Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Our Lori

A good friend passed away yesterday. Its hard to accurately express the feelings of loss, injustice, and shock. She was one of those people that if you knew her, you loved her. And if you didn't know her ... well, trust me. You would've loved her. She was simply Lori. Our Lori. We always had fun. Whether it was just the two of us, or the whole gang. We had this one adventure that I will never forget.

Peggi-Jo, Lori and I decided to go to Timmins. I had to go as I was working with a bar band there for the week. I'm not exactly sure how or why it came to be that the girls took me there, but they did. The three of us piled into Lori's little blue Chevette (I forget its nick-name ... something girlie). I was driving, that was the deal. So there we were on HWY 144, me driving, Lori co-driving, and Peggi-Jo back-seat-co-driving.

We were all in good spirits, having a blast, and for some reason Peggi felt it prudent to reminded me that, "When you see a moose on the road you don't swerve to avoid it but slam on the brakes and stay straight." I assured her that I knew what I was doing because; a) I'm a guy, and b) I grew up in Northern Ontario, and c) everybody knows that, Captain Obvious! Plus, at that moment I would have bet that we wouldn't have need of that advice. But secretly, I was glad she said it because I really had no idea!

A key piece of background information to this story is the fact that I drive kind of, shall we say ... nonchalantly. I see the road, keep the car between the lines, and spend the rest of my time wondering and/or investigating whatever else is going on. I genetically inherited this talent from my Grandfather and he was never involved in a car crash, so you know it's all good. Another key data point to this story is the fact that the girls didn't know any of this.

So night falls as we were driving along (this was so long ago I don't remember what time we left Chelmsford) and I see this shooting star. It caught my attention because, well, it was a shooting star. Never mind that this particular shooting star was falling down towards the horizon as opposed to across the sky. And you know the deal with shooting stars, as soon as you tell someone to look, its gone. So I didn't say anything. But as the star disappeared into the horizon I saw a pair of green dots. They were peculiar green dots, close together and right in the path of the shooting star. It was as if that star was saying, "Hey! Look over here! What are these?" I thought, 'that's peculiar', and having already discussed moose on the road I was wondering what sort of wildlife this could be.

Then this blood curdling scream accompanied by a searing pain in my right elbow snatched me out of my internal inquiry. Instead of looking for the source of pain something told me to look at the road (in hind sight, I think it was Peggi-Jo screaming in my ear), so I looked straight up. I saw at least six of those green dots, albeit a little farther apart, and then fur! And legs! Big legs! And more fur! Now, nano-seconds later, those green dots were dark eyes that were so wide they were surrounded by white and looked as though they were going to fall out of their sockets. Moose everywhere reared on their hind legs and bolted in I don't know how many directions. I'm not sure when I locked up the brakes or how I remembered to keep the car straight, but I did. If you remember the scene in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles where John Candy locks up the brakes so hard he bends the steering wheel over, then you've got a pretty good visual of that moment.

Some kind of luck kept us from hitting any one of those moose that night. I'll bet that if those moose wore underwear they would have been the same colour, smell and texture as ours. Now, with the moose safely in the bush, it was time to take stock. I finally realized the source of my elbow pain. Lori had a death grip on my elbow. Her nails had dug right in. It wasn't until Peggi said, 'good job' that Lori extracted her talons. She also muttered something about handling the situation, but I can't quite recall if she was congratulating me or not. The Chevette, miraculously, was still running but needed a little more throttle than usual to get going.

So once again we were on our way. We started to disseminate the incident, as typical humans usually do after a typical near death experience. I decided that this was the appropriate moment to disclose to Lori and Peggi the details of the shooting star and those green dots that I now knew were moose eyes. I've never really lived that down. Also, I've never really understood why I didn't pick that moment to shut the fuck up.

I'll never forget these words:

Peggi: "What were you doing looking at the sky and the bush!?! Why weren't you looking at the road?!?"

Lori: "Ya! Oh Rosco, Rosco, Rosco."

So this is what I hear about for the rest of the trip, not to mention the rest of my life.

Once in Timmins we park at the Empire Hotel, since closed, and go up to my room. Lori and Peggi were stunned at the accommodations to say the least. Bar bands in the late '80's did not get the best rooms, and the Empire was one of those hotels that homeless people wouldn't stay in. To call them rooms was laughable. The girls weren't laughing. I think Lori was freaking out about possible infestations in the room. And, of course, Peggi supported her emphatically. I think I was in block out mode by that point because I don't remember much of that part of the night. Tired, emotionally drained, completely embarrassed, I just crashed.

