2008-12-26

Larry O'Brien's Lies and the Tragic History Behind OC Transpo's Scheduling System

This post is dedicated to the memory of Clare Davidson, Brian Guay, David Lemay, Harry Schoenmakers, and Pierre Lebrun, victims of the poisoned work environment at OC Transpo.


Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien would have us believe that it was the union that precipitated the OC Transpo strike and that the scheduling system is costing the city and OC Transpo money.

The truth is the strike was precipitated when management presented a final offer and made it clear that it's scheduling proposal was not negotiable, leaving the union with only two options, accept the offer (the substance of which had already been rejected by 98% of the membership) or strike. Further negotiations were not an option, and as we have seen, are still not an option as far as Larry O'Brien is concerned. Although the union has proposed changes to the current scheduling system to try and address OC Transpo's concerns.

But the biggest lie is that the scheduling system is costing the city money, while the truth is OC Transpo workers absorbed the costs of the scheduling system.

In an effort to improve the working conditions, the Union’s membership voted overwhelmingly to pay for these additional costs itself. Drivers did this by accepting a sub-standard wage increase in 1999. This substandard pay rate continues today. As recently reported in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, Ottawa’s transit workers are paid many thousands of dollars lower than transit workers in other Ontario municipalities of similar size. Simply put, Ottawa’s drivers are paid lower rates for the benefit of having the current scheduling system.
But the real story behind the strike is the unspoken tragic history of how the current scheduling system came about, a history that I am sure is on the minds of OC Transpo workers everyday they are on the picket line.
In the mid-1990s morale at OC Transpo began to fall, it hit bottom in 1998 and 1999. In response to this both the Union and Management knew that it had to carefully examine ways to turn the workplace around. Management at OC Transpo recommended to Regional Council, and Council approved a study by KPMG that cost in excess of one million dollars.

KPMG recognized the problem, noting in its February 1999 report:

"…[reduced public funding, deteriorating bus fleet, and increasing cost of providing public transit services] contributed to the strife between OC Transpo and its workers, demoralized workforce, resulting in poorer customer service…"

KPMG also noted that both the union and management shared a concern and hoped to work together to improve working conditions. KPMG went on to observe:

"There has been a strong commitment from both the unions and management to recognize the shortcomings of the system and to implement change and improvements as quickly as possible. The level of co-operation, and the commitment to consultation between the unions and management has improved dramatically.”

The KPMG study recommended that management allow the drivers, including their union, to have a greater role to play in the operation of the workplace. KPMG rejected the prevailing attitude in the workplace concluding that “the philosophy that “I put up with it so you have to” has been recognized as inappropriate in today’s environment.”

To further demonstrate their willingness to overcome problems, representatives from both management and the union attended negotiation training sessions at Harvard University. The result was a commitment by both sides to embrace “interest based negotiations” – a process where the parties openly share their concerns, expectations and information in negotiations. The Harvard program was partially funded by the federal Mediation Services department.

Improved morale could not come quick enough though – on April 6, 1999 an employee had entered the Belfast Road bus depot and opened fire – killing four long-service workers. This terrible event, and the memories of four workers, reinforced the need to make improvements in this workplace.

One such improvement was the scheduling system that is presently in dispute. The proposal originated with the employer negotiators – a way that drivers could have more input into the nature of their work. Prior to this, drivers reported in and were assigned routes and times. There was frustration and a feeling that drivers did not have even this small amount of control over their working lives.

The employer’s 1999 proposal on scheduling was also a method to relieve junior members from working less desirable times. For example one driver, Craig Watson recently commented, “under the old system I worked weekends for ten years, under the current system I had a better balance between weekends and weekdays.”

To create this flexibility the union and management agreed that more senior drivers could bid on weekend work in addition to their normally assigned hours. This would give the more junior members time off. The freely negotiated schedule did result in more overtime for those senior members – approximately 0.6% in 1999. The company said that while it supported the scheduling flexibility, it did not want to shoulder the additional cost, even though it was a small one.

The scheduling system now under assault by the City was the product of interest based negotiations in 1999 – for their efforts the Employer’s negotiators won an prestigious award for innovation and leadership. That isn’t being duplicated today.
As a result of those co-operative efforts made by workers and managers, employer and union, working conditions, morale, and service levels began to improve.

Then Larry O'Brien was elected Mayor of Ottawa.


Sources:
Ottawa Transit Strike - The History of the Current Scheduling System
The Canadian Encyclopedia: Ottawa Massacre

2008-12-19

Have A Holly Jolly Season of Cultural Diversity

Well the godless communist Fifth Column is about to take a break for the Christian Capitalist holiday season.

That is, of course, if you listen to some Christian proselytizers who would have you believe that Christians are the only ones celebrating at this time of year and the most terrible thing anyone could do, and an affront to god as well, is to wish non-Christians best wishes during their celebrations.

Ever since Europeans first set foot in this country Canada has been a multicultural and multi-religious country, and even before that, as our aboriginal peoples also have a variety of cultural traditions. We are a country with freedom of religion but no official religion.

Not only is this the Christmas season, but it is also the time of the winter solstice and the beginning of winter, a season that is very much a defining aspect of being Canadian. There is nothing more Canadian than winter and getting out and enjoying and celebrating it. It is something shared by all Canadians, no matter their cultural or religious backgrounds.

And of course, for those Canadians that are religious, it is a shared season of religious festivals for numerous faiths, including many of the “world's great religions”.

We have a real opportunity here, as Canadians, to turn this holiday season into a celebration of our diversity. That is not to take anything away from Christianity or other religions, who can, and still should, celebrate their religious festivals.

Indeed, the Christian community could use this opportunity to untether the secular aspects of Christmas from the religious celebrations of Christianity, freeing it from the commercialism that has overpowered it.

This is an opportunity for all Canadians to come together and celebrate beliefs shared by all the great religions, as well as humanism, the spirit of love, peace and caring for each other. We could combine the secular aspects of the winter season with these shared beliefs and turn it into one big Canadian festival of diversity.

2008-12-18

Mountain Biking and Cycling: The Season in Review

Another season ended a few weeks ago when the roads were covered in white stuff, not snow but a heavy layer of salt that the city felt necessary to dump on the roads during a few light snowfalls. But as I do much of my riding from home, even the ride to the mountain bike (MTB) trails requires riding on the roadways so I decided it was time to end the season. A couple of weeks later everything was covered in snow. The bikes have been in and out of “Joe's Garage” for Eric's annual tune-ups and are waiting downstairs for the new season. Christine's Brodie Sterling is set up on a trainer, and my Devinci Remix “as good as new” with brand new Kenda Nevegals is waiting for next season.

My season started on April 6 on the Brodie hybrid riding the back country roads near Kanata and the mountain bike season started on May 6 on the Old Quarry trails and ended November 20 on those same trails. I rode a total of 2715 km (174 hours) this season, 1977 km (113 hours) on the hybrid and 739 km (61 hours) on the mountain bike.

We took a three week vacation in Austria but even managed to get 179 km of riding in there on Trans-Canada Trail type trails and paved paths, on borrowed mountain bikes. More on cycling in Austria in a future blog post.

We also decided not to take our bikes on our one week northern vacation this year, concentrating on kayaking up north instead, including a bit on the French River.

The highpoint of the season for me, as far as hybrid riding goes, is the Tour Nortel. I rode just over 80 km in 4.5 hours at an average speed of 19 km/hour and raised $525 for the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. My longest hybrid ride this year was 101 km from Kanata up into the Gatineau's and back in 5.5 hours at an average speed of 19 km/hr. I did not manage to beat last years personal distance record of 110 km.

This Seasons Long Hybrid Ride
click image to enlarge

My mountain biking season this year was concentrated on the Greenbelt trails and Kanata Lakes with some exploring in the Marlborough Forest. We live right beside Old Quarry and those trails interconnect to all of the western Greenbelt trails so we spend a lot of time on these trails whose difficulty ranges from easy flat gravel to the highly technical Lime Kiln Trail and everything in-between.

I got a new toy this year, a new, much more accurate GPS to use on my mapping projects. I added maps of Greenbelt Trails 11 & 12 and the Marlborough Forest to my map archive this season. Mapping the trails is an added bonus to riding them since I have always loved and collected maps, and it adds some extra fun to the experience and is a way to give back to the community.

