Articles Tagged ‘Mark Bourrie’

REALITY CHECK: Why do “fiscally prudent” Tory governments always seem to be just a couple of budgets away from financial stability?

Contributing editor Mark Bourrie gets into a dustup in McDonald’s — over the fiscal prudence of Tory goverments, of all things.

I had a little tussle with a guy in the Bronson Street McDonald’s this morning. I was a tad grumpy, and the big fella said something that worked me into a lather.

All the newspapers are carrying stories about the report by economist Don Drummond that says Ontario has to make big cuts to spending and jack up user fees and utilities costs if Queen’s Park is serious about balancing the provincial budget.

My sparring partner, a hefty and unkempt guy, was hollering about the wonderful fiscal situation in Alberta. That province, he said, was “on the road to a balanced budget.”

I reminded him that Tory governments are always on the road to a balanced budget. They just never seem to get there.

Take the federal Tories. Except for one year, when the Tories had taken over from Paul Martin and hadn’t had a chance to work their fiscal magic, no Tory federal government has balanced the books since the days of John Diefenbaker.

The Clark government couldn’t do it, despite a big hike to the gasoline tax.

Mulroney and his finance minister, Michael Wilson — who was often praised as a Bay Street boy and a financial wizard — never balanced a budget and, in fact, doubled the national debt while in power from 1984 until 1993. Wilson was always a couple of budgets away, he’d say, from financial stability. But, like a bar that promises “free beer tomorrow,” he never delivered.

And yet, through the years, Tories have adopted the whines of their Republican counterparts in the States and moaned about “tax and spend” Liberals.

Which brings me back to my buddy at Micky Ds and our little chat.

“Oil,” says I, “is at the highest sustained level in human history. If Alberta can’t balance a budget with royalties from $100 oil, what happens when the price falls back to $50 or $20?” I reminded him that Tories are always on the road to a balanced budget, but never seem to deliver.

My sensible wife dragged me before we could go at it on the Heritage Fund, which is supposed to help Alberta adjust to life after oil. Yes, there are a few billion in the fund, but for Alberta to cope in the post-oil world, it will need millions of new jobs in some kind of productive work. Most of the work force will have to be re-trained, and a lot of new infrastructure will need to be built.

There’s $15.4 billion in the Heritage Fund. It sounds like a lot of money, but it’s not enough to even begin to remake — and save — the economy of Alberta when the oil boom is over.

There’s a reason why Tories like deficits. It gives them the excuse they need to go after public sector workers, students, non-government organizers, and other people they don’t like. They get to cut social services and screw over the poor.

And, if there’s a recession, they get to help out their corporate pals with tax cuts, interest-free loans, and other goodies.

As we head into a round of Tory cuts to federal programs, we can expect them to engage in class warfare against middle-class, unionized government employees and the “undeserving” poor. To some, they’ll look like prudent fiscal mangers.

But to people who can read a balance sheet, they’ll likely still be less than zeroes.

POLITICS CHATTER: Family values — and a trip through the Sun’s classifieds section

Contributing editor Mark Bourrie wonders if the Sun Media chain’s family values are up to snuff.

Well, I’ll be a dirty bird. Roll me in eleven herbs and spices and call me Kentucky Fried. I’m shocked and appalled. Outraged. Think of the kids.

I think I’m getting ahead of myself.

Last week, people on Parliament Hill and the handful of viewers of Sun News were subjected to the moral outrage of Sun TV staffers spewing spittle on their camera lenses because the CBC was peddling soft-core porn on a Radio-Canada website. Seems Radio-Canada had a partnership deal with an outfit in France to produce a soft-core romp comedy called Hard, which centres on some chump who inherits a porn magazine business. Sun denounced the entire CBC and trashed them for using taxpayers’ money for smut that’s posted for easy viewing by your kids and mine.

