An affair of the heart: Regina’s Grey Cup bash defies the doomsayers

Abstract:

Volunteer workers have been toiling for two years to set up a Grey Cup party in Regina, which is the smallest Canadian Football League city in the country. Expansion of the league, economic issues and football rules are discussed.

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Some 3,000 volunteers have been working as long as two years to pull it off–a Grey Cup party in the smallest CFL city to rival any bash that came before. Last week, workmen in Regina were raising the Taylor Field scoreboard to accommodate more seating, and–after a chill autumn storm blew in–heating and drying the snow-covered artificial turf so that painters could apply sponsors’ logos. Other workers closed off a downtown street and began erecting a massive tent–big enough to hold nearly 800 Grey Cup-week celebrants at a time. Across town, store owners painted football players on their windows and residents strung their homes with green and white lights–the colors of their beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders. And although the home team did not even make the playoffs this year, Grey Cup organizers had sold more than 52,000 tickets for the Nov. 19 game by late last week, just 2,000 short of their goal. “We’re smaller than cities that usually host it,” observes Matthew Gafencu, a Grade 12 student and a tackle with Balfour Collegiate, who played in the city high-school championships at Taylor Field last week. “But there’s a lot of spirit here. I think it will be one of the best Grey Cups ever. Taylor Field will just be rockin’.”

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Of course, Regina is the land of CFL true believers, where the Roughriders’ last home game against the Calgary Stampeders drew a record 55,438 fans–equivalent to almost a third of the city’s population. Regina in the throes of Grey Cup fever is a world apart from the troubles plaguing the CFL, from the voices of doom who say its much-ballyhooed expansion to the United States–if not the league itself–is in imminent danger. Last week, there were reports that the NFL’s Cleveland Browns were heading for Baltimore, likely squeezing out the CFL’s Baltimore Stallions, the American expansion team that has proven most successful on the field and at the ticket office. The other four American teams played to paltry crowds this year–before as few as 5,289 lonely souls at Birmingham’s 75,000-seat Legion Field. Some of the American owners are now calling for rule changes–a switch to U.S.-style four downs instead of the CFL’s three, perhaps, or a hike in the CFL’s $2.5-million-a-team salary cap to allow them to woo marquee players. Other owners are talking of moving their teams to new cities.

Some Canadian teams are struggling, too. In fact, the league’s bottom line is dripping red ink–an internal document estimated CFL teams’ losses this year could go as high as $30 million.League commissioner Larry Smith, the architect of expansion, argues that it has succeeded in revitalizing Canadian teams and in attracting strong Canadian owners. In the United States, though, “I think it’s too early to say whether expansion will work,” Smith insists. In the short term, league officials say they hope to trim costs and to achieve some sorely needed stability among American franchises. In the longer term, they still hope to win a major U.S. TV contract. But the CFL also has a fall-back plan: retrenching to an all-Canadian league. What the CFL will not yet consider is American-style rules. “There is a feeling,” says the league’s chief operating officer, Jeff Giles, “that changing the name or the rules would destroy the base of the business–which is Canadian football.”

Certainly, there seems little tolerance for such changes in the CFL’s heartland. The day before the high-school championship in Regina last week, Gafencu and teammate Jon Illerbrun talked of their hopes of playing university or college ball, and then of going on to the CFL–Illerbrun to follow in the footsteps of his father, Bryan, who played for Saskatchewan from 1978 to 1983 and again from 1986 to 1989. Both teens feel strongly that the league should retain its Canadian character, including a maximum quota of so-called import players. “It’s a Canadian game and you have to keep Canadians in it,” insists Illerbrun. “It’s still our league,” adds Gafencu. “We let the Americans play in our league, but they have to play by our rules.”

When Gafencu and Illerbrun played on Taylor Field last week, losing narrowly to Robert Usher Collegiate 11-8, the stadium looked positively cavernous. Its seating capacity has been doubled to just over 54,000, with scaffolding-like temporary seats erected behind the end zones. It was a bone-chilling -131 C the night of the high-school final. Grey Cup workers have put up plastic sheeting to try to minimize the wind chill in the concourse areas beneath the permanent seats, and they are piping in heat. But they are also hoping that is all unnecessary. Jack Ritenburg, assistant vice-president of Grey Cup ’95, has examined weather records for the past 12 years and is projecting that, on the big day, the temperature will be 21 C with winds from the south southeast at just 19 km/h.

