Friday, January 30, 2009

 

"F" IS FOR FAILURE

Sadly in Canadian Federal Politics "Bloc" Head has a different connotation than one who's head is made out of wood. For like Geppetto's " nose stretchers, ours would be a Capital full of some Honourable Members with Pinnochio sized protrusions.

When the iconic television ground breaking "This Hour Has Seven Days" was cancelled by CBC Management in the late 1960's, one if its contributors, the irascible Winnipeg based journalist, Larry Zolf, described the Corporation as one of those rare places where "milk would rise to the top." It's a sentiment I've shared watching from my Ottawa vantage point the politicians who run our federation.

Wasn't it Napoleon Bonaparte who observed: "In politics, absurdity is not a handicap"? I've been keeping a pundit's score of our government's performance in the intervening 10 months since the Federal budget of 2008. That's the one that forecast an $8-billion surplus during the current fiscal year. And...

...When things started getting tough in the spring of last year the Tories stood firm on their pledge to govern right through the boast worthy full mandate four year fixed term. Why the Prime Minister even mounted an initial full fledged absurd defence..."no business in the bed rooms of the country"...of the buffoonery over the failings of the Foreign Affairs Minister, Maxime Bernier, and his bosomy concubine, Julie Couillard. Of course...

...Followed thereafter, when it became painfully obvious that ours was a tanking economy, by the "Parliament is Dysfunctional" speech and a call to waste $300 million on a fall national election that no one wanted. Well if it wasn't "dysfunctional" when we dutifully went to the polls in October...it soon would be. Lest I digress: Of course an election campaign replete with promises that Canada was virtually recession proof and "read my lips", there would be no deficit! Why there were even bargains, money to be made, if Canadians took advantage of the stock market crash.

Honourable Ministers of Finance have historically "walked the plank" over an economic/fiscal update fiasco that predicts a $900 million surplus: Which as if by magic, transform into a crippling recession complete with a $15 billion structural deficit a mere 60 days later. Open the tax-flow valves, let's shovel out the cash!

Fool me once, Shame on You! Fool me twice...

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

 

NO NEW GOVERNMENT!

Everyone please relax. Being Leader of the Opposition when the economy is in free fall and the government's own figures indicate unemployment will rise at least until the summer of 2009, is a whole lot easier than trying to lead a government out of this mess.

Michael Ignatieff is an intelligent pragmatist and quickly becoming a seasoned politician. As push comes to shove over the Federal Government's budget, he'll take the easy route. The Leader of the Liberal Party will instead pick his own time to trigger an election. Since the Government's own forecasts show things will get uglier. Why would Mr. Ignatieff make this his time? Clearly he will not!

Out from the ashes of the learned lesson of his ill advised November economic update, Prime Minister Harper had found a new religion. Tuesday's National Budget, delivered by the Conservatives, had all the elements of a Liberal Government budget. Having seamlessly reached that objective, the opposition Liberals will just sit back and wait for the Conservatives to falter on the delivery.

It's been less than 12 hours, but much like the tag "Canada's New Government" heard ad nauseum in Harper's first term; I am near ready to up-chuck over: "Canada's Economic Action Plan". I've noted for instance that the projected deficit of just short of $15 billion before the stimulus package, is amazingly close to the estimated drop in revenue from the two-percentage points, in the politically expedient but ill-advised, ill-conceived cuts to the GST, since Harper was first elected. Questions thus remain about what becomes of the many "sunset clauses" of the budget on their expiration in two years following what we now know will be minimally a $64-billion deficit.

One example noted for instance by Montreal's mayor about the Government's infrastructure initiatives is how the Conservatives expect the cities to pony-up 33% of the financing when municipalities are already broke, and their total access to Canada's tax revenues amounts to less than eight percent. Someone else has already described the apparent urgency of the projected stimulus spending as a pan-Canadian "sponsorship program" in the making...suggesting indeed that the Auditor-General best have her pencils sharpened as the Tories push unabated to get program money "out the door."

