Monday, 16 December 2013

Re-telling bedtime stories

One of my favourite activities is reading stories to my toddler.  For the most part, his attention span doesn't last through several pages of story, but I still enjoy reading them.  However, I've learned that we need to find the original versions of stories!

There is an unfortunate trend to "re-tell" classic stories, in the dullest and most uninspiring way possible.  I love to read Kipling aloud; the words flow from the tongue and inspire the imagination with thoughts of far-away places and magic.  T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats inspires my oratory.  But a re-telling of Charles Perrault's Puss in Boots kills any enthusiasm for the resourceful feline.

I guess with freedom of speech and all that we can't stop people from messing up good stories, but but comparing words that were meant to be read aloud to a mere accounting of events, well, there is no comparison.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

New Hobbit movie

The Hobbit is one of my favourite books of all time. I have read and re-read it often, since first discovering it as a child. As a result, it's unlikely that any film would capture my pre-conceived ideas of the story.

I'm not a Tolkein "scholar". I've never managed to wade through the Sillymarillyon. However, I loved Lord of the Rings, and delved into the appendices, but I can't tell you the difference between the Maiar and the Valar, nor do I particularly care.

I enjoyed Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring, tolerated his Two Towers and endured his Return of the King. I eventually watched the Unexpected Journey and found some things I liked and others that I didn't. At some point, i'll pick up the extended DVD and delve further. But I don't see PJ's version as canon.

And now, with the Desolation of Smaug opening tomorrow, I (against my better judgement) read some of the advanced reviews, including those containing spoilers. I guess I should accept that I am certainly no filmmaker. I don't know what would sell. I previously understood that it was necessary to simplify a novel when translating it to film, but from the spoilers, I understand that PJ has taken an opposite tack, and added complicated relationships, events and (darn it all) CHANGES to Tolkien's original story. And not simply adding in things from other sources (eg, the LotR appendices) but putting in distinct differences to the novel that change the actions and motivations of the characters.

I'm certain I will end up seeing this new film. I'm eager to see what Weta, PJ and Benedict Cumberband have come up with for Smaug. I want to see Stephen Fry's take on the Master of Lake Town. Much of the rest will likely irritate me, but at those moments I will need to remember that 'I am NOT the target audience'.

It bugs me somewhat that this relatively simple tale needs to be 'improved' by stretching it out over three movies (one skinny book is being given the same screen time that was assigned to the LotR trilogy, each book of which was double the length of the Hobbit!).  New characters introduced, back stories invented for existing characters (some of which contradict the novel) and changes to characters and events that go against not only the text of the original, but to some extent the spirit as well.  I get that some of the additional story comes from materials such as the LotR appendices, but it seems a lot more is invented just 'cause, well, wouldn't it be KOOL!

Maybe I should only watch movies for books I haven't read, or at least for books I don't really like.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

I miss my Canada

I remember Canada as a land blessed either by fortune, or the Creator, a land rich in opportunity, and natural splendour.  Canadians were kind, generous and welcoming. 

Surrounded by the beauty of nature, Canadians recognised the intrinsic value of the environment and worked to protect it.  When the dangers of acid rain were realised, Canadians worked with their friends in the United States to eliminate the industrial emissions that caused sulfuric acid contamination in the rain.  When Canadians found that unsustainable logging practices were resulting in erosion of the soil needed to give life to the next generation of trees, they changed forestry practices so that every tree harvested today will be replaced by a new one. 

The Government of Canada valued ALL of its citizens.  Diversity in opinion was valued, whether the opinion political, religious or otherwise.  The preferred solution to any given situation was a compromise, that might not have given an absolute victory to one side over the other, but which gave each party an understanding that their position had been heard, respected, and addressed. 

Canadians looked at their own lives, and saw that many of their own could not access medical care.  So they introduced a system that allowed all Canadians to access medical care.  They were still allowed to choose their own doctor, and even some alternate medical services were covered.

Canadians valued the work of others.  Although the system was imperfect, Canadian employers and unions found a way to negotiate contracts that shared the fruits of labour with both owners and workers.  Strikes occurred, on occasion, and sometimes the government stepped in to force mediation between both sides, but the most common result was a contract accepted by all parties.

When Canadians looked outside their borders at countries afflicted by poverty and war, their hearts wept.  Canada sent her soldiers, wearing the blue berets of the United Nations, to stand between warring factions.  Canada sent her engineers, doctors, nurses and teachers to provide aid to the afflicted and to help build or rebuild developing societies.  Canada welcomed the refugees of foreign conflicts into her society, providing a new life to those who previously had known fear.

Canadians knew that they were more fortunate than others.  Canada was a leader in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.  Canada was a leader in the international campaign to ban land mines.  Canada assisted African nations to control HIV/AIDS.  A Canadian general presided over the peace negotiations between the British Government and the IRA.  As at home, Canada sought compromise between factions, to find a middle ground between factions, recognising that each party to a conflict had valid concerns, and that these concerns needed to be addressed in order to achieve resolution to the conflict.

I know I am maudlin.  I know I am dreaming of a place that may never have existed in reality, but it exists in my memories and I want it back.  I only wish I knew how to get there.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

It's official: Canada has abandoned diplomacy

Canada once had a proud foreign service.  Our diplomats could boast of defusing the Suez crisis, battling apartheid, inventing peacekeeping, creating the Ottawa Landmine Treaty, mediating between warring factions in places as diverse as the Middle East, Vietnam and Northern Ireland.  One of our diplomats won a Nobel Peace Prize.

Not any more.  Canada's government decided in 2006 to merge Foreign Affairs and International Trade into a single department.  And yesterday, the government announced that henceforth, the primary responsibility for Canadian diplomats is to act as salesmen for Canadian businesses.

I suppose it makes sense.  Canada campaigned against international restrictions on trade asbestos, so that our asbestos mines could continue to sell their products to India.  Canada campaigns against restrictions on greenhouse gases, in order to protect the interests of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.  Canada no longer has any time for the United Nations - where we were, once upon a time, proud of our level of engagement in working to resolve conflict, relieve suffering, and improve international relations.  Canada is quick to criticize Sri Lanka's human rights record, but mentions nothing of the record of our favoured trading partner China.  Our foreign minister is "skeptical" of any rapprochement with Iran - how much of his skepticism is related to the impact improved relations would have on the price of a barrel of Ft McMurray bitumen?

