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.
Wed, Dec 5, 2012
Ho ho holy hell you guys, 2012 is almost finished. If the Mayans are right, that means it’s less than a month until the world is plunged into cataclysmic darkness or the sun explodes or whatever is supposed to happen when their calendar runs down. I’m personally a little skeptical anything will come of this, but if you’ve been following politics in this country over the last 12 months you might think blowing it all up is not such a bad idea.
The big story coming out of Ottawa in 2012 has been ROBOGATE, which is unfortunately way less exciting than a robot apocalypse, and roughly as bad if you care at all about fair elections. Last February the Ottawa Citizen broke the story that during the 2011 federal election campaign, a mysterious figure named “Pierre Poutine” (living on “Separatist Street” in Quebec, naturally) sent out a series of automated calls impersonating Elections Canada or local Liberal candidates trying to misdirect voters away from polling stations.
At least 7600 fraudulent calls were made in Guelph alone, and Elections Canada has reported complaints of similar calls in up to 100 other ridings. The big kicker is that all the calls were sent to people who had been identified by the Conservative Party of Canada as non-Conservative voters, meaning there’s a pretty good chance that ‘Pierre Poutine’ was a party staffer who had access to the CPC’s voter-ID registry and was using that information to suppress non-CPC votes in especially tight races. So far neither Elections Canada nor the RCMP have been able to track down the offender, and the Harper Government’s official response to the scandal has been to deny all involvement and let MP Dean Del Mastro bloviate endlessly that Elections Canada is a left-wing conspiracy. At least they didn’t arbitrarily prorogue parliament this year when questioned about it! Yeah, it’s important to keep the bar high.
Speaking of blowhards afraid of left-wing conspiracies, bumbling Toronto mayor Rob Ford was turfed out of office at the end of November for failing to read his own job description.
Federal and provincial political parties across the country have also had their share of leadership musical chairs over the past year. Thomas Mulcair ascended to the throne of St. Layton last Spring and graciously kept his beard, giving the federal scene much needed 19th-century flare. When Justin Trudeau is inevitably crowned Liberal leader, I hope he grows another 17th-century Van Dyke and rolls the men’s facial fashion clock back even further. The top Liberal job is also open in Quebec, where they recently lost to the PQ (where it turns out people take the rule of law really seriously!), as well as in Ontario, where the premier just decided to bounce and shut down the government. No word yet though about the Alberta Liberals, who are decidedly background noise in that province’s conservative civil war. Did Albertans actually show a more progressive side in re-electing a party that’s been in power since 1971, or was it a more conservative move than voting for the Wildrose Party? Another holiday brainteaser is how we got to the point of ‘Communist’ China buying up the tar sands. How is this sentence even logically possible?
Logic, of course, is a foreign entity to anyone familiar with the drama of the Newfoundland state this year. When the House of Assembly finally re-opened in March, the Dunderdale Tories wasted no time in reminding us just how dysfunctional it actually was (both institutionally and physically—the renovations on Confederation building have gone over budget). MHAs on all sides of the House brought being insufferable jerks to new heights and “local politicians saying dumb stuff on Twitter” became a legitimate category of news (I’m not complaining, it keeps beer in my fridge). If you’ve ever wanted to see folk singers scream incoherently at journalists or enjoy the rap stylings of Sandy Collins, #nlpoli might be the hashtag for you.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are no doubt feeling like the words ‘Muskrat Falls’ should constitute a cuss. When the Public Utilities Board, charged with reviewing the project, announced earlier this year that they didn’t have enough information to fully assess and endorse it, the government dismissed them and instead declared this lack of arms-length oversight would be made up for by a special debate on the project in the Assembly’s fall sitting. Hooray, right? In the interim, the government triggered a week-long filibuster when it introduced some of the worst Access to Information legislation in the country and Lorraine Michael accused the Justice Minister of secret racism and the whole thing was just a gongshow. Word is it made Tory stalwart Tom Osborne go Independent too, though a less charitable reading says he’s huffy about being turned down a cabinet position. Meanwhile, the provincial Liberals continued a slow-motion implosion all year that culminated in self-styled saviour Dean Macdonald washing his hands of the whole party less than a couple weeks after concluding the cross-province Renewal Tour he championed. Can you feel the excitement? Oh, and just a heads up: when the leadership happens, I’m endorsing Danny Dumaresque.
It gets better. When the House reopened in the fall, the promised special debate on Muskrat Falls was almost immediately shelved when the Tories categorically refused opposition demands to bring expert witnesses into the legislature like you would see done in any other jurisdiction in Canada. This has been roundly denounced by at least two local Political Science professors, but it’s not like expert opinion carries any weight in this province if it’s not bankrolled by Nalcor. The project’s sanction will also take place via private member’s bill, letting Dunderdale avoid another filibuster and approve a $7.5 billion megaproject in less time than it takes Keith Russell to get kicked out of a children’s hockey game. A little rushed, sure, but shag it—they’ve already spent a couple million building the dam thing before its formal approval, so they may as well just give’r now. Democracy, as usual, is an impediment to progress. Develop or perish!
