Da Legal Stuff...

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Now, with that out of the way...Let's Web Talk.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Federal Fisheries Minister Hires "Mini Me"

Thanks to the re-instatement of the office of the “Ambassador for Fisheries Conservation” (yes the post existed before under former American Idolizer contestant Brian Mulroney) Canada now has:

A Federal Fisheries Minister
A Federal Fisheries Ambassador
Multiple Provincial Fisheries Ministers (do they have one in Manitoba?)
Countless Federal and Provincial deputy ministers
NAFO representatives
Thousands of DFO scientists, technicians, enforcement officers and general staff
And hundreds of outspoken fisheries activists

The only thing we don’t have is fish.

The fish we need. What we don’t need is another layer of bureaucracy and, with no insult intended to Loyola Sullivan, we don’t need another highly paid government representative flapping his gums on orders from the Foreign Affairs Office.

Simply put, the Harper government has opted for the path of least resistance when it comes to Canada’s needs. While they still don’t understand the importance of the fisheries, they have realized that the environment is a major issue for Canadians and with that realization is the need to address fisheries conservation. That doesn’t mean they intend to actually do anything about it. They see the problems but, like past governments, they also see the formidable task ahead and have decided it’s much easier to appear to be doing something than to actually do it.

Suddenly Harper has become “The big green machine”. He started by firing his former Environment Minister for releasing a laughable clean air act. Never mind that it had his finger prints all over it. Then he started running around his office like a madman recycling whatever tired old Liberal programs he could find lying about the floor and re-introducing them under the Conservative banner. Of course it never occurred to him that while those programs were in place green house gas emissions continued to soar and the state of the environment declined. It doesn’t matter you see because Stephen Harper is in the process of re-painting himself in such a pretty shade of green nobody will ever be able to find him. They won’t be able to tell if he’s the Prime Minister or some happy little leprechaun that just wandered onto the Hill.

Now in his latest environmentally unfriendly move we find ourselves paying the tab for Canada’s newly minted “Ambassador of Fisheries Conservation”. A patronage appointment that’s sure to be a win, win for the Conservatives. Unfortunately it won’t do anything for fisheries conservation.

With this recycling of a Mulroney initiative Harper is able to personally thank Loyola Sullivan, a long time supporter, for his tireless efforts. He can also spread the blame around a little more so it doesn’t all stick to him or his Minister of Fisheries (especially with this year’s seal harvest only a few months away and the latest science showing population levels down slightly). I can almost hear the response coming out of the Fisheries Office in Ottawa when Rebecca Aldsworth calls:

“Oh, hi Rebecca, I’m afraid you’ll have to speak with Loyola about that.”

“…Loyola, which Loyola?”

“Sorry, I didn’t quite hear you Rebecca. You’re breaking up, it sounds like you’re in a zodiac that’s about to be rammed.”

In another plus for Harper, with an election looming this appointment may even convince a handful of voters in Newfoundland and Labrador that he’s serious about fisheries issues. He won’t convince many of them mind you but there are a few dim bulbs in every box. Most of them are the same ones that insist on voting for Gerry Byrne every election.

Regardless of these minor perks, the big bonus for Stephen Harper is being able to bill this move as another example of how he has magically transformed himself from a bean counting corporate apostle to a tree hugging, alfalfa munching environmentalist, accent on the “mental” part.

Do we really need an “Ambassador for Fisheries Conservation” at a cost of $500,000 a year? Everyone knows the problems that exist in the fisheries. Everyone knows what needs to be done, including the Fisheries Minister. He shouted about it hard enough while he was in opposition. The problem is that nobody will actually do what needs to be done, not even the new “Ambassador” because even if he wants to make a difference he won’t be allowed to do it. In Harper’s world Federal Ministers can’t even speak publicly without his personal approval so what chance does a lowly “Ambassador” have, especially a “Fish Ambassador”?

