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June 2017- Important Things to do

There are several things which we must be aware of and respect the importance of each with sincerity on a regular basis. They include: pay attention to health; protect family and loved ones; be a good citizen; know and protect the integrity of our county; do the best we can at work; respect the rights and freedoms of others.

In addition we must do what we can looking out for the welfare and betterment of seniors, youth, armed force members, veterans, law enforcement and those not as fortunate as ourselves. Yes, it’s a tall order but as Canadians that is who we should be.

Sound philosophical? No. It’s just being Canadian.

To be all of that there is just one thing we need to do. We need to vote on May 30th.

We’ve celebrated the 100th Anniversary of Vimy Ridge, which historians claim, although costly in terms of lives lost and thousands injured was the turning point in World War I and Canada became a Country.

Sacrifice of those lives contributed to freedom, we enjoy today. Think of the oppressed and somewhat homeless people who are fleeing their native land in search of what we take for granted. If for no other reason than to respect our forefathers, who gave so much, we need to get off the couch and vote.

It’s not as simple as going behind a screen, placing an "X" alongside someone’s name then wiping our hands saying, "I did my duty". We must place our mark with the one we feel will do their best to uphold Canadian values.

Look at what’s happening globally in recent years in some of the largest democracies. The electorate has become so volatile and frustrated, pollsters have not been able to get it right. The lack of concern being shown in the United States for parts of its citizens may be its undoing over time.

Before we look around the world, let’s have a quick peek at Nova Scotia’s voting patterns since 2003.The 59th Legislature of the General Assembly (2003-2006) was distributed as follows: PC’s, 25; NDP, 15; Lib, 10; Ind, 1 and Vacant 1. The 60’s Legislature (2006-2009) comprised: PC’s, 21; NDP, 20; Lib, 9; Ind, 1 and Vacant 1.

In 2009 Darrell Dexter’s NDP was elected to form the 61st general assembly (2009-2013) with the following seating arrangement: NDP, 31; Lib 14; PC’s, 12 and Ind, 1. The 62nd Assembly (2013-2017) began with Liberals, 35; PC’s, 10; NDP, 9 and Ind, 1. Standings at dissolution on April 30th, was Lib, 34; PC’s 10, NDP; Ind, 1 and Vacant 1.

Now let’s look around the globe at the electorate’s recent volatility surprising many: Justin Trudeau rose to power with a very large majority in 2015 gathering all seats in Atlantic Canada; the Brits voted to leave the European Common Market in June 2016; Donald Trump surprised the world with a victory over Hilary Clinton in November 2016; France just elected a 39 year old banker as president. Neither he nor the run-off candidate had previous political experience. In fact, none of the traditional ruling parties were in the final run-off.

Scotland is anticipated to hold a referendum to leave the United Kingdom to strike out on its own. Last week, BC’s long serving Liberals under Premier Christie Clarke were elected with a minority. The final outcome will not be known until mail-in ballots and recounts are completed. The NDP now rules Alberta, and Kevin O’Leary, until he withdrew, was leading to be the second leader of the federal conservatives.

At the time of this writing there is two weeks to go in the election campaign. No party has really gained any traction. Saturday, May 13th the running Corporate Research Associates (CRA) poll for the Chronicle Herald, conducted May 7-11, was suggesting: Liberals 41%; PC’s, 29%; NDP, 27%; Green Party, 2% and Atlantica Party, 0%. Of 501 Nova Scotians polled, 363 were decided or leaning; 19% did not know; 5% did not plan to vote and 3% refused to say.

Yes, I have my preference, but I’ll not tell you. Back to my opening message, in honour of veterans and forefathers, please vote on May 30th. - Maurice


 

 

May 2017 - Should they have? Yes? No?

April is always a difficult month for elected officials, especially municipal councillors. They are similar to university students cramming to get everything done. With busy schedules, plus dedication to municipal responsibilities, they have to work with staff to plan for summer / fall activities; review the previous year; look ahead to determine what else is needed; do some long range planning and set the budget for the coming year.

The budget process started with public meetings inviting the non-profits to make presentations on their grant requests. This year requests for non-profit grants from Colchester’s community groups totaled more than $500,000. A difficult position given the budget allotment was in the range of $100,000.

