Thursday, October 29, 2009


The "Great Depression" of 2009 having run the course and now sputtering to its merciful end; public authorities have conspired with the media to yet again panic most of us: Over flu-shots.

What's going on here? Why has the collective psyche become so programmed, gullible and craved for prophets of doom? Canadians have been imbibed with a dose of scepticism over the pronouncements of our politicians. It seems though we may be sadly lacking in a healthy outbreak of scepticism over a bureaucracy assisted by the media's insatiable thirst for the morbid, and a pharmaceutical industry motivated by greed.

There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that the 2009 outbreak of the flu virus is not essentially different than most. Figures from the Atlanta, Georgia based American Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which is generally considered the world's foremost authority on communicable disease, show that each year 200-thousand Americans are hospitalised with the "seasonal" flu...of those 36,000 die. Yes! People die of the flu each year and frequently for no good or apparent reasons. The CDC describes the current swine flu outbreak in these terms - "For most healthy individuals H1N1 can be mild but (it) can be serious for those with underlying medical conditions."

Here in Ottawa though, as in many other communities across Canada, residents are being panicked into lining-up for hours at mass immunization clinics that, were it not for the seriousness of the silly situation, might be worthy of a "Keystone Cop" movie scenario orchestrated by our public health officials.

Whoa, stand back a minute! SARS a few years back. The panic and planning over the Avian Flu. And, now this. One would like to think they would get it right. Ottawa's half-dozen or so clinics are averaging about 5000 people per day. In a city of one-million, if (as predicted) half of the population will take over 100 days (one third of a year) to deal with everyone who wants protection from H1N1. A long time after the outbreak has passed-on and, I suspect after the front-line personnel handling the flow have been in full retreat, if not already manning picket-lines. Yet the brain trust behind the plan have not allowed family physicians to immunize their own patients in their offices. In fact so ludicrous is the plan that doctors themselves are lined-up with the rest for hours at the public "cattle-call" clinics.

Let's smarten-up and switch-off the panic mode. In reality in 2009 as in most every year, flu related illnesses will claim Canadian lives. The H1N1 outbreak may be more virulent than some past seasonal flu strains. Yes: By all means everyone wishing to be immunized should have access to a doctor, a clinic, a health practitioner and whoever else can administer the dosage. But, let's just chill and relax. Although it is already too late for this year - From current appearance, Public Health Officials; the bureaucrats to whom they report; and our overheated media need to learn to better handle these matters. If practice makes efficient - if not perfect - We've got some way to go.

Monday, October 26, 2009


It may not be as dramatic as a tectonic shift in the fundamental values which define us as Canadian; but there appears to be palpable evidence of movement in the basic tenets of the philosophical principles of the country.

Likely not since the election of the Progressive-Conservative Government of John Diefenbaker in the landslide victory of 1958 has there been such measurable evidence of a shift to the right in the values, principles, ideologies and assumptions, in short: The bedrock of the nation's foundation.

In the fall election of 2008 a year ago, popular support for the Liberal Party of Canada, the country's stalwart left-of-centre standard bearer since Confederation, fell to its worst ever showing: 26.3% - It may be just one poll; but the latest numbers released by Ipsos-Reid suggest that if an election were held this week, less than one-quarter of Canadians would support the Liberals.

Perhaps the malaise is not entirely within the party nor of its making; but the recent succession of dull leaders: Martin, Dion and Ignatieff share a measure of the blame for their uninspired clarion call to provided safe harbour for the listing ship of the national political left.

Though it is essentially a one man party; the coalition of the right under the banner of the Conservative Party of Canada has achieved the level of success with Stephen Harper that so far has eluded every Liberal Leader since Chretien stepped-down. Though that may not say much for Mr. Harper, like the man on a tight-rope, as long as he maintains a measure of balance between the more extreme elements of the Reform/Alliance wing (from which he spawned), and the centre right Progressive-Conservatives mentored to this day still by Brian Mulroney, the Prime Minister could remain successful for quite some time - Parliamentary minority or not.

