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Opinion

The Independent welcomes opinion pieces from readers on any topic. These pieces reflect the opinions of the writers. The Independent editorial staff reserves the right to edit the opinion pieces for clarity and length.

Muskrat Falls and the Tip of the Iceberg

in Featured/Opinion by

Last Thursday night, instead of attending a letter writing campaign at the LSPU Hall where dozens of local artists had assembled to write to government policy makers, begging for an increase in funding for our provincial arts council, I was on Springdale Street replacing a set of leaky kitchen taps in a rental property. The owner was a nice Scottish man who works in the oil industry. He complained about the lost equity in the house. He’s working in Azerbaijan now, but has fallen in love with a Newfoundland woman. He bemoaned the lack of work here, while I was under his sink. He said most oil companies would never build another major project in Newfoundland, after what went on with Hebron. He said the Koreans were much cheaper and better organized. “I worked on that project,” I said. “What a shit show.” We went on to discuss the rampant…

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Where Does Government End and Nalcor Begin?

in Featured/Opinion by

In 1998, then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright captured perfectly the multi-generational culture of the US Foreign Policy establishment: “if we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.” That last part in particular has aged poorly. When she uttered it, the US-led West was ramping up its campaign to open and secure markets (“spread democracy”) in every corner of the globe—peacefully if possible; by force if necessary. Two decades later, it is hard to argue that this approach has been especially successful for the United States of America. In The Hell of Good Intentions, Stephen Walt, Professor of Foreign Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, describes the culture of this entrenched establishment as “fiercely self-protective.” Professional success depends on reputation, and you do not advance your career by challenging orthodoxy, which in this case…

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Newfoundland and Labrador’s “Climate Action Plan” is All Bark and No Bite

in Featured/Opinion by

You could almost mistake its 55 glossy pages of picturesque coastal landscapes for a tourism brochure, save a strange word map of climate policy-related buzzwords. In reality, it is Newfoundland and Labrador’s brand new climate change action plan; or, to stay on brand, The Way Forward: On Climate Change in Newfoundland and Labrador. A five-year plan to guide provincial action and support implementation of the federal government’s Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Does this beautiful PDF detail how to decarbonize the provincial economy and to help avoid the catastrophic impacts of global climate change? It has some strengths, and many weaknesses. Let’s start with the good news. First and foremost: kudos to the provincial government for recognizing the urgency of climate change. Annual average temperatures in Newfoundland and Labrador have already increased 0.8 degrees Celsius above historical norms, and the report does not shy away from…

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What Does it Mean to Take Women’s Leadership Seriously?

in Featured/Opinion by

Women are being asked to “Lean in,” to work harder, faster, stronger, smarter, to work a “Double-Shift,” to improve themselves so that they have “what it takes” to compete with men. What all of this advice misses is that women have been doing these things, and more, for a very long time. Women are not the problem when it comes to their absence from politics, from boards and commissions, and from holding the reigns of Fortune 500 Companies. Women show up. Prepared. They already are working harder, faster, stronger, and smarter. The problem is that they get blocked at the door, in the hallways, they don’t get offered a seat at the table, they face glass ceilings and they face glass cliffs. None of these are things that can be fixed by being talked at by men who have helpful “tips and tricks” on how to get along well with…

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Make Them Pay for Muskrat Falls

in Opinion/To Each Their Own by

It was voted The Telegram’s top news story of the year: the Muskrat Falls Inquiry into a project that is “publicly funded, years behind schedule and billions of dollars over-budget.” The public has been riveted as they follow the proceedings. Those in the spotlight trade barbs with each other and the inquiry officials; they rant self-righteously and sanctimoniously defend their reputations. It will be interesting to see what the Inquiry concludes. (So far, the longer it goes on, the less popular the Muskrat Falls project becomes.) Interesting, but little else. The $33.7 million inquiry is unlikely to lead to any substantive change, unless it identifies guilty parties and proceeds to sanction and punish them. ‘Guilty’ in the context of public decision-making, of course, can span a broad spectrum: guilty of hiding or ignoring important information; guilty of failure to do due diligence; guilty of failure to uphold the public trust…

