Wednesday, September 29, 2010

 

THE WHITE ELEPHANT IN THE BACKROOM

I will be in my native province of New Brunswick during the next few days; fresh in the aftermath of this week's defeat of the first term Liberal Government of Premier Shawn Graham.

During the month-long election campaign, the Liberal Party of Mr. Graham was hobbled by a laundry list of initiatives that on successive occasions during his government's term had residents of the province taking to the streets in protest.

The most controversial issues involved the provincial public utility energy corporation - NB Power. It was a two-fold element; a One, Two Punch really: More than four years ago another government, that of Conservative Premier Bernard Lord, committed to a contract with Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL) to rebuild the Point Lepreau Nuclear Power generating station along the Bay of Fundy. "Lepreau" is unique in that it was the first next generation CANDU 6 reactor to be built. It became operational in 1983 to support energy consumption in the Maritime Provinces and sales to the American northeastern states. It had been designed to be permanently shut-down 25 years later in 2008. But, anxious to demonstrate the viability of re-building and refurbishing its reactors - Which have since been also installed in China, South Korea, India, Pakistan and Argentina - AECL and NB Power entered into a contract to refurbish Lepreau. The effort is a gigantic money-pit which is several years behind schedule and the estimated cost of $1.4 Billion will likely be doubled. That excludes the $1-Million per day NB Power is spending to purchase elsewhere the energy the generators haven't produced since being shut-down in 2008.

Lest I digress; the project and its process are so acutely compromised that sources indicate that "starting over" is a real possibility, and technical assessments are now underway to determine whether that's the only viable solution.

Saddled with this spiralling debt at NB Power; and the province's own fiscal accumulated shortfall now near $10-Billion (About $12,000 for each man, woman and child in N.B.); Premier Graham's government entered into secret negotiations a year ago to sell NB Power to the Quebec public utility - Hydro Quebec. Hydro Quebec is a titan amongst giants, the largest public utility corporation in North America (perhaps the world) and the biggest exporter of electrical energy to the United States. Graham planned to apply the nearly $5-Billion profit against the public debt. It seemed like a wise decision...Well, at least a good idea at the time: It went over like a "pair of rubber crutches in a polio ward." (Or lest you be offended: " a pay toilet in a diarrhea ward.") - This week the fallout cost Mr. Graham the election, earning him the dubious title of the only one-term government since the Confederation of 1867.

The incoming Premier, Progressive-Conservative Leader David Alward, is committed to the key element of his Party's election platform...a check-list dubbed: "Ten By Ten" - To wit 10 promises to be completed in the remaining 10 weeks of 2010. Number two is the appointment of an "Energy Commission" by October 15th. A group composed of politicians, energy representatives, the public and various other stakeholders to crystal-ball the future and presumably avoid..."four more years of risky schemes and reckless behaviour" as Mr. Alward has said.

You know: In a provinces of under 750,000 people with an unsustainable debt of close to $10-Billion and with time running-out. It may take some mighty hefty balls (crystal or otherwise) to come to anything but the inescapable conclusion that selling NB Power is just about the only solution. Except perhaps this time 'round it will be a buyer's market.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

 

ONE GREAT DISCONNECT

Despite the usual escalating tensions of a fall session in the House of Commons; and almost at the threshold of a fifth year of Minority Government, history is about to mark Prime Minister Stephen Harper's lasting legacy on our centuries' old democratic Parliamentary traditions.

Mr. Harper's first handpicked Governor-General, David Johnston, a Canadian most people have never heard of, will move into Rideau Hall at the end of the week. And, experts expect that early in December, the P.M.'s Conservative Party will claim a majority in Canada's Upper House, The Senate, for only the second time in three-quarters of a century. That's when the Prime-Minister will handpick two representatives to replace Liberal Senators Peter Stollery and Jean Lapointe who are reaching the mandatory age of retirement(75). Never mind that Mr. Harper as leader of the western based Alliance Party campaigned to abolish the institution...and later as Conservative leader, to at least reform the practice of the appointed sinecure: I digress.

All this at the same good time that evidence comes to light in the United-Kingdom that despite The Queen's reputation for frugality; she's been having a rough time making ends meet. Buckingham Palace has even explored using a government program there to subsidize heating costs for low-income Britons to help pay for heating the Royal residences.

