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June 2019 - Congratulations Cumberland-Colchester for Great Collective effort

First things first.

Congratulations to Cumberland and Colchester Municipal governments for a high level of co-operation and a lot of planning and detailed work on to put together a Request for Expression of Interest (RFEI) for a massive Rural Broadband and Connected Communities Collaboration.

The RFEI was issued on May 24th and interested applicants must reply by June 7th. Timelines are tight but Mark Austin, the project coordinator for the two counties is adamant he will have a strong proposal submitted by June 28th to align with Develop Nova Scotia’s (DNS) deadline for applications.

The project has been in the works for just over a year, since senior representatives from each Municipality, along with selected provincial representatives, met at the Peg to explore working together and to learn about how such a massive undertaking could become reality.

If the application meets DNS approval and the economics are in line with expectations, Cumberland and Colchester Counties would become one of the most connected regions in Canada. They would be creating history by being the first two counties to throw their hat in the same ring, to get it done.

If the proposals come together as anticipated, and in line with a study done in the Annapolis Valley it might mean 85% of Cumberland and Colchester residents and business would have internet speeds equal to or greater than many urban areas.

Using the Annapolis Valley study as a base and I have no confirmation the Cumberland-Colchester would be similar or even close, the remaining 15% of connections could be based on satellite service. In the Valley, satellite was the only economical way to bring service to areas, which were very remote, or topography would not allow service to be developed from towers or buried fibre cable. The lack of population density was upping the cost per household to well over $100,000. Although not as fast as fibre-related installations, today’s satellite service delivers internet service much faster than currently available even in sub-divisions, which are close to an urban core.

By late June reviewers of the RFEI will know if it makes sense and economics are in order. What a feather in the cap of Cumberland and Colchester councils, especially to Mark Austin, if all this comes together. Nova Scotia is a global leader in recycling, what an honour to be at the forefront of Canadian municipalities and their respective communities to be held up as an example of how to do it; while doing it at a lower cost than anticipated.

Another area where Colchester and Cumberland are showing great strides of working together is ensuring a quality presentation has been prepared to obtain UNESCO designation for the Cliffs of Fundy Aspiring Geopark. The volunteer community workers, whom I have a relationship with and talk to often, can’t say enough good things and are amazed how the two municipalities blend together to get something done.

The two counties might not have the votes or number of seats, which political parties look for when they want to get re-elected, but they are at the top of the list when it comes to resourcefulness of its citizens. When you want to look at impact, go back 150+ hears and see how many Father’s of Confederation hailed from these rural areas. HRM might have the population and today’s financial strength, but how many of their forefathers were able to put it together to create Canada?

There are two additional things Halifax needs to remember, without the 20% of Canadians in rural area who would grow the food, or who has the resources – forest, water, minerals and many of the things needed for them to continue life?

The province certainly benefitted from Sable Gas and Deep Penuche, but HRM got a larger slice of the pie, but those projects are history.

Not that we are headed to fracking for natural gas, but Halifax needs to remember if we are short of energy and they decide on fracking, where will it come from? Never forget Cumberland Basin, Pictou and Hants County’s Kennetcook River Valley will able to save your bacon. However, it will be on "our terms". - Maurice


May 2019 Organ donation plan, the right move.

The past month has been full of twists and turns. Seems like everything is jumping all over the place. Along with varied weather we had high winds, which knocked down some magnificent barns, and flipped over some trailers, in between plenty of rain, and the occasional snow squall. Then next day everything was calm.

I was pleased to see the government bring in and pass "assumed approval", where it applies to organ donation. In 95% of the cases, I detest and am against assuming people’s approval. Remember the public’s uproar with the Telco’s and cable companies.

However, I feel where it comes to organ donation, it was the right move. Yes, some people were adamant in their opposition and I can understand why. Regardless how you feel, it is necessary to understand at the time of your death, nothing happens without approval from family members, so there is a "way out".

There is a shortage of donations, and some people succumb to their affliction as a result. My personal feeling is if I spend most of my life trying to help and be kind to people, then in death, if I can help someone with an organ donation, I’m all for it.

