Random thoughts from a random week in the middle of a random time…

Just before dawn on the morning of May 9, 1992, a methane gas explosion rocketed through the underground tunnels of the Westray mine in Plymouth, NS, killing all 26 miners working underground.

That’s just four more than were killed last month in the deadly rampage that began in Portapique.

On May 15, 1992 — six days after the Westray tragedy — then-Premier Donald Cameron appointed Judge Peter Richard to conduct a full public inquiry into what caused the explosion, giving him the power to “subpoena witnesses, hire experts, point fingers and lay any blame,” as the Toronto Star put it at the time. As Cameron himself put it in the legislature, “we owe it to those who died, to their families and to all Nova Scotians who were touched by this tragedy.”

Back in the here and now, on this Saturday, May 2, 13 days — and counting — after the largest mass murder in Canada happened here in Nova Scotia, we have no idea when, or if, our current provincial government will appoint such an inquiry.

One final point. In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, company and government officials were at pains to say they’d done everything possible to avoid the disaster.

In 1997, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Peter Richard issued a report. It concluded instead that the disaster was the result of “incompetence, mismanagement, bureaucratic bungling, deceit, ruthlessness, coverups, apathy, expediency and cynical indifference.”

In 2004, the federal government passed the so-called Westray law that made corporations and executives criminally liable for failing to make their worksites safe. The law hasn’t worked as well as it should, but a law is at least on the books.

Having said all that, it is also worth noting the federal Liberal government announced on Friday a ban on the sale, transport, import or use of 1,500 makes and models of assault-style weapons. It was both a belated fulfillment of a Liberal election promise and also an immediate response to the Portapique murder spree. While it does not go far enough —allowing anyone who has one legally to keep it — it is a start. And a statement that it is possible for governments to act decisively and quickly to events.

***

If the Trump administration follows through on its ongoing musings about removing “sovereign immunity” from China so the US government or individual citizens can sue China for failing to respond quickly enough to the coronavirus outbreak, will the administration also open the doors so American citizens, or others, can sue Donald Trump himself?

His ongoing failures as president to take the coronavirus seriously enough soon enough are well documented. And Trump’s USA now holds the dubious distinction of having the world’s most confirmed cases of coronavirus (more than 1.1 million and still increasing), as well as the most deaths (more than twice as many as its nearest “competitor”).

Asking for a friend.

***

A number of readers noted that, in my last week’s Examiner column on the Portapique tragedy, I didn’t mention the shooter by name. Despite the fact Tim and other Examiner reporters have made it a practice to use his initials rather than his name, my own omission wasn’t deliberate, at least not in the beginning.

I only realized — two-thirds of the way through the writing of the column — I hadn’t mentioned the killer by name. There was simply no point in the story I was writing, which was about the need for a public inquiry. At that point, I decided to maintain consistency and continue as I’d started. No name.

That said, I am not one of those who believes — as the prime minister and others have suggested — the news media should not give the killer “the gift of infamy” by referring to him by name.

Without getting into the debate about the dangers of copycatting (who was the killer himself copying?) my sense is that naming him — which the police themselves did in the middle of the search for him — allowed the rest of us to discover more about the man and his motives and odd obsessions, which I believe is never a bad thing.

Some were upset when people who’d gone to school with him came forward to say he’d seemed “ordinary” enough in their memories and that they were surprised to hear he’d done such a terrible thing. But it’s also worth remembering that everyone — heroes and villains, perpetrators and victims — is more than the sum of one moment in time.

Thanks to media reports and social media, for example, I also learned — long before the RCMP corroborated it — of his “controlling” behaviour with his girlfriend, and the possibility/likelihood this tragedy was, at least in part, a story of domestic violence.

The more you know the better you understand.

And I still haven’t mentioned his name.

You’re welcome.

***

J-Source

Last week, J-Source reported on the impact of COVID-19 on the news media in this country. The news from the journalistic trenches is sobering:

“More than 100 media outlets in Canada have made cuts in 11 provinces and territories in a six-week period, with nearly 50 community newspapers shuttering. Upwards of 2,000 workers have been laid off.”