And that’s a snapshot of 2012. I’m not even going to touch the rest of the world, because, jeez, between Syria and Gaza I’m drove to drink and between the prospect of the Eurozone eating itself and the Americans rolling over a ‘fiscal cliff’ on New Year’s Day, 2013, I’m starting to think the best place for my money is buried out back under the shed. But, maybe I’m being a bit too gloomy. No reason to think this won’t be our year. The cod might finally come back, or perhaps even more miraculously, the NHL.
Like they say, 13 is a lucky number.
So cheers b’ys. To another great year of nonsense.
Wed, Oct 31, 2012
I spent all month agonizing over what to be for Halloween, but I finally figured it out: I’m going to tape a megaphone to my butt and go door-to-door as “the Muskrat Falls debate.” Subtle, right? I wanted to go as the Spectre of Communism but my ghoulfriend said it would be too boooo-ring.
Ha ha, I’m here every month, folks!
I can’t think of a better time to go vegetarian than this past October. People all over North America spent the last two months anxiously refreshing the XL Foods website as exponentially more E. coli-tainted meat from the Alberta processing plant was recalled every day. Fortunately for Canadian carnivores, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz—who you may remember as the guy presiding the last time Canadians got sick from poison meat—was on hand to keep the public safe by letting the plant stay open for a while after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was informed there was a bacteria problem at the plant. While this might seem like a good opportunity to reflect on whether or not a system of factory farming that sees 35 per cent of all beef in the country processed at a single, self-policing mega-plant is a good idea, the CFIA has given XL Foods the green light to reopen so thankfully there’s no need to think about the meat we eat or where it comes from. Whew! Anyone else in the mood for a celebratory hamburger?
Sour steaks aside, the federal government has had a lot of other stuff on its plate this month. So far, Conservative MPs have been really busy living up to Stephen Harper’s promise not to re-open the abortion debate by giving monarchy-themed medals of honour to a couple of anti-abortion activists currently serving jail time. I hear the Queen is positively Jubilant about it, but she’s not nearly as excited as the federal Liberals are over the Second Coming of Trudeau (and his princely good looks). But while everything might look rosy in Ottawa, in Toronto things are more immediately grim: Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty held a surprise resignation this month after suspending the legislature in order to keep his minority government from collapsing in the wake of a power plant scandal, which is totally not an abuse of power at all! Considering how good McGuinty is at busting up democracy whenever it suits his purpose, he should definitely consider giving Trudeau a run for his money; he’s already got a good handle on all the qualities we’ve come to expect from a Prime Minister.
Speaking of abusing democracy, October marked the beginning of Convention Season in Newfoundland and Labrador. Party Conventions are magical places where politics comes alive. For instance, within 24 hours of the first convention, PC Backbencher Sandy Collins had already challenged NDP MHA Dale Kirby to a charity boxing match (which Dr. Kirby seemed to interpret as gladiatorial combat). Outside of that, Premier Kathy Dunderdale stole the show at the Tory convention when she frankly admitted that the government has been grossly overspending for some time before announcing the creation of a brand new and totally superfluous Department of Public Engagement less than a week later. This new department is devoted to enraging—I mean, engaging—the public through Twitter and proving how dedicated the PCs are to freedom of information by spoon feeding us whatever information the Premier’s Office wants us to know. It’s like Bill 29 never even happened! As to how Paul Lane wasn’t appointed as the literal Minister of Twitter, I can neither understand nor forgive. Also, we’re now at war with Quebec.
Not to be outdone, the NDP held their largest convention ever, with over 200 delegates turning the Battery Hotel into a beacon of self-righteousness in the sky above downtown St. John’s. No word yet on whether or not Dale Kirby fought anyone.
The Liberal convention is also coming up, and Lord knows that’s a hot mess. This particular episode in the NL Liberals’ drama would be a good time to have Scrooge McDu– er, Dean Macdonald—finally announce he’s ready to ride in on a white horse, slay the Liberals’ debt dragon, and restore the party of Smallwood to its ancient splendour. Regardless of what actually happens though, you can rest assured that Open Line and Twitter are bound to be as suffocated by partisan hacks of all stripes as they were during the other two conventions.
And that’s basically October. In more inconsequential news, Americans head to the polls on November 6th to decide the fate of (vaguely) public healthcare, abortion, and Big Bird. Can Mitt Romney’s Binders of Power contain the forces of both the American debt and Women’s Lib? Will Barack Obama get to spend another four years as the only Nobel Peace Prize winner whose day job requires actively deciding which foreign militants get murdered by flying robots? Or will the American people finally wake up, seize control of their destiny, and elect Roseanne Barr to the White House on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket? We live in absurd times and only an absurd Presidential candidate will see us through. Let Roseannearchy reign!