Some organizers, like the committee’s president Bob Ellard, have been volunteering since December, 1993, arranging everything from the expansion of Taylor Field to ticket sales and accommodation plans. With hotel rooms booked, they have set up a temporary RV park and made arrangements to billet visitors in private homes. They have also planned a parade, cabarets, parties, pancake breakfasts and gala dinners. Almost everyone, from bartenders to parking lot attendants, will be a volunteer. “This is the biggest sporting event ever to hit this province,” Ellard says. “Unless you lived here, you’d have trouble understanding it, but this is a big deal here.”

Football, of course, is a big deal in Saskatchewan all year long. The Roughriders have been around for more than eight decades. And with no other major professional sports franchise in the province, “we don’t have another competing product,” observes the team’s general manager, Alan Ford. “It’s something that the people of Saskatchewan are very proud of and don’t want to lose.” The team will come close to breaking even on its operations this year, officials say–and stands to make more than a million dollars from Grey Cup activities. Meanwhile, the western Riders drew an average of 28,500 people to their games, an all-time record. They regularly lured fans from Prince Albert, four hours to the north, and occasionally from as far as Red Deer, Alta., where Doug Stapleton, a 37-year-old RCMP officer, arranges an 81/2-hour bus trip to a Roughrider game once a year. Support for the Riders is almost a responsibility to Saskatchewanians. “You’re born with it,” says Stapleton, who left Moose Jaw, Sask., in 1978. “It’s sort of like family,” adds Jackie Ruznisky of Prince Albert. “And you’re always there for family. I can get mad if they lose and criticize the coach–but, boy, don’t you come here from Calgary and tell me what’s wrong with my team.”

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Stapleton and Ruznisky are both Rider Reps, two of some 300 volunteers spread throughout Saskatchewan and dotted in other provinces, representing the team, holding lunches and selling tickets and paraphernalia–ensuring the community-owned team’s survival even in the years when on-field heroics did not generate sufficient ticket sales. Said Murray Measner, the Regina-based chairman of the Rider Reps: “There have been years when we’ve gone door-to-door selling single-game tickets.” With that kind of commitment, there seems little doubt that the Riders will remain one of the CFL’s bedrock franchises. Of course, there are people elsewhere who do not think the CFL itself will survive, at least not in its current form. There are even some who would like to see the NFL expand into Canada. But not many of them can be found in Regina, not amid the celebration this week leading up to Grey Cup day–maybe not ever.

THE CFL SCOREBOARD

Average attendance at Canadian games in the 1995 regular season: 24,407 (up more than seven per cent over 1994)

Average attendance at American games: 18,305 (down more than 19 per cent for the two teams that played in the same city in both 1994 and 1995–Baltimore and Shreveport, La.)

Record in regular-season games between American and Canadian teams this year: Americans, 32 wins; Canadians, 20

U.S. teams that might switch cities or fold next year: Baltimore, Shreveport, Birmingham, Ala., and Memphis, Tenn.

Average player salary in the CFL:$46,800

In the National Football League:$926,100

>>> Click here: The war babies’ escape to new lives in America

The war babies’ escape to new lives in America

Abstract:

An Air Force C-5A that was evacuating orphans at the end of the Vietnam war crashed on Apr 4, 1975, killing over 100 children, but it served to rally support for more airlifts. Over 1400 children were eventually rescued to new lives in the US. Two orphans who found loving US families are profiled.

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Saigon: From a tragic crash, a redeeming moment

The date was April 4, 1975 – a hot brilliantly clear spring day in South Vietnam. To the north, the North Vietnamese Army was gathering momentum for its drive to final victory. In the south, near the doomed city of Saigon, the roads were choked with refugees. After weeks of dickering with the Pentagon, American volunteer workers assembled 243 war orphans at Tan Son Nhut Air Base for a last-ditch evacuation to the United States. The kids – infants, toddlers, some as old as 8 or 9 – were loaded in the cavernous hold of an air force C-5A. The big jet lifted off but crashed 20 minutes later, killing more than 100 of the children aboard. TO their horror, emergency crews found a trail of tiny bodies leading to the wreckage: scores of them had been sucked out of the plane when its cargo door malfunctioned in flight. The babylift, a heroic effort born of good intentions, seemed bound for tragedy, like everything else America had tried to do in Vietnam.

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That this is not so – that the babylift was a small redeeming moment in the bitter history of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia – is proven by people like Jenny Elizabeth Anh Tennies and Dr. Matthew Steiner. Jenny Tennies, 25, is a secretary in Washington, D.C. Steiner, 28, is finishing his residency at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Ind. Both are war orphans who survived the fall of Vietnam despite – and perhaps because of – the C-5A disaster. Front-page news all over the world, the crash transformed the effort to bring the orphans out. Within 24 hours, an anonymous donor – later revealed to be Connecticut businessman Robert McCauley – gave the money to charter two Pan American 747s to evacuate the survivors and hundreds of other orphans as well.

