Tag Archives: Bluffer’s Guide

This Week in Me: The New New Democratic Party

Democratic Party / Parti démocratique

Democratic Party / Parti démocratique

Page A2 of today’s Gazette was all me again this week (it’s going to be the case for the next few Mondays as well). Below the usual Monday Calendar is a Bluffer’s Guide to the NDP’s proposed name change (they want to remove the word “New” and become just the “Democratic Party of Canada”), wherein you learn that the previous name for the NDP was, in fact, the New Party.

The NDP is meeting in Halifax this weekend and will debate the name change there.


Page A1 for Monday, August 3, 2009

Page A1 for Monday, August 3, 2009

It will probably stand as the last of my firsts for at least a little while. After four years (off and on) of doing just about every other editing job at the paper, last night I sat at the desk reserved for the Page 1 editor. For the next seven hours, I would be writing the headlines that first hit peoples’ eyes the next day, the ones that they would glance at on the newsstand as they make their decision whether or not to buy it. It’s a very important job, and I’m happy to say I don’t think I screwed it up too much.

As the size of newspapers and their staffs shrink, the prestige of various jobs has diminished somewhat with it. Where a few years ago you had a staff of three working under you, now it’s the size of the entire desk working on the A section on the weekend. And their workload has increased as well. The Page 1 editor used to spend the whole shift concentrated on a single page (and not even all of it). Now they work on A2, A3 and A4.

In my case, it wasn’t so much work. A4 turned into a city news page, A3 had been mostly done in advance, and A2 had the Monday Calendar and Bluffer’s Guide, both of which were written by me (and therefore neither needed any editing, right?).

The other thing to keep in mind about this job is that there’s no real layout involved. Page 1 isn’t laid out, it’s designed by a professional page designer, who tweaks tracking and leading to make sure everything looks perfect. After a few hours, the Page 1 editor gets a page with photos and a bunch of dummy type to be filled out.

Since this was a Sunday, news was kind of light, even with the deaths of two Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and the deportation of Karlheinz Schreiber. It was quite late in the evening before the subject of the main photo was decided on (the calls for what go on Page 1 are the responsibility of the Assistant Managing Editor and the Night Editor, both of whom are usually managers). Other candidates included the Highland Games in the West Island, flooded basements in N.D.G., Schreiber being deported, or something sports-related. My passing thought about taking a picture from the water gun battle on the Plains of Abraham was nixed mainly due to the fact that we had dead soldiers on the page (juxtaposition is everything). Besides, it was a Reuters photo and we had plenty of stuff from our staff photographers. So an Osheaga photo (the second time in two days that Osheaga has been the main art on the front page), but with a playful weather element, became the centrepiece, and the inspiration for my pick of quote of the day.

So yeah, Mom, go ahead and save that page. The rest of you, go read the Bluffer’s Guide, which is on the subject of the vicious lies being told about our health care system south of the border.

TWIM: Scientology, the NFL and other threats to our existence

A double dose from yours truly today:

This week’s Justify Your Existence is an interview with a member of Anonymous, the anti-Scientology group. Though she’s unnamed, you’ll recognize her as the same young woman I made fun of talked about earlier when a video was posted on YouTube in which she said Scientology conspired to get her fired from her job. Though I suggested she was weird, to her credit, she was willing to sit down with me and explain herself. Reaction on their forums is starting to build here.

There’s also a protest today at 11 near Lafontaine Park, for anyone interested.

UPDATE: For those of you who are reading this article because it was posted on the Anonymous forums and have never read it before, Justify Your Existence by its very nature takes a tough stand against its interview subjects — part of the reason it’s tough getting interviews sometimes.

Also, from the Enterbulation forums:

NO WAY!!!!
His name is Steve Fagay?????

Actually, no it’s not. But I’m touched by the maturity.

Finally, I’ve already got hate mail. Sweet.


This week’s Bluffer’s Guide is about the Buffalo Bills game in Toronto this week, and what the NFL testing the waters in Canada could mean for our national football game. There’s suggestion that the Bills might move to Toronto after its current owner dies and the franchise is sold off. Such a move, worryers say, would spell the end to the Toronto Argonauts, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and probably even the CFL itself.

It comes the same day as this piece from The Gazette’s Herb Zurkowsky, quoting league officials worried about the NFL threat. He also has some interesting history in his notes that I wish I’d stolen from is useful for context.

