Don’t Confuse Voter Apathy with Voter Despair

Whether or not you’re pleased with the outcome of the recent Nova Scotia provincial election, you have to be concerned with the low voter turnout. Only 53.5% of eligible voters cast a ballot. This has politicians and pundits scratching their heads. Don Mills, chairman and CEO of the market research firm Corporate Research Associates summed it up in a CBC interview: “It’s very difficult to understand,” Mills said. “Honestly, I don’t get it.”

Mills also tweeted, “Is it time to institute mandatory voting based on declining voter turnout in Nova Scotia? I am beginning to think so.”

Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, Egypt and eighteen other populous countries now have mandatory voting. Considering the sociopolitical climates and economic status of the countries on this list, it’s more than fair to say that forcing citizens to vote does not produce balanced governance.

In fact, one might argue that obliging citizens to vote is counter to the very notion of democracy.

There will always be a segment of the population who just don’t care about governance. Apathy, however doesn’t account for the abysmal voter turnout in Nova Scotia’s 2017 election. There is a growing sense of despair among many Nova Scotians; a sense that the political flavour of the government makes no real difference at the end of the day. Since 1758, the people of Nova Scotia have chosen one political party after another – mainly Liberal and Conservative.

Historically the Liberals have stayed in power until they anger the voters and lose the house to the Conservatives for a term or two. Then the Liberals get elected again for another try. Then the Conservatives … the Liberals … Conservatives … Liberals … ad nauseam.

The common thread that remains woven, unbroken, throughout every term is disappointment. Time after time, generation after generation, Nova Scotia voters elect new governments, hoping for change, buying into new promises of prosperity, equality, accountability and transparency. Time after time, their patience wears thin. It’s no surprise that after ten or more generations of this cyclical behavior, hope has faded. Would-be voters have finally come to the realization that it makes very little difference which party gets elected. Voters are giving up. This is not disinterest or apathy. This is despair.

When almost half of the electorate can’t be bothered to vote, they are sending a message. And it’s not directed at one party or another. The message is clear: The current partisan style of government does not work. We’ve been using the same system since 1758. We have 259 years of data to show how ineffective this tug-of-war really is. The adversarial nature of our legislature is counterproductive, if not destructive.

The actions of politicians in the house of assembly and the language used by candidates while campaigning clearly indicates that their priorities and allegiances lie with their parties, not with the people they are supposed to represent. Most of their energy is devoted to eroding the credibility of  the party that poses the greatest threat to their hold on power.

Rather than forcing citizens to vote, perhaps the time has come to force our elected officials to abandon the competitive practices that are so entrenched in the partisan culture. If politicians were more collaborative and less combative, voters would feel a sense of purpose and pick up their pencils on election day.

 

Murrant’s Rant: DST (Dog Standard Time)

Originally Published on November 5, 2015 (http://southshorebreaker.ca/2015/11/10/murrants-rant-dst-dogs-standard-time/)

What do Arizona, Hawaii and my dog all have in common? Give up? None of them observe Daylight Saving Time. I think they’re onto something. For them, it’s business as usual year round. In fact, four-fifths of the Earth’s humans, and five-fifths of the non-humans, don’t bother to spring-ahead or fall-back.

Contrary to popular belief, the concept of Daylight Saving Time had nothing to do with farmers. In fact, farmers in the early 20th century protested against DST — and with good reason. Try explaining to a herd of dairy cows that they have to wait an extra hour to be milked.

Even Benjamin Franklin, erroneously credited with inventing Daylight Savings, never intended for us to change our clocks. His suggestion, after a late night in Paris, only to be woken by a too-early dawn, was that we adjust our sleep and activity to coincide with seasonal changes in the daylight.

Modern Daylight Savings Time began as means to conserve resources during the first and second world wars. Electric lights were inefficient. Businesses were encouraged to operate during daylight hours, leaving more coal, oil and electricity available to be used in the factories that produced goods for the war effort. An ideal solution at the time — but times have changed.

