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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

July 1st - Memorial Day Remembered

Once again Canada day is upon us and once again I've opted to publish an article that I return to each year at this time.

With Canada Day celebrations about to go ahead I sincerely hope we do not forget that while July 1 may be a day of celebration for Canadians it is also one of the most solemn and sad days for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

July 1st marks the anniversary of the battle of Beaumont Hamel where so many of Newfoundland and Labrador's best and brightest were showered with shells. A day when an entire regiment was all but wiped out.

This Memorial (Canada) Day we should not forget those valiant men.

July 1st - Memorial Day Remembered

With Memorial Day once again upon us, it seems appropriate today to reflect on the exploits of the so called “Fighting Newfoundlander” and remember those who fought or died in conflicts half way around the world.

When many people think of the Newfoundland and Labrador's military history they immediately think of The Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Although Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans have fought with the forces of other nations and continue to distinguish themselves today in the Canadian Armed Forces, it is with a special kind of pride that we remember the exploits of that particular Regiment.

Originally formed in 1914, The Newfoundland Regiment, as it was known at the time, consisted of what many refer to as the “first 500” or “The Blue Puttees” in reference to the blue leggings worn by the men.

An entirely volunteer regiment, the men of the “first 500”, along with those who joined them later, distinguished themselves in battle after battle during World War I.

So valiant were their efforts that they were later bestowed by the King of England with the title of “Royal”, becoming the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the name we know them by to this day.

After only six weeks of training at home, The original Newfoundland Regiment containing the “first 500” set sail out of St. John’s harbour on October 4, 1914. This first group contained some of the best examples of the type of young men Newfoundland and Labrador had produced. Many were athletes, some had been involved in various boy’s brigades and all were determined to show their pride in the Dominion of Newfoundland.

According to historical documents, the men of the Regiment had two primary goals in mind when they arrived in Europe. The first was that they were Newfoundlanders, and intended to be known as such; the other was that they had gone over to fight, not to do garrison duty in England.

At one point during their orientation on the Salisbury Plain the idea was floated that the Newfoundland contingent should join with a nearby Nova Scotia Regiment. Both groups were only the size of half a battalion and to the brass from England this seemed like a logical step. According to articles from the time the Newfoundlanders would have no part of it. They felt that if the two groups merged the contingent would lose its name, its identity and its individuality.

During the coming months the Regiment grew as new members arrived. In time, the proud men of the Newfoundland Regiment were given the opportunity they had wanted, a chance to fight for their homeland.

On the battle field these proud soldiers solidified their place in history.

The Regiment earned no less than 280 separate decorations, 77 of which were awarded to original members of the “first 500” of which 170 were killed in action. In fact, one in every seven men among the original force received some sort of military honour.

Many people have heard the name of Tommy Ricketts who was given the highest honour possible, the Victoria Cross, however many may not remember some of the other brave men who fought for their homeland under the most dire conditions.

Newfoundland and Labrador has produced many great heroes, many who are not as well known, but no less deserving of recognition.Take for example the story of Cyril Gardner, originally from British Harbour.

Lieutenant Gardner has the distinction of being the only known allied serviceman to receive the German Iron Cross during WWI.The Iron Cross which was handed out only to the bravest German military personnel was given to Gardner on the battlefield.As the story goes, Gardner’s unit was engaged in battle with a German patrol of 70 men. During the night, as hostilities wound down Gardner, who spoke German, took it upon himself to grab his gun and head out to the enemy encampment.Sneaking into the enemy camp, the Lieutenant turned his gun on the officers, capturing them unharmed. With their leadership removed the remainder of the troop immediately surrendered.

Lieutenant Cyril Gardner had single handedly captured an entire German Patrol.

Upon marching his prisoners back to his own encampment he was met by a British Officer who intended to shoot the unarmed prisoners rather than be saddled with caring for them.As the German soldiers looked on in horror Lieutenant Gardner once again demonstrated his sense of bravery by stepping into the line of fire to protect his prisoners and telling his superior officer that if one German were shot the officer would be the next one to die.

After a moment of hesitation the officer walked away and it was then that the commander of the German patrol, who had many medals on his uniform, stepped up to Gardner and removing the iron cross from his chest, pinned it on Gardner’s, to the applause and cheers of the German soldiers.

For Centuries, even before the formation of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have answered the call whenever it arrived.

Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans have been involved in major conflicts around the world since the mid 1600's, including:

The Anglo-Dutch Wars – 1652
The War of the Austrian Succession – 1743
The Seven Year War - 1756
The American Revolution - 1775
The Napoleonic Wars – 1796
The War of 1812
World War I – 1914
World War II – 1939

Add to this the number of young men and women who have proven themselves in places like Korea, Afghanistan, Bosnia and countless other areas of conflict or peacekeeping around the world, and we can clearly see that Newfoundland and Labrador has a lot to be proud of and, on this Memorial Day, a lot to remember.

On this Memorial Day, July 1st, and throughout the remainder of the year perhaps we should all take a few minutes to visit a local legion hall or war memorial, to stop and chat with an aging veteran and to offer a little show of thanks for the sacrifice these fine men and women have made to protecting our homeland and others.

Statistics show that every day in Canada an average of 80 veterans die. That’s more than at the height of conflict in World War II.

It only takes a moment to shake a veteran’s hand or buy one a cold beer. It might seem like a small gesture and it is, but even taking a moment to express a little gratitude may just brighten the day of some of our bravest and most deserving citizens.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Patronage Plumbs Peddled for PM's Purposes

This morning I stumbled across an article from the “Hill Times” that immediately caught my attention and captivated my interest. The piece was about none other than Prime Minister Stephen Harper

The headline read, “Harper criticized for not 'taking care' of former MPs, top staffers”.

The author referenced Conservative MPs and staffers who are worried because, “...Mr. Harper demands loyalty … (but) he doesn't show the same loyalty when MPs lose an election or staffers leave their Parliament Hill jobs."

Apparently those loyalists are, "disappointed that he has failed to "take care" of them in their post-Parliamentary lives.”

