Ain’t democracy fun?

For you long time readers, we revisit this issue of democracy and economic development on occasion – not because I have any particular insight into the area but it certainly is fun.

Take the issue of protests on the Legislature. They are virtually always a protest against a proactive move of government (not always). When governments have moved to cut hospital bed cuts to try and rein in health care costs, protests at the Legislature ensue.

When the Lord government tried to trim back farmer subsidies, protests at the Legislature took place – government backed down.

I was working at the Legislature as a page with McKenna made the unfortunate attempt to force Snowbirds to pay for health insurance while in Florida for 4 or more months of the year. The logic was fairly simple. They aren’t paying taxes for a third of the year, should they get Medicare coverage while in Florida? Bedlam ensued. Never take on Seniors or Farmers. Those two groups are sacrosanct in this province.

Now we have the NB Power sale – some say there were 200-300 hundred, the CBC reported today it could have been over 1,000 and they were a raucous bunch reading from their cue cards.

My point is not that I am against protest – I would just like to see protest about things that are fundamental to moving the province forward. Where are the protests demanding more focus on attracting industry here? Where are the protests demanding efforts to keep industrial power rates competitive to shore up some of the most important employers in rural New Brunswick?

Exhibit A:
When Bernard Lord saved the A.V. Nackawic pulp mill he was treated like a hero. I remember the media reports. Women were openly weeping – they were so thankful that the mill would be staying in town – even though it was with less workers and it cost the taxpayer $67 million initially and millions since then.

Now when a government moves to make a structural change that should end up making that mill competitive in the long term and save those jobs beyond the subsidies, the governments get pilloried – likely by many of the same people that were weeping just a few short years ago.

This goes beyond the Heritage Pool or transmission rates so I don’t want to go down that rabbit trail in this post. It’s about people drawing a link between efforts to create a competitive environment for vital industries, or drawing a link between trying the effectively manage the costs of government and efforts to keep tax rates competitive, etc.

Of course these protests are virtually always organized by a group – environmental, labour, etc. – rarely is it some spontaneous act of public will.

Maybe the answer is that the CFIB or the Chambers of Commerce or the Business Council should organize protests at the Legislature demanding action on economic development. Demanding that the province raise its spending on research and development to the level of the government of Ontario (10 times more than us). Demanding that the province do something about NB Power before the industrial rate structure drives more industry out of the province. Demanding that the province attract more industries here to at least replace the big employers that have left.

I’m only half kidding.

Fundamental change in this province will be driven by the people. Minister Murphy last week talked with almost holy reverence about the “Tim Horton focus group”. Maybe it’s time the Tim Horton focus group to start debating the issues of economic development.

I’ll take a double/double.

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13 Responses to Ain’t democracy fun?

  1. mikel says:

    That’s HARDLY ‘democracy’. The amount of protest in a region is inversely proportional to the amount of democracy available. You certainly see protests in France, when have you read about massive raucous protests in Switzerland?

    In a ‘democracy’ it is the ‘will of the people’ that rules, and it’s interesting that Graham keeps calling this a ‘debate’. The reality is, he has a policy, for a democratic decision all that has to be done is have a referendum. Each ‘side’ puts forth its best argument and people vote on it-democracy really IS simple.

    Of course the ‘sale’ of NBPOwer shouldn’t even be an issue-yet. There ARE various energy strategies that some places have tried and that should be implemented, and those should be voted on.

    However, again, places WITH democracy rely on the population to push the agenda-and thats as it should be. If people have a policy, they push for it. Unfortunately, in most cases the government doesn’t listen. Green groups have pushed renewables for years, the government doesn’t listen.

    And people have to remember that not everybody has the same interests. Snowbirds are not only people who have worked their entire lives contributing tax dollars, but they certainlly paid higher taxes than people do now (proportional to income). A good percentage of them also put their very LIVES on the line when their country asked it of them. So why SHOULDN”T they protest? Why WOULDN”T somebody whose husband worked at a mill their entire lives be happy that they still have a job and won’t have to leave the house they may have grown up in and move to Alberta?

    Now we come to the ED file. The operative word here is COULD make mills competitive enough to continue to operate. This is actually a good case where the public is far more sophisticated than given credit for. Everybody KNOWS that mills have been closing all over Quebec, everybody KNOWS that India and China can do manufacturing for dirt cheap-heck, Harper is in India right now trying to forge even CLOSER trade ties. Newspapers are outsourcing editorial jobs, and people think a mill is going to keep operating because its gets some lower power rates? And again, if its that important, tell NBPower to offer them lower rates, heck, you already give them tax free status while they are struggling (and even let them carry over losses to profitable years). But haven’t you noticed that even mill workers and their unions haven’t come out supporting this…..they probably know that it WON”T save their jobs, or won’t save them for long, until the next demand.

