The Old Stone House - To Be Saved or Destroyed

There is an old stone house in what was once a rural area and now is within the Emerald Meadows portion of Bridlewood in Kanata. A few weeks ago I biked by it and noticed that, while still standing, it was surrounded by construction and all the doors and windows were missing looking like no attempt to preserve it was being made. I was expecting it to be bulldozed any day but it still stands with construction going on all around it making me wonder if it is going to be destroyed or preserved.

Update 2014-11-26 - What It Looks Like Now


Started Enjoying Our New Community Mail Box Last Week

I know as a progressive I am supposed to oppose the transition to community mailboxes (CMBs) for all urban and suburban residents but logic prevents me from doing so. Indeed this only seems to have become an issue when it was announced that downtown urban areas would join suburban areas in the use of CMBs.

Our New Community Mailbox

Perhaps I see this differently because I live in a community (Bridlewood in Kanata/Ottawa) where 90% of households have always had community mailboxes (CMBs). It was a year or two after we moved here in 1979 that all new households had CMBs so we were somewhat of an anomaly having door to door delivery and I always thought that didn't make sense. There was no difference in neighbourhoods other than the dates our houses were built.

As Canada Post states:

Ten million Canadian households – or about two thirds of all households in Canada – already receive their mail at a centralized point away from their front door, such as at a community mailbox, a mail panel in an apartment building or condominium, a rural post office, or a curbside rural mailbox. Of these ten million households, four million receive their mail at a community mailbox. Over the next five years, the conversion to community mailboxes will impact about five million Canadian households – or about one third of all households in Canada – that still receive door-to-door delivery.

I do not recall any great protests when CMBs were introduced in the suburbs and all of the problems we hear about regarding CMBs do not seem to exist. There are senior citizens living in these neighbourhood with CMBs, and houses with wheelchair ramps and the residents choose to live here despite the CMBs and seem to be able to cope.

I find it somewhat insulting to suggest that senior citizens cannot walk a block or two to a CMB. I am just approaching Old Age Pension age and I do over 5 km hikes in the forest with a woman in her mid 80s. We are perfectly capable of walking to our mailboxes.

As for people with mobility issues, mail delivery is the least of their problems compared to grocery shopping, doctors appointments, etc. Much more comprehensive solutions and services are required for them, rather than making postal service inefficient for everyone.

Those that live in neighbourhoods already served by CMBs have already found solutions. And while Canada Post has also offered help in such cases, I expect most people would forego the bureaucratic process required by Canada Post and simply ask a neighbour to pick up their mail.

The fact is there are real issues regarding postal service. With the Internet and email people are simply not using the postal service the way they did before. There is considerably more junk mail being delivered than first class mail although there is a potential for more parcel deliveries.

Having letter carriers walking the street bypassing most houses or simply delivering junk mail is simply not efficient. There have been suggestions of reducing deliveries to three days a week but when we are receiving something important we want it as soon as possible. The alternative of using CMBs has already been proven to work for about 30 years.

The other new factor is the increase in online shopping and the resultant increase in parcel deliveries, Prior to being transitioned to a CMB parcel deliveries either meant the parcel was left on our front step as an invitation to theft or we had to go to a postal outlet the next day to pick it up. Now small and medium size parcels are left in a locked CMB compartment and we only have to make a trip to pick up very large parcels. And all mail is now in a locked compartment rather than an unlocked mailbox on our house like the vast majority of people in our neighbourhood.

However Canada Post could certainly have been more forthcoming and transparent in how they went about this. I recall the announcement a few years previous that all mail carriers would be using vehicles for their deliveries. That did not make sense unless they knew what was coming. They obviously did but did not want to tell anyone their plans. That is when they should have started letting the public and their workers know the direction they were moving.

Jobs are important but inefficiency is not a sustainable way of maintaining jobs in the long term. However, rather than the wishy-washy Canada Post response of we don't expect any individuals to lose their jobs they should have provided a job guarantee for all existing letter carriers. Attrition, retirement and increased parcel deliveries should easily allow that.

