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.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Harper free Canada

In deference to fellow rural dialuppers I don’t normally post pictures on this blog but I just had to share Impolitical’s new logo

Nice one guys!!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Internet Accessibility

I have been meaning to have a rant, or perhaps it is more of a whine, about the difficulties faced by those of us that do not have high speed internet connection for some time. Whether it is because it is simply not available or too costly, those like my self with a typical connection speed of around 28Kbs (throughput of 3 to 4 KBs) have no choice but to be very selective as to which sites we visit. A web site with a fancy header, multiple flashing doodads, lots of google ads etc that loads in some cases 1mb or more BEFORE the actual content comes up are simply not a option. I for one refuse to wait several minutes whist all this junk loads only to find that the web site is not what I was really looking for.

Some of the “news” sites are the worst for this, in trying to be all things to all people and adding multimedia, hi res pictures etc etc to their front page they are excluding many readers. One really good exception to this is the BBC News on line which loads in less than 5 seconds and where they have text only pages of all their content and the ability to switch to the higher content if one wishes to see pictures on a particular news item. As an example of the other side of the picture the Guardian site takes a full 2 minutes to load the text (which does come up first, which many sites do not) it then takes a further 3 minutes to fully load all the ads, pictures bells and whistles etc at todays connection speed of around 21K (Its raining, bell lines crap out when wet!)

That bloody flash player pop up is a real pain in the arse for us guys also. If the bloody thing would just come up as part of the page so that one could click on it if needed or the flash item just not show at all if not installed on your computer fine, but to have to cancel that friggin box every time you enter a site or change pages is bloody nuts. I note that it CAN be done away with by the host webmaster and replaced with a note (not pop up) saying that if you want to see the full content it is required, although I have only seen one site that has, just that most think that “there are only a few without it, why bother accommodating them”. Oh, and don’t be telling me that you can download this or that piece of software to handle that, just set your modem to a max of 28K and try it. When the thing drops out after 2 hours just before the download is complete see how enthusiastic you are about getting software that way!

The answer, for webmasters that care, is of course to be inclusive and accommodate as many folks as possible, it does not mean that these sites cannot have “heavy” content just that some accommodations must be made. Make the CONTENT and indexing LINKS load first so that folks can move on without waiting, provide text only pages or put High Content on separate links which those with high speed can follow if they wish, avoid “icon” links when simple text links will do, provide text or synopsis of video content, give the size of the PDF links so that we know what we are getting into before downloading and so on.
Many of the government sites are not bad in regard to speed of loading but they bury the content so many pages down that by the time you have waited for the 4th 0r 5th page to load only to see that one must click on yet another link to get to what one is looking for its hard to not get a little frustrated!

Do I expect any of those webmasters, many of whom have never even experienced dial up speeds to do any of these things. NO. Do I expect many of them to say “tough luck, get high speed, try wireless internet” YES. Do I expect them to realize that for many high speed is either not available or that the wireless or satellite option is way too expensive. NO. Do I feel better for this rant. OH YES.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

EI - The numbers for January!

So long as we are on the subject of EI here are some of the latest numbers from January.

Last month I said “I expect Ontario numbers to show %100 increase over the previous year in EI benefits being paid out by May”. It is starting to look like I was being VERY optimistic as the number just released in some areas of Ontario are already up 70% over a year before.

In Alberta, 23,300 people were receiving regular EI benefits in January, up 10.5% from December. British Columbia had 56,100 beneficiaries, up 9.0%, while Ontario had 181,500, a 6.2% increase.
Virtually every census metropolitan area across Canada experienced an increase in the number of regular beneficiaries over the last year. Regional EI data and data by sex and age are not seasonally adjusted and therefore should only be compared on a year-over-year basis.

The largest increases between January 2008 and January 2009 occurred in Southwestern Ontario, where the manufacturing sector in particular experienced heavy layoffs.
In Windsor, the number of regular beneficiaries rose 81.6% to 10,600. Also affected were London (+70.3%), Kitchener (+70.0%), and Hamilton (+69.0%), as were Guelph, Woodstock, Tillsonburg and Stratford.
In Toronto, the number of regular beneficiaries increased by 48.3% between January 2008 and January 2009.

Other notable increases in beneficiaries over the 12-month period included Calgary (+61.7%), Vancouver (+55.0%) and Edmonton (+48.9%).
More on this at Stats Can

Impolitical puts it all in perspective in this post!

Monday, March 23, 2009

EI - The BS continues!

