The world according to cdlu
Non-motorised boat rally in Lac-des-Sables
Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec, has one of the most popular lakes to swim and boat in in the Laurentians. Lac-des-Sables, a letter-H shaped lake with large peninsulas defining several discrete bays.
The lake has several islands, numerous cottages, several public beaches, a sailing school that I attended for a couple of summers where I learned how to sail the floating bathtubs appropriately named "optimists", and is host to the Alouette tour-boats, at least one private helicopter, and several float planes. It is a diverse and very busy lake.
Between the sea-doos, motorboats, planes, tourboats, and water-skiers is another whole class of boat: the non-motorised boat. Pedalos, kayaks, sailboats, canoes, surfboards, and miscellaneous other boats ply these waters all summer long, including the narrow channel at the end of Presqu'ile Nantel. To remind the motorboats of their quieter peers, Ste-Agathe started hosting an annual event called the "non-motorised boat rally" in 2012. This year, my father and I took the canoe, mounted it comically on the roof of the car, and took it into Ste-Agathe to participate in this event.
Along with two 12-seat canoes, several kayaks, standard canoes, rowboats, and sailboats, the two hour event saw us all paddling in aimless circles stopping to chat and making our presence felt among the other boats in the lake.
The event was an excellent reminder to all about both the joy of boating and the need to share navigable waters.
Even if the Conservative government does not believe this lake deserves environmental protection, leading communities like Ste-Agathe do take the protection of our water seriously and a cleaning certificate and permit is required for any boat entering the water.
words - permanent link - comments: 0. Posted at 23:31 on
July 07, 2013
Letter: Quebec has always been, and will always be, home
On St-Jean-Baptiste, Montrealer Harley Kesselman wrote a Letter to the Editor in the Montreal Gazette deriding Quebec as a place with a "backwards government and society with the highest taxes on the continent" and announce he was leaving for Florida, a state which has since banned all computers and smartphones, among other such carefully considered laws as requiring Canadians to have an International Driver's License to drive in the state.
I felt the letter was a little bit unfair to a province I jumped at the opportunity to return to a few years ago because I find it to be one of the most progressive and forward-thinking jurisdictions around. The letter prompted me to write a response, which was published in the Gazette on June 27th.
Re: "I'm tired of the problems; my future is not in Quebec" (Letter of the day, March 4) and "Au revoir, Quebec -- et bonne chance" (Opinion, June 24)
As an anglophone of Jewish heritage living in Quebec, I have asked myself: what does being a Quebecer really mean? I have come to a different conclusion from Harley Kesselman, as I, like many others, believe that you can be a proud Quebecer while wanting to take an active part in helping improve our society.
I grew up in Ste-Lucie-des-Laurentides, not far from Ste-Agathe. It is not exactly an urban metropolis, nor the centre of the Canadian anglophone or Jewish communities. In French school, I received taunts of tête carrée, among others, had a baseball thrown squarely at my nose, and endured what many other children endure in school every day.
Although hurtful at the time, it only helped to build my own character. In fact, it made me prouder of the fact that, by the time I was 14 and Jacques Parizeau was declaring that money and "the ethnics" had cost him his nationalist dream, I had been vindicated. Why? Because a majority of Quebecers had again opted for Canada. We opted to remain part of the cosmopolitan, progressive, multilingual, and multicultural country that it is. We collectively understood that our strength comes from working together.
I am unabashedly Canadian. I am also fiercely proud to be a Quebecer. When my studies and my work took me outside the province, I kept up my French if not my health by regularly visiting the now-famous Pierre's Poutine in Guelph, and I never considered Quebec to be anything but my home.
A few years ago, when the opportunity arose to return to Quebec, I packed up my things and went for it. Why? Because an opportunity to come back was an opportunity to take an active part in the betterment of my home province.
Leaving Quebec out of spite accomplishes nothing to help your neighbours and your community. If you want Quebec to live up to its potential, as I do, then you must be an active part of its future, not only a critic of its past.
It is my hope that Kesselman and others like him will take the education and experience they gather in the rest of the world and eventually come home to work and help build the community that raised them.
words - permanent link - comments: 0. Posted at 16:27 on
July 01, 2013
For the last several years, the Fondation Médical, based in Ste-Agathe, has held a dragon-boat race fundraiser sponsored by the town of St-Adolphe, with an entry fee of $2,000 per boat. We had 14 teams this year, raising more than $28,000. The English Communities Committee of the CSSS des Sommets organizes a boat each year under the team name "têtes-carrées", or "square-heads", and our boat raised the most money for a single boat (nearly $4,000).
While most teams have t-shirts, this year we opted for dollar-store animal hats. On hearing this, I said that is a great idea -- as long as I don't get the donkey.
While a child of the Laurentians whose first canoe trips were in diapers, it was my first time in a dragon boat. On Friday night, we met our teammates, some of whom I'd never met before, trained on the dock a bit and then were given one hour of training in the open water. After learning how to pace our stroke, avoid collision with each other, synchronise, and survive the 200-metre heat, we declared ourselves as ready as we were going to be.
Saturday was the big race day. We gathered under an unanchored tent cover, set up our food coolers, and my mother broke out the bag of hats identifying our team. I reached in and pulled out the donkey. The day was off to a good start.
I quietly traded my ass hat in for a shark, after rejecting the butterfly, and we prepared for our first heat. With at least 6 members of the 21-person crew joining the team on the day-of rather than at training, we met our event-assigned boatswain and paddled off to a bay for some additional training. After paddling in circles and drilling for 15 minutes or so we went up to the start line, and came in third out of three boats in the heat, only one second off the leader. Good start!
With 14 teams sharing 3 boats, our second heat wasn't going to be for a while, and so we had lunch, mingled, and waited for our names to be called again.
Around 1:15pm we were called out to our second of three heats, where we came in a tight second place, and headed back to our tent, which had by now been bolted to the ground by St-Adolphe's public works after strong wind had displaced it several feet and knocked over others altogether. We gathered around and were just about to be briefed by our captain and coach Vickie Barrett on strategy for our third heat when our names came over the loudspeaker and we rushed back to the boat, sans briefing and unprepared.
We each grabbed a paddle and lifejacket, hopped in the boat still tired from the previous heat, paddled over to the starting line, heard the air horn, and promptly won the heat by a full boat length.
In a fundraiser for something as important as the Fondation Médicale, everyone wins. With a little extra practice for the square heads, I am definitely looking forward to paddling again next year.
words - permanent link - comments: 0. Posted at 23:13 on
June 16, 2013
Beno Albert Eskenazi
As several relatives have asked for the text of my eulogy for Grandpa's funeral this past February, I am posting it here for the record.
Family... friends... engineers... fellow survivors of the Spanish Inquisition,
I want to take just a couple of minutes together to celebrate the life of my grandfather.
I will not dwell on the past few years as his body slowly let his ever-sharp mind down to the point where his only true remaining daily pleasure was eating, but instead celebrate the impressive previous 80-something years that brought him to that point, and are what really brought us here together
English, as you might know, was not my grandfather's first language, although you would not necessarily know it from speaking to him. It was his fifth, following Ladino, Turkish, Greek, and French. He was born a Sephardic Jew, descendent of exiles of the Spanish Inquisition in the predominantly Islamic city of Istanbul, then with a population of around half a million people and a documented history going back well over two thousand years.
Recognising my grandfather's Turkish heritage means that his story can not be complete without at least one reference to Nasreddin Hodja, but there is no time to tell one right now. This is a Jewish funeral and we are on a clock, so those of you who know which Hodja story I was to tell, please tell those of you who do not.
He came to Canada in the 1940s and by 1949, a young and recently married engineering Master's student at McGill released his thesis, entitled "Behaviour of a Composite Slab for a Highway Bridge" starting a long and distinguished career as an engineer here in Montreal. Fifty years later, in 1999, he edited an English-to-Ladino-to-English Sephardic folk dictionary representing his strong passion for the cultural roots of our family, dating back to 15th century Spain. Through to his final years, anyone addressing him in Spanish or Ladino would greatly animate him.
As I was born after his retirement, I never saw grandpa use a slide rule. I am told he was the "fastest slide ruler in Montreal", coaxed to an early retirement by the perhaps not entirely coincidental simultaneous arrival of both the digital calculator and my brother.
