Sunday, March 28, 2010


It has been acrimonious, divisive and angry: But at least the Congress of the United States of America has been debating issues of seriousness and importance to the nation's citizens.

In our Great White North, it seems the Harper government has just about abandoned domestic politics to focus on Canada's waning and damaged reputation on the world stage. Ours is not a superpower...never will be. There is a sense, to me apparent, that we've lost our direction about what's relative and important here at home.

Here is what I know: Mr. Harper's Conservative Party, our Federal Government, in the public opinion polls has been stuck in minority territory since their defeat of Paul Martin's government back now over four years ago - In January of 2006. Meantime the self-anointed, natural governing "Liberal" Party, has basked in a frantic national leadership comedy of errors worthy of a Monty Python skit. Last week's "should I vote yes...wait...maybe I should vote no!" Flip-flop over the attempt to embarrass the Tories on abortion being just the latest in a string of Mike Ignatieff's headline grabbing failures.

Little wonder therefore that the current session of Parliament bereft of any ideas, solutions and suggestions obliges Ottawa's national media gallery to fret, argue and ponderously opine over the visit of some flash-in-the-pan American right-wing pundit, one Ann Coulter, rather than focus on anything of real concern to Canadians.

Dudes - Here's what up! Since that January election of 06, the nation has sunk from a staggering $15-Billion (or so) annual surplus to an even more staggering $50-Billion deficit. Lest anyone forget: Just one year ago (March 31, 2009) the books weren't only balanced, but we were still $500-million on the plus side. And, depending whose manifesto you support: The heretofore Tory darlings of the Fraser Institute, or the Liberal leaning Conference Board of Canada: The stimuli have been a waste, or the best thing since Alex Bell invented the phone. Crap! Either way we, and the grand kids, will be paying this tab til near the end of time. (2012 if you believe the Mayan - Halleluyah! I digress.)

Instead, doubtless to "hang ten" (Dude! Surf talk- OK?) in the afterglow of February's La-La land Olympics; the Harper Government has hitched the nation's image to a series of international blockbusters with little measurable payback...just likely more debt for us. While we'll probably never know just how many billions of dollars the Jean Chretien Liberals ultimately committed to the increasingly obvious frustrating folly of Afghanistan. - Later in the week it seems the current government will commit to a minimum, $100-million investment just to (maybe) have a limited say over the future of Haiti. A sad nation, somewhat like our Ontario, that is obliged, hat-in-hand, to seek sustenance outside its borders. Aye, Ya, Ya ye!

Wait there's more! Come the month of June the Prime Minister will step centre stage to host the G-8 in Huntsville, Ontario; and the G-20 in Toronto. Worthy as they may be: Additional commitments are sure to follow. Take a number! These days fifteen minutes of world fame neither come cheap nor are they likely to be about what matter most to Canada's down-home domestic agenda.

If successive governments and weak opposition have succeeded in soiling our international reputation, then we'll spare no cost for a headline on Fox and CNN.

Only money, right? Let the Good Times Roll!

Thursday, March 25, 2010


A David and Goliath confrontation of biblical proportion: A diminutive elderly man who is so powerful that in one or two words (of his choice)...he could cripple Canada's economy. I'll wager that you have never heard of the reclusive billionaire Manuel Moroun..."Manny" to his friends.

Half of a billion dollars in commerce between Canada and the United-States travels across the Ambassador Bridge each day - Manny owns the bridge. Legendary NBC Anchor Tom Brokaw noted recently: More business crosses the Ambassador Bridge each year than..."all of the trade between the United-States and Japan."

And...Manny filed a law suit in Detroit Federal District Court this week claiming that both Canada and the United-States are stalling his efforts to build a second span next to his existing bridge. The straw that broke the proverbial camel's back was this month's rejection, by the U.S. Coast Guard, of an application for a permit to build the bridge. While everyone agrees that much more capacity is needed at, or near, the Ambassador Bridge, built in 1929; there is quite simply no meeting of the minds where (?) or by whom (?).

