Monthly Archives: March 2014

Who vouches for real democratic reform?



You have to hand it to him. When faced with utter, public repudiation the likes of which might send more seasoned political warriors running for cover, young Pierre Poilevre merely restocks his rhetorical ordnance and grins for the newsreel.

For more than a month, Canada’s minister for state for democratic reform (age 34, in case anyone is counting) has been thumping tables, insisting that the nation’s electoral system is grievously flawed and, so, requires an immediate and wholesale fix. He has even taken to penning editorials for major newspapers to ram his points home to “elites” about whose opinions he does not ordinarily care.

“Many of the government’s critics have reacted with predictable hyperbole to the Fair Elections Act. (Bill C-23, now in committee),” he wrote in a piece for The Globe and Mail last week. “Yet the bill is common sense. . .The bill requires voters to choose from 39 pieces of acceptable identification to prove identity and residence. Photo ID will not be required, but simply having someone vouch for a voter’s identity – without so much as a utility bill to back it up – will no longer suffice.”

To reinforce his arguments, Mr. Poilevre has relied heavily on the work of Harry Neufeld, the author of Elections Canada’s compliance report on the 2011 ballot. Quoting liberally from the report, the junior minister wrote: “‘Errors that involve a failure to properly administer these procedures are serious. The courts refer to such as irregularities which can result in votes being declared invalid,’ it reads on Page 5.” 

Moving on, chip appropriately balanced on shoulder, Mr. Poilevre, taunts, “If you don’t like that, try this, on Page 14. . .‘Too frequently, the errors are so serious that the courts would judge them to be irregularities that violate the legal provisions that establish an elector’s entitlement to vote.’ Further, Mr. Neufeld noted that the sorts of vouching errors that occurred in the riding of Etobicoke Centre ‘could contribute to a court overturning an election’.” 

The problem is that Mr. Neufeld, himself, isn’t buying anything Mr. Poilevre is selling and really wishes the young fellow would stop quoting him “selectively”. Even more damning, he told reporters following a parliamentary committee meeting last week that Bill C-23 should be either amended or killed outright, because “it appears like they’re (government) trying to tilt the playing field in one direction. . .theirs. It makes me wonder whether this process is really being administered in a completely neutral way.”

And what say you, Mr. Poilevre to this rather unequivocal rejection of your noble scheme by the very man on whose findings you base your entire case for reform? 

“Mr. Neufeld is entitled to author recommendations, he is not entitled to author he law,” the minister rejoined last week. “That (the law) is left to parliamentarians. And at no time did I ever claim to agree with his recommendations. I don’t agree with them, and that’s why they are not in the bill.”

Apparently, two public officials, like two physicians, can agree on a diagnosis; just not the course of treatment. This, of course, assumes that the two are equally qualified. In this case, however, they are not. Worse, one is carrying a gross weight of partisan baggage.

Mr. Neufeld is right to worry about the tens-of-thousands of people (possibly, as many as 500,000) the Fair Elections Act’s interdictions on vouching and voter registration cards will alienate from the democratic system. He’s also right to speculate about the minister’s motives for leaping to conclusions the evidence does not support.

According to a Globe story last week: “‘A large number of irregularities did occur, but there is no evidence whatsoever that any voters fraudulently misrepresented themselves in the vouching process,’ Mr. Neufeld said. The errors included mixing up the vouchee and voucher or failing to fill in the date, he said, adding of Mr. Poilievre: ‘I think he has been selectively reading and quoting from my report.’”

Of course he has. That’s what a loyal government member does. And the thicker his skin, the better the troops perform in the trenches where truth and ideology fight the eternal battle for supremacy. 


Tagged , , , ,

Snow-bound by the weather gods



“Across Prince Edward Island, all public and private school systems, along with colleges and universities, shut down in the midst of a howling snowstorm,” The Canadian Weather Trivia Calendar helpfully reports. 

Hello, Canadian spring. You seem awfully familiar to me. Have you, by any chance, met Canadian winter? Oh yes, Canadian winter and I go way back. 

Friends of mine from England are visiting. Months ago, when they began planning for this trip – which would begin in Halifax, wend through the Maritimes en route to central Canada and points west of the American prairies – they asked me what sort of outerwear would be suitable for the Maritimes at the end of March.

I said something like, “Well, that sort of depends on the year, but you can be pretty safe with a sweater and sturdy raincoat, maybe some rubber boots.” 

Friends of mine from England are no longer speaking to me. Fortunately for what’s left of our relationship, they’re staying in a hotel. Besides, it’s not as if they can get out my front door any time soon. 

