Monthly Archives: December 2016

Raging rhinos of New Brunswick

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We, in this province, have grown accustomed to the deafening silence in the rest of the country that routinely follows those increasingly rare moments when we speak up about the shape and function of our shared democratic adventure.

Eyes in Ottawa roll languidly. Alberta just wants us to shut up. And British Columbia invariably asks, “Where’s New Brunswick again?” That’s likely to change if opinionated fellows like the nation’s auditor-general Michael Ferguson and award-winning policy expert and academic Donald Savoie have anything to say about matters pertaining to the Great White North.

Both are articulate, intelligent, accomplished gentlemen who have reached the apex of their respective crafts. Guess what? They are also fully bred New Brunswickers, accompanying others in a long line of folks from the picture-perfect province who, throughout history, have made a durable habit of happily upsetting apple carts in other parts of this 9,300-kilometer-wide country.

Consider First Nations leader and historian Joseph M. Augustine, Hollywood-based actor Donald Sutherland, poet Alden Nowlan. Consider world-champion boxer Yvon Durelle, singers and songwriters Edith Butler and Shirley Eikhard, and the globally successful food-industry entrepreneurs Wallace and Harrison McCain. Naturally, the list goes on.

But, lately, Messrs Ferguson and Savoie have emerged, in their own ways, as the preeminent emissaries sent from the Maritimes to the centre of the Canadian universe on missions of lecturing, hectoring and general gad-fly biting into the rind of the rhinoceros that is national politics.

Says a Postmedia report, published last week and titled “Mad-as-hell auditor general not taking it anymore”, Mr. Ferguson, “after five years of making no headway and having his words fall on fallow ground. . .had finally had enough. Tired of punching out reports and seeing them gather dust, tired of banging his head against bureaucracy walls, and tired of all the political dodging of his recommendations, Ferguson’s frustration came to a head with a riot-act lecture to government. Stop making the same mistakes over and over again, he all but yelled at the ruling Liberals. Start treating taxpayers with respect. Stop thinking of taxpayers last.”

The writer of this piece also observed: “Ferguson. . .reminded politicians, and the bureaucrats who serve them, that every dollar in their salary and the foundation of their pensions come from taxpayers who foot every bill, and that respect for them is rarely extended. So he challenged federal departments to start focusing on the needs of people, not their own internal processes. . .It was magnificent to watch, and to hear.”

Meanwhile, Moncton’s very own éminence grise on all things political, Donald Savoie, had this to say in his book, “What is government good at?”, published in 2015: “Though politicians from all political parties are talking about the importance of the middle class to social cohesion, it is not at all clear what they are proposing to do about it. The problem and solutions. . . are likely to be found beyond Canada’s borders. . .The work of Thomas Piketty and others suggests that growing income inequality is a global problem. . .As is the case with many economic challenges, dealing with. . .inequality is beyond the reach of Canadian politicians and political institutions, a reality that precious few Canadian politicians are prepared to explain. The goal is to win political power: making political promises and playing the blame game offers far greater potential than trying to explain why the middle class is shrinking.”

Oh, you raging rhinos of New Brunswick, tell it like it is until the ears of the country, deafened to our New Brunswick voices, finally open again.

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A ‘Nickelback’ for your thoughts

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As the season of charity and good humour rapidly encroaches, it aggrieves me to note that the Alberta-based rock band Nickelback is anything but amused.

The object of its ire is a Prince Edward Island police constable who, in a moment of inspired tongue-in-cheekery, threatened any driver he caught under the influence with a force-fed loop of the group’s tunes from its third album. Leaving aside, for the moment, the conundrum of a musical act that manages to sell more albums than almost anyone else north of the 49th Parallel whilst maintaining its reputation as one of the most hated in the business, one wonders how Kensington-stationed cop thought he could get away with any stab at levity in this social-media-drenched world. It didn’t take long for the poor fellow to eat his words on Facebook.

