Eastern Graphic Columns and Opinions

PEI must focus on real priorities

The following is text of a speech made last week by Graphic Publisher Paul MacNeill to the Kensington and Area Chamber of Commerce that outlines four major issues dramatically impacting PEI’s long-term sustainability.

It is a pleasure to be with you tonight. I very much appreciate the opportunity and I thank you for changing your evening to accommodate my schedule.

I must admit I was a bit surprised when Glenna first broached this idea with me. I don’t really consider myself Chamber of Commerce material. The majority of my public speaking is done in front of an audience of one or two, or in complete isolation when I produce one of my rants from my Ivory Tower in downtown Montague.

But I do relish this opportunity because there are messages that need to start winning a broader audience if our Island, and in particular our rural communities, are to thrive into the future.

Jim Flaherty, a warrior of words

“May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And the rain fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.”
....Old Irish Blessing

Well boyos, today’s the day they bury Jimmy Flaherty, with a state funeral for the burial no less: all pomp and circumstance and just the third time such an honour is bestowed in Canada, beyond a narrow list of governors - general, sitting cabinet ministers and past Prime Ministers.

There wasn’t a whole lot of him in a physical sense. He was vertically challenged at five foot three inches in socks and shoes, something he often poked fun at, while others made jest at the often godawful green neckties he sported.

The Chinese market wants their lobster... Alive

In the US, May 1 is the National Day of Prayer. In PEI this year, it’s quite similar, except it's opening day of lobster season.

As Island lobster fishermen prepare their traps, mend their lines and gear up their boats for the upcoming start of the 2014 season, the feelings are mixed. While many fishermen will say it’s a way of life, a passion, last year on May 1, when fishermen should have been celebrating their return to work, they were told the market had bottomed out and they’d receive less than four dollars per pound. Forced to lump or leave the bottom of the barrel prices, fishermen tied up, headed west, went on strike or refused to fish. Others kept their boats in the water, hoping to weather the economic storm.

Despite their best efforts, fishermen ended the season with prices for their catch still at an all-time low.

Hidden tax hikes to Islanders

An increase to minimum wage was announced in the PEI Legislature this past week. But with a hidden tax hike in 2014, Islanders won’t see much of a benefit.

PEI, Nova Scotia, and Manitoba are the only three provinces affected by a phenomenon called the bracket creep, which was addressed by other provinces years ago. In other provinces, tax bracket increases and basic personal exemptions are tied to inflation. That means residents of those provinces are allowed to make more money before they have to pay more taxes.

PEI does not have that luxury.

When the minimum wage increases on PEI, Islanders will simply have to pay more taxes. Really, the biggest earner from the increase to minimum wage is the government itself.

Recalling a referendum

My Dad was 73 years old back in the fall of 1995 when he drove to western PEI and climbed on a bus bound for Quebec.

It wasn’t a pleasure trip; He joined thousands of other Canadians in a rally to let Quebecers know they are just as much a part of Canada as the rest of us.

Every now and then that memory surfaces and I think how proud I am of his actions.

It certainly came to light over the past couple of weeks during the most recent election campaign in Quebec when the mere mention of the word sovereignty by PQ leader Pauline Marois made many voters turn their backs to the idea of another referendum.

The referendum took place in Quebec on October 30, 1995, with 49.42 per cent voting yes and 50.58 per cent voting no to the question of becoming a sovereign state.

Spring is for the birds

The following note was from Jacques St Cyr of Hamilton Rd Route 20: “My finch count is down compared to the two previous years. It was 25, down from 80. Also Snow Buntings, down from 180 to 12. Two years ago I saw all winter a totally white(cream) finch, the only one ever. I feed only niger seed.”

Thank you for sending along your bird count, Jacques. I don’t believe that I had even one snow bunting this year but a few winters back there were dozens of them here. I took a look at our PEI Field Checklist of Birds and it tells us that this bird ranges from uncommon to very common and they are here from autumn through to spring. I guess that fits in with what you are seeing. They are not here in the summer.

And a white finch! I wonder if you were able to get a photo of that bird?

Surprise!

Hoodies are getting a bum rap

Not so long ago the social stigma attached to anyone wearing ripped or faded clothing was that they were poor.

But before you could say Levi Strauss people leapt on the proverbial bandwagon, mimicked the look, and called it grunge.

Some school administrators wagged their judgemental fingers and said no way, this is not how we want our institutions portrayed. Bans on the tattered togs were put into place.

