Fan Mail

Readers were once again very willing to share their perspectives in 2014.

Some were more enthusiastic than I about union-imposed staffing ratios: “It is VERY !!! obvious by your “out of whack” statement about “ratios” that you are either anti-labour or completely out of touch with reality…”

In response to my supportive commentary on the amalgamation of health bargaining units for similar workers, this from a thoughtful and knowledgeable friend: “I don’t know who you spoke to but they and you are completely misinformed. It’s a shame someone with your place in the public forum didn’t understand the issues more clearly.”

We had a good chat about the article. Most of the differences surrounded the notion of bargaining associations and whether or not that was just a way of perpetuating multiple bargaining agreements. (Actually I had gathered much of my information from the NSGEU website. For some reason they do not respond to my inquiries.)

From an anonymous source who seems to be opposed to any incentives for growing Michelin’s presence here: “As dumb as this article is… The big benefit of Black’s […] contributions is another confirmation of Nova Scotians’ hard-earned understanding that puddles of money plus the aura of entitlement do not compensate for a lack of brains.” This and the rest of that offering were somewhat hard to follow.

Not everyone was as supportive as I of mink farmers: “Mr. Black, I’m sure you’re a knowledgeable business man in many areas, but you don’t know a damn thing about the mink industry.” “Mr. Black, Are you serious? Mink farming destroys rivers and waterways. Just come to Digby and Yarmouth counties to see for yourself.” The Department of Environment insists that the last mink-related call was more than a year earlier and that the farm in question had been closed for some time.

My timing on the mink article was lousy. What has been a very important and profitable industry has become tenuous as prices plunged by more than 50%.

There were other avoidable mistakes.

I incorrectly stated that the subsidy to the Cape Breton Railway was $2 million a year, or $4,000 per railcar moved. In fact the subsidy was $3 million or $6,000 per move.

I wrongly said that water from the Donkin mine was pumped untreated into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In fact the water is treated to remove pollutants.

I asserted that smokers cost the health care system more than non-smokers. An alert reader pointed out that smokers make up for their higher annual costs by dying earlier. Apparently that is the case, but it’s not much of a win for the smokers.

Supportive comments are always welcome. They tend to be less intense than some of those who disagree.

“Bill… good review of a rather confusing budget.”

“Your article does an excellent job contextualizing and framing the (Tourism) issues”

“Just wanted pass on my thanks for hitting the nail on the head in your article in today’s Herald regarding merging the health system”

“Thank goodness for your clear and balanced assessment of the (Broten) report (on tax and administrative reform)”

It is nice to receive encouragement. But missives pointing out possible errors are equally welcome, and it is a pleasure to receive well-considered differences of opinion. On the other hand it is disappointing to get emails along the lines of “What did you expect? All the politicians are crooks/idiots/self-serving etc.”

Not all the politicians are saints. But a good starting point is to assume that each is a fallible human trying to do the right things, with perhaps a heightened sensitivity to voter response at the next election. The jobs they have are enormously difficult. 

Disparaging personal comments about them are usually unfair and always unproductive. They provide heat without shedding light. 

The goal of this space is to make candid comments that illuminate policy choices without getting into personal critiques. That goal is no doubt imperfectly pursued, but the province will be better served if every debate about public policy is focused on issues. 

Merry Christmas.


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