I don't remember much of the next day. The girls must have gotten themselves home safe or I think I would have been telling this story a long time ago to a whole different audience.

I've been thinking of Lori a lot lately. Her trademark, "HA!", her "Well finally!", and the way she rolled her eyes that said, "Well finally!" There was the ever popular, "Ya think?" and, "Hello!" that she and Peggi-Jo co-authored. These and a million other Lori-isms have been making me smile this past month.

And I've been thinking about that adventure. It was by far the funniest adventure the three of us ever went on together. But when I play it back in my head now, I just want to reach over and hug Lori and never let her go.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rainbow District School Board: A Display of Ethics?

One thing has become abundantly clear to me, and reinforced recently by a comment from a local politician: School Boards do not have to answer to anyone.

All through the South End Accommodation Review Committee process we were ignored whenever we offered solutions and provided with bogus numbers when it came to economic data, if we were provided any at all. We would often look at each other and say, "How do they get away with that"? Here’s the answer: There is no publicly funded organization that oversees School Board spending or practices. Obviously you would think that the Ministry of Education is the regulator, but as we saw with our appeal and the subsequent 'independent review', they provide better lip service than tangible regulation. The only significant role the Ministry plays is in school board funding, as these are the only Ministry of Education guidelines that are strictly adhered to anymore. And, as assured by the aforementioned politician, once the board has the money they can do what they want with it. They don't even have to spend it on what they got it for (Green Initiatives, for example)! There aren’t any checks, balances or watchdogs to keep them in line once they get our tax dollars. As for practices, they get audited like everyone else. But if something is found amiss, there are no serious repercussions. In fact, as we've seen in documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests, the audit reports will only identify what the transgressions were while being extremely vague about which board committed them. School boards are told that they have to stay within Ministry Guidelines for spending but are never held to account for not following them.

So what does this mean for our children? Well, the rising cost of wages and benefits within the RDSB (the Director of Education gets a 6% raise a year, for example) means that more money will be spent on more people, regardless of our children's education quality or the quality of the facilities they learn in. A quick look at the Sunshine list for 2011 says that the RDSB spent just over $9 Million on employees that make over $100,000 or more per year in 2010 (all administrators, btw ... no RDSB teachers on that list). For comparison; French Public = $7.1M, English Catholic = $4.3M, and French Catholic = $3M. Not only that, but the 2010 figure for the RDSB is $1.8M more than the 2009 figure … a 24% increase!! Another set of facts taken from the RDSB’s 2009-2010 Annual Report: Student enrollment is down by 231 students, while Teaching Staff remains static at just over 1000, and Non-Teaching Staff will increase by 7. Two of those seven Non-Teaching Staff are positions that will be on the Sunshine List in 2012. This should provide some much needed transparency regarding the distribution of our tax dollars. No wonder the RDSB wants to build Super Schools at McLeod and Algonquin. To sustain the rising wages and benefits there is no choice but to cram our kids into fewer buildings! They'll save on custodians, secretaries, maintenance, utilities, etc., all in the name of 'Efficiencies to ensure quality education’. But the reality is that the RDSB has to make these moves to atone for increases in administrative wages and benefits that are over and above public funding allowances. Jean Hanson (#1 for the RDSB on the 2011 Sunshine list, and now retired) said at the beginning of the South End ARC, "Status quo is not an option”. Of course not, Jean ... because top end wages and benefits aren't going to be status quo, are they? Here’s the message I get from all of this: Share the wealth … but only amongst the administration, not the classrooms.

Public funding takes into account increases due to Bargaining Agreements and the rising costs of energy & transportation. But public funding is also based on student population. So isn’t it irresponsible to increase staff when student population decreases? It’s obvious that RDSB spending is outpacing public funding. This continuing trend signals more school closures. They’ve already said they’re going to close Long Lake Public School and Wanup Public School … which schools are next? Isn’t it irresponsible to close schools and cram kids into fewer buildings while increasing Non-Teaching Staff and Administration wages & benefits? And the Ministry of Education is reducing the amount of public funds that are given to School Boards for “School Board Administration and Governance” by about 2% per student per year for three years. So how is the RDSB managing that? Are their wages going down? Are they reducing the amount of Board staff? Are they voluntarily reducing their benefits? Are they reducing Administration and Governance time? It’s a mystery to me! And how is that McLeod Public crumbles and smells of mould when $2.9 Million has been received in the form of a “School Renewal Grant” in 2010, according to the RDSB 2009-2010 Annual Report? Where did that money go? With nobody holding their spending to account, school boards can use whatever means necessary to sustain their own futures. We know how they’ve done this to date. What is going to be different about the future? How are they going to manage the problem when it is impossible to close more schools?

