Sunday, December 27, 2009

I Like Foreign Films

I stopped off at the video rental place on my way home from work the other day. It’d been a long, cold, physically challenging day, and I wanted nothing more than to plunk myself in front of the tube to watch a movie.

I was browsing through the Foreign Films section, I came across The Trailor Park Boys, Jesus of Montreal… and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Sitting alongside films from all around the world were Canadian films made in Canada with Canadian directors and Canadian actors.

The young girl who worked there was just walking past. Picking up a copy of Atanariuat, I asked her, “why is this in the Foreign Films section?” Poor thing looked at the title and then up at me with a face that seemed to say “you idiot” and chided coldly, “we put all the movies made in other countries here.” Then she shook her head and stomped away.

I realised that I could have made my point a whole lot better with the video store girl had I held up The Trailor Park Boys, but that’s fodder for another column.

It took Canada a long time to gain sovereignty over this amazing land and to be viewed as a nation in our own right, not one beholding to some parent across the sea. This country’s very magic is that we are made of races of people who have each brought something special to create a unique nation in our own right.

Yet today, Canadian icons are no longer Canadian. Air Canada, CN Rail, Molsons, Labatts, The Hudson Bay Company, Dofasco, Alcan, Stelco, Canadian Pacific Hotels and Eatons… and a list much longer than I care to continue with. Many of these have been sold to American interests and run in a very un-Canadian way, where employees and communities come somewhere after the bottom line.

Canada’s own sovereignty is now compromised by this International/Americanisation of our resources and labour force. Our governments can no longer protect citizens from the whims of corporate board members who may never have set foot in a Canadian community, and who have no love for our history or uniqueness. Some governments even aid and abet the process of selling off our Canadian-ness for the sake of profit (I won’t name any, Mr. Harper and Mr. Stelmach, because I’m Canadian and don’t want to offend anyone).

We have given up our right to set our own course in this world. We’ve again become subservient to larger forces. It didn’t have to be this way. Smaller countries like New Zealand, Denmark, Norway and Finland have stayed in control of their own policies regardless of living near much larger and powerful nations and proven they can maintain their special place in the world community.

There may still be hope that we can get return to being truly and independently Canadian some day. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania fought out from under the yoke of one of the most repressive regimes in human history to reclaim their status as independent states and are now rebuilding their own uniqueness. There is enough spirit left in ordinary Canadians to rouse into action. Canada is worth protecting from this slide into sameness being slowly and quietly being foisted on us.

One sign I’ll be looking for is a much larger Foreign Film section at Blockbuster… one expanded to fit the thousands of movies from Hollywood that really belong there. Of course, then I’d have to admit The Trailor Park Boys are ours.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

It Isn't True if they Say it Isn't

As many as 40% of Canadians believe global warming is a hoax. That’s probably higher in Alberta. Talk shows hammer our airwaves day after day with ranting hosts... bringing up the recent "Climate-gate" scandal as evidence that more than 100 years of climate data is somehow fraudulent.

The lack of scientific transparency certainly raises ethical issues within the scientific community. However, the assertion that it proves a hoax is manipulative and ridiculous.

The simple fact is that science has measured surface and ocean temperatures... ocean currents... desertification... clouds... atmospheric pollution... the deterioration of the world's glaciers... the shrinking northern ice cap... the destablisation of the southern ice cap... the shrinking of the Greenland ice mass and countless other climate changes for more than a century. There is no other explanation for these massive shifts. They correlate directly with rising CO2 levels since the beginning of the fossil fuel age from 250 parts per billion (ppb) to 380 in the last 150 years. Yet climate-change deniers want us to believe these changes—and the rapid increase in average yearly temperatures (this decade is the hottest in recorded history, despite deniers’ fraudulent claims)—is all a matter of sunspots.

Every high student knows CO2 traps heat. It’s a simple laboratory experiment. In the last four decades alone, mankind has pumped hundreds of trillions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Earth is a closed system. That CO2 has nowhere to go and once in the atmosphere it traps heat for a very long time. For climate deniers to claim differently, they would have to come up with some radical theory to explain the changes. They have never done that because there is no other theory.

Their goal is simple; they want to sow doubt in those who do not have time to understand the science, or who are simply hoping against all rational hope that this disaster is not really looming at all, and that we can continue to pollute the planet with no negative consequences.

Much of climate change denial rhetoric comes from something called the Heartland Institute (not coincidentally funded by Exxon) and climate scientist Dr Patrick Michaels (lavishly paid by the coal lobby). Their job is not to disprove human-induced climate change; it is simply to plant doubt in voters and decision makers and delay forced changes through the democratic process.

These people are not stupid or greedy… or are they? Would they jeopardize our own planet? Is greed that strong? Would some people profit at the expense of others? We all know the answer to that.

The greenhouse effect is undisputed science… even by deniers. We continue to pump trillions tons of greenhouse gases into the air every year. CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased by more than 50%.

Those are the facts. Logic dictates that there is a correlation between climate change and greenhouse gas. It may be easier to believe global warming is a sham. I wish it were.