The attacks of September nine years ago, and the subsequent "hardening" of the border between Canada and the United States have created along the 32 mile long Detroit River a traffic bottleneck nightmare of epic proportions. The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest international border crossing in the world...The Windsor-Detroit tunnel is second. Mr. Moroun collects an estimated $70-million per year in bridge tolls...I digress.

The free flow of traffic (Okay, Free-er flow) is crucial to Canada's economy: On that everyone can agree. Manny Moroun has acquired the land; he is motivated; and can afford to build a new bridge. Trouble is that's not where the Governments of Canada, the United-States and the State of Michigan want to the bridge to be built. Their site of choice is two miles upriver...and that's where the plans come crashing-down. Out of shear frustration: At last summer's "Freedom Festival" a four day annual love-in (July 1 - July 4) between Windsor and Detroit, the Government of Canada appeared set to announce the construction of its own bridge. Cash strapped - Instead, working through a secret emissary: Former Michigan Governor and U.S. Ambassador (1993-96) James Blanchard; the Canadian Department of Transport offered to buy Manny's bridge. Since he'd neither initiated the talks, nor is he terribly anxious to sell, the asking price was set at $3-billion - plus - plus! (Plus: A royalty on each toll collected - Plus: Permission to built a new bridge between Buffalo, N.Y. and Fort Erie, Ontario). Not a bad return on his investment: Mr. Moroun bought the Ambassador Bridge in 1979 for $30-million from Warren Buffet. To digress once more: You may never have heard of Manuel Moroun, but you've heard of Buffet, right?

As one wag observed just yesterday: "(Moroun) might get some serious attention if he threatened to close his bridge for a couple of day."

Monday, March 22, 2010


The landmark Health Care Reform legislation may be a huge victory for U.S. President Barack Obama, but at what cost?

Perhaps not since slavery tore apart the fledgling American nation 150 years ago, has the country been so divided over such basic human principles as universal health care. Half of the United-States is basking in the afterglow of a historic Congressional vote whilst the other half is vowing revenge.

At least eleven States; and as many as two-thirds of the Nation's fifty states (31) are prepping legal challenges against President Obama's health reform victory on the claim that the legislation violates State Constitutional rights.

A benchmark provision of the nearly $ 1-Trillion legislation allocates $19 Billion in stimulus funds to facilitate the shift from paper to electronic medical records. An issue which sadly...well, for Ontario at least...rings all too familiar. Perhaps also for all Canadians who benefit from a health-insurance covered 322-million visits to their doctor's office each year. Lest I digress: I can account for about 6 visits per year to my physician...but I am truly perplexed to learn from that statistic that each and every one of you see a doctor at least 11 times a year. Jeez, are y'all that sick?

Be that as it may - Have you ever heard of "Canada Health Infoway Incorporated"? - In the past nine years the not-for-profit corporation has received $2-Billion from the Federal Government...The largess of your tax dollars at convert the nation's medical records electronically. The completion goal is in 2016 - Six year's out the Corporation reports a 5% to 10% completion rate.

The experience in my province of residency: Ontario, has been plagued by scandal. Beginning in 2002, under two separate agencies, the Government of Ontario has been accused of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on its E-Medical system. First with the SSHA (Smart Systems for Health Agency) which was abolished in 2007; and replaced in 2008 by E-Health Ontario; accused in April 2009 of wasting the $647-million spent on the SSHA system by starting all over again from scratch. The wreckage from which condemned both E-Health's CEO, Sarah Kramer, and the province's Minister of Health, David Caplan, to the scrap pile of politics.

EVERYBODY: listen-up! - A new less than from the prestigious "Harvard Medical School" suggests that electronic health records: "Do not save hospitals money...and, in fact often end up increasing costs."

The five year study of more than 4000 hospitals in the United-States found no evidence of savings, and just as importantly little evidence that electronic records improve care. The lead author of the Harvard University survey, David Himmerstein says although they did find hospitals where electronic records improved efficiency and quality - "Just not many." The key, he says, is customising computer systems to different hospitals, rather than using a one-size fits all approach.

