Sunday, February 28, 2010

Losing Was Not an Option

As I write this in my apartment, I can hear the shouting and honking in downtown Waterloo. Much of downtown Toronto is closed for the celebrating fans, as are downtowns all over the country.

I was at an opera in Toronto this afternoon from 2 to 5:30. (Unfortunate timing on the season's tickets.) I was in the ladies room during the second intermission when an elderly woman burst in, shouting, "We scored!" During the intermissions the score was broadcast above the stage, and since Canada was ahead everyone (including the orchestra) cheered.

A hokey Hollywood sports movie couldn't have made this victory more important. It wasn't like the "shot heard round the world" when we beat Russia in '72. These guys all play together on the same NHL teams; there's not the usual separation between competitors. But a series of events over the last year... Jim Balsillie being denied another attempt to move a team to southern Ontario; our loss in an early game at the Olympics, ratcheting up the anxiety; Sidney Crosby salvaging our chances in overtime of another match; having a chance, with this victory, to make a new world record for one country's gold medals... then the USA tying the score 24 seconds before the end of the game! And Crosby winning again in overtime!

As I was driving home from Toronto I heard a CBC newscaster ask the question, "But did the better team win? Was Canada better than the US?" What a dope. Of course the Canadian team wasn't better: the US team had a much smoother run at the Olympics. The difference is the fans. This is our game. This is our Olympics. Losing was not an option.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Winter in the R+T Park

I work in the Waterloo Research and Technology Park, located on the north campus of the University of Waterloo. I took these pictures out the window today...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ice Dogs

Today was our annual Ice Dogs festival, which is a bit of a goofy concept. People are invited to bring their dogs for all kinds of doggie fun, and then there's also ice carving. And once again, free food! A highlight was free hot chocolate courtesy of Starbucks.

This woman was waiting to be judged in the pet look-alike contest...

This is a kid on the ice slide (it was long and fast)...

This is a woman making an ice sculpture...

This has nothing to do with the Ice Dogs festival but I noticed that the public square has new permanent tables and chairs. Pretty cool...

btw, I'm pretty happy with my new camera. It's a Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS Digital ELPH. It's smaller than a deck of cards, easy to use, has a good zoom, and has some nifty autofocus features like the ability to detect faces and focus on multiple people. I seldom carry my big SLR but all of a sudden I'm enjoying taking pictures again.

Update: Alex Black has a good post on comparing cameras.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Holiday in Waterloo

To celebrate our new holiday Family Day today, Waterloo's new public square was a great place to be. The rink was open as usual, with music, but was ringed with tents with food and crafts. There were people handing out free pizza, popcorn, and maple sugar candy; a stand selling Thai food at $1 per item; and an espresso/hot chocolate tent. There was Cirque de Soleil face painting, craft tents, a Big Bounce, and people dressed up in wild costumes. And, of course, the highlight was watching little kids pushing chairs around while they figured out how skates work.

The public square is shaping up to be just what it was intended to be: a central attraction in the heart of uptown. There's something to do there almost every day of the year. (Programming details here.) And don't forget that next Saturday, February 20, is the Ice Dogs festival!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

When Prorogation Ends

For the NDP and Liberals, this is not an ideal time for an election. Jack Layton is laid up with treatments for his recently-diagnosed cancer. The Liberals (according to James Travers) are "a policy conference, an election platform and at least six months away from campaign readiness."

For Harper, an election might not look so bad. It's increasingly looking like Harper's advantage in the polls last fall was a blip brought on by Ignatieff's goof of saying he wanted an election less one year after the previous one. These current polls may be as good as Harper is going to get: Ignatieff will only get stronger over the next few months. Plus, Harper could be in big trouble once those Afghan detainee papers come out: as is frequently the case, the cover-up (and blatant lies) may be more harmful than the base issue. Some politicians would hold off on an election when a rival is getting cancer treatments, but we all know that Harper is not that kind of guy. His only concern will be to pin the blame of an election on the opposition.

