Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Mountain Biking In The Spring

Rutted Muddy Trail from Spring Biking

For those of us that put our bikes away for the winter, when the first sign of Spring arrives we want to get out on the trails. However more often than not the trails are not ready for riding, usually being wet and muddy. Of course to some people that adds to the fun.

While one may be able to argue that riding muddy trails does no damage beyond the trail and does not affect the surrounding plant or animal life there is no doubt that it affects the trails.

These are the comments posted in a public forum by local mountain bikers about rutting caused by riding muddy trails:

"Watch out for the ruts. I got caught in one at speed between the first and second v-trees. Threw my right shoulder smack into a tree. Though I didn't wipe I have a large bruise to show for it. Anywhere it get's muddy in SMH (South March Highlands) is now a rutted mess..."

"I find fixing ruts to be more challenging than riding them. Riding them can get downright annoying when they go on forever. Way more annoying when they suddenly toss you off your line into a tree."

"The main reason to stay off the muddy trails is because of the erosion.. The more the trails erode the less fun they are to ride and the more work required to maintain them. "

And of course it is not just mountain bikers that notice bike ruts in the mud but also other trail users, which does little to raise the image of mountain biking in the community at a time when we need to be making friends, not enemies, and building partnerships with other trail users.

When it comes to the greenbelt trails, biking is barely tolerated, while being officially banned. The following was stated in an e-mail from an NCC representative:

"We know that there is a lot of interest in off-road riding on Greenbelt hiking trails. On the other hand, section (16) of the NCC Traffic & Property Regulations states..."No person shall ride a bicycle on property of the Commission other than a driveway or on a bicycle path set aside by the Commission for the purpose...". While we have not actively tried to enforce this particular regulation, we do not condone the practice. There are long-term impacts on the trails and surrounding area, particularly rutting, trail erosion, trail widening as users veer off the designated route to avoid ruts and muddy surface, and destruction of adjacent vegetation. In the winter, we want to discourage bike riders who may travel across groomed ski tracks."

While this statement does reflect a need for some education of the NCC about the relative effects of hiking and biking on the trails, one cannot dispute the concerns about rutting from riding muddy trails. If we want to convince the NCC, and other trail users, that mountain biking should be encouraged, and not just tolerated, we are going to have to start riding more responsibly.

For me, the most annoying thing about people riding muddy trails in the spring is that the rutting slows down the natural drying process. Wet and muddy trails dry out fairly quickly in the summer when it is hot. However in the spring, when it is cool and the ground is still partly frozen, the drying process takes longer and it is not helped by ruts that hold the water and disrupt the natural drainage patterns. Those of us who avoid riding the mud holes in the spring have to wait longer to ride the trails due to the actions of those who do not have patience to wait a few weeks for the trails to dry, and when the trails do dry out they are often a rutted mess that takes longer to dry each time it rains.

If we keep the trails in good condition they will dry quickly after summer rainfalls.

So what should we do in the meantime. There are a number of options. We do not need to ride in the dirt to ride. Pedaling is pedaling. We can start getting into condition for the technical single track by riding gravel and paved paths like the Trans-Canada Trail.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Should the Right to Strike be Sacrosanct

The labour movement has always held the Right to Strike to be sacrosanct. In reality though, the biggest gains made by workers have been gained during illegal, rather than legal strikes. Indeed it is union solidarity rather than the legal Right to Strike that is key. Workers will always have the effective ability to strike as long as they have solidarity in their ranks.

But that does not mean that strikes are always the best way to settle a dispute that cannot be settled at the bargaining table. As one who worked for, perhaps the most essential of public services, democracy itself, I did not have the Right to Strike. Instead we had compulsory arbitration. On at least one occasion simply serving notice of arbitration brought the employer (House of Commons) back to the table with an offer we could not reject. I have to admit it was somewhat reassuring to not have to worry about going on strike and losing income to settle a bargaining dispute. And, of course, the bottom line was that as long as we had solidarity we always had the effective ability to strike if that became necessary.

