Harper’s in Iqaluit: so what?

Would it matter if, when Stephen Harper arrives in Iqaluit this week, we just didn’t show up to the photo-ops and PR stints so carefully planned and thoughtfully communicated to the media by his communications team? Would he smile to an empty room, shake hands with phantoms?

Most people know his annual trip to the North is a token gesture, a symbolic visit devoid of real significance. So why do we, especially in the media, still scurry to his events like lap dogs? An event needs an audience, and if the media deprived him of that, what would be left?

Photo by Remy Steinegger, courtesy wikicommons.
Photo by Remy Steinegger, courtesy wikicommons.

The media has grown too dependent on communication officials.

Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman published a propaganda model of media in 1988 predicting that, contrary to popular democratic belief, news media is not independent of power centres in society and actually “mobilize support for the special interests that dominate the state and private activity”. The model is, by now, one of the most well-tested and proven models in all of social science.

The model is set up as a series of filters which potential news has to pass through in order to reach the public. Filters like advertisers and capital investment to create news media. One of the filters is a “sourcing bias”.

The sourcing bias is pretty simple: media rely on communications from governments and companies as an authoritative source of news. The resources of governments and companies are far greater than the resources of the media. Media can save money and time by relying on official communications.

The disparity in resources ensures this is an imbalanced relationship. But the imbalance doesn’t end with a sourcing bias; it only begins to explain how the general public, and the media, are kept at an arm’s length—a long go-go-Gadget arm’s length—from meddling in governmental affairs.

A commentary in the Toronto Star by Gregory Thomas earlier this month revealed that the Conservatives are spending over $260-million on communications personnel this year—for core public services alone—which is $48-million more than when they first came into power. In comparison, that amounts to about 80% of the payroll for the House of Commons. And, as Thomas points out, it’s not like communicating with Parliament Hill has gotten any easier under the Conservatives.

Photo courtesy wikicommons. Graffiti in Toronto on Danforth Ave.
Photo courtesy wikicommons. Graffiti in Toronto on Danforth Ave.

“Canadians are seeing a quarter-billion dollars of their money used against them: not to provide them with information, but rather to delay, conceal and spin the information to enhance the image of the party in power,” Thomas wrote in the Star.

Sourcing bias. Excessive spin doctors. And then there’s that nagging accusation that the Conservatives are muzzling scientists.

An article published last week by Postmedia’s Margaret Munro revealed through an Access to Information request—one of the last tools available to journalists asking meaningful questions—that scientists from the Canadian Ice Service, an arm of Environment Canada, were denied their 2012 wish to hold a “strictly factual” media briefing to reveal how ice had disappeared from the Northwest Passage. Their request to have biannual “Media Tech Briefings” so that Canadian media wouldn’t have to rely on American data which were “missing the Canadian details” didn’t make it through the government’s nine-level approval process that ensures their “communication plan”.

“Communication plan.” How quaint.

A communication plan isn’t about communication at all, at least not in the sense of a dialogue. It means communicating with an agenda. There are no direct answers given, so why bother asking direct questions?

Harper doesn’t think an inquiry into the tragic number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women is necessary, for example, because it’s not a “sociological phenomenon”, he said last week while in Whitehorse. “It is crime against innocent people, and it needs to be viewed as such,” Yukon News quoted him as saying.

“No need to fret over the toxic brew that contributes to the many troubles faced by Canada’s aboriginal communities,” Yukon News editor John Thompson wrote in a scathing, impassioned editorial lambasting Harper’s “stupidity”. Thompson listed a few sociological

Photo courtesy wikicommons.
Photo courtesy wikicommons.

aspects that Harper glossed over: high unemployment, substance abuse, overcrowded housing, low education levels and “not to mention the terrible traumas inflicted during residential schools that continue to be passed from one generation to the next.”

More to the point, though, Harper’s not really answering the question: should we have an official inquiry? Instead he’s selling his tough-on-crime shtick. He’s shticking to a communication plan.

Sourcing bias. Excessive spin doctors. Muzzling scientists. Communication shtick.

Just for the exercise, what could Harper be addressing, instead of being wooshed from one venue to the next, handled by handlers whose soft hands see Jergens five times a day and cotton swabs for their cuticles? Just for the exercise…

John Bennett, executive director of the Sierra Club had some good suggestions in an editorial last week for Troy Media.

He wants to know why the National Energy Board is considering relaxing safety measures it adopted after the Verizon catastrophe in applications it’s currently reviewing from Chevron and Imperial Oil. “Will the PM be talking about drilling safety on this trip through the North?” Bennett asked.

He also wants to know why the scientists from Canadian Ice Service aren’t allowed, as scientists, to inform the public of scientific facts, as scientists.

I’m new to the North and have much to learn about reality and complexity of life up here. There’s a million real questions I imagine people would love to put to Mr. Harper that I don’t know about yet. But Harper’s shtick—shucks, that I’ve seen since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.

If only, Kids in the Hall.

 

 

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Prominent architecture in Iqaluit

scroll down for picture gallery

The architecture in Iqaluit leaves two distinct impressions on my mind: the town’s military history and the harsh arctic environment.

Many of the bigger buildings are box-shaped with minimal geometric variations and sparse porthole windows. There’s a simplistic aesthetic which immediately speaks to function and weathering the blistering winds.

But it doesn’t seem there are many admirers of Iqaluit architecture.

A letter to the editor of the local newspaper in 2002 described the town’s architecture as one of fear: fear of the elements, fear of costs, fear of a unique identity and fear of imagination.

