A longtime rural resident, I use my 60 plus years of life learning to opinionate here and elsewhere on the “interweb” on everything from politics to environmental issues. A believer in reasonable discourse rather than unhelpful attacks I try to give positive input to the blogesphere, so feel free to comment upon rural issues or anything else posted here. But don’t be surprised if you comments get zapped if you are not polite in your replys.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Powerless

All across Ontario and in several other places in North America high winds recently took out much of the electricity supply network and left many of us in the dark for anything from a few hours to a few days. We here in the Klondike Hills had planned our family get together for Sunday as our daughter was working over Christmas at her job in food services for a small nursing home. So naturally just before the rest of the family arrived the power went off and the menu for the day went with it! Now to many folk that would be an absolute disaster but we are much more flexible than that, “Murphy” has visited unexpectedly numerous times and we are somewhat prepared for such challenges. We normally cook with propane and so one would think that things in that department would be unaffected, but no, the oven has an electric pilot, handy during normal times but not so good with power off. With no oven the girls simply made a few minor adjustments and proceeded to get things started on the wood stove, a ham to be heated, veggies on the boil, nut roast and other vegetarian goodies to be simply reheated, good conversation and company on the side! Everything worked out so well that that the propane stove top was not even needed, the only thing we really had to work around was the lack of running water where we had to rely upon the “emergency” supply stored in the basement.

Now I know that most folks rely upon hydro more than we do and that some were off for an extended period, not just 10 hours. A few folks in fact are still off as I write this, however I still think we owe a vote of thanks to those hydro workers who are out there planting new poles, stringing new lines and removing fallen trees in order to get our power back on. I do not know exactly how much a lineman gets per hour for just like most union agreements they keep the details of their contracts pretty close to their chest, however it appears that they make in the range of $25 to $35 per hour. This is coincidentally is in the same wage scale as that of the unionized auto worker. I do wonder how many of those folk would be willing to assemble that car out in the parking lot in the middle of a blizzard after being rousted out of bed because there were more workers needed. Then lets ask them to do it from a bucket 70’ in the air with high voltage lines all around and to work 12 or 14 hours at a time! Bottom line those hydro linemen earn every penny they get, I may not like that “delivery charge” line in my monthly bill, but I sure do appreciate the power coming back on after a power outage during a storm. Its not as if you can go down to the corner store and get a bucket of hydro to get you through till morning!!

Thanks Guys.

Cross posted at Grey Bruce Views

Thursday, December 25, 2008

C-C-C-Christ

This holiday has us all wondering what we did to deserve all this extra exercise shoveling the white stuff from above, added to the other stresses of the season and the ongoing bah humbug attitude coming from our somewhat less omnipotent leaders it makes it hard to remember what this is supposed to be about. I am probably the last person to preach about it being a celebration of “Christ’s” birth, not a church go’er, not a believer of any religion, not even one to “get excited” about the holiday I never the less do know where it originated.
To those that do celebrate it as Christ’s birthday, I respect your views. To those that look upon it as an excuse to gather family around and share some special moments, I will be doing the same, would but that we did it more often. For those that have spent or received hundreds of dollars worth of gifts, thanks for helping our economy, I do hope you bought Canadian goods. To those of other faiths, I respect your beliefs also but you may as well take advantage of this holiday to join your family also. And finally to those big box stores, sorry but you will not be getting any of my money to pay your executive bonuses…

As I said above I am not a “church go’er” nor am I a religious person but that does not stop me from being a believer in the Christian “ideals”, one does not have to have a belief in a superior being or have a religious “leader” available to tell you what to do to be a caring and responsible person. Not being one to really accept “labels” the closest I have seen that encompasses my views is that called a Humanist, but as I say I am not much on labels, suffice to say that if one is raised to know right from wrong (and most of us are) you know in your own mind when you go astray. I am sorry to say that my views have been developed from reading about and watching the various religions across the world as they literally go to war about their individual beliefs. Somewhere I have read that more humans have been killed in “religious wars” than in any other conflicts, if you consider the medieval wars and the recent and current conflicts, which seem to be defined by religious beliefs, that may well be true.

There is one piece of Christian writing that we should take particular note of, something about reaping what you sow, indeed if you don’t treat others with respect one should not expect respect in return, a lesson that our political partys in Ottawa have yet to learn it would seem.
So as we celebrate the birth of one particular religion I would suggest that we collectively need to make the holiday more about embracing a tolerance for all points of view and less about a narrow definition of our particular beliefs. Take the best of your “religious” teachings, put dogma aside and BE a good neighbor, friend, parent, child, person and human being. Actions speak louder than prayers!

Merry ……er …….”Holidays” to you all.

Friday, December 19, 2008

All I want for Christmas….

…..is our parliamentary democracy to live, its been on life support for some time now whilst the “doctors” have been running around arguing about the diagnosis and fighting to see who is going to administer the shot in the arm, how much to use and even where to stick it! Like a child going through those shiny Xmas catalogs I have a long wish list, but unlike that child I do not expect to receive any of the things on my list, but I will write out the list just in case Santa is reading this!

I want ALL our MPs to put Country before self and Party.
I want consensus not confrontation to be the norm in the HoC.
I want truth not spin and propaganda from our leaders.
I want our scientists, bureaucrats and commissions free to speak their minds.
I want a strong and independent Senate to maintain those checks and balances upon our legislators.
I want a functioning parliament for more than just 93 days a year.
I want parliamentary rules strengthened, codified and followed.
I want penalties for MPs and Leaders who attack or abuse our democratic systems.
I want less “votes of confidence” and more “free” votes in the HoC.
I want our electoral system to be reviewed and made more representational.
I want party policy to have more effect on voters than party disinformation.
I want alternative partys to have a fair chance of being heard and elected.
I want the notion of minority or coalition governments being a bad thing removed.
I want independent “made in Canada” rules for our Health, Drug and Food systems to remain just that..
I want less integration and regulation “consolidation” with the U.S. not more.
I want “the man of steel” Kevin Page and the Parliamentary Budget office to be able to continue their work without interference.
I want the Auditor General to be able to publish her reports at any time, not just when parliament is sitting.
I want Canada to retain or regain control of our natural resources and our major manufacturing and financial systems.
I want that “open and accountable” government that I was promised last year.
I want public servants, federal, provincial and municipal employees to realize that the taxpayers pockets are all but empty and reduce their demands for “more”.

The list goes on, I would like to wish for a happy and prosperous new year but I do not think that even Santa can provide that, and it is far to late for any government to effect any meaningful change in the prognostication!

Cross posted at Grey Bruce Views

Thursday, December 18, 2008

21 new Mps for Ontario?

Impolitical , one of the best political commentary blogs on the net, has a great piece on this recent announcement which I will reproduce here in its entirety…

Political machinations during prorogation: "Ontario to get 21 more seats in Commons: McGuinty." A refresher on recent trends in Ontario:
Conservative share of vote in Ontario in 2006: 35.1% = 40 seats.
Conservative share of vote in Ontario in 2008: 39.2% = 51 seats.
We are now in a parliamentary position where 12 additional seats are necessary for a Harper majority. Not that circumstances will be in any way easier for Mr. Harper next time out given that his Liberal opponent has changed. And he's provided conclusive evidence of late that he is not to be trusted with a majority. And he may very well lose seats in Quebec. But the number of citizens who were prepared to buy into the "coup" rhetoric was disturbing. So for the Harper team, hope remains ever eternal. So we get word today from Dalton McGuinty that yes, Ontario will get the seats it deserves as the House of Commons makeup is updated. A proposition that should have been a no-brainer when the matter was first raised. Instead, at the time, we had Harper minister Van Loan calling McGuinty the "small man of confederation" for having the audacity to make the justified 21 seat request. Now McGuinty says Harper agreed to the proper Ontario seat distribution last week (Friday). Is it any coincidence that Harper suddenly gets on side with the basic democratic proposition as he mulls an election in the next six months or so, a possibility made all the more real by events of the last month? As he weighs his political future? Now that it may be politically advantageous for Harper to add those seats in Ontario, of course it's happening. The timing says it all.Watch for this to become a legislative priority for the Harper Conservatives in the new year if the budget passes.
http://impolitical.blogspot.com/2008/12/harper-suddenly-on-board-with-21-new.html

Apart from the timing of this which, coming from Harper at this time looks suspiciously like trying to appease Ontario voters and MPs prior to a possible confidence vote in January, I have very mixed feelings about it. As a rural resident I must recognize that the additional MPs will represent mostly urban centers and thus reduce our already overwhelmed rural voice. On the other hand I support a more equitable representation by population and a more equitable selection of said representatives by population. I also recognize that less populated provinces may well feel like I do as a rural citizen and have a hard time making themselves heard above the majority. In advocating for representation and selection by population we must be careful to maintain the check and balances to ensure that the minorities of all kinds do not get forgotten, ignored or pushed aside without consideration by the majority. For that reason, if no other, I support a strong, non partisan senate as the house of sober second thought regarding all legislation. I do agree with Harper (Oh my god that?s hard to write!) that our method of selecting senators needs reforming but an not sure that election by the general populous is the answer. That would reflect too closely the parliament of the day and accomplish little. I have proposed before that the Provincial parliaments (not the provincial ruling party or premier) either select or recommend new senators, this would seem to be the best of both worlds without expensive and, no doubt, spin filled general election of same would ensue. The Timing of these two announcements from a PM that said he would not do either and during a period when governments must join the rest of us in practicing restraint still stinks though!!