The Queen's finances; somewhat like our Senate's as well as The Governor-General's (Her representative in Canada); have been controversial. But, as someone else put rather succinctly late last week - Once you're in the habit of spending the public's money as if it were your own; it's all too easy to forget whose money it really is.

Pending the next two Senate appointments in December; Mr. Harper has so far appointed 33 Senators since being elected in January 2006. Every one well politically connected and most appointed after Mr. Harper's Senate Reform plans appeared stalled after the fall 2008 general election and the Prorogation fiasco which followed. Though unrelated and to digress once more: It's nevertheless worth noting that the Governor-General has to consent to proroguing the House of Commons, and has the option instead of calling on an Opposition / Coalition to form the Government. Is it any wonder that living in the nation's capital city causes such political cynicism?

It now appears this new found Harper legacy consciousness may even extend to the world stage. The Prime-Minister who eschewed attendance at the opening of the United-Nations' General Assembly a year ago, favouring a photo-op at a Tim Horton's instead, has now turned-on the charm offensive to offset the international embarrassment which would be Canada's defeat by Portugal for a seat on the Security Council when that vote takes place October 12th.

Mandarins and officials at External Affairs have been warming the PMO for years that Mr. Harper's lackadaisical attitude towards the U.N. could cost the country one of two seats on the Security Council despite there being only 3 candidates in the running: Germany and Portugal being the other two - Well now, Germany is a shoe-in and Portugal may have the inner track. Canada is a founding member of the United-Nations and has held a two-year appointment to the Security-Council in each ensuing decade since the world organization was founded half-way through the last century...Losing-out to Portugal would be a massive psychological set-back for Canada's diplomatic relations as well as an international embarrassment. If resurrection were possible: Enough perhaps to raise former Prime-Minister Lester B. Pearson from the grave! Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for resolving the Suez Canal imbroglio. He's in company with Mother Teresa ('79); Lech Walesa ('83); Desmond Tutu ('84); The Dalai Lama ('89); Nelson Mandela ('93) and most recently: Barack Obama (2009) - Get the picture??

Selecting a Governor-General; creating a Conservative majority of partisans in our un-elected Senate; losing a rightful place as a founding member of the United-Nations: All worthy at least of an asterisk next to Mr. Harper's name in the history books.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

 

UNPREPARED FOR THE FUTURE, TODAY.

With just about a month to go before the province-wide Municipal Election date in Ontario; in Ottawa, the Nation's Capital, attacks and accusations between front-runners, Jim Watson and incumbent Larry O'Brien are becoming increasingly testy and personal.

Ottawa, Ontario's second largest city, suffers from Toronto envy...and it's municipal politics are challenging even at the best of times. It is in its role and title of Canada's National Capital where the most friction generates. First there's the paternalistic presence of the Federal Government at just about every level of the city's affairs. Followed in lock-step by the Canadian Government's land baron: The National Capital Commission which administers and directs the nation's land holdings in the urban sprawl of the National Capital region; about 1 1/2 million people in two cities (Ottawa, Ontario & Gatineau, Quebec). The aforementioned Provincial Government of Ontario, not necessarily always on good terms with the Feds; and lastly, frequently in the shadows, the municipal politicians who try to pull all the pieces together while hanging-on for dear life.

All cities find their own time on the world's stage: Toronto is a recognized multicultural entity. Montreal, a city steeped in history and culture; and (as one architect described it) Vancouver a "vertical city among the mountains". A published article I saw recently quotes a 2009 issue of "The Lonely Planet." Of Ottawa it says: "It's best to avoid Rideau Street between Sussex Drive and King Edward Avenue. In the daytime it's cluttered with smoke-spewing buses and hoards of commuters, and in the evening it's the preferred hang-out for vagrants." Jeez! If Vancouver has it's dirty east side; it seems ours is the heart of downtown a block from Parliament Hill at the intersection of the street on which the Prime Minister and the Governor General's residences are located.

