Friday, February 26, 2010

Canadian Politico Denies Global Warming, Says it is Nothing More than Alarmism

A former Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister in one brief open letter to a Quebec-based newspaper has publicly discounted the entire environmental movement, saying it is nothing more than being politically correct, leading to alarmism.

Conservative federal Member of Parliament Maxime Bernier made the comments in a letter published in La Presse newspaper last Wednesday, arguing that there is no scientific consensus on global warming, and thanking his former boss, Prime Minister Stephen Harper for not rushing into policies to cut greenhouse gases.

"The debate over climate change, stifled for years by political correctness, has finally broken out in the media," he wrote in his letter. "The numerous recent revelations on errors by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have supplemented the alternative theories put forward for many years.

"We can now see that it's possible to be a 'skeptic,' or in any case to keep an open mind, on just about all the main aspects of warming theory."

Bernier was dropped from the Prime Minister’s cabinet in 2008 after he admitted he had forgotten secret documents at a girlfriend’s house with links to criminal bikers. Since his dismissal from cabinet, he’s been considered a radical, outspoken backbencher.

Dismissing the entire green movement is certainly being outspoken. And linking that anti-green sediment to the Prime Minister’s lack of action on climate change is just sour grapes stemming from Bernier’s own ineptitude with classified materials – which ultimately cost him his job as a federal minister.

Sour grapes or not, Bernier is right in his observations about a lack of action on the part Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government when climate change, and other environmental initiatives are concerned.

In 2002, Prime Minister Harper referred to the Kyoto Climate Change Accord as “a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations.” He continued his anti-environmental leanings by calling the scientific research supporting climate change as “tentative and contradictory.”

Canada – a country known for its vast hardwood forests, rugged snow-capped Rocky Mountains, and home to the world’s largest sources of fresh water – is being led by a man who in 2006 again expressed his denial of global warming: “We have difficulties in predicting the weather in one week, or even tomorrow. Imagine in a few decades,” said Prime Minister Harper.

Most recently, the Prime Minister has set his government’s target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, but the Canadian government has not taken any measures to begin that reduction.

Congratulating Prime Minister Harper on his slow environmental approach, Bernier wrote in his letter to La Presse: “It would certainly be irresponsible to spend billions of dollars and impose exaggeratedly severe regulations to solve a problem whose gravity we're still far from discerning."

There are two issues here – one a former employee saying nasty things about his former boss, the other far more serious – the denial by Canadian leaders of the existence of global warming.

Bernier is just a pompous fool using the environment to forward his own personal attacks on the Prime Minister and anyone that supports the Prime Minister.
People that publicly dump their current or past employer will soon find it hard to find work – would you want to hire someone who said something bad about their boss? Just imagine what that person might one day say about you?

Denying global warming on the other hand is a far more serious problem which both Bernier and our Prime Minister unfortunately appear to share.

Yes, there is much debate in the scientific community about global warming – but that’s what scientists do to scientifically prove the existence of anything. The debate is just part of the scientific method – it isn’t a debate as to whether or not global warming is or isn’t occurring.

Anyone denying the increase in our planet’s temperatures must be smoking something pretty strong, because those hard and fast facts have been well documented. Scientists have found that our planet has a history of periods of global warming and global cooling, due in large part to our rotation around the Sun.

The Earth’s orbit around the sun isn’t a perfect circle, it is elliptical. So, there are periods when our orbit brings us closer to the sun, meaning more of the Sun’s light and heat reaches us so our global temperatures increase. Then, the orbit is slightly further away from the Sun, so our planet cools off.

This natural lifecycle of planet Earth continued for millions of years unchanged until the industrial revolution of the 1900’s, when we human beings started burning more and more fossil fuels to power our climate controlled lifestyles and create the creature comforts we enjoy today.

The burning of fossil fuels changed the carbon footprint of our planet, eventually leading to holes in the Ozone Layer which protect us from the Sun’s ultraviolet spectrum, creating thick layers of carbon-based smog, which allow the Sun’s heat to reach us, but like the clouds, trap that heat, warming our planet.

Naturally occurring cloud tops blow away in the winds, or dissipate as precipitation is released. But human-made smog’s chemical composition makes the “clouds” of smog too heavy to just blow away, often lasting days or weeks in a stinky and stagnant layer high above our heads. The rain which falls from these clouds of smog is so acidic, it kills off trees, creates acidic water bodies, and over time combines with the added heat and light from our Sun to artificially warm our planet.