But, really, how was I supposed to know? The weather app on my iPhone is less than useless. Only four days ago, it seems, meteorologists were calmly predicting steadily improving, springlike weather. It was just possible to imagine the crocuses, narcissuses and tulips peaking up from the good earth. And then. . .

“Across a large swath of Atlantic Canada, people who ventured outside Wednesday felt the cold sting of a massive spring blizzard that brought much of the region to a standstill,” The National Post reported on Wednesday. “Most schools and government offices were closed in the Maritimes, flights were cancelled and traffic along some of the busiest streets and highways was virtually non-existent amid knee-high drifts. Even the Confederation Bridge to P.E.I. was temporarily closed as powerful gusts howled across the Northumberland Strait.”

Isn’t it marvelous that when the central Canadian media report on something as verifiable and straightforward a storm they still manage to get the facts about our region wrong? Note to NP editors: It doesn’t stake Snowmaggedon 2014 to close the Confederation Bridge; sometimes a light breeze and a dash of sea fog will do the trick.

But I digress.

The experts are divided on what all of this actually means. Of course, that’s what experts do; they become divided at the drop of mukluk. 

Some think the unusually cold, unusually long and unusually snowy winter this year is proof positive of global warming’s effect on the climate (extreme events and seasons – a product of increasing amounts of energy in the atmosphere – are what the models predict). “Scientists call it Santa’s revenge,” The Globe and Mail reported in February. “It’s the theory that persistent weather patterns at the mid-latitudes – like this winter’s tediously long-lasting polar vortex or California’s severe drought – are a direct consequence of climate change heating up the Arctic.”

Others think the persistently inclement weather doesn’t mean a thing. Or, at least, not yet. According to to Scientific American piece in 2009, “‘You can’t tell much about the climate or where it’s headed by focusing on a particularly frigid day, or season, or year, even,’ writes Eoin O’Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor. ‘It’s all in the long-term trends,’ concurs Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.”

Still others have thrown up their hands, turned off their cell phones and headed south for the remainder of whatever season we in the Great White North have decided to call this.  

In fact, the only point on which everyone in the business of forecasting the weather seems to agree is that they all got it horribly, embarrassingly wrong. (Everyone, that is, except the decidedly unscientific Farmer’s Almanac).

“Not one of our better forecasts,” Mike Halpert, the acting director of the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States, told Bloomberg Businessweek last month. 

The piece continues: “The center grades itself on what it calls the Heidke skill score, which ranges from 100 (perfection) to -50 (monkeys throwing darts would have done better). October’s forecast for the three-month period of November through January came in at -22.”

On the other hand, unpredictable weather generates its own, comforting precedents. 

Here’s the rest of that Weather Trivia Calendar report: “Federal and provincial offices also closed, including Canada Post mail delivery, and seniors couldn’t get Meals on Wheels.”

In fact, that was March 27, exactly two years ago. 

Funny how it seems like only yesterday.


Tagged , , ,

Canadians chime in on ‘unfair’ Elections Act


Those habitues of the Ivory Tower who have, from time to time, harboured serious misgivings about the average Canadian’s commitment to democracy in this country need worry no longer.

Thanks to his Fair Elections Act – which purports to reduce the risk of voter fraud by eliminating “vouching” (in which a voter vouches for another if the latter lacks sufficient ID) and rewriting much of the rulebook to render Elections Canada more accountable, but also less independent – Pierre Poilievre, the federal government’s Minister of State for Democratic Reform, has done more in one year to light a fire under his fellow citizens’ butts than an invading army could in 10.

Having passed its second reading, Bill C-23 (officially saddled with the cumbersome descriptor, “An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts”) represents Mr. Poilievre’s earnest effort to fix what he and his political masters perceive is a seriously flawed system.

The problem is, the more time one spends examining the substance of the proposed legislation, the less one tends to agree with its sponsors and proponents. The most contentious issue is the attack on vouching, which would very likely undermine the democratic rights of First Nations citizens, students in transition and residents of old-folks homes, among others.

In fact, according to an Angus Reid Global poll last month, “Canadian support for changes to the Elections Act proposed by the Harper government is highest among those who aren’t aware of the issue. Among those who are familiar with the contents of the Fair Elections Act, 44 per cent say they support it and 56 per cent are opposed. However, among those who are only aware of the issue in passing or who are just not paying attention, that support rises to 53 per cent, while 47 per cent say they’re opposed.”

How this breaks down along party lines is instructive, of not especially unexpected. “When it comes to awareness and political affiliation,” the pollster reports, “awareness is highest among past Liberal and NDP voters (25 per cent and 24 per cent respectively) followed by past Conservative voters (18 per cent).”

