Intuitive Lessons from The Pandemic – A Fantasy

This post is not based on comprehensive research or particular expertise on my part. Rather it is more what we would have called “common sense” before Mike Harris completely destroyed the meaning of the phrase.

We start off with the most obvious. We need a public health care system that is not overloaded to begin with. We can solve two problems here, provide pandemic readiness and provide timely life enhancing health care. We currently provide timely care for life threatening situations like cancer, heart surgery and emergency trauma but have created an artificial class of so called “elective surgery” we consider to be of lesser importance. This includes things like hip and knee surgery and replacements and many other types of health care that are necessary to allow people to live fulfilling lives. Health care is much more than preventing premature deaths. If we provided the necessary resources to provide all necessary health care without unreasonable wait times we would have the capacity to deal with a pandemic without putting peoples lives at risk.

Equally obvious is the need to bring long term care into the public health care system. Before the pandemic the horror stories of private long term care were well known even if the body counts were not as inexcusable as they became with the pandemic meeting the profit motive.

And still looking at the health care system, why did doctors offices shut down or become virtual during the pandemic when they should have been part of the response to it. Family physicians provide the first source of diagnosis for many serious illnesses like heart disease and cancer where early detection can be a matter of life and death. The system may respond quickly when these diseases are diagnosed but it does not respond at all when they are not detected. And why was the network of family physicians not used for pandemic testing and vaccinations.

And what of government policies. The big thing we got right was vaccines. In comparison to some jurisdictions to the south of us, all jurisdictions understand the importance and effectiveness of vaccines. The federal government did an admirable job of making vaccines available to the provinces and the provinces did a decent job in administering them. The main things Ontario could have done better was utilizing doctors offices and the school system to more efficiently get vaccines to the public.

As to the timely and appropriate response to the threat that is where we could have done better. We knew it was coming but we didn’t know what it would be like so it was a learning process. There is lots to criticize in hindsight but more importantly is learning going forward.

The biggest lesson was that internationally jurisdictions that put public health first and took strong, even drastic, measures quickly were able to get out of it faster than those that took half measures being more concerned with protecting the so-called economy than the public’s health. Having a provincial leader that considered himself a “businessman first” and by implication a Premier second did not help. We are still stumbling through in Ontario.

What is saving us is our sense of community. This works on two levels. On the personal level, it means in our personal behaviour, such as distancing, mask wearing and getting vaccinated, we base our decisions not just on what will keep us safe but also on what will keep our neighbours safe. This has made the big difference on how Canada has fared, compared to the United States, who arguably had better resources available to fight the pandemic.

The other level is the collective level, our collective actions taken together through our governments.

Here we are talking about three levels of government, federal, provincial and local, sometimes with differing philosophies and priorities. We really need to find a way to make federalism work better in these sorts of, not just national but international emergencies, climate change being another example.

If the pandemic has shown us anything is that individual action cannot replace collective action, and some things are just done better by acting collectively rather than acting individually. This is where we need to do better, particularly by strengthening our health care system and providing social supports. We are not financially prepared for the next pandemic because the political parties in power have chosen to go down the populist road of under-taxation thinking that would buy them votes. This is perhaps the most disastrous public policy position of the last half century.

Fortunately, because of that trend, there is substantial room to increase taxes to fill the void, particularly on that portion of the population that are excessively wealthy and under-taxed. This is a group in society that actually stands to gain more from collective spending by government than they can from individual spending by themselves. There is only so much you can spend on a wealthy lifestyle and the benefits of a better society far outweigh the benefits of people who have everything buying more everything for themselves.

We can be better prepared next time, and there will be a next time, but only if we choose to.

And the fantasy part – the belief that those in power will actually choose to learn these lessons and implement the necessary measures.


Quebec’s Bill 21 Has It All Wrong

I am writing this, not because Quebec’s “An Act respecting the laicity of the State”, commonly referred to as Bill 21, goes against Canadian values and violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which it does, but because it’s provisions will not achieve it’s supposed purpose of a secular state and civil society.

As an atheist I support secular public institutions. That means government and public institutions should be religiously neutral. The institutions should not favour one religion and include religious symbols, like crucifixes in the National Assembly or government buildings, hospitals or schools named after saints or popes. It does not meaning everyone working in the public sector needs to be an atheist.