The recent TTC strike fiasco is an example of the ineffective use of the legal Right to Strike. The TTC workers are one of those groups of public sector workers that have a fictitious legal Right to Strike. It is often expressed this way by politicians: “we will respect your Right to Strike as long as you do not abuse it”. And by “abuse it” they mean actually “go on strike”.

The TTC strike was a fiasco because the workers went on strike knowing they would be legislated back to work and knowing they did not have the intention, or the solidarity, to continue the strike after they were legislated back to work. So all they accomplished was upsetting the general public. There was obviously something else going on there. The strike was more of an “emotional” response to something going on between workers and management beyond the terms of the proposed contract or something going on between the workers and their union leadership.

The real problem with public sector strikes is that they do not affect the employer’s bottom line. In a private sector strike you shut down production and the employers revenues and profits go down. In a public sector strike you shut down public services and the employers costs go down. There is a real bottom line incentive in that situation for the employer to try to manipulate the union into a strike.

A more effective TTC union response would have been to take the initiative to propose arbitration at the same time they announced the membership had rejected the tentative agreement. This way they could have not only avoided the wrath of the public but gained their support. Instead they called a strike they had no intention or ability to continue, knowing that the end result would be compulsory arbitration.

Why is arbitration not used more often voluntarily in the public sector.

Employers have often expressed a dislike for it because it means turning over “budgetary decisions” to a third party, or so they claim. They also, apparently, fear costlier settlements than those after a strike. It also means they do not have the savings from unpaid wages during a strike to offset wage increases awarded by an arbitrator.

Unions do not like it because of the feeling that the Right to Strike is sacrosanct and that agreeing to arbitration can be seen as a sign of weakness.

Strikes are not always successful. The big problem with public sector strikes is that they affect the public more than the employer and indeed they can save the employer money. Another way that does not upset the public is worth trying. I think public sector unions have a lot to gain by giving arbitration a chance. It does not require giving up your Right to Strike, just not using it for one set of negotiations at a time.

It may very well be that in many cases the employer will reject arbitration. So be it. The employer can then feel the wrath of the public when workers are forced to strike.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

TTC Strike - Special Weekend Fifth Column

So what is going on here.

The first factor to consider is why did the membership reject the tentative agreement, proving yet again, that despite what the right wing says about radical union leaders, it is often the rank and file that is more radical than the leadership. When the leadership negotiates what it believes is the best agreement it can get and it is rejected, it is usually a sign that there is a bigger problem than the contract provisions. Usually it means there is a bigger labour-management issue than wages and benefits and that the workers feel ill treated or not respected by the employer. Or, as some have suggested in this case, it can mean that the members do not feel well represented by their leadership.

What of the union response. The official response is a legitimate one. If the union had announced a strike would begin at the beginning of the work week on Monday there would have been considerable public outrage over the weekend and grounds for concern for the safety of the workers.

What if the union had responded otherwise. The union is in a legal strike position and the membership had democratically rejected the tentative agreement by a significant margin. If the union had not announced an almost immediate strike allowing the system to be shut down in an orderly manner, there would have undoubtedly been wildcat walkouts leading to a disorderly shutdown of the system and greater public outrage.

As it is, the union leadership’s response sets the stage for transit service to resume on Monday morning.

Friday, 25 April 2008

The Supreme Court Rules !

As my daughters would say “The Supreme Court Rules”. And just why does the Supreme Court rule. The Supreme Court rules because the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in “R. v. A.M.” that young people do not lose their constitutional protection against “unreasonable search and seizure” under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms simply because they are in a school.

According to a CBC report:

The first case involved an unexpected police visit to St. Patrick's High School in Sarnia, Ont., in 2002. During that visit, students were confined to their classrooms as a trained police dog sniffed out backpacks in an empty gymnasium.

The dog led police to a pile of backpacks, one of which contained marijuana and magic mushrooms. A youth, identified only as A.M, was subsequently charged with possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking.

But police admitted they didn't have a search warrant or any prior tip about drugs in the school. The officers had instead visited on the basis of a long-standing invitation from school officials.

In 2004, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a previous trial judge's decision to exclude the drugs as evidence and acquit the youth. The court referred to the incident as "a warrantless, random search with the entire student body held in detention."

