Monday, December 17, 2012

The Value Of Life - A Time To Reflect

Normally I don't delve into the realm of Religion in this space but I would like to make reference to what Father Ken Walsh had to say during Sunday Mass at Holy Trinity Parish in Torbay. The fact that the message was delivered in a Catholic Church doesn't mean it should be limited to those who are members of that Church but our community and society as a whole.

In light of the recent shootings in Newtown, Connecticut it was understandable that he would speak about that tragedy, frankly I would have been disappointed if he had not. He mentioned other shootings that happened in recent months like the theater in Colorado as well as others. A Guide to Mass Shootings in America.

During those minutes the atmosphere in the Church had a decidedly somber feeling and I thought to myself, how appropriate. You could hear a pin drop and I could tell that Fr. Ken had the undivided attention of everyone in the Church. As he spoke I could feel the emotion in his voice as he proceeded to say what many people have been thinking. How could we have such disregard for human life? Where have we as a society gone wrong over the years that we end up in the situation we are in now? A society where a young man can kill his mother then walk into an elementary school and murder 20 children and 6 of their educators and protectors. How could someone take away those babies and destroy so many families. I say babies because I think of my own children at a time like this and they are my babies, they might be 8 and 11 years old but they are babies to me, with their whole lives ahead of them.

When events like this happen, the first reaction from people is to decry guns and place the fault in that direction. Yes, guns are certainly a problem and in a perfect world we would be able to have controls that would at least make it harder for people to get their hands on some weapons. It would be so much easier if it were the case that we could get rid of guns and that would be the end of it. However, I think as Fr. Ken put it our problems run much deeper and in fact go right to the core of our society and how we see ourselves as human beings.

As Fr. Ken put it we have become complacent when it comes to the value of a human life. He asked how can we know what the value of a life is when we can't even agree at what point human life begins. The position of the Catholic Church is that life begins at conception and statistics in Canada show that each year in Canada about 100,000 of these babies are aborted.

He also spoke about how our kids are bombarded by video games that teach and encourage them to kill their opponent. Our young people are subjected to more violence through video games and movies then we ever were. Likewise my generation were exposed to that type of "entertainment" more so than that our parents. There is merit to this as there have been studies that show violent video games do have adverse effects on people and can be linked to aggressive behavior. Here is a link to one such study.

He also spoke about how we care for our loved ones when they get to the end of their lives. How when nanny gets old and becomes an inconvenience or a burden and we shuffle her off to be cared for by someone else. I don't think that this directly speaks to the act of placing a loved one in the care of others but to the indifference sometimes presents in those decisions.

In these times of terrible tragedy we find our selves reflecting on our own lives and families and how we would feel if we were in that situation. I have read many messages since this latest senseless murder, that speak to how parents are going to give their kids an extra hug or kiss. They speak to the grief they feel for those children who were killed and their families who have to live with this horror for the rest of their lives. People may find themselves going through a litany of emotions at times like these and for a few days we will feel everything from sorrow, pity, anger and certainly relief. Relief that it was not our own children who were so violently and needlessly taken from this earth.

When ever a tragedy happens in the world, one of the first questions that come to mind for Christians is why would God let something like this happen? How could a God who is supposed to love us and be there for us, allow such suffering in a world that he created. Fr. Ken addressed this question as well when he said that God understands. God has felt this pain when he allowed his own son to be murdered for no good reason. This is the first time I ever heard it put quite that way and although it may answer one question it certainly could raise another like, why would God allow others to feel the pain he has felt when he knows how much it hurts? That is a question for another day.

Right now we are in the midst of the Christmas season which for Christians is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ the object of our affections as far as religion is concerned. It is a time that is supposed to be wrought with talk of joy and love and new beginnings. Let us hope that these recent events encourage us to take a look at our selves as a society and what it means to be a a human being. Let us give thanks for the blessings we have in our lives when we are celebrating with our families this Christmas season. We need to reflect on the events of the past week and think of those families who this Christmas season will be filled with sorrow, dread, anger and loss. Let us hope that these babies deaths will not be in vein. Somehow in this time of new beginnings people will open their eyes and hearts and start treating each other like human beings. That is the least we can ask for.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Reality Check - Minister Sides With Commissioner Over Town

This is a story that I haven't been following that closely but it looks like it has come to a head and after researching it a bit there are serious concerns that I thought were important.

First of all I remember reading about a public hearing that had to be reconvened because people were not given the opportunity to speak if they had not provided a written submission. I don't have all the details on that but the thing we need to understand is that the Department of Municipal Affairs found problems with how the hearing was conducted and ordered it reconvened.

The purpose of that public hearing was to discuss amendments to the Town Plan and other legislation to allow for the rezoning of some land in the town so that subdivisions could be built. The details for the hearing can be found here.

