An incomplete look back at 2015

NEWS FEATURE by an incomplete roster of Prairie Dog writers


Goodbye 2015, you were an interesting year. From civil wars in Syria and Ukraine, to a terrorist movement that gleefully piles up bodies, to ongoing alarm bells sounding over global warming, to an NDP government in Alberta and a Liberal one in Ottawa, you gave us a lot to think about. And how about Donald Trump? Actually, how about not?

We asked some of our writers to scribble-up their thoughts on a few issues from the last year they found notable. It’s not a complete list but it is kind of a snapshot of what we’ve been thinking about for the last 12 months.

Boom Gone Bust?

Sask-A-Bust is overstating it, but with oil plunging from US$115 a barrel in June 2014 to US$35 today, and a soft market for potash and many other resources/commodities, Saskatchewan is experiencing stiff economic headwinds.

Unemployment is up, as is out-migration to other provinces, and with a growing number of people over-extended from the boom years, food bank use is at record levels.

For the Saskatchewan Party, these are uncharted waters. Elected in the early days of a commodity supercycle fed by China, India and other developing countries, it rode the crest of a powerful wave of growth and prosperity.

Again, not all is doom and gloom. Manufacturing has slumped recently, but agriculture remains strong and promises to benefit further from expanded export opportunities. But times are definitely tighter than they’ve been for some time. And that’s forced the Brad Wall government, at the tail end of its second term with an election looming April 4, to make some tough fiscal decisions.

The Sask. Party government’s commitment to big-budget items such as the Regina bypass, SaskPower carbon capture plant and Lean health management is unwavering, but it has clawed back money from both universities, and cut funding in health and community services too.

Oil isn’t forecast to rebound any time soon. So there’s no help on the horizon there. That could mean more cuts as the government scrambles to remain within spitting distance of a balanced budget.

Of course, with no obligation to present audited budget figures before the election, it’s debatable how true a picture of the province’s finances voters will have. The government’s recent handling of its mid-term financial update doesn’t inspire confidence. It was INEXCUSABLE that it waited until after the fall session ended to release the numbers — conveniently sidestepping opposition and media scrutiny.

That’s dirty pool, and voters have a right to know the true state of our finances prior to the election. /Gregory Beatty

Goodbye, Toxic Conservative Syndrome

Have you ever had chronic pain that lasts so long you forget what life was like without it — and then, suddenly, it goes away?

This fall’s federal election was like that for many Canadians.

The victory of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals over Stephen Harper’s Conservatives lifted a gargantuan weight off a lot of shoulders. For people who want Canada to be smarter, kinder, more generous and all-around better, the morale boost can’t be understated.

Factually speaking, Stephen Harper was a bad prime minister. He was mean. He was a bully. He wasn’t open to ideas. He had contempt for expertise, unless he agreed with what the experts were saying. He abused his power to silence criticism.

He was a shitty, arrogant jerk who has no business being PM and I’ve never heard a rational defence of his government.

And that’s the thing. From the beginning of the Harper era, his strongest supporters were deluded stooges. It’s only after their political parties lost — federally, and in Alberta — that we can clearly see how toxic they’ve been.

It’s frustrating because many conservative concepts aren’t inherently wrong and it should be possible to exchange ideas with someone who’s conservative. Unfortunately, thanks to the “common sense” political movement peddled by politicians like Mike Harris, Ralph Klein, Rob Ford and Harper, that’s not possible any more.

Just look at these idiots: in Alberta, they’re openly talking about secession and political assassination, just because they didn’t win an election. In Ontario, they defended Rob Ford no matter what he did.

In the United States, they’re saying nice things about an openly fascist Donald Trump.

It’s ridiculous.

The world will always have jerks and idiots who can’t be reasoned with. I get that. But until this fall, their ignorance, bigotry, fear and hatred was openly welcomed in conservative political circles. Hell, it was recruited.

The election of Trudeau — a far from perfect prime minister — was a huge setback to people with awful politics. Those who hate refugees, social programs, art and anyone who isn’t like them learned their views are suddenly a lot less welcome. Good.

It’s really exciting to think what this country might be able to do with these angry monkeys off our back. /Stephen Whitworth

Renew Or Die: Please, Pick One

Many thousands of words have been spilled over the two months since the federal election, dissecting what went wrong with Thomas Mulcair’s ill-fated run to become prime minister.

Can you bear a few more?

