February 15, 2007

Francis McGuire's Insufficent Rhetoric

Francis McGuire's in-Sufficient Rhetoric:
Some Real Ideas for Provincial Self-Determination.

By Chris Arsenault
Published Thursday February 15th, 2007

If the Province of New Brunswick is really concerned about self-sufficiency, policy makers need look no farther than Dorchester, N.B.; the community just started its own farmers' market connecting local producers and consumers.

"If people aren't exposed to local produce and items, then no one is going to buy them", said Darlene Teahen, an organizer with the Dorchester farmers' market that opened last week. "If you are buying something from Tim Horton's, where the muffins and everything else is shipped in from Toronto, you are adding to pollution and taking money out of the local economy", said Teahen.

Self-sufficiency, like environmentalism, has become a flavor of the month; Shawn Graham mentioned the term 19 times during his throne speech last week.

The rhetoric is pretty standard: higher wages, better jobs and more export - especially energy - will stem out-migration and stagnation.

But if one wants to see where the task force is actually going, it's worth knowing where its coordinator, Francis McGuire, is coming from.

Mr. McGuire, one of the brains behind Premier Graham's 'aw shucks' pinky charm, is savvy, mixing populist rhetoric with dangerous politics.

After receiving his Masters degree from the prestigious, and deeply conservative, School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University in the U.S., Mr. McGuire took a seat on the board of directors of EDGE (the Emerging Dynamic Global Economies) Network.

EDGE is ostensibly a government funded think-tank to help Canada compete in the new global economy, however, the network's ideology is clearly reactionary.

According to Donald W. Campbell president of Military Simulation and Training for CAE Inc., one of Canada's largest and most despised arms manufacturers, "We look forward to working with the Network."

Writing in [here] a couple weeks back, McGuire made some 'radical' proposals including: "we must be prepared for sweeping changes of unprecedented magnitude" and "leaders at all levels of New Brunswick society must step forward". Concretely, what does this stuff even mean?

When Mr. McGuire isn't blowing hot air, he's belching fiery and mean-spirited proposals including: "Miramichi must become a suburb of Moncton linked by a 4-lane highway." and "development of the North is utopia because of its depopulation"

Not surprisingly, in light of comments like these, Acadie-Bathurst MP Yvon Godin is calling for Mr. McGuire's resignation. "We do not need the arrogance and ignorance of Mr. McGuire who wants only to develop the southern urban region to the detriment of all others in the province," said Godin in a release.

Still, to the credit of Francis McGuire and others, the self-sufficiency task force is seeking direct input from average people, so rather than simply ragging on, here are a couple of pragmatic and clear proposals.

Create a second minimum wage of $11 dollars an hour for companies with more than 150 employees across the province. If raising incomes is the goal, start with legislation demanding blue-chip corporations do so.

Large firms in forestry and manufacturing wouldn't be seriously hurt because they generally already pay more than the minimum wage; mom and pop businesses wouldn't be affected and forced to cut staff because they have less than 150 employees. The corporations who would have to raise wages under this plan are those in the service sector.

Tim Horton's, the most obvious target of the second minimum wage, posted $259.6-million in 2006 profit, compared with $191.1-million in 2005. Tim's won't go broke if they payed decent wages. Fast food joints, hotels, temporary employment agencies and other major firms aren't going to leave the province
if we raise wages.

People on the lower end of the income spectrum spend money in the communities where they live, unlike the rich who invest in speculative ventures on international markets. Raising wages for the working poor will create a ripple effect through local economies.

And, that's good news for Darlene Teahen of the Dorchester farmers' market and other local markets across New Brunswick. "I'd say the government should give more loans to small businesses, get people moving in their own direction," says Teahen, with another simple and solid policy proposal.

Only by directly connecting consumers and producers can we create real self-sufficiency, and environmental sustainability to boot.

In his weaker moments, Chris Arsenault enjoys a Tim's medium double-double, but he always tips.

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