Category: Religion

The Jimmy Carter of former MLAs?

Keith_Bain_full_0 Jimmy CarterjpgContrarian’s friend and neighbour Valerie Patterson was in the North Sydney liquor commission Wednesday, picking up supplies for Darts Night at the Ross Ferry Volunteer Fire Department. She was surprised to find our recently defeated MLA, Keith Bain, a member of the United Church, staffing the Salvation Army kettle. Why? He had heard the Sally Ann was having trouble finding members to staff the kettles. So he volunteered.

Perhaps in “retirement,” Keith will do for MLAs what Jimmy Carter has done for former U.S. Presidents: find ever more imaginative outlets for his leadership and compassion.


BSO v. SLSO: a classical music preview of tonight’s classic

Boston, in six, natch.

H/T: Evy Carnat

I’m starting to like this guy, in spite of myself

The phone on Eugenio Scalfari’s desk rang.


Hello, this is Pope Francis.

Hello Your Holiness.  I am shocked. I did not expect you to call me.

The atheist editor of the Italian daily La Republica had recently written the Holy See, asking for a meeting with the pope.

Why so surprised? You wrote me a letter asking to meet me in person. I had the same wish, so I’m calling to fix an appointment. Let me look at my diary: I can’t do Wednesday, nor Monday, would Tuesday suit you?

Read Scalfari’s refreshing account of the rest of the conversation here.

Washroom pictograph watch


Things are different at the convent.

(H/T: Silas/ Presentation Sisters Convent, St. John’s, NL.)

Take that, Lord thankers

In case you missed it, CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer’s attempt to enforce the journalistic requirement that survivors of natural disasters must thank God for the miracle of their escape (while avoiding mention of God’s responsibility for the deaths and injuries of those who did not) backfired in Moore, Oklahoma, today yesterday, when survivor Rebecca Vitsmun politely declined to follow the script.

[video link]

Vitsmun had planned to ride out the tornado with her 19-month-old son Anders by huddling in the bathtub of their home, but 10 minutes before the storm hit, she panicked and fled with with the boy in the family car. She and Anders survived unscathed; their house was flattened.

Encouraging survivors to praise the lord is standard reportorial malpractice in these stories, but the presumptuousness with which Blitzer thrust religion into the interview is arresting, and strikes a marked contrast with atheist Vitsmun’s gracious demurral.

H/T: Mary Elizabeth Williams in Salon.

Here’s the full interview via The Coast’s Tim Bousquet.

If you like Pope Benedict… you’ll love Charlie Sheen

A Contrarian reader recently added Pope Benedict XVI’s new Twitter account to his Twitter feed. Whenever a user follows someone new, Twitter responds by suggesting a similar person they might also like to follow.

Who is similar to His Holiness? Why Charlie Sheen, of course.



Ah the wonders of social technology. Twitter doesn’t say exactly which qualities the pontiff and the thespian share. Surely not substance abuse or cohabitation with porn stars. Problems with anger management could be a possibility, but our money is on having children removed from your care for their own protection.


Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas — feedback

Two reader responses to the angry rant from a utility customer who objected to receiving generic holiday greetings at Christmastime.

Jeffrey Shallit writes:

Jewish-ChristmasThis guy represents everything that is bad about Christian North America. He doesn’t understand freedom of religion; he feels so threatened by non-Christians he wants to resort to violence; and he assumes everyone who is Canadian is necessarily Christian (forget about all those damned, Jews, I suppose, not to mention native Canadians who might follow traditional native religions).

Although not Jewish myself, I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia that was predominantly Jewish. Many lost members of their family in the Holocaust at the hands of Christian Germans, Poles, Ukrainians and Russians. (And please, do not object with a version of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. Their murderers often called themselves Christians, and the long history of Christian anti-Semitism cannot be denied.) These Jews did not always celebrate Christmas, even the secular version, and many objected strongly to the presumption that everyone did.

In such an environment, if you did not know what people celebrated, it was simply rude to assume one way or another. Thus, I grew up wishing people “Happy Holidays” unless I was sure. Most people I knew did the same. I still do so.

David Major counters:

Unless I am awfully mistaken, the notion of the neutralized nomenclature is a thoroughly urban myth.

