Monday, August 24, 2015

A warning from Cottonland

I come from a little town in Nova Scotia on the eastern tip of Cape Breton Island called Glace Bay. Once a proud town with a bustling economy and a population nearing 40,000; its slogan was ‘Proud People, Bright Future’. We were the largest town in the country for many years and business was booming when one looked at mining, fishing and the nearby steel plant.

As the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end – and end they did in Glace Bay.

First Sydney Steel Plant shut down, then came the coal mines and the fisheries all but died soon thereafter. The once proud people largely became a very depressed town – both economically and emotionally - and an unfortunate side effect of people in desperate situation was that a drug problem began to fester. One drug in particular was at the root of the epidemic; OxyContin.

OxyContin is the brand name for oxycodone hydrochloride, a class 2 narcotic that is a time released painkiller. The drug is one of the most powerful on the prescription drug market and it provides immense pain relieving benefits for up to twelve hours as the medication is slowly released through one’s system. It is also an incredibly addictive drug that tore apart my hometown at its core.

What started out as a carefully monitored medication quickly turned into an overprescribed one for anything from cancer to a sore back. Doctors used it as a treat-all solution and several people got so dependent on the drug that they couldn’t function without it. An underground economy quickly erupted in the town with people selling their prescription stash to addicts for as much as $30 a pill and the highly addictive nature of the drug known as ‘Hillbilly Heroin’ on the streets was being injected and snorted faster than you could say ‘narcotics epidemic’.

At one point, there were so many people in the town addicted and so many deaths due to overdose of the drug that Glace Bay became the subject of a National Film Board of Canada documentary called ‘Cottonland’. A quick perusal of YouTube will show you dozens of news stories and documentaries all warning of the dangers of OxyContin. It’s horrifying how one little pill can do so much damage, and it’s mind blowing to me that the drug hasn’t been taken off the market in favor of a less dangerous alternative.

It makes the fact that the United States’ Food and Drug Administration has given the green light for the drug to be prescribed for children as young as 11 years of age even harder to fathom. You read that correctly – a drug that has crippled communities and ended the lives of people who were hopelessly addicted to it is perfectly okay to administer to kids who haven’t hit puberty yet.

I am in awe.

Kids are diagnosed with so many disorders today and some are overmedicated to the point that they look like extras from television’s ‘The Walking Dead’ – and now we want to give them access to OxyContin too? “Big deal” some might say. “That doesn’t affect us here!” Just because it doesn’t today doesn’t mean that it won’t in the future.

In case you haven’t noticed, here in Canada we take an awful lot of cues from our neighbors to the south and, if anything, they tend to be a little more conservative with their medications down there. Heck, I still know people who hop the border to buy 222s and Tylenol with codeine that are ‘prescription only’ in the U.S. but readily available over the counter in Canada. If the Americans are dishing out the OxyContin to kids, it won’t be long before we start as well.

As parents, it’s our job to keep our kids safe – and one of the things we do as protectors is tell them not to do drugs. At the same time, most of us completely put faith in medical professionals when they issue prescriptions to our kids when they’re sick. I am terrified that there will soon come a day that doctors in New Brunswick will be able to prescribe OxyContin to our pre-teens, and parents who don’t know the difference will simply shrug and blindly administer the recommended dosage to their sons and daughters because of doctor’s orders.

I have seen the damage these pills can do first hand. When they hit my Island home, it was with good intentions. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, sadly, and for every person that was helped by the presence of OxyContin in their life, 10 other lives were ruined. If we start allowing more of these pills to be prescribed to children, you can bet that more of the drugs are going to find their way to the streets and more and more people are going to get irreparably addicted. I moved 300 miles from my hometown and I certainly don’t need its problems following me here.

Here’s hoping I’m wrong.


Monday, August 17, 2015

The boys of Summer might see the Fall.

“You’ve got a diamond. You got nine men. You got a hat, and a bat, and that’s not all.”

The words of that song have been burned into my brain since I was a kid. Although I was a die-hard Montreal Expos baseball fan when I was growing up, my Granddad would cheer for the Toronto Blue Jays as well because he was fiercely Canadian, and any team that hailed from the Great White North, he would proudly claim as his own.

“You got the bleachers. You’ve got ‘em from spring ‘til fall. You got a dog, and a drink, and an umpire’s call. Whaddaya want?”

I spent an awful lot of my childhood sitting in my living room on the couch with my grandfather being taught the intricacies of the game of baseball. I also got to learn an awful lot about the man I looked up to my entire life by listening to his stories about being in the army, working in a coal mine, and spending months in a fishing boat off the coast of Newfoundland.

“Is that a fly ball? Or is it a seagull - coming in, from the lake, just to catch the game?”

When the Blue Jays made it to their first World Series in 1992, I was turning into a cocky teenager. Now that I had a girlfriend, I seemed to have less and less time to sit on that old couch and watch baseball games with my Grandad.  Without fail, though, whenever we passed in the hallway or had a few moments to chat he would always let me know how the Jays were doing. I feigned enthusiasm more often than not, for his sake, but I really didn’t care a whole lot about what was going on with baseball.

“It’s the last inning. Our guys are winning”

I was at home the night of game 6, though, when Dave Winfield drove in the go-ahead run to give the Toronto Blue Jays their first World Championship – the first Canadian team to ever win the honour.

“Dave’s put down a smoker, a strike, and there’s no doubt (you’re out!). Whaddaya want?”

I remember that night seeing my Granddad cry tears of happiness because he saw one of his favorite teams finally win a championship. Two guys who never showed affection to one another hugged that night in our little living room in Glace Bay. We got to do it again the following year when Joe Carter hit that booming home run in the ninth inning of another World Series Game 6 to clinch another title for the boys from Toronto.

“Okay! Blue Jays!”

One short year later, I lost my taste for baseball entirely. They canceled the World Series the year when it looked like my beloved Expos would finally get to hoist the championship trophy.  I haven’t watched so much as an inning of the grand old game since then and I had no desire to; until now.

As I write this column, the Toronto Blue Jays have just taken over first place in their division by going on a monumental 10 game winning streak, their second of the season, and toppled the mighty New York Yankees from the top of the American League east mountain. It’s the first time in 22 years that the Jays have led heir division this late in August and the possibility of them making a deep playoff run is a very real one.

All I can think of is my Granddad and how happy he would be.

A friend of mine, who is a huge Blue Jays fan, had something interesting to say when I told him of my emotional connection to the game of baseball and my grandfather. He said that it’s always good when something happens that reminds you of someone that you loved – even if it’s just a baseball game. He’s completely right.  I think it may be time for me to check out a game again for the first time in over twenty years and I think I may have some company of my own.

My oldest son is only a few short years away from becoming that cocky teenager his father was so many years ago. My youngest son isn’t far behind him. I have a golden opportunity to make some memories with a couple of little boys who look up to me and teach them a little about life under the guise of teaching them the ‘intricacies of the game’ as my Grandad did to me. I’ll tell them about sacrifices, swinging for the fences, settling  for a base hit when you thought it should be a double, and how sometimes you’ll get thrown out at home no matter how hard you run.

I will cheer for the Blue jays to win a championship this year. I’ll hop on that bandwagon and buy new hats for my boys and I to sport proudly and maybe try to recapture some of that magic I had so many years ago. That can’t possibly be a bad thing.

“Let’s play ball!”


Monday, August 10, 2015

'Til death do us part? Not in New Brunswick.

Next month, I’m slated to emcee the wedding reception of some old and dear friends from Cape Breton. I’m an old-fashioned guy when it comes to several things and marriage is one of them, so I’m honored to have been asked to fill in this very important role.

