All Those Moments

For 25 years I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe

25 Feature | by Gregory Beatty

I’ve been freelancing for Prairie Dog since the late ’90s as a general-purpose writer with a special focus on the arts — particularly the visual arts. In that time I’ve covered an esoteric mix of topics.

Here’s a reflection on some of the ones that, to me, have held a lot of significance.

The Arts Scene

The line between art and entertainment isn’t always easy to draw. As a rule, we don’t write about TV. We do cover film, though, with a slight bias toward indie/rep theatre movies, but plenty of Hollywood too.

Visual art has long been another focal point for us, with some theatre, performance and literature mixed in. We’ve also covered a lot of music over the years, with concert previews, band profiles, local music specials, CD reviews and our ongoing My Music feature.

That’s not the extent of our arts coverage, either. We’ve written on policy issues tied to public funding and investment in infrastructure to help build capacity. We also run listings every issue where we highlight all the artistic and related events that are happening in the next few weeks.

Typically, things slow down come summer. But in the fall activity ramps up quickly, and for a good 15 years now we’ve done a Fall Arts Guide to give people a heads up on all the stuff that’s happening until Dec. 31. We also enjoy long-standing partnerships with the Regina Folk Festival and Cathedral Village Arts Festival, and have watched with pride as they’ve grown into can’t-miss city events.

So yeah, when it comes to the arts, we’ve punched above our weight. Admittedly, it hasn’t always been a popular area to cover. By their nature, artists like to push against boundaries, and in what these days ranks as a pretty conservative province the value of doing that, and putting forward viewpoints that don’t always accord with dominant culture, isn’t always appreciated.

But it’s incredibly important, as it helps promote dialogue and understanding between different groups in our society. In the knowledge-based economy that’s taking shape in the 21st century, the arts offer a bottom-line benefit too. To begin with, they’re freaking cool. And a vibrant arts scene is a major selling point for cities looking to both retain youth, and attract youngish well-educated people from elsewhere to live and work.

There’s even a buzzword for that sector of the economy now: “creative industries”. That covers both the fine arts, plus related disciplines such as design, fashion, architecture, digital media and more. It’s a huge, and growing, part of the modern economy, and if Regina (and Saskatchewan) are going to remain relevant, we need to step up.

To do that, we need to invest in artists and other creators, and the organizations that support them in the production and marketing of their work. We include ourselves in that equation, by the way, as a vibrant indie magazine is a key asset in the broader “arts ecology” as another buzzword has it. So as long as we’re here, the arts will be a priority of ours.

Crazy For Cannabis

I’ve been writing on cannabis for around 10 years. One of the first articles I did involved a case where then Pro Bono Saskatchewan lawyer (now NDP MLA) Nicole Sarauer was acting for a Workers Compensation Board client who was trying to get the cost of medical cannabis he used to control back spasms covered. He’d been using cannabis for many years under a doctor’s care, after failing to find relief with various pharmaceuticals, some of which had toxic and addictive side effects. But the WCB wouldn’t budge.

It was a short jump from medical to recreational use, and the origin of cannabis prohibition in racist attitudes in the 1920s (against African-Americans and Latinos in the U.S., and Asians in Canada). Over the decades, many millions of people in Canada, the U.S. and beyond have been saddled with criminal records and had their lives severely disrupted by harsh laws against cannabis use, cultivation and distribution.

Finally, after years of debate that goes back to the LeDain Commission in 1972, Canada is set to end cannabis prohibition. As a country, we’ll be joining Portugal and Uruguay. But stateside, Colorado and Washington legalized in 2012. Since then Alaska, Nevada, Maine, California, Massachusetts and Oregon have joined them.  So yeah, we’ve got plenty of company.

Trump’s attorney-general Jeff Sessions is still fighting the “good” fight. He recently rescinded a 2013 Obama directive that federal prosecutors not act on offences in states that had voted to legalize. Reefer Madness is strong with the federal Conservatives under Andrew Scheer too. Some Conservative senators have even vowed to obstruct the Liberal government’s legislation.

For all the naysayers and doom-mongers out there, the thing to remember is that pretty well anyone who wants to smoke (or otherwise ingest) cannabis is already doing so now. So it’s not like we’re going to be hit by a ganja tsunami come July.

