Sunday, November 4, 2007

My new blog

Decided to try Typepad. You can find me at http://kimferaday.typepad.com.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The fun of seasonal produce

It's the beginning of September and it's grape season -- Okanagan Coronation grapes. I first had them when I came out to visit my wife last year and fell in love with them. They are have a tartness, that combined with the natural sweetness of grapes makes them highly addictive. I can't get enough of them -- it's like Christmas time for grapes.

One of the things that attracted me to Vancouver when I first moved here was the fact that produce seems to be more seasonal, and to an extent, grown locally. September is grapes. There's also peaches and other summer fruit. In Toronto I would always look forward to Fiddlehead season and Asparagus season (white and regular).

I'm still discovering all of the local produce here but it's like Christmas if you're a Foodie. Aside from the environmental benefits of locally grown produce, the anticipation of the new season. And because it's here for only a short time the flavours just seem to be more intense, more pleasurable. Once the summer season is gone, there is still other seasonal produce to look forward to -- Chinese Mandarines and Clementines in the winter. Where these are grown organically, the flavours also seem to be more intense. So here's raising a glass to local farmers and hoping that the organic movement, both here and abroad, gain momentum. My mouth is watering in anticipation. Merry Christmas.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Mattel: A case study in the failure of corporate responsibility.

An interesting editorial from Shih-Fen S. Chen of the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario (Don't bash China for the failure of U.S. toy makers). Barring some sort of fraud or other corrupt practices it seems that Mattel chose profits over quality -- which really shouldn't surprise anyone. That is after all a publicly traded corporation's primary role -- to maximize shareholder value.

Manufacturers like Mattel outsource for one reason only -- to increase profits by reducing operating costs (labour arbitrage, lower infrastructure costs, etc.). Their failure to manage quality through the supply chain lies solely with them. Mattel chose to ignore its responsibility and should now quite rightly pay the consequence.

This is where an adequate regulatory framework is needed to ensure that corporations do not abdicate their civic responsibilities through outsourcing. Many U.S. states (and hopefully soon Canadian provinces) have begun imposing stricter environmental regulations. It will be interesting to see if outsourcing enables corporations to avoid these responsibilities as well. Let's hope not.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

A journey through East Hastings

Last night we went to a barbeque/birthday party for one of my wife's friends on the east side of Vancouver. On our way there we passed through the notorious East Hasting's area, known for it's open drug use and crime.

Having lived in Vancouver for only a few months, I hadn't had the "pleasure" of visiting East Hastings. It was shocking. The area reminded me of one of those end of civilization science fiction movies, only much much more depressing and horrifying because this isn't fantasy. The street was jammed with people, most of whom looked half-dead -- poorly clothed, skeletal, desperate shells of humanity. There is open drug use and prostitution. You can almost smell death down here. The buildings are boarded up and empty and disintegrating -- an entire neighbourhood in the centre of the most expensive city in Canada lost to these desperate souls. Even the most depressed neighbourhoods in Toronto (Sherbourne between Dundas and Queen, and Parkdale come to mind) can't compare with this.

That the municipal government could let this happen is equally as shocking as the neighbourhood itself. It seems morbidly ironic that this place could exist as Vancouver was ranked the best place to live in the world by the Economist. And for the fifth year in a row no less. I expect the judges weren't given a tour of East Hastings when visiting the city.

With the Olympics coming the Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments must come together to find a solution to this problem. Building more affordable housing, addiction treatment centres and other services would be a start. Leaving the area as it is would be an embarrassment to the entire country.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Harper's latest poll results

I'm not going to comment on the latest Strategic Council poll that came out in the Globe & Mail this morning (Why is Harper treading water?). Rather, I'm going to comment on the Globe's assertion that the economy is just humming along.

I'm really surprised that the Globe & Mail feels that the Canadian economy is so strong. While job growth remains good many of the underlying characteristics of the economy are troubling at best. Ontario, the industrial hub of the country has been hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs at an alarming rate. Canada is one of the few Western countries with negative industrial output according to the Economist. Canada is also a laggard when it comes to investment in Research & Development. The combination has serious implications for our ability to compete with the rest of the world.

Now let's look at what those jobs are being replaced with. Part time and temporary work in service industries and work in the resource industry are the primary contributors to job growth. So we're becoming hewers of wood and Starbucks baristas. Not such a pretty picture when you look under the surface.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Can we overcome our addiction to consumerism?

What do Barrie Shepley and Deepak Chopra have in common? Not much on the surface. Everyone knows Chopra, but unless you're living in Canada or a triathlete it's likely you haven't heard of Barrie.

Barrie has been deeply committed to triathlon over the past 20 years (give or take a year or two). He has been a factor in triathlon gaining acceptance as an Olympic sport and has been equally committed to developing triathlon at the youth and recreational level. Barrie is also a relentless optimist, something which, at times, be a difficult pill to swallow, for those of us who have been as relentlessly cynical about life. Over the past couple of years though I've been forced (mostly by my wife) to work at halt my transformation into a miserable old sod.

As a result, I've been more receptive to his message and even tried to incorporate some of the wisdom he imparts in his weekly e-mail newsletter into my own life. This year Barrie's mantra has been "if you aren't passionate about something you're just existing". This mantra was one of the reasons I started this blog -- I love to write and this is a great outlet (even if there's no one reading it).

One of Barrie's jobs is to act as the race announcer for the World Cup triathlon series. The last stop was in Tiszaujvaros, Hungary. Barry mentioned this race in last weeks newsletter, not because of the race but the small town on which the World Cup tour converged. His insight into the place and it's people were remarkably similar to comments Chopra made during an interview last week. First, Barrie's thoughts on Tiszaujvaros and then a comment about the Chopra interview.

"Last week I was in a small Hungarian city 200km from Budapest. The city is poor with post-communism cement buildings where most people have no more than 800 square feet to live. Yet, each day when I was out for my power-walk, I would see hundreds of people lining the river banks, fishing, reading, having their suppers and smiling. The town has no BMW cars, few vehicles made in the 21st century and yet tens of thousands of people were out volunteering and supporting the World Cup Triathlon. The athletes consider it one of their favourite stops on the circuit. Before I left town I had a chance to speak to an older man in his broken English. "Tell me about life in your town and country." I asked him. "I have healthy children, a job that allows me to buy food for my family and I enjoy fishing on the river with my friends." he said. I could see the legitimate contentment as he spoke and we watched the end of his son's football (soccer) game."
Chopra made very similar comments about a vacation to Cuba. He mentioned that although the people were very poor, they were also quite happy. Where ever he went Chopra saw people gathering to talk in cafes; crowds gathering around musicians to watch and dance; or families and friends out out for an evening stroll, enjoying each other's company.
What the people of Tiszaujvaros and Cuba had in common was that their societies place a much higher emphasis on creating highly social communities. Family, friends and social events are fundamental characteristics of each. Their comments reminded me of the week my wife and I spent in Montalcino on our last vacation. The locals there shared many of the attributes that Barrie and Chopra witnessed. Meeting friends for a lingering lunch. Meeting friends at the local bar for coffee in the morning and a drink at the end of the day. Or going out for a stroll and a gelato with family in the evening. In the week we were there we actually got to know a half dozen locals. It was an eye opening experience.
Both Barrie and Chopra lament that our society has lost much of the social traditions show in many other parts of the world. Chopra's contention is that consumerism has largely displaced socialism in our societies. Barry was making a similar observation. Curious in its coincidence. I wonder if we are capable of reverting to a more social society. I also wonder what impact that might have on the environmental movement.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Putting culture into agriculture

It's a bit dated but there was an interesting article on farmers markets in the August 11, issue of the Star (Fresh thoughts about buying local). I don't know why there aren't a lot more weekly farmers markets in large urban centre's like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Certainly there are the permanent year round markets that are usually located in the centre of the city (the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto and Granville Market in Vancouver). Both of these markets do a pretty good job at bringing in produce from local growers, but it would be great it's not very convenient unless you live close by.