One has to wonder, though, why people even bother getting married in today’s society. It seems like every time I turn around, someone I know has decided to shed the bonds of matrimony. It’s almost embarrassing how many times I have asked someone I haven’t seen in a while how their significant other is only to be told, “Oh didn’t you hear? We split up.” Celebrities seem to marry and divorce faster than we can say “I don’t”, but what’s really jarring is when someone like country star Reba McEntire and her husband call it quits after 26 years . Even Hollywood’s newest Batman isn’t immune, as Ben Affleck separated from his wife of 10 years just a few weeks ago.  If these stars can’t make it work with all the money and fame in the world, what’s the hope for the average Jane and Joe?

Against all odds, though, some people do make marriage work. They fight through adversity, operate as a team, and stand beside each other through thick and thin. They take ‘until death do us part’ seriously, and offer some hope for those who still believe that matrimony can endure. Some people just won’t give up. As someone approaching my ten year anniversary with my wife, these folks inspire me.

Maybe that’s why I’m so upset with what’s happening in New Brunswick right now with some senior couples being forced to consider divorcing their spouse because of mounting bills from nursing home care. For some, it all boils down to the decision of paying the increasing costs of having your partner in a care facility or having the finances to live independently and be able to pay for things like food and shelter.  As insane as this situation sounds, it’s a harsh reality right now in this province for many couples.

In New Brunswick, a married couple’s net income is factored into the equation when determining nursing home rates. It would seem like a reasonable situation if everyone with a spouse in nursing home care was financially well-off and could easily pay whatever their portion is of the monthly fee that is decided. That’s a perfect world scenario, however, and not a real world one.  The fact of the matter is that there are thousands of New Brunswick natives who are scraping by at or slightly above the poverty line and some seniors who are living on a meagre pension they have paid into and earned from their decades of working in this province.

What is happening as of late is that some nursing home rates have inexplicably raised– as much as $700 per month in the recent case of an Oromocto gentleman who has been married to his wife for 52 years – and the increased cost is simply too much for people to absorb when they are living on a fixed income. How does one reconcile the situation in their head that if they continue to subsidize the cost of their spouse’s continued care, they may not be able to support themselves?

Have no fear, though. The provincial government has stated that people in this situation can qualify for a ‘temporary contribution adjustment’ if they are experiencing undue hardship – defined as "the inability to pay for adequate food, monthly mortgage or rent, sufficient home heat, and prescribed medication and health care." Try as I might, I could find no information on how much less someone experiencing ‘undue hardship’ would be expected to pay, or how long the temporary adjustment would last for. Clear as mud, eh?

Our provincial government touts that this is a cost-saving measure for our province and how it’s a necessary evil at a time when we all need to be pulling up our socks. That’s all well and good, but when I see the mind-boggling things our provincial dollars are spent on I have a really big problem with folks who have lived, worked, and paid taxes in this province for decades being financially squashed. They’re crushed to the point where their only way out appears to be separating themselves from their life partner so that nursing home care is subsidized by the government. How is this right?

This is a very complex issue that can’t be completely broken down in the limited space I have here.  Do you research and find out for yourself t is happening to some of our most vulnerable residents under the guise of fiscal responsibility. I have expressed in this column many times before that the bankruptcy of this province is a real possibility in the future if our financial course isn’t corrected. What I’m afraid of is that when situations like this one come to light, I can’t help but wonder if we’re already morally bankrupt. 


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Moncton could learn a lesson from the T Dot and its big white elephant.

We loaded up the minivan and took a family vacation a couple of weeks ago to visit some of my wife’s family in Ontario. While we were there, we spent a day in Niagara Falls and another day puttering around downtown Toronto. We got to see the amazing Ripley’s Aquarium, took some touristy photos with the kids staring slack-jawed at the biggest buildings they had ever seen, and I got an unexpected history lesson from a hot dog vendor on the stadium that sits mere feet away from the CN Tower – the building once known as the SkyDome.

Back in the 1980’s, a group of investors suggested that they could build an architectural masterpiece in Toronto that would be the envy of cities the world over.  It would be the “world’s greatest entertainment center” – the SkyDome, with an original price of $125 million quoted to the residents of Toronto. Trevor Eyton, the businessman heading up the project, assured that the SkyDome could be built with very little public funding. To say he was wrong would be an understatement, as the final price tag for the completed venue came in just shy of $600 million, with taxpayers on the hook for at least half of the total cost.

On June 3, 1989, the SkyDome was opened to the world. If you were to believe the hype, Toronto had a license to print money! For a while it looked like the huge gamble was going to pay off, with the Toronto Blue Jays – the SkyDome’s highest profile tenant – pulling in over four million fans alone each year, and many marquee entertainment events being held there to packed houses. For a while, the SkyDome was the place to be and the astronomical price tag attached to it started to look like mere pocket change when one regarded the potential for future profit.

That’s when things started to go south. Blue Jays attendance dwindled, big concerts started to go elsewhere, and the venue started losing money at an alarming rate. It lost so much money that in 1993, the provincial government that heavily subsidized the concrete monolith sold it to a private company for $150 million; a company headed by none other than Trevor Eyton. A mere six years later it was sold through bankruptcy proceedings for $80 million. In 2004, Ted Rogers snapped it up for an unbelievable $25 million – roughly four percent of the original cost to build the venue – and stuck his name on the side.

To recap, an entertainment venue that was partly built as a home for the Toronto Blue Jays was heavily funded by public dollars. In roughly fifteen years, the venue fell into the hands of the ridiculously wealthy owner of the Blue Jays for a mind-numbing fraction of the cost that the taxpayers who paid for it were originally saddled with.  This, dear readers, is how the rich get richer.

Sure, the SkyDome (I refuse to call it the Rogers Centre) is still a pretty cool place to visit. It’s a decent place to watch a ball game on a June evening with the roof opened and the CN Tower stretched overhead.  I caught a football game there a few years back and it was home to one of the greatest WrestleMania events of all time. If I was the one footing the bill for it, though, by way of increased taxes and funds diverted from more important things like health and education, I’d be less than happy.

The fellow I talked to was of the firm belief that there was a hard lesson to be learned with the SkyDome’s failure – entertainment venues should never be built with public money. They should be funded by private enterprise; the ones who preach how profitable these meccas will be before the costs start soaring to astronomical levels on the backs of Jane and John taxpayer. I’d have to say I agree with him.

 Imagine how I felt when I I came home and saw that Moncton city council approved a motion to borrow $95 million to build the new Events Center on Main Street.  At a time where teachers are being cut, our hospitals are overcrowded and understaffed, and the province is in the worst financial shape it’s been in since I moved here ten years ago, we’re building a new stadium?

I can’t be happy about this. As much as I like seeing top notch entertainment in a great venue, the fact of the matter is that this is the equivalent of me going out and buying a brand new Cadillac when my kids don’t have clothes on their backs or food in their bellies. The assurances that this building will be a ‘money making venture’ and will bring untold riches and new life to the downtown core don’t compute. Knowing the history of the SkyDome  debacle certainly doesn’t instill faith in council’s promise that they ‘won’t spend the whole $95 million’ they’re asking to borrow either.

I ask the same question my hot dog peddling pal asked me – “if these things are the goldmines they claim they are, why aren’t the fat cats getting in on the ground floor and spending their own money on them? It’s always the people like you and me that pay for these playgrounds!” Why can a guy selling wieners for a living see this while our politicians fail to?

What can you do, though? My voice is lost in the storm of the people pushing this through. I will say one thing, though. If I’m paying for this, I at least want a retractable roof with a breathtaking view of the Bell Aliant Tower. 

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Who's your Daddy?

I’ve never met my father.  It’s kind of weird to say it out loud, but I have absolutely no idea who he is as a person.

My Mom got pregnant at a very early age and my father left before I was even born because he didn’t feel as though he was ready to help raise a child. When I was a kid and people from my small Cape Breton town would ask, “who’s yer father, by’?”  I would normally crack wise and say that it was Clint Eastwood, John Wayne or Chuck Norris – and that I didn’t get to see him much because he was always away making movies in Hollywood.  Sometimes I would throw a wrinkle into things and tell people my Dad was Charlton Heston and his pet name for me was ‘Damned Dirty Ape’.  That always got a chuckle.

