Blueprint in red ink
Atlantic Canadians are still assessing the impact of last week’s federal budget on the region and more importantly, on their pocketbooks. On paper, the spending measures unveiled by federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau appear solid, holding the promise of growing our economy and improving the daily lives of millions of Canadians. But dangers lurk within.
It’s estimated that federal pay equity changes will raise wages about $80-$100 million in the Atlantic region. Atlantic Canada is home to an estimated 130,000 Indigenous Peoples, almost eight per cent of Canada’s total. The $4.7 billion committed during the next five years will be a significant boost for them and for our regional economy. Mr. Morneau promises more money to low-income workers — the working poor. It holds out hope for many in this region.
The budget, however, is proving to be an evolving document. The sudden backtracking on a national pharmacare plan is a good example. It leaves Atlantic Canadians wondering what other surprises are forthcoming.
As details roll out, it’s apparent that billions from the federal infrastructure program won’t be spent until after the next federal election. The slow pace of infrastructure spending is becoming a major headache for cash-strapped provinces.
The minister is simply hoping for the best with NAFTA talks while ignoring any contingency plans for the worst. He suggests that a strong economy is allowing Canadian officials to push for a better NAFTA deal when he might want to make concessions to the U.S. since we seemingly can afford them. To suggest that a collapse of NAFTA wouldn’t have a major impact on Atlantic Canada is ridiculous. This region depends heavily on exports to the U.S. and we risk being severely exposed and imperiled.
There are other issues in the budget that failed to get much attention but present significant impacts here in Atlantic Canada. For example, there are no planned changes to the level of federal transfers to the provinces — bad news for this region. The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency will receive an additional $28 million during the next five years, which is some good news.
The Atlantic region will benefit from increased federal government investment in small craft harbours, which includes funding to build additional berthing space to reduce overcrowding in Charlottetown and Southern Labrador. Changing the Working Income Tax Benefit will improve access for many Atlantic Canadians who had some of the lowest program takeup rates. The budget proposes changes to employment insurance which will benefit Atlantic Canadians on EI, by using regional unemployment rates which can positively affect seasonal workers’ access.
The biggest criticism for the budget is its reliance on questionably optimistic economic forecasts. If the economy is flourishing, why do we continue to spend more money than we take in? The government has adopted dangerous deficits and red ink as routine policies, while balancing the budget is ignored.
The federal government’s overly optimistic budget seems more like a political tool for the next election rather than a realistic financial blueprint for the future.
Crime rates in Canada have been on a downward trend since the late 1990s. A slight increase recently was suspected to have been fuelled by a notable growth in crime reported by Alberta. I guess that comes with economic uncertainly.
While bank robberies are among the top 10 of common crimes, according to Frederick Desroches, a sociology and legal studies prof at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ont., this kind of robbery in Canada is down considerably.
The drop in robberies is due to several factors, including an aging population, modern policing and security practices that make it more difficult now to get away with crimes.
“Bank robbery has always been a high risk crime with severe penalties,” Desroches wrote in a paper published in the RCMP Gazette.
Patrick Keating was never Canada’s most notorious bank robber. That title apparently goes to Jeffrey Shulman, who hid out in France for a time. He was sentenced to 15 years in jail last year after a string of 21 heists stretching from Calgary to Ottawa.
This coming weekend, we’ll have an opportunity to see Keating on stage in Wolfville, where he’ll perform Inside/Out. His prison memoir is informed by his own life experience. A number of years ago, I saw Keating act, and I’d never in a million years have pegged him for a bank robber, but he was.
Soft-spoken and sincere, this Vancouver-based performer will tell his real-life story of time spent in and out of Canada’s penitentiary system. Keating spent 12 years behind bars serving three sentences for fraud and armed robbery. His crimes were fuelled by a drug addiction.
He actually got keen on theatre while in prison, when a director named Richard Payne came to Matsqui Prison and taught a group of inmates about acting and stagecraft. When Keating was released in 1991, he went to Simon Fraser University to study theatre. Keating has made it a career ever since, appearing in TV shows like The X Files, Da Vinci’s Inquest, Highlander, Stargate SG-1, and Smallville.
Honing the ability to step into another character, he says, was one of the attractions of the stage. Keating also found an open and accepting community in the theatre.
About 20 years after he graduated, he decided to write a play about his past. It took a while because he wasn’t sure how people would react. Inside/Out is a series of stories about where Keating was in his life and what it felt like.
“I try and make the point that for the most part, people in there are just trying to live their lives, and everybody in there is somebody’s father or brother or son,” he says.
While behind bars, he learned to avoid confrontations and to wear a mask. In prison, he said, “You’re extremely guarded. You have a façade that’s like steel. You can’t show weakness and you very rarely show emotion. And if there’s any emotion, it’s anger.”
Since he created the show over two years with Steven Molloy, a theatre prof at the University of British Columbia, Keating has performed it across Canada and even returned to prison to present it.
Now in his early 60s, Keating takes his audiences along while he makes some wrong choices. By doing so, he helps us better understand how language, race and class play a very real part in Canadian society.
Inside/Out, the prison memoir, will take place at Festival Theatre in Wolfville on March 17, at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Acadia Performing Arts Series.
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