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December 2012 - Let’s buy Alberta Crude Oil

In four recent news articles which Premier Dexter has been one of the main subjects, the score is tied 2 in favour and 2 against. This last couple of weeks he is batting 500.

Let’s look at the things against him first. A very weak response to a reporter’s question concerning accusations of improper treatment of residents at the Nova Scotia School for Coloured Children, with his response "must be very careful". That didn’t get interpreted as strong support or taking leadership to find answers to problems affecting a minority group.

Second was revelation he spent over $7,000 for a first class ticket when New Brunswick and PEI premiers travelled for far less. In fact Premier Ghiz’s ticket cost approximately 30% less. Nothing riles up the electorate more than the perception elected officials and public servants are living high off the hog. Travelling at the public expense in super luxury, when colleagues, travel with less fanfare is akin to expecting to watch a large screen television and have the public pay for it.

To his benefit there are two things which Premier Dexter has done, for which he should be congratulated. Granted we don’t have a spare $100-million to spend buying the former Bowater-Mersey lands from Resolute, but is sure has engendered public support province wide. I’m not saying $100-million is the right price, but it might have been the figure necessary to prop-up the employee pension plan. If there were no other prospective buyers lurking in the wings, or if the price could have been lower, a lower price should have been negotiated. But Dexter deserves credit to making a decision. At least Nova Scotians will own more forest land.

His second accomplishment will gain public support, when residents understand what it means, was chairing a meeting of Canadian Premiers which moved toward moving Alberta heavy crude oil from the West (Alberta) to the East (Quebec) and eventually through New Brunswick to the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John.

Although he chaired the meeting, he did not seem to express total enthusiasm for reversing pipeline flow. One would have hoped he was helping NB premier David Alward in championing the cause. If a million or so barrels of oil could be shipped east, the economic benefits to the Atlantic region would be unpararelled.

Here’s a simple fact which demonstrated where the benefit starts. The price of crude on the world market is hovering in the range between $88 and $109 per barrel. Alberta crude is priced around $40 per barrel.

Just imagine how much more Nova Scotia is spending on gasoline and all products made from crude oil purchased from the mid-east. It’s not that we should not buy from external sources, but if we could spend our hard earned dollars in Canada first, all regions in Canada would benefit.

Readers Call to Action. If you would like to spend less on furnace oil, or gasoline and diesel fuel for your vehicles, why not contact your elected officials, asking them to be pro-active to have cheaper Canadian crude oil delivered to Atlantic Canada.

Yes, Scott Armstrong, MP is the man to take the message to Ottawa and you should contact him.

But I have a different take on the matter, which will gather much more support. There’s going to be a provincial election next year and all parties will be seeking public support.

Start at the municipal level. Contact your local councillor and ask them to put the matter on the agenda for council. I’m fairly confident it would pass. As more municipal councils approved the resolution, it will give Premier Dexter more reason to be a whole lot more pro-active.

The matter is already on the radar screen of the other premiers. The more grassroot we can make this movement, the more pressure on provincial capitals and Ottawa to get it done.

The only thing which could stall the matter is if there is still a strong feeling from Alberta elected politicians, which translates to "let Atlantic Canadians freeze". If that thought still exists in the highest offices in the land, let’s make sure it is reversed, just as the pipeline flow needs to be reversed.



November 2012 - Will we rebuild the tourism industry?

Nova Scotia’s economy has not been growing at a pace, we had hoped. And there’s a good reason for that, especially in 2012. The closure of two pulp mills, with Port Hawkesbury being reopened in early October, after it was delivered on a silver platter to the new owners.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to suggest these two mills are the reason we are floundering about like a freshly caught mackerel tossed onto the wharf. Our problem is more deeply embedded in our way of life and will take a lot of resolve from everyone to correct.

As a general comment, the closure of these two mills and the electricity they did not consume have put Nova Scotia Power in the headlines more often than not. NSP’s frequent appearance before the URB and it’s willingness to spend $2-million to fight a consultant’s report have put them at the top of Nova Scotia’s most despised companies.

Our problems are deep rooted going back approximately two decades. In many ways the residents must bear a lot of the responsibility, because we have been too lenient on our politicians. We have let them do what they wanted time and time again, and more often than not their decisions have not produced long term beneficial results.

When Dexter was handing out $260-million on major investments in Halifax this spring, I wrote in the space in the July issue in order to level the playing field with Halifax approximately $100-Million should be spent in the remainder of the province, after it had spend $75-million on two pulp mills and Cooke Aquaculture.

Tourism is the one sector which can deliver results within 12 months. In the 90’s a lot of Canada’s success was due to low CDN$. With a rising currency and a failing US economy, we have been hit hard.

Here’s why tourism needs a shot in the arm. In the decade from 2002-2012 overnight visits from USA visitors dropped 36%. If we don’t do something quick, the province’s $3.8-billion tourism sector will be so far behind it will never catch up to other emerging tourism destinations. We have been losing market share for far too long.

