One step forward, a dozen back

The absurdity of the thing is downright amazing.

I am referring to the residential development project that was slated for the Portage Vale area near Sussex. This was a $100+ million development that would have attracted wealthy investors from Ireland and the U.K. There are dozens of these types of projects all across Canada – none in New Brunswick. They do not require any government funding and are targeting people living outside New Brunswick – so it’s all new money – new taxes – new investment for the province.

Irish developers have ended negotiations with the province for a Crown land swap to construct a multi-million-dollar resort in the Portage Vale area. Silver Maple Developments of Ireland withdrew its application Monday for a swap of 1,600 hectares of Crown land on top of a large hill in Portage Vale/Elgin, provincial Department of Natural Resources spokesman Wade Wilson said Tuesday.

A province that has almost no visibility at all in the global context.

All we had to do as a province was a small land swap of crown land. That’s it.

But a few people egged on by a few hostile reporters – sent government officials running for cover and now its dead.

The developer has shelved the project and will now do a similar one in Portugal.

There are several things that are sad about this whole thing.

1. The media allowed and encourage this issue of the ‘old’ ‘Acadian’ forest. In fact, the our old friends at the Conservation Council of New Brunswick and other environmentalists helped this Steeves guy in and I quote “….his battle against the land swap”. This despite the fact that the exact area is is scheduled to be harvested by Irving anyway. So the Conservation Council of New Brunwick would prefer an Irving clearcut to a real development providing real jobs for the people of the area? That makes sense. Click here to view their all out assault on this project.

2. This issue about secrecy. This is the most absurd thing of all. The media – in every story – talked about all the secrecy. How many of these residential developments in Moncton get full public grillings before the land is even in place? I realize there is a process related to a land swap with government but officials should have been all over this with a copy of the Self-Sufficiency Plan tucked under their arms. From everything I have read on this government officials – both elected and staff – were almost comatose on this.

So, what we have is real simple. The government is out there trying to encourage more call centres to come to New Brunswick. That’s it. Look at the last 50 new businesses attracted to New Brunswick over the past 7-8 years. Almost all call centres. Somebody comes along with something a little different – combined with a small handful of protesters – arguing about environmental concerns when the land will be clearcut anyway – and we get this result.

Finally, in a bit of irony, the government goes on about how ‘tourism’ is a key sector for development. They just dumped another $100 million into it. They are craving to get tourists here for 2-3 days a year.

Then along comes a development which would have brought hundreds of tourists here – maybe immigrants – for months at a time spending money in the province.

And we get this.

I’m all for environmental stewardship. I am serious about that. But for me the Conservation Council of NB has absolutely no credibility anymore. They are just another organization that throws crap at the wall hoping some will stick. Disapprove of everything – that’s their motto – scare people with buzzwords and militant actions – and hope that they can scuttle as much development as possible. They would be far better off and relevant to take reasonable positions and help try and guide the province into an economic development stream that addresses both our need to address serious economic challenges and our population decline in an environmentally sustainable way.

And as for the little band of protesters that are perfectly happy to watch New Brunswick sink into the well of Equalization and population decline – I don’t give a rip. These guys will always oppose. It doesn’t matter. If you wanted to put the headquarters of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick in Portage Vale, there would be someone pissed off.

But leadership is about balancing the needs of the province against the needs of vested interests. And there was virtually no leadership on this issue at all. Except, of course, from David Coon.

And the wheels grind on.

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5 Responses to One step forward, a dozen back

  1. mikel says:

    Be fair on this, the conservation council of New Brunswick has ZERO clout. There is no doubt that the ‘environmental footprint’ of this would be something for which they’d at least have an interest and do as little as they did-namely have a petition.

    All your other points are sound, the secrecy issue (its impossible to get information on ANY government negotiations on anything), and the two faced media dealings of it.

    However, once again, when you have a large industrial developer like Irving, and to a lesser extent McCain, then there is a vested interest in making sure ‘land usage’ doesn’t deviate from what THEY want the land for.

    Take a look at virtually ANY resort in the world, whether it be Las Vegas or St. Moritz, virtually all of them involve simply building an airport nearby and a resort-often in the middle of nowhere. New Brunswick has tons of room for that, even in the north. However, the industrial interests don’t want people seeing that there are alternatives, simple as that.

    Don’t play into their game by badmouthing the environmentalists, you are right in how they operate, thats how they HAVE to operate since its virtually impossible with Irving media to get any kind of sustainable converage on environmental issues.

    The ‘ludicrousness’ of this is patently obvious in Fredericton where UNB is hacking down its forested area after blatantly claiming they would not do so until the development plans were in place-it is on tape and available online. This is just to put up some big box stores, even though Fredericton has tons of available land already.

    So to quote Sherlock Holmes, when you eliminate all the possibilities, whatever remains, must be true. The government itself has no problems with development, they prove that over and over again with the most lax regulations in the northern hemisphere. Again, New Brunswick was named by the Fraser Institute as the most ‘mining friendly’ jurisdiction in the western hemisphere-that’s over south america where industrialists have armed guards.

    It would have created jobs, which obviously New Brunswickers would want, and as for the area, while I haven’t seen the documentation that states its going to be cut anyway, the reality is that the government has been expropriating land for years for highways and gas lines. Again, go listen to Richard Harris who is tied up in court still.

