The right to wheel energy: sacred for Alberta; nonexistent for NFLD

It would be an exaggeration to say the right wing voices who dominate Canadian media commentary have risen in unison to condemn BC’s pitch for a share of Northern Gateway pipeline spoils, but the clamor has certainly been one-sided.

BC Premier Christy Clark’s “attitude,” wrote Kelly McParland, “is disastrous for Canada.” John Ibbitson called Clark’s demands “dangerous,” and urged Prime Minister Harper to step in. Rex Murphy bemoaned the premiers’ declining “intellectual and emotional connection to the national understanding.” Andrew Coyne called it “extortion.” Rob Russo told CBC Radio the fabric of the nation was at stake. A Globe and Mail editorial declared, “there is little precedent for the sort of compensation Ms. Clark is calling for.”

Really? No precedent? Contrarian reader Ivan Smith recalls a precedent:

There is a glaring omission in all news reports I’ve seen — not a whisper of a hint of the striking similarity between BC’s attitude toward Alberta in this energy dispute and the attitude of Quebec toward Newfoundland in 1969.

The 1969 power contract between Hydro-Quebec and the Churchill Falls Labrador Corporation has been a matter of enduring resentment in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Actually, BC’s attitude is far less confrontational than was Quebec’s in 1969. All BC is asking is a share of the oil royalty. If BC followed the example of Quebec in 1969, it would be demanding that the oil coming through the pipeline be sold to BC as it crossed the border. Then BC could do with that oil exactly as it pleases, with no interference from Alberta.

Compared to this 1969 example of how to handle energy sent from one province to another, BC’s demand for a share of the royalties is moderate indeed. But the media has failed to mention this.

As Yul Brynner once said, it’s a puzzlement.

It’s a measure of just how fully Rex Murphy has lost his bearings that he could declaim his way through an entire column on this subject without once recalling his home province’s egregious fate as a would-be exporter of hydroelectricity.

One neocon commentator who did not overlook this sorry chapter in the annals of Canadian disunity was Brian Lee Crowley of the Mcdonald-Laurier Institute:

Occasionally we regrettably fail to uphold this standard, like when, in the 1960s, Ottawa allowed Quebec to rake off all the economic benefit of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Churchill Falls hydroelectric project. That was to abet an injustice for which Newfoundland is still paying dearly. All because Ottawa shamefully preferred politics to its nation-building responsibilities.

Forty-three years into the Hydro Quebec-Churchill Falls contract, Newfoundland has been forced to build two undersea cables in order to export and sell Muskrat Falls power generated in its own territory. Scarcely any of our Albertaphilic pundits even seem to notice.

Chickenburger: No wheelchair users need apply

Chickenburger, the iconic Halifax restaurant chain, recently opened a new outlet in a renovated building on Queen St., just off Spring Garden Road.

Despite the requirements of the NS Building Code Act, the renovations did not include wheelchair access. No one who uses a wheelchair can eat at Chickenburger. No one who uses a wheelchair can work at Chickenburger.

How can this happen in 2012? How can a community-spirited businessman like Mickey MacDonald thumb his nose at potential customers and employees who use wheelchairs?

More importantly, how did the city allow this to happen? HRM is one of the most over-regulated cities in Canada, with a planning department renowned for putting developers through tortuous hoops to get the simplest changes approved. Why did they suddenly lose their nerve when it came to enforcing legally mandated equality of access for people with disabilities?

Disability rights activist Warren Reed ask diners to pledge not to eat at Chickenburger until Mickey does the right thing by his potential customers and employees, and installs 21st-century standard wheelchair access. Sign up here.

2012: a space melodrama

In just nine days, NASA will attempt to place its Martian Science Laboratory on Mars. It’s an operation so fraught with extreme technological challenges, the space agency calls it seven mintes of terror. By the time radio signals reach Earth and alert scientists that Curiosity Rover’s perilous descent has begun, it will actually have been over for seven minutes, and rover will be dead or alive on the surface of the red planet.

