Tuesday, October 28, 2008
CONDEMNED TO REPEATING PAST MISTAKES
I don't envy Mr. Harper. He occupies a position which even in a docile country such as ours requires that he, his associates, his family and other government representatives be protected from whatever "loony" elements of society seek to harm them. It saddens me.
Surely, in the face of the economic crunch which is just around the corner, various government departments and agencies will soon be mandated to trim budgets and expenditures. The Prime Minister's safety and security, particularly through these difficult times, is an essential which will not, should not, be compromised.
In fact, it is the temptation to cut other programs which worries me. In another "post" at another time several months back I cited an example of a cemetery employee in Kingston using his own money to replace (from a Canadian Tire Store) the flag on the grave site of our first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald. The final resting places of most of the country's past leaders being in such a state of disrepair to be, as I invoked at the time, an embarrassment of "monumental" proportions. Despite the severe economic times everywhere, this is surely not a situation which would be tolerated south of our border. It seems to me that in the United States, sites of monumental and historic importance would never be neglected. Mount Rushmore, the Alamo, Gettysburg, the Washington D.C. memorials to past Presidents...even a planned library for the outgoing President, George W. Bush.
In this country, it just seems to get worse. Canada has 925 national historic sites described by Parks Canada as "places of profound importance..." Parks Canada and other Federal Agencies manage 236 of the sites. They include the Parliament Buildings, the Fortress Louisbourg, the Rideau Canal (a World Heritage site), and many historic Battlegrounds. Several, including the Prime Ministerial grave sites, are deteriorating and in urgent need of protective work.
A recent survey of the 689 sites not managed by the Federal Government found about 70% of those in just fair or worse, in poor condition. A federal program that used to help pay for conservation and presentation projects is so hard-up for cash that it has been able to fund just "one" project since 2000. Of the sites surveyed, 276 said they will face budget shortfalls over the next 3 to 5 years.
Parks Canada is the world's oldest parks service. It started in 1885 when the Federal Government of the time passed a law to protect the Banff hot springs in Alberta, now a part of the Banff National Park.
According to a recent story from the Canadian Press, beginning next spring, a new advertising campaign..."will tout Parks Canada as the premiere presenter of Canada's preserved natural and historic treasures." At this juncture, just about anything will help. Even in the face of the country's economic reality, some may hopefully still have the foresight not to gut our history. People that do are generally condemned to repeat it.
Labels: Canada's History
Saturday, October 25, 2008
GET OVER IT!
Just a few days ago here, the abrupt resignation of Mr. Justice Harry LaForme as head of the "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" caused another outcry on the part of Aboriginal leaders to unlock the process, and from the Minister of Indian Affairs, for cooler heads to prevail. It seems the Minister, Chuck Strahl, wants all the parties to come together within days to restart the process and restore the credibility of the Commission.
The estimated cost of the Commission's inquiry into the legacy of abuse at residential schools is $60-million. So far it's been probably more dysfunctional than most of the survivors it aims to help. The survivors at least are getting their share of the nearly $2-billion taxpayer funded settlement over events that occurred fifty or more years ago. I say can't we just get over this.
Abraham Lincoln's "Emancipation Proclamation" of September 22, 1862, "freed the slaves": No excuses, no pay offs, no reparations, no commissions overseeing the welfare of survivors. Freedom! Period. Justice may have taken several decades, but one of theirs, a Harvard graduate, is about to become President.
On the aboriginal file, here in Canada successive governments at all levels have been apologizing, making payments, and being supportive, it seems to me, for fifty or more years. Can't we just stop this already. No one doubts that there has been injustice, and we're sorry. The world is full of injustice. The idyllic 1950's family lives of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, and of the Beaver Cleaver family were just televised fiction.
I was orphaned at age 6 and sent to a religious institution. Everyone picks-up emotional baggage along the path of life, and deals with it as best possible. Just about every family I know, including mine, has dysfunctional elements. Can't we just stop the whining and move-on?
Labels: Aboriginal Affairs.