Oh boy! I sure hope the good folks at E-Health Ontario were copied. The co-author of the Harvard Medical School study is even more blunt. According to Dr. Seffie Woolhandler: "It's premature to spend so much on computers before there's evidence it will be worthwhile." - Consider yourselves advised.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Apparently things are going to hell in a garden basket! As the meltdown nears, a company in Thomson, Illinois will, for $149 (Credit Cards gladly accepted), send you a bag of seeds so that on the eve of Armageddon you can grow your own crisis garden.

According to the "Survival Seed Bank"..."you don't have to be an Old Testament prophet to see what's going on all around us. A desperate lower class demanding handouts. A rapidly diminishing middle class crippled by police state bureaucracy. An aloof, ruling elite that has introduced an emerging totalitarianism which seeks control of every aspect of our lives."

Though; according to my grand-daughter, it didn't live up to the advanced hype: I am waiting for the appropriate dark, morose and inclement day to "gird my loins" and pop into the DVD player the ultimate action-adventure movie: "2012", which - "brings an end to the world and tells of the heroic struggle of the survivors" - No doubt with a bag of Illinois grown survival seed in hand! - I digress.

Chances are that most everyone spends their day going about the casual business of life never imagining that millions of fellow earthlings are freaking-out that the world will end in a little more than two years. Apparently there is even some disagreement on whether the "End O' Time" is December 21 or 23. Authors of doomsday scenarios plastered all over the Internet say it's December 21, 2012 - The winter solstice. Scholars, historians and anthropologists say the "doomsday" is actually December 23. It's not clear, even to the panicked, what precisely will happen but: IT WILL BE BIG! Or, so we've been warned by the Maya calendar on which it's all based.

I'm not sure of anything anymore: But, apparently scholars claim that fears about 2012 rest on just one of at least three Maya calendar systems, the so-called "Long Count" which began on August 13, 3114 B.C. and which ends on, what we (non-Maya) call December 23, 2012. God knows! Just hang-on to those "survival seeds" bags, because if 2012 fails to bring about the end of the world, there is an Aztec calendar that ends in 2027.

Anyone remember Y2K?

Worries about 2012 are based from fragments of a Maya inscription at an archaeological site in Tortuguero, Mexico. It's just the kind of boost the Mexican tourist industry can use for the next couple of years - or beyond. Last year's panic over the H1N1 Swine Flu epidemic, which was blamed on a Mexican pig farm. - And, the current travel fears over the violence and more than 18.000 murders associated with Mexican drug-lords, really haven't been very kind to the Peso. Obviously there is a tourist "Tee-Shirt" hued rainbow just over that bleak horizon. And if 2012 (like the movie) fails its expectations; the Aztec 2027 Tee-Shirt can probably already be ordered.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Governments are strapped for cash. Florida is one of almost three dozen American states where the legislature has mandated that the annual budget must be balanced. Though those same states are lobbying for a U.S. Constitutional amendment that would require their Federal Government to also balance its annual budget: The irony is that they are the states that depend on hand-outs from Congress, now $14-trillion in debt, to balance their own budgets...I digress.

No surprise then that just last week, the five largest gambling corporations in America were in the State at the government's invitation to outline proposals for Las Vegas style gambling casinos in the Tampa - St. Petersburg, and Miami - Fort Lauderdale areas, and the promise of large gambling revenues back to the state's coffers.

Casino gambling in Florida is currently the sole purview of the reservations of two indian tribes: The Seminoles and the Miccosukee. Lest I digress further: Like the the "depopulation" of their northern Newfoundland brethren the Beothuk, the Seminoles were decimated at the hands of the American Federal Government in the 1840's. Descendants of the 100 (or so) Seminoles who remained now own the worldwide operations of the "Hard Rock" hotel - casino - restaurant chains which in addition to their massive Las Vegas operations also include casinos in Hollywood, Florida; Tampa and Coconut Creek on the outskirts of Palm Beach county. Their Hard Rock franchised restaurants and hotels operate worldwide.

