Quotulatiousness

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 15, 2017

Chorley Park, Ontario’s lost viceregal mansion

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

Chris Bateman on the odd history of Ontario’s fourth official home of the Lieutenant Governor:

Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell is one of four Canadian viceregal representatives to be (officially) homeless. Toronto pulled down its last government house, an astonishingly opulent mansion even among its Rosedale neighbours, in 1959 in the name of cost saving.

Just over a century ago, on 15 November 1915, the first official guests were welcomed inside the grand hall of Ontario’s million dollar palace. Twenty years later it was be derelict. Chorley Park is now largely forgotten, save for the small piece of it that remains on the edge of the Don Valley.

[…]

The province, however, had other ideas. It rejected Gage’s offer and forged ahead with the Rosedale site, known as Chorley Park, after the town of Chorley in Lancashire, England, the birthplace of Toronto alderman John Hallam.

The final design for the grand residence was drawn up by Francis R. Heakes – the province’s official architect also responsible for the Whitney Block on Queen’s Park Crescent – in the style of a French Loire Valley château.

Heakes’ blueprint borrowed heavily from submissions to the 1911 design competition, including many of the exterior details and the floor plan, and was limited to a budget of $215,000.

Chorley Park in Rosedale

[…]

The ongoing cost of maintaining the ostentatious mansion proved to be its eventual undoing. The Conservative provincial government found the cost even harder to justify as the Depression began to take hold in the 1920s.

Despite voices calling for the house to be abandoned, it lingered on as the official home of Ontario’s lieutenant-governor until 1937 when the fine furnishings and fixtures were stripped out and sold at auction.

When world war two began, the gutted interior was converted into a military hospital for wounded soldiers.

Chorley Park met its eventual end in 1959 when, with the last of the patients gone and a brief period as a refuge for Hungarian immigrants fleeing the revolution over, the Metro government under Fred Gardiner ordered the building torn down.

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.

March 23, 2017

The rent is too damned high? I know – let’s kill the rental market!

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

Toronto’s real estate market has been insane for years, with prices for utter wrecks still approaching a million dollars. This has a knock-on effect for rental housing, with insufficient supply guaranteeing that rents will also go higher and higher. The Ontario NDP thinks they’ve got a silver bullet to fix the rental market: rent control! Chris Selley explains why this won’t work out the way eager would-be renters in Toronto might hope:

The NDP’s solution: rent control. MPP Peter Tabuns tabled a private member’s bill Monday that would extend limits on annual rent increases to units built after 1991 — thus closing a so-called “loophole” the Mike Harris Tories introduced in hopes people would build more new units. The Liberals followed quickly behind, with Housing Minister Chris Ballard promising “substantive rent control reform” — details to come.

You can see the attraction, politically. Robber baron landlords swoop in, cackling, forcing families onto the streets and auctioning off their homes, literally, to the highest bidder. The government can stop it. Why won’t the government stop it?

No doubt there are some very sympathetic stories out there. But we in the media tend to be very good at finding those, and it’s hard not to notice the preponderance of “victims” who could afford very high rent in the first place, and didn’t do their homework with respect to rent control or the lack thereof. A typical example: CBC introduced us to a 32-year-old who was paying $1,650 a month for a tiny one-bedroom condo, only to be sent couchsurfing by a whopping $950 increase.

[…]

The fact is, rent control would largely help high-end renters in a high-end market. The vast majority of units that aren’t rent controlled are condos. In October, CMHC pegged the condo-over-apartment rental premium in the GTA at 46 per cent for one-bedrooms, 54 per cent for two-bedrooms and 65 per cent for three-bedrooms.

The real challenge these days is finding an apartment, period: the vacancy rate in October was 1.3 per cent. Critics say the “loophole” didn’t actually incentivize building rental apartments, but closing the “loophole” certainly won’t. Indeed, it’s tough to see how it would accomplish much except transferring money from unit owners to their tenants. Many will like that idea on principle — but if owners can’t rent to the highest bidder, they are unlikely to suddenly rent for less to the youngest, most disadvantaged and most vulnerable people rent control ostensibly helps.

