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.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Response to the Beyond Freefall Report. (part 3)

Part 1 and Part 2 of my response to the response were largely negative, in this final post on this I will try and find some positive things to say about the governments various programs and funding outlines contained in this document as difficult as that may be.

Throughout this response the government makes repeated references to The Rural Secretariat and almost all of the new initiatives are “coordinated by” that small department within the Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food. It is my understanding that this department does not deliver or manage any programs themselves but is “responsible for developing partnerships with federal, provincial, territorial and rural stakeholders” and “works with government departments & agencies …. to explore mechanisms to … coordinate federal government programs….”

There are two point here, firstly you can only “coordinate” programs that exist or are being developed and such programs specifically aimed at rural Canada seem to be in short supply.

Secondly the senates recommendation that the “Government create a new Department of Rural Affairs which would assume and expand on the responsibilities currently assigned to the Rural Secretariat.” Was met with this statement:-
“The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food was assigned specific responsibility for coordinating rural development and enhancing the quality of rural life.”

In other words NO new Department of Rural Affairs, its all up the Minister! It then goes on to basically say that the Minister is “supported by” the Rural Secretariat, nothing specific is said about recommendations “that all memoranda to Cabinet include the Rural Secretariat’s analysis of the policy or program’s likely impact on rural Canada”

The Secretariat did however get “$45.6 million over four years ….. to continue its work”.

The Senates recommendation that the “government provide stable, long-term
funding to the Co-operatives Secretariat and the Co-operative Development Initiative.” Seems to have been met with some success in that “funding for CDI had been renewed and enhanced through to March 31, 2013 with a $19.1 million investment” It should be noted however that the Co-op’s supported by this initiative include housing co-ops (CDI has supported a number of co-operative housing projects over the years) and that the “Agricultural component of CDI, put in place in 2006” provided support to (only about) “60 new and emerging value-added agricultural co-ops” of the over 1500 co-op projects supported since 2003.

This in my view is one area that has enormous potential for the rural communities to enhance their economy and sustainability. Local co-ops processing local goods and employing local residents should be strongly encouraged and supported by all levels of government.
The senate specifically addressed rural TRANSPORTATION infrastructure and recommended that the “federal government should study how to coordinate existing rural transportation services into a flexible network …… and provide extra transportation services to rural citizens. The Governments response largely referred to generalized infrastructure funds available to municipalities across Canada including the “Building Canada Plan” the “GTF” (Gas Tax Fund). Nothing was said specifically about rural transportation issues or funding.

This funding to municipalities is indeed one of the better things coming out of this government and no doubt each municipality will use it as they see fit to benefit the “infrastructure” in their community. There is however a BIG gap in transportation infrastructure left by these programs and that is transportation outside of, and between, small towns and cities across Canada. Many of those in rural Canada have recently lost what for many was the ONLY means other than by private vehicle to travel to the nearest large urban area where all the services are increasingly being “centralized”.

The inter city (Greyhound and others) bus service may well need to be subsidized to keep running in some areas and given the recent initiatives by many larger communities to “get people out of their cars and on to public transportation” one would think that both Federal and Provincial governments would do so. In that such services cross municipal boundaries it is all but impossible for such support to come from individual municipalities, that previous governments allowed the sell off of our rail corridors now seems like a lost opportunity for modern intercity links.

There is lots more but I said in the last post that I would keep it short so I will make no further specific comments but will say that although I was very impressed with the Senate report I was singularly unimpressed with the governments response to it. It appears to me to be largely a document promoting existing programs (some going back 5 or more years), the 2009 budget of which so much was temporary “stimulus” and the contention that many of these issues are “not their problem” and should be addressed by other levels of government. I can see little new or good coming out of this response!

At last check a copy of this report still cannot be found on either the Parlimentry site or the Rural Secretariat site (it appears their efforts to make a text available there are being frustrated) it can however be found at Govresponse_ruralpov_eng_final.pdf

Friday, December 18, 2009

Fossil of the Year

We interrupt our series on our governments response to rural issues to highlight yet another area where we have been totally let down by our leaders.

"This afternoon, Canada was awarded the Colossal Fossil, a dubious honour given to the country that has accumulated the greatest number of Fossil of the Day awards. The latter is a shaming award recognizing the most obstructive countries at the negotiations on a daily basis."

“After snagging an impressive ten Fossil Of The Day awards, Canada has managed to attain the prestigious "Colossal Fossil" designation in Copenhagen. Canada wins Fossil of the Year, for the second year in a row.”

Meanwhile our PM is no where to be seen, not surprising given the ever decreasing respect that Canada is receiving from delegates and citizens at home and abroad on this issue.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Response to the Beyond Freefall Report. (part 2)

As promised I have studied the governments specific response for a number of recommendations contained in the Senate report “Beyond Freefall: Halting Rural Poverty”. Below is the synopsis of those particular recommendations that caught my eye back in June of 2008. For the sake of brevity and clarity the text of the response has been heavily edited, those that want to read the full text should go to the Rural Secretariats web site. My comments are in italics!

Even though I have only addressed a few issues it is a long post, I hope you will take the time to wade through it, reading the full report and response will take even more patience!

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.

Government Response - Service Canada provides one-stop, integrated service across delivery channels such as telephone, Internet, mail, and in-person……
SC has, on a very limited basis, piloted partnerships with provincial counterparts, such as Service Ontario………
Canada Post also provides an important federal presence in rural Canada ………
In response to the recommendation to expand the range of services offered by rural post offices, Government departments and agencies may make arrangements with Canada Post to deliver services to Canadians through rural post offices.

In other words what you see is what you get! “Departments MAY make arrangements” not SHALL or are ENCOURAGED to! As for SC good luck with that if you need to produce documentation or require face to face help in rural areas! The use of existing rural infrastructure, be it federal or provincial, schools or post offices, to provide a location to provide services to the rural community (even on a part time or occasional basis) is a recommendation that makes so much sense that it should be a “no brainer”.

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.

Government Response - It is important to note that 60 per cent of Core Public Administration positions are already located outside of the National Capital Region

So if its not in Ottawa it must be rural?? A “Regional Center” in Toronto does little for the residents of Owen Sound or Goderich, or the many rural towns and villages across 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…………..

Government Response - Changes were made to the second year of Canadian Farm Families Options Program, as a result, $230 million was redirected to other agricultural priorities……..
The Income Tax Act contains provisions that benefit small businesses, including farm operations……..

Seems like another Non Answer to me!

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.

Government Response - Environment Canada (EC), and other federal and provincial departments are evaluating the efficiency of a range of innovative mechanisms to enhance Ecological Goods and Services , such as tradeable permits, conservation easements, enhancements of environmental farm plans, and market-based instruments such as water quality trading and auctions.

Water Quality trading and auctions?? Market Based instruments?? Tradeable Permits??
Sounds like another one of those “if you don’t want to clean it up you can buy your way out schemes!

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.

Government Response - In Budget 2007, the Government made a series of investments in Canadian watersheds including:
$12 million over two years to support the clean-up of Lake Simcoe;
$11 million over two years to accelerate the clean-up of eight Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes Basin under the Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality agreement;
$7 million over two years to support federal leadership in advancing the clean-up of Lake
Winnipeg; and
$5 million over two years to the International Joint Commission for further study of the Great Lakes and outreach on water quality with the U.S.

The provinces and territories are the main authorities managing water resources in Canada.
The Government of Canada is responsible for drinking water provisions in areas of federal jurisdiction (First Nations, national parks, national defence), aquatic ecosystem protection, including for fish and wildlife habitat and species at risk; marine navigation; and formal agreements for managing water resources between provinces, and between Canada and the United States.

The Government of Canada is investing in the protection of our watersheds under the Action Plan for Clean Water and is evaluating the effectiveness of a range of watershed management instruments to ensure that they can demonstrate measurable results.

OK, I will give then this one but will have to see what this “Action Plan for Clean Water” is! But nothing about “help organize and fund efforts to develop watershed agreements between urban communities and major stakeholders”

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.

Government Response - The Government is pleased to report that the HSP is funded on a stable basis through the Government’s Species at Risk Program. It is supported by government annual appropriation funding and is being supplemented by additional funding until 2011-2012.

I will have to give them this one also although I do wonder if “stable funding” means the same thing to government as is does to those administering the programs.

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……………..

