Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Welome to Sprawlville!

I am happy to announce the debut of my brand new blog...


Taking the concept of local blogging to an extreme, I'll be walking and biking all over my adopted home town of Milton with my video camera trying to discover if the Sprawl Capital of Canada can continue to be (or become again) a livable, sustainable, resilient community.

Using the town as a case study, I'll be looking at everything from transit to food access, community integration, local businesses, greenspace and commons, and even how local geography impacts the town's design and development - all to see what works, what doesn't work, how it used to work, how it could work, and what we can do to make it better. Then we can see about applying those lessons elsewhere.

If you're interested in sustainable living, urban and suburban planning, local everything, or are just curious to see what life is like in a not-so-small southern Ontario town, come check it out.

I don't know how it's all going to turn out, but it's going to be a lot of fun.

I'd Post About the Bloc Motion Too, Except...

If I ever become this kind of blogger just smack me upside the head, ok?

Big news about a new blog of mine coming up tomorrow! Try to contain your excitement.

Friday, April 25, 2008

In and Out: When a Gate is Really a Gate

I'm reading 'All the President's Men' right now. It's just a coincidence, really. I was in the used book store a few weeks back and thought, "hmmm - I've never read that before" and picked it up.

Nothing like reading about the original 'Gate when your own government is awash in scandal. And not just any 'Gate-like scandal, either: an actual, honest to Gods election finance scandal.

The trouble with election finance scandals, of course, is that they tend to sound rather complicated and dull at first, even when dramatized by Redford and Hoffman. It's only when you start reading the first hand accounts of those who were directly involved that you begin to grasp just how calculated and cynical the actions of the Conservative Party were, and just how deeply they betrayed those who put their faith in them.

Take for example these affidavits from Joseph Goudie, former Conservative candidate for Labrador and his staff. Not only do they put lie to every single lame excuse and explanation put forward by Stephen Harper so far, but they add a certain... colour to an otherwise dry discussion of money transfers.

The one who was in the most direct contact with the representative from the national Conservative campaign office was Debbie Singleton, Goudie's campaign manager. Some choice excerpts from her affidavit (emphasis mine):

6. I was told by Mr. Hudson that the Conservative Party of Canada would be sending us money for advertising but that we would have to send the money right back to the Conservative Party of Canada.

7. Mr. Hudson said that the money would be used for national ads run locally.

8. Our campaign had just started and we had very little money and so I asked Mr. Hudson if I could use some of that money to advertise on local radio and in the local newspaper.

9. Mr. Hudson said no, that this money was for TV advertising and that we would have to pay for radio and newspaper ads ourselves.

10. I then asked Mr. Hudson if the TV ads would mention or in any way reference Mr. Goudie’s campaign. He said the TV ads would be generic and there would be no reference to Mr. Goudie.

11. To my knowledge, none of the television ads run by the Conservative Party of Canada during the election mentioned Mr. Goudie or his campaign either by spoken word or in writing.


22. This whole thing really bothers me. When I begged for help from the Conservative Party of Canada, they wouldn’t even reply to my emails. It appears to me that the only interest the Conservative Party of Canada had in our campaign was to use us as part of this scheme.

23. I had absolutely no reason to think or believe that there was anything wrong, or even questionable, about what Mr. Hudson told us to do. I simply followed instructions.

24. I feel awful that we were used in this fashion. If I was the victim of one of those email scams, I wouldn’t feel any more duped than I do now for having been innocently caught up in this matter.

The candidate himself only learned of the money transfers after the campaign was over. He was also disillusioned. From Joe Goudie's affidavit:

10. Throughout the campaign we had been looking for financial and political help from the National Conservative Party of Canada Campaign. It is bad enough that they gave us no help whatsoever but to now find out that the only thing we were good for was to be used by the Conservative Party of Canada, galls me to no end.

11. I am badly disappointed because I had faith in the Conservative Party of Canada and Mr. Harper. That’s why I ran in the first place.

12. This transfer in / transfer out scheme was the final straw for me. I have lost all faith in the Conservative Party of Canada and Mr. Harper. I was used by them.

There are, of course, some major differences between the In & Out Scandal and Watergate. One of the most significant being that while Nixon denied and covered up what he and his party did, Stephen Harper is practically bragging about it.

I'm not sure which is worse.

(H/T to James Curran)

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

From National Newswatch. And no, I'm not talking about the Spitzer headline...

Canada's Gnu Government: Because Denial Makes Us All Feel Better.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

My Environmentalist Street Cred Just Took a Big Hit

So. Yeah. The new vehicle.

Let me start by saying that despite living in the Sprawl Capital of Canada, my family and I really do have a reasonably small ecological footprint - mostly due to our living within spitting distance of the poverty line most of the year.

We live in a very small house with lots of big trees around it. We do not have central air - only a single window unit. We are self-employed and therefore do not commute. Our son has always walked to school. Only one of us has been on an airplane in the past eight years. We don't own a dishwasher. We do own a washer and dryer, but they haven't worked in years so we do our laundry at the laundromat. And our laundromat uses SOLAR HEATED WATER! Pretty cool, huh?

