Rees' Pieces

 

Rees' Pieces Archives2013      2012     2011     2010        2009       

 


December 2014 - Let’s develop a "grassroots" plan

We need to change our attitude, accept change and do things differently, because Nova Scotia is on track to fail, because of mounting debt. We don’t accept change easily, but we must. Most of the media is portraying the desperate situation we are facing, and the public is slowly understanding the message. The public would prefer political leaders sticking their necks out making massive changes rather than applying band-aids for fear of voter reaction at the next election.

Just when the public is warmed up, someone side swipes them with an unexpected left hook. I’m referring to the $150,000 consultants report presented to Finance Minister Whalen. What a piece of garbage. The only accurate finding was funding of all programs and departments must be capped at current levels.

Since the report’s release, I haven’t determined if I have lost faith or confidence I may have had for consultants, or if my diminishing comfort level should be aimed at those who hire them.

As a comparison of what needs to be done and what would be accepted by the public, I challenge the government to ask for "grassroots" direction on what to do. If they take up the challenge, they must use the same guidelines, find another $150,000, and divide the province into 10 specific areas. Within each area 15 community groups would be charged with bringing community and business organizations, business leaders and municipal representatives onboard to identify 10 key initiatives.

Knowing community groups as I do, and their ability to deliver, I’m positive the following 8 week timetable would produce great results:

  1. Three weeks to get themselves organized,
  2. One weekend to hold a workshop of community leaders, business owners, business organizations and perhaps some municipal representation. Each group to find its own local volunteer facilitator for the day long workshop.
  3. One week for each of the 15 community committees in the 10 areas to compile their report.
  4. Three representatives from each of the 15 community committees hold a one day workshop to reduce 15 individual reports to an area document. All 15 reports appended to the area report. (45 people, plus three workshop leaders).
  5. Five members from each of the 10 areas assemble for a one day workshop, where 10 area reports would be compiled into a master document, with each report being included as an appendix. (50 people, plus a facilitator and three workshop assistants).
  6. Three members from the central committee chosen to present the final document to cabinet – complete with Power Point Presentation. Each of the 10 areas should have one member of their committee there to answer questions from cabinet members. (13 people).

I’ll bet a majority of the conclusions from 150 groups would be very similar.

As for the total costing: Items 1, 2 & 3 would be covered by the $1,000 to each of the 150 community groups. For items 4 & 5, each of the 95 people, plus facilitator and assistants would be given a stipend of $50.00. (Cost $4,750.00)

The three member committee chosen to present the document to cabinet should be given $1,000.00 to seek professional preparation, plus $100.00 each towards travel expenses. (Cost: $1,300.00).

Ideally cabinet would meet in some rural community (not a town or village) provide $50 to $100.00 toward travel expenses for the 13 committee members, plus cabinet should pay a community group to provide two coffee breaks and noontime lunch of soup and sandwiches. (Cost: $650-$1,300, plus lunch).

If they want broader consensus, the three presenters should present the final report to all 52 MLA’s the next day.

Cabinet would have to come up with $7,350, plus lunch, over and above the initial $150,000.00 to 150 community groups. The 150 community groups would each average 20-30 people for their workshops. That’s 3,000 to 4,500 Nova Scotians providing input and direction to all 52 MLA’s on how the province should be administered to get us on the road to prosperity.

If accepted as a go forward "grassroots" plan for the future, one rule must apply. No elected politicians or staff attend any of the workshops or be on any area committee.

If McNeil’s Liberals accept my challenge, I wonders: (1), which consulting report would provide the best roadmap to prosperity, and (2) which would be more widely accepted by 940,000 Nova Scotians?

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

November 2014 - Why pour brine into the rivers?

Maybe, just maybe, the Ivany Report is starting to sink in. Business owners know what’s necessary, but it takes time to develop business plans. Government and the public service is the second slowest.

However, the entire movement is slowed down by the general public. They resist change and don’t trust governments to initiate change. The track record on initiatives led by government is not good and they feel businesses are greedy and will only think of their bottom line.

Turning this province around is going to be a mammoth task and requires the Wisdom of Solomon. To get us out of debt a way must be found to bring all three entities together for a frank discussion.

I worked the weekend of October 20th and didn’t get a chance to digest the story on "The Alton Challenge" in Saturday’s Chronicle Herald until lunch time Monday. The project to store natural gas in salt caverns, in Alton, is dear to my heart, because tidal waters from the Shubenacadie River lap at the dyke on the back of my property. In fact my property line is right up the middle of the dyke in downtown Maitland.

I wasn’t upset at what is going on, or the fact waters from the Stewiacke and Shubenacadie Rivers will be used to flush out the salt to make the three caverns, nor that the brine will be pumped back into the rivers at an acceptable rate and with low salinity.

What was disturbing is the article revealed there are people opposed to the project, who will not meet with company or government officials and have not studied the environmental report. I don’t have a problem with people being opposed, but I do have a problem when people are so tunnel focused they will not even sit down to discuss.

