Friday, December 16, 2011

Shorter Gerry Ritz: “I have no effing idea”

It turns out that my previous post on government’s attitude towards the use of public funds was a perfect segue into this post.

Gerry_RitzGerry Ritz was on Power and Politics today defending his government’s action on the Canadian Wheat Board. Personally I have no opinion on whether dismantling the Board is a good idea or not. Logic would say an open market is better, but growing and selling wheat is not my business, so I don’t know. (Note however I do have an issue with the Harper government refusing to honour Section 47.1 of the Act that called for a farmers’ plebiscite before changing the Act, but that’s now a moot point as the Act has become law.)

During the interview the host, Chris Hall, tried to get Gerry Ritz to tell him what the expected cost to taxpayers would be from dismantling the existing Canadian Wheat Board. Ritz bobbed, weaved, and obfuscated, never coming close to answering the question, because clearly he didn’t know.

But it was this particular exchange that really lit my fire:

CHRIS HALL: So you think though that you can handle these outstanding costs? (…) Ultimately you feel that this can be handled within the confines of the money that's available now?

GERRY RITZ: Well absolutely because the Treasury of Canada will be available for those extraordinary costs.

So, in a nutshell, the government has no idea what the costs will be of implementing this particular legislation, but it doesn’t really matter because “the Treasury of Canada” will be available. And in case it isn’t abundantly clear, that’s you and me, folks.

Kind of gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling that these guys are the best custodians of the public purse, doesn’t it?

What would Peter do?

The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation has recently been uncovering some rather embarrassing expenses incurred by the Minister of National Defence, including $3,167 for flights to Boston to attend a “seafood show”. (To be fair, Mackay isn’t the only politician to abuse the public purse, he just happens to be the one who is doing so most outrageously at the present time.)

In response I threw up a quick Facebook comment suggesting that money could be much better spent on a variety of social services such as the Ottawa Mission ($3167 would provide more than 1,000 Christmas dinners for those who have no home to go to this year), women’s shelters, or halfway houses. But then I got thinking about it some more.

taxpayerThe problem is – as has always been the case in government – they are not spending their own money but rather money that comes from a bottomless pool (at least from the average politician’s/bureaucrat’s perspective). Now I don’t think for a moment that Peter Mackay, if he considered the cost at all,  thought about how that money could be better spent for the “greater good”.  And I am certain that his people didn’t either. (“The boss wants to go to this seafood thing, so better book the tickets. Never mind what it costs.”)

But imagine what would have happened if, for example, when Stephen Harper realised that his 2-day G8 photo-op was going to cost $2 BILLION or thereabouts, he said to his team, “That’s ridiculous. If we have $2 billion to spend let’s put it somewhere useful. Cancel the G8 meeting, we’ll do it by teleconference, and redirect that money to social programs for the homeless.” Just think what that would have meant for the homeless in this country, or anyone else to whom the money was directed (gazebos in Muskoka don’t count). And think about the legacy that would have created for Stephen Harper and his Conservative government.

But governments don’t think that way. Unlike those of us who have to live within our means, they don’t have to adhere to a zero-sum budget – if A gets $B then Y can only get $Z is a foreign concept to bureaucracies. And with nearly 300,000 federal public servants and countless provincial and municipal employees all sucking off the one taxpayer teat it doesn’t take long before it’s totally out of control – as it is now. So I applaud the Harper Conservative’s pledge to reduce taxes (if only they were smarter about it), but I would applaud even louder if they were to reset the priorities and direct the money they do collect to issues of concern to most Canadians – which, contrary to the Harper agenda, are NOT F-35 fighter jets, more and bigger prisons, tax breaks to the oil sands, or flying to a “seafood show” in Boston.

This is a wealthy country and governments collect more than enough revenue to meet our real domestic obligations. All they need to do is align spending with Canadians’ priorities (and I’m not referring here to the ~24% of eligible voters who elected the Conservatives, but rather the broader 100%, all Canadians, most of whom don’t drink the Conservative kool-aid).

Anyone who does that and clearly (and transparently) treats the public purse as if it were his/her own could count on running this country for a long, long time.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Caught between two worlds

With all the negative news coming out of Attawapiskat these days it’s easy to simply assign blame to a) the government; b) the reserve; c) the Canadian public, or d) all of the above. And in spite of the government’s assigning of a third-party manager the solution will, in all likelihood, eventually amount to more money going into supporting the same dysfunctional model.

Let’s be brutally honest here – there is no future in Attawapiskat. There may be a few construction jobs available with the mines and some service jobs in the local hotel, but that’s the extent of it. And it’s not only Attawapiskat. There are dozens of reserves scattered all  over Canada’s north, in places so remote they can either only be accessed by air or by winter ice road.

A hundred years ago (or even fifty in some cases) this didn’t matter. The people who lived in these remote settlements really did live off the land. They hunted, trapped, and fished and had a pretty good, if austere and challenging life. And yes, they spent the winter in tents, even when the temperatures did plummet to –40 on occasion.

But now that lifestyle is no longer viable, even if it is often idealised by native leaders in support of land claims and so on. The number of aboriginals who want to live the way of their ancestors at the time of the various treaty signings are dwindling quickly, amounting to no more than a few elders and those who would romanticise the past. Instead, today’s young aboriginals want the same things the rest of us want. They want televisions and computers with internet access. They want to get a good education. They want cars and trucks and good roads to drive them on. They want hospitals down the street and groceries that don’t have to be flown in at a ridiculous cost. They want a future that doesn’t involve trekking hundreds of miles to follow the herds.

So they are caught between two worlds, with a foot, literally, in each of two rapidly diverging cultures. If they are not to be figuratively split in two they will soon have to decide which way to go because both are not an option - that way lies Attawapiskat.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

“Some honourable members: No.”

On Wednesday November 2 Members of the House of Commons stood to mark the start of Veterans Week. As appropriate the Hon. Steve Blainey, Minister of Veterans Affairs, started off with a speech recognizing the contribution of so many men and women who served in the Canadian Forces over the decades. He was followed by Peter Stoffer (NDP) and Sean Casey (Lib) who both paid their respects.

However when Louis Plamondon (BQ) rose to pay tribute to Canada’s veterans some Conservative members (unidentified) refused the unanimous consent required in order for him to be allowed to speak.

In pressing his case Mr. Plamondon said:

“Mr. Speaker, I would like to seek unanimous consent once again, as dean of this House, as a member of this House. Like all other members, I would like to pay tribute to veterans on behalf of the four members of my party. I also ask on behalf of the Green Party. I do not see this as a partisan act. I see it simply as a noble gesture in order to say to those individuals who went and fought, and those who gave their lives, that we pay tribute to them.

How is it that I cannot get unanimous consent? This is not meant to be a precedent that I will use any other time. Today is a special day. That is all. I simply want to pay tribute to veterans, like everyone else, as we have always done.

I am seeking unanimous consent and I appeal to the Conservative members to grant it. It is only fair. The minister said in his speech that this House is a symbol of our freedom and democracy. He said that. I think I should have the right to speak.”

To which the Honourable(?) Gordon O’Connor responded:

“Mr. Speaker, the Standing Orders say, in response to a minister's statement, that only members of recognized parties can make statements. The Bloc is not a recognized party.”

Whether you agree with the BQ or not (and I don’t) the fact that the HarperCons refused to let them recognize the sacrifices of veterans on behalf of the thousands of Canadians (some being veterans themselves) who elected them is an appalling affront to not only all Canadians but the brave men and women who have served this country so honourably in the past.

To say I am disgusted would be an understatement.

If you want to follow the whole sorry affair, here’s the link to Hansard: Scroll to the 1520 mark.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What can be so hard about maintaining an accurate voters list?

Today was election day in Ontario and, as any good citizen should, I did my duty and cast my ballot.

But first I had to prove my identity and place of residence because I am still not on the permanent voters list for this riding, to which I moved in 2006.

