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Will they bite the bullet?

(This column is much longer than most, requiring careful intense reading and action by taxpayers).

Will politicians have the fortitude to find ways in the "new economy" to pay for all the CoVid funding once the beast has been wrestled to into submission?

Next question: Will we accept what they decide fas a repayment plan without reducing services or raising taxes?

If there is one thing we have learned, or should learn to accept - we "must" change nearly everything we do to co-exist with CoVid-19. If taxpayers must change all their habits, government must lead the way to grow the economy, but not bankrupt individual taxpayers or businesses.

During the height of the pandemic, thousands of jobs were lost and may disappear forever, yet those in the public service faced little financial impact. For the most part public sector employees, except season workers, received their paychecks.

Will all MLA’s, government and opposition, form a bond in the four provincial governments to repay the CoVid debt without crippling the economy by raising taxes and instituting major cuts in services?

I think not, but they should.

In Atlantic Canada, as a whole, the provincial governments could reduce annual payroll by $1.89 billion based on 2012-13 fiscal year calculations. For the same 2012-13 the regional provincial-level budget deficit was $1.08 billion.

In 2016 and 2018 this column, plus several other individual stories I offered factual information on how to "right-size" the region’s economy. I referred to an Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) "The Size and cost of Atlantic Canada’s Public Sector" study from September 2014. The entire report is available at www.AIMS.ca or by emailing aims@AIMS.ca

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 people 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; 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 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 reducing the 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. Aligning public sector employment rates with the national average would r3educe the total sub-national government wage bill by $1.89 billion in the 2012-13 fiscal year.
  • If Atlantic region provincial governments 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 Atlantic region faces the stark reality of large debt loads and the risk that debt-servicing costs will rise should interest rates increase.
  • We have shown 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.

Yes, the foregoing would result in drastic cuts to the public services. If the public service in Atlantic Canada was aligned with the population based average of the rest of Canada there would be 29,900 fewer employees: 13,253 in Newfoundland; 14,127 in Nova Scotia; 1,686 in PEI, and 834 in New Brunswick.

We can’t expect the governments to "right size" to the Canadian average in one year. But to save us from total economic disaster they must implement the reductions on a 10 year program. Over 10 years, the average annual reduction would be 2,990 persons.

Simple math from the figures provided in the study released in September, 2014, annual payroll savings for 2,990 employees (those above the national average) would be in the vicinity of $201.7-Million for the first year, based on 2012-13 salary levels.

If this template was followed, at the end of five years, the annual payroll savings would be $1.08-Billion for an aggregate five year total of $3,025,730 ($3.025-Billion).

After 10 years of reductions the aggregate payroll savings in Atlantic Canada would be $11,093,830 ($11.093-Billion) by reducing the public service by 29,900. Each year, following the 10th year, annual savings would be $2,017,060 ($2.017-Billion), which is higher than the annual budgeted debt of the four province based on 2012-13 data.

Would we enjoy having balanced budgets each year? Certainly we would appreciate the lower tax load.

Employees of thousands of Small Business have been seriously impacted by CoVid-19 pandemic. It is government’s role to re-engineer and right-size the public service to the Canadian average.

The suggestions outlined above would provide a solution to repay CoVid-19 emergency funding and provide additional annual savings to pay down other long-term debt bringing the economy back to one of the best coast-to-coast.

Every taxpayer across the region should contact their local elected representatives to ensure small business and residents are given a fair chance for betterment. - Maurice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

October 2020 - Is there an obstruction to finding doctors?

I think I am becoming cynical and every day seem to find it harder to appreciate that the province’s public servants and their corresponding departments hold the best interests of rural Nova Scotia and its residents in highest regard.

Let’s get one point straight, right in the beginning. If it wasn’t for farmers – dairy, beef, poultry, eggs, swine’ fishermen who put their lives in danger every time their vessels ply the oceans they are putting their lives in danger what would Nova Scotia’s economy look like?

Without farmers and fishermen, also foresters, what would they have to eat, or lumber to build a house, shed, or do repairs their cottage as they get out into the country on a weekend during the warmer days?

Certainly they are not willing to experience cold winds off a bay, or loss of power during a storm, or poor internet service at the best of times.

Here’s the background to my high level of ire for this month.

Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) and the licensing body of NS College of Physicians have made banned acceptance of various doctors, who were in various stages of applying, prior to CoVid-19.

Causing them to "start over" with all the paperwork. Nice to sit behind a big desk in HRM and flex your muscles. With a worldwide shortage of doctors you know where some candidates told them to shove it.

