Monday, August 31, 2009


In my west Ottawa Federal Parliament riding I suspect I am better known for more frequently disagreeing with our sitting Member. But: This time the Minister of Transport and my local MP, John Baird, is right - It would be irresponsible for the Liberal Party of Michael Ignatieff to topple the Harper Government when the House of Commons resumes after the Labour Day holiday.

To the extent that I wish it were not so; given that Mr. Harper and the Tories have just about abandoned every principle over which they were first elected in January 2006 and re-elected in October 2008: Including of note the P.M's own fixed-election date law, loading the Senate with partisan cronies, and a spending orgy which according to some sources tops $70-billion in the last 10 months. I just can't quite understand how seemingly intelligent well informed politicians and their strategists, starting with Stephane Dion and now Mr. Ignatieff have allowed themselves to be manipulated into corners from which they can't seem to escape unscathed.

In Sudbury this week the Liberal Party's national caucus is coming to grips with a reality of its own creation over the agreement reached last June that the Party would not defeat Harper's minority forces and provoke a summer election in return for an inclusive working group on reforming Employment Insurance...Or else!

So contentious an issue it was at the time that the Leader, Michael Ignatieff, virtually staked his leadership on the outcome. Guess What? - Employment Insurance it now seems is not an issue which is universally popular neither with members of the Liberal Party, and it is too complex for Canadians to quite understand why it should trigger an election. The Conservatives have known this all along, which is why despite several meetings over the summer of the bipartisan committee Ignatieff insisted on in June; it has had no success.

Don Drummond, the well respected TD Bank economist, told Ottawa's "Hill Times" just this week that neither Conservatives nor Liberals have enough popular support for their different positions on the E.I. debate to win an election. Little wonder that up in Sudbury the "Globe and Mail" quotes the Party's caucus chair that..."there is no real unanimous mood in there." To the extent that Members of Parliament from all political affiliations have been listening to their constituents over the summer hiatus, it is clear as someone in Sudbury pointed out that Canadians would rather hear about job creation than insurance for lost jobs.

At the very least; Canadians do not want to hear about another Federal Election this fall and Mr. Harper's increasingly vocal anti-election campaign...and it will get even louder as Parliament gets set to a reflection of that sentiment.

Sadly though it will be difficult for the Liberals to extricate themselves from the corner of the seemingly ill conceived and poorly executed strategy they created late last spring. Similar options over past Party threats and ultimatums destroyed Stephane Dion's credibility and eventually his leadership. Without more concise, popular and effective strategies no one wants Micheal Ignatieff to be next, I suspect not even the Conservatives who are probably grateful to see their opposition faced with another embarrassing "back-down" from the latest ultimatum just as Mr. Harper's Tories prepare to take credit for Canada's economic turn around.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Jeez whiz, the Prime Minister has been taking it on the chin this week over his nominations to Canada's Red Chamber: The Senate; of several new political hacks, has beens, wannabees and hangers on.

In a noteworthy obvious case of "do as I say...not as I do", Prime Minister Harper has abandoned his life long public political pledge to reform the!...well at least stop the century old Canadian tradition of loading the Upper-House with one's friends, supporters and political bag men (and ladies) regardless of ability; knowledge; or (God forbid) conscience over taking a $130,000 / year political sinecure for towing the party line till mandatory retirement age of 75 years.

The Senate: Parliament's chamber of sober second thought; is the quintessential Canadian institution where, with a little help from well connected friends, "the milk rises to the top." - I speak with some knowledge of, and experience with at least several Senators with whom I have had professional working relationships in their previous lives...Lest I digress:

I'll venture a confession that I found some delicious irony in a report published on the trusted news syndicate "Agence France Presse" (AFP) just a few hours before Prime Minister Harper stepped in front of the media microphones in Montreal to announce his list of nine Senate nominees. Dinosaurs and pre-historic remnants are among the varied and descriptive adjectives which have previously, and frequently been used by Canadian observers, commentators, some politcians, as well as pundits to describe our Upper House of Parliament.