    But I seem to recall plenty of blogs complaining about the Chamber of Commerce and the business sector, how they aren’t actually interested in ‘economic development’ at all, but are just looking out for their members.

    In short, YOU have a specific policy and view. There is absolutely nothing stopping YOU and all those who agree from starting a facebook group, from organizing, from lobbying, from protesting, even running candidates. Absolutely nothing. The fact is that people here simply don’t ‘care’ enough, or aren’t sure enough of their policies. A 3% increase really is nothing, but the sale of a public utility really IS something. So its not so surprising. The facebook group had a petition signing at the protest, they said they got 1600 names, that’s not ‘fantastic’ but its pretty darn BIG. And keep in mind that this is when a good percentage of people have to go to work. Like I said, its actually quite rare to find a voice supporting the deal.

    But I must say that its a little amusing that essentially all the people are doing is the same as this blog does-criticize a public policy decision. They are just going one step further and trying to stop it. IF you COULD stop a bad public policy decision, or implement a better one….wouldn’t you want to? Or is this just so academic an exercise that it doesn’t matter? Wouldn’t you want to at least TRY? The problem HERE seems to be one that is usually aimed at others-the ‘not providing solutions’ argument. I asked once before for people reading the blog (and the blogger) to list just ONE public policy statement that they would like to see implemented and there wasnt a SINGLE one listed.

    I would have thought that a solar powered technological industry coming to a disenfranchised area of the province, one which would take a known waste product and turn it into something positive AND which brings in over 100 million in foreign direct investment would be absolutely shouted daily from the blog, not given a quick critical write off.

    I’ve been reading this blog for YEARS, and every time I think I have a grasp on what the author WOULD like to see implemented, the blog is either critical of, or outrightly supportive of, the exact opposite of what they have been proposing for years. So don’t be dismissive of those who DO have an idea of what they want and are willing to fight for it. Thats what little democracy we have at work. But its often the case that those whose views are in the minority are dismissive of the majority-until they happen to be in it.

  2. mikel says:

    And to make sure I don’t sound hypocritical, I’ve offered on numerous times to help out, even with the attempt at audio and video podcasts and the blog in general. I’ve mentioned meetings that alternative parties have been having, such as the Atlantica Party, or even advocated people running as independants. A well known person running as an independant might well have as good a shot as any party-and an organized group of independants might very well make a substancial dent.

    Or even just starting a non profit group doing the kind of research Richard always complains about. Charles Leblanc was MOST effective back when he was actively doing public policy, there is even LESS reason that can’t happen here. That point is not David’s fault, he does point out research that he ‘likes’, but he is just one voice. We have to remember that even the group at Facebook is 22,000, in a population of 750,000, so there is no point pretending we KNOW what any democratic decision would be. I can’t go as far as joining the group that supports the sale of NB Power, but I am helping out the people calling for a referendum. In politics, if you don’t ‘take part’, you get taken apart. In this case of NB Power-literally.

  3. richard says:

    Perhaps, David, are some good ED chants. Everyone knows that the chant makes the protest.

    How about:
    “ACOA, ACOA, stop the suck n blowa”

    “ED, ED, we need some good ED”

    “Irving, Irving, don’t need another Irving;
    Google, Google, give us RIM or Google”

    I’m sure others can come with some better ones.

  4. Rob says:

    “In politics, if you don’t ‘take part’, you get taken apart.”

    A shorter version: Play, or get played.

  5. richard says:

    “Facebook is 22,000, in a population of 750,000″

    But with an unknown percentage of non-NBers, and an unknown percentage of those following the discussion but not agreeing with the ‘no’ position.

    IMHO public policy needs to be data-driven; there are known and tested ways to do that. What we lack in NB are the public institutions to carry out that role. We have universities that do not realy give a damn about the province they are located in, and a press that is owned by corporate interests largely disinterested in transparency and good public policy development. You really cannot have useful discussions in the public sphere without those two elements (good data and good distribution). The NBP issue is a good examples; there have been warning signs of the difficulty NBP is in, but very little good data analysis/discussion in the public sphere until GNB announced the sale. Social media have their uses, but neither blogs nor other social media can fill the gap we have in NB.

  6. mikel says:

    That’s actually NOT true, social media HAVE been filling those gaps-unfortunately just not in NB or Canada. However, the rest of the world is far different. Of course I don’t expect that to find much support here, because most of these movements are grassroots driven and often oppose the large corporations that disrupt local and national democracies.

