Burlington - Urban and Rural; Romanticism versus Social Commentary. Bateman makes a strong statement.

opinionandcommentBy Jim Riley

June 22, 2016


The Art Gallery of Burlington is presenting a visual discussion on the duality of the urban and rural aspects of Burlington. Chief Curator Denis Longchamps, along with the Burlington Fine Arts Association, developed the theme to celebrate the BFAA’s fiftieth anniversary.

There was also a Call for Proposals on this theme, broadening it to a multidisciplinary exhibition. Sixty-six art works were selected, with a very wide range of sizes.

This is a more cohesive exhibition than the All Guilds’ group show in 2015, but it still has challenges to overcome. With this curatorial theme, it has improved the unity of presentation. This exhibit presents an uneven quality of artworks.

This theme gave opportunities for the artists to express their opinions about how the urban and rural co-exist in our city. One of the roles of artists is to raise issues within the culture they inhabit. There are few cities that (philosophically and culturally) declare protection of a rural culture, geopolitically combined with an urban culture the way Burlington has – it was actually the province that imposed that requirement on us.. Many artworks spoke of romantic places, with a varying degree of success.

Longchamps hung the Urban Rural exhibit capably, by tying together themes of content, aesthetics and scale.

Batemans Progress

Robert Bateman, Progress, 2015, acrylic

Robert Bateman was invited to exhibit. I found it noteworthy that Bateman and Donna Fratesi’s themes dealt with destruction of Burlington’s historic architecture.

2_ Donna Fratelli, they paved paradise , 2015 acrylic

Donna  Fratesi’s they paved paradise , 2015 acrylic


Both are accomplished technical painters. Bateman was clearer in his thesis than Fratesi’s “They Paved Paradise”. Fratesi seems timid about her message, but evokes a warm memory of the intersection of Pine and Pearl streets. It is a romantic reminiscence of downtown Burlington. Although Bateman relies on text, he creates a clear criticism of Burlington’s treatment of its historic buildings. He focuses on the United Empire Loyalist Fisher house being replaced by a parking lot. Both artists explore their connections to the urban downtown environment, but Bateman’s “Progress” is more directly critical of how we handle it.

3_ Lorraine Roy, The Palace, textile, 2015

Lorraine Roy, “The Balance”, textile, 2015

Lorraine Roy’s “The Balance”  is one of the stronger works in this exhibition. Her textile work not only functions well on a compositional level but demonstrates the “pull and push” between urban and rural ecosystems. The wrapped, uprooted tree balances precariously be-tween the two worlds as it searches for a transplant space. Will it survive? Roy’s imagery is strong with rich tones suggesting a Tim Burton-style nightmare quality. It is intriguingly executed, done with textile rather than paint.

4_ Helen Griffiths, After A Day in (the country), oil, 2015

Helen Griffiths, after a day in (the country), oil, 2015

Similarly, Helen Griffiths’ “After a Day in (the country)” uses her well-developed painterly skills, but also teases the viewer to ponder why she is showing a wild skunk sniffing at a beautiful bundle of roses. The artist statement refers to wild animals invading her neighbourhood. Like Griffiths’ reference to wildlife,

5_ Victoria Pearce, Lost Between acrylic 2016

Victoria Pearce, Lost Between acrylic 2016

Victoria Pearce’s “Lost Between” uses images of Monarch butterflies, and the surrealistic imagery of an urban-rural coyote. The coyote is nestled in grasses as it floats over a grid of urban streets. This may be suggesting that a clash between natural and urban worlds is imminent. Certainly, the coyote making itself comfortable in the urban environment is a new reality for Burlington. All three artists successfully combine content and painterly aspects in their art practice.

6_ Vanessa Cres Lokos, Moving Forward, 2016, mixed media

Vanessa Cres Lokos, Moving Forward, 2016, mixed media

7 Dawn-Hackett-Burns & Michelle Lynn, Home Grown

Dawn-Hackett-Burns & Michelle Lynn, “Home Grown”, ceramic.

Vanessa Cres Lokos, “Moving Forward” and Dawn-Hackett-Burns & Michelle Lynn, “Home Grown” were hung one over the other. Cres Lokos’ expresses her viewpoint on rural and urban issues by placing cows marching along the Burlington pier with a forewarning, overcast sky. Hacket-Burns’ and Lynn’s ceramic artwork explores residential homes overwhelming rural buildings and cattle.

The artwork is placed on a low plinth so that the viewer can hover and oversee the battle.

8.1 Rossana Dewey, Jan Kendrik and Grace Afonso

Jan Kendrick, Rossana Dewey, Grace Afonso group image

Jan Kendrick’s, Rossana Dewey’s, and Grace Afonso’s paintings were hung side by side. All three artists are skilled painters. They use a similar colour palette and their paintings are emotive and sensually compatible. Their artist statements refer to issues: mining the escarpment, the Greenbelt Plan, the mid-peninsula highway and the vanishing rural landscape.  Their images speak of a vast rural environment, but do not deal clearly with the issues expressed in their artist statements.

9 Kathy Marlene Bailey, Sanctuary Between, oil, 2016

Kathy Marlene Bailey, Sanctuary Between, oil, 2016

Kathy Marlene Bailey, “Sanctuary Between” uses curving movement in a watery world of reflections that suggests a more rural, natural aspect of the theme. Her artist statement refers to city planners facilitating a residential invasion of natural sanctuaries. There is beauty and mystery in Bailey’s painting. There is a hint of the escarpment and a house, but the focus is on water. The painting’s message is some-what ambiguous, in comparison to her artist statement.

The Lee-Chin Family Gallery is a large space. Area around the art-works, and the scale of the various artworks, present a challenge. Petit artworks in such a large space are difficult to notice, given the works nearby that are ten feet high. Longchamps creates space and separation for the intimate works.

There may be too many works in the exhibition for a viewer to comprehend, beyond surface aesthetics. I think this is a group exhibition in which less would actually be much more. However, there are many artworks not mentioned here that you should view, to decide on your own.

The exhibition runs until September 5, 2016
Lee-Chin Family Gallery at Art Gallery of Burlington
1333 Lakeshore Rd., Burlington.

AGB Hours

Monday 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Tuesday – Thursday 9:00 am – 10:00 pm
Friday – Saturday: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Sunday: 12 noon – 5:00 pm

Jim Riley is a Burlington, ON, based arts writer, independent curator and a visual and media artist. His recent art practice involves public art and gallery video installations. Riley has a BA from Brock Uni-versity. He has exhibited his art for thirty years in Canada and the United States. Some of Riley’s video art is represented by V tape Distributions, Toronto. Website: www.jimriley.ca



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Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of people with poor mental health = 50 deaths.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

June 17th, 2016


It was a rare moment.

Democrat and republican senators actually agreed to prohibit the sale of assault weapons to people whose names appeared on a terrorist-watch or no-fly list. In fact automatic assault weapons, like the US army’s M16, are restricted. So in theory civilians can no more legally obtain one of these any easier than they could a fully-functioning tank, B-52 bomber or a nuclear missile. But getting one of their semi-automatic cousins is a different story.

Bill Clinton, in 1994, signed a full-on ban for all assault weapons, though he had to include a ten year sunset clause to get the bill through Congress. And since GW Bush was president while the sun was setting, the ban wasn’t re-instated on its best before date, making it open season for gun buyers. So it’s no wonder that these assault weapons have been the first choice of the perpetrators of America’s mass shootings/killings since then.

AR 15

Less than $1000 retail

The popular AR15 is a lightweight, compact rifle, which only requires a slight shift of one’s finger to fire off a round. And there can be as many as 30 rounds of ammo in the magazine should one want to do a lot of damage. It’s not clear how long it took the mad gunman to empty his magazine and re-load before he killed almost 50 people and wounded almost as many in that crowded night club in Orlando Florida last weekend, but it wouldn’t have been long.

Assault rifles have only one purpose, since they make lousy target or hunting guns – we once again we saw how effective they can be in the hands of a terrorist. Believe it or not it is possible to purchase one of these agents of death in Canada, if you are prepared to go through the hoops and hurdles. But then the weapon is restricted for use only on the target range.

As for US president Obama, gun control has to be one of his biggest failings. After each mass kill, he would rail and try to get new legislation to ban these guns. But like the cartoon character Elmer Fudd, he never could quite bag that prize. After Orlando the frustrated US leader complained that suspects on a terrorist-watch or no-fly list aren’t allowed to board a plane in the US but are free to buy an assault rifle.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Senate democrats picked up the theme and after a marathon filibuster session managed to get bi-partisan agreement. And It didn’t hurt that prospective GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump found himself also concurring.

Char Heston clutching a rifle

Charlton Heston clutching a rife at a National Rifle Association convention,

Trump at one point in his life had been an advocate of more gun control. That is until the NRA (National Rifle Association) endorsed him for president. So now he argues teachers should also be gun slingers and that the best way to reduce gun killings is for everyone to carry a gun. Does he have a point? Had some of the partiers in that Orlando nightclub been carrying, instead of just carrying-on, they might have been able to take out the shooter before the count got to 49 fatalities.

But by extension that is a patently illogical argument. It’s true that mutually assured destruction may have kept nuclear armed nations from using their weapons, but would the same approach work for ordinary civilians? Defenders of loose gun laws are hardly driven by logic, meaningful empirical research or reason. But all they need to do is consider how loose guns were a failure even in the Wild West. Indeed the Wyatt Earps’ of that day kept the peace only by keeping the guns out of Dodge. Their gun laws were tougher than most American states have today and they worked.

Assuming the US House of Representatives also agrees to the modest assault rifle restriction, this would be a tiny step towards sensible gun policy south of the border. And a long march always begins with a first step in the right direction. That direction would be where Japan and Australia have marched, with gun laws that make mass shootings almost unimaginable.

The Chretien government made such a mess of introducing universal long-gun registration in this country two decades ago, that its eventual dismantling by the subsequent right-wing government was almost a given. And sure enough, once Harper got his majority he shut it down and destroyed all of the records which had been collected at significant public expense. In another blow to national unity he forced Quebec’s government into court in a failed attempt by that province to use those records as the basis for its own long-gun registry.

Perhaps as a sop to the western gun lobby the Trudeau government decided to campaign against bringing back the long-gun registry, in fact calling its creation a mistake. Still he did make several gun control promises during last year’s election, which are still in process.

