Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Recession leads to steep decline in quality of life in Canada

The Canadian Well-being index shows that since the onset of the recession between 2008 and 2010, the quality of life deteroriated by 24%. Canada's GDP, in contrast, declined by only 8.3% during the same period.
The Canadian Well-being Index compilation is led by researchers at the University of Waterloo, Roy Romanow, former NDP premier of Saskatchewan, co-chairs the advisory group to the researchers.
Between 1994 and 2010 the Canadian GDP rose 29% but the Well-being Index grew only 5.7% during the same period. Romanow said:
"When Canada's economy was thriving, Canadians only saw modest improvements in their overall quality of life.But when the economy faltered, our well-being took a disproportionate step backward."
The report itself noted:
"Despite years of prosperity, our economic growth has not translated into similar significant gains in our overall quality of life,.Even more concerning is the considerable backslide Canadians have experienced since 2008."
Economists often measure economic progress simply in terms of increases in GDP. However, Romanow and his co-chair, Monique Begin, say in the introduction to their report:
"GDP tells us nothing about our people, our environment, our democracy, or other aspects of life that matter to Canadians."
Among the worrying trends are a long term decline in environmental quality, and less leisure time. As well, there was a sudden drop in living standards when the recession hit. However, violent crime and property crime are at their lowest levels since 1994.
Canada has one of the largest ecological footprints in the world per person. However, Peter Kent, the Canadian Environment minister, argues that emissions are starting to fall even as the economy is growing.
The standard of living has been declining considerably since the recession began. The report notes that during the last two years:
"The deterioration experienced by so many Canadians speaks to the growing unease felt across Canada and must be taken into consideration as our governments make decisions on how to steer us forward, particularly given predictions of an extended period of weak economic growth."
Romanow argues:"What we have to do as a nation and society is to develop a consciousness, develop public policies which address this." Harper argues that provinces rather than the federal government are better able to develop social policies to deal with regional variations. However, having national standards such as are associated with the Canada Health Act, would ensure that all Canadians have a certain level of services across the nation Perhaps next year, the group could measure the changes in quality of llife for the one per cent!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Canadian government rejects Petronas takeover bid for Progress Energy

Industry Minister Christian Paradis, announced on Friday that the $5.2 billion offer by Malaysian state-owned oil company Petronas for Calgary-based Progress Energy Resources, had not met Canada's "net benefit test" and therefore will not be approved.
In his statement Paradis said:
"I can confirm that I have sent a notice letter to Petronas indicating that I am not satisfied that the proposed investment is likely to be of net benefit to Canada. Due to the strict confidentiality provisions of the [Investment Canada] Act, I cannot comment further on this investment at this time,."
Petronas will have 30 days to make additional representation and to add further undertakings that might alter the decision. After that period, Paradis will confirm his first decision or approve the deal.
Paradis said that Canada had a long-standing reputation for welcoming foreign investment. I just wonder if there is not some static coming from the U.S. about the Harper government welcoming Asian state-owned energy companies investing in Canada. Through NAFTA, the U.S. has special claims on Canadian energy resources. The U.S.may object to Petronas taking over a Canadian energy company. Paradis says that Canada remains committed to an open climate for foreign investment in Canada.
The specific aspects of NAFTA related to oil and gas exports to the U.S. can be found at this government site. The Council of Canadians has often criticized the arrangements: “NAFTA prevents us from selling our energy resources at rates lower than we sell them in the U.S. We also can’t ever cut back on the proportion of energy we produce and sell to the United States, even in times when our country runs short.”
The decision on Petronas comes as the Harper government is also reviewing a takeover bid by CNOOC, a Chinese state-owned oil company. The $15.1 billion takeover bid is for Calgary-based Nexxen Inc. Paradis announced on Oct. 11 that he had extended that review for thirty days and might even extend it further.
The recent nationalistic noise by Canadian opposition parties about foreign investment is a bit bizarre since much production is already foreign owned. Any national oil policy died with the Trudeau Liberal government and no one, at least in Alberta, is crying over that!
Oil sands production, just to give an example, is already 71% foreign owned. As I see it, the real debate is to what extent Canada is going to remain bound up with its relationship of prime supplier to the U.S. and a safe source of supply for the giant oil consuming economy to the south. Debate about this is taboo, as far as most public discussion is concerned. Public discussion is about how dangerous it is to Canada's security etc. that we have state-owned entities owning our oil resources, and, in particular, the security risk of dealing with Chinese companies. Apparently, there is no security risk to Canada in being required not to cut back on the proportion of energy we produce and sell to the U.S. if we suffer a shortage.
I have included a news report by Iranian Press TV. While the suggestion of a national state owned oil company proposed in the interviews is certainly a good idea IMHO, the reality is that there is almost no significant public demand for this in Canada. Our supposedly socialist NDP is busy complaining about the Chinese takeover bid for Nexxen but it is not asking for the government to takeover Nexxen, as that would be much too radical a move.