It’s not one quick fix. Many components need to be implemented simultaneously. To start, tourism operators need an influx of capital to rejuveniate properties; complete rebranding of the province’s image; package and market what we already have which is a number for world class assets, not available elsewhere in the world.

The province needs to be a leader in highway signage improvements; new transportation infrastructure; coordinating bus, train and ferry schedules; permit students hired under federal and provincial funding for tourism information centres and the private sector to work beyond the end of August. We need to extend our season beyond Labour Day to Thanksgiving at least.

If we want to play in the global tourism market, we must act world class and invest so Nova Scotia’s tourism sector has world class appeal.

Now a word to the politicians. Nova Scotians are irate over increasing electricity costs, high salaries and everything that has gone on regarding Nova Scotia Power. Political polling has determined this is the "topic of the day". Because an election is in the offing, political parties each want to claim to be the one, who righted the wrongs and are responsible for "saving" Nova Scotians from being further trampled into despair by Nova Scotia Power.

All political parties introduced proposed legislation to bring NSP a bit more to it’s knees, as soon as the legislature opened on October 25th. It will take a while to determine how watered down future legislation will be. In fact there’s a strong possibility, all introduced legislation will die in the current legislature session, because there is a lot of talk, we will be heading to the voter’s box before Christmas.

It’s fine to appeal to the masses to get votes, but if politicians are serious about delivering long term benefits, creating more jobs, and have a positive attitude across the province, they must act in unison to rebuild the tourism industry.

It is a quicker way to improve our economy, compared to cutting steel and farming fish.




October 2012 - Smart and Aggressive, Not Likely

It’s highly unlikely Canada will ever get smart and aggressive enough to get ahead of the curve. I don’t mean to sound negative, but hope I am realistic and constructive. Yes, we’re compassionate and caring, but with all our natural resources we don’t do enough to become # 1.

Take for instance, we were either instrumental or certainly agreed to major assistance and payments to help Japan and Germany rebuild after the war. I’m not saying we should not have done it, but look at their economies now.

For years, we have been shipping crushed metal to the Orient to have it come back in the form of kitchen appliances, and almost anything else. If you wanted to buy chop sticks, where are they made? Where did the original log come from? Why aren’t we processing our timber and shipping massive amounts of chop sticks to the larger markets which use them?

Alberta and British Columbia are at logger heads over a bitumen pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands to BC for shippment overseas. If Canada is going to get a black eye from global environmentalists for the tar sands as Western Canada’s economic engine, why don’t we have both eyes blacked for building the refineries in Canada to ship finished product?

I’m not an economist, but I’ve always understood it’s beneficial produce a finished product rather than export the raw goods, then re-import the finished product. Shouldn’t we be fulfilling Canada’s energy needs then build bigger processing facilities to export the surplus?

I just read in the Globe & Mail a 400 Km pipeline is being proposed to ship one billion cubic feet of natural gas daily from shale fields in Ohio to a hub near Detroit to serve Michigan interests and then be fed into the Vector pipeline into southern Ontario, which will supplant Western Gas.

Canada needs to increase labour efficiencies to become a competitive leader. If we are not competitive, it’s no wonder we have a struggling economy except automotive and Alberta’s energy sector.

We need to wake up and pay attention to what is going on around us. Confederation happened in 1867, because Ontario and Quebec needed Atlantic Canada to survive. With confederation we ceded power to others.

Right now Atlantic Canada could be at the top of the heap, but we are not. Look at Newfoundland. Within 20 years it has become a "have" province, while Ontario has slipped to "have not". If Newfoundland can do it, so can the rest of the Atlantic region. We might be starting on our way, with the hydro development in Labrador and the electrical cable coming underwater from "The Rock" to Nova Scotia.

We can do it. We have the natural resouces which everyone wants and needs. Let’s not give them away. Let’s be hardnosed like several Newfoundland premiers. Brian Peckford set the tone for subsequent premiers.

Nova Scotia needs astute and devoted entrepreneurs to implement a plan. Government should empower them to produce 35,000 new jobs in the next decade, outside of Halifax.

If a "tax free" zone was established in Guysborough County, the Melford terminal would proceed instantly creating thousands of jobs. The coal areas from Springhill to Pictou and Antigonish Counties need to start extracting methane for energy.

With its thermal energy assets, Springhill should be much more industrial than it is. Let’s persuade the federal government to use thermal energy in the Springhill Institution. That infrastructure could be the basis for industrial development. For example, greenhouses would be the most competitive in Canada operating year round producing the region’s vegetables with surplus capacity for exports.

The Debert Park is an asset unequaled in eastern Canada, but development lags far behind its potential. Located elsewhere six months would have delivered what has been done in a decade. It could have rivalled Burnside.

Municipality of Colchester and Town of Truro councils should be ashamed, they have not been aggressive to create a climate for business in Debert to have delivered 1,500 – 2,000 new jobs. Those new jobs would have provided the synergy to attract even more business. Maybe the Debert Park should be a "tax free zone".

