By Aaron Wherry - Monday, November 7, 2011 - 15 Comments
The Prime Minister responds to the complaints of Ontario and Quebec about his government’s crime policies.
Look, it’s – there’s constitutional responsibilities of all governments to enforce laws and protect people, and I’ve seen the data. I think the people of Ontario and Quebec expect that their government will work with the federal government to make sure we have safe streets and safe communities.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 5:52 PM - 21 Comments
The Scene. Shortly before the start of Question Period this afternoon, Conservative backbencher Patrick Brown rose to repeat his side’s line that the NDP is too “disunited” to govern. A moment later, Conservative backbencher Greg Rickford rose to lament that the NDP, in punishing two MPs who defied the party’s decision to whip a vote on the gun registry, was also too committed to enforcing unity.
Presumably this was Mr. Rickford’s way of protesting his own government’s decision to whip this week’s vote on asbestos exports. Hopefully his caucus leadership won’t too severely punish him for so bravely asserting the independence of individual MPs.
Immediately thereafter, the Speaker then called for oral questions and the official opposition sent up Joe Comartin, Mr. Comartin having apparently discovered an example of irony that he was eager to share with everyone. Continue…
By Nicholas Köhler - Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 5:00 AM - 6 Comments
Infrared beams, military tracking software—how we’re waking up the lumbering giants
Moose aren’t native to Newfoundland, but the province has proven a paradise for the spindly-legged interlopers. All the island’s estimated 120,000 moose—some say there could even be as many as 200,000 munching through the landscape—descend from six moose brought there as hunting fodder over a century ago (two in 1878, from Nova Scotia, four more in 1904, from New Brunswick), an arrival coinciding, happily for the moose, with the decline of the predacious Newfoundland wolf, now extinct.
Today, Newfoundland boasts what’s understood to be the world’s highest-density moose population, a scourge to motorists. With as many as 800 collisions a year, everyone has a story about hitting one, vehicular encounters that can be fatal for drivers as well as for moose. “They’re basically a one-tonne animal on these long legs,” says wildlife scientist Tony Clevenger, who recently wrote a report on the trouble. “The whole body comes right through the windshield.” These accidents each year result in deaths—one so far in 2011, “but last year we had two, the year before that four,” says Eugene Nippard, a leader of the Save Our People Action Committee, which lobbies the province for anti-moose measures. (Nippard speaks longingly of the days when authorities still allowed charities to raffle off roadkill meat.)
All this makes moose an emotional, and frequently political, issue in Newfoundland. A class-action suit, stickhandled by accident and injury lawyer Ches Crosbie, the son of Newfoundland politician John Crosbie, has been filed against the province. Some propose a major cull of 50,000—an unpopular option for outfitters, who make a tidy living guiding U.S. hunters (“because the success rate for hunting moose in Newfoundland is—you know—better than anywhere in the world,” says Clevenger). Moose were even an issue during the recent provincial election: the Grits pledged to erect fencing and negotiate a settlement with class actioners. The Tories (who won) announced pilot projects that will see $5 million spent on 15 km of fencing and two wildlife detection systems.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 7:14 PM - 1 Comment
With results now coming in from Newfoundland and Labrador the Progressive Conservatives appear to have been easily reelected.
The NDP seems set to become the official opposition.
Later tonight, we should have results from the Yukon, where the Yukon Party is hoping to be reelected.
10:57pm. With six seats to the NDP’s five, the Liberals will remain the official opposition in Newfoundland. The New Democrats still drew a higher popular vote and their five seats are precisely five times as many as they had when the election was called.
1:00am. The Yukon Party holds on to its majority. The only movement from the 2006 result was for the New Democrats and Liberals: the former gaining three seats, the latter losing three.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 3:19 PM - 8 Comments
The Scene. Peter MacKay, as is his habit, was up before the questioner was even through. This is, presumably, what the Defence Minister does to demonstrate confidence. Or impatience. Or a general disregard for proper manners.
The poser of the question in this case was Scott Simms, the diminutive Liberal from Bonavist-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor. “Mr. Speaker, we now know, with great regret, that the Minister of National Defence ordered his search and rescue helicopter to pick him up from his vacation on the Gander River,” he lamented. “The response is ‘It was a demonstration of their capabilities.’”
There was much groaning and grumbling from the government side.
“He feels that he is entitled to use vital life-saving equipment for his own personal limousine, and we would like for him to answer to it,” Mr. Simms continued. “The Prime Minister has suggested that the chief of defence staff pay back the money for his personal flights. Will the Minister of Defence do that same, pay back the $16,000 and apologize?”
As noted, Mr. MacKay was already up, apparently eager to state his case. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 8:45 AM - 5 Comments
Defence Minister Peter MacKay apparently had one of Newfoundland’s three search-and-rescue helicopters dispatched to pick him up from a fishing trip.
MacKay’s office defended the move, saying it was an opportunity for the defence minister to see the helicopters’ search-and-rescue abilities up close. ”After cancelling previous efforts to demonstrate their search-and-rescue capabilities to Minister MacKay over the course of three years, the opportunity for a simulated search and rescue exercise finally presented itself in July of 2010,” a statement from MacKay’s office said. ”As such, Minister MacKay cut his personal trip to the area short to participate in this Cormorant exercise.”
However, military sources say no search-and-rescue demonstration was planned until the very day MacKay’s office made the request to pick him up.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 1:37 PM - 5 Comments
After making a great show of dispatching Lawrence Cannon to Newfoundland to give Colonel Gadhafi what for, the Harper government apparently dispatched Mr. Cannon to Tripoli to smooth over any offence that great show might have resulted in.