Lets see, 22 new seats in HoC and 18 replacement Senators = MINIMUM of 3M + 2.3M salaries + expenses (typically around 50,000 each MP) per year makes around $15 MILLION plus per year. Not the best time to announce this I would have thought.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sick Leave or Sick of working?

"The employer wants to abolish family related leave and reduce sick leave, this is totally unacceptable," says John Gordon, PSAC National President. Even worse, says Gordon, the employer wants to give authority to a private insurance company that will determine how and when the workers can access sick leave benefits.
http://www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/December2008/13/c9766.html

Canada Post had issued a statement Friday saying it had reached a "tentative agreement" with its counter staff, technical support and other support employees, who have been on strike since Nov. 17.
The post office said it includes a 2.5 per cent salary increase over the first two years and a 2.75 per cent increase over the third and fourth years of the contract.
http://www.google.com/hostednews/canadianpress/article/ALeqM5i45oF6hNKTnwyGAMfWCpVepxoKHQ

The auditor also found a "serious absenteeism problem" in Ontario's jails, where corrections officers take an average of 32.5 sick days each year.
McCarter's audit team wondered if the guards were "gaming the system" when the absentee rate in one institution jumped 55 per cent the year after it was transferred from a private company to become government-run.
http://www.google.com/hostednews/canadianpress/article/ALeqM5ikoZqklDgR5vd7cAPvMj2Iq6y2Jg

The 2300 drivers, maintenance workers and dispatchers at OC Transpo are on strike over scheduling, sick leave and pay issues. ...
http://www.canada.com/topics/news/national/story.html?id=1059268

I wonder how many folks that are in the private sector and taking home $10 - $12 per hour or less get PAID sick leave………..

If you have a job and are offered a 2% raise per year and turn it down because of reduced sick leave benefits you don’t deserve the bloody job, suck it up and get back to work!!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Convenient Timing

Couple of interesting developments of late, seems this proroguing has some real convenient timing if someone is trying to duck difficult questions.

----------------------------------
This from the Office of the parliamentary budget officer regarding the recent fiscal statement.

This category (measures for which little information has been provided) includes two items, on which the Government’s projection
of balanced budgets rests:

• The recognition of $2 billion in gains from the sale of assets yet to be identified; and
• Reductions in departmental spending realized from departmental reviews.

The assessment of fiscal risk would be improved if these items were presented with supporting documentation. For the departmental spending reductions, the risk associated with obtaining the estimated $6 billion in savings incorporated over the next four years can only be assessed if a list of the proposed reductions in departmental appropriations is provided. Further, to insure informed debate, the complete list of the approximately $2.3 billion in expected reductions in appropriations in 2009-10, including the value of the planned savings in hospitality, travel, and professional services expenditures, should be explicitly included in the 2009-10 Main Estimates when they are
tabled in the spring.

Parliamentarians would also benefit from further details on two additional issues: first, whether the liabilities related to the Afghanistan mission have been fully accounted for6; and second, how the $4.3 billion in revenues received from this year’s wireless spectrum auction have been incorporated into the Government’s fiscal projections.
---------------------------------
Then this from the Office of the Auditor General

Media Advisory: Reports of the Auditor General of Canada and of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to the House of Commons—Tabling of reports and media lock-up are being postponed
Ottawa, 4 December 2008—Reports from the Office of the Auditor General can only be tabled when Parliament is sitting, and tabling dates are planned with the Parliamentary schedule in mind. Therefore, due to the prorogation of Parliament, the December 2008 Reports of the Auditor General of Canada, Sheila Fraser, and of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Scott Vaughan, will be tabled at a later date when the House of Commons is sitting.
The media lock-up planned for 9 December 2008 at the Ottawa Marriott Hotel is therefore cancelled.
The Office will advise the media when a new date for tabling its reports has been determined.

http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/mr_20081209_e_0.html

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

MPs expenses

At least one observer has pointed out the large increase in printing costs over the preceding fiscal period and wondered if that was due to all those 10%ers. It would appear that this is not the case as the glut of mailouts came AFTER this fiscal period ended. We will have to wait until next after the 08 – 09 expense is tabled to see the cost of that! Meanwhile unless there has been some creative accounting going on it would seem that apart from the printing and advertising budgets the members have been holding the line or even reducing expense spending. Could it be they are starting to see the light.
Here is a breakdown of the numbers, I would like to provide more detail by party but the report does not do so and restricts copying so that we cannot easily cut and paste to a spreadsheet to produce such detail, seems strange to restrict copying of a public document???

Here are the details…

MPs expenses April 1st to March 31st

………………… "06-07……….."07-08……%increase
Directexpenses
Staff…………..$69,020,001…..$71,338,025…3.36%
Localtravel…...$3,512,341……$3,458,350….-1.54%
Advertising…..$3,743,526……$4,373,154…16.82%
Office lease…..$6,996,072……$7,256,155…..3.72%
Provided by parliamentary services
travel&meals…$26,282,267…..$25,732,399…-2.09%
telephone……..$3,386,763……$3,421,654…...1.03%
printing……….$7,852,378……$9,408,5311….9.82%
supplies………$1,453,530……$1,321,753…..-9.07%
equipment……$906,036……...$833,062…….-8.05%
other………….$928,324……...$707,135...-23.83%

totals…………$124,081,238….$127,850,218…3.04%

MPs expenses for 2007 – 2008 are available at

http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/process/house/GeneraLInformation/MembersExpenses-2007-2008-e.pdf

PS If someone can tell me how to copy and paste a list such as this to blogger without loosing the formating I sure would like to know!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Four Fossil Awards for Canada

I don’t normally have much time for the Sierra Club but find it hard to disagree with this that pretty well got lost in the ongoing political “crisis”…….

Today, during international climate talks in Poznan, Poland, Canada was given an unprecedented four "Fossil of the Day" awards by the international community. The awards are given to governments taking positions that stall or block the progress of climate negotiations. At the climate talks, the Canadian delegation has failed to take a constructive approach to negotiations - at the same time as the Harper government prorogued Parliament, shutting down debate until next year. "
Canada must take a more constructive approach to international climate talks. With ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, time is running out," said Mike Buckthought, National Climate Change Campaigner. "We need deep reductions in emissions to avoid the most dangerous consequences of climate change."
Canada tied for first place with Japan and Russia in failing to support deep reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases. Reductions of at least 25-40% are needed by 2020, in order to avoid dangerous global warming that threatens most of the world´s plant and animal species.For the second place Fossil of the Day Award, the international community awarded Canada two awards of shame - an unusual tie for second place.
Canada´s negotiators argued that the country should get a break on its emissions targets, because the tar sands release a lot of carbon."The tar sands should not be exempted from targets for reductions. Quite the contrary, Canada and the international community need to apply disincentives for the burning of dirty oil from the tar sands," said Stephen Hazell, Executive Director.Canada also insisted that rich countries should get special treatment for "welfare loss" - the "hardship" of using smaller cars, or public transit.
Canada picked up a third place award, for a total of four prizes of shame in arguing that special "national circumstances" (i.e., Canada is cold and big) are the reason for Canada being 29% above its Kyoto target. This argument ignores the fact that other cold countries such as Sweden have been able to meet their Kyoto targets. "

Canada is missing the chance to create thousands of new green jobs in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors," said Hazell. "Other countries with northern climates have invested in a sustainable economy, and the investments have paid off - with the creation of thousands of new jobs."

Update Wed Dec 10
Canada won again today, sharing a second place and first place Fossil of the Day Award. The mock gala ceremony takes place every evening at 6 pm at every Conference of the Parties to mark the most shameful efforts to obstruct progress in climate talks. So far Canada has a clear lead. We already had five Fossil of the Day Awards.

Today’s second place was for objecting to protecting indigenous rights in the negotiations on the deforestation agreement (referred to as the REDD talks for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries). Our first place award was shared with Japan and Australia. La Presse got the scoop. There are in fact exactly two Canadian reporters here: from La Presse and Radio Canada.

H/T to Elizabeth May for this.


Update #2 Thur Dec 11
Poznan: Canada Snags Another Fossil of the Day

Canada distinguished itself for poor performance again today by forcing the United Nations Secretariat to dismantle a tar sands display mounted by the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition. The display consisted of four roughly three-foot by two-foot tar sands photos, accompanied by a small amount of explanatory (and not very controversial) type. The pictures were tacked to a Climate Action Network booth in the main conference hall at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Poznan.
T/H to http://www.desmogblog.com/

Update #3 Dec 13th
After eight years during which the United States was consistently derided as the most obstructive force in international climate negotiations, Canada moved into worst place today, receiving the "Colossal Fossil" award for having done more than any other country to drag down talks at the UN climate negotiations in Poznan.