The political left - The Liberals, the New Democrats, The Greens and (yes) the Bloc Quebecois - is scattered, divided and ineffective. It was not pretty to watch; Constitutional circumstances and dictates, politics and history, doomed it to fail. But last December's Parliamentary Coalition of three which sought to overthrow the Harper Tories may have been as close as it gets for quite some time. The charismatic, unifying and inclusive leadership the left seeks is not yet anywhere on the horizon.

In short, the Liberal "Barack Obama" remains unidentified.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


The "Toronto Sun" newspaper reported a couple of days back that CTV claims eleven of its twelve stations in Ontario are in financial jeopardy. Network representatives, along with some from Global television, had participated in an editorial board round-table with the newspaper in support of their argument to access cable fees: "The Save Local TV" campaign which mercifully will end-up off our television screens and before the CRTC in just a few days.

CTV claims only it's flagship CFTO-TV in Toronto is actually making money...which begs the question why does CTV own 12-stations in Ontario to begin with? To some degree:- Either each was a going, occasionally growing, community business (mostly owned by local entrepreneurs) before the network began its acquisitions...Or:- Business pressures would have ensured its eventual demise anyway. Although it's the country's largest province, the Ontario market cannot; should not; support twelve seperate stations owned by one single network in an ultra-competitive environment. It makes no sense. In contrast, although it is no poster child for broadcasting management (management of any business really); Global has one TV station in Ontario...the Public Broadcasters: TVO - One station; the CBC, three (Toronto-Ottawa-Windsor).

Although very much different as a model, and unlike the CRTC, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United-States discourages network ownership of local TV and the regulator actually limits the number of stations a business may licence. The problem here it seems evident is that greed fueled the virtually uncontrolled acquisition by CTV of just about every single television outlet in this province (as elsewhere), eventually sucking-out their life-blood to feed an apparent desire to dominate the airwaves. How else to explain that in addition to the 12 Ontario stations over which it now pleads poverty, CTV also owns more than 30 Specialty Television channels; and outbid its nearest rival by a claimed $50-million for the rights to broadcast the Vancouver Games ($150-million)...a commitment which now given the economy it is nearly unable to sustain.

That the flagship station CFTO-TV is the network's sole source of positive cash-flow in its local station business should be of little concern to cable television subscribers, and most certainly of no concern to Canadian taxpayers. It does however speak volumes about greed which has been anchored on a foundation of "maxed-out" lines of credit and somewhat limited business sense. CTV and the other proponents of "Save Local TV" are right...the model is broken: I've concluded that it would not be broken if they had not meddled with it in the first place, and I'll be damned if I am expected to pay for their greed, ill-conceived planning and incompetence.

Monday, October 19, 2009


A few weeks back after the European Union invoked a ban on the importation of seal products from Canada, French film legend Brigitte Bardot vowed to boycott Maple Syrup.

Ms Bardot has been a vocal opponent of Canada's seal hunt for more than 30 years. Now in the twilight of her career, It seems that dissing Canada is about the only thing the aged European sex-kitten has got remaining on her agenda. Canada produces about 85% of the world's maple syrup, and Bardot contends that a world boycott of the product would pressure Canadians to reconsider our position on the annual harvest of seals off the east coast. Bardot's ally in the cause against "Maple Syrup" is PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). It was on a PETA blog that she called for the world's pancake lovers to rise-up...comparing the idea to the 2003 American boycott of French wines over the Iraq War.

Brigitte Bardot who is about to turn 75 was last seen in Canada in March of 2006. She hitched her visit then on the heels of the much publicised high-profile jaunt through the Magdalen Islands and Prince Edward Island by Sir Paul McCartney and his then wife, Heather Mills to protest the seal hunt. At the time Bardot was given the cold shoulder on a whistle stop through Ottawa where both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Fisheries refused her requests to meet.

It probably isn't much of a knock-out punch to Bardot's latest crusade. It's even doubtful she's heard the news. This past weekend Parks Canada, the agency responsible for the country's national monuments and historic sites, unveiled a plaque in MacDonalds' Corners in eastern Ontario honouring the..."Production of Maple Syrup as an event of national historic significance." Sweet!....No pun intended.