I wonder how many hours the two councils have deliberated on that topic?

September 2012 - Will the grass get mowed in Five Islands?

August is normally a slow news month, except for accidents and major instances, because most the newsmakers, their staff or the public are on holidays. However, this August has been different. News or issue activity is being driven primarily by Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board, Nova Scotia Power, Emera and the provincial government. The former NewPage mill in Port Hawkesbury is central to all.

There’s been enough material to keep one busy full-time in terms of research, gathering analysis, or collecting opinions.

Almost every conversation I’ve had with people after the traditional comments about the weather, turns to frustration over what appears to be a constant flow of applications for rate increases, by Nova Scotia Power. But this summer Nova Scotia Power is also more in the news because of ongoing negotiations on Port Hawkesbury’s idle pulp mill and will it ever re-open?

This summer it’s either been someone applying to take more money out of the consumer’s pocket, or the provincial government handing out $-millions more of our money. It’s hard for families who are barely squeaking by, or living off their line of credit to feel optimistic when they have change in their pockets while others are talking in the millions.

One had to wonder what the Stern Brother’s next request will be to open the mill. Recently, the province has come up with $124.5-million; approval has been granted for lower than normal power rate and a request for complicated tax savings has been asked of Canada Revenue Agency. Many speculate, Ottawa will not grant the request, because it would open up floodgates many companies would seek.

After everyone thought the complete request list was fulfilled, the Stern Brothers company applied to the URB to reduce its municipal property tax bill from over $2-million to approximately $500,000.

If the mill does reopen, granted approximately half of the previous staff will have jobs. Woodlot contractors, truckers and field personnel will have jobs, but the municipality in which they reside would have to curtail services. The Port Hawkesbury mill’s tax bill accounted for 40% of tax revenues.

Imagine how that will affect delivery of services. Will the municipality have a staff?

Late last week, Port Hawkesbury’s Mayor Billy Joe MacLean who has been very supportive and at the centre of the pressure points to see the mill re-opened started to ask questions. The tone of media reports indicate he is suggesting the URB not reduce the tax bill. When is enough enough?

It’s a rough situation when a single business accounts for almost half of revenues. It makes them to big to fail, but at some point pouring in more money has to stop.

I certainly hope no other area is every faced with such a heart-wrenching situation. Imagine the chaotic situation for Colchester or Truro if one tax paying customer wanted to go from 40% of tax revenues to 10%. Any municipality would be in chaos.

The Truro economy seems to be consistent according to rental occupancy rates surveys. It’s doing much better than many other areas around the province. Developers seem to be closely guarding those occupancy rates to keep rental fees up and not allowing a sudden increase in commercial or residential space. But it also speaks well of the Colchester economy, which has always had a reputation for consistency.

Some people in the Five Islands area are not happy. Many of them worked hard for a permanent location for the Lighthouse and were elated when 22 acres was donated to the municipality and the municipality stepped up to the plate to move the lighthouse to its new home and establish a park.

Pressure has been put on District 10 councillor, Tom Taggart to have the grass around the lighthouse mowed regularly. Tom’s been working on the matter, but some reports I’ve received indicate municipal staff wish to maintain the area in a natural state, as an un-manicured coastal area. Residents feel so strongly that several have written letters to the editor, which are published on Page 4.

It is anticipated the matter will be resolved before or during the August 30th council meeting.

August 2012 - Lack of quick directive doesn’t build confidence.

A couple weeks ago, Rob Bennett, NS Power’s million dollar president suggested to the Utility and Review Board the demand for electricity is down and full production of the $204-million bio-mass generator is not required, but the facility must produce steam for the former NewPage mill in Point Tupper, when it opens. The steam not used by NewPage, would have been used to generate electricity. Demand on the grid is down significantly primarily due to closure of Bowater Mersey mill in Brooklyn.

As a result the plant would suffer operational loss, and his customers would pick up the tab. He indicated green power generated by windfarms and existing capacity can handle demand.

Here’s my problem. When Bowater’s shut down truckers whose job it was to deliver product to the mill or employees of failed or closed businesses do not have recourse similar to NS Power to generate income to cover expenses. Why should NS Power be treated differently than the rest of us?

I’ll ask the question, even though I know the answer. Are Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board members volunteers or paid professionals? If they are volunteers, maybe they can be forgiven. If they are paid professionals, receiving more than expenses for travel and meals, they should resign or be fired.

When Bennett brought this information to Review Board members, they should have interrupted him and said. Truck contractors to Bowater, and employees of failed businesses do not have access to funds to cover expenses. Nova Scotia Power can not expect us to grant an increase. If you have a contract to supply steam, you either get out of the contract, or you supply steam and cover all operational costs. Board members should have also directed Bennett to stimulate the Nova Scotia economy by using all the steam capacity at the bio-mass generator, because it is a renewal source, and money flows as income to wood lot owners, chippers, truckers, and a host of other occupations.