Probably, the remainder of this writing will be all over the place. So here goes.

I’m still seriously peeved at the process being used to bring quality high speed internet service to rural areas. In the beginning, when $195-Million provincial funding was announced, I was hopeful things might "gel" and we could see implementation. However, when people in urban HRM were appointed decision makers, I knew were in trouble.

My sources tell me Cumberland and Colchester Counties are getting their act together and an RFP is expected in a couple of weeks, with a closing in mid-June. I’ve been involved behind the scenes to some extent, and have an understanding of what could be possible. To deliver internet service, which would be G5 ready, to the two counties would cost upwards of $40-Million.

If Cumberland and Colchester each committed $1-Million, and the province and the Feds each contributing $6-7-Million, installation could begin as I’ve been told $$$ required for the remainder is a slam dunk.

If someone wants to know more about the inside scoop, call me. Professionally, I can’t reveal all that I have learned. However, call your MP, MLA, or councillor to apply pressure.

Three surprises came to the surface during the April 25th meeting of council. Each had several segments to them.

Budget: I anticipated a small raise in the tax rate. Council had held the rate the last couple of years, but it had to be this year. Not a good political move to wait until 2020/2021, as there is municipal election in October.

Policing: Council has complained about the cost of policing with concerns a number of RCMP assigned to the municipality were non-active for variety of reasons, including sick-leave. Without checking back to files from month’s ago, memory tells me there were four non-active members. There was discussion either get the human-power up or get a credit on the account.

I expected council to push for credit, but during budget deliberations they choose to ask for a reduction of three officers.

However, the big surprise, when it was indicated there’s a move afoot to consult with Truro Police Service about providing policing to the county. Maybe Colchester will go alone, but let’s see where this goes.

Code of conduct: This evolved two years ago when there was a major uproar. It wasn’t clear how loathe council was about adopting one. It took Mayor Blair to remind council Department of Municipal Affairs has mandated one must be introduced. Staff are to report.

The other shocker was a letter which Councillor Taggart asked to be moved from "closed" session to "open" session. It dealt with a request my Millbrook First Nation to have 943 acres of land they have purchased in 13 parcels be set aside to create Millbrook Indian Reserve 27D. (see the headline story this issue). Astonishing to see the initial comments around the table. Council is to reply by June 7th. - Maurice

 


 

April 2019 - $20,000 and Four Months Wasted

Of the hundreds of council meetings I have attended or endured since my first council meeting in Woodstock, NB in 1963, a few of them have caused the head to spin. Colchester’s council meeting on February 28th is one of those near the top during a span of six decades.

Not only was the presented consultant’s report poorly drafted; poorly presented; did not answer the original questions and contained inaccurate information of municipal population. Instead of spending approximately $20,000 a cup of coffee and thirty minutes with someone in charge of handling employee payroll would have provided concise accurate and understandable information.

At the time of this writing, 18 hours after witnessing the episode my head is still spinning. Here’s the backgrounder. In 2018 Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) issued a ruling the total amount of money paid to a mayor, deputy mayor or councillor would be calculated as income. (Previously, in most municipal jurisdictions two thirds of a stipend was calculated as taxable amount with one third a "non-taxable" amount to offset expenses).

With everything being counted as income, councillors, rightly so, asked: "How much increase should be added to the stipend to ensure the amount of money councillors were taking home was the same as previous years?"

Not a difficult question. Most elected representatives are employed elsewhere, or retired with pensions. In Canada the marginal tax rate varies based on total income which is taxable. Councillors were not intending nor asking for coverage on their overall income, just coverage for what they received from the municipality.

Even the payroll department at the municipality could have provided the answer, and one would not need to buy someone a coffee.

On evening of February 28th, it took over an hour; tensions got heated and councillors expressed frustration at the lack of clarity. As part of the report, population stats of municipalities, province-wide, was used as a leading contributing factor to determine the stipend for elected representatives. That might have been fine, but to further illustrate how far off base the consultant was, the figures used for Municipality of Colchester was listed as 51,464, which includes populations for Town of Truro, (12,260); Stewiacke, (1,405) and Millbrook First Nation, (758) when it should have been approximately 38,000 for rural Colchester.