It seems that after a chance encounter with Jack Horner, a renowned American paleontologist and the technical advisor on the enormously popular "Jurassic Park" movies researchers at McGill University have determined to experiment with Doctor Horner's theory that chicken embryos can be manipulated to create dinosaurs. The theory is based on research in macro-evolution that birds are direct descendants of the enormous pre-historic, now extinct creatures which once roamed the planet.

In fact the Government of Canada, through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada; as well as the Canada Research Chairs program and National Geographic in the United States are funding the McGill project. It is still just in its infancy, and scientists at McGill are cautious, because of ethical reasons, about predicting they will eventually hatch live pre-historic animals...But, the work is described as a demonstration of evolution done by flipping certain genetic levers during a chicken embryo's development that may reproduce a dinosaur's anatomy.

Prime Ministers of the future should now take note: McGill University may be on the verge of sourcing a whole new crop of candidates for the Canadian Senate willing to "peck","chirp" and "cluck" to support the governemment for mere chicken feed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


It is a tribute to the Prime Minister's political savvy that before the election of the fall of 2008 he managed to diffuse the contentious issue of our involvement in the Afghanistan imbroglio.

Were it not for passage of a House of Commons motion 18 months ago palatable to the Liberals who supported it; our troops would be out and home instead of still waging an obviously increasingly un-winnable conflict on the other side of the planet.

It took a former Liberal Deputy Minister, John Manley and his panel of distinguished Canadians, to seal that bitter deal...and mind you the promises of additional troops and support from other NATO partners have long since evaporated. Because it was never an issue in the election of October 2008, Canadians were excluded from any debate of substance into our ongoing participation. The casualties continue to mount and the support for the military has not waned; but as for the war itself that is a whole other matter.

Canada is a relatively small partner on the Afghan horizon, but unlike most NATO nations, a willing participant and thus crucial to the Obama Administration and its top foreign policy priority to stabilize the warring country. Even though the fraud factor in last week's national elections in Afghanistan grows and escalates and may eventually plunge it from political limbo to full blown crisis; pressure from the United States and from within NATO to extend our commitment beyond February 2011 will continue to mount. It could be difficult to resist being further dragged into what observers and critics south of the border have recently suggested may become Obama's Vietnam.

On the surface there are parallels, including plans which have resulted in the commitment of nearly 20,000 additional troops to Afghanistan since Mr. Obama took office. To digress: All at same time that a matching draw-down of troops out of Iraq seems to have heralded evermore increasing insurgent violence there. As the world's only remaining superpower, the United States can ill afford to lose face by losing an unconventional war of improvised bombs and sporadic gun fights. Three for the count: Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Ironically; that America is the world's sole superpower may be a direct result of the Soviets' own disastrous experience on the very same battlefields over the issue of Taliban violence less than a generation ago. Back then mounting troop commitments, growing casualties, drained resources: Essentially the business of war; hastened the bankruptcy and eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.

There is a certain irony to the whispers, rumours and growing evidence that Afghanistan has drained Canada's military and pushed its most important resource: The humans of our army, navy and air force; to the verge of collapse. He has since bitten his tongue over an ill-advised comment which embarrassed the Government. But, there was an element of truth from a professional who should know when the Chief of Military Land-Staff, Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie, told a House of Commons committee that the army would need a one year respite after Afghanistan just to get caught-up. (See: "FRAMING ONE'S MEA CULPA" - July 27/09)

A memo obtained by "The Toronto Star" says we may need to out-source non combat military work precisely in Afghanistan as elsewhere to relieve pressure on the military because of commitments over the next 12 months. From Canada's perspective at least the Afghan conflict may fade into the background as the military gears-up for a couple of priority missions closer to home: The Winter Olympic Games in British-Columbia in February and the "Summit of G-8 Leaders" in Huntsville, Ontario next June. The "Star" says that the documents it's obtained indicate that 32,000 military personnel..."about half the entire Canadian Forces - will be in training or set to deploy on missions to Kandahar (Afghanistan), guarding the 2010 Olympics and protecting world leaders in Muskoka."

