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, December 17, 2012

Elizabeth May

Regular reader will know I am a supporter of Elizabeth May and her constant fight for our democracy, this post from Owen over at Norther Reflections caught my eye and bears repeating.
“As 2012 draws to a close, Michael Harris reviews the state of all of Canada's federal parties -- except the Bloc Quebecois. He has some insightful comments about each. But I am particularly struck by what he writes about Elizabeth May and The Green Party:
For now, the Green Party is Elizabeth May. Despite all the institutional barricades erected in front of this prodigiously hard-working politician, she tears the pant leg off the government on everything from the environment to the Canada-as-resource-colony model promoted by our CEO-PM himself. She runs the most intellectually alive office on Parliament Hill. The place is staffed by people who walk through the door just to be around her and to help.

But 2013 will be frustrating because May’s message of unification, the only certain answer to Harpocracy, will fall on the ears of two relatively newly-elected leaders, both of whom think they will be able to get the job done alone. At some point, the Greens must elect more members, since not even Elizabeth May can run on empty. If this woman isn’t allowed to take part in the next TV debates, we should all watch the shopping channel.

May's task is difficult because the other leaders aren't buying co-operation as the answer to the Harper juggernaut. And, until she is joined by other members of her party, Mr. Mulcair -- and whoever leads the Liberals -- will continue to ignore her.

That situation is truly tragic.......
Sad but probably true Owen!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bluewater Teachers Walk Out Wednesday

More than one thousand teachers with the Bluewater public school board will walk out on Wednesday December 19th. The board has issued a news release Sunday morning -- and it states all elementary schools will be closed on Wednesday. Those include the J-K to Grade 12 schools on the Bruce Peninsula and in Walkerton.

I find it hard to believe that the majority of highly educated, well paid and dedicated teachers fully support this action but feel that they have little choice but to go along with the 'decree' by their union who have already threatened them with a daily fine of $500 simply for helping kids out of normal mandated working hours. Naturally non of them will speak out as 'peer pressure' (read union action) would in all probability make their life very difficult if not threaten their employment.

If am am wrong in that assessment then my respect for those that choose the teaching profession as a way to make a living will be substantially diminished, those that truly do it for the love of teaching and are appalled at the ever increasing confrontational conflict over simply trying to keep our educational system affordable to the average taxpayer have my sympathy.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Elizabeth May: Parliamentarian of the Year.

This week MPs, senators and the media gathered in the Adam Room of the The Fairmont Ch√Ęteau Laurier for the 6th annual Parliamentarians of the Year awards ceremony.Green Leader Elizabeth May was named Parliamentarian of the Year.
In an interview with Aaron Wherry's for article in Macleans she spoke about the state of our Parliamentary Democracy, below is a small extract..

“I love parliamentary democracy. I am fascinated by procedure. I’m beside myself with the way things are slipping.” What follows then is a 524-word dissertation—stretching from the slightest breach of decorum to the profound questions of power at the heart of our system—on the state of parliamentary democracy in Ottawa.
“I know it sounds small, but you’re not supposed to have members of Parliament standing and waiting their turn because they know when they’re going to be called and they have their speech ready and they’ve got the little podium and they’ve got a written speech in front of them and they’re standing while someone else is speaking. No one is supposed to stand except the person that’s been recognized by the Speaker and until you’re recognized by the Speaker you’re not supposed to stand. I know these may seem like small points, but it’s indicative of a failure to recognize that the respect for traditions in the House of Commons may start with things like one person stands at a time and only when recognized by the Speaker. And as soon as the Speaker stands, the person who’s in full oratory flight is supposed to sit down. Those are things that when you ignore that you also can get away with having a prime minister who ignores all parliamentary tradition and prorogues—well, not all, because Sir John A. Macdonald did it once and then paid for it by losing power—but you’re not supposed to prorogue the House of Commons to avoid a political difficulty. So a failure to respect our traditions of Stephen Harper proroguing twice then launched into Dalton McGuinty proroguing. This is very unhealthy for democracy. Because we are a Westminster parliamentary democracy and tradition and if we don’t pay attention and respect Parliament, then we are allowing the Prime Minister’s Office, which doesn’t exist as an entity in our constitution, it’s not like the executive branch and the White House in the U.S. constitution—the notion of a Prime Minister’s Office as an entity in the machinery of government is simply an invention, but it’s like a cancerous growth. And as the Prime Minister’s Office grows, and this is a trend we started with Pierre Trudeau in a much more innocuous way, it’s not reached its apex, but if we don’t do anything to stop it, what else will the next prime minister do? And as the PMO grows into being the all-powerful decision-maker, leaving cabinet ministers, basically their job appears to be the primary public relations spokesperson for an area of policy they had nothing to do with developing, it’s dangerous to health of democracy. So respect for Parliament, to me, is synonymous with respect for democracy. And I respect Parliament and that’s where the work is happening. I respect … there’s very few ministers who actually, actually I can only think of one, who sit though parliamentary debate on their own bills. And that’s, and should I say for credit where credit’s due, Jason Kenney. When his bills are being debated and when I rise to criticize his legislation, he actually knows what I’m talking about and will make a reasoned defence of his own legislation. But for the most part, it’s like a ritualized form of theatre. And that’s dangerous. It’s not just a relic, sort of an anachronism, that we still have parliamentary democracy. That’s the system. And the problem is PMO, not Parliament.”
Read more of this article

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Wind Turbine Health Report

Our own local Medical Officer of Health has been asked to do a health study on the effects of industrial wind turbines upon the predominantly rural residents that have had these part time wind driven generators built in their backyards. I doubt that she has the necessary resources to do a proper study and there has been much reluctance to previously do so by both the wind industry and government. However there is now at least one independent study that has been published that confirms what many of those affected have been saying.
The study — “Effects of industrial wind turbine noise on sleep and health” — assessed two wind farm communities in Maine and whilst limited in scope does conclude that some folks are indeed negatively affected even at a distance of over 1km.

The study concludes “that the noise emissions of IWTs (industrial wind turbines) disturbed the sleep and caused daytime sleepiness and impaired mental health in residents living within 1.4 km of the two IWT installations studied. Industrial wind turbine noise is a further source of environmental noise, with the potential to harm human health. Current regulations seem to be insufficient to adequately protect the human population living close to IWTs. Our research suggests that adverse effects are observed at distances even beyond 1 km. Further research is needed to determine at what distances risks become negligible, as well as to better estimate the portion of the population suffering from adverse effects at a given distance.”

It should be noted that this study only considered noise concerns and did not address other things raised by those living near such 'wind farms'. I for one wonder why there is a moratorium of offshore wind farms that are distant from human habitation and not one on those that continue to spring up all across rural Ontario where the residents and indeed local municipal councils are helpless to stop them.
There may well be a necessity to supplement out power supply this way but until a means of storing the output from such intermittent sources of power and local residents concerns are given more weight I find it very difficult to view this technology in a positive light.

