Da Legal Stuff...

All commentaries published on Web Talk are the opinions of the contributor(s) only and do not necessarily represent the position of any other individuals, groups or organizations.

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Message

With the Christmas season upon us I plan to spend some quality time with my family, bask in the warm glow of a crackling fire and imbibe the odd rum and eggnog.

I will be back in front of the old keyboard in the New Year but before I sign off I would like to offer a few Christmas wishes to one and all.

First and foremost I offer my sincere wishes for a joyous Christmas and wonderful New Year to those of you who have visited my site over the years and who never cease to amaze me with your insightful comments.

I spend what time I can offering up the truth about Newfoundland and Labrador and it is you who make that often frustrating task so much more bearable.

Thank-you so much.

On what you might call a less sincere note, I would also like to offer some Christmas wishes to a few other individuals of note.

To the newly appointed senator from Newfoundland and Labrador, Fabian Manning, I wish you all the best in your position at the federal trough.

You completely deserve the appointment that has been given to you.

No matter the party stripe, senate appointments have always been given to individuals who have placed party loyalty above all else, even any sense of morality. In this light you have every right to wallow in the mud with the rest of the senate pork barrel crowd.

No better example of this sort of party loyalty can be found than in Fabian Manning, a man who helped his party leader ridicule and mock an entire province. A man who actively condoned his party leader lying to the people of his home province and who went so far as to publicly attempt to sell that lie to the people who elected him.

Have a wonderful Christmas Mr. Manning and enjoy your blood money.

To Mr. Harper himself, may the spirit of Christmas, actually the 3 spirits of Christmas, be visited upon you during this holiday period.

Just as Scrooge was visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, who caused him to change his ways, may you also experience an epiphany of sorts before the New Year rolls around.

May you come to discover that there are far more important things in this world than personal ambition, ideology or political power.

May you come to understand that there are individuals who are suffering, families who are in desperate need and entire communities on the brink of collapse. These realities exist across the entire Country (which by the way does not end at the Quebec border even if that border has been redrawn to steal a large swath of Labrador).

A screw it, I can’t go on with this charade any longer.

In truth I wish Mr. Harper exactly what he deserves this Christmas, a big lump of coal or even a glob of tar sands sludge.

Have a great one folks and I’ll be back in the New Year.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Harper Plays Santa this Christmas

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Clause and if you are a blue blooded ultra Conservative stalwart his name is Stephen.

Conversely, believe it or not, Steve Clause also visited his gifts on Newfoundland and Labrador this Christmas even after failing to win a single seat in the Province during the last election.

Yes indeed, it also seems Newfoundland and Labrador is the recipient of more than a little of the PM’s Christmas spirit this year (unintended of course).

When it comes to cronyism no better proof of the PM’s spirit of giving can be found than the senate appointment of disgraced Newfoundland and Labrador MP Fabian Manning. A man who had the audacity to sit, laugh and even egg on the Prime Minister in the House of Commons a couple of years ago as the latter publicly ridiculed Manning’s home Province.

Indeed, no better example can be found unless you also look at the Prime Minister’s appointment of CTV’s Mike Duffy, a national political correspondent with more than a little bias toward his ultra conservative friends. A bias that has exposed itself more and more in recent years, especially when interviewing federal Tory friends or when snidely deriding Newfoundland and Labrador Premier, Danny Williams.

Oh well, I guess that’s just the way things work in Ottawa, nothing new under the sun there.

What more would anyone expect from Santa Harper than a long list of patronage appointments after promising to never appoint senators. I guess the spirit of Christmas was just too much for the PM to resist. With plenty of personal time on his hands, having suspended Parliament so he couldn’t be forced to answer to a non-confidence vote in the House of Commons, the pork barrel spirit must have moved him to act.

Never having been a fan of blind partisanship there may be those who will be amazed at what I’m about to say next, but I would like to offer my heart felt congratulations to both Mr. Duffy and Mr. Manning.

At least with both of these men squirreled away inside the dusty old red senate chamber Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, along with Canadians in general, will no longer have to suffer through their partisan, one sided and self serving drivel.

There’s an old saying to the effect that the best way to relegate someone into silent obscurity is to appoint them to the Canadian senate. Looking at these appointments from that perspective perhaps the greatest Christmas gift of all this season has been given by the PM to Newfoundland and Labrador with the appointment of these two individuals.

Always look on the bright side folks. Always look on the bright side.

Merry Chrismas everyone.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

NL Legislature Determined to Protect Public Interest

Today I’d like to offer the entire Newfoundland and Labrador legislature, both government and opposition members, my heart felt congratulations for their combined efforts this week.

By working together to quickly enact legislation intended to secure the people’s water and timber rights from Abitibi-Bowater, each of the Province’s elected members have shown that they can indeed work together in a non-partisan way for the betterment of the Province, when the situation calls for it.

Perhaps their federal counterparts in Ottawa would do well to learn from this fine example.

On Tuesday the Williams government presented the Abitibi expropriation bill to the opposition members, met with them to discuss its contents and all parties worked together to move the bill through 3 readings, the committee stage and royal ascent. All of this was accomplished in under 5 hours.

That process spoke volumes about the ability of all the parties to put aside their partisan differences and work together for the greater good of the people they represent and for that they deserve a pat on the back.

The bill, which will see the Province expropriate all water & timber rights as well as any power generating facilities held by Abitibi once that company closes its last remaining mill, is something that had to be introduced to ensure that the company could not simply walk away from the Province and continue to retain control of valuable provincial resources.

Unfortunately the logic and importance of the effort put out by the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature is something that appears to have been lost on some Central Canadian quasi-news agencies and corporate mouthpieces.

Apparently some of these highly paid shills think the Province should have simply allowed Abitibi-Bowater to close its mill operations, throw a thousand people out of work yet sell or even retain the valuable natural resources of the Province so nobody else could have access to them.

Globe and Mail journalist (and I use the term journalist very loosely) Konrad Yakabuski even decided that the time was right to break out the “Danny Chavez” rhetoric once again and to slam the province for ensuring that its resources are not sold off to the highest bidder so Abitibi could continue to profit from the Province even after it has closed its doors.

In his commentary Mr. Yakabuski, who comes across as being very upset that Abitibi will not be able to sell those assets to pay down debt, attacked the Williams government for “Bludgeoning” the company.

He went on to say that this legislation will, “sour any sensible business person with an eye to investing in the province…”.

The position taken by Mr. Yakabuski leads this writer to wonder where his pay cheque comes from or if he is truly that obtuse.

In a feeble attempt to justify his attack Mr. Yakabuski wrote in the Globe that while, “It is true Abitibi has been so stingy with new capital that the mill might have been doomed by its obsolescence. But the hydro assets are still valuable. Abitibi had been counting on them to ease its own financial difficulties.”

Go figure.

Personally I can only say that it’s about time the Globe took another shot at Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Ontario based paper hasn’t taken a good shot at Williams or the Province for weeks now and this fact alone had almost convinced me that the Premier had slipped into the same sort of complacent “giveaway” mentality that has plagued the Province’s leaders since entering Confederation.

I guess my worries were unfounded.

Now that Canada’s national rag is on the attack again (as long as “national” means Central Canada) I’m more convinced than ever that the provincial government (all parties) must be doing the right thing on this file.

Mr. Jakabusi’s editorial attack makes me wonder what the Globe’s reaction will be should the Ontario government decide to take similar steps with Abitibi. Already the legislature in that province is expressing deep concern about the company’s plans to sell off similar assets there and are meeting with mill workers to gather their input.

It would be interesting to see the Globe’s spin on something like that.

“Sour any sensible business person with an eye to investing…” indeed.

As one letter I received from a reader just this morning so eloquently pointed out:

“Someone should remind the Globe that when it comes to attracting business the Ontario elite have no room to talk."

"What was it Jim Flaherty said about Ontario, "It is the last place anyone would want to invest."

"Meanwhile Newfoundland and Labrador is now a "Have" province while Ontario is a "Have Not."

"Newfoundland and Labrador has a (1.3 billion dollar) surplus, Ontario is running a deficit."

"Newfoundland and Labrador has record car and home sales, Ontario's sales are in the toilet."

"Oil, gas and other companies are investing in new activity in Newfoundland and Labrador all the time including during this economic downturn."

"It seems to me that the folks at this Ontario based rag have very little right to tell Newfoundland and Labrador how to deal with corporate interests."

Well said, well said indeed.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Where Once They Stood We (should) Stand

The pending closure of the Abitibi-Bowater mill in Grand Falls-Windsor is the talk of the Province these days. Hundreds of direct and countless indirect jobs will be lost once the mill closes and the future of Abitibi’s timber and water rights in the Province are in question.

This is another clear example of the kind of industrial rape Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have experienced for decades and it speaks volumes about the attitude of big business toward this place.

We’ve seen it before in the destruction of the Atlantic fishery.

We’ve seen it in places like Stephenville and Bell Island.

Now we’re seeing it in Grand Falls-Windsor.

Yes the economy is bad but that reality is not the reason the mill is being closed.

The mill is closing because Abitibi-Bowater ran it into the ground through a lack of upgrade or investment over the years and because their board of directors believe they can walk away from the town while still making millions of dollars in profits for decades to come.

It’s up to the government of the Province, and the people who live here, to see to it that not another penny of profit is sucked out of our resources by this company once the locks go on the doors.

Representatives of the Provincial government say they are in the process of determining what can be done to recover Abitibi’s timber and water rights. That’s all well and good. I hope they can successfully regain them, but barring that, there are other options that will ensure the pillaging of our province, at least by this one company, is stopped dead in its tracks.

