Friday, July 16, 2010

85 days, 16 hours and 25 minutes

I'm filling in for Bill Rowe as host of VOCM's afternoon radio call-in show, Backtalk, for the month of July, followed by a week standing in for Randy Simms as host of Open Line. Each day I'll post the show's monologue, which I prepare in advance.


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

I begin with a timeline: 85 days, 16 hours and 25 minutes.

I repeat: 85 days, 16 hours and 25 minutes.

What’s that about?

That’s how long it took British Petroleum to shut down its Gulf of Mexico oil leak.

A leak of up to 60,000 barrels of oil a day that began on April 20th after an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers, and triggered the spill.

Finally, on Thursday, BP managed to secure a 75-tonne cap on the wellhead.

Cross your fingers, but today — for the first time in 85 days, 16 hours and 25 minutes — oil has stopped leaking into the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s not a permanent fix; the well is sealed like a soda bottle.

BP is drilling two relief wells so it can pump mud and cement into the leaking well in hopes of plugging it for good.

That won’t happen until mid-August.

That’s the permanent solution.

The oil spill has had a devastating impact on the environment in many U.S. states and, of course, the economy.

Especially the fishery.

One U.S. crab fisherman was quoted in reaction to the leak being stopped.

He had this to say: “It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a dead man.”

Because his career is dead, the fishery is dead.

I have a question — if it took 85 days, 16 hours and 25 minutes to stop the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, how much longer would it take to stop a leak — God forbid — on the Orphan Basin off Newfoundland, where Chevron is drilling the deepest undersea well in Canadian history?

One kilometer deeper than the Gulf of Mexico well.

It would be harder; it would be trickier.

Our sea life — codfish specifically — already hangs onto dear life (to borrow a phrase from wordsmith Brian Tobin) by its fingernails.

A massive spill could push cod over the edge from endangered to extinct.

Couldn’t it?

I don’t want to sound like a broken record, or over the top, or sensationalist.

But we all have to recognize the risk we take in drilling for offshore oil.

The money is good, never been better, but the risks are huge.

And our fish stocks are already weak.

Are the risks associated with deepwater drilling off Newfoundland worth it?

I repeat: 85 days, 16 hours and 25 minutes.


Let’s move on to Bell Aliant.

The big business news of the weeks comes from Bell Aliant with news that the telephone company is cutting some of its operations in Atlantic Canada.

Tripling the number of contractors.

Closing 3 of 5 customer contact centres. (One of those five centres is in Mount Pearl at Mount Pearl Square, but it isn't known yet if the Mount Pearl location is to close.)

Eliminating some retirement benefits (a subsidized health and dental plan), and consolidating some services.

The job losses — according to the union representing Bell workers — could be in the hundreds and are expected to impact all four Atlantic provinces.

According to VOCM news, Bell Aliant officials say they would not have had to resort to cuts had the union accepted an early contract renewal last month.

More "high-level discussions" have been scheduled between the union and Bell Aliant for July 26 and 27.

The union is not in a position to take job action, as the current collective agreement doesn't expire until 2011.

Here’s a question for the workers of Bell Aliant and their families: Do you feel like a gun is being put to your head?

Accept the contract changes or else?

Even if a gun is being put to your head, what, if anything, can you do about it?


As I mentioned, the VOCM newsroom was one of the first — if not the first — to get onto the Bell Aliant story.

The newsroom fed me information on Backtalk, which made for an exciting time on live radio.

I was contacted later by Aliant employees who fed me some information.

Aliant has been making personnel cuts year after year, going back 4-5 years now.

In early 2009 Aliant decided to cut 500 management positions (or 15 per cent) of its workforce.

Then, in October last year, the company decided to cut the number of call centres in Atlantic Canada from 16 to 5.

One of those 5 call centes is located in Mount Pearl Square — for now anyway.

In March of this year the CEO of Aliant had a conference call with the entire company (Bell Aliant and X-wave) and said there wouldn’t be any cuts this year like in 2009.

Soon after, it was announced that all positions involved in the support of Aliant systems would be outsourced to save money.

Outsourced to Bangalore, India.


In political news.

I see that former Liberal cabinet minister Jim Walsh — who was sent to jail in January for 22 months for fraud and breech of trust for his role in the House of Assembly spending scandal — has been granted full parole.

What gets me is that the National Parole Board found that Walsh had still not accepted responsibility for years of false expense claims.

For stealing $160,000 from taxpayers.

And yet they gave him full parole?

Can someone call in and explain that to me.