The Town of Torbay and the Minister of Municipal Affairs Kevin O'Brien agreed to appoint a Commissioner to conduct these hearings and they chose Mr. Christopher Sharpe. He then conducted the hearing and heard arguments from people who gave various reasons why the rezoning should or should not be permitted. Interestingly enough the Town did not make a presentation at the hearing or provide any documentation outlining the rationale for the decisions of Council to adopt the amendments. Considering that in his report the Commissioner referred to this very fact and that on some questions and said in the absence of documentation he needed to infer what the Council's reasons were for adopting the amendments.

I wonder why Council would not make a presentation to the hearing to explain their actions to the residents in attendance and go on record with their reasons? That is of course if they had any intention of paying attention to the findings regardless of what they were. Maybe they intended to carry on with their plans regardless of the outcome of the hearing and the hearing was just to appease people who wanted to have a say. After all their actions since the hearing certainly could be seen as predetermined by some.

After the hearings had been conducted the Commissioner compiled a report and presented it to Council and Council immediately dismissed the report and attacked the Commissioner. I remember this because I was at the council meeting where they were talking about the report and how they were going to reject it entirely. Not only did they disagree with the report but then some members of Council went a step further and questioned the expertise of the Commissioner and accused him of over stepping his mandate. Then they voted to reject the report from the Commissioner and I believe have been moving forward with the process of rezoning the land. You can read the Commissioners report here.

Now they get a letter from the Minister of Municipal Affairs telling them that he agrees with the findings of the Commissioner and that the Town will need to follow all the recommendations before approval will be given for the proposed amendments. The Minister also advised the Town Council that they had no authority to approve an amendment to the St. John's Urban Region Regional Plan (SJURRP) as they had done at their April 30, 2012 meeting. They also voted to accept changes to the Town Plan which he said was premature until he approves the SJURRP. You can read the Ministers letter here.

When I see all this stuff going on it makes me question what the hell is the problem? Why would our Council push this stuff through with no regard to findings or recommendations from those hearings? Is our Council above the law and determined to make decisions with little regard for apposing opinions? It is all very troubling when residents have concerns, they are voiced at a hearing, addressed in the recommendations of the Commissioner and our Council just dismisses it.

These recommendations that were made by the Commissioner and supported by the Provincial Government are very serious and could have long lasting ramifications to our town. However they seem to be contrary to some Councillors own views and therefore ignored. Judging from these events it seems to me that these hearings that were conducted are more of an inconvenience to some people instead of a serious exercise. We should be all on the same page here trying to have sustainable development in our town and not be fighting people who are concerned about issues like flooding and ground water assessments to name a couple.

Now not only have our Council insulted and dismissed the Commissioner who delivered the report, now they want to send a letter to the Minister telling him he is wrong as well. Well I hope they keep the letter cordial and not insult the Minister in the process of telling him why he is wrong to decide the way he has.

Open Space Decisions Will No Longer Be Put In Motions

As per a story in the North East Avalon Times, decision related to open space for town developments will be made by Town of Torbay staff and not tabled as motions to Council. I had thought that bringing the matter to Council to vote on was the way it was always done but apparently it is not. The vote that was taken with regards to Motion Drive Extension was the first time it was done and it ended up getting appealed and the town doesn't want that to happen again.

The Deputy Mayor has concerns with this and says that it should be up to elected officials to make those decisions and he may have a point. He contends that Councillors should make these choices and then town staff carry out those choices.

I agree with him to a point but I have concerns about Council voting on the specifics of every development that happens in the town. I think it is the elected officials job to create policy that can be followed by the people the town employs. This enables the policies that the town adopts to be applied in a manner that is consistent and fair to all involved. I don't think it serves anyone to have each development come up for a vote like the Motion Drive one did and disregard the advise of the experts we have employed. When we take the decisions out of the hands of staff and let Council decide on a case by case basis we open the decision making process up to personal or political beliefs of a particular Councillor or group of Councillors.

The way I think it should work is that staff who are qualified to look at a given development will take all the relevant information and then make a recommendation. Staff should operate within the parameters that are provided by policies that were developed and adopted by Council. Then the PLUD Committee will send the entire package to Council for a yes or no vote on the development and not portions of it. This will enable decisions made by our town on future developments to be applied in a consistent manner regardless of the people sitting in the Council Chamber.

It is not fair to developers, staff or the general public for operational day to day decisions to be open to political influence. These people need to be allowed to do their jobs and if Council doesn't like the recommendations coming from staff then they only have themselves to blame because staff is following the policy guidelines provided by Council. If there is a problem with the policy then it is up to Council to change or alter the policies not disregard the experts we rely on to carry them out.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Torbay Passes Budget - Lowers Mill Rate

At the regular Council meeting on Monday December 10, 2012 Councillor Ralph Tapper presented the budget for approval to Council. The main budget amount is approximately 7.4 million dollars with an increase of about $800,000 over last year. The budget document has not been made public yet so all the figures I am stating are approximate.

As expected the mill rate was lowered in response to the rise in Municipal Assessment by 2.05 mills. This sets the mill rate for the upcoming year at 6.7 down from the current rate of 8.75. This amounts to roughly a 23% decrease in the tax rate, this should significantly reduce the impact to our property taxes once new property values are applied.

