Friday, July 31, 2009


Amongst the first of my childhood memories are those of my father madly dial-twisting on the living room's console "Rogers Majestic" vacuum tube radio to tune-in Don Messer and his Islanders.

Dial twisting because my mother insisted on the family listening to the french language broadcast of the rosary (Le Chapelet en Famille), before the 7:15 PM CBC Radio broadcast of the Don Messer fiddle program. Dad would light-up one of his ever present "Lucky Strike" cigarettes (there were no filters then), and tune-in the "booster" as the locals called it, the local CBC English language repeater transmitter from CBA-Atlantic. Lest I digress - Though no one else seemed to get the irony, the family name of the local Roman-Catholic Bishop who broadcast the rosary was Bishop. Monsignor "Levesque" was "L'Evesque" of the local diocese. I was 3 years old and wrongly assumed that Bishops were simply called Msgr. Bishop.

Okay, another inch or two please to digress some more...Later-on most evenings my brother John who'd just become a teenager would dial twist more to pick-up distant American radio stations from Hartford, Connecticut (where we had relatives), Boston or New York to pick-up the latest hits: I recall the McGuire Sisters, Gogi Grant, Franki Laine and Pat Boone who sang white sanitized versions of the black rock-a-billy songs American radio stations refused to play for their white audiences. (At another time perhaps we can discuss the seminal role of a Canadian radio-station, CKLW in Windsor, Ontario in later altering North America's musical heritage.)

Down east in New Brunswick this long weekend; in Harvey, in McAdam and in Tweedside, where Don Messer was born, they are celebrating his 100th birthday. Since Thursday, the towns have been buzzing with centennial activities and tributes to musician Messer. There are kitchen parties, fiddle competitions, dances and concerts over a six day period...Locals have scoured their grand-parents basements and attics for memorabilia. A long-ago relative, Lottie Messer, aged 101, has been telling stories of dancing to the fiddle player when she was 17 years old.

Although he started his broadcasts in Saint John, Messer became a national celebrity after moving to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in 1944 where Don Messer and the Islanders, including fellow Maritimers Marg Osbourne and Charlie Chamberland, also from New Brunswick, took to the airwaves for 15 minutes every evening - Along with the "Happy Gang" broadcasts at mid afternoon, they defined English Canada for a generation or more.

In 1956 Messer moved to television. "Don Messer's Jubilee" aired for 13 years as a weekly program on CBC-Television. Messer died, some say of a broken heart, less than 4 years after his beloved television program had been abruptly cancelled in 1969 causing a national outcry against the CBC.

The parties in southwestern New Brunswick this weekend have been planned for several years. Messer: a humble, diminutive, quiet, shy, enormously talented musician would be would dad.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Strange as it seems when billionaire Guy Laliberte takes-off from Russia on his scheduled September 30 flight to the International Space Station, he could potentially forever be the last known Canadian to blast into space.

Despite its $350-million budget, the Canadian Space Agency based in the Montreal suburb of St. Hubert, is seemingly bereft of any viable plans for future human travel despite selecting two new "astronauts" to join its current stable just two and a half months ago.

Guy Laliberte is the founder/owner of "Cirque du Soleil". The former Montreal "fire-eater", aged 49, has forked-over $35-million to the Russians to become their, and the world's 7th space tourist. He'll board the workhorse Russian supply ship "Soyuz MTS" headed for 12 days to the Space Station at the end of September. Canadian Bob Thirsk, currently on board the I.S.S. also hopped a Russian "Soyuz" to get there. He's due back on earth late in November aboard Shuttle Mission STS-129, one of the very few U.S. space flights remaining. The entire Space Shuttle program is being dismantled come September of next year...therein lies Canada's problem, and the seminal reason our space agency has no future manned flights on its calendar though it is probably desperate to get its hook into one.

America's next venture into space is the "Orion" project and its anticipated first manned flight of between 4 and 6 Astronauts is not expected until 2015. May I hasten to add, Canada hasn't been invited. The sad facts are that despite the glowing coverage of our Canadian media, we've never been much more than a bit player in the conquest of space. We've been indoctrinated into believing our robotics contribution - Canadarm 1, Canadarm 2, and Dextre - are essential to every mission. Unlike some of the elements of other Space Station partners: Russia, Japan, the European everyone else, in particular the Americans; Canadarm is the shuttle's "robot arm," never mind the red maple leaf on its side.

