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December 2016 - It’s not a joyous time

Christmas, a time for children, is coming, but it’s not a joyous time. Nobody is happy. Students are worried they might not have their school Christmas Concert. Parents are worried "what will take care of the kids all day?" I have to go to work, plus there is a lot of preparation for the big day.

Premier McNeil, most of his MLA’s, particularly Karen Casey, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development and education department staff are totally frustrated wondering what will solve the situation. If they came up with a new offer to teachers would it be defeated and tossed back for a third time? Teachers are now worried even more. Well over 90% of them voted to strike, but they are now concerned, if they take significant job action will they be locked out and not get paid in December?

With an average salary of $76,000 per year imagine not having any money to celebrate Christmas. Just how bare are their cupboards compared with parents? Particularly single parents, who might be clerking in the retail environment.

Oh, the other is group extremely upset is the general public. They don’t have children, maybe grandchildren, in the system. It’s hard for these people to fathom out why after two negotiated agreements, recommended for acceptance by the negotiating team and union leaders, we are still "walking on eggs" to get the teacher’s contract settled.

Is it much wonder many Nova Scotians wish teachers would either go on strike or government would lock them out and get this matter off the front pages? Significant polling shows there would be very little sympathy for teachers. Yes, there is lots of anger and concerns the teachers are using the students as pawns.

Within the last week an underground rumour mill seems to be gaining traction that either now or later the government should bring in legislation to permit "charter schools". Those schools would be in existence now if the government would provide funding equal to or maybe 10% less than today’s cost per student through the public education system. Charter schools, similar to private schools; provide the parents more input into their children’s education and higher expectations for outcomes.

It’s not a pretty sight. It’s very probable this year’s Christmas turkey will be served amid a cloud of educational confusion.

Enough of that.

Now onto something very positive, which could be larger than the shipbuilding contract in Halifax and totally revitalize rural Nova Scotia.

The province’s agreement with Ottawa will see a Carbon cap and trade program, which could be the best thing for rural Nova Scotia for decades. Premier McNeil needs to ensure the program has significant weighting so it totally includes woodlot owners. (See other stories in this issue).

Immediately after the carbon cap and trade agreement was announced, Community Forest International (CFI), representative Dale Prest, was interviewed on CBC Radio saying if the program was implemented so woodlot owners could sell carbon credits to a global market, there would be real improvement to the economy particularly rural Nova Scotia. We know trees capture and store carbon and if managed properly healthy forests would provide a better return for woodlot owners. Sawmills would receive better quality saw logs. It’s noted elsewhere in this issue, but Prest says from CFI’s 705 acre forest the organization has been able to sell $300,000 in carbon credits.

He’s suggested woodlot owners could receive approximately $400 per acre on an annual basis. Sure there are costs, as the woodlots have to have a plan and be managed. He sees CFI’s role as the sale and marketing of carbon credits, while firms such as Athol Forestry or North Nova Forest Owners Co-op would actually perform the work to bring woodlots up to standard.

With certain projections, as outlined elsewhere, there is possibility woodlot carbon credits could generate more revenue than the shipbuilding contract in Halifax over the same time span, but would be ongoing year after year with an annual economic input of $1.2-Billion.

It’s something woodlot owners should discuss and work hard to make sure it happens. Make sure your MLA hears your voice. Maurice

 


November 2016 - Where do we go from here?

If you have been reading newspapers or watching television, especially CNN, your head is probably spinning wondering how we got here and where are we going to end up.

Sure climate change is starting to show some effects around here. Colour foliage stayed nearly two weeks longer than what I remember from ten years ago. However, I’m sure climate change has not had any relevance on what I’m referring to. Unless, that is, it has caused a lot of people to think differently and expect a lot more.

First, we are removed from the municipal election cycle for the next four years. Those who were acclaimed, or won at the polls have lots of difficult choices to make. With the mood of the electorate, there is no room for spending money foolishly. Everything must not only be transparent, but also appear to be totally transparent.

Definitely no room for any activity, which auditor’s and media reports say has been happening in Richmond County. Thank heavens Colchester, and also Truro have a "no liquor" policy, and the administrators seem to have a good handle on policy which the respective elected put in place.

Again I am not sure what makes some people tick. For what seemed several years people complained about Prime Minister Harper not meeting groups, unless it was well scripted. Now we have a prime minister who can’t wait to meet with a group. The other day he meets to consult with a youth group about their issues and concerns.

What happens a group of protestors stand up and turn their back on him while he is speaking. I was always taught, the way to resolve a problem is to talk. I can’t figure people why some people do what they do.

Same thing for Margaret Miller, Minister of Department of Environment walking out of an Ottawa meeting with her colleagues, when the Prime Minister announced in House of Commons for the provinces to put programs in place, or he would implement a Carbon Tax in 2018. She acted like a kid in the school yard taking their pail and shovel from the sandbox.

