Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Global City Ratings: Three Canadian Cities make top 20

   In a ranking of 221 cities globally Mercer company based in New York rated Vienna number one. The company used 39 factors in coming up with the ratings.
   Although many of the top cities are in Europe, Canada has three cities in the top twenty. Vancouver manages to be in the top ten at number five. Ottawa is number 14 and Toronto 15. Auckland in New Zealand is third. There are several Australian cities in the top twenty as well.
    The United States did not have even one city in the top twenty but Honolulu made number 29 and San Francisico 30. The Big Apple New York made 47. The worst rating went to Baghdad. If you have to go to Baghdad probably staying at the humongous American embassy would be a good place.
    For much more see the entire article here. Photos of the top 20 cities are here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Report: Northern Gateway Pipeline involves unacceptable environmental risks

   Enbridge Company based in Calgary would like to build a pipeline called the Northern Gateway from Alberta to the west coast port of Kitimat in northern British Columbia. The pipeline would transport bitumen from the Alberta Oil Sands to the port and then the oil would be exported.
  A new report by several groups including the Canadian Pembina Institute and the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council claims that the pipeline would involve unacceptably high environmental risks. Any spill of the bitumen could have a disastrous effect on the region's sensitive habitat according to the report.
   The report notes that cleaning up bitumen is much more difficult than cleaning up regular oil. Paul Stanway who manages communications for Enbridge claimed that the report said nothing new and simply repeated earlier criticisms. He maintained that the project would entail some risk as would any project of similar size and scale.
Map of proposed pipeline route from Alberta to BC.

  Given that the criticism that has been generated by the Keystone XL pipeline that is to carry Alberta oil down to the Texas Gulf Coast there is renewed pressure to build a pipeline from Alberta to BC so that Canada can diversity it exports of oil to countries such as China. Many environmentalists however, oppose not just new pipelines but also any rapid development of  Oil Sands oil since its production produces considerably more greenhouse gases than regular oil. For more see this article.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Inflation hits cost of Twelve Days of Xmas items

   For the first time the cost of all the items mentioned in the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas carol is over 100,000 dollars U.S. However some items declined slightly including the five gold rings. On the other hand the cost of  turtle doves, pear trees, and partridges has increased considerably.
    Some items have stable prices including maids-a-milking, ladies dancing, and lords leaping. No doubt this is due to the high unemployment numbers. There is a reserve army of milk maids, leaping lords, and dancing ladies.
    The annual total is a Xmas gift to the public from PNC Wealth Management. This year the exact total given is 101,119 dollars U.S. The U.S. price index rose by 3.9 per cent during the same period while the increase in the items saw an increase of 4.4 per cent. The percentage increase in the total is much smaller than last year. For more see this article.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Moncton snowblower ad goes viral

   Weh-Ming Cho's ad for his snowblower on Kijiji has gone viral. The ad can be found here. There is a photo of the snowblower as well. However it is not the snowblower that has caused the ad to go viral it is the humorous text that Cho has appended as a sales pitch.
    I do not want to spoil the fun for you. He starts out by noting that if you  are one of those muscular granola eating types who glories in shoveling snow you might as well stop reading now!. I am not sure what the copyright violation rules are for reproducing actual text from ads.
    Whatever those rules are maybe some one will take the CBC news to task for reproducing his text. But that seems the only way to capture his humor. Anyway here are a couple of bits from the ad just as samples. When I read it the ad had over 300,000 hits. I don't know if he sold the machine yet.
  The ad notes:     "This isn't some entry level snowblower that is just gonna move the snow two feet away. This is an 11 HP Briggs and Stratton machine of snow doom that will cut a 29-inch path of pure ecstasy," "And it's only four years old. I dare you to find a harder working four-year-old. My niece is five and she gets tired and cranky after just a few minutes of shovelling. This guy just goes and goes and goes."  Another rather racy tidbit:
""I want you to experience the rush that comes with smashing through a snowdrift and blowing that mother trucker out of the way""  The CBC article is at this site. Cho lives in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada where the machine would certainly be handy!

Brandon University strike ends with agreement

 Late Friday evening the Brandon University Administration finally reached an agreement with the faculty union. The strike was the longest university strike in Manitoba history. It began way back on Oct. 12, interrupting the school year a little over a month after classes started. There have been longer university strikes. A strike at Laval University in 1976 in Quebec lasted four months! More recently in 1997 York University faculty went on strike for 55 days. However long strikes or any strikes are the exception rather than the rule.
    Earlier a mediator had suggested binding arbitration to solve the dispute. Although the administration agreed the faculty wanted to continue negotiation. Later Labour minister Jennifer Howard had ordered the faculty to vote on the last administration offer. The vote was to take place next week.
    The tentative deal will allow faculty to return to work as early as next Monday evening a much faster resolution that having to vote on the latest administration offer which the union recommended be rejected. Now the faculty are voting on an agreement that the union supports. It is quite likely to pass.
  The university president Deborah Poff says that the university will make sure that students will be able to complete the school year. Possibilities involve extending the next term and pushing back December exams into the new year. No doubt everyone is relieved that the strike will be over. Solving the crisis through an agreement shows that collective bargaining can work although in this case the two sides took much too long to finally settle.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Afghanistan: Tim Horton's ends Afghan mission!

