Monthly Archives: November 2013

There’s still life in the old folks home

 

Leaves of grass for NB's labour market

The day passed like any other at this time of the year: under a darkening gloom that  heralds the inevitable arrival of the great, white death that is the Maritime winter.

If genies were real, and I employed one, I would move my birthday (yesterday), to a more cheerful month, such as May, which Milton observed lyrically “doth inspire mirth, and youth, and warm desire.”

There’s nothing especially youthful, mirthful or warm about November. And as the days get shorter, it so happens so do the years in this corner of the country.

A piece in the Telegraph-Journal yesterday suggests that New Brunswick is aging more rapidly than just about everywhere else in the nation. By Statistics Canada’s reckoning, 17.6 per cent of this province’s 750,000-strong population is age 65 or older. Nova Scotia’s populace is just fractionally more geriatric: 17.7 per cent of people there are upper sexagenarians.

Under the circumstances, If you came from Nova Scotia to live in New Brunswick (as I did) you now can’t help feeling as if you’ve merely switched rooms in the old folks home. “The four Atlantic provinces round out the top four spots in the country in terms of having the most seniors – all more than 17 per cent,” the T-J reports. “Alberta and the territories have the lowest percentages of seniors – all less than 12 per cent.”

Meanwhile, “New Brunswick also has the second highest median age in Canada at just under 44 years of age. Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest median age at just over 44 years.”

Such news, like the weather and the time of the year, naturally evokes situational unease, a sort of contact dermatitis of the soul. Indeed, it has become customary for political leaders from all parties to decry the demographic shift underway in New Brunswick and elsewhere in Atlantic Canada.

But fellows like Michael Haan, the Canada research chair in population and social policy at the University of New Brunswick, thinks we’re missing point. We should stop complaining – something we’ve been doing almost reflexively for years – and embrace our wizening profile. After all, what else do you do with lemons but make lemonade?

Actually, his argument is a little less flippant than that as he tells the T-J, “I think young, entrepreneurial people should see opportunity here. You have a large population of aging baby boomers who are wealthy and have time on their hands. . .These are interesting people who have lived full lives.”

Well, I know I have. In fact, despite Mr. Haan’s unfortunate use of the past tense, I still am living a full life. I belong to the largest cohort of the boom – those who turn 53 this year – and when I amble down history lane, I am frequently astonished by a half-century of change.

In 1960, the year I was born, for example, the Gross National Product of the United States was $503 billion. Today, it’s closer to $16 trillion. In that year, the median household income in America (not adjusted for inflation) was less than $6,000. Today, it’s more than $50,000.

Also in 1960, according to The People’s Chronology (published in 1979), “The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Companies (OPEC meets for the first time September 14 at Baghdad and  forces a retraction of the decrease in oil prices by Standard Oil of New Jersey. . .Some 2,000 electronic computers are delivered to U.S. business offices, universities, laboratories, and other buyers. . .The debate will rage as to whether computers wipe out jobs or create new ones. . .Aluminum cans for food and beverages are used for the first time commercially but 95 per cent of U.S. soft drinks and 50 per cent of beer is sold in returnable bottles that are used 40 to 50 times each.”

It’s easy to forget the “full lives” members of every generation lead. The passing of time, of youth, renders us sentimental codgers and coots in this dangerously sentimental month of the year.

Sure, we’re getting old. It happens to the best of us. But New Brunswick’s economy is not a nursery school with seats saved for precious toddlers.

There’s work to be done, and we’re not dead yet

Tagged , , ,

Courting the world as the homefront crumbles

DSC_0026

Say what you will about the federal Conservative government’s evolving conception of international affairs, at least it has one. Far less clear are its notions about more humdrum, though no less crucial, matters of domestic tranquility.

News reports earlier this week confirmed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will roll out an entirely new approach to foreign policy – one that makes something called “economic diplomacy” the centerpiece of his government’s efforts overseas.

In fact, this Global Markets Action Plan is merely a refurbished version of the Global Commerce Strategy, established in 2007 to, according to a government website, “respond to changes in the global economy and position Canada for long-term prosperity. . .(in). . .13 priority markets around the world where Canadian opportunities and interests had the greatest potential for growth.”

