The right to wheel energy: sacred for Alberta; nonexistent for NFLD

It would be an exaggeration to say the right wing voices who dominate Canadian media commentary have risen in unison to condemn BC’s pitch for a share of Northern Gateway pipeline spoils, but the clamor has certainly been one-sided.

BC Premier Christy Clark’s “attitude,” wrote Kelly McParland, “is disastrous for Canada.” John Ibbitson called Clark’s demands “dangerous,” and urged Prime Minister Harper to step in. Rex Murphy bemoaned the premiers’ declining “intellectual and emotional connection to the national understanding.” Andrew Coyne called it “extortion.” Rob Russo told CBC Radio the fabric of the nation was at stake. A Globe and Mail editorial declared, “there is little precedent for the sort of compensation Ms. Clark is calling for.”

Really? No precedent? Contrarian reader Ivan Smith recalls a precedent:

There is a glaring omission in all news reports I’ve seen — not a whisper of a hint of the striking similarity between BC’s attitude toward Alberta in this energy dispute and the attitude of Quebec toward Newfoundland in 1969.

The 1969 power contract between Hydro-Quebec and the Churchill Falls Labrador Corporation has been a matter of enduring resentment in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Actually, BC’s attitude is far less confrontational than was Quebec’s in 1969. All BC is asking is a share of the oil royalty. If BC followed the example of Quebec in 1969, it would be demanding that the oil coming through the pipeline be sold to BC as it crossed the border. Then BC could do with that oil exactly as it pleases, with no interference from Alberta.

Compared to this 1969 example of how to handle energy sent from one province to another, BC’s demand for a share of the royalties is moderate indeed. But the media has failed to mention this.

As Yul Brynner once said, it’s a puzzlement.

It’s a measure of just how fully Rex Murphy has lost his bearings that he could declaim his way through an entire column on this subject without once recalling his home province’s egregious fate as a would-be exporter of hydroelectricity.

One neocon commentator who did not overlook this sorry chapter in the annals of Canadian disunity was Brian Lee Crowley of the Mcdonald-Laurier Institute:

Occasionally we regrettably fail to uphold this standard, like when, in the 1960s, Ottawa allowed Quebec to rake off all the economic benefit of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Churchill Falls hydroelectric project. That was to abet an injustice for which Newfoundland is still paying dearly. All because Ottawa shamefully preferred politics to its nation-building responsibilities.

Forty-three years into the Hydro Quebec-Churchill Falls contract, Newfoundland has been forced to build two undersea cables in order to export and sell Muskrat Falls power generated in its own territory. Scarcely any of our Albertaphilic pundits even seem to notice.

Education funding – how distance education could work

Our old friend Ivan Smith, retired teacher and citizen Internet pioneer, takes up the suggestion that distance education could play a big part in reforming Nova Scotia’s unaffordable education system:

  1. Identify a topic in grade 4 math (or grade 3 or 5) that currently is particularly troublesome for students. (This topic should be something that can be covered properly in not more than three or four class periods.)
  2. Identify four teachers, two male and two female, who have substantial experience in teaching this topic, and who have had results significantly better than average.
  3. Arrange for each teacher to teach this topic in front of a class while a camera crew (three cameras? four?) records audio and video. Each teacher covers the same material, preferably with no knowledge of how the others will present it.
  4. Do the post-production work to finish the four lesson sequences. (Maybe add a few graphics. Make sure that each lesson sequence will display properly on any browser…)
  5. Release all four simultaneously on the WWW — not restricted in any way, but available 24/7/365 for anyone anywhere to view at any time.
  6. Await test scores in following years.

How come we never hear ideas like this from school boards or the teachers’ union? Why can’t they get beyond ringing declarations of the sanctity of their budgets? Smith observes:

Of course, this is not a complete proposal; there are lots of details that need to be filled in, but the essential outline is as above. I choose this IT experiment because it is the core test. The other IT experiments are variations on this. If this is successful, the others will work. If this fails, that’s all folks.

However, the results of this experiment are already known. It was performed in the 1960s, as part of the U.S. response to Sputnik in 1957. It wasn’t “IT” then, but the main idea is the same. It was successful then, and it will be even more successful now with much better distribution system.

It can fail only if the project is assigned to someone who is unwilling or unable to understand the possibilities of the new IT world.

Facing up to an unflattering mirror – Feedback, updated

Aside from a small issue of geography, reader Ivan Smith says the Globe and Mail’s take-out on racism in Nova Scotia, got it right.

