Tue, Dec 10, 2013
Well, all good things must come to an end. But don’t worry: God never closes a popular alternative newsweekly without opening a void in everybody’s heart. At least we’ll always have the VOCM Friday Night Sex Show.
Towards the end of The Republic, Plato’s timeless work of political philosophy/homoerotic fanfiction, the philosopher warns us about the coming of Democratic Man. Democratic Man, he says, values his personal freedom and enjoyment so highly that he will shun even the slightest restriction on his behaviour—not only the laws of his society, but even the basic discipline of common sense. Here, the greatest degree of freedom —the unfettered pursuit of any and all desires, no matter how crude or self-destructive—slips into the greatest degree of slavery. Democratic Man is a slave to his own stupid self, and he contains the embryo of absolute Tyranny. It should go without saying, Plato adds, that putting him in charge would be a pretty good way to ruin a city.
Fast forward 2500 years, and this is a pretty accurate picture of the surreal spectacle that is His Worshipful Robert B. Ford, “Mayor” of Toronto.
Where to begin? Rob Ford is a crack-smoking, drunk-driving, racist, sexist, homophobic piece of crap. He’s also a liar. There are hundreds of pages of police surveillance documenting him exchanging mysterious packages with criminals, urinating in public spaces, and chugging vodka in the woods behind a high school—all during working hours. Most of the people in the ‘crack photo’ with him are either dead or in prison, and the Toronto Star has a video of him stomping around his living room, blitzed out of his mind, yelling about either murdering someone or wrestling them in his underwear (which is, arguably, a fate worse than death). In one of the eight million awkward press conferences he’s held to defend himself, he deflected accusations of sexually harassing an associate with a terrible one-liner about eating out his wife. In the middle of the council meeting to strip him of his mayoral powers, he compared himself to Kuwait and the Toronto City Council to Saddam; he then got into a screaming match with the public gallery and pushed a woman to the floor. There will probably be more by the time you read this sentence. It’s like they set a season of the Trailer Park Boys inside Toronto’s city hall.
Best of all, there is nothing anyone can do about any of this. Rob Ford refuses to resign and, because no one ever anticipated that a bumbling idiot without a functioning sense of shame would ever become the mayor of the largest city in Canada, there is no impeachment process. In fact, Rob Ford’s popularity has actually gone up since he first copped to smoking crack. Improbably, the over-privileged son of a provincial politician who seems to live to flout the law has become a beloved symbol of “tough on crime” suburban conservatives—you know, the exact people who, if given the chance, would institute the death penalty for anyone caught smoking a joint within 50 miles of a school zone. The same day Rob Ford threw his wife under the public-relations bus, SUN News gave him a prime time television slot where Ezra Levant, in total sincerity, compared him to Princess Diana. The show was cancelled immediately, but for a very large subset of people (maybe enough to get him re-elected), Rob Ford is a folk hero standing up for the little guy against a vast left-wing conspiracy.
How did it come to this? Throughout this whole ordeal Ford has kept thumping his chest that, in lieu of God, only the voters can judge him. He is the culmination of a thirty year counter-revolution in Canadian democracy, initiated by the Reform party, to make an angry mob the final arbiter of political truth. He is a monster of Conservatism’s own making, a Nickelback album translated into political power. He even told FOX News that he wants to be Prime Minister, and given that the locus of power in Canada has shifted from the Centre to the West and from the city to the suburbs, “Ford Nation” might be the future of this country. And who knows? Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. It’s not like crooks and liars don’t already hold all the levers of power in Canada lately. Putting someone like Rob Ford in the Prime Minister’s Office might actually be the most honest thing to do.
But maybe the wildest outcome of the Rob Ford saga is that politics in Newfoundland and Labrador looks positively sane by comparison. The Liberals wrapped up a surprisingly civil leadership contest in November, and long-time interim leader Dwight Ball came out on top. Supporters gave a resounding thumbs-down to both St. John’s oligarchs vying for the top spot, proving in Cathy Bennett’s case that you can’t just crash the Liberal party after working on the government’s agenda and expect to buy the leadership—especially if the core of your platform is ‘I love the thing your party hates.’ In fact, the leadership went so well (and their partisan opponents are doing so badly) that the Liberals actually look like a viable political party for the first time in over a decade. If they can finally clean up their financial mess, we might end up with a pretty ballsy premier come 2015.
We got a taste of this provincial sea change the other night in the Carbonear-Harbour Grace by-election. Liberal Sam Slade trounced PC Jack Harrington in the contest over Jerome Kennedy’s empty seat, taking it with a margin of victory higher than the NDP candidate’s total vote count. This is great for the Liberals, but it’s not exactly earth-shattering, considering that they carried momentum out of a leadership and were able to shift those campaign machines directly into the ground war. The real story here is the Tories—this district was one of their biggest blowouts in the 2011 election, so this loss cements the steady death spiral they’ve been in for the last eighteen months. The writing is on the wall: what they’re doing isn’t working. But can they turn the ship around? Given Kathy Dunderdale’s rather incredulous response to the results—suggesting a genuine inability to see how they’d done anything wrong—I’m not holding my breath. And as for the NDP, the party’s embarrassing showing that day may have proved Dale Kirby and Chris Mitchelmore right when they diagnosed the problems with Lorraine Michael’s leadership, but it also underscored that their cure might have been worse than the disease.
So, there you go. I guess the last piece of news I have for you is that this is where we part ways. It’s been a slice, St. John’s. If at any point along the way I made you smile or think, then this has all been worth it. Our country might be f***ed, but if there was ever a time to mobilize that sublime and abiding sense of humour Newfoundlanders and Labradorians carry in their bones, this is it. These are the days that we will talk about. So keep your eyes peeled and your heart open, because a better world is calling. Catch you on the flip side.
Thu, Oct 31, 2013
Good news: winter is coming! No wait, that’s terrible news. I’m sorry.
New Brunswick was the latest flashpoint for eco-terrorism this month after a bunch of ungrateful Natives senselessly lobbed molotov cocktails into the smiling face of the Canadian state. At least, this is what a proto-fascist wordsmith named Rex Murphy would have you believe. As it happened: charged with enforcing an illegitimate injunction against anti-fracking protestors blockading the roads to an oil exploration site in the Elsipogtog First Nation, several hundred police officers moved against the hitherto peaceably assembled Mi’kmaq and allies with assault rifles drawn, attack dogs barking, and rubber bullets ready to go. Tensions spiked, chaos ensued, and at least 40 protestors (including Elsipogtog Chief Aaron Sock) were arrested by the time the morning raid was over.
The timing couldn’t have been more perversely sublime. On Tuesday October 15th, James Anaya, the UN’s special rapporteur on indigenous rights, declared that Canada is facing a crisis in how it treats its indigenous peoples. The next day in the Speech from the Throne, Governor General David Johnston praised the spirit of those brave pioneers who “forged an independent country where none would have otherwise existed,” conveniently glossing over the independent aboriginal groups that the European nation-forgers displaced. The following morning, hundreds of police were deployed to forcibly remove Mi’kmaq protestors from land they had never ceded, in order to accelerate a resource extraction project to which they had never agreed. Colonialism is alive and well in Canada: the state’s message was louder than bombs. Everyone wringing their hands about the disrespect those protestors showed to the ‘rule of law’ might want to double-check that some of those laws aren’t themselves built out of—and in support of—the ongoing dispossession of this continent’s original inhabitants. The injustice of it all is enough to make you lose your mind; maybe that’s what happened to Rex.
For that matter, the fallibility of our laws (and certainly of our lawmakers) remains the feature attraction in the three-ring circus better known as the Canadian Senate. Despised Senator Mike Duffy, a man who most of us would now expect to find pictured in the dictionary next to the word ‘corruption’, lobbed an atom bomb into the Prime Minister’s Office when he stood on the floor of the Red Chamber and declared that Stephen Harper was the one who ordered him to take Nigel Wright’s $90,000 lifeline. By Duffy’s account, Harper ordered him to repay the money irrespective of whether or not he’d done anything wrong, but simply because of the perception of illegal spending that had been created by the media. In exchange, Harper promised to keep the Conservative Senators who controlled Duffy’s internal audit in line, and ensure that he wasn’t suspended from the Senate. This end of the bargain was of course scuttled by the PMO as soon as revelations of Wright’s cheque to Duffy went public. Duffy later declared that there was not one cheque from Wright, but a second: $13,560, approved by a Conservative party lawyer, to cover Duffy’s legal fees. If Duffy’s claims are true (and he’s allegedly got the documents to prove it), this puts the Prime Minister of Canada at the very epicentre of the Senate spending scandal. No matter what comes out of all this, they may as well abolish the Senate right now because it’s never going to be this interesting again.
But while we’re on the topic of explosive backroom drama going public, the provincial New Democratic Party did a pretty amazing job of immolating itself in full view of everyone last month. Leader Lorraine Michael returned from a vacation in October only to get blindsided by an email from her four comrades in caucus asking for a leadership convention in the interests of strengthening the party and “attracting quality candidates” ahead of the 2015 election. In response, Michael goes on CBC television the next day and announces that she had no idea any of this was coming, that she feels “betrayed,” and that she’s ready to start a civil war. Coup spokesman Dale Kirby (née Brutus) called VOCM that night to insist that caucus decided to dump this on her through an email rather than face-to-face (or even basic courtesy call) because they felt it would be a more “non-confrontational” approach, which more or less sold the public on the idea that this was a knife to the back.
All hell continued breaking loose. Gerry Rogers lamented that she’d made a terrible mistake, and George Murphy blubbered to the Telegram about being Lorraine’s Judas. Chris Mitchelmore waffled a bit when the story first broke, but came back resolved to oust the leader while Kirby stuck to his guns the whole time. The party tried to get all this under media lockdown to limit the damage, but Murphy decided to set himself on fire by doing his own surprise CBC interview lamenting that he’d inadvertently betrayed Lorraine, that he and Rogers had been pressured into signing the offending letter (which they allegedly did not fully understand), and that they had unsuccessfully tried to stop Kirby from sending it. Kirby was then forced to respond by giving another CBC interview clarifying that no one had to be pressured into signing anything, and that presumably two MHAs whose job requires them to scrutinize government legislation would have been able to understand a simple one page letter and the basic rules of their party’s constitution. Let there be no doubt about the NDP’s leftist cred: this is the sort of schism that would make the Communist Party of Canada and the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) blush with envy.