I can’t fault Bennett for asking or suggesting what will happen. Probably most business leaders would take the opportunity to ask for assistance or a ruling.

However, I can blame Utility Board Members for not sending a clear message, within minutes, to Nova Scotians the Utility & Review Board does protect Nova Scotia businesses and citizens. Board members missed a golden opportunity to demonstrate and regain public confidence, they are not under the spell or in the pockets of Nova Scotia Power.

As soon as Bennett uttered those words, any board member should have rebutted his statement by setting the stage and providing direction by saying, "Mr Bennett, it is and will be the direction of this board, the bio-mass generation plant must operate at full capacity, when steam is needed by the NewPage mill. The excess steam must be converted into electricity. Further to that, Nova Scotia Power must honour all contracts for electricity generated from wind or other private producers.

Mr. Bennett we are instructing you to eliminate generation capacity from within your existing infrastructure which will result in: (1) Close or mothball plants which use foreign coal. (2) Reduce emissions making it easier for the province to reach legislated levels. (3) Nova Scotia’s economy will be better served if you purchase fuel supplies from within Nova Scotia. (4) That money will circulate many times and create more jobs. (5). Therefore, we suggest your company spend as little as possible purchasing generating fuel from other countries and focus on purchasing within the province.

Will the review board deliver a message similar to the above? No, they won’t.

Will Nova Scotia be best served by their reply? Probably not.

Will confidence in NS URB increase? Definitely not.

Will taxpayers think URB and NS Power drink through the same straw? Yes, most definitely.

Will Dexter’s government do anything about it? Not, on Your Life. What a shame on Nova Scotians for permitting this to happen.

July 2012 - Will the playing field ever be level?

What a turbulent month. The Dexter government’s efforts to "backstop" the economies of the Northeastern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton and Western Nova Scotia by spending $-Millions to prop up the forestry sector must seem like it’s a money pit and a dead-end road.

Financial woes in Europe are disrupting economic growth, so much so the Chinese economy is on a downward slide. This has impacted export markets of nearly every product, no more so than newsprint, which has created another casualty with the closure of the Bowater Mersey mill in Liverpool.

Starting in 2008, the forestry sector has been dismantled with the collapse of housing construction sector as the USA economy nosedived. Each time progress seemed to be gathering steam to regenerate some economic activity, another wheel falls off the cart.

It’s not just the forestry sector which has taken a beating. Every economic sector has open wounds. The retail sector of small locally owned businesses has deep lacerations as Big Box stores set up on the outskirts of town and are taking their lunch and dinner. To its credit the provincial government needs a pat on the back for removing many public sector jobs out of Halifax and putting them in Glace Bay, Truro, Shelburne and Digby. There are hundreds more public sector jobs, which should be moved to smaller communities, but the big obstacle here is union management who spoke in a very degrading manner about the most recent moves.

If they were serious about caring about the provincial economy, the NSGEU would be sourcing more leasable space for offices around the province instead of spending $11-$14-Million for a new complex in Burnside and placing obstacles in the way of government’s efforts to rejuvenate the rural economy.

The tourism sector is another example of what a crumbling economy can do. Six years is a long time to tread water, and many people are getting tired and getting out of the business they were in. If they are not getting tired themselves, their properties are starting to show the affects of a dwindling economy.

Government has been right in providing mega-bucks to Irving Shipyards to modernize Halifax Shipyards, but I am not sure $260-Million was the correct figure, when balanced against what is needed outside HRM.

Let’s presume 260 was the right figure and HRM represents approximately 60% of the provincial economy. Mathematically, one can say to be fair to the rest of the province, the current government should be spending $173-Million for similar economic engines. I can account for about $70-Million in three projects. $25-Million to keep the NewPage mill in hot idle; $25-Million was promised for Bowater Mersey and more recently $25-Million to help Cooke Aquaculture build a processing plant in Shelburne, with addition monies being invested in Digby and elsewhere around the province. That leaves about $100-Million to spread around the remainder of the province.

The Irving Shipyards will be over two years before cutting steel and Cooke Aquaculture will be at least 18-24 months before there is much job growth towards the 450 jobs they hope to create. So let’s go back and have a look at tourism. It’s the one sector of the economy, which an immediate injection of funding would generate immediate returns - within 12 months.

I don’t know what the program would look like, but they need upfront cash to help improve their properties and expand marketing efforts. The program could be further enhanced with no cash outlay, by allowing improved properties to have an accelerated rate of depreciation of over a three year period. And oh yes, $10-Million should go to re-open our most westerly gateway to the United States Market. With the right vessel, there is a ready market of 60+ million New Englanders, requiring very little persuading to enjoy mini-cruises and weekend getaways to Yarmouth and other parts of Southwestern Nova Scotia.

As I end this column, you’ll notice I didn’t get on my high horse about the Electoral Boundaries Commission. The refusal of the interim report just demonstrates the Dexter government is cherry picking to gain a seat or two over being fully committed to re-developing rural Nova Scotia.

