Wednesday, July 27, 2011

All in All, It's just Another Brick in the Wall

Every time I read about this new arena, and the funding that the province is tentatively offering in the form of the Municipal Sustainability Initiative, the only thing I can focus on is the fact that 1000 teachers will be laid off this next September. Alberta's education budget is short $107 million, conveniently only $7 million away from the exact amount the province will be giving to build a new arena.

I have always been an advocate of proper borders; if money is intended to be allocated for one problem, we must maintain focus instead of just frivolously throwing money at whatever problem seems more dire. If we start considering our budget as a large pot of money to be used liberally (Har har.) eventually we lose sight of the bigger picture, and mired in debates like "Shelters or food banks? Roads or sewers?" This means that twenty years down the road we may have solved many problems, but we will be left with no future plans or projects.

In essence we should not simply shuffle the money over because we notice the imbalance, but the discrepancy is telling. It is true that we can not be held hostage to the whims and desires of the education system; if we hand over money whenever it is demanded of us we run the risk of losing the authoritative position we hold, but the shortfall is allegedly based on a previously negotiated contract that was not adequately budgeted for, and it doesn't look good to renege on previous agreements because of poor planning. At the end of the day, education tends to bear the brunt of budget cuts, and the MSI boasts a pool of $886 million this year alone, which is a pretty substantial pot to fix potholes.

The only question would be how long the education board is going to run a deficit. A $100 million investment in an arena, even considering Edmonton's history of going wildly over budget, would be over by the next year, and then self-sustaining. The education payment, however, would only worsen as time, and salaries, went on. Ultimately our province is challenging our teachers to do even more with less, and expecting it to work, but since education is not a business, with no quarterly reports, there is no way to show the damage to the system from funding cuts ("See this child? He is %3 dumber than he would have been.") until many years down the road, and sometimes never.

What I'm saying is that Edmonton should not turn down the money (even if I don't think we need a new arena), because it would just be used elsewhere in a similar fashion, but we should begin to take a closer look at the province's priorities, especially at the dawn of a new premier's reign.

Monday, July 25, 2011

What's Mine is Mine

I had planned on commenting about the raging Canadian asbestos mine debate for the last week or so, but failed to come up with anything more compelling than, "Asbestos is bad, right? So... we shouldn't mine it then?" and despite how similar that sounds to my other posts, I deigned to withhold comment until I was actually motivated.

Needless to say, I found the motivation. Mostly from outrage, but honestly if didn't write from outrage I would have nothing to say. The government, in a "leaked" confidential document, has become aware the last asbestos mine in Canada is about to run dry, thereby solving the problem once and for all.

Imagine this, for me:
(Good grief we hate when you get all pandering like this.)
It's not pandering, it's perspective.
Someone discovers their significant other is cheating on them. The wronged party insists the cheater stop seeing the fling, to which the cheatee replies, "He/she is moving anyway! So obviously it doesn't matter!" As if the lack of ability to behave badly was the same as the desire to behave properly.

The real heart of the matter is whether we can count on our government to do The Right Thing (Dear lord that phrase stuck in my throat) as we see it. Perhaps the government is bowing to public pressure that supports the mines, it occasionally happens that the most vocal group is in the minority and the majority is just rolling it's eyes wishing the smaller group would shut up. But regardless of support, it is offensive to suggest that people who decry the mines will be satisfied with a shrugging indifference.

What this move most likely accomplishes, is 'put in jeopardy' an industry that is operating in the heavily NDP-voting Quebec to enable the ruling party to ride in and 'save the jobs', therefore laying the groundwork for a lucrative vote mine in future years.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Possibilities as Far as the Eye can See

Just a short note today to get both you and myself out in the beautiful Alberta sun, where we belong.

The Toronto star reports that a cornea was transplanted into an 11-year old Kenyan girl while a woman in Scarborough waited to see again. The piece is delicately written, but it's hard to get behind the notion that this little girl should not have been given a cornea since she does not live in Canada and the other woman does, but the paper does its level best. I understand that Canada should use its resources on its people first, or we risk martyring ourselves trying to solve all the world's problems; but to draw attention to the fact is pretty gauche, especially at the expense of a young girl.

