Sunday, December 6, 2009

Inside last year's coalition deal

Brian Topp's chronology of last year's events in which federal opposition parties banded together in an attempt to take power from the minority Conservative government is a must-read for any political junkie, no matter your opinion of the deal itself.

Topp, a former NDP campaign co-chair and a coalition negotiator for the NDP, presented his take on the day-to-day drama in a six-part series in the Globe and Mail over the past week.

All the juicy details are there: Dion's desire to un-resign his leadership by leaping right into the Prime Minister's chair, the coalition's strategic error in closely associating themselves with the Bloc (which the Tories seized on pretty much within seconds of hearing about the plan), the Ignatieff team's tepid embrace and then rejection of the coalition, some funny moments of Liberal "entitlement" behaviour (for example, see Marlene Jennings's comments during cabinet negotiations), Dion's final big flop on national television and a whole lot of "big names" playing a role, among them Dion, Ignatieff, Layton, Rae, Chrétien, Broadbent, Blakeney and a host of others.

The series has created quite a stir among political commentators. See the reactions by
Chantal Hébert, Rex Murphy, Paul Wells and Curtis at Endless Spin Cycle (whose earlier post I initially missed when composing this one). Jane Taber comments on how the Tories celebrated the one-year anniversary of the coalition's demise.

Photo: Competing protests in favour and opposed to the proposed coalition in late 2008.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A shameful lack of vision

Andrew Coyne sure tells it like is. Why is a government that so adamantly denies any knowledge of Canadian complicity in torture so desperate to keep us guessing? If they're holding the truth in their back pocket, why are they more determined than ever to block the way forward?

With one Tory MP after another getting in on the act of trying to undermine former diplomat Richard Colvin's testimony (for example, for being
filmsy, inconsistent, and unreliable), it took Christie Blatchford two articles to articulate what weeks of inept spinning have failed to do: poke holes in Colvin's credibility. Don Martin of the National Post has done some similar work.

Of course, many questions remain and Blatchford focuses only on Colvin's testimony, not on the bigger torture issue (
as one Globe letter writer suggested, her "wheat vs. chaff" comment sounds like she misses the boat entirely on the torture question). We can only hope the Military Police Complaints Commission, which is investigating the allegations, is able to eke out the truth despite the government's best efforts to block and obfuscate.

Once again, we see petty and angry politics trump reasoned, articulate, responsible leadership at the federal level. After all, were the leaders of this government to have the courage of their own convictions, surely they would continue to champion the mission in Afghanistan while rushing to sincerely address the damaging allegations that have surfaced. Yet, we see no leadership; we hear no vision. Instead, they duck and hide behind angry, petty invective disguised as spin.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Swan is out!

On Saturday, I posted a comment to Never Eat Yellow Snow's post saying that Swan had reached his “do or die” moment and had to do well in this past weekend’s delegate selection meetings or see his support crumble amid an increasingly polarized Selinger-Ashton battle.

Today, we see the result:
Swan is dropping out, changing the race into a simple one-ballot, two-candidate contest for the Premiership.

While there's no word yet on whether he'll publicly endorse one of his former rivals, it's almost a certainty that Swan will back Selinger. At least 67 Swan-declared delegates will also be freed up to vote for one of the other two candidates. It's certain they'll go disproportionately to Selinger, who, despite a slow start, has emerged in the last couple of weeks as the odds-on favourite to win.

Followers of the leadership race should also check Never Eat Yellow Snow and Endless Spin Cycle regularly for their great ongoing coverage.

UPDATE: Swan and several ministers who had lined up behind him have endorsed Selinger. As Yellow Snow notes, we can expect the rest of the Swan-endorsing cabinet ministers and labour leaders to follow suit.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why Manitoba Liberals will never win power

How much political mileage can the good doctor expect to get by bashing the guy who's being fêted as he heads for the exit?