Wednesday’s edition of The Globe and Mail quotes selectively from the new plan, which directs federal officials, including senior members of the Tory caucus, to “entrench the concept of ‘economic diplomacy’ as the driving force behind the Government of Canada’s activities through its international diplomatic network.”

Indeed, deploying the trenchant language of public service memo writers in times of war, the report insists that “all diplomatic assets of the Government of Canada will be marshalled on behalf of the private sector.”

For those who cling to the idea that non-commercial interests – such as humanitarian assistance, poverty reduction, human rights, health and safety, and education – should guide Canada’s foreign policy and that multilateral collaboration is the only effective instrument with which to pursue these objectives, the shift in thinking at Foreign Affairs is a disaster.

For those who believe, however, that expanding the reach of the country’s businesses, particularly the small and medium-sized ones, is the most productive way to inculcate Canadian values and make the world safe for our particular brand of capitalist democracy (which may just be one of the more transparent oxymorons in the contemporary lexicon), economic diplomacy is a triumph of pragmatism.

Still, regardless of one’s opinion of the plan, we can all agree on at least one thing: it’s a real platform from which to tell the world that Canada is open for business. Then again, how are we doing on the homefront?

No less an authority than Canada’s Auditor-General, Michael Ferguson, worries about that kind of thing every day. His latest report, out this week, unwittingly raises troubling counterpoints to the ones our new economic diplomats proudly propagate. To wit: We may be ready to take the world by storm, but can we fix what’s broken in our own backyard?

On everything from food and transportation safety to border security, Mr. Ferguson finds the current office holders in Ottawa severely lacking in vision.

On food, the A-G report, declared, “There are weaknesses in the Canada Food Inspection Agency’s (CIFA) follow-up activities after a product has been removed from the marketplace. The CFIA did not have the documentation it is required to collect to verify that recalling firms had appropriately disposed of recalled products or taken timely actions to identify and correct the underlying cause of the recall to reduce the likelihood of a food safety issue reoccurring.”

About rail safety, the audit observed, “Despite the fact that federal railways were required 12 years ago to implement safety management systems for managing their safety risks and complying with safety requirements, Transport Canada has yet to establish an audit approach that provides a minimum level of assurance that federal railways have done so. While it has done a few audits of those systems, most of the audits it did were too narrowly focused and provided assurance on only a few aspects of SMSs. At the rate at which the Department is conducting focused audits, it will take many years to audit all the key components of SMS regulations, including key safety systems of each of the 31 federal railways.”

As for border security, Mr. Ferguson said simply that “systems and practices for collecting, monitoring, and assessing information to prevent the illegal entry of people into Canada are often not working as intended. As a result, some people who pose a risk to Canadians’ safety and security have succeeded in entering the country illegally.”

It’s all very well to court the world’s commercial movers and shakers.

But what, one wonders, will they find should they ever return the favour and put down stakes in our own home and native land?

Tagged , , ,

How to fight the good fight, especially when it’s wrong

DSC_0224

Those picket-line-protesters who may worry that their shoe leather will wear out before the shale gas industry’s resolve does should cheer up after reviewing a World Trade Organization (WTO) decision this week – a decision some are calling a victory for the hard-scrabbling, morally superior little guy.

Of course, it is hardly that.

The WTO has simply upheld the European Union’s (EU) 2009 ban on imported seal products (meat, pelts, oil, etc.), which affects Canada most among the world’s pinniped-hunting nations (a small club that includes Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Namibia).

In its ruling, the organization allowed that while the prohibition probably violates at least the spirit of impartiality in global trade, it nonetheless “fulfills the objective of addressing EU public moral concerns on seal welfare to a certain extent.” What’s more, it added, “no alternative measure was demonstrated to make an equivalent or greater contribution to the fulfillment of the objective.”

In other words, consumers’ decidedly non-commercial interests can and do trump those, however legitimate, of producers, either small or large.

That’s good news to all the assorted rebels with various causes among us, though, naturally, none of this is sitting well with the federal government or Canadian sealers who are screaming about the dirty they’ve been done at the hands of a powerful, disingenuous protest lobby.

In a statement from Ed Fast, Minister for International Trade, Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment, and Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the trio declared, “On February 11, 2011, our government requested the establishment of a World Trade Organization dispute settlement panel to challenge the European Union’s unfair ban on seal products in order to stand up for Canadian sealers and to vigorously defend the interests of Canada’s Inuit and Indigenous communities.

