Sunday, September 30, 2007

From the "you gotta be kidding me" department

Independent TDs given "party leaders allowance" - 39,000 untaxable, untraced Euros each.

This should be abolished immediately and factored into the public funding per vote parties receive - it's a recipe for more and more single issue candidates.

"The Home of Good Cheese" has been razed.

Another chapter in the demolition of the agri-food industry in Mitchelstown. This is another blow for my home region which has been under threat pretty much since the original Mitchelstown-Ballyclough merger to form Dairygold I think. The only thing keeping things afloat is the new road to Cork.

Let's hope that "Breeo". the vehicle Dairygold created to distance itself from the industries that built the brands, will at least consider some local buyout of the facilities to keep the jobs in local hands but is the entrepreneurial spirit there? History would suggest it's a long shot.

Too much ethanol? More subsidies!

The answer to every question in the overcoddled state of Iowa seems to be someone else's money, and because of America's simply bizarre method of selecting its First Citizen, what Iowa wants it all too often gets. The last season of the West Wing described buttering up Iowans by promising subsidy as "taking the pledge".

First they wanted subsidies to build ethanol plants, and despite increasing evidence that not only is corn a poor feedstock and ethanol a poor biofuel but making ethanol from corn is a greenhouse gas polluting process, they got the money. Now too many distilleries have been built, the price of ethanol is plummeting because of poor distribution and the corn farmers answer is, you've guessed it - "mo' money!"

My solution to the Steve Downie situation: keep him "up"

As predicted, the Philadelphia Flyers have reacted to the 20-game suspension by sending Downie to the AHL, where he may or may not be banned for the term depending on review. Recently Chelsea were brought up by the Football Association for a charge of "failing to control their players" and it strikes me that the Flyers are getting off pretty lightly here. Downie was playing pre-season under an existing suspension after all, not to mention a well known series of other incidents starting with an on-ice finale to an off-ice hazing ritual.

Indeed, the OHL and Hockey Canada might have their own case to answer on how Downie got in his current situation, since his former coach claims to have recommended Downie be told to enter counselling but nothing came of it.

So what's the solution? If a player receives a suspension, even in pre-season, he may not be released, traded or sent down for the duration of the suspension, and while pay could be docked it could not be counted against the cap. This would impact the teams roster spots and cap room and make them think twice about how they advise their tough-guys trying to make the team.

Closing the circle

Paul Wells, writing on Gordon Brown's settling in as Prime Minister again:
Brown isn't Blair. But neither is he Paul Martin. He let his predecessor pick his own departure date. He hasn't felt the need to purge the party of its old guard. He is so sure of who he is that he needn't go on about who he isn't.
Stephane Dion could use some of Brown's discipline, not just for himself but for his team. Jamie Carroll's loose talk about Liberal hiring this week would probably have more severe consequences in a Brown setup, especially for someone who had already damaged the Dion brand with his blurting out about his "sleepless nights".

But then there's this bit at the end:
In 1805 Horatio Nelson told his fleet: "England expects that every man will do his duty." Nelson was hard to beat, too.
I'm having the oddest sense of deja vu...

Shouldn't this have been thought of before now?

The Irish Minister of Defence, having announced a commitment of 350 troops to Chad, now wants the UN to tell him they'll be safe. I'm hoping that what he means by that is that the troops will have sufficiently robust Rules of Engagement and that when he meets the Sudanese Foreign Minister he will receive assurances that the latter's visiting oil workers (and alumni of the People's Liberation Army) will stay near to their rigs rather than freelancing with the Janjaweed.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Striking down adoption disclosure law probably the right call

Societies change and so do laws but it should be a priority of government to avoid retrospective actions, creating difficulties for citizens who made good faith, legal decisions only to find the law changed adversely in a way that compromises those decisions.

The decision by Ontario to disclose the identity of adoptees and birth parents without the safeguard of a veto by either side was set aside by the Superior Court of Ontario this week. The change in the law was pushed by Marilyn Churley, a former NDP MPP who had gone through a lot of anguish to find the child she gave up.

Unfortunately she pushed Ontario law up to and past other jurisdictions who recognised that adoption is one of the ultimate "hard cases make bad law" situations and gave little recognisance to the bargain which women made decades ago in the form of a veto.

The only safeguard offered to either children or parents was to levy massive fines against the party who refused to stop attempting to make contact to the party whose identity was disclosed with a "no-contact" stipulation - only in exceptional issues of security were disclosure vetoes permitted.