About a decade ago, I bought my first house. My grandparents came to visit me there the summer after I bought it and, immediately, grandpa homed in on the fact that the stairway up from the back yard onto this wood deck was parallel to, and beyond, the final joist. With great concern that this old structure was in imminent danger of structural failure, he insisted that I immediately order 12 foot long two-by-eights to reinforce it. When he returned home a couple of days later, he phoned me to let me know that he had thought long and hard about it, and it was, in fact, still ok the way it was and he hoped I had not yet ordered the wood. I did not tell him that I already had and was trying to figure out how on earth to insert it into the structure.
On another occasion, he visited the house built by my father's mother in Val-Morin. He declared that it would collapse and could not be saved. Sure enough, some time later, while selling it, my father and the architect observed that it was, indeed, collapsing.
Being an engineer, it seems, is something you are, not something you do.
His passion for his family and for his heritage were never shaken.
In 2001, we traveled together as a family to Turkey to see his siblings and relatives who remained there, and to show us where he grew up, the family cottage on the Island of Buyucada just off shore from Istanbul, the culture he left behind in a city that had grown more than 20-fold to 13 million people since his departure, for what he no doubt knew would be his last visit.
On arrival at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, we were taken over to the bag search area by a customs officer. Grandpa, not taking kindly to this, declared, in Turkish "we are Canadian!" We were waved along with an apologetic shrug, our bags unopened.
He would always watch out for us, probably more times and in more ways than any of us will ever know.
And he would indulge us. Growing up, I loved ships, trains, planes, and biking, not that any of those things have really changed. I was fascinated by transportation systems. My grandparents could entertain me indefinitely by simply leaving me on my own in the den of their Nun's Island apartment, watching both the trains cross the Victoria Bridge and CPAC, the direct feed to Canada's parliament on television. But as someone who had helped design a good amount of infrastructure, he was more than happy to oblige my interests, making sure that we crossed all the bridges over the St. Lawrence in Montreal together, biking along the seaway from the Victoria bridge for miles up river, or on Nun's Island's endless bicycle trails on his tandem. He would even stop and wait for a train to pass us behind if I saw headlights coming at a railway crossing and wanted to watch, which no doubt conflicted with his get-there attitude.
I asked grandpa once many years ago: did you ever design a railway bridge? Yes, he told me, his first-ever professional engineering assignment was to design a small industrial railway overpass. But he designed it for train cars with only two axles, one at each end. Canadian railway cars are longer and always have four (or more) axles, not two, resulting in an argument with his boss as he had never seen a train car with four axles, and his boss had never seen one with only two.
In Florida, where my grandparents had a house at Emerald Lakes in Port Salerno, I remember being taken to the restaurant at one of the nearby airfields, or near sea channels, watching draw bridges open for boats to pass through, and how he confidently left me to bicycle to the nearby railway line, where I would spend hours on end expectantly watching the tracks rust. I felt proud of his confidence that I would stay cautiously back from the tracks, learning only in adulthood that the trains through that area in fact operated almost exclusively at night.
I have vague memories of my grandfather owning a boat in Florida. I recall being told to be quiet in the boat so that the "alligators wouldn't hear us". Nicely done, grandpa.
When I was probably 10 or 11 years old, he tried to explain to me where his stock portfolio was stored on his computer, before I had any real understanding of what either a stock portfolio, or a computer, was. He wanted me to know so I could help the family find it should he suddenly pass on. I was just as happy playing 'bricks', a three-dimensional tetris-like game he loved. But ensuring I knew this information was, as much as anything, part of an attitude he taught his family. He liked to spend money, sure, but he also liked to save it, and understood implicitly that the amount of money you have has far more to do with how little of it you spend than how much of it you make. But all the caution in the world would never permit him to spare a dime in providing for his family.
He had the most beautiful smile in the whole family. Her name was Goldie. Her, his three kids, his three kids-in-law, his five grand children, and his two great grand-children were the most important people in the world to him.
Just a few years ago, grandpa told me and Jonah in no uncertain terms that he expected great grand children in the near future and that it was our duty to provide them.
How many people were in his family didn't really matter. That they were his family did, and knowing that his family continued gave him the satisfaction of knowing that he had succeeded at life. Acutely aware of his heritage, his priority was always continuing it.
My grandfather was a very predictable, and, not always intentionally, a very funny man. In his final weeks, he told my mother "I don't want to be so logical any more," certainly a highly accurate self-assessment. The very last thing he ever said to me, just a few days ago, was "give me another chocolate!"
One can only imagine my grandfather's last thought.
words - permanent link - comments: 0. Posted at 10:42 on
April 29, 2013
The challenges we face
I would like to try and put the challenges we face into some perspective. These are the challenges we will face as a Party and as a team between now and the next election, that you and I as the grassroots will have to tackle as fullsomely as our next leader. The Conservative party out-fundraises the combined efforts of all four opposition parties. Their considerable warchest grows by the day while we argue about who should be our president and how we should select our leader.
Challenges from the majority Conservative government
The current Prime Minister used to head a group called the National Citizens' Coalition whose founding principle was the abolition of universal healthcare. It goes without saying that, from a government that has already abolished the Access to Information Registry without announcing it, discreet, barely-noticeable changes to healthcare are likely to be made, cumulatively endangering the programme at the very core of our Canadian identity.
Moreover, I rather suspect the Conservatives will spend the first year carefully governing from the centre to create the narrative that there is no "hidden agenda" and that the party is not extreme, spend the second year implementing a series of far right wing policies while nobody is paying attention and the gentle, centrist Harper image has ingrained itself in the Canadian psyche, and spend the final years of its mandate returning to the kind, gentle centrist Conservatives allowing enough time for anyone who noticed the changes to forget about them.
The Conservatives are now in complete control of the Canada Elections Act, a danger that cannot be overstated. The Conservative Party, in majority power for the first time ever, not to be confused with the Party of John A. MacDonald or Joe Clark, has already demonstrated a willingness to play with our election rules. The implementation of fixed election dates except in cases where the government should fall early was already a principle enshrined in our constitution: an election must take place within five years of the previous, a term limit that the new law has shortened by as little as two months and two weeks in the worst case.
There are several areas of this Act and related laws that we can expect this government to modify.
Fixed election dates
As noted above, the Conservatives brought in a relatively meaningless fixed election date law shortly after coming to power. The first election to come from it would have taken place in October, 2010, just 7 months ago, but, without losing the confidence of the House but faced with a looming massive recession that not everyone had yet picked up on, the Conservatives pulled the plug two years early, giving us a general election on October 14, 2008 in complete disregard for their own law. In the new Parliament, the election law whose stated intention is to cap parliamentary terms at 4 years will actually prolong this Parliament by 5 months, 2 weeks, and 3 days beyond the 4 year mark, landing within a week of the October, 2015 Ontario provincial election, also riding on a fixed election date law. With these factors it is reasonable to believe that the Harper Conservatives will pull the plug in a surprise snap election as much as a year early if there is political advantage to be gained from it.
Of particular concern is the Conservative Party's inability to balance a budget. With the substantial accomplishment of putting us into deficit before the recession hit, we can expect debt to hit 100% of GDP by the end of Harper's first term in office and a rapidly spiraling inflation rate as we try to deal with it. Seeing that around the corner and facing untried leaders in as many as all of the opposition parties is likely to provide the needed impetus to call that early election.
We already know they intend to get rid of per-vote funding. But you'll note that they don't phrase it that way; they say that parties should not receive public financing. Simply put, there are a lot more sources of public financing for parties than just the per-vote funding. 60% of campaign expenses are reimbursed by Elections Canada after they have reviewed the official returns from each local and national campaign. This is what allows us to fight a $21 million election with $10 million and a great big loan. The per-vote funding and the 60% rebate are just Elections Canada's contributions to parties. Revenue Canada also subsidises parties by allowing non-refundable tax credits of up to 75% of donations, far higher than the tax reductions allowed for charitable donations. You can bet that all of these sources of funding are in jeopardy.
Riding boundaries and counts
Following the census that you have all by now received in your mailbox, Elections Canada will begin the process of redrawing riding boundaries across the country to make way for dozens of new ridings in a decannual process called redistribution, intended to keep roughly one riding per 100,000 Canadians. The Conservatives have been trying to push through a law for a few years to gerrymander this allocation by giving 10 seats to Ontario, 7 to BC, and 5 to Alberta instead of simply letting Elections Canada do its work. Complaints from Quebec have so far kept this custom modification of representation from being rammed through on the rather hollow argument that their population isn't growing as fast as the rest of the country and therefore their representation would be negatively affected. Of greatest concern here is that the Conservative government may interfere with the process of drawing those boundaries to create demographically favourable ridings. American congressional districts are drawn by both the Republican and Democratic parties in this manner, creating vast areas of seats that are very difficult to swing as they are shaped around absorbing communities of likely supporters.