In another conversation with at least some of my province-wide acquaintances, I was told one area was looking for a doctor for a totally rural area, were basically informed by NSHA officials, their priority was finding medical people to replace several doctors who would be leaving an urban area this fall.

How brazen is it to tell a committee from a very rural area, they don’t really matter and a town about 40 KM away with a large hospital was more important? Every area of the province is in dire need of doctors: Cape Breton needs several; South Shore is pleading for replacements, and Truro is scheduled to lose nine doctors this year.

West Colchester Medical Clinic has lost both Dr Rowe and Dr Ewing to retirement, and would soon be without a doctor. The local committee had been working hard making progress, and in fact were very close to choosing a replacement from the United Kingdom. He visited the area, liked what he saw and had a good relationship with local committee and residents he had met.

As planning proceeded late last year and winter, he was anticipated to be here for a short work term, and to be approved to relocate by now. However, plans were delayed due to CoVid-19, but apparently has lost interest continuing as a candidate, when he was informed his paperwork was stale dated and would have to start over.

As an aside, if Premier McNeil and his cabinet are dedicated to "rebuilding rural Nova Scotia", as a thriving vibrant contributor to the provincial economy, now is the time to show their true intentions. If they come forth to reaffirm their vows, the matter is rather simple to enforce.

It is up to Premier McNeil, his entire cabinet, and all MLA’s, especially Hon Karen Casey, local MLA, Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance, to send a strong message to all departments: "Never tell or hint a rural community an urban area is more important regardless of the subject".

As a suggestion, I would suggest every resident in northern Nova Scotia – Colchester and Cumberland contact the Premier, Ministers of all department and local MLA’s demanding a public message be sent that rural Nova Scotia is as important as any other area.

Also it is suggested citizens contact the media and send letters "To the Editor" voicing their concern. Public pressure will right what is wrong, or not happening to the benefit of rural Nova Scotia.

Now that I have finished by rant, I want to plead for the public’s participation.

Municipal government is very important. Please exercise your rights. VOTE ON OCTOBER 17th for the candidate of your choice. Just vote. Maurice


 

September 2020 - Managing expectations

Staff and elected official at the municipalities of Cumberland and Colchester now have several of the most difficulties jobs facing them. To avoid disappointment and a hasty rush to the finish line, they must manage the expectations of taxpayers and business owners on the implementation of high speed broadband and UNESCO Cliffs of Fundy GeoPark. Both initiatives will put the two counties far ahead of other provincial and national areas.

First, let’s look at the high speed broadband project as it is critical to all other things which will provide the opportunity for businesses to be more competitive; increase business relocation; ride the wave of increased interest in home-based business, and fulfill the dreams of those originally from the area who wish to return to their "roots" to continue, start a home-based, a stand alone business or retire.

Increases in population density will certainly be in the upward growth spiral as people wishing to get out of "larger urban areas" and "reclaim their sanity" by living in a rural area will discover broadband needs will be met with the final implementation of the $60.1-Million initiative.

As far as I can determine Cumberland and Colchester counties made history by being the first two counties to join forces to jointly develop and implement a high speed broadband program, which is the largest or one of the largest broadband projects in Canada.

As word of the broadband program gets known, it will send a positive message, businesses should look at relocating and their professional staff will be eager to enjoy the "quality " of rural of life, for many reasons, but particularly their personal needs for broadband will be met.

Maybe the economic develop specialists within the county administrations should develop an "Ambassador Award" program to reward residents who assist in persuading relatives to "move back home" to retire or bring their business ideas with them.

Realtors have a very important role to play by marketing the area as having the "best rural broadband" service in all Canada. The caution is to manage expectations as completion of the $60.1-Million program will require a 2+ year construction period to completion.

The second most important event, in this crisis year of CoVid-19 was the final approval by UNESCO of the Cliffs of Fundy GeoPark. As have been reported here during the application phase; last summer’s visit by two UNESCO evaluators, admission to the global network of GeoParks would be a very positive move for sustainable economic and tourism development.

During the evaluation visit last summer, local municipal officials and committee volunteers were informed with the inclusion of the Fundy Discovery Site, the GeoPark has the opportunity to become the Global #1 GeoPark. They suggested the Bay of Fundy tides, the geological assets, and the rugged raw beauty of the area from Apple River, Joggins already a UNESCO site then along the shore to the outskirts of Truro could make it #1.