“The WTO panel confirmed Canada’s long-standing position that the EU ban is discriminatory and treats Canadian seal products unfairly. However, the panel also took the view that such a ban can be justified due to some of the public’s concerns regarding seal harvesting. Canada remains steadfast in its position that the seal harvest is a humane, sustainable and well-regulated activity. Any views to the contrary are based on myths and misinformation, and the Panel’s findings should be of concern to all WTO members.”

The government, of course, promises it will press on with an appeal. But, realistically, this battle is over. The Harper government is not likely to threaten the stability of its freshly minted European trade agreement over an industry that generates few economic benefits for citizens who live south of the 60th parallel – i.e., most Canadians.

All of which provides several object lessons for less mature social agitations, the first of which is that the “facts” at one’s disposal need not actually be true.

The trick to winning hearts and minds in the seal debate was always steadfastly ensuring that the message of carnage and cruelty on the ice floes was front and centre and before the public. Even after the industry effectively cleaned up its act (to the degree that any mass predation can be absolved of moral ambiguity), the message never changed, a fact which truly bugged even some ardent environmental pioneers.

“We have to be logical,” Jacques Cousteau reportedly once said. “We have to aim our activity first to the endangered species. Those who are moved by the plight of the harp seal could also be moved by the plight of the pig – the way they are slaughtered is horrible.”

The second lesson is that celebrities can vastly enhance a movement’s credibility.

In 2006, Paul McCartney and his then-wife Heather Mills, took Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams – who was linked to the show via a scratchy phone connection – to task over the annual cull. They called him by his first name and beseeched him, several times, to stop the killing. They were wrong on every account, every statement of fact. But, it didn’t matter. Subsequent polling showed that, in the eyes of the average viewer, they’d won the debate.

Was this sensible? Was this reasonable?

Who cares?

All’s fair in love, war and on the picket lines.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Straighten up and fly right this week

Just go with the flow

Just go with the flow

Thanks to newspapers the western world over having nothing actually new to cover during the shoulder season between Halloween and Christmas, we learn from them the modern codicils of an ancient philosophy.

Welcome, dear reader, to Live Like a Stoic Week, which The Globe and Mail’s John Allemang describes in his front-page piece yesterday as, “a global self-improvement experiment, starting Monday (Nov. 25), that aims to spread Stoic virtue across the virtual world.”

By “Stoic virtue”, he means what the dictionary defines as indifference to both pain and pleasure. Other synonyms that may apply include: resignation, imperturbability, fortitude, fatalism, and stolidity.

Writing in 167 AD, Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius – perhaps that most famous of historical Stoics – commenced Book Two of his “Meditations” (translation by George Long) thusly:

“Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil.

“But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him.

“For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.”

That’s easy for him to say.

Still, the good folks at Exeter University in the United Kingdom think what the world needs now is more of the old boy’s stiff-upper-liplessness. These organizers of the second annual Stoic Week write sweetly on their website, “the only thing that has real value is an excellent mental state, identified with virtue and reason. This is the only thing that can guarantee our happiness. External things such as money, success, fame and the like can never bring us happiness.”

And that’s not all: “Many of our negative emotions are based on mistaken judgements, but because they are due to our judgements it means they are within our control. Change the judgements and you change the emotions.”

Meanwhile, heed the natural order of things: “We ought to acknowledge that we but small parts of a larger, organic whole, shaped by larger processes that are ultimately out of our control.”

And, so, “there are some things we have control over (our judgements, our own mental state) and some things that we do not (external processes and objects). Much of our unhappiness is caused by confusing these two categories: thinking we have control over something that ultimately we do not.”

Oddly enough, modern Stoicism sounds very much like a mash-up of quasi-New Age doctrines of self-actualization, positive thinking and environmentalism, right down to the “Gaia hypothesis,” which proposes (according to a Wikipedia entry) that “organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet.”

The question, of course, is whether any of this can do us any good. Are we humans already past the point of no return to sanity?