UPDATE (Aug. 21): A reader points out that other NFL games have taken place on Canadian soil. This will be the first time that regular-season games take place in Canada, however.

TWIM: Can Flashpoint become Due South 2?

This week, the Bluffer’s Guide is on the new CTV series Flashpoint, the cop drama “proudly set in Toronto” (but not mentioning its name) which was picked up by CBS and is being aired on both networks at the bound-for-cancellation hour of 10pm Fridays. The decision to pick up the show was made in desperation because the U.S. was facing a writer’s strike, and considering how U.S. critics panned the show, CBS isn’t exactly promoting the heck out of it.

But then a funny thing happened: The show’s ratings weren’t horrible. It got more than 8 million viewers in its premiere, and 7 million last night, winning the night against such fierce competition as repeats of America’s Funniest Home Videos and more repeats of Most Outrageous Moments. Now CBS is talking about potentially renewing the show beyond its 13-episode order.

Then again, that Just for Laughs ABC show also had adequate ratings in the face of critical failure, and it didn’t last long. The plug on that show was finally pulled in May.

UPDATE (July 22): The plot thickens. CBS has rewarded Flashpoint with a switch to Thursdays at 10 (Swingtown does the reverse). The Gazette has a piece on the show, with a dig about how the franco press aren’t covering it.

NHL free agency explained (I hope)

The Bluffer’s Guide this week, courtesy once again of yours truly, is about NHL free agency, which began on July 1 as it does every year. Our beloved Canadiens got its star power-play quarterback snatched away, but have acquired a thug enforcer to toughen the team up.

Because NHL contracts are complicated, I figured some training might be useful for us less-than-insane fans and well-wishers. In order to do that, of course, I had to read the collective agreement that was signed in 2005 after the lockout.

Unfortunately, I failed to realize that the agreement is over 450 pages long (PDF).

Didn’t get a lot of sleep that night. And I’m sure I still got a bunch of things wrong.

Not that I’m worried. If I fail at journalism here, I can always sign in Russia, right?

TWIM: Dion’s carbon tax idea

Somehow, despite working 42 hours this week, I managed to put together another bluffer’s guide, for the Liberal carbon tax plan. Liberal leader Stéphane Dion calls it Green Shift, which I guess is not to be confused with this Green Shift. From the video, it seems to have something to do with stock photos of plants and animals, combined with people in suits clapping awkwardly in a white room.

The 48-page plan (PDF), which ironically wastes quite a bit of space by having blank pages and one-word all-green title pages, explains far more details than non-Liberal politicians would have liked, because now they can’t attack Dion for being unclear.

That doesn’t mean they won’t attack the Liberals though. The Tories have already setup a they-think-it’s-funny website mocking Dion and his plan, saying everyone but the tooth fairy and leprechauns will have to pay more taxes as a result of it.

Basically all you need to know about the plan is this:

  • It would tax polluting fossil fuels and cut income taxes to balance the money difference
  • It exempts gasoline, because politicians are too scared to admit that high gas prices help the environment when suburban soccer moms are griping about how much money it takes to fill up their SUVs. This makes the plan useless for its intended purpose.
  • It’s a Liberal plan, and the Liberals have to become the government and get support from a majority of MPs before they can implement it.

Sorry for the genocide

This week’s bluffer’s guide courtesy of yours truly is about the Canadian residential school system, which the Canadian government formally apologized for this week. In addition to the apology, the government is handing out money by the bucketsful to people who lived in these schools, and has agreed to setup a Truth and Reconciliation commission to study the matter.

The latter is certainly a good idea because despite the huge amount of information out there, a lot of it is contradictory and it would be nice to get some more accuracy about a very shameful part of Canada’s history. I had a lot of trouble with conflicting information about when the schools started, when they closed, where they were located and how many there were and what their ages were (in other words, about half the information in this Reuters factbox). We’re still not entirely sure how many people are involved, but it could easily be over 100,000.

That said, for further reading I would recommend the Indian Residential School Survivor Society and the residential school settlement website.

Also, be sure to check out this classic 1950s CBC educational video about the school system. It’s so cliché it hurts.


I filled in once again for Master Bluffer Peter Cooney in this week’s Bluffer’s Guide as he was having a busy week. I wrote about GM’s closing of a plant in Oshawa, Ont., and what the Canadian Auto Workers union is doing about it.

