Fighting Words, where area residents offer their opinions on the issues of the day, from the serious to the whimsical. The opinions expressed on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the Stanley Bridge Centre.
Important lessons on writing and on life
By Michelle M Arsenault
One of the really cool aspects of writing is being able to get inside a character’s head. I love being able to see things through their point of view, to understand where they are coming from, due to their experiences, and being able to demonstrate this to the reader. There’s something really awesome about looking through someone else’s eyes and I wish everyone could do it more in everyday life.
It’s really easy to judge or put people in categories but it’s much more difficult to step back and get a sense of understanding; then again, that’s possibly why most people don’t make the effort.
With characters, you simply have no choice but to understand and appreciate their journey. This is probably one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from writing and probably one that I apply to my everyday life. Actually, when I first started to write as a teenager, I remember that as one of the key reasons why the whole process appealed to me. I felt there wasn’t enough understanding of other people and that through characters, we could all open our eyes a little wider and perhaps show some compassion, as opposed to ignorance.
Fast forward to years later and I think this lesson is even more relevant than ever. When we look at our world today, we definitely see a strong disconnect, a lot of judgment and even more so, a vast divide.
One of the beautiful things about the characters I write about is that they come from many different backgrounds and experiences and I make great efforts to show how this relates to their current situations.
Interestingly enough, real life isn’t that much different if we take the time to investigate.
Progressives can be irrational too
By Jim Brown
It should be shockingly obvious now many Trump supporters voted for their guy not because they loved his policies or thought he could do a competent job but because they wanted to “stick it” to the elites – the folks who were educated and wanted to connect to a much larger world of ideas and possibilities. Many would agree that’s not exactly a rational response.
Trump supporters continue to revel in their ignorance and their stubborn refusal to see beyond their own “tribe.” Fine. But progressives can also carry a grudge. For instance, in Wisconsin and parts of Pennsylvania, when progressives see dairy farmers high-fiving each other over “sticking it” to Canada in the NAFTA talks, their minds might go to a dark place. They might think, why not get some back?
Let’s say Trump wins his fight to dismantle Canada’s supply management system and American milk and other dairy products begin to flow across the northern border in a great white tidal wave. Let’s also say that Canadian producers, now faced with the loss of a big chunk of their formerly protected market, are forced to truck their goods across the US border. (Currently America, despite all the bitching and moaning from the White House and enabling lawmakers, sends far more milk and other dairy goods to Canada than it imports).
I don’t for a minute believe most Canadian consumers would rush out and buy American dairy products. But enough Canadians, especially those struggling to get by on low incomes will be tempted. So will many in the Conservative Party of Canada who would applaud the end of supply management in favor of a completely free market. Between those two groups it will be enough to make a dent.
So Canadian farmers will look to the border states to make up their losses. It won’t work, you say, because such a huge volume of milk is already produced at low prices and demand continues to fall.
Sure, but here’s what could happen.
When our milk and cheese and yogurt starts to appear on their store shelves, millions of progressives might turn up their noses at their own domestic brands to buy Canadian.
It’s an impulsive response, but perhaps not really unexpected.
I can just imagine their eyes lighting up at the sight of a label stating, “Product of Canada.”
Think about it. You’re an American progressive doing a slow burn every time you watch images from a Trump rally in which his supporters yell and scream like love-struck Beatles fans from the 1960s. These are supporters who hurl racist epithets, who constantly chant “Lock Her Up,” who behave like ‘foaming at the mouth’ cave-dwellers.
What are you gonna do? Are you going to be satisfied with just defeating them at the polls, when you know your son and daughters horizons have shrunk to the size of a pinhole? When health care has gone down the sewer and the environment is treated like an STD by the Trump administration? What are you going to do?
Of course, you’ll have to pay quite a bit more for your Canadian milk and cheese if you want to stick it to Trump and millions of his cultists. Then again, maybe not. Just think for a moment. The Canadian dollar is nearly 25 per cent cheaper than the greenback and could drift even lower if Trump decides to get really tough and hammer Canadian produced cars with massive tariffs, as he has threatened to countless times.