I have to say I was left in total bewilderment after reading this.

I mean boo hoo for the party hacks moaning to this reporter but what's going on here?

First of all let me say I’m strongly believe that political patronage and the “old buddy” network is a major part of the problem we have with politics today. Anybody who chooses to run for office or to work for a political “machine” shouldn’t have any right to expect to be “taken care of” when the party ends. They do of course but that doesn't make it right.

Knowing how I feel about this I’m sure you can understand my confusion.

Politics in Canada has been an elitist and closed “scratch my back” system for decades and to hear that suddenly Stephen Harper, one of the most underhanded and self serving of the bunch, may have suddenly decided to do the right thing and give up the practice had me flabbergasted.

I mean wasn’t it Stephen Harper who claimed he would never appoint senators to that most golden of retirement homes, the Red Chamber?

Wasn't it also Stephen Harper who did just the opposite by appointing 18 of them?

Didn’t he thank Mike Duffy for his partisan service and support during the last election and for Duffy’s crucifixion of Stephane Dion after a botched Nova Scotia interview (an action by Duffy and NewsNet that was later described by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council as unethical)?

Didn’t Mr. Harper also send former Newfoundland and Labrador MP, Fabian Manning, to the red chamber after Manning was ridden out of town on a rail in his home Province? Wasn’t that a thank-you to Manning for standing next to the PM in the House of Commons, laughing and clapping as Mr. Harper callously stripped hundreds of millions from Newfoundland and Labrador and publicly ridiculed Mr. Manning’s home province?

Could the Stephen Harper I know and dislike have changed so much in such a short time that his party insiders and toadies were beginning to worry about their future expense accounts and "rolling around money"?

I was so confused. How could some reporter have identified a lack of political pork barreling and cronyism as a serious weakness in anyone but of all people, Stephen Harper?


What was I missing?

I mean here is a Prime Minister who has proven time and again that he is not to be trusted in any way, shape or form. For Stephen Harper breaking a promise or “sculpting the truth" is as natural as breathing. So my question was this: Had the Prime Minister suddenly turned over a new leaf or was he just proving to those in his inner circle what many of us already know, that he can’t be trusted?

It's something they all should have been aware of by now but in the rarified air of Ottawa clear vision is something often encountered.

Was it something else all together?

Did the Hill Times get boondoggled by the Harper media machine into running a story that might allow the Prime Minister to be viewed as the only one willing to “clean up dodge” even at the expense of his loyal minions?

The whole thing left all me with so many questions my head hurt and I believe (just for a moment) my morning muffin threatened to reappear from the depths.

What was I to say about this new information staring me in the face?

At first I almost thought that even though the Hill Times wasn’t very flattering to Mr. Harper (They seemed to view this lack of cronyism was a bad thing ) I might actually be forced to sit down to write something complimenary about the man.

My blood ran cold.

I nearly passed out from the stress.

But I was saved the horror of defending Mr. Harper's actions.

As I lowered by now tense frame over the keyboard and the blood slowly began to flow back into my head I suddenly realized what was really happening. It wasn’t that Stephen Harper had decided to do the right thing by turning his back on old school politics, it was just a case of the true nature of the man once again reaching the public eye.

I guess all the conflicting facts and my desire to see political cronyism done away with had clouded my judgment and overwhelmed my nervous system.

Think about it, Stephen Harper hasn’t actually done the right thing by deciding not to offer cushy jobs to his cronies on the taxpayer dime. Instead he’s been carefully weighing the market value of those around him and acting accordingly.

Those who have little future value to him, savagely loyal or not, must be removed and forgotten in the interest of the Harper "buddy" portfolio. In this way the limited number of valuable patronage positions available can be offered to those who have continued political or personal value.

I mean if Harper just gave away those plumb jobs as a thank-you to every Tom, Dick or Sparrow how would he be able to buy future influence inside Ottawa?

Consider this, were the onslaught of senatorial appointments really a political thank-you on the PM’s part or a way for him to meet his own self interests?

I admit that at first I thought they were nothing more than a taxpayer funded pat on the back but on reflection, and in light of this recent information I’ve been forced to look for another explanation and it isn’t hard to find one.

Just squeeze your eyes into tiny slits, forget you’re human or even a primate and try to think like Stephen Harper. I know it hurts but if you try real hard the answers will come.

For anyone afraid of having their personality or moral compass get stuck in Harper mode stop now and I'll tell you what I came up with.

Mind you I didn’t have the time, inclination or article room to research all the senate appointments made my this PM but in the case of Duffy and Manning the answer is simple.

Those appointments weren’t Harper’s way of thanking two political hacks for climbing into his back pocket they served a much more important purpose.

Duffy’s senate seat ensures that Mr. Harper has a very experienced and well connected media insider at his back pocket and at his beck and call whenever he needs to create some spin. And here’s the really interesting part, it’s not costing the Conservative party a cent because the taxpayers are footing the bill for Mr. Duffy’s enormous salary and golden perks.

As for Fabian Manning’s appointment, that ones a lot simpler and less forward looking.

Harper still has a major pissing contest underway with the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Danny Williams, and he needed a way to retaliate against the Province for not electing a single Conservative during the last election. What better way to send a message to the Province and the Premier than to offer a highly publicized senate seat to the Province’s poster boy for “traitor of the decade”?

Can you say “slap in the face” Premier Williams? I bet you can.

Anyway, once the reality of the situation got a little clearer I slapped myself for being so politically naive and I felt much better, not for Canada which is still politically screwed, but about my personal well being.

My headache went away and things began to return to normal after a few minutes of deep breathing. It was then that another terrible thought occurred to me. What will happen after the next federal election?

According to the same “Hill Times” article that threw my morning into such turmoil, Mr. Harper may not always “take care” of his loyal supporters but the Liberal party has, “a fairly strong support network, not only political, but also corporate and academic” to help its loyalists.

Oh great. Once again we are faced with proof that the Canadian political system is nothing more than a joke. The banana republic of the North.

Now Canadians can either elect a ruling party that has no morals but which is pickier about feeding its loyalists at the trough or one that claims to have all the morals in the world while historically handing out patronage positions like Halloween candy.

