Quotulatiousness

February 17, 2017

Industrial policy example – Kingston, Ontario

Filed under: Business, Cancon, 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..

September 18, 2016

When you’re a monopoly, what’s your attitude to customers? “Sod the proles!”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Rick VanSickle vents about the LCBO’s amazingly tone-deaf marketing:

Sorry, LCBO, but I don’t get you. Such a lame-o release on the birthday of our great country July 1, with paltry few Canadian wines released to celebrate our big day, and presumably a few folks out there looking to party with local wines, and then suddenly in the middle of September, you drop the big one.

What up with that? I mean, the Sept. 17 issue of the Vintages mag, with pages and pages of features on Ontario wines and the biggest selection of local wines of the year — am I missing something? Is this some sort of key date for us in Ontario and Canada?

I want to be there during your obviously very detailed board meetings to listen in on the thinking behind your planning. When you get to, say, July 1, does anyone go: “Hey, that’s Canada Day, let’s flood the aisles with great Canadian wine. It’s what the people want, the people who pay for our largesse, the people we work for.” Well, no, of course not, that’s ridiculous.

Instead, as they count down the calendar, they go: “OK, what do we have for the week of Sept. 17? Why, there’s absolutely nothing going on, so let’s make it the biggest Ontario wine release of the year! Yes, perfect!”

Of course, what does it matter anyway? It’s not like the guy down the street is doing any better because there is no guy down the street. It’s the beauty of a monopoly — guilt-free decisions because there is no wrong decision if you are the only game in town.

For example (stay with me here, we’ll get to the wine), if the government decided it was going to force a shoe-store monopoly on its populace and came to the conclusion at a big swanky retreat where such decisions are made (pure speculation) that it would be so cool to put out a big display of Converse runners at all their stores on the first day of winter. No winter boots, no mukluks, just running shoes and sandals. Wouldn’t that be hilarious? lol.

It’s funny but not really funny. We just accept that it’s wrong and carry on like a monopoly is beyond reproach, beyond accountability.

For the record, the Canada Day Vintages release featured a cover story called: South Side Story: Wines of Southern France with 12 pages of spectacular photography and enticing bottles of French wine proudly displayed with glowing reviews and effusive praise for all.

August 12, 2016

Good news! Electricity in Ontario is cheaper to produce than ever before!

The bad news? It’s more expensive to consume than ever before, thanks to the way the Ontario government has manipulated the market:

You may be surprised to learn that electricity is now cheaper to generate in Ontario than it has been for decades. The wholesale price, called the Hourly Ontario Electricity Price or HOEP, used to bounce around between five and eight cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), but over the last decade, thanks in large part to the shale gas revolution, it has trended down to below three cents, and on a typical day is now as low as two cents per kWh. Good news, right?

It would be, except that this is Ontario. A hidden tax on Ontario’s electricity has pushed the actual purchase price in the opposite direction, to the highest it’s ever been. The tax, called the Global Adjustment (GA), is levied on electricity purchases to cover a massive provincial slush fund for green energy, conservation programs, nuclear plant repairs and other central planning boondoggles. As these spending commitments soar, so does the GA.

In the latter part of the last decade when the HOEP was around five cents per kWh and the government had not yet begun tinkering, the GA was negligible, so it hardly affected the price. In 2009, when the Green Energy Act kicked in with massive revenue guarantees for wind and solar generators, the GA jumped to about 3.5 cents per kWh, and has been trending up since — now it is regularly above 9.5 cents. In April it even topped 11 cents, triple the average HOEP.

The only people doing well out of this are the lucky cronies of the government who signed up for provincial subsidies on alternative energy (primarily wind and solar), who reap rents of well over 100% thanks to guaranteed minimum prices for electricity from non-traditional sources.

August 2, 2016

The Old Third Vineyards wins their appeal against the VQA

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

The Ontario government granted the Vintner’s Quality Alliance (VQA) some regulatory power to police the marketing and labelling of wines made in Ontario, including (the VQA thought) the rights to restrict the use of certain geographical designators like “Ontario” and “Prince Edward County” to VQA-compliant wineries. In a recent decision, a non-VQA winery located in Prince Edward County won an appeal against the VQA’s over-restrictive order:

Yesterday (July 28, 2016) was a big day for The Old Third Vineyards, a small, boutique winery located in Prince Edward County. The Licence Appeal Tribunal ruled in their favour against the Vintner’s Quality Alliance Ontario (VQAO) compliance order that they remove “Prince Edward County” from The Old Third website.

The Old Third Vineyard is located in Prince Edward County. It is owned and operated by winemaker Bruno François and Jens Korberg. They make Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc wines, sold from their estates. Their wines have received ratings of 90 points or higher by esteemed wine experts Jamie Goode, John Szabo and Quench’s own Rick VanSickle. Each vintage – only one per year per variety – is bottled with a wine label that reads “Product of Canada”.

However, their website has a heading tagline that reads “Producers of fine wine and cider in Prince Edward County.” This is an issue for the VQA.