Meanwhile, the survey indicates that Canadians, in general, are fed up with the Conservative government’s fetishistic tinkering with the cogs and gears of a system that is not, essentially, broken. Angus Reid Global interprets its poll results bluntly: “Canadians do not trust the motives of the Conservative government in introducing the proposed legislation, and do not feel the Harper government’s impact on the democratic process has been positive.”

Not that Mr. Poilievre hasn’t done his level best to knock some sense into our recalcitrant noodles. In an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail earlier this week, he decried his critics’ “hyperbolic” reaction to the Bill, which, he insists is “common sense. “Canadians instinctively understand that these changes are reasonable and fair. That is why they have not shared the critics’ hysteria.”

Again, though, that’s not entirely accurate.

Yes, a group of international scholars have grabbed headlines by claiming, in an open letter to national media, that “the governing party in Canada has proposed a set of wide-ranging changes, which if enacted, would. . .undermine the integrity of the Canadian electoral process.”

And, yes, an assemblage of Canadian academics recently echoed these sentiments when they publicly stated, “Beyond our specific concerns about the Bill’s provisions, we are alarmed at the lack of due process in drafting the Bill and in rushing it through Parliament.”

But, increasingly, what fills the letters and comment pages of print and online versions of major media are the grumblings of the the hoi polloi, i.e., the Great Unwashed. i.e., you and me.

“The Harper government’s latest assault on democratic ideals and practices with its proposed Fair Elections Act, while roundly criticized, is at least consistent in its semantic tactics with earlier attacks, notably in the 2006 Federal Accountability Act,” writes Neil Burk of Nepean, Ontario. “As the fair Elections Act has nothing to do with fairness principles, the Accountability Act is unaccountably silent on accountability principles.”

His screed appeared in the Globe’s letters section on one of two days this week during which the newspaper published nine archly critical, and well-written, letters from readers.

No, no, all you professor of political science, fear not.

From the recent evidence you may deduce that the condition of democracy in Canada is just fine, after all, thank you very much.

Tagged , , , ,

And now for something completely different: good news for New Brunswick. . .sort of



New Brunswick may be drowning in debt. In fact, practitioners of the wooly science of fiscal forensics may have already pronounced this province dead on arrival. But don’t we just do a bang-up job reporting our woes to the rest of the world?

The C.D. Howe Institute says we deserve a little praise for a change. Specifically, Colin Busby of The C.D. Howe Institute tells the Saint John Telegraph-Journal that, according to his annual study on government spending overruns in Canada (also known as “The Pinocchio Report”), this province does “reasonably well” predicting its financial condition. We are, in a phrase, “middle of the road”, which is better than road kill, I suppose.

What’s more, we’re brutally honest with ourselves and the rest of the country about the hobo clothes we’re forced to wear. “New Brunswick is one of the jurisdictions where you can clearly find comparable numbers,” Mr. Busby says. “You simply find what the budget promises were and then find the numbers in the public accounts and compare them. That’s a positive story for New Brunswick.”

Still, he adds, “When it comes to spending overruns and the ability to hit budget targets, either overshooting or undershooting (New Brunswick) is not in the range of Ontario and the federal government who have done a significantly better job in terms of holding to what they promised in their spring budgets.”

Here’s how the numbers shake out: Over the past 10 years, cumulative overruns, expressed as fractions of 2013/14 budgeted spending, were highest in Saskatchewan (36 per cent), Alberta (26 per cent) and Manitoba (22 per cent), lowest in Canada, overall (one per cent), Ontario (five per cent) and Nova Scotia (seven per cent).

New Brunswick overspent by $1.2 billion over the past decade, which is bad. On the other hand, averaged out over the period, we came in less than 15 per cent off our annual targeted goals, which is good. Sort of.

For a finance minister, there is, I’m guessing, a certain comfort in knowing, with any degree of accuracy, just how badly off your jurisdiction is in the scheme of things. It’s a little like being sentenced to an indeterminate jail term. At least you know you have a cot; let’s just hope your bunk buddies in the bond market aren’t complete psychos.

But, in the larger context, how instructive or useful are these sort of statistical parlour games?

That New Brunswick manages to “present well” is vastly less important than its moribund economy, the structural instability of which makes accurate budget forecasting a near impossibility (a fact which suggests that the province’s reasonably fair reporting record is more a function of good luck than good prognostication).