Thank God we live in a democracy (well actually a democratic monarchy) where the public is free to decide which party had the best publicity machine leading up to election day.

Personally I think I’ll take next polling day. At least nobody will be able to blame me for “choosing” our next government.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Historical Perspectives in our School System

Over the past week a great deal of media attention and public hand wringing has been evident in the wake of a report by the Dominion Institute. This independent report looked at Canadian history education across the Country and came to the conclusion that there is a distinct lack of focus on Canadian history within the various education systems from coast to coast.

According to the study Newfoundland and Labrador, along with 3 other provinces or territories should receive a failing grade for the limited level of Canada history being delivered in provincial schools.

Members of the Newfoundland Regiment WWI

Personally I don’t know what the reason might be for specific levels of delivery in the other so called “failed” provinces but in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador I beg to differ with the position of the Dominion Institute that the situation is troublesome.

Remember that education is a provincial mandate and is controlled by the governments of each province. Remember as well that although Newfoundland and Labrador is indeed a Canadian province today this was not the case just 60 years ago. There in lies the difference between Newfoundland and Labrador and the other jurisdictions across Canada and the reason why the province should not have been lumped in with the rest of Canada for the purposes of this study.

Prior to 1949 (just yesterday really) Newfoundland and Labrador blazed its own trail, developed its own culture (or multiple cultures) and made its own stamp on history.

Historians, social studies experts and others will tell you without hesitation that it is extremely important to the social and mental well being of any culture that they understand their past because it is one of the biggest factors influencing who a person is.

Perhaps this is the reason for the trepidation expressed by the Dominion Institute and various media commentators since the report was released. Unfortunately they forgot that the history of Newfoundland and Labrador’s people is not, for the most part, tied to the history of Canada at all.

All you have to do is look at the sad story of aboriginal peoples across Canada to see what happens when a culture’s history is usurped and replaced by that of another. Over the decades many attempts were made to assimilate the native peoples of Canada at the expense of forgetting their own rich past. The results have been disastrous and are a major contributor to the problems many native people suffer with today.

In the case of Newfoundland and Labrador, at least in recent years, more local history has been added to the curriculum in an effort to ensure that people never forget their rich roots and rightfully so. In fact it is Newfoundland and Labrador history courses that should be made mandatory and more accessible in the schools of the province, not Canadian history courses.

As far as Newfoundland and Labrador is concerned a large percentage of the Province’s current population still remembers quite well when Canada became a part of our history and the events that have taken place since then. Taken in that light, the brief moment of time since 1949 hardly demands the cost of introducing and teaching a full Canadian history curriculum in our high schools.

No offense intended to the rest of Canada but in Newfoundland and Labrador teaching Canadian history as a side note to World history courses should be more than sufficient to ensure that what little shared past we have is recognized.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Newfoundland and Labrador Takes 10% Stake in Offshore Expansion

"That amount ($10 billion) is actually double the royalties collected by the province from all three projects to date, since 1997," - Premier Danny Williams

Speaking at the Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Oil and Gas Industries Association Conference in St. John’s on Tuesday Premier Danny Williams announced a long awaited tentative deal with a consortium of industry partners for expansion of the Hibernia South offshore project.

An agreement on the expansion was put on hold by the Province months ago when the government introduced its new energy plan. At the time government requests for clarification on some aspects of the expansion and the lack of an agreed upon royalty regime or equity position for the Province delayed the project.

On Tuesday Premier Williams announced to a packed house at the NOIA conference that a tentative agreement has now been reached that will see the province take a 10% equity stake. Depending on the future price of oil, the equity position, combined with provincial taxes and an enhanced royalty regime is expected to put $10 billion dollars into provincial coffers over the life of the project.

The royalty regime for the extension can top out at 50% once payout is complete and if specific oil pricing conditions are achieved. The final contract is yet to be completed so precise details of what those conditions are or what the province’s 10% equity stake will cost have not been released, though some estimates have put the cost at about $30 million.

The Hibernia South extension is estimated to contain more than 230 million barrels of oil and based on past estimates from within the oil and gas industry in the region those estimates are likely on the conservative side.

According to Premier Williams, "Hibernia South will increase and sustain production from the Hibernia field, preserving employment, while providing a significantly greater royalty return for the province than any previous project."

Friday, June 12, 2009

Comparing Report Cards - Harper vs. Williams

This week Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered his “report card” on the status of the federal stimulus spending. Ironically, Mr. Harper waxed poetic about how much money has been earmarked for specific projects, municipal leaders across the Country sat in stunned silence wondering where the money was.

Always one to turn a phrase to his advantage, during his address Stephen Harper was quite skillful in saying that money has identified for the many projects while knowing full well that approval and delivery are not the same thing.

What Mr. Harper intentionally failed to admit was that most cheques have not been cut and most tenders for development have not been issued because the money is still somewhere in the bowels of the Finance department tangled in red tape. Stimulus funding is wonderful stuff when it’s needed but it isn’t much good if the money doesn’t flow.

As much as the Prime Minister dislikes the place, perhaps Mr. Harper would do well to look toward the province of Newfoundland and Labrador if he wants to see how stimulus funding really works.

On the same day the Prime Minister delivered his report card to the Professor Ignatieff and the rest of Canada Newfoundland and Labrador Premier, Danny Williams, and several of his Ministers delivered an update of their own.

The Provincial infrastructure stimulus package included in the 2009/10 budget was set at $800 million dollars and just yesterday that amount doubled to $1.6 billion and the program extended to include the 2010/11 fiscal year as well.
The biggest difference between the Newfoundland and Labrador package and the one touted by Ottawa isn’t in the numbers or the duration but in the delivery.

Perhaps Provincial Transportation and Works Minister, Trevor Taylor, put it best when he said at yesterday’s press conference, “It's one thing to make unprecedented commitments but it's quite another to get this money flowing and projects tendered quickly and that's just what our government is doing."

