Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ho, Canada!

There are few things like long trips with a five year old to get your perspective back on track. "Bubby" and I are now in Canada, for a few days to visit one of her big sisters, who studies in Montreal. We are well prepared: warm clothes--check; French accent--check; Canadian expressions--check. Ready, eh. We even met on the flight one of the few Bajan-Canadians I know in Bim, who managed an adjacent apartment where we first lived; he spends most of his time in Montreal--I cannot understand why, except for tax purposes.

We had an afternoon departure and got to Toronto around 8.30pm. I am a dab hand at wheedling my way into airport lounges--much to my wife's horror at how brazen that can be. This time I made a coup as there was no one at reception to even try to cajole with the story of my tired little lambkins. So, we snuggled down for 30 minutes of "executive pleasures"--bread, cheese, other snacks, gourment coffee, beer: in-flight pay-to-eat policies have to have an upside as far as I am concerned.

We got to Montreal at about 11.30pm and flopped into bed at around 1am this morning. Pumpkin was pooped, and had caught three good naps over the last few hours of the trip, and was really pleased by the midnight traffic jam on the freeway due to roadworks, which gave her an extra 30 minutes. Daddy was not in bad shape, and still bright eyed even after watching two nice films, which are as contrasting as they come: "Hancock" (Will Smith as super hero who needs attitude management) and "Amal" (Canadian-Indian film about a kind-hearted New Delhi rickshaw driver who gets left a fortune by one of his passenger).

We quickly got through the check-in pleasantries and could not get to the room fast enough. Miss Bliss loves the room and her big bed in our hotel room. But happiness does not last long: "Oh it's cold...I want my coat"; "But where is my sister?"; "When is she coming to stay with us?" I will try to solve all of these "problems" momentarily. In the meantime she can have some Canadian TV: "All the words are in French!" Well, she will just have to use the French part of her brain for a few days.

I needed to decompress for a while and caught up with some of the day's events. I am well briefed about the parliamentary elections on Tuesday, thanks to a friend who lives in Montreal, whom I'll call "Doreen". She sent the following "live update" by e-mail before I left Bim:

PM Harper and his Conservative party have increased their number of seats, but still have no clear majority. It looks as if the Liberal leader, the very intellectual but not very charismatic Stephane Dion, will step down in the next few days. He was a compromise choice as leader to begin with, chosen just under two years ago when the two leading candidates, former Harvard scholar Michael Ignatieff and former social democrat premier of Ontario (who switched parties to run for the Libs) Bob Rae, more or less ate each other up in the fight for the top job. Dion went into this election unwillingly, as the party didn't have its act together on anything except a very bold and innovative carbon tax initiative which he called the "Green Shift". But this was attacked by the Conservatives as "a new tax".

Poor M. Dion, who is a French Canadian, is reviled by most Quebecers because he has no time at all for the arguments of sovereignists. So he's seen in Quebec as a sell-out to English Canada and/or arrogant, overly-professorial, you name it. Apparently, though, his English is so abysmal that he simply can't communicate his complex ideas to English Canada. This cost him an extra 19 seats in the "ROC"(Rest Of Canada).

In Quebec, the separatist Bloc Quebecois lost a bit of the popular vote but strengthened its seat count to 50 of the province's 75 seats. By refusing to use the word "sovereignty" throughout the campaign, merely arguing a vote for the BQ would prevent the Conservatives (much reviled for their cuts to arts and culture financing, for their support for the war in Afghanistan and for committing to put in place an American-style tough stand on youth crime, in a province that prides itself on rehabilitation and keeping kids out of detention wherever supports can be put in place to do it) from winning a majority. The BQ strategy worked. The Conservatives went into this campaign counting on getting 30 seats in Quebec (had 11 to start, ended up with 10) but blew their campaign there and alienated francophones.

So, the country ends up more divided than ever. The west is mostly Tory blue. Ontario is split with no seats for the Conservatives in all of Metropolitan Toronto - where 1 in 5 Canadians live. In Quebec, same story: no Conservatives elected in Montreal. Atlantic Canada is split between the parties.

The Green party did participate more than ever before - taking 7 per cent of the vote overall - but failed to win a seat. this will probably renew calls for some kind of proportional voting system, but that happens after every federal race and never goes anywhere.

So - in the end - Canadians have now gone to the polls THREE TIMES since 2004 and for the THIRD time have a minority government. People are getting tired of this.

So, now you know as much as I do. I may look for M. Dion panhandling on the streets, and offer him a US$ bill and an invitation to visit Barbados to overcome his woes.

Maybe it was sheer coincidence, but it was good of oil prices to drop below US$70 yesterday and push the US$:Canadian $ rate toward 1.20, so that it would be cheaper for us. To think that when I planned the trip a few weeks ago, the rate was hovering near 1--nice going to get a 20 percent discount thrown into your holiday.

I can't say that I really missed the day in the markets yesterday, as it looked so horrible for equities when I was leaving that I just could not bother to watch another day of "blood red" ink all over the place, and all the angst and hand wringing. My buddy, "VIX", hit a new record of over 80. Boring! I was not surprised that things had rebounded by the day's end with plenty of positive movement. But, that's what happens when the market is bottoming out. You have to have relief rallies, but they don't last. Today, I will not be much interested either, as I don't want the distraction. I have more fish to fry with listening to children's songs like the "Wobbly Whoopsy" (by the Doodlebops) and practising "Santa Claus is coming to town" with my own Shirley Temple. Check out the dance:

All we need now is to hook up with our poli-sci-history-English major and we will be ready and set to go. In the meantime, we are putting our hands in the air and dancing the "Wobbly Whoopsy"--which is like you have ants in your pants--and my little one is doing it on the coffee table. We are in a Residence Inn and we are acting as if we are in residence.

I am just going to press my personal "parental control" button for a few hours now and gear up to meet some loveable Canadians.

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