In Friday's ruling, the Supreme Court wrote that while "a warrantless sniffer-dog search is available where reasonable suspicion is demonstrated" in this case, "the dog-sniff search was unreasonably undertaken because there was no proper justification."

The court wrote that students' backpacks "objectively command a measure of privacy."

"No doubt ordinary businessmen and businesswomen riding along on public transit or going up and down on elevators in office towers would be outraged at any suggestion that the contents of their briefcases could randomly be inspected by the police without 'reasonable suspicion' of illegality," the court wrote.
Indeed, the Supreme Court does rule. Young people are slowly gaining the recognition that they deserve the same constitutional rights as anyone else and should not be discriminated against solely because of their age.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Do You Hate Young People

Do young people annoy the hell out of you. Then you need the Mosquito Youth Repellent. The Mosquito, created by Welsh inventor Howard Stapleton, emits a pulsing noise above 16,000 hertz that capitalizes on the fact most humans can catch the mind-numbing frequency only between the age of 13 and 25.

Bureaucrats from the City of Montreal are studying whether the device could legally be used to clear young drug dealers and bums from scary city tunnels, but the machine is already a hit among some West Coast businesses.

"It's awesome," said Lisa Deacon, manager of the 57 Below Bar and Liquor Store in New Westminster, B.C. The bar was one of the first North American businesses to try the device, in 2006. It turns on at night and keeps away all the young punks who hang out at the SkyTrain station."

Two Mac's convenience stores in Victoria have used the Mosquito to clear out drug dealers while two others in Richmond, B.C., have used the squealing machine to clear massive crowds of teenagers.
I thought the “no teenagers allowed” signs I have seen in coffee shops were abhorrent enough. The mentality that the future leaders of our communities and our country are all punks and drug dealers and “bums” is disgusting.

It is one thing for ignorant business people to somehow think attacking their future customers would be a good thing. It is a completely different thing for public officials to consider such a discriminatory attack on young citizens.

This device, and the mentality behind it, calls for the addition of age to the prohibited grounds for discrimination in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and all federal and provincial human rights legislation.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Tories Going To A Lot of Trouble To Hide Their Innocence

Prime Minister Stephen Harper claims that the Tories “in and out scheme” was in accordance with Canada’s election financing laws.

"Our position is that we always follow the law as we understand it," the prime minister said in response to a reporter's question at a joint news conference with U.S. President George W. Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderon in New Orleans.

"We were following in the last election the interpretations that had been put on that law in the past," Harper said. "If those interpretations change, we will of course conform, but we will expect the same rules for every single party."
If they were so innocent why the elaborate attempts to cover-up the scheme, including the use of forged documents.
Even before last week's raid, Elections Canada had obtained numerous statements from party candidates and invoices from the Toronto-based advertising agency Retail Media.

Investigators also talked to Retail Media executives, including chief operating officer Marilyn Dixon, who when shown one candidate's invoice, speculated that it must have been "altered or created by someone" since it didn't conform to the appearance of the company's invoices.
Why was it necessary for Elections Canada to call in the RCMP and require a search warrant to get access to the documents regarding the scheme.
RCMP searched Conservative party headquarters in Ottawa on Tuesday (April 15) at the request of Elections Canada.

Elections Canada spokesman John Enright confirmed that elections commissioner William Corbett requested the assistance of the Mounties to execute a search warrant, but he wouldn't say why.

Elections Canada is probing Conservative party spending for advertisements during the 2006 parliamentary election campaign. Corbett, who enforces the Elections Canada Act, launched an investigation in April 2007 after chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand challenged the spending claims.
The Tories have done, and are doing, all the things that someone trying to hide a fraudulent scheme would do and none of the things that someone who is innocent would do.

Of course they would have you believe that there is a conspiracy of people out to get them. The only conspiracy will be at the next election when the voters conspire to put them out of office.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Atheists Have Faith Too

Atheists, myself included, like to distinguish ourselves from the religionists by the fact that we base our opinions and decisions on facts, rather than blind faith in religious dogma. But some of us have faith too. It may not be based on blind adherence to religious dogma written thousands of years ago, or spouted by self-appointed spokespersons for god, but it is faith of its own kind.