Today, in a world that never sleeps, with offices and factories that operate around the clock, when more and more of our energy comes from renewable resources, we need to stop and ask: What are we really saving by changing our clocks twice a year? Sure, we enjoy an extra hour of sleep in October, but we have to give it back in April. It’s more of a Daylight Loan than a Saving — and it’s a high interest loan, considering that it takes a few days for most people to adjust to the time change; a few cranky and relatively unproductive days.

Maybe it’s time to do away with Daylight Savings Time and stick with one time, all year round: Dog Standard Time.

Murrant’s Rant: The Bay of Absurdity

Originally Published on September 10, 2015, The Cape Breton Star 

I’m not an economist.  I guess that’s why the logic behind the Nova Star Ferry eludes me.  As you may have read recently in the news, we (taxpayers) are well on our way to spending $13-million this year to keep the Nova Star running between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine.  Oh, and we mustn’t forget the $28-million we spent last year.

This is excellent news … for the residents of Maine.  According to the Portland Press Herald, “Nova Star will use Portland as its home port. That means Portland-area vendors will be supplying fuel and services”.

But it’s good for Nova Scotia, too, right?  The Nova Scotia International Ferry Partnership estimated that a season with one hundred-thousand visitors would pump $16.3-million into our economy.  Well, it would, but last year we only saw about sixty-thousand visitors and we are on target for about the same again this year.  Based on that, with my limited math skills, I figure that each Nova Star visitors contribute less than $10-million to our economy each year.

Now, compare that to Sydney.

Almost one hundred-thousand visitors will arrive in Sydney on cruise ships this year; similar to last year and the year before.  According to the Port of Sydney, cruise ship activity will contribute about $27-million to the local economy.

It stands to reason that if the provincial government were to budget tens of millions for the Port of Sydney, like they have for the Nova Star in Yarmouth, the investment would result in an even greater boost to the provincial economy.  But, alas, I’m just a writer – not an economist.

Murrant’s Rant: Patient Patients

Last week I spent over four hours in the Cape Breton Regional Hospital ER with my son – and finally left without ever having seen a doctor. But we weren’t alone.

There were eight patients waiting to see a doctor when I arrived at 7:30pm that evening. During my 4.5 hour wait, only two patients were actually called from the waiting room to see a doctor – SIX got up and left.

It’s not an official study, just a 4.5 hour observation, but if this is a typical, quiet Thursday evening at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital ER, we have a serious problem.  75% of the patients seeking medical care that night, left the ER without seeing a doctor.  That cannot be allowed to continue.

Are 75% of the people in need of medical care really going without in CBRM?

Don’t let anyone try to tell you that this has anything to do with an over-burdened healthcare system.  This is a management problem (or lack thereof).

Case in point – a well-managed healthcare facility would not have a filthy (frankly, disgusting) ER waiting area.  Between 7:30pm and midnight there were no environmental services staff to be seen.  There were soiled tissues and paper towels strewn around the bathroom.  The floor throughout the entire waiting area was spotted with clumps of mud (or maybe it wasn’t mud?) and debris.  A hospital waiting area is ground zero for infection control, but it’s not even on the hospital’s radar.

And although the security office is within earshot, only once in 4.5 hours did a security person bother to get up and do a walk-through of the waiting area.

Lastly – when you rush out the door of your home with a sick child, you don’t have time to stop and check if you have the correct change for the hospital parking lot.  Why not use a machine that provides a code – like at the car wash.

Murrant’s Rant: Are You Kidding Me?

Photo by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer - The Portland Press Herald (used without permission)
Nova Scotia Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, Geoff Maclellan (right). Photo by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer – The Portland Press Herald

If you ever wondered why Nova Scotians are among the highest taxed people in the WORLD, look no further.

The Nova Scotia government spent $73-million to make back $16.5-million – a net loss of more than $56-million.

Over four years our government will have spent $73-million in hard-earned, taxpayer dollars to keep the passenger ferry running between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine. It doesn’t take a genius to see how ludicrous this is.  Just look at the numbers (Google it if you have any doubts):

  • 2014: $28-million (Nova Star)
  • 2015: $13-million (Nova Star)
  • 2016: $23-million (The CAT)
  • 2017: $9-million (The CAT)

You say, “So what if we spent all that cash in Yarmouth?  It’s all about economic development, right?”  Sure. In theory.  Supposedly, the Yarmouth-Maine ferry will bring boatloads of American money into Nova Scotia.