There was also a motion put forward to create a new program for seniors who will see a 20% discount in their property taxes if they receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement(GIS). This is similar to a program that is offered in other towns where seniors would need to obtain an entitlement letter from Service Canada confirming receipt of GIS. I assume this is how it will work in Torbay but those details have not been released yet.

There were about 20 motions put forward and passed as part of the budget and they had to be voted on individually. One thing of note was that during the introduction of some of the motions Deputy Mayor Geoff Gallant proposed amendments to some of the budget motions. While presenting his amendments he said he was doing it to save tax payers from getting a tax increase and would save all tax payers about $100. Any way he put forward these motions and through certain spending cuts and fee increases which amounted to about $300,000. He didn't have a seconder so his motions failed. I found this peculiar to say the least, why would a Councillor who is on the Finance Committee wait until the budget was being presented to Council to try and make amendments. I was thinking to myself why wouldn't you do that at committee instead of here, it doesn't make any sense?

After the meeting I asked him if he proposed those spending cuts at committee and he said yes but he had no support and couldn't get them in. So it begs the question as to why would he propose these amendments when he must have known there would be no seconders and no way of getting them included in the budget? He told me he was trying to save the tax payers from a 15% tax increase.

Anyway back to the point that the Deputy Mayor was making about saving all tax payers about a $100 in taxes to offset the 15% tax increase. I don't know where those figures come from, I see where he gets it if we shave 300,000 of the budget divided by approximately 3000 residential tax payers gets you a $100. I agree that shaving 300,000 of the budget would save some money to to say that it would save individuals $100 is just not accurate. Considering that every tax payer potentially has a different assessed value on their house the savings would vary.

I worked out what my tax increase is and it amounts to around 2.4% increase over last year. With the increase in property assessments and also increase in spending by Council I am OK with a 2.4% increase in the actual dollar amount I have to pay in my taxes. It is still a $60 increase on my tax bill but I think under the circumstances they did a fair job of controlling the tax situation. I am sure there will be others out there who will have a higher increase as some assessments were dramatically higher. That doesn't mean that I agree with how much taxes we have to pay and how it is spent but it could have been much worse.

One other thing to note is that there will be no change to Councillor pay this year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cabin Owners Dumbfounded By Town's Refusal To Allow Power Line

Cabin owners in the Middle Three Island Pond area are bewildered and dismayed by the refusal of the Town of Torbay to allow them to construct a pole line, to bring power to their cabins. They have left messages and emails with various town staff and have not received a return communication explaining the Towns position. The owners only found out recently through a communication with Newfoundland Power that the Town refused to allow the work to be done.

There are approximately 22 cabins in that area and the owners have reported an increasing amount of vandalism and break ins. Some of the cabins are used frequently while others on a more seasonal basis which leaves them even more vulnerable.

Over the last few years 2 cabins have been torched and at least 4 vehicles have been burned. Almost all of the cabin owners have had their propane tanks stolen and some lost generators. This led to the cabin owners coming together to see what could be done about getting power into the area to help protect their properties.

One of the cabin owners decided to lobby the others about the possibility of getting power installed. He spend a considerable amount of time discussing the process with NL Power and found out that they needed at least 11 owners agree to pay a deposit and to having the power hooked up. In October they got the magic number and proceeded to set the process in motion with NL Power.

Each property owner had to give a deposit of approximately $6000 each to pay for their share of the power line. The application was then sent to the Public Utilities Board for approval and since there were line crews working in the area of the by-pass road the group thought they would see the pole line being built around that time.

In a surprising turn of events they received a call from NL Power informing them that the Town of Torbay had refused to give permission for the power line to be built. Needless to say the cabin owners are furious and want an explanation which has not been forthcoming. They don't understand why the Town would refuse, considering this is a endeavor that is entirely cost shared between the cabin owners and NL Power, there is no cost to the Town.

Four of the cabin owners attended the December 10, 2012 Council meeting and addressed some members of Council during the Q&A session at the end of the meeting. Granted this is not exactly the best time to get answers like this but at least they managed to bring their concerns to the the attention of some Councillors. They are hoping that their presence at the meeting will initiate some action. These cabin owners are still tax payers in our Town and they deserve to be able to reasonably protect their investment. They have no power, no infrastructure, no real road maintenance and no security but they certainly get a tax bill so they at least a right to be heard.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Great Big Sea of Red Ink

Last night at the Torbay Council meeting it was revealed that there was a loss of approximately $57,000 on the Great Big Sea concert during the Torbay 250 Celebrations. This loss was on an event that the final price tag was in the neighborhood of $408,000. However judging from the reactions of the Councillors you would think they made $100,000 on it. They rightly praised CAO Dawn Chaplin for all the hard work she did with regards to this particular event and the 2012 Celebrations overall. Frankly in my opinion if it were not for her and other town staff the losses on some of those events and especially that concert would have been a lot worse than they are.