Climate change is not a myth being debated in scientific circles. Climate change is the natural lifecycle of our home, planet Earth. The real debate is just how much of an impact we human beings have had on that natural lifecycle, and how to use human ingenuity to fix the natural lifecycle which we broke – if it isn’t too late.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Happy Birthday Canada – Here’s Yet Another Tax Increase

Canada’s largest provincial government stuck their tax grabbing hands deeper into their residents pockets, and as of July 1, 2010, almost everything in Ontario will be eight percent more expensive.

When the Ontario government merges their provincial sales tax into the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) – which is a combination of the five percent Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the eight percent Ontario Provincial Sales Tax (PST) many items currently only subjected to the GST will suddenly be taxed provincially as well. All of this takes place when the new combined HST takes effect, on Canada’s birthday -- Canada Day -- July 1.

The Ontario government claims this combining of the two taxes will result of in a cost savings for both the federal and provincial governments in terms of administering the taxation system. And if you check out the provincial government’s website, they are trying to sell this tax increase as a tax decrease for Ontarians – just how dumb do they take us for?

However easier it may or may not be for the government to administer, this is clearly a tax grab for the Ontario government, as the harmonization of the two taxes really adds up when you consider all the things we consume which previously weren’t taxed by the province – but will be once the new HST takes effect.

Some of these higher prices will affect all of us all indirectly. Gas prices will skyrocket by the additional provincial portion of the HST by eight percent on July 1 – which directly affects everyone who drives in Ontario.

Almost everything you pick up off a store shelf comes to that store by truck. An additional eight percent price jump may occur, to offset the additional fuel costs spent to bring those goods to market. This is in ADDITION to any other taxes, because they are the result of an additional tax being levied on fuel, which will directly result in an increase in the cost of getting goods to market.

And you think the trucking companies are going to pay for that? Think again. They will charge more to transport – say groceries such as apples and oranges to your local grocery store. The grocery store in turn, will have to charge more to recoup their costs, so the price of apples and oranges will increase. Even though the cost of apples and oranges themselves did not directly increase by the HST – basic groceries are exempt from the provincial portion of the HST in Ontario.

Dalton McGuinty, Ontario’s Premier says the HST will affect a mere 17 percent of consumer purchases. However, McGuinty is only looking at what the HST is directly affecting – he’s failed to include all the indirect costs associated with his tax grab, such as the cost to get apples and oranges to market.

Previously not taxed provincially, the following items will jump by eight percent automatically when the HST takes affect:

  • Electricity
  • Gasoline
  • Heating Fuels
  • Internet Access Fees
  • Personal Services (e.g., Hairstyling)
  • Professional Services (e.g., Legal, Accounting and Real Estate Fees and Commissions)
  • Tobacco

Many of these combine to give you a double-whammy effect – computers use electricity to run so that we can check our email and surf the Internet. Electricity and Internet access fees are both increasing by eight percent each under the HST. Suddenly, your lone computer sitting in the corner costs you an additional 16 percent in taxes just to operate!

A ten dollar haircut will jump to a thirteen percent HST – meaning you’ll now pay $11.30 for that ten dollar trim.

The Ontario Ministry of Finance estimates the typical Ontario home owner will pay an additional $100 per year for electricity and about $125 per year for natural gas heating.

Businesses need electricity and heat as well, and as their operating costs increase thanks to increased electricity and heating fuel costs, they will naturally pass these operating costs onto us consumers, so even products exempt from the provincial portion of the HST will in the end, cost more.

All of these costs come just as the world is starting to come out of the worst economic depression since the Great Depression of the ‘Dirty Thirties,’ so as many of us are still reeling financially, the Ontario government socks us with a hefty right-hook, punching us with another new tax.

Wonderful. Maybe just as we’re getting up from the mat, the McGuinty government will pour some salt in our wounds to remind us of their fiscal sting with new user fees implemented for services which were previously already paid for by our taxes. Oh, they are going to do that too this year?

Welcome to Ontario – yours to discover – as the local license plates say.
Justify Full

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Toyota’s Problems Not Continuing – It’s a Decade’s Old Problem Come to a Head

Five people have died in the United States due to automaker Toyota’s decade-long failure to recognize and fix faulty accelerators in their vehicles.

American Federal prosecutors claim the automaker hesitated to respond to 2,600 complaints about sudden unintended acceleration of some of its vehicles made by the company’s customers between 2000 and 2010.

Toyota’s top brass all over the world – including the supreme Toyota commander, Akio Toyoda, the company’s president – have apologized publicly to their customers. Toyoda is going to be speaking at an American-led Congressional hearing today, in response to his company’s worldwide recall of over 8.5 million vehicles.

The criminal investigation in the United States also claims the automaker failed to investigate the electronics behind the problem, ultimately charging that Toyota failed to protect the public.