They should also make a firm commitment that all new parcel delivery services will be provided by unionized Canada Post employees under the terms of their collective agreements.

Our New Community Mailbox Seen From End of Our Driveway

But there is something worth fighting over, and I wish there was a bigger battle over this with more public support, and that is the privatization of retail postal services and the transfer of the responsibility for our mail from decently paid full time unionized employees hired and vetted by Canada Post to part time minimum wage retail clerks. That is a battle I can get behind.


What Are Cyclists Lives Worth

While I cannot answer that question I can tell you what our society and its governments have decided cyclists lives are not worth.

Cyclists lives are not worth the cost of installing truck side guards on all large trucks.

Cyclists lives are not worth the cost of developing and installing better mirror or camera monitoring systems for large trucks and all motor vehicles.

Cyclists lives are not worth the cost of designing and building roads that do not place cyclists in the path of other vehicles such as big trucks and then directs those vehicles into the cyclists.

Cyclists lives are not worth the cost of infrastructure that separates cyclists from motor vehicle traffic where appropriate such as on the most dangerous routes.

Cyclists lives are not worth the political will to require drivers, especially truck drivers, to have a legal responsibility to be able to see where their vehicle is going (and who they may be driving into and running over) before they go there.

And most importantly cyclists lives are not worth the elimination of the get out of jail free card that drivers that kill cyclists get for simply saying they didn't see the cyclist.

So what are are cyclists lives worth.

Note: this post does not refer to any specific incident.


Much Ado About Religious Accommodation

Much is being made of a decision by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) managers at Toronto's Pearson airport to allow a small group of Hindu priests to avoid screening by female border guards to comply with their religious beliefs.

Apparently some female CBSA officers feel that they were discriminated against by this decision. I could understand an outrage if female officers were only allowed to deal with female visitors but this was a small exemption made for a special case. Why all the fuss about this when so many more significant examples of religious discrimination are entrenched in our laws and practices in the name of freedom of religion.

For example an employer being allowed to designate higher profile positions for males only and more subservient positions for women only. This is a clear violation of all Canadian employment legislation and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms but still allowed in the name of freedom of religion.

What about persons delegated by the state the right to perform legal marriage ceremonies being allowed to discriminate in terms of who they will marry on the basis of their personal religious beliefs.

And much more serious, medical practitioners, such as doctors and pharmacists, being allowed to refuse to provide medical treatment or services on the basis of their personal religious beliefs.

Perhaps one of the most outrageous examples of discriminatory religious accommodation, a clear violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but constitutionally allowed, is the public funding of religious-based schools for one religious group only (and not even the largest group at that) - a huge government subsidy to one religious group that all political parties are afraid to deal with because of the risk of losing that groups votes.

If we are to be outraged by inappropriate religious accommodation let us be outraged by matters of substance, not by attempts to accommodate a small groups religious preference that has little impact on others' rights.


This post sees the return of the Fifth Column after an interregnum, not caused by a lack of ideas but simply a lack of motivation to make the effort to write them down. Hopefully my posts will be more regular from now on.


Why Does Canada Participate in the Olympics Anyway

I took this screenshot (CBC website) of the standings yesterday showing Germany in first place with 8 medals, Canada second with 10 medals and Norway in third place with 12 medals.

Yes, that's right, because only being the very best in the world (well best at that particular place at that particular time) counts, the rest are all losers, so it seems.

Why do we rate the Olympics that way. The way we rate Olympic success should relate to what we want to accomplish, and the way we rate Olympics can have far reaching effects on how we fund sports and recreation in this country. We have already seen, at least in the past, funding shifted from less popular sports to sports that we have a better chance of winning Olympic medals in.

But what if we measured Olympic success by a points system that included all top ten finishes (tenth best in the world is pretty damn good by most peoples standards) with 10 points for first and one point for tenth.

We would get a much better picture of the depth and breadth of our elite athletes than just counting those in the top three. It would even give us a better measure of how we are progressing towards more medals in the future. And we could start doing it now retroactively using the records of past Olympics.