To get your point across and to help win the battle or the war, you have to be part of the discussion. Plus she failed to display the politeness and hospitality for which Nova Scotians are famous.

Now onto the NSTU and Department of Education. The government has negotiated and finalized two agreements with the union bargaining team, only to be turned down by over 9,000 teachers. I hope the teachers are not legislated back to work; there is no strike and Bill C-148 is not proclaimed. The outcome depends on who blinks first.

I will say this. If Premier McNeil gets into the corner, where he feels there is no way out, Watch out.

He has consistently said, he will never sign a labour contract, which he feels the province cannot afford. If he’s pushed hard enough, he just might call an election, even though it’s close to Christmas and its winter.

I would much rather suggest a peaceful solution. However, extensive polling suggests, if he called an election over the teachers situation, he’ll win with a larger majority, as they would be very little public sentiment for teachers.

The next major disruption in this province is going to come from fishery groups and associations. There are getting organized across the various species. Every day they are getting more support from influential groups, outside the fishery, regarding their request for more scientific research and establishing baseline studies regarding installation of tidal turbines in the Minas Channel.

We need the energy and jobs, which would be created by a successful tidal power development program, but it must be done correctly. The fishery is a $2-billion multi-generational industry and way of life. With our economy we cannot and must not permit anything to happen which will have significant or minor negative effects on the industry.

The last item. Will it be Trump or Clinton? In the summer it appeared like Trump. Then he put both feet in his mouth. Now it’s up for grabs with the FBI jumping back in. We’ll know sometime after November 8th.


 

October 2016 - What will November 8th bring?

Will it be Hilary or Donald? If its Donald, Nova Scotia’s declining population problems could be partially solved, if our friends south of the border follow through with anything proportional to the expressions of interest shown in Cape Breton last winter. Should all or part of that become reality, it could be an opportunity for Colchester to try to persuade some of them to stop and have a look here.

In broader terms, such activity in USA could bode well for our tourism sector as more and more Americans could be looking for a friendly space to run and hide. If any of that happens let’s hope they come here not just as occasional visitors, or part-time residents, but jump in with both feet and relocate some of their business interests here.

At the Matthew Harrison family, Lynn Mountain, open house and 2016 provincial woodlot owner of the year celebrations on Saturday, September 24th, I had the opportunity to speak to a couple who summer in Five Islands from Massachusetts. The conversation got around to the USA election. They are totally disgusted, but feel Trump is of greatest concern.

We should not spend too much time worrying about their November election, except how exports might be affected if USA starts to close down some of the border to freer trade. We have enough on our plate to solve. We’ll be best focusing on our own solutions.

Our economy is not functioning as it should. Blueberry prices are down and some farmers are talking about plowing up some of their land, which will be most detrimental over the longer term once more exports are found and prices rebound. Blueberry producers have been on a good run for a number of years, and right now they are in a downward cycle, which has hit the oil and gas sector; potato farmers, the lumber industry and lobster fishermen.

These are cycles. We need to be prepared. Solutions will come in time. Our problems are far deeper than anything evolving from the resource sector. With an aging population and massive out migration of youth to other parts, we need to focus on improvements and efficiencies to healthcare; how to reduce education costs – maybe bus a few students from suburbs to nearby rural schools areas rather than spend $-Millions building new schools. Some of the 23 schools built under the P-3 program 20 years ago are not needed and will be mothballs, or a large payout will be given to the developers, because we are not renewing the leases.

I remember being at a Halifax Chamber of Commerce annual dinner in Halifax, back in the mid-80’s when economist, Allan Gregory, told the 700 attendees - purportedly the leading Halifax business executives, that with 30 years Nova Scotia would face major problems with an aging population and out migration of youth. Not that I was so smart, but I remember his talk well.

However, the elite who controlled Halifax scoffed at his remarks, because the 30-40 years would be far beyond their active working career. If his remarks had been taken seriously at the time, we, as a province, could have been ahead of the curve taking action to avoid both problems.

I’m hopeful the Mayor of Colchester, whoever it is, he or she along with council will see it in their wisdom to engage a leading futuristic economist who can deliver a presentation on where Colchester will be 20, 30, 40 & 50 years, based on birth rates, business trends, etc.

If such a presentation was given, every community groups leader paired with a leading high school student from their area from every nook and cranny of the county should be asked to attend, not only to listen to him talk, but participate in a series of 3-4 hours of workshops he would conduct during the day, followed up with his official presentation at a gigantic gala evening. Yes it might cost $30,000- $40,000, but given its potential and foresight would be unequalled in all of Nova Scotia.

I wonder if the new council is up to the challenge to host this in 2017, the year of Canada’s 150th birthday.


September 2016 - Follow the money, not government actions

If you wish to get an insight into where things are headed, the age-old adage, "follow the money" still exists today. Doesn’t make any difference if you are thinking about the outcome of an election or if you’re wondering which business decision you should make.