It appears similar inclusion of towns and villages went into comparative analysis of other data province-wide.

After the meeting, I contacted Roy Thompson, Thompson Accounting Services, Truro who graciously volunteered to provide a revised gross pay scale, so councillors, deputy mayor and mayor had the same "take-home" monies, after CRA’s new regulations were implemented. (His calculations are included elsewhere in this issue).

Let’s hope one simple thing was learned: "Upwards of $20,000 of taxpayer’s money and four months were wasted to provide non-adequate answers".

Now onto the remainder of this month’s submission.

As I have stated previously, I continue to be unimpressed how Nova Scotia is handling and proceeding to deliver "high speed" internet service to rural areas. Instead of managing the problem, implementing regulations and ensuring contractors are accountable. Develop Nova Scotia is trying to micro-manage everything from top down by pre-qualifying ISP contractors. Accountability and the ISP’s financial investment will ensure qualifications are in place.

Not only has Develop Nova Scotia been set up for failure. Impossible to deliver what rural Nova Scotia needs when most of the people making and implementing accountability are Halifax based and don’t know what Highway #2 river divides Cumberland and Colchester Counties. I am predicting, before completion: Cost $-Millions more than necessary: timetable to completion will extend beyond acceptability and smaller local companies will be overlooked.

Worse yet, is the public disappointment and business concerns about falling behind others in terms of productivity and competiveness. Rural Nova Scotia residents are asking why are we being held hostage?

Why can’t we keep up with New Brunswick and PEI? Both have obtained Federal Funding and signed contracts with private sector as investor partners to install 5G rated internet province-wide. Xplornet will deliver 5G services to over 20,000 rural homes in over 300 communities in PEI.

In NB and PEI Xplornet, as part of the contracts, is financing approximately 25-33% of the cost. Why are we being marginalized? - Maurice

 

 

 


 

March 2019 - Why are we "sitting on our hands"?

With a large variety of topics, I am passionate about, choosing this month’s theme is like being at a grandchildren’s birthday party and you get roped into playing "Pin the tail on the Donkey", while being blindfolded.

I could easily spout off about political musings in Ottawa about SNC-Lavalin; refusal of the provincial government to reveal costs associated with the now Yarmouth-Bar Harbour ferry; reducing meetings of the provincial Public Accounts Committee from 30 meetings to monthly and restricting the topics to be covered. I have enough information to compose two columns on Stats Canada revealing the industry categories that resulted in the Northern Region losing 2,500 jobs in 2018.

Another topic which is dear to every one’s heart, is the restrictions invoked by Develop Nova Scotia to deliver modern high speed internet to rural areas, now that a $190-Million Trust Fund has been established.

However, I have chosen to allocate most of available space to ask questions and seek answers why the RCMP commissioned a study in 2004, which eventually revealed three important "don’t do" items and they ignored all three. I’m speaking about the decision to move 55 high-paying jobs from its Communication Centre on Prince Street, Truro to Dartmouth.

Bill Casey, MP has been fighting the possible decision for nearly three years, with very little outcry from the electorate. Let’s face it, if this situation was occurring in Cape Breton, there would be a mammoth public outcry and "all hell to pay". I’m as sure as I am still alive, the Cape Bretoners wouldn’t let it happen without public outcry and potentially public demonstrations at RCMP headquarters.

The electorate in Colchester and Truro haven’t mounted any public campaign against the move. Seems like they are "sitting on their hands" and saying, "Oh, well".

In Cape Breton there would be many calls asking for RCMP officials to appear before CBRM council, and probably councils from adjoining municipalities.

I must ask. What have council’s from Colchester, Truro, Stewiacke, commissioners from Bible Hill and Tatamagouche and Millbrook First Nation done? To my knowledge other than perhaps a letter, or some private discussion, not much.