But is that even the point. Is it really justified to spend all this money on a “pissing contest” to prove we (well actually our elite athletes) are better than the rest of the world. What public policy goal does that serve.

We can only justify spending all this money on the Olympics if it serves some public benefit beyond giving Canadian another excuse to spend more time watching TV (while waving the flag) for two weeks every two years.

We can only justify spending this money if it benefits Canadians beyond the elite athletes that participate. We have to be able to show that the funding benefits a broad range of Canadians by funding sports and recreation for more than just elite athletes and by actually encouraging more Canadians to get involved in sports and recreation. That way we will see results in fitter and healthier Canadians with more balanced lifestyles and even reduced health care costs.

We won't know that if we measure the wrong things. Ultimately what we want to be able to measure is whether Olympic programs increase the participation of Canadians in sport and recreation ultimately leading to more balanced lifestyles and improving their fitness and health.

Knowing that we had the greatest percentage of citizens participating in sports and recreational activities would make me a lot more prouder than knowing that a small group of elite Canadian athletes were the best in the world. Now that is a goal to strive for.


The War on Cars Starts Here – My Municipal Election Slogan

You don't have to actually run for office to have an election slogan, do you. Although my wife did suggest I take on our car loving, parking worshipping incumbent whose biggest priority is widening roads through the Greenbelt, I am too happy in retirement to go after a thankless twenty-four hour a day job. But I can still have an election slogan and mine is The War on Cars Starts Here.

Conventional wisdom would say that is a guaranteed losing slogan for a suburban candidate. But is it really.

After all, ask your typical suburban car commuter what they think of their commute and they will almost unanimously say that they hate it. Then ask someone who bikes or walks to work and the answer you will get is that they love it. Those that use public transit may have some complaints but almost all will be happy they do not have to drive in rush hour traffic, especially in the winter.

For some strange reason, even though studies and history has shown that building more roads never eases congestion problems, car drivers think that is somehow the answer to making their commute more bearable.

We do not need any more roads or any wider roads. We are over-serviced as far as roads go, except for two hours a day during the morning and evening rush hour. We spend millions and millions of taxpayers dollars trying to solve an unsolvable problem building more roads that we do not need ninety percent of the time.

The only solution that will really solve the problem for those people that drive to work are solutions that reduce the number of cars on the road, not so-called solutions that encourage more people to drive to work. We need to spend our tax money on alternatives to the hated car commute, on infrastructure for commuting solutions that people enjoy.

As with the Three Rs, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, Reducing commuting distances is the most important and effective solution to traffic congestion. We need to design and build our communities with more opportunities to work closer to home, and more opportunities to work from home.

That is where walking and cycling are the best alternatives, but they are not attractive if people feel unsafe. That is why we do not build sidewalks by drawing white lines to separate cars from pedestrians. Give people safe walking and cycling routes, preferably segregated, and they will use them.

Also improving the recreational pathway system will get more people onto their bikes and more people thinking about commuting on their bikes, especially if there is a comprehensive network that allows people to go from anywhere in the city to any destination without having to share major roadways with cars.

Winter is seen as a problem, but if you look at cities with similar climates to Ottawa that actually have good and extensive cleared winter cycling routes and infrastructure the number of winter cycling commuters is much higher than in Ottawa. If you build it they will ride it.

And of course making public transit a comfortable and enjoyable experience will increase ridership. It is already as fast and much less expensive than commuting by car. Indeed, I suspect for the majority of car drives, it is only stereotypes about public transit and psychological barriers that keep people off public transit.

Indeed if we provided secure and sheltered bike parking at the Park and Rides and an improved Bixi Bike system downtown and in major employment areas we could create a whole new commuter class of cycling public transit users, especially with the light rail system, where bike commuters would use the LRT for the long middle portion of their commute.

There is only one way to reduce traffic congestion on the roads and that is to reduce the number of cars on the roads. And there is only one way to do that and that is by improving infrastructure for the alternatives, public transit, cycling and walking.

The War on Cars Starts Here.