July 1st is Canada Day in Newfoundland

Every year around July 1st in Newfoundland someone feels the need to dump a bucket of cold salt water on top of Newfoundlanders’ Canada Day celebrations and writes about how the holiday is not the same in Newfoundland because it is the anniversary of Beaumont Hamel and before joining Canada the day was a holiday to remember those who died that day and during the Great War. Many will often claim that this casts a pall over the holiday which prevents Newfoundlanders from enjoying it like the rest of Canada. This is nonsense.

If Newfoundland had decided to join Germany instead of Canada, and Germany’s national holiday was July 1st, than July 1st would unquestionably be a bittersweet holiday in this province. Beaumont Hamel was a terrible tragedy, but no Canadians killed any Newfoundlanders that day. As terrible a tragedy as it was, most Newfoundlanders have the ability to go to a commemoration ceremony in the morning and still be capable of getting together for drinks and fireworks that same evening.

Newfoundlanders like celebrating. If you give us a day off and some fireworks we’ll be all over it no matter what day it falls on. Anyone who tries to suggest that they can’t get in the mood to celebrate because of a tragedy that occurred a century ago is simply being disingenuous and also misrepresenting this history they are purporting to honour.

If there is one defining characteristic of the Newfoundlanders who lived in the era of the First World War it was the ability to shrug off terrible tragedies. At that time, most Newfoundlanders would have had multiple children die in childbirth or in infancy, and had lost at least one close family member to drowning at sea or tuberculosis. Losing someone in the war was for many at the time one of series of tragedies they faced throughout their lives. Yet Newfoundlanders in that era did not let tragedy prevent them from celebrating. In fact it was the opposite. In the face of all this tragedy and hardship Newfoundlanders took every chance they had to party and make music and celebrate whatever joy was there to be found.

Aside from dwelling on Beaumont Hamel, many will also make a point of focusing on everything that has gone wrong since confederation. If you took a Beaumont Hamel survivor from 1917 and transported him 100 years into the future he would think we are all living in a paradise greater than he could have ever imagined and tell us to stop complaining an go enjoy the fireworks.

I’m Glad Justin Trudeau Broke His Electoral Reform Promise

In the last election Justin Trudeau stated unequivocally that if the Liberals were to form the government that he would end our traditional first past the post system. He said that it wasn’t fair that the Conservatives should have a majority of the seats in the House of Commons when they did not win a majority of the votes. After the Liberals won a majority of the seats with less than 40% of the votes, Mr. Trudeau discovered that the first past the post system wasn’t quite as bad as he originally thought. Upon further reflection, he decided that the first past the post system was not without its charms and that we would be better off sticking with it for now.

This was the most blatant breaking of a promise since Jean Chretien decided he didn’t really want to abolish the GST, and I am more likely to vote Liberal in the next election because of it. I like the first past the post system. I was OK with the Conservatives having a majority government with less than half of the votes and I’m OK with the Liberals forming a majority with less than half of the votes. I’m not alone in this. Justin Trudeau didn’t win because of his electoral reform promise; he won because a lot of Canadian swing voters with tired of Stephen Harper and/or were turned off by their barbaric cultural practices snitch line.

Canadians, with good reason, are largely satisfied with the first past the post system. We have been consistently ranted at or near the top in all the global standard of living rankings. Even if you hated the Conservatives and Steven Harper you will have to concede that the country didn’t fall apart after almost a decade in power. The country isn’t going to fall apart if the Liberals are in power for the next decade either. The fact is that first past the post forced all candidates to seek a broad consensus. If you are unable to attract at least a large minority of votes you are not getting elected. Opponents of the system often point that the NDP and Green parties tend to be underrepresented in Parliament in relation to their vote totals. That may be true, but first past the post also prevents a potential “Keep Muslims Out” or “We Hate Gays” party out of the House of Commons. Proportional representation proponents like to talk about how the Green parties get more seats in Europe, but they gloss over how the fascist, anti-immigrant parties also get representation. Canadians are happy with the status quo and for good reason.