Oh Canada....................!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Parliamentary procedures, a proposal.

It seems to me that much of the recent “crisis” was brought on by the lack of clear parliamentary rules and the lack of any consequences for ignoring those that are in place.

One suggestion made said this :- Mendes says Parliament should pass legislation to prevent abuse of the prorogation in the future. "I think that this is a very dangerous precedent, It's one, however, that could be curtailed by Parliament itself, passing legislation to prevent future prime ministers from seeking prorogation … [to limit] what a future prime minister can do."
"Why does this remind me of signing statements and Congress having to think about enacting laws to prevent similar abuses that Bush used to subvert democracy?
This is indeed one thing we should look at however we must go much further to protect our Parliamentary Democracy for much of the daily working of parliament and parliamentary committees is governed by tradition and few real rules are in place and it would seem there are no real consequences for ignoring said conventions.

A far better informed writer than I, Peter Russell, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Toronto has suggested this by saying :- “I am greatly concerned that there is so little public knowledge of the constitutional rules that govern our parliamentary system of government. These rules are not formally written down in a legal text or taught in our schools. Maybe the most important lesson to take from the situation we are now living through is to begin to codify as much as we can of this "unwritten" part of our Constitution and to ensure that it is well taught in our schools.”

Then consider this from David Kilgour, a Fellow of the Queen's University Centre for the Study of Democracy and a director of the Council for a Community of Democracies (CCD). He was one of the two longest-serving MPs in the House of Commons for the 38th Parliament.
“All too often in Canada and elsewhere there has been a tendency to equate democracy with the holding of elections, forgetting that democracy must be continuously nurtured – not just once every four or five years. Democracy demands vigilance, and a willingness to pose difficult questions and to take risks. I do not mean by that only taking to the streets to complain about what is wrong, but also advocating constructive alternatives.”

I have said earlier that I believe that there should be no such thing as a Whipped Vote, in short it should be illegal to pressure any MP to vote in any particular way. MPs who are affiliated with a particular party naturally will support in general that partys platform and if they make a habit of voting against bills put forward by that party may well expect to have some discussions as to whether they should remain within that party. They would have to weigh that against whether the bill is in fact acceptable to themselves and those they represent. We must allow MPs to vote on the bills merits, not whether or not it fits a particular partys agenda or philosophy. To balance the all free vote situation and to reduce the political games being played there should also be no such thing as a vote of non confidence except that which specifically says “THIS HOUSE HAS NO CONFIDENCE IN ………” so that no “accidental” or “engineered” falling of governments could take place. It should not be up to the party in power to decide whether a particular vote is or is not a vote of confidence, even in the case of the throne speech which lays out the partys fundamental plan. If such a vote fails then it must be broken into smaller proposals, reworked or otherwise modified so as to be acceptable to the majority of MPs in a FREE vote.

I doubt that such a restrictive measure would pass, however this bit from the recently proposed coalitions agreement is much more reasonable than recent past practice.
“The Government will not request a dissolution of Parliament during the term of this agreement, except following defeat on an explicitly-framed motion of non-confidence presented by the Opposition; or any vote pertaining to the speech from the throne; or on a budget vote at on any stage in the House; or on any bill to implement a budget at any stage in the House; or on any motion in the House to concur in, restore or reinstate any Estimates; or on any supply bill at any stage in the House.”
Frankly I think if any financial bill is be considered a confidence motion there are far to many opportunities for either the government or the opposition to play partisan games, but there is little doubt that there must be some limitations upon this tool particularly with the prospect of a series of minority governments in Canada.

With all of the above in mind here is my rough draught of a bill to be put before the house if and when it resumes. I would suggest that if it were to come from an independent member then no political party could cry that it was a partisan move which no doubt one or the other will try and do because anything that restricts their power trip will be no doubt viewed that way.

-------------------------------------------
Whereas our Prime minister has called a previous session of this house “dysfunctional” and increased partisanship by all parties both in the house and in committee has had a profound effect upon the orderly conduct of the business of the house.

And whereas many of the rules and conventions of conduct with the house are unclear, unwritten or unknown by both the public and those within the house.

And whereas even when such rules and conventions are broken by our elected representatives or their agents there are few if any penalties for such action.

Be it resolved that:-
This house immediately for an citizens assembly consisting of representatives from all political partys, constitutional experts and interested citizens from across Canada to examine and codify the existing rules and conventions of our parliamentary democracy.

Further this assembly shall have the mandate to recommend changes to said rules and conventions and propose specific penalties for those who do not respect said rules and conventions once clearly identified and formally adopted by this house.

This assembly shall have the authority to examine and recommend changes to, but not limited to, the use of whipped votes, the use of votes of confidence, the chairing of committees and the conduct within same, the conduct of members during question period, members mailing and expense privileges, the use of proroguing parliament, the power vested in the office of the prime minister, and other such areas of our democratic processes as it deems necessary to examine.

The assembly may also consider whether the house needs to take such measures as are necessary to initiate an examination of our method of selecting our members of parliament, the funding and informational processes of prospective candidates and partys, and make recommendations as to how such measures should proceed if they deem it necessary for such examination to take place.

The assembly shall make available to all citizens of Canada the opportunity to comment upon such changes and penalties that they may be considering on an ongoing basis. The results of their studies shall be regularly published and available to all citizens in a timely manner throughout the process. Every effort should be made to make the process as open and non partisan as possible.

The assembly shall have the ability to request the assistance of such persons with specialized knowledge of the areas of study as they deem necessary and such support staff as are necessary to fulfill their mandate.
----------------------------

Readers are invited to use this as a basis for proposing positive change to the way in which we are governed, feel free to repost it, modify it, send it to your MP or even disagree with it, but please recognize that we must do SOMETHING to enable change and that it must be done in a democratic way.

Cross posted at Vive le Canada and elsewhere.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pro-Rogue or Pro-Democracy

Pro-Rogue or Pro-Democracy, that was the question yesterday. Today we have our answer. When a Prime Minister can suspend parliament in order to avoid a particular vote by the elected member of parliament and does so just a few weeks into a parliamentary session, then we are on the verge of a dictatorship. My concern and dismay at this action is further added to by the fact that the election that again gave Mr Harper a MINORITY government that was called in violation of his own legislation, on the excuse that the previous session was “dysfunctional”, but was in fact made so by the conservatives almost daily attack upon parliamentary procedures and traditions.

Can we trust PMSH to recall the house in January or will he “extend” the suspension in order to further advance his agenda without opposition? Given his past performance I would suggest we cannot.

Canadian Democracy RIP.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Coalition & Demorcracy

To put it all in perspective I think the constitutional expert participating in TVO’s “The Agenda” put it correctly. We elect a parliament, not a prime minister, we are not the U.S. and do not have a presidential system. The party that gets the most votes gets to run the country so long as they have the confidence of the parliamentary representatives that we have elected.
Whilst the non confidence vote may be centered upon the recent fiscal update I believe that the loss of confidence in this government has its basis in the many antidemocratic actions by Mr Harper and his party over the last 2 years. They are far too numerous to document here but a small sampling includes the parliamentary dirty tricks handbook, the partisan 10%ers sent out in the millions prior to the election, the muzzling of diplomats, bureaucrats, government scientists, firing of “independent” commission chairpersons without due process, the list goes on.
Now they have the gall to call the actions of the rest of the parliamentarians in seeking to form a coalition “anti democratic” and instruct their followers to bombard the media with totally inaccurate and misleading “talking points”. Whether or not their financial plans are good or bad it is their attacks upon democracy that must be stopped and as they seem incapable of any kind of cooperation within the House I believe the opposition is fully justified in this move and that the Governor General when / if asked must give them the opportunity to try and govern. A new election so soon after the last one, with a probable similar result of a non majority government of one type or another, is not an option.

A copy of the Coalition agreement is posted at http://www.garth.ca/weblog/2008/12/02/the-accord/#comment-186328

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Two down, more to come?

I see that the Conservatives have now taken the removal of public funding to political partys of the table …..for now. They are still making noises about forming a coalition as being undemocratic even though Harper proposed just that against the Liberal government in 2004, there is even talk of proroguing parliament which whilst technically allowable, is in my mind even more antidemocratic when done simply to avoid a vote. The other recent change is that they are backing down on the proposal to ban public sector strikes, I have mixed feelings about that one. Whilst I could foresee some very ugly confrontations if it had gone through, I do not necessarily thing that it was such a bad thing.

Public service workers are paid (and in most cases quite well) to serve the public, many of the services whilst not actually designated “essential services” are in fact such that the public have no alternative should those services be not available. By all means have mandatory arbitration or some other “independent” means of settling disputes but stop these public “servants” from holding the taxpayers up for ransom every time their union says they should have MORE. I believe that they, and for that matter ever other union member, and even non union worker has the ultimate weapon in their arsenal that they can use any time they are dissatisfied with their remuneration, benefits or working conditions. QUIT. If you don’t like the job or are not satisfied with any of the above, go find another job and let someone else have a chance at your old one.

But, but, “I might not find as good a paying job if I quit” you cry. EXACTLY! Be satisfied with what you have because there are an ever increasing number of folks looking over you shoulder who would gladly have your job.

