The CBC takes it on the chin, again

I was saddened to hear a few days ago that another round of staff and program cuts are being inflicted on the CBC. Although I am sure the current federal Conservative government would be happy to see the CBC disappear, it’s worth pointing out that the Liberals were not much friendlier when in power; hacking away at the CBC budget seems to be a popular past-time. A national new organization has a lot of clout (or, at least, is viewed by some as having a lot of clout), and those in power in Ottawa prefer to have their own message reproduced without question. They want the CBC to be a lapdog, rather than an independent voice. Seems to me we are all better off in the long run with a national public news organization that is as independent as possible from political interference.

I’m a long-time fan of CBC Radio – I recall listening to CBC broadcasts delivered to Fredericton via CFNB back in the early 60s, before the area got its own CBC station. I remember (as a teenager!) tuning in to CBC radio most evenings to hear As It Happens, way back when William Ronald was the host. Today, I am still a fan, but a disappointed one (sort-of what it must be like to be a long-suffering Leafs fan).  Given the recent cuts, I think it is more important than ever to examine how CBC Radio functions in this part of the country and whether some re-jigging can compensate for some of those budget and staff reductions.

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Another day, another new forestry policy for New Brunswick

Two years ago (2012), the government of New Brunswick released a new forestry management policy for Crown land.

The 2012 plan was a compromise between those asking for more conservation / different management approaches and those who wanted more access to wood on Crown land. The annual allowable cut for softwood in the 2012 plan was left unchanged from the previous 2007-2012 strategy, and remained at 3.27 million cubic metres. The hardwood allowable cut, on the other hand, was reduced from 1.77 to 1.41 million cubic metres. The conservation forest area was reduced from 30 to 28 percent and the amount of protected natural area (the PNAs are ‘no-cut’ areas within the conservation forest) increased to eight percent.

The plan was based in part on the report of a taskforce established to review forestry practices on Crown land. The report suggested that private woodlots could supply any shortfall in hardwood supplies and also provide any increased demand for softwood supply. The report also suggested that the term ‘working forest’ be used to describe the allocated areas within crown lands, in order to emphasize the renewable aspect of this resource.

[This task force report contains links to many previous forestry reports and so is a valuable resource. I suggest downloading a copy of it and other reports before they are ‘disappeared’.]

The 2012 plan followed years of significant downsizing in the forest industry. A number of lumber mills closed and two pulp mills (Dalhousie and Miramichi) were shut down between 2005 and 2008. The main user of wood supplied from crown lands, J.D. Irving Ltd (JDI), expressed dismay at the new plan. JDI had recently closed the Deersdale and Clair mills; some 143 jobs were lost as a result. A combination of soft market conditions, power rates, and uncertainty re wood supply were cited as reasons for the closures. With the release of the 2012 crown land forestry plan, JDI said that ‘cost uncertainty’ relating to that new forestry plan would keep those mills closed.

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Funding of Political Parties in New Brunswick

Parties need funds to both develop and promote their platforms, and then convince the electorate to vote for them. Where does the money come from?

The Political Process Financing Act (PPFA) provides for the partial funding (from tax revenues) of registered political parties in New Brunswick and also specifies how individuals, corporations and unions may also contribute funds to political parties. Provincial financing of political parties was originally based on a $1 per vote formula (indexed to inflation; e.g. the amount per vote allotted in 1981 was $1.30). However, in 1991, the formula was changed and currently allocations are capped according to amounts set in the provincial budget. A revised formula is used to calculate funds for each party (based both on the proportion of votes received in the previous election and the available budgetary allocations). These amounts are paid out in quarterly installments, but note that, while allocations are determined by fiscal year, parties report their financial information by calendar year. The Act also regulates how parties may raise other funds, from individuals, corporations, or unions. A contributor may not donate more than $6000 per year.

Charts below show trends in funding sources over a four-year period, 2009-2012. Data were obtained from annual and semi-annual financial returns (filed by parties as required under the Act) provided by Elections New Brunswick. Reimbursements for auditing costs and ‘in-kind’ contributions are not included in the charts. It is unfortunate that Elections NB does not simply place these returns on their website, preferably in a searchable format. The reports also contain lists of individuals, corporations, and unions donations to a particular party. Contributions greater than $100 are subject to public disclosure. Although the data can be obtained simply by sending an email request to Elections NB, I am not sure that the non-searchable (electronically) PDFs they supply really meet the spirit of that ‘public disclosure’ criterion.

Parties have the option of filing audited returns on an annual or semi-annual schedule (calendar year basis). Most parties file annual audited returns, but the NBLA files audited semi-annual returns. NBLA totals shown below are the annual totals of the two semi-annual reports for each calendar year.

Annual allowances from provincial revenues under the PPFA totalled $506,506 in calendar year 2009 (divided among the three parties eligible) and $654,052 in 2012 (five parties eligible).

Charts contain the following acronyms:

PCNB – Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick; NBLA – New Brunswick Liberal Association; NBNDP – New Brunswick New Democratic Party; GPNB – Green Party of New Brunswick; PANB – Peoples’ Alliance of New Brunswick

PPFA – Political Process Financing Act – Election Financing Manual (funds received from government budget allocations in a given calendar year via the PPFA formula); IND – Individual donors (sum of donations of <$100 and >$100); CORP – Corporate donors; UNION – Union donors

The charts show contributions from each source category by calendar year and party. By hovering your mouse over each section of the bar, you can see the dollar amount (rounded to nearest dollar) for each source for that party and year.
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What the peer-reviewed science says about shale gas

Shale gas exploration and extraction via hydraulic fracturing is a controversial and polarizing topic in New Brunswick. The public is divided on the issue and, as is often the case these days, social media are being used to rally supporters to one side or the other. Inflammatory rhetoric and exaggerated claims appear to dominate the discussion. That being said, it is far from clear yet whether NB has a sufficiently large and economically extractable reserve of gas to create a significant industry; it may turn out that shale gas may not exist in sufficient quantities,  or prices may not be sufficient to justify development at this time.  On the other hand, the gas is a public asset and so discussion of how to develop (or not develop) and utilize the asset is merited. For a useful outline of the shale industry in New Brunswick, see an article by A. Park of UNB (16) and an opinion piece by various UNB researchers.

The development of hydraulic fracturing technologies over the past 30 years or so has made extraction of shale gas economically feasible and attractive prices have allowed the industry to expand rapidly. An abundance of gas in the marketplace pushed down prices in 2011-2012 and the expansion of the industry has slowed somewhat. Information in the peer-reviewed scientific literature with respect to adverse environmental and health impacts from shale gas extraction is now beginning to appear. A number of these articles are available for free download and I would encourage people to read them, rather than accept the interpretations that appear in various media (or my interpretations, for that matter). It is fine to have opinions, but much better to have opinions based in verifiable data. Then we can have a rational discussion.
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