In 2007 I voted in the provincial election and completed the form to have the register updated.

In 2008 and 2011 I voted in 2 federal elections, both times completing the form to have my information updated on the federal register, which also serves as a source for the provincial register.

In 2005, ‘06, ‘07, ‘08, ‘09, and ‘10, I filed income tax returns dutifully checking off the box asking for my information to be added to the permanent register.

On 9 (count ‘em – 9!) separate occasions I have provided this information so some useless bureaucracy (bureaucrat?) somewhere can do nothing with it. And I am not confident that the 10th attempt, completed today, will be any more successful.

So, Gazebo Tony, if you want to reduce the size of the civil service there’s a real good place to start.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ethical oil

Anyone following the latest news on the Keystone Project is aware of the heavy and very public resistance to the project in some parts of the US and Canada. To counter that resistance, the Canadian government and oil producers are advertising heavily in the US, touting the fact that Canadian oil is “ethical” and buying from Canada means the US isn’t shipping greenbacks overseas to support dictatorships, terrorism, social inequality, and so on.

It’s an interesting argument that’s gaining some traction in the US: buy from a democratic friend and you won’t have to deal with those other suppliers with questionable social standards and political objectives.

But there’s an interesting (and disturbing, if you’re a Canadian) twist to this argument.

According to Stats Canada, in 2009 Canada produced 5.4 million terajoules (890 million barrels*) of crude oil. Canada exported 3.1 million terajoules (519 million barrels) of oil, primarily to the US, and imported 1.8 million terajoules of crude oil (300 million barrels).

Oil stats

While Canada produces sufficient oil to more than meet its own energy requirements, our heavy export commitments to the US mean that Canada must also import oil to meet its own needs. Typically the imported oil is used in eastern Canada, while the US exports come from western Canada.

And where do we get the oil we import? Statistics Canada’s Energy Statistics Handbook lists our primary sources, in order: Algeria (18%),  Norway (15%), the United Kingdom (11.5%), Saudi Arabia (8.8%), Angola (5.4%), Nigeria (4.1%), Venezuela (4.1%), Iraq (3.2%), Mexico (2.8%), and Russia (2.3%).

Note Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Angola, Iraq, and Venezuela on the list. These are the very countries that we denounce in selling Canadian oil to the US markets, the countries that produce the “unethical oil” that we warn our American friends about, yet which constitute more than 40% of Canada’s foreign oil imports.

So in order to sell “ethical oil” to the American market, Canada imports “unethical oil” to meet its own needs. And, to my knowledge, not a single politician of any stripe, or at any level, has stood up to say there’s something seriously wrong with this picture.

* 1 terajoule is roughly the energy equivalent of 164 barrels of oil

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Conservative debating tactics

I recently entered into an online Facebook discussion over the recent Supreme Court Insite decision. This person (whom I don’t know personally - a friend of a friend) opened with “Promoting illegal drug use and the spread of disease ..... are you kidding me?” And it kind of went downhill from there. She claimed Insite was “giving them fixes” and eventually stated that “the police and the mayor are against these places” (which they aren’t, not in Vancouver at any rate).

Each time a patently false statement was repudiated she would come up with something else until, eventually running out of so-called “facts” to support her position, she reverted to the tried and true Conservative technique of when faced with a reasoned, rational response to go on the attack: “I gather you don’t believe in rehab.”

That totally missed the point, and intentionally so I suspect. This has been an effective technique, honed to a keen edge by the Harper Conservatives. If you question the economic and social impacts of tossing someone behind bars for several years for growing a few pot plants, you’re “soft on crime”. If you express concerns over Canada’s treatment of prisoners in a war zone you’re a “Taliban lover”. If you question Israeli government policy you’re an anti-Semite. In other words, when you no longer have an ethical, legal, or factual position go on the offensive, no matter how specious or irrelevant the counter argument.

Which probably explains why, whenever I get drawn into one of these facts versus ideology discussions, I think of this clip and the Black Knight, no longer with a leg to stand on (pun intended), finally resorting to simply name calling: “You yellow bastard.”


Friday, September 30, 2011

Targeting the non-Cons

During the Harper Conservatives’ time in power they railed against the long gun registry as being heavy-handed, unfair to duck hunters and farmers. “We must stop targeting law-abiding gun owners and instead focus our resources on real criminals,” was, and remains, a popular refrain. And now they’re going to make good on their promise to abolish the registry once and for all, although not without, I expect, milking it one last time for contributions from the party faithful.

James Moore iPodBut now, instead of going after the true believers the Harper Cons have a new target in sight – the young, urban, technologically comfortable who are the very antithesis of the stereotypical Con supporter. And they are targeting them with Bill C-11, The Copyright Modernization Act.

Now to be fair, this is much to applaud with this bill, including a reduction of the maximum damages that can be awarded for copyright infringement from $20,000 to a still draconian but much more reasonable $5,000. (That is per infringement, so if you are caught with 100 pirated movies on your laptop, you could be on the hook for a cool half mil.) And the bill clearly spells out how copyrighted material can be used by educators, students, individuals, and so on for non-commercial purposes without penalty. All good stuff.

But the problem with this bill is that it allows the use of DRM (Digital Rights Management) technology to trump the rights provided elsewhere in the act. So if you purchase a DVD you are legally entitled to copy that DVD onto as many devices as you own, say onto your iPad, your smart phone, and your computer for viewing. However, if the DVD is DRM encoded by the manufacturer and you break that code in order to make copies that you are legally entitled to have, you have just broken the law.

Another example. With the proliferation of e-readers many people are now purchasing digital books. If I crack the DRM encoding in order to be able to download the same book onto both my e-reader and that of my spouse, I will have broken the law, even though had I purchased a hard copy of that same book I could share it at will, with potentially hundreds of people. (Although I read somewhere that pocketbooks are really designed – paper weight, materials, glues, etc. – to be read something like 10 or 12 times before falling apart, thus limiting the publishers exposure and ensuring additional sales.)

Like the gun registry, it is extremely unlikely that the authorities will go after otherwise law-abiding citizens for removing the DRM from an e-book for personal use. So then one has to ask why it is even necessary to enact that capability in law. Some have posited that the reason is because that’s what the Americans wanted, and the Harper Cons toned down the penalties to try to make it more palatable to the young, urban, technologically competent Canadians who are most likely to want to share files among their many devices. Perhaps. But one thing for sure, it’s not the Con base that will protest.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Politics: the art of double-speak

Dalton “Dad” McGuinty announces a special program that will provide a tax credit of $10,000 to employers to hire immigrants who are having difficulty gain Canadian experience and/or credentials. The program is limited to new Canadian citizens who have been in the country less than five years. Regardless whether one considers this good policy or bad politics the fact that the program is not available to those here more than five years, or the thousands of native born Canadians currently out of work in this province, clearly creates a different class of unemployed – a few get provincial help; most don’t.

His opponent, Tim Hudak, gets it and calls McGuinty out on this plan, calling it an affirmative action program for foreign workers that does nothing for the other unemployed in the province.

So far, utterly predictable for an election campaign. But it’s McGuinty’s response to Hudak’s challenge that shows just how contemptible politics has become. His retort? “In my Ontario there is no us and them, there's just us.” Say what? That one sentence is completely at odds with this policy which clearly treats some Ontarians (us) different than others (them). But Premier Dad is apparently okay with that; it’s just politics after all.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Justin Bieber – two words I never thought I’d use in a post

But I will make an exception in this case simply because this is so ludicrous it screams out for comment.

The intertubes and media today are awash in news of a supposed accident involving young Mr. Bieb.

The Ottawa Citizen: Justin Bieber driving Ferrari when ‘tapped’ from behind.