In a global economy, Canada's economic recovery is really outside the scope of Ottawa's well intentioned, perhaps misguided, efforts. It's what happens south of the border in President Obama's Washington that will determine just about every aspects of North America's return to prosperity. Mr. Ignatieff will be amongst the winners by bidding his time over the future of the Harper Government and its budget.

The first loser in this equation will be the leader of the New Democrats, Jack Layton. who's pinned his party's only hope of success on a now dead governing coalition.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

 

MUTING THE CRITICS

We've now seen both faces of the country's leader, and they are both ugly. The Canadian Press reported mere moments after the Governor-General delivered her second Speech From The Throne in two months:

"After denying the prospects of a deficit throughout the fall election campaign - and shrugging-off the chorus of independent analysts who predicted one was imminent - the Tories have admitted a big deficit is coming."

The Prime Minister may well have been forced to eat humble pie over his Government's near crash and burn from the poison pill delivered in the late November fiscal update. But; some now suggest that Conservative Party unity and loyalty may be cracking under the weight of the expected $64-billion deficit of the next two fiscal years.

This is high drama in low places: The back rooms of the national political parties. In this case specifically, the Conservative Party of Canada led by Stephen Harper. T'was no accident that in last week's circuit of Ottawa politico cocktails the name of the former Chief of Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier, came popping-up as potential leadership material. Whatever General Hillier's political intentions are, he's keeping them to himself. The undertow of a draft Hillier movement speaks volumes of Mr. Harper's once stranglehold leadership grip on the party he more or less created. Some wags claim that several Conservative Members of Parliament challenged the Prime Minister over the deficit spending plans at last week's national caucus meeting.

Over at Toronto radio station CFRB, Brian Liley reports that the deficit he'll announce tomorrow is not an idea that our fiscally conservative Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, has accepted with ease. But rather, that it's been imposed by the Prime Minister's office. The same can most likely be said of that fall fiscal update which included the singularly nasty "poison-pill" of cutting public financing to national political parties. That issue of course led to a parliamentary crisis of confidence, stymied the House of Commons, and left politicians on the side-lines for the last eight weeks while the country's economy continued to tank.

Along with the Prime-Minister's credibility, Canada's long held tradition over budget secrecy has now also been dismantled. The advanced leaks of key elements of the budget's contents, including the size of the deficit, over the past few days is said to be a strategic element of a budget process plan created in the Office of the Prime Minister. One thing seems clear. Since the key planks of this week's budget have already been made public, the critics in opposition have just about been stifled over any of the initiatives they might wish to see modified or amended. The Globe and Mail says confidential sources have told it the Clerk of Privy Council, Kevin Lynch, and a Harper confidant and senior advisor, Bruce Carson, have been brought in to run this budget process. It seems kind of hard to figure out just where the Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty, stands in, or on this. Most likely we won't know any better following "his" budget speech on Tuesday.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

 

BOOTS ON THE GROUND...

I am increasingly baffled, surprised, bewildered by Canada's failing, nay failed, "Quiet Diplomacy" over the abduction and disappearance of Ambassadors Robert Fowler and Louis Guay, and their United-Nations driver, Soulmania Mounkaila, near Niamey, Niger, six weeks ago this weekend.

I very much fear for the lives of the Canadian emissaries and their U.N. driver as we enter into the 7th week of their mysterious disappearance on the outskirts of the River Niger ferry heading back from a Canadian mining operation to Niger's capital city, Niamey.

It is obviously too late for Canada to put "boots on the ground" to locate the missing men. As it were, it isn't really our job to do so. I am at odds with my respect for the United-Nations, and the callous attitude being demonstrated by the U-N's Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, for the well being of Ambassador Fowler, who was in Niger as a special envoy trying to sort-out the country's messy involvement with the separatist forces of the Tuareg Region.