Meanwhile, the Conference Board of Canada forecasts continued stormy economic weather for the province. “Prospects for New Brunswick’s economy will remain dim for at least one more year,” it said in its revised winter outlook earlier this month. “Cuts in the potash industry, and the closing of the Maple Leaf Food plant in Moncton, will limit economic growth to 0.8 per cent in 2014.”

How will this affect the next round of budget promises?

An even more intriguing question is whether a fully functioning shale gas industry, which should make us all filthy rich, will also make our elected officials filthy liars, though through no fault of their own.

The C.D. Howe Report notes the paradox common to provinces rich in natural resources: Their budgets are even farther from target than are those of patently poor provinces, such as New Brunswick. Economic instability, it seems, cuts both ways.

“Jurisdictions that are more dependent on natural resources showed sizable positive revenue biases: Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and labrador and Alberta all had biases of eight to 10 per cent,” the Institute noted. The natural-resource dependent jurisdictions that more affected by commodity-price swings also had low accuracy scores.”

So, then, the more money a jurisdiction has sloshing around in oil and gas wells, the less veracious are its budget forecasts.

What a delicious irony.

Still, if I had to choose, I’d rather the province I call home be recognized for the power of its industry, than the accuracy of its numbers-crunchers.

Tagged , ,

How to punch below your pay grade


From my attic perch, overlooking a handsome residential street in downtown Moncton where summer occasionally deigns to make an appearance, I am master of all I survey – at least within the four walls that contains this, my worldwide headquarters.

So, naturally, I – and I, alone – determine the conditions (the where, the when and, crucially, the amount) I pay myself for the good work I perform on behalf of various clients who still appreciate a well-wrought phrase, a bon mot, from time to time.

In fact, I did this just the other day when I awarded myself a $13.56 weekly raise, which was nearly enough to cover the cost of four liters of milk and plenty to score a bottle of plonk wine.

No bosses hovered at my shoulder to dispute my self-evaluation; no trustees in bankruptcy (knock wood) pestered me with questions about my moral ambiguities. It was just me and the cheque book, and in the memo field I wrote, “There you go chief, don’t spend it all in one place.”

Apparently, our esteemed servants of Canadian democracy operate in much the same way. The question is: Should they?

News comes down from The Hill Times that Members of Parliament and Senators of this great and forgiving nation will receive pay bumps of 2.2 and 2.5 per cent, respectively, effective April 1, despite the fact that these rates exceed both the country’s current annual GDP and inflation growth rates. Their reasoning: Well shucks, folks, this is the way things are done in Fat City.

Frankly, I don’t object to the amounts as much as I do to the process. And in this I am not alone. “We’d much prefer to see politician salaries set by a panel of everyday Canadians who don’t work for the government,” Gregory Thomas of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation told The Times. “We don’t agree that it is a good idea for politicians to set their own salaries because there is an evident conflict of interest.”

I’m not sure what he means when he says, “everyday Canadians.” But, I’m inclined to take his point anyway. On the other hand, the politicians are right about one thing: the practice is not without precedence.

Last year at around this time, Senators hiked their annual salaries and perks by nearly $3,000 to keep up with the Joneses in the House of Commons. That meant that, henceforth, Upper Chamber residents would pocket about $135,000, compared with about $160,000 for MPs. These boosts followed a three-year freeze on their compensations.

And, boy, some of those compensations were handsome.

For a Senator, the base salary was $135,200. But if you were fortunate enough to be the Speaker, you could expect an additional $56,000. If you were Deputy Speaker, you could count on pocketing an extra $26,000. The bonus for being the government’s leader in the senate was a whopping $76,800.

The government Whip earned $11,000 above base pay grade; the opposition Whip snagged $6,600. The bonuses for most committee chairs ranged from nearly $12,000 to $6,000.

Nice work, if you can get it. It’s little wonder that the notorious and nearly disgraced Mike Duffy had trained his keen eye on this particular prize for so long.

Again, though, the fee schedule is less troublesome than the specter of entitlement that always attends star chambers whose members think that other people’s money (namely, yours and mine) is their fair game.

According to The Times, “in the United Kingdom, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has been in control of MP salaries since the expense scandal in 2009, which uncovered MPs claiming inappropriate and at times exorbitant expenses, like the case of one MP who expensed the cost of building a moat to his office budget. Members of parliament in the U.K. had their salaries frozen for two years, starting in March 2011 at ($124,000 CDN) a year.”

Something like this is an obvious solution for Canada. Why not institute an independent review and approval committee, not unlike any public utilities board in the country, to set and monitor compensation packages for elected representatives?

Why must we tolerate the appearance of collusion at the general public’s expense?