While the mill is active and the people working, excess power generated by Abitibi on the Exploits river is being sold into the Provincial grid and purchased by Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. Once that mill is closed, Abitibi management intends to sell all the power to Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and reap millions in profits each year. This cannot be allowed to happen.

The right to generate electricity on the Exploits river was granted to the company so it could power the mill. They cannot be allowed to benefit from this resource once the mill is closed.

No mill, no power.

If the government finds it has no legal means to regain those water rights it must direct Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, a crown corporation, to take a lesson from the Upper Churchill debacle and a page out of the Quebec playbook.

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro must refuse to purchase a single kilowatt of power generated by Abitibi.

With no market for the power the company’s board of directors won’t be long figuring out that the generating station and water rights are completely worthless to them.

As for the timber rights, if government discovers it has no recourse for reclaiming those, it may well fall to the people of the Province to take a stand.

Weeks, months or even years of blockades and picket lines preventing wood laden trucks from rolling down the road and ships from hauling away this valuable resource may be needed.

The process will likely long, calling for great sacrifice on the part of many, including the possiblity of facing minor legal issues during the process, but in time the incessant delays, additional costs and resulting damage to its public image will force Abitibi to understand that leaving the Province means leaving the Province, not continuing to rape it.

No longer should Newfoundlanders and Labradorians sit idly by and be dictated to by greedy corporations.

No longer should the people continue to watch as their resources are stripped away for the benefit of companies and governments elsewhere.

If the people of Newfoundland and Labrador don’t make a stand with Abitibi-Bowater when will they make a stand and will there come a time when there is nothing left worth standing up for?

UPDATE: Premier Williams has announced that his government will introduce emergency legislation this afternoon in order to expropriate all timber rights, water rights and electrical generating facilities belonging to Abitibi-Bowater on the island of Newfoundland.

The Premier has stated that Abitibi-Bowater may receive compensation for damns, generating stations or other physical assets however no compensation will be paid for the timber or water rights.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Harper Breaks Promise – Rewards Political Cronies

Once again Stephen Harper is about to thumb his nose at the people of Canada.

This time around he’s doing it by casting aside any pretext of senate reform and instead appointing 18 conservative senators to the red chamber.

Not only is this move another example of the sort of two faced politics the Prime Minister is already known for (in Newfoundland and Labrador anyway where he didn't win a single seat last time out), but it’s also a flagrant example of his utter disregard for the will of Parliament itself.

When the Governor General conspired with Mr. Harper to suspend Parliament last week she allowed him to run and hide from a non-confidence vote. That was bad enough but she also left him with no restrictions on his powers even though she has the authority to do so, in the same way as she would if an election campaign were underway.

This has left the Prime Minister with the ability to do as he pleases and to rule Canada as he sees fit even though at the time Parliament was suspended every single opposition MP expressed their loss of confidence in his leadership, down to the person.

As a result 18 of the PM's conservative cronies will be getting a Christmas present consisting of a seat in the senate. A position that includes a hefty salary, a menu of expensive perks, very little work and a position that is considered the ultimate prize in federal circles.

There may be nothing unconstitutional or illegal about what the Prime Minister is doing but it is certainly immoral and deceitful for a lame duck Prime Minister to do this after being elected on a promise of not appointing senators and considering that he would already have been removed from office had he not locked the doors of Parliament to avoid losing power.

Personally I couldn’t care less if the PM fills every seat in the Senate with cigar smoking chimpanzees. What I find most distasteful is Mr. Harper's total lack of moral authority for doing what he is about to do, the fact that he lied about not making these appointments during two election campaigns and most of all, the distinct likelihood that since one Newfoundland and Labrador senate seat is open he will appoint one of biggest sellouts to the people of province, Loyola Hearn or Fabian Manning, to what amounts to the biggest taxpayer funded payoff in the Country.

Come to think of it I do care if the Prime Minister loads up the Senate with cigar smoking chimps. I believe I’d prefer that option.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

What’s bad for Canada is good for N.L.

The following is from the Sunday Halifax Chronicle Herald.

All I can say is "well said Mr. Locke".

Sun. Dec 7 - 4:46 AM

For those who think the current drama (or comedy, depending on your sense of humour) going on in Ottawa is a crisis I suggest you check the situation in India and Pakistan.

Listening to callers to radio phone-in shows screaming in full rage that this is undemocratic, a coup, and a "deal with the devil," I am disappointed that citizens don’t know more about how our parliamentary democracy works.

So, take a breath, wipe the spittle off the phone and pay attention. No one has dug up the guns from the backyard. Everything that is happening is perfectly legal and a legitimate democratic process of Parliament.
Welcome to the politics of minority government. It happens when the opposition has more votes in the House of Commons than the government and the government does something stupid. When Stephen Harper turned an economic update into a partisan assault on the opposition, instead of tabling a plan to stabilize the Canadian economy, it qualified as both stupid and incompetent.

The majority, all duly elected MPs of the House of Commons, thought so too, and Parliamentary process took it course. While the conservative masses in Alberta were burning up the radio talk shows, decrying the revolution, the rabid callers to St. John’s talk shows were raising the battle cry in favour of the coalition forces.

There were even public rallies in support of the possible coalition government in St. John’s last week. After all, Newfoundland and Labrador have a lot to gain, like seven MPs on the coalition side. Danny Williams might get his Christmas wish.

In Alberta, home of a more extreme strain of conservative ideology, they might be a little offended.
One thing the Ottawa follies has shown us is that Canada is a country of not only competing and opposing interests, but that parts of this country have absolutely nothing in common when it comes to political, social and economic ideology and values.

You often hear it said around here, "What’s good for Canada is bad for Newfoundland, what’s bad for Canada is good for Newfoundland." I’d guess there are similar sayings in Alberta and Quebec.

While the global financial crisis has slowed some things down in Newfoundland, it’s nothing like the economic troubles in other parts of Canada. In St. John’s, housing sales are up, prices are up, there are Help Wanted signs in the stores, construction is booming and new megaprojects are on the horizon. You don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the new luxury cars cruising Water Street. Getting seven MPs in a coalition government would be icing on the cake.

And what does Premier Danny Williams think of the situation? Other than saying the Conservatives brought it on themselves, we don’t know. He’s ducking reporters. His lack of opinion on the possible ousting of Stephen Harper is odd after injecting himself into the last federal election with an agenda to see Mr. Harper defeated. Or maybe what happens in Ottawa simply doesn’t matter to Newfoundland anymore.

Once upon a time Canada was a pretty middle-of-the-road place. Liberals were somewhat conservative and Conservatives used to be progressive. Now, Canada is becoming more polarized and people realize, or are finally admitting, parts of their country don’t really share the same values.

Remember, most real countries have had a few government overthrows in their history — often involving guns. The only gun in this show is the one used by the Conservatives to shoot themselves in the foot.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Canada’s constitutional coup: A warning to the working class

The following contains excerpts from an article that appeared on the web site "International" today and is worth a read.

It outlines the facts about what happened at the hand of the Governor General on Thursday, the postition taken by the governing Conservative party and why the combination of the two are so destructive and undemocratic.

The article presents the facts in such a way that even devout partisans of all political stripes should be able to understand the true implications of the recent events in Ottawa.

In a flagrant attack on parliamentary norms and democratic rights, Canada's minority Conservative government, in conjunction with the unelected governor-general, has shut down the country's national parliament in order to prevent the opposition parties from ousting the government in a non-confidence vote scheduled for Monday.

Never before in Canada or, for that matter, any other country that follows the British parliamentary pattern, has a government prorogued parliament for the express purpose of avoiding a non-confidence vote.

Two further facts underline the arbitrary and undemocratic character of Governor-General Michaëlle Jean's decision to grant Prime Minster Stephen Harper his request that parliament be suspended until January 26:

* In an election less than eight weeks ago, Canadians once again denied the Conservatives a parliamentary majority, giving the three opposition parties 163 of the 308 House of Commons seats and well over half their votes. A result that should have ensured the majority of opposition members were able to place limitations and controls on the actions of a minority government.

* To demonstrate that the Conservatives had lost parliament's "confidence," and in accordance with long-established constitutional practice, the three opposition parties had officially informed the governor-general earlier this week that they were committed to defeating the government at the earliest opportunity and supporting an opposition coalition government for at least 18 months.

The suspension of parliament and of the MPs' right to defeat and replace the sitting government strikes at the most fundamental democratic right—the right of the people to choose their own government.

Turning reality on its head, the Conservatives, with the support of much of the media, have mounted a vitriolic and reactionary campaign, terming the opposition's attempt to bring to power an alternate government "illegal" and branding it an illegitimate attempt to overturn the results of the October 14 election.

They have labeled the proposed Liberal-NDP government a "separatist coalition," because the pro-Quebec independence Bloc Québécois, which has previously provided the Conservatives with their margin of victory in confidence votes, is backing it.

"That is as close to treason and sedition as I can imagine," declared Conservative MP Bob Dechert.

Even sections of the corporate media that favor the suspension of parliament concede that Harper and the Conservatives have openly incited anti-Quebec chauvinism.

In a nationally televised address Wednesday, Harper vowed to "use every legal means" at his disposal to remain in power.

Given that he has declared the opposition's attempt to form an alternate government a threat to Canada's "national unity" and "democracy," and has now shut down parliament, this vow raises the question as to how far he and his fellow Conservatives are prepared to go in subverting parliamentary and democratic procedures.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Canada, A True Monarchy

The Governor General’s decision to suspend Parliament and prop up a government that does not have the confidence of the House of Commons proves one point very clearly.

The Governor General’s office, as many have expressed in the past, is a complete and utter waste of taxpayer dollars.

The Governor General, with her decision, has set a precedent that will impact all future governments in Canada and dampen the ability of government to function.

By setting this precedent it will now be possible for all future governments to suspend the House of Commons any time they are facing a non-confidence vote, thus denying the elected House the ability to oust an ineffective, unpopular or even destructive leadership regime.

The office of the Governor General is expected to protect Parliament and ensure that it functions as it was intended, a role the current Governor General has abdicated by denying the will of the very Parliament she is sworn to protect and instead supporting one party over the will of the majority of elected members.

The will of Parliament, whether or not any single individual agrees with the sentiment, was to defeat the current government. Instead of allowing this democratic event to unfold as has happened throughout Canada’s history, the current Governor General has allowed the Prime Minister to hide from his responsibility and govern unopposed.

The Prime Minister is now free to wage a propaganda offensive against his opposition while continuing to control the public purse, speak on behalf of the Country and make decisions of national importance without having the support of the majority of the House.

There are those who will argue that the current Prime Minister should be allowed to continue governing rather than being removed from office.

There are those who believe the desire of Parliament should be followed by allowing a coalition government to lead Canada.

There are still others who might prefer another election be held to settle the issue.

No matter which side of the issue Canadians may subscribe to one thing is now abundantly clear:

In spite of those who believe Canada is a dysfunctional democracy, believe it or not, this is no the case.

In a democracy, even a dysfunctional one, the people can always hold out hope of invoking some kind of positive change. Now even that hope is gone.

Canada today is no longer a dysfunctional democracy. It’s a corrupt and disconnected monarchy.

The Governor General should not only be removed from her office but the office itself should be permanently closed.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Canada, where democracy comes to die

If Stephen Harper used his powers for good instead of evil can you imagine the utopia we might all live in?

Can you imagine what might happen if the Prime Minister spent even a faction of the time addressing the real issues of the Country that he now devotes to his personal political ambitions.

Canada is suffering and will continue to suffer for some time to come but instead of doing anything about it Mr. Harper, in what can only be described as a cold, calculating and heartless political game, has decided to use this opportunity as an excuse to choke off funding to his political adversaries and strengthen his grip on power.

As a result, instead of our elected officials spending their time addressing the real problems facing Canada they are now battling for their political survival while Mr. Harper masterminds his attack to its inevitably successful conclusion: The destruction of all opposition to his rule.

911 was the crisis that gave the Bush administration the excuse they needed to move forward with a pre-planned war in Iraq and to oversee the removal of civil liberties and freedoms through the “Patriot Act”. The Harper government learned much from the U.S. Republican Party. So much that one might suspect Dick Cheney himself of working in the Conservative war room these days.

Thanks to the current financial crisis Stephen Harper now has the 911 he needs to move his political agenda forward.

For many voters the cutting of federal subsidies for political parties might seem reasonable. In fact I agree that it might even be the right thing to do, if handled properly, but doing it under the guise of defending the economy and without giving reasonable notice to the affected parties is nothing more than an opportunistic attack on democracy itself.

The halting of the $1.95 per vote federal subsidy for parties will save taxpayers about 27 million dollars but that’s a drop in the bucket in a multi-billion dollar economy.

The cut itself might not have much of a financial impact but doing it this soon after an expensive election, without warning and without giving the opposition parties a transition period that would allow them to adjust and evolve is like dropping an atomic bomb on your enemies.

This cut will all but silence political opposition in Canada for years to come and the only people who want to do that are within the Conservative Party of Canada.

These cuts will essentially destroy the ability of the Liberals, NDP, Bloc and Greens to wage any kind of campaign in the foreseeable future. In fact it might even lead to the total collapse and disappearance of one or more of the parties and almost certainly prevent new political parties from ever forming.

Some analysts have referred to the Harper move as a gutsy “roll of the dice” but I disagree. In fact, just he opposite is true. This comes across to me as the act of an intelligent though gutless individual who doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to face his opponents head on.

No matter how many times I run the possible outcomes through my feeble mind I can’t find a single scenario that would see this backfire on the Conservative party. I can, on the other hand, find many that will be disastrous to their opponents and to democracy itself.

If one of the opposition parties decides to vote in favor of this action, or even to sit out some members so it can “passively” get through the House, it will mean that several of the opposition parties will find themselves teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, if not pushed over the edge, by losing between 60% and 80% of their funding.

This might not worry some voters who think the mainstream parties should raise their own money, but consider if you will that cutting off this funding will almost guarantee that small “grassroots” parties just starting up and hoping to bring a fresh new voice to Canadian politics will be crushed into silence before they can even get out of the starting gate.

It will also mean that only those with deep pockets can take part in the political debate of the federation and that’s a reality that should concern everyone.

In this scenario the Harper Conservatives are the only winners.

If, on the other hand, the opposition parties decide to topple the Conservative government they have two options before them.

The first is forcing another election. An election Canadian’s don’t want and the opposition parties can’t afford just 5 weeks after the polls closed on the last campaign.

The only party in the financial position to fight another election today is the Conservative party.

With the opposition parties nearly broke and because the Conservatives will be able to claim their adversaries forced an election because they felt “entitled to their entitlements” Mr. Harper will surely walk away with a majority.

At the end of the day, with the opposition parties even more in debt and their coffers emptier than they are now, Mr. Harper will simply re-introduce the funding cut and totally wipe his opponents off the political map.

In this scenario the Harper Conservatives are the only winners.

A third option is for the opposition parties to topple the government and form some sort of loose coalition to lead the federation.

This move will allow Mr. Harper to sit in opposition while his opponents are thrust into governing at a time when the economy is collapsing, job losses are growing, businesses are shutting their doors and deficits are mounting.

This scenario will see the fallout of Canada’s economic woes rest not on Conservative shoulders but squarely on the shoulders of the Liberals, NDP and Bloc equally. The Harper Conservatives meanwhile will be free to attack from the opposition benches while never getting the least bit sullied by the economic mess.

After a year (at best) of taking a political beating any coalition will likely fall apart, Canadians will end up back at the polls and Mr. Harper will be free to bill himself as a knight riding to the rescue on a shining white horse to claim a majority victory. (At which time he will once again simply re-introduce the election funding cut and strangle his indebted adversaries to death).

In this scenario the Harper Conservatives are the only winners.

It may be a brilliant political move but unfortunately the people who will suffer the most are the ones who have the least to gain from all this political wrangling, but everything to lose, the voters.

They are also, by the way, the last thing anyone in Ottawa is thinking about these days.

Once the political intrigue is over on Parliament Hill the economy will still be in the toilet and the smaller provinces or regions at the edges of the federation will still be neglected, abused and forgotten. As an added bonus however, any hope of nurturing a new or different political perspective in Canada will be dead once and for all and the Conservatives will have achieved their ambition of ruling with an unquestioned iron fist for many years to come.

Welcome to Canada, where democracy comes to die.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Newfoundland and Labrador's Economic Roller Coaster

What a difference a month can make.

Earlier this month Newfoundland and Labrador premier, Danny Williams, announced to the entire Country that “have” status was a reality in his province, even going so far as to plan a celebration of the fact in March of 2009.

Now, long before the party begins it could already be over and the tide may have turned in the other direction.

Because of the turnaround cycle for calculating which provinces will or will not receive equalization, Newfoundland and Labrador will likely remain a “have” province, at least on paper, this year and next, but that label could be worth about as much as a beach front lot in New Orleans if the current trends continue.

Don’t get your party hats and noise makers ready just yet folks there’s a storm on the horizon.

The coffers of the Newfoundland and Labrador government will not be as flush with cash next year as the Williams government had hoped when the premier announced the province’s new status.

The reasons are varied, but one of the biggest has to do with the diversity of the Newfoundland and Labrador economy, or should I say the lack of diversity.

In the past decade or so the province has become more and more reliant on a flood of petro-dollars, petro-dollars that now account for about a third of all provincial revenues.

Since Williams’ “have” status announcement world oil prices, which reached nearly $150.00 a barrel earlier this year, have plummeted to the $50.00 mark, shedding nearly two thirds of their value and putting a major dent in provincial revenues.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, adding to problem for Newfoundland and Labrador is the announcement this week that production on the Hibernia, White Rose and Terra Nova oil fields will be shut down for several weeks in 2009 to accommodate maintenance and upgrade efforts.

During the summer of 2009 production at the 130,000 barrel per day Terra Nova and 110,000 per day White Rose fields will be shut down for a period of 35 days each.

The Hibernia field, which produces in the area of 150,000 barrels per day, will shut down for 21 days.

The combined impact of these closures will see a reduction in annual production of approximately 12 million barrels of oil and a serious drop in the provincial royalty revenues to go right along with it.

Nations around the world are entering a recession the likes of which has not been seen in many years, if it’s ever been seen before (the jury is still out on the severity of the situation).

One thing is certain, the current downturn has resulted in a dwindling demand for all natural resources, not just oil but also iron ore, nickel and forest products as well. This has led to a much lower value for those commodities and another drop in potential provincial revenues.

Adding to these concerns are reports that yet another component of the Newfoundland and Labrador economy is shedding value.

For years millions of dollars have been flowing into the Newfoundland and Labrador economy in the form of Fort Mac pay cheques but that revenue stream is taking a hit as well.

Many residents who have been forced to leave their homes to work out west have retained their residences here and continued to pay taxes and spend much of their income in the province, boosting the retail sector and housing markets.

Now, with the price of oil declining, even the once invincible Fort Mac is beginning to stagger a little. New projects and expansions have been put on hold and layoffs out west are being reported more and more each day.

With a provincial unemployment rate already well over 13%, this most recent economic “perfect storm” to hit our shores has left the outlook for Canada’s newest “have” province a lot less bright today than it was just a month ago.

It’s been said before, and it may be easier said than done, but I sincerely hope this bump in the road (perhaps the understatement of the year) finally makes federal, provincial and municipal governments, along with the private sector, understand that we need to diversify our economy.

Those petro-dollars and other resource revenues the province has been enjoying for so long can be as much of a curse as they are a blessing and they truly won’t last forever.

The terms “have” and “have not” are best left to accountants. When it comes to the impending reality of even higher unemployment, lost homes and lineups at food banks those words mean absolutely nothing.

Regardless of whether the global economic meltdown turns out to be a prolonged and painful one or merely a blip on the radar, what matters most is the ability of the people living here to find a job and put food on the table.

It’s only by diversifying the economy and becoming less and less dependent on the volatile pricing of natural resources, be it oil, minerals, timber or even fish, that Newfoundland and Labrador can ever hope to become a true “have” province in every sense of the word.

It’s not that difficult to understand when you really think about it. Even as children most of us heard the old adage “you don’t put all your eggs in one basket”.

I only hope that today’s political and business leaders finally see the wisdom in those words.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Throne Speech a Triumph of Political Double Speak

It never ceases to amaze me how easily political leaders can talk from both sides of their mouth at the same time. It must be genetic or something.

During last week’s throne speech the Harper government made a point of telling the nation how important it was that Ottawa find innovative ways of securing Canada’s energy future, tackling climate change and building the economy.

That’s what the speech said but what it really meant was: “The Harper government will find innovative ways to secure our political future, pretend we are tackling climate change and build voter support.”

In that speech the government of Canada specifically said it would accomplish it’s publicly stated objectives by supporting nuclear energy projects and by developing the natural gas potential of the North, including the building a natural gas pipeline.

According to the Prime Minister, “Energy is vitally important to our country…The development of our rich energy resources is an important source of wealth and Canadian jobs…Our Government has committed to reducing Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020.”

Sounds great doesn’t it?

Sure it does but anyone living on the East Coast of Canada (the REAL East Coast of Canada) can tell you Harper's motives are not what the Prime Minister says they are.

The people of the Atlantic Provinces have suspected for decades that somewhere in Ottawa there is a map that depicts the Country as Ottawa truly sees it, with the border ending at Quebec.

Atlantic Canadians have been unwavering in their disgust each time they have been forced to bend to the will of Ontario, Quebec and more recently, oil rich Alberta.

It’s gotten to a point where the average citizen in Newfoundland and Labrador simply shakes their head and walks away knowingly when a politician announces anything that’s supposedly good for “Canada”.

The most recent throne speech and government actions have done nothing to change this reality.
A few years ago Stephen Harper, upon catching a glimpse of the attitude adopted by long time Atlantic residents, referred to the region as having a “culture of defeat”.

Personally I don’t see it that way at all. What I see is a people that have come to understand that in Canada the cards are forever stacked against them.

When Ontario, Quebec or Alberta strives to accomplish their objectives in Canada they usually win.

When Atlantic Canada strives to accomplish its objectives in Canada, Ontario, Quebec and increasingly Alberta, usually win.

In fact, with successive minority governments constantly on election watch the task of pandering to the big three has become an art form.

No matter the political party or the issue of the day, Quebec is still Quebec, Ontario, even as a have not province, is still Ontario and Alberta has become the newest member of Canada’s political elite.

In reality the desire to protect the environment, provide secure energy and create jobs in the North are little more than fluff for public consumption.

The truth is that massive quantities of natural gas are needed to keep one of the most environmentally destructive projects on the planet, the Alberta tar sands, humming along smoothly. Without it they would grind to a stand still.

Score one for Alberta.

On the nuclear front, yes nuclear power is cleaner than coal or oil generation, but there are other options out there, including wind, solar and good old fashioned hydro.

An example of this is the power potential of the Lower Churchill River in Labrador.

For decades Newfoundland and Labrador has been fighting an uphill battle to develop the massive energy potential of the Lower Churchill River. The project is in the planning stages but not one word was mentioned in the speech from the throne about hydro power in general or the Labrador project in particular, a project that has the potential to create thousands of jobs while providing clean dependable and low cost energy.

If at this point you are asking yourself “why wouldn’t the government support this project?” then you might want to go back and read the first few paragraphs over again.

It’s Canadian politics 101.

Forget the fact that Nova Scotia and New Brunswick need and desperately want the clean power this project would supply (I say forget those two provinces because, once again they are in Atlantic Canada and well…I’ve already shown that they just don’t matter to Ottawa).

Putting Atlantic Canada’s concerns aside, politically important Ontario has also expressed an interest in Lower Churchill power so shouldn't that mean it will move forward?


It doesn't matter because another politically important province, Quebec, doesn’t want the project to move forward unless they can profit from it.

Even though the Harper government has the ability to assist with the development of the Lower Churchill, through loan guarantees or other forms of federal assistance, they won’t do it.

The Harper government has also walked away from its plans for the “East/West power grid” we all heard so much about a couple of years ago. A project once touted as “a nation building exercise to rival the building of the continental railway”.

What was hailed as critical to Canada’s energy future such a short time ago has now been abandoned.


You see developing the East/West Energy Grid or supporting the Lower Churchill hydro project would:

A) Require a part of the grid to pass through Quebec which might upset some seperatists; and
B) Mean Newfoundland and Labrador could reach waiting markets with their clean energy without having to hand over most of the profits to, you guessed it, Quebec.

Score 1 for Quebec.

But hold on you might say “doesn’t that mean Ontario won’t get the clean power it needs”?

“Doesn’t it mean that by pandering to Quebec and denying Ontario this power Mr. Harper has hurt himself politically?”

Not so.

I don’t know anyone who has ever said Stephen Harper was politically stupid and I’m not about to be the first.

In a brilliant move intended to head off any political fallout (while perhaps trading it for the nuclear kind) the Harper government will appease the voters of Ontario by assisting that province in moving forward with building more nuclear capacity.

Yes, the public may have a lower opinion of nuclear, it may be more dangerous and it may even be more expensive for consumers than hydro, but in political circles it has two far more important things going for it.

Unlike the Lower Churchill development, which would create thousands of well paying jobs in the region of Canada with the highest unemployment rate, nuclear will create jobs in vote rich Ontario and it doesn’t tick off vote rich Quebec.

Score one each for Ontario and for Quebec on that one.

So, to recap, the Harper government plans to improve Canada’s energy supply, create jobs and protect the environment how?


Constructing an environmentally risky and potentially insecure gas pipeline across Canada’s North;

Using somewhat clean natural gas to extract extremely dirty and highly polluting tar sands oil in Alberta;

Building nuclear reactors in Ontario (no word yet on where the waste will end up but somebody is probably scouting locations down East); and

They’ll do it all while ignoring Newfoundland and Labrador’s efforts to develop the largest untapped hydro electric reserve in North America. A clean energy project capable of lighting well over a million homes across Canada and creating thousands of well paid jobs in Canada’s highest unemployment region.

Score 0 for Atlantic Canada.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Inspiration for Change

The following is a Web Talk response to an article published on November 14 by Matthew Claxton in the Langley Advance. It contains excerpts from that article.

Anyone who is as tired as I am of living under the thumb of Canada’s warped and unfair parliamentary system should take heart in knowing that nothing, not even government, lasts forever.

The word “change” doesn’t need to be confined to use in American political rallies.

To illustrate this point, in a recent article published by the Langley Advance, columnist Matthew Claxton wrote:

...I watched the election of a new president in the United States in much the same way that many Canadians did…

I also spent some time thinking about what it means when power is transferred in one of the oldest countries of the world.

Yes, the United States is one of the oldest - if not the oldest - states on the planet. A friend of mine made this claim several years ago, and the more I think about it, the more I think he was right.

Of course…we are often told of China or Egypt, countries which have thousands of years of history and continuous settlement and so on and so forth, but a nation is not the same thing as a state. (Ask a separatist about the distinction.)

Nations, in the modern sense, can be defined by things like shared culture, language, and history.

Does the English nation include Wales, for example?

Is Newfoundland a nation within Canada?

The point is a nation is not defined by its system of government.

The United States has been operating under the same system of government…since the late 1700s.

If you grabbed an American off the streets of New York in the year 1788, for example, and dragged him into your time machine for a quick trip to the year 2008, he would be shocked at a lot: culture, language, technology, population growth. But ask him about the three branches of government, and he would name the president, the congress, and the supreme court, just as would a modern American.

Try the same thing in China. You would have to explain that the last emperor was dead and that the country was now called the People's Republic of China, which was founded on Marxist principles in 1949. There are older houses on my street.

Quick, try to think of another state, any other state in the world, which has maintained the same system of government for more than 200 years.

France? Currently on its Fifth Republic, after interruptions by Nazis and emperors.

India? A collection of several states, crushed together by the British and finally given independence in 1947.

The only serious contender for the throne of oldest state that I can think of is Britain itself. It has undergone more evolution than the United States, but you can date its current system of government to the late 1600s or early 1700s.

It was those British rights and governmental procedures that Canada inherited after Confederation in 1867, which makes Canada, so often acclaimed as a young nation, middle aged at the very least.

This makes me wonder what lies ahead. Are the states we live in destined for centuries of life, or will they in turn be replaced by other forms of government, other ways of ruling and being ruled?

Well said Mr. Claxton.

It’s a little disheartening to think that such a warped parliamentary system of government is one of the longest lasting in the world but it’s reassuring to think that the system adopted by Canada has already exceeded the average life expectancy of most governments and, one can only hope, it has reached a point in history where it’s approaching its final days.

Your article provides insight into the potential for change that so many crave, especially in mismanaged, economically outcast and socially neglected regions such as Newfoundland and Labrador.

At least now, when the people of Newfoundland and Labrador must deal with a federal government intent on ensuring that the larger provinces prosper, regardless of the needs of the smaller ones, when the few are oppressed by the many and when the voices of the people are ignored, we can keep hope alive by remembering that nothing, not even government systems, are permanent.

It may seem, in Newfoundland and Labrador, that we’ve been living under a one sided centrist regime for far too long, and we have, but in the grand scheme of things it’s really only been 60 years.

With new voices speaking out all the time, with a more educated, aware and informed populace than ever before and with the advent of new political and social movements in the province, one day I believe the people of Newfoundland and Labrador will find a way to either change the current political system from within or adopt an entirely new and independent one of their own.

Where there is life there is hope.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What Does Vale Inco's Annoucement Mean for NL?

It’s been a long time in the planning but the recent announcement by Vale Inco means ground will be broken in 2009 on a new hydromet nickel processing facility at Longer Harbour, Newfoundland. The plant will process Voisey’s Bay nickel.

The news is welcomed in the region, especially with employment figures of 1600+ during the 3 year construction phase and estimates of 450 full time production employees being tossed around, but there are still questions that need to be answered.

When former premier Brian Tobin was in office he promised the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, in reference to the minerals at Voisey’s Bay, “…not one teaspoon will leave the province for processing”.

Eventually, after much negotiation, a deal was struck by Mr. Tobin’s successor and now former premier, Roger Grimes, who is today patting himself on the back and desperately seeking some recognition after the Vale Inco announcement.

The deal eventually signed by Grimes allowed Vale Inco to ship ore concentrate out of the province for processing until such time as a new processing plant could be built. The agreement also calls for Vale Inco to then begin processing the ore in the province and, once the mine’s life has expired, begin processing ore from other sources to make up for what was shipped out prior to the facility coming online.

The question I would like answered is, “will this ever happen”?

Good news story and potential employment opportunities aside, in November of 2005 Vale Inco shipped it’s first of many billions of “teaspoons” of the valuable resource out of the Voisey Bay site in Labrador. By the time the proposed hydromet plant is built at Long Harbour, at the end of 2011, many more teaspoons will have been sent away.

Based on early production estimates back in 2005, by the time the new processing plant is built in late 2011 or early 2012 (if it’s even on schedule) more than 660 million pounds of Nickel concentrate will have been shipped to Sudbury Ontario for processing. In addition to the Nickel, 30 million pounds of valuable cobalt, 120 million pounds of copper and a further 420 million pounds of copper concentrate will have been sent out of the province.

That’s a lot of raw material to find “somewhere else” so it can be diverted to Long Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador once Voiesy’s Bay has outlived its usefulness.

Yes, perhaps new finds could potentially fill the void, but only if they can be found.

Unfortunately new nickel deposits aren’t sitting on every street corner. Finding one isn’t as easy as getting a Big Mac when you want one .

Yes, ore could potentially be re-directed from smelters in other parts of Canada but what level of political influence will be exerted to stop that from happening if the ore is to be taken away from say Sudbury, Ontario or Thompson, Manitoba and jobs are put in jeopardy?

Today concentrate from Voisey Bay is being processed in Sudbury and that supply will no longer be available to Ontario once this new facility comes online. That’s likely to cause enough concern in the Canadian heartland but one can only imagine the reaction if, once the Voisey’s Bay is depleted, further shipments to Sudbury are taken away and sent to Newfoundland.

In addition to the political ramifications there is the question of whether or not there might be technical reasons for Newfoundland and Labrador waiting a long time for those “teaspoons” to start trickling in.

I may be totally off base and perhaps someone with a metallurgical background can help me out here, but reading between the lines of recent news releases makes me question if it is technically feasible to process “other” ore at the new hydromet facility.

Just about every official comment, news release and public statement, from both the company and government over the past few days, with reference to the new facility, has for some reason made a point of including something to the effect that:

The company has proven that, “…the technology will work on Voisey’s Bay ore.”


“…is capable of processing the Voisey’s Bay product.”

Why do they feel the need to specify the "Voisey's Bay" product as opposed to simply saying the system works for processing nickel?

Is it possible the technology being put in place has been designed in such a way that processing is limited to a specific mineral composition or ore type?

Maybe I’m tilting at windmills here but the fact that the proponents appear so keen including those words in public communications is a little unsettling.

The original promise of “not one teaspoon” was made by a former Liberal premier.

The Voisey’s Bay deal was signed by another Liberal premier.

It’s now up to the current PC premier to make sure the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are fully informed and it will be up to a future premier, no matter the stripe, to make sure the original promise is honored in full.

It’s been a long road and it's not over yet.

Time will tell.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Truth is Out There...

The following is from the Sunday edition of the Halifax Chr0nicle Herald. I figured it was worth while, for the sake of making a point, to post it here. That point: Though it may often be difficult to find it among the mainstream media spin, BS, lies and misconceptions, never the less the truth is finally starting to get out and not just on sites like this one. That's a good thing.

To have and to have not
Nov 16 - 7:26 AM

IT’S CURIOUS that people here rejoice that Newfoundland and Labrador no longer qualify for federal equalization payments as if we are all rich now and it’s time to celebrate.

But all that has happened is that oil money has replaced Ottawa money as income on the books.

To mark the province’s historic transition from "have not" to "have", Premier Danny Williams is planning a party and says it’s the end of Newfie jokes.

If only it were that easy. Don’t expect to see the disdain for Newfoundland and insults dressed up as humour going away any time soon in many Canadian circles.

At least we won’t have to see or hear the mindless words "have not" preface every story in the media about what is a decent place in which to live. That may be the only benefit. It’s not like the province’s health care fiasco has been fixed, student loans have stopped crushing young people’s futures or the help-wanted ads are filled with high-paying jobs.

Towns like Stephenville still only survive because of paycheques being sent home from Alberta, just like migrant worker societies around the world.

Something few, if any, Canadians know is that when Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949 to become the new poor-cousin whipping boy of Confederation, its books were in the black.

Revenues from fish and mining meant the future "have not" province came with a dowry.

An email from a reader last week, commenting on the province’s "have" status, stated he had been to Newfoundland and was "shocked at the prosperity."

"No shacks but countless fine homes. I live in the Annapolis Valley, where there are a lot of poverty and rundown shacks. The average wage is less than $30K."

I told him that the average income in Newfoundland was also less than $30,000, but for most Newfoundlanders living outside the urban areas, their land and homes have been in their families for generations, so many are relatively mortgage free. They also take great pride in their homes and are resourceful enough to maintain them, regardless of how modest they may be.

The stigma of being a "have" and "have not" province as it applies to equalization benefits has always been a narrow-minded media/politico simplification based on the assumption that the only value a province had was how much revenue it generated for the national coffers.

I’ve been to Alberta, and by my definition and what I value, it is most definitely a "have not" province, regardless of how much money is in the provincial coffers.

Equalization is not welfare. It was brought in by the federal government in 1959 in an attempt to ensure that all Canadians had a somewhat equal standard of living when it came to education, health care and civil infrastructure.

The money for equalization comes from federal revenues generated in every province.

Using a somewhat convoluted formula, the federal money then goes to provinces that are deemed to need it to maintain some semblance of a national standard for its residents. Does it work? As the car ads say, Your mileage may vary.

How ironic then that Canada’s richest and most "have" province, Alberta, charges people for their provincial health cards, has outrageous school and property taxes at the local level, and has some of the worst roads I have ever driven — and I crossed the country just last year.

Somehow, Newfoundland and Quebec, chronic "have not" provinces, are able to provide free education, health care, and even subsidized child care, in the case of Quebec.

I guess it depends on your priorities and values, and by extension politics, as to what you judge to be "have" and "have not."

One should not mistake GDP for quality of life.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Newfoundland & Labrador No Longer Only Atlantic "Ghetto"

Nova Scotia is a “low-wage ghetto,” according to the co-author of a report released today.

The report recently co-written by Professor Larry Haiven of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax shows that while productivity has increased over the past 20 years in Nova Scotia wages have lagged behind.

“If workers have been contributing to an overall productivity increase, then what have they gotten out of it? The answer is nothing”, says Professor Haiven.

“Workers are actually making less than they did 20 years ago.”

According to the professor, Nova Scotia has the third highest number of low-paid workers in Canada, behind P.E.I and Newfoundland & Labrador and has the third lowest hourly wage, just a little better than New Brunswick and Newfoundland & Labrador.

The situation has led professor Haiven to label Nova Scotia as a “low-wage ghetto”, a term reminiscent of Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente’s attack a short while back when she referred to Newfoundland & Labrador as a “scenic welfare ghetto”.

The report goes on to say that increases in profits over the years are not filtering down to workers but instead are being raked in by the business community. No doubt this is a valid point but the reasoning given in the report, that corporate executives believe workers in Atlantic Canada are somehow less productive, is a little off base.

Having been a part of the work force with a major corporation in Newfoundland & Labrador for many years I’ve had the dubious honor of hearing executives speak of the true reason for not increasing wages and misconceptions over productivity are not a factor. In fact my experience has shown a high level of productivity in the area.

The conversation around compensation usually boils down to one of supply and demand. If someone is working in Newfoundland & Labrador, for example, corporate leadership often feels that since there are few alternatives for that worker to find another competitive job in the region that worker will put up with what they get.

On the other hand, those working for the same company in, let’s say, Alberta, often receive higher wages and larger annual increases than their counterparts in Atlantic Canada doing the same job.

Let’s face it, corporations are in the business of making money. It’s that simple. In that sense it’s hard to blame them for taking advantage of any opportunity to reduce costs and increase profits if they can get away with it. Remember that unemployment levels in Alberta are around 3.5% but better than 13% in Newfoundland and Labrador and more than double Alberta’s rate in the rest of Atlantic Canada.

This isn’t to say I agree with the status quo or condone these acts of corporate greed, quite the opposite, but we might as well face the facts.

The solution to the problem isn’t to attack industry for taking advantage of a situation that exists or to explain it away as a misperception about productivity. The answer is to remove any advantage they believe they have.

As the economy in this area improves through mega-projects, oil and gas developments and other development opportunities, the demand for workers in many fields will increase. It’s up to workers themselves to then pick and choose where they want to work and to walk away from any employer who is not willing to provide them with a reasonable salary and benefits package.

Taking this approach will soon see the tables turn.

Yes, there will be moaning and groaning from the business community but that’s life. We are already beginning to see this happen.

Even with a 13% unemployment rate and with thousands of citizens migrating back and forth to work in Fort MacMurray, there are constant reports of companies in Newfoundland & Labrador complaining that they can’t find enough workers to meet their growing needs or to staff planned future projects.

Too bad! Do something about it.

The management of these companies always follow up on their plea for help by saying that, “of course we can’t compete with wages in Alberta.”

My question is, “Why the hell not?”

The cost of raw materials, jurisdictional tax regimes, etc, being relatively similar across Canada how is it that a company in Alberta, Ontario or for that matter EVERY other jurisdiction right across Canada can offer higher wages than a company in Newfoundland & Labrador?

It’s B.S.

The truth is that they can and will pay more if they want to stay in business.

The reason wages are low is because for years companies have gotten away with it because there were few alternatives for anyone who wanted to work. Those days are quickly coming to an end and if the companies out there whining about a lack of workers don’t solve their own problem by paying a competitive salary then they might as well close up shop, get out of the way and let someone else come in who will.

As angry as Ms. Wente’s, “scenic ghetto” remark made many people in Newfoundland & Labrador feel, including yours truly, there is little doubt the strong wording used by Professor Haiven will have a similar effect in Nova Scotia.

The term used by Professor Haiven about his home province may have been harsh but it begs the question, “What should we call a “Have” province, like Newfoundland & Labrador, that has even lower average wages and a larger number of low-paid workers than a “Have Not” province like Nova Scotia?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper would likely call it a place suffering from a distinct “culture of defeat”. Personally I don’t believe that sort of defeatist attitude ever existed here and I find the current situation disgusting. I also believe it’s one that won’t last much longer.

With new projects planned to come to fruition in Newfoundland & Labrador over the next several years it’s time for any company operating in this region to begin treating local staff in the same way as workers are treated in the rest of Canada. The days of the free ride and of quasi-slave labor are over. Any companies that have become dependent for their survival on that little extra edge they gained by offering low salaries or who simply don’t want to level the playing field won’t last much longer.

On the bright side, for any company management who feel bad about having to close up shop, there is a bright side. With any luck they can find a well paying job out West like they’ve watched so many others do.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The New "Newfie" Joke

Newfoundland and Labrador premier, Danny Williams, was quoted recently as saying, “The days of the newfie jokes are over”, in reference to his province no longer being a recipient of equalization payments. Not so fast Mr. Williams, it seems you spoke too soon.

For decades the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have been belittled, ridiculed, condescended to and laughed at without regard for feelings or facts. The province has been derided and demeaned like no other in the federation, simply because of circumstances largely beyond its control, that forced them to accept federal equalization payments to offset a weakened economy.

The days of having to accept those funds are over, unfortunately the habit of mocking and putting down the province and its people as “stupid newfies” and worse is something that has not gone away and in fact is getting more rabid every day.

For as long as the equalization program has been around and up until just a few weeks ago, very few Canadians cared much about the system or how it worked. Mind you many of them, especially those in Ontario, knew it existed and knew that Newfoundland and Labrador was a recipient, thus the verbal attacks, but beyond that equalization was something they could have cared less about. This is not the case today.

What happened? Why has equalization suddenly become so important to people standing around the water coolers of Bay Street or in the streets of Toronto?

The answer is simple. Ontario is now a recipient while Newfoundland and Labrador is not.

No longer is Newfoundland and Labrador the one talking about equalization and its potential effects (both for good and for bad). It’s now Ontario that is directly impacted by the issue.

When the people of Newfoundland and Labrador spoke out for decades about the impacts of the federal program, calling for its overhaul and for a more balanced approach to meeting the goals of the program nobody listened. They simply brushed asided any talk from, to quote Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente “Canada’s scenic welfare ghetto”.

Now that Ontario is on the receiving end of the calculation suddenly the program has become the single most important issue in Canadian politics and is fast becoming a disaster for the nation.

It seems that with the advent of Ontario’s new “have not” status, which is based solely on a numbers game, not reality, a new means of attacking the people of Newfoundland and Labrador has moved to the forefront.

No longer can Ontarians feel good about themselves by simply complaining about how Newfoundland and Labrador is a “drain on Canada” or how those “lazy newfies always want suckle at Ottawa’s teat”. That form of attack will no longer fly.

Instead they’ve opted for the only avenue left open to them that allows them to collect federal handouts yet still feel good about it, at the expense of Canada’s perennial door mat.

The new way of attacking Newfoundland and Labrador is by comparing it to Ontario and bemoaning any federal equalization formula that is so distasteful it would dare make it appear that Newfoundland and Labrador is no longer the lowest rung on the federation ladder.

In the words of Ontario opposition leader, Bob Runciman, “It’s hard to swallow the concept of being Newfoundland’s poor cousin. We’re used to being the bread winners in Confederation…not welfare recipients or whiners”, no doubt tarring the people of Newfoundland and Labrador as being the latter.

Open any major paper in Ontario or across Canada, whether it be the Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto Star or a host of others and you’ll find exactly the same sort of rhetoric that has been published ever since 1949. The thing of it is, with Newfoundland and Labrador having cast off the stigma that comes with equalization the disdain has not dissipated but has instead been turned up a notch in an effort to console the poor folks in Canada’s heartland.

In the past few days alone there have been several articles and commentaries that would make the hair stand up on the neck of any Newfoundlander or Labradorian. The verbiage is outright hostile and it's clearly intended to put "those newfies back in their place”.

One article I read recently noted, “…the hare (Ontario) is scratching his head wondering how the tortoise (that would probably be Newfoundland) crossed the finish line ahead of him.”

Other articles ponder the question, “… how is it that Ontario is a “have not” province and Newfoundland and Labrador is a “have”?” It goes on to provide an even more clearly aimed slap to Canada’s newest “have” province by stating, “Just how Ontario -- once as sturdy as your grandfather's house -- got laid so low is best left for speculation.”

Indeed, the days of ridiculing and demeaning the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are far from over. The jokes may taste more bitter on the tongues of the tellers these days, but the need of many Ontarians to keep anti-Newfoundland and Labrador sentiment alive, in a pathetic attempt to inflate their own egos, is alive and well.

There is little doubt that when Danny Williams unveils his plan for a celebration of his province's new found status the anger now showing itself will only intensify.

I can hear it now, “How dare Newfoundland and Labrador celebrate at a time when the very Ontarians who paid their way for so long are suffering so greatly?”

Fortunately for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, most have lived with the disdain and slurs of “mainlanders” for so long that it’s become little more than a dull hum in the bacground. White noise if you will.

There is no doubt the party will proceed as planned even if Dalton McGuinty himself is forced to stand in a welfare line, hat in hand, to collect a cheque.

By the way, if any of the fine folks of Ontario happen to be in Newfoundland and Labrador this summer let me be the first to invite you to what will surely be an event to remember.

It might do you good to get out of Ontario for a while and forget about your troubles.

As always, you’re more than welcome to join us.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Remembering Our War Heroes

With Remembrance Day upon us once again Web Talk is proud to take some time away from the political arena, where we normally exist, and instead provide an opportunity for our readers to remember, or perhaps even learn something new, about the history of the military in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Each year at this time we are all asked to take a few moments from our daily schedules to remember those who have fought and died in the name of their various Countries.

While the Dominion of Newfoundland may no longer exist, the men who fought and died are no less real and remembering their sacrifices this Remembrance Day is the least we can do.

Many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, at least those over the age of 30, likely remember the Australian war ballad “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”, made famous in this province, by Liam Clancy.

The song contains the heart wrenching lines:

…the band played Waltzing Matilda,
As our ship sailed away from the Quay
And amidst all the cheers,
Flag waving and tears
We sailed off for Gallipoli

Well I remember that terrible day
When our blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter.
Johnny Turk he was ready
Oh he primed himself well.
He rained us with bullets,
And he showered us with shells.
And in five minutes flat,
We were all blown to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia…

The reason I bring this up is that while most of us have grown up hearing stories about the near annihilation of the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont Hamel, there have been other battles in our history that are less known, though no less bloody.

Many of us may also be familiar with the words of the now famous Australian song but few of us are aware of the Regiment’s connection to the song’s subject and the blood stained soil of Gallipoli.

In early 1915, a year before the famous battle of the Somme, the Newfoundland Regiment was sent to Egypt on its way to its very first commitment in the theatre of war, Gallipoli. This would be the place where the Regiment came close to being wiped out for the first time.

The Newfoundland Regiment landed at Suvla Bay on the Gallipoli peninsula on the night of September 19th 1915 in order to reinforce the hard-pressed British 88th Brigade of the 29th Division.

From the beginning the Regiment had a hard time; day and night the Turkish army, in control of the high ground surrounding the beach, poured a constant stream of artillery and sniper fire down upon the line. Casualties mounted day by day and the constant enemy fire made re-supply difficult. Food and water shortages were common.

In spite of the hardships the Regiment played an important part in advancing the line and was awarded two Distinguished Conduct Medals and a Military Cross during the fighting.

With the coming of winter conditions went from bad to worse.

On November 26th a severe storm struck the Regiment a nasty blow. Three days of torrential rain and driving sleet washed away trenches and supplies and as the temperature fell rapidly the rain turned to snow.

With food and water running short and little or no shelter even the hardy men of the Newfoundland Regiment, who were no strangers to bad weather, began to succumb and several died of exposure.

By December 10th the Regiment was down to a quarter of its original strength.

Toward the end of the Gallipoli Campaign the “Newfoundlanders”, as they were called, were given the job of holding the Turkish forces. They formed part of a defensive line and the fighting was "hellish" for a number of weeks.

Eventually, on December 20th, the British decided to withdraw from Suvla and the Newfoundland Regiment was sent to Cape Helles to assist in the final exodus of British forces.

By then only 170 men were left.

The “Newfoundlanders” were among the very last troops to depart.

After the bloody and deadly Gallipoli engagement the Regiment began the task of rebuilding the tattered remnants of the unit in preparation for there next major engagement, at the Somme, and the now famous battle of Beaumont Hamel.

Perhaps we should take a moment this Remembrance Day to look back with pride on the fact that in North America it is the Newfoundland Regiment alone that has the distinction of having fought at Gallipoli.

No military units, from what was Canada back then, made it to the Dardanelles.

Ever since Newfoundland and Labrador became a part of Canada in 1949, what those brave troops did has been considered a part of the history of all of Canada, and as such all Canadians, not only Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, should take the time to remember and be thankful.

Post Script: For anyone who would like to listen to "Brand New Waltzing Matilda, a heart wrenching ballad, please visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFCekeoSTwg

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Truth of NL's Place in the Canadian Federation

The following was sent to Web Talk by a regular reader of our site.

The letter below was written to the St. John's Telegram 10 years ago by John Fitzgerald. For those of you who may not be familiar with the name, Mr. Fitzgerald is an expert in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador and is currently working for the provincial government as our "Quasi-Ambassador" to Ottawa.

The letter itself may be a decade old but it speaks volumes about the truth of Confederation and the clear understanding Mr. Fitzgerald has when it comes to our beautiful homeland. It's a sad thing most of us in this province are not as familiar with the facts as our representative in Ottawa is.

The Telegram
St. John's - April 6, 1998

The Telegram editorial of April 1, celebrating 49 years of Confederation as a "qualified success," claimed that Newfoundland would have been much worse off as an independent country than as a Canadian province, and that without Ottawa , Newfoundland might return to the "grinding poverty" of the 1930s. This is the same tired orthodoxy that The Telegram and Smallwood preached in 1948: Newfoundland would not survive without Confederation.

Newfoundland very likely could have prospered without Confederation. For nine of the 10 years before Confederation Newfoundland had a balanced budget. On the eve of Confederation, Newfoundland had two-per-cent unemployment and a per-capita debt which was one-tenth of Canada 's. On the eve of Confederation, Newfoundland had an accumulated surplus on current account of $43 million and $12 million in interest-free loans to Britain . In 1998 dollars this would be close to $1 billion. Was this prosperity temporary? No. Newfoundland changed forever in the 1940s. If the absence of a House of Assembly at the time prevented Newfoundlanders from knowing it or doing anything about it, then Canada certainly did know the wealth and value of Newfoundland.

Confederation may have been an qualified success for Canada , but not so for Newfoundland . Canada feared that Newfoundland could have used its resources to survive and prosper independently. The Ottawa mandarins realized that Confederation would help extract the Americans from their bases in Newfoundland . Newfoundland also had two of the largest airports in the world, situated on the Great Circle air route.

Canada wanted them, and acquired them with Confederation. It then used the control of the airports and landing rights to force its own way into American markets which had previously excluded Canada . In 1946, Newfoundland had an estimated 300 million tons of iron ore in Labrador , which Canada was interested in exploiting. (In March 1996 the IOC blasted the one billionth ton of iron ore out of Labrador, while Newfoundland still collects revenues under the 1944 royalty regime established by the Commission of Government which allows Newfoundland five per cent of what the IOC tells us their profits are.) Ottawa knew that controlling Newfoundland 's fisheries would eliminate Newfoundland from competing with Nova Scotia for markets for its fish. (Could Newfoundland have managed its cod stocks any worse than Canada has?)

On Oct. 17, 1946 , the Canadian High Commissioner in Newfound land, Scott Macdonald, wrote Ottawa about the benefits Newfoundland would bring to Canada . Newfoundland had "very considerable mineral and forest resources as well as easy access to the finest fishing grounds in the world." Confederation "would solve, permanently, all questions of post-war military and civil aviation rights which are at present terminable after March 31, 1949 , on 12 months' notice. It would make possible a common jurisdiction over North Atlantic fisheries. ..."

And would Newfoundland return to poverty? Not likely. "Moreover," Macdonald wrote, "(Newfoundland) is richer by the investment of at least $100 million by Canada and at least $300 million by the United States primarily for defence but much of which was spent on roads, wharfs (sic), telephone lines, warehouses, similar buildings, radio ranges, airfields, the training of Newfoundlanders in various technical jobs, etc. and has redounded to the general development of the country." In Macdonald's view, Newfoundland thus had the infrastructure to sustain prosperity.

For Canada , Newfoundland 's Confederation was not about the welfare state or about helping Newfoundlanders "out of poverty" (for which, The Globe and Mail tells us, we must be eternally grateful). Rather, it was about acquiring valuable resources, eliminating competition, acquiring very valuable aspects of Newfoundland's sovereignty, and doing it all rather deeply [cheaply?]. After all, Smallwood's Confederation campaigns only cost CD Howe and the Liberal Party of Canada a cool half-million bucks.

Monday, November 03, 2008

A New Definition for "Have" and "Have Not" Provinces

I’ve been saying it for years, as have others in the Atlantic region, that when it comes to Canada there are not only financial “have” and “have not” provinces but also “have” and “have not” attitudes among the people. The two realities don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

For decades, ever since Newfoundland and Labrador entered confederation in 1949, the province has been ridiculed by many Canadians as the poor cousin or the federal equalization sink hole of Canada and its people have been labelled as lazy whiners who continue to take and take while wanting more from the federal purse.

Even in the past year or so, as the province has reached the cusp of finally becoming a financial “have” province, there are those who still feel the need to label the place as a drain on Canada and are more than happy to ridicule the people living there.

If you ask many Canadians which province benefits the most from federal equalization transfers they will automatically say Newfoundland and Labrador. Never mind that Quebec actually accepts the lion’s share of those federal tax dollars, 8 billion last year compared to just 12 million for Newfoundland and Labrador.

When it comes to EI benefits its may be true that Newfoundland and Labrador has a higher percentage of users than many other provinces but this is due primarily to the rural nature of the place and the seasonal employment that kind of environment brings with it.

High unemployment also stems from the shut down of the 500 year old cod fishery in 1992 after decades of mismanagement by Ottawa. A situation that caused the loss of 10’s of thousands of jobs and still has repercussions on the economy to this day. Some analysts have compared the event (on a per capita basis) to the entire city of Mississauga losing their jobs on the same day.

Percentages are one side of the story but if you look at the actual numbers of individuals collecting EI and the dollars spent on the program in different regions of Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador no longer sits at the top of the heap among the provinces or in the cost to Ottawa.

When it comes to Newfoundland and Labrador most Canadians have no trouble singling out the people of the province as whiners who can’t wait to pick up an EI cheque and who never get enough of suckling on the equalization teat. It seems that no matter what the reality may be nothing has changed when it comes to attitude of Canadians toward their favourite “whipping boy”.

Now that Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy is starting to turn around and the province plans to accept zero equalization next year it is Ontario and Quebec who are the ones complaining to Ottawa that their share of the pie is not big enough.

The economy in both of those provinces is slumping and it seems that Ontario may now require federal equalization assistance to remain afloat. The Ontario finance minister, Dwight Duncan, has already sent a strong message to his federal counterpart that any plan to short change Ontario on equalization assistance will not be acceptable. He has also signalled that changes to the EI program will be demanded to help the people of Ontario.

Meanwhile Quebec, also with an ailing economy, is looking for even more assistance from Ottawa than they now accept as Canada’s largest equalization recipient.

As both provinces are looking to Ottawa to assist them, which they have every right to do, why is it that nobody has seen fit to write letters to news editors or jam open line programs calling the people of either province a bunch of lazy whiners or saying they are looking for handouts rather than taking care of themselves. Not that I'm saying they should, my question is simply why it isn't happening.

Nobody has done that yet there are those who are still saying it about Newfoundland and Labrador every time the people of the province (or its premier) have anything to say on federal /provincial issues.

Yes indeed, there is definitely a hierarchy to the pecking order of provinces in Canada and a sort of “have” and “have not” status when it comes to the attitude of many regarding the larger and smaller provinces.

If this weren’t the case would the people of Ontario or Quebec, even in these tough economic times, feel as justified as they do in demanding more federal support while their unemployment rates sit at between 6.4% and 7.1%, yet still view Newfoundland and Labrador as a drain on federal coffers even as the province happily moves away from accepting any federal equalization but still suffers from the worst unemployment rate in Canada at more than 13%?

It seems now more than ever that perception is reality. With this in mind maybe we should all forget the financial side of the equation and look instead at public attitudes in creating a new definition of "have" or "have not".

Friday, October 31, 2008

Harper Gets a "Two'fer"

There is no way to sugar coat it, no chance of doing anything but calling it like it is. Stephen Harper has decided to send a clear message to the voters of Newfoundland and Labrador that he is not pleased with the province and he's done it by putting his most prominent rival, Peter MacKay, on the hot spot.

We all know there’s no love lost between Danny Williams and Stephen “Steve” Harper, that’s a given.

Clearly if the PM wanted to bury the hatchet he could have named his newest PEI MP to the job of dealing with the Newfoundland and Labrador file, in addition her new fisheries portfolio. It seems however that a fresh new beginning is not on the agenda, but what the hell, who can blame him.

I personally voted anti-Conservative in the last election but I'm willing to live with the outcome. Bring it on.

Personal perspectives aside, when it comes to Stephen Harper, love him or hate him nobody has ever accused the man of being stupid.

Remember that the Conservative party was formed from the merger of the old Alliance and PC parties, thanks to then PC leader Peter MacKay.

Fast forward a few years and Stephen Harper may be the PM, he may also be the party leader, but he knows damn well that half of his caucus are former MacKay supporters and one mistake can end his career in a flash.

This isn’t news. It’s the reason why the PM named MacKay to the out-post of Foreign Affairs last time around and followed that up with the lead role on Defense, two positions that would assuredly keep his top contender out of the Country as much as humanly possible, the latter position guaranteed as well that MacKay would be on the firing line for anyone opposed to the war in Afghanistan.

Kudo's to Mr. Harper for keeping his enemies away from the fortress but this time around he's really out done himself.

This time around Harper managed to get himself a “twofer”.

Not only did he slap Danny Williams in the face by putting the Newfoundland and Labrador file in the hands of the very man who called the premier a “Mad Hatter” the day after the election, but by assigning MacKay to the Defense role once again, he knows full well that the job will put MacKay in the crosshairs of the provincial government and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador

During the 2006 (that's right, 2006) election campaign, while trolling for votes in Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Harper spelled out in his campaign literature (and in a letter to the Premier of the province) that the future of the armed forces base at 5 Wing Goose Bay would be guaranteed. He told anyone who would listen that a rapid response battalion would be posted at the base if he were elected. Considering that the Conservatives have yet to live up to that promise after having led the government for more than two years and after winning another election, I suspect that naming Peter MacKay to the Newfoundland and Labrador file as well as to the role of Defense Minster is no accident on the part of the PM.

Likely the Goose Bay situation will make MacKay’s life a living hell right up until the moment the next writ is dropped.

A point will come when the Minister will have to answer the hard questions on theis issue that he and his boss have tried so hard to dodge up to this point.

I have to say, I’m not a big fan of Stephen Harper but I'll give the guy credit on this one. Two birds with one stone.

Well played.

Well played indeed.

Unfortunately with the PM is working so hard to take his anger out on the province and make Peter MacKay's political life as tough as possible it doesn't bode well for the people of Goose Bay or the possiblity that Mr. Harper will keep his election promise.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Political Heaven or Democratic Hell?

Not so far into the future the day finally arrives when Stephen Harper shuffles off this mortal coil and, as we all must, arrives at the pearly gates to learn his fate for all of eternity.

'Welcome to forever,' says kindly old St. Peter as he greets the one time Prime Minister in a Fatherly sort of way.

“Thank-you St. Peter” the former Mr. Harper responds. “I’m glad to see I made it to Heaven. Then again I knew I would after so many years of public service to my fellow man.”

“Not so fast,” replies St. Peter. “I have orders from the Big Guy Himself in how I should dispense with your special case.”

“Since you have spent your lifetime working in a democratic environment, where people are free to choose their future as they see fit, I’ve been ordered to give you a choice rarely offered. You have a choice between spending an eternity in Heaven or in Hell,” St. Peter says. “It’s your call.”

“Well, that’s an easy choice,” replies Harper, “I choose Heaven of course”.

“Unfortunately it’s not that easy,” continues St. Peter, “you see all you think you know about the afterlife comes from what you’ve read or heard from others while on earth. In order to make sure you have a full understanding of the choice placed before you God has ordered that you spend one day in Hell and one day in Heaven. Only after you have done this will you be able to make an informed decision on your future.”

'But I've made up my mind. I want to be in Heaven,' Harper replies.'

I'm sorry. But we have our rules,' Peter interjects. And, with that he escorts Harper to an elevator where he goes down, down, down...all the way to Hell.

When the doors open Harper finds himself standing at the edge of a lush golfcourse. The sun is shining in a cloudless sky. The temperature is a perfect 23 degrees. In the distance is the most stately and beautiful club house he has ever seen.

Standing near him are dozens of people he has known and worked closely with in the past. All of whom have pre-deceased him of course.

Brian Mulroney smiles knowingly and waves him over for a chat.

Ryan Sparrow is lining up an easy 2 foot putt while past cabinet ministers and caucus members look on dressed in the most expensive clothing, sipping cool drinks and simply enjoying the perfection of a marvelous day.

As Harper approaches, one by one they begin to turn toward him with welcoming smiles and warm handshakes the likes of which he never experienced in all of his years on earth.

Eagerly they surround him and begin to reminisce about the good times and how they helped shape the future of an entire Country. Eventually they invite him to join them in a round of golf where he discovers that he simply cannot miss a shot no matter how difficult it might seem. He finishes with a score that would be the envy of even the best PGA pro.

Near the day’s end they all retire to the club house where they dine luxuriously on the juiciest Nova Scotia lobster and Alberta beef ever to grace a dining plate, all washed down the most expensive French wine which flows throughout the meal like tap water.

Finally the Devil himself arrives for an after dinner cognac and personally offers his guest a snifter to finish off the evening.

“Really I can’t, says Harper. I’ve imposed enough.

“Don’t be so foolish my friend”, says the Devil. “This is hell. Despite what you may have heard to the contrary we are all friends here. We look out for one another. You can eat and drink to your hearts delight. You’ve led a long and eventful life and you deserve a break. It’s your turn to reap the benefits of all your hard work. Believe me it just gets better from here.”

Harper takes the cognac and sips it slowly as he listens to a joke or two as told by the Devil himself, realizing that, in spite of his reputation, the prince of the underworld is really not such a bad fellow after all.

Before he knows it, it's time to go. Everyone gives the former Prime Minister a big hug and waves as he hesitantly steps onto the elevator and heads upward toward Heaven.When the doors open, he is once again greeted by St. Peter who informs him that it’s now time to visit Heaven.

Once inside the pearly gates Harper is left to hang out with large groups of honest, good natured and well meaning people for a full 24 hours. During that time the residents of Heaven sit around in flowing robes and simply enjoy each other's company while talking about beauty, philosophy and the daily activities of the mere mortals below them.

There is not a stiff drink to be had, no lush golf course to play on and no fancy clothes to wear. Yes, the food is good but it’s by no means lobster or prime steak and the worst part of all is the fact that most of the residents appear to be from a poorer class than he would prefer to associate himself with.

He doesn't see anybody he knows and isn't even treated like someone special!

With the day done, St. Peter returns and says, 'Well Stephen, you've spent a day in Hell and a day in Heaven. Now must choose where you want to live for all of eternity. Please pick your future."

With the 'Deal or No Deal' theme music playing softly in the background, the former Mr. Harper reflects on his fortunes for a minute or so. Then answers:

“Well, I would never have thought I'd say this -- I mean, Heaven has been delightful and all --but I really think I belong in Hell with all of my friends.”

“I thought you might feel that way”, replies St. Peter who gently escorts him to the elevator where once again he descends down, down,down, all the way to Hell.

When the doors open this time he finds himself not on a lush golf course but instead in the middle of a barren scorched earth covered with garbage and toxic industrial waste. A place every bit as desolate as the hottest Arab desert, but worse, far, far worse.

The former Harper is horrified to see all of his friends, dressed in filthy rags and chained together, picking up roadside rubbish and dead animals before placing the vile refuse in black plastic bags. They are groaning and moaning in pain, their faces and hands blackened with putrid grease and grime. As he stands there speechless the Devil comes over and puts an arm around his shoulder.

“I don't understand,” stammers a shocked Harper, “Yesterday when I was here there was a golf course and a club-house and we ate lobster and drank cognac. We lazed around and had a great time. Now there's just a wasteland and nothing is as it seemed back then”

The Devil looks at him, smiles slyly and purrs, “Didn’t St. Peter tell you that God wanted you to exercise your democratic right based on freedom of choice?”

“Well, yes, but things seemed so different yesterday, this is not what I wanted”, Harper whines.

“Oh, yes but you see yesterday we were Campaigning for your support. Now that you’ve made your decision it’s back to business as usual. Thanks for your vote by the way.”