Yesterday, talk show host Rick Howe and I were chatting about Marilla Stephenson’s appointment to a civil service position based on a fake competition in which she was—by design—the only candidate. Howe said it was the sort of behaviour Stephenson herself might have condemned when she was a political columnist for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald.
“Unless it was the Liberals who did it,” I quipped.
It was a cheap shot—and as it turns out, dead wrong. When Premier Stephen McNeil did something uncannily similar shortly after his government’s election in 2013, then-columnist Stephenson denounced his patronage abuse in ringing terms. Twice.
McNeil’s friend Glennie Langille, a former CBC reporter, had been his director of communications until March, 2010, when she was dispatched to her native Pictou County to serve as “outreach officer.” In reality, she was preparing to run for the Liberals in Pictou West in the 2013 general election.
Any hopes that Premier Stephen McNeil planned a route on the high road careened sharply into the ditch Tuesday. Ironically, it was a political ambush completely of his own making.
With dozens of appointments looming on provincial boards and commissions in the months ahead, McNeil has begun with a backward step that sets a poor tone for voters’ expectations of qualified appointments and fair hiring practices in the provincial bureaucracy.
The premier has thumbed his nose at Nova Scotia’s civil servants by demonstrating preferential treatment for a party loyalist in filling the protocol job.
The more things stay the same in Nova Scotia politics, the more they stay the same.
Any voters who are in denial about how party loyalists access the spoils of power in the wake of an election victory may wish to take a spin through a collection of internal emails outlining how Glennie Langille became the province’s chief of protocol.
After the Langille appointment became public in December, McNeil defended his choice, saying she was qualified for the job.
But that, sadly, is not the point. The integrity of the public service — access to which is supposed to be based on merit, not patronage — is damaged when a premier feels compelled to remove a job from its jurisdiction in order to reward a good friend and political loyalist.
The premier declared in December that he was being “up front” about the appointment, and in almost the same breath defensively said Langille’s resume was the only one to land on his desk.
Of course it was. That’s exactly the way he engineered it.
This is not the sort of change Nova Scotians voted for when they chose the Liberals, and McNeil, to put Nova Scotia first.
You can read Stephenson’s Langille columns here and here. You can read the Langille emails here, the Stephenson emails here. The Stephenson emails are not yet online.
There is one key difference between the patronage appointment Stephenson condemned in 2013 and the one she herself received in 2016:
Before naming his close friend Langille to be Chief Protocol Officer, McNeil lowered the salary from $100,000 to $85,000 and removed the post from the civil service. Langille would work on year-to-year contracts so the next government won’t be saddled with her appointment. The job Stephenson received this spring effectively converted work she had been doing on contract for $83,259 a year to a previously non-existent but now permanent civil service position at $106,000 a year. The next government will be stuck with her.
It’s tempting to end this post with some play on the words, “The more things stay the same in Nova Scotia politics…” But the truth is, Stephenson’s patronage appointment isn’t more of the same. It’s a quantum step backwards to the corrupt, unlamented era of John Buchanan.
[Thanks to Bruce Wark for steering me to the Stephenson columns.]
A 1957 photo showing, left to right, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Pete Seeger, Charis Horton, Rosa Parks, and Rev. Ralph Abernathy at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. It is thought to be the only photograph of King, Seeger, Parks, and Abernathy together.
The school was a training ground for the civil rights movement. Parks herself trained in the library pictured above shortly before her fateful refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus in 1956, the act of civil disobedience that touched off the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Charis was my classmate at the Putney School, a Vermont boarding school founded on the teachings of John Dewey and the Progressive Education Movement. A fellow classmate brought a copy of the photo to our reunion last June. I do not know the photographer.
This is a must-have for anyone living along the Strait of Canso superport, and for 14 residents of Goldboro, soon to be the site of an LNG terminal. Denizens of HRM may also want to bone up in anticipation of warships soon to be flying off the assembly line at the Irving Shipyard.
Be sure to read the reviews, especially the third one down.
The Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism school respected in the industry for promoting “the kind of journalism that enables us to participate fully and effectively in our democracy,” has issued its annual awards for best and worst media errors and corrections of the year. Nova Scotia did not escape the list.
The Halifax Chronicle-Herald won Typo of the Year for this published account of its own success at the Atlantic Journalism Awards:
“It’s always notable when a paper misspells its own name,” the Poynter judges said. “It’s even more notable when a paper misspells its own name in an article celebrating recent awards for journalistic excellence.”
I’m definitely in the glass-house-dwelling stone-thrower category here, since I make 400+ typos a day, far too many of which find their way into Contrarian. Alert readers make frequent use of the drolly named “Report a Tpyo” button at the top of this page, and I am continually grateful to them.