Instead of delivering a dressing down to the Libyan leader, Ottawa quietly sent Cannon to Tripoli to smooth things over with his government. Cannon was advised to tell Libya that Canada regretted “any misunderstanding” and had supported its bid to join the World Trade Organization.
He was also told to remind Libya that Canada had supported Gadhafi’s attempt to get a seat on the International Atomic Energy Agency in exchange for Libya’s support of Canada’s UN Security Council bid.
In fairness, this occurred two years before Stephen Harper declared that the country’s purpose was “no longer to please every dictator with a vote at the United Nations.”
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 6:41 PM - 126 Comments
The Prime Minister moved quickly to correct the NDP deputy. The Auditor General, Mr. Harper explained, had merely “suggested several recommendations to improve the process in the future.”
Mr. Mulcair was unpersuaded. “No accountability, no transparency, no justification of decisions,” he cried, reviewing the charges.
The Prime Minister stuck to his story. “As I said before,” he recounted, “the Auditor General suggested several recommendations to improve the approval process in the future and we will accept its recommendations.”
Mr. Mulcair fumed for a third time—Parliament kept in the dark, funds redirected, a restored steamboat, etc—but Mr. Harper only barely budged. “The Auditor General has suggested changes in the estimates process to improve transparency,” the Prime Minister allowed.
For sure, that is one way of putting it. Less charitably, one might say that Tony Clement stands accused of not only using public funds to spread trinkets around his riding, but of drawing those funds from an account approved by Parliament for the purposes of “border infrastructure” and of constructing a selection process that involved only Mr. Clement and several small town mayors and that left no paper trail. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 19, 2011 at 11:31 AM - 3 Comments
Tonda MacCharles profiles the new Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.
The remarkable journey of Innu leader Peter Penashue—the first First Nations person to achieve a full-fledged position at the federal cabinet table—began with sobriety. As a young man, Penashue battled twin demons common in his native Labrador Naskapi Indian community. Sexually abused as a youth by a priest from Ontario, he drank too much, and despaired that things would ever change.
At 26, Penashue woke up “really hung-over” and alone on his son’s sixth birthday. He had a moment of clarity. Nothing would change for his family unless he did. The father of four set out to do just that.
By Richard Foot - Friday, May 13, 2011 at 6:50 AM - 27 Comments
Ryan Cleary could be Jack Layton’s biggest caucus challenge
Forget the NDP’s young Quebec caucus: Jack Layton’s biggest management problem when the House of Commons reconvenes may well be the newly elected MP from St. John’s South-Mount Pearl. After failing to win the suburban Newfoundland riding in 2008, Ryan Cleary astonished himself on election night by unseating Liberal incumbent Siobhan Coady by more than 7,000 votes. Making it all the more surprising is the fact that in his previous life as a journalist, Cleary called the NDP a bunch of “losers,” “a small pocket of aging granolas and artsy-fartsies,” and “a party that wouldn’t win an election if Jackie Layton was given a 100-seat head start.”
As the former editor-in-chief of the Independent, a St. John’s newspaper, and as an open-line radio host on the popular St. John’s station VOCM (Voice of the Common Man), Cleary also carved out a reputation as an unapologetic Newfoundland separatist. “I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but now that we’re rolling in the cash it may be time to consider breaking away from the country of Canada,” he wrote in May 2008, five months before hoisting the federal NDP banner for the first time. “If we’re teetering on the edge of economic independence anyway, why not go all the way?”
Today, Cleary, 44, pauses when asked if he still favours independence. “I do not consider myself a separatist,” he says finally. “There have been points when I was younger, when I was gung-ho in terms of separation. But that’s not what people want, and that’s not what I want.”
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Thursday, March 3, 2011 at 9:36 AM - 1 Comment
Dunderdale has Danny Williams’s old job. And she’s as feisty as he was.
The magazines in the reception area of the office of the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador are all still addressed to Danny Williams. Inside the wood-panelled, eighth-floor sanctuary, with its commanding view of St. John’s, Signal Hill and the Narrows, not much else has changed either. Kathy Dunderdale—initially named as Williams’s interim replacement, but now committed to seeking the job in next fall’s provincial election—has added a framed photo of her three grandsons, and a large landscape by local artist Gerald Squires. She’s also traded the leather couch for one covered in plush, green fabric. “I didn’t like it,” she explains. “It was too cold.”
Stepping into the shoes of the province’s most popular politician ever—a poll released just after his surprise Nov. 25 resignation gave Williams a 92 per cent approval rating—doesn’t occasion dramatic alterations. Certainly, that seems to be the thinking of the Progressive Conservatives who will forego a leadership contest and hand the crown to Dunderdale, previously the minister of natural resources and Williams’s deputy, later this spring. The new premier, who turns 59 this month, has already made history, becoming the first woman to hold the Rock’s highest office when she was sworn in, in early December. “We’re two different people,” she says, as she sits, legs curled up in an office armchair. “While we’re passionate about the same things, we share the same sets of principles that have driven the agenda these past 7½ years.” The changes, such as they are, will be more style than substance. “I like to create spaces where people can be heard. And I’m patient.”