Be nice, Mr. Gerrard -- offer up the mandatory bouquet of nice words and funny anecdotes and then turn your attention to someone you'll actually be facing off against.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A leisurely rant

I was considering live-blogging my attempt to register for some of Winnipeg's Leisure Guide courses Monday morning, but my readers should be thankful I didn't. It would have looked very much like this, only much, much longer:

9:00 Web page tells me too many users are trying to access the system. Can't get in.
9:01 Registration by phone impossible. 311 number busy. Can they not use some queuing software?
9:05 Repeated attempts to access the website and 311 line prove fruitless.
9:11 Now, even the City's "too many users" webpage won't load.
9:15 Back to the regular error message.
9:22 Ditto.
9:29 Still no luck.
9:37 Same thing.
9:50 Ditto.


10:57 Same thing.
11:00 Ditto.
11:01 Wow, just got in. Okay, first step after clicking "English" is to log in. How to do so is not so obvious. Found help page which told me I have to click "my basket" as the first step. Okay, in. Found my course and clicked register and got... oh no, the "too many users" error message. I've been booted out after trying all morning to get in.
11:25 Trying the website continuously for 20 minutes. No luck. 311 still busy.
11:34 Registration by phone still impossible. 311 number busy.
11:39 Ditto.

Finally, sometime shortly after 12, the e-gates opened and I was able to register. It was hardly a hassle-free process, though, as finding and registering for a few courses took me nearly 30 minutes. A few of my experiences:

- Some of the courses listed in the Leisure Guide had incorrect ID numbers, which meant having to manually search for them to find the real numbers.

- Often, clicking on the "details" button for a course provided no information or gave me an error message.

- When clicking to register for a course, the site took me to my shopping basket where the next step was to choose the "client" or course taker, assuming you have more than one person in your account. For one of the courses I added, I had to click the name of the course-taker more than 20 times before the site would accept my selection -- it would otherwise load a blank webpage; browsing back to my basket showed the person selection still not yet made.

- After selecting one course brought me to the "my basket" page, I chose the user and was informed by the site that the course was no longer available (yet checking it showed many spots still open).

Now, I love taking the fabulous courses that are offered in the Leisure Guide each year and find the quality of instruction to be very high, but can we not get a proper registration system? The site and process would have looked and felt archaic ten years ago. And the 311 phone line -- can I not just be put on hold, even if I am kindly told by an electronic voice I will be there for 30 minutes?

Websites have been around for over 15 years. While we can afford to suffer the bugs of brand new technology, there's no excuse for having a website that wonky. The standard these days is that sites are user friendly, bug-free, and linked to databases thoroughly checked for errors. With hundreds of colleges and universities in this country that take course registrations every day, there are sure to be some best practices that can be emulated.

In the meantime, assuming the folks that went through what I did didn't just give up in frustration, you can bet that the courses in anger management, blood pressure control, and meditation are now all full.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lawrence Cannon, no friend of Canadians

As the Tories launch their latest round of plans to secure a majority government, they might find getting off the ground is easier if you first get rid of the anvil sitting in the luggage bay.

The anvil in question is Lawrence Cannon, our federal Minister of Foreign Affairs, and no friend of Canadian citizens travelling abroad. In this weekend's Globe, both
Rex Murphy and Gerald Caplan eloquently describe Cannon's bungling and bizarre comments that make clear his inability to stand up for the citizens his government is supposed to represent. If law-abiding Canadians find themselves in trouble abroad, who can they count on if not their own government?

The latest mistake -- trapping Toronto woman Suaad Hagi Mohamud in Kenya after Canadian officials wrongly denied she was Canadian -- has resulted in a
$2.5 million dollar suit against the government. Abdelrazik, the Canadian citizen trapped in Sudan for over six years until a court forced the government to bring him home, will likely cost the government millions more. Money of course doesn't make up for the grief and trauma experienced by the victims.

While we can't personally blame the Minister for every mistake made, it's his inability to speak up and resolve issues that we should question. In some cases, his department is
completely silent when dialogue with a foreign government is clearly warranted. In the case of Abdelrazik, for reasons still never thoroughly explained, his department deliberately created additional roadblocks to prevent the citizen's return home.

The question now is how much more will this Minister cost Canadians before he finds the exit?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Building mosques as economic strategy

Globe article makes for some thought-provoking reading: it details how Prince George, BC is building a mosque and Islamic cultural and educational centre in the hopes of luring in the high-skilled workers it desperately needs.