If you want central Toronto to be a more affordable place to live, you need to figure out how to boost supply. There are lots of different ideas out there. It’s a topic of constant discussion at City Hall and Queen’s Park alike. Rent control is nothing but a political distraction.

February 11, 2017

Chris Selley boldly defends John Tory’s latest media mis-step

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

While I have no particular affection for Toronto mayor John Tory, I have to agree that he doesn’t actually deserve the rough ride he’s gotten from the Toronto media and grandstanding local politicians for his “broken promise” on municipal swimming pools. Chris Selley detailed the “story” and the facts on the ground and pointed out the non-obvious:

In short, this is a bog-standard managerial decision the likes of which gets made every day in every big city that’s trying to keep costs under control: reducing a library’s hours for lack of demand; altering swimming pool or ice rink seasons based on recent years’ weather; raising the price of greens fees or tennis court bookings; not clearing little-used pathways in parks in winter. Of course people are going to raise a fuss; you manage the fuss as best you can and soldier on.

But in Toronto, especially when a celebrity gets involved, these minor decisions inform a sort of battle-of-civilizations narrative in which the mayor of the day seeks the ruination of all things good about the city — and they all end up on the floor of council.

Even in apocalyptic times for media, City Hall is relatively well covered; council meetings in particular will bring out the cameras, in certain knowledge some elected officials will make hairy asses of themselves and others will burst into tears over the smallest things, let alone the largest.

You could hardly do any worse for entertainment value, but if you wonder why city councillors can’t seem to make any big decisions properly, tune in next Wednesday for budget deliberations and watch them try to make a bunch of small ones. You will wonder no more.

December 17, 2016

These are TTC souvenirs I would buy

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:06

Amy Grief links to a fake Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) merchandise website:

How often do you get frustrated with the TTC? If you take it regularly, you probably have a love-hate relationship with the Toronto transit system. And two Torontonians captured that feeling perfectly with their new website NotInService.ca.

The site riffs on the TTC’s new online shop, but instead of celebrating the Red Rocket, the fake merch depicts all of our biggest transit woes. For instance, there’s a mug that says, “ongoing fire investigation at eastbound at Pape Station,” and a t-shirt that reads, “due to an earlier delay, you may experience longer than normal travel times.”

According to the site’s creators, who posted about it on Reddit, they were inspired by subway ads for real TTC merch and wondered who would actually buy it.

Update, 19 December: BlogTO is reporting that the fake merchandise store has miraculously turned into an actual merchandise store.

When the TTC parody shop launched on Friday, many regular transit users went nuts because the merch accurately captured their (not-so-pleasant) experience riding the Red Rocket.

NotInService.ca began as a joke, but after the founders shared their site on Reddit, it took on a life of its own.

That’s why the site’s now live and you can actually buy the alternative TTC merchandise. The site says it’s “open just in time to be late for the holidays,” which really reflects the whole spirit of this enterprise.

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 11, 2016

QotD: Muzzling the comment section, for its own good

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

For some time now the trend du jour among many media outlets has been to ban news comments — then insult reader intelligence by proclaiming this is being done out of a deep-rooted love of “conversation” and “relationships.” You see, these websites aren’t banning comments because they’re too lazy or cheap to weed out spam and trolls, but because they love you. These sites aren’t outsourcing all human interactivity to Facebook because bean counters can’t monetize quality on-site discourse in a pie chart, they’re doing it because they care so very deeply about their community.

Why, oh, why can’t you people understand that giving the middle finger and a shiny new muzzle to your entire readership is an act of love?

Karl Bode, “The Globe And Mail Tries Something Revolutionary: Actually Giving A Damn About User Comments & Conversation”, Techdirt, 2016-11-30.

