by Stephen Kimber on December 9, 2013 | 1 Comment
Will this be one more missed opportunity?
The new Liberal government last week introduced the February Holiday Act to establish an annual mid-winter break on the third Monday of February, beginning in 2015. “The new holiday will give people time to spend with their families and friends, just as the majority of Canadians already do,” Labour Minister Kelly Regan explained.
The unanswered question: what to name the new day?
While the government has said it will ask school children to come up with suggestions, let me offer my own unsolicited nomination.
It is long past time for Nova Scotians to honour and celebrate Viola Desmond.
In 1946, Desmond, a black businesswoman from Halifax, became our very own Rosa Parks — nine years before anyone heard of Parks.
Parks is rightly celebrated today for touching off the sixties American civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus. But Desmond also refused to give up her seat — this one in the whites-only section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow.
When she ignored instructions to move to the black section in the balcony, the manager called the police who dragged her from the theatre and trucked her off to jail. Although Desmond was officially convicted of defrauding the federal government — downstairs ticket prices were higher than in the balcony, so she’d paid one cent less amusement tax than required — everyone knew racism was the real reason she was arrested.
An appeal against the conviction — supported by the newly-formed Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People — ultimately failed, but the sight of this principled black woman standing up alone against state-sanctioned segregation galvanized and inspired many in Canada’s own nascent civil rights movement.
While Viola Desmond’s contribution to the fight for racial equality is slowly being recognized — in 2010, the Nova Scotia government issued a posthumous pardon and apologized; in 2012, she was featured on a Canada Post commemorative stamp — it is time to take the next step and honour her with a day symbolizing the continuing fight for equality in Nova Scotia.
Viola Desmond Day.
It has a lovely ring to it.
by Stephen Kimber on December 2, 2013 | No Comments
One of the interesting early smoke signals from the new Liberal government is the one they aren’t sending — that the sky is falling. The Liberals did not, as the previous NDP government did, order up an immediate full-blown independent report on the state of the province’s finances, a report whose conclusions changed the course of the Dexter government’s first term and, arguably, put paid to its hopes of a second.
Could it be that those godless, investment-scaring tax-and-spend socialists managed to put the previous Tory government’s mismanaged fiscal house in order in their four years, allowing the Liberals to seamlessly begin governing as if the hobnailed boots of the apocalypse were not already upon our necks?
Or are we just waiting for the other, reality shoe to drop?
Time will tell.
Which is probably the safest thing to be said at this point about Stephen McNeil’s new brooms.
They are governing with a certain confidence-inducing confidence: fleshing out their promised public inquiry into the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children, making sure $60 million in federal social housing funds get spent wisely, launching a full-scale review of MLA compensation, pledging a happy-making winter holiday and telling other jurisdictions to keep their fracking waste to themselves, thank you very much.
At the same time, they have shown how easy it is to slide comfortably into governing’s perks. They swiftly shredded their opposition argument to remove political control from funding decisions at the government’s business slush fund. Not to worry, they say, they’ll be more transparent about it. That’s… comforting.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the government’s first order of business when the legislature opened last week was a bill aimed at “breaking” Nova Scotia Power’s monopoly on the electricity grid, allowing independent power generators to sell directly to customers.
Which sounds good and was the centerpiece of the Liberals’ energy-focused winning election platform. But it came with the implicit promise of lower power rates, which even the government now admits won’t happen as a result.
At best, the move will be a no-gain-no-loss symbolic gesture; at worst, removing big customers from the NSP grid will drive up costs for the rest of us.
Time will tell. For us. And for the eventual fate of Stephen McNeil's new government.
by Stephen Kimber on November 25, 2013 | 2 Comments
Even though federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay concedes “no concrete initiatives related to global peace and security” have resulted from his government’s $12 million grant to a Washington-based organization to stage two-day conferences on global security every year for the past four years in Halifax, he isn’t discouraged.