Interestingly, this comes at a time when some citizens of the western world – in a decade likely to be defined by 9/11 and the sudden economic downturn near its close – are being taken in by the dark side of xenophobia and anti-immigrant finger-pointing (see this week’s European Parliament election results).

While it was undoubtedly in the works for some time, Prince George’s announcement dovetails nicely with Barack Obama’s recent
overtures to the Muslim world. His message of peace – eloquently quoted from the Koran last week – was no doubt expressed also in the hopes of achieving not just social objectives, but economic objectives: in this case, economic stability, improved trade and access to markets, and an end to the costly and controversial military conflicts that continue to rage through many Islamic regions of Africa and Asia.

The likely role that Prince George’s mosque will play in its future might also bear some comparison with the role the
Winnipeg Central Mosque (or WCM) plays in the West End neighbourhood’s development. Open in 2004, the mosque is a resource and prayer centre for the local Muslim community, which must be quite large if the crowds that can be seen coming to and leaving the centre are any indication. The WCM, along with the Halal food shops I also see opening up in the neighbourhood, likely represent both a sign of and a draw for local and immigrating Muslims.

While Winnipeg continues to face its own significant skilled labour shortages, there is also hope that the WCM, along with other West End developments, represents a new wave of community pride in the neighbourhood, which many suburban Winnipeggers may have long written off as lost to prostitution and crime. Along with neighbours such as the Ellice Café & Theatre, the Black Sheep Diner, and the new West End Cultural Centre, the WCM is one of a number of growing spaces of vibrancy in an area long characterized by its pockets of vibrancy.

If Prince George’s strategy works to its benefit – and I think it will to some degree – this will only fuel the debate over what religious, cultural or artistic investments a city or region can make to successfully lure and then settle new migrants to ultimately benefit its own economy (take note,
Richard Florida).

Governments of course have a long-running preference for investing in large "bricks and mortar" type projects that have more finite, predictable, and mathematically-derivable estimates of economic impact than something more indirectly beneficial like a mosque. Of course, those same "bricks and mortar" projects usually bring in office drones who extend the morning Tim Horton's lineups even further down the street but who, like clockwork, quickly desert the neighbourhood to the shadows a moment after 5 pm.

Maybe building mosques and other types of community centres is a better strategy for developing thriving neighbourhoods and healthy economies.

Photo: Istanbul's Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, was built between 1609 and 1616. It is renowned for its more than 20,000 handmade blue ceramic tiles and six minarets.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Election watching

It's been a slow spring in the Manitoba blogosphere, including here at PT. That's not to say there isn't a lot going on politically around the world.


Election watchers might be interested in
this BBC summary of the EU election results.

I find it quite fascinating how diverse political parties from very different European political cultures have managed to forge a series of pan-European slates. On the left, labour-oriented, moderate socialist and social democratic parties are largely united under the Party of European Socialists (PES) banner. They are second to the bloc of centre-right, Christian democrat and conservative parties that have banded together under the umbrella of the European People's Party – European Democrats (EPP-ED), which Britain’s Tories are in the process of leaving in the hopes of forming a new coalition. Centrist and liberal/pro-free trade parties comprise the third-largest grouping in the European Parliament, known as the Alliance Of Liberals And Democrats For Europe (ALDE).

The mostly right-wing Euro-skeptics, those mostly opposed to greater European integration through the building of pan-European institutions and regulations, have their own pan-European party, called the Union For Europe Of The Nations or UEN. Extreme Euro-skeptics, those looking for their country’s complete withdrawal from the EU, are part of the Independence And Democracy (IND/DEM) coalition.

Small regional and nationalist parties, such as those from Scotland, Wales and the Basque region of Spain, have banded together as the European Free Alliance (EFA) and are now allied with the European Greens. Communist and radical left parties also have their own left parliamentary bloc.

Results in this weekend's elections mark a continued decrease in voter turnout to just 43% and a general rightward tilt in votes cast, particularly in Britain, where Gordon Brown’s struggling Labour Party was reduced to a mere 15% of the votes. Left-leaning parties in France, Spain and Portugal also saw their share of the vote decline.