Some Geoparks attract millions of people per year. Even if Cliffs of Fundy attracts only 100,000 additional people per year in the early years that is an average of 2,000 per week, or approximately 50 tours busses. However, most Geopark enthusiasts don’t use tour busses. They like to travel by car and set their own schedules.

The area has so much to offer, it is impossible to name all the assets and what will attract visitors from all corners of the globe.

Granted the shores do not have the capacity to "reap all the benefits" as things now stand. Over the next decade, infrastructure must be developed and must be done in a sustainable and ecological way. It will take community involvement, and lots of planning. Investment $$$ will be high, but a geopark developed as intended protects assets for an eternity.

If everyone in the area observes the intent and methods of recommended development, within 10 years the Cliffs of Fundy stands a chance to be in the top three provincial icons, battling Cape Breton Highlands and Peggy’s Cove to top spots.

Success in the final analysis depends on how "we manage its development". Maurice

 


 

August 2020 - Transparency Becomes Blurred

2020 is becoming a year we will not forget and will have several entries in the history books, causing some to think, "How did they ever pull through" all those obstacles. The answer is simple, "We are Nova Scotians, and we are Strong".

To recap a few obstacles, first there was Covid-19 pandemic, which at first didn’t seem to be much to worry about, but within six weeks, by mid-April, commenced to see how it was devastating the economy, and causing us to stay inside, scared to even open the front door; schools were closed and thousands had lost their jobs, temporarily with a large number to be lost forever.

Then on April 18-19, Canada’s largest mass murder started in Portapique, ending 12 hours later in Enfield with the loss of 22 lives. Since then there has not been many positive events. Compared to the USA, Premier McNeil and Dr. Strang along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gained popularity for the daily updates and how they delivered the "cold-hard facts" without sugar-coating.

Gnawing in the back of everyone’s mind was the grief and sorry from the Portapique murders and a constant call for a public inquiry. Families, friends and fellow citizens from Nova Scotia and across Canada were calling for a "public inquiry" to reveal all the facts, but not expediently with a quick decision.

Upwards of 50 senators, many politicians, business leaders, chimed in requesting the federal and provincial governments call for a "public inquiry". It took federal minster, Bill Blair and provincial minister, Mark Furey almost three months to announce their decision, of an almost secret review, which did not fulfill the public outcry.

The three officials who will conduct the review come to the table with excellent credentials. No one, to my knowledge, has questioned their involvement. However, under a review, they will not call for witnesses to testify under oath, or call for many documents, others feel should be part of the inquiry.

Even though, a review has been called opposition to the decision and demanding a ‘Public Inquiry" is just starting to gain traction. Some people suggest, just as Nova Scotians and fellow Canadians "stood" with the community and family members in grief and sorrow, there will be an ever growing outcry to change the status from a review to an inquiry.

Many media accounts, since the "review" announcement suggests the announcement raised more questions than it answered. The importance of "going forward" and answering many questions from family, neighbours, and fellow Canadians seems to be overshadowed, with many suggesting total transparency has been blurred as a result of underlying factors including:

Ministers Blair and Furey are former police officers, before entering politics, and some ask "Are they trying to protect former colleagues or institution? Should Blair and Furey recuse themselves to avoid public perception of "potential conflicts"?; Was their decision based on family, public, and fellow Canadians, or was their decision driven for political reasons?

In politics public opinion rises and falls like a yo-yo. The federal and provincial ruling parties saw a significant rise in their popularity for the way they handled CoVid-19 activities, but it can be an even quicker slump downward, when the public is upset. Could the decision for a "review" cause popularity to head to the bottom, if public opinion continues to increase?

I suspect with the emotion of grief and caring others (not family members) have invested in the situation, the calls for "public inquiry" will only increase, and may cause political decisions to change.

In the long term, Colchester and Cumberland Counties will be in for tremendous growth with the UNESCO designation of Cliffs of Fundy as an approved GeoPark. It will take massive planning to ensure the two counties start out on the appropriate course to achieve the maximum economic benefits possible. Paramount to achieving these goals is to have high speed broadband delivered without delay. If the shoreline and remainder of the counties get connected, many types of businesses will evolve or relocate here.

It will take everyone’s most sincere efforts to achieve a "public inquiry", and increase the economic base without destroying "quality of life", we enjoy. - Maurice

 

 


 

July 2020 "Guessing Game: .08+/-"

Without a doubt since February the world has been tilted on its head with such speed it compacted the centuries of affects the industrial revolution had on all countries into a span of a couple of weeks and there was no stopping anything.

