Happy New Year

Well, 2008 has been quite a year. It was in a personal sense a life changing year. I retired after almost 30 years of bargaining collective agreement, dealing with other peoples’ grievances and trying to take care of those hundreds of other tasks that come with working with a trade union. It was time.

Retirement has been an adjustment but good. My long range plan is to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compestella from Saint Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago in Spain. It is a 780 km medieval pligramage route which takes about 35 days or so, at lease for old guys like me. That is most likely in 2010.

All in all 2008 wasn't a great year. The economy collapsed in the last few months. I can never figure how guys like me were saying thing in bargaining like, "I don't want to speculate too far ahead because the American economy looks like it is on the edge of a melt down." and the economists didn't see it coming. If you figure that out give me a call.

The Government in Ottawa turned into a bit of a sham in ’08. I think most Canadians always believed that minority governments were good for the country. Minorities prevented bully boy governments from ramming through ideologically unsound legislation. With a minority, governments had to tread a bit softer and seek more of a consensus. Canadians are comfortable with compromise and consensus building, at least that what I always thought.

Unfortunately it didn't work like that.Our Prime Minister turned Parliament into a kind of kindergarten sand box. It was Stephen’s sand box too, and don’t anyone forget. Little Stevie kicked sand in everyone eyes, wouldn’t share the toys, even with his friends and when some of the other kids got mad, Stevie said he’d take his toys home and let the teacher resolve the matter.

Then Stevie put on his best new sweater and smile and told everyone “Oh no, you all misunderstand. It was their fault. I am a nice little boy.”

Three Hundred Million of our dollars later Stevie was back doing it all over again.

There was a brief period where Canadian politics got really interesting for a change and we even considered a coalition government but as luck would have it the Governor General chickened out and prorogued the House.

What surprised me most throughout this whole period was the apparent lack of understanding on behalf of most Canadians about how our parliamentary system works. Most, dumbed down by the constant viewing of Fox News and CNN actually thought they had elected Stephen Harper as Prime Minister. Most Canadians seemed to be completely unaware that the coalition route was one taken by several other governments around the world who use the same system as we do. Not to mention several others. Sometimes I think a kind of means test would be appropriate before allowing people to vote. It you don’t understand our system of government why should you be able to participate in it? Back to class Canada.

I could go on and on about the year, perhaps rant about Canada’s misguided effort in Afghanistan that is killing our young soldiers in a futile struggle to bring democracy to a country whose people may not want it but perhaps I’d best leave that to the Globe & Mail, Maclean’s Magazine and The Economist to try and sort that out.

The year is ending with yet another conflict as Israel batters the Gaza Strip trying to eradicate Hamas. True the Hamas has been lobbing rockets, rather ineffectively into Israel but, the Israeli reaction, as usual far exceeds what is necessary. They always seem to take the old middle eastern “tooth for a tooth” thing a bit too far. With them it is kind of a tooth for a “Hey Bud, you are going to be wearing dentures when I get done”.

The issues are too complicated to sort out and the lobbyist will make sure that no one gives Israel much of a hard time about its actions. No sign of peace for a while yet.

So...have a Happy New Year and let us all continue to remind our politicians both nationally and globally that if we would focus on things like world hunger, child poverty, health care, homelessness and providing clean drinking water the rest would mostly just fall into place. It shouldn’t sound too flakey to say lets just stop bombing the crap out of each other and follow John Lennon. Give Peace a chance.

All the best for 2009



Christmas Eve

Merry Christmas Eve to everyone. This year it will be a quiet one for us. Chris is in Quebec.

Tonight we are making a shrimp and tomato pasta with a little cognac and cream. It is a very good recipe. I have posted it on my Pasta Fino Blog. Not exactly traditional Christmas fare but we like it.

Santa should be heading out soon. Take care all.


Christmas is almost here

It is still really cold here on the prairies. I am a bit envious of all the snow the rest of Canada is getting. Not that we don't have snow here, we have lots by Saskatchewan standards but I miss those really big storms with 30 or 40 cm of snow.