Alarmingly, a number of xenophobic, anti-immigrant and far-right parties, including the British National Party,
saw their numbers increase.

Finally, Sweden’s Pirate Party, which runs on a platform of copyright and patent law reform, won its first seat in the European Parliament.


Election followers are no doubt casting their eyes southeast of the EU to Lebanon, where the governing coalition just staved off a strong challenge from the opposition coalition that's led by the infamous Hezbollah movement.

This Globe article provides a good overview of the different religious, ethnic and political associations of each party.

Nova Scotia

Closer to home, a lot of people are following developments in Nova Scotia, where the NDP looks poised to form its first government ever in Atlantic Canada. Three polls have now put the NDP around 45%, far ahead of the governing Conservatives and third-place Liberals, who are each reported to be holding around 25%.

Some good sites to follow the coverage include those of the Chronicle-Herald and CBC, Nodice, an elections facts and figures site, and the Elections Nova Scotia site itself.

Elsewhere around the world

Election watchers can follow recent and upcoming elections at sites such as
Election Guide.

Photo: A display meant to promote the 2009 European elections.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

PT turns two!

Prairie Topiary turned two today, an event worth celebrating! (somehow, I managed to completely sleep through the blog’s first anniversary.)

While the posts here tend to be wordy and infrequent, they also tend to be well received by readers.

In two years since this blog has started, the local politics-oriented blogging community has changed somewhat. Missed are Blackberry Addicts and Comments Closed. Great new additions to the community include
PolicyFrog and The Don Street Blog. A host of others continue to provide regular, valuable contributions. My blogroll provides a selection of the blogs I follow regularly and that are worth checking out.

No blog anniversary is complete without a look back on some favourite posts:

Are we bad eco-citizens? (January 2009): I asked this after coming across some Statistics Canada data that suggests Manitobans are behind most other Canadians when it comes to a range of environmentally friendly behaviours.

The prorogation and 2009’s limping victor (December 2008): We all remember the drama that played itself out before Christmas, with government and opposition battling it out for power. My take was that the prize wasn't much of a prize given the long hard road ahead either government would face, something that Ignatieff likely came to realize and that Harper is finding out.

A two-horse race and other pre-election myths (September 2008): Looking back to the eve of the last federal campaign, it seems obvious now that the Tories were strong, the Liberals were in disastrous shape and that the NDP hadn’t lost dramatic numbers of votes to the Greens. However, that’s not what you’d think from reading news reports and poll punditry at the time. One Liberal commenter took strong exception to my post.

The non-issue of crown donations to the human rights museum (May 2008): Policy Frog and I debated the merits and appropriateness of provincial crown donations to the CMHR, with me taking the side that the donations were appropriate.

New software does not an urban vision make (February 2008): I critiqued Sam Katz’s annual Chamber of Commerce mayoral speech, particularly for its lack of vision and obsession with the CrimeStat software program. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to Katz's 2009 one.

The endorsement game (January 2008): I had fun watching American celebrities line up behind their favourite candidates for the Democratic and Republican nominations. Who knew then that Obama would go on to trounce first Clinton and then McCain?

Canada’s shameful day at the UN (June 2007): I called attention to the federal government’s disappointing decision to withdraw support for the UN’s Draft Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples after years of work promoting it.

Forward not back (May 2007): Manitoba’s voters elected a greater share of women to its Legislature than sit in the House of Commons or in the legislative assembly of any other province. Obviously, at 32%, we’re a long ways yet from gender equality among our provincial representatives.

Triumphant! (May 2007): While I love making election predictions, I can't say I’m always right. However, I did very well in Manitoba’s last contest, successfully predicting the result in 54 out of 57 constituencies, for 95% accuracy.

Tory justice: lock up the poor (May 2007): In Manitoba’s last campaign, the Tories came up with the ridiculous idea of denying legal aid to people who have a previous conviction for certain types of offenses. Not only did they throw the concept of being innocent until proven guilty out the window, but the plan would probably cost more in the long run than it would save. It's clear they didn’t think through that one very well.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wells and Coyne on torture

A good debate between Andrew Coyne and Paul Wells on the torture issue in the US. Wells hits it out of the park in this debate compared to Coyne's weak, mumbling defense.