Two days prior to the opening of the Energy East pipeline hearings opened, with its first hearings in Saint John, Irving Oil announced it had bought a 57,000 barrel refinery in Ireland from Phillips 66 petroleum. The company’s refinery in Saint John rated at 300,000 barrels per day, is the largest in Canada and one of the largest and most modern in North America.

Following the money could presumably provide an insight into where the pipeline hearings might end up with approval to move more of Alberta’s Tar sands Crude to countries on other shores and possibly switch the refinery’s feed stock from Saudi Arabia to a pipeline supply from Alberta. With multiple oil tankers already plying the rough waters of the Bay of Fundy to bring crude oil to the refinery, it puts dissents and other groups opposed to building the connection from the existing pipeline onward to the Port of Saint John at an extreme disadvantage.

No one has said so, but in following the money, it’s plausible to assume Irving would move crude from Saint John to Ireland and get away from sourcing from other markets. Along with these developments, expect crude oil prices to remain low and flat for upwards of two years. Here’s why.

With Iran and Iraq flooding the market with crude to capture as many oil$$$ as possible, there’s an oversupply. A sluggish global economy has not ramped up consumption as analyists had expected so there is a glut that will last a long time. With people driving less and electric vehicles coming to market, the motoring public requires less gasoline.

There’s a lot more to the energy sector that is driving down the prices. Significant fracking developments in USA is now delivering an abundance of natural gas, some of which is being eyed for the LNG plants proposed for Guysborough and Bear Head areas, even though offshore gas production is waning off Nova Scotia. A by-product of fracking is propane, which has dropped in price. In many areas propane is about 35% more economical than natural gas.

The abundance of propane is causing major headaches for natural gas companies as they strive to retain customers. With dropping prices, they must continue to expand customer base and infrastructure otherwise they become totally uneconomical. One problem that exists is with expansion of pipelines, existing customers are subsidizing new customers, which become problematic.

One reason I suggested follow the money and not government actions is what is happening in Nova Scotia. Heritage Gas has 3,301 residential and 2,970 commercial customers with residential revenue approximately $3-Million of total $39.5-Million annualized revenue.

In March 2016, Heritage asked NSUARB for approval to reduce RC1 rate by 64.3% and to allow flexibility for rates in other categories within the same bandwidth to try to retain existing customers from switching to propane.

Heritage’s problems stems from two areas: (1) Current furnace oil price being offered to potential Heritage Gas RC1 customers is approximately 35-45% lower than natural gas; (2) Over 250 RC1 commercial customers have either switched to propane or are making plans to switch.

The cost to switch from natural gas to oil is a major expense and is a hindrance, but switching from natural gas to propane is a much simpler. The customers who have or will switch to propane will decrease Heritage’s revenue by approximately $3-Million per year, almost equal to the revenue from 3,301 residential customers.

In its application to UARB, Heritage also claimed the low price of propane has convinced several companies to switch from oil to propane rather than choosing natural gas. The number of companies or potential lost revenue could not be confirmed.

An analysis of Heritage’s letter to NS UARB requesting the change reveals, natural gas is among the most expensive form of heating, and further indicated with propane pricing expected to be low for the foreseeable future, natural gas will not help Nova Scotia companies to become more competitive.

One of the reasons, I suggested following the money and not government actions is it’s understood Department of Energy submitted a letter to UARB indicating it’s concurrence with the 64.3% rate reductions.

Through research on this article, I discovered some time ago a consultant’s report suggested several larger government buildings should have been converted to natural gas. With changes in the energy market, if government is serious about saving money would it not be prudent for them to re-visit the matter? Maybe they would find significant savings if they converted high cost energy users to propane.

Propane is a strong long-standing industry in the province that employs a lot of people. Propane industry members maintain they can make the conversions economically, and provide a significant savings for the taxpayer.

Which is more prudent save money by converting to an energy source that requires totally new infrastructure, or one that is existing and requires far less capital to complete the conversion?

It’s not up to me to tell others what to do, but to suggest taxpayers make their opinion known.


 

August 2016 - Let’s invest in ourselves

Before I get into the main focus of this column, permit me a say a few words about immigrants and our need of more. We have three ways to grow our economy. (1) Keep our youth here. (2) become more daring, innovative and increase our efficiency. (3) Bring in a large number of immigrants, who have young families.

Nova Scotians know how to be friendly, helpful and welcoming. We can teach them English and help them find work. What we as commoners cannot do is control how their professional credentials are looked upon.

I listened to a segment on CBC Radio, Halifax, which profiled an immigrant couple from Pakistan who have been here for two years. He has work, but she can’t get a job. She is trained as a hair dresser, but can’t work in that field, because she is not accredited here.

Give me a break. Let her work as an apprentice for 6-12 months to improve language and to write for her ticket. Reduce her pay by 15% below the norm and give all or a portion of the reduction to the hosting shop. She stated if she can’t find work soon they will move west.

Wouldn’t hurt for us to stand up, and be counted. Write the premier or MLA. Government must become pro-active, if we hope to use immigration as way of growing our economy. Shameful.