You may never read this column again. Fine. Just don’t ignore the disappearing lakes and forests of this province, or the rapidly shrinking glaciers that fill our rivers every summer. And when you notice, ask yourself, “shouldn’t someone come up with a theory to explain all this?”

We already have. It was just easier to pretend it wasn’t happening.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

No Danger to the Public

Yesterday, while I was resting in the bunkhouse in Biggar, Saskatchewan, a couple of hundred kilometers to the east, a CN crew had a little spot of trouble when their train hit a broken rail.

CN spokesmen say that although several cars of propane caught fire and were burning along with some cars filled with plastic, there is absolutely no danger to the public. Perhaps, what they mean is there is absolutely no danger to the public... as long as the public stays away from the accident... and by public, I don't suppose they mean the environment.

The derailment apparently occurred only three cars behind the engines. Luckily, the broken rail didn't do it's damage while the locomotives roared over it, otherwise there might have been engines on fire and a couple of roasted railroaders... but even then, the public probably wouldn't have been in any more danger.

My own train last night ran out of fuel 40 miles from the city and we had to wait two hours in the snow for a fuel truck to come and rescue us. A quintessentially Canadian day on the railroad.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

When is a strike-breaker not a strike breaker?

Canadian National Railways locomotive engineers went on strike Friday at midnight. Just prior to the strike, I was assigned to the Yardmasters' Spare Board with eight other guys. The spare board usually only has two people on it... and they seldom work more than three shifts a week. I really wanted to be working as a conductor during this strike to get a first-hand look at the quality of "train operators" CN is using to get traffic over the road. I'm disappointed to be sent onto the Yardmasters spare board.

Anyway, I pulled my first shift in the West Tower (the main control tower in Walker Yard in Edmonton). All the regular Terminal Control officers were out running trains so I was working with managers who don't usually do the job of Terminal Superintendent. The yard was an absolute mess due to a derailment the day before. The rails were still being repaired so there was no way in or out of the yard at the west end.

But that's not what I want to write about. It was the spirit of a few of the managers in the tower that struck me. They actually seemed exuberant. The railway was falling apart around them and they were all pumped up. One even said that he loved strikes because they brought everyone together for a common goal. Everyone pitching in to make the railway work. By "everyone" I don't think he meant unionised employess. The implication was that when there was no strike people didn't give their best effort. He mentioned a special sort of comaraderie that develops between everyone pulling together.

It was such a surreal comment to me because I know a large number of the managers operating trains during the strike don't want to be behind the throttle of a train... and certainly not day after day for any extended period of time. They are anxious and nervous about safety and feel incredible stress doing jobs they are not really qualified to do. I'm also well-aware of just how much most unionised employees give every day, working with less than optimal equipment in less than ideal conditions.

While it is possible for CN's managers to keep trains moving over a short period of time, the toll the odd hours and emotional stress will take out of them is not something that can be sustained very long. That's something most unionised employees implicitly recognise and deal with. The excitement of a few managers to take on the task of actually running trains would not last if they had to do it day after day after day. What might remain is a resolve to do the best they could... which is exactly what most engineers and conductors do every day.

Generally, labour unrest disturbs me. In the case of inexperienced office workers running trains, there is--regardless of company claims-- safety and efficiency issues. It is only a matter of time before mistakes are made... mistakes that will cost money... or worse. Not only that, the trust between labour and management takes a long time to rebuild itself... if it ever does. The conflict caused by a strike causes suffering to everyone... one both sides. Sometimes they are necessary... and of course they are within the law. That said, it is a shame that an agreement could not have been reached.

The idea of actually "liking" a strike that pits workers, management and customers against one another... and puts safety into question is not one I understand.

The best anyone can hope for now is that we get through this without serious injury and with everyone maintaining their dignity.

Once it's over, I might get back to Locomotive Engineer training.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Is it too much to ask

Is it too much to ask that my kids keep to a few minimum standards around the house?

Is it too much to ask that they feed the animals THEY wanted?

Is it too much to ask that they try to keep their fighting to a minimum when I'm sleeping... after working all night?

Is it too much to ask for them to do their homework?

Is it too much to expect they speak to their mother and me in a reasonably respectful manner?

When do I get my life back?

I promise... I promise... when they have their own places, they can sit on the sofa as long as they want and I won't care a hoot. They can spend three consecutive hours in front of the computer and I won't say a word. They can join any club, team or group and cruise through it at their leisure and I won't raise an eyebrow.

... and I will respect their rules in their homes. I promise... I promise... I promise.... But for now, this is the house my wife and I bought.

Is it too much to expect that our rules might govern?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

H1N1 Confusion

Last week, Battle-River Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths and I had a bit of a spat on his Facebook page. On that page, Mr. Griffiths was lamenting the fact that the H1N1 vaccinations were not going smoothly, and much of the fallout was being shouldered unfairly (he thought) by the provincial government.

When I wrote that I felt some of the criticism was fairly placed on his government, he responded he was surprised how uninformed I was, and that I was guilty of politicising the whole situation for personal gain (I ran against him as a Green candidate in 2008).