That's why it's so great to see Toronto starting up more local farmers markets, particularly in the summertime. In particular the Don Valley Brickworks seems to be doing a great job at bringing local produce to market in a more social setting. This brings more affordable quality food to urban areas but also provides a social setting that builds a sense of community. When I lived in Toronto there was a farmers market at the old East York municipal buildings during the summer. I know there was also one in Markham as well. Other cities should look at some of the innovations that Toronto is embracing as a role model.

Farmers markets also serve as a bridge between the urban-rural divide and (hopefully) educates urbanites on the importance of local agriculture. As we look towards more sustainable economies surely locally grown produce will be an essential element of the solution. As urban and rural dwellers come together this may create new innovations in agriculture that will extend farmers markets beyond the summer months.

I'm going to take the liberty of copying the article here in case the link expires.

Fresh thoughts about buying local
We rate two popular farmers' markets for good practices and find each has shortcomings
Aug 11, 2007 04:30 AM

David Rider Toronto Star

A good farmers' market is more than a market – it's a temporary island of country surfaced in the big city, a return to a time when grower and buyer actually locked eyes. It's an earthy antidote to the stylish sterility of modern shopping.

Oh, and there's great fresh food at reasonable prices.

Mike Schreiner, vice-president of Local Food Plus (formerly Local Flavour Plus), a non-profit organization promoting local sustainable food systems, agreed to rate two very different farmers' markets: the established one at Nathan Phillips Square and the upstart at Don Valley
Brickworks (550 Bayview Ave.).

The four criteria: how local is the food; quality and variety; general ambiance or vibe; and what are the sustainability practices of vendors, which includes no- or low-chemical use and economic survivability of the farmers.

Schreiner, who grew up on a Kansas grain and livestock farm, says he wants vendors to be actual farmers, but he doesn't mind them selling neighbours' produce. "Not every farmer wants to come into town and do this."

He says farmers need to promote themselves and give buyers lots of information. "People want to experience that connection with the people who grow their food."

Nathan Phillips Square (Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. until Oct. 17)
There are three clusters of covered tables, one in front of City Hall's main doors and two outposts on either side of the square. Most browsers are in business attire, making a purchase or two before escaping back into air conditioning.

Schreiner notes the tables are stacked with fruit – beautiful cherries, peaches and plums beckon – but only a few have good crunchy information about the farm.

Some have empty boxes from many farms, raising suspicions those vendors are simply re-
sellers. Others are bona fide farmers who could do a better job showing it. Schreiner happens to know the baked goods at the Andrews Scenic Acres table are baked at a kitchen right on the farm in Milton.

"It would be great if they had a photo of the kitchen so I knew where this blueberry pie came from and that the blueberries were picked on his farm," he says.

He loves Domenic's Meats' professional set-up in an open-sided trailer, but would like a sign saying how the animals are raised.

At a baked goods table, Schreiner is wary of the "plastic-looking" offerings. "Maybe that guy baked it, but how would I know?"

Here's Schreiner's rating on a 10-point scale:
1. Local: Most of the product was local; one baked good posed a question mark. 9/10
2. Quality and variety: Heavy on fruit, lots of beautiful stuff, nice selection. 9/10
3. Ambiance: Room for improvement – it's pretty sterile. Vendors should tell you more about products and there is no music and nothing for kids. 7/10
4. Sustainable: Some organic product, but only two stalls gave information about how product was grown. Some vendors may not be farmers. 6/10 ("with a question mark.")

Total: 31/40

Don Valley Brickworks (Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. until Oct. 27).
There are about 30 tables, most of them facing each other under a long metal roof.
There is a festive feel and delicious smells waft from two stalls: Chez Vous breakfast and Merchants of Green Coffee.

Schreiner notes there are more organic and low-chemical farmers here and, as a result, lots of veggies and little fruit: "It's brutally difficult to grow organic fruit in Ontario because of the humidity." There are, however, stalls selling crafts, chocolate, soap and massages. He's okay with such products at a farmers' market if they add to the overall experience.

Quite a few stalls post information, including farm name, production methods and even how far the goods were driven to market (for CO{-2} emissions). McCutcheon's Maple Syrup of Coldwater displays its World Champion award from the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and photos of the operation. "That's great," Schreiner says.

But an organic farmer whom Schreiner knows has no signs at all. "I'm thinking, `Ted, c'mon....'"
1. Local: Most produce was local, but there is the coffee and chocolate. 7/10
2. Quality and variety: Everything looks beautiful and fresh, but different than Nathan Phillips because a lot of stuff here is grown without chemicals. Tables could be more bountiful. 9/10
3. Ambiance: A great place to take your family. Lots of sights, smells, signs about the farms. One downside is that most people drive here, even though there are free shuttle buses from the Broadview subway station. 9/10
4. Sustainable: Almost everything here is organic or chemical-free. 9/10

Total: 34/40

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Should we dumb down Canada?

Once again, one of Margaret Wente's columns in the Globe and Mail has me scratching my head (It's our fault they can't grow up). In her column, Wente argues that we're "infatalizing" our children by coddling them and allowing them to pursue whatever harebrained scheme that comes into their heads. This includes one of her friends financing their daughter's online business and, when that fails, allowing her to live with them until she gets on her feet.

It also includes parents who support their kids while they pursue advanced degrees (beyond a BA). According to Wente this results in "a spectacular waste of human potential" as kids waste years "piling up more 'credentials' as they try to figure out what they really want to do and waiting for just the right self-actualizing opportunity to come along." What we need to do according to Wente is get them out into the "real world" earlier so that they can be doing "productive work". I wonder if she includes journalism as "productive work"?

By earlier Wente means in their teens. After all according to Wente, if George Washington could be out surveying Indian country at 16 and Roman boys were fighting at 14 years of age (I assume then that she's OK with all of the child soldiers being "recruited" to fight in Africa and elsewhere), then surely we should be able to put our kids out into the workforce at a much younger age (so she's also OK with child labour practices followed by China and many other Third World countries).

Using examples from hundreds and thousands of years ago is simply ridiculous. Society and business is much more complicated than then and the level of knowledge required to compete (not just function) is far greater. And with an increasingly educated and competitive global economy more comprehensive training will ensure that young workers are competitive when they are most prolific. Instilling a hunger for learning will also add longevity to their careers. And keeping people in the workforce and productive is becoming increasingly important as our workforce ages.

To bolster her argument Wente calls upon an "expert" from the only science potentially more dismal than economics -- psychology. Robert Epstein (whom we can assume wasted countless years pursuing a degree that adds little value to productivity or growth) has a new book to flog (The Case Against Adolescence) and a radical new theory -- that we need to pare down our education system to get children out into the workforce much earlier and therefore eliminate all of the horrors of adolescence (drugs and alcohol, peer pressure, the obsession with appearance, consumerism).

Epstein contends that "the modern education system was created in order to supply the factories of the industrial age with a reliable stream of standardized, skilled labour. Today, the Industrial Age is dead, and the factory system is obsolete. The knowledge that people need for most jobs is specialized and changes quickly. But we still educate our kids in the same old way."

While he does argue for lifelong education his contention is that we simply need to be innoculized with specialized training at various points along our career to address our changing circumstances. This is a purely rationalistic approach that attempts to reduce education to simple inputs and outputs. This new deterministic approach to education is the "cure" for this newly created disease of adolescence. Once innoculated, the outcome will be happier, more productive and more socially integrated citizens. And simply by taking new vaccines every few years we can innoculate ourselves agains the ravages of global competition.