Then council scheduled "additions and deletions" meetings to review the applications, see what might have been missed, then allocate monies to a number of groups. Two evening sessions didn’t get the job done, so a third one was scheduled for April 20th. I was only able to attend the meeting on the 20th, when councillors were under pressure to complete the allocations and balance the budget.

Deliberations were done in a committee meeting and will not be ratified until council’s monthly meeting (tomorrow) Thursday, April 27th. Since all discussions form a recommendation to council, it’s not for me to reveal the results, and to be the first one to advise a community group of the decision. I can say some non-profit grants were denied, other were allotted significantly less than requested.

It’s conjecture, but from attending the final meeting, it appears in certain areas reserves have been used to get a job done and council deciding not to allocate as much to reserves as in the past.

Before balancing the budget, two motions were put before the committee to raise taxes, but were defeated. One called for an increase of one cent on each of residential and commercial. The second proposed a one cent residential and half a cent on commercial. With both motions defeated, council started looking where cuts were possible. They reduced budgets of three regular programs by $300,000 to balance the budget.

Long serving Deputy Mayor Bill Masters was emphatic reserves need to be constantly increased, and at no time should they be lessened. He sternly advised council, "I’ll tell you right here, if you don’t continue to increase reserves, this council will be in trouble in 10 years. I know I’ve been there, when we had to raise taxes".

He then introduced a motion to raise taxes by one cent on residential accounts with the proceeds allocated to increase the reserves. The motion was defeated.

Now back to the question in the heading of this column, "Should they have? Yes? No? Nobody likes to see taxes raised, but with a very progressive council, a number of money saving, some even long term money makers, anticipated, it would have been a wise decision to slightly increase taxes allocating the money to reserves.

Just like maintenance on a vehicle, taxes should be increased slowly and by small amounts, as long as council ensures efficiency in all departments.

I will commend councillor, Tom Taggart, he has asked for a review to see if there is good "bang for the buck" for non-profit grants, expenditures on trails. Although he specifically didn’t reference it, I can see a request coming forward from someone to review all programs, over the coming months all.

It came as a complete surprise on April 5th when Cape Sharp Tidal announced they would have to remove the turbine in Minas Passage and take it to Saint John to repair the turbine control centre. About the same time it was discovered in seven weeks following it’s deployment in November until December 31st, NS Power had purchased 5.4MWh (5400KWh) of electricity produced by the turbine.

Immediately I went and checked electricity bills for my own house for the billing cycles of February and April 2016. My residential consumption over the two invoices totaled, 5,768 KWh, approximately 6.8% more than the turbine uploaded to the grid.

Most disappointing results for such a mammoth operation, even though it was in the commissioning phase.


 

April 2017 - Watch out for excitement from West Colchester

Within the past couple of week more and more people are referring to Kevin O’Leary as Donald Trump of the north. In last month’s issue, the Shoreline Journal printed an article with a graph showing O’Leary was near the front of pack, primarily because of his name recognition. Following remarks in PEI, it’s entirely possible, he is downgraded. If picked as leader, it will be a long time before the Conservatives elects many MP’s from Atlantic Canada.

We have a total of 32 seats and would swing a big stick by providing enough seats to determine who did form the government. An ideal place to be, with others looking to us for support.

I’m not trying to change the focus of the Shoreline to a national audience away from taking care of and pushing forward to point the needs of those in West Colchester and Cumberland South.

Back to the province or our area, it is anticipated we could be making a trek to the polls, before the June issue. Take notice of the special note near the top of Page 1 Briefs in this issue, as we might have to change the publication dates for the June issue.

Last week, the provincial Financial Condition Index (FCI) was released providing a report on each town and municipality. The FCI report combines a range of information into a single document and providing a platform where staff under council’s direction may wish to focus their efforts. Each report has three sections, with five categories in each section. The sections are Revenue Dimension, Budget Dimension and Debt and Capital Dimension.

Each municipality’s FCI report was colour coded with green indicating the municipality meets the Threshold and municipality average; Yellow indicates the municipality met the overall threshold, but did not meet the province wide average. A red indicator suggests a more serious position in that the municipality did not meet the overall threshold or average from around the province.