We are pretty close to being ready. The shopping is done, the turkey is in the fridge, the wine in the cellar so I guess we are set to go.

But...late afternoon Morgan went to turn on the kitchen tap and it came off in her hand. What would Christmas be without a plumbing job to keep me busy.


Christmas is Creeping Closer

It still really is too cold. Parking lots are full of diesel pickups left running so their Christmas shopper owners don't have to get into cold trucks when they are through picking up those last minute gifts. No one ever suggested that it would be a green Christmas.

Cold or not, I like this time of year. I do confess that I am not fond of store crowds, those inflatable front yard decorations or the 10,000 kilowatt light displays but who can complain about walking in the snow past twinkling lights, Christmas trees, the smell of fireplace wood smoke or getting together with friends.

I was brought up in small town Quebec and I remember with fondness the idea of tramping through the bush to cut your own tree, friends getting together to go caroling through the neighbourhood, going tobogganing or skating in the evening. Everyone boisterous and cold turning up at someone's house for hot chocolate before heading home for the night. I miss lots and lots of snow and candle lit midnight carol services.

The idea of heading somewhere warm for the holiday never held much allure for me. Christmas on the beach just wouldn't fit the bill.

Give me snow, a nice tree, Christmas morning waffles with whipped cream, an afternoon nap, roast turkey, good wine, candles, cookies, time at home with family and friends and a game or two of Trivial Persuit.

That is what I call Christmas.


Cluster Bomb Treaty

I am reminded by The Economist that a significant treaty banning cluster bombs was signed this month in Oslo, Norway. I am pleased to hear that Canada has signed on along with 108 or so other countries. It is refreshing to see our government out of step with the Bush administration. It so rarely happens these days.

The USA did not sign, nor did China, India, Russia, Israel and Pakistan. They are all countries that produce and stockpile the weapons. Washington has said that an all-out ban on the weapons would hurt world security and could endanger U.S. military co-operation on humanitarian projects in countries that do sign onto the convention. I wonder what humanitarian projects they had in mind and how signing the treaty could affect those initiatives. Oh well.

Under the treaty signatories have eight years to destroy their stockpiles. France, Germany and Norway have already begun destroying their cluster munitions stocks. I am unclear if Canada actually has any stockpiles of this type of munitions.

Cluster munitions typically contain dozens to hundreds of small, explosive sub-munitions. They have been used in more than 30 countries and territories, and have a devastating impact. Cluster bombs leave large areas littered with unexploded bomblets that go on killing civilians for years after they were dropped. Civilians account for 98 per cent of all recorded casualties and children are particularly vulnerable, and many are killed or injured as they pick up the bomblets out of curiosity.

These bombs are still widely used by some countries. For example, Israel dropped some four million bomblets on Lebanon during the last three days of the 2006 war and more than 30 people have been killed by them since the war ended.


Should we let Ford, GM and Chrysler go down?

To be honest, I don’t know how I feel about the big three bail out. Canada seems determined to follow the American lead, come hell or high water.

Basically we North Americans have had these gas guzzling beasts thrust into the market despite all the warnings about oil dependence. I find it annoying to share the road with Hummers and pickup trucks just slightly smaller than a Leopard tank.

But should we allow these guys to go under. Probably not is my guess. Not because they don’t deserve to but because of the people who lose their jobs if they do. We are kind of over a barrel. I do find it some comfort that the auto industry collapse has made the Government take another look at helping out forestry and manufacturing industries which have been in trouble for some time now.

I do think however that government must impose strict rules in regard to what sort of cars are made in and imported into Canada. If Big Three management don’t see fit to change the way they do business they should be wrestled into submission by regulation. Harper should take a look at Danny Williams’ play book for a start.

Before moving on though I thought I should share this tongue in cheek advertisement I found earlier today. You can find it here.


RCMP Wasn't to Blame in Dziekanski Death?

In Vancouver after several months of investigation the B.C. Attorney General’s office has issues its report into the taser death of Robert Dziekanski.

