Courier Opinion columns: And to all of this I simply say…what?

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**This editorial ran in the Tuesday, Jan. 26 edition of The Saint Croix Courier

Well, here we are and it’s Tuesday and we have so much to unpack from this last week, we’ll be doing laundry for days.

Let’s dive in with, once again, Minister of Natural Resources and Energy Development, Mike Holland. First, the background – something I’ve touched on here in the last weeks.

Irving Oil, the real provincial government control in New Brunswick, has applied to the Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) for an increase in what they charge us, the consumer, for both home heating oil and petrol – an increase that would see some $60 million annually shift from our pockets to theirs.

Irving is crying so, so poor, you see. People aren’t driving like they used to, so we aren’t lining their pockets as deeply as we used to. And on their behalf, Holland wrote a letter to the EUB saying the decision (in Irving’s favour) should be expedited. Poor Irving is weak from lack of cash, apparently.

David Coon, leader of the provincial Green Party, called for Holland to resign – a call supported by many I’ve spoken to in the region. Kris Austin, leader of the People’s Alliance Party has called Holland out as well.

But, not only will the Blaine Higgs Conservative’s not ask Holland to resign – oh no – Higgs then doubled down and said Holland acted on behalf of the provincial government in sending the letter to the EUB and to that I simply say…what?

I don’t see Holland writing letters to support any of the businesses locally who have had to shutter, again, and are struggling to pay their basic bills.

The fact is the move is simple proof (as if we needed it) that our provincial government is effectively run by the Irving family. Maybe someone should focus on having Irving pay its fair share of taxes in New Brunswick before we allow it to take more from the pockets of New Brunswickers who are already struggling with job loss, having to close their businesses, and the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic. Once again I would call on Holland, Higgs, and Irving to read the damn room.

This segue’s quite nicely into my next topic: the small business grant recently touted as being available to small businesses in the province. Through Opportunities New Brunswick, small businesses in the province have available to them an up to $5,000 grant if they have been impacted by the Red or Orange phase of recovery between October 2020 and March 31, 2021. The application portal is expected to open in early February, and on the face of it, the grant sounds like a great boost for small businesses. There is however, a fairly significant catch. It is available only to businesses who have employees.

And again, to that I simply say…what? Sitting here right now I can think of ten businesses just between St. Stephen and Saint Andrews that A) were absolutely impacted by the Red and/or Orange phase, and B) do not have employees. Some don’t have employees because the Orange and Red phases (the apparent reason behind the grant) have not allowed said businesses to afford taking on or maintaining employees.

How out of the loop is this government? Oh, wait…I get it. Offer a grant to help small business but add a caveat that precludes many of the most hard hit small businesses to be eligible for said grant. Government looks like it’s trying…check, but doesn’t *actually* have to give out money…check.

Now I get it.

Moving swiftly on, as time and tide wait for no one and it’s print day, and I have limited space at my disposal, my final segue comes as we shift from discussing the small business grant that many can’t get to a new program which offers funds to recreation centres in the province who develop plans and ideas to become more inclusionary (see page 8). And while I’m all for being inclusionary, who wouldn’t be, to this once again I simply say…what?

Money being put on the table to encourage recreation centres to be more inclusionary during a pandemic where most recreation centres are barely able to keep their doors open at all? How about the province offer to help with that?

I feel secure in saying there is not a recreation centre in the province that is not badly hemorrhaging funds as they have not been able to host any of the type or level of activity and events they require just to pay the bills. My guess is municipalities across the province have had to do exactly what our local rec centres have had to do – shift money from general operating funds to cover the costs of even keeping the lights on in these facilities.

The rink in Blacks Harbour has had to make the decision to simply remove the ice based on the cost of maintaining it vs. the ability of the Patrick Connors Arena to drum up business and money – and that’s just one example. The village looked at the costs, the time left in the season and had to sadly choose to end now. The limits imposed by the provincial recovery levels mean the facility simply cannot support itself.

I can assure our great provincial leaders every facility in the province is currently as inclusionary as it can be. It will joyfully open its doors to any and all comers…if the provincial regulations under the Red and Orange – even the Yellow – phases would allow them to.

It’s easy for the government to offer money all the while creating parameters that mean they’ll not have to give much of that money away. They look good in the offing, but don’t actually have to hurt their own bottom line.

Maybe the Irving’s could help fund the…oh, yeah, right…never mind.

Krisi Marples