    You’ll notice in the media that apart from the conservation council, which again, screams bloody murder all the time much like the proverbial tree falling in the forest that nobody hears, there was one or two landowners who didn’t want to give up their land. Ask yourself this, how often did you hear about the many people on Red Head Road in Saint John, or any of the people who didn’t want an LNG pipeline through their property?

    Whether this was a real deal or not we don’t know, but you are right in your critique of it. However, you’ve got to sit down, pour a scotch, maybe slap yourself in the face, and then ask yourself “do I honestly think that the conservation council has the power to affect government so much that they’d bypass a golden opportunity like this?” If you still answer yes, well then its pointless to really debate it.

    This is hardly conspiracy theory stuff. The conservation council can’t even get an article in the paper even though Irvings have weekly columns for the most inane columnists (they’re saving that for their bloggers, and now that this deal is out of the way, guess what everybody will be saying….’if it makes a job then hack it down’.

    You’re right to be pissed off, just don’t be blaming people who are obviously not responsible for it.

  2. David Campbell says:

    Quite frankly, I didn’t even want to go there but now that you mention it there are much bigger fish to fry for the Conservation Council (you mentioned some) than this piddly little residential development that would have brought a little economic life to that area. And as for the Irving clearcutting issue. The article states that Irving has the rights to cut that land. Since this is an Irving paper, you would assume that little tidbit must be correct.

  3. David Campbell says:

    One last point on environmentalists and ism. I would like to see New Brunswick be very proactive in this area. But, in my opinion, you can’t just separate economic development and environmental stewardship. If New Brunswick’s economy fails, what good would that do? If people keep moving out every year (more than in), what good would that do? So, I have said we should jump on the ‘cleantech’ bandwagon – both directly in our economic system and in the attraction of firms that produce these products and services. I support efforts to become better stewards of our environment. Cripes, on a personal level, I am personally getting fed up with our obsession with consumption. More toys, bigger houses, more, more more as if that will make us happy. I would love for New Brunswick to be a leader in cranking down consumption – looking at local agriculture movement, etc. But I cannot, in good faith, advocate policies that will put us further in the hole from an economic sense. And if the CC of NB had any sense they would marry these two issues and become more relevant to mainstream New Brunswickers.

  4. mikel says:

    This is exactly the problem with having a media monopoloy. For example, how many articles about union activities do you read in the paper? Would you assume from that there is NOTHING going on there?

    Same with the environment, don’t you think it odd that in this case you DO hear from the conservation council of NB? Now, do you really think that this is ALL they are working on?

    So for comparison, there are no articles, but conservation council occasionally gets a letter to the editor, they got one in the paper today, but only to challenge the media’s article stating that there is no relation to increased cancer rates from Belledune, something blatantly false even from their own reports.

    How many articles have you read about hog farms, belledune, endangered species, environmentalism in schools-now, do you think that the conservation council isn’t working on these issues?

    The fact is that this is a case where Irvings interests coincide with the conservation council.

    For other areas, check out the award winning website at http://www.elements.nb.ca

    The conservation council works on tons of stuff, don’t assume just because they get some media attention that they are the bad guys here. Virtually every thing you mention is an aim of their website. You think they are ‘focusing’ on this, when in fact its simply the only time they get access to the media. If you don’t believe me, try emailing them with your complaint and tell them why they aren’t working on other issues.

  5. mikel says:

    In reading it I did find that a bit much as well, however, that is one of the few strategies available to environmental groups.

    And again, just go to their freaking website. It’s at conservationcouncil.ca They have huge issues with forestry, with the oil refinery, and with the LNG, but once again, you don’t HEAR about it because guess who controls the media?

    So to say they are ‘picking on’ one issue as opposed to others is completely WRONG. It’s fine to have an opinion on things, but base them on reality.

    In fact, I assume you did review the website and you’ll notice that much of their problem is not the idea of the project, but simply how it is handled. They want public participation, something they call for in virtually every environmental issue (and are of course ignored).

    You’ll notice a couple of interesting things, like how they say that Irving has already been ‘given permission to clear cut’ in anticipation. Will that clear cutting stop? Meanwhile, they also state that this is going on when it is unknown whether this will even take place. Who knows, maybe the company was a front for Irving who wanted to try building such a community, or at least get permission to clear cut.

    So again, the conservation council is not the bad guy here. How often have you even seen that website being given out publicly?

    Keep in mind one fact you haven’t addressed. In NB its clear the government does whatever it wants, and if they gave Irving permission to clearcut in anticipation of a land swap, then thats pretty encouraging from that point of view. So if the deal is scuttled it very well could be simply that nobody bought. It would be no surprise if people simply said “where the (*&^ is New Brunswick and why would I want to live there?” There are lots of places where people can golf you know.

    As for rural New Brunswickers, that is often true, but lets not idealize it. As the recent plebiscite shows, rural New Brunswickers are also very eager to STAY ‘rural’. There’s a big difference between being nice to somebody and having them build a huge development complex by you. After all, the good thing about being rural is being AWAY from such communities.

    Plus, I have a feeling that lots of city folk will help you out in a jam as well.

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