I’m very happy that the Sun folks troll the Internet looking for porn. I know there is some out there, so I am always glad when someone takes the bullet for me and warns me off smut sites. I’m sure my adolescent children don’t look at porn on the Internet, but that could change. Thanks, Sun TV, for looking out for them.

My gratitude turned to rage when I picked up a free copy of the Ottawa Sun, mere blocks from one of the city’s high schools. Left in a coffee shop for anyone to pick up, this newspaper had a page of  ads for actual prostitutes!

Not softcore porn.

Not hardcore porn.

Yes! Hookers! Eager to seduce our young people and break up our families.

And it gets worse. (I’ll get to that later.)

Let’s see what’s on offer in the Sun’s classifieds.

There’s the gay cruiseline. Nothing wrong with that, but I don’t want my six-year-old to read it. And an ad for Shemale Suzy Hung. There’s also the eager Mistress Whitney, offering “Exp’d Dom & Fantasy,” and one ad with the heading GRAND OPENING, which is not only suggestive but rather daunting.

You can get take-out or eat in. You can bring your spouse, or two people can come to your house. Here’s where it gets worse… some of these “organizations” are actually hiring.

Yes, the Ottawa Sun is engaged in a campaign to lure our daughters, our wives, our sisters, our mothers, and maybe our little brothers, into a life of whoredom. That’s why, when the Sun newspaper delivery guys come by my house, I will set the dog on him.

I don’t know what’s happened to morality in this country. Where, oh where, is the idea of a “family newspaper?”

While I do thank the Sun for trolling the Internet and protecting me from inadvertently stumbling on taxpayer-funded filth, I simply cannot forgive them with sprinkling whore recruitment ads around our high schools and on city busses.

Enough is enough, I say. Someone should pass a law.

POLITICS CHATTER: How the story of one woman captures the disaster that is Canada’s First Nations

Rebecca Drake, who was interviewed by the CBC's Jody Porter, sees no way out of the situation at Eabametoong First Nation. Photo: Jody Porter

Contributing editor Mark Bourrie looks at how the story of one woman — Rebecca Drake of the Eabametoong First Nation — captures the disaster that is Canada’s First Nations.

This week, more than 400 chiefs came to Ottawa to talk to the Prime Minister and members of the cabinet about the disaster of the country’s First Nations. The talks got a lot of hype and plenty of ink, but, in the end, accomplished very little. There were promises of more money and greater accountability, unspecified improvement of core services like education and housing, and more talks in the future. Some guys in suits think the whole thing was a wild success.

But all that won’t help Rebecca Drake, and we won’t solve First Nations problems unless we can do something about the situation of Rebecca Drake and the thousands of people like her. Drake lives in Eabametoong First Nation, in the dead centre of Northwestern Ontario. About 1,200 people live in Eabametoong. The only way into this awful place is by air, yet the place has 1,200 people. That makes it one of the largest towns in the region — and one of the very few that’s growing.

About 80 percent of the adults in Eabametoong are addicted to prescription painkillers, paying about $400 apiece for Oxycotin, an economic fact that lies behind a string of drug store robberies in Ottawa and other cities.

Drake is a young woman with five kids. The father of the family isn’t in the picture. He’s hooked on pills. She lives with her parents in a two-bedroom house.

There’s a “detox centre” in the town. It’s a house. And it’s not going to solve the problem in Eabametoong. A small town with 500 people hooked on Oxycotin is a medical disaster that will take a massive intervention to fix — and that’s if the addicts want to get off these drugs. And even if the whole place successfully went cold turkey, they’d only solve one small problem.

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POLITICS CHATTER: Say no to Harper, Rae, public service cuts, and Romney. (And Yes to some real stories of intrigue and mayhem)

  • Contributing editor Mark Bourrie ponders the good old days, when skilled wordsmiths knew how to massage a good story — and a good scandal.

I was pawing through stuff at the Smith’s Falls flea market Sunday when I came across a copy of the Toronto tabloid Hush. Published in the 1950s and early 1960s, Hush was a scandal sheet in every sense of the word.