June 2012

There are so many topics in the news recently, that I am passionate about, and on each one could almost write a book. However, I don’t have enough time or space so that thought was tossed out quickly.

Among the topics at the top of the list: Move of Dept of Agriculture staff to Truro; reaction of labour leaders concerning the de-centralization of various departments to smaller communities; request for another rate hike by Nova Scotia Power; opposition to wind turbines to generate green energy; over $300 million pledged to Halifax Shipyards and I’m sure there were a couple of others.

Perhaps first off the list would be the comments from Union Leader Joan Jessome, whose did not speak kindly about Truro, Glace Bay, Shelburne and Digby. First out of the starting gate, she mentioned union members would not want to transfer, because of where they would be "going to". She gave the impression these communities were on the undesirable list. Intentionally, or accidently, she left the impression that Halifax is the utopia of the province and nothing else matters.

I wonder how NSGEU members located throughout the province actually feel about her attitude, not that they would dare say anything. Maybe if enough government departments are dotted around the province, NSGEU might be pressured to relocate their office as well.

As Tom Taggart points out in his column, the Department of Agriculture move to Truro is a good thing as is fisheries office to Shelburne and Digby and more jobs going to Glace Bay. These moves are even more important in light of the Conference Board of Canada about the importance of Halifax to regional prosperity. The report profiling Halifax as the financial centre of Atlantic Canada was nothing new. People have recognized and been saying that for years. What is good for the region or the province is good for Halifax and vice versa.

However, what was new, at least to me, was the report saying Halifax would have a more positive impact on Fredericton, Moncton or Charlottetown, than it would on another area within the province. No wonder those outside Halifax get irritated when there are discussions relating to Halifax Vs the rest of the province.

A good example is the over $300-million pledged to Halifax Shipyards, when many areas of the province are fighting for their economic survival, and feel serious attention paid to their request and investment of a few million would go a long way to improving their livelihood.

I read an interesting piece in the Globe and Mail a couple of weeks ago, when they published an in-depth profile of Denmark regarding wind turbines, exporting turbine technology, how Denmark generates its electricity and how it has achieved its high rate of reductions in emissions. A few days later news broke that Nova Scotia Power will be filing for another rate increase.

Nova Scotia power will have a hard job convincing the public it needs a rate increase, when it’s executives are among the highest paid in the country. It’s hard to believe some of them can face the public when they are making well over $1-million per year and in some cases the salary and benefit package exceeds $2-million. For shareholders the guaranteed rate of return is several times what government bonds pay. If the guaranteed return was approximately 7.5% instead of 9+, and the top executive compensation was $500-$750,000, we as the public might be a bit more understanding.

Back to the profile of Denmark. It is the world leader in wind turbine technology. Export of turbine technology represents 18% of its GDP. Wind turbines generate 20% of the country electricity. The remainder of the energy comes from, guess what, coal. Electricity cost is $.30 per kWh - about three times what we pay here.

The Danes pay so much for electricity; they have been forced to reduce consumption in order to have electrical service at home and are very frugal when it comes to consumption in commercial environments. The domestic forced reduction has resulted in drastic decreases in its level of emissions.

Has Nova Scotia power taken several pages out of the Danish book of how to do things?

May 2012

Together we can take on the world.

Last month’s column brought a few reactions and all of them of a positive nature. Most prominent was my thoughts on gas prices, which at their high level makes everyone cringe, when they look at the gas gauge knowing a big part of this week’s paycheck will be required to fill to the brim.

High gasoline and diesel prices affects every aspect of the economy from those who scrape by on a weekly basis, and only use their vehicle to get groceries, take the children to activities or medical appointments to commercial vehicles hauling freight, driving up prices of all goods, so that the families who are scraping by are further impacted when they make any purchase.

The tourism sector is certainly going to be impacted. Those from far away will travel less distance. Out of province tourism will certainly see a decline. Local traffic, commonly known as “day trippers” will travel less, or make shorter trips.

It’s for these reasons, tourism operators in Cumberland and Colchester areas must ensure they are giving the tourist; even those from a neighbouring community receive a “memorable experience” and go away wanting to come back again.

It’s almost tourist season, and the lateness of all this will pose a problem for operators. Plans were made, budgets set and major purchases of advertising were made a year ago. With fear that traffic from distant places may be down, they are scrambling to find ways to market their property to a broader yet local market.

Those who succeed will be those who are able to change gears to focus on Southeastern New Brunswick, particularly the Sackville area, and Pictou County to the east. A few years ago (late 80’s) everyone had hype to tackle the Boston market, primarily because of ferry service to Portland and the MV Bluenose still making it multi-trips daily from Yarmouth to Bar Harbour. All of that is now history. Before traffic via the ferry services started to decline culminating in the eventual curtailment of Yarmouth being the Gateway to New England, Iceland Air started calling on Halifax, Iceland became the flavor of the tourism world as hype shifted to the land of visible volcanic ash.

