Kirby’s photo worth pre­serv­ing for pos­ter­ity

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - EDITORIAL - Bob Wake­ham

A pic­ture, as they say, is worth a thou­sand words, or, in the case of this week­end epis­tle, 800 words or so, de­pend­ing on the tol­er­ance of Ms. Edi­tor.

The im­age wor­thy of such a word count ap­peared in The Tele­gram a cou­ple of weeks ago, an­cient jour­nal­is­tic his­tory in this spooky, fast-paced, of­ten shal­low, tech­no­log­i­cal world of tweets and such (es­pe­cially for baby boomers like me), but it is a pho­to­graph that re­mains lodged in my pic­to­rial mem­ory bank, il­lus­trat­ing, as it did — as it does — the of­ten bla­tant hypocrisy of politics and politi­cians.

The photo I’m re­fer­ring to was of Education Min­is­ter Dale Kirby read­ing to a group of ele­men­tary stu­dents (in­no­cent and gullible, an ideal au­di­ence for ex­ploita­tion), os­ten­si­bly part of Fam­ily Lit­er­acy Day across Canada (in re­al­ity, just an­other chance for a politi­cian to get his mug in the pa­per, a photo-op, or on the television screen), a na­tional event, as the min­is­ter’s flacks told the me­dia, “to raise aware­ness of the im­por­tance of read­ing and en­gag­ing in other lit­er­acy-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties as a fam­ily.”

When I first saw the pho­to­graph, my thought (and I can’t imag­ine I was alone) was im­me­di­ate and vis­ceral: Kirby must have the face of a rob­ber’s horse to pro­mote lit­er­acy in this fashion, while shame­lessly know­ing he is an in­flu­en­tial mem­ber of gov­ern­ment, a cab­i­net min­is­ter in charge of education, who sup­ported and voted to place New­found­land in the ab­so­lutely em­bar­rass­ing po­si­tion of be­ing the only prov­ince in the coun­try with a tax on books.

And, it has to be men­tioned, this was the same min­is­ter sup­pos­edly wav­ing the lit­er­acy flag whose ad­min­is­tra­tion de­cided last year to close li­braries, a shock­ingly stupid move that de­fied logic, re­flect­ing some strange back­woods no­tion, one that could only have been adopted by politi­cians de­void of any knowl­edge of their obli­ga­tion to the cit­i­zens they’re man­dated to serve. (Just the amaz­ing rev­e­la­tion — duh — that such a lame­brain move de­signed to save a rel­a­tively minis­cule amount of money would do se­ri­ous, per­ma­nent dam­age to the gov­ern­ment’s rep­u­ta­tion forced the min­is­ter to push the pause but­ton on the li­brary clo­sures; the dam­age to Dwight Ball and com­pany’s cred­i­bil­ity, though, al­ready had the per­ma­nence of a tat­too).

So, there we had it: the min­is­ter of education in all his glory, try­ing to con­vince a group of young­sters that he and his gov­ern­ment gen­uinely wished them to read more, and to get their par­ents in­volved, but to have Mom and Dad ig­nore the fact that this same gov­ern­ment was go­ing to make it more ex­pen­sive to even buy the books needed for what some highly paid pub­lic re­la­tions stooge had coined a “fam­ily ac­tiv­ity.”

I heard re­cently that it could be ar­gued that it is peo­ple at the op­po­site ends of the age spec­trum, se­nior cit­i­zens and univer­sity stu­dents, who will feel the im­pact of the in­crease in the cost of books more than most, the 65-plus crowd be­cause of their fixed in­come, the MUN types be­cause of the al­ready in­cred­i­ble amounts of money they were pay­ing for text­books even be­fore the new tax.

So, to per­son­al­ize this ser­mon just a bit, I am one (a se­nior) and I was one (a univer­sity stu­dent).

And I’ve al­ways been a vo­ra­cious reader — these days, it’s ev­ery­thing from Lisa Moore and Michael Crum­mey to Michael Con­nolly and Ian Rankin, and all points in be­tween. I’ll al­ways be able (I hope) to af­ford a few books (al­though the trip to Chap­ters, now that I’m re­tired, might in­clude a quick glance at the bank ac­count), but I’m sure there are se­niors who are not in my boat, peo­ple who might have to cur­tail their pur­chase of books be­cause of the in­creased ex­pense. If that is so, this gov­ern­ment should hang its head in shame.

I also re­call scram­bling in univer­sity to pick up sec­ond­hand text­books, know­ing full well that tu­ition was al­ready cost­ing me an arm and a leg, an in­debt­ed­ness that took years to wipe out. (Start­ing off at The Tele­gram in 1972 at $95 a week made the pay­back to the banks a slow process, to say the least).

And I can just imag­ine what the present day stu­dents are go­ing through, and the bur­den this tax will have on their fi­nances. So, keep pos­ing for those two-faced pho­tographs, Mr. Kirby. We can’t wait for the next lit­er­acy cam­paign.

It all has the mak­ings for a cou­ple of main­land and Amer­i­can laughs on “Jeop­ardy”, un­der the cat­e­gory of Cana­dian Od­di­ties: AN­SWER: Aside from now be­ing the only prov­ince with a tax on books, it also has the high­est il­lit­er­acy rate in Canada. QUES­TION: What is New­found­land?

A “New­fie” joke, for sure. As much as I de­spise that term, the tax on books fits the bill.

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