May 17, 2016

QotD: Iron, steel, and “stainless” steel

Filed under: Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

As my father the industrial designer used to say, “Stainless steel is so called because it stains less than some other steels.” But give me, by preference, wrought iron from a puddling furnace, for I don’t like shiny. Unfortunately it is not made any more except on a small craft scale: but I have, in the kitchen of the High Doganate, a pair of Chinese scissors that I’ve owned nearly forever, which have never rusted and whose blades stay frightfully sharp (they were only once sharpened). They cost me some fraction of a dollar, back when forever began (some time in the 1970s).

Too, I have an ancient French chef’s knife, nearly ditto, made I think from exactly the steel that went into the Eiffel Tower. It holds an edge like nothing else in my cutlery drawer, and has a weight and balance that triggers the desire to chop vegetables and slice meat.

And there are nails in the wooden hulls of ships from past centuries which have not rusted, after generations of exposure to salt sea and storm. Craft, not technology, went into their composition: there were many stages of piling and rolling, each requiring practised human skill. (The monks in Yorkshire were making fine steels in the Middle Ages; and had also anticipated, by the fourteenth century, all the particulars of a modern blast furnace. But they gave up on that process because it did not yield the quality they demanded.)

What is sold today as “wrought iron” in garden fixtures, fences and gates, is fake: cheap steel with a “weatherproof” finish (a term like “stainless”) painted on. These vicious things are made by people who would never survive in a craft guild. (Though to be fair, they are wage slaves, and therefore each was “only following orders.”)

However, in the Greater Parkdale Area, on my walks, I can still visit with magnificent examples of the old craft, around certain public buildings — for it was lost to us only a couple of generations ago. These lift one’s heart. I can stand before the trolley stop at Osgoode Hall (the real one, not the Marxist-feminist law school named after it). Its fence and the old cow-gates warm the spirit, and raise the mind: if the makers sinned, I have prayed for them.

Almost everywhere else one looks in one’s modern urban environment, one sees fake. This, conversely, leaves the spirit cold, and lowers every moral, aesthetic, and intellectual expectation. To my mind it is sinful to call something what it is not — as is done in every “lifestyle” advertisement — and to my essentially mediaeval mind, the perpetrators ought to be punished in this world, as an act of charity. This could spare them retribution in the next.

David Warren, “For a Godly materialism”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-01-31.

January 23, 2016

QotD: The Canadian Broadcorping Castration

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

There is the CBC that exists in reality, the CBC that no one watches or really cares much about. Then there is the CBC that exists in the mind of its defenders. The CBC that may have at some point existed, albeit briefly, but never quite as anyone remembers it. The Mother Corp’s dwindling band of supporters think of it as they think of Canada; a bundle of vaguely patriotic abstractions carefully divorced from the frigid realities of daily life.

There is little point in reminding the reader that the CBC is a government subsidized anachronism that, so far as it ever made sense, made sense when men still walked around wearing fedoras and chain smoked at office desks. Though in fairness it’s unlikely Don Draper would have ever watched anything quite so lame.

If a thing lacks either beauty or utility the sensible thing is to get rid of it. Yet the Mother Corp survives. The seemingly indestructible zombie of the Canadian media landscape. The CBC continues to exist not because it’s relevant but because it’s too much trouble to kill. The Conservatives are afraid of pulling the plug because they’ll be attacked for silencing their critics, the Liberals are afraid of firing their most loyal supporters and the NDP has an ingrained resistance to cutting things loose, however useless. See Chow, Olivia.

Take the frequently used line by the CBC’s defenders and erstwhile allies: We need the state broadcaster to ensure a national conversation. Thing about conversations is that at least two people are required. Otherwise you’re just talking to yourself in a dimly lit room. There are terms to describe people like that and defender of the Canadian nationalist faith isn’t one of them.