Thu, Oct 4, 2012
Attention Margaret Wente: feel free to steal as much of this column as you like. I know times are tough out there in that Ontarian welfare ghetto known as Toronto, and Lord knows it wouldn’t be Christian of me to hoard all this A-material to myself while lesser columnists go starved for ideas. So fill yer boots missus, ‘cause this harvest season we’ve got a bumper crop of news.
Holy smokes b’ys, it’s election season again south of the border. As expected (because American politics are nuts), the race is neck-and-neck between Nobel-laureate Barack “infinite Drone War” Obama and Mitt “I literally strapped a dog to the roof of my car on a cross-country vacation once” Romney.
As governor of Massachusetts Romney basically invented the healthcare reform package he’s now campaigning against, his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention was upstaged by an elderly movie star yelling at an empty chair, and in the last two weeks alone he came within a hair’s breadth of blaming Obama personally for murdering an American diplomat in Libya and was caught on tape explaining to a closed room of millionaires that he really doesn’t care about half the voting population. It’s a safe bet Obama’s laughing all the way to the bank on this one—when he’s not drone-striking his way into America’s heart, he’s just Biden his time.
Other than some very silly claims from the Conservatives that the NDP’s cap-and-trade carbon tax scheme would destroy Canadian jobs (despite it being the exact same policy the Conservatives themselves held a few years ago), the first major debate to crop up in the House this session is about abortion. Tory backbencher Stephen Woodworth’s bill—which would aim to establish a parliamentary committee to investigate the question of when exactly life begins—was shot down by in an overwhelming 203-92 vote, but it’s more than a little disquieting that the Minister for the Status of Women stood in the House and voted to throw women’s reproductive rights in jeopardy. Couple that with a Science Minister who doesn’t believe in evolution and a Labour Minister who would love nothing more than to grind unions into the dust and you’d almost start to wonder about how, exactly, this country’s being run.
Meanwhile, the federal Liberals decided to remind us that they still exist and announce that Justin Trudeau was finally going to ascend to his rightful place on the party’s throne. Is this a last, desperate shot at glory before the party is absorbed by Thomas Mulcair’s Big Orange Machine, or are we standing on the cusp of a new Trudeaupia?
But while it might be smooth sailing for the Tories in Ottawa, here in St. John’s things are a little less rosy. It’s been a rough month for our own boys (and gals) in blue; polls have the approval for both the Premier and the party slipping, they’ve had the first floor-crossing in the House of Assembly since it was part of Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood, and they just can’t shake off the stink of spending the summer ramming through the most regressive access-to-information laws in Canada.
Fri, Sep 14, 2012
I don’t know about you guys, but on her way through here Leslie took my girlfriend’s screen door and frightened our cat to death. It also blew the lid off her landlord’s shed, just like I’m about to blow the lid off a few of these news stories.
I also totally understand if you want to offer me up as a blood sacrifice to ward off the next tropical storm, because that line was terrible.
Quebec voters said au revoir to Jean Charest and the provincial Liberal party last week, opting instead to give those lovable separatists in the Parti Québecois another shot at running the show –- albeit, this time with a minority government. There’s a good chance the turnover was prompted less by a legitimate desire to rip Canada in half and more by a desire to shake up the hilariously corrupt political establishment (and to express disapproval with the party that stomped all over their basic Charter rights in attempts to curb the student protests last spring), but it’s still a safe bet that we’re in for some good ol’ fashioned French-Canadian sabre-rattling. That said, the PQ might want to scale back its aggressive rhetoric a little in light of the events that transpired at their victory rally, when an elderly man in a blue bathrobe attempted to crash the party, set fire to the back door, and shot two people (one fatally) while shouting “the English are waking up!” While the tragedy was likely just the hideous intersection of untreated mental illness and contentious politics, it probably wouldn’t hurt the PQ to tone down the quasi-racist chest thumping. That and, you know, maybe a system for keeping track of who actually purchases semi-automatic weaponry wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
In significantly more hilarious news, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was named ‘Statesman of the Year’ this week by the New York-based Appeal of Conscience Foundation. The reward recognizes him specifically as a “champion of democracy, freedom, and human rights.” This designation is pretty impressive, considering he’s the only Prime Minister in the history of the country ever to be found in contempt of Parliament, he slashed funding and shut down numerous organizations devoted to promoting human rights both at home (e.g. the Court Challenges Program) and abroad (e.g. KAIROS), and has spear-headed an expansion of the prison system so drastic that even the law-and-order- obsessed Republicans in Texas cautioned him to ease up a little. This award will also be presented to him by none other than Dr. Henry “let’s just carpet-bomb Cambodia” Kissinger, conclusively ensuring that all the jokes in this paragraph wrote themselves.
