Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

News in the news

Postmedia front page ads, October 2015 (Source: National Observer

Postmedia front page ads, October 2015 (Source: National Observer) Click to enlarge.

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s fall economic statement includes a section labeled, “Support for Canadian Journalism.” I’ve been reading it this morning, but I fear all I really need to know about it is this:

Paul Godfrey, the CEO of Postmedia, which publishes the National Post and daily broadsheets in many of Canada’s largest cities, said that tax credit “could be looked upon as a turning point in the plight of newspapers in Canada.”

“I tip my hat to the prime minister and the finance minister. They deserve a lot of credit,” said Godfrey. “Everyone in journalism should be doing a victory lap around their building right now.”

Godfrey, who runs Postmedia on behalf of an American “distressed debt” hedge fund (GoldenTree Asset Management, although it has apparently been trying to sell its Postmedia stake since 2016), has been busy these past few years, closing newspapers, axing journalists and quashing attempts by reporters to unionize.

For his efforts, he received a $900,000 “retention bonus” in 2016 and had his contract extended to 2020.

And he can also rest assured his outfit (or whatever is left of it) will be considered a “qualifying news organization” by the “independent panel of journalists” the government plans to establish to “define and promote core journalism standards, define professional journalism, and determine eligibility.”

For those of us running actual independent publications, on the other hand, “eligibility” may prove elusive. As Tim Bousquet put it:

Will the panel dole out some of that subsidy money to Joey Coleman, the indefatigable reporter and publisher of the Public Record, which provides exclusive in-depth coverage of Hamilton City Hall? What about Maureen Googoo’s, or the Cape Breton Spectator, or for that matter, the Halifax Examiner? Not a chance.

First of all, none of us produce “a wide variety of news and information of interest to Canadians”; I joked last night that in order to get that “wide variety,” the Examiner is going to have to hire El Jones to write our own “Ask Ellie” column, and our sports coverage will include detailed reports from the Locas billiards tables and Henry House dartboards. But the entire point of our independent start-up news sites is to break the old “all things for all people” model of the legacy media; we don’t have sports departments or crossword puzzles or advice columnists — we provide news on local issues, period. The “wide variety” language is specifically written to exclude us.

Moreover, none of us have much in labour costs to which a tax credit would apply — the Examiner has one employee; otherwise, all the independent start-ups I can think of use freelancers or volunteer labour.

In short: the government subsidy for the news industry is a government handout to the Globe & Mail, Torstar, Postmedia, the Irvings’ Brunswick News, Sarah Dennis and Mark Lever’s Saltwire, and possibly some Quebec papers. No one else need apply, because the deck is stacked.

To which I can only say, “What he said.”


Shoe Leather

Source: Shoe leather (

Source: Shoe leather

Here’s a slightly more upbeat take on the media.

Sarah Baird, a journalist from Richmond, Kentucky, has launched a web site called Shoe Leather:

…a national database of writers from non-media hub cities (NYC, LA, D.C., SF) who are local, knowledgeable and ready to tell their community stories. The database serves as a resource for publications, assigning editors and beyond to connect with writers in the towns, cities and states they are interested in covering instead of relying on “parachute” journalism.

The New York Times introduced its article about the site this way:

In recent years, as local news organizations have been decimated by layoffs and industry consolidation, communities across the country have complained that journalists who come into their towns and cities too often produce shallow or misrepresentative reporting.

Baird told the paper such stories “cause actual consequences for these communities, not only in how the nation perceives them but how they perceive themselves.”

She and developer Cameron Decker created Shoe Leather as a corrective. Since it launched in late September, 400 reporters representing all 50 states have registered.

I think we need a Canadian version.


United we stand

City Hall, Rimouski

City Hall, Rimouski

File this under: And I thought we had it bad.

CBRM council is under fire for debating a salary increase behind closed doors, a practice it’s now been told (by the Department of Municipal Affairs via its own regional solicitor) it must give up.

But my sister pointed me to this Radio-Canada article (dated November 19) about an even worse phenomenon sweeping municipal councils in Québec:

Rather than debate and vote in public meetings, as do members of Parliament at the federal and provincial levels, some elected municipal officials make all their decisions behind closed doors and then systematically adopt them unanimously before the public.

This way of doing things is widespread in Québec city councils. It exists, among others, in Gaspé, Matane, Baie-Comeau, Rivière-du-Loup, Sept-Îles and Rimouski.

In the case of Rimouski, Rad-Can journalists reviewed three years’ worth of motions and found only five that were NOT passed unanimously.  A Rimouski resident, Jérémy Viau Trudel, told Rad-Can that in the absence of debate and discussion, citizens attending meetings hear simplified, difficult to understand summaries of the regulations adopted by council, without context or explanation.

Trudel also wondered what happened to motions councilors couldn’t agree upon behind closed doors. Not making a decision, he argued, is a way of making a decision, but the public doesn’t hear about the decisions council didn’t make.

The Mayor of Rimouski, Marc Parent, told Rad-Can it would be “too complicated” to debate every issue in public and confirmed that files on which council failed to achieve unanimity were frequently sent back to the administration for re-evaluation, rather than being put to a vote in public.

What most surprised me about this story, though, is that the councils’ actions are apparently legal in Québec. Former Municipal Affairs Minister Rémy Trudel, who now teaches at l’École nationale d’administration publique, told Rad-Can that debating issues in secret was a “bad habit” but that it respected the letter, if not the spirit, of the guiding legislation (la Loi sur les cités et villes).

