Connected communities – A letter from New Brunswick’s future #2

Written by Susan O'Donnell on June 14, 2019

Horse in field, Belledune. Photo by André Gallant
from the Images of New Brunswick databank.

June 14, 2050 (Belledune, NB)

Dear New Brunswickers,

I’m old now—hard to believe I’ve made it to this age—but I still recall how the big changes in New Brunswick began in the summer of 2019. The Green Party’s bill to revise The Electricity Act was voted down in a legislative committee but the Green Party didn’t give up and collaborated with all of the local environmental groups and First Nations to make an even better bill. It had made it through the committee and was due for third reading but was not expected to pass.

Then, something unexpected happened! Premier Blaine Higgs and Ministers Jeff Carr and Mike Holland were returning from their morning briefing by Irving executives at a secret location, when their car, travelling too fast on a JDI logging road, broke an axle when it dropped into a washout from a flood caused by clearcutting. With no cell service to call for help, the three missed the vote, and without their “no” votes, the bill passed into law.

The new Electricity Act allowed for better public and community input on our Integrated Resource Plan so that everyone would have a say in our energy of the future and allowed for partnerships with all 15 First Nations who took up the challenge. By 2025 New Brunswick was 95% powered by locally-produced renewable energy that all New Brunswickers, New Brunswick communities and First Nations benefited from. By 2026, NB Power CEO Chris Rouse had renamed the public utility Wabanaki Energy. He re-focused the utility to develop community-operated renewable energy projects connected to the smart electric grid and created a massive efficiency investment program that enabled anyone to participate instead of just those who could afford it like the old way of doing it.

The programs allowed for building retrofits and solar panels for anyone who wanted them and provided incentives for electric cars. Soon after the utility became so successful that it had started to generate revenue for important social programs like free university and college education, and helped the province recover from its serious debt. Wabanaki Energy decommissioned the Lepreau nuclear station and, ahead of schedule, shut down the coal-fired power plant in Belledune, with the workers re-trained and re-deployed in renewable energy production and retro-fit work.

Using some of their energy production revenue, the New Brunswick First Nations then launched a legal case against the telecom giants—Rogers, Bell, and Xplornet. The First Nations were fighting for Indigenous rights to the communication spectrum, which had been given to the telecom companies without consulting Indigenous communities and without respecting the unceded and unsurrendered status of their territories. By 2028, the First Nations had won their case, supported by the federal justice department under then-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould (Independent, Vancouver) in a coalition Green-NDP government in Ottawa led by Prime Minister Jenica Atwin, the honorable Green Party member for Fredericton.

With their spectrum allocation, the First Nations in New Brunswick then created a new provincial telecom utility, Wabanaki Commons, running fibre optic cable on the same infrastructure as the smart electricity grid in every community and to the cellular towers. In 2032, the First Nations gifted Wabanaki Commons to everyone in New Brunswick in recognition of the shared treaty relationship of all people living in the province. Rural communities across New Brunswick developed their own local fibre networks and built and re-opened community schools, community health centres, virtual classrooms, and telemedicine serviced by the Wabanaki Commons telecom, cellular and video network.

By 2040, communities in the Acadian peninsula were thriving as young people found work after graduation with the community windfarms and hundreds of family-run businesses. Home-based language schools used the Wabanaki Commons network to deliver French conversation lessons by video to communities in New Brunswick and across Canada. In the summer, the Acadian communities welcomed language students of all ages into their homes for immersion French work-study programs. The summer visitors worked together with the Acadians to maintain the community windfarms and video infrastructure, to retrofit buildings, and to tend the community gardens.

By then, teachers, health professionals, and others had begun a steady migration from the cities to live in smaller communities in the beautiful natural environment of rural New Brunswick and to share their expertise by video to people in the urban areas. Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John began to lose their population, even as internal migration in the 2040s from other parts of Canada balanced this out. Although by then most vehicles were electric, many more people had given up owning vehicles altogether because they no longer had to travel so far for work and school.

In 2042, the University of New Brunswick made the decision to close its Fredericton campus and become a distributed environment. The still-thriving departments were located in more than a dozen small rural communities across the province where most of the students, staff and professors preferred to study, live and work, connected by the Wabanaki Commons video network. The former UNB Fredericton buildings were retrofitted by 2045 to become the Wabanaki Public Housing Complex. Under the leadership of the Hayes Farm in Fredericton, residents turned the former university quads into community gardens for food and sparked an urban food revolution in the city. By 2047 community gardens in backyards and greenhouses in the urban centres provided much of the produce for local residents year-round.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, by 2035, then Prime Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, by then leader of an Indigenous Solidarity-Green-NDP coalition, had cut a ribbon on the new national trans-Canada electrified rail and zettabyte telecom fibre corridor connecting the Port of Vancouver and the Port of Belledune in northern New Brunswick. Almost immediately, small businesses had flocked to towns across the country along the corridor to access the excellent freight rail transport and fibre connections. With all the new jobs created in northern New Brunswick, the region became the main economic driver for the provincial economy.

Belledune became a major tourist destination, with visitors from across Canada travelling on the high-speed electric passenger train (the Coast Salish-Wabanaki) ending at the scenic Baie-des-Chaleurs. In 2045 a new nature trail opened for visitors to hike from the beach to the former industrial zone, to see the masses of purple flowering rhododendrons covering over the former lead and zinc smelter, phosphoric acid plant, and coal-fired energy plant. The three massive flowering mounds are beautiful, especially at sunrise.

I moved to Belledune in 2048 to end my days in this little piece of paradise. I’m writing from here now, at my desk in my retro-fitted cottage, looking out to the sea.

Sincerely,

Susan O’Donnell

Susan is a member of the editorial board of the NB Media Co-op and a member of the RAVEN project team.

In the optimistic spirit of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Message from the Future, this letter is a speculative and fictional look back from the future to imagine what New Brunswick could be like if we could meet our climate change obligations. It is fiction, but it need not stay fiction. Each letter offers a vision of what New Brunswick could be like in the future if the province is able to fight climate change and to achieve the IPCC climate goals.

Read the other Letters from New Brunswick’s Future here.

This series is sponsored by RAVEN, and edited by Daniel Tubb and Abram Lutes. Daniel is an environmental anthropologist at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and a co-investigator with RAVEN. Abram Lutes is an environmental action reporter with the RAVEN project Summer Institute and a member of the NB Media Co-op Board of Directors. If you would like to contribute your own letter, read the Call for Letters from New Brunswick’s Future and send a short outline of your idea to Daniel Tubb at dtubb@unb.ca and Abram Lutes at abram.lutes@gmail.com.

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