Next week when enthusiasts mark the 60th anniversary of the first flight of the "Avro Jetliner" in Toronto; just as a few weeks back on the 40th of man's conquest of the moon; we can again remind ourselves that it's our damned fault if Canada has become but a hitchhiker depending on the goodwill of others to advance our own exploration of space and its related technologies.

When the "Avro Jetliner" project was cancelled, and ten years later when the Diefenbaker government scuttled the CF-105 - Avro Arrow - developed by the same Toronto based R.V. Roe Ltd. aircraft designers, engineers and employees; the best of the company's brains marched-on off across the border to lead NASA's manned space programs. (Including Mercury, Apollo and those flights to the moon). Thereby striking a death blow to Canada's acknowledged world leadership in jet and rocket aircraft technology. Good Grief! Too bad then no politician had the sense to fear Canada's brain trust being lost abroad as they do now about Nortel's patents falling into Swedish hands.

Until convinced otherwise, I remain pessimistic that we'll somehow enhance that minuscule role we've inherited in space exploration because of some ill-conceived 50 year old notion from our politicians of the era that our southern Uncle Sam would have "our back" in times of need. Come to think of it: Maybe it's fitting that a circus clown, albeit a billionaire one, could be our last triumph into space.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Astute observers of the political scene in Ottawa knew all along that it was coming. Just when(?)was the only question left to answer.

I speak of last spring's blunder by Canada's Chief of (military) Land Staff, Lieutenant-General, Andrew Leslie, who told a surprised Parliamentary Committee hearing in March that the Canadian Forces were being pushed to the limit by the Afghanistan commitment; and would need no less..."than a year to recover from the mission." Whew!

Everyone remembers how the story was ridiculed in the United-States, particularly by Fox News host, Greg Gutfield, who caused outrage north of the border with the suggestion that the Canadian military..."wants to take a breather to do some yoga, paint landscapes, run on the beach in gorgeous white Capri pants." Gutfield later apologized and mercifully his overnight rants on Fox News have been cancelled. The damage though had been done, leaving some in the inner sanctum of power in Ottawa to wish for General Leslie's head on a platter.

Pissing on the government's parade is never a good idea if you value your military stripes. Regulars will recall that in the immediate aftermath of the Leslie outburst the Prime Minister's Office hired American Presidential mouthpieces, Micheal McCurry (Clinton) and Ari Fletcher (Bush) to shill for Harper on America's news channels, Fox included.

Meantime the good general was marking time at Ottawa HQ waiting for the moment to make amends like any good officer and gentleman looking for a promotion, a job even, a sinecure for the future. Well: Behold! The moment came over the weekend when General Leslie corrected "hisself" describing the government's pledge to spend $5-billion on new armoured vehicles his "game-changer". Yes Sir! Now there is apparently no longer any need for the military to take its year long operational pause after Afghanistan. The alleged miracle cure is in the form of those shiny new trucks, armoured, close combat and patrol vehicles set to be fully operational by 2015...Say what? But,but, Sir the Afghan deployment ends in February 2011.

I hope someone has told the fighting troops on the ground that from the 17th floor of National Defence HQ in Ottawa, as in politics, reality gets clouded-over by perception.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Though the planned commemorative battle of the "Plains of Abraham" was cancelled after Federal officials got cold-feet, a re-enactment of sorts will take place over the August civic holiday weekend.

American and Canadian re-enactors had originally signalled their intentions to engage in the historic battle of 1759 last spring, but Canada's Battlefields Commission scuttled the deal when hard-line separatists in Quebec threatened to disrupt the friendly encounter. Now, Quebec rock station CHOI-FM has several hundred takers for its invitation to fight one another with water pistols. The event is "on" for August 2nd.

A much better idea it seems, and perhaps a worthwhile alternative as well for the ill-advised campaign just launched by the Ottawa Riverkeepers against plans by west coast based Aquablue International to bottle water in Smiths Falls, Ontario. Essentially the Riverkeepers claim residents of eastern Ontario are being duped into exporting their tap-water for profit. What's wrong with that?