Yes, when cannabis is legalized consumers and licensed growers/retailers will need to be responsible. Driving is one area of concern, but only when the person is “stoned”, as opposed to having trace amounts in their system from earlier use. Same with selling to minors, and keeping your stash out of reach of children and pets just like you would alcohol, prescription drugs, cleaning products and whatnot.

Rather than law enforcement costs increasing with legalization, as police have argued, I’d expect them to drop from not having to prosecute all the petty bullshit busts that happen now.

Another canard is how cannabis is so much stronger these days than it used to be so it’s more dangerous. Edibles, it sounds like, do need special attention. But outside of some fanciful scenario — like the classic Phil Hartman SNL-sketch Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, except it’s a tie-dyed stoner from the ‘70s who is found frozen in a glacier, and after being revived he scores some modern-day cannabis and proceeds to roll a Cheech & Chong-style fattie — I don’t see that as being a problem.

Yes, cannabis today is stronger. But all that means is you consume less — like you do when you have a shot of whiskey instead of a pint of beer.

Both the Regina Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Regina are touting the benefits for Saskatchewan from legal cannabis. According to Stats Canada, the estimated value of the Canadian market is $7 billion. Then there’s the growing U.S. market to consider, and following Canada’s lead, many other countries are expected to legalize in the next few years.

So yeah, there’s a global market waiting and we’ve got the tools and knowledge to be a major supplier. So let’s get this done.

Science & Secularism

I typically write on a wide range of subjects at Prairie Dog. Lately, in addition to arts, politics, economics, law, sports and other stories I do, I’ve been making an effort to write about science.

I’ve always been a fan, and have a decent understanding of the basics in most disciplines. Then before I do interviews, I always do background research. With help from our “experts”, I think we do a decent job of putting some interesting scientific ideas out there.

I didn’t “experience” the 1960s, but I’m old enough to remember the latter part of the decade. The Apollo Moon program was happening then, and along with that success, we were starting to send probes to our planetary neighbours. Mars and Venus first, then Jupiter — and who can forget Voyager 2’s Grand Tour (1977-1989) that took advantage of a unique planetary alignment to do flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune?

Back then, anything seemed possible. Now, times seem much darker. Still, some good things are happening, and more scientists/scientific institutions are making outreach efforts to explain their research to the public. When I get wind of something, and can fit it into my schedule, I do what I can to cover it.

Outreach, and popular media coverage of science are important these days, I think, as after many millions of years of evolution we’ve reached a point in our development where we’re becoming immune to the constraints of natural selection such as disease, starvation, disaster and infant mortality that used to keep us in check.

In around 130 years, our population’s jumped from one billion to 7.7 billion. Through our technology, we also have a much greater capacity to damage our environment. But we’re still saddled with old school ideas of tribalism, greed and religious/mystical belief, and it’s reached a point where it’s threatening our survival.

David Suzuki makes that point regularly in Science Matters. Gwynne Dyer has written on it too in World. I’ll give you my own example, it’s from Ecclesiastes in the Bible: “a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.” Well, actually, with nuclear weapons that can reach anywhere on Earth and destroy our planet 10 times over, our time for hate and war is up. We either acknowledge that, and figure out ways to resolve our differences in a peaceful and mutually respectful way, or we risk destroying the only home we have in an unimaginably hostile universe.

By writing on science, I push back against the political, economic, religious and (uber naïve) libertarian forces that are resistant to the idea of using science and evidence-based decision-making to chart our future path.

Plus, I get to explore areas I find really fascinating. Hopefully readers get something out of it too.

As a related topic, secularism is another cause I champion. In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada made a firm statement that in matters of religion the state owes a duty of neutrality to all citizens and can neither “help nor hinder” any religion. That relates to favouring one religion over others, and even promoting the general idea of religion as being integral to public life.

In response to the ruling, which involved Saguenay city council’s practice of opening meetings with a Christian prayer, Regina city council stopped saying its prayer. At the Legislature, though, the Saskatchewan Party government thumbed its nose at the ruling and said it would continue to open each session with an Anglican prayer as has been done since 1905.

The government is also involved in some shenanigans with Catholic/Christian school funding that’s been ruled unconstitutional. The presiding judge just hit the province and its co-litigant the Catholic School Boards Association with a $960,000 order to pay the legal costs of the Public Section of Saskatchewan School Boards Association, in fact.