Fire arms possesion certificate

This is all you need in Canada

One of those was to implement Canada’s obligations under the International Arms Trade Treaty, requiring manufactures and importers to place special markings on guns. The Harper government, likely in deference to the National Firearms Association (Canada’s NRA), had procrastinated on this simple requirement which facilitates international armament tracking.

And if eliminating the gun registry wasn’t enough, one Conservative MP, a mere month before the Orlando disaster, presented a petition to de-restrict the sale of assault weapons here in Canada. That would mean anyone with a firearms possession certificate could belly up to their local gun shop and bring one of those beauties home to show their little woman or man. Then it’s off to the woods to see about finally bagging that bunny in the bushes – or worse, for some other kind of hunting in a more public place.


Ray Rivers is an economist and author who writes weekly on federal and provincial issues, applying his 25 years of involvement with federal and provincial ministries.  Rivers’ involvement in city matters led to his appointment as founding chair of Burlington’s Sustainable Development Committee.  He was also a candidate in the 1995 provincial election

Background links:

Samantha Bee –  US Guns –  US Gun Laws  

Guns and Crime in Canada –

Obama on Guns –

More Obama –

LGBT Orlando –

Trump –

More Trump – 

US Gun DebateGuns and the Wild West –  Gun Marking Canada – 

More Marking – 

Liberal Promises – 

Assault Weapons in Canada –

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How did the most important part of the name - community - get dropped?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

June 15th, 2106


I didn’t see the change – even though I was at the event where it was announced.

What I saw was an attractive corporate logo with a really catchy tag line;

Give brilliantly!

BCF logoThe occasion was the launch of the tag line and the newly designed logo put together by Play advertising for the Burlington Community Foundation.

This was the organization that publishes a Vital Signs report on the health of the community.

This is the organization that manages a significant number of endowments created for some community based purpose.

This is the organization that hands out close to a million dollars each year to different community non-profit organizations.

This is the organization that hours after the flood of August 2014, went to work and 100 days later had just short of a million in the bank to hand out to peoples whose homes had been devastated.

I could go on – the word community appears in everything they do.

Thus it was surprising when a friend pointed out to me that word “community” had been dropped from the name – it was now to be the Burlington Foundation.


BCF Mulholland + sign new logoWhen asked for a comment and some clarity, president and CEO Collen Mulholland explained that “Burlington is, and always will be, a thriving community. The Foundation is an integral part — the fabric of the community — as Burlington’s sustainable giving foundation.

“We don’t feel it’s necessary to repeat the word community. We wanted to keep are refreshed brand name concise and memorable also using our new rallying cry and tag line, Give Brilliantly.”

“Hope this helps to clarify for you.”

It doesn’t – defining just who you are matters. Burlington Foundation could be a bank, a club a company that builds basements.

The Burlington Community Foundation tells me exactly what they do – and I applaud that heartily. Continue to Give Brilliantly – the community needs all the help it can get.

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Mary Eleanor McMahon takes on the mantle Ted McMeekin left - she nows has to grow into the biggest job she has ever had - she has shown how to face challenges in the past.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

June 14th, 2016


He mentored her, he tutored her and he perhaps even scolded her from time to time.

She basically harassed him in 2014 when she wanted provincial money for the flood victims in Burlington

And so it came to pass – that he took that long walk into the dark night and she stood up and accepted the appointment to the Premiers Executive Council and is now a member of Cabinet. Two years ago she was an advocate for better bicycle safety.

Politics is a blood sport – it is not for the faint of heart.

It was one of those thinmgs the politicians had to be on hand for - they were the ones that made the funding possible - so Ted McMeekin, the Liberal Minister of Agiculture from a riding next to us, was on hand to tell us what the government had done for us and to thank all the volunteers who made it possible. The volunteers were the imnportant part. of the event.

Ted McMeekin, the Liberal Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the MPP for the riding next to us spoke for Burlington when we needed help. He is now just the MPP for Ancaster – there is still however, a lot of tread on those tires.

Ted McMeekin put a wonderful spin on his “retirement” from Cabinet when he said: “Each time a man or woman stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he or she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”  He added – “I’m grateful to have sent my few small ripples into the current of this Province.”

McMahon gushed and in her typical manner kept saying how honoured she was to have been appointed. It is now time to lighten up on the gushing and the gee whiz stuff and get down to the business of legislating.

McMahon at podium

Eleanor McMahon MPP for Burlington – now a member of the provincial cabinet

McMahon will be spending much of the weekend going over the mandate letter that went with the job and then spending endless hours poring over briefing books.

Then she has to begin to think about how she wants to carry out the mandate she was given.

No more bootserism, no more yelps about how great it all is. Hard work, creative thinking and assembling the team she is going to need to get the job done.

With just two years’ experience as an active politician Mary Eleanor McMahon has her work cut out for her.

There are some very impressive pluses to the woman – she is one of the best political campaigners this reporter has seen – and I’ve seen a lot of them. She bonds with people – and the bonding is real. She likes people; she cares, really cares.

AGB presentation McMahon

The arts are now and tourism are now going to be front and center for the new minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport. She has already begun thinking of bike tours throughout the province.

Kathleen Wynne saw something in McMahon when she personally asked her to run in Burlington and bring to an end more than 70 years of Tory rule. The confident the Premier had when she recruited McMahon is clearly still there – her choice wasn’t based on just gender.

McMahon now faces the challenge of proving the Premier to have been right; she knows what it is to face a challenge – but she isn’t alone facing this one.

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Lisa Raitt - Halton MP, questions government on its pension plans.

News 100 blueBy Staff

June 14th, 2016


It was Question Period in the House of Commons and Lisa Raitt wanted to make a point about pensions and what they did do to one’s wallet.

Mr. Speaker, next week the Minister of Finance is going to meet with his counterparts in the provinces and territories to sell them on his CPP scheme which would tax the average worker an extra $3,000 per year. This new payroll tax would kill 130,000 jobs in our country and it would permanently and significantly lower wages for our young people especially.

How does the Minister of Finance expect Canadian workers to save, start a family, or buy a home when he is increasing their taxes?

A few minutes later Raitt followed up with:

Conservative MP Lisa Raitt asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 4, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Conservative MP Lisa Raitt asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Photo courtesy THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are rightly concerned. The impact of a fourth CPP expansion is going to be on their wallets.
The Minister of Finance has stated that a CPP expansion would be putting too many eggs in one basket. He also said that increasing the CPP would practically take the private sector out of the pension business.

My question is again for the Minister of Finance. Will he just abandon this ill-conceived scheme because it would unfairly target Canadian workers?

Ms Raitt makes no mention of the pretty healthy pension benefit program Members of the House of Commons have given themselves – which comes out of the very same wallets she speaks of.  Ms Raitt is the MP for Halton.

Halton boundary from WM

The boundary for the riding of Halton includes much of northern – rural Burlington.

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Spirituality on the GO train - Burlington lawyer gets a different look at the start of his week.

News 100 yellowBy Staff

June 14th, 2016


Karmel Sakran, a Burlington based lawyer who has served on the hospital board, runs a Wills Clinic each year and was the Liberal candidate for Burlington a number of elections ago, got a letter from a friend recently.

You've seen his picture before - on an election poster. He was smiling then

Karmel Sakran doing the Terry Fox Cure for Cancer run

The letter captivated Karmel. He explained: “… my friend describes her role as a Spiritual Care giver and how she recently had the experience of saving a man’s life on the Go Train. I will let the letter speak for itself. Enjoy!

You would think that someone from Spiritual Care would not have trouble answering the questions, “How do you work spiritually at work?” when the Wellness Coordinator asks, however, I was stumped until the Friday night GO train ride home.

GO train crowdsFor those of you that regularly ride the GO Kartrain, you know that it is a bit of a strange environment. You can ride with the same people for many years and never actually meet them. At the end of the day, the cultural norm on the top deck of the train is quiet and silence but the alarm went for “Code 1033,” the code for a medical emergency and this time the emergency was in my car. I went down to investigate and a man had collapsed on the floor, not breathing, rapidly turning blue. Someone had started CPR and I took over compression as she tired. Others arrived as well. I heard the GO train personnel inquire who everyone was and it turns out we had someone from palliative care, someone who delivers babies, a dermatologist and me, a spiritual care provider.

I thought of all those family meetings where it was unknown what time the patient collapsed and how long he had been down for, so I looked at my watch. The time was 4:23. A minute into compressions and I was tiring already. How did I not know how tiring CPR was? I had watched the ICU team do CPR for hours, switching off every few minutes, never realizing how hard the work was and being reminded in the moment how important teamwork is. We began to switch off between trying to find a pulse and doing chest compressions.He was turning that awful colour between life and death.

Someone found a defibrillator and the baby doctor prepared to deliver a shock as she ripped open his shirt at 4:26. We heard her say “clear” and then he jumped underneath us. I heard the palliative doctor ask someone to find his name in his wallet and she began to talk to the patient. Talking to a dying patient is usually my job, but today, I heard someone else giving the spiritual care while we continued chest compressions stopping periodically so the palliative doctor could see if his heart was beating.

Suddenly he began to breathe. A cheer went up and we turned him on his side but the victory was only short lived. He stopped breathing again and we rolled him back to continue CPR. At 4:29 we gave him a second shock. In that second moment when we called “clear,” I looked up and I saw the faces of the people that I normally speak to- scared, overwhelmed by what they were seeing, panicked but I couldn’t provide the spiritual care it was someone else’s job to offer comfort and support. I placed my hands on his chest taking my turn at compressions from the dermatologist and this time I felt his heart punch back at my hands and beat to life again, like when I was pregnant and I felt the baby kick from within. It was like his soul was letting me know he was still there.

The doctors confirmed he had pulses, stronger pulses this time. Rolling him onto his side again it was 4:34. His colour returned, his eyes fluttered open. Oxygen arrived from somewhere and paramedics arrived on scene just as he was waking up. There was a sense of exhilaration that together we had saved this man’s life- the woman who went running through the train looking for doctors and found the strange collection of people to help, the person who donated her scissors to cut open his shirt, those of us that pounded on his chest and shouted in his ear to keep breathing, those that held elevators and doorways, went running for the defibrillator or just silently prayed- together- a crazy team that journeyed together differently today.

As I reflected on the events, I realized that in many ways the hospital is a strange collection of strangers, a collection of people journeying together, never knowing what the day will bring.