In fact during the early 90’s I visited Iceland as part of a trade mission from Nova Scotia. It’s an interesting place, the people are fantastic and Halifax benefitted immensely. However, benefits did not directly flow to all corners of the province.

Not long thereafter the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia under the direction of Judith Cabrita started to hammer home the point that over 50% of our tourism revenue was generated from within Atlantic Canada.

Last year when other areas suffered significant declines, the Bay of Fundy shore from Advocate – Parrsboro down to Truro shows gains. Our natural beauty, good highways and favourable publicity helped us along. A big part was because of the hype to get the Bay of Fundy voted as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Greater awareness of the Bay of Fundy will continue to bring a new category of tourist to our shores for years to come, but we should not rest on our laurels. Like a successful basketball team we need to constantly be in “full court press” mode.

Right now for the 2012 season, operators need to really focus on generating traffic from the local market, within a two hour drive. Two hours will include PEI, Moncton and Halifax with a population base of nearly 1-million people.

Local enthusiasts, municipal politicians, community groups must coordinate their efforts. For 2013, 2104 and 2015, my suggestion is to work on development of packages of home comings, family reunions, local craft festivals, etc. Even get the 4-H clubs, fire departments and churches involved. All of them need successful fund raising events.

Look at our biggest assets, Joggins Fossil Centre, Cumberland County Heritage Network and Fundy Geological Museum all with significant infrastructure. Now bring in the community groups and descendents of families, who settled this area in the beginning.

Together we can take on the world - enjoy doing it, be successful and build a better more cohesive community along the shore.

April 2012

Where to start, what’s ahead.

Recently, it seems there is much more turbulence in life than we normally have to deal with at this time of the year. So many important things buzzing around it’s difficult to get focused, so I’ve decided to add a paragraph or two on each of them.

Gas Prices: With gas prices spiking to their highest level since 2008, we need to be worried about the impact on the economy and family budgets. 2008 gas price spiking was followed by over two years of recession. Could we be headed for a repeat? It’s difficult for the Nova Scotia economy, when gas prices here are 5-6 cents more per litre than adjacent New Brunswick, and if you are in PEI, expect to pay upwards of 11 cents less per litre.

I’m not an economist, but I find it hard to rationalize, how prices in PEI could be so much lower, since they don’t have a refinery and fuel must be trucked over the Confederation Bridge. Is the Nova Scotia government permitting oil companies to make additional money, or is it in fact, the government who is racking in the big buck? Call your local MLA and ask them to get you the answer.

RoboCalls: Ottawa is being turned upside down with accusations of political dirty tricks and the possibility of criminal activity contravening the Elections Canada Act. It’s possible future investigations, if they materialize, could show all parties were playing the game, or just one had their hand deeper into the cookie jar. Aggravating calls do not count. What matters is getting to the bottom of anything illegal and making sure the full affects of the law are handed out to those guilty.

What I do know is the accusations, denials, and name calling has tarnished the image of all politicians in Canada. If Canada expects to have more people engaged in the political world or at least exercising their rite to vote, it would be helpful if MP’s in Ottawa acted like professionals, and not a yard full of 4-5 year olds fighting in a sandbox.

Election Bait? Darrel Dexter’s NDP government is talking about a small personal income tax decrease in the upcoming budget to be delivered in early April. Maybe an income tax deduction is a forerunner to an election platform. If so, does that mean flying high in the approval ratings with the 30-40 year shipyard jobs for Halifax area, Darrell will go to the polls this fall? Oh, by the way, even though over $1-million was spent on “Jobs Start Here”, the decision was that of the Federal Government. Provincially, we had nothing to do with the decision. Hard to make an election plank out of something which was not accomplished.

Maintaining the current taxation levels and finding a way to reduce gasoline and diesel prices would provide more relief for taxpayers many of whom are at the lower end of the income scale and are having enough difficulty scraping by from week to week.

Masstown intersection: Appeals to install warning traffic lights at the Masstown Intersection, goes back almost a decade when then councilor Doug Cooke took up the cause. More recently current councilor, Tom Taggart, has been pushing for the cause. In this issue, MLA, Karen Casey has voiced her concern on Page 5. None of the previous three appear to be satisfied with previous studies. The matter is going to Municipal Council as soon as it can be placed on the agenda. Is the lack of forward movement because of budget restraints, or has someone just dug in their heels and said, “NO”.

Climate Warming: Even though we thoroughly enjoyed the unusually hot weather last week, and are proud of the records we set. Coming in a 29.4 degrees, Western Head was warmer than Honolulu. However, the downfall could be the damage suffered to the fruit and vegetable crops in the region. With apple and cherry trees in full bloom, it only takes one cool night of -3 degrees for a few hours to wipe out an entire crop.

Other than the credit union closing and 125 positions being eliminated by the shool board, which are our Page 1 stories, did I miss anything?