So, who are the victims in this display of ____ (I don’t know … what would you call it)? Well, obviously, we are. Our tax dollars simply are not being distributed in the designed fashion. But less obviously (and way more importantly), our children are victims. They are being robbed of the quality of education that is provided by smaller schools and classrooms.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Depression and Me

Hi. I'd like you to meet my friend, Depression. He's been running my life now for the last while and I'm quite tired of it, to say the least. My wife is done as well. I think, I mean I know, she's going to leave soon. And I don't know how to feel about that. Let me start from the beginning.

I've had a shitty childhood. To keep this part brief, I'll sum it up for you. I believe my childhood is the root of my antisocial tendencies and depressionI'm basically inept when it comes to relationships of both friends and lovers. And I have no desire, or need, to back in time to fix the cause. 

So fast forward closer to the present; life was good. Met a great girl, got married, had a son together. But somewhere in there I started using weed. I started abusing the drug, not intentionally to dull the pain or anything moronic like that, but because its what we did. Its all we ever did. And, fuck me, it was so much fun! We had some of our best times while high. Little did I know at the time that it would bring some demons that I couldn't control. And that's what living with depression is all about ... control. I can control it, or it can control me. I sought medical help. I called my wife's Doctor's office and asked if she would take me on as a patient, which thankfully she did. And I did that without talking to anyone about it. I was smart enough to know that if I were to stay on that path that my end would start soon, and I wouldn't have any control on the outcome. My discussion with my new Doctor put me on Effexor. Slowly, the doses were being increased but it didn't feel like it was working (still doesn't). So, like the wise Doctor she is, she referred me to a Psychiatrist instead of trying drug after drug after drug (there's over 250 antidepressants available ... fuck me). So now, I have two Doctors and I'm on a cocktail of antidepressants ... that aren't really working, thank you very fucking much! I've also had two talk therapists that aren't really helping. My current one is good, but I don't know that its making much of a difference. I start working out at the gym tomorrow. I'm actually kind of excited about that. I hope it helps. My doc friend says that the secret to avoiding doctors and the health system is to eat healthy and exercise regularly. Simple as that. 

So my wife wants to leave. Who can blame her? I haven't really been relationship material these last few years. And I can't tell that I'm happy, or sad, or mad, or ... whatever it is I'm supposed to feel. If she does leave, I have to say that I will be happy not fighting. She gets upset at me and starts her attacks, and I start to clam up. I really have no idea what to say in those moments. I feel like I'm in a bubble, pushing on the walls so that my hands are bulging through, but not breaking it. And my silence infuriates her. So we don't talk. It sucks, basically. I try to think of my life outside of this marriage and I get even more depressed. Because, even without the fighting, there would be little peace between these ears. Am I on the wrong meds? You bet! In fact, I don't even know if I need meds at all. She tells me that all the time. But what the fuck can I do about it now? I know what happens when I miss a dose and I can tell you that it is not very pleasant. Some say that I might never be able to stop taking these drugs. Perfect. I've traded an illegal addiction for a legal one. Still, some bastard gets rich. But what if she leaves? What am I going to do? I can't leave town, although that would be my first choice. I have a job here, a good job, and I really don't want to be far from our son. There's another problem. How am I going to be able to handle not seeing him every day? But more unselfishly, how is our broken relationship affecting him? This may be the best option for him. So, what's worse for him ... visiting your father every second weekend, or growing up in a poisoned house? I have no answers. I don't think we'll get answers that we're going to like.

Ya, meet my friend Depression. He's a cocksucker and he's ruining my fucking life. And I can't seem to be able to control him. I'm going to open another fucking Steam Whistle.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Post Election - May 3rd, 2011.

Hi All.

I'm not sure who 'all' is, but Hi anyways. I have to exercise some demons in my head regarding the Canadian Federal Election results aired last night. In this blog I'll voice my opinion on the results. In my next blog I'll ask some questions about the system itself. I have a couple of ideas that I need to air.

So last night Canadian Political history was made. 61.4% of eligible voters voted, making it the third lowest turnout in our history, but the highest of the last three elections. That means that voter apathy is slowly dying. Yay! Here are the highlights:

- The Harper Conservatives were awarded with a majority government of 167 seats with 39.6% of the ballots cast by the Canadian electorate (24.3% of the eligible votes). Disturbing, but true. 

- The Federal Liberal Party, led by Harvard Professor Michael Ignatieff was delivered a stunning defeat. They lost 41 seats and retained 34 seats with 18.9% of ballots cast (11.6% of eligible ballots). That represents the largest decline of seats in by the Liberals in their long and rich history. 