Overall Colchester, Truro and Stewiacke were in the thick of the pack when compared to other rural municipalities or towns around the province. The FCI report for Municipality of Cumberland was entirely blank because data was not provided in any category.

Of the municipal units in Cumberland and Colchester, the town of Amherst fared the best in that it did not have any red flags. It had seven green indicators and eight in the yellow category.

Of the 15 total indicators / flags for each municipality, Colchester received eight green indicators; four yellow and three red. Truro finished with eight green indicators, five yellow and two red. Stewiacke’s final tally was six green, five yellow and four red.

If your head is spinning you are probably asking what do all these figures mean? None of these flags spell trouble.

If there are areas which need attention, it would be in the red categories. In Colchester’s case to be on par with the rest of the municipalities and get rid of the red indicators, it needs to pay attention to the following categories: Deficits over five years, Un-depreciated assets and contribution to capital reserves. Meanwhile to get rid of its two red indicators, Truro needs to focus on changes to operating reserves, and make larger contributions to five year capital reserves. Stewiacke will get rid of its red indicators, when it reaches town threshold status on Commercial Property Assessment, residential tax effort, budgeted expenditure accuracy and un-depreciated assets.

While municipal staff and councillors review financial procedures to get rid of red indicators in the FCI index, everyone in Colchester needs to be prepared for the excitement and activities to improve community and economic development in West Colchester.

A number of dedicated people have spent the last year planning, organizing and preparing for the re-launch of revitalized West Colchester Community Development Association (WCCDA), which had its beginning in the early 60’s, but has be running on idle for several years. In three community open house meetings, over 80 people have stepped forward with ideas and offering to help improve community development, then go forward on economic matters.

A meeting will be held April 12 at the Bass River Fire Hall, 7 pm to set the date for a general meeting and give notice to by-law changes and establish a nominating committee. - Maurice

 


 

March 2017 - January and February Disasters

It doesn’t do any good to complain about it, but ask any retailer or small business owner and they will quickly tell you January and February were disasters. Not to dwell upon the negative, but might as well face reality and get it out of the way.

I’m not an economist or polling expert, but I do have a few suspicions as to why it happened the way it did. Other than one week in February, when we lost the whole week due to two severe storms and one day of a teacher’s strike, we can’t blame the weather.

In fact we have been very lucky, with really only three storms this winter. Granted the snow was piled high after the storms from the 15th to the 22nd, but with a few days of moderating temperatures, bright sun during the day and fog overnight, it’s amazing how quickly the snow piles have been reduced and even some fields are showing lots of stubble from the corn stocks.

Business does not like uncertainty and there was lots of it in the first six weeks after the holidays. First there was concern about what the Trump presidency would affect our economy, because at that time softwood lumber was a topic of great discussion, especially on the West Coast. Of course anything softwood causes shutters on the east coast. Then there was disruption in the education system, with ongoing negotiations, then teachers rejecting the third contract proposal.

Of course let’s not forget work to rule; interscholastic sports being cancelled; graduating students not being able to get letters of recommendation necessary to enter university or college.

However, we have most of those negative oriented things behind us, and Prime Minister Trudeau paid a visit to Washington and reports are the trip resulted with much more positive news than we feared. Maybe what we have done is lumped together most of this year’s negativity into the first two months, so we can push forward for the next 10 months feeling much better.

Here’s a few things we can look forward to: Basically winter is behind us, although we can still get an occasional nasty storm in March; Easter is not far away and that holiday causes us to believe spring is around the corner; furnace fuel has been down in price, so our pockets are not as empty as they were a couple of years ago.

As we really start to gaze toward summer, our dollar is trading at a level which will help the upcoming tourist season. This is an off-election year for or friends south of the border, and will political confusion over there; the level of our dollar, and so far our almost clean record on terrorism, we could see a major influx of American tourists this year.

Provincially we will probably be making a trek to the polls this spring, but that will probably be over by the middle of May.

Here’s my highlight of positivity for the month and I’ll move toward it slowly.

How many times have you felt or heard your friends complain about all levels of government doing things you did not approve and you felt like they were not listening? Many, many times, I bet.