The deflating news for Florida's state government - as it should be for my home province of New Brunswick where the province's first: "Casino N.B." at Moncton's Magnetic Hill opens this summer - Is that Ontario's four owned resort casinos are $100 million in debt. Primarily in Windsor and Niagara Falls; Ontario got in on the ground-floor explosion of Casino gambling in the nineties as a panacea for its financial ills (Step forward Mike Harris!). Large operators, including the famed "Ceasar's" brand in Windsor; the massive Fallsview and Casino Niagara, both in Niagara Falls and Casino Rama, in Rama (near Orillia) north of Toronto reportedly lost $94-Million in 2009, that on top of losses of $76-Million in 2008. In fact, Ontario authorities at the scandal plagued OLG (Ontario Lottery Corporation) aren't really sure when their four resort casinos last turned a profit.

Blame the recession in America, and more importantly border travel restrictions implemented since the attacks of September 2001, but just as New Brunswick gears up for it's Moncton operations; It seems that the casino gaming business is down all over North America...Just in time for the Picture Province's September 27th general election.

Over here in Florida - Republicans and Democrats take note: The state's gubernatorial elections are set for November. Maybe aspiring potential candidates should hold-off making statewide casino gambling part of their election platforms.

Friday, March 12, 2010


I opined recently about the growth of extreme right-wing radical para-military groups in the United-States. So-called "Patriots", some of whom advocate the overthrown of their Federal Government. (See: "Uncle Sam's Shameful Little Problem" - March 7/10).

As is far too frequently captured in our own national headlines: Sadly, Canadians are not immune from the ravages of a growing gun culture. The source of these weapons is most often traced right back to the United-States.

From St. Stephen, New Brunswick to Surrey, British-Columbia the dozens of land-based border crossings that dot our countryside have become an increasingly frequent source for the transfer of illegal weapons across the international border. Hand-guns and other nefarious weapons purchased from legitimate and / or shady dealers and sellers in the U.S. and transferred illegally into Canada.

Thanks to a number of well armed suburban gangs, drug traffickers and others of questionable mental stability; Canada's rank as 44th on the world's list of (per-capita) murders is on the rise...and in some of the most unlikely communities. Although Canada's rate per 100,000 of population is still a somewhat respectable 1.8 murders...the suburban community of Mission / Abbotsford, British Columbia, smack on the American border, last year posted a rate of 4.7 murders (per 100,000) and grabbed the dubious title of Canada's murder capital. Lest I digress: A mantle held since 1990 by the City of Winnipeg, which surely the Manitoba Capital was not unhappy to pass along westward.

Quick comparisons: The national average of the United-States is 7.4 murders per 100,000 people of population. The City of New Orleans averages 25 murders per 100,000 - Twice Detroit's rate of 12.5. A disgraceful testament no doubt to the ready, easy and legal availability of hand-guns and other assault weapons and their ammunition on the streets of every American community.

Obviously...thankfully; though Abbotsford B.C. still has a way to go. This is somehow not the kind of race decent communities aspire to lead nor to win. In the Abbotsford case, they would surely just sooner be recognized for their other title: Raspberry Capital of Canada.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The Prime Minister has no choice but to demonstrate immediate leadership and clearly distance himself and his government from the outrage over this Rahim Jaffer business.

Yesterday's verdict and sentence in Ontario Provincial Court risks permanently derailing Mr. Harper and the Conservatives' "get tough on crime agenda"...a cornerstone of the party's national platform. Lest he forget: Just before the Vancouver Olympics, Harper used the aggressive passage of his crime bill as justification for packing the Canadian Senate with Conservative faithful and neo-con supporters.

Rahim Jaffer, a former Alberta Tory Member of Parliament, and his wife, Status of Women Minister, Helena Guergis; once a young Ottawa sweetheart power couple, have become an albatross chained to the Prime-Minister's neck. And...unless dealt with post haste...risk becoming a lightening rod for the public venom which Harper must avoid before the G8 and G20 leaders descend on southern Ontario this spring.

Ms Guergis herself still has not really explained her tirade and tantrum at Charlottetown Airport just a couple of weeks back. Her husband's slap on the wrist $500 fine after charges of driving drunk and possession of cocaine were dropped mock "zero-tolerance" Justice Minister Rob Nicholson's own agenda. They are of significant embarrassment to Stephen Harper himself.

