Graham Steele, our new NDP finance minister is one fuck of a fine, funny fellow. I discovered that during the hours I spent last week at Province House poring over advance copies of his budget. Slipped in among the endless columns of tedious numbers, irksome charts and graphs and turgid bureaucratic prose, Steele's subtle humour and satiric wit sparkled.
In his budget speech for example, Steele poked his tongue firmly into his cheek when he declared that the NDP government is working to make Nova Scotia "a learning province." Then, he delivered his devastating punchline. The NDP would accomplish this goal, he slyly suggested, by ploughing another $341 million into universities. Having spent 15 years as a staffer in one of those cram factories, I savoured Steele's joke. Imagine yoking the word "learning" to the word "universities" when the mad scramble for employment credentials has all but wiped out reflection and critical thinking. As they say, satire is wit with teeth and Steele's satiric sally bit the cram schools squarely on the ass. It conjured up images of debt-plagued Dalhousie students wandering through glass, steel and concrete buildings bearing names like McCain (frozen french fryers), Rowe (upscale arms peddler) and Risley (well-heeled fishmonger). The learning province learning to admire capitalists even as capitalism teeters on the brink! Now that, Graham, is hilarious.
But it gets even better. I apologize for calling those ugly university boxes "buildings." Anyone who is a Rhodes scholar like Graham knows they are not buildings. Indeed, according to Steele's budget address, they are "Knowledge Infrastructure." Expertly suppressing a shit-eating grin, Steele assured the legislature he'd be shovelling $18.5 million into cram factory coffers this year under----wait for it---the Knowledge Infrastructure Program (KIP). And I bet you thought that KIP stood for Kissing In Public. It does not. KIP means the construction, care and repair of those monstrous university erections dedicated to commerce, science and war.
In other budget news, folks, brace yourselves. Graham Steele predicts gambling revenues will fall this year by $8.1 million. Grim news indeed for our cash-strapped province. But once again, Graham's levity raises our flagging spirits. That revenue decline, he assures us, is "primarily due to the maturity of the ticket lottery business line." Huh? "Must be a misprint," I say to a fellow hack. "Everyone knows that the lottery ticket business is a prime example of the ethical 'immaturity' of governments which prey on the gullible to top up their coffers." But then, I imagine I hear Graham Steele's dark, Swiftian laughter. His sly choice of language starkly reveals the strategy of the lottery hucksters. When the gullible stop buying $2 tickets, like Super 7 for instance, the hucksters replace that "mature" lottery with the brand new Lotto Max. It costs $5 per ticket, but offers bigger jackpots (at impossible odds) to reel the rubes in. Thank you Graham for so deftly exposing such chicanery, your own, your government's and the Atlantic Lottery Corp's. Ha. Looks like your coffers will be fatter next year.
Now, for more good news. Graham's budget shows that booze profits are expected to climb to $217 million, a 3.3 percent increase. But why? Well, says Graham, it's partly due to NSLC's "investment in enhancing the retail customer shopping experience." Ah yes, I remember. Piping chemical bread-baking smells into the section with the pricey French wines. And moving the most expensive booze to the aisles most people use to get to the beer. Graham's budget tells us that another reason for rising profits is NSLC's focus on "community outreach and cause marketing programs." Apparently, those charity collection boxes beside the cash registers and the kiddies collecting money on the sidewalk outside for the Canadian Liver Foundation, help create "a strong customer experience" which in turn, boosts booze sales and profits.
Yes, I have to hand it to you Graham, all in all, you are one fuck of a shrewd, funny fellow!