Rather than push on to the Supreme Court with a decision that was bitterly opposed by many including the Province's Privacy Commissioner, the government should lower its sights, restore the veto for adoptions existing prior to the passage of the legislation and ensure that parents giving up children in the future are adequately informed of the possibility of being contacted in the future.

Dan Michaluk has written about this too, and being an actual lawyer his post just might make more sense :)

Now THAT is a pimped ride...

During the 2006 Commonwealth Games, a Melbourne tram was "made over" by a Pakistani group as a showcase of their culture. Check it out.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Should Councillor David Shiner stand aside?

David Shiner, a Toronto city councillor and former budget chief, is the Conservative candidate for the Provincial seat in Willowdale, a closely contested match-up with incumbent Liberal David Zimmer. Some members of council and the Mayor's man-in-the-hallway and deputy communications director Stuart Green have called for Shiner to either resign or take unpaid leave on the grounds that while campaigning he is not representing his constituents and that Olivia Chow and Sylvia Watson did likewise when they ran.

Now if Shiner stood aside unpaid, his constituents aren't represented for the term of the campaign, and if he resigns neither a by-election or an infill process would be completed by election day so once again, his constituents go unrepresented. So basically Willowdale has inferior representation whichever way you slice it, and he does seem to be still dealing with some city business (any that gets him media coverage anyway).

Then there's the issue of drawing salary - except the Mayor and other councillors are not on solid ground to criticise here. It is my understanding that elected councillors are paid up to election day, whereas city staff have to take unpaid leave to challenge them, like Shaun Bruce, a student and part-time City Zamboni driver who challenged Hizzoner last year.

A more equitable situation would be if council incumbents wages were terminated on the day the election began, or if city staff were allowed to campaign while on paid leave or on their own time. Once the equity of City Council elections was decided, perhaps then they could worry about councillors seeking new jobs. If City Council wants to legislate councillors into unpaid leave they should do so, and not just whine to the press about "tradition" and depend on media pressure to produce a result.

Sunday Independent: make Staunton walk the plank

The webmasters at the Duckworth School of Journalism have an annoying habit of not putting writers names on copy published on line, so I don't know who wrote this open letter to FAI Commandante John Delaney, but it is reflective of the state Irish international soccer finds itself. Here's some excerpts to give you the idea.
there can be no greater indictment of both the current manager and his predecessor than the oft-repeated statistic about Kilbane's remarkable run of starts in the Irish jersey.

It would take a very creative film editor indeed to produce a memorable collection of highlights from the million or so caps the Wigan midfielder appears to have amassed. We'd have him doing the thing where he pushes the ball between a couple of defenders and falls over, the one where he puts his head down and runs the ball out over the line, the one where he kicks the ball too far ahead of himself and loses possession. The crowning glory could be the moment on Wednesday night when he jumped up in the air and turned his arse to the ball as Marek Jankulovski set about engineering the winner.

Nobody likes criticising Kilbane, he's got a lovably helpless set to him like a willing and affectionate dog you can't train to do anything you want.
To be fair, Staunton is only the latest to see talent in Kilbane invisible to the population in general.
Forget that canard about him being limited by our lack of world class players. While we were trying to take some solace from our latest gallant defeat, Scotland were beating France 1-0 in Paris. The Scots currently lead a group that contains the two teams which contested the last World Cup final, France and Italy, not to mention the Ukraine side which reached the quarter-finals of that tournament and are greatly superior to the flaky Czechs.
You see, John, the reason most of us are impatient with your appointee is that nobody had much faith in him when he was appointed. His complete lack of managerial experience made him look like a man who didn't deserve the job. The only encouraging thing we could find to say was that old Hollywood line, "This idea is so crazy, it might just work." It was crazy. But it didn't work. The burden of proof was on Steve Staunton and he merely proved himself incapable.
Then our anonymous accuser delivers the coup de grace:
Forget all that populist crap about managers not being able to go on to the pitch and do the job for the players. Managers matter. Look at the miracle Lawrie Sanchez achieved with Northern Ireland and how quickly everything returned to ashes when he was replaced by Nigel Worthington. Nobody, but nobody, argues that Steve Staunton is an addition to the Irish set-up. The best his supporters can do is claim that he's not an actual hindrance.
EM Forster once said: "If I had the choice between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the courage to betray my country." Those are noble sentiments but you don't have that luxury. Steve Staunton happens to be a friend of yours but you are charged with the well-being of soccer in this country. If you want to behave in an honourable manner to your friend, I applaud your integrity. But you'll have to be honourable on your own time. The really honourable thing to do in those circumstances would be to step aside and let someone who can make this difficult decision take over.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

McGuinty talks hydrogen, emits methane.