I first checked out the Marlborough Forest in the previous season attempting to follow the Rideau Trail through it. But as soon as the trail left the forest roads it became very muddy and unsustainable so I switched to the forest roads and mapped all of the forest roads that connected to my starting point this season. There may be a few other orphan roads out there. However there are lots of cart trails , snowmobile trails and other trails interconnecting with the forest roads that I have yet to explore and map. Perhaps next season.

Marlborough Forest Forest Roads
click image to enlarge

The other part of my regular riding schedule is in the South March Highlands, also known as the Kanata Lakes Trails. This year I managed to get out a number of my times on my own, in addition to the regular Thursday night Ottawa Mountain Bike Association (OMBA) rides where I was asked and reluctantly agreed to lead the OMBA Group D ride. My reluctance was based on the large shoes I had to fill from previous Group D riders such as Peter and Mario (and Catweaver before I joined the rides). However I think I set my own tone for the rides making them an easy going beginner level ride. Indeed I think there is room for a group between D and C that would be a little more challenging than Group D as I lead it. It also looks like A and B might possibly be combined as they usually ended up being combined this last season. Leading Group D got me out a few more times in the season trying to scout out different routes for the group to take. Next season if I am still leading the group I think we will do more of the old Kanata Lakes trails between the rail line and GFR and I expect to spend even more time in SMH next season.

A Typical Group D Ride
click image to enlarge

As well as riding in SMH I also had the opportunity to participate in OMBA trail days doping trail maintenance. This season we managed to get Rock Hopper made into a much more sustainable trail. Trail days are a lot of hard work but also a lot of fun and a great way to give back to the trails that we all enjoy.

The City of Ottawa is currently preparing the management plan for the South March Highlands so helping keep the trails sustainable, as well as riding responsibly and avoiding the trails during muddy conditions, improves the chances of having mountain biking recognized as not only a legitimate but a desirable use of the trail system.

And besides all the riding I have gotten involved in a number of other MTB related projects this season. I just agreed to monitor the NCC's greenbelt review for OMBA and keep my eyes and ears open for any impacts on mountain biking.

I have also been helping PeterV learn about GPSing and mapping software for his Nakkertok project. I have also been providing Catweaver with some informal assistance on her Trips for Kids project. And I am now an EcoSteward for the Dominique's Creative Wheel Centre, an environmental retreat and MTB training school, for women and children, where I help out with mapping projects.

It has been a great season and I look forward to next season. I have already started to plan a short MTB holiday in the Muskoka region that I will be writing more about in the future.

Happy Riding to all of you that are continuing to ride through the winter.

2008-12-17

Everything I've Ever Thought Was Wrong

I've always thought of myself this way:

uses logic
detail oriented
facts rule
words and language
present and past
math and science
can comprehend
knowing
acknowledges
order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies
practical
safe

But now I find out I'm this way:

uses feeling
"big picture" oriented
imagination rules
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can "get it" (i.e. meaning)
believes
appreciates
spatial perception
knows object function
fantasy based
presents possibilities
impetuous
risk taking

So undoubtedly I am going to have to give up blogging and become a starving artist.

2008-12-16

2008-12-12

What's The Big Deal About OC Transpo Scheduling

The OC Transpo strike is not about the money. If the proposed changes to the scheduling system were taken off the table the drivers and mechanics would be back to work immediately and accept OC Transpo's wage offer without the signing bonus.

So what is the big deal about the scheduling system that gives drivers with more seniority better routes and schedules.

Perhaps, if your a new driver, you might think you could even benefit if the older drivers don't get the best routes and schedules. Until, of course, you realize driver fairness would not be a factor in scheduling, only administrative convenience.

As a newer driver under the current system you know you are going to get stuck with the worst routes and schedules now when you are young, to benefit from the system when you are older and family time is more important to you. If your an older driver, that did his time under the system, no doubt you are very upset to possibly lose the benefit that you paid for as a younger driver.

How does OC Transpo, the city and bus riders benefit from the current system. Well for one it is a great incentive for driver loyalty, and the more experienced drivers there are in the system the more efficiently the whole system will run, contributing to cost savings for the city.

The benefit of being able to choose your routes, even when your at the lower level, gives drivers a feeling of empowerment and belonging. For senior drivers the, system probably contributes to keeping the same drivers on the same routes, getting to know the routes and the regular passengers. It contributes greatly to job satisfaction, which is very important for workers who are dealing with the public on the front line, and that easily translates into rider satisfaction.

So why does the city want to change a system that works to everyone's benefit for some theoretical cost savings and put bus riders through a strike, that the city very well might lose, to try do it.

2008-12-11

Harper In His Own Words: On Agreements with the BQ, Plus …

Thanks to some other bloggers' posts, Harper's past positions have come back to haunt him. I have pulled the relevant information together here:

September 9, 2004

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson,
C.C., C.M.M., C.O.M., C.D.
Governor General
Rideau Hall
1 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A1

Excellency,

As leaders of the opposition parties, we are well aware that, given the
Liberal minority government, you could be asked by the Prime Minister
to dissolve the 38th Parliament at any time should the House of Commons
fail to support some part of the government’s program.

We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together
constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We
believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give
you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the
opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising
your constitutional authority.

Your attention to this matter is appreciated.

Sincerely,

Hon. Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.
Leader of the Opposition
Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada

Gilles Duceppe, M.P.
Leader of the Bloc Quebecois

Jack Layton, M.P.
Leader of the New Democratic Party
Sources: Excited Delirium
Macleans.ca



Source: Impolitical

And in breaking news, we have another reason Harper shut down Parliament to avoid being defeated.

2008-12-10

OC Transpo Union Chief - World's Worst Communicator

Some of you may have thought it was Stéphane Dion, but as OC Transpo workers start a strike that will impact thousands of members of the public, the award must go to Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 President André Cornellier.

When you are a public sector union, public opinion is very important. I saw the union president interviewed on CTV and he came across as very arrogant and not caring about the public. I do not believe that he is, is but that is the impression he presented. And he failed to present the union's case very well, mainly because the facts he was trying to present got lost in his attitude.

And the union itself has not presented any information supporting their position on their website, not even a single press release.

So let me try to do what the union and it's president have failed to do so the public can see that the hard working OC Transpo workers do have a reason to strike.

The Ottawa Citizen reported the facts this way.

The union has been without a contract since March, and the two sides have held talks off and on over the months. Things heated up last week when the workers voted 98 per cent to reject a city offer and to give their leadership a strike mandate.


The main unresolved issues are wages, scheduling, sick leave and contracting out work.

The city is offering a three-year deal with three-, two- and two-per-cent wage increases in each year, retroactive to April 1st and a one-time $2,000 signing bonus to each member.

The union is proposing a three-year contract with increases of 3.5 per cent in each year and has said they will not accept smaller wage increases than other city unions have received recently, which are minimum three per cent per year.

The city is proposing to take some scheduling control away from workers in order to run operations more efficiently, while saying it will respect booking seniority rights. The union wants to maintain the current scheduling practices.

The city is looking to relax language about contracting out work, which prevents non-unionised workers from performing some duties, too.
So the first thing we note is that the union has given the bargaining process a long time to work before deciding it was necessary to go on strike to get the City and OC Transpo to pay attention to their concerns.

While this may not be a good time for the union to ask for new benefits, their major reason for striking is management's attempt to take away previously won contract provisions regarding scheduling and contracting out. If there is one thing that workers will strike for it is to protect hard earned rights and contract provisions, and attempts to replace their jobs with non-unionised contract employees. Such attempts are almost always certain to lead to strike action. According to the union, such attempts made in the past have always been withdrawn.

The one area that the union is asking for increased benefits is sick leave, where they are asking for the same sick leave provisions as other city workers. As well, in regards to wage increases, they are asking for the same increases given to other city employees.

These do not seem like extravagant demands being made by some of the hardest working city employees with very demanding and stressful working conditions.

So why has OC Transpo forced them to strike. One thing to note is that everyday OC Transpo operates it costs the city money. Everyday they are on strike the city saves money. An OC Transpo strike is an effective way for the city to save money while deflecting the blame for the inconvenience onto the OC Transpo workers and their union.