As evidenced by the fairly rapid and spectacular public backfiring, everyone involved handled this about as poorly as possible. There are legitimate arguments that can (and have) been made that Michael should step aside or otherwise submit to a leadership review in the interests of growing the party. The NDP has been steady in the polls for a while now, to the extent that they are polling behind a leader-less Liberal party. But caucus underestimated Lorraine Michael’s internal support and its own resolve; the weak links in the chain were shattered. The result was an excoriating week that had at least one MHA openly musing about quitting the party and was only resolved after caucus spent two days hunkered down in a secret location with a mediator. While Michael managed to win her battle for the leadership, her party is now almost guaranteed to lose the war. Now that Kirby and Mitchelmore have left caucus to sit as Independents, the implosion of the provincial NDP is all but complete.
But even still, the NDP aren’t the biggest public relations amateurs in town. Jim Bennett, perpetual underdog in the Liberal leadership race, inadvertently (so he claims) invoked the Holocaust last month when he lamented that the Canada-Europe Trade Agreement was the Harper government’s “Final Solution” to the question of the Newfoundland fishery. He later clarified his position such that while he never meant to belittle the industrialized murder of six million Jews in equating it with the elimination of tariffs governing the export of seafood from the province, he insisted that such a change in regulatory regimes would nonetheless constitute the active “cultural genocide” of rural Newfoundland.
Couldn’t have said it better myself, buddy. Good luck in November.
Wed, Oct 30, 2013
Known for his discerning palate, Jamie the harp seal died suddenly and mysteriously on Friday, October 11. He was 19 years old.
Daryl Jones, seal overseer at Memorial University’s Ocean Sciences Centre on Logy Bay Road, says Jamie had been fine in the days leading up to his death, and autopsy results have been inconclusive. The search for answers is now put on hold while his friends, fans, and keepers await the results of tissue sample tests which have been sent to the mainland for analysis.
Jamie was the Major Charles Emerson Winchester III of the OSC seal herd: his appearance haughty and sophisticated (for a seal at least), his demeanour high-strung and somewhat temperamental, with impeccable taste in fine Atlantic herring—refusing to anything but the best, most immaculate fish.
Jamie was an OSC lifer, born at the centre in 1994. He is survived by his mother Babette (about 35 years old), stepfather Tyler (23 years old), step-siblings Lenny (13) and Deanne (11), and a multitude of fans who have visited the seal observation deck, which is open year-round in Logy Bay and via webcam on the Ocean Science Centre website (www.goo.gl/AYvmRP).
While Jamie’s life at the Ocean Science Centre might have been about as relaxed as life for a seal can get, it was not an all-you-can-eat herring buffet with fish balls on the weekend (a plastic whiffle-ball-like thing filled with frozen capelin that the seals are treated to on the weekends) the seals do have to earn their keep. They’re put through daily paces as part of an extensive enrichment program. The real world is a stimulating and trying place for a seal, so to recreate those conditions, unlike the faux rocks and whatever else a zoo might do to feign authentic habitat, the Ocean Sciences Centre seals participate in a series of training exercises to keep their minds and bodies sharp. This includes an elaborate matching game called “Match to Sample,” that the seals play twice per day. Not unlike Let’s Make a Deal, each seal faces three doors and the middle door opens, revealing an object, then the doors on either side open revealing two more objects—one that matches the sample in the middle. The seal then must choose the matching object. They get it right and they are rewarded with a bite of fish. Get it wrong and they get the horn and have to try again.
There are other games, or training, the seals participate in that help both keep them active, sharp, and well fed, and to help their keepers handle them in a safe and efficient manner. The Ocean Sciences Centre is home to the only enrichment program for captive seals like this in the world.
Each seal also has their blood, whiskers (vibrissae, in scientific seal-talk), size and weight monitored regularly.
The Ocean Sciences Centre seals have been the leading subjects of some of the most advanced harp seal biological and behavioral research in the world, so the loss of Jamie is not only a tremendous loss for his tight-knit seal and human family at the Ocean Sciences Centre, but also for seal science in general.
He will be missed.
Wed, Oct 2, 2013
Let me be the first to greet the dawn of a phallocratic golden age in the city of St. John’s. I loved the first season of Mad Men and I’m excited to see how the b’ys handle the next downtown parking complexes. As a bonus, a great way for the all-male council to raise new revenue could be to open a Long Dick’s Sausage Emporium franchise inside city hall. Hell, they’re already halfway there.
But it could always be worse. Take the current situation in Quebec. The Parti Québécois government last month unveiled legislation that would establish a ‘Charter of Quebec Values’ aimed at entrenching an aggressive secularism in all the province’s public institutions. Well, sort of. Daycare workers and elementary school teachers would be prohibited from wearing hijabs or turbans in the classroom, for instance, but the enormous crucifix on the wall of the province’s National Assembly wouldn’t be going anywhere. If you think this looks a little one-sided, you’re not alone. This proposal has raised a good many hackles both inside Quebec and out.
In a lot of ways, it’s easy to understand where the Péquistes are coming from. Militant secularism has been a hallmark of French society since the Reign of Terror. This idea took a little longer to cross the Atlantic, but by the time René Levesque came to power in 1976 the Quiet Revolution had effectively jettisoned Catholicism from public life in Quebec. To be Québécois in the 21st century is to be cool about religion, and emphatically egalitarian. And it’s an easy argument to make: separation of church and state is one of the basic requirements of a liberal democracy. We are a multicultural society, and precisely because there are so many different, competing ideas about how the universe works (and how we behave ourselves in it), the state must ensure that we don’t privilege any one perspective in particular. Instead, it has to establish a public space where we can put our differences aside to live and work together. Religion is an intensely private, personal affair—our religious beliefs (or lack thereof) are ethical differences, and these can be dangerously divisive. In public there must be only Québécois: citizens as absolute equals.
This is a beautiful idea in theory. In practice, as it is proposed in Quebec right now, this is not what we would see. An image of the crucified Redeemer hangs in judgement above the seat of public power in Quebec City. A giant cross at the summit of Mont Royal would continue to cast its shadow over one of the most multicultural cities in the western world. The PQ government insists this Christian iconography must remain in place, because they are symbols of Québécois history and culture. And, insofar as ‘Québécois’ stands for the white, ‘pure laine’ French-Canadians who can trace their ancestry back to the fur trappers who first kicked the Mohawk out of Oka, they’re right. Catholicism, even if it’s now just a wistful cultural memory, has played a defining role in French-Canadian identity.
There is nothing wrong with acknowledging and even celebrating this. But many Quebeckers are not pure laine. Many are anglophones, and many more are the allophones that give Canadian cities their cosmopolitan shimmer. Laws preventing religious expression are effectively preventing these minority groups from expressing their identities in public. This is implicitly recognized by the PQ in their very insistence on keeping Catholic relics in place for everyone to see. They understand how important this kind of cultural expression is. They are even prepared to accept that ‘ostentatious’ religious iconography can exist in the public sphere without puncturing its secular pluralism, but only if it’s the white man’s religion, to remind everyone who is ‘really’ Québécois. If you think what I’m saying is harsh, go check on YouTube for videos of just how brutally this sentiment has been communicated to minorities since this Charter was announced. On the streets, this law makes Quebec society more hostile to minority cultures.
And it is here that ‘Quebec Values’ run up against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Canadian Charter is founded on the recognition that religious and cultural symbolism—that is, group identity—doesn’t need to be repressed to create an egalitarian secular space. The only requirement is that no one belief system is privileged above any other. There is nothing wrong with a Sikh carrying a ceremonial knife in solidarity with all God’s children in a space where everyone else is equally free to respectfully express their own metaphysical commitments. This is a formally thinner, yet infinitely richer, secularism. And compared to the Quebec Charter, it’s also a lot more honest.
At any rate, in a case where a provincial value goes up against a Charter-sustained Canadian one, the former will be crushed in a court of law. Stephen Harper has signalled that his government would make this move. But given how well ‘Quebec Values’ are polling in la belle province, such a ruling might be the catalyst sovereigntists need to start lurching us towards a new referendum. La plus ça change, hein?
Kathy Dunderdale, meanwhile, can only dream that her bad ideas might poll half as well as Pauline Marois’. The latest CRA opinion poll confirmed last month that the Tory government has bottomed out in third place, behind both the NDP and whatever it is that passes for the Liberal party these days. Roughly two-thirds of everybody is dissatisfied with the government’s performance, and the premier herself is so deeply disliked that The Telegram literally ran a front page op-ed calling on her to resign. Let there be no doubt: heavy is the head that wears the crown in this province.
And in all seriousness, resignation is not such a bad idea. It’s very unlikely, barring direct divine intervention and/or a Faustian bargain, that Dunderdale’s personal brand is ever going to recover to the point that it’s electorally viable. But there remains an outside chance that this doesn’t carry over to the PC party. By law, if the premier resigns, we need to have an election within the year. If this happened in the immediate future, it would catch the Liberals—their chief rivals, according to the poll—in a compromised position as they recovered from what increasingly appears to be a bitter leadership contest. As the centre-left parties fought it out, the Tories could tap whatever brain trust they might have waiting in the wings, rebrand with a new leader, and conceivably stand a fighting chance of retaining state power in the next election. It’s a real Hail Mary, but I think it’s their best bet.
Of course, this will never happen. The latest PC convention more or less confirms the tropes that the public is reading into the Dunderdale administration—that they’re insulated, decadent, and condescending. They’re not going to make any serious changes, because they don’t think anything’s wrong. If you don’t understand or like Muskrat Falls, or Bill 29, or the last provincial budget, tough—you’re the one with the problem. Why does the government have to justify itself to you? If you don’t weep with affirmation at the sight of Steve Kent’s tweets, then truly the Lord has hardened your heart.