Who or which group(s) are going to challenge the RCMP’s decision? Maybe organize a public meeting. The RECC or CEC should be large enough to hold a crowd who would wish to attend unless they wish to be an invertebrate. For those not familiar with the "invertebrate" term: "More than 90 percent of all living animal species are invertebrates. Worldwide in distribution, they include animals as diverse as sea stars, sea urchins, earthworms, sponges, jellyfish, lobsters, crabs, insects, spiders, snails, clams, and squid. In otherwise no backbone. Eels and snakes are in similar category.

In Bill Casey’s column starting on Page 5, his original request for a copy of the report was denied. He then filed an Access to Information, which by law they had 45 days to respond. RCMP stalled for 730 days until Bill complained to the Information Commissioner.

Bill believes, the reason for the reluctance by RCMP to provide the report became very clear when he reviewed the material. Here are three quotes from this RCMP report:

  1. "the RCMP (should) not locate their primary OCC within the Halifax Regional Municipality",
  2. "the OCC Primary service delivery site be outside of HRM due to risks of placing 2 largest police communications centers in close proximity to each other".  
  3. "It is not recommended that the two largest police communications operations in Nova Scotia be placed within the same metropolitan area." 

This report was commissioned by the RCMP. The warnings in these statements could not be clearer. Yet the RCMP has decided to disregard their own report and locate the two largest police communication centers together in Dartmouth. (For more details on Bill’s column see page 5). This plan should be stopped.

If the job loss can’t be stopped that is 2019. However, if the municipal governments in Colchester and electorate do nothing, the shame will be on them for not visibly trying. Where are the MLA’s? Are they supposed to be leaders?

We’ll help, but can’t be the lead. - Maurice

 

 


 

February 2019 - Rural Nova Scotia an Endangered Species

Before you read any further, please understand, I am not abandoning my position of the urgency improved internet and cell services for rural areas. However, there are a few things, which must be solved immediately prior to and are part of resurrecting the rural economy.

The build-out of any area for internet service is 24-30 months, and up to five years to complete provincially. There is greater urgency to solve matters inhibiting improving the rural areas.

So here goes the list then I’ll expand on each one:

Rural Job losses: Stats Canada reports in 2018, HRM increased employment by 9.600, while the entire province created 6,900 new jobs. Simple math shows collectively there was a loss of 2,700 jobs in remaining areas.

Healthcare employment reduced: If you are wondering why people are complaining about healthcare, Stats Canada 2018 reports 3,600 fewer people employed in healthcare and social assistance categories than in 2017.

Resource industry declines: The resource industries including Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying and oil and gas, which are so important to rural areas showing a decrease of 1,100 jobs. However, agriculture showed an increase of 500.

Northern Pulp Mill: The government has mandated next January, Boat Harbour will close and nothing else can be added.

I’ve listed four problem areas, let’s look for solutions. Politicians and political parties constantly look at the "next vote". Granted HRM with 234,200 employed compared to 455,900 throughout the entire province represents 51.3% of the entire workforce.

However, focusing on something that is successful is foolish. You can’t take your foot off the accelerator, but you must divert more resources to failing areas. If school teachers spent most of their attention on the top students, what type of education system would we have?

When was the last time you witnessed, cabinet members and other MLA’s going to rural areas, holding town halls with the invitation, "I need volunteers, from this community, who will form a committee, and tell me what you need? Form you committee, let me know when and I’ll come back and spend a day with you looking for solutions."

Right now, the Northern Pulp Mill has the most urgency. If the mill closes next year, all sawmills from around the province will close within a month. Government needs to find a solution to the mill’s continuance, or find a solution for local sawmills to have a sustainable market for bark, chips and residue. Secondly, government must ensure sawmills have a reliable source for saw logs.

A solution must be found for forestry cooperatives to have a market for the product which is harvested from their approximately 1,500 woodlot owner members. The mill in Abercrombie is just a cog in the wheel.

If we can send a man to the moon, surely technology can find a solution to Boat Harbour.

Looking at the employment chart elsewhere in this issue, I wonder if we have our priorities in the right place?

Information, culture and recreation showed an increase of 2,300 jobs, yet healthcare and social assistance lost 3,600 positions. Granted recreation might help make us healthier, but to that amount? Go figure. Did government money finance these positions?

