Toronto's public transportation fare hike

All you really need to know about our society’s actual commitment to the environment is contained in two recent measures:

1. It now costs $3.00 for a single fare on the Toronto Transit Commission. That would be $121 a month for a pass.  Such prices make public transportation almost an elite service. In Mexico City, it costs about $0.25CDN to ride a subway that is vastly superior and much cleaner than Toronto’s.

2. The “Liberal” government of the premier who looks like Norman Bates recommends fiddling car insurance rates to lower some premiums.  As ever, dear Dalton is privileging the car industry and automobile drivers over others.

Public transportation is prohibitively expensive, but you might get a break if you buy a car. As the world learned in Copenhagen, Ontario and Canada are not environmentally responsible jurisdictions.

OH-TAH-WAH (Land of Giants)

I recently spent a few days in Ottawa. I was primarily ensconsed in the Library and Archives of Canada conducting research. A few obserations:

Ottawa has winter! It’s a welcome relief from Toronto where the mere thought of snow is greeted by media and many citizens with a fright that approximates the coming of the apocalypse. In Ottawa, people actually dress for winter; some of them, stunningly, appear to enjoy walking in the snow; and of course, soon, quite fabulously, the Rideau Canal will open for skating as it does each winter.

A few less savoury notes:

Traffic along Wellington in front of Parliament Hill is a deplorable  national disgrace. It’s a great pity that six lanes of tangled traffic should mar what could be one of the finest walkways in Canada. As Richard Gwyn has noted, Canada’s Parliament buildings represent a triumph of visionary art over calculated, cold ‘reason’. In the middle of the nineteenth century,  a country that did not yet exist deemed fit to nearly bankrupt itself to celebrate refreshingly non-fascistic architecture. Sadly, the pedestrian can no longer appreciate the vista. The air along Wellington is foul; and the cacophony of cars and buses inescapable. Where trees and a broad pedestrian walkway might exist, an ugly snarl of dinosaur technology prevails. Sigh. It seems fitting that Canada would dedicate what could be its primary boulevard to the automobile. After all, I was in Ottawa at the very moment the Canadian Prime Minister was a leader among those ensuring that climate change talks then ongoing in Copenhagen would lead to nothing more than its vacuous result.

Speaking of the Prime Minister…his party has left its own cultural mark on ‘our Nation’s Capital’. I take you now to the early evening hours in the bar at the Chateau Laurier. The place is littered with the new Tory elite. Twenty-somethings that would not look out of place at the Yuppie bar at a Republican convention. The ‘girls’ with garish scarves that tastelessly affect a garish misunderstanding of Parisian couture; the young men with quasi-military haircuts, ill-fitting suits and very shiny shoes; and for that unisex look, the ubiquitous Blackberry in paw. It would appear that among this crowd in Oh-Tah-Wah, no one is actually listening to the person they’re with. To be someone means that you must always be simultaneously looking at an electronic device while pretending to listen to the person in front of you. Virtual social conservatism meets sheer rudeness. How sweet! In this way, Bytown is almost as annoying as Bay Street.

Finally, back to the theme of fascist architecture.  The American Embassy on Sussex Drive is, as the saying goes, butt ugly. Fortunately its position below Parliament Hill obscures it from many sight lines. As the lads on that NFL show would bellow, ‘C’mon man!’ Couldn’t someone have designed something attractive?!

Teme Augama Autumn

The beach at Wanapitei stretches for about two kilometers on the north shore of Lake Temagami. The lake, about 350 kilometers north of Toronto,  is the centre of nDaki menan,  the homeland of the Teme Augama Anishinabai, the ‘deep water people’. Most Canadians view Temagami as a canoeists’, anglers’, cottage owners’ , snowmobilers’ paradise…and they’re largely correct about that. Sadly, relatively few of them are aware of the region’s rich indigenous heritage and the highly contested, just, and as yet, still unrecognized constitutional rights of the Teme Augama Anishinabai.

I camped on the beach in mid-September near Wanapitei Wilderness Centre, a kids’ canoeing camp, adult tripping and outdoor education operation. The sun shone for two surprisingly warm days. In the still of a windless evening, I could hear geese pointing south honking overhead…. it was eerily wonderful to hear that cacophony in the gathering darkness as I sat by the fire.

Layton does a Dion

Jack Layton probably assured his electoral doom and may have handed Michael Ignatieff undeserved legitimacy. By propping up the Tories of smilin’ Steve Harper in the Canadian parliament, New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton is following in the footsteps of erstwhile Liberal leader Stephane Dion. Meanwhile Michael Ignatieff, he who replaced Dion, can sit back smugly in opposition to the government even though it’s been his Liberals that have served in a virtual coaltion with the Conservative government for the past year.

Layton insists that he achieved needed employment insurance reform for Canadians. That’s very small beer. In the coming weeks, if Layton and his NDP members are the only thing that stands between Harper and defeat, they have to bring down the government. On Friday, the NDP was joined by the Bloc Quebecois which supported the home renovation tax credit scheme. The next time the Harper government’s life is on the line, the Bloc won’t be so accommodating. If the NDP supports Harper under those conditions, it will have done its best to make Michael Ignatieff the next Prime Minister.  And perhaps that’s the outcome Layton seeks – few Kneedeepers see their party as a prospective government. Perhaps in his heart of hearts Jack just wants to help Iggy out by making him appear to be PM-in-waiting, a lone wolf standing staunchly in opposition to Harper.

What's Iggy thinking?

So… this place called Canada inches ever closer to yet another federal election. Michael Ignatieff, known in these parts as ‘egghead Iggy’, has announced that the Liberals will not support the minority Conservative government when parliament resumes this month. Iggy has grown a spine! This stalwart action after Ignatieff and the erstwhile Grit leader Stephane Dion served in a virtual coalition with the Conservatives since 2006.