As a young boy, it was something that I found really hard to deal with and couldn’t reconcile that my father could just walk away from his son with a clear conscience. I was lucky to have my grandfather in my life until my early twenties and he was the one responsible for teaching me all the things a young boy needs to know. Stuff like how to properly mow a lawn, how to fix a leaky toilet, how to throw and catch a baseball, the difference between latex and oil based paints and how to treat a lady on a date – among other things.

I tracked my father down on Facebook a few years ago in order to get family medical history; just to see if there was anything I should be particularly concerned about as it pertained to my children. It was a very business-like interaction with only the basics exchanged, much the way you would deal with any stranger from whom you were trying to extract information.  I’ve had more personal dialogues with tire salesmen, to be honest.

At the end of the conversation there was a half-hearted attempt by my father to “get together sometime” and I politely declined. I had made it through over three decades without his parental influence and I simply wasn’t interested in making a new friend.  I haven’t spoken with him since.

One of my biggest fears as I grew into adulthood was that my lack of a present biological father would somehow handicap me in being a good Dad to my children someday. Always hidden away at the back of my psyche, the anxiety almost consumed me when I heard that my wife was pregnant the first time. What if I was a complete failure at raising a child? What if I was going to be the worst Dad ever?

Flash to my current reality as I sit in a hotel room somewhere in Quebec, with two queen sized beds occupied by my family as we make a stop on our way to Ontario for our family vacation. Not more than one hour ago, my sons almost got into a physical altercation over who “loves Daddy more” and which one of them would get to bunk with me. It’s about as far from my relationship with my absentee father as it could ever be.

Yesterday was Father’s Day. It’s a day I take very seriously on the calendar because it’s the only day aside from my wedding anniversary that I feel as though I’ve done something to earn.  I take being a father very seriously, but I see being a Dad as the most important job I have ever done.  Sadly, though, Father’s Day is seen as an afterthought by many folks and I think I have a good idea why.

You see, a lot of modern fathers are portrayed as bumbling idiots who can’t be trusted to take care of our own children without the steady, guiding hand of a female partner. We’re seen as a small step above caveman and there are thousands of ‘funny’ photos on the internet of guys using their kids’ bellies as places to rest their video game controllers, unintentionally putting their kids in harm’s way, and being so incompetent that they can’t even perform the simplest of tasks like feeding or changing a baby.  Everyone has a good chuckle and shakes their heads at those ‘poor dumb Dads’.

The fact is, though, that I think some of us are doing really good work. We take our kids to school, we cook their meals. We buy their clothes, we take them to their endless list of activities. We get up with them in the middle of the night when they’ve had a bad dream. We sit with them in emergency rooms with mystery illnesses, we educate them, play with them, read to them, and provide them with more love and support than we ever thought humanly possible.

We do what Dads are supposed to do.

So for everyone who thinks that all Dads are a carbon copy of the buffoons you see on your typical sitcom, please know that we’re not all cut from that same cloth. We understand that Moms have it way worse than us, but we’re trying really hard and we’re doing our best. We haven’t yet reached the peak of perfect patriarchy yet, but we’ve evolved – and are involved -more than we were even a couple of decades ago.  Unlike my father, some of us stick around after the fun part is done. Oddly, that’s when the fun part really begins. 

Happy Father’s Day!


Monday, June 22, 2015

Did the Earth move for you too?

According to the British Columbia Ministry of Energy and Mines, "The shaking motion of an earthquake is the result of a sudden release of energy. Earthquakes are caused when stress, building up within rocks of the earth's crust, is released in a sudden jolt. Rocks crack and slip past each other causing the ground to vibrate.”

Oddly there was no mention of naked Canadians having anything to do with the phenomenon.

Some folks on the island of Borneo in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia would take considerable umbrage with this definition. Many are claiming that a 5.6 magnitude earthquake that happened last week and killed 18 mountain climbers was caused by a couple of Saskatchewan twins – part of a larger group - who stripped down to their birthday suits for photos on Mount Kinabalu only a few days before. 

The locals believe that the mountain is home to sacred spirits who were insulted by the display of nudity on such hallowed ground, so the mountain showed its displeasure by shaking the earth and raining tons of rock down on innocent folks looking to scale the summit. The Canuck twins, Lindsey and Danielle Peterson were detained in Malaysia and, as of this writing, are still in custody as the Department of Foreign Affairs works to bring them back to Canada.

So, did these Canadian travelers deserve their punishment? There are a few ways to look at it, I suppose. One could look at it from the perspective that worshipping a mountain is ridiculous and it shouldn’t matter what these folks did – naked or not. Someone baring their nude behind would be in no way responsible for a natural disaster, and the fact that these folks are being detained is simply ludicrous.

One could look at it from the angle that these people were in a foreign land where a different culture is practiced and a whole other set of societal norms are enforced.  As a show of respect for the country being visited, the decent thing to do is observe their customs and requests – regardless of how unorthodox one may find them – and simply be a good guest.  The inhabitants of the island of Borneo obviously take their divine beliefs regarding the mountain very seriously, and to fly in the face of it was not only an insult to the mountain, but to the people who worship it.

A third and more troublesome interpretation that has been made by many online goes something along the lines of, “If all these foreigners come to our country and refuse to integrate to our culture and respect our customs and beliefs, why should we give a damn about what they believe when we go to their homelands?  A sacred mountain…who cares? Those villagers are lucky that getting naked was all those people did. Way to go!”

It’s quite the situation, and I can honestly understand the sentiment behind all three arguments. As someone with a completely secular way of thinking I don’t subscribe to the belief in or worship of any deity and can completely identify with the first outlook. Mountain spirits…come on, folks. 

As someone who was raised correctly and always taught to respect anyone who hosts me in any fashion, I am also on the side of the second argument. You don’t go into someone’s home and disrespect them. Why? It’s the decent thing to do, and I always thought that manners and basic human decency were the hallmarks of us folks who hail from the Great White North.  These tourists deliberately ignored the instructions of their tour guide who clearly explained the spiritual significance of the mountain to the party and warned them against even speaking ill of the spirits that dwelled within it. Not only did the group ignore the instructions, but they spit directly in the faces of their hosts by being completely self-serving and snapping their selfies au naturel on the island’s most revered locale.

Sadly, I can also understand a bit of the third viewpoint. I personally feel as though Canada’s identity has been eroding a little bit over the last several years. We have stopped promoting our own distinctive culture and traditions in an effort to not exclude or offend anyone new to our country, and a side-effect of this is that many would be hard pressed to explain what this country’s values are anymore.  It’s a rough situation where we have to find a balance between being accommodating and risking completely losing all that we’ve stood for in the past.

That being said, our nation’s struggles with personality don’t give us the right to go to other countries and run roughshod. The maple leaf on a backpack used to be the sign of a respectful traveler who would be welcomed anywhere in the world. The saga of the stripping siblings from Saskatchewan isn’t doing us any favors.

Whether you’re on a mountain or a molehill, my fellow Canucks, if someone tells you you’ll anger any sort of deity by doing something stupid, how’s about just avoiding it, eh?

Keep your stick on the ice and your clothes on your back. 


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Poverty porn comes to your TV...

The Roman poet Juvenal coined the phrase ‘Bread and Circuses’ somewhere around the 1st century. The phrase, in a nutshell, refers to the belief that the common man isn’t interested in his civic duty, his freedom or even the welfare of his fellow man. The common folk are simply interested in their own entertainment and are happy as long as they’re distracted from real issues surrounding them – the more outrageous the better.

The Bread and Circuses effect is on full and obscene display these days, and one need look no further than the CBS television network and their new show ‘The Briefcase’.