American based Hershey Chocolates hightailed out of Smiths Falls in the last year for cheaper production of its chocolate line in Mexico. In the process the eastern Ontario town lost its major industry and 500 jobs. Aquablue is taking over the Hershey factory with plans to employ about 200 in a water bottling facility similar to its Vancouver Island operation which exports "glacial water" down to the USA.

The contentious and eventually unsustainable argument is that Canada forbids massive exportation of fresh water outside our national borders. Since we share the Great Lakes and their basin, including the waters of eastern Ontario, with the Americans the issue is moot. Fact is the United States of America, particularly the southern states, are running dry. Canada, which claims as much as 20% of the entire planet's fresh water resources, will eventually have to come to terms with sharing this plentiful natural resource, as we do with our other bounties, lest the "thirsty" forcibly take it from us.

In Smiths Falls, as it does out west, Aquablue will take advantage of a loophole in Canadian law that allows water to be exported for profit as long as it is packaged in containers of 20 litres or less. Environmentalists it seems to me would be far better to be concerned with those damned plastic bottles which our "silly" law forces packagers such as Aquablue to use in order to be "legal". The Rideau River lakes system which borders Smiths Falls is where the company plans to take about 350-million litres a year in bottles for export primarily south of the border.

The Ottawa Riverkeeper is described as a citizens' group which protects the Ottawa River and its tributaries. It's most recent arguments are similar in nature to those of the Ottawa based "Council of Canadians" which first voiced concerns when rumours surfaced about plans for the abandoned Hershey plant. While there is nothing wrong with citizen advocacy, the "Bottle" in bottled water is what's nefarious to the ecological, social and economic condition the planet. I am hopeful that the Ottawa Riverkeeper's objection isn't somehow a misguided application of the advocacy for "water justice" advanced by the international Blue Planet Project co-founded by Maude Barlow.

Critics might very well be confused because Ms Barlow is also National Chair of the Council of Canadians and a senior advisor on water issues to the United-Nations. Ms. Barlow's book though: "Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis And The Coming Battle For The Right To Water" speaks volumes about the future looming just over the horizon if we don't share...including with the Americans.

Maybe it's time trade the rhetoric for water pistols.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Too frequently it seems, reviews, reports and public opinion polls are released in the midst of the "dog days" of summer, and despite their relevance go unnoticed or under reported in the media.

Two weeks ago for instance I noted on this post a one-year old report which suggests that police first responders are being placed at unnecessary risks by the Federal Government's mixed messages over the issue of Canada's long-gun registry. (See: PRAISE GOD AND PASS THE AMMUNITION, July 6/09).

It's a favorite tactic of governments to bury into the summer months the tabling of well meaning reports with which they either don't agree, or which for some reason or other are philosophically at odds with the governing party's stated policy or principles. In the waining days of the past month, Elections Canada suggested in its annual report that it plans to push come the fall for legislative changes which will allow voters in Canada to cast their ballots on the Internet.

In the October 2008 Federal Election, less than 59% of eligible Canadians voted. Thus I can't imagine that any government, the current Harper Government included, would want to limit comment, discussion nor debate on a matter of such crucial importance. There must be a reasonable explanation why the report saw the light of day on June 27, one day after the House of Commons' session ended. The Tories have had an axe to grind against Elections Canada ever since the RCMP raid on their Ottawa HQ over the "in and out" financing scheme of the 2006 elections...but surely I digress.

Be that as it may; Elections Canada sees allowing Canadians to vote from their computers as perhaps the only remedy for the ever dwindling number of electors who actually bother to cast a vote when Federal Elections are called. After a Liberal and two Conservative minorities in a row, polls now suggest that we are getting fed-up with minority governments. Though political polls done outside of election periods are notoriously fickle; and evidence suggests there isn't much of an appetite nationwide for trudging to the polls yet again this fall or during the upcoming winter months. Who knows?