Not very many people are surprised that the report suggests that the four RCMP officers who, it seemed to most reasonable people, were responsible for Mr. Dziekanski’s death, were not much more than a contributing factor. The real culprit it seems was Dziekanski himself. They claim he was a chronic alcoholic which contributed to his stress, which put him in a heightened state, although toxicology reports show no traces of alcohol or drugs in his body.

They say that when approached by four young, burly cops in uniform, Mr. Dziekanski, a Polish visitor, got agitated and picked up a stapler. Now what is more threatening than a stapler? Who could blame these young cops.

Although the RCMP originally tried to suppress a video shot by a bystander, most of us saw it. These four big young guys, Canada’s finest, swagger up. Their body language is shouting out, confrontation, and then within 30 seconds they tasered him, what was it, four times?

Whatever happened to “Hey bud, what’s up?” What happened to “Ok, let’s sit down for a few minutes and talk about this. “ Considering that he was in a secure area it meant there was very little likelihood that he had a weapon much more lethal that that stapler. Perhaps they just didn’t want to crease their new uniforms.

What ever the reason, Dziekanski is dead and the cops walk away unscathed. Canadians should be outraged. What if that was your son?

The RCMP has some very major problems, too much testosterone, not enough empathy. too much swagger, not enough training.,

As long as Attorneys General keep covering for the force, things won’t get better. We should be concerned, if not for the force, for ourselves.


The Big Chill Saskatchewan Style

It really is too cold.

I know we get lots of very cold temperatures here on the prairie but minus 45 with the wind chill is a bit much before Christmas. No wonder so many of those old farmers head for places like Palm Springs.

I can see them now, sitting around the picnic table, eating barbecue, talking about the Wheat Board election and wondering if their 20 something grandson has wrecked the Skidoo yet.

Meanwhile, the rest of us, people like me are sitting here wondering if we really have enough food in the house to cook supper or, if we really need to go out to the store and if we do, will the car actually start.

Only last week there were still geese around, thinking about winging their way south.

Ah, Saskatchewan winters.


Doctor Poaching

For some time now Provinces like Saskatchewan, and others, rather than properly funding their own Canadian medical schools, have found it more convenient to poach doctors from other countries. Usually countries that can ill afford to lose any trained medical professionals.

It is more than a bit ironic, isn’t it, that those provinces’ medical associations are now expressing concern that the new rules concerning professional workers mobility will make it easier for other provinces to poach those recently recruited doctors from their small town practices to places like Calgary Toronto and Montreal.

What goes around comes around.


Chld Poverty, Canada's Shameful Record

The on-line newspaper The Australian reports that Australia has the third-worst childcare and early learning system in the developed world. The Australian story says, “Our early childhood services sit above only Canada and Ireland on a league table of OECD countries to be published Thursday by the United Nations' children's rights arm, UNICEF.

Using 10 benchmarks, including the amount of GDP spent on early childhood services, the availability of paid parental leave and the subsidies provided for childcare and education, the report ranks Mexico, Slovenia and Portugal higher than Australia.”

Australians should be outraged...Oh wait...what did they say? Australian “...early childhood services sit above only Canada and Ireland?” Slovenia does better that Canada? That doesn’t jibe with what that soft spoken, caring, blue sweater guy Harper told us during the election. I thought he was going to give us a government that cared.

The Government in the UK is embarrassed and claims outraged that the report puts them in the middle of the pack. They are protesting the fairness of the report, disputing its findings. So far we have heard, not a peep from our government. I can hear Harper now, “React? I don’t think so. Our constituents don’t read the Globe and Mail anyway. They never find out about it. And, he would be right if the Leader Post is any example. Not a word about it in that rag.

In fairness, the Liberals neglected children as well. Frankly, Canadians lack of activism has allowed governments to pay much more attention to business needs that to the most vulnerable in our society. We have all ignored the problem. Nineteen years ago the House of Commons unanimously resolved to "seek to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000."

