Senior copy editor
Carl DeGurse’s role at the Free Press is a matter of opinion. A lot of opinions.
He is a member of the Free Press editorial board that decides the newspaper’s stance on newsworthy issues. He writes some of the editorials, writes personal opinion columns and helps edit submitted opinion columns on the Think Tank page in the print edition and Analysis section online.
He tries to apply the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
Recent articles of Carl DeGurse
One of the most peculiar encounters of our summer has been at a Tim Hortons outlet in Wawa, Ont., of all places. It confirmed for us the gravity of the labour shortage in Canada’s retail sector.
My wife and I had overnighted in a motel in this town of 3,000 people in the wilderness of northern Ontario and, before resuming our journey in the morning, we walked to a nearby Hortons, where about eight vehicles waited in line at a drive-thru.
We tried to enter the restaurant for coffee but a woman wearing a badge that said “manager” blocked the entrance.
“Sorry, no indoor service. We can’t hire enough staff to work the counter,” she said. “You can use the drive-thru.”
As a man, I offer an opinion on abortion only with caution. I understand and respect the views of women on this controversial issue because, after all, it’s inside their bodies that babies grow.
But I hope I can be allowed to contribute to the conversation with an experience that is deeply personal. I will share this disclosure from my past, hoping it will illustrate a crucial aspect of the abortion debate that is often overlooked.
My true story begins with a high-school romance between Debbie and Bill. Their relationship continued after graduation and, when they were 19 years old, they became pregnant. Abortion wasn’t considered, partly because of the Roman Catholic beliefs of the family in which Debbie was raised.
Instead of abortion, they “did the right thing,” as it was called back then, and they got married when they were three months pregnant. Pregnant with me, that is. I was born six months after my parents wed.
There’s a deep human need to do right by our dead, an imperative often prevented by COVID-19.
Many Manitobans who passed on during the pandemic died alone. In their final hours, as they faced the daunting prospect of transitioning to whatever lies beyond this earthly realm, they were denied a loving sendoff from family and friends, who were kept away from personal-care homes, hospitals and private homes by restrictions on in-person gatherings.
It’s also been hard on the survivors, who were barred from the social rituals our culture has developed to process the trauma of death, such as visting the funeral home to view the laid-out body, sharing tearful hugs with the grieving family, and attending funerals where eulogies extol the virtues of the deceased.
It’s as if we still owe something to the Manitobans who died of COVID-19, that we need a creative way to honour them with due reverence.
THERE seems to be a rise in recent years of people slagging Winnipeg police as racist and unnecessarily brutal. Some protests have even demanded the police service be defunded.
Bob and Cathy Stewart are aware from news reports of growing hostility toward police but, when they were awoken this week by a violent man who was high on meth and smashing the windows of their home, they had a first-hand opportunity to judge police action for themselves.
By the time police arrested the home invader — they found him naked, lying in a puddle of standing water in nearby bush — the Stewarts had high praise for the sensitivity police showed in quelling the crisis.
“There’s not enough good adjectives to describe their high level of professionalism,” Bob said in a conversation.
AN acquaintance says she’s decided to stop consuming news because it’s a downer. She aims to avoid all mainstream media and build herself an information bunker that will admit only literature, music and television broadcasting that is uplifting.
I respect her right to shape her world view — we all need to heed our mental health — but perhaps her strategy is too extreme if she cuts herself off from positive news stories that offer hope and encouragement. Here are examples of heartening news items she would miss:
AN ELECTRIC FUTURE — The widespread adoption of electric vehicles seems to be more promising.
Two separate developments week combined to make the economics of the EV option more compelling. First, the price of gasoline soared, to more than $2 a litre in Winnipeg. Second, the sticker price of some EVs seems to be falling, at least in the U.S.
THE concert at the West End Cultural Centre was good, but even more memorable was an encounter in the public washroom during intermission. I emerged from a stall and did a double-take. There was a woman in the room.
The washroom had been designated for males during my past visits to the West End and I hadn’t noticed the sign on the door had been changed. On that night, the washroom was gender neutral.
I felt surprised by her presence and, to be honest, somewhat uneasy. The washroom is small, and we were the only two occupants. At the sink to wash my hands, we were almost shoulder to shoulder. She was leaning close to the mirror and applying a black tar-like substance to her eyelashes with a small stick with a bristly tip.
I felt inclined to acknowledge her presence because we were so physically close that our sleeves almost touched. To be well inside her personal space and to ignore her might make her feel insulted, as if she didn’t exist. I didn’t want to snub her but, also, I didn’t want to say anything that could be construed as creepy.
THE comeback of Canada geese from near-extinction has been remarkably successful. In fact, it’s been too successful.
In an appropriate environment, geese are magnificant birds. To watch them from a site such as Oak Hammock Marsh is to marvel at their natural beauty as they ride the wind currents in V-shaped formation, outstretched necks honking their throaty exclamations.
In Winnipeg, though, they’ve become urban pests, soiling parks and playgrounds with excrement, hissing aggressively at people who walk near their nests and creating a traffic hazard as they plod obliviously on roads.