When I moved to the city just more than 25 years ago, OC Transpo; the city's public transit system, was consistently recognized as a North American leader of modern urban transport design and efficiency. It's been heading in the opposite direction ever since. It's just that now there are far many more diesel spewing buses. Adding insult to injury; Mis-managed by the politics of the city's elected officials, Ottawa was crippled by a 55-day transit strike over the Christmas / New Year period a year or so back which cost the city over $500-Million.

The choking acrid diesel fumes it seems may be eased somewhat, some day by a ridiculously expensive multi-billion dollar tunnel under the city which will house an electric train. This east-west tunnel business is about the only issue the two front-running mayoralty candidates concede they agree on. Tunneling under Parliament Hill though...fuzzy picture. Then there's the existing north-south diesel surface line, the O-Train. Tracks exist already to take it cross-river to Gatineau: Wait: Inter-provincial transit is a federal matter...fuzzier picture. Confused? Me too...rest your eyes:



If great cities are defined in their own time and their own place; it seems that old By-town has some more distance to travel on something other than diesel powered public conveyances. And, getting all the different players to work together is a mind-numbing challenge all of its own. The biggest problem is that the citizens of Ottawa ignore municipal politics. It's a government city, and federal matters overshadow other affairs. It seems to me that leads right back to where this started. We will just have to wait and see.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

 

N.I.M.B.Y!

The prolific Kentucky born American man of letters, Wendell Berry, writes: "We have reached a point at which we must either consciously desire and choose and determine the future of the Earth or submit to such an involvement in our destructiveness that the Earth, and ourselves with it, must certainly be destroyed. And we have come to this at a time when it is hard, if not impossible, to foresee a future that is not terrifying."

I was chided in several FaceBook posted comments last month over my somewhat darkish Blog Post late in August ("Wake Me If Nero Pulls Out A Fiddle" / August 29) for coming to a somewhat not dis-similar conclusion. I may be naive, but it seems to me that the sign-posts for this prophesy of gloom are plenty apparent. What's a being to do? Psychologists identify the virus which infects this manner of discourse as "Confirmation Bias." - To wit: Once a person believes something, they will simply and uncritically endorse anything that confirms the belief.

In my opinion, the explosion on board the Deepwater Horizon on April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the worst oil spills in history confirmed just once more our unquenchable thirst for energy; and our uncontrollable addiction to fossil fuels. Oh sure, it has caused many to question accountability and measures to protect and conserve the environment; perhaps more specifically the onset of similar drilling practices in the Arctic. And, Canada's own activities up there. But, our addiction to the earth's natural resources and our greed satisfying plunder of these are not about to be altered. In reality, if we North Americans don't do it; someone else surely will. And, we're also the ones to blame for that sad conclusion.

Rich in many natural resources including gold, silver, lead, copper, zinc and uranium, the Arctic holds one quarter of the planet's remaining petroleum sources mostly under more than 1000 feet of our partially frozen northern ocean.

DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO: While our developed western world has been preaching restraint and conservation to the planet's peoples for the past couple of decades, we've demonstrated just the opposite to the emerging economies of the third world; particularly those of the far east. They now want, expect and are unlikely to settle for anything less. Is it any wonder that attempts to regulate the plunder of our environment at Kyoto, Amsterdam and later this fall at Cancun are failing miserably?

Convinced of our "Confirmation Bias;" we have become our own worse enemy. We've taught our offspring and descendants in North America to expect and covet nothing less than what we have: Fuel guzzling SUV's; air-conditioned environments; 24/7 energy consuming gadgets of every description. Which (I might add) we expect third world countries to build for us, while we plan to restrain and restrict them from any hope of ever enjoying any of their own.

Maybe we talk a good game plan but don't let that rubber "hit the pavement" in our Continent's back yard - N.I.M.B.Y! - The fragile planet though may not give any of us a second chance...When despair for the world grows in me, and I wake in the night at the least sound. (I) fear of what my life and the children's lives may be. (Wendell Barry - "The Peace of Wild Things")

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

 

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

In politics, as in the media business, it's important to pick your battles. - Ever- more so when the two intersect.

While they certainly haven't hoisted the white flag, nor are they about to: The folks at Sun TV News are reeling over the abrupt departure of their Vice-President, Kory Teneycke, amidst allegations of dirty-tricks played against the U.S. based group Avaaz which has been sponsoring a web-based petition against the right wing television network plans.