“We have all the ingredients in place for that to happen,” he told Postmedia’s Tobi Cohen on the eve of last weekend’s fifth annual Halifax International Security Forum.The fixin’s this year included defence ministers from Canada, the United States, Israel and France (but not, of course, from Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China or Russia, the countries most central to any of the former countries’ security concerns).
The conference’s 300 participants — some of whom had their expenses paid by thee and me — included such global security experts as TV talkers Peter Mansbridge and Tom Clark, Nazanin Afshin-Jam, the wife of Peter MacKay, and John MacDonnell, MacKay’s former chief of staff. (The Forum, as Cohen pointed out, is “something of a taxpayer-funded family affair” for MacKay.)
Forget for the moment MacKay is spending millions in regional development dollars — which could have been used to develop sustainable regional businesses — on an American organization that puts on two-day once a year conferences of economic benefit, mainly to a few downtown hotels and restaurants.
Ask yourself the larger question: What is the real value when a government — one that won’t talk to Palestinians and closes its embassy in Iran — creates a conference that serves as little more than an echo chamber for conventional western wisdom about global security.
Not that logic matters in matters of MacKay.
On Thursday, the justice minister announced Ottawa — for which read the Department of National Defence, MacKay’s old ministerial stomping ground, and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, for which understand MacKay’s personal patronage sandbox — is ponying up yet another $9.8 million for five more years of cheery chat among the congnoscenti.
I for one can’t wait to hear more penetrating insights into the obvious such as this bon mot from last weekend’s talkfest: “No one can deny that at this very moment uncertainty is the most important feature in international relations.”
Worth every million, I’m sure.
by Stephen Kimber on November 18, 2013 | 1 Comment
Perhaps it’s as simple as the fact Mike Savage is not… oh, there are too many to choose from.
His predecessor, for starters. Peter Kelly, the unlamented former mayor of Halifax whose major lasting legacy was his longevity in an office for which he was so obviously unsuited. He, belatedly, had the good sense to read the writing on the wall before it collapsed in on him.
The same cannot be said, of course, for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, about whom more than enough has already been written, late-night joked and harrumphed about.
Then too, let us not forget Mayor Susan Fennell of Brampton, ON, overshadowed as she was last week by those Toronto allegations of crack-smoking, drunk-driving, lewd-speaking and who knows what new horrors still to come. Fennell’s simpler sin was being exposed auditioning for an entitled-to-her entitlements Senate seat: charging taxpayers $2,160 for personalized barbecue aprons.
Little wonder then that our own mild-manned mayor, Mike Savage, merited a standing ovation from the Halifax Board of Trade earlier this month, more for having survived his first year in office unsullied and unsullying than for any concrete accomplishment.
And 40 per cent of Haligonians gave Savage a thumbs-up score of eight in last week’s City Matters survey conducted for Metro Halifax and the Greater Halifax Partnership by MQO Research. Pollsters surveyed 600 residents over the age of 18, with a margin of error of plus or minus four per cent, 19 times out of 20.
“There’s 40 per cent of the population who are exceptionally pleased,” MQO Research senior counsel Rick Emberley told Metro’s Philip Croucher, but more importantly, “there’s a significant portion of the population who feel pretty good about [Savage]. But there’s almost nobody who thinks it’s bad.”
Which, these days, is as good as it gets.
If Savage doesn’t have many concrete accomplishments to show for his first year in office, he has, thankfully, changed the channel on the debates at City Hall. Municipal politics, the former federal MP told the Board of Trade, “is our last, best hope to make government work for people without the burden of party politics.”
Now that would be nice.
by Stephen Kimber on November 4, 2013 | 6 Comments
Could our very own Senator Mike Duffy (if he can call P.E.I. home without having lived there for decades, surely we can tag CKDH's Round Mound of Sound a Nova Scotian for his 1960s stint as an Amherst radio disc jockey and news reporter) succeed in doing what decades of NDP policy wonks have failed to do?Bring down the Senate of Canada.