You might recall my mentioning that our one vehicle is one of these...

... which we really do need for transporting crap to and from shows and film sets for our respective businesses. Yeah, it sucks gas like nobody's business and it really would be nice to have a second, much smaller car for daily use, but like I said - we're broke.

Last week my dad gave us an incredibly generous gift. He was getting a new car and offered to give us his old one. We could hardly turn him down, and it really is nice to have a second vehicle even though we can't afford to keep both indefinitely.

It gets better gas mileage than the Safari, although only slightly - about 15% better. It's still big enough for most business-related purposes, plus it's got all sorts of cool features like heated seats, a sunroof, driver's side air bag, computerized everything, and it even remembers who I am when I get in and adjusts the seat and mirrors accordingly.

There's only one problem. It's one of these:

I can't even bring myself to say the 'S'-word, so I've decided to refer to it as the VLC. Short for Very Large Car.

I feel so... dirty. I think I'll go ride my bike some more.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What I Did For Earth Day

It was sort of a half-assed, last minute thing, but at some point yesterday I thought, yeah, I'm gonna do it.

I'm going to go the whole day without driving.

You wouldn't think this would be a big deal. After all, I spent the first 24 years of my life without a driver's license. I took public transit. I rode my bike to work. Even when I was seven months pregnant and lived in Richmond Hill, I waddled the four or five blocks to the GO bus stop and managed to make it all the way into downtown Toronto every day.

Then I moved to Milton.

At first it wasn't so bad. The grocery store, the post office, the office supply store and my bank were all within a few blocks of my house. Then the bank moved to the mall. Then the downtown grocery store closed. Then the other grocery store moved from the mall to the Outer Reaches of Developmentville. The D.H. was no longer monopolizing the vehicle, and suddenly I was driving everywhere. I try to avoid it but sadly, I'm just lazy.

Nevertheless, today, despite my utter lack of physical fitness or prowess, I donned my helmet, put my knapsack on my back and set off to bicycle my way through Milton for the day. Just so I could post it on my blog. And to do penance for my new vehicle... but more on that later.

I biked to the post office to deliver a couple of packages. Then to the LCBO for a bottle of utility wine. On the way back I popped by Garth's office to say hi to Esther, but she was in a meeting. Then I stopped by the Shoppers to pick up some milk, and then home again. Round trip: 2.6 km.

After a brief rest I was off to the bank, and then the long, hazardous trek to the new Loblaws Super Centre. Hazardous because the only way out there runs along the four-lane eastern section of Main Street. Unlike Toronto, Milton drivers give zero quarter for cyclists, so unless you are riding on some little residential side street your only hope of survival is to stick to the sidewalks. Which in this case are narrow, barely paved, and run across a particularly brutal set of train tracks.

I made it safely, managed to stuff a week's groceries into my knapsack (I gotta get a basket), and wended my way home. Round trip: 4.8 km.

To top it all off, I even rode my bike to choir practice tonight, then to the pub for our regular Tuesday night pub, then home. Round trip: 1.2 km.

My total ride today was only about 8 km, but they were eight totally emissions-free kilometres. Aside from the carbon-dioxide emissions of my laboured breathing.

I feel really, really good.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Pennsylvania Primary Day!

Courtesy of The Onion:

Poll: Bullshit Is Most Important Issue For 2008 Voters

Pennsylvania, Brenda Martin, Earth Day, In and Out... it's gonna be a HELL of a day!


Garth Turner's been posting even more frequently than usual on the Conservative 'In and Out' scandal (and BTW, Alison's take on this is the best evah!). Seems Garth was actually invited to take part in the whole scheme, but his sharp-as-a-tack campaign manager smelled something fragrant and advised him to say no.

Yay, Esther!

Today, Garth brought back some memories of that fateful campaign as he speculated on the role that money may have played in his victory over former Liberal candidate and current Halton regional chair Gary Carr. One item he commented on was Gary's effective use of signage.

Yep. And I've still got mine.

Can these be recycled?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The GreenCarting of Milton

I live in the invisible house.

Admittedly, my house is set a fair ways back from the street, and there is a big ol' tree in front of it. And there's a park across the street, which means that trick-or-treaters and newspaper delivery kids prefer to just skip it rather than haul their asses all the way up the driveway when there's no houses to hit on the way back up the street. Still, when the trucks come on Wednesdays to pick up the trash they always manage to find us.

So why is it that, when Halton's new GreenCarts for compostables were delivered last month, our neighbours on both sides got theirs and we got hosed?

I immediately called the Region and left my information. They put me on the list and said to wait a week. A week went by, and I called again. They had apparently gotten my phone number wrong the first time, but we got that straightened out. They apologized, said to wait until the 4th. I wait. No Green Cart.

A few days later, my neighbours had their first GreenCart collection.