The only people who feel betrayed are the NDP voters who switched at the last minute in the hope that Trudeau had the best chance of defeating Harper and would bring in proportional representation that would give the NDP a greater presence in the House of Commons in the future. They can get as mad as they want because Justin Trudeau doesn’t need them anymore. If he does a good job in the next few years, or even if he does a bad job and the Conservatives elect a terrible leader, he’s going to win again next time around. If he has a rough couple of years and the Conservatives elect a sensible candidate, he’s going to lose.

The NDP knifed their respected, competent, and moderate leader in the back after the election but almost a year after deciding they don’t want him to lead them into the next election they don’t have a single candidate lined up to replace him. That’s not a good sign that they are going to have a superstar candidate next time around. The NDP have no leadership candidates, and the Conservatives have a bunch of unelectable candidates with a chance of becoming leader, so Justin Trudeau will pay absolutely no price for breaking his election promise.

The Five Most Annoying Things about the British

Once upon a time, the first foreign leader that the newly elected President of the United States met with was the Prime Minister of Canada. President (sic) Trump today welcomed the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, who only inherited the job when the elected Prime Minister resigned, and who half the British population probably wouldn’t recognize if she slapped them in the face. In honour of this snub of Canada, I have compiled a list of the 5 most annoying things about the British.

1.       You have to buy a licence in order to watch television in Britain.

That is not a joke or an alternative fact. I’m not talking about the cost of cable, satellite, or Pay-per-View. I mean that if you want to own a television, stick some rabbit ears into the top of it, plug it in, and watch TV, you need to buy a licence. This isn’t just some nominal fee either; a TV licence in the UK costs 145 pounds, which is about $240 Canadian. They actually put a lot of effort into enforcing this law have inspectors and TV detection vans that drive around neighbourhoods looking for TV signals in houses that don’t have licences. What kind of Orwellian dystopia is that?  

2.       85% of British people are drunken soccer hooligans.   

I did graduate studies in Leeds, and before I went there I had a picture of British people as highly educated, cultured, and well-mannered with a slight touch of pomposity and misplaced arrogance. This was based on my interactions with British ex-pats while studying in Spain and Russia. It turns out that only about 15% of Brits and the snobby intellectuals, and those studying at foreign universities are disproportionately from this group. The other 85% are binge drinking hooligans.

 I come from Newfoundland, where the people have a reputation for enjoying a few drinks. Before leaving for England I had spent plenty of time at most of the bars on George Street, the Majestic, and even the Top Hat in Manuels, and I thought I knew what excessive drinking was. Then I went to Leeds. You couldn’t go to a McDonalds after 7pm on Wednesday without seeing some Brit staggering or falling over drunk on the ground. They literally have private “drinking clubs” over there.

3.       They drive on the wrong side of the road

Civilized people drive on the right side of the road. The British drive on the left side of the road because they are disagreeable by nature and believe that if they do the opposite of what the rest of Europe or North America does it somehow makes them superior. In fact, all this does is make it more expensive for them to buy a car since there are vastly fewer options for buying cars with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car. If they would just drive on the correct side of the road they could buy a one way ticket to Spain, have a nice holiday, then buy a cheap car and drive it home just like Canadians do in Florida.   

4.       They are ridiculously elitist

British people often look down on Americans as uncultured, racist hicks. They view themselves as a progressive, multicultural, and cosmopolitan place. The United States, though it has its share of racists and uncultured people, just had black (technically half black, but still) President, and before that, it had a black secretary of state. Next time you see a British delegation take a look and tell me how many people aren’t white. Don’t be fooled though. It isn’t a question of race; it’s one of class. The people who lead the United Kingdom not only go to the same universities (Cambridge or Oxford), they almost all went to the same grade school, Eton, a ridiculously expensive private school. Just try to imagine if virtually every Prime Minister of Canada went to the same junior high school. The UK is an old country run by old money. 