After all, unlike me, MPs and senators in this country are not free agents. They are not the masters of all they survey.

According to our Constitution, we are.

Tagged , ,

Put Moncton’s future in the hands of the willing


It’s fast becoming apparent that if the community of interests that comprises Greater Moncton intends to erect any of its many imagined monuments to civic pride and progress (including, but not limited to, a downtown events centre) it must turn to private enterprises, voluntary organizations and institutions to get the job done.

Governments, it seems, are otherwise occupied counting their dwindling supply of loonies and obfuscating the public debate with impenetrable statements like the one Moncton City Manager Jacques Dube issued the other day to a Moncton Times & Transcript reporter on the subject of concert dates for Magnetic Hill:

“(City) staff need a couple more weeks to prepare final recommendations in relation to potential changes to concert and event governance, organizational structures and any new financial parameters regarding future concerts and events at Magnetic Hill, the Stadium, the Coliseum and other city venues.”

From this, it seems entirely reasonably to conclude that bafflegab-production has usurped actual event-prospecting over at Casa del Mudtown.

The good news is that just as some city officials and elected representatives (not all, to be sure and to be fair) take their time figuring out how they feel about our live sports and entertainment scene – i.e., whether or not a new events centre should support a full-blown, downtown renaissance, or just itself; whether or not Magnetic Hill will ever again attract the likes of the Rolling Stones, and 75,000 fans, for one weekend of gloriously bacchanalian spending – some of us, at least, are willing to pick up the ball.

I’m not especially fond of summitry in any of its guises. Too often, events involving a few hundred people, representing a few hundred different points of view, convened to “get things done” produce precisely the opposite effect. But the final report of the recent “Greater Moncton – One Region, One Vision 2014” conference suggests that this gathering was the happy exception to my rule.

Most impressive, perhaps, was the degree of unanimity it achieved on concrete issues that affect all sectors and industry segments in the metropolitan area.

All participants agreed, for example, that the tri-city area must draw more talent, more immigrants, into its orbit. “Our economic, cultural and social advancement will be strengthened through attracting more newcomers to the community,” the report observed. “Even the professional sectors are having a harder time attracting workers compared to the recent past.”

Though summiteers complained about the federal government’s notoriously ineffectual temporary foreign worker program, some suggested solutions they, themselves, could offer, such as “strengthening the linkages between industries and educational institutions; and raising the profile of industry among young people.”

Other priorities included engendering greater “industry-specific collaboration” to address joint problems; nurturing entrepreneurship and “strengthening the start-up ecosystem (involving) access to capital, mentorship and guidance and physical incubation spaces; and “fostering Greater Moncton’s role as a regional services centre” especially for the nascent natural gas industry in the province.

Of course, we know a community is largely on the right course when its members – ably articulating its advantages as well as its challenges – find that its strengths and weakness are actually two signs of the same municipal coin.

By summit consensus, for example, one of Greater Moncton’s top 10 competitive boons is its “entrepreneurial spirit”. At the same time, one of its key drawbacks is the “lack of new entrepreneurs.”

These two facts, juxtaposed as they are in the same urban headspace, immediately suggest strategies for real progress – the obvious one being to leverage the experience of existing entrepreneurs to mentor, promote and provide new opportunities for promising, youthful startups.

This is the type of active, collaborative, inventive, and mindful approach to solving problems and, frankly, just getting things done that this metropolitan area needs now, before it grows inured to habitual underachievement in governments at all levels.

So says the Summit report: “The success of Greater Moncton over the past 25 years has been in large part due to cooperation and collaboration. The 2014 Greater Moncton Economic Summit was the start of a process meant to rekindle this spirit of collaboration.”

We may only hope that from Moncton City Hall’s perspective that process comes just in the nick of time.

Tagged , , ,

Get the comedy out of city hall and onto a proper stage


How many times shall we pose the existential query that pertains to Moncton’s, as yet entirely fictional, downtown events centre? How much patience must we yet muster before we finally obtain an answer?

To build or under-build: that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous Council,

Or to take arms against a sea of dragging feet,

And by opposing trip them?

Naturally, I extend my deepest apology to Bill Shakespeare’s phantom, both for mangling one of his finest soliloquies and for inappropriately inserting it into the wrong fantastical genre.

After all, Hamlet is high tragedy, whereas the play underway at Moncton City Hall seems more, in form and function, an Italian farce, if by this we accept the dictionary’s definition of a “light, dramatic composition that uses highly improbable situations, stereotyped characters and broad humour.”

