Quotulatiousness

June 18, 2017

Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Gaming — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Last month, Military History Now profiled a new game (and new Ontario-based game company): unusually for today, it’s not a computer game, but a board wargame:

MHN: Tell us about the game.

Sheppard: Sabres and Smoke: the War of 1812 is a two-player light strategy board game that allows players to relive 16 of the War of 1812’s most important battles. From Queenston Heights to Fort York, players command either the British or American armies in battles that shaped the future of North America.

MHN: Tell us about Hand 2 Hand Entertainment. Who are you guys? How did you get started?

Sheppard: We are based near Toronto, Canada and have been working on Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812 since July of 2016. I founded Hand 2 Hand Entertainment in 2016, the summer after I finished Grade 12, because I although I was lucky enough to find a summer job, there were no hours available. So, I decided to spend my time combining two things that I really enjoy: history and board games. I started by visiting battle sites from the War of 1812 and doing extensive research to make my game historically accurate. From there I created the battle scenarios and the game rules. Hand 2 Hand Entertainment spent the fall and winter designing Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812, and preparing to launch a Kickstarter campaign in the summer of 2017. This summer, I am running the company out of the Propel Summer Incubator (PSI) program with the Propel Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of Western Ontario.

[…]

MHN: The computer wargaming market is enormously popular; what can tabletop games offer that computers can’t?

Sheppard: This is an interesting question. I think there is a certain satisfaction to physically moving units on a battlefield in board games like this. Although you can look at units and terrain from a commander’s perspective in video games, doing it on a board feels more real. Players can look at the board in the same way Generals would have looked at maps when commanding real battles throughout history. I think this is what makes light strategy board games special.

May 26, 2017

Toronto-London high speed train plan – “many Ontarians wouldn’t trust the Liberals to see an HO-scale model of this plan to fruition on time or on budget”

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Railways — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Chris Selley discusses the weak-but-barely-plausible high speed train plans announced by the Ontario government the other day:

High-speed rail is expensive — to build, certainly, and more on that shortly, but just as importantly to ride. It’s 202 kilometres from Le Mans to Gare Montparnasse in Paris. The first TGV of the morning takes 58 minutes — total average speed, 208 km/h — and will set you back €45. It’s 180 kilometres from Frankfurt’s Hauptbanhof to Cologne’s Hauptbanhof. The 7:27 a.m. ICE train takes 65 minutes — average speed: 167 km/h — and Deutsche Bahn wants €60 for the privilege. Brussels to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is 195 kilometres. The Thalys will get you there in 92 minutes tomorrow morning, at a relatively modest average speed of 127 km/h and for the eye-watering sum of €82.

This is the sort of distance Ontario’s Liberal government says it plans to cover with high-speed rail — from Union Station in Toronto to London via Pearson Airport, Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo. A report and “preliminary business case” by former federal transport minister David Collenette, released Friday, envisions 185 kilometres of track with a maximum speed of 300 km/h in one scenario and 250 km/h in the other, and by 2025.

The London-to-Toronto trip would take 66 minutes in the faster scenario and 73 in the slower, for a total average speed of between 152 and 168 km/h. Either would represent genuine high-speed rail, and it would come at genuine high-speed rail prices: somewhere between $4 billion and $11 billion under the 250 km/h scenario; somewhere between $15 billion and $44 billion at 300 km/h.

[…]

So it’s a bit of a conundrum for the Liberals. This is a big offer — just the sort of thing people in the GTA say they want when they come back from Cologne, Paris and Amsterdam. It ought to be a reasonably compelling plank of an election platform.

But many Ontarians wouldn’t trust the Liberals to see an HO-scale model of this plan to fruition on time or on budget. It’s vulnerable to the sort of grievance-mongering and populism that sometimes makes it hard to tell a New Democrat from a Tory these days. We haven’t even gotten into the technical details. And ultimately, I’m just not really convinced people want this to happen as much as they say they do — not unless it’s free, and stops just the right distance from their back yards.