Its a wait and see to find out if there is going to be any government "stimulus" to create any new jobs, lets hope they do not forget the non union, small business, and self employed sectors.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Conservolition

Well it looks like the Conservatives are going to get their wish, the one they tried so hard for months to get before having to engineer their own premature election. A vote of non confidence. Long overdue, but unfortunately at a bad time, but better late than never!

The popular vote said we wanted a coalition and even with the Con’s in the leading role, well that’s not going to happen but something just as encouraging just may. What a big step forward it would be to have two or more partys COOPERATING for the good of the country instead of one dictating what is good for the party. Lets be honest, nothing they can do will stop this recession that Harper says is not happening, but every non economic guru citizen knows full well it is even now gathering speed as it rolls down hill. It is at time like this that we need the best ideas from ALL our MP’s and leaders on the table for OPEN discussion and implementation in a speedy and cooperative manner, something that does not seem to be even in Harpers dreams or perhaps nightmares.

Elizabeth Mays said it eloquently in her blog today ….
“It has been observed by many political pundits that Stephen Harper runs a non-stop electioneering machine. The priority is always gaining power. The fact that the country is in a recession and needs a responsible government to put national interest ahead of partisan interest is not on his radar. For years, Stephen Harper and his friend Tom Flanagan have had the goal of bankrupting the Liberal Party. That's why they wasted $300 million on a snap election no one wanted last month. The goal of complete annihilation of the Liberals is all consuming. If ignoring the economy and trashing a fair electoral voting system are collateral damage, so be it.”

As so many in the blogesphere have said today, its time to stop playing polotics and get on with running the country, something the Conservitives seem to be incapable of doing. We can but hope that a coalition should it come to fruition, will put the poloticing aside and get on with it. And there is the rub, will that indeed happen?

Its going to be an interesting week, hang on to your hats folks!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Democracy under attack ......... again.

This piece was first written and published (via various blogs) in Nov 2007, updated in Sept 08 and again in Nov 08. It is just as valid today, perhaps more so! The attack upon democracy continues………

When the Conservatives, New Conservatives, or whatever they now call themselves were elected to a minority government just 20 months ago I said to myself “OK so the other bunch gets a kick at the can”. Little will change, life still goes on, promises will be broken, parliament will continue in its usual rowdy rather dysfunctional fashion, some of the proposals will be different but our MPs will debate and vote upon them in the usual fashion. I was wrong!

We each can agree or disagree with the particular direction which the government wants to take us, to continue in Afghanistan or not, to support NAFTA / SPP or not, to protect Canadian resources and industries from foreign “investment” or not and so on and so on.
It is to debate these things and decide upon a reasonable course that we have our parliamentary system with its committees and debate and ability to propose amendments. Well we did have, no longer it would seem! I believe that the individual proposals from this government , whilst important, pale in comparison to what they are doing to our democratic processes, their total disregard for not only the opposition but for those in their own caucus who express an opposing opinion.

Having always, until recently, been rather uninterested in the day to day bickering between the various partys, my first inkling of something wrong was the refusal of our New Leader to meet with the press on an informal basis. I had heard about the appointment of non elected individuals to cabinet and the MP elected as a Liberal also joining the Conservative cabinet within a few days of the election and these things added to my concern to the point where I started sitting up and taking more notice.

This then is not about Conservative policies in regard to the direction they are taking us but more about the manner in which they are doing it. I have no real means of knowing if these methods are supported by the majority of Conservative MPs because few, if any have spoken out on the issue. I suspect that it is more a directive from the PMO with the knowledge and support of the few in cabinet and inner circle who have the ear of the PM. In order to illustrate my concerns for our democratic process I will list just some of the things that have come to my attention that show that this government has little regard for said system and is in fact knowingly destroying or subverting the normal checks and balances that customarily separate our system from that of an Oligarchy.

Here is my partial list of this governments anti democratic actions:-

1) Appointed Michael Fortier as Minister of Public Works rather that an elected MP.

2) Encouraged and enabled reelected Liberal Minister, David Emerson to cross the floor and move directly into a key position in the Conservative cabinet.

3) Refusal to talk with the press except in rare, highly controlled and predetermined, government dictated press conferences.

4) Dictating to elected MPs what they can and cannot say to the electorate and to the press. (All partys try and control the message to some extent but this one has gone way beyond the norm)

5) The summary removal from the party of any MPs who do speak out against a particular party policy. (Garth Turner, Bill Casey)

6) Dictating to the local party organizations who they can and cannot propose as their candidate for election. (as above, Mark Warner and others)

7) Actively disrupting the free and open debate of amendments in parliamentary committees by directing the appointed Conservative chairs to obstruct unfavorable comment and testimony.

8) Producing and distributing to said chairs a 200 plus page document to assist them in this disruption. (witness the committee debate on SPP)

9) Deciding to prorogue parliament rather than just the normal summer recess thus unnecessarily effectively killing any pieces of legislation already in progress.

10) Upon return dictating / threatening that ANY legislation proposed by the government shall be a matter of confidence and that NO opposition amendments will be considered.

11) The PMs threat to the Senate that there would be “consequences” if they stalled his big crime bill., (before it has even been voted upon by the MPs). He has also said several times that abolishing the Senate would be an option if it cannot be reformed.

12) Your choice, the list expands with each day this government feels it has “The Right to Govern” without regard to democratic process.

Addendum Sept 2008, little has changed, just more of the same, here are a few of the more obvious and more recent attacks upon our Parliamentary Democracy.

13) Requiring all government departments and diplomats to get prior approval of the text of any and all public statements or releases from the PMO before speaking to the press or public.

14) Firing the Chair of an arms length Commission, without due process, for doing her job, namely ensuring that nuclear safety protocols were followed to the letter.

15) Attempting to break the rules on election spending by “laundering” the money through local candidates bank accounts and then calling into doubt Elections Canada’s integrity when caught. Refusing to cooperate with a duly formed House of Commons Committee formed to investigate such claims.

16) Abusing the House of Commons rules on publicly funded printing and mail outs by exceeding the allowable 10% monthly volume and including partisan election type commentary in said flyers. (Some household have received as many as five in one month)

17) Sponsoring a series of election style advertisements attacking the integrity of a sitting member of the House of Commons (Mr Dion) outside of an election call. (this breaks no rules but is most certainly an anti democratic action)

18) And finally, ignoring his own legislation setting a fixed election date by calling this election for political gain and trying to lay blame upon the opposition partys for doing their job (opposing).

Update Nov 2008

19) Having fooled about 35% of the voters into electing them the Harpoons now propose to discontinue the public funding of political parties, brought in to minimize the impact of large corporate and union “donations” upon funding constraints. At less than $2 per voter it is hardly an onerous burden upon the taxpayer, the 50% to 75% tax rebate for such donations is NOT however subject to cancellation.

20) Calling the oppositions consideration of forming a coalition government "antidomocratic" a statement that in its self is antidemocratic, many governments across the world are in fact coalitions and there is precident within Canada for such.

“Democracy”
-The presence of institutions and procedures through which citizens can express preferences about policies and leaders; existence of institutionalized constraints on the power of the executive; and the guarantee of civil liberties to all citizens.

“Oligarchy”
-A form of government where political power effectively rests with a small, elite segment of society

I will let you decide which description is the closest to the form of government we have experienced of late. I think my view is quite clear. If anyone can explain how any of the above actions enhance our democracy or increase the “openness and accountability” of our government as promised during the 2006 campaign I would really like to hear the explanation!





(This article is an original piece by “Rural” and may be distributed in whole or in part for the purpose of highlighting the necessity of parliamentary reform and increased vigilance upon our political partys and their leaders. He is a Canadian citizen who believes we must actively protect our country, our sovereignty and our democratic process from those who would steal it from us, whether by public apathy, stealth, purchase or outright manipulation. He is not associated with any political party.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

MORE, they get more!

The Ontario Elementary School Teachers Union NOW says their failure to renew their contract is due to the High School system getting more funding per pupil than the elementary system. Well DUH! I would bloody well hope so, the elementary schools do not need computer labs, wood, metal and auto shops and other specialized courses. The number of subjects taught and the choices available for High School students is, and indeed should be, much broader and more varied than the basics that are the main focus of primary grades.
Just another line of BS from the unions to distract from the 120 million or so they are going to get in wage raises and will not offer back in exchange for student funding.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Who wants MORE?

I recently had a rant in which I asked what is wrong with unionized workers who are currently asking for MORE when many of us are wondering if we are going to get ANY. My ire is now raised even further by this from the Sun Times which is just a small reflection of the situation across Ontario…..

