Category Archives: Society

Reading, writing and relief

On the odd occasion I’ve had the dubious pleasure of speaking to a room full of people who, I am quite certain, would rather tuck into their rubber chicken than spend another moment listening to my reedy voice drone on about the major issues of the day, I’ve been known to resort to rank levity.

Literacy is one of my hobbyhorses, and the joke goes something like this: “People have asked me how I became such an avid reader,” to which I respond, “because there was only so much Gilligan’s Island a young boy could take.” Reactions vary, from polite laughter to uncomprehending stares. What’s Gilligan’s Island? You would know if, like me, you grew up in the late 1960s and had access to a black and white TV set with only two channels on the dial.

There’s a point buried in there somewhere. If you’re exposed to more books and magazines than cheap laughs on ‘the boob tube’, the chances are you’re going to learn to read. What’s more, you’re going to learn to love reading.

Sadly, in New Brunswick and, indeed, across Canada, that’s not always an option. In fact, no issue is more liable to elicit a chorus of unanimity from otherwise divergent political voices than building a literate workforce. Specifically, in this province’s case, upwards of 56 per cent of people can’t read well enough to function competently on a daily basis.

Last summer, the New Brunswick government took delivery of a report entitled, The Power of Literacy – Moving towards New Brunswick’s Comprehensive Literacy Strategy. Some of the recommendations included: “Increasing supports for speech/language development with a primary focus on children up to three years old; empowering families with practical support for stronger literacy skills with their child/youth at each grade; enhancing the capacity of community-based adult learning organizations; and establishing a community literacy champion within each library region to serve as the coordinator of literacy at the community level.”

Still, former provincial New Democrat Leader Dominic Cardy hit the nail on the head when, a couple of years ago, he noted, “If we create a universally accessible, affordable high-quality early childhood education system, linking existing private infrastructure in schools and centres with government-supported ones where necessary, that is going to unleash a huge amount of economic potential.”

The results of one recent study of 693 Ontario kids in Grade One indicated that those who had participated in two years of full-day kindergarten (FDK) in that province were much better equipped to thrive in school than those who had not.

The research, undertaken by Queen’s and McMaster universities concluded, “Overall, students in FDK are better prepared to enter Grade 1 and to be more successful in school. In every area, students improved their readiness for Grade 1 and accelerated their development. Comparisons of children with two years of FDK instruction and children with no FDK instruction showed that FDK reduced risks in social competence development from 10.5 per cent to 5.8 per cent; in language and cognitive development from 15.8 per cent to 4.3 per cent; (and) in communication skills and general knowledge development from 10.5 per cent to 5.8 per cent.”

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In recent years, the efficacious effects of early child education on literacy, numeracy and problem-solving has been rigorously studied all over the world. And the findings all lead to the same conclusion: It works.

Can New Brunswick afford a universal, integrated, accessible system of early childhood education in an age of massive, structural public deficits and debt? The real question is: Can it afford not to invest?

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New Brunswick in the post-truth era

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In an age when opinions, belief and faith trump (pun, fully intended) facts, evidence and even reality, itself, it’s not surprising that the Oxford English Dictionary should induct “post-truth” as its duly designated word of the year.

Other frontrunners in 2016 were, in no particular order: “alt-right”, signifying an ideological predisposition towards right-wing nuttiness; “chatbot”, referring to a computer program with pretentions to humanlike interactions; and “Brexiteer”, indicating an individual who just can’t wait to rip up every trade agreement that tethers the United Kingdom to continental Europe.

Methinks, I discern a developing meme in all of this. As for post-truth, it’s an adjective the OED defines thusly: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

What’s next? “Thinkiness”, defined as the condition in which a person only appears to be weighing “objective facts” on his or her way to ultimately concluding that the world is flat, dinosaurs were God’s little joke 6,000 years ago, and Donald Trump will be an enlightened reformer from his perch in the penthouse of the mid-town Manhattan hotel that bears his name?

In fact, in New Brunswick, we can observe our own versions of post-truthiness rearing their angry, squalling heads.

There is, for example, the persistent supposition that governments (of both political stripes) don’t work, never did and never will. I call this the Kelly Leitch syndrome. You know her. She’s the presumptive candidate for the federal Conservative Party of Canada, who likes to sprinkle phrases like “average guys and gals on the street” into her regular discourses on the despicable “political and media elites”. Funny thing, that. Dr. Leitch earned a MD from the University of Toronto and an MBA from Dalhousie University. She was a fellow of clinical paediatric orthopaedics at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles in 2002. Today, she’s an orthopaedic paediatric surgeon at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. She’s also a member of parliament.