As of this month, the E.U. ban on the importation of seal products is in effect in each of the Union's 27 member countries. The Government of Canada is now challenging the action before the World Trade Organization as an unfair trade restriction. If maple syrup is next on the hit-list producers in the $220-million industry will at least have a plaque to be remembered by.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


There are less than three weeks remaining before - Surely with the wisdom of Solomon - the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) meets head-on the proponents and promoters of: "Save Local TV" and those of "Stop the TV Tax."

Canada's big entertainment providers the television broadcasters; and those who distribute their programs the cable and satellite providers, have been waging an all too public over the air battle to win our hearts and minds. One group guts local programming and threatens more cuts. Increases in the monthly bills from the other outpace rising costs and any reasonable expectations.

Regardless; and at the risk of becoming the poster child for this national malaise, any solution which the sages of the CRTC can cobble together will come too late for the now bankrupt Global Television Network who's assets will by then be portioned-off amongst the parent company's $4-billion creditors.

Even before Global's flow of red ink sank the network beyond its capacity to recover, rumours in the business were circulating as early as last spring that the network's national news anchor, Kevin Newman, was ripe for the picking. Since signing-on the early evening newscast in September 2001, its star anchor has matured into an accomplished seasoned newscaster...a far cry from his difficult American beginnings back in the mid-nineties at ABC News where he struggled with "World News Tonight" as with later on "Good Morning America."

While Mr. Newman surely ranks amongst Global's valuable assets; it stands to reason that both salary and production costs for his major national and international news package seven evenings per week are also a considerable liability for the now bankrupt network. The temptation to shop Newman's talents to rival broadcasters can't possibly have escaped those charged with making the best out of Global's tenuous future.

Neither the CBC nor CTV have vast talent pools from which to draw replacements for their own anchors. At age 76, Lloyd Robertson will have to retire some day. On the eve of its massive coverage of the winter Olympic Games from Vancouver, Kevin Newman would seem to be a perfect fit for CTV. Over at the CBC, though at age 61 Peter Mansbridge is younger than his CTV rival, he has just one more year left on his contract. The network's well documented financial problems and lacklustre ratings could crack open the door for a younger less expensive replacement with the profile of the "Global National News" high in his pedigree. After all if you believe Global's spin on ratings, though given different broadcast hours it's like comparing apples and oranges, still Kevin Newman consistently beats rivals CBC and CTV every night.

"Global National with Kevin Newman" does an admirable job with a consistently well produced newscast particularly given the network's limited resources. Global's finances are floundering and the network's trustees in bankruptcy are unlikely to pump any additional cash into the operation. The stars may have just aligned perfectly to encourage the anchor to jump ship before sailing into rougher waters. Let the bidding war begin. That is if it is not already underway.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Sometime a casual observers' opinion helps shed light on utterly complex issues. Thus I weigh-in with detached observations on a topic which may animate many "hot stove" discussions over the coming long Canadian winter.

I am not a rabid N.H.L. fan...but to the degree that I am Canadian, hockey is integral to my birthright. The soon to be published biography, "I'd Trade Him Again", of then Edmonton based millionaire Peter Pocklington, specifically his description of Toronto "Maple Leaf" owner, Harold Ballard: "He was a crazy old bugger" well as several other "hockey" books set for publication this fall as the N.H.L. season gets underway in earnest have me crystal balling the future of our game.

In this first decade of the 21st Century it seems to me there has been no more intense rivalry in the game than the apparent dislike between hockey's Czar, the Commissioner Gary Bettman, and Ontario billionaire wannabee team owner, Jim Balsillie...and, I don't know why? I think though that the most recent confrontation between these two men over the sale of the crumpling Phoenix "Coyotes" has significantly increased the pressure on Mr. Bettman to (or, at least be seen to) be open to additional franchises on Canadian soil.