The problem with Stoicism is that its practice requires a disciplined and (here’s the real rub) mature mind. Be honest. Who among us can claim to own one of those? Are we not more like classic hedonists, who believed that pleasure – in our case money, cars, booze, drugs, sex, and mindless channels of electronic entertainment  –  was, in and of itself, the greatest good of all?

At any rate, I’ll give forbearance a whirl. After all, a week without my many indulgences isn’t an eternity.

It’ll only feel that way.

Tagged , , , ,

Institute’s mandate in search of a reason

DSC_0153

The last thing New Brunswick needs is yet another reason to bloviate about the provincial government’s diabolical plans to shove shale gas down the throats of its citizens. But for a polity that seems bound and determined to leave most of our natural resources in the ground, we do seem extraordinarily skilled at mass-producing hot air.

In an interview with CBC Radio out of Saint John last Thursday, Fred Metallic – a member of Listuguj First Nations in Quebec and a PhD in environmental science – explained why he suddenly quit the scientific advisory council of the New Brunswick Energy Institute, whose purpose is, according to its website, “to examine the science surrounding energy possibilities in our province.”

Declared Mr. Metallic: “When I was approached by the Institute. . .we were going to take a citizen-based approach to the development of energy. As a First Nations researcher, I generally work with people and (so) this was compatible with the way I like to approach (things). . .We did discuss aboriginal issues. However, these issues were not a priority, unfortunately. The priorities were more around the technology around shale gas development.”

What’s more, Mr. Metallic lamented, “At this point, the institute is more concerned about the government’s plans to develop shale gas and other forms of energy. It is more concerned about industry and whether industry and science can work together to ensure that these resources are developed safely. As First Nations researcher, I didn’t see First Nations issues to be central and that was a concern for me.

In the end, he said, “I have more faith in people to want to move things forward than I do with government, sometimes.”

Of course, that’s it in a nutshell. Isn’t it? Here is the cri de coeur of the modern age. And you don’t have to be a member of a First Nation to utter it.

Having little faith in governments is simply de rigueur these days, and not just for cultural warriors and libertarian trendsetters. Everyone – liberals, conservatives, radicals, reactionaries, progressives, the one per cent and the remaining 99 per cent – wants to thump his chest with one hand and with the other grab the nearest elected official by the scruff of his scrawny neck and declare: “You, sir, are a cad!”

But before we get caught up in this, the standard plot line, and cut and paste it to this, the latest chapter in the shale gas melodrama, it behooves us to recognize what, exactly, the New Brunswick Energy Institute actually does – which is, quite frankly, a whole lot of nothing.

“We feel that the institute is a scientific body,” Energy and Mines Minister Craig Leonard told the CBC last week as he gamely defended his government’s decision create it on the advice of departed and forcibly humbled academic Louis LaPierre. “The place for discussing treaty rights with First Nations is within government, itself. We want to keep those two separate.”

This is, of course, utter nonsense. The technology that enables shale gas drilling and the fracked ground that treaties may (or may not) protect as a collective resource (including the water therein) comprise a single issue.

But, the point is, the provincial government doesn’t appear to be enjoying much success on either of the issue’s constituent parts: nurturing scientific inquiry or ameliorating people’s concerns

In the case of the former, the number of “ongoing” research projects at the Institute number in the single digits, as in, zero. Ditto for the number of “requests for proposals”.

According to a Telegraph-Journal report last week, “Energy institute executive director Annie Daigle attempted to clarify the body’s mandate on Thursday, stating that its direction had been ‘muddied’ of late.”

She added: “Things sort of came to a standstill for a month and a half to two months. We haven’t developed any research, we haven’t signed any contracts or anything like that, and we haven’t put out the request for proposals for that work.

It is being reviewed by the scientific advisory council. We had some setbacks over the last couple of months, so we are just trying to get back on track.”

All of which suggests that if the provincial government is trying to shove shale gas down the throats of New Brunswickers, it isn’t yet relying on the Energy Institute for practical support.

Tagged , , , ,

Thank God, it’s quitting time

herenov14

Having reached an auspicious day, well into the double digits since I began my very own, proprietary smoking-cessation program, I am now prepared to offer the following conclusion regarding the results of my effort: What the hell was I thinking?

Okay, that’s less a conclusion than it is an admission that, under different circumstances, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford – he of crack pipe and empty beer steins – might have been my sympathetic ‘amico’ (to use the common parlance of his alleged associates).