Government Response -The Government is investing $2.2 billion over 9 years to help develop the Canadian biofuels industry. ……..
As the Canadian renewable fuels strategy is implemented, there will be benefits to biofuels development for rural economies including new jobs and new market opportunities for farmers………
Analysis conducted within AAFC estimated that to meet the renewable fuel mandate, about 8,700 jobs (direct and indirect) would be created in Canada with an expected average of about 334 jobs per 100 million litres of biofuels production capacity developed. …….
This integrated approach makes it difficult to evaluate the strategy solely based on its impact on rural communities…..

So much for the “thorough assessment” sound like its all decided and that the impacts upon rural communities, or for that matter the viability of using arable land to grow food for cars rather than people, comes secondary.

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………..

Government Response -The Government’s legislative and regulatory base protects consumers’ and producers’ rights while maintaining high standards for a safe, fair, and secure trading system. This includes putting in place devices to better identify importers, track imports, and work with foreign authorities to verify the safety of foods at their country of origin.

For local organic growers to enter the market, compliance with either provincial or federal regulations may be required. The Government is supporting producer access by making the Canada General Standard Board’s Organic Production Systems - General Principles and Management Standards (CGSB 310 Standard) and the Permitted Substances List publicly accessible.

Through a system of product and labelling certification, consumers can have confidence the products they purchase are organic and Canadian producers of organic products can have confidence that products offered in the market meet the principles of organic production. An organic equivalency arrangement with the United States is also now in place. With this arrangement, importers of organic products from the United States are required to meet the terms of this arrangement, contributing to a level playing field.

Lots here about regulations but nothing about making it easer for small local producers to enter the market or to comply with all those regulations! Support is making the regulations “publicly accessible”? Should they not be anyway? I am not sure whether “equivalency arrangement with the United States” help or hinder our small producers.

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.

Government Response - The Government of Canada appreciates the recommendation of the Committee regarding incentives for sustainable forestry management practices on private woodlots through the Income Tax Act. The Government of Canada notes that owners of commercial woodlots …… may already benefit from tax measures………

In other words the appreciation does not extend to actually doing anything and non commercial wood lot owners in particular are on their own in this regard!

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.

Government Response - Municipalities have significant flexibility to use the (GTF) funding to address their infrastructure priorities. The federal GTF doubled on April 1, 2009 from $1 billion to $2 billion per year …….. (and) will become permanent beyond 2014 at $2 billion per year nationally……….
(The) 100% rebate of the Goods and Services Tax paid by communities …….. , The Communities Component of the Building Canada Fund …………
Federal, provincial and territorial transportation Ministers maintain a forum, the Council of Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety to discuss transportation issues. Any jurisdiction wishing to discuss transportation in rural areas may raise this issue at the Council and propose to other jurisdictions possible initiatives for study.

OK so funding from various programs is available to all municipalities across Canada but what off specific help with coordination and funding of RURAL transportation issues?

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 should} automatically calculate an individual’s eligibility for existing and future tax benefits……..

Government Response - The CRA has introduced several measures to simplify the application process and automatically calculate benefit entitlements. Taxpayers that file their T1 Income Tax and Benefit Return are deemed to have applied for the GST/HST credit, even if they forget to tick the “Yes” box ….
The CRA deliveries of provincial and territorial programs harmonize a client’s application and filing requirements. By using …. information already collected at the federal level, recipients do not need to apply separately…..

The CRA has recently introduced ….. an integrated Canada Child Benefits Application registration option presented to an applicant ….during the birth registration process. (The) applicant’s registration information (is sent) to the CRA for eligibility determination.

So again very little new, seniors must still apply for OAS and supplements, if you miss a deduction to which you are entitled you may or may not have your return corrected. Rarely are we directly informed of new programs that may be of benefit to us. The amount spent on telling Canadians “we have a plan, we have a plan” would easily allow the government to give us all monthly updates on changes to tax rules, support programs, and the like. God forbid that we should be subject to an influx of actual real information!

RECOMMENDATION 7-6: The committee recommends that the federal government extend eligibility for its charitable income tax credit to bulk donations of food items………

Government Response - Corporations are allowed to deduct the fair market value of charitable donations (including bulk donations of food items and other gifts of inventory) up to a prescribed limit expressed as a percentage of the corporation’s income for the year.

The federal government does not impose an excise tax on imported food goods. In addition, there is no Goods and Services Tax/Harmonized Sales Tax (GST/HST) on basic groceries (imported or domestic).

Seems like the Senate Committee begs to differ, I cannot say which is true. It seems to me that the GST/HST should not be charged on ALL foodstuffs. This one is very topical with the demand at food banks up substantially and the donations to fill that need down substantially.

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.

Government Response - The provision of elementary/secondary school services is an area of provincial and territorial jurisdiction, with the exception of elementary/secondary education for First Nation students living on-reserve, where the Government has responsibility under the Indian Act.

What a cop-out, as with the issue of providing services via our rural post offices our rural schools could well provide a venue for providing federal and provincial services to the surrounding community. School locations are generally in use less than 30% of the time but are rarely used for community functions. Federal and Provincial governments cooperating to provide evening or summer adult learning, tax seminars, passport application opportunities etc etc in our school facilities would not only make access easer but (unless unfunded at that level) provide much needed financial support for our rural schools.


My biggest disappointment with this response is the total lack of SPECIFIC answers to the very specific and well received recommendations made by the Senate Committee. It is in my view a total waste of time and by-enlarge just a regurgitation of information that we (and the Senate) already knew, with little commitment to actually adopting any of the recommendations.

In part 3 I will try and take a deeper look at those recommendations not covered here. Hopefully in a shorter post, but as in waiting for this response from our government, don’t hold your breath!
Update Dec 20 2009 - Whilst a copy of this report still cannot be found on either the Parlimentry site or the Rural Secretariat site it can be found at Govresponse_ruralpov_eng_final.pdf

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Response to the Beyond Freefall Report. (part1)

The Government of Canada recently responded the report of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, Beyond Freefall: Halting Rural Poverty, adopted by the Senate on June 18, 2009. Twenty-nine departments, agencies and Crown corporations contributed to the Government Response, giving careful consideration to the report's 68 recommendations.

Regular readers will know that I along with many others including municipalities from across Canada have praised this report both for its coverage of the issues and its recommendations. Full report here. I wish I could report that the government has acted upon these recommendations however from what I can see the response is largely a bit of PR for their much flaunted “Economic Action Plan” which by their own definition is a “temporary stimulus” and thus hardly addresses the real need for ongoing changes in rural support mechanisms.

A quick scan of this report reveals over 50 references to either the “Economic Action Plan” or “Budget 2009” each saying this is what we have done, unfortunately few of these things in said budget are specifically aimed at rural communities but are broader based “initiatives” from which those communities may receive some benefit. Much of the 2009 budget was dedicated to temporary stimulus measures and presumably will be discontinued in short order. The specific recommendations by enlarge do not seem to have been addressed. In short this seems to be a bit of PR writing intended to make it look like a lot has been done without actually doing anything!

One of the thing I find interesting is that there are several references to existing programs such as “In Budget 2003, the Government allocated $85 million over five years ” and “Funding over three years (2005-08) to…” leaving me to ask, “so what, this is going to help us how?” The words “the Government will” do appear a total of 7 times but 5 of those simply say “The Government of Canada will continue to work with” this agency or that one. I would bloody well hope so, that is after all your job, to work will all agency’s for the betterment of our population! Also of interest given this governments propensity to beat its own drum and the references to the “Action Plan”, is that nowhere in this document do the words “The Harper Government” appear. Could it be that they are not too proud of this one?

In June 2008 I said “From my point of view it was a good report (from the Senate) 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.”
As you may gather by now that I am not really impressed by this “response” there may be a few specks of gold in there somewhere but I have yet to find them. Many of those recommendations were more to do with non monetary support and changes to process to let us build our own economy and support systems back up, but these issues have received little attention.

Stay tuned, over the next week or two I will go though it clause by clause comparing it to the Senate recommendations, starting with those that I highlighted in my initial reaction to the Beyond Freefall report. If you wish to read this response you will have to contact the Rural Secretariat and ask for a copy. I am told they are “working on” providing an online copy but that the “government web 2.0 rules” are slowing this process down!

Update Dec 20 2009 - Whilst a copy of this report still cannot be found on either the Parlimentry site or the Rural Secretariat site it can be found at Govresponse_ruralpov_eng_final.pdf

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Some lead some follow…

"The White House said the president had discussed the state of the negotiations (UN summit on climate change in Copenhagen) with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown." BBC news

He would not need to consult PM Harper as he knows that Canada will just follow along with whatever the U.S. decides! With Obama “delaying” his attendance expect some changes in schedule from our Poopy dog.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

HST Protest & Sit in.

