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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.

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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Prime Minister Trudeau: ‘It’s Time to End the MSM Blood Ban’

in Opinion by

Dear Prime Minister, It’s time. In March of 1983 the news was broadcast over CBC Radio: “The Canadian Red Cross announced it is advising promiscuous homosexual men, Haitian immigrants, and drug users not to give blood. These groups are all in the high-risk category for a deadly new disease, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS.” I am writing to urge you to bring an end to the discriminatory MSM blood ban at Canada Blood Services. As you know, in its current iteration, the policy prohibits any man who has had sexual contact with another man in the last 12 months from giving blood. In order to understand the need to eliminate the MSM (men who have sex with men) ban one must revisit the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s and the depth of its prejudicial history. Early reporting on AIDS was often problematic and actually labeled the disease GRID (gay-related immunodeficiency).…

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Residents growing ‘increasingly alarmed’ about ‘lack planning going into development’

in Letters by

I am a resident of the Kenmount Park area in Mt. Pearl. After ten years of living overseas (to pay down our student loans and put enough aside for a down payment on a house) my husband and I returned to Newfoundland in 2016. We had already spent two years searching for a house online and following our return spent another 8 months seeing properties all over St. John’s, Mt. Pearl, and Kilbride before finally settling on a modest home, at the top end of our budget, that answered most of our needs. A deciding factor in our decision, were the woods and trails directly behind the property, as well as the view of the lovely trees behind the back fence. Following the purchase of this, our first home, we set to work cleaning, painting, re-sanding, and doing all the other little jobs new homeowners do to turn a house…

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Is the Canadian-American window a myth?

in Opinion by

It was in the early hours of the morning that I finally went to sleep, but not before witnessing the election result that would bring in the current U.S. president. I messaged the words ‘are you okay?’ to my friend Rose in the U.S., who had as it turned out gone to sleep early. For them it would be a very different morning. For me it already was. From the second my friend had read the message they understood what had happened. While this was not the good news they had hoped for they thanked me nonetheless because it had been the gentlest way of finding out how the election had gone. Or at least a gentler way than turning on the cacophony of reports on TV. For so many of my fellow Canadians the events and conditions—both social and political—in the United States seem overwhelming. Our neighbors have always…

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Why is the United States always fighting a war somewhere?

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

Why is the United States always fighting a war somewhere? Could it be because war is profitable? Harper’s magazine, in its June issue, reports on a panel of former soldiers that it convened at the U.S. Military Academy at Westpoint, New York. They were all veterans of wars waged by the U.S. over the past 30 years, mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan, or stationed in some of the nearly 800 military bases the U.S. maintains in more than 70 countries and territories around the world. These veterans were asked to explain why their country has been engaged in so many armed conflicts, and why, in none of them since World War II, has the outcome resulted in a decisive victory. And this despite the U.S. having the world’s best-trained and best-equipped armed forces. The war in Afghanistan has now dragged on for 17 years, under Presidents George Bush, Bill Clinton,…

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Why is Canada far behind other countries in switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources?

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

It is depressingly ironic that, while many other countries are steadily switching from fossil fuels to clean and renewable sources of energy, Canada’s federal and provincial governments squabble over building yet another pipeline to British Columbia—one that, with the existing Trans-Mountain pipeline, would nearly triple the delivery capacity from 300,000 barrels of oil a day to 890,000. And the planned new Kinder Morgan pipeline would carry the thickest and dirtiest oil of all: bitumen. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blithely claims that this massive increase in the extraction of oil from the tar sands is not incompatible with saving the environment from global warming. He proudly points to his government’s carbon pricing policy as evidence of a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He projects emissions will fall by 90 megatonnes by 2022, conveniently not mentioning that this reduction, even if achieved, will still be inadequate. It will fall far below…

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Does the NL government have the same environmental policies as President Trump?

in Opinion/The Green Space by

I have a confession—I am moderately addicted to reading negative stories about President Trump. I think it’s because I loathe him as a human being and because negative stories about him support my internal narrative. In this, I think, I am far from alone. Before I go on, I would like to say that I know several intelligent and kind people who are Trump supporters. To blindly assign negative labels to all his supporters is unfair. I’ve found, for the people I know anyway, that their support is more a reflection of their frustration with the economy and perceived corruption in Washington than any crazy alt-right ideology. But I digress. While following stories on Trump, I began to notice curious similarities in his environmental policies and our own government’s here in Newfoundland and Labrador. To be honest, this didn’t surprise me at all. Our government’s policies rightly belong in the…

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What’s behind the Canadian pension crisis?