Our faith is based on our own world view that is developed through our experience and sense of ethics and morality. It cannot always be backed up by hard facts.

For example, I “believe” that all people are inherently equal. I cannot back that up with empirical evidence. In many ways the evidence proves our inequalities. We are clearly not all as intelligent or as strong or as athletic or as healthy as everyone else. There are many ways of measuring our differences and inequalities. There is no way of actual calculating a persons total worth to compare it to others. And that is a good thing. For instead it allows us to decide that we are all of equal value and have an equal right to be here and are entitled to equal treatment and opportunities. And that makes for a better world.

I also “believe” that man, as a species, is essentially good. Many will disagree with that and provide ample evidence of bad deeds committed by people. There is no way of calculating the good and bad in men and women and comparing it. And that is a good thing. With a little deeper analysis we can see that much of the bad is a result of poor decision making rather than real malice toward others, and that the vast majority of people are capable of doing great good when given the means and opportunity to do so.

My last example is our basic values of what is right and wrong. For example, one of the most important ethical values to me is honesty. This value is not based on a cost-benefit analysis that shows I will benefit more from being honest than from being dishonest. It is simply based on an inherent sense of right and wrong.

Many of us do not base our sense of values on what we are told by religious leaders but on what we learn through life.

Above all, I “believe” and have faith that we all can build a better world together.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Pissing On The Toilet Doors

Excuse my crudeness but I’m really pissed off.


Everyone promotes fitness and getting outside and now the weather is here to do it. Ottawa has a great network of pathways for walking, running and bicycling. You could spend a day on the paths. They even have toilets at some locations (but not enough). However, apparently, your not supposed to have to go unless it’s the middle of summer. In the spring and fall the facilities are locked up tight. I did discover a porty-pottie at one key location last year. It was pretty gross though because they never cleaned or emptied it. I think they discovered it was being used and they would have to clean and empty it. So they took it away.

If I had more nerve I would just use them anyway, and piss on the toilet doors.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Spring Has Sprung

In one weekend we seem to have gone from winter temperatures to summer temperatures and the first flower of the year has bloomed in our yard. The pathways are finally clear for biking, but we have no idea when the forest trails will be dry enough to ride. Next weekend is the Upper Jock River Canoe Race and the Tour Nortel is the weekend after that.


(click photos to enlarge)

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Health Minister Says Retailers Should Not Care About Customers Health

According to a report in the Ottawa Citizen Health Minister Tony Clement thinks retailers should not be concerned about the health and safety of their customers and should decide what to sell only on the basis of what people will buy.

Health Minister Tony Clement said yesterday there's no need for retailers to assume the role of regulator when it comes to deciding which products are safe for sale in Canada -- just as two more giant retailers pulled all plastic products with bisphenol A from their shelves.
...

"Retailers make their own decisions, based upon what they think will sell and won't sell, so I'm not going to tell them how to run their businesses. I'm concerned about the health and safety of Canadians, and when we have something to announce, we'll announce it," said Mr. Clement.

He added Health Canada decides whether a product is safe for use or if it should be banned.

These companies are "saying to others that the market for these (BPA) products is drying up pretty quickly. So listen, if it's a market-based decision, that's for them to make. If it's health and safety, of course, Health Canada has to protect the health and safety of Canadians," Mr. Clement said.
The Minister seems to believe that the only responsibility retailers have is to maximize their profits and that only Big Brother Health Canada has a responsibility for the health of Canadians.

We would be a sad and unhealthy society if we all thought that way. But, of course, we don’t. Would the minister have parents buy dangerous and unhealthy toys for their children just because they are allowed to be sold. I suppose he would, because he believes retailers should sell goods they consider dangerous, unless and until Health Canada decides they should not.

Fortunately there are retailers who believe maximizing profit is not the only thing and choose their products considering such things as the health and safety of their customers. In the case of polycarbonate bottles containing bisphenol A Mountain Equipment Co-Op (MEC) was the first Canadian retailer to stop selling the product out of concern for the health of it’s members and customers. MEC, of course, has a reputation for putting the needs and the well-being of its members and customers first.