Is this a strategy dreamed up by Mayor Larry O'Brien or just the result of his arrogance and continued inability to lead the city.

2008-12-09

Another Majority, Another Coup – Ottawa City Budget Passed

A majority of the members of Ottawa City Council passed the City budget last night and according to the Ottawa Citizen a "coup" has been staged by a "coalition" on Ottawa City Council and President Stephen Harper Mayor Larry O'Brien doesn't like it. How dare this coalition go against the elected President Mayor.

The city’s 2009 budget debates took a dramatic turn Monday night when a group of councillors, not including Mayor Larry O’Brien, brought and passed a package motion that results in 4.9-per-cent property-tax increase and avoids serious program cuts.

It was a coup from a new coalition on council made up of some very strange political bedfellows, and Mr. O’Brien was powerless to stop it.
As the Citizen reported:
Council had managed to close the gap by several million, and the meeting was heading into debate on some of the of more serious cuts to bus routes.

It was then that the coalition made its move with the package motion tabled by College Councillor Rick Chiarelli.

The coalition declined to make many of the cuts that more than 200 people had argued against during last week’s public submissions portion of the budget process.
Apparently if your not a right wing minority then your just another "coalition" imposing a "coup" and it just isn't right.

2008-12-08

Final Words - Frustrated and Disheartened

Stephen Harper is the schoolyard bully who picks on the smaller kids and when they join together to fight back he cries – that's not fair you're only allowed to fight me one at a time. And the Canadian schoolyard is cheering him on.


Is My Country Gone

In all the years I have watched Canadian politics I have never seen anything like this and I have been watching Canadian politics for fifty years. When I was in high school I had the daily Hansard delivered to my home and read them everyday. After that I earned my degree in Political Science and spent over thirty years working for the House of Commons, reading, analyzing and indexing the House of Commons Debates.

The first election I took an interest in was when I was eight years old cheering for John Diefenbaker. I think I can be forgiven for cheering for a Tory due to my young age, but Diefenbaker captured the imagination of all Canadians. John Diefenbaker was a Parliamentarian and truly a House of Commons man. He must be rolling over in his grave as his successor as Tory leader colludes with the Governor General to overrule the will of the House of Commons.

The last ime I had to write about something like this was almost 40 years ago when Pierre Trudeau suspended the civil liberties of all Canadians. But at least Trudeau had the support of a majority of the House of Commons, with the notable exception of .Tommy Douglas and the New Democratic Party. Today it is Stephen Harper suspending the democratic rights of all Canadians. How ironic that Harper is following in the footsteps of his arch rival.

This is not to say that there are not precedents for what Harper is doing, just not in Canada.

1629 King Charles I in England
1799 Napoleon in France
1913: Victoriano Huerta in Mexico
1933: Adolf Hitler in Germany
1936 Fransisco Franco in Spain
1939: Benito Mussolini in Italy
1973: Augusto Pinochet in Chile
1975 Indira Gandhi in India
1999 Perez Musharaff in Pakistan
2008: Stephen Harper in Canada

Is the Governor General to Blame


I am reluctant to blame Governor General Michaëlle Jean for acceding to Stephen Harper's request for fear of stirring up Republican sentiments and because we do not know what lies Stephen Harper told her or what threats he may have made.

But we do know she has acted in a manner that no representative of the Queen should, by explicitly going against the clearly expressed wishes of a majority of the democratically elected House of Commons. And she did that to allow the government to avoid it's constitutional accountability to the House of Commons, by avoiding a vote of confidence. And she did that on the advice of an illegitimate Prime Minister whom she knew had lost the confidence of the House of Commons.

This must not be allowed to happen again. To deal with the specific prorogation decision the House of Commons Act should be amended to prevent the Prime Minister from requesting a prorogation longer than a week so that prorogation is only used to end a session to allow a government to introduce a new Throne Speech, and not used to shut down Parliament. To deal with the larger issue of the Governor General's constitutional decision making powers, I agree with other bloggers' advice, that this power be delegated to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who is truly independent and knowledgeable and experienced with ruling on matters of constitutional law.

Stephen Harper is to Blame For This Political Crisis

Stephen Harper ignored the fact that he had a majority in his first term and, with the collusion of the Liberals, governed as if he had a majority. Then he broke his own fixed election dates law, with the collusion of the Governor General, to attempt to win a majority. He then failed, attempted to ignore his minority status again, and when the democratically elected majority in the House of Commons calls him on it and is about to defeat him and present a democratically elected alternative coalition government, he shuts down Parliament, again with the collusion of the Governor General.

He engages in a campaign of lies, that even CBC commentators have to inform their viewers of the truth every time he speaks. He goes as far as to question the legitimacy of democratically elected Members of Parliament from Quebec and uses rhetoric best designed to create a national unity crisis. Indeed he uses rhetoric that experts and commentators believe will increase support for the Part Québecois in the Quebec election.

And for this his public support increases. And I cry for my Canada.

Stephen Harper's Lies and the Truth About Parliamentary Democracy and the Coalition

Stephen Harper would like to believe that he was elected all powerful President of Canada and he would like us to believe that somehow the people of Canada voted for him to be Prime Minister. The only people who voted for Stephen Harper where the residents of Calgary Southwest. The rest of us voted for individual Members of Parliament just as the residents of Calgary Southwest did.

Yes, we voted knowing that if the Conservative Party won a majority of seats Stephen Harper would become Prime Minister and if the Conservatives won the most seats but not a majority, he would be given the first opportunity to form a government and seek the confidence of the House of Commons.

But the most basic principle of Parliamentary Democracy is that the government is responsible to the legislature and can only govern while it retains the confidence of the legislature. The normal constitutional practice when a government loses the confidence of the legislature depends on how long the government has been in power. If it is late in the term of the government an election is usually called. If it is early in the term of the government the opposition is usually given an opportunity to form a government and seek the confidence of the legislature.

Stephen Harper and his Tory talking points repeat over and over again the lie that the Bloc Québecois is part of the Progressive Coalition. That is a blatant lie. The coalition is made up of the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party. As to the claim that the Bloc Québecois has a veto over coalition policies. That is also an outright lie. The Bloc is committed to voting with the coalition on all matters of confidence. While it does reserve the right to vote against the coalition on other issues it would require the support of the Tories for them to block any coalition legislation. The only way the Bloc could block any coalition legislation is with the “collusion” of the Tories. And Tories never vote with separatists. Well unless it is to get their budget passed.

The Conservatives argue that we should not change Prime Ministers without an election. That might be true if we elected Prime Ministers, but we do not. Take the case of Kim Campbell who became Prime Minister between elections. On June 13, 1993, Kim Campbell was elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. As the leader of the party in power in the House of Commons, Kim Campbell automatically became Prime Minister. That is how Parliamentary Democracy works.

The Conservatives argue that only the party with the most seats should be allowed to form a government. What would they say if the seats won by the four federalist parties were more evenly divided leading to the Bloc Québecois having the most seats. Would Stephen Harper and the Tories argue that the federalist parties should not be allowed to form a coalition. I think not.

Where Do We Go From Here

The Tories talking points are reminiscent of their policy approach of simple solutions to complicated questions – inflamed rhetoric and outright lies instead of fact and logic. Add a massive establishment media propaganda campaign to the mix and a large number of people are falling for it.

But Harper may have outsmarted himself. His campaign may be at its peak the day before the scheduled non-confidence vote would have taken place. Though Harper is hoping the “time-out” will give the Progressive Coalition time to fall apart, I believe he misjudges the coalition. It looks like prorogation will actually give the coalition time to replace Stéphane Dion, who, while he may be a competent leader, is clearly a poor communicator. And more importantly it will give the coalition time to educate the public about the real threat to democracy posed by Stephen Harper and his actions.

As to the replacement of Dion as Progressive Coalition leader, there is a way to avoid circumventing the democratic Liberal Party leadership process. Let the coalition caucus select a leader for the coalition. It need not be either coalition party leader, or it may turn out to be one of them. The chosen coalition leader could serve till the coalition government ends, or be revisited after the Liberals select a new leader.