Firstly, I want to make it very clear that I am not blaming MLA Doug Griffiths for the mass confusion over the vaccinations for H1N1. I know he works hard for the people in his constituency and his integrity as an MLA is not something I question. Yet, after having taken the day off to have my own children receive the vaccination (one of whom is in the high risk category) and being turned away when the clinic ran out of vaccine, I was responding as a worried dad. I still maintain the perplexing messaging about H1N1 vaccinations has confused many of us, and that some responsibility rests on decisions made by the government... of which Mr. Griffiths is a member.

Witness the comments made on Friday by Alberta's Health Minister Ron Liepert to the Calgary Herald. He criticised the media for the anger he faced from the many Albertans forced to stand for hours to get their flu shot. "I don't think it's too much of an extension to say I'm disturbed by the media coverage...."
He continued: "We launched this program asking that the first week would be for those who were most susceptible and at high risk. We also launched by encouraging all Albertans to get vaccinated because all of the indicators we had was that far too many people were going to say this, too, will pass and I don't need to get vaccinated."

Huh? Which is it, Mr. Liepert?

I will concede that I became very concerned about the well-being of my family after the news broke on Tuesday that Evan Frustaglio, the healthy 13-year-old hockey player from Ontario died of H1N1.

Even as recently as last Wednesday, Premier Ed Stelmach said, "We're the province that is offering flu vaccines for every Albertan, not just to the high-risk groups." On Thursday, Mr. Stelmach said, "We're not asking only those high-risk groups to get the vaccine first. It's open to all."

With our own premier making such statements, it seems I am guilty of nothing more than actually believing what my government is telling me. My comments were not made from political opportunism, but rather from a feeling that there has been a confused messaging around the vaccinations and that a clearer plan could have been created to ensure the supplies of the vaccine matched the demand as those supplies came on stream.

In conclusion, I certainly concede that there are many factors to the current furor that were beyond the control of the government. Yet as an Alberta parent who simply wants to act in the best interest of my children, I am confused about why a more effective plan was not in place... especially considering the length of time we have known about this strain of influenza and why there has been so much confusion surrounding the plan that WAS allegedly in place.

I will take my fair share of responsibility for perhaps worrying too much about my own family and not about the larger picture, but I think it is also fair for the Government of Alberta to shoulder some of that responsibility... and for Doug Griffiths too, even though I recognise he is not in any way personally responsible.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hoghead Training

Lesson #1:

Two miles is only two minutes at 60 mph.

Lesson #2:

There's no cocky at at "Clear to Stopee."

Lesson #3:

Don't forget your thermos lid.

No Cocky at a Clear to Stop

For the last five weeks I've been training to become a locomotive engineer. At 48 years old I don't want to seem like a kid, but sitting at the throttle on a giant diesel locomotive with a 13,000 ton train behind me is pretty exciting stuff.

The first three weeks of training were in the classroom and the closest I got to running a train was sitting at a simulator console looking at a computer generated screen. It was interesting enough, but it wasn't really until I kicked the brakes off a real train and let it start rolling downhill toward a signal that the power and responsibility of it all started to click.

I was lucky on my first couple of trips; I had relatively light trains during daylight hours and I could see where I was going... and the lay of the land. That gave me a sense of the speed and power of a train that I'd never had before as a conductor... sitting in the 'other seat.'

Although there have already been a lot of lessons, the most impressed on me so far are:

1. At 60 mph, two miles is only two minutes (as obvious as that is... it now means something completely different to me).

2. There's 'no cocky at a clear to stop' (for non railroaders this won't mean much).

3. You gotta make the train do what you want it to do (I'm still working on what this really means and how to do it... but I like the idea of being in control of the train rather than letting it control me).

4. I gotta learn to trust the equipment; it will stop if I do things when I should.

It's been a long road standing near the tracks at my grandma's house as a six-year old, with a lot of detours... but doing this really something I've always wanted to do... and to be honest... I kind of feel like I'm six again.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Enough of Ed

Okay, I will come clean!

I bought a provincial Progressive Conservative membership back in 2006 so that I could vote for... yikes... Ed Stelmach. At the time, I thought he was the best candidate out of the bunch, and the only one who appeared to want to reach out to others.

Okay, okay, even back in 2006, I recognised Ed was not the most articulate of the leadership candidates. But maybe that wasn't a bad thing, I thought. We'd had an era of leadership from a guy who was a "pro" at handling the media and speaking to people. After Ralphie, maybe having a shy guy who would stay at his desk working rather than running around the planet shooting his mouth off might not be such a bad thing.

Well, I guess I was wrong. After watching the lacklustre informercial our premier bought with our money, I admit defeat. Ed Stelmach may still be a nice earnest guy, but he doesn't have what it takes to lead Alberta.

