We’re not gonna take it, no we ain’t gonna take it

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a politically astute guy who thinks that uranium mining will be the top wedge issue in the next provincial election.

It does seem to me, although I don’t claim to understand the body politic as much as others, that the collective mood of New Brunswickers is changing. Just a couple of decades ago, New Brunswickers were deeply conservative (not necessarily Conservative) – not people much for quick change. Take the NBTel example. After telephone companies were deregulated, NBTel kept an unbelievable 98% long distance market share for a number of years – far more than any other province – even though the alternatives at the time were considerably cheaper. Was it because NBTel was so great? Possibly, but more likely people were satisfied with NBTel because it was a good telco and not willing to change. Think about politics. Hatfield was in for 4-5 terms. McKenna won three and could’ve likely won a fourth.

I think that chronic out-migration does this to a community/province. People that move out are, almost by definition, more predisposed to change and changing their lives. People that stay – even when there is some compelling reasons to leave – are more reluctant to change.

But, these days, I think New Brunswickers are starting to take the Twisted Sister route (see the title of this blog) and are far more prickly when it comes to what politicians call ‘wedge’ issues. Think auto insurance. Think Bennet/Belledune. Think “rootin’ for Hootin” in Saint John (remember that?).

You know the old story about “turning the other cheek” well eventually people get fed up and come back at you hard. And that may be happening here.

People feel frustrated about mills closing. They feel angry about other broader issues and that anger might just come together and make uranium mining a galvanizing issue in the election.

Who knows? My own opinion is that if it is properly done, uranium mining is rather benign but as I have said elsewhere – really how would I know? I just rely on the position papers and public pronouncements by experts (and I have a jaded view of the NB Conservation Council – in fact I tend to reflexively snap back against any position they take because of the crap I have seen).

But the reality doesn’t matter – as you know. Politics is about feeling and emotion and if people start channeling broader angst about the economy, about their kids having to leave the province, about environmental concerns, about French Immersion, etc. – I think the next election in New Brunswick could be a real barn burner.

After all, remember 2003. Old Bernie won by one seat. After only one term in office. I think no New Brunswick Premier can feel safe after the lessons of both 2003 and 2006. I was told by someone who should know that the Tories internal polling had them up by 13-14 points pre the 2006 election and they lost. That’s another funny thing about deeply conservative people – they are unlikely to share their true feelings with strangers on the telephone.

Of course, that will depend in large part on who the Tories appoint as leader. They may just appoint a transitional leader – it has been done before – and almost concede the next election. But if they appoint someone who can quickly engage the public and can exploit some of these wedge issues – who knows?

We could be in for an interesting political time.

I have said over and over again that we need to have a government that has 2 or 3 maybe four consecutive mandates to implement a real growth agenda for New Brunswick. The problem with these quick changes (and I include Bernie as a quick change as he was so gun shy after 2003 he didn’t do much), is that the next gang rolls in with their own version of change, get bumped off, and the cycle continues. Bernard Lord’s education plan (remember that?) was supposed to make us third in Canada for standardized test scores within 10 years. We are now, I guess, five years into that plan and we are still last. Bernie’s innovation plan was going to put us in the top three provinces in Canada for R&D spending per capita. Now, six or seven years in, I guess, we are still dead last. And the new guys have a plan.

So, I would like to see a government stay in for 10-12 years and do some really neat stuff. Really move the yardstick forward. Turn the tide on out-migration. Make substantive change.

But you need the right mix of people to get that done.

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0 Responses to We’re not gonna take it, no we ain’t gonna take it

  1. mikel says:

    Interesting blog, the ‘mass psychology’ ones are always interesting partly because they are hard to judge.

    However, I’d turn the tables onto YOU, that’s the frequent argument I hear here, that NBers are ‘too conservative’ and they ‘don’t like change’. NOBODY likes change they don’t understand, and of course in politics they are pretty much out of the loop anyway.

    I’m well acquanted with your distrust of the CCNB,which is too bad because they have economic policies which are almost verbatim of what you’ve said here. However, I’ve been following this uranium thing and it is NOT the CCNB spearheading it. They may be trying to latch onto it, like I’ve said, the CCNB is actually a very lousy environmental group, they bend over for industry all the time. So when issues like this come up they tend to jump on the bandwagon to get more members.

    It’s simply the reality of people being shocked to discover that they don’t even control the land they have bought and paid for. I’m not aware of ANY other jurisdiction where speculators can simply put a sign on landowners property and say ‘screw you’. That’s a far cry from Nova Scotia, where mining is completely illegal.

    And in the age of the internet, people are finding this out quickly. YOu can go to facebook and check out their group. I can remember one doctor who owned rural land being really cheesed by this, and those aren’t people you want to cheese off.

    Lately, the almost insane practise of people paying money to ‘speculate’ on their own property has been the only way to deal with the problem. Of course most people never dream that at any moment a mining company can stake a claim to their land. But its been growing. Whether its a political issue depends on whether the tories stake out the alternative policy.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Not often that I agree with Mikel but I usually give him credit for being informed. However, claiming that he was unaware that landowners do not automatically own mineral rights is either selective stupidity or proof he is ready to jump on any fanatic bandwagon.

    Mineral staking is ancient and widdespread. Mining is not illegal in NS; just Uranium mining.

    All mineral and resource extraction has potential for negative impact including oil, trees, gold, diamonds and uranium. The answer is not to blindly revolt with the fanatic, ill informed who have been responded to scare tactics.The answer is to research and implement progressive and effective regulatory controls and enforce them.

    The NIMBY attitude is resurfacing again.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The only part I agree with in this post is: “People that move out are, almost by definition, more predisposed to change and changing their lives. People that stay – even when there is some compelling reasons to leave – are more reluctant to change.” NBers want to have it both ways: maintain the old lifestyle and economic development. Unfortunately, they are not compatible.

  4. mikel says:

    Mineral rights are ‘ancient’, but extremely complicated. Most people are not even aware of what is in their own mortgage let alone what their property rights are.

    Again, most people probably never even contemplate that a company can show up on a first come first serve basis and stake a claim to their property…why would they?

    Of course only uranium mining is illegal in NS, its uranium mining that’s being discussed (its pretty obvious gas mining is legal).

    That’s a matter of opinion that “the answer is to research and implement progressive and effective regulatory controls and enforce them”-not a statement of fact. The mining industry has probably the worst environmental and human rights record of any industry-so to think that the best strategy for the population is to push for regulatory controls is a bit of a stretch. That’s fine to recommend it when its not YOUR land and health that is at issue.

    Scare tactics can sometimes be very valuable. Go do some research on what has happened to Port Hope in Ontario and you’ll see that the TRUTH is far scarier than any tactics. The health effects of uranium mining are very real, so the only bandwagon I am jumping on is the independant choice of landowners. Again, its fine for OTHERS to say “here’s what you should do with your land”, but thats not democracy, and may not even be sound economic policy.

    The issue is gaining steam though, and I don’t know if its the same poster but I keep seeing the ‘NIMBY’ line brought up on this issue over and over. People SHOULD have the democratic right to refuse to have their land opened up to uranium prospectors and face the potential ill effects of the mining. The Moncton city council passed the legislation asking for a ban because the government ADMITTED that it couldn’t control the mining process even when it came perilously close to water tables.

    So you can argue economics all day, perhaps agent orange back in the sixties was shown to be a ‘valuable industry’, but in the end we are talking about basic democratic rights, and more importantly, people’s lives. And thats no scare tactic-its a conclusion that COMES from ‘being informed’ (in fact the more informed you are the more scared you’ll get).