On the technical details, here’s a very brief overview from a post I wrote several years back, at the time California was beginning their insane high speed rail project:

The best place to build a high speed rail system for the US would be the Boston-New York-Washington corridor (aka “Bosnywash”, for the assumed urban agglomeration that would occur as the cities reach toward one another). It has the necessary population density to potentially turn an HSR system into a practical, possibly even profitable, part of the transportation solution. The problem is that without an enormous eminent domain land-grab to cheat every land-owner of the fair value of their property, it just can’t be done. Buying enough contiguous sections of land to connect these cities would be so expensive that scrapping and replacing the entire navy every year would be a bargain in comparison.

The American railway system is built around freight: passenger traffic is a tiny sliver of the whole picture. Ordinary passenger trains cause traffic and scheduling difficulties because they travel at higher speeds, but require more frequent stops than freight trains, and their schedules have to be adjusted to passenger needs (passenger traffic peaks early to mid-morning and early to mid-evening). The frequency of passenger trains can “crowd out” the freight traffic the railway actually earns money on.

Most railway companies prefer to avoid having the complications of carrying passengers at all — that’s why Amtrak (and VIA Rail in Canada) was set up in the first place, to take the burden of money-losing passenger services off the shoulders of deeply indebted railways. Even after the new entity lopped off huge numbers of passenger trains from its schedule, it couldn’t turn a profit on the scaled-down services it was offering.

Ordinary passenger trains can, at a stretch, share rail with freight traffic, but high speed trains cannot. At higher speeds, the actual construction of the track has to change to deal with the physical problem of safely guiding the fast passenger trains along the rail. Signalling must also change to suit the far-higher speeds — and the matching far-longer safe braking distances. High speed rail lines cannot be interrupted with grade crossings, for the safety of passengers and bystanders, so additional bridges and tunnels must be built to avoid bringing road vehicles and pedestrians too close to the trains.

In other words, a high speed railway line is far from being just a faster version of what we already have: it would have to be built separately, to much higher standards of construction.

May 12, 2017

“Maybe this is creeping privatization after all. It’s certainly worth a shot”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Chris Selley on the neither one thing nor the other state of alcohol retailing in Ontario:

On Tuesday the government enumerated 76 new Ontario supermarkets where, by Canada Day, you will be able to buy beer. That will make a total of 206 Ontario supermarkets where you can buy beer — an artificially limited selection of beer, only in six packs and singles and only during the same bankers’ hours as the LCBO and Beer Store. But still. That’s about one-third as many supermarkets selling beer as there are LCBO outlets selling beer; add in the 212 rural agency stores that sell wine, liquor and beer, and you’ve got almost two-thirds as many private enterprises selling beer as you have government bottle shops.

This could help prove several useful concepts that deserve much wider acceptance in Ontario. One is that it’s very easy for the government to make money off liquor sales without retailing liquor itself. Indeed, it’s easier; that’s why so many governments do it. The supermarkets buy the beer wholesale from the LCBO; the LCBO doesn’t have to worry about paying civil servants to sell that beer or running the stores.

Another is that the private sector can be counted on to keep liquor out of children’s hands. Indeed, with inspections and draconian fines in place, it can probably be trusted more. My observations suggest LCBO employees certainly card everyone who should be carded, but it’s nothing like it is in the U.S. I’m almost 41, not in especially good nick, and I still get asked about half the time.

Might Ontarians develop a taste for all this convenience? The hard cap on beer-in-supermarket licences is 450; having doled them all out, including agency stores, that would mean about half the liquor outlets in Ontario were privately run. And people might start to notice the bizarre inconsistencies: why can the Walmart on Bayfield Street in Barrie sell only beer, and only in six packs, while the Walmart on Hays Boulevard in Oakville can sell beer and wine, and meanwhile Hope’s Foodland in Novar, Mac’s Milk in Craigleith, Redden’s campground in Longbow Lake and Lac des Mille Lacs Bait and Tackle in Upsala can sell beer, wine and hard liquor — and smokes and fireworks and beef jerky and bread and eggs? Why can scores of convenience stores sell everything alcoholic as agency stores, but other convenience stores aren’t even eligible to apply for the new wine and beer licences?