Having now reviewed Amnesty Internationals' indictment of the Niger military's involvement in the disappearance and murder of dozens of civilians over the rebellious forces of the Gold and Uranium rich northern Tuareg Sahara desert region of Niger; I am finding myself near alone (and wondering why?) in the public belief that somehow, some way, the Government of Niger and President, Manadou Tanya, may have been involved in the unexplained disappearance of Mr(s) Fowler, Guay and driver Mounkaila.

Is no one out there listening? The facts quite simply are as follows: Last fall, the highly respected "Medecins Sans Frontieres" (Doctors Without Borders) shut down its Niger operations after the country's government withdrew its permission to operate in the west African country. A stinging evaluation published by "Amnesty International" during the summer of 2008 blames Niger's military for the execution of many civilians; and the arrest of two journalists, for alleged connections to the Tuareg "Mouvement des Nigeriens pour la Justice" (MNJ) about which Ambassador Fowler had been sent by the United-Nations to look into.

In the spring of 2008, Amnesty Internationals' report claimed examples of the systematic torture and murder by Niger's military of civilians it believed connected to the Tuareg (MNJ) rebellion for carrying as little as satellite telephones. In jail to this day is journalist Moussa Kaka, a Radio France International correspondent, because Niger President's Tanya, believes he is somewhat sympathetic to the Tuareg cause.

In its spring 2008 report, Amnesty International says that 16 civilians were executed after their vehicles were intercepted by Niger military forces along a major highway in Agadez region on the belief they'd been somehow involved with the Tuareg rebels...On December 14th when Ambassador Fowler and Guay's United-Nations vehicle was recovered near the River Niger ferry crossing heading into the capital of Niamey; the car's flashing turn indicator was still "on"...as if it had voluntarily pulled-over after some "official" agency (police/military?) signalled that it should.

On Thursday of this week, the European Union, based in Brussels, Belgium, issued a statement expressing "deep concern" over the disappearance of Ambassadors Fowler and Guay. The European Union says the...."situation is serious and asks the kidnappers to set them free."

It is worth noting here that although Niger is a former colony of France, a number of European and African countries have special relationships. Including in this case the existence of a mixed Niger/Belgian Commission on Cooperation represented by a Belgian envoy, Ambassador, Charles Michel.

I hope to "cripes" that I am not the only Canadian concerned over this matter of international life and death diplomacy. Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon's silence and my Canadian Government's casual response to this critical issue leave me in fear for the lives of Ambassadors Fowler and Guay, and their U.-N. driver on that fateful December 14th.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

 

THE DEVIL IN MAYOR LARRY

Ottawa's city council meets in another special session today to fritter around the edges of the city's 44 day old transit workers' strike. The walkout by about 2300 OC Transpo employees: mechanics, dispatchers and drivers has crippled bus and light rail service across the Nation's Capital. It verges on being the longest public transit strike in Canadian history.

In Canada's largest city Toronto, the Government of Ontario knows full well that its very future would be jeopardized by allowing a transit strike to linger this long. In Ontario's second largest city, Ottawa, there's hardly a whimper...and no immediate solution on the horizon. The rub of course is that the Ontario Government is happy to have washed its hands of this one. Because OC Transpo operates two or three bus routes into Hull and Gatineau, Quebec; it is an inter-provincial carrier and falls under Federal jurisdiction.

And...when the matter is settled it may be another black mark against the reputation of the Honourable, Rhona Ambrose, Federal Minister of Labour. As Prime Minister Harper's first Minister of the Environment, Ms Ambrose failed miserably and was rescued out of the portfolio by John Baird. Now as Labour Minister in Harper's second mandate, she is failing on this file and wait...there's a John Baird connection again.

Before Christmas and just a couple of weeks into the strike when the Amalgamated Transit Workers union refused to put the Ottawa City offer to its membership for a vote, Mayor Larry O'Brien sought the assistance of his friend, now conveniently Minister of Transport, John Baird to intercede with Ambrose to force a union vote. This action effectively halted the negotiations on both sides. When Minister Ambrose finally ordered a vote on the offer over the Christmas break, it was scheduled for January 9th. The members of the union resoundingly defeated the proposal by voting against it by more than 75%.