CTV News: Justin Bieber, Ferrari uninjured after fender-bender

Huff Post: Justin Bieber Is OK After Crash In Studio City

LA Times: Justin Bieber crashes black Ferrari; no one hurt

So what happened? According to all reports, absolutely nothing - no damages, no injuries, no citations. But that didn’t stop the LAPD from making a statement or the media wasting tons of ink and paper and tying up bandwidth (or, for that matter, me wasting a post on a soon-to-be has been.) What next, a headline breathlessly proclaiming “Justin Bieber survives; plane lands safely at La Guardia”?

The mind boggles at what the great unwashed now consider to be newsworthy.

Monday, August 15, 2011

May contain Nuts

Up at the cottage last week we were drowning worms at a furious pace in a futile attempt to entice the exceedingly rare Doe Lake walleye to latch on to a hook and hence score a position of honour at the dinner table. By midweek we were out of worms, having gone through them at a rate of about 2 dozen worms per fish caught, so it was off to town to replenish the bait supply.

The nearest town with any kind of shopping is Novar. The shopping area comprises a liquor store, an Arctic Cat snowmobile dealership appropriately named Arnie’s Cat House, a Foodland grocery store, and precious little else. The grocery store sells worms. But these aren’t just any old dew worms plucked from the greens at the local golf course before the sun rises. No, these worms “May contain Nuts”.May contain nuts

Think about that for a minute. The mind boggles when trying to figure out the intent of this warning.

First of all, worms don’t have nuts, so the possibility of male worms being in the package is not the reason.

Perhaps the local population has taken to supplementing their daily diet with a side plate of deep fried worms in a crispy corn meal batter. Fish stocks are down and the tourism industry is no hell this year but is it really that bad? Besides, at $3.94 a dozen a Big Mac is a better deal.

Maybe it’s about the fish. Should we be concerned about a possibly nut-allergic fish going into anaphylactic shock before we kill it? How would a fish become sensitized to nuts in the first place?

And just where would an earthworm come into contact with nuts? Does Foodland package them on the same table they use to package snack foods and other grocery items?

Or is it just some anally retentive product liability lawyer in a 3-piece suit in Toronto who wouldn’t know a fishing worm if he swallowed one (with or without a very large hook) who has dictated that every product the store sells be so labelled, no matter how stupid?

My money is on the lawyer.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

CBSA - Canada’s ambassadors? Not really.

CBSAIt used to be said that travelling into the US and having to deal with the US Customs authorities was an ordeal, the price of admission so to speak. And it was also said how nice it was to come back to Canada and the “pleasant” border control people who were friendly and generally much more laid back than their American counterparts.

Well, no more. As two recent stories can attest, Canada’s CBSA has taken the gloves off and is now showing bloodied bare knuckles.

In one case (link) a 66-year-old Minnesota woman heading to Canada to play bingo was arrested and held in jail for 12 days because a jar of motor oil was mistakenly identified as heroin at the border. Now, even if you give CBSA the benefit of the doubt and agree that heroin and motor oil can be easily confused, taking 12 days to sort it out is simply ludicrous. CBSA’s response? “all persons, goods and conveyances entering Canada may be subject to a more in-depth examination." And then ran and hid behind privacy legislation.

In the second case, some US fishermen on the St. Lawrence (link) were fishing just inside Canada’s territorial waters. This is a common practice that has been accepted on both sides of the border for generations, the only caveat being they don’t actually drop anchor, in which case they are obliged to phone the respective border authorities and advise of their presence in their territorial waters. CBSA agents, acting as judge and jury forced the two fishermen to pay a $1000 fine on the spot under threat of being arrested, handcuffed, and towed to shore. Conveniently, CBSA accepts Visa, MasterCard and American Express, so the boater was able to pay this extortion by credit card and head back home suitably chastised. CBSA claims this is “routine” but is unable (unwilling?) to provide any prior examples.

Whether these new bully tactics are as a result of higher level direction (tough on crime and all that) or simply a generally nastier tone being expressed by all those in a position of power (G20 comes to mind as well) remains to be seen. But what is certain is that examples of this new get tough attitude get wide press in the US border states  further discouraging our southern friends from coming to visit, and encouraging tit-for-tat treatment of Canadians by US authorities – a downward spiral that will never end well. And all at a time when the Canadian government publically insists it’s trying to encourage the free flow of commerce and people between the two countries.

If Vic Toews is serious about that I have a suggestion or two on where he can start.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Crime is on the rise in Canada – not!

Statistics Canada has just released their ‘Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2010’ report (link). And it supports what many have been saying for some time:

Police-reported crime reaches its lowest level since the early 1970's

The police-reported crime rate, which measures the overall volume of crime, continued to decline in 2010 (down 5%), reaching its lowest level since 1973 (Chart 1). In total, Canadian police services reported close to 2.1 million Criminal Code incidents (excluding traffic), approximately 77,000 fewer than in 2009 (Table 1a). Decreases among property crimes, namely theft under $5,000 (-23,000 incidents), mischief (-22,500 incidents), motor vehicle thefts (-15,300 incidents), and break and enters (-9,200 incidents), accounted for the majority of the decline.

Now I’m sure the Harper cons will be quick to dismiss this report (and probably push hard for the Chief Statistician to cancel the collection and reporting of this data), but the data is there for anyone who is the least bit interested in facts and not blind ideology.

The following chart clearly shows the trend and puts a lie to the Harper con that crime rates are increasing ergo we need more jails, more prisoners, more prison guards, etc., etc.

And, it must be pointed out, the absolute peak occurred after several years of the last major period of Conservative rule – the Mulroney years. Coincidence?


Crime stats

Saturday, July 9, 2011

There’s something wrong here

This story in yesterday’s Ottawa Citizen is indicative of the laissez-faire attitude of those whose job it is to “serve and protect” when petty crime is involved.

The story, in short:

Girl has laptop stolen.

Girl reports theft to police. Response is we’re busy and will get to it eventually.

Girl tracks down thieves and recovers laptop with the help of a friend.

Girl reports recovery to police and provides names and addresses of thieves. Response is the investigating officer is away on vacation next week, but they (the culprits) will still be around when he gets back.

(And in an ideal world the perpetrators won’t have been using the intervening week to rob anyone else.)

I understand the pressures of inadequate staffing levels and the need to prioritize, but I believe that a quick response to these types of petty crimes can have a profound impact in cases such as this. Many (granted, not all) of these cases are crimes of opportunity committed by youthful miscreants who, if caught and appropriately punished in their first attempt at crime, will not reoffend. But, like anything, the more you do it (and get away with it) the easier it is, until stealing becomes second nature.

These crimes do not have a high profile in the community (that is until they are reported in The Citizen), but they are the crimes that will eventually affect all of us in one way or another. It’s becoming increasingly hard to find anyone who hasn’t had a bicycle stolen, or a purse, or a cell phone or laptop, so just on the basis of population affected these cases should receive a higher priority.  If the Ottawa Police Service needs to reassign staff from rounding up drunks, busting pot users, and escorting royal couples around town to the Robbery Unit (which, by the way has hours of Monday to Friday, 7:00am to 10:00pm and Saturday and Sunday 8:00am to 4:00pm as if robberies don’t occur outside those hours) then do it as the long-term societal benefit will be, in my opinion, significantly greater. And the feeling of why report it, the cops won’t do anything anyway, will have less currency.

Friday, May 27, 2011

What a spring it’s been

“The sky was dark and gloomy, the air was damp and raw, the streets were wet and sloppy.  The smoke hung sluggishly above the chimney-tops as if it lacked the courage to rise, and the rain came slowly and doggedly down, as if it had not even the spirit to pour.”

Charles Dickens could have been describing the past two months in most of the eastern US and Canada. Rain, rain, and more rain.

Watching the grass grow offers nearly as much fast-paced excitement as Formula 1. Gravel roads are cut by rivulets of running water seeking lower ground, and wash-boards rattle even the most solid tooth fillings. Farmers Weather map 2look on in desperation as their fields remain wet, muddy, and un-seeded. And every week a new generation of ravenous mosquitoes arises from each tiny puddle, just waiting for a few seconds of exposed human flesh.