Still, the Herald blooper is funny, in an embarrassing sort of way, and I hope my friends there will take my re=postingre-posting it in a collegial, there-but-for-the-grace-of-obscurity sort of way. The Poynter Awards collection offered amusing, cautionary, and instructive insight into the journalism as practiced today — definitely worth a look.
Lastly, belated congratulations to Herald staffers John DeMont, Ian Thompson, Deborah Wiles, Jayson Taylor, Matt Dempsey, Christian Laforce, and Bruce MacKinnon for producing the work that won the six awards celebrated in this ill-fated story. It’s quite a haul.
Peter Barss writes:
Well, maybe not exactly large, but broken for sure. You see what I mean?
What have you got against insightful and inspired young folks?
A few days ago I heard a CBC interview with a Mom who was just so darn proud of her two-year-old son because he decided not to accept presents on his second birthday. Instead, he invited guests to bring a financial donation to some worthy cause. The young boy raised a few hundred dollars for the cause. I was so overwhelmed by this child’s selflessness, I forgot what the cause was.
Stop engaging in childism! Give kids a chance!
“Fart Day” has a nice ring to it. “Hey, what are ya doin’ on Fart Day?” “Are banks closed on Fart Day?”
Fart Day could definitely stick. Youngsters wishing to further the Fart Day cause can email the Minister of Labour at MIN_LAE@gov.ns.ca or tweet her at @KellyReganNS.
In two posts earlier this month (here and here), I described six mistakes by which the NDP government brought itself to the brink of defeat. Darrell Dexter’s government also did several big things right, in some cases defying popular sentiment to put the province on a sensible course. Here’s the start of my “good things” list:
1. A balanced budget
I know, I know, they didn’t balance it by much, and if you listen to the two guys hankering for Dexter’s job, they didn’t balance it at all. The opposition leaders base their skepticism on the fact that certain charges have been paid forward, lessening the impact in the current fiscal year.
Against this predictable naysaying comes the verdict of three independent bond rating agencies, scarcely hotbeds of N-Dip ardor:
On July 5, the Dominion Bond Rating Service gave the province its highest rating ever, A (high) on long term borrowing, with a stable outlook. The agency praised the government’s “sustained fiscal discipline and prudent fiscal management demonstrated throughout the period of recovery.”
On July 22, Moody’s reaffirmed its Aa2 (stable) rating, noting the plan to balance the budget, and praising the province’s success in managing expenses. It predicted that major projects on the horizon would have a positive impact on Nova Scotia’s economy.
That a return to prudent, balanced budgeting was achieved by a government that took office during the worst recession since the Great Depression adds to the accomplishment.
In fiscal terms, you can place Nova Scotia governments of the last 35 years into two columns: Buchanan, MacLellan, and MacDonald were reckless spenders who tried to buy voters with their own money; Savage, Hamm, and Dexter were prudent managers who risked voter wrath by turning off the goodie-tap.
2. Collaborative Emergency Care Centres
The most unprincipled aspect of the 2009 campaign that brought the NDP to power was the party’s cynical promise to keep rural emergency rooms open.
Dexter knew it was a promise he couldn’t keep. Small towns just cannot attract enough doctors to staff back shifts at little-used emergency rooms.
He knew trying to keep the promise would be bad public policy. The Corpus Sanchez report [PDF] had shown that paying scarce rural doctors to twiddle their thumbs from midnight to 8 am, on the off chance someone might come in with a medical emergency that couldn’t wait, was an irresponsible waste of resources. Seeking a breakthrough in rural Nova Scotia, Dexter made the promise anyway.
In a remarkable bit of political alchemy, Health Minister Maureen MacDonald turned her party’s tawdry pandering into a useful policy initiative, the Collaborative Emergency Care Centres. These centres don’t keep emergency rooms open in the traditional sense, but they provides teams of advanced paramedics and emergency care nurses who can triage and treat they few serious cases that do show up when physicians are not immediately available in small town hospitals.*
Where CECs have been tried, public acceptance and health outcomes have been good. Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil has campaigned against them, an election strategy as wrongheaded and unprincipled as the NDP’s 2009 promise to keep emergency rooms open. If, as seems likely, he becomes premier in October, McNeil would be foolhardy to kill them. I predict he will execute some legerdemain, change the name, and keep the concept.
3. Trimming the education budget
Talk about sacred cows! What could be more sacred than spending on little Johnny’s and precious Jill’s elementary and secondary schooling? To get a good job, get a good education, right?
In the first decade of the 21st century, Nova Scotia’s elementary and secondary school enrolment fell by 30,000, or 18 per cent. Over the next decade, it is forecast to fall by another 17,000. All the while, school board budgets soar ever skyward.