Locally, Leslie wasn’t the only one blowing winds of change across St. John’s. In a surprise press conference on Thursday, long-time PC stalwart Tom Osborne announced he was quitting his party of 16 years to sit as an Independent in the House of Assembly. According to Osborne, the two big catalysts for his leap from the Tory Dory were his issues with Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s leadership, or lack thereof, and the ATIPPA-cally awful Bill 29 that the government rammed through over the summer after a week-long opposition filibuster (one wonders why he didn’t say anything sooner). Never ones to take this sort of thing sitting down, backbench all-stars Sandy Collins, Stephen Kent and Paul Lane (Paul, if you’re reading this, please unblock me on Twitter… I miss you) were quick to get online and express how much stronger the Dunderdale team was despite losing one of its most experienced members, and the Honourable Joan Burke broke a 20-day social media fast to pithily tweet “good riddance.” Osborne may as well change his first name to Ozzy, because from the sounds of his ex-comrades he’s the veritable Prince of Darkness. You can’t blame the Tories though, because between the plummeting opinion polls and veteran politicians jumping ship, I’d be worried too.
And that’s the news! Without touching on the gongshow that is the US Presidential Election, at least. Clint Eastwood literally argued with an empty chair on national television for 15 minutes at the Republican National Convention the other week! Isn’t it great to be Canadian?
(Stephen Harper portrait by Margaret Sutherland)
Wed, Aug 29, 2012
Did you know that the French Revolutionary calendar actually had the New Year starting in autumn? I’m not completely sold on the whole Reign of Terror bitbut singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ in September might not have been such a bad idea, especially considering the way St. John’s springs alive when the dog days of summer come to an end. I say ‘dog days’ because while the rest of you were probably out having Super Fun Summer Adventures I was paying attention to the news. So without further ado, here’s what you missed if you were actually out enjoying the sun or something.
The 2012 Summer Olympics in London was apparently a big deal. The world’s top athletes got to hang out (and hook up) together for two weeks this summer in the Olympic Village as they vied against one another to bring pride back to their home countries in the form of Magic Sports Amulets. And everyone’s favourite performers were there! Michael Phelps proved you can take bong rips and still win more Olympic medals than anyone else in the history of humanity, Usain Bolt showed off some very cool runnings (sorry), and it turns out that the world’s best trampolinist is a Chinese dude named Dong Dong (or Dong2).
Meanwhile, Canada’s most impressive showing during this Olympics—other than having our female athletes far outshine the men—was easily in the ‘provoke an international incident with Norway over soccer refereeing’ event. Unfortunately there is no medal for this, but Team Canada brought us back another prize beyond price: the sweet, sweet catharsis of getting to scream at the television.
Speaking of screaming at things, I will be soon if I ever hear the words “Muskrat Falls” again. The “debate” about this hydro-electric megaproject could never really be described as ‘enlightened’, but things started getting extra wild and wooly back in July when local oligarch Danny Williams and his Labrador mining firm SLAPPed beloved local blogger Brad Cabana (and VOCM BackTalk fan-favourite environmentalist Bruno Marcocchio) with a defamation lawsuit. Never one to take this sort of thing sitting down, Cabana, who is representing himself in court, filed his own defamation suit against Williams, meaning that the next few months of this spectacle should provide enough material to get us a legal comedy spinoff out of Republic of Doyle.
A few weeks later, five political and legal veterans—including former senior Peckford aide Cabot Martin, Liberal leadership contender Bern Coffey, and labour firebrand Richard Cashin—joined forces to form 2041 Energy Incorporated, an anti-Muskrat Falls lobbying group. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the provincial government’s response to this was not to actually dispute any of their claims but instead to let bumbling backbenchers Paul Lane and Steve Kent flood the media with puerile sniggering about how their critics are not ‘real’ lawyers or that Cabot Martin is trying to sabotage the megaproject in order to rig the price of natural gas or something. It’s regrettable that the level of discourse surrounding this multi-billion dollar development project has degenerated into something you’d hear hissed between children in the back row of a seventh-grade sexual health class and I don’t know about the rest of you, but I Kent take much more of this.
As far as nonsense goes, there was no shortage of it this August in Ottawa. Turns out that the Bank of Canada’s original design for the new plastic $100 bill actually featured an Asian-looking woman on the back before it was pulled because focus groups expressed alarm at the idea that our currency might get a little ‘too ethnic.’ Participants repeatedly emphasized that putting an Asian on the bill wouldn’t be representative of Canada (with one Fredericton participant calling the image “ugly”), and the Bank of Canada was quick to re-draw the bill with a less threatening, ‘neutral’ (read: white) person in its place. I think this is a great step forward because if there’s one thing this country needs in order to better reflect our diverse, multicultural society, it’s making sure we only put white, ‘normal’ people on our money. The only Canadian news more offensive than this racist debacle is word that Chad Kroeger is getting married to Avril Lavigne.Woe, Canada.
So! You’re now up to speed enough to know that staying up to speed might not be the best thing for your mental health. It’s not all totally dour though—NASA put a new rover on Mars and they opened a Smoke’s Poutinerie down on Water Street. And yes, being able to get a curry chicken poutine while stumbling home from George Street at 3 AM is just as significant as furthering humanity’s baby steps into the Final Frontier. If you think otherwise, you’re the real space cadet.