All thanks to el Niña and a seemingly immovable jet stream that has funnelled cool temperatures and unrelenting rain from Georgia to points north and east until it finally heads out over the north Atlantic.

Where I’d normally have 1,000 miles or more on the bike by now I have less than 100. Ten golf games played versus 30. A garden still unplanted instead of enjoying the first harvest of early radishes and the promise of more fresh veggies in a few weeks.

But the weather prognosticators still predict a hot, dry summer ahead. And for once I choose to believe them.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The digital dilemma: What will we leave for future generations?

I recently completed a family photo album/history that relied heavily on faded photographs, some going back nearly 100 years, and various pieces of written correspondence and other documents. And as I scanned this material into my computer-based digital repository I began to wonder what we, our children, and our grandchildren will be leaving for future genealogists.  

Fred Blackburn and family 1916Our family collection of photographs, passed down since the early 1900’s, consists of perhaps three or four hundred images. Some are faded and some are blurry but they are real and they are physical, capable of being passed on again and again without any concern about technology or data formats. A couple of shoe boxes and a coffee table to spread them all out on is the extent of the technology required.

But in today’s digital era I have some 14 thousand pictures stored on my hard drive (a mere trifle compared to some). Do I advise my executor that upon my departure from this earth my hard drive is to be removed and handed to my family? Or that everything gets printed out and a garbage bag full of images gets passed around to surviving relatives? No. Any images that were not committed to paper (i.e. most of them) will simply be lost to future generations.

hard driveTo be sure, the ease of taking photos and storing them is what leads to ballooning repositories, but even if we were as diligent as when working with film and printed images there is no technologically-independent physical product to pass on to others.

And this doesn’t just apply to still images. More and more music is being relegated to the computer, so gone are the days of inheriting your father’s 78-rpm jazz collection. Home movies? Ditto. Your parent’s love letters? Lost in the ether.

So ironically the very technology that allows us to so easily capture those important moments in life is the same technology that renders them so ephemeral, which will make us the last generation that will have this kind of insight into the lives of our predecessors. And that’s sad.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

So you sent him packing....

Now he's gone and you rejoice in your victory. You have politically destroyed a man who's only failings seemed to be that he was a decent and intelligent person. And that scared you. A man whose credentials were undisputed and recognized globally you deemed inadequate,unsuitable. 

"Not a real Canadian," you said, because his career blossomed outside the parochial boundaries that you have decided must limit our leaders' life experiences.

"He's just visiting," you said, of a man who gave up a successful career at a world-renowned university to come home to make a contribution to the country that, ironically, welcomed his family so many years ago.

"I don't trust him", you said, while trusting the others for whom breach of trust with the Canadian people has become a defining characteristic.

"He comes from Russian noble stock," you said, "and is therefore elitist, a snob." Meanwhile you are glued to the television, revelling in every elitist, snobbish moment of the William and Kate royal wedding.

"I wouldn't want to have a beer with him," you said, as if what this country lacks is more Johnny Walker wisdom.

He wasn't a streetfighter, and in these days of UFC you needed to see blood flowing. The pen is no longer mightier than the sword and it was a death by a thousand cuts. You sent him packing and the Liberal Party shamefully obliged by applying the coup de grâce.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A man with two watches

There’s an old adage that goes something like, “A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never sure.”

Well the same applies to weather forecasts.

CaptureOf three separate forecasts for tomorrow (Weather Network, Environment Canada, and the newspaper) we have two calling for rain with a high of either 7 or 9 degrees. The third is predicting 9 degrees and sunny.

This has been the pattern all winter as various sources would regularly have quite significantly different forecasts. And sometimes none of them were right, with the only reliable forecast being the look-out-the-window one.

It amazes me still that we pay people for this.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The party for the perpetually angry

From the here-we-go-again files, Canadians with Liberal Party lawn signs are finding tires slashed, brake lines cut, and their property vandalized. True to form some Conservative supporters are trying to lay the blame on the Liberals themselves (“Knowing the Liberals, they likely slashed their own tires in a bid for attention.”), or the NDP. But until someone is arrested for this criminal behaviour (and yes, it would still be a criminal act if a Conservative supporters’ tires were slashed) we’ll never know the truth.

CPC logoBut one thing we do know is that Stephen Harper has changed the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada into the party of choice for haters and fear-mongers, a safe haven for anyone who views a political opponent as the Antichrist, and indulges and even encourages a fearful populace: We need jets because the Russians are coming. We need more prisons because criminals are running amuck. Immigrants are taking our jobs and bringing terrorism to our shores. The Liberals/socialists/separatists are out to ruin the country. Michael Ignatieff is smart. Jack Layton is a Taliban lover.

It’s an unrelenting message of fear - fear of the future, your neighbours, a coalition, your (“Lieberal”) friends, the new (and different) family down the street. And those message tracks resonate most strongly with the perpetually angry, those who feel disenfranchised in some way and want to even the score. It’s the Palin effect and it drives a certain behaviour, a behaviour which I believe is sometimes manifested in slashed tires because someone truly hates you for having a different political viewpoint.

That’s why I intend to vote for a message of hope on May 2. We can have a strong democracy and solid fiscal management. We can be compassionate without triggering a crime spree. We can defend our borders without writing blank cheques for jets and imprisoning refugees. And we can work towards a better life for our children and not just for the most wealthy and prosperous among us. But it won’t happen with the Harper Conservatives.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

“That’s not true”: Stephen Harper channels Alberto Fujimori

FujimoriAccording to the Sun’s intellectually challenged editorial writers and various blogging wingnuts, Michael Ignatieff’s comment in the debate about letting flowers bloom clearly demonstrates that he is a closet Maoist intent on bringing communism to Canada. And that’s real bad, eh?

So here’s a counter-argument, applied to Harper’s most often used phrase in the last few months:

I guess if Stephen Harper needed a mentor to provide him with content for last night’s debate he could do worse than Alberto Fujimori, the disgraced Peruvian president.

“That’s not true” is a quotation widely attributed to the Peruvian strongman who, according to the BBC, “rode roughshod over the country's democratic institutions in order to preserve his hold on power.” Appropriate, no?

Fujimori was in power in Peru for 10 years, from 1990 to 2000, a period marked with controversy, including claims of unfair control over the media and using government resources to support his campaign.

In 2000 he fled to his native Japan and attempted to resign his presidency from abroad. The Peruvian Congress rejected his resignation and sought his extradition. In 2007 he was finally returned to Peru to face the charges against him.

In December 2007 he was sentenced to 6 years in jail on charges of abuse of power and banned from holding office until 2011. In 2009 he was found guilty of human rights abuses and sentenced to a further 25 years for murder and kidnapping. Finally, also in 2009, he was sentenced to another 7 1/2 years for embezzlement of treasury funds. (Source: Wikipedia)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A gun registry primer

For the purposes of full disclosure, I am not a fan of Canada’s gun registry laws as presently enacted. I am not at all averse to licensing owners or registering firearms, but I do take issue with the criminalisation of those who don’t register or simply forget to renew. The punishment is, in my opinion, nothing short of draconian for what is essentially an administrative issue. (Thanks to Stephen Harper it’s now acceptable to refer to illegal acts as “administrative issues”. Thanks Steve.)

Having said that, I can’t believe the Conservatives continue to get so much traction on this issue as registering your firearm is the very last and by far the easiest step in the process.

For those of you who are not familiar with the process, here it is in summary.

So you want to buy a .22 to keep your rural property free of varmints – the 4-legged kind, not the Liberal canvassers going door to door during an election campaign.

First you need to take a Canadian Firearms Safety Course and pass the Canadian Firearms Safety Course Test. The course takes a minimum of 10 hours to complete and the pass mark is 80%. Courses typically cost about $200. That’s Step 1.