Perhaps this report will give a little more weight to rural residents concerns. Full report 800k PDF

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Committee Work

Or perhaps better titled seeking consensus within a committee! I have recently become involved with a major project to rebuild & update the internet presence of a local organization that, in that it is not really a corporate entity nor really simply a 'club but rests somewhere between those two, seeks consensus via a committee. Having been involved in a number committees over the years both formal in a work setting, and informal in a club setting, as well as having been on the executive of several clubs I can say that the approach to such committee work varies considerably. Some run very formally with very structured discussions and a recorded vote upon issues where the majority rules, others may allow extensive discussion but in the end what the chairperson wants is what gets done (something like how the Harper 'government' works). In most cases the preferred option is to build consensus, where there is disagreement we should try to find middle ground, seek compromise between two opposing positions and leave everybody in a position that they can say “I can live with that”.

A committee is a thing which takes a week to do what one good man can do in an hour.” - Elbert Hubbard

In my view this is by far the best way to approach working with or for a committee, if members of a group go away disgruntled that their point of view did not get heard or was dismissed arbitrarily then they will not be receptive to your point of view in the future, and if working in a volunteer capacity may well decide to go on to other less frustrating activities. Seeking such consensus will inevitably lead to extended discussions which center around the various options available and the personal opinion of each participant at the table, such things can often go around and around interminably, it is the chairs job to decide at which point to bring such 'discussions' to a head without offending anyone. This can often be difficult when strong opinions are held.

A committee is organic rather than mechanical in its nature: it is not a structure but a plant. It takes root and grows, it flowers, wilts, and dies, scattering the seed from which other committees will bloom in their turn.” - C. Northcote Parkinson

With modern communications such 'discussions' often take place at virtual meetings by a series of emails, this is a great way to get things done without dragging folks to a central location every couple of days but it has its own set of pitfalls. The first is the tendency when replying to someone who has responsibility for one particular issue of replying to just them and not including all the group, emails should almost always have a copy to all members. This may result in some folks getting reams of emails which they have little need to reply to but they are kept 'in the loop', do not feel they are being passed by regarding the topic and can always ignore them if they wish. The second thing to beware of is how quickly and almost without thought we all hit that 'send' button, true it takes a little longer to screw up when typing than when speaking directly (at least for one finger keyboard peckers like me) but once sent your thoughts are documented and non retrievable. Having such conversations 'documented' is in the whole scheme of thing a good thing in that previous input, decisions and opinions can be reviewed without the '”but you said.....” arguments, which is why it is important to review your text before hitting send.

To get something done a committee should consist of no more than three people, two of whom are absent.” - Robert Copeland

I am guilty on that score all to often, whilst articles like this one are assembled over several days and reviewed numerous times before publication I tend to treat email 'conversations' much the same as face to face conversations and reply with my immediate reaction without thinking it through. This can often result in one or more 'I forgot to say....' follow up emails which can be most disconcerting for the recipients. I find one way to avoid that is to formulate each answer to a complex and ongoing issue in a document as they emerge and then review and edit it at the end of the day before sending it off. This can slow down the 'discussion' sometimes but often clarifies the issues and certainly give one time to 'rethink' your response.

Any committee is only as good as the most knowledgeable, determined and vigorous person on it. There must be somebody who provides the flame.” - Claudia Lady Bird Johnson

I am sure my fellow committee members will be interested to read this and it remains to be seen if I practice what I preach! If my primary goal of fostering open and honest discussion is met then I am sure they will let me know. I hope I can provide that 'Flame'! In that regard I must now 'review' this post before publication and add a brief summary how I believe a committee meeting should proceed be it face to face or online in some form.

  • Foster open and honest discussions where no idea or opinion is dismissed without due consideration.
  • Try to keep the discussions focused but know when to move on when consensus cannot be reached.
  • Beware excluding any member from a discussion, particularly one with whom you disagree.
  • Think before you speak or hit that send button, your remarks may be misconstrued by some..
  • Review and summarize your discussions frequently in order to clarify the status of issue under consideration.
  • Above all do not take critique as a personal attack, you SHOULD all be working towards the same goal and finding flaws in any proposal is a GOOD thing.

In this case the committee of one reached complete consensus on the text of this post!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thousands of Lakes and Rivers left unprotected.

This from the Sixth Estate which deserves to be re-posted in full
As I noted previously, the Navigable Waters Act is being renamed the Navigation Protection Act and the environmental protection which the federal government once extended, basically, to any body of water you could paddle a canoe on is now being restricted to a special shortlist of 62 rivers and 97 lakes (plus the three oceans). In a country that has tens of thousands of rivers and lakes, obviously this is going to involve a great deal of environmental and legislative carnage. Last post, I noted that this removed the majority of Canada’s longest rivers from protection under the navigable waters law.
Today I’d like to do the same thing for lakes. According to Wikipedia, Canada has about 32,000 lakes “larger than three square kilometres” and 561 lakes “larger than 100″ square kilometres. The first list is obviously too long to go into here: it goes without saying that 97 out of 32,000 is not very impressive. (Plus there are some that are not that large yet still are protected: for instance, the Conservatives took special care to protect a small puddle in the middle of Ottawa called Dow’s Lake, which I can’t imagine is that large, though I could be wrong.) There’s not even any point working with the list of 561 lakes, since I can already tell you without looking that more than 85% of them can’t be on the list, mathematically speaking.
What we can do, though, is look at Natural Resources Canada’s list of lakes over 400 square kilometres — that is, the very largest lakes in Canada. From there, we can see that the federal government has failed to include three of B.C.’s five largest lakes (Babine, Atlin, and Ootsa); all of Alberta’s largest lakes; and, as with the rivers, has all but written off the northern territories as free and ungoverned.
For strict comparison purposes, I decided to shorten the list even further, to just those lakes over 1000 square kilometres. Only 15 of Canada’s 43 largest lakes — lakes over 1000 square kilometres — are now protected as navigable waters. Those that didnt’ make the cut include lakes Aberdeen, Bras D’Or, Lesser Slave, Lac la Ronge, Cree Lake, the Gouin Reservoir, Lac Seul, Lac Mistassini, and the Smallwood Reservoir, Lac Manicouagan, and the Robert Bourassa reservoir.

What more can be said the attack upon the environmental protection of our Natural Heritage by the Harper Regimen continues without pause.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rural Internet Survey Results

Survey Results.

A couple of months ago in order to try and get an idea of what reaction folks would have to a forum dedicated to Rural Affairs and how many rural folk were restricted in their internet access and thus we perhaps less inclined to use such communication methods I posted a survey on these pages. Having been very disappointed with the lack of data emerging from a more comprehensive survey by the Woman’s Institute of Ontario in their Rural Voices project I promised to share any results with my readers for all to see.