According to The Moncton Times & Transcript’s Cole Hobson, reporting yesterday, “a preliminary copy of the potential RFP details that the centre must have a minimum of 7,500 permanent seats, which is significantly lower than figures that have been discussed in the past and not much larger than the current fixed-seat capacity of the Moncton Coliseum, which sits around 6,500.”

So irked by this were the organ’s sturdy, fearless opinionators that the lead editorial in yesterday’s T&T concluded in righteous exasperation, “A new centre, based on the original concept of seating in the 10,000 to 12,000 range with an ability to be expanded in the future, would cost $100 million or more, but would attract a far greater variety of events and thus generate the kind of entrepreneurial interest that would lead to at least another $100 million in related development.”

As to the kicker, “If this council can’t embrace the future, it might as well cling to the past,” I heartily concur. And I don’t even come from here.

In fact, I come from a couple of places where this sort of nonsense happens all the time, where institutional hemming and hawing and corrosive uncertainties among the penny-wise and pound-foolish virtually paralyze municipal chambers. Even when they don’t, the decisions are invariably absurd and counterproductive. (Halifax City Council’s endless debates over which view of the harbour should take precedence over the construction of which mixed-use high rise are legendary).

Which brings us back around to the little matter of seven-thousand-five-hundred seats. I’ve said it once; I’ll say it again: That’s not enough to do the job of a proper multi-use events centre. So, then, why bother?

A proper multi-use events centre draws and hosts gigs from every possible quarter of the world’s $4-trillion entertainment-and-sports-industrial complex. That means its capacity must meet a specific threshold to attract a wider variety of performances and events. Below this mark of 10K-15K seats, we’re stuck with, at best, serving the status quo; at worst, losing business that was once ours to venues in places like Summerside (Sound familiar?)

On the other hand, if we do it right, according to a research report by Moncton-based Jupia Consultants, we can legitimately expect that a new centre will annually “attract between 317,000 and 396,000 people. . .generating between $12 and $15 million in spending.” In the process, it will “support retail, food service, accommodation and other services in the downtown,” where it “should also support residential growth.”

We know this, don’t we? We’ve been yakking about it for years. And for years, we’ve been chasing our tails in City Council like the bumbling protagonists of the 19th Century stage trifle, The Italian Straw Hat.

To his credit, Mayor George LeBlanc has been clear and consistent on the issue. In yesterday’s piece, he said that he “personally” believed in “something in the range of 9,000 seats, plus suites and club seats. . .which would bring the total capacity up to about 10,000 seats. . .I think at this stage of the game, we really need to be looking forward, not backward.”

Yes, we do, and before we come to the grinding realization that we, in this community, have lost interest in taking a bold, leading role in our own lives.

Tagged ,

Farewell, Jim, and don’t let failure smack you on the way out


First, the excellent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announces that the North Atlantic’s ice pack is (just barely) showing signs of (gasp, can it be true?) breaking up.

Then, intrepid scientists at NASA announce that they have identified, for all time, the point at which. . .well, time began.

And if that isn’t enough to tickle a polar witch’s fanny, Canada’s official trustee in bankruptcy, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, announces that he’s had it with politics and so shall, several dozen months before the next federal election, take his leave of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet and try to land himself a real job in the private sector.

Which is another way of saying that, in Canada, time can and does stand still, just when you least expect it.

“Yesterday, I informed the prime minister that I am resigning from cabinet,”Pal Jimmy (we can call him this, since he is, now, one of us again) wrote in in his official statement. “This was a decision I made with my family earlier this year, as I will be returning to the private sector.”

But not before issuing a few well chosen, nicely crafted words on his own behalf:

“I am grateful to Prime Minister Stephen Harper for providing me with the opportunity and responsibility to serve Canadians as their Minister of Finance since 2006, one of the longest serving Finance Ministers in Canadian history.

“As I reflect on my almost two decades in politics, I am proud of the accomplishments of the governments I was part of, provincial and federal. In my time as Finance Minister, I am proud of the work I have done to help manage the deepest economic challenge to face Canada since the depression of the 1930s and ensure Canada emerged stronger and as a recognized economic leader on the international stage.

“Along with managing Canada’s performance during the global economic crisis, I am pleased our government brought forward positive measures to make Canada one of the world’s best places to do business. . .I also made it a priority to help improve the well-being of people with disabilities.

“My goal was always to get Canada back on track to a balanced budget after the large deficit we agreed was necessary in Budget 2009 to combat the Great Recession and protect Canadian jobs. As outlined in Budget 2014, I followed through on that commitment. There is no doubt that Canada’s budget will be balanced in 2015.  Canada’s fiscal position is the envy of the developed world. All Canadians can be proud of the country’s performance.