March 2012

Is the Nova Scotia government and highway supervisors saving salt and use of equipment until next year? In the following paragraphs, you’ll learn why I would ask such a question.

When one is “hot under the collar”, it’s a good idea not to head directly the keyboard to passionately write their monthly column. Such is the case with me. On Monday, February 13th, I couldn’t wait to get to the keyboard to express my disappointment with the state of snow and ice removal, or lack thereof, on Nova Scotia’s Highways. However, I made the decision to wait at least a week.

Let me set the stage. I was in Moncton working on the weekend and felt the full affects of 20 cm of snow followed by a mildness, then freezing, which made driving equal to taking your life in your hands. As a result we stayed an extra day coming home on Monday morning. In Moncton it was blistering cold and at -16 and salt would not work.

Overnight City of Moncton and NB highway crews had done an admirable job of clearing streets and highways. Once on the highway, I thought this is going to be a breeze. Roads were clear except for a rippling of ice along the right hand side of the road. All was fine across the marsh at Sackville, near the Radio Canada International towers and then through Aulac to the actual spot where the highway enters Nova Scotia.

Exactly at that spot, within a distance of 20-25 feet, coming up the grade by the Nova Scotia welcoming tourist bureau, the roadway turned into a nightmare. A complete sheen of rutted ice cover lay ahead of me across the rest of the Tantramar Marsh, which was the worst, then on past Amherst it was still rough going and nerve racking until we reached the Cumberland end of the toll highway.

On the marsh several vehicles were in the ditch, including an 18-wheeler, which turned 180 degrees and was heading towards Moncton. At that particular time, I thought if I were Bill Estrabrooks, I’d be relieving someone of their duties around here.

Once I got to the toll highway life on the road improved. All was fine until I passed Masstown Market and entered provincially cleared highway. From there to Truro it was life in your hands. On the radio, there were constant reports of ice covered highway and many vehicles resting in the ditches between Truro and Halifax.

Regardless of how Department of Transportation officials wish to spin it, there is no way they can convince me it was thaw freeze cycles and too cold for salt to work. If the Cobequid Pass, which has a reputation for bad driving experience during and after a storm can be basically clear, why not the rest of the roads.

Are they saving the salt for next winter and keeping equipment in the garage to last longer? Or, is it a matter of supervisors not being as good as their counterparts on the Cobequid Pass? One thing for sure, it is not the guys and gals behind the wheel of those monstrous snow clearing and salting vehicles. They only do what they are told.

Wonder what state we would be in if we had experienced a normal winter?

This example of ineffectiveness and not delivering good service is not limited to department of highways. Look at the recent reports out of the south shore, where students have been failing and falling behind in provincial testing. Also on the south shore, I hear that as soon as the province anted up money for the Bowater paper mill, the large contracts were transferred to other mills in Quebec. The Liverpool crew, now left with crumbs, is facing another prolonged shutdown. Speculation is rife the mill may not remain open in 12 months.

Economic troubles in the European Union does not bode well for exports especially live lobster, which is the backbone of many coastal communities. The economic pinch is here for all Nova Scotians with rapidly increasing cost of gasoline, heating fuel and electricity costs.

All this is pointing to the fact Nova Scotia is in hard shape and could soon hit the concrete wall. Where will it all end?

February 2012 - Hollowing out

How many of us remember, as a child, planting a tree or finding a tree, which we nurtured to grow into a magnificent thing of beauty. Then one day maybe 40, 50 or 60 years later a gigantic windstorm uprooted the tree.

When the tree was being removed, we discovered the tree’s centre was in a severe stage of decay. From the outside the tree had looked magnificent, but the centre was nothing but a hollow cavern.

An act of nature took the tree from us, but we learned the tree’s time had come. It was gone before it lost its magnificent beauty. Even though it is no more, we are filled with fond memories.

As Nova Scotians we love our province as much as we loved our childhood tree. Through the years, we have grown up with its beauty; we have struggled together and have rejoiced in happier times. One of those happier times occurred decades ago, when then premier Gerald Regan held up a vial declaring “It’s Oil”. We speculated on riches and all of us would be driving a Volvo, which was then made in Nova Scotia.

As a coastal province far from the centre of perceived power and wealth of Upper Canada we fought, struggled, coped and got along. Most of us were land people, because we lived off the land. We cut the firewood, grew vegetables, caught fish, raised pork, beef and chickens, occasionally hunting for a treat of venison. We walked to school, helped repair the church and looked out for our neighbour.

We weren’t rich in monetary terms, but we had wealth money can not buy. Similarly, we did not have a lot of debt. Yes, we owed, but small in comparison to today. Debt was obtained on a handshake, because we knew each other.

We had a few coins in our pocket, because we didn’t need a security system or put locks on our doors. We were safe and we knew it. If someone was in trouble the community rallied to their support.

However, times have changed. We try to be brave and put on a good smile. We need to ask how solid is that strength? Are we solid through to the core?