Can you spell E-L-I-T-E? Still, droves of New Brunswickers buy her brand of populism and believe, in their hearts, that, despite her academic pedigree and evidently comfortable affluence, she’s one of them. She “gets” them in the same way a billionaire real estate developer from New York “gets” the poor, benighted, unemployed factory worker in Flint, Michigan. All hail the rhetoric and campaign tactics of the practiced politicos among us. As for the facts. . .well, let us deliver a pox on all the houses where these reside.

What about refugees and immigrants in post-truth New Brunswick? Recent public opinion surveys suggest that this province’s long-standing willingness to accept and welcome newcomers into its mix is corroding. Only two years ago, Atlantic Canada led the rest of the country in tolerance and acceptance. According to a CBC report at that time, “In the Atlantic provinces, 86 per cent said they would be comfortable if someone of a different ethnic background married their best friend, while in the prairies that dropped to 71 per cent. In B.C., 72 per cent of respondents ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that they are proud of Canada’s cultural mosaic. In another illustration of regional variation, 86 per cent of respondents in the Maritimes said they would feel ‘comfortable’ or ‘very comfortable’ if ‘someone with a different ethnic background moved next door to me.’”

Now, in the post-Brexit, pre-Trump world, these numbers are deflating in this region, in this province, thanks almost entirely to fake news – engineered by the gut – published on social media.

Thinkiness? No, just think.

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Up, up and away

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Cautioning prudence to investors desperate to cash in on the next, big thing is not much different than spitting into the wind. For reasons that should seem obvious, you are bound to regret it.

As it happens, the Cassandras of the financial world are few and far between whenever the market smells red meat in the air. Are we now heading into this mortally treacherous territory thanks to the impending legalization of pot for recreational use in Canada?

Last week, Moncton’s OrganiGram, a medical marijuana producer, confirmed plans to build out its production capacity to 26,000 kilograms of the stuff (about 9,000 kg more than its current output) annually. Meanwhile, according to a report in this newspaper, the company has “made some new friends in high places. Trailer Park Boys, the hit Canadian comedy TV show, will be collaborating with the cannabis company on an exclusive strain of marijuana as soon as it becomes legalized.”

Said OrganiGram’s chief commercial officer, Ray Gracewood: “We need to be strategic about the opportunities that will be afforded to us with the advent of recreational use in Canada. Brands will play a key role within the cannabis market space, and we’re devoting the thought leadership and developing our strategy well in advance of these expected changes to ensure we’re prepared.”

Elsewhere, despite their mindful-sounding public statements, the industry’s “thought leaders” are licking their chops without actually knowing how the shape of their emerging business will solidify.

According to a piece in Cantech Letter, “Already setting new record highs for months, shares of Canadian marijuana stocks have reached lofty new territories after California voted to legalize marijuana. On Tuesday, (November 9) while many were mulling the shocking surge to the White House by Donald Trump, the state of California passed Proposition 64, which will allow residents 21 years and older to buy and possess up to one ounce of cannabis for recreational purposes and to grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use. The new measure will create an environment for state-licensed businesses to set up retail marijuana sales. With a proposed 15 per cent sales tax, the state is expected to take in an added $1 billion in tax revenue from legalization.”

Indeed, as the CTV reported last week, “Shares in Canopy Growth Corporation (based in Smith Falls, Ontario) saw its value hit $17.86, double its level from a week earlier, before falling again. The total value of the company’s stocks briefly hit $2 billion, twice what it was a few days before. Stock in Aurora Cannabis, based in Alberta, jumped to $3.95, up from around $2 a week earlier.

Mettrum Health Corp. also saw its trading stopped twice, while Supreme Pharmaceuticals Inc. and OrganiGram Holdings Inc. had their trading stopped once each.”

All of this feels vaguely familiar. Enthusiasm for the “new” and the “exciting” is a permanent feature of market capitalism. As with virtually everything within the realm of human volition, it produces both good and ill effects. On the one hand, ventures obtain access to badly needed capital for expansion and product innovation. On the other hand, too much hot blood can generate bubbles, which have a nasty habit of bursting when you least expect.