Canada does not meet nine of out 10 proposed standards aimed at ensuring children get the best start in life through education and support programs, tying for last place, among affluent countries, with Ireland. That doesn’t give us much to be proud about.


I Miss Those Soft Gentle Snowfalls

I was thinking about snow today. Not that cold, wind blown, dry prairie snow but that light fluffy stuff you can catch on your tongue.

I was thinking about those evenings when you could convince your mother that your homework was done so you could grab your skates and stick and join a group of friends for a game of pick up hockey. Nothing too organized, no pads, no ref, just an outdoor rink, a couple of people's boots for goal posts was all we needed. We'd play in that soft falling snow until it became too hard to follow the puck, we'd shovel the rink and play some more.

At some point the town would turn off the rink lights and we'd have to quit. We'd wander home, tired, sweaty hair under our toques. I miss that soft snow.


Coalition Moves off into the Sunset

Ok, this is my last comment on the "action" in Ottawa, at least until the new year.

Bob Rae has withdrawn from the leadership race which gives Iggy clear sailing into the Liberal Leadership. Dion can now move off with whatever dignity he can muster and we await the next sitting of Parliament to see what happens. I would put big money on what ever does happen, won't include Jack Layton.

With Iggy firmly in power, the coalition will move off into the sunset.

Merry Christmas

Cypress Hills

After a week or so of hectic political Drama and frantic blogging by many people, we drove up to the Cypress Hills for the weekend. I always forget what a great spot it is. Just a few hundred feet in elevation gives us forest and snow.

It was truly lovely, worth the drive.

Saturday we drove the 35km Gap Road through to the other side. It was a breathtaking drive, even in the snow. Unfortunately, like a dummy, I forgot to load the memory card in my camera so there is no record of the trip in pictures.


The blog content posted during the "political crisis" has been re-posted on the Maple Leaf T-Shirt Blog. The link is on the right.


Pirates? This ain't About Jack Sparrow

Pirates are all in the news this week. In some ways it is a refreshing change from the mounting death toll from our hapless “mission” in Afghanistan, the continuing atrocities in Darfur or the economic meltdown.

Piracy is something North Americans can understand after all weren’t we all raised on books like Treasure Island so; don’t we all have a soft spot for guys like Long John Silver? Why else would we all tolerate the rogue bankers who have plundered our economic system as if it was their own private Spanish Main. But there I go again...back to the real pirates.

These Somali pirates operate very much like Red Beard did in the good old days. There is a friendly “wink, wink ,nod, nod” tolerance by their own government, such as it is. For a change we aren’t dealing with ideology we can’t comprehend. These guys aren’t saying “Death to America.” They just want money. This is all about greed. We North Americans have a pretty good understanding of that motivation. The real question seems to be how do we deal with it?

The western nations are all wringing their hands trying to find ways to stop these guys. Some have sent a token number of war ships but they seem unable or unwilling to move in and stop things. The exception seems to be India whose warship blew one of the pirate vessels out of the water this week. The shipping companies are paying out huge ransoms and the pirates are getting rich and getting used to the lifestyle. The pirates are spreading the wealth around. There is a construction boom in Somalia. It is like a job creation program.

I don’t think the solution is as complex as the international security pundits claim. The area which has to be protected isn’t all that large considering the challenge our nation faced during the Second World War keeping the North Atlantic shipping lanes open.

I propose what seems to me to be an obvious solution.

Nations, depending on keeping the shipping lanes open, must increase their naval complement in the area. A United Nations coordinated naval fleet, large enough to make a difference and willing to take action against pirate mother ships should be established. With the existing sophisticated satellite tracking systems, it can’t be all that difficult to track these guys.

Instead of traveling alone the shipping companies should form the merchant ships and tankers into convoys. Those convoys should travel protected by the increased naval presence.

Once things are stabilized, nations can then begin to help the Somali government re-establish some order on the ground. Without a continued source of new income the piracy game will crumble.

If the UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon wants more advice, he should give me a call.