Mr. Teneycke's resignation came within hours of a request by Avaaz to Ottawa and Ontario Provincial Police to probe the identity of the individuals responsible for adding "fraudulent" signatures to their on-line petition - "Stop Fox News North" - which has been signed (legitimately) by more than 80,000 people.



Prior to his flame-out, Kory Teneycke who is Prime Minister Harper's former Director of Communications, brought a lot of attention to the Sun Media proposal. But it's owners, Quebecor could ill afford to wait for a criminal investigation which may involve one (or more) of Sun-TV principals before pushing him overboard.

In fact, the departure may offer some unexpected welcome relief to the Prime Minister
and his entourage on the eve of the resumption of the Parliamentary fall session next week. Kory Teneycke's past association and close ties with Mr. Harper and his government were becoming problematic distractions as the Sun-TV News application winds its way through the regulatory process before the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Adding to the volatile mix was Quebecor's direct involvement through its President, Pierre Karl Peladeau, in a bid to return the NHL to Quebec City. That bid hinges on construction of a large ice arena complex in Quebec, an issue over which a public backlash forced the Prime Minister to back away from, just a few days ago. Mr. Harper it seems has now been favoured with additional distancing both from Sun-TV and Mr. Peladeau. Lest I digress: The new "grand-fromage" at Sun-TV is Luc Lavoie who was Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's Director of Communications...but at least that's all a few years back!

Mr. Harper, who has obsessive control over what the media says about him, the Conservatives and his government, will now be freer to concentrate on the substantive matters set to explode during Question Period over the next several weeks. Specifically the purchase of the F-35 Joint Strike stealth fighter jets; abolishing the long-gun registry; and any potential fall-out from Auditor-General Sheila Fraser's look into value for the money spent on the "Economic Action Plan" which kick-started the economy.

The recent advent of "working" coalition governments in the United-Kingdom and Australia - parliamentary systems just like-ours - may be seen to both favour and encourage the Liberals and the New Democrats to resume discussions over forcing an election once the budget is set at the end of winter. Last spring there were widespread rumours in Ottawa that just such talks were being encouraged by former Liberal P.M. Jean Chretien and the former leader of the NDP, Ed Broadbent. After a summer of some discontent, there is no reason to believe those embers aren't still burning.

If Mr. Harper who's minority government has been in power almost five years is to concentrate on the country's issues of substance. Then he can ill afford to have control over "the plot" drift away from his grasp over the mundane.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

 

MAYBE NOT ON A FULL STOMACH

It may just be that I have been wrong to dread the resumption of Parliament in the third week of the month. Despite all the issues which have kept the media active through the intervening period, it has been a long three-months' summer hiatus. It has become anecdotally obvious that the nation's Parliamentary scribes are perhaps just as anxious as our elected officials themselves to get into the mayhem of the House of Commons and the fireworks of Question Period for the Conservative minority government of Prime Minister Harper.

Good God, in the interim they've taken to equating politics with food. In the process eliminating one of life's few simple remaining pleasures; to wit: A decent meal un-interrupted by politicians, telemarketers and snake-oil salesmen.

In a short series of articles being published by the Toronto Star, journalist Susan Delacourt has been examining how and why politics has been swayed from the institutional towards an ever increasing market-oriented model. She concludes that it's not by accident..."that politicians see the voters as one big crowd of hungry consumers, and that the citizens think politicians like...merchants, see them simply as wallets."

In fact, it is an accident of the prosperous "boom" period following the Second World War. Bolstered by the desire to re-construct the North American economy; citizens were encouraged to acquire feverishly every possible consumer gadget and widget starting with the automobile, the first television sets and even their complementary TV-Dinners. It wasn't long before we were lulled into equating prosperity and consumerism as the product of good politics and by implication those representatives we elected.

