Saturday, May 23, 2009

Canadians Speaking out - Max Wolfe

It's time to learn how to squeak
Published Saturday May 23rd, 2009

A funny thing happened on the way to the office this morning. Someone asked if I had seen the Bangor papers lately. It was an easy one to answer. I haven't picked up a Bangor paper more than once in the nine years we have lived in this delightful corner of the province.

This is Downeast LNG Inc.'s rendering of what its proposed liquefied natural gas terminal and import facility in Robbinston would look like from a bird's-eye view.

What was troubling my friend was what appeared to her to be a recent barrage of messages and notices in the Bangor paper dealing with Liquified Natural Gas development in Maine and in particular in Washington County, Maine. It is directly across the St. Croix estuary from St. Andrews. Not to put too fine a point on it, the development of LNG facilities on the Maine side of Passamaquoddy Bay would be to the economy of Charlotte County, New Brunswick like transporting the Fort McMurray tar sands to Lake Louise, in the Rockies"¦maybe even worse. At least the tar sands would bring serious jobs in its wake.

It is clearly an orchestrated public relations campaign, presumably by a firm in Portland Maine, of the type specifically designed to drive a wedge between Mainers and New Brunswickers. Make Mainers fearful for their futures and the concerns of New Brunswickers can be ignored. It is not above the use of falsehood to achieve its goal. One example will suffice:

The LNG proposals are vigorously opposed by two non-profit organizations, Save Passamaquoddy Bay Canada and Save Passamaquoddy Bay US. And the lie being disseminated in the public relations campaign is that the Canadian group is supported by the Irvings here in New Brunswick. The smear implicit in that suggestion is that the Irvings with their LNG facility in Saint John could be accused of being for a Canadian LNG operation but against another in Maine.

The Canadian Save Passamaquoddy group contains many heavy hitters from both sides of the border and the suggestion that they would prejudice their position by being allied with large corporations borders on the laughable. We are smarter than put ourselves in the position of playing both ends against the middle and expecting to get away with it.

Apart from that, Mainers are our neighbours (even if they do spell differently!). There is a long history of co-operation, family ties and common roots. And neighbours don't gladly fight with each other.

As we speak, there is a choir (Voices of the Bay) and a rapidly improving local symphony orchestra that draw on musicians from both sides of the New Brunswick/Maine line. There are houses in this area that were moved from Castine, Maine. There are long and deep ties at play, cross-border marriages, jobs, social relationships, the whole ball of wax.

Unfortunately by our own natural-born Canadian timidity we encourage the corporate marauders. The arguments about whether it is safe to sail LNG tankers through Head Harbour Passage have been repeated a hundred times over and are well known, but it is turning into a battle of the deaf and blind.

Our provincial and federal governments are so pathetically timid it is small wonder the Americans should think we are a pushover. We talk like pushovers and we walk like pushovers. Who wouldn't think that's precisely what we are and deal with us on those terms.

But what has become distressing is the efforts of the public relations people to drive a wedge between Mainers and New Brunswickers, by failing to even recognize that Canada has rights in the whole LNG-transporting process too. What is more, the interests of both sides are very similar. Basically we all want jobs for our children and grandchildren and a safe and un-spoiled environment. How much argument can there be in that? From time to time over the centuries we have had our spats but there is really not much to choose between us. People on both sides of the line should be out there, yelling at the PR people to get out of the way and stop sowing discord between us.

What Canada needs are federal and provincial governments that can impress on the world that when we say "No" it means "No." No LNG tankers in Head Harbour Passage means No LNG tankers in Head Harbour Passage. Period. Full Stop. But we are so afraid of doing something that might annoy the Americans"¦.. God forbid!"¦.. that we end up scaring ourselves into silence. If we are always scared of our own shadows everyone will treat us accordingly. And when that happens we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

Yes, we must always be mindful that we are a lesser power next door to a super-power. There are always other Canada/US sovereignty issues - Afghanistan, the border"¦.you name it"¦ But if we continue to hedge and qualify every sentence we speak on any issue no one is going to pay any attention to us when we finally do decide to speak out, whenever that unlikely event should be.

The squeaky wheel always gets the grease. It's high time we learned how to squeak and stopped being international scaredy cats.

Max Wolfe is a freelance writer who resides at St. Andrews.

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