The Ivany Report has called for drastic action, and warns us if we don’t engage in a change of attitude, we will never solve the province’s problems.

The general public is slowly comprehending the depth of the Ivany Report, but I’m not so sure they are ready to accept major changes. We must urge government and business to take action to encourage job creation to curtail the movement west of our finest.

When it comes to changes Governments always tread lightly until they are able to ascertain public opinion. As Graham Steele says in his new book, the politician’s eyes are always on being re-elected not what is bold and right.

Hopefully, the McNeil government pays attention to science and strictly enforces regulations they put in place to approve the Alton gas storage facility. It’s a $130-million project creating thousands of hours of employment for 100’s of construction workers and ongoing tax revenue.

To get out of debt we need everyone on-board pushing in the same direction. If it takes creative thinking, so-be-it. From the beginning all parties should work to get a consensus, or to find a solution which eliminates objections.

Sure there is opposition to releasing brine back into the rivers. Yes, there might be some danger if an equipment malfunction or human error occurs. Worst of all, thousands of tons of salt are being extracted. Unless we use it, it’s a waste of a valuable resource.

What occurred to me seems like a simple solution. Why not treat the brine as it is being pumped from underground and put it to good use? Maybe a new business could be created with more jobs. Why not build a tank farm storing salty brine, so it can be used on icy roads? Why not remove the water and truck the salt to the Highway garages as highway salt?

If my thought is workable, why hasn’t government taken the high road to find a solution before the general public mobilized others to a public demonstration? Is the McNeil government managing staff to find solutions before there is a problem?

To me it makes sense, creates jobs, utilizes a resource we need on the highway when the ice cometh. At the same time it removes the stated objections of those who are against the project. That’s what I would call a win-win-win for everyone and nobody loses. - Maurice.


 

October 2014 - Pressure on Liberals to Manage

Many have watched to see if the newly elected McNeil government would keep or break promises made during the election campaign. Kudos to them. So far, they have done what they said they were going to do.

With the publication of Graham Steele’s book, providing an insight into how governments work on the inside, it appears most decisions are made on electability, not on what’s good for the province in the short and long term. With the Ivany Report as a wakeup call and a roadmap, the challenges are much greater than just decisions made by MLA’s. It requires all elected personnel, to consult, counsel, persuade, beg and twist arms of the general electorate to change their way of thinking and expectations.

The electorate individually and collectively must also keep pressure on MLA’s and municipal councillors to create the climate to bring changes to this province. If we do not succeed in making this province a better and more economical place to live, work and play, we only need to look in the mirror to see who is at fault.

For many years, we have jokingly said we are over-governed and the number of people whose income is derived from government coffers is far too high. A recent study completed by Ben Eisen and Shaun Fatauzzo of the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies proves what the electorate has been saying for decades.

According to the report, if governments in Atlantic Canada adjusted the provincial and municipal staffing levels to the national average, based on population, annual savings of $1.9-billion would be achieved. The combined deficit in Atlantic Canada was $1.1-billion on 2012-2013. Wonder how much better life would be if provincial governments had a combined surplus of $800-million per year?

In 2013 18% of all jobs on a national basis are the civilian public sector. In Atlantic Canada it’s much different: PEI, 23%; Nova Scotia, 22%; New Brunswick, 20% while in NFLD & Labrador it’s 28%. Removing federal employees from the equation, the national figure is 16% and 20% in Atlantic Canada.

Keeping federal employees out of the calculations, and calculating only on local and provincial staffing there 84 employees per 1,000 population nation-wide; 96 in Atlantic Canada, while Nova Scotia tops the list with 99 per 1,000 population.

Bantering figures and percentages around can be confusing. According to 2011 Census, Atlantic Canada’s combined population is 2,327,638. If public service staffing levels were reduced to the national average of 84 per 1,000 population, 27,932 positions would be eliminated. Using 900,000 as Nova Scotia’s population, we would have to reduce the local and provincial staffing level by 13,500 to get down to the national average.

Try as they might to reduce the public service as one of many tools to eliminate the deficit, McNeil’s Liberal’s are running into an almost insurmountable obstacle created by the one-time elected Dexter NDP’s. During 2010 negotiations the NSGEU got the government to agree to "no layoffs" and staffing level reductions could only be achieved through attrition.

The same agreement was used by a 34 employees, who refused transfers when the NDP government moved some government offices to smaller communities outside HRM. Positions had to be found for them in HRM and the positions filled with 34 new employees.

No wonder, Labi Kousoulis, Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission said, "We currently cannot manage our workforce". Considering the foregoing with Nova Scotia falling deeper in debt every day, and Energy Minister Andrew Younger introducing legislation to eliminate fracking as a possible way to regenerate the economy, the future is bleak.

If Graham Steele is correct in saying all decisions including those of backbench MLA’s is made based on being re-elected, I wonder if current MLA’s have the where-with-all to take up the challenge? Do they have the tenacity to "stick with" those challenges?