“I remember that day as if it were last Tuesday,” says Alan Topping of Miami, then a Pan Am director in South Vietnam. “The situation was a little tense. The first 747 came in and at that point, no one knew what had caused the crash of the C-5A. So we body-searched every single baby going onto the plane, to make sure there were no [explosives] strapped to their bodies. Picture the scene – a 747 with 375 seats, each with a cardboard file box with a baby or an infant sitting in it, each box strapped to a seat. You can’t imagine the sound and smell of 200 to 300 infants, all crying, all reeking of wet diapers.

“There were 700 orphans, some pure Vietnamese, the majority Amerasian. didn’t even want to look at these kids, it was so sad. You’re loading them on the airplane – they have no clue – and then they go off to the States with nothing but a diaper on. These were human beings we were handling like buckets of water in a fire line.” But Topping and all the other volunteer workers knew the end was near – and the bottom line, he says, was “just trying to save lives.”

They did. Over the next few weeks, on the Pan Am 747s and on military flights that followed, about 1,400 orphans rode the babylift to America. Jenny Tennies, then 5 years old and known as Vuthi Anh Wa, remembers the day she left Vietnam as a terrifying blur – a hasty medical checkup, the thud of distant explosions as the NVA approached, the bus cavalcade to Tan Son Nhut. “I remember being lifted into the plane,” she says. “The babies were on the floor in boxes. The older children were on the seats, two or three children in one seat – we were scrawny, skinny bones.” Matthew Steiner, then known as Houng Van Long, flew out of Tan Son Nhut on one of the 747s. “We had 407 kids on that flight. Three fourths were infants, most less than 2 years old. I was one of the older ones. I remember all these kids coming onto the plane and total chaos, kids screaming at the top of their lungs. Most of us had never been on a plane before.”

No history: Fast-forward 20 years. Vuthi Anh Wa, renamed Jenny Elizabeth Anh, was adopted and raised – very happily – by the Rev. Francis Tennies of York, Pa., and his wife, Elizabeth. Jenny went to college, moved to the Washington area and got a job in the human-resources department of the National Cooperative Bank. She likes volleyball, Latin music and old movies – typically American tastes. She has no regrets about leaving Vietnam and no desire to go back. As a child of mixed ancestry – her father was either French or American, she doesn’t know which – Jenny says she would almost certainly have been rejected in post-war Vietnamese society. “I heard the orphanage was turned into a North Vietnamese army base,” she said. “I would have literally lived on the streets … probably ended up being a whore.” She said her adoptive parents made “a perfect family” and that “no one could ever love me as much as my mother does.” She does not want to trace her biological parents – nor can she, since there was no record of her background when she left Saigon. “I have no history,” she said, “but I was truly blessed.”

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Dr. Matthew Steiner has just returned from Vietnam and Laos on a two-week “Motherland Tour” organized by Holt International Children’s Services of Eugene, Ore., the relief agency that ran his orphanage in Saigon. Steiner is the child of an American father, whom he does not know, and a Laotian mother, who died when he was 7. He was adopted by Dr. James and Mary Steiner of West Liberty, Ohio, and says he spent much of his childhood trying to be “an all-American boy.”

Interviewed by Newsweek while he was still in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Steiner said “the memories just kept coming back.” He visited the building where the Holt orphanage had been and went up on the rooftop where he used to play. “It’s not so huge anymore,” he said, laughing. He found he knew some Saigon neighborhoods as if by deja vu. “I’d get a tingling down my spine because I could remember so much: the smells, the sounds, the sights,” he said.

Steiner said going back “made me realize I can’t deny … the Vietnamese side of me that I put aside for 20 years.” But he still considers himself an American, and he said he wants to show that he is “thankful to all the people who made this life possible up to now.” Steiner is surely among the luckiest of all the babylift orphans. But two decades after the fall of Saigon, the story of their dramatic escape remains a happy footnote to the entire Vietnam debacle.

>>> Click here: Puttin’ on the Blitz; The Bright Young Things dress up for the Good Old Days

Puttin’ on the Blitz; The Bright Young Things dress up for the Good Old Days

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Byline: Sara Lodge

London

If the past is another country, then it’s a land where many British people choose to spend the weekend.

It may not have the best food, but the clothes and the hairstyles are more glamorous; the dances are livelier; and flirting is conducted in a more heroic manner. Escaping to the 1920s, or the 1940s, or the ’50s, has never been more popular. And perhaps surprisingly, it is not primarily the older generation who thrill to the call of the Charleston, the Jitterbug, and the Lindy Hop. Young people in London are flocking to elaborate, ticketed events that require them to dress up in boaters and cravats, trilbies and ties, or Hawaiian shirts and blue suede shoes.