Toyota’s reputation has long been built on the company’s safety and reliability – since the 1980’s the Toyota Camry has had one of the highest re-sell values when compared to all cars sold in North America.

That specific model’s re-sale value, and the company’s reputation as a safe and reliable automaker may have been forever changed.

And rightly so.

You don’t produce over 8.5 million bad apples and expect to be considered the most reliable apple dealer – so don’t expect 8.5 million potentially rotten vehicles to lead to being considered the most reliable vehicle manufacturer.

And it only took over ten years for Toyota to act on those 8.5 million problems.
A lot can happen in ten years, and unfortunately, it appears that Toyota has fallen into a trap which many large companies have also fallen into – cutting corners to save money.

There are always cheaper alternatives for producing products; however something is always sacrificed for the lower cost. At the most base level, maybe you won’t be able to get the same color, or texture of finish on the paint, or maybe the chrome just won’t be as shiny. At the highest level, maybe someone will die because the product just isn’t as safe.

But the chances of someone dying are so slim, while the cost savings so great . . .

Five deaths have been linked to Toyota’s faulty accelerator systems. Granted, when you consider only five people have died despite the recent rash of recalls affecting almost every Toyota sold worldwide since 2000, totaling over 8.5 million vehicles – five is a small number compared to 8.5 million vehicles.

But any deaths – even just one – so that Toyota’s executives can pad their pocketbooks with more profits, is one death too many.

I naïve hope that the American justice system will slap down Toyota hard, banning all future imports until every single Toyota built and sold from 2000 to present has been inspected, repaired and certified in writing by the automaker as 100 percent safe.

But we all know how this story will end – it’s happened before and will happen again, as big companies continue to trim costs without thinking or possibly even caring about the consequences.

Toyota will probably be hit with a large fine, maybe in the millions of dollars, and a warning to ensure this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.

There will be numerous pages filled with processes and procedures the automaker – and possibly other automakers – must document and follow.

But the fine is chump change to Toyota, and following a documented process is just another rubber stamp solution, which may or may not really be enacted in reality. These things tend to just create more files sitting on a shelf collecting dust than anything else.

The public backlash against Toyota is where the real damage may come – as Toyota customers think twice before purchasing their next vehicle from the ailing automaker. We won’t know just how much of an impact the public’s reaction to Toyota’s poor products have had on the company for some time – it could take months, maybe even years before we see any signs of a backlash in the marketplace.

Then again, in our information overloaded universe, our minds tend to have a short attention span, and once the dust settles and all of the recalls, criminal investigations, charges (if any) and other negative press falls off the radar, many may forget all about this, and end up driving away in a brand new Toyota vehicle.

If we are lucky, this won’t happen again, but then again, history has a nasty habit of repeating itself. So the one day you forget about all the recalls, the five people that died, the criminal investigation in the United States, and all the apologies from Toyota’s higher-ups, could be the one day when your brakes fail, as your car continues to pick up speed, and you see your life flash before your eyes just before you die in a fireball of twisted metal, broken glass, and burnt auto parts.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Vancouver 2010 – Canadian Media Censors Public Reaction to News Reports

The commercialization of censorship online is growing, making credible news outlets more resemble government controlled mouth pieces for the government. Nope, we aren’t talking about some Chinese government censored news outlet, we’re talking ones right here in North AmericaCanada to be exact.

Last week, people posting comments about the lack of Canada’s second official language – French – at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics on websites of major news organizations carrying the story. Suddenly, the words “COMMENT REMOVED” began mysteriously filling web space once held by someone’s comment.

From the Canadian government-owned and operated Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), to the privately held newspaper The Toronto Star, to many other big names in Canadian media, comments started disappearing.

Private companies have been retained by some media outlets to moderate the comments left on their web sites for what they call “illegal, invective, needlessly profane posts, or inanely offensive commentary.”

Granted, the ability for anyone, anywhere, at anytime to go online, and anonymously post whatever happens to pop into their head at the time of seeing something online can produce provocative, and possibly even offensive feedback.
But isn’t that part of what makes the free-for-all wild west of the Internet . . . well . . . uh . . . er . . . the Internet?

Yes, we’re bound to come across comments from people with less than a full deck of cards, and some of these comments may be just as far flung, and may even offend the majority of the population.

But who are we to decide what does and doesn’t appear on the net?

In the case of some of the major media outlets, looks like they didn’t want to answer that question either – they farmed out that mega-huge responsibility to a third-party company to do it for them. Maybe they figured if they weren’t directly involved in the so-called “moderation” of their websites, then they couldn’t be held accountable for the censorship which naturally would follow.