For some unknown reason, the Region decided to roll out the GreenCart program and change up the whole garbage and recycling schedule AND start using a new waste collection contract company all on the same day.

All did not go well.

The contractor in charge of the region's garbage pick-up has issued an apology to local residents for the delays that've been experienced so far in the new waste collection program.

Miller Waste Systems started a contract with the Region last week that includes the new GreenCart program, weekly Blue Box collection and bi-weekly garbage collection with a six-bag limit.

But the program got off to a bit of a rocky start, with some residents waiting for several days after their scheduled collection day for a Miller truck to show up.

Oops. Yeah, I noticed that. Our garbage and blue boxes didn't get picked up until Thursday night, and on Friday I still saw trucks collecting yard waste. Seems MWS had some splainin' to do.
Miller Senior Vice-President Blair McArthur appeared before regional council Wednesday to apologize for the challenges that've been experienced so far and offer up some explanations.

"There is a very compelling reason for the delays you have seen," he said. "The Region's marketing campaign (for the program) promised 'More Blue and Green for a Better Planet' and we have definitely seen more blue and green than at any time in the history of our waste diversion experience. In our 47 years of business, we have never seen such unprecedented rates in the roll-out of a new waste management program or the volumes of material set out for collection."

He said last week, Miller trucks collected about 2,000 tonnes of recycling and organics (compostable material) -- over 50 per cent more than what was expected.

There were also high volumes of leaf and yard waste, with more than 200 tonnes of the material being collected per day. That's about 20 per cent more than Miller had anticipated.

Shocking, I know. Especially since it was the first week after the snow melt and people had spent the weekend, oh... cleaning up their yards. Still, one wouldn't think that having to collect 50% more stuff would result in it taking 300% longer than they had estimated. Although apparently they also had issues with people not showing up for work. And they weren't real familiar with the routes. And they only had 63 trucks.

Wait a minute. 63 trucks? When they're hauling blue box/green cart, garbage and yard waste in three separate runs? And there are... 440,000 people in Halton? Which is, what, 150,000 households? Maybe 100,000 who don't live in apartments? That's still... holy shit. Ok, well, I guess I don't know enough about waste management.

Amusingly enough, Milton almost torpedoed the whole Green Cart plan. Apparently a number of our rural residents protested, asking why the hell they should pay their Hard Earned Tax Dollars to collect stuff they could just as easily compost in their enormous backyards. Sadly, when the Region did a garbage study, they discovered that rural residents had just as many compostable materials in their garbage as everyone else in town.

Soooo... we'll see how it goes. In the meantime, I finally got my GreenCart today. And only three and a half weeks late.

Friday, April 18, 2008

ZENN Questions

I've been following the saga of the ZENN car fairly closely, but I hadn't seen or heard anything since December when Transport Canada lumped the ZENN in the same category as a golf cart. I wasn't able to find anything more recent online, so I decided to try something radical and ask my MPP Ted Chudleigh to check into it for me.

I'll admit, I've been a little spoiled living in Halton, where we happen to have an unusually responsive federal Member of Parliament. I had no idea what to expect from his Provincial counterpart, but I was pleasantly surprised when Mr. Chudleigh got back to me within a week. Almost makes me wish I'd voted for the guy (almost).

Ted ('can I call you Ted?') said that he would forward my inquiry to the Ministry of Transportation, and so he did. I got their response in the mail today, via Susan Lo of the Safety Policy and Education Branch. Sadly, her response left a little to be desired, as it was largely a rehashing of information from their website and a reiteration of Transport Canada's feeble arguments about 'safety concerns'.

I have written the following response, and have forwarded a copy to Ted. I'll let you know if anything comes of it.

Dear Ms. Lo,

Thank you for responding to my query. Unfortunately, the information you provided is several months old and doesn’t address my question of what is happening right now regarding the ZENN car in Ontario.

Back in November, the Minister of Transportation was quoted as follows:

"Our government is certainly excited about the possibility of using low-speed cars with low emissions and a smaller environmental footprint," Bradley said in an interview.

"We certainly would like to see that happen as soon as possible, and I've asked MTO to work with ZENN and similar manufacturers to work through the safety issues. I'm optimistic we can work through them."

In that same article, he was also quoted as saying that Ontario would not be waiting for the pilot project in provincial parks to finish in 2011 before taking action on the ZENN. Is this still the case? If it is, what steps is he taking to facilitate the process?

As for safety standards, I find it bizarre that a fully enclosed, aluminum chassis vehicle that meets or exceeds FMVSS500 standards in the U.S. would be considered unsafe on 50 km/hr streets, while motorcycles are allowed on 400-series highways alongside transport trucks.

I am aware of Transport Canada's stated reasons for giving the ZENN the same safety approval rating as a golf cart. I can only assume that they are having trouble classifying it, since there has probably never been anything like it presented to them before. I don’t know if the solution is to change the rules for passenger vehicles to account for where and how fast they would be driven, or if it would be necessary to create a whole new class of low-speed vehicle, but they obviously need to start being a little more flexible in the face of new technology.