And there was me bellyaching about how long Tuesday’s council meeting went on. I take it all back.


Mayor in the Chair

CBRM Council Chambers, 2017. (Photo by WayeMason [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons)

CBRM Council Chambers, 2017. (Photo by WayeMason, CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons)

I am continually fascinated by CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke’s method of dominating council meetings by both chairing debates and — whenever he feels like it — joining them.

I really feel Mayor Clarke should give up the chair (which he can do, at any time, to the deputy mayor) when he wants to participate in a discussion. So I was very interested to run across a 2009 opinion piece in the Chronicle Herald by CBU political scientist Tom Urbaniak suggesting mayors should give up the chair period.

Urbaniak’s argument was that mayors can and should make “substantive statements on policy development,” but are prevented from doing so by their role as meeting chairs. (Granted, he had yet to see Mayor Clarke in action.)

I believe he suggested meetings could be chaired by one of the other councilors or even a member of staff (but my notes are incomplete, so I can’t say for sure).

I think it’s a good idea, and one far more conducive to democratic debate.


Nothing says ‘I Love You’ like destroying the planet

Coming soon to a landfill near you: Terry the Swearing Turtle.

Coming soon to a landfill near you: Terry the Swearing Turtle.

Rachel Haliburton (the Ethicist), shared this George Monbiot article from 2012 this week and it echoed so many of my own thoughts about Christmas gift-giving I suspected he’d been reading my diary.

Monbiot, a British journalist who focuses on environmental issues, took aim at our “pathological” consumption which reaches its apogee at this time of year, writing:

There’s nothing they need, nothing they don’t own already, nothing they even want. So you buy them a solar-powered waving queen; a belly button brush; a silver-plated ice cream tub holder; a “hilarious” inflatable zimmer frame; a confection of plastic and electronics called Terry the Swearing Turtle; or – and somehow I find this significant – a Scratch Off World wall map.

They seem amusing on the first day of Christmas, daft on the second, embarrassing on the third. By the twelfth they’re in landfill. For thirty seconds of dubious entertainment, or a hedonic stimulus that lasts no longer than a nicotine hit, we commission the use of materials whose impacts will ramify for generations.

Monbiot cites Annie Leonard, the filmmaker behind The Story of Stuffwho discovered that “of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale.” Their impact on the environment, however, is less ephemeral. Writes Monbiot:

The fatuity of the products is matched by the profundity of the impacts. Rare materials, complex electronics, the energy needed for manufacture and transport are extracted and refined and combined into compounds of utter pointlessness. When you take account of the fossil fuels whose use we commission in other countries, manufacturing and consumption are responsible for more than half of our carbon dioxide production. We are screwing the planet to make solar-powered bath thermometers and desktop crazy golfers.

For Monbiot, the solution is simple:

Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for god’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don’t.


Green Interview 2.0

Speaking of George Monbiot, I recently watched an interview with him on Silver Donald Cameron’s revamped The Green Interview site. Monbiot is just one of the dedicated, passionate, informative people Cameron has had the privilege to speak with since he began this project.

I was poking around the site from top to bottom last week and I have to say, the new, clean design left me (wait for it) green with envy. The sheer volume of information — and the variety of forms in which it is available — is really impressive. Like visuals? Watch the videos (produced by Chris Beckett). Prefer to listen as you do other things? Opt for the audio (mp3) files. Have an old-school attachment to the printed word (or a slow internet connection)? Read the transcripts (prepared by writer and researcher Linda Pannozzo).

I personally like the audio files, because the interviews engage my brain while I’m doing things that don’t — like washing the dishes or watching Designated Survivor on Netflix.

If you want to get an idea what the Monbiot interview (or any other interview) is like, you can watch a six-minute excerpt free of charge. If (or when) you’re hooked, you can subscribe for full access (it’s US$100 for the year).

In other news: Cameron (who has a BA from UBC, an MA from the University of California and a PhD from the University of London, England) will be teaching a related course — Political Science 3750, Green Rights: The Human Right to a Healthy World — at Cape Breton University (CBU) beginning in January. He describes it this way:

The course features stories from Dr. Cameron’s award-winning documentary film Green Rights  and the companion book Warrior Lawyers (Amazon) and interviews from In Ecuador, New Zealand and the Philippines, in Argentina, India, Colombia and the Netherlands, citizens are winning big battles against corporate polluters and complacent governments by flexing their environmental rights.

Dr. Stepan Wood of the Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia will be participating, using the online material in his concurrent UBC seminar, Green Rights and Warrior Lawyers. A unique feature is real-time “virtual visits” by several of the trailblazing lawyers being studied  – “like having Václav Havel and Virginia Woolf visit a class on modern literature,” says Dr. Cameron.

This “3-C” course can be taken for Credit (on-site), for a Certificate (online) or just out of Curiosity (also online, and free). For more detail, visit the CBU website, here – and that’s also where anyone, anywhere, can enroll.

I’m feeling the urge to make a “Green Christmas” reference so I’d best end abruptly.


Truly random

In keeping with the name of this feature, I am now going to throw in something that, literally, just turned up on my desk today. (I think it fell out of a photo album I was going through last week, but I am not entirely sure).

It’s a photo by Ray Doucette (Raytel Photography) dated 3 September 1971. It would have appeared in the Cape Breton Highlander somewhere around that date. See if you recognize the building in the foreground:

Raytel Photography

Raytel Photography





The Cape Breton Spectator is entirely reader supported. Please consider subscribing today!