Silver Donald Cameron

Archive for January, 2009

The Cheerful Little Restaurants

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

January 25, 2009

The sauerkraut was bright, crisp and tangy, and the sausages were robust and spicy – just what I wanted. The waiter was an attentive, good-humoured middle-aged man named Burt – the only male server for miles around, he said.

“How’s your haddock?” I asked. Marjorie has extensive knowledge of pan-fried haddock.

“Perfect,” said Marjorie.

“This place is a find,” I said. It was noon-hour, and the restaurant was packed.

We were in Bridgewater, at Waves Seafood and Grill – an undistinguished-looking store-front in a thoroughly ordinary strip mall. The décor was clean and simple, but far from fancy – booths, tables, vinyl floor with pools of meltwater.

But the patrons were voluble and happy, and no wonder. The service was first-rate, the food was excellent, and the menu bespoke the location. You could get any of the staple lunches of small-town restaurants – chops, liver, the always-safe clubhouse sandwich. But we were in Lunenburg County, you, so the menu also offered seafood, sauerkraut, sausage – food that reflected the taste that Lunenburgers brought from Germany 250 years ago.

“There are other restaurants like this around the province,” I said. “There’s a little place called Crofter’s in New Glasgow. It’s in a little strip mall on the Stellarton Road. Good solid food, historical photos on the walls, and an unobtrusive Scottish character, as befits New Glasgow. Great staff, great value.”

That’s not just my opinion. When I later went prowling online, I found Crofter’s described as “cozy, interesting and friendly.”

“I don’t know what we expected,” wrote one happy patron, “but this restaurant exceeded our expectations. Good fresh seafood, good steak, helpful hostess, attractive, pleasant and efficient waitress, good ambiance.”

“I remember Crofter’s,” Marjorie said. “The pan-fried haddock was really good. And what about the Fleur de Lis in Port Hawkesbury?”

Same story – a simple but welcoming little restaurant in a strip mall, with excellent food which reflects the proprietors’ Acadian origins. The last time I was there, a happy lunchtime crowd made it hard to get a seat. I had Acadian fish-cakes with homemade baked beans and thick slices of bread – delicious, hearty and affordable. Marjorie was equally pleased with her meal. In a wild spasm of experimentation, she chose the haddock burger.

And again, the online comments agree. “Oh, this is such a good little restaurant,” writes one patron of the Fleur-de-Lis. “Easy to miss because it’s tucked away in the shopping strip mall—near Sobey’s. But oh the food is good especially the apple or blueberry crisp. We always eat there when we are in Cape Breton which is at least twice a year. Don’t miss this place!!!”

And I was charmed by another Web endorsement from a much younger critic: “i love this restaurant since my mo owns it, (brenda chisholm) i am candice chisholm and I am 13 years old. I guarantee that you will have food at its best from this restaurant so if you go, please enjoy”

You bet, Candice.

These three restaurants are open all year, as is The Knot Pub in Lunenburg, acclaimed as one of Canada’s best pubs – and who am I to argue? Once again, The Knot knows where it is – in a German-rooted seaport – so the interior is all rope and blocks, navigation lamps, flags, casks and nameplates. The sauerkraut and seafood is excellent, and so is the house beer, a “Knots Ale” brewed by Propeller. (And, says Marjorie, so is the haddock.)

These cheerful little restaurants are all located in market towns – small communities, but large enough to sustain a year-round business. They’re in high-traffic locations with ample parking. They’re attuned to their markets, catering to local tastes and budgets. They compete very successfully with fast-food chain restaurants – and they’ve been around for a while.

I’m sure there are similar restaurants in comparable towns that I’m less familiar with – Amherst, Kentville, Yarmouth. (In fact I’d like to hear about such restaurants; if you have one to suggest, drop me a line at ). Unpretentious, reliable and welcoming, these little restaurants have all built loyal, local followings, and they lift the heart of a winter traveller who’s lucky enough to find one.

– 30 —

Allan Blakeney: A Genuine Public Servant

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

January 18, 2009

“There are disadvantages in being in government in a small province,” writes Allan Blakeney in his recent memoir, An Honourable Calling (University of Toronto Press, 2008). “But there advantages, too. One of them is that the smaller scale allows one to plan and bring about many changes in a short time.” Denizens of Province House, please pay attention.

Blakeney hails from Bridgewater, NS, but he made his mark as NDP Premier of Saskatchewan from 1971 to 1982. His adopted province, he comments, has a long history as “a social laboratory for Canada.” In 1944, it gave us North America’s first democratic socialist government, headed by the legendary Tommy Douglas, who soon brought in universal hospital insurance, followed in 1962 by Canada’s first medicare program. Canadians today regard medicare as a defining feature of our country – but it was fiercely opposed at the outset, and it only came about after a bitter month-long strike by the province’s doctors.

Blakeney was a minister in Douglas’ cabinet, and in Woodrow Lloyd’s after Douglas moved on to become the first federal leader of the NDP. He succeeded Lloyd as party leader in 1970, and became Premier after winning the provincial election of 1971.