Another popular item of clothing is the dependable and cosy hoodie. Most homes have at least one in their closet.

Hoodies are popular because they come in a rainbow of colours and designs. They are versatile. Dress up or dress down and somewhere there’s a hoodie to go with the outfit.

However, as practical and trendy as hoodies are, the people wearing them are getting a cool reception from some PEI shop owners.

Politicians love when we play dumb

WARNING: This column contains opinions about boring financial information that politicians expect you to ignore. Please prove them wrong.

So here is an opening question for all Islanders: How dumb are we?

Now you may think that is a little rude? Perhaps. But stupidity and ignorance is the only explanation for allowing PEI politicians to run roughshod over us and govern in a manner that will – not may
– decimate our standing as an economically viable province.

The Auditor General report is an annual counter-balance to the puff and spin that passes as governance in PEI. Once a year, the auditor shines a bright light into the dark workings of government.

How does government spend taxpayers’ money? Are rules followed? Is there adequate transparency? Are we dealing with issues now or simply passing them on to future generations?

There are answers to all of these questions in the 2014 report.

You don’t need a gaping pothole to realize this world of ours is in serious trouble

“Ultimately in life you have to stand by the person that you care for and love in a difficult moment.”
... Dmitri Soudas, famous Conservative Party backroom guy and currently unemployed lover to MP Eve Adams.

There seems to be a lot of pothole talk making the rounds hereabout these days.

On Friday night last, I found out why - at a cost of $238 and change.

The Missus MacAndrew was on the cellphone telling me she had unwittingly (it was covered with water) driven into a pothole on North River Road and two tires had blown.

Saturday morning, when we went to pick up the car with two brand new beauties installed at Canadian Tire, the genial guy behind the counter told me ours was the twelfth car they had fixed after a confrontation with the same pothole.

I appreciated that potholes could be good for business, and suggested he drop Mayor Clifford Lee a thank you note.

How to learn

With a plethora of winter storms causing multiple school cancellations, instructors and administrators for the PEI School System are trying desperately to figure out how to make up for lost class time so students can get the entire year’s curriculum finished.

They are proposing things such as adding additional days to the school year and cancelling field trips to make up for lost time.

To me, it seems like these administrators are far too removed from the actual student experience to understand the implications of these measures.

To remove experiences like field trips so that students can spend more hours at a desk doesn’t seem conducive to the actual learning experience. Many students look forward to things like field trips because it breaks up the monotony of mindless hours in the classroom.

Where’s the lobster love?

PEI Burger Love is in full swing and a prime example of what is achievable when an Island industry and clever marketing come together.

Known to Island beef producers as a tough month for beef sales, until recently, April was always a slow month for the beef Industry on PEI. Now, in its fourth year, the month-long event has expanded to include 54 restaurants. Each offering it’s best version of an award winning hamburger, the event has completely altered the financial landscape of the Island beef industry and restaurant attendance for the month of April.

To say PEI Burger Love is a game changer for the industry would be an understatement. Last year, a total of 21,917 pounds of PEI beef was consumed by Islanders. That equals 46,224 burgers sold in total at an average of about $10 per burger. The increased revenue is remarkable.

Remarkable bird surfaces at another feeder

In early March I reported on the remarkable bird sighting made by Alan and Mary MacDougall of Annandale at their bird feeders, that of a melanistic American Goldfinch. I just got word this week that a neighbour of theirs saw the same bird. Readers, there may be others who will spot this bird yet and if you do, please let us know. It never hurts to have the camera close by.

Busy

Young in years but each has a story

May 18, 2013 offered freezing rain, wet snow, high winds and bitter cold temperatures. But on the Cardigan ballfields dozens of people of all ages were taking part in a tournament to raise money for an autistic child.

One of those players was Brandon Quinn, a young man who is now in a Halifax hospital being treated for serious burns.

Brandon was one of four young people involved in a fire in Charlottetown on the weekend that claimed the lives of three of his friends.

Something stood out on the diamonds that early spring day almost a year ago. It wasn’t the actual play on the fields but rather how courteous Brandon was to those around him. That, and his willingness, despite the bone chilling cold, to take the time to help identify people in some photos that had been taken for this newspaper.

A community rallies in face of unthinkable tragedy

It is the news no parent or community want to hear. But inevitably with every generation there are moments when our lives merge in shared grief for the loss of a child.

Accepting death is never easy. It is magnified when children are involved.