Thu, Jul 5, 2012
Chances are that if you’re reading this, you are sitting (or standing) in or around St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. Congratulations! You’re in a magical world of multicoloured houses, fog, and city streets that make no sense. This city is the birthplace of British imperialism, the wireless telegraph, and our Lord and Saviour Danny Williams. Newfoundland and Labrador’s biggest exports include labour power for the Alberta oil sands, Republic of Doyle, and most recently, equalization payments to subsidize our poor cousins in Ontario.
Historically, of course, things weren’t always so rosy. The quality of life in much of the province before Confederation in 1949 could generously be described as ‘medieval’. Unemployment has been a problem here since they started keeping records, and there is also an unfortunate piece of local history where the indigenous Beothuk people go extinct. Most of downtown St. John’s has burned down a good two or three or five times too.
From its discovery until well into the 19th century, the only reason anyone came to this jagged rock off the coast of North America was its location next to one of the world’s richest fisheries. Fishing, of course, is a hard living, and it didn’t help that the economy was almost entirely structured around having fishers remain perpetually in debt to a handful of fish merchants. Also, the only thing there was to do for fun was go to church and start fights with people who don’t go to the same church—that is, unless it was Christmas, in which case you would dress up in ridiculous clothes and go around drinking other people’s booze. This is called mummering, and it’s amazing.
If the province’s economic history is a story about the fishery, its political history is one about trying to get away from it. It’s pretty much impossible to collect taxes from fishermen if the industry ensures they literally never have cash, and we know how much politicians love collecting your money. Unfortunately, the historical method of development here has generally been to find the richest industrialist(s) around, give them a bunch of land and subsidies, and hope for the best. That’s how we got the (now defunct) railway, the (now defunct) paper mill in Grand Falls, and the (probably soon-to-be defunct) paper mill in Corner Brook.
Also, for some reason, voters in the 1920s and early 1930s kept electing Sir Richard Squires as the Prime Minister despite the fact that he and his government were routinely getting busted for corruption. They were apparently willing to let it slide until the Depression hit, and in April 1932 something like 10,000 people rioted in the streets of St. John’s. They stormed the Colonial Building on Military Road and smashed everything inside, and Squires barely escaped with his life out one of the back windows.
The government that succeeded him took one look at the mess the country was in and decided they wanted nothing to do with it: in perhaps the smartest move ever undertaken by Newfoundland’s politicians, they voted themselves out of existence in 1934.
By the time World War 2 was over, the island was a lot more prosperous and people were ready for a go at politics again. The first thing that happened was an epic showdown over whether or not to join Canada. In one corner, repping “the People” and a hilarious assortment of bowties was Joseph R. “Joey” Smallwood, local radio host, pig farmer, and union activist (he once walked the entire length of the island’s railway doing a recruiting drive); in the other were the St. John’s merchants and the local branch of the Catholic Church. After two extremely close referendums, Confederation won by the tiniest of margins and, against everyone’s better judgement, Joey Smallwood became our first Premier.
Smallwood was determined to modernize the hell out of Newfoundland, and by God did he ever try. Sometimes—okay, most of the time—a little too hard. The first thing Joey did upon assuming absolute power was hire a Latvian con-artist named Alfred Valdmanis who helped him track down German industrialists to build random factories everywhere. Literally. Didn’t matter what they made or whether or not the products were even any good; if you would actually build your factory in Newfoundland, Joey would subsidize it. During the 1950s the man built everything from a rubber boot factory to a chocolate bar factory to an ugly sweater factory and even a machine manufacturing plant that Joey was convinced would create over 10,000 jobs. It didn’t: almost every single one of these plants was closed by 1960, because, as it turns out, you can’t actually just build random factories everywhere for no reason and expect them to make any money.
Not that this put a damper on Smallwood, of course: the man was always bursting with good ideas. A few of his unrealized dreams fill up a whole chapter in his autobiography: at various points in his tenure, it turns out, he considered other brilliant ideas like building a replica German town filled with actual non-English speaking Germans out in the bay somewhere as a tourist trap, swapping oil from the Come-by-Chance refinery (one of the largest bankruptcies in Canadian history, by the way) for orange juice, and introducing a herd of bison to a small island off the south coast (this last one actually happened, and it went over about as well as you’d think). Never let it be said he wasn’t one for thinking outside the box. Oh, and his government also pretty much gave Quebec a century of free hydro electricity, but this last one’s kind of a minor point that never comes up.