That aside I was shocked when I heard Councillors throughout the Chamber praising the success of the event and how impressed they were, and what a well organized concert, and everyone should be happy. How could anyone in their right mind think that this concert was a great success, at least financially? Sure there were lots of people who came in from out of town to attend it but not nearly as many as some on this council were predicting. We sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 4000 tickets and up until 5:30 August 2nd there were about 3013 tickets pre-sold. What would have happened on the day of the concert if the weather had not been as nice as it was. In fact I think we had the nicest day of the whole summer that day and certainly would have attracted walk up customers. What if it had been raining a bit, not enough to cancel the concert but enough to dissuade people from coming? More losses no doubt.

I don't care what I am being told by Council, I refuse to call an event where tax payers from the Town of Torbay have to shell out an extra $57,000 to cover the cost of the event a success. That $57,000 equates to giving away 1400 tickets, I don't know about you but I didn't get my ticket free. It may have been a success from the perspective of actually hosting the event and the logistics of the whole thing but it was clearly a failed decision by Council from the onset. They chose to gamble with our money and the town was clearly in over it's head with the event planning as they had to hire a professional promoter about a month before the concert was to take place.

I couldn't believe last night when Deputy Mayor Geoff Gallant said, "people don't complain when we lose money on the Santa Claus Parade" WOW! That is all I have to say about that. How arrogant to say something like that about $57,000 dollars of tax payers money that this council decided to gamble with when they chose to have this concert. I don't care if we lose money on a parade, community skate, or any other community focused event like that. But to equate losing $57,000 on a concert that the town was ill prepared to plan and organize to a friggin Santa Claus Parade is just stupid.

I remember going to the Council meeting immediately following the Great Big Sea concert and those of us who were in the lobby waiting to go into the Council Chamber were actually commenting on how the door to the Chamber was open. It was the first time that any of us could remember it being that way and some Councillors were strutting around like the cat that just swallowed the canary. During the meeting Councillor Tapper expressed relief at the fact we had good weather and there was a huge turn out for the Concert. CAO Dawn Chaplin talked about what an eye opener it was from an event planning perspective and said that "it is not just simply done", that is why they had to hire a professional I guess to help get this thing done at the end. After they had made their comments the Deputy Mayor interjected and said something along the lines of he wouldn't say that there should have been relief after all it just goes to show what can be done when an event is well planned and executed. Everyone seemed to be in their top form talking about the great success and how wonderful everything was, that must have been when they imagined over 6000 people had attended the concert. Well they didn't and we lost a bunch of money.

People should remember when it comes to the next election that these people chose to take your money and risk it on a concert that they had no clue how to pull off. This was evident at the end when they had to hire a professional to come in and try and save our assess. I don't blame the staff at the town, after all the people who were originally in charge of many of these events have long since departed the employ of the town. Those who were left had to simply try their best in a bad circumstance and should be commended. I am sure there will talk about lessons learned and how things will be better in the future.

I have learned a lesson from all of this. Council chose to take over $400,000 of our money and gamble it on a concert with no knowledge on how to plan and organize an event of this magnitude and lost. They gave us a 10% tax increase last year to help pay for the 2012 Celebrations. Then they lost a bunch of money on this concert and God knows how much over all on the 2012 Celebrations. Now last night they increased spending in our town again and although they lowered the Mill rate we will most likely see an increase in our tax bill. How is that for a lesson?

Monday, December 10, 2012

City of St. John's Lowers Tax Rate

The City of St. John's have drastically reduced the mill rates for Residential and Commercial owners. Council lowered the Residential tax rate from 10.60 to 8.10 a 23.58% percent decrease after tax rates remained unchanged last year from the previous year. They also lowered the Commercial rate from 16.80 to 10.60 which is a 58.49% decrease, this is also after the tax rate remaining unchanged last year from the previous year.

These are significant reductions but home some homeowners and business owners are likely to see an increase in the amount of dollars they are actually going to have to pay to the city.

It will be interesting to see how these reductions compare to what the town of Torbay is going to be delivering tonight when they present our budget.

Torbay Budget On Agenda For Tonight

At the regular Council meeting tonight the 2013 Budget will be on the agenda and I am sure there will be a lot of interest in potential tax increases. As with previous years there is very little information in the public about what is going to be in this years budget. 

Considering that we had a tremendous increase in property values this year there would have to be a considerable drop in the mill rate to prevent a significant tax increase. We have heard virtually nothing from Council regarding plans for this budget aside from a scatter voice saying that mill rates will have to be adjusted. What does that mean exactly? Adjusted so that we won't pay any new taxes or adjusted so that the increases will be more manageable for the tax payer.

With that in mind I have not heard if Council has any plans to try and alleviate some of the tax burden on people with lower incomes. I know that in some other municipalities they have discounts for seniors for instance to try and ease the burden on that demographic. I think this is a good idea but I don't know that I would give a blanket rate reduction to seniors as that may not accurately reflect the fiscal reality of the intended reductions.