Anyone who saw the press conference last Thursday will no doubt have noticed that it was the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter McKay, who made the big announcement about this new “Ambassadorship”, not the Fisheries Minister, which would have been the logical choice. This wasn’t accidental. Foreign Affairs took the lead, with the Fisheries Minister bringing up the rear, because Ottawa wanted to send a clear message to our trading partners around the world that it was business as usual in Canada. It was also meant to ensure that the new Ambassador clearly understood what the Minister of Fisheries already knows. Nothing is done in the fisheries portfolio without the explicit blessing of the Foreign Affairs office.

When you pit the needs of the fisheries against the interests of foreign affairs, and Canada’s international trade agreements, fisheries issues don’t have a hope in hell. As much as Loyola Sullivan’s heart may be in the right place, like the other Loyola before him, he’s now entered the twilight zone. There’s no turning back now and there’s no better way to take the fight out of any public figure than to hand him a plum federal position (Ever notice how quiet things are in the Commons these days with George Baker collecting dust in the Senate?)

We won’t hear anything from Loyola Sullivan again until the proverbial crap hits the fan and Harper, McKay and Hearn need a sacrificial lamb to feed to the masses.

If Harper was serious about protecting fish stocks he wouldn’t appoint another impotent mouth piece. Instead of paying lip service to fisheries issues he’d invest in sound science. He’d take control of the fisheries out of the hands of vote hungry politicians and give it to a board comprised of federal, provincial, scientific and industry representatives. He’d extend the 200 mile limit past the nose and tail of the Grand banks and the Flemish Cap and he’d assign a half a dozen destroyers to patrol our waters with a clear mandate to shoot if necessary. If nothing else he’d start by saving the taxpayers a cool $50 bucks a month and get rid of that direct phone line running between the offices of the Fisheries Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. That move alone would be a major step forward.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

New Conservative Slogan: "A Promise Made is a Promise Broken"

Saskatchewan Finance Minister, Andrew Thomson was recently quoted saying the “federal government appears to be using western oil money to buy votes in Quebec”. To that I’d like to say that the current government is also using eastern oil money to finance the same morally reprehensible purchase.

For two election campaigns in a row Steven Harper promised Canadians a modified equalization formula that excluded non-renewable resource revenues. He signed a letter saying exactly that and sent it to the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador. He made the same promise to the premier of Saskatchewan and he even said it a third time in correspondence with former Alberta premier Ralph Klein. (Is three strikes and you’re out a legal argument? Maybe it should be.)

In a trial balloon floated by his government last week Harper said good-bye to yet another election promise (remember income trusts?). Now, for your voting pleasure we unveil the new Stephen Harper, a man who hopes to win the hearts of Quebec voters by embarking on a vote buying spree. Promise or no promise, it looks like non-renewable resource revenue is back in the equalization mix. Rather than live up to his written promises to the provincial leaders, and more importantly the voters, Harper has taken a long look at his poll numbers and realized he needs to shore up support in Quebec. Essentially the rest of the Country can go straight to hell.

For months the premiers of Ontario and Quebec have been screaming that non-renewable resource revenues (which they have few of) are no different than revenues from manufacturing and other industries (which they have a plenty of) and as such those revenues should be included in the formula. Not true and no matter how long they chant that mantra it doesn’t make it any truer.

There is a big difference between the two types of revenue and I’ll tell you what it is. We hear all the time about the oil “industry” or the gas “industry” or the mining “industry” but these terms are misleading. Yes, technically they are industrial sectors but they aren’t really the same as other industries because they’re very limited in how long they provide any real benefit. That’s the crux of the problem for resource based economies and it’s a difference some premiers don’t want to admit.

For example, while the auto or textile industries of Ontario and Quebec can potentially provide revenues forever and a day, once an oil well or mineral deposit is tapped out so is the revenue it generated and the jobs it created. This means that resource based economies, like that of Newfoundland and Labrador, have a very small window of opportunity to capitalize on the money generated by those resources. They have to use as much of that revenue as possible, while it’s available, in order to diversify their economy and pay down debts. Once the resources are gone, or if Ottawa claws back those revenues through equalization, what future is there for the people of that province and, by extension, what future is there for Canada as a successful nation?