In fact that probably played a large part in Trump’s election victory. He struck a raw nerve of the voter and the more he listened to them, the larger the crowds he attracted. And he didn’t let go. Although he’s doing a lot of things in ways, I do not agree, I will give him credit. He has gone full steam ahead delivering on exactly what he said he would do.

Even in Nova Scotia all of us could cite examples where municipal governments have overlooked the wishes of their constituents. If Colchester Council has done that in the past, they have done an about face.

On February 15th they tabled a motion to build a sidewalk until a public meeting was held with affected residents. A week to the day, the meeting had been held. The next day on February 23rd, council overturned a staff recommendation and did exactly what the residents wanted – a 270 metre sidewalk on the East side of Carter Road in Brookfield.

Congratulations to Colchester Municipal Council for listening to the taxpayers. Keep up the good work. - Maurice


 

February 2017 - Voters flexing their muscles

In 2016 we witnessed a few unexpected events in traditional democratic countries with most prominent being England’s BREXIT vote in favour of leaving the European Common Market and the American decision to put Donald Trump into the White House. Both are evidence the electorate has become tired of "same old, same old" and have flexed their muscles by voting "their way".

A similar trend occurred in Canada in 2015 when Justin Trudeau was swept into power with 39.4% of the popular vote to attain 184 of 338 seats. Perhaps 2015 was the first demonstration of voters voting their conscience. If so, it’s a trend that has barely gained any traction.

In Nova Scotia’s October municipal elections several long-serving municipal politicians were removed in favour of those who voters felt best represented their feelings. Even though in many cases, municipal representatives were returned to office by acclamation, it does not mean all is well.

It going to take a few years for the electorate to become more satisfied and settle down. They have a variety of feelings: not enough is happening to increase economic activity in their area; they’re feeling squeezed and some feel they are not getting enough value for their tax dollars, while others in rural areas feel marginalized because of poor cell phone coverage; lack of high speed internet and a variety of other factors.

To his credit after being elected in 2013, Premier McNeil has stayed the course saying he will not sign any labour agreement which Nova Scotia can not afford. It’s certainly causing him problems with teachers, nurses and NSGEU demanding costly financial and other employment considerations.

To set the stage, of what we are facing and what needs to be done to improve economic viability in Atlantic Canadad, I refer to an Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIS) "The Size and cost of Atlantic Canada’s Public Sector" study from September 2014. Here’s a few facts pulled from the 12 page report:

  • Public sector employment in Atlantic Canada is higher than the national average. Nationally, in 2013, 17.8 per cent of all jobs were in the civilian public sector. By comparison, in the Atlantic provinces, this figure is 22.6 per cent, nearly five percentage points above the national average.
  • Public sector employment rates in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick also exceed the national average of 18 per cent, accounting for 21.8 and 20.4 per cent of all jobs.
  • Some object measuring the size of the public sector relative to the employed workforce is not the best way to measure government employment because all residents–not just those employed in the workforce–make use of government services.
  • There are 84 sub-national public sector employees per 1,000 residents in Canada. Closely aligned with this level of employment is New Brunswick, at 85 employees per 1,000 residents. In each of the other Atlantic provinces, however, sub-national employment is at least 10 per cent higher than in the country as a whole. In Prince Edward Island, there are 95 sub-national public employees per 1,000 residents, and in Nova Scotia, 99 per 1,000 residents. Newfoundland and Labrador has 109 public employees per 1,000 residents–nearly 30 per cent higher than the national average. In total, relative to population, Atlantic Canada’s rate of public sector employment is 14.3 per cent larger than that of the country as a whole.
  • If public sector employment rates matched the national average in Newfoundland and Labrador, there would be 13,253 fewer public sector workers than is currently the case, which would have reduced the province’s wage bill by $880 million in the 2012-13 fiscal year.
  • In Nova Scotia, there would have been 14,127 fewer public sector workers, reducing the wage bill by $836 million.
  • The corresponding figures for Prince Edward Island are 1,686 public sector workers and $112 million, and for New Brunswick, 834 public sector workers and $58 million.
  • To put these figures into perspective, the regional provincial-level budget deficit was $1.08 billion in fiscal year 2012/13, and aligning public sector employment rates with the national average would have reduced the total sub-national government wage bill by $1.89 billion in the 2012-13 fiscal year.
  • If provincial governments in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island could cut the gap in half, or even reduce it by a quarter over a ten-year period through attrition, wage restraint, and other frugal management options, they would save hundreds of millions of dollars, with significant positive implications for their fiscal outlook.
  • The governments of all four Atlantic provinces face the stark reality of large debt loads and the risk that debt-servicing costs will rise should interest rates increase.
  • we have shown that one source of pressure on provincial budgets in Atlantic Canada is the public sector wage bill.
  • Due to high rates of public sector employment in the region, and a compensation gap between private and public sector employees that is wider than the Canadian average, the four Atlantic provinces face the largest public sector wage bills relative to labour income in the country.