What we have learned most from this crisis is that Stephen Harper will do anything to cling to power and anything to stop the democratically elected Progressive Coalition from taking power.

The bully must not be rewarded. The coalition must not allow the Conservative government to continue with Harper as Prime Minister. The only way the Conservative government should be allowed to continue is if they replace Harper as Prime Minister and present a budget that meets the real needs of the Canadian people.

If that does not happen and the government is defeated Harper will then undoubtedly request a new election, and if the Governor General accedes to the request of her illegitimate Prime Minister, who lacks the confidence of the House of Commons, we will be into an election campaign.

If that happens I would propose an electoral accord between the Progressive Coalition partners, The Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party, as well as the Green Party. The Bloc Québecois would not be part of this electoral accord because it is important that Quebeckers have a federalist alternative to the Tories. The Electoral Accord partners would run the candidate best able to defeat the Conservative candidate in each constituency based on historical and other factors agreeable to all parties.

Proportional Representation is the Real Solution

But the real long term solution to to Canada's electoral problems is to adopt an electoral process that allows every vote to count and elects a House of Commons that truly represents the will of the Canadian people. If such a system had been in place during the last election we would now have a ”coalition we deserved”, where the seats held by each party would have reflected their portion of the popular vote. Such a system would give us a government that most of the public are demanding now, one where the House of Commons must work together for the good of all Canadians.

Postscript


The irony of all ironies would be if the Conservative budget was opposed by the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party but passed with the support of the Bloc Québecois. Would Stephen Harper resign because a government requiring the support of the evil separatists is illegitimate. I think not.

2008-12-04

Jack Laytons Finest Hour

Jack Layton being Prime Ministerial in front to the House of Commons Chamber. How
appropriate.

Read it here

Watch it here If you get an error message at the start close it and hit play

2008-12-03

RANTS

Well I have just learned that I am going to have to spend 10 minutes of my life this evening listening to Stephen harper spout lies and garbage. But it is my duty as a blogger to keep informed and this will provide a chance for the Progressive Coalition to respond to the government's disinformation and propaganda campaign.

My rant follows, but first of all, Thank You Rick Mercer:



Perhaps this will go a long way in counteracting the Tory propaganda campaign of lies.

This is a time for Parliament to work together for the good of the country, not a time for the Prime Minister to use lies and deception to try and divide the country to rescue himself from his own political failure.

And thank you Ed Broadbent for calling the Prime Minister on his disgraceful attempt to create a climate of fear and disunity through lies and deception. It is refreshing to hear the truth from one of our country's real Elder Statesmen (not that I'm trying to call Ed old).

If only Canada's premier constitutional expert, Eugene Forsey was alive to explain the truth about the constitutional validity of the coalition. However when you look beyond the hand-picked so-called experts the media have chosen and ask real constitutional experts you will see that there is a consensus that the coalition building process that we are going through is Parliamentary democracy working exactly the way it is supposed to.

But I must say that I am extremely frustrated by the success of the Tories talking points and campaign of lies and deception. Clearly the Canadian people do not understand how a Parliamentary democracy works. I am even more frustrated by the ignorance shown by people who call themselves “Progressive Bloggers”.

But it is not surprising that the Tory campaign is working – it is based on emotion and the people are likely to be much more responsive to that than to our attempts to lecture them on Political Science. Perhaps this is where Rick's Rant will be successful where we are not. But we should not be deterred from dealing with the facts. Democracy is about freedom and the truth shall make us free.

Our European friends must be watching in amusement as we turn a normal part of Parliamentary democracy into a political crisis.

But indeed, it is not as if the constitutiona precedents, such as
this one are not there.

Read more from York University professor James Laxer, here and here.

As to the claim the opposition parties are doing this for political reasons – what political benefit do they have to gain. All the Liberals had to do to ensure they would again replace the Tories as the natural governing party is to let the Conservatives ignore the economic situation and continue to lead the country into hell in a hand basket. Just ask Bob Rae about the political benefits of taking over government just as the county is going into recession. The only reason for the coalition partners to take this political risk is to save the country from the mismanagement and ineptitude of the current government. Actually if only it was just that - what is much worse at this time of economic crisis is the government putting their own political benefit and survival above the concerns and needs of the Canadian people.

As to the claim that the Bloc Québecois has a veto over coalition policies. That is an outright lie. The Bloc is committed to voting with the coalition on all matters of confidence. While it does reserve the right to vote against the coalition on other issues it would require the support of the Tories for them to block any coalition legislation. The only way the Bloc could block any coalition legislation is with the “collusion” of the Tories. And Tories never vote with separatists. Well unless it is to get their budget passed.

And as to the most blatant lie of them all.


Democracy Links

Perhaps they could have avoided this it they had acted co-operatively from the start, but as I said before, it is too late for a Do Over.

While this whole situation is very frustrating, because so many Canadians have been taken in by the deceitful Tory propaganda campaign, when all is done I have no doubt that the Governor General will examine the facts and constitutional precedents and power will pass peacefully to the Progressive Coalition in accordance with the principles of Parliamentary democracy.

2008-12-02

What Should Michaëlle Jean Do

The Governor General's duties are mostly ceremonial but she also has constitutional responsibilities, including ensuring there is always a Prime Minister.

I believe that the Governor General should not override the wishes of an elected government unless it is attempting to subvert the Constitution or the will of the House of Commons.

In the current political situation it is very clear that the government of the day is attempting to subvert the will of the majority of the House of Commons and the response of the Governor General should be to protect democracy.

2008-12-01

The Truth About Parliamentary Democracy – Majority Rule

Since some people seem to be having trouble understanding how Parliamentary democracy works, let me explain it for them.

In our Parliamentary system we do not directly elect the Prime Minister and government but they are determined by the composition of the House of Commons. The only people who voted for Stephen Harper were the voters in his constituency and they voted for him as a Member of Parliament, not as Prime Minister.

The main principle of our Parliamentary system is that it is based on majority rule. The democratic legitimacy of a government is based on the fact that it has the support, or confidence, of the majority of the Members of the House of Commons. The main principle of our democracy is not “party with the most seats” rule but “majority” rule. Let us repeat that – majority rule.

Currently in Canada it appears that the Conservative government is about to lose the confidence of a majority of the Members of the House of Commons and a Progressive Coalition is going to be formed that will have the confidence of a majority of the Members of the House of Commons.

That is how our democratic process is supposed to work – by majority rule.

2008-11-30

Prorogation – Government Wants A Do Over

Special Sunday Fifth Column

At first I thought all this talk about prorogation was a simple misunderstanding of terms and that people were talking about the government recessing the House until after Christmas, but now I am not sure.

A prorogation would mean the end of the session before it even started. The Economic and Fiscal Statement would die on the Order Paper and there would be a new Throne Speech when Parliament resumes.

It would be as if the Tories admitted they screwed things up so bad they needed a do over. It might be a good thing but I cannot see them admitting that.

Anyway, it is too late for a do over. Bring on the Progressive Coalition !

2008-11-29

Conservatives Running Scared, Confused or What

Special Saturday Fifth Column

With a confidence vote scheduled for Monday and the opposition parties scrambling to put together a coalition, the best thing Stephen Harper can come up with as a response is to give them more time to get their act together.

Indeed, it is too late to send all the Tories to their rooms to write out lines, "We did not get a majority, we should not try to govern as if we had a majority", "We did not get a majority, we should not try to govern as if we had a majority","We did not get a majority, we should not try to govern as if we had a majority", ... until it sinks in.

Baring some Tory-like incompetence on the part of the opposition parties there is little that can be done now to stop the inevitable.

While my preference is for a progressive coalition if I was to give Stephen Harper any advice on how to prevent the inevitable it would be to propose a grand coalition of all parties to deal with the economic situation, a national unity government of sorts. Of course that would require the Tories to accept that they do not have the god given right to govern as if they have a majority, while they have neither a majority of seats nor a majority of votes.

Bring on the Progressive Coalition !

2008-11-27

Canadians Deserve The Government They Voted For

The Conservatives clearly do not have the confidence of the majority of the Members of the House of Commons. The Canadian people deserve the government they voted for and there is no constitutional reason for them not to have it. Now is the time !