    The iconic Canadian coffee and doughnut chain is closing down its one outlet in Afghanistan. The restaurant catered to troops located at a base near Kandahar. Canadian troops will be withdrawn except for around one thousand who will train Afghan forces.
    The outlet sold 4 million cups of coffee, 3 million doughnuts as well as supplies. For almost a decade Horton's was part of the U.S. chain Wendy's International but Wendy's sold off the company in 2006 and it is now again headquartered in Canada.
     While closing shop in Afghanistan Tim Horton's is rapidly expanding in the United Arab Emirates where it expanded this year. They plan to open over a hundred stores within five years in Dubai, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait. The busiest Tim Horton's is in the far north of Canada in Yellowknife Northwest Territories.
     U.S. military will be able to continue enjoying Tim Horton's at outlets on bases in Fort Knox Kentucky and
Norfolk Virginia. Tim Horton's is named after its famous hockey star founder Tim Horton. For more see this article, and here.

Manitoba: Brandon University Faculty to vote on Administration offer

(Brandon Nov. 24) Brandon University faculty will vote on the Administration's latest offer next week. The vote was imposed by the government and will be overseen by the Labor Relations Board. The 240 members of BUFA have been on strike since October 12.
  A mediator had suggested there be binding arbitration but this was not accepted by the union which wanted to continue negotiations. The union has recommended faculty reject the Administration offer and calls the vote a waste of time.
    However given the pressures to end the strike the faculty could very well vote for the offer. Should the offer be rejected Jennifer Howard the minister of Labor and Immigration has said that binding arbitration could be an option.
    The students are perhaps the biggest losers in the strike. Most of the fall term has been lost. Some are demanding their fees back. However, the intention seems to be that the faculty will make up the time after the strike ends. In fact one of the  issues in dispute is compensation for the extra faculty time required to make up this lost class time. For more see this article and also this letter to the editor.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wages in Canada rise only marginally over the last year

 Over the last year ending this September wages in Canada rose a mere 1.1 per cent according to figures from Statistics Canada. This is the smallest increase since November of 2009.
  Although the average showed a small increase over the year, September average weekly earnings of non-farm workers actually declined by .3 per cent. This is just the nominal decrease and does not take into account that the inflation rate was 3.2 per for the month. Average weekly wages have been declining since April when they reached a peak of 4.1 per cent.
   The uncertain economic outlook may lead to a lessening demand for increased wages as many workers are happy enough just to have work. The government points out that 600,000 jobs have been created since the recession. However the other side of this story is that almost a million more have entered the labor market. Unemployment remains at 7.3 per cent. This is a large reserve army of the unemployed that will also keep wages low. For much more see this article.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Police move to evict Occupy Toronto protesters

  Police have moved into to evict Occupy Toronto protesters from their camp in St. James Park. As of this posting there had been quite a bit of shouting from protesters after tents were tagged and then removed.
   The protesters have been in the park since Oct. 15.  However, one woman has been arrested by police. An eviction order was upheld by a judge yesterday.
   A few protesters have chained themselves to a yurt that had not yet been removed. It is used as a library. An estimated 200 protesters remain in the camp so there could very well still be confrontations between police and protesters.
    The protesters are considering a move to a different public space in the downtown area. In Vancouver Occupy Vancouver protesters moved their protest to a different park after being ordered to move off courthouse grounds. For more see this article.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sam Gindin: Understanding and Fighting Against Austerity

 The linked video is the first half of a session sponsored by the GWTA (Greater Toronto Worker's Association) recently on austerity. Sam Gindin is a former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers. He retired from the CAW in 2000 and now teaches at York University.
    The sessions discusses some of the causes of the current financial crisis and how the crisis works to impose all sorts of belt tightening measures upon workers. He also takes up the forms of resistance that are growing throughout the world.
    Here are a few of his points in summary form. Gindin points out that measures to weaken unions and the power of workers began back in the 1980's when neo-liberal policies began to be introduced. Globalization and the demands for competitiveness helped decrease the power of workers in advanced capitalist countries. Certainly that process continues today.
   Gindin also mentions that there is now a demand to lower expectations. Capitalist critics argue that the entitlements of workers especially unionized workers are a cause of the debt crisis crushing some countries. Good pensions plans and high wages are no longer affordable.Gindin speaks of democracy becoming thinner as policies are more and more determined by the needs of the system and the one per cent.
    What is happening in Greece and Italy in response to the crisis are good examples of the point Gindin makes. Politicians are replaced by technocrats often linked with the European financial system. An attempt to let the Greek people have a referendum on austerity measures is met with dismay and in effect blocked. For much more see the video.

