Educating the Citizenry

I have read several ‘outlook for 2010’ articles relating to Northern New Brunswick that were surprisingly positive.  I think one was even titled something like ‘big things for Miramichi in 2010’ or similar.  I hope so – I really do.

In 2009, I spent a lot of time thinking about Northern NB.  I wrote an economic development roadmap for the region on behalf of the NB Biz Council and I spent time in the region talking with entrepreneurs and community leaders.  I have also provided some input into the organization of several groups that are meant to lead the region into a new direction.

The scope and scale of the challenge in Northern New Brunswick should not be underestimated. The region is certainly at a tipping point and within a decade could have slipped into a role that some are calling for – a retirement community.  The problem with that vision is there won’t be enough people or economic activity to support the infrastructure required for the region to sustain itself as a retirement community so you will see even the senior citizens move out. 

The North needs a strong and stable economic base.  I am not saying it has to grow rapidly or be some economic miracle.  It has to re-emerge with an economic foundation – centred around its assets and its urban centres. 

I enjoy reading Peter Lindfield’s columns.  His tome today is about the vital need to properly education New Brunswickers about the challenges facing the province and the outcome of inaction.   In a democracy, you need to have public support for major policy changes.  You can try and ram things through but in the end it won’t truly work without support.

12 thoughts on “Educating the Citizenry

  1. I’ll repost my reply to lindfield here:

    That a province with only 750000 people are ‘living beyond their means’ is an old outdated idea. A province with vast agricultural prospects, significant timber, potash, new discoveries of natural gas and most importantly, located between energy creators and their primary customers has ample resources to care for those citizens-more than most european nations can boast of.
    Problem is, they have been ‘given’ to corporate interests and much of NB’s balance sheet is given to servicing those business interests-a focus on highways, training largely devoted to resource extraction industries, etc.
    NB pays the lowest amount of drug coverage, has the lowest spending on education, has a largely privatized and increasingly inadequate nursing home industry, has inadequate social spending and that is ‘beyond its means’?
    People need to be ‘educated’ on the successes of Norway, Venezuela, and nations where resources are fairly shared, not told to ‘be poorer’.

    I DO agree with most of the comments, its only that phrase ‘living within our means’ that raises my ire, because the NB government is CLEARLY barely keeping up with its public’s needs. People are WELL aware of the world outside, they don’t need to be ‘educated’. However, that ‘democracy’ angle is the most important one. The public, virtually throughout Canada’s history, has seen ‘its’ resources largely given away to a small group of people-hell, my dad can’t even tap a couple of maple trees on crown land without getting arrested, yet crown land can be massacred as long as its by you know who.

    Again, that’s not ‘anti business’, its anti business corruption. It’s ‘anti’ the idea that a large business be given a free ride with resources that aren’t theirs. IF the current industrialists weren’t taking such a bath in other people’s waters, then there would be more support for the idea of FDI. But of course, people are ECSTATIC about solar in Miramichi and the new industry in Caraquet. So its NOT true that people are anti development, like the rest of the world they want jobs, training, and supportable industries. So it seems they ARE well educated in the needs of the ‘new world economy’, it is the government that is out of step.

    I’d agree with Lindfield except that often what they REALLY mean is that more propaganda needs to be used effectively to get the public to ‘buy’ what the government is selling (and its pretty clear he has NBPower in mind here).

  2. Wow Excellent points Mikel

    We need NB to diversify, and to not give into corrupt business practices. I know a solar company that wanted to come to NB long before the one came to Miramichi…this Liberal gov’t wanted nothing to do with them. This gov’t wants nothing to do with people that want to start their own businesses…businesses with good business plans and lots of chance…but instead the gov’t unjustly funds competition for them.
    It’s time for change. New Brunswickers are ingenious innovators who are being held back by an economy that focuses on a few rather than all constituents. I say constituents because it is up to constituents to make changes by voting, participating, and that includes participating in all political parties.

  3. That mirrors my view, and its good to see some followup. Its interesting that the government crowed about cranberries, but there seemed to be VERY little excitement about even this solar company, let alone its precursor.

    That brings us back to Richard’s point, that the current large industrialists call the shots, and it takes real work in the political process to change that. That MAY be changing thanks to the NBPower deal, we’ll see.

  4. “To animate these discussions, we will need a knowledgeable public aware of the implications of decisions associated with deep changes in government.”