Since public sector wages and benefits are the single largest expenditure for these governments, restraining the growth of the public sector wage bill is a necessary condition for maintaining fiscal stability in the years ahead.

 


 

January 2017 - Can we afford the costs?

It seems like one step forward and three steps back, when it comes to Colchester and Truro moving ahead. However, that won’t last forever. Hopefully, things will resume moving forward at a steady pace.

There are two recent activities which are positive and over time, bring positive results to Colchester as a whole.

The items are final approval for a Regional Economic Network (REN), which involves Colchester four municipalities: Truro, Stewiacke, Millbrook and the municipality. The other positive move forward is council’s agreement to become pro-active on development of the Debert Airport.

Of course one item, like a lump of coal for Christmas, is the engineers report advising Colchester and Truro council’s must spend $532,000 to dehumidify the RECC centre to preserve the building and create an enjoyable experience for spectators.

Those are the major items concerning Colchester, but there’s a lot happening on the provincial scene, which is troubling and could be an expensive fix for taxpayers. Of course at the top of the list is the "work to rule" and government’s attempts to resolve issues to put the education system back on track. Opinions are varied and those who have poked up their head in support of government actions have been subjected to a lot of social media ridicule. Let’s hope it’s solved soon.

Some people have suggested they don’t have a problem with salary levels for the various teacher classifications, but many teachers are over qualified for the positions they are now employed. For example a science teacher with the highest qualifications should not be teaching grade primary.

One suggestion, which seemed a practical approach to keep costs in line, yet still pay teachers the going rate, would require each school to post level of qualifications, subjects and grade for teaching staff. The suggestion was teachers with better qualifications could apply for the positions, but would only be paid at the rate for the posted position.

Many business people are of the opinion, it is ridiculous to have an abundance of overqualified teachers in certain positions. In their business they identify how many and what level of qualifications they require and use those tools to develop the required levels of expertise.

I realize passing along the suggestions of others on this subject will send ripples or tidal waves through the teaching profession, but the education system must get back on track and students having the full scope of school activities at their disposal.

Running almost parallel is the overwhelming vote to strike taken by NSGEU members. The McNeil government will have a rocky road in the early part of 2017. McNeil has been consistent claiming he will not sign off on an agreement, which Nova Scotians cannot afford.

Yes, professionals in the public service, education, or healthcare must be paid according to similar positions in other provinces, but they must also recognize there is only one taxpayer, and most of the taxpayers are not in that earning category.

Over and above salary costs is the underlying costs of years of service and pensions, which does not exist in private business. One colleague told me about his brother retiring to a good pension, and upon retirement also received a "Years of Service" payment of $38,000.00. Costs of pension contributions, pension plan top ups, etc is a situation of major concern to management and elected officials.

Word being leaked out about UNSM member municipalities is the cost of pensions is a major concern and more downloading is being done from other levels of government. As of press-time, I was not able to get the exact figures for each category of annual contributions for employee payroll and pension costs. However, I was told it was going to cost one municipality in excess of $10,000 annually for each employee. That would amount of approximately$1.4-Million each year.

The other disappointing reality is Colchester and Truro Councils are going to have to deal with a humidity issue at the RECC, which engineers say will cost $532,000 to fix. Operating and energy costs have far exceeded, what professionals stated would happen. The humidity topic alone should make for interesting January council meetings.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone. - Maurice


 

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