After almost a quarter-century of this nonsense, Comrade Smallwood was finally turfed in the early 1970s by the dashing young Frank Moores, a man dedicated to throwing sexy parties and corporatizing the fishery. But provincial politics eventually put a damper on the sexy parties, and being a man whose priorities were in order, Moores resigned a few years later. His successor was the significantly less dashing Brian Peckford, who is arguably Newfoundland’s greatest proponent of healthy eating. When Peckford wasn’t fighting with Ottawa for offshore oil rights, he was a big cucumber enthusiast; so big, in fact, he was seduced by a sales pitch that promised Newfoundland and Labrador would be the world capital of cucumbers if he’d just build a giant hydroponic greenhouse in Mount Pearl. Seriously. Sprung Greenhouse cost $23 million dollars, the cucumbers were outrageously expensive, and no one had bothered to check into the market research which showed that Newfoundlanders, on average, ate one cucumber a year. I honestly don’t know why they didn’t just grow pot, because someone in the Premier’s office was obviously high.
Unfortunately for the Tory government at the time, Peckford’s Pickle Palace wasn’t the hit they were hoping for, and they were swept out of office in the next election. Even more unfortunately for the Liberals who replaced them, they came into power just in time for the cod fishery to collapse in 1992; apparently, if hundreds of factory trawlers spend two decades razing the ocean floor, you’ll eventually catch all the fish? This probably would have been it for the province if they hadn’t also discovered oil off the coast in 1979, even though the province wouldn’t really start seeing a lot of revenue until around the millennium. In the meantime, Premier Clyde Wells metaphorically flipped off Brian Mulroney by torpedoing the Meech Lake Accord, Premier Brian Tobin sold the Marystown shipyard for a dollar before deciding to spontaneously bail on being the Premier, and Premier Roger Grimes managed to get the province’s name changed from ‘Newfoundland’ to ‘Newfoundland and Labrador’ before the party was tossed out of power by Danny Williams heading into the most prosperous time the province has ever known.
Danny Williams, of course, is probably the most popular Premier we ever had: we liked the guy as much as we liked Joey, except Danny also had the foresight to quit the game before degenerating into senility. Say what you will about him (and there are a lot of things to say), but anyone who literally runs a national campaign against Stephen Harper, motivated entirely out of spite, is pretty all right on in my books. But his achievements since leaving politics overshadow anything he did in office: dude brought the AHL back to Town. He got us hockey, b’ys! How wicked is that?This is probably also the part where I should mention what Kathy Dunderdale’s new government has been doing, but mostly, they just don’t.
And here we are. Newfoundland and Labrador’s story is still unfolding, but if this transparently glib interpretation of history teaches us anything, it’s that whatever is in store next is guaranteed to be hilarious. Especially now that our politicians are on Twitter. Can you imagine if John Crosbie was tweeting back in the 70s? Iron Sheik, eat your heart out.
Thu, Jun 14, 2012
Quick! Read these jokes about the news before Kathy Dunderdale classifies them as state secrets!
Well, the shoe finally dropped this week: Bob Rae is officially out of the running for the not-so-coveted job of federal Liberal leader. With Rae out of the picture, the Liberals are back to square one; square two, I guess, if you count their perennial fever dream of a Justin Trudeau leadership bid. While the pickings are still slim and the outlook still gloomy, the Grits can take comfort in one thing: whoever steps up to bat for them next probably can’t do any worse than Michael ‘Rise Up’ Ignatieff.
Speaking of not-so-coveted jobs, up on Confederation Hill both opposition parties are forcing the provincial government to fight line by line through its proposed changes to the Access to Information legislation it unveiled Monday. Described by pretty much anyone who isn’t a Tory MHA as ‘terrible,’ Premier Dunderdale’s proposed changes would block the Auditor General from looking at government expenses, vastly expand the scope of what is considered a ‘cabinet secret’ (and therefore off-limits to public oversight), and give cabinet ministers the ability to arbitrarily dismiss any requests they deem “frivolous or vexatious” – you know, anything they don’t like. Since then, both Liberal and New Democratic MHAs have been pulling speaking shifts all day and night to delay the bill’s inevitable passage into law (three cheers for majority governments). (You can watch the debate live online here.) No one is sure how long the opposition can keep their legislative slumber party going before the government inevitably moves to shut debate down, but we can only hope they’ve got enough time to rile a few more citizens up; once this bill passes, Newfoundland and Labrador will have worse access to information protections than such bastions of liberty as Bulgaria, Guatemala, and Uganda. But hey! Who actually wants to know what the government actually does with your money, right?
Besides, who can stay upset about the government rolling back basic civic institutions now that it’s officially summer! I’m going by the hockey playoffs, mind you, not those dreadfully un-Christian solstices. It was hallelujahs all around when the Kings spurned the Devils the other night to win the Stanley Cup and free humanity from the burdens of sin and death. Or am I getting this mixed up with the Book of Revelations? Either way I guess it doesn’t matter: I’m contractually bound to cheer for the Devils in both cases. Who else do you think got me this job?
That’s it for this week, kids. There would be more, but because of [REDACTED] we’ve been [REDACTED]. You know how it is these days.