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Charity is Not Enough

in Opinion by

Two cheers for us. The instant we heard that fire had destroyed the Community Food Sharing Association (CFSA) warehouse and its stock of food last Wednesday, people in this province reacted with their usual generosity. Alongside the scores who donated quietly, a long list of local businesses, public figures and organizations sprang into action. By Saturday, donations to the CFSA had topped $300,000 in cash and 50,000 pounds of food for distribution to food banks across Newfoundland and Labrador. The Edge, the Growlers, the oil industry, vendors at the farmer’s market, the public library, municipal councils, labour organizations, politicians and media outlets including VOCM and CBC, are among the many who rallied. Topping the charts, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador donated $50,000 to food banks and, in a giffed-up exchange between the premier and Eg Walters, handed over keys to a replacement warehouse. Wait. What? Think about that for…

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Global warming and corporate greed combine to destroy forests with fire and felling

in Featured/Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

The razing of millions of acres of forests by wildfires has been increasing in scale and intensity for the past few decades. This year has set new records for the number of trees and shrubs destroyed by fire—not just in the United States and Canada, but also in many other countries, including England, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Sweden, Latvia, and North Korea. Wildfires, of course, have been a yearly occurrence in the summer months for centuries. Triggered mainly by lightning, they were Mother Nature’s way of disposing of dead timber and providing fertile ground for new plant growth. That is still an important natural process, although many conflagrations today are unnaturally caused by human carelessness, such as poorly tended campfires and flipped-away cigarette butts. Far more devastating for the world’s forests today, however, are the effects of global warming, mostly caused by the greenhouse gas emissions that emanate from the burning…

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It’s not about a hotel

in Opinion/To Each Their Own by

Really, all the ado is not about a hotel. If St. John’s is so awash in tourists that we need a new hotel, nobody is going to argue. Nobody minds a new hotel for the tourists. It’s work for contractors, it’s work for staff, it’s money for the local economy. What this is about is entitlement. It’s about a merchant class elite business community which really contributes very little to this city (trickle-down economics never worked; what’s more important is that the rich pay their taxes rather than stashing it in offshore bank accounts), yet considers that the city ought to jump through hoops, waive regulations and give them whatever they want on a silver platter whenever they ask for it. This small city doesn’t have much. It’s got an unemployment rate twice the national average (the second highest of any Canadian city), overcrowded hospitals, no family doctors taking patients,…

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It’s a Hard-Rock Life for Us: Unlocking Social Mobility to Fix our Economy 

in Editorial/Opinion by

In the summer of 2012, when oil was still going for over $100 a barrel, a Rex Murphy-led documentary returned from commercial break and opened with the line “he’s a symbol of [Newfoundland’s] happy reversal of fortune.” The camera cut to a shot of a rusty Bell Island Ferry and then to my mother’s home kitchen.  I had turned down a sizeable national scholarship in a decision to earn a bachelor’s degree in my home province, with the intention of running for the Bell Island town council inside of a year. Murphy saw my decision as an expression of the confidence people felt since shrugging off our status as a have-not province four years prior.  But we hadn’t all shrugged off our have-not status so easily. “Have” status in tow, every young (and old) Bell Islander can still recall someone refer to their hometown as Fraggle Rock—the setting and namesake…

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Will the latest report on Canada’s shoddy childcare help to reduce government neglect?

in Featured/Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

A recent report on Canada’s abysmal failure to protect and care for the country’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens—its children—made headlines and stirred ripples of shame and outrage. Compiled by Children First Canada and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, the study found that children in Canada suffer from shockingly high rates of poverty, obesity, infant mortality, abuse, suicide, and declining mental health. Calling these grim statistics “deeply disturbing,” Sara Austin, director of Children First, pointed out that “Canada ranks as the fifth-most prosperous nation in the world, but there’s a big disconnect between the well-being of our country and the well-being of our children. All levels of government need to do more to ensure that children benefit from Canada’s overall wealth.” This plea for decent high-quality child care in Canada is only the latest in a long list of such supplications. It is only the latest such report detailing…