And also consider America’s dairy farmers will earn Canadian dollars selling into Canada while Canadian producers will be paid in greenbacks.
Even two years later many of us are in a state of disbelief after the 2016 election.
What were millions of Trump voters thinking when they pulled the lever for a candidate who lies nearly every time he draws a breath, who insults allies and coddles dictators, is a fraud and con artist and is clearly unfit for office?
So only Trump supporters can be irrational and allowed to lash out in ways that actually hurt their own interests?
Better think again…
An ode to summer’s end on PEI, September 1, 2018
By Mike Duffy
My dear late Mother used to say “When Old Home Week ends, summer’s over.”
Well, that was then. Now global warming has given us a glorious end of August, and the forecast is for a very nice September.
Here on Friendly Lane the squirrels are hoarding the peanuts; the birds are emptying the feeders faster than Heather can fill them, and golf shirts and shorts have been replaced by long sleeves and the trusty Glasgow Hills wind shirt.
The mood has been a bit down, as neighbor Audrey contemplates her return to Ontario in a few weeks’ time. How long has she been summering in Cavendish? 60 years? Wow. No wonder she hates to leave.
Labour Day weekend means the end of holidays for families. The kids may be heading back to school, but there are still long lines at Richard’s Seafood in Covehead. Business is so good – 40 minutes is your average wait – that owner Ryan Doucette is staying open until Sept. 19, his latest closing ever.
If you haven’t tried it, Ryan’s simple seafood fare is delicious. Fresh caught seafood, prepared using his secret recipe makes a meal on his deck a must. And his large new tables remind one of the communal tables at Schwartz’ the famous smoked meat deli on St. Lawrence Main in Montreal. Here as there, food, not the furniture is the focus.
Richard’s Seafood has become so famous Ryan draws traffic from town, from North Shore communities as far away as Cavendish and Tracadie, and the carriage trade from the magnificent new homes being built on the “estate lots” next to the old Stanhope Beach Inn, overlooking Covehead Bay.
Quite a contrast with the 50s era cottages which line Shore Drive. They are quiet symbols of our parent’s more modest time.
Realtors are listing lots for $100,000 and up. Then you build a 3000 sq. foot house at $250 a square foot. We’re talking real money. Who are these people and from where do they get that kind of cash?
One friend speculates these big dollar buyers are Islanders who years ago went to Ontario for work, have sold their homes there at a big profit and can now afford to return home and retire in style. Whoever they are, it’s good money for those in the trades, furniture, and interior decoration.
We look back and imprint on our internal memory the glorious days of this perfect summer of 2018. The summer visitors are packing up, and we locals are getting the highways back from the out-of-province cars and campers.
Who said the end of summer is all bad!
Cavendish resident Mike Duffy represents PEI in The Senate of Canada. Share your memories of the glorious summer of ’18. Send them to email@example.com.
Lots of intrigue about planning process during council meeting
By Jim Brown
Can there be anything more boring than sitting through a planning board meeting or a monthly council meeting in which planning board resolutions consume much of the meeting?
Judging by the sparse attendance (just one person) at a recent Resort Municipality meeting, planning issues are definitely not anyone’s idea of a good time.
But think again, dive a little deeper and you will find there are some issues that deserve closer attention and might actually be interesting.
A proposed new cottage development was being discussed at the Aug 20 monthly meeting that would bring 10 new cottages, at a total cost in the range of a million dollars, to an eight acre parcel in the Cavendish area. The only problem was the development fees (performance bond) would work out to about $50,000 or $5,000 for each two bedroom-cottage.
That put several councilors back on their heels. It seemed like a lot to charge considering water parks, restaurants, car washes, a multi-million dollar Catholic retreat and other pricier developments are charged approximately the same or even less.