The Chap Olympiad, a daylong summer extravaganza in Bedford Square, is the strangest of these voyages into vintage fashion. Bedford Square is a private park surrounded by 18th-century townhouses but adjoining Tottenham Court Road, a street of cheap electronic goods and gadgets. The Chap Olympiad sets out to defy the tawdriness of the modern world by encouraging its participants to wear tweed, wax their mustaches, and polish their brogues–supposing, of course, that they are unfortunate enough not to have butlers to perform the last task for them.

When I arrived, Bedford Square was pervaded by the old-fashioned aroma of pipe tobacco: Never have I encountered more Old Shag in one place. The sun-dappled lawns were scattered with couples so impeccably turned out in a variety of vintage styles–hats, parasols, smoking jackets, seamed stockings–that they might have strayed from a film set. My own attempts at vintage dress were perfunctory, and I fear that not only the exquisite dandies sitting under the plane trees but even the dogs, one of whom was wearing a public-school tie, were looking at me as if I had let the side down.

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The Chap is a niche magazine, founded 12 years ago and ostensibly aimed at ‘gentlemen,’ like Bertie Wooster in the P.G. Wodehouse novels, who sport plus-fours and Argyle socks, and care much more about the importance of raising their hat to members of the fair sex than they do about computers, cars, and chain stores. Such men may now exist only in the well-thumbed pages of the British imagination, but the Chap Olympiad allows the nostalgic of both sexes to celebrate the sartorial pleasures of a more gentlemanly era (1910-40), to drink jugs of Pimms No. 1 Cocktail, and to waltz in the twilight as if hip-hop was just a pet rabbit and Britain still called a quarter of the globe her own.

What is intriguing, however, about the gathering is the degree of irony that infuses its rose-tinted romance with history. People take their appearance seriously. Yet the spirit of the day is one of licensed silliness. Many of the mustaches are obviously, riotously fake. And the ‘Olympiad’ itself consists of a series of competitive events, presided over by a ringmaster in a red tailcoat and black top hat, that include the Hop, Skip, and Gin and Tonic, Umbrella Jousting, the Cadathon, and the Mustache Tug of War.

In the Hop, Skip, and Gin and Tonic, male and female chaps perform a hop, skip, and jump while holding a pint glass brimful of gin and tonic. They must attempt, in the course of their exertions, to spill not a single drop of their aperitif. Different chaps took different approaches to this tricky task. Some manfully sprang across the raised platform, while their cocktail sprayed the rapt audience with juniper-flavored droplets. Others successfully cheated. One got his ‘butler’ to hop, skip, and jump, while his master held the drink safely out of harm’s way, raised it, and then downed it to admiring applause. In the jousting competition, chaps riding old-fashioned bicycles and carrying shields made of reinforced copies of the Daily Telegraph attempted to knock one another off their perches with a furled umbrella. In the Cadathon, each male competitor, pretending to be a cad, had to insult a woman in archaic, inventive terms: The woman would respond by giving his cheek a slap.

In each of these odd games, style was the mettle being tested. It was not a matter of what you did, but how you did it. Winning was beside the point. Indeed, to care much about winning would be to be deficient in style. You sense that, for the British, a large part of the attraction of the imaginary past is that it softens the edges of cutthroat modern life. It is a place where play, not prowess, is rewarded. Oddly, people can be themselves more freely when they are openly pretending to be what they are not than when they face the real-world pressure to perform roles they don’t control or enjoy.

The Chap has a political side. The magazine has organized various protests against aspects of the modern world. When a contemporary sculpture by Rachel Whiteread was exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum–normally reserved for older artworks–a group of chaps, dressed in vintage clothing, mounted the offending installation and sat calmly at the apex, smoking their pipes, until they were ejected by security guards. On another occasion, chaps in vintage dress walked down Oxford Street entering chain outlets like McDonald’s and Starbucks and demanding deviled kidneys and Darjeeling tea. Chaps, it seems, object to the monotony of modernity, its tendency to spawn global companies that supply identical products. A return to the past, then, is an assertion of individualism in the face of corporate sameness.

Elsewhere in London, retrochic is providing large-scale business opportunities. The Blitz Party is a ticketed event regularly attended by over 800 partygoers. Reliving the spirit of London during wartime bombing by the Germans, they dress in 1940s costume and gather in an enormous bomb shelter in the East End to dance to swing bands, drink Gin Fizz, and eat Scotch eggs and doorstep sandwiches.