It sent reporters to what was then called “Morality Court” to hear the cases of hookers and men charged under the still-on-the-books sodomy charges. And it covered petty scams, happenings at nudist colonies, and gave racetrack odds. There were a few pages of ads for hookers unconvincingly disguised as “lonely hearts” messages.

I read every word of this 1960 paper, marveling at the sorrowful stories offered up by its skilled wordsmiths. No political spin in this stuff, just a lot of tragedy, plenty of seedy sex, some wide-eyed enthusiasm for a nudist colony beauty contest, and stern condemnation of a two-bit crook who fleeced a young woman out of $100.

I miss that kind of news. Here, on the Hill, reporters are grinding out “Whither Quebec” eye-splitters, covering the floor crossing of an NDP MP who might as well have been in the witness protection program, or pontificating on themes like “Stephen Harper, Friend or Fiend?”

Not me. Can’t do it. I am no political Rumpelstiltskin, able to turn stale political straw into punditry gold. Instead, here’s some news you can use around the water cooler or during those embarrassing pauses at dinner:

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CRIME RETHINK: Our bad habit when it comes to pot laws

In a political blog post written for Torontoist, Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie notes that the Tory crime bill now before the Senate includes harsher penalties for marijuana possession. And though, he argues, that won’t reduce interest in pot, it could saddle even casual smokers with permanent legal records. Read Bourrie’s analysis here.

POLITICS CHATTER: Is Attawapiskat worth saving? Time to look for creative solutions

He wrote about the plight of Attawapiskat during the last federal election campaign. Now, in the wake of the current crisis, contributing editor Mark Bourrie tackles the topic again. Is this place worth saving?

All of a sudden, people care about Attawapiskat. It’s the news story of the month.

Suddenly, because of the housing shortage in the town and an embarrassing intervention of the Red Cross, everyone has opinions on a place they’ve been able to ignore for years. I wrote about Attawapiskat on this blog during the last election, but it never became an issue. Maybe now people will take a look at this disaster – and others like it – and try to come up with a real solution.

There’s no real reason for Attawapiskat to exist. Every other town has a reason for being: some industry, perhaps as a market town for a hinterland, maybe as an administrative or financial centre. But Attawapiskat is just there.

The Cree were trappers and hunters who lived in family groups and travelled across their territory taking game and fishing. In the summer, they congregated at some of the better fishing spots or at points where canoe routes converged to trade and visit for a few weeks every summer.

Fur traders plunked down forts at these spots and used these annual gatherings to exchange pelts for trade goods. There was nothing particularly sinister about it. They just went where the market was.

But some of these communities, like Attawapiskat, lost their reason for existence with the end of the fur trade. The 1,800 or so people who live there can’t make a living by hunting. Furs aren’t worth much. Nor, in that subarctic corner of the world, is there a fishery that can sustain the community. If there was, there would be fur and fish processing, people building and maintaining boats and nets, others with jobs packing and shipping. In short, there would be something resembling an economy.

There’s  a diamond mine about 100 kilometres away, and DeBeers, which owns it, has hired several dozen people from the reserve. But the community is hardly within commuting range, especially since there’s no road between the mine and the town.

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POLITICS CHATTER: Mocking the pepper-spraying cop (and surveying his place in protest history)

In which contributing editor Mark Bourrie looks at how a classic YouTube moment has shaped the way we will remember the ‘Occupy’ movement.

The “Occupy _____” movement has run its course, at least in Canada.

It was never very effective here. Protesters in Toronto were too polite or too weak to try to occupy Bay Street. Instead, they settled in a park co-owned by the Anglican Church and the City of Toronto. The church supported their protest, as did a large bloc of city councillors. Here in Ottawa, demonstrators politely took over a park, rather than risk the wrath of the riot squads by camping on Parliament Hill. They kept to the margins of Confederation Park, kept it clean, and even looked after the homeless people who normally live there.