“The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario is holding meetings today in Owen Sound and Chesley to give an update about contract negotiations with the Bluewater District School Board. The four-year collective agreement for all elementary public school teachers expired on Aug. 31, 2008…………..
"We've had no discussions with the government since last May and we've made it very clear that if Nov. 30 is an ultimatum, we're not going to have those discussions," ………..On the table right now is a 12.5 per cent raise over four years, with additional money for improved working conditions and more positions with lower class sizes. “

Now whilst I think we all agree that the teachers have a challenging job, most of us believe that they are well compensated for their endeavors, there certainly are a lot of “retired” teachers who are either remarkably well preserved or not near as old as the rest of us at retirement! These folk are paid out of the taxpayers pocket and like many other “government” employees who have a pretty secure, above average paying job, are still not satisfied, it seems that every few months some public employees union is asking for more and threatening job action. I for one am getting very tired of it, the private sector has the same problem but there is little I can do about that, but those paid out of the public purse had better look out because I can, and will, be very vocal about how good they have things and how tough it is out here in the “real world”.

One of the things that always gets me regarding these “negotiations” is the way in which things are ignored (by both sides?) until the current contracts have expired or are about to, “no discussions since last May”, 12 % on the table and that’s not good enough, what is wrong with this, especially when the Catholic board has just settled for just that? Any contract I have ever had as a self employed contractor is null and void once the term has ended and if you want to continue with it you had best get your act in gear and get a new one! The other thing is if you have agreed to certain conditions and remuneration for the past 3 years why would you not attempt to take any wage raises totally off the table in return for a simple cost of living raise annually, but then the unions would have little to justify their existence! The answer is quite simply GREED, fed by the unions telling their members that they have an ENTITLEMENT to MORE, a position the union bosses take to maintain their own jobs. Most folks would grab that cost of living option, or for that matter an annual 3% raise, without question, for few of us get any annual raise at all and indeed in these time will be bloody glad to even retain our jobs or our businesses.

I am not picking upon just the teachers here, as with other “closed shop” professions they have little say in the “negotiations” and only get to vote after the union hierarchy have struck a deal. I often wonder how many of the “members” truly support the process but feel pressured to go along with the union position. With the government sending signals that the public sector workers must expect less in future contracts, as indeed they should, I suspect we will see much posturing and disruption from those making a living from “representing” this sector. I know that thing are going to change out here for families and small businesses, it is going to be waste not want not for the next few years, we can but hope that the unions and their members both public sector and corporate sector also get the picture and become part of the solution not part of the problem. It is the greed of “investors”, corporations and their “directors”, unions and the like, assisted by shaky practices the financial sector who have precipitated this mess, but make no mistake it is the little guy that will both take the brunt of it AND be the one to make the sacrifices necessary to get us out of it.

Cross posted at http://shanejolley.com/

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Not a hand out…..or up!

We have recently become aware that a local branch of an international not for profit organization that purports to give “a hand up” has been giving “a hand out” in the form of termination slips to some of their front line workers. To those who have spent any time helping out in their retail operation this should come as no great surprise for it is obvious that something had to give with the recent hiring of yet more “managerial staff”, it seems that they are going to rely even more upon non paid labour to do the actual work! Being one of those places that finds “work” for the welfare for work program and the recent downturn I suspect that there will be little difficulty in getting warm bodys to order around but how much will actually get done is questionable based upon past performance in this regard.

I am reliably informed that a number of folk who have spent a great deal of their time helping out on a volunteer basis have walked away with the feeling that the hand up philosophy does not extend to their own staff but rather that the term dysfunctional would be a better description. This again should not come as a surprise as almost any organization run by a “committee” tends towards that description, but when said committee, or in this case the Board of Directors, rules in a secretive and non communicative manner without personal knowledge of the day to day operation then things are bound to be less than ideal.

Despite being the major supplier of funds to actually run the day to day operations (and pay all those “managers” and front office staff) the retail portion of this organization has always been rather low on the list for those who have the ultimate responsibility for its operation. There seems to be little realization as to what it takes to run the retail portion, little acknowledgement of the efforts put in by longtime staff and volunteers, and little effort put in to improve the way in which things are done. Whether this is due to a lack of expertise at the mid management level, to “too many chiefs and not enough Indians”, or to a lack of understanding of the issues at the board level is debatable, but either way on the army base just up the road they will have a word for it.

In army lingo it’s a total CF!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Jobs, Strikes & Savings.

Having just heard on the news that yet another group of well paid workers with relatively secure jobs has gone on strike for MORE, I feel a rant coming on. What is wrong with these people? Why is it that those who have above average earnings, good benefits and actually have a job are the ones who are constantly looking for MORE. Perhaps because the average Joe simply cannot afford to dispense with a wage cheque for weeks or months, perhaps because Joe is closer to the ever failing pulse of the economy and realizes that simply having a job is a damn good thing and he had best not screw it up, perhaps because those high wage earners simply do not realize that their demands further increase the costs of good and services provided!

Whatever the reason these greedy, dissatisfied individuals with good paying jobs, particularly secure GOVERNMENT jobs, really piss me off when they keep wanting MORE. These same types are often seen on TV when the plant is closing due to high overhead (wages being a large part of that) crying about loosing their $300,000 house after 20 or 30 years in the plant. My god, what have they been doing with their $40 - $60,000 a year income, pissing it up against the wall? Oh yes, they “invested” it in the stock market or had it in an RRSP that did the same, sorry you idiots I do not feel sorry for you. If you cant afford to loose it DON’T GAMBLE, for that is all the stock market is, a scam perpetrated by a gambling syndicate, if the prime is at say 5% and you are promised 15% where do you think the money is coming from? You are simply gambling that some other sucker will buy in at a higher price than you paid and if they don’t its all gone. Well the party is over and now you must pay the price for your years of “high returns”!

The same holds true of the “corporations” who have posted millions in profits in recent years but now in the first 3 months of a downturn are crying about losses and calling for public money to bail them out whilst still paying obscene salaries and bonuses to their executives. Any bailouts using public money MUST have guarantees involving long term commitments and total repayment of loans even when or if a bankruptcy occurs. In other words a lien on equipment, land or buildings the same as if borrowing money from an investor or bank. There are thousands of little guys who could use a leg up to expand or keep their small business but they rarely are able to get ANY help, too small says the government and yet it is these businesses that create many of the NEW jobs. As for those “sports stars” making millions, well ……………..

Those employed in the transportation services in the big cities going on strike for MORE are particularly galling, the thousands of people that rely upon public transportation to get to work are effectively put in a position where they cannot fulfill their obligations because they cannot get there! That such services are not ALL declared an essential service is totally beyond belief. It all comes down to this, the unions have far to much power with to little responsibility, they “advise” (read pressure) their members into asking for MORE and MORE mostly to justify own their existence. Whilst it is true that before the days of labour laws and minimum wage legislation they were indeed needed, in todays world it is much less true. It is true that it is difficult to “negotiate” as an individual with these large, perhaps multinational corporations, and that a group must have a “spokesman” to speak for the group, unions have gone far beyond that. I always wonder what the reaction would be if the same unions that are constantly saying that their members they are being cheated out of wages or benefits would do if the employer said “OK, then you manage the company, its all yours”. We have seen in the past that when unions are the employer dealing with unionized employers of their own, thing are not quite as clear cut as they would have their member believe!

It is clear that those who spend years learning their trade, have a particularly high responsibility or other special skills should receive somewhat higher compensation for their labours, however all too many high paying jobs “protected” by labour agreements do not fall under that envelope and the average Joe could learn to do the job in a few hours or at most a few weeks. That some of these “assembly line” or “unskilled” workers receive more than say our nurses, or the local tradesman that has years of training, is an indication of the imbalance in our economy. I suspect that the next few years with see a major shake up in this regard, I just hope it narrows the gap between those who have lots but want MORE and those that would like ENOUGH or even just SOME!

There, now I feel much better!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Is 100% Renewable Power achievable?

A little while ago I was made aware of the report “Ontario’s Green Future” by Ontario Clean Air Alliance Research Inc which makes the dubious claim that “Ontario can obtain virtually 100% of its grid-supplied electricity from renewable sources by 2027.”.

It is unfortunate that this small phrase in the report is the one that has been picked up and promoted, for it is not strictly true. Whilst the report is mostly a critique of OPA and more particularly their plans for the use of Nuclear power over the next few decades it does make some valid points about the use of micro generation to decrease our reliance upon centralized power. To enable them to make the above claim they do not consider CHP (usually gas fired combined heat and power units) to be “grid supplied” power even though these units would be normally grid CONNECTED.

This small but significant detail gives a wrong impression about an otherwise quite useful document. It does go on at great length slamming the OPA and nuclear energy, particularly the costing of said power some of which may have some validity but the real important stuff may have got lost in the rhetoric. I will try and itemize some of the good stuff and explain why it should be given more consideration.

1) “In distributed systems, the emphasis is on meeting electricity needs in the most efficient and lowest cost manner possible. Many smaller generation sources located near centres of electricity demand are used instead of a handful of large power stations. The result is a system that wastes much less energy during generation, transmission and use, and that thereby reduces costs and polluting emissions.”

This is very true, the line losses for transmitting hydro over long distances is considerable and generating our power locally makes sense even if not “green” power. In order to have sufficient flexibility in the system to allow for maintenance, sudden peaks in load and efficient use of the various outputs these units must SHARE both their load and their output and thus must be GRID CONNECTED.