Proponents of torture always use the ticking time bomb analogy to justify why it should be legal. If that's really the rationale for why torture should be allowed and if that really describes the rare occasion when its use would be acceptable, then isn't its illegality (with extreme penalties for its use) exactly the right deterrent necessary to prevent its regular use by authorities?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Does the left gain when the economy is down?

There’s an interesting debate going on in the Globe and Mail about the role of the NDP and the reason why it doesn’t seem to be making headlines these days despite the economic downturn – the question Lawrence Martin asks (see Letters to the editor responses) in the article that kicked off the discussion is that, when capitalism is in crisis, shouldn’t the left see gains?

It’s logical to think that the NDP should make gains during tough times as people look for alternatives to the economic system that may be causing them hardship. This might partially explain the NDP’s surprising win in Ontario in 1990.

However, it’s also possible that a sinking economy might actually harm the left electorally. In good times, voters may feel more comfortable having their government deal with issues that people perceive to be left: addressing poverty and inequality, expanding social programs, funding the CBC, mandating environmentally-friendly behaviours, etc. In tough times, voters often focus on the economy as the sole issue, and the Conservatives have traditionally been best at branding themselves as economic managers. Besides, in bad times, governments of all stripes will tend to sound and act a little like New Democrats: showing concern about rising unemployment, wanting to curb or prevent poverty, speaking about education and training, penalizing arrogant corporate leaders, and actively intervening in the economy where it’ll save some jobs and earn points with voters.

I decided to see if I could see any relationship between economic ups and downs and federal voting behaviour for the past several decades. There are two charts I've created (click to enlarge). The one on top shows the share of popular vote received by right wing parties (Conservatives, Progressive Conservatives, Canadian Alliance, Reform party and Social Credit/Ralliement créditiste) and left wing parties (one bar shows just the NDP; another shows the NDP grouped with the Greens and the Bloc, which assumes we can lump those parties in as left) since 1972.

In the chart, the right-wing vote appears relatively consistent outside of the two big Mulroney victories in the 1980s. The drop in the NDP vote from 1993 to 2000 also stands out, but its vote is otherwise remarkably consistent from 1972 to 2008. The combined "left" vote begins to differ from the NDP as the Bloc emerged in the early 90s. The grouped left vote stands out as very strong in each of the last three elections, with 2008 representing a high water mark.

I included in the bottom chart two economic indicators. The first is the annual unemployment rate and the second is the quarter-over-quarter real GDP growth rate.

The unemployment rate curve shows two dramatic peaks – one in 1983 and one in 1993. Interestingly, the two biggest electoral shifts over the period also occurred around those times. The first, in 1984, swept Mulroney to power with the largest majority in Canadian history. The second, in 1993, did the opposite, nearly wiping out the Progressive Conservatives and vaulting the Chrétien Liberals into power.

What's striking about the GDP growth curve is the relative flatness since about 1981 and especially during the 1990s. In the past ten years, quarter-to-quarter growth has been mostly positive, but is relatively inconsistent, with 9/11 having a noticeable negative impact in 2001. The plunge at the end of 2008 appears dramatic when compared historically.

So can we conclude any relationship between swings to the left or right and economic downturns? Not likely, at least not based on the data I've presented. Interesting shifts in the popular vote do appear, but they don't seem to be dependent on economic upturns or downturns. Economic shifts probably do affect voter behaviour, but not in ways that are entirely predictable. Furthermore, the traction that a party may get politically isn't always evident in the electoral numbers. Having an influence on the policy process and in the marketplace of ideas – regardless of which party ultimately takes credit – is something that can’t be measured here.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A primer on the resolutions process

The annual pre-convention exercise of making fun of NDP resolutions has begun (see the
Globe, Free Press and Rise and Sprawl). The exercise typically involves digging through the hundreds of resolutions submitted by grassroots NDP members to find those that can be most portrayed as "kooky," usually with the end result of right-wingers everywhere nodding and patting themselves on the back for being such sensible folks in comparison to those crazy Dippers.