I generally believe we should co-exist peacefully with wildlife including geese, live and let live. The exception is when wildlife poses a danger.
THE regular writers of letters to the editor obviously agree on the importance of a vigorous public conversation on important issues. Other than that, they disagree on almost everything.
Right wing or left wing, confrontational or conciliatory, heartfelt or headstrong, they are an eclectic bunch who care enough about our community to speak out and put their name to their views.
Why do they bother? What sort of reaction do their published letters get from their friends and family?
We asked those questions of a sample of writers who submit letters consistently. Many responded with lengthy, eloquent answers. Here are some excerpts:
CAN we really blame Premier Heather Stefanson for dodging three recent question periods? Which of us would choose to attend a place where we would be taunted and belittled?
Sadly, the important democratic tradition of question period occasionally descends into a fracas where the “honourable members” stoop to hollering and jeering of a type that would get school children sentenced to a timeout in the principal’s office.
Take, for example, the ruckus in the legislature on April 13 when the provincial budget was tabled. The heckling got so bad that Speaker Myrna Driedger was ignored as she called for order and repeatedly urged the MLAs to stop bickering. She might as well have told the wind to stop blowing.
“Democracy will only happen if all of us respect each other in here and bring forward our ideas carefully and listen to them carefully,” she reminded them. The MLAs then heckled the Speaker.
I KNOW I speak for many Winnipeggers when I express gratitude to Manitoba Public Insurance for its oft-repeated advice: “Drive to road conditions.” Never would we have thought of that on our own.
The current condition of Winnipeg roads has been compared to roads found in a war zone that was recently shelled. Some people say that’s an understatement.
As we dodge potholes, gaping crevices and crumbling pavement, Winnipeg drivers are forced to weave back and forth, sometimes drifting out of our lanes. Makes it hard to tell whether zigzagging motorists are driving to road conditions, or are intoxicated.
Thank goodness we have the driving experts at MPI to edify us. In search of more detailed wisdom, I checked MPI’s website and found further gems of enlightment about potholes. I decided to go for a drive and follow MPI’s specific advice.
CITY council was criticized this week for opening its meetings with a time of prayer. Let’s hope councillors don’t bow to pressure and end the tradition. Winnipeg needs more prayer, not less.
A report by the British Columbia Humanist Association said Winnipeg council is violating the state’s duty of neutrality and the rights of the non-religious who might attend.
Judging by the criticism, it seems likely none of the B.C. humanists actually attended a Winnipeg council session before slagging it. Council has a definition of prayer that is commendably elastic.
The responsibility for council’s prayerful opening rotates among councillors. Some pray through the lens of their personal faith, but others offer secular meditations, poetry, inspirational thoughts or song. According to Mayor Brian Bowman, “It is a moment of unity for council before sometimes we get into very divisive discussions and debates.”
THREE households in my neighbourhood stand out for separate reasons that are all admirable.
One has an electric vehicle plugged in outside its home. The family obviously has the courage of its conviction to make the switch while most of us agree in principle but remain hesitant.
A second household includes a mother who goes to great lengths to reduce the family’s environmental footprint. She brings her own cup to coffee shops, her family wears bulky sweaters indoors in winter to allow a lower thermostat, and she buys food from bulk bins when possible, bringing her own containers. She behaves boldly in supermarkets, where, shunning the plastic-and-foam packaging on meat, she barges through the swinging doors that say “No admittance” to sweetly ask the butchers to cut the portion she wants and put it in a container she brought from home.
A third commendable household has over the past few years gradually eliminated its lawn. The home is now fronted by an attractive presentation of river-rock paths, trees centred in beds of large wood chips and shrubs native to the Canadian Prairie.
LET’S think the best of Winnipeg authorities and ascribe honorable intentions to their reluctance to evict bus-shelter squatters.
The officials likely feel compassion for people who feel their best option is to stay outdoors during the winter. Who doesn’t? We all feel sorry for anyone who has to spend nights in temperatures that are dangerously cold.
The prevailing rationale seems to be respecting the rights of squatters to make their own decisions, even when they refuse frequent invitations to come in from the cold and sleep in institutional shelters where, at a minimum, they can rest on mats in a place that is warm.
There’s also the Indigenous factor, an area of particular sensitivity in Winnipeg. Many of the squatters appear to be Indigenous, and their life choices are often related to generational dysfunction rooted in shameful colonial measures such as residential schools.
WINNIPEG Jets forward Paul Stastny has no need for an assist from me when his linemates include able puck-passers such as Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, but I support the way Stastny acted this week away from the rink.
He miffed many Manitobans by favoring protests against COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Some people offered public opinions that Stastny should stick to hockey.
Regardless of whether we agree with his views on the “freedom convoy” — and I don’t — the occasion of an athlete speaking on a controversial public issue offers a made-in-Manitoba chance to consider the weight we grant the opinions of celebrities.