Now onto the main focus of this column.

Negotiations and possible Canada Post strike seems to have focused on defined pensions. In Nova Scotia taxpayers have spent millions upon millions of dollars to top up the pension plans of many if not nearly every classification of government employee, because the markets did not perform enough to add more than was paid out.

Watch out, we’ll be asked to top up the funds again within the next five years.

Don’t get me wrong, defined pensions are fine, when everyone has one. But in Canada more than 50% of Canadians either have a small company pension, which will not be enough for them to live above the poverty line, or don’t have any pension at all. As a result we face work slowdowns, stoppages, or possible strikes for "defined pensions".

Over 20 years ago, then Premier Frank McKenna, was on the bandwagon promoting the idea all pension monies from Atlantic Canada should be invested in the region. At that time, he said over $600-Million in annual pension fund contributions were leaving the region, going primarily to Bay Street, Toronto.

I’d like to see a pension actuary run the numbers and tell us what would happen if what I am going to say actually happened.

Rather than borrow money from other countries, paying $-Millions in interest to other economies each year, we need to invest in ourselves. If you wonder why so many immigrant families become successful, it’s partially because they scrape up the money to buy a business, then everyone in the family works in the business. That’s much like our farming families do, until the kids go to college. As the immigrant’s business grows, they buy another business and another part of the family runs that business, and so it goes. They all work together, but not us Canadians. We become jealous, when a neighbouring family becomes successful.

All pension funds in Canada should be invested in Canada with a large percentage of the money available for the Federal, Provincial or Municipal Governments to borrow for every reason imaginable, including infrastructure – roads, bridges and hospitals. Sure the interest earned might be less than on the open market, but there is no risk. (No $-Millions required to top-up nurses, teachers or public sector employee plans, because the markets performed badly or funds lost money).

Every time, we asked for a new road, school, or hospital, we would be borrowing from ourselves. Also public employees in charge various departments and those projects might take a second look, as a successful economy would positively impact their pensions.

The pension money would not be sent to Ottawa. Most of It would be kept in the province where it originated, to act as a large pool of money for all the public sector salaries and capital projects in that province. Ottawa would get some, maybe 30%.

That’s what I call the "immigrant-family-business plan" for success.

Your thoughts?


 

July 2016 - Might it happen here? It did and will again.

Gradually this year, we’ve seen attitudes switch to what could be called mutiny or revolt throughout the American political scene. Then in the past week, Britons decided to end their 40 year marriage leaving the European Union.

Of course USA and UK are not the only places where there is unrest, but a lot of the other countries are not as democratic as the UK and neighbours to the south. In Canada, we often say, we don’t vote in a new government, we vote for the opposition as a way of showing displeasure.

In Britain’s case, no sooner had the votes been counted, and many were feeling guilty they may have made the wrong choice voting "leave" to show their displeasure. It worked, but to their horror.

It’s not likely to happen here for a while, but in hindsight it did. Canada was the current forerunner of public displeasure. Not even a year ago, Justin Trudeau went from third to a commanding first. In some areas as few as 100 people made the difference. 50 stayed home and 50 changed their vote toppling many popular good people.

Tthat is more likely to happen federally because most MP’s are farther removed from the electorate than provincial MLA’s and much farther away than municipally elected. For any politician to avoid "the bum’s rush", it is important to be seen listening, demonstrating you are doing something about it and delivering results.

An example of general discontent and unhappiness is health care, and it could migrate to education, because Nova Scotia never reaches the top of the list for student qualifications. Within the last couple of weeks I noticed an article by an Isle Madame Medical Doctor specializing in Palliative Care, who said the Minister of Health is not listening. A statement like that is somewhat correct, but should be rephrased to say, "The minister has failed to get his staff to listen and bring forward policies and programs, which more appropriately meet the needs, and to which the public perceive they need".

Unfortunately, the minister of any provincial department doesn’t really make the decision. They rely on staff to do things, get things done and plan ahead. Yes, because they constantly meet with constituents, they know the situations being faced at the grass roots. If they could go the department on Monday morning and say, this is what needs to be done, ensure it gets done, they would be elected for life.

The public’s perception is our future is determined by someone whose job provides a lot of benefits an excellent pension plan, spends most of their time in the public service without being accountable to what transpires in two or three decades, and most certainly don’t have "any skin in the game".

Even before health or education face disasters, I think the Environment and Fisheries will be first to suffer a provincial electoral revolt. Climate change, impacts on the environment and a general unhappiness about performance put Environment on the front line.

There’s a lot of people saying the minister is not strong; has caved in to big business regarding Alton Gas and higher salt content would have major negative impacts on the Shubenacadie River. (I live on the River, and this year I have noticed a substantial increase in the number of bass fishermen. Neighbours and other people who operate the river rafting businesses have commented about large schools an increased number of species in the water.