2)” Pay electricity consumers to install small-scale combined heat and power and tri-generation (heating, cooling and electricity) plants in their apartments, condominiums, shopping and recreation centers, hospitals, office buildings and factories. Once again, the more electricity that consumers self-generate, the lower the demand for grid-supplied electricity and the easier it will be to meet 100% of our demand for grid-supplied electricity from renewable sources”

As I said above the CHP concept is a good one and if we can use the same equipment to generate building heating and some or all of the hydro requirements for that building simultaneously then it is a win win situation. BUT please note that very few of these units will be run on “renewable” or “green” sources of energy. The majority would be gas fired, infinitely better than coal and some will say better than nuclear but still not renewable OR green! I am not sure that we have to PAY users (particularly commercial owners) to install these units but certainly there should be incentives such as interest free loans and payment for excess power fed back into the grid.

3)” Aggressively procure renewable electricity supplies from individuals, cooperatives, First Nations communities, local electric utilities, private sector developers and the Province of Quebec.”

We must indeed look at all potential sources of power and importing hydroelectric power from Quebec is far preferable to coal fired power from Ohio. How much of that can be “renewable” power is debatable but potential for hydro electric (and wind) is considerable If we can get the hydro from the source to the major users (or move the major users to the source?) without major line losses due to distance.
The report says “To fully exploit Ontario’s vast renewable potential, we need to build a smart, integrated power grid that can quickly balance multiple power sources with rising
and falling demand.” The grid, particularly the east west grid must indeed be upgraded to accommodate new sources but we have recently seen the amount of resistance generated from transmission line upgrades from Bruce nuclear and the Sunset coast wind farms.

4)” Ontario’s total wind and biomass renewable electricity potential is over 1,800 billion kWh. Therefore, Ontario could meet 100% of its electricity needs from renewable sources by harnessing an additional 5.5% of its wind and biomass renewable electricity potential.”

Ah yes the “wind is the total answer” argument! There are several misconceptions than some folks seem to be unable to see past in regard to wind power not the least of all that the “potential” is not equal to the PRACTICAL potential. The second common mistake made in calculating the potential output of a wind farm is the recognition that a typical wind generator produces somewhere about 30% of its capacity over a given period of time (due to wind variations) but then saying therefore 3 turbines will produce 90% of our requirements. Not if they are all windless at the same time! Even large wind farms many miles apart have the “potential” (there is that word again) to ALL be stationary or producing minimal power if a big high settles over Ontario for a few days. What then?

The report also notes that only about 5% of the “potential” exists in the “south” of Ontario (where the power is needed) the rest being in the “north”. No doubt wind should be a PART of the mix but let us not ignore the potential problems in our rush to go green.

Regarding biomass hydro production one local council is actively pursuing this as a better way to dispose of biosolids and septage but is having little luck with getting ANY other level of government to assist with the upfront costs of installing such a system. A special tip o the hat the Chatsworh Township for continuing to pursue this option. Several large farms in Canada are now running their entire operation on hydro produced from animal “waste”, there is indeed lots of “potential” for farm livestock operations to add to the supply in this manner.

5) “ 64 potential offshore wind power sites in the Great Lakes have been identified, these sites could support 34,500 MW of wind power capacity”
The same arguments apply to this “potential” however in my view although more expensive to build both the towers and the infrastructure, this would have a great deal less impact upon the population of rural residents who must suffer this intrusion upon their scenic countryside, not to mention the increasing evidence that living close to one of these installations may have upon the health of some individuals. Certainly Great Britain has the majority of their wind generation “off shore”, the shallow waters off to our west would be well suited for this, it would however change those Sunset Views so strongly promoted!

6) “[we] estimated a potential for clean local power of 11,400 megawatts [MW], of which 3,000 MW would be produced without added fossil fuel by recycling wasted energy from industrial activities such as steel mills, chemical plants, refineries, carbon black production, gas compressor stations and steam pressure drop.”

Indeed the “potential” for generating power from “waste” industrial heat or other energy sources may well be higher than that and whilst it does not necessarily reduce our use of fossil fuels it may well make better use of those we are using. In so far as industrial use of energy perhaps we should move large energy using industries OUT of the highly populated, but low energy source areas of southern Ontario, to places further north where hydro electric energy could supply these large amounts of power thus leaving more available for those remaining. True this may require some residents to also move north out of the big cities but is that necessarily a bad thing, there is more to Ontario than the Golden Triangle after all. Who knows away from Toronto or Hamilton they may even be able to afford to build an energy efficient residence!

7) Apart from mentioning that the OPA has a goal of 50 billion kWh from hydro electric the report does not even touch upon this far superior form of renewable energy, the potential for micogeneration from hydro electric is substantial. Before this can take place however there needs to be a change in policy from the MOE and other government departments with jurisdiction over our rivers and streams. As things sit now it is impossible for an individual to get a permit to dam a stream in order to install a small generator, in fact the ministry is actively pursuing the REMOVAL of existing private dams with that potential. Whilst we must recognize that there may be some impact upon fish habitat by such projects, it must also be recognized that ANY project will impact the natural surroundings in some manner and a REASONABLE balance must be found. Our local streams and waterfalls could provide a good source of microgeneration 24 hrs a day 7 days a week.


8) This report does not say much about energy use reduction through personal, community or corporate energy efficiency, or changes in the way we do things, other that the reference to GDP as mentioned above. I think almost all of us are in agreement that we as a society are wasteful of hydro and need to reduce that waste. Each of us can do a little individually but as I have said before it is the corporate sector that can really make a huge difference. Buying an energy efficient fridge would, whilst a great move, be a expensive but miniscule contribution compared with say turning off one row of lights in your local grocery or department store. (note that the building and labour codes probably dictate minimum levels of lighting for such operations, perhaps we need to revisit such regulations with conservation in mind.) Take a look at all the outdoor commercial signs, many of them on all night, next time you drive into town, as for the mega stores and enormous indoor shopping malls heating and lighting loads, well……………..!

Finally just a few words about this from the report:-
“As a result of Ontario’s historic failure to promote energy efficiency, our electricity productivity (Gross Domestic Product or GDP per kWh) is much lower than those of North America’s leading knowledge-based economies.”

What the H… does our monetary GDP have to do with the efficiency of the electrical supply? This is a total red herring in my view, our climate, the fact that we manufacture stuff rather than “trade” knowledge, the type of products made etc have an enormous impact upon this. If you want to compare hydro “efficency”, use per population in similar areas of climate and production than you may have a case. I DO believe we are indeed wasteful in our use of electricity but kWh against GDP is not the way to measure it!

In short we have the “potential” to do many things but we must be careful to separate what is potentially achievable from what is practically achievable, over stating the possible or misleading statements about the “potential” does not help the cause.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Bureaucratic Bullshit.

In these days of frugality and energy saving each of us should try and do thing to be “sustainable” which in most cases will automatically reduce expenses. As a small landowner with 15 acres of reforested white pine that needs the larger trees removed to facilitate regrowth as proposed in our Managed Forest plan I want to make good use of this wood.

Frankly I would like to sell some pine logs to provide a little income however the amount one would receive for a full load of pine logs is so miniscule as to barely pay for the time, effort and fuel needed to remove it. A better option is to bring in a portable saw mill and cut it into lumber on site and either sell it, or use this it for building garden sheds, lawn furniture or other similar projects. Having use large quantities to finish my house in board and batten siding I now would like to put up a garage / workshop to have room to assemble such projects in the winter months. Naturally I would like to use my own wood to do so, mostly to save money but also with energy savings in the back of my mind.

In Ontario, and so far as I know elsewhere in Canada if you are a “farmer” i.e zoned agricultural, you can obtain a building permit to put up anything from a small shed to a major equipment storage barn using “ungraded” lumber for the structure, in other words lumber cut and sawn on site from your own trees may be used (as it should be). However for those of us with smaller bush lots on our residential properties we MUST use “graded” lumber in order to get a permit. Now please understand we are NOT talking about a residence here but just a simple shed / garage being built by the owner. Whats with this? My neighbour on the farm can erect the self same shed that I wish to construct using his own lumber (or for that matter MY lumber) and it is deemed perfectly acceptable, whilst on my property it is not?

Surely if its safe on the farm, its safe a mile away on a residential property, if the inspector can approve and examine the former and pass it then he can do the same for the latter. What difference does it make WHERE the building is constructed in determining as to what materials are acceptable and what are not. I will not even get into at any length the quality of that “graded” lumber I would have to purchase at the store, or the fact that my lumber would be FULL 2 x 4 or 2 x 10 or whatever and not 1.5 x 3.5. I will only briefly mention the energy wasted in trucking that lumber from the bush to a distant mill and then probably half way across the country to my local lumber store. I will say little about the employee “grading” the lumber at the mill blindly stamping anything that is not totally and obviously a load of crap. I just cannot understand why my superior lumber is unacceptable for a project on my own property and built by myself with specifications exceeding that required for a barn on agricultural property (or for that mater on a residential property)

Once again bureaucratic red tape and blindly following the “rules” set out by “governments” screws the little guy trying to save both a buck and the environment.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Senate Report on Rural Canada


This is a repost of an article by this author published elsewhere in the summer of 2008.