We've shown the world our priorities.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

I'm not a proper cyclist

We moved to Victoria in February, and left the car behind.  We managed to get around by foot and by bus, occasionally resorting to using the Car Share.  And finally in July, I started cycling.  My sister solved my bike purchasing dilemma by giving me a reconditioned mountain bike (hooray, free bike, and almost as important, hooray, no need to wade through all the confusing research about what type of bike I need!).

I've been cycling to and from work almost daily ever since, but I don't feel like a proper cyclist.  I have a helmet, reflective vest, flashing white light for the front and flashing red light for the rear.  Oh, and a bell!  But other than that, I'm not invested in the proper cycling look.  No skin-tight cycling shorts.  No wrap-around sunglasses.  And even the Canadian Tire cycling gear that I use would never pass muster with a proper cyclist.

On the road, and on the cycle path, I am definitely the slowest thing on wheels.  I don't think I've passed a single moving bicycle in the 5 months that I've been cycling.  I make a point of using my cute little bell when I pass pedestrians - I know that when I'm walking, it's nice to have a warning before the whoosh of a cyclist zipping past.  I'm not aware of proper cyclists using bells, however.  There's typically no warning of their approach, just the whoosh of their slipstream as they thread a path between pedestrians, slower cyclists (i.e., me) and other obstacles.  On rare occasions, you may hear a gruff, "on yer left".

I confuse pedestrians when I stop to let them cross the street in front of me, or otherwise follow the directions of traffic control devices.  If I'm on my bike, I go only when other wheeled traffic can go, and if using a pedestrian crossing I dismount and walk my bike across.  I try to avoid sneaking up beside motor vehicles, although if I'm in a bike lane I'll go as far as that allows without feeling guilty.

I suppose I should just lighten up and not worry about the proper cyclists.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Black police cars

Over the past few years, I've noticed a trend that police cars in many cities are transitioning from white or blue to primarily black colours.  This mirrors a trend from a decade or two ago from blue or tan uniforms to primarily black.  Black uniforms look cool, and tend to be intimidating (one of the reasons the SS chose black for their Hugo Boss uniforms).  Similarly, I've noticed a trend for cops to be presented less as the people one goes to when they need help to being presented as the representatives of government authority.

Is this change in presentation or perception all in my mind?  Or is there something more to it?  And if it was a deliberate change, who made the decision and why?  Do we want cops to be intimidating, to keep other citizens in their place? Do we want the police to be the people we go when we need help, or to be the people we avoid as much as possible?

Friday, 1 November 2013

so what's the Tory position on Rob Ford?

Recently, with regard to the ongoing chatter about three senators formerly of the Conservative caucus, PM Harper has indicated that pusenators should be held to a higher standard, and that they should be removed from office once accused of serious offences, and only restored once they clear their names. 

My own opinion on this is position is contrary to due process in Canada, which is generally based on the idea that the onus is on the accuser to prove their case, and not on the accused to prove their innocence.

Now after months of media attention, the Toronto Police have announced they have evidence linking Toronto mayor Rob Ford to some form of naughty behaviour.  So, will the PM suggest that Rob Ford also be held to this "higher standard", or does that only apply to senators?

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Turns out that I'm in a swing riding!

I've looked at the results of the 2011 General Election.  The difference between the first and second place results was less than one percent - the Conservative candidate received 25, 792 votes to the New Democrat candidate's 26,198.  If I'm still living in this riding when the next election occurs, my vote will be meaningful!

I grew up in Alberta where the only question was ever if the PC or Reform or CRAP (or even the CPC) would win every seat, or if there would be one or two MPs to carry the voice of the 40% of Albertans that chose to support other parties.  As a result, the idea that my voice would have meaning in an election is quite novel!  For me now the question is, which candidate will earn my support?

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

I don't get the Senate scandal

If I understand this, Duffy and Wallin are accused of making fraudulent expense claims.  Of course this is bad, but things should never have gotten this far.  It seems simple to me - the Senate should have clear guidelines on what constitutes legitimate expenses, and then all claims can be assessed to determine if they qualify.  Legitimate claims get paid, and others are denied.  End of story.

If the problem is that the guidelines are unclear, then fix the guidelines.  Simply trusting that politicians will only make legitimate claims, and paying off every claim that's made, and only afterward checking to see if the claims are legit is, quite frankly, stupid, and the Senate shouldn't go blaming the cats if they took more goldfish than they are entitled to.   I mean, really, my company won't pay my expenses unless I can prove that I'm entitled to get them, so why should we treat politicians differently?  The problem here is less the actions of some 'bad eggs' and more a lack of clear policy.

I hope that the opposition parties won't get completely hung up on this issue, and instead focus on the real reason to get rid of the Conservatives:  Stephen Harper's government is bad for Canadians.

Not transparent.
Bad at managing the economy.
Reducing level of service.
Waging war on government employees.
Acting only in the interest of corporations.
Driving down wages.
Retroactively changing rules.
Bargaining in bad faith.
Betraying veterans.
Refusing to work with provinces.
Denying climate change (or maybe refusing to acknowledge climate change).
Attacking any who disagree with government diktats.
Muzzling government scientists.
And that's just for starters.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

When did public servants become the enemy?

I have, on occasion, worked for the government.  I've been an employee of federal, provincial and municipal governments, so I've seen civil servants at work as well as being one myself.  Some, I'll admit, are lazy, but they are by far the minority, and most simply want to do their job, and do it well.  It seems to me that, rather than recognising the hard work and dedication provided, our government (especially since they obtained a majority in the House of Commons in 2010) has been on a more or less sustained attack on the civil service.  One of their first acts in 2010 was to push Canada Post to lock out its employees, and then force a contract onto the CUPW members at a lower rate than they had negotiated.  Since then, they've laid off thousands of government employees, thus reducing or even eliminating services.  (I've been affected as one of my clients is a First Nation.  We can't get any feedback from AANDC, and as a result our sanitation project has been stalled for months, soon to be years).  Muzzling of scientists has been generating a low-level and gradually increasing protest.  Now, Jim Flaherty has decided that the government (and only the government) will get to decide when workers are "essential", and then use that ruling to cancel legal strikes and also impose contracts.  Flaherty claims that the system will be fair, but if only one side at the table has any power, it's hard to see how the workers will be able to make any points about their side of things.