Monday, October 20, 2008
FRETTING OVER ELECTION ENTRAILS
As the leadership contenders begin to line-up near the starting line let me weigh in on the subject of numbers. It was not all that long ago that, in fact through most of the last century, the Liberals were considered Canada's "natural governing party." The title wasn't bestowed by accident: As Canwest Journalist, David Akin, pointed-out recently. Mr. Dion is the first Liberal Leader since Edward Blake to have failed to become Prime Minister - Blake lost twice to Sir John A. MacDonald, and was replaced as Party Leader in 1887 by Sir Wilfred Laurier.
Depending on which Historian you consult, Mr. Dion may also go down in history for taking the Liberals to A)their lowest level of popular support in an election (26%), or B)second lowest: The Liberals did not have a party leader when they lost the country's first general election in 1867 with 22% of the vote. Despite his failings, hopefully Mr. Dion will be allowed to leave with dignity.
My point about numbers, the one which causes me grave concern, is not only reflected in the Liberal Party fortunes but to a very large degree in the results for every candidate who stood for election on October 14th: Low Voter Turnout! This election like no other in modern times failed both to engage Canadians and bring them out to the voting booth. Everyone should grieve for the state of our democratic system.
Percentage turnout, 37% for the Conservatives, 26% for the Liberals, does not begin to tell this sordid story. Check out the numbers: There were 23,401,064 registered voters for this election. Less than 60%, 13,832,972, voted. Mr. Harper's Government was re-elected with just 5,205,334 votes...not even one/fourth of Canadian voters. We get the leadership that we deserve. Shame on us.
It is those people who choose to lead us who need to study with care the entrails of this month's general election. It seems to me we are on the road to a level of apathy and disillusionment for which they bear a considerable amount of the blame. Going on down through the next session of Parliament; comportment, decorum, cooperation, in public and in private, should be a prime concern of the Government that leads us. As well as for those candidates who will seek the leadership of the Liberal Party come the spring.
Labels: Canadian Politics
Saturday, October 18, 2008
NOT THAT OLD...REALLY!
As part of the same argument, Ms Cameron, mentioned former New Brunswick Premier, Frank McKenna, aged 60...that's when I took notice. The much touted potential leadership candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada, Mr. McKenna, along with another front runner, Bob Rae, and I, are the same age. As much as I would want to think that Stevie Cameron's reference to "senior citizen" was in jest...I know it was not!
Thus, if I may, I shall digress to the nub of her observation. It is the same argument advanced and observation arrived at in the widely popular 1996 book by demographer, David K. Foot: "Boom, Bust & Echo." Almost 35% of Canadians were born during the baby boom period which in this country spans the period 1947 to 1966. At the height of the "boom" Canadian mothers were averaging 4 children each. Canada's was the loudest "Boom" in the industrialized world.
Besides explaining why "Viagra" overnight became one of the most famous drugs in history: Marketers; advertisers; health and leisure providers; even educators have been aroused (forgive the pun)by the potential of a market that represents one-third of everything Canadian. Can politics, party strategists, and politicians be far behind?
Although they did not invent it, boomers embraced Rock and Roll and the radio stations that played it. Led the Peace and love movement and freedom of sexual expression of the seventies. As adults their overcrowded world drove-up rents and housing prices, drove-up interest rates and claimed all of the best jobs and opportunities. Until the just recent crash of the stock market they had both bulging waistlines and bulging RRSP Investments...sadly just the waistlines are left!
Perhaps then why not crack-open the door for one of us to lead the country. Since there seems to be an opening in the Grit stable, I say; bring it on. Of the names most frequently mentioned to replace Stephane Dion...just a youngish 53 years old: There's Mr. McKenna (60), Mr. Rae (60), Michael Ignatieff (61), Ken Dryden (61), and John Manley (59)...I'd say they are all just about from the right generation.
Oh! Let me save you the "Googling"...Prime Minister Stephen Harper is 49. 'Nuff said.
Labels: Liberal Party
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
MR. HARPER'S EXCELLENT "FULL-MOON" ADVENTURE.
Deep in the rubble of this election misadventure lies the cost to Canadian taxpayer. They are irrational, staggering and unjustifiable. Mr. Harper's repeat minority performance on the flawed premise that the 39th Parliament was dysfunctional, was both predictable and anticipated. An election is always an opportunity for displays of massive voter ignorance. This Federal election, the third in four years, revealed alas an electorate fatigued by the acrimonious partisanship of the House of Commons, apathetic about the country's leaders, their poor judgement and a growing lack of national direction.