The report entitled BEYOND FREEFALL: HALTING RURAL POVERTY runs to over 400 pages but is well worth reading. A report of that size is hard to summarize so I have shamelessly picked some extracts that were of interest to me in order to give you an idea of the scope and tone of this report. The text presented, which has been extensively edited for length, is a little long for this forum, but I hope will create some discussion.
The full report is available in PDF format here
The committee’s recommendations are premised on five guiding principles that should shape any future iterations of rural policy, namely that
1. Policy Needs to Respect Rural Diversity: Policy needs to recognize that “rural is not an absolute but a continuum. Canada’s policy needs to reflect that”
2. Policy Needs to Help Those Who Help Themselves: {Government}must focus assistance on communities that demonstrate a willingness to help themselves through {support} which have a realistic chance of achieving their goals.
3. Policy Needs to be Place-Based: The committee believes that policy needs to be place-based, a notion that embodies the idea that one size does not fit all……….
4. Policy Needs to Recognize that Rural Canada Doesn’t Necessarily Want to be
Urbanized: We have to guard against the kind of thinking and policies that are Premised …….on the belief that rural Canada’s problems are best addressed through policies that accelerate the merger of rural communities into urban ones………
5. Rural Policy Needs to Stop Looking for Magic Bullet Solutions: If rural
Canada is to break free from the vicious cycle of decline that has characterized so much of its recent history, policymakers must give up on the search for “magic bullet” solutions.

The Need for a Rural Champion
To drive this renewed focus on rural issues, the committee believes that the federal government should create a Department of Rural Affairs whose minister would sit at the cabinet table and thereby ensure that rural issues and concerns are always heard at the highest level of decision making.

Rural Transportation
For most rural Canadians, “getting around” means having access or owning at least one vehicle and sometimes two or three – an expensive proposition at the best of times but even more so in rural Canada because travel costs (for fuel and repairs) tend to be higher than in urban parts of the country. For the most part, public transportation is not an option and that represents a serious problem for seniors, disabled and low-income rural citizens………….


THE HEALTH COMMUNITY APPROACH
It is important to recognize that the major determinants of health span a much broader range of issues than mere access to the health care system. The “healthy communities” movement, {snip} argues that health is in fact largely determined by equitable access to such basic prerequisites for health as peace, food, shelter, clean air and water, adequate resources, education, income, {etc.} …………….. Most of this discussion emphasized however what the federal government can do for rural citizens rather than what rural citizens can do for themselves. {Section 4 emphasize’s what rural citizens and rural communities, with a bit of assistance from higher levels of government, can do for themselves.

A Healthy Small Business Sector
Rural businesses are mostly small in size yet are invaluable to the social and economic well being of rural communities. A local convenience store or gas station can mean the difference between easy access to basic supplies and having to travel long distances to buy a loaf of bread or fill up the gas tank.


Some of the recommendations are ……….


RECOMMENDATION 2-3: The committee recommends that the federal government work with provincial, territorial and municipal governments to identify ways in which a range of existing and new services might be delivered through existing rural infrastructure points such as rural post offices.
RECOMMENDATION 2-4: The committee recommends that the federal government move at least 10% of its existing large urban centre employees to
regional centres in rural Canada.
RECOMMENDATION 3-1: The committee recommends that the federal government reintroduce the Canadian Farm Families Options Program with modifications that take into account feedback from farmers……………
RECOMMENDATION 3-2: The committee recommends that the federal
government eliminate the tax on capital gains on the disposition of qualifying farm property of an active farming business to a child (as defined in the Income Tax Act) who commits to engage in an active farming business…………..
RECOMMENDATION 3-3: The committee recommends that, as part of the proposed long-term farm policy framework, the federal government introduce direct payments in recognition of the ecological goods and services provided by farmers and rural landowners.
RECOMMENDATION 3-4: The committee recommends that the federal government should…………. help organize and fund efforts to develop watershed agreements between urban communities and major stakeholders in relevant rural communities. These agreements should ensure that rural communities, including rural private property owners, are adequately compensated for their efforts to protect watersheds.
RECOMMENDATION 3-5: The committee recommends that the federal government provide stable funding to Environment Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk over a five-year period.
RECOMMENDATION 3-7: The committee recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada along with key producers conduct a thorough assessment of the impacts on the rural economy of the various government supports to the biofuels industry……………..
RECOMMENDATION 3-8: The committee recommends that the federal government, with the provinces and territories, change food inspection regulations to ease the entry of local producers and organic growers into the market………..
RECOMMENDATION 4-2: The committee recommends that the federal government provide incentives for sustainable forestry management practices on private woodlots through the Income Tax Act.
RECOMMENDATION 6-4: The committee recommends that the federal government commit to 50-50 capital funding for new rural transportation infrastructure. {and} study how to coordinate existing rural transportation services into a flexible network {that would}provide extra transportation services to rural citizens.
RECOMMENDATION 7-5: The committee recommends that the Canada Revenue Agency and Services Canada undertake to inform clients about the full range of programmes and tax benefits to which they may be eligible, regardless of which program(s) they applied for. {and shouls} automatically calculate an individual’s eligibility for existing and future tax benefits……..
RECOMMENDATION 7-6: The committee recommends that the federal government extend eligibility for its charitable income tax credit to bulk donations of food items………
RECOMMENDATION 8-3: The committee recommends that the proposed Department of Rural Affairs study any existing and potential rural-urban school partnerships, shared schooling services among rural communities, and options for using rural schools to their full potential.




Finally, it’s also about the fact that for some time now, policymakers have focused almost obsessively on urban issues, with one pundit opining recently that rural Canada “has become a so irrelevant demographically that it increasingly exists only in myth,” a view that does little justice to those who live in rural Canada. The consequences of rural neglect are manifest:

• Rural Canada’s population has stagnated – who could possibly want to live in an “irrelevant” part of the country after all? Surely not the doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, labourers, and immigrants that rural Canada so desperately needs; surely not the sons and daughters of farmers, forestworkers, fishers, factory-workers and the like who feed and help shelter, power, and build the nation.
• Rural Canada is ignored in policy decisions – the federal government’s Rural Secretariat is tucked away in Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and has to continually fight for funding; the federal government’s national homelessness strategy almost entirely bypasses rural housing issues {etc}
• Federal rural infrastructure funds often end up in larger urban centres – even programs ostensibly aimed at small towns such as the municipal rural infrastructure fund (MRIF), often end up funding projects in urban centres.
• Small farmers bear the full brunt of well-intentioned environmental policies and regulations that threaten to put them out of business – we heard time and again that these farmers pride themselves on the stewardship of their lands.
• Forestry workers bear the brunt of a high Canadian dollar and years of policy neglect around Canada’s forestry sector.
• Hundreds of fishing communities have seen their critical infrastructure – their wharves, their roads, their institutions, erode due to a lack of investment.
Originally Posted by Rural in 2008 with the following commentary.....

A few things really struck a chord when I first read this report, most that the senators “got it” and did understand the challenges facing rural residents and communities. This was best outlined by the Guiding Principals that are proposed as a guide to future policy decisions.
Respecting rural diversity, help those who help themselves, one size does not fit all, Rural Canada doesn’t want to be urbanized, there is no Magic Bullet. Then further in some of the observations reinforce that they really got to the nuts and bolts of the issue.

One such thing was Rural Transportation.
The fact that for rural Canadians ownership of a vehicle is a necessity, there is no other option, even for those in a small village where there may still be a local store trips to town will still be necessary for health and government services, banking, etc. And there is no public transportation even on major routes throughout rural areas, so fill up that car with gas. As for our youth (or for that matter any of us) holding down a job (if we can find one), a reliable vehicle is simply a must. A part time, minimum wage job in town is not an option, the cost to drive into town for 3 or 4 hours is as great if not greater than the take home!

Another item was the need for Rural businesses.
With the ever increasing pressure from the multinationals even small operations in town are finding it hard to compete, imagine then how hard it is to make a go of it in less populated areas. Out here in the “boonies” we have much lower expectations than the “big boys” but we still have to make enough to live and must try and keep our small businesses going so that everyone does NOT have to drive to town for every little thing or service.

These and several other things convinced me that they clearly saw the problems. But as for the solutions proposed I remain unconvinced. More government departments and bureaucracy will do nothing to change things, I do think that their core suggestion of a Rural Affairs Minister at the cabinet table would at least give us a little more “clout” when decisions are being made that affect the “rural minority”. The gradual removal of government services from small town Canada must stop however, and yes, by all means let us move some of those steady, well paying government jobs to rural areas. We do have telephones out here you know and empty school buildings looking for tenants! Those help lines to India or some “central” switchboard in Toronto would work just as well in just about any rural community.

From my point of view it was a good report that clearly outlined some of the problems and offered some possible solutions, I am less optimistic about the report actually making any difference to government policy, be it with this particular bunch of arrogant partisans or any other of our elected representatives.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sites of Interest

Rather than have a blogroll and long list of other web sites cluttering up my front page I have created this post which I will edit as necessary to update my preferred sites. A permanent link to it will be placed in the sidebar. This allows me the room to describe each site for you, something that rural users with slow connections will find particularly useful in avoiding sites with “heavy” front page content that turn out to be of no real interest to the reader.
Note to Bloggers and Webmasters:- Please keep your home page “light” and avoid high rez pictures and video on the main page. Give us guys with dial up a chance to read your stuff without having to wait 10 minuets for your page to load. Put the “heavy” stuff on a link if at all possible!