- The Federal New Democratic Party, lead by Jack Layton also made history last night. They had the biggest gain of seats in their relatively short history. A total of 102 seats, a gain of 65 seats from the last parliament with 30.6% of ballots cast (18.8% of eligible ballots). 

- The Bloc Quebecois were decimated in their home province of Quebec, down to four seats from 50 with 6% of ballots cast (3.7% of eligible ballots). 

- Another historical moment, and my personal favorite, the Federal Green Party won their first seat in our House of Commons. Hurray! The Green Party received 3.9% of ballots cast (2.4% of eligible ballots). 

I'll start with the Liberal Party which suffered a record defeat. The Liberal Leader, Michael Ignatieff, has resigned. And rightful so, unfortunately. I don't blame him for the party's demise. I think he was a fine candidate. But he was the victim of a smear campaign that was started by the Conservative party before the election was called. His initial response to that string of attack ads was no response. He thought that Canadians wouldn't stand for that kind of politics and decided to rise above it. The Liberal's problems started to become apparent during the televised debates of the party leaders. Ignatieff didn't represent the party plan for the country with any firm conviction or passion. That generally translated into what I believe the electorate decided was 'no plan'. After the televised debates the problems worsened when the Liberals decided to change course and aired their first attack ad. It was an attack on Stephen Harper, well done, accurate, and in the same format that the Conservatives aired theirs (which were based on American style political ads .... ugh!). But as I learned in business a long time ago, when you change course you loose your audience. I believe this to be the second fundamental flaw in the Liberal 2011 campaign. I surmise that if they had kept their 'we're better than them so we won't stoop to their level' plan of attack, they wouldn't have lost touch with so many of their faithful voters. I don't think they would have won the election, but the defeat may have not been as dire. Then we got glimpses of the real Michael Ignatieff in Sudbury where he was hosting a Town hall meeting. He became a passionate leader rallying his troops, asking Canada to 'Rise Up' against Stephen Harper's disrespect for parliamentary democracy. These Town Hall meetings continued across the country where he demonstrated the same passion and commitment. I think this was also a major flaw. I think the Canadian people needed to see this kind of Ignatieff at the beginning, or before, the election campaign. That may have dispelled some of the negative hype around him masterminded by the Conservative Machine. At the end of the election campaign he ultimately failed to connect with the voters, however you want to look at it. I'm not alone when I say that the speech he gave at the end of May 1st was the leader we needed to see from the start. He was strong, elegant, concise, and genuine. In his resignation speech he stated that connecting with the voters was his responsibility, and ultimately that's how most Canadian's vote in Federal Elections ... for the party leader instead of the candidate the represents them. I can't help but feel that we Canadians have forced a prime candidate out of politics, and hence the opportunity to have a quality Prime Minister.

The Federal New Democratic Party, on the other hand, were a benefactor of the Liberal's foibles. The 102 seats constituted their biggest electoral victory in their relatively short, 50 year history. I believe their success was based on the message they delivered to the people (obviously ... duh!). It started in Quebec during the French televised debate. Jack Layton connected with Quebec voters like no other politician in the running had the balls to do. He said that he was not afraid to reopen Constitutional talks with Quebec. This is key to understanding the shift in popularity. I believe that Quebecers fundamentally want to be members of the Canadian Constitution. I think their Provincial Government has too many demands, or a least had too many demands, and the citizens of Quebec were left feeling that no Federal party had their best interests at heart. This happened in the mid 80's. Before then the Parti Quebecois was the only Provincial Party to attempt to separate from Canada through referendum. Then along came Brian Mulroney, Conservative Leader, and promised Quebecers "a new deal" in Constitutional negotiations. In that 1984 election, Prime Minister won 58 seats ... the exact amount that the NDP won in this election. Prime Minister Mulroney entered negotiations with the Provincial Premieres in Meech Lake, giving the name Meech Lake Accord to the document that resulted from those meetings. Mulroney failed to convince Quebec to sign into the Canadian Constitution ultimately due to his inability to get the Premieres to agree to Quebec's demands. The Accord finally failed in the early '90s. The Bloc Quebecois was formed as a French Federalist Party by french MPs from the Liberals and Conservatives who were disenfranchised by 'English Canada's rejection'. The Bloc's main platform has been Quebec Sovereignty since 'English Speaking Canada' couldn't agree to the Constitution amendments that Quebec deemed necessary to sign the Constitution. Quebec voters have been faithful to the Bloc since. Until yesterday, that is. I think that once Quebecers believed that Mr. Layton understood their interests and wasn't afraid of the hard Constitutional challenges, he was as good as gold to win the province. I believe that the rest of the country saw this reaction by Quebecers as a good sign and started paying concerted attention to Jack. And to Jack's credit, he didn't change course. The message he delivered was consistent with the one he started with one subtle exception. He didn't talk about his specific fiscal costs after the first week, keeping conversations about economy and costs of promises general.  Because every time the NDP puts a dollar figure to a promise, people who know economics say, 'Is he for real'? I believe that the people of Quebec want to be Canadians, with the caveat that they want to be able to keep their heritage intact at the same time. Not an unreasonable request, but maybe unreasonable means. Who knows ... instead of Quebec coming down to be the equal the Provinces, we may end up bringing all Provinces equal to Quebec. The only trepidation I have about the New Democratic Party is that they were formed from a merger of Labour Councils. Fundamentally, I don't have a problem with Unions but they do have a habit of swinging the pendulum to far to the left and fighting like hell to keep it there, regardless of economic reality. We've seen this type of behaviour cost several thousand jobs in the not-so-distant past.