This from Owen Sound Radio News
“It has been a long night for Bruce Grey Owen Sound MPP Bill Murdoch as the Opposition continues to protest the HST. Murdoch and fellow Progressive Conservative Randy Hillier refused to leave the Ontario legislature yesterday (MON) and spent the night in the Chambers.
Murdoch was the first to be ordered out for calling the Premier a liar over the 13 per cent harmonized sales tax. But Murdoch wouldn't budge -- and other Tories came to his side to block any attempt to remove him.

(As a result of this) Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said the public would be able to comment this Thursday, but in Toronto -- and Murdoch says that is not good enough. “

Whilst some have decried the disruption of the legislature caused by the opposition Conservatives over this I want to publicly thank Bill for his effort. When a government becomes so arrogant as to ram through legislation without any effort to compromise, or in this case until now refuse to hold ANY public hearings, then the opposition is perhaps to be forgiven for “less than parliamentary” behavior. It matters not whether the government is a liberal one or a conservative one, a provincial one or a federal one, when they reach the point where they will not even ATTEMPT compromise and completely ignore requests for input from the general public on such an important issue as this, then they represent “the people” not rule them!

Well done Bill, you have listened to your constituents and acted in their best interests as you always do. “Callers to Bayshore Broadcasting (open line) overwhelmingly supported what Murdoch was doing at the Legislature to try and force the Provincial Government to hold public hearings on the HST outside of Toronto.”
I may not support your party but as one of the few politicians who truly tells it like it is and actually represents the people you serve I fully support you and your actions.

Note Bill “came to an agreement with the speaker” and left the chamber to “go home for a shower” after 2 days of protest. He is now not allowed back in the chamber until the next throne speech whenever that may occur. Given the amount of notice that the Provincial Liberals have been taking of the opposition and the general public of late ALL our MPs could be banned with little or no impact upon the daily regime.

Sorta reminds me of the situation in Ottawa. Democracy, what’s that?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Our Government at work – or not!

This from an article in the British newspaper The Guardian web-site written by George Monbiot should be of significant concern to every person in Canada. The article, entitled: Canada's image lies in tatters. It is now to climate what Japan is to whaling is a scathing indictment of Canada's horrid position and reputation when it comes to climate change, pollution, and action to curb an impending global environmental catastrophe. Its hard to disagree with him!

"When you think of Canada, which qualities come to mind? The world's peacekeeper, the friendly nation, a liberal counterweight to the harsher pieties of its southern neighbour, decent, civilised, fair, well-governed? Think again. This country's government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee's tea party. So amazingly destructive has Canada become, and so insistent have my Canadian friends been that I weigh into this fight, that I've broken my self-imposed ban on flying and come to Toronto.

So here I am, watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petro-state. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this transition is the brutalisation of the country, and a government campaign against multilateralism as savage as any waged by George Bush.

Until now I believed that the nation that has done most to sabotage a new climate change agreement was the United States. I was wrong. The real villain is Canada. Unless we can stop it, the harm done by Canada in December 2009 will outweigh a century of good works." Read full article by clicking here....

Also see his plea to Canadians in today’s Globe and Mail: Please, Canada, clean up your act

T/H to Larry Hubich and Chris Tindal

Friday, November 27, 2009

On No Work & Blank Screens

A couple of updates to recent posts….

The Recession is over …. NOT!

If you thought the July & August figures were discouraging try these on for size.

In Ontario, the number of EI recipients more than doubled in 10 of its 41 large centres between September 2008 and September 2009. In the southern part of the province, Hamilton and Kitchener saw the fastest increases in the number of beneficiaries. In Hamilton, the number of EI recipients rose from 4,800 to 10,400, while in Kitchener, the number increased from 3,900 to 8,400. At the same time, the number of EI recipients in Toronto rose from 46,300 to 86,600.
The full report is here


More on that Broadcast / Cable fight!

“Fee for carriage is only part of the story, as broadcasters are also seeking to: block U.S. signals; leave some Canadian communities without over-the-air television; and delay the transition to digital television transmission until 2013.”

“The broadcasters also confirmed some Canadian communities will lose their over-the-air signal as part of the transition from analog to digital. For decades, Canadian broadcasters have used spectrum to transmit over-the-air analog broadcast signals; estimates indicate 10 per cent of Canadians still rely on over-the-air TV signals.”

“The broadcasters are not willing to invest in digital transmitters for all communities, leaving residents of Kingston, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and Kelowna (among others) without over-the-air signals. Moreover, the broadcasters admit they will not be able to complete the transition by the Aug. 31, 2011 deadline. “

From The Toronto Star -Broadcasters want more

T/H to Blast Furnace Canada

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rose Coloured Glasses

I recently heard Elizabeth May once again repeating the anti nuclear message of the Green Party calling nuclear power “a sink hole” regarding money. Its hard to disagree with that, but what are the alternatives? In the same interview Ms May promoted wind power as one of the alternatives but given that wind power projects are receiving several times the price per Kwh than are “conventional” powers sources, is this any less of a sinkhole? I note that one recent solar project just coming on line is getting 40c per Kwh (guaranteed for some years) for its output whilst the current price for “conventional” is less than 20% of that! What price are you prepared to pay for what may be an unreliable source of power? Whilst many of us in rural areas can (at considerable capital cost) become somewhat self reliant, how many apartment dwellers in the city have any viable alternatives? Are you ready to pay 5 times as much for the same amount of hydro, are you prepared to buy “dirty coal” power from the U.S. when wind and solar cannot keep up? The questions are many and the answers are not easy but those rose colored glasses seem to be obscuring many folks view of the future!

As someone who believes that we must indeed embrace new technology and move away from old polluting methods of hydro generation I never the less have great difficulty in the “ra, ra wind and solar is the answer” crowd who have yet to satisfy my question as to where does the power come from on a cold, dark, windless night.
Do you prefer damming of rivers, run of river generation, gas fired generation, clean coal, or some other form of generation each of which comes with its own problems, opponents and supporters. I know, I know, conservation is a big part of this debate and I agree with those that say we are wasteful but we must be REALISTIC in our desire to improve things. Just because due to the “downturn” and the closure of many manufacturing plants demand has recently reduced we cannot expect the demand for hydro to remain low, the electric car is coming, the hydrogen car (requiring hydro to generate hydrogen) is coming, hopefully industry (even producing wind turbines and the like) is coming and all these things will require power. Very few of these “requirements” will be limited to a sunny or windy days so get real folks, wind and solar is a great PART of our hydro supply but we still need a great deal of base supply that we can rely upon.

One thing I will agree with Elizabeth on, and that is the need to reduce the impact of wind farms upon our rural communities, this is a case of where the few are bearing the brunt of the move to wind power - to benefit the many (mostly urban) users. The use of more “offshore” installations makes a great deal of sense to me, less impact upon individuals (particularly rural individuals), all but eliminates the visual pollution across the countryside and places them where generally the wind is the greatest. Of course the usual objections will come from both the “developers” re cost and the “environmentalists” re wildlife but each and every means of generation and each and every location for said project will have the same consideration. Is the heath and welfare of a nearby family any less important than that of the birds, fish or other wildlife that will be affected in varying degrees by each and every wind turbine, solar array, power plant or hydroelectric installation? Its where we each find the balance acceptable is the question and it is important that we do so in a logical way based upon ALL the information not upon one-sided “spin” from one group or another.

That’s my view, many will not agree, some will call me “not green”, but the debate must continue without those “rose colored glasses”!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Getting the Rural Vote - Some Issues

Recently a fellow blogger asked me “what can (governments or partys) do to get the rural vote”? Having been blogging myself about rural issues for some years now I was surprised to find that I did not have a substantive answer ready in regard to either federal or provincial jurisdictions.

Before going much further I must make clear that the rural population is no less divided in our preferred choices of government than the urban population, we may in fact be more divided in that the mere definition of “rural” perhaps covers a much broader range of “lifestyles” and situations than does the definition of “urban”. I will try and answer the question above at a later date, it will of course be a personal view and cannot represent what all the “rural” citizens may want or think. In the meanwhile my best response is to give readers a crash course in some of the issues that effect us here in the cities, towns, villages and countryside that comprise a “rural” riding. I will do this not by regurgitating information and opinions posted elsewhere but by pointing you to each of those articles along with my reaction to them in various posts over the last two or three years.