Now it’s security systems on house and property. We don’t know our neighbours like we used to. Just like our childhood tree, we’re in the hollowing out phase.

For almost as long as our tree flourished, rural Nova Scotia has been on the decline. The hollowing out of rural Nova Scotia started when one-room rural schools reached the endangered list and were eventually closed. Once we started bussing students to larger consolidated schools in other communities, the rate of growth and forward momentum of rural Nova Scotia started hitting speed bumps.

There’s a significant difference in the delivery of services in the rural Vs urban saga. It’s not just rural – urban, the real injustice is the favourtism shown to much larger metropolitan areas at the expense of towns, villages and rural areas.

The looming elephant in the room is the forthcoming changing of provincial election boundaries. We can see it coming. Within the next decade areas within 30-45 minutes of HRM’s harbour bridges will have a majority of MLA seats.

If we currently think HRM is getting more than its share, just wait until the seats are realigned. To curtail the further hollowing out of Rural Nova Scotia, citizens best sit up and take notice. Whoever is in charge, best rally the troops. If something is not done rural areas will be just like our childhood tree – hollowed out and forgotten.

I am honoured to live in rural Nova Scotia. Look how people gathered together to raise $16,000.00 in one afternoon for Holly Grue. Just before Christmas $10,000 for Debert’s Brian Esau. In June $9,500 for Londonderry’s 2 year old sweetheart, Maya MacDonald. Every dollar donated went to the funds. Everything was donated.

I challenge HRM residents to do better. I challenge them to be able to say, there were no expenses. 100% of donations went into the fund.

Let’s take our children by the hand and help them

January 2012

The year 2011 has had so many twists and turns it’s almost impossible to pinpoint the most important event(s), and makes it even more difficult to determine which way 2012 is headed. Some of 2011’s events might seem trivial now, but in 10 years may be perceived as the thing which mattered the most.

If I was to suggest the most important events, it would be a combination of “people power” in the mid-east; near collapse of the European economy and lack of growth of the American economy as it hovers at near recession levels. All three have significant impacts upon Canada.

After decades of Mid-East and northern African dictatorships “people power” did not really exist until social media became unstoppable. Facebook, texting, smartphones, and tweeting enabled the young to communicate to an outside world expressing opposition to their plight.

With many of their families and friends having emigrated to “more” democratic countries their message became headlines elsewhere. The more public opinion gravitated to their side, the braver they became. As a result demonstrations became vogue. With millions demonstrating, hard line rulers were unable to stop the unrest. The rest is history.

People, in these countries, placed their own safety and lives on the line. After gaining support from colleagues and the masses they achieved success. The Egyptian government collapsed. 40 years of cruel dictatorship caused the UN to take action leading to the downfall of Khadafi’s regime. Unrest is growing elsewhere. These successes has instilled confidence in others who are unhappy.

United States and Canada residents are not known as a society to take to the streets, except in small local situations. Citizen unrest in the mid-east, gave birth to the OCCUPY movement in New York voicing opposition to corporate greed. It soon moved to Canada, including Halifax.

At first the general public seemed uninspired, but the key message “1%” and “99%” has developed traction. The OCCUPY tents have been dismantled, but the seeds of discontent are lingering and gaining strength everyday.

In Nova Scotia, HRM’s concert funding fiasco; HRM’s frequent “in camera” meetings developed a perception of lack of transparency; the constant appearance by Emera and Nova Scotia Power before the Public Utilities Board for rate increases is causing many more to become disenchanted. Business owners are unhappy with the passing of “First Contract” legislation. Michelin, Sobeys, Clearwater Fine Foods and the multi-thousand members of CFIB say it makes Nova Scotia unattractive for investment.

I’m not suggesting Nova Scotians are going to demonstrate enmasse, as did the mid-easterners. Unhappiness about everything which is forced upon the taxpayer is becoming more visible and a louder topic in the coffee meetings.

I was surprised when two respected small business owners in Colchester North recently told me, “At first I was unimpressed with OCCUPY, but now I see their point of the 1%. Everything governments do is at the peril of small business and the rural economy”.

My second point is Canada is going to be significantly affected by the downturn in Europe. Our exports will be reduced; tourism from those countries is sure to plummet and financial instability will cause the markets and financial institutions to pull in their horns.

The American economy is going to continue to sputter and underperform until it is overhauled. The USA has to stop the flagrant use of its military strength to solve global situations. It appears, they strike out at other countries in an effort to obtain rights to energy and to weaken other economies as a means to strengthen their own. Their invasion of Iraq a decade ago has created many enemies, who quietly and collectively will do anything they can to bring America to its knees.

Canada needs to develop it’s own identity, reach out to others, expand its export markets and demonstrate it is not in the “back pocket” of our friends south of the border. All levels – federal, provincial and municipal officials best start listening to, consulting with and heed the advice of its small and large business executives, or we may face our own version of the Arab Spring.

It will take the traditional tenacity of Maritimers to survive 2012 unblemished. We can do it, we just need to use our own resolve.


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