The demise of the Bloc Quebecois was written long before this election. I said above that I believe that Quebecers fundamentally want to be part of Canada. Once they saw a Federal Party that understood them and wanted to help them make that happen, the citizens dropped the Federal Party that was formed based on Quebec Sovereignty. End of story. And if, in the future, we are unable to come to Constitutional agreement then they will be back to he Bloc or some other reasonable facsimile. Quebecers will vote with the party they think understands their interests. Its a pretty simple concept, really.

And we have our very first Green Party MP!! Elizabeth May, who is also the leader of the fledgling party, won the election in her riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands on the West Coast. And I have to say that this is the highlight of the election for me. In the 2008 election, she was hands-down the best candidate in the televised leader's debates. This election she wasn't allowed to participate in the televised as agreed to by the other four party leaders. Many Canadians were disappointed, even enraged, by that fact. She's not the Leader of the Opposition by any means, but it is a first for our country and a first for her party. Congrats, I say! And go get 'em!!

And finally, I have to state my opinion on the Conservative majority government that is about to reconvene parliament. I have some concerns with how our Prime Minister is going to deal with our parliamentary process. His minority government was defeated on a non-confidence motion that was based on his government being accused of 'Contempt of Parliament'. Constitutional experts have spoken out about this and their opinions are a lot like mine. I'm afraid, to put it bluntly. The ruling party is far right and the official opposition is far left. In english that means that they are fundamentally opposite on all of the issues that are within our Canadian Political landscape. From Health Care, to Abortion, to Economy, to Crime, to ... pick an issue. This is not going to be an easy four years. I have to endeavour to be more like my Cool Buddy, Mark. He is a self professed Glass Half Full kind if guy. I'll try to see the half full glass, but I can't seem to still the butterflies of fear that are stirring in my stomach.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

2011 Canadian Federal Election

I am not alone when I say that this latest election and campaign are disturbing to me. We've seen things happen in Canadian politics this past two months that have never happened before. Scholars, journalists, and outside observers, aside from conservative types, are watching with disbelief. There's ample evidence to cast doubt that our past and most likely future Prime Minister is not someone who should be leading a Parliamentary Democracy government.

Lets go back to March when the Minority Conservative Government, lead by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was about to table their 2011 budget. Michael Ignatief, official Leader of the Opposition tabled a motion of non-confidence based on the ruling party's recent Contempt of Parliament charge from the House Speaker. The opposition voted unanimously on the non-confidence bill thus defeating the ruling government. Parliament was dissolved and the five parties were immediately on the campaign trail. But hold it a second. One party had been running television ads that personally attacked the leader of the opposition. That party was Stephen Harper's Conservatives. The ads were, like I said, personal attacks. They took quotes from Mr. Ignatief's speeches from years gone by and paraded them across my TV screen in such a fashion that made me think that the Liberal Leader was not Canadian. They were impressive in the fact that the message they wanted to get across, came across perfectly. Too well, I'm afraid. I believe that these ads have permanently damaged Mr. Ignatief's public image (so much so that I think he will be forced to resign after this election). The ads were clearly modelled after American political campaigns, our close but backward neighbour. This marks the second time in Canadian Politics history that these style of ads were run, but the first time they were successful. I was disgusted. I'm still disgusted! The Liberal's answer was to 'take the high road'. They didn't think that Canadians would support that kind of politics so decided not to respond. (Indeed, the last time the Conservatives under Harper ran attack ads the strategy backfired and they lost the election to Paul Martin's Liberals). I didn't think that Canadians would go for that style of politics either. In hind sight, both the Liberal Party and myself were terribly, terribly wrong. Did I mention that this all occurred before the election campaign?

So the first day of the campaign the Conservatives came out saying that this was an unnecessary election caused by the opposition parties. They also 'warned' Canadians that the opposition parties would form a 'reckless coalition' and drive the country into ruin. As with most well choreographed campaigns, there was an element of truth to the claim of a coalition between opposition parties.**   Mr. Harper also claimed that coalition governments were undemocratic and illegitimate. Further on in the campaign, Mr. Harper stated that the focus of the government should be the economy and was very careful to stay out of any controversial topics. He has been bold enough to campaign for a majority, stating thats what he needed to run the country efficiently. I'm sorry, but in a parliamentary democracy minority governments would run as designed ... accountable. 

The Federal Liberals, lead by Micheal Ignatief, took a few days to unveil their platform. Theirs was based on 'the Canadian Family' and promised help for students, families taking care of elderly family members, and help for the average person. They also promised to pause the roll-back of corporate taxes until they could get out of the deficit, which they blamed on the Conservatives but really was a result of the budget demands they made in 2008. 

The NDP's platform was one of 'Jobs, Equality, Constitutional promises, and Fixing Parliament'. All for peanuts. Forgive my sarcasm, but the NDP are famous for making largesse promises with unrealistically low costs. That's all I've got to say about that.

The Bloc Quebecois have remained a mystery to me because I have never seriously listened to anything they've ever said. They don't have a candidate running in my riding.

The Green Party, while officially a party but one without a seat in parliament, was marginalized throughout this election by the other four federal parties. This I have a problem with. Close to one million people across all provinces voted for this party, they should at least be allowed to represent the people that voted for them. In comparison, The Bloc Quebecois received about 1.4 million votes from one province and they were given one-on-one time in the both the French and English debates. It just doesn't seem democratic.

So the campaigns are coming to an end as the election is in two days. Currently, the Conservatives are poised to take another minority government (according to the polls), followed by the NDP, which has been gaining popularity in Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia. This is the one thing nobody saw coming at the outset of this election campaign. The Liberals, again according to the polls, will get below 20% of the votes making the NDP leader the Official Leader of the Opposition. A first for the Federal NDP. Its been interesting watching the reactions from the Conservatives and the Liberals to the NDP's newfound popularity. 

I have a theory on the Liberal's decline in popularity. First, I believe that Canadians believed the Conservative attack ads regarding Micheal Ignatief. How could they not? Those ads had been running for months without any rebuttal from the Liberals. Remember, they decided to take the high road. Second, the Liberal message wasn't all that strong. They made promises that might have satisfied most middle class families, if they believed them, but they didn't present any real strategy to run the country. Instead, they decided to outline all of the things that Prime Minister Harper had been getting away with. And you know what? They were right! This Conservative Government was held in contempt of parliament, a first in Canadian history (Harper dismisses this as a partisan attack, even though it was an official finding by the House Speaker). They've misrepresented funds, refused to provide information on the Afgan Detainee affair, refused to provide costs for new prisons and have abused the prorogation rules for political purposes twice since they've been the ruling party. Third, I think Canadians still have bad feelings about Chretien's Sponsorship scandal. All of these things I believe contributed to the decline in popularity of the Liberal Party.

So here we are. Two days from the vote for the next Canadian Parliament. And if you believe the polls, the Conservatives will form another minority government. The NDP, Liberals, and Bloc Quebecois will be the Opposition. Almost exactly what we had two months ago. And the division between the Conservatives and the Opposition is as stark as it has ever been. There is no reason to believe that our parliament will function as it is supposed to due to the state of our partisan politics. But the really scary realization for me is the fact that the one person that is best suited to run the country, out of the three, is the one that doesn't respect our parliamentary democracy. Our democracy (the fourth oldest in the world) is based on being accountable to parliament. The basic idea is that the ruling party presents their ideas to parliament for approval and they are voted on. If parliament asks for clarity, it has to be given. That is what keeps our governing party accountable. One scholar, Peter H. Russell, who is considered to be a leading Constitutional authority, says;

"If the Harper Conservatives were to win a majority in the House of Commons, it would be an indication that Parliamentary crime pays".

Great! And Harper's the best candidate!