Subsequent efforts by the city to move on the crippled file with the assistance of Federal mediators or an arbitrator have been met with skepticism by the transit system employees. They've interpreted Minister Ambrose's pre-Christmas actions as putting the Federal Department of Labour squarely on city management's side. Ms Ambrose and her bureaucrats have so muddled the dispute, some say based on false information provided by Mayor Larry O'Brien, that Ottawa officials are left to fritter over the periphery issues of the strike rather than dealing head on with the root cause of the walkout.

So far they've discussed whether to provide free service once the buses start rolling. How long it may take to get vehicles certified, repaired and back on the road. They have not touched the $8-million overtime bill which started the strike in the first place. What? You say: Following a 1999 shoot-out at the bus company headquarters which left 4 people dead; to boost morale, the city agreed to enhance to time and a half, and after 8 hours double time, pay for drivers volunteering to work on Sundays. Assignments are based on seniority. Long time drivers, about 200 of them, have been raking-in about $8-million a year in overtime pay, many working double shifts plus on Sundays. The city is swimming in debt, and Mayor O'Brien and his colleagues want to stop the overtime at OC Transpo. That's the issue!

The City of Ottawa has been saving about $3-million per day in salaries and expenses during the 44 day strike. Do the math. That's well over $100 million in savings. In his own devilish way Mayor O'Brien has balanced Ottawa's books. Brilliant or Stupid?

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

 

MR. OBAMA GOES TO OTTAWA

I may be getting ahead of myself here. After all, President Obama will not be taking office until Tuesday. I have noticed however that U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins is all packed-up and good to go.

Ambassador Wilkins has always said he would leave Ottawa for his South Carolina home on the same day his good friend, George W. Bush, stepped-down. He is being true to his word, doubtless looking forward to the mercy of the deep south's short winters.

Canadians are gratified that the new American President, in a nod to tradition, will be making Ottawa his first official international visit. It will be a chance for the new guy to exchange ideas with Stephen Harper. Appearances would seem to suggest the two men have very little in common other than being from the same chronological generation with young children at home. Lest I digress...some wags might suggest that they are in fact generations apart in philosophy, outlook and politics.

I grasp here at the notion and the assumption that the Liberals will somehow abandon their coalition mantra and allow the Conservatives to survive the budget vote which will occur before Obama travels to the "great white north." Thus it is Mr. Harper who will meet Obama bringing a number of issues to the table for discussion. As was noted this weekend on CTV's "Question Period" ,Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon believes the agenda items are likely to include the auto industry bailout, American protectionism, and matters of concern over our mutual border. Although the rift over the NAFTA-Gate disaccord for which Harper's office was blamed a year ago has surely healed; President Obama will be aware that early on, some in Canada nearly shafted his candidacy by revealing intimate discussions his emissaries had been having in Chicago. He may be somewhat guarded over revealing too much about his vision for the future.

There are more contentious matters which Minister Cannon glossed over in his CTV musings. To wit the War in Afghanistan and the status of the only westerner still held at Guantanamo Bay; Canadian Omar Khadr. The Prime Minister maintained throughout last falls election campaign that Canada remains committed to leaving the Afghan theatre in exactly two years. President Obama though has a different view over the prosecution of that war, one which may involve extracting a commitment from Canada beyond those of February, 2011. As for the young Mr. Khadr. The sun is thankfully setting on the notorious American prison in Cuba. While Mr. Harper has so far refused to deal with repatriating Omar Khadr; the prisoner may very well be dumped across our border to deal with, sooner than the PM would like.

Which brings me back to where I started. Obama's choice of Ambassador to Canada will be all telling of his intentions with respect to our historic relationship. If he is looking: Besides adding some "whump" to drab Ottawa...I think that Bill Clinton would be an enlightened, masterful, inspired, ingenious choice.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

 

MONTH #2 - SHAME ON US.

One month and one day after the kidnapping of Canadian diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay in western Africa, I fear the focus, if ever there was one, will begin to slip away from their search.