In a speech to Bombardier employees in Thunder Bay, Dalton McGuinty floated the idea of powering the next generation of GO trains by hydrogen rather than electricity. This is surprising considering his recently launched MoveOntario2020 plan proposed to use... electric locomotives. Bombardier don't care which technology is used - the passenger cars they make will probably be identical either way.

The accompanying analysis included one stunning mistake:
"Most trains in the world use either greenhouse-gas-emitting diesel engines or electricity, which is cleaner but is still often generated using greenhouse-gas-producing coal plants. A train that uses a hydrogen fuel cell to combine hydrogen with oxygen to create the electricity needed to run its motor would essentially be a zero-emissions vehicle, producing only water vapour, proponents say.

The trains might run on hydrogen produced by Ontario's nuclear plants.
Point 1: Ontario's nuclear plants do not produce hydrogen - they produce electricity. You can produce hydrogen from electricity by cracking water, but the source of the electricity can be nuclear, hydro, wind, solar, incineration or... coal. You could even use the Portlands Energy Centre if the station wasn't designed to be peak rather than baseload and it wasn't a stupid use of natural gas.

Point 2: All of our nuclear plants are either northwest or east of Toronto. To fuel the trains would require massive shipments of hydrogen to the trains originating in places like Bradford and Hamilton. Can't see that being popular.

Point 3: There are no hydrogen fuel cell passenger trains in service. The nearest equivalent are small 17kW engines used in mines and a Japanese prototype fuel-cell/battery carriage with 2 x 65kW motors. (GO's new diesel engines will be about 3000kW)

But then, it wouldn't be the first time Toronto commuters were guinea pigs for untried technologies at Ontario's behest, not to mention the short lived running of natural gas buses in Toronto, all of which were either sold or converted to diesel as soon as the TTC thought no-one was looking.

Steve Munro, who previously eviscerated the notion of running hydrogen buses from the Exhibition wind turbine, takes a similarly jaundiced view of this proposal.

Belinda Stronach's cancer choice IS a big deal

Considering the turbulence of her career as an MP, it seems nothing short of cruelty on Fate's part to add breast cancer to Belinda Stronach's woes. Perhaps after the defection, the McKay Meltdown and the Domi Affair the media collectively decided to cut Stronach a break when she chose to seek part of her treatment for DCIS from an American physician. We are assured that it was merely the best choice suggested by her doctor, that the American physician was likely to provide a better outcome and that there wouldn't have been any difference in the timeline for her care if provided in Ontario.

In the normal course of events, any MP who bypassed the sacred covenant of Tommy Douglas for a private facility would have been accused of betraying healthcare, but everyone has the right to preserve their health no matter what the political fallout. The question is not therefore whether Stronach was wrong to pursue a course her medical professional advised.

The question is why was she obligated to leave Canada at all. We pour hundreds of millions into cancer charities to fund research into new therapies. Our roads are worn out from walking and running feet raising money for one cause or another - not least the Terry Fox Run. We have, as today's Star points out, two separate health taxes in Ontario - the Ontario Health Tax/Premium and the Ontario Surtax as introduced by Mike Harris.

At the same time, our health system doesn't seem to be able to afford to fund physicians to be conversant in the most advanced techniques already developed. Ms Stronach should request the Federal Ministry of Health to fund as a matter of urgency a joint programme of training so that where a patient in Canada is obligated to receive treatment in the US due to a lack of skills, to expeditiously fill that gap so that future patients can be referred to at least one location in Canada under medicare.

It is alarming enough that in certain areas we seem to be depending on our neighbours to cover up gaps in our patient capacity without them covering gaps in our capability too - especially when the next patient might not be able to afford the California option.

Would "internal exile" survive a Charter challenge?

How are we to resolve the situation in respect of sex offenders released at end of sentence? The latest furore is in British Columbia surrounding the case of Thane Moore, recently arrived from the end of his 14 year incarceration in New Brunswick with an assessment of likely violent re-offence. He had been asked by the Mayor of Dawson City, Yukon, not to go ahead with his plan to resettle there. Due to release conditions which forbade him from contact with his victims leaving New Brunswick and PEI was imperative and wisely he didn't choose to give Ontario AG Michael Bryant yet another overwrought media cycle.