Which raises another sticky question – just who’s rules dictate what is and isn’t fit for public display? When you hire a third-party company to determine this, in many ways you give up the right to tell them how to do their job.

What if that third-party company has clients whose interests they want to maintain – say the International Olympic Committee?

Then even comments which may not really be all that offensive may be removed, just because they are negative comments about the Olympics.

Sounds very much like when China held the Olympics, and they banned media outlets, and actually cut off their Internet and phone access when they reported things which the Chinese government just didn’t like.

Funny, how when that happened, the first to stand up and scream about it were the very media outlets that suddenly lost contact with their news teams in China.

Now it appears the tables have turned, and it is the very same Canadian news media censoring people from saying anything bad about the Olympics here in Canada.

Perhaps the Canadian media needs to be reminded about their experiences in China during the last Olympics? But then again, the real victim is us all – because when the media starts to censor itself, the next logical successor to do the same, will be governments and other private corporations.

And then free speech won’t exist anymore, not online, not on the street, not anywhere.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Who’s Paying for the Stuff that Comes Out of Your Tap?

We drink it to sustain our bodies, bathe in it to stay clean and healthy, it is even part of the very molecular structure of what we breathe to live.

Justify Full
All life as we know it requires water. Life is so dependent on the liquid compound known as H2O that scientists use its existence on other planets as a determining factor in whether there is a possibility of life on worlds outside our own. That’s why they think their once may have been life on Mars, because of trace elements which indicate water once was on the red planet.

All civilizations throughout history have been built on or near water. Battles have ensued, and great wars have been fought over water.

A battle is heating up in Canada’s largest province over who should pay for the life sustaining substance.

Ontario Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) David Caplan has proposed a private members bill which would require all residents of that province to pay the full price for safe, clean, water flowing into their homes.

Caplan’s no slouch, he’s a veteran politician. He’s been a health minister and an infrastructure minister – on separate occasions – and now is known among his colleagues as a backbencher because he’s no longer a minister of anything.

And his private members bill isn’t anything to take one flush at and look away either. Not only would Ontarians on average have to fork over about $50 per month for the right to continue to access their safe and clean municipal water supply, the bill would put into law the public ownership of water.

Maybe Caplan is planning ahead to the next election -- today he announced yet another private member's bill to make Toronto's public transit system legally an essential service. This debate has gone on for years, because every time the over-powerful and greedy union calls for a transit strike, the City of Toronto essentially shuts down due to the massive traffic jams.

Who does own the stuff that flows through your taps? If Caplan’s bill passes – it is already at Second Reading – legally you would.

But wait a sec . . . if you own something, why would you need to pay for it – you already own it?

Caplan’s water bill stems from the Walkerton tragedy a decade ago. Back in 2000, seven people died in Walkerton, Ontario, Canada due to a tainted water supply. The money collected by this new tax on water would go towards ensuring municipal water sources and the systems in place to get those water sources to us our safe and well managed.

In some Canadian municipalities, the water supply systems are well over 100-years-old.

Despite the additional cost to Ontario residents, this water bill really boils down to two issues – the ownership of a natural resource, and whether or not the money collected for the right to access that resource will really go towards maintaining it.

Far more than being cynical, we’ve seen governments create new taxes and user fees for specific projects, only to learn that those monies have gone to other things.

When the Liberals were last in power federally in Canada, millions of dollars were collected to keep track of legal gun owners, and to remove unregistered fire arms.
However, all the money collected was spent long before the Gun Registry was completed, leaving a political mine field for the Liberals, and a mishandled and mismanaged partial list of registered gun owners.

That additional gas tax you pay when you fill up your car is supposed to fund road and highway repairs, public transit systems and other infrastructure costs.

Yet most of these funds have gone into other government programs, leaving our roads and highways full of potholes, and our constantly underfunded public transit systems crushing their very users, by constantly increasing their fares.

Clearly, we just can’t take a politicians word when they tell us specific user fees or taxes collected will go to the specific costs they claim they will.

So should we let the slow meandering wheels of governments declare our water systems publicly owned?

The alternative, unfortunately isn’t all that better – having a privately owned water system, run by the filthy hands of greedy big business.

Although the funds collected by big business would most likely go into maintaining the water supply system, the primary goal of big business is making money. So the costs would constantly increase, as the powers-that-be wanted more and more profits – even if the cost to maintain the system didn’t rise.

We’ve seen this happen with the once provincially owned 407 Express Toll Highway in Ontario, which has seen constant toll increases ever since it was sold off to a private company which now handles all maintenance.

Whatever happens, we’re stuck in the middle of two evils – a mismanaged public system, or an overpriced private system – because water is the one thing none of us can go without.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Vancouver 2010 – Washed Out, Fenced In, Another Big Owe?