This was, after all, a cottage development – pretty straightforward with a much lighter environmental footprint. Not a great deal of effluent running off, or noxious chemicals released into the air, for instance. And there is also no significant strain on the municipality’s sewer and water services.
And it’s not as if the Resort Municipality is a newcomer to cottage development. Drive for 45 seconds or so down just about any stretch of the main highway through Cavendish and North Rustico and they will pop up like toadstools, mind you very pretty toadstools. The risk to the environment is definitely much less than for larger, more industrial scale developments.
So what to do? Councillors decided after some discussion to lower the performance bond to $15,000 or $1,500 a unit.
Was that the end of it? Not even close.
They also waded into something I will call ‘development creep.’ Basically, the 10 cottage proposal isn’t a one-off. It’s part of a multi-phased construction project that could add dozens of cottages to the area. The 10 units currently awaiting approval, in themselves, do not constitute a major development, but when smaller projects are linked together over a period of months or years, there is the potential for something much larger.
By doing the development in smaller stages, it’s possible to skirt the major development label and not have to worry about costlier, potential time consuming environmental assessment and other work.
There are more than a few cottage developments in the Resort Municipality that started as five cottages and went to 25 or so without ever going through an environment assessment for a major development, said one member.
He went on to muse if he was a property owner looking to build a major cottage project (20 or more units) “I would be an idiot” not to do it in much smaller phases, if separate building permits can be applied for and secured every month or so. Of course the other compelling reason for doing several phased smaller projects is to guage future demand. Why risk big money on a big development if the demand isn’t there?
Councillors have considerable flexibility when it comes to approving or rejecting proposals and I would say on several of these complicated development proposals they need the wisdom of Solomon.
I would also say, after watching them at work on Aug 20, residents are getting exceptional value for the paltry sum their elected representatives are paid – less than $1,500 annually (the mayor earns a little over $2,000 and the planning board chair just under $1,800).
And no, I don’t think planning is boring.
The big lesson on big mistakes
By Michelle M Arsenault
One of my closest friends used to make terrible decisions. We aren’t talking matching the wrong blouse with a leopard print skirt kind of bad decisions, I mean decisions that sometimes put her in danger, in trouble and in at least one case, resulting in criminal charges. She was an intelligent woman. She wasn’t dumb by any means but yet, incredibly impulsive and essentially a free spirit that maybe, at times, was a bit too free.
However, regardless of her many errors in judgment, people loved her. They were drawn to her warmth, her understanding and most of all, her acceptance.
See the thing about a person who makes a lot of big mistakes is that sometimes they are more accepting of your mistakes. So while I thought the incident involving her hitting a truck then trying to outrun it in a high-speed chase was insane (although, admittedly, successful) and her judgment on men was absolutely terrible, I also knew that because she had made some huge mistakes that there was literally nothing that I could’ve done that she would’ve judged and let’s face it, how many people can you tell your deepest, darkest secrets to and feel safe and accepted when doing so?
That is why everyone loved her. Nobody wants to feel judged and it’s actually quite rare to find people who don’t judge us. In fact, I don’t even know that I would fall into that category either (although, maybe I was reasonably understanding since I did have a friendship with this woman for most of my adult life….did I mention she once ‘borrowed’ her brother’s roommate’s CD…..and you know, failed to tell him?)
And really, the stories I’m telling are the tip of the iceberg.
Acceptance is the key to everything but it’s easier said than done. This is something I struggle with daily. Where my friend was known for constantly picking up strays in her travels on the road of life, it really was a testament to her warm personality. She gave everyone a chance. Everyone. It’s a lesson I’m still trying to learn.
The importance of the “Island way”
By Mike Duffy
Come From Away is the award-winning musical which celebrates the welcome the people of Gander Newfoundland gave more than 6,500 passengers whose trans-Atlantic flights were refused permission to land in the US in the hours following after the 9/11 attacks.
As neighbours, we know about the warmth of Newfoundlanders. But for the people on those 38 passenger planes, the unplanned stop in Gander was both a shock and a surprise.