He then left for his next choice, which under the terms of his release conditions had him accompanied by police officers:
When his flight touched down in Vancouver, police arrested him under Section 810 of the Criminal Code, which permits them to arrest someone for a crime they might commit.
Interestingly, despite his police escort the BC authorities make it look like Moore was wandering at will:
"(The police) had understood that he was going to be going to the Yukon and instead he changed his plans and went to Vancouver," said spokesperson Linda Mueller.
What's likely to happen next is that the media will find the guy, pester him until he hits a photographer, and land him back in jail. If indefinite tariff is barred, contriving the same result by paparazzi must surely be just as wrong.

In this case, even the guy himself admits that he's likely to re-offend, but can't stay in jail and doesn't appear to have an option to voluntarily check himself into a form of supervised treatment. He's just sent out into areas of Canada he hasn't got around to hurting people in yet.

It doesn't really matter because regardless of his re-offence assessment, his offence's abhorrence means no community would stand for keeping him having been informed by police of his presence - and in the unlikely event they would accept him at first, that would last until the media and opportunist politicians had drummed up enough hysterical headlines and in Moore's case that hysteria would probably have solid foundation.

We need to find a legal way to allow offenders classed as likely to re-offend to serve their sentence and be placed in ongoing treatment in an non-punitive setting thereafter, even if a Dangerous Offender designation was not previously sought. If we don't, then the lynch mobs are going to turn violent and the death penalty will have returned to Canada.

Why not send Lee Clegg to Afghanistan?

Apparently the families of Martin Peake and Karen Reilly who were shot by then-Private Clegg at a west Belfast checkpoint in 1990 don't want him posted to Afghanistan. Convictions for murder and attempted wounding were set aside in 1998 and 2000 respectively. Mark Thompson, from Relatives for Justice declared:
"It is an insult to have people like him there. Those countries need to establish their own legislative framework and at the head of that needs to be human rights.

"It is a contradiction to send people like him."
Well, his current post is as a combat medic, no-one said he was going to re-write their constitution or give lessons to their armed response squad. On the other hand, I bet the guys who drive the first truck down IED Alley wouldn't mind if now-Sergeant Clegg took those duties off their hands.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The McGuinty hypocrisy on education - for equal treatment before he was against it

"Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you tithe mint, and anise, and cummin, and have left the weightier things of the law ; judgment, and mercy, and faith. These things you ought to have done, and not to leave those undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel." (Matthew 23:23-24)
Even though I was educated by primary and secondary schools controlled through the Catholic Church back in Ireland, I am a believer in unified education, at least when publicly funded. I believe that state funding used to fund the same curriculum in a school with a religion's name on the door should be used to promote diversity in education provision.

This would mean taking the money which currently funds duplicated bureaucracy in the Catholic School Board system and putting it towards under-resourced areas such as trade apprenticeships, guidance counselling, after-school programmes and special needs teaching as well as ensuring that buildings are properly maintained in order to create an environment where pupils feel valued and where any attempt by anti-social elements to degrade the school's facilities are quickly and comprehensively repaired as shown in New York's "broken window" thinking. Catholic schools would not be closed by fiat, but they would have to paddle their own funding canoe, so to speak, and their fees would be deductible with the existing federal tax credit.

This is an issue because the Conservatives pledged to bring faith based schools into a state funding scheme to put them on par with the Catholic schools. The Liberals and NDP favour the status quo. I think they are all wrong but for the reasons below I think the Liberal stance is especially odious - at least in the NDP case you know they were always under the thumb of the unionised Catholic teachers no matter what.

John Tory was a minion of Bill Davis when full funding beyond Constitutional mandate was enacted in Ontario, and has pledged to put Davis in charge of further extension (not withstanding that the Davis gambit was remarkably poor politics at the time). Having made a fairly good appearance on TVO's the Agenda during the week (video available from this page), he completely blew the only question that mattered at a later interview: how would schools handle the question of creationism? He answered using the line on page 1 of every socially conservative Christian who advocates creationism as part of mainstream education - that evolution is just a theory and that there are others. In a single line, Tory managed to destroy any credibility with people wavering towards accepting his line on fairness and equity.

However, rather than sit back and watch his stand crumple, assisted by cartoons in the Toronto Star, the Liberals are not only rowing back on their previous position but telling what I consider bald faced lies cloaked in verbal escape routes while doing so. On Saturday, the Toronto Star published a pro and con on the issue, with the pro side being promoted by Bernie Farber of the Canadian Jewish Congress:
But that changed in December 1998. Dalton McGuinty, who two years earlier was surprisingly elected to lead the Liberal Party of Ontario, wanted to find a way to set himself apart from the usual humdrum politics of staid Ontario. So on Dec. 3 of that year, McGuinty, then the opposition leader, addressed the executive of the Canadian Jewish Congress Ontario Region. Joining him that evening were his legislative colleagues David Caplan, Mike Colle and Monte Kwinter.

McGuinty spoke of health care, safety in our streets and the blight of poverty. He was asked about the continuing unfairness faced by parents who send their children to Jewish day schools. What, the questioner wanted to know, was McGuinty's position on funding faith-based schools? A hush descended on the meeting room. Said McGuinty: "I have no ideological opposition to ensuring that public funds support Jewish day schools." Yes, he wanted to first reinvigorate public education, but he recognized the inherent "unfairness" in the present funding policy and was prepared to do something about it.

This was no flash in the pan. Over the next three years, McGuinty would continue to herald this position, as noted in an interview he gave to the Ottawa Citizen on June 1, 2001. When asked about whether he would provide funding for faith-based schools, he responded, "If we're looking at equity, yes, somewhere down the road. I would have all kinds of strings attached when it comes to public dollars."

He went on to explain, "The ideal here is equity with the Catholic system. Let's understand what that means. First of all, it means you shall admit any child of any faith. Number two, it means you must hire Ontario-certified teachers. Number three, you must participate in all standardized testing. Number four, you must be subject to all the usual inspections, qualifications and regulations to which all publicly funded schools are subject at the present time. That's what equity means."
This would hardly have been shocking, since McGuinty is a product of a Catholic education, his wife teaches at a Catholic school and he has lauded Catholic education to a conference of Catholic teachers - it is essentially identical to Tory's position. But when Tory advocates this former McGuinty position, he calls it segregation. One can only account for it in the light of the tax credit offered by the Eves Tories in the 2003 election and the Liberals desire to oppose at all costs rather than on nuance.

Now Health Minister George Smitherman is quoted by the CBC as saying that this position of McGuinty's essentially never existed:
He also rejected Conservative claims that several prominent Liberals, including Premier Dalton McGuinty, had previously supported the idea of providing funding to faith-based schools.

"(I've) never, I'm quite sure, done that," he said. "That'll be another example where they'll say anything and don't think it through."
He gives the impression that the Liberal Party has never considered this but leaves enough ambiguity in how he says it to allow himself to row back when confronted by the truth - that he was only speaking for his own position rather than his Leader's past commitments. He can hardly have been unaware of them, not least because Farber had been quoted in the Ottawa Citizen earlier in the week and no doubt elsewhere. I have written previously about Mr. Smitherman's rather sneaky way of doing business.

In the Toronto Star he is quoted as saying that rural schools are under threat if religious schools in their area "peel off" pupils - but that's already happened with the Catholic schools! Again, a prinicipled position would be to uphold the public system and defund the Catholic one to bolster these "schools in danger".

He had also failed to notice Education Minister Wynne's discomfort with the status quo from 2001 which the NDP have just dug up. A letter to NOW magazine included the following (with emphasis added):
A higher-level and, perhaps for some of us, less vital issue is the fact that in Ontario people of one faith get preferential treatment in the school system. This situation is historical and, as such, has become part of the fabric of our society. Because it is part of our history, however, does not mean we cannot question or examine its validity. That is precisely what the United Nations has asked us to do, and that is exactly what I advocate.
McGuinty's "new" position, that Catholic schools are historically significant with the consequent "grandfathering" through the Constitution has been rejected in 1999 by the United Nations Human Rights Committee (at 10.4, emphasis added):
The Committee begins by noting that the fact that a distinction is enshrined in the Constitution does not render it reasonable and objective. In the instant case, the distinction was made in 1867 to protect the Roman Catholics in Ontario. The material before the Committee does not show that members of the Roman Catholic community or any identifiable section of that community are now in a disadvantaged position compared to those members of the Jewish community that wish to secure the education of their children in religious schools. Accordingly, the Committee rejects the State party's argument that the preferential treatment of Roman Catholic schools is nondiscriminatory because of its Constitutional obligation.
If the Harris Tories had dealt with the issue rather than Janet Ecker handling it in a "Mel Lastman vs the WHO" fashion disdaining the UNHRC's jurisdiction, the issue might have been settled eight years ago - now the pendulum has swung (mostly) back in the Davis-ite direction. While Tory will not gain anything from this he won't lose from other constituencies, McGuinty may have shaken a number of his MPs in communities where this is a live issue. But the greater issues should be McGuinty's failure of principle, Smitherman's economy with the truth and Wynne's failure as Education Minister to start the debate she called for from opposition.