First it was CoVid-19 that quickly became a pandemic claiming over 120,000 deaths in the United States, with well over 2-million testing positive. Canada has certainly has had its hands full, trying to slow its spread and lessening its deadly results. I must say I was impressed with how diligent Prime Minister Trudeau was with daily updates and the speed which he announced many initiatives to help soften the blow on the economy.

Provincially Premier McNeill and Doctor Strang adopted roles of dedication and consistently like I have never seen in my 55+ years in this business. Yes, there were mistakes, and some people have tried to take advantage of the speed in which assistance was rendered. The good thing about their approaches was "no sugar coating", just sincere explanations and directions of what was required from each of us to slow down the community spread.

Towards the end, many people were complaining, McNeil and Strang were going too slow and keeping us confined. History will show their approach was correct for the "time" and they did not waiver an inch until they were comfortable.

The "new" normal will continue to be practicing safety with masks and social distancing until vaccinations will help replace some of the dangers. We best be prepared to follow these practices for a long time, other wise the community spread will erupt again and the economy may have to be "shut-down" again.

You best be good, or you might be confined to an additional three months of "house arrest".

The pandemic occupied our attention late winter and all spring, but now it is in a tie fighting for headline prominence with accusations and plenty of videos regarding racism. Around the world, racism demonstrations have become vogue, with USA and Canada getting lots of traction.

The pandemic is a health situation that needs our careful attention, but racism has deep roots going back many generations and will probably be more difficult to solve, because it will require emotional and attitude changes. In a health crisis, affects are normally rather visual. Observing safety guidelines or a vaccine may keep things at a manageable, but most of racism is invisible and a mindset.

Yes, there are thousands of examples of mis-treatment, or abuse of minorities, different ethnic backgrounds and persons of colour. In some instances life threatening injuries or death has resulted.

As the headline of this column suggests the most horrific instances of racism are reported to have happened in British Columbia. In one emergency department of at least one hospital, and there are suggestions it is more widespread, medical staff including doctors and nurses would play a game with incoming patients.

It was called, "Guess the .08 reading". Entire staff in the Emergency Room at that hospital would try to guess – the blood reading of incoming patients, who had been drinking, The colleague who was closest to the reading without going over, would win.

How sick can minds be? If these minds belonged to people who had very little education and perhaps had been raised in an environment of racism, we would know how to deal with it, and what education was needed. However, these are professional healthcare workers whom we trust with our health.

Let’s hope for the sake of removing racism from our society, such thoughts are not hibernating in professionals such as judges, lawyers, educators and politicians. We need those people to help provide the education and training tools.

We all have "anthills obstructing us in many facets of life and normally we can get over or go around them. However, we are not skilled mountaineers. It’s time for residents demand this stop and solutions should be implemented immediately.

"We are all in this together". It will take all of us to provide solutions. - Maurice


 

 

June 2010 -  The Next Step

We have four months dealing with CoVid-19. Trudeau, McNeil and other leaders have been successful implanting forever the "do’s" and "don’ts" in our minds.

I don’t want to minimize any sector, or where we should prioritize our efforts, but we must prepare for the future. A lot of work is needed to help those at the bottom of the economic ladder. More assistance is necessary for employees in the service sector, hospitality and retail, who suddenly lost their livelihood.

Retail and the service sector, regardless of how much is invested will only come back in the proportions, which the general public is comfortable. One person I spoke with suggested within two years, there might not be much in the way of "fast food" sit-down restaurants. In fact it was suggested, as an example, McDonald’s will have none.

CoVid-19 has forever changed the way we will shop; obtain medical, banking, other services and what we will deem necessary to fulfill our needs. As a throwaway society there are a lot of things we will decide we don’t need and will not buy.

As terrible as the pandemic has been, upsides include: increased awareness for others; coming together of community of family and neighbours; greater appreciation of politicians; and what must do to help build stronger sustainable "local" communities.

An equally important function of what must occur is develop plans and how we will protect us against food and medical shortages and build a stronger economy.

Yes, there were many jobs lost in Colchester in 2019, but recently Intertape Polymer and Stanfields have identified new product lines; Northern Pulp’s closure requiring a new way of rebuilding the forest sector and rapid agriculture growth. CoVid-19 has caused us to view things differently to protect the environment and build local capacity. There are many positive things which can be done to provide sustainability.