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Talking about the weather in Windsor Lake…

in Featured/Opinion/To Each Their Own by

It’s unusual for this publication to let an election or even byelection go by with nary a comment. Yet despite the rapidly approaching Windsor Lake byelection, it took me a while to figure out what to say. I considered focusing on the Liberals. Oh, where to start? Their failure to tackle unemployment, which is the province’s biggest crisis and one nobody seems interested in talking about? Their failure to do anything remotely constructive to grow or diversify the economy over the past three years? The fact they fall to their knees grovelling at any big industry that comes knocking, handing the big mainland industrialists whatever they ask for on a silver platter, whether it’s royalty concessions or waiving environmental regulations? The fact that they’ve done nothing to secure the people of the province against ruinous energy bills as a result of the Muskrat Falls debacle, besides some vague promises that…

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The selfishness of thieves

in Opinion/To Each Their Own by

The question on everyone’s minds is – why do they do it? Don’t they realize it’s hurting all of us? Making off with their ill-begotten gains? Just because they’re able to? How does their conscience let them get away with it? Do they do it just for a bit of fun? Because they’re young and they think the world is theirs to do with what they will? Of course, I see the temptation. We’re all hard up these days. Cost of living is through the roof, it’s impossible to get a nice affordable place to rent any more, and the electricity costs…don’t get me started. Yes, we’re hard up, but that’s no reason to just turn your back on your neighbours and line your own nest. It’s downright anti-social. We live in a society, and when any one of us decides we’re going to simply put our own needs above…

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Trade unions get scant coverage in modern mainstream media

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

Back in the 1960s, 1970s, and into the ‘80s, almost all of the large newspapers in Canada had a reporter who specialized in labour-management relations. Wilf List covered labour for The Globe and Mail for an amazing 35 years. I wrote a labour relations column for the Toronto Star for 15 years (1968-1982), and the editorial staff of several other papers at the time also included labour columnists as well as labour reporters. Conventions of the largest labour unions and the Canadian Labour Congress attracted dozens of reporters. The names of union presidents were almost as well known as those of prominent politicians and corporate executives. Once a year, in my Star column, I listed, in order, the ten labour leaders I considered the country’s most influential, without having to identify them with much more than their names. Today, not a single daily newspaper employs a labour columnist, much less…

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Is creativity overrated? On the arts in Newfoundland and Labrador

in Arts & Culture/Featured/Opinion by

Is creativity overrated? Oli Mould is a human geographer at University of London in the UK, and the title of his latest book—Against Creativity—might lead you to think so. The provocative argument Mould makes in his book is that “creativity is a barely hidden form of neoliberal appropriation. It is a regime that prioritises individual success over collective flourishing. It refuses to recognize anything…that is not profitable.” He’s referring to the manner in which neoliberal, corporate capitalism has appropriated everything we thought of as creative—from the arts to scientific innovation—and harnessed it for the exploitation of profit. His book offers numerous examples. Real estate developers have taken to spray-painting graffiti in housing developments in the hope of making them seem trendy and appealing to the hip and wealthy. Other developers will convert empty warehouses into art galleries or offer free apartments to artists, not because they want the arts to…

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Where next in the fight over Muskrat Falls and rate mitigation?

in Opinion/To Each Their Own by

On Friday, a group of protesters gathered at the Public Utilities Building in St. John’s, as they have for the past few weeks, protesting current and anticipated power rate hikes as a result of the Muskrat Falls project. Earlier this week, meanwhile, a coalition of over two hundred prestigious academics and authors signed a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, calling for a halt to the Muskrat Falls project, in light of the risk of irrevocable damage it poses to the environment and culture of Indigenous-led communities in Labrador. On the Island: power rate hikes. On the Labrador: threats to health, safety, and culture. The thing that binds these two acts of protest is Muskrat Falls. It’s a scandal that has united the people of the province in scorn, derision and outrage against a bad deal signed and supported by successive provincial governments, which threatens the very future of the…

