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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.

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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ArtsNL Forfeits Riddle Fence Sustaining Funding

in Featured/Letters by

Riddle Fence, along with The Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society and Wreckhouse Jazz and Blues, was recently denied year 2 and 3 of their previously approved multi-year sustaining funding as a result of administrative errors. Riddle Fence requests that its sustaining funding be reinstated and that an artist engaged review of ArtsNL be conducted. We stand in solidarity with The Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society and Wreckhouse Jazz and Blues. Riddle Fence is the only independent arts and culture journal in Newfoundland and Labrador. It encourages, supports and reflects arts and culture in Newfoundland and Labrador while contributing to a national and international dialogue. It is integral to the fabric of our artistic and cultural community across all disciplines. Specifically, our error occurred in CADAC, a financial data software program where arts organizations are required to input information from Review Engagements prepared by accountants. Grant Thornton prepared Riddle…

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It’s time for serious talk about the NL fiscal bail-out

in Featured/Opinion by

The news is full of prognostications of doom and gloom these days. Province set to go bankrupt, unassailable debt, unpayable power bills. What are we to do? For one, we need to start talking seriously about what a bail-out of this province’s crippled finances would look like, if it happens. More and more people (such as the economist cited in this CBC story) think it’s likely to happen. A country like Canada, which espouses to first-world status, does not simply allow an entire province to go bankrupt and shut down. What we should be focusing serious public discussion about, is not if there will be a bailout, but what the terms and conditions of that bailout will be, and how it will happen. On whose terms, and with what end-goal in mind. We need to be having that discussion now, and it is deeply troubling the government has not made…

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Who benefits from government policies? Usually just the rich and powerful.

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

“When it can be said in any country in the world, “My poor are happy; neither ignorance nor stress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want; the taxes are not oppressive . . . When these things can be said, then may that country boast of its constitution and its government.” –Thomas Paine. Lucius Cassius, a consul whom the people of ancient Rome revered as a wise and honourable judge, was often required to adjudicate disputes involving the laws or policies of the Senate. Time and again, his first question was “Cui bono?” which can be translated as “Who benefits?” or “To whose benefit?” His reasoning was that no political action could be explained unless it was first ascertained who gained from it. The even more illustrious Roman orator and statesman Cicero often quoted this…

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The Maritime Link: Remember how we were going to use it?

in Featured/Opinion by

Muskrat Falls was once touted as the key to long-term economic and energy independence for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. No longer would we be living under the shadow of the bad deal done at Churchill Falls, no longer would we need to burn oil at the aging Holyrood Thermal Generating Station, or face another DarkNL. We would have a transmission link to the mainland through Nova Scotia, giving us access to the energy-hungry eastern United States. Yet, last week the island of Newfoundland began importing mostly coal-fired power from Nova Scotia over the Maritime Link. The Maritime Link consists of two subsea cables that run 170 km across the Cabot Strait between Cape Ray and Point Aconi with the capacity to carry 500 MW of electricity. It was built by Emera to supply Nova Scotia with power from Muskrat Falls and provide NL with access to export markets.…

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Fatal truck crashes are a serious problem in Canada, fuelled by government inaction

in Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

The reason there were fewer wrecks in the old horse-and-buggy days is because the driver didn’t have to depend entirely on his own intelligence. – Anonymous. For the past several years, on a part-time basis, I’ve been assisting the non-profit Canadian Owner-Operators’ Cooperative (COOC) in its efforts to lower its trucking members’ operating costs. These mainly include the costs of insurance, fuel, tires, and maintenance. But a much more crucial campaign the COOC has undertaken has been to improve driving safety and decrease the involvement of heavy trucks in highway crashes. Nearly 2,000 Canadians are killed each year and another 10,000 seriously injured in collisions involving a heavy truck (one with a gross vehicle weight greater than 12,000 pounds). Even on a per-distance-travelled basis, large trucks have a fatality rate double the rate for all other vehicles. The tendency, unfortunately, is for most people to blame the truck drivers, rather…

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The Gossip Mill: 25 Years after the Village Mall Affair

in Featured/Opinion by

One of the most fascinating things about the Village Mall affair is its longevity. Nearly a quarter century after the investigation into cruising at the shopping mall, people are still gossiping about what happened. Some people will recall the story of the Habs jersey. The rumour at the time was that men who were looking for sex at the Village would wear Montréal Canadiens jerseys in order to identify one another. This only makes sense if one forgets that the Habs won the NHL playoffs in 1993 the last time a Canadian team got the Stanley Cup. It is safe to assume that many men were wearing those hockey jerseys in the winter and spring of that year, not just ones cruising for sex. Recent discussions over Pride, police, and public apologies have raised concerns over the way LGBTQ histories come to be celebrated and the challenges that arise when…

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The price of everything in the province hinges on this case

in Opinion by

Oceanex vs. Marine Atlantic is about more than just shipping rights. It’s about whether this province will survive.

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Oil, gas, and cognitive dissonance

in Letters/Opinion by

We remember the last oil boom, right? Couple years ago? And the bust that followed? Wealthy people got considerably wealthier while the rest of us strained to see the benefits promised us. What weren’t hard to see were the deep cuts to the public sector after all those revenues (on which the government decided to be fully dependent) suddenly vanished. And the public continues to pay the price. It’s 2018. We’ve known for many years that the future of human beings depends on cutting dependence on fossil fuels. Scientists the world over have insisted this is the case. In a 2012 report, the World Bank stated that “we’re on track for a 4 degree Celsius warmer world by century’s end marked by extreme heat waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.” The Tyndall Centre for Climate Research says this rise in 4…

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FANE: It’s time to talk about ecology in Newfoundland and Labrador

in Opinion by

It might seem like a bizarre moment to be fighting to bring ecology to the fore in decision-making in Newfoundland and Labrador. But our decisions about how to proceed in the future depend largely on how we understand our past. Do we trust our politicians? Do we trust Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall and the appointed “expert panel” evaluating the North Spur? Have we been listening and attentive to how the Muskrat Falls project will forever change the lives of the Innu and Inuit in Labrador? One not need look far into the past to see that ecological issues have in fact been included in the scope of considerations about the economic future of the province. For example, in 2010, the province’s Premier, Minister of Natural Resources, and Nalcor CEO Ed Martin all promised they would produce “clean energy” and “environmentally friendly” power. Yet in times of strife, the province’s political leaders,…

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How to win over a gullible crowd: Stan Marshall and Muskrat Falls

in Opinion by

Back in the days before most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians had college educations, televisions, or Internet, there were certain assumptions which were made by the elites who governed them. These included the following: 1) You can win over a gullible crowd by using the following: a lot of big words; a lot of numbers; photos of mechanical contraptions 2) If you show your audience that you’re trying to explain a complex idea to them in simple terms, they will love and adore you for it 3) If you convince people that you’re working hard at something, they’ll let you get on with whatever it is that you’re doing, even if they don’t understand it and even if it doesn’t really make sense 4) If you’re implicated in something unsavoury, the best way out of it is to shake your head, pretend that the sophisticated machinations of others are beyond your limited…

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