Quebec has historically been a Roman Catholic Christian society. That historical majority, with or without individual symbolism, will see itself within government and public institutions. For public institutions, like schools, to be truly religiously neutral they must reflect all of Quebec society and it’s people of various religions. That inclusiveness and diversity, like justice, must not just exist but must be seen to exist. Quebec’s Bill 21 has it backwards.


The Communist Family

From each according to his ability
To each according to his needs*

If you did not know the source of this you could easily mistake it for a description of the family.

After all in a family the family unit takes care of all of your needs from birth, and as you age you start to take on responsibilities according to your abilities. As an infant you are completely dependant for everything from feeding to moving about. As a child you can take on many responsibilities for yourself but are still financially dependent on the family. As an adolescent you may start working part-time to pay for some of your own wants but are still fully financially dependent on the family for food and shelter. Once you start higher education you probably work full time part of the year to pay for your expenses but may still be subsidized by the family unit.

Once you leave home and live on your own you finally become fully responsible for your own needs, though you might still receive some financial help from the rest of the family or you may provide some to it.

When you have your own family the cycle starts over again except now you may start financially assisting the family members that once assisted you when they reach retirement age and cease working and become more dependant on others for care.

All of this based on ability and need.

Something to remember the next time right wingers rant on about family values.


End of Cycling Season Review Featuring Norco Scene VLT E-bike


As we approach the time to put away the summer bikes and bring out the winter bikes it is time to review the past season.

After a high of 5100 kilometres in 2013, I had dropped to 2300 by 2016 and since then gradually increased to 3000 last year and another jump to 3900 kilometres this year, with over a month to go.

A big change this year was my wife, Christine, deciding to get an e-bike and my deciding to follow suit after trying hers out.

One of the impacts of that was our spending less time on the mountain bikes, with my putting less than half of my usual over 300 km per season on the mountain bike.

All of my mountain biking this year was on the Old Quarry and Jack Pine trail systems. I hope to get back to to some of the other trail systems next year, particularly The Untrails where I need to map some new trails we discovered on a hike there. I also want to see what effect the hurricane a few years back has had on the Bruce Pit trails.

Another new factor is Christine deciding to try winter biking with me this year, having converted her Brodie Sterling hybrid into a winter bike by putting Schwalbe Winter Marathon tires on it. Last year, 2020, I put 720 km on the winter bike and so far this year (January-March) I have put 510 km on the winter bike. I expect I may put more on this winter having someone to ride with during the winter.

Norco Scene VLT

So let us talk about the Norco Scene VLT  e-bike. This is the perfect e-bike for somebody that does not want an e-bike. This is not to say it is not a great e-bike, but it’s real appeal to me is that is a bike I can ride as a solely pedal powered bike without the extra weight of the motor and batteries having any noticeable effect. It is just as easy to pedal as my Brodie Sterling, making it the perfect bike for someone wanting a true electric assist bicycle where you can use the assist when needed but otherwise ride like a normal bike.

One of the benefits of an e-bike is that they can equalize riders capabilities. I am a stronger rider than Christine, or perhaps I just like to push myself a bit harder, so usually when we rode together I would follow her riding slower than my usual pace. With the Scenes, Christine can ride in the “eco” mode which basically allows us to ride together at my normal pace and I still have the power assist available if I need it to keep up on killer hills or riding into strong winds.

One of the things I have noticed over the last 10 years or so is that my stamina decreases in the cold weather and I find now, as we are getting into late fall, I am using the power assist somewhat more than in the summer.

One of the main benefits of an electric assist bike is knowing that one can head out in heavier winds, or try hillier routes or go for longer rides, knowing you have the electric assist available if you need it.

It is not just the power assist that makes the Scene a great bike. It has a great set of components, riding and shifting gears very smoothly with disc brakes. The nine speed gear range is more than adequate with the gear shift on the right side and the power assist control on the left. After putting 3300 kilometres on the Scene it still shifts easily and smoothly, although I did adjust the barrel adjuster after the first month to account for cable stretch.

There are two other handy features. The one I appreciate most is the step-through frame, no longer having to throw yourself over the frame starting up. My wife really appreciates the drop seat-post that drops the seat for when you are standing at red lights, making it easier to rest your feet on the ground.

As to the 32 km/hr e-bike speed limitation, I have not comprehensively tested that but from my riding experience there does not seem to be a speed governor, the power assist, if it is on, simply seems to turn off once you reach 32 km/hr and to go faster you have to do that completely pedalling on your own.