5.       They can’t speak proper English

I’m not sure what the most annoying English words and phrases are; there are just so many to choose from. The way they put the stress on the wrong syllable for GA-rage and Con-TRO-versy are at the top of the list. Saying “lorry” instead of truck in another aggravating one, though nothing can compare to “tea-time”. British people drink tea from morning till night, yet they for some reason decided to substitute lunch (or supper, I’m never exactly sure), with “tea time”. In fact, many Brits just say “Tea”. God that’s so annoying. Two thirds of the country are having beer with their lunch anyway.

What in God’s Name Happened to Rex Murphy?

Rex Murphy is a national treasure. I’ve loved him for decades. I’ve been reading and watching his columns and commentaries my entire adult life. No living (Mordecai Richler is sadly no longer with us) Canadian writer or commentator can match his unique combination of eloquence, intelligence, and wit. Though he has never been a partisan commentator, his views have generally been right of center, and he has always been a strident opponent of political correctness. In recent years it seems as if he has been drifting a little more to the right, particularly with his increasingly vocal skepticism of threat of climate change.

I assumed that his climate change skepticism was less about climate change and more about an aversion to what he perceived was overzealousness and hysteria on the part of the most fervent environmentalists. I always assumed he was the same old Rex, the brilliant man who remained an independent thinker no matter the prevailing opinions of the day. Then I watched the worst inaugural address in the history of the United States. Then I read Rex Murphy’s more or less positive review of it in the National Post.

I’ve often looked at Rex Murphy as a wittier, less politically ideological version of George Will, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist. Mr. Will is an openly conservative commentator and a decades-long supporter of the Republican Party. Shortly after the inaugural address, the conservative Mr. Will wrote a column in the Washington Post titled “A Most Dreadful Inaugural Address”. As you might guess from the title, the column was scathing, no more so than when he wrote “Living down to expectations, he had delivered the most dreadful inaugural address in history.” He also wrote that Mr. Trump “vindicated his severest critics by serving up reheated campaign rhetoric”. By contrast, Mr. Murphy wrote that Mr. Trump’s address “amounted to a noble, though forgotten, truism. The purpose of a government is to serve the people of that country whose government it is”.

There are some things to admire about Donald Trump. I can see why some people find his candor and off the cuff style refreshing. In an era when politicians have staffers sending out bland tweets and press releases on their behalf, I get why some people kind of like a politician who thinks nothing of ripping on Saturday Night Live or Meryl Streep’s Golden Globe speech in the middle of the night. I think Mr. Trump could probably make a great mayor or even governor, but the idea of him being in command of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal should be frightening to all intelligent people no matter their political persuasion. He literally said that protection is the key to prosperity. Every respected economist in the world will tell you that protectionism is actually a recipe for global financial disaster. I understand why Rex Murphy would admire some things about President Trump, but I am shocked that he is not at least a little concerned about some of the havoc that the newly elected President can wreak on the world.

2016 – The Year Newfoundland Separatism Died

When you talk of separatism in Canada, most Canadians think of Quebec, but there has always been a smaller, but no less passionate, separatism sentiment in Newfoundland. (I am excluding Labrador on purpose; when someone in Labrador talks about separation, they talk about separating from Newfoundland, not from Canada). For the first fifty years or so after confederation when we were perennially the poorest and least respected province in the country, there was always a group who would argue that if we are going to be poor, we might as well be poor on our own than controlled by Canada. After the cod fishery collapsed, separatist sentiment spiked as people blamed Ottawa for mismanagement of the cod stocks, even though the federal government stepped in with a rather generous compensation program during the moratorium.

When oil and oil revenues surged a decade ago and have not finally did become no more, with the province becoming a contributor rather than a recipient of equalization, there were many who started to think that separation from Canada might be a viable. A very public battle with two successive prime ministers that lead to Danny Williams taking down the Canadian flag at the confederation building served to further inflame the small but growing separatist sentiment. Though there was no organized separatist organization, you could not sit at a bar anywhere on the island for any amount of time before you would hear people talking about how we would be better off if we were our own country. Then came 2016.