An appeal is in the works, but the government’s odds of winning are long, so it’s already introduced a bill to use the Charter’s freaking Notwithstanding clause to get around the ruling. It’s a story we’ll be following in the months to come.

Killing The Film Patch

photo Darrol Hofmeister

I did my first story on the film tax credit in 2000. The NDP government had just brought it in, and in the intro I riffed on the famous Sunset Boulevard line and how finance minister Eric Cline was “ready for his close-up”.

Saskatchewan was one of the first jurisdictions in North America to have a tax credit, and with a low-cost dollar, it lead to a boom in TV and film production with $65 million or more in a good year. To support the industry, the NDP even joined with the federal Liberal government to retrofit an old Regina campus building at College & Broad to create a state-of-the-art soundstage.

As the years passed, other jurisdictions brought in their own tax credits, and the economics of the dollar shifted as the commodity boom took hold. That put a damper on the industry, but Saskatchewan still had a good supply of trained crew and service/equipment providers to compete for business.

Then the Saskatchewan Party killed the tax credit in 2012. We did a huge feature then arguing the government was making a mistake. Economically, the move made no sense, since to trigger the credit, a producer first has to bring a pile of money into the province (money which wouldn’t come here otherwise). It gets spent, and re-spent, to employ crew and purchase supplies and services from businesses both inside and outside the industry. Then at the end of all that economic activity, some money gets rebated back.

Under now departed premier Brad Wall, the Sask. Party claimed to be pragmatic and not ideological in its decision-making. But in this instance that rang hollow, with the party taking dead aim at creative urban progressive types.

Since then, the government’s made some half-assed moves to fund select projects such as the Corner Gas movie. But as had been predicted, the tax credit’s loss has decimated the industry. Most equipment suppliers have closed, and producers, directors, actors and technicians have moved on to greener pastures.

There’s plenty of lush forage too. That’s because Canada’s TV and film industry is booming, with $7.6 billion in production in 2016. It’s being driven by traditional studios, plus over-the-top streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu.

Yes, the 80 cent dollar helps. And Vancouver and Toronto do snag the lion’s share of that money. But as I noted in an update article on the tax credit in December, Manitoba and Alberta are running flat-out with production in the $150 million range in both provinces.

The soundstage is sitting there waiting. And given our current economic woes, a revived TV and film industry would provide a welcome shot in the arm.

How about it, Sask. Party government?

The War On Labour

SFL press conference wherein victory was declared. | photo by Darrol Hofmeister

For many years now we’ve run a Labour Day report in late August/early September. For most of that time, the news and analysis we’ve done has been negative. With its mania for private sector-driven market economics, and transcorp-friendly trade and investment agreements, neoliberalism has really done a number on organized labour and the broader working class in the last few decades.

Former bastions of union power such as the public sector and manufacturing have been decimated, and the service sector that’s sprung up in its place is plagued by low rates of unionization, poor pay and “precarious” working conditions with part-time/freelance employment, no pensions and few if any benefits.

So yeah, our Labour Day Report and related labour coverage has mostly been doom and gloom.

One good news story does stand out, though. That came in January 2015 when the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that the Saskatchewan Party’s Essential Services Act, which it passed within months of being elected in 2007, was unconstitutional.

The government enacted Bill 5 with zero consultation with labour, and with little in the way of justification, as in past public sector strikes employees had always acted responsibly to ensure that true “essential services” were looked after.

Bill 5 left it to individual employers to decide which employees were “essential”. And employers took the ball and ran with it, routinely declaring their entire staff essential, thus preventing them from striking to press their contract demands in labour disputes.

The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and multiple labour partners sued. There was a companion piece of legislation, Bill 6, which modified the rules around unions to make it more difficult for workplaces to organize. It passed constitutional muster, but Queen’s Bench Justice Dennis Ball declared Bill 5 unconstitutional.

The government appealed, and the Court of the Appeal punted it up to the Supreme Court to decide. There’d been some contradictory rulings on labour issues since the Charter of Rights & Freedoms was enacted in 1982, so some clarity was needed.