In Quebec, at least, the government has the poll numbers to support a holier-than-thou approach. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the government is taking its mandate largely on blind faith.
Wed, Aug 28, 2013
Fellow citizens of St. John’s, we are on the brink of big change. Real change. And you get to play a part.
This upcoming municipal election is exciting. And important. Along with some quality veteran councillors who know what they’re at, you folks have the opportunity to elect a slate of passionate, open-minded people who seem like they will actually listen to you beyond the point where you promise them your vote. There are some truly promising people running in this election, and there are wide-open spaces for them to fill: veteran councillors Shannie Duff, Gerry Colbert and Frank Galgay are bowing out, as is councillor Debbie Hanlon.
That’s four out of eleven people.
On top of that, St. John’s is in full-on crazy boom mode. With offshore oil developments nearing their peak (haha, peak!) and others on the horizon, the prospects for our economy are looking friggin’ good. Basically, there are dollar bills flying out of oil pipes, raining down on us like if we were in a video with Fat Joe. And it’s up to us to decide what to do with that cash.
This election will affect the people living in St. John’s for a long, long time. Which means a lot of positive, awesome things could happen as a result of the decisions you make this month.
We spent the past month talking to people engaged in local politics, sifting through campaign websites, and reading back through council minutes. We also sent a questionnaire to each candidate running in the election, hounded them to complete it, and sat around debating issues from toll booths on Pitts Memorial to the balancing act between vision and teamwork in council chambers.
We chose the people we think ought to sit behind the big desks at City Hall. Our endorsements are based in part on their responses to our questionnaire, in part on their history, and in part on recommendations from trusted sources.
We looked for leaders who are articulate, flexible and adaptable enough to keep up with changes in thinking and social awareness. We looked for people with new ideas.
As for our pet issues, we like the idea of increasing urban density and putting the brakes on unnecessary sprawl. We think the next council should be tech-savvy and able to reach people where they’re spending time online. We like bicycles a lot, and we’d like to see the bike initiative work out. We’d also like to see increased transparency and accessibility. Shouldn’t we be able to have a say when projects like the harbour fence are enacted?
Here are the candidates that get the official Scope nod for City of St. John’s Municipal Election on September 24th.
Sheilagh is big on public consultation, she cares about making neighbourhoods as livable as possible, and on creating a progressive municipal plan that pays attention to environmental issues. She has shown herself to change her tune when the public reaction called for it. The big example of this would be her retroactive contempt for the harbour fence project that she, along with the rest of council, voted for. This could be seen as a good thing (she listens to public outcry!) or bad thing (she didn’t do her homework!)
She’s accessible and heavily involved in the community, and we think she’ll lead a progressive and innovative city.
The mayoral race is the one to watch.
O’Keefe can rightly feel confident that he has a good shot at re-election, and he’s running a quiet, front-runner style of campaign. But, while Chaulk’s candidacy has been marred by more gaffs than a flounder boat and more WTF moments than primetime on TLC, O’Leary has been out there every day with new comments on different issues.
In the 2009 election, she was elected as a councillor-at-large by
the largest number of votes in St. John’s electoral history—24,056 votes. For comparison, O’Keefe won the mayoral race in the same election with 20,944 votes.
[CORRECTION: While O'Leary won the greatest number of votes that year, it was not the greatest number of votes in St. John's electoral history. In fact, O'Keefe himself, in 2001, won his at-large seat with 26,122 votes. The Scope regrets the error.]
Realistically, it’s going to be a showdown between O’Keefe and O’Leary.
Geoff Chaulk has a long career in public service in the realm of healthcare. According to his questionnaire, Chaulk is a cat-loving, “54-year-old, chronically single man” who left for Toronto for a large part of his career. The major issues Chaulk is campaigning on include affordable housing, emergency preparedness, and a revolutionary idea to tax commuters residing in outlying towns. The commuter tax idea has earned Chaulk some scorn in the court of popular opinion, but it’s actually not the worst idea we’ve ever heard. That said, it’s been hard to take Chaulk seriously as a mayoral candidate. If he was more realistic, he would have run in a ward or at-large.
Dennis O’Keefe is a candidate of the status quo who does pay lip service to heritage and planning issues at times, but has not always backed that up with action. Case in point—when Fortis wanted to redevelop their tower on the corner of Water and Prescott, and at the same time tear down a block of several adjoining heritage buildings which are an integral part of the post-1892 streetscape, O’Keefe was on board right away. He tried to say that anyone who opposed him was against jobs and against development. It never came to a vote and Fortis decided to build their new office tower on vacant land at the bottom of Springdale, but it was an interesting indication of O’Keefe’s thinking.
“His modus operandi is from back in the 90s when it was felt that you had to practically beg developers to build something,” said one of the people we spoke with. Today, though, with our economy, we are in a position to demand good development, and reject bad. If there is a market for the development, it will probably happen, and the conditions we place on it is what we demand in exchange for a better city in the long run.
For the majority of the election cycle, Ron Ellsworth was the only candidate running for deputy mayor. Noted transgender rights activist Jennifer McCreath has been hinting at a run for council for a few weeks now, only to announce that she wasn’t running, then, just before we went to press, she officially announced she’s running for deputy mayor against Ellsworth.
Our vote here would go to Ellsworth, however. It’s good to have someone on council who will comb through the finances and question whatever he thinks doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, even though we won’t always agree with his philosophy. He shares the laissez-faire perspective on development of a few others on council, which means if it meets engineering standards and doesn’t impact nearby low density suburbs, he’ll likely be voting in favour.
That said, he’s held the office before, so he has the benefit of experience on his side. He’s the best and most logical choice for deputy mayor.
We can do business with this guy. He’s got some clout (he’s chair of the finance committee) and some experience on council. He seems like a good hand with the finances. Thumbs up from the Scope.
There are some strong contestants in the Ward 2 race and it’s going to be a tough one to call, but Andrew Harvey is our pick.
There, we said it.
It’s no secret that he and The Scope have had a relationship over the past four years. But the reason we contacted him to cover city politics for us four years ago was because we were impressed with his vision for the city, his energy, his friendly spirit, and his persistence (part of us thinks he hasn’t stopped campaigning since last election, to be honest.)
And we stayed impressed with him. He stuck with the original weird and slightly boring gig of live-tweeting city council meetings, and no other media outlet could beat his live-tweeting attendence. He also never missed a print deadline.
Harvey has been busy advocating for affordable housing for the past six years, so he’s familiar with the ins, outs and in-betweens of this complex and important issue. It makes sense to us (tweet tweet) that he’s also big on connecting with the electorate via the web.
Other Ward Two Candidates
As for the other candidates, Jonathan Galgay seems a nice guy, and his uncle (Frank Galgay) is the outgoing Ward 2 councillor, and he has experience working on public policy at the provincial and federal level, but we couldn’t get a sense of his vision from our questionnaire or from the people we asked about him. In comparison with Lono, Fitzgerald and Harvey, all of whom ran for office in the 2009 municipal election, Galgay has the least experience on the election scene. That said, and no faulting the guy, we’re suspecting most of his votes may come from a case of mistaken identity.
Fitzgerald was runner up in the 2009 election and we can’t say we love his shrug-inducing slogan “Why Not Scott?” he looks to be mounting a pretty vigorous challenge in this race.
Simon Lono would be our runner up against Harvey here. His political bona fides are good. In his own words, he’s a “longtime community/neighbourhood activist with a keen interest in youth leadership and a strong background in public policy.”
[Update: Shortly after press, Simon Lono withdrew from the race, citing health reasons.]
Sarah Colborne Penney
There are three people vying for election in Ward 3, which encompasses much of the city’s west end. We have incumbent councillor Bruce Tilley, who has had a long history with municipal politics. Going toe-to-toe with Tilley are Walter Harding, a sales and marketing guy, and Sarah Colborne Penney, a non-practising lawyer and community volunteer.
We think Sarah Colborne Penney is the best choice for Ward 3. She is heavily involved in the community, and she offered the most thorough, ward-specific responses to our questionnaire. Of all three candidates for the Ward 3 race, she knows what she’s talking about and she’s the one who most obviously cares about Ward 3.
As of press time, incumbent Councillor Tilley hadn’t sent us a response to our questionnaire. He’s got a reputation for being in favour of building all buildings everywhere, regardless of heritage regulations so long as the people in his suburban ward don’t complain. He isn’t exactly the visionary we’re looking for on the next council.
Walter Harding has been campaigning for ages now, and we award him full points for perseverance.
Ward 4 encompasses MUN, the area up along Thorburn Road and around the Avalon Mall, and Churchill Park among other places. The ward was served by Debbie Hanlon who is vacating the position. (She seems to have vacated the position a few months early, actually, since nary a peep was heard from her all summer long.)
Anyone taking up the mantle for Ward 4 will be expected to advocate for the revitalization of Churchill Square, among a raft of other ward-specific issues.
There are two people running: Bernard Davis, who works as the executive director of the Church Lads’ Brigade, and Lou Puddister, a local businessman. This is Puddister’s first run for council, and Davis ran in 2009, narrowly losing a spot as a councillor-at-large to Gerry Colbert. Both of these candidates have kept a lower profile than some of the others running in this election.
The majority of our decision was based on a close reading of each candidate’s answers to our questionnaire. We’re pretty sure that “Meh” is not how we want to feel after reading through an election platform.
Lou Puddister’s business background will come in handy when called upon to tackle issues in Churchill Square. His stance on property taxes is promising too (as in, don’t increase ‘em any more). On the whole, we’d feel better about him for Ward 4.
[Update: After The Scope went to press, candidate Tracy Holmes entered the race for Ward 4.]
Ward 5 is going to go to Wally Collins, no doubt about it.
“The Goulds tends to settle on a candidate once every generation,” said one of the people we consulted. “He’s unbeatable.”