“The other day I created a post in the hopes of bringing awareness to Drinking and Driving and in doing so I suggested that I would be playing Nickelback in the back of my cruiser for those that made the ill advised decision to Drink and Drive and had been apprehended for the same,” wrote R. Hartlen last week. “Well, as we have seen, our little post became an international story. And somewhere in the noise, the message of Don’t Drink and Drive was overshadowed by negativity towards the band I said I would play if you did. . . The message being heard was no longer Don’t Drink and Drive and in its wake was a group of guys and their families left wondering why they were the global butt of a joke that they had not deserved. And for that I am sorry.”

To be sure, drinking and driving is a serious issue – nowhere more so than in the Maritimes, where the per capita-rate of car ownership is higher than in any other part of the country. But, Nickelback. . .come on, dudes. Lighten up a little. You should know by now that the only bad publicity is no publicity at all. As for the latently contrite R. Hartlen, might I suggest a few alternatives in the dispensation of punishment or incentives to motorists?

According to NBC News a couple of years ago, “DDVIP – Designated Driver App, a new application from The California Office of Traffic Safety, gives discounts and exclusive offers to sober designated drivers across the state. Users can search through all participating bars and restaurants in California and filter them by location. The Greater San Diego area, for instance, has more than 35 restaurants and bars that are offering deals like a free non-alcoholic drink for sober drivers.”

Said one bar owner, Ray Corallino: “We offer them a free appetizer and a non alcoholic beverage of their choice if they are the designated driver. I think it’s a good idea because we have a lot of college kids that come down from the state area, USD, UCSD and they have to drive a long way home.”

Perhaps Prince Edward Island’s dedicated constabulary could follow suit with that province’s publicans. If that particular carrot fails to work, there are always several non-Nickelback sticks to deploy.

What about the mandatory consumption of slushies from a local filling station? Or ham and cheese sandwiches “made by hand” from a federal penitentiary? There’s also a four-hour binge-watch of The Gilmore Girls reboot on Netflix; any episode of The Vampire Diaries; and any album that features Madonna, The Spice Girls, Kanye West, or Beyonce. As for Justin Bieber? Well, enough said.

Be assured, driver. Sober is better.

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Strange days, indeed

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It’s difficult to gauge the measurable effect of Donald Trump’s recent election win on the natural world as 30 centimeters of wet snow descended on Moncton nearly a month before the official start of winter. But maybe the legendary Eastern cougar knew something we didn’t more than a month ago.

According to a CBC report in late October, “Several people in the Tracy (New Brunswick) area have reported seeing and hearing what they believe is a cougar prowling in their yards over the past two weeks. Four households have heard and seen what they describe as a large cat with long tail, and tawny coat, sitting in their yards making separate loud, disturbing yowls and screeches.”

Said one Holly Whittaker: “It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. And there he was and it was kind of scary knowing I had a cougar outside my bedroom window. It was beige colour, very big. He had a very long tail and he just went strutting down the road. I’ve looked online and seen pictures of them. I know it wasn’t a bobcat or a lynx, he had a very long tail.”

Naturalists have dismissed theories that the big feline is making a breeding comeback in the province. It’s more likely, they say, the cats – probably exotic pets that have escaped their captivity – are travelling north from the United States. There’s no word yet on whether they self-identify as Democrats or Republicans.

We know that fish don’t vote so it’s hard to parse the circumstances surrounding the following, as reported last week in the Annapolis County Spectator in Nova Scotia: “Cindy Graham was walking her dogs Nov. 25 on the beach at Griffin Cove just west of Seawall and found that beach littered with herring. Joan Comeau was bird watching in Sandy Cove the same morning and saw herring on the beach there and under the wharf.

“Dead and dying herring has been washing up on the shores of St. Mary’s Bay for a week or more, from the head of the bay at Marsh Road in Marshalltown, as far west as Gilbert’s Cove on the mainland and Sandy Cove on the Neck.”