What I do not understand is why Ontario isn’t following British Columbia’s lead by creating its own legislation to allow ZENN cars on low speed-limit, neighbourhood roads - as they were intended.

If the Government of Ontario really is serious about addressing climate change, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, improving public health, and supporting what could become a major all-Canadian manufacturing presence in this province, then please let me know exactly what steps are being taken to follow through on the Minister’s assurances about "working through the safety issues" and bring the ZENN to Ontario’s streets.

I look forward to your reply. Thank you.

- Jennifer Smith

Subprimes to Student Loans: The Next Domino

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse down south, there's this:
Congress moves to calm student loan turmoil

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill to direct federal financial institutions, including the Treasury Department's Federal Financing Bank, to ensure enough money is available to provide student loans.

The student loan business is in disarray because of fallout from the subprime mortgage crisis, as well as deep cuts in federal subsidies paid to federally guaranteed student loan providers that were approved last year by Congress.

The House bill would also let the Education Department buy federal student loans from lenders unable to sell them on the largely paralyzed secondary market, and funnel loan capital to colleges through state guaranty agencies.

...Underscoring the urgency, Bank of America Corp said on Thursday it would no longer offer private student loans in the coming academic year.

And the chief executive of Sallie Mae, the largest student lender, said the system was in for "something of a train wreck" by mid-2008 if the federal government did not move quickly with a stabilization plan.

Dozens of lenders have exited the federal loan program altogether since the cuts in subsidies, prompting some analysts to predict a shakeout of smaller competitors and growth for larger players.


The American higher education system is the world's costliest. Most students, facing soaring costs for tuition, books and living expenses, get some financial aid. As grants and scholarships have dwindled, loans have become common.

Under the biggest loan program, students take out federally guaranteed loans from lenders such as Sallie Mae, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co and others.

And my favourite part:
...the credit crunch meant most of Sallie Mae's new student loans would lose money. Loan demand was running at $3 billion a month, while it has only been able to access funding of about $1 billion a month -- and at record-setting costs, he said.

Wow. The whole house of cards is tumbling down, isn't it?

No wonder my largely US-based internet sales have largely dried up over the past year. I have a feeling these people aren't going to be spending anything on anything besides food, shelter, and mandatory minimum payments for the foreseeable future.

It remains to be seen how far Canada's going to be following them down the rabbit hole, but if Cassandra Garth Turner is even halfway right, we're in for one helluva ride.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Reluctant Hero

I've been watching interviews with Kim Robinson, the man who found murder suspect Allan Schoenborn in the hills near Merritt, BC yesterday.

Is it just me, or does he sound exactly like Nicholas Campbell in 'DaVinci's Inquest'?

What a remarkable guy. He's obviously terribly uncomfortable with all the attention. He looks at his shoes while he talks and keeps insisting that he did nothing remarkable. The people of Merritt obviously disagree, as several of them honked their horns as they passed by him during one interview.

One thing I find particularly admirable is his reaction to criticism of the work of the police and the RCMP for having taken so long to find Schoenborn. In fact, about the only time he expresses any strong emotion at all is when he's taking some interviewer to task for implying that the cops screwed up.

Don't get me wrong. The guy's no angel (he was once convicted for selling bear gall bladders), but it's nice to see a real person who did a real good thing get the credit he deserves without being a dick about it.

That is all.

Thursday Morning Miscelleny


Newfoundland and Labrador Premier and Perennial Pain in the Ass Danny Williams on the resignation of fellow Newf Gen. Hillier:
"Well, I wouldn't be able to work for Steve, either, I can tell you that much."


Now that the artsy-fartsy pinkos like Sarah Polley have had their say regarding Bill C-10, it was time for the emissaries of Right Wingnutia to speak before the Senate Finance Committee today. I missed it (yes, I suck), but our very own Kady O'Malley was there with bells on to liveblog the proceedings.

From all accounts, McVety was truly and righteously spanked. Sweet.


Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says he will not reconsider his government's program of helping ethanol producers despite concern that is driving up food prices.

He said today that the three-year-old program to support the production of ethanol – a corn-derived alcohol used as a gasoline additive – is not the dominant factor in driving up the price of corn and other commodities.

You have GOT to be kidding. Not responsible for driving up the price of food?!? Really. So every single story about the emerging food crisis for the past six months or so has been wrong?

Sadly, Barack Obama has also found himself stuck to this issue as well. What the hell does it take for these guys to admit they were WRONG about ethanol? I mean, sure, it sounded like a great idea at the time, but now that we know that a) it is utterly unsustainable, and b) it most likely increases GHG emissions, then how about we admit it was a bad idea, cut our losses and suggest that people may want to STOP DRIVING SO MUCH!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Twelve Miles

Before you start, I don't want to get into a debate over the seal hunt or Paul Watson's actions here. I simply would like to point out the following:

Watson and the media have been giving the impression that this entire dispute centres around whether or not the Farley Mowat was within 12 miles of shore when it was boarded. That is not the issue, and the whole business of waiting for GPS readings to determine whether they were in 'international waters' has become a bit of a red herring (ha ha).