Regardless of commitments made by the United-States, and pressures from elsewhere, it could be that exhaustion may be our ticket out of Afghanistan. If that is to be the case: It can't happen soon enough and hopefully before the bank is broken too.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


If there is one thing to be said about the brothers Wright - Wilbur and Orville - it is that they were progressive in their view of the world. Be not for them and their understanding of powered flight, we very well might still be flapping our arms waiting for some magic take-off.

It seems that here in Ottawa, objectors to Orville's namesake: A real estate development named "Orville Station", in the city's deep west end, have locked themselves into the notion somehow that our world isn't evolving quite as it should. To digress ever so briefly: In fact, well advanced into my 62nd year I am considerably offended by the suggestion from David Jenkins, of the Stittsville Village Association, that..."particularly seniors, don't like the design."

Okay! You ask - What the hell is he ranting about? To confess: I am intrigued by, and interested in the design of "Orville Station". It's a proposed 36-unit stacked condominium project in Stittsville, Ontario a west end Ottawa community. It has already received the blessing and approval of the City of Ottawa's planning staff as a pioneer in both the city's intensification goals and praiseworthy environmental standards. But...old notions die hard.

Thus the local City Council member, Shad Qadri, and a group of local reactionaries the "Stittsville Village Association" (obviously seriously in need of a hobby), are in cahoots to sink the project. Well surprise! The City of Ottawa is about to spend upwards of $30-billion on a light-rail subway transit system. It has the stated honourable goal of creating pedestrian friendly communities and creating a society that relies less on the automobile as a means of transportation. But beware: When a developer seeks to achieve those goals precisely...old fashioned ninnies it seems feel called to arms. Progress indeed: Just make sure, not in my backyard. Good Grief! this case: Stittsville's "Orville Station", all of the bellicosity over essentially a total of roughly 3 automobile parking spaces. Twenty first Century entitlement gone mad. If you don't like it move to Russia.

Little wonder that the project's proponents and supporters are appalled at the "Johnny come Lately" politically motivated attempts to block the project. The city's own double-speak on the matter is equally appalling. Developers innovate and play by the rules, and get shafted in the end (literally) for meeting design guidelines and award winning environmental standards....But Ottawa's Planning and Environment Committee is set to consider an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board of the city's own Committee on Adjustments' decision to give the go ahead to "Orville Station". Left hand - Right hand - Duh! Bureaucracy gone wild on the taxpayers' tab.

Let's face reality: As if our present environmental challenges are not quite sufficient proof. Some people apparently still need to be dragged into the 21st Century. I am not one of them and I resent my money being spent on frivolous legal arguments that date back to another era and time. I will gladly trade parking for innovative green spaces any day. Get the picture?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


In the midst of these "dog daze" of the summer of 2009, and as Hurricane "Bill" huffs and puffs into a category 4 storm through the Caribbean, let's take a moment to clear-out a backlog of accumulated notes on my workspace.

Best to clean these out; after all it's a matter of short time before our Parliamentarians return to their Ottawa offices...the debate in the House of Commons sinks to new inconceivable lows...and the blind race towards an election no one wants heats up to a fever pitch.

Doubtless it's been a tough tourist season for Canada's air carriers. Visa and Passport restrictions have reduced cross-border travel. Summer load factors have slumped and aviation consultants predict "lean, dark times" for the usually slow fall period. Air Canada is mired in debt once more...the word bankruptcy has been bandied about. It won't happen...but if it did, for the second time in one decade, it could usher-in irreversible damage for our national flag carrier. WestJet had been counting on a cash infusion from SouthWest Airlines in the USA. The two airlines follow the same business model, and were to enter into a code-sharing arrangement this summer. Code-sharing involves booking flights on each other's routes. Instead, SouthWest has pocketed the money to bankroll a bid to buy bankrupt Denver based discount carrier, Frontier Airlines. And, orders for Bombardier's business jet aircraft are said to be down about 40% as client companies, like GM, Chrysler and others shed their private aircraft and adjust to the new economic realities.