“Now, I will focus on life beyond politics as I return to the private sector. I believe that I have served my country, province and constituents of Whitby-Oshawa to the best of my abilities and thank them for their continued trust and support for almost two decades. . .Thank you, Jim Flaherty.”

No, Jim, thank you.

Thanks to your determination to get the country “back on track” from whichever imaginary hell more powerful cabineteers than you spectrally raised to frighten the pajamas off taxpayers, Canada has become a mewling, paranoid simulacrum of its former self.

We no longer care about employment insurance recipients. We dismiss young people and educators as easily as we do environmental scientists. We can’t even care properly for our veterans of foreign wars.

Thanks to your fiscal leadership, Diamond Jim, Canada has become a meaner, tighter nation. Your policies may have saved the country from going down the road with Greece, but was that ever really the danger?

Wasn’t the real danger the encroaching degree of incivility and mistrust your buddies on the Hill did nothing to mitigate in the villages, towns and cities of a once-tolerant, open-minded, open-handed nation?

Forget the fact that Canada’s GDP has been handed over to natural resources industries. Forget the fact that public investments in science and technology serve only the status quo and, so, produce, no material or intellectual gain.

Forget all of it, Jim.

YER outta here!

Can’t say I blame you.

Can’t say I’ll miss you either, as the weather warms and the secrets of the big, wide universe are revealed just in time for your first Big-Bank interview in the corner office where black holes go to thrive.


Will it be ‘icons and idols’ or ‘flesh and blood’ that we honour?


There’s nothing wrong with erecting statues to commemorate soldiers killed in battle. In fact, many people think that a 100-foot-tall monument called “Mother Canada”, her arms  spread wide, her gaze fixed upon the eastern horizon, plunked smack-dab in the middle of Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail at one of it finest promontories, is a terrific idea.

The chances are, of course, that those folks don’t live anywhere near the site for the planned memorial, a private-sector venture driven out of Toronto, which has already received Parks Canada approval and the enthusiastic endorsement of at least two federal cabinet ministers.

In fact, if those folks did live in or around the Green Cove cliff area of Cape Breton, they might wonder, as does Gordon Rideout, president of the Royal Canadian Legion branch in nearby Ingonish, if anyone has checked a map.

It’s not that he thinks the statue, itself, is a bad idea. It’s just that, he told the CBC in January, it’ll be in the wrong place.

“You’re in the middle of probably one of the most beautiful national parks in the country,” he said. “What’s going to happen here. . .is that the Cabot Trail. . .will have to be rerouted. There’s going to be an information centre there. There has to be, of course, washroom facilities and everything else put in there. And it’s just going to spoil one of the most overlooked places on the trail. . .I just don’t want to see a major reconstruction of that area. It’s going to turn it into a small Disney World.”

South Harbour resident Claudia Gahlinger goes farther. Though she’s all for remembering the sacrifices of Canada’s servicemen and women, she can’t help note the irony swirling about the project.

“We all know that we’ll be fined if we’re caught taking even a stick or stone from the park,” she told the CBC. “Yet this private foundation is going to be allowed to pave over, rearrange and, in effect, own an entire hectare.”

The foundation to which she refers is the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation, a charity established and run by Toronto business executive Tony Trigiani who got the idea while traveling through Canadian war memorials in Italy recently. “It’s going to be magnificent,” he told the Toronto Star late last year. “The views from the Cabot Trail are going to be spectacular.”

Indeed, Mr. Trigiani, they are already, and your massive, well-meant intention  – fully realized in granite or marble or limestone, or whatever they build statues out of these days – is not going to change the appearance of the North Atlantic ocean from the top of that cliff.

But it may help to speed unsettling changes that are already underway in the way we order our public priorities over the next few years.

Both Leona Aglukkaq, the federal minister responsible for Parks Canada, and Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice, have boarded Mr. Trigiani’s bandwagon, which is scheduled to arrive on the East Coast, toting a $30-million building fund, sometime in the next two years, or so.

Their support has, in no small measure, to do with the fact that neither they, nor any of their other colleagues in cabinet, will have to pay for it.

But more than this, the project comes at a time when the federal government’s devotion to military commemorations of every variety – icons and idols – seems to be achieving a sort of zenith that is perilously close to eclipsing the needs of military personnel – flesh and blood – who have not fallen, but have, rather, survived to endure the awful physical and emotional ramifications of their living sacrifices.