When they landed they had no idea when they would be allowed to resume their journeys; and to make matters even more stressful, Gander didn’t have enough hotel rooms to house these suddenly stranded strangers.
But all of that stress was alleviated when the people of Gander welcomed the travellers into their homes. The warmth of the Newfoundland welcome turned the adventure into a pleasant and unexpected surprise.
The strangers were so impressed they have not only come back to visit their hosts, they have even donated cash to support local Gander charities. Such is the power of a warm welcome.
Contrast that with the negative experience of an elderly Quebec couple when they recently arrived on our North shore.
As Jim Day of The Guardian reported, for more than 30 years Charles and Jeannie Marcotte of Quebec City have stayed at Chalet Grand-Pre Cottages in Rusticoville.
For the past dozen or so years, Charles, 90, and Jeannie, 86, have paid the same rate, $2,000 for a three-week stay.
Back in February, they reconfirmed their mid-August reservation.
But when they arrived last weekend, they discovered the cottages had been sold, and the new owner claimed to know nothing of their long-standing arrangement for the special rate.
Instead of $2,000, the price had more than doubled to $5,000.
They tried to negotiate a compromise, but in the end, there was no deal.
The Marcottes were devastated. “I’m angry,’’ said Charles Marcotte, “That’s my last time in PEI.’’
The age-wave is affecting the Island’s tourism industry. As baby-boomer operators retire, they are selling out to newcomers. Some of whom have no previous experience in the hospitality business.
The flood of PNP money is accelerating the process.
TIAC, the Tourism Industry Association of PEI, is aware of the turnover problem, and is concerned about the potential impact on the industry.
There have been training sessions for new tourism operators, but how do you teach judgment, sensitivity and charm? Some things are not easy to teach in a classroom.
The Marcottes’ experience is unfortunate, to say the least. But it serves as a reminder that as much as our seafood and scenery, people “come from away” to enjoy the Island way. And the Island way isn’t to reward senior citizens for 30 years of loyal business, by showing them the door.
Cavendish resident Mike Duffy represents PEI in The Senate of Canada
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The Wisdom of Island Natives on Erasing Our History
By Mike Duffy
Had Sir John A. Macdonald not invited himself to the Charlottetown Conference in 1864 there might not have been a Canada. Certainly not as we know it today.
The meeting was meant to discuss a union of the Maritime Provinces. When political leaders in the Province of Canada, (Ontario and Quebec) heard about the meeting, they decided to come as observers.
But when the delegates from the Province of Canada spoke, it became clear they came as more than observers, they were actors who brought with them detailed plans for a much larger union.
So when we delight in seeing Canada cited as the best country in the world, part of that credit has to go to Sir John A, and the “founders of Confederation” who met in Charlottetown almost 155 years ago.
Sir John A’s plan was ambitious. A railway linking the colonies which would stand together against potential American expansionism, a vision for a sharing, compassionate society, and on the negative side of the ledger, the Indian Act, and with it, native residential schools.
The schools were the result of the misguided belief that if you could turn natives into “white men” that would be progress. Just think about it. Kids snatched from their loving parents, and taught that their native culture and traditions were worthless.
The residential school system lasted more than 100 years. The last school didn’t close until 1996, long after Sir John A’s death. So he wasn’t the only prime minister to make the same error when it came to treatment of our native people.
How times have changed.
Now we have programs in schools and universities that celebrate native culture and traditions. We are building long-overdue bridges to our indigenous neighbors.
The well-intentioned City Council in Victoria has gone one step further. They voted to take down the statue of Sir John A. that graced the front entrance to Victoria City Hall. It was the council’s way of seeking reconciliation with native peoples.
My wise colleague, Senator Murray Sinclair, the former judge who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has argued that denigrating our past is no way to promote meaningful reconciliation:
“The problem I have with the overall approach to tearing down statues and buildings is that is counterproductive to … reconciliation because it almost smacks of revenge or smacks of acts of anger, but in reality, what we are trying to do, is we are trying to create more balance in the relationship.”