It's time to give these bastards the heave ho.

Monday, 7 October 2013

And now he's taking on the Commonwealth

Stephen Harper has decided on behalf of Canadians that the Commonwealth of Nations is not worthy of our support.  Fortunately, China's human rights record is sufficient to maintain our support.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Paul Martin drove me away from the Liberals

I see that Michael Ignatieff has written a book about his role in the downfall of the Liberal Party.  I haven't decided if I will read it; I probably won't.  The Liberal Party of Canada lost my support some time before Iggy took over.

I am an admirer of Pierre Elliott Trudeau (I could start with an earlier PM like Pearson or Laurier, but let's keep things within my lifetime!).  I think he did great things for this country when he patriated the Constitution and created the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Trudeau's successor, John Turner, did little to impress me, but I feel that Turner's successor Jean Chrétien did a good job as prime minister, especially in working with Paul Martin as minister of finance.

Paul Martin, however, managed to drive me away from the Liberals.  He organised a palace coup, rallied the party faithful against a still-popular prime minister and took over the party and thus the office of prime minister.  He then faced the Canadian voters, who punished him and his party for usurping the position that they had given to Chrétien by first taking away his majority in parliament and then his minority government as well.  The lesson here is, don't kick out a popular prime minister!

Stéphane Dion's Green Shift sounded good to me, but Dion wasn't able to sell it.  The Conservatives seized the initiative and defined the debate, and Dion wasn't able to catch up.  Following Dion's meltdown as leader, the Liberals has a coronation for Michael Ignatieff.  He seemed to believe that he deserved to be elected, but just came off as arrogant.  And when Iggy had to go, Bob Rae made the right choice and also stood aside - it's unlikely he'd have any more resonance with the voters.

Unfortunately for the Liberals, what was meant to be a wide open race for the party leadership ended up being another coronation, this time for Justin Trudeau.  JT is charismatic, but he hasn't won me back.  While there is no way that I could support the non-progressive Conservatives, and the NDP are struggling to keep their gains, I am not ready to support the Liberals.

My biggest concern is that I don't know what they stand for (other than legalising pot).  I know what previous versions of the Liberal party supported, but the current version is being cagey.  I understand not wanting to give their opponents ammunition to attack them, but they also need to give voters a reason to choose the Liberals, and not simply because they want to throw out the rascals that are currently running the show.

Toss your cigarette butts in an ashtray, jerk!

We as a society will not tolerate people throwing rubbish into the street.  Napkins, newspapers, paper cups, we've trained people to throw those into trash cans or other suitable bins.

So why is there an exemption for cigarette butts?  Look around any bus stop or park bench, and you are likely to find a little mound or scattering of cigarette butts.  People will flick them out of car windows, or drop them on the ground as they walk by (if we are lucky, they'll take a moment to squish them under a toe to ensure they are extinguished).

It's a filthy, disgusting habit.  I can't take my baby to enjoy the park without watching to see that he doesn't pick up cigarette butts (and he is at the stage where he puts everything into his mouth).  I see soggy paper and filters around bus stops and city streets.

It's your mess, don't leave it for someone else to clean up!

Environmentalism vs development - where is the voice of moderation?

In the public debate over the exploitation of non-renewable resources, the argument appears to be polarised between unrestricted development and a complete moratorium on any activity.

Where is the voice for responsible, controlled development?  Projects are proposed that have the potential to destroy or severely damage huge swathes of the the ecosystem.  Those who question the wisdom of these projects are accused of plotting to destroy Canada's economy, and sarcastically challenged to live without the benefits of plastic or fuels.

The thing is, there is room for development that doesn't destroy.  We can choose lifestyles that consume or require fewer petrochemicals.  When we go looking to remove petrochemicals from the ground companies can look at the life-cycle impacts, from generation of greenhouse gases, management of pollutants generated from extraction and upgrading of heavy oil, and risks of spills during transportation.

The burden should be on those who propose these projects to identify the risks and then to create and defend the mitigation measures.  The go/no go decision can then be made based on real risks and not on rhetoric alone.  Identify each risk and show how it will be managed.  And if risks are identified that can't be managed, then that should be a reason to stop the project until the risk can be managed.  Projects that are not undertaken because the risks are too great will not hurt us.  The petroleum isn't going anywhere unless we dig it up - if we leave it in the ground, we can come back later once we've solved the associated problems.  It will still have value in the future and in the meantime we won't be creating future problems from spills, greenhouse gases, environmental degradation, toxic waste or whatever.

Don't leave the arguments between fringe groups.  Look at the ideas scientifically, and where there are manageable solutions, move forward.  Where the risk is too great (or the cost to mitigate the risk is too great), set it aside for now.

Canada and the UN

Prime ministers, presidents, statesmen and diplomats from all over the world are gathering in New York this week for the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations.  Canada's Stephen Harper is also in New York, ostentatiously NOT attending the General Assembly.  In a childish attempt to show that he has more important things to do, he has gone out of his way to be in NYC at the same time as the GA and then, not attend.  If we are lucky, no one will notice.  If anyone does notice, they are more likely to laugh at him behaving like a spoiled child than take offence.

I was taught that the UN is a great and noble endeavour, and that we as Canadians should be proud of our participation in its founding.  We used to take great pride in participating with more enthusiasm and effect than other nations of our size - we 'punched above our weight'.  One of Canada's ambassadors to the UN won the Nobel Peace Prize for resolving the Suez Crisis, Canadians actively participated in UN peacekeeping missions (up to the mid-90s, we proudly claimed to have been involved in every mission to that date).  Canada's Stephen Lewis resigned his position as ambassador to the UN in order to take on the role of UN special envoy for AIDS/HIV.  Louise Arbour resigned from the Ontario Court of Appeal to become the Special Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal, chasing and prosecuting the worst modern war criminals from Rwanda and Bosnia.  Canada was a member of the UN Security Council at least once each decade until the start of the 21st century.