Once you have passed the test you can apply for a Possession and Acquisition License (PAL). The application form asks for more information than a passport application, including details on your mental health, your marital status, and criminal background, among other things. The application also requires the signature of your spouse (“Current Conjugal Partner”) and any previous conjugal partners (good luck getting those). 

PAL applicationA PAL costs $60 and is good for 5 years, after which time it must be renewed with reaffirmations of your mental health, etc. Failure to renew may result in charges under the Criminal Code. There is a waiting period of 28 days. RCMP background checks take a minimum of 45 days to complete, during which time the varmints are multiplying like crazy in your corn patch.

Once the authorities have deemed you mentally stable enough to own a firearm they will (eventually) send you your Possession and Acquisition License in the mail, and you have completed Step 2.

Elmer_FuddNow you can take your new license to your local gun store and purchase your .22. You fill out some paperwork there transferring ownership to you, and walk out with your rifle, all registered and legal and ready for varmint extermination. Step 3 and you’re done.

And it’s ONLY this VERY LAST STEP that is so objectionable to the Conservatives. They have no issue with asking personal questions far more intrusive than the long-form census. They have no issue with knowing all about your marital status, your mental health, and your financial health. But for some reason, knowing that you actually possess a weapon is a major affront to their sensibilities.

As Alexander Mackenzie once said, “Logic sometimes has very little to do with political action”.

How not to sell (me) a car

I was waiting in my dealer’s showroom last week as my car was being serviced and overheard this conversation between a young sales rep and a potential customer.

“Can I help you?”

“Uh, yeah, I’m thinking of buying a new truck.”

“Will you be financing or paying cash?”


“Okay, have a seat please.”

At this point the sales rep brought out a form and proceeded to interrogate the client. He had still not introduced himself.



“Own or rent?”

“How long at that address?”

“What is your annual income?”

“Where do you bank?”


The customer patiently answered every one of the questions. And it was only after all that the sales representative finally asked him what kind of vehicle he had in mind.

I can’t imagine this is how it’s taught in Selling Cars 101. Is meeting the clients need no longer the number one objective in the sales cycle? I would have been gone long before he got to asking whether I owned or rented my home, and the rep would likely still be wondering what happened.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Those of you know me know I’m one of the follicly challenged members of the species.

While not the stuff of Harlequin bodice-ripper covers or heart-throb movie stars it does have its advantages. For example, I have not had to replace a lost or broken comb for 20 years. Nor have I ever had to worry about no shampoo in hotel rooms as a bar of soap will suffice. And hair dryers? No need. Five minutes (30 seconds in a stiff breeze) and my hair is dry.

All of which is to say that hair care is not a matter that preoccupies my mind. Until this morning that is. There was a new bottle of shampoo in the shower – Fructose or something like that – so I tried it. And now my head smells like a mango. I think I’ll go back to soap.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

10 awesome things about spring

In no particular order:

  1. The first crocus pokes its head out of the ground.
  2. Putting away your winter boots. (And coats, and hats….)
  3. Your motorcycle is back on the road.
  4. Hot cross buns.
  5. Booking the first tee time of the year.
  6. Every day getting longer.
  7. Sitting on the deck with a cold beer and a good book.
  8. The furnace no longer runs 12 hours a day.
  9. Watching the last of the snow disappear.
  10. Maple syrup.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Setting the record straight

I have been accused in various online forums, and personally, of harbouring feelings of hatred towards supporters of the Conservative Party. “How can you sleep at night?” one person asked.

Well to answer that last question, I sleep just fine.

To lay all my cards on the table I will say this. Until Stephen Harper came along I was politically unaligned. I followed the campaigns and I voted for the candidate I felt would best represent me in Ottawa; sometimes that was a Liberal candidate and sometimes a Progressive Conservative. Stephen Harper changed that and, as I posted here, turned me from being undecided to becoming a vocal Liberal supporter.

And here’s why:

  • When campaigning, Stephen Harper assured Canadians, on numerous occasions, that they would never raid “Seniors hard earned assets” by taxing income trusts. Within the year they enacted legislation to tax trusts, taking billions out of the economy overnight, and have steadfastly refused to provide any financial justification for the move. I, and hundreds of thousands like me, will suffer the results of that betrayal for a very long time.
  • Stephen Harper campaigned on open and transparent government and has since led the least open and least transparent Canadian government of all time. Access to information requests are being held back and interfered with by political operatives. Duly elected members of Parliament are being refused access to budgetary information and details on international military operations – information to which they are fully entitled.
  • He has shut down Parliament through prorogation rather than being forced to address the legitimate concerns of the opposition parties.
  • His government has publically said they will not recognize bills duly passed by Parliament and the Senate (Bill C-377 for example). 
  • His government has managed to alienate enough of Canada’s previous allies that we were denied a seat at the UN Security Council. That’s another first for Canada.
  • He has said that a Parliamentary construct, a “coalition of losers” in his terms, is illegitimate. It is not, although he and his caucus persist in claiming it to be so; this in spite of his own well documented attempts to establish his own “coalition of losers” in the past.
  • His government has been found in contempt of Parliament – the first time that has ever happened in Commonwealth history. And not by a so-called cabal of opposition parties, but by the Speaker himself. And his response? It’s just a “distraction”, and “you win some, you lose some”.
  • The Conservatives played fast and loose with election funding to improperly gain almost $1 million in taxpayer rebates. And Stephen Harper’s response to $1 million in taxpayer money illegally going to party coffers? It’s an “administrative affair”, move on, nothing to see here.
  • When Stephen Harper closed the doors on Parliament and went hat-in-hand to the Governor General, John Baird publically said that if the GG didn’t do what they wanted, they would bypass her and go directly to the Queen.
  • On two separate occasions he has used Senate appointments as taxpayer-funded pre-election campaigns for Conservative candidates – Michel Fortier and Larry Smith. 
  • Senior civil servants and managers, when they tried to speak truth to power, were summarily fired or attacked: Linda Keen, Richard Colville, Munir Sheikh, Kevin Page, Robert Marleau, Marc Mayrand, Pat Stogran, Paul Kennedy, etc.
  • His government oversaw the largest abuse of civil rights in Canadian history with the G8/G20 fiasco in Toronto. And it cost the Canadian taxpayers somewhere between $1 and $2 billion for that 2 day photo-op.
  • In the current campaign, people are being turned away from his events because they also attended a Liberal or NDP function, or sported an NDP bumper sticker on their car, actions for which he blamed his staff – the usual response.

And the list goes on.

When I discuss any of this with my conservative friends (contrary to popular opinion I do have quite a few) the counter argument is usually some combination of: the Liberals were worse; Iggy isn’t a “real” Canadian; or the gun registry. That’s it. That’s all they’ve got. And I just don’t understand how that is enough to justify continuing the abuses of power we’ve seen over the past 5 or 6 years.

So no, I don’t hate Conservative supporters (although I do admit to despising Stephen Harper himself). But I am baffled by them.

Friday, April 1, 2011

An inconsequential, banal, silly word

Stephen Fry was being interviewed on CBC this morning, and the conversation turned to Twitter. According to the New York Times magazine, he is one of the world’s leading twitterers (tweeters?) with a number of followers that is approaching 2.5 million (yes, 6 zeroes after that). In the conversation Fry described how he views Twitter as a vehicle for personal communications, and said that Twitter is “an inconsequential, banal, silly word for inconsequential, banal conversation”.

Having been on Twitter for a few weeks now, I can agree with part of what he said, but not all. Certainly the content is sometimes inconsequential and banal, which I find surprising even though most of those I follow are politicians, political journalists or news broadcasters. Not to pick on Kady O’Malley, for whom I have great respect, but I really don’t care if her dog Berry (of course) has a new sweater or she wore the wrong shoes for standing out in the cold. I follow her for her reporting skills and her ability to cut through the political BS. Ditto Andrew Coyne, Paul Wells, et al.