    That’s from Lindfield’s article. He does not proceed to provide his ideas on how the public’s knowledge can be increased. There have been a number of hot-button issues in the recent past where public will has been expressed against (mainly) various actions by govt and private interests. In other words, its reactive most of the time and there is little in the way of proactive in-depth discussion amongst the public or in the mass media re the problems NB is facing. We tend to get slogans and sound-bites instead.

    The problem is not just provincial, its also local. We have town and city councils that meet in secret too often to decide spending priorities; we have residents of LSDs that have no real way of setting priorities for their area. Seems to me a simple step forward would be for provincial legislation that forbids local councils from meeting in secret (unless there are confidential personnel issues involved) and implements the Finn Report vis-a-vis LSDs. Those actions would serve to generate more public interest in local govt, perhaps leading to more issue-oriented discussion provinve-wide.

    A second approach would require prov and fed actions to incentivize new local mass media and investments in issue reporting (i.e. actions that result in more investigative journalists and fewer sports editors). Govts try to incentivise R&D; why not incentivize the creation of a more knowledgable public?

  5. The public is a BIG group. It’s NOT always reactive, thats just what that lousy press mentioned above wants people to think. It’s no coincidence that when the liberals were making changes to forestry policy they cancelled all the public meetings. When the Committee for Legislative Democracy met over a year, there were hundreds of commentors and presenters. When Lord had public consultations on forestry policy, likewise there were dozens of people who made comments and presentations.

    Individuals and groups contact MLA’s, unfortunately, they meet a glass door and it doesn’t take long for the public to realize how fruitless ‘proactivity’ is. I’ll again use the example I know best, when it was discovered that roomers and boarders had NO basic human rights I checked other province’s legislation to discover the situation there. Once we found out that NB was the ONLY province to neglect roomers and boarders a lobby was set up which mainly consisted of Charles Leblanc-because everybody else was too terrified to talk publicly.

    That was, what, SIX years ago? Then Charles and Tim Smith went to work in the St.John byelection, got whatsisname elected on basically this one issue (that was never in the press). He presented a bill making the changes on his FIRST day. Of course he was in the opposition, so it went nowhere. But Lord saw the writing on the wall and over the winter constructed his own watered down bill that at least gave them SOME rights. It passed in the spring, was given royal assent, and all it needs is to be ‘proclaimed’. That was SIX years ago, and the liberals have turned out to be worse than the conservatives in this.

    I got some press coverage because at one point we were going to launch a class action lawsuit. But it seems clear that Graham won’t be Premier much longer. I had hoped just the threat of a lawsuit would make NB politicians get out of the third world but no such luck.

    Meanwhile, the gas pipeline legislation and legislation giving Irving a tax break was rammed through in ONE day (likewise the bill that upped MLA’s pensions).

    The public is WELL aware of this, so there is no amount of ‘press coverage’ that can change that. Without political leverage NB could have the most educated public in the world, but you don’t need fine details on how you are getting screwed to know you are getting screwed-and at a certain point nobody wants to hear about it.

    I AM surprised that NB doesn’t have the legislation banning municipal secret meetings, thats another piece of legislation that I thought EVERY province had, but I’ll have to take another look.

    But I agree about the funding issue, and its worth pointing out that L’Acadie Nouvelle was essentially started by the government though I’m not sure what kinds of sudsidies it recieves now. I have seen a couple of other Acadian websites and even a tv station trying to get funding. This is another thing though that takes grassroots work-the government really can’t go into an area and start up a paper-there has to be a group developing it in the first place. But its tough to even get NBers to check out indymedia sites.

  6. “Without political leverage NB could have the most educated public in the world…”

    In a more transparent and well-educated society, the political consequences of ignoring some of the issues you raise would often outweigh the influence of the powerful. Unfortunately, we have a society that is poorly-educated and one where information flow is restricted. The main reason that rights of roomers and boarders has not been improved is exactly because of the silence of the media on the issue. There’s been damn little public outrage. A better educated and better informed public would not be reacting in the same way.

    “But its tough to even get NBers to check out indymedia sites.”

    That’s not just true in NB. The mass media are still very important re propaganda; groups that can get their attention often have influence far beyond their numbers.

  7. IF that were true then let’s do a little experiment.

    IF public outrage were sufficient to affect public policy…why is there still a deal to sell NBPower? Clearly it takes more than a protest.

    And while there was no media coverage during the election, the CBC HAS had some coverage, which had no effect.