And now, under the current regime in Ottawa, Canada is determined to humiliate the UN for not living up to our standards.  Canadian diplomats will attend sessions simply so they can storm out as soon as someone they've been told not to like gets up to speak.  We will refuse to participate because we don't like a speaker.  We will reject criticism not because the criticism is invalid, but because the accuser isn't.

An example of this occurred earlier this week when Canada rejected a call by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate violence against aboriginal women.  Canada took umbrage that countries with "questionable" human rights records could question us - clearly New Zealand and Switzerland should not have had the temerity to challenge our purity.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Canada led an international initiative to ban landmines.  The campaign managed to recruit the Princess of Wales as its spokesperson, and resulted in the Ottawa Treaty.  This week, a landmark treaty to limit the global arms trade was signed in New York by 112 countries, including our closest allies.  Canada chose not to sign.  Apparently John Baird thinks that signing a treaty limiting international trade in weapons will allow UN police to storm farms in rural Canada to steal hunting rifles.

I acknowledge that the UN is an imperfect organisation, but it is the only truly global venue where governments of all countries can meet to resolve their differences.  I believe that we as Canadians should be working with the UN, as we did proudly from 1945 to 2006, to improve the institution.  If Mr Harper and his party believe otherwise, they should say so and take action to remove Canada from the UN.  Sitting on the bleachers and yelling insults does nothing to correct whatever Mr Harper's team perceive as faults, but it does push Canada away from the community of nations, making cooperation difficult on other issues.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Let's abolish the senate

Canada, like many democracies, has a bicameral system.  However, unlike most of those other democracies, only one of the houses, the House of Commons, contains members democratically elected by the citizens of this country.  The Senate is populated by political appointees, appointed by the Governor General from a list carefully selected by the prime minister of the day to meet very specific criteria. Unfortunately for the people of Canada, the selection criteria is most often based on how closely the appointees will cling to the party line (as defined by the PM).

I'm currently vacillating between my desire to see the Senate reformed or abolished.  Arguments for keeping the Senate are that, should the Commons attempt something completely batshit crazy, say, passing a bill that blatantly attacks organised labour for no good reason, the Senate is there to offer some sober second thought, and then offer a moderating voice, by proposing amendments that make a mockery of the bill.  What usually happens, however, depends on whether the prime minister's party has a majority in the Senate.  If it does, then the Senate is usually just a rubber stamp for whatever just got hammered through the Commons.  If the opposition has a majority in the Senate, then the Senate will obstruct or slow down legislation just enough to be annoying, but not enough to give the PM justification in wiping them out (although the PM could simply appoint enough Senators to guarantee that a bill will pass, as Brian Mulroney did for the GST). 

What we really find is that the 'sober second thought' that is supposed to be the responsibility of the Senate is actually happening in the courts, as they compare new (and old) legislation to the Constitution and the Charter of Rights.  So on this basis, we could probably do away with 105 unelected politicians, and their staffs, and their perks, and their travel budgets, and so on.

But then who will be left to stand up to the PMO?  In this country, there is a ridiculous amount of power concentrated in the Prime Minister's Office.  If the Prime Minister has a majority in the House of Commons, he can act more or less by fiat, stifling debate, and hammering through an agenda that may bear no relation to his platform in the last election.  The PM could, for example, arbitrarily gut environmental legislation, dump responsibilities to another level of government, push through omnibus bills that effectively re-write massive amounts of legislation, and use his power in the Commons to ensure that the potential effects of the legislation are not even considered.  The Senate, provided it is not simply the Prime Minister's lapdog, has the ability to moderate legislation, and potentially save time in the courts (by ensuring the legislation is sound) or more legislative time by catching impacts of new legislation on existing laws.

In my opinion, senators should not be affiliated with political parties.  This would allow them to review proposed legislation independently of party politics, guided by the direction from the House of Commons, but not blinded by a political agenda.  To do this, power to appoint senators must be taken away from the Prime Minister.  I don't see that senators need necessarily be elected.  A non-partisan selection process could be established, as currently exists for appointments for judges or members of the Order of Canada.  In particular, this would allow an opportunity to ensure representation for groups such as First Nations who might otherwise be underrepresented in parliament.

However, I am realistic enough to acknowlege that only a small minority of Canadians would agree to a change to the selection process that does not involve elections of some sort.  And that means a partisan process, as the political parties compete to see who gets their snout into the trough, regardless of how the elections are scheduled.  I see an elected Senate being just a minor variation on the existing House of Commons, providing no serious 'sober second thought' (even less than currently occurs) but more opportunity for meaningless political grandstanding.

So, I guess I'm for reform if it is meaningful and results in a better system for Canadians, and for abolition otherwise.

Happy birthday, Sea King!

Still in service after 50 years, despite promises to replace them since the Mulroney era!

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Legalise Mary Jane

This week, Justin Trudeau came out in favour of legalising pot.  I think I can support his position:  pot is not any more harmful than alcohol or tobacco, and both of those are legally available throughout the country.  Legalising marijuana would allow its production and sale to be subject to vice taxes, as is the case for both smokes and booze.  And it would allow police resources to focus on more serious crimes.  

If we do go ahead and legalise MJ here in Canada, though, I'd like it to be restricted in a way similar to booze:

1.  Limit the sale and consumption to people of 18 years of age or older.  I don't want my kid smoking (and once he's an adult, he'll be able to choose for himself).
2.  Limit the consumption of marijuana to private residences or licensed facilities.  I don't smoke MJ myself, and I don't want my visits to the park (or downtown, or other public places) to be subject to clouds of pot smoke, any more than I want to be exposed to cigarette smoke.
3.  Ban driving or use of heavy machinery whilst under the influence, as with booze.

Popular music

Top of the charts on the day I was born (25 July 1967):

Top of the charts on my birthday this year:

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Even Canada's premiers want First Minister's conferences to resume!

In reference to my earlier rant about First Ministers' Conferences (or rather the surprising absence thereof: ), the latest from Niagara-on-the-lake is that Canada's premiers want to have a face-to-face with the Prime Minister!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Numbered divisions for the army?