"Right now our Tendering and Contracts Division is the busiest it has ever been. On average, at any given time, the Provincial Government has between 20 to 30 tenders in circulation. We currently have 107 tenders out, which is a record for this province."

"We are issuing and awarding our tenders earlier than ever before and we plan to maintain this aggressive tender schedule as long as the commodity and labour prices hold and the industry has the capacity to do the work. Also, we are duplicating the designs of many of our new schools and health care facilities which expedites the process and makes it more cost-efficient,” said Taylor.

While there is no doubt the economic downturn is affecting the Province, as it is the rest of Canada, with increased unemployment and a lower GDP there are some positive indications for improvement over the coming months.

Finance Minister, Jerome Kennedy noted that, "At a recent meeting of finance ministers across the country, the Federal Government indicated that Newfoundland and Labrador is now leading the rest of the country with stimulus flowing to the economy in 2009 and 2010 relative to our GDP."

"In addition, thus far this year, our province is leading the country in a number of economic indicators, including investment intentions, retail sales, labour income and urban housing starts," said Kennedy.

Perhaps one of the best features of the Newfoundland and Labrador stimulus package is that isn’t overly dependent on Ottawa to provide a share of the funding. 85% of the program’s funding will come from provincial coffers with the remaining 15% being shared by federal and municipal governments.

It’s a good thing there isn’t too much dependence on Ottawa. We all know where that has led the Province in the past. In this particular situation and at the speed federal infrastructure funding is flowing the recession is likely to be a distant memory by the time the first cheques go in the mail.

It’s really too bad Stephen Harper and Danny Williams aren’t on speaking terms or the PM might have picked up a few pointers on how to handle an economic crisis.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

One Bad Apple Spoils the Bunch

Is it just me or are the semi-regular apologies being forced out of the Federal Conservative caucus wearing a little thin?

When will the people of Canada wake up and realize that the rot now being exposed among members of Parliament isn’t a problem with individuals alone. It also isn’t something that can be fixed with a forced and largely insincere apology. It’s a serious and dangerous attitude problem that is not only being condoned inside the Conservative Party of Canada but encouraged.

Today Natural Resources Minister, Lisa Raitt, delivered a teary eyed apology to the media after refusing to do so for days on end in the House of Commons. She finally apologized but only after mounting attacks from the opposition and most recently from numerous cancer patients who are rightly disgusted with her attitude and with the Prime Minister's acceptance of it.

With the support she’s been shown by the Prime Minister I’m surprised Minister Raitt apologized at all. In fact with the resounding praise heaped on her by her leader in the past two days I almost expected her to begin gunning down the elderly and infirm in the streets and hungrily lap their warm blood from the asphalt.

Seriously, it should be pretty obvious to anyone that this situation is just one more example of the rot that exists inside the Conservative Party of Canada. It's a sickness of the mind that is festering and growing with each passing day in power. The Raitt case is just the latest in a string of similarly disgusting pronouncements by Conservative Members of Parliament in recent years and I'll be very surprised if it's the last.

How many of us remember Saskatchewan Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski who turned up on a long lost video tape last year referring to homosexuals as “faggots with dirt under their fingernails who transmit diseases”.

Does anyone remember how Mr. Lukiwiski was dealt with inside the Conservative caucus? Probably not, because no action was ever taken to chastise the MP or to send a message to other members that this behaviour is unacceptable.

Once again, after a staged public apology all was forgiven and Mr. Lukiwski went back to work.

What about Conservative MP Gerry Ritz, the former Minister of Health, who laughingly joked during the listeria outbreak which caused a number of deaths across the Country, that eating tainted sandwich meats was, “like death by a thousand cuts, or should I say cold cuts”.

Ritz went on to express his hope that a newly announced death in PEI was one of his adversaries on the opposite side of the House. He was supported and backed to the hilt by Stephen Harper.

On a more recent note, in fact just this week, pit bull Conservative Transport Minister, John Baird, muttered publicly that the city of Toronto itself should “just F@#K OFF”. Once again, a quick apology seems to have satisfied the Prime Minister. No sanctions will be imposed, no resignation sought and, as a result, no message will be sent to other members of the Conservative caucus.

Is it any wonder that with the Prime Minister setting such a good example the rank and file are quite comfortable acting like self satisfied A-holes?

Consider that it was the Prime Minister himself who after bailing out GM, to the tune of more than $7 billion dollars in taxpayer money, said that anyone who lost their job in the forest industry should consider moving to Fort McMurray where there are plenty of jobs if they really want to work.

I’m not saying there aren’t serious attitude problems throughout Ottawa, regardless of which party an MP is a part of, in fact I'm sure of it, but when people work every day in an environment that condons and supports such behavior it does something to the mind. A sort of mob mentality develops and the worst behavior possible is bound to increase and spread.

I don't want an angry mob running loose in the streets of my town and I certainly don't want one running the Country.

The situation Minister Raitt finds herself in now rests as much on Mr. Harper’s shoulders as it does on her own.

Not to excuse her actions, but the comments made by the Minister, which include her musing about a potential bump to her political career and about taking all the credit for resolving a serious medical crisis affecting thousands of people across the Country, are a direct result of her environment and the attitude within it. She probably thought what she was saying was just fine based on her experiences inside the Conservative caucus.

On the tape Minister Raitt came across as quite comfortable with the shortage of medical isotopes and their effect on cancer and other diagnostic imaging tests. She seemed almost happy when referring to the problem as “sexy” because it dealt with “cancer” and “radioactive leaks”. This is not the attitude most of us expect from a Member of Parliament, but then again, it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch and when the worst rot of all exists in the biggest apple in the pile what hope is there for the entire crop?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

If You Don't Vote You Shouldn't Complain

“If you don’t vote then you shouldn’t complain about what government is doing.”

It’s an old saying that I’ve always seen for what it truly is, total B.S.

That sort of sentiment might serve the interests of politicians who want your vote or who would love nothing more than for the public to shut up and not complain when government runs amok, but to say somebody doesn’t have the right to complain because they didn’t vote is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.

If non voters don’t have the right to complain then who does?