April 27, 2017

“Richard Florida has a new book [that] advises cities on what to do about problems that result from advice he gave them in his previous books”

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Chris Selley hits this one out of the ballpark:

Gadabout urbanist Richard Florida has a new book: The New Urban Crisis. It advises cities on what to do about problems that result from advice he gave them in his previous books, notably The Rise of the Creative Class. Stuff your downtown core full of creative types and you shall prosper, the University of Toronto professor advised, and many cities listened. Now some face a “crisis of their own success,” he told a Toronto breakfast crowd at the Urban Land Institute’s Electric Cities Symposium: the blue-collar types who make the creative class’s artisanal baked goods and mind their children have been “pushed” ever further into the suburbs. Economic and geographic inequality results, and Rob Ford/Donald Trump/Brexit-style resentment can build.

Florida’s many critics have long warned this was a flaw in his vision. But now Florida says he finds it “terrifying,” so he’s off on another book tour.

If I sound a bit peevish, it’s because I find him rather insufferable. Critics have poked holes in much of his research, but much more of it strikes me as overly complex analysis and measurement of fairly basic, intuitive phenomena that are common to dynamic and not-so-dynamic cities. While the remarkable urban revivals in recent decades in New York and Pittsburgh, and nascent ones in Detroit and Newark, are all very interesting, I’ve never understood what they have to teach us about Canadian cities. Their cores never “hollowed out” in the first place, necessitating wholesale renewal. When I listen to Florida talk, I hear Lyle Lanley trying to sell Springfield a monorail.

In any event, his prescriptions for the GTA are not exactly visionary: more transit, more affordable housing, densification over NIMBYism and more decision-making autonomy for cities. “The key today is shifting power from provinces to cities,” Florida writes in a Canadian-focused paper linked to the new book. That made it all the more galling to watch his post-speech “fireside chat” with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, whose tires he pumped well beyond their recommended PSI.

“You know this. It’s in your blood,” Florida gushed of her urbanist bona fides.

Well, let’s see. Wynne can certainly claim to have committed many billions in taxpayer money to transit projects. But if there were awards for NIMBYism, Wynne would have one for the nine-figure cancellation of two unpopular gas-fired power plants, during an election campaign of which she was co-chair; and perhaps another for her party’s shameless politicking on transit in Scarborough.

April 17, 2017

QotD: The dubious “value add” of the LCBO

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The liquor board’s cocktail recipe of the month, offered on its website, is for “gin and lemonade,” which you make with a shot of gin and some lemonade. The gin is cherry, so there’s that. Its three recommended beers of the month are themed for the hockey playoffs. They are — I am not kidding — Molson Canadian in a bottle, Molson Canadian in a can, and Molson Canadian in a larger can. The value the LCBO’s adding that a private retailer couldn’t is not obvious.

David Reevely, “LCBO union uses government’s rhetoric against it in brewing labour battle”, National Post, 2017-04-06.

April 14, 2017

Alberta’s new problem of “rising income support caseloads”

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Colby Cosh sounds a warning note for Alberta’s NDP government:

… there is a danger — I say this with glum certainty that this centuries-old accepted truth will incite tantrums — in permitting the dole to grow too large. One need only look at the United States’s current addiction to federal and other disability programs. The U.S. reformed welfare as Alberta (and eventually Ontario) did, but disability schemes involving armies of doctors, lawyers and administrative judges became an equally huge species of para-welfare.

The result is a national orgy of prescription opioids and suicide, as policy inertia encourages millions to make a bad back or a trick knee the centre of an unproductive, isolated life. The bottle of OxyContin absolves and soothes; Donald Trump wins a presidential election.