When I was in grade eight, I went with my school class on a field trip to Quebec – it was a rite of passage as we graduated from elementary to high school. One of the many wonders we saw was Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, with its suspended roof.

I still have the pictures from that field trip, showing the partially-covered stadium, as the roof was being repaired – again. That stadium has since been nicknamed by us Canadians as “the big owe,” because it – and much of the Olympics held in Montreal, Quebec in 1976, cost that province, the city and even the country more money than it brought in.

Ever since the Montreal Expos baseball team left Montreal (they went to just as lackluster a baseball town – Washington, D.C.) in 2004, Montreal’s Olympic Stadium has spent much of its time doing what it does best – fall apart.

Will the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics currently center stage in the world’s media suffer the same fate?

Although it is amazing to be a citizen of the host country, are two-weeks of good press worth millions of lost tax dollars?

Final attendance figures won’t be in until the Olympics packs up and leaves Canada’s west coast, but already we are seeing a string of bad luck which could washout any chance of recouping municipal, provincial and federal money spent to bring the Winter Games to Canada.

From the very public torch malfunction during the opening ceremonies, to the latest hero at the 2010 Winter Olympics – a Zamboni – of all things.

The speed skating rink suffered a premature meltdown and the ice resurfacing machine onsite malfunctioned, which forced organizers to import a Zamboni all the way from Calgary, Alberta to repair the ice rink. The Zamboni brought in was the only one powerful enough to handle the Olympic-sized ice rink

Yesterday 20,000 ticket-holding fans weren’t let into the snowboarding venue – for their own safety – because people were falling and getting stuck between the bales of hay under the trucked-in snow used to create the observation areas. The snow had been melting under Vancouver’s warm weather, creating an unstable, and unsafe, observation area.

Early this morning, construction workers finally removed the chain-link fence preventing Olympic-goers from taking pictures of the giant Olympic cauldron. A Canadian TV reporter even called the barricade a “ratty-looking prison-camp fence.”

And nothing could ever overshadow the death of a Georgian Luger on the very first day of the Olympics, just hours prior to the opening ceremonies, during a training run. The luge track has earned a reputation since its opening in 2007 as the fastest, most challenging, most feared – and now the most deadly track in the world.

So, will the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics go down bigger than the “Big Owe” in Montreal, and end up costing Canadian taxpayers more money?

Already the games have lost $1.5 million in revenues, from 28,000 canceled tickets at Cypress Mountain due to poor weather for the halfpipe and snowboardcross. Fans who spent the $50 to $65 to see the events will get their money back – but just add that to the cost to Canadian taxpayers to bring the games here.

Not to mention the cost to taxpayers to truck-in all the snow and snow-making equipment – Vancouver rarely gets much snow – who’s brainchild of an idea was it to hold the WINTER games there?

Rain and mild temperatures have prevented many events from going at their regularly scheduled times. Yesterday the men’s super-combined was postponed because of an overnight snowstorm, while the women’s downhill training was cancelled – the downhill training had previously been repeatedly postponed because of rain and warm temperatures.

Locals attending the games have begun to call it the Vancouver Summer Olympics, because of the mild wet conditions – but that joke is costing the games – and the Canadian taxpayer – plenty, with all the cancellations, and constant rescheduling of events.

The British press has already begun calling this the worst Olympic Games ever – even worse than the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, which were marred by many technical problems, and overshadowed by a terrorist bombing. The “Brits” play host to the next Olympics in London.

Maybe all of this will be good for Montreal – no longer will that Canadian city stand alone in an Olympic-sized debt?

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Vancouver 2010 – A Great Sense of What’s Lacking in Canada – Canadian Pride

Last week I just happened to tune into the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics—I almost cried with pride – yet I originally wasn’t sure if I was going to even watch the whole thing.

These things are often filled with long and overly flashy fireworks, and song and dance numbers that go on and on and . . .

There were some pretty spectacular song and dance numbers, but what really turned me around was some good old fashioned hometown pride.

Six Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers decked out in full dress uniform carried out the Canadian flag, our national anthem – Oh Canada – was sung, and members of the Canadian Forces raised the flag – WOW – my heart began to swell with Canadian pride.

Even long before our national team entered the stadium, it really hit me that these really are our games. Sure the Winter Olympics is a sports competition among the best athletes from across the globe, but being the host country, and being a cold climate country, these really are our games. We excel at winter sports here including hockey, curling and skiing.

