Dude, lighten up, you’re getting too heavy

OK, I KNOW THAT a few people think my writing is a bit heavy, and they don’t mean obese. Sure, I write about some serious stuff.

But I get it. As if I’m going to save the world in 850 words or less. Case in point. As I write this column, as in right now, my editor is chatting with me online about the new Employment Insurance (EI) legislation coming into effect.

His first take is, he supports the new changes. Why? Because a lot of people take advantage of the system when they’re able to take other work. And it’s true. Many people do. But like a lot of issues, it’s rather complicated. Here’s a sample of our current discussion over the last five minutes:

Editor: I have to, for at least the third time this year, admit that I agree with the Harper government. That's painful.

Me: What did they do right this time?

Ed: EI reforms. Just crunched some numbers. Mainly in reaction to the “it's my money” claims from the downtrodden worker and union boss. Generally speaking, the total employer/employee contributions for a year, for someone making $46k per year, are returned in four weeks less a day.

Me: As a single issue I could agree. But this is woven into the fabric of an economic discussion about Canada today and its future. What are we doing as a country, becoming a new resource powerhouse like Australia? Becoming a part of the North American Union concept, in which labour is leveled across the continent to Mexican-American standards? And what about a social well-being economy? Or an innovation economy? Or an environmental economy? This instrumentalism with systems like EI beggars the imagination. Because it comes from beggared imaginations. That is not to condone the cheating by the bottom. But what if there truly ARE no jobs? Think Campobello or McAdam or Grand Manan. As I mentioned the other night, perhaps we should just move them all to the tar sands project and be done with it.

Ed: And that's what my editorial is trying to point out. EI is needed by the waitress earning $10/hour working for some crap tourist-driven restaurant. But not the lobster fisher or roughneck pulling $55k over four, six, eight months of work.

Me: Well, that's the thing, I guess. But are the lobster workers part of a corporation or are they independent contractors who have to buy and maintain their own equipment? And what sort of benefit plans do they have, or retirement plans, or savings plans? Big corps have been offloading to small contractors for decades. There's even a term for it: “externalizing costs.” It's also pretty much what they do with the environment. Take for free (or as little as possible) and clean up only what they're forced to clean up. Now index this with the Harper government's gutting of environmental regulation and you start to get into the bigger picture.

Ed: If I'm self-employed, I can't collect EI. Been that way for ages. If I'm self-employed, it's up to me to look after my future. That's also nothing new.  I think the EI reforms bite at Calvin Helin's [The Economic Dependency Trap] pointed declaration: the surest way to kill a man is to pay him to do nothing. And believe me, I've seen more than a few bilk the system.

Me: But what if all self-employment ties back into a corporate-dominated economy run by big banks and other giants? The contractors simply become indentured servants to bank debt and seasonal contracts. And a whole lot of additional government regulation.

Ed: Me, I think the big issue isn't corporatization so much as its twisted driving force: the push to continue growth, even though it is inherently illogical. I don't know enough about Keynsian/Malthusean whatever-the-heck-it-is to be more intelligently critical, but we have to shift from a growth-based economic model into a sustainable model. And the whole idea of having other people work to make you rich—known as the stock market—is inherently flawed. Geez, I guess that makes me a leftie, donnit?

No, I don’t think my editor is a leftie or a righty; he’s just trying to make sense of a world that refuses to make sense.

Even the simple things get complicated and heavy. This weekend my editor and his wife lost their orange cat, Winston. He got run over by a car. Winston was a kind of gentleman charmer, and it seemed irrational for him to wander off and get killed in that way.

And I’d rather not think about Winston and get all heavy about it. But when I do, I think about the pets that I’ve lost. Like a favourite dog who accidentally got into some Warfarin behind a grocery store. It was a death meant for the rats feeding in the garbage bin out back. Not nice.

In fact, there’s a lot of stuff that’s not nice. And sure, we should work to make the world a better place. But first we need to love the world. And there’s plenty of poetry in both sunshine and the rain.


  1. I really like the last line of this article. Well said!! [anon in bc]

  2. The world can be a cruel place but--there's always a but--there is also love and kindness in the world, especially if we take a moment to look for it. The good stuff gives us the strength to survive the bad stuff, but then you already know that.

  3. Thanks. Yes. The yin-yang of it all. The harmonic balance as a whole rather than one side of a dualistic battle, that would be the goal state.


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