    Media is a perfect example of just how easy it is. You can go to Charles Leblanc’s blog and see what is going on in downtown Fredericton easier than watching CBC. And thats with a guy of questionable, shall we say for lack of a better word, ‘competence’. Yet he has extensive interviews with politicians of all stripes, all available for free, 24/7, and unedited.

    I agree about the universities, but they are essentially fulfilling their role. Here in waterloo, again, the university is massively ‘successful’ so long as you mean financial and training wise. Meanwhile, ontario now has a lower population recieving post secondary education than the states that surround it.

    Even THAT can easily be supplanted, heck, virtually EVERYTHING you learn at any kind of institution can be learned online. At UNB they are only now just talking about public research policy groups, those have been a staple of universities across North America for generations, and NB schools are just getting around to it now.

    But NONE of this happens without people getting off their duffs and doing something. But again, Richard has no idea what he is talking about because its clear that he’s not a member of facebook. While PART of the facebook utility is ‘the wall’ where people just write what first comes to mind, the ‘discussion’ section has individuals going through the MOU and NBPower financials line by line.

    It’s true about the lack of data and analysis, although NBPower releases its financials every year and its right there on the website. The problem is the nature of media and our public institutions. People are not involved in decision making, so there is no need or benefit to wasting valuable time ‘getting informed’. Whats the point of neglecting your children, your time, and your career to go through energy policy when you have ZERO say in it?

    However, again, for ‘problems’ at NBPower you can again look at facebook. When people have problems, they HAVE set up groups and tried to get attention. Again, thats not just the fault of media, thats the whole society. Jacques Poitras posted at his blog his statements he gave an organization where he opined that he couldn’t even get NBers to go on camera complaining about the beer-whisky fiasco (and LOTS of people didn’t like THAT).

    For facebook, what would be FAR more interesting a sample is how many New Brunswickers who are currently using facebook, know about the NBPower deal AND joined the group. There are lots of people in the province who have NO idea what facebook is, and are barely computer literate. For other New Brunswick groups, I think the largest I’ve every seen was a membership of 3000. So clearly this says a lot, even if some of the members are currently living outside the province. And we can well add the same criticism of the ‘support the deal’ group, which had, I think, 300 members, I wonder how many of those were actually even real people (its possible to dummy up a facebook profile).

    And again, IF there were a referendum then we WOULD see both sides of the equation. But a lot of people like their own ‘spin’ and see it as ‘truth’. I’ve read through NBPowers latest financials and while its far from rosy, its also far from being a write off. ALL projections about the future are just that-go ask anybody who was investing just before the housing crisis in the US.

    And like I’ve said, most of the guys here at least are pretty main stream, middle of the road, even tories. If you guys got active I think you’d quickly find that while people disagree on some issues, there is a LOT of support for REAL economic development. People don’t need to agree on every little issue, but you guys all fall into the group that are dissatisfied with the government (except in this case).

    And again for Richard, AIMS started out from very small means, the group was considering direct political action but was told they’d be far more effective this way. CIGI here in Waterloo is now a HUGE think tank, go check it out…that started out with ONE guy sitting in an office. Nothing can be said to be impossible until its at least tried.

  7. Samonymous says:

    People who once fed the ugly leviathan, now preaching as if they’re against it while a host of their consultants friends, close to Ministers, continue to chow down on the trough. Very hard to stomach David! Maybe those that don’t know any better are buying it, but this is one “former” that’s experiencing a bit of nausea just listening to it!

  8. Jim Anderson says:

    David,

    The link below is starting to make the rounds. It is – from what I can tell – a summary document of the report completed by NERA consultants for The Province on the sale of NB Power. I have read through it a few times and it appears that there are some very positive projections on the sell side and some worst case assumptions in the stand alone version. This also appears to be the document that Graham has been quoting from.

    Perhaps I missed some things (definitie possibility) but the assumptions made are well interesting.

    I would love to hear your thoughts and comments around it.

    Here is the link:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/pdf/NERA-report.pdf

  9. richard says:

    “That’s actually NOT true, social media HAVE been filling those gaps-”

    You consistently misunderstand the core issue. The issue is not the POV, its the data behind the POV. Everyone is entitled to their POV and they have a right to spread it via social media. But there can be no real dialogue or discussion unless a common set of data is accepted by all sides. Thanks in part to social media, and a decline in data gathering and data analysis by public insitutions, the common data set is disappearing. We are left with only opinions, and that is not a good way to set social or public policy.

    Your other comments continue your usual attacks on other posters motives, despite your complete lack of information on the subject. You have no bloody idea what I and others are doing or have done wrt to social policy and activism. I for one am getting tired of your baseless assumptions and penchant for assuming google access = subject expertise.

