P3 Miramichi nursing home

Posted on September 21, 2015
Filed Under Commentary, History & Culture, Miramichi | Leave a Comment

My wife and I attended the Thursday, September 17, meeting regarding the proposed public private partnership nursing home for Miramichi. I wanted to hear the case for both sides of the proposed shift from two public ownership homes to a privately owned, managed and operated home.
I think it is fair to say that most of the people there were already firmly opposed to the P3 approach. Perhaps 30 percent of the audience wore red shirts indicating they were home employees or members of the same union or other unions. They naturally don’t like the idea of losing their CUPE contract, their seniority rights and wage levels.
Of the rest, I surmise that some were Liberal party supporters like myself and others were supporters of the union position or, also like myself, wanted to know what the arguments are for both sides.
 My mother died in The Mount and I have been a Meals On Wheels driver for 32 or 33 years. Both of those experiences have left me with a strong feeling of respect, admiration and affection for the staff in both those homes although I should clarify that my observations of the Miramichi Senior Citizens Home is limited to the kitchen.
I thought it was courageous and proper of Lisa Harris and the Honourable Bill Fraser to call, organize and entice several cabinet ministers to the meeting knowing they would be subjected to considerable heat.
The audience, including the union members were vociferous and sometimes loud but, for the most part, willing to listen to the politicians and make their case politely. A few union leaders were more aggressive but that is to be expected. They are the guard dogs of worker rights and employed or elected to fight for them.
I thought Lisa Harris did a fine job of chairing the meeting and maintaining a balanced tone of respect for her constituents and keeping the meeting civil.
One thing that puzzles me is why politicians will sit and absorb abuse for not taking a public position on what they will decide without explaining why that is. Several union folk wanted them to hold up their hands to indicate whether they would support the union position or not.
The way government cabinets and, I think, union boards have their individual opinions but do not express them publicly. They thrash out their differences in their meetings and then present a united front to the public regardless of their personal feelings. You may not like that but it is a time-proven system for any kind of team, public or private, political, union, religious or sports.
I don’t know why ministers don’t just explain that simple fact even if it wouldn’t satisfy protesters. When they don’t, I think many people assume they are against those wanting their support and afraid to say so.
I thought that Honourable Cathy Rogers, Social Development minister, did explain that she has a thorough knowledge of and empathy for the poor and disadvantaged. When she said she had been a single mom raising kids for 17 years, I didn’t like it that some people booed. She was unfailingly patient and polite and I believe she has the credentials to look out for the public interest.
I truly don’t know whether she would side with the union in cabinet or not but I know she would be out of cabinet if she publicly declared that she opposed its collective decisions and policies.
The home workers’ opinions certainly dominated the meeting as expected but I think they should realize that they represented a quite small part of the total electorate.
As a result, their repeated insistence on having their jobs and contract guaranteed may seem a little presumptuous to the public at large. Most citizens and small business people have never had a guaranteed job. One union official said to the cabinet members, “If you don’t guarantee our jobs, we won’t guarantee yours”. As if anyone can or does guarantee an elected member’s or a cabinet member’s job. Sooner or later, almost all of them are rejected by the electorate whether they deserve it or not.
Even within the nursing home field, many or most workers don’t have the wages, benefits and job security the government run home workers have. That is not at all to say either group should not but just to point out that fact.
As I said above, I have a very good impression of the care givers and boards of the local homes. I remember when the late Donna McLean used to organize happy hours complete with entertainment and small cups of beer for Mount residents. The night my mother died, the staff were still coming in to moisten her lips and move her to prevent bed sores as if she were going to live another 10 years. Visiting there most days, I observed the kindness and patience and skill with which the staff dealt with some very difficult issues. Two different women who worked there have told me they sometimes crawled onto the beds and cuddled lonely old people when time or breaks permitted in the middle of the night. That’s probably against a rule but hearing it was very comforting. I hope I don’t get anyone into trouble. I remember being told years ago how the kitchen manager at the Miramichi home managed to work fresh lobster into the meal plan in the season.