This is a good thing Mr. Clement. Remember you are the Minister of Health, not the Minister of Unbridled Capitalism.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

The Most Hated Man in Newfoundland


Not being a Newfie myself, I might not use the same colourful language as Danny Williams or Loyola Hearn, but I have to say that I share their sentiments when it comes to Paul Watson. By his actions the man appears to be everything that they say he is.

Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society continue to spread lies about the Canadian seal hunt as a propaganda technique to raise money. The seal hunt has never been an environmental issue as the seals being hunted have never been an endangered species. While originally there may have been valid concerns about the humaneness of the hunt, the protesters won their battle years ago when the regulations and practices of the hunt were changed. It is time for them to move on to fight real environmental issues. However, because of the cash cow it provides the seal hunt protesters continue to use images of white coat seals in their fund raising campaigns even though they have not been hunted since 1987.

The last straw for Newfoundlanders, and all Canadians, came when Paul Watson expressed total disregard for the lives of Canadians who risk their lives in a dangerous occupation to provide for their families, and claimed that the deaths of seals was a greater tragedy than the deaths of Canadians. This was an act that caused Green Party Leader Elizabeth May to disassociate herself from Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Paul Watson, as the ring leader, should have been arrested along with the officers of The Farley Mowat, He is just as responsible as they are for placing the lives of Canadian at risk.

The Fifth Column supports Canadian sealers and condemns Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Society for their misrepresentation of the seal hunt and their total disregard for the lives of Canadians.

BACKGROUND:

CBC: Author Farley Mowat bails out anti-sealing protesters

CBC: Williams assails anti-sealing activist Watson as 'terrorist'

CBC: 2 crew members arrested as anti-sealing vessel seized

CBC: The Atlantic seal hunt – FAQs

Monday, 14 April 2008

South March Highlands Management Plan Open House April 30

In November 2007 the Fifth Column discussed the South March Highlands Management Plan and the suggestion by the Kanata Environmental Network (KEN) that public use of the lands be kept to the periphery. Fortunately that view is not shared by any other environmental or user group, nor is it shared by the City of Ottawa.

If you want to know what is going on with the plans for the South March Highlands and want to have your say the public consultation process is about to begin. The first public meeting will be an open house from 7:00 to 9:00 PM at the Kanata Old Town Hall on March Road, near Klondike Road, on Wednesday April 30, 2008. This will be a relatively informal drop-in format as the consultants (Douglas and Ruhland Associates, landscape architects) “would rather engage and talk directly to those interested than have a formal presentation at this point in the process”.

Click here for a link to the Terms of Reference for the South March Highlands Management Plan, which includes the following information (extracts):

These forest lands include some of the most significant ecological features and functions within the City of Ottawa. It is the most ecologically diverse landscape in the City, overlies a section of the Canadian Shield and provides an exceptional natural environment experience. It also provides significant cultural and recreational resources with extensive use (hiking/walking and mountain biking being the two most prominent) by the immediate community, the larger City population, and in the case of some activities such as Mountain Biking, people living outside of the City.

Several issues have emerged in the area:

· The area is well known as a mountain biking and hiking/walking destination and at present, an extensive informal trail network has developed. There is the possibility that the location of certain sections of trail and/or the construction techniques that were used to build the trails are not necessarily consistent with the protection of natural values in the area. At the same time significant volunteer efforts have been made in recent years to implement lower impact trail construction techniques within the City owned conservation forest.

· Potential conflicts between users (nature appreciation, casual walkers, mountain bikers, hikers).

· Increased indirect impacts (edge effects, loss of interior habitat and connectivity ecological support systems) and use impacts as designated development areas build-out.

· There is no interpretative plan or efforts to direct the current range of users to protect or take advantage of features in the highlands.

· There is a lack of formal access or trail-head provisions.

· The need for a trail section or access for physically challenged residents has been raised.

· Limited existing tools to manage the form and intensity of recreational or other use in the area.

Objectives:

The overall objective is to design a management strategy that will provide long-term management direction for a 20 year period which provides for protection of the significant ecological features and functions of the South March Highlands while allowing users to experience the area through appropriate recreational activities in a way which is both manageable and sustainable in terms of the City’s, and stakeholder and user group resources.