A fire of unknown cause ripped through a vacant building in Charlottetown in the early morning hours of last Saturday. Trapped inside were three Montague area youth. All perished. The youngest was barely 15. A fourth victim managed to escape the flames and is now in intensive care in a Halifax hospital.

The Harper government is about to spend millions of dollars to cure a problem that doesn’t even exist

“North Korea: Students required to get Kim Jong-un haircut.”
... BBC News

Warning: This column is not a belated April Fool’s joke.

It just seemed to me at the time to be the goofiest story of the week. Every male student in North Korea will heretofore be required to emulate Dear Leader Kim Jong-un in the matter of head tonsure, a shearing which requires shaving of hair on the temples of the head, and then a luxuriant sprouting on top.

This edict, apparently, is part of a campaign against long hair, occasioned because long hair drains energy from the brain and is not in accord with the Socialist lifestyle.

It is a style which, until recently, was popularly referred to in North Korea as the Chinese smuggler haircut.
In any case, a generation of young men all wearing the same absurd head dress is not likely to do much to solve the many economic and social problems plaguing the remote and isolated state.

Taking the day off

Winter is finally over, but as I write this, I sit in my small kitchen in my one bedroom apartment overlooking the beginnings of a storm that many predicted would be the worst in a decade.

That’s right. Worse than White Juan. If only we had a recent hurricane, maybe we could come up with a clever name for this storm as well. White Spring, maybe, since spring started a week ago. Although that’s not clever. But then again, neither is White Juan.

Nevertheless, the hullabaloo and hubbub surrounding the storm has me thinking about our priorities as people. Only in this extreme weather do we consider shutting things down for the day.

But why is it that we only shut down due to poor weather? When the summer comes and there are nice, beautiful days outside, we will all still be expected to go into work as if it is any other day. It is only in these harsh, dangerous conditions that we consider taking the day off.

Feds have their own agenda

“Courage my friends; tis not too late to build a better world.” ... Tommy Douglas

Cooperation is what is needed to build a better world and the federal government could heed those words spoken by the father of Medicare and these words stated in the Canada Health Act - the primary objective of Canadian health care policy is to protect, promote and restore the physical and mental wellbeing of residents of Canada and to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers.[3]

Even though Mr Douglas originally formed the Medicare idea for the province of Saskatchewan, by the year 1966 it became a partnership between the feds and the provinces and territories. While there have been extensive changes in the system over the years, the mandate should still ring true.

As of March 31, 2014 any formal health agreement between the federal and provincial/territorial governments is non existent.

Birds prepare for blizzards too

I am writing this while a blizzard howls around us but when this paper hits the streets it will be April. It was interesting to watch the activity around the feeders and the yard in general this morning. Speculation is always rampant as to whether or not our feathered friends can sense bad weather is coming. The starlings, mourning doves and blue jays were out in great numbers before the storm hit and we didn’t have any partridge in the pear tree but we did have two gray partridge sitting on a small bare spot in the back yard. Interesting to think they would find that more inviting than the feeder area in front of the house with its seeds.

I saw a bald eagle on my way back from Souris yesterday. They are listed on the field checklist of birds as being fairly common here year round but we’ll see more of them now I expect, when the nicer weather rolls around.

Spring has sprung

Lessons from an interview

I’ve always been something of a history buff. I enjoy stories from the past, legends, and colourful depictions of lessons learned long ago.

In high school, I took Island History as an elective, thinking it would be fun to learn more about my home province, but aside from the colonial history it bored me to tears. The course felt incomplete, as if the writers had skipped all the good parts.

But, I graduated, felt satisfied with my knowledge of Island history and never gave it another thought. I assumed I’d learned the bulk of it until last week when I spoke with local playwright, Gary Scully.

Gary is directing a play he wrote called ‘The Rumrunners and the Temperance Ladies of Black’s Harbour.’ The play is set in 1927, during the height of prohibition on PEI.

Believe it or not, but probably not

Within seconds a post bearing the headline “Breaking News - Missing Plane Found,” was shared by countless Facebook users on the weekend.

The visual, which was accompanied by a video showed a large airplane, bent a little in the middle, resting crossways in a red dirt clearing with dozens of people milling around it.

It appeared realistic, particularly in the minds of those collectively holding their breath and hoping beyond hope that somehow the Malaysian airplane that literally vanished more than two weeks ago would be found.

Of course the announcement on the popular social media website was a hoax. In this instance, good judgement obviously became clouded by the remote possibility that even some of the 239 people on board the doomed aircrafts would return to their loved ones, unharmed.

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