Danny Williams found political fortune as Confederation’s bad cop—lowering the Maple Leaf during his dispute with Ottawa over offshore oil royalties, tangling with Quebec about Churchill Falls, tearing into Stephen Harper over equalization issues, and launching an ABC (Anyone But Conservatives) campaign during the last federal election. Charged with securing her predecessor’s legacy—a $6.2 billion deal for a hydro mega-project on the Lower Churchill signed the week before he left office—Dunderdale would probably be wiser to play the good one. After all, her province is now seeking federal loan guarantees for its $4-billion share, as well as a $375-million investment for undersea cables to carry the power to Nova Scotia, and ultimately U.S. markets. There are also the ongoing efforts to buy back Ottawa’s 8.5 per cent equity stake in the lucrative Hibernia oil development.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 11:54 AM - 54 Comments
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews goes to Newfoundland and says opposition MPs from the province have said nothing about building a prison there. Liberal MP Scott Simms produces a letter from 2008 to show that this is untrue. Mr. Toews says that letter doesn’t count because it was sent when Stephane Dion was leader of the Liberal party and when Stockwell Day was the public safety minister.
“These letters date back to a previous leader of the Liberal Party of Canada to a previous Public Safety Minister,” Toews said. “If Mr. Simms disagrees with his current Leader’s position on law and order matters he should raise it with his leader.”
By Paul Wells - Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 48 Comments
WELLS: Danny Williams’s accomplishments and his resentments were two sides of a coin
When his time came to bid the people of Newfoundland and Labrador farewell as their ninth premier, Danny Williams stood in the lobby of the Confederation Building in St. John’s and rattled off the very long list of things he has accomplished for “this bloody awesome province.”
It was a tale of renewed prosperity, fuelled by resource wealth and capped only a week earlier by a $6.2-billion hydro deal for the Lower Churchill River. “If you stand outside and breathe in the air you know you are breathing in the smell of success—the success of us being a ‘have’ province,” he said.
But somewhere in the middle of that river of thanks and congratulations for himself and his collaborators, the 60-year-old Progressive Conservative mentioned another speech, very different in tone, that he delivered three weeks earlier. That speech, at the annual Premier’s Dinner fundraiser, was designed to get some darker stuff off his chest before the upbeat farewell, he said. This suggests the two addresses were conceived, and should be considered, as a package. The yin and yang of the most successful provincial politician of his era.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 11:41 AM - 8 Comments
‘If you want a happy ending, you need to know when to end your story’
Danny Williams, the premier of Newfoundland since 2003, will retire from politics on December 3rd. Williams made the announcement following the completion of what is widely regarded as his legacy project, the signing of a deal between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia to develop Labrador’s Lower Churchill hydroelectric project. “I was quite prepared to stay on for another term if some of my greatest challenges still lay ahead of me, but with the completion of the Lower Churchill deal, it is time for new leadership and new ideas within the PC Party of Newfoundland and Labrador,” he said. Deputy Premier Kathy Dunderdale will take over as acting premier, with a leadership convention scheduled for next next spring in the lead up to the 2011 fall election.
By Nicholas Köhler - Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
A string of recent escape attempts highlights the sorry state of Newfoundland’s prison system
Last month, 33-year-old Mount Pearl, Nfld., resident Rick Bennett pushed aside a ceiling tile in the interview room where he was waiting for his lawyer, pulled himself up into the crawl space and briefly fled into the heavens above St. John’s provincial courthouse. Officers with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary collared him once he collapsed through the ceiling near the judges’ chambers, then dragged him from the building—but not before he’d forced the courthouse’s evacuation, the deployment of the K-9 unit and, perhaps most worrying, an asbestos assessment of the area disturbed by his escape.
Bennett’s illicit exit was just the latest in a string of escapes and corrections slip-ups that highlight the sorry state of Newfoundland and Labrador’s prison system. Two years after a damning independent report noted the decrepit facilities and lack of security—including cell doors that couldn’t lock and 19th-century jails—the escapes raise the question of just how ready Newfoundland is to implement the federal Conservatives’ plans to expand the country’s jails.
By Chris Robinson, Takeoffeh.com - Monday, May 10, 2010 at 2:00 PM - 10 Comments
Chris Robinson’s Top Ten Favourite Places
Having met so many wonderful, giving people during my travels (I’ve even been offered a bride) I take the liberty of sharing my favoritism towards the friendliest cultures. Here is my top ten list of friendliest destinations.
Emerald Isle, diamond people – without question, it’s the warmth of the Irish people that stays with you long after you return. Total strangers treat you as close friends and the ‘craic’ – party spirit – of the Irish pubs is legendary. Maybe it’s the magical properties of a pint of Guinness?
The most gentle people on the planet. The Thai Buddhist culture underpins their genuine desire to please travellers. They naturally offer up their cultural heritage and make it easy for visitors to experience. I was once picked up on the streets of Bangkok by a local who took me to his family temple and then to his home to meet his family – all without a word in common.
What makes people who live on a rock so friendly? Could be their Celtic heritage, their self-reliance or their remoteness from stressful big cities. Whatever the cause, their spirit is irresistible. If you survive being ‘screeched-in’ and kissing the cod, you are ready for anything.
4. New Zealanders
I probably relate so easily to The Kiwis (or they to me?) because they are the closest people in spirit to Canadians: they, too, have a beautiful homeland, a big brother neighbour, and they take great delight in showing off their home to travellers…but always, as befits a kindred Canadian attitude, in an understated way.