In this ‘reality’ show, two financially struggling families are made to deliberate over the decision of whether or not to accept $101,000 or to give it to another family in need. Each family is given this briefcase filled with money, and the first thing they’re made to do is spend $1,000 on themselves – a luxury seldom afforded to the deceptively named ‘American middle class family’.  It’s a clever ploy to give these unfortunate souls a taste of what it’s like to have disposable income so that they’re more prone to take the money and look like selfish miscreants when they make a ‘selfish’ decision.

Viewers of the show get to bear witness as these families wrestle with the choice of whether or not to keep the money, and if the decision wasn’t hard enough, they’re made to tour the other family’s home just to see how bad off they are. “What’s that you say? You’re trying to raise a family of five on $15 an hour? Well, the family you could be helping is expecting a new baby and the dad lost a leg in Iraq! Are you sure you really need this hundred grand?”  As these families are torn apart emotionally by this potentially life changing decision, you have commercials airing for luxury cars, credit cards and Hawaiian vacations in between.  How ironic. It might be funny if it weren’t so disgusting.

It’s profit from poverty, and what makes me really nauseous is the fact that there are going to be people who not only find this entertaining – but amusing. Don’t believe me?  I saw firsthand the other day how much contempt some folks have for those a little less fortunate while on my morning drive to work.

Every morning I take Wheeler Boulevard and generally find myself at a red light at the intersection of Champlain and Wheeler. Most mornings there will be someone standing at the chain link fence on the side of the road with a cup or hat, hoping that motorists might donate some spare change. I don’t have money every day, but on days that I do I happily contribute.  Last Tuesday morning, in the middle of a downpour, I watched as the driver of a very expensive SUV rolled down their window and forcefully threw what looked to be a handful of dimes and nickels in the general direction of the fellow who was standing there hoping for some kindness to be extended his way. It was one of the most insulting things I have ever seen one human being do to another in this city.

We’re living in scary times. The rich are preying on what’s left of the middle class, and if you don’t believe that fact you can check out the latest reports on the ever-widening wealth gap between the very rich and the rest of us poor slobs. As we work our day jobs and hope we have a little bit of money left over  for savings and entertainment after all the bills are paid, most direct their ire not at the folks up the line who are enjoying the lion’s share of the fortunes,  but look down their noses at those struggling more than we are.  Many idolize the folks who make more in a week than we do in a year but can’t be bothered even acknowledging the folks who truly need our help. Instead of lending a hand, many put a foot on the head of those in need to feel better about their own less-than-stellar situation.

They’re likely the same folks who sit and watch while honest, hard-working families go on a reality show to have their every move scrutinized and mocked just so they can have a chance at a better life – if only for a little while.  It’s a whole lot of “at least we’re not those people” at play and I suspect ‘The Briefcase’ will have no trouble finding an audience for their brand of poverty porn.

Do you think for one minute the folks with all the real financial power wouldn’t watch the exact same show with folks like you and I in the starring roles?

The fact of the matter is that there are two levels to society; the haves and the have-nots. Compared to the top tier folks in the western world, we are all the have-nots – just on slightly different scales.  The last thing we should be doing is making a spectacle of those who have less than us by not sharing our bread with them and making them the clowns in our circuses. 


Monday, June 08, 2015

The roots of Moncton's healing?

Ten years ago, my wife and I moved to the Hildegard area of Moncton with the intent of starting a family and putting down roots in our new home. Eight years ago today, we were planting a tree in our backyard as part of the healing process we were going through after our first pregnancy was lost.

If you’ve been reading this column for any length of time, you will know that our desire to start a family ended up a very successful endeavor and we are now the proud parents of two amazing little boys.  The oldest of those little boys is someone who I gladly shuttle out the door every morning so he can get himself a top-notch first grade education.

Every day, as I drive my son to school, I drive past the spots where the events of June 4th played out last year. I remember the media assembled at the intersection of Mountain Road and Hildegard, the police tape stretched along the wrought iron fence just before you turn on Shannon Drive and, without fail, my eyes are drawn to the laminated letter and plastic flowers that still remain fastened to a telephone pole on the corner of Mailhot Street.

Every morning, I’m reminded of the eerie silence that fell over our neighborhood while we were in the middle of a lockdown zone, watching as a city waited for the capture of a rogue shooter who had taken the lives of three of our police officers. Even as I drop my son off, I wonder what would have happened on that Wednesday last year if everything had gone down while our children were still in school.  The thought of being separated from my son during that ordeal is unfathomable.

If I can be completely honest, despite the block parties and bicycle rallies that have taken place over the last year, the stretch of road named Hildegard Drive has been a constant reminder of a time that I would just as soon forget. For almost a year, home has felt like anything but.

My neighborhood looks a lot different lately, though.

A couple of weekends ago, a community group saw their fundraising efforts come to fruition when three rows of trees were planted to line each side of Hildegard Drive. They serve as a reminder of the events that took place in the north end of our city last June and a tribute to the three slain officers whose lives were lost on the streets of our north end subdivisions. There were 74 trees planted in all, with a trio of maple trees gathered together to honor the memories of the perished RCMP.

I haven’t taken my eyes off them in a week.

As with anything that happens in this city, there are some folks that have nothing but negative things to say about this gesture. They call it a waste of money, a pointless exercise to seek attention, or an overreaction to an incident that now should be a part of our ancient history. Some people have even called it “flat out stupid”.  I couldn’t disagree more.

When my wife and I planted our little tree at the far corner of our back yard all those years ago, it was more than just a bit of landscaping to us. It was a tangible thing that we could have to help us move ahead and give us some hope after a devastating personal loss. It serves as a constant reminder that things get better and that things can thrive, even after tragedy.  It reminds us that no matter what, life goes on.

It’s a pretty special little tree.

To me, the topiary that now lines Hildegard is pretty special too. It has given us a face lift and a fresh coat of paint to cover over last year’s memories. They’ve altered the landscape to where Hildegard Drive will no longer look like that road that was broadcast over and over again on countless news programs while our nightmare played out in front of the rest of Canada and, for that matter, North America.  They’ve added life to where lives were lost.   They remind us that life goes on in the north end.

Instead of constantly being reminded of what happened on these streets last year, I now envision what the street will look like with a beautiful canopy of branches and boughs covering both sides of it. Every morning now, my son and I count the trees that line Hildegard Drive as I drive him to school. We talk about what a positive thing planting them was, and how they will be around for a hundred years from now when the memories of June 4th have become mere echoes of the raw emotion they are today.

There’s an old Chinese proverb that goes something like, “Keep a green tree in your heart and a singing bird will come.” Here’s hoping the trees of Hildegard will bring some of the music back to Moncton’s north end.


Saturday, June 06, 2015

Don't let your kittens in the Dogg pound

 You see that fellow whose photo is linked to this post? That's Snoop Dogg - one of the most successful rappers of all time. Now Snoop isn't a Vanilla Ice type rapper; he's a guy who for over 20 years has been rapping about life on the streets , "banging bitches" and smoking weed. He is - as some people would put it - a straight up G.

Currently, Snoop is in nearby Bible Hill, Nova Scotia, filing episodes for the 10th season of the raunchy Canadian comedy 'Trailer Park Boys'. When you have a bunch of guys known for raunchy comedy and you combine them with one of the most recognizable faces of modern gangsta rap (man I felt white typing that), you can expect some shenanigans to say the least.

So, CBC decided to send a female reporter and camera operator to Bible Hill to interview Snoop on the set of TPB. Guess what happened next. 

If you guessed that Snoop made a comment that people were offended by, congratulations - your prize is in the mail. 

It seems that Snoop found the camerawoman quite attractive and commented on her being "thick" - referring to the shapeliness of her legs and behind. In what was probably his attempt to compliment the lady, Mr. Dogg engaged in some banter with her and mentioned how he was having a hard time not looking down. 

Cue the outrage. 

"We should expect this behaviour, but that doesn't mean we need to accept this behaviour". 

But here's the thing... You kinda do have to accept it. 

