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St. John’s Gay Men’s Chorus is going places

Its first season opened barely a year ago, and already the St. John’s Gay Men’s Chorus is putting this province on the map. The Gay Men’s Chorus is a community chorus for LGBTQ men and allies, explains Yohei Sakai, the group’s founder and director. “We don’t do auditions – everyone is welcome,” he emphasizes. Sakai is a graduate student in music at Memorial University, and is originally from Japan. He had been part of gay men’s choruses in his native Japan as well as in Mexico when he moved to this province to continue his studies. “When I came here, Spectrum [Queer Choir] was already here but I noticed that not many gay men were singing, and for me gay men should sing. So I [knew] I had to do something.” After putting out a call on social media, the chorus launched its first season in April 2017, and it… Keep Reading

What’s behind the Canadian pension crisis?

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… Keep Reading


Nouns, names, and the continual need for linguistic innovation

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… Keep Reading


We need solidarity now more than ever

“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,… Keep Reading


‘Things are not all right in Labrador’: Cole

You probably know there were rallies and protests across the country in support of the Labrador Land Protectors yesterday, but it’s a good bet you don’t know exactly what they are asking for. There are two things Denise Cole said they’d like the province to push for right away in order to reduce the risks identified by scientists: 1. remove the soil to reduce the risk of methyl mercury poisoning, and 2. cap the wetlands to prevent the spread of contaminants.  Sure, they’d like to shut down Muskrat Falls, but, barring that, they’d really like the expert recommendations to be implemented. You know, the ones in the reports outlined in this linked story by Ashley Fitzpatrick. There’s not much time to get this done as another summer is coming, said Cole, the communications coordinator with the group.  Government stalled on remediation efforts: Cole “We have governments in the province that… Keep Reading

Taxes and fairness, Part 2: Anti-social transfers

Tax cuts are not the primary means chosen by governments in Canada to ensure that our tax regimes systemically favour the wealthy. A myriad of methods undermine tax fairness. The combined effect in 2015 of these anti-social transfers reduced by at least $633 million the taxes paid by those earning more than $100,000 a year in Newfoundland and Labrador (NL). Social transfers are government programmes designed to reduce inequality by helping the vulnerable in society. They can be funded directly out of general revenues, or by contributions from the people and firms who are likely to benefit from the programme. Our income tax system itself can also be thought of as a form of social transfer, inasmuch as it taxes wealthier people at higher rates. A progressive income-tax system is fundamental to reducing inequality in Canada. By contrast, anti-social transfers are government actions that increase inequality. These can take many… Keep Reading


Letter: Fracking on trial and the rights of nature

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… Keep Reading

About Books/Featured

Does your voice chafe? A book launch, a crowd of people, and two dentist appointments

I went to the book launch to see what Helen Fogwill Porter had to do with the the world I lived in. It was one of those things. I’d clicked ‘going’ on a facebook invite without actually knowing if I’d be able to attend. Like a lot of people, I have a lot on the go and I never know how my day will shape up until it arrives. But when my husband stepped up to take our daughters to their dentist appointments, that Thursday afternoon became unexpectedly clear. So I went.  I googled her name on my phone in the cab on the way there. She was born on the Southside  of St. John’s (and wrote a memoir about it). She’s been writing since the 1960s, novels, stories, and poetry. She’s a feminist. She was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2016. The year before that,… Keep Reading

The Capitalist God’s Ten Commandments

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… Keep Reading

Taxes and fairness, Part 1: Danny’s other legacy

We hear a lot about Muskrat Falls as Danny Williams’ legacy, but it is hardly the only problem he left us to sort out. He rejigged provincial income tax rates between 2007 and 2010 so as to primarily benefit our wealthiest citizens. The result is that people earning in excess of $100,000 a year have since received – in the form of reduced taxes – more money than the province normally raises through income tax in an entire year. Income distribution changing Income figures for 2015, recently released by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), reveal our province to be profoundly divided. Our income distribution now exhibits a strangely inverted symmetry: more than half the people earn only a fifth of the income, while a fifth of the people earn more than half. This pattern is new and results from changes in provincial government policy that favour high-income earners. This policy… Keep Reading