Given this situation, what can we do to take a stand against Canada's rogue PM and his precedent-setting dismissal of our democracy?

We could try again to get him to release the Afghan detainee documents (perhaps with a point of privilege), and if he refused we could hold him in contempt of parliament. But that would make it hard to avoid an election - and worse, avoid having it look like we caused it.

Travers suggests that Parliament could force Harper to seek parliamentary approval to shutter the House again during March and April breaks. But doesn't that highlight the wrong issue? Harper should not be unilaterally cancelling parliamentary breaks, but his more serious transgression was shutting down parliament through prorogation.

I think the solution is to push the Afghan detainee torture papers, but stop short of holding Harper in contempt. Compromise on how they're released, if necessary, but get them into play.

Secondly, we cannot let this egregious prorogation slide. Ignatieff and Layton could propose a joint motion aimed at restoring the supremacy of parliament by restricting a PM's use of prorogation.

The trick is to hit Harper hard without letting him make an election out of it.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tough Guys sur les bicyclettes

There were some heavy-duty protests at the opening day of the Olympics yesterday, with masked protesters smashing windows, damaging cars and spray-painting things. If this were happening in Ontario the Mounties would be out on horseback, something I've seen in Toronto many times. (In fact, I noticed when living in Liberty Village in west Toronto last year that even the parking police are on horseback.)

But the Olympics are in Vancouver, and things are a little different there. To thwart the main protest, CTV reports, "bicycle police formed a line across one of the main streets in the downtown."

Bikes... hmmm. It's an interesting development in crowd control techniques, and we need to hear more about it. Is it a kinder, gentler approach to policing angry mobs? Or just the way Van cops get around?


The True North Neurotically Insecure and Insular

The opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics were spectacular. KD Lang's rendition of Hallelujiah was a highlight. But I was completely put off by the "I am Canadian" type diatribe by BC slam poet Shane Koyczan.

For one thing, it was tacky. It was too much like that famous beer commercial of several years ago. Also, it was ignorant and insular, with lines like "We say zed not zee" (only the US says zee - many other countries around the world say zed, and it's not even original to us). But mostly, what Olympic host has ever been so blatant about trumpeting themselves? We are the HOST for Pete's sake. We are supposed to be welcoming other countries, not thumbing our noses at them.

Apparently Koyczan was a last-minute addition to the show. I'd like to know who put him in and why. I just forced myself to watch him again: "Some say what defines us is something as simple as "please" and "thank you"... but we are more than genteel and civilized... we dream so big there are those who would call our ambition an industry... we reforest what we clear because we believe in generations beyond our own... we are the abandoned hesitation of all those who can't wait... we are the surprise the world has in store for you... Canada is the "what" in "what's new"... we are the true north strong and free. And what's more is that we didn't just say it; we made it be."

Ick. What is it in our national psyche that leads us to trumpet our insecurity? We seem to have some deep-seated need to yell at the US: "We're better than you!" while muttering to ourselves, "We know we're not! We're not worthy!"

We see ourselves as the eternal underdog, but we're one of the richest and most powerful countries on earth. With a population less than California's, we're a member of the G8. We're at or near the top of all the quality indexes: wealth, health, quality of life.

Do we feel unworthy because we lucked into vast natural resources that are the backbone of our economy? Or because we are such poor guardians of our great luck: clear-cutting forests, spewing pollution from the tar sands, selling our steel companies to the Chinese, paving our farmland, embroiling first nations in endless land claim settlements, and tearing down our heritage buildings?

That beer commercial was just a stupid campaign to sell crappy beer. If it has become our model for displaying national pride, we're in trouble.


Amalgamation May Happen If We Don't Speak Up

A lot of time and effort was expended two years ago to fend off a business lobby intent on amalgamation. Now the same group is back with what you might call a "foot in the door" tactic - get agreement on having a referendum about whether to hold talks on the issue. Who could disagree with something so benign? But don't be fooled. When the question was "Do you want to amalgamate," the vast majority of local residents said "no". This latest tactic is a more subtle attempt to trick us into amalgamation.