Regular readers will recall us documenting a family members difficulty with the EI online application process, most notably the lack of any information indicating that it was the clients responsibility to get their ROE to the local office. Here is the reply we just received regarding my letter to the minister regarding this. (my bold)

On behalf of the Honourable Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, I am writing in response to your e-mail of February 17, 2009, concerning the online Employment Insurance (EI) application service and reporting system for EI benefits.Service Canada strives to serve all individuals in the best manner possible. In this regard, I should explain that without more information, such as the claimant's Social Insurance Number, we are unable to review the EI claim or provide specific details. Allow me therefore to address your concerns in a general manner.
I wish to note that the online application for benefits is an electronic means of applying for benefits by Internet. It allows clients to enter their application electronically from any location where there is Internet access, such as at home and in a public library.As you indicated, when an application for EI benefits is submitted, a confirmation notice is presented. If, based on the information that is provided on the application, there is missing information, or additional documents are required, the confirmation page also reminds claimants to submit the information. For example, if clients indicate that they have not yet received their record of employment or if they are applying for sickness benefits and need to submit a medical certificate, a reminder will be included in the confirmation page. When applicable, the confirmation page also includes the address of the processing centre where the missing information or forms can be mailed.
Accordingly, I can affirm that provided that all of the required information is contained in the application or mailed to the processing centre, there is no requirement to visit the local Service Canada Centre, unless specifically instructed to do so.

With respect to the difficulties that some EI clients are experiencing while attempting to obtain assistance from Service Canada's 1-800 toll-free lines, I should explain that this is traditionally a busy time of year for both the call centre network and the Service Canada Centres. As you will appreciate, the Department has been receiving a considerably higher volume of applications for EI benefits in the last few months due to the current economic conditions. Consequently, call volume and service levels are affected as more clients are calling to inquire about the status of the processing of their claims.However, I wish to assure you that Service Canada is monitoring the situation closely and has directed its officials to take all possible measures to respond to inquiries without delay and to process EI applications as quickly as possible. These measures include, but are not limited to: hiring additional staff, redistributing workloads across the country and within the Department, extending the hours of operation of EI call centres, recalling recently retired processing agents and allowing overtime on a voluntary basis.

The Department's top priority is to ensure the payment of benefits as soon as possible.I hope that this information is helpful in addressing your concerns. Thank you for bringing them to my attention.

Yours sincerely,Élisabeth ChâtillonAssistant Deputy MinisterOperations BranchService Canada

Looks like another case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing again, because I can assure you that if you do not take your ROE to the EI office you WILL NOT receive benefits!

Update April 09 2009 – To be fair, having replied to the letter again stressing our difficulty re the ROE, I must report that we just received a phone call from Service Canada on behalf of Diane Finley acknowledging the problem and indicating that some changes were going to be made in the wording of the web site and also telling us that they are moving towards an online system of reporting for the employers to submit the ROE so that claims can proceed without delay. It seems that many complaints have been received of late about the EI process!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

MPs to follow their consciences

Prime Minister Stephen Harper set his sights on the federal long gun registry Saturday, asking a meeting of recreational sportsmen to help him build enough support in Parliament to scrap the registry. Harper urged members of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters to contact opposition MPs and pressure them to support legislation that would target the six year old program."I challenge you to press these MPs to follow their consciences," (Harper said).

The long gun registry is no doubt a total waste of money and resources in regard to stopping gun crime. That said , one wonder why, if our MPs are challenged to “follow their consciences” on this one? Why then they are required to totally shelve their consciences when voting on “whipped votes”, including the recent budget with its “hidden” and non budget items, but not on this issue. In polite circles this is known as having your cake and eating it, I have another word for it harpercrites!

T/H to http://inthehouseandsenate.blogspot.com/

Friday, March 20, 2009

British MP banned from Canada

Im speechless, I simply cannot believe this is what Canada has come to, I wouldn’t believe it at all but its well documented here and here and here and here and…..

Next up the Harper storm troopers in the streets telling you what you can and cannot say, and here I thought we lived in a democracy.

Update - George Galloway responds

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Flag Flap Insulting

Love him or hate him Peter Kormos is right on this one, it is indeed an insult to Ontarians when their MPPs start handing out flags made in China.

“We got our new batch of flags today and there it was on the label: ‘Made in China,’ ” Kormos said.

Previously, Queen’s Park bought full-sized flags made by Flying Colours International in Toronto. Kormos said the company has a factory that employs more than 100 people, most of whom have worked there for nearly 20 years. The Legislative Assembly’s procurement office put out a tender and chose a cheaper alternative to Flying Colours. The Toronto-made flags cost $18 each. The Chinese ones are $13.
“So for five bucks in difficult economic times we’re threatening the jobs of people in Ontario,” said Kormos, who vowed to return the Chinese flags and buy new ones from Flying Colours. “These are flags we give to legions and schools and the Girl Guides. And it’s important to them. I cannot give them an Ontario flag made in China. I won’t do it. It would be insulting.”
Ontario MPPs have to buy their flags, along with other items like office supplies, through the procurement office to take advantage of bulk purchasing.