Up until very close to press time, Collins was running unopposed, but Sherwin Flight has stepped up to challenge his reign. Flight is awesome, from what we can tell. He once created a website that tracked pedestrian accidents in St. John’s. More recently, he created a website— www.stjohns2013.ca—that’s possibly the most comprehensive source of information on the upcoming election, purely to engage voters. We used it extensively while doing our research for this feature.
We like Flight so much that it’s with great pains that we endorse Wally Collins for Ward 5. Collins rules. He’s known far and wide as a man of straight talk, and in his words he’s “running to finish some of the projects [he’s] started in Ward 5 and to assist and aid [his] constituents.”
One highlight from this last go-round of council was his disdain for council’s decision to preserve the bandstand in Bannerman Park, calling it a “piss-pot.” Plus, the man has a perfect attendance record. Vote for this guy.
There are thirteen candidates vying for four positions in the at-large race. There are some very obvious choices. There are a few nos, and a few people we’re neither stoked on nor antipathetical toward.
Art Puddister is a no. One of our consultants told us that, based on his performance last time on council, we wouldn’t find anyone less interested in working with community groups and understanding the issues around development. As we were told, “if you love suburban sprawl and couldn’t care less about heritage, if you want to see the northeast Avalon become a suburban, power-centred wasteland with fewer heritage buildings, vote for this guy.”
Tom Hann, one of the two incumbents running, also gets a no from us. He’s an apologist for the current [incredibly awful] Metrobus service. Hann tends to be pretty negative. In council he’s good at shooting down ideas, he picks fights, and he makes snide comments. Not cool.
There is also downtown business magnate Lorne Loder. He would definitely be a strong advocate for local business on council, but he has no other experience with politics that we know of, and we’re not sure what he’s all about.
We also have Deanne Stapleton, who’s run for council numerous times in the past. It’s pretty hard for us to get excited about her vision for the city.
Community activist Lionel West took unsuccessful runs at the Ward 3 seat in the last two elections. He’s very well-informed and his answers to our questionnaire were satisfactory. Same could be said for Cecil Whitten, who is a well-known disability rights advocate.
We endorse incumbent councillor-at-large Sandy Hickman. Hickman’s history on council has been pretty good. He’s generally been an example of the type of competent, progressive community leaders that we’re keen to have more of on council. His experience as a member of council would also be an asset given that there will be a lot of new faces elected to city hall this September.
We also endorse Derek Winsor for the position. The man has cred. He’s the manager of Bridges To Hope, an organization that does outreach and provides services including a food bank to citizens in need. He used to be a school board rep who resigned to protest rural school closures. Let’s tally it up shall we: Works to help out needy citizens? Familiar with bureaucratic organizations and not afraid to make a stand? Sold. Vote for this guy.
Same goes for Fred Winsor. Seriously, this guy is legit. He’s Ph.D-educated in Atlantic Canadian studies and works as the conservation chair for the Atlantic Canada chapter of the Sierra Club. Every person we consulted with during the endorsement deliberations stated unequivocally that Fred Winsor is hands-down the best candidate for councillor-at-large, period. Smart, organized, environmentally conscious and socially conscious? You know what to do.
And that leaves Dave Lane, another candidate we think is the bee’s knees. Lane is the real deal. He the founder of Happy City, a nonprofit sorta think-tank devoted to making St. John’s a better place. He’s also been on manifold other city-building committees and organizations. He knows his stuff, he has a progressive vision for the city, and we believe he has the energy and the drive to get it done.
Not convinced? Read the unedited questionnaire results (PDF) from each of the candidates below.
For voting information, ballot drop off locations or to get on the voter’s list, visit stjohns.ca
By The Scope Motley Editorial Crue
(Drew Brown, Elling Lien, Nathan Downey & Sarah Smellie)
Wed, Aug 28, 2013
I know solstices and equinoxes are actually supposed to break up the flow of seasons, but let’s be real: Summer ends when September begins, and this is especially true in any place that fills up with college and university students. Unfortunately for all the newcomers, the St. John’s harbour has been fenced off by Big Port Authority and their puppets on city council, extinguishing freedom in the city forever. Excuse me while I pour out a 40 of gin over this burning Republican flag.
Anyways, it’s been a wild few months. A small town in Quebec exploded, it is now illegal to be gay in Russia, and Pamela Wallin may turn out to be an even bigger sleveen than Mike Duffy. Syria remains a delightful tourist destination. Calgary was briefly underwater, and the survivors were punished for it with a Nickelback concert. The US Army whistleblower formerly known as Bradley Manning (now Chelsea) was sentenced to 35 years in prison for exposing American war crimes, which is approximately infinity more years than any of the exposed perpetrators will actually face in jail time. And, of course, Hydro-Quebec is finally on the litigation offensive over water management rights to the Churchill River, which means local Muskrat Falls cynics might finally get some Pyrrhic vindication if (when?) the province loses in court. If it wasn’t for a killer new Kanye album, this would have been a pretty depressing summer.
But all this is in the past now, so jettison it into the abyss in wait beyond the 30-second margins of the postmodern attention span. Speaking of memory loss, smoking dope is now a major issue in federal politics after Justin Trudeau not only came out in support of ending marijuana prohibition, but admitted to blazing up himself since becoming a sitting MP. Stephen Harper’s press office was quick to point out that his asthma prevented him from ever smoking anything, and the federal NDP disclosed that while Thomas Mulcair is cool enough to have gotten high in the past, he would not be disclosing the last time he smoked nor the identity of his supplier. This is a refreshing look at how the Canadian Left has adopted the sort of media defensiveness that wins elections in this country.
Personally, I’m inclined to greet Trudeau’s admission that he puffed on a joint three years ago with a giant disinterested shrug. Conservative commentators, of course, argue the exact opposite. ‘The law is the Law,’ they say—nevermind that a pan-Canadian group of police chiefs just decided at a conference that slapping people with possession charges for less than 30 grams of weed is a waste of time and money, that a majority of Canadians favour legalization, and that most policy studies demonstrate prohibition is a failure. Getting mildly stoned at a barbecue makes him a terrible role model for children, and it’s blatant disrespect to the Parliamentary legacy established by John A. Macdonald, noted sobriety enthusiast. Spending this much time courting the ever reliable stoner electorate might be a losing gamble on the Liberals’ part, but I doubt sparking up that fated spliff is what sends Trudeau up in smoke.
Of course, the grass is always greener on our side of the harbour fence. Hydro-Quebec’s lawsuit against Nalcor notwithstanding, it’s been a pretty quiet season on the home front, and no news almost always means good news for the ruling Tories. NDP MHA Dale Kirby was fortunate enough to wring a fulfilled Access-to-Information request out of the government containing all the correspondence from the public to the Premier’s office about Bill 29. It’s posted online, and worth a read. Not surprisingly, no one seemed to be very happy about scaling back Freedom of Information. But more interesting—to me, at least—is the way the emails shine a light on the ways people address ‘the government’ as embodied by the Premier. Some people treat talking to the government like debate club. Some, like a prayer of supplication. Yet others like the guy in the McDonald’s lineup having an emotional meltdown because he wanted his cheeseburger without onions. There’s no wrong way to non-violently express your discontent with a bad political decision, but the spectrum of attitudes people take is illuminating. This is an idea worth running with in a term paper. Steal away, students.
As for the Party of Smallwood, its five leadership candidates are up to their entrails in campaigning. You want to talk about attitudes: a good chunk of the August 22 debate in Gander was a shouting match. Other than agreeing that “Boo Dunderdale!” and “Vote Liberal!” there where some awfully sharp disagreements. Dwight Ball openly questioned whether or not Cathy Bennett is a ‘real’ Liberal, which, given the party’s performance over the last decade, might actually be one of Bennett’s strong points. It’s also unclear whether any of the candidates attacking her for supporting Muskrat Falls would actually put the kibosh on the project after even more money is sunk in by 2015. This timeline didn’t phase Danny Dumaresque—he was pretty emphatic about scrapping the “sinkhole called Muskrat Falls” and using the money to fund, among other things, an underwater tunnel to Labrador. Say what you will, but it was Einstein who said that imagination is more important than knowledge.
Last but not least, it’s municipal election season across the province, and the contest in St. John’s is shaping up to be pretty good. Municipal politics are simultaneously the craziest and the most effective place for making your voice heard (these two things are probably related). This feels like a crucial election insofar as it will determine whether the city gets a little greener, or whether most of downtown turns into a parking complex and the outskirts sprawl down into Conception Bay. If there was ever a place where your involvement and your vote actually mattered, it’s a municipal election. That said, the current crop of candidates seems unlikely to get involved in a crack smoking scandal. This is the only issue I really care about, so I’ll stop here.
Fri, Jul 5, 2013
Imagine tuning in to the evening news, and hearing this secret and terrible truth: Newfoundland is under unlawful foreign occupation. Britain upended our democracy and sold us into permanent colonial servitude. Swindled by a demented pig farmer in owl-eye glasses, the Grand Banks lie destitute and French Canada, like a vampire, sucks Labrador dry. Confederation was an inside job.
If only. That’d be quite the scandal. It makes a riveting tale of political intrigue, which might explain why this conspiracy theory has the staying power it does. Six decades on, and Confederation is still an open wound for a lot of people who were never even there. Local journalists, artists, authors, intellectuals, assorted cranks and a Member of Parliament from Mount Pearl have all made (or unmade) careers out of their dogged persistence to the Republic of Newfoundland—and that’s just the card-carrying Cashinites. Who knows how many fellow travellers are out there, nodding along in silent solidarity with the struggle? It’s enough to make the mind boggle.
Not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment. Nothing warms my icy heart quite like getting really mad about Anglo-Canadian colonialism. But there are a few things profoundly wrong with the idea that Newfoundland was smuggled into Canada through cloak and dagger, and since this idea has most recently been revived by works like Greg Malone’s new book (Don’t Tell The Newfoundlanders), it’s probably worth taking a look at what those are.
