Thoughts on the Gulf

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is an envrionmental disaster of unprecedented scale.   It is causing massive hardship across the coast of at least four states.

And the interesting thing is the polling data still shows significant support for offshore drilling in those states most impacted by the spill – Louisiana, Mississippi, etc. There was a national poll and almost 60% of Americans said they didn’t care if BP went under but in the area most impacted, it was a fraction of that.  I heard the Senator from Louisiana talking about this on Meet the Press.

Then, yesterday, a judge in – I think it was Louisiana – struck down Obama’s new offshore drilling ban as unconstitutional. 

I think about these things.  Saskatchewan has a large and expanding oil and gas industry.  It is the largest producer of uranium in Canada – maybe North America.  

In New Brunswick, when someone hinted there could possibly be uranium mined in the province, there was outrage – signs in every window “No Uranimum Mine”.  There is a growing movement to try and block the limited drilling for natural gas.  During the Hydro-Quebec debate, a number of intellectuals were way to cavalier saying “who cares if the forest products mills close?”

I realize the federal transfer payment system is meant to buffer poor provinces and allow them to offer their citizens comparably good public services. 

But I think we need to appreciate the importance of economic development.  It’s become all too easy to dismiss this as a secondary thing in New Brunswick – on the implied assumption that the other guy will take care of us.

Now, before I have to field comments about the dangers of uranium, hydro-fracturing, decemation of the forests, etc. etc. etc. I ask you one thing.  Why, in a poor province like New Brunswick, are we less tolerant of many of these industries?  

Of course we need to ensure there are strong enviromental safeguards in place around natural gas drilling.  Of course our forest products industry needs to be balanced. 

But what is our basic posture?  I’m not talking about the tenured professors, unfireable bureaucrats, environmentalists and other safe, vested interests.  I am talking about the average guy, gal on the street?  If their opening position is hostility – I don’t understand this.

10 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Gulf

  1. You don’t understand this because of one simple thing-Canada, and NB, are not ‘democracies’. That means you have no idea what NBers think about issues. You know what Irving thinks, and what some very vocal groups think, but you have no idea what canadians think about public policies because we are never asked.

    In Switzerland I can tell you what the population of Lausanne thinks about whether glasses for the elderly should have taxes on them (they don’t). I can tell you that one third of the swiss population actually thinks that animals should be entitled to public defendors. That’s because THEY made the decisions and its easy to look up.

    In Canada, we have none of that. We know that almost half of NBers several years ago thought VLT’s should be outrightly banned. The surety of that statement is not quite as concrete as swiss elections because its been often noted how poorly run the referendum was. Here in ontario, only half the population votes, but we know that at least of that half, the majority did not want to change the electoral system to proportional representation. I take great pains to point out to virtually every ontarian who is dissatisfied with the new tax that with proportional representation the tax would have been impossible. It’s cold comfort. In the fall, the people of Waterloo will get to ‘say’ what they think of amalgamation with the city of Kitchener. This is one of the few times in Canada the people were actually asked, rather than have it imposed.

    Polls, of course, are only as good as the pollsters and most are pretty sloppy. I said numerous times that for the sale of NBPower a referendum was needed. We know that 30,000 NBers at least wanted to send a message and joined the facebook group, and there were lots of protests and new political groups. That doesn’t tell us what NBers want, it MAY be indicative, and it tells us what a minority of VERY upset people will do.

    If the argument here is for economic development at ‘whatever cost’, then I’m not surprised that many get irate. And again the internet and social media are helping more people get a voice that previously didn’t. When Bennett Environmental was opening up a soil regeneration plant, with tax dollars, with an EIA that was SO bad that even Mike Harris’ government sent them packing from ontario to Belledune, there was hardly a word about it. Most NBers still don’t even know about the ten year battle that took place with hog factory farms. So I think you may be overblowing just how opposed ‘the population’ is to any of these.