And, perhaps, a prime minister in the bargain.
It would be a delicious irony if Duffy — who liked to be called “The Senator” long before he was one, who lobbied successive Liberal and Tory governments for his appointment to the chamber of entitled-to-their-entitlements and whose journalism career ultimately became one long suck-up, appoint-me-please job application/supplication — should go down in history as the architect of its demise.
It would be even more delicious if Stephen Harper — who began his political career as a Reform Party triple-E Senate reformer and who, as prime minister, refused to appoint a single Senator until the 2008 faux threat of a Liberal-NDP coalition prompted him to name his own Gang of 18 in order to outvote the Liberals on the Senate floor — should now be brought down by a Senate scandal of his own making.
Harper’s 18 new senators, of course, included Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, the three at the heart of the current expenses scandal.
Harper didn’t appoint Wallin and Duffy — both high-profile broadcasters — for their lifelong support of the Conservative party, but so he could trade on their public personas to fill party coffers.
Which worked until it didn’t.
Those same public personas have now not only given the expenses scandal marathon legs but also offered the disgraced Senators an Everest-high pulpit from which to fight back after Harper decided to disappear them.
While Duffy will almost certainly lose his battle against suspension this week, he will have succeeded in exposing the seamy, smarmy underbelly of Harper’s PMO.
That — coupled with an expected Supreme Court ruling keeping the constitutional bar for Senate reform unachievably high — just might force Harper into a channel changing popular referendum on Senate abolition.
And that may be enough to force an end to the Senate, but not enough to save Harper.
Win-win. Thanks, Mike.
by Stephen Kimber on October 28, 2013 | No Comments
The federal justice department’s 19-page internal review into its role in the the Fenwick MacIntosh extradition process — Aug. 15, 1997 (“Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service contacts the International Assistance Group to discuss potential extradition request”) to July 14, 2006 (“Canada formally requests extradition”) — has no named author.
The review itself — which followed the Supreme Court’s recent ruling tossing 17 child sex abuse convictions against MacIntosh, largely because of delays in bringing the case to court — also does not name anyone involved in what Justice Minister Peter MacKay Friday acknowledged was a “depressing display of bureaucratic bungling.”
Instead, they are simply referred to as “justice officials…” “prosecutors…” “the RCMP liaison officer in India…” “the new counsel…”
Similarly, the details of why what happened happened are obscured under suffocating layers of report-speak. There was “serious human error” and an “absence of institutional systems.”
While lamentably lacking in substance, the review’s saving grace was that it acknowledged the department's failures. “The victims and all Canadians had a right to expect better from federal public officials.”
Justice Minister Peter MacKay — who was not justice minister when any of this happened — was equally forthright. “I want to apologize and express my sincere regrets for the mistakes made by federal employees who played a role in this tragic case and the institutional failures that contributed to this travesty of justice.”
Nothing more to see here, folks. End of story. No need for a public inquiry. Move along.
Why should we trust those who made such a hash of all of this then to tell us it’s all fixed now?
Who were those nameless-but-apparently-not-blameless federal employees and what, if anything, has happened to their careers as a result? More importantly, why did they screw up? Were they overworked? Under-trained? Lazy?
We need a public inquiry that will hear from those bureaucrats — and their bosses — under oath. About what they didn’t do. And why what happened can’t happen again.
We also need to hear from MacIntosh himself — again under oath. Did he, as some media outlets claim, return to Canada from India on several occasions while the Canadian government was supposedly trying to extradite him. If so, how did that happen? (The internal review, being an internal review, finds no documents to support the media suggestion and so investigates no further.)
So thank you, nameless reviewer, for acknowledging fault, and thank you, Peter MacKay, for apologizing for something no one can blame on you.
But it isn't enough.
As one of the complainants said after the review’s release: “An apology from the federal government is fine and this review is fine, but at the end of the day nothing has changed and MacIntosh is still a free man.”
Surely, we can do better than that.