Friday, October 19, 2012

CRTC rejects $3.4 billion takeover bid by BCE for Astram Media

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission rejected the Bell $3.4 billion deal to buy Astral Media. The Canadian regulatory commission claims that the deal would give BCE too much market power and threaten competition in the media.
The CRTC rejected the proposed deal unconditionally. Many analysts thought that the deal would go through but with conditions attached.
Jean-Pierre Blais, chair of the CRTC said:
"BCE failed to persuade us that the deal would benefit Canadians. It would have placed significant market power in the hands of one of the country’s largest media companies. We could not have ensured a robust Canadian broadcasting system without imposing extensive and intrusive safeguards, which would have been to the detriment of the entire industry."
The proposed deal was one of the largest takeovers ever sent to the CRTC. It was also the first major decision for newly installed commissioner Blais. If the deal had been approved, BCE would have owned 107 radio stations, two national television networks and 49 pay channels as well. Its share of the English TV sector would have been a whopping 42 percent. In the radio sector, BCE would have 25 per cent of revenues. It would be larger than the next two biggest competitors together.
Blais noted that BCE had not made any commitments to local programming or local artists, activities the CRTC would like to see promoted. In TV, BCE would have had about 45% of viewing share in English, and 35% in French.
The CRTC was concerned that BCE would have even more influence in negotiating its share of must-carry services with distributors. The CRTC also thought that BCE would increase its presence in premium content containing exclusive and/or live programs that would be unavailable elsewhere. The CRTC said that BCE did not show that it needed to be larger to compete with foreign services.
Competitor Rogers, which had opposed the deal, commended what it called the courageous decision of the CRTC. Gavin Graham of Graham Investment Strategies said:
“I was very surprised. The expectation here was fairly widespread they would approve it with some restrictions.”
Although competitors Rogers, Telus, and Quebecor had all joined in opposing the deal, Calgary-based Shaw Cable was for it. Shaw president, Peter Bisonnette said the real threat in Canada is not large Canadian players such as BCE would be, but online services such as Netflix and Apple TV. He said:
"We urge the commission to support our efforts to respond to the real competitive threat to the system — unregulated, foreign (over the top services) like Apple, Google, Amazon and Netflix."
BCE has 30 days to appeal the ruling to the Federal Court of Appeal. As an alternative, BCE could change the proposal and apply again for approval.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Peter Mansbridge and Stratford Crew Do Gangnam Style Parody

Peter Mansbridge, the anchor of the CBC National news report, takes part in an parody of the famous, Gangnam Style, South Korean pop single by singer PSY.
Parodies of the South Korean pop song, Gangnam Style, are legion. Digital Journal has reports on two political versions. One features Mitt Romney and another Barack Obama. .
There are also parodies that feature cartoon characters and even North Korea. Now the veteran CBC news announcer has entered the fray. He does his best, together with members of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, including cast and crew of 42n Street and The Pirates of Penzance. On his Twitter account , that has a link to the video,Mansbridge says:
"Be kind. I know I can't dance or sing but it's all good fun for a great Festival Theatre!"
He is a keen critic of his own performance!
The CBC has a list of the top ten parodies of the Gangnam Style.together with links to the videos. Number one on the list is Lifeguard Style.
group of lifeguards in El Monte, Calif., produced this video at the public pool as a way to remember the summer before going back to school. The city did not appreciate attention the video brought to the city or the use of the public pool to make the video. The lifeguards and the pool manager were all fired. They should have received an award instead.
According to the participants :*All footage was recorded off the clock during breaks and free time.* However, on Sept. 5, 2012 city supervisors fired the group for using a public facility for private purposes and wearing their uniforms in public while off duty. The group were told unofficially that their music was disgusting and embarassing to the city!
Another parody uses the mascot of the U. of Oregon athletics the Duck in their Oregon Duck Style. This video was done with iPhones!