For starters, when you take the normal absurdity of Newfoundland politics and plant it way out into the fringe, you yield some pretty strange fruit. Joe Smallwood, we learn, used a pig farm in Gander as an elaborate front for British espionage at the exact same time he was Lester B. Pearson’s Manchurian candidate (we theorize the orders were transmitted via psychic bowtie beacons). There are whispers of English aristocrats in pith helmets conspiring with Montreal bankers to let Korean car manufacturers strip mine Labrador. It’s unclear whether the buck stops with the Queen, International Freemasonry, or a Satanic prophecy revealed to Mackenzie King during a séance, but the Truther rabbit hole runs pretty deep.
Of course, this is me being a little glib. The most ‘mainstream’ conspiracy theory focuses on how the referendum vote was a sham. Urban legends abound about shadowy colonial agents fudging vote counts and burning crates of ballots in the Grace Hospital incinerator. A MUN professor encounters a nameless old man in London who makes a deathbed confession to rigging the vote before vanishing forever into the fog of history. Somewhere, lying in the ruined root cellar of some resettled outport, there is a cheque from the British treasury, never cashed out of mortal shame.
Despite what some people might insist, none of this is true, as a cursory visit (literal or figurative) with a Newfoundland historian will tell you. But I can understand why the idea of a grand, flawless web of manipulation appeals to anti-Confederates, because otherwise they’re left holding the distasteful conclusion that Confederation happened because a bunch of bayfolk were duped into it by their supposedly inherent love of welfare. This idea is rarely so crassly expressed (unless the speaker bleeds blue), but for all the handwringing about the ‘disrespect’ Newfoundland’s democracy suffered in 1948, no one seems to have much respect for the exercise of democracy by rural people.
Malone tells us on page 84 of Don’t Tell The Newfoundlanders, for instance, that making it a legal requirement for elected officials to actually live in the districts they represented was part of a sinister British plot to ensure that Water Street merchants “would not dominate any elected body or control political events in Newfoundland.” Forcing rural places to elect rural representatives was a mistake, because it meant “[depriving] the [National] Convention of many qualified candidates” — no doubt the same ‘qualified candidates’ who bankrupted the country in 1933. ‘Local control’ is a pretty loud political cry when St. John’s wants something from Ottawa, but apparently falls on deaf ears when the poor ask something of the rich.
None of this is to imply that the exercise of democracy in 1940s Newfoundland wasn’t pretty wild and wooly otherwise. Smallwood was definitely running around being a giant sleveen with British support, and a big part of why the Confederates won is because they were peddling the Canadian welfare state in one of the most destitute parts of North America. Put it in context: living in rural Newfoundland, back in the day, was not so much a time. Have you ever read Random Passage?
Time and distance may put a wistfulness on it but there is nothing romantic about that existence. No one who got a taste of a decent life on an American army base wanted to go back to the way things were. You don’t need your grade ten to understand that basic material well being is infinitely more valuable than whatever fuzzy feeling Ryan Cleary gets when he throws on an old sou’wester.
But worse than being lazy history, conspiracy theories are a depressive politics. If we buy the line that the Newfoundland nation was forsaken by Anglo-Canadian manipulation or ‘ignorant and avaricious’ outporters, we are buying a story where Newfoundlanders are the eternal victim. Pathologically fixated on an imagined past, we are cut adrift in a very real future and can never move forward. It’s an emotionally exhausting worldview. That these ideas are a political dead end is obvious in the fact that no ‘sovereigntist’ movement has ever enjoyed even marginal success in the six decades since our ‘annexation’.
Everybody knows that the only thing worse than Confederation is limiting the world to a lonely island in the North Atlantic.
Canada isn’t perfect. In fact, the country is ripe with problems at any given moment. Take your pick: our democratic institutions are rusting out, aboriginal peoples are still getting the rawest deal, and Stephen Harper is seven years into his quest to slay the environment. And yes, some mainlanders still tell Newfie jokes, because there are ugly people everywhere. But we’ve been part of the Canadian family for sixty-four years, and our other dysfunctional siblings need us now as much as we ever needed them. In 2013, the problems are too big and the stakes are too high to fantasize about crawling away into a nationalist cocoon.
Greg Malone and his comrades are right about many things. Democracy in Newfoundland and Labrador is not, and certainly never has been, as robust as it should be. British colonialism does have a long and dirty history. Modern Canadian life is crisscrossed by exploitation. And, yes, Newfoundland and Labrador’s distinct society and history deserves more recognition than it currently enjoys from the Canadian establishment. But rehashing the same tired, discredited arguments about how our forebears were a bunch of suckers is not the way to deal with this. We can write a better—and more empirically accurate—political drama by casting Confederation as an imperfect but genuine popular victory. Among other things, it’s a lot more empowering.
But mostly? We just need to move on.
Follow Drew on Twitter @drewfoundland
Tue, Jun 11, 2013
There’s suddenly a lot more going on at Petty Harbour wharf.
The site is now the location of the new Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium. The aquarium, which will deliver the chance to interact with the local marine environment, is scheduled to open in mid-June.
“We will have thirty small tanks, many of which will be touch tanks allowing for close sensory interactions,” says founder and executive director Melanie Knight. “The aquarium will display inter-tidal and sub-tidal life, such as sea stars and anemones, snails, crabs, jellies, lumpfish, lobster, seaweeds, small schools of juvenile fish and more, including baby lobsters, the infamous Atlantic cod, eelpouts and the lumpfish.”
The volunteer association that brought the project to life has spent the last several years writing business plans, becoming a registered charity, seeking grants, obtaining permits, and finding space.
“Location is everything for an aquarium,” says Knight. “First and foremost, you need clean sea water that can be pumped to shore. We also needed a building that is close to the water and big enough to accommodate the public. We lucked out when the Petty Harbour Fisherman’s Co-op Fishplant was suggested. We are now located in what used to be the cod filleting room, right over the water… The Fisherman’s Co-op membership have been helpful and accommodating, offering their support, time and advice to help us get started. Finding a welcoming community like Petty Harbour has been essential to the momentum the project.”
The sea life on display at the aquarium doesn’t need to worry about getting filleted — the aquarium operates on a “catch and release” basis, so all aquarium residents are released back into the ocean at the end of the season.
“Aquarium animals are gently collected by volunteer SCUBA divers and staff,” says Knight. Small nets, traps, and beach seines will be used to collect the majority of the marine animals. The collection team is led by the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium’s curator, Ruby Banwait, who is on sabbatical from the Vancouver Aquarium as a biologist to teach the new team this summer.
“These animals are just visitors to the aquarium, helping people re-spark that natural curiosity we all have for our oceans,” says Knight. “Curiosity leads to caring which leads to conservation. We are hoping the Mini Aquarium will foster that curiosity in all who enter.”
The Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium is opening on June 15, and will be open daily 10am to 6pm, 7 days a week.
Fri, May 31, 2013
Fearless Newfoundland writer, journalist and political columnist Ray Guy passed away last month at the age of 74. We asked people who knew him or his work to say a few words in his honour.
Editor and publisher, Northeast Avalon Times
Ray’s brilliant voice has been ringing in my ears since I first started reading him more than 20 years ago. It’s his perspective, his savage and beautiful way of seeing everything. I once had a columnist who insisted on swearing in their writing. They just wouldn’t give it up. I finally pointed out to them that Ray never swore, he didn’t have to. His whole column was one big devout curse. Missing Ray, really missing him.
Political columnist, The Scope
If “humour is a weapon”, as Ray Guy once said, then he was Newfoundland’s atom bomb. He possessed both a blazing, searing wit and, tremendously, also used that power for good. Ray was the real deal. He could harness the black charm of Newfoundland without ever becoming its prisoner. Instead, he could use that fire in his belly to point the way forward; to that far greater bay beyond the false grandeur of Smallwood’s scheming, past Peckford’s navel-gazing nationalist utopia, straight through the ragged republican flag in which Williams wrapped his autocracy, and—most crucially—he could always pierce his own readers’ sometimes stubborn myopia. And he fought all his battles against these tedious political pretensions by being really frigging funny. That is nothing short of heroic. He had a knack for capturing the beautiful absurdity of this place like no one else, and our little slice of the world is incalculably richer because he was here. He deserves a central pillar in the pantheon of great Newfoundlanders, and without a doubt he’d be the first to deface his own monument. That’s exactly why I loved him.
Blogger, The Sir Robert Bond Papers
Ray Guy wrote a column the night the Tories beat the Liberals in 1972. Ray wrote that the Tories would never produce the overbearing likes of Joe Smallwood. “That gang in the PC Party did a good enough job of backstabbing each other to prevent any one of them from reaching a Smallwoodian pinnacle of real power.” In hindsight, the column is so well written it could have been more of the keen insight hidden behind humour or a clever phrase that were part of Ray Guy’s skill rather than the naive, idealistic hope that we’d turned a corner and put the old ways behind us forever. Everything you ever wanted to know about politics and society in Newfoundland and Labrador is in Ray Guy’s writing. He was not the first nor was he the only one to publicly criticise Smallwood and the Liberals but he is the one people remember. And years from now people will remember that when Ray’s 1972 prediction proved false all those years later, what never came back in the major local media was Ray Guy nor anyone even vaguely like them. If you look, you’ll probably find Ray wrote something about that too years ago.
Writer, author of Rare Birds & Easy To Like
It is easy to blame the media for the current dearth of keen criticism the like of that which Ray Guy gave us, to say the television and radio stations and the newspapers are toadies for the big businesses that own them, or that the CBC simply lacks the guts. The fault lies instead with the audience. Guy was writing most and best as our colonial inferiority complex was on the wane. He wasn’t blasting Smallwood’s hare-brained schemes and electoral thuggery as much as he was our continued gullibility, our rush to follow, our faith in führers. “[Smallwood] would rant and rave and mock and jeer. If he was attacking the opposition, what a pitiful sight it was. Talk about underdogs. They were underpups yet unborn and their mothers dead.” Local self doubt wasn’t replaced by confidence as much as it was by puffery and self-congratulation. Is there an appetite among today’s sunny Newfoundland boosters for Ray Guy’s take on the irrational exuberance of development on the North East Avalon, on Senator Twice Manning, on what awaits a tourist lured here by those ads? There are so many Newfies now among us that I have my doubts. Read Guy’s piece on Trudeau’s imposition of The War Measures Act and admit he possessed more smarts and nerve than the crowd. It was welcome then, perhaps more necessary now.
