Monday, June 28, 2010

Spruce moose and birch bear

For the next 5 weeks I'll be filling in for Bill Rowe as host of VOCM's afternoon radio call-in show — Backtalk, followed by a week standing in for Randy Simms as host of Open Line.

Each afternoon I'll post the show's monologue, which I prepare in advance.


Good afternoon Newfoundland and Labrador and all the ships at sea …

My name is Ryan Cleary and I’m filling in for Bill Rowe for the month of July.

I must say, it’s good to be back cruising Newfoundland and Labrador airspace on the good ship VOCM.

Especially in the summer with so many people back home, and the place maggoty with tourists.

And I mean maggoty — you’ve got to practically walk sideways around Signal Hill trail to squeeze through.


Let’s start with the lighter news from the weekend, and that massive sporting event known as — no, not the World Cup.

Although you’re welcome to call in about Germany’s crushing defeat of England.

I’m talking street hockey — the CBC’s massive Play On tournament held over the weekend across Canada, and in St. John’s on Memorial University's campus.

Two hundred and eight teams from Newfoundland and Labrador; 1,300 players; more than 500 games of 4-on-4 street hockey; and over 6,000 spectators.

I took in a half dozen games (my son organized a team), and it was wicked fun.

Who doesn’t like street hockey?

I wanted to mention some of the names of the Newfoundland and Labrador teams:

Da B'ys; the CBS-Need-a-Rinks; White Boys with Sticks; Bonavista Bulldawgs; Just give ’er b’ys; the Stingernettles; and On the Rocks.

But my absolute favourite was Spruce Moose.

Which was a play on the Spruce Goose — the late Howard Hughes’ wooden plane.

You don’t suppose the Spruce Moose is a relative of the Birch Bear?


I spose I’d have a Spruce Moose built if I were loaded with more money than I knew what to do with.

Like, say, if I won half the $50 million jackpot in the Lotto Max draw over the weekend, like the three incredibly lucky people in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

The three included Gerald Healey and his wife Winnie, who own an office equipment store in Labrador.

And Marg White, the store’s manager.

Congratulations to all three, the province’s newest millionaires.

I myself was also a winner over the weekend.

I won $2 in the Friday night draw. Of course the ticket cost $7, so I was only down $5.

But then if you don’t buy a ticket you can’t dream about winning, changing your name to Howard and building that Spruce Moose you’ve always wanted.

Or maybe that’s just me.


Still with Labrador.

I haven’t heard, but the three newest millionaires probably won’t be working too much in the future.

Or they certainly won’t have to.

Which isn’t great news when you consider the story out of The Labradorian about how some businesses in the Big Land can’t find local workers.

They’re having to go further afield — to places like the Philippians and India to man the mini-marts and Tim Hortons.

Foreign workers can come to Canada on two-year work visas.

Keep in mind it’s cheaper to hire locally than to hire immigrant workers. They just can’t get the workers.

An employer is responsible for the cost of getting foreign workers here, and the hiring agency needs to be paid.

That’s an interesting story — hiring foreign workers because we can’t get local workers — when you consider the fact that Newfoundland and Labrador’s unemployment rate is still the highest in Canada.

The highest in Canada and we’re bringing in foreign workers.

Why do you think that is?


There was another interesting story about foreign workers out of Clarenville.

Eastern Health’s director of health services for Clarenville and Bonavista says they have 5 confirmed nurses from India who are in the immigration process right now, and could be here by the fall.

It’s apparently the first time in recent years that Newfoundland and Labrador has pursed international recruitment.

Times have changed since I was a kid growing up around the bay.

Jobs were few and far between, and almost no such thing as part-time positions for students.


Speaking of students, there was an interesting story in the weekend Telegram about Keith Coombs.

Keith is a one-time St. John’s city counsellor. He’s also principal of MacDonald Drive Junior High in the east end, a huge school with more than 600 students.

Or he was principal — Keith Coombs retired on Friday.

Keith made some statements that may be worth more discussion.

There’s more money in the system than there once was, but one issue troubles him.

He says there’s been an increase over the past five years — and he’s going on anecdotal information here — an increase in the number of children who are experiencing mental health issues like major depression, eating disorders, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

It’s not just Keith Coombs saying this.

He says health specialists and other school administrators tell him they're seeing the same thing.

Possible causes include intense bullying, family turmoil or drugs.