    The press needs a story though, and I do feel bad that I didn’t put more time into setting up a permanent organization and feature a story every week to send to the media. Richard ‘may’ be right in that respect.

    But politics is a big issue, so essentially there is a tipping point for the costs and benefits. Charles posts a couple of blogs about a ripped flag or something like that, and it gets fixed fast. BIgger issues are more complex, but its worth noting that Bernard Lord included in his throne speech that this would be changed, Doherty presented the bill to change it on his first day, and that was without ANY media play.

    I’d like to think that a lot of legislators simply didn’t know the facts before hand and once they found out how singular NB was in robbing people of basic rights they wanted to correct it. That thought is less strong now that five years have passed, but Graham wasn’t incorrect in stating that it was ‘ambitious’. Those who service this group makes money because of the fact the people have no rights, and they might very well simply develop the buildings for other purposes and ‘avoid the hassle’. So to balance that out you need a stronger lobby than the landlords.

    However, it HAS been in the media, so people DO know about it, but I’m not exactly a team player so have never really sought out organizations, just assumed once they heard that they’d do something.

    But it depends what is meant by ‘better educated’. Again, just because somebody KNOWS something, there’s no guarantee they will do something. I mentioned to the protest groups that they could simply organize their OWN referendum, and that one person can initiate a legal challenge with more chance of succeeding than the french language challenge against Lamrock a couple of years ago. However, the groups still believe the only thing that can be done is to protest protest protest. To steal a quote from a Batman movie I just saw, what is imperative is NOT knowledge, it is the will to act.

    As for mass media, again, its my view that NBers would LOVE to see another website like Canadaeast. There are far more posts at the CBC website, and they only feature about four news stories a day rather than having an entire site for the region. I don’t think it would take that much work to set up competition, especially when you consider how much Irving makes just from government ads. However, first there needs to be a group willing to put the work in. I’ve volunteered numerous times, but as David can tell you, even just a blog is more work than it seems.

  8. IF public outrage were sufficient to affect public policy…why is there still a deal to sell NBPower? Clearly it takes more than a protest.

    First of all, the deal hasn’t gone through yet. Secondly, you don’t get to cherry pick your arguments and examples. As a rebuttal, I’d suggest you look at what the public outrage did for the Miramichi hospital in 2004.

  9. No one said that public outrage determines the political response. If you want to rebut an argument then rebut it, don’t erect strawmen.

    There are, thankfully, occasions when leaders have to lead, whether the public likes the direction or not. There are a number of hot-button issues (highway tolls, ferries, FI) where strong poublic reactions have dictated policy. The point is not just how the govt responds, its the amount of discussion and debate that takes place around public policy; that discussion influences public policy and provides politicians with guidance as to what is politically possible and what is infeasible. That does not mean they have to heed the public will on every issue; but at least they would know what to expect. The public, on the other hand, has a civic duty to remain informed. That’s a heck of a lot easier to do when you have a sufficient number of good professional journalists available. The CBC has done, IMO, a terrible job on a number of local issues; the fact that that terrible job is still better than what is done by those at the Irving press just serves to indicate how badly off we are. We are viewed as consumers of media, not as members of a democratic society.

  10. Uh, you DID in fact:

    “The main reason that rights of roomers and boarders has not been improved is exactly because of the silence of the media on the issue. There’s been damn little public outrage.”

    From what is said it seems clear that you said media coverage leads to public outrage which leads to a political response, or else the public outrage IS the public response. I don’t see how else to interpret that.

    I don’t think its ‘thankful’ there are occasions where ‘leaders have to lead’. In fact, thats not true as the Swiss and American (at the local and some state level) political system shows full well. I’d argue the opposite, that most of the problems in the world today, particularly in the financial arena, has been BECAUSE of leaders.

    Because some people got up the nerve to protect their ferry hardly means that public opinion affected public policy. In one tiny instance protest had an effect, thats it. For tolls, all that we know is that Lord made an election promise to get rid of tolls and also won the election. The Irving media certainly played up the idea for obvious reasons,but there were no public protests and no organizations set up to battle toll highways. In fact, now that people know about the shadow tolls I’ve seen tons of support for enacting tolls.

    I agree with everything after those first three sentences. That’s why Trudeau called Canada a “consultative democracy”. There are only hypothetical cases where I’d agree that a single politician has the right to overule to population, because of course it is mainly that right that leads to all the problems in the first place. When people go through all the trouble to get informed and involved, and then the ‘leader’ says “Sorry, this is one area where I have to overule you” then it doesn’t take long for the population to say “why the hell are we wasting our time?”