Our Canadian spirit shone like the brightest star in the night’s sky during the opening ceremonies, as Canadian symbols filled the Olympic Stadium in Vancouver. From famous Canadian singers like K.D. Lang (who sang a song written and originally sung by fellow Canadian Lenard Cohen), and Brian Adams, to legendary, awe-inspiring Cancer-fighting marathon runner Terry Fox’s mom carrying out the Olympic flag, to other big name Canadian celebs participating in the opening ceremonies, including actor Donald Sutherland and singer Ann Murray.

Even ‘the Great One,’ legendary Canadian hockey player and former coach of our national hockey team, Wayne Gretzky was one of the final carriers of the Olympic Torch – there were rumors all that day that either Gretzky, or a hologram of Terry Fox would carry the torch.

The opening ceremonies were an amazing sight for any Canadian – instilling a sense of Canadian pride which we haven’t had in this country in a very long time.
The last time a sense of Canadianism filled our hearts, was probably – and just as ironically – back in the 1990’s during a Quebec-based referendum on whether or not to stay apart of this great land, or become its own nation. I still remember the posters “My country includes Quebec.”

Too bad we can’t have national spirit-filled days like the opening ceremonies more often in this great country of ours, that would really make this country something special.

Actually, what is slowly and silently killing our country is the over-arching lack of Canadian pride, as newcomers to this land bring with them their traditions and beliefs, and unlike the States where they take on a sense of being Canadian, they just re-create their own country here in Canada.

The numbers of Canadian citizens – YES CITIZENS – that don’t speak either of our official languages of English and French continues to grow. In Canada’s largest city, Toronto, it is estimated that about two-thirds of the city’s population doesn’t speak either English or French.

In most countries, people can’t survive without learning the language of the land, but here in Canada, sadly they can. Big business even caters to this demographic, here in Toronto, some bank machines allow you to bank in English, French or Chinese.

Big business is doing what it always does, invest in products and services which will bring in more money. Problem is, in so doing, they are destroying part of the foundation of what makes a country a country, by encouraging people to ignore local and deeply rooted cultural values, customs and societal norms.

Oh well, at least for a couple of hours, and an odd number of days, the Winter Olympics offered up something we don’t have enough of in Canada – Canadian pride.

Go Canada!

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Canadian Politics – Follow the Leader at Their Own Peril

Despite the negative public reaction to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to Prorogue Parliament, the country’s largest province is following his lead.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced his intentions to Prorogue the Ontario Legislature after the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, BC, prior to his speech from the throne.

By law, there has to be a break prior to a new throne speech – however this break usually only last a day or two.

Political pundits say Premier McGuinty is taking the unusual step of Proroguing the Legislature to buy time for two new additions to his cabinet, due to recent by-elections. This extra time will allow the two new members of his political circle to catch up on the latest issues affecting their ministries.

The Ontario Premier wasn’t blind to the very public backlash against Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government, for their Proroguing of Parliament. He says he took that into account when making his decision, and as such, he won’t delay the legislature as long as the federal government delayed Parliament.

The news media was quick to jump all over the federal government’s Proroguing decision, and there have been numerous large public protests across the country.
Social networking sites on the Internet have also had quite the following, with thousands joining a Facebook site against the Prime Minister’s decision.

Regardless of the reasoning behind the Ontario Premier’s decision to halt the business of governing, the public perception of governance in this country continues to go south.

There have always been jokes about politicians and their credibility.

However, as politicians constantly find the quickest and easiest routes to achieve their agendas – some of which have more to do with staying ahead of the opposition parties instead of actually managing the affairs of the governing bodies which they run – the public support not just of the ruling party, but of politicians in general continues to fall.

How can you place your faith and trust in the hands of people you don’t respect?
Even at the municipal level politicians are doing things which clearly cost them and their profession much needed support.

Here in Canada’s largest city – Toronto – a local mayoral candidate has been caught in an affair similar to former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s “Monicagate.”

Toronto City Councilor Adam Giambrone admitted that he has had intimate relationships with women other than his long-time live-in partner over the course of his political career – there are even reports that he may have engaged in sexual activities on his couch in his office at Toronto City Hall.

Although the thought of a public official’s office being used in a sexual affair is gross at best, an individual’s personal affairs are just that – personal and not really a matter of public concern.

What is of public concern in “Giambronegate” is the honesty of Giambrone. When one of his former mistresses first made the sexual allegations, the mayoral candidate for Canada’s largest city intentionally mislead the public by denying the allegations. Giambrone has since withdrawn from the mayoral race.

I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” are famous falsities from former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Although President Clinton’s well documented affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky actually helped propel his popularity, as it increased his image as a John F. Kennedy-like womanizer and sex symbol.