Sure, there are and always will be ideas presented that are ill-informed and unrealistic, but that's simply part of grassroots democracy. After all, resolutions can be drafted by any party member and make it into the convention book if they're passed at any one of the constituency, committee or affiliated organization meetings. Some of those meetings might only have three or four voting members in attendance, so it's relatively easy for any member to draft a resolution, have it end up in the convention book and presumably be mocked in the local and national media.

Any party that genuinely accepts and debates resolutions from a diverse membership across regions far and wide will end up with a grab-bag of ideas, some good and some bad. And it's not like the bad ones automatically become party doctrine. In the NDP, a policy committee reviews and prioritizes all resolutions ahead of the convention to bring those most relevant and well-thought out to the fore. Convention delegates then have an opportunity to change the prioritization before they debate and vote on the resolutions. Those passed become party policy, but not necessarily government policy.

It may be fun to sift through hundreds of ideas just to laugh at the three or four that seem most far-fetched, but in the mix will also be some policy winners. I wonder if, in mocking the outcome of a system that lets ordinary people participate in policy development, the critics would feel more comfortable shutting out the grassroots and leaving all of the idea-generation to elites.

UPDATE: See the Globe's snidely-toned March 2 editorial here and Endless Spin's take here.

Photo: This year's NDP convention will be held at Brandon's Keystone Centre.

A raw deal for the consumer?

This article in today's Globe should be required reading for anyone tempted to think that sales of unpasteurized or "raw" milk will be ultimately better for the consumer.

Food safety regulations aren't in place out of some need for bureaucratic red tape. They save lives by preventing the spread of food-borne pathogens that exist in food, including in raw milk.

We tend to sympathize with the idea of raw milk because it conjures up some idyllic image of a family farm from which only fresh, wholesome food comes. The reality of most farming today is much different (see the Meatrix video, a take on the movie The Matrix).

We've seen widespread sickness and death come many times from the breakdown of food safety regulations. As the article states, "the last thing we need is to go adding to the list of risky foods by casting aside techniques like pasteurization that have served us so well."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Open consultation or sell job?

So, a firm by the name of Biggar Ideas has landed
a $250,000 contract from the city to "engage the public, provide information and conduct consultations" about Winnipeg’s proposed new water utility. This follows City Council's plan to "explore" the idea of creating a new city water utlity, one rationale for which is that the city can then sell its water to neighbouring municipalities.

Sounds okay, right? The city has apparently not made any decision and is only "exploring," so we can be confident that it's legitimately seeking to hear all opinions on the matter, right?


The hired firm's marketing identifies its hallmark as
"its ability to shift and shape public and stakeholder opinion." Sounds a little like someone in the mayor's office has already made a decision and is hiring someone to manipulate public opinion in the favoured direction, no?

If we're truly in the exploratory stage, then why hire a firm to sell the idea? And if the mayor truly believes this move would be best for the city, why doesn't he just say so and champion the idea publicly himself? Let's have a debate! Glen Murray, for all his faults, was never afraid of promoting his ideas openly.

The burden of proof will now be on the city and their chosen consultant to respectfully facilitate the gathering of public opinion. If anything less happens, those with tough questions will be right to see it as nothing less than a sell job.

It will also be incumbent on those pushing the idea to explain to Winnipeg citizens how the move won't amount to just fueling more urban sprawl at the city's own expense, as
Christopher Leo and others suggest could be the case.

Jenny Gerbasi is absolutely right to be
suspicious of this one.

Photo: Building the Winnipeg Aqueduct, which draws water to Winnipeg from Shoal Lake, Ontario (published in the Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1979).

Monday, February 23, 2009

Harper's Guantanamo?

A Canadian citizen has supposedly been cleared of all suspicion of criminal activity -- enough for the Canadian government to formally request his name be removed from the UN Security Council's blacklist -- and yet the same government keeps throwing up roadblocks to prevent him from returning to Canada. The Harper government appears to be deliberately lying about the requirements he has to meet in order to be allowed back in Canada as they immediately change the requirements the moment he meets them.