Atthough we won this battle just two years ago, we can't rest. If we don't speak up, the amalgamation lobby will win this time. It's an election year and the amalgamation lobby is putting a great deal of pressure on local politicians - writing, phoning; there was even a recent letter to the editor of The Record urging voters to vote out every Waterloo City Councillor opposed to amalgamation.

Waterloo city councillors voted against the referendum, but Mayor Halloran has put the question back on the agenda for the February 22 council meeting.

If you care about the identities of Kitchener and Waterloo, please write your local council and tell them. Here is what I sent today:

Subject: No Amalgamation Referendum

To Mayor Halloran and Waterloo City Councillors,

I oppose a referendum on whether Kitchener and Waterloo should discuss merger talks.

We elected you as our representatives, and I look to you to decide how to proceed. This entire issue of a referendum on whether to discuss amalgamation is a political ploy to move amalgamation forward. You do not need our endorsement to have discussions.

However, if you have discussions, then I think you should follow the suggestion (as I understand it) of Councillor d’Ailly and discuss the issues rather than jumping to one solution. Figure out where our system of city and regional government can be improved, and look to ways to improve it.

We defeated amalgamation as recently as two years ago. Polls at that time showed that residents were strongly against amalgamation. The recent poll showing support for investigating amalgamation is a classic way to slant a poll (I know; I was previously a market research analyst). Phrasing the question “Would you support members of council engaging in a dialogue about...” is going to garner positive responses, no matter what the question. The more important poll was held in 2008, when 68% of local residents said “no” to amalgamation.

The same people who are putting pressure on you today to go down the amalgamation road were doing the same thing two years ago, and they lost. I do not know why they are so gung-ho on amalgamation, but I suspect that there are vested interests here. Just because they keep lobbying for amalgamation doesn’t mean we have to waste time and money every couple of years having this big debate.

I urge you to drop the idea of a referendum in next autumn’s election.

Amalgamation is not in the best interests of the City of Waterloo.

Ruth Haworth

Update: Here's Jan d'Ailly's latest blog post on the topic.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Amalgamation of Kitchener and Waterloo

My letter to the editor in the Record today:

Waterloo has a distinct culture

Re: Waterloo voters ignored — Feb. 9

Why would Waterloo reject further talks on amalgamation while Kitchener supports them? That’s easy. Waterloo is half the size of Kitchener, so in a merged city Kitchener councillors could win every vote. Waterloo would be throwing away control of our city.

The argument that Kitchener and Waterloo look the same is moot. Waterloo and Kitchener have a lot of overlaps, but they also have distinct cultures. I want to retain the culture and identity of Waterloo.

Also, the name “Kitchener-Waterloo” is too long. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life typing an 18-character name into online forms and on the front of envelopes.

The amalgamation idea has been rejected for years. I don’t want to waste another penny or minute on it. Past attempts were all about expanding urban sprawl even further into our farmland. This attempt is probably more of the same.

Apparently, there are business people in our community who have a vested interest in amalgamation, and they will continue to agitate for it forever. That doesn’t mean that we need to go along with it.

Ruth Haworth

Thursday, February 11, 2010

While Parliament is Locked Out, Harper Sold Us Out

From James Laxer:
Urgent National Debate Needed on Harper Trade Deal

(This post appeared in the online edition of the Toronto Star.)

In the middle of a period of prorogation, when parliament is not sitting, the Harper government has sprung a sweeping new trade deal on Canadians. The agreement the Harper government has reached with the Obama administration is the most important extension of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) since that deal went into effect in 1994.

The Harper deal will allow Canadian companies to bid on many, but not all, of the contracts involving government funded economic stimulus projects in the U.S., which are restricted to U.S. companies under Buy American provisions that have been inserted into the U.S. government’s Recovery Act.