GO train Union stationI realized that being in rounds and family meetings had made me the accidental student as I heard over and over again what made the different at the beginning of a cardiac arrest to the final outcome. We must all be accidental students in our journey together, always learning from one another. Today, I reflected on all the people that I watch day in and day out use their hands to work to save a patient. How differently it felt to put my hands on a patient for medical treatment than to hold a hand to comfort. How lost for words I am to describe the feeling of seeing another human being shocked and pounded back to life and to have been a small part of that.

Today as we journey together, I’m reminded once again of the precious commodity of time that is given to each one of us to make each moment count. After he was taken away by EMS, a woman, in tears, explained, that the man collapsed after seeing her struggling up the stairs with her suitcase feeling panicked at being caught in rush hour. Seeing her struggle, he carried her suitcase up to the platform. She worried that the act of kindness may have cost him his life- perhaps it saved him because it put him in just the right place. I am more deeply aware that we are strange strangers on a journey but we don’t have to be estranged from one another, especially in crisis.

So today as I think about what the day will bring. I hope that I can live in deeper spiritual appreciation and with deeper reverence and awe for all those who place their hands onto their fellow sojourners in care. I hope that I can live with heightened awareness and hope for the strangers and companions that are all around. I hope that I can see with more compassion the struggles that each person carries in their work. In the end, to work spiritually is to remember that we journey together.

Pretty good way to start a week!

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Reader offers yet another view on the role of French language instruction - trustees will decide which direction the Halton Board should take on Wednesday.

opinionandcommentBy Graham Fraser

June 14, 2106


One of  the things I like about this job, that pays me less than nothing,  is the responses we get from readers. Elise Box wrote and chided me for what she felt was my giving space to just on side of the French language instruction argument that Halton school board trustees are wrestling with. “I thought since you were in the “pinching,” from the Globe and Mail, you might consider pinching an article that is actually researched based.  Perhaps you could assist in sharing the whole picture to the public.”  I wouldn’t refer to this as “research based”; it is an opinion from a man I know personally and have a lot of respect for – however it is just an opinion.

For years, I have been listening to the arguments of ill-informed critics of French immersion. The time has come to set the record straight.

Some critics use the percentage of Canadians who are bilingual to argue that French immersion has been a failure. However, percentages are misleading; with Canada welcoming 250,000 newcomers each year, some of whom speak neither official language, it’s not surprising that the percentage of bilingual Canadians has dropped, even though the actual number has increased by more than half a million over the past 10 years.

Others complain that French immersion belongs to a particular chapter of Canadian history. Contrary to what many critics claim, French immersion is not a product of the Trudeau years, but began in the mid-1960s in Quebec, before Pierre Elliott Trudeau was even elected to Parliament. Its goal was to help children acquire language proficiency through the use of French as a language of instruction.

The allegation that it is an elitist program that filters out the children with behavioural problems and special needs is also profoundly unfair. The fact is that when a child in immersion has any kind of learning or behavioural problem, the first response of some schools is to pressure the parents to take their child out of immersion, regardless of whether or not the learning problem has anything to do with the language of instruction. Yet there are studies that show that children with learning problems do just as well in immersion as they do in the English stream.

HDSB logoSimilarly, many schools and school boards actively discourage immigrant parents from enrolling their children in immersion, even though studies show that immigrant students – who often speak a third language at home – adapt smoothly to immersion. Some immersion programs, however, boast a high percentage of children of immigrants, as their parents recognize the value of being able to speak the country’s two official languages.

Moreover, critics often refer to the drop-out rate from immersion. This is partly due to students choosing other specialized programs that are not available in immersion, and partly due to other factors. Some 15 years ago, Edmonton Public Schools was concerned about the dropout rate from immersion. By bolstering support for the teachers, improving communication with parents and establishing comparative evaluations of students’ language skills, the dropout rate diminished dramatically. Edmonton Public Schools is now recognized as having one of the best immersion programs in the country.

Some of the disenchantment with immersion comes from unrealistic expectations. Immersion doesn’t – and isn’t intended to – produce graduates who speak French with the fluency of native speakers. What immersion does provide is an important building block on which graduates can develop their language skills. Language proficiency is both an intellectual and a physical activity; without practice, it diminishes dramatically. I hope that the 150th anniversary of Confederation will see an increase in the number of opportunities for students to spend time in an environment where the other official language is dominant.

One of the problems that the immersion system has faced for a number of years has been a shortage of teachers who fully master French. To address this issue, a government program could be useful in breaking down some of the barriers that prevent exchanges between teachers. It is still easier for a teacher in Quebec to have an exchange with a teacher in France than with a teacher in Ontario, and easier for a teacher in Ontario to exchange jobs with a teacher in Australia than with a teacher in Quebec. This, to put it mildly, makes no sense.

Trustees - fill board +

Halton District School Board trustees. Senior staff sit in the second row and are on hand to answer questions and provide detail.

The immersion experience can be life-changing. When Jennifer MacIntyre was a child in a small town in Cape Breton, she insisted on going into immersion, overcoming the reluctance of her unilingual parents. Her reason: she wanted to be able to work at Cape Breton’s National Historic Site, the Site Fortress of Louisbourg. The experience broadened her horizons. Now, several decades later, she is Canada’s ambassador to Switzerland. “Without French, nothing else would have been possible and my dreams would have been much smaller,” she told me recently.

Canadian parents – thousands of whom are themselves graduates of immersion – want their children to have the experience that French immersion offers. It has enriched the lives of millions of Canadians. It is unfortunate that an ideal of perfection is being used to criticize one of the most successful Canadian educational experiences available.

Graham Fraser is Canada’s commissioner of official languages.


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Gender Parity or Gender Cleansing ? Or it is a retirement announcement with a different spin?

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

June 9, 2016


We are all feminists today. We know that men have no monopoly on being successful politicians or in totally screwing up. More generally we know that gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation are artificial barriers that for too long have allowed the ‘suits’ in the white male club to stay in power.

Nobody made that point better than our Prime Minister when he announced that his first Cabinet would be composed of an equal number of men and women and would also reflect Canada’s cultural mosaic. In the USA Obama broke the racial barrier, and now Hillary Clinton has smashed that other glass ceiling becoming the first female democratic nominee.


America’s choice for their next President?

Barring an act of incredible stupidity by our friends south of the border, she will become the next US president and leader of the free world, with the largest military in global history and the second most powerful economic machine on the planet. Of course this is a biggie for the Yanks, but the world has already seen some exceptional female leaders including Thatcher, Merkel, Meir, Gandhi, Katherine the Great. Kim Campbell was Canada’s first female PM.

So I’m puzzled by Ted McMeekin’s announcement that he is planning to resign from Premier Wynne’s cabinet to make way for a women to replace him. It’s true that less than 50% of Wynne’s Cabinet jobs are held by women. And Ted, the popular member of provincial parliament for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, my riding, claims he is a feminist and that he expects his resignation will facilitate the transition towards gender parity in Wynne’s Cabinet.

Using quotas, be they ethnic or gender, has been an important transition tool for changing attitudes and opening the door to broader participation by underrepresented sectors of our society. But quotas should never be considered as anything but transitional or they suddenly become that reverse discrimination the white guys all fear. And the pursuit of attracting more of one gender at the expense of the other may lead to perverse outcomes then requiring corrective gender re-balancing.

Teaching was a field once dominated by males, and now is a place where men are seen as an endangered species. Still, while the gap in male and female incomes is shrinking it is hard to argue that the need for transition is over in so many other economic sectors. Except at Queen’s Park where female MPPs are on the same pay scale as their male counterparts and the Premier herself is a woman with the fattest pay cheque in the legislature.

Yet, the argument remains that women are under-represented at Queen’s park relative to their numbers in the general population. But then so are the economically disadvantaged, the poor. And what about those with lower educational achievement or those with a physical or emotional handicap – or seniors. Indeed casting our parliament as a mini-me of the entire Ontario demographic could be a scary thought and formula for failure.

Transit - McMeekin tight

Ted McMeekin – MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale

And if a male political leader, like Ted is truly a feminist, wouldn’t staying on the job to continue to promote equality be the most important thing he could do? McMeekin is a popular political veteran with an enviable track record, having served the people wearing three different ministries. The horse-racing folks will remember him for his efforts to save their industry after the McGuinty’s austerity program nearly drove it out of existence.

In his latest job, as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Ted has just initiated a long over-due sea-change in how we elect municipal politicians. That includes new campaign spending limits, prohibiting corporate and union donations, and enabled municipalities to use ranked ballots to ensure that next elected municipal representative would the most popular, the first, second or third choice of the voters, should the municipality go this route.

Transit - Rishia Burke + McMeekin

McMeekin in an animated conversation with Risha Burke, field worker with Community development Halton.

Ted has spent much of his life in politics and fighting for the good causes. He may well be considering the benefits of slowing down, or may even be planning retirement. But resigning his Cabinet seat, notionally to make way for the Premier to appoint a woman, does him no credit. The Premier is a powerful leader and quite capable of recasting her Cabinet however she chooses. Ted would be in or out depending on her judgement of the skills needed for the new team.

Gender parity is a societal goal and we are inching ever closer to that goal, with or without McMeekin’s resignation from Cabinet. In the end it is more about enabling women and ensuring accessibility by removing roadblocks. And there have always been vocations in which one gender or the other predominates, and usually for a good reason. But politics is not one of those vocations.

There are still other significant opportunities to facilitate the transition to the goal of a more gender-neutral world. For example MP’s in Ottawa are considering enhancing the language of the song we all learn to sing, our national anthem, to make it more gender-neutral. But watching a good politician quit Cabinet in the interests of gender parity seems more like a case of gender cleansing. Who will be the next male volunteer?


Ray Rivers is an economist and author who writes weekly on federal and provincial issues, applying his 25 years of involvement with federal and provincial ministries.  Rivers’ involvement in city matters led to his appointment as founding chair of Burlington’s Sustainable Development Committee.  He was also a candidate in the 1995 provincial election

Background links:

McMeekin Stepping DownMore McMeekin

Ranked BallotsNational Anthem

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Art gallery sale was a social success - were the buyers in the room to get a great deal or to financially support the AGB?

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

June 6th, 2016


It has been a busy couple of weeks for Robert Steven and his crew at the Art Gallery of Burlington.

They sponsored an event that took place at the Performing Arts Centre; held their AGM and then pulled off a reasonably successful art sale.

AGB live auction wall

Patrons reviewing the art that was up for sale. The prices were great for the buyers.