If you sit at a bar these days, you won’t hear anyone complaining about Ottawa. You will hear people arguing of whether Dwight Ball, Kathy Dunderdale, or Danny Williams is responsible for the mess we find ourselves in, but nationalists and federalists alike agree that we have made the bed we are currently lying in. You would have to spend a lot of time at a lot of bars before you’d come across someone arguing that we would be better off with Prime Minister Ball instead of Premier Ball.

Newfoundland separatism was always based more on emotion than logic. The fact is there is strength in numbers. Being part of a large, diverse country means lowers the risk of being obliterated by a downturn in a particular industry. The next time you complain about the hit that the Canadian dollar has taken in the past year, take a moment to think how the Newfoundland dollar would have fared during that same timeframe.

2016 has been a rough year; taxes are up, the economy is struggling, and a lot of people are worried about losing their jobs, but if there is a silver lining is that the threat of a viable separatist movement developing in this province has been extinguished forever. If we were to hold a referendum this summer, Commission of Government would get more votes than Responsible Government.

Voters Are More Hypocritical and Dishonest Than Politicians

Politicians get a lot of well-earned criticism for being dishonest and hypocritical. Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, we have just witnessed Liberal MHAs defend cuts to libraries that they called shameful a few years ago when the PCs made cuts of their own Meanwhile the PCs  have criticized the Liberals for not doing enough to limit patronage appointments even though they seemed to have no issue with appointing PC supporters to patronage positions while they were in power. Amid all the scorn being heaped on politicians of all stripes in the province, one MHA caused a stir last week when he suggested that everyone in the province, not just the government, shares some responsibility for the mess we are in. He is absolutely right.

Voters are more hypocritical and dishonest than any MHA. How many of the people you hear bemoaning the fact that government wasn’t more frugal with public finances were calling into open line shows a few short years ago complaining about their income tax cut? Did you ever hear a public sector worker suggest that maybe it would be more prudent to get a smaller raise and put some money into a heritage fund for a rainy day?

When governments do their public consultations, how many people do you think show up and suggest that the government should spend less money or increase taxes? And of those who do, how many actually propose spending cuts or tax increases that would affect them? Nobody who works for the government is going to suggest spending less money and anyone who suggests increasing taxes is only going to want the increases for people who make more money than them.

Since last fall, the price of oil has actually been rising steadily, and there is reason to be optimistic that in the second half of the Liberal mandate the economy and oil royalties will be strong enough that the government will actually have some money to be spent again. You might think that after seeing firsthand the pain that can result from spending too much when times are good during an oil boom that voters will be encouraging the government to be cautious about increasing spending too quickly, but you would be wrong.

If the Liberal government wants to get re-elected in 2019 they will need to spend every cent of increased oil revenues they have. After attacking the PCs for not doing enough to save for a rainy day, some in the Liberal Party might have some reservations about doing the exact same thing they accused the PCs of, particularly when they have already broken so many promises in the last campaign, but they will have no worries about a voter backlash. Voters only get upset about government hypocrisy when they are taking money away, not when they are spreading it around.

Dwight Ball’s “Read My Lips” Misstep

When George H. W. Bush was running for president in 1988 there was much debate about whether taxes would need to be raised to help reduce the growing government deficit. After his opponent Michael Dukakis acknowledged the possibility that taxes might need to be raised, Bush gave a speech where he categorically declared that he would never raise taxes and uttered the famous line “read my lips, no new taxes”. That speech helped him win the election, but is often cited as the main reason why he failed to win re-election against a young, little known governor of Arkansas. At the time, some members of the Bush team had lobbied against making such an unequivocal statement as it would severely limit his flexibility as president, but the decision was made to keep it in the speech and it was credited with helping him win the election.

In the 2015 Newfoundland and Labrador provincial election, Dwight Ball had his own “read my lips” moment when he boldly declared that he would reverse the PC’s increase in the HST, and put an exclamation point on his stance with an election photo with the words, “not on my watch”. One of his first actions upon becoming premier was to cancel the proposed increase, but only a few months later he backtracked and reinstated the increase as part of an overall gloomy budget. Needless to say much of the electorate is now irate with this broken promise.