I want no part of anything like this for Alberta. During my lifetime the province has been an economic colony, obsessed with competitiveness and quite short on the state’s version of “compassion.” We all knew we would get NDP economic policy when we voted NDP. They have un-flattened taxes, revived groovy ’70s industrial planning, taxed carbon, regulated farms, run planet-sized deficits, and sheltered the bureaucracy while businesses choked and private-sector workers struggled.

Only the very inattentive could have been unprepared for most of this, as a price to be paid for hosing out the Conservative stable, or even as a desirable correction. Welfare numbers signify a more fundamental, threatening change. It is one that the New Democrats may find more dangerous to its electoral future than all the rest put together, if Ontario history is any guide.

The growth in welfare rolls that can take place in a year may take 10 to reverse. And, of course, such growth suggests that other NDP nostrums, like hiking the minimum wage, aren’t working out. Why would anyone at all require state income support in labour’s paradise? Do NDPers need to look far to find a stalking, wrathful, hyperconservative Mike Harris figure in Alberta?

March 24, 2017

Kathleen Wynne … the Ontario Liberal Party’s saviour?

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Chris Selley tries to position Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne as being the greatest asset of the Liberal Party:

The question of Kathleen Wynne’s future as leader of the Ontario Liberal Party made its way to the public airwaves this week in the form a panel discussion on TVO’s The Agenda. Host Steve Paikin asked former Liberal MP Greg Sorbara what advice he would offer the premier, and his response caused a bit of a stir.

“It is extremely unlikely that you’ll win the next election. The facts are the facts,” he said he would tell her. “I have not seen a party in the last year of its mandate turn (poll) numbers around when they are as bad as (the Liberals’) are.” And he noted the numbers are “particularly bad” for Wynne personally.

The latest Mainstreet Research/Postmedia poll, released last week, had the Liberals at 22-per-cent support, 10 points behind the Tories. Forum Research last measured Wynne’s approval rating at 11 per cent, and her disapproval rating at 77 per cent. Just nine per cent said she would make the best premier of the three party leaders.

Okay, so where does Wynn come off as the Liberals’ best hope?

If Liberals are worried “it’s all over,” as Sorbara put it, I would submit it’s in large part because, on election day 2018, they’ll have been in power for 15 and a half not very impressive years. That’s the longest streak in Ontario in three decades. No party has managed it federally since St. Laurent took over from Mackenzie King.

Stuff builds up.

Stuff like, you know, Dalton McGuinty promising in writing not to raise taxes, then instituting a “health premium,” which he claimed wasn’t a tax, and then admitting under duress that it was a tax; like lottery retailers defrauding players to the tune of $100 million, and casinos managing to lose money; like allowing Ornge to spin out of control into corruption, mismanagement and overspending; like the electronic health records debacle; like turning a blind eye while native protesters illegally occupied Caledonia; like flushing a billion dollars or so down the john to cancel gas plants sooner than risk voters’ ire, then claiming there’s “no wrong time to make the right decision;” like various apparatchiks winding up arrested for little things like bribery and conspiring to delete government emails; like taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from companies that benefit from government largesse, shamelessly demanding cash for access to ministers, and only changing the rules when it finally became politically untenable; like a debt-to-GDP ratio that grew 40 per cent, from third-lowest among the provinces to fourth-highest; and like astronomical hydro bills born to a significant degree of bad political decisions.

All of that, and yet Wynne somehow managed to get a majority government last time around. Ontario’s masochistic voters clearly do deserve to get it, as Mencken said, “good and hard”.

The LCBO “phones in” their Ontario VIP selections

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Michael Pinkus on the odd choices of wines to celebrate some Ontario wine luminaries:

Let’s be honest, the LCBO is lackadaisical, at best, when it comes to promoting Ontario wines, and they do it with such a blasé attitude it is embarrassing in the way they continue to absolutely fail the people of Ontario … let me explain and expand.