The annual Art Sale is a critical part of the fund raising the gallery must do to remain viable and offer the full range of some impressive programming.

Art Sale chair Cheryl Miles Goldring mixed thing us up a little and had all the art in the one room and the bidding done in a separate room. There was a pleasant light jazz combo playing for much of the evening. The schmoozing, and the networking were going full tilt.

AGB - Duff and wife

John Duffy, designer of the Art Gallery of Burlington logo, and his wife chat up a friend

The art gallery crowd brings a different level of sophistication to their events – the mix in a different way than the theatre crowd.

The Art sale had some surprises – they had an auctioneer, Rob Cowley, who had sold a Lauren Harris (Group of Seven) painting for just under a million dollars a few days before but he wasn’t able to pull very many impressive numbers from the Burlington crowd Friday evening.

AGB live auction - closer look

A possible buyer taking a close look at a piece of art.

There were some very disappointing prices drawn from the audience that basically filled the bidding room. A number of pieces were withdrawn when they didn’t reach the reserve.

Grifiths - crow

“It’s Been a Long Day” by Helen Griffiths went for a disappointing $900.

A Helen Griffiths went for a disappointing $900 and an E. Robert Ross  was pulled when it didn’t come anywhere near the reserve.

The Bateman did ok – but the price wasn’t outstanding.

There appeared to be someone in the room who either has a lot of bare walls or was there as a dealer picking up some art work at very good prices.

One wondered if the event was an opportunity to get some very good art at close to bargain prices for those in the Burlington community or if it was an annual event where people paid close to top prices to raise funds for the work the gallery does.

It looked like the former last Friday at the AGB. One wonders what might have happened if some smart tour operator brought in a busload of people from say the Annex in Toronto or the Beach community or perhaps North Toronto – served them a private dinner at Spencers and then walked them across Lakeshore road to the AGB and an opportunity where some very very good art was available at hard to believe prices.

Auctioneer  Rob Cowley, started every offering by mentioning a suggested price and then immediately dropped it a good 25% and then struggled at times to get to get that price. He didn’t succeed all that often. The auctioneer was skilled – it was the audience that had forgotten why it was there.

Ykema - cows in a row

“Cows in a row” by Janice Ykema

The “Cows in a row” by Janice Ykema was shown at $800 with the bidding starting at $500fetched $600. Cowley sensed that the room wasn’t going to go much higher and quickly moved on to the next piece.

There were a few points at which the bidding got vigorous. A piece that started at $800 got worked up to $1100 – with the comment from the auctioneer “killing you isn’t he” bringing a chuckle from the audience – the eventual buyer wanted the piece badly enough.

The Anna Kutishchev “Warm evening” had a suggested price of $2200 with bidding started at $1200 – no takers so the auctioneer dropped it to $1000 and then managed to get the selling price up to $1400 – along the way he did have to remind one bidder that he “couldn’t read your mind”.

Guild Fibre art

Fibre Art done by the Burlington Fibre Arts Guild. The Rebeca out on the pier.

A large piece of fibre art by that Guild placed the Rebecca sculpture outside the art gallery on the pier. It had a suggested price of $2500 – bidding started at $1000 – then skipped along rather briskly through $1200 – then $1400 – then $1500 – to $1600 – then to $1700 – $1750 – $1800 – $2000 – you could feel the tension – dare I ask for $2100 asked the auctioneer – and he got it – and it was sold – the audience burst into applause. It was the only sale that drew any applause.

That pier is solidly embedded in this city’s DNA.

The E. Robert Ross landscape didn’t get anywhere near the reserve and was withdrawn.

Brian Darcy - swan

Brian Darcy “Summer reflections”

The Brian Darcy “Summer reflections” didn’t get any traction either and was withdrawn

The most brisk bidding was for a modern acrylic piece “Sentinel Falls” done by Joel Masewich was suggested at $6000 – bidding was started at $2000 – the auctioneer had no idea what this audience was going to pay for a piece of modern art. He soon caught the sense of the room and managed to get it up to $3200.

The Bateman piece – always the object of a lot of attention. Robert Bateman has been donating a piece of his art to the gallery for the past 38 years.

Bateman - red fox

Bateman’s Red Fox

As I watched the bidding I had this feeling that the community was going to embarrass itself and let the work go for a pittance. It was suggested at $10,000 – bidding started at $500 and was sold for $7000. Barely acceptable.

The total take for the gallery wasn’t available – I wasn’t able to keep a running total.

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Is the Party Over or Just Beginning? Maybe they are movements - like, the earth moved!

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

June 3rd, 2016


Both the Liberals and Conservatives held national conventions recently and there was lots of news coming out of both. In Vancouver the Conservatives seemed to have taken a breath of fresh air as they brought the Harper-era to an end, and were even encouraged by their former leader to reflect on the future and not the past. Though this is the party which claims its historic past to include the title of Canada’s first government.

In fact, it was called the Liberal-Conservative party back then, and it became a little more liberal when a few members of the left-wing agrarian-based Progressive party forced the name change to Progressive Conservative in the 40’s. But then the PC party self-destructed in the 90’s and what was left of it later dissolved itself, and turned the corner sharply with a precipitated marriage to the right-wing Reform party. So it isn’t really the party of Sir John A or Diefenbaker or even Mulroney anymore.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets delegates at the 2016 Liberal Biennial Convention Winnipeg Saturday, May 28, 2016. Macleans/John Woods

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets delegates at the 2016 Liberal Biennial Convention Winnipeg Saturday, May 28, 2016. Was it a political party convention or a meeting of a movement? Macleans/John Woods

But at least it’s still a political party. The Liberals left their convention in Winnipeg with a new constitution that has put an end to membership fees and memberships. You can register as a Liberal but not as a member. It appears that Liberals don’t want to belong to any club that would accept them as members. But that doesn’t mean the new Liberal movement doesn’t want your money, as anyone who has ever received an email from them will attest.

It all has to so with research which shows that the latest generation of mainstream Canadian adults don’t go in for that old membership routine, but love the idea of being in a movement. Besides the $10 membership fees cost more to administer than they brought in, and then there are all those tiresome volunteer hours and membership drives. And if membership fees were really about making money the other parties would be thinking, as the Tories briefly did, about a more realistic $25 a year – similar to what the NDP charge in Ontario.

Mr. Trudeau has been extremely successful, at least so far, in challenging conventional wisdom. Imagine winning an election by campaigning on welcoming refugees, deficit spending and higher taxes for the rich. What about the decision to allow those 300,000 Liberal non-member supporters the right to participate in choosing the next leader – which happened to be Trudeau. And didn’t he shock the world with the free world’s first gender-balanced Cabinet, despite the critics.

One of the most applauded and condemned election promises we’ll see implemented this election term is changing how we elect our government. Of course this initiative is damned by the Conservatives, because the first-past-the-post system works best for a party which can only win when there are electoral splits among the other parties at the polls. And changing the system is applauded by all of the the other political parties for exactly the same reason – to keep the Tories out of office.

Mr. Trudeau’s right hand woman on the issue, Democratic Reform Minister Maryam Monsef, has struck a committee to examine the facts on the options. One of those options will be proportional representation (PR), the most common democratic system in the rest of the free world. Under proportional representation some MP are elected to represent their ridings (as they are now) and the rest are appointed based on the percentage of the popular vote their party obtained in the last election.

These latter MPs are often referred to as list MPs since they are appointed from a list of candidates developed by the party based on their qualifications and loyalty to the party. Should that option be implemented, and it’s currently not the favourite among the PM and his brain trust, a PM Trudeau may have difficulty convincing Canadians that his list of non-riding MPs are even Liberals, since they will not be members. Everyone is still waiting to see how the non-Liberal senators will perform in the Senate.

China - communist prty

This is a political party. It is a picture of the Chinese communist party. Orderly.

Can there be a party without members? Even in China and Cuba the communist parties have members. Except that in China one can’t just buy your way into the party with a membership fee – you have to be accomplished and worthy. In fact only one in sixteen Chinese who apply get qualified to be party members. Nevertheless there are almost 88 million communist party faithful there, almost three times Canada’s entire population.

But since almost all top government positions in China are staffed with party members, it just makes sense to try and get in the club. Now I’d have to call 88 million members a movement, even in China with its over billion souls. So it begs the question, as we reflect on our changing political scene, is that where our new PM is heading? One has to recall his one-time remarks a couple years ago about admiring the government of China.


Ray Rivers is an economist and author who writes weekly on federal and provincial issues, applying his 25 years of involvement with federal and provincial ministries.  Rivers’ involvement in city matters led to his appointment as founding chair of Burlington’s Sustainable Development Committee.  He was also a candidate in the 1995 provincial election

Background links:

Conservative PartyConservative ConventionNDP Membership Fees

Proportional RepresentationLiberal MembershipTrudeau Liberals

Trudeau and China

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Burlington MP speaks of electoral reform in the House of Commons

News 100 redBy Staff

June 3, 2016


The Member of Parliament for Burlington rose to speak on the House of Commons about the matter of electoral reform – changes to be made in the way Canadians elect their Members of Parliament.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to participate in this important and historic debate on the establishment of a special all-party committee on electoral reform. This is an issue that affects all Canadians, and I am glad to see such strong principles proposed in the amended motion to guide this committee’s study.

I wish to spend my time today discussing some of the changes to our electoral system that have been introduced over the past century; changes that at the time were seen as rather dramatic alterations to our system.

Many of these reforms, however, are now looked back upon by Canadians as moments of true progress in the history of our great democracy.

Burlington - federal boundaries

Boundary for the constituency of Burlington

The electoral system we have today is the product of almost 150 years of evolution. The election we saw in October was quite different from elections upon Confederation, when only a fraction of Canadians, namely land-owning men, had a say in our democratic institution.

Our government’s pledge to replace the first past the post system is just another step in this historical evolution to a more inclusive, efficient, and stronger electoral system for all Canadians.

Allow me to begin in 1920, over a half century after Confederation.

After 50 years of elections in this country, Parliament established the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer. It was not until 1927 that the Chief Electoral Officer was appointed by the House and not the government. These were seen as quite major changes at the time, but they are ones we can all look back on, knowing they have helped lead to nearly a century of trusted and independent electoral administration in this country.