Think about it. The prosperity of Canada isn’t generated by Ottawa. Success is based on the value of the combined economies of the provinces and territories. If a province prospers so does the nation as a whole, but if a province is denied its best and perhaps only opportunity to grow, the entire nation suffers as a result because it has to continue to help support that province. Don’t we all want to see every province in Canada build strong diversified economies that allow them to add to the overall strength of the Country?

The concept is not a new one and apparently Stephen Harper is quite familiar with it or he wouldn’t have made the promise he did. The approach has been proven in places like Ireland where, not so long ago, the economy was essentially in the toilet. Unemployment soared and out migration was the only thing keeping local airlines in business. Now, thanks to funds made available through a lengthy “holiday” from equalization claw backs (or at least their version of the scheme) Ireland’s economy is one of the brightest lights in Europe and growing at an amazing rate.

I can’t even imagine the balls it must take to put a promise in writing to the leaders of at least 3 provinces, promote it to voters for years, know full well it’s in the best interests of the nation, yet go ahead and sell the Country down the river anyway for a few votes. It’s amazing Harper can even keep a straight face, but if it’s any consolation I doubt it’ll work for him.

As much as the government of Quebec may be on side with this and as much as Stephen Harper believes the people of Quebec will fall in line as well, I don’t think they’re that dumb. I predict Quebec voters will see through this scheme to buy them off in the same way Harper’s “nationhood” motion was meant to do the same thing. I predict that in the end Harper’s Conservatives will actually capture fewer seats in Quebec than they did in the last election.

Adding to Harper’s election woes, all of his own doing by the way, is the fact that after the equalization scam and income trust lies, he can no longer claim, that “A promise made is a promise kept”. Cracks are starting to appear in his traditional western support base and the cross Country campaign by Saskatchewan’s Lorne Calvert and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Danny Williams to “spread the truth about the lies” may all combine to mean a very short future for this Conservative government.

The reality is such that Harper and his Conservatives might even fall when they introduce the budget containing their newly revamped equalization plan. I doubt it though, since most of the MPs on the Hill are from Ontario and Quebec, two provinces that eagerly support inclusion of non-renewable resource revenues. If the plan passes some provinces will be hurt and the nation itself will have to live with the consequences but if it fails to pass the result may be as bad. Failure to implement a revamped equalization plan now will likely mean the people of Canada will have to once again sit back and watch the governments of Ontario and Quebec, along with their federal MPs, do their best to pick the carcass of the Country even cleaner than anyone could ever have imagined possible. Nice legacy Steve.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Search for Intelligent Life Continues

I sincerely hope that if aliens ever launch a probe searching for life on this little planet of ours they don’t accidentally scan the Liberal party of Newfoundland and Labrador. If they do I doubt they’ll find anything even resembling intelligent life there. I live in the province and even from this close vantage point I can’t find any, not lately anyway.

I know the Liberals are far more accustomed to holding power in the legislature than they are to sitting on the opposition bench but is that any reason to give up all sense of reality? As things now stand, the Williams government is enjoying a solid majority that's likely to become even more solid after the next election. There may be many reasons for that but I’m starting to believe it’s at least partly due to the ramblings of Liberal leader Gerry Reid and the severe mental breakdown happening inside the Liberal party.

Whether you support the current PC government or not, the fact of the matter is that a strong government, of any stripe, needs strong opposition. An opposition that can ensure things are done properly and that nothing slips through the cracks. Unfortunately the Liberals have abdicated that duty. They’ve effectively left the real job of opposition up to the only sane voice around these days, the understandably lonely leader of the provincial NDP party, Ms. Loraine Michael.

Ever since accepting the leadership of the Liberal party from an inept and aging Roger Grimes, Gerry (cry me a river) Reid, has done nothing but bitch and moan about anything and everything the government is doing. There are those who will say, “…but Myles, that’s the job of the opposition party to “Oppose” right?” Wrong.