2008-11-26

I Hate Hate But I Love Freedom of Speech

This is the challenge facing many Canadians. It involves getting our priorities right. But it is not as difficult a challenge as it seems. Once one realizes that the best way to fight hate is with free speech the choice becomes obvious.

Freedom of thought is the freedom to be who you are, and freedom of thought is meaningless if you cannot express your thoughts, Freedom of expression is the freedom to be yourself. And if you are a bigot or a racist, all the better that others know it. Hate is most effective and at its evilest when it is underground.

This issue was recently addressed by University of Windsor professor Richard Moon in his report on Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The CBC reports:

"My principal recommendation, in the end, has been for the repeal of Section 13," Moon told CBC News on Monday. "That does not mean that we no longer have hate speech regulation. What it means is that the Criminal Code of Canada, which has a ban on the wilful promotion of hatred, would be the recourse."

In his report, which was made public Monday, Moon also suggests that the application of the Criminal Code provision should also be limited. He says it should only be applied in cases where the speech "explicitly or implicitly threatens, justifies or advocates violence against the members of an identifiable group."
The report, indeed, recommends that only “speech” that advocates harm would be illegal and it would have to be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” in a court of law.

This is a Canadian compromise that may not go as far as United States First Amendment Rights but balances the rights of those who want to exercise their free speech with the rights of those that may be harmed by it.

2008-11-24

Reid on Saul on Riel on Canada

Sometimes somebody else says it better than you ever could. This is one of those times.

From: “A perfectly incompatible country” by Jennifer Reid, Ottawa Citizen, November 22, 2008

John Ralston Saul suggests in his recent book, A Fair Country, that Canada is a Métis state. I like this argument, though it differs from mine. Where Mr. Saul and I diverge is in our view of what it means to be a country founded on cultural hybridity. He finds a distinct trajectory in Canadian history linking contemporary political values, such as cultural co-operation, with aboriginal precursors. I, on the other hand, find within our Riel myths an ongoing story about collective identity grounded in the destructive polarities that have too often made cultural co-operation impossible.

It may well be our self-consciousness about these incompatibilities that has kept us together. We know that national unity and cultural homogeneity (the supposed benchmarks of the modern nation-state) are impossible. It's that self-consciousness that makes us distinctive and, perhaps, gives us a reason to stay together.

There is something radical about Canada, about the way in which multiple ethnicities, regionalisms, and self-designated nations have been formally integrated into a single geopolitical structure that has managed to survive. It is a community that has been able, thus far, to withstand the basic dichotomies of ethnicity, religion, region, and language that are the foundation -- and the stumbling block -- of all modern western states.

Riel, both the man and the myth, speaks to this radical character. He shows us what makes us distinct in this culturally tangled world of the 21st century.

2008-11-21

The Most Hated Politician in Ontario

Enter Bob Rae, the most hated politician in Ontario, at least according to the massive corporate media campaign launched against him. Gaining power just as Ontario was entering a recession, he still managed to lead the most progressive government in Ontario's history, overhauling the provinces environmental, municipal planning and development, and labour laws.

And he ran deficit in order to provide economic stimulus and provide assistance to those in need. But he also asked the higher paid workers in the broader public sector to share the load via the social contract, exempting lower paid workers from it's application. This was the most controversial act of his government.

Since his election, and particularly prior to the next election, the establishment and the corporate media ran the most extensive propaganda campaign ever seen in the province. Added to this was a backlash from organized labour over the social contract and a lack of support from traditional NDP supporters in the “movements”, who perhaps felt the Rae government wasn't radical enough for not bringing on the revolution in it's first term.

This led to the most regressive government in Ontario history, that wiped out all of the Rae government's reforms and turned Ontario into a harsher meaner society.

Eventually Bob Rae left the New Democrats and joined the Liberals, but only after they abandoned him.

As a New Democratic Party supporter I am supposed to hate Bob Rae for that, and I am supposed to cheer for the candidate least qualified to lead the Liberals. However, as an independent blogger, I have to say that I believe Bob Rae is the best Liberal Party leadership candidate, for the Liberals and for Canada. And to his credit, Rae does not run away from his record as Premier but embraces it as part of the experience gained that will help him deal with the current economic situation. No one can argue with Rae's intellectual abilities, political experience and leadership qualities.

But most of all I support Bob Rae for the Liberal leadership because I believe he will not be afraid to move the Liberal Party to the left. I believe that will be good for the country and even good for the New Democrats. Conventional wisdom has it that a left leaning Liberal Party is bad for the NDP because it can draw away soft support from the NDP. However what it really does is push the NDP to distinguish itself from the Liberals by moving further left and promoting more progressive policies.

The federal NDP has accomplished a lot in opposition, especially when holding the balance of power with a Liberal minority government. The time is ripe for that scenario after the next election.

2008-11-11

Lest We Forget - The Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion



On this Remembrance Day let us remember Canada's forgotten heroes , the first Canadians to fight against fascism, the veterans of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion.

The Canadians who died in the Spanish Civil War are not included in the Books of Remembrance in the Peace Tower and their sacrifice is not commemorated on federal war memorials or in Remembrance Day services. Those who survived the war are not entitled to veterans' benefits. Although the soldiers and the war is largely forgotten, a monument to the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion can be found in Victoria, British Columbia. A national monument to the Mac-Pap veterans was erected in Ottawa in 2001. It includes the names of the 1,546 Canadian volunteers who served in Spain. This number includes all those who served in the Mac-Pap battalion, the medical, communications, transportation and translation corps, or in other brigades.

2008-11-07

The Fifth Column Has Been Offline

My computer has been in the shop for the last week so you have been spared my comments on the United States Election. The Fifth Column hopes to be back to normal next week.

2008-10-24

The Governor Has No Clothes

Apparently:

McCain was asked several questions on Thursday about the shopping spree - and he answered each one more or less the same way: Palin needed clothes and they'll be donated to charity.

"She needed clothes at the time. They'll be donated at end of this campaign. They'll be donated to charity," McCain told reporters on his campaign bus between Florida rallies.
The question that has not been asked, or answered, is why does the Republican Party want to counteract the hockey mom image the Alaska Governor has gone to so much trouble to cultivate. Hockey moms do not wear designer clothes.

The only logical explanation I can come up with is that right wingers believe in the capitalist ethic, that if your smart and work hard then you can become rich, and that by making Palin look wealthy people will think she is intelligent.

2008-10-16

The Liberals Learn Their Lesson

The choice of Stéphane Dion as Liberal leader may have been a compromise. But it was also a decision to choose a thinker, rather than a communicator, as leader, someone more capable of being Prime Minister than being elected as Prime Minister. This was followed up by the adoption of the politically difficult green shift policy. This was a policy designed to tackle the problem of climate change and implement an economic policy based on sustainable development, a policy designed to solve the country's problems rather than win election. These were very principled decisions taken by the Liberal Party.

And look what happened in the election.

This will not happen again. It will be back to the tradition of opportunism for the Liberal Party in short order.

2008-10-13

Today We Give Thanks

On this election eve Thanksgiving Day we can give thanks for living in a democracy and having the right to vote.

Perhaps some day we will be able to elect a House of Commons that represents the wishes of Canadian voters and reflects how they voted.

For more information on Canada's antiquated electoral system see Fair Vote Canada.

2008-10-09

I Challenge Jack and Stéphane

If Canadian voters get their way one of you will be the leader of a minority government with the other holding the balance of power. I challenge you both to agree to these three principles before the current election is held.

Electoral Reform

If the voters do get their way and the House of Commons reflects how they voted, it will not be because of our electoral system but in spite of it. I challenge you to, immediately upon election, initiate the process to change the election system so that party representation in the House of Commons reflects the popular vote and to put such a system in place before the next election.

Climate Change

Both of you and your parties believe that tackling climate change is a necessity for both the environmental and economic sustainability of our country and the world, but you have different proposals to do that. I challenge you to find common ground and implement real measures to tackle this problem before the next election.

Poverty

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Averages mean nothing when looking at our economic progress. What really counts is what is happening to our most disadvantaged. I challenge you to make the elimination of poverty a focus of all government programs and actions.