H/T: Alexis Madrigal

Meaningful WTCC consultation? Or PR frippery?

Spoken word artist and social advocate Ardath Whynacht won’t be taking part in the public consultations  MT&L and Myrgan Inc. are conducting to smooth the way for Joe Ramia’s controversy-plagued Nova Centre in downtown Halifax. Her post at the Halifax Media Co-op website didn’t mince words:

To engage a single demographic in an orchestrated PR stunt, letting them believe that Joe Ramia and his development cronies will actually entertain the idea of having an after-school drop in centre in their luxury hotel is a crime against democracy. It is a lie. Consultation without a commitment to listen to the citizens is a PR stunt. And I believe too many Haligonians are being fooled into thinking that this process is legitimate.

Our food bank is broke. Youth programs are cut. Addictions services are being shut down. So to be honest, for all the facilitators who are turning a pretty buck off this consultation, you can take your Nova Centre and shove it up your “it’s gonna happen anyway, so let’s make it beautiful” bourgeoisie ass.

I get the sentiment. The cute, hand-drawn consultation flow chart on the chain link fence surrounding the Argyle Street construction demolition site seems too slick by half. Nevertheless, the public has responded with surprisingly insightful if epigrammatic suggestions in the tiny cards the PR campaigners provided.

I can’t make up my mind about the Nova Centre. The city and the province need spaces capable of housing top-notch conferences and conventions, but with tens of millions in subsidies, government has put its thumb on the scale of office and hotel construction in the city for a generation to come. Future property developers will face a market in which Ramia has been given an artificial leg up, while they must play by the rules of supply and demand.

I don’t worry so much about the view from Citadel Hill as about what this massive building will do to one of the most successful commercial streets in Atlantic Canada. The wonderful collection of bars, bistros, and restaurants along Argyle St. will benefit from visitors, workers, and residents drawn to the street, but do they really need a 210-foot wall blocking the sun, the moon, and the sky? Will an unfriendly first storey replicate the calamitous Granville Street MetroPark that Kate Carmichael fought with her dying breath? Or the Nova Scotia Government’s more recent architectural vandalism in the form of the empty Barrington Street facade of the Johnston Building?

It would be nice to believe a genuine public consultation could head off such monstrosities. Time will tell.

H/T: SP.

How to write about people – updated

When I was a teenager, my parents were friends with Malcolm Hobbs, publisher of what was then a weekly newspaper in Orleans, Massachusetts.

The Cape Codder was a respectable example of what might be called the golden age of community weeklies. From time to time, it ran detailed articles — “profiles” — of local worthies, a habit that one day generated a warning letter from a lawyer for The New Yorker magazine. The term, “Profile,” he asserted, was a trademark of the great journal, who legendary founding editor, Harold Ross, first applied it to detailed articles about individuals sometime in the 1920s. The Cape Codder must cease and desist from its use, he cautioned.

There was much clucking of tongues in Hobbs’s social circle about what seemed an arrogant and absurd claim. If memory serves, Hobbs mined the episode for a witty column about the perils of journalistic hubris.

I can’t find any evidence on line that the magazine is still pressing its proprietary claim over those seven letters. In the interview below, however, The New Yorker’s current editor, David Remnick, who once edited a collection of great New Yorker profiles, makes a strong case for why the magazine just might have first claim on the form, if not the label.

It’s full of pithy advice for writers:

Very, very often, any young journalist being honest with himself, who listens to a tape of his interview with somebody, will always come to the same conclusion: I talked too much. Big mistake….

Constant disappointment is a very good spur to sometimes doing something halfway decent. if you’re really self-satisfied all the time, you probably are a lousy writer.

H/T: Joseph MacKay

Update:  Bethany Horne writes:

For David Remnick:

The word “very” does not make your point stronger (not even when used twice in succession)—and I’m so bored of people using the masculine form of pronouns as the neutral choice. Can’t we move away from “himself” and the like? Most writers are, after all, women.