Because of official Ottawa's silence in this mess, it is really unclear just how sharp or intense have been our efforts to locate the two diplomats. Ambassador Fowler was on a mission assigned by the United-Nations. The surreal silent attitude of the Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon; as well as from anyone in the "Francophonie" of which both Niger and Canada are members, highlights the incapacity, ineptitude and lack of desire of those bodies to deal with this debacle.

I fear that this week's meeting of first Ministers in Ottawa; next week's swearing-in of President Obama down south and his subsequent visit to Canada; the resumption of the House of Commons; and the Federal budget may shift some attention away from these mysterious disappearances. Obviously the ongoing and no doubt mounting anguish of the diplomats' families here at home, and the family of their U.N. driver, Soulmana Mounkaila, in Niger demands continued close monitoring of the situation.

I greet with a healthy dose of skepticism comments yesterday by the President of Niger, Manadou Tandya that: "All investigations undertaken indicate they are being held hostage by terrorists groups." There has been whispered speculation all along that the Government of Niger played a role in the abductions because the United-Nations was meddling with a local issue...the rebellious forces of Niger's Tuareg region. Although it took a month to break his silence, President Tandya has now further fueled the debate by using his government's own buzz word - Terrorists - to describe the Tuareg players.

Still though, "Terrorists" is an interesting choice of word. "The Center For Terrorism Research" in the United-States recently identified the - Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb - as one of it's four biggest threats. The group was formed to fight for an Islamic state in Algeria but has now joined Al-Qaeda's global jihad. In the face of this threat, the Americans have deployed a "counterinsurgency force" in the neighbouring nation of Mali. These observations are worthy: Because Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon has said that Canada asked for Mali's help in efforts to locate the two missing diplomats...And: In March of 2008, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magrhreb kidnapped two Austrians travelling in nearby Tunisia and waited almost a month before making ransom demands. There have been no ransom demands yet for Mr. Fowler and Mr. Guay. After a ransom was paid, A.Q.I.M. released the Austrians about 6 weeks before Ambassador Fowler and Ambassador Guay were abducted in Niger.

The smell of international diplomatic intrigue is palpable and fascinating. The focus needs to remain on the safe return of Canada's emissaries. But once that happens; someone will have a lot of explaining to do!

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

 

MEMO TO GEORGE

You will have noted that unlike yours, Mr. Obama's transition officials have selected Ottawa for the new President's first international visit. That of course is a long standing tradition which you didn't follow 8 years ago...oh well!

After you and Laura slip out the back door next week during Washington's Obama hoopla, I am sure you'll want to head on down to the Crawford Ranch for a stress free shack-up before hurricane season. Make some time, come on up North!

You'll feel right at home. My country too is mired in a war we can't seem to shake out of...Heck George: I think you started it. My Government has squandered a series of windfall budget surpluses. We're about to sink into a gigantic deficit to bail-out our collapsed economy...Hell George: I think you started that too!

We don't sell Senate seats in Canada, we just give them out to Party faithful. There are a few still available. Speaking of peddling influence; in Ottawa you can renew acquaintance with Larry the Mayor Guy. You'll recall he once bolted-out of important city business to rush beaming to the airport's tarmac to shake your hand. Another mayor gave us a white-elephant multi-million dollar baseball stadium. He probaly thought it would be named after him. After two bankrupt pro-baseball franchises left town, it sits empty. Heck George you once owned the "Texas Rangers", we can name it after you if you bring us a team to play there.

Y'all come now! You can "jaw" with our PM, your bud Steve, and his good ole boys from Alberta, while Laura helps Laureen pick-out curtains for the major reno getting underway at 24 Sussex. It will be just like home.

Sheesh....

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

 

WILL THAT BE CASH OR CHARGEX?

The Canadian Radio, Television and telecommunications Commission, the CRTC, says it will force cellular phone companies to change their systems so that dispatchers can locate the origin of 911 distress calls.