Now with a substantial majority of Conservatives, the party's urgency in reforming the senate has waned somewhat, however implementing some form of Senate elections or reform is something that party has talked about for many years and is something we can expect. Implementing Senatorial elections is, among other things, another way that the Conservatives can financially squeeze opposition parties who will have another front to fight on with the limited resources available. It is more likely because of this than any genuine desire to see a reformed Senate that changes would be brought in during this mandate.
Challenges from within our own party
Money and members
During this past election, the party expressed genuine surprise at receiving an unprecedented record four million dollars in donations to pay for its $21 million campaign. Vast numbers of people we did not know would give to our party were coming out of the woodwork and sending us cheques. Why didn't we know? Who were they? What can we learn from them to find out who else is teetering on the very edge of opening their wallets to the Liberal Party?
This represents one of the great advantages and opportunities that we have but are not effectively using for a variety of reasons. Liberalist, the database of and for the ground organisation of the party, contains the capability of microtargetting our support down to that person who will give us the maximum donation this year if only, for example, our MPs consistently wore red ties. We can glean from this database things like everyone in the country who took a lawn sign or volunteered this past election, at least from ridings that kept that information in the database and not in a spreadsheet (or at all). Those are people ripe for party membership and donations; they have already identified themselves as partisan Liberals in an election where being Liberal was not exactly the In Thing. We have many activist codes in Liberalist for a wide variety of issues and, at the riding and national level, we need to be targeting those people to get involved to pursue their issues; by contacting us they have already told us they want to be more politically engaged than they are.
But the fundraising database is not Liberalist. That department of the national office uses its own database with its own information on members, its own histories, its own systems, sharing bits and pieces of it with Liberalist to populate activist codes and a few other fields. Membership, too, uses still another database, also sharing information with Liberalist in regular data dumps giving us on the ground the appearance of cohesion. While many organisations have many more divergent databases, we have the capability of consolidating onto one system and eliminating duplication (and contradiction) of effort and information and it will require real leadership and investment within the party structure to make those changes so we can concentrate on the greater challenges of working as one cohesive team.
The Party focuses a lot of effort on raising money for the Party, but not so much for its riding associations which are largely left to their own devices. Being a member of the Laurier Club gets you free admission to national conventions and invitations to the occasional event, but to be a Laurier member you need only give to the national party, ridings be damned. Other than the Victory Fund, which obligates donations at both levels, there is very little incentive or encouragement from the national party to financially support riding associations.
It is not necessarily important for each person to give both time and money. While both are very important, the value of donated time cannot be overstated. We currently do not have a strong timeraising strategy, nor are our vast numbers of committed volunteers well acknowledged.
Not every riding has a strong ground game for the party. Some ridings are fiscally quite weak. With the above-mentioned challenge of redistribution, we will have to recruit even more people to be riding presidents and executives, campaign managers and volunteers, and search for ever more qualified candidates.
This, the preparation of the ground game, is the most fundamental problem we each have to address. We don't need to care who the president of the party is for this, we simply have to work on building a team to raise money and knock on every door and call every phone number in each and every riding. We have to find those volunteers, candidates, and donors that will allow us to fight the next election. This is something done by you, by me, by our friends, our neighbours, our families, our colleagues. It is not something brought down from the Party or that anyone will do for us. That, fundamentally, is what it means to be the grassroots.
Policy is not our greatest challenge. We have myriad excellent policies and a long track record of implementing them. Those that want an effect on policy should get involved in the organisation and make a difference on the ground. That, more than anything else, is the best way to be in a position to change policy in this country. All the best policy in the world will never get implemented by the third party in a majority-led parliament.
There is a pervasive problem in politics of all stripes, and indeed in many corporate and social environments, of analysing newcomers not in how they might contribute to the organisation's function and success, but in how they are a threat to the positions of those already established. It is an attitude that we must consciously shake out at all levels to ensure the strength and growth of this Party. Riding associations, PTAs, and the National Office must each look at every person coming in in terms of their abilities and their contributions, not in terms of whose jobs or roles they endanger or how their experiences and ideas might disrupt the existing systems, regardless of how flawed those systems might be.
The Party desperately needs to shake its image as a top-down party that believes itself entitled to power. We are not entitled to any single seat in the House of Commons or even in the Senate, we have to earn each one by offering something to Canadians that they want, not by telling them that they should have it because it is good for them. We need to rebuild a strong, grassroots party and put a leader there whose focus will be on selling this Party and its principled ideas and modest just-like-you base to his or her fellow Canadians, and we need a leader who is answerable to the Party and understands that their role is to sell and promote the Party, but not to be the Party. That leader needs to be someone young enough to be around for at least two, preferably three elections, who can survive as leader in the face of a defeat at the first attempt. In other words, the next leader needs to be able to be leader for at least the next 10-15 years so we must choose carefully, slowly, and deliberately.
Challenges from other parties
The New Democratic Party will spend the next four years doing two things. The first will be extensive experiments with different sizes and shapes of muzzles to keep the new, politically inexperienced caucus out of trouble, and the second will be attempting to complete the rebrand of itself as a centre-left Government in Waiting, in an effort to moot any perceived need for a centrist Liberal Party. The NDP itself faces many challenges, not least of which is Layton's longevity. He has already been leader for eight years and his health simply won't allow him to be there forever. It goes without saying that Thomas Mulcair will be the favourite for the next leadership, but with the nature of the dispute between him and Jean Charest still a secret and his ability to talk himself into a hole, we could be surprised by a more charismatic, serious, and less error-prone leader rising to the top of the party.
Elizabeth May has her seat, knocking Conservative minister Gary Lunn out of his Saanich-Gulf Islands riding in a decisive victory. This will ensure that May will be seen and heard from a lot more over the next four years and she will almost certainly be in the next round of televised debates. Her party did not have a huge effect on the 2011 election because it focused all its resources on the singular objective of getting that one seat, but it will be back in 2015 and, if they play their cards right over the next four years, will be a considerable force on the campaign trail that year.
The Bloc Quebecois and national unity
The Bloc did not win zero seats; they won four and are therefore still in Parliament. You can bet your behind that the separatist element of the party is not going to let it die completely. Between now and the 2015 election, Jean Charest's Quebec Liberal government is up for re-election and, while Charest is an exceptional campaigner, current predictions are that the province will hold its nose and put Pauline Marois in as premier. The threat here is a lot bigger than Bloc seats, it is a rise of separatism and the inane belief by many in the Conservatives, the NDP, and even some in our own party that placating the separatists will somehow lead to a stronger Canada and an end to Quebec nationalism, as if Meech Lake and Charlottetown never happened. With the government and official opposition parties both interested in decentralist policies and negotiating with Quebec, the flames of Quebec nationalism will almost certainly be fanned over the next four years and all of this together could be good news for the Bloc.
That's my one-hour pre-breakfast summary of what we are facing. Let us stop worrying about who should be the leader or the president of the party or what kind of electoral system the Conservatives should (but won't) implement and focus on the greater challenges that we have and that we can have an effect on immediately. We need to prepare for a long, difficult road ahead and we need to stop pretending that we lost this election because of any factors that didn't have something to do with us, because if we do not acknowledge our weaknesses, we will never fix them.
This is a challenge, and it is one that we can and will rise to.
words - permanent link - comments: 0. Posted at 09:10 on
May 10, 2011
On the future of the Liberal Party
Following a painfully slow seven year implosion, the Liberal Party of Canada has a lot of introspective reflection ahead.
My friends Joseph Angolano and Jason Cherniak have posted intelligent, thoughtful notes on the future of the Liberal party and what this election means for us and how to go about the future, and I agree wholeheartedly with both. As they have accurately noted, none of us can presume to have all the answers, but we can all start making a sincere effort to ask the right questions.
Jason's note: https://www.facebook.com/notes/jason-cherniak/10-proposals-for-liberals/10150167009455047
Joseph's note: https://www.facebook.com/notes/joseph-angolano/what-happened-and-what-to-do-next/10150178297794438
For me, the question is not should we merge with the NDP, the Greens, or both, nor is it who will be our next Messiah (nor again is it whether we should change our electoral system, the red herring a third-place NDP chased for years). While I have my opinions on who would -- and who would not -- make a good leader, focusing on that is a distraction from the greater challenge of engaging our own grassroots and core supporters.