From my perspective anyone who doesn’t vote has a much greater right to complain than those who visit the polls and mark an X for one of the mainstream parties.

Think about it. Voters elect government members to office and in doing so ultimately decide the form and shape a government takes on both sides of the House.

When government neglects the needs of the public, wastes tax dollars and makes decisions that cause great harm to the public good voters should share in some of the blame.

In fact it’s voters who have far less right to complain about the actions of elected officials than anyone else, after all it was voters who put them in office in the first place.

Far too often political spin doctors and the mainstream media talk about the growing problem of low voter turnout at elections and claim it’s the result of disinterest or apathy rather than identifying it for what it is. Either they blindly choose to believe this falsehood or they simply don’t understand what’s happening around them which is entirely possible from what I've seen. Either way they’re dead wrong.

Sure, some citizens have absolutely no interest in politics or elections, those people have always existed, but there are growing numbers of people who have come to the realization that no matter which party or individual is elected the end result will be the same and it won’t likely be good.

Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. It’s the non-voters, not the voters, who have adopted those words of wisdom and who have given up on Canada’s elitist and centric political system. Good on them.

Until the system can be changed to better ensure that the public interest is being served, not the parties or the politicians, the act of voting is nothing more than the act of abetting corruption, lies, deceit and fraud.

I’d rather stab myself in the eye with a rusty nail than support any of today's federal mainstream parties so don’t expect to see me at the polls any time soon. Rest assured however that the complaining will continue as it always does. I have every right to complain and plan to use that right as much as possible.

The next time someone says to you, “if you don’t vote you shouldn’t complain” tell them the same thing I will. Here’s a hint, its two words, starting with F and ending with OFF.

Monday, June 08, 2009

If voting changed anything they’d make it illegal

Where are the grand visions? Where are the political figures that can see past the next set of polling numbers, past their personal objectives and past the next the next election?

Where are the true political leaders?

Not in Ottawa that’s for sure. In fact, if they exist at all, which I sincerely hope they do, they are nowhere near the political arena.

There are those, myself included, who firmly believe that Canada’s political system is completely dysfunctional and incapable of effectively accomplishing anything beyond petty pandering and self preservation. The exception that proves this rule is the complete efficiency with which anyone who exhibits any signs of altruistic intentions is brushed aside or, circumstances permitting, quickly and quietly thrown under a proverbial bus.

Canada’s political system breeds pariahs. They’re like flies feasting on a dead pig carcass.

The only thing that really matters to our political elite is obtaining power and retaining it at all costs, vision be damned.

The system has bred today’s crop of politicians and nurtured them with success. They are all clones of one another, regardless of party affiliation. Their philosophy differs little from one to the other and that philosophy goes something like this, “The future, beyond the next election cycle, is someone else’s problem not mine. The unemployed don’t matter (unless they’re in a vote rich urban center and might support my party), I have my own job to protect.”

How pathetic is that?

That my friends what passes for leadership in Canada today.

Take the past week or so as an example.

Canada’s deficit projections rose from 30+ billion to 50 billion and who knows what the final figure will be. 20% of that deficit is being handed over to General Motors, which plans to retain 4000 jobs in the Country, with no guarantees and no real hope of ever recovering those funds. Meanwhile forestry workers, fishery workers and hundreds of thousands of nameless, faceless individuals across every sector of the economy are being tossed out of work without even a nod of recognition from Ottawa. Less workers qualify for Employment insurance today than ever in the past and while the feds (under a former Liberal government) raped the EI fund of $50 billion dollars to pay down debt, the current (Conservative government) is refusing to put less than $2 billion back on that debt in an effort to increase eligibility during the economic disaster.

So, with all of that happening what did politicians focus all of their energies on last week? What did they spend practically every second of the day talking about? They went around and around about a federal minister left some questionably sensitive documents at a T.V. station in Ottawa.

During question period in the House of Commons that topic alone commanded everyone’s attention with demands for resignations, shouts of support for the minister and everything in between and all for political effect. Meanwhile only one solitary question, posed by a junior opposition member, addressed the multi-billion dollar taxpayer gift to GM and what it might mean for Canadian taxpayers.

Attacking your opposition has the potential for political advantage. Questioning the use of billions of tax dollars in Canada’s most vote rich province most assuredly doesn’t.

If Canada's politcal leaders can't even deal with the day to day business of running a government and protecting tax payer dollars what hope do we have for the grand visions of the past? What happened to the kind of vision that build the railway and opened up the Country? Where are the leaders who thoguht outside the box and introduced the EI program and universal health care? They don't congregate on Parliament Hill that's for sure, so don't hold your breath for an east/west power grid or a concerted effort to enact custodial management of fish stocks off Canada's shores. It's never going to happen in today's political environment.

In a recent Halifax Chronicle Herald editorial fellow Newfoundlander Greg Lock wrote that the low voter participation rates so often bemoaned by politicians aren’t, as is often reported, the result of voter apathy but rather of voter disgust. I tend to agree.

Politics has always been a dirty business but at least there used to be some glimmer of hope that, every once in a while, someone would step forward with the vision to truly lead and inspire. With every passing decade that faint possibility continues to diminish. In fact I have no doubt that in the current political state we find ourselves, any political figure with the audacity to be seen as a risk to the status quo would be crushed before getting out of the starting gate.

No matter what anyone might say, politics is not the voice of the people put into action. It’s the dreams of the people corrupted by self serving individuals.

There’s an old quote that speaks to the sad state of our political system and those who wallow in it.

“If voting changed anything they’d make it illegal”.

Truer words were never spoken and I wish I knew who said them. Unfortunately the author chose to remain anonymous. That’s too bad, with that kind of insight, he or she might have made a great political leader. On reflection, perhaps they chose to remain anonymous for a very good reason, self preservation.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Layman's Blueprint for a Truly Green Economy

Far too often I'm accused of only discussing the problems that face my little corner of the world rather than looking for solutions. With that in mind I decided to take some time (granted it was only a couple of hours) to consider a "Manufactured Right Here" solution to what many people around the world believe is the biggest concern of our times. Global warming.