The job of an effective opposition is to ensure that the government of the day is held accountable for its actions, that the best possible results come from legislation under consideration and, where possible, to move its own agenda forward under difficult conditions. It isn’t simply a matter of taking a contrary stand whether it makes sense to do so or not. That approach to debate is best left to the kids in the school yard.

The latest example of Liberal idiocy came last week when the provincial government rejected a proposal by Hibernia management to move forward with the so called “South Hibernia” oil field. Never mind that government hasn’t squashed the idea of development but is simply asking for clarification on some issues, Gerry Reid once again saw this as an opportunity to spout off anyway.

One of the answers government is looking for is whether or not the companies involved intend to pull oil from this new area at the expense of the existing Hibernia well. As the level of available oil in the existing Hibernia field dwindles it becomes more troublesome and expensive to extract and the government is looking for assurances that the intention is not to leave that valuable oil in the ground while going after the cheaper oil in the south, a reasonable question in my book.

Even putting aside whether or not government’s decision is the right one, from a purely political perspective Gerry Reid and the entire Liberal party has become suicidal and hell bent on destroying any chance of holding onto the few seats they have left. The saddest thing is that neither Gerry nor his merry band of grits seems to see the harm they’re doing to themselves.

It’s clear that most people of the province support the government’s move with Hibernia. Right or wrong, they support it. A recent “question of the day” posed by provincial radio station (VOCM) asked this very question and (though not a scientific result) the answers received show that about 90% of respondents agree with the stand taken by government. In fact NOIA, a group made up of companies supplying the offshore oil industry itself doesn’t have any issue with the move. Why then would the Liberals, under Gerry Reid’s watch, continue to shout from the rooftops that it will send a bad message to the poor mistreated oil companies?

Not only is Gerry showing a total lack of intelligence from the perspective of protecting provincial interests he’s also displaying a complete lack of political savvy. Here’s a lesson for you Gerry, if you oppose a stand that 90% of the population supports it's highly unlikely to translate into a lot of votes when the polls open in October. For heaven’s sake, I know you guys are disappointed and maybe even a little dejected about losing the last election but that was then and this is now. There’s another election looming on the horizon. It’s time to get over yourselves and get on with doing the job you’re being paid to do. Show at least one grain of sense before it’s too late.

By all means speak out when you feel something is going wrong. Speak out when you have an agenda item that deserves attention, but also work with the current government when the stars align and you agree on specific issues. Finally, for the good of the province get over this idea that if it comes from Danny Williams mouth you have to no option but to oppose it. Life’s too short Gerry and the window of opportunity we have in this province to ensure our collective survival is narrowing more with every passing day.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Ottawa Puts Out Welcome Mat on Atlantic Border

Once again we have elected a federal government capable of paying down debt to the tune of billions of dollars yet unwilling to protect our ocean borders from illegal fishing, potential terrorist incursions or even a full scale invasion. Thank goodness nobody cares enough about this Country to bother attacking it because if they did the military response would likely take days to arrive from the U.S.

Reports surfaced this week that the Canadian navy vessel HMCS Halifax was tied up in port rather than taking part in scheduled fisheries and security patrols on the east coast. The ship had been scheduled to help catch foreign illegal fishers and ensure that the nation’s eastern flank was secure from attack. Unfortunately, due to a lack of federal funding, this didn’t happen. The federal government simply didn’t believe this activity was important enough to spend our tax dollars. It wasn’t until the story hit the newswires that some "limited" funding became available for a belated patrol.

This situation may sound strange to people across the Country, as it should, but here in Newfoundland and Labrador it’s doesn’t surprise anyone in the least. Fisheries protection has never been a priority for Ottawa, neither has the protection of the east coast of the Country. When it comes to fisheries issues the government of Canada sees the resource as nothing more than a way to broker trade deals with nations around the globe. The prize is for Canada is improved trade relations, for other Countries it means open access to fish stocks and a free pass to rape our oceans.