I believe the Norco Scene e-bikes have greatly contributed to us doing more riding this past season.

This is a map of a recent ride on the e-bikes through the Bridlewood roads and paths and some of the easier Old Quarry trails.


Now Comes The Necessary Part

 We can argue all we want over whether the election was necessary but what is definitely necessary is the government tackling the pressing issues of the day, issues that have been pressing for decades and in some cases since before Confederation.

Indigenous Reconciliation

The longest standing issue in Canadian political history is the plight (struggled over what language to use here) of the original inhabitants of North America and the effects of European “discovery” and colonization.

[Side note: I often think the dictionary should define “discover” as “stumble upon”.]

The recent discovery of 150 (latest count Canada wide 6,000 and growing) unmarked graves at an Indian Residential School in British Columbia has focused Canadians thoughts on the treatment of North America’s indigenous peoples from unfairly negotiated treaties to the lack of clean drinking water on reserves.

People are finally realizing that it was not simply a problem of a few bad people abusing a few children in a few schools but a systemic policy of cultural genocide (“take the Indian out of the Indian”) seen as, in the words of the Indian Affairs Department, the “final solution to the Indian problem”. The facilities included such high levels of neglect and abuse that the likelihood of dying in an Indian Residential School was slightly higher than the likelihood of dying as a soldier in World War II.

Of course the term school for these facilities is inappropriate. Schools have graduates, not survivors.

It is no wonder there are problems in indigenous communities when the destruction of indigenous families and culture was government policy for so long.

Governments have committed themselves to reconciliation but what will that be. From my euro-centric viewpoint I would see it as a new social contract between Indigenous Peoples and the rest of Canada, something that will have to be achieved by consensus. But it will be up to Indigenous communities to decide when reconciliation has been achieved as they are the only ones capable of judging that.

[Another side note: Until then the flags should stay down.]

Health Care

Public health care, or Medicare as we Canadians call it, was first implemented in Saskatchewan in the form of hospital coverage in 1947, followed by full health care coverage following the 1960 provincial election. Federally the Medical Care Act was passed in 1968, followed by the Canada Health Act in 1984 which affirmed and clarified five founding principles: public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability and accessibility.

However in the over 50 years since then the system has stagnated, indeed it has gone backwards with the federal level of funding decreasing over time. We need to finish building the system and we cannot wait another 50 years to do it incrementally. The government must act now to extend the system to include:

- at least 50% federal funding

- a family doctor for every Canadian

- full mental health care, including psychology services where medically necessary

- full long term care for those requiring residential care

- full prescription drug coverage

- full eye care coverage

- full dental care coverage

- full physiotherapy coverage where medically required

Climate Change

The first warnings of climate change and it’s effects were noted over 50 years ago and the warnings have become more dire year after year with governments responding with lots of promises but little real action. The irony of all this delay is that the longer we wait to act, the more drastic actions we have to take to respond to this crisis. Those against taking drastic measures should have been calling for us to take action sooner rather than arguing against taking action at all.

The idea of starting new fossil fuel projects at a time when we need to start phasing out fossil fuels is simply ridiculous yet it is treated as a serious option in industry and government circles. How drastic to we want the measures to have to be when we finally realize we have to take action before it is too late.

From an economic point of view there are a tremendous number of opportunities available in the renewable energy sector. Call it whatever you want but the concept of a Green New Deal may be the economic and environmental salvation of our future.

Inequality & Under-taxation

Ever since the creation of capitalism there has been inequality because the system is designed to create and reward inequality.

However I have to say that during my lifetime (since the 1950s) it has become noticeably worse. One factor is that the wealthy capitalists have moved the means of production to low wage countries so that their portion of the rewards of labour has increased, while the jobs left behind in North America are lower wage jobs.

They have invented a whole new sector of the economy based on piece-work to avoid paying the existing minimum wages or providing employee benefits and they give it a snazzy sounding name, the gig economy, to try to convince people they are freeing them from wage drudgery and letting them be their own boss when in reality the corporation has more control over them than if they were unionized wage workers.

At the same time the taxation of corporations and the wealthy has declined, partly in response to corporate blackmail threatening to take more jobs elsewhere if they are forced to pay fair levels of taxation.

It is also because wealth equals political power and excessive wealth equals excessive political power and that power is used to enact polices that favour the wealthy.