It was not until 1964, nearly a full century after Confederation, that Parliament introduced independent electoral district boundary commissions to draw riding boundaries, bringing an end to gerrymandering. Prior to this, the government could simply decide who got to vote where, with little recourse for individuals, communities, or opposition parties. This is another instance of what was once proclaimed to be a fundamental change to our electoral system. In hindsight, we see that this reform has helped build trust among Canadians that our electoral system has integrity, that it is fair, and that all communities have a voice.

Wallace and Gould

Karina Gould accepting congratulations from former MP Mike Wallace the night of the last federal election.

In our ever-evolving system, parties only began registering with Elections Canada in 1970, and they only became subject to election spending limits in 1974. After a century of elections, Parliament significantly altered our politics by removing the role of big money in our elections. I truly believe our democracy is stronger because of that, but once again, it was an area of contentious debate at the time. Today, the idea of unlimited spending in an election would be quickly dismissed by Canadians as a barrier to the level playing field we hold dear for free and fair elections. We are proud that our elections are based on ideas and debate, and not simply dollars.

I have spoken briefly of some reforms to the electoral system itself, but I would like to turn now to the increasing franchise over the years; a clear example of how far our electoral system has progressed since Confederation.
Allow me to return back to the 1920s, when elections in this country were decentralized and run under a hodgepodge of provincial statues.

In the 1920s, the federal legislation deferred to the provinces in allowing disqualifications on the right to vote for “reasons of race”. This provision worked to disqualify many Canadians, including those of Chinese, Japanese, and Ukrainian descent, among others. However, it was not until 1948 that Parliament deleted references to disqualification on the basis of race. It was not until 1950 that Parliament allowed the Inuit the right to vote, and it was not until 1960 that Parliament allowed first nation people the right to vote without forcing them to give up their status or home on a reserve.

Expanding the franchise was divisive at the time. Today, however, we look back and simply wonder what took Parliament so long to recognize the rights of all Canadians in exercising their vote.

3 things - Gould with adult

Karina Gould listening to a constituent.

Women were not able to vote until legislative changes were enacted in 1918.

Those individuals living in poor houses or the homeless were not able to vote until 1929. War objectors were not able to vote between 1938 and 1955.

It was only in 1970 that the voting age was lowered to 18 from 21.

What I am trying to get at is that, when we reflect on these developments without the partisan frames in which they were originally debated, we see reforms that uphold and correspond to our values as Canadians; we see reforms that uphold the rights of all Canadians; and we see reforms that strengthen the bond between the people and the government and that instill trust that the government is formed by the true democratic will of all Canadians.

It is almost incomprehensible that we could ever exclude a full 50% of society from the franchise, that we could exclude indigenous peoples, ethnocultural minority groups, and those who dared to express different beliefs from those of the government of the day. While I am certainly not proud of the history of disenfranchisement in Canada’s electoral history, I am truly proud of how far our democracy has evolved into a more inclusive system for all Canadians.

Electoral reform is the next step in this evolution toward a more inclusive system. We can build a better system that provides a stronger link between the democratic will of Canadians and the election results, one that motivates Canadians to take part, one that reflects our collective values of fairness, inclusiveness, gender equity, openness, and mutual respect. To get there, the process leading to reform must also embody these values.

Parliamentarians will need to set aside partisan interests and engage in a thoughtful and substantive dialogue with each other and with citizens.

CFUW Gould with voter

Karina Gould during the federal election debates in Burlington.

I strongly believe that stepping away from the first past the post system and embracing a new system that can reflect these values and the values articulated in this amended motion would be another milestone in the history of Canada’s elections. I suspect future generations will look back at the reforms proposed in this motion and reflect on them, as I have done today with past reforms. I suspect they will note this is yet another example of how our electoral system has evolved to further increase the inclusion of all peoples, to better reflect the will of voters and the representation of the House, and to work toward a system that produces a House that looks more and more like the faces of Canadians.

I hope all members will join me and support the creation of this committee.

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Rivers takes on Rex - will we never get to read Rivers again - all about hot air.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

May 27th, 2106


Leap Manifesto graphic

A significant document that few have actually read.

CBC and National Post political contributor Rex Murphy rants that Ontario Premier Wynne’s climate change strategy is her own version of LEAP. He is referring to the LEAP Manifesto shepherded by author and political activist Naomi Klein and best-friend film maker Avis Lewis. The document came out last year during the federal election, and was presented at the NDP convention earlier this year. It is a strategic document, laying out long term goals for achieving a more harmonious, equitable, and environmentally friendly Canada in the age of global warming.


Rex Murphy – National Post columnist – CBC on air personality.

Rex Murphy apparently considers those goals the equivalent of leaping into hell, as he accounts that, in his view, it would be political and economic suicide to stop using fossil fuels. One wonders if he had actually read the LEAP document as he spreads his hyperbolic poison over a topic he clearly doesn’t understand, and for an issue which he is clearly out of touch with the majority of Canadians. And he is not alone, as Globe and Mail contributors Margaret Wente and Jeffrey Simpson also felt the need to jump into the fray.

But at least Simpson has focused his comment, and legitimately challenges the complexity of the emission trading aspect, rather than criticizing the end goal itself. He gets it – that we need to do more. But because something is complex doesn’t make it unmanageable or bad. It is not clear that Simpson understands what a cap and trade program is, preferring to characterize it as something conjured up by an overzealous environment minister, Glen Murray, and using that as an ad hominem to help discredit the provincial strategy.

Cap and trade, or more generally emissions trading, was first conceived at the University of Toronto by an economist in 1968. Professor John Dales was looking for a way to reduce pollution by making it more expensive for polluters without penalizing the rest of society – an equitable approach to curbing pollution based on economic incentives. And more complexity is required if one is to internalize the unintended effects of human activities into the costs of production, thus making polluting activities relatively more costly.

File picture of gas fired power station at sunset in Minsk

Gas fired power station at sunset.

In the case of greenhouse gas reduction, as in Ontario’s plan, it is an implicit carbon tax. But unlike the explicit carbon taxes B.C. and Quebec have in place, emissions trading is business-friendly, allowing more emission-efficient enterprises the added incentive of selling carbon credits to those who aren’t – incentivizing as well as taxing.

That explains why the business community largely favours emissions trading over a universal tax, like B.C.’s carbon tax. And that is why this approach can also inadvertently result in an overachievement of its goals, as when the US government phased-out lead from gasoline years ahead of schedule in the 1970’s, one of the first applications of emissions trading.

Since then, cap and trade applied to sulphur emissions from coal power plants led to another remarkable overachievement of US based acid rain emission reductions in the 1990’s. The European Union, Japan and Australia have all used emissions trading in tackling carbon emissions. The 1997 Kyoto protocol, which failed when the US pulled out in 2000, had emissions trading as an inherent tenet of its design.

Although the log jam on Capital Hill has hindered the US from implementing a truly national carbon cap and trade program, some states have moved ahead. The Western Climate Initiative, started in 2007, is one such carbon trading regime which also includes Quebec, B.C., Manitoba and Ontario. And Ontario’s program will ultimately be integrated with that of the other Canadian provinces as well as California and other US states – so we’d better get used to this level of complexity.

And Simpson is wrong about this being something Murray just conjured up. Ontario has been working on emissions trading for decades, and with the blessing of all three political governments over that time. The provincial government supported an early voluntary trading program in the 90’s and developed its own mandatory allowance trading program in 2002 to reduce emissions from coal and gas power plants.

traffic - green house gas

Exhaust emissions from automobiles are close to the worst polluters.

In fact just about all of the provinces and the federal government have been looking at emissions trading systems similar, in some way to what Ontario is implementing as part of a climate change strategy. Alberta had implemented a more limited trading program well before the NDP swept into power last year, and they no doubt will be looking to Ontario’s experience as they enhance their efforts. Indeed Ontario and Alberta have just announced a new clean technology initiative for climate change, a corollary to this discussion.

Alberta, home to Canada’s fossil fuel industry is also home to those other fossils, the dinosaurs. One dominant theory is that these marvellous creatures were the victims of another period of climate change some 65 million years ago. But unlike our modern-day dinosaurs, who should understand that the climate change affecting us today is of our own doing, those dino’s likely couldn’t and didn’t do anything about it. We do know how to start fixing this – it’s right there Rex – in that Leap Manifesto.


Ray Rivers is an economist and author who writes weekly on federal and provincial issues, applying his 25 years of involvement with federal and provincial ministries.  Rivers’ involvement in city matters led to his appointment as founding chair of Burlington’s Sustainable Development Committee.  He was also a candidate in the 1995 provincial election

Background links:

Rex on LeapRex Murphy on Ontario –  Ontario’s CC StrategyLEAP

Cap and TradeFort McMurray and Climate WenteSimpson on Cap and Trade

Western Climate InitiativeAlberta and OntarioDinosaurs

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Prime Minister takes it on the chin - needs to make not one but three apologies for dusting it up on the floor of the House of Commons.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

May 20th, 2106


It’s not quite Ukraine or South Africa, but certainly more exciting that the US Congress.

Canada’s parliament turned a page as it broke into uncharacteristic chaos this past week. Unbelievably, we got to see our new prime minister body-check one member with his elbow in the course of undertaking an involuntary rescue of another from what appears to have been a deliberate defensive wall of MPs. The CBC may be considering running the parliamentary channel on Saturday nights, just so we don’t miss the best fights on TV.

FIGHT - Ukraine lawmakers

Members of the Ukraine parliament are a little more obvious wen it comes to manhandling each other.

It was fitting that Canada’s near-invisible former PM, Mr. Harper, had chosen to grace the lower chamber with his presence, perhaps tipped-off to the likelihood of a skirmish among MPs ensuing. After all Harper is an avid hockey fan, having written a book on the topic. And we all know the best part of the good old hockey game is when a fight break out.

Walking into a crowded floor of opposition MP’s is nothing short of an invitation for trouble, something Mr. Trudeau should have realized, despite an apparent over-confidence in his own ability to get things done. Though there is no doubt that our PM can handle himself in a scuffle.

FIGHT Trudea punching

Prior to becoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dukes it out with then Senator Patrick – that left jab worked for him.

Recall that boxing charity match, a few years ago, with Senator Patrick Brazeau. Martial arts pro Brazeau was the 3:1 favourite but ended up being beaten into oblivion by the son of, arguably, Canada’s most famous PM – a martial artist in his own right. This Trudeau guy is not the kind to hide in the closet were there another gun fight on Parliament Hill.