Does it make a difference which party is in power? You bet it does.

Ross Thatcher’s outgoing Liberal government had instituted user fees in medicare, and barred strikes in essential services. In its first two weeks in office, Blakeney writes, the NDP reversed both decisions – and also “we removed the medicare tax for people over 65; we reduced hours of work before overtime provisions kicked in; we gave extra protection to farmers against the seizure of their land and machinery by creditors; and we removed charges against the estates of patients who had received treatment for mental illness.”

That was the first fortnight. Blakeney’s NDP later implemented Canada’s first 40-hour work week, along with longer annual vacations, equal pay for women, and maternity and bereavement leave. It introduced Canada’s highest minimum wage – and although business objected, as it always does, profits went up. “Employees who get good wages spend their money,” says Blakeney, “ and – big surprise – employers do well.”

The NDP’s vision has always included an enhanced version of universal, comprehensive and accessible medicare that would include drug costs and dentistry, a vision still unfulfilled nationally. More than 30 years ago, however, Blakeney’s Saskatchewan had both.

In 1971, Saskatchewan had the lowest per-capita ratio of dentists in Canada, and many families lived more than 50 miles from the nearest dentist. The government created a corps of 400 “dental therapists”with two years of training to provide routine dental services and dental hygiene instruction to all school children. The program was both effective and popular.

Pharmacare, meanwhile, made prescription drug coverage available to everyone. At its heart were “standing offer contracts” with major drug manufacturers based on public tenders for six-months’ supplies of approved drugs. The tenders drove basic drug costs down, but pharmacies received an agreed mark-up and a dispensing fee. Normally, the province paid for the drug, and the patient paid the dispensing fee. The plan covered over 90% of the people using prescription drugs in the province.

Blakeney’s government was ultimately defeated by Grant Devine’s Progressive Conservatives. Blakeney led his party into one more unsuccessful election before retiring. Meanwhile, the Devine government dismantled the dental plan, turning dental care over to private clinics. It also modified the drug plan, says Blakeney, by introducing “financial barriers, with the result that fewer than 20 per cent of the potential beneficiaries received financial support.”

The dental program was never reinstated, although the pharmacare program was later revived. Blakeney notes that the same principles could guide a comprehensive national pharmacare scheme which would produce “massive savings for Canadians, either as taxpayers or patients or both.”

In office, Blakeney confronted many other major issues of late 20th-century Canada — the National Energy Policy, the Constitution, uranium, native affairs, NAFTA, potash, rural decline and more. What dominates his book, though, is the deep decency of the man and his political philosophy, his in-the-bones vision of a society at once rational, prudent and caring. Canada owes a great deal to Saskatchewan – and to the Nova Scotian who was once its premier.

– 30 –

Disgracing Our National Game

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

January 11, 2009

When I was eleven, all I wanted was to be Max Bentley, “The Dipsy-Doodle Dandy from Delisle.”

Bentley belonged to an extraordinary family of five hockey players from Delisle, Saskatchewan. Three Bentleys made the NHL, and two – Max and Doug – made the Hall of Fame. Max was a star centre with the mighty Toronto Maple Leafs, Stanley Cup winners in four years out of five. A magnificent stick-handler and play-maker, Max was NHL scoring champion two years running.

But how could I become an ice-hockey star in Vancouver, a city with no ice? Instead, our gang played on the street with roller skates clamped to our shoes. We wore shin-pads, hockey gloves and Maple Leaf sweaters. We were Max Bentley, Syl Apps, Teeder Kennedy, Turk Broda, the greatest team on earth.

And if we got hurt, so what? One time I fell and broke a front tooth on the concrete. The dentist treated it the following Saturday. That afternoon, Billy Weeks took a swipe at the puck. His stick glanced off mine, and flew into my face. There went my other front tooth.

It was, absolutely, an accident. Billy was aghast. We never, ever fought, for the excellent reason that if we did, the gang would disperse and the game would be over, perhaps permanently. Unthinkable.

I no longer follow hockey, but I retain a visceral love for it. But the death of 21-year-old Don Sanderson after an on-ice fight heats up a simmering disgust dating back at least to Todd Bertuzzi’s vicious attack on Steve Moore in March, 2004.

Enough, already. Enough. If you want to play hockey, emulate masters like Bentley or Gretzky. If you want to fight, become boxers.

Yes, I know that hockey players have always fought. Four players apparently died in 1904 alone, and numerous others have been killed, crippled or disabled over the years. In one notorious incident in 1933, Boston’s Eddie Shore hit Leafs’ star Ace Bailey hard from behind, smacking his head on the ice, fracturing his skull and ending his career. Todd Bertuzzi did the same for Steve Moore five years ago.

So hockey violence has a long tradition. So what? Bear-baiting once was groovy. Christians vs Lions was boffo entertainment in imperial Rome. In 1840, the founder of this newspaper, Joseph Howe, settled an argument by duelling. Should that fact help me if I shoot a critic this afternoon?