Naturally, because I’m drunk with power, I included a near-non-sequitur about Stephen Colbert:

But what about Stephen Colbert? True, the city did name March 20, 2007 “Stephen Colbert Day” after the mayor lost a bet with the TV satirist over a game between the Oshawa Generals and Colbert’s favourite Saginaw (Mich.) Spirit, who named their mascot after Colbert. This came after Colbert encouraged Spirit fans to throw copies of GM’s earnings reports onto the ice during a game, a gesture that would perhaps seem not so tongue-in-cheek now.

Myanmar 101

This week’s Bluffer’s Guide is by yours truly, about the crisis in Myanmar following Cyclone Nargis.

I was actually responsible for the entire Seven Days page this week, replacing the vacationing Peter Cooney. So I ended up filing the story to myself (literally, in that I emailed it to my work address from home).

For those who don’t subscribe to the paper, Seven Days also includes a summary of headlines from the week, quotes from each day, editorial cartoons from papers around the world (this week it’s all about Myanmar’s reluctance to accept aid and its decision to keep on with a constitutional referendum to give its governing junta more power) and a few items from this week in history (it was 15 years ago this week, for example, that the Expos retired their first jersey, No. 10 Rusty Staub)

No online link for the bluffer’s guide, so I’ve included it below:

So, what happened? On May 2, Cyclone Nargis made landfall in Myanmar, and became the deadliest natural disaster in the country’s history, killing tens of thousands. International relief efforts have been stymied by the government’s reluctance to issue visas.

Wait, wasn’t that Burma? Yeah, it’s confusing. In 1989, the military junta unilaterally changed the English version of the country’s official name from Burma to Myanmar. Democracy activists reject the legitimacy of that decision and continue to use the name Burma, along with countries such as the United States and Canada. The United Nations, however, recognizes Myanmar.

So how bad was this cyclone? Bad. The storm grew in the Bay of Bengal during the last week of April. It then began weakening, before rapidly intensifying the day before it hit the coast. By that point, it had reached peak wind speeds of 215 kilometres per hour, the equivalent of a Category 3 or Category 4 hurricane.

What’s the death toll? Nobody knows for sure. The UN confirmed 38,000 deaths, while the Red Cross says the number could be anywhere from 60,000 to 130,000. The official government figure is 130,000 dead or missing. It is probably the deadliest cyclone since a 1991 storm hit Bangladesh, killing 138,000 people.

What’s being done to help? Western governments and the United Nations have begun relief efforts, but report frustration that the Myanmar government is being slow to grant visas into the country.

How are neighbouring countries responding? Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, countries hardest hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake (and receiving no assistance from Myanmar) offered millions of dollars worth of money, food and medicine. India, which still has close ties to Myanmar, has led efforts with 140 tonnes of materials.

What is Canada doing? The federal government has promised $2 million in relief aid, including 2,000 shelter kits that left Canada on Wednesday and are being handed off to the International Red Cross in Thailand.

Why is Myanmar resisting aid? Because it makes them look bad. Myanmar has been a military dictatorship ever since a coup d’état in 1962. Free elections in 1990 resulted in a landslide victory for democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, but the results were ignored by the government which refused to step down. Opposition political parties are banned, the Internet is strictly regulated, the media (what little of it is not run by the government) is thoroughly censored and prisons are filled with political prisoners.

Is anything getting in? Yes. Though the government accepted money and supplies from other countries (which it would then proudly hand out to its citizens to improve its image), foreign aid workers would embarrass the military junta, and are being resisted to an extent the UN World Food Programme called “unprecedented” in modern history. The first U.S. military relief plane was only allowed to land in the country 10 days after the disaster.

How will this affect the food crisis? It doesn’t look good. Myanmar is a fertile source of rice, and the cyclone hit at a critical time. Farmers lost 149,000 water buffaloes, which won’t be replaced before the critical plowing season. Aid groups are trying to replace them with Chinese-built machines, but time is running out. Farmers also need tonnes of rice seeds after the ones they had just planted were washed away. If the harvest isn’t saved, a famine might dramatically increase the number of casualties.

Bad timing: Only 10 days after the disaster in Myanmar, a major earthquake in neighbouring China (magnitude 7.9) caused a catastrophe on a similarly devastating scale. The earthquake has affected relief efforts in the region, which must now split between helping both areas.

Worse timing: In the aftermath of the disaster, the Myanmar government decided to proceed with a controversial constitutional referendum, delaying the vote only in the worst affected areas until May 24. The new constitution, which the government said was approved by over 90 per cent of voters and a 99 per cent turnout, reserves parliamentary seats for military officers and restricts who can run for president.