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Science fiction helps us understand the future as well as past and present

in About Books/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

When I started reading science fiction, in my teens, it was widely regarded as a disreputable form of literature. This was not surprising, since at that time—the early 1940s—sci-fi was confined to pulp magazines with lurid covers, often depicting scantily-clad heroines shooting ray-guns at BEMS (bug-eyed monsters). Living in Newfoundland at the time, while it was still a British colony, I had to order sci-fi periodicals from the United States. They had to be cleared by customs officers, who also doubled as the colony’s censors. The censor who examined the magazines mailed to me from New York was Mr. Howell, who happened to be our nearby neighbour. Shocked by the trashy cover art, he spent an hour or more leafing page by page through Amazing Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Weird Tales, searching for evidence of pornography or obscenity, all the while shooting suspicious glances at me. Fortunately, the stories…

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A modern harassment policy for the House of Assembly could help change the political culture of this province

in Featured/Opinion by

The provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador is moving to establish a new harassment policy to apply specifically to elected officials within the House of Assembly—for the fall of this year. This policy comes on the heels of three accusations of harassment against two cabinet ministers. Both Eddie Joyce and Dale Kirby have been removed from cabinet and caucus following harassment and bullying accusations. They remain on paid leave until an investigation has been conducted and a report is made. Both ministers had requested leave from the House for an unspecified amount of time and were approved with pay. In the absence of a harassment policy specific to the provincial legislature, complaints are currently being directed to the Commissioner of Legislative Standards, Bruce Chaulk, who has stated he will be hiring an independent investigator to assess them (where he deems that an investigation is warranted). Under the rules governing the…

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There’s no excuse for government refusal to help kids in millions of poverty-stricken families

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook/Uncategorized by

“Where’s the money coming from?” That’s the question thrown at any individual or group seeking increased funding for health care, education, child care, or public pensions – and, most urgently, for the elimination or at least sharp reduction of the disgracefully high rates of poverty in Canada. The presumption underlying this question is that the federal government is short of cash because the Canadian economy is unable to generate enough tax revenue to support an improved social security system. The facts and figures disprove this fallacious supposition. Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016, as calculated on a per capita basis by the CIA World Factbook, was $46,200 in U.S. currency for every man, woman and child in the country. That’s about the same as Denmark’s, but higher than the per capita GDP of the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Finland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Russia, Japan, and many other countries. Significantly…

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This youth circus program is about teaching kids to be more brave, not less afraid

in Letters/Opinion by

What’s a ‘social’ circus, you ask? ‘Social circus’ is a program and philosophy that aims to empower youth using circus props: juggling balls, hula hoops, aerial silks, and more. And now it’s come to St. John’s. As program instructor Danielle Knustgraichen says, “there is a prop for everybody, and every body, a prop and a skill that helps them realize just how strong and capable they are.” Knustgraichen’s social circus program is organized through Thrive, a community youth network in St. John’s, and supported by local circus studio Cirque’letics. With ten youth participants across the gender spectrum, Knustgraichen teaches circus arts skills including juggling, hula hooping, and acrobatics, supported by health care professionals and social workers from Thrive. A main goal of the program, which is offered through a series of 20 weekly classes, is to teach participants risk-assessment. The program guides youth to discover their own boundaries and abilities…

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People may be living longer, but they suffer from lack of a genuine health care system

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

Canadians are living longer, with current life expectancy now averaging 81. Statistics Canada reports that last year 750,000 Canadians were in their 80s and 305,000 in their 90s, with women significantly outnumbering men in both categories. (Of the 305,000 nonagenarians, more than 200,000 are female.) But StatsCan can’t measure the well-being of these senior citizens. One of its recent studies found that the health of most Canadians starts to deteriorate at the age of 69, but the extent and cause of that decline varies considerably at the individual level and is not measureable. Obviously, it depends on the different internal and external determinants of health that affect each of us, and whether we can exert any control over them. People who choose a self-indulgent and dissolute lifestyle can shorten their life-spans to 70 or much sooner. But even when we eat nutritious food, exercise, and do our best to nurture…

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