2008-10-06

I Like The New Tory TV Ad

I have to say I like the new Conservative Party "certainty" ad, although it is not available on their website. It is not an attack ad but just a straightforward statement of their basic philosophy - change is bad and new ideas are dangerous. Refreshing.

2008-10-01

The Great Debate - My Predictions

As an almost unilingual anglophone I will not be making predictions on the French debate, but I am posting my English debate predictions now, so as not to be influenced by the media coverage of the French debate.

This has the makings of one of the country’s most historical events. It may very well be the turning point in this election that leads to real change rather than the normal superficial changes we usually see in federal elections.

Those of us who say that Jack Layton and the NDP can win this election do not say so frivolously. We know the debate will make the difference and we know that Jack needs to win the debate.

So what are my predictions.

Stephen Harper will be more of Stephen Harper, He will come across as a stronger more intense Stephen Harper. His core supporters will be delighted and see him as the winner. Those who have always opposed him will have their views reconfirmed. But most importantly, Harper’s soft support from traditional Progressive Conservative Party voters, who want to vote Conservative but have doubts about Harper and the new Conservative Party, will be placed in jeopardy.

Stéphane Dion will surprise many and come across better than expected. He will not do a terrible job in the debate, only a poor one. The Liberals Green Shift was a gutsy move but his retreat to the wimpy”we are in the middle” position will hurt him.

Gilles Duceppe will not be playing to his core Quebec francophone audience and that will show.

Elizabeth May will be a disappointment. The debate will give viewers a chance to see beyond her party’s Green label. All her efforts to get into the debate may come back to haunt her as she has to deal with the more experienced debaters.

Jack Layton will continue what he has been doing throughout the campaign and will show he has the leadership capability to be Prime Minister and that the NDP has the polices that ordinary working Canadians and their families need.

2008-09-30

Why Green Party Supporters Should Vote NDP

“I'd rather have no Green seats and Stephen Harper lose, than a full caucus that stares across the floor at Stephen Harper as prime minister, because his policies are too dangerous.”
--Elizabeth May

2008-09-29

Easier Trail Mapping With My New GPS

Last year I started mapping the Greenbelt trails using my GPS unit. With my older GPS unit it was a long complicated process requiring that I avoid overlapping my tracks and involving extensive editing in Photoshop Elements.

I talk about how I became interested in maps and my map making process in an article in the MTBKanata Newsletter.

With my new Garmin GPSMAP 60Cx, which is much more accurate, the process is much simpler.

When I recently mapped Greenbelt Trails 11 & 12 I did not have to worry about overlapping tracks nor did I have to do extensive editing. All that was required was to input the data into Google Earth and MapSource Topo Canada and save an image of the track, and then add whatever text or labels I wanted on the maps.

These are the maps that I created.





All of my Greenbelt maps can be found here.

2008-09-23

The Carbon Tax - A Lost Liberal Opportunity

A carbon tax is a good idea, if done properly. The Liberal Carbon Tax Plan is a bad idea for a number of reasons. The carbon tax plan adds another regressive consumption tax to the tax system while reducing the amount collected from individuals and corporations through the progressive income tax system.

According to the Liberal Party brochure “Liberals will cut personal and corporate taxes by billions of dollars a year. “

The brochure also states “Liberals will tax pollution in Canada for the first time by putting a price on Greenhouse Gas emissions that cause climate change and fuels like coal and natural gas.”

This amounts to a consumption tax on goods produced, relative to the amount of greenhouse gases created in their production. It adds a cost of pollution to the cost of production. That is a good thing. But it does it by adding a new consumption tax and making the overall tax system less progressive.

The irony of that is the lost opportunity for the Liberal to actually live up to their abandoned campaign promise to abolish the Goods and Services Tax (GST). To be more precise, the Liberals promised to replace the GST, but apparently were unable to find a suitable replacement. Well here it is folks.

Replacing the GST with a carbon tax would provide a huge incentive for corporations and business to provide goods and services in a more environmentally sustainable fashion. It is such a simple idea, one would have thought that even the Liberals could have thought of it.

But there is another major flaw in the Liberals plan. The liberals state that the new carbon tax “won’t include any extra tax on gasoline at the pump”. What does this mean. The message given by that statement is that gasoline (and diesel fuel) prices will not rise as a result of the carbon tax. If that is so the plan completely misses the point.

Greenhouse gases from transportation fuels are a major, if not the most important part, of the problem. The fact that we transport goods that could be produced locally thousands of miles, adding megatonnes of pollution and greenhouse gases to the environment is an environmental crime against humanity.

Ironically at a time when our local manufacturing industries are suffering, the Liberal policy specifically excludes a measure that would provide enormous reductions in environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions while providing thousands of jobs in local communities.

But “The Green Shift” is a nice slogan, even if they did have to steal it from someone.

2008-09-18

We Can Stop Stephen Harper

As the federal election campaign begins, early polls have indicated the possibility of a Harper majority.

How can this be.

We have a combination of a lack of leadership on behalf of the Liberal “natural governing” Party and a focus on the environment pitting three pro-environment parties against the anti-
environment Conservatives.

Stéphane Dion clearly lacks the communication skills necessary to counter the Conservatives American style negative campaign and win the election. The public will not elect a Liberal government under his leadership.

On the other hand we have three parties vying for the environmental vote. We have the Liberals with their newly discovered environmental religion. We have the Green Party with an environmental label, along with right wing economic policies and a leader with strong ties to previous Conservative governments. And we have the traditional party of Canada’s environmental movement, the New Democratic Party.

This is all happening at a time when NDP Leader Jack Layton is the most popular of the opposition leaders seeking to become Prime Minister.

But if Canadians were to vote based on the leader they think would be the best prime minister, Ipsos-Reid's Darrel Bricker says there is a clear front-runner.

"(Stephen) Harper is at 50 percent of Canadians saying they think he would be the best Prime Minister, followed by (Jack) Layton at 31 and finally by Stephan Dion at 20 percent."

Bricker adds the fact that Layton's growing popularity across Canada could make things interesting at the polls."
In contrast to Stéphane Dion, Jack Layton’s leadership qualities are shining through in this election campaign, as are the NDP’s polices to support Canadian workers and families.

As Canadians look beyond the labels, and look at the parties long term records, they will recognize that the only party capable of getting elected and implementing progressive environmental policies is the New Democratic Party.

The pundits have always said the New Democratic Party could never win federal power. They also used to say they could never win power in Ontario. That was until 1990 when the voters ignored the pollsters and elected Ontario’s most progressive government ever.

The New Democratic Party can win this election. All it requires is for the voters to realize that they do have a choice. They do not have to choose between Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber. They can vote for real change.

This is no time for strategic voting. When the NDP won in Ontario they won ridings nobody predicted they would have a chance to win. If people had “voted strategically” they never would have won.

Jack Layton and the New Democratic Party can stop Stephen Harper. Indeed, they are the only party that can.

2008-09-11

The Fifth Column is Returning

It's been a longer and busier summer than expected but regular Fifth Column postings will return soon, although there may not be daily posts at first.

2008-07-25

Canadian Forces Rewards Disgraced Commander

The CBC and Ottawa Citizen report that:

Canada's military leadership has quietly promoted to general the soldier who led the ill-fated Somalia mission and who was subsequently found by a government inquiry to have failed in his duty as a commander.

The military has not publicized the July 2 promotion of Col. Serge Labbé to the rank of brigadier general.
The CBC reports:
A public inquiry into the affair cleared Labbe of any personal involvement in the killing, but concluded he failed to clearly enforce the rules of engagement. The inquiry, which ran from 1994 to 1997, called Labbe's failure both lamentable and inexcusable.
The Ottawa Citizen reports:
In 1997, the Somalia inquiry concluded Brig.-Gen. Labbé exercised poor and inappropriate leadership by failing to ensure Canadian troops were adequately trained and tested on the Geneva Conventions and that he failed in his duty as a commander.
In the real world a promotion means you take on new duties and responsibilities. The Somalia mission took place from 1992 to 1993. So perhaps the disgraced commander has redeemed himself and is ready to take on the new duties and responsibilities that the promotion entails. But that is not so.

As the Ottawa Citizen reports:
But sources contacted the Citizen about the promotion and the Defence Department yesterday confirmed that the new rank for the officer will be retroactive to 2000.
How exactly do you go back eight years and take on the new duties and responsibilities of a promotion.