We have 34 MPs left, most of which won in spite of, not because of, being in this party. They are people who understand local profile and local engagement, who understand the old adage that "all politics is local" and that a population would rather vote for someone they feel that they know than someone they have heard of and seen on television, but the person on television is a strong second choice if nobody is there to engage them at their doorstep. They are people who understand that, to the average voter, getting their mother's immigration status sorted or their unemployment insurance out of logjam is more important than what kind of plane our air force flies or how some other politician lied to who about what.
It is a lesson that many rookie MPs will learn the hard way next election. The many MPs who were nothing more than names on ballots, who couldn't find their own riding on a map, who in some cases don't even speak the language of their constituents, will not be able to engage their constituencies and build a local profile as anything more than a laughing stock. We mustn't forget the lessons of the ADQ whose ascension on the profile of a single person and collapse on the reality of his followers resulted in the party's utter demise after a brief moment as Quebec's Official Opposition, the same voters of which are responsible for the NDP's current moment in the sun.
But we must heed those lessons ourselves, as well. Nobody wants a high profile candidate who is too good to deal with their EI case, and nobody is served by a candidate whose campaign strategy is to ride the coattails of a successful national campaign. In politics, every one of us is here to serve others ahead of ourselves and those who lose sight of that may succeed in the short term, but are inevitably doomed to catastrophic failure in the long term.
So where do we go from here?
The party's per-vote funding could be gone outright before the next cheque is cut, and I would be surprised if this election is not the last in which the bulk of our expenses are reimbursed by Elections Canada following our official returns. The party has significant debt, a large, freshly renovated national office and many provincial offices, and an awful lot of freshly unemployed talent from the offices of more than 40 MPs as well as the office of the leader of the official opposition. Our research funding from parliament will be reduced considerably, and every aspect of the party's staff structure will be cut back. It is an opportunity to ensure that the party is staffed by the best, brightest, and most selfless people available while we focus on rebuilding the party from the bottom up and give it new direction.
Now is not the time to give up on the party. It is time for the grassroots of the party to heed one of the most important and often-forgotten lessons there is: we are not members of the party, we are the party. There is no sense in saying what the party can or should do, because every time we do that, we shirk our own responsibility and accept the judgment, action, and decisions of others, and when they are wrong, we wear it. Now is the time to make sure your membership is paid up and you are a member of your riding association so that wholesale takeovers of associations, snap nomination meetings, and other undemocratic processes cannot take place. But there is more to it than that. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to recruit members and raise money for our riding associations because it is there that the real action happens as our surviving MPs can tell you. A well-funded riding association can fight an election, hold community events for people who are not partisans, and be active between elections, raising its own profile and that of its candidate, who should always be carefully chosen even in the most strongly held ridings of another party. And we need to nominate those candidates before we choose the leader, so that we know they are there for the right reasons and have time to build their profiles and relationships with the communities.
We will need a new leader, that is beyond a shadow of a doubt, and that will mean a leadership race. Some of the candidates from the last race are still paying off their debts from it. It will be integral to the success of the next race that no candidate be permitted to go into any debt whatsoever, relying on pay-as-you-go donations, and I would hope that there is no leadership vote until well in 2012; let us take our time and do it right.
Inspiring and engaging the grassroots of the party is critical. A negative leadership race based on an anybody-but campaign will secure our place as the third party for a generation and any candidate who risks causing a divisive campaign must weigh that into their decision. We will each need to get behind a candidate and push them forward as a positive choice for our party and for our country rather than burying our opponents as a negative option or a source of division and split, because that is the same strategy we will need to present to Canadians for their decision of October 19, 2015.
In the meantime, the most important thing for each and every one of us is to ask ourselves not what will the party do for me, for itself, or even for the country in its current state; it is: what can we do for the cause and growth of the Party, for the Party is each and every one of us, and only if we succeed there is the party's role in the country going to become a question once again.
words - permanent link - comments: 0. Posted at 09:24 on
May 04, 2011
On the point of facebook
Originally posted as a facebook note in response to one by my friend Mike
The question of what a 'facebook friend' really is, and how facebook can serve as a tool is an important one that every person has to answer for themselves. This is my perspective and I hope you consider it through the lens of your own understanding and needs as you consider whether or not facebook is a tool for you in your life and your career. Because of the limitations of comments on having a wholesome discussion, I feel I must respond to you in this format. So here is my response, point by point.
okay, so let's say it's a tool, got it. HOW do I utilize it? I am hung up on the term "friend". I have facebook "friends" that I'm not sure I can call friends in real life. I have an anurism over that. I have unfriended people I've gone to school with because I'm not sure if we were friends or would see each other enough (at all?) to warrant the term friend.
Try not to think of facebook friends in terms of friends you'd call up to go hang out with in ten minutes because you're bored out of your wits. LinkedIn calls the same concept "connections" and I think this is a much more apt and appropriate term than "friends". Now that you've got the concept down that friends is simply a misnomer and that the people you are linked to on facebook are connections, let's look at your initial question: how do you utilise it?
That depends on your objective. For me, in spite of my social awkwardness (hi! spot the computer geek!) I love meeting people, learning about them, seeing the world through their eyes, and networking. Networking, to me, is staying in touch with everyone I've ever had anything to do with in case either of us ever does something useful or interesting to the other. For example, I recently reconnected on facebook with an acquaintance from high school who I knew only insofar as we were in the same class year, because I found out at our 10-year reunion a year ago that she does fascinating work with carbon credit markets in DC. Now that I'm getting myself engaged in politics from a policy perspective more, her expertise could be useful to help me understand that whole field going forward and I can help her in getting that understanding to become more widespread. We've had each other on facebook for years.
Since arriving in Ottawa less than two months ago, I have been taking advantage of years of built-up facebook network connections to learn my way around the people and geography of this city. Without facebook, my integration into Ottawa life would have been months slower and very frustrating. Instead, using that network, I have very quickly gotten set up and established in this city and feel like I have been able to make the best possible use of my time and energy.
It is very unlikely that you and I would ever talk if we did not have each other on facebook. Are we close friends in real life? No, I think we've met three, maybe four times. And most of those are a direct result of facebook; I would not have come to your campaign event this summer if I did not hear about it on facebook, for example, and we certainly wouldn't be having this conversation if I'd gotten one of your facebook pink-slips. Similarly, I am using facebook to stay in touch with the people I left behind in Guelph or met through there in a way and to an extent I never would have been able to without this tool.
So what is your objective? Well, you've run for public office three times -- that I know of -- to date and have yet to win. Our mutual friend Cam has run just twice, and came to a resounding, clobbering victory on his second attempt. He's a strong candidate, public speaker, and so forth, but I don't think you can overestimate the value and power of his facebook connections. He has well over a thousand people on there he has met through various activities inside and outside of Guelph and he used facebook as a tool to reach out to those people for time, money, and electoral support on election day. His landslide results, I think, speak for themselves.
I've unfriended girls just because they're in a relationship meaning there'd be no romantic prospects me.
That you've "unfriended girls just because they're in a relationship meaning there'd be no romantic prospects" for you is a statement I think you should reread a few times and think about. Does that mean you are not capable of friendship with a girl unless there is the prospect of a relationship? Is that really healthy? I have and regularly talk to many females both on and off facebook and whether or not I could date them does not factor. They are my friends, acquaintances, and connections regardless of their current relationship status or of my potential to change it, notwithstanding my being 'in the market'.