“Buildings still do not engage the landscape as they should, striding over it with complete abandon,” the letter said. “There is little attention to the streetscape…to lighting, to the human experience of the building.”

And a former reporter at the local paper described the architecture, simply, as goofy.

But there are signs that architectural designs are becoming more ambitious, if even goofier.

One architect from Toronto designed skyscrapers, made of local rocks, to sit atop glaciers and move with ocean currents. Nothing came of those designs.

And some design students, also from Ontario, pitched giant floating balls of light to Nunavut communities as a way to see them through the long, dark winters.

Much of the push for more colourful, unique buildings comes, sadly, in the form of government, especially federal, buildings, as you’ll see below. The Territorial legislative assembly, built in 1999, was seen by many as the first building to attempt creativity. And an aquatic centre slated to begin construction next summer would certainly add some colour and flare.

A project headed by a Toronto firm, called Arctic Adaptations, tried to address what many see as the abysmal state of architecture in the North earlier this year by designing buildings with five themes in mind: health, housing, education, arts and recreation.

The project was one of the top exhibits at this year’s Venice Biennale—an internationally renowned architectural fair.

“Maybe we haven’t been as intelligent as the Inuit have been in adapting to place [in the North],” the lead architect said.

This post only deals with prominent architecture of public buildings in the town; a post on housing and infrastructure will follow at a later date.


Iqaluit Airport

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Inuksuk High School

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Nakasuk Elementary School

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Baffin Correctional Centre and the territorial court house

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Legislative assembly and  RCMP office

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St. Jude Anglican Church

 

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The Arctic Hotel, The Frobisher Inn and the Legion

 

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Misc

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Building houses municipal council chambers.
This building houses the municipal council chambers.
Qikiqtani General Hospital
Qikiqtani General Hospital
CBC building.
CBC building.

Iqaluit groceries, sculptures

 

Grocery Bill, North Mart

*salt and pepper shakers (mini): $6.99

*sugar, bulk (0.465kg): $2.28

*canola oil (475mL): $3.99

*coffee, ground (925g): $19.99

water enhancer, squirt (48mL): $4.35

*pasta, rotini, 1 bag (900g): $5.49

*sandwich bags, 100: $1.99

*soap, bars (2): $4.19

*toothpaste (100mL): $4.29

*crackers, 1 box (225g): $3.99

*candy, 1 box (450g): $6.19

milk (4L): $10.45

frozen veg, corn (750g): $4.79

frozen juice concentrate: $1.35 x 4

ground beef (0.5kg): $5.95

pork loin (0.42kg): $6.76

chicken breast, boneless/skinless (1.1kg/5 pieces): $32.03

bag charge: $0.72

subtotal: $136.83

gst: $1.15

total: $137.98

*= discount brands

 

Things I can’t afford until I get paid

laundry detergent, Tide 5L: $48.89

toilet paper, Charmin 12 rolls: $19.99

garbage bags, Glad 20 large: $14.39

Hello Iqaluit

 

Grocery Bill
Cereal, Special K (565g): $11.39

Potato Chips (270g): $4.89

Loaf of Bread, 7-grain: $3.25

Onions, yellow (2lb): $3.49

Peppers, red (1): $2.33

Potatoes (5lbs): $5.45

Eggs (1 dozen): $3.95

Milk (2L): $6.19

Cheddar, Cracker Barrel Old (200g): $6.45

Butter (1lb): $7.99

Pork chops, loin (0.32kg): $4.89

subtotal: $60.37
gst: $0.21

Total: $60.58

Pearson tarmac, en route to Iqaluit

Pearson tarmac

August 4, 2014

10:50a.m.

 

When I left for Austria, Daniel came to the airport with me. Tata had dropped us off. Tata’s always offered a ride to and from the airport. He may not be the most emotionally-accessible father, but he often means well and is consistent and sincere in the help he can think—or is willing—to offer.

“Call me…one time,” he said when dropping me off to fly to BC a few months ago.

“I’ll call you…one time,” I said today when he dropped Alex and I off.

 

Daniel and I ate at Swiss Chalt while we waited for my flight to Vienna all those years ago. Only four or five years, really, but it feels like a lifetime. Daniel’s dead now. And so is Mama. And now I sit, waiting on the Pearson tarmac, en route to Iqaluit, with a definite purpose, a focus I never had before, though focus isn’t everything. Daniel cried when it was time to say goodbye. That surprised and touched me. I always struggled to recognize and appreciate his sensitivity. I blame it on being a stupid man. I’m pretty sure he paid for Swiss Chalet, because that’s the kind of guy he was.

 

I’m always the one leaving. Maybe that’s why I don’t understand the grief or sadness at parting. It’s not fair, really. Excitement, novelty and self-serving, egocentric desire is palpable for me when I’m in an airport. But for those I leave behind, an anticipated absence.

 

Alex held it together today. I almost cired when we were hugging and kissing, saying goodbye. The only other time I almost cried was an hour or two earlier. I was standing in the living room, making sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, when I became aware that I was standing on the exact spot Mama died, in a hospital bed.

 

Places. Home. Geography. I’ve always struggled with understanding how a place I feel deeply connected to can continue to exist if I’m no longer there to witness it. Egocentric. Existential. Romantic.

 

We’re all born on one exact spot, and die in one exact spot. I could contemplate that for hours.

 

I orbit, revolve around places I love, never sure, never certain, that I will return, but maintaining a clear vision of each place. A feeling and a knowing.

 

In this way people are like places: they can only be in one spot at any one time, and they inspire a knowing, and tether me to the ground, even though my head drifts constantly into the clouds.