But it gets worse, as the Ottawa Citizen reports:
A colleague of Brig.-Gen. Labbé said the officer is currently in Kabul as head of the Strategic Advisory Team, which provides support to Afghan government ministries. He is expected back in Canada in August and is expected to retire after that, according to the general's colleague.
and:
Dan Dugas, the communications director for Defence Minister Peter MacKay, said the minister signed off on the promotion based on the recommendation of Gen. Rick Hillier, who recently retired as chief of the defence staff. "Mr. MacKay takes the advice of the Chief of the Defence Staff on staffing issues," Mr. Dugas said.
So this is not a promotion, but a retirement gift to a disgraced commander. And one that the government takes no responsibility for, preferring to put the responsibility on retired Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier.

2008-07-22

Austrian Reflections

We have returned from our Austrian vacation and I hope to post a few commentaries on the vacation and the country in the coming days. But for now a brief summary.

The first thing you notice about the towns and cities is that they are very compact and densely populated without sprawling suburbs. Every town and city has a fair sized walking zone in the centre where no cars are allowed, although bicycles are usually allowed and sometimes streetcars may run through them. Vienna, in particular, is very pedestrian, cyclist and dog friendly.

The country is very big on trains, in particular electric ones - even the freightyard in Vienna was mostly electric trains. They are also big on narrow winding steep mountain roads. Now I know what a Hairpin turn really is.

The biggest negative we quickly noticed was the smoking factor. There appear to be no anti-smoking laws and we had to get used to people smoking in restaurants.

We also had to get used to seeing dogs in the shops and restaurants. The food was great and always with wine, or Almdudler.

The Austrians do not seem very safety conscious - bike helmets being a rarity was not a big surprise but seeing workers on construction sites without hardhats was. On the other hand they are very avid cyclists and hikers.

As befitting the European stereotype, they are not as modest as North Americans when it comes to nudity. Most beaches have a FKK (free body culture) Zone and topless sunbathers are common along the waterfront on the Danube Island. So I was not overly surprised to discover a proliferation of huge three story sex shops. Then I discovered that XXXLutz was a furniture store. But what’s a North American to think when he sees “XXX”.

I will end this introduction with a couple of my favourite signs from Austria.

Bicycles and Wheat Allowed




No Trumpets Allowed


2008-05-21

Hillary Should Go Back To Arkansas...

...And Become "The Greatest American"

Think about it. What could be the most important policy change for America - universal public health care. Both the Democratic Party candidates appear to believe in it yet neither has put real Canadian style "Medicare" in their platform. Why is that. One can only speculate that it is because they believe it would not be possible to implement in the United States.

Hillary Clinton should step back and read some Canadian history. Where did Canadian "Medicare" originate. In Saskatchewan, one of the poorest Canadian provinces. Hillary should go back to Arkansas and convince the state Democratic Party to run on a platform of implementing real "Medicare", get elected Governor and do it.

I know the American political system is different but for something that important it is worth a try, even if just to put pressure on the federal Democratic Party.

That would be a legacy much greater than being just being another President.

2008-05-16

Fifth Column Going Into Intermittent Summer Mode

Biking and kayaking season is upon us and there are just too many outdoor things to be done for me to blog on a daily basis. The Fifth Column is now in intermittent summer mode. Until the fall I will only be blogging when the spirit moves me.

2008-05-15

"I Am Not a Racist ..."

What's the difference between these two statements.

"I am not a racist it's just that I can't hire black staff because most of my customers are racist."

"I am not a racist it's just that we can't pick a black candidate because most of the voters are racists."

2008-05-14

Dion to Liberals: We Don't Tell It As It Is

We knew that before but now it's official.

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said he disagreed with Dallaire's choice of words, and hinted the senator could be disciplined.

"This is a matter to deal with the (party) whip, and we'll deal with that," Dion told reporters.
This is about what we have come to expect from the Leader of Her Majesty's Official Abstainers.

2008-05-13

Omar Khadr Is a Child Soldier-Period!

If anyone can talk with authority on human rights and child soldiers it is Senator Roméo Dallaire.

The CBC reported that:

Canada has sunk to the moral equivalent of al-Qaeda by failing to treat Canadian Omar Khadr the same way it treats other child soldiers, Liberal Senator Roméo Dallaire said Tuesday.

Dallaire, who appeared before a foreign affairs committee on international human rights, said Khadr is clearly a child soldier who shouldn't be prosecuted by an illegal court system at Guantanamo Bay but reintegrated into society.

Canada is heading down a slippery slope by failing to obey the United Nations conventions on child soldiers to which it is a signatory, he said.

"The minute you start playing with human rights, with conventions, with civil liberties in order to say you are doing it to protect yourself … you are no better than the guy who doesn't believe in them at all," he said.

"We are slipping down the slope of going down that same route."
When Senator Dallaire speaks the government should listen and pay heed rather than countering with a political defence of the United States Bush government's illegal actions. Perhaps Stephen Harper prefers to shake hands with the devil.

2008-05-12

Submission re: South March Highlands Conservation Forest Management Plan

click on map to enlarge

I am a lifelong environmentalist and outdoorsperson who hikes, mountain bikes, skis and snowshoes in the South March Highlands.

My first comments have to do with the public consultation process.

I was very pleased to see the full colour maps of the protected area at the open house presentation and to learn that more lands than I expected are being protected. In reviewing the maps it appears that more of the existing trails than expected may be included in the protected area.

Afterwards, I immediately went to the City of Ottawa website to see if I could review the maps and other documentation. However, as is usual, whenever I go to the City of Website to look for planning or development information I find it to be woefully inadequate.

It would be very useful if the public could access more details and background information on the City of Ottawa website in order to make better informed comments and suggestions.

One of the things that would be most useful to me in assessing the proposal and making suggestions regarding the trail network would be to see a map of the protected area with the existing trails overlaid. There are numerous trail maps available and I am appending a few that I have acquired to this document.

Before dealing with the trail network I want to address some real concerns I have about the impact of Terry Fox Drive on the conservation forest. Terry Fox Drive is an urban road that serves urban development. It should be routed through urban development land, not through land classified as rural conservation forest. To the extent that it has to cross the western portion of the protected land it should do so using as little protected land as possible.

Terry Fox Drive should absolutely not be bisecting the rural conservation forest in the way that it does. If the city is unwilling or unable to stand up to the land developers and put the road through urban development lands, the least it should do is route it along the southeastern edge of the conservation forest and not bisect the rural conservation forest.

The people of Kanata and Ottawa deserve at least an explanation as to why Terry Fox Drive is being routed the way that it is.

The rest of my comments will deal with the trail network.

As an environmentalist and serious hiker and mountain biker my first and primary concern is that the trails be kept in their natural rugged state and be retained as natural surface single track trails.

I understand that as a result of the environmental assessment process some trail rationalization may need to be done - some trails may require work to make them sustainable and some may need to be rerouted. I have no objection to improving the sustainability of the trail network as long as the network as a whole is not degraded. There may even be opportunities to build new trails for environmental reasons or to allow trail users to enjoy natural features in the area.

In particular, one trail known as “Outback”, is very long and can take up to four hours or more to hike. At several points that trail comes very close to adjoining trails. Making a link at one or more of those spots would allow hikers, who otherwise might not hike the whole trail all at once, to hike part of it at a time. Of course this would depend on whether there are environmentally suitable routes to make the links. This would also provide a faster exit for people injured on the trail and would provide faster access for emergency personnel, particularly in the winter when the cold is an added factor

In examining the map of the protected area we can see that it almost forms a circle providing the possibility of a large loop of interconnecting trails. This would require a link from the lands deeded to the City by KNL in the southeast end of the network to Trillium Forest in the northeast end of the network. Including a pathway between those two sections in the subdivision agreement would enhance the trail network in the protected area.

There has also been the possibility of wheelchair access pathways suggested. Despite the potential benefits of this, I do not wish to see the natural ruggedness and wilderness-like nature of the protected area compromised. One possibility is to build such a pathway around the “Beaver Pond”. This would also provide a place for casual walkers to enjoy the forest without ending up on the rugged natural trails in their high heels or sandals.