Over the years, I’ve heard many more stories about how kind and helpful the workers have been to people’s parents.
Given some of the horror stories we hear about other homes in larger centres, I concluded that the Miramichi, and probably most of the Maritimes, has a special culture of care giving.
Of the audience comments I heard, the ones that really made an impression on me were the ones by Kim Savoie and Pat Diotte.
Ms Savoie’s heart was very much on her sleeve when she spoke to the need to move the nursing home residents’ “family,” meaning home staff, with them as they moved to completely new surroundings.
Mr. Diotte’s address reminded me that that culture also exists at the board level and has worked very well for local patients. I worry that a private corporation might not support lobster treats for patients.
The only beef I ever had with the Mount, when I had the newspapers, was when the Mount board resisted my plan for an article about how the patients there were given beer at the occasional Friday happy hour. The local beer reps were taking turns providing a case or two. I thought it was wonderful. The board was, I was told, afraid of an uproar if some people learned that the patients were being treated as grown up citizens and not children or prisoners.
I also understand the government’s position that private management can effect certain efficiencies. In our modern world, centralized management, purchasing, information management, marketing and systems are taking over in every field of endeavour. When we hear demands to maintain local jobs and local business contracts, we never hear anyone suggesting we pay more taxes. We want government to provide more services for less money. Like it or not, centralization offers economies of scale.
New Brunswick is as much a charity case in Canada as Greece has been in Europe. We have maintained a generally higher per capita number of public service jobs than the rest of Canada without paying the cost. To some extent that is natural. We have roughly the population of the City of Hamilton, Ontario, but we are spread out over a far larger area.
We have been Greece to Europe’s Germany. In our case, Germany has been Ontario and then the western provinces. Alberta is losing its ability and inclination to continue that.
I also like Honourable Cathy Rogers point that the P3 approach will offer local workers opportunities they have never had before. Miramichiers have, over the years, found their personal advancement by leaving. Employees of a national or international senior care home here would provide stepping stones to advancement. From what I know of the local workers, I fully expect they would be in very high demand. Not all of them are saints. Some of them should not have guaranteed job security. The ones who do deserve advancement opportunities which often are not available in a shrinking local economy.
Minister Rogers also pointed out a fact that got little recognition at the meeting. The aging baby boom demographic is temporary. In 25 years, provincial needs may be very different. The government could walk away from an obsolete facility. The Morrissy Bridge is a prime example of how difficult it is for government to dispose of obsolete or surplus assets.
Many locals probably do not realize that the Rodd Miramchi does not own the building it occupies. The hotel, which includes government offices, and adjacent seniors’ residence is owned by another private firm. The Rodd corporation manages it.
I am very sympathetic to the challenges facing any New Brunswick government. With a shrinking, aging population and fewer babies per capita being born, providing modern services and facilities on shrinking income looks like an impossible task to me. I almost question the sanity of anyone who wants to try. It reminds me of the variation on an old saying to, “If you can keep your head, when all around you are losing theirs, the odds are you don’t really understand the situation”.
Finally, it could be possible for a local co-operative of some sort to submit a proposal to own, manage and operate the seniors project. It wouldn’t be easy to compete with international conglomerates but having a contract could be a significant part of a business plan that would qualify for a bank loan. Having committed tenants is the most important criterion for the development of every mall that is built. Perhaps there is even a development corporation out there somewhere that would like to work with local management. Home Hardware and some other national chains work like that.
When all is said and done, I sincerely hope that the local management and the local staff who seem to have performed very well here over the years can be preserved. My personal experience with them has been remarkably positive.
DAC