Although it was more about the November 1 re-election of outgoing Quebec City Mayor, Regis Labeaume, than hockey's Canadian future; Friday's meetings in New York involving the Mayor, Quebec millionaire, Marcel Aubut, and Bettman may have given the Commissioner some short term pressure relief. Unlike Mr. Balsillie's failed three previous bids for Hamilton's "Copps Coliseum", Aubut needs to build a new arena in "La vieille Capitale" before the N.H.L. will consider a serious bid for this 7th Canadian franchise.

Since he came on scene in 1993, Bettman has been consistently accused of having an anti-Canadian agenda evidenced by his unwavering efforts to "Americanize" our game. He's blamed for promoting the moves of the Winnipeg "Jets" to Phoenix; and the Quebec 'Nordiques" to Denver. And, for boosting the number of U.S. franchises by six additional teams.

Lest I digress...Mr. Bettman learned the business at the hugely successful National Basketball Association (N.B.A.) where he'd been Senior Vice-President and General Counsel. Ironically many argue that basketball too is a Canadian game invented by Almonte, Ontario born and McGill University educated, James Naismith in 1891, three years after the 6 team A.H.A. (the N.H.L. predecessor) was formed in Montreal.

With each of his successive failed confrontations with Bettman: Pittsburg (06), Nashville (07), Phoenix (09); Jim Balsillie has intensified the pressure from north of the American border for the Commisioner to either respond with an additional (or additional) Canadian franchise(s); or else explain why the country and fans that gave birth to both game and league should be ignored and excluded.

As a nation we are passionate about the game. I suspect one could even argue that the National Hockey League is an ever increasingly rare element which unites both of Canada's founding cultures. Except for an apparent conflict of personalities and vanity between Mr(s) Bettman and Balsillie it's difficult to rationalize why a Hamilton, Ontario based franchise would not be hugely successful. And - As is becoming obvious Quebec City and Winnipeg aren't far behind in demanding their own rightful seats at the N.H.L. Directors' table.

The 2009 N.H.L. season is just now underway. There 974 professional players in the league this year; 52.3% (509) are Canadian. No Canadian will ever insist on equal representation with the Americans. With little contrary evidence to disclose; it seems fair and just for the birthplace of the league and game to once again assume its more equitable, respectful and rightful place in the roaster of teams. It seems to me "that" face-off is near well into overtime and the puck is squarely aimed at Mr. Bettman's goal posts. Time to "shoot and score!"

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Doubtless the numbers-crunchers from Portage Avenue, through Bay Street, Rue de la Gauchetiere, and all the way to Wall Street are poring over the entrails of the now bankrupt Canwest Media Company. Reality dictates there is not here anymore in Canada a knight in shinning armour ready to rescue this failed media empire.

Though the failure of Canwest Media, its parent company crushed under a $4-billion debt, may signal the greatest media sell-off in Canadian history, the takers are likely few; if any. Judging by its incessant whining about tethering on the verge of poverty, CTV-Globe Media, is obviously not poised to rescue neither the Global Television Network, nor its newspaper empire; even though the "National Post" competes directly against the "Globe and Mail" and would be an obvious candidate for closure.

Sun Media also of Toronto is wholly-owned by Quebecor of Montreal and that publisher's global empire isn't quite as frisky as during the halcyon days of Pierre Peladeau. Though Power Corporation also in Montreal has the financial resources to rescue all of the Canwest assets, and its enormously profitable Great-West Life Assurance division is headquartered in the Asper family's Winnipeg homestead. Power Corp. has been cutting back on media holdings and pleading mercy for its money losing "La Presse" newspaper of Montreal.

This is not Global Television's first bankruptcy, but surely it is its most spectacular and it may shake Canada's national media to their vary core. Surely not quite what its founders, Al Bruner, a former Detroit big band singer, and Peter Hill his business partner had in mind when Global signed-on as Canada's third English TV network on January 6, 1974. Sadly, their fate foretold of the future for Global. Three months into the first year of operations, Bruner and Hill were bankrupt. That's when Izzy Asper, the Winnipeg millionaire owner of small independent CKND-TV bought the Global name, franchise and network.