How far out to sea a nation's borders extend is actually a complex thing. There is no single line where you can say "this is Canada" and "this is international waters".

There is the 12 mile 'territorial sea' limit, but there is also the 200 mile 'fisheries zone' or 'economic zone', established by the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Under that convention, Canada has the exclusive right to conduct and regulate fishing, mineral exploration, and other economic activities within the zone, while foreign ships have the right to 'innocent passage' through these waters.

The key word here is 'innocent'.

I actually read an article last night which quoted a couple of maritime law experts who insisted that the government was clearly within its rights to arrest anyone endangering or interfering with seal hunters within that 200 mile zone. You think I can find that article now? Pah. I guess you'll just have to take my word for it.

In any case, the '12 mile limit' has nothing to do with anything.

And while all this is fascinating, I just turned on the TV and... what the hell?!?
RCMP raid Conservative party headquarters

Wow. Ok. I guess it's going to be an interesting day.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Idle Hands

Watching US cable network news these days is like watching a broken engine running wildly out of control, waiting for it to finally thrash itself to death in an explosion of smoking gears and motor oil.

The problem, of course, is the interminable six-week gap between the last Democratic primary and the upcoming one in Pennsylvania. As one wag put it, the gap has created “a ‘news’ vacuum that has essentially forced the national media into a sort of 1950s, pre-technological childhood, playing Sputnik with an old refrigerator carton."

Under any other circumstances, Barack Obama's comments at a private fundraiser would have provided the media with an afternoon's entertainment as Clinton and McCain tried desperately to make hay out of it. Then Obama would have simply pointed out (as he did) that what he said was, in fact, true and representative of what people in Pennsylvania had been telling them. And that would have been the end of it.

Instead, the media and the Clinton and McCain campaigns have spent the entire weekend engaged in a mutually masturbatory frenzy, keeping the story alive and erect through sheer will alone. And now the term 'Bittergate' is being bandied about.


One of saddest spectacles in all this has been watching Hillary Clinton using terms like 'elitist' and pandering to working-class voters by painting Obama as some sort of ivory-tower intellectual snob, "out of touch" with their simple needs and concerns. In other words, exactly like Republicans have been portraying Democrats like her and her husband all these years.

It could be worse, I suppose. At least she hasn't mentioned the orange juice yet.

For a breath of fresh air in the midst of all this, I highly recommend that you read what former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has to say on his blog. He is deeply critical of both the media and of Clinton, and concludes:

Bitter? You ain’t seen nothing yet. And as much as people like Russert, Carville, Matalin, Schrum, and Murphy want to divert our attention from what’s really happening; as much as HRC and McCain seek to make political hay out of choices of words that can be spun cynically by the mindless spinners of the old politics; as much as demagogues on the right and left continue to try to channel the cumulative frustrations of Americans into a politics of resentment – all these attempts will, I hope, prove futile. Eighty percent of Americans know the nation is on the wrong track. The old politics, and the old media that feeds it, are irrelevant now.

One can only hope.


QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: Complaining that being 'elite' should be a positive attribute in someone who aspires to be President, Jon Stewart asks, "If you don’t actually think you’re better than us, then what the fuck are you doing?"

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Immigration Bill: It's Not About Doctors

One of the most frustrating aspects of our current government is having to constantly decipher their true intentions. Nothing is ever what it seems, and you can bet that whatever the truth is, it will bear no resemblance to what is being publicly stated.

Take, for example, the current flap over the Conservative effort to fold major changes to Canada’s immigration policy into a budget implementation bill. The Opposition screams that the changes will allow the Minister to arbitrarily shut out immigrants from certain countries. The Government poo-poos this notion, insisting that they merely want to expedite the applications of "skilled workers".

So just what kind of "skilled workers" are we talking about here, anyway?

Under the new law, the Minister is expected to issue annual instructions on "categories" of applications that should be fast-tracked, such as those from high-demand professionals such as doctors. The Minister will decide which categories to prioritize based on input from the provinces and territories, the Bank of Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, as well as employers and labour unions.

And again:

The Conservatives say the proposed changes would give the immigration minister the power to fast-track applications from workers with specific skills that Canada needs — such as doctors — and would help clear the backlog of cases by allowing the minister to set an annual limit on cases the department can process.

It sounds great, doesn’t it? We could always use more doctors, right?

Trouble is, we already have plenty of doctors, engineers, and other highly educated, highly skilled immigrants being fast-tracked into this country under the current points system. Unfortunately, their credentials are frequently not recognized in Canada, so many of them are driving cab or running convenience stores. The lucky ones are only slightly less under-employed: surgeons working as nurses, nurses working in blood labs, engineers doing tech support. I used to work at a print shop where my boss was an electrical engineer from Egypt.