Permit me to elaborate.

Some weeks ago – at about the time of a visit from my Charlottetown-based daughter, her husband, and their two young kids – I began to feel edgier than usual about the fact that, while the rest of the health-conscious, civilized world had ‘butted out‘ long ago, I was still sucking back a regular complement of cigarettes daily.

All of which may have been considered normal behaviour in a 22-year-old college boy, circa 1983. After all, at that time, my father smoked, as did his friends and associates. Hell, from time to time, even my doctor lit up in his own consulting room. “Where’s my manners?” he once chastised himself. “Can I offer you one?”

But, nowadays, it remains pretty much inexcusable conduct, especially for a man (a grandfather of three, with another due in March, no less) approaching his 53 birthday. So, the question, for me, was not if or when to quit, but how.

“Everyone’s different,” a friend who is a former smoker advised.

“You’re not being helpful,” I complained.

“What I’m getting at is that you should expect to fail spectacularly.”

“Did I mention about that whole helpful thing?”

“What you must do is get right back at it. . .Never stop quitting.”

My father, who must have quit a dozen times before he stopped altogether many years ago, says going cold turkey was, in the end, the only way he licked the habit. Others I have known have slapped on the patch or chewed nicotine gum, though with only varying degrees of success.

“Everyone underestimates how insidious this stuff really is,” someone I know once wrote, though I am paraphrasing from memory. “I remember this one time, when you could still smoke on airplanes, I was trying to quit. So, here I was chewing some nic-gum when all of a sudden I was overcome with this horrible feeling of anxiety. I spit out what was in my mouth and whipped out a smoke. It was only later when I realized I had actually developed a momentary fear of flying just so I could have a cigarette.”

Another chum, a fellow journalist (naturally), quit drinking booze in his 40s and once said it was the hardest thing he ever did. Until, that is, he tried quitting smokes. “Wow,” he recanted. “Now, that’s tough.”

Or, as Mark Twain reportedly quipped, “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.” Then again, as Brooke Shields once observed with utter seriousness, “Smoking kills. If you’re killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your life.”

The physical addiction to nicotine aside, it’s the psychological associations that more often bring down the lonely, sojourning quitter who pines for his best friend, now absent: the first coffee-of-the-day smoke, the pre-work-focus-the-mind smoke, the post-work-pre-dinner-cocktail smoke. The list is endless.

In my case, there was no easy way through it, around it or over it. I would dramatically reduce my daily tobacco consumption by several orders of magnitude. I would smoke only at the very end of the evening, during which I have no previous association with cigarettes.

I’m down to four a day. It’s been that way for weeks. Next week, I’ll be down to two. And, then, the week after that. . .

I’m fine. Really, I am.

I’ve taken up knitting, and needle point, and crocheting. I like to whittle toilet-roll holders from the branches of alder trees. Mostly, though, I like to walk aimlessly, for miles each day, muttering to myself.

Muttering things like, “What the hell was I thinking?”

One nation united in logical impairent

DSC_0034

When the Great Rending of Canadian culture occurred is hard to say, exactly. It’s easy to locate the momentous event in one of the terms of office enjoyed by Stephen Harper and crew of grumpy old men and women. They helped it along, of course, but they didn’t start the tear in the tissue of society.

At some point, years before the Great Recession exposed the nasty truth for all to see – the rich really do get richer, and the poor really do get poorer – we began to separate into two camps, a process that lazy mainstream media was all to happy to enable with facile headlines and preposterous sound bites.

On one side of the moat sauntered the educated elites, the vile progressives, the evil socialists – the loathsome Liberal establishment.

On the other bank stood the underschooled commoners, the conspiracy theorists, the science-doubting bootstrappers – the reactionary Conservative outliers.

These might have remained only convenient stereotypes to feed late-night standup comics their gag lines. But, somewhere along the line, we began to believe the characterizations about ourselves.

And while some of us pranced around displaying our Keynesian colours, spouting good-government bromides, a goodly number of us actually became the blunt-nosed, opinionated hardliners we were said to be. Indeed, suddenly, we were proud to count ourselves among such company.