But what’s up?  The timing could be iffy for Iggy. Signs abound that Canada is coming out of recession. Under the Tories, no banks failed in the worst of the economic crisis. This cannot be said of governments in the USofA. This may have been blind luck, but it could make Stephen Harper look good in an election campaign. Nothing pleases English Canadian voters more than to think they are different than Americans.

The current polls suggest no one will win a majority government. These polls show that the Liberals are tied with the Conservatives. In fact, the Conservatives have enjoyed a pretty good summer.  Harper’s trip to the Canadian arctic provided some great optics (watch for them in Tory campaign ads) of Steve Standing on Guard for Thee. The Tories’ absolutely brilliant “Just Visiting” attack ads on the the aforementioned Iggy, who did not live in Canada for close to 4 decades before choosing to save us from ourselves, worked like a charm. Surging Liberal fortunes stalled in mid-air. Following Ignatieff’s non- contested coronation at a Liberal convention in May, he had opened up a 3-5 point lead on Harper. That’s gone. Conversely, Iggy’s brand new ads seem oddly soft and, dare I say it, kind of out-of-focus…politically at least.

So it begs the question: why push the country into an election now? It certainly has Jack Layton’s NDP stumped. They, of all people, now seem the most reluctant! While the savviest and most experienced practitioner of Canadian federal politics, the Quebec independantiste Gilles Duceppe says ‘Bring it on, Etienne!’. That’s because Duceppe remains confident of winning at least 40 seats in Quebec. Oh…and in a political afterthought if there ever was one….in the country with arguably the worst environmental record in the developed western world, Green leader  Elizabeth May is still searching for a riding to run in.

So, once again, why go now? My guess is that Ignatieff thinks he can make big gains in Quebec and sweep most of Ontario. That’s dicey, but plausible. I also predict the Liberals will trade on Ignatieff’s Harvard past to make nice with the Obama administration in a visible way. Weirdly, next to thinking we are different than Americans, one of the things that turns the cranks of English Canadian voters most is to feel the love of  a youthful, Democratic President. The newly minted ads play up Ignatieff’s internationalism. Team Liberal will try to contrast Iggy the sophisticate with that hard-hearted Harper and his gang of western rubes. Again, that’s not without risk. In many voters’ minds, Harper is quintessentially Canadian…a hard-working, lumpy guy with a young, attractive family.

Further, the Liberals should be cautious with playing the ‘Democrats love us’ card. I suspect Canadians’ collective honeymoon swoon with Messiah Barack is slowly abating. Discerning voters might cotton on to the increasingly disastrous Obama approach to Afghanistan; and take pause with more news of protectionist “Buy American” campaigns. Given that he must establish his Canadian cred (odd task for a Grit leader) Ignatieff might not want to appear too much like an American Obama Democrat.

If team Harper can make the PM look like the custodian of mainstream English Canadian values; if it can spin matters in a way that make it appear it was the Liberals alone who forced reluctant Canadians to their voting booths, the nerd Steve, in a move worthy of Mackenzie King, might just be in a position to win the majority that’s eluded him to date.

En tout cas, fun time ahead for political junkies! Happy autumn, all.

Donald Marshall - a Mi'kmaq hero

I want to begin today with a brief tribute to Donald Marshall who died yesterday in Sydney, Nova Scotia. He was 55.

Marshall fought tirelessly for social and economic justice for aboriginal Canadians. His fishing rights case led the Supreme Court of Canada to uphold centuries’ old rights that Canadian and Nova Scotia politicians had stripped away. The struggle to reach a civil accommodation over the East Coast fishery among all groups continues, but Marshall’s activism forced a significant step in the recognition of historic collective rights and economic arrangements.

Donald Marshall achieved these political and legal successes after personally suffering a horrendous miscarriage of justice. Marshall was imprisoned for 11 year for a murder he did not commit. To emerge from prison to resume an active life in defence of his people fired with a steely determination to make a settler country grow up makes “Junior” a true hero in my eyes.

Government Motors

I’d be amazed if this works. Obama largely gets a pass from the media because he’s Obama. His double speak of saying that he doesn’t want to run GM when the US government now owns 60% is mind-boggling.

Here in this place called Canada, Ontarians seem too numb to notice the money they’ve wasted on GM while Dalton, Steve, Paul and Jean have been in charge.

Couldn’t it have been cheaper and saved as many jobs (or better still, create more new jobs) in the long run, just to let the deal go down? Don’t Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives normally claim that’s how capitalism is supposed to work? Just asking.

Valpy on Ignatieff – The Globe And Mail 18.04.09 April 20, 2009

I want to commend Michael Valpy and Toronto’s The Globe And Mail for a fine article about Canadian Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. This major feature appeared in The Globe on Saturday, April 18, 2009. The analysis was thought provoking. The piece featured a terrific interview and the excerpt from the Ignatieff’s new book was most revealing.

I think ‘Iggy’ is largely “wrong, wrong, wrong” in his take on his Uncle George Grant’s famous book on Canadian nationalism Lament For A Nation, but it’s heartening to see an intellectual/politician taken seriously by a Canadian newspaper. In that, The Globe and Valpy committed a form of journalism that it seems newspapers still do best. Despite the joys of theblogosphere and Internet journalism of many kinds, I hope newspapers like The Globe continue to produce work of this calibre and nature. Journalism of this kind has simply disappeared from most North American television.

Perhaps Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be spurred into finishing his long promised tome on hockey. Then the next Canadian election campaign could be a battle between authors!