The planning process will include:

· Participation in a project initiation open house to introduce the project to the community.

· Identification of use and management objectives through a stakeholder workshop and/or other consultation approaches to gain stakeholder input.

· Identification of opportunities for appropriate recreational use (open air recreation including hiking and biking, education, nature appreciation) and concerns related to inappropriate use and strategies to mitigate the effects of recreational use…

· Review and incorporation of best practices for low impact recreational use/trail development and management of near urban/urban natural features

· Develop detailed management recommendations

o Management of uses – where different uses should occur, how to control impacts.

o Management of future stressors (adjacent development, climate trends, invasive species)

o Recommendations related to connectivity to other landscape features within and outside the forest; and longer term strategic objectives for preservation of ecological integrity such as additions to the forest.

· Conceptual plan for infrastructure (recommendations for trail location, trail treatment, access).

o Trail location options (including an accessible trail)

o Trail treatment and design options

o Use management (signage, etc.)

o Access and potential trail head/ parking locations

o Interpretive resources (e.g. kiosk).
The Fifth Column hopes to see you all at the open house on April 30.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Back On My Bike With My New GPS

Well spring has finally come, even if it has been interrupted for a few days, and I finally got back out on my bike. Early this week I got out on my Brodie Sterling hybrid for some rides around Kanata and the back country roads. I got to try out my new Garmin GPSMAP 60Cx GPS unit and I was very pleased with it. I am looking forward to getting back on the bike again early next week when the spring weather returns.

click on images to enlarge





Thursday, 10 April 2008

A Back Room Deal to Save Canada

I am sure the Liberal Party of Canada was trying to do the right thing when they chose Stéphane Dion as their leader. Indeed they may even have been doing a brave and courageous thing by deciding to choose what appeared to be a man of policy and substance rather than one of image and style. They may have chosen the man they thought would make the best Prime Minister, rather than the best leader of the opposition. We can only hope so, because he has proven to be a dismal failure as leader of the opposition. And with him at the helm the Liberals have been an absolute failure as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

The opposition has a number of roles in a Parliamentary system. One of course is to oppose those policies of the government that they disagree with. The other is to play a constructive role in improving government policies and legislation. But the primary role of the official opposition is to be a government in waiting, not to be an opposition in hiding.

One of the most basic facts of life in a democracy is that a party cannot become a government without getting elected, and a party cannot get elected if they are scared of an election. If I was a Liberal I would be scared of going into an election with Stéphane Dion as leader. Just as Stephen Harper will be judged on his role as Prime Minister in an election, so will Stéphane Dion be judged on his role as leader of the opposition.

But the fact is that we have a dysfunctional federal Parliament with a minority government that tries to govern as a majority and an official opposition that seems to believe its role is to enable them to do that. An election with Stephen Harper leading the Conservatives against a Liberal Party led by Stéphane Dion would leave voters shaking their heads and throwing their hands up in despair.

As a New Democrat, perhaps I should rejoice at the situation and NDP prospects in such an election. But I fear such a situation could cause the NDP to see it as an opportunity to replace the Liberals, by moving further to the centre in an attempt to seek election as the government. We do not need the NDP moving further to the right and becoming a pseudo Liberal government. Let the Liberals do that.

What we need is for a rebalancing of the political compass in Canada. We need to move the Conservatives from their extreme right wing position back to the right of centre position of the Progressive Conservative Party. To do this we need the Liberals to move back to the left of centre from the right of centre. And we need the New Democrats to move further to the left so that the pressure is on the Liberals to move left, rather than right to remain in the centre.

We need this to happen now, before, not after, the inevitable election that the Liberals can only avoid for so long without losing total and permanent credibility. The Liberal Party needs to go into an election with strong leadership from the left of the party not wishy washy leadership from nowhere.

We need a deal within the Liberal Party. We need Stéphane Dion to step down and Bob Rae to take over as “interim” Leader and defeat the Conservative government and lead the Liberals into an election that the New Democrats will fight from the left.