Following on yesterday's post, this news release from DND  says that Canadian Army Areas will be renamed as "Divisions".  This is another step backwards.  While the story claims that this is a "re-introduction" of the old divisional structure, it isn't really.  The new, numbered divisions bear no relation to the 4 divisions of the WWI CEF or the 5 divisions of the WWII Canadian Army.  Each of the wartime divisions had constituent units representing the whole country, the new divisions are completely regional.  The new nomenclature also reduces clarity - the meaning of "Western Area" or "Maritime Area" is readily apparent to any Canadian; who will suspect that 3rd Division represents the West?

As for preserving or reintroducing historical units, here is an example of how it doesn't even do that:  My former militia regiment is the Calgary Highlanders.  The Highlanders perpetuate the 10th Battalion of the CEF, which was in the 1st Division.  During the Second World War, the Calgary Highlanders were in the Second Division.  The new renaming of Land Force Areas to Divisions places the Calgary Highlanders into the 3rd Division - so how is that a restoration of a historical unit?


Tuesday, 23 July 2013

New/old insignia for the Canadian Army - what's the point?

Two years ago, the Conservative government restored the titles Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force to mixed reaction.  In my opinion, bringing back those names made sense, as the titles are more meaningful than Maritime Force, Land Force and whatever it was they called the folks who flew aircraft.  And sensibly, the restoration of the names does not devolve the RNC, Army and RCAF back into the separate entities that they were before Unification - all three remain components of the Canadian Forces.  More recently, the RCN restored a nice distinction for officers' uniforms by reinstating the executive curl, a fancy loop in the officer's braid.  Looks dashing and gives the sailors a reason to feel important.

And now the changes are going to go even further - the government wants to restore pre-1968 Army rank insignia.  From 1968 to the present, all members of the Canadian Forces used the same system of rank insignia, regardless of whether they served on land, at sea or in the air.  But now the Government wants to go back to a system that last existed before most current members of the Army were even born.  I've not been able to find images of what the new/old insignia will look like, but according to the news report here

1.  Maple leaves are to be eradicated from officers' rank insignia.  Right now only generals are the only officers with maple leaves in their rank insignia (one for a brigadier, two for a major general, three for a lieutenant general and 4 for a full general).  It's a nice way to add a distinctly Canadian twist to the international tradition of giving generals a number of stars or pips - why not leave our Canadian generals a nice Canadian distinction in their insignia?
2.  Keeping uniform rank insignia across the three services allows instant recognition of who outranks whom.  The forces have been unified since 1968 - why complicate things further?
3.  Enlisted ranks are to be restored to pre-1968 titles and presumably insignia as well.  This seems to me to be a waste of time as well.  Let's keep the insignia as they are, with maple leaves above the hooks for sergeants and master corporals.
4.  The reports say the rank of private will be replaced with guardsman for Guards regiments, rifleman for rifle regiments, sapper for military engineers, trooper for armoured corps and on and on.  These titles are already in informal use, but for official purposes, they are all privates.  Why muck about with changing every soldier's file to show that he is a private when in one unit, but must change to being a rifleman if he changes to a rifle unit or a fusilier or whatever?  These distinct titles can and should be maintained as regimental or corps traditions, but there is no need to add an unnecessary administrative burden by making them formal ranks (really, they are more like appointments - see here for an explanation of the difference between ranks and appointments: )
5.  One place where I would see a benefit to restoring an element of the pre-Unification ranks is with the ranks/appointments of Corporal and Master Corporal.  Master Corporals have only been around since 1968, as before then they were known as corporals, the first of the leadership ranks.  Apparently what happened was that privates who had achieved a certain level of technical skill were allowed to become corporals, which led to a need for a distinction between corporals with leadership positions, and corporals who were really more like technical specialists.  The leadership corporals became master corporals.  In my mind, only the soldiers with leadership roles should be called corporals; the other soldiers (privates with advanced skills) should be given another title.
6.  One final thought - in the olden days, there was a distinction between where commissioned officers, warrant officers and enlisted members wore their rank insignia (shoulder/cuff/upper sleeve).  With current operational uniforms, rank insignia is typically worn in the same location on the uniform - usually on a slip-on badge located above the soldier's sternum.  I can see immediately that is likely to be confusion between warrant officers and majors - in the old system, both of these soldiers' insignia consisted of a crown, but confusion was averted due to the placement of the insignia.  That will no longer be the case if both have to wear their crown insignia in the same location.

But then, as with every other decision made by the current government, they didn't ask my opinion.

Whither Canadian support for international development? (now that CIDA is no more)

In the spring budget for 2013, the Harper Government abolished the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).  CIDA was created in 1968 to administer Canada’s foreign aid (also known as Official Development Assistance or ODA) and since then developed into an internationally recognized brand representing Canada on the world stage.  It also became synonymous with bureaucracy and red tape, and a mind-bogglingly complex application process, to the extent that aid agencies needed full time staff just to navigate the complex forms and endure the months or years long process to get project funding approved.  It can readily be argued that reform was needed at CIDA, but that’s not what they got (unless you count folding into another department).

What was once CIDA still has its own minister, though!  Christian Paradis has been appointed to replace Julian Fantino.  Paradis is known for his championing of Canada’s export of asbestos.  Asbestos has been banned for most uses in Canada, but Minister Paradis did his best to ensure that other markets, presumably those with much more stringent safety regulations (such as India), should not be deprived the benefits of this wonder material.

CIDA had a mandate to focus on alleviation of poverty.  As far as I’ve been able to tell, that mandate has not changed, however when the dissolution of CIDA was announced, the government claimed that merging development with international trade and foreign affairs would allow for efficiencies and consistency in Canada’s international affairs.  DFAIT’s mandate does not include poverty alleviation, so when we see Canada’s ODA ‘aligned’ with DFAIT policies, does that mean the DFAIT will be adopting CIDA’s former mandate as its own, or will Canada’s ODA move away from poverty alleviation and become a mechanism for promoting Canada’s trade or foreign policy objectives?