The first question is “What is Rural”, a question I have previously attempted to answer (unfortunately that piece has disappeared into electronic hell) and a question asked by many other including in some of the reports below. It is a very difficult definition to pin down with as many views upon it as there are writers!

One of the best outlines of rural needs is “The Senate Report on Rural Poverty” and my reaction to it. It covers a great deal more than just “poverty” issues and says that Rural Canada “lacks a voice” in the Federal Government.

Also of interest is the report on “ The Federal Role in Rural Sustainability” and my post on that.

A National Symposium on How to Build a Sustainable Rural Canada was held in Edmonton my post reflects the theme of One Vision, Many Voices at that gathering.

My view that rural populations are rapidly becoming “The Forgotten Minority” may be worth a read.

The ever increasing rules and regulations to be followed by food processing operations that make small operations non-viable impact the rural areas more than most. Farm “value added” operations are becoming ever harder to start or maintain.

Also of interest a discussion on property taxation and how a small municipality with a limited tax base cannot compete with a larger one in regard to providing services to their citizens.

The move by the Ontario government to reduce the need for environmental assessments for “Wind Farms” and the impact they may have upon rural residents heath and property values is a big issue in some areas. Overriding residents and local municipal concerns to benefit mostly urban hydro users is not acceptable.

Then there is the other side of that coin where property owners can be negatively impacted by the EPA without compensation for their work to preserve a species or loss of land use arising from such action.

I will try in a future post to bring all these things together in a more concise overview but if you have visited just a few of these links you will begin to see the difficulty in answering that question we started with. At this point it would seem that the best answer is to move “universal services” such as ambulance, policing, social services etc off the municipal government (but maintain and improve those services) and give more local say in what can be locally unique issues like land use, small industry regulation and environmental protection.

As is recommended in that Senate report, the use of local Post Offices to supply Government Services would do much to make rural folks life easer, this sort of initiative should also be considered for our rural schools which are also once again under threat of closure and “centralization” in the name of “efficiency”. Our rural schools have in fact been under almost constant “review” since my children started in the school system 20 years ago resulting in the gradual decline in the number of local schools and the ever increasing time our kids must spend on the bus each day.

You will note that I have made no effort here to separate the various levels of government responsibility, it is rather difficult to do so when responsibilities for delivery, funding and regulation is so often a mix of two or more government bodies.

I will end with one recommendation from the report One Vision, Many Voices

”The best ideas about rural Canada come from rural Canadians.Municipalities need to ensure that senior levels of government are listening and not providing solutions in absence of local representation.”

This final Priority is probably the most important, and the one which most rural folks feel strongly about. Made in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton or Ottawa solutions not only rarely work for us but are rarely acceptable or even practical to those living far from the city. Whether we “the rural” residents can agree on what those solutions should be, or get Government to listen, is another whole issue!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The good news is.....

Rick Mercer always gets to the heart of things in his rants, this extract from Oct 13 is worth repeating again …………… and again!

But the good news is, the same guy who said that we could never go into a deficit, now says we will pay off that 60 billion dollars without raising taxes or cutting spending. Imagine for a moment your fiancé comes home and tells you that when you weren't looking he or she dropped 150 grand that you don't have at the casino. Now imagine the same fiancé says, "Don't worry, we'll pay it back without making a single change to our lifestyle: I stand on my financial record." I think piano playing or not, we'd all start looking at other options.

Now don't get me wrong, just to be clear to my Tory friends, I am not saying that I believe Michael Ignatieff is better suited to manage this economy. No. I'm saying that based on the past twelve months, Porky Pig is better suited to manage this economy. Because as it stands right now this country has a 60 billion dollar wake up call coming and for the record, not a single leader has come even close to being honest.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Endangered Species and Landowners

I recently saw that the Ontario Landowner Association had gathered to destroy potential habitat for endangered species on a members farm and whist not advocating such extreme action can certainly see their point. It was I suspect more of a publicity move than a real removal of a critical habitat, after all many farmers grub out fence lines in order to maximize their crop lands and whilst these “corridors” are important to wildlife few contain “endangered species”. Or do they?

There are several things that we need to know about the Endangered Species legislation and the lists of creatures and plants covered by these laws. Firstly there is Provincial and Federal legislation on Species at risk they can be Endangered, Threatened or of Special Concern with corresponding regulations and interventions, the average landowner simply will not have a clue as to what is involved in all this.

“If a species is listed on the Species at Risk in Ontario List as an extirpated, endangered or threatened species, the Bill prohibits killing, harming, harassing, capturing, taking, possessing, collecting, buying, selling, leasing, trading or offering to buy, sell, lease or trade a member of the species. Some of these prohibitions also apply to parts of a member of the species, and to things derived from a member of the species.”

More importantly “If a species is listed on the Species at Risk in Ontario List as an endangered or threatened species, the Bill prohibits damaging or destroying the habitat of the species.”

Secondly a habitat once identified by the MNR or a Conservation officer who feels that it needs “protecting” and the process started, the landowner may have little control over the outcome, hence the publicity stunt by the OLA. Whilst most conservation authorities do encourage cooperation between the landowner and the authorities the bottom line is that private land can be seized, managed or declared a protected area by the authorities WITHOUT compensation to the landowner (in so far as I know or can tell, there is little said on the pages above about the actions that can or will be taken). This seems to be where most of the opposition by more radical landowners comes from.

Lets take a look at one particular “species” that has just been declared in danger and the possible ramifications of that. The Butternut grows in many parts of SW Ontario and is rarely cut down as it is not considered a “valuable” wood by most and has few commercial uses. Carvers and hobbyist do like it when available as it is a soft straight grained wood that is easy to work and polishes to a nice finish, but to say that even a small percentage is cut for sale would be misleading. The Butternut, at least here in Ontario, is susceptible to a fungal disease called Butternut Canker that results in it dieing off before it reaches full maturity, although many do reach a size that in a Maple would be considered a “harvestable” size before doing so. There is little doubt from my observations that the majority of these trees will succumb to the disease and fall to the forest floor eventually, the protection of HEALTHY trees is perhaps necessary and is no doubt the intention of the legislation. The actual regulations however are such that the landowner is dammed if he does and damned if he does not.

At a recent presentation by a conservation officer on tree recognition a piece of butternut log was held up so that participants could see the characteristics of the bark with the remark “it is probably illegal for me to have this”, which started a discussion as to why. None of the participants, which included several woodlot owners, were aware of any restriction regarding this tree, most of us would probably preferred to remain ignorant!

We were told that it was now illegal to cut down ANY butternut tree without a permit, even those that are dead and in danger of falling upon someone or something must be “assessed” by a certified BHA (Butternut Health Assessor) and “approved” for felling. If the darn thing did fall over it was still illegal to cut it up and that the mere ownership of a piece of butternut may well soon be a crime, is this then Canada Ivory! Ridiculous, if its standing there in the spring with the bark peeling off and no leaves on it, its dead folks, we don’t need to retain a forestry consultant to tell us that, and furthermore the wood from such a tree is perfectly usable for the type of projects mentioned above why leave it rot on the forest floor. One would think that the diseased trees should be removed from the woodlot as soon as identified for that is certainly what we are told to do with cankered or diseased trees of other species.

Here are some extracts from one pdf document found regarding this, very few other web sites were found…

“It is the landowner's responsibility to contact a BHA to determine if their Butternut tree is retainable. Even if the tree appears to be dead or dying, it must be assessed by a BHA before removal. If a Butternut tree is removed without a Butternut Health Assessment or without a permit the landowner may be at risk of prosecution under the ESA.”

The information I have at this time (and it may well have changed since it was posed on the web site consulted) says that Butternut MAY be possessed and used provided it comes from a “non retainable tree” i.e. one that has been cut with a permit. Hmmm, how would anyone know which was which?

“A person is entitled to possess any items made from Butternut wood that were legally possessed before the ESA was put into place on June 30, 2008, regardless of the health of the tree the items came from. Any wood from a non-retainable Butternut tree can be used, bought or sold.”

We were the told that “protection of habitat was being considered” for healthy butternut trees and since “Butternut is intolerant of shade” this involved removing all the trees around it to create a clearing, even it would seem for a small sapling. So it seems that if we have one of these trees identified or it self seeds in the surrounding mixed forest we must then start hacking down everything around it, that doesn’t sound like “conservation” to me, particularly when one can find few growing in isolated open areas but many in some mixed forest situations.

Once a tree is identified by an outside agency on a private landowner property he or she may have little choice but to comply with “orders” from the authorities, and if they find other flora or fauna “at risk” you can imagine the possible implications.