Victoria City Council could learn a lot from PEI’s native people.
Island native leaders interviewed by CBC show no interest in removing the statue of Sir John A. in downtown Charlottetown. They understand none of our leaders were/are perfect. And that a mature nation learns from its past. It doesn’t try to erase it.
Cavendish resident Mike Duffy represents PEI in The Senate of Canada
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Our litterbugs are behaving like spoiled, lazy children
By Michelle M Arsenault
When driving to work the other day, I noticed something on the road. It was a paper cup. Within seconds I spotted another one. And then another, followed by a paper bag. Liquor bottles, coffee cups, wrappers, pop cans and the list goes on. Garbage that apparently took less energy to toss out a window as opposed to carrying into a house to dispose of in a garbage can…you know, like a responsible adult who has a little respect for the environment.
I think what really pisses me off about all of this is there was actually a group of volunteers in the spring who took the time and effort to clean the sides of roads and ditches on PEI. I’m sure they had nothing better to do on a Saturday morning but to walk along country roads, cleaning up after those who felt entitled to toss garbage out the window, picking up last year’s trash so that the same morons can fly down the road and do it all over again. It kind of reminds me of the lazy, spoiled children who leave their garbage all over the living room, expecting their parents to clean up after them.
We see this everywhere – our beaches, parks, sidewalks, public bathrooms – pretty much wherever people roam freely. It seems publicly shared areas, to some, require no respect. I often wonder what these same people would think if someone went to their house and threw their garbage on the floor and walked out. I’m wondering if they would appreciate the same lack of respect they show to our own public areas.
Public areas are like shared staff rooms at work. Sure, you aren’t necessarily required to clean them but we all have to eat there, so let’s try to show some courtesy. Let’s not be assholes.
Not that this behaviour is limited to PEI. I’ve lived in Moncton, which for the most part was a pretty clean city. However, while working at a grocery store it was nothing to find people’s coffee cups and other crap left in the aisles by lazy customers who couldn’t seem to find their way to the garbage can. In Vancouver, I would see more garbage at some of the bus stops than most people had in their own garbage cans at home; everything from cigarette butts and coffee cups to used condoms. Well, I assumed they were used.
Having said that, PEI is all about tourism. People come here from all over the world to see our beaches, eat our local food and of course, get caught in various tourist traps in Cavendish. However, they probably don’t come here to see garbage tossed on country roads. I can imagine what an impression this must leave when they do.
One of the things about being a tourist somewhere is that you are often very alert to the differences and similarities between their culture and your own. You are very perceptive.
I’m wondering what they think when they are driving to the beach and see Tim Hortons’ cups and pop cans on the side of the road. I don’t know but I suspect that they aren’t thinking ‘Good on them! Why should they be forced to carry that into the house and put it in the garbage can! What an indignity! Someone else will clean it up.’
Yes, I’m sure that’s what’s they are thinking.
What the loss of the Northern Star means
By Jim Brown
It was decades ago and I had just arrived in a small western Canadian town – hired for my second or third reporter’s job.
I had been hired straight over the phone, sight unseen by an editor who had read my sparse resume and somehow “liked the cut of my jib.”
There was no Internet back then, I had no idea what the paper looked like. So it was a bit of a letdown, hell it was a huge letdown, when I got my hands on my first copy. It came from the back of a pickup truck. A reporter broke the twine and separated it from hundreds of others, before throwing it to me. The reporter had been there for probably a decade. And, did I not mention he also did the deliveries?
My heart sank when I looked over cramped, dense columns of text that seemed to stretch on forever, broken only by a few grainy head shots.
“Don’t worry,” someone later told me.
“They let writers ‘breathe’ here.”
What the hell did that mean?
Well, I figured it out in short order.
In journalism school they taught you write tight and short. Even back then. Of course nothing like today’s graduates who send editors into fits of apoplexy if they write a syllable over 400 words.
