Articles Tagged ‘Politics Chatter’

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: Taking bets on Stephen Harper’s “Margaret Thatcher moment”

The Spitting Image puppet of Margaret Thatcher was used to satirize both her personality and her policies

Contributing editor Mark Bourrie takes bets on what Stephen Harper has planned for his “legacy” move.

In 1985, Margaret Thatcher broke the coal miners’ union in the U.K. For years, the National Union of Mineworkers had been the country’s most powerful trade union. It had toppled Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath’s government in 1974. Now was time for payback. Thatcher had already won the Falklands War. She had beaten a foreign enemy, she said, and now she would “destroy the enemy within”. Six strikers died in the 1984-1985 coal strike. Many more were tear-gassed and beaten with truncheons. Thatcher used mounted police, armed strike-breakers, and turned M15 against the union’s leaders.

When the coal miners’ union collapsed, the rest of Britain’s trade union movement fell apart. Breaking the strike was Thatcher’s greatest domestic success, one that has re-made the British workplace into the delightful place it is today.

My friends and I have a pool going about Stephen Harper’s coal mine strike moment. To get into the $5 pool, you have to come up with something batshit crazy that the Harper government will do this year. Corporate tax reductions aren’t crazy enough to meet that threshold, but prediction of a flat tax does. With the level of paranoia in Ottawa, some of the predictions have been, um, somewhat extreme.

  • Bring back the Red Ensign flag? That’s one bet, but it’s not mine.
  • I chose to predict the government will eliminate at least two out of three of these federal departments: Transport, Canadian Heritage, and the National Capital Commission.
  • One of my co-workers suggested the Harper regime will grab the Civic Holiday in August and rename it Freedom Day. (I’d make a side bet that they’d rename Labour Day.)
  • Then there’s the possibility of bringing back capital punishment. Or the return of the lash in prisons to maintain discipline. The latter would probably be knocked down by the courts, though there are supporters of the idea among the old Reformers.

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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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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: Governments, money, and the business of controlling Canada’s most lucrative “vices”

In which contributing editor Mark Bourrie takes a historical look at how various Canadian governments have alternately embraced — or forbidden — Canada’s most lucrative “vices”

As I write this column, I’m sitting on a couch in the nude, waiting for Jerry Springer to come on. That might seem immoral to some. Or even an attack on everything resembling human dignity. Depends, I suppose, if you’ve ever seen me in the flesh.

But there’s so many more reasons to be scandalized. I was driving down the road the other day and was rather shocked to hear an ad by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario pushing whisky. Yes, folks, move up to whisky. It opens so many doors for you.

Soon, the LCBO will start its Christmas blitz, reminding us to salt away lots of hard liquor for the holiday season. For several reasons, most going back to childhood, the association of Christmas holidays and lots of booze gives me the chills. I bet the folks who work at shelters for abused women and pick the human carnage off the roads shudder, too.

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POLITICS CHATTER: Occupy Ottawa was a misfire… but maybe the timing’s just off.

Contributing editor Mark Bourrie ponders the timing of the Occupy Ottawa protest and deduces that we’re not quite ready for revolution — yet

“This is a process-driven approach,” a facilitator told the crowd early in the day. “No outcome is guaranteed.”
— Ottawa Citizen
reporter Tom Spears’ report on the kick-off of Occupy Ottawa

Questioning the point of the protest. Photography by Mark Bourrie

You betcha. At least on the first part. On the second part, I’m willing to take some bets.

A process-driven revolutionary political movement. They do resonate through history. Who can forget Martin Luther King’s great “I have an item on the agenda for which I seek consensus” speech? “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and seek consensus on the following item discussed earlier at the plenary session: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and, unless 10 percent or more object, we have a consensus on the three earlier motions to defer.’”

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POLITICS CHATTER: Analyzing a bio of William Lyon Mackenzie King — and why Canadian voters are drawn to passive-aggressive leaders

With just a couple of days left to go before the Ontario election, contributing editor Mark Bourrie checks out a new biography of William Lyon Mackenzie King — and ponders what character traits are needed to become a leader.

Allan Levine, a Winnipeg writer, has a new book out on that great freak of a prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King.

I’m a member of a very small group of historians who believes King was far more of a genius than he was a nut. In fact, my own reading — not a crystal ball one  — is that King was an absolutely superb politician with a perfect sense of timing. He was a natural mediator, and you can’t understand King unless you look very carefully at his years working in the United States for the Rockefellers, settling their strikes and salvaging their lousy reputation.

I’ve written a paper on this mysterious time of his life. I hoped to explain to people how he developed the ability to play the media like a flute. (For the insomniacs among you, click here to read.)

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