With Danielle Smith looking as if she will win the leadership of the Wild Rose Alliance Party (WAP), it looks like it is going to be a very interesting November. On the 7th, the Progressive Conservatives will vote (in a secret ballot) whether to keep Ed Stelmach on as leader or not. My guess is that if they do, this will be the last PC government this province will ever see. If they vote non-confidence and then go on to select a new leader, then the whole scene will become more interesting because they may survive but split the right vote and leave more Liberals and NDs in the legislature and Alberta will have a real democracy... with different parties and all.

Either way... wow.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Come out, come out, wherever you are!

Prime Minister Harper will announce the next Quarterly Economic Report Card from New Brunswick on Wednesday, September, 30. He will announce it not from the House of Commons in Ottawa, but far away from the media pundits most likely to ask the toughest questions. By announcing the Report Card from an out-of-the-spotlight location Mr. Harper gets to swoop in below the radar and hide the statistics that show his much vaunted stimulus programme is not working.

Recently, Prime Minister Harper has become quite adept at avoiding the tough issues facing Canada and the world. He is playing to his base of supporters while ignoring the most pressing issues on the planet. The economy of the country is in crisis but our prime minister is nowhere to be found. The leaders of the world showed up last week at the General Assembly of the United Nations but Mr. Harper chose instead to cut the ribbon at Tim Horton's opening in Ontario, where he talked of the importance of a Double-Double on cold mornings at the rink.

Iran is hiding nuclear processing plants and test-firing missiles... the world is facing perhaps its greatest climate threat ever... the world economy is still in tatters... Afghanistan is withering... and our prime minister is avoiding the issues in a practiced way. What happened to the Stephen Harper who used to tell it like it is... I mean was?

The fact of the matter is things are not going that well for Canada, and Mr. Harper knows it. What he is patently trying to do his best to stay out of the line of fire while "playing the heart-strings" of his party base. He doesn't want us to start noticing things are not better than they were four years ago when he took the reins of power. His goal is to lull us into a sense that... "sure, things may not be perfect, but we are still pretty well off." He is doing this because he plans on having an election... and soon. He might not get one before the Vancouver Olympics in February, 2010 but it won't be much longer than that. Those pesky socialists and separatists keep supporting his government, even though he really wants to run against the Liberals right now... when they are still weak and disorganised.

Mr. Harper has been consistently vague and misleading about telling Canadians what the Federal deficit really is and why. He has played his hand politically and at the detriment of Canada and Canadians. This is a very serious time for this country... for our own affairs and to secure our place at the global table. Yet Mr. Harper recently faded into the shadows; he stays in the in the dark because he knows if Canadians hear the truth about our economic situation and our deteriorating place in various world rankings, we might start to question why. The answers to those questions will not cast Mr. Harper and his party in a very positive light. It's true that there are no obvious leaders ready to take Canada into a non-partisan political future... not from within the Liberal Party of the NDP, but Mr. Harper knows full well that his government's performance will not stand up to hard scrutiny. That's why he is laying low... waiting for the next election... trying to lull us into a state of well-being that simply is not reality.

If we escape an election call this week (and that seems increasingly likely), look for Mr. Harper to keep avoiding the limelight and staying off centre-stage. And isn't that odd for a man who until now has stood at the center of every single policy his party has ever announced.

Yoo-hoo, Stevie... come out, come out, wherever you are.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dodged a Bullet

Canadians were lucky to escape a summer election. We may yet be lucky enough to escape one this autumn. But make no mistake, even if we dodge a fall bullet, there’s a federal election coming to a polling station near you within the year. Canadians who follow the political scene may understand why the possibility of another election so soon after the October, 2009 exists, but for most people, it really doesn’t make sense to be having elections every year, especially when they cost more than $300 million a shot.

The latest threat of election is coming from the Liberal Party, which senses it has better chance to form a government if there is an election soon rather than waiting. The Conservatives argue there is no need for an election and that the opposition parties need to work with the government to make this session of parliament work.


Wasn’t it just eleven months ago that Prime Minister Harper called an election three years early because he sensed he might be able to win a majority government? In most parliamentary democracies (like Canada’s) elections are held every four or five years. Even with minority governments, other countries can make things work because parties cooperate with one another. Here in Canada we are controlled by a tyranny of two parties that cannot bring themselves from playing political power games with Canadians rather than to put the good of the country first.

In fact, in order to call last year’s election Prime Minister Harper broke a law passed back in 2006 that required federal elections to be held on the third Monday in October, in the fourth calendar year after a previous election unless the opposition brings down the government. Last year, without the government being brought down, Mr. Harper simply dissolved parliament and went to the polls where nothing changed much anyway.

Now Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff says he won’t support the government under any circumstance and will send Canadians back to the polls as soon as he can. Unless either the NDP or the Bloc Quebec support the Conservatives over the next few months, the government will fall and we will have to go back to the voting booth very soon.

Did you get that? In order for the Conservatives to survive, they will need the help of either the “separatists” or the “socialists.” If you have been following this “Keystone Cops” political situation, you will remember that the Conservatives and their supporters went ballistic last December when the Liberals and NDP proposed a coalition that had the agreement of the Bloc Quebec not to vote against said coalition for 18 months. Back in December, the separatists and the socialists were bad. Now they are “part of the democratic” process.