If the Harper government is truly confident of Abdelrazik's innocence as they say they are and as they're willing to state in a note to the UN Security Council, then why prevent him from coming home? If they somehow DO have evidence of criminal wrongdoing, then he deserves to be formally charged and then sent home for a proper trial.

Either way, there's no good reason for deliberately keeping a Canadian citizen interned in a foreign country (where's he's been stranded for six years now) without charges or convictions.

By all means, let's do what we can within the law to prevent the perpetration and promotion of violence and hatred. But there's no place for the arbitrary mean-spiritedness, lying and complete disregard for human rights and the rule of law that we're seeing by our government in this case.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Are we bad eco-citizens?

Are Manitobans dismally poor citizens when it comes to environmentally friendly behaviours? A newly-released Statistics Canada study suggests that we are.

We’re last in recycling, which only 88% of us do, far behind second-last place Newfoundland and Labrador’s share of 94%. We’re second-last in the country in using low-flow showerheads (46%), composting (23%), lowering temperatures (50%), and even in using compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs; 50%), though the numbers are from 2006, so recent promotions, such as Manitoba Hydro’s CFL campaign last fall wouldn’t have affected the numbers.

We’re also second-last in the country in “very active” environmental behaviour, which is defined as participating in four or more environmental activities, and have the largest share of households that are “less active.”

While the numbers are disappointing, I can’t say I’m surprised. The oft-heard whining about parking (already over-abundant and relatively cheap) and traffic jams (practically non-existent compared to most major cities) in Winnipeg is a constant reminder of our idolization of the car and stigmatization of more environmentally-friendly alternatives. The surprised expressions I receive regularly from sales clerks when I say “I don’t need a bag” for the already-over-packaged single item I’m buying confirms our zombie-like acceptance of ever more trash and our resistance to change.

So what’s the reason? The Statistics Canada study points out that environmental activities increase with greater income, education, and homeownership, of which the first two may play some role in Manitoba. The Canadian Press article (available
here and here) on the issue quotes Randall McQuaker of the Resource Conservation Manitoba as pointing out the lack of consequences associated with sending our trash to the landfill. Certainly, an abundance of prairie land has allowed us to revel in car culture and urban sprawl while filling up our landfills without much cost or afterthought.

Cheap land doesn’t explain it all. There’s a lot more we can do – more of our public institutions and big corporations stepping up to the plate with public awareness advertising and leadership by example would be a great start. The article mentions hospitals that don’t recycle – let’s make it easy for people to do the right thing.

Visionary leaders make a big difference – bans on free plastic bags and curbside waste limits should be looked at seriously. More can be done to encourage the recycling of electronics, which otherwise leach toxins into the ground, and composting. It shouldn’t have to be hard to be nice to the environment.

Here’s to hoping we can put a green foot forward and make some significant strides soon.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

My kind of urban renewal

In an era of yet more big box sprawl, fortress-style architecture, and heritage building gutting, it's nice to see some genuine urban renewal involving one of the things I love most: breakfast.

I frequently enjoy the food at two relatively new diners in the inner city. Both feature fantastic home-cooked food (including an abundance of real vegetables and fruit), warm and friendly service, pleasant atmospheres, and a comfortable sense of genuineness that's so often lacking in ordinary suburban chain restaurants. You can tell these newcomers must be doing something right by the healthy number of mostly under-40 customers who flock there on weekends.

The Tallest Poppy is on Main at Logan. Enjoy their hearty breakfast scramble and homemade bread and marmalade (all of it made with locally sourced ingredients, where possible) in an open kitchen-style atmosphere.

The Black Sheep is on Ellice at Langside. Enjoy their fantastic goat cheese omelettes, potatoes or fruit while admiring the LPs on the piano, checking out the unique salt and pepper shakers (a different set on each table), and examining your Art Hive (a refurbished now-non-carcinogenic cigarette dispenser) purchase.

Brunch never tasted so good!

Photo: The Tallest Poppy (photo originally posted by 1ajs at