Here then are the results to date, please note that the response was understandably very small given my readership and that any online survey asking about internet use is automatically biased by both the method of data collection and by those inclined to answer such surveys. That said here are the results.


Rural Respondents 57.10%

Urban Respondents 42.90%

Type of internet connection. (Choice)


Cable or wireless 200k - 1m bps 35.70%

Hub or Stick 50k - 200k bps 28.60%

Greater than 1 m bps 28.60%

Dialup less than 50k bps 7.10%

No connection at home 0.00%

Internet connection limits (choice)


Unlimited 35.70%

10 Mb or less without extra charge 28.60%

3 Mb or less without extra charge 21.40%

Over 10 Mb without extra charge but not unlimited 14.30%

Most used online discussion methods (multiple choice)


Online forum or discussion sites 57.10%

Email 'lists' and digests 50.00%

Online bulletin boards 35.70%

Online audio conferencing 21.40%

Online video chat or conferencing 14.30%

Online chat sites 7.10%

None of the above 42.90%

Use by respondents of a Forum dedicated to Rural matters. (Choice)


Perhaps, depending upon how it was used / presented 64.30%

Yes 21.40%

Yes, if it were local content 7.10%

Not probable 7.10%

No, I hate online forums. 0.00%

How respondents get information about their LOCAL community (Ranked)

Rank (only top 3 choices shown) 1 2 3
Directly from others in the community (face to face) 46.20% 23.10% 0.00%
Via the Internet 30.80% 7.70% 38.50%
By email 7.70% 30.80% 7.70%
From the local newspaper 7.70% 15.40% 7.70%
From radio or TV 7.70% 7.70% 23.10%
By phone from others in the community 0.00% 15.40% 23.10%

Some notes and comments upon the results:-

Examination of the individual responses indicate that the majority of those with high speed unlimited connections are urban residents whilst most of those with less than optimal connections are rural citizens, this is as expected and reflects the patchy availability such services in rural areas.
100% of those who did use some kind of online discussion method (excluding 'social media') visited Forums of some kind but more than 1 in 4 did not use any such methods of exchanging information. Given that this was an online survey this is a little surprising, perhaps they are enamored with facebook & twitter which I do not regard as a place for serious discussion and information sharing.
Even given the above nearly all the respondents said they WOULD use a forum dedicated to rural matters although most said it would depend upon how it was presented.
Almost half said that most of their local information was obtained by face to face communications however the internet came in a strong second, email, radio, TV & newspapers all showed up as generally the 3rd, 4th or 5th choices.

All in all an interesting glimpse of something which we need a lot more information about, StatsCan does have figures on internet use but as far as I can tell no information as to the type of connection by rural / urban split. Unfortunately due to the very small sampling of this survey such information remains elusive, any pointers to more information in this regard would be greatly appreciated..

The link to the survey will remain valid for a while, feel free to add your data to it. If the results change substantially with more respondents I will update the results.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Time Flies

Its been almost a month since I have posted anything here and given my belief that even the most interested of readers will not visit a blog or web site if it has nothing new to offer that is not good. Not that my massive readership (all 5 or 6 of you) is why I write, as with most personal blogs its more to let off steam than anything else, although I must say that sharing information is also a big part of it. My posts regarding rural internet and broadcast TV continue to receive more 'hits' than almost anything else!

If you are waiting to see the results of the internet survey you will have to wait a little while longer, the response has not been exactly overwhelming so I am going to give it another month before I share the data. If you have not already done so please spend the 30 seconds or so it takes to make the thing a little more meaningful. Link to the right.

My excuse for not posting is that somehow things here in the woods got away from me, one minuite its mid summer with weather that was previously reserved for the mid US (Dry & Hot) the next thing I know October is almost upon us. It did not help that the last month has been spent putting up a sizable pole barn to store yet more 'stuff'. Mrs & Master Rural are hoping that they can get their vehicle in out of the snow and I would dearly like to get the tractor & blower in so as not to have to dig it out before blowing that white stuff that invariably fills the driveway. You can see that even without all the leftover wood (which means I DID cut enough last fall to finish the job) AND various pieces of equipment that no longer fit in the other shed there is already a space conflict!

We normally try and get back around our trails several times a month, its usually a Sunday morning stroll, but today was the first time we have been back in the bust for weeks. The canopy of green is slowly fading and disappearing and the extra light is greening up the forest floor and filling in the trails with greenery! Yet another thing that did not get done this year...... trail maintenance! It is amassing how quickly nature takes over if boots and wheels and mowers and snips are not in regular use along the forest floor. Much of that will happen shortly if we want to stay warm NEXT winter as the search for, and felling of, trees for fuel-wood must commence soon, this years supply just now having been split and tucked away in the woodshed in anticipation of colder weather.

So all in all I have a few excuses for not writing and I could no doubt find a few more, after all my brain is just as old as my arthritic knees and at times just as functional. That said I do believe in that old adage 'use it or loose it' so today’s exercise is to ramble through these pages as well as the bush trails. You may join me at either place.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Rural Internet Survey

A couple of weeks ago we posted an online survey designed to find out what type of internet connection the majority of rural folks had and how many of them used or were interested in online forums. This to promote the formation of a forum dedicated to rural communities across Ontario and / or Canada.

The readership of this blog is not exactly overwhelming, it only sees about 600 'page reads' a month and the response to the survey has been considerably less than that. Thus far 100% of the respondents have been urban residents so if you are a rural citizen and are reading this please fill out the very brief survey linked at the end of this post and in the side bar.

The results thus far indicate that those 'urban' folks who did respond nearly all have high speed unlimited internet, use online forums and email 'lists of digests' and are open to using a Rural Forum if it is formatted to their liking. They get their community information mostly from face to face meetings and the internet and less so from newspaper and radio, this is a surprise to me but I suspect that those who view my blog and filled out the survey are hardly 'typical'. As I have said before such surveys, indeed any survey, is biased by both the distribution of it and by those who are inclined to answer such things. This then is a long way form a 'scientific' poll but just a effort to gain a little more insight as to how my readers get their information and whether their internet connection affects their use of online forums and the like.

Please take a look at the survey and consider filling it out particularly if you live in rural Canada, it consists of just 6 questions and may be found here:- http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/GZZYVPK

The initial results can be viewed here ,this post will be updated and the survey discontinued on or before Nov 30 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

Rural Satellite TV

Regular readers will know I have written extensively over the last year about the loss of broadcast TV in rural areas and it still seems counter productive to provide OTA digital TV in urban areas where it is readily available inexpensively via cable but not in rural areas where the only alternative is the more expensive satellite TV solution. Shaw Direct has provided a solution however so long as you apply before November for their Local Television Satellite Solution (LTSS) program. 

