Economic Decency

Posted: 22/11/2017 9:29:44 AM

In about half of the provinces of this country, there is a scenario unfolding. Some would call it a nefarious plot that could lead to economic devastation and a complete breakdown in social order. I’m talking about an increase in the minimum wage. To hear the experts talk about it you’d swear it was going to lead to the end of civilization as we know it.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce are so flipped out about this; they have been on a tour of the province for about a year. They roll into a town, invite local business leaders down to the ballroom of a hotel. It’s always during the work day. They charge between 60 and 130 bucks a seat. And they all sit around and talk about what a bad idea it would be if the waiter, that guy over there holding 35 pounds of seared chicken and butternut squash on a tray gets a tiny raise. It’s an irony free zone.

In my family there’s a young man who works stocking shelves in a supermarket. He works nights. He only works nights because he gets an extra buck-twenty an hour to do so. One dollar and twenty cents an hour above minimum wage. He gives up access to daylight and members of the opposite sex for a buck-twenty. Why? Because he’s poor. He’s the working poor. He is doing everything he can to get ahead. But he’s not. If it wasn’t for family he would be sunk.

I understand small and medium-sized businesses, they are the economic engine of this country. But to run an engine you need gas in the tank. And you need a workforce that at least has a chance of surviving in this world. Right now, minimum wage earners—they’re not coming close.


Just Don't, Jason

Posted: 15/11/2017 9:41:47 AM

When I was a teenager I didn’t know a single gay person. As far as I was concerned I was the only gay dude within a hundred miles in every direction. Now for a young person that’s a very difficult situation in which to find yourself. When I was in high school there was certainly no such thing as a gay-straight alliance (GSA). Thank God we had the drama club‚ which basically turned out to be the same thing.

Now there are GSAs all over Canada. And in Alberta there’s Bill 24. Now this is legislation that tells schools they are not to pick up the phone and call parents and inform them if a student is seen attending a GSA meeting. Now you may ask why would anyone need legislation like that. I’ll tell you why. You remember Jason Kenney? He was banging around Ottawa for decades. Well now he’s back!

Jason made a name for himself nationally as a loud, proud activist against same sex marriage. Although you can’t really blame the guy for that. We’re talking about the olden days, way back in 2005. And for a fella like Jason, the epitome of old school masculinity, I mean the notion of two fellas getting married, well that was enough to  give him the vapours. And lesbians? That’s the stuff of Jason’s nightmares.

Now imagine Jason’s shock when, after 20 years in Ontario, he returns to run Alberta for them and finds out they’ve had GSAs there for years now. So it was Jason who said the schools should tell the parents if a kid attends a GSA. Much in the same way that parents are contacted immediately if a student shows any interest in joining the school’s newspaper or, God forbid—the improv club—both activities that will lead to a lifetime of confusion.

This is all about outing young people and it is serious because there is a very good chance that Jason Kenney will be the next Premier of Alberta. Jason. Stop it. Stick to playground rules. Pick on someone your own size.


Cheques and Balances

Posted: 08/11/2017 9:52:39 AM

So this past October 31st marked not just Halloween but exactly one year to the day since the Liberals promised to finally fix the Phoenix payroll system. Now for those of you not up to speed, Phoenix is a payroll system designed to pay every single Canadian civil servant. The Conservatives, they spent $307-million inventing this thing. Now unfortunately it didn’t work—it was total junk. So the Liberals came along, they spent $400-million fixing it.  Right now, and this is a technical evaluation, as far as payroll systems go it’s about as effective as a grade ten dropout with nine fingers and a serious buzz on.

There are people who work for you and I, say for the Coast Guard or the Department of National Defence, who have not been paid for months and months. There are people being underpaid, people being overpaid, people being told that they are deceased. And the amazing thing is apparently there’s nothing that can be done about it.  What has happened to us? We’re not talking about colonizing Mars here. This is a payroll system. These things have been around forever.

During World War I, half a million Canadian men walked through store fronts, they turned their head, coughed and they were in the army. Then they put their name on a piece of paper and they could check a box if they wanted to send a portion of their wages home to mom, a sweetheart or that waitress in Halifax. And then they went off to war and guess what happened? They got paid, every single month by the Canadian government. Did I mention there was a war on?

Now one hundred years later every single possible mistake that can happen to a pay cheque is happening but in record speed with maximum efficiency. If this is what passes for progress in government, we need a lot less artificial intelligence and a few  more real brains.



Posted: 25/10/2017 9:25:04 AM

It’s been a week now since Gord Downie, lead singer of The Tragically Hip, passed away.  The outpouring of emotion from all across Canada, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before in my life. In fact it was so big, it was so grand,  that three days in, I half expected Gord to show up on the National and announce another tour.

17 years ago I got a call from Gord Downie. Still one of the greatest phone calls I’ve ever gotten in my life. It was a very short call. He was recording a song and he wanted to know if he was saying the name of a town in Newfoundland, that he put in a lyric, the way a Newfoundlander would say it. Isle aux Morts. I said, yes that sounds right to me. Isle aux Morts. But if you want a second opinion you can always call my Dad. And I gave him the number. Then I forgot all about it.  

A week later Dad says your friend Gord called. He wanted to know all about the time I took you and your brother camping near Isle aux Morts and we went fishing there; and he wanted to know all about the time I worked with the Department of Fisheries on the salmon rivers in central Newfoundland; and he wanted to know all about growing up in Bay Roberts. Seems like a great guy, we talked for about an hour. I said, Dad do you have any idea who that was? That’s Gord Downie, he’s the lead singer of Canada’s greatest rock and roll band. He’s one of our greatest songwriters. And Dad said, really? He never mentioned he was in a band, he just said it was Gord from Kingston.

Six months later, I walk into my parents’ place and on the coffee table, there’s this beautiful print of a bird next to a lake. I’m like Dad this is the artwork from the new Tragically Hip album. He said, really? I didn’t know that, your friend Gord sent it to me. And it was an original silk screened print.

I didn’t know Gord Downie that well but I’m gonna miss him like I knew him very well. We all will. Because as an artist he spoke to each one of us directly. And he could do that because he listened to people like my Dad.


The Art of Dealing With Donald Trump

Posted: 18/10/2017 9:40:59 AM

Prime Minister of Canada is a great gig. If you’re going to be the leader of a country, it doesn’t get much better than Canada. We have so much going for us. One of our greatest assets actually has nothing to do with us at all but rather the stellar quality of our neighbours. And every Prime Minister since Mackenzie King could count on that.

But that’s the thing about great neighbours, isn’t it? You think they’re gonna be there forever and then one day there’s a sold sign out front and you’re living next door to an angry accordion player, who gets drunk and wanders out into the backyard naked and argues with squirrels. That actually happened to a friend of mine.

When I watch Justin on the world stage with Donald Trump discussing bilateral trade, I think of my friend. Because when you look in Justin’s eyes when he’s standing there next to Donald and Melania, he’s smiling but you can tell he’s totally waiting for the President to drop his pants and whip out an accordion. As he said, Canada must be prepared for anything.

I admire the Prime Minister’s approach. He’s a better man than me. When my friend got the nutty neighbour, my advice was to turn the hose on him. But my friend said no. And he took a diplomatic approach. And no matter what happened next door he refused to engage. And this went on for years. But this past winter, breakthrough! They went halves on a snow blower. Because it made sense to both parties.

So good luck, Prime Minister. Fingers crossed, Canada.  Steady as she goes.