This is more than just beating a dead public policy horse. The CBC’s absurdity is not as fascinating as what it reveals about the Canadian Left’s mindset. As a life-long resident of the Imperial Capital I can attest to the prevalence of the CBC Friend. This Friend will wear CBC buttons, buy CBC apparel and speak passionately about the value the CBC provides to Canadians of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and regional localities. About once a week they’ll muster up their patriotism and spend twenty minutes slogging through whatever’s on Radio One before switching back to classic rock.

The CBC Friend is to the CBC as Sunday Catholics are to Christianity. Piety bleeding into righteous hypocrisy. Which would be fine really. Except that Sunday Catholics don’t dip into my pockets. Messers Baldwin and Lafontaine mostly separately Church and State in Canada. Unfortunately Mackenzie King made a point of not separating Broadcasting and State. The basic conceit remains the same in either case: My Truth is so True and so Right that everyone else must pay for it.

But the Truths that the CBC promotes go far beyond whatever Peter Mansbridge is grumbling about tomorrow night. They are a vision of Canadian society that most Canadians find unrecognizable. It’s been joked for years that the CBC doesn’t tell Canada’s story to Canadians, it tells Canada’s story from Torontonians. This explains the special smugness about the reporting that simply isn’t found elsewhere in the country. Not even in Ottawa.

Richard Anderson, “A Platonic Relationship”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-12-10.

January 20, 2016

Toronto gets mentioned in the New York Times … and there’s not a dry seat in the house

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

Colby Cosh discusses the sudden appearance of Canadian content in the Grey Lady’s pages:

No evidence is presented that Canadian access to the world’s pop consciousness has changed recently, much less that it has anything to do with Justin Trudeau. Given that Trudeau was the leader of the third party in the House of Commons 14 weeks ago, and was struggling badly in the polls another 14 weeks before that, perhaps the Times’ Hip Canada should be read as a tribute to the Stephen Harper decade.

What I notice about the list, in comparison with ones that might have been drawn up in the past, is how Ontario-dominated it is — Toronto-dominated, really. The Times, blind to the intricacies of the country it is celebrating, pays passing tribute to older Canadian icons Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Leonard Cohen — which is to say, two refugees from the west and the Pope of anglo Montreal.

[…]

The meaning of Justin Trudeau in this context may also be different from the one suggested by The New York Times. It is natural for us to contrast Justin with his father, and the stylistic contrast is strong: Justin is often said to be his mother’s son. Pierre Trudeau represented a culmination of the French-Canadian destiny. Americans found him hard to fathom, and he found them hugely uncongenial. His dress and his ideas were taken from Western Europe, a precise balance of Paris and London: he was a deux-nations beau idéal.

One has to say that Justin Trudeau seems less rooted: he has a worldview but no intellectual heroes to speak of, no battlescars from a life of disputation and reading. He belongs to a generation more than to any particular place: he has never lived anywhere for too long, and even his spoken French has come under some fire, perhaps unfairly. Americans adore him on sight. He is above all earnest, and there are hints his emerging role as a head of government will be mostly to convey earnestness, to serve as a sort of emotional mascot, while his ministers do the work. The Liberal Party may be quite happy to see him in the style section of the newspaper, where he belongs.

October 25, 2015

Small talk in pubs

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

David Warren admits he’s not welcome at a few local drinking establishments nowadays:

There are at least two tables, within pubs in the Greater Parkdale Area, where, notwithstanding I was once quite welcome, I am not today. Some think this is because of my opinions, which are those of a rightwing fanatic and religious nutjob. But no: it is because I am willing to express them. This is a form of incontinence, one might argue; and like other forms, it may accord with increasing age. Yet I do not think that silence is invariably golden.

To hear me tell it — and whom else were you expecting, gentle reader? — it goes like this. In years past, I would sit quietly and ignore nonsense, especially political nonsense, spoken by my fellow imbibers. I can still do this. Many of the most ludicrous remarks, on any passing issue, are not actually opinions of the speaker. He simply echoes or parrots the views of the media and his own social class. I’ve been absorbing this “background music” for years; why revolt now? The noise is anyway not arguments but gestures.