However, it appears Canada’s most positive and sensitive PM in a long time can talk softly and carry a big elbow. And Trudeau’s well-earned reputation as a fighter did him no favour, as the NDP member, who suffered the blow to her chest, used the opportunity to drag the PM down.

And honestly it was as if I’d seen a ghost. For a moment it seemed that Rob Ford was back, this time bullying his way through the corridors of the House of Commons instead of City Hall. He had been Canada’s most colourful mayor, though mostly for his notorious antics. And it’s no secret that he and his brother both had long aspired to get to that top job which Mr. Trudeau now holds.

Watching the sad episode I couldn’t help thinking about how Sunny Ways had descended into some kind of Ford-like Trudeau Nation. At least on that day, as an obviously exasperated PM appeared to be trying to assist the Tory parliamentary whip to his seat in order to complete the vote on assisted suicide. If Mr. Trudeau’s intentions had been good he had just stepped on that proverbial paved road to hell – at least until he apologized.

And Canada owns the apology, unlike the Americans and Brits who would rather die first than say they had ever made a mistake and were sorry for it. Apology is our national expression.

FIGHT Ford knocking over council member

The late Rob Ford, a former Mayor of Toronto, rushing around city council chamber knocks over a fellow member of council.

And its not a partisan thing, Mr. Harper had done his share of apologizing, and Trudeau himself had just finished apologizing to, presumably, the descendants of a group of refugees from India which we turned back over a century ago.

Trudeau has now apologized, not once or twice, but three times for his almost inexplicable behaviour. Nobody should think his intentions were malicious, but they were clearly inappropriate. Parliament was constructed to be a theatre of confrontation. It is the role of opposition parties to damage the governing party and their agenda however they choose. In this case the PM set himself up for an ambush and he got what was coming.

Mr. Trudeau has distinguished himself with his innovative and refreshing approach to all things, from the Syrian refugees to Canada’s own aboriginal people. For that he has earned the respect of people at home and everywhere. But this Commons scuffle has taught him an important lesson about limits. There is a time and place for everything and Parliament is the place to persevere with protocol.


Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington in 1995.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.

Background links:

Rob FordHouse ScuffleSouth AfricaUkraineBrazeau Fight

Trudeau on Daily ShowApologyApology more

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Are there still people who think that climate change is not impacting the way we live?

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

May 13, 2016



Even deep ecologists, the folks who’ll tell you that fire is a natural part of a sustainable forest, cannot defend what has been happening at Fort McMurray, Alberta. The ‘Beast’, Fort McMurray’s runaway fire is not a controlled burn by any measure. This has been called the worst environmental disaster in Canadian history.

Alberta forest fire - street

The fire, named the Beast bu he men and women who had to fight it day after day, moved into communities an wiped out everything in its path.

The Beast has gobbled up over 200,000 hectares of woodland so far. That is more acreage than foresters harvest in B.C.annually. And it is twice as much as gets taken down each year in Ontario, generating 13 billion dollars in revenues, including some five billion dollars in forest products exports for our province. Also, Ontario’s treasury gets $100 million in royalty payments, and of course there are all those spin off benefits.

Firefighters managed to save an estimated eighty to ninety percent of the building stock in the Fort McMurray, though some suburbs were virtually destroyed. And the entire city and surrounding communities, as many as 100,000 residents, had to be evacuated. In a show of national unity all Canadians and many of their provincial governments came forward contributing fire-fighters and money to help with the consequences and aftermath of this event.

Canada is no stranger to forest fires. As a country which has the world’s second largest land mass, much of it sparsely populated, we typically lose over 600,000 hectares to fire every year. But the fire season has barely started this year and the Beast has already claimed a third of that with the fire still burning. The exceptionally hot and dry spring, and possibly a careless human, are the likely causes. But authorities worry that Edmonton, also experiencing exceptionally dry conditions, may be next.

Is climate change to blame? This is exactly the kind of event that climatologists have been predicting. And that would make this the second time in only a couple years, that Alberta has been hit with a major climate related event – recall that monster flood in Calgary  a couple years ago. But few people are saying that in public. Well, Elizabeth May, the Green Party leader, is but then she’ll never be PM so she can say what is truly on her mind. Our new climate-change-fighting PM was reluctant to make the linkage, though he doesn’t really need to – it’s obvious.

Of course nobody wants to be accused of blaming the victims, including the oil sands operators who have had to suspend operations. Our hearts go out for the people who’ve lost their homes and possession, and have spent the last several days living in community centres, or with family somewhere else. And the truth is that leaping to shut down oil sands operations, in recognition of the reality before us, would hardly reverse the climate change we are experiencing in the short run anyway.

Leap Manifesto graphic

The Leap Manifesto should at last be read – Rivers has created a link to the document at the bottom of his column.

You may have heard about the Leap Manifesto, something which nearly tore the heart out of the recent NDP national convention in Edmonton. Avi Lewis, son of former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis presented it in the faint hope of obtaining an endorsement by that party. Its non-partisan sticker notwithstanding, the document was produced to influence last year’s federal election and presumably energy policy in Alberta, though even Mr. Mulcair seemed to have mis-interpreted it and Alberta’s Premier was deadly opposed.

Lewis and his wife; journalist, author and social activist Naomi Klein, initiated this project as an afterthought to her book “This Changes Everything” and his documentary of the same name. A number of aboriginal leaders, other social and environmental activists, and wannabes assembled to write the Manifesto which reads, as one would expect, like something written by a committee.

Still Leap has morphed into something of a movement with over 40,000 signatures of support in its call to leap beyond business as usual this leap year, including the call for a guaranteed annual income for all Canadians. And as one of its primary targets, it has raised the hackles of the oil industry by its not so veiled call for shutting down the oil sands and any more pipeline construction.

Fort McMurray, Alberta’s oldest European settlement dating back to 1788, started out as a lonely fur trading establishment. Today it is known as the city that services Canada’s oil sands industry and Canada’s most valued export industry, despite the collapse of oil prices last year. The city will rebuild and recover, the forests surrounding it will regrow and things will go back to normal, for a while anyway.

But the message of the Leap Manifesto is right about how and where we ultimately need to get our energy. Forty years ago we didn’t speak of climate change or global warming. Fossil fuels seemed like the future, energy independence seemed critical and Canada was running out of oil.

getting new - yellowAlberta with the help of the federal government, then led by Mr. Trudeau’s father, supported the oil sands mega-project. But given what we know today, It may well take another Trudeau to help Albertans move away from producing the dirtiest oil on the planet.


Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran as a Liberal against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province. Rivers is no longer active with any political party.

Background links:

The Beast Fire DamageClimate ChangeOil Exports Forest Facts

Canada’s ForestsCarbon in ForestsStill BurningLeapThis Changes Everything

Mulcair on Leap

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The creation of a series of parks that will blend the more manicured Spencer Smith into the more natural Beachway will begin this fall.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

May 12, 2016


Staffers at city hall are there to carry on the business of government – they are there to do the things that council has decided are best for the city.

That Council, which you elected, hired a city manager who directs the bureaucracy – who – and this is something they tend to forget – are there to send the money that you the tax payer give them.

They are there to do your will – and that of course is where it gets a little tricky.

Whose will? There are many “wills”. There are those who want bicycle lanes everywhere; there are those who want to see less money spent on buses because they feel no on uses the things.

There are those who want calming bumps on street and there are those who want the speed limits lifted.

This is where the politicians have to sense what the public wants and then actually lead rather than react to three people who show up at council meetings to complain.

LaSalle Park - bring about a boat on its way to the water.

LaSalle Park Marina – boats getting put back into the water.

Trumpeter swan - wings wide

Water that is shared by the Trumpeter swans.

One of the more interesting conflicts is what the environmentalists and the boating people are going through at LaSalle Park. The environmentalists want to ensure that the trumpeter swans have a safe place to live – the boating people wants a safe place for their craft.

Both have legitimate arguments – and both have rights – finding a balance that will work for both is proving difficult for this council – it remains to be seen how this one gets worked out.

Spencer Smith Park is one of the city’s gems. It is used by thousands and taken care of by staff who have a real challenge on their hands.

The park is going to be extended west towards the canal that separates us from Hamilton. There was a lot of controversy over the decision to create a park that was a huge upgrade from what is in place now.

Ingrid Vandebrug - landscape planner

Ingrid Vanderbrug – a city landscape planner

During a Jane’s Walk put on by the Sustainable Development Committee last weekend we learned a lot more than city hall was telling people.

The Gazebo which is a significant part of the park – might be seeing the end of its life – the city has plans for something that is accessible and will allow for significantly different uses – there wasn’t any public discussion that we were aware of.

With the technology available today it is so easy to get opinions – the city spent hundreds of thousands on the software that allows them to get a response on any question in a matter of days – add that to the soundings the members of council have and it doesn’t take long to get a sense of what people want – and it is their city – it is their park.

Beachway Shaded area Pebble Beach

The plan is to grow some vegetation behind the benches which we hope planners will have some wood on top of the concrete – creating a comfortable place to rest.

During that same walk we learned that the patch of land in Spencer Smith Park where the original Brant Inn used to be located is going to get an upgrade which will be one of the first steps in the creating of the several parks that will appear in the Beachway

The landscaping people in the planning department have realized that there aren’t many places in that stretch of the park to sit in shade.

A set of benches are going to be put in with a trellis to shade the area and plants that will stop the geese from coming into the park from the water.

Terry Fox rendering with size

A very attractive monument marking a point in the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope run 35 years ago will be unveiled in Spencer Smith Park this weekend.

The benches will give a very clear line of sight to the Terry Fox marker/monument that will be unveiled this weekend.

Preparing the existing Beachway community for the major changes coming to that part of town are slowly coming about.

The sand dunes in the Beachway are significant and sensitive parts of the ecology of the Beachway.  Seedlings are being planed and invasive plans being pulled out – all under the guidance of the Regional planners who are designing and will implement the plans.  The city will operate the park once it is completed.

Earlier this week the city began the task of raising Lakeshore Road where it curves around the Joseph Brant Museum and leads to the new entrance to the hospital expansion that is under construction.

Beachway home - security guard wth attractive wife

This home is in a location that just doesn’t fit with the plans that have been created for a much different Beachway community. Do plans ever get changed – and if they were changed how would this home be integrated into the existing plans? Don’t expect the couple that live in this home to go quietly into the night with a big cheque in their pockets. Would you?

Beachway home - with new insulation

The owner of this home is putting on insulation – perhaps with a federal or provincial grant, which would be ironic. This owner doesn’t look like a willing seller.