Will they look beyond the next election and do what is right for the province even if major disruptions evolve in trying to reduce the public service sector? Will they create the climate to generate new revenues even if it is fracking?

I surely hope so.

 


 

September 2014

Turning Nova Scotia’s economy around, so we are no longer running deficits and can pay down the debt is going to take the wisdom, energy and cooperation of everyone who have inputs or connections with our beautiful province.

Lack of job opportunities, high taxes and more money elsewhere have driven many bright young professionals to other areas. We have generations of hanging onto the past and an equal resistance to embracing change. It’s that hanging onto the past and resistance to change which may be our downfall to successful implementation of the Ivany Report, which is heralded to be our path to riches.

Somehow Halifax and Ottawa need to understand rural Nova Scotia can be instrumental in rebuilding the economy, but only if they concede the statement is true.

Tourism could be the thing that saves us. Tourists flock to visit us because of our untouched beauty. If we don’t implement a plan to restore rural infrastructure, there will be nothing but impeccable beauty and no one to greet the tourists.

We don’t have the stats, but if we did, we’d realize there are many young and somewhat heeled entrepreneurs, who would love to carve out the rest of their career with a successful business in rural Nova Scotia. However, it is fool-hardy to expect young energetic people will move to a rural area if more post offices and smaller schools are closed and communication infrastructure is not improved.

Here’s my take on what elected representatives, public service and crown corporations, at all levels, must implement first:

  • Develop a policy to ensure small schools are not closed and students are bussed long distances over county roads.
  • Communications such as cell phone and internet service on par to what exists in the urban areas.
  • Raising capital is as easy if in an urban area.
  • Get rid of some red tape and restrictions.

Many a politician has heralded the successes of farm markets, and how farmers can improve their income by "farm gate" selling, or establishment of more farm markets as is operating successfully in Truro. In fact consumer preferences are leaning to wanting to know where there food comes from and enjoy meeting the person who grew it.

It’s a known fact there is a substantial increase in income for hobby or commercial farmers when they sell directly to the consumer. If government is serious about wanting to stimulate the rural economy and feel more food going directly from the farmer to the consumer is desirable changes are needed.

We’ve heard about the battle to have "backyard" chickens in Halifax and Fredericton and all the hooplah created by a few families who wanted their own fresh eggs. Now let’s look at a somewhat similar situation, but out in the country, where there’s lots of land, and a desire to supplement a family’s income with a bit of hobby farming.

I was talking to a friend of mine, who got a call from his neighbour, a hobby farmer, informing him he would not be getting his usual three free range / organically raised turkeys at Christmas.

Let me set the story. A few years ago the hobby farmer raised a few turkeys, and being proud of his achievements decided to give a turkey to neighbours on each side of him. They really enjoyed the turkeys, which had been raised without chemicals. Next year they asked him to supply their Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys.

As word of mouth spread more and more people wanted turkeys. However this year, the turkey marketing board has prevented him from purchasing the quantity of turkey chicks he needed. To get what he needed they wanted him to "purchase a quota". Now the supplement to the family’s income has been reduced and his former customers will have to go to larger grocery store to get their fill of turkey.

So he might make $10-$15 per bird, but if he sold 100 birds, that $1,000 might pay part of his taxes.

If McNeil’s Liberals are serious about the rural economy, here’s a place to start.

Space doesn’t permit the listing of similar examples how red tape is restricting rural Nova Scotians from earning a livelihood in the place they prefer to live.

 


 

August 2014 - Reactions to My Thoughts

In last month's column, I hope no one thought I was suggesting there was no co-operation between municipalities in this area. I wouldn't say that because I know better. The Municipality of Colchester area has been a leader in many areas for providing the best value for taxpayers.

We know the municipal units of County of Colchester, Town of Truro, Stewiacke, Tatamagouche, Bible Hill and Millbrook have joined forces to bring about some very important projects, including, but not limited to: Kemptown landfill & balefill facility, new regional hospital, wastewater treatment plant, Rath Eastlink Community Centre and many other areas not quite so visible.

Sometimes, there is little reaction to my monthly column. Occasionally, I wonder if it is being read. Not the case last month. With reaction from two prominent people in the municipality, I know it was well read. Mayor Bob Taylor reacted with astonishment concerning my comments regarding municipal co-operation. He responded with a letter, which has been published as a letter to the editor. District 9 councillor Doug MacInnes drew reference to my comments in his column, which is printed on Page 5.

Maybe, I didn't make it clear enough, but main thrust last month was "there is not enough co-operation and some possible projects are moving slowly because the level of trust is not as strong as it should be". There are many things which could be done with benefits extending far beyond the boundaries of Colchester County.

I maintain if the level of inter-municipal trust had been higher, CoRDA would not have been disbanded. CoRDA was the province's leader on municipal movement regarding immigration. Even today, there are frequent media reports about CoRDA's successes on immigration.