As "The Star" explains, nowadays the shopping/consuming link to politics is often expressed through coffee choice: liberal lefties sip "lattes" at Starbucks; the common folk to Tim Hortons for a "double-double. Which explains precisely why the pollsters and marketing gurus amongst Leader Michael Ignatieff's "Liberal Express" Tour over the summer sought so hard to dispel the image, regardless of how uncomfortable it made their leader:



Without missing a beat the Conservatives this weekend have countered with the release of a "celebrity" cookbook authored by Ontario Conservative MLA (Nepean-Carleton) Lisa MacLeod - "I'd Rather Be Home Baking Cookies" lampoon's a Liberal blogger suggestion during MacLeod's last campaign that implied she'd be better at home baking cookies. Obviously the list of celebrity chefs' recipes is a who's who of Tory politicians including the Prime Minister (salsa), Ministers John Baird (cookies) and Peter MacKay (lobster bisque); and even Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien (french toast).

Bloated at first, and worried that I might be sick or fat by the time Parliament resumes, I've been relieved to learn ironically that "Tums", the iconic tummy ache tablet, turn 80 years old this week. "Tums" basic formula is unchanged in 80 years; and from its single plant in St. Louis, Missouri it churns-out more than 4 billion Tums tablets each year: I digress! (24 flavours)

Cynics define politics as the art of looking for trouble and finding it - Then misdiagnosing it and misapplying the wrong remedies. I conclude with the fear that regretfully "Tums" short-term flavourful relief may not be very helpful for what ails us.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

 

TAKEN FOR GRANTED

Admittedly Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams is not a great friend of the Province of Quebec, nor of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Newfoundlanders have been smarting for 50 years over Hydro Quebec's hoodwink of Joey Smallwood over the Churchill Falls hydro project back in 1961.

In a most recent example on Wednesday; Premier Williams told the St. John's Board of Trade - "The rest of the country, and even Quebec itself, is finally admitting that it has been getting away with highway robbery in Canada for decades."

Canadians are generous. Just this week for example the British-based "Charities Aid Foundation" ranked us third in the world for generosity according to its survey of 153 countries for the willingness of their citizens to donate both time and money to worthy causes. Australia and New Zealand tied for first, Canada and Ireland tied next in line. The United States was next along with Switzerland.

But as Premier Williams' observation suggests; the problem in this country is the too frequent perception that our own money is spent not too wisely to buy the votes of any given segment of the population. It happens all the time at every level of the representatives we elect to municipalities, provincial legislatures and yes: The Federal Parliament...Sometimes it's just too blatant and flagrant to ignore.

Politicians from the lowest to the highest levels of government somehow manage to ignore that on the other side of the equation there is only ONE taxpayer: Us! - More galling and insulting, they use the money to advance their own "benevolence." Their ultimate goal being to stuff the ballot box with votes bought using the same dollars. - We fall for this? It works!

The Federal Liberals may have claimed the noblest of all vocations; "Saving the Country" for the excesses of the sponsorship scandal; but the tactics, methods and goals were the same anyhow. The politicians behind the current Economic Action Plan -Noble cause; "Saving the Economy" use the exact same ploy insisting that the billions of our stimulus dollars being doled-out are conditional on the project managers putting up the Government's (sponsorship) signage. "Secret" memos obtained by the Canadian Press note that the signage is so critical that funding contracts hold-back 20% until photographic proof of sign installation has been filed. Dear God!

Little wonder that faced with a weak and virtually ineffective opposition in Parliament it's the media which has been howling (summer long)to call attention to the Conservative Government's stumbles which; I noted in an earlier post, are too frequently "self-inflicted."

As the Parliamentary Chess challenge is about to resume there's growing anecdotal evidence that the government is looking for an obvious "elegant" way to sink at least another $200 Million (or so) of "our" dollars financing an NHL hockey arena in Quebec City. The trick being to avoid making us (rightly) conclude that it's a Quebec buy-off, Conservative style. It would be a sorry day if the case for the defence were to raise the specter of the Liberal sponsorships.

The Prime-Minister travels to Quebec City next week and Mayor Regis LaBeaume fully expects walking away from his meeting with Stephen Harper, grant-in-hand, at least equalling Premier Jean Charest's provincial commitment of $160-million. Spin doctors obviously at the ready to sell the rest of the country a "nose stretcher" about funding - "Really for a multi-purpose municipal amphi-theatre which (among other things) will bolster any future Quebec City Winter Olympic bid". Quebec City was a Canadian runner-up to the Vancouver bid a decade ago. Observers point out that one really disquieting matter about the plan is that the team owner of the proposed NHL franchise in Quebec City (and primary tenant of the arena) is billionaire Pierre Karl Peladeau. If the name sounds familiar: Mr. Peladeau owns Sun Media Television, the right-wing news channel with an application now before the CRTC.