Earlier this week, an emergency call from a survivor of a plane crash near Quebec City was routed to Almonte, Ontario, an Ottawa suburb, because the cell-phone was registered in that community. In this case, the system worked and the proper authorities were able to respond. But; in recent years, a number of people have died after making 911 calls from cell phones, because dispatchers have been unable to tell where the person was.

I confess that I am of that generation that recalls when bank credit cards were first introduced to Canada. Chargex, now known as Visa, and Master Charge, now Master Card, came along in the free market economic boom of the mid-1960's. The positive fall-out for our free market competitive system is legendary. Until the most recent downturn of the investment sector, it has served North Americans well, and made us pretty much the envy of the rest of the developed world. It does however have some drawbacks.

In the rapidly advancing technologies related to communications it seems that the free market system which allows competition to set the operating parameters has been holding us back. Since competitors do not have to pick the same technology there is frequently a complete lack of coordination and compatibility across systems and networks.

In the years following the Second World War, the development of FM Stereo radio broadcasts languished because no one seemed to be able to agree on a universal technology until "multiplex" came along. Its senior cousin, AM-Stereo, never really got out of the gate because of 5 competing technologies. Everyone pretty much remembers the "tug-o-war" between Beta and VHS in the development of home video. More recently the debate has consumed "Blue Ray-vs-HD"; and in the business of satellite delivered radio, the incompatibility of the XM technology and the Sirius system.

Cellular phone technology suffers from the same affliction. North America's cell phone system is considerably behind in its development and experts say it will remain that way "for a long time"; because of competition and the incompatibility of the major systems operated on the continent. In Europe and in Asia, operators decided years ago to adopt a single cellular network delivery system known as GSM...Global System Mobile. Accordingly, developers can add features and services in the full knowledge that cell phones are compatible across networks and that customers can roam between them.

In our North American context, GSM is used by Rogers in Canada. AT&T and T-Mobile in the United-States. The more cumbersome and older technology called CDMA, Code Division Multiple Access, is used in Canada by Bell Mobility and Telus; Sprint and Verizon in the United States. The two technologies are incompatible and change is unlikely. In each case carriers have sunk billions of dollars into their infrastructure and have been unwilling to abandon one or the other to advance the development of a continent-wide system.

In wireless telephony communications, every indication suggests that we North Americans will be behind for a long time. The CRTC wants 911 tracking in place by February of next year. That will be just one of the milestones along a very long route to bring Canada's cell phone technology on a par with those of Europe and Asia.

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Monday, January 5, 2009

 

BEREAVED, BITTER, BLUE, BELLICOSE IN BELLEVILLE

Buried in a routine United-Nations budget appropriation for the Office of the Secretary-General back in November is an amount of $390,700. It was meant to finance Ambassador Robert Fowler's increasingly obvious "clandestine mission" to Niger.

The significance of the amount struck me at year's end after the apparently ungrateful Brenda Martin complained that she'd rather be back in Mexico than wintering on Canadian soil in Belleville, Ontario. I am sure that Ambassador Fowler and his companion, Ambassador Louis Guay, would gladly change places with her.

It was just last spring that the Canadian Government moved heaven and earth...left no stone unturned, to return Brenda Martin from a jail in Guadalajara, Mexico where she'd rotted for two years. The miserable woman got the media's attention by tearfully threatening to commit suicide if she wasn't allowed to return to Canada. Obviously there is nothing like a tearful suicidal woman to get politicians to act. In rapid succession she received jailhouse visits from the former Prime-Minister, Paul Martin. Conservative M-P, Bill Casey, threatened a boycott of Mexican tourism; and Prime Minister Harper's emissary, Jason Keney, committed the Government to action.

A couple of weeks after the Prime Minister spoke with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, the hapless Martin was on her way home. Excluding the jailhouse visits from politicians, diplomats, lawyers and flacks...the return flight by private jet alone cost Canadian taxpayers just shy of $90,000. In a blog post published on "Orato" at year's end, Brenda Martin complained from the comfort of her Belleville home that she hates winter..."believe it or not. Mexico was my life...I was comfortable." Go to Hell!