Many fishers on the Bay of Fundy are upset tidal turbines are being permitted without more consultation and scientific studies to establish a baseline of populations.

To anyone in government, of if you are elected, take heed. For several years, fishers, for the most part, have made very good money plying Nova Scotia’s waters.

If they feel their future livelihood, or the environment is in danger, it won’t take long for them to band together with a common voice and engage the support of the communities.

It would not be pretty.

If you are elected or in the public service thinking there is a labour union that intimidates you, wait until you are facing irate fishers across the province. It might take a few months, but the seeds were planted, because departments and staff did not listen.


June 2016

If you think bureaucracy is too large in Nova Scotia, read the following then formulate your own opinion.

As many of you have noticed, and I have written extensively on it, some of the largest and most profitable companies around have been accepted under NSBI’s payroll rebate program, and in most cases, the jobs are located in Halifax. For instance last month, I reported about $28-Million had been given to RBC, TD Insurance, Mobivity and Canadian Maritime Engineering (CME) during the past year.

It has always bothered me the Province’s Payroll Rebate was not user friendly to smaller businesses, who could create jobs in smaller quantities in many of the communities around the province. It has been equally frustrating that either a lobby group; a regional development organization or a group of businesses had not banded together to get equal treatment for great locally owned, but smaller businesses dotting the entire province.

Meanwhile, as it continued to bother me, I started to formulate a plan, which might be acceptable to Laurel C. Broten, President & Chief Executive Officer. In 2015, she left the political and business scene in Ontario to help stimulate the economy in Nova Scotia.

On May 9th, after clearing away the emails, which has accumulated over the weekend, I set out on my mission to speak to Mrs. Broten. My first activity was to send an introductory email to the address listed on the NSBI home page. However, that didn’t work as it kept bouncing back.

Then I called the switchboard, informed the receptionist of the bouncing emails, then was transferred to Mrs. Broten’s executive assistant, whom I knew would be busy so I left a voice mail. Within an hour she called me back, took the details that I wanted to have a conversation with Mrs. Broten with the intent to set up a meeting to discuss what I thought would be an economic opportunity and job creator for Colchester County.

It was suggested, there was a regional person in Truro and they prefer people starting there and have things work their way up the chain. I stuck to my guns and expected the next call would be from Mrs. Broten, even if it took a couple of days.

But no, before the day was over, I received a call from the communications department wondering what the media inquiry was about. In detail, I explained it was not a media call, I wanted a call from Mrs. Broten and then set up a meeting.

In the days, when Frank McKenna was premier, he issued orders that phone calls were to be returned that day, and if not possible a staff member was to call advising the caller, they would be called the next day. In his first term it worked. He’s the only premier on Canada to eliminate all opposition from the legislature with a 52-0 majority.

It’s not rock science to understand things have changed and the electorate is very upset. Just look at what is happening south of the border with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, basically destroying the "establishment" and "back rooms" of both parties.

Politicians and the public service in Nova Scotia should take notice. The public is not happy and often draws the conclusion those at the top hide behind a large staff, instead of being out front dealing with the general public. With directions of that nature from the top, it’s no wonder down-line staff c irritate taxpayers by calling with mis-information about the original request on the first call.

Is the bureaucracy so large it is hindering economy development?


 

May 2016 - Where should the money go?

Before I get too far into this rambling, I will admit I am a fan of Premier Stephen McNeil and many of his cabinet. That is personal preference, which I will not let influence my comments here.

However, I’m not so sure Premier McNeil will be a fan of mine when I am done.

The provincial budget has been delivered. It was a tough balancing act for the ruling Liberals to try to be fair across the board. They didn’t raise taxes to try to balance the budget, other than smokers who now must pay at least fifty cents more per pack of smokes.

It also shows the municipalities how careful they need to be when bringing down their budgets. We are all aware the belt is tightening, and as taxpayers, must find ways to invoke efficiencies, and temper our expectations on what we expect from government, whether it’s federal, provincial or municipal.

I must say, the Municipality of Colchester has spend a lot of money in the last couple of years, or should I say they have invested and its paying dividends. For instance look at the $-Million+ they spend back in 2012 to construct a sewer line from the Kemptown Balefill to tie into the sewage treatment plant in Lower Truro. Granted a fair distance, and in the beginning many councillors went along with the recommendation of Wayne Wamboldt, but were concerned about rationalization of the expenditure.

The pipeline carries leachate from the balefill facility, which previously was trucked. According to Wamboldt in winter of 2015 due to heavy snowfall, the pipeline saved the municipality approximately $155,000 in one month alone. The savings paid for the installation in less than 3 years. Now it’s a "free ride" permitting money to be used elsewhere.

Wamboldt has brought several other projects and initiatives to council and based on his record, of investment and actually making money, council has approved some big expenditures. The most recent is the wind turbines now under construction, which he says in 11 years will be money makers.

My point is it’s not how much money you are spending, but is it a sane and economic decision, will there be a pay-back?