The reading makes it clear that the problem lies in the inflexibility of the system, the inability to cope with the lack of an operating room, that is leading us to reject viable donations, sending them overseas where the timeline (one week in Canada) is more forgiving (two weeks). However the corrective suggestion posed is ill thought out. One example mentions how a transplant was delayed because it was bumped for an emergency surgery, but we can't expect that donations will start to take precedence over all other surgeries. The problem with giving emergencies and donations unlimited priority is that mundane, but necessary, surgeries will be pushed back and back into non-existence. There are always emergencies.

The problem is, at heart, a geographic problem. For every viable tissue, there is a viable recipient. All that is required is a room. Considering the timeline is a full week, what should be happening is a coordination of all nation-wide forms of transportation. Over the course of a week it is likely that there is at least one operating room available somewhere, all we need to do is muster the resolve to match tissue, donor, and room in the same location.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Real "CANDU" Attitude

While one article in the Journal spoke cryptically about squandering Canada's "biggest economic growth opportunity since confederation" without actually saying what it is or how we might, an article I can only assume was intended to reassure us about Canada's ability to exploit its growth raises some uncomfortable questions.

With many smiles and handshakes Canada brokered a deal to cooperate with India, coordinating our two civilian nuclear energy programs.
Nuclear? But aren't we worried about India's bombs already?
Yes we sure are, but don't worry, we are going to make sure they can not use the Uranium for military use, like they did in 1970 when we sold them a CANDU reactor that turned up later with a cowboy riding it. (Personally I would assume that setting up a monitoring program to ensure Canada was not step one of India's bomb - making process would be a key step in drafting the agreement, but since they already promised they would play nice, and this is an economic growth opportunity like the ones we are in danger of squandering, full steam ahead! Besides, that was just Cold War hijinks, and the demand for a nuclear bomb has faded now, as the desire to completely eradicate one's enemies is prone to doing. [Process pending in Afghanistan])

Anyway, the monitoring program only seeks to ensure the uranium is not diverted for military use; there is (there can be) no system to ensure the research that we are planning to engage in will not be used for military purposes. Short of constant personnel monitoring, or a KGB-like security staff, it would be effortless to simply supply scientists to both endeavors, and utilize the advances made.

India attempts to goad Canada into the deal  by saying that we could jointly help third countries by supplying them with nuclear reactors, but given Canada's shiny, new, doesn't-give-a-shit foreign policy,  this is mostly just a PR campaign. It is interesting to note that Canada is a member of the  International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation, which specifies non-proliferation, but India is not. There has even been some suggestion that the guidelines of this agreement will make us responsible for India's nuclear waste - not something I would like us on the hook for.

Despite the mindless pro-foreign cooperation tone inherent in the paper, it is apparent that the deal has only financial interests in mind without pausing to think perhaps we shouldn't leap into deals with countries that have used us in the past. Or at least not while bearing gifts.
My favorite part in the article is where India politely turns down Canada's CANDU reactors by saying, "We have our own technology." They don't need Canada's crappy little reactors - okay? They have a better one. They just need the stuff to run it. And someone to clean up afterwards.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dearth Of 60

Over the past years I have become more jaded about health programs put in place by any level of government; I just can't get past the notion that they would benefit from a less fit population, after all it is harder to riot if you can't walk down a street. But I was actually excited about the Air Quality Health index - especially since if I hope to keep running on a regular basis, it is easier without particulate in my lungs.

I came to a halt in my navigation, however, when I looked at the map available for air monitoring.  There was a large void in the province where my hometown was; the community of High Level, which also has my vote for "Most Difficult Town Name to Constructively Google for" since every search includes any site with 'high levels' of anything. In fact, anything north of Grande Prairie or west of Fort McKay was blank.

When I spoke with High Level's mayor, he said the provincial index had not been mentioned to him in any capacity, but he remembered some air quality monitoring stations operating within the area in the past. For anyone not familiar with the area the dominant industry is forestry, which necessitates the existence of structure called a "Burner". These large, glowing, building - sized machines are the reason that, for the first fifteen years of my life, I believed snow came with black flecks on it, dusted on top like chocolate curls on a cake. The mayor also mentioned that High Prairie was the site of a Burner, and it, too, is missing on the Air Quality map.