If the Royal Canadian Mint can find it, maybe the airlines could use it. Very little has, well nothing really...since the Federal Government called-in the RCMP to investigate the disappearance of more than $15-million in gold from the mint. It has been almost a year since auditors at Ottawa's most heavily guarded building started to query how a thousand pounds of gold went missing from the Fort Knox like vaults on Sussex Drive. Although "who's got the loot?" (Bernie Madoff? Earl Jones? Michael Jackson?) has become a favorite parlour game in the Capital, the daily "Ottawa Citizen" reported this week that the Mounties have yet to launch their government ordered investigation..."That suggests they don't suspect the missing gold has been stolen." The Mint's bean-counters are knee-deep in the middle of three ongoing "last-ditch" efforts to account for the missing bullions. Lest of course they be knee-deep in dark doo-doo if they can't find anything.

Going for the gold? Invaders from the north became the darlings of the "Big Apple" over the summer months when Tim Horton's took over about a dozen former Dunkin Donuts stores in New York City. The stores are owned by franchisee Riese Corporation. Some will recall a few year's back the scandal when photos were published showing mice on the racks of one of their Manhattan Dunkin' stores. Obviously engaging in a rear guard action against "Buy American" provisions. New Yorkers have apparently fallen in love with Tim's rich calorie laden Ice Cappucinos. If we can't beat'em, maybe we can clog their arteries. Tim Horton's reported earlier this month that it now has 536 restaurants down in the USA. Same store sales in the United-States have grown as much as 5% over last year. Sales at the Canadian stores, of which there are just short of 3000, grew less than 2% during the same period. The company has said it may have to raise prices in Canada to meet its year-end goals. The American owned McDonald's restaurants, Canada's second largest chain, have been increasing pressure on the Canadian icon by offering discounted breakfast and premium coffee options. Roll-up The Rim to see who wins!

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Cable and satellite television viewers are outraged after being slapped with a one and half percent increase in their monthly bills courtesy of a new CRTC dictate to increase the Canadian Television Fund.

The fund requires the distributors of television services on cable or by satellite pay a small percentage of their revenues to assist with the production of Canadian programs. The total annual fund amount has been set at near $68-million for about a year, but increased just recently to $100-million on orders from the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) as a stopgap measure to incessant whining from broadcasters that the downturn in the economy has left them unable to fulfill their programming requirements.

Frankly if I may digress, It ain't really mattered one scintilla that Ben Mulroney and "Canadian Idol" (one of the CTV casualties) haven't been on air this year - Likely no one has noticed.

CTV-Globemedia CEO, Ivan Fecan, has been amongst the loudest whiners launching a bid early last spring to charge the cable companies to broadcast CTV stations. Canwest-Global, the country's other privately held English language network, also supports the proposal. The war of words has waged and escalated since that time.

Every time there is a "tempest in a teapot" of this nature there is plenty of blame to go around. For now it's but a campaign for the hearts and minds of consumers, and Mr. Fecan's CTV, including the "Save Local TV" campaign have been good at setting the debate's agenda. This month though Rogers Cable (the country's largest), and Bell Canada, the largest satellite distributor, have made it mighty clear just who's pocketbook the networks' whining will hit. And, in a double whammy, Bell has also filed suit in court, asking a Federal Judge to intervene to stop the CRTC plans to hold hearings into the CTV and Global applications to begin charging for carrying their signals. The Federal regulator had scheduled the hearings to start on September 29, but has now pushed them back to mid-November with the expectation that the Federal Court will rule by then.

In the interim, CTV has decimated its smaller "A" channel group of stations, and has plans to close at least three of them. Global too has cut back, and put up the "for sale" sign on it's smaller "E!" television stations chain. Just like Nortel and so many others, the network's greed and disregard for sound financial planning are at the source of the problems. Dumping the burden on the television distributors, ultimately with the complicity of the Federal regulator isn't going to cause anything but agravation and grief.

Lost amongst the accusations and arguments is one undeniable fact: Cable and satellite viewers across the country already pay amounts ranging from a few cents to as much as a dollar per month for each of the so-called specialty channels they receive. Nationwide, CTV collects on its 33 specialty channels, versus its two over the air offerings (CTV & "A")...Canwest too each month collects money from viewers for each one of its 17 specialty channels, versus its two traditional channels: Global TV and E! In this war of words, CTV this week had the temerity to ask for transparent billing practices on the part of cable and satellite companies. The danger is that should its wish be granted, consumers will know once and for all just how much cash already flows into CTV and Global from the hidden specialty channel fees paid each month...I'm all for that.