From his impressive lead in the summertime polls to a distant third-place finish on Oct. 19, most of the establishment media read the loss as a historic humiliation for the New Democrats and their beardo-in-chief. And based on all the sour NDP faces, their party’s collapse was a bitter tonic; that it cured Ottawa of a chronic case of Harperrhea was apparently small comfort.

The finger pointing began almost instantly. “It was the corporate media elites who love their Liberal/Conservative binary who never took us seriously!” (Leaving out that as official opposition they had four years to build a relationship with the media but instead the NDP organization oozed almost as much hostility and suspicion for the press as Harper did.)

“It was strategic voting that cut us off at the knees!” (Says the party that happily asked Liberal supporters to lend them their vote in 2006.)

“It was our principled stand on the niqab that lost us seats with racists in Quebec!” (Ignoring the fact that the NDP slide in French Canada began much earlier, with Mulcair’s fiscal blue-shift towards balanced budgets. Also, what does this imply about the party’s feelings for La Belle Province?)

Thing is, Mulcair’s lead was never anything more than a conjuration of the pollsters. It was some species of chimera: one head with a ferocious distaste for the Harper government, one head hungry for a progressive change agent like Rachel Notley, and a head in the middle with unhappy memories of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. It was a meaningless creature of fantasy, unless Mulcair and his campaign team could turn it into real votes on election day.

They couldn’t. To do that they needed to bring their best game out onto the hustings.

Instead, they brought the same limp and cautious campaign that provincial wings of the party rolled out to great lack-of-success earlier in 2015 in Ontario and also in BC in 2013.

The NDP needs to give its head a shake and start taking elections seriously. Some might even say some big heads — probably even bearded heads — need to roll. But if their decision at the leadership convention in Edmonton in April is to stay the course, strengthen their resolve, keep fighting the good fight or whatever other clichés for “defend the status quo” they choose to dredge up, then they’re never going to convince anyone that they’re a party ready for anything better than third place. /Paul  Dechene

The Guns Of 2015

As of Dec. 3, the U.S. National Gun Archives reported 353 mass shootings (an incident with at least four casualties) in the United States this year.

Of those 353 mass shootings, 62 were at schools. In total 21,223 people were killed and 24,722 people were injured.

In case you’re wondering, yes, that’s far more than one mass shooting a day. Someone is shot dead every 16 minutes in the U.S.

Here’s a fun game: how many Americans were shot to death while you were reading this article?

It’s not like Americans don’t understand that guns kill people and that their country has a gun control problem. According to a Pew poll, 70 per cent of Americans claim to be in favour of a gun sale database and 80 per cent do not believe mentally ill Americans should be able to purchase a gun. Most Americans appear to be thinking clearly on this issue; which is a relief.

And yet nothing changes.

What’s the problem?

Let’s start with the Second Amendment. Gun laws are lax, and many Americans go nuts when you try to change that, screaming and whining about their constitutional right to carry assault rifles. But the fact is; the Second Amendment is outdated and riddled with silly loopholes like the “South Carolina Loophole”, which explains how two individuals with criminal records were able to purchase semi automatics online. The offenders were able to gain access to weapons because it took the FBI longer than three days to respond to background checks.

Apparently, in the U.S. after three days anyone has the right to buy an assault rifle. In other words, if the FBI is busy, it’s okay to just go ahead and wave the background check and sell hot-lead fun to anyone.

Which officially makes it easier to get a gun in the U.S. than to get public housing, which evicts all those with criminal records, thanks to Bill Clinton’s tough-on-crime bullshit from the ’90s.

It’s also easier to get a gun than access women’s reproductive health care. Just ask Tennessee’s Anna Yocca, who was arrested for giving herself a bathtub abortion because her backwoods hick-state made it impossible for her to get the health care she needed. If she’d shot the fetus, she’d probably be walking free right now.

Oh, and don’t forget apathy!!! The problem lies in low voter turn outs, and disproportionate power dynamics between less and more populated states within congress. In the U.S. senators representing densely populated areas like California have exactly the same amount of power as those representing smaller, less populated area such as the Dakotas.

Can it be fixed? Sure… as long as Trump or any other Republican doesn’t get elected.

This is a hot topic, and the Democratic candidates are all over it. All three of the top runners are consistently harping on one another for any slight slip regarding gun control. South Carolina is lobbying to dismantle the South Carolina Loophole and Obama has made the same speech over and over again; even remarking on the monotony of these speeches is begging to sound like a broken record.

However, despite heavy hitters stepping up to the plate, the largest impact comes from the people; voters need to start showing up to the polls, if they expect actual change. /Ashley Rankin