A better way would be to give discounts on taxes to people who are in a lower income bracket, this would certainly include many seniors who are on fixed incomes. They are not getting meaningful increases in their income each year but we continue to increase their tax requirements from the town. If we don't do something to address this unfair practice then we will end up forcing seniors and low income earners to make choices between paying taxes and other expenses essential for their well being.

I encourage anyone who has an interest in how this current budget to go out to the Council Meeting tonight and show Council that citizens want to be engaged.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Protesters Rally Against Harbour Fence

The St. John's Port Authority is planning on building a new fence along Harbour Drive to make the Port of St. John's meet security requirements. On the surface this sounds reasonable but there seems to be a ground swell of opposition from local celebrities such as Mark Hiscock and Allan Hawco. The activity so far on Twitter and Facebook has certainly started picking up steam.

It may seem ironic that people would be so upset about a fence that may actually looks nice and will enhance the look of the Harbour Front if nothing else. This is an image that was posted on CBC depicting the potential design of the new fence.

This is what they currently erect when they need to enhance security for visiting cruise ships and other vessels. It is visibly in need of repair and does nothing to enhance the look of the harbour front.

So basically the Port Authority is going to be putting up a permanent and aesthetically pleasing structure to replace the ugly temporary fencing they currently use. Most of the argument from people is about blocking the view or restricting access to the area. From the looks of the pictures the view is not going to be blocked any more than it is now and people were not blowing gaskets about the temporary fencing that is there now. It begs the question if there is really enough information out there about this proposed fence and what it all really means.

The sentiment about having the freedom to walk along the harbour and look at the ships at our leisure is a sticking point for many including myself. However it also has to be realized that this is not just a local harbour with a few fishing boats tied up like days long gone. This is a port where Cruise Ships dock and people from foreign countries need to be processed and security checked similar to the airport. People don't complain that there is a security fence keeping people from wandering around the airport runways and other secure areas.

Add to that the fact that the city has no jurisdiction over the port and this is going to happen whether they like it or not. The St. John's City Council has already voted unanimously to spend $425,000 to help build the new fence. Now City Councillor Sheilagh O'Leary is trying to fight the erection of the fence that she voted in favor of paying $425,000 of tax payers money on. She didn't know that the fence was going to be so big or that it was going to block access to the harbour. Well Councillor what the hell did you think a security fence was going to do and why vote to spend so much money on something you had no idea about?

This fence is going to be built and the best thing the city can do is be a partner with the Port Authority and try and have some influence on the project. If the City decides to try and fight this and back the Port Authority into a corner, they may just go ahead and stick up an ugly chain link fence and that will be the end of it. Everyone loses in that scenario, hopefully they come to some reasonable solution to this issue.

The impending protests and public pressure that is going to be placed on the Port Authority and the City will undoubtedly be intense and hopefully will have some influence. The best we can hope for is that the upcoming public demonstrations and media attention will bring more attention to this issue and have a positive impact on the final decisions that are bound to come.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Muskrat Falls - Do Numbers Matter?

Over the past few months there have been so much made about numbers with regards to Muskrat Falls it could certainly boggle the mind. There are so many sides to this issue it is sometimes difficult to keep up with it. You have Government and NALCOR releasing report after report from various experts with endless numbers supporting the project. Then you have groups like 2041 Energy Inc. roll out reports with other numbers contradicting those presented by Government. One big issue with those reports that denounce the findings of companies like MHI and ZIFF, is that they refuse to make reference to the experts who came up with them. Are we supposed to take 2041's word for their conclusions based on Cabot Martin's expertise alone? There is no doubt that he has credentials but again he is but one voice against many. So in that respect I think numbers do matter when trying to determine who has the more credible argument.

For the average Newfoundland and Labrador citizen it is pretty much impossible to rationalize these numbers down to specifics. We have no choice but to put our faith in others who are much more intimate with the finer details of this project. That means the MHA's both in Government and Opposition must present the facts and figures to their constituents as they are. Is this even possible with the amount of political spin that seems to surround the Muskrat Falls project? I don't know, all I can do is listen to the arguments and ask my MHA questions that I need answers to. When it comes right down to it you are either going to trust your MHA to make this decision on your behalf or not, that is the reason we elect them. This project is going to go ahead because Government has the numbers in the HOA to make it happen and they believe in it. Again numbers matter.

The other avenue that could have been available to us for review and scrutiny should have been the Public Utilities Board. However as it stands right now that option has been dismissed by Government. If you ask Government they will say the PUB had their opportunity and failed to act on their responsibilities. Then they will tell you there is no confidence in the PUB with respect to this project and they are not going back there. Others will say that the PUB wasn't given enough information and they were restrained by the terms of reference. What ever the reason the report that the PUB delivered didn't satisfy anyone and they are most likely not going to get a second chance. In fact they are not even going to be involved in setting the price of the power coming from Muskrat Falls. This is certainly going to be a point of contention for opponents and depending on the reason for their exclusion, they may have a point. I guess we will have to wait for the enabling legislation to see exactly why the PUB should not set prices for this power. I suspect that the power coming from Muskrat Falls has to be set at a particular rate in order to be economically viable. Numbers certainly matter in that case.