The Supreme Court released its ruling on the Friday we were heading into production on our Feb. 5 issue. When Steve and I heard the news that morning, we walked over to the SFL headquarters on 13th Ave. for a triumphant press conference. Then I further boogied over to the Legislature to get the government’s response — which came via a conference call with Labour minister Don Morgan who was holidaying in Ft. Lauderdale. Then I did up a multi-page cover story on the historic labour victory which enshrined a right to strike into the constitution.

As for where the state of labour stands today, there does seem to be some pushback happening. Bottom-line is people who do an honest day’s work and contribute to society deserve enough to live on and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. Right now, that doesn’t always happen. It’s a disgrace. And it’s causing all sorts of societal grief in the form of poverty, homelessness, mental illness, addiction, crime and related ills.

We’re the ones that have to deal with it too. Not the multi-million and billionaires with their privileged lifestyles. And it’s really becoming a drag.

Sportsball!!!

We’re not heavy into sports at Prairie Dog. Well, like, not obsessed. But some of our contributors and staff have an interest, so we throw some sports into the mix when we can.

Lately, I’ve started covering the Regina Pats with the help of their play-by-play announcer Phil Andrews. Editor Steve is a big fan of the Columbus Blue Jackets (and, though he’s a scarred ex-Winnipegger who won’t admit it,  the Jets), so we’ve done some NHL coverage too, along with a special curling feature when Regina hosted the Brier in 2006.

In 2012, I even got thrown into the breach to do a last minute article on the Lingerie Football League’s Regina Rage that was certainly revealing (ha-ha!). And we’ve done some sports-themed Top Sixes, including one when the Leicester Foxes were making their historic run to the English Premier League title in 2015-16.

When it comes to Regina’s “premier” sports franchise, we’ve boosted our Rider coverage too. In 2011, I even secured media access for Prairie Dog. That didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, though, as the Riders stunk that year and our writer pool wasn’t always available to get out to games.

During Prairie Dog’s 25-year run, the Riders (and Regina) have hosted three Grey Cups. I wasn’t around in 1995, so I don’t know if we did anything special. But we did Grey Cup features in 2003 and 2013. The latter coincided with our annual Best of Regina, and was a particular bitch to produce as the issue topped out at 52 pages.

Then, of course, there’s Rider Fan Forum which we’ve run for four years now in quarterly instalments: preseason (late June), mid-season (Labour Day), post-season (early November) and an off-season update (which will be in the March 1 issue this year).

Earl Camembert, Ivanka Trudeau, Ron Mexico and Cal Corduroy are our panellists. And Ivanka’s generously agreed to offer a few thoughts on how the Riders have fared in the time Prairie Dog’s been around.

“The past 25 years had many highs and lows for Rider Nation,” she says. “Off the field, the Riders have evolved from being a team that barely survived financially into a thriving, successful business that’s the envy of the CFL. On the field, it’s been an emotional roller coaster!”

After the glory years of the Ron and George Show, which saw the Riders make 11 straight West finals between 1966-76, and play in five Grey Cups (winning only one, sadly), the team fell on hard times, missing the playoffs for 11 straight seasons. Then came 1989, and what Ivanka describes as “an amazing win in the greatest Grey Cup ever”. After that, though, it was back to hard times.

“One of my best memories of those years was in 1995 when Regina hosted the Grey Cup for the first time — Rider Nation showed Canada how it’s done!” Ivanka says. “The other highlight was when the Riders made it to the Grey Cup in 1997. They were the underdogs and had to face Toronto on a snowy day in Edmonton when Argos QB Doug Flutie was unstoppable.”

The Riders hit rock-bottom in 1999, when they had a 3W-15L season. Then came the Roy Shivers (GM) and Danny Barrett (Coach) era. Ivanka regards their tenure as a mixed bag.

“Some may say they brought respectability to the team on the field (especially when Henry Burris was our QB), but others might call it mediocrity because they failed to make it to the Grey Cup — although they did come within an 18-yard field goal attempt in the 2004 West Final in Vancouver.

“Shivers was fired mid-way through 2006, and Barrett was gone at the end of the season,” she recalls. “The 2007 season was a huge swing upwards though! Eric Tillman (GM) and Kent Austin (Coach) put together a talented team, led by QB Kerry Joseph, that beat Winnipeg in the Grey Cup in Toronto.