Unfortunately for Giambrone, Canadian politicians rarely make the leap to celebrity sex symbol. The only Canadian politician who was able to really successfully pull that off was former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau during what became known as Trudeaumania back in the late 1960’s with numerous relationships with celebrities and starlets. Trudeaumania actually started its decline shortly after Prime Minister Trudeau got married in 1971, clearly showing the link between the famed Prime Minister’s single-status sex appeal, which ended when he was no longer “on the market.”

If Giambrone’s self-confessed “lapse in judgment” does anything, is further degrade the public’s trust in our public officials. How can you respect someone who publicly denies something which they were clearly did? How can you respect someone who backtracks on their public statements – essentially admitting their initial deception – once the facts begin to surface.

I ask again, how can you place your faith and trust in the hands of people you don’t respect?

Following the leader is no way to lead, yet that is what these politicians are doing in a manner of speaking.

Real leadership is just that – leadership. You can’t be a follower and a leader at the same time.

Until we have real leadership in this country – at all levels of government – the public’s perception of politicians will be nothing more, than follow the leader.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A Computer Whiz, a Bunch of Guys in Blue Suits, and an Apple, and Why They Don’t Get Along

Imagine being rushed to the hospital with a major gash in your arm. Blood is pouring out, to say you’re in a lot of pain doesn’t even come close to reality.

Upon arriving in the emergency room, nurses and doctors rush too your aid. They prop you up, take a look at you, and then inform you they can’t help.

“We’re sorry, you’re just not compatible with our medical practices,” the lead doctor informs you. “You’ll just have to go elsewhere.”

Although slightly exaggerated, that is exactly how the big computer companies treat us when we use “the other guy’s” products and services.

At work, I’ve been asked to find a way to see if I can get a Microsoft Word document to be linked to a Lotus Notes email. Lotus Notes (made by IBM) doesn’t work well with Microsoft-made Word. To complicate matters, my suggesting of having a link to the document stored on a network drive fell flat, because we are moving towards a Microsoft-based SharePoint server (essentially a web portal for data collaboration). We’re trying to move away from using the shared network drives, to encourage use of the web-based SharePoint sites.
SharePoint and Word function like two peas in a pod – they better, they are both made by Microsoft.

Lotus Notes on the other hand, isn’t very SharePoint-friendly – it’s a product from “big blue” IBM.

Ever since ex-Microsoft founder and CEO Bill Gates (he retired recently) left IBM to start his own company, the two haven’t seen eye-to-eye.

Can’t argue with Bill Gates, he originally was hired by IBM to create an operating system for their personal computers. He invented the IBM Disk Operating System (IBM-DOS), a revolutionary piece of software at the time, but the conservative blue suits at IBM didn’t like it at all.

As the legend goes, they told Bill to get lost.

So he did what any barely twenty-something computer genius would do. He stormed off, creating Microsoft, and used his cool software, wildly engaging intellect, and hatred for everything IBM to destroy any hopes of those suits and ties of having a successful career.

Oh IBM did put up a fight, first using Bill’s IBM-DOS until they came up with their own operating system in the early 1990’s called OS/2 Warp.

But by then it was too late, the real battle lines were being drawn between two completely different platforms – Apple and Microsoft-based Personal Computers. IBM wasn’t even in the game.

OS/2 Warp faded out of existence, much as most of IBM’s products for the home market did. All they really have out in the home market these days are Lexmark Printers – but that’s probably because few know Lexmark is owned by IBM.

These days, Microsoft owns the corporate and home computing markets, as 95 percent of the world’s computers run on the company’s Windows operating system.

Still, the big computer giants use us mere consumers as pawns in their battles for supremacy in the computer world. Apple, IBM and Microsoft products rarely work well – if at all -- with each other.

A friend got a new Apple iPod not all that long ago. Excited, she brought it over to my place to show it off. She plugged it into my computer, where it immediately warned that it was previously used on an Apple Mac-based computer (she’s a ‘Mac-head’), in order to use it on my Microsoft Windows-based computer it would have to be “initialized” (“formatted” in Apple lingo) and her all data would be lost!

Computer music and video files have been interchangeable on both Apple Mac and Windows-PC systems for decades. An MP3 music file on my Microsoft Windows-based PC will play exactly the same as it will on an Apple Mac-based computer.

Not so if you’re using an Apple iPod. The cute multi-colored devices will plug into a PC or a Mac – but you can’t go from one to the other without losing your music, video and other data files.

It’s like our example at the start – you are bleeding to death, but if you’re a PC and you go to a Mac hospital you’ll probably die because they won’t help you.

When will the big computer companies realize the lost revenues they could be earning by working together towards more compatible – not less – technologies?