And, if Winnipeg and Manitobans cry "fowl" over their own NHL Franchise "in the wings" for lack of a decent arena, they should be reminded that there are just 14 Parliamentary seats in Manitoba and Quebec has 75. That tactic worked for Brian Mulroney in '86 when the Military CF-18 maintenance contract was yanked-out of Winnipeg in favour of Montreal. We buy this? It works! Or simply: - They'll be flipped-off Trudeau style and told: "Mangez de la merde!"

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

 

BABY AND BATH WATER - TURFED-OUT!

The Toronto International Film Festival, one of the world's most prestigious, is about to get underway. Believe me try as he may, CTV pretty-boy Ben Mulroney is not going to be able to overcome the sad sack fact that English Canada long ago abdicated any homegrown star system to our American neighbours. In Canada there are simply no music, television or movie stars unless they first move south of the border.

While Toronto may go bonkers over the line-up of American super-personalities who will attend next week; in this country, and in English speaking Canada more specifically, our "default" stars are the parliamentarians, the politicians and the journalists who grind-out the daily media coverage of the debates, events, activities and the related travels from coast to coast.

My FaceBook friends have noted; and the Canadian Press finally now reports that there however has been an unprecedented convergence of both over the past week, and it's in fact America's "star" media which made the connection. The U.S. based entertainment trade magazine - "The Hollywood Reporter" has joined the ranks of Canadian outlets covering the controversial bid to introduce "Sun News" (Dubbed - Fox North) to cable subscribers north of the 49th. After just short of a century covering the hot American star scene, since early this month the "Reporter" has run two stories over the publicly expressed fears in Canada that the promoters of "Sun News", primarily Kory Teneycke, will turn the proposed network into a mainstream mouthpiece for the Conservative Government of Prime-Minister Stephen Harper.

Well-known author Margaret Atwood launched her own offensive against the proposed news channel about ten days ago by issuing a flurry of Twitter "tweets" denouncing the proposal from Quebecor / Sun Media and urging like-minded Canadians to sign a petition called "Stop Fox News North." Ms Atwood notes that Mr. Harper's government has a past pattern of silencing critics and she's expressed concern for the head of the regulating agency, CRTC Chair Konrad von Finckenstein - "Will CRTC head's head roll to get Sun licence? That's my concern;" she tweeted.

The CRTC has already denied Sun's bid for a category 1 licence, but concern has been expressed over an unusual decision to fast-track a revised application for the proposed channel which would allow "Sun News" to jump the step everyone else has to take: To wit - persuade cable companies and satellite providers to offer the service to their customers.

Certainly since Kory Teneycke became Vice-President of Development for Quebecor with responsibility for Sun Media's Parliamentary news service there's been a palpable neo-conservative shift in coverage. Mr. Teneycke got the job after leaving the Prime Minister's Office where he was Mr. Harper's Director of Communications. While the "new" Sun media coverage isn't always Harper positive; the most vocal critics, including long-time respected Sun columnist Greg Weston, have been turfed overboard.

Regardless of "Sun News Network's" success or not; even in its pre-licensing stage it seems to have engendered tectonic shifts in coverage of Ottawa's "Star" political scene - Not the least of which is the abrupt departure of Tom Clark from CTV's flagship political program: "Power Play With Tom Clark" after almost 40 years as one of the network's top journalists. In addition to the "Sun's" Weston, Clark joins other high-profile journalists leaving to "pursue other opportunities" including Anchors Kevin Newman (Global) and the retiring Lloyd Robertson (CTV).

In a just published commentary in the "Globe and Mail" titled: Why Does The Harper Government Do What It Does"; Carleton University Political Scientist, Jonathan Malloy describes the new Conservative ideology as inconsistent and..."in the end no one seems to have a clear explanation that makes sense of the Harper Government."

Most observers will agree that through these ending summer months the government appears to have stumbled several times from setbacks that for the most part have been self-inflicted. The wasteful spending on the Toronto Summits; the killing of the long-form census; and the controversial untended purchase of F-35 "stealth" fighter jets from the United States among them.