Tackling such a major issue is a tall order and since I'm not scientist, politician, economist or even an environmentalist the concept I've come up with may be totally out to lunch. Never the less here it is. A layman's plan for carbon management.

Feel free to poke holes in it, tear it up and spit it back out. Don't hesitate to tell me how naive I am to think something this simple might really work. I'm fine with that, in fact your comments are welcome.

At least I can honestly say I thought about the issue and maybe, if just for a moment, I can silence those who believe I spend far to little time thinking about solutions. After all, with the schedule I have 2 hours is a major committment.


Cap and Tax Jurisdictional Plan


When considering Canada’s most highly discussed greenhouse gas reduction plans, “Cap and Trade” and the “Green Shift”, three questions immediately come to mind:

Why should corporations be encouraged to profit through the trading of emission credits which are essentially the equivalent of cleaner air? (Cap and Trade)

Why should corporations be permitted to meet their environmental obligations by simply purchasing “clean air” credits rather than actually reducing destructive emissions? (Cap and Trade)

Why should every person in Canada be expected to pay higher taxes regardless of whether or not they live in a jurisdiction that allows excessive levels of greenhouse gas emissions to exist? (Green Shift)

Consider the case of a province like Newfoundland and Labrador, where emissions have remained virtually unchanged for nearly 2 decades.

In 1990 (the target setting year for Kyoto) Newfoundland and Labrador’s emissions accounted for about 2% of Canada’s total output, a number within reason when you consider that it also accounted for between 1.6% and 2% of Canada’s population during the same period.

Other Canadian jurisdictions have a similar story to tell while some have seen their emissions grow by a staggering amount.With these realities in mind important questions need to be answered and a real solution implemented to address a growing environmental problem.

Perhaps the best solution is an approach that incorporates components of the “cap and trade” and “green shift” options with the inclusion of a jurisdictional or provincial component that empowers distinct regions while addressing national concerns.

The Cap and Tax Jurisdictional Plan is based on four fundamental principles:

1) Most federal funding initiatives and programs: equalization, health care transfers, etc. are managed and delivered on a per capita basis across Canada.

2) Political representatives are, quite rightly, quick to remind us that there is a real dollar value or cost associated with carbon emissions.

3) Every person in the Country, as a natural part of their existence, should have an equal right to emit a set amount of carbon per year.

4) No individual should have the right to infringe upon another’s rights through an over production of carbon that would jeopardize the environment in which we all live.

A Cap and Tax Jurisdictional Plan takes into account all four of these basic principles by placing a per capita cost on the value of greenhouse gas emissions and targeting those emissions based on the principle of equity.

How it works

Calculating Canada’s overall emissions and dividing the result into provincial or territorial shares, on a per capita basis, one can quickly see where the biggest problems exist and easily identify precisely how much of the excess emissions (those beyond the Kyoto targets) each jurisdiction is responsible for.

Emissions are already tracked in this way by the federal government today.

By setting a cost per ton on CO2 emissions, knowing each jurisdictional output and population, the federal government can charge each provincial or territorial government, not individuals or business, for a fair share of the “carbon costs” that region produces in excess of per capita limits.

(Eg: Newfoundland and Labrador, with 1.7% of Canada’s population, would be permitted to produce 1.7% of Canada’s targeted emissions. The province would be held responsible for paying the cost of additional emissions produced beyond that target.)Jurisdictions allowing unchecked industrial development without concern for the environment can then be held responsible for the cost of their excess emissions. Under the plan jurisdictions would be obligated to pay the cost of excess emissions into a federal “green renewal fund”.

Precisely how jurisdictions meet their emission expense obligations should be left to the individual jurisdictions to decide. This will allow them to determine their own approach to correcting or paying the cost for the emission problems in their region, either by collecting additional taxes, charging industrial polluters, using general revenues or implementing a unique “made right here” solution that best fits their unique situation.

Ensuring fairness and equity for all

Under a Cap and Tax Jurisdictional Plan each region pays its fair share of the “cost of carbon” rather than forcing everyone to pay equally. This is the fairest and most equitable solution. Emissions are not produced equally across the Country, nor are the direct benefits that stem from those emissions enjoyed equally.Carbon emissions are primarily the result of manufacturing output, industrial development and population density (autos, homes, etc.). The reason some jurisdictions have higher emissions than others is because they have more industry and more people producing those emissions.

This is not a bad thing, in fact the opposite is true, but by accepting the premise that there is a carbon cost connected with the emissions produced, through economic growth and its resulting prosperity, it must also be recognized that those who benefit most from those emissions should be responsible for the associated costs.

Environmental impacts aside, higher emitting regions benefit greatly from the carbon emissions they release. These benefits include lower unemployment rates, a wider corporate tax base, access to resource royalties and a larger personal or corporate income tax base on which to draw. These levels of these benefits that exist within a jurisdiction are a direct result of the industries that operate there and the people who work in those industries.

Is it fair to expect people living in less developed regions (with lower emission output) to pay the same “carbon costs” as those who enjoy the additional benefits available in more developed (higher emission) areas?

Under a Cap and Tax Jurisdictional Plan the areas that benefit the most will be expected to pay their fair share for the economic benefits they enjoy.

The benefits of a jurisdictional approach are clear

Canada is not a “one size fits all” Country and as such a “one size fits all” solution is not the answer.

Not all jurisdictions produce the same levels of emissions and not all jurisdictions have the same economic capacity or growth agenda.

Placing the burden of responsibility directly on provincial and territorial governments, rather than on all taxpayers, provides an incentive for jurisdictions to find creative ways of reducing emissions. It also puts those jurisdictions in direct control of their own carbon destiny while ensuring national and international concerns are addressed.

A Cap and Tax Jurisdictional Plan allows each jurisdiction to tailor a unique solution to their carbon emissions and related costs. This ensures that the solution is one that will work best for their constituents and local industries. It does not place a blanket tax on every individual or business in the Country and it does not make the assumption that the federal government knows what is best for each unique region.