Were Stastny a mechanic at the corner garage instead of a Jet in a hockey-mad province, his political opinion wouldn’t grab headlines. The Jets jersey comes with great privilege, but Stastny did not misuse it. In fact, I would argue he acted with integrity.
QUICK quiz: name three living scientists.
Sorry contestants, no points will be given for naming the stars of the Oscar-nominated movie Don’t Look Up. They’re not real scientists. They’re actors portraying fictional scientists.
Admittedly, the quiz would be easier to answer if it asked for the names of actors, musicians, politicians or authors. And the Winnipeg Jets are so well-known that even children can name their favourite players, as well as the players’ positions and the numbers on their backs.
But scientists? Most of us are hard-pressed to identify any of the innovative giants who work tirelessly to discover ways to improve our heath and the health of our planet.
WINNIPEG already has drug injection sites. They’re also known as bus shelters.
People using drugs regulary squat in several such shelters, mostly downtown. The evidence is as clear as the litter of used needles, empty vials and bags of solvents scattered around the structures. The human casualties are seen first-hand by emergency crews called to attend these shelters, sometimes several times a day, to attempt to save people from their self-administered suffering.
Coun. Sherri Rollins believes there’s something wrong with a city that continues to let such misery transpire on prominent public display in its see-through shelters, as if drug users are in an aquarium for passersby to gawk at. She believes Winnipeg can do better and she’s pushing for the establishment of a safe consumption site.
She might feel like she’s pushing uphill, against the wind. Proposals for safe consumption sites have been turned down in many juridictions, including Manitoba, although there are more than 100 such facilities in Europe and they’ve have started to catch on in some cities in North America.
WINNIPEG justice officials were criticized repeatedly this week over two matters: an announcement that no one will be charged for toppling statues of British royalty, and allegations that police are too lenient with lawbreakers blockading public roads around the Manitoba legislative building.
Both controversies are related to acts of civil disobedience, and a relatively new way of policing that seems to be widely misunderstood.
Perhaps a helpful context with which to unpack this week’s public outrage is something called the social-contract theory, which students of Introduction to Justice 101 learn is the tacit pact between the community and the police.
For their part of the social contract, police get enormous powers. We must obey their lawful commands. They’re even allowed to carry loaded guns and, in extreme circumstances, can shoot people.
ASTRONOMERS occasionally gets excited by planets aligning in a special way, and they alert the rest of us that such a rare event will happen only once in our lifetime.
Something similar is about to happen in the world of sports. Several major sporting events are aligning with a rare synchronicity.
It couldn’t come at a better time. Winter in Manitoba is particularly cruel this year, with a double whammy of COVID-19 restrictions and harsh weather. If we’re looking for a mental escape, a convergence of compelling world-class sporting events lies ahead.
Even people who don’t normally pay attention to sports — they include those who greeted this week’s headline about Tom Brady’s retirement with: “Who’s Tom Brady?” — might want to reconsider and give sports fandom a chance to rescue them from the bleakness of another pandemic winter.
DISCUSSING the dispersal of our body parts after death is not an uplifting conversation, granted, but a noteworthy landmark has been achieved in the field of organ donations.
On Jan. 18, Nova Scotia marked one year of presumed consent, the first jurisdiction in North America to try this social experiment. It means Nova Scotians are presumed to agree to donate their organs when they die, unless they opt out. It reverses the practice of other places, including Manitoba, where consent isn’t presumed and people must opt in to donate.
Nova Scotia released last week statistics on its first year. In a province of one million people, only 57, 382 people opted out.
Meanwhile, officials have seen a sharp rise in referrals, the term medical officials use to notify each other of potential donors. More than 200 referrals were made for organ donations in 2021, a rise of about 130 per cent over 2020. A total of 1,581 referrals for tissue (skin, corneas, bone) were made in the past year, a rise of 228 per cent.
WHAT would it take for anti-vaxxers to roll up their sleeves and get jabbed? A new study offers an interesting answer that might persuade them to change their minds.
Any debate about whether to get vaccinated is a no-brainer for the 78 per cent of Manitobans who have had at least two doses. We get the shots to protect ourselves and people within our orbit, end of argument.
What perplexes us and drives some people to frustration is that our responsible reasoning is rejected by other Manitobans.
Anti-vaxxers typically cite a mixture of motivations, some of which seem downright loony: the pandemic is a conspiracy by a cabal of world governments; or, it’s better to medicate oneself with their horse dewormer Ivermectin; or, there are faith-based reasons for Christians to refuse the vaccination.
WITH Manitoba struggling to cope with pandemic emergencies, perhaps a lack of Grape-Nuts cereal shouldn’t be a big deal.
It was at a supermarket in Winnipeg where a customer ahead of us at the checkout line seemed determined to announce she was not getting the high level of service to which, in her estimation, she was entitled.
Her ire was provoked when the cashier’s faulty scanner didn’t register several of the woman’s items. The cashier had to punch in the numbers by hand and she apologized: “Sorry, this scanner’s giving me a tough time today.”
The customer reacted with a huffy grunt, a theatrical sigh, and a joking retort: “If items don’t scan, do I get them for free?”