On the subject of embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford – now stripped of many of his official powers, though his Conservative bonafides reportedly go all the way to the Prime Minister’s Office – a reader recently wrote to The Globe and Mail.

“There is a coup at city hall in Toronto, no different than in some Middle Eastern country, except they stopped before there was bloodshed,” he observed. “They have done a marvellous job of character assassination on Mayor Rob Ford. Meanwhile, in your front-page index, you reported that ‘no one in Ottawa has offered an apology – or an explanation – for the apparent disappearance of $3.1 billion that had been allocated for anti-terrorism projects.’ Well, maybe Rob Ford should become prime minister.”

Another reader, writing in a different publication, suggested that Mr. Ford’s crack smoking, public drunkenness and violent outbursts were all tolerable as long as he continued to put the boots to the true enemies of the people: liberals.

The ironies, in all of this, abound, too numerous to count. But Globe columnist Jeffrey Simpson did his level best the other day when he wrote, “You can see the contradictions everywhere in the Conservative/conservative world. Conservatives who support Mr. Ford are the ‘tough on crime’ voters of the kind also targeted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. You would logically assume therefore that a mayor who confesses to having broken laws – smoking crack cocaine, for example – would be just the sort of public person the Conservatives/conservatives would revile. Apparently not.”

This syndrome of systematic logic-impairment, however, extends far beyond the gates of fair TO.

No real thinking is required (in fact, none is preferable) of the jerky-kneed, law-and-order type who likes the cut of Mr. Harper’s jib as he pilots his penal reform agenda through society.

Actual crime in the streets may be at an all-time low, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon our plans to send more people to jail for increasingly minor offences (such as possession of marijuana) over the next several years.

Actual prisons in this country face what Correctional Services Canada now calls “imminent” threats related to “the risk and implications of serious failure of physical infrastructure, critical to life safety, security, operations, and occupant health.” Again, though, that doesn’t mean we should spend the billion-or-so bucks to upgrade them.

Let the bad guys suffer. Who cares if we turn them into very type of people we find we must keep locked behind bars at the extraordinary expense of the one thing we truly care about: our personal bank accounts?

Where is the moderate middle when you need one?

Tagged , , , ,

Musings on an approaching birthday

DSC_0018

As the dreaded anniversary of my first appearance on this sullen orb approaches with all the inevitability of a shale gas protest, I resolve to experience that which has, so far, eluded me, lo these 52 years, 11 months and 20 days.

Given my soul’s temperament, serenity and wisdom may be too much to expect. But, at my age, nothing beats a fresh diversion or two.

For some time, it has been one of my fondest desires to coin a word and have it recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary. This month, the venerable OED has heralded ‘selfie’ as its word of the year. According to the Guardian newspaper, it refers to a “photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

The term debuted in an Australian online forum in 2002, to wit: “Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

The OED’s editors noted that the word secured its ranking after the dictionary’s language research program showed that the frequency of its usage jumped by 17,000 per cent in 12 months. Other words that made the shortlist included: bedroom tax, binge-watch, bitcoin, olinguito (a miniature racoon), schmeatn (fake meat), showrooming, and twerk.

None, I hasten to add, holds a candle to my entry for consideration in next year’s competition. What do we call a political scandal that involves prostitutes, illegal narcotics, foul language, pornography, violent outbursts, grandstanding? Why, that would be ‘Fordmageddon.’ Naturally.

On the subject of new experiences, my wife and I will be passing through the town that Rob wrecked in about a month en route to New York City. There, from our room at the Chelsea Pine Inn, we shall embark on a walking tour of lower Manhattan, taking as many nibbles out of the Big Apple as time (all of eight days) permits.

Those of us who were born and raised in Toronto have a nasty tendency to assume that those who weren’t haven’t yet graduated to indoor plumbing. That’s why the Ford fiasco troubles us so deeply: The emperor’s clothes have gone missing, and what is revealed is simply unspeakable.

But it behooves us to recognize that New York remains North America’s preeminent destination for municipal mischief of every variety. Last May, in a piece entitled, ‘Scandal and Redemption in NY Politics,’ Beth Gerbitelli barely skimmed the surface when she reported in MetroFocus.com, “a formerly disgraced pol from New York, Anthony Weiner, returned to the front pages when he discussed the possibility of running for mayor in the pages of The New York Times Magazine in April.