When the first President Bush made his dubious promise not to raise taxes he was trailing in the polls to an opponent who had acknowledged that there was a possibility that taxes would need to be raised to deal with the country’s growing deficit at the time. That “read my lips” statement may have cost him his re-election, but without it he may have never become President to begin with, so even in hindsight it still probably made sense. Dwight Ball, on the other hand, did not need to make any bold promises to win the election.  

The PC Party that Mr. Ball was going up against was in disarray leading up to the election and was almost certain to lose power. The party had just revolted against its own Premier, and then when they had a leadership race all of the candidates either dropped out or were barred from running. When they had a second leadership race the person who had more votes than the other two candidates combined on the first ballot somehow lost on the second ballot. Even though the eventual winner of the PC Leadership, Paul Davis, performed surprisingly well during his brief time as leader, the consensus was that he was just fighting to reduce the size of the Liberals’ inevitable majority.

With the PC Party saddled with so much baggage, all Dwight Ball needed to say was that the PCs spent too much during the boom time and didn’t leave anything in the cupboard for when the boom ended. Voters, even those who enthusiastically supported all that spending and tax cutting, would have agreed with him and voted the Liberals into power. Had he avoided making any bold promises, he would have had the flexibility to raise taxes and lay people off while deflecting all of the blame towards the previous government.

Unfortunately for the Premier, even people who recognize that increasing taxes and cutting spending may be necessary can still justifiably attack him for breaking his election promises. Even if every decision the government makes in the next four years is the best one for the future of the province, the Liberals may find themselves the first government since confederation not to be elected to a second term because of some reckless and completely unnecessary promises made last November.

Could Donald Trump Attack Jesus and Still Win the Republican Nomination?

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Donald Trump’s rather interesting campaign for president is the way that he seems determined to do and say all of the things that you were not supposed to be able to do while running for President. One of the fundamental pillars of the Republican Party in the last half decade has been the opposition to Barack Obama’s attempt at a version of universal health care. Anyone who has not been 100% opposed to the policy has been viewed as a heretic by Republicans, yet Trump has said he is in favour of universal health care; he just doesn’t like the way that the President has done it. Though he appears to have gone too far to the left for many Republicans on health care, he has actually gone too far to the right on things like immigration, where has publicly stated that he would temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country.

As surprising as his policy positions may be, what is most surprising about Donald Trump’s campaign is how he has seemingly gone out of his way to attack some of the most venerated public figures among conservative voters, including former President George W. Bush, war hero and former Presidential candidate John McCain, and even Pope Francis. Leading up to the South Carolina primary, a state where George W. Bush was particularly popular, he accused the former President of lying about the war in Iraq and failing to prevent 9/11 and then proceeded to win that state’s primary in a landslide and knock the President’s brother Jeb out of the race.

Last summer he attacked John McCain, who was a prisoner of war for over 5 years in Vietnam, saying ““He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Having seen his poll numbers continue to rise among Republican voters after attacking the Republican war hero, he decided to up the ante by getting into a war of words with Pope Francis and then went on to a landslide victory in predominantly Catholic Massachusetts.

There can be little doubt that Donald Trump takes immense satisfaction in gaining support by doing things that would end the candidacies of lesser politicians and I can’t help but think that deep down he is wondering if he could take that final step and actually get away with bashing Jesus. If you try, you can almost hear him. “What kind of messiah gets taken prisoner and nailed to a cross? I like messiahs who don’t get taken prisoner”. Though he is unlikely to take that final step, based on what we have seen in the campaign so far, it is far from certain that it would prevent him from winning the Republican nomination.

US Presidential Candidates Should Study Recent NL Politics Before Dropping Out of Race

This Presidential primaries currently underway in the United States have been the most shocking and unpredictable in recent, and even distant, memory. Who would have thought that a reality TV star like Donald Trump, who advocates banning Muslims from the country, supports universal health care, and bashes the entire Bush family every chance he gets, would be the frontrunner to win the Republican nomination for President? On the Democratic side, how many people thought that Hilary Clinton would be facing a serious challenge from a 74 year old socialist from Vermont?