Canada: Canadian Imam returns home from detention in Saudi Arabia

  Usama Al-Atar is an Edmonton imam who was arrested and allegedly beaten by the religious police in Saudi Arabia. He was on a pilgrimage at the time and speaking in a cemetery in Medina.
   Al-Atar is expected to speak about his ordeal today. He called his detention horrid. He was held for almost 36 hours before his release. A British member of the group who was with Al-Atar said that the police virtually strangled Al-Atar.
  Al-Atar is a relatively liberal Muslim and a peacemaker. No doubt this is why the Saudi religious police attacked him. Here are a few words from his website:
   I am a Human
 I am a human.
 I have a mind, and I have a heart,
 I want to live in peace, equality and justice.
 ....Can I not speak about freedom, or call for communication?
 I see people, standing in peace, with a flower in their hands,
 Requesting their governments to meet their demands.
 Demands for justice, for equality, for respect,

   Obviously a subversive type of person judged by Saudi standards. For more see this article.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Diapers and Politics

 There are several famous quotes in this category. The first is attributed to Jose Maria de Eca De Queiroz a 19th century Portuguese writer. See this link
Politicians and diapers should be changed frequently and all for the same reason. (Translated from Portuguese)

Another version is attributed to the U.S. author Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
“Politicians are like diapers; they need to be changed often and for the same reason.”

 I saw another version when surfing today but there was no source cited.
"" Governments are like diapers. When they need to be changed, it’s often for the same reason!""

 Commentators on one posting noted that at least diapers are clean when they arrive! None of the websites I searched on this gave the precise source from which the quote was taken.

Postal Workers win case--after 28 years

In a case that finally wound up at the Supreme Court Canada Post workers won after 28 years. Canada Post Corp. says that it will respect the Court ruling.
  In 1983 the Public Service Alliance of Canada filed suit under the Canadian Human Rights act charging that women were being paid less for doing the same jobs as men. In 2005 the Canadian Human Rights tribunal finally ruled in the union's favor but reduced the award to half what had been asked.
   Canada Post appealed and won in Federal Court in 2008. The Federal Court of Appeal upheld the ruling but with one dissenting judge. The Supreme Court agreed with the reasoning of the dissenting judge and unanimously sided with the workers. The total bill will be up to 250 million to compensate female clerical staff who worked at Canada Post between 1983 and 2002. Given the length of time it took to settle the issue no doubt some of the money will go to the workers' estates!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Canada wins meat labeling case against U.S. at WTO

  The WTO(World Trade Organisation) ruled in favor of Canada's complaint that U.S. country of origin rules for meat labeling (COOL) lowered processing efficiency and distorted trade between the two countries. The ruling will apply not just to cattle and hogs but also to other commodities such as chickens that were also subject to the COOL label requirements. Mexico had joined Canada in arguing the case before the WTO.
    In 2008 when COOL was introduced Canadian animals had to be segregated and processed in separate lines to be packaged and labeled. The added costs caused some U.S. processors to refuse to buy Canadian livestock or to buy them only at deep discounts. Some U.S. processors actually sided with the complaint against the U.S.
  The U.S. can file an appeal within 60 days. However Canada won on all counts. The Canadian agriculture minister hopes that he can reach an agreement with the U.S. on implementing the decision of the WTO. The COOL requirements are estimated to have cost the Canadian livestock industry up to 5 billion dollars. One result of the requirements has been to provide an incentive for Canada to further diversity its export markets for livestock. For more see this article.

NDP MP Pat Martin swears at Conservative closure of debate

 Pat Martin a Manitoba New Democratic Party MP used distinctly unparliamentary language in a tweet. He may swear by the New Democratic party but he swears at the ruling majority Conservative party. To quote Martin with appropriate omissions: "This is a f--king disgrace ... closure again. And on the Budget! There’s not a democracy in the world that would tolerate this jackboot sh--."
  Martin did not apologize for his outburst but claimed that his language expressed his frustration at the government's tactics. Closure is rarely used in Canada and usually when the opposition is using tactics to deliberately hold up legislation. Martin noted that he is a construction worker by trade and he said that this is the way that they communicate with each other.
    I worked as an inspector on pipeline construction years ago and I can attest that in my experience Martin is telling the truth about construction workers'  language at least in the past. Naturally several Conservative MP's called the language completely inappropriate and expressed their strong moral disapproval. One MP even wants the house speaker to rule on the language since Martin made his tweet while actually in parliament. Of course the Conservatives and much of the media seem to concentrate upon Martin's use of language rather than the inappropriateness of the Conservative use of closure. For more see this article.