The best way to describe the overwhelming friendliness of Tahitians is with this example: my wife and I were travelling with our ten week old baby and treated ourselves to an upscale dinner in Papeete,Tahiti’s capital. Just as our meal arrived, baby Pip started to cry. Without hesitation, our Tahitian server scooped Pip up in one arm and served meals with the other until we had finished our dinner…much to Pip’s delight.
Nature has provided Barbados with many attractions, and the people of this Caribbean island complete the package. I have run the Barbados Marathon twice, and the enthusiastic support of the Bajans lining the route is what carried me both times. The amazing part is that they clearly thought we runners were crazy, but they cheered nonetheless.
Have you ever tried to visit a Greek home and not end up eating with your host? It’s impossible! They are possibly the most hospitable people in the world – in Greece or wherever in the world they have settled. And, yes, I have actively participated in a crazy, plate-smashing dinner party at a Taverna on the island of Kos that I will never forget.
8. Bolivian Aymara and Quechua Indians
I once spent many weeks trekking around Lake Titicaca high on the Bolivian and Peruvian altiplano. I had no tent, nor were there any hotels to speak of. I simply staggered into a village at the end of each day and the wonderful locals shared their homes and their food with me.
Years ago, a small group of us were camped out near the Turkish/Iranian border. A band of armed Kurds surrounded us and invited us to join them at their camp, where we were feted until dawn. Their spirited hospitality was overwhelming.
In the Himalayan valleys of Nepal live a self-reliant people unlike any others I have encountered. They help Westerners who come in search of high altitude adventure to feel welcome. They seem to rise above hardship. Their quiet nobility literally embraces travellers who journey there. When I trekked in the Helambu region north of Kathmandu, their hospitality was simple, gracious and oh so appreciated.
By Chris Robinson
Chris hosts Canada’s top rated radio travel show – the Chris Robinson Travel Shows on Newstalk 1010 CFRB in Ontario and CJAD 8000 Montreal in Quebec. www.chrisrobinsontravelshow.ca
Photo Credits: Chris Robinson
By John Geddes with Cathy Gulli and Tom Henheffer - Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 2:03 PM - 63 Comments
Both sides of the border are squawking about the premier’s trip to the U.S. for treatment
No sooner did news break that Danny Williams had flown south to the United States for treatment of an undisclosed heart condition than the chronic debate about the state of Canadian health care went critical. Opponents of universal insurance—both in Canada and the U.S.—pounced on his trip as a told-you-so moment. The populist Newfoundland premier has, after all, been an ardent defender of the public system. Campaigning during the 2008 federal election to keep Stephen Harper from winning seats in his province, he warned Newfoundland voters that a majority Harper government would threaten Canada Health Act tenets like universality, public administration and accessibility. “Nothing would be safe, quite frankly,” Williams said, “when it comes to going after sacrosanct principles.”
Those principles don’t say anything—at least, not exactly—that conflicts with the right of a 60-year-old Canadian millionaire-politician to check himself into an expensive American clinic for cardiac care. And Newfoundlanders, by and large, saw it that way, leaping to Williams’ defence through talk radio, Facebook get-well messages, and letters to the editor. Some went so far as to say that what’s good for Danny’s heart is good for Newfoundland and Labrador. “I think he’s looking after his health and his best interests,” said Dean MacDonald, a St. John’s venture capitalist and old friend of the premier. “And clearly his best interests are the province’s best interests.”
Off the island, however, such stalwart declarations of support gave way to conflicting claims. Critics of public health insurance seized on this latest case of high-profile medical tourism as proof the Canadian way must be second rate—and no model for America. “This should be a wake-up call to Congress and the administration,” said a Fox News medical commentator. “It is a fact beyond dispute that the United States remains the global destination for patients from all over the world.” Canadian conservatives pounced, too. “It’s symbolic,” said Brett Skinner, president of Vancouver’s Fraser Institute. “These services are not available at all or not available on a timely basis here in Canada.”
That seemed like a reasonable conclusion to draw. Why else would Williams wing off to the U.S.? However, a chorus of Canadian physicians said they were at a loss to think of any heart surgeries, beyond rare and exotic procedures, done in the U.S. that aren’t readily available at Canadian institutes, although often not in Newfoundland. Dr. Bryce Taylor, surgeon-in-chief at Toronto’s prestigious University Health Network, said Ontario’s heart centres offer the latest techniques with virtually no waiting lists, unless a patient insists on a particular famous surgeon. Taylor was annoyed by pundits who assumed Williams went south to get some better procedure faster. “They were impugning our ability to give patients good access,” he said.
There are, of course, differences between what’s on offer on either side of the border. For example, Taylor said some wealthy patients are enticed to U.S. medical “boutiques” that advertise surgery with very small incisions and sometimes robotic equipment. But those innovations are not proven, he added, to be better for the patient. Doctors in both Canada and the U.S. are divided on them. Another difference is the deluxe service offered, for a price, by some famous U.S. hospitals, such as the highly ranked Cleveland Clinic. “It is true that the Cleveland Clinic has so-called concierge treatment,” Taylor said. “They will meet visitors at the airport in limos. I suppose that might be very seductive.”
Canadian hospitals can’t match expensive U.S. clinics when it comes to upscale amenities. Keeping pace on cutting-edge procedures is another matter. When it comes to repairing heart valves, for instance, specialists in Ontario, like virtuoso surgeon Dr. Tirone David, Toronto General Hospital’s head of cardiovascular surgery, are internationally renowned. Why don’t sick American millionaires come north for such surgeries then? Actually, they often ask to, but are usually turned down. The reason: since 2004 Canadian physicians and hospitals have generally not been insured if malpractice suits are brought against them following elective surgeries in U.S. courts, where judgements can be huge.