Militarily the east coast of Canada hasn’t been on Ottawa’s radar since the end of the cold war. There is practically no military presence in Newfoundland and Labrador, which essentially accounts for Canada’s entire Atlantic coastal border. The only military base of any consequence is in Labrador and it's served as nothing more than a political football for years. Politicians have used it time and time again as a way win votes in the province. They usually do this by promising that the base will once again become an integral part of the Canadian military, yet today it remains in a virtual limbo where on a daily basis, and depending on who you ask, it will soon become either fully utilized or shut down. It’s anybody’s guess.

When it comes to military protection of our nation the entire system is a joke. It makes me think that the national anthem itself may need a little tweaking so it more accurately reflects the true state of Canada today. I’m thinking something along the lines of, “Oh Canada we stand on guard for thee, but not east of Quebec” or perhaps something like, “From Sea to shining St. Lawrence River”. Hey, it works for me.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Payments, Paintings and Purging

If you’re anything like me you've probably heard just about enough of the so called "spending scandal" at the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature. Until now I've avoided speaking on the subject because the mainstream media have reported it to death anyway. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t think every penny that was overspent or double billed should be returned (with interest) but the media outlets in the province seem to have developed a serious case of tunnel vision on this story to the exclusion of all else. We all need to remember that while the evening news, radio and the papers are crunching out statistics on top of statistics about who spent what, when, where and how much, life goes on and the very serious issues facing the province haven’t gone away.

The situation reminds me of watching CNN ever since 911. Thank goodness there are other news services being produced in the U.S. because anyone who receives all of their information from that network would think there is nothing happening outside of Iraq. It’s the same in Newfoundland and Labrador these days when it comes to the potential “sticky” fingers of our political elite. Major issues like how the Lower Churchill will be developed, what's going on in fisheries management and the critical issue of outmigration, to name a few, have simply slipped to the bottom of the pile.

The only reason I've decided to discuss the issue at all is because from my own perspective what’s happened here may have a silver lining that nobody (at least in the media) has mentioned. I don’t know if anyone from either party has done anything illegal or not, but regardless of that, good things may come from this fiasco.

Already we are seeing a tightening of controls when it comes to doling out taxpayer funds to politicians. There is a review of policies underway and eventually more changes will take effect within the system in future. In addition to this we have also seen a spate of resignations from office (including two MHAs who were not connected in any way with the actual scandals). Consider as well that while the Auditor General has identified overspending by 5 members and double billing of expenses by a handful of others, he has yet to release his final report. This report will detail exactly how MHAs have been using their constituency allowances over the years and what they’ve been buying with them. I suspect that it is this report that will be the most enlightening of them all and may lead to even more changes.

There will likely be those who have spent your hard earned tax dollars on everything from wine, to art work, to lavish trips, to personal promotional materials designed to help them stay in office a little longer. Perhaps even a gross or two of ivory back scratchers will be thrown in for good measure. It doesn’t matter precisely what was paid for from the public purse, what matters is that it’s likely that even more political figures will be embarrassed into either resigning, not running for another term or (for those who decide to tough it out) will be defeated at the polls. Finally, all the mud raking is also likely to dissuade many long time political party members from putting their name forward to fill the shoes of those that have been deposed before them.

While I personally hate to see the pain this is bringing to those in public office, much of the blame, at least in the cases of overspending and future cases of “questionable” purchases, rests (either legally or at least morally) with those who are being exposed. While these individuals and their families may suffer some personal strife as a result and politicians in general may lose even more respect, the big winner in all of this could well be the people of the province.

With the mass exodus, or house cleaning, underway these days the door is now wide open for a great deal of new blood and new ideas to permeate the hallowed halls of the Confederation building. I’m of the opinion that nobody should get too comfortable in their job. I remember reading a study once that said, on average, a person’s skills, productivity and abilities steadily improve for the first 7 years in any job. After 7 years they tend to level off for about the next 7 however after that, they suffer a continual decline until the day of retirement.