Common sense says that this deterministic approach to learning can't work. It is the same approach we take in healthcare right now, where we spend more and more money treatment and nothing on prevention. We can't possibly create vaccinations to address all of the possible problems that may arise.

Education must give or children the tools and training they need to changing conditions and circumstances. Given the rate of change of change they will need more flexibility to respond. We need to teach our children how to learn. When they come through the education process they must be able to think critically and with imagination. They must have a hunger for knowledge that will last a lifetime. Only then will they have the tools they need to survive.

This cannot be learning by wrote and may take more time. Some will progress faster than others and may hit the workforce at a much earlier age (Bill Gates for example). Some later. My cousin for example, lingered in the education system into his 30s before finishing a PhD. He subsequently decided he wanted to teach at a high school level and so went back to spend more time expanding his credentials. Was it a waste of time? I don't think so. He is now one of a small group of highly skilled and motivated teachers dedicated to bringing quality education to students in a troubled North Toronto neighbourhood. If he had taken a faster path he may not have had the maturity he needed to commit to what is a difficult and at times dangerous job. Not to mention thankless.

Others may choose a less formal path. Regardless, we must support our children as they find their way. There will inevitably be mistakes. Mistakes are a fundamental part of the learning process. Trying to circumvent this process diminishes the quality of the individual.

Once trained they can then take responsibility for finding the right avenue to acquire new knowledge and learn new skills. Teaching them specific skills and then shoving them into the workforce will do none of this. It will make us less, rather than more competitive. Given that Canada's growth in industrial production and expenditures on research and development are lagging many developed and emerging economies, pursuing this course of action would be disastrous.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Team staff to sign new UCI agreement

The UCI today announced a new charter that will require all team staff (managers, doctors, soigneurs etc.) to sign as part of their fight against doping (Team staff to sign new UCI agreement). While this is a welcome advance it falls short of how far the UCI should go further and require race organizers to sign a similar document -- and possibly even sponsors. After all they all derive significant and measurable value from their participation in the sport.

Really this shouldn't be any different than Sarbannes Oxley and other regulatory requirements that are being place on corporations. It's a matter of ethics, transparency and accountability. Requiring this from the riders only is completely unfair and doesn't go to the heart of the problem with many professional sports. In fact the UCI should start working in conjunction with the governments of major cycling nations and corporations to put a regulatory framework in place.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Vancouver Triathlon Recap

It's been a few weeks but since I live in the neighbourhood I decided to check out the Triathlon World Cup event held here in Vancouver on June 10.

First let me say that the race organization seems to be first rate. The transition areas look to be safe and are give the race a very professional look. The crews were very efficient at setting up stands, transition, VIP and press areas --generally it reminded me of road crews at rock shows I've seen set up. Very efficient and professional. The course selection was challenging. Having a point to point swim may be less audience friendly but it seems to me opens up greater opportunity for a break to get away during the swim(start hard and get into a good rhythm). The bike also provided the opportunity for a break to get away on the bike course with the short but relatively steep climb up Thurlow to Davie (8 times). The only problem I could see in the course was the sharp right turn from Davie to Denman -- that could have been a problem it the roads were wet and the main group was really motoring.

The only other criticism I would have of the race organization was PR prior to the race. I saw only one article (an interview with Kirsten Sweetland, who I guess decided she was going to save herself for the big money race in Des Moines the following week) in the local papers and nothing on TV or radio. If the World Championships are going to be here next year then the PR has got to be better -- this event deserved a better turnout, it was first rate. There was so little knowledge of the event in the neighbourhood that a couple of passersby asked if it was Pride Day. Oops. Also Kudo's to Barry Shepley and the broadcast crew -- the live broadcasts are pretty good and they get race video up on the ITU website so fast it almost makes your head spin.

Now to the race itself. I was a triathlete for about 15 years from the early 1980's to the mid 1990's. While I've seen one or two local triathlons since then this is the first world class race I've seen since the World's in Orlando so it's been a while. Generally the format is OK. Olympic events made drafting on the bike years ago but I've never seen one so this was my first exposure. Good move but given the dynamics of this race and the video I've looked at since then (Des Moines and Edmonton) makes the bike somewhat irrelevant -- at least in my estimation. Part of that is the absence of any tactics, which may in part be due to the organization of the teams.

In the women's race, Sarah Haskins and Sara McLarty (U.S.) were first out of the swim. They worked well together and got increased there lead to almost 2 minutes at one point during the bike. In my estimation, that would have at least given them a shot at winning given that the first chase comprised only 7 or 8 riders (about right given the margin that Samantha Warriner beat Haskins by). I had grabbed a prime spot on Thurlow (pretty easy given the sparse crowds). I was pretty impressed with the lead the 2 Americans had built and was pretty vocal in cheering them on. Imagine my surprise that over the last few laps I saw 2 Americans in the chase group (Sarah Groff and Becky Lavelle I think) driving the chase group. Smart tactics would have dictated that these to sit in 3rd or 4th position to moderate the tempo of the chase and let the 2 leaders build up a solid lead into the run. These two were hammering up the hill (to the point where on one lap they gapped the rest of their group). Huh? What the f***?

I saw an American official further down the hill so I went down to ask him what (tactically) was going on. He indicated to me that there were no tactics, that each athlete on the American team were in it for themselves. Again huh? I guess this may make it simpler for the athletes (me, me, me) it can make for pretty confusing and/or dull racing. In this case all that hard work by Groff and Lavelle probably helped Warriner to a first place. Oops.

On the men's side same deal. In this case a small group of 7 or so got away. They worked pretty well together and worked up an even more significant lead -- over 2 minutes by my estimation. The group even seemed to be forcing Simon Whitfield to the front (at least on Thurlow) in an attempt to soften him up for the run. So far, so good (although I couldn't understand why Colin Jenkins and Simon Tichelaar weren't countering this tactic by protecting Whitfield -- I guess it was the same every man for himself). Now for the bad news. The chase group was pretty big (maybe 15 or 20 riders). There was absolutely NO organization in this group. Again huh? What the f***? A group of 15 or 20 should be able to at least put some time into the lead. But no.

My point is that this makes the bike kind of boring. Get a small group (with some decent cyclists)with a lead out of the water and you're good to go. Get a big group out of the water and I can only imagine that the bike would become a little more than a site seeing tour of the host city.

What could be done? How about a bit more innovation? Why not introduce trade teams as in cycling. It would provide some financial stability for the athletes, and might introduce some interesting new tactics into the races. If you allowed each team to send 6 athletes per race you could have a lot of interesting options. Teams could be selected to suit the course. For example on a hilly course you might pick a couple of good all rounders, 3 bike/swim specialists (who would act more or less as domestiques) and one run specialist. That way the all rounders could work to get in an early break. If a "domestique gets in the break as well they can do more of the work on the bike. On a flat course maybe you pick a couple of run specialists and 4 domestiques.

My point is that this would add a lot of dimension and make it alot more interesting for spectators. The other thing that could be done is to lengthen the bike course to 50 or 60km given that it's now draft legal. Given the potential you'd think the ITU would at least consider some changes to the format.

Wanted: A Canadian politician with integrity and ethics

I haven't written here for a few months for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless I continued to follow Canadian politics with increasing anger, frustration and disappointment. The only thing you can say about this past session in the House was that it was extremely disappointing and in my opinion showed that all parties share a single minded lust for power. The welfare of the country and its citizens is purely secondary.

Like many Canadians I was filled with a sense of hope and anticipation (and even excitement!) following the Liberal leadership race last fall. There was a palpable sense that there would be a new guard who would make the Liberal party more open, responsive and transparent. In the end this was not to be. This might partly be due to Stephen Harper's continued use of U.S. Republican style tactics and his Stalin-like grip on the Conservative party (isn't it good to see that this is finally backfiring). Nevertheless the return to politics as usual (propaganda and rhetoric versus discourse and consultation, form versus substance) has been disappointing.