None of this is good news for anyone.

But it’s also worth noting how we got here.

Some of it was the inevitable result of the sink-all-boats internet that has made the old advertising-model news media obsolete. But much of the current media collapse can also be traced to a decades-long, deliberate, media conglomeration strategy of merger, buy-and-destroy corporatism whose perpetrators now have their hands out for government handouts.

Handouts are not the long-term answer to what ails Canada’s media, though it may be the only reasonable response during a time in which readers and viewers have become collateral damage in the corporate carnage.

In the longer term — which is to say yesterday — we need to recognize:

  • the reality Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, Amazon, etc. are, in fact, media corporations operating in Canada, and tax them as such. Those tax revenues could then be used to support journalism in Canada.
  • taxpayers should not be underwriting failing hedge-fund media companies — here’s looking at you, Postmedia! — but instead encouraging the development of new media models that don’t depend on all that advertising that no longer exists.
  • investments in — and subscriptions to — legitimate non-advertising-based media should be tax-deductible.
  • we need a Canada Council for Journalism, an arms-length, government-funded body that uses peer-review panels to support significant journalism projects.

***

Last week, NDP House Leader Claudia Chender suggested MLAs at least begin planning for safe ways to restart provincial legislature committee hearings in order to provide some oversight to the McNeil government.

Liberal House Leader Geoff MacLellan did his best to dismiss the idea without totally dismissing it. “We’re open to the discussions,” he told the CBC, “but, you know, I certainly don’t feel that it’s pressing at this point.”

Not pressing?

Well, let’s see, there’s the more than $160 million the province is currently spending to help individuals and businesses trying to cope with COVID-19.

Not pressing?

How about the ongoing secrecy about the $2-billion QEII health care re-development project and the questions raised by the province’s auditor general?

Not pressing?

Or how about revisiting February’s provincial budget that included yet another $16.3 million for the operators of the Yarmouth ferry. Will taxpayers have to pay — again — for what almost certainly will be yet another season of not sailing?

Not pressing?

***

United Nations Photo.

I’ve no idea whether there is any significance to this, but it is something I noted in my virtual travels.

As of May 1, Cuba, a poor country of 11 million people that traditionally depends on international tourism, reported a total of 1,537 cases of COVID-19 across the island.

As of that same date, Nova Scotia, a wealthy-by-comparison Canadian province with less than one-tenth of Cuba’s population, reported a total of 959 confirmed cases.

There have been more deaths in Cuba (64 versus 29 in Nova Scotia), but Cuba reports more patients have recovered (714 versus 592 in Nova Scotia.)

And Cuba — again, a poor Caribbean nation under US embargo, which, according to the United Nations, has been unable to “procure supplies, reagents, medical equipment, and medicines necessary for the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19” because of those sanctions — has still managed to test 49,409 of its citizens.

Nova Scotia, by contrast, has still only tested 29,842.

No further comment.

***

And, finally, Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, is apparently still alive and well, cutting red ribbons and opening fertilizer plants.

Meanwhile—for those who remember such things — Spain’s “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.”

Stephen Kimber

Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A journalist for more than 50 years whose work has appeared in most Canadian newspapers and magazines, he is the author of...

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  1. “USA … having the world’s most confirmed cases of coronavirus”

    The USA also has one of the world’s largest populations. Saying it has more cases of coronavirus is self-evident: News flash, “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead”. What would be significantly more meaningful would be to look at it on a per-capita basis.

    When adjusting for population, the USA ranks 14th; well after several other major countries.

    1. Which would place Trump ahead of Sommaruga by about 1% (not 2 times), and behind Higgins by about 30%, and trailing Wilmès by a whopping 2.2x (oh, there’s the 2 times). Though to be fair, a comparison of US States to European countries may be more apples-to-apples.