Somehow the scheme may be to create the kind of sharp polarization in politics here that has divided, and cripples the government, the administration and the people of the United-States, and for which Fox News (USA) bears no small level of blame. As Professor Malloy concludes in his "Globe and Mail" commentary - "One thing is clear, (Harper's) is a stubborn government that refuses to back down." But if anything, Canada's (and Canadians') history of inclusion rather suggests that we are pragmatic, common sensed, progressive, and patriotic. Hardly stubborn!

Perhaps more than ever this fall as Parliament resumes (polarized or not) Canada's news media and journalists will have a singularly significant role to play making sure Canadians are fully and fairly informed: The stakes may be that high.

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

 

HAUNTED BY THE GHOST OF JIMMY HOFFA

A LABOUR DAY TALE OF THE RECURRING GHOST OF A TRANSIT STRIKE

In the unlikely event that Ottawa's incumbent Mayor Larry O'Brien is re-elected in the city's municipal election on October 25; it will be in spite of a well lubricated cabal from the National Capital's transit employees.

The more than 2200 drivers, dispatchers and mechanics of Local 279 of the Amalgamated Transit Union of the Teamsters; the very vast majority of all employees of OC Transpo (Ottawa's transit company), are on a payback mission to unseat candidate O'Brien whom they blame for a bitter 54 day strike which crippled the city from December 10, 2008 into February of 2009.

Like an albatross around Ottawa's neck, since Larry O'Brien was elected in the fall of 2006, public transit issues almost too numerous to list have both challenged and stormed the Mayor's administration. They may well presage his downfall in about 50 days. O'Brien's critics and opponents, the transit union members included, believe all the issues and complications were of the Mayor's own making.

OC Transpo operates about 1200 buses, a para-transport system, and a light-rail diesel powered 5-mile North-South line (The O-Train). The Mayor's first action upon taking office in 2006 was to cancel a 12-mile electric surface light-rail system which had been approved by the previous City Council. (The resulting lawsuits were settled "out of court" leaving Ottawa taxpayers on the hook for $35-million.) Lest the issue be left dangling: The current council just recently approved a multi-billion dollar sub-surface (ie:subway) light-rail system which (financing in place and God willing) may be operating in about ten years.

Next followed Ottawa's longest ever transit strike starting just as the Christmas shopping season began in December 2008. Many businesses have never recovered from the break down in public transit, and at least the ATU/Teamsters union members at OC Transpo blame the Mayor's intransigence over scheduling issues for the prolonged walkout. In fact the drivers and mechanics might never have gone back to work except for a loophole in transport laws which allowed the Federal Government to step-in and arbitrate the dispute. OC Transpo runs a couple of routes into Gatineau, Quebec which allowed the Feds to declare the company an inter-provincial carrier and the government was thus allowed to step into the mess.

In fact, the "scheduling issues" which prolonged the strike almost two years ago still haven't been resolved...which brings us to this apparent concerted effort by the ATU to unseat the Mayor. Just last week the Union's members soundly defeated a proposal which could have laid to rest the simmering dispute; a matter which the drivers now claim will lead to unprecedented bus route delays starting on Tuesday when public school begins; the city's major university and college classes resume; and post summer vacation business ramps-up. The transit union says: There aren't enough buses nor drivers because of the current staff scheduling practices which one union official described as..."a complete screw-up. That's a no-brainer. So if your express bus is late you'll know where it is."

The problem is apparently compounded by as many as 300 buses which are out of service because the mechanics, who are members of the same union, don't have the time - or (as one wag put it) the "ambition" - to repair them. City officials concede there will be "traffic nightmares" come Tuesday morning but they link the problems to unprecedented downtown construction projects.

The acting-President of ATU Local 279, Mike Aldrich, claims there is a silver lining ahead once the October 25 election brings the city a new mayor - "Anything is better than Larry O'Brien." It may thus be that the stage is set for a union cabal to unseat O'Brien with the assistance (willing or not) of the city's quarter-million daily transit users.