There is an increased in gardening as Vesey’s and Halifax Seed are having the busiest spring seasons in history. Gardening can be a family activity, and carried through to its fullest will help reduce the grocery bill and ensure we are eating better. There has been a shortage of flour and yeast in grocery stores with increased activity in home baking.

I spoke with Jason Dickie at Dickie’s Meats outside Amherst and his 12 member crew is working dawn to dusk to fulfill orders and can’t keep up. Their business has gone primarily from wholesale to retailers, to a significant increase in orders for $50, 150 and more in family packs of meat products. In fact, they have a waiting list of orders. There is a shortage of abattoirs and meat shops. Laurie Jennings, Masstown had the vision to establish Masstown Butchery and Dairy to process local products for a demanding public. Maybe we should take some lessons from his vision.

The provincial government should immediately develop an initiative to encourage and provide "core" funding for clusters of farmers to establish greater capacity for provincial or federally inspected meat and dairy products. Department of Agriculture and Federation of Agriculture should be partnering to make it happen.

We need more capacity to process berries, field crops, apple juice, etc. Remember Larsen’s, Graves, Scotsburn Dairy, Jones Bottling, or Cook’s Dairy, Yarmouth? We could be providing "Made n Nova Scotia" juices, jams, pickles, dairy products, frozen fruits and vegetables. In terms of food processing, Atlantic Canada has McCain’s, Cavendish and Oxford Frozen Foods as leaders. Localized clusters, of farmer co-ops could be providing jobs, market penetration; increase "food security" and be the economic engine to grow the rural economy.

Similarly, emphasis on research and technology sectors is needed; more processing capacity for the fish and seafood and forest sectors to develop new products.

CoVid-19 brought our economy to its knees. It has taught us a lot.

How we use that knowledge could be our path to get the economy back on track, increase capacity and take advantage of a new mindset of what we need and how to achieve it. Municipal leaders and councillors, in collaboration with local interests, must be advocacy leaders. - Maurice


 

 

May 2020 - Three Great Leaders

Last month I complimented three elected leaders who I thought were doing an admirable job. In case you missed it, the three were: New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo; Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Stephen McNeil. In addition to all three delivering the hard cold facts, they don’t sugar coat anything; have a very calming, believable method of delivery what is amazing is they continue to do daily updates, or at least from Monday to Friday.

I was talking to an acquaintance who works in an IBM-related printer problem call centre and they mentioned the change in type of calls since President Trump released his three phases of guidelines of "Opening America up Again" on April 16th. The in-bound centre handles calls from all over North America and the surge in call types were from churches in the mid-west, who had computer printer problems and were in a mad rush to get printing projects completed for church services for the weekend of April 19th.

My colleague said the origin of the calls changed within minutes of Trump’s announcement. When he looked at the map of USA, he noted the majority of the calls were from Republican states who seem to methodically follow every word Trump utters.

Within a few hours I was speaking to another person extensively involved in Nova Scotia’s agriculture sector who mentioned the fear of what will happen this November if the USA goes ahead with its 2020 Presidential Election and Trump, for some reason, is re-elected.

The world is a changing place, but in the instance of USA, other than Trump most politicians have tried to stay away from politicizing the CoVid-19 pandemic. However as we get closer to the fall, perhaps starting as early as September, the gloves will come off and there will be lots of blame across the USA political field as who is most to blame.

You can already see some of it from media reports indicating Trump wasted four to six weeks in late January to March by downplaying the potential impact of CoVid-19 and failure to ensure orders were placed for Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and ventilators, which at one point the State of New York indicated a need for 40,000 of the expensive machine when there was only approximately 10,000 in the federal government’s reserve stockpile.

Now to dwell on some of Nova Scotia’s immediate problems there is an urgent need for approval of immigrant workers for the agriculture sector. Three farms in the Great Village / Bass River area have requested approximately 400 workers for this season. As of April 18th only 47 had arrived and farmers have not been able to get reassurance more will be approved for late May and June arrival.

Total requirement province-wide is approximately 1,400, but only 200 arrived during week of March 16th. This coming week will be able to determine how much can be harvested, or if farmers have decided either not to plant or plow the plants into the ground.

With thousands of summer students out of work, and thousands other having lost their jobs with the provincial CoVid-19 shutdown, once could say the human resources are there to replace immigrant workers. However, the reasons we need immigrant workers is it has impossible to get Nova Scotians to do the work. It is a shame Canadians have lost the work ethic which was prevalent in the two or three previous generations of our ancestors.