Its bad enough that those of us looking to buy our own Canadian flag have great difficulty in finding one NOT made in China, but when our MPPs are supplied with these symbols of our Sovereignty made by a foreign company when we have local suppliers things are getting bad indeed. Especially when so many Ontarians are loosing their jobs and governments are considering bailing out American owned companies (the auto sector). I wonder where Ottawa gets theirs?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Thank you Senator

This from Senator McCoy’s latest blog entry, reproduced in full here because we all DO need to be aware of these citizen initiatives to stop the Harper regimes slide towards increasingly non democratic manner of governance. See in particular the leaked memo (PDF) on the EPA.
The Senators remarks follow:-

We've spent the better part of the past three days sending updates to over 3,500 Canadians who emailed us about Bill C-10. I'm happy to report that many, many Canadians have told us they're determined to continue resisting changes to pay equity and the Navigable Waters Protection Act at Senate committee hearings. Contact information is available here if you're keen to join them. You can also join the Facebook groups for pay equity and for rivers which are still growing.

In the meantime, kudos to Runesmith who's started a Facebook group to support Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer. And also to the environmentalists who outed Minister Jim Prentice's plans to rewrite the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. His plans are outlined in this internal memo. Finally, just in case you missed it, the indefatigable Kady O'Malley deserves our gratitude for liveblogging the ultra-right wing Manning Centre conference last Saturday.

Kady's reporting tends to prove the point one of my friends emphatically asserted last year, namely that the Conservatives really are committed to changing the fundamental DNA of our nation. Never mind that their credo has been convincingly discredited by the collapse of global economic systems. After all, as PM Harper assured them, that's not their fault – the US is entirely to blame and he himself plans to stick to "objectives broadly defined by our conservative principles." No wonder many Canadians are willing to keep up their resistance to travesties like the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

Spread the word, do not let this government rule by decree and behind closed door regulation changes.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Right to Free Speech….

…in Canada apparently does not extend to those criticizing the isolation and hardship inflicted upon the civilians in Gaza by Israel, at least in the eyes of some of our major newspapers…

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Budget Fiasco

Most Canadians will be aware this morning that the controversial omnibus budget, over half of which contains unrelated matters which should have been considered separately, has passed in the senate. Despite the valiant efforts of a few independent Senators to split it and fast track the budget measures only it has now been returned to the House for final assent.

The sudden turn around of the Liberal Senators was due to a “hidden” clause that effectively said that the longer it takes to pass this bill the more EI recipients will not be eligible for extended benefits. What a crock! Firstly it was not hidden, it just proves that parliamentarians typically vote upon legislation without knowing exactly what is in it. Secondly, so what, these workers (and some in my family are on that list) will run out of EI sooner or later anyway. A few more weeks will help but it is jobs we need if we are not all to be on welfare this time next year. Thirdly, passing bad or unknown legislation in order to get a some other more urgent matters passed shows just how dysfunctional out parliament has become.

The refusal of the government to split the non budgetary items from this bill and the failure of the opposition to support the senate in doing so effectively means that once again the Harper regime, with the support of the Liberals is running the country with no regard for our parliamentary processes. It is in my view a direct attack upon our democracy and but one more indication of the slide towards governance by Prime-ministerial decree!

Yes, we will be pleased to have a couple more weeks to find a job (ha, ha) before money runs out but I would much sooner see some MP's doing THEIR job rather than following their leaders like sheep. Perhaps it is they that should be laid off!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Auto Workers "Sacrifice"

Regular readers will know I have no great love for unions but this has really got my hackles up…….
Some extracts from the recent union press release (my comments)

- The existing contract is extended to September 2012. (So we agree to agree for a little while longer, woopeee)
- Base wages are frozen for the remainder of the contract. (duh) - Quarterly cost of living adjustments are suspended until 2012. (Cost of living? What the H is that?)
- There will be no annual cost of living adjustments to pensions. (Christ I just wish I had ANY pension let alone one with COLA)
- Paid time off is reduced by 40 hours per year, on top of the 40 hour reduction in annual vacation pay. (Paid time off, I wish! That’s a reduction equivalent to the amount most folks get in total vacation.)
- An annual $1700 special bonus payment is diverted to retiree health care benefits. ($1700 bonus!! Shit that’s about 2 months pay for many full time workers)
- Expenses for union-sponsored programs (including training, child care facilities, wellness programs, and national coordinators) are reduced by about one-third. (If they are union sponsored, why are the unions / workers not paying for them?)
- Significant changes are made to a range of health and non-wage benefits (Which most other folks never got in the first place)
- Other health benefits affected by reduced caps or increased co-pays include dental, long-term care, life insurance, and tuition benefits. (Nice stuff if you can get it!)
- The agreement is contingent on the company receiving government financial assistance and recommitting to a proportional Canadian manufacturing presence. (contingent on the company receiving a bail out from the already stressed Canadian taxpayer!)