It all comes down to this, the protection of species is an important initiative but it cannot be successful without the cooperation of landowners. If even those of us who make an effort to preserve sections of our property in as natural a state as possible are reluctant to even look for “species at risk” for fear of the financial, bureaucratic or land use implications that may result. How then do you expect the farmer who’s whole operation may be put at risk for finding a Lesser Spotted Bureaucrat or some such in the middle of his corn field to react knowing that he will not receive any compensation for losses thus incurred. Truth be known, a scientist closely studying any given piece of land, particularly forested land here in Grey & Bruce has a fair chance of finding something on one of these lists of birds, animals, plants & trees so that many landowners could be impacted at one time or another. The addition of the Butternut to this list increased that probability considerably.

We all benefit from the protection of these things, or at least they are protected on our behalf so we should all pay for such protection, not just the affected landowner. Therein lies the fatal flaw in the “act”!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Deep in debt

With the Ontario Government just releasing their budget forecast with a 25 Billion deficit for this year I was somewhat surprised by the lack of commentary in the blogesphere about this millstone hung around our neck. It is true that most of the blogs and aggregators I visit are left leaning but come on folks NO government should get a free ride on this one. Lets take a few minutes away from the Federal fiasco to look at the Ontario situation, whilst I am sure that some stimulus was in order I am not at all sure that this kind of debt is good for the economy or for Ontarians.

Twenty Five Billion Dollars, that’s abt $5000 per household more being spent than is coming in, of which according to some reports over a third is interest on the provincial dept.

“That's on a $113.7 billion budget, which includes $104.3 billion in spending on programs and $9.4 billion on interest payments to service a provincial debt that has skyrocketed to $137.9 billion.”

My first question on this is where the H are they borrowing the money from? At 9.4b interest on 137.9b debt that’s abt 7%, with prime at ½% I think its about time they renegotiated their mortgage!! The second part of this is that each family not only has that $5000 budget shortfall around their neck but also has a dept of around $27,000 to pay off. Scary isn’t it!

But wait we are not done yet, we cannot forget those federal debts, at an estimated 55.9 Billion Dollars budget deficit that’s about another $4500 per Canadian household in more outgo than income. But wait there is still more, how about the Federal DEBT of around $495 Billion Dollars that adds another $38,000 per household for a grand total of about $75,000 per average household using the 2006 census figures

I wonder how many of us with a debt of $50 or $60,000 and an income almost $10,000 less than our obligations would be able to go out and borrow more on the assumption that we were going to get a better job some time in the next 3 or 4 years!! I also wonder how many employers in this position would not have to lay off some of their workers and cut costs rather than increase their prices. That the government workers unions are already screaming about that possibility shows they are just as out of touch with reality as are our governments.

Ok now I’m even more depressed, think I will go and count my meager savings to see how long I can hold out………….

Sunday, October 18, 2009

How to track that Infrastructure Spending

You cant!


“As a journalist, it’s not my job to tell those people what to think or how to vote.
It is my job, though, to tell them how their government is spending their money, and I can report that the federal government is making it so difficult to do that, that it’s sending me into a black rage.

In order to create a database of federal stimulus spending in Nova Scotia, it was necessary to look at all kinds of different federal websites, all with scraps of information, and then find out from other levels of government how much money was spent on each project and figure out where the shovels were hitting the ground.

In the United States, on the recovery.gov website, you can, in seconds, download exhaustively detailed databases showing where and how stimulus is being spent, who is getting the contracts, for how much, when, and how many jobs are created.

In Canada, on the actionplan.gc.ca site, there’s a map with icons showing where projects are located, but if you click on the icons, you get a popup with a charming picture of what’s his name, our prime minister, but no dollar amount.”

More at http://thechronicleherald.ca/Opinion/1147994.html

H/T to Impolitical

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A word about Workfare

With EI having run out for many I suspect as I said before that the number of folks applying for welfare I workfare will be going up. I recently became aware of one of the things that young folk cannot do if they wish to get assistance from this safety net. Move in with their parents!

It seems that someone in dire circumstances can rent a hovel or a mansion, live with their aunt, uncle, brother, sister, a neighbor, a friend or any one but their parents and receive assistance to pay rent and grocery bills or room and board.
It would seem that their parents could even live with them (provided that they didn’t pay enough rent to build the applicants bank balance above about $550) and still be eligible for help.

How very bizarre. Moving in with parents and paying a small amount to cover costs is not considered to be a person in need, moving in with a brother (and their family) and paying the same amount is considered a person in need! What is even more bizarre is that welfare / workfare payments are based upon costs (with limitations) so that renting an apartment at $500 month and living expenses to maintain that separate existence will be supported whilst living at “home” at less than half that cost will not.

So there you go folks, if your son or daughter who lives at home is unable to find work or laid off and out of unemployment, and therefore unable to contribute to household expenses - kick them out. The government will then pick up the tab instead of straining the perhaps already tight family budget.

I hope you are on good terms with a relation or friend in the same situation because then all you have to do is switch homes and start collecting. Don’t feel guilty for “playing” the system, that seems to be what you have to do in order to get help.

As for actually finding a job and moving on with life…….., good luck with that. Try applying for government jobs because that is where all those “new jobs created” that Harper is boasting about are to be found. Our tax dollars at work.............. enough said!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Telephone woes – talking to India!

As regular readers will know I am stuck on dial up internet at speeds that at times it would be faster to send it by Canada Post. I have learned to tolerate this in that I have little choice but to do so, however when recently the phone once again crapped out entirely, a situation that happens all to frequently, I finally got pissed off enough to spend the hours on the phone required to work my way up through the layers of “service representatives” that stand between Bell Canada’s customers and the folks that are actually responsible for operation and repair of said telephone system. It was not easy let me tell you!

So here is the saga of my telephone / internet woes over the last 5 years or more for your interest and edification!!

Let it be first said that I am at the end of a cable stretching some 5 or 10 miles to the nearest switch station and as such one cannot expect internet speed above 36k, my best achieved speed was 32k last summer, this year it is 28k….. UNTIL IT RAINS! When it rains, or spring or fall as the frost in the ground comes or goes it will gradually decrease until it totally craps out often the voice connection is unusable due to noise and at times it get to the point where we totally loose dial tone. Naturally each time this happens I get on the cell phone and dial 611 “telephone repair”, where upon I am directed to an operator in INDIA who insists upon my identifying myself often with personal information in order to proceed further.

Lets deal with that bit before we continue with the story. In a recent call I was asked for my Bell account number and not having that right in front of me I said “sorry I don’t have that handy” and was then asked for my SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER!! What the HELL, if a operative in INDIA can confirm my identity with my social security number that means it must be available to them, where did they get it, why do they have it and is that not supposed to be secure information? In this case I refuse to do that and made them wait until I had dug out an invoice with my customer number on it, we then proceeded with the call……

In order to try and get to someone who could actually help I decided to call the Bell “customer service” line rather than “telephone repair” and upon explaining my problem (as outlined elsewhere in this saga) requested to speak to a supervisor and upon finally getting said supervisor on the line and once AGAIN explaining my problem it was suggested that I “hold” whilst it could be seen what could be done. Upon return I was told “OK I will transfer you to a repair supervisor”. Great I thought, we are finally getting somewhere but after a short wait, guess what? Yup, you are right, I was connected to the 611 “representative in INDIA. …..SHIT!

Now you must understand that with any where between 2 to 10 calls to 611 each year about the same problem I now am fairly familiar with the “system”. The “representative you first talk to will go through a set procedure consisting of a number of set questions and set warning of costs should it be a problem in your house and not on their system. There is little one can do to shorten this procedure even if you have heard it 50 or 100 times over the years, so settle in for a prolonged conversation before you ever get to the meat of the problem. So, 10 min later I get to report my troubles, phone don’t work, line noisy, no dial tone. In order to try and fix this ongoing problem permanently I request to be connected to a CANADIAN supervisor, preferably a supervisor at least in the area where I reside and one responsible for cable repair. I explain that having talked to many repair technicians over the years the problem is in the bell cable / connection boxes leading from my house to the bell switching station and that unless I can get someone out WHILST IT IS STILL RAINING they will, by the time they get here the fault will have dried out and all will be well.

As an aside here I will say for the most part that the technicians who have responded to my many calls have been helpful and friendly but I recognize that they cannot find a fault that is not there by the time they get out here. The few times that they have located some problems with the line I have been told that it appears the underground cable coming up the road is probably NFG and / or there is water getting into the joints / cable somewhere. Each time this happens the 611 guy escalates it to the “cable guys” who then come out and basically do / tell me, the same thing. Each of the 6 or 8 spare circuits in that cable have been tried at one time or another with only temporary improvement. Next spring, Fall or rain here we go again.