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Canada’s Largest City’s Public Ambassador – A Thug?

Bus drivers in Canada’s largest city are pissed off, and they aren’t going to take it anymore. Problem is, much of what upsets them is caused by their own immature unruly behavior.

Over the past couple of weeks, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) which operates 150 bus and streetcar routes, three subway lines and the above-the-ground Scarborough Light Rail Train (LRT) has faced some very public gaffes.

A couple of weeks ago, a person took video of a TTC subway collector clearly sleeping in his collection booth – when he should have been collecting fares from passengers. The video made international headlines, thanks to the ‘viral’ media of the web, when it was posted on YouTube, and not only was an embarrassment to the transit operator but also the city.

Transit employees are often the first point of contact visitors to a big urban jungle like Toronto encounter, and so they represent not just their employer, but in a sense, the entire city.

Though you wouldn’t want to meet some of our city’s bus driver’s in a dark alley. Last week, a bus driver got off the bus in the middle of his route to make an unscheduled stop at a local donut shop. He left the door open on his midnight-run route, leaving passengers unprotected from both the elements and the world. Passengers complained they were cold, though in the wee hours of the morning, they could have easily been mugged, robbed, or worse.

Upon returning to the bus, a passenger confronted the driver, asking him not to delay the already late bus any further. The driver just snarled back his employee and bus route numbers and said go ahead and file a complaint “my union will protect me.”

Are labor unions in the business of protecting thugs and low-lifes now too? This bus driver certainly displayed thug-like behavior, threatening the passenger with “his transit badge” as a force to be reckoned with.

Testing this force, the passenger snapped some photos of the driverless bus while the person who should have been behind the wheel doing his job wasn’t, and these photos also ended up on the Internet for the world to see.

Media attention quickly narrowed in on the TTC and the city, as the largest public transit operator in Canada – and one of the largest in the world – was quickly gaining a bad reputation on the international stage.

TTC management issued a letter to all their drivers, reminding them that they are front-line employees, and customer service is of the utmost importance. In his letter to his drivers, TTC General Manager Gary Webster says he knows the recent problems are from a minority, most provide excellent customer service. However, he – rightly – points out that all it takes is for the minority slackers to create real public relations and customer relations issues for everyone else – which is what happened.

Not a harsh letter by any means, it was balanced with praise as well as condemnation. It wasn’t threatening, nor was it an angry letter. It was what it should have been – a communication from management to praise employees for their hard work, while providing some feedback and a solution to the recent public gaffes. Webster indicates that they are looking into resolving these issues, and he does mention that those caught doing things they shouldn’t on the job will be held accountable.

However, “the union will protect me” mentality runs deep at the TTC. The letter was sent out on Saturday, and today there are rumors about TTC operators working-to-rule in protest. The TTC’s union is stepping away publicly from the work-to-rule job action some drivers are claiming to be engaged in. The union has not mandated any public protest, so it would be wrong to work-to-rule.

Though the real issue isn’t working-to-rule (a work slowdown by union members used as a negotiation tactic to get what they want) or the content of the letter for that matter. The real issue which Toronto residents should be concerned with is the thug-like behavior of their unionized transit operators.

Yes, every time the city’s transit system goes on strike, Canada’s largest city practically shuts down. For many the TTC is their lifeline to the world – without it, millions of people are unable to get to work to make money to pay for their food, clothing and shelter.

However, instead of taking their importance with a sense of pride, TTC workers use it as a tool to hold the city hostage whenever they don’t like something about their jobs. Be it salary, back-pay, benefits, or most recently -- getting caught misbehaving on the job -- unionized TTC employees use their union and their importance in keeping the city functioning to get what they want.

Wish I was able to do that – like most people, if I don’t like something about my job, my only choices are either to quit or just deal with it.

And we aren’t exactly talking about life or death needs either – sleeping on the job or grabbing a donut in the middle of work aren’t serious enough to warrant the driver’s thug-like behavior.

Nobody wants to be made a fool of, especially in this era of cell phones with cameras, and high traffic websites to upload those images too such as YouTube.
But because of cell phone cameras and globally popular websites like YouTube, anyone can be made to look good or bad, anywhere, anytime and viewed by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

And if the TTC’s bus, streetcar, subway and light rail operators continue to act like thugs, bullying their customers, then they will constantly be under the media microscope from around the globe.

And worse than just a bit of bad press, as the tension grows between the city’s thugs – I mean bus drivers – and their customers, their non-unionized bosses and the city, potential visitors to Canada may stay away, because our city’s most visible public face isn’t one you’d want to meet in a dark alley – or even in a donut shop.

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