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

Most Canadians today are not financially prepared for retirement. According to recent polls, over two-thirds of us (68 percent) don’t have a retirement plan, 30 percent have paltry or no savings, and 62 percent end up retiring earlier than they expected or wanted. The Broadbent Institute, in a recent study, found that half of Canadian couples between 55 and 64 have no employer-provided pensions. Fewer than 20 percent of middle-income families have saved enough to adequately supplement the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS). “The vast majority of Canadians without a private pension have totally inadequate retirement savings,” says the Institute’s executive director, Rick Smith. “We have a retirement crisis that requires urgent and immediate government action.” This action would ideally involve a substantial increase in the Canada Pension Plan. At present, the CPP pays a maximum of $12,780 a year, but many retirees don’t qualify for…

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Nouns, names, and the continual need for linguistic innovation

in Opinion by

Nouns matter. Are you talking about a rioter or protestor? That question implicitly informed any number of rhetorical and legal fights in the American 1960s, when the civil rights movement and demonstrations against the Vietnam war were in fall cry. A feminist or a discontented housewife? During the 1980s, the word ‘feminist’ was rhetorically twisted into ‘feminazi,’ and both terms became convenient rhetorical shorthand for a straw man created by conservatives: a bra-burning, abortion-hungry, man-hating extremist impossible to find on this plane of reality. In Canada we have discarded the word Eskimo in favor of  works like Innu and Inuit and Inuk and Yupik ; the first is a catch-all used by European colonial adventurers and exploiters who couldn’t be bothered to recognize cultural and linguistic diversity; the plethora of terms to replace it goes somewhat toward undoing that colonial generalization. Yet no easy and fast guide exists. Those confident of their linguistic righteousness…

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We need solidarity now more than ever

in Opinion/Uncategorized by

“Power goes to two poles – to those who’ve got the money and those who’ve got the people.” — Saul Alinsky May 1st marks May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, when countless workers across the globe take to the streets to commemorate the sacrifice and struggle of a strong labour movement that faced state-sanctioned violence to bring us the 8-hour work day, wages, benefits, and safe working environments, while continuing to hold institutions and governments accountable in what shouldn’t be an uphill battle for fair working conditions and living wages but often is. As a student at Memorial University for the past six years, I am no stranger to the immense contribution workers on our campus make, to allow students to learn in a safe and supportive environment. Despite the crumbling infrastructure due to years of upper level mismanagement, a profound amount of effort goes into keeping classrooms,…

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Letter: Fracking on trial and the rights of nature

in Letters/Opinion by

The historic Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal Session on Human Rights, Fracking, and Climate Change will take place this May 14 to 18, cohosted by Spring Creek Project at Oregon State University, Corvallis, and live-streaming online. For the first time in its nearly 40-year history, this session of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) will have an international focus and will include arguments about the rights of Nature in addition to the rights of people. Among those participating are individuals and groups from Newfoundland and Labrador. The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal is a highly respected international forum that grew from the Russell-Sartre Tribunal to investigate whether breaches of human rights norms occurred during the Vietnam War. Since then it has conducted a series of high-profile hearings to determine whether human rights standards were abridged in Bhopal, Chernobyl, and other sites worldwide. The Tribunal’s most recent session was on Myanmar’s (Burma’s) crimes against the Rohingya…

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The Capitalist God’s Ten Commandments

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

The first version of this satiric parody was written nearly two decades ago by Brian Arden, while he was a member of the board of the Manitoba office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. 2018 revisions and updates by Ed Finn. 1. Thou shalt honour Me as your one true God and have faith in my religion of neoliberalism, globalization, free trade, and private ownership. 2. Thou shalt accept the impoverishment of the many and the enrichment of the few, for in my religion avarice is to be valued over social and economic equity, and competition over co-operation. 3. Thou shalt not oppose the decline of democracy. I will permit you the illusion of democracy. You may still vote for and elect parties that purport to be different, but since they now all bow down to Me, it matters not which forms the government. 4. Thy governments shalt provide…