On February 3, 2016, VQA compliance officer Susan Piovesan emailed The Old Third with regards to the use of the geographic designation “Prince Edward County” on their website.

In other words, the VQA wanted to prevent the Old Third Vineyards from even revealing where in the country they were located because the legal designator for that area is also a restricted term for use by the VQA’s own wineries on wine bottle labels. Old Third wasn’t using it on a label, but as any common sense interpretation would agree, they have to indicate where customers can find them if they want to sell much of their wine … and they’re physically located in Prince Edward County, and said that on their website.

The VQA argued that The Old Third are trying to monopolize on the value the VQA has added to the term “Prince Edward County” by making it an official wine designation. The Tribunal disagreed: “The information conveyed in the banner … locates it geographically. Giving the words, in context, their ordinary meaning, they do not convey that the Appellant produces a Prince Edward County wine.”

The Tribunal’s ruling in favour of The Old Third shows that, even if an organization that regulates wine believes they own a term or regional name, it doesn’t mean they have the right to enforce their designations on those wineries that don’t wish to buy into the designation. The Old Third is a small vineyard in Prince Edward County and it will most likely remain that way.

And it’s these small wineries that first put Prince Edward County on the wine scene – there wouldn’t be a VQA designation for Prince Edward County if it weren’t for the wineries and estates that were producing quality wines long before the VQA came around in 2007: Waupoos Winery, The Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards and Winery, Casa-Dea Estates Winery, By Chadsey’s Cairns Winery, Sandbanks Estates Winery… the list goes on (and on).

May 20, 2016

A reporter with the Lorne Scots at Meaford

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

My old regiment gets a bit of media attention, this time from the Orangeville Banner, as Chris Vernon goes along on a spring weekend exercise with the Lorne Scots:

As my handler Lorne Scot Master Corporal Christopher Banks drove through the gates of the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre, I was overcome with a familiar anxiety.

The centre, known by soldiers simply as Meaford, is approximately 17,500 acres of dense bush, limestone cliffs, open meadows, a lake and 22 kilometres of Georgian Bay shoreline. I spent two months here for basic training in the summer of 2005 and at age 35, I believe I was the second oldest recruit.

Soldiers in 32 Brigade Group complete their basic training at Meaford, other career courses and perform several weekend exercises on the base throughout the year, and every fresh-faced private in 32 Brigade knows the anxiety I felt, even now as a civilian, as Banks drove us through the gate.

You see, there is a certain “suckage factor” to Meaford.

“Welcome to the Meaford weather machine,” said Banks, an inside reference among soldiers that refers to the fact that it can be sunny on one side of the base while on the other side it can rain for hours while you are out on a foot patrol.

There’s also poison ivy, a rumoured ghost, mosquitos, and large ruts left in the ground from the 1940s when the army used the base as a tank range. These ruts have sent many recruits home with broken and sprained ankles, not to mention broken dreams, as the injured troop will have to wait till next year to complete basic training.

Headquartered in Toronto, 32 Brigade Group is mostly an infantry brigade consisting of more than 2,400 soldiers in 12 reserve units based in Toronto, Aurora, Barrie, Brampton, Georgetown, Oakville, Mississauga, Owen Sound, Brantford, Simcoe, St. Catharines and CFB Borden. It also has two reconnaissance regiments, two field artillery regiments, a field engineer regiment, six infantry battalions and a communication (signals) unit.

Banks, who did tours in Afghanistan and Bosnia, drives us down a pothole-riddled dirt road. I recognize the road. It’s where I jogged every day between seven and 10 kilometres at 5 a.m. while on basic training.

Banks is taking me to a Forward Operating Base (FOB) where approximately 266 infantry reservists are camped out.

“We are doing raids. Offensive training. When they (soldiers) arrived last night there was no rest. We pushed them across that line of departure at 5 a.m.,” said Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Mair from inside a command post tent where officers are milling about and looking over maps.

Reservists are part-time soldiers who serve generally one night a week, one weekend a month and a few weeks in the summer. Mair has been a reservist for 29 years and in the civilian world serves as a police officer.

Reserve units primarily respond to domestic situations, like ice storms or blackouts. However, they are trained for combat and many members have gone overseas to serve with the regular force in Bosnia and Afghanistan.

February 26, 2016

Budd Rail Diesel Cars to return to Southern Ontario?

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

CBC News reports on a possible re-introduction of RDC service between London and Sarnia:

VIA refurbished RDC Test Run

Dozens of additional passenger train runs should be operating in southern Ontario later this year as Via Rail Canada continues its push to increase the frequency of trips in and out of London, Ont.

Proponents of increased passenger rail service got a glimpse of the company’s expansion plans when Via tested a couple rebuilt diesel cars near Chatham.

Testing out the diesel cars sends a signal of Via’s progress, according to Terry Johnson, president of the Southwestern Ontario Transportation Alliance.

The alliance has been advocating for increased passenger service for years.

“What we hear when we talk to people about what they would like to see done to make passenger service more attractive to use, frequency is a big factor,” Johnson told CBC News.