In 1970, the OECD (of which Canada is a member) set a target of 0.7% of national income as the target for member governments to spend on Official Development Assistance (ODA), based on a proposal from the Pearson Commission, headed by former Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson.  No Canadian government has ever met this target, but the Trudeau government came closest in the 1970s when funding exceeded 0.5% of GDP.  Funding was since reduced, in particular during the Chretien-Martin governments of the 1990s and the target of 0.7% of GDP was never met.  Funding started to increase again in the new millennium, reaching 0.35% under the Harper government but that has already fallen back to 0.25% of GDP and will likely fall further.  Interestingly, all mainstream Canadian political parties except the Conservatives claim that they want to meet the 0.7% target.  It’s worth noting that the Liberals had a few decades in power and didn’t meet it, so these goals should be taken with a grain of salt.

Consistency in funding is no longer existent, either.  There have been a couple of re-organisations of Canadian ODA targets for funding.  There was a time when Canada spread ODA funding all over the world, but so thinly as to have no real effect anywhere.  The Martin government announced that funding would be targeted at several specific countries, and other countries would have ODA reduced or eliminated.  This made sense, as concentrated funding for a few countries would be more effective than widely dispersed but underfunded programs.  It would be unfortunate for the programs that would be cut, but a great benefit to the countries and programs that would receive focused attention.  It didn’t work out that way, however.  The list of target countries gets changed according to the objectives of the party in power.  Funding can be arbitrarily cut.  Afghanistan was receiving almost no aid from Canada in 2001, but ODA funding started to climb quickly, reaching a peak of almost $350,000 in 2008, but as soon as the Canadian Army pulled out of Kandahar, funding plummeted.  Funding dropped 46% between 2011 and 2012, from over $300,000,000 to less than $165,000,000 and is likely to fall further.  Haiti’s ODA funding dropped from $350,000 to $204,000 in the same period.  It is very difficult to maintain long-term projects if funding cannot be relied on for extended periods of time.

For now, the Government of Canada is not particularly forthcoming about Canada’s objectives for Official Development Assistance.  Will the ODA mandate change now that international development has merged with foreign affairs and international trade?  Will processes be simplified to obtain grants?  How will different mandates for development assistance, international trade and foreign affairs be rationalized?  Is the 0.7 goal to be abandoned?  Minister Paradis, welcome to your new job and I look forward to seeing these and other questions answered!

Survivalist fiction

I’ve started reading ‘Dies the Fire’ by S.M. Stirling, after seeing several recommendations, including by a few SCA members.  It is part of a genre of post-apocalypse fiction, which speculates how people would react to a collapse in civilization.  I’ve read a few novels along this theme over the years (such as Lucifer’s Hammer, Day of the Triffids, On the Beach, The Last Canadian, Twilight:2000, World War Z and others) and seen even more movies (Mad Max and its sequels, the Postman, Waterworld, Children of Men, I am Legend, Damnation Alley, Planet of the Apes, Zardoz, The Day After, The Quiet Earth, and more).  Some of these were good, other less so; but generally fun, escapist stuff.

A common (but not universal) theme is that, whatever causes the collapse, there will be some heavily-armed megalomaniac who will mysteriously appear, attract a large following of sadistic thugs, and then impose his ‘vision’ on whatever other survivors he can find.  These other survivors are usually pacifistic, granola-munching hippies who are completely incapable of resisting the thugs.  It is then up to our noble hero to step up and liberate the oppressed hippies.  The result is often a thinly-veiled justification for promoting ongoing access to firearms, a criticism of dolce-vita urbanites, and an implication that city-dwellers will be the first to die and/or give over to cannibalism, mob rule or willingly throw themselves into the service of the megalomaniac tyrant.

However, looking at actual disasters, the most typical response I’ve noted is to pull together and provide assistance for victims.  Police, fire and ambulance services will step forward and do their assigned jobs for the duration of the crisis.  Agencies such as the Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance, Salvation Army and other church groups or community organisations will provide assistance in accordance with their mandate or resources.  People not involved with one or more of these agencies will look for ways to contribute, either with time, money or in other ways.  The sense of community to me usually seems to be strengthened, rather than weakened, by the emergency.

Some of these stories seem to promote what might be the author’s political viewpoint.  However, since the author gets to create the stage and then decide how the characters react, he is able to manipulate events to reinforce his idea.  Don’t take anything you find in these stories as ‘proof’ of anything!

So I am going to continue enjoying my survivalist fiction, and keep it for what it is – fiction, fantasy, just plain made up stuff.  It is not a study in how people are likely to respond in a real crisis.  Don’t draw any morals from these stories; just enjoy them as fun, escapist fiction.


I’ve noticed this term showing up now and again, and find it mildly amusing.  It seems to be favoured by those on the right of the political spectrum, who apply it to people who espouse viewpoints different from their own.  The idea is that ‘sheeple’ are ordinary people who are unable to think for themselves, and are thus easily manipulated by the media, whose message they then bleat until the next media story comes along.

Ironically, these sheeple are most often criticized for taking a position contrary to that promoted the commentator, unlike the clear-thinking, intelligent folks who conform to the commentator’s opinions.

The greatest amusement for me is that I mostly notice this term being used by conservative Albertans to describe non-conservatives.  Although I was born and raised in Alberta, I have never embraced the conservatism that runs so deeply there, so when I take the same position as the ‘sheeple’, am I bleating along with one herd, or simply rejecting the other herd?

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Car sharing philosophy

When we moved to Victoria, we got rid of the car (it was donated and the money went to the Stephen Lewis Foundation).  We have set ourselves up here so that we have no need of a car for day-to-day living, and have joined the Victoria Car Share Cooperative so I can have access to a car for when I need it.  I'd originally thought that would be once a month, but has turned out to be about twice a month.

One thing that I had not considered was how joining the co-op would make me so much more aware of the costs of operating a car.  When I was a car owner, I needed to buy the car (I paid cash, so that was a one-time payment, although I know others who make monthly payments on their rides), so once the money was gone I didn't think about it any more.  I paid insurance in 6-month increments, so only needed to worry about that cost a couple of times a year.  Fuel was only an issue when I filled up once a month or so, and other maintenance (oil changes, not much else), less frequently.  So the car was paid for in advance, for the most part.  Any time I had a whim to drive, vehicle operating costs (other than parking) were seldom on my mind.