While both sides have been lobing accusations and charges at each other; the CRTC, the Federal Agency mandated to protect our interests, seems to have lost the will and the backbone to tell them each to quit whining, just shut-up, and get on with their business.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Perhaps it is just that one has to be born within spitting distance of the border to understand the clout some communities may have against America's obsessive compulsive security issues...if only the politicians would help.

Granted that 60% of Canadians live within 100 Kilometers of the border with the United-States, but in many border communities our American neighbour is dwarfed by the economic clout of its much larger Canadian counterpart. Whether it is in Van Buren or Madawaska, Maine; Massena, New York; Port Huron, Michigan or Point Roberts, Washington just to name a few; residents there count on business from Canada to exist.

From a Canadian perspective I guess our politicians who matter most weren't born that close to Uncle Sam's shadow. Either that or they are just too busy trying to pacify recent American administrations, and obviously blinded by the clout some border communities could have with even a minuscule measure of encouragement from Ottawa.

For instance in Sarnia, Ontario across the border from Port Huron, Michigan, they can't even get an acknowledgement from the Prime Minister's office about a "Peeping Tom" helium balloon which has been watching the community from the other side. It isn't just an is a downright insult to the once friendly relations between Canada and the United States.

There are flying drones over the Great Lakes and the Dakotas, now this! Late in July a private American company, Sierra Nevada Corporation, launched a 50 foot helium balloon equipped with a $1-million camera to watch activity over the border. The American firm, based in Sparks, Nevada, is looking to impress Homeland Security down south and trying to sell its technology to the Obama Administration. Locals in Sarnia have several different names for the balloon...some less flattering than others. It is offensive, clearly it should be, as it transmits photos from the Canadian side to American authorities...none of which, locals conclude, are any of Homeland Security's business. Though Sarnia's mayor, and the local Member of Parliament have written to Prime Minister Stephen Harper; It seems they can't even get an acknowledgement about the validity of their complaint.

The fears of Mayor Mike Bradley and M-P Brian Masse are that if Canadians don't express their opposition, America's obsessive border surveillance will continue to escalate and relations between our two countries will only erode further.

If national politicians won't heed the danger, Sarnia residents are only too happy to oblige. On Saturday (August 15) they plan a cheeky protest in the city's Centennial Park. So far more than one thousand people have signed-up for the "Moon The Balloon" protest. Lily white Canadian "arses" pointed south may be a little risque. It's unclear whether Mayor Bradley will be there in the buff as it were. But, their M-P, Mr. Masse, says:..."people are entitled to do what they want in a free, open democratic society." I interpret that to mean no one is likely to be charged with public nudity by local authorities.

Regardless, and be that as it may: It is a whole new modern twist on demonstrating friendship across the world's longest undefended border. Maybe it will catch on?

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Unlike Chrysler and General Motors, our elected parliamentary elite (oxymoron?) cast Nortel adrift when the technology giant faced financial collapse. Truth be told, Nortel once the darling of the world's telecommunications industry had been poorly managed and sucked dry for years. Come to think of it so have Chrysler and GM.

Nortel is bankrupt: Be that as it may now in its wisdom, the House of Commons Industry Committee is meeting in emergency session on Friday to discuss the court ordered bidding process which netted Ericcson of Sweden one and half billion dollars' worth of its technology. Horror of horrors!

It is mid-August, the silly season in sleepy "By Town", politicians doubtless bored in their own home ridings...time for a taxpayer funded late week jaunt back to the Capital - Here they come, all 12 members of the committee and doubtless a retinue of hangers-on.

It is hard to believe that sabre-rattling from Canada's new technology darling, Waterloo based Research In Motion hasn't had something to do with this latest "prise de conscience" from our politicians. Jim Balsillie, RIM's billionaire owner, raised a stink after claims his company had been excluded from bidding for Nortel's technology. As witnessed by his efforts to get an NHL hockey franchise into Hamilton, Ontario; Mr. Balsillie can be tenacious (if not obsessed) when it comes to something he's wishing for.