I understand the management plan will deal with the appropriate location of trailheads and parking facilities. I hope this will be done in such a way that natural features are not compromised. I would also suggest providing outhouses at the parking lots, as is done by the National Capital Commission at many of its parking lots in the greenbelt trail system.

Another issue that has been addressed by many trail users is the lack of signage, particularly due to the complexity of the trail system and the possibility of people getting lost. I trust this issue will be addressed in a way that detracts the least from the naturalness of the trails.

The last issue I want to address is public education. The official recognition of the South March Highlands Conservation Forest as a human-powered recreation area will make possible a more extensive public education program on responsible trail use. This has been something that the organized mountain biking community (OMBA) has been pursuing vigorously among its membership. However their membership does not include all trail users, and does not even include all mountain bikers. I would like to see the City fund an extensive public education program on responsible trail usage in co-operation with all trail user groups.

A good place to start in developing responsible trail use guidelines would be the IMBA Rules of the Trail.

Signage at the trail heads should include large trail maps on the signs along with responsible trail use guidelines. As well pamphlets with a map of the trails and the guidelines should be available.

I would also direct you to my previous comments on the South March Highlands Management Plan, “The South March Highlands - Kanata's Outdoor Wonderland”.

Maps of the South March Highlands and Kanata Lakes Trails

click on maps to enlarge





This has been sent to the South March Highlands Conservation Forest Management Plan project manager and the four councillors representing Kanata on Ottawa City Council.

2008-05-09

Tasers Don't Kill People - The Police Kill People

Tasers can indeed kill people, but not as certainly as guns can. That is why, as originally intended, as an alternative to the use of firearms by police, they are probably a good idea, at least in theory. The problem is that they are not being used responsibly by police. This is just the latest example of the irresponsible use of Tasers by police. Fortunately this incident did not end with a death.

How much more proof do we need that the police cannot be trusted to use Tasers responsibly.

2008-05-08

The Democratic Party Dream Ticket That Could Have Been

Very early in the United States presidential election primary process it became very obvious that there were two clear Democratic Party front runners, both with their own unique appeal to the electorate and both representing a radical change from what until then was seen as inevitable - that the president be a white man. Both leading candidates were highly qualified with good reputations.

What if at that time the leading candidates had seen the opportunity for a Democratic Party Dream Ticket, and decided that whoever came in second would be the vice presidential candidate. This agreement could have been kept private or made public. This agreement would inevitably have required a commitment from the candidates to run clean and positive campaigns, and not only not attack their opponents, but praise them for their qualifications as the best person to replace them as president if the need ever occurred.

It would have changed the whole dynamic of the election process, united and revitalized the Democratic Party and possibly ensured a Democratic presidential victory.

What we have now is more of a Democratic Party Nightmare with the leading Democratic candidates attacking their fellow Democrats with the zeal that is usually reserved for the Republican presidential candidate. Whichever candidate wins is going to face the Republican candidate with his or her reputation tarnished, not by attacks from the Republicans, but by attacks from within his or her own party.

That’s some way to run an election campaign.

2008-05-07

Saving the World With Cheap LSD

“LSD acted as a unifying force, an equal opportunity enlightener. It was a bargain at $5 a hit in the 1970s; still is.”

According to an op ed article in the Ottawa Citizen LSD can enlighten and save us all.

Millions of people have experienced transcendence through LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide). The creative energy unleashed by Mr. Hofmann's chemical catalyst has had a tremendous impact on our world.

Acid's effect on Western culture was profound, although most of the other associated elements were already in place. The peace movement, ecology, civil rights, changing gender roles and rock and roll - all of these things were well under way by the time LSD escaped the laboratory and hit the streets. There was already a counter-cultural drug scene; Allen Ginsberg had already written Howl. By 1962, when recreational or "street" acid became available in North America, psychedelic research was already causing chaos within the ivory tower.
...

For most, however, it was like pushing a big reset button on the backs of their heads: suddenly they could see life with a childlike wonder again, and be thrilled at the thought of it. LSD made people happier, better at their work, better citizens and parents.

LSD honours, exhilarates, and empowers the majority of trippers by allowing them to see past the patterns of everyday life and into a deeper level of meaning. It clarifies the big concepts such as love, family, and purpose; but also the little things: leaves and fingerprints. The heartbreaking beauty of a smile. LSD is a joyful surprise.
So why are the police not handing it out to solve all our crime and social problems. The United Nations should be distributing it worldwide to finally bring us world peace.

Indeed, the article even states “No one has ever died of an LSD overdose.” This statement is immediately preceded by “Although the odd person still jumps off a building thinking he can fly, that sort of thing is far less common nowadays.” But I guess that’s acceptable because those deaths were not caused by overdoses, but just the normal dose.

The article also states “Some who used LSD did have horrible experiences, or "bad trips." For a few it was the wedge that broke their grip on sanity once and for all.” But a few people going insane is a small price to pay to enlighten and save the planet.
Timothy Leary once said that LSD causes fear and anger - in the minds of people who have not taken it. Today as in Leary's era, most opposition to the use of psychedelics comes from those who have no experience whatsoever of their effects.
With those “wise words” I will leave it to you to judge. After all, only junkies have a right to comment on the effects of drugs.

2008-05-06

Banned In China Ottawa

Apparently, if you belong to a persecuted group you are assumed to be protesting, so you are not allowed to participate in Ottawa’s Canadian Tulip Festival “Where Ideas Bloom”.

The Ottawa Citizen reported “Organizers of the Canadian Tulip Festival faced accusations of censorship yesterday for the last-minute cancellation of a performance by a marching band of Falun Gong practitioners during one of the festival's opening ceremonies.” The Citizen article further stated “Organizers claim that had festival staff known the Tian Guo Marching Band were all Falun Gong members, they never would have been booked at the festival.” The article also stated “"We came here to celebrate a cultural event, and our religion should not stop us from participating," band spokeswoman Grace Wollensak said”

One can only wonder if the organizers would have said the same thing about a group of Catholics or Jews or even Muslims.

The only justification given was an assumption that the group was going to protest because they are known to be persecuted by the Chinese government, and the Chinese Embassy is a sponsor of the Festival and had a representative at the event.

I would like to draw readers to the following summary of facts posted on the CBC website by “GraceW”.

I feel obliged to clarify some facts:

1. We just applied to perform at Dow’s lake, not at the opening ceremony.

2. We send the link of the band in the application so the Tulip officer had chance to know everything about the band. http://tianguoband.org/, where the past performances (70 parades in community/cultural events in two years), as well as Falun Gong connection and uniforms are all clearly presented.

3. After the review of our materials, the program coordinator invited the band to play at the opening ceremony: O Canada and Maple Leaf Forever

4. The band accepted the invitation as an honor, not intent to ‘hijack’ the event as organizer claimed.

5. The appearance of the band at the Tulip Festival has no difference from the photos in the link that we sent to the Tulip Festival program coordinator. In another words, the band dressed up exactly the same as they did in the St. Patrick parade in Ottawa earlier this year and won the award of ‘Best Band’. Nobody accused of the band as ‘political’ or ‘protest’. http://tianguoband.org/News/2008/2008-03-15-St.Patrick-Ottawa.html

6. The fact is that we were removed on the basis of our name being shown. What political messages could be carried by playing O Canada and Maple Leaf Forever.

7. The band represents a cultural group that wants to participate in Canadian activities as ordinary members of this multi-cultural society. The identify of the band members should not be judged or discriminated.

8. Falun Gong is not a protest word. It is the name of our group. The fact that we are persecuted, and protest the persecution, it is not our fault and does not mean our name must be hidden from public view. If that were true, then no one should be allowed to use the words "African-American," "Jewish," etc., in a community event. In fact, suggesting such is already siding with the persecutor, accepting that there is something wrong with this group.

9. The band has performed in over 70 community events and has won numerous awards. To say the band's effort to join this community event was a "stunt" is insulting.
I think all governments, federal, provincial, and municipal should rethink their funding of this event in relation to the organizers disregard of Canada’s constitutionally entrenched policies of freedom of religion and multiculturalism.

And the organizers should be ashamed to call themselves Canadians.