    To give a personal opinion, I would suggest that when you account for the one third of the work force who work for government, their opinion will be to protect their interests. We’ve even discovered that numerous high level bureaucrats are ‘slumlords’, which could help explain why it was so hard to get basic rights to boarding house tenants. If your job is secure, you don’t care about ED. If you work in construction, I suspect you will be more open to new developments. However, people aren’t stupid. If you live in St. John, and don’t work at the pulp mill, you may weigh the costs and benefits and find the benefits come up short. As the years go by and people forget the short lived construction jobs, they may look differently at the LNG terminal, which provides no statistically significant employment and little tax for the danger it may pose.

    So its fairly easy to at least understand where people are coming from. We all want to survive and have a decent life. Once you have that, then you are more open to questions of principle. You may be opposed to selling NBPower even though it costs you more money. You may not want natural gas exploration in a location far from you because you feel the tax structure on companies is unfair. Those things MAY be true, but again, we don’t KNOW anything about populations in general in Canada because we are never asked. In BC it looks like they may get their referendum on HST, and I’d suggest ontarians would like that chance, but unfortunately the ‘democracy machine’ only operates in BC. Sorry thats so long.

  2. The outrage to any sort of resource development in NB is embarrassing. I have a background in uranium exploration and was following the story in NB closely while based in BC.

    My former company was constantly on the lookout for potential projects. The news coming out of NB at the time wrote off the province as a jurisdiction not overly friendly to resource exploration of any kind, and this sentiment was & is held by a lot of exploration companies not familiar with the mineral potential of this province. Note, this sentiment doesn’t stem from gov’t regulations, it is due to the angry-mob mentality (ignorance) of the populace.

    Now, of course, we’re seeing it with regards to the natural gas projects.

    The sad part is, most of the “next generation” of geologists that work in the exploration side are very environmentally sensitive and hold their companies feet to the fire more strict than most gov’t regulations. Try to explain that to the typical NB’er & see how that goes….

    Personally, since I’ve decided to move back to NB and become an independent contractor, I have worked ~2 weeks as a geologist in NB. All of my work comes from outside the province. I’d love to change this but I don’t count on it.

    Your articles & blog posts are very informative & enjoyable to read, keep up the great work.

  3. As a friend said… “who is John Galt”…a fitting analogy for the province I reckon.

  4. I recall my father telling me that, for work-related reasons, he travelled up to the Acadian peninsula for the first time in the late 1950s. He grew up in a poor rural area of NB, but was shocked by the poverty he saw – it seemed like everyone was living in shacks by the side of the road. A few years later the mines opened up and the fishery began to expand; those shacks disappeared and that part of NB had relatively high incomes for a decade or so. That period of prosperity enabled many to get a good education – that came in handy when the mines and the fishery began to wind-down. People were able to seek out good oportunities elsewhere. I’m sure that some were upset by the damage done to the local area by the mines, but I’m equally sure that the high-wage jobs that came with them brought some benefits as well.

    As to why there appears to be a lot resistance to change, I’d say that people have to be able to see a benefit from that change. If you have a decent job you might not be interested in changes that might result in jobs for others – the impact on you might be higher housing costs, more traffic, higher taxes, etc. So why support it? I think that explains a lot of the opposition to change from the middle class here in NB. They are happy; if others are not happy, well they can move to AB or ON.

    Its one thing to demand high environmental standards; its another to just say No to everything.

  5. Just a quick follow up to the posts above, does anybody here actually trust the NB government to hold ANYBODY’S ‘feet to the fire’? NB has probably the most lax environmental standards in the country,I’ve mentioned before that in mining the Fraser institute calls NB the best jurisdiction in the western hemisphere. If company’s were avoiding uranium mining because some people wrote in to the paper, it makes me wonder where exactly they do business. In BC they have a terrorist threatening to blow up pipelines and virtually an entire town supports him (or her). Ever hear of that in NB?

    With uranium it turned out that the legislation was SO lax that NBers could have their OWN property marked for exploration. In effect people had NO property rights. And people are surprised that NBers got upset by this? There was the very real threat of water contamination, and its a surprise that people may not want to drink poison water? There WAS a small group that wanted to ‘ban’ uranium exploration, they pretty much disappeared when Graham made the very few changes to the mining act.