Said Department of Fisheries and Oceans detachment supervisor Gary Hutchins: “We expect to have some kind of determination of what, if anything, is wrong with the fish by the first of week.” The newspaper piece added that Hutchins “said a DFO biologist in Digby had made a quick examination of some affected herring but was not able to identify a cause for what is happening.

Roland LeBlanc, a researcher with the Salmon River Salmon Association has also had time, before heading to sea on a research trip, to cut open a herring and was not able to find the parasite Cryptoctolye lingua in that one fish.”

Meanwhile, as the CBC reported, following the Trump victory in the United States, “The Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada website crashed around 11 p.m. on (election day) due to what a department spokesperson called ‘a significant increase in the volume of traffic.’ Since then, the department has confirmed that visitors from the U.S. accounted for half of that surge. . . Toronto-based immigration lawyer Heather Segal told CBC News that she has had American inquiries about relocating to Canada during the election campaign.”

Of course, as Mr. Trump has said, climate change is a hoax perpetrated by China on the rest of the world. So, we shan’t look there for explanations. Suffice to say the days, already strange, are getting stranger all the time.

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Open season on public servants

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As you scroll through certain toxic sectors of the Internet, the narrative is both acidic and familiar. Watch for them, you are told. You will know them to see them: lazy, wasteful, incompetent and, most importantly, egregiously acquisitive.

They are, of course, civil servants, public-sector employees, blithely leaching the economy of its essence, its ineffable grace. As the argument goes, never have so many done so little for so much moola.

But, wait, what about a fellow like Michael Ott? He’s a federal government scientist currently on leave from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. According to news reports, his bosses have erroneously paid him something like $30,000. What does he do? Pocket the cash with a wink and a nudge? In fact, a CBC item reports, “Ott has been putting aside every penny the federal government is mistakenly paying him.” His reasoning: “I’m more worried about the fact that in six weeks, if I haven’t paid it back, it’s going to be mess on my tax return.”

In other words, Mr. Ott is chiefly interested in doing his job and the right thing at the same time, which is the default position of virtually every civil servant in this country, in this region of Canada, I have ever known. And I have known more than a few.

Still, public-sector employees are the easiest targets in society for governments seeking to shift the blame for their own shortcomings and cowardice. They use words like “efficiency” and ugly tropes like “right-sizing” to justify their measures to voters who have been led to believe, staggeringly, that cutting jobs in one sector will help generate new ones in another.

“The Gallant Liberals will forge ahead with planned cuts to the number of people working for the New Brunswick government, believing there is still work to be done to ‘right-size’ the public service,” a Brunswick News item reported last week. “That’s despite a report that has found recent efforts have been successful in slimming numbers below the national average, defying a regional trend of a ballooning public service, and saving the province roughly $100 million in the process. . .The current Liberal government has already announced a plan to cut roughly another 1,300 positions from the civil service over the next five years.”

Why? Because it’s easier to pander to the popular and politically productive myth of the overfed public employee than it is to grapple with the inconvenient truth of a private sector that is no longer producing the good, sustainable jobs it once did.

Is this what’s behind the Nova Scotia government’s bizarre treatment of its teachers of late? The CBC reports: “All public schools will be closed Monday (yesterday) as the Liberal government throws a wrench into teacher plans to take job action over recently failed contract negotiations. Education Minister Karen Casey has decided to close schools province-wide but teachers are still expected to report to work. The Liberal government says it intends to try to impose a contract on the union.”

Added Casey with what must be the most disingenuous rationale by an elected official in recent memory: “Job actions could put students in unsafe environment. That’s unacceptable.”

Rejoined the province’s teachers union president Liette Doucet: “I would characterize (the move as) a means to create some division with the public. . .to make it seem like teachers were not going to ensure student safety. We’ve made it pretty clear that our first priority was student safety.”

And so it goes in this winter of our discontent: open season on public servants.

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