Favorite Blogs. (in no particular order!)

Im Political
One of the best political commentary by a blogger in Canada, posts daily.

Runesmith
Another fine political commentary from Hamilton, Ontario.

Senator Elaine McCoy Hullabaloos
One of our Senators joins the blogging community!

Shane Jolley (Ontario Greens)
Shane kindly invited me to post on his blog some time ago, hope he does not regret it!

The Agenda - The Agenda Blogs
Part of TV Ontario’s web site, home of The Agenda hosted by Steve Pakin. (dialuppers have patience)

The Galloping Beaver
A collaboration of several great bloggers, a daily must for political junkies. (Text comes up first so read whilst waiting for pics)

The Green Corner
Monique from BC blogs about permaculture & sustainability.

Progressive Bloggers
A great aggregator of progressive blogging posts.

Canadian Green Bloggers
An independent aggregator for Green bloggers

Government and Democracy.

Harpocracy.ca —
One of the many sites counting Harpers record of misdeeds.

The Harper Index
More of the same about more of the same!

Elections Canada On-line
Just so you can see how few Canadians really care, did not vote, or voted against democracy.

Vive Le Canada
Home of the fight against integration and harmonization with the U.S. Much information on NAFTA and SPP if you dig deep.

Canadian Electoral Reform
A site exclusively about just that and why we desperately need some changes in out electoral system.

Democracy Watch (Canada)
A excellent site for information upon the attacks on democracy from within and without our parliamentary system.

Rural life & related information.

Birds of North America - Whatbird.com
If you don’t have a good bird identification book try this site (dialuppers have patience)

Ontario Wildflowers
A nice selection of pictures to identify wildflowers (dialuppers have patience)

LandOwner Resource Centre
A wonder source for landowners wanting more information on the care and upkeep of their forests and more.

Ontario Wildflowers - Home Page
One of the best privately created identification sites, includes trees, shrubs, grasses, and much more.

Nature Trails
Take a wander in the woods of the Klondike Hills.

Bruce and Grey Counties.

Bruce County Maps
Part of the Official Bruce County web site, links to more information about our area.

Maps of Grey County
Part of the Official Grey County web site, links to more information about our area.

Rural Gardens of Grey and Bruce Counties
A guide to the many Rural Gardens open to visitors in Grey Bruce, a must visit for those touring the area.

Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory
Situated in a lighthouse on the cliffs above Georgian bay staff and volunteers track our local bird population.

Owen Sound Field Naturalists - Welcome!
Promoting awareness of out flora and fauna members strive to protect our natural heritage.

Wiarton, Ontario - Forecast - Environment Canada
The best site to go to for accurate local weather both current and future.

The Owen
Owen Sound local news and views.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Energy use or energy waste?

In response to a post here http://www.albertasenator.ca/hullabaloos/?article&283&comment I posted the folowing, I intend to expand upon this theme as time and inspiration allow........

There is indeed much that those of us who do believe that human activity is indeed in large part responsible for climate change, there is little we can say to the deniers that will change their opinion. We am fortunate in being able to be more “sustainable” in our lifestyle in that we open and manage 30acres of bush under a Managed Forest plan and can therefore burn wood rather than oil to heat our home which was built in large part with pine from our own trees and “recycled” materials from deconstructed buildings. Given that the economic downturn and restructuring has just caught up with us in the form of permanent lay offs I look on it as an opportunity to be even more energy conscious.

When considering this subject it is the commercial and industrial sector that get my dander up. Consider this next time you go shopping in one of those mega stores or for that matter your average grocery store or mall. Never mind the heating cost or the acres of paved over soil or the miles the goods traveled to get there, just count the number of lights that are on from early morning till late evening. Each 4 lamp 8’ fixture consumes around 300 to 400 watts depending upon the efficiency of the fixture and the type of lamp, typically in a small store one row is the equivalent to leaving your electric stove on all day! Then drive away from that store at night and consider all the electric signs on the front of the buildings downtown or elsewhere, do you think there is room for some energy saving here?.

Yes we have to start somewhere and I applaud those that make the substantial lifestyle change and investment in going off grid, but even that contribution is minuscule compared with what our commercial sector could and should be doing. Make a statement by shopping at your farmers market, your locally owned corner store, your owner operated small business and other nearby and less invasive and energy hungry operations.

Additional Note – For those not “tuned in” burning wood is carbon neutral over the period it took to grow an burn the fuel (generally abt 20 – 50 yrs), the same is true of fossil fuels by the way, it just that the carbon is sequestered over thousands of years, if not millions, is released within a few decades! (Wood also naturally releases its carbon as it rots on the forest floor so we, by burning it, merely accelerate the process by a few years.)

It is now illegal to have an “open” fire other than between late evening and early morning within many areas of Ontario. I guess I am now a criminal! I regularly cook outdoors on a WOOD fired BBQ during the day, French Toast on the BBQ for breakfast after a hike in the bush is simply a delight that cannot be forgone! Supper is regularly cooked outdoors on a wood fire and is equally enjoyable with regard to both the result and the process.I must assume this is an attempt to reduce the fire, I have no problem with an education program to stop folks from lighting a fire in a situations that may create a hazard or high risk of a grass or bush fire, or even a house fire. I am in fact VERY aware of the risk I take when cooking outdoors, after all I have 30 acres of bush (much of it rather dry pine) of my own, but to make RESPONSIBLE folks criminals because irresponsible folks know no better seems like overkill to me.

It seems it is quite acceptable to run a propane BBQ using a non renewable resource and an open flame (and even use it in town and adjacent to you house) without any problem. But if I put wood (a renewable resource) into the same container it then becomes illegal! What is wrong with this picture?Truth be known, as things stand right now if you are using a fire of any kind for warmth or cooking the municipality, fire marshal, or even Ontario cannot stop you. So make sure you are responsible, be safe, water nearby, clear of any fire hazard, keep it small and keep a HOT DOG (or your food of choice) nearby. Then enjoy and tell the Politically Correct crowd to “take off”.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Raw milk or meat?

A few interesting observations can be found in a recent news article about Mr. Schmidt’s recent conviction on contempt of court charges for failing to stop supplying raw milk to his customers.

“Justice Cary Boswell said his ruling had nothing to do with whether or not people have the right to consume raw milk, but rather whether Schmidt knowingly defied the court order to stop selling it.”
Now whilst I agree with the judge that technically Mr. Schmidt was in contempt of court it should more properly be called contempt of both the food regulations and those enforcing them!
A few extracts may put things in perspective……..

“Selling unpasteurized milk is illegal in Canada because health officials say it can carry salmonella, E. coli and Listeria.”
“Schmidt said milk from his animals is regularly tested and that in 14 years no one who has consumed his products have been made sick. He said a recent series of foodborne outbreaks in Canada bolsters the public's desire for natural products.”

Given recent events at Maple Leaf and at a Barrie fast food outlet one has to wonder why selling “unpasturized” cold cuts is not also banned and exactly how effective such “bans” are in controlling pathogens that are all around us and can be introduced at ANY stage of the food chain. It has been clearly stated that these pathogens CANNOT be fully eliminated from our food so it comes down to what are reasonable and prudent actions to take to minimize the risk.

“The judge agreed Monday, noting that local health authorities had the power to test Schmidt's milk to see if was pasteurized or not, but failed to do so.”
They also have the capability to test for the things that they insist are going to be eliminated by pasteurizing!
It is quite reasonable to require some testing of foodstuffs at all levels of production but it should be a level playing field for all products and organizations. One of the reasons that we now have much of our food shipped miles away to be “processed” at huge packing plants is the difficulty for small suppliers to comply with all the regulations and paperwork required by government. One must also wonder if bringing together such large volume of foodstuffs from many suppliers could in fact make it more difficult to control and track problems with such outbreaks.

In short whilst Mr. Schmidt may have not had much luck in fighting the contempt of court charge I believe he has much ammunition on protecting his (and our) right to make informed choices about what we eat and from what sources it comes. If regulators were to require him to have his herd and product tested regularly and / or clearly label the milk with the fact that it is unpasturized and should be treated as such, this would be reasonable and prudent. However for government to dictate to consumers what they can and cannot consume when the product contains less harmful substances than much of the “processed” foods distributed on store shelves is clearly wrong. That Schmidt said milk from his animals is regularly tested and that in 14 years no one who has consumed his products have been made sick is further food for thought. How many of those “other” product suppliers can truly say that their product has that kind of history.

One final note on this, could it be that those who consume nothing but “processed“ foods and who’s kids never get to “play in the dirt” are doing themselves a disservice by not exposing their immune systems to a range of everyday pathogens. Is this why during a given outbreak some folks fall very ill and possibly die, whist others who have consumed the same contaminated food don’t get sick or get very minor symptoms?