Monthly Archives: April 2015

Why Are There So Many Snowmobile Fatalities in Newfoundland and Labrador?

It seems like every winter, about a half dozen people or so are killed on a snowmobile in Newfoundland and Labrador. Each tragic death gets covered in the news, but broader story of why this province has such a disproportionately high number of snowmobiling deaths is largely ignored. With the current season all but over, I count 5 snowmobiling deaths so far, which is sadly not at all out of the ordinary.

I should point out that most snowmobilers in the province are responsible and that many snowmobiling deaths are purely the result of bad luck. Nevertheless, the consistently high number of deaths year after year suggests that there may be some underlying problems that need to be confronted.

Drinking and driving has thankfully gone down dramatically over the past couple of decades. Police recently set up a road block in the St. John’s area and didn’t catch a single drunk driver. Unfortunately, people do not have the same enlightened view when it comes to drinking and operating a snow mobile. Many otherwise upstanding citizens who wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car after a couple pints at a bar think nothing of taking a dozen cans of beer with them for their day out snowmobiling. Drink six beers and drive home and people will look at you like you are some sort of menace society. Drink six beers while you are snowmobiling and you may be looked at as being the responsible one.

There are two reasons why someone who wouldn’t drink and drive but would think nothing of riding their snowmobile while impaired. One is that the chances of getting caught by the police is much higher in a car than a snowmobile. The most important reason though is the perception that it is only your own life that you are risking when riding a snowmobile drunk.  Though it is true you are more likely to kill someone else in a car, people can and do kill others on snowmobiles. Moreover, even if you don’t kill another person, you will certainly be inflicting pain and suffering on the spouses, children, and parents that get left behind. A cavalier attitude towards riding while impaired may not be the only problem; we may be just as cavalier when it comes to danger.

For much of our history, a sizeable portion of the population earned a living by risking their lives on small boats in some of the roughest seas on earth. Fishermen accepted these risks as a way of life and for the most part didn’t even bother to learn how to swim. Perhaps this acceptance of risk that has been ingrained in us over many generations may help explain why so many people continue to make a hobby out of risking their own lives.

It won’t be easy, but the attitudes of a sizeable minority of snowmobilers need to change. While neither the government nor police can stop people from riding recklessly and/or drunk, they can track and publicize how many people die in snowmobile accidents in the province and how it compares to the rest of Canada. The comparative data is difficult to find, but I did see one 15 year old report in which there were 8 fatalities in Newfoundland and Labrador one year, compared with only 1 in BC and 3 in Alberta, provinces with much greater populations. Ontario, a province with 20 times our population only had twice as many fatalities. The more people are confronted with this kind of information, the more likely they will be to do something about this problem.

Maple Leafs Worst Organization in All of Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs hold the curious distinction of being both the worst run yet also one of the richest franchises in all of sports. They have all of the money of the New York Yankees with the competitive performance of the Cleveland Browns.

That they are rich is not a matter for debate; Forbes routinely lists them as the NHL’s most valuable franchise and despite the highest ticket prices in the league, their games have been continuously sold out for several generations. Both the Ontario Teachers Union Pension Plan and scalpers owe their comfortable future retirements to the money making machine that is the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Though not even the most die-hard Leafs fan would argue that the Leafs have been a great team, many would argue that calling them the worst team in sports would be an exaggeration, and that they are merely one of many not very good teams. They might say that a lot of the negativity directed at the Leafs is a result of jealousy that the Leafs are always on Hockey Night in Canada and receive a disproportionate amount of media coverage. It is no doubt true that much of the negativity directed at the Maple Leafs is purely due to rivalries and jealousies, but if you step back and look at the facts, it is clear that even their critics do not appreciate just how awful this team has been for over a generation.

Great organizations like the Detroit Red Wings generally build their teams by making smart draft picks over time and developing their prospects. Teams that draft well don’t just have a smart GM; they have talented and hard working scouting and minor league coaching staff that follow strategic and methodical system of identifying and developing young talent. While any one pick could turn out to be a bust, in the long run a team with a solid system will outperform. The Toronto Maple Leafs on the other hand have displayed a shocking inability to either draft or develop prospects.

In the last 28 NHL drafts, the Leafs have not drafted and developed a single star with a first round pick. The first round picks by the Leafs in the last 28 NHL drafts have scored a cumulative total of 284 goals for the team. Not a single first round pick in that timeframe scored more than 30 goals for the team. More players have scored less than 20 goals in their Leaf careers than have scored 20 in a season in a Toronto uniform.