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The missing ingredient in the Muskrat Falls Inquiry

in Featured/Opinion by

The one thing that government apparently doesn’t want discussed at the Commission of Inquiry is why our democratic institutions allowed such an uncritical handling of the project. On Friday, April 6th, hearings took place at the Beothuck Building on Crosbie Place to establish who would have standing to appear at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry. A coalition of three volunteer based civil society groups (The Council of Canadians, Democracy Alert and the Social Justice Cooperative) were among the twenty-two requests for standing. I ended up as the spokesperson. What does Muskrat Falls have to do with three groups that have no expertise in finance or engineering? What could we possibly hope to contribute? Look carefully at the Terms of Reference for the Inquiry and you’ll see that they largely confine participation to what the Commissioner, Judge Richard Leblanc, referred to at the hearing as “the business case” of Muskrat Falls. What’s…

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Communication is complicated

in Columns/Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

“But far more numerous was the herd of such Who think too little, and who talk too much.” –John Dryden. During the early 1960s, I was assistant editor of The Newfoundland Examiner, a weekly tabloid published in St. John’s. It was a journal launched to provide progressive news and views that were not likely to be found in the province’s conservative media. Our sole reporter was Malcolm (“Mac”) Maclaren, who had earlier emigrated to Newfoundland from England. He and I were boarders in a lodge owned by Mrs. Penny (not her real name), and she became a good friend as well as a good host. One evening, however, her friendship with Mac was sorely tested. She had a dentist’s appointment at 8 o’clock the next morning, but her alarm clock was broken, so she was worried about getting there on time. “Oh, that’s all right, Mrs. Penny,” Mac assured her.…

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The myth of Canadian progress

in Letters/Opinion by

In the current squabble over improving drug coverage and child care in this country, it’s crucial that the social programs provided in Canada be compared with the far superior benefits that are provided citizens of most European countries. Apart from the United States, Canada is the only advanced nation that confines its public health care to the services of physicians and hospitals. In Europe, coverage is universal and comprehensive, incorporating dental and vision care as well as pharmaceuticals. The latest OECD report on the social spending of its 34 member states ranks Canada 24th for its relatively low 17.2 percent of GDP expended on social programs. Most of the countries that surpass Canada have social spending rates higher than 24 percent of GDP, and several, including France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Ireland, and the three Scandinavian countries, have rates that exceed 28 percent. Incredibly, even the United States ranks above Canada…

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Humboldt Broncos, Nora Loreto, and the difficult questions that come with grief

in Opinion by

The tragedy in Saskatchewan has touched people across the country. But it’s also revealed a darker dimension to the country’s passions. On April 8, Montreal-based journalist Nora Loreto raised some difficult truths on Twitter. She responded to the outpouring of cash—a Canadian record for Gofundme—by noting that “the maleness, the youthfulness and the whiteness of the victims are… playing a significant role. I don’t want less for the families and survivors of this tragedy. I want justice and more for so many other grieving parents and communities.” The response was swift: far-right organizers who regularly troll her social media presence launched an all-out campaign to attack her. She has received thousands of vitriolic messages, death threats, rape threats, and more. Mainstream corporate media picked up the onslaught, with editorials published in papers like the Toronto Sun also attacking her. There are few of us who haven’t seen some friend or…

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Scorpions, icebergs and cancer cells

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

Feedback from readers of my earlier essay “Who benefits from government policies?” was mostly positive, but a few thought I had taken a view of the future so dire that it implied capitulation—that further “resistance is futile.” Let me clarify my thinking, at least to the extent of assuring readers that I have not lost hope. Although I see unchecked capitalism as inimical to life on Earth—as the deadliest enemy of all that is fair, progressive and wholesome—I believe it can be vanquished and replaced. Eventually. And before its demolition of the environment passes the point of no return. I am reserving my rationale for optimism until the very end of this perhaps overly protracted blog. I think it will be helpful first to consider how and why capitalism has become the world’s predominant economic system. This does not necessitate a tedious academic treatise, but can best be done by…

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