    But that ‘sort of’ worked for a long time, so long as the ‘leader’ didn’t have other vested interests. Again, I and a lot of people put a lot of work into proposals for the Committee on Legislative Democracy. At that time the ONLY two proposals accepted were a referendum on proportional representation and fixed election dates. Lord immediately broke his word and called an election, and the referendum was bounced. So why would people read and learn all about democracy all over the world when in the end participation means nothing?

    However, both Richard and I agree about the media for different reasons. If there were a referendum on privatizing NB Power you’d want those voting to KNOW about NB Power and privatization. The VLT referendum showed what a biased government and monopoly media can do with an issue. Under Richard’s theory though Graham would simply say “even though 90% voted to not sell NBPower this is an area where I have to lead”. THAT is unacceptable and virtually every ‘leader’ uses that as a fallback position. They tend to get support in it though by the 10% who happen to agree with them.

    CBC though doesn’t have a local mandate. Sadly that has been co-opted by Rogers and you can go to CBC and see how that ‘community television’ issue is playing out. A St. Andrews television station has had a hell of time getting up and running, mostly because of political clout of Rogers and other media, although even they only consider ‘bingo’ to be ‘local programming’. In Toronto there was a high profile case where Rogers got a guy shut down who just had a UHF station. With political issues, the political problem is that since people have no power, they have no REASON to be informed, and you can’t put a gun to peoples heads and force them to learn all about issues. Let’s use NBPower though as example-I’ll bet you that any person who started a ‘webisode’ channel on Youtube which talked about NBPower daily or weekly, that they could get enough sponsors to make it worth their while. So again, the government is going to come to a town and say “we’re starting a station here”. You need groups or individuals to START the idea. If David could have stuck with it, he might have as many viewers as the CBC news…who knows…particularly when he started talking about NBPower:)

    However, take any place that’s had a referendum and people have gotten VERY interested in the subject. During the Charlottetown Accord referendum political groups sprang up all over the country and polls done immediately afterwards showed that even those who voted against simply because they disliked Mulroney still had considerable knowledge of the accord. Like the NB Power deal though the Accord had lots of areas which were supposed to be ‘filled in later….trust us’, which also had a lot to do with people’s voting patterns.

  11. “Uh, you DID in fact:

    “The main reason that rights of roomers and boarders has not been improved is exactly because of the silence of the media on the issue. There’s been damn little public outrage.”

    You need to reread what you said and what I said.

    “From what is said it seems clear that you said media coverage leads to public outrage which leads to a political response”

    No, I said political outrage does not necessarily lead to a political response. The point I was making is that our current mass media do a poor job of covering political and social issues and encourage ‘outgrage’ only selectively.

    There are numerous examples where leaders have acted against the public will and have been proven to have done the right thing. There was tremendous public opposition to LJRs equal opportunity program, for example, but there is no doubt that those policies improved the lives of many NBers. If the public will was always slavishly followed by our elected leaders, Donald Marshal and many others would have been hanged for crimes they did not commit. We have a representative democracy for good reason. If you want to move to Switzerland, go ahead, but I suggest you don’t wear a turban or visit a mosque.

    “CBC though doesn’t have a local mandate.”

    CBC employees would be surprised to hear that. They have a mandate; what they lack is the budget and staff to go with it.

    “But that ’sort of’ worked for a long time, so long as the ‘leader’ didn’t have other vested interests.”

    Where do you get this stuff? Leaders have always had vested interests, just like everyone else. The problem is not the vested interests, its the lack of transparency and the lack of rational discussion in the media.

    ” In one tiny instance protest had an effect, thats it.”

    Please stop making stuff up. Just in the past two years, we’ve had two examples of public protest reversing govt policy. As for tolls, if you are trying to re-write history and say that the toll issue wasn’t a key in at least one critical riding during that election, then fine you can just continue making stuff up. The fact is, govts often respond to public protest. Simply because they have failed to act on your pet issues is hardly evidence that they don’t do so; perhaps its just evidence that you haven’t worked hard enough.

  12. Dude, you are all over the place. You start off saying one thing, then end saying the opposite. First you say “political outrage does not necessarily lead to a political response” then end with “govts often respond to public protest”. Which?