Where the hell did the integrity go? How did we find ourselves with politicians that put themselves first at every opportunity? Why do so many of us blindly support one side over the other when it is apparent that neither side is out for the betterment of this country or to support everyday Canadians? If we are ever to get passed this partisanship that is destroying Canada, we “little people” have to get back involved in the process and demand that the politicians we choose to support act with more integrity than we have seen lately.

When this election comes… and come it will… the Conservatives are going to tell us that it is unnecessary and that the Liberals are selfish and uncaring power hungry rats. Take that with a large grain of salt and remember October, 2008, when Prime Minister Harper broke a law his own government enacted just so he could seek a majority parliament. This next election is our opportunity to hold the politicians’ feet to the fire and demand they act with more honor and integrity. It will also be an opportunity to listen to policy and decide on the character of candidates by the virtue of their words and their conduct rather than the party banner they run under. Next election, it’s time for all of us to perform our role in this democracy of ours.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Vote for Democracy

Now that we are all wondering about a potential federal election this fall (again), people are asking me if I will run as the Green candidate in the constituency of Vegreville-Wainwright.

The answer to that is... Yes! No one else wanted to do it.

One young man in my little hamlet (not old enough to vote last October... but who attended the candidates' forum) told me that although he feels I am/was the best candidate, he could not vote for me because he feels that a Green vote is a wasted vote.

While I empathise with this young man wanting his first vote to mean something, the logic of not voting for a candidate because the candidate doesn't appear to be the one that is going to be elected serves no purpose. In fact, it is totally in opposition to what democracy means.

As a candidate for the Green Party in the east central part of Alberta, the chance I will be elected is slim. Why do I run then? I run because democracy does not... WILL NOT... work if we do not all stand up and take part in honest, open, respectful discourse about what we want this country to be. If Canadians buy into the unhealthy idea that it is only the Liberals or the Conservatives that can govern, we are on the road to destroying the democracy we say we hold dearly.

Both the Liberals and the Conservatives hold their members in line with strict discipline. Voice any sort dissenting views in either of those parties... and out you go. It is "tow the line" or leave the party, which doesn't allow for regional perspectives in the House of Commons. We have gone from a representative democracy to an oligarchic system where the views of a few are foist upon the many under the guise of a democratic process.

Although I am a Green Party candidate, I don't agree with every Green policy. But that is the magic of this party. All candidates can differ on points of policy to some degree and this party is okay with that. The Green Party wants me to be accountable firstly to the people I will represent... to the people in my community... to the culture of my community... to the traditions of my community. The Green Party allows for the democratic process to move to a place where the will of individuals and the representatives they elect to make their honest views part of our democratic debate.

Running in a federal election costs me a great deal: time away from my family... my farm... my volunteer activities and my job (ie. my salary). It costs me in a big way, but I do it because I want the democratic process to work. I want to give people options. When I hear people (particularly young people) tell me they won't vote for me even if they think I am the best candidate simply because they perceive my electability as low... I am truly saddened. How did they come to view democracy in such a cynical way?

Democracy demands we vote for who we believe best represents the voices we want heard in Parliament. To do anything else is dishonest... to Canada... to our communities... and to ourselves.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Elizabeth May in Saanich-Gulf Islands

Within the federal Green Party there is a growing debate about whether leader Elizabeth May has the moral credentials to "parachute" into the riding to become the Green candidate in the next election. Another Green Party member--Stuart Hertzog, also not from the riding--is contesting the nomination based on his assertion that the Green Party is a grassroots party and thus the decision to have Ms May run in the riding came from the top and is thus not "green."

The following is a slightly modified version of what I wrote as a comment on a blog discussion about the issue. It has been modified to read as a stand alone piece for the benefit of anyone who is not acquainted with the original debate or the discussion in general.

I am one of the “blue-greens” people talk about when they try to distinguish differing points of views within the Green Party. I’m a middle-aged farmer trying to take care of my little piece of the planet, and having an ever increasingly difficult time. I used to consider myself a Progressive Conservative, but when issues of the environment led me to change priorities (and the PCs disappeared), I became a Green supporter.

I was first welcomed into the "Green" fold by people who were happy I'd become a 'convert' but later told (and often) that I am not “green” enough by long-term “fundis” (not my choice of words). Often, "fundis" believe that the objective of getting elected and thus having to work within a political system they see as tainted is offensive, and that it is better to simply advocate for the change they see as necessary to save the planet. "Realos" tend to be more pragmatic and recognise the necessity of getting "down and dirty" within the process and scrapping with those in power to get a seat at the table. To us (cause I guess I am a "Realo"), this seems logical.

This schism now has Greens divided about whether Elizabeth May's style of leadership is too "top-down" and thus unworthy of the label Green and that it is simply selfish for her to lead the party in the direction of getting her elected to Parliament.

While I think Mr. Hertzog has every right to challenge Ms. May for the Green candidacy in Saanich-Gulf Islands, I am perplexed by the notion of some Greens who become involved with the Green Party as a political party yet are un-fussed about electing MPs/MLAs/MNAs. The idea of being a movement over a political party leaves me scratching my head.