In fairness, Toronto traded their first round picks in several of those draft years. One year they traded their pick to New Jersey and they picked Scott Niedermeyer. Another year they traded a pick to Florida and they picked Roberto Luongo. A couple of years they picked a goalie. One of them was Eric Fichaud, who never made the NHL, and the other was Tukka Rask. Rask was then traded to Boston, where he went on to win the Vezina Trophy as the League’s top goaltender.

To put things in perspective, Nik Andropov has more than twice as many career goals (113) as a Leaf than any other player picked in those 28 years. You think that sounds bad? Luke Schenn is in fourth place with 14 career goals. A blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a draft board would literally have produced better results than Toronto has managed over the past 28 years.

The reason why the Maple Leafs have been so awful for so long at drafting suggests the team is suffering from some fundamental organizational deficiencies. This is no doubt due to being lulled into complacency from being the only NHL team in a city filled with affluent and rabid hockey fans. Toronto simply never really needed to build a top notch organization, because they knew that they knew no matter how terrible a team they put on the ice they could still continue to raise ticket prices every year and still sell out. As long as the fans keep forking over money to watch an awful hockey team, the Leafs will continue to be an awful organization.

Newfoundland and Labrador Has Oddest Politics on the Planet Earth

Newfoundland and Labrador has long been known for its unique culture, dialect, climate, and even its geology, but the most interesting thing about the province has gone largely unnoticed; its politics. Over the past several decades, the United States has become increasingly polarized along ideological lines. On one side you have Republicans who are socially conservative and believe in small government, and on the other side you have Democrats, who are socially liberal and believe in big government. Many south of the border have lamented how this ideological divide has led to increasingly bitter partisanship.

Unlike the United States and federal Canadian politics, there is virtually no ideological difference between the two main parties in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Conservatives and Liberals. When one party is in power, the other simply criticizes everything the government does without any consideration to ideology.

The most conservative premier the province has ever had, by far, was Clyde Wells, was a Liberal. He balanced the budget during the worst economic times in the province’s history and (unsuccessfully) attempted to privatize the government owned electric utility. Danny Williams, the most popular Conservative premier in the province’s history, increased the size of government, froze tuition levels, and made expanding the size and power of the electric utility one his top priorities.

In most places, the most bitter and polarizing causes of partisanship have to do with social issues like gay marriage and abortion rights, but social issues play absolutely no role in the province’s political debates. All the political parties, as are most of the electorate, are what one would describe as socially liberal. Yet despite all this, politics seems to be growing increasingly partisan and mean spirited.

Perhaps nothing illustrates the increasing partisanship more than the recent case of Don Dunphy. Mr. Dunphy was shot in his home by a police officer after making what were perceived by some (but not everyone) to be threatening tweets directed at some MHAs. The investigation into the shooting is ongoing, but already twitter and local blogs are filled with accusations that Mr. Dunphy was essentially assassinated by the police for criticizing the government.

A good barometer of the state of provincial politics would be the twitter feeds of some of the political media members. If you check out the feed of Paddy Daly, the host of the province’s most popular call-in show, you will see that half his tweets lately are about how much he loathes his Twitter followers. David Cochrane, the CBC’s chief political reporter, usually makes a weekly summary of his week on twitter, including how many new followers and retweets he had. Last week he instead tweeted a picture of a dumpster on fire. This week his feed featured an exasperated back and forth with a well-known local musician, Con O’Brien, who is a vocal critic of the current government. The exchange ended with each claiming to block the other and Mr. Cochrane telling Mr. O’Brien that his most well know song “sucked”. To be fair to Mr. Cochrane, he is far from the first one to lash out at Con O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien famously was involved in a backstage fistfight with one of his band members just before they were supposed to play a waterfront New Year’s Eve concert in St. John’s.

Things may well get worse before they get better. The ruling Conservatives are likely to lose power in the next election after holding power for 12 years, and there are legion of Conservative partisans who are actually looking forward to the Liberals being in charge if only for the opportunity to have a turn at being the ones who get to sit back and criticize everything the government does. Once they get that out of their system things may begin to return to normal. Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives are led by a particularly fiery or partisan person, so there is a chance that tempers begin to settle down a year or so after the next election. It may be a slim chance, but it is a chance nonetheless.