EDITOR, The Business Post
The first time I met Ray Guy was in 1994. I had just been made the editor of The Telegram’s Sunday edition with a remit to revamp it as I saw fit. Myself and another senior editor invited Ray to lunch to ask if he would write again for The Tely. He had been fired or had quit The Telegram five or six times over the years and the prospect of meeting the great Guy had me nearly scared speechless. It turned out the famous maverick was a very gentle man. Ray’s column ran on page three. One Friday, during the height of the denominational schooling debate, Ray made a crack about the Pope having turned a blind eye to the Holocaust. It was one paragraph in a long column, but my boss insisted it be exorcised. He had just killed an earlier column by Peter Fenwick who had written a satirical piece based on a fictional intercept of faxes between the Pope and fish merchant Bill Barry, a noted Roman Catholic who had strong views on denominational education. I put up a fight for Ray’s piece and said if it goes, I go. Ray got wind of the racket and through his wife Kathy, begged that I not put my job on the line over it. I was still a brash young pup and when my boss refused to run Ray’s column with the jibe at the Pontiff, I quit The Telegram. It was a tough decision because it was the best job I had ever had to that point and nothing has matched it since. But if you’re going to quit for anyone, you couldn’t pick a better man than Ray Guy. Ray raised newspaper commentary to a fine art. It was like somebody had stolen the genes of H.L. Mencken and Mark Twain, mixed them in a boiler of salt beef and cabbage and created Ray. His writing was funny, sardonic and recklessly truthful. Ray Guy was talented enough to write for any major newspaper in the world. But he was sentenced, by his love of this place, to press on in Newfoundland, an island that stones its prophets. But as tough as Newfoundland is, Ray was tougher.
Provincial Affairs reporter, CBC NL
The first time I met Ray Guy I was 25 or 26 years old and had just started covering provincial politics here. We were walking past each other on the third floor of the old CBC Radio building on Duckworth Street. “You’re that Cochrane fella aren’t you?” Ray asked. I nodded and he added “I like you because you give that shitnuts Tobin a hard time.” I only worked with Ray once. That was during the 2001 Liberal leadership race to replace that “shitnuts Tobin” as Ray called him. It was a big moment for me. My first leadership race. And my first chance to work with a living legend.
Thu, May 30, 2013
Can you feel it? Spring is in the air. The signs are obvious: flowers are blooming, trees are budding, and you can walk around most days without a parka. It’s a great time to be alive, unless you’re one of the countless people who slipped into terminal depression watching the Leafs choke on a 4-1 lead in the playoffs this month. And my therapist said we were making such great progress, too.
But the harshest buzzkill of all in Toronto no doubt happened to the city’s beloved mayor Rob Ford, when it was revealed this month that he was apparently caught on video smoking a big delicious bowl of crack. The video in question is being held for ransom by a Somali drug dealer claiming to supply drugs to the city’s elite, and its contents were separately reported by an internet journalist and two reporters with the Toronto Star. Since the allegations broke, gossip website Gawker launched a Kickstarter to raise the $200,000 demanded by the video’s owners, and Rob Ford took a whole week before publicly addressing (and denying) the allegations that he is a literal crackhead. Before he spoke publicly, he also fired his Chief of Staff for supposedly having the gall to tell him to “get help,” which is a super effective way to convince everybody that Rob Ford probably smokes crack.
There is a good chance now that we’ll never know the truth, because the dude in possession of the video has, at press time, seemingly dropped off the face of the Earth. This means that either someone in Ford’s camp bought the video before Gawker could (which would explain the timing of Ford’s public denial) or, much more darkly, that going to the media claiming to be part of a shady drug ring servicing the most powerful people in Toronto is really hazardous to your health. But whether the allegations are even true is ultimately secondary at this point. He did such a terrible job on damage control that the whole situation means he’s probably not qualified to be the mayor of Canada’s largest city. And you can put that fact in your pipe and smoke it.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Senate remains as cracked out as ever. Mike Duffy, hard-nosed journalist turned brown-nosed leech, is still the epicentre of a Senatorial corruption scandal that now appears to go all the way to the Prime Minister’s Office. It was recently revealed that Nigel Wright, Stephen Harper’s Chief of Staff, cut a personal cheque to Duffy to the tune of $90,172—conveniently, the exact sum of money Duffy owed in improper expense claims after being audited earlier this year. Wright resigned early the Sunday morning after the story broke, and the Prime Minister told us he was very upset about all this nasty business before immediately skipping town to go to Peru.
It also appears likely that Duffy’s initial audit was whitewashed by the Senate committee investigating him after a gentle prodding by the PMO, raising the inevitable question about how much Harper, control-freak extraordinaire, knew about all these shady goings-on (I would wager it was at least a little bit). This is an especially big problem for Harper, who once upon a time campaigned (and won) on a platform of ethical reform in the wake of the Liberal Sponsorship Scandal—and if there is one kind of corruption the Canadian electorate won’t tolerate, it’s the hypocritical kind. If Yvonne Jones’ victory in Labrador over Peter Penashue this month was any indication, reckoning day for the Harper Conservatives might just be on the way.
It’s been a little more quiet on the provincial front this month as the House of Assembly wrapped up its spring session. This means its almost time for the magic of barbecue season, when politicians can take a breather and start test driving a few new ideas with both party faithful and undecided voters alike. So, you know, Chris Mitchelmore gets to spend a few more months selling us on the benefits of powering every hospital in the province with wood pellet stoves (“throw another log on the MRI b’ys, she’s nippy out tonight!”), and the Tories can try to crowdsource a smear campaign that the public actually finds convincing. The Liberal leadership race is also going to be gearing up this summer, and it might just turn out to be a wild ride. Interim leader Dwight Ball is hoping to make his position permanent, and Rural Avenger Danny Dumaresque has started commissioning phone polls around the province to find out just how excited people get at the prospect of Premier Dumaresque. Jim Bennett is also rumoured to be taking a stab at the job in a bid that will no doubt strike fear into the hearts of Ayatollahs everywhere. Let democracy bloom again in Newfoundland or whatever!
Judging by his pre-leadership poll, Ball and Bennett are the two alternatives Dumaresque assumes he’ll be facing down in his quest to resurrect the Liberal brand, which if unchanged creates a hilarious situation where the party is looking to be revitalized by three men who have been kicking around the party for a few years (or decades) with variously spotty electoral records. This is not exactly inspiring for a party desperate for new blood and struggling to get out of last place in public opinion. Then again, it’s probably a little difficult for the local Liberals to attract a young up-and-comer of their own given the party’s internal disarray and chronic, staggering debt. But hey! These are the exact sort of problems you spend the summer hashing out over brews and burgers in the backyard—though in the Liberals’ case, they might need to start charging people for the privilege if they’re going to be contenders in 2015. Word on the street is that fundraising helps in winning elections.
Anyways, between mainland scandals and a local leadership race, it’s shaping up to be a long, hot summer, especially if Aboriginal groups make good on their promise to follow up Idle No More with the ‘Summer of Sovereignty’. From a tactical perspective, it’s a good time to do it considering a report just found this country is particularly vulnerable to indigenous insurrection. Whether this is a promise or a threat I’ll leave up to you, but one thing is for sure—there’s nothing like a little civil unrest to put you in the mood for some deck drinking. Cheers to us!
Thu, May 2, 2013
Budgets are a tough game. I mean, sure, when times are high and you’re rolling in petrodollars, it’s easy to slap together a real crowd-pleaser. You can just make it rain: everyone gets tax breaks and you can just invent a bunch of civil service jobs. But when the oil price party’s over and you’re stuck with cleaning things up, it’s a lot less less fun, and this is the lesson we’ve been learning this month after the Dunderdale government dropped a budget that just about everyone loves to hate.
Coming down off the Williams-era high, this one is a whopper. Jobs (and salaries) took a direct hit — there were 935 layoffs (485 from the core bureaucracy, 450 from non-core services like health and school boards, College of the North Atlantic, etc.), and 250 vacant positions were eliminated. To help in the cash grab, service fees are going up and smokes are getting more expensive (which is totally salt in the wounds of anyone who just lost their job). They’re also condensing Cabinet by merging Aboriginal Affairs into Labrador Affairs and giving the Premier extra duty as the Minister Responsible for Intergovernmental Affairs, which is a great idea because we definitely need to centralize more power in the Premier’s Office. Budget 2013 is also the opening salvo of a 10-year debt reduction plan. This year they came for civil servants; next year they’re coming for Memorial University, CNA (again), the regional Health Boards, and a financial nightmare known as Unfunded Pension Liabilities. Hold on to your butts b’ys, it’s gonna be a fun decade.
Out of everything impacted by the cutbacks, Justice and Education seem to have been the most contentious. The backlash to the proposed Justice cuts was so bad, in fact, that not only were union leaders ragging on the government about them but also the Canadian Bar Association and even the province’s own Crown attorneys were stressing that cutting a department already running a bare-bones operation would effectively cripple the entire criminal justice system. The proposed reduction of crown prosecutors, sheriff’s officers, probation officers and legal aid would lead to more wrongful convictions, more dropped cases, you name it — exactly the sort of things you don’t want happening in a province where drug and violent crime is surging. To Justice Minister Darin King’s credit, he took t he outcry seriously and is working to rescind some of the proposed cutbacks, although that then begs the question of how much thought, research, or consultation actually went into this budget in the first place.