I see this as politically dishonest: asking voters for support… and especially for money. The call, “Vote for me… I’m happy not to be elected because I believe I am morally superior to the whole dirty business of politics” is simply asking for failure. Taking money for that endeavour, or asking people to volunteer their lives to the effort is just dumb to me… but then again, I’m not an academic or a philosopher.

I cannot believe that people like myself… who still believe individuals have enough integrity to make a positive difference in our political system are somehow simply naive, or that we miss the point of the scale of change necessary to “save the planet.”

I believe getting elected is a first step in our system. Ignoring this fact will not get us the chance to participate in the system, and we will never get a chance to explain our perspectives in the halls of political power. By not getting elected, we cast ourselves into oblivion.

The idea that enough of the electorate would vote for a party that does not see getting elected as the first priority is “pie-in-the-sky” and without integrity to support the ideas we believe in.

This seems more like the same partisan politics that has become the Canadian reality. Greens are fond of saying this party is not about left vs right. It is an attractive motto, however, this party is taking on the shades of “realo” vs “fundi” which is simply the same crap, re-branded, and what is worse, it will hurt the Green cause politically.

I see Elizabeth May as one step in a process to get a Green voice in the House of Commons. She has brought the Green Party a certain cache and certainly more visibility among a larger group of Canadians. I see her as a bridge between the “fundis” and the “realos.”

All arguments aside about the wisdom of running against Peter McKay last time, I am certain Ms. May will run to win in the next election. Win or lose, she will face a leadership review in 2010. That is the time for challengers to mount arguments to replace her. Of course those arguments need to be heard. If someone comes around to inspire more confidence then we will get the chance to choose a new leader.

Until then (and as a “blue-green”) I think it is acceptable for the leader of a political party to run in a winnable riding. Indeed, I think it is an obligation. For my own part, what I find rather mystifying is this continuing idea that the Green Party is above winning or losing. If one believes that, wouldn’t it be better (and more honest) to stay totally engaged in activist activity?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Man Who Will Plant Trees

In February, 2008 a local land developer offered my wife and I $10,000 an acre for 21 acres of land we have that borders a County Refuse Transfer Station. It had been laying fallow since we bought our little berry farm in 2006, and being as hard pressed as I am to clean up the old place and make the farm and greenhouse profitable I saw the sale of the land as an easy way to pay off all our debts... including the rest of the mortgage on the farm... and build us a new house.

The plans this developer showed me were for a small little industrial part with acre-sized lots for small businesses, such as plumbers or mechanics or the like. The plans had neat little lots and shops... street lights... a water and sewage system . Although I didn't really want to give up the land, we were struggling and it seemed like a plan that would benefit the whole village by bringing business out to the area. Anyway, with the land against the "Transfer Station" (itself a bit of an eyesore), I thought it wasn't a bad idea.

But the developer missed closing date after closing date: October 31st became January 31st became March 31st which became May 31st. When he came to see me before the last closing date I told him quite clearly that if the sale hadn't closed by July 31st, I would no longer be interested in selling the land.

The truth is that our little berry farm and greenhouse has done well enough to make us believe we can now pay the bills... and if we work a little harder and gain a little larger customer base, we may just do all right by this little business.

About 10 days before the final closing date, the developer came to me with a cheque for $150,000 and a promise to pay the remaining $60,000 within 90 days of July 31.

That day, he also told me that he no longer had plans to build the little light industrial park. His plans had changed to housing an auto wrecker and to store pipeline pipe on the land.

I was flabbergasted; for the rest of my life I would have to look out the window of my home and see not only the Transfer Station but an auto wrecker and oil field and pipeline pipe.
When it came time to accept his offer, I simply couldn't do it. In the year since agreeing to the deal I have come to love this little piece of land between a tiny village and the County Refuse Station. It isn't much. There are no grand vistas... no stunning trees... no running water... not much... but 6,000 saskatoon berry bushes, a few acres of raspberries and a 75 year-old house that is constantly falling apart. But for the time being it is ours to look after. The thought of giving it over to pipe storage and an auto wrecker was simply too much.

After the closing date passed, I made an appointment with a lawyer (yes, I now have a lawyer) to ensure that I could finally put an end to this deal and be legal about it. We paid back the developer's deposit (even though we didn't have too) and put a formal end to the deal.

The developer is livid. He says he is going to sue me.

I ought to be sad. I will not be able to build a new house for my family... at least not for a while. I will have to keep spending all we make just paying the bills... and I will have to work harder and longer than ever. But standing out in that field now makes me happier than I have been in a long time. I see the aspens and poplars I will plant along the edge of that Transfer Station swaying in the breeze in 20 years. I can taste the strawberries I will plant in the field next to the house. I can see my kids and their kids jumping on a trampoline... skating on a rink... or just lying on the ground looking up at the summer clouds.

We are probably aren't going to get that new house for a long time yet... but I feel fine... just fine!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hands Up!