Where I do have the issue is with Twitter being considered a conversation medium. Following someone may give the illusion of having a conversation -- tweets appear in your in box much like an instant message pops up in Messenger -- but that’s where the similarity ends. Twitter is a broadcast medium and about as conducive to having a “conversation” as trying to have a tete-a-tete with the guy on the podium who’s yelling through the bull horn when you’re in the middle of a crowd of five thousand. When the famous, almost famous, and the merely well-known can easily have thousands of followers, there is no way to engage in any meaningful way. If even one-tenth of one percent of Fry’s followers sent him a message on any given day, he would have to wade through 2,500 tweets, clearly an impossibility.

So the next time you fire off a tweet to Steven Harper (115,815 followers), Michael Ignatieff (78,102 followers), or even Kady O’Malley (9,598 followers), don’t hold your breath for a response, or even an acknowledgement. You’re in the crowd and they have the bull horn.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Our veterans deserve better

There’s a disturbing story coming out of Ottawa concerning the issue of family violence and post-traumatic stress in returning veterans. The CBC is reporting that incidents of family violence were being reported by the military police at five times the normal levels for those members returning from serving in Afghanistan. These numbers are also consistent with reporting by the local detachment of the OPP in Petawawa.

What is the Canadian Forces response?

"We found, unfortunately, some methodological flaws in the way some of that military police data was collected and analyzed," said Col. Jean-Robert Bernier, Deputy Surgeon General with the Canadian Forces.


"… this is new research that needs to be investigated," said Col. Suzie Rodrigue, head of social work with the Canadian Forces.

While any increase in domestic violence is disturbing, what is most outrageous about this story is the military’s cavalier dismissal of the problem. This is not a new issue. It’s been recognised with returning veterans as far back as the First World War, and probably earlier than that. The Americans first started to really study the phenomenon of post traumatic stress and its impact on “normal” relationships when the Vietnam vets started returning home and domestic violence incidents spiked. We saw it again after the first Gulf war, and then the second, and now Afghanistan. In fact it was an issue with returning peacekeepers as well, but the numbers were much lower and so didn’t tend to hit the radar so to speak. No, this is a very old issue.

And Col. Rodrigue says “… this is new research that needs to be investigated”!

The time for research is over. This is a problem that needs action. Now!

Surely if the Canadian Forces can afford billions for new jets, a few hundred million dollars to restore the mental health of those who we send into harm’s way cannot be an insurmountable financial challenge. To do anything less is, in my opinion, nothing less than a breach of trust by those in the senior ranks of the Canadian Forces and the government of the day.

Monday, March 28, 2011

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”– Albert Einstein

I was just thinking about the first 2 days of this election campaign and all the lies, half-truths, and innuendo spouting from the mouths of the various leaders and candidates.

A common metaphor for running a country is that it’s not unlike running a large business. You have employees and customers (taxpayers), a revenue stream (taxes), a product (services), and Cabinet is the executive team.

To take the metaphor a step further, an election campaign then becomes like a new stock offering where the executive branch trot out the financial status of the company, their future plans, and other details intended to entice investors (voters) into the fold.

But that’s where any semblance of similarity ends.

Imagine the CEO of a major corporation standing in front of shareholders and saying things that he knows to be untrue a major financial change in the business. Or how about the CFO intentionally misleading investors over several fiscal periods, and refusing to provide line item details. Or what if the COO knowingly understated the costs of a major departmental expansion? If they were lucky they’d only be fired.

However that kind of lying, deceit, obfuscation, and downright unethical behaviour have become de rigeur for our elected representatives. And instead of holding them to account as we would business people (in which case they’d all soon find themselves roomies with Bernie Eberts or Conrad Black) we give them a free pass.  We have come to expect them to lie. We have come to expect them to cheat. We have come to expect them to be ethically challenged. And they do not disappoint.

This could all be passed off with a cynical observation that you’ve got to tell the public what they want to hear (and there’s some truth to that), but at the end of the day how can these men and women sit down at a dinner table across from their families and be proud of their day’s labours? “Yes I lied on national TV today son, and let me tell you it felt damn good!”

Sadly, it seems that’s exactly the kind of person a significant portion of the population deems most suited to the highest offices of the land.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Time for a new leaf

Spring is the season of renewal. As the sun rises in the sky the snow disappears and the earth awakens to start afresh. It’s a time to reflect and prepare for the upcoming year.

It’s in that context that I have been reconsidering my blogging experience.

When I first started this blog 3 years and a few hundred posts back the intent was for this to be a generic blog, a means of sharing my thoughts and ideas with anyone interested enough to read and/or comment. Unfortunately over the past year or so it has evolved into primarily a political blog, a development with which I am not particularly happy as it has been my experience that political blogs tend to be angry, written for an audience that is already in agreement, and subject to moronic commentary by trolls who hide behind their keyboards to insult, belittle and otherwise demonstrate their lack of intellectual maturity.

And I’m sick of it. So it’s time for a return back to the roots of this blog.

I will still comment on politics on occasion because I’m interested in it, but I will also be making a conscious effort to expand my horizons beyond the narrow-mindedness of Canadian politics these days. And although I have requested to be dropped from the various political aggregators that carry my blog, I will still be checking in periodically to see what I’m missing, especially over the next few weeks as election rhetoric heats up.

Now please excuse me while I try and think of something positive to write about for a change.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Duffy’s X-Ray vision penetrates NDP caucus

duffy2Mike Duffy was on CFRA yesterday afternoon explaining why we were going into an election. Here’s his take on it.

The buzz here is that Layton was going to let the budget pass, tell his caucus: let it go, and in a couple of months when I'm feeling better we’ll pull them down on a supply motion; there'll be other chances – basically once a month they have a chance to vote non-confidence - in a couple of months when I'm feeling better we’ll do this and go to an election, and if I don't feel better in a couple of months what I'll do is I'll quietly resign, set a convention for around Labour Day to choose a new leader, let the new leader come in and get settled. And then we'll have an election a year from now after those who were elected in 2006 qualify for their pensions.

January 23 or 25th 2012, the class of 2006 will become pensionable, including Olivia Chow, Jack's wife. Now, in other words this is a scenario that would work for everybody. It would work for Jack and his health problems. It would work for the class of 2006. Let's see what happens as we go down the road. That was the buzz that was supposed to happen. Then all of a sudden Jack changes his course 180 degrees and we have to go to an election. Why? Because we are told that Thomas Mulcair has told our colleagues from Québec in the media, former colleagues, that he put the gun to Jack's head and said we have to go now. There's no way. And they pressured Layton into backing down from what was his inclination was to give it time to see how his health worked out, and they forced him, the hotheads in the NDP caucus and in the rank and file, have forced Layton to do something that he didn't want to do and now we’re in an election that nobody needs.

He also stressed that labour loved the budget saying how CLC leader Ken Georgetti came out in support of it. Apparently Duff didn’t get the message (here) nor did the obsequious Rob Snow who came across like he had a school-girl crush on the big man.

And so the lying begins continues.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Wag the Dog

In 1997 the movie Wag the Dog was released. Starring Robert de Niro and Dustin Hoffman, the movie’s premise is that the president, besieged by scandal, uses the media to manufacture a war that he can heroically end, thus restoring his honour and his chance of electoral success.

Stephen Harper’s “act of war” performance last week immediately brought this film to mind. Hounded by scandal at home, what better way to deflect attention from his failings as a leader than to stand up to a tin-pot dictator on the world stage?

There’s no question that Gadhafi needs to go, but our trifling commitment of 6 CF-18s and one frigate will not be a significant factor in whatever the outcome eventually is in Libya. So make no mistake, Canada’s involvement in this war is nothing more than a timely and welcome distraction for the prime minister to be able to appear statesman-like.