The age of legal “Mary-Jane” in New Brunswick is about to dawn. That’s great, as far as it goes. We could use the business boost in this province. But let’s not forget that all industries take time to mature. We want them to survive and thrive, despite the fickle headwinds that conspire to knock them down, cold and stoned.

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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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Brexit’s dart to the heart

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Nothing unwittingly captures the folly of Britain’s decision, last week, to leave the European Union than do comments from the world’s reigning absurdist, the presumptive Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States Donald Trump,

Having only just arrived to reopen his golf course in Scotland, the billionaire heir to impossible wealth tweeted, “Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!”

In an off-the-cuff interview with reporters, he elaborated: “I think it’s a great thing that’s happened. It’s an amazing vote, very historic. People are angry all over the world. They’re angry over borders, they’re angry over people coming into the country and taking over and nobody even knows who they are. They’re angry about many, many things in the UK, the US and many other places. This will not be the last.”

The curious problem with these remarks is, of course, the fact that Scotland voted 62 per cent to remain within the European Union and is now seriously considering a new referendum to separate from Britain to do just that. So is Ireland.

So, then, who does The Donald actually think took which country back, as he says, with “no games?”

Was it Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who told the BBC last weekend that she intends to spearhead a renewed effort for her nation’s independence from Westminster?

Was it Gerry Adams of Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein, who has, in vigorous protest to the Brexit vote, floated the idea of unifying his country with Eire as a bulwark against an increasingly belligerent England?

As usual, Mr. Trump is doing his level (if unconsciously ludicrous) best to increase Canada’s immigration rates – specifically, to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, where the color of one’s skin still tends to be as white as driven snow. After all, his special brand of xenophobia and populist outrage plays beautifully in places like “Little England” and “Outer Atlantica”.

But before we lick our chops at the prospect of somehow amalgamating London’s progressive urbanites with Boston’s disaffected Democrats within our own porous borders, we’d better be clear about a few incontrovertible facts of life in the global, 21st Century world we inhabit.

The first is: People in democracies make terrible mistakes when they are inchoately angry. They lash out like drunken bums on bingers, only to awake at dawn to ask, “My God, what have I done?”

The second is: The planet fairly brims with enterprising, calculating opportunists who are more than happy to drive wedges between people of otherwise good and temperate nature. The sharks among us swim for this conflict, because by fomenting it, they profit from it.

The third is: No one is ever truly satisfied with the decisions they make or the leaders they choose. All anyone can ever hope for is the wisdom and freedom to forgive, change and reconcile. This is the prevailing power of reasonable governments in stable societies.

The Brexit vote will affect every economy in the world, either directly or indirectly, including Atlantic Canada’s.

Here, we do ourselves a favour by ensuring that our borders are as open as our doors, our business is open-handed, our attitude towards immigrants is openhearted, and our concept of democracy is open-minded.

If we manage that feat, then we will reject the purchase of our minds that the absurdists and calculating suitors to our basest instincts among us insist.

Then, perhaps, tomorrow, people will tell villains like Donald Trump, “You’re fired.”

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Are we all together?

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My brother and me 

Tragedies, such as the brutal slaying of 49 members of Orlando’s LBGTQ community (more than 50 others are recovering from their injuries in hospital), shrink the world. They remind us that, in the end, we are all members of the human family.

So it was, earlier this week, when New Brunswick Deputy Premier Stephen Horsman flew the rainbow flag over the provincial legislature at half-mast, stating, “These were needless, senseless killings. It shouldn’t happen, not in today’s world.”

So it was when Chantal Thanh Laplante, an organizer with Moncton’s River of Pride organization, declared, “We stand strongly in solidarity with the LGBTQ community in Orlando and with all the other victims and survivors of hate crimes across the world. Let’s not fight hate with hate. Let’s fight hate with love and peace because we know that in the end, love and peace will always win.”

So it was when Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan told the Charlottetown Guardian, “You can see it from Pride (P.E.I.) and others in the community that we respond with solidarity and pride. This is obviously a senseless act, (but) it’s also an opportunity for us to show that we stand together. It’s horrific that this gay club and these people were targeted.”

It’s not surprising, then, for many to view this particular massacre through a lens focused on broad social principles that apply to all, and not exclusively to the victims of the crime: civilization versus barbarity; freedom versus tyranny.