“After holding out for almost a month and teasing the New York tabloids with reports of hiring campaign staff and  recording an announcement video, Weiner laid suspicions to rest with a midnight campaign rollout the week before Memorial Day.

Weiner resigned from Congress two years ago after accidentally, publicly sending lewd pictures of himself through social media. Weiner first claimed the pictures were the work of a hacker before coming forward and acknowledging that they were taken and sent by him. . .‘Look, I made some big mistakes, and I know I let a lot of people down,’ Weiner stated. ‘But I’ve also learned some tough lessons. I’m running for mayor because I’ve been fighting for the middle class and those struggling to make it for my entire life and I hope I get a second chance to work for you.’”

Sound familiar? It’s the universal call of the publicly humiliated, unreconstructed campaign addict.

On the other hand, Mr. Wiener, who torpedoed his run for the mayoralty in much the same way as he did his congressional career, seems to have acquired a degree of circumspection about which Mr. Ford’s detractors can only dream.

“I’m just an empty, soulless vessel,” the disgraced New Yorker wrote about himself.

Aren’t we all, Tony? Though, some of us be more soulless than others.

Tagged , , , , ,

No room for pleasantries in real politics

DSC_0027

Despite his occasional partisan bluster – a necessity of elective office, regardless of one’s political flavour – the premier of New Brunswick is a genuinely nice guy who actually cares about other people’s feelings.

In fact, until recently, about the only way to get an authentic rise out of David Alward was to suggest the he and his government ministers were aloof to the concerns of their fellow citizens, content to play king and courtiers in their castle made of sand above the high water mark on Freddy Beach.

“It bugs me,” the pastor’s son (who is a certified psychological counsellor, a former community developer and an active rural hobby farmer) once interrupted himself in mid-interview with yours truly. “I don’t know how anyone could describe us as closed or uncommunicative or not inclusive.”

The truth, of course, is that openness has all but typified the premier’s political oeuvre since he came to govern one of Canada’s defiantly ungovernable provinces in 2010. Where his predecessor, Liberal Premier Shawn Graham, protected his counsel like a NSA agent under house arrest, Mr. Alward has done a contortionist’s job at public events, and in private meetings, explaining, in often exquisite detail, his plans and priorities; in effect, his thinking.

And that may be his biggest problem.

On Friday, the premier was in a rare uncompromising, even antagonistic, mood. Lashing out at anti-shale gas activists in the province, he declared that they represented the point of the spear aimed directly at the heart of natural resources industries here.

“This is not just about SWN (Resources Inc.) being able to develop,” the Telegraph-Journal quoted him. “This not just about Rexton or Kent County and SWN. Mark my words that the same groups that are against seeing SWN move forward with exploration are against projects like Sisson Brook or other potential mining projects we have in New Brunswick. They are against seeing pipelines come across our country to Saint John and creating the prosperity (they) can.”

The denouement of his point was simply this: “The question the New Brunswickers should be asking is ‘what is our vision for our province’? . . .Do we want to have our young people living here in our province building their lives here or are we condemning them to having no choice of where they are going to live in the future?”

These are, indeed, the questions. They have always been the questions. It’s just too bad that Premier Alward has waited until now – less than a year before the provincial election – to pose them with such cogency and force.

In fact, had he spent more time over the past 18 months unapologetically supporting industry’s efforts to ascertain the economic potential of shale gas (indeed, of all promising avenues of natural resources) – and commensurately less time defending his government’s decisions and convening public panels in vain attempts to win friends and influence people – the conversation in this province might now be profoundly different, and radically more productive.

The bottom line is that Mr. Alward’s generally laudable instinct to consult ‘the people’ has also been a lamentable liability of his leadership, and on more files than natural resources.

The awful state of the province’s books – its rolling $500-million deficit on a long-term debt of $11 billion – is not, strictly speaking, the premier’s fault.

Still, in a way, it is.

By refusing to consider raising the provincial portion of the Harmonized Sales Tax, because he promised ‘the people’ he would consult them first, in the form of a referendum, he effectively tied the hands of his Finance Minister and severely compromised New Brunswick’s fiscal recovery from the Great Recession.