I was on my way home from work the other day after 12 hours out switching chemical rail cars in and around the big up-graders in Ft. Saskatchewan. I was totally worn out and starving, but it was a evening when my wife and kids were going to be out. I was going to have to make my own supper. Then I saw it! driving south down Gateway Blvd... a buffet... all you can eat for $12.99.

I bought a newspaper and headed in to feed my already fat face. There I sat for three-quarters of an hour, reading my paper and scarfing down enough to feed three families for a week. When I looked around, I saw more than a few tables with one person sitting at them doing just what I was doing... eating too much and reading.

Then it occurred to me how ridiculous the scene around me was. We Albertans are so concerned about the progressive demise of our universal health care system, yet we are killing ourselves over-eating, smoking and drinking.

When I walk down the streets I see a society where more than half of us are overweight... sometimes grossly so. Many of us smoke... a lot of us drink... a majority of us lead sedentary lives, driving to and from wherever we have to go.

We have so distanced ourselves from natural, healthy lives we're inviting disaster. We buy most of our food from chain grocery stores... food that comes from corporate distributors, grown and raised in the most unnatural conditions and then preserved with chemicals we can't even pronounce. And if that isn't dangerous enough, we've become gluttons. Because our food has no relationship to the labour we do, it is simply too easy to eat too much.

I'm just as suspicious as the next Albertan when it comes to what our government is doing with our health care system. I'm concerned that employees within the system can't speak freely about problems they experience. I can't understand why the Stollery Childrens' Hospital has to get a large portion of its funding through a telethon and corporate sponsorship. I think Albertans have every right to be on guard and worried.

Sitting in that buffet with all those other people eating too much, I felt a sense of shame. We can't continue to depend on our health care system when we aren't doing our share to take care of ourselves.

It's time to step away from buffet table. It's time to take the steps necessary to make sure we don't need the health care system to take care of our own gluttony and sloth.

Me first.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A New National Dream

We're finally talking about high-speed rail again in this country, comparing it to the National Dream of old. This country exists because of the grand vision and commitment to the idea of Canada of men like John. A. MacDonald, George Stephen and Sir Sanford Fleming. Today, building a efficient national passenger rail system would be far less difficult than it was in the mid 1860s, 70s and 80s. The technology to whisk people across Canada on rail already exists... some of it right here in Canada with Bombardier. Yet what is missing today is the political will to build anything great in this country... to work selflessly for a great good. Today's political leaders are more concerned about the next election than about the viability of this country into the next century.

Our recent governments are obsessed with allowing the private sector run the country. We deregulate everything so profit is possible. We sell off assets to balance books. It was not too long ago this country had its own railway company in Canadian National Railways. That company was owned by Canadians and operated to facilitate Canadian business and passenger service. Granted, the passenger service was let to deteriorate to a point where it became unfeasible, but CN Rail Freight was always a profit-making railway, no matter what is said about privatisation.

Building a high-speed rail system in Canada, linking more conventional rail lines across the country will be a huge project. It will take the sort of national will we have not seen for decades to move it forward... the national will of the country and leaders with 'cojones' and more concern for Canada than the political success of their own Parties. Catching up with much of the rest of the world (even China) in terms of passenger rail service is a worthy goal. Canada must begin pursuing it in earnest.

It will be difficult... but not as difficult as it was the first time to push rail lines over the Canadian Shield and through the Rockies. The heavy lifting has already been done by Canadians before us. What is left for us is simply keeping faith with those Fathers of Confederation and finding the will and fortitude to complete the task in the 21st Century. Imagine how much easier the task would be if Canadians still owned Canadian National? Selling it at a bargain-basement price was short-sighted. Yet, the task of recreating our National Dream is still worth doing. Now is the time to look farther than the next election and work as a country to get this job done.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Cost of Food

Yesterday, a well-to-do couple drove up to the berry patch and wanted to pick saskatoon berries. That's always a good thing on a saskatoon berry farm, so I sent them off to the best trees, in the aisles I keep mowed and clean, where the walking is easy and the berries hang off the branches like grapes.

About an hour later they returned to the house and noted that ours were the biggest, juiciest, sweetest saskatoons they'd ever eaten. Of course, being the one who spends hours and hours between those aisles, planting and mowing grass, keeping out the weeds and pruning the branches back, I am always 'proud as punch' to hear people tell me how much they like our saskatoons.

We love them, too, and though they don't really make us any money, they provide us with juice, wine, jams and pie filling we enjoy all year long... and share with the people we care about.

But before I could feel too proud of myself, the man asked me if I would get all the berries off the trees. I told him that it was too big a job. We have 5,000 trees and more than 50% never gets picked. It's sad but true and it bothers me. I still hope people in the city will recognise the goodness of local food and start coming in larger numbers. And they have been, but there are still more berries than we can pick.

I could have a mechanized berry picker, but it's tough on the trees--and to be honest--they're just too darn expensive. I do make deals with the local Hutterites where they pick a pail for themselves and a pail for me (which we freeze and use all year long). But for the most part, the birds and coyotes are the recipients of a large part of my berries.