Governments need to enact policies that are actually designed to serve working people and dedicated to their well being, policies that will counter inequality and under-taxation.

Let us start with decent minimum wages and labour laws designed to encourage and assist workers in organizing unions. Minimum wages should not be designed to keep workers just above the poverty line but designed to provide workers with a middle class income. Our economy has the money to do that it just requires a little redistribution from those with excessive wealth to the people that actually produce that wealth.

We also need a guaranteed basic income for those that for whatever reason are unable to be employed at any particular time.

We can increase employment by redistributing money from the private sector to the public sector via a tax on excessive income and wealth to provide jobs building public infrastructure and affordable housing for everyone.

As for taxation, we can start by raising the level at which people start paying income taxes and increase the amount of tax paid in the higher marginal tax brackets. We also need dedicated taxes on excessive levels of income and wealth. I would tax away all excessive income (above $1,000,000 annually and all excessive wealth (above $100,000,000) but I do not expect any government to go near that. However that leaves a huge amount of room for a wealth tax that will have little practical impact on the standard of living of the excessively wealth while providing great benefit to the common good.

This is not in any way proposed as a punishment but just a means for them to create a better country/world with no impact on their personal well being.

Electoral Reform

Winston Churchill is often quoted as saying “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms”.

Ever since democracy (“rule of the people” in Greek) was invented by they Greeks we have been looking for ways to make it less worst.

[Yet another side note: My Eurocentric education tells me democracy was invented by the Greeks but I would not be surprised if forms of democracy were being used in non-European cultures before then.]

The key to any democracy is the electoral system, how the people actually select the people to represent them in government.

The system we use now is Single Member Plurality (SMP), more often referred to as First Past The Post (FPTP), an objectively silly name. In Single Member Plurality systems the country (or other jurisdiction) is broken into constituencies and each constituency chooses a representative to send to the legislature. Whichever candidate receives the most votes becomes that representative. We use the term plurality because the candidate does not have to receive a majority of votes cast, just more than any other candidate.

The main benefit of SMP is that voters elect local representatives.

The main drawback is the elected candidates could possibly be the last choice of more voters than they are the first choice. Also theoretically a party could elect 100% of MPs with less than 50% of the total votes, though in practice a typical result may be more like 60% of MPs with 40% of the votes.

There are two main proposals to replace this system: Ranked Ballots (preferred by the Liberals but not in their platform) and Mixed Member Proportional (proposed by the NDP in their platform).

Ranked Ballots solves one of the problems of SMP in that it avoids the last choice of a majority of voters being elected as MPs or forming a government. It however will likely create an even less representative House of Commons based on voters first choice party preferences.

Under Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) a majority of Members of Parliament are elected in the same manner as SMP to represent defined constituencies. Then an additional number are selected from party lists in order to balance the percentage of MPs from each party with the percentage of total votes received by each party (often referred to as the “popular vote”) to form a House of Commons representative of the views of the total population. Under MMP there is usually a threshold of percentage of total vote required to be allotted seats, often 5%, to avoid radical fringe groups having representation. However if that threshold is met a party receives representation. But is not representation of all voters what democracy is about.

One of the main criticisms of MMP is that it is unlikely to provide one party majority governments (unless a majority of voters support one party). But is that not what democracy is supposed to provide, a legislature that reflects the will of the people. Would we not be better off if parties learned to work together for the common good rather than simply engaging in political posturing. By reducing the power of a single party in government you reduce the power of a single person (the majority party leader), and perhaps get back to actual representative government rather than the trend of effectively electing (even if indirectly) a dictator to rule over Parliament.

Changing our electoral system to a more democratic one, MMP, is the most important thing the government can do.


These are not the only issues of importance but ones that have not been properly addressed over decades and more. We need the political will to address them all now without the excuse that the solutions need to be implemented incrementally.


Ban Campaign Promises and other Electoral Rants

Campaign promises. What are they good for. Absolutely nothing.

I wish we could get rid of campaign promises. If you are in government then a campaign promise is just something you think you should have done that you did not do. Maybe it is best not to remind the voters of that, especially if you have made the same promise election after election without delivering. Governing parties should run on their records.

If you are in opposition then campaign promises are wishful thinking. Once elected into government you might discover just how difficult implementing them might be, or worse yet that they really are a bad idea. Nothing politically good can come from breaking promises even when it is the right thing to do.