Although I may be naive, I think that in the end it was the strenght of the two main national leaders that became their biggest liability. While true that circumstances may have conspired against both Stephen Harper and Stephane Dion to rob each of their goal. It was the rapidly tumbling economic circumstances of the past month that led to questions about Mr. Harper's ability to lead in troubled times and unravelled his quest for a majority government. As for Mr. Dion; his environmental "green-shift" plan, trying to learn politics on the fly, and a lack of skills at selling the party platform robbed him of the goal of being Prime-Minister.
For these miscalculations, Canadian taxpayers are left "on the hook" for Election Canada's estimated $300-million cost of running the election. Plus About $20-million in costs to the political parties' coffers for advertising, travel, aircraft, bus, vehicle charters, security etc. The real cost, though immeasurable, may be the damage to our economy.
I don't know whether the country would have been better off if Parliament had been sitting to hold a steady hand on the tiller as the economy melted over the last month. A certain measure of Parliamentary co-operation and civility over the economic storm certainly would not have made things worse. I do know that the Toronto Stock Exchange plunged from its high of 15,155 points to 8,851 points.In the process $400-billion of Canada's accumulated wealth was wiped-out.
Now, it seems we may be in for a rough ride. In the shadow of this election, Mr. Harper says the government will "take whatever appropriate steps are necessary" to ensure the integrity of Canada's financial system. Since the country is already at deficit's door, his words may forecast a chilly season ahead in ways more than the typical Ottawa winter. His reassurance: Hollow. As Judge Judy says: "don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining!"
By any measure, there were no decisive victories in this election. As James Travers in the Toronto Star wrote: "So here we are, 38 days and some $300 million later, in an unsettled place not far from where we started."
Labels: Federal Election
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
SURELY COPS HAVE ENOUGH TO DEAL WITH.
In a few rare cases the motivation may be racism, intolerance, or hate: Those events should be and generally are investigated by the police.
My riding, Ottawa-West/Nepean, is the home of John Baird, the Federal Minister of the Environment. Early on in the campaign now ended, a substantial number of Mr. Baird's road and street signs were vandalized by hooligans. To his credit, Mr. Baird took the High Road. While his campaign acknowledged the acts of vandalism and noted that these matters are illegal under the Elections' Act; Mr. Baird felt that policemen are far too busy with real crime to be called-in to investigate such pettiness. He was right.
In Winnipeg and a number of other cities studies are underway, by-laws pending, over roadside memorials...dangerous eyesores or tender reminders?
Over the weekend the Canadian Press reported that internet discussion boards in several communities are..."abuzz with debates about whether it's appropriate to put candles, crosses and flowers by the side of the road."
Vaughan, Ontario, north of Toronto, wants an inventory of memorials and wants each to be taken down after a year. Calgary has hired an academic researcher, Richard Tay, to determine how people feal about the roadside shrines and whether they affect driver behaviour. In the Saskatchewan city of Prince Albert, all heck broke loose over the summer when the city proposed taking down memorials 3 months after a person's death....now, Winnipeg wants to place its own limits.
These are silly cases, particularly in some cities (Winnipeg comes to mind), where surely the police have more important matters to tend to than monitor law breakers whose only offence is to grieve for a loved one's untimely death frequently at the hands of a drunken driver. Margaret Miller, the Canadian President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), says the memorials are a designation of..."some place that was important to the family. It just hasn't been forgotten."
The leader of the Calgary study told the Canadian Press that memorials are an increasingly familiar sight on North American roads and everyone seems to have an opinion about them. Of course Richard Tay is right...Now, can't we just move on to really important matters.
Labels: General Comment
Saturday, October 11, 2008
NO SWEATER...BUT A "MEA CULPA"
The "Who do you trust to run the economy?" Campaign tour has shed the blue sweater and regained momentum as it cruises through southwestern Ontario with the Prime Minister in full damage control to undo his earlier "faux-pas" about buying shares while the stock market was slumping.