All this takes place while the delicate back and forth of property purchases takes place.  The Region has what they refer to as a willing seller/willing buyer policy that has them buying the 25+ homes in the Beachway from any seller who wants to part ways with what they own.

Beachway - two storey + roof deck

Why would a home like this be torn down? For a park?

The implication here is that every property owner will eventually sell.  Wait for the really nasty fights when the last three or four hold outs meet wit the power of local government.

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Minister of Environment and Climate change calls four storey structures absurd - urges people to buy electric cars

News 100 redBy Staff

May 11th, 2016


Our colleagues at CATCH (Citizens at City Hall) published a piece on a meeting where the provincial Minister of the Environment and Climate Change spoke of the impact climate change is having on us – Now.  Burlington understands what he is talking about – he drives the point even further than the August 2014 flood did,

Ontario’s minister of the environment and climate change had some blunt advice when he spoke at the climate resilient cities conference in Hamilton recently. Glenn Murray offered detailed evidence that climate change already threatens our food and water security and it’s going to get much worse.

While he declared that “there’s nothing that Hamilton lacks to be the kick-ass city in Canada”, the former mayor of Winnipeg made clear that “fundamental transformation” in our urban form is required including intensification and no more suburban sprawl.

“I want to take you to the context of where I think we as a group of leaders have to understand and what the dynamics are,” he began. “And I will just offer the proposition that the two biggest crises that we face on the adaptation and resilience side are food security and water security.”


Glen Murray – Minister of the Environment and Climate Change

He pointed to a Toronto storm three years ago that dumped a month’s rain in one hour and tore out 80 metres of GO train track “that cost us $600 million which could basically pay for half of [Hamilton’s] LRT.” And he cited “false springs” that wiped out the local apple crop in 2012. He also explained the link of many extreme weather events to the melting arctic ice cap and its effect on the polar vortex.

“The jet stream has slowed down by about 20 percent which means that the periods which are wet last longer, the periods which are dry last longer and that causes us to have so many droughts as we saw in the prairies, fires, invasions of species – the beetles that are destroying our forests,” Minister Murray explained. “And then we have moisture levels on the prairies that we haven’t seen since the last ice age – and if we didn’t have the modern irrigation we have now we probably would be courting if not in the dust bowl, and for the first time Calgary and Regina had air quality warnings because of the level of smoke from fires on the prairies.”

Go trains flooded

The cost of repairing GO train tracks when Toronto experienced flooding would have paid for half of the LRT coming to Hamilton.

He spoke a week before a tinder dry forest and 32C temperatures helped fuel the catastrophic fire in Fort McMurray despite its near sub-arctic location at the same latitude as the northern tip of Ontario and lower Hudson’s Bay.

Murray reminded his audience that last year’s “disruptive spring” experiences included four to five metres of snow “on the streets of Halifax and St John’s” in the last week of April and asked what that would have done in Hamilton. “No one had much of a garden in Atlantic Canada last year. That was also the summer that we had fires on the Prairies the soft fruit crop blossomed in January in BC and died.”

Focusing particularly on food security, the Minister argued that the jet stream destabilization has “had some very bad impacts on our ability to produce food” and warned that “if you want to destabilize a government, all you have to do as a society is just have a food or water shortage for any period of time.”

As an example, he pointed to the extreme drought in the Middle East in 2006-2011 where there was “an 80 percent food crop loss in northern Syria and the fertile crescent about 1.6 million people lost their farms and became the underclass in Damascas, which was according to the Pentagon a swift threat multiplier in the destabilization of the region and the on-going war and then the insertion of terrorism.” Murray noted that “ISIS is hanging onto the three largest irrigation dams … so they’re obviously sophisticated in assessing the power of control of water.”

brocoli - large field

Fields of California broccoli – 95% of ours comes from here.

Bringing this closer to home, the Minister detailed the development of the California drought where “80 percent of water use is for agriculture” and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has found the description of extreme drought no longer adequate and has introduced “exceptional drought” into its terminology.

“You see the blood red stain in the middle of California ,” he said pointing to one of his slides. “That’s a piece of real estate that’s very important to your life and to my life because we import $4 billion worth of food as a northern community.”

California, he explained, provides “95 percent of all US broccoli, 92 percent of strawberries, 91% of grapes, 90 percent of tomatoes, 84 percent of all lettuce” and similar percentages to Ontario. While noting that almost all of this is grown in that blood red stained area, Murray warned he “could keep going with all the other things your mother told you to eat lots of when you were growing up.”

A particular “perversity” in the California situation is that nut and pistachio growers are “have now bought surplus drilling equipment from Alberta” and are “going down 2000 feet into the aquifers of California leading to collapse, whereas the vegetable farmers can only afford equipment that goes down about 200 feet.”

Saxony - five reduced to four

Burlington resident weren’t comfortable with a five storey project in the downtown core – developer cut it back to four. This is an absurdity,” Murray declared.

Murray also explained that the climate change we’re already seeing is certain to get significantly worse because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for 40 to 250 years.

“So looking back right now we are experiencing the full force of carbon dioxide levels from 1916, in the middle of the First World War, and we’re just now experiencing the initial impacts of carbon dioxide from 1976 when I graduated from high school.”

He underlined that “sobering” thought by noting that “the rapid explosion of the suburbs in the fifties – the great low density carbon intensive neighbourhoods – all the weight of all of that activity and change in urban form has not yet impacted.”

BMW hydro vehicle

Burlington Hydro loaned electric BMW’s to city council members top record their driving habits – when will the wave of buying electric cars hit us?

Murray connected this to the province’s commitment to rapid transit by inviting the audience to look at the Yonge subway line in Toronto from the vantage point of the top of the CN tower. “You can clearly see where it is because at every subway stop there are spikes of large commercial and residential buildings all the way up to York,” he said.

He compared that to the Bloor line where city councillors and their residents fight intensification. “There’s a fight over a four-storey building in Etobicoke – they’re fighting it because it’s ‘too intense’. This is the absurdity,” Murray declared.

He didn’t suggest this might happen along Hamilton’s LRT line, but the link was obvious, and he underlined it by the results of a mapping study of taxes versus density that confirmed “all the neighbourhoods who use a lot of infrastructure for a very small tax base are well dispersed suburbs, big box formula subdivisions, and Hamilton.”

He ended with advice to individual Hamiltonians: “Drive less, get an electric vehicle, congratulations on getting a rapid transit line in Hamilton and please use it. Or walk, it’s a beautiful city to walk in.”


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What was all the fuss about? Census is a snap - a needed bureaucratic tool. Has nothing to do with privacy issues.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

May 6, 2016


Does anyone remember why the Harper government decided to cancel the long form census in 2011 and replace it with a voluntary survey? It wasn’t to save money because, when adjusted for inflation, the 2011 census exercise cost more than its predecessor, the 2006 census. It wasn’t, as they argued at the time, about privacy. There had been no cases or serious complaints about census questions violating our rights to privacy. The Supreme Court had not charged the government to change how and what data it collects.

EDS. NOTE A MAY 5, 2011FILE PHOTO The cover of the 2011 census package is seen in Ottawa on May 5, 2011.On Wednesday, Statistics Canada's third tranche of data from the 2011 census - this one focused on families and their living arrangements - will make it clear that in this country, "family" can mean almost anything at all. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The law requires everyone to fill in the census form sent to them.

And it wasn’t to improve the quality or degree of information gathered. That is the information used by governments to influence a wide range of policy and program decisions, as well as the many private companies and organizations who had complained of the changes at the time. And those complaints were warranted, given the general conclusion that the 2011 census was largely a wasted exercise.

Doesn’t conservative have something to do with retaining tradition, and what could be more traditional and time honoured than establishing accurate census information. The first stock-taking in our nation’s history, in fact in North America, goes back to the one undertaken by the New France Intendant, Jean Talon, in 1666. As the Canadian colonies came together to form our nation, section 8 of the British North America Act required a ten-yearly census to be undertaken. So in 1871 the new confederation of four provinces conducted its first national census.


Reproduction of the cover page from what is seen as the first census – the Domsday Book.

The 1086 Domsday Book is heralded as the first census, though there are biblical era references to surveys conducted well before that time. Still, William the Conqueror’s effort to establish his rightful tax base and various property holdings across Great Britain holds its place in history and was only replicated some eight centuries later, in 1873, through the so-called Modern Domsday Book. The title itself had little to do with doom or disaster, but rather was a derivation of the old English word “doom” meaning law or judgement.

It may have been ‘Tea Party’ Ideology, a disdain for science and knowledge, or just a bone-headed mistake. One can only speculate as to why the former PM was so determined to fix something which wasn’t broken, in fact had been working well and serving us well.

Census data map

Census map with population data

So one of the early actions of the new Liberal government was to give Statistics Canada the right to return to traditional data gathering with the 2016 census.

And Canadians have responded overwhelmingly, in fact overloading and crashing the census website with their enthusiasm, and their determination to be counted.

I received both the long and short form, went on line, and had them each completed on-line in a matter of a few minutes. And, as I recorded my confirmation number I couldn’t help asking myself – what was all the fuss about?


Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran as a Liberal against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province. Rivers is no longer active with any political party.

Background links:

Wasted Effort    Getting Less for More    Canada’s Census History    Canada’s Census

The Doomsday Book

Census Web Site      Response to Return of Long Form       Biblical Census

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What does it mean to be sustainable - and why does it matter?

What does it mean to be “sustainable” – why does it matter and if it matters that much – why isn’t every one doing it?

This was a question the Gazette put to Jim Feilders, a committed environmentalist and an engineer with a private practice. Here is what Feilders had to say:

backgrounder 100By Jim Feilders

May 1, 2016



A general definition of sustainability is the ability to continue a defined behavior indefinitely. This can apply to everything from keeping your body alive to the survival of the universe. But most of us think about it in terms of maintaining our lifestyles in the environment in which we live.

The three most common aspects of sustainability are environmental, economic and social. Some like to include culture as a separate item but it generally is included under the social umbrella.

Cod Newfoundland

There was a point when the cod fishery in Newfoundland was a massive industry until the Grand Banks were fished out – it took years to get back the balance that was once in place.

For the environment to be sustainable, the planet has to be able to respond to the human use of resources and pollution created. An example of this gone wrong is over-fishing of the Grand Banks off Newfoundland that resulted in depletion of cod. Wildlife species are becoming extinct by direct killing of animals and destruction of habitat. When the balance of nature is upset, significant changes occur.