** Back in October 2008, the world was in an economic crisis precipitated by the fall of American banks and investment companies. Trillions of dollars disappeared from the world's economy in a matter of days. Banks and companies all over the world were left holding severely undervalued investments. Some did not survive. The crisis was severe and global. Several hundreds of thousands of jobs evaporated. While the US was hit hardest, the effects were similar throughout the world. There were several reasons for the crisis; world inflation, high unemployment, high cost of living, declining dollar values, an extremely poor housing market, but mostly high risk investment in subprime mortgages. The end result was that several companies, predominantly US investment bankers and auto companies, needed to be bailed out. Their debt ratio was too high to maintain and if the governments of US and Canada didn't take action, thousands more jobs and trillions more dollars would disappear. So billions of dollars were 'lent' to those affected companies and the proverbial bleeding was somewhat abated. On top of those bailouts, the US Government was forced to inject 750 Billion dollars, into their economy to fill the hole left by the subprime mortgage crisis. The newly elected Canadian Government's reaction to the global fiscal crisis was, basically, backwards. They tabled a budget that had draconian concessions and the opposition, lead by Liberal Party leader Stephan Dion, decided that they could not support the budget. A coalition was formed between the Federal Liberal Party, lead by Stephan Dion, and The Federal NDP Party, lead by Jack Layton. This coalition was supported by the Bloc Quebecois, the third and smallest party of the parliamentary opposition. A Confidence Vote was scheduled by the opposition parties and the ruling Conservatives, knowing that they would not survive a non-confidence motion, had to come up with 'evasive manoeuvres'. So Prime Minister Stephan Harper recommend to Governor General Michaelle Jean that she prorogue parliament as a result of this parliamentary dispute before the scheduled vote could take place. That is a first in Canadian history! The Governor General agreed to the prorogation on the conditions that parliament would reconvene within a short period of time and the ruling Cabinet would produce a budget that would pass a parliamentary vote. Shortly after the prorogation started, the Liberal Party leader Stephan Dion stepped down and was replaced by Michael Ignatief, runner up from the previous Liberal Leadership Convention. The Conservative government tabled a budget about two months later that contained concessions that satisfied the Liberal Party's demands, and thus earned the Liberal Party's support. The Liberal's were quick to dissolve the coalition stating that it had served its purpose, that being to obtain a fiscally responsible budget that benefitted Canada's economy. So this is the truth to Mr. Harper's 'reckless, undemocratic coalition'.

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Concussions in the NHL

I was watching my Toronto Maple Leafs tonight while they were playing against the Chicago Black Hawks. I have been watching pretty intensely lately as they are within striking distance of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2005. I usually watch the Leafs play, much to my wife's discontent, and I never miss Don Cherry's Coaches Corner with Ron MacLean. Tonight, I watched the Hotstove, which I rarely do. The Hotstove is a second intermission show that is hosted by Ron MacLean and usually includes Mike Milbury, former defence man for Boston as well as GM and Coach of the NY Islanders, and two or three hockey journalists. They usually discuss player moves, any gossip that they think is newsworthy (which is almost always disappointing), and any topics that are hot within the league.

They were discussing the state of headshots and concussions in the NHL these days and what to do about it. This has been a very hot topic all year long that has drawn opinions from almost everyone who is anyone in hockey. With a concussion robbing us of the talents of Sydney Crosby, arguably the best player in the NHL, and the revelation earlier this week that Bob Probert, an NHL enforcer for Chicago and Detroit for several years, had a degenerative brain disease that was most likely caused by repeated concussions sustained during fights in his NHL career, there was no doubt the the Hotstove panel was going to discuss it tonight. Mike Milbury is a very passionate hockey personality. He has lots of experience in playing and managing the game and its players. Mike made a 'somewhat controversial' statement during this broadcast that went, '... if the NHL is serious about reducing the amount of concussions in the leaque, that they will have to examine fighting'. He said that 28% of all concussions sustained in the NHL are from fights. He was immediately challenged by a journalist (I can't remember his name ... actually, I don't really care who he is, he struck me as an idiot) and host Ron MacLean. Now I've got a lot of respect for Ron. I think he is one of the most intelligent hockey individuals that is on TV today. But for him to disagree with Mike's comment stuck me as odd, so I sent in the following comment via the CBC website. I wrote it during the third period making me miss most of the play, but I thought it was too important. I am very interested in anyone's response.

The comment was sent in as follows:

"Mike Milbury is bang on with his comments tonight about fighting in hockey.

If we, as fans, didn't enjoy fighting in the game then the NHL would have removed it a long time ago. I like a good square hockey fight as much as the next fan, but if Mike is right that 28% (?) of concussions come from fighting, and the NHL is serious about reducing the amount of concussions sustained by our athletes, then fighting has to be examined in depth. We have to ask ourselves what is more important, our entertainment or athletes' health?