Say, “Stephen Harper,” and watch the eyeballs roll. Say, “George Bush,” and still, ditto. Say “Richard Nixon,” however, and you don’t get much of a rise any more, for memories out there are short, very short.

(A Czech buddy, in the olden days, once performed this experiment in a pub. “I just love that Richard Nixon!” he declared, in his thick, Slavic accent, loud enough to afflict the Yankee draft-dodgers at the next table, who’d been prattling about Watergate too long. “Gives those liberals heart attacks,” he added. … Some bottle-tossing followed from that, and we were all banned together, so ended up as friends.)

On the other hand say, “Barack Obama,” and they will focus like attentive puppies. Or, “Justin Trudeau” to the ladies, to make them coo.

It is a simple Pavlovian trick, and might be done in reverse in a rightwing bar, except, there are no rightwing bars in big cities.

Yet everyone knows there are rightwing people, even in Greater Parkdale. And they are welcome anywhere they want to buy a pint, the more if they’re buying for the whole table. The one condition is that they must keep their “divisive” opinions to themselves.

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.

August 14, 2015

Toronto discovers the Streisand Effect

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

I was in the break room at work the other day, and happened to see our local 24-hour TV newsfeed was discussing a hateful hate-peddling hate-monger who’d just arrived in Toronto. A shorter blurb was running in the elevator monitor, as I discovered when I went downstairs for lunch. While I’d heard of Roosh V. before, I wasn’t aware that he was so well known to the Toronto media. Richard Anderson explains how Toronto’s media reactions to Daryush Valizadeh have been like a multi-million dollar gift of free advertising:

Rather than being a raving misogynist Valizadeh espouses an odd amalgam of traditional gender roles and casual sex advice. Very little of what he writes would have been considered terribly controversial even twenty years ago. His criticisms of feminism are pretty much standard conservative fare albeit expressed in a more colourful and direct manner. He might not be your cup of tea but he’s hardly the second coming of Caligula.

Displaying the self-righteous puritanism that is characteristic of modern feminism, a petition has been set-up at Change.org, complete with out of context quotes, demanding that Valizadeh be driven from Canada. This is being done on the grounds of our old friend hate speech. Apparently coaching awkward young men on how to pick up women in bars is now a crime in modern Canada.

Some of Valizadeh’s sexual advice is tacky or creepy. It would, however, take a Pollyanna’s understanding of human sexuality to find it either hateful or angry. What we are seeing is not criticism being directed at an individual for espousing somewhat recherché views, it’s an electronic lynch mob attempting to silence dissent from the feminist consensus.

Until this recent controversy Valizadeh was an obscure figure outside of Manosphere. Now thanks to these tin eared feminist campaigners he has been given millions of dollars in free publicity. It’s a classic example of the Streisand effect. Instead of shutting Valizadeh down they’ve elevated him into a kind of cult hero status that is only likely to increase in the months ahead.

August 10, 2015

Toronto craft brewers and beer cans

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

Ben Johnson explains the rising popularity of beer cans even among microbreweries in the Toronto area:

Whether it be memories of your dad’s garage fridge filled with industrial lager in little tins or visions of shotgunning affordable lagers at college parties, beer cans have, for the most part, gotten a bad rap as something like the poor-man’s beverage container.

But that’s quickly changing.

Increasingly, as Toronto’s craft beer scene booms and the city’s brewers seek out the best ways to sell their beer, cans are becoming the preferred option. But why?

Jeff Rogowsky, the co-founder of Session Craft Canning, has seen the popularity of cans grow in the last few years. Rogowsky’s company is a mobile operation that brings canning capabilities to craft brewers who often can’t afford their own expensive canning lines.

I spoke with Rogowsky via email and he told me that he thinks the increased popularity of cans is largely being driven by consumer demand. “Canning gained popularity,” he says, “because it allowed people to take beer to more places–golf courses, beaches, in a backpack, to a movie theatre–cans are infinitely more portable and easier to travel with.”

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