As a political pundit observed yesterday of the Helena Guergis tantrum at the Charlottetown Air Canada gate in late January: Had any other Canadian thrown their boots at security agents, and banged on a locked ramp door to try and break-in...they would have been..."Tasered and immediately arrested."

Since Nancy Reagan's "say no to drugs campaign" of the 1980's; experience in the United-States has pretty well demonstrated that get tough on crime agendas and zero-tolerance programs really don't work all that well. They cause a backlog in courtrooms and costly over-crowded jail cells but not much else. However, since Mr. Harper's Conservative Party has anchored the government's own agenda on this premise; the Prime-Minister is now compelled to confront this travesty and deal with it expeditiously, or expect fall-out from the perception his "power-couple" creates of a two-tiered Canadian justice system.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


So un-Canadian was our "Rah-Rah Boosterism" during Vancouver's Olympic Games that both the publisher and a sports columnist at the Fort-Worth (Texas) "Star-Telegram" daily, have been compelled to publicly apologize for an article that compared our patriotism to that of Hitler's Berlin Olympics of 1936.

Meantime, in a show of our usual polite curiosity; Calgarians welcomed American media superstar and former Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin to her first venture outside of the "homeland" at the BMO Centre on Saturday evening.

Events and activities that gloss-over a seething near boiling point, right-wing rage that is creeping at alarming rate into the soul of the United-States. Which (unless checked) has the potential to engulf the entire continent. A rage which experts describe as being fueled by anger over changing demographics, soaring public debt, and initiatives by the Obama Administration that have been branded by Ms. Palin and (sadly) too many others as "socialists" or "fascists"! A rage slowly surfacing through recent desperate acts of vengeance: Flying a private aircraft into the IRS Office in Austin, Texas...or even more recently shooting-up the front lobby of Washington's Pentagon Building.

These acts embody expressions of uncontrolled vengeance and rage against authority which Americans thought their nation had abandoned in the wake of the sad homegrown terrorist bombing of Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995 which claimed 168 people. "Patriot Movement" follower: Timothy McVeigh, was convicted and executed for the bombing. His co-conspirators: Terry Nichols, is serving 168 life-terms, while Michael Fortier was sentenced to 12 years and is now in the "witness protection program" for having testified against McVeigh and Nichols.

A report release last week by the Southern Poverty Law Center paints an alarming picture of a massive resurgence in the "Patriot Militia Movement" which, it claims, has registered a 244% increase in the number of..."active patriot(militia)groups in 2009." There were 149 recognized active "groups" during the Presidential election year 2008. By year's end 2009 there were 512 according to the report which is titled: "Rage On The Right".

Sarah Palin's politics as a de facto leader of the American right-wing "Tea Party," which advocates fiscal restraint and smaller government, pale compared to Fox News mouthpiece, Florida born Glenn Beck; and Minnesota Republican Congresswoman, Michele Bachman. The "Rage On The Right" report cites both as..."people with large audiences"...whom it blames for promoting the current wave of the Patriot Movement.

Here in Florida, the Southern Poverty Law Center report identified 51 Patriot Militia groups; third highest number of groups in the nation. (Texas has 66 - California 60). Little wonder that the State of Florida has experienced a three-fold increase in applications for permits to carry concealed handguns; while gun shops face shortages in ammunition. Anecdotal evidence of a fear fueled by 8 years of national paranoia in the wake of the 9/11 attacks...a paranoia which many blame on the Bush Administration.

It is against this as a backdrop that the promises and the optimism of the Obama Administration are in peril of being evaporated.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Infrastructure supporting the emerging wine producing regions of Chile has been seriously incapacitated by the recent earthquake which rocked South-America's most advanced nation. It's one more blow to the bitter harvest of wine producers from the effects of last year's global recession.

Canadian wineries have been among the worst affected; not just because of the recession but just as much by the poor weather during the summer of 2009 and passport rules which have choked-off U.S. visitors to the wine regions of Ontario and British Columbia. In the fertile Niagara peninsula it is estimated that as much as 10,000 tons of grapes died on the vines last fall because they could not be sold.