If the spring session weren't depressing enough a recent story run on the national (Somosa Politics) made me want to run to my doctor for some Prozac. The story shows every political party as more concerned with securing political support than with doing what is ethically right. One of the focal points of the story was a Vaisakhi parade held in Surrey this past spring. The parade was organized by a supporter of the Sikh terrorist organization Babar Khalsa. Many at the parade openly sported shirts with the International Sikh Youth Federation, a recognized terrorist organization. Other children appeared with guns on the back of their shirts. At least one of the floats displayed a picture of Talwinder Singh Parmar who is suspected to be the mastermind behind the Air India bombing.

While this is upsetting enough, the attendance of politicians at the event really shows their true colors. Hedy Pretty (NDP), Sukh Dhaliwal and Gordon Campbell (Liberal) and Nina Grewal and Jim Abbott (Conservative) all attended the event and only Gordon Campbell made any statement objecting to the open display of support for terrorist organizations. This is really mind boggling and completely unacceptable. If there isn't one yet there should be some code of ethics for these jokers. You'd think that considering that Ujjal Dosanjh was almost beaten to death by these goons and that he has recently been threatened in an extremist Sikh publication the Liberals should have been very loud and clear in their objections and their refusal to participate in the future. But no, nothing. From the leaders to the rank and file all political parties seem to becoming increasingly beholden to these terrorist groups who are abusing the political system.

Another example was the Liberal leadership convention where, according to Tarek Fatah, blocks of Sikh delegates were in fact moved to support Stephane Dion (from Gerrard Kennedy). Many of the delegates didn't have a clue which delegate they were supporting. Again this is incredible. How could the Liberal party allow the selection of delegates who had no clue about the candidates? No wonder why Bob Rae was so furious with the outcome. If this is democracy then maybe we should just return to the early days of Canadian politics and allow politicians to ply voters with alcohol and bribes to secure their vote. This is pretty much the same thing.

That the supporters came from the Kennedy camp is equally disappointing. Kennedy is one of the politicians I felt could move us into a new era. But if he knew and/or participated in this sham then he deserves only our scorn.

Thank God for summer the World Cup, Toronto FC, the Giro and the Tour. Maybe I can forget all of this by the fall. Or maybe we can convince Robert Kennedy Jr. to become Canadian!

Saturday, March 31, 2007

We need more Rex Murphy

I know he's not for everyone but I for one can't get enough of Rex Murphy. Since I moved to Vancouver, I can't find CBC Radio One so I can't listen to Cross Country Checkup. So, I'm pretty much left with reading his columns in the Globe. Today's column, on why we should be just as concerned with the success of the Mario Dumont's Action Démocratique. Given the ADQs commitment to essentially creating a separate country it's puzzling why Harper is celebrating their performance. But rather than me blathering on I think I'll let Mr. Murphy (thanks to the the Globe) explain:
_______________________________________________
Separatism by another name
Rex Murphy, March 31 2006
The Globe and Mail

All the observers agree: The Quebec election was a landmark vote. It changed the dynamics of the province. It broke down the pattern of a generation. It sidelined the great contest between federalists and separatists in that province.

And most of all, they agree that the outstanding result for Mario Dumont and his Action Démocratique du Québec, which catapulted the party to second place and him to Opposition leader, was great news for Stephen Harper and for Canada.

After all, the separatists had their worst result since 1970. The PQ may have been mortally injured. Separatists, and the idea they have championed, have aged. Both are now enfeebled and maybe irrelevant.

Mr. Harper caught this euphoric tone when he noted that "two-thirds of Quebeckers voted against having another referendum." Which is a very exhilarating thing to say, but two-thirds of Quebeckers did no such thing.

It is true that two-thirds voted for parties other than the PQ. But the "not holding a referendum" aspect of the other two parties was but one item on the menu of reasons voters chose when they gave their support to Mr. Dumont or Jean Charest.

Totalling the numbers of people who did not vote for a certain party, and taking that aggregate as the measure of the rejection of a single issue in a multiparty, multi-issue election is dishonest. In our system, it's worth clarifying, we count the votes for parties. Last example: In the most recent federal election, 95 per cent of Canadians did not vote against the Green Party. Five per cent voted for it.

But back to Mr. Dumont. It's true he is not, now, a separatist. He was in 1995, when he voted Yes in that year's referendum. And it is also true he has no interest in promoting or pushing for a referendum on separation from Canada. Mainly, however, I suspect not because he feels a chill at the idea of an independent Quebec, but because a referendum as a tactical instrument for that glorious result is increasingly seen as useless.

Mr. Dumont is not a sovereigntist. He is -- clumsy word ahead -- an autonomist. He wants more autonomy for Quebec. Canada is autonomous. The provinces and territories within it, by definition, are not. And if someone can point the difference between an autonomous Quebec and an independent Quebec, please alert the dictionary-makers.

The 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary defines autonomy as "possessed of autonomy, self-governing, independent." Now, self-government or independence has been the explicit goal of the separatists as long as they have been separatists.
Why is the embrace of Quebec's autonomy as a goal more welcome by the forces of Canadian federalism than the embrace of its ideal synonym?

Let us not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.

Furthermore, we have had within the past year the passage in our federal Parliament of a resolution that confirms the nationhood of the Québécois. We have also had the extension to Quebec of the right or competence to attend international gatherings, such as UNESCO.

So Quebeckers are a nation. Quebec qua Quebec may attend international conferences. And on the night of the most historic Quebec election in a generation, the star performer is the leader of a party who wants more autonomy for Quebec.

I suggest the reason Mr. Dumont is so obliging in dismissing a referendum from his political arsenal is that he sees it has become a useless ritual toward the advancement of goals ever so conveniently being achieved without one.

After all, if the federal Parliament declares by resolution that "the Québécois form a nation," if its "powers" are ever more exercised separately from any central mandate, if Quebec has an international presence, and if the goal of the only dynamic party in the province of Quebec right now is to expand the latitudes of its already generously established autonomy -- why chatter about some damn referendum? This boat sails better without that dropped anchor.

Quebec is and has been quietly disengaging itself, with the co-operation in particular of Mr. Harper's government, from its provincial status within the Confederation. It is edging toward an equivalent status with the rest of the country seen as a whole.

As for the ADQ's victory this week marking a breach from the independence project, read these portions of the party's platform. It goes . . . "our first allegiance, our passion and our loyalty are toward Quebec. It refers to Canadians outside Quebec as "privileged partners" not fellow citizens, speaks of relations with Ottawa as "bilateral and equal" and finally proposes the official name for what we now know as a province as the "Autonomist State of Quebec." The rise of the ADQ is not a funeral for separatism. It is a refashioning of the quest, a more beguiling referendum-free path to that fractious future.

_______________________________________________

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

And now back to our regularly scheduled budget.

So now that he hand wringing, gnashing of teeth and wailing over the Quebec election are finished, let's turn our attention for a few moments to the Conservatives celebrated and much maligned second budget.

I've just started reading the budget, and it is a real page turner to be sure, but as I've stated before, most of it seems to be directed at buying more votes especially on the urban fringes where the Conservatives hope to make up real ground.

The environment is now one of the top priorities of Canadians (at least until barbecue season starts, which is pretty soon), and so the Conservatives have also tried to flavour the budget with enough environmental initiatives that, combined with all of the spicy tax credits and rich government transfers, it will make for such a savory dish that the voters won't be able to resist voting Conservative on election day.

But is there real substance to these tasty sounding environmental morsels? There isn't for at least one of them, the $2,000 rebate for fuel-efficient vehicles and the "Green Levy" of up to $4,000 on gas guzzling SUVs and vans. Sounds good -- at least until you get into the fine print and do a bit of research. Vehicles are eligible for a $1,000 rebate up to and including those with performance ratings of 12.9L/100km. Vehicles above 13L/100km are subject to the levy, which starts at $1,000 and tops out at $4,000 for those above 16L/100km. Trucks are excluded from the levy even though they are some of the largest contributors to emissions on the road.