I've unfacebookfriended people just because they have things on their profile (about their own lives and having nothing to do with me) that I wouldn't want someone "creep"ing my profile (let's come back to that term later)
Nobody expects anybody to follow everything from everybody on facebook. It is completely unrealistic to expect of yourself or your friends to keep up with all your connections' myriad facebook updates. But that said, if you want to know what someone is up to you haven't heard from in a while, talk to someone, plan to see someone, or anything of that nature, you can review their facebook profiles and satisfy your curiosity or assuage your concern. It is incumbent on each and every denizen of the internet to only share what they would be able to handle appearing on the front page of the New York Times in a tell-all story about them tomorrow or years down the road, but by no means a requirement or even a recommendation for you to stay on top of every mundane detail of every one of your connections' daily lives. At least for me, I share what I share on facebook in the moment. I don't particularly care if nobody reads it or everybody does. I enjoy the feedback on my recipes and I comment on, share, or 'like' a lot of posts that appear in my news feed but seldom will open a profile to see what someone is up to in more detail unless they say or do something that gets my curiosity going, or I haven't heard from them in ages and wonder what they're up to. "Why did they post that non sequitur status," for example, can often be answered by seeing other recent status messages or posts. Indeed this post is merely an expansion of comments on your wall.
to see because they saw person(s) X(Y) on my "friend" list (Think how the right-wing liked/likes to beat on Obama over Jeremiah Wright. Connection? yes. Involvement and/or endorsement of quote/action/etc.? NO) All of the above people are good people with whom I have no real quarrel. It's just I'm trying to define this thing and if some people fell out of that "facebook friend" definition (which is always changing?) I took them off the list. But despite that, how many people may I have upset because I "unfriended" them, on facebook? Even though that was not MY intent. It's awkward to talk about. It's changed how we talk. I was walking through some Fair displays/booths and one of the ladies operating one of them recognized me as a facebook friend, saying as such. "Okay, so if we're friends ON FACEBOOK, what are we in REAL LIFE?" (I didn't actually say that but I'm quoting my thought process) suffice it to say, she's not on the list anymore. But with no malice, it's just she didn't quite fit the definition of how I think/thought this thing is supposed to work.
In today's social environment, deleting someone on facebook is tantamount to telling them you never want to hear from them again, that your connection to them is not only no longer worth acknowledging, but that you explicitly want nothing to do with them ever again; it's taken as a slap in the face and without a doubt it will impact your off-line relationship.
Now, let's come back to "creep"ing. Our profiles are items for public consumption. Isn't a "friend request" an invite, in part, to follow our generated content (photos/statuses/etc.)? If an interest in all content isn't required then why are we generating it? In the beginning, I put a great onus on myself to see/read EVERYTHING of EVERYONE on my friend list. So, in sending (or accepting) I had it in my mind "is this someone I want to spend a LOT of time comsuming their content" David, you gotta figure that's WHY I kept my list so small for so long. Because that's probably a ridiculous standard to meet. Now time has gone on, I don't "creep" as hardcore, because it's just not practical. But, I don't "creep" to be creepy, I "creep" because I'm still figuring what's required of me as a facebook friend. David, I could go on and on and on and on. But believe me when I say, I don't think you know just how I've struggled with this thing.
I think facebook is an excellent networking tool. It tells the people on your friends' list that you care enough about each and every one of them to have them on your list of connections, and that you and they are available to each other as connections in a context appropriate to the two of you on an entirely case-by-case basis. As someone who has repeatedly sought public office, facebook is a tool whose value to you really cannot be overstated, and as a modern member of the connected generation, I think we all have everything to gain and nothing to lose by building our personal networks and all being there for each other and growing together. It is not about a rapid way of communicating only with your closest friends -- facebook is not the best tool for that to begin with; that is best done in person, by email, and by telephone -- but about expanding your network of connections, communicating with people for mutual interest or benefit, exchanging expertise, and simply staying in touch with people you might not otherwise be able to,
In short, facebook can be a very powerful tool, but as with any tool, it is only useful when treated as one.
At least, that's my take.
PS: David, based just solely on my ramblings, I'm feeling like I could write a trilogy. I do look forward to your rebuttal, though. Dare I say, MMP all over again?
I don't think this really compares with the rancorous debates we had over MMP, but you know I'm always up for a debate. :)
words - permanent link - comments: 0. Posted at 21:17 on
November 21, 2010
I have left Guelph and resettled in my home province of Quebec... ish. From my new perch in Hull I can see the Library of Parliament across the river in Ottawa to one side and Gatineau's casino in the other. One of those I find quite interesting.
Naturally one of my first tasks in arriving here is figuring out the rail network in town and figuring out the transit system. But in Ottawa/Gatineau, the latter seems totally unnecessary, at least from where I am. It's a 25 minute walk to downtown Ottawa, even faster on a bike, so I guess I'll learn about the buses when it gets too cold... the rail, on the other hand, was more than a little bit of a shock and I'll get into it more later, but let's just say: new city, same old stupidity. Gatineau has ripped up the rail line through town just recently in order to put in a transitway. Makes sense, I guess, except that that rail line, on the other side of the river, is the same one used by the O-train. And if you keep following it, you'll intersect with the rest of the country's network rather quickly. Going the other way, the tracks go to Montebello, Lachute, and Montreal via Ste-Therese. Could that track have had some potential? Sure, but using the right of way for a transitway, at least, is not a total waste.
I have quite a bit of learning still to do to find my way around this town and if anyone wants to meet up here let me know! I'm on facebook and can be reached at the email address at the bottom of this page.
More to come, of course.
words - permanent link - comments: 0. Posted at 15:27 on
October 18, 2010
Keeping Track - Lawn mowers: our most pampered and successful pets
If I wanted a carpet outside my house, I would put down a carpet instead of a lawn. I've always had trouble with the concept of exceedingly short grass and wonder what the purpose is. There are plenty of plants that stay short on their own, are prettier and less allergenic than grass, require no mowing, and in some cases even produce perfectly good food. Wild strawberries, for example, are aggressive, short, and produce absolute delicious food. Creeping Charlie is considered a weed, but is anything but. It has all the advantages of grass with none of the disadvantages. But instead of these practical solutions to having carpets outside of our homes, we grow lawns, and my column this month is a nod to the most successful domestic species in the world: the lawn mower.
As a society, we're too good to our lawn mowers
Summer is once again upon us. I can tell, not because of the date, nor the sweet sound of chirping birds, nor even the flowers in bloom. Summer's arrival is heralded by the ubiquitous sound of grazing lawn mowers.
The noisiest and least social animal humans have domesticated, the lawn mower generates some of the world's most toxic flatulence while producing no useful byproducts.
Unlike many of its grazing ancestors, this survivor of the modern urban jungle has evolved to chew grass, and return it from whence it came.
It produces only foul smelling gases, yet it is one of the most popular pets known to humanity. Its ancestors on our lawns, the goat and the cow, produced milk used for many aspects of cooking and baking, as well as large quantities of fresh, healthy meat, but were seen as unsightly and messy because of the organic fertilizer they produced. In some areas, another popular grazing animal, the sheep, has been replaced by lawn mowers as growing wool for clothing has gone out of style.
Some older, endangered breeds of lawn mower chew up the lawn and spit it out, allowing the grass to decompose back into the soil and strengthen the lawns, but most modern species of lawn mower hold their meals in large stomachs that have to be emptied by their human masters when they get full.
Many people are so embarrassed by the digested remains of their lawn mower's meals that they hurriedly stoop and scoop the partially eaten grass, quickly hiding it in yard waste bags to be fed to the mower's distant cousin, the garbage truck.
As lawn mowers are known to have a voracious appetite, many of their masters feel compelled to chemically induce their lawns to produce more and, particularly in droughts, divert limited potable water to their lawns lest their lawn mowers become malnourished. Watering lawns is not always legal but many lawn mower owners do it at night, or have their children play with the sprinkler system.
While some citizens let their lawns languish in this dry weather, many people believe that this results in inhumane treatment of lawn mowers which must be fed at least once every two weeks to stay properly fit.
Some rare species of lawn mower are so difficult to feed, municipal governments set up entire parks just to provide enough for them to eat.
These heavy but nimble lawn mowers waste little time enjoying their meals, and spend much of the year trying to eat as much of each city's grass supply as its minders will allow, the better to prepare for their long winter hibernation.
The very best lawns are set aside for the elite. Their life of privilege is funded by generous people who care deeply about the health of these grazers; pampered fairways are subject to continual inspection by club-carrying foursomes, assuring the quality of the grass. On these large, exclusive properties, delicacies, known as greens, are cultivated to the finest tastes of the most demanding lawnmowers.
Lawn mowers are not a social species. They are solitary creatures, rarely ever seen in packs. This far north, they have evolved to hibernate for the winter, although in warmer climates they must be fed year-round.
Lawn mowers reproduce asexually, frequently speciating, and not inheriting evolutionary advances found among their peers.
They are known to react very aggressively to being petted, particularly on their underbellies. However, as lawn mowers are one of our most sacred species, it is very rare for them to be put down for such an outburst. Most lawn mowers are vegetarians, but they have been known to eat a wide variety of small amphibious and land animals that seek shelter in lawns.