U.S. President Barack Obama said as much in a statement from the White House: “We know enough to say this was an act of terror and an act of hate. The FBI is appropriately investigating this as an act of terror. We will go wherever the facts lead us. . .What is clear is he was a person filled with hatred. . .This is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country,” adding, “no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.”

He was in good company. Earlier this week, my friend and colleague Norbert Cunningham, writing in the Moncton Times & Transcript , stated, “What the Orlando attack and every other shooting of this kind has been really about is not sexuality, not religion, not race, not paranoia about pre-fab scapegoats. The target is freedom and democratic values, themselves.”

And, of course, neither gentleman is wrong.

Still, it’s important to remain clear about the specific context of any act of savagery, for that’s the only way we may truly fight the bilious violence that afflicts us and threatens our larger, shared values.

The queer, trans, black and Latino clubbers weren’t murdered because they were freedom-loving Americans. They were murdered because they were members of the LGBTQ community in a country that has not always tolerated their preferences, activities, even existence.

My younger brother – a proud, successful, gay man who lives in Los Angeles – knows first-hand the inarticulate rage that’s sometimes directed toward him. To conflate the peril he faces from some people’s attitude towards his sexual orientation with, say, that of mine – a hetero grandpop of European ancestry walking down a Halifax Street at 2 a.m. – is to trivialize the deliberate nature of hate, itself.

Pride organizers are right. We defeat hate with love every day, one-on-one, in each waking moment, before the events of Orlando become all too tragically commonplace.

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Are our universities failing?

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In the seven years I spent at Dalhousie University, fairly sailing through my class load, I took my share of ‘bird courses’, never thinking about a job.

I spent some time examining the effect of Beatles’ music on popular culture. I worked on an essay about the geography of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Middle Earth’ and how this represented the Bible’s ‘End Times’.

No one in my cohort of students in the 1970s shall ever forget the ‘nature versus nurture’ arguments that dominated the lecture halls of academe.

Now, a University of Prince Edward Island professor of religious studies posits some fascinatingly angry points about the condition of his craft, his institution and his passion.

Says Ron Srigley in a recent edition of The Walrus: “I teach mostly bored youth who find themselves doing something they neither value nor desire . . . in order to achieve an outcome they are repeatedly warned is essential to their survival. What a dreadful trap. Rather than learning freely and excelling, they’ve become shrewd managers of their own careers and are forced to compromise what is best in themselves – their honesty or character – in order to ‘make it’ in the world we’ve created for them.”

The good professor worries that kids, insuffienctly equipped to embrace the arduous task of actually learning something worthwhile, will become the new vanguard of blunt, meaningless mediocrity in society. Worse, we parents, educators, university administrators are grinding down the edges of their intellects with every utterance we make about “relevance” in higher education.

“A couple of years ago, I dimmed the lights in order to show a clip of an interview,” Professor Srigley relates. “I was trying to make a point about the limits of human aspiration, a theme discussed in one of our readings, and I’d found an interview with Woody Allen in which he urged that we recognize the ultimate futility of all endeavours. The moment the lights went down, dozens and dozens of bluish, iPhone-illumined faces emerged from the darkness. That’s when I understood that there were several entertainment options available to students in the modern university classroom, and that lectures rank well below Twitter, Tumblr, or Snapchat.”

Frankly, nothing in this 5,000-word piece is unfamiliar to me. This stuff was happening with nauseating frequency when I was an undergraduate 35 years ago. What’s troubling, if we are to believe Mr. Srigley, is that conditions in academe have deteriorated to the extent that young ‘scholars’, their parents and university administrators now regard faculty members with advanced degrees as nothing more than handmaidens to the callow, vapid career aspirations of those who hold enough coin to buy a piece of commencement paper.

If Mr. Srigley overstates his case, it’s not by much.

The last time I suggested, in writing, that this region’s university presidents (read: CEOs) were more interested in the condition of their institutions’ bottom lines than they were in the state of their students’ capacity for critical thinking, I was called on the plush, red carpet of the Association of Atlantic Universities (The Inquisition’s bureaucratic arm, perhaps?)

In the seven years I spent at Dalhousie University working to understand Socrates, Aristotle, Hobbes, Mill, Hume, Bloom, Faulkner (and not Tolkien or C.S. Lewis), I learned how to think and, in my own way, how to teach.

I also learned how to tell the truth to myself and to my children about the way the world – sometimes corrupted, always promising ­– works.

So has, in his own life, Professor Ron Srigley.