Now with the car share, my costs are a fraction of what they were as a car owner.  However, I know that I will be charged for every hour I have the car booked, and for every kilometre that I drive.  While the costs are low compared to any other means of travel other than walking, biking or transit, just being aware that I am spending money each time I take the car has given me a new perspective on travel costs.  As a car owner, the money had already been spent, so I might as well drive.  In the car share, each decision to drive is a decision to be billed specifically for that drive.  It makes me think for each trip if I have made the best choice for mode of travel - not something that I had expected when I joined!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Naked protestors

I don’t think they are having the effect they claim to be seeking.  I will stare at beautiful naked people, because they are beautiful naked people.  However, they won’t convince me to give up eating meat.  They won’t increase or decrease my outrage at misogyny in Islamic countries.  I am now slightly more aware of issues related to democratic reform (or lack thereof) in Ukraine, so I guess they have had some effect on me.

Still, I like looking at beautiful naked women, so if Peta, Femen and others want to carry on with naked carrying on, more power to them.  Just so long as they don’t expect that the awareness (or whatever else) they raise is necessarily related to their target subject!

Sympathy for the cop who inspired 'Slutwalk'

In 2011, a Toronto policeman participating in a campus safety forum was accused of uttering words to the effect that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”.  Participants at this forum seized on his words as a form of ‘victim blaming’ and launched a movement notable for its vociferous defence of women’s rights to dress any way they choose, and ended up rather missing the point of the safety forum.

I did not attend the aforementioned safety forum; however I have participated in training sessions related to reducing the risk of becoming a victim.  My understanding of this sort of safety forum is to understand that there are threats – in this case to university students, specifically women, as the statistics bear out.  The likeliest victims of sexual assault are women aged 15-24, by a large margin – they are 18 times more likely to be assaulted.  It is further estimated that only about 10% of sexual assaults are reported to police, making clear statistics difficult to confirm, but this clearly identifies university-aged women as being in a group that is at higher risk than other members of society.  Lots of detail for anyone so inclined can be found here:

As a result, events like the safety forum and other educational efforts are important to inform women of the risks that the world holds.  Identifying and educating on risk is not victim blaming.  Informing women when an activity places them at higher risk of being attacked allows those women to make informed choices to reduce the likelihood of becoming victims.  Note that this in no way absolves the attacker of responsibility. 
Now, perhaps the police officer should have phrased his words more carefully.  “Slut” is an emotionally-charged word.  Perhaps he was going for shock effect, in which case he succeeded beyond his expectations.  It certainly seems to me that he wanted to get women to consider how their actions may place themselves in greater risk, and to consider how they may be perceived by potential attackers.

The corollary to this is that the way a woman dresses is only one factor in a terribly complicated risk matrix, and likely a relatively minor one.  When I was preparing to work in Afghanistan, we were taught that in socially conservative countries, we would be judged on how we dressed, and that insufficient respect for local customs could have fatal consequences.  Here in Canada, clothing choices are far more liberal, and much less likely to be a factor in whether one is attacked than other choices, like binge drinking, walking alone at night in unsafe areas, the risk of one’s drink being ‘spiked’ with a sedative or other ‘date-rape’ drug, accepting a ride from a stranger, or any of a myriad of other risk activities.  The statistics indicate that sexual assault is more likely to be committed by someone known to the victim, so the ‘don’t trust strangers’ part of the advice won’t have bearing as the betrayal of trust is more likely to be by someone you don’t know.

Now, it is possible to follow all the advice from the safety forum and still be a victim of crime, just as it is possible to refrain from smoking and still contract lung cancer.  The purpose is to promote consideration of one’s actions and potential consequences. 

Please, attend safety fora.  Engage in discussion.  Recognize that someone can offer advice on how to avoid being a victim without suggesting that a victim somehow ‘causes’ the crime.  

Saturday, 13 July 2013

I don't understand the law

It it not (necessarily) illegal to shoot and kill an unarmed youth ( ) but 'terroristic' facebook posts can get you 10 years in prison ( ).

Is 'terroristic' even a real word?

Monday, 8 July 2013

Electoral Colleges

I originally meant to post this on July 4th, then got distracted for a few days!    Today is the 4th of July, and the national holiday for our brethren to the south.  I think that the USA has a great system, with nice checks and balances between the executive, judicial and legislative branches.  Off the top of my head, there is only one thing that I would reconsider about the US system, and that is the electoral college.

I understand how and why it was introduced, but to me it seems an unfortunate relic of a bygone era.  Modern American voters are not a mob, and (while some may disagree!), they do not need an electoral college to choose the 'right' candidate in case the voters attempt to elect the 'wrong' candidate.  Further, the idea that regional voices should be counted differently, and that a voter in Wyoming has greater worth than a voter in California, should be a bit insulting.

Simply counting one vote as one vote, all votes equal, and then one of the quirks of US Presidential elections will disappear - the pursuit of 'swing states'.  All votes will count, and a New York Republican vote will be as valuable as a Texas Republican, and a Montana Democrat's vote will have meaning.  An election will not depend on hanging chads in Florida, and candidates will be able to focus on matters of interest to the nation, and not to special interests in a scattering of regions.

Of course, it may lead to interesting results when a third party gets to be a voice in the election - but that's all part of the fun with elections. And overall, I think we have far more things to fix here in Canada with our unelected senate and near-absolute power in the PMO.

$100 per month per kid? I'd sure love to get me some of that action

Stephen Harper boasts that his government gives out $100 per month to each child in Canada.  So trust me to find a way to not be eligible for a 'universal' benefit!

I'm a Canadian citizen.  Arthur is a Canadian citizen, just passed 10 months last week.  But the rules state that the 'primary caregiver' is the only one who can receive this benefit, and that by definition is the 'female parent'.  Unfortunately, my citizenship and Arthur's citizenship both become irrelevant, and only Ellis' status as 'temporary resident' in Canada matters.  So the three of us, with one income between us, can't get this benefit.  For the record, Ellis applied for a permanent resident visa 19 months ago, and we've been waiting, more with quiet desperation than patience, ever since our last contact from Citizenship and Immigration Canada back in October.  At the time, the CIC website said that we should expect a result in 8 months, but that deadline passed a month ago and we are none the wiser.