Three years ago, about a quarter of recent immigrants with university degrees were working at jobs that required only a high school diploma or less, and it’s only getting worse. And yet everyone keeps talking about the proposed changes being intended to fast-track "skilled professionals like doctors".

Assuming that’s a lie, what’s really going on here?

One need only look at where the real labour shortages are in this country to understand what sorts of immigrants the government is really hoping to expedite.

The system's bias toward the educated has left some industries crying out for skilled blue-collar workers, especially in western Canada, where Alberta's busy oil fields have generated an economic boom. Studies by the Alberta government show the province could be short by as many as 100,000 workers over the next decade.

In response, some Canadian employers are sidestepping the point system and relying instead on a program initiated in 1998 that allows provincial governments to handpick some immigrant workers and assign temporary foreign-worker permits.

"The points system is so inflexible," said Herman Van Reekum, an immigration consultant in Calgary who helps Alberta employers find workers. "We need low-skill workers and trades workers here, and those people have no hope under the points system."

Alberta is, of course, attracting thousands of workers from other parts of Canada, but many of them have been finding the isolation, high housing costs and poor working conditions too much to take, even with the high wages being offered. I know one fellow who tore up his entire life in Toronto and moved to Calgary for what was supposed to be a great construction job, only to return six months later because the accommodations and the working conditions were intolerable.

Now that the Unions are starting to organize oil sands workers, it’s no surprise that Alberta is doing its utmost to bring in more immigrants who might not be quite so fussy about things like worker safety or fair wages or being crammed into dorms with hundreds of other workers.

However, those ‘guest workers’ with temporary work visas are generally only useful for unskilled labour. What the province really needs right now is skilled trades people - pipefitters, carpenters, electricians - in other words, exactly the kind of people the government will be able to ‘fast-track’ under its new policy. In fact, this process had already started a year ago when Alberta signed an agreement with Ottawa giving the province more autonomy in recruiting and hand-selecting immigrant workers.

Alberta Government Taking on Labour Shortages with Immigration
Friday, 04 May 2007

Early next week, the Alberta government is expected to sign a special immigration deal with the federal government. As Canada’s fastest growing province, Alberta regards immigration as an important solution to its chronic labour shortages. With a job market growth rate outpacing all other provinces, Alberta currently has more jobs than they do people to fill them.

Though immigration is under federal jurisdiction, the new immigration deal would transfer much of the responsibility to the Alberta government. Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach has made this deal a priority since campaigning for his position and taking office in December. He hopes to set up Alberta "desks" in Canadian embassies and consulates worldwide, to recruit immigrants to Alberta. The deal will give the province more control over selecting immigration candidates to fill jobs in the industries most pressed by the labour shortages. It will also reduce bureaucratic red tape so that immigrants can settle in Alberta more easily and more quickly.

Sound familiar?

This would be all well and good if these new ‘skilled workers’ were going to be welcomed into Alberta as full and equal citizens, encouraged to buy homes and bring their families and put down permanent roots in a real community.

Sadly, the situation for these ‘skilled workers’ probably wouldn’t be much better than that of your average temporary worker because they are being brought in to fill what are essentially temporary jobs. They still wouldn’t be able to afford to own or even rent their own homes in Alberta’s inflated housing market. There would still be no guarantee that their families would be able to join them - even assuming they wanted their wives and children to live with them in cramped and chilly ‘company housing’.

And what happens to them and their families once the oil boom comes to an end? Would they still find themselves welcomed in communities facing a glut of newly unemployed oil sands and construction workers, or would they face discrimination and resentment in a newly competitive Alberta job market?

The opposition parties, and particularly the NDP, are trying to portray the new Conservative immigration policies as racist and anti-immigrant. But while those aspects might be an added bonus to please the party's right-wing base, I suspect that the truth is somewhat more callous and baldly mercenary.

Perhaps the Conservatives reveal themselves best through the language they chose:

The proposed legislative changes will provide flexibility for concrete measures, as required, to more effectively manage the future growth in the inventory, such as addressing the number of applications accepted and processed in a year… These changes will allow Canada to take the first steps towards establishing a “just-in-time” competitive immigration system which will quickly process skilled immigrants who can make an immediate contribution to the economy.

Immigrants aren't people. They're a commodity. Welcome to Canada.


The only thing I find more tedious than football movies is watching an actual football game. Thankfully, this is not a football movie.

Leatherheads is a good old-fashioned screwball comedy. Renée Zellweger practically channels Kathryn Hepburn as the cheeky dame in trousers, and George Clooney reminds us that in addition to being a brooding Oscar-winning actor, he is also a very, very funny guy. John Krasinski rounds out the romantic trio as the lovable palooka who just wants to play ball.

All three actors seem perfectly at home in the 1920s, and their believability gives the film an innocent charm. There is nothing modern or updated about Leatherheads. Even the big love scene goes no further than smooching, resulting in both parties being covered in lipstick. Yes, even the make-up is true to the period.