Now let’s look at the province. Is Colchester’s Wamboldt strategy being applied?

Instead of grants and loans to companies, payroll tax rebates are a more prudent approach. Create the jobs and we’ll cut you some slack. I agree a good policy and I’m sure you agree.

Now let’s look at some NSBI payroll rebates - $22-Million to RBC in May 2015 - 500 jobs – duration 10 years. April 15, 2016 – NSBI ready to spend $6-million on payroll rebates to Canadian Maritime Engineering (CME); Mobivity Holdings Company and TD Insurance – for 420 jobs over five years. (TD Insurance was getting approximately $4-Million of the six.

Within one year that is about $28-Million to very profitable multi-nationals. There are very few Nova Scotians who feel the big banks need our tax dollars.

Which brings me to what has become McNeil’s Achilles heel, which will haunt him until the next election, maybe beyond. I am speaking about the film tax credit fiasco.

I am not saying it should not have been changed. From the beginning, I felt McNeil’s finance minister at the time, brought in changes, without knowing the full impact of the film industry on Nova Scotia’s economy and without proper amount of consultation.

Most citizens agreed a 50-60% wage subsidy was too rich, and I admit I did not think a subsidy of that magnitude was warranted. But were all the facts known and placed on the table?

It was suggested by the finance department that $23-Million +/- was unsustainable. Canadian Media Producers Association and Screen Nova Scotia commissioned PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) to do an independent study. The PWC study, released within the last couple of weeks suggests the film industry with about 3,200 workers in the province, impacted the provincial economy by $137-Million.

Maybe it’s a matter of perception, but as a publisher in a small rural area, far outside the synergy of downtown Halifax and its proliferation of tall construction cranes, I’d be much more comfortable spending $25-Million to $30-Million helping fellow Nova Scotians grow their company and stay in Nova Scotia, than cozying up to some of the Forbes 500 multi-nationals.

As Monday morning coaches, we can all see some wrong moves were made and the most professional communicators in the province were turned into enemies and they have very long memories.

It will be hard to convince Nova Scotians a few Forbes 500 companies are a better bet than several Nova Scotia companies employing over 3,000 people. That’s about equal to saying good-bye to Michelin.


 

April 2016

Easter has come and gone, and the robins are here, so it must be close to when the leaves will start popping out. Overall the winter has not been as bad as we feared, although, we can still get a bit of nasty weather and cold wet spring. So don’t head for the beach yet.

I enjoyed a very informative bus trip to Aerotech Business Park along with the municipal councillors, who decided to check out the treatment of biosolids, since there are hundreds of truckloads just off Crowe’s Mills Road, awaiting spring weather to be spread on hundreds of acres of what will be a very large new dairy farm.

Several residents from Crowe’s Mills and Lower Truro joined us on the bus. According to the presentation given by Liz LeBlanc, LP Consulting, the biosolids far exceed any regulations and are safe. They cannot be used for gardens, or field crops for vegetables. 35,000 tonnes are produced at the plant each year, and it’s marketed under the name "N-Rich Soil Amendment" and is available only to famers, so have a Soil Application Plan.

The terrorism that is going on around the world is of concern, which makes one wonder when and if it will happen in Canada. The most recent bombings in Brussels certainly had an effect upon Colin and Trish MacMichael, a honeymooning couple from Rocky Harbour, NL. Colin grew up in Debert and is the son of

Beth and Terry MacMichael. You can read their story elsewhere in this issue, but to cut to the chase. Their plane destined for Brussels was delayed leaving Montreal, which is a good thing. If it had left on time, they would have arrived in Brussels, about a half hour before the bombings. One never knows how we might be affected and how lucky we are.

Spring is not really here yet, but things are already being planned for the fall. My how we let time escape us. The Municipal elections will be held in October and there’s a story elsewhere in this issue, that anyone thinking of running in the municipal elections should go to "Campaign School".

Speaking about municipal election reminds me that both Tom Taggart and Doug MacInnes have indicated or will soon indicate they are running again. Early in March they teamed up to have a community meeting on a Saturday afternoon at the Peg. The crowd was not overly large, but it sure had quality. Everyone there participated in the discussion or asked a very pertinent question.

One matter which got a fair amount of discussion was the lack of treatment NS TIR does on gravel roads to keep the dust down. In the last couple of years on the Shore Road instead of treating the entire road earlier in the spring, TIR has confined treatment to the centre of the road, and only in front of houses.

Residents there say the dust is so bad, they can’t hang out the laundry, and have to keep windows closed all summer long. They also fear it’s a health hazard, and there was some discussion about contacting the Department of Health.

Both Councillor’s Taggart and MacInnes, along with Mayor Taylor who was there for part of the meeting said they will ensure the matter is brought up to TIR at the next meeting. This problem is typical of the many calls municipal councillors get about matters, which are not within their control, but as the front line person to all levels of government they work hard to address resident’s problems.