Sobey brothers retirement milestone

Posted on July 24, 2015
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David and Donald Sobey, the brothers who have led the Sobey’s supermarket chain and Empire, the investment and holding company to national prominence, have both announced their retirements as they reach 80 years of age.
I moved to Pictou County, Nova Scotia, from Montreal in 1966. By chance I wound up living a few doors down the street from the Sobeys grocery chain head office in Stellarton. Sobeys was also the biggest customer for the little printing plant I was running.
Bill Sobey, the eldest of founder Frank Sobey’s sons was president of the company and mayor of the Town of Stellarton.
Donald Sobey, with one assistant, ran Empire Company from a cubby hole in the Sobey’s head office. I leased a car from the Chrysler Dodge dealership that was part of Empire.
Frank Sobey was no longer actively involved in the operations of the growing grocery chain. He had been recruited by then Nova Scotia premier, Robert Stanfield, to head up Industrial Estates, the province’s industrial development and recruitment Crown Corporation.
Some of Industrial Estates’s prizes located in Pictou County. Scott Maritimes Pulp Ltd., the cool Clairtone stereo systems with their trademark globe speakers, Michelin Tire and various other smaller corporations came to the county in the next few years.
The firm was already displaying steady growth and impressive modern marketing techniques. Having worked with Southam Business Publications Ltd. in Toronto and Montreal, I still had contacts with the company. I wrote to the editor of “Executive,” the company’s flagship business magazine suggesting that he might be interested in articles on Sobey’s and two other Maritime firms that were also growing and establishing market dominance. One was Irving Oil. The other was McCain’s.
The editor rejected the idea saying that the companies might have some regional significance but didn’t have any national import.
From that time to this, of course, all three companies have been stars on the regional and national scene. Irving and McCain’s both have large international presence.
In Pictou County, in the mid 1960s, the Sobeys were all very active and visible locally.
One of the first stories I heard about Frank Sobey was that he did his own banking and stood in line with other customers. That said quite a lot about the kind of man he was.
Bill was the family star at the time. He led the company while also serving as mayor of Stellarton. He was also active in the Prince William Yacht Club in Pictou Landing. For one thing, Sobey’s had donated two Flying Junior sail boats. They were used for teaching juniors to sail but were available to any other member when not be used for classes. Another young man and myself took advantage of that by becoming associate members of the club. That, in turn, meant we were included in the club social events. Imagine my surprise when I stepped up to the bar at happy hour and sound Bill Sobey cheerfully taking his turn as bar tender. Not only that but he gave me a suggestion for which I am grateful to this day. Like many young Maritimers then and now, my drink was dark rum and cola. He suggested that I try using half cola and half soda water for mix. Over the years that gradually led to abandoning sweetened mixes altogether.
To local grief and dismay, Bill died of a heart attack at 62 with the company’s most spectacular growth still ahead.
David and Donald and next generation family presided over putting in place the management that has made the chain the second largest in Canada.
The family has also been generous corporate citizens with Donald especially being a huge supporter of the arts and education at the regional and national level.
David was a regular visitor to the Miramichi as much or more, I think, for Salmon fishing as for business.
The retirement of David and Donald marks a significant milestone for the company. The family influence on the business is now quite diffused among succeeding generations and into the hands of the non-family executive management.
It has been a pleasure to observe the family’s success over the past 50 years and to have had the opportunity for a few years to see them close up to get an idea of what they are like as people as well as corporate leaders. DAC