Buoyed by a ten-point lead over the Liberals; and, borrowing a page from the Bill Clinton playbook of some years back: "It's the economy stupid"....Stephen Harper has coughed-up his own I share your pain, Mea Culpa: "I know that many Canadians are concerned about the economy and what it means for their jobs and their savings...As a husband, as a father, as a son, I understand those concerns." That's about as much empathy as we'll likely get from the Prime Minister who at first didn't quite seem to understand the fuss over his twice repeated insensitive remarks over the financial downturn.
What the heck, if it's good enough to win Tuesday's election. Through the campaign voter polling has been a dime a dozen. But, as the electorate clarify their intentions in the 72 hours leading-up to Tuesday's vote, the usually trustworthy Harris-Decima organization, polling for the Canadian Press says the Conservatives hold a steady 35%, the Liberals at 25% and the NDP at 18%. Time and opportunities are simply running-out for the challengers. It appears quite clear however that Majority Government remains outside of the grasp of the Conservatives and in the end Mr. Harper will be challenging the late Lester B. Pearson for back-to-back-to-back minority status.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Absolute Majority = 155 seats
At dissolution on September 15th standings in the 39th Parliament were:
Conservatives - 127
Liberals - 95
Bloc Quebecois - 48
New Democrats - 30
Green - 1
Independents - 3
Vacant - 4
Here is something like you may expect with Tuesday's results:
Conservatives - 123
Liberals - 98
Bloc Quebecois - 54
New Democrats - 32
Green - 1
The ancient Greeks, to whom we owe the principles of democrary, coined a word for people who did not vote. That word was: Idiot! If this election is, as it appears, crucial to the future economic well being of Canada. The choice is to vote, or to act as an idiot and don't complain!
Labels: Federal Election
Thursday, October 9, 2008
I HAVE SEEN THE FUTURE: IT IS THE PAST!
I have been nostalgic for the past recently, for instance last week noting John Diefenbaker's quip about election polls. My reflections no doubt have something to do with being contemplative about the qualities of leadership and trust in those we elect to govern us.
It seems to me that an essential quality of leadership is the ability to understand what people need from you, whether it is assurances, hope or empathy. The simple notion of "who do you trust to run the economy?" kicked-off Canada's current Federal election debacle. Economic developments in this country and elsewhere particularly over the course of the past week have modified the dynamics of the election. They have highlighted the wobbly campaign illusions. And, they have clearly identified the leadership weaknesses of those who seek our highest political office.
Never mind the millions of dollars spent on carefully crafted images and television personae, attack advertising, and unattainable promises. In his/her own way each of the national party leaders is failing us. Critically perhaps at this country's most challenging period of the last 100 years. This week I have witnessed "du jamais vu!" as the francophone say. Never before has the sale of Canada Savings Bond been postponed. The bonds are after all the backbone of savings by Canadians. Never before have the country's five national banks refused to pass along to Canadians an interest rate cut being implemented by the Bank Of Canada.
Better thinkers and planners than our opposition party leaders, Mr. Dion, Mr. Layton, Mr. Duceppe and Ms May see the Recession ahead, and have said so. Yet none of the people who aspire to lead the next Parliament have dared acknowledge it. Instead they promote unattainable party platforms, wish lists really, which would give them no other choice but to dump the promises should they be elected. They are either liars, in denial, or lack any true vision and direction for a country teetering near the edge of peril.
As for the Prime Minister, editorialists, pundits, commentators, economists have made much this week of his detachment from reality as some have described it. Surely his off the cuff comments about bargains on the stock market are hardly reflective of the discussions underway around the supper tables of this country about jobs, savings, health and education. I am skeptical about Mr. Harper's mother Margaret's concerns for her own savings...comments made while election minding the Harper kids at 24 Sussex Drive surrounded by luxury, security staff, cooks, housekeepers, drivers, and a cadre of employees at the Prime Minister's residence. Good grief, Grandma's home! Give me a break.
Odds are next Wednesday morning when he wakes-up Mr. Harper will still be our Prime-Minister. Though nearly $300-million will have been spent on an election no one wanted, with thoroughly predictable results, and an even slimmer minority for the Conservatives. In that measure of leadership when the Prime Minister looks in the mirror on October 15th he'll know he failed us all.