If the situation was such "CoRDA must be dissolved", sobeit. With the feds cutting off one third of the funding, life for the RDA's was going to be difficult causing the provincial government to disband 12 RDA's to orchestrate six larger REN's.

With a stronger level of trust and co-operation, Truro, Colchester, Millbrook, Bible Hill, Tatamagouche and Stewiacke could have joined forces to jointly fund and reformat a county-wide economic development team which salvaged the best of CoRDA, but was designed to meet today's needs of county-wide economic development.

With trust and the desire to work together below desirable levels, there was no other solution other than Town of Truro and County of Colchester to separately hire their own economic development officer.

A county-wide thrust involving a level playing field and engaging support and input from Millbrook to include all areas is required. A sustainable co-operative effort from all concerned including the Aboriginal community would put Colchester in the forefront.

Here's what I think we need immediately:

  • Reactivate CoRDA's Immigration File.
  • Go full steam ahead on runway and infrastructure improvements at Debert Airport. With Waterville Airport closing and the number of small planes Halifax Airport prefers be located elsewhere, the opportunity is NOW.
  • Jointly work on Truro's solar panel project for a successful conclusion.
  • Wrestle the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal and other departments to the ground demanding immediate action on new Highway 104 exit to Debert.
  • Volunteer to help Millbrook get the $7-8-Million it needs to build the museum and completion of their plans for the aboriginal lands in Debert. (The museum would be an Icon for the entire area).
  • Actively seek the public's input as to what they think needs to be done and how to do it.
  • Create an "Ambassadors" program, whereby private citizens are rewarded for enticing or making the introduction for business or families locating anywhere within the boundaries of Colchester.

I know it's hard for elected officials to openly and actively promote economic activity for an area, which they do not represent. However think of the synergy for Colchester if all elected officials and municipal staff we directed to push and pull for the entire county. Cities all over the world look for a "twin" city. Could our councillors do the same thing and match themselves up with a councillor from another Colchester municipality?

That's what I would call a "Municipal-Trust" Development Program.


July 2014 - Scary Highway Incident

Not often do I write about my own personal experiences, but this one time, I feel it’s important to spread the word, so other motorists can beware. I’ve been driving for 50 years and recently during a rainstorm I experienced the worst driving scare of my life. As I approached the Gosse Bridge over the Shubenacadie River, I reduced my speed to approximately 50 KM (80 Km zone).

Being North America’s first cantilever bridge, the structure contains two giant curved girders balanced on two piers. I don’t know why, but in recent years, half way across, where the two girders join there is a dip in the surface, almost like the two piers were sinking into the bedrock while the ends fastened to the shore had not moved.

Right there in the dip was a large puddle of water probably 6-8 inches thick and probably 15 feet wide stretching half way across the deck. Yes, you guessed it, I hydro-planed and the van veered toward the railing. Luckily, I was able to get control, and avoided any collision. With knuckles, which turned totally white, I continued home.

Since then, I’ve become suspicious the bridge is starting to malfunction and that’s probably the reason, why every three or four months the caution signs are up and two or three surveyors are peering at each other.

If you’ve ever been concerned about your vehicle hydro-planing, keep aware it can even happen when you are about 200 feet about a rising tidal river.

Now that I’ve told you about my harrowing experience, I’ll move on to other things which affect the area from Onslow to Advocate.

Nearly every day, some form of media mentions the warnings contained in the Ivany Report and what we all must do to avoid the perils inaction will bring upon us. Perhaps it’s a bit too early, but to date, I’ve not seen much coverage of any level of government, business organizations or community groups grabbing the bull by the horns and demanding action.

Lip service will not get us anywhere near where we need to be. I was however, impressed by the rationalization Councillor Doug MacInnes brought forward on the co-operative relationship being formed between Municipality of Edmundston and the Madawaska Maliseet First Nation in New Brunswick. Councillor MacInnes did start the ball rolling at council’s June 12th meeting.

I know if I ask about co-operation between various municipal units, I’ll get a response "we are already cooperating in many areas". Yes, we already know that, but my response will be twofold. Give me a list of where you are co-operating and when you started. Now give me a list of additional areas, under discussion and when you anticipate implementation on each one.

MacInnes mentioned one of the important things the two municipal districts in New Brunswick are working on is "trust". As their new CEDI program moves along they are making progress, albeit slow and difficult by times.

Although we call it municipal politics, any municipal unit is like a publicly traded company. The taxpayers are the shareholders, while council and staff are executive and board of directors charged with increasing shareholder value.

The four municipal units contained within the County of Colchester are hindered in their attempt to bring additional value to their shareholders and growing the economy, because they do not have the level of trust to make it work smoothly. In fact "trust" among them probably flies below the radar screen.

The Colchester area of the province has so many assets; it could be the provincial leader in: creating jobs; higher ratio of locally owned successful companies; success spread across many sectors of the provincial economy and a lower taxation base with people clamouring to live and work here.