I first became aware of this program via the TVO web page detailing all the transmitters being shut down. It says:-

If you live in one of these markets and have been relying on television from over the air signals, you may be able to continue to receive TVO courtesy of Shaw Direct by applying for their Local Television Satellite Solution (LTSS) program.  For more information visit SHAWDIRECT.CA/DTV.

Over to Shaw where it says:-
If you haven't been a cable or satellite customer in the last 90 days, you may be eligible for the Local Television Satellite Solution (LTSS) program.* This program will allow you to continue receiving the same or similar Canadian over-the-air channels you've always enjoyed courtesy of Shaw Direct.
Please call one of our service representatives before November 30, 2012 at 1.888.782.7602 to see if you qualify.

Having applied and been “approved” I now know that one must sign a waiver with a few conditions including not having had “been a subscriber to any Cable, IPTV or Satellite TV provider within the
last 90 days“ and detailing the channels that you have lost (although the form assumes the loss of certain stations in your area and pre-prints them for you).

You also “agree to become a Shaw Direct LTSS subscriber. Shaw Direct will provide you with a receiver and basic installation at no charge in order to provide your household with local programming. The receiver will be able to meet the technical needs of the channels we are providing. The receiver will also be considered to be your property. The programming will consist of local programming feeds from within your geographic region. This programming will be provided to you at no cost. New customers to this program are only permitted from May 31, 2011 until November 30, 2012. If we have not received this form signed within this time, we will be unable to provide this solution.”

All in all it just took that phone call, was hassle free, totally without cost, installation and receiver included and we now have 9 or 10 'local channels' including CTV, CBC, GLOBAL, TVO which is about all we really need. Thanks Shaw, I am sure up the road you will be 'encouraging' us to get the 'pay for' channels (and by all accounts all that now takes is a phone call to Shaw Customer Service) but for now we are quite happy and impressed with your promotional LTSS program.

Lost your broadcast TV? Give Shaw a call, it seems too good to be true but thus far we have seen no hidden problems or costs.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Womens Institute releases Rural Voices Report.

Regular readers will know that I have been supportive of the WI's RVN project and have written both here, on their forum and directly to them about how an on line rural forum would benefit rural communities, and suggested what form it could or should take. I have been waiting to see the results of their survey since it completion in May and SOME results have now been released in the form of a Management Report.

Unfortunately said report is not very forthcoming and only details the top 5 responses in a limited number of areas of interest. We are told that a “Detailed Report” is available, however upon inquiry we were told that “The only information being released at this time is the promised Management Report and the poster.” and that “Any additional details are not being released as they will be used to assist with sourcing  additional grants.”  Huh? I am not sure how withholding data from a pubic survey of 'rural stakeholders” from those self same “stakeholders” can enhance a future grant application.

They also say that “ the budget limited quantitative and qualitative analysis in all areas and on all variables”. I understand that such limitations may preclude academic and scholarly “analysis” but as one who distrusts such “analysis” without seeing the raw data from which is was drawn I feel that perhaps this whole process and report is focused far too much on possible grants for some academic to analyze the results rather than sharing with those who participated and those who could use the data to move forward with practical initiatives. Let us “analyze” the results for ourselves!

One thing does become clear from the report and that is that the survey is biased by the type of respondent, this is no fault of the project creators, any such 'survey' is biased. An on line survey such as the one at the end of this article is biased towards those that are on line and are inclined to answer such things, in this case it was biased towards members of the WI and those already involved in their community and thus were aware of the project or were sent a survey by mail. This resulted in a predominance of older ladies responding (hardly a surprise give that it is a Women's Institute project) which is one of the few pieces of hard data shared in the report. This obviously affects the results. 

As readers will know if they have read my previous posts about this I was mainly interested and highly supportive of the stated goal of creating a “Web portal designed to foster a living ‘Rural Voices Network’ to facilitate community engagement and collaboration through online forums.” The survey was, in part, to determine how viable this goal was and how to proceed with it. I do not see the lack of funding as a major impediment to moving forward with such a 'portal' using volunteers to do both the initial installation and the subsequent moderation, although deciding upon the format and the software may be much more of a challenge. There is little or nothing said regarding this item, which to my mind is one of the major keys to rural communication and thus enabling discussion and 'engagement' in the community. There is an “existing web portal for further online engagement of rural citizens” on the RVN site but it is less than stellar and far less user friendly and functional than what I had in mind.

I will not go into the few results they have published, you can read the report for yourselves. I do note however that “As with the lack of information, younger residents rated a lack of communication networks as being more of a barrier than did older residents.” and it is the younger folks who we have to engage! I will however comment upon some of the conclusions made. The featured recommendations highlighted here are small extracts of the full text.

Recommendation #1:
In order to communicate with rural people, stakeholders and policy-makers may need to reduce their reliance on buzzwords and jargon.

Agreed, however it is not a matter of talking down to “rural people” but more a problem with academics and consultants using flowery language to justify their work when simple and concise language is usually far more precise.

Recommendation #2:
This data holds knowledge that could potentially lead to better-informed policy. Carefully planned analysis of this data, aligned with the goals of the RVN project, may provide insights to the current situation of rural residents.....

By all means 'analyze' the data but do not 'spin' it to “align with the goals of the RVN project”. Let others also see and use the raw data and detailed report and make their own conclusions.

Recommendation #3:
..... continued engagement with those individuals, organizations and communities that have made connections with the RVN project should be ensured by encouraging the continuation of the conversation


Recommendation #4:
More and stronger connections need to be made:.........
A means of facilitating these types of connections and fostering potential relationships – through a workshop or conference, for example – should be investigated.

Whilst 'workshops or conferences' may be useful they are limited by location, who is invited, who can attend and similar factors. An ON LINE forum is much wider in its availability and is a continuous process. Both are reliant upon interested citizens being aware of them so that they can make those 'connections'.

Recommendation #5:
Although this knowledge is valuable to have, in order for it to have real worth, this knowledge should be acted upon. The RVN project committee should find a method and means by which this information can be put into productive use. The implementation of this knowledge may take any of a number of forms ranging from a simple dissemination of the information to developing a series of public forums.

The single biggest 'action' that the RVN can take to make productive use of the knowledge gained through this project is to SHARE it. The same limitations that apply to conferences also apply to public forums.

Having waited for some time to see if the results of this survey would shed any light upon how well an on line forum would be received, but not being a recipient of any information in that regard, I now will move on and be seeking to create such a web presence privately. Build it and they will come will be my mantra. We MUST get a dialog going, even as I write I learn of more rural communities being gutted of their schools and inundated with industrial wind farms to feed the urban appetite for “clean” power. Neither of which rural resident have ANY control over!