By now you will be just STARTING to understand my frustration! Anyway on with the saga. So having told this long story to the “representative” in INDIA I finally persuaded her to let me talk to her supervisor and after a short wait he came on the line. The first question I asked was where was he located and what was his position in the company. The reply? INDIA, 611 supervisor! So after having gone through the LONG story AGAIN I asked to be connected to a CANADIAN supervisor and was told “that is not possible, we do not have any phone numbers of supervisors or managers in Canada besides which the 611 repair service is run entirely out of INDIA!! At this point I am getting really ticked and after a few more go-arounds establish that the Canadian technicians are dispatched by email directly from INDIA. This was later pretty much confirmed in my conversation with a repair technician who said “ I don’t get to talk with anyone, I am dispatched by email but I don’t really know where (or who) that comes from. Hmmmm, I don’t seem to be getting anywhere here but do eventually agree to have a repair guy come out with instructions to make sure that he comes to my door before proceeding any further so that I can TRY and get a phone number of someone who can resolve this long standing problem and he said he could “send a message” to a Canadian supervisor who would call me within 24hrs.
One note here, what set me off was the fact that I had gone through most of this the day before but the tech who came out DID NOT come see me but sent an AUTOMATED message “we cannot find anything wrong with your line”. Duh, its stopped raining you fkin idiot, did they not tell you that it comes and goes with the weather!!
End of chapter one!

So we are now 24hrs after the SECOND recent call to INDIA and I finally get to talk to a Canadian technician who has received an email dispatch to repair my phone and after explaining the whole story AGAIN to him he tells me he will see what he can find / do and will report back to me. Sure enough his initial testing showed no problem with the phone line but the thank the Lord it started to rain and sure enough the phone line went tilt and he was able to return and say “yes, there is a problem, there are grounds and shorts in the cable and / or connections. Great, thank you, but I already knew that from talking to several other technicians over the years. Now what are we going to do about it?
Step one, he says is to forward it to the “cable guys”, ok that’s been done several time before. What’s next? He indicated that he can do little more being just the guy on the bottom of the totem pole but does give me a number of his “manager” in Toronto (70 miles away), apparently there are no “local” managers or supervisors so that a least explained why I could not get to speak to one! He also told me that there is, in the front of the phone book, a number for when all else fails of the Corporate Office where I am told there is a “knowledgeable secretary” who may well be able to put me in touch with someone who can produce some results or at least explain where to go from here.

Shortly after the tech left the 611 supervisor in Canada, yep that right in CANADA called, having received that “message” from INDIA , unfortunately it was much the same story but he did promise to have a supervisor from “engineering” call me. A while later the “cable guy” called to say that he had checked my line and found and corrected two faults, (during a period of no rain!) one of which (no bonding on cable shield) had been there for a long while, the other being some wires laying against the side of a terminal box and shorting when things got damp. Thank you “Paul” I can but hope you have finally found the problem but only time will tell. Although the cable tested out “perfect” and was “in very good condition” (wonder why the previous guys blamed it on a poor cable coming up the road?) I was still only able to get 29k thru-put but hey, what’s a couple of “k” when an hour ago it was “0”k!! I do wonder however just exactly how much effort and expertise those previous “telephone repair” and “cable guys” put into REALLY finding the problem, has it been “this guys a whiner just check it and carry on it will be ok tomorrow”. The other part is why did I have to get totally pissed off, spent a couple of hours on the phone, talk to numerous “representatives” , “supervisors” , “repair guys” etc etc before getting a permanent (I hope) fix.

One more thing that I learned was that the Repair guy and the Cable guy are not assigned an area in which they work and thus rarely are dispatched to a second, third or 50th call to a particular problem. In that I cannot recall over the last 5 years of calls seeing the same guy twice this would seem to be true, as an electrician in the “service industry” for years I can say that this is at best counter productive and is probably the worst way to solve technical difficulties and enhance customer satisfaction. One of the many technicians that spoke to me over the years said that “if you need a tutorial on how to NOT run a company then work for Bell for a few years” and also “I don’t go grocery shopping in my Bell uniform any more because I don’t want to be shanghaied by dissatisfied customers”. No further comment required!

Meanwhile if your phone goes out have fun talking to BELL INDIA, I for one will not bother, I now have three numbers to call, the “cable guy”, the Toronto “manager”, and the Corporate Office, and none of them are going to like what I have to say if it goes tilt again. Oh yea, and that “engineering supervisor” still hasn’t called back!

There endith the saga of Rural’s telephone woes. Perhaps!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Canadian Postal Service Charter

For those that missed it the Government has just established the Canadian Postal Service Charter to describe its expectations regarding Canada Post’s service standards and related activities in providing services in Canada. For rural residents it’s a good news bad news sort of thing, on universal service they say this:-

“Canada Post will maintain a postal system that allows individuals and businesses in Canada to send and receive mail within Canada and between Canada and elsewhere. Canada Post will provide a service for the collection, transmission and delivery of letters, parcels and publications.”

Regarding rural services specifically they say this:-

“The provision of postal services to rural regions of the country is an integral part of Canada Post’s universal service.”

Which does not mean that rural DELIVERY will not be discontinued or reduced but can mean that MOST will have a postal outlet within a 15 minute drive as per this:-

“Canada Post will provide retail postal outlets, including both corporate post offices and private dealer operated outlets which are conveniently located and operated, so that: 98 percent of consumers will have a postal outlet within 15 km; 88% within 5km and 78% within 2.5km.”

Just to put this in perspective with aprox 80% of our population being urban dwellers the removal of ALL rural Post Offices would not substantially change these percentages!
However the good new is:- “The moratorium on the closure of rural post offices is maintained.”

However that statement is modified by this! “ Situations affecting Canada Post personnel (e.g., retirement, illness, death, etc.) or Canada Post infrastructure (e.g., fire or termination of lease, etc.) may, nevertheless, affect the ongoing operation of a post office.”

And then there is this:- “At least one month before deciding to permanently close, move or amalgamate corporate post offices, Canada Post will meet with affected customers and communities to jointly explore options and find practical solutions that address customer concerns.”

Wow, a whole month to try and change their mind that’s real generous!

As I said it’s a good news, bad news kinda thing. The moratorium on the closure of rural post offices is maintained, sort off, maybe, perhaps, and rural delivery is not even mentioned! Not exactly what I was hoping for. (It also seems that as a cost cutting measure the government has done away with spell check on their word processors as there were multiple spelling / typo errors in the PDF document!)

All in all a rather meaningless document so typical of government!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

EI & Bill C50

There has been a lot of discussion about bill C50 that “Harpers Government” has put forward to try (seems like they succeeded) to get enough support in the house to survive for a short while longer. Not being one to believe either the political partys or the press on the details of such a Bill which has been described by some as “lacking “ I actually read the text of it and was not surprised to find that this is indeed a farce. Those who think this has any kind of lasting effect on EI payments or eligibility should Read the actual wording of the bill

To sum it up, as I understand it, if one established a claim in the last 9 months or does so in the next year AND have NOT had a previous claims exceeding 36 weeks of payment in the last 5 years you would receive up to 20 weeks extra payment up to a maximum of 53 weeks. This amount to be reduced gradually depending upon when your claim is established and reduced to zero after Sep 2010. All this provided that you have paid into the system “at least 30% of the maximum annual employee’s premium” over the last 7 to15 years (also on a sliding scale). A person establishing a claim next August would receive 2 to 5 weeks extra depending upon the above criteria for instance.

It all seems fairly reasonable if one views it as a temporary measure but to call it any kind if EI reform is totally misleading. The other question is exactly what that “at least 30% of the maximum annual employee’s premium” means exactly. Is it 30% of the maximum anyone pays, so does it penalize those who have worked steadily part time for low wages? I cannot see what else they would mean, a worker pays an amount based upon his or her income to an upper limit which many of us never reach but it seems if you haven’t reached 30% of that limit you can have been working steadily struggling to make ends meet with a part time job and possibly not be considered equally in need as a full time employee.

There is no doubt that there needs to be some reform to this insurance system, particularly as the job market changes to provide less full time secure jobs and more temporary, part time or contract jobs, but this is NOT reform but just a political ploy to hang on to power.

The whole thing does not extend beyond Sept 11 2010 and so is a temporary measure.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

EI the numbers …… & the hype!