Wed, May 30, 2012
Don’t trust the government, don’t trust the vanities of ego, and definitely do not trust the suspiciously nice weather St. John’s has seen in May 2012. Trust only in your heart. And my opinions.
Whether you believe it’s the ‘Maple Spring’ that heralds a revolution or you just wish those arts students would go back to class, Quebec was boiling over with civil disobedience this month as student protests against proposed tuition hikes dragged on. After negotiations petered out—and militant students blocked others from attending classes at the University of Quebec in Montreal—the provincial government decided to hit back against the student movement by suspending several basic human rights (like, say, punishing anyone suspected of even ‘tacitly’ supporting the protests) and giving the police vastly expanded powers to arrest whoever they wanted. Because, hey, what better way to discredit people protesting injustice than to pass some of the most draconian legislation in Canadian history?
It was a good month for you on Parliament Hill if you enjoy the exciting world of macroeconomic theory! NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair came out swinging against the oil sands this month, blaming Canada’s hyper-powered oil industry for tanking Ontario’s manufacturing centre and instantly alienating the entire Western half of the country. Whether this is in fact the man’s first major gaffe since becoming Opposition Leader or a shrewd, calculated gamble to consolidate support in vote-rich Ontario and Quebec depends on who you ask, but considering that the soundbite Mulcair started with was the decidedly un-sexy ‘Canada has Dutch disease,’ I’m not exactly waiting for another shoe to drop.
Speaking of shoes dropping, the federal government unveiled its proposed changes to the EI system this month, which mainly consists in encouraging jobseekers to relocate for work (and accepting docks in pay, if necessary), and putting the squeeze on those who make frequent claims. While all this sounds great in theory, it raises serious questions about what these changes might mean in places with heavy reliance on seasonal industries—like, you know, Newfoundland and Labrador. Fortunately, instead of having a boring and complicated debate about labour economics and rural development, Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose glibly described the legislation as “like eHarmony, but for jobs.” Tied into all this is an emphasis on getting jobs filled by locals, which again sounds great until you realize that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty also believes “there is no such thing as a bad job,” and then suddenly (at least according to some Open Line callers) we’re dealing with middle-aged fish processors commuting 45 minutes every morning to work at McDonald’s. Did I mention that this significant overhaul of one of the country’s most fundamental social security programs is hidden somewhere inside in a 450-page omnibus bill? Say what you will about this government, but I have to give it props for being two steps ahead on cynicism.
Provincially, the surreal drama surrounding Search and Rescue continued to mount this month. Premier Kathy Dunderdale has steadfastly refused to call an inquiry into the death of Burton Winters last January, even despite assurances from Labrador MP Peter Penashue (for whatever that’s worth) that Ottawa would co-operate with any investigation into what went on. This comes not long after the the release of months of correspondence between the province and Defence Minister Peter MacKay, as well as the Premier turning down a meeting with Winters’ family after it was revealed a retired search and rescue officer would be in attendance. According to the Premier, they aren’t satisfied with what the federal government has told them about their response to the crisis, so there is no point in calling a fact-finding inquiry (although she’s totally okay with the federal government calling one). I’m not sure why the Premier thinks an inquiry is pointless in a situation where all the fundamental facts are in dispute between all relevant parties, but then again, at least we’re getting a break from hearing about Muskrat Falls.
Last but not least, it was a big month south of the border this May after North Carolina won a victory for homophobia when residents voted to ratify a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. Despite this setback for the gay rights movement, President Barack Obama unequivocally endorsed gay marriage shortly afterwards, proving that he’s not afraid to take a strong progressive stand on controversial issues (especially when he needs to rally his base in an election year). Not to be outdone, Republican Senator Rand Paul—son of libertarian dreamboat Congressman Ron Paul—joked shortly after Obama’s declaration that he didn’t think the president’s stance on gay marriage “could not get any gayer,” confirming once and for all that if you name someone after Ayn Rand they will grow up to be a total asshole.
That’s it for this month, folks. I’d write something about the Ice Caps and their playoff performance, but I don’t want Danny Williams to have any more public meltdowns about it.
Thu, May 17, 2012
Hilarious news doesn’t stop in between monthly publications, and neither do I.
Federal politics came to town this week when NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair graced the party faithful with his presence at a fundraiser. His time in town was brief but memorable, mostly because he came out and endorsed Sheilagh O’Leary for mayor of St. John’s before she’d even announced she was running. Talk about a proactive politician! The impromptu campaign kickoff had some people warning an Orange Menace now threatens to take city hall, but considering the candidate in question hasn’t even formally announced yet, Doc O’Keefe can probably sleep easy for the time being.
Provincially, all our wildest dreams came true this week when Twitter spats between MHAs -– notably, Dale Kirby and Paul Lane –- became an actual thing that our politicians spent their time (and your money!) talking about in the House of Assembly. Kirby made a tweet insinuating that some unnamed government member was a liar (gasp!) and gave the Tories a collective aneurysm both in the House and in real life. He was finally forced to apologize (although whether he meant it is another story) to the offended members, confirming once and for all that publicly questioning the government’s honesty is a scandal but a pack of middle-aged men shouting aggressively at an old lady in the legislature is par for the course.