I was determined, before attending the Blitz Party, to retrofit my appearance. So I visited one of several hairdressers now specializing in vintage styles. Miss Betty, whose salon, Hell’s a Poppin, is off Carnaby Street, came from France a couple of years ago to supply Londoners with everything from beehives to Betty Boop bobs. The salon is a splendid den of red velvet and leather; 1940s and ’50s rockers and film stars adorn the walls. On the mirrored dressing table before me was a bedside lamp in the form of two stockinged legs kicking suggestively upwards, on one of which balanced a leopard-skin lampshade.

While you are waiting, you can read the tattoos on the staff. Miss Betty told me, as she wielded her tongs and rollers, that although many women come here for a party look, others choose to live in 1940s fashion all the time. The air was full of sculptural levels of hairspray. Any houseflies on the premises must be permanently arrested in midair. My own hairstyle, when I finally ventured outdoors, consisted of tight curls fixed around my neck by a latticework of 46 hair grips. I felt like a cross between Princess Leia and a pin cushion. Indeed, I bore a certain resemblance to the mother of Britain’s current queen: ‘You’d look good on a stamp,’ my partner said doubtfully.

That evening, we stepped into the bomb shelter in Shoreditch to find it heaving with faux bomber pilots, army officers and WRENS, Land Girls and gaiety girls. There was even a stray member of the Luftwaffe, who had presumably been taken prisoner en route by the lady on his arm. The bar was bolstered with sandbags and forties advertisements for Corn Flakes, Oxo, and Blackcurrant Pastilles. A ration book menu offered Spitfire ale at [pounds sterling]31/2 and cocktails such as a Ginger Daisy for [pounds sterling]61/2. A band at the end of the hall played ‘In the Mood’ and ‘Angel Eyes,’ but the hall was so packed that there was little room to dance. Most people seemed to be chatting and enjoying the spectacle. There was a mini Blitz of competing camera flashes.

I asked one gentleman, in naval attire and carrying his gas mask in a brown paper package slung over one shoulder, what had brought him here. He told me that his 96-year-old grandfather had been a quality controller who checked the altimeters in Hurricane and Spitfire aeroplanes where they were assembled in Birmingham. At night he worked as a volunteer firewatcher.

‘We don’t have that community spirit now,’ he explained. ‘We all work hard, but you can’t imagine what it was like to emerge from a night shift, find the front of your building blocked by bomb rubble, and clear it away immediately so that the day shift could begin work. People didn’t put themselves first.’

I hadn’t imagined that people would be using the Blitz Party as a vehicle for remembering (and even honoring) the personal past, but I was surprised by how many people had begun the event by speaking to, or about, relatives who were involved in World War II. A twentysomething Australian girl told me that her grandmother had been a London firefighter during the war. She had friends from India and Britain who also had grandparents who were involved in the civilian war effort.

‘There’s nothing that defines our generation,’ she told me. ‘No big event. I mean, there’s 9/11, but that was different. World War II was the last time we were united by a common cause.’

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The company was diverse. Connie, a transgendered person, was there sporting scarlet lipstick and a fascinator with a spotted net veil. She told me that she and her party all worked in museums and galleries, where the kind of textiles they were wearing were objects labeled and locked up. This was an opportunity to enter the world they usually kept behind glass.

‘Besides,’ she said, ‘you know in the morning it’s usually just powder and a bit of lipstick. You don’t take the trouble. It’s good to have an excuse to make the effort.’ I heard this sentiment from many people. Entering the past seems to give people a sense of having more time, or measuring time differently. Women who usually dress in sweaters and jeans find hours to don stockings and petticoats. Men who usually zip their trousers and zap their remotes enjoy the gallantry of buttoned blazers and a slow dance.

Of course, the Blitz wasn’t really like this. It was a time of fear and exhaustion. Henry Moore’s sketches of Underground stations at the time show anonymous bodies, huddled together like the chrysalises of caterpillars, waiting to emerge into the light. But 70 years on, World War II has become a period of imagined glamor.

Every generation creates its own myth of yesteryear. The Victorians dressed up in medieval costume. The Teddy Boys of the 1950s were reviving Edwardian style. The past we visit is always a country of our own making, a holiday destination that reflects what it is about home we wish to escape. In London in the early 21st century, cloned chain stores, the hectic speed of modern life, the absence of community, leave people wanting yore. Luckily, with a wave of the mascara wand, a cloche, a dropped-waist gown, and a click of the heels on a pair of ruby slippers, you can easily transport yourself to a more congenial era.

The yen for then is very now.

Sara Lodge, a senior lecturer in English at the University of St Andrews, is the author of Thomas Hood and Nineteenth-Century Poetry: Work, Play, and Politics.

Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly

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The inaugural session of the 23nd Legislature opened on February 29, 1995, with Lieutenant Governor John Wiebe announcing a “quiet revolution” of fundamental changes to education, health care, municipal government and welfare programs.

Highlights of the proposed legislative calendar include: restructuring the Provinces’s 846 local governments, revising the municipal tax assessment system, devising a province-wide 9-1-1 emergency service and introducting restrictions on private health facilities. Also outlined were tougher child support enforcement laws and the establishment of a trade and export corporation. University administration costs are to be cut in addition to “wide ranging reforms to our education and training programs”. Agricultural initiatives centered upon revising the crop insurance program and the provision of $200 million over four years for agricultural research. The recommendations of last year’s legislative committee on Driving Safety for stiffer drunk driving penalties and new rules for new drivers are also to be addressed.

Opposition Leader Ron Osika criticized the speech, stating that it failed to present any initiatives to address the province’s economic problems. He argued that the absence of tax relief would adversely affect job creation and economic activity. PC Leader Bill Boyd made similar claims and feared a “noisy and boisterous revolution” -not the government’s “quiet revolution” – if the educational and local government reforms repeated the experience with health reform. Both opposition parties also believed that rural Saskatchewan was being ignored by the government.

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Budget

Finance Minister Janice Mackinnon delivered her second successive balanced budget on March 28th. The budget contained a four-year plan to safeguard health, education and social services by providing $110 million in new provincial funding to replace federal cuts in 1996-97 and to replace 96% of the $252 million federal cuts to these core services during the period of 1999 to 2000. Also provided in the Budget was a plan for four consecutive balanced budgets, no tax increases for individuals, families or small business and a plan to reduce the provincial debt by $2.4 million from 1994 to 2000. The Minister did announce the elimination of 544 government jobs, a $10 million reduction in postsecondary funding and a $20 million reduction to municipal governments.

Mr. Osika accused the government of tricking the public, the universities, the schools and the hospitals into thinking that the budget would be much worse, knowing “just as we’ve [the Official Opposition] been saying for months, the federal cutbacks just are not going to have a significant impact on our province”. Mr. Boyd noted that the budget contained nothing in the area of job creation but acknowledged its conservative fiscal tone.

Committees

The start of the new legislature permitted the establishment of the standing committees after a hiatus of nine months. Pat Lorje (NDP, Saskatoon Southeast) was elected chair of the Crown Corporations Committee while Rod Gantefoer (Liberal, Melfort-Tisdale) has assumed responsibility for the Public Accounts Committee. The Standing Committee on Private Members’ Bills chaired by Lloyd Johnson (NDP, Shellbrook-Spiritwood) considered five private bills, including one for which the notice requirements were waived.

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Election of Presiding Officers

Dale Flavel (Last Mountain – Touchwood) has assumed Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole responsibilities following his election on March 1st under the new secret ballot rules. Kim Trew (Regina Coronation Park) is the new Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole.

Other Matters

On March 25th, the inaugural presentation of the Saskatchewan Volunteer Medal to six recepients occured during the daily proceedings in the Assembly. Saskatchewan has one of the highest rates of voluntarism in Canada and the honour, established in 1995, was designed to recognize outstanding volunteer service or exceptional community involvement.

Following the lead of New Brunswick in 1995, Saskatchewan became the second jurisdiciton to acknowledge the contribution and role of military reservists with the declaration of April 15th as Reserve Force Day. A special ceremony held at the Legislative Assembly was attended by representatives of the naval, air and communications reserves, the militia and the cadet instructors cadre from around the province along with members of the Canadian Forces Liaison Council.

>>> Click here: A Precarious position

A Precarious position

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ORGANIZED LABOUR is waging an ongoing struggle to preserve the vestiges of the gains it won for its members in the second half of the 20th century in the form of social protections such as employer-sponsored pension plans, supplemental health insurance, sick leave, disability insurance and paid vacations at a moment when the historic foundation of such protections–the stable full-time job–continues to atrophy as 9-to-5 gives way to the just-in-time workforce.

The shift to nonstandard employment which includes part-time (defined by Statistics Canada as fewer than thirty hours per week), contractual, temporary and seasonal work, as well as self-employment, is in some large part the result of the drive to flexibilization–a virtual code word for the erosion of stable long-term employment and the benefits historically associated with it–witnessed throughout the advanced capitalist world in the last quarter century. Partly in search of higher profit margins and partly in response to competitive pressures over the last few decades, large corporations in particular have sought the latitude to quickly adjust their workforces to fit their changing requirements, as part of a bid to contain labour and other costs. This need is further fuelled by rapid technological change, which leads to accelerated obsolescence of skills and expertise. In a global market where everyone must turn on a dime in order to compete and remain profitable, firms want to be able to tailor the size and scope of their workforces to variable and shifting requirements with minimal investments in terms of benefit packages and training. Governments, faced with spiralling costs and reluctant either to impose new taxes or strengthen their revenue bases by eliminating the myriad means for corporations to circumvent tax liability, have followed suit, privatizing and contracting out public services.