The blowback against the Education cuts has been a little less successful (so far). In particular, the overhaul of CNA — privatizing Adult Basic Education, slashing 27 programs across the province, and other funding cuts and layoffs — have been especially unpopular with students and faculty, resulting in protests springing up across the province in the wake of the budget announcement. The upset isn’t especially surprising considering that in just over a year, the Premier went from telling the Canadian Federation of Students at their National Day of Action that “education is a right, not a privilege” to slashing community college programs that provided access to that right for the most vulnerable students in the province. Teachers and school administrators have also stressed that the government’s plan to consolidate all the regional English school boards into a single bureaucratic megalith will adversely impact rural students in particular and the quality of schooling generally as teaching staff and service provisions are scaled back. Thankfully the government has also increased the amount of money allotted for the resettlement of rural communities, so any serious decline in the quality of rural life should be able to sort itself out.
However you personally feel about the budget, we can all agree that these are all fairly important issues we need to be having a serious collective conversation about. This goes doubly for our esteemed elected officials in the House of Assembly, who actually hold all the power over what the government actually does. Instead, any serious political discussion about all of the budgetary fallout I just described was shelved for a solid week so that our politicians could argue about Facebook and Twitter on the public dime in what is easily the most embarrassing story to come out of the House in a long time. This is actually pretty impressive considering we just spent two years having a collective public meltdown about Muskrat Falls.
What follows is a cautionary fable about the importance of thinking things through. When a social media monitor in Confederation Building noticed that some mouthbreathing internet troll decided to make a death threat against the Premier in a Facebook group called ‘Kathy Dunderdale Must GO!!!’, they rightfully brought it forward to their superiors as something potentially serious. Somewhere else along the line, someone noticed that NDP MHA Gerry Rogers was also a member of this group. Handled sensibly, the issue of online death threats might have been raised in the legislature in a way that underscored their seriousness without resorting to hyperbole, garnered some human sympathy for an unpopular Premier, seen Rogers tastefully admonished for ill-considered online consorts, and given us a timely and civil reflection by MHAs and partisans of all stripes about how they’re mucking around online.
But naturally, since this is the House of Assembly we’re talking about, it was handled in the poorest way imaginable. Darin King suggests in the House that because Rogers is a member of this group, she automatically endorses every single line of commentary that appears therein, from overwrought Grumpy Cat memes to death threats scrawled by barely literate urchins. He also declared Rogers’ clear support of internet regicide was comparable to the Boston Marathon bombings that happened literally the day before. The question of whether or not Rogers endorses murdering the Premier went to Speaker Ross Wiseman, who in his infinite wisdom ruled that even though it could not be determined she actually did anything wrong, she had to apologize anyway or be found in contempt of the House. Rogers refused, and was promptly evicted from the legislature for refusing to apologize for something she didn’t do. Wiseman’s ruling was in all honesty baffling, and indicated he either didn’t understand Facebook or didn’t understand his job. While he did retract his ruling a week later, you know what they say about first impressions. This is, after all, the same guy who, as Health Minister, failed to read his own briefing notes in the middle of a cancer testing crisis.
Whichever genius in the communications office thought it was a good idea to use death threats against the Premier as a way to smear another MHA (who very obviously had nothing to do with them) clearly did not actually bother thinking it through all the way. In response to this flagrant abuse of common sense and decency, some intrepid CBC journalists applied this same tenuous ‘guilt by association’ rationale to the Tories and managed to hoist just about every last one of them by their own petards. According to their party’s very own lopsided logic, Charlene Johnson is a bloodsport enthusiast, Sandy Collins is hawking shady payday loans, Ray Hunter is circulating online petitions against his own government, and Paul Lane is a card-carrying Liberal. As the pièce de résistance, they even discovered that the Premier herself was following porn bots on Twitter. But instead of taking the hint from this exposé that their latest approach to social media was an absolute farce, Dunderdale doubled down by deleting her Twitter account wholesale and stressing in a press release that Gerry Rogers remains a cyberbully. Not that it’s only the Tories with dirt on their hands — a good few yahoos and partisans on Twitter took the opportunity to write erotic fanfiction about the Premier in the hashtag ‘Dunderporn’, effectively ensuring that we will never have nice things.
The moral of this story? Stop and think about what you’re doing. Instead of addressing the very serious issue of death threats in a sensible manner, the Tories proved themselves woefully out of touch on not only how social media actually works, but on what it means to have a serious conversation about violence and bullying in our communities, both on and offline. They wasted a solid week trying to smear an opposition MHA with baseless accusations instead of debating the very real consequences of the budget. Anyone who has ever expressed distaste for the utter foolishness and futility of what passes for politics in Newfoundland and Labrador need only reference The Great Facebook Feud of 2013 to be totally justified in their despondency. It is an embarassment, and it made national headlines. If the government really is spending upwards of $50,000 on social media management, their biggest mistake in the budget was not cutting that loose first.
Wed, Mar 27, 2013
March is the grossest month. The snow is either half-melted into nasty brown sludge or the snow keeps coming and winter threatens to indefinitely renew your subscription to Seasonal Affective Disorder. There is a really good reason why they put St. Binge Drinking’s Day in the middle of this horrible month. Not that I’m bitter or anything.
But while we’re on the topic of nasty brown sludge and bitterness, let’s get into it about the Keystone XL pipeline, yes? Keystone XL names a proposed extension to an already-existing pipeline from northern Alberta running south into the States that would allow for even more heavy crude to be pumped out of the oil sands (or ‘tar sands’, as everyone used to call them a few years ago before a massive PR makeover) down to the Gulf Coast for processing and export. It’s been in the works since roughly 2010, but the pressure is mounting on the Obama administration to soon give a Yay or Nay on whether or not to see the thing built. Proponents fear that without some sort of pipeline expansion, oil sands production will sputter and stagnate and, along with them, the Canadian (read: Albertan) economy itself. Those opposed to the developments highlight the fact that the last thing the planet probably needs right now is an expansion of tar sands production and the incredible amount of pollution that would come with it. Obama giving Keystone the thumbs-down would signal that the US is serious about tackling climate change, and that maybe your grandchildren aren’t doomed to inherit a totally broken planet after all.
So the stakes for either side are pretty high. So high, in fact, that Canadian politicians have spent the last couple months putting serious pressure on Washington to do the right thing. Alberta Premier Alison Redford has been the most vocal in her enthusiasm for the project, and the Harper Government™ has also signalled that they believe whatever is good for Chinese oil conglomerates is good for the country. Redford made a few trips to the US Capitol do some personal lobbying, and her government recently took out a full page ad in the New York Times to declare that approving Keystone XL is the “Choice of Reason” (which is a really polite way of calling your opponents stupid). Not to be outdone, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair made a US trip of his own this month to allegedly talk some smack about the Keystone project (although he seems less motivated by environmentalism than by the idea that oil and jobs might leave Canada). In a very reasonable and well-measured response, Ms. Redford accused him of “treason”, while the federal government and much of the national media were quick to label him a saboteur of all that is good and decent. We won’t know for sure if Mulcair’s loose lips really did sink the Keystone ship until Obama makes his call, but if nothing else it at least kept his name in the headlines as Justin Trudeau virtually locked down the Liberals’ virtual leadership race.
Speaking of sinking ships, this is a great segue for riffing on the latest adventures of Peter Penashue, “the best MP Labrador has ever had” (according to Stephen Harper). I’ll be honest, I had totally forgotten Penashue even existed until he recently resigned over some tens of thousands of dollars of illegal campaign contributions to his 2011 election—a credit to the muzzling skills of the PMO, I guess. I’ll commend him for running for re-election, though, as it takes an awful lot of gumption to run on a platform of brown-nosing when your record is deafening silence and either incompetence or corruption (pick one). Penashue is the perfect poster boy for the CPC’s ‘what are ethics, even’ school of politics, which would probably explain why Harper is backing him so enthusiastically.
The most interesting part of the race in Labrador won’t be whether or not Penashue gets re-elected (he probably won’t unless the NDP and Liberals split the vote), but that former provincial Liberal leader Yvonne Jones has vacated her seat to challenge him. This is interesting precisely because now we get a provincial by-election that will end up deciding the fate of the province’s opposition. A single Liberal seat separates the NDP from Official Opposition status, and if you trust the polls that Paul Lane can’t stack, it seems orange is a very fashionable colour these days — at least relative to the alternatives. The provincial Liberals have yet to get their act together, and the provincial government right now is about as endearing as your St. Paddy’s hangover.
And what a headache it is: the same Tory PR wizards who would have you give them all the credit for billions of dollars of oil surpluses are now swearing they have absolutely no hand in the fact that we’re going to run up a roughly $4 billion deficit in the next couple years. No wait, sorry, that number’s out of date: when they dropped the budget on March 26th, they had somehow managed to find an extra billion dollars to make up for the anticipated shortfall. Hooray?
An optimist might read this ever-changing numbers game coming from government as the natural outcome of working with a volatile commodity like oil. A cynic might read this as shrewdly low-balling revenues in order to soften the blow of what is otherwise an austerity budget. A pessimist might go so far as to figure this is government gaslighting labour unions with scary numbers ahead of contract negotiations. However you read it, a couple things aren’t up to interpretation: 1200 jobs are were cut from the public service in one fell swoop (which will no doubt ripple outwards), and the province has consolidated every school board in the province into a French one administering about 300 students and an English one administering literally everyone else. Because nothing says ‘efficiency’ like an overloaded bureaucratic monster centred in St. John’s. Hey, it worked for Eastern Health, right?
To cap off this March madness, I’m pouring out my proverbial 40 oz. to mark the passing of national treasure Stompin’ Tom Connors, who is no doubt at this very moment stomping the heck out of some clouds and/or angels. Oh, and happy 64th birthday, Confederation. Will Canada still need us, and will they still feed us, now that we’re 64? More like we feed them, am I right folks? Haha, just a little April Fools joke for you guys there… much like this joke of a federation! Wakka wakka. Okay, I’m done.
Fri, Mar 1, 2013
The spring of hope may be just around the corner, but February is still crotch-deep in the winter of despair. But if the never-ending parade of winter storms is leaving you out in the cold, don’t worry: there’s enough hot air being blown around in the news this month to make St. John’s feel downright tropical.