No matter how many eminent physicians leapt to the defence of Canadian heart specialists, news of Williams’ decision left a lot of Canadians with the impression cardiac care must be better in the U.S. Dr. Jack Tu, senior scientist at Toronto’s Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, has researched outcomes for heart patients in the two countries. Despite famously contrasting health insurance systems, Tu said there’s little difference. But in a recent, unpublished comparison, he found Canada seems to do somewhat better when it comes to patients having to be readmitted to hospital after being discharged following treatment for heart failure. In the U.S., about a quarter end up back in hospital within a month; in Canada, it’s about one-fifth.
Tu suspects pressure to keep hospital bills down means U.S. patients are more likely to be discharged a bit too soon. “In Canada, hospitals are on a global budget,” he observed. “We don’t have insurance companies bugging doctors to send people home quickly.” In fact, the issue of readmissions has prompted the American College of Cardiology and the U.S. Institute for Healthcare Improvement to launch a program called Hospital to Home, in a bid to find ways to lower that troubling readmission rate. Even the elite U.S. hospitals are seized by the issue. Last year, the Cleveland Clinic appointed a task force to study the problem. Broadly speaking, Tu said American hospitals tend to have the edge in technology and intensive care facilities, but Canada’s health system is better at caring for patients over longer periods, including after they leave hospital, and in making sure they get the prescription drugs they need.
Such distinctions in strong and weak points between the two countries didn’t figure in the Williams uproar. It came down to one rich guy’s ability to exit the system he had insistently championed. “If he wants to buy 20-year-old Scotch, I don’t have an issue with it. If he wants to spend his money on his health, I have no issue with it,” said Dr. David Gratzer, a Toronto physician and critic of the Canadian health system. “My issue is with his hypocrisy. My issue is that he says, ‘This is good enough for you, but if I run into trouble I’m taking my jet to Boston or Cleveland.’ ”
Nobody keeps track of how many well-off Canadians pay out of their own pockets for American care. Occasionally provincial health plans pay for U.S. care for ordinary people when services aren’t readily available at home. Provinces spent $1.14 million on U.S. care in 2007-08—less than 0.001 per cent of total health spending. But that’s no more precise an indicator of shortcomings in the Canadian system than Williams’ trip is. Dr. Lorne Bellan, chair of the Wait Times Alliance, an organization of Canadian doctors aimed at speeding up access to treatment, said those problems are serious, complex, and likely to get worse as the population ages.
According to Bellan, provinces made quick progress after Paul Martin’s short-lived Liberal government cut a deal with them in 2004 to funnel $5.5 billion over 10 years into cutting wait times. Queues for cataract surgery, joint replacements and other high-demand procedures shrank fast. Then the Conservatives won election in 2006 on a promise of bringing in wait time “guarantees.” In 2007, each province signed on to deliver one health service, from radiation therapy to bypass surgery, within a guaranteed period. But Bellan said these were token gestures in areas where the waits were already reasonably short. Real progress stalled as politicians shifted to focusing on issues like climate change and the economy.
At least, until the Danny Williams story. “It’s brought to light again this question of what our system is able to provide in Canada,” Bellan said. “It allows us to point out again that there is unfinished business.” Among the persistent problems, he said: shortages of MRI machines and nerve-wracking waits for surgery for serious but non-life-threatening conditions.
Officials in Williams’ office said his surgery was done on Feb. 4 and he was released from intensive care the next day. He is expected to say more about where he went and why when he comes home within a couple of weeks. Whatever his personal story turns out to be, if those details spark only another round of crude claims about complicated issues, the episode won’t have done nothing to move the Canadian health care debate forward.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 11:06 AM - 45 Comments
Liberal Gerry Byrne makes the case.
“When someone actually coaches or conducts criminal behaviour to impose a political agenda on each and every other citizen of Canada, that does seem to me to meet the test of a terrorist organization,” the member from Newfoundland and Labrador said in an interview from Ottawa with radio station VOCM in St. John’s, N.L.
“I am calling on the Government of Canada to actually investigate whether or not this organization, PETA, is acting as a terrorist organization under the test that exists under Canadian law.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, June 12, 2009 at 1:36 PM - 1 Comment
Mayor Rex Barnes said the town has a number of sewer and water projects under way but he was not aware of the work showcased on the federal map. Weather in central Newfoundland shortens the construction season, he added, warning that it would be hard to add a new project this year. “If you want the work done in summer you have to have [the tender] out in January,” he said.
By Brian Banks - Thursday, June 11, 2009 at 8:25 AM - 4 Comments
Open hearts & warm smiles
George Street Festival (July 30-Aug. 4) Royal St. John’s Regatta (Aug. 5) Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival (Aug. 6-8)/St. John’s It’s only fitting that North America’s oldest city long ago got its summer festival act down pat. As soon as August arrives, St. John’s rolls them out in order. The bars on George Street are always a focus of St. John’s nightlife, but during its namesake festival, the street plays host to five straight nights of thumping outdoor concerts. Next day, the city rises for a civic holiday and the rowing regatta at Quidi Vidi Lake—an all-day extravaganza that claims to be the oldest continuously running sporting event in North America. Bannerman Park, a short walk from downtown, is the scene of the three-day folk festival that rounds out the second weekend with a mix of music, dance, crafts and workshops.