Let’s just think about that for a moment. A fire that recently consumed the historic Anne of Green Gables Post Office in Cavendish, a landmark in the Resort Municipality and a beloved destination of countless tourists, which just cries out for long form treatment, could get the same space as a business opening, especially if some big ad money is involved.
At my advanced age I have trouble remembering where I parked my car five minutes ago. But I sure remember what stuck in my mind when I caught a glimpse of the Northern Star for the first time, somewhere in the early 2000s: “Jesus, that’s a goddamn tombstone!”
But guess what? If you are a loyal reader and you live anywhere along the North Shore, or in central PEI, a slice of geography that is a big, black hole to much of the Island media, you come to appreciate that seemingly insurmountable wall of words.
You sink back into the pages and read the articles and columns and think to yourself, “So that’s what Aunt Sally or Uncle Mike, or Joe the Grocer, or the youngster from across the street who feeds the dogs when I’m on the lobster boat is up to.”
It doesn’t seem to matter that the news is often weeks old, that council meetings referenced in the paper happened a glacial age ago.
I know I was surprised when I first heard about Breadalbane Community Council. They actually have one there? And, in the August, 2018 issue, it’s a short leap from hockey and tennis nets sitting “at the ready” to preparations for municipal elections to community updates for small businesses to summer reading clubs at the library, to news about food banks and the Breadalbane Environmental Committee, to vacation bible camps, to Johnny Gamester celebrating his 100th birthday to returning summer students and the names of people, many people, in print you may have heard of before, perhaps your neighbor or a family member or a friend, or maybe someone new to the area. It’s all there, you just have to read.
So much going on in a small paper crammed to the gills with names and sprinkled with tasty morsels of local news. A veritable feast for readers who have the time to flip from page to page.
It’s all sifted through the filter of writers who appear to have all the time in the world to write something – to get a turn of phrase just so. Maybe the correspondent took a break after a long, difficult stretch of wresting words and sentences into submission. He or she may have visited a friend’s garden or stopped by the village farmer’s market or helped a pal unload fishing gear and came back with a fresher perspective and more, perhaps even richer, stories to tell.
You don’t get that in the daily news grind, when the deadline is barreling down on you like a Mack truck.
The quality of the writing in the Northern Star is, actually was, very good. Surprisingly good, miraculously good. Who would have thought among maybe a few thousand readers at the most, the publisher would be able to find so many talented writers? Don’t believe me? Go and grab a copy of the last issue. Read every so-called “bush note”, feature story, council writeup.
It’s a writer’s paper (Why do I continue to write in the present tense when it ceased publication on Aug 1?). You don’t just get the facts of the day, the bare bones news, you get a sense of what’s really happening out the there – the rhythms and pacing of daily life. You are inexorably drawn into a community of people, places and things.
The Northern Star was a true rarity, at least in the past few years. A locally owned, small town (community) newspaper published just 12 times a year and sold at news stands for what some might consider an eye-popping price of $2.50 an issue.
But don’t forget, you get a whole month’s worth of news and information crammed into one paper. There I go in the present tense again.
I can’t help thinking that when the last of these community papers bites the dust there won’t be any new ones to replace them. Too much legacy costs in printing, salaries, even free-lance pay and not enough revenues from advertising and subscriptions in the age of Facebook and other digital media platforms.
There was a time when families would actually talk to each across the dining table, now that conversation is muted – everyone staring into the flickering screens of their smart phones.
Joni Mitchell had it right. You never know what you had until its gone.
Don’t just take my word for it: Here’s what a loyal reader had to say.
“We subscribed to it in our family and we loved reading about what’s going on in the neighborhood, and birthdays and anniversaries” and other things, a woman told me.
“We’re so sad it’s not going to be around any more. We always looked forward to its coming every month.”
If you haven’t read the Northern Star, do yourself a favor, pick up the last issue and see what you are going to miss.