Leatherheads does bog down a bit in the third quarter, and resorts to the inevitable ‘Big Game’ at the end. In general, though, I found it utterly enjoyable and entertaining. Three and a half stars out of five.

(Despite my choice of a film that is at once a sports movie AND a chick flick, Murray still managed to hate it.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sarah Polley is a Lousy Pinko!

Today was Celebrity Day at the Senate Finance Committee as representatives of Canada's film and television industry pleaded their case against government pre-censorship in the form of Bill C-10.

The Government's response was even worse that one would have expected. Leave it to the Conservatives to listen to the testimony of Genie winner, Oscar nominee and all around Canadian icon Sarah Polley - and then dismiss her as just another leftie with a socialist agenda.
Conservatives issued a combative response - releasing a press release attacking Polley's left-wing political ties and suggesting that artists had no business telling "hard-working Canadians" how their tax dollars should be spent.

...In the press release, the Conservatives took specific aim at Polley. She has been a vocal NDP supporter and once lost a pair of teeth when the riot squad aggressively broke up an anti-Mike Harris demonstration outside of the Ontario Legislature.

"Individuals with vested personal and political interests should be honest with Canadians on what their true intentions are," said Pierre Poilievre, an Ottawa-area MP.

"Hard-working Canadians are growing increasingly tired of special interest groups telling them what to do."

I cannot begin to guess what 'special interest group' Poilievre imagines Sarah Polley is representing other than, you know, the multi-million dollar industry that employs her and thousands of other hard-working Canadians like my husband and my sister and a whole lot of our friends.

But hey, maybe they're right. Just take a read through the comments at the bottom of the article for a glimpse into the minds of the kind of people who think C-10 is a dandy way to keep pinkos like Sarah Polley from spending their hard-earned money on more of her potty-mouthed pornographic Commie Canadian trash.

I got about halfway down before I got too nauseous to continue.


H/T to Denis for finding this little 'macaca' moment. Apparently Senator David Angus, Conservative Chairman of the Banking Committee left his mic on after adjourning the meeting and was recorded saying, "The government has to bite the bullet. The minister agrees, she told me she hates the law."

Conservatives Do the Right Thing; Satan to Open Ski Resort

I honestly didn't think it would happen, but here it is: Industry Minister Jim Prentice has decided to block the sale of MacDonald, Dettwiler to a U.S. arms company. And a whole week early, too!

Ottawa rejects space firm's sale to U.S.

OTTAWA — Federal Industry Minister Jim Prentice confirmed Thursday morning that he has taken the unprecedented step of rejecting the planned $1.3-billion sale of Canada's leading space company to U.S. interests, concluding that the deal would not be in the best interests of the country.

Mr. Prentice's office issued a brief statement acknowledging that, as The Globe and Mail reported, he wrote to Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK) on April 8, to advise them that, "based on the information received at this time, he is not satisfied that the proposed sale of MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) to ATK is likely to be of net benefit to Canada."

Under Canada's investment-review law, the company has 30 days to make new arguments to the minister, and Mr. Prentice must then confirm his rejection. But Mr. Prentice's move signals his intention to take the unprecedented step of blocking a major corporate takeover, in an issue that has been fraught with controversy as opponents argued that the sale of MDA could impair Canadian sovereignty.

I'm still suspicious, especially when Alliant is feigning ignorance of the minister's decision, but with the amount of public scrutiny on this it would be virtually impossible for Prentice to let the deal go through at this point.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bernier is "Reassured". I Feel So Much Better Now.

Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier had a little get together with his American and Mexican counterparts yesterday, and lo and behold he was asked about our two biggest Canadian Celebrities Rotting in Foreign Prisons: Omar Khadr and Brenda Martin.

His responses were apparently under the same time constraints as an Oscar acceptance speech, but he still managed to babble his way through a comment on the very same free trade agreement with Columbia that killed Hillary Clinton's chief strategist this week.

Thank you, Secretary Rice. And I will be quick and – because we – sorry – yes, I’ll be quick. We were at the same meeting. So we discussed what is important for our countries. And as you know, we want to ensure that North America is a secure and economically dynamic region. This is important for us, but this is also important for our citizens. And yes, we discussed the agenda for the next meeting in New Orleans. Our leaders will be there and they will discuss issues that are shared concern. And also, we discussed the free trade agreement that we are having together, NAFTA, but the importance of free trade. It is important for the prosperity of our countries that we succeed in a free trade agreement. And I raised with my colleagues the negotiation that we’re having in Canada with the Colombian Government for having a free trade agreement with them.

(No. Really. They're complaining about Dion's English?)

The Mexican Foreign Minister ended up taking the question on the Brenda Martin case (shorter Espinoza: "Let's wait until our corrupt and incomprehensible legal system works its way through this, ok?"), but on Khadr, Bernier had this to say:

Concerning Omar Khadr, I think that you’ve read my statement, written statement, and it is very clear and I won’t comment on my statement that -- it’s all there. But what I can tell you right now, it’s, as you know, Mr. Khadr faces serious charges and it will be premature to comment about the legal process right now and appeal process because they’re still ongoing. And what we will do is we’ll do -- and I received also assurances that Mr. Khadr has been treated humanely.