Solving healthcare is another matter. Somehow, the sector needs an overhauling. For decades we’ve complained about primary healthcare, but it is inconceivable to understand the rationale of 3,600 less jobs in 2018 (68,400 positions) than 72,000 jobs in 2017. To make it even worse, we reached a peak in 2016 when 74,900 were employed in healthcare and social assistance.

Surely, the 2018 drop of 3,600 positions is not due to doctors retiring or leaving. I’d bet at least 3,300 lost jobs were from employment categories with less skills yet providing much needed services.

What needs to happen, is all MLA’s, regardless of party, must direct and ensure the mindset in government offices change to "Rural Nova Scotia is an endangered species. This must be corrected immediately".

I can’t solve the problems, but if residents complain loud enough changes will happen. If changes are to occur, you will make it happen.

The ball in your court. - Maurice

 


 

January 2019 - I am disgusted and disappointed.

Two things have upset me to no end and I’m not sure what I can do, or what should be done.

First, I have been following with great interest the province’s initiative to develop a $500-Million program dealing with Electronic Health Records (EHR).

The second is the recent approach develop Nova Scotia has recently announced to bring High Speed Internet service to rural and under serviced areas of the province.

In both cases its my opinion recent approaches have not been grassroots oriented, and may not be in the best interests of rural Nova Scotians needed improved internet service. With regard to EHR desires, which is a good idea, but I’m fearful there will be significant cost overruns, or the technology might not be advanced enough to permit Doctors to use with ease and efficiency.

I’ve been following several media reports, which on the face of them, indicate there has been favouritism in choosing potential suppliers / develops, along with other situations, which question the competence to manage and see the $500-Million project to a successful conclusion. In one report, a similar system in British Columbia has suggested there are failures and major cost overruns, not to mention what has happened in the United Kingdom.

I don’t feel I am alone in my thoughts. Taxpayers who want and require the utmost efficient use of taxpayer dollars, should do their own investigations. From what I have been able to determine, the best bet for Nova Scotia would be to find a way to have a "court ordered" stoppage on the project until the outstanding or questionable aspects surrounding the project are substantiated.

If you have been following the editions of the Shoreline Journal for the past two years you are well aware of my pleading for high speed internet service to rural areas of Colchester and Cumberland Counties, which are currently underserviced.

I thought we were on the road to successful implementation across the province when the ruling Liberals announced they had put $193-Million into an Internet Trust Fund. I started to worry when it was announced, the Waterfront Development Corporation (Halifax, Dartmouth and Lunenburg) was being rebranded as Develop Nova Scotia.

My immediate concern was all members of the Board of Directors were from Metro, with the exception of one member from Lunenburg. I was waiting for an annou7ncement to announce a realignment of the board, or at least an advisory council for the Internet segments, with all members after the shake-up would be rural based. Christmas has arrived and Santa-Stephen hasn’t taken care of the rural areas.

Instead Develop Novas Scotia announced last week, it is implementing a plan to pre-qualify service providers. The result is "metro" interests are going to tell rural area what is going to happen in their area. I wonder if people based in Halifax are the proper choices to make decisions for rural Nova Scotia.

Indications Develop Nova Scotia is proceeding to be POWER HOUSE, by controlling the agenda and issuing and managing RFP’s for around the province. Are they on a power trip and against community-based or municipal initiatives, which could have evolved through consultation? Government has spent $-millions, and issued contracts to large internet providers yet they have failed to service rural Nova Scotia.

Many business and some municipal leaders are developing the feeling those in charge don’t recognize anything outside HRM. Look at the amount of money invested in cultural centres; large concessions to multi-nationals. How many payrolls rebates have been issued to companies more than an hour outside Halifax? Sure larger companies are located in Metro, but rather than looking a larger job creation projects, perhaps there should be a focus on smaller, yet successful rural companies, who through persistence have carved out a niche.

If you wish to get a sense of the feelings in rural areas, just ask farmers. At the recent meeting of Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture member farmers expressed their concern and even make a direct approach to Keith Colwell, Minister of Agriculture.

Time will tell what happens. When will we develop some backbone as say, (Enough is Enough?" Comments welcome.

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year - Maurice.


 

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