South of the border, Barack Obama was dubbed ‘the first gay president’ after unequivocally endorsing same-sex marriage! While this is no doubt a fabulous development, we can only hope he believes in gay marriage more than he believed in closing Guantanamo.
Last but not least, Diablo III dropped the other day, just in time to squeeze money out of everyone who grew up playing Diablo II and are just now getting real jobs and disposable income. Hold all my calls and tell my girlfriend I love her; I’m going in. It’s 2012 and single player servers will still kick you out because of overcapacity, but hey: you can’t put a price on the joy that comes from pointing and clicking on demons until they die. Fun!
Wed, May 2, 2012
I don’t know what’s more shocking—that St. John’s has actually been seeing a lot of nice weather lately or that April 2012 is already over. Either way, April—like every other month in the surreal hellscape we call “real life”—was pretty funny.
This April saw a civil war rage in Alberta as the governing Progressive Conservatives faced off against their angsty right-wing offspring, the Wildrose Alliance. The Tories ran a terrible and totally uninspiring campaign, setting the stage for a Wildrose victory that all the polls and pundits predicted would usher in a terrifying libertarian dystopia. As it turns out, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith was such a committed libertarian that she told voters the party was totally okay with comments from candidates about, say, the moral imperative to harass homosexuals, or that white people are superior to non-white people; all candidates are entitled to their own opinions! Unfortunately for her, it turned out that homophobia and white supremacy are not actually popular opinions for potential government members to harbour, and their projected majority collapsed into less than a quarter of the province’s seats in what was probably the funniest electoral reversal of fortune in recent memory. If you followed any of this saga on SUN News, Ezra Levant’s palpable heartbreak on election night was really emotionally satisfying.
Like their Wildrose cousins, the federal Conservatives had a pretty rough go of things this month. The Auditor General did a little digging and it turns out that not only did the Department of Defence more or less scam its ministers into shilling for those infamous F-35 fighter jets, but the government ministers in question had already decided to go ahead with the purchase of the jets a month before bureaucrats could even dupe them about it. To make things worse, the government withheld what little (mis)information they had about the jets from Parliament and accused everyone asking for more information of high treason. Whoops! The figures were only fudged by about $10 billion dollars, though, so it’s not actually a big deal or anything.
In other federal news, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms celebrated its 30th birthday this month! To mark this momentous occasion, Prime Minister Harper shrugged that he didn’t actually want to celebrate the Charter in any way because he was sensitive to Quebec’s feelings. This position, of course, is totally consistent with the government’s sensitivity to Quebec’s feelings on all those other issues, like the militant promotion of poorly thought out federal crime legislation that totally alienates la belle province. Or Harper’s past support for funding a re-enactment of French Canada’s greatest national trauma on the Plains of Abraham, or the Conservatives’ decision to scorch the earth of the federal gun registry so thoroughly that Quebec is taking them to court over it. Oh, and Bev Oda was caught spending like a drunken sailor on luxury hotels, limousines and orange juice while in London attending a conference on international aid, but that’s not especially scandalous, as “Bev Oda” has been synonymous with “corruption” since sometime in 2006.
On the provincial front, the much-anticipated Public Utilities Board review of the Muskrat Falls project was made public at the beginning of the month, and much to the chagrin of the provincial government and ex-premier Danny Williams, they repeated in the report what they’d been saying publicly for months; namely, that they didn’t have enough information to come to a conclusion on whether or not the controversial project is, in fact, the lowest-cost option in terms of energy development. In light of this, the government changed its mind and decided it was going to have a dedicated debate on Muskrat Falls in the legislature after all! Eventually, anyways; although it’s doubtful that this will placate an increasingly hysterical opposition or the legion of Twitter conspiracy theorists. The provincial budget also finally dropped after being delayed a month, but the consensus from all interested observers (business, labour, and student alike) is that it’s a pretty humdrum budget. Which is nice, because actually discussing the budget didn’t get in the way of all those other important legislative debates, like yelling hyperboles about Search and Rescue at each other to the point that rational conversation about anything becomes impossible.
There were some other honourable mentions in the news this month. The Tupac Hologram is the greatest development in the history of exploiting dead celebrities, the Swedish Minister of Culture was caught on camera eating a cake in the shape of a clitoris while a man in blackface watched and screamed (no, seriously, Google it), and to clue it all up, Stephen Harper slapped the federal NDP with the world’s laziest Hitler invocation the other day when he declared the party voted against Canada joining World War II (spoiler: the NDP didn’t exist until 1961). Whew!
That’s it for this month, children! Who knows what hilarious social and political dysfunctions May will bring? I know, but I’m not telling until Paul Lane ups his game on Twitter.
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