Anyone, individual or rural organization interested in helping should contact me ASAP.

Please visit and fill out the survey I created to try and get a better idea of rural online availability and use.. Just 6 questions and results WILL be shared. Click here to see the survey.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Meet Enbridge's friend Dil Bit

The following statement was made by Miranda Holmes at the National Energy Board's Joint Review Panel hearings into the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline in Comox, BC.
Many voices have been heard during these hearings, yet one has remained silent: the oily character at the centre of the debate. I think that’s a shame and so I am using my time before the panel to allow this character’s case to be made.

Hi, my name’s Dil Bit. That’s short for Diluted Bitumen, but I feel like I’m amongst friends here, so let’s not be too formal.

I come from the tar sands and, as you know, Alberta totally digs me. Alberta’s so generous she wants to share me with everyone.

If she gets her way, I’ll be passing through British Columbia a lot in the future, so I thought I should introduce myself properly.

As fossil fuels go, I’m a bit unconventional. But, as Alberta’s favourite son Steve will tell you, I’m totally ethical. (And don’t let those jet setting celebrities tell you any different.)

I’m also way better than conventional crude oil.

For instance, my total acid concentrations are up to 20 times higher than conventional crude. My sulphur content is up to 10 times higher and I’m up to 70 times thicker. Pretty impressive, eh?

Yeah, it’s true I can be a bit abrasive. Bits of quartz, pyrite, silicates, sure I carry them around. It’s just the way I’m made.

So conventional crude doesn’t have my grit. So what? No need to point out, like those granola eaters at the Natural Resources Defense Council did, that putting me in a pipeline is “like sandblasting the inside of the pipe.”

I don’t know why the Americans have taken against me, because – like so many of them – I pack some serious heat. Thanks to my true grit and my thickness (I like to think of it as strength), I make pipes hotter than conventional crude - and harder to monitor. In fact, pipelines carrying me are16 times more likely to leak.

See? I told you I was better.

I’m Alberta’s most precious resource. You think she and Steve are going to let just anyone transport me? No way.

For my travels through British Columbia, they’re going to use Enbridge, a fine, upstanding company with an excellent track record. Why, it took Enbridge 10 years to spill half as much oil as the Exxon Valdez. And they didn’t just spill it in one spot – they spread it around.

Regulators in the US thought the three million litres of me Enbridge spilled in Michigan was so funny they compared the company to those great comedy characters the Keystone Kops.

If Enbridge maintains its current success rate it should be able to meet Steve’s federal standards, which allow undetected pipeline leaks of less than 2% of capacity per week.

For the Northern Gateway project that means Enbridge could legally leave 11 million litres of me a week behind on my way to Kitimat without getting into any serious trouble. And why should they? Eleven million litres of me would be more than three times funnier than Michigan, right?

That’s good news for me, because I’ve heard there are some mighty pretty places in northern BC and I think it would be a shame not to get to know them better.

And it’s good news for BC, because your premier’s promising lots of jobs out of oil and gas exports, and cleaning up after me will sure keep people employed.

Sorry if any of the spots I’m going to wreck is one of your favourites, but I’ve got to keep Alberta happy. You know what she’s like. 

Miranda Holmes is a former journalist who spent a decade working on toxics and genetic engineering for Greenpeace and other environmental organizations in Canada and the UK.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bureaucracy gone mad!

Drummondville town code states: that a vegetable garden can take up 30 percent of a front yard at most. They have given Landry and Beauchamp two weeks to comply. (After an outpouring of support for their refusal to remove it, it is now reported that this deadline may be extended.)

What is wrong with this picture, this is not an overgrown patch of weeds but a very productive and well cared for vegetable garden. Should we as a society not be encouraging such initiatives, the days of manicured lawns that look nice but produce nothing but more co2 from the lawnmower than they absorb should be phased out in favor of productive use of the ever decreasing green spaces in our cities. They are not the first folk to run afoul of antiquated or less than flexible city bylaws, those for whom wild flowers are preferable to grass have also run in to the same kind of nonsense. Neither are they the first ones to be personalized for growing vegetables, last summer a woman in Michigan faced the same sort of thing but the city was forced to back down after a public outcry.

Its time for city officials and other urban residents who have their head in the sand that the food on their plates does not magically appear in the grocery store and that food shortages are becoming an increasing reality for many. Perhaps this years drought conditions across North America and the ensuing increase in prices will help bring the point home.

Want to support this couple, why not start a veggi garden in your own urban front yard, just imagine a street of houses fronted by gardens with tomatoes, sweet corn, peas, beans, carrots, beets and so on.... what a beautiful sight that would be.....

Friday, July 13, 2012

We get mail.....

Recently I have been getting an increasing amount of Email, much of it due to getting on some 'media' list directed at my efforts at Democracy Under Fire which results in many political promotional material from U.S. 'consultants'. Most is sent directly to the electronic garbage bin however once in a while I get some interesting stuff.

I welcome the updates from Lead Now “a group of young Canadians taking action together for the fair, responsible and democratic Canada that we believe in.” Their latest projects are detailed below and I encourage those who are concerned with the direction that the Harper Regime is taking our democratic processes (and that SHOULD be all of you) to get involved.

  1. Pilot Campaigns to hold Conservative MPs accountable to their constituents

    We’d like to try an experiment: local mass-mobilization campaigns in key ridings. We’ll encourage Conservative MPs, especially back-benchers who won with less than 50% of the vote, to become pro-democracy independents before the next election. If 13 of them joined together they could shift the balance of power in Parliament, and hold the Harper Conservatives accountable to a majority of Canadians. This is a powerful strategy, and we need to do it right.

    Are you interested in committing your time to be part of a pilot campaign? Click here to sign up: Yes, I would like to volunteer as part of a local accountability campaign in my riding.

  1. Host a Leadnow Summer Gathering (July 24-August 10)

    The Leadnow Summer Gatherings will connect pro-democracy Canadians in a casual setting to meet each other, make local connections, and talk about our long-term strategy. Together, we’ll take the next step in hosting a national conversation to create a long-term campaign for major improvements to our democracy, with a focus on electoral reform. Our goal is to build a game-changing strategy before the 2015 federal election to make our democracy work better for all Canadians.

    Today, we’d just like to know if you’d be interested in hosting a Summer Gathering. Next week, we’ll send out an invitation for everyone in the Leadnow community to find and join the gathering closest to them.

    You can decide whether your Summer Gathering is public or private, whether it will be a big group or just you and a few friends, and whether it will take place at a local coffee shop, in your living room, or as a backyard BBQ. Click here to learn more about hosting a Leadnow Summer Gathering: http://www.tfaforms.com/250842

  1. Build the Pro-Democracy Movement Online

    Can’t join a Summer Gathering? No problem. Watch for another note from us in the next couple of weeks. We will ask for your feedback to help create the long-term democracy campaign focused on the 2015 election.