Time will tell, of course, if he still has a job.

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A middle-class pick me up?

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The one political rubric that defies partisan ownership these days is the plight of the so-called middle class.

Everyone from U.S. President Barack Obama to populist rabble-rouser Donald Trump to former Canadian Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper to current Liberal office-holder in Ottawa Justin Trudeau makes hay with this benighted segment of the North American labour market.

The problem is the middle class just isn’t what it used to be, so figuring out ways to solve its many problems is a little like looking for needles in several thousand bales of straw.

What, for example, does it mean to be middle class in New Brunswick? Do the same standards and measures apply in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, or, for that matter, Fort McMurray?

Are you middle class if you earn $60,000 a year pushing paper in at government job in Freddy Beach? Are you a card-carrying member of the bourgeoisie if you pull down $85,000 doing the same thing at Queen’s Park in downtown Hog Town?

In the old days, what signified your status as a middle-class worker was, as often as not, your job security. That depended on the quality of your employment contract and/or the stability and effectiveness of your union’s bargaining unit. Not anymore.

A nicely penned piece by John Allemang in the Globe and Mail a couple of years ago made the salient point: “So it has come to this: Even union leaders are losing faith in the power of their unions. ‘There used to be a time when we had great respect from the public,’ says Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress. ‘But we’ve lost that. There’s this notion that unions are just out for themselves and not for society. You get that label hung on you, and you have to work to get rid of it.’”

Yeah, good luck with that.

In fact, New Brunswick may be one of the most middle-class provinces in Canada if only because the labour market here has not endured the tumultuous economic reformations of other jurisdictions in the country – at least, not to the same extent.

That should make the recent federal budget good news to the provincial populace. After all, as Globe columnist Rob Carrick wrote last week, “Stagnant wages, rising household debt, income inequality and declining economic prospects for young Canadians are all woven into a budget narrative of a struggling middle class that needs help. The question is, how much support does the budget deliver?”

The other question is, does it really matter?

The budget document, itself, appears a tad unclear.

On the one hand, it states, “With more money in their pockets, middle class families will be able to save more, enhancing their own financial security. They will also have a greater opportunity to invest – in their own future and that of their children. Finally, they will have more money to spend, which will boost economic activity in the short term, and also put Canada on a firmer growth path over the long term.”

On the other hand, in the section expressly concerned with the middle class, it notes, “It is widely recognized that increasing support for low-income families also has a positive and long-term effect. Poverty is not just a problem for individual Canadians all of Canada is affected. Poverty is particularly challenging in the case of children, and its effect can be long term. When children are lifted out of poverty, they are better able to develop to their fullest potential.”

Perhaps, then, we have found our new middle class, after all: poor people.

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No room at the inn

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A dangerously divisive tendency raises its ugly head whenever people’s lives are on the line. It’s understandable. But that should not mean that we succumb to the point-counter-point of public stupidity.

When the mayors of Moncton and Fredericton, New Brunswick, ask the federal government to slow the stream of Syrian refugees into their urban areas, they do so with heavy hearts, not light heads.

They do so because their own community advisors have told them that their cities are simply not equipped to accommodate hundreds of newcomers in such a short period.

They do so because they know that those who will suffer most are not the apartment complex owners or hoteliers, but the refugees, themselves – the last people anyone wants to see jumping from the Middle Eastern frying pan into the cold, baleful fire of a late Maritime winter.

Yet, here we are, witnessing another disgraceful display of politics-as-usual in New Brunswick.

In a speech earlier this month, Premier Brian Gallant took a backhanded swipe at both Moncton and Fredericton city officials, declaring, “First off, we should remind ourselves that taking in Syrian refugees is the right thing to do. We have a role to play as a country to help these people who are living in a terrible situation. Secondly, this is good for New Brunswick. We have an aging population – more people means more people in our workforce, more people buying and our economy expanding.”

With all due respect Mr. Premier, but have you spent any time in the communities you purport to represent?

No one, and I mean no one, is raising the ugly specter of xenophobia (even as you quite casually equate desperate refugees with a jobs-boom opportunity in the province).

Syrian newcomers across this province, this country, are bivouacking in hotels where there’s nothing to do, no one to talk to, no schools to speak of, and little food they can tolerate. Community leaders and charitable groups are running themselves ragged not to bend over to refugee demands, but to compensate for the appalling lack of logistical support from all levels of the Canadian government – especially the federal one.