Fighting is not, as some of its defenders claim, just a natural outcome of rough, fast sports. It’s not tolerated in college hockey, in European hockey or in other contact sports like football and soccer. After the 1920s, hockey mayhem apparently declined until the league expanded in the 1960s, so we didn’t hear much about fighting in Foster Hewitt’s wonderful radio broadcasts of the 1940s. The six-team NHL of the 1940s only had room for players who could skate, stick-handle, pass and score. A swollen NHL could accommodate louts who specialized in bruising and bashing.

Don Sanderson’s death is being blamed on bad luck, and on the fact that his helmet popped off during that fatal fight. Again, so what? If you go to rob a corner store and the proprietor winds up dead, you’re guilty of murder even if you didn’t really mean to snuff him. Sanderson didn’t fall on the ice by accident. He fell in the course of a fistfight. No fight, no death.

The NHL could readily put an end to this. In 1927, Boston’s Billy Coutu attacked a referee, and the NHL expelled him for life. Bravo. The courts could help, too. Todd Bertuzzi’s sentence for assault was a conditional discharge and a year’s probation. If he had maimed someone in a tavern, would he have escaped the slammer?

And if all else fails, Parliament could pass a simple amendment to the Criminal Code providing that anyone committing a criminal offence during a sports competition would be banned from organized sports in Canada for 10 years. Let Todd Bertuzzi play in Anaheim or Pittsburgh – but not in Calgary or Ottawa. That would quickly reduce his value.

This is our elegant national game. The goons dishonour it. We have every right to stop them – and we should.

– 30 –

Stop, Thief! That’s My Country!

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

January 4, 2009

What I want to know is, by what authority are these monkeys doing this stuff?

The monkeys are the governments of Canada, the USA and Mexico – and what they are doing is, basically, stealing our countries, welding them together, and giving them to global corporations. Their instrument is the Security and Prosperity Partnership – which, astonishingly, continues to fly below the public radar screen, though its nature and purpose are perfectly well-known.

The SPP began in 2005, in – appropriately – Waco, Texas, where George W. Bush met with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. (Remember him?) The three agreed to “fast-track” the economic integration of the continent. In 2006, meeting in Cancun, the trio – Martin now replaced by Harper – created a North American Competitiveness Council, made up of 10 big-business CEOs from each country, who undertook to meet annually with senior government officials to discuss the corporate sector’s erotic fantasies about the new continental economy.

Notice that there’s no parallel Council of Citizens or Small Businesses. The governments are taking advice only from the CEOs of Ford, Lockheed, Merck Pharmaceuticals, Chevron, General Electric, Wal-Mart, Bell Canada, Scotiabank and the like.

They’re movin’ right along. An Alberta professor named Dr. Janine Brodie recently presented a paper on “Executive Power and the Privatization of Authority.” Now there’s a phrase. Brodie quotes Paul Cellucci, the former US Ambassador who berated Canada for not going to war in Iraq, as saying that “10 years from now, maybe 15 years from now we’re gonna look back and we are going to have a union in everything but name.”

Did you vote for that? No? Then by what authority are these monkeys doing this stuff?

Last fall, my friend Wendy Holm, an agrologist and writer in BC, reviewed the report of a Competition Policy Review Panel appointed by the Harper government to identify the changes that Canada needs to make in preparation for full scale North American economic integration.

For starters, the Panel thought Canada should smile upon mergers of large Canadian financial institutions. We were being needlessly cautious, since “appropriate regulatory safeguards already exist to protect prudential soundness, competition and the public interest.”

Ah. Right. Those would be the safeguards which worked so well for Bear Stearns, Lehmann Brothers, Merrill Lynch, etc., and so efficiently protected the public interest that the US taxpayer is now on the hook for something like a trillion dollars. The Panel also recommended that, when considering big mergers, the “net benefit to Canada” test be dropped.

Breathtaking. Canadian householders and taxpayers are already paying for innumerable corporate bungles – and the government of Canada is not even supposed to ask whether such financial engineering is in the public interest?

The Panel goes on to suggest that Canada should neuter its Competition Act, welcome increased foreign competition generally, reduce corporate taxes, and open up Canada’s airline, uranium and telecommunications sectors to increased foreign investment. These worthies also thought that Canada should harmonize product and professional standards and legal requirements with the US. In other words, if we have tougher health and safety standards than the US, ours should be weakened.

Did you vote for that? I thought not. So by what authority are these monkeys doing this stuff?

As an award-winning agrologist, Wendy Holm focuses on food and agriculture. She sees the SPP as a direct threat to Canadian farmers (who would lose the protection of supply-management regimes) and to Canadian consumers.

“Canadians have not put a priority on farm and food policy because as a nation we have never gone without,” Holm writes. “Embarrassingly, Canada remains one of the few nations in the world that does NOT have a national food policy. But things are quickly changing, and community discussions around peak oil, peak food, food security, food safety, food miles, food sovereignty and food democracy are moving that change forward.”

Under the SPP, such discussions will be pointless. Canada will have lost the right to create or enforce national policies in areas like food, energy, and investment. Removing that right is precisely the objective of the SPP.

Did we elect these monkeys to give away the country? No? Then by what authority are they doing this stuff?