The producers of the premium wines have been among the most vocal and most affected. They claim that poor government regulations have compounded the situation and are killing this internationally recognized industry. It involves a so-called labelling loop-hole which some say has hoodwinked consumers into believing wines labelled "Cellared In Canada" are actually Canadian.

The Vintners Quality Alliance through its VQA Label ensures that wineries adhere to regulations which require that the product is made with 100 per cent grapes grown on Canadian soil. But: Under a separate program which was adopted by the Canadian Standards Board in 1996, wines designated "Cellared in Canada" actually contain anywhere from 70% (in Ontario) to 100% (in British-Columbia) of wine which comes from cheaper foreign producing countries (including Chile) long as it's been bottled in Canada.

As many as 50,000 tonnes of wine a year are imported to be used in bottles that will be labelled "Cellared in Canada." In its most recent estimates from 2008, 3.3 million litres of VQA Ontario wines were sold...compared with 23 Million litres of "Cellared in Canada" wines. It's a wine labelling nightmare which several experts claim has tarnished Canada's reputation..."if a country can't sort out its wine labelling, why should the rest of the world take it seriously?"

The importers of the foreign wines say it's never been their intention to deceive anyone or confuse consumers. In fact the three largest producers plan to roll-out new labels to clarify the content. On the west coast, British-Columbia's Minister of Agriculture has threatened that otherwise, the wines made from foreign grapes will be moved-out of the B.C. products section of government liquor stores.

Climate change and advances in hybrid grape growing could encourage additional regions to develop a wine industry. But, producers in Ontario in particular say the "Cellared in Canada" controversy is killing progress and the advances made in the latter years of the 20th century. They say consumers think they are buying local products when that may not be the case.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


After Sunday's Olympic Gold performance, the New York Times' description of the game concluded that..."Canadians, weary of being considered an outpost of the British Crown or a conquered territory of American pop culture, see hockey as a way to define themselves on their terms."

Perhaps somewhat unlike our performance in the Olympics, we natives of the northern side of the continent's border may have to walk a less aggressive tightrope when it comes to our next clash with American titans.

Last fall, the Chair of Canada's Battlefields Commission, Andre Juneau, stepped-down in the wake of a summer controversy over cancelled plans to re-enact the historic "Battle of the Plains of Abraham" in Quebec City on its 250th anniversary. Numerous plans are already in the works for re-enactments and other celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of Canada's victory in the "War of 1812" in less than a couple of years.

The problem is that our American neighbours have a decidedly different perspective about the outcome of that 200 year old confrontation. I have written about this before. It's not just Johnny Horton's iconic 1959 tune "The Battle of New Orleans"...Connie Barrone, the Manager of the "Sackets' Harbor (New York) Historic Site" fueled America's creeping revisionism about the outcome of the war in the fall of 2008. Quoted in the "National Post", when it was pointed out to Ms Barrone that the USA lost the war, she replied: "Historical or aesthetic interpretation must be made by the viewer"...Read: It's in the eye of the beholder!

A six minute television short from the Olympics by NBC anchor Tom Brokaw to explain Canada to Americans went viral on "You Tube" (60,000 views in Canada so far). It's opening sequence is of the "Peace Arch" tribute to the War of 1812 - "May These Gates Never Be Closed". Despite defeats by Issac Brock with Laura Secord at Queenston Heights; the assault on Washington D.C. and the sacking of the White House on August 24, 1814; and the Battle at Crysler Farm, near Ottawa...or in spite of them American historians have concluded that the War of 1812 really just signals the "real" conclusion to the U.S. struggle for its autonomy from the British begun with the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776. That's where we disagree.

From Gettysburg, to Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Richmond and at virtually every historic battlefield, our American cousins revel in re-enacting significant moments of their history. The next Olympic Winter Games in 2014 in Sochi may conceivably play host to a rematch of Sunday's Vancouver game. It's over the years in between that we may struggle not to offend.