You see, I wouldn't go to an adult comedy show and not expect to hear some swearing. I wouldn't expect to go to a kids' birthday party without kids screaming. I wouldn't go to church and not expect to hear a prayer - and I sure as hell wouldn't be an attractive woman around Snoop Dogg and not expect him to comment on it in his own way. 

CBC made their own story here. They knew what they were setting their team up for and the team likely knew as well; it was almost guaranteed to happen the way it did. Now these ladies can be filled with righteous indignation and we'll be subjected to all kinds of national stories about what a misogynist pig Snoop is. 

The thing is though, I don't care. I'm in full support of women's rights but not everything that happens is a feminist rallying cry. This is, to me, a clear set up designed to create a story where there was none. 

Can these ladies really say they were shocked that Snoop made a (what he believed to be highly complimentary) comment to a woman he found attractive? If you're shocked by that, you'd also be floored to find out that Hitler really wasn't particularly fond of the Jews either. 

Give me a break. 

People, it's within your right to be perfectly offended by whatever you want. It's also perfectly within everyone else's right to not give a shit. 

Just keepin' it real 'til the next episode.

You can find the original CBC piece HERE


Friday, June 05, 2015

Another kick at the can


What a funny word.


Say it enough times, over and over again, and it starts to sound an awful like "blah, blah, blah."
Oddly, that's the main objective of someone who blogs - we want to communicate. In the case of blogging, we want to do it with our writing.

I'm no stranger to blogging. I have been doing it off and on (mostly off) for the last 16 years and I once had a site that had thousands of regular readers per week that I just decided to stop one day. One of the reasons - and the main one, really - for stopping was that I was a brand new father and I really didn't feel like sharing all the minutiae of my life as a new Dad with an audience comprised largely of folks I didn't know.

The second reason was that upon closer inspection, I realized I wasn't very good at it. Who wants to do something that you think you're terrible at? Not this guy.

I had a lot of friends keep asking why I didn't start writing on a website again, and I would always come up with some excuse that I thought would sound good enough to get them to leave me alone. the fact of the matter was that I wanted desperately to be a good writer and I wasn't, so I shut the factory down and sent all the writing muses home.

Then a funny thing happened.

A friend of mine who works for the local newspaper - the Time & Transcript - approached me about doing a weekly movie review column. Loving movies like fish love water, I gladly accepted and I realized the more I wrote every week, the more comfortable I felt. I gained confidence as I was beginning to find a more mature writing voice and I got another break when I was asked to do a weekly opinion piece in the same paper.

This year marks my fifth year doing the newspaper gig and I can't express how much it gave me the confidence I needed to start writing for an audience again. A big reason for blogging again is to share my work with people who may not have access to the newspaper, and I will eventually have an archive of most of my T&T work available for readers here. (If you look to your right, an archive has already been started, and the T&T pieces are all tagged at the bottom - click the tag and you'll be brough to the entire collection!)

The biggest reason for beginning to blog again, though?

I really miss it.

I just turned 40 years old and I'm a much different person than I was the last time I hopped on the blog bus and hoped for the best. I have two children now, have been happily married for almost 10 years, lost my mother and brother unexpectedly over the span of one year, had a near-death experience, stood at the precipice of depression, fulfilled some old dreams, made some new ones, and generally have amassed a whole collection of stories, memories and life experiences that I finally feel like sharing with someone.

Here's hoping that if you've made it this far, you find something that will keep you coming back.

I'm following my whimsy. You're free to tag along!


Monday, May 25, 2015

Atta Boy, Girl!

There is a large segment of our population that knows Bruce Jenner as a former Olympic gold medalist in track and field way back in the 70’s. He appeared in a bunch of mediocre made for TV movies and I read that he was even Erik Estrada’s replacement for a brief time on the TV show CHiPs (I loved that show).  There’s also a segment of the population that knows him as the patriarch on that terrible Kardashians ‘reality’ show, and if I ever watched more than ten seconds of an episode I might be able to tell you what exactly he did on there.

Lately, though, Bruce Jenner has become quite widely known for something that has nothing to do with sporting achievements or horrible television. You see, Bruce Jenner has made it very public knowledge that he no longer wants to be a man and has taken several steps toward his goal of eventually living his life as a woman – even considering complete gender reassignment surgery; a sex change in layman’s terms.

While some people are gossiping about this, poking fun in many cases, and generally shaking their heads in disbelief, I have taken a different approach. As someone who would probably feel weird taking a bubble bath because it feels a little too “girly”, the concept of someone identifying as a gender completely different than what they were born is almost unfathomable to me. It’s mystifying but incredibly interesting at the same time.  What’s even more interesting is that I see around a half dozen people on a daily basis living their lives in much the same way as Mr. Jenner is attempting to do.

You see folks, this isn’t just a tabloid headline. I have started to notice the number of folks in our little city that are going through their own process of gender identifying. This is a very real phenomenon that is happening right here at home and I think it needs to be talked about a little more. Even more than being talked about, I think it’s something that needs to be understood because the people who are going through this transition are, I believe, some of the bravest people alive and they deserve our support.

I’m not proud to say it, but I wouldn’t have always thought this way.  I grew up in a very small town that was rife with many backwards attitudes – not the least of which was homophobia. In our backwoods little community, boys liked girls and girls liked boys – and anyone who declared that they didn’t fit this mold would simply be tormented and made an example of so relentlessly that nobody would ever think about ‘coming out’.  It’s probably why I didn’t find out until we were all in University that 2 of my closest friends since grade school were gay. They said that they were, literally, petrified of outing themselves as homosexuals in our town because they would have been almost completely ostracized.

The sad part is that through my upbringing and immaturity, I may have been among the folks who tormented these guys who I had always seen as my friends – and that was only because they loved and were attracted to men instead of women.  Could you imagine the number of heads that would have exploded if these guys had announced that they felt as though maybe they should have been women instead of men? Even though sexual orientation and gender identification sometimes have nothing to do with one another, it would have been a perfect storm of conditions that probably would have led to burnings at the stake. Being gay would have been a little molehill compared to the mountain of a Chris who decided that maybe he was really a Christine.

Thankfully, the stigma of homosexuality has been reduced significantly in our society. I probably know as many gay people as I do straight folks and they are all very proud of who they are. There will always be detractors, but most people have moved past the point where they are shocked and outraged by who someone chooses to share their bed with. That being said, even though my mind may be far more open than it was when I was younger, let me go on record as saying this whole transgender/transsexual/intergender thing is completely uncharted territory for this old fellah, and I really don’t understand it much at all. The good news is I want to understand it because anyone who has the intestinal fortitude to live their life completely oblivious to what others think of them is someone I want to be in the corner of.

In our lives, we all wear masks depending on who we are dealing with. One for your friends, one for your family, one for your boss – the list goes on. I am in complete awe of those who not only refuse to wear these masks to impress others, but they don’t lie to themselves about who they are either. Whether it’s Bruce Jenner or the fellow at the coffee shop, they make us all look weak with their courage to not live within the limits of what society expects from them.

I’d love to know more about it all but I have no idea where to even start. 

Perhaps listening to a former Olympic gold medalist without snide judgment is a place for us all to begin. 


Monday, May 18, 2015

Dressing Down

So, the big news in Moncton last week was about a young girl attending Harrison Trimble High School who took a stand against what she believes is unfair discrimination against females at her school. She wore a dress to class that, allegedly, didn’t fall into the confines of the school’s dress code guidelines and she was given detention because her outfit was seen as “inappropriate” and a “sexual distraction” to young (and oddly, older) males at the school.

The issue has been covered from all sorts of different angles, with the young lady drumming up a lot of support for her fight. My opinion of the issue aside, I believe that this girl is a great representative of what we should want in our young people; someone who stands up for what they believe in and that can do so in a respectful and eloquent manner.  Kudos to you, Miss!