The idea was born in a corporate manger fearing the tag of presumptiveness.

Mind, there are situations where the gathering is fairly intimate where a good host might fairly be as inclusive as possible.


Two Christmas stories

Shortly before Christmas, a company I work with sent out a message to its customers advising them of shorter holiday hours for telephone customer service and technical support. Imbued with the spirit of Jesus, a customer in Cumberland County saw fit to reply:

I am sure that your boss has ordered compliance with the goddam politically correct and inoffensive crowd that is prevalent these days, but it is Merry Christmas or Happy Christmas in your correspondence with me, otherwise don’t bother.

I once threatened that the next person that bowed and cowered to the middle East and Asian immigrants’ demands, and wished me a “Happy Holiday,” I would punch him/her in the face.

I don’t care what church you go to or what you believe, this is Canada, and in Canada, we celebrate Christmas. Those who are offended by that should reconsider their decision to come here and retrace their steps to whatever pathetic swamp they came from. I have no love, and little caring, for those who would come to my country and change everything that I spent forty years in uniform to protect.


Having grown up in the United States, I’m accustomed to having one’s countrymen make you feel embarrassed for your country, but it doesn’t happen often in Canada. This gent managed to pull it off.

Now consider the pre-Christmas experience of three young Germans spending the year in Cape Breton, where they serve as live-in assistants to men and women with developmental disabilities at l’Arche. Finding themselves with four days off from their intense duties, the adventuresome trio made a quick trip to Newfoundland, where they booked rooms at Sheppard’s B&B in Gros Morne National Park.

Ka Klicker, who called for the reservation, noted that proprietor Doris Shepphard, “seems to be very nice.”

The night of their arrival in Trout River happened to coincide with the annual Christmas party Doris hosts for her church group. Nothing would do but that the Germans join the party. And to their astonishment, when they got to the celebration, each was presented with a personalized Christmas card and a small gift.

“It was unbelievable,” said Klicker, who had already told me, a few weeks earlier, that the warmth of the welcome she received in Cape Breton was the thing she found most surprising about Canada. Now Western Newfoundland trumped even this standard of hospitality.

“Everyone in Newfoundland was just so friendly, so welcoming, so kind,” she said, shaking her head in amazement. “This would not happen in Germany. Germans are friendly, but not like this.”

To resurrect a shopworn phrase, my Canada includes Sheppard’s B&B. And reduced holiday hours.

Trout River

The Pond Lookoff, Trout River, NL

A brazenly self-serving exercise of bureaucratic power

Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse will finally sit down with the Talbot House board of directors Tuesday, but only after her department’s shrewd mandarins have pre-empted any actual purpose the meeting might serve.

The Talbot board asked for the session months ago, seeking a peaceful resolution to her department’s reckless assaults on the half-century-old, community-built addiction recovery center. Peterson-Rafuse readily agreed to the meeting in principle, then bobbed, weaved, and stalled until her officials rendered it meaningless.

First she couldn’t meet because the legislature was sitting. Then she postponed again, just long enough for the department to announce the RFP* it hopes will kill any chance of Talbot House reopening.

DCS announced the RFP to replace the services Talbot provided on the very day its bureaucrats gave the legislature’s Community Services Committee a selective and distorted account of events leading to Talbot’s closure, an account that depicted department functionaries as blameless for and even shocked at the sordid sequence of events.

When George Savoury, Executive Director of Family and Community Supports, emerged from that hearing, a reporter asked whether DCS had any mea culpa to offer.

“No,” he replied.

Another reporter asked what lessons the department had learned from the Talbot imbroglio.

“We will be, as a result of this experience, doing more frequent reviews,” Savoury said.

It was a brazenly self-serving conclusion. The DCS review of Talbot House is hardly a template anyone would want to replicate.

  • It led to the closure of a valued community institution that had served some of Nova Scotia’s most tormented citizens.
  • It promoted false allegations of sexual impropriety against an innocent man, the organization’s executive director, Fr. Paul Abbass.
  • It based these allegations on vague hearsay from anonymous third parties—allegations for which police could find no basis in fact.