I understand that the parole board found Jim Walsh a low risk to reoffend.

Still, though, he hasn’t accepted responsibility for his actions.


A few other notes on the Jim Walsh case.

Walsh was actually released from jail in May — less than five months after being locked up — and he was first released with an electronic monitoring devise.

Walsh was one of four politicians charged in the House of Assembly spending scandal, but the only person who had to make a public apology was the lone bureaucrat who was charged, Bill Murray.

I never did get that, did you?

Oh, and one last thing.

So we had a major political scandal here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Tere’s been one in Nova Scotia and another in the United Kingdom.

There was debate for the longest time about allowing the federal auditor general of Canada into the House of Commons.

MPs said no, although they later relented, a bit, and Auditor General Sheila Fraser is doing a sample audit of politicians’ travel, hospitality and office expenses.

A sampling now.

I wonder if our own auditor general, John Noseworthy, would have exposed the House of Assembly spending scandal if Danny Williams only allowed him to do a sample audit?

At least Sheila Fraser is allowed to peek into the House of Commons.

She’s not allowed in the Senate.


A decision will be made in the fall whether the federal auditor general will be allowed in the Senate.

Do you have a problem with that?

Keep in mind it costs $93 million a year to run the Senate.

Oh, and each and every one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s 6 Senators is welcome to call in.


Let’s talk about monuments.

I’m a big fan of statues, which I see as a connection to the past.

Which is important.

Bowring Park is full of monuments — the Peter Pan statue, the fighting Newfoundlander (my favourite), and the Caribou.

Quidi Vidi Lake has the Rower.

Mount Pearl has a new statue, a water sculpture actually, at the foot of Centennial Park.

The sculpture is called The Source, and it’s comprised of two life-size female figures, a mother and a daughter.

Water streams from the mother’s cupped hands, trickling into the daughter’s hands.

And it’s supposed to celebrate the family bonds as a part of social harmony and community growth.

It looks good on Mount Pearl.

You know a community is doing well when it puts up a few statues.

What do you think of Mount Pearl’s newest monument?

Couple of other monuments I want to mention.

A monument will be built at the St. John’s City Hall Annex — it’s expected to be finished in September.

The monument will be built in commemoration of the 334 Chinese immigrants who were forced to pay head tax to live and work in the country of Newfoundland between 1906 and 1949.

Like Canada, pre-Confederation Newfoundland forced Chinese men to pay a $300 head tax — the equivalent of two years' salary.

The head tax was often just for the privilege of doing sweat labour in laundries to support their families back home.

Some privilege.

It’s a dark chapter in our history.

The other monument I want to mention is one that’s apparently being built in memory of the 17 offshore workers and flight crew who died in the Cougar Helicopter crash in March 2009.

Government is still thinking about where to put that monument.

I’ve always thought it should go on Ladies’ Lookout, the highest point on Signal Hill.

Where women would often look for their husbands’ sailing ships.

So many of whom never returned.


Another fire in St. John’s earlier this morning, this time in Buckmaster’s Circle.

According to VOCM News, a family of 4 — including a child — is in hospital after they were forced to jump from a third-floor window to escape the fire that ravaged their home.

The four are reportedly going to be fine.

Quick action by a neighbour helped the family escape.

The neighbour smelled smoked and alerted the people in the home.

The neighbour also managed to catch the child when dropped from the third-floor window.

I don’t know about a monument, but that neighbour deserves a medal.


Another day, another story about homelessness.

This time out of The Labradorian.

The paper profiles one woman who lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Happy Valley-Goose Bay with a huge mould problem, but she can’t move out because she can’t find another place to live.

And she’s been looking since January 2009, a year and a half.

What I found interesting about this particular story is that there’s apparently a load of housing available at 5 Wing Goose Bay.

5 Wing was a busy hub for militaries from several counties up until the 1990s, when they began pulling out.

Since the last troops pulled out in 2003, there have been hundreds of houses left empty on the base.

If there’s such a huge housing problem in Labrador, why can’t that housing be opened up for people who need it?


With the start of another summer weekend I want to throw out a reminder why it’s important not to feed bears.

A black bear that was fed by humans on the road to Terra Nova may need to be destroyed because it’s lost its fear of people.

Parks Canada advises people to never feed a bear, coyote or any wildlife.

Black bears that are fed by humans may become dependent on people for food, making them unpredictable and sometimes dangerous.

So don’t feed the wildlife.

Or, ironically, you may end up killing the wildlife.

The Backtalk lines are open.

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