But even the most optimistic projected returns fall short.  The Nova Scotia International Ferry Partnership (the Nova Star folks) estimated that a season with 100,000 passengers would pump $16.3 million into the province’s economy. That’s a projected influx of $65-million for the Nova Scotia economy over four years.  Let me clarify:  somebody in the Nova Scotia provincial government authorized a $73-million expenditure on the expectation that it would generate $65-million for the Nova Scotia economy.  I don’t want to be harsh, but that’s just plain stupid – and it’s about time that somebody stood up and said so.

But wait! It gets stupider … The ACTUAL number of passengers is only 30% of the projected 100,000 per year. The 2014 season saw only 29,438 passengers, while 2015 had 31,150. And there is no reason to expect those numbers to change in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.  So, with only 30% of the projected passengers, only 30% of the projected $65-million will materialize.  I’ll save you the trouble … $19.5-million.  So, in actuality, our government authorized a $73-million expenditure to generate $19.5-million in economic benefit.

And if that’s not bad enough, it gets even stupider-er …  Not only are we seeing fewer American tourists than expected, but more Nova Scotians are now sailing to Maine to spend their money.  According to Nova Star’s numbers from the 2014 and 2015 seasons, 17,649 Nova Scotians sailed to Maine – taking with them almost $3-million OUT of the Nova Scotia economy.  Considering this, it looks like our government spent $73-million to make back $16.5-million – a net loss of more than $56-million.

I don’t know about you, but to me this ferry deal smells like a load of … carp.  Rotting carp.

Murrant’s Rant: The Sea of Bureaucracy

From what I am told, my grandfathers built boats.  Their fathers and grandfathers also built boats.  It was an essential skill and a tradition sixty or a hundred years ago in Port Morien and New Waterford.  I am sad to say that I never got to know my grandfathers.  If I had, I might have learned a thing or two about boat building.  It seems like such a Nova Scotian thing to know about.  We’ve been building boats for generations.  The instructions should be written into our DNA.

Since I don’t know about boat building, I won’t rant about the Bluenose II.  I won’t rant about the $21-million cost and how that money could have been better spent on education, healthcare, social services, or economic development.  Instead of ranting, I will just tell you what I learned.

The original Bluenose was built in 1921 with a wooden hull and wooden rudder, and as we all know, it worked really well until it hit a reef in 1946.  The Oland brewing company built the Bluenose II in 1963 to promote Schooner beer.  The province bought it in 1971.  It too had a reliable wooden hull and a wooden rudder.  This replica operated until 2010 when it was dry-docked for a complete reconstruction.  The newly rebuilt Bluenose II (which should really be called the Bluenose III) was also intended to have a wooden rudder.  That is, until the Texas-based American Bureau of Shipping had their say.

After hundreds of years of constructing ships with wooden rudders, the Lunenburg builders were told by the American Bureau of Shipping that wood was not acceptable.  For the iconic Nova Scotia schooner to receive “class certification” it needed a steel rudder.  I imagine the conversation went something like this: “Yes, we know schooners have always been made of wood, but super tankers and oil rigs are made of steel, so we’re afraid your wooden schooner will need a steel rudder.”  The modification delayed the launch of the Bluenose II by a year and put the project even further over budget.

Another reconstructed schooner, the Columbia, is sailing in maritime waters this summer.  It was built in Massachusetts around the same time the Bluenose II was being reconstructed in Lunenburg.  A couple of weeks ago, in late August, the Columbia and the Bluenose II had a chance to sail side by side.  To me, because I don’t know anything about ships, they look almost the same. Below the water, however, there is at least one critical difference: the Columbia has a wooden rudder.  According to a report by the Auditor General of Nova Scotia, the new Bluenose II likely could have kept its wooden rudder too, if Bluenose II project managers had simply appealed to the American Bureau of Shipping.

I can’t help but wonder what my grandfathers would have said if a bureaucrat from Texas tried to tell them how to build a wooden boat?