My next call was to Bob Myrick from Alberta Environment, who politely acknowledged that there was a big gap in the monitoring, and even that they were likely to field some phone calls about it, but he said they only put them in major communities (Beaverlodge: pop. 2500, Bruderheim: pop. 1228, Lamont: pop.1700) that were close to major industries (not the Forestry industry, which is apparently pittance), since the stations cost around $50 000 annually to run. He suggested I should speak to my local political representative, the Mayor, which I already had, but with even my elementary understanding of provincial/municipal relationships, I realize it is unlikely the town could have any influence in the actions of Alberta Environment. I asked Mr. Myrick about the monitoring stations that were already there, but he believed they were run by the industry to report for legislation reasons, and mentioned that if they were run by Alberta Environment it would be convenient to add them onto the monitoring system. I elected not to mention that if the monitoring stations were run by the industry to report back for legislative reasons, they would likely be reporting to Alberta Environment, and could therefore provide the desired forecast that other communities enjoy. It seems the main reason to not do so would be to keep industry sensitive information away from the public.

The last reason Mr. Myrick gave for the deficiency was the lack of Airshed partnership in High Level; apparently a lot of the program is assisted by Airshed programs across the province, (Alberta capital airshed appears to focus on the capital, rather than the Alberta, not that I'm bitter) an idea that is certainly reinforced by the map of Airshed alliances, which almost mirrors the Air Quality maps exactly. But it is pretty uncomfortable to consider such a big part of our health/environment program would rely so heavily on non-profit organizations, but be presented as if the province was looking out for our well being. It might even seem as though the airshed programs were pestering the government into action.

Wow, you are verbose today. Making up for that week off?
You got me, Dear Reader, I do feel guilty, but there is a reason for the particular rearrangement of air monitoring. Two are, notably, flanking the Oil Sands, despite the low population (1000) in Fort McKay, but return pristine air quality assessments, a sure sign that this is just a covert attempt to raise the public perception of the Oil Sands. The fact that Fort Chipewyan, population 1000 but known for it's complaints about the Oil Sands causing cancer, merited a station (although they are within the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association's jurisdiction) only gives evidence to this idea. The air quality in forestry heavy places like High Level and High Prairie would be abysmal from the air particulates produced by the Burners, and so they just ignore those areas.

What we really need is an Airshed alliance up north, to start motivating the government to look into these areas. It can not continue to gloss over the experiences of those at the higher latitudes and hope they don't notice.  The north won't stay marginalized for long.

The title plays off the name of an old show about life in Northern Canada, "North of 60", as in North of sixty degrees latitude.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Free of Handsfree

A historic ruling drew little public attention today as the Prime Minister repealed all Handsfree legislation in a ceremony attended almost exclusively by journalists, interested only in reporting on the leader's choice of fashion.

Under the bright red banner of office, just after noon, the PM sat to sign away a legislation that had not technically been enforced in years since the advent of the MoveSafe technology, the system which coordinates all vehicles on the road. He was heartily applauded by the present ministers, and nodded to the press with a cheeky grin. Remarkably, the process took an entire ten minutes, all of which the Prime Minister remained present and seated for.

The prohibition against using phones or any other device that required hands to operate was put in place almost one hundred years ago in response to the primitive forms of steering vehicles used. Since they required both hands to steer, it was theorized that forcing drivers to keep both hands on the wheel would reduce accidents. The law was fundamentally flawed from the start, however, as subsequent years and testing demonstrated it was the lack of attention, rather than the physical reality of such devices, that caused the accidents.

The move still attracted some criticism, and even a protester who showed up with a hand-created sign. She remained for the lead up, but departed at the start of the meeting, leaving her sign in the trashcan.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Wildcard Weekend: What a Drink For Me!

Considering today started at 0430, will span a 12 hour shift, 5 hours of driving, and a grocery shopping trip, discovering this little tribute to the Bean of Life seemed positively serendipitous.

Take it with a grain of salt, of course, and the humor gets a little dark, but all in all, a delightful watch over your morning cuppa.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Happy Canada Day!

It's a Happy Canada Day here, in the most self-conscious country on the planet. I'm just pleased as punch to have the day off, and a barbeque to go to, but when I thought about doing a post I realized the best way to show tribute to the country I love is by not criticizing it for a day! To get in the Canadian spirit, for my foreign readers, I suggest listening to some Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe, and watching the "A Part Of Our Heritage" moments; Everyone's Canadian on Canada day! So here is a webcam picture of parliament hill to stare at,  just hit reload to update it whenever you like.