In the end, though, Toronto’s city administration got a court ruling telling the occupiers to sleep elsewhere. The St. James Park protesters have put up token resistance, but most of them started packing Tuesday, as did the vast majority of the Occupy Ottawa crowd in Confederation Park.

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POLITICS CHATTER: Pondering the odds on Paul Dewar’s leadership bid

In which contributing editor Mark Bourrie ponders Paul Dewar’s chances — and what it would take to pull off a win.

Paul Dewar wants to be leader of the NDP. He might just pull it off.

Last week, Dewar hooked up with popular Northern Ontario MP Charlie Angus and toured some of the most shameful real estate in Canada. He visited the Cree town of Attawapiskat, in the Hudson Bay Lowlands. The town is the closest community to Ontario’s first operational diamond mine, but the kids don’t have a decent school and some of the Cree will spend the winter in tents because of a chronic housing shortage.

Skipping Remembrance Day and travelling the near north with Angus was good politics. Angus would have been a serious contender in the leadership race. He has become one of the bright lights on the Dipper front bench, wailing on Tony Clement for his pork-barrelling in Muskoka before last year’s G8 summit.

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POLITICS CHATTER: Bankruptcy in Europe, deficits in the US and Canada. How did it come to this and what comes next?

In which contributing editor Mark Bourrie suggests we look to the past to figure our way out of the European (and North American) financial crisis.

The other day, Barack Obama’s White House came out with the admission that, as far as anyone knows for sure, there’s no life on other planets. We’re stuck here with each other, which isn’t such a good thing when we owe each other so much money.

The aliens were our last hope for a bail-out.

Tuesday, word came that the minister of finance, Jim Flaherty, can’t add. That should not be news. In the 2006 election campaign, Flaherty said he’d never run a deficit. In the 2008 campaign, he said we weren’t at risk of a recession. In last spring’s campaign, the Tories promised to balance the books by 2014. Flaherty’s admitting now that he can’t tame the deficit any time soon, no matter how many savings his $90,000-a-day efficiency experts think they can find in this town. Anyone who thinks Flaherty can ever balance the books should mull these two words — “Michael Wilson”.

In the past few weeks, Flaherty and Stephen Harper have mugged to the cameras, chastising the spendthrift Europeans for their wasteful ways. It’s been a big hit with the nodding monkeys in Canada’s financial press, who conveniently ignore the fact that we’re broke, too. The total of federal, provincial, and municipal debt, along with Canada Mortgage and Housing’s mortgage guarantees, plus many obligations like pensions and health care, should be enough to shut their mouths, but you can’t shame the shameless.

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POLITICS CHATTER: What does it take to get banned by the Sun News Network?

In which contributing editor Mark Bourrie laments his fall from journalistic grace.

Well, that’s it. I’m banned. I am lower than low, mere scrapings from the bottom of the dog walker’s boot. Yes, I’m not fit to be on the Sun News Network.

It’s been a long road to perdition. A year and a half ago, when Quebecor was recruiting for its new TV network, I was approached by Kory Teneycke, who was hunting for talent for what his critics called Fox News North. Teneycke used to be Stephen Harper’s director of communication. He’s a pretty bright guy, but about as cuddly as an icicle.

We had lunch in the Market. Sun News, he said, needed some research strength. I could come aboard, PhD in hand, and work on long investigative projects. But these would not be reports on government wrong-doing. They’d be targeted hatchet jobs on people like David Suzuki and other lefties.

We never got around to talking money or any of the other finer details. I heard him out, let him pay for lunch, and walked back to Parliament Hill convinced that the Sun network was commercially sketchy. If I took the job, it would be my last one. There would be no future in books, journalism, or academia if I went with these guys.

But I wished them well. Readers of this blog know that just under my skin, there’s a juvenile delinquent itching to get out. If the likes of Ezra Levant want to take the piss out of the smug downtown Toronto elites and old frauds like Suzuki, I’d be glad to watch.

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