As with any plan that puts a dollar value on emissions there will be a resulting increase in the cost of goods and services. This is unavoidable however most Canadians are willing to shoulder those costs as long as they are fair and reasonable and as long as they recognize that it will truly make a difference to their environmental outlook.

Additional costs are a reality under either a “cap and trade” or “green shift” plan just as they are a reality under a Cap and Tax Jurisdictional Plan. The difference is that under this plan individuals and businesses in more economically depressed jurisdictions, those that are not responsible for the lion’s share of emissions, are not expected to pay higher additional taxes without regard for their role in the production of those emissions.

The plan also ensures that when a region is in compliance with their targets they are positioned to recognize additional economic benefits.

Under this plan the federal government can charge the provincial and territorial governments directly for excess emissions. This allows the process of collection to remain streamlined and cost effective so more of the revenues can go directly into a fund that can be used to help reduce emissions on a national level.

The same level of simplicity would not be possible with the collection of taxes from over 30 million individuals on a variety of products and services or in taxing/fining individual corporations for their emissions. Under those approaches the bureaucratic costs alone would seriously erode the value of any revenues collected.

With a direct provincial/territorial approach the options exist to either collect emission taxes from the 13 jurisdictional governments on an annual basis or simply deduct the value of excess emissions from existing federal transfer payments and route those revenues into the new federal “green renewal fund”.

This newly created “green renewal fund” should be dedicated to the lowering of Canada’s overall carbon footprint.

This objective can be accomplished through investments in green technology solutions, providing funding for projects such as CO 2 sequestration, the east/west power grid, clean energy development, wind and solar projects, mass transit initiatives and investment in R&D opportunities.

This approach will drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions nationally while being fair and equitable to all taxpayers and providing each jurisdiction with the flexibility and empowerment they need to manage their unique situation.

A green economy provides limitless opportunities.

A Cap and Tax Jurisdictional Plan provides an opportunity for jurisdictions to take advantage of new and positive economic opportunities that would otherwise not exist.Not only would those who enjoy the economic benefits inherent from the emission of greenhouse gases be required to pay the cost of those emissions but it is also true that new opportunities will become available for those that meet or fall below their emission targets.

Federal investment in green technologies and projects across Canada would allow jurisdictions already close to meeting their targets to almost immediately reduce their carbon footprint below the limit. It can help others to work toward meeting their goals.Once again let’s use the province of Newfoundland and Labrador as an example.

With the completion of a project like the Lower Churchill hydro development and a means to get that power to market (the east/west power grid) Newfoundland and Labrador would be capable of shutting down its major oil fired generating plant and immediately falling below its per capita Kyoto target, even based on 1990 numbers.

Once Newfoundland and Labrador has met its power needs and ensured its future capacity it could then sell any excess power generated to other jurisdictions, such as Nova Scotia or Ontario, and in doing so help them reduce their carbon footprint dramatically.This is just one example of how a Cap and Tax Jurisdictional Plan and its “green renewal fund” can benefit everyone.

While a Cap and Tax Jurisdictional Plan calls for a cap on emissions and a tax on excess output it does not directly tax individuals or allow for the trading away of carbon credits. Instead it allows each region to determine how to best handle carbon emissions and related costs and it ensures that any under-capacity in output directly benefits the people of the region by allowing them to leverage their emission shortfall in attracting new industrial and commercial growth.

Jurisdictions that meet or fall below their targets will benefit from the ability to more easily attract new industry and employment. This can be accomplished by offering less expensive carbon regimes than those to be found in already overly developed areas with higher carbon costs. This in turn would allow companies setting up shop in low carbon areas to produce their products or services at less cost than they would find in a higher carbon region.

The ability to attract new industry to underdeveloped regions would improve the economic outlook those regions and encourage higher emitting jurisdictions to further reduce their own emissions and related costs to better align their emission limits and growth potential.

A Cap and Tax Jurisdictional Plan would create a cleaner environment, fairer distribution of emission costs, a streamlined tax collection program, lower unemployment in underdeveloped regions, a more geographically dispersed economy for the benefit of all Canadians, a well funded environmental development fund and make Canada a leader in the green economy.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Canada's Economic Recovery Plan (For Dummies)

With the economy on life support, businesses closing their doors and laid off workers stacked up like chord wood across the Country the political thermostat has been cranked up on bust in Ottawa and the self serving rhetoric is flying around like hungry bees at the hive.

Unfortunately the only ones with anything to gain from all the hyperbole are the politicians themselves. Like it or not, the rest of us are on our own.

They can spin it however they like but the fact remains that there is no money available to bail out the forestry sector or the commercial fishing industry, both of which until recently employed hundreds of thousands of individuals. You see the problem with those industries, according to the Conservative talking heads, is not one that Ottawa can address. It’s all about a lack of markets for their products.

On the other hand to listen to our elected officials, you’d somehow believe that pouring billions upon billions of our tax dollars into the auto sector, which employs tens of thousands, is simply the right thing to do.

Funny, but I thought I read someplace that a lack of buyers for North American gas guzzlers was what was killing the industry. My mistake I guess.

Meanwhile, up on the Hill, the Liberals, NDP and Bloc are all claiming to be the champions of the working classes. Yes sir, they all want to be seen as standing up for little guy who’s lost his job. Why if the Harper government doesn’t soon implement changes to the qualifications for EI and help those people the opposition will…well it…

What? What exactly will Mike, Jack, Gilles do anyway?

Every MP in Ottawa knows the odds of electing another minority government are staggering. Nobody knows if the Liberals can actually win the next time out or not. According to the polls both the NDP and the Bloc stand to lose seats if an election were held right now. Add to this the fact that it would take all three parties to boot the Tories out of office, at a time when a huge percentage of MPs (mostly with the Bloc) need only one more year in office to qualify for their fat taxpayer funded pension and we all know exactly what they’ll do.

They’ll complain and attack each other for political advantage, protect their own incomes, ensure that 45 members of a party bent on splitting Canada apart get a good federally funded pension and they’ll do all of this, knowing full well that at the end of the day none of it will help the unemployed who need EI to survive.