Earlier I mentioned this month had been very busy. If you look at the back of this issue you will see why. In fact the last seven pages are printed upside down. If you look at the back page, you will see it’s another "front page".

We have always served the South Cumberland area around Parrsboro, but with this issue, we are expanding to cover Advocate-Southampton-Parrsboro and will do so each and every month in the format at the back of this paper with pages under the banner of "South Cumberland New".

It will be a benefit to advertisers from Truro to Advocate, everyone will get all the coverage from Truro to Advocate with total circulation of 3,200 copies.

 


 

March 2016 - Consult, Consult & Consult….

You know the old sayings, It never rains but it pours, or You are in Nova Scotia and if you don’t like the weather, hang around it will change in five minutes.

Recently it’s hard to keep positive and smile as the news just keeps spiraling downward. It took longer than anticipated, but the previous government’s investment into the former TrentonWorks plant has come to an end. Bankruptcy proceedings are expected to start almost immediately.

Eager to spend money, but short on doing due-diligence to determine if making parts for windmill turbines was a sound investment, thanks to Dexter’s NDP government, the taxpayers are now on the hook for its 49% equity stake of $56-Million, of which, not one cent had been repaid.

The money is lost let’s face it. I’m not an economist, nor am I experienced in heavy fabrication, but surely a facility which at one time employed 1200 people making railcars could do it again. Within the last couple of years, we’ve heard CPR and CN must build thousands of new double walled tanker cars to transport crude oil, gasoline and other chemicals.

Before the bankruptcy courts sell off the machinery piece by piece then bulldoze, the century old icon, I believe there are enough experienced workers and executives with business smarts, to develop a sustainable business plan.

The province and Pictou County, in particular, has been devastated by the downward spiral of the plant over the past 15-20 years. Maybe it’s time to consult, consult and consult some more.

Start off with town hall meetings with local residents and former employees advising what they think can and should be done. Another million or two is not going to make a difference, but if we can put the right heads together, lobby Ottawa and both railroads, not for money, but for contracts. It might be a wise move.

Bombardier has been lobbying for about $3-Billion to keep their C-Series new plane program alive. While investing in the Trenton plant Dexter’s NDP helped navigate and secure a 30 year shipbuilding contract. We can develop our own plan to enhance Pictou County.

It’s time for every Nova Scotian to roll up their sleeves and help. Every year Atlantic Canadians send upwards of $1-billion in cash to Upper Canada as investments in RRSP’s, Mutual Funds and other investments to save on personal income taxes and grow their retirement funds.

What would happen, if a large portion of those funds were invested in Trenton? What would happen if individual Nova Scotians (maybe also our Atlantic Canadian colleagues) owned and controlled the plant? You know the answer. It would be wonderful.

With broad based ownership across the region, the pressure would be on all Atlantic Canadian MP’s to deliver the goods. Not money from Ottawa, but working as hard as they can to secure contracts. We already have a 30% competitive edge against the Americans.

Many trades-people have returned from Alberta and are desperate for work. Let’s develop the plan, put people back to work, while at the same time setting the wage scale at 50-60% of the going rate in Alberta, but institute profit sharing.

With the Canadian dollar trading at around 70US cents we have a competitive edge, which will last for 5-10 years and it will take equally as long for the oilsands to come back to a shadow of what it was two years ago.

Think about the local economy if the Trenton plant was employing 500-750 people each making $40-$50,000, plus their share of profits. It wouldn’t take long for the provincial economy to turn around. Not that this one project would save our economy, but it would motiviate everyone to believe "Yes We Can" instead of "No We Can’t".

I urge Premier McNeil to call upon Nova Scotia’s leading business executives to step up to the plate at $1.00 a day (no expenses) to offer their services for the next 12 months. Once he has 15-20 executives, he then asks them each to select three or four people (local citizens), whom they will mentor to build the plan to put the former Trenton plant back into business.


 

February 2016 - This is ridiculous

In 2007-2008 the economy failed because of a melt-down in the stock market as a result of $-Billions given out in sub-prime mortgages to people who should never have been granted one. Late in the fall of 2015, the real weakness of the economy started to become evident. Sure earlier in the year, the price of oil started to drop bringing a halt to many new construction projects sending many easterners home, or providing a lot of grief to those who moved west to work in Alberta's Oil patch.

Here we are in mid-January with the price of oil is dipping below $30.00 on its way to the low 20's and the CDN$$ dipping below seventy cents for the first time since 2003. When gasoline prices at the pumps were nearly $1.50/ltr, oil was around $120.00 per barrel. At that time, we wanted a lower price for a barrel of oil. Now that oil has dropped nearly $100/barrel, we are not seeing the savings we anticipated.

The low dollar has pushed the price of Cauliflower to $6 a head, because it's imported from USA. As oil and the dollar roll around to see how low they can go, we'll continue to see the cost of putting food on the table to escalate. The present economy is encouraging to those engaging in local food production. Buy local campaigns started two or three years ago are starting to get traction. As the capacity to supply the local market increases, we need to remember "buying local" will always be our best plan in the immediate or long term.