National anthem tradition vs progress

Posted on October 2, 2014
Filed Under Commentary, Economic & Political Philosophy | Leave a Comment

CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon topics for today included whether we should amend our national anthem’s “in all thy sons command,” to “in all of us command”. Several of those speaking against the proposal cited tradition as their reason.
I think we certainly should. I think this is one of those discussions that is going to seem silly looked back on 20 years from now.
With regard to tradition, some are worth keeping. A tradition of trying to be fair and tolerant and inclusive is worth preserving. A tradition of treating women like property (which we used to do) or as second class citizens with no equity in marital assets (which we recently used to do) or imprisoning homosexuals (which we used to do) are not.
If tradition always trumps progress why do we need Parliament? Every new law or program violates tradition. Canada is, or was, a progressive nation. I remember the fuss when Lester B. Pearson’s Liberal government decided on our new flag. I doubt you could find much support for going back to the old one now.
And, yes, we should also make it inclusive for New Canadians and especially for First Nations people.
The good old days and tradition often harken back to a time when all the power and privilege was held by powerful, rich, old, white men.

Election ideas we won’t hear

Posted on August 28, 2014
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With a provincial election pending on September 22, there is a great deal of discussion regarding New Brunswick’s frightening economic condition.
I don’t think there is any silver bullet to reverse the international trend from country to city. However, I do see have some thoughts on how the Maritime economy might be improved.
1) isn’t it ridiculous to have four Atlantic Provinces for fewer that 2,000,000 people? The economy could be more competitive with one. I love New Brunswick but no one even knows we are here.
2) Imagine if health care were a national, instead of a provincial, program. Maritimers have, I think a special culture of care giving. If health care were national, the Maritimes could market itself as a retirement haven. As it is, old people are a huge liability to New Brunswick.
3) The St. John River valley has been generally more prosperous than the Northern and Eastern areas. One reason is that the major industry on the West side is McCains. They process potatoes and grow some but contract with private, independent farmers for most of the crop. What if the Province of New Brunswick sold all the Crown Land to private, independent owners with the proviso that forest products processors like sawmills and pulp mills could not own forest land they don’t already? I think it might work better if processors had to negotiate for supply with woodlot owners and the market would decide who got the wood instead of bureaucrats and politicians. Sounds radical but private ownership works in many other parts of the continent and the world. As it is, I don’t think the Province realizes much profit from owning Crown Lands. Selling it and taxing it and regulating it would probably be better financially for the government.
4) Currently the province spends money on all kinds of economic development which again involves politicians, bureaucrats and local committees making decisions about handing out money. I think programs that encouraged all businesses, rather than the chosen ones, would make better economic sense.
One example is the shameful double property taxation of commercial properties. All businesses pay more for less service than residential owners do. They pay provincial as well as municipal property taxes and don’t even get garbage removal included. Thus every small business that owns or rents pays roughly double property taxes. Residential apartment tenants do that too which is shameful. Doing away with that would benefit all business and make them more competitive locally and for export.
The plethora of economic development programs includes local ones that are supposed to stimulate local business development with grants. The problem there is that a great many of these grants go to businesses that compete with existing, often struggling, businesses already in the market. It is harmful and discouraging to local businesses to have their own tax money used against them.
Business Improvement Area taxes were originally conceived to provide money for independent merchants to provide attractions and promotions like mall tenants could with their communal funds. What actually happened is that many of the merchant groups used the tax money to set up offices and hire staff leaving little or nothing for actual promotion and marketing. One even had its members selling cookbooks to provide money to sustain the office that wasn’t doing anything that made the members’ cash registers jingle.
Doing away with the BIAs would save every business money.
5) Why does a a province with 750,000 and shrinking people have so many police forces? Why not have one with detachments across the province. It could be more efficient and sophisticated and would give individual officers the opportunity to work their way up without having to change employers.
6) Why does the province own retail liquor stores? If they got out of the business, it could help many of the convenience stores and gas stations survive which they are finding very difficult. Letting Walmart and Costco and the supermarkets carry liquor would mean we could get the benefit of their buying power and the variety of products they could provide as they do now with the products they sell. An added benefit is that it would reduce the potential for corruption. As it is now, a committee decides what brands of liquor and wine are available. That kind of structure is a magnet for corruption.
7) Why is Atlantic Lotto immune from transparency? Surely any publicly owned body with control over so much cash ought to be most transparent. Again, a cash cow that big is a magnet for skulduggery. Each of the four Atlantic Provinces finance ministers cops out saying they would be all for it but the other three don’t agree. Time to call that for the nonsense it is and make every Atlantic Lotto transaction and contract and hire wide open to the public.
8) One of the things that holds New Brunswick back is the myth that we are Canada’s bilingual province. We are not. We are dualingual, duacultural and dual governed. What this means in practical terms is that for many Anglo and Franco people employment opportunities are severely limited. That is one of the factors that drives so many young people away. Even if one partner in a couple is bilingual, if the other is not, they may have to leave for a place where both can find work. It is in the national constitution that New Brunswick has go provide services to its citizens in the language of their choice. Time to get serious about making all of our citizens able to do that. Segregationists currently call the shots and protect their little enclaves. It is time to get past the idea that French and English cannot become bilingual in the same school system and find a way that they can. We simply cannot afford the historical prejudices that made that true and continue to make Francophones accept it as gospel. It is a mountain that has to be climbed.
9) I believe New Brunswickers can do anything. Just browsing social media reveals all kinds of talents that are world class but under utilized and unable to earn a living wage in our tiny markets. More proof of this is the great success of the people who have to leave the province they love but have huge success all over the world. One thing we ought to be doing is asking these people to mentor us. I know they are willing to do it and it is shameful we don’t ask. I personally know of several provincial expatriates who know the routes that lead to success.
To sum up, I think government’s role ought to be to provide as efficient an infrastructure as it can for citizens and business so they can compete with each other and in the wider market place most efficiently.
On we go! DAC

Feminists versus femininity

Posted on August 14, 2014
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Feminism versus femininity