Summertime, and the blogging is slower

Yes, the blog posts have been slower this July. On those rare Nova Scotia weeks, when the sun blasts down and the temperature tops 25° for days on end, there are better things to do in than sit at a keyboard and grouse about the state of the world.

In the backlog of posts I mean to get to: big developments in the Dexter Government’s demolition of Talbot House (including five pending Contrarian FOIPOP requests looking for the motives behind this hatchet job); feedback from defenders of Neal Livingston and admirers of Cabot Links; and he next instalment of the Contrarian Election Donation Interactive Mapping Project.

While you wait, Maggie and I recommend raspberry or blueberry sorbet.

Prominent New Democrat denounces Peterson-Rafuse

Sydney Mines native John Hugh Edwards is a life-long New Democrat, the kind of party stalwart who mans phones during election campaigns, works polls on voting day, and faithfully attends NDP rallies and conventions. Twice, the longtime St. Francis Xavier extension worker ran as the party’s federal candidate in Cape Breton – The Sydneys, mounting a respectable challenge to Liberal MP Mark Eyking.

Don’t miss his letter to the Cape Breton Post about Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse’s treatment of Talbot House:

For decades, the staff and volunteers at Talbot House have provided Cape Breton with incredible service to those among us who have suffered from the ravages of addiction. Now it appears that the good work of these dedicated people, and the legacy of many years of service to our community, are to be thrown aside because of little more than false allegations, innuendo, and a tissue of technical and picayune complaints by nameless bureaucrats.

Before leaving home for work opportunities in Ottawa five years ago, I had the privilege to assist, in a small way, with Talbot House’s work. Through this direct experience, I can attest to the dedication and commitment of the executive director, the staff, the residents and the volunteers.

During more than 30 years of working with non-profit and community service organizations, I have rarely seen the level of commitment to service and recovery I found at Talbot House.

For the staff and board members of Talbot House to be subjected to the assault and vilification they have suffered at the hands of the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services is a travesty of the first order.

To add insult to injury, the behaviour of the current minister of community services in supporting the unsupportable organizational review is incomprehensible.

I have read the review, and my years of professional experience in organizational development tell me that aside from allegations that have since been proven false, it contains no substantial issues that could not be resolved by simple and direct communication between the board and the department.

We have not been able to read the board’s response* to the review since the Department of Community Services has refused to post it. More shameful behaviour. Further to the minister’s discredit, she appears to have reneged on commitments she made to the board in June.

I suggest the only fair resolution to this sad affair would include restoration of the mandate and funding for Talbot House; publication on the government website of Talbot House’s response to the organizational review; a public apology from the minister of community services to the executive director, staff, board, and residents of Talbot House; and a full and open inquiry into the behaviour of the Department of Community Services throughout this shameful episode.

Those steps would not only satisfy the injustice to Talbot House, but also assure other community-based organizations in Cape Breton and throughout Nova Scotia they will not be subjected to the same kind of treatment from the Department of Community Services.

I agree that the only fair resolution to this disgraceful episode is a thorough, scrupulously independent investigation of this department. Peterson-Rafuse has lately been crowing about how many volunteer boards and charitable community groups her department has subjected to “organizational reviews.” Well, if it’s sauce for all those goslings, how about some sauce for this smug, complacent goose?

Where are the other New Democrats who campaigned for decades to hold the Department of Community Services to account? How can they remain silent in the face of this behavior? Are they really satisfied to see such cruel, senseless treatment of a valued community organization by the first New Democratic government in Nova Scotia?

* Peterson-Rafuse’s department hasn’t have the integrity to publish the Talbot Board’s devastating response, which exposes the false allegations, factual errors, and bias that pervade her department’s own report on this issue, but you can download it from Contrarian [pdf].

[Disclosure: John Hugh is a longtime neighbour and valued friend. We were briefly business partners a decade ago. He now lives most of the year in Ottawa, and to the best of my recollection, we have n deveriscussed this issue.]

Save Talbot House, a Facebook page started by distraught former residents of Talbot House, has attracted 2,000 members in less that a week. There is also an online petition.