Kirby’s photo worth preserving for posterity
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.