There is a current todo about a website,
http://womenagainstfeminism.tumblr.com on which women post photos of themselves holding signs saying they are not feminists or don’t need feminism and listing reasons why.
In my opinion this is just another wave in the continual misunderstanding of what feminism is. Much of it is deliberately created by people who want to make feminists look bad. Some of it is a result of radicals who want to use feminism as an anti-masculinity weapon.
Anti-feminists promote the idea that feminism is anti femininity. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Feminism is purely about women having the same rights as men. My mother was an ardent feminist and one of the most joyously feminine women I ever knew. She believed in and fought for women’s right to vote, own property, have their own bank accounts, mail and credit. She believed women had the same right to their personal, political, financial and sexual independence as men.
She also loved courtly manners, flirting and using feminine wiles to achieve her objectives. As a court reporter, she used cookies for the judge, prosecution and defence to encourage them to take the time to help her get the story right. If she noticed a judge fighting a cough, she would make sure there were lozenges on his bench after break or lunch. Male reporters could have done that too but they didn’t. I wonder if she would have done that for female judges, prosecutors or defence attorneys. There were hardly any of those in those days.
Frankly I find it ridiculous that any woman or any man would not be a feminist.
Femininity and masculinity are biological traits. Men are programmed to notice and appreciate healthy looking women. Getting angry at them for that is to be angry at nature. Women are also programmed to notice and appreciate certain things about men that would make them good sires for their children although, traditionally, they were more circumspect about it. That may be changing.
Biological femininity and masculinity are not without their dangers and threats to personal happiness.
Our genes do not care if we are happily married or not. Men’s genes want to spread themselves as far and wide as they can to improve their likelihood of survival. Women’s genes are constantly on the lookout for new chromosomes to improve and increase their survival. Genes don’t give a damn about marriage or the golden rule.
The comforts, joys and securities of a happy relationship require management of one’s own genes and a constant effort to maintain excitement.
Even so, it is hard to predict the future of relationships. It used to be that many women put up with the double standard to preserve the home and family while they raised their children. All that is changing now as women gain their financial and sexual independence. One woman I know says that serial monogamy is the probable future. As life experience and career development change individuals, relationships will wax and wane and often extinguish completely.
When a couple can maintain a happy relationship, their children seem to be more emotionally successful so there must be some current biological advantage to monogamy if only for mutual security.
All of that, in my opinion, is an argument for feminism. I cannot imagine any argument for a system where women are property or second class and not equal partners in politics, finance and sex. Just as children need two parents to balance the task of child rearing, a healthy society needs both male and female and, we are learning, gay and trans sexual participation in politics, business and social life.
There is an old Hungarian aphorism that a treaty is an equality of inequalities. US President, Lyndon Johnson, was, I believe, the first to say that politics is the art of the possible.
Neither men nor women are going to be absolutely happy with the compromises necessary to male and female equality. All religions have, at their root, the golden rule requiring us to treat others as we would be treated. That doesn’t always make us happy either but it does represent the closest to heaven we can get.
If you believe in equality and the golden rule, you have to be a feminist. You must also manage your femininity and masculinity to provide the maximum amount of fulfilment and joy for yourself and your partner. Sex is a such a powerful part of life that one of Cadogan’s laws is that there are only two things going on in the world. One is sex. The other is foreplay.
Like fire, sex is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. To be happy and successful, we have to work hard to find and maintain the line that makes us happy captains of our fates.
It will not happen if we are not all feminists. We have to all be masculinists too. To me that means working together to raise boys who want to and will work to be good and attractive partners for women. Failure to do that leads to the insecurity and misogyny that leads loser men to massacre women.
I have seen major progress and some wrong trails in my lifetime. I don’t know where the freedom feminism brings will take us. I am confident it will be a far better place that we have been and where much of the world still is. If you believe women should be allowed to drive and go to school, you are and need to be a feminist. If you believe women should not be imprisoned for surviving rape and don’t believe in killing your daughters or sisters for some perverted sense of family honour, you are and need to be a feminist.
Don’t confuse feminism with femininity. They do not conflict.
On we go. DAC

Anti-gay-marriage lawyers

Posted on July 9, 2014
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The law society of New Brunswick is currently one of only four Canadian provincial societies that have decided to accredit applications for membership from graduates of Trinity Western University in British Columbia. TWU is an evangelical Christian school whose students sign a covenant to abstain from sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman. Sexual intimacy between same sex partners, even if legally married, therefore violates the covenant.
After the New Brunswick society agreed to accredit TWU graduates, a group of members started a petition to have the decision reconsidered. They may well be justified to have that done. There are differing opinions on how the issue was dealt with at the meeting.
That said, I cannot imagine how the society could refuse to accredit the TWU grads. I vehemently disagree with the idea the covenant represents. When Parliament debated including gays as groups to be protected from discrimination in the revision of the Charter of Rights, I wrote that it was one of those arguments that would seem silly in 10 years. Of course they deserved and needed that protection. And now the question does indeed seem silly.
People, including lawyers, are however entitled to hold different beliefs. Signing the covenant does not signify that TWU grads will try to flout the law. In practical, political terms, it would, I think, probably disqualify any of them from being appointed to be judges but not from practising law.
It is very probable that almost all lawyers and judges disagree with something that is law. Some would disagree with mandatory sentencing. Some may believe in capital punishment. Some undoubtedly think marijuana or prostitution laws should be different. Many must disagree with gun ownership laws.
There is and always has been a tendency among people to equate what they don’t like with what should be illegal or boycotted. People are often willing to punish a corporation for the bad behaviour of a single employee. We see examples every day.
I heard a Maritime Noon discussion of privacy rights recently in which callers were almost unanimous in what corporations or media should not be allowed to do without ever considering the effect such bans would have on what they personally would be allowed to do or banned from doing. If, for example, you don’t think a newspaper ought to be able to take and print a picture of you at a public gathering, do you agree that you should not be allowed to take a picture of your family at the beach if other people are also there? Should you be allowed to post them or circulate them to your friends?
There was a recent instance where a social media posting of a little girl whose face was badly scarred by a dog mauling, claimed she had been asked to leave a fast food outlet because her appearance was disturbing other customers. I’ve not seen any evidence or confirmation it even actually happened. If it did, the thousands of employees and the management of the firm would naturally be as upset about it as you would be. And yet, thousands of people were prepared to punish the entire company and everyone who works for it. The power of public boycott is as susceptible to abuse as any other power. It is also easy to mobilize for nefarious purposes.
When Americans were angry that France would not join them in the invasion of Iraq, which was itself the result of a cooked up story about weapons of mass destruction, someone cooked up the idea that the Target department store chain was a French company and was properly pronounced Tarjay. Total fiction but very damaging to the company even though it should not have been even if true.
We who live in democracies and treasure our freedom should be scrupulously diligent to ensure we extend and protect that same freedom of expression and thought and legal action to everyone else especially those with whom we disagree.
Voltaire biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, described his belief as, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
I think homosexuals, victims for so long of vicious discrimination, would and should be especially diligent in that regard. I wonder how long ago it was that law societies would not accept to their bar openly gay applicants?
On we go! DAC