We will not beat Halifax (HRM) on the affects upon its economy by Halifax International Airport; presence of the Navy and Maritime Command, financial institutions and being the home of the provincial government and many Federal Departments. However, on a proportional basis, Colchester can give Halifax a run for its money, and in many areas we will outperform anyone in the province.

Our ability to be # 1 is totally based on TRUST.


June 2014 - Perception is reality

Sometimes fiction is easier to believe than reality, but in most cases perception is reality. As the saying goes, where there’s smoke there’s fire.

In Colchester West most residents are have their own wells, so at first glance the introductory part of this month’s column might not seem a high priority. However, the reality is there is not much accountability. Let me explain.

There’s a strong feeling the Department of Environment has been failing the test of public confidence in matters that affect the masses. At times the Department appears to be high handed, in that it seems to come down hard on individuals or small business in matters that in the big scheme of things don’t amount to a hill of beans. But on the big picture they are either ineffective or tread lightly.

Take for instance the fracking water situation in Debert. From the beginning they were almost invisible in dealing with flow-back water from fracking in Kennetcook a few years ago. From personal experience in trying to get information about the situation, they were unreachable. Phone messages left unanswered to the point that it was impossible to talk to anyone, locally.

That invisibility has lead to most residents feeling the "department’s a joke". Similar beliefs have spread over to municipal government. Take for instance Councillor Karen MacKenzie’s statement, "I don’t trust Department of Environment". Why does she feels that way?

Perhaps the answer lies in the recent Auditor General’s recent report, which opened the eyes and raised the ire of a lot of Nova Scotians with its recent report on the lack of water testing in business, schools, institutions and municipalities. To think inspectors have failed test some for 10 years or to go back and take water samples from municipalities which fell victims to "boil water orders" is unbelievable.

I’m sure Karen Casey, MLA and Minister of Education and Childhood Development was not pleased to learn there could be unsafe drinking water in the schools. Maybe it would be more appropriate to say, Casey would be extremely upset she could not give parents, her strongest assurance, drinking water in all schools was tested and extremely safe.

I’m not picking on those who run and work at municipal water systems, water systems in rural schools or facilities, where the public may wish to have a glass of water. I will pick, however, point the finger at those in management, who failed to report testing was not being done in accordance with the law.

There’s nothing wrong with making a mistake as long as you admit it, but there are serious flaws, when the matter is swept under the rug.

Where is the accountability?

In this era the public is expecting more. The perception is it’s more of the same for Minister Furey to say he was confident drinking water was safe. Perhaps it was safe, but he certainly can’t prove it.

We have a new government and they must do things differently. I’m not his speech writer, nor am I a spin doctor, but if I were, my prose for Minister Furey would have been a simple statement, "I believe the water is safe, but I can’t prove it. This is unacceptable. I will correct the matter and will hold those in charge accountable. You have my assurance this will not happen again".

Plain and simple.

He would have addressed the situation head-on; taken charge, and assured us of accountability.

It’s hard to trust, when you’re not sure the water is safe to drink.

Closer to home, the Municipality of Colchester, Truro, Stewiacke and Millbrook have a lot of offer, but we are under performing. Managed correctly, and if municipalities were firing on all cylinders, to deliver top value to taxpayers, Colchester municipal units would be giving Halifax a run for it’s money, in being the top municipal unit in the province. However, we’re not there yet.

The perception is widespread that there’s more lip service about the harmony on municipal cooperation, than reality. It’s not just me and the public. Industrialist Tom Stanfield says, there’s a lack of cooperation and it’s hurting us.

Wake up guys and gals. Let’s move ahead.


May 2014 - Shoulder to the wheel; feet in the fire.

Do Nova Scotians spend too much time looking back into our past and not enough looking ahead? Don’t for a minute think I am against appreciating and preserving our history. Our ancestors struggled and worked to build a great Canada. We need to maintain the same level of determination to go forward, as difficult as it might seem.

As much as we relish the past, we need to learn from our ancestors and use their skills to look forward and determine what type of Canada we wish to hand down to our grandchildren. They had a vision and we must continue that.

Let me give you an example of how the lack of looking ahead has cost a lot of jobs and money. In an article in the Chronicle-Herald on April 3rd, reporter Joann Alberstat wrote, "NSP nearly covers loss of mill income".

She was referring to Nova Scotia Power being able to find ways to save all but $4-million of the $83-million income lost when pulp mills in Point Tupper and Liverpool closed. The $83-million was the amount which Bowater Mersey and NewPage Port Hawkesbury would have contributed to the cost of operating the power grid. It said nothing about energy usage.

In 2011, when the Utility and Review Board ordered a discount via a load-retention tariff, energy costs and problems in the pulp and paper sector were well known. Now that the horses have left the barn, it’s too late to close the doors, but it tells us something.

Had the drastic measures taken recently by Nova Scotia Power been taken prior to or in 2011, perhaps Bowater’s would not have closed and taxpayers would not have been on the hook for mega-millions to reopen the Port Hawkesbury mill. When push came to shove, it happened.