According to the “economists” and “Harpers Government” the recession is over, they obviously are not out there looking for a full time job. Much hype about 27,000 jobs created in the last month but little about most of those being part time and there still being a deposit in regard to the total # of jobs. The unemployment rate has NOT gone down the latest from statscan (June numbers released Aug 25th) say that over 816,00 Canadians are collecting EI (up from (777,00 in May) and who knows how many who have run out. I suspect the municipalities are going to see a substantial increase in the social assistance rolls this winter. (anyone know of a source for data on that?)

“In August, part-time employment rose by 31,000. Since October, full-time work has dropped by 486,000 (-3.5%), partially offset by increases in part time of 99,000 (+3.1%).”
“The unemployment rate edged up 0.1 percentage points to 8.7%” (9.7% locally)

For those that have a job and have never collected EI I will point out that if over the year previous to collecting EI you were employed part time your benefit period is reduced substantially in addition to the actual payments. This is irregardless to how long you were continually employed or if until recent times that was full time work during which time you paid into the system at the appropriate rate. Further all should be aware that having then run your claim out you will not be eligible for EI again until you have worked the minimum number of hours required (which changes dependent upon the unemployment rate). Your previous work record and payments notwithstanding.

To add insult to injury our “Harpers Government” who robbed the EI fund 2 years ago to make their books look good now are saying that in order to “balance the EI books” that they are going to have to raise the premiums in order to cover the increased number of EI claims over the next couple of years. Wait a minute, didn’t they say the recession was over and what happened to that 52 BILLION transferred from the EI fund to general revenue in 2008?

Canada's employment insurance "surplus" stands at $54 billion (Dec 2007)
“One of the basic questions we have is why is it that this crown corporation has only been set up with a fund of $2 billion, when even the Auditor General of Canada says that what is required for insurance purposes is closer to $10 billion to $15 billion.” Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): HANSARD June 2, 2008

Back in February I said - I expect Ontario numbers to show %100 increase over the previous year in EI benefits being paid out by May (given that the stats are 30 to 60 day behind and payments are delayed by 30 to 60 days on average). In 2006 the annual amount paid out was 12 billion (all of Canada), I’m guessing 5 to 8 billion for Ontario alone this year! I also predict that thing are not going to improve much over the summer and that thousands of these folk are going to be “off the list” by fall and still have no job.

Woops, its “only” at 109% here in Ontario for June (or 118% depending upon which table you look at) year over year!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Reinstate the Rabies Clinics

Recently there has been a least one confirmed case of Rabies found in a local (wild) animal and we should all perhaps make sure our pets are vaccinated BUT with the demise of the annual rabies clinics 2 or 3 years ago I am quite sure that many pets no longer receive regular shots. It used to be that a quick trip to the local veterinarian and $20 would quickly and inexpensively get the job done, now its much more time consuming and much more expensive, no longer can we go to the local vet (in our case a “large animal veterinarian” who participated in the rabies clinic initiative) but must drag into town to a “small animal vet” who charges $100 or more to do what was affordable and now is not for many families in these troubled times.

A call to the local Health Authorities reveals that it is not the County or the MoH that has stopped this “service” but the Veterinarians who have refused to participate. The “excuse” being given is apparently that “we must give the animal a full examination before administering the shot”, strange that this was not necessary until recently! I think perhaps this is just a effort to increase profits, after all I cannot believe that it is in the best interest of either the health and welfare of either the dog or the owners to be forced to shell out what for some is more than a days wages just to get a quick shot in the dogs ass that may prevent the transference of rabies to other pets or to other citizens!

Ok, ok, I can hear the argument “$100 is a small price to pay for the safety of you pet and family” and you are correct, IF that $100 fee does not make the owner decide that the cost outweighs the risk. I simply do not understand why the vets would not put the good of the community before their need for profit. We (the pet owners) all appreciated the 2 or 3 hours that the vets committed to the rabies clinics each year in the past, perhaps we did not let them know that, or perhaps there are other reasons for their decision, but this kind of fee for such a minor shot that protects us all does nothing to increase my already jaundiced view of SMALL animal veterinarians.

All I am saying is don’t piss off my dog….. because she may not be up to date on her shots….. the owner, well he is already pissed off but he does not bite!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A New Green!

Having recently joined the Green Party of Canada and having been invited by Mark of Report on Greens to submit a piece to his blog I thought it might be useful to review why I joined, the things I like about the GPC and the things I have reservations about. As a newbe my point of view is perhaps a little less “partisan” than those more closely involved in the party and will, I hope, assist in bringing the Nine Shades of Green closer to a blend pleasing to all!
That said I find that none of the above 9 shades really describes my feeling about the Green Party, which is I will admit changing daily as I read more information about the official and unofficial policies, the internal politics that seem to be a part any political party and the views of members from the extreme green to the political junkie. This is a process which I have been pursuing for two years or more brought on by conversations with Owen Sound Green Shane Jolley whose mantra of “think local” grabbed my attention and got me investigating what this party was all about.

Firstly I have read the Green Party Vision statements (I have yet to wade through all the policy documents) and generally have no great disagreements with them, my only real reservations being the rather contentious issue of “no nuclear” and the belief that we can supply all our electricity need in this modern society with “renewables”. This is an admirable goal and I suppose fundamental to the green platform, but in my view impractical within the foreseeable future, this view is no doubt coloured by the ever increasing glut of wind turbines littering the countryside in my part of Ontario. That this technology does not produce baseload power 24/7, may have some health and lifestyle impacts for nearby residents (not that other forms of generation do also) and is being bought at far above current market price further adds to my concern that the rush to “green power” is not necessarily all good. The increased use of Hydro electric would go a long way towards reducing the need for nuclear for base load but this is where one shade of green runs head long into the other, witness the ongoing “debate” over run of the river installations in BC. What is best, green power or fish habitat preservation, hydro dams or wetlands….?

But I digress, that debate is fodder for a whole series of articles. This was intended to be more general in nature. There has been much comment both in the MSM and various blogs as to Elizabeth Mays leadership qualities and whether she should be more circumspect in separating her personal opinion from party policy, it is this very honesty of opinion that has me admiring her. Whether that is good for the party I am not sure but it is what has, in part, made ME join the party. Her strong stand for democracy even to the point where at times she has put the protection of Canadian Democracy above the Green Party and most certainly before any leaders objectives was, and is, such a breath of fresh air in Canadian politics that I cannot help but admire her stand. She has brought a much higher profile to the GPC but I understand how some of her remarks (and one wonders how many of them are taken “out of context” by the MSM) may cause some consternation with some greens. Given the many shades of green it is difficult to see how any leader can please all of the greens all of the time, it would seem to be an impossible task. We all know how other party leaders deal with this, stick to the “talking points” and repeat the “party line” adinfinitem, again it is so refreshing to have a political leader who does not treat their audience like a bunch of sheep but speaks TO the listeners not AT them.

As a new member I cannot say much to the internal running of the party for I know little about it other than the views expressed by some bloggers who have expressed concern that the processes have of late have been influenced by “insider” groups without due process. I can only say that as one who believes, as does Ms May, that our very democracy is in peril and that we cannot correct it unless we do so democratically, that must include the internal workings of any party who would propose to take on that challenge. It is not sufficient to do things democratically, to follow any established rules or policies, or to even promote those ideals. They must be seen to be done. Openness and Accountability is the key, we have seen our current politicians spout those words time and time again and then do exactly the opposite, the Green Party appears to be much more open and inclusive in that regard, they seem open to using the internet and other modern tools to enable this, but as they gain more prominence (power?) will these ideals fall by the wayside. I hope not.

