Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tall are the tales that politicians tell …

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.

Let’s begin today with a topic that you don’t often associate with Newfoundland and Labrador — homelessness.

There aren’t many people sleeping on the streets of our cities or outports.

This isn’t Toronto or Montreal — far, far from it.

But we do apparently have a problem with affordable housing, and lack of it.

I had two calls on Monday from women who were at wits' end; both were living in a Corner Brook shelter because they can't find a place to live.

One woman and her 20-month-old have been living in the shelter for weeks, because they don’t have any other place to go.

The woman said the waiting list for a Newfoundland and Labrador Housing unit is 18 months.

Meaning her 20-month-old will be over three years of age by the time they get a unit.

Meantime, if an abused woman needs a bed at the shelter the homeless woman is theoretically bumped out of her bed.

And supposedly on the street.

The other woman I had a call from on Monday lives in the Corner Brook shelter with her teenage son.

They had been living in St. John’s, but couldn’t afford a place to live.

They found themselves on the street when her partner died.

The woman lives on unemployment insurance — and not much of it, less than $400 every two weeks.

So they transferred to Corner Brook to stay in the shelter.

They’re two examples of housing problems.

But here's another.

Paul Lane, a counselor with the City of Mount Pearl, called into the show Monday to talk about housing for seniors.

Affordable housing for seniors, and lack of it.

He said the waiting period to get into Masonic Park — a seniors’ complex in Mount Pear — is roughly 18 years.

Meaning that at the age of 43, Paul Lane would have to apply now to get into the complex when he’s a senior.

There’s a problem with seniors housing in Mount Pearl in that so many seniors in that city have their homes paid off.

Only they can’t get much for them — so many of the homes started off as cabins years and years ago.

They need substantial upgrading — new windows, etc.

The seniors would like to sell their homes and move into condos.

But the average condo in the St. John’s region sells for $255,000.

So what do they do?

In a lot of cases they can no longer afford or manage the homes they’ve lived in all their lives.

But they can’t afford to sell either.

What do they do?

I put in a call this morning to Tom Hedderson, minister responsible for housing in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I’m hoping to speak to him today.

The women I spoke to Monday are also anxious to hear from the minister.

They’re in a tough spot, breaking down on the public airwaves because they’re desperate.


Let’s hope Tom Hedderson is more accessible than Health Minister Jerome Kennedy.

I’ve always found Jerome accessible.

But the Northern Pen hasn’t.

In fact, the staff at the Northern Peninsula newspaper published an open letter this week to the Health minister.

It’s unusual for a newspaper to resort to an open letter, but the Pen has been trying for three months to get an interview with the minister.

He hasn’t granted the paper an interview since early April.

The Northern Pen — which has a reputation as a good little paper — says that Jerome Kennedy has yet to address the people of the Northern Peninsula about the decision to relocate the air ambulance to Happy Valley-Goose Bay from St. Anthony.

The Northern Pen, along with St. Anthony Mayor Ern Simms, the Chamber of Commerce, and the concerned citizen’s committee, published a list of 6 questions for the minister of Health.

One of the most interesting questions — they’re all interesting — is this:

“What happened between Sept. 14, 2009 and early March 2010 that caused the Department of Health to back flip on plans to establish extra Medical Flight Service crews in St. Anthony … and instead move the air ambulance service altogether?”

The Northern Pen is looking for an interview.

What do you think?

Should Jerome Kennedy, as an elected MHA, respond to the paper’s request for an interview?

I would say most definitely yes.

Last week, Brian Jones, a columnist with The Telegram, made a point that the previous Liberal government, by the end of its 14-year reign, was insufferably arrogant, condescending and authoritarian.

Williams and his PCs, in only 7 years, wrote Brian Jones, have become equally arrogant, condescending and authoritarian.”

Have they?

Is Jerome Kennedy’s ignoring of the Northern Pen an example of that arrogance?


Moving on to the fishery.

I didn’t mention the fishery in my monologue on Monday’s show.

And people noticed — at least one caller brought it up.

It’s funny, there was a column in the Weekend Telegram that raised the issue of my filling in for Bill Rowe this summer here on VOCM Backtalk, while also being the New Democrat candidate for the St. John’s South-Mount Pearl.

The column was by Bob Wakeham, who sees himself as the Godfather of Newfoundland and Labrador journalism.

Better him than nobody, I spose.

Anyway, I bring up the column for one of the online responses that it drew.

One person questioned my intelligence for going on about the fishery, describing Backtalk as some kind of bizarro Fisheries Broadcast.

It’s one thing to try and turn around the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery, to find solutions for an age-old problem.

But then you’re also facing the attitudes that so many people have about the fishery.

They see it as a waste of breath.

Should I ban fishery talk here on Backtalk?

Should we ban certain fishery callers from the airwaves?

Not likely.


Speaking of the ocean.

I see on Monday the U.S. government formally issued its new offshore oil drilling moratorium.

A U.S. court struck down the old one.

