July 20, 2009

There are always possibilities...

Two years ago this month, I began writing a little column for the Booster. The Newfoundland-themed column series originated as "Navigating the Issues." I renamed it to its present incarnation after a year or so. The new name has a double meaning. I deal with ink regularly in my day job in the Sheetfed press room, and "inkslinger" is a synonym for writer.

I'll start by adding some thoughts to what was explored in May's column. Soon after watching the Booster newspaper press throttle down for the final time several months back, I decided to grab my potentially dire situation by the horns and do something I meant to do since graduating from journalism college in 2004:

Hit the books. Returning to school has always intrigued me, but then opportunities came about and I was propelled up North for a few months, and later landed in Lloydminster, where my Western adventure truly began.

Instead of merely reminiscing about my Animal House days, I've decided to give myself a second chance and make it reality.

Yes folks, the Newfoundland Inkslinger is a wild and woolly college student once again. I'm starting a degree in management with Athabasca University's School of Business. As I write this, I just received confirmation of registration with my first course: Intro to Financial Accounting, and I've just gotten myself set up in the online business school. In a time of recession, it's good to know how the economic system works. To get into the nuts and bolts of the recession situation. Ironically, numbers are not my forte, so I could be off to a rough start.

Lloydminster, for as long as I decide to stick around here, will be my "campus". For those of you unaware of it, Athabasca University is a dominantly distance education institution headquartered in Athabasca with campuses in Edmonton and Calgary. I've heard positive things about the university, although doing a degree in management by my lonesome seems unusual. I'll require discipline for sure.

This will take roughly three years, doing one or two courses at a time. I'm hoping I can accomplish it without a new student loan as I just paid back my original loan last summer. By roughly 2012, completing this should open new doors. As with everything I do, I'm approaching the new venture with cautious optimism.

I'll feel things out with my first course, but due to the intense individualized study of this degree program, I may not be able to give this column the same priority. My mindset will be re-focussing as I learn new business and money concepts. The university recommends 11-15 hours per week per course, not including extra time for assignments and exams. The distance-based education supposedly is ideal for people working full-time or people with little mouths to feed who may not have time to go to school full-time.

Thanks for reading this series regularly over the past couple of years. I may drop my cent or two in the paper every so often.

See you out there.

June 29, 2009

Newfoundland: the final frontier

The explorer credited with officially discovering the island of Newfoundland has a fog of mystery surrounding his life and career.

Giovanni Caboto (AKA John Cabot). It's unknown exactly when and where he was born. Perhaps it was circa 1455 in Gaeta, near Naples. He was the son of a merchant.

By 1461 Caboto was living in Venice. In about 1482 he married a Venetian woman, Mattea, and they had three sons: Ludovico, Sebastiano and Sancio.

Like his father, Caboto traded in spices with the ports of the eastern Mediterranean, and became an expert mariner.

About 1490, Caboto and his family moved to Valencia in Spain. This was the era of Christopher Columbus. Caboto was maybe bitten by the exploration bug. Much like Captain Picard, he wanted to see what was out there. Specifically, across the Atlantic Ocean. The Portuguese and Spanish wanted to find new routes to Asia and its wealth. These routes would evade the monopoly on the spice trade held by the Italians. Europeans also wanted to spread knowledge of Christianity, and to contain the spread of Islam.

Portugal and Spain had no interest in Giovanni Caboto. Once Columbus had returned from his first transatlantic voyage in 1493 the Spanish likewise thought they had found their route to the east.

As a result, Caboto turned in 1494 or 1495 to England. He planned to reach Asia by sailing west across the north Atlantic. He thought that this would be shorter than Columbus' southerly route.

In England, Caboto received the support he had been refused in Spain and Portugal. First, the merchants of Bristol agreed to support his scheme. They had sponsored probes into the north Atlantic from the early 1480s, looking for possible trading opportunities.

These had been unofficial voyages. In contrast, on March 5, 1496, English King Henry VII issued letters to Caboto and his sons authorizing them to sail to all parts "of the eastern, western and northern sea" to discover and investigate.

Caboto made his first try in 1496. It was a failure. The following year, Caboto had better luck.

Cape Bonavista, however, is the location recognized by the governments of Canada and the United Kingdom as being Cabot's official landing. But it's also possible he landed on Cape Breton, Labrador or Maine.

The landing by the crew of the Matthew took place on June 24, 1497. Over 500 years ago. That's how long the New Found Land has "officially" been in existence. Some historians think that Bristol mariners might even have reached Newfoundland and Labrador even before Caboto arrived on the scene. Indeed, the Vikings (my family's ancestors) had already landed, but they thought they were in Greenland.

It's unfortunate John Cabot didn't keep better logs. He made a third voyage in 1498, but vanished from the historical record. It's assumed he was lost at sea - possibly shipwrecked, starved, or killed by natives.

The research and controversy continues.

May 11, 2009

"...and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent..."

Hiatus over. My apologies. I broke from column writing last month because I took an opportunity to move up from the basement suite I was living in for three years to the main floor of the house. As I edit this sunlight is streaming in, and the breeze is wafting through. After being underground for so long, it's amazing that such simple things are so enjoyable.