At the same time, there has been a drive for flexibility from among the ranks of the employed. Workers have sought greater control over their work schedules; some have chosen to work part-time in order to be able to devote themselves to other activities, from raising children to caring for elderly parents to pursuing interests outside the realm of paid employment; still others wish to run their own businesses with all the risks that entails.

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The Rise of the “Precariat”

From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s nonstandard employment, accounted for nearly half of all job growth in Canada. Self-employment accounted for an astonishing 79.4 percent of the net employment growth in Canada from 1989 to 1997, with the lion’s share of this growth taking the form of solo self-employment (independent workers without employees). As of 2008, the self-employed comprised roughly 15 percent of the Canadian workforce. Part-time and temporary jobs account for another 22 percent of total employment. In fact, today, more than one third of all jobs fall into the category of non-standard employment. This trend is particularly pronounced in Canada compared with some other OECD countries but by no means exceptional.

While contingent employment is sometimes a choice, as in the case of highly paid consultants, it is often involuntary and often precarious employment. This is true not only because those employed in nonstandard working arrangements–disproportionately women, ethnic minorities and youths–are often relatively poorly paid and have less job security, but also because they are far less likely to have access to non-wage benefits ranging from parental leave to pension plans. For instance, a Statistics Canada study reported that in 2000 only 17 percent of part-time workers and 14 percent of temporary workers had extended medical, dental and disability insurance, compared with 58 percent of full-time workers and 57 percent of permanent workers.

Non-wage benefits represent a significant cost to employers: they can account for as much as 40 percent of total labour costs. It is not surprising then that there is an ongoing effort in both the private and public sector to roll back gains in this area. Beyond mounting direct attacks on the non-wage benefits of unionized employees, the expansion of non-standard employment is one way that employers can and have trimmed payroll costs by transferring the costs of social protection onto individual workers. This is part of the privatization of risk that is one of the defining features of neoliberalism.

An Insecure Future

With the current corporate assault/default on employer pensions, millions of (mainly unionized) workers are now watching the end of their retirement dreams. But many millions more have never been in a position to harbour hope for a comfortable retirement. Less than 40 percent of the labour force has an employer-sponsored pension plan. Unionized workers are much more likely to have pension coverage than non-unionized workers (83 percent of union members have an employer pension). And people in non-standard employment are much less likely to be unionized.

The prospects for the 11 million workers (more than 60 percent of the labour force) without any kind of employer-sponsored pension plan are quite unsettling. Anyone who has ever played with an online retirement calculator quickly discovers the financial value of an employer pension plan, and particularly the traditional defined-benefit plan: It’s like having a million dollars in the bank. In case this sounds far-fetched, consider that to be reasonably comfortable in retirement, it is generally estimated that you need seventy to 80 percent of your pre-retirement income. However, to receive the equivalent of an employer-sponsored pension that guarantees a worker, say, 70 percent of his or her $41,000 salary (the approximate median earnings of a full-time employee in Canada as of 2005), one would need savings of nearly a million dollars (invested at a safe annual return on capital of 3 percent). If we factor in the public pension (OAS and CPP/QPP), we can knock it down to a mere $600,000.

Of course, since many of the people engaged in nonstandard employment are precarious, they are unlikely to earn anywhere near an average salary. According to Statistics Canada, in 2005 Canadians who had income solely from self-employment earned on average $22,866. Clearly, most simply do not have the disposable income to be able to sock away savings in anywhere near sufficient amounts to finance a retirement nest egg–even if their retirement goals are far less ambitious than being able to afford an annual trip to a sunny climate. Alas, this does not deter right-wing advocates of “fixing” the pension system through strategies such as expanding RRSP contributions an approach which in any case leaves retirees at the mercy of potentially volatile markets.

Currently, one-third of Canadian workers have no retirement savings. And that means millions of Canadians face poverty in old age since public pensions alone are typically insufficient to maintain someone at a decent standard of living. According to the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, for a single individual aged sixty-five or over, the maximum Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement benefits combined amount to an annual income of about $16,000, which is below Statistics Canada’s low-income cut-off for major urban centres.

