By now, Gerald Keddy’s apparent dismissal of the Halifax homeless and unemployed as “no good bastards” has been oft repeated around the province. The responses I have heard have largely been, as the kids say, WTF? Keddy has since issued an apology for having said the words, for not meaning the words, and for hurting those he hurt by having said, without meaning to, the words he didn’t mean.
But where the criticism rang genuine, the apology does not. Keddy’s original comments were in defense of the hiring of migrant workers, which Mr. Keddy himself doesn’t do for his own Christmas tree operation, but which is nonetheless both a common and – to Keddy – defensible practice in the Nova Scotia agriculture industry. My objective here is neither to celebrate nor denigrate the practice, but to take issue with Gerald Keddy’s sweeping and – to me – heartfelt dismissal of the unemployment and homeless issues in Nova Scotia. That is, in the HRM part of Nova Scotia. Never a party to miss a slot into which they can drive a wedge, Keddy pointedly talked about the no good bastards on the sidewalks of Halifax. The unemployed of Bridgewater and of Lunenburg, and of rural constituencies in general, get a pass. It’s the urban bums that make us bring in Mexicans.
As told in the Chronicle-Herald:
“Nova Scotians won’t do it — all those no-good bastards sitting on the sidewalk in Halifax that can’t get work,” Mr. Keddy said Monday.
He said if you want to “shut down the Annapolis Valley, and every market garden operation and all the apple industry, then don’t bring in immigrant labour. We’ve got 20 Christmas tree growers using immigrant labour this year.”
Enter Nova Scotian outrage.
Enter Gerald Keddy tersely apologizing for having ever opened his mouth:
“These comments were insensitive, and for that I am truly sorry…In no way did I mean to offend those who have lost their job due to the global recession, nor did I mean to suggest that anyone who is unemployed is not actively looking for employment.”
What is it then that Mr. Keddy meant to suggest when he cited the need to bring in Mexicans (“It’s not slave labour here“) to do jobs the unemployed no-good bastards from Halifax wouldn’t do?
Some years ago another Conservative MP took a swipe at the people of Nova Scotia, cited our “culture of defeat” as if our collective indolence were responsible for the socio-economic realities of the region. That, of course, was Stephen Harper – Gerald Keddy’s master in Ottawa. Harper said such things because he understood well the benefits of wedge issues in politics and understood further that the basis of all meaningful wedge issues in Canadian politics are geographic. We may have different takes on abortion and capital punishment and gay marriage, but culturally we all more or less accept that these issues are resolved and that it behooves us to accept things as they are and perhaps never mention them again.
Not so with geography. During Harper’s federal rise, he played to his regional base. And if that meant taking shots at Nova Scotians as welfare bums, he wasn’t above it. Gerald Keddy did the same thing with his crack at the poor of Nova Scotia’s largest city – the regional wedge issue in Nova Scotia is, as always, urban vs. rural. If you want to destroy the Annapolis Valley, Keddy asserted, force them to rely on the no good bastards from the city. That would be good wedge politics if the people of Nova Scotia – rural and urban alike – hadn’t collectively raised their eyebrows and said “WTF?”
Keddy was compelled to trot out the standard issue apology. It was insensitive, I didn’t mean to offend, etcetera, etcetera. Left unrecorded, of course, if Mr. Keddy is sincere in his apology, are the reasons why he should have spoken so derisively of the urban poor in the first place.
Here’s to hoping Mr. Keddy joins the ranks of Nova Scotia’s unemployed the next time we go to the ballot box.