Meantime in a United Nations mission gone horribly wrong, Ambassadors Fowler and Guay, languish God knows where in West Africa. It is now closing-in on four weeks since they and their U.N. driver were abducted heading back into Niamey, the Capital of Niger. Official Ottawa's clamp-down on any information about the disappearances or any efforts to come to their aid and rescue speaks volumes of our incompetence and impotence abroad. I suspect that if American, Russian or Israeli diplomats went missing; the surrounding area would by now have been pounded back into the Middle-Ages. But not us...So sorry; excuse us; we don't want to bother...we're Canadian. Give me a break!

As a result of the generous backing of CIDA financing, at least two Canadian exploration companies, Samara Hill Gold Mines, owned by Ethruscan Resources of Halifax, and Samafo Resources of St.Laurent, Quebec operate gold and uranium mines in the rebellious Tuareg Region which at the center of this debacle. For whatever reason, If our government is paralyzed with inaction over securing the release and safe return of our diplomats to Canadian soil; maybe it's time to send the military's JTF2 Commandos on a rescue mission. The late lamented Peter Sellers as the bumbling "Inspector Clouseau" would likely have done better than the results we've achieved so far.

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Friday, January 2, 2009

 

VISITIN' WITH LARRY

Let's see now: It has been a while since we last engaged with the topic of Leepin' Larry O'Brien, the Mayor of your nation's Capital City - Ottawa. Larry the Mayor Guy, as he likes to be called. Ottawa's Chief Magistrate, the one who's only significant claim to fame has been to be charged by the Ontario Provincial Police with influence peddling...and the State of Illinois thinks it has a problem Governor. I digress.

In Ottawa you see, smack dab in the middle of the Holiday Season, on December 10th the transit system, buses and trains, was shut-down by a general strike. Where to this day it remains. Two-Thousand three hundred drivers, mechanics and dispatchers, Members of Local 279 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, one of those pesky Teamsters' affiliates, have locked horns with...yes dear friends, you've guessed whom...over a matter involving the schedules of less than 10% of members, about two-hundred drivers.

Unable to make any headway in the dispute, and under enormous pressure from the business community in an already difficult economic climate, Mayor Larry went running-off to an old political ally to weigh-in on the issue after talks broke-off on December 23. You'd think that the Federal Minister of Transport, John Baird, would have better things to do. After all, Mr. Baird was a "person of interest" to the Ontario Provincial Police investigation of the aforementioned influence peddling debacle back in 2006 when he was Minister responsible for Treasury Board. But Nooooo! Since "OC Transpo" (that's what it's called) operates a couple of routes into Hull, Quebec; it is an inter-provincial carrier and falls under Federal jurisdiction. Thus the matter becomes of significant concern to the Minister of Transport and his Cabinet colleague the Federal Minister of Labour: (Step forward please!) Linda Ambrose. In her capacity, Ms Ambrose has now ordered the transit union to submit the city's final offer to a ratification vote supervised by the Canada Industrial Relations Board. The vote must be held no later than Friday, January 9.

I will not purport to weigh-in on the validity of this worker dispute. Public transit in Ottawa remains paralyzed. In this case no doubt the Government of Ontario was happy to wash its hands of the entire mess. In the end though resolving this conflict in this fashion isn't likely to lead to good employee relations. Mayor Larry's city is already knee-deep into a $250-million lawsuit from the German engineering powerhouse, Siemens, over O'Brien's cancellation of a light-rail contract. And, the Mayor has just announced a $30-billion subway system to be built over the next 10-15 years. Seems to me these matters will require the best of relations between the City and the Amalgamated Transit Union, not the acrimony created by the Mayor's run-off to Minister Baird for a solution to his problems.

As for the Minister: Bad enough that his entire life could flash before his eyes once O'Brien's criminal trial opens on April 9, you'd think he would have gingerly stepped aside rather than crawl into this one.

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