But the main thing about campaign promises is that they have become part of what has become elections as marketing and voting as shopping where the best candidate doesn’t win but the best marketing campaign does.

Sometimes I think would be better of without election campaigns. Just have all the candidates write essays (no ghost writing allowed) about the type of Canada they want and what they believe to be the best way to achieve that.

After all is not the idea of representative government to elect representatives we trust to take the time to study the issues and develop the best solutions to make the country a better place.

How well are we served by a process where all Members of Parliament do is vote the party line and implement predetermined polices rather than working together to develop the best policies for the country.

I actually remember a time when local all candidates debates mattered. How well served are we by election campaigns where the only people that count are the party leaders, and constitutional niceties aside, voters act is if they are voting for a President, not Members of Parliament.


How Should We Judge Historical Figures

Should historical figures be judged by the best things they have done or the worst. Should they be judged by the standards of today or of their time. Should some things like slavery or genocide be considered evil no matter when they may have occurred. These are legitimate questions to to ask and the answers likely differ according to the circumstances.

Let’s take two examples. One of someone who a few years before the American civil war publicly stated that:

I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality ... I will add to this that I have never seen, to my knowledge, a man, woman, or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men. Source

And what of someone who freed the slaves, even if it just was to “save the union”.

And what if that was the same person. Should he be vilified or celebrated. History has already made a judgment on that question.

The second example is someone whose main claim to fame was to be the first leader of a new country, coincidentally during the same decade as the previous example, but whose administration was plagued by scandals and was responsible for implementing policies of genocide aimed at that country’s indigenous peoples. Celebration or shame ? History is just making that judgment now.


Follow The Fifth Columnist on Twitter Over The Summer

For the past two years I have kept to my goal of posting at least once a month but it seems this summer outdoors activities, mostly biking, have taken me somewhat away from The Fifth Column.

I still plan to try to keep to that goal but in the meantime you can follow my thoughts on Twitter which I still seem to get to on a daily basis.


Climate Change, The Pandemic and Multi-Use Pathways (MUPs)

The greatest long term threat to humankind is undoubtedly climate change. While the planet can no doubt survive anything short of a collision with a planet sized meteorite or asteroid, climate change has the potential to be be disastrous to human habitat.

In the short term the greatest threat to humankind is the COVID-19 pandemic.

While both of these threats are said to be non-discriminatory and many claim “we are all in this together”, that clearly is not true because while the threats may not discriminate, our societies and dominant economic system certainly do. Both climate change and the pandemic have a greater impact on the developing world than the developed world, and within the developed world a greater impact on poor and marginalized communities.

But what does this all have to do with multi-use pathways (MUPs).

Climate change has created multiple freeze-thaw cycles every year, rather than one each spring, causing excessive damage to cycling infrastructure, in particular MUPs. At the same time the pandemic has created an increase in outdoor activity and in particular much greater demand for bicycles putting much greater demands on cycling infrastructure including MUPs.

This is is the impact on a typical Ottawa MUP in Kanata.

Bridlewood Small Hydro Corridor Multi-Use Pathway (MUP)

We need to improve our multi-use pathway standards so that they do not completely deteriorate after one winter and connect the MUPs together to create a city wide system for recreational and utilitarian use, commuting, shopping, etc.

While considering this we need to keep these important facts in mind. Improving cycling infrastructure increases the number of people using bicycles for utilitarian purposes like commuting and shopping, which reduces the strain on roads and automobile infrastructure and reduces road traffic congestion. At the same time improving cycling infrastructures costs considerably less improving automobile infrastructure. Leaving the only reasonable conclusion that the most cost efficient way to reduce road traffic congestion is to improve cycling infrastructure.


The Argument for White Supremacy

It seems that the main argument of the white supremacists is that white western European countries would not have conquered the world if they were not superior societies.

Of course conquest and colonization involved looting, pillaging, plundering, murder, and rape. This theory assumes that societies that excel at violent conquest are superior societies. Interestingly these same societies demonstrate their violent priorities, particularly at times of financial crises, when cutbacks are made to education, health and social services while the military and police, the agencies of the state charged with violence, are prioritized and protected.

Indeed, perhaps the most successful (at gaining wealth and power over others) of these societies, while offering no right to education, health care or housing, provides a constitutional guarantee of the right to own weapons.

They say within every falsehood is a kernel of truth so I am willing to concede that perhaps the white supremacists, and the societies that they worship, may indeed be superior at violence.