Gros Morne National Park Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, the 1,805-sq.-km Gros Morne National Park is an inspiring fortress of cliffs, fjords, waterfalls, sea stacks and wild, rolling inland terrain carved from the slabs of ancient, exposed ocean crust—continental drift laid bare, hence the UNESCO designation—that, together with the roots of a 1.2-billion-year-old mountain range, forms the backbone of Newfoundland’s west coast. An extensive trail network and spectacular views make Gros Morne a mecca for hikers. Within the park, there is a Discovery Centre on the south shore of Bonne Bay. Close by, as well, is the community of Woody Point, which hosts an annual summer writers’ festival, Writers at Woody Point (Aug. 12-16).
By Rachel Mendleson - Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 2:40 PM - 1 Comment
Johnson is Newfoundland’s first active MHA to give birth
You would think that members of Canada’s provincial legislatures would enjoy a fairly progressive workplace—but apparently not. Not a single jurisdiction has developed a clear policy for maternity leave, and in many cases, female members could technically be docked hundreds of dollars of pay for missing sessions to have a baby.
Charlene Johnson, who last month became Newfoundland and Labrador’s first ever MHA to give birth while in office, found that out the hard way. She’ll have to apply for approval for the time she’s missing—and if she doesn’t get it, she could be charged $200 a day for her absence.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 12:47 PM - 34 Comments
When a Liberal senator tried to move a bill last month that would’ve ended the seal hunt, seven different Conservative MPs were sent up to express their genuine outrage with the senator, Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal party. Elizabeth May and Warren Kinsella were singled out for scorn too.
“This is appalling,” gasped Gail Shea, the Fisheries Minister.
“When will the Liberal leader quit his assault on rural Canadians?” begged Chris Warkentin.
For good measure, Shea’s department sent out three press releases attacking the Liberal side (an improper use of government resources that would eventually necessitate an apology).
One trusts that the Prime Minister’s finely tuned moral compass will demand an equally forceful response to news that Barack Obama’s not much of a fan of the seal hunt either. The letter in question surfaced two weeks ago and received coverage in Newfoundland the next day.
By selley - Tuesday, October 14, 2008 at 11:01 PM - 0 Comments
Danny Williams last month on how he’d prefer Newfoundlanders vote:
“If Stephen Harper gets a majority government I remind you of words of Bachman Turner Overdrive: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Williams said Harper has kept “his agenda carefully hidden,” and urged people to read Harper’s writings over the past 10 years.
“The only reason we haven’t seen his full plan for Canada implemented is because he’s had a minority government to keep it in check. A majority government for Stephen Harper would be one of the most negative political events in Canadian history.”
Rex Murphy, three days later, on Williams dissing Loyola Hearn upon the occasion of his retirement and generally drinking too much of his own Kool Aid:
Danny Williams has reached such supremacy, however, that he has effectively become the only voice in Newfoundland politics. Mr. Hearn is gone. John Crosbie is in honorific heaven. And now there’s only Danny. That’s bad for us. It’s bad for him, too, should he care to think about it.
And tonight… wow.
- Labrador: Todd Russell (Lib) wins with 70% (2006: 51%)
- Humber–St. Barbe–Baie Verte: Gerry Byrne (Lib) wins with 68% (2006: 53%)
- Bonavista–Gander–Grand Falls–Windsor: Scott Simms (Lib) wins with 70% (2006: 52%)
- Random–Burin–St. George’s: Judy Foote (Lib) wins with 54% (2006: 45%)
- Avalon: Scott Andrews (Lib) wins with 45% (2006: Conservatives win with 52%)
- St. John’s South–Mount Pearl: Siobhan Coady (Lib) wins with 43% (2006: Conservatives win with 45%)
- St. John’s East: Jack Harris (NDP) wins with 75% (2006: Conservatives win with 47%; the NDP had 17%!)
By Peter Shawn Taylor - Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM - 0 Comments
Individual quotas help prevent mad fishing orgies
The solution to saving the world’s fish may lie in giving fishermen greater ownership of the seas, according to a new study in the journal Science. Whether Canadians agree or not may depend on which coast they live on.
Conventional fishing quotas lead to a “race to fish,” in which everyone hauls as many fish out of the water as quickly as possible. For example, group quotas pushed Alaskan halibut fishermen to compress their season into a three-day fishing orgy that stripped the sea bare, lowered prices and left a number of fishermen dead. Individual transferable quotas (ITQs), on the other hand, guarantee fishermen a fixed share of a yearly quota and allow them to sell this right to others. With catch-share property rights in place, argues economist Christopher Costello of the University of California (and co-author of the Science study), “fishermen have a financial incentive to take the long-term view.”
“Having an ITQ is like owning a house versus renting an apartment,” says Costello. “If you own it, you’re going to take better care of it.” Keeping an eye on the future in this way results in fishing at a slower and more sustainable rate using gentler methods. His study of 11,000 fisheries worldwide found that areas with transferable quotas were less likely to suffer declines, and many collapsed fisheries rebounded once such quotas were in place. Given recent trends suggesting the world’s major fisheries could collapse by 2048, Costello’s evidence seems welcome relief.
Costello says Canada is already “a world leader” in individual quotas and could benefit from their wider adoption. The B.C. halibut fishery, for instance, was one of the first in North America to use the system in 1991. It’s been so successful that Alaska adopted a similar program to fix its own halibut fishery. Yet individual quotas were also in place in Newfoundland when the cod disappeared in ’92. The problem then was quotas set too high for political reasons. “Around the world, catch-shares work extremely well,” says Costello. “But you still need to get the science right.”
