27 February 2015

Language Problems #nlpoli

“Increasing taxes is not about solving the deficit, it’s about maintaining our programs and services that we have.”

That’s what Labrador and aboriginal affairs minister Keith Russell told the handful of people who showed up for the government’s pre-budget consultation in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

The Conservatives are perturbed that the turnout for these sessions has been small.  Part of the problem was the tight timeline:  they only announced the dates last week and started the first session on Monday.  Another part of the problem is that everyone knows that the things are a farce. They aren’t interested in wasting their time.

People should turn out to these things, though, if only for the entertainment they offer,  not to mention the practicality of it.

Keith Russell really is a cabinet minister. Just getting that thought between your ears is going to produce a skullular numbness  that is way better than you could every get by sharing a spliff or two or a swalley or six out in  the shed with da byes.

All the buzz. 

Perfectly legal. 

And there are no side effects whatsoever.

Well, not if you ignore entirely the financial mess that Russell and his pals have made over the past decade. Frankly, while your mind wraps around the idea that Russell is actually making decisions that will shag up the future of your grandchildren’s grandchildren, you just wouldn’t be able to worry about anything else, anyway.

Anyway, just go back and look at that quote.  All those taxes the Conservatives will be raising in a couple of months are not to deal with the fact the government doesn’t have enough money, also known as the deficit. No. We are going to pay those taxes to keep the nice things we need. 

Like education for our kids. 

Or health care.

Whoever dreamed up that line and gave it to Russell likely thought it was clever. Maybe even positive, in a look on the bright side of things kind of way. Unfortunately,  it doesn’t come across that way.  It sounds more like what one might hear from the kid in the cartoon who shakes down the kid and his stuffed tiger for their lunch money.  There’s something vaguely threatening or sinister in it.  Pay up or else.

Language has never really been something the Conservatives have been good at. Kathy Dunderdale was famous for talking about this piece and that piece and due diligence and such.  They like to claim the public debt is lower when it is actually higher today than in 2003.

The folks at Nalcor have a huge problem with language.  It’s at the root of their interminable public problem with Muskrat Falls. They cannot explain in simple English why the deal is good. They cannot produce one shred of evidence to back any of their claims about markets or that it is the cheapest way to make electricity for the domestic market. They cannot produce it because they never did the work. They have no export markets for the electricity. Instead, they talk about revenue stream, without acknowledging that the stream comes from the pockets of people in the province are being forced, by law, to foot the bill for the whole thing.

They cannot make the explanation in plain English because the deal isn’t simple.  It is the spawn of an incestuous coupling of the twins Ego and Politics.  And like all such progeny, Muskrat Falls is an abomination. Gil Bennett,  wet nurse to The Beast, defends his charge with a passion that is at once admirable and akin to something out of a Greek tragedy. Bennett must resort, inevitably, to fiddling about with language.  Whether it is about water management or Quebec or other “facts” Bennett winds up parsing the fine meaning of words. Yet, for all his energy, Bennett ultimately fails.

In the courts, they are not exempt from the language problem afflicting government. They just have a different kind of problem. Mark Pike is chief judge of the provincial court.  Pike is trying to sort out an administrative problem in the court that handles scheduling. 

As the Telegram reported a couple of weeks ago, “Pike came up with the idea of a standard deferral process for criminal cases. What that means is that once a person has been charged and released from custody and has found a lawyer, their case will be set over for one year.”

Pike suggested this scheme in 2012 to the committee of officials called the Criminal Justice Committee. The prosecution and defence lawyers are not keen on Pike’s scheme.   They prefer something like the current approach because it keeps pressure on everyone to get the trial moving.

Their position is consistent with what the Supreme Court of Canada decided in a case commonly known as Askov.  The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees an accused person the right to a trial within a reasonable period of time.  The court found the delays in that case were excessive when they took up to two years to bring to trial.

In a survey of jurisdictions as part of the decision, the court found that virtually every provincial court in the country scheduled trials within six months of the police laying a charge.  Read the decision from 25 years ago and you’d have to wonder what the Gang of Nine in Ottawa these days might think of Pike’s idea. The language from 1990 might give Mark more problems than a few local lawyers who aren’t keen on his scheme.

They’d probably think no more of it than his curious effort a few years ago to do away with annual conferences of the provincial court judges.  The Provincial Court Act requires that the judges all get together once a year. It gives them a chance to discuss common problems and such and generally to develop a common bond among the crowd of judges who are usually scattered across the province.

As it seems, Pike  had a problem with the language in the law.  So the minister introduced an amendment to the Act in the House in 2013 that would have removed the requirement for an annual meeting.  The bill did a couple of trivial things in addition but those were cover for the central purpose of the amendment:  the meetings would go from being annual to being at Mark’s sole discretion.  The amendment made it to first reading but died a very quick -  if quiet - death once the language of the amendment spread on the wind. 

Funny that.