The main feature of the April 1, 2017 release is “Visionaries, Innovators and Pioneers” (VIP) – on a global scale – here you’ll see names you recognize and wineries that are household names (or one’s that should be) – people like Angelo Gaja (Italy), Ben Glaetzer (Australia), Ken Forrester (South Africa), Michel Chapoutier (France) and Nicolas Catena (Argentina) and for each they pair a wine to go along with them … I question the wine selection for these iconic wine luminaries, but what the hey, sometimes those iconic wines are sold out (icon wines do that) and you then have to go for secondary wines by those producers.

Then I reached the part with our local VIPs: Moray Tawse (true, a more recent member of the VIP club and in my opinion kind of an easy choice by the LCBO), even more lazy are the wines selected, far from what I would call his “iconic” ones; but that seems to be par-for-the-course in this release. Tawse makes single vineyard / single block wines that are “the bomb”, yet the LCBO chose a “Growers Blend” and a “Sketches” wine, seriously?

But the one that incensed me the most was Chateau des Charmes, not for the man they named, Paul Bosc Sr., who is a Visionary, Pioneer AND Innovator in Ontario, but the wine that was chosen to represent him: Cabernet Icewine? When I saw that, you could have knocked me over with a feather; what happened to Gamay Noir Droit? Single vineyard varietal offerings? Sparkling wine? Or even Equuleus? But instead of showing off these iconic / original table wines the LCBO goes for the easy layup of Icewine; which isn’t even what Bosc is known for (though he makes excellent versions of it), that honour should have gone to Inniskillin (Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser)

February 17, 2017

Industrial policy example – Kingston, Ontario

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Germany, Government, Railways — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

David Warren remembers when the government tampered with the free market to “save an industry” in Kingston:

Once upon a time, many years ago, I scrapped into one of these “no-brainer” political deals. The remains of the locomotive manufacturing business in Kingston, Ontario — whose century-old products I had glimpsed, still on the rails in India — were now on the block. A monster German corporation was offering to buy them, for the very purpose of competing, in Canada, with a (hugely subsidized, monopolist) Canadian corporation. The government stepped in, to “save” a Canadian industry, retroactively change the ground rules, and kick in more subsidies so that the Canadian monopolists, based in Montreal, could take over instead. This was accompanied by nationalist rhetoric, and Kingston was thrilled. Critics like me were unofficially deflected with bigoted anti-German blather held over from the last World War.

But I knew exactly what was going to happen. The local works, which would have been expanded by the foreign owner, were soon closed by the new Canadian owner, after studies had been commissioned to “prove” it was uneconomic. The latter’s last possible domestic competitor was thus snuffed out. The locals, whose lives had been for generations part of a proud Kingston enterprise, had been suckered. The politicians had told them it was little Canada versus big Germany. In reality, it was pretty little Kingston versus big ugly Montreal.

That is how the world works, with politics, so that whenever I hear of a big new national no-brainer scheme, my first thought is, which innocents are getting mooshed today?

December 19, 2016

Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown and the “hidden agenda”

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

During the entire time Stephen Harper was Prime Minister, the opposition and the media kept frightening people about Harper’s “hidden agenda” that he was bound to implement at any moment. For a decade. It worked well enough that right up until the Liberals won the last federal election, the term “hidden agenda” worked to gin up fears about the “real” Harper plan for Canada. If it was bad for Harper it’s going to be much, much worse for Ontario’s PC party and their flexible leader Patrick Brown:

Any Tory leader would have this problem. Any Tory leader who was ever thought of as a social conservative would have it worse. Brown might have it worst of all: having bent like a palm tree in the wind on social issues, it will be easier than usual for the Liberals, New Democrats and media to portray any moderate stance he takes on anything as nothing more than a politically expedient façade on some kind of hidden agenda. For those who might support such an agenda, meanwhile, his record is an invitation to stay home: whatever he or one of his MPPs might promise them isn’t worth the sound waves that conveyed it. They might reasonably conclude he has no agenda at all, hidden or otherwise.