By John Fraser - Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM - 0 Comments
Newfoundland will be a ‘have’ province soon. Poor Ontario.
The timing is a bit arbitrary, but at some point in the next year and a half, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador will slip over from being a “have-not” province to a “have.”
Just like that.
What a sea change this will represent. The lowest man on the totem pole shooting up past its Atlantic province siblings, past the historic rival (Quebec), past Manitoba to survey the sunny economic uplands of Canada, there to sniff the purer, rarefied air that has been so unquestionably the right for so long of Ontario and the affluent western provinces.
The prospect of “haveness” has been around for a few years. Just last February, for example, the annual satirical Leacock Debate held each year in Toronto featured the proposition, “Newfoundland will stick with Canada even if Ontario sinks.” The motion was humorously attacked by the outgoing lieutenant governor of Newfoundland, Edward Roberts, and the former Liberal premier, Brian Tobin. The unlikely defence was mounted by professor Shane O’Dea of Memorial University, something of a Newfoundland nationalist, and the new lieutenant governor, the redoubtable John Crosbie.
“You poor buggers,” said Crosbie to the blue-chip audience of lawyers, business folk and academics who had gathered at the University of Toronto. “You’ve got potholes in your streets and leaks in your bank buildings,” he said, laying it on with a trowel. “It’s pathetic when you see the reality: beggars on Bloor Street, company chairmen having to drive themselves to work. But here’s good news. Newfoundland is going to stick with you, come hell or high water. Even if you all end up on the welfare rolls, we’ll tide you over. We’ll help you to keep your noses above the waterline.”
The laughter was loud, but there was just a slight edge of uneasiness. That a prominent Newfoundlander could mock Ontarians in their own capital was profoundly funny, and also something few there that evening could have ever imagined just a decade or so ago. That’s because for generations, Newfoundlanders have been the poorest of the poor, the Haitians of North America, the dumb fishermen and brutal swoilers (seal hunters) of old, the butt of national jokes no one outside of Canada ever understood.
That contempt was noticed on the Rock. Surveying a national penchant for laughing at “Newfies,” the brilliant and caustic St. John’s Evening Telegram columnist Ray Guy wrote in 1968: “Newfoundlanders, what are we? We’re slobbering idiots, slack-jawed simpletons, rustic fish billies living in Dogpatch-on-the-rocks, lower than lower Slobovians, the laughing stock and ‘white trash’ of Canada. Why one province of Canada should have become the object of scorn and derision of the other nine is a mystery to us. Do we deserve it? If we do, we’d like our fellow Canadians to tell us why. If the fad for ridiculing all things Newfoundland continues, it could leave a scar that will take a long time to heal.”
Now all that’s changing faster than any scab can be peeled off the skin, just as fast as the ever-rising price of oil beneath the Grand Banks can be brought to market. And it is the oil that’s primarily done it, of course. The offshore Hibernia field has been nudging Newfoundland for some years to look beyond its colossal net debt (at $11.6 billion, the highest per capita debt in the country) to the brightest future in its long history.
And then recently, Premier Danny Williams—in some Newfoundland eyes the greatest leader in the Western world since Charlemagne—signed a multi-year agreement with four oil companies (Chevron, ExxonMobil, Petro-Canada and StatoilHydro) to develop the new Hebron offshore site, south of the already lucrative Hibernia fields, which will pump billions more into the Newfoundland economy in a few years.
All across the country, and especially in Alberta, where young Newfoundlanders have often reluctantly migrated to better their lot in life, there is a rising sense of possibilities. Colin Whiffen is typical. A 21-year-old scaffolding worker who has found great-paying work on the oil sands project at Fort McMurray, Whiffen still comes home to Placentia for 10 days a month to live the life he loves with the most warm-hearted, culturally confident people in English Canada. He’s hoping for full-time work in Newfoundland before he turns 30 and now there’s a pretty good chance he might make it by 25.
A prosperous, spiritually buoyant Newfoundland is set to become one of the great wonders of 21st-century Canada, wiping out forever all the vicissitudes of the first half of the 20th, if not the preceding centuries. Canada being a country that tends to jettison its history—especially when it is inconvenient—has largely forgotten that Newfoundland has already experienced the Canadian nightmare: loss of nationhood and absorption by its big, wealthy and often arrogant neighbour. Up until 1933, Newfoundland, a self-governing dominion within the British Empire, had the same status as Canada and Australia till economic privation and bankruptcy forced it into a sub-colonial dependency on the British government during the Depression.
Of course, Confederation in 1949 with Canada has been good for Newfoundland, and there are very few today who would deny that. But Newfoundlanders also know that all the economic benefits of being part of the larger whole have come with a price tag, ignorant condescension being the least of it really, along with an often crippling dependency on handouts that demeaned the spirits even as it held out a lifeline.
There’s also all the decades-old rancour over the Churchill Falls power deal that has seen huge sums go to Quebec, for merely being the middleman between Newfoundland’s natural resources and the power hungry markets of the rest of North America. The rancour continues and is fuelled by what all Newfoundlanders consider the rotten deal the Smallwood administration felt itself forced to sign with Hydro-Québec in 1969.