If you equate that to the political figures in our province, anyone who has served 2 terms has already completed their growth cycle and anyone in office for 4 terms or more is a liability.

Consider that in most cases (perhaps Danny Williams as a newcomer may be a bit of an exception) but in most cases the average politician has worked diligently within his or her party for years and slowly risen through the ranks over time. They have done this by building up enough support and internal alliances (by holding their noses in some cases) to seek a nomination and eventually to run for office. This means that by the time they finally get elected they have likely been involved inside party politics for at least a decade or two and are already well past their “best before date”.

Although it’s sometimes hard to believe in Newfoundland and Labrador, the world is changing faster than it ever has before. New technologies, new directions and new ideas are coming along faster than most people can keep up with them. This province will never find a way to take advantage of the new opportunities that come with this rapid change by leaving career politicians in office for decades or electing individuals who have been pushing the same tired old agenda since the 70’s or 80’s.

With any form of government, be it democratic, totalitarian, dictatorship or whatever, eventually there comes a time when a purging of sorts has to take place in order to move the agenda forward. Our time is now and while I wish the media could find a few minutes in its day to address other issues, in addition to this one, I for one am happy to be here to see it all happen. Now it’s up to the voters of the province to ensure that we allow some new faces to get into the game and gracefully wave goodbye to the old ones.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

One Promise Kept. How Many to Go?

Although many Conservative election promises are still to be addressed, on January 9th the federal government finally delivered on at least one of several election promises made to Newfoundland and Labrador when the national weather office reopened in Gander.

Since its shut down, by the former Liberal government in July of 2004, residents of the province have been subjected to inaccurate forecasting from as far away as Halifax and Montreal. Horror stories have abounded over that time. Everything from unexpected blizzards to residents who called the out of province weather line, while looking out the window at upwards of 20 centimeters of snow, only to be told that their was no inclement weather even forecast in their area.

The Weather office was officially opened by Avalon M.P. Fabian Manning. During the last federal election Stephen Harper committed to reopening the office and to providing Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with weather forecasts that meet their needs and reflect the reality of the province's unique weather patterns. In a few weeks, the 1-900 user-pay phone consultation service for the province will also be operational at the Newfoundland and Labrador Weather Office, further helping increase the accuracy of reporting.

In addition to this great news a new polar-orbiting satellite reception station will soon be installed at the Gander office. It will be one of only two such stations across the country.

Accurate weather forecasting is especially critical for safety reasons in a coastal province like Newfoundland and Labrador. Much of the population of the province resides on an island or along the coastline of the frigid North Atlantic, an area that is subject to the impact of multiple ocean currents that cause havoc with weather conditions. This, combined with the reality that many people in the province either work at sea, in the out of doors or at the very least need to travel long distances for work or to access basic services such as health care or education and it is easy to see why a locally run, dedicated weather center is so important.

The return of the weather center may have been ordered by the federal government but it was local individuals who forced the issue by gathering over a hundred and twenty five thousand signatures on a petition. Thanks to those signatures and to the pending election at the time, the organizers managed to capture the signature of the then future Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. Hat’s off to the fine folks who worked so hard on that campaign and who have made this day a reality. You make us all extremely proud.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Separation Anxiety - Feds, Flyers and Ferries

I’ve often been accused of being a separatist but I don’t see it that way. Yes I believe a separate Newfoundland and Labrador is an option. Another option would be to become a part of Canada. That in itself is why I don’t see myself as a separatist. You see you can’t separate from something you’ve never been a part of.

Recently someone said to me, “It’s not so much that I want to get out of Canada, I’d like to get in first just to see what it’s all about.” For decades the needs of the province have been pushed aside in favor of the desires of larger centers such as Ontario, Quebec or even Nova Scotia. We have practically no representation in the Commons and have never had any on the Supreme Court. Our small population and massive geographical land mass make the equalization formula a joke when it comes to our ability to provide comparable services with other parts of the Country. Hell the largest population center in the province, the island of Newfoundland, isn’t even connected to Canada in any reasonable or workable fashion and it's this that brings me to the subject of today’s commentary, transportation links.