      I am suddenly curious to see how the spread of the virus correlates with population density… there is likely insufficient data to know.

    2. Apparently I can’t include my supporting evidence. So all I can say is that it’s Deaths per million from worldometer @ 2020-05-03T19:3

    3. Actually, if we compare the US with China — which was my reference point in this column — we see China, with a population of 1.4 billion, has had 82,877 confirmed cases (and seems to be at the bottom of the current curve).

      The US, with a population of 330 million —about a quarter the population of China —reports 1.2 million confirmed cases, or about 10 times as many as China.

      And the US is still reporting close to 25,000 new cases a day.

      Not good, no matter how you do the math…

      1. Not sure I trust any country’s numbers but I would take China’s with a much larger grain of salt than the rest.

  2. Personally, I do not advocate any sort of legislation and government regulation based on Emotion. Particularly, when that Emotion is encouraged by Government and Media.

    “It was both a belated fulfillment of a Liberal election promise and also an immediate response to the Portapique murder spree. ” Thus, Trudeau proves Rahm Emanuel’s famous statement: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Dick Cheney would be proud. Jump on the hot issue, inflame it and then push through your agenda.

    Yes an immediate and emotional response. So much for Parliament being a place of sober and deliberative thought and analysis. Or even consideration. Parliament out to Covid19 lunch

    Outside of the Bailouts of 2008, the last disastrous Emotional decision made by the Canadian government was its reactions to 9/11 and the resulting Afghanistan War, still continuing. I hope all remember the immediate Canadian flag-waving and excitement of those years. How easily all is forgotten and the same behaviour again now repeated.

    1. I too find it pathetic when politicians stand on graves to do what they were going to do anyway. The restrictions are arbitrary and do not limit the potential for a mass shooting with a legal firearm – you can still get a semi-automatic rifle with interchangeable magazines with an ordinary PAL. A ban on semi-autos with interchangeable magazines would at least be logically consistent if excessive.

      Additionally, the exemption for Indigenous users of now-banned firearms is strange – if the purpose of the ban is to protect Canadians, is the government not failing to equally protect Indigenous people? Or is there another motive at work here?

      I don’t really have a dog in this fight – I don’t own guns and have no real interest in buying one – but I have shot handguns and an AR-15 variant at a range and it’s a lot of fun. We live in one of the safest and most prosperous societies that has ever existed in human history and yet for many people it is not enough. I think there’s a deeper group psychological process at work behind attitudes towards guns – and that is true of both the guys with collections of black rifles and the fundamentalist anti-gun people.

  3. I have been wondering how much we all actually pay for online subscriptions to media, and I like the idea of a tax deduction for that expense rather than random bailouts on demand.

    Interestingly (at least to me) the Statistics Canada’s Survey of Household Spending, in 2019 had a question ” In that last three months, how much did your household sped on digital online services, include music streaming, video streaming, online gaming, gambling, web hosting services, and other online subscriptions, (for example dating services, geneaology services, fantasy sports) etc? Do not include Internet versions of Newspapers and magazines

    Expenses for Internet versions of newspapers and magazines – was to be collected instead in the follow up diary of expenses that track spending of the household during a short period of time. However many of us pay for an annual subscription to any online publication, so that data would be inconsistently recorded.

  4. Ah, the legacy of Donald Cameron.

    Wouldn’t it be great if we had a PUBLIC utility that worked for its rate payers welfare instead of corporate greed and GUARANTEED shareholder returns? We might actually have pandemic induced power rates eased to help through the economic strain of Covid-19.

    GOD, THE LEGACY OF DONALD CAMERON!!!!!!!!

  5. “… federal Liberal government … ban on … assault-style weapons. … While it does not go far enough —allowing anyone who has one legally to keep it”

    That is a false statement. The announcement explicitly states that legal owners may not keep them, and must dispose of them.

    1. Huh … its **strongly implied** but not explicit. Implied by the statements around a 2 year “amnesty”. An amnesty would not be required if it were permitted.