  10. Samonymous says:

    And again for Richard, AIMS started out from very small means, the group was considering direct political action but was told they’d be far more effective this way. CIGI here in Waterloo is now a HUGE think tank, go check it out…that started out with ONE guy sitting in an office. Nothing can be said to be impossible until its at least tried.

    I agree with mikel on this one, just look at some of the reforms that were spearheaded by Ralph Nader and his “Nader Raiders”. These people were half broke living on peanut butter and jelly but their passion brought the government and big corporations to their knees a few times over. The big one that will be remembered was Nader’s personal battle with GM which contributed to the unanimous passage of the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Forcing car companies to add better safety features such as seat belts and stronger windshields.

  11. mikel says:

    Nader is the best example that virtually ANYTHING is possible by those who really try. My ‘attack’ on Richard was simply to say that he didn’t show much knowledge of Facebook since he wasn’t aware that there are lots of discussions about all of these energy policies-all based on ‘common data’-namely, the released report David links to, the MOU, as well as NBPower financials, as well as the financials available from other utilities, and policies of other utilities. He’s right that I have no idea what HE may be doing, of course he assumes that my remarks are aimed at HIM, when really I couldn’t care less what he does. My remarks are aimed at those who occasionally come here and put a little work into things. There is a ‘learning curve’ to activism, especially online. For ages I only read things and didn’t even commment, then you make a few comments, then opportunities present themself for actual activism. There seems to be VERY little of that going on here, Richard is welcome to post what activism he is doing, thats not something that should be hidden, and as has been said here, often you can get help from people who don’t even agree with the agenda.

    Richard seems to think that only the ‘elite’ are allowed to comment on things, no doubt he considers himself one of those elite, and the rest of us are just too stupid to know what is good for us. That’s fine for an opinion, but I don’t really care what he tires of, I’ve been around the blogs pretty much since they began, and usually I am equally tired of HIS remarks (although he often makes good points).

    But again, you don’t NEED ‘expertise’ to comment on these things, just go read about the released report. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make the criticism I made, and they are all based on the ‘data’-in fact, good consultants state the limitations up front. Again if SHAWN GRAHAM can understand them, then there is no reason anybody can’t fathom the information. What kind of ‘common data’ Richard thinks can be obtained I don’t know, again, as mentioned above, without a competitive big process its IMPOSSIBLE to know the ‘value’ of something. As anybody who has ever done sales knows, the value of anything is whatever somebody is willing to pay for it.

  12. Samonymous says:

    But again, you don’t NEED ‘expertise’ to comment on these things, just go read about the released report.

    So true. I would argue (and have witnessed this first hand) that arguments that lack data but have passion in spades win the day. Just look at the how far Angela Vautour got in her fight against EI reform. She had no clue about the “data” of the argument, but felt passionate about her fight, saw an opening and took it. That’s not rocket science (or an economist crunching numbers to weave an intellectual spin), that is a citizen becoming engaged in the process.

    However, that said, you can’t argue with “data” as a person with passion and the numbers is much more effective than someone who only passion or only data. You’ve got to be able to connect. You’ve got to be able to back it up!

  13. Anonymous says:

    The way you bring change is to campaign on a platform that has some detail on what you plan to do. Some of it people will agree with it, some of it they will not. However, people elect the leader with the best overall package or platform. A good leader is trusted and has the ability to gain majority support for their ideas and plans.

    Once you take office, you execute the platform. When the stuff people disagree with is implemented, you defend your position noting you were elected to do it.

    The problem with this situation is that the premier and his party were elected on a platform that specifically and clearly included keeping NB Power a public utility. People do not appreciate being lied to. This is where the emotion comes from. Whether you agree or disagree with the details of the deal, the fact remains that voter’s trust has been violated. Others have posted here that people have become accustomed to politicans lying. I think that is wrong; politicians know how to use weasel words, how to pay lip service, how to not directly answer questions, how to place blame, how to make excuses, how to take minimal action. Very few make bold face lies.

    The yes side of this arguement seems to take pleasure in taking cheap shots at passion and emotion displayed by the no side. Personally, I don’t think this is a laughing matter. We have had discussions on this blog about voter apathy and unrealistic expectations of government. Well this is a specific example of the cause for these attitudes.

    This situation could be so easily handled. There is an election within 6 months of the artifical deadline. Take the time to educate people on this deal that the government obviously beleives in then run an election with it as part of the platform. If the government thinks this is such a good deal and are worried that voters are too stupid to realize it, perhaps they better spend more time on the education file and less on the energy file.

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