So how does the Liberal Party broker such a deal and get the support of all the leadership factions. If there is one overriding Liberal Party principle it is the quest for power. So the deal is that Bob Rae be given the chance to lead the Liberals into power. If he succeeds there will be no serious challenge to his leadership when the official leadership race is held. If he fails he does not seek the leadership in the official race.

Parliament has been most progressive with a left of centre Liberal government being pushed from the left by a strong New Democratic Party. Just think of what could be achieved by a minority Liberal government led by Bob Rae with a strong NDP holding the balance of power. Compare that to what we have now.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Zoning: Developers vs the Environment and the Public Interest

I was out on my bike yesterday riding along Huntmar Road and the Carp River, including land on the flood plain that the city has approved for housing development. Along parts of my route you could not even tell where the river is as everything is flooded alongside it.

As I passed the Corel Centre I recalled the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) rezoning battle for the proposed NHL arena lands.

My wife and I were amongst the official objectors to the proposal to rezone thousands of acres of high quality farmland for commercial development, including the arena. The result was unusual in that we essentially won the battle with the well funded developers. The arena and 100 acres, was allowed to be developed but the remaining thousands of acres were protected and conditions were put on the development to protect the surrounding land from development, including limiting sewage and other services to the size necessary for the arena and requiring the developer to pay for the Highway 417 interchange because it would only be serve the arena project.

The only reason we won this unusual victory was because of timing. The battle was waged during the short period that Ontario actually had a progressive government (Bob Rae’s New Democratic Party government) that cared about protecting the environment and protecting farmland and our food supply. It was the dedicated officials from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF) that carried the major weight of the battle, otherwise the various public interest groups would not have been able to compete with the financial resources of the developer.

Interestingly the quality of the farmland was not an issue at the hearings, although it was an issue in the developers PR campaign. Even as the developer was presenting to the OMB it’s consultants report, that agreed that the land was high quality agricultural land, the developer was waging a public relations campaign of lies to claiming the exact opposite of what they were saying to the OMB, a quasi-judicial board. They knew better that to try to lie to the OMB but lying to the public was no problem for them.

So why was I biking through all sorts of development adjacent to the arena. It is essentially because the rules favour the developers. A victory for the developers is always permanent. A victory for the environment and the public interest is always temporary.

Once developers get land zoned for development it can virtually never be taken away no matter what environmental or public interest arguments and evidence might be presented. To do so would take away their “property rights” and that has financial implications - it would be reducing the monetary value of their land.

However land that is zoned to protect it from development for environmental and public interests reasons has no such long term protection. The developers can keep trying again and again until the defenders of the environment and public interest can no longer afford to keep fighting. It appears that the environment and the public interest has no monetary value.

One of the most troubling cases involved land adjacent to the Trillium Woods in Kanata that was designated as environmentally protected and purchased by a developer (Minto). The City was forced to purchase the lands when the OMB basically ruled that because the land was owned by a developer the developer could do whatever it wanted with it.

This is the type of irrational thinking that leads to the argument that we have to destroy the environment or the economy will collapse. The fact that there would be no economy without the environment is irrelevant because there is no monetary value placed on the environment.

If we are going to have livable communities we have to place a value on the environment that we live in. Once land is designated as protected from development those environmental rights should have the same permanent status as developers rights to destroy the environment (and farmland) have.

Monday, 7 April 2008

A Nineteenth of A Cent For Your Thoughts

That’s what a penny buys today, compared to 1914, which is as far back as the Bank of Canada Inflation Calculator goes. The buying power of a penny back in 1914 was equivalent to 19 pennies today and nobody saw the need for a nineteenth of a cent coin. So why do we need a penny or a even a nickel today, which was worth almost a dollar (94 cents) back then in today’s buying power. We already have the loonie so we don’t need the nickel. But I would keep the dime, even if it is, relatively speaking, the equivalent of having a half cent coin in 1914.

In fact we have acted at the other end of the coin spectrum by recognizing inflation has turned one and two dollar bills into small change, so we added two new coins, the loonie and the twonie. Now it is time to eliminate the two at the bottom, the penny and the nickel.