"Humanely"? I see. Well, aside from the fact that this supposed 'written statement' appears nowhere on his ministry's website, that would be fine except for the fact that he's FUCKING LYING.

From 'Guantanamo's Child':
Omar retreated immediately to the back of the cell and sat down. Begg said he heard one of the guards say to him, "I hope you pay for what you've done," but Omar didn't look up. There were raw scars on his chest where there had once been two deep holes. Shrapnel had punctured the skin along his arms and legs. While the nicks and scrapes can sometimes look minor, they have a cruel habit of causing pain for years to come. Doctors will often not remove embedded shrapnel, preferring to allow the body to work on its own to eject foreign objects. While considered safer than extraction, it is incredibly painful as the shrapnel works its way to the surface, eventually bursting through like blood blisters.

Omar's introduction to Bagram was harsher than that of most detainees. Begg said the guards singled him out for the worst treatment, payback for allegedly killing one of their own. They would make him perform Sisyphean tasks, such as stacking heavy boxes and crates that the guards would knock over when he had finished and then force him to start again. Each time, they walked past his cell they would yell: Murderer! Killer! Butcher! "It was very, very hard to hear that because it was evident he was just a kid. Not only that, he was terribly wounded," said Begg.


One evening in March 2003, Omar was taken from his cell and in no mood to co-operate. The guards left him in the interrogation booth for hours, short-shackled with his ankles and wrists bound together and secured to a bolt on the floor. Unable to move, he eventually urinated and was left in a pool of urine on the floor.

When the MPs returned and found the soiled teenager, Omar's lawyers later said, the guards poured pine oil cleaner on his chest and the floor. Keeping him short-shackled, the guards used Omar as a human mop to clean up the mess. Omar was returned to his cell and for two days the guards refused to give him fresh clothes.

I'm so glad that Bernier feels 'reassured', but I'd feel a whole lot better if these reassurances were coming from someone other that the people who are torturing and abusing our citizens.

Come to think of it, who cares whose citizens they are?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

File Six Lawsuits, Get the Seventh One Free!

Here we go again:

Sask Premier serves notice to sue The Canadian Press over headline on video story

REGINA - Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has advised The Canadian Press he intends to sue the national news agency for defamation for a headline it ran on a story featuring controversial comments he made on a home-movie videotape made more than 16 years ago.

"The headline of the article is false and defamatory of Premier Wall and, given the breadth of its publication, is likely to result in significant damage to Premier Wall's reputation," says the letter from the premier's lawyers, dispatched Friday to The Canadian Press.

And what exactly did this "false and defamatory" headline say?

"Tape with Sask premier and Tory MP has racist, sexist, homophobic comments: NDP."

False? No. Sorry. That headline is completely accurate: Premier Wall did appear in the tape, and the tape did include racist, sexist, homophobic comments. Besides which, they are merely repeating the accusations of the NDP. It could possibly have been worded more clearly, but that is hardly grounds for a libel suit.

Honestly, what is with these guys? Are Harper's lawyers offering volume discounts now? Does every right-wing party in the country get to collect stamps for their customer loyalty card?


UPDATE: And quicker than you can say "What the fuck was he thinking?", it's all over.
Sask Premier no longer plans to sue Canadian Press over coverage of video story

REGINA - Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says he is dropping plans for a defamation lawsuit against The Canadian Press over its coverage of the release last week of an old videotape containing offensive comments.

These guys really need to re-examine their policy on boozy late night office parties. Never drink and sue, man.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Spring Is Sprung, the Grass is... Underwater

One of the nicest things about our little house in Milton is that Sixteen Mile Creek is literally across the street from us. Our part of it flows within an ugly but effective concrete flood control channel behind a high fence. Aesthetically it sucks, but days like today I'm awfully glad it's there.

This is the scene a few blocks south of us, looking north...

and looking south:

I've lived in this town for fourteen years, and I've never seen flooding this bad. Ever.

Other signs of spring: things emerging from the snow. Garbage. Muck. My next door neighbour's Christmas tree that the Town failed to pick up in January:

And this poor little fella, right at the busy corner of Laurier and Ontario St:

So sad. He looks like he's asleep, which he probably was when he crawled into a snowbank and died. I'll take mercy on the squeamish and put the close-up behind this link, but he's actually in pretty good shape, considering.

I called the Town to come and collect him (he's been exposed there for days), but they said they might not be able to come right away because they're busy... with flood issues.

April Fools?

Today in the 'WTF?!?' department, I haven't yet decided whether this is an April Fools Day prank on the part of Progressive Bloggers, or if Stephen Taylor has somehow hacked their website.

Seriously, Scott? If this is your doing - dude, you need a better comedy writer.