Regardless of how this issue shakes out, it allows me to bring forth an opinion that I have had for several years now that isn’t necessarily a popular one.  I think it’s time to ask why schools – who are obviously concerned (maybe overly so) with dress code – haven’t instituted the policy of school uniforms for their students?  Before you get out the torches and pitchforks and accuse me of trying to take away kids’ individuality, let me explain.

Back when I went to school, as it is today, the way a child dressed was a huge indicator of social status and in many cases it determined which clique you belonged to. You had your ‘preps’, with only the most expensive clothing and top of the line running shoes. Those were the popular kids who ran in all the best circles and their wardrobes certainly indicated it. You had the ‘skids’, whose wardrobes generally consisted of well-worn denim jeans and jackets with their favorite heavy metal band patches on them. Despite some of those kids being the absolute kindest people you would ever meet, they were categorized as lower on the food chain and were somehow looked down upon by the more popular kids. You had your ‘poor kids’ who didn’t have the latest designer brands, the ‘burnouts’ who didn’t care how they dressed, and the ‘nerds’ who couldn’t put together a fashionable outfit to save their lives. All these kids were judged and placed in social circles simply because of their daily attire.  It was foolish then and it’s foolish now.  I say give everyone one uniform to wear and watch how fast those prejudices disappear.

Every year, there are parents who shell out hundreds of dollars to make sure their kids are decked out in new clothes for school so they don’t look like ragamuffins next to some of their peers. I, sadly, am one of those parents. $8 for a polo shirt and $10 for a pair of khakis would be a heck of a lot easier to swallow than $65 for the newest Under Armour hoodie. Imagine how easy it would be to get your kids out the door in the morning as well! No more trying on 10 outfits before they decide on one; Heaven to Moms and Dads.  By the way, the first kid who complains about not be able to ‘express themselves’ through their clothes, I simply point to the lyrics of a song that was popular back in my school days – like the Fresh Prince’s Mom says “You go to school to learn, not for a fashion show.”

Speaking of expression, though, true expression shouldn’t come from the clothes you wear. I’m speaking directly to you, kids. It should come from important things like your creativity, your personality, and what you bring to the table as a human being. Do you want your worth determined by the labels you wear on your clothes or the type of person you are?  Don’t you think it might be easier to form an opinion about someone if you didn’t make a snap judgement about them based on the way they’re dressed? You and I both know the answer to that one.

When it all boils down to it, schools should be institutions of learning where kids are coming together to help one another instead of segregating each other into groups based on a trivial thing like fashion. There are so many problems in this province’s education system, we really shouldn’t be putting the dress someone chooses to wear to school at the forefront of any discussion involving our kids’ educations.

If the schools are going to leave dress code open to interpretation and areas of grey, they shouldn’t be surprised when things like last week’s brouhaha erupt from time to time. I think it’s stupid for schools to tell a young girl that her outfit is sexually distracting, but it’s equally as stupid to assume that kids won’t challenge authority and push the envelope of what is deemed acceptable if the opportunity to do so is available.

Take the distractions away and put everyone in the same uniform. If you give kids less reasons to judge one another, you might be shocked at how well they can get along. Maybe all this time spent arguing about bare shoulders could be better spent actually learning about what’s important? I think we should try the idea on for size.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Everything Your Kids Want To Know About Sex...

Over the last few weeks in Ontario there have been an awful lot of students missing time from school.  They’re not ill and they’re not playing hooky; quite the contrary. They are missing school with the full support of their parents because of the unspeakable situation that has developed with a new part of the Ontario education curriculum.

They’re actually teaching kids about sex.  How terrible.

The new curriculum is moving beyond ‘boys have a penis and girls have a vagina’ and into more topics that are relevant to our culture today like homosexuality, identifying exploitative behaviors, gender identity, and many other subjects that are front and center to this generation. It should come as no surprise to anyone, though, that this is not being well received by many parents who believe that there is no place for this kind of sexual education in the school system.

I wonder if these are the same kinds of parents who would turn the car keys over to an eager 16 year old who hasn’t had one driving lesson. Sending a teenager out into the world without a firm grasp on their sexuality is just like putting an unlicensed driver behind the wheel of a high performance sports car – it’s a disaster just waiting to happen.

For whatever reasons, some people believe that sexual education should consist solely of telling your kids that sex is something they shouldn ‘t do until they’re married. It’s dirty, it’s dangerous, and something you should just completely avoid until you find the man or woman of your dreams and you make time for it every Tuesday in your home with the lights off. That’s all well and good to preach that, but it’s not reality. If you disagree, you obviously don’t remember what it was like to be a teenager.

Around the time of my thirteenth birthday, I became a monster fueled by hormones and constantly distracted by what was happening to my body and mind as it pertained to the ladies. I knew only two things about the opposite sex: I liked girls and I had an overpowering desire to touch one.  Aside from a rudimentary pamphlet with drawings of the reproductive organs that we were given in sixth grade, I didn’t have a clue about sexuality. My only sexual education came from a pile of dirty magazines my friends and I found in the woods and, as you can imagine, our ideas of what sex was all about were hilarious at best and potentially destructive at worst.

The only teacher who had the courage to speak to us frankly about sexuality was my eighth grade health teacher, and he was practically run out of town on a rail. We were a bunch of kids hopped up on hormones with no knowledge of safe sex techniques or sexual health of any type – so it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that our little corner of the world had some of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Canada. You know it’s bad when they make a movie poking fun at the fact (check out New Waterford Girl for a great piece of Canadiana).  It’s a miracle I wasn’t a father at 16.

That was over 25 years ago, and even though our society is almost unrecognizable from those days, some people’s attitudes toward sex haven’t changed one iota. There are cultural and religious factors at play in why some parents don’t want their kids learning about sex, and there are some parents who just don’t know how to or can’t be bothered to talk to their kids about it. Instead of arming them with the knowledge they need to navigate the sticky world of sexuality, abstinence is promoted and sexual shaming is used as a weapon to try and make sure that our kids are ignoring every cue their bodies are screaming at them.  Good luck with that approach, folks.

My boys are seven and three, and we have been teaching them about sexuality from the moment they have been able to start questioning about it. They know all the proper terms for their parts, they know where babies come from, and they know that not all boys like girls and not all girls like boys. It’s a pretty good starter kit, we think, but it’s the kind of information that many Ontario parents think should be strictly off limits. Knowledge is power, and some are rendering Ontario children impotent to deal with the issue of their sexuality.

Luckily, many parents are showing support for the initiative and other provinces, for the most part, are worlds ahead of Ontario as far as what they’re teaching in school curriculums about sex education. The fact is, though, that parents should be the prime educators of their children – not just in sex ed, but everything under the sun. It saddens me that the parents who are keeping their children home from school because of sexual education classes are sending a very dangerous message about how they want their children to go forth in the world.

“You are not to learn about anything I don’t agree with!”

Those parents don’t want vibrant, independent thinkers. They want smaller versions of themselves that will continue with their lives; regurgitating the same outdated ideas and principles of their parents.  That’s just what we want – another generation of people screwing things up like we did.

The birds and the bees won’t bring down modern civilization. It’s about time we brought all our kids into the loop, before we have a whole bunch of extra kids to deal with.


Monday, April 27, 2015

The Cream Of The Crop?

Like most people, I had dreams of what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Unlike most people, I wanted to be a professional wrestler.

As a kid, my life was completely consumed by the giants of the squared circle and the never-ending pageantry that unfolded on my television screen courtesy of the stars of Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling and the World Wrestling Federation.  I ate, breathed and slept pro wrestling to the point that it was all I talked about.  Despite the taunts of people who thought my obsession to be silly, it couldn’t have been more real to me.

As life caught up with me, as well as my genetics and a knowledge of the ‘inner workings’ of pro wrestling, I realized that life inside the ring was never going to be in the cards and I was content with just being a fan – as I remain to this very day. Every once in a while, though, I remember what it was like to be that little kid who wanted nothing more than to be the next Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat or “Nature Boy” Ric Flair.