UPDATE: There is a report today (Oct. 17) that the lifeguards fired over their video have been rehired.

Monday, October 8, 2012

PBO head Kevin Page at loggerheads with Harper government

Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Conservative government of Stephen Harper face a showdown. Page gave officials in 56 departments until this Wednesday to provide him with information about cuts and savings in the budget.
In March of 2008 Page was appointed Parliamentary Budget Officer. In 2006 the Conservative leader, Stephen Harper, ran on an accountability theme. For the most part, the Conservative government has failed to be accountable whenever possible. However, Harper did create the PBO or Parliamentary Budget Office as part of his promise to make government more accountable, even though he gave the office less power and independence than many advocates of the office wanted.
Kevin Page was regarded as a safe choice for head of the PBO when he was appointed in March of 2006. Page had spent 27 years as a behind-the-scenes-economist in the government. Top-level Conservatives found him acceptable. Page had even worked closely with Harper as a key economic policy assistant in 20006 and 20007. When Page started to take a combative position in opposition to the Conservative government, many were taken by surprise. Now Page has become a constant thorn in the side of the government. He takes accountability seriously!
As the appended video shows, Page does not shrink from saying exactly and succinctly what he thinks When he is asked whether he thinks that the government was trying to mislead the public about the costs of the F35 jets Canada is planning to purchase, Page simply replies: "Yes". Ordinarily, reporters would be treated to a long song and dance that evades answering the question.
Page is now threatening to take the government to court if he does not receive the information he has requested from departments by Wednesday. The Treasury Board President, Tony Clement, claims that Page is operating outside his mandate. He even says that he is quite ready to make this argument before a court. This certainly shows that the Conservative government is trying its very best to narrow the range of its accountability as much as possible. According to Clement, Page's job is restricted to looking at what the government actually spends money on, not what it doesn't.
Page, on the other hand, points out that often what money is not being spent on, is as important as what it is being spent on. The recent food beef recall associated with cuts to the Canada Food Inspection Agency's budget is a good example of Page's point. The information that Page is requesting on budget cuts is another prime example. We will see on Wednesday whether Page gets his way or if the government challenges him.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Complaint that Harper nude painting is sexual harassment is dismissed

The complaint by Albertan Curtis Stewart alleged that a nude painting of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was sexual harassment.
The painting called "Emperor Haute Couture" by Kingston artist Margaret Sutherland made headlines back in May this year when it was displayed in a Kingston library. The artist painted the nude as a satire after she was peeved by a number of Harper government moves, including the elimination of the long term census and the closure of some prison farms.Sutherland said:
“The political message is to look for yourself and don’t necessarily believe the party line."
The title of the painting, Emperor Haute Couture carries a satirical reference to the fairy tale "The Emperor's New Clothes," in which a vain king parades around naked. The painting was sold to an unknown buyer for the asking price of $5,000 in late May.
Curtis Stewart filed the complaint in May shortly after the nude was first displayed and caused an uproar. In the complaint Stewart says:
"How do I explain this to my daughter that it is OK for anyone to do a non-authorized nude portrait of the leader of Canada and put it on display in a very public place where school-aged children come by the busload to visit?"
Kingston claimed that the painting was not a portrait but a satirical and imaginary depiction of Harper.
When children's events were scheduled in the room where the portrait was displayed, Stephen Harper was covered up. The prime minister's office was also critical of the painting but in a less moralistic manner. In a Twitter post the Prime Minister's Office tweeted:
“On the Sutherland painting: we’re not impressed. Everyone knows the PM is a cat person.”
This is true enough. Of course there were many witty responses from opposition politicians including Liberal MP Scott Brison who said that this was one case when a Conservative cover-up was needed.
In June, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal sent Stewart a notice that it would dismiss the application because it was outside its jurisdiction to decide on the issue. Stewart had until July 19 to respond but he failed to do so. As a result, the tribunal dismissed the case on September 19. Perhaps Curtis just wanted to vent his anger rather than pursue the case.