Even after an eight-week police review cleared Abbass, DCS saw fit to publish a report that repeated the sinister-sounding innuendo—still anonymous, and described in a manner so vague it would be impossible to refute, no matter how innocent the target.

Compounding the slander directed at Abbass, the DCS report contained additional inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and outright falsehoods. To cite but a few:

  • It said the recovery house had no budget, when in fact, a budget was attached to its annual application for funding.
  • It said the annual financial statements submitted by Talbot’s accounting firm were unsigned; in fact, they were signed.
  • It criticized aspects of Talbot’s financial management in a manner so uncomprehending as to betray broad ignorance of not-for-profit accounting practices
  • It complained that Talbot House had no formal orientation for new staff, when Talbot had not hired a new employee for six years.

Stripped of bias and errors, the report boiled down to a complaint that Talbot had been slow to implement personnel procedures such as job descriptions and performance reviews.

In short, DCS carried out a review and released a report that was slanderous, error-filled, and biased, yet the man in charge offered no apology, and proclaimed the only take-home to be that more frequent reviews are needed.

Meanwhile the minister responsible dithered and stonewalled long enough for her officials to render today’s meeting meaningless.

What a disgrace.

– – –

* An RFP is a request for proposals, the first step in a tendering process. DCS will request proposals to provide recovery center services in Cape Breton. The RFP will set forth the criteria the winning bidder must meet.  The department  will evaluate submissions and select a winner, who will then get government money to provide the very services Talbot House pioneered in Cape Breton on a volunteer basis 53 years ago. DCS has said Talbot House is free to compete for this tender, but I will be surprised if the criteria do not include features tacitly intended to exclude Talbot—such as a willingness to accept clients on Methadone, use of which is contrary to Talbot’s philosophy. If effect, the Talbot House Society is being forced to compete for the right to supply the service it pioneered.

Another Talbot House test for the NDP

On Tuesday, members of the Nova Scotia Legislature’s Community Services Committee will get a chance to question the bureaucrat who promoted what turned out to be false allegations of sexual misconduct against an innocent priest, and to ask her superiors why they still haven’t withdrawn a report containing slanderous innuendo against him.

The department’s actions led to the closure of Talbot House, which had for 53 years provided safe lodging, meaningful work, and successful treatment for some of Nova Scotia’s most troubled citizens.

Marika Lathem, Director of Family and Youth Services and the principal author of the error-filled report, will testify. The Talbot House Society Board said her review of the organization, “was fundamentally flawed in process and analysis, procedurally inadequate, lacked balance, and contributed to a report that contained numerous inaccuracies and misrepresentations that, by their nature, are prejudicial, biased and misrepresent the history, governance, and operation of Talbot House.”

George Savoury, Executive Director of Family and Community Supports, and Associate Deputy Minister David Ryan will also appear. As Lathem’s superiors, they either failed to vet her report prior to publication, or failed to notice its obvious errors, inconsistencies, and casual calumny.


Chairing the committee is Kings North MLA Jim Morton who, coincidentally, served as the Annapolis Valley District Health Authority’s Manager of Addiction Services before becoming an MLA. With that background, Morton will have first-hand experience with Fortress DCS.

Last week, another coincidence: DCS gave itself a 30-day extension to the statutory deadline for responding to four freedom-of-information requests about Talbot. This had the effect of guaranteeing the requested material will not be available for Tuesday’s hearing. The department said meeting the initial time limit for the large number of records requested could unreasonably interfere with its operations. In one of the requests at issue, the “large number of records requested” was one: a single, easily located document.

Last time a house committee got the opportunity to consider the Talbot House scandal, DCS Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse conducted a one-woman filibuster in response to the first question asked of her. She spoke for nearly an hour, running out the clock before opposition MLAs could get in a second question.

Legislature committee rules do not facilitate effective cross-examination of evasive or hostile witnesses. It will be interesting to see whether Morton allows prolix opening statements and time-wasting by  government members to frustrate meaningful exploration of the Talbot mess Tuesday.

For decades, concern about how DCS treated Nova Scotia’s down-and-out lay close to the heart of the New Democratic Party. Tuesday’s hearing will offer another measure of how much the long road to power has changed the party.

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