This all is a little much to take for someone whose family income has never been up to what ONE of these worker make and who now is supporting 3 on our savings, but this bit which has been already repeated ad-nauseaum in the news really makes me sick…. "Together these changes represent a major sacrifice by our active members and retirees," said Lewenza. "They will reduce active hourly labour costs by several dollars per hour. (from the already inflated wage these “semiskilled” {I’m being nice} workers receive). Note that the hourly take home pay remains unchanged but I suspect that many more of them will not be taking it home! (bet they get more than 22 weeks of EI though!)

Just to be clear the management, salaried workers, union bosses and corporate executives are no better and perhaps worse in their willingness to reduce their personal gain for the betterment of all. When I hear that these folks have taken a 20% or 30% cut in wages in order to give 20% or 30% of their colleagues a better chance at retaining their jobs then I will be impressed. Meanwhile our government better get some guarantees that the jobs will remain and all these highly paid workers will not be collecting EI in a year despite the bailout!

If this is sacrifice, let em sink sink, they aint getting my tax dollar cause I aint got any left!!

Edit – Seems like I am not the only one not impressed!

Friday, March 6, 2009

The silence is deafening

The Viva Palestina convoy is a phenomenon of an entirely different order, a meta-motorcade that has been lifting hearts and hopes internationally for almost three weeks now. It was a mile long when it left London on Valentine's Day to drive all the way to Gaza, south through France and Spain and then across North Africa; it was three miles long as it crossed the border into Egypt yesterday, supplemented by convoys organized in Libya.

The hundred-plus vehicles that originally headed out of London are all independently community-supported, and most of them will be left in Gaza once they deliver their supplies. They are led by a splendid fire engine donated by the UK Fire Brigades Union (or they were; not sure how the fire engine has been doing in the desert), and they include two dozen ambulances, a flatbed with a ginormous generator, another with a fishing boat, and buses and lorries filled with medicines, cash and clothes and blankets and tools, and best of all (we know what really counts), toys for the traumatized children of Gaza.

Some of us first heard about Viva Palestina from lagatta at Bread and Roses, and Alison mapped out the trip a week ago at the Beavers and at Creekside.

Mainstream media silence on this historic mission, which should be joyous -- is joyous, to anyone who knows about it -- has been, um, notable. We don't need them though, do we. To follow the convoy, just click through to the Viva Palestina site, sign up for their email updates, or join their Facebook group.

Extracts stolen with thanks from http://www.pogge.ca/archives/002251.shtml#more

Thursday, March 5, 2009

EI – The part time rip off.

Oh Boy, this has been a learning experience. As I said in my previous blog our laid off worker finally received some payments last week, great, BUT…..
In the mail today we were notified about our payments, which were of course a percentage of the normal bi-weekly salary received over the “qualifying Period”. Fine no problem, however at the bottom of the letter was the bit “you are elegable for payment for a MAXIMUM of 22 weeks. HELLO, don’t most folks get around 40 to 45 weeks?

So off I go to see what the H is going on, and sure enough there is a table giving the criteria for the number of week one may collect for. Several factors affect this (including the unemployment rate for your area at the time your clam started) but the major one is the number of hours one has worked in that period, at first glance this seems ok, but consider this……

Someone who has worked, and paid into the EI system, for many years without collecting but over the “qualifying period” has worked “part time” (by their own choice of because the employer dictated it) not only receives a percentage of that lower weekly salary but also receives a lesser number of weeks EI payments. This despite perhaps having paid in far more than say a seasonal worker, who because he worked full time but for part of the year, will get the full compliment of weeks paid.

As a example let us take two workers making the same amount each week over the “qualifying period” Both have paid in for years and the unemploymet rate in their area is 10%.
Worker #1 works say 500 hours in that period and will get around 22 weeks of EI
Worker #2 works 1000 hours over the same period and will get around 28 weeks of EI
Since worker #1 is getting paid twice as much per hour as worker #2 he will get twice as much pogey, seems fair, right?