One other issue Keith mentioned was the curriculum and how it hasn’t kept pace with society.

Like using a 1960s model in the year 2010.

I can tell you this, I have another son who just graduated from Grade 5.

And his social studies textbook is called The Atlantic Edge, Living in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The book was published in 1991, the year before the northern cod moratorium.

The book doesn’t mention how cod stocks collapsed.

Not a word about the biggest layoff in Canadian history.

Chapter 12 of my son’s Grade 5 text book is headlined Resources of the Land, with a section on Making Paper.

The Grade 5s are taught that mills are located at Grand Falls, Corner Brook and Stephenville — employing 4,000 full-time workers.

Those were the days.

The Grand Falls and Stephenville mills are long closed.

The Corner Brook operation is the last one standing.

It’s time to update our school textbooks, wouldn’t you say?

Grade 5s who aren't taught their history are destined to repeat it.


Still with the former Grand Falls-Windsor paper mill …

A German company is interested in taking over the former AbitibiBowater operation, which is fabulous news.

The Danny Williams administration is being extremely cautious about the whole thing — rightly so.

They need to see what the German company is offering, as well as what the company expects in government investment and support.

This particular German company — whose name I can’t pronounce — is 140 years old, and it makes fiber board for office supplies and archive boxes. Shoe linings too.

But it doesn’t have as lot of newsprint experience, it doesn’t have deep pockets either to run a mill in challenging times.

The province is right to be cautious.

At the same time, and I’ve said this before, hope doesn’t grow on cranberry bushes.

What do you say?


To the fishery …

The feds announced late last week that there will be a recreational cod fishery this summer.

For 3 weeks in July, and another week in the fall, people will be able to take up to 5 fish a day.

In a news release, federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea said the government recognizes the "fundamental importance" of the food fishery.

Which will run from July 24 to Aug. 15, and Sept. 25 to Oct. 3.

My question is this: What about the “fundamental importance” of the commercial cod fishery.

What’s it been now — 18 years since the northern cod moratorium?

And still no recovery plan.

The province has an MOU on the go with processors and the fishermen’s union on how to restructure the people, the industry.

But no plan on how to help the fish recover.

Do we have our priorities straight?


Speaking of the MOU process …

There was a story in the weekend Telegram about how the provincial government is withholding the financial assessments of the fishing industry, assessments that were carried out by two accounting firms hired by the government.

Earle McCurdy apparently doesn’t mind the information being released.

So why isn’t it being released?

The information apparently shows an industry in trouble.

That’s not exactly a news flash.


Russell Wangersky had an interesting column in the paper this past weekened: Consequences? What consequences?

It was about the fishery. He brought up the catching of tiny flounder and shipping it off to foreign plants where the labour costs are lower.

Wangersky asks a good question: What kind of farmer would pull up his potatoes in early July, before there were even fully-formed spuds to harvest?

I would say he wasn’t a farmer at all, but a mad man.

What does that make our fishermen?


Two more Canadians soldiers were killed over the weekend in Afghanistan, bringing the death toll to 150 since the mission began in 2002.

Did you hear about the most recent edition of Rolling Stone?

The rock magazine contains a feature article — The Runaway Generalthat brought down American’s top military man in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, over his remarks about why the U.S. is losing the war.

I have a question, what are we doing over there?

I tried to pick up the latest edition of Rolling Stone over the weekend but it’s not available yet.


Finally, I want to mention two stories out of New Brunswick.

First, internal polling last fall showed that the people of New Brunswick believed our premier, Danny Williams, over their own — Shawn Graham — in regards to the proposed deal to sell NB Power to Hydro-Quebec.

New Brunswickers believed Danny Williams when he said a deal would hurt their province and the Atlantic region.


The other story out of New Brunswick is how the provincial government there has built more than 300 kilometres of wildlife fencing since 2006.

That’s a lot of fencing.

By the end of this construction season, 370 kms of wildlife fencing will have been erected.

The fencing project, animal underpasses and signage have cost $25 million to date.

How many lives has it saved?

Who knows? Probably a few.

It’s been said that the amount of money Newfoundland would save in health care from cutting down on accidents would make up for the money spent on fencing.

Maybe fencing is the way to go in areas where there are a high number of moose vehicle collisions.

After all, there’s no such thing as a Spruce Moose.

Except in road hockey.

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