If Nova Scotia Power can eliminate or recover all but $4-million of an $83-million additional cost in such a short time, why wasn’t action taken earlier? Going forward, we need to demand accountability from elected officials. With NS Power able to find ways to offset this large cost, there are lessons to be learned.

Rather than spending our time looking back, we need to ensure "push becomes shove, before another major industry or sector of the economy goes belly up, or thousands more of our youth and trained workers head west, because they don’t believe we have the tenacity to tackle molehills before they become mountains pushing us further in debt than the $15-billion we already owe.

Ray Ivany and his five member committee have given us the blueprint. I wonder if we are strong and determined enough to implement it, or are we simply going to give it lip service?

To work our way out of a poorly performing economy and massive debt, this province’s taxpayers need elected officials, business leaders, energy and communication companies to look ahead. We haven’t had that in the past; let’s hope we find the resolve to implement it now.

One doesn’t need to be a Rhodes Scholar to realize NS Power has protected its shareholders by finding a way to offset an $83-million income loss. NS Power’s cuts, after the mills closed, have impacted negatively on some of their employees and more of them will be hurt with more cuts. If similar action, in bits and pieces, had been taken at the turn of the century thousands of Nova Scotians would still have their jobs in Queens County and Port Hawkesbury areas.

If the $83-million reduction in energy grid costs had been implemented starting in 2000 would the two mills still be open? If possible to do now, it could have been done then.

Just how much have the mill closures cost taxpayers? How much have we committed to Port Hawkesbury and how much more will governments invest to rejuvenate the economy in the Liverpool area?

For the next three years, it’s up to the current government and citizens to find the locks to the doors to keep the horses in the barn to prevent the next crisis. 

As taxpayer’s we have two roles: Pitch in to help rebuild the economy; even more important keep elected officials accountable, shoulder to the wheel and "feet are in the fire".

Otherwise we will fail. If we fail, all are to blame.


 

 

April 2014

 

We need to turn 180 (degrees) then take action

Nearly every day, I notice some mention about Ray Ivany telling us we need to make drastic changes, which are basically a total cultural change. The Ivany Report painted an accurate picture of the state of our affairs and it is not pretty.

Individually and collectively we need to put our shoulders to the wheel and come up with workable solutions to redirect Nova Scotia’s future from one of despair and decline to one of optimism and riches.

Ivany believes we can do it, or he and his committee would not have said it.

We don’t like change, but we must adhere to his warnings, or Nova Scotia will forever be a "poor province" and things will only get worse. Canso had to give up its charter as a Town, and be folded in with the Municipality of Guysborough. Springhill’s coucil voted to join the Municipality of Cumberland in 2015.

There are rumours perhaps another six or eight communities are facing the same fate. The constant decline of rural and small community Nova Scotia has taken its toll. Enough is enough.

These situations happened because as Nova Scotians like to hang on to our past, and resist changes.

The time has come. We must change our ways. To go forward successfully, we must all work together to do things differently.

In the 80’s there was talk about using geo-thermal assets in Springhill to entice a lot of industry to the town, especially greenhouse operations. If all the hype had been converted into action, Springhill would not be in the situation it faces today.

Stronger action could have saved many of the fishing plant jobs in Canso, not the 1,800 who used to work on a seasonal basis, but certainly enough to have a prosperous coastal town.

We have fantastic forestry, mining, agriculture, fishing, aquaculture, offshore oil and gas and tourism assets. We could be extracting more to benefit from those resources without destroying our environment. We need to reverse the out-migration of our citizens. When we get our house in order, tradespeople can continue working "out west". Let’s make sure our future is bright, so their families stay here, while they commute to work at high paying jobs.

If Nova Scotia languishes in the doldrums, it’s our fault. We can be as profitable as any area in North America, but it will take us to make sure it happens. If you look at the turn around in the USA economy and the riches and jobs they have gained in the last decade we can do the same thing.

Yes, I am alluding to fracking.

A geology professional in Nova Scotia, who has been studying fracking for 30 years, maintains there is no threat to the environment if: the drill casing is installed correctly and cement is allowed to cure properly. The only way things could go wrong is if a previous drill hole, was not capped properly or a spill of fracking fluids above ground.

In the Kennetcook area, the Windsor block is reported to contain approximately 70 Trillion cubic feet of natural gas. With 9%-14% extraction this translates into $100-million per year for 20 years.

The same geology exists from Kennetcook up through Alton, where a natural gas storage facility will be constructed in the salt dunes, continuing to end up near Guysborough, where two if not three Liquidified Natural Gas (LNG) plants are being discussed as export terminals for India and China.

Can you think of a new business in the Kennetcook area capable of producing in excess of $100-million per year, plus inputs to the economy from having LNG plants dotting our coastline? How much more would additional fracking sites add to the provincial economy? Could fracking provide the roadmap to greater prosperity?

Yes, there are many who are opposed to fracking. We need to study and learn. If we have scientific proof, it is safe, then we need to pressure our politicians to act quickly.