The second piece of 'interesting mail was from one of those 'consultants' promoting an info-graphic detailing the resources used in raising animals for food as opposed to the vegetarian diet. This was of interest to me because I am a lifelong vegetarian, however not for reasons of animal welfare, food resources or economics but simply for healthy eating. I have nothing against those that get a portion of their protein from animal sources however I do believe that, at least in North America, that greater diversity of diet needs to be practiced, moderation and a balanced diet is more important than what is part of that intake in my view.

That said we should bear in mind, given the increasing world population and finite food sources, that as the info-graphic details it takes much more resources to provide meat protein than direct intake of vegetable protein. Something to think about!


The third bit of mail was from the Edmonton Folk Music Festival detailing their efforts to making their even 'green' and have minimal impact upon the location and the environment as detailed below.

Since the 1980’s, the Edmonton Folk Music Festival (August 9th - 12th) has implemented a legion of 2,000+ volunteers that include an environmental crew, who have committed to minimizing the impact that the festival has on the local grounds. This task is not easy considering the four day event attracts over 80,000 people and Gallagher Park, where the festival takes place, has no paved pathways or roads.

Since the beginning, efforts to minimize impact on the environment during the festival included:
·         Installing temporary plastic walkways to minimize damage to the park
·         Sending out cleaning crews throughout the day to pick up garbage: the morning clean-up crew, called EnviroPower, is staffed by youth volunteers and then the Site Environment crew monitors the park during the day and evenings.
·         Recycling: the Festival Site Environment collects recyclable items to minimize garbage sent to the landfill and composts organic waste generated during the Festival.
·         Restoring Gallagher Park: this includes removing facilities and equipment in a timely manner and restoring the grass.

Over the past few years, the green movement has grown and other programs that have been instated are:
·         Bringing in 5,000 washable plates to onsite concessionaries and implementing a ‘No Styrofoam’ policy on site.
·         Using Poly Lactic Acid (PLA) beer cups which derive entirely from natural corn materials, is 100% renewable through annual corn harvests and fully compostable. Installing solar panels on merchandising tents which run lights and cash registers
·         The Festival and all concessionaries use bio-degradable cutlery, napkins and other products which are composted

Congratulation to the organizers for their efforts, these large outdoor events do have a considerable impact upon the surroundings and any effort to minimize it is a good thing. Well done folks.


Please note that this is NOT an invite for every organization or 'public relations firm to send me a bunch of crap in the hope that I will republish it on my blogs. I some how have been added to a U.S. media list that has left me inundated with mostly political 'Info Blasts' that I have little or no interest in. No doubt that much of that is due to my 'Democracy Under Fire' pages but some have bled over into the 'Rural Canadian', I do like to keep up on CANADIAN political stuff and in these days of kill the messenger it is NESSARY to keep up with environmental and scientific concerns. In short if you are reading this please use restraint in using my email links supplied for those reader that are not comfortable (or internet savvy) enough to use the comment section. Dialog is good ...... but too much crap from 'media relation' types simply clogs the pipes!!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Environmental Extremes

By now any one who is not totally brain dead knows that climate change is a reality, how much of that is due to human activity is open to debate but we most certainly have a major part in in it. Given the extremes of weather and threats to our rivers, forests, flora and fauna by both the changing conditions and the threats from industrial activity one would think that governments at all levels would all be pulling in the same direction to protect our environment.

We all know of course that this is not true, our Federal Government who should be leading the charge is in fact opening up our natural world to further destruction by reducing both the regulations and the staff that enforce them as well as our scientific experts that study what, why and how these things are happening and what to do about it.

On the other hand the Ontario Provincial Government seems to be going to the opposite extreme. Although they have all but suspended environmental assessments for industrial wind farm installations in their rush to say that they are supporting 'green' initiatives they are going overboard to protect 'wetlands' and other 'habitat'. It seems that now a farmers field that occasionally floods and sees a flock of geese drop in for a rest could be designated a protected wetland.

What follow then are extracts from a couple of articles describing opposite extremes of government actions, somewhere between these two their must be a reasonable level of environmental protection whist still allowing controlled development where necessary. Its a tough balancing act, I will let you decide where that balance lays, for there will be no consensus on this one, nor will we have any meaningful say in trying to find same.

DFO Program & Staff Cuts.
Today all DFO (Department of Fisheries & Oceans - who are / were also responsible for fish habitat in rivers & streams) habitat protection and management staff in Canada are receiving letters that they are now "red-circled" - i.e. they are being affected by Bill C-38 with it's budget and habitat legislation and
program cuts (i.e. DFO downsizing) and many will soon not have a job. Staff were directed to not discuss this with anyone and only DFO Ottawa was allowed to comment on the issue. 132 habitat staff across Canada will be fired (laid off) in the next few months in that many will have to compete for remaining jobs. In the Pacific Region, they now have 92 staff and that is to be reduced to 60 - an approximate 33% cut in staff. Also, all habitat office locations in Pacific Region are to be closed down, with the exception of Whitehorse, Prince Rupert, Kamloops, Vancouver and Nanaimo.
Ottawa has given all DFO habitat staff directions to remove the "Habitat Management Program" title from their organization and from their offices, etc. in that they are now to be called the "Fisheries Protection Program".

All DFO habitat protection offices from Quebec to the BC-Alberta border, i.e. Central and Arctic Region, will also be drastically cut and all offices will be shut down except in Ottawa, Burlington, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Yellowknife. It is indicated that of 63 DFO offices in Canada with habitat staff (now "fisheries protection" staff), most will be closed and the number of offices having habitat-type program staff will be reduced to 14 for a giant geographic area - i.e. Canada.

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources says the changes are just extra criteria to fill gaps in existing wildlife protection rules. They would apply to new developments such as subdivisions, commercial construction or wind turbines, not to smaller projects such as renovating a house.
The scope is broader than anything Ontario has seen before. The draft rules would protect butterflies, toads, salamanders, deer, red spruce, white oak, alvars, sand dunes, bogs, owls, farm fields that flood in the spring, geese, springs, bears, lichens, gulls, turtles, sandpipers, mink, wolves, ospreys, and “dancing grounds” of the sharp-tailed grouse.
These include urban species such as ring-billed gulls (familiar wherever French fries are sold), merlins (a small hawk common in Ottawa) and “nuisance” geese.
More specifically, the following would be designated as Significant Wildlife Habitat:
• Any wetland with 20 or more frogs or tadpoles;
• Large buffer areas around nests of Cooper’s hawks, ring-billed gulls, Canada geese or most ducks, all of which are found in urban Ottawa;
• Farm fields that flood in spring if they are stopovers for 100 or more migrating geese or ducks;
• A single snapping turtle nest, or a pond where five painted turtles spend the winter;
• Any hawk or owl nest in a forest;
• A cliff and the “talus” (fallen rocks) at its base;
• Any stand of trees where 10 per cent or more of the trees are white oak;
• “Corridors” where toads, deer, or salamanders move from spot to spot;
• Any spring or “seep” where groundwater comes to the surface.
In all, the draft outlines habitats of hundreds of types of plants and animals, ranging from forests to beaches to farms and suburbs.
The draft document on Significant Wildlife Habitat was posted on a provincial website in the spring, but attracted little notice. It is on the Environmental Registry website, reference number 011-5740. The period for comments is closed.
And there you have it, the two extremes from two different levels of government, and both of them IMHO as troubling as the other.