    I’d apologize for misunderstanding, but what you say above is NOT what you said. But now I get your point, in fact what is said above about “its just evidence that you haven’t worked hard enough” is something that I said above. It’s true, and I do feel guilty that if more work was done then its POSSIBLE the outcome would be different. I could have quit my job and parked in front of the leg and went on a hunger strike and got daily press and CBC reports keeping it in the public mind all the time. At some point the government COULD have decided that all the bad press is not worth the negative consequences of enacting the policy.

    Actually, had I thought of doing that last year then I might have been tempted, now it seems rather pointless as it seems Graham won’t be around much longer and clearly doesn’t really care HOW bad people think of him.

    LJR, or course, was ELECTED. He wasn’t a tyrant. Just because there was public displeasure doesn’t mean he wasn’t supported. And the main reason he lost had nothing to do with language policy but with resource policy and the monopoly media. Its well known Irving hated him, however, LJR has repeatedly said that he was not unhappy he lost because Hatfield not only accepted his language policies but actually enhanced them. That can be lumped in with the toll issue because again, we are talking about elections, NOT referenda. Even stating something is a ‘major factor’ in an election means little because we simply don’t have the data. YOu have your OPINION, but you dont know that many NBers and why they voted in a certain way.

    That essentially is the argument that minority rights will never be supported by the majority, and thats something that has been disproved time and time again. Certainly not ALWAYS, but again, you live in a province where low income boarders don’t even have BASIC rights, so you certainlly can’t preach about minority rights. We can add that to the derogatory comments about Switzerland-dude, all you have to do is read the comments section on any given day at the CBC and if you believe NBers are above racism, you’ll be sadly corrected. In Switzerland of course, there is FAR less racism than you’ll see in Canada, heck, watch any issue on natives or the french at CBC and you’ll see.

    But I’ll take any opportunity to talk about direct democracy, and the above is simply a referendum that restricts muslim architecture. There are TONS of turbans AND mosques in Switzerland, over 90 in the past 20 years, they simply have a ban on minarets. Go stay in any hotel in Switzerland and you’ll see more arab channels than english or french.

    The death penalty of course, has polls that go every which way. There is usually strong support right after a grisly murder, and the opposite is usually found after media analysis of american death penalty problems. But like with any issue, democracy is usually argued against if a persons belief is different than what they think the publics is.

    As for leaders vested interests, thats not true-it depends on the leader. If I were elected I’d have no problem in having referenda on any issue and making that public policy. The problem with Shawn Graham is certainly not transparancy and media. The NB Power deal has been pretty exhaustively analyzed by the CBC and elsewhere. While people maintain there is ‘something going on behind closed doors’ you can ask virtually any citizen whether the problem with NB power being sold is the transparancy behind it or the media. Clearly the problem is that it is being sold.

    But there’s no doubt that public pressure has an effect, nobody said differently, in fact that’s what I’ve said all along. I’m not sure where Richard stands, but yes, public pressure did save the Gagetown ferry, but no, public pressure has not so far stopped the NB Power sale. As I said above, there are small cases where giving in to public pressure is easy-heck, both parties had MLA’s who came out to support abortion protestors in a province that is breaking federal law (again going back to the lack of minority rights-rights which polls consistently show are supported by the majority-even in NB).

    As for CBC, IF they wanted more community presence it would be easy to do, hell, Charles would do work for them for NOTHING. Whenever they have tried to increase community coverage Rogers starts yelling a blue streak. CBC is better than the competition, but they have as much bias as the others, just a different one. I’ve been involved with several groups which say they can get better coverage from the Irvings than they can from the CBC.

    I do agree with Richard’s ‘point’, except that the CBC usually does a fairly good job at least with presenting issues. But they are not a social organization. They SOMETIMES get the stars in the eyes, when that principal stopped playing o canada they had stories on it every day and really seemed to be ‘flogging’ it, while other issues they only cover occasionally. However, they ARE often more responsive than other media, so if people DO have policy issues, they are pretty receptive. Like I said, if you want coverage of a certain issue, you’ve got to create coverage. Richard constantly talks about a ‘better think tank’, but I guarantee that if he actually started one, he’d be able to get stories into the CBC as often as AIMS. I shouldn’t say ‘guarantee’, but I’d put money on it, and as I’ve often said, I’d even help contribute. But certainly no government is going to float along and decide to do any of these things on their own-they need that ‘public pressure’.

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