Just for fun (I don't get out much) I checked the ratings of about 35 SUVs and Vans on a Canadian auto review web site. Of those 20 were actually eligible for a rebate. Of the remaining 15 that fell into the Green Levy category, only one (1) fell into the highest levy category and that vehicle was over $60,000. And speaking of price, all but one of the vehicles that were subject to the Levy were over $35,000 dollars (not including taxes, freight etc.). Given the price tags associated with these vehicles does anyone thing a $900 tax ($1,000 less the refund of the $100 excise tax) is going to stop anyone from buying one of these puppies? I don't think so. So there's a least one useless piece of the budget confirmed. Let's see what we can dig up in the coming days.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Operación Puerto -- the fiasco that never ends

Cyclingnews published the latest in the lunacy that is Operación Puerto. Today, Spanish paper El Pais accused judge Antonio Serrano who is overseeing the case, of mistakes that derailed the investigation. According to El Pais, judge Serrano permitted police to "wiretap phone lines so that they could continue with their investigations, something that is considered as violation of the Spanish citizens' rights when there is no indication of an offense."

Among other things "the Spanish paper points out that Serrano was opposed to DNA exams to identify the blood bags nor did he allow the use of information contained in mobile phones or SIM cards. This meant that many rumours, like the implication of other sportsmen in football, tennis or athletics, could not be proved." Hmm, guess he was too much of sports junkie to allow this thing to go any further. After all with sports gone he'd probably be forced to talk to his wife.

While it's somewhat comforting to see that incompetence can be found elsewhere, this is not good for cycling. The result may be that the more than 50 cyclists who were implicated in the affair may get off Scott free. And that wouldn't be good for riders like Michael Barry and teams like T-Mobile and CSC that are making strong stands against doping. As one Spanish rider complained bitterly to El Pais: "Now you can say we're getting it from all sides," said an unnamed cyclist to El País. "The cheater says that the shelving is like exoneration, like proof that they were innocent, so that they will continue doing what they did before, and even with more impunity. A further difference will between us, who are riding cleanly, and them. They will not only beat us again, no, they will also laugh at us."

Will all that Conservative pork help in Quebec?

Well you've got to hand it to Harper and Mr. Flaherty. Their plan to target voters in suburban and exurban areas in the hopes of making significant headway in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal may well pan out. This budget, like everything Harper does, is done with a view to realizing his goal of a majority government and making the Conservative party the natural governing choice for years to come.

The question is will all of that pork really help in Quebec? As Chantal Hebert has said many times, winning Quebec is no guarantee of winning Canada, but it's just about impossible to win Canada without Quebec. Harper (and Mr. Dion as well) may be well served in reading Ms. Hebert's new book "French Kiss". In a chapter entitled "The End of Pork", Ms. Hebert recounts the chronology of patronage in Quebec by governments from Trudeau to Mulroney and Chretien. She attributes the Liberals loss to the Block in the 1990 by-election of Laurier -- Sainte-Marie, to the "misguided notion that Quebecers would put proximity to the honeypot of the federal government above their strongly held views on a defining issue such as their political with the rest of Canada".

And she later points out that like "their counterparts in Mississauga and Calgary, urban Quebecers are impervious to the politics of pork. Their ballot-box issues, especially at the federal level, are more likely to have to do with macropolicies such as taxes, child care, clean air and urban transport." If she's right then maybe Harper has miscalculated and Mr. Dion, who has been much more focused on policy and vision, may yet win the day.

Harper doesn't mind if Taliban kill Canadian troops

Sometimes I wonder how the Liberals can resist getting down in the sewer with Harper. How about something like this from Mr. Dion:

Mr. Speaker, Harper accuses me of having more passion for Taliban prisoners than Canadian troops(Harper goes for jugular - again). But the reality is that the government's own actions have put our troops at risk. According to reports, 4 detainees have completely disappeared. Maybe they were tortured or killed. Or maybe they bribed their way to freedom and are now back out killing Canadian troops. Since we're not tracking them we don't know. Harper doesn't seem to care if our troops are being killed or people are being tortured. All he cares about is getting re-elected.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I have seen the future -- and it ain't pretty.

Once again displaying how far behind the mainstream I am, I just visited the Dominion Institutes' Canada in 2020 website. The idea behind the site is worthy enough -- to get Canadians to think about the challenges that will face our country in the coming years. Sounds good to me. Even better, the Institute invited some of the country's leading thinkers (academics, journalists, economists mostly) the opportunity to write about their vision of the future.

For the most part it's pretty depressing. Maybe not depressing enough to make me want to end it all now but certainly depressing enough to make me not want to get out of bed for a long, long time. So, if you're in the mood to find out how bleak our future might be, and you haven't already read any of the essays then be sure to visit the site here. I guarantee you a night of misery. My only hope is that John Ralston Saul's installment will be more hopeful. Please, please, please Mr. Saul save our country!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Do we need to rethink healthcare delivery?

I know today is budget day but the Globe and Mail published this editorial on private delivery of health care in Ontario (Ontario's dismissal of privately provided care). With all of the talk in reducing wait times and the growing concern for providing quality care for a population that is rapidly aging, it's disconcerting to see governments (in this case the Ontario Liberals) dismissing delivery options that will solve these pressing issues.

In this case Health Minister George Smitherman rejected the possibility of a private clinic, Don Mills Surgical Unit Ltd., providing knee replacement services to reduce wait times. This seems odd given the stated commitment to reduce wait times and the fact that other procedures are outsourced to the same company.

The environment has dominated the national agenda over the course of the past few months, but health care is the monster that's still under the bed waiting to jump out and scare us all. We need to rethink our entire health care system and relatively quickly. Alternative delivery mechanisms under medicare are option that should be considered where it makes sense. Allowing private companies to specialize in niche areas may not only shore up gaps in the current system but make it more cost effective and efficient. The Shouldice Hernia Centre in Markham, ON. is one example. It's been operating since the late 1940's and is so good it attracts patients from around the world. The operation is efficient and most patients are discharged within a couple of days of surgery.

And best of all, the entire cost, except for the semi-private room is paid for by OHIP. When I was there the rooms were about $125 and I was there for a total of 3 nights, so the cost was by no means prohibitive. Why shouldn't we consider this type of delivery? Just because it's private? In reality, as long as mechanisms are put in place to rate providers as is done by for profit payers in the U.S. it seems an excellent way to improve the system as a whole.

Governments should also looking to innovate in other areas. Implementing or expanding funding for community clinics and the role of nurse practitioners, as the Ontario government has done in several communities (I went to one in Toronto when I lived there) provides excellent service and reduces emergency room visits.

Where the Ontario Liberals have fallen short is in supporting preventive health care such as nutritionists and physiotherapists which were delisted over a year ago. And what about making individuals more responsible for their own health care? If we are going to reduce health care costs then individuals must be made to bear some responsibility when they have been negligent. After all, why should I pay for someone who eats fried food every day and doesn't exercise and then develops diabetes and chronic heart disease? At risk patients should be put on a program by their doctor and then made to pay increasing deductibles if they don't adhere to the regimen set by their physician. This has been done to good effect by some private payers in the United States. As long as we maintain these programs under medicare I don't see why we should do some of these things. They will save us substantial health care costs down the road.

Then there's a national pharmacare program which could rationalize the drug industry in this country and make many more drugs affordable. Again, we can see in the U.S. that scale means lower costs.