Coyotes extend range and enter urban settings in North America

As human population density increases across North America, many carnivore species' ranges become more restricted. However, the opposite is happening with the coyote. In contrast with the wolf, the coyote is able to adapt even to urban areas.
The Greater Toronto Area is just one urban region where coyotes are becoming relatively common. The Natural Resources Ministry is warning people to be wary of coyotes. In the spring, as the weather warms up, the coyotes have offspring and are looking for food. While coyotes mostly feed on small mammals such as voles and mice and rabbits, they are virtually omnivorous. Out on the range they hunt chickens, lambs, calves, and sheep but in the city your cat or small dog will do in a pinch. They will raid your garbage at night too.
In some areas coyotes are being observed that are much larger and heavier than the average coyote. In many cases these may be hybrids of wolves and coyotes. Coyotes in the northern parts of North America tend to be larger than further south. But there is also an east west varation. In eastern Canada, especially in the Maritime provinces coyotes can weigh around 40 pounds whereas on the western plains the average is only around 20 pounds.
The larger coyotes often adapt the wolf characteristic of hunting in packs. While only two fatal coyote attacks on humans have been verified, one was in Nova Scotia in the Cape Breton Highlands In October 2009, Taylor Mitchell, a 19-year-old Canadian folk singer, died from injuries sustained in an attack by a pack of eastern coyotes while she was hiking. The eastern coyotes are, genetically, a mixture of western coyote and eastern wolf.
In Richmond Hill, in the northern part of Toronto, the increased number of coyotes has had positive effects by helping to control the beaver population. The busy beavers regularly built damns that would often cause flooding in ponds and creeks.
Many techniques are used to try to rid an area of coyotes. However, reducing the population usually just makes conditions better for the coyote families that survive since there is less competition and the young prosper.
Greater Chicago is thought to be home to approximately 2,000 coyotes according to ecologist Stan Gert. Gert said that estimate was a minimum. Gert has been studying coyotes in Chicago for about 12 years. Researchers found a pack of coyotes just 8 kilometers from O'Hare International Airport, one of the busiest in the world. Even out in western Canada in the smaller city of Calgary there are estimated by some to be about 600 to 700 coyotes. The appended video shows a Chicago coyote visiting Quiznos.
On occasion, coyotes have also been known to mate with dogs especially in the U.S. states such as Texas and Oklahoma. The hybrids are called coydogs. While coyotes usually breed just once a year, coydogs breed all year round and thus can produce more pups.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