Friday, June 29, 2012

TVO and CBC TV Broadcasts to End

The only real surprise here is how quietly this decision has taken place, it seems that the last day to complain to the CRTC is June 18th but by all accounts it is a done deal anyway so why bother. It is also no suprise that there is no definitive list (from CBC) of the areas that will be left with NO broadcast TV (those that are not within range of a digital signal) which is once again the rural population whose only other option is expensive satellite TV.

"This transmission infrastructure is worth millions and has already been paid for by Canadian taxpayers," says Catherine Edwards of the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS). Rather than being scrapped, communities should be given the chance to maintain it themselves. The transmitters and towers can be used not just to continue free CBC service, but also to set up local wireless Internet, mobile service, or community TV."

In March 2012, TVOntario announced that all 114 of its remaining analog transmitters still under TVOntario ownership will be shut down by October 2013, and will not be replaced by digital transmitters. Its 14 medium and high power transmitters will be shut down July 31, 2012. Of its low power transmitters, 50 will shut down in 2012 and the remaining 50 will shut down in 2013. Remaining broadcasters that carry TVOntario programming has since been transferred to local interests.[12]

Bancroft channel 42
Hawkesbury channel 48
Huntsville channel 13
Kenora channel 44
Kingston channel 38
North Bay channel 6
Owen Sound channel 12
Parry Sound channel 42
Pembroke channel 29
Penetanguishene channel 51
Peterborough channel 18
Sault Ste. Marie channel 20
Sudbury channel 19
Timmins channel 7

On August 18, 2011, the CRTC issued a decision that allows CBC's mandatory market rebroadcasting transmitters in analog to remain on-air until August 31, 2012.[55] Before that deadline, CBC's license renewal process will take place and CBC's digital transition plans will be examined as part of that process. The requirement remains for all of CBC's full power transmitters occupying channels 52 to 69 to either relocate to channels 2 to 51 or become low power transmitters. In some cases, CBC has opted to reduce the power of existing transmitters to low power transmitters, which will result in signal loss for some viewers.
On April 4, 2012, CBC released its budget plans, in which it announced that all of its approximately 620 analog television transmitters will be shut down on July 31, 2012, which is early than planned, due to funding reductions from the federal government.[56][57]

Once again us rural folks get screwed and treated as a second class citizen because we are a minority. In many of the locations, including it would seem the Grey Bruce area, the broadcasts will not be replaced by digital signals but simply shut down, period. As I said above that leaves but one choice for many of us – satellite TV. If anyone thinks I am going to pay $50 a month to watch an ever increasing load of crap they are sadly mistaken. I will miss TVO though, particularly Steve Pakin's “The Agenda”.

Also see my earlier posts on this subject here, here and here

NOTE:- Although Industry Canada has allocated a digital frequency for use by these stations there appears to be no applications for actually providing a digital signal in these largely rural areas. It is interesting to note that most digital transmitters of TV stations are located in urban areas where relatively inexpensive access to television via cable is available whilst in more remote rural areas where cable is rarely available there is now no access to a signal by either analog OR digital signals!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Canada to come?

This from The Sixth Estate needs no further introduction except to say that it is much closer to reality than many realize. I replicate the article in full here but highly recommend that you visit The Sixth Estate for their many investigative and factual writings.

The following post is deliberately alarmist. Orwellian, you might say. I’m not trying to paint a picture of what things are like in Canada right now, or even what I think they’ll be like in the near future. I’m not an idiot. But I do want to paint a picture of the sort of Canada which is explicitly permitted under some of the legal changes proposed and/or actually passed by the Harper regime. Whether this represents in any way the policies of a party that used to stand for small, transparent, and accountable government, is also up to you. I think by the end of this you’ll have a good idea where I stand on that question. So some of this list has already happened, but more of it are things the government has said they want to be allowed to happen, but haven’t actually done. Yet.

We’ll start from the perspective of an immigrant, rather than a newborn Canadian. You apply for immigration, you make sure all your ducks are in order, and you wait for your application to be processed. Because the government can’t afford to process the paperwork, your application may languish for a considerable time. Sometimes, the government simply eliminates the waiting list altogether and instructs you to start over from square one. You will also need to keep your political beliefs very quiet (or make sure they agree with the government in power), because the law allows the minister to personally reject your application for the nebulous reason of “public policy considerations.”

Assuming you arrive by air, from the moment you step off the airplane, you’ll be subjected — like all Canadians — to constant surveillance by the national security service, which routinely records all conversations at major airports. Also like all Canadians, your email, Internet use, and cell phone may be monitored at any time by the security service or the police, secretly and without a warrant. But as an immigrant, you’re also subject to some more intensive surveillance activities too. For instance, if the security service visits and demands that you report for an interrogation, you must agree. At this interrogation they can ask any questions they wish, and if you fail to answer truthfully, that’s grounds for expulsion from the country.

There’s another good reason to keep your political beliefs quiet, too: even after you become a citizen, if for some reason you’ve drawn the ire of the government (or the government’s American ally), once you leave the country the government claims the power not to let you back in. This isn’t a power granted to the government by the Constitution; in fact, it’s a power specifically denied by the Constitution. However, the government’s official policy is that when a minister makes a decision on a “matter of high policy,” ministerial prerogative automatically trumps the Constitution, so in practice, the Constitution doesn’t apply to government policy in those areas.
It’s no surprise that the government routinely violates its own and international law: that’s part of how the Canadian state functions. The ruling party and its Cabinet ministers have been under investigation for various incidents of fraud and corruption for six of the past seven years, racking up multiple convictions and findings of guilt. None of these convictions have amounted to more than mild admonitions, however, so all of the people in question, including the minister responsible for the police, are still at their posts. Recently an opposition party levelled yet another allegation of petty corruption; in retaliation, they were hauled into court to give an accounting for themselves.

