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Photo by CHMR/The Independent.

Gaslighting a Generation

I know it’s been a whole nine months since I lived on the rock, but I was surprised to get the news the other day—after the budget was announced—that everything is great now. Apparently, there’s even talk of billion-dollar budget surpluses and public spending. It’s funny because I was under the impression that I had to leave at least in part because of budget cuts to higher education (and very little hope in any other sector). Of course, there are those in this magazine and beyond who think that all the good news might have more to do with an upcoming election than the real financial situation in the province. It’s hard to swallow that all those meetings I had to sit in where I was told there was no money, no vision, no future were actually inaccurate. Apparently, there has never been a better time to live in Newfoundland… Keep Reading


Budget 2019: Shag It, Let’s Do Magic

I went to the NL Budget Lockup to hear tales of a budget surplus in 2019. Don’t get me wrong; budgets are normally big policy events. Not only do they chart the government’s fiscal plans for the upcoming year and update us on how things went the last one, they also usually involve a myriad of specific policy announcements across sectors. But as communication strategists become more and more important in all aspects of government, budgets have become more of a public relations medium than they once were. There has always been political spectacle on budget days: the finance minister’s new shoes, surprise funding for new paving and the like, but there has usually been an actual budget obscured by the government’s marketing efforts. Budget 2019 in Newfoundland and Labrador takes the communications side of budget days to a new extreme. It’s a pre-election budget, which are usually long on… Keep Reading


Confederation Chic

Every history, so they say, is a history of the present. The past is brutally unchanging, but what flares up through its wreckage to the observer hinges on the moment they turn to look back. (“The way to see,” according to one French mystic, “is to not always be looking.”) This is especially true in the case of historical ruptures that never quite get stitched up, or those regularly reopened under political strain. Newfoundland and Labrador’s Confederation with Canada in 1949 certainly fits this bill. Confederation was legendary in its own time, thanks to both the propagandist in the Premier’s chair and the romantic reaction he generated. As it recedes from living memory its mythic stature will only grow. You need only see Joe Smallwood, ‘Last Father of Confederation’, decked out in a Newfie Republican tricolour bowtie to realize we regard our past through a thickening stained-glass windowpane. It’s been… Keep Reading


Reaping Without Sowing: Government Support for the Arts in NL

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Transportation, Culture, Industry and Innovation Minister Christopher Mitchelmore loves the arts. He is very excited about all the wonderful work being produced in this province by its artists, and he cannot wait to share their stories with the world. This is wonderful. Unfortunately, Minister Mitchelmore seems to have some trouble listening to stories from local artists when they’re directed at him. Spearheaded by playwright Robert Chafe and director Courtney Brown, local artists last week organized a letter-writing campaign to the provincial government looking for an increase in funding to ArtsNL. “[ArtsNL is] the only pot of funding, really, that exists in the province [and] that goes directly to working artists to start the product that will actually fill the theatre, fill the CDs, fill the film halls, that kind of thing,” Chafe told the CBC. “The cultural programming in the province wouldn’t exist without it.” ArtsNL funding… Keep Reading


Muskrat Falls and the Tip of the Iceberg

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… Keep Reading

CHEAP Thrills: This Week at The House

Question Period is like a soap opera, except about politics and with terrible pacing. Old storylines are picked up wherever they left off while new, meandering subplots bubble up all the time. All the actors in the show have tangled, weirdly passionate interconnections that sometimes go back decades. But the script is badly written and all the drama is exaggerated beyond any resemblance to a reality most people would recognize. Prolonged exposure seems hazardous to human mental health, and I worry the surrealist funeral parlour lighting in the scrum room might trigger an acid flashback. Outside of the actual content of the House of Assembly, though, it has been a tremendous first two weeks at the House of Assembly. My colleagues in the press gallery are all lovely. I am deeply humbled to be part of that small cadre charged with checking on the stewards of the state. This job… Keep Reading


Memorial Students Rejected a Bad Proposal, Not a U-Pass Program

If you’re disappointed with the results of the recent U-Pass student vote at Memorial, don’t be disappointed with the students. It’s good news that 51% of eligible voters participated, and it means that 71% of those students voting “No” is a clear rejection of the proposal by the student body. However, this vote can only tell us how students felt about this proposal. It does not tell us how students feel about a U-Pass in general. Students did not support the specific U-Pass program proposed by Memorial University, Metrobus, and the City of St. John’s because of ineffective communication, inappropriate pricing, and inadequate scope to address the core transit issue: that all true growth opportunities for Metrobus ridership lie outside the current service area. Metrobus and the City have been thinking about U-Pass programs as a means of improving public transit since at least 2011.  One of the recommendations in… Keep Reading


Where Does Government End and Nalcor Begin?

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… Keep Reading


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

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… Keep Reading

Pre-rally seating at Maxime Bernier's People's Party of Canada Rally, St. John's NL, 2 March 2019.

