurance premiums, when the insurers get done calculating how much money they need to recover after paying out for all those damages.

It not going to be a fun time.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Maurice


 

Maurice & Dorothy Rees, Publishers
The Shoreline Journal
Box 41, Bass River, NS B0M 1B0
PH: 902-647-2968; Cell: 902-890-9850
E-mail: maurice@theshorelinejournal.com