Labels: Federal Election
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
MAN IN THE CAST-IRON BUBBLE
The whirlpool-like unwinding of years of exuberance and excess in the United States of America has caused the world to stand still, however briefly, and ask itself whether the American economy, and unfortunately its tied-in partner Canada, still deserve the pedestal from which much of the planet's business over the last half of the 20th century was controlled, nay manipulated.
Canada's Prime-Minister, Stephen Harper, an economist by profession, former head of the National Citizens Coalition, a seasoned politician, has ignored at his peril it seems, surely what must be his own instincts from years of training and education. Perhaps no one could have guessed that Canada's faltering economy would become the single defining issue of this mid-October election. But, by waiting too long and not adequately dealing up-front with this crucial issue, Mr. Harper has likely let slip by, once again, the momentum the Conservatives need to score a majority government one week from today.
I say "once again", because as Columnist Brian Laghi reminds us today in the "Globe & Mail", Mr. Harper's last two national campaigns in 2004 and 2006 also faltered in the waining days of the electoral process. Perhaps the defining issues ("adscam" in '06 for example)) were not as critical then as the problems at hand now. Clearly, from experience and education alone Stephen Harper would appear amongst all leaders best equipped to slay the economic dragons which assail our country.
A weekend editorial I read described the Prime Minister's attitude as coming from someone isolated in an "iron bubble". Neither he, his handlers, nor his party it seems anticipated the concerns of Canadians...and if they did, how to deal with the mounting clamour for the leadership qualities the country expects from its Prime Minister, one who is an economist on top of everything else.
In the face of the mounting concerns, some might suggest despair, it was the hastily assembled meeting of the country's five top bank economists with business leaders Monday morning in Toronto which may have convinced Mr. Harper that the "fundamentals" aren't so steady after all. The Government....well the Bank of Canada moved: pumping $20-billion of liquidity (up from $12-billion on Friday) into the market. Mr. Harper subsequently wouldn't rule-out that there are tough times ahead which could lead to a national deficit. A plan, any plan, to deal with this crisis though isn't yet forthcoming.
Labels: Federal Election
Saturday, October 4, 2008
SIGNS OF ENGAGEMENT
Quite simply from an economic standpoint alone we well should be: The Toronto Stock Exchange has dropped 30% of its value in just the last few weeks. Over time, over-leveraging business, government and personal finances catches-up with pretty much everyone....well, excluding Warren Buffett perhaps.
Close to eight million Canadians watched parts of Thursday's English language debate which averaged more than 3-million viewers for each of its 120-minutes on the air. Meantime, Another nearly 2-million Canadians were watching the Vice-Presidential debate down south of the border. Go figure!
This week, attending a dinner at Ottawa's R.A. Centre, the Recreational Association of the Public Service of Canada, I was reminded of John Diefenbaker's contention that in an election, the only poll that matters is the one on election day. A plaque marks where the former Prime Minister laid the cornerstone for the massive R.A. Centre in 1959. But, I digress...
Be that as it may. As much as some argue that the daily polling of voter intentions is somewhat un-scientific, the samples being too small. The polling trends over the past couple of weeks seem to suggest that support for the Conservatives may have flatlined. Although the Liberals are 10-points behind, unlikely to get caught-up, their miserable slide may have halted. Barring a tumultuous reversal, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that as expected, the New Democrats, the Bloc and the Greens together will spoil Prime Minister Harper's hope for the majority government he so covets. As for Stephane Dion, he will sink into an Ottawa sunset having spent two years at the helm of the Liberal brand. In the process perhaps relegating it to third party status.
Earlier this week in an opinion piece published in the "National Post" columnist John Ivison went so far as to suggest that the Conservative election campaign has stalled...."the ballyhoo in Quebec over arts cuts and the jailing of young offenders has invigorated the Bloc Quebecois and dented the prospect of double-digit Conservative gains in that province." Truth be told, other than to appeal to the right-wing core Conservatives in Alberta and Saskatchewan, it is hard to comprehend how the Conservative war room back here in Ottawa could have so misread Quebec's re-action to both initiatives. If as promised Mr. Harper delivers on tabling the Conservative Party platform over the next few days. It will be interesting to glimpse the war room's spin on both measures, which are platform issues, and how they'll manage to avoid re-igniting the flames of controversy in "La Belle Province" and in English Canada's cultural communities.