When the province supposedly entered Canada in 1949 we were assured of certain services. Two of those services identified in the Terms of Union were the Gander airport and the Gulf ferry service. Here we are, some 58 years later and what has happened to those key transportation links? Let me tell you.

Gander airport is on the brink of financial collapse. The federal government downloaded the service to local interests several years ago yet they continued to use the facility for their own purposes. The problem with that is we now find ourselves in a position where over 50% of the traffic going through that airport is related to the Canadian military. A military that refuses to pay for the service the airport provides. Has anyone ever tried to run a business where more than half of your customers refuse to pay for the services they receive? It just doesn’t work.

As for Marine Atlantic Ferry Services, the current ferry system is not recognized by Ottawa as an essential service. Tell that to residents and business interests on the island. The service is lackluster at best, prone to labor disputes, its capacity does not meet the needs of the public and the rates charged are not reflective of what the service actually is, an integral part of the Trans Canada Highway system.

According to a release issued by Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador (HNL) just this month, the organization is very concerned with federal plans to increase the already unfair rates charged to ferry users. The rate increases will deter visitors from coming to the province, raise the cost of goods from the mainland and have a detrimental effect on business in general. Once again, we are becoming more and more isolated and disconnected from Canada, if that’s even possible.

I guess in some respects I am a separatist. I can certainly see the separation between our province and Canada clearly enough.

For decades there have been those in the province who have fought to get some sort of fixed link put in place between the island of Newfoundland and Labrador. At least this would provide an alternate route, a permanent method of getting to and from the island and allow for the people of the province to connect with one another more easily. All anyone has ever been told is that it would be far too expensive and is not feasible to construct a fixed link (bridge, tunnel, etc.), but why is that?

The province of PEI is much smaller in both size and population than the province of Newfoundland and Labrador yet the Confederation Bridge between that province with New Brunswick has been a reality for years now. The distance between the two is similar to the distance between the two parts of our province, yet there has never been a serious attempt to bring Newfoundland into the fold in the same way as PEI was.

Consider as well the plans now being made by Transport Canada to hike fairs on the ferry service to Newfoundland. A service that so many depend upon. According to Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador, the average rate of user paid costs for similar services throughout Canada is 46%. This means that users of ferries, in BC for example, would pay about 46% of the actual cost of the service. By comparison, users of the Confederation Bridge to PEI pay only 32% of the costs while those using the ferry to and from Newfoundland pay a whopping 57% of the cost, far beyond the national average and nearly double that of the Confedration Bridge. This is before the proposed increases are put into effect this year.

Welcome to Canada folks. Like I said, you can call me a separatist if you want but it’s pretty tough to separate from something you’ve never been allowed to become a part of in the first place.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Who'll Speak for "...the Rest of Canada"?

Welcome to 2007. A new year is upon us and with it comes new ideas, new issues and new choices. None of which, will be easy for that segment of the population straddling Canada’s eastern and western flanks. Looking back over the past year and forward to the new one, I can’t help wondering what tomorrow will bring for “…the rest of Canada”.

2006 saw us turf out a corrupt government then elect an untested now unwanted one. A new government that began its term by silencing the unwashed masses through funding cuts to much needed services. The saddest thing is that we’ll soon make the same limited choices for our future as we did in the last election. With that in mind, I can’t help pondering the realities of Canadian politics. I also have to ask myself, among other things, if I should vote the next time around. It’s a tough question for someone who’s voted in every election since turning 18, but when you reach a point where you aren't asking yourself who will do the best job but who will do the least damage, tough decisions need to be made.