In return for this “concession” from Washington, Ottawa has agreed to pay an unacceptably high price. Under the deal, Canadian provinces and municipalities will permanently give up the right to favour local companies in awarding contracts. Government procurement at the municipal and provincial levels is an extremely important economic development tool, crucial for job creation, the encouragement of Canadian firms and the development of home-grown technology. At a time when cities are rebuilding their transit systems and are refitting homes to make them more energy efficient, it is the height of folly to open all these contracts to American bidders. (Given the multiplicity of measures used to protect them from outside bidders, it is foolish to imagine that Canadian firms will have an equal opportunity to bid on U.S. state and municipal contracts.)

What makes the Harper government’s deal particularly maddening is that the Buy American provisions in the U.S. Recovery Act violate the spirit if not the terms of NAFTA that guarantee the right of Canadian firms to bid on U.S. federal government projects with the exception of defence contracts. Instead of publicly and loudly asserting that Washington is violating NAFTA, the Harper government is bribing the Obama administration to stop doing that by opening up tens of billions of dollars worth of public contracts in Canada to American corporations.

Moreover, out of the total of $275 billion in infrastructure contracts to be awarded under the U.S. Recovery Act, $200 billion worth have already been signed. The rash deal Harper has made will open up only the last contracts to be awarded to Canadian firms, and at best, a small proportion of those. On top of that, the Obama administration has shifted gears toward fiscal restraint and plans to reign in further stimulus spending.

The Harper government is getting Canadian companies in on the tail end of a U.S. program in return for giving away a very important part of Canada’s ability to nurture Canadian firms and research and development at the provincial and municipal levels. This is an assault on what remains of Canadian economic sovereignty.

It is well known that the Harper government has been negotiating this deal with Washington since last September. Now the government has sprung it on the country when parliament is not sitting.

Expanding NAFTA, as this deal does, requires an open and wide-ranging national debate, both inside parliament and outside. A trade deal of this magnitude should only enter into force following a vote in parliament. (Debates are needed as well in provincial legislatures. Provincial governments should also not be permitted to agree to the deal without debate.)

In the national conversation that must begin, Canadians should examine where the global economy is headed in coming decades and how Canada’s economy can best fit into it so as to create the jobs and opportunities Canadians need. It should now be abundantly clear, as a consequence of the economic crisis through which we are passing that the United States is ensnared in a long-term struggle to cope with its international indebtedness and the indebtedness of its citizens. Whether American policy makers do a good or a poor job coping with the vast problems they face, the U.S. role in the global economy is diminishing and is bound to diminish further.

Canadians need to ask themselves whether this is the moment to put all our eggs in the American basket for the future.

The experience of the Buy American provisions in the Recovery Act ought to teach us something. Whenever the United States needs, in the pursuit of its own interests, to violate trade deals with Canada, it does so. It has done this for years on softwood lumber and now on the operations of the U.S. Recovery Act. Let’s now be fooled again.

Finally, it’s time for us to face up to the implications of allowing a secretive government to foreclose our options without us having a say in the matter.

A selection from Laxer's Comments section:

-This is worth bringing down the Harper government.
-This will bankrupt municipal governments.
-I'm dumbfounded that this could happen during a prorogation of parliament from a minority government in response to American legislation that violates NAFTA to get potential, not real, access to some trickle of stimulus money from the US recovery.
-A deal like this should not be made by the federal government without a parliamentary debate, at the very least.
-There will certainly be more to come, probably in the healthcare area, for example, as American companies punch loopholes in the Canada Health Act.


Thursday, February 04, 2010

This is Who K-W Elected to Represent Us in Federal Parliament

Watch this:

Update: I'm re-imbedding in the hopes that this won't start automatically anymore. (Thanks, Bert!) While doing that I noticed that someone changed the title from something like, "Peter Braid lies, sweats, nearly cries" to "Conservative MP Peter Braid is dressed down and upbraided on CTV". I'm not sure who that change benefits...