Respect for dead protectors

Posted on June 20, 2014
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When the three Mounties, Constables Fabrice Georges Gévaudan, Douglas James Larche and Dave Joseph Ross were assassinated in Moncton, I was already immersed in strong feelings about how precious life is and how many lives it cost for us to have the society we do. The 70th anniversary of D-Day was a horrifying reminder of the price paid by so many people who should have had the best years of their lives ahead.
Then I read a comment by Miramichier Gary Silliker, a man with an amazing history of Canadian military service in many of the world’s tragic trouble spots and still active. He told of arriving back in Canada from a posting and encountering an RCMP vehicle on the road. He said he was overcome with emotional gratitude to be Canadian in a country where the police serve and protect the citizens unlike in so many parts of the world.
To see Canada’s reaction to the deaths of the three Mounties and our grief for their wives, children and families and Const. Ross’s dog, Danny, demonstrated what a strong, loving family we Canadians are. To see the sea of RCMP, other police forces and emergency services at the funerals was overwhelming. If I had been asked how many RCMP members Canada had, I would have guessed far fewer than just the number of them who attended the funerals.
A teacher friend in Beijing, China posted a photo of the many Canadian teachers assembled in their red shirts to pay their respects. That seemed particularly apropos. Everywhere around the Miramichi yesterday people were wearing red shirts.
It would not be honest to pretend that all police and soldiers are heroes and saints. We know better. However, on average, they rank very high among the population and even the most callous among them put their lives on the line against those who would do us harm.
While I have no criticism whatever to levy of the national honour paid to and grief shown for Constables Ross, Larche and Gévaudan, I am trying to think why we paid so much more attention to them than to all our servicemen and women who died in Afghanistan. I wonder if their families think we valued them less than our Mounties. I am quite confident we do not and hope their families know that.
As so often happens when there is a serious national hurt, I am overwhelmed with the quality of commentary by civilians who are not professional commentators.
The fact remains, however, that today we go on with our feelings for our protectors and our Canadian identity and patriotism even stronger but Constables Larche, Ross and Gévaudan do not. Unlike in a movie, they are still dead. The show is over and their wives are widows. Their children, one not yet born, are orphans. Their families are without beloved sons and brothers forever.
I lost a close friend to a car accident when we were both young men. He was so enthusiastic about life and sports and ideas that I still think of him often when something like Canada winning Olympic hockey gold happens. He’s been dead over 50 years now. He missed so much.
Our protectors paid so much for us. They will miss so much. I hope we all pay them the true respect of vowing to always try to become better people and better citizens and to be vigilant to preserve the rights and freedoms they died for. DAC

Annie is four

Posted on April 12, 2014
Filed Under Commentary, Giants | Leave a Comment

April 10, 2014

She continues to amaze us all with her loving, cheerful, enthusiastic, eager, determined, musical, richly imaginative, intelligent charming personality. Her default mode is to get outside.When she enters a home, the energy level picks up like the sun rising. When she leaves, it feels quieter, darker and emptier.

She has been the focus of so much attention from a large circle of extended family and friends her entire life that she obviously feels a responsibility to be entertaining whenever people are around. Her latest thing is knock knock jokes. I’ve been saying since she was born that she has had so many cameras pointed at her that she must think they are members of the family. She is so used to it she automatically poses like a star on the red carpet.

She very much relishes quiet times with her mother and father, cuddling on the couch and watching TV. They do too and so do her Nana and Supa.

She is also perfectly capable of going off into her own world with her stuffed animals and creating stories and adventures in those worlds. In one of them, she is an investigator exploring new vistas like the basement of her house which is in a state of change as it is gradually being finished.

She has a large vocabulary and speaks exceptionally well. She has begun to use language in her own way. When something really touched her this year, she said, “That makes my heart wiggle”. That expression spread like wildfire through her extended family.