Via Rail confirmed its plan to add dozens of trips in the region, including four extra round trips between Sarnia and London and several others trips out of Windsor.

More details from the VIA Rail website:

The RDC fleet is being improved to ensure reliable service and upgrade interior comfort.

Structural upgrades include engine, transmission, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and refrigeration system replacements. Our goal is to achieve substantial fuel savings, while extending the life of our trains with new parts.

The trains will also feature fully-rebuilt diesel engines that meet Euro II emission standards and fully-rebuilt air brakes. There will be new cabs at one end of each RDC with new operator controls, and new LED lighting. A new camera system will record the operator’s track view from the cab, enhancing safety and minimizing wait time if a delay-causing incident occurs, allowing VIA to deliver passengers as quickly as possible.

New wheelchair lifts are now available on either side of the cars, allowing passengers to embark or unload at any station, regardless of which side the track is on.

In addition, we’ll be adding a modern touch to interiors with features designed for passenger comfort, including improved accessibility for passengers with special mobility needs. RDC train seats will be treated to new foam and reupholstered in bright new fabrics. As well the cars will feature new toilets with environmentally-friendly retention systems in redesigned, accessible washrooms.

Earlier this week, Hunter Holmes caught a pair of RDC units being test-run on the Chatham subdivision:

Published on 21 Feb 2016

Filmed: February 20, 2016
Chatham Ontario, Canada

On February 20, 2016 two VIA Rail RDC’s were brought to Chatham Ontario to test crossing response to the units and provide a feasibility study of future operations. The units are rare enough being two of only a handful of RDC’s still in revenue service anywhere they are also far from home. Hopefully we see more of these units in the future.

November 16, 2015

The Ontario government’s anti-SLAPP legislation

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Techdirt, Tim Cushing looks at the positive and not-so-positive aspects of newly introduced Bill 51:

Good news for Canadians! Well…some of them. This good news only applies to a) Ontario residents who a.1) aren’t vexatious litigants who use BS defamation lawsuits to silence critics.

    Bill 52, which changes the Courts of Justice Act, the Libel and Slander Act and the Statutory Powers Procedure Act, received royal assent Nov. 3.

    The bill contains a provision that “would allow the courts to quickly identify and deal with lawsuits that unduly restrict free expression in the public interest, minimizing costs and other hardships endured by the defendant,” said Yasir Naqvi, Ontario’s Liberal Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister, last March during a debate on the bill. “It will extend qualified privilege in defamation law under the Libel and Slander Act.”

In other words, it’s an anti-SLAPP law. A handful of states in the US have recognized the damage bogus litigation can do to defendants even when plaintiffs clearly don’t have an actionable case. Laws like these also neutralize the chilling effect of bogus legal threats. Holding frivolous litigants responsible for legal fees tends to greatly reduce the number of questionable cease-and-desist demands issued by would-be litigants.

That such a law would be passed in Canada is somewhat of a coup considering its courts’ bizarre decisions in defamation cases. In some cases, courts have come to rational conclusions (Google is not a “publisher” of defamatory material simply by linking to it in search results). In others, courts opened up brand new avenues of liability, like in the case of blogger Michael Veck, who was ordered to pay $10,000 to the defamed party despite only re-posting what another writer had actually written.

October 10, 2015

“We’re very inefficient … and proud of it”

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

Published on 3 Oct 2015

Craft Brewery tourism is on the rise. Ontario Craft Breweries are opening throughout the province; eventually there will be one in every community. These breweries are a catalyst for economic growth. They have become sought-after tourist destinations, event venues, culinary centres.

September 26, 2015

The LCBO backs away from auctioning rare wines in Ontario

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Rick Van Sickle on the LCBO’s recent decision to hand over the rare wine auction market to a private auctioneer:

Quietly last week, Ontario’s booze monopoly finally threw in the towel over its glitzy rare and fine wine auctions and awarded the contract to an independent auction house — another case of letting private industry do a job that the LCBO couldn’t handle.

Canadian auction house Waddington’s will now conduct the auctions under a special licence through the LCBO.

The company added a new addition to their portfolio of fine art and luxury goods – Waddington’s Fine Wine and Spirits Auctions. “Ontario wine enthusiasts will now be able to better manage their cellars of fine wines and spirits with this connection to the enormous world wine market,” said Waddington’s President Duncan McLean.

The Toronto-based, Canadian-owned auction company was awarded the exclusive contract to provide fine wine and spirit auction services in Ontario under the authority of the LCBO, a first for an Ontario auction company. Waddington’s conducted the LCBO’s Vintages Fine Wine and Spirits auctions from 2009 until 2013.

The inaugural live fine wine auction will be conducted Dec. 12 at Waddington’s Toronto gallery, and an online fine wine auction will be offered Nov. 23-26. These auctions launch what will be a regular schedule of wine and spirits auctions and events for which Waddington’s is currently accepting consignments. All wines consigned are stored in a secure, temperature, light, and humidity-controlled wine vault.

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