You find a job in a federally regulated sector — at an airline company, say, or on the railway. In federal sectors, there are large trade unions, but strikes are outlawed. Even in the private sector, the federal government appoints arbitrators to determine your wages and working conditions, rather than allow these decisions to be made free of government interference in the labour market. So you pay dues to the union, you work for a private employer, but your wages are set by the government, sometimes in collaboration with the employer, sometimes not.
For some reason the government requires that a broadcast of Parliament be included in all cable packages, so you tune in a few times before rapidly growing bored of the inanity of it all. Under the Harper regime, Parliamentary debate does occur from time to time, but it’s strictly optional. The Speaker has ruled that, if the government really wants to, it can introduce all of the legislation for the session in a single omnibus bill, hold a paltry five hours of debate on that bill before passing it, and then close up shop early and come back in a year for the next session. The Speaker has also ruled that although opposition MPs have the right to ask questions of the government in Parliament, the government does not have an obligation to actually answer them.

That’s not out of the ordinary, either. Parliament has an array of theoretically independent commissioners, but their powers are minimal. One of them has actually threatened legal action to force the government to supply him financial information they’re legally required to provide; in response, the government has hinted that his job will be next on the chopping block. Another commissioner has repeatedly pointed to the illegal lobbying activities of several of the Prime Minister’s senior advisors; but in no case has this resulted in a charge being laid. The government and its advisors, it seems, are above and beyond the reach of mere law. You also have legal options open to you to request government information as a private citizen, but those options are very limited. The government routinely engages in illegal obstruction of access-to-information requests, ranging from excessive delays to retroactive reclassification of documents under a system known — at least in some departments — as the “Purple File.”
Of course the Charter guarantees you the right to protest all of this. But you’ll want to be careful with that. The government still provides subsidies to a range of NGOs and quasi-NGOs (what the British call quangos), but increasingly those subsidies come with explicit strings attached. Until last year, the only obvious one involved Canada’s foreign allies: criticize their domestic policy, warned the immigration minister, and your funding will get pulled. Since 2011, the list of enemies has broadened. The new policy, one minister revealed following the shutdown of the country’s premier environmental policy council, is that advocating a policy position which the government disagrees with is grounds to have your funding pulled. The prime minister subsequently clarified that organizations whose positions were “contrary to government policy” would be defunded and/or “eliminated” where possible. Recently a union economist was hauled before a Parliamentary committee and given a grotesquely comical McCarthyist grilling on his links to opposition political parties.

The funding issues are only the soft and slushy tip of the iceberg, however. The security service routinely infiltrates and monitors political advocacy groups, especially ones with ties to environmentalist or to First Nations. Raise too much of a stink, and you’ll be labelled an “enemy of the state.” Calling a minister’s office to complain about a new piece of legislation could be enough to get you cited for contempt of Parliament. If you do it anonymously, or issue threats, the government will ask the police and the intelligence service to investigate. But even if you just call to register a complaint, you can still be charged with the rather nebulous offence of interfering with a government official in the course of his duties. And if you’re an immigrant, these sorts of political activities probably raise the risk of you getting summoned to one of those pesky CSIS interviews.
Plus, if you’ve decided to identify yourself in a protest to your politician or a Cabinet minister, you’ll also be entered into another database, a separate one maintained by the ruling party with the objective of maintaining an up-to-date record of the address, political beliefs, and public activities of every citizen in the country. Government officials privately acknowledge that during the last election someone — a party insider or an outside hacker, they don’t know — accessed this database and downloaded contact information for thousands of suspected political dissidents, who were then misdirected to bogus polling stations in a bizarre attempt to prevent them from casting their votes. More recently, unknown but clearly well-organized hackers came within a hair’s breadth of shutting down an opposition party’s leadership convention. No one claimed responsibility; in fact, no one seems remotely concerned with identifying the guilty party.
And meanwhile, the government is trying very hard to explain to Canadians that the increasing gaps between their ideological vision of utopia and the reality of Canadian dystopia are the fault of a widespread liberal conspiracy which has penetrated deep into the government bureaucracy with the intention of undermining the government. For instance, recently, the government announced that lengthy delays in processing Employment Insurance paperwork were not the fault of government cutbacks (which actually improved service levels), but rather the fault of an organized conspiracy among the EI administrators to engage in work slowdowns and anti-government wrecking. For years, the ruling party has alleged that Liberals are secreted away at every level of the CBC and are trying to use the state broadcaster to undermine the government. Conservative commentators also allege that liberals have squirreled themselves away in Elections Canada and are trying to use that organization for much the same purpose.

A particularly telling sign of the paranoid authoritarian streak behind these tactics is that in recent months actual and former Conservatives and Conservative government appointees have become seen as sufficiently disloyal that they are denounced as members of the liberal conspiracy. Conservative appointees Marc Mayrand (head of Elections Canada), Tom Lederer (the Toronto judge who threw out Ted Opitz’s election), and Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, to name just three recent examples, have all been denounced as having been scheming liberal dissidents all along after falling afoul of the government. Recently two card-carrying Conservative veterans complained that a government MP on a Parliamentary committee had fallen asleep while listening to their presentation; for this seemingly minor faux pas, they were promptly denounced as pro-Russian NDP agents trying — once again — to embarrass the government.

Hoping that another exercise in dividing an conquering will shore up their flagging support, the government is returning to and escalating this war on the bureaucracy with new gusto. The day I sat down to pen this piece, a secret report was mysteriously leaked to the state broadcaster, and then announced on the evening news with great fanfare, purporting to show that bureaucrats were booking excessive sick time. It’s not hard to imagine who “leaked” this. To cut down on unwanted leaks and criticism, all employees in the federal public sector are being issued variations on a general order that they have ”a duty to refrain from public criticism of the government,” not just from within the workplace but also as a private citizen. Parks Canada’s version can be found here. A vaguer version of the duty of loyalty is also applied, as of May 2012, to English- but not French-language employees of the state broadcaster.
In addition to tightening the flow of information in this way, the government is also increasingly resorting to the more subtle tactic of simply deleting information entirely. Councils that have tried to change government policy on contentious issues, like the National Roundtable on the Environment, aren’t the only research-related programs being scrapped this year. The government’s ongoing war of attrition against Statistics Canada is continuing as well, with one of the most recent incidents being the mysterious disappearance of the agency’s online data tables on Employment Insurance rates just as the debate over EI reform was picking up speed. If you don’t know what’s going on, you can’t criticize what’s going on.

In short, the Harper regime has banned strikes, implemented massive new surveillance programs (extending to personal computers and cell phones as well as normal passenger traffic in public spaces), gutted the customary rights of Parliament, committed numerous incidents of electoral fraud, censored the public service, suppressed and classified formerly public information, denounced critics as members of a partian conspiracy, and argued that routine ministerial decisions take precedence over not just the law but even the Constitution. Thank God the Conservative Party stands for small and transparent government, or I’d be starting to get a little worried just about now.