Let’s face it folks, if a party is to have any hope of taking office they need Ontario and Quebec and maybe, just maybe, a few scattered seats in “…the rest of Canada”. It’s nothing new under the sun. If you want to win an election and stay in office, you need support in Ontario and Quebec. Unfortunately that means “…the rest of Canada” has to take whatever those two provinces decide to thrust upon us, good bad or otherwise. This time around will be no different. With issues like equalization on the agenda and a down turn in the manufacturing sector, primarily in central Canada, it’s pretty clear which provinces will be getting all the warm and fuzzy promises for financial assistance, program funding and government services, all in an effort to buy votes.

It’s been said before, by far smarter people than me, that Canada DOES NOT work for anyone except those in central Canada. Whether you want to admit it or not, there is no representation in the House of Commons for anyone other than the big two, the Senate is a joke and the Supreme Court is stacked in favor of Ontario and Quebec, this while some provinces haven’t been represented there even once.

Consider that of the 308 members of the House of Commons, 181 represent Ontario or Quebec. That leaves just 127, or 41%, to speak for the people of the other 8 provinces and 3 territories combined. I use the words “speak for” very loosely in this context since a member of Parliament has no option but to toe the party line and, as noted in the above numbers, the party line means what ever is best for Ontario and Quebec. Well you might say, “that’s just representation by population, the areas with the highest population have the most representation.” You’d be right of course, which brings us to the Senate.

As things now stand, the triple I senate (ineffective, inefficient and inconsequential), doesn’t represent Canada either. While the concept of an equal senate, where each province is represented equally, has been tossed around for years, it remains a pipe dream. Today the senate is made up of 105 politically appointed eunuchs who are capable of little more than slowing down legislation for a few weeks. Here as well, the representation is slanted with, 48 senators split equally between Ontario and Quebec while the remaining provinces have between 4 and 10 senators each and the territories only 1.

When you throw the Supreme Court into the mix the picture is complete. Here you’ll find 9 justices, supposedly from across the nation but can anyone guess where 6 of them hail from?

No matter how you slice it the Canadian federation is structured to benefit Ontario and Quebec alone. When you add to this sad situation the corruption, cronyism, corporate influence and political gamesmanship that flourish like cockroaches on Parliament Hill, the thought of electing another government is enough to make for more than a few sleepless nights on the east and west coasts of Canada.

A friend of mine has been tinkering for some time with the idea of making a statement at the ballot box and I’m starting to believe he may be on to something. The idea has to do with making a choice NOT to vote. Basically he would like to convince the already unrepresented masses to intentionally decline their right to vote or perhaps even spoil their ballot by writing the words, “Equality or Exit” across it. Maybe he’s on to something. Maybe our best approach is to simply give up on a system that’s already given up on the “…the rest of Canada”. Why not just let Ontario / Quebec have all the seats in the Commons if they want them. If we aren’t getting any representation there anyway, why lend validity to the system by keeping up the charade any longer? In essence, by spoiling our ballots, “…the rest of Canada” would finally be admitting that it is a series of colonial outposts, governed by a central body. Isn’t that what we are anyway? If nothing else it would be interesting to see how the political leadership views a situation where nobody is elected anywhere else in the federation except Ontario and Quebec.

Of course there are those who would see this approach as unpatriotic or even as treasonous. These are the same well meaning folks who believe that it’s our civic duty to take part in the electoral process. I used to think the same thing but I’m not so sure any more. The sentiment sounds good and politicians love to repeat this mantra whenever possible, but in reality what part do we really play when the ultimate choice of who governs is made by two provinces alone? There are also those who will say, “If you don’t vote then you have no right to complain.” Bull!!! It’s actually the people who vote that have no right to complain, not those who don’t. It’s the voters who allow the status quo to continue by showing their support for whatever band of hucksters are in charge of the asylum, not those who abstain. If I decide not to vote I suddenly become someone who can honestly look any voter right in the eye and say, “hey pal, don’t gripe to me about Ottawa, I didn’t have anything to do with electing that bunch.”

I heard someone say once that the act of repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, was the true definition of insanity. In Canada we call that an election.