Two other areas are going to suffer the wrath of CoVid-19. The first will certainly be the 2020 tourist season as many operators as of mid-March do not have approval or any indication if approval will be forthcoming to open this year. As of this time, it would appear only resident Nova Scotians will be permitted to do some "day-trips" which will be good for more rural areas as people will refrain from going into urban area, for obvious reasons. There will not be an large concerts many, including, Stan Roger’s Festival in Canso is history for this year. Soon we can expect the Wharf Rat Rally, Digby will announce its cancellation for this year.

2020 will be a year everyone will want to forget. - Maurice


 

April 2020 - Never before, never again

They say there are two things in life we can be sure about: death and taxes. Now we can add to the list – Covid-19. We have not seen anything like winter 2020 and we hope never to experience it again.

Another thing we learned, President Trump will never make the grade as a fortune teller. In a press conference the week of March 20th, he indicated Covid-19 would be over soon as he was hoping churches would be full for Easter Sunday.

Not sure why he projects things will be solved soon, other than he sees the virus having a negative impact on his re-election aspirations. For about three years he banked his re-election on a strong economy and was doing everything possible to get the stock market climbing higher.

As to the possible causes of Covid-19, Facebook and other social media platforms have been ripe with rumours and speculations. None of which are true, but rumours keep growing. Some have speculated it was a form of germ warfare testing gone array.

When I first hear the rumour of germ warfare, I thought about one of my favourite movies, a 2 hour 11 minute 1971 sci/fi thriller, Andromeda Strain. It’s based on a satellite crashing near a small Arizona town, bringing with it a deadly alien virus. This science fiction thriller based on Michael Crichton's novel. 

I am not suggesting Covid-19 is germ warfare, but there is a semblance of similarity about the possible outcome, not the source, if Covid-19 is not contained. If you are self isolatimg and want to watch a movie, this will cause you to really think.

You will be encouraging others to self isolate as it seems to be the only way we are going to beat it and bring life back towards what we used to think as normal.

I’ve been following Covid-19 coverage on CNN and listening to CBC radio at 12 noon and again at 3:00 pm. There are three public officials who have given the best information possible: New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo; Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Stephen McNeil. All three deliver the hard cold facts, don’t sugar coat anything, but do so with a very calming, believable method of delivery.

If we listen to their concerns, try to understand what they are saying and heed their instructions and requests, we will exit this sad state of affairs much quicker and with less carnage in life and economic reality.

It is unfortunate, because we will spend a lifetime paying the bills, but it is comforting to hear governments sparing no expense in delivering programs to soften the economic blow to citizens. Never has there been a hint about "this is costing too much". But rather they say, "we will do whatever it; takes". I was born after WWII, but I have never seen governments move as quickly as these three leaders get their staff mobilized.

As forthcoming as they have been it is the ones they are trying to help whom we must be concerned about. Thousands of employees whose paycheques suddenly evaporated; or single parents designated as "essential" workers and don’t have childcare and the list goes on. The economy has been turned on its head and until middle of April will be the hardest money-wise, until cheques start rolling. We must keep in contact with these people and if there is something they need we must step forward to help.

Congratulations to the Onslow-Belmont Fire Brigade and their colleagues in Stewiacke who are offering a free pick up and delivery service for those who are confined or don’t wish to go outside for prescriptions, groceries or other necessities.

Not sure of the process in Stewiacke, but Clair Peers from OBFB has provided the Shoreline Journal with two news articles and a picture of the process for OBFB to pickup and deliver. Thanks to Laurie Jennings and his staff, at Masstown Market, who assemble and pack the orders for OBFB volunteers to deliver.

In times like this it is great to live in a rural area, because unbeknown to us, somebody has our back.

Keep safe and six feet away from others. Maurice

 


 

Heavy Lifting is Just Starting

Finally after almost three years of persistence and hard work, Colchester has reached its goal of having a plan and approved funding to bring high speed broadband service to the municipality. The topic started when Colchester councillor, Tom Taggart brought the matter before council in 2017.

As things evolved through the process, Colchester teamed up with Cumberland to choose an ISP provider and work with Xplornet Communications in their application to Develop Nova Scotia. It might have been unfair in the opening sentence not to have mentioned Cumberland, but Taggart was the one to applied pressure and got the ball started. In his column printed on Page 5 of this issue, he reviews the process and importance of getting improved broadband service.