“Unfortunately, Austin and Joseph were both gone for a forgettable 2008 season, but a young QB named Darian Durant led the Riders to a Grey Cup appearance in 2009. Ah, 2009… we all remember what happened! To be honest, I never thought we had won the game because my view at McMahon Stadium was obstructed, so by the time I realized Duval had missed the field goal I’d already seen the penalty flags for the 13th man!  Although the Riders made it back to the big game in 2010, QB Anthony Calvillo and the Als were once again unbeatable.

“All of the angst of 2008-2012 was worth it, though, when the Riders won the Grey Cup at home in 2013 with Corey Chamblin (Coach) and Brendan Taman (GM). IMHO, it was the best day in Rider history! RB Kory Sheets was phenomenal with 197 yards rushing, and receiver Geroy Simon added two TDs as the Riders stunned the Ti-Cats.

“The fun was over in 2014–2015, when the Riders struggled after injuries to Durant. Chamblin and Taman were out and Chris Jones was hired in 2016 to dismantle the team. His rebuild finally started to pay off last year (at fabulous new Mosaic Stadium) as the Riders got the crossover playoff spot and won in Ottawa. The Ricky Ray-led Argos could not be beat in the East final, however. But I can’t wait for 2018!  #IsItJuneYet?”

So there you have it. I’d throw in, too, that as the Riders have grown as a business, their influence has grown as well — especially in conservative political circles. Sometimes, there’s pushback against that. But when you scratch most people in Regina/Saskatchewan, even hardcore activists, they usually bleed a bit of Rider green.

Electoral Reform

For a good 15 years Saskatchewan’s federal election results were skewed by a screwy electoral map drafted in the late 1990s. It divided Regina and Saskatoon, which together have about half Saskatchewan’s population, into quadrants which were lumped in with huge swathes of rural Saskatchewan to form eight electoral districts.

Pretty well everywhere else in Canada medium-sized and larger cities have their own dedicated ridings in recognition of the unique realities of people who live in urban versus rural areas. But we had hybrid ridings, and in the Harper years especially, they delivered hugely unfair results.

In the 2011 election, the Liberals got 8.6 per cent of the popular vote, but since that was concentrated in Regina Wascana, home of long-standing Best Regina MP Ralph Goodale, they got one seat. The NDP got a whopping 32.3 per cent of the vote, but ZERO seats because their supporters (which were concentrated in urban areas) got outvoted by rural Conservative supporters. Thus, with 56.3 of the vote, the Conservatives won 13 of 14 seats.

Every 10 years, following the census, Canada reviews its electoral boundaries. That happened in 2012, and it was pretty big news, as people who wanted to see more accurate voter representation in our federal MPs squared off against Harper supporters who wanted to maintain the status quo.

I helped cover the story for Prairie Dog, and attended one of the hearings where various high-powered presenters, including then city councillor Michael Fougere, former city councillor and RPL board chair Darlene Hincks, and Regina Chamber of Commerce head John Hopkins, urged the three-person boundary commission to maintain the hybrid system as opposed to switching to dedicated urban and rural ridings.

At some point in their presentations, most waxed poetic about the unique nature of Saskatchewan and how there was an innate bond between rural and urban people that should not be torn asunder (see what I mean by “poetic”) by dedicated ridings.

Truly, it almost brought a tear to my eye — almost.

I don’t mean this as a diss against rural Saskatchewan. It’s just that rural and urban people have different lived realities, and our interests can best be served by MPs who understand those realities. Fortunately, two of the three boundary commissioners held firm to that principle (although one commissioner, now a Sask. Party MLA, did take the virtually unheard of step of issuing a minority report recommending the status quo be maintained).

But in the end, Regina and Saskatoon got dedicated ridings. So that ended up being a victory.

We’ve also done advocacy around replacing our current first-past-the-post system, with all the distortions (and acrimony) it can create, with some form of proportional representation to promote a more representative (and collaborative) style of government.

Only a handful of countries, including the U.S. and U.K., rely on f-p-t-p now. Most others, including Germany, New Zealand and Sweden, have moved to proportional systems.

The federal Liberals campaigned in 2015 on a promise to move to a system of proportional representation for the 2019 election. But then they reneged (Bad Liberals!), claiming that Canadians were too divided and confused on the issue to install a new electoral system.

That’s an issue we’ll return to in the future, guaranteed. In fact, B.C. is holding a referendum on PR this fall that we’ll be following.