In the polls, the Liberals are stuck in the 25%-27% range. They've stopped the slide but have probably actually slipped below even their own core supporters, many of whom, at least in addressing questions from pollsters, claim new allegiance to the NDP or to the Green Party.
Picking-up on the Conservative's perceived stall in the polls, down-east journalist Ralph Surette says that on the economic front and other issues, Afghanistan included, "...the ground is giving out from under (Harper) which is plain to see for anyone who wants to look." Surette, in today's Halifax "Chronicle Herald" argues..."the only question being whether he (Harper) can drag out the pretense that nothing is happening for another week and half, and whether a plurality, unimpressed by a fractured opposition, will continue to buy the illusion right into the polling booth."
Though the illusion may well survive the next ten days. The collapse of the American economy has shaken the country to its very core. In searching for reassurance that homes, jobs and country are safe, Canadians are unlikely to write Mr. Harper a blank cheque and deliver a majority to the Conservatives.
Elections Canada estimates the October 14th election will cost taxpayers $290-million. Given the economic conditions, and if there is little or no change in Party standings by the time it is all over, it will have been money sadly misspent.
Labels: Federal Election
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
CRUCIAL DEBATE? THAT'S DEBATABLE!
The media has made much of what it says is a "political high-wire" act for much of this week. The reality is most of the political sniping has been meant to create not much more than a dramatic backdrop for the four wannabee champions of the Canadian electorate and leaders of the anti-Conservative, anti-Harper forces; to wit: Mr. Dion, Mr. Layton, Mr. Duceppe and Ms May.
Mind you we wouldn't be into this election but for the fact that Mr. Harper's party in the two-and-half years since it was elected, minority or not, managed to squander a $12-billion annual surplus left in the government's coffers. Although perhaps at first glance popular, measures such the 2-point drop in the GST amount to a "hill o' beans" for the average consumer...but a drop of about $20-billion a year in Government revenues. How foolish! There: Is an example in fact a of "political high-wire" act. Balancing an Economist's education, and wanting to be Prime-Minister.
IT'S IN THE ECONOMY STUPID: Mr. Harper may still profess John McCain's mantra that the "fundamentals of the (Canadian) economy are sound". But, it was the gathering storm clouds of the American "sub-prime mortgage" melt-down more than a year ago that set into motion the Federal Election we are now more than midway through.
Through last winter and early spring when Mr. Harper's efforts to goad the opposition into forcing an election failed...and in the gathering evidence of America's financial collapse, the Prime Minister was forced to bail on his own election reforms and force an early election, despite his repeated claims that he would govern to the end of the mandate, in November 2009.
As Paul Berton comments in today's "Sun" newspapers, the catastrophe at hand is that although..."ordinary Canadians don't have the economic background of Harper, or the alleged brain trust of Bush and McCain...we aren't stupid. We know the biggest 'fundamental' of the Canadian economy is the American shopper."
We are in the middle of an election because Canada's economy is in deep trouble which worsens by the hour. Berton says..."household debt is high, manufacturing has been decimated, many jobs have been lost and others are threatened, and we know even booming Alberta, especially the oil sands, is vulnerable to drowning in the waves emanating from Wall Street."
The United States is in a deep recession and it's economy isn't likely to show any decent signs of recovery perhaps for as much as a year or beyond. Canada teeters and is about to be pushed-over into its own recession. In about 30 months of governing the Conservatives have managed to lay the cupboard bare of any comforting surplus. The ground work for what's coming next is already being laid-out, hours before the country's leaders mount the stage of Ottawa's National Arts Centre for the hostile environment of the French (tonight) and English (tomorrow) debates.
On the trail leading to this week's debates, Mr. Harper's opponents have accused him of mismanaging the economy. I fear now that to reverse the course, the country will once again be plunged into deficit financing. In fact the chief economist at the Royal Bank, Craig Wright, wonders what's wrong with a deficit? He says avoiding a deficit at all costs could do more harm to the economy than good. Others apparently agree...and the cycle of deficit financing is set to resume.
Politicians who operate in a bubble are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past. Canada's largest ever deficits and its mushrooming national debt reached their apogee at the helm of the Mulroney Conservatives 15 years ago. Let's hope we are not heading down that road once again. The costs are simply too high!
Labels: Canadian Economy
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