    In fredericton, virtually everybody laughs at the tiny group of protestors who came out to try to stop them from building a costco over protected woodlots at the university. A lawsuit was launched to try to protect the water moraine in fredericton from having a small plaza built over it, and Mark Darcy pretty much works by himself with only his wife. I’d really like to know where exactly all this anti development bias is supposedly coming from. Is it maybe like the anti french bias that only really finds a voice on the CBC comments section? If thats where people get the view of what NBers are thinking, they may want to look elsewhere.

  6. The hostility exists because the managers and owners of these companies lie, especially about matters related to safety, we know they lie, and still they lie, so brazenly that it doesn’t even matter whether we know or not.

    Then there’s government, which when it is not outright owned by these managers and owners, is so scared to do anything to actually oppose large and powerful players that it is toothless, and even when it does to take action, finds itself hindered by decades of national and international law design specifically to protect industry from any sort of regulative action.

    You have to solve that problem before you solve the problem of economic development. People won’t invest and build here if they don’t think there’s any justice or fairness here.

  7. What do you think about Canada acting like Canada. High taxes, High transfer payment and no social movement up or down. NBer’s and the rest of the Maritimers alike enjoy the birds and trees in there back yards. They also like to complain about anything or anybody that has a remote chance at changing any of that. Now that may orginate within certain interest groups, Unions etc. it does not change the fact that the majority of the people in the Maritimes like the way things are. One area that really draws my attention is the population and how many of the younger generations are finding it more attractive to move out of the Maritimes. With out the voices of these hopeful people around, change will be hard to come by, especially as the majority of the population starts to reach retirement.

  8. Canada has high taxes? Actually, its been well established that Canada has amongst the lowest taxes in the industrial world. Recent comparisons during the ‘brain drain’ even showed that most jurisdictions in Canada have lower taxes than many states. Corporate taxes are even lower.

    But I’ll repeat, we simply have no idea what ‘the majority’ of maritimers want, and if course thats such a broad statement that its meaningless. If you work in an industry then its highly likely you’d like to see a more diverse set of companies you can apply to, because this helps drive up wages. ‘Change’ is one of those words like ‘reform’, which when you hear it, you reach for your wallet. Like I said, most urban areas in NB are growing quickly, and virtually NOBODY is complaining about urbanization. That is very evident ‘change’, and its clear everybody loves it. My old town of Oromocto is completely different than a decade and a half ago. The big ‘change’ was moving the trans Canada, and nobody complained about the change even though traffic is now ten times louder than it ever was when I was growing up.

    There’s a tim hortons everywhere, there are stores and development all around the highway. Nobody complained, everybody was excstatic. So who exactly are these people you guys keep talking about? You guys are starting to sound like the ones constantly complaining. If by ‘change’ you mean ruining the town where your cottage by allowing a hog farm with virtually no rules, which causes much more traffic and a constant stink, then I would imagine there WOULD be resistance to that change-I’d be worried if it didn’t.

    So before people write off the population, again I’ll point out that folks here have NEVER mentioned a single piece of policy that they can point to where people have campaigned against ‘change’. If this is just sour grapes from people who wanted to see NBPower sold and think that anybody who didn’t agree with them is just against change, thats a whole other issue entirely and really has no credibility, because like I said, there was really no referendum and there were so many reasons to be opposed to that deal that it hardly bears scrutiny.

    Actually, when you look at the developments around many towns, it has very clear support from seniors. And again, if somebody here can mention ANY policy that will introduce new economic opportunities for the young people, I’d put money on it that it would find pretty broad support. I’m still yet to see any.

  9. “So who exactly are these people you guys keep talking about? ”

    Once again, your problem with reading comprehension is showing. There is change where a person can see a benefit for themselves (i.e a new Costco, a new highway) and change that is perceived as a threat (why take the risk of uranium mining, or any type of mining for that matter, when I already have a job). If NB needs to grow to sustain services to the population, then a certain amount of industrial development is required. People who have good jobs will be less likely to support that than those who need the jobs. The former group controls the discussion, not the latter. That’s a problem.

  10. mikel, I’m not aware of any province where homeowners own subsoil mineral rights. You own what’s above ground – the mineral potential is owned by the Crown (government). so prospecting here is not fundamentally different than elsewhere, in that respect.

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