XL plant in Brooks did not follow all safety protocols properly

The XL plant in Brooks, Alberta, at the center of the huge beef recall in Canada, was not following some safety procedures properly according to the head of the Canadian Food Inspection agency. Some beef at the plant was contaminated with E. coli.
George Da Pont, head of the CFIA, claimed that the XL plant did not always follow the "bracketing" procedure that is called for when traces of contaminants are found. The agriculture minister Gerry Ritz described the process as follows:
"When we find a shipment that has a contaminant like E. coli, such as we've found, we do what's called bracketing. And we take out the shipment ahead of it and the shipment behind it and search those out, and everything is brought back. That's the safety valve."
According to Da Pont the XL plant at Brooks Alberta did not always follow the bracketing procedure.:
"What we found is that the plant was not doing appropriate trend analysis when they had spikes [in E. coli] the previous week.We found that there were, when we did the further investigations, a few instances where the bracketing process that the minister described was not properly followed... Specifically, it seems that there were a few instances that we could document where they did not divert either the [carcass] before or after."
Da Pont also complained that the CFIA did not have the power to compel the company to quickly hand over records. The agency wanted test results and distribution information for products that were made on the same day as the E. coli tainted meat. The agency asked for the information on September 6 but did not receive it until four days later. U.S. officials also found samples of beef at the border contained E. coli and had alerted the CFIA.
The CFIA banned XL Foods from shipping any meat to the U.S. on Sept. 13 but did not inform the Canadian public until September 16. Agriculture minister Ritz defended his inspectors at the plant saying that they had done a terrific job up to now.
The inspection agency has 40 inspectors and 6 veterinarians at the plant but it is a huge operation. The recall has already involved 1,500 products in every province and territory of Canada and 41 U.S. states. The plant involved apparently failed to follow at least five other protocols beyond the "bracketing" process. The other protocols involved sanitation and maintenance issues.
A spokesperson for the union in the plant, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, said that workers had been processing too many carcasses, too quickly. Tom Hesse said: “You can’t do that much work in that short a period of time without worker and public safety being compromised."
A spokesperson for the government meat inspector's union, PSAC, said that the government's $56 million in cuts to the CFIA in the present budget will result in the loss of 100 meat inspection jobs across Canada. The spokesperson said:
“There has been a systemic change in the way inspections are done in these large facilities. Most of the inspection sampling, the day-to-day work that was done in the past by CFIA inspectors, is now done by plant personnel.”
The first inspection seems to be left to workers employed by the plant rather than independent government inspectors. The results of this loosening of regulations and lax enforcement of protocols will result in a costly loss of reputation for Canadian beef. Perhaps it is time as well to move away from huge facilities such as that in Brooks employing more than 2,200 people and processing huge amounts of beef. Size may be good for profits but bad for safety. If there is a problem, the amount of product involved can be huge.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Canadian Beef Recall from Alberta plant extended

For the fourth day in a row, the most extensive beef recall in Canadian history has been extended. Beef from an XL Foods plant in Brooks Alberta has been contaminated with E. coli bacteria.
The recall has been expanded in the province of British Columbia. Twenty retail chains in the province have pulled products from their shelves as a result of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency expanding the recall from the XL Food plant.
The huge recall has resulted in more than 500 products at thousands of different retail outlets being pulled recently. Consumers are being warned not to consume, sell, or serve the meat. even though cooking the beef well will kill the bacteria. Experts say it is still safer to throw out suspect meat. The products were manufactured at the XL plant in Brooks Alberta on August 24, 27th through to the 29th and September 5. The overall list of suspect products is now so long that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency advises consumers to ask their grocers directly if beef came from the XL plant.
Four Albertans are confirmed ill as a result of the E. coli contamination and five others are still being investigated. So far there have been no reported cases in neighboring B.C.
The XL Foods plant is a large operation. Kevin Boon, who is general manager of the B.C. Cattlemen's Association, estimates fully half of the beef produced in the province is shipped to the XL plant in Alberta.
The E. coli was first detected in the Brooks Alberta plant on Sept. 4. It took three weeks before the CFIA suspended the plant's operating licence while safety procedures were updated. Opposition parties in parliament questioned the Conservative government's response to the contamination.
Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae asked during question period:
“If the Canadian consumer is so much at the forefront of the government’s concern, can the government please explain why it was that the Canadian consumer in Alberta and elsewhere was not informed for a two full weeks by the government of Canada with respect to the problems at XL?”
The leader of the NDP, the official opposition, Thomas Mulcair, pointed out that the same agriculture minister was in charge during a 2008 listeriosis outbreak that killed more than 20 people. He also blamed budget cuts to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for the situation:
“Why are the Conservatives continuing to claim there are not cuts, when their own financial documents say just the opposite? Are their financial documents not accurate?”
“This is the same minister who manhandled the listeriosis outbreak in 2008 and joked about “death by a thousand cold cuts.” It wasn’t funny then and it’s not funny now. Is this the best they’ve got to offer Canadians who are worried whether the food they’re giving their kids is safe?”
Ritz later apologized for his joke. The Conservative government defended Ritz claiming that he was working sincerely to ensure the safety of meat and that there would be more food inspectors and meat inspectors.The budget of the Food Inspection Agency was recently cut. It is difficult to see how they will be able to have more inspectors without increasing the budget of the agency. However the government claims to have hired more inspectors and increased the budget since they have come to power. While that may be true, it may be spinning the data since in the latest budget there are cuts to the budget of the agency. as pointed out by the NDP leader.