For those that are concerned about losing a few nineteenths of a cent in the rounding process we could require that all prices be a multiple of ten cents and that all sales taxes be rounded down to the nearest ten cents.

Pat Martin has the right idea we just need to take it to the next logical step.

And while we are at it maybe retailers can stop treating customers as idiots with their silly pricing, such as labeling an item $1.97 to try to make us think it is priced under two dollars. Does anyone really think a car buyer does not know a sticker price of $29,989 really means $30,000. But then again, anyone who watches television commercials these days knows retailers think we are idiots.

Friday, 4 April 2008

The Other Videotape - Lukiwski affair

The Fifth Column has come across the transcript of a videotape taken during moving day in the Saskatchewan Legislature. The text follows:

SakPartyStaffer: It’s time to party. We’re all packed up and moving into the government offices.

SaskPartyMLA: Yep, I can’t wait till those queer loving commies have to move into the opposition offices.

SakPartyOfficial: Yep, I cant wait to get out of here and into the government wing,

SaskPartytMLA: Think we should do a last swing through the cupboards and cabinets in case we forgot anything.

SaskPartyStaffer. No, we’ve got everything important. It’s time to party.

SaskPartyOfficial: But we wouldn’t want to leave anything important behind.

SaskStaffer: But we did doublecheck all the cabinets labeled secret, that’s good enough.

SaskPartyMLA. But we did have some pretty wild parties and I remember some really good videos that those people wouldn’t appreciate.

SaskPartyOfficial: Yea, especially back when we called ourselves Tories.

SaskPartyStaffer: But nobody would be stupid enough to keep those tapes in the office.

SaskPartyMLA: OK lets get out of here. It’s time to party.

SaskPartyOfficial: Don’t forget to bring the video camera.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

The Fifth Column Poll & Detailed Comments

I have written a series of questions that I ask visitors to the Fifth Column to answer. They will appear at the top of the blog until the summer. The Fifth Column encourages you to make more detailed comments by posting them as comments to this post.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

The Fifth Column: First Year In Review - The Commentary

The Fifth Column has become perhaps not what I was hoping for when I first planned on writing Internet columns when I retired, which was to make a real name for myself with my self-assessed great writing. But a lot has happened since then, primarily the invention of the blog and the proliferation of blogs and bloggers, including many more dedicated and better than I could ever hope to be. There are some really great blogs out there and I am privileged to be in their company, even as a minor blogger.

I suppose with almost 5,000 visits by 3,670 visitors in my first year of blogging I should not feel too bad. From checking my stats I do have a sense that I do have some regular visitors and I know some bloggers have linked to me, either to the blog itself or particular posts. I do feel good about that. My biggest disappointment is in the lack of comments and I am not sure how to interpret that.

I do wish I had a greater sense of who was reading the blog and why and how many regular readers I have. I plan to post some poll questions in the near future to try to assess my readership better.

The blog did seem to take off, relatively, when I started posting daily (weekends and holidays excluded), in September, as well as when I became listed on Progressive Bloggers and New Democrats Online. I try to post at least one substantial post a week as well as shorter observations on the other days. I do not always follow the pattern and sometimes it is primarily medium length commentaries that get posted. I wonder if trying to post daily reduces the quality of the posts but then I think if I consider myself a blogger I should be able to have something to say everyday.

My blog also tends to be not just a political blog but to sometimes be a more personal blog.

The main thing that keeps me writing for a relatively limited audience is that I am also writing for myself. One of the first jobs I applied for after university was as a journalist but I did not get that job. Then I ended up working for the House of Commons where I was paid to read what Members of Parliament said and figure out what it meant. I left when the job was essentially dumbed down by new technology that allowed the work to be done faster by fewer people. The blog gives me a chance to write and express my own opinions after reading and analyzing other’s opinions for most of my life.

Lately I have found myself, more excited about blogging and thinking of more things to write about, even thinking that perhaps I should post on more than one subject per day. One thing I do try to do is to not just follow the “party line” but analyze the situation and call things as I see them - to be a progressive minded, but independent blogger.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The Fifth Column: First Year In Review - The Stats

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The Fifth Column: First Year In Review - The Commentary will be posted tommorrow.