Most cities have laws that effectively set minimum standards for the number of lawn mowers that must exist within its limits. If a lawn mower has not had access to a particular lawn in so long that the lawn's height exceeds eight inches, a landowner can be severely penalized for lack of compassion for their lawn mower. As a result, population control for lawn mowers is very difficult and in many areas their numbers have grown to exceed both dogs and cats.
Some people are beginning to see this prolific species as a pest.
With no natural predators, their numbers are increasing and some desperate groups are proposing reintroducing endangered residential grazers like goats.
Prolific consumers of grass and weeds, they could displace lawn mowers in the same habitat. These grazers would reproduce naturally and provide humans with an indirect means of eating their own lawns; feed a goat for the summer, and it will help feed your family for the winter.
The future of the lawn mower is looking very bright. As its world population continues to rise and farmland is replaced with lawn mower grazing fields freshly established in each new urban development, and as grasslands continue to expand northward as lawn mower flatulence works its way through the atmosphere, its food supply and habitat is growing by leaps and bounds.
Indeed, lawn mowers may be one of few species in the world to benefit and thrive from climate change.
words - permanent link - comments: 0. Posted at 08:31 on
June 10, 2010
Keeping Track - The Rails of the Royal City
On May 2nd, I led one of the many Jane's Walks in Guelph on a route I called "The Rails of the Royal City". Not everyone wants to do a seven kilometer wet-weather walk, so my column for this month is the written version of the same tour. I hope you enjoy this little taste of Guelph's rich rail history.
History haunts Guelph's railways
Thunderstorms and miserable weather were predicted for that first Sunday in May. Still, a small group of dedicated people showed up for the Jane's Walk that morning.
It was my task to lead the walking tour of Guelph's rail network - and how great it would be, I thought, if I could show everyone this poorly understood bit of our city.
As we gathered at the Guelph railway station, the Via train pulled out of the platform on its way to Toronto. The station, once part of the Grand Trunk system, was once serviced by the streetcars of the Guelph Radial Railway. It served as a transit hub, and retains its strong heritage and functional value.
Via Rail train No. 85 departs for Sarnia in this March 16, 2008 photo. CN Locomotive 6167 is visible in the top right corner of the image.
Across the tracks from the station, we looked at the soon-to-be-demolished cotton mill. Removed from the city's register of historic buildings, the site will instead serve an essential heritage and functional role in Guelph's restored transit hub.
We walked along Carden Street to the pedestrian overpass at Norfolk and along Kent Street, straddling the Guelph subdivision - better known as the north mainline - just west of downtown. We may never see another street quite like Kent, with its lane-rail-rail-lane configuration.
When we got to Edinburgh, we took Crimea to Alma Street. Just Alma Street - not Alma North or Alma South, because it is the tracks that are the north-south divider for street names.
There, the tracks leave the intersection of Alma and Crimea in four directions - to Cambridge, Kitchener, Georgetown and toward Fergus.
The tracks to Cambridge once led to a point near Brantford known as Lynden Junction, allowing Guelph residents a north-south connection to Brantford on the Great Western Railway.
Today, the same track in the direction of Fergus goes only as far as Woodlawn Road to the north, but once continued to Palmerston, which was a major passenger rail junction connecting much of the Bruce Peninsula and giving Guelph rail riders access to Owen Sound and many other communities.
The tracks to Kitchener and Georgetown still carry six passenger trains per day.
As we continued our walk, to the west lay Howitt Park and the Lafarge property.
We followed the tracks along Edinburgh northward as far as London Road.
Called the Guelph north spur, these tracks allow the Goderich-Exeter Railway to reach the industrial railway tracks in the Edinburgh-Speedvale-Elmira-Woodlawn roads block, which are shared with the Guelph Junction Railway. We hung a right and got on CN Spurline Park at London Road, walking along what used to be a connecting track between the Guelph Junction Railway and the Canadian National network.
This park, one of two former rail lines that now serve as walking trails in the city, runs from London Road along the south side of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School, across the northern tip of Exhibition Park, and curves sharply back to the Guelph Junction Railway at Clarence and Dufferin. The tracks along this alignment were pulled up nearly half a century ago, but the right of way remains clearly visible, a silent testimonial to the durability of rail.
While other tracks connected Guelph to Brantford and Owen Sound, the Guelph Junction Railway once continued north-west through Elmira all the way to Goderich.
We followed Dufferin and Cardigan streets along the Guelph Junction Railway as far as Eramosa Road. There, we were able to join the walking trail at John Galt Park along the side of the tracks, by the site of the old CPR station, now an apartment complex, and the Priory, the predecessor station. Along the way, we found a milepost: 32. I asked those along for the walk if they had any idea what we were 32 miles from. Nobody was quite sure. Hamilton, I told them, is 32 miles away. Railways still use miles
Hamilton, a city from which it is virtually impossible to visit Guelph without a car, has a direct rail line to our wonderful little community, but no service.
As we approached the River Run Centre, we noted the tourist trains. The Guelph Junction Express operates tourist and dinner trains along the Guelph Junction Railway. Waterloo, Tottenham, Orangeville, and several other communities in the area have similar services. Why has passenger rail been largely relegated to the status of a tourist attraction?
We approached the intersection of Macdonell and Wellington streets. There, the North main line has a large viaduct passing over the Guelph Junction Railway and the Speed River. The viaduct was built wide enough to support two tracks, showing excellent advance planning - far more than the 20 years we plan ahead for now.
The transit hub will have a platform that comes nearly all the way to this intersection. Why not build it just a bit longer to connect it to a platform along the Guelph Junction Railway? That would be planning for the future.
The last stop on our journey took us to CN 6167, the steam locomotive nestled in next to the Greyhound station. The locomotive will be moved to make way for the restored transit hub. Like the cotton mill, 6167 stands as a silent witness to our past successes - and will need to be removed in order for us to repeat them.
words - permanent link - comments: 0. Posted at 11:33 on
May 15, 2010
Keeping Track - Bus system overhaul coming to Guelph while GO station might go to Lafarge after all
There are quite a few new developments on transit in the Guelph area. This month's 'Keeping Track' addresses the Transit Growth Strategy's report on new bus routes for the city. I served on the community advisory committee for that project and am largely pleased with the results, provided they actually come to fruition. But there is more going on than just a redrawing of our bus route maps.
In a twist of irony, the plan to tear down a historically significant factory next to the train station in Guelph may prevent GO from stopping at the transit hub, with the station instead likely winding up at the Lafarge property. The Lafarge property is a large plot of vacant industrial land at the junction of highways 6, 7, 24, and two railway lines. I have advocated for a station to go there all along. As that has not been the plan, the City and the Ontario Municipal Board have cleared the way for a commercial development to go there instead, which will negatively affect our ability to usefully stop passenger trains there. Losing the downtown location would be tragic, as I believe both downtown and Lafarge are needed in spite of their proximity to eachother. If we want rail service from Guelph to be successful, it will need adequate parking that does not interfere with businesses. The downtown station cannot accommodate that for a variety of reasons.
The Lafarge/downtown station issue remains one to watch, but this month's column is limited to the bus system improvements outlined in the Transit Growth Stategy Public Information Centre
Guelph's transit strategy moving in the right direction
Public transit in Guelph is on the cusp of making a major leap forward - right into the early 20th century. Local bus routes that make sense and useful inter-urban mass transit connections are on the table and may well be in our future.
Anyone who has ever taken bus route Number 52 University/Kortright knows the true definition of the word meander. From its outer extremity along Ironwood Road south of the intersection of Scottsdale Drive and Kortright, it travels most of the way to the university, all the way back to Scottsdale, around behind Stone Road Mall, and only then back to the university, before finally making a beeline up Gordon Street toward downtown. Although it tries, it is an excellent example of that adage, "You can't be all things to all people." The route map generated by Guelph's transit growth strategy study, to be implemented with the arrival of the Carden Street transit hub in June 2011, shows huge improvement, and it cannot be implemented soon enough.
The message that Guelph Transit's route map needed to be wiped clean and started fresh got through, and residents throughout the city should soon be able to cross town in just 45 minutes in a worst-case scenario, down considerably from the more than an hour for the current trajectory.