So far the writer has been unable to confirm rumours that every copy of Wag the Dog in Ottawa video stores has been commandeered by the PMO.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Head shots

March 8 – Zdeno Chara lays a life-threatening hit on Max Pacioretty and gets a light slap on the wrist.

March 10 – Stephen Harper weighs in, saying “I don’t think that is good for the game and I think the league has got to take a serious look at that for its own sake.”

March 15 – NHL General Managers decide not to ban head shots saying, “We don’t want to slow down the game.”

March 16 – Jason Kenney releases Version 3 of the Canadian Citizenship Guide which list “head shots” as one of the barbaric cultural practices not acceptable in Canada.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Con appointee laughing all the way to the bank

As the Globe and Mail is reporting today, Christiane Ouimet is walking away with a sweet half-million dollars for quitting after 3 years of questionable service to the Crown. Along with other benefits her deal apparently includes about $120,000 in severance pay.

In what Bizzaro world does one get severance pay for quitting? Instead, in Ms. Ouimet’s case, the government should be suing her for breach of contract as she quit, without notice, before completing her term.

According to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada’s own web site, Christiane Ouimet is definitely NOT entitled to severance pay.

Are You Entitled to Severance Pay?

Severance pay is a monetary entitlement (compensation) that is intended to provide financial support to ease your transition from one place of work to another.


You are not entitled to collect severance pay if:

  • you have been dismissed for just cause;
  • you quit your job;
  • you did not return to work after your employer recalled you from a layoff; or
  • you were entitled to a pension under a registered pension plan, the Old Age Security Act, the Canada Pension Plan and/or the Quebec Pension Plan on or before ceasing to be employed.

(emphasis mine)

In response to an earlier boondoggle involving severance pay (and  a Liberal appointee), Stephen Harper is quoted as saying:

"There is no common law saying the government has to pay severance to someone who voluntarily quits. That may be the common practice of the Liberal Party, but it is not the common law," Mr. Harper told the Commons in October of that year.

"Given that there is no requirement to pay severance to someone who quits voluntarily, and given that Mr. Dingwall received hundreds of thousands of dollars he should not have received, why is the prime minister contemplating giving him any money at all?"

So why has the Harper Government agreed to pay Ms. Ouimet such a sum? According to federal labour standards and the Prime Minister’s own statements they are under no obligation to do so. Hush money perhaps? Whatever, it sure stinks to high heaven.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Repair the broken windows and the rest will follow.

The local news tonight covered a story about some Carleton University students who had figured out a way to obtain laundromat services for free. A lot of them took advantage, which isn’t all that surprising really since I don’t know any university student who wouldn’t try to get something for nothing if they could. Not only are budgets tight, but let’s face, there’s a thrill associated with doing something you know is wrong and getting away with it, or “putting it to the man” in 60’s vernacular.

But what was surprising to me were the number of students prepared to go on television and say publicly, yeah, I defrauded the University (or the laundromat franchisee) and I have no intention of paying up.  They are basically admitting that, yes I stole some money, and no, I’m not going to pay it back. (The amounts aren’t trivial, in the hundreds of dollars for some students. The University is however going after the money, for which there is now mucho howling and whining from the perpetrators about how unfair that is.)

Is this the same sense of entitlement at play that says it’s okay to download stolen, or pirated, movies without paying for them? broken-windowOr music? Or 3rd year term papers?

I don’t know, but when I see our prime minister stand up and defend illegal funding actions as “accounting disagreements”, or justify tampering with signed government documents as “administrative issues”, it becomes significantly more difficult for society to take a moral stance and challenge the ethics of those who see nothing wrong with such behaviour.

We have a lot of broken windows to fix.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Breaking news–Alberta gets less than fair share of Order of Canada medals!

OOCIt must have been a slow news day in Ottawa; the Ottawa Citizen actually assigned someone the responsibility to do an analysis of Order of Canada recipients to determine if there was a geographic bias in their rewarding.

And of course they found one because there wouldn’t have been a story otherwise.

The writer provides a grade-school level analysis and speculates on why such a bias should exist, (I won’t go into details; you can read it all here) but really, it’s irrelevant. Unlike Senate seat awards (which I’d personally much rather have) for which the only current requirement is that you be a failed Conservative candidate willing to prostrate yourself at the feet of the Great Leader, there is no constitutional mandate for regional balance in the awarding of civilian honours.

Let’s face it, the Order of Canada is a nice piece of bling to hang on the office wall to prove you are really a “somebody”. But aside from the recipient him/herself, who cares?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Conservatives lying? No, it’s just being very precise with words.

On Newfoundland’s VOCM Backtalk Tuesday, Vic Toews said, in response to a question about a federal penitentiary in Newfoundland:

“I have to say, without getting partisan, I'm rather surprised given the position that all of the Liberal MPs have taken against the expansion of prisons that they would even want one in Newfoundland and Labrador. I mean they've made it very clear to me they don't want one.”

pop weasel2Well, as it turns out, that may be a bit disingenuous. (Quelle surprise!) According to Toews now, the fact that  a formal request was made by Liberal MP Scott Simms to his predecessor Stockwell Day doesn’t count. It had to be made to Vic Toews personally in order to be legitimate apparently. And if you don’t buy that load of steaming crap, the Liberal leader has also changed since the request was made so that means it doubly doesn’t count.

I’m tempted to call him a moron, but I think weasel is more appropriate.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

CSA to define Metis status?

The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs is apparently confused about who is/isn’t/should be/shouldn’t be Métis. It seems that the determination of Métis status has been somewhat haphazard, with various provinces having different processes and systems ranging from simple self-identification to the provision of rigorous genealogical proofs.

This drove the minister and his minions a little bit crazy. So like the good bureaucrats they are, they decided a standardized system was required and initiated a competition through MERX to “identify a set of conditions, standards and means of verifying those standards to a level that provides the government with confidence as to what constitutes a satisfactory membership system”. In other words, design a protocol that will assure the government that anyone identified by any Métis association as Métis really is Métis and is not just a poseur, perhaps a refugee from Ford’s Toronto, who thought it would be cool, or some such thing.

So far so good. While the benefits of being designated Métis are, at present, pretty much limited to having pride in your heritage, there’s certainly value in having a consistent model across the board – a point not lost on the Métis leadership who have been working to define just such a set of standards for some time now.

But what has got the Métis people (or Métis Nation, if you prefer) just a bit riled is that this all happened without any consultation with them. In fact they only found out by accident.  And then to put the icing on the cake, the contract was awarded to the Canadian Standards Association. Yup, the same folks who approve your toaster for sale in Canada are now in the business of deciding how the Métis get to prove they are, or aren’t who they claim to be. Riel CSA(Rumour has it if they do a good job on this, Jason Kenney will use them to help decide whether Iggy is a real Canadian… or not.)

But silliness over having CSA-approved Métis notwithstanding, one has to wonder at the motivation of this government in taking this step. The Métis are starting to flex their muscles in terms of land claims, hunting and fishing rights, resource rights, and so on. And so it’s clearly in the best interests of the federal government to limit their exposure by limiting the numbers of potential recipients of any negotiated deals. But imposing a national protocol will be no easy task, especially since the Supreme Court has already ruled that in order to qualify as Métis an individual must meet these three broad criteria (source: Wikipedia):

  • self-identification as a Métis individual;
  • ancestral connection to an historic Métis community; and
  • acceptance by a Métis community.

Speak No EvilAnd so is the new protocol intended to simply refine these criteria? Or is it to replace them and set up a challenge to the Supreme Court? Only Stephen Harper knows for sure, and he’s not talking. But whatever the motivation, it’s just more of the same with the Harpercons taking unilateral decisions, sowing division across the land as only they can. The mess the next government will have to clean up just keeps getting deeper and deeper.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Whoa Nellie!

Driving-while-distractedRecently Ontario followed many other jurisdictions in banning the use of hand-held devices while driving. As a victim of a texting teen driving into me at a stop light, I support such a ban, and in fact would go one further and ban the use of any cell phone, hand-held or not, while driving.