Maybe that’s why I’m so interested in the unfolding story of local wrestler, Eric Doucet –or as he’s more commonly known to wrestling fans, ‘Markus Burke’. Mr. Doucet may have a very real shot at joining the big leagues of pro wrestling through a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join the cast of World Wrestling Entertainment’s (formerly the WWF) reality show ‘Tough Enough.’ A groundswell of support for Mr. Doucet has erupted through social media, and it would appear that the WWE has taken notice of Mr. Doucet’s audition video for the show– as evidenced by the fact that it was one of a select few that was shared publicly by the company via their official Twitter account.

The 32 year old Moncton native has been plying his trade on the Atlantic independent wrestling scene for the last ten years. After several identity changes and trying out different personas, he seems to have struck a chord with Maritime wrestling audiences as the maniacal bad guy Vegan grappler, Markus Burke. He struts to the ring, glaring at fans located around ringside while proclaiming his superiority over the assembled audience with his trademark mocking cry of “look at you!”  His swagger is more than backed up with his in-ring performances; having learned his craft at the hands of Emile Dupree, the architect of the legendary Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling organization

A mainstay of local promotion, Innovative Hybrid Wrestling (next show at the Moncton Lion’s Club on May 2!), Mr. Doucet has all the tools to become the next in a long line of professional wrestlers from New Brunswick. Leo Burke, The Beast, Killer Karl Krupp and wrestler turned Hollywood actor Robert Maillet always come to the minds of wrestling fans whenever New Brunswick’s place in wrestling history is discussed.  We’re not content with past glory, though, and it appears as though supporters of the violent vegan want to make sure another one of our own makes it to the big time.

Within 48 hours of being uploaded to the internet, Mr. Doucet’s audition video for Tough Enough had almost 10,000 viewers. The hashtag #veganistoughenough has gone viral on Twitter and there’s simply no way that the ‘powers that be’ with World Wrestling Entertainment haven’t taken notice.
When asked about this overwhelming tidal wave of support and the very real chance that a lifelong dream could come to fruition, Mr. Doucet had this to say:

“I almost can't explain into words what it would mean for me to get on WWE Tough Enough. At this moment I have my brothers and sisters from The Maritimes behind me and that alone is success in my eyes.”

“We Maritimers don't get a lot of opportunities; we're hard working, good people - but for some reason fame tends to choose the bigger cities. I'm hoping I can start a trend by inspiring hard working Maritime artists and proving they can reach their goals and be successful in their field.”

“Would it mean the world to me? Yes, of course. It's been my dream since I've been 3 years old but when I look at the big picture, having the support of 4 hard-working provinces, it's an accomplishment in itself.”

How can you not support a guy like that?

When so many of us set our dreams aside for more ‘practical’ pursuits and trade a ‘the sky is the limit’ outlook for a 9 to 5 job, Eric Doucet is trying to grab that brass ring that so many of us wish we had the courage to reach for in our lives.  A much younger Steve Malloy will be living vicariously through the efforts of ‘Markus Burke’ over the next couple of months and I wish Eric Doucet nothing but the best in achieving his dream.

If you wish to support Mr. Doucet in his pursuit to make Tough Enough, a Twitter account is all it takes. You can follow him online @veganwrestler and you can send your tweets to @WWE and with the hashtags #Veganistoughenough and #ToughEnough.

So, could it happen? Could one of our own be starring on the globally seen Tough Enough program this June, and could Markus Burke end up being the newest WWE superstar?

In the words of my favorite wrestler of all time, Randy “Macho Man” Savage , “Oooooh yeah!”

Dig it!


Monday, April 20, 2015

Would You Like Cries With That?

In the midst of all the dreadfully serious stories that made their way to the news last week, a little story about a restaurant that’s a 30 minute drive from my hometown on Cape Breton Island was making some waves of its own.

The management of an upscale seafood restaurant in North Sydney – The Lobster Pound - made a post on the Facebook page for the establishment that read:

“Effective as of now, we will no longer allow small screaming children. We are an adult themed restaurant that caters to those who enjoy food and who are out to enjoy themselves. We understand that this may upset some, but after careful consideration, we believe it’s best for those who enjoy, appreciate and understand our business.”

To say that it “upset some” would be the understatement of the year. Social media was on fire with people posting about this restaurant’s unmitigated gall and how they surely were violating some sort of basic human right. People couldn’t believe that a restaurant would commit “professional suicide” like this and alienate what many people presumed is a large section of the restaurant’s clientele. The outrage rose to a fever pitch when someone broke out the “but what if these children have special needs?” card, ignoring the fact that these children may just be unpleasant and quasi-feral little beasts.

Within hours, the restaurant owner took to social media and apologized for the remark – assuring that he was very sorry for his comments, and  that children would continue to be welcome in his establishment. As a parent of two boys, ages seven and three, I’m incredibly disappointed.

I’m not disappointed with the restaurant owner for saying that screaming children were no longer welcome at his adult-oriented establishment; quite the contrary, actually. I believe he was taking a stand for the best interests of his most loyal patrons who like to enjoy a relaxed, sit-down meal without having someone’s beautiful and unique snowflake doing their best impersonation of Damien from The Omen at the table next to them.

It’s just one more example of how everyone is offended by everything, but the moment someone speaks up about the loutish behavior of one of these chronically offended folks (or their kids), look out. There are far too many people in our society who mistakenly believe the world revolves around them, and when something doesn’t go their way it’s an instant crisis that demands immediate attention.

A perfect example; my wife and I get out together without our kids about as often as Haley’s Comet passes by. When we’re out, we would like to enjoy a quiet adult meal that we can eat with both hands and have time to chew, while actually giving each other our undivided attention and talking about (or trying to talk about) subjects that don’t involve our two boys.  That is, apparently, too much to ask for some people, though, because they would assert that an upscale restaurant is a perfectly normal place take your temperamental 4 year old when he or she feels like having a 45 minute screaming fit. How dare we infringe on someone’s right to infringe on our evening out? How inconsiderate of us to want a little bit of peace and quiet and a short break from our normal responsibilities!

It’s not just restaurants either. I can count multiple times where I have gone to the movies and had someone bring a newborn in to sit in a carrier next to them. It’s almost acceptable if you’re seeing Finding Nemo, but it was a little distracting to have a baby cry through the second half of Django Unchained. I also sat through a live theatre production once with a five year old turned backwards on his chair and staring in my face the entire time while blowing spit bubbles. How charming.

Kids can be awful. You know it and I know it. There is nothing I enjoy more and that I find more rewarding than being a Dad – but sometimes my kids need an exorcism. My wife and I have been brave enough to take them out to places outside of the normal fast food fare,  like Boston Pizza and Montana’s, and we’ve tried to teach them basic table manners and how important it is to be courteous to fellow diners.  We have received compliments on how well behaved and polite they are, but that didn’t stop my three year old from asking a neighboring table if he could have their dessert if they didn’t eat it or my seven year old from lifting his shirt up to his neck at the table to show us a mosquito bite on his nipple.

We all love our kids. The fact of the matter is that not everyone else does. We should have the common sense as adults to realize that there are some places we just shouldn’t take our children, and we shouldn’t guilt trip anyone who reminds us of that fact. Most toddlers don’t belong at a fine dining establishment any more than a 40 year old man belongs at a sweet 16 birthday party.

We, as parents, have made a conscious decision to allow our lives to revolve around these little people, but that doesn’t give us the right to force that on anyone else. We spend so much time teaching our children common courtesy that we sometimes completely forget our own.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

The $125,000 Wildcat Question


That’s how much Moncton taxpayers paid in order to move a Moncton Wildcats playoff game to Fredericton this past weekend because of a scheduling conflict with the yearly Radical Speed Sport car show at the Moncton Coliseum.  Amazingly, the Speed Sport show has been running for approximately five decades and nobody had the foresight to think that maybe there would be a conflict with Wildcats playoff hockey.

Something is rotten in the city of Moncton, methinks.

Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc stated in an interview that this scheduling debacle is proof positive that the Moncton Coliseum - with its ‘jam packed’ schedule - cannot continue to serve all its clients, and the only way we can solve this problem is to build the oft-discussed new Events Centre (cue harps) downtown .  You know, the one that’s estimated to cost $107 million- paid for with magical funding from our almost broke provincial government!

Yes folks, a city council that recently talked about reducing budgets for municipal services is going to ask a provincial government that angered half its population with recent cuts in their budget for a huge subsidy so we can have a new place for our hockey team to play.

Is this real life?

Am I the only person who sees how insane this is? I will be the first person to say that the Moncton Coliseum isn’t an ideal venue. It’s too hot in the warmer months and the ceiling is too low for some major acts that come through these parts; those are my two major complaints. It does, however, a decent job of hosting the sporadic non-hockey events that are held there and with a few million put toward a new air system and a roofing solution, it’d be a pretty good overall establishment.

It’s like this; I drive a 2007 Hyundai Tucson. It’s a little older, but it’s still in excellent shape. It gets me from point A to point B, and it does an overall good job of it. I occasionally have to put some repairs into it, but it’s a really good, reliable vehicle. Would I love to have a $90,000 Cadillac Escalade with all the bells and whistles? Absolutely, I would – but I simply don’t have the money to do so. Do I go out and borrow a hundred grand from somebody for a new luxury SUV while my wife and I are trying to budget for a much-needed family vacation this summer? No, because I’m not an idiot and I would like to remain happily married.

If you look at the Moncton Coliseum ticketing website, you will see that there is no schedule of events packed to capacity as Mayor LeBlanc would have you believe. You have the Beer Fest, some cheerleading championships, the Speed Sport show, and two concerts by aging bands where tickets are hardly flying off the shelves – and that’s it between now and September! If you can’t schedule events around that smattering of attractions, there’s something seriously wrong.

So, if we’re not using the Coliseum to its full potential, why do we need a new glistening megaplex downtown?  To me that’s the real funny part. There’s all kinds of talk about how this will be a veritable gold mine for the area and a surefire money maker. It will bring all kinds of positive economic spinoff to Moncton and anyone who doesn’t support it is, apparently, crazy.

To that, I have but one question - if it’s a surefire home run, why aren’t successful folks in New Brunswick’s private sector lining up to throw their money at it? I’ll tell you why. It’s because the wealthy don’t get that way by flushing their cash down the toilet. They’re quite calculating and strategic with how they spend their capital and they know a pig in a poke when they see it – and this one reeks of bacon.  Why should they spend their money when we have elected officials lobbying to mitigate the risks of the wealthy and instead go all into risky ventures with public dollars?

It’s all really quite mind-numbing.

The talk of the Events Centre, sadly, has to stop. It’s a pipe dream – at best – in our current financial reality and to use a (highly suspect) scheduling mistake to justify driving a city and province to even deeper levels of debt is preposterous. It’s like something from a bad sitcom.

I’d love to have a new Events Centre; I think we all would.  It would be great to check out some entertainment in a new state-of-the-art facility, but I certainly don’t want my municipal tax dollars or provincial funds that should be going towards stuff like my kids’ education or hospitals being spent on it. The fact that this is even being discussed seriously by our Mayor and council shows an alarming lack of understanding of this city’s priorities and I would sincerely hope that saner heads will prevail.

As much as we want it, we’re not always meant to have that Cadillac in the driveway or Events Centre on Main Street. Sometimes we just have to make do with the 8 year old Hyundai.


Monday, April 06, 2015

Same Old New Brunswick.

The much-awaited New Brunswick Budget came down the pipeline last week. If you ask the current Liberal provincial government, they would tell you that it was a very fair approach to reducing this province’s embarrassing deficit and a step in the right direction toward re-establishing financial stability in a province on the cusp of bankruptcy.

To listen to our government, it’s a road map that should show us that tightening our belts will result in a better life for us all down the road. It’s a budget filled with well thought out decisions and carefully planned cuts that are ensuring that we, as New Brunswickers, are treated fairly across the board and that we’re all expected to contribute equally to getting this province out of its financial quagmire.

Well, except if you’re a child.

Yes, in a province that leads the country in illiteracy rates (at least we’re number one in something), it was deemed necessary to eliminate 249 teaching jobs. Citing declining enrollment in schools - probably because fed-up parents are moving their families out of here – the government explained to us plebes that less students simply equals the need for less teachers. If our education woes could be summed up in a sixth grade math equation, this would be a fine way of looking at things. Sadly, they can’t.

There are far more things to be considered in New Brunswick’s education picture than student/teacher ratios, but the brain trust in Fredericton simply looked at some numbers out of context and slashed one of our most important resources in the fight to improve overall education in this province. Those teachers could be used to assist struggling students in some smaller classes, as well as launching some credible literacy programs that aren’t staffed by largely unqualified volunteers.  We’ll put money into segregating English and French kids on different buses, but we can’t pay teachers to help improve the literacy rates of our children?

I have always largely judged governments on their approach to education and this new Liberal government led by Mr. Brian Gallant has shown me that it couldn’t give a fiddler’s fig about how our kids are being educated now and in the future. It’s an embarrassment.

What’s a little bit of illiteracy among our children when everyone else is treated so fairly in this new budget, right? Oh, sorry – I forgot about those senior citizen folks.  They’re also getting some governmental screws put to them as well.

The previous cap for provincially subsidized nursing home care in this province used to be set at $113 per day. The new budget eliminates that control that was previously in place and more than doubles the maximum to $233 per day – but only towards those who can “afford to pay”. How is that designation arrived at?  Well, any life savings or investments these folks may have had will no longer be considered off limits when calculating an individual’s ability to pay. That meagre inheritance that you may have been saving for your children is now within reach of the government’s clutches and will likely be snapped up to help pay for your required care.

If you managed to stay out of a nursing home, though, don’t think you’ve been forgotten by the folks in Fredericton! There are some nice increases of ‘unspecified amounts’ coming to your Medavie Blue Cross prescription drug plan. If your heart rate increases at this news, you also need to be prepared to pay a previously waived fee of $130 for an ambulance ride to the hospital.

There goes Moncton’s recent ranking as one of the best places to retire in Canada.

Alright, so aside from the kids and the seniors, everyone else is getting a fair shake, right? Perhaps; unless you’re forgetting about those recent post-secondary graduates who were receiving a financial break to stay in New Brunswick after they finished their schooling. That’s being scrapped as well.

There was a $20,000 maximum tuition rebate for graduates who decided to remain in this province after graduation and work in their chosen field. It was a great incentive for young, bright minds not to take their talents westward and stay here to contribute to our economy. Now that the rebate is being scrapped, there isn’t much enticement for these graduates not to ply their trades elsewhere in the country. 

The government felt that the rebate only helped students who were already collecting salaries and did nothing for students trying to enter the workforce in the first place. Well, good news for those new graduates trying to break into the workforce – there will be lots of positions available when people start leaving this province in droves to work elsewhere!

So our kids, our seniors, and new entrants to the skilled workforce have all been hit by this new budget. They left no stone unturned when it came to reaching into our pockets – and just in case we weren’t reeling enough, we got nailed with a new gas tax and people in professions that make between $150,000 and $250,000 a year will see their personal taxes raised by roughly 5%. That should do wonders for the number of doctors and professionals that decide to continue practicing in our province.  Oddly, there were no sweeping changes to big corporate taxation policies.  I’m not surprised.

As a non-native New Brunswicker, these cuts are sheer madness to me. Most people I have talked to, however, have simply resigned themselves to accepting these changes because that’s what the residents of New Brunswick have become used to. You’ve almost come to expect the abuse and the best you can hope for is that it doesn’t leave as big of a bruise when the next blow comes from the people we elected to office.

Masochists:  Be… In This Place.

Soon, they’ll be the only folks able to stand it.