Meantime if Elections Canada's push at..."bringing the ballot to the elector" is successful, it plans to ask Legislators to modify the law so that electronic voting, via the Internet can be tested in a by-election in 2013. The report which was tabled in the House of Commons the day Members of Parliament had left for their home constituencies says a survey conducted for elections officials found that almost two-thirds of people who did not vote on October 14, 2008 blamed "everyday situations" - Holidays; too busy; family obligations; work schedules; for not bothering to honour their democratic obligations...for the record the other third cited negative attitudes towards politics, apathy and cynicism as reasons for not voting. One might be tempted to suggest whatever the excuses, they seem somewhat reflective of the attitude of the politicians who "got up and left" before that report was tabled before them on Parliament Hill.

Lastly to confirm its belief that electronic registration and the use of online ballots could improve election day turn-out, the Federal agency claims that 55% of those too busy, apathetic and cynical Canadians from the 2008 election would have voted if they could have done so from the comfort of their home computer. Polls though can be notoriously fickle and about as clear as mud.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


In just a few days the world will mark a significant "milestone" in the history of the 20Th Century, when on July 20, 1969 - Men Walked On The Moon.

Most consider it a monumental technological achievement, but others call it a massive hoax. Supporters of the theory contend that NASA deliberately deceived the world in a staged propaganda antidote to the War in Vietnam and the simmering Cold War with the Soviets.

While most conspiracies fade over time, the moon landing (somewhat like the related JFK assassination), continues to flourish thanks to the Internet.

Relax, I am not getting into "That" debate...instead I am just setting the context, the frame if you will, for this one:

This fall as many as 10,000 American university students will head north to better weather the recession at much more affordable Canadian Universities. For the most part, money fuels this Canadian mini "brain-Gain". But it seems also that some students are interested in what one described recently - "The whole Canada experience interested just seemed like the experience I was looking for."

Despite her $20,000 international tuition fee each year, Stephanie Greco, aged 18, will get her degree from Dalhousie University for half the cost of the same degree at the University of Rhode Island. Ten years ago, just only 2000 American students were registered at Canadian Universities. Perhaps not only will the students enrolled in classes come this September get an international education without having to travel overseas; their experience here may kick-start the sad lack of knowledge most Americans have about their northern neighbour.

And: As the planet shares in the 40Th anniversary of man's conquest of the moon, these students may even pick-up tidbits of Canadiana about our own outer world experiences. "Trekkies" for instance will learn that fans of the various incarnations of the "Star Trek" franchise flock each year to Vulcan, Alberta. A community of 2000 people acknowledged as "Star Trek Town." Not to be outdone. another Alberta town - St.Paul, is known for building the world's first UFO landing pad. It was opened in 1967 by Canada's then Minister of National Defence, Paul Helleyer. Lest I digress, Mr. Helleyer has since become a converted firm believer in visits from outer space and is widely quoted for a 2005 speech on the subject in the authoritative American UFOevidence.Org website. In St. Paul, Alberta though the welcome mat is still outstanding for the first UFO landing.

Back in their homeland perhaps any one of these Canadian educated American whiz-kids could become involved with the Google sponsored "Global Lunar X-Prize." It commits a $30-million first prize for any commercial entity able to put a lander on the moon by December 31, 2012. Please! - Just an extra inch so that I may digress once more - The December 31, 2012 deadline is 6 days after the world ends according to the pre-historic Mayan calendar.

South of the border some American states have already broken ground on the construction of facilities built specifically for space-bound commercial customers and fee paying passengers. The State of New Mexico is building "Spaceport America" on a remote high desert range near the town of Truth or Consequences; and Hawaii is counting on space tourism for high-end getaways launched from the sand to the stars. Tourists would pay $200,000 for an all inclusive week long package: spaceflight training, resort accommodations, and flights which could include island hopping from Hawaii to Japan in 45 minutes.

Now we know - Finally the time has come: St. Paul and Vulcan, Alberta may soon get out of this world visitors after all. It's been a long wait!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Ottawa's beleaguered mayor, Larry O'Brien, still has about a month of thumb-twiddling before Ontario Associate Chief-Justice, Douglas Cunningham, renders judgement on his political future.

Regulars will recall that O'Brien is charged with two criminal counts of "influence peddling" in order to get rid of opponent, Terry Kilrea, during the fall 2006 Ottawa municipal election. Despite the best legal defence money can buy, the ultimate decision about the Mayor's future in politics rests now with the presiding judge who has advised that he will rule on August 12.