“The key message. . .is that improvements are required to specific New Veterans Charter programs to help Veterans and their families successfully transition to civilian life,” Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent stipulated in a blunt and wide-ranging report last year. “The most urgent shortcomings to address are those that affect the economic financial support provided to Veterans, especially totally and permanently incapacitated veterans who are vulnerable financially. It is simply not acceptable to let veterans who have sacrificed the most for their country – those who are totally and permanently incapacitated – live their lives with unmet financial needs.”

To be sure, statues are convincing and enduring ways to honour those who have fought and died in wars.

As for what to do with the living, starting a decent conversation usually avoids tragic misunderstandings on this earthly coil.

The feds might want to ask the bemused residents of Cape Breton about that.

Then again, statues don’t talk back.

Tagged , ,

It’s spring and “partitioning” is in the air

If Montreal becomes  a city state, can Toronto be far behind?

If Montreal becomes a city state, can Toronto be far behind?

In a sort of geopolitical shot-gun wedding officiated by the former Soviet KGB station chief and current oligarch-in-residence Vladimir Putin, Crimeans voted on Sunday to split from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.

Amid the turrets and waving barrels of Kalashnikov-toting “military observers” Moscow and environs, the result was better than 95 per cent in favour, which drew howls of derision from Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, whose own approval in this country rating has rarely tracked above 40 per cent.

“The so-called referendum. . . was conducted with Crimea under illegal military occupation,” he said in a statement. “Its results are a reflection of nothing more than Russian military control. Any solution to this crisis must respect the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine as well as the constitution of Ukraine. Mr. Putin’s reckless and unilateral actions will lead only to Russia’s further economic and political isolation from the international community.”

That’s pretty tough talk coming from a head of state with virtually no navy of which to speak (Meanwhile, Russia, which has evinced great interest in Canada’s north polar territories, maintains a fleet of 210 warships and 70 submarines. . .just. . .you know. . .food for thought).

Still, Mr. Harper has a point. The Crimean vote bears all the outward signs of a well-organized sham – least among them, perhaps, is Johannes Hubner’s endorsement of it. 

The member of Austria’s reactionary Freedom Party told The Globe and Mail, “I would say this election doesn’t seem to be less legitimate than the elections in Ukraine before. We see no signs of intimidation, no signs of a breach of security. We have seen Cossacks and militias standing around polling stations, but no one interferes.”

No, there’d be no need; now would there?

Political leaders in Canada are far less adept at overt intimidation than their Russian counterparts. But, despite empirical evidence to the contrary, spring is nearly upon us and partitioning is in the air, even here in the torpid Great White North.

As if Quebec Premier Pauline Marois’ determination to yank the errant strand of separation that runs through her distinct society like a loose threat weren’t enough to try  a federalist’s patience, now comes word about some Montrealers’ plans for their fair metropolis, lately besieged by crumbling overpasses, trembling bureaucrats and overbearing mob bosses.

In a February 27 post, MTL Blog editor Michael Michael D’Alimonte, “a self-proclaimed nerd and genius (who) loves all things Whedon and Batman-related,” outlined “10 Reasons Why Montreal Should Become A City State”,  pointing out that “Montreal as a city state is not a lofty concept.”  

In fact, his research borrows heavily from some actual high-concept work done by Montreal consultant, lecturer and author Michel David, who heads the group, Reinvent Montreal. Its proposed charter, “Montreal City State: Canada’s Entrepreneurial Hub” states that “the island of Montreal and the rest of Quebec (ROQ) are two distinct societies on three fundamental dimensions:  

“Society. . .ROQ is homogeneous; Montral is multi-ethnic, 51 per cent non-French, 80 different ethnic groups. 

“Culture. . .ROQ is local, the group comes first; Montreal is cosmopolitan, primacy is to the individual. 

“Economy. . .ROQ is driven by natural resources and agriculture; Montreal, like most major cities, is driven by networks of commerce and knowledge.  

“Seventy percent of Montrealers and Quebecers agree that Montreal is different from the rest of the province in the way business is conducted, its interaction with the provincial government, the priorities it has as a region and the way it governs itself as a city.”

Apparently, these differences – and the fact that the Province of Quebec is mired in debt and keeps making dumb decisions about language rights and religious freedoms  – are deep enough to justify Montreal kicking it Singapore style.

“Around the world,” the charter insists, “there are numerous examples of cities/regions that have the status and the responsibilities to create high performance economic centers; for example: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Berlin, Hamburg, New York.”

It’s enough to make you wonder: If he were mayor of Montreal, what would dear, old Vlad do? 

Tagged , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: