February 3, 2014

Rick Mercer visits the West Coast Railway Heritage Park

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Media, Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:38

Rick travels to Squamish, BC to ride and restore historic locomotives.

November 13, 2013

BC school bans kindergarten kids touching each other

Filed under: Cancon — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:21

Apparently Coghlan Fundamental Elementary School in Aldergrove has had a rash of injuries to kindergarten students recently, so the solution is to ban all physical contact between students:

A letter went out to Coghlan kindergarten students’ parents on Friday, one of those types that often sit in backpack over a weekend or are put aside to be read later and somehow never are.

Julie Chen found the letter, explaining a new no-touch policy for kindergarten students, on Monday morning as she was packing lunch for her five-year-old daughter.

It reads, in part: “We have unfortunately had to ban all forms of hands-on play for the immediate future … we will have a zero-tolerance policy.”

Penalties for making physical contact with a schoolmate include being grounded during play time and/or a trip to the office “for those who are unable to follow the rules.”

“I read the letter, it said there had been quite a few injuries, I said, ‘OK,’ and kept reading,” Chen said. “When I saw no hands-on would be allowed, I just got mad, I got so upset.


School employee Arthur Bourke drove up in his van and was happy to defend the policy.

“I don’t know how anyone would be against this,” Bourke said. “They’re trying to make it safe for everybody.

“They do a terrific job here of making sure everyone is safe.

“It’s something we have to do — if we don’t control it, it will get out of hand.”

The letter to parents cited “several injuries” in the past few weeks.

September 16, 2013

Speed Kills … Your Pocketbook

Filed under: Cancon, Law — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:06

Does speed really kill? Sometimes, yes, but when the speed limits are set artificially low, and enforcement is targeted to those areas where the limit is far below traffic speed, then all the speed kills campaign does is keep drivers complacent about paying fines that don’t improve safety.

In this video, I investigate the culture and science surrounding speed enforcement in BC, coupled with my trademark Simpsons, Supertroopers, and Family Guy references.

August 8, 2013

A brief moment of sympathy for Thomas Mulcair

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:54

Richard Anderson finds a drop of sympathy for the unexpected plight of the leader of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition:

It must be galling to be Thomas Mulcair right now. A decades long career spent climbing the greasy pole of Quebec politics. A quick ascent to the federal level and then, by the oddest stroke of luck, an unexpected death places you into the leader’s role. It seems that with a bit of luck your old nemesis the Liberal Party might be finished after the next election. Happy days to be leader of the Official Opposition.

That is until the MSM started following around the latest bright shiny thing: Justin Trudeau.

While the Once and Future King is touring the sumptuous beauty of British Columbia, poor Tommy is wandering through the backwoods of Northern Ontario. The region is horribly neglected. An afterthought to provincial administrators in downtown Toronto. The area above the French River, sadly, has always failed to capture the imagination of Canadians.

The settlement of the West is one of the great romances of Canadian history, if not the greatest. The charm of the Maritimes is irresistible. The North’s terrible majesty demands admiration. Quebec is Quebec. Southern Ontario is the center of English Canada, Toronto commanding the region like, well, an Imperial Capital around which all else revolves.

Northern Ontario is kind of just up there. Somewhere between Barrie and Winnipeg. What small romance that region conveys is from faded memories of the great mineral boom a century ago, and the twangy recollections of Stompin’ Tom. Only he could make Sudbury Saturday Nights memorable. At least Hamilton has the virtue of being between Burlington and Niagara.

Poor, poor Tommy. There isn’t a major media outlet that gives a damn about his “listening tour.” Leader of the NDP shaking hands with a miners union representative doesn’t make for great copy, especially not when competing with Justin’s adorable family.

July 26, 2013

BC Premier highlights antiquated inter-provincial trade rules with wine

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Wine — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:22

The rules governing inter-provincial trade in wine date back to the Prohibition era. BC’s Christy Clark would like to see the rules brought into this century:

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark brought a case of her province’s wine to the heart of Ontario’s vine land.

Clark presented the vintages to her dozen provincial and territorial colleagues in a bid to lower trade barriers.

Even though Ottawa eased interprovincial rules surrounding wine last year, it is still illegal for Ontarians to buy wine in bulk directly from B.C. vineyards.

To get around that, Clark’s six-person entourage brought two bottles apiece to have a full case for the premiers at their annual Council of the Federation gathering.

I linked to an item on this issue by Michael Pinkus earlier this year.

May 24, 2013

UBC’s latest big idea

Filed under: Business, Cancon — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:45

Alex Usher calls it the best idea he’s seen all year:

If you’re a UBC student, staff, or faculty member, and want to start a business, you’re eligible for up to $5000 worth of business services (though, in practice, most use far less). And unlike virtually every other entrepreneurship system in Canadian PSE, there are no requirements whatsoever with respect to using UBC technology, nor is there any stipulation that the business be some kind of technology enterprise. Want to open a flower shop? This fund’s for you.

There’s no catch. UBC certainly isn’t interested in equity, for instance. All they want is recognition. All companies that move through the program must display a logo declaring themselves as “UBC-affiliated companies” for a period of five years.

How brilliant is that?

First, it creates a great, dense network between an institution and small businesses in its community (which will no doubt pay off philanthropically, down the road). Second of all, it allows the institution to get a much better handle on the post-graduation activities of its entrepreneurs, and hence allows UBC to highlight its larger role in job creation and innovation in British Columbia. Frankly, UBC could pay for this out of the Government Relations budget, and it would make complete sense — how great will it be to be able to walk into an MLA’s office and rattle off the names of all the new, “UBC-affiliated” businesses that have started-up in his/her riding?

It’ll be interesting to see how this works out in the long run, as $5,000 isn’t enough to establish a business but it can be a helpful amount of money to an otherwise undercapitalized business.

May 20, 2013

Counterfeit $100 bills now in circulation, despite all the anti-counterfeiting features

Filed under: Cancon, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:44

The new polymer bills were touted as having very hard to counterfeit features, and people apparently believed what they were told — because they haven’t been bothering to check the new bills:

Less than two years ago, the head of the RCMP said Canada’s new polymer bank notes would go a long way in deterring the threat of counterfeiting.

Just last month, the Bank of Canada announced the notes’ sophisticated transparency and holography made them “the most secure bank note series ever issued” by the institution.

Too bad somebody forgot to tell criminals in British Columbia.

Mounties and municipal police in Metro Vancouver are warning the public that several of the fake $100 bills have been detected in the region over the past few weeks.

The fanfare about the security features on the bills, may be part of the problem, said RCMP Sgt. Duncan Pound.

“Because the polymer series’ notes are so secure … there’s almost an overconfidence among retailers and the public in terms of when you sort of see the strip, the polymer looking materials, everybody says ‘oh, this one’s going to be good because you know it’s impossible to counterfeit,’” he said.

“So people don’t actually check it.”

May 15, 2013

Pollsters wrong-footed (again) by BC election results

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:07

It wasn’t supposed to go down like this:

First things first: British Columbians last night witnessed the most incredible comeback in recent political history, and the biggest choke the province has ever seen.

In the days ahead, Christy Clark’s stunning, come-from-behind win will be endlessly compared to Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s surprise win over Wildrose in 2011. But this is so much harder to believe.

For starters, Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives were actually leading Wildrose in polls right up until the election. The B.C. Liberals have essentially been trailing the NDP since 2009 (briefly, after the 2011 leadership race that saw Clark take the Liberal helm, the party moved ahead of the NDP in polls before again plunging far behind).

And in Alberta, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith made serious campaign blunders. Many Albertans scurried back to the PCs, worried Smith wasn’t ready for prime time. But B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix made no major mistakes. In fact, Dix’s campaign had so impressed the Globe and Mail that yesterday it published a premature ode to his campaign. Dix’s positive style would surely become a model for politicians across the country, it argued.

Just how historic was the Liberal win? Going back 20 years, there are no examples of a government in a parliamentary system trailing by such a wide margin for the 18 months leading up to an election, then coming from behind for the win.

And the Liberals didn’t just win; they increased their seat count, giving Clark a comfortable, 50-seat majority (the NDP won just 32 seats).

Those results almost perfectly reversed predictions of pollsters who, after yet another spectacularly bad call, will certainly face tough questions.

March 11, 2013

BC’s ruling Liberal party facing very long odds of re-election

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:40

British Columbia’s next provincial election is still a couple of months away, but the pundits are already making plans for what happens after the BC Liberal party is taken out to the knacker’s yard and the NDP takes power (based on recent polls and the amazing ability of the Liberals to generate bad press):

Assuming everyone and their brother hasn’t been lying to pollsters, the election is pretty much in the bag for the BC NDP. Not only is there strong “time for a change” momentum aiding the party, after three terms of the BC Liberals, but recent occasions where the Premier, Christy Clark, and her entourage only opened their mouths to change feet (e.g. “Ethnicgate”) have brought the prospects of a competitive election down sharply.

Clark’s road map for the election has never been good. As reported on Feb. 15 in your Beacon News, before the budget and Ethnicgate erupted, the absolute best case for the BC Liberals was 34 seats — a respectable loss. A roadmap today would see 25 or fewer seats if everything breaks their way.

There are 85 ridings in the province, so 43 seats held by a single party is a majority. In addition to the Liberals and the NDP, there’s also a Conservative party in BC, but it apparently acts as a role model for dysfunctional organizations:

Meanwhile, John Cummins’ BC Conservatives seem equally determined to destroy their party. The party, at the moment, is going into an election without any of its key officers: between purges run by the leader’s coterie and resignations in disgust, the party’s officers are missing in action. Riding associations are walking, as leader Cummins overrides their nominating selections to impose his own choice of candidates.

So, in the best traditions of sauve qui peut, there’s a fair bit of talk about a new party to replace the discredited Liberals and the self-destructing Conservatives:

That’s why individuals affiliated with both the BC Conservatives and the BC Liberals are starting to organize for a new party. The project is nicknamed “Free Enterprise Party 3.0″.

[. . .]

Growing a new party, goes the thinking, puts everyone on an even footing. Those key Liberals who retired rather than run again under Christy Clark’s banner might be enticed to shift over and play a role in building a new party. Riding associations would be built, with no one grandfathered in. The new party, in turn, would dump all the baggage of the past years in one fell swoop.

There’s evidently some interest from the moneyed who normally support the “anything-but-the-NDP” option in the province. They’ll top up the Liberal coffers for the election — but are looking to shift their focus after it if the BC Liberals are crushed.

Of course, while the PR fiascos are real, the polls are only a way marker. Everyone who confidently predicted the outcome of the last Alberta election is now a lot more wary of the opinion polls. Nobody wants to provide the 2013 equivalent of the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline.

February 23, 2013

Provincial budgets range from less-than-accurate to verging on financial fraud

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:43

Andrew Coyne, after a short diatribe about our first-past-the-post electoral system (he’s agin’ it), gets down to brass tacks about provincial finances:

As bad as the federal government is, the provinces are worse. And as horrendous as the provinces are generally, the record in some provinces borders on the fraudulent. Saskatchewan and Alberta, for instance, have overspent their budgets in the past decade by an average — an average — of nearly 5%. And since each year’s overshoot becomes the baseline for next year’s budget, the cumulative impact is to produce spending, in the fiscal year just ended, vastly larger than was ever specifically authorized in advance: in Saskatchewan’s case, nearly 40% larger.

That’s as best the [C. D. Howe Institute] can make out. Provincial accounting is notoriously haphazard and inconsistent. Not only does each province use its own rules and procedures, making it impossible to compare the public accounts from one province to another with any confidence, but in several provinces — Newfoundland and Quebec are the worst offenders — the public accounts are not even stated on the same basis as the budget.

And while the public accounts must ultimately prevail, efforts to reconcile the two sets of figures, and to explain the discrepancies, remain spotty. In some provinces — Quebec, Saskatchewan, British Columbia — auditors have refused, repeatedly, to sign off on the books without attaching reservations.

So not only can voters have little confidence that governments will spend what they said they would, they can have little ability even to reckon how much they overspent, or to compare their own province’s performance with the others’. All in all, a thoroughly disgraceful performance. (Honourable exceptions: Ontario and Nova Scotia, though voters in both provinces have other reasons to doubt their governments’ fiscal candour.)

December 31, 2012

Using the term “Mother Gaia” unironically

Filed under: Environment, Media, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:07

In the Globe and Mail, Gordon Gibson discusses the “Church of Green”:

Religions have certain characteristics. They consist of a body of belief based on faith (as, for example, in God). This faith is not to be challenged, distinguishing religions from other belief sets. Scientific theories, for a counterexample, must always be questioned. Not so with religion. Unwavering faith is the hallmark.

Religions of the sort decried by Mr. Bouchard have high priests who can speak ex cathedra and gain immediate belief. David Suzuki, Al Gore and Amory Lovins, among others, have this otherworldly gravitas. They have their religious orders. Just as there are Jesuits and Benedictines, there are Greenpeace and the Sierra Club.

Religion has an enormous usefulness to many individuals. But there’s more. Religion is, by its nature, absolutist. Because it embodies the Truth, one should not deviate. Of course we all sin, but deliberate tradeoffs are not permissible. It’s not allowed to do a little bit of evil to become a little bit rich, and especially not great evil for great wealth.

Such absolute rules can work fine for individuals. They can do as they wish and take the consequences. It’s where religion is imported to govern the doings of the collective — of a society — that the trouble begins.

[. . .]

Now, no one could argue against the need for great weight to the natural environment. The difficulty comes in agreeing — or not — to tradeoffs. If we take an absolutist position, we humans are rather bad for the planet, so we should all do the decent thing and stop having children.

This was Mr. Bouchard’s point. His issue in Quebec was “fracking” to produce natural gas. The current “religion” in Quebec is that fracking is bad, just as in B.C. pipelines are bad. Among true believers in both cases, absolutism reigns. The badness is self-evident; the projects must not proceed. You can’t trade a little evil for a little wealth — there must be zero chance of harm.

December 4, 2012

An American view of Canada’s immigration policies

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:11

Shikha Dalmia says that the US could learn useful lessons on immigration policy from Canada:

… Canada’s provincial-nominee program is a model of economic enlightenment. Under this system, 13 provincial entities sponsor a total of 75,000 worker-based permanent residencies a year, and the federal government in Ottawa offers 55,000. Each province can pick whomever it wants for whatever reason—in effect, to use its quota, which is based on population, to write its own immigration policy.

Provinces may pick applicants left over from the federal program. They can also solicit their own applicants from anywhere in the world. In a direct attempt to poach talent from the U.S., some provinces are sponsoring H1-B holders stuck in the American labyrinth.

The government in Ottawa can’t question either the provinces’ criteria or their methods of recruitment. Its role is limited to conducting a security, criminal and health check on foreigners picked by the provinces, which has cut processing time for permanent residency to one or two years—compared with a decade or more in the U.S.

Richard Kurland, a lawyer who is considered Canada’s top immigration expert, notes that provinces use the program for diverse goals such as enhancing existing cultural or ethnic ties with other countries. Not surprisingly, the most popular reason is economic: to augment the local labor market.

The program gives British Columbia the same flexibility to sponsor, say, bricklayers as it gives Ontario to sponsor computer programmers. It doesn’t treat the entire Canadian economy as monolithic and pretend that distant federal bureaucrats can effectively cater to local job markets. (Canada’s federal program is a different story altogether.)

August 31, 2012

Innovative ways to use huge surplus of beetle-blighted lumber

Filed under: Cancon, Environment, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:07

British Columbia has a problem with their trees: too many of them are dead due to a massive increase in the population of the mountain pine beetle. The province is searching for ways to cope with the lumber from all the beetle-killed trees:

When life hands you lemons, goes the old saw, make lemonade. But what if life should hand you 18m hectares (44m acres) of dead trees? That is the problem faced by the province of British Columbia in Canada, which could lose over half its pine trees to the depredations of the fearsome mountain pine beetle. The beetle, no bigger than a grain of rice, is native to the forests of Western North America, where it kills trees by releasing a blue stain fungus that prevents the flow of water and nutrients. While the insect was historically kept in check by spells of cold weather, years of mild winters have unleashed an outbreak whose spread and severity is unlike anything seen previously.

As a result, the province is peppered with billions of dead, grey trees. If they are simply left standing, they will eventually either decay or burn in forest fires. In either case, they will release the carbon dioxide they stored while growing, swelling Canada’s total carbon footprint from 2000 to 2020 by 2%.

[. . .]

Canadian researchers have discovered other uses for BKP. Sorin Pasca, a graduate student at the University of Northern British Columbia, found that rain and snow conveniently wash out sugars and other organic compounds from dead pine trees. By grinding up the dry BKP and adding it to normal cement, he created a hybrid material that is waterproof, fire-resistant and pourable like concrete but that can be worked, cut and nailed or drilled like wood. The material, dubbed Beetlecrete, has already been used to make countertops, benches and planters.

Even more esoteric uses for BKP are on the table. Nanocrystalline cellulose, made up of microscopic needle-like fibres, is a lightweight, ultra-rigid material that can be extracted from wood pulp. Currently used to improve the durability of paints and varnishes, nanocrystalline cellulose promises strong, iridescent films that may find uses in industries ranging from optical computing to cosmetics. And, as a last resort, dead and fallen pine trees can feed British Columbia’s 800MW of bio-mass power plants, which burn pellets of BKP and other waste wood to generate electricity.

May 30, 2012

Inter-provincial trade in wine comes a bit closer to legality

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Wine — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:13

Gloria Galloway in the Globe and Mail:

Private member’s bills rarely make it this far. But politicians of all stripes rose to echo Mr. Albas’s argument that an 80-year-old wrong needs to be made right.

It is an issue that he says he has been hearing about from his constituents — and from wine growers and lovers across Canada — since the election campaign that brought him to Ottawa for the first time last year.

“Every single winery owner that I have spoken with supports this legislation,” Mr. Albas said in an interview with The Globe and Mail, “especially the small family wineries whose production is so low that they can’t sell through the liquor control monopoly.”

As it stands, anyone who wants to send wine from one province to another for his own consumption must route it through a provincial or territorial liquor control board and must pay the associated taxes and markups.

If a tourist from Saskatchewan visits a winery in Ontario and likes what she is tasting, she is not legally permitted to take it home with her or mail a few bottles to herself. In fact, she could be thrown in prison for up to three months for doing so.

On the other hand, a tourist from Texas could visit the same winery and send crates of the stuff back to his home in Austin.

Update: Whoops. Not so fast … Colby Cosh just sent a twitter update that makes me sad:

Did the NDP really block the wine bill? Why is this occupying more than about 30 seconds of Parliament’s time?

Oh, that’s nice. Thanks, Mr. Mulcair. Good going: that’ll show those wine-swilling Tories who’s boss, won’t it?

Update, the second: Apparently the NDP’s over-enthusiastic supporters talked out the available time to prevent the bill being voted on. This is enough to kill it for this session. Nice, work socialist horde!

The bill would have been sent to the Senate and likely passed into law, if the NDP had agreed to collapse debate and send it to a vote.

Mr. Albas thought he had a deal to do just that because members from all sides of the House were enthusiastic about amending the Prohibition-era Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act that bans wineries across the country from sending their product to another province.

But six NDP MPs were so enthusiastic about their support for the bill, they used up all the available time in an apparent filibuster and Mr. Albas will now have to wait until the fall before he gets a second hour of debate and the chance to go to a vote.

An NDP spokesman said it was an honest mistake. Really? How absent-minded of them. Perhaps they should eat more oily fish.

‘‘This is the stuff that turns most Canadians off politics. It was completely uncalled for,” said Mr. Albas. “I’m disappointed the NDP used petty procedural games, rather than supporting the B.C. and Canadian wine industry.”

Update, 8 June: Well, somehow the filibuster didn’t stop the bill after all:

Canadians will soon be allowed to transport wines across provincial borders after MPs from all parties voted to support a private member’s bill to end the decades-old prohibition. Bill C-311, from British Columbia Tory MP Dan Albas, passed by a vote of 287-0 during third reading in the House of Commons Wednesday. The bill would also allow Canadians to shop for wines online and ship them across borders. “The wine industry has had this thorn in their side for 84 years. It’s time to free the grapes,” Mr. Albas told reporters before the vote. Under the 1928 Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, transporting wines is punishable by a $200 fine or even jail time.

April 3, 2012

Eliminating inter-provincial barriers to trade

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Law, Liberty, Wine — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:43

Confederation in 1867 was supposed to create a single nation out of a group of separate British colonies in North America. In spite of that, in some areas, individual provinces treat one another as foreign entities for trading purposes. Alcohol, for example, is one product that gets special treatment for inter-provincial sales — almost always to interfere with or even prevent the purchase of alcohol in one province for consumption in another. 680News reports on the latest effort to harmonize the rules regarding alcohol sales across provincial borders:

Free my grapes will be the rallying cry on Parliament Hill on Tuesday as a committee hears from supporters of a private member’s bill seeking to erase a 1928 rule that restricts individuals from bringing wine across provincial borders.

Shirley-Ann George ran into that problem when she was visiting B.C. and then tried to join a wine club through a vineyard there, only to be told the vineyard couldn’t ship to her home in Ontario.

She decided to start up the Alliance of Canadian Wine Consumers to try to change it.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” is the most common refrain from people first learning about the rule, George said.

“Most Canadians don’t even know it is illegal. They think it’s silly, archaic and it’s time that the government started to think in the 21st century.”

Of course, the provinces are not keen to allow individuals to buy wine directly — that might threaten their respective monopolies (and the juicy profits they derive from being “the only game in town”). One of their current arguments against the bill is that it will somehow give Canadian wines an unfair advantage and that could cause issues with our international trade partners. I’m not sure how it benefits Canadian wineries to be shut out of selling to Canadian wine drinkers in other provinces, but I’m sure that they have some cockamamie statistical “proof” that they’ll trot out to bolster their argument.

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