In the second year of its mandate, the Dexter government challenged school boards to identify savings that would begin to reflect the precipitous decline in the number of students they educate. The late Jane Purves, herself a former education minister, praised the New Democrats for “promoting the truth that the system has cost way more over the last 10 years, but there are far fewer students.”
As Purves predicted, boards responded with transparent versions of the Kill the Friendly Giant strategy that so often worked for the CBC. They threatened to axe the very programs that are most popular with parents. The face-off likely cost the government votes, but it was the right policy, and a gutsy one.
Next: Muskrat Falls (and energy policy generally), Highway planning, and wilderness land protection. I welcome comments on these election posts, and will publish a sample of the best I receive. Email: email@example.com.]
* Disclosure: I have many friends who work in the Department of Health and Wellness, and a relative who works at Better Care Sooner, the office responsible for administering the CECs.
To say that my granddaughter, Rosa Eileen Barss Donham, age 7, likes stuffed animals is a bit like saying the Atlantic Ocean is a body of water. Both statements are true as far as they go, but neither captures the full grandeur of its subject matter.
Rosa has a large collection of stuffed animals, each with its own name, personality, backstory, quirks, likes, dislikes, and adventuresome exploits. Her current favourite, a white kitten called Snowflake, was a great comfort when Rosa had her tonsils out last year. Snowflake even accompanied Rosa to the operating room, and got her own hospital bracelet (although it was really more of a hospital necklace).
Once their owners departed, the animals settled in for a great evening. They read books. They played with toys. Snowflake found a picture book she particularly enjoyed.
The library staff put on a delicious supper, and even gave them candy for dessert.
Eventually it was time for the animals to bed down for the night. They were still pretty wired, but the librarians were firm. Soon everyone was asleep.
Or so the librarians thought. The animals had other ideas. As soon as the staff left, they got up to play.
They went for rides on the giraffe. They even snuck out of the massive stone building, and made their way out into the city. The animals wanted to check out the new library, under construction across Spring Garden Road. They scurried across the busy street, and peered through the chain link fence.
Wow! It’s a pretty impressive building with lots of reflective glass—much more modern than the old library.
By now darkness was falling, and the animals were getting sleepy in spite of themselves. To tell the truth, it was a little scary being out in the city at night by themselves.
They decided to head back to the library and bed down for real this time.
There was only one problem. When they got to the main entrance of the old library, they found the big steel doors had swung shut behind them. They were locked out. They could not get in. The animals hollered and pounded on the door, but the staff had all gone home. There was no one to hear them. How would they get back inside?
“I know,” said Snowflake. “The book-return slot.”
One by one, the furry pets scrambled up to the slot, squeezed under the flap, and coasted down the slide. They immediately forgot their fear. This was more fun than a skateboard park.
Once inside, the animals fell onto their mats, and were soon fast asleep.
When morning came, the librarians never suspected a thing.
[Photo credit: All but the first photo in this post were taken from a slideshow library staff produced and played for the child owners of the stuffed animals when they came to pick up their charges the day after the sleepover.]
Here she is, speaking obvious but rarely heard truths about specialist teaching qualifications and the education system as a vast babysitting service, in a March (?), 2012, conversation with the CBC’s Amy Smith:
It’s always risky to opine on issues of spelling and grammar, and sure enough, several readers have objected to the graphic I posted [original source unknown] mocking a purported spelling error in the Harper Party’s TV ad attacking newly anointed Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. These readers variously argue that many dictionaries rate judgement (two e’s) a perfectly acceptable spelling, or even consider judgment (one e) to be an exclusively American orthography.
Arguing from the authority of recent dictionaries is a mug’s game, since postmodernist lexicographers have rejected prescriptivism in favor of descriptivism. The job of a dictionary, these rubber-kneed democrats believe, is not to tell readers how words should be spelled or used, but merely to record how they are spelled and used—by pretty much anybody, including party hacks in the PMOs media firm de jour.
The Merriam-Webster Company set this trend in motion half a century ago with its 1962 publication of the massive Webster’s Third International Dictionary, which critics of the day scorned for its unhelpfully equivocal definitions like the following:
It is the case that British usage favors (or should I say favours) an extraneous e in judgement, but this has never been standard Canadian usage, let alone USian. The Supreme Court of Canada uses judgment. So do the Appeal Court of Nova Scotia and all its lesser progeny. The Canadian Press Style Book uses judgment. The Globe and Mail Style Book uses judgment. Etc., etc.
Sure, like many usage tiffs, it’s a picayune point, more likely to entertain those who despise Harper than those who revere him. Picayune, but valid.
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