If we had an 80 cent dollar and 80 dollar oil, we'd be a lot better off.

Just as ridiculous as low priced oil and a low CDN$$ is how disrespectful a large number of people can be as they continue to litter our highways. Over the last couple of years, there seems to be an increase in the number of people who are becoming more upset at the amount of litter thrown from moving vehicles or bags of garbage thrown into the ditch.

Last year individuals and groups put forth a valiant effort to clean up in Glenholme, Great Village and Bass River. Their efforts certainly are appreciated. However, we need much more than that. Fines need to be assessed and culprits charged to kick-start a change in attitude; education programs are needed in all schools for all grades. In many cases students have more influence on parents than they are given credit. Once we'd noticed even a slight change in public perception, we need every resident to clean up both sides of the highway a couple of hundred feet on either side of their driveway.

It's not only residents who need to put forth an effort. Business owners and leaders need to raise the bar, but working hard to ensure their place of business is the cleanest on the street. After than they can work for the betterment of all by placing garbage containers on their property to encourage the public to put their litter in the bin, instead of throwing it on the ground.

We'll never totally eliminate litter on our highways, but each of us can help to make a difference. One thing each of us can do it to put forth suggestions to your local councillor on how the problem could be solved in your area. Don't just tell them what needs to be done, get out there yourself and help make it work.

Not sure how one could set the standards, but we should work hard to achieve the reputation as having the "cleanest municipality in Nova Scotia". Just think how proud we would be to achieve that status. Once we achieve that status, let's promote it on all avenues of social media. What a great message to send to potential tourists, who "might" just come to visit us, to see if it's true.

We have less than 10 weeks to develop our plan, then it will be time to get into the ditches to do our part.


 

January 2016 - Perception or reality? – Not Good

Many believe perception is more believable than reality. It’s difficult to shake negative perceptions. This will be a difficult column for me to write, because I am a Stephen McNeil fan, and readily admit it. However, I am very disappointed over the last couple of months. On the other side is my professional responsibility to the Shoreline’s loyal readers and I’m on their side.

A lot of political capital has been spent in 2015, which for the most part was avoidable. However, we don’t need erosion of Premier McNeil’s credibility, although it has started to happen, not by his hand, but blame must be set at the feet of others.

His blame could be confined to not going out of character and slamming his fist on the cabinet and caucus tables telling all those present to shape up and follow the course of action he and the team got elected on.

As hard as Stephen tries others seem to be eroding his credibility. Last winter is was the arbitrator negotiating unions in the health authority; then Leo Glavine made some statements, which caused a lot of confusion, back tracking and eating crow. The finance department handling of the Movie Tax Credits created a lot of disturbance and is still causing tremors; to highlight the fall, it was Andrew Younger and his tirades and backbiting actions.

Then McNeil’s Chief of Staff acted in an unprofessional manner and was forced to resign. Just get over the chief of staff and the wheels start to come off labour negotiations, when it initially appeared settlements were in place. A few months ago he seemed to be on the road to settling and getting most of the labour contracts renewed, through diligence and hard work and without a strike.

Since being elected, he has constantly maintained his position he would not sign any contract which the province could not afford. In fact he seemed so adamant, if the labour situation could not be resolved, I could see him pulling the plug and going to the polls to let the public decide if he was right or someone else should run the province and sign contracts he deemed unaffordable.

Many people with whom I have spoken about where the sympathy would lie feel if government was holding the line, there would be very little general public sympathy for teachers, nurses, or any of the public servants. In the event any of the unions chose to strike or engage in an elongated period of work-to-rule public support would automatically rest with government.

Early in December with leaders of the nurses and NSGEU recommending membership accept the contract proposal negotiated by their team with McNeil’s Liberals. It appeared labour peace for most of the contracts would occur before Christmas. As per usual, details of the contracts were not made public until members had a chance to study and vote.

McNeil’s chance of immediate success started to go off the rails. A number of previous past presidents on the labour side issued statements of disapproval, which to some degree was anticipated. Everything started to rush downhill when members of government gave interviews relating to what might happen after the contracts were signed. This raised the hackles of union leaders and membership causing one to turn down the proposal, and the NSGEU delaying its vote until the nurses voted first.

Bill 148 when it is proclaimed will limit what any arbitrator can award.

Where the problem of perception comes in was approval of MLA’s qualifying for a pension after only two years of service when they reach the age of 55. McNeil was caught in the middle on that one. He has been preaching austerity and cutting away any fat. Current legislation states the recommendations of the three person committee’s report on MLA’s compensation had to be accepted and implemented.

The timing was not right to enhance MLA’s pensions, especially when taxpayers contribute $6 to the fund for every $1 from individual MLA’s.

Regardless of perception or reality, it’s not a good thing. Labour peace will be harder to achieve. One member of the MLA Remuneration Committee is a president of a union currently in negotiations.


 

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