Would you want an Occupy protest in your own area

 The CBC is asking Canadians whether they would want Occupy protests in their area. I happen to live in rural Manitoba in a village of about 150 people. I expect that a large group of campers would be welcomed. I even have an almost acre lot with an old garage on it with a stove inside. Our local park is much too small for any reasonable sized protest  to use.
    If the protesters want to use public property the Trans Canada trail that used to be a railroad runs through the village. It is hardly ever used and certainly people could camp along the right of way. The local store would probably be quite happy to have increased business. They also carry beer and liquor!
   There is no hotel in town but hotels in nearby towns would be happy to have reporters as customers. Restaurants too would show an increase in business. Before the protesters set up camp though they would need to get locals to clear the snow off their camping areas. The encampment would be a good survival training area. The temperature is going below minus twenty in the next few days.
   In a short time we will have Xmas lights up and burning.  This year we could attract people not just to see the lights but to come and visit the largest Occupy protest in rural Manitoba.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wheat Board supporters protest on Parliament Hill

 A group of farmers opposed to the Conservative government's bill to end the Wheat Board monopoly on marketing wheat and barley in western Canada protested on Parliament Hill yesterday. Drew Baker the farmer who led the rally said: "On our own, we will have little power to negotiate with big American companies, and that concerns me." The U.S. has long challenged the Wheat Board monopoly as giving Canadian farmers an unfair advantage in global marketing.
     Where the U.S. complaints have always failed , western farmers themselves have now achieved what the U.S. and the grain marketing giants have long desired, an end to the Wheat Board monopoly. Farmers have done so by voting in large numbers for the very Conservatives who promised as part of their platform to end the monopoly. A  Wheat Board organised vote later showed that a majority of farmers actually support retaining the system.
     The board is run by directors elected by farmers. Only two of the elected board members favor the changes in the government bill. The remainder support the retention of the single desk system as it is called. The system gives the farmers collectively considerable power to negotiate good prices for grain sales.
      The government legislation would also dismiss the farmer-elected directors of the board. The board had been controlled by members elected by farmers since 1998.
       The Wheat Board has launched a lawsuit challenging the government's bill. The suit claims that the bill violates the Canadian Wheat Board Act. The Wheat Board Act specifies the minister cannot change the system without holding a vote of Prairie grain farmers. The  Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz promised during the latest election campaign a vote would be held. The only vote held was by the Wheat Board itself. The Conservatives claim that the abolition of the monopoly was a prominent part of the campaign platform and since they were elected with a majority they already had a mandate to change the system. For much more see this article.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Canada looks to market more oil in Asia

     The delay in approval of the Keystone XL pipeline has led Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to look for other markets for Canadian oil and gas particularly in China. Harper should have been diversifying markets even before this delay. China and other Asian countries need oil and probably will pay more for it than the U.S.
   Canada has deliberately made itself into an oil supplier primarily for the U.S. The NAFTA agreement cements this relationship. While Harper talks about finding new markets for our oil, the eastern provinces of Canada import almost all their oil from abroad. It would make much more sense to have oil from Alberta flow to Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes rather than down south as far as Texas!
Obama and Stephen Harper at APEC
   Chinese president Hu Jintao has welcomed Harper's move to market oil in China. He has invited Harper to visit China next year. However, to ship large quantities of oil to China a pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat British Columbia would need to be approved. There will be considerable opposition to building that pipe line from environmentalists and first nations groups.
   Many environmentalists want to block further development of  Tar Sands oil. They claim that production of  Tar Sands oil involves the emission of far too many greenhouse gases. First nations in the area also have complaints about the effects of production on them. Given the dependence of the global economy on fossil fuels the environmental concerns will in the end not likely be powerful enough to stop further increases in production. For more see this article.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tommy Douglas NDP leader was spied upon for decades

 Recently declassified material shows the RCMP were spying on Tommy Douglas the leader of the Federal NDP as he called for a probe of the RCMP in April of 1963. The RCMP were drafting memos casting suspicion on Douglas' own activities.
    The Library and Archives Canada had fought for six years to keep the RCMP files on Douglas secret. The new pages became available when a federal judge ordered a review the nine volume dossier with a view to releasing more. The pages released are still fragmentary. Over two hundred pages of the dossier remain entirely secret.
     Although Douglas was a premier of Saskatchewan and a hero to many for bringing the first universal health care scheme to the province of Saskatchewan he was watched by RCMP spies for more than four decades. His ideas were obviously regarded as a threat to the powers that be. For more see this article.  For more about Douglas see this site.