April was a month of changes. I consider my move to be a positive one for me personally. Seeing many co-workers being laid off and hearing about my hometown being rocked by an earthquake is not.

Yes, the east coast of Newfoundland was indeed rocked by a 3.3 earthquake on the Richter Scale on Tuesday, April 28. There was little damage done, mostly noise (like a rumble of thunder). I was told that the family cat went berserk the same evening, as animals are more sensitive to tremors than humans. A local geologist assured me that there is nothing to worry about. "The Avalon is supposed to be stable, not much to worry about - an isolated incident caused by minor deep internal slippage," he said. The quake's epicentre was somewhere near Whitbourne.

But there were concerns of a tsunami situation similar to the 1929 Burin tidal wave that flattened the peninsula.

Actually, the earthquake is not really bad news - it's more of a curiosity. The real bad news this month was the last run of the Meridian Booster's newspaper press.

Taking the time difference into account, roughly while the Rock was rockin', I was on the Booster's web press. The Newfoundland Inkslinger had the somewhat sad honour of helping print the last Booster on the Lloydminster presses. I've never been on that particular press before, and had no experience up to that point. I just caught the stacks of papers as the machine rolled them out. It's a spectacular thing to experience as the huge machine thrums and the newsprint is sailing over your head in a continuous sheet.

From here on in, the Booster will be printed on the Edmonton Sun presses. Company changes dictated it. The recession and the resulting challenge due to the weakened economy is attributed to be the reason.

The past few days have been spent adjusting to working in a large empty space once populated by over a dozen people. Voices echo. Newspapers and other news media are an uncertain industry as the Internet and other technologies fulfill humanity's need for instant gratification.

However, presses of a different sort will still run at the Booster. The b'ys in the Meridian Printing's commercial printing department will continue to serve you. Meridian Printing online brochure.

If you're a concerned loyal reader, I want to assure you that the Meridian Booster will continue to service Lloydminster and the coverage area. Reporters will be out and about, gathering the news. The pulse of the web press has been silenced by circumstances beyond our control, but the noble work of the newspaper marches on.


December 16, 2008: Sun Media announces workforce reductions

November 7, 2008: Pierre Karl Peladeau assumes control of Sun Media

March 25, 2009

Mayday: The Loss of Cougar Flight 491

The North Atlantic is one of the most dangerous seas on Earth. Waves are tumultuous, and the air currents above wreak havoc. Mammoth icebergs patrol, sinking unsinkable ships like the Titanic. Newfoundlanders out there earning a living are among the bravest men and women on the planet.

I went online after work on March 12 to see my Facebook inundated with status updates from Newfoundland friends about a helicopter incident. The chopper, essentially a flying bus, was shuttling offshore oil workers to the rigs.

On the morning of March 12th a Cougar S-92A helicopter crashed in the Atlantic ocean approximately 65 kilometers east of St. John's. Flight #491 was scheduled to drop off two contractors on the Hibernia platform and 14 employees on the SeaRose FPSO. The two-man crew reported mechanical problems with the gearbox and radioed for permission to return to St. John's.

Except for one survivor, they didn't make it. Robert Decker is still recovering in hospital as of press time.

The helicopter and bodies were recovered by the offshore supply vessel Atlantic Osprey. The chopper was on the sea floor mostly intact but with significant damage, and the tail boom was broken off and lying nearby.

On March 20, the Transportation Safety Board found a broken mounting stud. It's unknown if this is the cause, but it is suspicious. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration was prompted to call for the part to be replaced on all Sikorsky S-92A helicopters worldwide...immediately. Otherwise, they're grounded.

Sikorsky Aircraft Co. has not responded to my inquiries regarding this by press time, but I did find out through research that the corporation had been aware of problems with its mounting studs. On January 28, an alert saying that the titanium mounting studs should be replaced by steel studs on every helicopter within a year, or within 1,250 flights. If they had been faster, then 17 lives would have been spared.

According to the Canadian Press, there have been 25 occurrence reports filed with Transport Canada since Jan. 1, 2006, involving the S-92A model. Rig workers are understandably apprehensive about flying on this model. All of the occurrences happened on board choppers owned by Cougar Helicopters during journeys to Newfoundland's offshore oil platforms.

I commend Cougar's sensitivity during this difficult time, but the 25 previous incidents concern me.

This tragedy has been compared to the Ocean Ranger disaster in 1982. The Ocean Ranger was an early oil rig that toppled over during a stormy night with the loss of 84 lives. Safety recommendations based on that incident have not been implemented. Why?

As I read the names of the deceased, I note that they're from every corner of Newfoundland and from Nova Scotia, B.C. and from Fort Saskatchewan.

Newfoundlanders attended a multi-denominational service at the Roman Catholic Basilica of St. John the Baptist on March 18. It was a moving ceremony attended by over 1800, and demonstrated to the nation our unique sense of community.

I personally am not connected to any of the deceased, but perhaps some of you are.

Remember them dear readers.