She still has five great grand parents she knows, sees regularly and will, I am confident remember. In turn, she continues to add high definition vivid colour to the elders in the family. We look to the future more than we did. Our imaginations go kaleidoscope visualizing all the possibilities she may realize. Of one thing we are sure. She will be a renaissance woman. Prime minister and musical superstar at the same time while painting masterpieces in her spare time? Olympic sailing medallist in the summer games and hockey star in the winter games? Why not?

She makes us need to be more engaged again in making the world a better place for her.

We all seem to feel that a brother or sister would be blessing. She needs someone to share the job of entertaining her huge audience. She also needs to have someone to share the limelight and teach her she will not always be the only sun in the world.

She is very feminine and it is obvious she richly enjoys being a girl. I give credit to the brave feminists who have gone before for the fact that she has never had a hint that there is anything boys can do that women cannot. She fully expects to be captain of her ship and is encouraged in that belief. She lives in a world of books, travel, seashores, woods camps, sail boats, hunting, skating, snowmobiling, throwing balls, princesses and science. This year her grandpa McKendrick salvaged a large tree house which now sits in her back yard not far from the rink he makes every winter.

As I learned from my mother, an ardent early feminist, there is no conflict between feminism and being feminine. She is going to be wildly attractive to the right kind of intelligent, confident, considerate man. She will not be controlled by anyone.

Since Christmas, she has taken another growth spurt. She has always been strong and likes to roll her shoulders as she walks sometimes which makes her look husky and forceful. Then she shoots up another inch or two and suddenly looks all grown up and feminine the way little girls can.

We know she will have to learn about cruelty and hurt and loss although we dread that, but we know she has the strength of character to handle it and enough love in her life to overbalance it.

Her fourth year, like the other three have seen huge changes in her that are, for us, exciting and sad. She is growing up so fast. We loved the girl she was so much that we really miss her at the same time we are intoxicated by the girl she is.

Her Puppy’s 81st birthday was a week before her fourth. Nothing could have made Bud happier than her sitting in his lap, hugging him. Her thing with him is Tim Bits. During one of the winter’s storms, their usual stop to get them had run out. She immediately directed him to the next closest Tim’s.

Pat and Bud are obviously ecstatic seeing her, as we all do, as a type of immortality. Seeing her, they have to know they did their job brilliantly.

A game she and I have been playing for over two years now is that I pretend to be the Feather Fingered Tickle Monster who wants to eat her toe toes. She runs and screams and hides but eventually lets me grab them and growl and gnaw away at them while she laughs. I have, of course, wondered when the game would become boring and seem childish or foolish to her.

When we Skyped the night before her birthday, she began to duck down out of sight and then pop her head up in different places on the screen. After she did that about five times, she ducked down and then, after a few seconds, her toes slid up into view on the screen.I’m not sure if she still enjoys the game or is just humouring me but either way it shows we still have a thing that is just ours. Nathan says she doesn’t let anyone else do it.

You can imagine how that made her Supa’s heart wiggle. Supa loves Annie!

On we go! DAC

 

Money’s freedom of speech

Posted on April 3, 2014
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April 3, 2014

I am wrestling with the issue of unrestrained contributions to political campaigns and action committees in the U.S. On the one hand, I think freedom of speech should apply to people, not money. People with money should not have larger freedom of speech.
On the other hand, I don’t have an easy response to Republican House Leader, John Boehner’s statement to reporters, “You all have the freedom to write what you want to write. Donors ought to have the freedom to give what they want to give.”
A.J. Liebling famously said, “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one”. Obviously columnists and editorial writers have a larger freedom of speech than the ordinary citizen.
Some years ago, a Canadian was charged with violating election law for printing and hand-delivering a flyer telling voters not to support a candidate for Parliament. The citizen was angry about the lack of support he got in an employment issue when the candidate was the mayor of Toronto. It didn’t seem right that he should be silenced.
I am convinced that the Chretien government was on the right track when it limited the amount people could contribute to parties, banned contributions from corporations and unions, gave $1.25 per year per vote to parties that polled more than 5% of the vote in the last election, and gave tax credits, not deductions, on a declining scale up to the limit. The program made it obvious to candidates that they were responsible and accountable to their constituents.

The Harper government has done away with the $1.25 and is scaling back the tax credits.
The Chretien system doesn’t deal with the issue of why the media should have a larger voice in opinion pieces. There used to be a regulation for media using publicly-owned airwaves in the U.S. to provide equal time to opponents of their opinion pieces. That’s gone now as witness the performance of some of the networks.
However the current financial free-for-all is obviously toxic to democracy. Elected representatives cannot represent the people who elected them. They dare not oppose the huge pressure groups who virtually own them. It is also counter to all ideas of ethical, moral and fair human behaviour that the growing prevalence of negative, often largely untrue, campaign ads could become an accepted norm in our social interactions.