On the Republican side, many people worried about a Trump victory are suggesting that John Kasich, the Governor of Ohio, should exit the race so that Marco Rubio could then unite the so-called moderate vote and stop Donald Trump before it’s too late. After coming second in New Hampshire, Mr. Kasich has not done so well in the next two states to cast ballots and many people now believe that he has no chance at winning the nomination. If Bernie Sanders is unable to score another big win like he did in New Hampshire there will be increasing pressure for him to bow out of the race and let Hilary Clinton focus on the general election. But before any of the candidates drop out, they might want to take a look at some of the recent political history in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Two years ago, after Kathy Dunderdale was forced out as leader of the Progressive Conservative party, there was race between two prominent businesspeople, Bill Barrie and Frank Coleman (a third candidate was later ruled ineligible). Mr. Coleman was perceived to be backed by popular former premier Danny Williams and the party establishment, while Mr. Barrie ran an outsider campaign that put him at odds with many in the Party’s establishment. When Mr. Barrie came to feel that the cards were being stacked against him by party insiders, he withdrew from the contest in protest, leaving Frank Coleman unopposed.

Shockingly, before he had the chance to be acclaimed as leader, Mr. Coleman suddenly withdrew from the race, citing family reasons after some critical press coverage about his business dealings with the province and his views on abortion, thus leaving the Progressive Conservative leadership race completely devoid of candidates. Had Bill Barrie fought on even pretty much everyone, including himself, believed he had no chance at winning, we would have become the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Before any candidates drop out of US presidential race, they should remember that, like the Barrie/Colman contest that wasn’t, anything truly can happen in politics. There is no such thing as an inevitable candidate. Donald Trump is a perpetual scandal generator whose campaign could blow up at any moment. Hilary Clinton is still being dogged by investigations into her use of personal e-mail servers for government business. Heck, we are talking about two people pushing seventy, so it would not be that far-fetched for one of their candidacies to be derailed by an illness or some health related issue.

The 2016 presidential primaries are unlike anything we have ever seen. If there was ever a race where there would be some kind of shocking turn of events it would be this one. If I were John Kasich or Bernie Sanders, and I really believed myself to be the best candidate for President, I would keep my name on the ballot right to the bitter end.

It’s Time to Move the Super Bowl to Saturday

The NFL and its commissioner, Roger Goodell, has taken a lot of heat in recent years for the way the league has handled domestic abuse on the part of its players, what it has and has not done to protect its players, as well as a number of controversial investigations such as last year’s ball deflation fiasco with the New England Patriots. Critics often accuse the NFL and its commissioner of being arrogant, but they don’t get nearly enough criticism for the most arrogant thing the NFL does; scheduling the Super Bowl on a Sunday night.

The Super Bowl is the most watched sporting event in North America as it attracts casual and even non-fans of the NFL. Many people will tune in just to watch the commercials and the half time show. The game has become a social event as much as a sporting event, and the league is not only aware of this but along with sponsors like Anheuser-Busch, actively encourages it, but yet it insists on holding the game on Sunday night when everyone has to get up and go to work the next day. They know that every single football fan on earth would rather have it on a Saturday when everyone could spend the next day sleeping off their hangovers, but they keep it on Sunday anyway.

Living in Newfoundland, the most easterly part of North America with a time zone an hour and a half later than Eastern Standard, I suffer more than most people from the late start, but it is far worse for all the European fan base the league is trying to grow. I doubt that many German bosses will be very sympathetic to employees who are unable to come to work on Monday because they were up until 4:30am watching American football. If the league was serious about growing their global fan base they would move the game to Saturday.

Everyone would benefit from a Saturday Super Bowl. Fans would be happier, bar and restaurant owners would be happier, and now that McDonalds has all day breakfasts, the Sunday after the Super Bowl would shatter all previous records for Egg McMuffin sales. It is time for fans and media alike to start exerting pressure on the NFL to give the football fans the Super Bowl Saturday they deserve.