Another aspect of this whole story are groups railing against Government for what they perceive is an undemocratic process. There are some very legitimate issues with regards to the exclusion of the PUB and apparent refusal of Government to hold and real meaningful debate. There are also differing opinions on that too depending on who you ask. Some would say that the Opposition was offered an opportunity to debate this project but demanded terms they knew would be unacceptable and essentially sabotaged it. One would think that if our Government was truly running roughshod over our democratic rights and thwarting the public there would be an uproar. But when you look at the various protest events that have been held the turn out has been low. A rational person may see these low turnouts as an indication that the erosion of democracy is not as prevalent as some would argue. When asked about the low turn out members of these groups will tell you that how many people that turn out doesn't matter, that it is the act and the cause that really makes those protests a success. If we are in such dire circumstances that our entire democratic society is being high-jacked and oppressed more people would be pissed about it.

I congratulate those who have the guts and tenacity to organize and protest what they feel is right. It is not easy to take a stand especially when you are in the clear minority on a particular issue. But that is what it means to live in a democratic society that is alive and well. You have an unfettered opportunity to take on Government or other powers that be. At the same time I think that these groups are damaging their credibility when they say numbers don't matter. On the contrary, numbers matter a great deal when you are telling people that the entire foundation of our society is being taken from us. When small numbers turn out it could be seen a fringe group with a particular ax to grind or just a bunch of partisans. Numbers matter because they project support.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Possible Conversation Between NL Fisherman and C.I.R.M

There have been recent revelations that the Federal Government had intended for the use of C.I.R.M. Roma on a permanent basis for emergency medial calls from Newfoundland and Labrador. After hearing the story of the NL fisherman who ended up contacting this service shortly after the shutting of the rescue sub-centre and the farce that it revealed I thought I would put together a little scenario of how such a call would go.

Call from a Newfoundland Fisherman off the Flemish Cap to the Call Centre in Italy. Translations in brackets

Call Centre: Ciao (Hello)
Fisherman: What? Who is this?

Call Centre: C.I.R.M, qual è il tuo emergenza? (C.I.R.M what is your emergency?)
Fisherman: What the f*#k do you speak English?

Call Centre: sì, sir? What is emergency?
Fisherman: art hattack b'y, one of me crew is aving a art hattack

Call Centre: art sir, this is medical emergency line please hold while I transfer your call.

Call Centre: bonjour, le louvre (Hello, the Louvre)
Fisherman: What? 

Call Centre: vous avez un problème avec un peu d'art? (you have a problem with some art?)
Fisherman: What? art yes, one of my b'ys is aving a art hattack, do you speak English?

Call Centre: oui, sir, you have some art, you like to donate it to Louvre?
Fisherman: No! he is aving a art hattack b'y

Call Centre: oh, my! what you want, where are you?
Fisherman: somewhere by the Flemish Cap b'y.

Call Centre: somewhere you lost cap? Please hold while I transfer call.

Call Centre: bonjour, perdu et retrouvé (Hello, Lost and Found)
Fisherman: What? 

Call Centre: vous avez perdu votre chapeau monsieur? (you have lost your hat sir?)
Fisherman: No! f$#c, sweet Jesus, oh my God

Call Centre: Jésus, Dieu, oui, monsieur, s'il vous plaît tenir pendant que je transférer votre appel (Jesus, God, yes sir, please hold while I transfer your call)

Call Centre: ciao, il Vaticano come posso indirizzare chiamare (hello, the Vatican how may I direct you call)
Fisherman: What? English you bastard, do you speak English?

Call Centre: Why yes sir but there is no need to be hostile, how may I help you?
Fisherman: I need a doctor, one of me by's is aving a art hattack.

Call Centre: Well sir if you are having a problem with art I can transfer you to the art museum at the Louvre.
Fisherman: What? you F$#king Harseole!

Call Centre: oh arsehole? yes sir hold while I transfer your call.
Fisherman: F$#k.

Call Centre: Hello this is the office of Prime Minister Stephen Harper how may I help you?
Fisherman: What the F$#K I'm on me boat on the Flemish Cap and one of me b'ys is aving a art hattack I need a doctor.

Call Centre: Oh, dear sir, please hold while I transfer your call to the sub-centre in St. John's Newfoundland, The Prime Minister is always concerned about our dear NL fishermen. Remember to vote Conservative.
Fisherman: Finally!!

Call Centre: Ciao, C.I.R.M, qual è il tuo emergenza? (Hello, C.I.R.M what is your emergency?)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

School Boards - The Shit Screen of Government

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the School Boards in Newfoundland and Labrador and the Eastern School District Board in particular. They have been in the news a lot and most of what we hear is not good at least from some parents point of view. The board is currently going around the district discussing the futures of multiple schools through public consultations. The decisions they are charged to deal with are going to have profound effects on people in these communities. We are generally lucky in our area of the North East Avalon because our issues relate to getting another new school and not closing doors and busing our kids out.

