(This column was published in the North Shore News on Aug. 7, 2002)

 

Political elite go cruising

 By Leo Knight

HALIFAX - The annual premiers' conference here in Canada's ocean playground has been nothing if not predictable.

 

It could almost be titled, Mo Money - The Sequel.

 

The day after a story appeared in the national press about the infighting in the federal Liberals over what to do with the projected $7 billion budget surplus, the premiers began their own rap, "Gimme some." On the other side of the coin, it does demonstrate that the federal Grits have something else to do when they're not engaged in infighting about who should lead their dysfunctional party. As I understand it, the more conservative element in the government wants the extra funds to go to debt repayment and (gasp!) tax reduction. The other half - the social engineers, the hand-wringers and what has been described elsewhere as Higher Purpose Persons - want increased spending. A little more money for HRDC (Human Resources Development Canada) to toss around to some more businesses in Shawinigan, perhaps. After all, what's a few more files for the Mounties to look into, since they are already up to their eyeballs in more than a dozen ongoing investigations. Or maybe they could conjure up some more dubious reasons to give money to Quebec advertising companies who donated heavily to their favourite political party.

 

While summer is the "silly season" for politics, it is the tourist season for places like this which rely heavily on visitors for the economic benefit. Typically, tourists can line up at eight in the morning for the privilege of taking a 9:30 a.m. trip on Canada's most famous schooner, the Bluenose II. The process is repeated again at noon on most days for a 1:30 p.m. sailing. But not last Wednesday. The premiers had the historic tall ship all to themselves. Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm hosted his colleagues. With limited advisors and assistants aboard and no media, the premiers had private hours in an idyllic situation to discreetly discuss the conference's agenda.

 

The driving part of that agenda seems to be convincing the federal government to live up to its commitment to the Canada Health Act and restore the funding to the provinces which would be applied directly to health care. That is, I suppose, as it should be.

 

The mood of the premiers was probably best summed up by our very own Gordon Campbell, when he said, "The system is in serious jeopardy, and it's no longer good enough to say 'take two aspirins, have plenty of rest, and everything will take care of itself. It won't.'"

 

Campbell continued, "We've reported ourselves to death. This is about getting a financial commitment to a new partnership. Mr. Romanow may have ideas. Frankly, I think most of his ideas are mired in the past."

 

A retired NDP premier from the province which spawned Tommy Douglas, whose ideas are mired in the past? Perish the thought.

 

The prime minister's response to the premiers' message was equally predictable: "They always say that. We gave them money last year."

 

But then he is a little busy trying to salvage his place in history and define his legacy which apparently is doomed to be scandals, patronage and a fountain in the Shawinigan River. The conference is taking place in the Maritimes and Maritimers have probably the second most sarcastic sense of humour in the country. (Newfoundland wins hands down.) There are some local ads being run by the National Citizens Coalition (NCC) which seem to have cut to the chase in the ongoing battle between Alberta's Ralph Klein and Quebec's Bernard Landry.

 

Landry is a Kyoto Accord believer and Klein, true to his common sense approach to everything, says no. As with everything else in this country, Quebec wants one thing, the West want something else and the federal government tries to support Quebec without actually appearing to do so.

 

The NCC is running radio ads on the local airwaves timed to coincide with the premiers' chinwag. They feature cows. Well, more accurately, they feature cows farting.The NCC is trying to raise a stink, so to speak. Evidently, bovine flatulence is a significant contributor to so-called global warming. Gerry Nicholls, vice-president of the NCC, said in a media release, "If the Kyoto treaty is enacted the government could waste tax dollars on a subsidy program to reduce cow flatulence, an emission which apparently helps cause global warming. It sounds like a joke, but unfortunately it's true."

 

The premiers are trying to get the federal government to focus on health care while they are focusing on how not to listen to the premiers.

 

The government is scrapping it out among themselves, trying to figure out how best to waste an extra $7 billion of our money when - when they aren't scrapping it out among themselves to determine who will lead their ship of fools. The prime minister is trying to destroy whatever few good words the history books might have for him by overstaying his welcome. And it seems we are about to sign a treaty that commits us to spending millions on researching methods of minimizing cow farts. So tell me, why is it, exactly, that summer is called the silly season of politics?

 

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