On we go. DAC

Apologizers and the proudly ignorant

Posted on April 1, 2014
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There are two kinds of people who don’t use computers, the internet or social media.

The first kind is, I think, wrong but doesn’t bother me.

People in this group sound apologetic for not using computers or using email or social media. They are, for the most part, unfamiliar with the tools, search, email, photo sharing, music, research, news, connections to friends etc.

This group is continually diminishing in number. Seniors are among the most active users of computers and the internet.

For one thing, they have the time. For another, they are actively pursuing interests like travel, grandchildren activities, investments, medical conditions, and hobbies they had little or no time for when they were working.

People who don’t usually are too busy doing other things that are important or interesting to them.

I don’t see why these people should feel apologetic for not wanting to join our reindeer games. I think the cyber world has a lot to offer them but it is their choice.

There is another group that tends to sneer at all information technology users. What set this column off was another column in which the writer invokes the most  common, trite, banal and condescending comment on social media.

Commenting on Facebook friends, he wrote, “I am less than enthusiastic about knowing what they had for breakfast or every thought that popped into their minds this morning”.

A pompous ass like that irritates me. I really don’t like him insulting my friends, which is what he is doing. My friends share brilliant wit, wisdom, recipes, tips, commentaries on the issues of the day and calls to action. My circle of friends are like an international coffee club with members who have ideas, experiences and warnings to share.

Yes, the newbies share the same jokes and videos we all did when we were newbies, some that were around during the great wars. Yes, there are many of kittens and puppies. Some are compelled to relay everything they have seen or heard that day. Some of them do pass along many totally unfounded rumours or scandals or government policies that simply don’t exist.

However, so do people in coffee shops, bars, phone conversations and anywhere humans interact. A big difference with computer and social media is that you can opt in and out at your convenience and preference. You just skip over the ones that are, to you trivia or boring. You can also comment or not when you want to not when the other person finishes a message.

As a matter of fact, many people now practise the courtesy of using email or social media to make a date for a phone call or video conversation rather than intrude with an unscheduled call.

My friends are all over the world and doing and discovering  fascinating things. If there is a problem with this daily world-wide conversation, it is that they are too fascinating. I have to ration my time seeing what they are up to. A conversation with one of them, tends to turn into a marathon of music sharing.

I also talk too much. Every story or idea you relate reminds me of another someone else, often I, have had. I’ve had lifelong difficulty listening without talking. In a face-to-face group, this can be tiresome indeed for my victims. On social media they can just tune me out without my ever even knowing.

I also form strong connections with people I’ve never actually met on the internet. I believe the person you meet on the internet is at least as genuine and probably much more so, than the person you meet in a bar or many social situations where people may have motives beyond the exchange of ideas or interests.

Finally, the internet and social media open the world to many lonely or remote people. I think of kids in the backwoods of New Brunswick who can go to the websites of the great art galleries of the world and comment back and forth with others visiting the same site.

The internet also makes it harder to brainwash young people into one point of view. Just as travel broadens the mind so does communication. It is always a threat to the powerful.

Yes, many kids are talking about the most inconsequential things but now they have options. Even the ones who are just chatting as we used to do on the Post Office steps or library lawn are engaged in an essential process. I never owned a paper where someone didn’t write a letter about kids just hanging out.

“Don’t they have anything better to do  . . . . . ,” appeared in every such letter. Of course they don’t. Hanging around with your contemporaries and learning how to talk to members of the opposite sex is an essential part of growing up.

Yes, there are evil people preying on victims on the internet. They are everywhere. At the same time, I think young people today are smarter and better prepared to deal with danger than my generation was. All we knew about sex was don’t. Kids today face a far more complex world with far more knowledge.

When I dove into the internet in the early 1980s, when I was about 40, my technophobe mother thought it was evil. “There are pedophiles who lurk there looking for victims,” she said. She was a bit chagrined when I told the family she was afraid the pedophiles would get me.

Kids today are far smarter than I was. When I was 13, I didn’t know there were such things as pedophiles.

I must confess there is a group of mostly women who are dangerous to me on the internet. One of them is my own cousin, a devout Christian, perfectly charming, kind who wouldn’t appear capable of doing harm to anyone. You wouldn’t realize what a danger she is until you see her Facebook posts. I gain weight just seeing the pictures of her culinary triumphs.

Even with all the benefits of the cyber world, if you don’t want to participate that is fine.

Just don’t tell me that my friends and I are are just talking about what we had for breakfast. We talk about lunch and dinner too.

On we go! DAC

 

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