Blame the regulator, the CRTC, for licensing a total of six conventional networks (Three English: CBC - CTV - Global / Three French: SRC - TVA - V) in a country of less than 35 million people; and then further failing to monitor adequately their increasing dependence on American imported programs to make ends meet. Public hearings scheduled to get underway in just a few weeks into the so-called "fee for carriage" demands of the television broadcasters may be a blessed opportunity for the CRTC to mend the errors of its past.

As for the Canwest holdings, newspapers and television alike: The scavengers of this cut-throat media business; aided by the bankers and money managers who hold much of the company's now near worthless assets; will pick-out the best. The rest will be dissolved. Canadian culture will be further diminished and impoverished in the name of the greedy.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Everyone knows that Micheal Ignatieff's ill-advised and poorly timed ultimatum to Stephen Harper at the Liberal Caucus in Sudbury 5 weeks ago isn't the root cause of the Grit problem. It just accelerated the party's current flame-out by snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Prognosticators are already predicting the Liberal leader's demise and some behind the scenes maneuvering may already be on the way to line-up a list of potential successors.

Somewhat like the man with the accent in the ING Bank television commercials, I was about to suggest to the Tories to..."Save your money!" by dropping the attack ads. I understand that's already been done by those close to the Prime Minister's office. There is at least one report that Mr. Harper himself told his Conservative colleagues at this week's caucus meeting to "back-off" and let the Liberals "implode on their own." Something the Liberals seem quite willing to oblige judging by the contretemps caused in Quebec by Denis Coderre's very public internal conflict with his party leader.

This problem is bigger than Michael Ignatieff though he may end-up one more of its victims. The Liberals don't know how to be an opposition party; let alone an effective opposition in the House of Commons. They've never learned, and this very public and somewhat nasty on-the-job training is not helping, at least for the foreseeable term.

WITHER THE NATURAL GOVERNING PARTY: In the 71 years between MacKenzie-King (1935) and Paul Martin's defeat in 2006, the Liberals governed Canada for 55 years, ceding power to the Conservatives for a total of only 16 years in between to: Diefenbaker, Clark, Mulroney and Campbell...and two of those (Clark and Campbell) were little more than political aberrations. In contrast when Harper's Conservative forces won their first election in winter 2006 they were accused of governing as if they were still in opposition. No surprise they'd had plenty of experience. Lest I digress: Some suggest Prime Minister Harper still rules as if he were Opposition Leader and they point to his regular diet of attack ads against the Liberals as ongoing evidence.

Virtually since Wilfrid Laurier who was Prime-Minister from 1896 to 1911, the Liberal Party's strength and influence have rested inside the Province of Quebec. Almost every effort to wrestle that power base away from Montreal has failed miserably. Micheal Ignatifeff is just its latest manifestation and has so far not measured-up to the challenge. One wonders why, other than for his Toronto-centric handlers, he'd want to upset such a winning, and obviously delicate strategy?

Quebec and Ontario votes are pre-requisites for governing this country. Ontario Liberals, Ontarians in general; because they can, have been magnanimous in carefully ceding their influence to Quebec: Ontario after all doesn't suffer from threats (real or imagined) against its language and culture. Ontario's benefit from the trade-offs has been to become the country's most politically powerful and influential province - Whether the Liberals or the Conservatives have been in power in Ottawa.

Of the exceptions: Lester Pearson and John Turner - Turner (like Clark and Campbell) was a political aberration. Pearson secured two "minority" terms from 1963 to 1968 and in fact was unceremoniously dumped as leader by the Liberal Party after his second minority election. (Beware Stephen Harper - I digress!) In the intervening five years, with Quebec's concerns front and centre; Pearson gave the country a new flag; hosted the world at Expo '67 in Montreal; and formed a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism which paved the way for the Trudeau era. - And, as if to show future Prime Ministers that minority Parliaments do work: Pearson's Governments also gave Canada - Universal Health Care (Medicare); The Canada Student Loan Program; and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).

Lest recent history repeat, read Martin and Dion, Mr. Ignatieff and the strategists who surround him have considerable lessons still to learn from those who preceded him as Liberal Leader. His Party has the experience, knowledge and history to recover from its current morass. The jury is still out on whether they will.