It took 30 years for the lack of action on a geo-thermal opportunity to reach the point Springhill had to throw in the towel.

Do we want to tell our grandchildren, their plight and poverty is because we failed to take action when needed?

 


March 2014

Soul searching is required by all Nova Scotians to map out a new course of action, which will see Nova Scotia reverse its downward spiral of loss of our young people, what we expect from government, how to better educate our students and everything that’s required to turn the province into a "have" province.

We can reach our desired goals, but at the basis of all that needs to be done it’s an attitudinal change which is at the top of the list. Just like the NHL players who represented Canada at the Olympics to win the gold, a team effort is required.

Now that the Olympics are over, we need to immediately focus on what we can do to stop Nova Scotia’s downward spiral; gather our thoughts, then implement a process whereby just under 1-million people put their shoulder to the wheel with everyone pushing in the same direction.

The stage has been set. The long awaited Ivany report on economic development has finally been released; a study is being conducted on "fracking"; locally the province has taken control of Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition and Truro Raceway – promising a new team to bring about a positive movement and eliminating years of losses and despair; education minister, Karen Casey has announced a panel to study and revamp the education system and there is more to come.

Controlling costs, grasping onto new opportunities, bringing enthusiasm to the table and a team approach are paramount to a successful outcome.

Minister Colwell’s decision to conduct an audit, then having the Farm Loan Board call the mortgage on NSPE has saved Colchester taxpayers a minimum of $500,000, which would have been required for county council to take control of the assets and pay off the mortgage to the loan board and start the rebuilding process. Colwell has promised a new regime to deliver results and capture many opportunities to benefit the region and the province as a whole.

A major initiative of fracking for oil and gas has delivered thousands of jobs and billions in royalty revenues to the USA in the past decade. With our geology, and potential of on-shore oil and gas reserves, we must find a way to use new technologies in a way which is acceptable to the public and does not endanger the environment.

Debert might have been the guinea pig on fracking. Colchester’s refusal to permit fracking fluids be dumped into the sewer system. AIS then proceeded and used reverse osmosis treatment resulting in fluids which far exceeded any standards.

Maybe the reverse osmosis process could be used to treat fluids at fracking sites. This would mean each area would be responsible for its own waste. We must not allow fracking if it can’t be done safely with preservation of the environment and public acceptance at the top of the list. It could be the "kick-starter" to a more prosperous future.

To retain our young people in the area, we must create the employment opportunities. However, a more important role is to better educate all Nova Scotians. For decades we have been dropping in the ratings to deliver quality education which started when trade schools and apprenticeships were de-emphasized. Not everyone is suited to university. Trades now offer the best long term opportunities for most young people.

We must ensure an education system exists which delivers the best to all, whether it be junior and high school, or adults wishing to better themselves. Accountability by educators and a plan to get there is required.

As to the Ivany Report there has been criticism about not telling us how to get to the promised land. The report’s bluntness should give the jolt for all to work together to take action and produce results.

Entrepreneurs don’t need to be told what to do. They create the opportunity. Nova Scotia has its Icons: Sobey, Joudrey, Risley, Shannon, and the list goes on. Now there are new ones on the scene.

Take Laurie Jennings for example, he’s furthering what father, Eric started nearly 45 years ago. He doesn’t need to be told. He just goes ahead and does it. If you need an example on how to rebuild Nova Scotia’s rural economy look no further than Masstown.


 

February 2014 - We’re being squeezed like grapes

Where to turn and how to avoid being squeezed further is the foremost thing on many Nova Scotians minds this winter. Sometimes we feel like fresh grapes being stomped on in the fall at a winery.

Here’s just a short list of why. Nova Scotia electricity rates increased at the turn of the calendar; last fall the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board approved the Maritime Link, which will surely increase each electrical bill; gasoline, diesel and home heating fuel continues to be high priced and just recently Efficiency Nova Scotia was approved to add $1.00 per month to each electrical customer.

In the meantime, wages are stagnant; hours have probably been cut; the extreme cold weather had taken a big chunk our of our pockets to keep families warm; we pay higher vehicle repair bills, because most roads are in deplorable condition. If it wasn’t for the resiliency of Nova Scotians to withstand most economic challenges, we’d be suffering a gigantic case of despair.

Many are calling for better mental health programs to help those in depression and stress leading to mental illness. All levels of government and at-arms-length organizations are continuing to apply the pressure to test our resiliency. Not one of our elected officials have stepped up and said, "Enough is Enough". Nor have they gone to their constituents, in a formalized way, to determine what taxpayers would like their elected representative to push forward.

Now that CUPE’s 450 members who work as bus drivers, tradespeople or custodians at CCRSB are on strike the pressure on taxpayers is even higher. This is mid-term exam week for high school students and without the busses running parents will be scrambling to deliver students to school then pick them up after class.