I must say here that I just received an email receipt indicating (I think) that the GPC headquarters had received my membership application and money. I say “I think” because I was totally underwhemed with said document, not only did the “receipt” not contain my name (although the email was obviously addressed to me) but it did not even indicate that it came from the GPC (I had to check the email properties to confirm that it did). No fancy header as on those annoying bimonthly request for cash, no indication that further information would be forthcoming, no indication of whether or not I could now get to “insider” information on the Green web site or how to do so, just an untitled and un-addressed receipt for cash! Is this a reflection of how things are done at HQ? One would think that the first official contact with a new member would be a little more professional and contain more information than this! I have suggested by return mail that their system be upgraded in this respect. But once again I digress……

So here is my bottom line, I support in general the move toward more self sufficiency, any efforts to start supporting local economys and moving away from the corporate mantra of “the global economy”, the reduce, reuse and recycle thinking, the protection our water, air, forests and fauna and most everything the party stands for. BUT mostly I support the statements both in the party platform and by Ms May in many of her recent speeches that support our DEMOCRACY, for without the means to peacefully and democratically initiate change all else is but a pipe dream. At this point in time I can honestly say that I believe the Green Party of Canada is the best, and perhaps last, chance for any hope of change for the better in our federal governance. Will they have any enormous impact any time in the foreseeable future, probably not, these things change slowly, sometime almost imperceptibly, but we must do something to halt and reverse the damage to both the world and to our democracy that the current politicians seem unable or unwilling to address. So in answer to those who debate whether the greens are (or should be) mainly a “green movement” or a “political party” I must answer “a political party” for getting Greens elected is essential, without that voice in our parliament the impact the GPC can have upon all the other issues is minimal.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

The PST, GST, HST Dilemma

I have been meaning to have a few things to say about the move to bring in HST in Ontario for a while now but have been trying to find out EXACTY what will and what not be affected by this proposed change. If you too are confused by this whole thing then welcome to the club. There seems to be no documents listing what items will be taxed at the new rate of 13% and what items or services will be exempt, its hard enough to decide what is currently taxed with either PST and / or GST!
Please excuse the long post it simply cannot be fully examined in less space.

I will give a couple of examples of where my confusion comes from. Recently our MPP here in Grey Bruce, Bill Murdoch, has been vocal in his condemnation of this move (a position with which I fully agree) and in a letter to the editor of our local newspaper said:-
“The HST is bad news for the average Ontarian. Many PST exempt items are now going to be taxed and as more people learn about what is going to increase in price by 8 percent, the more emails and calls my office will receive from irate constituents. Lately, my office has been receiving calls concerning the fact the HST is going to be charged on rent. That means rent is going up by 8%, even with rent control. If you are paying $600 a month for an apartment, as of July 1, 2010 you are going to see your rent jump by $48 a month due to the HST. “

Upon checking the Canada Revenue Agency web site on GST / HST however I found this:-
1. A rental of a residential complex or a residential unit in a residential complex is exempt if the complex or unit is to be used by an individual as a place of residence or lodging and if the rental period is a period of continuous occupancy or right of occupancy of one month or more to the same individual.

That would SEEM to indicate that rent is exempt from GST, but then who realy knows, is Bill right or is it all “to be decided”?

He goes on to say “The problem with harmonization is simple, the PST exemptions are gone on almost every item it was previously on, essential items we use daily. Now your rent, your gas, your haircut and even your Tim Horton's coffee are going to increase by 8%.”

That would seem to be accurate, certainly our Phone and Hydro bills are currently only taxed by GST and so presumably would see an increase in tax burden and we must assume that most items that are now subject to GST will not be exempt from the HST. But what of items and services currently GST exempt (or “0% rated) that PST is charged upon? One such item is your house and car insurance, my bills show a charge for PST but not for GST, it would seem at first glance that we may just gain on that one. Which way will these items go, no one knows for sure it would seem, apparently even the proposed legislation is unclear on many of the details. Another such item is the little known exemption for self employed people who gross less than $30,000 a year who do not have to collect GST, will the miniscule advantage these folks, who can ill afford any reduction in income, have this slight break removed. Who knows!

In an effort to find out some of the answers I searched the internet for information, whilst I found no lists regarding the changes to Ontario tax, I did find this on the recent changes to BC tax which may (or may not) have some bearing upon the changes proposed here.

GOODS subject to BC Harmonized Sales Tax - Energy conservation equipment, smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, work related safety equipment basic cable TV and residential phones, non-prescription medication, vitamins and dietary supplements, residential fules (electricity, natural gas) and heating, all food products (only basic grociers will remain exempt from BC HST), safety helmets, life jackets, first aid kits, magazines and newspapers.

SERVICES subject to the new B.C. HST - Airline fares within Canada, Funeral services, Real estate fees, Membership fees for health clubs, dry cleaning, personal services such as hair care, Movie and theatre tickets, Professional services such as accounting and home care, Repair services for household appliances, and Household maintenance such as renovations and painting.

GOODS and SERVICES that are exempt from the B.C. Harmonized Sales Tax of 12% - These include fuel including gas, diesel. Also, children’s items including books, clothing, footwear, car seats, booster seats, diapers and feminine hygiene products are exempt from the 12% BC HST tax.

The CRA has a list generalities regarding GST / HST but one must view numerous pages to see the details. For more detail on what is and is not GST taxable see the CRA web site, it is unclear whether the proposed ONTARIO HST will have additional exemptions or inclusions. However here is a list of most of the exempt items currently listed, it must be presumed that most everything else is taxed!!

Goods and services taxable at 0% include:
· basic groceries such as milk, bread, and vegetables.;
· agricultural products such as grain, raw wool, and dried tobacco leaves. (??)
· most farm livestock.
· most fishery products such as fish for human consumption.
· prescription drugs and drug-dispensing fees.
· medical devices such as hearing aids and artificial teeth.

Exempt goods and services include:
· used residential housing.
· long-term residential accommodation (of one month or more), and residential condominium fees.
· some sales of vacant land or farmland..
· most health, medical, and dental services performed by licensed physicians or dentists for medical reasons.
· child-care services (day-care services for less than 24 hours a day) for children 14 years old and younger.
· bridge, road, and ferry tolls legal aid services.
· many educational services such as: courses from a vocational school that lead to a certificate or a diploma to practise a trade or a vocation; or tutoring services for an individual who takes a course approved for credit by a school authority
· music lessons.
· most services provided by financial institutions such as arrangements for a loan or mortgage
· arranging for and issuing insurance policies by insurance companies, agents, and brokers.
· most goods and services provided by charities.
· certain goods and services provided by non-profit organizations, governments, and other public service bodies, such as municipal transit services and standard residential services such as water distribution.

If we then look at what is now PST exempt we MAY get an idea of how much of a tax grab this actualy is (or will be). If you can figure it all out please let me know, it seems to me that we are screwed not matter what!!

For Retail Sales Tax (RST) purposes, all goods are taxable unless the purchaser is entitled to an exemption, and all services are non-taxable unless specifically taxed under the Retail Sales Tax Act. The lists below provide some examples of taxable and non-taxable goods and services in Ontario.

Common goods that are not taxable:-
basic groceries, food products (except for candies, confections, snack foods and soft drinks)
prepared foods sold by an eating establishment for $4 or less
children's clothing (including diapers) , footwear costing $30 or less
feminine hygiene products , newspapers
drugs and medicine sold under a doctor's prescription
goods designed solely for people with physical disabilities
vitamins and minerals.

Taxable services:-
telecommunication services (telephone, cable, pay television)
accommodation for less than one month (hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts)
labour provided to install, repair or maintain tangible personal property
labour provided to install, configure, modify or upgrade a computer program
contracts for the service, maintenance or warranty of goods, including computer programs

Non-taxable services (examples):-
dry cleaning ,carpet and upholstery cleaning
personal services, such as hair styling, barbering, and beauty treatments
medical and health services ,veterinary care
car washing and engine shampooing
labour to install or repair real property or fixtures.

The Canadian Taxpayers federation has this to say:-
“The economy is still struggling; people are worried about their jobs and are spending less. Now is the wrong time to add 8% to the costs of gasoline; diesel; propane; home heating fuel; home electricity; natural gas; home TV service; home internet service; home phone service; cell phone charges; hair cuts; lawyers’ fees; accountants fees’; mechanics’ fees; ballet lessons; rink rental fees; tailoring; magazine subscriptions; mutual fund fees; massage; chiropractic; audiology; train fares; plane fares; taxi fares; bus fares; vitamins; dry-cleaning; grass cutting; snow removal; camping fees; firewood; meals under $4; new homes over $500,000; gym fees; home renovation labour; and real Christmas trees.”

One final note here, our federal government is trying to spin this as an entirely Provincial initiative however if that were so why would the Federal government promise $4.3-billion to help Ontario adjust to the tax change, and give British Columbia $1.6-billion to “assist” with their change. They have also offered to cut the remaining holdout provinces a cheque to ease the transition if they agreed to harmonize the taxes. The question has to be asked “what’s in it for them”, I find it hard to believe its simply just to make them look good as that FEDERAL HST rebate / bribe cheque arrives on your doorstep.

With so many folk out of work and many of them unlikely to find work any time in the foreseeable future and with so many families already struggling to pay for the necessities, it hardly seems like a good move either politically or economically to do this. But then who am I to judge, I’m just one of those on the shitty end of the stick!