February 25, 2009

A question of constitutional contempt

Newfoundland and Quebec are facing off over a patch of territory that Quebec insists is theirs.

Under Term 2 of the Terms of Union of Newfoundland with Canada, which forms
part of the Constitution of Canada states: "The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador shall comprise the same territory as at the date of Union, that is to say, the island of Newfoundland and the islands adjacent thereto, the Coast of Labrador as defined in the report delivered by the Judicial Committee of His Majesty's Privy Council on the first day of March, 1927, and approved by His Majesty in Privy Council on the twenty-second day of March, 1927, and the islands adjacent to the said Coast of Labrador."

The pristine Romaine River is currently under threat from Hydro Quebec's estimated $6.5 billion development plan. Besides from being environmentally pristine, there's the small constitutional problem of the fact that this river is actually Newfoundland-Labrador property.

Quebec wishes to produce hydroelectric power on this river, regardless of the fact that it's actually in contempt of the Constitution of Canada. In a shocking show of blatancy, according to the Government of Quebec website, "Quebec does not recognize the portion of the Quebec / Newfoundland and Labrador border between Qu├ębec and Labrador as set by the Privy Council in London in 1927." ( LINK)

Tourist, official maps and Canadian Armed Forces maps depicting the Quebec patrol area now include that area of Labrador as well.

In the 1960s, Newfoundland, to put it mildly, got screwed by the federal government because they feared national turmoil. Newfoundland has gotten bad bargains in the past, which is great fodder for debate.

It all began during construction of the colossal Churchill Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador during the '60s. Newfoundland wanted permission from the feds to send electricity through Quebec to the northern United States and Ontario. Instead, Quebec insisted on buying the power outright. The federal government apparently could have stepped in and legislated transmission of power through Quebec, but being spineless, they let Quebec do what they wanted. Coerced into it, the deal was signed by Newfoundland's first Premier, the controversial Joey Smallwood, which fixed the sale of the electricity at 1969 prices, prices that in 2009 are ridiculously low.

In the end, Quebec is prospering with our water power.

For Newfoundland the cost has been billions of dollars. As poor as the new Canadian province was, this was a brutal blow that continues to bruise today.

Hydroelectric power drives Quebec's nationalism, but a lot of that power has come at Newfoundland's expense.

Premier Jean Charest hopes to take advantage of the clean-energy agreement signed by President Obama and Prime Minister Harper during the President's visit to Canada, and sell power to the States. There's a clock ticking. If the Williams government can't settle this in time, the potential of the Lower Churchill and Romaine Rivers will be lost.

Not only that, we risk losing some of our territory in an incredible act of aggression.

On moral and legal grounds, what side is right?

January 16, 2009

May the strength of three be on your journey

January 16, 2009 marks three years since I flew down from the Northwest Territories on a Northern Air Lease plane and arriving in downtown Lloydminster on a Greyhound in a snowstorm. The passing of time is a flash of memories. Since being introduced to Alberta life by my cousin, I've worked in the city's best liquor store, sweated in a busy kitchen, moved stock around in the dusty bowels of a retail empire, made some stupid and wise decisions, and started a not-yet award winning column series.

What's in store for 2009, b'ys?

We have yet to see how this plays out, but signs are showing that U.S. President-elect Barack Obama may be a Danny Williams-like figure down in the States. His recent speech on the recession was frank and truthful, very much like the one Premier Williams made after he took office in 2003. Thus far, he meets with my approval. I think after he takes office on January 20, he'll be good for the Americans, and the globe in general. In the manner that Williams brought cautious hope with results to Newfoundland, Obama needs to bring hope and results to the world, especially after the incredible mess the Bush Administration are leaving in their wake.

I hate to say it, but Canadian politics and our country in general are also a mess on several fronts. The Three Stooges Coalition a.k.a the NDP and Liberals with Bloc support that was signed in December is in effect, a coup. The concept of democracy has failed, and it seems to me Canada is now in a state of anarchy.

The new Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is a worthy opponent to Harper. This foolishness has at least provided us with some entertainment, but we need strong leadership to deal with the financial crisis. I didn't vote for children to run the country. Ultimately, by Harper's request, the Governor General prorogued Parliament until January 26. Which again, I didn't vote for. Ontario's economic motor, the auto factories, crashed into the ditch several months ago and that province is now a "have-not" province. Meanwhile, the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan achieved "have" statuses, making their citizens proud.

I didn't make it back home this Christmas, but was stuffed like a harbour tom cod with a few dear friends, and got lots of loot such as a warm hoodie. God bless your cotton socks.

Have you made any resolutions? I haven't made any "resolutions" except to better myself in general. I'm at a point in my life now where I'm mulling over if I want to stick with this business, or move on and try something new. Every way is likely.

I'm not quite moving on yet, but I close this column with a major announcement: the
Newfoundland Inkslinger can also be followed online at www.newfoundland-inkslinger.com and write to ian-inkslinger@newfoundland-inkslinger.com if you have any news tips or column ideas for me to chase.

May the face of every good news and the back of every bad news be toward you.

2009... give 'er!