The 10 linear and three loop routes introduced at the March 30 public information centre will almost all provide some measure of bi-directional service. This means that, for most of us, going from home to work will take the same time as going from work to home. For people who are used to a 10-minute trip one way and a 40-minute trip the other, this is indeed something to get excited about. Additional routes are being planned, according to the study, to provide practical service to the city's vast industrial parks whose current transit routes are, at best, painful, as anyone who has ever taken Number 51 around Southgate Drive, or Number 24 over the entire northwest corner of Guelph can attest.
Transit is apparently discussing the idea of bulk-rate passes, similar to the university passes, to be sold through large employers throughout the city. While many of us cannot benefit from such deals for the moment, one can hope that their success in moving more people further, faster, in fewer vehicles, will ultimately result in less expensive transit fares for all users. Making transit the most affordable way for people to get around can only serve to encourage its use and reduce other pressures on our infrastructure.
Most of the routes proposed are direct. There is minimal overlap except at defined transfer points. The loops at the ends of the routes to turn the buses around and provide service on the same routes in the opposite direction are mostly small and sensible. Instead of Number 52's vast 20-minute U-turn, proposed bus route Number 6 will travel from the university, along Gordon, across Kortright and Downey Road by the YMCA, and use Niska Road, Ptarmigan Drive, and Downey to turn around, then go straight back across Kortright and Gordon to the university. How novel is that?
The best news is that Guelph's transit growth strategy is the third serious study in seven years to look at how to connect Guelph to our neighbours without relying solely on the construction of new freeways. The others were the North Mainline Municipal Alliance and GO Transit Kitchener expansion studies. While the focus of Guelph's study is on bus rapid transit of various descriptions, the use of self-propelled passenger rail equipment to connect Guelph to Kitchener, Cambridge, and Brampton is proposed, with use of the same equipment to provide service between Guelph and Hamilton or Milton viewed as a longer-term prospect.
Demand for such a service on any one of these inter-regional corridors not only exists now, but has for a considerable period of time and must be properly run and marketed. More importantly, mass transit service on any one of these corridors would serve to reduce pressure on the many expensive highway expansion projects on the table for all of these same connections.
Guelph has been here once before. Up until the Great Depression, streetcars provided direct, frequent, affordable bi-directional service radiating out from Carden Street, where they connected with north-south service on the Guelph Junction Railway, east-west service on what we now call the North Mainline, and even streetcar service into Toronto, the only remnant of which is the Halton County Radial Railway Museum.
After 80 years of building our community around an ever-expanding automobile network, the past is once again proving to be the best example for the future, and Guelph's transit and inter-regional infrastructure may soon be up to the standards our great-grandparents enjoyed.
words - permanent link - comments: 2. Posted at 18:35 on
April 14, 2010
Keeping Track - Sikh Temple issue column
My March 10th Mercury column addressed the contentious issue of the proposed Sikh temple in Guelph's Westminster Woods neighbourhood. I am neither for nor against this proposal, mainly because it is not my place to state where such an institution should go, nor is it my neighbourhood.
Temple issue must be decided on the right reasons
If it were up to you, would the Sikh community be permitted to build a temple on Clair Road?
If you were one of Guelph's 13 city councillors, that question would be at the front of your mind daily as you read the wide array of commentary on the topic.
Is it a simple matter of esthetics and parking, or are there deeper, darker issues at play? The real challenge for council is to separate cultural undertones from legitimate issues, and make the right decisions for the right reasons.
With the farce at Trafalgar Court, where several apartment buildings share enough visitor parking for a small bungalow, it is not hard to imagine that area residents will be deeply cynical any time anyone says anything about any parking anywhere.
Add to that a sense among nearby residents that the stated capacity of the building at 400 people is unrealistically low, given the size of the structure, and we have a recipe for a truly objective complaint about what would seem to be a very routine proposal.
While some residents have implicitly threatened councillors with defeat in this fall's election if they vote in favour of the zoning change that could lead to the construction of the Sikh temple at 410 Clair Rd. E., others have accurately pointed out that councillors do not have the liberty of voting for or against the proposal based only on their opinion. Their decision is subject to various provincial acts, the applicants' charter rights, and various means of appeal including the dreaded Ontario Municipal Board.
Capacity, occupancy limits, and parking are legitimate concerns. The applicant has stated that by the end of construction of the second phase of the temple, the building will have a design and fire code limit of 400 people.
At least one presenter last week suggested that, mathematically, the temple could hold 3,639 people. By the same math, my fairly average house could hold 232 people. The question that residents want answered is not how many people it is designed to hold, but how many people can it hold, how much parking will actually be required, and what effect it will have on the traffic along Goodwin Drive.
The potential to expand the building on to the unused portion of the lot has some residents concerned. A large strip of the land is being rezoned in the application and some argue that the temple will some day expand into that plot.
The only way out of this is a permanent size cap as a condition of approval, and the conversion of the remaining property into a parking lot, adding years to the timeline before parking becomes a problem, or the turning over of the remaining land to the city to become a park.
A bigger concern at an esthetic and traffic level - one that is seldom discussed - is the type of structures that can be built on the several acres between the proposed temple and Victoria Road.
Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. The architecturally interesting, bright, well-kept buildings that are the Sikh temples - at least the ones I have seen - belong in residential neighbourhoods rather than in commercial, industrial, or agricultural areas. So, can this temple be made to fit in with this particular residential area?
Every member of the Westminster Woods community must pay a monthly fee to a property management company and are contractually obligated to have their homes conform on brick type, height, colour and style.
While the proposed temple is outside Westminster Woods, it does directly border on the condo complex and any co-operation would have to come from the good will of the applicant.
There is no doubt that good will exists. A recent article quoted Amarjit Furmah, president of the Guelph Sikh Society, as saying: "We've talked to the city and said, 'Give us your requests and we'll follow them.' We don't care what colour is the brick or stone. We'll do what they want."
But the trouble here may not be the colour of the brick - rather that Westminster Woods, like most of Guelph and, indeed, Canada, is a very cosmopolitan community.
There may be an underlying concern that the inclusion of a Sikh temple in a community will challenge rather than enhance that intercultural diversity by causing one particular ethnic group to be over-represented in the neighbourhood.
If that is the issue, then the question comes back to one posed by many a letter writer and columnist over the past few weeks: If this were a Christian church, all else being equal, would that concern still be present?
Before our councillors cast their votes, the challenge will be to determine exactly what question we are trying to answer.
Is the issue one of parking, traffic, and esthetics, or is it about the cultural structure of our city?
And can the two be reconciled into one right decision, whatever that may be, for all the right reasons?
words - permanent link - comments: 0. Posted at 18:11 on
March 27, 2010
Keeping Track - Why Canada should adopt the Turks and Caicos
Going for the slightly off-beat in this month's column.
What would you say to Canada, the Caribbean nation?
Since prime minister Robert Borden first brought it up in 1917, the idea of Canada absorbing the British island chain of Turks and Caicos has periodically surfaced in Canadian discourse. As we look out at our short, cold days and ponder whether our passports are up to date for a trip to Florida, perhaps it is, once again, time to consider offering the Caribbean nation Canadian citizenship.
The idea is not new, and since Borden's proposal nearly a century ago, both Canada and the Turks and Caicos have brought up the notion periodically over the years. The islands are not independent now, being still under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, and so changing allegiance to a fellow Commonwealth member that would pay more attention to it would not likely be a major problem.
Geographically, the Turks and Caicos are well positioned. They are just north of Hispaniola, the island that Haiti and the Dominican Republic share, and just east of Cuba. Canada would have an international presence in a part of the world where we barely exist today, able to assist in much more real terms with disasters such as last month's earthquake in Haiti.
The population of Turks and Caicos is around 23,000 people. That's about the same size as the University of Guelph. For providing 23,000 people access to universal health care and a seat in Parliament, what could we get?
We would expand our 202,080 kilometres of cold, northern coastline by 389 km of tropical beaches, and expand our 9,984,670 square km country by 948 square km, an increase of nearly one per cent of one per cent. While dramatic, that is not the reason.
Giving Canadians a domestic location in the Caribbean Sea would have major economic benefits for Canada, as well as the tourism-dependent Turks and Caicos. It is one of many territories in the world still governed by the United Kingdom, who wouldn't miss it. As a part of Canada, it would be treated as a special place,
not as one in a litany of overseas possessions; the Turks and Caicos would be the only inhabited Canadian territory not contiguous to the rest of modern Canada.