Whatever we do we need to begin to explore new delivery models if we are going to save medicare in this country. And, as difficult as it may be, it also means that minimizing political pandering even in an election year as Mr. Smitherman has done here.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

This can only be good for the Liberals

Saw this in today's Globe & Mail. This is good news for the Liberals and should make anyone (on the left coast anyways) think twice before voting Conservative. I'm reprinting part of it here. Hope that doesn't upset anyone at the Globe.


Environmentalist Briony Penn climbs out on a limb with the Liberals
SID TAFLER
Special to The Globe and Mail
VICTORIA -- Briony Penn, a leading light of the environmental movement on the West Coast, has announced her candidacy for the Liberal Party in the next federal election.
Ms. Penn, 46, filed her nomination papers yesterday for the riding of Saanich Gulf-Islands, currently held by Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn.
Her decision to join the Liberals and resign from the Green Party, which she has supported for more than a decade, will likely enhance Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion's reputation as a champion of the environment but bitterly disappoint Greens loyal to Leader Elizabeth May.
Ms. Penn, a well-known eco-activist, author and media personality who once portrayed Lady Godiva in a protest in downtown Vancouver, said she is running for the Liberals "with my green shirt on" as part of an unofficial Liberal/Green alliance she sees developing across the country.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Dion in Vancouver

I went to the fundraiser for Stephane Dion at the Imperial Chinese Seafood Restaurant in Vancouver. Not much to say that hasn't been said in the papers. I thought he was a bit flat at first but seemed to get into a bit of a groove after a few minutes. The emphasis was on how Stephen Harper was simply recycling parts of Liberal programs he cancelled or delayed when he came to office. Fair enough. Sort of the nice guys version of the vicious personal attacks that Harper has descended to lately (good thing for Liberals in a way).

On the other hand it was disappointing for him not to put any more color on his vision. He has the framework so why not spend a bit more time adding some color if even to explain the relationship between each of the pillars of his framework (i.e. the now well worn economic prosperity, social justice and environmental sustainability).

The other thing that I find disappointing with Mr. Dion's cross country trek is that it was, for the most part focused on shoring up support in the party. I'm sure there are very pragmatic reasons for this, but as long as you're on the road why not take advantage of it. Maybe some interviews on local news or entertainment shows. Maybe take some questions from the audience. Or how about trying to book a lecture at universities in one or two of the larger stops. And while you're at it how about doing what Noam Chomsky does on his tours and have a post lecture discussion in a more intimate setting. Chomsky does this to very good effect. Given his academic background it should be an environment Dion is comfortable in. Record the sessions and put them on YouTube or use them as advertorial during the election.

I work in technology. When we launched a new product, or new version of a product, we went out on the road with our CEO and we filled up every possible moment of his day. Customer meetings, analyst briefings, press, lectures whatever we could find for him while we had him. He was our visionary and having him spread the gospel was a key component of our success. Not doing the same with Dion while he's available makes me wonder. Maybe politics is different. Maybe it shouldn't be.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Why there has to be due process

Cyclingnews announced today that the judge presiding over the Operación Puerto case has decided to end criminal proceedings against persons accused in the case(Operación Puerto shelved?). This means that Madrid doctors Eufemiano Fuentes and José Luis Merino, team director Manolo Saiz and about 50 riders are off the hook. This is good news and bad news for the riders. The good news is that they won't go to jail. The bad news is that it opens the door for the UCI to use the investigation files in their own investigations.

While it's great that the matter can finally be resolved, it's too bad that the UCI chose to hang the riders in the press before they had the evidence to back it up. It has ruined many careers prematurely and has damaged the reputation of the sport of cycling. Let's hope that as they adopt their new doping code the UCI also adopts a posture where due process is afforded to all who are accused.

I think there's also a less for the Harper government as they look to re-write ant-terrorism legislation. Ensuring the rule of law without due process diminishes our society and makes us more like those we are hoping to defeat.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Stephane Dion at the Canadian Club Ottawa

Much better performance by Stephane Dion at the Canadian Club in Ottawa today. Maybe it was just today, but his English seems much better. I also thought he handled the Harper smear campaign very well. Let's hope that Canadians respond well to his insistence on not descending to Harper's level. Sorry I missed his speech. Looking forward to seeing him in Vancouver in a few days. Keep it up Mr. Dion!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Why isn't Pierre Berton required reading?

This is an awful thing to admit, but until January I had never read a book by Pierre Berton. He is recognized as one of Canada's greatest historical writers and has published books on almost every period of our short history. But in my 45 years I had not read a single one of the many books he wrote over the course of his long career.

Sad as it is to say, I think it might be that I never really thought of Pierre Berton as a writer. Growing up in the Ottawa Valley in the 1960's and 1970's, we only got two or three television stations. Of course, one of them was the CBC. And given the limited selection we tended to watch whatever they put on. One of those shows was Front Page Challenge. And one of the regular panelists on the show was Pierre Berton. I've never been able to think about him in any other capacity since then.

I was shocked then when, almost by accident, I picked up a copy of The National Dream. I was shocked at how good it is. Like many Canadians I've never thought of Canadian history as anything but dull, dull, dull. So imagine my surprise when I find a cast of characters that seem like they were spawned from the imagination of Twain or Dickens. Certainly not the stolid, wearisome texts we were subjected to in school. The book was so good I could barely put it down at night (causing my wife much grief -- she gets up very early).

All of this has me wondering, is Pierre Berton a standard history text in our high schools? And if not why not?

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Should Canada support private-sector healthcare?

With so much focus on the environment and the war in Afghanistan, many Canadians have lost sight of what until recently, had been the issue foremost in Canadians minds. But health care is, and should remain, an issue that stays at the forefront of the political debate.

Canada, like most Western nations, has a rapidly aging population and virtually zero population growth. Over the past century we have also had a significant improvement in our overall standard of living and quality of life. As a result, people are living longer. Combined these factors may be creating a perfect storm in the health care industry. As the population ages they will need more care and will also likely need more treatment. At the same time, health care workers are becoming increasingly scarce, and drugs increasingly more expensive.

So it was interesting to read BC Health Minister George Abbott's view of private-sector health in Gary Mason's commentary in today's Globe & Mail ("B.C. is refreshingly candid on private-sector health care"). Mr. Abbott believes that "a vigorous private-sector alternative is an advantage to the public system as a whole." He also believes that we should consider a more market based approach that is advocated by Brian Day (new head of the CMA) and used extensively in Europe. Under this system hospitals would essentially act as private corporations that would compete -- for patients and funding.

I for one agree with Mr. Abbott that we need to look for alternatives in health care delivery. The currently system is unsustainable. And private delivery already exists under Medicare -- after all GP's are really just small business owners who compete for patients and bill the government. We should even look beyond physicians to supporting services. During the past federal election, I was campaigning for a candidate in a Toronto riding. At one door, I encountered a Conservative supporter who had run a radiology clinic, but was shut down by the province and the services were moved to Markham. He claimed (I have no way of verifying this of course) that he ran the clinic more effectively and profitably -- he was open longer hours and his overall billing to the government was less.

Private delivery in this context makes a lot of sense to me -- we're just looking at efficiencies. But in doing so we have to make sure that in embracing competition, quality doesn't suffer. While Mr. Day encourages competition for patients (to reduce wait times for example), doing this without taking quality of service would be a mistake. Before embracing any private delivery strategy governments here should look to major health plans south of the border which are now looking at efficiency and quality in evaluating providers. Ensuring quality saves health plans and employers downstream costs (re-admissions, additional procedures, etc.).