But has the government created an unintended consequence by this ban? Twice yesterday, in the space of about 15 minutes, I had the car immediately in front of me slam on the brakes and dive for the shoulder of the road – no signal, no shoulder check. As no road hazard was obvious, it could only be because they’d dropped their lit cigarette between their legs, or it was a Pavlovian response to a ringing cell phone.

Fortunately I was able to avoid any unpleasantness due to good road conditions, little traffic, and my own attentiveness, but it got me to wondering if the authorities have seen a hike in rear-end collisions since the imposition of the ban. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Who are these people

who have absolutely no concept of value for money when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars?

It’s a trivial thing, and a trivial amount as far as governments go, but this is the kind of thing that really burns my ass (as reported in The Ottawa Citizen today):

As Canadians dug into their pockets for donations to Haiti last year, the Department of Foreign Affairs spent nearly $27,000 on backdrops used at a ministerial conference to co-ordinate response to the earthquake. According to recently released documents, the backdrops were used only once, when Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon hosted the Ministerial Preparatory Conference in Montreal on Jan. 25, 2010. The department paid $26,534 for the backdrops. The banners were in Conservative colours -medium blue, with red highlights -and bore the slogan, "Strength in union."

$27,000 is but a drop in the bucket when it comes to making ministers look good (and let’s face it, Lawrence “Loose” Cannon can use all the help he can get) but to spend even that much on a throw-away prop for a pol’s photo-op, especially one dealing with a huge humanitarian crisis that could have used that $27,000 for something useful, just shows how out of touch with the real world most of these ministers’ handlers are.

The problem is that when you and I see $27,000 we envision a large number of real dollars and consider it in terms of whether we should save all or part of it, or how to spend it in the most productive way. When a civil servant sees $27,000 they just see numbers on a page.

Sadly it was ever thus, and I don’t expect to see any changes in my lifetime. But it still pisses me off.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A tale of two headlines

National Newswatch listed these two headlines today.

Yes No Maybe

So, curious to find out just what was said, I clicked.

The first headline is from the Toronto Sun, and the second from the National Post. Both media outlets were reporting on the exact same meeting with reporters, and used many of the same quotes from Ignatieff in the body of their articles.

It’s all about spin folks.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sadly, the illiterati are winning

One can but despair at the degree of illiteracy displayed by many who frequent the intertubes, especially among those who make it a habit of commenting on various news sites. Perhaps it’s because most of them are up at 3 AM, or have absolutely nothing better to do with their lives than post nasty and/or inane messages (usually anonymously) in response to various news items, or they’re 6 years old.

But c’mon people, would it hurt to actually read before pounding the keyboard and firing off a comment?

Here’s a prime example.

The Winnipeg Free Press posted an article today about Canada Post hiring a new chief executive with an interesting name. The first two sentences of the article were:

Deepak Chopra, an experienced executive who has overseen mail delivery services around the world, is taking over the reins at government-owned Canada Post Corp..

Chopra, not to be confused with the Indian-American self-help guru of the same name, lives in Toronto and was formerly the president and CEO of the Canadian and Latin American regions of Pitney Bowes, a global mailing and communications firm. (emphasis mine)

Seems pretty straightforward. The guy shares a name with a more famous personage. Not hard to understand at all. Or at least I wouldn’t have thought so.

But to prove me wrong, the very first three comments on this article were:

Comment 1: “Is there more than one person with that name?” Thank you Tammy4 for asking a totally idiotic question. I expect there may even be more than one Tammy out there….. Oh yeah, Tammy Faye Baker. She wasn’t the sharpest pencil in the box either.

Comment 2: “Deepak Chopra??? The new age alternative medicine guy??” Yes, Mark9, the same. That’s why the SECOND SENTENCE in the article points out the fact that he’s NOT that guy. But you know how those new agers are, it’s all a plot to take over the world, post office by post office.

Comment 3: Then philE wades in with “I'm sorry but does anyone find a spiritual guru being hired as Canada Posts CEO at all funny?  I however highly doubt its the same deepak…”. Earth to philE, Hello! Your tinfoil hat is too tight. Loosen it and reread the second paragraph again. Got it now? I’m still not laughing.

These people walk among us folks… And they vote!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Who made Don Cherry Mourner-in-Chief?

I intend no disrespect to Officer Ryan Russell. His death was one of those senseless killings that happen all too often in our communities. And any untimely death, whether a police officer or the corner grocer, deserves to be recognised in an appropriate and solemn manner.

But Hockey Night in Canada is neither the time nor the place.DonCherry

In a fitting tribute to a hockey lover, Don Cherry paid homage to fallen Toronto Police officer Ryan Russell on Coach's corner Saturday night.
In a style only the Canadian hockey icon could get away with, his voice immediately cracking with emotion, Grapes described how a "whacko" ran down Sgt. Russell in a stolen snowplow early Wednesday

Don Cherry’s Chief Mourner shtick has become as tedious and banal as Coach’s Corner was before he started waving the flag. And every time I hear of him “choking up” I am reminded of the old pro bible salesman telling the young trainee, “100% of this job is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.”

I am a big fan of the CBC, but if cutting federal funding means that this old fool would lose his national soapbox, I’d be all for it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fox news of a different sort

From Reuters:

A wounded fox shot its would be killer in Belarus by pulling the trigger on the hunter's gun as the pair scuffled after the man tried to finish the animal off with the butt of the rifle, media said Thursday.

The unnamed hunter, who had approached the fox after wounding it from a distance, was in hospital with a leg wound, while the fox made its escape, media said, citing prosecutors from the Grodno region.

"The animal fiercely resisted and in the struggle accidentally pulled the trigger with its paw," one prosecutor was quoted as saying.

Fox-hunting is popular in the picturesque farming region of northwestern Belarus which borders Poland.

Here’s hoping the fox survived.

At what point to we stop rewriting the past to avoid offending the sensibilities of the present?

I have been very fortunate. As a middle-aged, heterosexual, mostly normal, white male I have never felt the sting of real prejudice or racism. To some that would immediately disqualify me from commenting on this topic, but it is an important subject that affects us all in some way.

History abounds with books and stories, and more recently audios and videos, that by today’s standards of tolerance, common decency, and it must be said political correctness, are considered to be unacceptable. But where do we draw the line? Does every group that is offended by something  they’ve heard or read have the right to not be exposed under any circumstances to the offending material? Or more extremely, have it expunged completely from our collective history?

The N-word in Huckleberry Finn and the F-word in the lyrics of Money For Nothing are but two high-profile examples in the press this week. But the list is endless. Do sex workers who legitimately object  to the word “whore” have the right to have a significant percentage of rap music removed from the airwaves so they don’t have to hear that pejorative term? And how about the N-word in music; does that not count? Wartime movies often referred to the enemy in disparaging and some would say hurtful tones; do we now sanitize those? And after 9/11 should the movie studios have gone back and erased those twin towers from recent releases to avoid the possibility of some of us being emotionally hurt?

I don’t know.

But what I do know is that we are all a product of our history - the good, the bad, and the indifferent – and when we go back and rewrite that history with a 21st century pen we are changing the collective experience of our species and our societies.

And I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Separated at birth?

I know I’m coming late to the party, but I’ve just stared watching Mad Men, that TV series about a fictional Madison Avenue ad agency back in the 60’s. And I have to say I’m loving it. Not only is it a great series, but it also shines a light on what life was like in those days, with all the sexism, racism, and politically incorrect behaviour that we sometimes think we have outgrown, but which periodically surface even today. The characters are the usual damaged people that make these shows interesting, and the writing and acting are both very good.

Except for one thing.

I cannot look at Pete Campbell, that smarmy, arrogant, self-aggrandizing little rich kid,

Pete Campbell

without seeing this:


It really takes the shine off.