Thousands of Canadians travel to the southern United States and the Caribbean every winter to get away from our short days and long snow squalls, many staying down there for the entire winter. It all results in a lot of money directly leaving our economy with little more than a collective sun tan to show for it. If a substantial portion of those Canadians wintered in Turks and Caicos, the island would benefit from the massive amount of investment and all Canadians would benefit from keeping our expenditures within our borders and from having a warm place to go on a domestic flight. Even scuba divers could rejoice at having a place to go deep in Canada in February that is not cold.
We are a people known for cottaging and travelling for recreation. Many Canadians would not think twice about taking the five-hour flight from Toronto to Vancouver to see friends. The Turks and Caicos, on the other hand, can be reached from Toronto's Pearson airport in under four hours.
Not to say that there would be no drawbacks. Turks and Caicos are right in the path of more hurricanes than you or I care to think about, for one thing. Moreover, it would risk casting Canada to the world as a neocolonial power. However, while none of us will admit it, Canada's history is rich in annexations and expansion, and so adopting a friendly little territory just south of the Tropic of Cancer would not be completely out of character for a country that peacefully absorbed a neighbour as recently as 1949.
Canada is, fundamentally, a country that cares about others. How could we go wrong offering a little piece of Canada to the Caribbean community?
Besides, were Canada to absorb the Turks and Caicos, we would need to change our national motto. We would be Canada, A Mari usque ad Mare usque ad Mare usque ad Mare. It would be worth it just for that.
words - permanent link - comments: 0. Posted at 22:08 on
February 09, 2010
Keeping Track - Rethinking the commute
Today's column in the Merc, the first in my Keeping Track series.
Leaving car at home would ease our stress
In a perfect world, commuting would be about more than just getting there, but could contribute to strengthening our community.
With advances in technologies like home video conferencing and our gradual shift to a knowledge and service economy, it seems to me that the ultimate
solution for our clogged roads and crazy commutes is to not commute at all. We are a long way from there, of course, and much of our economy will always
require being on-site. Many jobs will always require driving a car, whether to obscure locations at odd hours, or simply because there is too much stuff
to transport any other way, or because extensive travel needs to be done for the job itself. And while some drivers value their commute as their one time
to be alone and at peace during their busy lives, it is an inherently unsocial way of getting around.
When we think about how to improve our transportation system, one fundamental piece of the picture is missing. It should not be about how to accommodate
those commuters who must drive, but how to organize transportation so that everyone uses the most sensible system for their needs. That would free up the
road network enough so that those who have to drive can do so sanely and would make transit more attractive to the vast majority of travellers who
currently are aware of it only insofar as they occasionally have to pass a bus stopped at the side of the road.
I take bus route 52 to work. I live near its southern extremity, in Ward 6. Number 52 is a slow, meandering route, and it takes 29 minutes to get downtown
and 26 minutes to get back home, plus waiting, and walking time at either end. It gives me a chance to relax and read a book or chat with the person next
to me, and by taking the bus I pass on the responsibility of cleaning off and warming up the snow-covered vehicle to someone else. When all is said and
done, at least in the winter months, it is not significantly slower than driving the six kilometres to the city's centre.
Taking the bus to work has helped me understand that I often feel rushed when I am in a car. I do not know what it is, but there is something about a car
and its asserted anonymity that makes its very existence feel urgent. It is counter-intuitive and unhealthy, yet I know that it is very common. One need
only spend a few minutes on the road to experience another driver's hurry to get somewhere. Driving is a dangerous way to travel at the best of times.
Commuting by transit is inherently safer than travelling by car. The medicare costs alone of auto-crash-related injuries, should give us pause when
considering the economics of different modes of travel. The personal risks and stresses of driving when there are viable and even relaxing alternatives
are things that most of us do not even consider as we feel a desire to "get there." Intuitively, public transit should cost little to the user, be
relatively quick, go far, and run reliably, none of which is generally the case today in Canada.
The Toronto Transit Commission is raising fares so much this year that it's expecting a drop in annual ridership. The TTC's chief general manager, Gary
Webster, noted publicly last fall that for every 10-cent increase in fares, a ridership loss of three per cent can be expected. The service is raising its
cash fare by 25 cents per ride, which, based on his numbers, should reduce transit use in Canada's largest city by seven-and-a-half per cent.
Those riders will not stay home. One can imagine the cascading effect of increased transit fares and decreasing ridership on other aspects of our
Guelph's transit fares will be going up the same amount in just a couple of weeks, with route and schedule cuts to follow. Ridership loss should not be as
pronounced in Guelph because so much of the ridership is made up of university students on their fixed-rate passes, to the tune of 60 per cent of its
riders. As many of my fellow bus commuters will no doubt do, I have stocked up on bus tickets at the current price and fully intend to save the few cents
In a perfect world, commuting would not be about everyone hurrying some place, but about simply getting where we need to go and helping our society calm
down just a little bit. From a social point of view, driving and taking transit are polar opposites. Going together is not only an environmentally and
economically responsible way to travel, but one that helps build our community.
words - permanent link - comments: 1. Posted at 11:47 on
January 13, 2010
Keeping Track - there is always more to discuss
With two years and 17 columns under my belt, my term as a member of the Guelph Mercury's Community Editorial Board is up. I will, however, be continuing as a monthly columnist in the paper starting in January under the title "Keeping Track".
My final editorial board column was written very casually and personally, though the published form is a bit more prim and proper, with my favourite line "I use vi to write these columns -- ten points to anyone who knows what that is" removed. So, um, who'll get the ten points?
There's always room for more discussion
This is my final column as a Community Editorial Board member, but I will continue to opine in this paper.
The last two years as a part of the editorial board have been eventful. From my first column, prodding this city to embrace the Lafarge property as the logical place for a park-and-ride transit station, to my last, prodding this city to embrace the Lafarge property as the logical place for a park-and-ride transit station, I have covered many aspects of transit and policy issues at all levels of government. My personal life, not usually the topic of my columns, has been a roller coaster of its own as my career took a dramatic change in direction while my marriage quietly ended.
Through it all, I have kept my focus on how I see the world and how I would like to see it improve. I have developed many new perspectives on the world that I may not ever have had, or expanded on to the same extent, without the opportunity to share them with you.
There is, of course, always more to discuss. Transit is my focus but far from my only concern. The computer keyboard and a word processor are among the deadliest weapons in the world and there are many issues I have yet to address.
Through subsequent column offerings, I intend to cover many of the issues I did not get to in the past two years. I expect to comment on why Linux should be your computer operating system of choice, why properly made poutine is the tastiest food ever made as well as being the only way to eat a potato, and why there is no such thing as sustainable growth.
There is, of course, also more to be said on my favourite topic. For example, because of a proposal to council, university students have been asking me recently if their universal bus pass is in danger.
And I answer: I doubt it. Nobody in his or her right mind would terminate the University of Guelph student bus pass outright, in spite of the idea being floated. The risk of 60 per cent of our transit system's ridership having to choose between buying passes and tickets or simply resorting to driving on our already overcrowded streets should make even the most anti-transit decision-makers reject any such notion.
I use transit regularly, but not exclusively. I take the bus downtown two, sometimes three, days per week and always use our city's paper tickets. I would rather use a pass, and would no doubt use the bus more if I had one. But the economics are not there for me to spend that kind of money.
To me, there is a more obvious solution, and while the appropriate venue to present solutions is the new Transit Growth Strategy Project Advisory Committee, there is no harm in presenting it here: Rather than having university students pay four times what they do now, I believe everybody in the city should have access to a university-style bus pass, good for a year instead of a month, and economical to buy. It should cost dramatically less than it does to buy passes by the month, and there should be strong incentives for everyone in the city to buy one.
So I ask the vast majority of you who are not regular transit users: what would it take for you to take the bus at least sometimes? I have made it clear in the past that I believe transit should be free and parking should always cost, though I'm enough of a realist to know that that is a bit of a pipe dream so long as even I feel a need to own a car. But that's just it, isn't it? It is all a chicken and egg problem. Nobody will use transit until it can compete with the car, and it won't be able to compete with the car until everybody uses it.
Nor will this conundrum even be addressed until we, collectively, understand the danger of continuing to focus on the car, no matter how green the fuel we put in it becomes over time. Until we learn to build our cities around the infrastructure we have rather than always trying to build infrastructure to keep up with the cities we have, sprawl will remain a vicious cycle and sustainable growth will increasingly be shown to be the myth that it is.
But all of that is a matter for a future column.
words - permanent link - comments: 4. Posted at 18:10 on
December 15, 2009
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