On the topic of EI, I’m sick and tired of the rhetoric surrounding how many hours it takes to qualify. Once again the political elite and pundits have pulled Newfoundland and Labrador out of their back pockets (or from slightly to one side of it) in an effort to show how unfair the rest of the Country is being treated and how easy Newfoundlanders have it on the “rock”.

The latest trend these days is to compare the number of hours necessary to qualify in BC or Ontario, between 600 and 700 hours, while, and I quote, “…in most parts of Newfoundland it’s almost a God given right to collect and you only need the minimum of 420 hours”.

What they never mention is that the high number of hours quoted for Ontario, BC (or what ever province is the flavor of the day) is what’s needed in urban areas with low unemployment rates. By comparison, in the North East Avalon region (call it the St. John’s area if you like) you also need more than 600 hours to qualify, just as in most urban parts of Canada.

While I’m on the subject, they also don’t inform anyone that roughly half the population of Newfoundland and Labrador lives in that particular area or that in parts of Ontario and BC and across Canada there are rural areas, just like those in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the minimum number of hours are all anyone needs.

The only difference between Newfoundland and Labrador, when it comes to EI qualification, is that many other provinces have far more people living in those rural areas than Newfoundland and Labrador does and as a result are more likely to have large numbers collecting EI, or as Jim Flaherty is likely to refer to them these days, “EI finalists”.

Personally I don’t like the idea of someone only having a job for 45 days being able to collect EI for a year. On that one point Stephen Harper and I can agree, but really, why all the bawling and blaring over EI anyway? To hear Steve and Diamond Jim Flaherty talk about it you’d think lowering the number of hours required was going to crush Canada and send the national debt spiraling into some bottomless abyss.

It seems they’ve conveniently forgotten something. For years the Canadian debt was paid down by siphoning off EI premiums meant to be used in just the sort of situation the Country finds itself in today. Billions were diverted over the years to debt reduction instead of being put aside for income support. Some estimates put the figure at $50 billion or more.

In other words the comparatively low Canadian debt the Harper government is so happy to talk about in these hard times is there, in large part, thanks to $50 billion in EI premiums that were collected from individuals and businesses who thought they were paying an insurance premium. If the debt now needs to be increased by a billion or two in order to see workers and families through the tough times it’s only fair Mr. Flaherty get off his high horse and pony up.

But of course he won’t and the reason is simple.

Any increase in EI costs would impact the federal budget and debt. If, on the other hand, a large percentage of laid off workers don’t qualify for EI and instead have resort to joining the welfare rolls it’s a provincial cost to deal with and who really thinks Ottawa could give a crap about provincial deficits or crushing debt loads?

So what lessons can we take away from all of this?

1. Canada’s politicians are very concerned about job losses and stabilizing family incomes, primarily their own;

2. Money to bail out corporations in major urban centers and protect tens of thousands of jobs– Good. Money to bail out industries in rural areas and save hundreds of thousands of jobs – Bad;

3. Canada’s growing deficit isn’t the result of large corporate bailouts or unchecked federal spending. It’s being caused by laid off workers who paid into EI and who would now like to collect a little of the insurance they paid for; and

4. No matter how bad things get, or how much they improve, someone will always find a way to crap on Newfoundland and Labrador simply because it exists.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Peter Mackay "Happy" about NL Search and Rescue Services

Just two months after 17 offshore oil workers tragically lost their lives in a helicopter crash off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, Federal Minister of Defence, Peter Mackay, said last week that his government will not be looking into changing the way Search and Rescue activities are conducted in Newfoundland and Labrador and that he is, “happy with the current configuration”.

I’d like to suggest to Mr. Mackay that perhaps he should pull on a survival suit and have someone drop him off about a hundred or so miles off the coast on a chilly spring day. After an hour or two of bobbing around, if he’s still breathing, the Minister should once again be asked if he is comfortable with the status quo.

Mr. Mackay’s comments came on the same day that former Chief Justice, T. Alex Hickman, the man who headed up the inquiry into the Ocean Ranger disaster, reiterated his concern about rescue services in the area and called once again for an improvement to those services.

Mackay's comments also came after a Cougar Helicopters spokesperson informed the public that Cougar, which runs the closest commercial rescue helicopters to the Province's offshore oil platforms is incapable of performing night rescues. A service that can be performed by Search and Rescue choppers which are not stationed near the oil fields and are not available for immediate response during the overnight hours.

Nobody is saying that any of the seventeen people who died during the recent offshore helicopter crash would have survived if Search and Rescue services had been faster but one thing is for certain. At the time of the crash there was not a single Search and Rescue helicopter in the Province. They were all away on training exercises in Nova Scotia.

The lone survivor was rescued by a Cougar Helicopter crew.

In my day one and one always equaled two.

In this case it's pretty clear that had that terrible crash happened at night instead of in the morning, the death toll would have surely included another name.

Luck and good timing are not the kind of "configuration" most of us would want to depend upon for our survival if we were the ones suddenly faced with a life expectancy of hours or even minutes.

For Mr. Mackay to say he's OK with the practice of allowing Search and Rescue to leave the Province without any service while conducting training is callous at best. To say it's acceptable that rescue crews are available "on call" after regular business hours (4 pm) while knowing full well that the private sector backup option cannot operate at night, is nothing more than cold hearted, disgusting and neglegence of the highest order.

The Minister's attitude is a slap in the face to the family of every person who has died at sea in recent years.

In the latest tragedy off Newfoundland and Labrador's shores nobody can directly point to an impact relating from the poor level of service being offered by the federal government but there are other cases where its been shown that even a reasonable level of service would have saved lives.

I’m sure in all these cases the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and especially the families of the victims involved, will find it hard to understand Mr. Mackay’s cold and callous position on this.

I began this article by suggesting that Mr. Mackay might benefit from spending a little time bobbing around the North Atlantic in a survival suit. I’d like to retract that statement and suggest instead that the Minister of Defence try it in February, without a survival suit, after dark, on a weekend while Search and Rescue crews are away on training.

In doing so he might actually accomplish something worthwhile for his Country, if only once.