Interior secretary Ken Salazar said that more than 80 days into the BP spill — which is leaking up 60,000 barrels a day — a pause on deepwater drilling is “essential and appropriate to protect communities, coasts, and wildlife from the risks that deepwater drilling currently pose.”

He said he based his decision on evidence that grows every day of the industry’s inability in the deepwater to contain a catastrophic blowout, respond to an oil spill, and to operate safely.

That’s interesting.

We apparently don’t have the same concerns in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Not only is deepwater drilling continuing on the Orphan Basin — a kilometer deeper than the leaking well in the Gulf.

But oil companies have been invited to bid on new deepwater exploration licences off Newfoundland.

And that’s despite ongoing reviews at the provincial and federal levels of whether proper safeguards are in place to prevent a major spill?

What are we doing?

Do you have any concerns?

Maybe this is blown totally out of porportion, maybe the Gulf of Mexico spill is a one-off environmental catastrophe.

There was an interesting column this week in the Toronto Star.

Columnist Linda McQuaig says if there’s a God, she’s surely bewildered by the apparent determination of the human race to ignore the deafening wake-up call she’s recently sent our way.

That wake up call was the BP Gulf spill.

But the BP gusher is seen by Ottawa — not as a wake-up call — but as a fresh marketing opportunity for Alberta’s oilsands.

Funny how the world works.


Let’s talk about ferries.

Not magical ones in the forest — we’ll save them for another day — but the mechanical ones on the water.

I mentioned on Monday the big story in the Weekend Telegram about the delay in getting new ferries into the provincial system.

At one point the province said there would be 5 new ferries up and running by 2011.

Instead, we’ll have two up and running by this fall (hopefully), although the minister has no idea whether they’ll come in on budget or not.

The editorial in today’s Telegram makes an interesting point.

Short of cash and needing to make the ledger look better, the Liberal government of Brian Tobin agreed to take over responsibility for ferry service to Labrador from the federal government for $340 million in 1997.

Let me quote from The Telegram.

“In a classic case of ‘buy now, pay through the nose later,’ those same ferry services now cost $25 million a year, meaning, by next year, the equivalent of all that money — $340 million — will be gone, and we'll just have the liability in perpetuity.

Great deal.”

Talk about bad government decisions.

If you want to comment on the ferry system — federal or provincial — you know the place to call.


Moving on to all-terrain vehicles — ATVs.

There have been 6 deaths so far this year in ATV-related accidents.

I didn’t see a statistic on the number of injuries.

You can be assured there have been far more than 6.

Accidents happen because people don’t wear helmets.

Because they drive while impaired.

Because they speed.

Because they drive without sufficient light.

Because they drive in inappropriate areas.

Because they drive without common sense.

The number of ATV accidents may be down this year (new figures are expected to be released shortly), but one accident is one too many.

When are we going to smarten up?

The RCMP said people have to self-police ATV use.

Other people say new ATV owners should be forced to take a mandatory training course.

What do you think?


While on the topic of hospitals.

I saw a piece on the CBC supper hour TV news last night about how the doctor’s clinic in Grand Falls-Windsor is doing well with 3 new doctors.

Three new doctors who are committed to working and staying in Grand Falls-Windsor.

There’s a story in the paper today about how city GPs are less likely to accept new patients than their rural colleagues.

More than 35 per cent of rural doctors surveyed were accepting new patients, compared to fewer than 18 per cent in urban areas.

Which seems to be the case in Newfoundland and Labrador …

According to the Health Department, only 9 family physicians in the St. John’s-metro area are currently accepting new patients.

Let me ask you this: are you having a problem finding a doctor?

Maybe people on the East Coast would be better off relocating to Grand Falls-Windsor.


Finally, for now, I started Monday’s show with sea monsters.

More specifically, the giant concrete squid of Glover’s Harbour on Newfoundland’s northeast coast and the decision by Canada Post to include it in a Canadian Roadside Attractions stamp series.

I also asked people to call in with their own sea monster stories.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, but I came across a story from eastern Russia yesterday about a lake monster that has been snatching fishermen.

People who claim to have seen the creature have described it as "snake-like" and said it has a long neck, similar to Scotland's famous Loch Ness monster.

To quote Ted Russell, “tall are the tales that fishermen tell when summer’s work is done.”

You’re welcome to call in this afternoon with your tall tales right here on VOCM Backtalk.

The lines are open.


Mandy said...

Shortage of housing is a HUGE problem all over the province. My husband and I have been accepted to the College of the North Atlantic in Stephenville and have to make the move from Goose Bay Labrador.

We've been looking since NOVEMBER 2009 and have been unsuccessful. It's disgraceful that we have to leave our hometown to get an education in the courses we desire first off, but to be told that we can't do that anyway because we have no where to live is even more hurtful. I even went so far as to email the mayor of Stephenville and didn't get a reply about the situation.

I think it's very poor that communities promote tourism as their forte but can't keep their own people in town first. I do not know where we go from here.

David said...

The Air Ambulance issue is about as murky as mud, a government that raised their hand and said they were all about transparency...indeed. I doubt we will ever see a Tory step on Northern Peninsula soil for many years. One would never think our own government would go so far to punish a district.