No doubt it also helps that Micheal Chong, the Industry Committee chairman who called the urgent meeting in Ottawa, is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Wellington-Halton Hills. His riding is deep in the heart of RIM's southwestern Ontario home turf. Hanging from the coat tails of this little mis-step, the parties in opposition and committee members, Marc Garneau (Liberal) and Brian Masse (NDP) have since called on the government to review the sale to Ericsson arguing that it will lead to the loss of potentially leading-edge technology. The Industry Minister, Tony Clement, says he's looking into that.

Realistically folks, there is no technology here that isn't already known elsewhere. Nortel and others in efforts to out-do each other with ever cheaper products,(Ericsson and RIM included) have allowed their communications technology to be learned, adopted and manufactured in several emerging third world nations such as China, Taiwan, Viet-Nam and India from where "grey market" technologies and products are now emerging.

Nortel's economic downfall had been predictable for many recent years. Out of concern over the loss of Canadian developed technology the politicians and RIM (or others) could and maybe should have acted sooner. Instead of circling over the carcass waiting to pick at the entrails once the inevitable had occurred.

Monday, August 3, 2009


Back in early May students of the dark side of Ottawa politics salivated over two salacious simultaneous headline grabbing local court proceedings. (See: "WHEN EGOS OBFUSCATE", May 4, 09). - Who would have thunk their denouement would be simulcast?

After almost twenty years on Canadian soil, Karl Heinz Schreiber has been extradited to, and now jailed in Germany on charges of bribery and tax evasion stemming back as early as the 1980's. Several of the charges are related to pay-offs from Europe's aircraft manufacturer Airbus Industries, something most Canadians know too much (or too little) about. Although he has traded the safety and security of his Ottawa Rockcliff home for a German jail cell, I suspect that we have not heard the last of Mr. Schreiber.

Meantime I think that I will actually miss the rascal. Whatever the opinion, he was tenacious in his accusations that a former Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, had been less than forthcoming about the truth of their relationship. It may have taken him twenty years of dogged and often misguided (if not misguiding) efforts, but we now know from Mr. Mulroney's own mouth that Schreiber had been right all along. Yet another blow against Mulroney's tattered reputation. We take little comfort from the fact that had it known earlier, the Government would probably not have been as forthcoming in forking-over $2-million in compensation to Mulroney for sullying his legacy over the so-called Airbus scandal.

As to the court's other matter: Astute observers of Ottawa's judicial scene (surely an oxymoron), believe that the city's Mayor, Larry O'Brien, will be exonerated on Wednesday when Ontario's Associate Chief Justice, Douglas Cunningham, delivers his much anticipated verdict on charges of influence peddling. O'Brien will walk away a free - In Larry's case he'll "swagger" away - because the Crown failed to convince "beyond a Shadow of a doubt" on the counts of criminal influence peddling. There is little doubt heading into the fall 2006 Mayoralty campaign that O'Brien tried his damned best to rid himself of the city's second "right of centre" candidate, Terry Kilrea. He eventually succeeded, but there is no smoking gun evidence that he did so in a criminal way. Fortunately for us all, our judicial system demands more than conjecture, misunderstandings, winks and nudges.

City leaders have in place contingency plans to replace Mr. O'Brien in the unlikely event that he is pronounced guilty on Wednesday and thereby stripped forever of holding elected political office in Ontario. Justice Cunningham has reached his conclusion and will in fact deliver the verdict one week earlier than first scheduled. Perhaps he too just wants to walk away from this imbroglio.

Down at City Hall, ironically just across the yard from the Courthouse, O'Brien's return will signal an all too familiar return of the conflict of inflated egos between the "left" and "right" of centre elected councillors some of whom already plan to run against and unseat O'Brien in the fall 2010 election, less than 14 months away. At its very best the municipal administration in the nation's capital is dysfunctional. Never any more than during Mayor O'Brien's tenure to the city's highest elected office.

The judicial verdict may exonerate Larry O'Brien on Wednesday. Though through his absence since the end of April, the knives at City Hall have clearly sharpened and the tumult of his first 2 1/2 years in office may foreshadow the misery that waits till electors post the final verdict in October of 2010.