The man then proposed that since so many berries were going to dry up on the branches, that I should give him a discount.


It was logic that just didn't figure to me. If he bought an equal amount of blueberries from the supermarket, they would cost him more than the fresh berries he had in his bucket. The supermarket berries would profit the chain store and some distant shareholder. They might have been chemically treated with herbicide or pesticide... and they were certainly trucked over a thousand kilometres to get to the store.

Buying my saskatoons keeps every cent in his own community. It helps keep this little orchard going and part of our community. What he had in that bucket was more than berries. In that pail was the toil and love of a family... volunteerism in the community... fresh food grown by a neighbour who supports a family with the small amount those berries provide.

Well, I guess I kind of frowned when I told him that I DO give a large portion of my berries away for free... to the birds and coyotes who share this land with us... but for him, it was $10 an ice-cream bucket. He harumphed, got his wallet out and grudgingly paid me.

I think I'm happier when I see purple coyote droppings, packed with saskatoon seeds than when I have to deal with a clod in a nice car who wants the fruits of nature and my toil for free. The coyote is less a scavenger.

Someday guys like him will learn the true value of food. Someday, what I know about growing food will be worth something to the people who think meat comes in cellophane packs and juice pools in tetra packs.

When that day comes, I might just choose to share with the coyotes and birds rather than help feed morons like that.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Folk Music Blues

Of all the hundreds of thousands of dollars awarded in federal grants to folk festivals around the country this year, the Edmonton Folk Festival received exactly... ZERO... NADA... ZILTCH....

"Why?" everyone around here is wondering.

Could it be that the Edmonton Folk Festival is held in the federal constituency of Strathcona?

Ring a bell?  Strathcona is the only federal riding that did not go Conservative in the last election.  It went to the 'lefty' environmentalist NDP, Linda Duncan.

This oughta teach them sweater-wearing, folk-music-listening, tree-hugging hippies they can't get away with exercising their democratic right to vote... well, at least to vote for someone other than the Conservative.

... or maybe I'm just imagining it all.

I'm not sayin'.

I'm just sayin'.

Friday, July 31, 2009

I Don't Give A Tweet

I admit it... I've 'tweeted.'  

I got a Twitter account about two months ago and I think I've made three tweets... none of which has been very profound.  I'm wondering why I even bother.

I have no idea how to 'tweet' from a mobile phone... and I really have no desire to learn.  I carry my phone so my family can call me at work... so work can call me when I'm in the berry patch.  

I can't understand how so many people seem to have so much time they can be checking their phones to 'follow' other people as they 'tweet' through the day.  

I heard that Michael Jackson died on the afternoon news (how could you not).  What would I gain from following the 'tweets' of a million fans as they mourned together?

I couldn't care what Ashton Kutcher ate for lunch or that Paris Hilton's puppy had a bath.   I need to get the weeds out of my garden.  The grass between my saskatoon rows needs to be cut.  The oil in the tractor needs to be changed... and I have to be at work in 90 minutes.

Working 16 hours a day... six days a week,  I barely have time to read a book... especially in the summer, and less time to write.  But now--if I want to keep current with the newest technology--I have to 'tweet.'

Truth is... I'd rather not give a 'tweet.' 

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fourteenth Anniversary

My wife and I were married 14 years today... or was it yesterday? We were married in Japan... so it might have been yesterday.

One quiet, romantic year was followed quickly by crying and diaper-changing. There have been few panic-free moments since. Life has barreled down on us: three kids, moving from Japan to Hong Kong... and then back to Canada... from teaching in air-conditioned classrooms to life on an old berry farm, and a job on the railroad... two dogs... two cats... two goats... and more moles and mice than I care to count.

Yesterday the woman who makes our soap dropped by.

On the weekend the family who sells us beef every year filled four buckets with saskatoon berries.

The local diner uses our berries for the best saskatoon pies this side of the mighty Battle River.

Our berry ice-cream is better than any store-bought stuff you've ever tasted

From an anonymous life in a city with millions of nameless faces to a village where everyone knows everyone else (and some even like each other), we've travelled a long and curious path.

Now that I spend most of my time in old, faded overalls, no one listens to me the way they did when I wore clean, pressed, white shirts.

Walk into a bank in pressed trousers and a tie and it's "Yes, sir... can I help you sir."

Walk in dressed in old overalls and a faded ball cap and no one looks up. Just a middle-aged farmer.

Yet what we have learned in these years makes life more precious. We grow most of our own food... in a constant fight with the weeds and birds.

Rain means more than a ruined day of golf.

The seasons no longer go unnoticed; pruning needs to be done in the fall... seeding the tomatoes in March... every night from then the heater has to be checked all through the night. Nurturing the bedding plants through March and April requires our focus into the spring, and then it's the berries until September, before clean up and the snow... hopefully, the snow.

There is less time for writing, but strangely more time for thinking... and a greater satisfaction in work that produces results... work... the failure of which means less food... work that pays off in the flavour and goodness of what we eat.

Happy Anniversary, dear... now, let's go out and weed!