Meantime management of the city of Ottawa, the country's 4th largest, and your nation's capital city has been in the fairly competent hands of acting Mayor, Michel Bellemare. Sadly all good things must end. Ottawa's governing structure requires that the role of Deputy-Mayor rotates, roughly every 3 months amongst members of City Council. Since July 6, the new guy at the (acting) helm is councillor, Doug Thompson. Oh my!

Whilst Canada's other large cities grapple with real problems: Toronto's garbage strike. Montreal's concerns over losing the east end Shell Oil refinery. Vancouver's security plans for the 2010 Olympic Games. - Ottawa's acting Mayor Thompson, is being ridiculed nationwide for his lame decision to honour soft-porn diva, Shannon Tweed.

Won't you please step-back to those thrilling days of yesteryear: The Newfoundland born Ms Tweed, once served cocktails at an Ottawa restaurant, and as a part-time fashion model, the former Playboy Playmate, was named Miss Ottawa Valley back in 1977. Next week, she'll be in town along with long-time partner, KISS front man, Gene Simmons. The 1980's glam-rock band is headlining the Ottawa "bluesFest", an opportunity for Tweed to visit with past friends and acquaintances. The couple, along with their teen aged kids, are best known for the popular American reality TV series, "Family Jewels".

One of (acting) Mayor Thompson's first moves this week was to declare next Wednesday, Shannon Tweed Day...Ahem! Well...err...not so fast. After he made the proclamation, he was told that such honours are reserved for longtime residents who have made significant contributions to Ottawa. He's been both chastised and castigated by his City Council. Plus he's suffered the embarrassment of calling Ms Tweed to say sorry...the deal is off.

Thompson says: "To be honest, I really didn't know who she was...I spoke to the media before the item had been fully vetted and I made a mistake. I admit it." Although Thompson has more than 25 years of municipal political experience, most of it has been in rural eastern Ontario's Osgoode Township. And, we have the former Mike Harris Ontario Tory government to thank for making Osgoode a quite rural part of the City of Ottawa.

You live, and you learn. About the only redeeming quality of this brouhaha has been that Thompson admits his mistake. Something the real Mayor, Larry O'Brien hasn't yet been able to do over the efforts to get Terry Kilrea out of the 2006 election. Maybe Mr. Justice Cunningham may help him see the light come mid-August.

Meantime, while Shannon Tweed is not getting her day in Ottawa on July 15...July 14 has been proclaimed "Yousuf Karsh Day", to honour the late world renowned portrait photographer who called Ottawa home for all of his stellar career. His widow, Estrellita Karsh will be in town to present the city with nine of her late husband's photographs including his most famous - The scowling iconic photo of Winston Churchill taken at Ottawa's Chateau Laurier Hotel in the months after World War II.

Monday, July 6, 2009


A little-noticed report from just about a year ago concludes that as many as 80% of on-duty police officers in Canada access the country's on-line "gun-registry" to check for weapons while responding to 9-1-1 calls.

However mixed messages from Prime-Minister Stephen Harper's Government since it was first elected in January 2006 have both confused the country's gun-owners and jeopardized the integrity of the program. Perhaps putting front-line police officers at even greater risk.

The issue is that one of the first matters of legislative business tabled by the Conservatives in 2006 was/is a still un-debated law to scrap the Federal Gun Registry...and in the intervening years the same Government has extended until 2010 an amnesty which aims at coaxing gun owners into renewing their licences - It waives licence fees and provides liability protection for those who comply with the law. Yes! The same law that the Tories want to scrap. Go figure!

And figuring (I guess) is what gun-owners have been doing...The result is that more than 25% have just given-up renewing expired licences. About 20,000 this year so far of the 73,000 licences set to expire. In total last year (2008), 66,000 out of about 300,000 permits that ran-out. Obviously as more firearms owners opt-out of licensing because they take the Government on its word that it will dismantle the registry, the system becomes less and less dependable for front-line police officers rushing to 9-1-1 calls.