The popular notion that racism has disappeared from Nova Scotia is just as wrong as that geography. Racism is still here. Not as bad as it was in the 1960s or even the 1980s, but we still have a long way to go.

How many Nova Scotians know that there were black slaves here?

Smith recommends Simon Schama’s Rough Crossings, a book and subsequent film depicting the treatment of blacks in Nova Scotia in the 1780s, available on DVD here.

A copy of that DVD should be available in every public library and school library in the province.

[Update]. Bob Collicutt reports:

There is one copy of Rough Crossings in the Halifax Regional Library system. As of 6:45 a.m. today there are 12 holds on it, including mine. Thanks to you & Ivan Smith for making us all aware of this film.

Improving government websites

Our old friend Ivan Smith’s ears perked up at our mention of an independent advisory panel to offer suggestions on how to improve a government website. He wonders if anything similar is planned in Canada.

Smith points to copyright activist Michael Geist’s interesting testimony March 25 before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage (available, sigh, not on the committee’s website, but on Geist’s.) Moneyquote:

In recent years, many countries have embraced open data initiatives, including both the U.S. and U.K.  Others, such as Australia, have adopted open licenses to make government content more readily usable and accessible.  We have started to see the same thing in Canada at the municipal level, with Vancouver, Edmonton, and Toronto leading the way.

Open government data is consistent with government transparency goals and holds great economic potential by inviting Canadian businesses to add value to public data. Canadian policy should encompass open government data, the removal of crown copyright or adoption of open licenses, and a commitment to equality for open source software procurement.  Much like the City of Vancouver, we should be talking about open data, open standards, and open source.

Geist makes a number of other good points, such as the spectacular success of the National Film Board’s project to place all its movies on line, unencrypted; and how, contrary to propaganda by corporate copyright bullies, Canadian arts and culture is thriving in a world of Internet abundance.  The whole submission is worth reading.

Netizen Smith, proprietor-editor of Nova Scotia’s Electronic Attic, has been waging a one-man crusade against poor web design on the Province of Nova Scotia’s website—with little to show in the way of results. A former high school teacher, he recently took his red pencil to a particular egregious federal example. Screenshot:

Senate Speakers website-ivan smith-550

Note: the errors only occur on certain browsers on certain platforms. Writes Smith:

[Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella’s website] fails to meet… design standards that were current in 2000, a full decade ago. There is no hint that anyone in government is aware of the digital dinosaur fossil that is the Senate Speaker’s website offered to citizens this week. And there is no place for a citizen to direct comments about this website; at least there is no place other than elected MPs who would have no idea what the citizen was talking about.

The amazing Mr. Smith

Ivan Smith-cs
Contrarian reader Bill Long writes:

Thanks for jogging my memory about the amazing Mr. Smith. Back in my introductory days to the interwebs, his site, Nova Scotia’s Electronic Attic, was one of the first to boggle my mind at the possibilities for citizen participation in information gathering and dissemination. Good to know he’s still kicking.

It amazes Contrarian how often Ivan’s simple, low-tech, but voluminous site pops up near the top of Google searches on important topics. For example, it edges out Wikipedia for first place in a search for “Nova Scotia history.”

The missing history of Nova Scotia’s lieutenant governors

Contrarian’s old friend Ivan Smith—retired teacher, railway buff, and citizen watchdog—writes to decry the inexplicable removal from Lieutenant Governor Mayann Francis’s official website of the brief biographies of former L-Gs it once contained:

Nowadays there is a simple list of the previous office-holders, showing names, dates of service, and nothing else. Contrast this sparse treatment with the list that was available in 2005. At first glance, the two look similar, but there is a crucial difference. In the website’s 2005 list, each name was a link to a brief but informative biographical note about that Lieutenant Governor or Governor. In the website’s 2009 list, the links have disappeared. All we get are the names and dates — no biographical information of any kind.

To illustrate the loss, check out the 2005 biographical note for Sir John Wentworth (missing from the official website and available only as an archived copy stored in the Wayback Machine).

A call to Christopher McCreery, her honor’s personal secretary, elicited assurances that historical sketches will be reinstated when the website is revamped in conjunction with soon-to-be completed renovations to Government House. You have to wonder why they were excised in the first place, but at least they are coming back. Score one for Citizen Smith.

NSP meets its customers – feedback

Getting this done (or almost done), together with pressing client chores, have kept contrarian from blogging much these last two weeks, leaving a backlog of unacknowledged feedback on the NS Power customer consultation, and the recent outbreak of hurricane hysteria. After the jump, reader feedback on NS Power.

Continue reading NSP meets its customers – feedback