So, anyways, the Ottawa senators are a giant mess this year, and that’s not a hockey jab. For those of you unfamiliar with the subtle machinations of the archaic mess we call a federal government, the Senate is an unelected body of patronage appointments meant to provide “sober second thought” to legislation coming out of the House of Commons (which was presumably really important back when Canada’s first few governments were run by raging drunks). While creating a class of pseudo-aristocrats to put a check on democracy fit right in with the Victorian era, this argument feels a little less compelling now that we’re into the second decade of the 21st Century. What little dignity the Red Chamber has as a grand historic institution is also being squandered by recent embarrassing behaviour from many senators themselves. A cadre of senators led by former CTV pundit Mike Duffy have been busted for claiming tens of thousands of dollars a year in living expenses for a ‘second home’ in Ottawa despite already living in the national capital for decades. To make matters worse, another one of those double-dippers—young Patrick Brazeau—was recently arrested on charges of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Both the NDP and the Conservatives have expressed interest in tackling the Senate problem for years, and the recent surge of scandal has started tipping popular opinion away from fixing it and towards just scrapping it altogether. Abolition is certainly tempting. The idea of keeping the patronage status quo is nothing short of depressing (despite what Justin Trudeau might tell you), but the cure isn’t immediately much less painful. Reform would likely trigger a Constitutional crisis (the best kind of crisis!) where we’re forced to get all the provinces to agree over serious arguments like seat proportions, and good luck getting Ontario, Quebec, the West and the Atlantic to agree on who gets more power in the Senate. There is also the nightmare scenario that two different political parties might separately control the Commons and the Senate at the same time and that nothing would ever get done (although some wonks find that kinky). Getting rid of the Senate entirely would certainly be easier, but then we have other problems: like, say, the Prime Minister in a majority government having even fewer checks on their already almost limitless power. Even if everyone starts electing senators like they do in Alberta, who is ultimately appointed is still the Prime Minister’s decision: and let’s be honest, can you imagine anyone appointing a Bloc Senator?
Back home on the Island, of course, our democratically elected officials are giving us grief with a distinctly 21st century problem: it turns out the provincial government has a high-school calibre inferiority complex. Public luminary Paul Lane was caught with his proverbial pants down after a series of leaked Blackberry messages revealed that, despite his earlier claims to the contrary on VOCM, he took a leading role in pressuring Tory MHAs and staffers to actively cook online opinion polls to make the government seem more popular. Partisans are not only instructed how to vote in each poll, but are also issued with instructions on how to game the websites and vote multiple times to ensure that the party line wins by a landslide. For about a week after this broke, Lane was uncharacteristically silent and refused comment, so Kathy Dunderdale came to his rescue by shrugging it off and equated this with phone-bombing votes for Rex Goudie on Canadian Idol. In fact, this whole thing is really a non-story and we should all just move on to caring about more pressing things, like a looming multi-billion dollar budget deficit, a public sector hiring freeze, rumours of layoffs, and impending labour agitation. There are a bunch of serious things to get mad at the government about, so we shouldn’t make mountains out of molehills.
Fair enough. But if these polls really are irrelevant, it does raise the question as to why government members are so emotionally invested in manipulating the results. Tory stalwarts are spending an awful lot of time and effort jigging polls whose results they allegedly ignore, which suggests more or less the opposite of what the Premier claims—that it’s a weirdly big deal. Other recently-released media documents reveal a communications office dedicated to meticulously recording political criticism on Twitter, suggesting a government that is seriously distressed about its own public image. You can’t publicly shrug off criticism and then anxiously order your underlings to hit ‘refresh’ a hundred times on VOCM’s Question of the Day without generating the kind of cognitive dissonance that hints at unresolved self-image issues—especially considering that these are non-scientific polls designed largely for entertainment purposes. This might not be the corruption fiasco that Con O’Brien & The Known Critics have been hoping to turn into a platinum hit, but it does underscore just how much the Tories are concerned more with style above substance.
Speaking of substance, I’d like to end with a shout-out for Brad Cabana’s Constitutional Challenge against Muskrat Falls as it finally gets underway at the courthouse in St. John’s. It’s super important to never give up on what you believe in, no matter how many people rudely insist it has questionable legal grounding or that it is a waste of the court’s time and resources. Dare to dream the impossible dream. The only peace is in the struggle, brother: rock on.
Fri, Mar 1, 2013
Sometimes bad things happen to us. They fall out of the sky. We don’t ask for these bad things, but they happen anyway. And the only thing we can control is how we react. Often, we’re paralyzed. We try and forget. We stuff these bad things inside us, where they fester. Because we don’t speak about them, they take on power and grow strong.
This year, a random bad thing happened to me. It presented me with an opportunity, cloaked in an assault on my autonomy.
But wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.
On January 12, 2013, I went dancing with my friends K and B at a night of DJs playing music from different decades, one decade per hour. I can remember until midway through the ‘70s, then nothing. Several hours later, the sensation of a blood pressure monitor on my finger and the rim of a bucket embedded in my forehead. A male voice I didn’t know was saying my vitals were fine, it was good that I threw up because the drug didn’t have a chance to get too far. I recognized the couch cushions from B’s house. My body felt like concrete. The voice was asking whether I wanted to go to the hospital to get bloodwork, a lifelong phobia of mine. Concrete-brained, scared and sick, I didn’t say yes. I couldn’t even raise my head to see what he looked like. Had I foreseen that I was about to become a posterchild for drug-related sexual assault, I would have chosen to get the bloodwork done, despite everything. Then the words ‘allegedly’ or ‘believes she was drugged’ wouldn’t have appeared in the interviews, like maybe nothing had happened after all.
According to K, I was dancing happily, and then something went wrong. The change in my behavior happened quickly. We’d each had two drinks. Yes, we had laid those drinks down, but they were on a ledge that we were dancing next to, with no one between us and the ledge. The room was full of people we knew. It was about as safe as you can get and still go out, or so I thought. This s**t still happened, though.
With one simple, almost imperceptible action, an anonymous person shook my life to its roots.
I don’t remember the next part, but K told me later that I ran toward the washroom, didn’t make it, and began puking in the corner of the bar. She brought me to the bathroom and I kept vomiting. She said I was, amazingly, puking into actual receptacles like sinks and trash cans before I became so dizzy and f**cked up that I just lay on the floor, crying and apologizing, saying I was going to die. She went to get B, and the two of them got me up off the floor and into a cab. By the time we drove the few blocks to B’s house, I was vomiting out the open cab door. They got me up the stairs and situated with my trusty bucket, and called emergency response.
I’m so grateful to my friends for being there that night. I shudder to think what might’ve happened if I’d been alone. I was disoriented, and my body wasn’t working properly. I wasn’t in control, but was still conscious. I was pretty much a zombie. It would’ve been easy to manipulate me, to get me wherever I was intended to end up when Person X put Substance X in my Jameson whisky. And I wouldn’t have remembered what they did to me.
When I woke up the next morning I was nauseous, with a blinding headache and tingling in my arms and legs, and I was really upset. More than that. I was angry. What kind of person drugs someone else? Who would strip another human being of their independence in such a casual way? Did they mean to hurt me? Rape me? Rob me? Was it peer pressure? Done for a laugh, or by someone in so much pain themselves that they’re driven to harm someone else? I had not been raped, but I’d been violated. I felt used up.
That afternoon, I posted on Facebook that I’d been drugged and over the next few days, I received an avalanche of responses, many in sympathy, but some from people telling me their own stories of drug-related assault. Most of the accounts had happened within the past year, in bars, house parties and cabins. And contrary to the usual stereotype, not all of the victims were young women. I had two people their fifties contact me. I heard from straight men and from gay men. Four people told me they’d been drugged multiple times, and two others said they’d been drinking water when it happened to them. One person blacked out for over 24 hours. Another recounted how, at fifteen, they lost their virginity during a drug-related sexual assault.
Krissy Holmes at the CBC read my post and contacted me about doing an interview. I began to see how this random bad thing could somehow have a positive outcome. I could use this opportunity to encourage public discussion, not just for myself, but for all those other people who have suffered similar, and far worse, assaults without the possibility to speak about it.
A media blitz took up the next week of my life. In between, I cried. I was still shaken from the drugging and reeling from how quickly the story took on a life of its own. People said I was brave, and at first I didn’t understand why.
Then the online comments started.
Once you say something in the media, it isn’t yours anymore. Things get taken out of context, misquoted, passed from person to person like the telephone game. I’m learning some serious life lessons right these days, and a major one is that you can’t predict how something you say or do will be taken by other people. You have to forge ahead, following to your own inner compass.
There have been comments via email, Facebook and on media sites saying I probably just had a stomach bug, or that I drank too much and was embarrassed so I tried to pass it off as a drugging. Or that I was trying to frame the bartender. That I was out to ruin the bar. That women just can’t hold their alcohol. That I shouldn’t have said anything without a blood test, because it probably didn’t happen anyway. That it was my fault. After a few days I just stopped reading them.
Fortunately, those negative voices are, by far, outweighed by the flood of good energy that has surrounded me. Empathy has come from friends and strangers. One kind soul brought me balsam fir tea for my post-vomiting sore throat. Two others made me a cake. Each stranger who sent me their story made me feel less alone. The new Downtown Community Watch group has brought people into my life with similar values to my own (like, say, not assaulting others), and has opened me up to a network of friends and allies that I didn’t have before this bad thing happened.
For every a**hole who commits assault, there are many more good people out there, and that’s a sturdy thought to cling to when times are tough.
Looking back on it now, I think the person who drugged my drink that night got the opposite of what they wanted. Instead of isolating me and taking my power away, they gave me agency. They gave me community.
Next time I go out, I’ll be sure and toast to them for that.
By Sara Tilley
A community group called the Downtown Community Watch has recently formed to discuss ways to make downtown safer for everyone (downtowncommunitywatch.blogspot.ca). Find them on Facebook. If you have questions about drug-related or any other type of assault, you can call the NL Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre hotline, anonymously, 24 hours/day, 1-800-726-2743.