I am not saying CCRSB should have granted CUPE’s wishes just because it’s exam week. School boards need to find ways to reduce costs, yet ensure quality education is delivered to all students. If the only reason for the strike was on "contracting out" let’s consider the impacts. The maintenance work would still need to be completed. Maybe that work would filter down to local contractors, who employ local tradespeople. Would there be a cost saving, it’s hard to say. However the money paid to employees would stay in the community.

A strike would be more relevant if the cause was "better education for our youth".

Another big worry for residents is property taxes. Each year they go up and up and up and we don’t see a measurable increase in services or pleasure in paying more.

If the rural economy is to be redefined, it will take all of us working together to achieve what needs to be done. Which politician will grasp that thought and start community wide consultation so the taxpayer’s perspective is heard and understood?

Take for instance, the examples set out in Councillor Tom Taggart’s column on property assessments. The Canadian Price Index (CPI) has gone up approximately 3.1%, which is a natural progression across the board. However property assessments have gone up about 6% at the same time resale pricing of property in Northern Nova Scotia has decreased slightly over 4%.

When I went to school, 6 and 4 equaled 10. Compared to market value, assessments in this region have increased 10% slightly more than triple the CPI. That does not mean your taxes will go up 6% or 10%, after including drop of 4.1% in sale prices. Assessments are just that. The municipality use assessments and expenditures to determine the tax rate.

In order to stay within the CPI 3.1% increase considering assessments are up about 6%, municipal expenditures would have to be decreased by 3%. Will council ask municipal staff to cut 3% off last year’s budget numbers to be fair to residents of Municipality of Colchester?

Speaking of taxes and rates, it is interesting to note than on CNN, which I watch regularly the State of New York is advertising for new businesses to be started or relocate within the state. The enticement is "Pay No Taxes for 10 years".

Is this a marketing tool the Municipality of Colchester should adopt when its new Development Officer starts work?


January 2014

In the long term, Nova Scotia and Colchester County, in particular, will face a bright future, but in the meantime we have some black clouds hanging over us.

With all the plant closings and jobs lost, it’s hard to be positive and smile during this Christmas season. Changing demographics and eating habits has brought closure to at least two Kellogg’s breakfast cereal plants in Ontario. Manufacturing in Canada is declining rapidly.

Nova Scotia has seen its share of job losses this year. Normally immune to losses, Halifax is on the radar screen, with Blackberry and several customer contact centres closing throwing hundreds out of work.

Halifax and all of Nova Scotia have reason to be concerned. "The ships built here" initiative does not appear to be going well with the federal auditor general issuing a damaging report saying the project is significantly under funded to build the number of vessels called for. Still no steel being cut, nearly two years after all they hype about how our economy would be changed.

Similarly, downtown Truro is not faring well either. Last year it was Margolians, a shopping icon, which drew customers from near and far. It was replaced by a series of smaller boutique shops, but, they do not have the same lure. Mid-year, farther down on Prince Street, the Bargain Shop, closed as it did in other locations in Atlantic Canada.

Access Nova Scotia has moved up near the Irving Big Stop in Truro Heights, vacating its relatively new location on Walker. The former Zeller’s location is still vacant with no apparent replacement. Rumours are still floating around about the mall’s other big anchor, Sears.

Over the long term our future depends on high tech jobs, oil and gas, tidal power, wind farms, immigration, the ingenuity of our people and those who we can attract here. Regarding oil and gas, all we have to do is look at how extracting shale oil and gas has turned the USA from a large importer to the point it will soon become an exporter.

The Maritimes will have a brighter future when the proposed pipeline to the east can gets through all the regulatory, financial and community acceptance issues. Access to cheaper energy from the west will help all Atlantic Canadians.

If a safe technology is ever developed and tested to the point residents and governments are comfortable harvesting shale gas, we will be sitting pretty. But until technology is proven, shale gas needs to stay in the ground.

If we protect our environment, we will become one of the few areas, in Canada or worldwide, where tourists can enjoy the benefits of a preserved environment. That, in itself, might be our largest economic generator. In Nova Scotia we need to proceed aggressively on development of tidal power. It is our best bet. It might not be cheaper than we are currently paying, but it will be "ours" and the tides come and go regardless of the economy or political interference.

There is an increasing amount of speculation significant oil deposits have been found in the latest drilling offshore Nova Scotia. Let’s hope Nova Scotia has the strongest royalty mechanism in place. Most of the profits will go elsewhere, but the royalties will be our saving grace.

In the meantime, Nova Scotians, in consultation with the provincial and federal governments, must find a way to lower our expectations and costs for health care, education and pensions payable to politicians and those whose jobs are paid by the taxpayer.

One worrisome scenario, which will increase our debt about $14-billion, is the exposure to the unfunded liability of public service, health care and teacher’s pensions. That is the largest skeleton in the closet. I see no reason why the general taxpayer should top up the pension funds for those who have had job security and above average income in their chosen vocations in education, healthcare, or civil service.

I know those words are upsetting to those wanting their pensions topped up, but can someone inform me, who in their organizations the local merchant, farmer, fisherman and service industry workers can approach to have their pensions increased?


 

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