One other big caveat in this private delivery scenario. We should not under any circumstances embrace private delivery outside of Medicare. And this is what Mr. Day really wants -- a U.S. style system that would allow private-sector providers to cater to those who can pay. The U.S. system is a disaster. It has drained high quality providers from the public system, left 40 million Americans without health care, and has driven many others into bankruptcy (medical bankruptcies are the number 1 cause of personal bankruptcies in the U.S.). This is no way to go. Medicare (and hopefully Pharmacare) must be retained at all costs. It ensures a reasonable quality of life for all Canadians. As a side benefit it also serves as a competitive advantage to Canadian corporations, who don't face the overwhelming costs faced by their counterparts south of the border.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

John Baird -- our meat eatin', oil burnin' Environment Minister

Congratulations Mr. Baird, your night out on the town has shown us that you truly take the environment seriously. After all, you may have been caught red handed by a Liberal spy eating at Baton Rouge in Ottawa while his van was outside running -- for two hours (see Jane Taber's Political Notebook in the Globe for more details). But what our intrepid operative didn't know was that Mr. Baird's van actually runs on 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline which makes it perfectly acceptable to leave running.

In fact, it's my understanding that Mr. Baird may have been given special dispensation by his righteous and most honorable leader Mr. Harper. My theory is that Mr. Harper is trying to reign in spending my his Ministers and has given them a per diem. And he has also instructed them to leave their cars running while eating at restaurants in case they exceed their budget and have to make a hasty exit, if you get my meaning. Given this context Mr. Baird's actions seem quite reasonable.

Actually I think, Baird might be onto something bigger. I mean, like me, he's no spring chicken and he doesn't have any kids. So what the hell do we care about what the world looks like in 50 years. Screw the environment, let's live for today! Mr. Baird, if you can pass legislation giving all Canadians a GST rebate for Hummers, you've got my vote in the next election. And if we're all going to have Hummers you better get to work on ramping up oils sands production. And once we're done with the environment maybe you can start working with your old buddy Mr. Flaherty to help us emerging high net wealth families to really get over the top. Thanks a bunch! Hope to hear from you soon.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Pierre Poilievre redux

Rick Mercer is right (Liberal Party a Haven for Terrorists). The jig is up. The Liberal party really is just a haven for extremist groups, and Stephane Dion is just their puppet -- literally. I mean that would explain his somewhat wooden delivery of late. Clearly he's been programmed by the extremists to put forward their pro-terrorist agenda.

Canada has the brilliance of the "hardest working man in politics" (as voted by his peers) to thank for these revelations. That's right the member from Nepean-Carlton, Pierre Poilievre. His brilliance among the Conservative firmament is self evident -- after all the Mr. Harper uses most of his caucus as props. So, simply by virtue of the fact that he is allowed to utter complete sentences proves his high standing.

There is one thing though. His assertion that there are people in the Liberal caucus who want to legalize Hezbollah, a terrorist organization from south Lebanon, is simply not correct. The group the Liberals really want to legalize is Hezbooty a talent agency from south Central L.A. This group has been responsible for all of the big round booties that have been plaguing rap and hip hop videos for several years now. Clearly this is an abomination that Canadians can't stand for -- the Liberals must be stopped at all costs!

Pump up the rhetoric!

In his column today in the Star, James Travers accuses both Dion and Harper of descending to the worst depths of electoral partisan politics (PM, Dion dumb down public discourse). I think he may have a point. While Mr. Dion and the Liberals have been forced into a situation of having to defend themselves, by counter-attacking the opposition on a variety of issues, using that tactic on the environment, is a dangerous proposition, given the Liberal's own history, and the potential that the Conservative's may throw enough money at the problem to appease voters.

A better plan may be to continue to pressure the Conservatives to produce a plan of there own. Early indications are that the Cons will stick to a plan that focuses on intensity targets through 2012 and not requiring significant caps until at least 2020. The Liberals should then be prepared to provide the framework for their plan, and at least a swag on the true economic cost of sticking to an intensity strategy. This is better than descending into the same fear-mongering that Mr. Harper seems so good at. I for one believe that most people will respond more positively to reasoned argument, than the Rove style insinuation, lies and propaganda that the Conservatives embrace.

The one key point that Mr. Travers made that I think is critical for Mr. Dion if the Liberals fortunes are to turn around, is that he must be able to articulately explain his positions (on anti-terrorism, the environment, etc.) to Canadians. I think he did a reasonable job of this in the leadership debate. Since then he has struggled.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Andrew vs. Kim, old vs. older

Andrew Coyne's column (Liberal vs Liberal, grown-up vs child) in today's National Post, and reprinted on his blog contends that the debate over the now defeated Anti-terrorist Act provisions is really a fight "between its grown-up wing and, well, its Karygiannis tendency". The "grown-up" elements in the equation are those like Irwin Cotler, whose legal credentials and role as the director of McGill University’s Human Rights Program. Coyne's contention is that the fanatical "juvenile" wing of the party is ascendant in the Liberal party, and is having a negative impact on the Party's fortunes. I couldn't disagree more.

As Mr. Coyne points out times have changed, within the Liberal party and the country as a whole. But he is wrong in believing that this not a debate between security and freedom. Or that this is purely a debate that purely resides within the Liberal party.

The very fact there is turmoil within the Liberal caucus is a sign of a healthy democratic process -- as opposed to the autocratic approach that has defined the Conservative government during its short tenure.

In 2001 all Canadians were shocked by the events which transpired that led to the deaths of many innocent civilians -- some of them Canadians. More recently Canadians again were shocked by the violation of human rights by the U.S. government in the Arrar case. Times have changed and Canadians (and many Americans) are coming to the realization that such repressive measures undermine the very fabric of our democracy.

Mr. Coyne may be right that civil liberties have not withered but extending the provisions carte blanche, as the Conservatives demanded until the 11th hour, might have resulted in putting civil rights at risk. They were never used so we don't know. But in reading the provisions, it seemed to me that having an Attorney General who was open to "liberal" use of the provisions is all that we would need. And given the Conservatives hard line approach to law and order generally, it does not seem out of the realm of possibility that they would test the boundaries that the law allows.

And while I'd agree that for the most part the Investigative Hearings provision seems to have adequate protections (although I haven't yet been able to find sections 132 and 136, which are essentially the exception clauses), the Recognizance with Hearings provision is another matter.
While Mr. Coyne is correct in stating that suspects can only be held for 72 hours before being taken before a judge, he doesn't mention that the judge can order either a suspect or a witness detained based on the evidence provided by the arresting officer. Detention can be for up to 12 months. Then there's also a catchall that allows for detention for "any other just cause" (see sub-sections 6 and 7).

Given these facts I can't understand how Mr. Coyne (and the Conservatives) can so glibly dismiss the concerns over civil rights. Extending provisions that are open to abuse in the wrong hands should be of concern and warrant thoughtful consideration and debate, especially considering the current "tough on crime" and "tougher on terror" regime.

So yes, Mr. Coyne, times have changed. Hopefully the pendulum is swinging back to a time when reason and common sense will prevail over fear and intimidation.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dion on the Hour

Saw Monsieur Dion on The Hour tonight. Pretty good. The opening bit ("liberal media panders to Liberals") was funny, sort of. Dion was pretty good at articulating his plan and how this differs to what Harper is up to. One thing though. This guy has got to learn to loosen up. We'd forgive the butchered English if you'd only get a sense of humour dude!

I saw Stephen Harper on Best of Rick Mercer, and at least he knows how to play the straight man. Actually, my wife thinks I need a humorostomy as well so if you're interested Mr. Dion, maybe we could sign up for some classes or take one night a week to go to an open mike.

Pierre Poilievre -- the frat boys choice

So it seems that Pierre Poilievre is the Conservatives new celebrity spokes model. He's a young, freshly minted, hard working Conservative MP from Nepean-Carlton, the successor to Conservative superstar John Baird.