Stephen Harper had considerable trouble with his purported “hidden agenda,” despite the gymnastics that were necessary to pin it on him. Brown having inhabited every position imaginable on a perfectly reasonable sex-ed curriculum, he cannot inspire much confidence in anyone, on any side of any truly contentious social issue, that his stated positions during campaigns would bear any resemblance to his actions as premier.

Perhaps the Liberals are finally unpopular enough that they’ll lose in 2018 no matter whom they’re up against; perhaps Ontarians will deem Brown’s apparent lack of principles an acceptable replacement for the Liberals’ long-demonstrated lack of principles. But if I were Kathleen Wynne, I’d be considerably more confident than my 16 per cent approval rating suggested I should be.

December 13, 2016

“Canadian National was using Metrolinx as an automated teller machine”

Filed under: Cancon, Railways — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

The two big Canadian railway corporations have taken full advantage of the weak internal financial controls at Metrolinx:

For much of the past two decades Canadian National Railway Co. has been credited with revolutionizing the North American railroad industry.

The company’s former chief executive E. Hunter Harrison’s theory of “precision railroading” — a data-driven focus on charging customers a premium for superior on-time performance — made him an industry icon and his shareholders very happy.

But in railroading, as in life, how you get there matters.

Acting on a tip, the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation began investigating Canadian National in the fall of 2014. Here’s what our reporting uncovered:

  • For over 15 years Canadian National earned hundreds of millions of dollars in profit by marking up rail construction costs up more than 900 percent to a public-sector client.
  • Canadian National regularly engaged in questionable business practices like charging internal capital maintenance and expansion projects to the same taxpayer-funded client and billing millions of dollars for work that was never done.
  • A just-released auditor general investigation suggested a series of reforms that will reduce these profits.
  • For years, train yard personnel, under intense pressure from management, have intentionally misreported on-time performance, helping it boost revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars.

[…]

Long before the Ontario auditor general’s office began its investigation, Canadian National was using Metrolinx as an automated teller machine, albeit one with no deposits required. Over 15 years executive teams have come and gone at Canadian National but the one constant has been the river of profit that its Toronto construction unit has been able to reliably wring from Metrolinx.

Determining how much Canadian National has billed Metrolinx over the past two decades is difficult but since 2010, adding up four separate land sales, the Lakeshore West construction discussed below and ongoing maintenance contracts it’s at least $1.1 billion, the majority of which likely went straight to operating income. In other words, Metrolinx’s long-running failure to properly scrutinize Canadian National emboldened it to charge prices so high that many of the construction and maintenance contracts amounted to almost pure profit.

The most audacious episode occurred from 2004 to 2008 when Canadian National’s construction managers developed a billing scheme that reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in profits and benefits by wildly inflating the cost of construction, according to documents obtained by the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation and attached to ongoing litigation.

The project involved a track expansion project that Canadian National performed for Metrolinx’s Lakeshore West line, on a route that stretched about 40 miles from Hamilton, Ontario, to Toronto’s Union Station. The work was completed in 2012.

Windfall profits and bonus payouts weren’t the half of it. In numerous instances Canadian National billed Metrolinx for work that Canadian National did for its own capital maintenance and expansion projects, saving itself many millions of dollars in expenses.

From 2004 to 2008, Canadian National did track construction work for Metrolinx on a 4.5-mile stretch between the Burlington and Hamilton stations, referred to by Canadian National as Lakeshore West/West. On a separate stretch of the same track in late 2009, crews began adding track to the 9.1-mile stretch from the Port Credit station to Kerr Street, or the Lakeshore West/East line. (The Ontario auditor general’s annual report discussed an unnamed 9-mile track extension that cost $95 million to construct “on the Lakeshore West corridor” but did not identify the project’s location or its date of completion.)

The Lakeshore West/West project’s cost is unclear.