Rethinking Social Protection

Of course, pensions are just one part of the larger issue of social protection for the steadily growing numbers of precarious workers–and indeed all those for whom the labour market does not afford the prospect of adequate protection from the vicissitudes of life, such as illness and old age. This necessarily raises questions about the creation of new forms of social protection that are not contingent on paid employment–an especially germane proposal when even standard jobs are being “hollowed out” with the relentless pressures on benefits.

One approach is to demand equal pay for equal work, which in practice involves prorating wages and benefits for part-time and temporary workers (see http://www.equalpay.ca/petition.htm).

A complementary approach is to expand the concept of employee to cover many forms of nonstandard work and thereby secure access to social protection. There is also support for the development of forms of collective bargaining for workers in nonstandard employment situations. And the most radical proposal poses a challenge to the very foundation of the wage-based society: a decoupling of the right to an income from participation in the labour market via a universal citizens’ income.

In Europe, the critique of the employment contract as too restrictive a basis for access to social protection has gained a lot of ground over the last thirty years among progressive commentators, social activists and within the trade union movement. That vein of thinking was reflected in the Bernier Report, an exhaustive report commissioned by the Quebec government in 2003, which argued that a disparity in treatment based on employment status is socially unacceptable and recommended a series of far-reaching changes to labour legislation that would extend social protection to individuals in nonstandard employment situations.

Evoking the idea of “social drawing rights,” a new type of social right based on people’s diverse contributions to society including many forms of non-market activity, the Bernier report considered different possible ways of measuring an individual’s participation in work (as opposed to employment) that take the discontinuous character of contemporary working life into account. This includes for example, factoring in education and training time as a part of working time (a perfectly reasonable proposal in light of the trend toward knowledge-intensive jobs typical of the hyperdeveloped capitalist economies and an educational system arguably geared increasingly toward training for employment as opposed to the traditional goals of liberal education) and also non-market forms of work such as volunteer work and child care. The Bernier report has, unfortunately, disappeared from the radar screen, but it is as relevant as ever to the issues at hand.

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Retirement Security for All

Returning to the specific subject of pensions, given the continuing and possibly permanent shift away from the indefinite labour contract, a more forward-looking approach to pension reform is to decouple pensions altogether from the employment relationship, attach them to another criterion or “platform,” such as Canadian citizenship or residency, and create a robust public scheme with adequate universal coverage. Since the Old Age Security program is a social citizenship right, it could serve as the basis for a more inclusive approach to retirement security. And indeed feminists have supported the expansion of the OAS since it is not contingent on labour force participation and therefore does not discriminate against women who engage in unpaid care work. As Freya Kodar has argued, “Expanding the OAS programme would provide the greatest recognition of the relationship between social reproduction and production, since entitlement would not be based on labour force attachment. OAS expansion could also address the trend towards precarious non-standards employment by providing a guaranteed income on retirement equivalent to the average wage.” This proposal has an advantage over the labour movement’s preferred plan for increasing the rate at which the CPP replaces pre-retirement income (see the summary of the CLC proposal in this issue), since access to CPP benefits remain tied to the employer contract. Moreover, an overly corporatist approach on the part of the union movement which neglects the needs of new hires, the precariously employed, and women outside the labour force, among others, will only provide fodder for those attempting to divide and conquer working people by pointing to the disparities between public sector employees with their “gold-plated” pension plans and the majority of workers for whom retirement spells penury. Yes, a universal pension plan would be expensive, although it could be rendered more practical if it went hand in hand with raising retirement age in light of significantly extended life expectancy and rethinking the rather antiquated concept of concentrating leisure time at the end of life rather than distributing it throughout a lifetime by means of a general reduction in working time (see the article by Sam Gindin in this issue). But in any event it should be clear that “too expensive” is a political judgement. It is very expensive to fight a pointless war in Afghanistan, yet successive Canadian governments have been prepared to pay that price. In the end, like much else, providing adequate security for all people in their old age is a question of societal priorities.

And since it should not be forgotten that, however vulnerable they are, working people in the North remain relatively privileged in the global scheme of things, it is worth reflecting on the idea of a global pension plan set out by Robin Blackburn a few years ago in the New left Review (http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=2688). Noting that by 2050 there will be two billion older people most of whom will be condemned to dire poverty since they have no access at all to pensions of any sort, Blackburn presented a plan for a global pension of $1 per day at an estimated initial cost of $205 billion, to be financed by a 2 percent tax on global corporate profits. Given the indefensible economic inequity between North and South and if we, on the Left, are to take seriously a commitment to international solidarity, this innovative scheme for a measure of planetary wealth redistribution is the most pressing of any pension reform strategy yet proposed.