I find it peculiar that we, as fans, like bigger, stronger, faster players, but don't want to give up any element of our hockey entertainment. This is often at the expense of our athletes' long term health. We demand that our hockey heroes play with an edge every night (because they are paid millions of dollars to do so), but are disgusted when they slip over that edge (eg: the Todd Bertuzzi / Steve Moore incident). Is it more convenient to forget that these guys are humans because they are on TV two or three times a week? Is it convenient to forget that these guys have to totally dedicate their lives and lifestyles, as well as their families' lives and lifestyles in order to play in the best hockey league in the world? And who deserves to make millions, the players or the owners?

To keep our athletes big, strong, fast, and edgy while maintaining their long term health we have to think of a solution that is bigger than one or two actions (new rules, better equipment, zero tolerance, etc). There is no magic bullet to this conundrum. I believe that a worthwhile solution that needs to be explored would be to transition to International sized ice surfaces. I wonder what the NHL Owners think of that idea? Actually, I can guess that there is very little debate amongst them on this topic. I'm pretty sure that they all agree that it would be a sizable investment coupled with the loss of revenue due to lost seats. Or, in some cases, new arenas will have to be built. And in some cities, like Toronto, there are very limited real estate options that will allow franchises to rebuild arenas. So it leads me to this question. How serious are owners about the long term health of the athletes that they employ? I realize that this solution is bigger than the NHL. We have two whole countries that have invested in ice surfaces that would need to be upgraded. Again, the question returns to the intentions of those that are capable of making the decisions.

We belong to the most adaptable and innovative species on the planet. We are also, at times, the most short-sighted and stubborn. We can have both entertainment and long term health in hockey. We just have to want it bad enough."


Obviously, the financial argument against bigger ice surfaces is the most prevalent and easiest to understand. But I have heard it said that North American players will not do as well on International Ice. I beg to differ! Do our teams not win Gold, Silver, or Bronze annually in international competition? And I'm not just talking about Canada. The USA teams are perennial threats as well. Put that into perspective. If our players are constantly winning on ice surfaces that they on play on 0.01% during their careers, then how are they going to play on those ice surfaces if they were raised as hockey players on them? Bigger ice only makes sense. Our players are bigger (some 18 year olds are being drafted at 200 + pounds and start weight training programs to put on more muscle in order to be effective within the league), faster, smarter, and play with passion. Why wouldn't the size of hockey rink increase as well? By ignoring this we are heading towards more debilitating injuries for our athletes.  No-touch Icing is another rule that would eliminate many unnecessary injuries. Many hockey leagues across Canada and the United States have followed Europe's lead on this. Why hasn't the NHL? And how can the NHL be serious about reducing concussions to their players if they ignore fighting's role in the problem? Are they denying that repeated blows to the head can result in a concussion? What would Muhammed Ali say to that? Wait. Don't answer that ... he can't! Are the scientists that examined Bob Probert's brain wrong? Is the NHL going to challenge or ignore the prognosis? The NHL is going to say that fans enjoy fighting within hockey. And they couldn't be more right! But are they going to support players like Nick Kypreos who had his hockey career cut short due to a head injury, but never made the kind of money needed to support himself for the rest of his life? Are the owners going to take on that responsibility? Are the fans?

If Sydney Crosby never plays another professional hockey game in his life due to his recent concussion (and there are those that say that he is done for this season), the odds are pretty good that he will be financially secure for the rest of his due to his celebrity status. But how many NHL players are of Sydney's status? Five, Six? Even Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, has to resort to public appearances and card signings to make ends meet in retirement. If Mark Messier's career was cut short after four years due to injury, what would he have to do to support his family? I went to high school with Troy Malette. He was drafted by the Rangers and played in New York, Edmonton, New Jersey, Ottawa, Boston and Tampa Bay over nine years. His career ended in Tampa Bay with a back injury. Today he is a Fire Fighter in our local service. And he had a hard time getting that job due to his injury.

My question is, is it right? Are we to expect that these athletes are to sacrifice their bodies and themselves, and their families future, for the sole purpose of our entertainment? People can make the argument that their compensation makes up for it, but the reality is only a few make enough money to sustain themselves for the rest of their lives. The vast majority of players will need another career if and when they cannot play anymore. Even those that play a number of healthy years in the league need to find another source of income after retirement from hockey (eg: Jamie Macoun). Who is going to look out for them? Are we no better than those Roman citizens two thousand years ago who were screaming for blood?

Or have we evolved?