Whatever happened to First Ministers' Conferences?

First Ministers' Conferences, that is a meeting between the Prime Minister of Canada and the Premiers of the provinces, used to happen nearly once each year, especially through the 1980s and 1990s.  Their frequency fell off in the 2000s, but Jean Chretien still managed to attend seven in 10 years, and Paul Martin managed one in his short time as PM.  Stephen Harper has attended once, in 2008, since he became prime minister.

These conferences are an opportunity for coordinating between the provinces and the federal government, especially where there are overlapping areas of interest.  They also allow consultation between the federal and provincial governments, and present a forum where leaders from different parts of the country can come together to ensure that uniform standards are established for things like health care, education, transportation and environment, which otherwise could (and often do) differ from one province to the next.

So why don't they happen any more?

Monday, 1 July 2013

Why doesn't the price at the till match the price on the shelf?

I moved to New Zealand in 2004.  In the spring of 2007, I returned to Canada (via a three-month detour through Rapanui, Chile, Peru and Colombia).  However, I knew I was back in Canada when I purchased a five dollar phone card at Toronto’s Pearson airport, and was charged $5.65 at the till.

Canadians know that we are charged sales taxes, the federal GST for all of us, PST for many, and HST for those that didn’t repeal it.  I’m not necessarily opposed to sales taxes – there are worse ways to be taxed, besides they are well established and I can’t see them being repealed any time soon.  What I object to is that the tax is added at the till.  I can’t just look at the price on the shelf and compare that to the cash in my wallet – I need to add 5%, or 12%, or 13%, or 15.65%, depending on where I live.  As consumers, we have to pay the tax whether it is thrust in our faces or not, and not having it included just makes the math harder.

New Zealand has a GST that is include in the price you see advertised.  In the UK, their outrageous 20% VAT is included in the listed price.  Everyone who lives there knows about the tax and how much that they are charged.  And everyone who has an exemption knows that, too!

If we direct all merchants to include the tax in all advertised prices (including the price on the shelf), we’d save on aggravation and we wouldn’t have the tax shoved in our face every time we make a purchase.  Plus, it would be nicer for visitors!  Tourists would simply see a price, and know what they need to pay.  No need to explain the entire tax system to every new out-of-country visitor.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

What do you mean by 'true western democracy'?

In his recent address to the British Parliament at Westminster, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a point of referring to Israel as the “only true western democracy” in the Middle East.  Mr Harper’s stance seems to be to be very unhelpful, as there are many democracies in the Middle East.  Democratic government is well established in Turkey.  Democratic rule was restored in Lebanon in 1990 after decades of civil war.  Democratic government was established in Iraq after the downfall of Saddam Hussein, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives.  Brand new democratic governments have emerged from the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, and are still trying to figure out what shape their constitutions will take.  

And yet Mr Harper says that only Israel is a "true western democracy".  The implication here is that Israel has legitimacy, and is deserving of support, while other countries in the region lack legitimacy and do not deserve support.  For me, this raises several questions:  What shortcomings do the other Middle Eastern democracies have that denies them the legitimacy of "true western democracies"?  Should we engage these other democracies to assist them in correcting these deficiencies, or just write them off?  By what right do we decide that one country's approach to democracy (or any other form of government) is better than another's?   The Arab Spring democracies are still trying to write their constitutions - should we assume that they won't meet Mr Harper's measure for Western Democracy?  Is our approach to democracy so much better that we should be telling other countries what gives a government legitimacy?

Please let's stop calling them 'terrorists'

The word “terrorist” is trotted out far too easily.  Media reports and politicians in particular love to use or misuse the word to draw more attention to their stories.  This over-use of “terrorist” dilutes its meaning, especially as the definition of what constitutes “terror” can vary as much as each user wishes, with the consensus seeming to be “I’ll know it when I see it”.

The result is that almost any person or action can be determined to be terrorist.  The attacks by the likes of Timothy McVeigh or Osama bin Laden will meet most people’s definition of terror.  But what about other high-profile criminals?  James Holmes, who is accused of the shootings at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, is not generally described as a terrorist (although he is none the less justifiably reviled).   Adam Lanza, the gunman at the Sandy Hook school shootings, is not described as a terrorist.  However, the terrorist label was instantly applied to Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsernaev, the alleged perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings.  The result of each of these incidents is similar:  a large number of people dead or seriously wounded, widespread panic, long-lingering fear in the affected communities.  What makes one of these actions “terror” and the other two not?

It will be far better to refer to all of these criminals as what they are:  criminals.  Murderers, kidnapers, extortionists – all these actions are crimes, regardless of any underlying political motive, so it is simple, and correct, just to call them what they, without sensationalising their crimes with a further designation.  Sensation is often precisely what the perpetrators of these crimes want, as it gives them publicity, and a way to benefit from their crimes.  They also get a perverted sense of worth – as ‘terrorists’ they may perceive are warriors for their cause, and not mere murderers.

Don’t let them think that randomly killing people, any people, gets them or their alleged cause any credit.  It is criminal behaviour, and that is bad enough without the drama or notoriety from being called terrorist. 

I believe it will also help the cause of peace in places like Israel & Palestine to clearly identify killers as murderers, not as terrorists.  Let those who participate in murder be identified as murderers, regardless whether they use rocks, knives, bullets or rockets.  Make them criminals, not heroes.  

First post!

Hello and welcome.  I've started this blog as a place where I can develop my political beliefs, and try to work out how I can make my country and the world a better place.  I have a number of ideas which I will try to sound out in these pages.

The main motivation for starting this is that I am not content with the direction that Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party are taking Canada.  I'll write a series of blog posts outlining my reasons for my discontent.  However, I've not decided which of the alternatives to the CPC are worthy of my support, so I'll be exploring them as well.

I welcome any comments, however I reserve the right to delete any that do not meet my entirely arbitrary standards.  I don't mind when anyone disagrees with me, I welcome it, but I won't tolerate abusive language or attacks.