On February 7th, one week after last month’s issue forecasted a decision would be announced by January 31st, Develop Nova Scotia announced several provincial projects, which included Cumberland-Colchester’s $60.2-Milllion initiative with Xplornet Communications. Broadband has become a necessity instead of a luxury or "we want" service to ensure businesses are competitive, and students have the proper connectivity to further their education.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) has released research which says implementation of 5-G broadband service, when available in Canada, would result in 250,000 jobs and billions in economic activity. See Taggart’s article for more information. He’s in the know because he sits on the national FCM board of directors and is privy to such information.

One problem which may evolve is the impatience of residents and business owners. Just because the announcement has been made, do not think the service will arrive as quick as the weather can change. Construction and build-out to provide the service to 22,000+households and businesses will take up to 3 years to complete. Even at the end of construction, approximately 2,300 addresses will not have fibre-op service, but will be serviced by satellite. This is not to be taken light-heatedly, and the download speed is equal to or better than speeds currently available in populated areas of the province, (i.e. Halifax, Sydney, etc).

When the project is finished, Cumberland-Colchester will be among the top rated areas for connectivity and speeds will rival what is available in urban areas. The program set the stage for the two municipalities to see significant increases in people relocating to the area, and businesses to be more competitive.

Xplornet will deploy nearly 700 kilometres of optic fibre to offer up to 100 Mbps fibre-to-home and fixed wireless services on their network, which will reach more than 21 700 currently underserved 16,000 households and 6,000 businesses. A further 2300 addresses will have access to improved satellite service that will reach up to 50 Mbps by the completion of the full network. The three-year project is aiming for 100% high-speed availability in Cumberland and Colchester.

Having said all the above and the benefits which could result a lot of work remains undone and a possibility successes will not accrue as hoped. The reason, the heavy lifting has just begun. Now that the announcement has been made and contracts are being signed, councils and business leaders must immediately switch gears to look three or five years down the road.

The possibility of not getting as much benefit from the investment of $60-2-Million could evolve because: tourism operators don’t work hard to benefit from the Cliffs of Fundy GeoPark – UNESCO branded initiative; business owners fail to ensure additional staff training is a priority and life-long learning interests fail to ensure people’s employment skills are improved.

An FCM study indicates populations in rural area will increase by at least 7% over the next decade. Professionals who work from home and prefer a county lifestyle should gravitate to Cumberland-Colchester. Both municipalities must ensure land or buildings are available for relocating or start-up businesses. Colchester’s Debert Business Park for a variety of reasons, including geographical location and highway network, should be among the success winners.

Both municipalities must ensure when construction is completed, training institutions have read the market and trained staff with the necessary qualifications. These things will go a long way towards the areas being an economic leader rivaling or bettering HRM - Maurice

 


 

February 2020 - A new decade, A new era

When I originally sat down to write this column I intended my opening question to be, "Are we entering a new Era? After a few words appeared on the screen, I changed it to "We have entered a new era!

Not only has Premier McNeil set the framework to transition the forest sector, he has changed politics. Who would have thought a politician would stand by their word and fulfill a five year old promise? McNeil’s announcement on December 20, 2019 surprised and devastated many people, but it is proof he placed more importance on integrity than making a political decision.

For decades people have been of the opinion, multi-national forestry companies were dictating to the government of the day; massive clear cutting was not appropriate; jobs mattered more than the economy and although things should change, no leader had the guts to make a tough decision.

On December 20th, Premier McNeil proved them wrong on all counts.

As difficult as his decision might be, he has taken the bull by the horns and shook it for the long term betterment environmentally, economically and his decision might help restore confidence in elected officials.

His decision was a call to action for everyone to participate to "transition" the province from where it is, to a better place. The closure of the Northern Pulp facility need not be the end of the world, although it will create two to three years of hardship.

We are all to blame for our situation – Nova Scotians have not appreciated the value of forest land owned by over 30,000 private owners and how it should be the primary economic engine of rural Nova Scotia.

In last month’s issue, we published a comparison of forestry in Nova Scotia Vs Finland. Before we go off blaming McNeil for short term economic disruption, let’s review some of the comparisons, which demonstrate Nova Scotia has not been a leader in forestry. We have not been reaping the benefits of "best practices".

Finland is five times the size and has five times the population. Nova Scotia has been under performing Finland which has 14 times the number of forestry related jobs; 17 times the annual harvest and 32 times the export value of its forest products. Additionally, Finlanders respect and value their forests. Finland has a management program and knows the inventory of private woodland and the state of the forests. They also know how much is harvested each year. We are not even close.