What for the most part seems clear is that when Larry O'Brien's biographer writes of his City Hall term (perhaps on the back of a business card) - it will not be nearly as interesting as Charlotte Whitton's, Ottawa's iconic two term Mayor (1951-56 / 1960-64) who's biography: "The Last Suffragette" is being published next week. Whitton who died in 1975 (Same year as Jimmy Hoffa, but under less mysterious circumstances) is said to haunt the current owners of her house on Renfrew Street. Jeez I hope that isn't the fate reserved for future owners of O'Brien's multi-million dollar downtown condo!

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

 

GAUZE BAGS PLEASE! WE'RE CANADIAN. THANK YOU.

I'm from New Brunswick. Back in my generation the drink of choice in the Maritimes was King Cole Tea (in gauze teabags), the finest Orange Pekoe imported from India since 1867 by Barbour Foods of Sussex. They still do! - I digress, relax, eventually this will make sense.

September usually brings a certain rejuvenating sense of well-being following the summer's hiatus. Except of course in Canadian politics where we've enjoyed / or suffered (depending on one's point of view) a minority Federal Government since January of 2006. Thus, the anticipated return of the Parliamentary session in just a couple of weeks means the usual litany of accusations, threats and bombastic intent to force, call, trigger, slip-into another unwanted national election.

So just this week both major national leaders, Liberal Mchael Ignatieff; and Conservative Prime-Minister Stephen Harper have traded barbs and pre-election rhetoric. In Baddeck, Cape Breton, Ignatieff described the Tories as..."the toughest and most ruthless machine in Canadian politics." - Last year to the same audience (the Liberal caucus) in Sudbury he'd advised: "Mr. Harper your time is up!." Same old, same old - Kinda reminds me of the 3 decades old cereal commercial: "Give it to Mikey, He'll eat anything."

As for Mr. Harper this September's mantra is all about "majority government." Fresh from his Northern Territories "wave the flag" tour, he's been telling anyone still listening that there is a stark choice to be made: "A stable majority Conservative government - or a coalition of Liberals, New Democrats and the Separatist Bloc Quebecois." Implying: Canada, the choice is yours - Vote for me!

Journalists and political commentators tell us the party leaders are "framing the ballot question." Sounds to me as if the "frame" is becoming frayed around the edges; but nevertheless the picture is in increasingly sharper focus:
- Party leaders rather than National leadership;
- Dogma ignoring issues;
- Division instead of unity;
- Victory over substance and vision;
- Popularity polls over the nation's welfare.

It is very Canadian of us to take a back seat on most issues to the lead of our southern neighbours in the United-States. Politics is no different, and we have been witnessing for 8 years or less what apporter partisan polarization and a disaffected, disenfranchised middle-class. Broadcaster Glenn Beck, ex-Governor Sarah Palin, and their Tea Party supporters being just a most recent manifestation:



Which begs the question (posed at least once recently in a newspaper headline) - "Is The Tea Party Canada-Bound?" -

Throughout modern history, protest movements have formed, existed and subsequently vanished. In the United States they've fueled Presidential candidacies from the Right by Ross Peroe; and the Left, Ralph Nader. On Canadian soil, Preston Manning's book "The New Canada" (1982), begat the Reform Party created in 1987; precursor to Mr.Harper's Alliance coalition with the Progressive-Conservatives. There have been similar manifestations on provincial territory including the current Wildrose Alliance Party in Alberta; the Action Democratique Quebecois (ADQ); and in the election now underway down east, the People's Alliance of New Brunswick.

The cautionary tale for Canada's Parliamentarians is the dangerous emergence of resentment against political elitism and what the Americans call "big" government. The former Premier of British-Columbia, William Vander Zalm, who spearheads the anti-HST movement in his own province now describes the effort this way: "When we started this whole campaign against the HST, it was just the HST. Now it has grown into a whole issue of democracy, people are saying that we don't have democracy, we elect dictatorships."

An embryonic "Tea Party Movement of Canada" has already formed on the media savvy Face Book Internet site. Still in its infancy and with just 1,400 signed-up members it's hardly a threat to mainstream politics and probably hardly worth notice nor mention. After all there are still considerable political differences between Canada and the United-States. However, while some anger and frustration may dissolve into much ho-hum apathy; in some other circles the basis of a Tea Party-like protest movement is the same on either side of the international border.

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