One thing I would like to note is that I took a look at the websites of the 5 Districts and one theme was pretty common with the exception of the French Board. That is that they are overwhelmingly staffed by males.

District 1 - Labrador - 14 Members - 9 male - 5 female.
District 2 - Western - 15 Members - 11 male - 3 female and 1 vacancy.
District 3 Nova Central - 15 Members - 12 male - 1 female and 2 vacancies.
District 4 Eastern - 15 Members - 14 males - 1 female.
District 5 Conseil Scolaire Francophone - 10 Members - 1 male - 5 females - 4 vacancies.

The fact that they are mostly staffed by men is not a problem in it's self but it does exclude a large portion of the population and the views and input that could be provided by women. One thing we need to keep in mind is that these people are all volunteers, they don't get paid to be a Trustee. These positions require a person to put their name on a ballot and run for Trustee which entails many hours spent running around the district to meetings and other board activities.

Is that the reason that more women are not on the boards? They just don't have the time and therefore they are not interested or able to make the commitment. I don't know what the reason is but I would sure hope that more women choose to take part in this very important public office. Can our Government do something to make it easier for women to participate in these jobs? Don't get me wrong I have nothing but respect for the members who are currently on the board and they have difficult decisions to make. We couldn't ask for a better School Board Trustee than Chris Hammond in our area, and we are lucky yo have him. I would just like to see a more balanced approach to staffing solutions as it comes to school boards if that is possible.

Another thing that kind of bugs me is the fact that a lot of responsibility is placed on these boards and it seems the Government distances itself from their decisions. From what I understand the Minister of Education sets the overall policy then it is the Board's job to implement it. So if the Board says this school of that one is going to close the Minister just throws their hands in the air and says that there is nothing he can do, the Board is responsible for those decisions.

To me that is just allowing the Government and Minister off the hook, it is after all the Minister who sets the policy and budget and tells the Board to implement it. Which is where the shit screen analogy comes in. The Minister forces the hand of the Board but it is the board who takes the brunt of the criticism and the heat from parents and the minister escapes relatively unscathed. That is not an enviable position to be placed in if you are the Board members.

Maybe it is not the time and commitment needed to be a member of the board that keeps women away but the constant shit storm that the Board constantly finds itself in.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Muskrat Falls, Fails, Wails and Tales

There has been so much happening with this project lately that it is becoming increasingly difficult to stay out of it. The title of this post says it all about how muddy the waters have become in this debate and the endless arguments for and against this project.

Muskrat Falls - Unless you have been living on Mars then there is little chance that you have not heard about the largest single project that is poised to be undertaken by our Provincial Government. Chances are if you were living on Mars that some proponent or opponent of the project would be asking you for an expert opinion on the lowest cost option and then the other side would subsequently stomp all over it.

Basically our Government is on the verge on sanctioning this project and opening the flood gates to a river of money that will be difficult to curtail without erecting a dam on that river, which I guess is the entire point isn't it. They are going to build a dam on the Churchill River to generate electricity and bring it to the island and then off to Nova Scotia and possibly the United States market. On the surface it sounds like a good idea and many including our Government will tell you that it is. Government seems confident in it's pursuit of this mega project and despite the naysayers they appear to be full steam ahead, barreling towards the falls you might say.

Muskrat Fails - This can take on multiple meanings as this project teeters on the brink of sanction with the recent escapades in Goose Bay on the weekend. It can be equated to the Governments handling of public relations towards this project with regards to perceived secrecy and the failure, in many eyes, to have this project properly scrutinized by the Public Utilities Board. Granted the Government will tell us that this is the most scrutinized project in the history of projects both in Newfoundland and in fact anywhere in Canada or even on Mars if you happen to be there.

Why then do the detractors have so much traction in painting the Government as subverters of democracy and refusing to be open about the project? Do they have a point or is this all part of the failure of Government to inform the public? Are groups like 2041 and The Peoples Assembly stepping into an information void and using the Government mishandling on the message against itself?

Sometimes when the rhetoric ramps up it leaves the causal observer to wonder what the motivations of some groups are and leaves many with the impression that they are hoping that this project will fail just to validate their existence. I hope this isn't the case because they espouse to be defenders of democracy and looking out for the best interest of the province.

This also validates the critics when they ask why the Government is so heel bent on getting this done, what is their real motivation? Well hopefully it is to provide the people of this province with stable low cost power. The problem is that this project has become so polarized that either you are with us or against us and the average citizen is stuck somewhere in the muddy middle.

Muskrat Wails - It seems that at every juncture of this proposed mega project there are no shortage of wails coming from one group of another. We have the 2041 Group who have been wailing against this project from the start and rolling out their expert opinions in press conferences and flooding the local radio programs. 

