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Featured/Indy Essay/Journalism

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


ArtsNL Forfeits Riddle Fence Sustaining Funding

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… Keep Reading


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

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… Keep Reading


‘I don’t consider myself an activist… I feel responsible’: Beatrice Hunter

Beatrice Hunter is one of about fifty Labradorians who occupied Muskrat Falls in 2016. The Inuk grandmother continues to fight the resulting civil and criminal charges that were laid against her (and other land protectors) in court. In light of the recent provincial court ruling that allowed criminal charges to go ahead against Justin Brake, the former editor of The Independent who entered the Muskrat Falls site to report about the actions of the land protectors, I asked Hunter if she would talk with me. I asked her about the status of the charges she is facing, her thoughts on the charges against Justin Brake, and what the future of Labrador might look like for herself and for her children. Hunter says that “the more the people know about the situation here in Labrador, the better.” She believes that Justin Brake’s coverage of the events changed the way the rest of the… Keep Reading

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

“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… Keep Reading


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

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.… Keep Reading

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

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… Keep Reading


The Gossip Mill: 25 Years after the Village Mall Affair

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… Keep Reading

About Books/Featured

‘Wounds don’t need to be closed’

Mi’kmaq poet and writer Shannon Webb-Campbell was living in Halifax in 2014, the February that Loretta Saunders, a 26-year-old Inuk woman from Labrador, was murdered. “I felt devastated and I wondered how I could help in any way. And so I started thinking maybe I could write a poetry book about this,” Webb-Campbell said. Who Took My Sister? explores the different kinds of trauma Indigenous women live through, with, and alongside. I invited Webb-Campbell to join myself and two other women as we talked about her new book (to be released March 20). So, in the middle of February, at an office in the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre, three women met to talk with Webb-Campbell by phone about trauma, murdered and missing Indigenous women, and love. Métis cultural support worker with the Friendship Centre, Amelia Reimer, musician and community arts organizer Kate Lahey, and myself, a Métis writer and… Keep Reading

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