The People’s Party of Canada is Not for Everyone

This past weekend, St. John’s was graced by the first federal political rally of our long pre-election season. People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier was in town to help his fledgling riding associations dig up candidates, and he headlined a rally at the Capital Hotel on Saturday. The Independent was there to cover it. Dozens of men and some women turned out to hear the renegade ex-Conservative go off about the perils of Canada’s dairy regulations, the “crony capitalism” at the heart of Trudeau’s “socialist” government, and the sinister ambitions of the United Nations. (Spoiler: world domination in approximately 30 years.) Bernier promised to balance the budget in two years by eliminating all corporate welfare and foreign aid, as well as downloading taxes onto provincial governments. He also swore to use section 92(10) of the Constitution Act, 1867 to “impose” the Trans-Mountain and Energy East pipelines on Canada. He… Keep Reading


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

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… Keep Reading

News You Can Use

The Indy Guide to Buying Weed in Newfoundland and Labrador

Recreational marijuana has been legal for nearly six months now. But between the wide variety of products on offer and the tendency of many people to react differently to the same drug, even experienced users can find legal cannabis daunting. (When they can find it at all, I mean.) This was the case when my prohibition-era pot supply ran out last week, and I was faced with my first foray into the legal market. But I did some research, checked out the local shops, and crowd-sourced opinions from friends and on Twitter to figure out what’s good in the wonderful world of legalized weed. Here’s what I found:   What to Buy Top Shelf: Broken Coast is the best supplier by universal agreement. If it’s available at your local shop, it’s probably your best bet. They sell four varieties:   Galiano: A sativa dominant hybrid called Northern Lights Haze.  … Keep Reading


A Phone Call from Astaldi

[Rome, February 2013] “Yes, hello, hello, Terra Nova? Hello! Newfoundland and Labrador, it is Franco Astaldi, returning your call. Si, calling from Roma. Buongiorno! How can I help you? Our bid for the hydro dam is low? Hey, you crazy, you wanna a higher price? No, seriously we are having a sale this month on gianormous concrete dams. Si, this is true. Look I tell you, in confidence, Si, those other bidders, they don’t know the secret: we continue building when it snows by working under giant dome, is like magic igloo. Hey, and if there a problema down the line we make adjustments to the billing, no biggie. Do we know snow? Hey, I grow up in Torino! Labrador same thing, no? SNC-Lavalin, yeah, I know these guys, you crazy? Libya, Gaddafi, the whole deal. We were there building a highway, they were working with Muammar’s kid on the… Keep Reading

Opinion/To Each Their Own

Make Them Pay for Muskrat Falls

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… Keep Reading


Charting a Course Through 2019

To those who do not know the world is on fire, I have nothing to say. – Bertolt Brecht Here at the Independent, the engines are being plugged in and warmed up. Soon they will thrum with paid (!!) content from the country’s finest writers, about everything that matters in Newfoundland and Labrador. In the meantime, it’s more or less just me. The Indy’s still in drydock at the moment, but I wanted to say a few words about the political forecast before we really take this thing out to sea. It’s barely three weeks into 2019 but it already feels like forever—and I’m not just talking about the weather. We are living in historic times. This much seems obvious if you are following America’s slow-motion implosion, or the post-imperial nervous breakdown called Brexit. Or the Gilets Jaunes roiling France, or the simmering trade and diplomatic wars with China, or the wildfires… Keep Reading

Editorial/Featured/Post-Oil NL

“How can you lose hope?”: Denise Cole

MP: Before I head out the door and leave you in the editor’s chair, let’s talk about Muskrat Falls. All the stuff that coming out of the Muskrat Falls Inquiry–it’s incredible isn’t it? It’s sometimes hard to keep in mind what Land Protector Denise Cole says in The Sound of Post-Oil (link below): “How do you lose hope when you know at the end of all of this the earth is still stronger than all of us.” I mean, I’m happy it’s all coming out and we’ve known this was the state of things for a while now. But I’m unhappy that this all had to happen this way. THE SOUND OF POST-OIL In this moving story, Denise Cole talks about Indigenous resistance, what motivates her activism, and how she became a Land Protector. She recalls the moment in 2016, when the falls went quiet. DB: Good Lord. We need to invent… Keep Reading

Indy Fiction

Part 8: Newfoundland and Labrador Considers How to Save its Romance

Part 8: At home, you and your lover sleep in different rooms. You weigh yourself down with bedding and blankets like it will keep you anchored, keep you from bursting out in the darkest hour with some dramatic gesture – I love you, don’t leave, here is a song, here is a poem – something passionate and spineless containing no real evidence or external support. Everything you do or say now is poisoned with desperation. You lie in bed watching an unseasonal snowfall smother the new spring growth outside. Social media teems with complaints and side-by-side comparisons of the current climate versus kinder weather in other places. You hear the front shut – you lover leaving early. There will be no escaping the desire for better surroundings today. THE SOUND OF POST-OIL In this moving story, Denise Cole talks about Indigenous resistance, what motivates her activism, and how she became a… Keep Reading

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