We want to know that the planet will be around for future generations. If we don’t maintain a balance between what we do to harm the planet and the capacity of the earth to recover from it, we will find ourselves living on a dying planet. Evidence exists that we are on that path and a global initiative is underway to try to do something about it. Sending too much carbon into the air and oceans is causing global climate change with disastrous impacts. Information is available on the major countries of the world in terms of their biocapacity versus their environmental footprint. It’s just a fancy way of describing whether the environment can absorb all the pollution being produced. Not surprisingly, the US and China are in the red while Canada still has room left over after sucking up all we spew out.

Ecological footpint

Each of us has an ecological footprint – how big might yours be?

Economic sustainability deals with the ability to support a defined level of economic production indefinitely. The most common expression of this is balanced budgets where countries do not spend more than they bring in. As we are all aware, balanced budgets are not common and the devastating effects on the human population are obvious.

Socially, we can be sustainable when the country functions at a defined level of social well being indefinitely. This includes health care, recreational amenities, schools, good transportation, religious buildings and other institutions in a manner that creates a sense of community.

Most of us agree something should be done to keep us sustainable but how we can contribute on an individual basis is perplexing. Governments, particularly local municipal ones, have the greatest role to play through passing legislation to control services, development and pollution. This makes it easier for people to do their part as they are forced into it. Garbage recycling is a good example. Providing a balanced transportation system is another. But government can only push so hard. We live in a free country and have to let our citizens decide on what kind of place in which to live.

Why we don’t do more as individuals has been a topic of discussion for decades. Recently, a Canadian entrepreneur and author, Tom Rand, with degrees in both engineering and philosophy, discusses environmental sustainability in his book “Waking the Frog”. In essence, we are reluctant to change. With our busy lifestyles, we give little thought to what we can do. It is probably not a mass conspiracy of the oil companies. The affluent especially, see no benefit because maintaining their lifestyle is usually just a matter of spending more money when pollution penalties arise.

biocapacity - green fields

The earth needs green fields like this – we need them if we are to survive as human beings on this planet. At this point in time we are losing this battle.

To make our planet sustainable, we can start right within our own communities. We can become involved by exercising age old philosophies of democratic voting, donating financially to worthy causes and directly helping others. When we work together and support each other, the job goes faster and easier. Many forums exist that offer something for everyone to use their specific talents. When stories are heard about dramatic changes such as housing of homeless people in Medicine Hat, Alberta, we are spurred on to do our bit. Burlington is at the tipping point of real change in terms of a sustainable community with the completion of its strategic Plan.

With climate change being such a pressing issue, there are two simple things that we can do right now. Many of us think saving the planet means sacrifices such as taking the bus, turning down the heat and wearing sweaters or yelling at the kids to turn off the lights in unoccupied rooms. But modern technologies for electric and hybrid vehicles and electric heat pumps for heating and cooling our homes are available now that do not require sacrifices.

Despite the apparent higher cost of electricity compared to natural gas and gasoline, these more efficient solutions are actually cheaper on a monthly basis to own and operate.

So get involved where your talents are best put to use and encourage others to do the same. To coin the phrase of BurlingtonGreen: “Together we can make a difference.”

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Medicine and money - how much of the taxpayers dollars should doctors be getting? $6 million in one year?

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

April 29, 2016


I recall a doctor once complaining to me that his father, also a doctor, used to make ten times the average worker’s salary while he only made five. We all know that doctors generally make good money, which is why we were instructed by our parents to become doctors and why we’ve told our children to do the same.

The medical association will point out that American doctors are even better rewarded in that wasteful multiple-payer system south of the border. Of course some sports athletes, pop musicians, film actors and even senior bankers now make more. Except we don’t pay any of those people out of a public purse. And public financing is the issue behind the Ontario Government’s efforts to trim back potentially out-of-date medical billings.

Most of Ontario’s doctors work on a piece-work basis, charging OHIP for every patient who goes through their turnstile. And how they get remunerated depends on a highly complicated fee schedule, which gets negotiated between the doctors’ union, their medical association and your government, the health insurer. So how did one eye doctor bill $6.6 million in one year, when the average billing is more like three or four hundred thousand dollars?

turnstylesIn the absence of more detailed information one can only speculate – but it might be that the procedures that doctor used can now be performed more rapidly and efficiently than when the billing rate was set. That would allow more patients through the turnstile and into the cash register. And in that case the Minister has a valid point that the rates need to be revised downwards to better reflect the real cost of that medical service.

In the absence of a competitive market for medical services, value is determined by how long it takes, what kind of hardware is needed and how much skill is required. But even in the US, with a more competitive insurance model, services are priced in a similar fashion. So that is what Ontario’s Minister of Health, Eric Hoskins, who is a doctor himself, is trying to do – ensure that we get value for our medical buck by updating the fee schedule.

Of course that doesn’t resolve the issue of how much doctors should be making. My accountant keeps telling me to look at the net, after tax income, not the gross. So if society feels anyone, be they doctors, bankers or sports celebrities, are bring home too much dough, there is a solution. Just tax it back as we used to do in the 50’s and 60’s. And doing that within reasonable limits will also reduce the growing gap between the rich and poor, which everyone claims to deplore.

Trickle-down economics, as ridiculous a term as that sounds, was the rationale that allowed conservative-minded governments to redistribute income from the poor to the rich. Ronald Reagan was the perfect anti-Robin Hood. Canada’s income gap got a new life following the tax reforms brought in by former PM Brian Mulroney and his Bill C-139, which he ironically termed tax simplification.

Hoskins + doctors

Ontario’s Minister of Health Erik Hoskins, also a doctor, puts the province’s argument forward – the doctor’s lobby has always been effective.

Mulroney virtually dismantled our progressive taxation system, reducing rate classes to only three from the previous ten. He raised the tax rate for the lowest class from 6 to 17 percent and lowered the highest to 29 percent from 34. This placed more of the tax burden on the middle and lower classes. This huge shift in the tax burden also underlay the poor economic performance that plagued his government and the enormous structural deficit that Mulroney created and ran in every single year of his administration.

Our new PM’s first budget has attempted to address that inequality by lowering taxes for middle and lower incomes, and shifting more of the burden back to the wealthy through a new higher tax bracket. And that has brought out the trickle-down crowd once again. Stomping their feet as they hit the pavement in places like the National Post, warning of imminent doom unless the rich, once again, get more money. It’s as if ignorance, greed and stupidity have no bounds.


Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran as a Liberal against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province. Rivers is no longer active with any political party.  You can tweet him at  @rayzrivers

Background links:

Health Minister’s Announcement Doctor’s SalariesPay CutsPhysician RemunerationCD Howe Perspective

US Doctor Income$6.6 Million DoctorHistorical Taxation PoliciesHarper’s TaxesTrudeau’s Taxes

How Much is Too MuchThe Trickle-Down Crowd

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Duffy beats the rap on 31 criminal charges - the Mounties went after the wrong man.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

April 22, 2016


Ray Rivers has been writing an opinion column for the Gazette for more than three years.  He is currently on a personal research assignment in the Ukraine doing background for his next novel.  While out of the country Rivers has kept abreast of current events and could not miss the opportunity to comment on the trial of Mike Duffy.

Duffy + Judge

Duffy, left, listens as Justice Charles Vaillancourt reads from his ruling in an Ottawa courtroom on Thursday. Illustration by Greg Banning.

Of course the judge is right about Harper and his henchmen (aka PMO). It’s what we expected from a Prime Minister who distinguished himself by displaying irreverence for the political institutions and the processes he had been elected to protect. In fact as the Duffy case has shown it is more than disrespect – it’s abuse of power and presumption of privilege. He used the Senate as a chess board and the senators as pawns, to paraphrase Justice Charles Vaillancourt.

Duffy home in PEI

What was really a summer cottage, this Prince Edward Island house was declared to be Senator Duffy’s prime residence.

Mike Duffy was never qualified to be the Senator from PEI. He knew that and more importantly so did Mr. Harper who appointed him. They should have understood the inappropriateness of claiming residential expenses, despite Senate bureaucrats telling Duffy it would be OK. It was Duffy who had to sign his name at the bottom of all those claims.

And even if the Senate is a political animal, headlining partisan fund-raising events at public expense is also inappropriate. Again Duffy must have known that, and so would the big guy who ordered him to attend. Parliamentarians are not allowed to use public money for partisan purposes. Have we forgotten the Sponsorship scandal so soon?

And this cheque he was given to pay back the money he’d falsely claimed. It may not have been a bribe, but it was intended to keep Duffy quiet and sweep this messy business out of public view, again paraphrasing the judge. And who is going to argue with the PM’s right-hand person? And especially when the cheque he is offering will keep you out of the poor house at the time?

Duffy and the PM

Former Prim Minister Stephen Harper in conversation with Mike Duffy

This whole messy affair also says a lot about the Justice department and their shoddy performance. It almost appears that they too were under Mr. Harper’s thumb. And did this process really cost $30 million dollars? Minimal cross examination, never asked Duffy about the famous cheque, and never called the PM to the stand. As the judge’s decision implies, the crown had the wrong fellow in the dock. This time the mounties really didn’t get their man.

This whole affair is a sad comment on Canadian politics. We should all be embarrassed by what we’ve allowed to happen. But then the judge let Duffy get away without so much as a slap on the wrist. Maybe not guilty, but he was hardly innocent. It’s no wonder that the Globe and Mail barely mentioned this story in their on-line version last night. And yet a year ago it was hot in the news.


The Senate.

The Canadian Senate is an historical mistake that just keeps on giving. One can only hope that Mr. Trudeau’s efforts to transform the Senate into a non-partisan camp works. At least no Senator need be fund-raising for a political party, if he/she is truly non-partisan. And hopefully a non-partisan appointment advisory committee will do a better job at finding people to represent PEI, among people who actually live in PEI.

Mr. Duffy was a victim of his own ambition and a Prime Minister who used him for his own purposes. I’d like to think of the chamber of ‘sober second thought; as filled with intelligent and ethical Canadians whose first priority is to serve the public. I’d have a hard time saying that about Mike Duffy. I just hope his Senate days are over.


Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran as a Liberal against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.  Ray has published one book and is working on a second.


Background links:

Trial Decision BlogTrial DecisionMike DuffyVindication of the Man


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