The missing ingredient in the Muskrat Falls Inquiry

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… Keep Reading

Featured/Indy Essay

The buggy, from a car window

There is a man pushing a shopping cart along Elizabeth Avenue. The cart frame is studded with salt and rust. It’s thronging with beer bottles, wine bottles and cans, most of them tied into transparent plastic recycling bags. “Have you talked to him?” my husband asks. The man is a binner: he works scavenging through garbage bins to find reusable and recyclable items that can be exchanged for cash. We’re in a car. In the backseat our four-year-old is covering her nose against the new-car smell. She’s near rebellion. My bag is in my lap and I’m searching for a stale chocolate chip cookie, a broken granola bar, anything that will distract her. The man and the buggy are on the road to the right, just ahead. Is he the one they call “The Governor,” I wonder? I can’t see his face, yet. He leans over the handle as he… Keep Reading

Communication is complicated

“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.… Keep Reading


The myth of Canadian progress

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… Keep Reading


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

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… Keep Reading


What’s a budget for, anyway?

Finance Minister Tom Osborne used the words “methodical, fair and responsible” to describe the recent budget, but representatives of civil society and community organizations said that Budget 2018 failed to provide a vision for a sustainable future for Newfoundland and Labrador. Debbie Forward, head of the Nurses’ Union, referred to it as “a flat budget.” She said while there’s not a lot to be upset about, there’s not much to be excited about either. Mary Shortall, President of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour said she was looking for a jobs strategy from the budget, but couldn’t find one. “There’s nothing in this that indicates there’s any plan ahead for that. I didn’t see a vision in this budget for what’s going to happen for our population going forward,” she said. The March 27 budget “doesn’t inspire confidence with respect to what we have been able to observe today,”… Keep Reading

Featured/Indy Essay

The stories maps tell: A librarian and his travels through space and time

I didn’t always think of maps as a way to tell stories. To me, maps were tools that documented spatial relationships. And yet it’s been a while since I thought of maps that way. Over the next few months in this column, I want to take you on a journey through the kinds of stories that maps can tell. Over the years I have been asked “what do you do as a map librarian”? When I take a few minutes to explain the work I do, I often see that I haven’t found the right words. My listener’s eyes might glaze over or they might respond with a polite “oh, interesting.” After one of my spiels, my aunt once said: “I’ll just keep telling people you work in a library.” What I need when I tell people what I do is a map. I need a map I can roll… Keep Reading

Scorpions, icebergs and cancer cells

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… Keep Reading


In the public interest?

Free press advocates argue there is no public interest in pursuing the civil and criminal charges against Canadian journalist Justin Brake. “Quite the contrary, there are clear harms to public interest in pursuing this case against Mr. Brake,” said Duncan Pike, co-director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. Protecting private property rights Two questions drive the controversy over the charges that national and international advocates say are ‘deeply troubling’ and ‘contributing to the decline’ of Canada’s ranking in the press freedom index. First, is it in the public interest for the crown attorney’s office to pursue criminal charges against a journalist covering an event of national importance? Free press organizations say that the journalist’s role in providing information is in the public interest, while Newfoundland and Labrador crown prosecutor for the case Jennifer Standen says that the protection of private property rights and the enforcement of court orders are in… Keep Reading

What could happen if the province increased funding to libraries?

An event featuring three of the city’s top poets last week doubled as an occasion for library supporters to raise their voices in demanding an improved public library system for the capital city—and the province. The second event in The Once and Future Library series—organized by the St. John’s Public Library Board—took place on March 14 in the AC Hunter Public Library, and proved to be as lively as it was literary. All three poets, and the writers and librarians who introduced them, read from their works but also reflected on the value of libraries to themselves personally, as well as the role libraries play in the broader community. George Murray is a well-established poet. Author of eight books of poetry, as well as a published author of fiction and children’s literature, Murray has served as poetry editor for the Literary Review of Canada and contributing editor with Maisonneuve. In… Keep Reading

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