Then we have the Peoples Assembly of Newfoundland and Labrador who maintain that they are not anti Muskrat Falls but are a grassroots organization wailing against the blatant disregard of the current Government for democracy. This is a valid and admirable cause for those involved and for the province in general who are troubled by certain actions of the government. Two that come to mind that seem to be the priority are Bill 29 and the lack of oversight by the PUB with the Muskrat Falls Project.

We also have guys like environmentalist Bruno Marcocchio seemingly on the radio every other minute wailing against Muskrat Falls or Danny Williams, or Kathy Dunderdale or anyone else who may come to mind. What are his motivations? He doesn't even live here and not one penny of this money is going to come from his pocket.

Who could forget Brad Cabana, the guy doesn't let an opportunity to wail about something pass by. This is the political prodigy who in a single calendar year tried to run for the leadership of the PC's and the Liberals. He has so many legal challenges and law suits on the go that he will soon catch the eye of that Colin guy who calls into the open line shows. You know the local Matlock who probably has legal terms tattooed on his arms and has an expert opinion on every legal matter in the province.

Muskrat Tales - This has to be the most fun part of this entire escapade that we find our lives so entangled each day as more and more information and misinformation is revealed. There are more people and groups raising questions and different angles related to this project daily that is it hard to keep up.

Take the 2041 Group I don't recall any of the assertions that have been made by them actually backed up by research with a name attached to it other than Cabot Martin. In fact it seems that some of the claims they make actually fly in the face of assertions made by other groups. Case in point is Cabot Martin's claim that Natural Gas from the White Rose filed can be used in place of Muskrat Falls to fuel a retrofitted Holyrood Generating Plant. This undisputed fact is made despite Husky saying that it has no plans in the near future to produce that natural gas. Don't you think that at the very least if you are going to say we can use this resource or that resource that you would first ask the owners of said resource if we can in fact use it? 

People will say almost anything to try and gain an advantage against the other side. Minister Kennedy started a couple of weeks ago releasing report after report regarding Muskrat Falls and all the expert analysis done to validate the project. These reports were immediately dismissed by some people saying that because the Government paid for the reports that they were invalid. At the same time they were trumpeted by others about how great a project this is and we should take the word of these experts.

But then other experts will come out and say those experts are not experts and we have experts that have given a completely different expert opinion than your expert opinion. Confused yet? You should be because the more of this stuff that makes it to the public only serves to cloud the issue even more. It has come to a point now where the title of expert no longer holds and weight in the public domain.

Other tales surrounding this whole mess is the fact that we have been told there is a debate going on in the house over this project. Well I guess in terms of the House of Assembly that is technically true but in the minds of us casual observers a debate usually entails questions being posed to one side by the other and then answers given to bolster the position of the debater. Is this what we are seeing in the HOA each day as various members of the House get up and have their allotted time to speak with regards to the project? 

Finally we have the Peoples Assembly, the champions of democracy. The main issue with this group seems to be their inability to keep focused on a clear message. This may be the result of no official hierarchy among the ranks and the fact that some of the members refuse to give their real names when appearing to speak on behalf of the group. It is increasingly difficult to trust the motives of individuals or groups when they refuse to be open and honest about who they are. Yes the message and cause should overshadow individuals but anything that casts a shadow of suspicion ultimately raises questions about the motivation.

One member of PANL local artist Con O'Brien is so against this project and the lack of public oversight he wrote a song about the whole thing called Our Daughters and Our Sons. If you haven't heard it is is worth a listen especially if you are feeling joyful and happy around the Christmas Season and would like to offset that will some doom and gloom. 

All jokes aside this is a serious issue and deserves all the attention it is getting. If this project goes ahead, one day we are all going to look back on these times with the benefit of hindsight and hopefully look fondly on all who were involved. If our Government is right we will have a tremendous facility in Muskrat Falls providing us with an abundance of electricity to power our province. If they are wrong then we will look back on this time and learn some valuable lessons in governance and public participation in the political process and decision making.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Torbay Santa Claus Parade Tonight

Tonight the annual Torbay Santa Claus Parade will take place starting at 5:45. This recent tradition of having the parade at night certainly seems to be catching on in other communities as well.

On thing I would like to note however is that this year the parade route has been changed to start at Holy Trinity High School. That means for all you people who live south of Marine Drive which would include all those along Torbay Road and the streets off of it.

You need to either get in your car and find a place to park along Torbay Road to watch the parade or stay the hell home out of it. If it was me I would do the later and stay home. In their wisdom the town has decided to in my opinion create additional traffic problems by not having the parade leave from Jack Byrne Arena.

Anyway, I am sure they know what they are doing, I mean after all why would they intentionally exclude a large portion of the town from the parade route which worked great in the past? They must have very serious issues with safety starting from the arena considering they are moving it to a place with a very narrow one lane road with twist and turns before they ever reach the main road.

Regardless, I hope that everyone who comes out to the parade has a good time and be safe, don't forget to bring along a non-perishable food item for the Torbay Food Bank and your letters for Santa.