Open-ended discussion question: How would this diaster have affected Myanmar if the country had a free and democratic government and a healthy economy like its neighbours?

That whole Zimbabwe thing

Today’s paper features a Bluffer’s Guide by yours truly on the political situation in Zimbabwe. A full week after the vote, presidential election results have yet to be released. Unofficial tallies though put opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the lead with just under half the votes. If Tsvangirai defeats president Robert Mugabe in a runoff (required when no candidate gets more than 50 per cent of the vote), it would be Mugabe’s first election defeat since taking office 28 years ago.

Something to think about as I’ll spend the equivalent of 500 million Zimbabwean dollars tonight on a fast-food dinner.

TWIM: Kenya and bus schedules

This week’s Bluffer’s Guide concerns the unstable political situation in Kenya, which has already claimed hundreds of lives in a country that was supposed to be one of Africa’s democratic leaders. Worth taking a look in case you feel bad knowing more about the status of Jamie Lynn Spears’s pregnancy than about the difference between Kenya and Rwanda. For more, check out the excellent special sections from The Guardian and BBC News.

This week’s Justify Your Existence concerns the STM’s bus service improvements I mentioned a week and a half ago. Asked why three buses (18 Beaubien, 24 Sherbrooke and 121 Sauvé/Côte-Vertu) had reductions in service (primarily on the weekend) when they were announcing service improvements, the response was that these are normal seasonal variations in service for these lines. The STM changes schedules four times a year, and compared to the winter schedule of January-March 2007, there are no reductions in service:

At each schedule change, we look at the weekend offering, and we adjust based on customer demand. The 24 line, for example, mostly serves business workers, so fewer people take it during the weekend. There will be about 14 hours less service on the weekend for those three lines, but we’re adding over 115 hours of service to those lines during the week.

TWIM: Griffintown and telemarketers

This week’s Justify Your Existence features a slew of “urban planning geeks” who met a few weeks ago to discuss the proposed redevelopment of Griffintown, a sad-looking area just south of downtown. They met at the behest of A.J. Kandy, who runs the Save Griffintown blog and lives in nearby Little Burgundy.

Proposed Griffintown redevelopment

They’re not opposed to the project necessarily. It would revitalize the area, be entirely privately-funded, and provide a lot of housing (social and otherwise). But they’re concerned about its proposed size, which would put an entire neighbourhood under the control of a single real estate company, and some measures they think will encourage car use and discourage pedestrian traffic. (Big box stores like Wal-Mart, for example, take forever to walk around and provide nothing but a brick wall for most of its street-level facade.)

They prefer a mixed environment that’s seen all over downtown Montreal: Commercial establishments at street level, with housing above. They also want more consultation with residents, a promise not to expropriate land, and a cookie.

(UPDATE Dec. 30: Kate mentions formatting problems. Unfortunately, The Gazette hasn’t been able to steal Chimples away to run their copy-paste online operation … yet.)

(UPDATE Dec. 31: AJ has a post on Save Griffintown going into more detail about where they are now.)

(UPDATE Jan. 4: I totally missed it (and I think everyone else did too), but coincidentally in the same issue, J.D. Gravenor interviews Griffintown residents Chris Gobeil and Judith Bauer about their place. Both were part of the urban planning geeks and Gobeil is quoted in my article.)

Also this week is a bluffer’s guide to Canada’s Do Not Call registry. Bell was awarded the contract to run the list (as the sole bidder), and now we’re left wondering if the fox is guarding the chicken coop. The list, which will be free and binding on telemarketers who aren’t charities, politicians or newspapers (haha, suckers) is to be up and running by Sept. 30, 2008.

UPDATE (Jan. 23): Chris Gobeil and Judith Bauer have an op/ed in Le Devoir about Griffintown’s future.

TWIM: Facebook Beacon – threat or menace?

This week’s bluffer’s guide, courtesy of yours truly, is about Facebook Beacon, the outside-website-integration idea that provoked a lot of ruckus among techies because it wasn’t as clearly opt-in as it should have been. That, in turn, prompted a petition from MoveOn.org, media coverage, “block beacon” instruction sites and, eventually, a backtrack and apology from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Some privacy advocates are still concerned that Facebook is receiving the information even if it’s not publicizing it anymore without explicit permission.