There’s more inconvenient history here. When Newfoundland joined Canada, it was on the broad understanding that no province could impede the trade of others provinces. That’s part of the British North America Act, still the cornerstone of Canadian constitutionalism. Unless, of course, it is Newfoundland trying to sell electricity to New York state or English Canada via power lines that have to be built on Quebec soil. Ask anyone in Newfoundland and they will tell you Quebec has always had a “notwithstanding” clause in Confederation.
The four-decades deal with Hydro-Québec for a laughably low price was bad enough. But worse is in store. Only lately has it been rediscovered that Quebec has the right to a 25-year extension at even a cheaper rate. Here’s how a recent article in the Dalhousie Law Journal described a situation guaranteed to rile any self-respecting Newfoundlander: “The 44-year term of the contract (signed in 1969) runs from 1972 to 2016,” observed James Feehan and Melvin Baker of Memorial University. “However, the contract provides for renewal at the expiry date for a further 25-year period with the terms predetermined. As such it amounts to a contract ‘piggy-backed’ onto a contract. During the renewal period the price is pre-set at two mills per kilowatt hour. A mill is one-tenth of a cent, so two mills is 0.2 cents.
“Even in the late 1960s, a price of two mills was extraordinarily low and not achievable from any new energy source available to Hydro-Québec. To put this price in perspective, in 2004 the average wholesale price of electricity in Ontario was 52.2 mills per kilowatt hour and in 2003 Hydro-Québec received an average of approximately 84.9 mills for its electricity exports. A price of two mills in 2016 with that price fixed until 2041 is barely distinguishable from being free.”
Before Stephen Harper and Danny Williams, either in collusion or through individual desire, managed to shut the great gob of John Crosbie by appointing him the representative of the Queen to sit in occasionally magnificent frustration in Government House in St. John’s, he was very vocal on this issue. Five years ago when he was the chancellor of Memorial University, he let a blast go in the general direction of Ottawa when he addressed the Newfoundland and Labrador Construction Association in January 2003: “We cannot cease in our efforts to have the government of Canada participate meaningfully in such [new power] developments to atone for their permitting us to suffer the economic losses we have had to bear through its failure to develop a reasonable, sensible, courageous and equitable national energy policy that would permit and encourage the wheeling of power across provinces and the development of a true national grid for hydroelectric energy transmission in our country.”
The unfair hydro deal is the principal reason Premier Danny Williams has insisted the province have an equity stake in the new Hebron oil project—4.9 per cent in fact. It’s a gamble. The history of direct government involvement—and intervention—in energy projects like this is not a happy one, but the history here and the remembered grievances speak louder than fears over the heavy-handed potential of government.
“We’re now partners at the table,” said Williams after the signing, “and that’s a wonderful thing. We can be criticized because when we become partners, we take on risk, but we all know there’s no reward without risk. We are taking very modest risk compared to the reward here.”
All the hope and expectations of growing prosperity buzzing around the streets of old St. John’s is such a far cry from the traditional tale told on the Rock. In many Canadian eyes, as Ray Guy observed, and even in the view of some Newfoundlanders impatient for a better future, this island province was the end of the road on Misery Lane. Nothing epitomized this more than the catastrophic and tragic depletion of the cod fishery at the end of the 20th century, a resource that for centuries defined the Newfoundland economic system.
The overfishing by all countries brought about a moratorium still in place today, although there are hopeful signs that the cod stocks are in recovery. Go over for a fireside chat with His Honour the Governor (some still call the lieutenant governor by the historic title in place till 1949) and you will see the famous brow furrowed at this news. You can tell he wants to say something over-the-top. That’s how John Crosbie, and many Newfoundland politicians before him, manage to get heard. So actually watching Lieutenant Governor John Crosbie trying to choose his words carefully in order to stick within constitutionally accepted norms of the Queen’s non-partisan representative is a bit like watching a mongoose befriend a python. It doesn’t come naturally to the man, but he is trying: “It may sound strange coming from a former politician,” he said in Government House a few weeks ago, the day after Williams announced the Hebron oil deal, “but our hope in Newfoundland is that politics doesn’t screw up the fishery. I don’t mean any particular politics, I mean politics in general, at all levels. If the cod really is coming back, and acknowledged experts like George Rose at Memorial are pretty sure it is, then we are at the same sort of crucial juncture with the fishery as we are with our other God-given natural resources.
“Will we keep an eye to the long-term future or will we blow it with a big blast like a crazed lottery winner? There are some positive signs here that Newfoundland has learned from the errors of the past, which is good because you know this oil bonanza isn’t going to last forever—10 to 15 years if we are lucky. All Newfoundlanders need to work on a comprehensive vision. It’s not just up to the government of the day, although it has to take the lead. It’s great if the cod fishery really is coming back, but we also know very well how to kill it off, and if we start overfishing again, that’s what we’ll do, we’ll blow it.”
Crosbie feels Newfoundland is at much more than an “interesting juncture.” For the first time in its long and struggling history, this extraordinary place is about to deal with a wholly new situation as it becomes an economic leader in a nation it joined as a pauper.
“What’s new? We’ve been helping you lot out for a long time,” said the governor, with just a hint of a tight smile. “Who do you think has been keeping Quebec afloat all these years with that cheap electricity? We’d like to help Ontario too, I’m sure.”
The mischievous twinkle in his eye also comes with a deadly earnest concern that Newfoundland doesn’t screw up its good fortune. Stephen Harper and Danny Williams may think the Queen’s man is like a codfish caught in a net of constitutional strictures, but I don’t envy anyone who’s around the governor if he thinks they’re blowing it.