Based on this email, Metrolinx had originally approved a construction price tag of $45 million, but in short order the project’s chief engineer Daryl Barnett, in a bid to reduce costs, noted the price tag had quickly ballooned past $70 million. Metrolinx’s spokeswoman Aikins did not answer repeated questions on the matter but the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation obtained an April 2015 internal audit Metrolinx conducted at the auditor general’s request that put the final tab for Canadian National’s 2004 to 2008 work on that stretch at “over $200 million.”

GO Transit operates bus and rail service in the Greater Toronto Area as part of Metrolinx

December 6, 2016

Bowmanville, Ontario from 1984-2016 in Google Timelapse

Filed under: Cancon — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:57

Description from the Timelapse page:

Timelapse

Timelapse is a global, zoomable video that lets you see how the Earth has changed over the past 32 years. It is made from 33 cloud-free annual mosaics, one for each year from 1984 to 2016, which are made interactively explorable by Carnegie Mellon University CREATE Lab’s Time Machine library, a technology for creating and viewing zoomable and pannable timelapses over space and time.

Using Earth Engine, we combined over 5 million satellite images acquired over the past three decades by 5 different satellites. The majority of the images come from Landsat, a joint USGS/NASA Earth observation program that has observed the Earth since the 1970s. For 2015 and 2016, we combined Landsat 8 imagery with imagery from Sentinel-2A, part of the European Commission and European Space Agency’s Copernicus Earth observation program.

December 2, 2016

The Ontario government – “It doesn’t exactly take Moriarty to get one over on this gang”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Ontario’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk has a few mild criticisms of how Kathleen Wynn’s government spends public money on infrastructure:

Over the next decade, the Ontario government plans to spend $17 billion rehabilitating existing infrastructure, mostly on roads and bridges, and $31 billion on new infrastructure, mostly on public transit — much of the latter in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. For some weary commuters, the promise of relief might be one of the few remaining attractions Premier Kathleen Wynne’s phenomenally unpopular administration has to offer — assuming, of course, they have some degree of confidence their money will be spent properly.

Page 496 of Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s latest report, released Wednesday, has something to say about that.

The scene: the Pickering GO station. Metrolinx was to build a pedestrian bridge across Highway 401. Not a herculean feat, one might have thought. Alas the winning bidder “had no experience in installing bridge trusses” — which is “something that a contractor constructing a bridge would be expected to know how to do,” Lysyk’s report dryly notes.

After the contractor “installed one truss upside down” — no, seriously — Metrolinx essentially took over the project. But it paid the contractor the full $19-million for the first phase of the project anyway. Then it gave the same contractors the contract for phase two — hey, it had the low bid! — and lo and behold they pooped the bed again, damaging glass to the tune of $1 million and building a stairway too wide to accommodate the planned cladding.

At this point, according to the Auditor-General, Metrolinx terminated the contract. It paid 99 per cent of the bill anyway. And later — no, seriously! — it gave the company another $39 million contract. “Metrolinx lacks a process to prevent poorly performing contractors from bidding on future contracts,” the report observes. Transport Minister Steven Del Duca said a new “vendor performance management system” would do just that, but one wonders why something so fancy-sounding was necessary to perform such a basic function. (Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins disputes the decision-making timeline in the report; according to hers, the contractor’s ineptitude was unknown when further work was awarded.)

November 24, 2016

The Ontario government’s anti-Midas touch in energy projects

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:54

All governments at every level waste money. It’s one of the things that governments do far better than the private sector. Yet the Ontario provincial government takes wasting money to a state of near perfection in their Wolfe Island offshore wind farm dealings:

A few years ago, I took this photo of some of the onshore wind turbines on Wolfe Island. I don't have any photos of the offshore installations, because they haven't been built.

A few years ago, I took this photo of some of the onshore wind turbines on Wolfe Island. I don’t have any photos of the offshore installations, because they haven’t been built.

In 2010, the government of Ontario, keen to jumpstart its green energy sector, signed a 20-year deal to buy 300 megawatts of electricity from turbines that the New York investors behind Windstream agreed to erect.

Things got messy mere months later in February 2011 when the provincial Liberals, fearing they would lose an election, slapped a moratorium on offshore wind projects, none of which had ever been built. Around the same time, Ontario cancelled two unpopular natural gas power plants, a move that cost provincial taxpayers about $1 billion.

After waiting five years to get approval to build their wind turbines, Mars and his group lost their patience.

“I have a group of very high-net-worth individuals who invest across energy and technology,” Mars said in a series of interviews from his office in Manhattan. “The contract remains in force. We would like to either build it or come up with an amicable solution. We have gotten many mixed messages on this.”

They complained to the Permanent Court of Arbitration under Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement. A panel of three arbitrators heard the case in Toronto last February.

“The claimant’s claim that the respondent has failed to accord the claimant’s investments fair and equitable treatment in accordance with international law, contrary to Article 1105 of NAFTA, is granted,” the panel ruled last month.

Police are now apparently probing whether Ontario government employees broke the law when they deleted documents related to the offshore wind project. A source told the Financial Post that Mars will answer police questions in Toronto next week.

So, a billion dollars to cancel two natural gas power plants, then a paltry $28 million that the federal has to pay, as it’s the NAFTA signatory (and the total bill could go up to $568 million or more, with nothing actually being built). As the old saying has it, pretty soon you’re talking real money.

H/T to Ken Mcgregor for the link.

October 29, 2016

Is there a bright side to the sale of Constellation Brands for Ontario wine drinkers?

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Michael Pinkus gets an uncharacteristic rush of optimism over the sale of Constellation Brands:

[W]hile it’s nice to see Canada’s Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs back in Canadian hands what does all this say about the selling of wine in Canada? When the world’s largest holder of wine companies/brands decides to throw in the towel here and sell off their Canadian division, yet still holds the remainder of the wineries and brands they acquired with their 2006 purchase of Vincor to me speaks volumes. Now I’m just speculating here, as I do in many of my commentaries, but could it be that Constellation sees the writing on the wall: that making money in Canada (in general) and in Ontario specifically, will not be as easy as it once was under the Liberal’s new proposed “sharing the retail space plan”. Let’s face it, the real selling feature of Vincor’s Canadian holdings were those Ontario money makers: those off-site stores that were a license to print money in the province … and now if the world’s largest can’t figure it out how in the world are the rest of Ontario’s wineries supposed to do it? Are we about to embark down another rabbit hole of when it comes to the sale of booze in this province?

[…] Just last week, I was asked for my thoughts and I immediately went to the pessimistic side of things: “does not bode well for the selling of wine here in Ontario”; but then after some careful thought I decided there still might be room for optimism, especially if you look at the purchaser. At one point in the process it was rumoured that Peller was in the mix of buyers to take over the Constellation Canadian holdings, but in the end it was the Teachers’ Pension Plan that took it for $1.03 billion. Many on social media lamented that if the teachers do for booze what they did for Toronto sports teams we’re all in big trouble. But I thought of a better angle: Nobody is better at lobbying and twisting the arm of the provincial government to get what they want than the Teachers’ Union … and once they learn how difficult selling wine is, and the antiquated laws we have surrounding it, here in Ontario, they’ll set their sights on making changes, and while the fairly ineffectual Wine Council of Ontario seems to be a mouse nipping at the heels of the governmental elephant, the Teachers’ Union and their Pension Plan will seem like a pack of wolves and hyenas working together to wrestle the elephant to the ground. So while Peller (had they succeeded in their purchase efforts) would have become the largest Canadian winery by far, they would not have been any more effective at invoking change to the system; on the other hand, the Teachers’ Union could play a large and important role at getting laws passed that will loosen up our repressive and antiquated system up; because who is in more need of a drink at the end of the day than a teacher, and it should be easier for them to get it and sell it..

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