Really, his rise to fame and glory, capped by his outstanding performance on CFRA last Friday (Partial transcript of Poilievre interview is at the Star) should come as a surprise to know one. After all he is a product of that bastion of higher learning, the University of Calgary, which also spawned the member from Calgary Southwest, Stephen Harper. I can almost imagine Stevie, beaming with pride, as he sponsors "Pete" ("no Frenchie names here thank you") to his very own fraternity. Or hearing of one of "Pete's" many victories on the campus debating team. His rise to fame and glory was confirmed following his rubbing shoulders with rock star hotties Coldplay. No one can resist a politician who's got a rock star for a friend, just ask Pierre Trudeau.

What I'd really like to know is who the hell elected this ponce in the first place. I mean it's not like he comes with some kind of relevant experience, or any experience at all. This really is pretty much his first job. He should be making copies, or organizing direct mail campaigns or getting coffee for Stevie. Or maybe that's what the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board really does.

Well you can take the frat boy of college but it seems getting the "frat" out of the boy is a bit more difficult at least judging by some of his antics since he's been elected. Here's an excerpt from Pierre's bio on Wikipedia.

Unparliamentary Behaviour
In May 2006, Poilievre's interest in the British rock group
Coldplay caused him some unwanted attention when Liberal MP, Marcel Proulx accused him of accepting a concert ticket to see the band perform in Ottawa. It was later confirmed that while Poilievre was a guest in the venue's VIP box, he did pay for his own ticket along with
other entertainment expenses including transportation and refreshments—spending
over $350 during the evening.
[2]

Poilievre was caught on tape using foul language directed at colleagues in a committee meeting,[3] and making unparliamentary arm gestures and was accused of mocking the Speaker of the House of Commons [4] [5] in June 2006. Poilievre later apologized for making gestures within the Commons;[6] no apology has been made for unparliamentary language within Committee.

Also in June, 2006, Poilievre's behaviour within the Legislative Committee on Bill C-2 was sharply criticized by opposition members as "insulting" following exchanges
between himself and a witness giving testimony—a point of concern that was recognized and cautioned by the Committee chair.
[7]

Editorials in the Ottawa Citizen have presented similarly critical commentary on Poilievre's behaviour. On June 14, 2006, the terms “crass exhibitionism”, “vulgarity on the airwaves”, “spectacle of law-makers behaving like frat-boys” and undisciplined stupidity” were used to describe Poilievre's behaviour. On June 16, 2006, one commentator wrote that "he is eroding public respect for Parliament."[8]


Based on his performance in the past on I'm not sure if I'd even trust him to get my coffee -- I'd always be wondering what he put in it. His constituents must certainly be proud of his CFRA performance, however. The culmination of a short but already distinguished political career. What I'd really like to know is if an idiot like this can get elected how are we supposed to instill confidence in the political system with Canadians?

Monday, February 26, 2007

With respect Mr. Prime Minister, sphincter says what?

Well, the weekend has come and gone, but the furor around the Stephen Harper's comments regarding Navdeep Bains shows no signs of abating ("Harper says there was no Bains leak"). Meanwhile, the related issue of extension of the Anti-terrorism Act provisions, seems almost certain to expire at the end of the month ("No deal on anti-terror measures").

Mr. Harper (I just can't bear referring to him as the "Prime Minister" any more) continued with his bullying ways in question period today, accusing the opposition of attacking the RCMP's integrity by questioning the source of of the information regarding Mr. Bains' father-in-law. In my opinion, this seems to be exactly the right thing to do in light of the legislation that is being debated here. If the intent of the provisions is to ensure secrecy of the proceedings (including the investigation, you would assume), and there is a concern about the violation of citizen rights, then the fact that there was a leak should be of concern and should be raised.

Here's another thing that I have a problem with. On the one hand Mr. Harper was accusing the Liberals failure to support extension of the provisions was based on protecting Navdeep Bain's father-in-law from appearing as a potential witness. There was also the conjecture last week that, Bains, a new Liberal backbencher, could have this kind of influence because of the support he was able to deliver to Mr. Dion during the Liberal leadership convention. In essence this would amount to allowing policy decisions to be made by special interest groups.

But hold on a second. Isn't that exactly what Mr. Harper did last week in mounting his defense of extension of the provisions? Wasn't it last Thursday that he appeared with the victim's families association of the Air India attack? Wasn't his argument that the Liberals should support extension of the provisions because the victims families position that the provisions were critical for continuation of the investigation. While the victims families have every right to want to see justice done after 22 year, grieving, frustrated and angry relatives are maybe not the best group to make judgements that will best serve the country as a whole. And it is very unfortunate that Mr. Harper dragged the victim's families into the middle of what has turned into a toxic witches brew.

But then, that's Mr. Harper's style. Do whatever it takes to consolidate his hold on power and put forward his agenda. An agenda, that as we move closer to an election, looks increasingly like the one that progressives were afraid of. And one that confirms many of our initial concerns of Mr. Harper. So, again, I respectfully ask the member from Calgary Southwest, sphincter says what?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Should Anti-terrorism Act provisions be renewed?

Harper's blatant inference that the Liberal Party's opposition to renewal of provisions of the Anti-terrorism Act are based on the personal relationships of Navdeep Bain and a debt that Stephane Dion owes to the Sikh community, is simply ludicrous. No party would jeopardize the safety of Canadian citizens for a political debt and for Harper to suggest this is ridiculous. The only good news in all of the furor of the past couple of days is that the public once again gets to see the Mr. Hyde that Harper has managed to hide pretty effectively in the past six months.

It's a good thing too because it really wasn't shaping up to be a good couple of days for the Liberals with former Liberals and some current and future ones coming out for extending the
Investigative Hearings and Recognizance with Conditions provisions in the Anti-terrorism Act. Then there was today's Senate panel who today also recommended extending the provisions.
Not to mention the fact that Air India families came out in support of Mr. Harper and extension of the provisions.

Given these facts, should the act be renewed? I took a quick read of the contentious provisions this evening and while I'm no lawyer, I have to agree that there seems to be a real danger the provisions could put civil liberties at risk. For example subsection 7 of the Recognizance with Conditions provision seems to give pretty unlimited powers to impose recognizance or detention on both suspected terrorists and witnesses. Perhaps that's why the Senate panel recommended new safeguards be attached to the provisions. This indicates that even though they are recommending extension there is concern about the violation of civil rights. And the fact that a part of the Act has been struck down by an Ontario judge(Part of Anti-terrorism Act violates charter: judge), I can certainly understand why Stephane Dion is against renewing it.

At the very least careful consideration and thoughtful debate should be undertaken before extending these provisions. Unfortunately, Steven Harper really does seem to want to be the Decider, and so this sort of dialectic seems to be beyond his capacity.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Housing initiatives in BC budget

Being new to Vancouver I was very interested to see what if anything the BC Liberals were going to do to alleviate the shortage of affordable housing in the Vancouver area. For prospective buyers this is an incredibly expensive market -- San Francisco and maybe San Diego are the only markets that I can think of that are as expensive as the Vancouver market.

And while the housing market in the U.S. and in to a lesser extent Canada have cooled out, the Vancouver market still seems to be in overdrive with property values up 24% in 2006 and more than 100% over the past 5 years. Even for someone who is in the upper echelons of income earners will find it difficult to buy here. If you do buy you're essentially forced to narrow your investment portfolio to a single asset type -- real estate. Which is not a good investment strategy, but one that friends in San Francisco have felt forced into.

When I read a summary of the housing initiatives in today's Globe & Mail ("Do housing initiatives in B.C. budget go far enough?") I have to say I was disappointed. An $864 income tax savings isn't going to convince that me to take on a $400 to $600 thousand mortgage.

These days I don't normally point to the U.S. as a model we should follow, but they have it right when it comes to creating an environment that truly promotes home ownership (which is also pretty good for the economy). Allowing home owners to write down a portion of their mortgage interest payments on income tax makes sense if you want to encourage home ownership. Why don't governments in Canada get this, and if they do why don't they have the courage to act?