Harvesting yield is much higher in Finland. Finland has an annual harvest of 68-M cubic meters whereas Nova Scotia claims 4-M cubic meters. The data provided by a five person delegation of forest professionals following a 2016 study trip to Finland tells much more about Nova Scotia’s approach to forestry. None of their findings have found their way into or even a start to redevelopment of forestry practices and policy in this province.

Before we go into total depression suggesting not one tree will be cut in Nova Scotia, let’s look back 25+ years when we were running around like chickens with their heads cut off suggesting the Cod Moratorium would cause every boat to come out of the water and not one more fish come out of the water.

Yes, Nova Scotia is in for a couple of years of rough going.

Our ultimate success will be to change focus. Nova Scotia has some of the best forestry professionals. It’s time for them to come together; put the shoulder to the wheel and develop a plan which will help us reap more benefits than we have in the last century. I don’t know all the "ins" and "outs" but perhaps the most important first few steps is to find a market for the chips generated at the sawmills. A significant portion could be exported, while we find solutions to how to incorporate their usage into new value-added facilities. For others affected by Northern Pulp’s closure, it might be warranted to implement a strong silviculture program to grow better forests, when we are back up to speed. - Maurice

 


 

January 2020 - We are in the right spot

Residents of Colchester are among the luckiest people in Nova Scotia for a variety of reasons which includes: geography; among the lowest municipal tax rates in the province and a council who for the most part have made great decisions.

In retail, or locating a business such as fast food or gas bar, the fundamental rule is "location is everything". This holds true in Colchester’s case, as it is known as the "hub" of Nova Scotia. With over 50% of the 1.8-million residents in the Maritimes located within 90 minutes of the heart of the county, Colchester is positioned to reap the benefits.

Aviation is and will continue to be an important economic engines. Colchester is lucky to have the former CFB Debert airport in its midst. With Halifax International Airport busting at the seams, and focusing on the international global market it is growing so fast it is looking for ways to find alternative homes for some of the associated businesses. With "bigger fish to fry" - the global positioning – there is a consensus the handling small aircraft and other support operations could easily be relocated an hour away in Debert.

The fact professionals from the regions largest airport are constantly looking at expansion and infrastructure enhancements to grow Debert as a possible location to solve their overcrowding problems is a benefit of untold proportions. The added fact is some former Halifax Airport executives live in Colchester helps.

Even looking into the crystal ball, does not mean Debert’s airport is without its problems. In fact it has several major problems:

  • It’s about 20 years behind doing what should have been done. (If it had been up to speed, maybe the large FedEx terminal facility might have been located in Debert).
  • Several current councillors want to minimize the emphasis on Debert Airport and not commit any funds to study or planning.
  • Knowledgeable staff, who recognize the opportunities, are not pushing back and advocating a strong exploratory program.

A peak into a crystal ball might reveal if council in concert with staff recommended a "fast tracking" of exploratory study and consultation, the Debert Airport might be the key to rapid sustainable economic development. Council, especially those who have been on council for one or two decades, should reflect on some of the important decisions made years ago, which steered the county in the right direction and are still paying dividends.

With the input of local professionals, who know the business, and the encouragement of current professionals at Halifax International Airport there might be an extensive list of businesses who would be better positioned if located in Debert.

Looking ahead to the October 2020 municipal election, candidates vying for a position on council might have a very strong election platform if they advocated extensive analysis of Debert’s potential. It might result in substantial increase in the commercial tax base; extensive job opportunities and better use of an existing asset.

A much hidden or unrealized contributor to the economic betterment of the county came to light during the December 3rd presentation from Lisa Hartery, Executive Director, Nova Scotia International Student Program. Although the program has been in existence for 20+ years, its contribution to the local economy has been far below the radar screen. Currently there are 445 International Students from 29 countries attending classes at 22 schools throughout the Chignecto-Central school system.

In 2018, 27% of the international students remained in Nova Scotia to attend college or university. Two thirds of the students in the province are attending classes in rural areas or small towns. Over the 20 year lifespan of the program, the Colchester economy has had a collective input in excess of $200-Million. All this without hiring additional teachers, as the international students are occupying empty seats as a result of declining enrollment. Across Chignecto-Central system there are approximately 300 hosting families, who receive $625 per month for each student hosted. During the presentation Hartery said more host families are needed, and the size of the program is limited only by the number of host families.

What are your thoughts on expansion of Debert or the International Student Program? - Maurice


 

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