Now the thing is if however they are both paid the same hourly rate worker #1 not only receives 50% less pogey, which is fine in that they were making 50% less a week but ALSO receives a fewer number of weeks of EI. That’s a double hit for part time workers and seems eminently unfair to me.

EDIT - That’s a little confusing, lets take a specific example –

Worker #1 full time for the last year, 40hr work week
$10 x 40 hours a week x 52 weeks = 2080 hours annually = $20,800 year
$400 week x 60% = $240 EI x 44 weeks (from chart - 45 max)
$240 x 44 weeks / $20,800 = 50.8% of annual salary maximum benefits

Worker #2 part time for the last year, 20hr work week
$10 x 20 hours a week x 52 weeks = 1040 hours annually = $10,400 year
$200 week x 60% = $120 EI x 26 weeks (at 10% unemployment rate
$120 x 26 weeks / $10,400 = 30% of annual salary maximum benefits

The part time worker already struggling on a lower annual salary receives 20% less EI by comparison taking annual salary into account!

Bottom line don’t get laid off after being asked to work reduced hours because you are going to get screwed big time. Even those making over the maximum dollar amount eligible (lord know we have never reached those giddying heights) will be penalized if they have not worked the maximum number of hours available during that qualifying period in order to earn it. Next lesson, if you can hang on long enough whilst the unemployment rate skyrockets you will be better of in the long run.

Yep after waiting 18 weeks for our payment now we learn that by late spring we are SOL! Nice.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rural SW Ontario Goes Dark.

No, no, the lights did not go out but two of our broadcast TV stations will shortly!
Earlier this week, CTV said it will not seek to renew the licences for two A Channel stations - CKNX-TV in Wingham and CHWI-TV in Wheatley and Windsor in southwestern Ontario when they expire at the end of August. Our local radio station tells us this morning that the Georgian bay retransmitter site for CKCO will also be shut down.

CTV is also cutting much of the local programming from the stations that remain. Local TV news has long been a thing of the past for us here in Grey Bruce but what little local programming that was left is being cut way back. Not that it matters because unless you spring for satellite TV you wont be able to view it anyway. Much of our area is not covered by cable and I for one would not (could not) spring $500 or more for what is increasingly becoming a load of crap. I would like however to be able to view our national and international news from a variety of sources, my current choices available “on air” are “A” channel, CKNX, Global, and CBC. With Global looking shaky and CBC subject to major funding cuts its not looking good for those of us without big bucks to spend on cable or satellite. The worst part is that for those that can and do pay for these services it seems that none of their payments go the originators of the programming, and that now cable companies will have pretty much a monopoly in some areas. Strange!

We here in Grey Bruce are not the only one affected. “CTV says it won't renew the licences for about 45 rebroadcasting transmitters across the country where it is "no longer economical" to carry over-the-air broadcasting. That means fewer Canadians will be able to receive over the air signals of CTV - including Windsor, Bobcaygeon and Parry Sound in Ontario, as well as Bridgetown, N.S. and Thompson, Man.”

The CRTC will begin hearings into the current state of conventional television later this year, though CTV warned it could be too late. "While we welcome this new, year-long CRTC process and while we can't guarantee the survival of the As until that time, together we will do our best."

Having visited the retransmitter site for CKNX near Formosa, Ontario I can say that during normal times there is but one technician on duty any given time so exactly how much savings are to be made by shutting down such sites is questionable. I suspect this is more about the cost of switching these sites to Digital broadcast next year than the cost of maintaining them in their current form.

Either way this is a slap in the face of rural and low income citizens across the country particularly those that do not have the option of easily accessing high content internet news web sites because they do not have high speed available or can ill afford the extra cost of same.
As I said at the top a Dark Day for rural Canada.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Democracy under Fire….

…is a new blog “to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes both within the House of Commons and within our electoral system. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens.”
Its early days yet but it is hoped that this blog will get some additional dialog going about the ongoing failure of our politicians and many others in our society to recognize the fragility of our parliamentary democracy and actively protect it.

There are a number of web sites expressing the same concern and others promoting changes to our electoral system but this is perhaps the first open Blog to focus almost entirely upon this issue.

If you care about Canadian Democracy, or even if you don’t, visit the blog once in a while and you may just learn something or even better be moved to get involved in protecting and enhancing our democracy.

Former MP David Kilgore said it best:-
“All too often in Canada and elsewhere there has been a tendency to equate democracy with the holding of elections, forgetting that democracy must be continuously nurtured – not just once every four or five years. Democracy demands vigilance, and a willingness to pose difficult questions and to take risks. I do not mean by that only taking to the streets to complain about what is wrong, but also advocating constructive alternatives.”