Critics claim that is why the Tories chose the backwaters of August 2008, when politicians were away in their ridings to table the survey of Police Officers in an empty House of Commons. The report supports the high-rate of police use of the online registry during service calls, and is really central to the battle of the last three years over the amnesty, between supporters of the gun registry and Prime Minister Harper's red-neck charged "political statements" to dismantle the program.

Perhaps because they fear political reprisals of one form or another, one big surprise is that neither representatives of the Canadian Police Association, and/nor the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is prepared to comment on the survey of their own front-line policemen. Though to be fair the Police Chiefs say they continue to support the gun-registry.

Perhaps what these groups need is the backbone of a gun-toting evangelistic charismatic leader like Louisville, Kentucky Pentecostal Pastor, Kenneth Pagano. The Reverend Pagano recently asked his flock to bring their handguns to the New Bethel Church for a celebration of America's "Second Amendment". About 200 of the "converted" converged in the church's sanctuary on June 27 to hear the message of Pastor Pagano's - "Open Carry Celebration" - "If it were not for a deep-seated belief in the right to bear arms, this country (The USA) would not be here today" - The Reverend said, drawing hearty applause and exclamations of "Amen!"

J-E-S-U-S !!!

Thursday, July 2, 2009


I am unsure about whether living in the nation's capital city for more than a quarter century is an advantage, or a disadvantage?

For sure, it's a mighty pretty city in the summer; frigidly cold in winter...thus typically Canadian I suppose. What I do know is that in the 26 years I have lived here, I have encountered an unmistakable renewal: Nay! - A rebirth of Canadian pride and patriotism. Those of my generation are too young to recall the specifics of Canada's seminal coming of age on the overseas battlefields of the two great wars of the 20Th Century. My sense though is that the current wave of patriotic fervor probably closely resembles that which led countless numbers of young people to volunteer for the life altering adventures of the World Wars I and II. Lest I digress: Not that I wish for a recurrence of, or worse a 21St Century version of either.

I am not quite sure just when this rebirth occurred, or how, and what for that matter has made it so. Surely through my teen aged years and into young adulthood - The "flower children" age from the mid-1960's through the "me generation" stages leading into the 1980's - Even with such noteworthy events as the flag debate; the country's Centennial and the Expo '67 celebrations; the Summer Olympics of 1976...surely there were elements of pride. But, hardly sentimental nor patriotic and fretful about the nation's well being.

If I had to choose a time for this mass rebirth of our patriotism it would probably involve the summer and fall of 2000...The dawn of the new millennium: Something changed I noticed in May of 2000 when tens of thousands of Canadians turned-out to welcome back unto Canadian soil the remains of the "unknown" from the bloody European battlefields of of the "war to end all wars." By September, the passing of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau evoked the same kind of national outpouring. Hundreds of thousands mourned his loss...tens of thousands lined the railroad tracks along which travelled the funeral train from Ottawa to Montreal.

I have seen it since: On "Remembrance Day", each November 11Th, where despite the ageing of our Veterans, the crowds grow larger each year...Sadly, I see it all too frequently along the "Highway of Heroes" - Ontario's Highway #401 - from Trenton to Toronto - as the bodies of young Canadians are repatriated from that distant Afghan conflict. And - On each July 1st, the country's birthday, when ever increasing numbers of Canadians each year show-off their colours, their patriotism, their love of country from one coast, to the other, to the other!

So I am ambivalent at best each summer when polling organizations publish results of surveys declaring that Canadians are shockingly ignorant about their land. Two such polls last week: An Ipsos-Reid Poll for the Dominion Institute and a Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey heralded the headlines: "Canadians Left Guessing When Identifying Nation's Top 10 Cultural Icons"...and: "Poll Reveals Canadians' Widespread Ignorance of Canada". - Look! They're probably right: Most Canadians probably find it easier to identify Michael Jackson than Sir John A. Or; given the sunken level of Parliamentary debate in this land. It isn't surprising that just a third of us can name Paul Martin as our previous Prime-Minister.

Just as I see from my neighbours at the winter residence I am fortunate to maintain in the American south...It's really how you feel about your homeland that matters. Not necessarily what you know. And you know what? I'll bet the young people who answered the nation's call to battle in the two "Great" wars of the last century probably wouldn't have done any better than we did on those surveys.