Had he forced the province to swallow this bitter, but necessary, pill early in his mandate, the public accounts would have been far healthier than they are today, providing the governing Tories with more and better options for health, education and social policies.

It might even have influenced the debate about shale gas by having eliminated much of the monetary hysteria that now underpins it.

Make no mistake: The consultative, empathetic premier of New Brunswick is a genuinely nice guy.

But, oftentimes, as the saying goes, nice guys finish. . .well, not first.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Partygoer Rob Ford overstays his welcome

Ford Nayshun ahead. . .Lock up yer daughters Hog Town

Ford Nayshun ahead. . .Lock up yer daughters Hog Town

On any given day, I drink a glass of wine with supper. I do not show up at office parties in any state other than one of profound and sober resignation. And if, at any point in the evening, my wife asks me to leave with her, I am happy to oblige. Quietly.

For these reasons alone, I am fairly certain that I do not qualify to fill Rob Ford’s shoes.

If you’ve been off planet these past few years, you won’t know that he’s the mayor of Canada’s largest city, North America’s fourth biggest metropolis, the Centre of the Universe, Hog Town, Toronto.

You also won’t know that Mr. Ford admits that he has smoked crack cocaine and bought illegal drugs, that he knows people in low places, that, in a video, the 300-pound-plus baby throwing a tantrum over some sleight, real or imagined, is, indeed, his goodself.

He even admits that he might just need some professional help, even if that’s only a trip to beachfront bar in Fort Lauderdale this Christmas vacation.

The tragicomic antics of Canada’s very own Boss Hogg is not merely the biggest story in Toronto these days. It is the only story, numbing all who come within its orbit with vast doses of intrigue, mendacity and outright sleaze. If you’ve ever witnessed a train wreck in progress, you know that to look away is impossible.

“Did you hear the latest from that guy?” the cab driver asked me on the way in from Pearson International Airport last week. “He says he’s done all those things in a drunken stupor, and he still won’t resign. It’s like he’s proud of himself or something.”

I laughed and mentioned that his dear, old mum told an interviewer the other day that the only thing wrong with her sonny boy is that he’s packing a bit too much weight.

Without missing a beat, the cabbie quipped, “Yup, especially between the ears.”

Moments later, I found myself in the outer office of a Bay Street type, for whom I was doing some consulting. His assistant told me he had been delayed and asked if I would mind waiting. After ten minutes, my client emerged, red-faced and chuckling.

“Sorry,” he said. “I just had to see the end of the latest press conference. You know what? Television does not do justice to our colourful mayor.”

Of course, not everyone is laughing. The mayor’s public approval ratings, which actually shot up following his admission of cocaine use, are plummeting. Even his once ardent defenders and confederates are calling for his ouster.

Meanwhile, Canada’s national newspaper is beside itself with old-school Toronto opprobrium.

“How is this man still the mayor?” last Thursday’s Globe and Mail editorial beseeched. “He’s an admitted crack smoker, and an admitted liar about it. He’s been publicly drunk – ‘hammered’ and ‘extremely, extremely inebriated,’ in his own words – on several occasions. . .On Wednesday morning, he confessed to having purchased illegal drugs while mayor; by mid-afternoon, police documents ordered released by a judge were detailing a whole new series of allegations, by his own staff, of intoxication and drug use.”

In fact, there’s nothing especially instructive about any of this; no great lessons in civics and public administration may be plucked from this fiasco, save, perhaps, one:

It seems broadly absurd that Toronto, that most sophisticated of burbs, that beacon of commerce and culture, is utterly powerless over the machinery of its own governance. Why is there no code of conduct for elected officials, including the mayor, that makes things like illegal drug use, public drunkenness and bald-faced lying impeachable offences, the penalty for which is summary dismissal?

Rob Ford won’t quit for two reasons.

The first is he doesn’t have to.

The second is, despite his protestations to the contrary, he’s having way too much fun directing his own, personal psychodrama before the camera’s vacant stare. Every day that passes, he ups the ante by issuing fresh confessions, accusations or sundry pornographic observations lest the pot of public outrage and disgust stops boiling.

This is, after all, Rob Ford’s party and, apparently, we’re not allowed to leave.

Not yet.

Tagged , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 578 other followers

%d bloggers like this: