Friday, October 5, 2012

Oct. 5: Good stories; but....

The most important stories, from a New Brunswick point of view, in today's paper are two related stories. They concern fracking for shale gas, and its impact on public health. The chief medical officer for the province had submitted a report on the subject which the government had said it would release on Sept. 30. But it didn't, and even suggested yesterday it might never release it.

One story is on how the government has done a remarkable about face, and decided to make the report  public - something it refused to do in yesterday's news. The story also included delightfully fatuous statements by Environment Minister Bruce Fitch - real collectors' items.

1. He said there were some points on which his point of view differed from that of the chief medical officer. Yes, he, who is not a doctor, disagrees with some things a doctor says about  health. Therefore, we are not allowed to to know what the doctor says.

2. The differently advantaged Mr. Fitch also says that new technology makes some of the report obsolete. Boy, things sure more fast in this world.  I mean, the report was submitted just weeks ago, and the report is already technologically out of date. Gee. That must mean anything we look at will be out of date before we get a chance to even hear about it. Boy, ya gotta move fast to stay with the current. Good thing we have an expert like Bruce Fitch who knows more than doctors do about the state of health technology.

Why does the term "village idiot" keep coming to mind?

The second story is about Dr. Cleary, the chief medical officer, who says she was assured at the start that the report would be made public. There's a good deal in the story about the importance of a chief medical officer being free of interference by politicians.

Two, excellent and very important stories. So what's wrong with them?

1. They're on page 2. Real newspapers have the important stories of the day out where buyers can see them - on p. 1. Here are stories that deal with crucial issues that are going to affect all of us - and soon. We have to make some of the most important decisions in the history of this province. They are decisions that will affect us and out children and our children's children - if the province remains habitable that long.  These stories are page 1. A big picture of a truck moving a house is not page 1 - except on a really, really slow day. Nor is an announcement "Wine Expo ready to pour".

2. Reporters should ask questions. Why should Mr. Fitch withhold such a report simply because he doesn't agree with part of it?  Leaving aside the issue of whether anybody should give a damn what Mr. Fitch thinks about anything (or whether his is capable of thought at all), why is he going to release two reports about the issue on the same day? Isn't that a pretty indigestible meal for readers? Doesn't it seem as if Mr. Fitch wants to hit the public at one time with two reports because that will confuse the issue with an information overload? Doesn't it seem, in short, as if Mr. Fitch is trying to smother the public health issues in order to favour the shale gas industry?

Of course, the Times and Transcript would never report such questions or the answers. But it would be a useful experience for reporters who could then move out of New Brunswick to get jobs with real newspapers.

These stories are so important and raise so  many issues essential to our future that they, above all others, should be the subject of an editorial. But what do we get for an editorial?  We get the informed opinion that having a  hovercraft for rescue work is a good idea. Way to speak out, Mr. Editorial Writer.

However, the editorial cartoon by de Adder is good.

Yesterday, CBC had the news that the soil under Highfield Square is contaminated, and dangerously so. Google news has it. The Times and Transcript doesn't. Now, the story came originally from my blog. Am I conceited to think the editorial staff of the TandT might  read my blog? Not at all.

Journalists, like all the rest of us, will read anything which is likely to mention them personally. That's why I have made it a point to mention editorial staff names in almost every blog. I don't expect them to love me for it. But I know it guarantees that they'll either read it or hear about it

But the TandT has not mentioned the story; and it's not likely to. Too bad, because there's a lot of questions for reporters to ask.
1. If the city knew about the contamination from the start, and had a budget to deal with it, why didn't it tell us that?
2. Why did city councillors (notably those of ward two and including the deputy mayor) not reply to my requests or even acknowledge they had received them?
3. If the studies of contamination are not yet  complete, how could the city, months ago, have determined the cost of clean-up?
4. Exactly where is this contaminated soil going to be sent?
5. Does the contamination stop at the sidewalk of Main? Or does it cross the street? Isn't that where we're supposed to get all the delightful restaurants that will spring up around the "events centre"  ?
6. The contamination in the soil did not appear just a few months ago. It goes back at least a century. So how come the city gave the builders of Highfield Square permission to do so in the first place?

Reporters should not just take notes. They should ask questions.

Democracy cannot exist in a society that does not have essential information coming through its news media. That's why New Brunswick doesn't have democracy. We have a newspaper that is dishonest, deliberately trivial, and exists only to keep us in the dark. There's a good deal of that all over the world. (I shall never forget the days when the only news I could get came from The New China News Agency.) The Irving press is not different from most of the rest of the world. It's just one of the worst - perhaps even a notch below The New China News Agency.

Alec Bruce is in good form - if more optimistic about Justin Trudeau and the federal Libs than I am. Suzuki has an important column on a topic the Canadian and New Brunswick governments have pretty much ignored. Lynda MacGibbon's column looks trivial at first glance. But it isn't.  It's one to think about, and to remember this weekend.


  1. Some answers some self evident, some otherwise?
    1) They knew, likely were going to ignore it.
    2) They were hoping you would go away.
    3) They would have no idea of the clean-up costs.... probably because no clean-up was planned.
    4) Are they going to send it somewhere?
    5) As per the document you were given: the pollution is in the groundwater, meaning: there are probably no boundaries other than distance from the original source.
    6)Soil contamination does not really fall into the city's ability to grant building permits. It comes under the control of the Ministry of the Environment (provincial), who, as we all know (especially in NB) can become blind to environmental matters, depending on which direction the wind blows. Of interest to note: many lenders INSIST on a environmental clean bill of health BEFORE commercial properties are financed.

  2. Ok Graeme you have part 1 of the "pollution story". Part 2 consists of contacting the Ministry of the Environment and finding out what they are doing. Legally, once a property owner finds out their property is polluted they are obliged to: 1) contact the MOE, and 2) clean it up "without delay".

  3. Actually, the Transcript reported the contamination some time last spring.

  4. Cute. But see my post for Oct. 6, 2012.