As Rouba Al-Fattal, a part-time professor of Middle East and Arab politics at the University of Ottawa, wrote in the Globe and Mail recently,How many of the first 25,000 (Syrians) have been resettled (in Canada), and how effectively will they be helped?

“More than 1,000 of the newcomers are living in temporary housing. And we still have a shortage of family doctors, a lack of proper dental care for low-income adults and a lack of subsidized daycare spaces for parents who want to learn English. University-age refugees, or those who already have foreign degrees, can’t afford our postsecondary system, sending many to low-income jobs instead. What future do refugees have without proper language training, Canadian education or Canadian work experience?”

The knee-jerk reaction of politicians – if you’re against our latest, bumble-headed policies, programs and procedures to lighten the load on the most disadvantaged among us, then you must be against the most disadvantaged among us – is rhetoric at its most despicable.

Governments: Fix the housing problem, the educational problem, the social integration problem, the language problem for refugees and immigrants, alike. That’s how you make earnest citizens, frankly, of everyone.

As for the vast majority of Moncton and Fredericton residents, we can’t wait to provide this new wave of newcomers everything a decent, tolerant life in a peaceful, open society offers.

We just wish our federal government, and some of its provincial mouthpieces, had come to the same conclusion.

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N.B. keeps growing higher

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As if to prove that this picture-perfect province takes a back seat to no other jurisdiction in Canada for sheer, gutsy innovation, the man in charge of New Brunswick’s liquor commission seriously wonders whether you’d like a joint with that bottle of brandy you’re buying.

I can only imagine how that conversation would transpire in the checkout line of my local, neighbourhood magasin d’alcool.

Clerk: “I see that you like a fine cognac. I’m wondering if I could interest you a high-quality Indica or Sativa to go with that drink?

Me: “Huh?”

Clerk: “Well, you are obviously a man of distinction and taste. A good, smooth spliff is the perfect complement to distilled wine. Might I suggest our latest point-of-purchase offerings?”

Me: “Can I have my receipt?”

Clerk: “Of course, sir, but before you go, allow me to educate you about the lovely qualities of our cannabis products. . .As you can see from the display, we have ‘White Widow’, ‘Big Bud’, and ‘Bubblegum’. . .all of which are supremely smooth and go very well with soft French cheeses. . .Then, of course, we have the specialty brands, ‘Ice’, ‘Northern Lights’, and ‘Purple Power’”.

Me: “No thanks. Again, can I have my receipt?”

Clerk: “Certainly, sir. . .uuuummm. . .would you like it pencil or crayon. I’m always about the customer service.”

According to an exclusive scored by Brunswick News reporter Adam Huras, “The president and CEO of NB Liquor has quietly been heading research by liquor boards from across the country to prepare for the sale, distribution and regulation of marijuana, now that the federal government is moving toward legalization. Despite the New Brunswick government remaining relatively silent on how it could handle the sale of pot. . .Brian Harriman currently leads talks on the impacts of the impending federal move.”

Well, at least someone is leading something in New Brunswick.

As for weed?

I’ve never liked it much. The last time I ‘inhaled’, I ran screaming from a party, convinced that a seven-foot clown wanted to be my ‘best friend’. (On the other hand, that could have been the brandy talking in my ear).

Still, I have to hand it to Mr. Harriman and his friends. Sales of stock beer and table wine are down in New Brunswick even as purchases of specialty liquors are up – everything from botanical gin to absinthe. Give the boys and girls at N.B. Liquor their props for getting ahead of the curve.

As for their provincial bosses. . .well. . .not so much. At least, not yet.

“We’re kind of in a bit of a wait-and-see mode,” New Brunswick Health Minister Victor Boudreau told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal late last year. “It’s the responsibility of the federal government to kind of make the first move, if you will. I would say all provincial provinces are probably looking at when they do make that move, what would be the next steps for the provinces. It’s a discussion that is starting to occur in anticipation of what’s coming.”

And why not? Some estimates suggest that a regulated, legal pot market would be worth billions of dollars a year to provincial coffers. A fraction of that sum might just offset the cost of caring for ailing tobacco smokers (who indulge in a far more deleterious habit than do recreational users of marijuana).

On the other hand, should N.B. Liquor pioneer this customer innovation, it will have to spend a few dimes reproducing its in-store posters:

“Nice mustache, but if you don’t look 30 years old, no spliff for you.”

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