The Saint Croix Courier

St. Stephen, NB

2006 December 12

Our vision for the future

A statement contained in the letter read by Jamer employees at the public meeting in St. Andrews last night contained one very startling line, which should be of great cause for concern.

The line was "Any economic development should be welcomed to our area."

If this is the case,then the Save Passamaquoddy Bay group might as well start lining up for jobs at the three new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals that will surely dot our environment if permitted. We'll have absolutely no grounds to deny any company coming tothe area, simply because they'll bring in jobs.

What's more important — jobs or health?

Anyone who has lived near a chemical plant knows the answer. Ask the people who lived near to the Capper Pass smelting plant in Hull, England, if the high-paid jobs that led to all kinds of diseases among the children of the area were worthwhile in the long run. Ask the people of Chernobyl.

A $100,000 a year job and a child with leukemia, or a different, $50,000 a year job, and a healthy child? You make the call.

Sure, employees of Jamer are glad for the jobs. It's a positive economic impact on the community. It keeps local people living locally. Everything positive associated with having local jobs is true. But, in some cases, there are negative impacts, too, ones that can't be ignored.

When we know of a health risk associated with a chemical or substance — asbestos, for example — we take action to rectify the problem by eradicating the substance concerned. We take our health seriously — or at least, we should. But far too often, in most of the developed and developing nations, we place a far higher emphasis on jobs than we do on health. Even companies that pump chemicals into the atmosphere and don't affect their local communities are still harming the earth, so it's pretty much the same thing.

We can take the approach that the Luddites took in the early 1800s in England if we want.The Luddites was a group of textile workers led by Ned Ludd, who attacked new machinery because it was costing their livelihood in reduced wages and less jobs. Unfortunately, they couldn't halt progress. And progress can come in a number of ways — technological, and also knowledge.

The knowledge that something we have been doing is now unacceptable is also progress, because it leads us to a better way of life, a longer life, or a happier life.

Just because a job is there doesn't mean it takes precedent over the well-being of the entire community.

The quarrying issue in Bayside is not just one of the quality of the drinking water.

This, in of itself, is, of course, massively important to the people of St. Andrews, who understandably have a right to be concerned. And it could well be that quarrying could be done safely on both sides of the highway.

However, there's also the "bigger picture," associated, partly with aesthetics. Now,some would say the aesthetic value of an area isn't — or shouldn't be — related to jobs. But, indirectly, it is. If we want Passamaquoddy Bay, and the Bay of Fundy, to turn into a great heavy industry area, then that is one thing. But most people don't want that.

Hopefully, the issue doesn't simply become one of satisfying the criteria for water, in which case St. Andrews is happy. MP, Minister of Veterans Affairs, Greg Thompson, summed it up perfectly with his letter at the meeting held in Bayside, when he noted it wasn't just about water.

Quarry expansion onto Simpson Hill on the east side of highway 127 almost certainly further damages the scenery. Which, in turn begins to erode the St.Croix River and its communities' claim to be a pristine environment worthy of visiting. The dream of ecotourism isn't helped by any heavy industry in the area.

How exactly do we see the future of our region? Industry or tourism? We can't have an economy that combines large quantities of both.

The Luddites lost, and had to find other gainful employment sometimes elsewhere. If we apply the "jobs at all costs" epithet, we'd still have asbestos, and lead, and other dangerous chemicals and elements being used, because it would be more important to keep the jobs than do the right thing. People can re-train — if they are alive. And even in situations that aren't life and death, such as the one at Bayside, the saving of some jobs at the expense of others doesn't make sense.

Are 40-plus jobs more important than the combined communities and economies of Eastport, St. Andrews, St. Stephen, Bayside, Campobello, Deer Island, Grand Manan, Lubec, Calais, Robbinston, and Perry?

If they are, something's wrong. We're all members of the community at large, and we all have a stake in its future. We have to stand up and decide what that future is for our region. If it's jobs at all costs, regardless of the environment, then we might as well all move to a city with heavy industry. After all, there'd be plenty of jobs available.

But the people of this region live here because they have a vision that this is a nice place to live, and a great place to bring up families.

And, for the most part, that's correct, although there are always environmental concerns associated with some of the industries inthe region. We have to work to minimize any environmental impacts. Having them at zero would be ideal. It would also cause some companies to leave the area, so we have to create a situation we can all live with. Not that we can ignore any health concerns associated with local industry.

Those who promote the economic impact on their own lives are missing the point. If they keep their jobs while all around them aregradually losing theirs, or leaving the community, how is this helping them ultimately?

Little by little, we can't watch our quality of life eroded. Whether it's expansion at Lepreau, or of the Bayside quarry, we have to be sure of what we want, and what is acceptable. Jamer is doing nothing wrong with its operations. And even if it expands, it would be doing so within the laws and regulations.

But the question is one of priorities, and of our collective vision of the future, and at what point the needs of the few outweigh the desires of the many.


© 2006 Advocate Media
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.

The Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB