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.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Newfoundland and Labrador Balancing Act

This week Newfoundland and Labrador’s battle hardened Auditor General (they don’t call him a General without reason), released yet another direct and accurate report. This one focused on the financial situation in the province and it shone a bright light on an issue that screams to be addressed.

Fiscal Responsibility

According to the General, John Noseworthy, it’s time to take stock of where the province is and what the future will hold.

It should come as no surprise that his report identifies a record per capita debt (well over 20,000 per person) or that the province has become dependent on free flowing oil revenues. Those are points most people in Newfoundland and Labrador are painfully aware of, unless they’ve been living under a rock instead of on top of one.

What's most interesting is Noseworthy's belief that the province should introduce some method of ensuring that all future governments are obligated to table balanced budgets.

This is not a new idea but...

According to one party insider, the idea of introducing balanced budget legislation is something that has been floated (to put it mildly) inside the PC party in the past. It's also an idea that the decision makers have refused to move forward on.

The debt Newfoundland and Labrador is struggling to manage is, by and large, a result of decades of deficit producing budgets. Budgets that saw the province borrow to pay the light bill, so to speak. Yes, times are good now, with the oil revenues rolling in, but what about the future?

What will happen once the oil is gone, or even sooner, should oil prices drop to more familiar levels than they are at today? What will the provincial budget look like then?

How will the budget look when money is tight and a party or premier, who is not fiscally responsible, is in power? Will the province’s massive debt sink the island and force Labrador to disown the place altogether? (they’re almost there now)

Many other parts of Canada have already enacted balanced budget legislation. A step Newfoundland and Labrador, the most debt ridden of them all, has not done.

This is not about starving people when times are hard. With properly enacted legislation a province can potentially still run a deficit, but the governing party would be forced to stand in front of the House, face the opposition parties and the media, and convince the public that the deficit is justified.

If nothing else at least the legislation would force financial accountability and ensure that the sort of shenanigans that led Newfoundland and Labrador to where it is today don’t happen again.

The current Finance Minister, Tom Marshall, has said his government is working to reduce the debt and to be fiscally responsible. That may be so, but even if it is, it simply isn’t enough.

Oil doesn’t last forever.

Good times fade into memory.

Governments change, and so do Finance Ministers.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s debt is the single biggest stumbling block to the bright future the province’s people crave. Now that the opportunity exists, it is a moral crime for a sitting government to refuse to ensure the viability of that future and ongoing fiscal responsibility.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Atlantic Fishery: One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

Greed and Stupidity in the Atlantic Cod Fishery

Last week, for the first time since a moratorium on cod fishing was instituted in 1992, there was actually some good news to report on the state of the Atlantic cod stocks near Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Independent newspaper ran an article proclaiming that 16 years into what had been a planned 2 year fishing moratorium scientists were finally "seeing some signs of life in the stocks".

According to respected fisheries scientist, George Rose, "...it’s very exciting to see it. Their behaviour looks more like it should look — that cod are behaving like codfish, which they haven’t done for a long time in that environment”. He added that the behaviour includes fish at the right water depth, fish over-wintering, and fish exhibiting pre-spawning courtship behaviour.

That’s very exciting.”

Rose noted however that this is not the time to start looking at the commercial potential of these fish and said it is, "...the dumbest idea I can think of". Cautioning that this is a time when the priority should be to rebuild a stock that finally appears to be coming back from the brink of extinction.

As if to echo Rose's concerns scientists at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, reported that a multi-year study into various fish species show that stocks under extreme survival pressure (such as the Atlantic Cod) are prone to wild fluctuations in population. While some years may see a large increase in population, other years will see just the opposite. The reason for these fluctuations are varied and include such factors as climate, predation and the number of older breeding specimens.

All in all the news appears to be cautioiusly optimistic so I'm sure those with a future closely reliant on the future of the fishery will do their absolute best to protect the stocks and ensure they rebound to viable levels once again.

Or maybe not.

No sooner had this new scientific information hit the media than the public was treated to the ramblings of none other than the deputy mayor of Bonivista, one of the most historic fishing communities in North America, calling for an increased cod quota this season.

Hedley Butler, who aside from being the deputy mayor is also a fisherman himself, says the waters in his area are teeming with fish. He says he understands the need for conservation, but (according to him) the stocks can handle an increased quota.

Butler says "...it's tough knowing that the stock is plentiful, but off limits.

I'm sure it must be tough indeed, but what makes Hedley Butler an expert on how much pressure the stocks can or cannot handle at this point in time?

He may be a fisherman, and as such can no doubt recognize an increase in fish population, but that doesn't make him an expert on the overall health of the stock.

More likely it makes him an expert on how much of that fish is worth and how much of it he want's to sell, regardless of the larger impact to the species or his community.

What did fisheries scientist George Rose say about increasing fishing pressure at this time, "...the dumbest idea I can think of..."?

It amazes me that after decades of discussion around the fragility of the cod stocks, after a shutdown of the commercial industry that put tens of thousands of people out of work and after the once mighty cod was nearly added to the endangered species list, someone like Hedley Butler, who was elected to protect the interests of a fishing community, would put short term greed (his own or that of others) ahead of the long term future of the cod stocks and that of his community.

Yes, Bonivista Bay may be teeming with fish at the moment but when you consider the overall numbers in the region, the stocks are nowhere close to where they need to be to sustain increased commercial fishing activity.
Those fish need to be left alone if there is to be any hope of rebuilding the stocks permanently. They are needed to help repopulate an already decimated species for the future of everyone in the Atlantic region, not pulled from the water and used to line the pockets of a handful of fishermen in the short term.

The political pressure being applied by Deputy Mayor Butler today is the result of exactly the sort of idiotic, self-serving greed that led to the unsustainable quotas of years gone by. Quotas so large they resulted in the collapse of the greatest fishery the world had ever seen.

One thing is for certain. If the Hedley Butlers of this world catch the ear of federal politicians, as they are likely to do, people living in towns like Bonivista all over this province, might as well pack up and leave for Alberta right now.

If the Hedley Butlers have their way, the George Rose's of the world, who are preaching caution and conservation, can put away their rubber boots and fish finders for good because in a few years there won't be a fish left to study.

To a politician every Fishermen and plant worker is another potential vote, and when it comes to a political choice between protecting the cod and protecting their jobs, the cod doesn't stand a chance.

This hidden message was inserted to ensure that if the head of the Sea Shepherd Society, Paul Watson, and his various splinter groups like Harpseals.org, post my article without my permission, as they've done in the past, they will also post this underlying message: They are nothing more than terrorists who prey on the sympathy of those who don't know any better.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

An Environmentalist's Position on the Seal Harvest

Web Talk originally published the following article a year ago around this time but since the Seal Harvest is once again upon us (as well as the anti-sealing activist contingent), and with global climate change an issue we can all agree on, it seems more than appropriate that it should be re-published for anyone who might have missed it the first time around.

Enjoy and (for those who are used to anti-sealing propaganda) I hope you learn a thing or two.

Cuter than cod
By Terry Glavin
Originally Published: March 7, 2007
Re-published with the permission of the author.

I saw something the other day that made me sick to my stomach. It was in the February edition of The Grocer, a British retail-food magazine.

There was an article about a campaign that a group called Respect for Animals is waging to convince consumers to boycott Canadian seafood products. The magazine also carried two huge advertisements from the same outfit. One of the ads consisted of a photograph of a masked man on an ice floe, and a seal lying prone at his feet. The man was brandishing a club with a spike on the end of it. The words You Can Stop This were superimposed upon the picture. The other advertisement proclaimed, "Boycott Canadian Seafood & Save the Seals," with a picture of a can of Canadian salmon.

The Canadian fishing industry exports more than $100 million worth of products into Britain every year. The point of the campaign is to squeeze those sales until the industry begs our government to end the seal hunt.

Here's what makes me sick.

The Newfoundland seal hunt is transparently and demonstrably sustainable and humane. There are roughly half a million people in Newfoundland and Labrador, and nearly six million harp seals, which is almost three times as many seals as when I was a kid.

Free range seals

Roughly 6,000 fishermen, mostly Newfoundlanders, but some are from Quebec and the Maritimes, take slightly more than 300,000 harp seals annually. The fishermen share more than $16 million from the hunt at a critical time of year when there's little in the way of fishing income to be had.

The seals are harvested for their pelts and their fat, for a range of products, mostly for clothing and for Omega-3 vitamins. The killing is as about as clean as anything you're likely to find in an abattoir.

Seals don't spend their lives cooped up in paddocks or feedlots. They live free, and in all but the rarest cases, the ones that die at the hands of a swiler (a sealer) die instantly. The hakapik (a spiked club) is an effective instrument.Even so, most seals are first shot with rifles.

The killing of nursing whitecoats was banned 20 years ago.

Exploiting empathy

Here's one of those obligatory disclosures: over the years, several environmental organizations -- the Sierra Club, the David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace, etc. -- have subsidized my preoccupation with things that move in the water by having me do research projects for them and so on. With that out of the way, I can now say, if it isn't obvious already, that it's the seal hunt's opponents who turn my stomach.

It's not just that anti-hunt crusades like this are especially foul in the way they dishonestly misrepresent facts. It's also that they dishonestly manipulate one of the most redeeming traits the human species has inherited from hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection and cultural evolution -- our capacity to expand the embrace of our empathy to include other forms of life. But far worse than all that, boycott campaigns like this muddy the important distinction between sustainability and sentiment, and between broadly co-ordinated acts of social responsibility and mere lifestyle choices. When we fail to make these distinctions we undermine everything worthwhile that environmentalism has accomplished since it emerged in the early 1970s.

As citizens and consumers in free societies, we are burdened with the duty to make important decisions at the ballot box, in the work we do, and also in the marketplace. Boycotting Canadian seafood to try and stop the seal hunt is the consumer-choice equivalent of deciding to buy a tie-died shirt, move into a Volkswagen van and subsist solely on lentils and tofu.

Serious stakes

Just as the excesses of postmodernist relativism have enfeebled the left over the past quarter-century or so, a corrosive strain of fact-distorting, science-hating, Gaia-bothering obscurantism has enfeebled environmentalism.

It was there from the beginning, and it persists most noticeably in animal-rights crusades. It is the environmentalist equivalent of anti-evolution, rapture-seeking Christian zealotry. It has to be attacked wherever it rears its head. There's too much at stake to pretend we can be innocent bystanders here.

This is a fight we all have to join.

Here's why

The last time the planet was in the throes of an extinction spasm this cataclysmic was when the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago.

One in every four mammal species, one in eight bird species, one in nine plants, a third of all amphibians and half of all the surveyed fish species on earth are threatened with extinction.

When Greenpeace was born in Vancouver in 1971, the single greatest cause of species extinction was understood to be habitat loss. Now, the greatest threat to biological diversity is global warming.

The last time the atmosphere was accumulating greenhouse gases this fast was 650,000 years ago. The prospects look exceedingly grim -- broad-scale ecological disruption, crop failure and famine, desertification and the mass dislocation of some of the most heavily-populated regions of the world.

A key reason environmentalists found themselves so ill-prepared to convince the world to take global warming seriously was that their movement had been corrupted by precisely the same trippy sentiment-mongering that has animated the holy war against the Newfoundland seal hunt, which now turns its sights on Canadian fisheries products.

Where was Greenpeace?

When the founders of Greenpeace were being born, back in the 1950s, the world's fishing fleets were taking roughly 40 million tonnes of marine biomass from the world's oceans every year. By the 1980s, it was 80 million tonnes. Then the seas just stopped giving. Fully 90 per cent of all the big fish in the sea -- the tunas, the marlins, the sharks, the swordfish -- are now gone.

Of the many fisheries collapses that have occurred around the world in recent years, it is sadly ironic that the greatest single collapse occurred in the seas around Newfoundland, where the bulk of Canada's Atlantic seal hunt takes place.

The Grand Banks cod fishery was the largest and oldest pelagic fishery in the history of the human experience.

The cod were mined from the sea by the same big-boat offshore fleets that had caused such devastation everywhere else. A way of life disappeared, and by the early 1990s, tens of thousands of workers were reduced to welfare. While all this was happening, what were environmentalists doing on the Newfoundland coast, in the country where Greenpeace was born, at a time when Greenpeace was at the height of its powers? They were out cavorting with rich hippies and snuggling up to harp seal pups on the ice floes. They were meditating cross-legged in the snow and posing for the television cameras and demonizing the good people of Newfoundland, while the seas around them were being emptied of cod.

Rational agreements

When you go looking for the good that environmentalism has accomplished, you'll find it in such covenants as the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances, and the Kyoto Accord.

It's in the sustainability provisions of elaborately negotiated efforts such as the Brundtland Commission on the Environment and Development, and the UN Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing. The toughest global instrument to protect biodiversity is the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species.

Fuzzy eco-drivel has already severely damaged CITES by forcing non-threatened species, such as North Atlantic minke whale, onto the CITES appendices. Now, in Germany and Belgium, animal-rights activists and their friends in the European Parliament are attempting to override CITES, and the European Union's own rules, with an outright ban on products from Canada's perfectly abundant harp seal population(Web Talk note: This article was written a year ago, since then a ban has been put in place and now the EU is considering doing the same). Similarly, seal-hunt opponents are dangerously undermining the historic victory that flowed from the Brundtland Commission.

The commission established a commitment to sustainability as the key universal value to guide natural-resource harvesting policies for all the peoples of the world, regardless of their distinct cultural practices and sensibilities. The whole point of sustainability is to ensure that people can exercise the rights and accept the responsibilities that come with sustainably harvesting the natural resources of the ecosystems within which they live. The harp seal hunt is a living embodiment of that principle. That's why environmentalists should not just give the boycott a pass, or stay neutral, but should actively support and defend the seal hunt.

The one consolation we can take from the recent hullabaloo is that it's faltering.

Last year, when animal-rightists in the United States boasted that they'd convinced more than 200 restaurants and seafood retailers to boycott Canadian products to protest the hunt, it turned out that only a small minority were doing so. Most of them didn't even know they'd been listed as boycott-compliant. Also, the European Commission, citing the absence of evidence to support contentions that the hunt is inhumane, has refused, for now, to enforce the European Parliament's proposed ban on seal products. (Web Talk note: the EU is now reconsidering that decision and is likely to bring down a final decison within a few months.)

Contested Council

But the consumer boycott campaign that's just begun in Britain is particularly insidious.

Its aim is all Canadian fisheries products, and its targets are Tesco, Sainsbury's, Somerfield and other major retail chains that have already made a commitment to eventually carrying only those seafood products that have been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.

The MSC standard remains hotly contested by responsible environmentalists, but its coveted "eco-label" holds out the hope of forcing improvements to fisheries-management policies around the world.

In Canada, those improvements are increasingly driven by the fishermen themselves, because they want the MSC label on their product. British Columbia's halibut fishery was turned down once, and has since re-applied, because groundfish management has significantly improved -- thanks in no small part to halibut fishermen.

Other fishermen are now lobbying federal fisheries officials to improve stock-assessment research to give B.C.'s dogfish fishery a shot at the MSC label.

British Columbia's sockeye salmon fisheries have just undergone an arduous certification examination, and a decision is imminent.

If the cuddliness of a particular species harvested in a particular country is allowed to become the factor that determines whether that country's products are considered environmentally acceptable, then everything we won at CITES and in the Brundtland Commission is lost.

If those are the kinds of choices we present to everyone from major retailers down to ordinary seafood consumers, then we'll have wasted all our efforts to marshal consumer power to force the sustainable use of the oceans.

It's long past time for conservationists to make a clean, clear, open and unequivocal break with crystal-gazing animal-rights eccentrics and all their camp followers.

For them, the conservation of wild resources was always just a flag of convenience. They're dead ballast, so over the side with them.On the question of the Atlantic harp seal harvest, there's only one defensible and honest position for a conservation-minded citizen to take.

Support the swilers.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

NL - Master's of An Empty Stomach

Last week columnist Russell Wangersky ran an article in the Western Star that pointed to Newfoundland and Labrador’s dire need to ensure the security of its food supply.

This is a topic that has been spoken on by people like Merv Wiseman, and others in the province who are very close to the issue, and although it may seem like an odd topic for Web Talk really it isn’t. The site is dedicated to a bright future for our province so stay with me for a minute or two and you might just learn a thing or two about just how fragile our existence here really is.

The threat to our food supply is not a matter of some perceived terrorist attack, civil war, trade embargo or other political emergency. The threat is much simpler than that.

According to those in the know, we are at the mercy of fuel prices when it comes to the cost of our daily bread and, the scariest part is, if our only connections to the outside world (ferry services, air freight and container shipping) were to be cut off by something as simple as a week or so of very bad weather, the island and remote portions of Labrador would quite simply run out of food. No ifs, ands or buts.

It may sound a bit alarmist to talk about people in Newfoundland and Labrador starving to death but when you consider that we have a matter of days before the shelves are bare, it’s not out of the question.

As things stand today, our food supply (in supermarkets, warehouses, etc.) would by all estimates last a matter of days, not weeks or months. Now that’s a scary thought.

Mr. Wangersky’s article rightly notes that for centuries there was enough food produced here, both livestock and vegetables, to supply the entire population year round. Those days are long gone and nearly all of our food supply is imported from other places in North America or around the world. It’s not that the food can’t be produced here. It was done before and it can be done again, perhaps even more efficiently than in the past. The problem is a lack of will.

With the security of our food supply in such a precarious position and with the province needing a rural boost to the economy it begs the question of why our provincial leadership is not investing in, and promoting the purchase of, locally produced products. It also speaks volumes about us as consumers.

This is something we should all be supporting, from the man and woman in the street to the Premier himself.

Mr. Wangersky points out that, “…for years, with the help of government-funded cold storage centres, the province had been virtually self-sufficient in root crops and cabbage. Potatoes, carrots, beets and turnips… had been grown successfully in the province for generations. But lacking the sexiness of hydroponics and English cucumbers (read Sprung Greenhouse), funding for the cold storage centres, and for the root crop industry in general, were the victims of the double jeopardy of government cost-cutting and product-dumping from other provinces.”

The “product dumping” comment is in reference to supermarkets that tend to stock old, stale, second rate produce on their shelves for us to buy by the bushel. The reason is simple. It’s cost effective. The excess food is not wanted in most regions but here, with no support for local producers, it can be sold at a slightly lower price than fresh, crisp locally produced product, which rarely makes it to the supermarket shelves.

As a result local producers are struggling to survive, with the odds stacked against them, and very few of us ever stop to consider the impact of our willingness to buy a cheaper, second rate product. Most of us don’t even remember what a fresh turnip really tastes like but I can tell you it tastes nothing like the one you’ll find if you go shopping tomorrow.

Another impact of our actions is a higher than needed unemployment rate in rural areas and, as previously mentioned, our food supply is one of the least secure of any developed part of the world.

Yes, buying locally produced products may cost a few pennies more (literally pennies), but look at what those few pennies buy.

Fresh and tasty produce;

A secure food supply;

More employment in rural areas; and

Over time, if local producers are able to grow and expand, their costs will come more in line with imported goods as a result of efficiencies of scale and savings in shipping costs.

Thanks to the cost of fuel, the price of shipping second rate goods into the province is coming ever closer to that of fresh local goods and this trend is likely to continue. Yet that won’t matter in the least, except to your wallet, if the supply chain and infrastructure is not in place and capable of meeting the challenge ahead.

The time is now for all of us to promote, purchase and protect our local food supply. Each of us needs to make sure we tell our grocery chain managers that we prefer fresh local produce, we then need to buy it rather than buying stale imported stock and also we need to convince our government that investing in local producers is paramount to ensuring the stability and cost of our food supply.

We’ll never grow bananas here, but fresh locally produced meat, dairy and vegetables are good for the economy, good for workers and best of all good for our health and our future.

To paraphrase Mr. Wangersky, it’s hard to be the master of your own house when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Destruction of Canada's Democracy

A recent letter from a concerned citizen, Cam Finley of Ontario, to the Toronto Star expresses a sentiment that is quickly becoming more and more accepted across the Country these days:

“The Conservative minority federal government is seriously damaging our democracy. This should be of concern to all Canadians.”

Of that there is no doubt. Every day the Country moves closer to a combination of totalitarianism and a George Bush Republican style system.

The so called Conservative "hidden agenda" so many Canadians were concerned about during the last federal election is finally beginning to be revealed and that agenda appears to be the erosion of the democratic system of government and a crushing of anyone who dares to speak out.

In January Conservative Minister Gary Lunn unilaterally fired the head of Canada’s Nuclear Safety Commission, even though the commission is meant to be an arms length organization, outside the reach of political influence.

Why was the Commissioner fired? Because the Minister of Natural Resources screwed up when it came to ensuring that a nuclear facility under his department was kept up to safety standards and he failed to co-ordinate with the Minister of Health in securing the Country’s supply of medical isotopes when it became clear that the facility would have to be shut down.

Ms. Kean, the commissioner of the day, did her job to protect Canadians from a nuclear disaster, nothing more or less, yet she was fired the night before she was to testify in front of a Commons committee investigating the isotope issue.

When it comes to the current government it’s clear that the need for political scapegoats trump the law, democracy and public safety.

The examples of blame shifting in Ottawa these days are numerous. Another clear example is the case of prisoner exchanges in Afghanistan.

When it came to light that the Canadian military had suspended the exchange of prisoners because of potential abuse by Afghan officials, something the government has denied, the Prime Minister’s office tried to tell Canadians that the military had made the decision on their own and that government was not informed.

The statement was later retracted but in essence the PMO, in an attempted cover up of its actions, had tried to convince the public that the Nation’s military had gone rogue and was no longer under control of the government of Canada. How frightening is that?

The government has made it a mission to abolish the Senate. There are those who agree with the move and those who don’t but the fact remains that until it is indeed abolished the Senate has a function to perform. This hasn’t slowed the Prime Minister. Recently he tabled an unconstitutional motion before the House of Commons that would see an election called if the Senate, another supposedly independent body, did not give into his demands to pass legislation without completing its duties and function.

It seems every time the democratic system does not perform as Stephen Harper would like it to he finds a way to circumvent it and move forward in a clearly undemocratic fashion.

When the Supreme court ruled that the use of security certificates was unconstitutional the Harper government simply went back to parliament and changed the rules of the game so suspected terrorists can still be held without charge, trial or even knowing why they were arrested.

Conservative MP Art Hanger, the chair of the Commons justice committee is another clear example of the utter contempt the Harper government has for Parliament and for Canadian democracy.

Hanger recently shut down the justice committee because he didn't want the members of that committee investigating the possibility that the Conservative party, perhaps with Stephen Harper's blessing, were involved in an attempted bribe the late MP Chuck Cadman just before a crucial confidence vote in the House. A clearly illegal act.

Jim Flaherty, the Country's Finance Minister continually acts with pure contempt for anyone, including provincial leaders, who dare to tell the truth, whether it be senior's who were essentially swindled out of billions on income trust investments, Ontario’s Premier or Newfoundland and Labrador’s.

Environment bulldog, John Baird, behaves more like a mafia enforcer than a federal minister when it comes to attacking anyone who takes issue with his government’s lack of action on the environment.

Harper is proceeding with a lawsuit against the Liberal party, supposedly because he doesn't like what the party posted on its website. In reality this suit has nothing to do with libel but is a clear attempt to silence the opposition and send a message to anyone who might not agree with the Harper government's direction or actions.

In recent committee testimony and media statements Chief Justice John Gomery, the man who headed the inquiry into the Liberal sponsorship scandal and provided government with 19 recommendations to clean up the democratic system, recently had this to say about the Harper regime:

The PMO, in recent years, has grown rapidly and "they have the ear of the most important and powerful person in Canadian government."

"I suggest this trend is a danger to Canadian democracy and leaves the door wide open to the kind of political interference in the day-to-day administration of government programs that led to what is commonly called the sponsorship scandal.”

"We have a government where one man seems to have an ever-increasing influence upon what government policy is going to be. If you look back historically at prime ministers in the past, I don't think they had the same hold over their party and Parliament that the present prime minister has.”

"It should be remembered that the political staff in the Prime Minister's Office are not elected. They are not subject to any rules or laws of which I am aware. I suggest that this trend is a danger to Canadian democracy"

"We really are heading for one-man government, which is an unfortunate thing in a democracy."

I don’t know how much clearer it can be said.

How can any democracy survive under the kind of regime we are seeing in Ottawa these days?

If you aren’t convinced yet, here’s what the Prime Minister had to say in response to Justice Gomery's comments. Note that the following statement by Stephen Harper fails to mention any input from ordinary citizens, the cornerstone of any democratic Country.

Stephen Harper: "We received representations from a wide range of Canadian government, political and business leaders. . . that they (the changes recommended by Justice Gomery) were not in the democratic interest."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Seals, Kangaroos and Ex-Beatles - The Protest Continues

With the annual Atlantic seal harvest just around the corner it’s no wonder the activist contingent are once again hitting the bricks (or the ice floes) in yet another quest for your hard earned dollars.

Every year it’s the same sad story, some tired ass has-been star gets wheeled out before the cameras to make a plea on behalf of doe eyed animals around the world. All in the hope that society will suddenly change and cute animals everywhere will be spared. Nobody seems to give a rat’s ass about the ugly animals though, or about rat’s asses for that matter. Meanwhile the masterminds behind these former stars, groups like PETA, are not so much hoping for change as they're hoping you'll part with your spare change.

This year Sir Paul McCartney, former Beatle and ex-husband of uni-ped model, Heather Mills, has been invited to Newfoundland by a well meaning but misguided local in the hope he'll a) get the facts rather than believing the propaganda he’s been spoon fed and b) that he’ll actually spend some time in the province rather than just thinking he’s there as he did in 2006.

Yes, PEI is quite nice, but it’s not Newfoundland.

Unfortunately for his hopeful host Mr. McCartney may not make it for a photo op this year. News reports out of Australia have him protesting a planned cull of some 500 kangaroos in that Country.

It seems the 500 kangaroos (of which there are countless specimens in Australia) are destroying rare vegetation in an area that provides protection to several truly endangered species.

The fact that the kangaroos will first be injected with a tranquilizer then euthanized with a needle is very upsetting to Mr. McCartney. Oddly enough the potential destruction of the rare habitat, or for that matter the survival of that endanged animals there, doesn’t bother Sir Paul one iota. Go figure. They must be some really butt ugly animals.

According to Paul, who is a devout vegan, he stopped eating meat for a specific reason. It seems to have happened after an event in his life that he says he'll never forget. The truth is he may have already forgotten it because his story keeps changing depending on who he's speaking with.
According to conflicting reports, McCartney either saw Bambi and was upset that Bambi’s mother was shot in front of the little dear (or deer) or he was watching some lambs frolic in a meadow while eating lamb (might have been easier on him if he’d been drinking Lambs) or he had caught a trout and suddenly realized that he’d killed it (I'm not sure why he didn't know before hand that it would die, you know what they say about a fish out of water).

Maybe it’s just me but I’m thinking that Sir Paul could provide a much more valuable service than protesting this kangaroo cull. If he just called all those kangaroos aside and bent their ears with his ever changing story the poor animals might just line up for that injection and everyone would be happy. I know I would.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to see animals suffer any more than any sane person would but there are realities in life that we all need to face. People eat meat and, on occasion, people need to manage wild life for one reason or another (not that we are always that good at it).

The facts are not always pretty but these things are real and these alfalfa munching do-gooders need to realize that.

If someone came to Newfoundland tomorrow and honestly tried to protect the Atlantic cod or ensure that the endangered Moroccan crap beetle (I made that one up) was protected, I’d give them a shiny new dollar in a heart beat but the cuteness factor, of animals that aren’t endangered, is just not high on my list of priorities as a reason to donate or support someone just because a celebrity tells me I should.

Anyway, not to worry, I’m sure Paul will find a little time to make a comment or two about the annual seal harvest, even if it's from a sandy beach down under (no I don’t mean Mill Town).

As a side note, a polar bear was spotted on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland this week. Residents hope the bear doesn’t kill any seals along the shoreline for food. They worry headlines across Europe will scream: Seals Eaten Alive in Newfoundland.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Underlying Message of Throne Speech Quite Clear

This week’s throne speech painted the provincial government’s direction for the coming session in very broad strokes.

Many items of importance, including the ongoing success of industries such as oil and gas, electricity, mining, forestry, agrifoods, fisheries, tourism, ocean technology and engineering were highlighted. The speech also touched on past and planned improvements in the employment market, education, health care, culture, poverty reduction, infrastructure, services, women’s rights, aboriginal issues and R & D. and spoke of planned whistleblower legislation to ensure accountability in government.

Overall the speech was very clear in its promotion of a strong and proud Newfoundland and Labrador. This is clear from the following excerpts. It remains to be seen how much will be done to address the issues outlined and if there will be a move from rhetoric to solid political action that will ensure Newfoundland and Labrador's treatment by the federal government for the past six decades is not allowed to continue unabated.

A full transcript of the speech from the throne can be found at: http://www.releases.gov.nl.ca/releases/2008/exec/0310n03.htm

The following are excerpts of the Speech from the Throne delivered at the Opening of the First Session of the Forty-Sixth General Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador on Monday, March 10, 2008, by the Honourable John C. Crosbie, Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador:

…On the 9th of October 2007, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador were given the opportunity to make a choice. Our people were asked if they want Newfoundland and Labrador to be the master of its own house and control its own destiny within the federation of Canada. Our people were asked if they want to maintain the principle my Government adopted in 2003 of no more giveaways. Our people were asked if they want Newfoundland and Labrador to stay the course to self-reliance. On the 9th of October, the people of our province, in overwhelming numbers, re-elected my Government with a powerful mandate to build upon the initiatives of the past four years with pride, strength and determination to achieve at long last the promise of a self-reliant Newfoundland and Labrador…

The overarching goal of the term ahead is to move Newfoundland and Labrador boldly forward to self-reliance…

…our province’s influence is being felt and our voice is being heard all across the country and far beyond – everywhere, that is, except at the federal Cabinet table. In the federal forum that once mattered most, Newfoundland and Labrador is treated with little but contempt and condescension. Ours is not the only provincial government to be treated with disdain by the Harper Government, but no province has been treated more dishonourably. My Government has been deeply frustrated by the current Federal Government’s refusal to honour - among other promises - their explicit written commitment to remove nonrenewable resource revenues from the calculation of equalization, a commitment worth an estimated $10 billion to Newfoundland and Labrador according to independent economists. Given the magnitude of this commitment, my Government cannot, in good conscience, either forget it or cease to remind others of this broken promise. A Prime Minister who makes such a promise saying "there is no greater fraud than a promise not kept" stands condemned by his own words for refusing to keep it. By keeping their word, the Harper Government would have advanced our efforts to address our excessive burden of debt and achieve parity in the federation. Their actions are not only disingenuous but also dishonest. They have proven they cannot be trusted; but their great betrayal will do nothing to prevent us from achieving our goals on our own steam. Despite their opinion that they will win a government without Newfoundland and Labrador, our province will achieve its full potential as a prosperous and self-reliant partner within the federation with or without this Federal Government. We just want the opportunity to utilize our natural resources to become self-sufficient. We will resist any attempt to prevent this from occurring.

Ours is not the province it was two decades ago. Indeed, it is not the province it was five years ago…

…For 59 years, Newfoundland and Labrador has contributed enormously to the success of Canada. We have contributed resources of immeasurable value and, of even greater significance, we have contributed countless people – talented, tough and tenacious – whose energy and ingenuity have been powerfully instrumental in building the economies of our sister provinces and territories across Canada…The time has come for Newfoundland and Labrador to become a major centre of economic activity driving not only the Atlantic region but also the economy of Canada. It is time for people to take notice, because Newfoundland and Labrador is ready to lead the country.

…With renewed pride, hope and self-assurance, we are ready to continue the journey we have started together. Strong within ourselves and strong within our country, we are standing tall and striving boldly to bring Newfoundland and Labrador into its own. As masters of our own destiny, with our eyes focused clearly on the opportunities ahead, we will become stronger and more secure than we have ever been before.

…Among Newfoundland and Labrador’s most promising sectors is the energy sector. My Government in September released Newfoundland and Labrador’s first comprehensive, long-term Energy Plan: a strategy extending out to 2041 to prepare us for the expiration of the Upper Churchill agreements; a strategy to position us as an energy warehouse in eastern North America; a strategy to benefit Newfoundlanders and Labradorians first, while at the same time providing the right climate to promote development…Our vast energy resources – including oil, gas, hydro, wind and others – will be developed in ways that bring sustainable economic development opportunities to both Labrador and the island, while returning valuable royalties, dividends and other revenues to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

We also have great expectations for our fisheries – the backbone of many rural communities...

My Government is disappointed that the current Federal Government has not yet acted on its promise to impose custodial management on the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap, and will continue to press the Federal Government to honour their promise. Reform of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) is no substitute for custodial management, in terms of either timing or efficacy…

Our province’s unique culture has been shaped by our economy, our environment and people of many ancestries. My Government this year will build on the work of the Strategic Cultural Plan and proceed with a new Intangible Cultural Heritage Strategy to help preserve, strengthen and celebrate our distinctive and intangible cultural heritage, including languages, traditional knowledge and skills, customs, and music…

…We are today at a critical point in our history as we prepare to make the long-anticipated transition from a ‘have-not’ jurisdiction to a ‘have’ province. Our day is now beginning to dawn…the principle of no more giveaways is the right one. The principle of making our own way and taking control of our resources is the right one. The principle of demanding accountability for federal commitments is the right one…

… No longer can we afford to listen to those who try to impose on us their own outdated way of thinking. The time has come for us to chart our own course, to determine our own destiny, to think outside the box that others have tried to confine us within… When there are setbacks, we must learn from them... We must be prepared to try innovative approaches to ensure we remain relevant, on the leading edge of change, riding the global wave that will carry us forward from the subservience we have suffered for too long to the brand new future of self-reliance and sustainability that is beginning to dawn.

…Together, we will ensure our future is stronger than our past. Together, we will show the world we are a powerhouse of opportunities with the courage, competence, commitment and conviction to convert those opportunities into sustainable prosperity for the benefit of all. The promise is within reach. The future is ours. Proud, strong and determined, we will achieve our great promise by standing tall together, united as one, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Political Bombshell or Bombast?

Recently someone posed a question to me that I found more than a little interesting in both concept and potential.

Why doesn't Premier Danny Williams' office abandon its Anyone but Conservative (ABC) federal campaign and publicly support a locally managed party that's answerable to the Province rather than to a national body?

Indeed, I immediately thought, why not?

Wouldn't that be a much more postive approach than "Anyone but Conservative"?

Wouldn't it be more likely to lead to real change in the way Ottawa has to deal with the province?

Wouldn't such a positive move have a better possibility of success than the current negative campaign?

Recent poll numbers show the Premier's approval rating at 80%. This, combined with his almost "star like" appeal with many voters in the Province puts him in a unique position in our political history.

As a popular leader Danny Williams has the tools at his disposal to quickly and effectively take a locally focused federal party from being a complete unkown to an immediate success on the campaign trail.

For years the people of Quebec have understood the value of electing a federal party answerable to the province, rather than to federal party leaders. They clearly understand that in order to make federal MPs listen to your concerns and fight for them on the Hill, even when an election is not looming, you need to ensure that those MPs are beholding to you and you alone.

Perhaps the status quo is working on some level in other parts of Canada but it's clearly not working in Newfoundland and Labrador. There are too many events on the historical record of this place that prove the point.

With Premier Williams already talking publicly about defeating the federal Conservatives on the local scene in the next federal election, what possible reason could he have for not taking the campaign one step further and throwing his full support behind an alternative party?

If, as Williams says, he is determined that the Conservatives not win a single seat in Newfoundland and Labrador in the next election then who does he expect the voters to turn to?

As a Progressive Conservative he is not asking voters to turn to another national party is he?

Where then does he expect those who would follow his lead to mark their X?

Surely he doesn't expect people to stay at home and give up the only chance most ever have to influence their political future?

By offering a a negative campaign (with no option available to those who wish to participate) Premier Williams is single handedly undermining his own position rather than ensuring its effectiveness.

By not supporting a new voice on the national scene a valuable opportunity for the province's future is being missed and the chances of his ABC campaign being successful are severely deminished.

Nobody doubts the intelligence of the Province's Premier. He's shown time and time again that he can out maneuver even the best strategic political, business and legal thinkers when the situation calls for it, but this appearently directionless approach to "ABC" has started the rumor mill turning in earnest.

The question now being whispered is whether Premier Williams is really out to defeat Stephen Harper's Conservatives in Newfoundland and Labrador or if all the bombast of past months is just a means to make a point.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Stephen Harper Directly Implicated in Bribery Allegation

Political corruption at the highest levels of Canada’s government appears to be happening with frightening regularity these days.

While the Country has borne witness over the past several months to the spectacle of the Mulroney scandal and the reasons behind the former PM’s acceptance of a quarter of a million dollars in cash from a known arms dealer, the quest for the title of “most corrupt” in the Nation’s capitol goes on.

After the Liberal sponsorship scandal the newly minted Conservative party of Canada, under leader Stephen Harper, sailed to an election victory on a promise to clean up government once and for all. A new era of “accountability” was the clarion call that led the Conservatives to the seat of power in Ottawa.

Now, more than two years later very little has changed and it’s business as usual up on the hill.

The people of Canada find themselves with an accountability act that is little more than a watered down perversion of its original promise. The Conservative government has yet to implement all of the actions set out in its own legislation. The PMO has made it standard practice to scapegoat government employees for any and all failures in its own administration and allegations of bribery, by none other than Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself, are now beginning to surface.

In a recently released biography of late federal MP Chuck Cadman, an independent in the House of Commons, his widow alleges the Conservative party leadership offered Mr. Cadman a $1 million dollar life insurance policy shortly before his death. The offer was made on the condition that he vote with the Conservative party and help them topple the sitting government in what can arguabley be described as an illegal and underhanded bloodless coup, Canadian style.

Cadman's widow and daughter both say that two Conservative representatives made a $1-million life insurance offer to the dying MP, who was suffering from terminal cancer at the time, in return for his support on a May 2005 confidence motion.

To set the stage, at the time of the vote on implementation of the federal budget, Mr. Cadman had been ill for some time and was a mere weeks away from death. The Liberal government of Paul Martin was a beaten and battered shadow of its former self after the sponsorship debacle had nearly played itself out. Hanging in the balance were, among other things, the survival of the Liberal government and the long awaited implementation of the hard fought Atlantic Accord contracts between Ottawa, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland & Labrador, contracts that would later be unilaterally undermined by the Harper government after taking office.

Sadly Mr. Cadman died of cancer two months after the critical vote, a vote in which he refused to side with the Conservative party.

In not supporting the Conservative cause Mr. Cadman’s lone vote allowed the bill to pass, the government of the day survived, for a short time at least, and the Atlantic Accord contracts become a reality.

Now, his widow, Dona Cadman, a Conservative candidate herself, claims that shortly before his death her husband told her and her daughter that he had been approached by members of the opposition Conservative party with the offer to buy his vote in Parliament.

Dona Cadman has since told reporters that her husband was livid at the offer.

While the Conservative leadership has been busy of late trying to diffuse and refute the claims, saying they are nothing more than hearsay since Mr. Cadman is not around to speak on the matter himself, on Friday a three-year-old radio interview surfaced that lends a great deal of credibility to the Cadman family's claims.

In a June of 2005 interview with radio station CKNW, Mr. Cadman himself told the Globe and Mail's Dan Cook that the Tories did, in fact, make him financial offers days before the crucial vote.

"There was certainly some, you know, some offers made and some things along those lines about not opposing me and helping out with the finances of the campaign and that sort of thing…”

Another tape, released Thursday, clearly indicates that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, leader of the official opposition at the time, not only knew of the offer to the ailing Cadman but that he supported the buying of a Parliamentary vote, an act that is a direct violation of Canadian law.

Author Tom Zytaruk has released a 2:37 second taped interview with Harper made in September 2005. On the recording, Harper confirms that party officials made a financial appeal to Cadman.

The RCMP are now investigating the allegations but if the decades old Mulroney-Schreiber affair is any indication, no political figure will ever be charged in the case, least of all the Prime Minister himself.

Beware of False Profits

Defence Minister and Nova Scotia political turncoat, Peter MacKay, jumped to the defense of fellow party member Loyola Hearn while in Newfoundland and Labrador this week saying Hearn is getting an unfairly rough ride at home.

"Sometimes you know, a prophet is least appreciated in his own land," said MacKay, while visiting the province over the weekend.

"He has shown tremendous leadership around the cabinet table … I think Loyola Hearn deserves a great deal of credit not only for what he brings to the cabinet table but what he brings to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador."
When Mr. MacKay speaks of what Loyola Hearn "brings to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador" surely must be referring to the shame, disgust and outright betrayal felt by so many in the province. What else is there?
Betrayal on the removal of offshore revenues from the equalization formula (as promised by Stephen Harper).
Disgust for Hearn's claims that he has spies inside the provincial caucus who are informing him of the inner workings of the Premier's office.
Shame that a native son would walk away from his own promises to protect the fisheries by invoking custodial management of the offshore.
We've all heard of the Anti-Christ, and I'm not saying Mr. Hearn deserves that moniker, but to borrow Mr. Mackay's analogy, Mr. Hearn is perhaps closer to being an anti or false profit than the real deal.
During his time in the province Mr. MacKay also dismissed the "Anyone but Conservative" campaign being levelled at the Conservatives in the next federal election. I suspect however that with his inability to recognize the facts around Hearn and around his own status in Nova Scotia, Mr. Mackay is shooting for an unholy trinity of idiocy.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Stand and Deliver

How often have you heard the old axioms, “Stand and deliver”, “United we stand, divided we fall”, “If we don’t hang together we will surely hang alone” or any of a myriad of similar sentiments?

Their message is clear. If we remain silent, or merely shout from the shadows of anonymity, we are doomed to failure.

Unlike certain other bloggers, columnists and pundits I refuse to deny anyone the privilege of commenting under the protection of anonymity. I won’t deny anyone that ability no matter how much “flak” I get over it because there are rare circumstances when it is the only way to get a message out.

There are times when the only way truth can be uttered is by someone who feels the need to protect themselves or their families from potential repercussions. That said, I also believe that 99.9% of the time anonymity is unnecessary and nothing more than a cop out. I also believe there are rare occasions when anonymity is even used as a means of misdirection.

When I decided to create Web Talk as an experiment in communication a few years ago I made the conscious decision to make my full identity a matter of record no matter what the consequences. I realized from the outset that not doing so would undermine my credibility and leave the public questioning my motives.

I also realized that by going public I was leaving myself open to attack on a personal level. Attacks that might manifest in a verbal way (they have, though not as often as I expected), to my livelihood and employment and perhaps even to my physical well being or that of my family. To date, thankfully, neither of the latter concerns have been a factor but who knows what tomorrow brings.

So, why am I going on about this topic today rather than speaking on the more serious issues facing Newfoundland and Labrador?

Over the weekend I read two things that have led me to comment on this subject.

The first was an article in the Independent, by Ivan Morgan. In his commentary Ivan tore a major strip off of another writer who had directly attacked him without the intestinal fortitude to sign his name to the piece.

My reaction to Ivan Morgan’s article was, “Good for you”!!!

As I said, I permit anonymous posts because I don’t want to deny anyone the ability to get the truth out or to deliver opinions on the issues. I don’t believe however that it is the best way to get a message across and I certainly don’t agree with anyone who indulges in a personal attack without standing behind their words.

The second, and arguably more important reason for my comments today, has to do with an anonymous contributor to this very site.

In a comment left in response to my article, “Atlantica Lite – The New Solution” there have been some interesting comments, not the least of which was left on the site by an anonymous contributor. In the comment he or she presented the entire text of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a Dream” speech.

The words of that speech are some of the most inspiring ever written, especially under the circumstances in which they were delivered. The sentiments of Dr. King are timeless and universal in their call for equality. Why then would anyone feel the need to present them anonymously? Why would they feel the need to protect their identity?

What have we come to when people are afraid to say what’s on their minds. What are we so afraid of?

The biggest problem Newfoundland and Labrador must face as it moves into an unknown future doesn’t come from federal governments, uncaring business or unscrupulous political leaders. Our biggest problem lies within ourselves.

If we continue to speak up only under a veil of anonymity we are doomed.

If we fail to stand as a united front against those who would take advantage of our silence and acquiescence we are doomed.

If we are not willing to put our names, reputations and personal comfort on the line in the fight for a better tomorrow we are doomed.

Each of us needs to take a step back and ask ourselves:

When someone makes a derogatory remark about my homeland or my people do I remain silent or do I speak out proudly and boldly?

When a petition is circulated to battle the actions of the most powerful and influential in our land, do I sign it freely and openly or do I shrink away in fear of having my name connected with it?

When a wrong must to be addressed do I make it my duty to right that wrong?

When I feel that something has to be said, do I speak out loudly or do I hide in the shadows of silence or anonymity?

Once you answer those questions of yourself I’ll ask you one more time, how often have we all heard the old axioms, “Stand and deliver”, “United we stand, divided we fall”, or “If we don’t hang together we will surely hang alone”?

The price of success is one that must be paid if we hope to achieve anything at all.

Believe me when I say the biggest problem with standing behind your words does not come from anyone else but from inside yourself. Once you’ve taken the plunge and taken a stand the feeling of personal freedom you’ll come to feel will far outweigh anything your enemies can throw at you.

Take the chance and make a difference. Cast off the shadow of anonymity. Throw away the goundless aliases. Make your words your own and their power will amaze you.

Silence is the ally of our enemies. In silence we will find a future that is a reflection of our present and our past.